Ah, the days of CD-ROMS... They were good, weren't they? My PC hasn't had a CD-ROM drive for several years now, but as a staunch lover of physical media, I just can't bring myself to chuck them out. Instead, most of the ones I still own have been buried deep in the recesses of the bags, boxes and drawers of my home office somewhere, rarely seeing the light of day and, in all honesty, might as well be in the bin for all the good they're currently doing.
But a couple of weeks ago, I was searching for a USB cable. Not any USB cable, I might add. The super long one I used for my Oculus Quest. I needed it to test the Oculus Quest 2, you see, but I couldn't for the life of my remember where I'd stashed it. I ended up turning my entire office upside down to look for it. Turns out it was in the spare room with all my other bits of tech (go figure), but the upshot was I found these glorious Half-Life beauties that my brothers used to own.
I mean, cor... That's a lovely set of CD-ROMs, even if I do say so myself. Look at those colours! The matching design! An excellent job all round by publisher Sierra Online, I must say.
Admittedly, I was too young at the time to remember the circumstances in which they were bought. Were they some kind of multi-buy offer from the holy tome of UK mail order games shops, Special Reserve? Or were they leftovers in PC World's bargain bucket bin? I honestly couldn't say. Heck, I don't even remember my brothers playing them on our family PC - and I used to watch them play everything back in the day, getting up early on a Saturday morning and coming down to the kitchen to find them playing Super Mario Bros on our NES and the like. I'm sure I would have noticed...
In fairness, my oldest brother probably had his own PC by the time 1998 rolled around, which is likely why I have no recollection of it even existing in our house until many years later when my parents asked during one of their semi-regular purges if they were still of any use to anyone.
Naturally, I immediately fished them out of the box destined for the tip, even though I myself didn't have a PC to play them on either, and have kept them ever since.
All three CD-ROMs are in incredibly good nick considering their age. The blue one is, unsurprisingly, the Blue Shift expansion released in 2001, while the one on the right is the Opposing Force expansion that first came out in 1999. The central one, meanwhile, contains Half-Life and the (and I quote) "NEW" Counter Strike" as a kind of Ultimate Edition bundle. It's a two CD set, with Half-Life on the orange disc and Counter-Strike on the black one pictured above.
I can only imagine they must have all been bought together, although quite why Opposing Force has the same slightly boring black "Half-Life Generations" design as the main disc set instead of something a bit funkier like Blue Shift is anyone's guess. Still, the bundle buy theory is backed up further by the fact that only the Half-Life / Counter Strike case has a proper instruction manual in it. The others just have a folded bit of card inside them with a blank inside.
It's not a particularly interesting instruction manual, all told, but I do like its very simple attempts to jazz things up a bit.
Bizarrely, it only contains instructions for Half-Life and Opposing Force, even though Opposing Force isn't the other game included in that particular jewel case, and there's no mention made of Blue Shift, or indeed Counter Strike. Still, I like the faded monochrome concept art of a Vortigaunt picking over a gooey human on the 'Getting Started' page for Half-Life, and holy moly, would you just look at those system requirements. 24MB of RAM! A 640x480 SVGA high-colour 16-bit display! 400MB of free hard disk space!
Those were the days...
My favourite, though, is the 'Getting Started' page for Opposing Force, which is decidedly more budget than the main Half-Life page. Not only does it have a very boring looking soldier man on it, but it also uses the Comic Sans of all 90s army fonts.
Still, you've got to give them some points for effort. Instead of just repeating the same phrases like "minimum system requirements" it says daft things like "WHAT EVERY SOLDIER MUST BE EQUIPPED WITH", and "WHAT YOUR COUNTRY RECOMMENDS" to sound cool and edgy (although I do like how they've still put 'minimum' and 'recommended requirements' in brackets underneath, just in case you didn't get the joke).
Sadly, it doesn't get any more interesting than that, as the other pages just have a Customer Services technical support telephone line (and fax!), some warranty info, yet more technical support policy wordage and a completely blank, pristine notes page. I mean, did my brothers even play these games? I'm not convinced...