Gaming Made Me: Coverdiscs

By Will Porter on April 30th, 2011 at 9:38 am.

Major Stryker is still the best
This week on Gaming Made Me, games journalist and scriptwriter Will Porter remembers less a particular game and more an era – when PC games arrived thick and fast, each one a bewildering new delight. Also, James Pond, GTA and Craig Charles.

When RPS asked me if I fancied adding my own memories to their growing pit of guest writers’ formative games I found it hard to choose. So many memories, each one untidily spread-eagled in a dusty compartment of my brain and all a few neurons away from associated thoughts that are in turn wistful, happy and occasionally sad. Music has the power to instantly transport you back to your old self – your old thoughts, your old situation and your old emotions – and as I’ve become older I’ve increasingly realised that video-games have the same power over recall.

When I think of the games I used to play I don’t just remember that the cheat code for James Pond is YngwieJMalmsteen, I remember the way life was while I remembered how to spell it. Without wanting to overly critique the approach my RPS overlords take to this, there is no way that gaming ‘made’ me. It’s a soundtrack to my life – and an interactive and a brilliant one. (Even if, with hindsight, Rebel Assault isn’t quite as interactive or brilliant as it once seemed.)

Although, thankfully, all thumbs are currently angled upwards – over the generations my family has had what can only be described as a rich and colourful adventure with mental illness. I don’t want to over-dramatise, whether the casebook is open or closed countless others go through similar experiences – some milder, some far worse. Looking back to the formative games of my early teens though, when my newly minted 486 was above all something of an escape mechanism, the emotions that get conjured up aren’t something that can be neatly summarised with a thousand words on the scary growling noise that Pinkies make.

When I think about the original Grand Theft Auto my first response is an almost Pavlovian triggered memory of the unholy ruckus that the noise of its sirens triggered in our household. On the, very odd, occasion that I think of Ignition (a top down Micro Machines-esque racer from 1997) I don’t recall its wacky zaniness – I remember the time I played it while directing typically adolescent and bloody-minded verbal barbs at a distressed loved-one.

It’s minor chord in a longer melody, and one that would soon hit crescendo with a long period of hospitalisation, but somehow it’s become my go-to recollection of one of the most difficult times of my life. It’s one of my most raw memories, infused with a large degree of personal guilt, and it’s framed by a fucking top-down arcade racer. Which I strongly suspect wasn’t even very good.

I’m not alone in this. When you first encounter them games are of a specific time and of a specific place. They’re a direct link to your past. Perhaps Speedball 2 instantly reminds you of a lost loved-one whose sweaty funk you shared in intense shared-keyboard sessions in 1991. Perhaps the very mention of Operation Wolf whisks you back to the arcade in Megabowl: that awful carpet at your feet, the smell of popcorn in the air and the first vague stirrings of adolescence bouncing off your insides as you furtively glance away from the plastic gun and over at the pretty girl in a shellsuit that’s putting 50p into The Simpsons arcade machine.

Games of every hue are mental anchors – lumps of code that occurred at regular intervals in your life that you can hang your memories around. The reason retro gaming has such an appeal is because it provides a direct and unchanging channel to your past self – someone probably very different to the person who struts around with your body hanging off him today. For many (and overall, of course, for me) the skies weren’t only bluer, the grass wasn’t only greener and the world wasn’t only simpler in games of yesterday – so too our memories of our lives while we played them.

So, returning to the subject at hand, which game made me? Which game provided the digital beat that set me on the course to doing what I do now – itself a strange mixture of games journalising, consultancy and script-writing? Hard one that. When I was at university Grand Theft Auto 3, Powerstone and (oddly) Wacky Races on the Dreamcast were formative. When I met my wife to be (and this is a story for another time, and nowhere as incriminating as it sounds) it was an abandonware erotic adventure called Vida: Interactive Girls. When I lived in America it was Half-Life and Deus Ex. They all nudged me down this very particular rabbit-hole where Pokemon trivia is rampant and the drinks are sometimes free.

What made me though, what genuinely changed my life, wasn’t necessarily a game – it was the magazine PC Zone and its monthly cover CD. I’ve bored you to tears about that magazine before, but it’s not so much its written content I’m talking about here – it’s the remarkable demos that were strapped to its front from the 486-era onwards. In the early-mid nineties every game was a revelation – and in the PC’s shareware purple patch vast chunks of games like Doom, Quake, Duke 3D and Descent could rub shoulders on the magazine racks in Tesco’s.

I look back with something approaching pure and unadulterated happiness to when I’d sit on the bus on the way home, fondling my beloved issue and feverishly imagining what the games would be like once I’d reconfigured my autoexec.bat and config.sys. That anticipation was key. That feeling of knowing that you’re living through something as wonderful and fast-moving as the PC gaming golden age and, more than that, that you had the keys to a creative expanse that most around you did not. It was pretty special.

