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Starting a thread to discuss old timey gaming PC wrangling, as requested by TehStu in the Multiformat Games Comparison thread. Here's my post from there to get the ball rolling.

Gather 'round, my child, and I shall sing you a tale of woe.

I sat out the 3dfx Voodoo era (I was too poor.) My first 3d accelerator graphics card was a little number called the Riva TNT by a merry band of upstarts called nVidia. Their first two cards, the Riva and the Riva 128, hadn't set the world alight. But the benchmarks on Tom's Hardware were clear cut: the TNT was a real performer. Sweaty-palmed, I shoved it into the 33 MHz PCI slot in my AMD K6 system, next to an ISA-slotted SoundBlaster 16 that still had those weird 25-pin joystick ports.

This was when it all went wrong.

See, around this time a little game called Half-Life was released. It was, as we were fond of proclaiming, Game Of The Year. Maybe you've heard of it. And I was so desperate to play it in 3d accelerated rendering. So I did! Until it crashed. And again. And again.

This set a pattern for the next nine months, and even now my mind recoils when I think of those dark days. I would scan, several times a week, vendor pages for my graphics card and motherboard. No auto-update then! We obtained drivers through cruder means, via HTTP and FTP and darker incantations. Eagerly, I flashed update after update, installed driver after driver. Throwing caution to the winds, I even tried beta BIOSes for both motherboard and GPU (bricking the motherboard stone dead at one point -- I had to replace the EEPROM chip to defibrillate it back to life.) Nothing. Nothing! Until one glorious day, when suddenly it worked, about six months after I completed Half-Life using software rendering.

Many years later, I read a throwaway line on AnandTech: "Still, this isn't as bad a compatibility problem as the poor fools who tried to use a Riva TNT with an ALI V chipset motherboard." And I wept, for it was true.

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When overclocking required needle nose pliers and a diagram for JP1-JP4

When everything was VESA drivers, as far as the eye could see

When UARTs could decide your connection speed for you

When ISA, PCI, and AGP cluttered your motherboard

FUCKING WINMODEMS!

I think I know why I left that scene just after 2009. 15 years of builds and upgrades, takes its toll.

(I have video of my son turning my last build on and off for shits and giggles, so it was probably around that time.)

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Ah the joys of trying to get XWing running with full audio and having to create a custom boot disk to free up enough conventional memory to get it to work then passing it around all the friends at college so they could also play it.

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Ahhh Half Life I too got my first PC for that game. My PC came from a shop in Glasgow pre built from a list of parts put together by a friend who knew his onions. I had to return it 5 times within the 1st 2 weeks because of numerous problems. "That's less than normal I was told both by the builders and my friend. When it did work I tried to play Half Life and look at pictures of naked women that took 5 minutes each to load up and cost me gigantic phone bills. As for HL I played it for about 10 hours without 3d hardware acceleration before admitting that I would need to invest in a Voodoo 3 to run it properly.

Eventually I got Broadband and played a million death matches on Unreal Tournament. Those were my PC glory days, Ground Control was incredible, Homeworld, which I was never good at but those graphics were beautiful. Hidden & Dangerous, return to Castle Wolfenstein and storming the Beach in Multiplayer night after night. Glory days indeed. I built 2 PCs during my PC gamer time but never once felt the urge to slag off anyone else's choice of gaming fix because mine was better. I always knew I'd be mid range as spending money on the latest tech could never be justified against what you got for your money by aiming lower in terms of spec. Eventually the consoles caught up and offered the same experiences but with much less grief so my PC got retired after I built a good specced one for gaming around the launch of Half Life 2. I never used it. I tried to build my enthusiasm for it by buying some the latest PC games one of which just happened to be Half Life 2 but it was gone. The fun I'd had thanks to the social aspect of the 360 bundling a headset and the reactions, jokes, rivalries created through gaming with real people who had more to say than "gg" meant that even with better frame rates and resolutions the PC experience couldn't hold a candle to a session on PGR2, or rainbow six on the evil Xbox 1.

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I loved Blake Stone 3D on my MegaPC.

