When opening a game box in retro gaming times, there was always an uncertainty as to what exactly was going to be inside.
Of course, disks (or a cassette) and a manual; that was expected, but it was not uncommon to open a game box and along with the game was for example (and I’m not kidding here) a Ninja Hood and a shuriken (as packaged with the Commodore 64 version of “Last Ninja 2” but was later removed from the packaging after an uproar from parents and teachers) or a photograph of soldiers and an audio cassette of Smokey Robinson singing “Tracks of my Tears” (as packaged with “Platoon”).
A more mild extra in a game box would be perhaps a poster which happened a lot. A nicer surprise such as in the box for “Shadow of the Beast”, would be a t-shirt (never the correct size unless you happened to be a size XXL at 7 years old) that you could wear with honour to show your friends that you had bought the game and as the misperceived “cooler” kids had pirated the game they had no t-shirt to wear. That actually reminds me of the time I sent a cheat for Shadow of the Beast 2 in to a certain games magazine which was published, and then they printed in a later issue that the cheat only worked on the pirated version – oops! (but then again, how did they know the cheat worked, the scoundrels!)
Sometimes, there would be quite bizarre items such as a surgical mask and rubber gloves, as provided with the surgery simulator “Life and Death”.
I don’t think I’ve ever had a feeling in equal measures of excitement, confusion, wonderment and just general creeped-out-ness as when I first laid eyes on these items.
If I wasn’t creeped out enough from cutting in to peoples torso’s with an unsteady hand using my mouse (which had a wonky trackball) and hearing them yelp and groan in pain as I botched it; the game creators were suggesting I do it wearing a pair of rubber surgical gloves and a mask – which caused my hands to sweat and it was hard to breathe. However, although strange it was a nice touch and certainly unique to
provide them with the game.
One of my favourite items I ever found in a game’s box was an actual “Grail Diary” packaged with the Lucasfilm Games (LucasArts) Point’n’Click adventure of “Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade”. This seemingly handwritten book had pages and pages of research, coffee stained diagrams, scriptures and clues all made to look like it had been penned by none other than Henry Jones himself, and as the player you could consult the book at various points of the adventure, just like Indiana Jones. It was straight out of the movie, and as an Indy fan to be given the Grail Diary to hold in your hands and use successfully to beat certain puzzles was a master stroke.
To put this thought, care, and attention to detail in to the packaging really created an experience for the gamer; something rarely seen today. Today’s development team would be slashing costs and providing the bare minimum and if something was to be given away it would be something downloadable. But I’m imagining back then a meeting room full of excited brainstormers who would be coming up with all kinds of fun ideas as to what to provide alongside the game that they had proudly produced. In the case of Psygnosis’s “Bill’s Tomato Game” somebody (harnessing the tomato theme) must have piped up with “Let’s put a sachet of tomato ketchup in the box”. Now this is a strange thought to think a computer game would come with a sachet of tomato ketchup but it did actually happen, and purchasers of the game in 1989 would be able to squeeze it on to their chips and munch happily whilst playing.
“Leather Goddesses of Phobos” came with a “Scratch and Sniff” card, where players would be prompted at certain points of the game with a number, corresponding to which number box to scratch on the card. This really gave the player a sense of connection to the game and an enhancement to the gameplay experience as they smelled their way through all kinds of puzzles and situations in the naughty adventure game.
I miss my retro game box extra goodies, and these days digital downloads such as additional characters or the ability to activate special items for your avatar to wear, just isn’t the same. I miss being able to wear something, hold something, taste something, scratch and sniff something and show my friends something when I buy a game. Although the graphics and sounds were far from realistic by today’s standards, the physical items that were given to the player made the gaming experience just that little bit more real.