Like many from my generation, I began gaming with the Nintendo Entertainment System, later upgrading to the Sega Genesis, but even during those years, in addition to playing games, I was interested in reading about them. Early on, my reading was limited to magazines like ”Nintendo Power” and ”Tips & Tricks”. I didn’t really know much about gaming outside the console world. My family didn’t even get a computer until 1996, and that is where my interested in computer gaming began. And with that, my desire to read about video games immediately changed to the PC, and magazines like ”Nintendo Power” no longer interested me.
On my birthday in 1996 my Grandma sent me $20.00, and I used that money to buy the first PC game that I would ever call my own. (My family had gotten ”WarCraft II” before that, but it was the family’s game, not my own.) The game I got was ”The Journeyman Project 2: Buried in Time”. My reasons for picking that game are another blog post all on their own, but it did lead to me obtaining my first issue, of what I consider to be the greatest magazine of all time, ”PC Gamer”.
As with many of the “big box” games of the nineties, there were various advertisements included in the game’s box, including catalogs and order forms for various products related to the ”Journeyman” game, and postcards for subscribing to various magazines. One of the postcards in the box was for ”PC Gamer”. I saw the title of that magazine, and I knew it was for me. I wasn’t quite a PC gamer in 1996, I was mostly playing Sega Genesis, but I knew that I wanted to be a PC gamer. In some ways, I felt that PC gaming was a higher form of gaming. Truth be told, all PC gamers that I knew were adults, so I figured it was a form of gaming for grownups. Like I said, we had ”WarCraft II”, and that was far superior to anything I had ever seen on a console, so I was sure from that game alone that the PC had a lot to offer.
I held onto that postcard for a few months, and I couldn’t help but be lured by the fact that it said, “YES! Send me my first issue of ”PC Gamer” free…” I knew I could get at least one issue, and I knew it would be the greatest magazine I’d ever read. Before that, my mom had gotten us a subscription to ”Ranger Rick” when I was younger, and that was okay, but video games interested me a lot more than wildlife. I sent the card in.
A few months later I got my magazine. It was ”PC Gamer” Volume 4 Number 1, January 1997. The thing was huge. It must have been half an inch thick. Why am I talking in the past tense?… I have that first copy of the magazine I received sitting in front of me right now. It is huge. It is at least half an inch thick. Needless to say, I was amazed at the magazine I received, and it was one of the most memorable days of my life.
Almost as important as the magazine itself, was the disc that came with it. A CD-ROM filled with demos and more. Keep in mind that at that time the only computer games I had for PC were ”WarCraft II” and ”Buried in Time”. I had also borrowed ”Duke Nukem 3D” from a friend, so I had played that as well. Other than those three games I wasn’t really playing much on the PC, and this demo disc was going to be my opportunity to play a lot more games. I don’t even think I looked at the magazine before popping the CD into our 4X CD-ROM drive. Well, I must have looked at the magazine, because I knew that I absolutely wanted to install the demo for this game called ”Daggerfall”.
The demo disc was a totally different experience from what I expected. Rather than some simple installer or dialog box, it was a whole adventure. In order to access the demos you played through a ”Myst”-style adventure game. (I’m saying this in retrospect, as I didn’t even know what ”Myst” was as that time.) It was from a first-person perspective. You started in an alleyway, walked up to some an elevator, and rode it down into the ”PC Gamer” “offices”. Inside the offices you could walk around and look at desks, read notes, look at the pictures on the wall. There was a painting of some dogs playing poker on one of the walls, and that was my first introduction to that famous theme. As you walk into the offices you’re greeted by a weird looking character known as Coconut Monkey, who I found annoying, but if I had to be greeted by him to get to the demos, so be it.
There was a file cabinet in the office as well. One of the drawers was labeled “Review Index” which featured verdicts for various PC games, ”Buried in Time”, included. Another drawer was labeled “Back Issues Index” with information about each of the issues all the way back to 1994. There was a third door labeled “Personnel”, which was locked by a three number combination. No way to get in. Believe me I tried a lot of different numbers to get in, and never did. I never did try all 1000 possible combinations, so I’m not really sure that it is impossible to open that drawer, and I still wonder what’s in it.
The main feature of the office was a jukebox that gave you access to the demos, and that was what I was most interested in. Like I said, I was interested in this game called ”Daggerfall”. I installed that demo first. Not only was ”Daggerfall” one of the demos on the CD, it was also featured in one of the sections of the magazine, so I had an idea of what to expect. I also understood the concept of a role-playing game since a friend of mine had introduced me to the ”Might & Magic” series, and I wanted to start playing this new one right away.
There are two ”Daggerfall” demos in existence. One demo is limited to a single dungeon in the game, while the other is much more robust, and gives the player access to an entire island for exploration, including access to cities and dungeons. The latter was the demo found on the ”PC Gamer” CD. I remember loading up the game, and seeing the first city. It was surrounded by tall walls. I was amazed by the medieval experience. That demo was also my first experience seeing female nudity in a video game. Quite by accident and much to my surprise, I must say.