There was also this first person dungeon crawler, came with two games, presumably the first and second in a series. Your enemies inflicted 'sucking wounds' quite often, and it had a very slight eastern vibe to some of the areas. Any ideas what it was?

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I... never once felt the urge to slag off anyone else's choice of gaming fix because mine was better. ... even with better frame rates and resolutions the PC experience couldn't hold a candle to a session on PGR2, or rainbow six on the evil Xbox 1.

:coffee:

The retro sub-forum is over there.... ->

I pondered that. But seems like the retro forum was more for people doing this today, not people who did it 20 years ago. Mods can move the thread if they feel that's the wrong call, of course.

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I bought my first PC when I was at uni and running the dos-based circuit emulation tools on my Amiga emulator was taking hours to run a simulation. It was a P75 bought on the high street, Escom I think? with Windows 95. Dos tools ran really fast, I also experimented with Slackware linux.

I was really into 3d at the time, towards the end of my course I worked on some Onyx systems with proper OpenGL, so as soon as the Net Yaroze came out I had a choice to make between a voodoo card and the Net Yaroze for home experiments. The Voodoo and a CPU upgrade was my choice, and I was quite surprised to find out exactly how basic the Glide API was in comparison to OpenGL.

Still, I wrote a few almost-working engines but mostly never got as far as completing them to make a game while my Net-Yaroze friends were able to jump straight in. DirectX was a bit easier, but I still felt like I spent more time getting the display to open properly than ever doing any interesting rendering.

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I think the telling thing with PC's is how many retro fans are using an old 486 PC for their authentic retro fix? and how many just play the games that can still be compatible on a modern PC or emulate them?

I use original C64 and Amiga hardware instead of emulating and I put up with load times etc (ok the Amiga has a HD and 68030 in it!) would I put up with a 486 DOS PC or P60 etc? no ta ;)

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My earliest memory of PC Gaming is installing The Settlers on my mum's "word processor" in a hidden folder on the C Drive.... must have been a 486 I think. She didn't know we were using it for games, and were not allowed to play games on it (that's why we had a Spectrum/C64/Master System) so it was a matter of waiting for her to go out... then blasting through as much of the Settlers as possible, before quickly saving and switching it off when you heard her car on the drive.

I got a P200 when I started Uni, and added a 3D card soon after, it was mostly used to play CivII and Alpha Centurai.... never really had too many problems with it TBH (build by a guy who knew how to build them and cost around £1700 iirc). As it got long in the tooth I replaced bits... then swapped it out for an HP box in the early 00s, still only really for Civ (3) and (of course) Internet access at that point. Kept that machine until 2006, got an iMac and haven't been back to PC gaming since.

Which means I still haven't played Civ5 :(

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If anybody wants a QEMM 8 serial number, I'm pretty sure it's 000-18A-40708, not that I entered it a lot of times in my yoof. :)

(I just googled that and turns out yup, that is infact the "crack" serial number for QEMM 8 LOL)

Good times.DX2/66 with 8Mb of ram (or maybe it was 4, I can't quite remember) .Did anybody else get their first PC with a soundblaster + creative labs CD-Rom? The first time I opened a PC was because the CDRom was too slow and this was down to it being plugged into the soundblasters IDE port. Switched it to the motherboard IDE port and it ran sweet!

HIghlights of my old PC days had to be playing Doom for the first time, ROTT, DN3D (with modem link), and eventually Unreal Tournament, which is still great today.

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Actually getting TIE Fighter to run was a rare joy, playing with that 640k you had to mangle everything into and out of. Half-Life in software rendering, when I could get it running, looked so shit I ended up getting a 4MB Orchid Righteous 3D card to plug into my 2MB Matrox Millennium. Which was ace when the temperamental pass through cable was working, I remember that Final Fantasy 7 used to crash on the first battle more often than not 'til I replaced my 2D card that the 3D card was plugging into (the Millennium might've actually been the replacement). Annoying, but it never really bothered me as much as it would now.

I think a lot of this is where the idea of PC gaming being difficult comes from, I know it's not always plain sailing even now for some but I've barely had any issues in getting anything running for years with Darksiders 2 running really slowly after upgrading to my graphics card before current being the only thing that springs to mind, and that only happened because of some internal graphics cards settings I'd faffed about with previously. Buy, install, play, enjoy and often faster and with less hassle than with modern console games. Or more accurately, buy, install, never play, buy, install etc.

