When selecting my next magazine to read with rose-colored glasses, I decided to go with PC Gamer, a magazine that was hugely influential over my middle and high school years. I never actually had a subscription to PC Gamer, I instead bought single issues of it in preparation for long vacations in the car as my family drove to Florida or New Jersey. PC Gamer was always more "adult" for me. I didn't have a lot of experience to base this on besides Nintendo Power and Game Players, but PC gaming was always inherently edgier and PC Gamer was written for a slightly older crowd.
So of the 13 issues of PC Gamer I apparently still own, my first was the June 1996 featuring X-Wing vs. TIE Fighter on the cover. The moment I saw this issue at the local Shopko, I undoubtedly became a man. Not only was I a huge Star Wars fan, but I had loved the original TIE Fighter and the magazine came with a CD. My very own compact disc filled with game demos and an AOL installation!
Hopefully I won't go as in depth with this issue as I did with my first issue of Nintendo Power, (I did, whoops). I couldn't find this magazine scanned already online, so I did the scans myself, I apologize that they suck. Let's dive into PC Gamer 14 years ago.
As the magazine always discussed what was on the CD first, I'll do that too. Supposedly this was the first issue that had an autoplay user interface for Windows 95 users. Looking at the short list of games that required the new version of Windows, I apparently had it installed by then as I remember playing some of the games. Anyways, the list of games is as follows: Afterlife, Knight's Chase, Road Warrior, Virtual Snooker, Strife, Star Wars: Rebel Assault II, Assault Rigs, Seek and Destroy, Big Red Racing, Stars!, Rebel Runner, Bruce Jenner's Decathalon, Rise and Rule of Ancient Empires, S.T.O.R.M., and Warbirds.
The games I specifically remember installing were Afterlife, Knight's Chase, Virtual Snooker, and Warbirds.
Afterlife was LucasArts' attempt at a city-building game. The half-page article about it actually says "move over SimCity." Uh huh, that almost happened. I don't remember much about playing the demo except it wasn't very much fun. Maybe I just wasn't very adept at managing essentially two cities at the same time when I was 12 years old.
Knight's Chase was also sufficiently bad, all I remember about playing that demo was that the controls were atrocious but that I had never played a 3D game quite like it (of course, Super Mario 64 would be out three months later). Knight's Chase was supposedly the first game in a planned trilogy called Time Gate. That obviously didn't pan out.
Virtual Snooker was just as it sounded, a snooker video game. I don't know how to play snooker now, let alone 14 years ago, so I doubt this went well. I like this quote though: "Virtual Snooker is so realistic, Interplay says it'll actually improve your skill at billiard - and we can believe it." Great to know that developers making huge promises that video games will make you better at something in the real world isn't a new thing.
Warbirds was my favorite game of the batch, as it was my first foray into realistic flying outside of Flight Simulator. There were a variety of World War II based missions available in the demo, some that included giant battleships too. The action was really fun for being a single player game with realistic controls, but I remember the game crashing a lot on me. The big deal about Warbirds was that you could play it online as an MMO, for just $2 an hour! Yes, two dollars an hour, plus whatever fees you were already paying for AOL or Compuserve.
I'm sure I would have played Rebel Assault II if I hadn't already played and beaten it at my friend's house. I find it kind of funny that along with Rebel Assault II we also had Assault Rigs and Rebel Runner. I guess they were popular words at the time.
It's hard to think of a bad game that bears the LucasArts' name.
With the recent success of X-Wing, TIE Fighter, and Dark Forces, Star Wars games were at their first peak. I spent many afternoons playing all of these, and they were easily some of the most entertaining games of their time. I'm not sure if this was the first time they were announced, but PC Gamer was making a BIG deal about the new X-Wing vs. TIE Fighter and Jedi Knight: Dark Forces II, even though both games were a year away or more from release.
Quotes from the developers were smattered around the article, takling about the improved graphics and multiplayer options. One interesting line was when Larry Holland noted that the better graphics would allow the game to fill in textures and details that the player's imagination had to in TIE Fighter. This thought actually makes me a bit depressed, I understand that graphical improvements are and were inevitable, but it almost makes it sound like we're being removed from the game a bit, like our imagination is unecessary. I've never thought about it that way until just now, but it honestly makes me extremely nostalgic.
It's mostly about the multiplayer aspect though, which I never bothered to play when I actually owned the game. Midway through the feature PC Gamer has a little preview of LucasArts' non-Star Wars game, Outlaws (apparently then just called Outlaw). They said it would use the Dark Forces engine while using Full Throttle style animations to tell the tale. The magazine also said this would land Christmas of 1996 (alongside X-Wing vs. TIE Fighter), but while both slipped into 1997, Outlaws actually ended up being released first in March.
