What was the first PC game you played?
Welcome to the first PC Gamer Club Q&A! Each week, we’ll take a question from the Club members on our Discord server then get a panel of PC Gamer writers to give their answers. We welcome your responses to the question in the comments, too. If you’d like to check out details on joining the PC Gamer Club, head here.
This one comes from My Name’s Nobody in Discord, who asks: what was the first PC game you played? My Name’s Nobody’s first game is the 1997 3D adventure RedCat.
Here are our first experiences with PC gaming.
Andy Kelly: Full Throttle
I have vague, distant memories of playing an Atari ST when I was really young, but the first memory of a game I have is when I borrowed a copy of Full Throttle from a family friend. It was in one of those big cardboard boxes, and I remember seeing that artwork of Ben riding his motorcycle and feeling hugely excited about playing it.
As I recall, the version I had didn’t work on Windows 95, so I had to teach myself to use the DOS prompt to get it running. A simple task, but one that made me feel like a computer genius. I must have been like 14 or 15 years old. And I vividly remember seeing that stunning intro sequence for the first time, in which Ben rides his bike over the hover-limo to the tune of Legacy by The Gone Jackals.
I grew up on console games—my first was a Sega Master System—and compared to that, the cinematic look and feel of Full Throttle was a revelation. It was way beyond the bleeps and pixels I was used to, and I was totally blown away by it. I loved the game so much, in fact, that when asked to write a short story in English class, I stole the game’s plot verbatim and my teacher loved it so much he read it out in front of the whole class. Man, I was such a fraud.
Jarred Walton: Rogue (1983—not the Epyx version)
My first gaming was done on an Magnavox Odyssey II, but let’s skip to PCs. Man, I used to love playing Rogue. It was so simple, and yet the randomization and elements of luck kept me coming back again and again. It’s such a classic that we now have an entire genre of games called Roguelikes. But I was there for the original, clicking one space at a time through the dungeons of doom, in search of the fabled Amulet of Yendor. The early going is simple enough, and it’s great when you start on a level with a lot of potions of various colors, particularly if none of them kill you, since experimenting on level 1 or 2 with a potion that causes temporary blindness is far less damaging than risking an unknown potion on level 10.
I had many (many!) short games that ended with my demise before I had completed even a couple of levels, dying an ignominious death to a snake or—even worse—a bat. That might sound sad, but it’s once you reach the teen levels that Rogue becomes a tension-filled dungeon crawler. You can lose max HP to a vampire, strength to a rattlesnake, or levels to a wraith, leaving you easy prey. And the dreaded capital D, a fire-breathing dragon that can attack at range and burn up any scrolls you might be carrying, ended more than a few deep dungeon runs.
After many months of periodic (okay, obsessive) play, including competing against my siblings, I eventually found the fabled Amulet of Yendor… and then died while trying to get back out. While later iterations of Rogue and its offshoots have more levels, and games like NetHack dramatically up the complexity, the one I played (similar to this one) was relatively simple. It took many more months before I eventually managed to snag the amulet and fight my way back to the surface. After winning, you get a congratulatory message. Hooray! But even after winning, the simplicity of the original Rogue still gets its hooks in me.
James Davenport: Some game I don’t remember (please help)
Maybe someone in the comments can help me out here, but I don’t remember the name of my first PC game. I think it was an MS DOS game, because you had to use a command line to launch the thing. You played as a small, pixelated off-brand Indiana Jones guy, and you had to move around grid-based temples and dungeons to find treasure. If you crossed a snake’s path, it’d shoot your way and eat you. I think there were mummies that slowly moved towards you too, but I might be making it up. It felt like a cousin to Chip’s Challenge, albeit with simpler graphics and rules.
I remember beating it after what felt like years, which between the ages of 5 and 10, probably meant it took a few weeks. Between my dad kicking me off all the time, and that time I accidentally knocked the PC tower over (which put the sucker out of commission for a few days), I’m not too surprised it took me so long. Most of all, I remember how scared I felt plumbing the depths of the those ruins. As simple as the game looked, there was a real sense of dread that stands clear in my memories today. I’m not sure it would hold up nowadays, but I was also a damn toddler. Still, it’s interesting to see the direct connection to the games I enjoy today, Dark Souls especially. The Souls games have serpents and treasure and dimly lit tomb corridors abound. The lesson here: I’m still six years old and snakes are cool.
I played Myst after that, but fuck Myst.
