DOStant Memories

By Alec Meer on June 26th, 2014 at 3:00 pm.

Reflecting on things I take for granted, things which are an everyday part of how I play videogames today, I think of what used to constitute that for me. What was my Steam forums, my C:\Program Files (x86), my Catalyst Control Center, my YouTube clips, my memes, my take-the-side-off-the-case-to-stop-it-overheating? What seemed so important that it burned?

This is nothing more than nostalgia – I realise that entirely. I just forget so much these days that the act of trying to remember seems precious. There are the odd little things that stay with me:

  • Laboriously creating a hidden virtual drive containing games pirated from people at school. My mum complained that she couldn’t understand why our tiny hard drive was so full, but was otherwise none the wiser.
  • Being banned from using the pc for a week for repeatedly shouting “Jesus Christ aaaargh just come on” during a particularly challenging Syndicate level. This was seen as a sign that I was becoming a Bad Kid, which was and is laughable.
  • Refusing to show an older kid on the bus the copy of Fury of the Furries (I know, I know) I’d just bought, because I believed that this cover art was so enticing that he would surely steal it:

  • The one kid at school who had a copy of Doom Shareware before anyone else did, but refused to share it and instead regaled us, as we all sat rapt, with tales of how inconceivably terrifying and violent it was.
  • Being humiliated in front of the entire class by my history teacher, who was furious that I’d covered my exercise book in drawings of Ornithopters from Dune II.
  • Being so bad at mouse and keyboard controls that I couldn’t even manage the jump across the bridge that was required to select Hard difficulty in Quake.

  • Running up the family phone bill with multiple calls to the Lucasarts helpline when stuck in Sam & Max. I’m pretty certain my dad thought I was calling phone sex lines.
  • Getting a Soundblaster Pro for my birthday, primarily because I wanted to hear the music in Monkey Island 2. To this day I have no idea where my dad acquired it from, but it arrived unboxed and loose in a jiffy bag. Also in the jiffy bag were a series of floppy discs with ‘Monkey Island 1′ hand-scrawled onto them, and photocopies of its anti-piracy code wheel that I had to cut out and assemble myself.

  • The tiny, horrible white speakers bought to accompany said Soundblaster containing no magnetic shielding, and thus playing Monkey Island 1 (and 2) with a rainbow effect on each side of the screen. It was worth it just to hear that music.
  • Deep into my brief Dragonlance obsession, having a friend around to visit but then making him just sit there and watch me play through some side-scrolling and extremely unfair side-scrolling Dragonlance game. It was dreadful to play, and must have been exponentially more dreadful to watch. Today was the first time since then that I’ve revisited that game. Look what I subjected that poor bastard to – no wonder we haven’t spoken since school.
  • The last mission in my first playthrough of the original X-COM. Until that point I’d done an awful lot of save-scumming, restarting whole missions in order to resurrect one soldier, but up there on Cydonia, the stakes seemed so different. I knew this was a one way trip. I knew there was no point in preserving anyone. My team were slowly whittled down to two, and when eventually they stood there and took it in turns to awkwardly shook chunks off that giant eyeball, it felt like profound victory.
  • config.sys
    autoexec.bat
    DEVICE=C:\Windows\HIMEM.SYS
    SET BLASTER=A220 I5 D1 T2

  • Drilling holes in the corner of floppy disks to double their storage.
  • Floppy disks no longer working because plastic dust from my slapdash drilling was all over the magnetic inner.

  • Star Wars Rebel Assault being a near-mythical entity – none of us had CD-ROM drives, none of us could believe that full motion video and 3D graphics were possible, all we could do was look at pictures in magazines and lust and dream. This was surely and would always be the zenith of computer games: to own and play this thing was sheer fantasy, and when one day we did, life would be complete. None of us believed the middling to negative reviews, because just look at it. To this day I have never played Rebel Assault (or it sequel), and I tell you this: I will go to my grave without that changing, because some fantasies should be left unspoiled, no matter how foolish they may be.
  • Lurid, hyper-real box art (more seen in magazines than on actual boxes, as I had very few of them) that I started at and scrutinised endlessly, puzzled by how little they resembled the games they advertised and striving to reconcile the differences. There must be a reason – it can’t be a mistake that his gun looks different or her hair is a different colour. There must be. Games and their boxes back then were an ultimate authority to me- the idea that they might in some way deceive me was inconceivable.
  • Nothing working. Nothing ever bloody working properly. Learning how to use a PC, how to solve problems, how to extricate the whole system from the disasters I’d imposed on it. Learning if not patience then at least an iron determination to never, ever be defeated by a PC or by PC games, to keep on trying to get everything to work no matter the cost to my time or sanity. Whatever else has been lost – innocence, naivety, wonder, experimentation – that determination stays with me to this day.

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170 Comments »

  1. BTAxis says:

    DOS/4GW, surely.

