I write these words amid a culture that often finds it difficult to justify paying $1 for an iPhone game. But twenty years ago, I paid five times that amount for one-half of a demo.
Shareware. That's what they called it back then. A slice of a PC game that gave a sense of what it had to offer, and assist you in deciding whether or not to pony up for the whole thing. A mate of mine had a PC in his household - I did not - and had been following the story of a game called DOOM via gaming magazines. He told me he saw the shareware version at the local computer shop. He asked if I was interested in checking it out.
Allow me to backtrack for just a moment. At this point my Atari 2600, after having served me so well for so many years, had been sent out to stud and was replaced by a shiny new Sega Mega Drive. (See next week's entry for the full love letter.) That was where I spent the bulk of my gaming time. Oh sure, I'd already dabbled in PC gaming in households lucky enough to own one - most notably, by this point, I had played Wolfenstein 3D. I found it somewhat dull, but that's beside the point; the important thing is it versed me in the idea of a first-person PC shooter. For the most part though, I was gaming on a steady diet of side-scrolling platformers and racing games. Their presence was enough to keep the fires stoked. But like any fire, it would consume new fuel placed upon it in an instant.
A new videogame. Was I interested?
We parked our bikes outside the computer shop after school and went inside. Shelves offered dusty copies of MS-DOS and Windows 3.1 and Microsoft Publisher and clipart CDs, but next to those shelves, on a rotating rack, was a range of 3.5 inch disks in plastic shells. Each bundle was a shareware version of a different game. We thumbed through the rack, and eventually found the one we were after: DOOM.
We pooled our money and went in halves. I pitched in five dollars and, with that amount, had officially made my first PC game purchase. Well, half-purchase. Whatever. I now owned one-sixth of DOOM.
We took it back to my mate's place and promptly installed it on his dad's 486 PC. The hard drive whirred. It was happening. We were moments away from the action. Eventually, after what seemed like an agonising wait, the title screen appeared. There it was. But who would get to play?