Throughout the 80s and 90s, developers would often create special demos to be played inside stores, in the hope that this would influence shoppers to pick up the latest hardware, and by extension purchase some new software to go along with their brand-new machine.
The adventure game developer Sierra On-Line was responsible for creating some of the most famous examples of these, producing four special Christmas demos between 1986 and 1992 to coincide with the holiday season.
With less than a week to go until Christmas, we thought what better way to get in the festive spirit than to revisit these holiday demos and see what they're all about.
A Computer Christmas - 1986
Sierra distributed its first Christmas holiday program to retailers back in 1986. It was created in the AGI engine (created for King's Quest) and features graphics showing a yule log, Santa Claus, and the shepherds from the nativity scene. There are also teases for other Sierra products (including Space Quest, and Black Cauldron).
Like later demos, there wasn't much interaction built-in, with retailers simply being able to add their own message to a Sierra-themed Christmas present instead; this could anything be anything from the latest sales information to a holiday greeting. Customers would then be able to stop while shopping and listen to these simple renditions of Frosty the Snowman, We Wish You A Merry Christmas, and Silent Night, while watching the holiday animations play out on screen.
Merry Christmas From Sierra On-Line - 1988
Sierra's second-holiday program came out in 1988. Most of the scenes from this demo are the same as those from the earlier 1986 program, but recreated in the SCI engine (recently used on 1988's King's Quest IV: The Perils of Rosella). This means a significant jump in the quality of its sound and graphics.
This time around there's also a set of credits, which list Jerry Moore as being responsible for the graphics, Teresa Baker as the programmer, and Mark Seibert as the demo's musician.
The Seasoned Professional - 1990
Sierra's next demo, "The Seasoned Professional", was released in 1990 and was an obvious departure from the previous two. Rather than depicting traditional holiday scenes, it featured a short, humourous story about a clueless actor auditioning to be Santa Claus.
To begin with, he dresses up in a St. Patrick's Day and Cupid outfit, to the frustration of the director, before finally donning Santa's red coat. The final punchline then comes as the director cheers on his performance, only for the actor to pull out a stash of Easter Eggs and bounce off the side of the screen.
Judging from the credits, this was a much greater production, with almost twenty people contributing to its creation, from the initial concept to the final execution.
Sierra On-Line Christmas Card - 1992
Sierra's final holiday program was distributed to retailers in 1992. This demo was a return to the more traditional approach it had initially taken back in '86 and '88. There are wintry scenes depicting reindeer, warm log cabins, and snow-capped forests, with a soundtrack of Christmas classics being played over the top of it all. As well as Sierra, this program also advertises some of its subsidiaries including Dynamix and Brightstar Technology — two companies that it had acquired over the last couple of years.