Lately I've been seeing a lot articles on the good ol' interwebs about certain iconic PC titles that will be turning 20 this year. That got me thinking: I've been a gamer for a pretty long time now. What was I playing some 20 years back? What were some of the other guys from Twinstiq playing then? So I'm going to talk briefly about a couple of titles that really cemented me into the PC gamer category, And we'll hear from a few of the crew about what they had going on from that era as well. Join me in my and a few of the crew's ramblings below.
So as for me, I liked lots of game styles. Of course beyond the 20 year mark adventure games were more or less king. But soon the shooters started coming to the market in a sort of jaw dropping violent fashion, and they got my attention pretty quickly. I was playing around with games like Doom and Rise of the Triad, even Wolfenstein before that. I remember thinking "Wow they let people play a game where you shoot demons?... that's so cool."
Of course at the time PC gaming was pretty small potatoes. Computers were built to compute and do work, not play video games. That's why we had the NES and Super NES and a myriad other consoles of the era. PCs were expensive, very limited for data storage and who in their right mind would want to control a game with that big keyboard anyway? Not to mention installing and running games on a PC was kind of a crap shoot. One had to deal with DOS and various command lines. Install times were slow, requiring you to be there with -X- amount of 1 MB floppy disks to exchange when the message popped up. And lord help you if you forgot how to spell the directory that the executable was in once you were done. Or worse, you spelled it wrong when you created the directory in the first place. It was all rather inconvenient, but once you had it working the way you wanted, it was a pretty spectacular experience.
Of course I'm still speaking of back beyond the 20 year mark I'm really targeting here. By the time '96 came around the PC had come leaps and bounds ahead of itself. Windows 95 had arrived to make installations markedly easier with CD ROM drives, storage space was exponentially bigger and processors were much faster and more efficient. So much so in fact that games were even coming to us in true 3D format. This is what made me really start paying attention to the PC as a gaming unit.
There were of course games before this time that had 3D world building. Games like Descent in 1994 by Interplay. A dizzying vehicle shooter where the player would fly around the internal structure of planets or asteroids battling rogue droids. I played the crap out of that one and its sequels, the second one actually falls into our 20 year category here. Super Nintendo had the "FX" technology that was used in games like Star Fox and Stunt Race FX in '93. Both of which are 3D games but even for the time they couldn't hold a dimly lit candle to the graphical power the PC was capable of.
1996: The Topic at Hand
But this game was 3D, and I don't mean the kind of 3D you need glasses for when I talk about any of these titles. I just mean that the world was built using mostly three dimensional objects rather than 2D sprites with a forced perspective to imitate three dimensions. A huge step in game progression to be sure.
I never liked Duke Nukem much. I never even owned a copy. I never wanted to. But I did play it at my friend's houses and I couldn't deny that it looked great. Seeing it later in life, it's pretty easy to tell that it was wholly unapologetic and full of adult silliness, blood, gore, and language that a 16 year old kid would be drawn to. Thank goodness for a pretty slack ESRB back in those days right? (I'm not sure it even made to PC games as a whole for a while after this). Duke made me pay attention; sort of raise an eyebrow and scratch my chin thinking "what could come next?"
The answer to that thought came in June of 1996 when id Software brought to world a titled called Quake. This game required a 75 MHZ processor, 24 MB of RAM for windows use, a two speed CD ROM drive, a VGA compatible video card and an astounding 80 MB of uncompressed hard drive space. I think I had to actually uninstall a few things to make room for this one back in the day. But wow, I mean WOW! Built in mouse support and a real "Z" axis so I can look around the map. Holy shit there's a sky with layers of moving clouds!
Quake made me a PC gamer. There were just so many options available. Resolutions could be changed in a menu when you started the game, you could shrink or grow your screen with the "+ and -" keys to run it smoother at your preferred resolution. You were even allowed to turn textures on or off. If you opened the console with "~" you could bind your own keys. The now standard "WASD" movement was born here. It was also possible to run a built in benchmark feature to check your frame rate called TimeDemo. This would load a prerecorded script and run it in-game rendering as fast as your computer would allow and report your FPS at the end. How cool is that?
