It was 1992. Kurt Cobain and Courtney love had just gotten married, and I uttered my first swear word. I don’t have any evidence, but I can’t help but feel that these two events are somehow related. That, somehow, my utterance of the word “shit” in the computer room had ruined grunge music and the alternative scene as a whole. That’s some heavy shit for a six year old to deal with.
My father and I were in the computer room way past my bed time, as we had been doing every Saturday night since I could remember. It was always the same: we would finish dinner, my mother would go to work, and my dad and I would head into the computer room to bathe in the soft glow of the CRT monitor attached to our IBM PS/2. Winows 3.1 had just come out, and the old man had sprung for the Soundblaster Pro combo speakers and CD drive for a sum of money that he still refuses to disclose to my mother. A Thrustmaster joystick had also appeared, but the statute of limitations isn’t up on that particular part of the story. That big, colorful box with planes an cars zooming around banished the bleep-bloop MIDI sounds once and for all. We were now on the bleeding edge.
He uninstalled and re-installed our favorite game, Aces of the Pacific, while I idly thumbed through the manual and tech supplement. Suddenly, the tones of the Dynamix title card came blasting out of the new speakers at top volume. The vaguely Japanese music played over a quote from “A Japanese Pilot” and the low rumble of a Zero in hot pursuit of a Corsair roared across the screen. My 6 year old brain was overloaded. I had never seen anything like this before in all my years of computer gaming. When I was 2, I could boot my grandmother’s Apple IIe and loaded up Sticky Bears by myself. When I was 4, I somehow managed to reformat my dad’s Epson so that Wheel of Fortune was now only displayed “RTLRTNC” during the puzzle. But this… this broke me. “Shit!” I exclaimed. My father’s head whipped around, and I fell over in the high drafting chair that I sat in. Immediately, tears streamed down my face in a torrent that wouldn’t be seen until the death of Great Leader in ’94. My father rushed over, thinking that I had bashed my head in, but I was crying because I said shit in front of my dad. He calmed me down, and reassured me that I wasn’t in trouble “Just… no more ‘shits’ okay? Especially not when you mother is home.”
The problem with nostalgia is that we always remember the good parts. We don’t remember the hard work, or the fights, or the down times; we just put on those rose colored glasses and wax poetic about “the good ‘ol days.” My father and I continued those Saturday night sessions until I was too cool for hanging out with my dad. It’s different for fathers and sons- especially only children. You start out emulating your father, and learning from him. Sometime around 12, you start to do your own thing and spend more time with your friends. By the time you’re a teenager, you swear that you’ll never be like your old man, because what the fuck does he know? But, you start to mellow, and by the time you survive the 3rd (or 5th) catastrophic failure in your life, you realize that he was always there. You start to look back, and you find that the spirit of those times was always there, just in different forms. Other kids had baseball or football… my dad and I had computers. We have always gamed together, and although we only see each other a few times a year, we still play when we get the chance. He doesn’t play as much these days and is content to play spotter during NFS: Rivals, proclaiming that “The goddamn controls suck. Real men use keyboards.”
We still talk about those old DOS games… Aces (of course), Gunship 2000, Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis, Full Throttle, Kings Quest, Super Huey II, the criminally under-appreciated Rise of the Triad- and on and on. By the time Windows 95/98 came out, it was hard to get those games to run on a machine. We managed to hang on to them through Windows NT 3.1 (22 floppy disks which it asked for out of order) but computing moved on about the same time I did. We were talking about Aces a few weeks ago and, lo and behold, there is an entire community out there keeping the dream alive through sites like GOG.com, and the venreable Steam. In fact, it was a steam sale on the Lucas Arts classic Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis that got me thinking about those old days- the big full size boxes and giant manuals with keyboard cards.
Those epic classics are available on GOG and Steam, but what about the lesser known games? Where do Micropose games go to die?Well, through dedicated abandonware sites and the fantastic DosBox emulator, I can bore my fiancee to tears in ways she could never have imagined before she agreed to marry me. I want to talk about them and use a lot of swear words to do it.
As the artillery support in Comanche: Maximum Overkill says: “Fire mission, over.”