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My Gaming World ’96-’97

In 1996 I was a pretty casual PC gamer, having progressed from an early age down the non-console route of a BBC Micro, Amiga 1500 and then onto a Pentium 133. I didn’t own many games outright and mainly played through coverdisk demos and shareware. I can easily recall how much of an impact the shareware demo (comprising the entire first episode) of Quake made when it first surfaced. Anyone who had seen it running or who’d played it knew that this FPS was a game that would take things to the next level. Its graphics engine was incredible. I didn’t know the proper terms for what I was seeing at the time but, evidently, polygonal models, pre-rendered lightmaps and full 3D level design made the world of Quake seem more real and atmospheric than ever. Quake was one of the first games that actually scared me, but it was OK because I could shoot volleys of nails into whatever it was that gave me a fright until it stopped moving.

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I played through the demo multiple times and gradually memorised the maps and enemies with ease. It made a big impression on the teenage me as it contained many things I loved: monsters, fictional violence, radical weaponry, medieval design spliced with that of the future and even the musical stylings of Trent Reznor. I drew pictures of grunts and fiends and even used the game’s world as the basis for some fiction I wrote at school. Then, one day, a friend told me he’d purchased the full version. I invited him over post-haste. We played the game for hours until he had to leave, taking the game with him. Later, on a whim, I attempted to enter one of the shareware version’s previously locked portals and…it worked! The feeling of happiness I experienced at that moment still echoes within, some fifteen years later – I now had Quake!

After convincing a friend that it wouldn’t ‘get a virus on the disc’, he installed his newly purchased Command & Conquer: Red Alert on my PC. I had played the first game previously and already knew that I’d enjoy Red Alert. The gameplay instantly gripped us and we were badly addicted within minutes, suffering withdrawal symptoms whilst the other person played a mission in turn. I bought the game the next day and then devoted every night after school to its completion. No homework was attempted, no exercise was undertaken and I only took in sustenance as not doing so would result in me not being able to control virtual armies in an alternate history. Indeed, I was captivated by both sides of the story, whereby Albert Einstein removes Hitler from history before he can start WW2, allowing Joseph Stalin to lead the Soviet Union against the West. I thought the game’s cutscenes were amazing: the one where (Allied Forces’ commando) Tanya escaped her captors in a scene of point-blank face-shooting is still one of the best scenes I’ve ever seen.

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I didn’t own an N64, but in 1997, GoldenEye 007 made me wish I could afford one. Many friends owned the game and had the ideal four controllers with Rumble Paks to boot: endless Saturday afternoon deathmatch sessions are some of my fondest gaming memories from this time. The game is one of the greatest FPS that’s ever been created. It’s timeless because almost everything about it was perfect – from the graphics, physics, stealth-based missions, zoomable sniper-rifle to the impeccable sound effects and possible greatest music score of all time to the simple fact that it was James Bond-themed. I took over a friend’s paper-round for a week whilst he was away on the express condition that I could borrow his N64 with GoldenEye. I got up at 6:30am, did the paper-round and then spent the rest of the days becoming an elite player. What more could I have wanted?

Multiplayer marathons with friends were preposterous. A favourite mode was using license to kill (one shot kills) without any assisted aiming or crosshairs, given that the screen was already split into four segments and televisions were smaller back then, the level of accuracy some of us displayed was outstanding. There was something poignant about the accolades each player would receive after each match: ‘mostly harmless’ was always the source of laughter and ridicule whilst ‘most deadly’ was given justified respect. Killing unarmed players was greatly frowned upon and one would attempt to stop this from happening by the desperate call of ‘mercy!’. GoldenEye has given me some of the fondest gaming memories of my life and is still a joy to play to this day (even though I still don’t even own it!).

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‘This is teaching him the basics of joy-riding!’, announced my cousin as he thrust himself into the mind-blowing sandbox carnage of Grand Theft Auto. The top-down 2D graphics engine looked retro, but it didn’t matter – the fact that you could go anywhere and do almost anything, rendered this fact insignificant. Much like Carmageddon, GTA broke all the gaming rules by allowing for total exploration mixed with wanton, indiscriminate violence. Like the other games mentioned here, I was addicted instantly.

Sitting on a swivel chair, with the game’s large paper maps on the floor next to me, I put in hour after hour on GTA, becoming an expert driver, marksman and uber-criminal in the game’s massive world. The subject matter caused a lot of controversey at the time, with the usual tabloid backlash, but had the game not been induced with a subtle black-humour, upbeat in game radio-stations and more bright colours than an exploding galaxy, the backlash, and the game itself, would’ve been much worse.

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Each of these four games were rightly regarded as amazing at the time of their release, it seems strange that they are now a decade and a half old, but everything that made them great still stands today, as does my unshakable nostalgia for them.

Was there another event or title for these years that changed your gaming life forever? Let us know in the comments below.

The author of this fine article

is a Staff Writer at Thunderbolt, having joined in November 2009. Get in touch on Twitter @p_etew.

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