Everything was new, and everything was shiny. What’s more, somewhat unlike modern times in which when many gamers seem to knuckle down in favoured genres, back then you just played everything. Or at least the demo of it. A pool game where you control the cue with your mouse? Amazing. A Sensi-clone in which dogs and lady streakers could interrupt the flow of play? Jaw-dropping. A soldier voiced by Craig Charles? Mind blown. A top-down war game in which you have the control of individual tanks, apache helicopters and funny laser obelisks that fry all and sundry? Stop the clocks, we are at the start of something truly fucking magnificent. (Until around about the time of Red Alert 2, anyway).

Gaming got me through good times, and got me through bad times. Much as, I’m guessing, it did you. It’s not my hobby, it’s not a lifestyle and I don’t go around acting like ‘gamers’ are the oppressed minority that so many bleating internet automatons would insist. It is, instead, a vital part of me – of who I used to be, and who I am today. I wouldn’t be the same without it. And I certainly wouldn’t know how to spell Yngwie J. Malmsteen.

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71 Comments »

  1. BobsLawnService says:

    I liked that last paragraph. Sums up how I feel about the matter pretty well.

    And who could forget Interactive Girls – Vida. Part of the shameful past of mny an adolescent boy of the era.

  2. angryhenrik says:

    Rings true – Thinking back it’s certainly the things you were doing around the game (Collaborating to find the solution to Fate of Atlantis, or laughing at somebody’s incompetence at Wolfenstein 3D for instance!), that you remember.

    • Gnoupi says:

      Or when thinking about plying Worms Armageddon, I remember mostly fighting for the keyboard and pressing keys when the other is playing, for example

    • McDan says:

      This is so true, I think for nearly everyone the moments games brought about will be remembered than moments in the game themselves, like when playing goldeneye splitscreen and everyone dying when we all entered a roommat once in a frantic hail of bullets. Or when playing a wrestling game and someone getting so annoyed he threatened to stab us in the eyes. These are the good times that are remembered. Thank you Mr Porter.

  3. EGTF says:

    As someone who till recently was making the PCG UK cover disc, this makes me all kinds of sad and nostalgic. Even now with placing the focus on including more indie games, I feel most people will still only ever use the disc as a coaster or bin lining.

    • HermitUK says:

      Yeah, I rarely find myself needing to pop the PCG DVDs in the drive. With the internet these days there’s no shortage of free games and demos. Back in the day you knew these demo discs were your entertainment for the month. It’s why I spent weeks trying to finish a Grail Quest adventure game on the Amiga, despite it being nothing more than an example program to advertise a point and click game maker. And, I suspect, impossible to beat as well. Or Exile, a game I loved zipping around in, despite only having the demo. These days there’s not so much the need to make your own fun in that same way.

      In fact these days I often avoid a demo if a game is something I might want to play – I’d rather not play a chunk of the game which I’ll only have to do again in the full release.

    • LionsPhil says:

      I’ve got a bunch of 200X coverdiscs sitting around. They will very likely never see the inside of an optical drive. It’d take longer to find the right disk than to find the patch/demo in question on the Internet.

      (The 199X ones, however, and the floppies for the ST…an archive of Things that never made it into the tubes.)

  4. Phydaux says:

    Wow, I think you captured a significant few years of my childhood with this statement: “Everything was new, and everything was shiny. What’s more, somewhat unlike modern times in which when many gamers seem to knuckle down in favoured genres, back then you just played everything. Or at least the demo of it.”

    I never got pocket money as a child so I always had to wait for my birthday or Christmas for a new game. My Birthday is in February, so there were many months where I only had cover discs for new games. My parents were happy enough to subscribe to PC Gamer. And it was my gaming lifeline.

  5. Gnoupi says:

    Sums up my feelings as well, especially the last paragraph.

    I started gaming on PC in 98, and at the beginning the main games I had were from the discs offered with magazines. I was trying all demos on each of them. Genre didn’t matter much, as long as the game was fun.

    As of today, still the same, I play as part of my life, simply. I don’t have a genre, I just play whatever it is that is giving me a good time.

    When PC gaming became more “popular”, we saw the arrival of “one game” players. At the time it was mostly counter strike, now it’s shifting towards the CoD and equivalent series.

    But I still can’t link myself to one game.
    There are games I will play with passion for a week or two (Portal 2, recently), and that I will come back to in a few months maybe (like Prey that I finished recently).
    And there are games I will come back to more regularly (L4D2, Global Agenda recently), but not especially sinking into them.

    But I need to change, to always play something new, experiment new games. I can’t see myself just “turning on the computer and launching the one game”. Gaming offers such amount of variety, I can’t possibly limit myself to one game.

    • Sum0 says:

      Agreed. My friend told me recently that I burn through games rather quickly, never really sticking with one for more than a few weeks. I thought it was just because I’m generally impatient, but growing up in that golden age of cover CDs in the waning years of the 90s, it’s probably because I’m used to having a wealth of little game snippets available at my fingertips.

      Like most youngsters I couldn’t afford to buy new releases back then, so I’d play the same 30-minute demo over and over, pushing it to its limits and playing it to death. I must have played the demo level of Quake II a hundred times but I’ve never finished the full game.

      And on the subject of games defining your memories, I’ll never be able to remember September 11th without thinking of playing Sim Tower later that evening and suddenly feeling slightly bad for the subject matter.

    • arghstupid says:

      @SumO – I think I sunk hundreds of hours into the Daggerfall demo – there was one released on (I think) the US edition of PC gamer which I bought by mistake one month. It was pretty much the entire game minus the main story and with some restrictions on where you could travel. Given that it was stuffed full of enormous procedurally generated dungeons that didn’t really matter.

    • Archonsod says:

      “I thought it was just because I’m generally impatient, but growing up in that golden age of cover CDs in the waning years of the 90s, it’s probably because I’m used to having a wealth of little game snippets available at my fingertips.”

      Not to mention a new bunch of games every month when the latest issues hit the news stands.

  6. The Army of None says:

    “It is, instead, a vital part of me – of who I used to be, and who I am today.”

    Amen to this line most of all. Thanks for the smile, Mr. Porter.

  7. Spacewalk says:

    I’d like to see this made a two-parter with shareware being the next one as the two are inherently linked.

    Well, maybe for subscribers only.

  8. MuscleHorse says:

    I can relate to the opening with allusions to ‘colourful mental illness’ around you and gaming being a lifeline of escapism.
    I also feel that older games helped build my vocabulary – I was completely in love with wordy games such as Planescape, much to the bemusement of my dad who would rather be planning tea parties in Colonization.

  9. cheese lol says:

    Pretty much the article I would write if I was asked to do a Gaming Made Me. Video games bookmark many of my memories I wouldn’t usually recall. Whenever I get nostalgic, it’s usually at the prompting of some game from years past. Music does exactly the same thing as well, albeit for a different time in my life. I can’t really fathom the reason how games get so intertwined with memory, but note that these things were always just there. There in the best of times, and there in the worst of times. It’s funny how something so ostensibly trivial can become such an big part of you, but it’s for this reason I could never think to put video games down. How will I feel when, in fifteen years, I think about games I’m playing now?
    Here I go, getting all misty eyed.

    • BathroomCitizen says:

      Well, I can say that I’m already getting really GOOD memories of when I discovered Freespace a couple of years ago when it went on GoG.com. Right now I’m remembering the really huge explosions made by the capital ships, all this while I’m eating a bowl of cereals in hot milk.

  10. noom says:

    I love the point about genres not mattering back then. Games used to just be games, genre definitions were much looser, and my memories too are of just giving everything a go, before I fell into the pattern of FPS playing that dominated for so many years. Coverdisks are more evocative of the ST and ST Action magazine for me personally, but the feelings were the same. I really do wish I could still view gaming with the sense of excitement I did as a child.

    • Mario Figueiredo says:

      Genre definitions were much stricter, I believe it’s what you mean. Because games were a lot more simpler and to the point, while this was exactly the era in which genres were being defined. RPGs, Platform (arcade), adventure, FPS, Sims, all and more, were very well compartmentalized and games, even when occasionally crossing barriers, were rather easy to define.

      Genres didn’t matter because we would eventually play out every single game type we could put our hands on. But we would still build preferences, and back then it was far easier for a gamer to adhere to a genre knowing that rarely a game of that type would disappoint them.

    • Mario Figueiredo says:

      Genre definitions were much stricter, I believe is what you mean. Because games were a lot more simpler and to the point, while this was exactly the era in which genres were being defined. RPGs, Platform (arcade), adventure, FPS, Sims, all and more, were very well compartmentalized. Games, even when occasionally crossing barriers, were rather easy to define.

      Genres didn’t matter because we would eventually play out every single game type we could put our hands on. But we would still build preferences and recognize games for their genre. Back then however it was far easier for a gamer to adhere to a genre knowing that rarely a game of that type would disappoint them.

    • Mario Figueiredo says:

      Genre definitions were much stricter, I believe it’s what you mean. Because games were a lot more simpler and to the point, while this was exactly the era in which genres were being defined. RPGs, Platform (arcade), adventure, FPS, Sims, all and more, were very well compartmentalized. Games, even when occasionally crossing barriers, were rather easy to define.

      Genres didn’t matter because we would eventually play out every single game type we could put our hands on. But we would still build preferences. We would still talk about games in terms of genres just like today. “I like RPGs”, “Id makes great FPSs”, “Adventures games are becoming stale”, “Point & Click Adventure is becoming the next thing”…

      What happened between then and now was that games started to cross genres more often, and admittedly new genres were defined that instead of gaining a new definition where instead classified as hybrid types. “Action/RPG” is an example of an hybrid that should have deserved a new classification and thus spare us the constant useless discussions about whether some game is more an RPG than Action, or the other way around.

    • Mario Figueiredo says:

      Genre definitions were much stricter, I believe it’s what you mean. Because games were a lot more simpler and to the point, while this was exactly the era in which genres were being defined. RPGs, Platform (arcade), adventure, FPS, Sims, all and more, were very well compartmentalized. Games, even when occasionally crossing barriers, were rather easy to define.

      Genres didn’t matter because we would eventually play out every single game type we could put our hands on. But we would still build preferences. We would still talk about games in terms of genres just like today. “I like RPGs”, “Id makes great FPSs”, “Adventures games are becoming stale”, “Point & Click Adventure is becoming the next thing”…

      What happened between then and now was that games started to cross genres more often, and admittedly new genres were defined that instead of gaining a new definition where classified as hybrid types. “Action/RPG” is an example of an hybrid that should have deserved a new classification and thus spare us the constant useless discussions about whether some game is more an RPG than Action, or the other way around. In fact, the traditonal RPG genre in video games was possibly the most affected by this nonsense. No doubt due to being the single genre in gaming history that most evolved in terms of gameplay and design changes.

  11. Love Albatross says:

    PC Format once accidentally gave away a full copy of James Pond 2. It was supposed to be a demo version limited to a couple of levels but they’d left in a cheat activated via the level select screen which unlocked everything. I was proper chuffed when I discovered that little slip-up.

    • _Jackalope_ says:

      I remember that! I had a friend who knew the cheats and when we gave it a go it suddenly unlocked all the doors that were blocked off. Had to collect all those pickups in a certain order I think.

  12. Sander Bos says:

    Nice article.
    But the real nostalgia-bringer for me is the cover-floppy disk image. The article is more about cover-CDs I think so the image does not really apply to this article. I am from the Amiga generation one before. (like I guess there was a tape-generation before me, weren’t there C64 magazines with demo-tapes? And typing in listings before that).

    I bought about three magazines a month in that time, most with one or even two disks. Meaning I had boxes full of those (not quite so) floppy disks, hardly ever with their original content.. Probably there was a repurposed demo floppy in my field of vision for 10% of the time I was awake during those years.
    Can easily be more than a year ago now that I saw a real life 3.5″ floppy disk.

    Brings back memories. And it’s just memories now. Because I read an article this week that the average Dutch person plays computer games for 4 hours a week, meaning I am now below the national average.

    • Archonsod says:

      Yup, I fondly remember the demo of Treasure Island Dizzy which was on Your Sinclair I believe, and a wonderful 3D shooter called Virus or something similar I got from the cover of Crash. Sunk hours into that one.

    • dogsolitude_uk says:

      I remember cover tapes. Your Sinclair did the first one that I recall: a car racing game. They followed that up with Batty (an Arkanoid clone), which I remember buying at the PCW show from the YS stand :)

      Shortly afterwards demos and complete games were given away on cover tapes, until ELSPA (IIRC) put the kybosh on the practise. This is why PC Gamer can’t give away whole games on the cover CD.

    • Thermal Ions says:

      Ah yes, I remember typing in the programs from magazines before the whole cover tape/disk thing started. Then later the PC Zone disks which for a while comprised probably at least half my gaming time. I’ve still got that exact Major Stryker one lying around here somewhere.

      These days with the internet, I seem to actually buy magazines for the articles instead of the coverdiscs, which get a cursory look but hardly ever make it into the drive.

  13. Mr Tom says:

    I’ve got an ungodly amount of Amiga cover disks upstairs. I have NO idea what to do with them… Amiga Format, CU Amiga, Amiga Power and so on. One day I’ll have the room to set up my Amiga again and go through them all.

    • GameOverMan says:

      Same here (the disks, not the Amiga, which I sold many years ago). I loved those magazines and their cover disks (discs, eventually) You could find some gems in the form of shareware/freeware games and that was the only way I could obtain them before the popularization of the Internet.

    • TheTingler says:

      Will never, ever sell my Amiga, at least until I can find a way to emulate it properly.

