Monday, March 2, 2020

"25 Years Later, 'Star Wars: Dark Forces' Is a Forgotten Gem"

When Star Wars content was rare, and PCs unreliable:
For 10 months, I thought about that game. I re-read that review. I looked at screenshots in strategy guides (but didn’t read the guides themselves because I wanted to discover the game for myself). I memorized the list of new weapons and enemies. The hyper-dangerous Concussion Rifle sounded awesome, the Imperial Repeating Rifle sounded sensible.

Ten months of obsession led up to my all-time worst PC gaming experience: when I finally got Dark Forces in my hands, the game didn’t launch. It installed just fine, but when I launched the executable, nothing happened. The CD drive didn’t make it’s reassuring whirring-grinding noise, the hard drive didn’t make any of its noisy ticks. The computer paused for a moment, and then gave me a fresh, blank C:\ prompt.

Nightmarishly, my cousin had also gotten the game and for the next few weeks when we talked, he cheerfully related how awesome Dark Forces was. Meanwhile, weeks of tinkering, testing connections, and ritualistic reinstalls didn’t change the fact that Dark Forces, and only Dark Forces, would not run on my computer.

Months later, my parents finally called-in Nipul.

Nipul was the Mr. Wolf of my early days of PC gaming—a fixer. A classmate of my mom’s at Purdue Cal, where they were getting their bachelor’s taking night classes, Nipul graduated and immediately started a PC repair business. His margins were huge, probably unconscionable in retrospect (we got the “friend discount” that brought them down to “eye-popping”) but it was the mid-90s and Nipul could charge whatever he wanted because he was a “computer guy” at a time when that kind of enthusiasm and knowledge could confer unchallengeable authority. He was also, and this is what I most appreciated about him, someone who believed in the upsell as a moral imperative. Whatever specs you came into the shop thinking about, he knew that kicking it up a notch would make everyone happier in the long run.

I don’t know what he fixed or how. I do know that on a rainy night in the autumn of 1996, he dropped by the house to deliver our re-built PC. It had a new CD drive, more memory, and generally ran like a dream. It sounded different when I turned it back on. He promised me that Dark Forces was now installed, and he’d verified it worked.

I played Dark Forces the rest of the night
Related, weird to see Star Wars trumpeting the new publishing project with the headline Nothing Like This Has Ever Been Done Before, and using images like these: