SkiFree is a single-player skiing computer game created by Chris Pirih and released with Microsoft Entertainment Pack 3 for Windows and DOS in October 1991. It is a simple game in which the player controls a skier on a mountain slope, avoiding obstacles while racing against time or performing stunts for points, depending on the game mode.
|Platform(s)||Microsoft Windows, DOS, Game Boy Color, Macintosh, iOS|
|Release||1991 (Windows, DOS)|
SkiFree was well-received upon release, with critics focusing on the simplicity, short game sessions, and its demonstration of Windows' potential visual capabilities. It remains popular among the gaming community and is often remembered for its Abominable Snow Monster, which pursues the player after they finish a full run.
SkiFree is a casual single-player sports simulator wherein the player uses the keyboard or the mouse to control a skier across a white background representing snow on a mountainside. The object of the game is to ski down an endless slope and avoid the obstacles (trees, stumps, dogs, etc.). The player can also opt to partake in three modes: slalom, freestyle, and tree slalom. In slalom, players attempt to complete with the shortest time possible and must ski around flags on the side corresponding to the arrow of the flag. Tree slalom adds obstacles to the slalom run. In freestyle, players ski downhill and on ramps while racking up points by performing tricks. Deductions are imposed for smashing into obstacles or failing to land properly after a stunt. When the player heads past the 2,000-meter mark, the Abominable Snow Monster appears and starts to chase the player, eating them if it catches them.
Chris Pirih was a mid-level programmer for Microsoft who, according to his website, wrote programming utilities used in the development of software such as Microsoft Word and Excel. He primarily programmed in C for Microsoft's OS/2 operating system, but in 1991 he decided to learn to write programs for the newly released Windows 3.0.
Pirih created a graphical skiing game titled WinSki in C on his home computer for his own education and entertainment and as a graphical port of his earlier text-based Ski for VAX/VMS, one of the games he wrote while at the University of Puget Sound that was inspired by Activision's Atari 2600 game Skiing. Pirih designed it to demonstrate Windows 3's attempt in being a functional operating system by giving players the ability to try to exploit the game. For example, he added fanciful elements such as staining the snow yellow after crashing into numerous dogs and certain tree stumps that transformed into mushrooms when skied on backwards. It was also designed to deride the idea of useful time expenditure and undermine the image of Windows 3 as a productive operating system; i.e., no one gained anything as they played it goallessly, and users would prefer the game over productivity software such as those bundled in Microsoft Office.
WinSki attracted the attention of a program manager for the Microsoft Entertainment Pack (MEP) when he noticed Pirih playing it at work. At that time, the first MEP had become so successful that the MEP team was designing two more. Pirih allowed Microsoft to sell his game and was paid what he called a "trivial one-time fee", and in October 1991, Microsoft shipped MEPs 2 and 3 for Windows 3 and DOS, the latter containing Pirih's game renamed and marketed by Microsoft as SkiFree. It was also distributed on Verbatim 3.5-inch GameSampler floppy disks, bundled with packs of 10 other blank floppy disks in the early 1990s.
By September 1992, the first three MEPs sold a total of over 500,000 copies. The next year, Pirih started work on a second version of the game, but it was abandoned for other projects as the original source code was lost. SkiFree was featured in the Best of Microsoft Entertainment Pack in 1994 and was available as a port for the Macintosh. It was also one of seven games included in the 2000 Game Boy Color title Best of Microsoft Entertainment Pack. Pirih rediscovered the game's source code in 2005, and on April 4 of that year, he announced the creation and release of a 32-bit version of SkiFree on his website for free.
In January 2013, mobile games developer GearSprout developed and released iOS ports of SkiFree and Rodent's Revenge. The company had already released SkeeFree, a skiing game with identical assets. In a Destructoid interview with the company's Tommy Tornroos, he explained that GearSprout contacted Microsoft about porting their titles. Microsoft responded by "no longer claiming rights" to them. However, the SkiFree trademark was reserved by an unspecified entity, leading to the release of SkeeFree. The SkiFree trademark later expired, and the name of the GearSprout game was updated as SkiFree when it was released alongside Rodent's Revenge. SkiFree was included in The Windows 3.x Showcase and uploaded to the Internet Archive in February 2016, becoming the most popular item on the website within a week.
Upon release, SkiFree attained a cult status in the PC community. In his 1992 review for MEPs 2 and 3, Richard Mansfield of Game Player's PC Entertainment favorably rated them as "visually sophisticated and...entertaining" as the first Pack. While ranking Klotski as the best of the packs and only noting SkiFree as a "simple skiing simulation", he recommended all of the sixteen games and praised each of them for taking advantage of effects that "show off the visual beauty that Windows can bring to a computer." In another 1992 review, Barry Simon of PC Magazine described the game's graphics as humorous and "not very extensive", and while he chose Pipe Dream of Entertainment Pack 2 as the game to purchase as a standalone title, at a bargain of US$5 per title, he recommended both of the packs. Computer Gaming World described the MEP franchise as providing short gaming experiences, and noted its lead in the "gaming lite" category.
SkiFree continues to receive critical acclaim in retrospective reviews. Josh Augustine of PC Gamer cited it as one of his favorite games of his childhood. Lisa Foiles of The Escapist ranked it #1 on their list of Top 5 Ski / Snowboard Games, calling it an "undeniable classic." Computer Power User described the game as a "killer app", noting that SkiFree was not particularly groundbreaking, but as one of the MEP 3 titles, it "stood apart from Minesweeper and the various card and board-game translations that dominated the software bundles." Brittany Vincent of PC Gamer characterized it as an endless runner, rationalizing that SkiFree had no ending and that the course would loop to the top of the map when players reached the bottom. In another PC Gamer article highlighting the history of trees in video gaming, Matt Elliott characterized the game's trees as "mean, twisted little saplings" that threaten to ruin the player's course.
Retrospective reviews for SkiFree tend to focus on the obscure nature of the Abominable Snow Monster. Benj Edwards of PC Magazine rated SkiFree as the best of MEP 3 because of the humorous inclusion of the Abominable Snow Monster. James Kozanitis of Hardcore Gamer rated it #2 on their Top 5 Yetis in Video Games list. Alec Meer of Rock, Paper, Shotgun opined that the Monster changed the tone of the game from being a sports game to being "the world's most dangerous sport", where the only ending condition is the Monster's devouring the skier. Vincent noted fan theories that attempt to explain the Monster's background, as well as theories on how to supposedly outrun it (apart from pressing the F key to accelerate beyond the normal limits).
- GearSprout released the game as SkeeFree beforehand to avoid trademark infringement. After the SkiFree trademark expired, the game was updated in 2013 as SkiFree.
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