  14. BathroomCitizen says:

    Great, great article Will!

    It really summed up my thoughts of these last days while I was at work. Back then we just tried EVERY demo on the cover discs of magazines like Pc Gamer, and everything that came out was seen like a big discovery.

    Now, another thought to which I cannot find a solution: right now I feel kinda nostalgic and hopeful with all this indie games renaissance, but I really have an hard time appreciating the blockbusters kind of games – think Dragon Age, Crysis, Call of Duty BLOPS, etc… . I don’t want to sound like a luddite or something like that, but the more the graphics get advanced, the more I feel disconnected from that world of ultra-detail.

    Am I just getting older or do you feel like that too? The majority of today’s games seem to have lost their sparkle, while if I boot up Half-Life 1 I still get the excitement of when I was a kid.

    • Quinnbeast says:

      Couldn’t agree more. I’ve recently finished Bulletstorm, and thoroughly enjoyed it… but I can’t say I have any fondness for it in a way that will linger like some of the games of my youth.

      In contrast, I’m pretty sure it was Amiga Power that brought me the shareware delight that was Extreme Violence. This was the game that opened my eyes to the wonder of trying to shoot your brother in face in a (now) gloriously pixelated format. Hearing the “BLEAH” sound of your opponent getting in the way of one of your bullets for the first time is permanently etched into the inside of my brain.

      http://www.lemonamiga.com/reviews/view.php?id=225

      There are still some new games that bring up little gems that will stay with me, but they’re far fewer now. I don’t really know if I was just easily entertained as a teenager, or if games design genuinely has lost something amongst the big budgets and huge development teams. I guess Extreme Violence wouldn’t have paid the bills as well as the latest CoD release.

      Mind you – in the last month or two especially, I’ve spent far more time playing Defence Grid, Revenge of the Titans and Braid than any big budget games… and was far happier to pay for them too.

    • FKD says:

      @Bathroom Citizen:
      I have to agree as well, because I often wonder the same thing.. did I just enjoy games more when I was younger (during my “computer time” these days I find myself more and more just sitting around reading RPS as oppose to actually playing any games because they are just not capturing me like they did before) or is there really a difference in games these days that I am not connecting with?

      I do feel that alot of games these days are so focused on graphics that story comes second, and it would also seem that so does the length of the game. With that said, I know not all new games fall into that area, but it does seem like most do.

      You mentioned Half-Life 1, and I remember having an absolute AWESOME time playing it! And I feel like I am one of the very few people who just did not “connect” with HL2 because I still have yet to get probably more than half way through :/

    • meeper says:

      @FKD

      HL2 sits partially completed for me, too. But I burned through HL1. I’ve never been able to articulate why I can’t seem to connect with it.

    • Vinraith says:

      Conversely, I’ve played through HL2 twice, but never finished Half Life 1. Too many bullshit boss fights, and Xen just sucked. The marines and ninjas were a hell of a lot of fun, though, which might explain why I ended up enjoying Opposing Force more (well, up until the end anyway).

    • FKD says:

      HA! Me too! I did not mind the boss fights too much though, but I was having a ton of fun fighting the soldiers and ninjas, and then all of a sudden I was in Xen and I was like “Uhhh..ok..” Played Opposing Force right up to the point you go through the portal and then did not bother going any further. As for Blue Shift, I am not sure how far I got in it, but by then it felt as though the game was being recycled way too much.

  15. sonofsanta says:

    A thousand times this.

    As with others here already, I was an Amiga coverdisk whore. I got my Dad to buy me Amiga Format, Amiga Power, Amiga Action and The One every month more or less just for the cover discs. I still have nearly all of them upstairs where my A500 is still set up (I love my wife). I have about 30 full games and 500 cover discs.

    I learnt Italian football from the Championship Manager Italia demo that only let you play 2/3rds of a season, but played it so often I could genuinely watch and understand that Sunday morning Ch4 programme (GOOOOOOOOOALLACCIO!).

    I remember buying Amiga Action in W H Smiths with my Mum and when we came out she bumped into someone she knew, so I had to sit in the little café in the shopping centre whilst they talked, anxious to get home and play Bob’s Bad Day that was on the disc.

    I remember just going through all those discs with 20 shareware games on, all miraculously squeezed on to an 880k disc, flicking through them all and finding hours of entertainment in all the weird little puzzles and platformers.

    Demos of Yo Joe, Global Gladiators, pinball games by Digital Illusions (sod Battlefield 3, DICE, make more pinball!), random Sensi mash ups, endless hours of endless games played out on repeating stages of simple levels, my 8 year old brain happily going through it over and over again, the comfort of the defined little playpen of a demo.

