Sometimes I think the quality of American life peaked between 1997 and 1998.
You could have the internet in your home. It was dial-up and your employer hadn't yet thought they could make you use it to work off hours. The world wide web was a motley crew of pages made by random people for fun.
You could have a PlayStation or Nintendo 64 with some very good games. You still had a Sega Genesis or Super Nintendo hooked-up and all the games were on clearance. Maybe you still had an NES, those games were $1 at roughly every garage sale.
You could have a cell phone but it only worked for brief calls. You could claim you didn't have a signal if you felt like not answering it for a while. Maybe you had a pager with transparent plastic, it didn't receive a non-stop stream of scam messages.
You could afford a home, car, and college on a retail salary. It wasn't easy, you still had to work a ton to make it happen. Even a total dimwitted slacker like me managed two out of these three in 1997 on a whopping $10 an hour.
And on Sunday night you could share a blanket with someone special and watch The X-Files.
You can't turn back the clock on the internet or cell phones or how expensive life is now. If you don't already have a [PlayStation/Nintendo 64/Sega Genesis/Super Nintendo/NES] collection then I have some bad news for you about starting one today. You can however watch The X-Files. Right?
[several hours of trying to decipher how to watch any old TV show today]
OK. So it's a mess. As of whenever I wrote this, watching all of The X-Files requires multiple streaming subscriptions. The fun part about this article is that if you're reading it 1,000,000 years in the future it's still true. I bet each episode and movie of The X-Files is on a different streaming service then. If I'm counting right the total is 214. That seems low. Maybe after each commercial break you'll have to login to a new streaming service to continue the episode. That gets us to 856 streaming services that each have one quarter of an episode or movie. That's the future we're doomed to.
Now again, I'm talking about the average quality of life. There are some things about today that are better than 1997. For example, the cost of computer hardware. As of whenever I'm writing this, it's possible to buy an Android streaming box and 1TB USB drive for just under $100 combined. That's at least 200 DVD images on one little device. By the time you're reading this I suspect $100 for a device with 1TB is probably comically overpriced.
So I should just build a cheap 1990s streaming box and cancel 40-50 of the services I subscribe to now. The required hardware is cheap and DVDs are cheap until some future generation of hipsters decide they are cool. I'm starting with The X-Files first because that's what I feel like watching today.
Buying X-Files DVDs on ebay is a trip. Single seasons average $10-$15 except for seasons 4-5 which are often listed at $30. That's understandable, it's the best of the series. However, if you find someone selling all 9 original seasons they are usually under $100. Whatever, that's how ebay works I guess. I went with a set that came in big fancy boxes.
While ripping all these I noticed many came with a bonus DVD that contained a game. I was surprised to find that none of these games were listed on GameFAQs or Mobygames - two sites that have every game. They have other oddball DVD games, GameFAQs even has a section for something called the "Amico" which I'm pretty sure doesn't exist. They are extraordinarily broad in their definition of "video game", so am I. Since these are community-driven sites that can only mean no one took the time to document these.
I could fix that by submitting these to GameFAQs and/or Mobygames but I'm not. I've contributed to both in the past but feel kind of meh about it now. They both have relatively new corporate overlords who could pay people to create content. I'm not in the mood to provide them free stuff today. My mood will probably change later. Before then, some other person who's not me will just copy the screenshots I post to create pages on those sites anyway.
The developer behind these games is a company called PC Friendly. They later rebranded as InterActual, were acquired by Sonic Solutions, who was acquired by Rovio, who was acquired by TiVo, which later merged with a holding company called Xperi. So whether Xperi knows it or not, they own the IP associated with creating these games. Between them and Disney, I wouldn't count on some compilation of these games appearing on Steam ever. You can see their old site on web.archive.org but it's nothing special. They weren't marketing their products to consumers anyway. Their initial charter was harmless enough - make DVDs easier to play on Windows PCs while offering some bonus content. They later seemed interested in collecting personal data before everyone realized that was a problem. I'm sure whoever was in charge made out well in one of the acquisitions.
The games are all Shockwave built using Adobe Director (obvious from the file extensions). In theory these could have been online games. Playing them today requires a virtual machine. I'm reusing a Windows 98 one from a previous similar article. These DVDs were released between 2000-2004. So they probably started developing & testing these games on Windows 98 and later Windows 2000/XP. Someone on their team likely had the misfortune of testing them on Windows ME.
Alright, you're tired of reading by now. Let's look at the games (or the ones I've tried and that worked so far):
Season 1: Roots of Conspiracy
The first game focuses on the alien lore arc and contains several tricky puzzles.
Season 2: Unholy Alliances
The second game is very similar to the first both in presentation and theme. It has the easiest, and most obtuse, puzzle in the series.
Season 3: Mere Words
Despite buying what appeared to be the complete box set, I am missing this DVD. There isn't even a space for it in the fancy case. At least I have something new to track down.
Season 4: Urbs Tertia
This is the only game that refused to run on multiple virtual machines. So this is a very small gallery unless I figure out some way to make it work.
Season 5: Earthbound
Yes they actually called it that. The title is a complete misnomer for other reasons though.
Season 6: Dreamland
The sixth game is based on the two part episode of the same title.
Season 7: First Person Shooter
Like the previous season, the seventh installment is based on one episode.
Season 8: Faith
The last installment follows the "where in the world is Fox Mulder?" arc.
There is no season 9 game. I understand season is not beloved by most series fans but I thought it had some good moments. The readme file included on all the season 9 DVDs contains a line "Disc 7 also has an interactive adventure which PC users may play by double clicking the game icon." There are only 5 DVDs in the set. This perhaps hints at the original plans for this set, or it's simply a mistake.
After trying these games I'm struggling to find a positive closing note. Hmmm.. I think there is one.
If you took all of these games, fixed the bugs, touched-up the usability, and crammed them onto a Nintendo DS cartridge it would be an alright game. It would be a little short but that could be fixed by adding more clips or variations of the puzzles. It would not be the worst TV show to game conversion. It wouldn't even be in the bottom 10. The DS era was in that sweet spot where people started missing The X-Files but seasons 10-11 didn't exist to make them wonder why they liked The X-Files in the first place.
A game where you relive the best episodes of The X-Files in mini-game form isn't a bad idea at all. I think that's what the developers were going for. I doubt they had a big budget or a ton of time and the final product reflects that. Some games have such a flawed basic premise that nothing will ever make them good. I've written at least one game that fits that description. These games do not. There are hints at what could be a decent X-Files game hiding in them.