We gathered a group of twentysomethings to share their memories of growing up with Microsoft PC games.
Here's how the conversation went:
1) The Best of Microsoft Entertainment Pack (1994)
Jackie: "I remember huddling around my parents' massive old PC and watching my two siblings trying to get through Chip's Challenge. Together, we compiled a list of all our earned cheat codes. And sometimes (it was way rare, but sometimes) the game would be like Wow, this kid needs serious help. I guess we'll throw them the code. Squeals and high fives would follow, and then 'Write it down before you hit next! Don't lose it!'"
2) Microsoft Encarta: MindMaze (1995)
Adam: "My dad was a very big advocate for Encarta. He got the new update every single time it came out and insisted I play MindMaze — and I actually liked it a lot. The best part was the music. Sometimes, if I didn't wanna play, I would jack up the music really loud so my dad would walk by and peek down into the basement, hear the music, and be like, OK, he's playing his little game and learning, but meanwhile I'd be surfing the internet for something else."
Matt: "The thing is, I remember finding this by accident. No one was ever like, 'You should play this game.'"
Yohan: "I remember being so creeped out by how inanimate the people looked."
3) 3D Pinball for Windows: Space Cadet (1995)
James: "I can still remember the boot-up sounds, like Ding ding ding vrrroooOOOH."
Tyler: "I think this game caused the most strife in sibling relationships. There was a high score that was really contentious — to be the highest score on the family computer."
Matt: "If you hit it enough times, it would tilt. And I didn't know what that meant, 'cause I'm pretty sure I played this before I ever played an actual pinball machine."
James: "Yeah, I never understood the meaning of that term. I knew that if I pressed it, it would make the game end. What's funny is that it didn't strike me at the time as bad game design. I was like, 'Yeah, there's a button that just makes you lose.'"
4) Hover! (1995)
Gordon: "The last time I played Hover! was 1998, so it's been a while. I remember there was this map on your dash that showed you as a red triangle, and you would move around on this very basic map. One little thing I didn't realize for at least a year was that, apparently, there's a way to zoom out which allows you to see the entire map. It's weird. It's one of those things that changes the gameplay completely for you. And it made the game so much easier."
5) Microsoft Golf 2.0 (1995)
Justin: "I remember playing that a lot — it was my friend's. I remember a guy continually just saying, 'Oh, that's in the deep stuff.' It sounded just like my friend's dad, so I thought they recorded that somehow and got it in there."
Adam: "It was so hard to get it on the meter perfectly. I feel like this was the prelude to all the basketball games where you had to get the free throw thing just right."
Tyler: "I discovered what a 'gimme' was by playing Microsoft Golf. All I knew was to just get the ball close enough and then you can take a 'gimme.' That's how you play."
James: "I remember there was this little candy cane North Pole cursor function that you could use to guide your shot, and I never understood its place in golf. I thought the North Pole thing was part of the actual real-life game of golf, like a chain in football where it's actually used in the game."
Matt: "I used to open this on the computer, be terrified, and just close it."
6) Microsoft Flight Simulator (1996)
Justin: "I played a couple of versions, I think. I never owned them. It was always other people, their stuff. I just remember trying to take off and them yelling at me 'cause I wasn't doing it right."
Tyler: "The cockpit alone was intimidating to look at."
Matt: "We were all about Flight Simulator, probably 'cause my dad was in the Navy and we would always have flight jackets and stuff. I bought so many different joysticks for that — I don't know why. I don't know that we ever had good flights. Getting into the air was an accomplishment."
Gordon: "It was really difficult to land. I would stall a lot. I really wanted to fly from O'Hare to New York and fly over some pretty epic skyscrapers. The problem was, you know, if it's in real time, it's gonna take a really long time to fly there."
7) Monster Truck Madness (1996)
Justin: I played a demo of Monster Truck Madness over and over again. I would use this unfinished bridge as a jump and climb the mountains — which were very steep so it was hard to actually get up to them. And then I would just kinda fling myself off in hopes of a spectacular crash."
Tyler: "There's another version that has this minigame where there's an elevated platform and four ramps leading up to it. It's 'king of the hill' essentially. I think one of the most memorable parts was the announcer who would say stuff like, 'This could be a sporting event — in the year 2000!'"
8) Hellbender (1996)
Justin: "Hellbender. Is that what I think it is? It is! I remember the first time I played it, I couldn't figure out the controls — and so for probably a month I was stuck, unable to move. I'd always die. I was terrible at this game. The video I'm watching right now is just level one, and he's been places I've never seen before. Oh man, I remember the robot guys. They had big missiles."
9) Deadly Tide (1996)
Tyler: When I was eight years old, my first dream job was to be a cartoonist. I had this character I made up who was a housefly and he would go on adventures and stuff. I was so inspired by Deadly Tide, I made a nine-panel comic strip called Deadly Flies. It ends with an alien who hijacks my guy's ship and says, 'Yee ha!' Then my character says — this is the punchline — 'That alien is not like the other aliens.' That was the apex of humor for me."
10) Age of Empires (1997)
Matt: "This was before the days of Wi-Fi obviously. My neighbors and I would take these really, really long Ethernet cords (I called it Eth-er-net) and try to run them over to my neighbor's house. We would literally run wire across the yards to play Age of Empires. It worked sometimes, but that's where I learned everything I know about computers."
Tyler: "I was so naive and didn't understand the internet or LAN connections at all. I thought, OK, my friend has Age of Empires across the street. I have it. We'll just press Multiplayer at the same time and somehow we'll end up in the same game. We timed it up over the phone — saying, 'Where are you? I don't see you.' So I never played multiplayer on that. I just played by myself."
11) Age of Empires II: The Age of Kings (1999)
Yohan: "Regicide was my favorite game mode, yeah — ugh, I always got so pissed at the king 'cause he was so fat. But he moved so quickly! Like, he was the fastest moving dude of everybody. Even knights couldn't catch him, which was totally not realistic."
Matt: "I had the soundtrack for it. I used to have it on my computer and then eventually my old MP3 player. Even the weird 'Gold, please' 'Yah?' 'Wololo.' All that weird stuff for whatever reason I had downloaded, so I could never escape Age of Empires."
Gordon: "One time, my sister and I were on a flight to Frankfurt from San Francisco. We both had our computers and I happened to have my Ethernet cable. So I'm like, 'Hey, do you want to play probably one of the first LAN games over the Atlantic?' This was 2000, 2002 — somewhere around that time. We probably played four to six hours of that game."
12) Zoo Tycoon (2001)
Clark: "When I was a kid, my sister and I were stoked to get our hands on the latest copy of Zoo Tycoon. I remember one day my sister screaming enthusiastically that she figured out how to grow mermaids in her aquarium. It was fun getting to try to one-up each other with our Tycoon knowledge, but I think my discovery of the unicorn cheat trumped all."
Jake: "I would turn my zoo into a huge ecological mess. You would put different animals you knew would not be happy together in the same pen. Initially you do, like, antelope and lions, but that's not super fun. The best part was, you could get T. rexes. They would have electrical fences, and then you just strategically break one of the fences and they go out and start killing people. There are a lot of ways to be really evil."
13) Age of Mythology (2002)
Jake: "When I was 11, I thought I was a really good player because I could instantly summon all these super-cool mythological beasts using cheat codes. But then you go in the online mode and you can't cheat anymore. I used to just get slaughtered. I'd go against four people, being like, Oh, these three will fight over there. I'll slowly build my little organization. And they would send over a bunch of infantry — very basic units — right when I was trying to build my grain mill."