    So yes: thanks for this. Hits the nail on the head absolutely. Games are memories are snapshots of life.

  16. bigtoeohno says:

    “internet automatons” hehe. (i’m aware of the irony)

  17. lurkalisk says:

    Ah, I remember Major Stryker. Good times, those.

  18. bill says:

    Wow. Major nostalgia trip.
    For the lognest time, those cover discs were so exciting… and fiddling with autoexec files to try to get some of the newer demos to run on my pc was a game in itself.
    But I did burn out after a while – too many games on each disc, and too many shareware and clone games meant that 90% of the games lead to disappointment.

    But then you got the occasional demo that you played over and over for years.

    Ignition rocked btw! Except it was unstable as hell on my pc and crashed 1 in 4 races.

  19. Zakski says:

    Ignition is the BOMB! that and the red alert demo

    • LionsPhil says:

      That Ignition screenshot was a real “whoa, I remember that, and haven’t thought about it in years”.

      Mobygames says 1997. Those are some really nice 3D graphics for then.

  20. apa says:

    I still have the Amiga/ST coverdisks from The One magazines. I bought it always for the PC coverage but kept the disks “just in case”… Now I have an old A500,got it free from a friend, but those old cover disks wont work any more:(

  21. BobsLawnService says:

    If we’re going to talk about non-PC over disks and thinhgs my formative years were spent playing Sinclair User Megatapes. The first being one with a game called HyperActive. Then there was the one containing both US Gold’s Beachhead games and then the SU Kamakazi Bear vehicle Bear-A-Grudge. I can still taste the instant custard I used to guzzle while playing them.

    Mr. Parker, how about that story about meeting your wife thanks to Interactive Girls? It sounds like a bit of a laugh.

  22. dangermouse76 says:

    Spot on with the last paragraph by the way. The net has introduced me to some very distasteful people over the years in terms of gaming.

    For me it was the Amiga and as for yourself the demo’s on the cover were a massive part of my growing up. Navigator was the best Amiga ever. It was 3D for fuck sake. All you did was fly around in first person view trying to kill a baddy flying a similar space ship.

    In a blue ball about 5 miles across. If you flew really close you could see the driver in the cockpit.

    And at the time I had great friends was really into mountain biking and swimming, fun rounded happy days.

  23. Laephis says:

    I still have many of the PCGamer demo CDs, the oldest one being Sept 1996. It proudly features the full, seven-level demo of Quake. Man, do I miss those days…

    • dangermouse76 says:

      Got me thinking what is the oldest game I still own…….lemmings I think for the Amiga ( 1991 )

      Still love that game.

    • meeper says:

      @dangermouse76

      Overlord, circa 1990. My first PC game and I’ve still got the 5 1/4″ discs in my drawer (somehow they’ve survived multiple desk changes over the years).

    • Armante says:

      oldest game I still own.. I confess I still have a case full of Spectrum 48K games on audio tape :) My gaming started in 1980-81. I so fondly remember the 4 and a half minutes it would take to load a tape, the screech and growl of it. And whole worlds opening up..

      I’ve been a gamer since then. Spectrum, Amiga 1000, PC.. I’m almost 40, and have played video games for practically 3/4′s of my life. Games do definitely form a part of who I am now. I cannot imagine ever not playing them, one way or another. Real life now makes some different demands, and I spend more time reading RPS than actually playing, but I’ll always recall playing HL through the 1st time. Fave game ever :)

  24. Archonsod says:

    “Perhaps the very mention of Operation Wolf whisks you back to the arcade in Megabowl: that awful carpet at your feet, the smell of popcorn in the air and the first vague stirrings of adolescence bouncing off your insides as you furtively glance away from the plastic gun and over at the pretty girl in a shellsuit that’s putting 50p into The Simpsons arcade machine.”

    I often find the mere mention of the Star Wars sit in arcade cabinet is sufficient to ensure misty eyed looks on entire rooms of men of a certain age. I’ll always remember it for being the one arcade that saw me, my dad and my grandad fighting over who would get the next go.

  25. terry says:

    I love covertapes/disks. The first one I got was in my dad’s issue 1 of Your Sinclair, “Rasputin” which was a rolling (non-playable) demo of an overly difficult and rather cruddy isometric puzzle/platformer, but I loved it to bits because it was practically a free game to my tiny mind.

    Later on when the covertape wars were underway and before magazines started cramming on as many bargain bin B-games as possible onto the tapes, it was a cheap way of building an entire game collection over a few months. It was entirely normal to have classics such as Chaos (by the Gollops, later of X-COM fame), Cyclone (weather-based isometric helicopter rescue-em-up) rubbing shoulders with inscrutable text adventures by some Scottish bloke, some music visualiser by Jeff Minter, a Spanish shoot em’up, a specially themed demo, a host of game cheats tied up in a glitzy menu, perhaps even audio of the magazine staffers crooning a syrupy ballad or incomprehensibly, the Afterburner soundtrack. A grab bag of entirely unexpected delights, every time. Even if the games were guff, the memory of looking forward to them while they booted up was worth every penny.

