The Interview: Nelson Gonzalez

Nelson Gonzalez, co-founder of Alienware Corporation,

Nelson Gonzalez

Is a gamer born or does it happen over time? What makes one’s idea die on the cutting room floor while the other turns into a blockbuster? Gamers and those within the culture are as diverse as America itself, but we all share similarities. When entering the PC gaming world one has to know the layout, where it came from and where it is going. We can look at the background of some of these pioneers and learn from them and if nothing else enjoy a good story.

Obsolete Gamer has had a chance to interview quite a few from the Alienware and Dell family including Alex Aguila and Arthur Lewis and we were excited when we had a chance to sit down with co-founder of Alienware, Nelson Gonzalez.

 

Can you tell us about what got you into gaming?

 

It was all about the arcade baby! The arcade was the catalyst to my immersion in those virtual worlds. Aside from video games, playing games from an early age was in our DNA. Everybody in the neighborhood was hyper competitive and we played basketball, football, chess, wargames, boardgames and of course…dungeons and dragons! We loved every aspect of gaming and competition.

 

What were some of your favorite games growing up?

 

Too many. I’m pretty old, but I will mention some of the PC games which is probably what you might be interested in:

Civilization, Privateer, Myst, Falcon, X-Com, Alone in the Dark, Red Baron, Pirates, Star Wars TIE/XWing, Aces over Europe/Pacific, Mech Warrior, SimCity, Doom, Quake, Wing Commander Series, Might and Magic Series, Unreal Tournament, Dawn of War, COD Series, Medal of Honor Series

 

Now as far as Alienware part of the name and style of the brand came from your love of science fiction?

 

Absolutely. I grew up watching great SciFi and Horror flicks. Star Trek, Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, The Invaders, UFO, Outer Limits, Twilight Zone, The Time Tunnel, Lost in Space and of course, the X Files to name some of the TV shows. The movie list would be too long to detail. Forbidden Planet, The Day the Earth Stood Still (original), Close Encounters of the Third Kind and Star Wars would be a glimpse into my list though.

 

Alex Aguila and Nelson Gonzalez - Alienware

You and Alex Aguila were friends from an early age correct?

 

Yes, I met Alex when I was 10 or so. 35 + years…way too long! Arthur Lewis which now runs Alienware, has also been a friend since I was like 16. Hector Penton from Origin PC I’ve also known for 30 + years.

We are all big-time gamers.

 

What type of PC games do you and Alex use to play?

 

Right now I think both of us are on sabbatical. We are playing intense Warhammer 40K and its consuming quite a bit of our time. Alex plays a ruthless Space Marine Blood Angel. Hector is a brother of the Hivefleet Leviathan and my path is that of the Eldar.

 

Did you have any rivalries game wise with Alex?

 

Absolutely. Falcon 3.0 comes to mind. Quake 2 was also an immersive bloodbath 🙂

 

What was your first PC?

 

An XT 286 I believe.

 

You also began building PC’s at a young age can you tell us about that?

 

I started building PC’s with 80386 Intel processors with clock speeds of 12MHz…LOL. Then we moved up to 486’s w/VESA bus video cards. Then came Pentium processors and 3D graphic cards (gaming nirvana). The dawn of 3D games such as Castle Wolfenstein and DOOM really hooked us all. I was forced to become the technician of the group so we can play all these games. We played most of those games in DOS and they required some tinkering such as creating boot disks with Autoexec.bat and config.sys files for specific games . Ah… the good ol’ days.

 

Before Alienware you created your own PC building company, can you tell us about that?

 

Well I thought that I could build PC’s locally in South Florida, but soon realized that wasn’t my cup of tea. I really liked high performance and squeezing every bit of juice out of a PC. Building standard PC’s for business’s just didn’t satisfy me. I always felt that if we did something that was specific for the gamers just like us, we could survive as a business.

 

Nelson Gonzalez - Alienware

How did the beginning of Alienware come about?

 

I was with a friend of mine (who happens to be Hector Penton’s brother) in my kitchen one day and I pitched him the idea of custom building PC’s for gamers like us. I asked him what he felt about the name Alienware and he said it sounded pretty cool. At that point it just felt right. I immediately called Alex and asked him if he would join me in this new adventure. I told him that he needed to quit his job, give me like $5K and come to work immediately. To his credit he said yes without hesitation. The funny thing is that we weren’t really speaking to each other at that time and  I can only imagine the conversation he had with the wife that night. 🙂

 

What was the first few months like running Alienware?

