Old School College-Era Video Games

I’m not much of a gamer. Yes, I have a Wii at home, and on rare occasion (mostly when we have friends over) I’ll break it out in order to play Rock Band 3. But that is about it. For one thing, I don’t have time and for another, I don’t have the interest. This isn’t a knock against video games today, many of which appear to be absolutely stunning. But despite the life-like 3D of these games, despite the new ways of interacting with the game, and the multi-player aspect that the Internet brings, some of my favorite video games are still those games that I played in the late 1980s and early 1990s.


I got to thinking about this last night as I was dozing off. ย I was listening to Peter Gabriel‘s So album and two songs on that album remind me of my freshman days at the University of California, Riverside, in the Aberdeen-Inverness (we called it “A&I”) dorms, in our hall on D1-East. Certain songs bring back vivid memories of what I was doing when I listened to those songs. Back in late 1990, especially on the weekends when the dorms would empty out, I could often be found in my dorm room with my friend (and now Doctor) Rich Peterson, listening to the Peter Gabriel album while we took turns playing the awesome 3D car racing game, Stunts put out by Distinctive Software. We’d play it on my IBM PC 286 machine. What a fun game that was! You could design your own race tracks and then choose the car you wanted to race on it. You could have the car fly over jumps, speed around turns, and cruise along straightaways. Whenever I think of playing one of the complex courses Rich and I would build, and imagine the car cruising down a particularly long desert straightaway, I can hear Gabriel’s “Mercy Street” echoing through my head. Hours–hours of playing when we probably should have been studying, but it was so worth it.

Another game we played was an Electronic Arts game called LHX, which stood for, I believe, Light Helicopter, Experimental. It was a 3D simulation of flying a helicopter on various combat missions. Not quite as fun as Stunts, in my opinion, but we still had a good time playing it. I think of this game every time I hear AC/DC’s “Thunderstruck”. For me, the two go hand-in-hand.

I enjoyed these game a lot, quite a bit more than most of the games I’ve played since, despite the vast improvements in technology. But neither Stunts nor LHX are my favorite game. That title goes to what I think has to be one of the most remarkable games ever designed–even to this day: Ultima IV: Quest of the Avatar put out by Origin Systems.


Strictly speaking, I played this game in high school, so it really isn’t a college-era game. Oh, but the hours and hours of fun I had exploring the world, solving the puzzles, and ultimately winning the game. Ultima V, its sequel, was almost as fun. And despite all of the fancy 3D first person adventure games that have come out in the decades since, I have yet to see a game with the story complexity, with the emotional complexity, and with the brilliant over all design as Ultima IV and Ultima V.

Perhaps more than any other reason–that is why I no longer play video games. There is nothing currently in existence that can compare with the golden memories I have of playing Ultima IV–where the characters came alive and felt like old friends. And I wouldn’t want it any other way.



  2. Can I also remind you that in our second year of college we spent MANY an hour (me on my Amber monochrome monitor and you on your AWESOME 16 color RGB monitor) playing Prince of Persia to the Indiana Jones Soundtrack. I barely think of the movie anymore when I hear it… I think of our dorm at Lothian, computers on either side and sitting back to back. I think I progressed farther because my computer was slower and my reaction time didn’t have to be as good as yours. Sweet, how I miss those days… Has it really been 20 years?

    1. Rich, I was going to mention Prince of Persia, but I figured I’d leave it up to you. As I recall, you played it more than I did. But I can remember the CLICK-CLICK sound of the running. And you probably went and saw the recent movie, too, didn’t you? Probably the only one. ๐Ÿ˜‰


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