In the days before Steam and the Epic Game Store, PC gamers would encounter new games in the form of shareware passed around for free via BBSs or for a small fee at your local Wal-Mart or Best Buy. Gaming classics including Doom, Duke Nukem 3D, Commander Keen, and Rise of the Triad all existed as games that offered the first episode for free and then, if you liked what you saw, you could send away for the remaining episodes of the game for a standard price. Gamers were even encouraged to trade these free introductory episodes with friends; as in, share the software. Shareware! What a concept! Over at ArsTechnica, Samuel Axon remembers some of the great classics from the world of DOS shareware including one of my old favorites that I hadn't thought about in years, EGA Trek, which is basically a Star Trek simulator with all of the Trek elements changed so as to not infringe on copyrights.
As the name suggests, one of EGA Trek's claims to fame was adapting the earlier Star Trek gameplay for the 16-color display format of the time. EGA Trek features a robust interface, a detailed, gridded galaxy map, a whole bunch of commands, and even a view window showing nearby ships, planets, and other objects of interest.
Your goal is to destroy all the invading ships from a rival space empire—a Klingon analog unfortunately called Mongols in this game. You travel between sectors, scan them, stop at starbases and planets for supplies, and battle enemy ships while managing your resources, redirecting power to the ship systems that need it, and conducting repairs.
I first encountered EGA Trek as a shareware download from a local BBS and then I later went on to buy the game on a 3.5" floppy disk from K-Mart. None of those things exist anymore! All of the great PC games of the 1990s existed as shareware and people like me downloaded them over dial-up connections to try the latest titles from companies like Apogee and independent developers with a PO box and a dream. The shareware model worked though. I happily paid money for Commander Keen in Goodbye Galaxy after playing the shareware version of the game which encompassed basically half of the experience, but for every purchase like that there were also games that, for me, the shareware version was enough. Duke Nukem 3D was awesome, sure, but I was happy with the three levels that the shareware version offered, so it was many years before I ended up buying the complete version on Steam. There's still magic in those old shareware games, so check 'em out on modern digital distribution platforms where available or, hell, see if one of those old PO boxes is still open for business.