hold onto that .exe you downloaded
December 16, 2019 8:52 AM   Subscribe

games as found objects & virtual relics by Natalie Lawhead “There’s this type of play experience that’s unique to freeware. It’s been part of the internet ever since Dial Up. That past time of finding weird things to download, from sites that you might more or less trust, and running them. Games, software, weird small things… It’s a pastime that I remember fondly when our modem “could do” 64 kbit/s. I used to spend hours on Downloads dot Com searching for DOS games. I found Chickens 2 that way, and still have the original copy on my machine. I never had the heart to delete it. PC Gamer used to give away demos in a CD that you got with the magazine. Every month you would be excited to get it and try to figure out how to “get more” out of this free object intended as a demo. Like hacking the GTA 1 demo to disable the counter so you could play longer. As long as you had the .exe the game was yours. It was an object to dissect and play to death and discover every tiny error detail or bug. It’s about the weird things you discover and make your own.”
posted by Fizz (15 comments total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
Oh man, I played that Warcraft I demo to death. Work work. And I maintain that Jardinians may be the best dos game ever.
posted by J.R. Hartley at 9:17 AM on December 16, 2019

This brings to mind something I saw on TV decades back. I don't recall the show, but I remember the segment. It was about a guy who would come home after work every and would download all the files he could find, and save them all to 3.5" floppy discs. He had a wall of drawers of floppy discs.

I wonder if he, or someone like him, still has those floppies, and if they're still viable. If so, they could upload those files to the Internet Archive, to expand their collection of vintage computer game demos (2,211 files currently). I couldn't find the demo of Savage on Internet Archive, but I did find the full game, just as Natalie Lawhead mentioned.

This also reminds me of a 2600 article on basic-level cracking, finding out what files or registry keys change when a demo game or app loads, then modifying that so you can keep on playing or working, after re-setting the timer every so often.

Can you even do that with apps on smart devices? Can you even tinker with files to modify your experience? I've gotten older and busier, so I don't even look for these tinkering projects.
posted by filthy light thief at 9:20 AM on December 16, 2019

I am reminded of a day back in the mid-90s where I went out onto the fledgling World Wide Web and made a wonderful discovery: the first freeware arcade game emulator for DOS, Dave Spicer's Sparcade.

It wasn't a big secret that arcade games of yore were, essentially, specialized single-purpose computers with buttons and knobs instead of keyboards. Early personal computers were littered with recreations of and homages to those classic games, often crude and badly hamstrung by the limitations of said computers. But, suddenly, this nice gentleman said "Download my .exe. Now download some other sets of files and put them where my .exe can find them. Now run it."

And as if by magic, once you did so and selected a game, your PC was transformed into one of these decade-old games; not a recreation, not an interpretation, but the real thing right down to the Insert Coin message! The controls were a little different by necessity, and early versions only ran a handful of games (first three, then six), but for arcade-crawlers like myself it was very nearly a religious experience. This was Deep Magic.

Many others dove onto this idea and soon we had dozens of console and arcade emulators jockeying for position. Multi-Pac became MAME and soon that assimilated all others. People built sprite editors and soon one could visually hack classic games and make THOSE run on emulators. (I did Pacipede, a Centipede ROM set with the graphics crudely tweaked to Pac-Man characters.) A handful of supported games and variations turned into dozens, then hundreds, then thousands. Now, I can walk into a local burger joint and find an old Burgertime cabinet transformed into a coin-op multi-game machine, one arcade standup that can play your choice of hundreds of different titles for a small $.25 donation.

But it all started with a simple .exe and Frogger, Amidar and Galaxian.
posted by delfin at 10:16 AM on December 16, 2019 [10 favorites]

For me, it was discovering a bootleg copy of Jazz Jackrabbit which I found through a forum, back in the late 90s. I had no virus protection or firewall or anything, it was just click and hope this .exe doesn't fuck all my shit up. It was very much the wild west.
posted by Fizz at 10:44 AM on December 16, 2019 [3 favorites]

I have several binders full of CD holders full of PC Gamer and PC Zone cover CDs.
posted by GallonOfAlan at 10:45 AM on December 16, 2019

On a Mac in my High School, I found "A Day At Work", a simple, goofy semi-adventure game where you could go to work and make money. Or, once you have some money, buy a gun and murder the entire town. IIRC, you could also get arrested, or steal dynamite from a military base and do other silly, and/or violent things. I don't know how it got on that machine, but it was fun to while away lunch periods.

I also remember getting a CD-ROM of game demos as a Christmas gift. Most of the games weren't great, but one that sticks out was a first-person shooter called H.U.R.L, made for kids. It wasn't a great game, but it was just so odd that it sticks with me.
posted by SansPoint at 10:47 AM on December 16, 2019 [2 favorites]

Also, I played the fuck out of the first level in Quake because of a free CD-ROM. It wasn't until years later that I pirated a full version of the game.
posted by Fizz at 10:49 AM on December 16, 2019 [1 favorite]

Gamewise HappyPuppy was my jam. RIP
Before that era though, I was really into ftp.funet.fi & ftp.sunet.se & ac.oakland.edu(?)
posted by symbioid at 11:30 AM on December 16, 2019 [4 favorites]

Can you even do that with apps on smart devices? Can you even tinker with files to modify your experience? I've gotten older and busier, so I don't even look for these tinkering projects.
posted by filthy light thief

A couple years ago a friend gave me his modded copy of Candy Crush which he had fixed so there was no timer thingy, so you could play as much as you wanted. Required android and a rooted phone.
posted by Grither at 12:44 PM on December 16, 2019 [2 favorites]

I still remember finding mario.exe somewhere online in the late 90s. It was a DOS game that had levels just like the original Super Mario Brothers, but with (imo nicer-looking) 256 color VGA graphics. It was only like 60kb in size. It wasn't accompanied by any docs or even credits, and I never figured out where it came from. Searching for it in 2019 brings up lots of results for some unrelated thing also called mario.exe, though I swear I did see a bit of info on it a few years earlier.
posted by afiler at 1:36 PM on December 16, 2019

After some more digging, I see that Internet Archive has a copy of the mario.exe page from 2001, including source code. It turns out to have been written in Turbo Pascal in 1994 by a guy named Mike Wiering. Tiger Woods has played it. Someone else has posted a mirror of the pascal code on github.
posted by afiler at 2:09 PM on December 16, 2019

I probably put more hours into the Unreal Tournament demo than I did the full game when I bought it years later.
posted by straight at 3:11 PM on December 16, 2019

I would pay up to $50 for a version of candy crush with no timers or bullshit.
posted by bleep at 6:46 PM on December 16, 2019 [1 favorite]

Breaking followup: Nathalie found Magpie Hunt again!
posted by subocoyne at 4:37 PM on December 17, 2019

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