    Later still, the Amiga magazines (CU Amiga, AF) provided the samesuch delights for me for insanely supplying commercial creative software on a second disk along with the games. I can blame CU Amiga’s Protracker and AF’s Octamed disks for getting me into music production all those years ago. I can blame Peter Molyneux’s code snippets for Populous for telling me I would never learn to code in Devpac. I can blame the covermounted video effects program that set me on path to my current multimedia noodlings. But I can never forget them :-)
    Edit: Except the name of the effects program, it was a bit crap.

  26. Sunjammer says:

    Such a wonderful article, thank you Will. My favorite memories are also not of the games themselves but of the state my world was in at the time. I have extremely fond memories of Duke3D, not for the gameplay but because me and my best buddy would sit taking turns in Build, making outlandish “forts” which we’d later challenge eachother to explore. System Shock 1 was played on borrowed time, sitting in a friend’s basement on his brother’s 486; I remember the guilt of being an antisocial parasite as much as how much the game amazed me.

    I suspect my deep infatuation with the Marathon series on the Mac are more about finding an online community that cared about it as much as me as it was about enjoying the actual play.

    Not to be all “old man” here, but i keep feeling sorry for kids today; Games are just so good and polished and (above all) fleeting, it’s got to be hard for an individual title to make a life-defining mark.

    • dogsolitude_uk says:

      I dunno. I’m getting on a bit, but I still find myself getting really lost and enthralled by games in the same way I did when I was 8 and playing Jet Set Willy.

      I think there’s a lot of pressure on us as we grow older to be more and more ‘adult’, in the workplace and at home, and that can leak into every area of our lives.

      To get round this, years ago I decided that no matter how professional and sharp-suited I had to be in the workplace, no matter how responsible I had to be at home, I would still allow myself to let go from time to time and really relax into that childlike reverie I used to have as a kid. It could be with a game, or with a book, or a picture or even gazing out of the window wondering what sort of funny little creatures could be living at the back of the garden.

      I find doing this keeps me interested in the world around me, and also helps me tap into my creative side when needs be too.

  27. arghstupid says:

    The demise of the cover disk/cd is another symptom of the general switch away from centralised media. While most people regard this as generally positive, it’s always interesting to read articles that highlight the advantages of the old approach.

    As has been mentioned, the cover disk did expose you to a range of genres. “back then you just played everything. Or at least the demo of it.”. Well not quite – you played everything on the disk.

    In the same way John Peel used to be pretty much the only way I got to hear new music. He exposed me to a whole range of stuff I’d never have listened to otherwise. I doubt very much that many of the acts he championed would get more then a handful of bandcamp downloads these days, and the ‘legacy band’ dominance of music and tour sales today may similarly be due to the (often ineffective) self promotion of most new bands today.

    The flip side of course is that Peel got far more demos then he had time to listen to, let alone play – I wonder how many great little indie or shareware games never made it on to the front of your favourite mag and died an anonymous death in someone’s bedroom.

    I think what I’m trying to say is that the increase in choice afforded by the internet, while making it superficially easier for people to create and market new and interesting ideas, has actually made people less inclined to try new things accross the board – if there’s a limitless supply of familiar stuff you already know you like why shift through all the crap to find something fun -and- different?

    What I really miss is that the cover disk’s fall from dominance has reduced importance of demos in the eyes of the developer/publisher. I honestly think these are still one of the best ways of creating interest (and possibly reducing piracy) but it’s now normal for games to be released without a demo, and when they do arrive it often looks like an afterthought or is little more then a tutorial level.

  28. Carra says:

    Ah, cover cd’s. It’s what got me discovering the various genres back in ’97. I still remember the first cd that came with my PC games magazine I still buy. A demo of Broken Sword 2 got me playing adventure games which I really liked. A demo of a second rate RTS game got me playing those games. Constructor was a very fun building game. And indeed, trying out pretty much anything on the cover cd that didn’t need a 3D card. It was a great way to spend your time gaming for little money. And we had no internet yet so it was the only way to get those demos.

    And these days I still play a lot of genres, as long as it’s good. Demo’s however? Since the steam deals where you can buy a full game for €5 I’ve been playing very little demos. There’s already more full length games on my PC then I can play.

  29. Corrupt_Tiki says:

    Act as if Red Alert 2 was a step backwards, shame on you!