    • Optimaximal says:

      And HIMEM.sys

      • Knurek says:

        LH MOUSE.COM

        • Premium User Badge

          Jackablade says:

          VESA.EXE

          • xrror says:

            MSCDEX

            summon with autoexec.bat (no sweat, we’ve got this) but…
            then suffer the wrath of config.sys

            random thing I never even though of in my youth, only to later slap my head – it stands for MicroSoft CD EXtensions. d’oh!

    • Old guy says:

      When the IBM PC’s first came out in the early 80′s there were two games, Donkey and Frogger. I was already playing Adventure which later became The Orb of Zot on a CP/M based system. It’s amazing how far we’ve come.

  2. Optimaximal says:

    Having 3 floppy boot disks: one to enable EMS, one to enable XMS (basically to play Doom Episode 1 & other Apogee shareware of the time) and one that was never used because it was used to boot Win 3.11 (Workgroups) with enough memory for doing school work.

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      MerseyMal says:

      You mean you didn’t write a menu in the config.sys to select which options you wanted?

      • jonfitt says:

        That was a great day when I worked out how to do that. I made the boot disk to end all boot disks…

        • Premium User Badge

          deadbob says:

          The one boot disk to load them all…

        • Whelp says:

          Don’t need a bootdisk for that.
          I made a menu back then, one for EMS, one for XMS, both of those with CDROM (most drivers back then were shit and took up lots of dos memory, and no internet access to get better ones), and one for Win3.11

      • Tom Walker says:

        It took my twelve-year-old self so many attempts to comprehend the notion of listing the options backwards. Because they weren’t really backwards. They were just in the reverse order.

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        Rikard Peterson says:

        If my memory serves, that feature wasn’t there until DOS 6. (I started with 5.)

    • Dangersaurus says:

      …and one just for games from Origin, because they just had to write their own damn memory manager.

  3. Premium User Badge

    RedViv says:

    I need to get this to work now, Pa. No I don’t want help. I want to KNOW how to do it, not have it done!

    Yes, that bloody well stays with a person having grown up under DOS. Even back then, looking at the Apple crowd with their fancy easily accessible pre-made work machines, thinking that they are losing out on… well. The thrill of getting to know tech, and the danger it brings, I suppose.

    I think my greatest achievement back then was to overdo it on the fancy SVGA and kill our ancient visual display unit. Then accepting the punishment of riding it the whole 15-something kilometers to the nearest place that would actually accept electronic rubbish. Worth the two hours of absolutely totally high-resolution gameplay, of the kind humanity would probably never ever ever at all see topped.

    • soldant says:

      Pretty much how I remember things: Asking my dad and being taught the arcane and forbidden lore of boot disks and sitting there confused when you couldn’t get speech running on some game because who friggin’ knows why. Or finding out that the game you wanted to play just outright didn’t support your particular sound card, so no sound for you.

      Nope. Don’t miss those days at all.

      • cardboardartisan says:

        As a Linux gamer, I’m still having those days. I bring it upon myself, so I can’t complain – I guess I’ve learned to enjoy it.

    • Prolar Bear says:

      This, absolutely this. Learning MS DOS and its commands and fiddling with games until they would finally launch was an incredibly effective method of becoming computer and tech savvy. You had to do the work and at least get a grasp on the basics. In my case, it also helped me learn fast typing and English.

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        Mischa says:

        My English improved a lot playing text adventure games.
        Mind you, for a long time I thought “to exting a torch” was a valid sentence, due to the then common six-letter parser.

    • Volcanu says:

      An abiding memory of my earliest PC gaming is sitting on chairs in front of the PC at friends’ houses for long, long periods trying to get a game to boot whilst the screen filled with “Bad command or filename” over and over.

      The feeling of triumph when you finally got something to load was immense. Probably better than playing many of the games themselves to be honest, which with hindsight were often pretty pap – Duck Tales, the 2d Duke Nukem’s, Battle Chess, Commander Keen…..(actually Commander Keen wasn’t bad.)

      Coupled with those silly things you only do when gaming as a child. Like the way me and my friend used to play Wolfenstein 3d together, one of us on the arrow keys the other using spacebar to shoot. God that would be hilarious to do now…..

    • LionsPhil says:

      These days, kids apply this enthusiasm to Linux.

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      melnificent says:

      Still not found a better command than “ren” for batch renames…. Windows wants you to do it on individual files

  4. Eddy9000 says:

    My lasting memory is having to mess around with the autoexec.bat and config.sys files in order to free up the memory to play anything. Playing PC games back then basically required a Masters degree in IT.
    Also playing Doom in a tiny square in the middle of my screen with no sound on my 386 and thinking it was the best thing ever.

    • Napoleon15 says:

      Pretty much my enduring memories of old school PC gaming. Fucking bootdisks, fucking autoexec. Still, it was mighty satisfying when I finally got the original Space Hulk to play and saw the opening intro of Terminators fighting genestealers.

      I will say though that it taught me a lot about computers in the long run.

    • BobbyDylan says:

      Lol. Totally this. Sometimes it was more fun figuring our how to get the game to work than it was to play the game.

