It wasn't the first game I remember playing, but I don't remember a game's manual as vividly as Heroes of Might and Magic 3.
The shot above, taken from the HOMM3 manual memorialised on the site for the fan-made Wake of the Gods expansion, is one of two images I remember the most. It's a sketch — concept art, perhaps — of the seventh tier angel unit. It's not a sketch of the archangel, the upgraded version and one of the most powerful units in the game.
I don't know why 3DO or Jon Van Caneghem, the developers and lead, included that specific sketch. But I remember it, along with the arch devil resting between what looks like mountains, vividly to this day.
HOMM 3 launched in 1999, so it wasn't the first game I played. But I was still at that age where our family cared deeply about Christmas, and since it was a house full of nerds — an engineer and programmer, one future programmer, one gamer and a mother who wanted to spend more time with the future nerds, so she showed everyone how to wipe the floor with Myst and Riven — video games for gifts was a common occurrence.
Digital distribution and sales have fundamentally changed the Christmas gaming experience. My parents would have gone bonkers if they knew they could have spent $50 to get my brother and I five or ten games each as kids (although how Steam treats family accounts isn't really conducive for a family that plays together).
But back then, everything cost $79 or up. EB Games was still called Electronics Boutique, although the company hadn't found its penchant for going all-out with the fire hazards. And not everything in the British or American game magazines (which my Dad got for us as kids, because it was what was available overseas whenever he went on shore leave) made its way to the humble EB Campbelltown branch, or Australia, as my mother and I discovered when we tried repeatedly to look for a copy of Pandora's Box for over a year.
So asking for games took a degree of faith. You never knew if it'd live up to the hype, or if the full game would keep you entertained for as long as the demo might have. HOMM 3 did, and from time to time, continues to make me smile now. It runs on a potato, gracefully, and the community behind HOMM has produced some astonishingly good campaigns and additions, including a faithful restoration of the sci-fi Forge faction 3DO originally wanted to release in their first expansion (but abandoned after its initial reception).
It's not uncommon that people fall in love with games well after playing their first game. A lot of the experience is dependent on prior knowledge — not necessarily the franchise, story or characters, but simpler things like a controller, basic camera movement.
I asked Tegan the same question while writing this story, for a bit of extra perspective. I knew she grew up with a SEGA Master System, and Alex Kidd was her first game. But the game that did it for her was Tomb Raider — a strong female archaeologist, the graphics on the PlayStation, a such a well-designed action-adventure hitting her at the perfect time.
So I put the question to all of you. Most remember their first game. But what was the first one you played that you fell in love with, and the one that made you fall in love with games generally?