Independence Day was the highest-grossing film of 1996, earning over $800 million at the box office on a $75 million budget. It was a pretty big deal, starring on the cover of Time magazine and winning an Oscar for visual effects. And it even spawned a rubbish videogame in which you fought the alien invaders in a variety of military aircraft. This was published by the now-defunct Fox Interactive and was released on PC in 1997 to mostly negative reviews. But there was another Independence Day game, released the same year as the film, that you might not have heard of.
American toy company Trendmasters released a line of Independence Day action figures alongside the movie in 1996. This included a selection of aliens and main characters Steven Hiller (Will Smith), Thomas J. Whitmore (Bill Pullman), and David Levinson (Jeff Goldblum). Like a lot of movie tie-in toys, especially in the ‘90s, the figures aren’t exactly accurate to the film. President Whitmore, for example, comes with a rocket launcher, while Goldblum’s computer nerd has a grappling hook.
And in the box for each figure was a floppy disk containing part of an Independence Day game you could play on your PC. There were 11 in total, the first of which was bundled with the massive Supreme Commander figure. Information about these so-called Mission Disks is surprisingly scarce online except for people reminiscing about them and a few eBay auctions. But a handful of videos uploaded by Taylor Cheatwood have immortalised at least three of them. They’re not exactly classic examples of game design, but interesting pop culture curios nonetheless.
On Mission Disk 6, ‘Dave’s Computer’, you upload the virus that Levinson and Hiller transfer to the alien mothership at the end of the film. Interestingly (well, to me anyway), the sound of the laptop booting up is taken from this scene in Blade Runner. These are the things you notice when you’ve watched that film as many times as I have. But I digress. I actually really like the Mac-style interface here, but there doesn’t seem to be much to it. You click through a few simple mini-games to upload the virus to the captured spacecraft, then President Whitmore sends you a message saying “Excellent Work !!!”, which seems slightly out of character.
Mission Disk 7, ‘President Whitmore’, is set aboard Air Force One. Whitmore accesses a high-security military computer, the code for which is handily written on a nearby clipboard, then launches nuclear missiles at three alien motherships, destroying them. I’m not sure where this disk fits chronologically, or if it’s some kind of simulation, because in the film the nukes don’t even scratch the aliens’ paintwork. That’s what forces them to go with Levinson’s crazy virus idea. But hey, this was created by the same people who gave the Whitmore figure a bazooka, so who knows.
Mission Disk 11, ‘Area 51’, begins with President Whitmore receiving a transmission from the commander of the top secret Nevada base about launching the virus-loaded alien ship from Mission Disk 6. He signs off with “The world is in your hands, commander”, which seems unnecessary. He’s got enough on his plate, man! So does Private Roger Jones, the hapless soldier tasked with preparing the launch. To launch the ship you have to trigger a series of events in a sequence. Screw it up and you destroy the craft, sealing the world’s fate. “A large thermonuclear explosion has wiped out Area 51,” reads a message received if you get a step wrong. “I would suggest a court martial, but since we’re all doomed, why bother?”
Sadly, those are the only disks I can find footage of. The contents of the other eight are a mystery to me, but I don’t think I’ll be scouring eBay to collect them all. To play the games back in 1996 you would have needed a PC running Windows 3.1 or better, an i386 CPU or faster, and at least 4MB of RAM. You also needed 1.5MB of hard drive space, a 640x480 monitor, and a sound card for ‘full impact audio', whatever that is. I don’t know if you’d be able to play them on a modern machine, but you could always run Windows 3.1 on a virtual PC if you somehow got your hands on the disks.
A new Independence Day film, Resurgence, is being released in June this year. Bill Pullman and Jeff Goldblum are reprising their roles as Whitmore and Levinson, but Will Smith won’t be returning. According to the ‘viral’ website War of 1996 his character died ‘testing the first alien hybrid fighter’. The real reason, of course, is that Smith was asking for too much money to return. Who’s going to welcome the aliens to Earth now? I have a soft spot for the original, despite its flaws. And without it we would never have been treated to this hilarious discussion with late comedian Patrice O’Neal. But I doubt the sequel will have as much of a cultural impact as the original, and if there’s a game it’ll probably be some freemium mobile garbage.