    • FKD says:

      Hehe I am actually one of the (few it seems) people that agree! I really loved the origional RA, and was super excited when the second came out and then had a “WTF is this?” moment when I played it. :/ I think part of that is because I only managed to beat RA1 as the Soviets and then I read in PC Gamer a review of RA2 saying something along the lines of “And you know how the Soviets lost at the end of RA1″ and I said “What!? No they did not! I took over the world!” I guess part of me was really expecting RA2 to take off where you ended in RA1. If you played as the Soviets then you were starting off as the winners from the last game, and likewise for if you played Allied (since in RA1 you would have won with them).

      Though I guess I can see how they wanted to have a set “canon” way the story went.. kind of like how “the real Sheppard” is male when I can tell you for a fact that she is female! lol

    • sinister agent says:

      Male Sheperd is a device used to confuse the real Sheperd’s enemies, see. All these evil types see pictures of this generic underwear model, so they waste their time looking for him to try and kill him, while the real Sheperd is busy doing her job.

  30. sinister agent says:

    Definitely strikes a few chords, this. Games more than anything are how I date my childhood and early-mid teens.

    It was because of a coverdisk that I bought my first ever copy of Amiga Power, at the highly impressionable age of ten.

    I don’t think I need to say any more than that, really.

  31. Mr Wonderstuff says:

    Ah coverdisks…how I used have a rack and racks of the things. Interestingly, in a recent move to the west country I have become mates with Culky (he of PCZone coverdisk videos) who runs the local organic food place. He hasn’t changed a bit.

  32. Text_Fish says:

    YES. I am confident in saying that PCZ cover disks introduced me to all of my favourite games of all time. I even have fond memories of whatever godawful software they used to display it all — in hindsight it was probably more of a problem with Windows, but the autoplay would always royally screw up any other programs I had running. I still have the special Quake 1 and 2 disks as an invaluable archive of great mods and addons that are horribly difficult to track down online these days.

    Now please, reassemble the Zone team.

  33. Metonymy says:

    Every single one of these G.M.M. editorials spirals into a repulsive sob story.

    I’m just letting you know. Objective, outside opinion.

  34. Jae Armstrong says:

    I remember my first cover disc.

    PCG, Total Annihilation vs. Dark Reign. And a whole bunch of stuff on the second.

    I preferred Dark Reign.

  35. Tetragrammaton says:

    Everything was new, and everything was shiny. What’s more, somewhat unlike modern times in which when many gamers seem to knuckle down in favoured genres, back then you just played everything. Or at least the demo of it. A pool game where you control the cue with your mouse? Amazing. A Sensi-clone in which dogs and lady streakers could interrupt the flow of play? Jaw-dropping. A soldier voiced by Craig Charles? Mind blown. A top-down war game in which you have the control of individual tanks, apache helicopters and funny laser obelisks that fry all and sundry? Stop the clocks, we are at the start of something truly fucking magnificent. (Until around about the time of Red Alert 2, anyway).”

    brought a tear to my eye. *sniff*

  36. TheTingler says:

    Definitely agree here Will. It’s interesting that you brought up the original Grand Theft Auto, as I can vividly remember hours of fun me and my friends had with the time-limited demos. When I finally got GTA1 I played it for about 30 minutes and got bored with it. Without being forced into doing crazy things within a specific time limit, it was too open to be fun.

    The first game I got for my Amiga was a coverdisk from CU Amiga with about 200 games on it. I played some of those for years.

    I didn’t get my PC and subsequently PC Zone until the disks had been replaced with the discs. My first PCZ CD promised hundreds of maps for Quake II, before you bought the mag and discovered that this equated to about ten poorly-made single-player maps with no exits, and about 150 poor multiplayer maps. I wouldn’t have the capability to play online for another couple of years, so I was a bit peeved at PC Zone for that. I missed out the next issue because of that betrayal, which was the first £2.99 redesign issue. The issue after that however was an incredible multi-preview issue that I consider one of the best issues of the mag. I never missed an issue since.

    Well, apart from the December 2010 issue, as some sods at Future changed my prescription to PC Gamer by accident. Never did manage to get a copy.

  37. vandinz says:

    Back in the day before t’internet, cover mags were a God send. Now though, they’re just something that needs throwing in the bin when you get home. If Magazines had realised this, removed them and reduced the price, more mags would’ve been sold imo.

    • sinister agent says:

      Probably true. The idea of paying more than a couple of quid just because there’ s a coverdisk was outmoded by the early 2000s.

  38. Eclipse says:

    “It’s one of my most raw memories, infused with a large degree of personal guilt, and it’s framed by a fucking top-down arcade racer. Which I strongly suspect wasn’t even very good.”

    Hey! Ignition was great!

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