When I was done walking about in ”Daggerfall” I tried some of the other demos on the CD. There was a demo for a pinball game called ”3D Ultra Pinball: Creep Night”. I found it to be a very fun pinball game. A demo for a game called ”Sullcracker” also caught my eye, but after trying it out I realized the value of demos. I knew right away that this was a game I’d never play. I tried the demos for some games called ”Gex” and ”Ecstacia 2”. And while they were all well and good, none were comparable to the ”Daggerfall” demo. Still, after a few hours I had played enough, and I figured I’d try the rest of the demos later. In the meantime I went back to the magazine.
There was a whole section explaining the CD, how to install and play the demos, their system requirements, et cetera. I read about all of them. There were advertisements throughout the entire magazine, as well, and some of them were just as interesting and even more eye-catching than the articles. Each ad was as impressive as the last. I remember looking at them, and thinking how much I wanted to have all the games and peripherals shown. One advertisement featured John Romero, of the ”Doom” fame, holding a joystick and quoting, “When I created ”Doom” I never imagined there’d be such a killer way to play it. WingMan Warrior is it.” That ad stuck out to me because I actually had heard of John Romero. We’d read about him in my English class, and all I could think when I saw that picture of him, was that he looked like a woman because he had long hair.
Perhaps one of the most important parts of the magazine, was a section called “Scoop!”. This was where the editors previewed upcoming games, and one of the previews was for a gamed called ”Hexen II”. The screenshots in that preview absolutely amazed me. The game was dark and Gothic. One of the screenshots showed the interior of a medieval church, and I was impressed. I wanted that game right then, of course, it wasn’t out yet, and even if it had been out I wouldn’t have been able to afford it. Reading about it was all I could do. I remember I’d tell friends of mine about the game, and how the designers studied actual architecture to make the game.
The main feature of the ”January 1997” issue was titled ”The Ultimate Strategy Guide ’97”, and while I didn’t find it very useful because I didn’t own any of the games featured, I still enjoyed reading the strategy guides and fantasizing about playing the games featured. Years later I’d actually buy some of these games on eBay, including a very strange adventure game called ”Harvester”. In 1997, however, I was content with merely reading about them.
There was also an article on mods for ”Quake”, and that was my first introduction to the fact that a PC game could be changed or modified by fans of the game. This was mind-boggling to me, and furthered my interest in PC gaming. I didn’t have the game ”Quake” and I didn’t have the internet, but I imagined getting the game, and getting these mods that the magazine was talking about.
As with every issue, there was a section for reviews. I read them, knowing I could never afford these games. First up, was a review for this game called ”Battlecruiser 3000 AD”, and, oh boy, did it look amazing. It looked like a flight simulator, where you controlled some kind of spaceship, and could orbit planets and stuff, but this game got a terrible review, 15%. I almost wanted to play this game, just to see how bad it really was, because I couldn’t believe it. The screenshots made it look so cool, and, yet, there was the lousy score attached to it. Even weirder than that, was a review for a game called ”Mode”, it scored 10% and the reviewer had stated that the worst part of the game was that “[it] exists. It takes up four CDs that would have been better used for John Tesh music.” I didn’t even know who John Tesh was, but I understood the implications of that statement, and I laughed. I liked to show that review to my friends because I found it so funny.
There was plenty more in the magazine. Things that interested me, things that didn’t, but I loved every page of it. I went over it again and again. I took it to school with me. I took it everywhere I went. As I mentioned, I still have it, and it looks terrible. The first fifty or so pages have some kind of liquid spilled on them. The front cover is torn and tattered. I taped it back together. I read through every article of that magazine, many of them multiple times. I even found little short stories tucked away in the corners of seemingly uninteresting pages.
There was a “Marketplace” section at back of the magazine, where retailers could vend their products by mail order. I remember thinking to myself, if I could just get $30.00 I could get get one of these games. The vendors also sold games for “21 & Over” with titles like ”Crystal Fantasies” and I couldn’t help but wonder what they could possibly be like. I mean, I’d already seen female nudity in the ”Daggerfall” demo.
Speaking, again, about the demo CD. There is more to that CD than what I’ve already mentioned. I was especially interested in first-person shooters because they were something that just didn’t exist on the consoles, and there happened to be a demo for a shooter on the CD. I didn’t play it the day I got the magazine, I played it that night. I figured I better play it after my mom went to bed, because it looked kind of violent, and I didn’t think she’d appreciate me playing a violent game. So I installed it that night. The game was called ”Rex Blade”.