Music was handled by Trent Reznor, the lead from Nine Inch Nails if you don't remember, he composed it all himself and it fit the game perfectly. There are ten tracks of spooky, dissonant, warped, industrial sounding music that provide ambience for players. A lot of this wasn't so much music as just a persistent pattern of sounds to provide a mood. Interestingly the Quake install disk itself was also an audio cd, so you could pop in a player and listen to the soundtrack without having to have the game running. I used to play it in my car while commuting to college. Of course id couldn't have a Nine Inch Nails soundtrack without having a weapon that actually fired them. The Nailgun was a particularly weird weapon that rapid fired nails gathered from crates plastered with the "NIN" logo.
Mods came in droves. One of my favorites was Quake Slide, where you jumped on a sort of snow board and slid down a hill very quickly avoiding objects and jumping chasms while racing a friend if you liked. Others included a Soccer mod, where the ball was a gibbed head. And a great Capture the Flag mod that even used modified weapons and a grappling hook.
There was also the ultra popular Arena mode where opponents were pitted against each other one at a time by getting in line and waiting their turn. Two players were summoned to a "Thunderdome" style arena where the winner stayed in and the loser was usually gibbed into small bloody chunks bouncing around the walls. While you waited you could spectate flying around the map invisible, chat with other players and learn people's strategies (down with LPBs). Even skins were designed so that Clans could identify their members by visuals only (I used the Iron Man skin a lot). I tried to make one for our Clan and it looked great. Sort of a John McClane looking thing with a white undershirt and the like, and it took me days to make just a few pixels at a time. But as it turned out the rules for making a skin weren't voiced super clear and people were only allowed to use certain colors. By the time I learned about it I was more or less done and I never went back to change it for compatibility.
I played Quake for years and I had so many mods and addons that I had a dedicated Quake hard drive. A truly massive one gigabyte drive with a single 700 MB folder with all my Quake stuff in it. Later this was upgraded to a 7 GB drive which I still have somewhere. I even had a Windows theme maker I used to design a Quake theme for my PC. I was such a fan that I made a stained glass Quake "Q" logo in high school that still sits by a window today.
Oh and before I forget to mention it, Quake was also the first game to incorporate the use of hardware acceleration. Yeah, 3dfx Voodoo baby! That big powerful GPU you have now? It was born of these roots. 3dfx even invented a little thing called Scan-Line Interleave, or SLI as Nvidia calls it now. This would allow resolutions up to 1024x768! Back then we just called it "Shotgunning". Unfortunately, during that time these GPUs still required a 2D video card to work. But man the impact on the industry was irrevocable.
That same year (barely) on December 31st 1996, some say January 2nd 1997, was the release from a small fork of Blizzard (Blizzard North) called Diablo. This was another genre defining title, the first of its kind actually. Diablo required a Pentium 60, 8 MB of RAM for single player or 16 for Multiplayer, an SVGA video card, Windows 95, and a Microsoft compatible mouse.
Hack-N-Slash dungeon crawling was spawned (if you get it you get it). Isometric views of a beautifully rendered world took up a lot of my time when I was playing this one. It had procedurally generated dungeon maps for crying out loud! Uniquely challenging and very satisfying in its game play, Diablo allowed the player to feel like a badass. But it also punished you for overstepping, and when your hero died they dropped everything they were wearing and all their gold on the ground right where they fell, and they lost experience to boot. If you were playing multiplayer all that stuff you dropped was visible to everyone. So hopefully you were playing with friends who wouldn't just steal your gear and bail on your game while you were trying to fight your way back to your corpse with no weapons or armor. This was also particularly frustrating if Diablo crashed and your game closed before you got back into Battle.net. No bueno. Diablo did have PvP and it worked alright until it didn't, but we won't even go in to the dreaded town killers.