 

Boy it was very intense. At times we nervously laughed and secretly prayed 🙂 We had no money, no resources, but somehow we felt confident. We knew if we ‘built it’, they would come. PC Gaming was in its infancy and we had experienced how addictive it really was. We knew we were on to something, but we just didn’t to what extent.

 

What would be one of your favorite moments while at Alienware?

 

There were so many, but that first PC Gamer ’98 Area 51 review written by Gary Whitta was one of those rare moments were I felt validated.

The first online order.

When we hit one million in revenue.

When we reached 100 employees.

When we had Michael Dell visit us at Alienware.

When we sold the company to Dell.

 

Do you have a funny story about Alienware you can share with us?

 

Alex telling me that “no one would order an expensive custom PC online” and then we get 3 orders the first day 🙂

 

How did it feel to see Alienware become so big?

 

Crazy. I knew we wouldn’t have to work for anyone else if we did our ‘thing’ and we performed well. I also felt that if we bent over backwards for the customer and treated our employees like we’d like to be treated, we would be OK. I never imagined it becoming so wildly successful.

 

What was it like during the acquisition by Dell?

 

Awesome. I think Michael really understood us and because we had such a synergistic model, the transition was good and the acquisition made sense.

 

What type of PC do you play games on now?

 

Alienware Aurora i7 3.2GHz

2 X ATI Radeon 5800’s

Win 7 64-bit

 

Do you play console games?

 

No not really. I’ll load up Heavenly Sword or Gran Turismo every once in a while for shits and giggles.

 

What PC games are you currently playing?

 

I was playing DC Universe online, but stopped, we all started playing 40K. I am getting ready for SWTOR and maybe, just maybe Duke Nukem…finally?

 

What would you say your favorite classic game(s) is?

 

If I had to pick one, it would have to be Civilization. Wow… did I burn out on that one.

My second would have to be XCOM. Classic arcade would have to be Joust and Lunar Lander.

 

DOW2 Chaos Rising gameplay trailer

Dawn of War 2 logo
Dawn of War 2 logo

Simply put if you like sci-fi RTS games then Dawn of War has to be on your favorites list. With the build-up to DOW2 Obsolete Gamer brings you the DOW2 Chaos Rising gameplay trailer.

In Dawn of War II: Chaos Rising you will take command of the Blood Ravens and defend the sector against the Chaos Space Marines of the Black Legion. Purge the chaos filth and hold the chapter together as traitorous forces work from within to try bring down the Blood Ravens. Upgrade your squads with new legendary wargear and unlock new special abilities, as your squads advance to level 30. Will you remain steadfast to the Emperor or risk heresy to gain new dark and destructive powers? In multiplayer swear loyalty to the Chaos Gods and pit your bloodthirsty warband of Chaos Space Marines against the new units and reinforced armies of the Space Marines, Orks, Eldar, and Tyranids.

Steam Sale – THQ Complete Pack for $50

THQ Complete Pack
THQ Complete Pack

Steam Sale – THQ Complete Pack for $50

For $50, you get just about all the best games that are out currently from THQ. For that price, from Steam, you get: all of Company of Heroes, Frontlines: Fuel of War, all of Full Spectrum Warrior, Juiced 2, all of Red Faction, S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl, Saints Row 2, all of Titan Quest, W40K: Dawn of War 2, and all of W40K: Dawn of War.

For the price, it’s worth getting for CoH, Red Faction 1, STALKER, Saints Row 2, and all of the DoW games.

The Company of Heroes games are basically some of the hardest World War 2 RTS games out there. Online play is pretty competitive.

Red Faction 1 was the first FPS game that allowed serious destruction of terrain. It’s an oldie but a goodie, these days.

S.T.A.L.K.E.R. is like Fallout (3) but MUCH harder and more realistic.

Saints Row 2 is like GTA 4 but funner and crazier.

Many people still like DoW 1 over DoW 2, and it’s worth getting all 4 games and playing them through if you are a fan of the RTS genre, especially since the Warhammer 40K universe is so sick, it’s a great experience sending your troops forth to die for you (In the Name of the Emperor!).

