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Microsoft takes us back to the multimedia era with a browser version of the Windows 95 pack-in game Hover!

By John Teti • October 2, 2013

Here’s what you’ve got to understand about working with computers in 1995: All we wanted was “multimedia.” Or perhaps it would be more accurate to say that all we were supposed to want was “multimedia.” Every television commercial, tech magazine columnist, and Compaq PC brochure told us that the new capabilities of multimedia functionality paradigms would change our lives. Nobody ever told us what “multimedia” meant, mind you. We were left to figure that out for ourselves. In practice, most multimedia experiences involved opening a postage-stamp-sized window to watch a grainy video clip of a white guy in a vest, who would tell you how CD-ROM encyclopedias work. Buying a Sound Blaster Pro card at Electronics Boutique also seemed to be an important part of the process, although nobody knew why. That didn’t matter. You didn’t question multimedia.

This is how so many people ended up playing Hover! (emphasis original) a first-person capture-the-flag game for Windows. See, if you were slavering for a multimedia fix, you were liable to end up rummaging through all the crap that came with your Windows 95 PC. And that’s when you’d come across a humble executable by the name of Hover! (emphasis original). This game placed you in a hovercraft-cum-bumper car and let you roam around an immersive 3D world along the lines the Doom. Indeed, the whole thing was a lot like Doom, minus the violence and excitement. “Is this multimedia?” we would ask ourselves as we examined the evidence. Its visuals were simultaneously futuristic and hideous. It featured an endless loop of awful MIDI music. And most importantly, it was far less fun that it ought to be. Yes, this was multimedia.

I tell you this story because Microsoft has released an updated version of Hover! (emphasis original) that you can play in your browser. Perhaps it’s a bid to make people reminiscent for an era when Microsoft ruled the world, but it’s a neat trick nonetheless, and the game has been updated with careful attention to detail. That doesn’t make it so much more enjoyable to sit there bouncing your nigh-uncontrollable hovercraft around a clunky quasi-maze, but the multimedia era wasn’t about enjoying yourself.

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32 Responses to “Microsoft takes us back to the multimedia era with a browser version of the Windows 95 pack-in game Hover!

  1. signsofrain says:

    Wasn’t there an option to wallpaper the game with images from your hard drive, or am I remembering something else from the Win95 era?

  2. DrFlimFlam says:

    I love that someone brought back this game that was not a lot of fun to play when it did look like modern gaming (more or less) and also I will play it when I get home from work because Hover!

  3. Sarapen says:

    Good God I completely forgot about this game until I read this article. It’s weird how ephemeral all this old software is. They’re like Navajo sand paintings or Chinese poems written in water on pavement stones, except shittier and more wasteful.

  4. aklab says:

    “You’ll need Internet Explorer 11 with WebGL to play Hover!” 

    …and of course it’s a ploy to get me to download IE. Of course! 

  5. ItsTheShadsy says:

    Shut up, I love Hover!. When I got my own Windows 95 PC, it was either that or SimEarth.

    The multimedia era/obsession was so awesomely weird. Everything felt futuristic, but also just a little off. It was the last triumph of physical media, when getting a disc full of curated goodies like demos for encyclopedias was superior to getting them online.

    • DrFlimFlam says:

      Hey man, I could play Breakout on the Apple computer during Teacher’s Aide class! The ’90s! Futuristic!

    • Raging Bear says:

      And then of course, Interactive came along, and nothing, not even Multimedia itself, was ever the same.

    • Sarapen says:

      Of course it was superior, do you remember how excruciating dialup was? So many hours I spent on Encarta, now lost like tears in the rain.

      • GaryX says:

        Encarta also had the badass castle maze.

        • stepped_pyramids says:

          That game was the shiiiiiiiiiiit.

          Especially the madlibs you got to do for winning each level, where you could put “boners” and “boobs” in all the slots and get Encarta to tell you a disjointed dirty joke.