I never played the ”Rex Blade” demo. I installed it. I tried to run it. It screwed up my computer. My computer crashed when I ran the demo, and it wouldn’t boot up. The ”Rex Blade” demo screwed up my whole computer. I thought I was in serious trouble. How could I face my mom knowing I had screwed up our computer. I knew I had to destroy the ”PC Gamer” CD to insure that my brother wouldn’t try installing the same demo, and screw up the computer all over again. I bent the CD in half and threw it away. I was especially saddened because my beloved ”Daggerfall” demo was gone. You see, I had to uninstall the ”Daggerfall” demo in order to install the other demos because our hard drive was a whopping 600 megabytes.
In the meantime I had to fix the computer, and I had no idea what to do. I did the only reasonable thing to do. I reinstalled the operating system. Well, I didn’t actually know I was reinstalling the operating system, I put in a CD that came with our computer called the “Packard Bell Master CD” and it’s companion floppy disk, and working my way through those boot-up menus I managed to reinstall the OS that night, and everything was fine. My mom never even knew I had screwed up the computer. I didn’t format the hard-drive or anything, so we didn’t lose any files, not that we really had anything important on it anyway. I didn’t even know what formatting a hard-drive was. I wasn’t mad at ”PC Gamer”, though. I couldn’t hold anything against them. The few hours that I had that CD were some of the greatest of my life.
I didn’t have my demo CD anymore, but at least I had my magazine, and the one thing I knew for sure, was that I really wanted a subscription to it. I wanted more articles about gaming and more demo discs. Discs like that were my only access to games. I wanted the subscription badly, but I knew I wouldn’t get it. A few days later a postcard came with a bill for $39.95. The magazine was expensive, and I knew I’d never get forty bucks. I asked my mom if she’d pay for it for me. She wrote “please cancel” on the return card, and sent it back. I was very much saddened. I couldn’t help but think that there was more to know about PC gaming, and I was never going to find out about it.
Well, it just so happens, that, by some miracle, my subscription didn’t get canceled. I got another issue! Indeed, I have the February 1997 issue. That issue was almost as good as the January issue. In some ways it was better, because there were a lot more games that interested me in that issue, including ”StarCraft”. Today, my copy of February 1997 is not as beat up as my copy of January 1997, but it shows signs that it was loved almost as much as the first issue I received. With that issue, however, was another CD, and this time I made a promise to myself that if one of the demos screwed up my computer, I would calmly resolve the situation, and not destroy the disc. For years, that disc would be my main source of computer entertainment.
You see, my subscription was canceled since I didn’t pay after the second issue came, and, with that, no more demos. Oh, I wanted to pay for that subscription so badly. Since my mom couldn’t pay, I figured I could maybe find the money on the street. I’d found pennies and other coins on the ground before, and I figured I’d just have to walk around until I found forty bucks. My logic wasn’t well thought out. I figured I’d find quarters lying around on the sidewalk and roads, and once I got four of them, I’d just do that forty more times and I’d have my forty bucks. I went out one night with my eyes glued to the sidewalk and road. I walked up and down the street. I didn’t find so much as a penny. My hopes and dreams of having the subscription were over. I knew I’d never come up with forty bucks, and I never did.
I did go to the library regularly, however, to check out the latest issues. That was all well and good, but it didn’t give me a demo CD, so my PC gaming was limited. I did get a few more PC games in the next few years, for my birthday and for Christmas, but mostly I was stuck with my Sega Genesis.
Still, I kept those first two issues, and I’d look at them from time to time, always wishing I had a subscription. I didn’t actually get a subscription until 2003. Why it took so long, I don’t really know. I had plenty of other opportunities before that to subscribe. Money was no longer a problem when I got my first job in 1998, and I was buying new video games regularly then. I could have easily set aside a few bucks to pay for a subscription, but I didn’t. I’m not really sure why. I guess I sort of forgot about it, and by then I had gotten the internet, so I could get demos online.
Still, I made amends with myself, and I have not missed an issue since 2003. And, as it happens, I also acquired quite a few back issues on eBay, including a crisp (no scotch tape required) issue of my first January 1997 magazine, and, more important than that, the scandalous August 1997 issue, of which I will blog about later. Still, I have kept my old tattered copy of January 1997 for nostalgia. I’ve been told by friends that I ought to throw out some of my old magazines, and I reply that I could never throw out my sacred ”PC Gamer”s, as if they were scripture.
”PC Gamer” is the only magazine I subscribe to. It is the only magazine I have ever subscribed to. Today, it is better than ever. The editors may be different from the ones I read back in 1997, but they are every bit as passionate about PC gaming. Further, in addition to the magazine is the ”PC Gamer Podcast”, a weekly talk show hosted by the staff of the magazine which keeps readers up to date on the latest PC gaming news. I read every issue from cover to cover. I find it very entertaining to read an article or two when I have a few minutes to spare. I even read the articles about games that I have no intention to play. I tell people that I read about games so that I don’t have to play them. (Some may recognize my reference to ”The Lost Boys”). In many ways, ”PC Gamer” magazine converted me to PC gaming, and I am grateful to them for that.