It’s a good time to pick up DoW 2 since the expansion is less than a month away! Our internal link to the promo on the expansion. Click here for our review of DoW 2.

The link to the Steam Sale for the THQ Complete Pack is the following: http://store.steampowered.com/sub/2539/

Games coming out February and March 2010

aliens vs predator new
aliens vs predator new

Games coming out February and March 2010

A lot of big games have been coming out this early 2010. More great games are coming out soon as well. The following are the ones that I like for the next 2 months:

Aliens vs Predator, February 16 for PC

Napoleon: Total War, February 23 for PC

Supreme Commander 2, March 2 for PC

Battlefield: Bad Company 2, March 2 for PC

Warhammer 40k Dawn of War 2 Chaos Rising, March 11 for PC

Assassin’s Creed 2, March 16 for PC

Metro 2033, March 16 for PC

Let’s talk a little bit about them.

Aliens vs Predator
The original AVP is one of my favorite FPS games of all time. It’s actually quite scary and FAST as all hell. The new game is a remake of that game and looks to be done as its spiritual successor.

Napoleon: Total War
The Total War series is always great for (most) war gamers. I look forward to yet another title to this great series.

Supreme Commander 2
Supreme Commander 1 among my friends is known for how badly it killed their systems. I hope 2 is optimized for performance and continues the brilliant interface that part 1 had for handling your big armies. I hope they kept the awesome zoom GUI.

Battlefield: Bad Company 2
I wonder how strong this game will be. Can it compete with everybody out there playing Modern Warfare 2?

Warhammer 40k Dawn of War 2 Chaos Rising
The Dawn of War series I always love. They are the RTS games I usually play the most. I’ve been looking forward to this expansion for a while. Now that more of my friends got DoW 2 I have more people to play with and the game needs more content/factions, so keep them coming Relic/THQ.

Assassin’s Creed 2
Finally! I keep hearing how good this is from my console gamers. (ahem) Well maybe it will be like with Mass Effect 1 where the PC version turns out to be superior later. Either way, I will still play the living hell out of this game, at least until I destroy it.

Metro 2033
This game reminds me of a mix of the game Stalker, the movie Fatherland, and the game Iron Storm. Looks nice!

Link to Dawn of War 2 Soundtrack

Dawn of War 2 Soundtrack Cover
Dawn of War 2 Soundtrack Cover

Free Stuff – Link to Dawn of War 2 Soundtrack

Get the free mp3s for one of the best game soundtracks for a recent game.

http://media.steampowered.com/apps/15620/dow2_soundtrack.rar

If you want to read my Dawn of War 2 review then click here.

If you want to read my Dawn of War 2 Chaos Rising review and strategy guide click here.

Warhammer 40K: Dawn of War 2

Space Marines from Dawn of War 2
Space Marines from Dawn of War 2

Warhammer 40K – Dawn of War 2 Review by Honorabili

 

One Sentence Review:

“Challenging squad combat level based RTS based on the Warhammer 40K universe but based on the game style of Company of Heroes.”

Overall Score:
8 out of 10

If you want to read my review & strategy guide for the campaign of the expansion Chaos Rising, click here.

Overview:

This is the ambitious and different sequel to what is considered (by the computer game industry) the 2004 strategy game of the year. The first game was similar to Starcraft but this one chooses a different route. For the multiplayer aspect/connectivity the game decided to use Games For Windows Live as the backbone. If you have a microphone you will appreciate that the game has a built in voice chat that is used via Games For Windows Live. In general over some older RTS games and introduced in Company of Heroes, the game makes use of cover in the terrain to give defensive bonuses to units.

