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April 18, 2011 / jwaxo

Red Alert (Sound Cards)

Those delicious squishing noises.

As previously mentioned, the demo of Warcraft II was the first RTS that we had ever experienced, but it wasn’t for a while until we finally got our hands on the original Warcraft, and by that point my brother and sister and I weren’t leeching off of our parents’ computer anymore: by that point we had our own computer.

Granted, it still was our parents’ computer, just the older model. They had upgraded to a fancy new HP, allowing us to replace the positively ancient MS-DOS machine that had been shunted between my brother and sister and their respective rooms. The old Packard Bell, meanwhile, took its glorious place in the living room, for us kids to use. And use it we did! That little tower got the coolest games installed on it, had only the best backgrounds picked out and applied. When a copy of Windows 95 found its way into our hands, it was installed like a boss.

That computer had some pretty sweet things going for it, but it was missing, somehow, one crucial piece: a full-functional sound card. This wasn’t such a problem with a lot of the older games, which could use the internal speaker to make the necessary beeps and bops. And newer games had a pretty decent chance of the sound working. But the rest of the games were almost totally silent. It wasn’t a perfect system, but we lived with it.

And then Red Alert came along.

As games do.

After playing Warcraft II, my brother and I fell in love with the genre. We picked up the original Warcraft at the mall, after I did some hearty convincing that the original would be just as good as the sequel. It wasn’t, so we soon picked up II, probably at the same game store in the mall. And Warcraft was great, don’t get me wrong. Those manuals had some serious meat, with excellent lore and a sweet story that I’m told is still engaging in World of Warcraft, despite all predictions to the contrary. The characters were hilarious as well, and we spent far too much time clicking on sheep until they exploded. But then, when presented with everything Red Alert and the Command & Conquer series had in general, well, we couldn’t resist.

But really, it was one thing that sold us: you could run over enemies with your tanks, leaving small flesh-colored puddles behind. There was no greater advertisement than that.

So the opportunity arose that my brother’s best friend had a copy of Red Alert, and both of its expansions. We made the trade. And it was awesome.

There was just one problem.

The sound didn’t work in-game.

The cutscenes in the Command and Conquer games are generally second-to-none. The acting is so played up you can’t help but love it, and with awesome names like James Earl Jones, Tim Curry, JK Simmons, Michael Beihn, and a list that goes on and on, they’re always a treat to watch. When Kane first made his appearance, we were blown away by the awesomeness. Because, you see, our computer could play the sound in the cutscenes.

Stalin wasn’t afraid of wearing pink OR of obviously evil henchmen.

In-game was a different story. Did we hear gunshots? No. Did the buildings explode in a glorious splash of sound? No. Did we experience the wonderful sounds of the famous, with good reasons, HellMarch, which is still remixed into the new Red Alert games purely because it’s such a good song? Of course not.

Most importantly, though: did we hear those soldiers getting run over by our ore miners?

Nay. We did not.

In frustration, we once took Red Alert over to our cousins’ for the annual Thanksgiving dinner and co-opted their computer, that we might hear the heavenly sounds and squishes from their speakers. There was a whole group of us, clustered around the computer in the basement, gleefully running enemies down.

That’s not something you see in RTS games anymore, is it? Units that can be run over. Kind of a pity. It made up a lot of my childhood.

Eventually, my brother got a job, or used his birthday money, or just somehow afforded to buy a sound card, which our dad helped us install into the computer. It was really the first hardware that I ever helped install on a computer, something I never think twice about nowadays. Patiently my dad got out his toolbox, opened the case, and installed the card, while we sat and watched, anxious. Then, booting up Red Alert, we experienced those awesome sound effects under our own power, for once. The full experience. We never took sound for granted again.

Who the heck am I kidding? Of course we took it for granted.

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