It’s a concept that’s nearly unheard of now, but there was a brief period in my life where I was the only person I knew with a computer.
I bring this up not to boast or imply any sort of superiority about my upbringing, merely to illustrate a story. My dad is a CAD drafter, and as such has always needed to own really powerful computers in order to handle the 3D modeling software he uses for his job. This resulted, one spring evening, in my parents taking my sister and I to the newly-opened local Best Buy where, amidst the giant Mario and Sonic statues they had on display near a wall of tube TVs straight out of a Kriss Kross video, my family bought our very first PC. It was then that the world of PC gaming was open to me, and for someone who at that point had only seen what the NES, Genesis, and SNES had to offer it was revolutionary.
My time spent with LucasArts adventure games and DOOM could fill a series of blog posts, so for the sake of brevity I’ll get to the point. Early PC gaming brought with it the concept of shareware, an idea popularized by id’s Commander Keen games wherein you give part of your game away for free and make people buy the rest. Sort of like DLC, except you’re actually being given a sizable chunk of a game instead of being forced to pay to unlock fighting game characters or some shit.
A lot of games would cross my desk as a young lad thanks to shareware – the burgeoning PC gaming community meant my dad worked with a lot of dudes just as nerdy as he and I who would gladly make copies of shareware games and pass them around so everyone got to try them. This sort of behavior was encouraged by publishers (hence the name ‘shareware’) and seems almost quaint and naive in retrospect, considering how abhorrent the idea of sharing a game must be to most publishers these days.
Most of my fondest PC gaming memories of those days that weren’t related to LucasArts, id, or whoever made the Magic School Bus PC titles, were shareware versions of games like Hocus Pocus, Duke Nukem II, or One Must Fall: 2097. I treasure these memories and love these games dearly, even if I’m…hesitant to replay any of them. Playing them under shareware, which generally just meant I had the first “episode” of the game, equal to roughly the first 10 or so levels usually, made them so much more…mysterious. Like there’s two whole other chapters to these games that I might never actually see, and it really built them up in my mind to be epic adventures the likes of which I’d never see.
One of them, however, eluded me for years. Amidst the deluge of generally good shareware games my dad would bring home, one of them never quite made the same impression on me – to the point where I couldn’t recall it’s damn name. I knew it had a map screen, I knew you played as some beefy European model, and I knew it was kinda hard and pretty to look at. A friendly NintendoAge user helped me track this mystery game down after some 20-odd years of me not really having given it any thought or effort…and it turned out my white whale’s name was Xargon.
Xargon, sure. Why wouldn’t it be called a made-up word starting with ‘x’?