There are different game modes: single player and co-op storyline campaign, skirmish which you can set to PVE or play with a combination of other players together or against each other in the tradition of online pvp play that’s now commonplace, and the recently added mode of The Last Stand. The campaign consists of you or your gaming partner following a series of linear and also randomly generated conquer and defend missions with your squad of hero units which have leveling through combat/objectives (also a level cap) and the acquisition of relics (wargear) that modify the combat characteristics/tactics of each squad. You can only play as the human Space Marine faction in the campaign. The difficulty is variable. As far as fighting goes, the campaign mainly consists of completing objectives and taking optional ones. As far as skirmish goes, you can opt out to practice against the computer or either do traditional 1 vs 1 and up in groupings of players. For skirmish you can be human Space Marines, Eldar, Tyranids, or Orks. The game includes a ladder system for this mode. In the skirmish mode, this plays out more like a regular RTS with two resources available, power and requisition. You can set the objective to either wipe out the player or hold the most strategic points for x amount of time and so forth. This is a lot like Unreal Tournament 3/Company of Heroes. The newest game mode The Last Stand groups you up with two other human players in a series of levels, each in increasing difficulty, in a game of survival. You get a higher score multiplier for killing all enemies quicker than normal groups, not dying, holding the defense points capped, with all your multiplier being resetted to 1X if any team member dies. There is a high score/ladder system with this mode and the game also keeps track of your best scores for each of the characters you get, those being the Space Marine, Eldar, and Ork.

Fun Factor:

The campaign keeps you playing until you beat it and it’s worth replaying with another player, usually at the highest difficulty. It’s worth also playing alone in the max difficulty as having another player can (sometimes) make it easier. The skirmish mode can be a lot of fun as the game plays out more like a traditional RTS game rather than the storyline hero system that people will get used to playing if they play the campaign a lot. The Last Stand is probably the funnest game more as it creates a good feeling of teamwork, although it can be disappointing to get paired up with a bunch of noobs that will get you killed faster than you think. If you play the game with a good group of friends the game can be a lot funner as you can start to dominate the ladders and scoreboards. Overall the game will keep you entertained for days, maybe weeks and it’s good to go back to it and visit it once in a while especially if they released new maps for it or modified minor parts of the game. For fun factor I give DoW2 an 8 out of 10.

Difficulty Versatility:

As far as the campaign goes, I find it rather easy even at the highest difficulty setting. I’ve tested this and made people who never played the game play it at that difficulty right from the start and they found it easy to dominate, even with non-experienced RTS players. I started to play the game with non-favorite/favorable characters and it’s still easy. Still, it’s worth playing through at least once.

The skirmish mode is much more challenging as you are dealing with human players that most likely have been playing the game already in this mode kicking ass and will school you until you get the hang of it. Don’t be discouraged as this is often the case in RTS games online and if you are a good player and played the tutorial, I mean campaign, you will quickly get used to the units, although the campaign only lets one play Space Marines and skirmish allows more races, so one will need to learn all about them from scratch. If you put in the time and effort, you will find skirmish to be the most rewarding as far as a challenge goes. My advice is that you memorize all the cover points in all maps so optimize defense tactics/cover. Don’t worry most other players you will fight already have done this. 😀

The Last Stand is a lot of fun but make sure that you are grouped with great players that know what you are doing and you make a good team effort to make it to the last stages/top of the ladder. The difficulty can be impossible if you play with noobs but don’t feel bad as the game will soon be over. ;-] With my friends we played the hell out of this mode easily for 1-2 weeks nonstop so it can be exciting for a while. In the final stages of the mode when you are fighting the entire screen filled with enemies the difficulty is literally impossible but that’s the point of the mode. It’s really well done in that sense.

The tutorial (campaign) is a cakewalk so I will punish the game for that. Skirmish is great if you put in your time getting used to it so that’s flawless. The Last Stand is what it is and it works as advertised. Overall I give DoW 2 an 8 out of 10 for this category.

Value:

I bought the game when it first came out for $50 on Steam. The game is currently sold for about $40 on there as of the time of this writing and if you buy a bundle of THQ/Relic games you can get it for partially cheaper cost. It is also sometimes sold on sale via Steam as the game did not sell as well as they anticipated and they are trying to get more people to play it. Since the expansion pack is a few months away as of now it will probably be on sale again often as they might also bundle the game and expansion together when that’s available. Since the game is not that popular right now, I would say that they should sell it for $30 all the time as the base price to encourage more players to get it. Since the game provides many many hours/days of entertainment and it can become a permanent game to keep playing, I give it a 7 out of 10 in value.

UPDATE: (from my DoW2 Chaos Rising review)

On Steam, they sell DoW2 Gold which has the original game and expansion for $40. The link to the Steam sale is the following. If you were like me and already owned DoW2 then for $30 Steam sells the expansion here.

