Growing up, I didn't have a console of my own. I did have a hand-me-down computer with a couple old arcade games and Mario Teaches Typing on it, but I pretty much had to piggyback off my friends consoles for my gaming fix.
That all changed in the summer of 1998. My grandpa bought the family a new PC, and it was a beast. 400 MHz Pentium II, 128 MB of RAM, and *GASP* a graphics card. The nVidia Riva 128 (8 MB) to be specific.
Sure it sounds antiquated today, and in fact it wouldn't even boot most games released just three years later, but for that brief window it was a tiny god. Finally, I had a true gaming machine in my room.
So the question fell to what to play. I downloaded the shareware versions of Doom and Quake, but I wanted a full experience. The only retail copy of anything id made in my town was a beat up, mediocre joystick Sears had bundled with Quake, but they wanted $80. There was no way I could swing that at 11 years old.
But a friend of mine had told me about this really sweet game called Mechwarrior 2. I'd seen it chug along on his parents' old PC once, but he assured me it would run way better on the setup I had. Plus, it had giant robots shooting each other. How awesome is that?
I pooled together some leftover birthday and lawn mowing money and headed out to find a copy. I couldn't find the original, but I did see the stand alone expansion, Mercenaries, sitting on the shelf. The Titanium Edition no less! I had no idea what that meant, but it sounded cool, so I went for it.
I finally had it. My first real game. I wasn't going over to friends houses to check out Super Mario World of the Jurassic Park game (it was a big deal at the time) anymore. Maybe they'd even come over to check my stuff out.
Anyway, I got home and opened to box to find one of the coolest manuals ever and a cheat sheet showing the 40 or so keys needed to be kept track of in order to play. Maybe I was getting in over my head.
I fired it up, watched the awesome opening cut scene and started my career as a mercenary. Things were going great, but it was getting late in the evening so I decided to stop for the night. I pulled up the save menu, and nothing. I clicked save and nothing happened. Of corse I later found out I had to name the save first, but this was my first time ever messing around with a game that had a save system. I just assumed it was glitched or something.
Defeated, I went to bed. The next day after school I played through the first few missions again, and again, failed at saving the game. This was a problem. As far as I knew I would never be able to save my game. I would have to do it in one shot, straight through.
I took notes on the first few levels, trying to make my playthrough as easy as possible. I even had it down to aim for a certain window on my way into town so I could one shot a Jenner, taking it out of the fight, just blasting out the cockpit so the whole mech would be salvageable.
I actually even left my PC on overnight one Friday to pull an all day session on Saturday, but screwed up about halfway through the game and had to start over fresh anyway. All I had was a little better idea of the ambush/prison break level (not much of a spoiler, but you've had since 1996 to play it), and a room that was 15 degrees warmer that usual. A good PC will do that.
After many failed attempts, I finally had the perfect opportunity. A long weekend in the fall (so no heat issues), and I had enough of the game mapped out that I felt I could finally finish it.
I made it through the first half no problem, having done so dozens of times before. I left the machine running to make for the summit in the morning. Everything was going fine. I had the best wingmen hired, I hadn't made the mistake of hiring the useless air support, and my whole crew was rolling in heavily customized Assault Class mechs.
Then some dumbass AI wingman with supposedly excellent skills went and got himself blown up just a couple missions from the end. I wasn't worried about that for story reasons. The hirable pilots don't really factor into that. I was just mad because now the only guy available for hire was rated C+ and I just lost a $8,000,000+ mech from my garage to poor AI programming.
I figured I had come this far, I might as well go for it. I made it to the final mission, armored up the replacement mech for the scrub pilot I just hired and set off to try and finish the final mission.
Without going through the all the details of the story, you have to hold a line outside of the capital city of the faction that hired you most recently. I barely remember the first part of the fight, just that by the time the final wave rolled around one of my wingmen had been so shot up he ejected, and the other was missing an arm, was low on ammo, and had a busted hip actuator so he could only move at a snail's pace. This was pretty much up to me.
I took out the first couple enemies, but I was out of ammo for my auto-cannons and missile launchers. I found the last enemy and started firing away with ER PPCs. I overheated after just a few shots, but kept going. I was so close. Luckily my gimpy wingman finally showed up and caused enough of a distraction to let me back up and cool down for another volley. In the meantime he was getting shot up and wouldn't last much longer. This one would have to count. I lined up the shot and fired everything I had. Enemy down, mission complete.
After weeks of, in hindsight, self inflicted struggles, I had beaten my first "real" game.