Waaaaaaay back in September I touched upon what I defined as my list of Favorite Games from the Early PC Years (pretty much anything I remember from a floppy disk). And I haven't touched this series in a few weeks so today seems like a good day to tackle the next round of computer games for me. Effectively starting with my family's introduction to Windows 95 and computers that read off a CD-ROM, these are my favorite games from...
The most important element that game from these years of course was the introduction to the world wide web, even if it was through countless 1000 AOL Trial CDs and dial-up connections that took the phone line out of commission for hours at a time. But even before that, the new technology that moved video game installations from floppy disks to CDs meant much bigger games. I was a subscriber to PC Gamer during these years and was constantly playing games from their monthly demo disks. This list will even carry us through to the era of DVD-ROMs (with the next PC-centric installment focusing on the Digital Revolution and Steam years.
Loderunner - Actually, before diving into the actual PC games, I wanted to take a second to highlight the one Mac game I remember: Loderunner, which I would often play during lunches or in the PACT program class at my school. I honestly don't even remember what PACT stood for, just that it was a special class for "gifted" students. Sadly, though, I am not a member of the X-Men. Instead, we excelled in playing brain teasers, memory games and stuff like that. We also got to play computer games on the "best-quality-in-the-public-school" Macs, go on Oceanography trips to California, and enjoy Laserdisc-based space adventures, complete with "life-size" shuttle cockpits and lunar landing sites that they would have constructed in the classroom for a week or two each year. Good times...
Anyway, Loderunner was one of those computer games that we'd get to play, testing our problem-solving, of course (he wrote in hindsight). There was another (much cooler) space game too but I can't for the life of me remember the name of it. You basically started out with a crappy spaceship that you flew around Asteroids style. But instead of shooting asteroids, you would attack aliens, space pirates, or other players on the local network and collect money to upgrade your ship. Anyway, Loderunner was a pretty straightforward platformer, similar in ways to the old Atari Pitfall. You ran around a jungle setting climbing ladders and collecting gold pieces, while avoiding bad guys. Like I said, though, I much preferred that space game and hoped for years there would be a Windows version released but there never was and eventually I forgot its name altogether.
- Fun/Gross Fact #1: I peed my pants in elementary school while playing that space game one day because I refused to give up my spot at the computer. Not my finest moment. Fortunately, also not one I have ever repeated.
Doom - The old school first-person shooter. I don't think I realized until years later that there was any kind of story to that game. I just remember getting to kill demons with a lot of cool weapons. Also, for some reason, my parents had no problem with the violence of this game even though they would occasionally balk at that in other games like Mortal Kombat.
Duke Nukem 3D - Going above and beyond Doom, Duke Nukem gave the same satisfaction of killing lots of nasties (this time aliens) but with a pop-culture-quip-spewing tough guy as the lead. Sure, I didn't realize until years later that most of his dialogue was ripped from other characters but it was still a really fun game for a pre-pubescent 11-year-old to play. And not just because you could press the space bar in front of a stripper and flash her some cash in exchange for pixelated boobie tassels.
- Fun/Gross Fact #2: a friend of mine and I once stayed up late editing a screenshot of the flashing stripper in MS Paint and changed her tassels to nipples. And yet, I somehow didn't discover internet porn for another, like, eight or nine years. Well, I guess I knew about it but didn't investigate it first-hand per se...
Civilization II - After the awkward experience of my dad finding the doctored screenshot on the computer, I strayed away from shooters for awhile and moved on to games like those in the Civilization series. While I was never hardcore into the game (I rarely played above the Chieftain - aka Super Easy - level of difficulty), I definitely spent countless hours, days, and weeks leading random civs to world domination, pretty much always trying to cram as many Wonders of the World as possible into my Capital city. You want to see the Pyramids, Great Wall, Hanging Gardens, and Statue of Liberty all in the same place? Well then come on over to Trevor Town in the mighty Aztec empire.
Flight Simulator - Like Pilotwings for the Super Nintendo, the Flight Simulator games were games that both my dad and I could enjoy (though my dad was the only one of us who ever figured out how to land the planes. Growing up, I could fly over computer models of far away cities like Chicago or New York and my dad would point out the major landmarks like the Sears Tower or World Trade Center (and in horrifying retrospect, I probably crashed the planes into those buildings for fun at the time). As this was a somewhat annualized game for many years, it also served as a great routine gift idea for my sister and I. We probably gave him 5 or 6 different versions of the game for birthdays or Christmases over the years.