If you never played DoW2, for $40 both the original and expansion for that price is an amazing value because that’s like a month or more worth of gaming right there, easily. $30 for just the expansion is a bit more steep but if you’re a fan of DoW2 and/or Warhammer 40k then you will probably buy it anyways.

Replayability:

The campaign can be played a good 2-3 times before you never want to see it again. The Last Stand can be very entertaining especially if you have a great team going. Since you have 3 heroes which you level up and unlock special abilities/wargear for, you would have to play many (and I mean MANY) matches to unlock all their powers. You don’t necessarily have to do that to get ranked super high in the scoreboard so long as you are good and your team mates play like a well-coordinated military unit. The skirmish mode will have unlimited replayability depending on much much you liked the game already in general and how you approach ladder pvp RTS games in general. I give the replayability a score of 8 out of 10.

Sound:

Most of the voice actors from DoW 1 which are professionals are back and you will quickly recognize them. They are well picked, especially units like the Dreadnought (undead human Robocop ED209 unit of an almost dead human soldier stuck in a killing machine that will forever “live to serve”). The sound effects themselves are great especially hearing the explosions and sounds of machineguns letting loose and Eldar weapons flying through the air (shurikens, etc.). I give the sounds of DoW 2 an 8 out of 10.

Music:

The music for DoW 1 and its expansions are all epic and may be some of the best soundtracks for a war game in the RTS genre. Relic continues this tradition with DoW 2 and they are to be commended. The music of DoW 2 gets a 9 out of 10.

You can download the entire the Dawn of War 2 OST from this link.

Graphics:

This game looks simply wonderful even in Windows XP running DirectX 9. It improves on the graphics of the first game and you will enjoy the spectacular display of combat and gore of the units. One of my favorites is seeing how effective Assault Space Marines can be on a group of unsuspecting targets/victims. ;-] The graphics get an 8 out of 10. They are pretty enough for an RTS but they’re no Assassin’s Creed.

Stability/Reliability:

Overall the game runs pretty well although the netcode can sometimes be laggy. Some people will experience port/NAT errors because of the Games for Windows Live and I researched this and Relic is yet to provide a real fix for it. One might be able to fix this by finding all ports used by Games for Windows Live and forcing them open but I have yet to test this. I found this problem when trying to invite players to co-op campaign and The Last Stand and the game will give a generic NAT routing error message. The game itself is stable as a rock and I haven’t seen the game itself crash to desktop on my hardware. Because of how annoying the NAT error is, and the lag in the netcode, although the game itself is stable, I give this game a 4 out of 10.

Controls:

The controls are pretty standard for RTS games with abilities hotkeyed and CTRL + number to group/remap unit groupings. The camera control, panning, zooming is standard. Since Supreme Commander has much better zooming capabilities and Battle Forge has better, faster scrolling I give the controls a 6 out of 10. No real innovation there but no annoying attempts to try new control methods that are a failure.

Performance:

On a modern machine the game runs decently. My brother bought the game but he was not able to get it running on his old machine which uses an ATI X800 video card so make sure you have a video card that supports enough technology in shader models to even run the game. They recommend having at least an ATI X1600 or nVidia GeForce 6600 GT to just be able to run it. I’ve seen the game run kind of laggy on the machine of a friend of mine that had the latest video drivers, a faster CPU than mine and this was at 1600×1200. Even when I scaled it down to 1024×768 it still ran slower than my older machine so I guess the game is kind of a fickle beast. I give the performance of the game a 7 out of 10 for its lack of support of older machines and unpredictable performance (a faster machine should run the game better but in reality didn’t).

My history with this game:

My friends used to have LAN parties every weekend for 2 years nonstop playing mainly DoW 1 as out favorite RTS game and all its incarnations of expansion packs and patch updates. I bought this game when it first came out for 50 bucks hoping that we could continue playing and since the game had a better online client (Games for Windows Live vs GameSpy which was a pain in part 1 to play online because of port issues) but pretty much I was the only one of my friends that bought this game when it first came out since the game got mixed reviews when it came out and fanboys crying like bitches in forums about how they “ruined” the DoW legacy since they went away from the Starcraft roots. About 5-6 months later a few of my friends finally got the game and it’s been a lot of fun to finally be able to play with them again. 😀