"Almost there," I tease, as I set my sights on another X-Wing fighter. I use the onboard computers, a marvel of modern technology, to match my speed to his and ease in behind him.
"Just a few more seconds." The effect is startling. It's as if I've glued my craft to his, and no matter how much he squirms, no matter how he tries to evade, I'm on him. I now begin the long dance of jockeying into just the right position for a clear firing solution.
"'I can't shake him,'" I imagine him saying in my best impression of a whiney-ass farm boy turned would-be Jedi.
'"Luke, pull out!" Warns his advisor at headquarters (again, voiced by me), but he doesn't. He's cocky and arrogant. Sure that he'll be the "Hero of the Rebellion," the fool.
I switch from missiles to guns and fire off a shot.
In the fall of 1994, I was about as far down on the roster of cool as one could get without hitting the disabled list.
I'd taken a break from my less-than-stellar undergraduate work and had moved back in with the folks, ostensibly to save money while I worked a lousy retail job and tried to "find myself." But what had seemed like the perfect solution to life's problems while stoned out of my gourd in my best friend's dorm room, had turned out to be an existential cul-de-sac.
I hadn't written anything worth reading in over a year, my retail gig was just as boring as algebra class and my fledgling acting career had rapidly stalled due to a paralyzing fear of going to auditions. About the only thing I had going for me was my girlfriend of several years, until she eventually decided to dump me to spend more time watching football.
After only a few weeks, it seemed I'd been set adrift on the sea of life. I was no longer a student, a writer, an actor or a boyfriend. My confidence was in freefall; my identity gone. I was precariously balanced on the knife's edge of complete irrelevance, and like every teenager-turned-adult who'd come before me, and all who'd come after, I was sure that my problems carried weight far beyond their significance. So I did what any sane, barely-post-adolescent person would do: For the good of all mankind, I used the money I'd been saving to buy a life raft in the form of a personal computer.
Enter: the Packard-Bell 486 DX2. The thinking was that I'd finally have an actual word processor on which to write, rather than relying on the finicky electronic typewriter I'd had since I was 13, or the hit-or-miss method of writing manuscripts by hand, using a fountain pen on legal pads. (My handwriting was so horrible I often couldn't read it myself.) But of course, once I had the thing out of the box and had plugged in all of the plugs, connected all of the connectors and pressed the switch, the first thing I did was play games.
I'd come home from Circuit City with three boxes that day. The first contained the computer and monitor. The second and third: a copy of LucasArts' space sim, TIE Fighter, and a CH Flightstick Pro.
I'd been a gamer off and on since I'd been able to hold a controller, had played on most consoles made to that date and had even monkeyed around with Commodore 64s and Apple machines belonging to friends, but that Packard-Bell was my first true foray into the exciting and terrible world of PC gaming. I foolishly expected to be flying through space, blasting Rebel Scum, mere minutes after arriving home, but this, as you probably already know, was not to be.
DOS games of that era often required a "clean boot" in order to run on a Windows machine like my 486 DX2. In spite of the "2," it just didn't have the muscle to run TIE Fighter in a window. This meant that I had to make a "boot disk," a floppy disk which would program the computer to circumvent the Windows operating system and instead allow the machine to boot up in DOS. Problem: I didn't have any floppy disks.