SimCity 2000 - Sid Meier (of the Civilization games) and Will Wright (of many Sim games) are responsible for a lot of my favorite games growing up and were probably the first two names I knew in video game development. The Mario games all came from Nintendo but I never knew who Shigeru Miyamoto was until much, much later. SimCity 2000 was a graphical step up from the Super Nintendo SimCity, which I loved and it was always so fun to build up a city, get things thriving, and then send aliens, or monsters, or fires, or tornadoes in to destroy it all and start over. Will Wright, in particular, was a master at finding ways to make seemingly mundane non-game things into great games like...
The Sims - One of the biggest selling franchises of all time, I loved these games early on. And my parents, god bless them, were gracious enough to buy me every stupid expansion pack that came out for the original game. For a brief time, I thought of pursuing a career as an architect because I always had the most fun building extravagant mansions in this game. Also, you could drown people by removing ladders from the pool or starve them by putting them in a room with no doors.
This is also the only game I think I ever really took part in joining the modding community. It was always simple things like doing a color palette swap on a couch or something, but I also had a lot of fun coming up with the names and descriptions of my new furniture pieces (foreshadowing my enjoyment of writing I suppose). I also remember introducing the game to a girl I had a crush on in high school and she really took to it. I think at some point, I even remember her telling me that she created her own Sims of our group of friends, but she couldn't get the Sims of her and her boyfriend to Woohoo (Simlish for sex if you didn't know). His Sim would go do his own thing and her Sim would just flirt with the Sim of me. Of course, nothing ever happened in real life between us (though I made a fool of myself a time or two trying).
- Fun/Gross Fact #3: I would often go to fan websites and download the free items that other modders had created (usually much more detailed work than my own with entirely new animations and everything). On one of those sites I found and downloaded a patch that would basically remove the pixel blur that happened when your sim would get naked in the shower and stuff and replace it with sim genitalia The weird thing is, I still wasn't even masturbating or anything at that point in my life (I was a bit of a late bloomer). I just knew boobs were awesome and I liked seeing them in whatever form they came in. My dad found those files too and I passed it off by saying it must have been a virus I accidentally downloaded or something. Pretty sure he knew better and it's kind of incredible we can still talk about anything at all.
Theme Hospital - Theme Park was a somewhat straightforward theme park simulator in the realm of the Roller Coaster Tycoon games that I enjoyed quite a bit. But its successor Theme Hospital was an off-the-wall hospital simulator where you researched how to solve cases of the Uncommon Cold, Bloaty Head, and Invisibility. Oh, and you also controlled where to put the radiators (and how hot/cold to set them) as well as where the soda machines went. One of my favorite parts was always giving the doctors a lounge where they could play pool or arcade games. Because if I just spend a long date writing prescriptions for "The Squits," I know that's where I'd want to go on break.
Warcraft II: Tides of Darkness - I've never gotten into World of Warcraft (or really any MMORPG for that matter) but I really enjoyed the Real-Time Strategy genre and the Warcraft games of the non-Massively Multiplayer Online variety. I mostly played as the Humans though, because killing Orcs was fun and I'm specist.
The Movies - Alongside some of the latter editions of The Sims, The Movies was the last game of this era I really played with any regularity. Those are the games I played once I was out of my parent's house and off at college, being a grown up. And one of the things I wasn't really interested in: having to spend money I didn't really have to upgrade or buy new computers to play the latest games (I really took that stuff for granted living at my folks' place). As a result, those were some mostly PC-free years. I eventually came back (after graduating and working a salaried job that paid somewhat decently) but the era of buying CD/DVD-ROMs was mostly gone. As mentioned above, now I can just buy a game on Steam and download it straight to the computer. But those games are for a later post.
Wrapping up this one was The Movies, another theme park-style simulator. But instead of a theme park, this time you run a fledging movie studio across the years, starting in the early days of silent film. You were in charge of hiring the actors, directors, and screenwriters as well as casting the films. You also determined how to researching new technology like color, sound, and special effects. This was a great game for me because it blended elements of so many of those computer games that I grew up enjoying with my (at the time) blossoming love for theatre and the arts.
So there's the second round of computer games that left a mark on me growing up. Any games in the list you also loved? Did my Fun/Gross facts creep you out and now you're going to run screaming and never return? Let me know in the comments!
Thanks for reading!