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Have You Played... Cover Discs?

Remember when?

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Have You Played? is an endless stream of game retrospectives. One a day, every day of the year, perhaps for all time.

I couldn’t afford many games as a teenager, so like many other people I turned to the only other available legal avenue: cover discs. The demos they offered were often the only way I ever played the biggest games – games about which I still have strong memories and thick opinions years later, despite only experiencing a sliver – as well as the method by which I procured patches in an age when dial-up internet was slow and expensive.

Amiga Power’s were the first I remembered, more for the shareware games included on them than the demos. Extreme Violence for example was a two-player game in which you, as a little man, roved across a grey, mostly-featureless arena and sprayed bullets in an effort to find and kill your opponent. I remember there being a weapon which fired bouncy bullets and that being a particularly satisfying (and unfair) way to squish your distant opponent.

But mostly it was PC Gamer’s discs – CDs, at first, and then DVDs – which I used most. It was how I got Counter-Strike patches when FilePlanet was being achingly slow (sometimes requiring me to stop playing for weeks as servers updated faster than I could). It was where I tried all kinds of mods and free games I wouldn’t have heard of otherwise, particularly for first-person shooters like Quake and Unreal Tournament. It was where I played far, far more games than I would ever be able to buy. By offering all of these things, it felt like a bundle of game goodness and an exciting thing to receive each month.

My experience of cover discs does take one unusual turn compared to most other people: as I spilled out of my teens, I was hired to make the PC Gamer coverdiscs. I spent five (six? It felt like a long time) years selecting those demos, writing blurbs about those free games, and attempting to secure permission from mod developers to sell their work (or the work they had appropriated, did not own, and possibly had no right to grant me permission to use). It was a pleasure to get to make something I’d personally found so useful, even if much of those final years was spent hearing from people who thought the discs were redundant, did not want the discs to come with the magazine, and relished describing to me how they had thrown them in the bin.

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Graham Smith


Graham is to blame for all this.

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