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Games Sampler For Windows 95 – Monolith & Microsoft (1995)

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.

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Terraria – by Re-Logic

I have a confession to make: I have never ever, ever played Terraria, not even once! But at the behest of Mx. Medea I will shortly embark on squints Journey’s End, the presumably final DLC now that the game has been around nearly as long as Minecraft.

But how come I’ve never played Terraria? It’s a good question. Back in it’s heyday my entire steam friends list was packed with nearly everyone I knew taking a dive into it, and whatever stragglers remained were quickly mopped up by the release of Don’t Starve. For me, it was hard not to see it as simply ‘what if minecraft… but 2D??‘ a notion that immediately made for a non-starter, an anti-hook if you will, given my notoriously picky tastes when it comes to games.

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For you, the day Rebind.io graced your screen was the most important day of your life.
But for me, it was Tuesday.
Street Fighter (1994) – Capcom / Universal Pictures

Video game movie adaptations often struggle with multiple compounding issues: what’s the best way to translate the free-form experiential nature of games and their memorable moments to the big screen, how important is the story? How can you even condense whatever story there is, regardless of it’s quality, into a one hour 40 minute run-time? Does any of this even make sense to a new audience (the people dragged to the cinema by the fans) to justify its sizable budget? Where do you make compromises? How many Bison Dollars will this film cost?

The 90s struggled with a series of ‘failed’ video game movie ventures, a fact that those who remember it so we don’t have to will never let us forget. Alongside Street Fighter there was Mortal Kombat, Super Mario Brothers, and later in the 2000s, spoiled as we were, we got gems like Silent Hill. Critically panned and usually met with lukewarm reception at best, the most these films could hope for was the long-term embrace of nostalgic fans looking for a cult classic. Street Fighter in particular is regarded as somehow tragic for the fact that it was the last film in the career of the late Raul Julia, despite him clearly having plenty of fun with his character and being the highlight of the entire production.

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Dave Powell, USDA Forest Service / CC BY 3.0 US (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/us/deed.en)

The Majestic Douglas Fir, the most underrated video game character of all time. For all the memes and jokes out there about how people who enjoy games don’t go outside, we seemingly fixate on them endlessly. The grand Pacific Northwest with all its ancient growth forests has anchored itself as the 21st century bespoke pastoral fantasy for the soothing and the weird.

Horror games? Mystery games? Relaxing games? Time and time again we revisit the green underbrush of the temperate rainforest locales native to the western states of America and Canada.

But why? Is it simply our fascination with holiday ornaments, or maybe something far more evergreen that keeps our mind’s gaze locked on these richly verdant year-long landscapes?

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Half-Life: Opposing Force (1999) – by Valve Software and Gearbox Software

If Gordon Freeman was the emblematic poster child for the Silent Protagonist, then for a time his foil, Adrian Shephard, became the iconic parallel for the faceless ones. Gordon’s robust Gen-X “nerd turned combatant” archetype was intended as an answer to the typical grunting brawn-over-brain space marine motif we have come to endlessly celebrate in every perennial iteration of DOOM, subverting the expectant trope audiences had grown accustomed to over the years.

Gordon had a ponytail, he didn’t speak in one liners or at all, and the player’s perception of who he is was built up entirely from in-world clues and inferring meaning through NPC commentary. A theoretical physicist seemed like an unlikely protagonist for 1998’s hit action game blockbuster, so when it came time for Gearbox to approach Valve to make an expansion pack, they had to come up with a character that not only built upon this framework, but also made a powerfully distinct protagonist. Thus, Adrian Shephard was born and swiftly embedded into the adolescent imagination of thousands of gamers.

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Star Wars Jedi Knight: Jedi Academy (2003) – By LucasArts, Raven Software
(video credit: Michal Kuban)

It’s late at night and you’ve been chomping on some generic corn chips and store-brand soda, you got off work 5 hours ago and it’s the weekend. A lot of your friends are into games that you find a little too stressful like Operation Flashpoint or Starcraft 1v1s, you think those games are fun but only when you don’t take them seriously. You love star wars though, and when you found a cheap copy of Jedi Academy at the local game store it seemed like a fun buy. Once you made your way through the singleplayer campaign and got a feel for the combat, you dived into some multiplayer.

Sometimes you just wanna unwind, and dueling servers have a calm vibe where you can catch up with your pals while flexing new technique. Who wants to play something that just feels like work right after getting off a shift at the local grocery store? Not you! It’s time to jump in and catch some hang time.

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Content Warning: Discussions of COVID-19 and social isolation.

Whether we like it or not, we now live in a video game world. Locked doors, empty streets, vehicles with owners nowhere to be seen and wide open cityscapes that go nowhere. There’s stores but no commerce, there’s restaurants but no patrons.

Increasingly, our reality has turned into a skybox or the aesthetic backdrop for a multiplayer power struggle where the server is empty yet the player remains. But there’s still signs of life, diegetic worldbuilding that hints at a larger narrative.

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WARNING: This article contains spoilers for DOOM 2016 and DOOM: ETERNAL. But who cares about the story anyway, right?

The videogame market has, for many years, engaged in a form of self-referential cyclicality, from indie games hearkening to the minimalist pixel-art design of the medium’s early forebears, to the current wave of PS1 aesthetic resurgence and the much-beloved resurgence of the “boomer shooter”, all the way to the DOOM series’ reflection on nostalgic memories of the hyper-violent and frantic action of 90s FPS titles. This is, of course, nothing unique to video games as one need look no further than the box office hits of modern Hollywood to see that reboots, remakes, and reimaginings are the order of the day.

Enter Jean Baudrillard and his conceptualization of “hyperreality”, the indistinguishable muddling together of reality and the simulated as originally explored in Simulacra and Simulation of The Matrix fame.

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Star Trek Voyager: Elite Force (2000) – by Raven Software and Activsion
Star Trek The Next Generation: Klingon Honor Guard (1998)
– by Microprose

There was a sentiment in many game communities in the early 00’s that you just couldn’t make a satisfying shooter game set in the universe of Star Trek. The aspirational sociopolitical commentary of the show with its emphasis on intercultural understanding came across to most as bereft of action potential despite its imaginative settings, fierce naval conflict, factional strife, and well-established arsenal of exciting technology.

The struggle to adapt Star Trek‘s more passive nature into a satisfying action romp was perpetually brought out as an argument against even trying to tackle this fool’s errand whenever there was anticipation of another franchise entry that would seemingly disrupt or misinterpret the storytelling strengths established by The Next Generation. Voyager, however, was a rulebreaking contender, well-known for a fire-tempered might-makes-right captain that made the show uniquely ripe for adaption, culminating in finally pulling off the unthinkable: a fun and gritty Star Trek shooter… the only thing is, it wasn’t the first.

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