As with anyone who has a real interest in video games, I have dabbled in my fair share of PC gaming as well as the much loved console environment. As much as consoles make gaming easy and fun, the PC offers the gamer an entire universe of weird and wonderful games that would never be seen on a mainstream piece of hardware. If you want to farm crops in real time, it’s got your back. Want operate a train for nine hours straight? Fill your boots, or if you just want to run around naked in the game of your choice, you could probably do that too.
Half Life was a big deal for me when I first booted that up on my ‘Dad’s’ new computer. Not only did it shit all over any console in terms of its graphics engine but the story was so well crafted for an FPS game you really felt like you’d accomplished something more than a huge pile of bodies.
You play as Gordon ‘Butterfingers’ Freeman, an unlucky scientist who almost destroys humanity due to his cack-handedness. On this particular day you enter Black Mesa for another day at the office, put on your overalls and go to run a few tests, in what looks like a huge microwave oven. Gordon is helping move some equipment around the test area but at one point appears to trip and pushes a trolley into the beam of energy…queue random strange events, portals, and aliens, which then leads to Gordon having to attack extra-terrestrials with a crowbar and eventually warp through space and time to rain fire on natives in another dimension. It’s no wonder the game become one of the best loved PC titles ever made.
As a teen I could never afford a monster spec machine myself, so had to rely on making my dad aware of just how important graphics were if I was to efficiently carry out manslaughter in a first person perspective. The seemingly endless argument still continues on the subject of violent video games and their apparent effects on young people’s minds, but from memory the righteous PC gamers have had it easy. Men and women in game developing studios around the globe have spent many hundreds of hours meticulously creating a virtual world for gamers of all ages to explore, in which they maim or kill terrestrial and extra-terrestrial beings with all manner of weaponry. The adults here are not to blame as they are no longer children, although the video game they created is. The sad thing is that while these ‘responsible’ adults are arguing the toss over console games that I consider to be satire and often plain comical. If your son or daughter has been using your electricity, sitting on your furniture, playing a game which you bought with your money which is for adults only, then that is YOUR choice, not theirs.
Some of the games created by independent programmers back in the late 90’s on the PC would make Grand Theft Auto look like Sesame Street. I remember trying to get hold of one game on the PC which was based in a crude virtual American suburb created using photos, which were then turned into sprites for you to kill at your leisure. From memory you could tie people up, gag them and then use a Stanley knife to draw things on them. I think you could also put a bag over their head and hit them with a hammer. I’m sure this game appeared in a games magazine before being banned but no one talks about the small fry, only the ones that sell, which makes you think. Doesn’t it?
James Bond is a clear example of how on screen simulated sex and violence, when produced and distributed by the right people, will never receive a mention when news of a human between the ages of twelve and eighteen decides he wants to end the lives of a number of people.
In fact most actors who have play the quintessential British lunatic in a tux receive knight hoods, from the British Monarchy. Roger Moore, made famous by globetrotting, karate chopping people and getting Russian girls to eat his dick as a top secret agent, is herald as a social icon. Roger nowadays attends all manner of parties and award ceremonies for depicting a man who drives weaponised vehicles, fucks foreign women and shoots numerous people on screen for around 120 minutes. Not only did Roger serve in the British army but he became a captain at one point and If I’m not mistaken you don’t become captain because you can polish your shoes to a mirror finish.
Before I left home and spent all my hard-earned on games consoles, my time with PC’s was spent well, titles like Soldier of Fortune 2 was another reason to upgrade your machine. An FPS with a multitude of hit locations, enter and exit wounds, realistic sounds and weapons plus a great online community required some decent hardware. The game was so violent in parts that It was banned in several countries and in terms of gore, it has perhaps never been matched in any titles since.
It wasn’t just highly rated for its graphic content, the online community was dedicated, servers were packed with all kinds of different gangs and clans. My best friend managed to gain entry to a group whose rules were simple. They were a ninja clan who never used guns, only knives, if you managed to kill every gang member once in a session with throwing knives only, you would be eligible for entry.
But it wasn’t all guns, gore and ammo. As a fan of aviation I did spend a lot of time playing flight sims. I bought a Thrustmaster multi axis joystick with throttle and yaw controls and bought some budget titles to get flying. The A10 Thunderbolt was one of my favourite planes for the simple fact it is essentially a flying cannon. America for all their enthusiasm for things bad for the world, have produced some of the greatest marvels in the engineering world and the A10 is just fascinating.
The ‘cannon’ or GUA-8 Avenger, is not something you’d want to be on the receiving end of. Typically mounted to a battleship, American aerospace manufacturer Fairchild-Republic thought it would be an excellent idea to build a plane around it. The gun is a 30mm hydraulically driven seven-barrel Gatling-type cannon, it’s 19ft long and weighs around two tons. It fires anti everything rounds which are made of an aluminium shell with a depleted uranium core. This makes it not all too hard to tell who has been up to no good on an international scale, when a country fires projectiles at you made from the by-product of nuclear weapons manufacture.