One game that definitely caught my attention was called Back to Baghdad. In a somewhat eerie foreshadowing of the Iraq War, Military Simulations Inc. put together a really hardcore flight simulator set in the years after Desert Storm. Apparently Military Simulations Inc. was actually a government contractor and this was their only attempt at "entertainment." Reviews for the game were mediocre, and after they finished Back to Baghdad, they began converting the game into an Air Combat Trainer apparently for the United States Air Force.
Warcraft II: Beyond the Dark Portal, the expansion to Tides of Darkness was announced in this issue of PC Gamer. Not a lot of information was provided except for how many missions there would be, but this was the first expansion for a game I ever remember being excited about. At the end of the article they mention that Blizzard has finalized its acquisition of Condor, the developer team working on the original Diablo for Blizzard. Condor would be renamed Blizzard North and while they would continue to "operate independently from Blizzard," they were eventually shut down a few years after the mass exodus of key personnel.
Michael Wolf wrote an editorial asking the question that's still being thrown around today, "Is Online the End?" Okay, so maybe the question isn't very clear, but what he meant was "are online games going to replace single player games?" The answer to that, of course, is still a "no," but at the time, it maybe wasn't so clear. Ultima Online was in the works, and was promising to deliver an engrossing adventure for thousands of players simultaneously (and delivered on this promise) and MUDs had been popular for years. His counter-argument example was Peter Molyneux's Dungeon Keeper, a singler player game that has taken "huge bounds in the artificial intelligence arena" (also nice to know Mr. Molyneux hasn't changed at all either). His conclusion was that there would hopefully be a balance of singler player and MMO's, and it turned out just like that.
I counted over 20 reviews in this issue alone, but the few that were named Editors' Choice (88% and above) were:
Advanced Tactical Fighters, the first of 21 military games by the folks at Jane's Combat Simulations, a temporary studio set up by Electronic Arts to handle the Jane's Information Group license. They seemed to have gotten off to an excellent start and continued to make computer games until 2000.
Descent II also nailed an Editors' Choice, and while they liked the improved 3D graphics, they weren't so hot about the "labyrinthine and claustrophobic levels," from what I played, I would agree.
I've never heard of EarthSiege 2, but then again, I was never big on mech games.
Silent Hunter, a submarine simulator also takes the reward. Geez, military games were extremely popular in the mid 90's, and there wasn't even a war going on.
The only thing I know about Dinotopia was from when I saw bits and pieces of the movie on the Sci-Fi channel. I'd hate to judge a book (or game) by its movie, but I would never have expected the game to be so highly praised by PC Gamer.
Spycraft: The Great Game rounds out the Editors' Choice bunch, and man, was this game awesome. I played Spycraft when I was younger and loved it for its compelling puzzles and an FMV of some guy getting sniped and his head exploding. I've never been a big fan on FMV adventures like this, but somehow Spycraft found its way onto my lap and I enjoyed it. I would agree with the 89% score given here.
One of the best parts about reading an older magazine is simply checking out the advertisements. Some of them are as famous as the games themsevles (see: Daikatana), but that's bound to happen since there are ads every other page. Since Nintendo Power didn't feature, this is the first time I'll be discussing them.
The first one that stands out to me is for the recently released Civilization II, one of my favorite games of all time. The ad spreads across two bottom pages, and modifies the famous walking ape to walking human evolution with them holding Civilization games. The first three are holding the original Civilization, the fourth CivNet (the multiplayer version of Civilization), and finally the human holding Civilization II. This ad is due a remake though with Civilization V being released later this year; it would work a whole lot better.
I've never heard of Normality, but the ad sticks out to me for some reason. It's a list of questions trying to figure out if you're normal or not, and if you answer "yes" to any of them: "Don't Panic! Visit the Norm Police." Some of the questions are funny, Picked your nose in traffic? Peed in the shower (genius idea)? Had an original thought?
Blizzard spent some cash and bought ads for both the already released Warcraft II and the eight month away Diablo. The Diablo ad says that it is "From the makers of Warcraft II, 1995's Game of the Year comes something even hotter." Well, we already covered earlier that it's not really from the makers of Tides of Darkness, "truth" in advertising, I guess.
I'll just get the Ultimate Gaming Rig ad out of the way right away, because it was in pretty much every magazine I ever received. It was basically a lottery where you pay $3 to enter a contest and if you manage to figure out the mystery word from the mini crossword (it was POWER in this issue), then you have a chance to win a whole bunch of stuff. The prizes are actually pretty good, but just the fact you have to pay to enter is kind of iffy. Here are the prizes that appear in the ad: 40" TV, PlayStation, Sega Saturn, Virtual Boy, 3DO, Atari Jaguar, "blazing fast" Pentium 166 Mhz computer, 130 watt surround sound receiver, and some giant speakers. Impressive.