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December 21, 2011 / jwaxo

Jazz Jackrabbit: Holiday Hare (Shareware)

Nothing’s more Christmas-y than a rabbit with a big gun.

Well, I’m finally taking my first real vacation from this here blog, and the next two entries will be some of those silly drawings that I’m pretty sure my 30 readers (that’s right! Twice as many as I normally cite) exclusively come to my blog for. Even tireless writers need some sort of break, and I’ll be spending it in cold, snowy Idaho. At least, it better be cold and snowy, because I’m sick of this stupid, schizophrenic weather we’ve been having in Portland. Rain and dew is not how winter should be celebrated.

So, for this Christmas post, I figured I’d pick a Christmas game. It is the special edition of a very special franchise that I hold dear to my heart, Jazz Jackrabbit.

I discovered the awesome adventures of Jazz at a friend’s birthday party. The presents were unwrapped (I gave him a totally awesome Hot Wheels pack), the cake eaten, the lasertag played, and we were all spreading out through his house. Those of us that were super-awesome eventually wandered to his computer room, where he proudly showed us his favorite game: Jazz Jackrabbit.

It was aesthetically and functionally similar to Sonic the Hedgehog, which I was intimately familiar with, of course. The main point was to move quickly through the levels, finding power-ups, bouncing off of springs, and killing bad guys. Oh, and to shoot everything in sight, and maybe uncover a secret area or two.

And it was designed by Cliffy B, video game producer extraordinaire, famous for both being kind of a jerk and kind of a cool guy who understands gaming as a hobby. Plus, he invented Gears of War.

The concept of a gun with an attached chainsaw kind of fits into Jazz Jackrabbit‘s shtick.

Being myself, I wanted Jazz Jackrabbit. “No big deal,” my friend said, “let me copy it to a disc for you.”

Although I had never seen the Don’t Copy That Floppy video, I knew that copying games was wrong, mostly because I had never succeeded at it, and because of my few experienced with copy protection. “But this is different,” I learned. “This is supposed to be passed around.”

You see, he didn’t have the “real” version of Jazz Jackrabbit on that diskette. He had the special Christmas edition, Holiday Hare. It was a lot shorter, with only a few levels, and they were all Christmas themed, but otherwise, they were perfectly fine to copy to discs and pass around.

“Like a demo,” you said, referencing a lesson I learned long before that, humorously involving yet another video game world giant who created smaller games in his early years. “Yes and no,” I respond. “Not quite like a demo. Something deeper.”

They called it…

Shareware.

“And it was good.”

Here’s the thing about shareware: early software companies understood that word of mouth is god, and they jumped in on that while the getting was good. They put out things similar to demos, but were more like specially tailored versions of their game. No time limit, no reduced features: just a special version that was a lot cheaper to produce and probably didn’t have as much content. In some game’s case, this meant a game completely different from the final version. For Holiday Hare, it meant Christmas-themed levels.

Did I mention the music? It was awesome. Perfect for speeding through levels, shooting turtles on rockets and giant bulldogs.

The strange thing about shareware games is that a lot of them were Christmas-themed, Lemmings being the first one that comes to mind.

I suppose shareware games mostly count as demos. I mean, they fit the description: a free version of software given out to help produce sales. The main difference is that shareware didn’t just demo the game for you (and demo it with a full set of features at cost of content, like I said), it specifically encouraged you to spread the word around. “Share,” it said, “and spread the joy.” And so my friend shared to me, and so I shared to my friends. There was a small request to purchase the full game, of course, but the shareware version was great, just the same. A gift from the developers.

Huh. Maybe it’s not such a mystery why they were all Christmas themed, is it?

Cliffy B probably looked a lot more dorky in 1994. But hey, so did everyone.

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