At an air show that I attended around five years ago, I met an American pilot of the flying tank who let me in on some lesser known facts; You can’t fire the weapon very long for two reasons, one, the gun would melt and two, the fire power of the weapon slows the aircraft down so much so that you have be careful it doesn’t fall out of the sky.
The game in question was A10 Cuba!. I remember buying the game in a pack of other flight sims made by Activision. The difference between the console flight games and sims on the PC is that you could plug in all sorts of peripherals to further the simulation experience. The cockpit is pretty daunting when you first load up the game, I think it took me about fifteen minutes of studying the booklet and controls to figure out how to start the plane and take off. Once in the air you are told to head towards a destination shown on the map or radar, presumably where you would annihilate a target. I can’t remember if I got there or not, most of the time was spent looking at the controls, while the aircrafts engines fade to be replaced with alarms and beeping noises. I got pretty good at emergency landings in residential areas though.
Activision made a number of hit titles on the PC at the time, that didn’t help me out when it came to homework. The mid to late nineties was a memorable time on the PC platform, one of my all-time favourites was Activisions Interstate 76.
I bought the game during a sale when many titles of the same age we price slashed as the next generation emerged. The front box art was big, bold and original. It stood out from the crowd and to be honest it still does. As games fall more and more into line with hugely commercial movie blockbusters and TV, box art has become a generic, tick all the aesthetics boxes, clichéd mess. Interstate 76 is a solid cult classic, at the time I had no idea just how influential the game would be until a little while later.
The game could be said to have taken inspiration from Carmageddon, Mad Max and Twisted Metal but in reality there was a wealth of original content loosely based around familiar scenes from retro movies and video games. I used to play Interstate with the Thrustmaster, it actually worked pretty well. The forward movement of the joystick was used for throttle and back was obviously for braking, this was perfect for cruising at speed around the large landscapes in the game. Using the controls on top, I could look around the cockpit of the car, fire the multitude of weapons using the triggers and enjoy a wide, controlled range of steering.
The game is based around the gas guzzling 70’s but in an alternate reality where the oil crisis was very much prolonged and the world became even more dangerous as a result. Using armoured, weaponised vehicles (much like international terrorist James Bond), gangs formed to try and take control of the precious black gold. Any car fan was suitably catered for as many vehicles from the time period were at your disposal to modify with armour and weapons.
Quite cleverly the main protagonist is told early on that he should never get out of his car, in the event something bad happens. You could only play from the vehicle perspective, whilst the cut scenes were the only time you’d see characters, you couldn’t blame them really, this was already an impressive environment, so to have free roam out of the vehicle would be pushing it. The large simple polygons of the game environment and characters worked exceptionally with the art work, producing a very distinctive feel and look. To add to this the script was pretty engaging too, whilst roaming and I mean roaming because the game world was large enough that you got to enjoy the rumble of your V8 and the rolling hills and peaks that surrounded you in the deserts of the USA.
The games soundtrack was also a little bit special as it had been perfectly crafted for the game by Arion Salazar, who later formed the group Third Eye Blind. An excellent keyboardist by the name of Tom Coster and Bryan Mantia who had previously played with Primus and Guns and Roses. It had an authentic 70’s feel to it and so it was a great accompaniment to the games missions. You cruised the desert being fed information by Taurus. Taurus isn’t his real name, it’s what people call him. He lived as a poet in New England with a wife and daughter, who were killed by criminals. He helps Groove to adjust to being a vigilante, guiding him along his quest. His poetry could be sampled by pressing the ‘C’ key while in driving mode.
If you’ve never played the game you might not be bowled over simply by reading Taurus’s poems. But in the game, when you’re rolling on the black top, somewhere alone in the desert, Greg Eagle’s voice settled your mind as you embarked on another dangerous mission against the autovillians, or creepers as they were known.
In the next couple of years, the internet became fast enough for a little online gaming, depending on your location I guess. I remember struggling to get connected at first but eventually worked out some bugs to play Interstate online. The only memory I had of this was appearing in the game environment in my standard car and a dragster (not a car included in the original game) fired some kind of tomahawk missile at my car which blew it to smithereens. I was out of my depth, I had no idea about modding at this time or add ons, I spectated for a bit but decided this wasn’t my time, especially with a dial up connection I was going to have my ass handed to me.
I could go on and on about PC gaming during this time, there were a great many titles and the detail of which just wasn’t matched on the consoles. When I moved out of my parents place at twenty one years of age, I lost touch completely with PC gaming as I could never afford a rig. It’s only now, almost a decade later that I have been able to purchase my first powerful PC. I now have access to every game since gaming began, a super-fast internet connection and a salary. Multiplayer games are common place and so I now find myself downloading retro games and watch my computer laugh it’s circuits off as it tries to slow itself down to play these almost three dimensional games.
If you have enjoyed this part of the gaming history, why not make a suggestion for a particular game, platform or era that you’ve enjoyed and I’ll let you know my views.
CLICK HERE FOR PART 15!