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Did anybody else get their first PC with a soundblaster + creative labs CD-Rom?

Not my first, but I had that bundle deal; I fitted it to my third PC. In fact I came across a few of the bundled CD-ROMs when I moved house last year.

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I had an Amiga at the time, but have fond memories of not getting the sound to work on stuff like Biomenace, Duke Nukem, and Terminal Velocity.

What was that awesome first person shooter with a British hero where you had a silenced pistol for stealth kills?

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I bought my first PC when I was at uni and running the dos-based circuit emulation tools on my Amiga emulator was taking hours to run a simulation. It was a P75 bought on the high street, Escom I think? with Windows 95. Dos tools ran really fast, I also experimented with Slackware linux.

I was really into 3d at the time, towards the end of my course I worked on some Onyx systems with proper OpenGL, so as soon as the Net Yaroze came out I had a choice to make between a voodoo card and the Net Yaroze for home experiments. The Voodoo and a CPU upgrade was my choice, and I was quite surprised to find out exactly how basic the Glide API was in comparison to OpenGL.

Still, I wrote a few almost-working engines but mostly never got as far as completing them to make a game while my Net-Yaroze friends were able to jump straight in. DirectX was a bit easier, but I still felt like I spent more time getting the display to open properly than ever doing any interesting rendering.

My first was an Escom too!

486SX running at an incredible 33MHz.. 250mb HDD (IIRC) - This was several months before Doom appeared.. Got it for X-Wing, Wolfenstein and the Lucasarts adventure games..

Still a couple of years pre-CD-ROM (or at least affordable ones) at that point..

Ended up being almost a contest between myself and friends at school as to who could produce the best boot disk (e.g. leaving you with the most RAM in DOS without using QEMM) So much time faffing about with config.sys etc..

I remember later having to upgrade it from 4MB to 8MB of RAM (mostly to play the later levels of Doom 2 without it becoming a slideshow) in my first year at uni - it cost me ~£120!

I got an original (pass though) Voodoo 3dfx card eventually - seeing GL Quake and non pixelated textures for the first time was mind-blowing..

One of my fave bits of hardware was the Yamaha DB50XG (I think) which was a little board you could plug onto your SoundBlaster card and made the Midi music not sound like crap!

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I think the telling thing with PC's is how many retro fans are using an old 486 PC for their authentic retro fix? and how many just play the games that can still be compatible on a modern PC or emulate them?

I use original C64 and Amiga hardware instead of emulating and I put up with load times etc (ok the Amiga has a HD and 68030 in it!) would I put up with a 486 DOS PC or P60 etc? no ta ;)

You don't need to emulate on the PC which is the difference. Even with the really old stuff you can run it on a hypervisor and your Dos version of choice.

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My first was an Escom too!

One of my fave bits of hardware was the Yamaha DB50XG (I think) which was a little board you could plug onto your SoundBlaster card and made the Midi music not sound like crap!

I seem to remember the Escom PCs were gimped in some way or other which wasn't apparent until you started doing upgrades, can't remember the details though. I had a DB50XG as well, it was fab. I even bought a midi keyboard so I could get some use out of it. I probably still have it at my dad's place - he was using that PC until about 5 years ago.

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Being given a big shareware bumper pack for Christmas when I was eight and learning the pkunzip DOS syntax.

Juggling boot disks: one to maximise EMS, and then one for the four bloody games that decided they wanted to use XMS. (Zone66, I'm looking at you).

Juggling ever-less tiny hard disks: our first hd was 32mb. The second 210, the third a gig, and then we got a 6.4gb bigfoot.

Seriously, working out what you're spending the last meg of your 32mb hard disk on is really, really hard.

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Ah the joys of trying to get XWing running with full audio and having to create a custom boot disk to free up enough conventional memory to get it to work then passing it around all the friends at college so they could also play it.