Luckily there were so many loopholes and ways to get around losing gear that it sort of became a non-issue. Duplicating items and keeping an extra set in your inventory would solve the problem altogether, but it took up a lot of room, and it was totally cheating. Speaking of the inventory, even your gold took up room there, in piles of 5000 for each slot. This meant it was possible to find an item in the shop that could cost more money than your character was actually allowed to carry. Even worse were the times when you had the money but that gold took up so much room in your inventory that the item wouldn't fit and thereby wasn't purchasable. There was no stash. There were no tabs. There was just a lot of tough decision making and items littering the ground in Tristram.
Still though, the ever lasting chase for better gear through deeper and deeper dungeon levels and higher difficulty settings on top of what is arguably one of the best soundtracks ever produced was more than enough to keep me around playing Diablo for a long time. I even had the Hellfire Expansion from Sierra, probably still have it somewhere. Blizzard North, by the way, eventually left Blizzard as a whole and some of its members formed a company called Runic Games. They gave us Torchlight.
Anyway, I rambled a bit and got off track here and there but that's some of what I was playing 20 years ago.
Let's see what some of the other Stiqs had going on a couple decades back
I turned 12 years old in March of 1996 and I was already hopelessly add
icted to video games, power rangers, and anything else a dorky kid of the 90's would be into at the time. This was at the height of the SNES vs Genesis era and while I never hated either, I loved my Sega more than my Nintendo consoles.
Yet, neither of them were my real passion when it came to gaming. That honor would fall upon the PC, specifically at the time it was a Windows 95 machine with, I believe, a Pentium chip. When I think back on that time in 1996 I tend to think about three main games:
Duke Nukem 3D
I was 12 years old for God's sake! What were my parents thinking letting me play a game where I could pay strippers to show me their naughties before rocket launchering them into chunks? The 90's were the time of 'tude and nothing shouted 'tude like the Duke. From the first few seconds where the guitar riff smashed into my little brain and Mr. Nukem so eloquently said "Damn, those alien bastards are gonna pay for shooting up my ride!" I was hooked! It was Doom but with an actual character who was every 90's action movie star ever. It had violence, sex, comedy and action packed gameplay that sent me into a coma of gory bliss. I never beat Duke Nukem when I was a kid truth be told, but I probably had hundreds of hours in the game that I spent running around looking for hidden areas or just getting slaughtered like the terrible gamer I was. Speaking of being terrible at video games:
I never owned the original Diablo, at least not until I recently bought it on Battle.net. So why would I put a game on here that I never owned? Because one of my good friends at the time had a copy and we used to hang out and play video games often. At first they were simple quick games that we could trade off, such as Super Mario Bros. We'd sit on his bed and trade the controller back and forth whenever any of us died. But Diablo was different, it was an all-encompassing adventure that didn't really work well with hotseat gameplay. But that was OK because my friend spent all night playing the game every night, so by the time I got to his house he just kinda sat on his bed watching me play my own save game for hours on end. I'd get there early on the weekends and eat lunch with his family before going back to Diablo. Sure, we'd do other stuff sometimes but I spent nearly all of my free time for about a month sitting in front of his computer and playing this wonderful action RPG with such a dark and interesting world. Of course, sometimes he wanted to play the game when I was there and so I made sure I always had my Gameboy on me to play:
Pokémon Red wasn't my first Japanese RPG, but it was by far my favorite at the time. Not only did it have extremely cute creatures to capture and battle, those cute creatures often turned into impressive and powerful war beasts if you took the time to level them up. Not only that, but there was so much depth to the game above and beyond the rock paper scissors style of gameplay that the different types allowed for. Once you added in HMs and TMs you had to decide which Pokémon you were going to sacrifice a useful move on in order to give them a utility spell like Cut. Of course those moves could be used in battle if you had the right Pokémon, and sometimes they were extremely powerful. On top of the fun combat and utterly useless story the game had a ton of collectables in the form of the very creatures you were battling! Far better than collecting some useless magazines or random items that do nothing for you, Pokémon had you collect monsters that you could then use to battle your enemies. On top of that, you had a Pokédex to record what you had found and what was still out there, and it was utterly fascinating.
So how about it? Tell us about what you played back in those glory days, or as far back as you can if you weren't around in those glory days.
[All Images (except my stained glass) gathered publicly from Google images]