The year is 199X, you just signed on to your new Personal Computer Machine for the first time and finally finished the arcane incantations to get Windows 95 running. You look at your hands, clasped as they are shakily around the Computer Disc Read Only Memory device that came with your new Machine. You seat it in the CD tray, press the button, and you’re transported to a new world, a better world, a digital world.
If, like me, you grew up in the 90s with nary a console to your name, you were intimately familiar with shareware, endlessly copied to floppies (against contemporary advice regarding copying that floppy) and passed around the playground (or, in my case, church pew). But what always caught my attention was not the veritable jenga tower of small black squares that cluttered my desk and infested my youth, but the new shiniest circle on the market: The CD-ROM. This was the age of the demo disk, and Windows was in ascension, it makes sense then that Microsoft too cornered the market on sneak peeks into the murky future of PC gaming.
Enter Games Sampler for Windows 95, aka Manhattan Space Station Odyssey.
And it is an Odyssey. Especially if you try to get it running in today’s world of Terabytes and SSDs as I soon discovered across 4 hours of near-Sisyphean struggle. For the longest time I wondered if I had simply imagined this disk, finding that it rung few to zero bells in the minds of my contemporaries whenever brought up. Oh, sure, everyone remembers POD, but no one remembers Games Sampler for Windows 95 – Manhattan Space Station Odyssey.
Well it’s real, so suck it that one guy at the bar who said I wasn’t making a lick of sense!
Set on the possibly eponymous Manhattan Space Station, which, if the radioactive symbols are to be believed, is highly irradiated, Games Sampler for Windows 95 allows you to wander through its halls, stumbling upon visual artifacts of a now-distant era in a doom-esque 3D environment (or a 2D panel with just the games on it if you’re that way inclined). Resplendent as it is with in-jokes, secrets, a giant space station, and the protagonist du jour, the Space Marine, Manhattan Space Station captured my vivid little imagination to the point where I spent more time in it than I did in the very demos it offered.
Whether it was the sound-track, the splendor of an interactive 3D environment, or simply the ability to gaze out of its windows into the black emptiness of space, the demo disk captivated me to a point where twenty-some years later I still remember it as clearly as it was yesterday. And when you find your legs weary and your thumb aching from flicking coins across the deck from your seemingly endless pockets, you can always go and play demos of the hit games of the day, like Fury3 or Battle Beasts.
Interactive demo disks are something of a relic these days, uncommon as they are, but back in the day they were awe-inspiring tours de force, especially for those whose families couldn’t afford full games, a ridiculous luxury that baffled my mind at the time. Games Sampler for Windows 95 was not alone, for you see it was one of those rare demo disks that had a direct sequel, Games Sampler 2 for Windows 95 (inventive).
I didn’t play that one. But it looks pretty cool I guess. Fleshier as much as flashier, with more of a Doom 2 vibe going for it, check it out if you’d like.
In case you didn’t already work it out, I’m not really going anywhere with this, if I’m honest this is all rather self-indulgent, but, humble though it may be, Games Sampler for Windows 95 was a formative influence for me. The other kids had the cool new games and consoles, and I heard all about them playing their Descents and their Doom 2s, but me? I had Games Sampler for Windows 95, and it was more precious to me than the three dozen games or four consoles that Timmy across the street owned ever could be. While my peers moved forwards I moved inwards, exploring the aforementioned jenga tower of shareware DOS games when we’d moved onto Windows 98, searching for copies of obscure demo disks from the latest copy of PC Gamer magazine, and, when I eventually had internet, scouring it for hours on end to find new MUSHs, MUDs, and indie games buried in forums and mod communities.
Games Sampler for Windows 95 helped me become who I am. Without it, would I have ever developed a love for indie games? Would I enjoy low-fi graphics in all their wonderful crunchiness? Would I be writing this right now? Maybe, maybe not, but I wouldn’t want to find out. I may have grown up with less than most of my peers, a fact I was none too pleased about at the time, but that’s ok. What little I had was important to me, and video games got me through some really bleak times growing up. Hell, Games Sampler for Windows 95 got me through some bleak times.
And, I suppose looking back on it, even if I were offered a cool PSX or Sega-Saturn at the time, I wouldn’t trade Games Sampler for Windows 95 for the world.
Mx. Medea is a writer, artist, and editor who spends most of their time drawing things with squares and buried under a small pile of endless paper copy. When not working they can be found playing everything from interesting indie fare to oldschool games. You can find them, their art, and their opinions @Mx_Medea on Twitter.