X-Wing I actually got running with both Soundblaster and a Roland CM-32L module (external version of the LAPC-1), so I had a full orchestral MIDI soundtrack playing that theme, with the 'blaster playing the sampled FX. Absolutely awesomely cinematic for the time.

I think I had some config.sys tinkering to do for that - but the worst I had was for Frontier, Elite II; the PC I ran it on had some weird disk driver thing going on, so the only way I could run the game was to create a DOS boot floppy, copy the game files to that, and completely disable the hard drive. Took me days to work that all out.

Thank goodness this was before the days of routine copy protection on PC games.

But yeah, tweaking your autoexec.bat and config.sys was de rigeur; loading DOS into 'high' memory (with HIMEM.SYS and DOS=HIGH).

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Thanks you reminded me that I had to make a boot disk that copied the game to a virtual ram disk to get Frontier to run because it wouldn't boot from my C drive. PC gaming is certainly a lot easier nowadays.

I think it was DOS 6.22 that let you create a boot menu - I had about 5 different configs loaded for various games and still found ones that wouldn't work properly without a fair bit of tinkering.

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My autoexec.bat and config.sys was a thing of majesty. I had two pages of options, with slightly different configs for various drivers and whatnot, all aimed at maxing base RAM or EMS or XMS or loading or unloading this or that driver. And X-Wing, the fucker, had an entry just to itself. Even QEMM couldn't make X-Wing work, I'd had to do manual tweaking on top.

My first PC was an Amstrad PC2086 with no IDE ports so the 30 MB hard disk was mounted on an ISA card that required you to manually park the heads every time you turned it off. ISA! Not so long afterward, I'd decry that 8 MHz / 8-bit bus as too slow for a sound card, let alone my hard disk! I had the choice between an 8086 with VGA and a 80286 with EGA. Still not sure I made the right call there, it didn't have enough grunt to run any games in VGA anyway. It cost some ungodly amount of money, substantially more than a grand I think -- £2.5k in today's money.

Christmas morning when I get the PC, I plug it in, boot it up and it prints on the screen "Merry Christmas Richard, love from Mum and Dad." I was... 10 or 11 or so? So clearly this was the most hideously embarrassing thing I had ever seen. I demanded it was removed. My father refused point blank, but did provide some cryptic hints about how DOS boot system works. Before lunch, I'd puzzled out what to do, found the batch file that was called from autoexec.bat, and removed it with extreme prejudice.

I'm trying to remember my earliest games... probably a cracked version of Tetris, mostly in Russian with the copyright assigned to Pajitnov. I'd been playing that on an Amstrad transportable my father borrowed from work before we got our own PC, so that would have been something I tried on day one, I suspect. My first FPS was on that Amstrad; Catacomb 3D was a predecessor to Wolfenstein, written by id a few years before.

All my Amiga owning friends laughed at me and truth me told Stunt Car Racer looked and ran like crap. A few years later, I got a 486SX/25 (another off-the-rack job, my P-90 was my first self-build) and they continued to laugh at me. Then Doom came out and they stopped laughing. Then they bought PCs. Barring Nintendo handhelds, I was a PC-only gamer for a long time after that -- my first console was a Dreamcast, more than ten years after my first PC.

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Thanks you reminded me that I had to make a boot disk that copied the game to a virtual ram disk to get Frontier to run because it wouldn't boot from my C drive. PC gaming is certainly a lot easier nowadays.

I think Frontier required extended or expanded memory, and used quite a lot of that; so it got tight on a typical 1MB PC of the time. Think I was running it on a 16MHz 386/SX (remember those? Cut down version of a full 386, with a 16-bit data bus).

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I think the telling thing with PC's is how many retro fans are using an old 486 PC for their authentic retro fix? and how many just play the games that can still be compatible on a modern PC or emulate them?

I use original C64 and Amiga hardware instead of emulating and I put up with load times etc (ok the Amiga has a HD and 68030 in it!) would I put up with a 486 DOS PC or P60 etc? no ta ;)

Yuck! Obviously you should be getting at least a Pentium 90, preferably a Pentium II 200 (or one of the other, later still-fully-DOS-friendly PCs) to play your super old games on! Ideally with a Turbo button.

And then play everything on your modern PC anyway.

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