Wes Fenlon: LHX Attack Chopper
My first PC gaming memories are a jumble of games I played with my dad when I was under 10 years old, and I honestly can’t tell you which one I played first. It was likely either the DOS port of Zaxxon, Sega’s hard-as-hell isometric space shooter, or Montezuma’s Revenge, an archaic Atari-era platformer. We played both on his old 8086 PC we had set up in the storage shed in the backyard. But my strongest memory is of a game we played on our newer 386 PC, which had a more prestigious position in the home office. That game was LHX Attack Chopper, a 1990 helicopter sim that we bought a joystick for. If you played it, listening to the intro music that plays over the old EA logo as a helicopter slowly descends into view will probably take you back in time. I remember it being slower. Maybe it ran like crap on my PC—I was definitely too young to notice.
LHX Attack Chopper was, in my mind, fucking incredible. There were four different helicopter choices, each with their own weapon loadouts and capabilities. The Osprey was especially cool, but also really difficult to fly—it could switch between helicopter and plane modes, but we’d usually crash it in the process. There were tons of mission options (medevac, SURGICAL STRIKE) and weapon choices. Did we want the more powerful sidewinder missiles, or more of the harder-to-aim stingers? It didn’t matter if the graphics were incredibly rudimentary 3D, untextured polygons. I totally believed in those worlds as a giant, real place we could fly around in.
I didn’t understand much of what was going on, and when I was younger my dad handled most of the flying while I sat on his lap, pressing the keys to launch a chaff or flare to shake off enemy missile locks. Still, that was gripping. And I still remember the little touches, like bullet holes appearing in the cockpit glass. That’s when you knew you were in trouble. We were usually in trouble. We rarely finished missions, but it was still a blast. And you know what? This game is still cool. You can play it in your browser on the Internet Archive. Just look at this animation when you start a mission:
Joe Donnelly: Lemmings
Approximately one million years ago, my dad bought our family an Atari ST. For my parents, this meant ‘word processing’—a phrase which neither of them understood and a process which took longer than physically handwriting documents because printers were truly awful in the early ’90s. For me, the Atari ST meant Lemmings.
On the face of it, ordering dozens of faceless, oddly dressed rodents around sprawling two-dimensional levels filled with traps and pitfalls sounds a bit weird, but I nevertheless fell in love with its intricate puzzle combinations and wonderful chiptune soundtrack overnight. Builders, blockers, bashers, miners—I revelled in assigning roles at will, and even took joy in ‘Nuking’ the whole lot when my invariably crude tactics went awry.
Despite its age, Lemmings is still one of my favourite puzzlers to this day. And while I’m yet to meet a one of these subnivean animals in real life, I’ll be wholly disappointed if they aren’t donned in blue robes and sporting messy green hairdos.
Samuel Roberts: X-Wing
My first PC game was technically Mario Is Missing, which I’ve written about before on the site, and that came with my family’s first PC. X-Wing is the first game I got for Christmas from my parents, though. I don’t think my dad realised he’d bought me the CD-ROM version, because we didn’t even have a CD drive at the time. I share Andy’s memory of feeling like a genius for learning to boot X-Wing in DOS.
The other thing: I’d never seen Star Wars at the time, either. So my dad went out and got it on VHS from the rental store—this is the sort of tedious suburban childhood experience that I’m certain a lot of ’80s and ’90s kids have their own version of. I loved Star Wars, of course, and the chance to play this vivid 3D game in the cockpit of all the cool spaceships from that film was fantastic, even if I did find it super hard. I have strong memories of being blown away by the game’s few cutscenes—I’m convinced X-Wing contains one of the best Darth Vader moments ever.
Star Wars and PC gaming have always gone hand-in-hand for me. The same year, my mum bought my dad a secondhand copy of Dark Forces. Those two games accelerated my interest in all of this games business, and without them, I expect I’d be doing something else with my life, like repairing boats, or putting up birdhouses in elderly people’s gardens, or serving cakes in prison.
Chris Livingston: Choplifter
If games on the Apple II count as PC, then it was Broderbund’s Choplifter in 1982. My dad has always been an early adopter of tech—we had a VCR before anyone else I knew, and we were the first to get a computer as well—and I remember going to the store to look at computers (I think it was Radio Shack). While my dad talked to the salesman, I played Choplifter, and a few weeks later I came home from school to find our new Apple II set up and a joystick and copy of Choplifter waiting for me.
I loved it, of course. Flying my little copter around, picking up soldiers and flying them back to base, fighting tanks and planes and (for some reason) UFOs. The little soldiers had two animations: running and frantically waving their arms. I eventually attributed three different meanings to the arm-wave animation:
When I’m trying to pick them up: “We’re here! Save us!”
After I’ve dropped them off: “Thanks! Seeya!”
When I’ve accidentally crushed some of their fellow soldiers by landing on top of them: *Shaking fist* “You crazy asshole! What’s wrong with you?”
Add your own suggestions in the comments!