Everybody’s got that one — their first. That one indefinable piece of nostalgic past that not only was their introduction to a lifelong passion, but also stands above any that came after, flaws and all.
Maybe it was a car. Mine was a 1988 Firebird Trans Am with a sweet hood scoop and aftermarket T-tops.
Perhaps it was a first concert. Mine was a 2003 Styx and Kansas concert in La Crosse, Wis., where people kept asking me where my dad was.
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It could even be that lake town in northern Wisconsin where you spent your first couple of family vacations. Mine was Hayward, where I both learned the importance of bug spray during a humid Wisconsin summer and how to read a room when your aunt and uncle are arguing in the camper.
Today, though, we’re talking about another first. It was beige, it was bulky and it was the first time I was exposed to the wonders of CD-ROMs. Yes, it was my first PC.
I wish I could remember anything beyond the manufacturer — being from the 1990s, it was a Gateway, of course — but I do remember it came in one of those iconic cow-spotted boxes. And, it was one of the first times I ever saw a computer tower, a form factor that would go on to dominate the 1990s.
But that be-spotted box was filled with more than just hardware. It also came with a plethora of pack-in software. I have to fan myself and sit down whenever I think of it. Not only due to the quality but the quantity as well.
There was a demo for POD, a racing game so ‘90s I’m surprised neither Pauly Shore nor the Spice Girls were involved.
Also, there was a full copy of Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego? — not only a piece of classic edutainment software, but one that included cool “digitized” photos of the places you went. (Digitized would go on to be a 1990s buzzword along with such classics as saying “Not!” as a way to emphasize your sarcasm — itself quite trendy at the time — or referring to your best friend as a “home-skillet.”)
And, finally, among the requisite CDs containing Corel WordPerfect and Quicken — software that much like “Frampton Comes Alive!” was issued through the mail along with samples of Tide if you lived in the suburbs — was a little program that time forgot.
Well, not just time, but me as well.
It announced itself on the cover as a 3D art program, but Blender this was not. Instead of building 3D models from the ground up and manipulating them to create some gloriously creepy 1990s computer art (tinyurl.com/2v78z9jn, if you dare), instead this was a collection of prerendered 3D clipart that could be placed on a series of backgrounds.
Alien worlds and otherworldly museums could play host to a series of stiff mannequins and everyday objects like baseball bats placed and rotated to your heart’s content. And it was all set to the finest moody midi-synth score you’ve heard this side of “Stranger Things.”
It was simplistic, and it was far from being a 3D art program by any stretch of the imagination, but it was glorious. I never did learn the ins and outs of 3D rendering, but that didn’t stop that compact disc from being on heavy rotation in that old 2x speed CD-ROM.
Unfortunately, after days of searching the vast tracts of the internet for a clue as to its name, it seems that that long ago piece of software will have to remain in anonymity, at least for now.
The giant beige monster of a computer would go on to host a murderer’s row of great games over the years — from Doom to Warcraft II to Sim City 2000 — cementing its place in my heart.
Though the computer itself is long gone and the phone in my pocket handily outperforms it in every way, it stands tall on the pedestal of nostalgia.
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