Occasionally I read an article which frets over how kids these days are playing with tablets before they can even read and wondering how that’s going to affect their social development. As a millennial, I immediately wondered how to make that about myself and luckily some memories came back about my first computer.
The first time I used a computer was at primary school, so likely age 7. I can remember being part of a small group being allowed to use the one computer linked to the “internet” to look at a museum’s website to learn about Ancient Eygpt and not really being impressed. Everything we learnt was already in the textbooks we had and you didn’t have to wait ages for the pictures in those!
Things progress and a year or so later I think that I was in one of the first years where the government was really trying to push “IT” on schools. I remember the big fuss about the dozen or so BBC Micros the school got and the handful of intro to programming sessions we had featuring the “Turtle”. The Turtle was amazing, a small robot that would obey the instructions you gave it: tell it to “Forward 10, Left, Forward 10, Left, Forward 10, Left, Forward 10, Left” and it would do a boxy circle!
Right about the same time, Dad decided we should get a computer for the home, I think mostly to help with word processing his degree coursework. He bought a used 386 from a co-worker and suddenly we had a computer right in the house! Dad tried to get a few flight sims going, but gave up when it became clear the poor computer just couldn’t handle even primitive 3D. After that it was always a disappointment when he needed to do actual work and switched it from MS-DOS (where the cool games lived!) to Windows 3.1 (which only had solitaire and minesweeper).
I still got a few hours out of helicopter sim Comanche, although the incredibly lousy framerate made it impossible to get past the first few tutorial missions into the part of the game where enemies shot back.
Other genres fared batter. Others I can recall; some puzzle platformer with an Indiana Jonesesque vibe called Rick Dangerous, the shareware first episode of the original Duke Nukem which took us years to finally defeat Dr. Proton only to have him escape to the unreachable Moon (because you had to pay for the other levels, by mail order even! That wasn’t happening.), and whatever weird arcade thing Bubble Bobble was. There were some actually good games as well, located on actual floppy disks(!), where you had to type in commands to switch to the floppy disk drive and run the program from a folder on the disk. The two standouts I remember from those were real classics of the era, Lemmings and the original SimCity.
However, one of the DOS games that I really remember from that era was a topdown shooter game- I think the genre’s called Bullet Hell these days – called Major Stryker. As a sunglasses wearing cool fighter pilot dude you had to fly your experimental spaceship through a wormhole to blow up the military of the Kretons, aliens intent on invading Earth. Helping you along were communications from Admiral Yoshira, a purple-haired and (in my opinion) unprofessionally flirty lady whose job was to tell you which planet the next boss alien was on. I know, it’s one of the all time great story set ups. If you want to see it in action for yourself, there’s some trailers you can watch at the next link because you can actually legit for real buy it on Steam today, (it’s also free on the publisher’s site) which is frankly astonishing to me because I always assumed it was fairly obscure even at the time.
I remember it so well because for an uncoordinated youngster it was a hard game! There were a lot of enemies firing a lot of bullets and missiles at you and you could only take at most 2 hits before dying. Getting to the end of the first level wasn’t guaranteed and getting past the first boss to the second zone was a frustratingly rare event. Even enlisting my little brother as help – me flying, him firing the guns – didn’t help much. It was, however, a big help in getting him to stop asking me for a turn though, especially compared to the “switch players when you die” system which made a bad run feel so much worse when he had a good one!
As one of the better games for playing together we kept trying to beat it until the elderly computer was eventually replaced by better options. I never did reach the end on the 386, although I think my brother did one summer while I was wrapped up in Civilization 2 on our shiny new Pentium supercomputer.
I randomly remembered Major Stryker a few years ago – I have no idea what prompted it – and decided to finish it, just for old time’s sake. And so, probably 17 years after first starting it and 20 years after it was released I finally did it. I saved the Earth from the aliens and got the girl.