Growing up Geek: Timothy J. Seppala

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Timothy J. Seppala
November 30th, 2013
In this article: GrowingUpGeek, gug
Growing up Geek: Timothy J. Seppala

Welcome to Growing Up Geek, an ongoing feature where we take a look back at our youth and tell stories of growing up to be the nerds that we are. Today, we have our very own Timothy J. Seppala.

I was 7 years old the first time I read Jaws. I was in second grade, and like most boys that age, I was absurdly fascinated by sharks and dinosaurs. I still am. What made me want to read it was spending an afternoon watching the flick on LaserDisc with my dad. By the time the end credits rolled, I was filled with a sense of wonder that I still get when I watch it on Blu-ray. It left me wanting more, though, so I checked the novel out from the library.

I don't remember how long it took me to read, but I recall not being able to put it down; it was unlike anything I'd ever encountered before. Mostly because it was an adult novel and I was still a kid. There was blood! There was swearing! There were entire chapters written from a shark's perspective! After finishing it, there was no way I could go back to the steady diet of whatever it was my classmates were reading, so I skipped youth fiction almost entirely. My next read was Jurassic Park. After that, the rest of Crichton's and Benchley's works kept me busy until high school where I discovered Tolkien and King.

After spending a weekend with my aunt as a kid, I came home and found my dad excitedly setting up that aforementioned Pioneer LaserDisc player, which he'd just purchased. For better or for worse, this moment helped turn me into an early adopter, and in retrospect, that gargantuan gadget was the gateway drug to my geekiness. Through that massive contraption I was exposed to Star Trek, Star Wars and Flight of the Navigator. There may or may not have been a summer break where I watched A New Hope and Spielberg's tale of shark and man once a day, every day.

There was always new audio/video gear in the house when I was growing up. My dad played in a rock and roll cover band on the weekends and liked living on the cutting edge of technology. While I may not exactly care for dusting now, as a kid it was always fun for me because it meant I was actually allowed to touch all of his rad equipment. I'd haphazardly arrange the umpteen sliders and switches on his rack-mountable equalizer into some cool looking pattern that assuredly sounded like garbage. I'd hit the power button on his Yamaha tape deck because I loved the frictional push of it. The analog needles bouncing to life and the warm glow that peeked out from the viewing windows of dad's Onkyo stereo receiver as it turned on always made me smile.

My A/V obsession fully blossomed in the summer of 2007 when my dad brought home our first HDTV, a 51-inch Hitachi F59A rear-projection CRT. Still, it wasn't until I'd connected the PlayStation 3 he'd bought as a family Christmas present that year that we had a great HD source to judge its picture. Saying I was disappointed in the TV's image quality would have been an understatement. A fateful Google search led me to AVSForum and an incredibly helpful group who guided me through the arcane ins and outs of service menu tweaks. Before long, I was adjusting DCAM convergence and RGB cuts and drives like a pro. After about six months, I was finally happy with all of the work I'd done while my parents were either asleep or out of the house.

I foolishly thought this knowledge would carry over when I got my first HDTV (a tiny 19-inch Samsung LCD), but I was sorely mistaken. After I'd nuked my second or third TV by pressing the wrong button within the service menu, I resolved to stop futzing where I didn't belong. Sam's Club may have had a one-year "no hassle" return policy on HDTVs, but it didn't stop the customer service reps' disapproving stares as I'd swapped out each successive display for the next size up, as money would allow.

Along the journey to my dream TV, I somehow managed talking my parents into buying one of the 50-inch Pioneer Kuros that Sam's was closing out at a deep discount. To this day, it still has the best overall picture of any TV I've ever seen. It wasn't until I'd finally traded up to a plasma of my own -- a 42-inch Panasonic -- that I was satisfied with my personal TV.

When I look at my A/V rack, I can't help but think of my dad's influences. Up top floats a TV that barely fits on its hanger. Below, there's a hulking Onkyo receiver. Five gaming consoles -- three of which double as Blu-ray players, and four bought on their respective launch days -- round it all out and stacks of physical media flank the stand. I may not have my own LaserDisc player, but I've definitely been on the wrong side of tech trends. For example, I own a Sega Game Gear, a Nintendo 64 and a Halo 3 edition Microsoft Zune. You could say I was thinking differently before it was cool.

It was after I asked for the crappy, off-brand competitor to Excitebike 64 for my birthday one year that I started paying attention to video game reviews. However, I'd never entertained the notion that writing about games was a valid career choice until some time later, when I started listening to gaming podcasts on my Zune (it wasn't wasted money after all!). I initially subscribed to about half a dozen gaming shows, but it was "1UP Yours" that eventually won my heart and my limited listening time. Garnett, Shane, John and the weekly guest welcomed me into their world and after a few years, I didn't want to leave. I saw my chance to start writing about games in 2009 while I was taking pre-business classes at community college and working at my dad's body shop.

My first assignment as a reporter? Covering the midnight release of Grand Theft Auto IV for my hometown (and Michigan's then-second-largest daily) newspaper, The Grand Rapids Press. That unpaid web story led to paying print work and a blogging arrangement, the latter of which was invaluable training for developing my tone and style. I even had the chance to interview Garnett and John from "1UP Yours," along with other editors I admired, as sources for a few articles. It was surreal hearing their voices on the other end of the phone and actually talking with them instead of passively listening.

In the half-decade before I joined Engadget, I found that I enjoyed my work most when I was pushing myself to take a different angle, or find one where others couldn't. Whether I was interviewing a Deftone, a drag queen or digging deep into my city's craft-brewing history, I worked tirelessly (often sleeplessly) to stay well-rounded as a journalist. It's acclimated me to longer word counts, and forced me to trust my instincts.

Onboard the Deftones tour bus (pre-journalist days) with a friend and Chino. Yes, I have big hands.

When I was writing about video games exclusively, I liked sidestepping the standard preview and review cycle to keep myself challenged. Places like Ars Technica, PCWorld, Sound & Vision and the late GamePro allowed me to explore the reasons behind shrinking play length, determine where game sound is going in the next gen, interview countless art and audio directors and delve into the trend behind games having predominantly brown color palettes, respectively. I like to think these assignments are what shaped me as a writer the most.

This is what I brought with me to Engadget. It's this type of work that keeps me excited as a writer, and I hope it entices you as a reader too. If you dug my feature on Electronic Arts' Frostbite game engine, that was just the beginning -- I hope you enjoy the ride because it isn't stopping anytime soon.

Timothy's favorite Katy Perry song is definitely "Birthday," and you can follow him on Twitter @TimSeppala.

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