          Also, there was an interactive physics simulation where you could move the moon around the earth and put it in different orbits, and of course you could just set it up to smash into the earth repeatedly.

        • GaryX says:

          @stepped_pyramids:disqus Oh man. Totally forgot about the gravity simulator. I would try to get the moon to spin around the earth as much as it could before smashing into it.

    • Destroy Him My Robots says:

      Yeah, the allure is kind of special. I set up a Windows 95 VM one day to get the hang of VirtualBox, and I just had to install Plus! for the funky themes, Encarta, open Hover! and Space Cadet, and watch the Buddy Holly music video and those actually pretty cool animated promotional shorts.

  6. greenspanDan says:

    ehh wake me when they bring back Night Mission Pinball.  i’d even settle for Space Cadet Pinball.

    • Merve says:

      Space Cadet pinball was actually a slight modification to one of the three tables in Maxis’ Full Tilt! Pinball, which came free with copies of Marble Drop.

      Man, Maxis used to be hella awesome.

  7. SuperShamrock says:

    I’m waiting for QBasic Gorillas to make a return.

  8. EmperorNortonI says:

    Wow, Multimedia,” I’d forgotten how ubiquitous that stupid catchphrase used to be.

    I was an old-school PC gamer even in the 90’s, haven cut my teeth on the Apple II in the 80s as a wee tyke, and I could see the damaging effect that “Multimedia” was having on PC gaming as it happened.  The early 90’s really were a great time in PC gaming, with a whole number of genres either getting off the ground (4x, Sim games, space dogfighters, etc.,) or going through a glorious final fluorescence (PC RPG’s, Adventure games).  None of that goodness had anything to do with Multimedia.  In fact, “Multimedia” usually meant crappy FMV instead of interesting gameplay.  Sure, like a lot of people I was wowed by Rebel Assault, perhaps the first real game to use FMV.  But that was about it.  Multimedia content drained tiny development budgets, and led developers to cut interesting features out of games and replace them with poorly acted cutscenes.  At best, you’d get Wing Commander 3 (which I couldn’t play until years after release, thanks to its insane system reqs) or Command and Conquer, where bad FMV cutscenes were used to frame a solid game.  Most of the time, you got a crappy “Multimedia Experience” that was barely even a game. 

    Multimedia enthusiasm was also the first wave of the “MORE PIXELS!” school of game development, which ended up destroying most of the great developers of the 90’s by raising the budgetary requirements beyond the point that a team of dedicated creatives could raise and manage – and by attracting financial sharks, who couldn’t be bothered with the tiny studios and tiny budgets of before.

    All that said, I must admit that back then, I was a grumpy and judgmental little Comic-Book-Guy wannabe, so it wasn’t too much of a stretch to make negative judgmental pronouncements on anything new.

    So, yeah, “Multimedia, get off my lawn!”

    • Yeah, back in the Apple ][ days, quite a few commercially successful games were written by a single person who did everything — game design, level design, graphics and sound (such as they were) — but with the whole Multimedia thing you had to have actual artists and musicians involved…

    • ItsTheShadsy says:

      I don’t think you’re giving multimedia a fair shot. It’s easy to look back and make fun of those games for being ugly and clumsy. But multimedia also made it really easy for small developers to make games much fancier. I’ve read extensive interviews with developers from the era talking about how it was so much easier to enhance their games with pre-rendered 3D graphics and voices to make them stand out. It let a seven-man studio put out an immersive game like Myst, and it let singular developers make smaller games that looked comparable. Probably no one would talk about Tex Murphy if it wasn’t for the multimedia elements.

      I don’t think every single game that came out of the FMV era was great, but I do think full-motion video etc. let people enhance games in exciting ways for relatively cheap. If they cut their budget to focus on ridiculous cutscenes, they just weren’t doing it right.

  9. Citric says:

    Multimedia also meant watching a Weezer video, as I recall.

    • J. Walker says:

      Yes: the “Buddy Holly” video. The Windows95 disc also had the trailer for Rob Roy, of all things.