With the arrival of the new Baldur’s Gate soon, I was brought back to the extensive amount of time I spent playing the first in the series.
Late in high school, there was enough drama in my family to make the Real Housewives blush. My brother was either missing for weeks on end or when he was home, would rain fresh hell upon everyone. My parents were trying to make the best of a bad situation, so they would skip town from time to time, just to take a long weekend away.
This meant that during this one particular summer in the late 90s, I was complete alone. Often. Days on end, where I wouldn’t see anyone. School wouldn’t start back up for months. I was working during the day, but when I got home, I was completely alone. Many of my friends managed to stay busy during this time, so our get togethers were infrequent.
So, I was home, alone, with the Gateway PC that I had gotten at the end of the last summer, rigged up to be top of the market. What could I do? Nope, not porn.
Heat.net was a reaallllyyyy early online gaming platform, like Steam but far less so. It heavily emphasized kind of the more 90s functions. Chat rooms, making groups (guilds or clans were just forming as a concept) and playing games you already had. Couldn’t by games on Heat.net. It was definitely a third party service platform to make it easier for you to game.
Even in my corner of the really fuckin rural south, I had managed to hear about it. Every game maker was trying to pawn off the ability to matchmake (unless your name is Blizzard). So, they would do some kind of advertisement deal where there were several services you could use to try to matchmake. Gamespy was the big one at the time.
Why did I pick Heat.net? The ads man, the ads.
I don’t remember actually seeing this ad at the time
They had the strangest fucking marketing campaign I can remember. And even for the 90s, when strange marketing campaigns were king, they still managed to stand out. Mainly it was the approach they took. They had a narrative that humanity needed violence. That all the problems of the world would be fine if we could just shove violence on the internet. And, they leaned in HARD on it.
Look at it. Fuckin look at it.
Leaning in on violence saving the world. Brass fucking nuts the marketing team had.
Everything was war themed. If you played enough hours in Heat.net matches, they will mail you dog tags and a t-shirt. I actually got a set of dogtags, but I never got the t-shirt.
How I ever managed to find any groups with as shitty strong as the interface was, I will never know.
Just as chunky as everything from the 90s
But, I did manage to find people. I carved myself a niche in both Starfleet Academy and the aforementioned original Baldur’s Gate. The former I was actually in a clan/guild/whatever. I joined a team. And they were some serious dudes. Had a whole map of the Alpha Quadrant. Were staging a war against another clan that took all summer. And it fucking took all summer. It was some group fights, with a few 1v1s (proud to say I won both of the 1v1s I was in).
On the Baldur’s Gate side, I did some grouping up to actually play the game, but mostly what I did was get other people’s saves and hacks. I had no idea you could hack the game. I had saves where my main character had perfect rolls and gear. I remember showing a friend of mine when school started, and he couldn’t believe it. I got to be like, “yeah…learned it on heat.net”
It was a bitchin time. But like all things, it came to end as abruptly.
By the time the net fall had come, most of my PC gaming friends had completely shifted to UO. As typical with everything at the time, I rolled with the tides. I never even tried to recruit people to play stuff on heat.net. And Heat.net phased out. I just quit it cold turkey. Never even finished our war with the other clan (we were heavily winning, I ghosted our clan. I’m sure it turned out fine). Any future PC gaming was pretty much on gamespy….such as it was. The nature of the whole thing was about to change, and I never looked back.
But hey, at least I had one glorious summer of late 90s XTREME madness.