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        RedViv says:

        To this very day, many of us commemorate the sacrifices made in those troubled times by starting up a Skyrim mod manager and updating our mods and checking if they will work and following that up by abandoning the game because we ran out of time again bloody hell.

        • 2Ben says:

          You… you are me !

        • Koozer says:

          1) Browse nexusmods for a bunch of great sounding mods
          2) Spend 3 days installing them all, testing, changing load orders, altering .ini files, installing 3rd party launchers
          3) Actually start playing, realise it isn’t actually all that fun, and quit forever.

          I’ve done this for Oblivion, Skyrim and Fallout 3 at least twice each.

          • TWChristine says:

            I feel lucky that the only one I’ve been absolutely bored out of my skull with was Fallout 3.. which is also kind of interesting because it seems like the one people loved the most (leaning towards New Vegas, but just referring to the game in general).

          • Jannn says:

            Haha makes my day!

            Most exciting thing I do on my much overpowered smartphone is installing updates of apps (or, few glorious days, new Android versions!). I’m so addicted to it, I check the Play Store at least 10 times per day (about every second time I happen to use the device).

            Of course I receive a notification of updates, but I sometimes beat the machinery to it! Yesss!

            Now I understand where this strange addiction is coming from. Always a bit disappointed when the mandatory read through of the change log only shows “bug fixes” though.

            I keep an old smartphone that can’t even make phone calls anymore just to install Cyanogenmod updates on it.

            There’s a game called “Upgrade Complete” or such, that satisfied my hunger for a short time.

        • Hadan says:

          Wow, how could i not see this all this years.
          Startet my PC-gaming-career in my cousins 486 – with boxes full of bootdisks etc.

          To this day, as soon as i discover that a game supports mods i will from this moment on spend more time installing/testing mods than playing the game. Nothing better than staring at an ini-File for some time to calm the nerves after a long day at work!

    • plugmonkey says:

      Yay! Brother!

      The other thing I remember about that was having to delete every single other game off the 80 MB hard disk to free up enough space for it.

      The other weekend I decided I was sick of having to wait if I ever wanted to play a Steam game I didn’t have downloaded, so I queued up the lot. All 200+. That disk is now half full. It’s quite staggering when you think about it.

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        Jonfon says:

        My first hard disk was 40Mb. So Doom, Syndicate, Alone in the Dark and Dune 2 wouldn’t all fit. You’d have to remove one to get another on.

        92-94 was a fab time for PC Games (stretched it to 94 to include UFO : Enemy Unknown).

        • JamesInDigital says:

          I remember writing a complex BAT file that had all of my installed games listed. Select a game, unzip that game from an archive, play it. Afterwards it would rezip the game automatically, adding any new save games and dump you back to the beginning BAT menu. It was the only way I could have a bunch of games installed at the same time. Ahh memories…

          • somnolentsurfer says:

            You unzipped at the point of play??? Theme Park was a good 18MB. Surely that’d have take at least 15-20 minutes?

          • dskzero says:

            I had one of these, with an entire fancy ECHO menu to choose the game with a number.

          • Phasma Felis says:

            Me too! Only I started on a 286/12 with a 4MB hard drive, 1MB working RAM, and 1MB RAM drive. Games went on floppy disks, each floppy had a menu of games, each game was unzipped onto the RAM drive and then re-zipped once it closed.

            I recall upgrading to something with a vast 20MB hard drive, and then struggling to clear out enough space on it to install Wing Commander 2 from roughly 850 floppies.

        • somnolentsurfer says:

          Day of the Tentacle. Sim City 2000. Theme Park. TIE Fighter.

          Edit: Also Sensible Soccer. The only decent foot-to-ball game ever made, and the last game before Letterpress I could reliably convince my mum to play with me.

      • Phydaux says:

        Ah yes the days of uninstalling Frontier 2 to play Sim City 2000. And vice versa.

    • Convolvulus says:

      It took me a while to post this because I had a hard time loading the RPS commenting driver into upper memory. [LH C:\RPSTOOLS\RPSCOMM.SYS] I don’t have sound or mouse controls.

    • Grey_Ghost says:

      I remember having some program that did it for me… QEMM I think, worked swell IIRC.

    • dethtoll says:

      I had to break the sound on my PC to get Quake working.

      WORTH IT.

  5. Eightball says:

    I remember my dad helping my brother and I by installing TIE Fighter and X-Wing (something like a dozen floppy disks each for install!) and then he set up a boot diskette. Boy that brings me back.

  6. prumpa says:

    Ruining my dad’s work laptop’s ability to play videos because I uninstalled the codecs in the belief that it would free up enough of it’s 8Mb of RAM to be able to play Quake. It never did.

  7. Gnoupi says:

    “Nothing working. Nothing ever bloody working properly.”

    That’s so very true. Nowadays, I’m not saying everything comes perfectly well. Sometimes you do have to fiddle with a config file here and there, but it’s usually a comfort step. But in general, you click play, it launches, checks your configuration to set the optimal settings, detects your controllers, and in general tries to have everything set for you to start playing.

    I mean, those games don’t even ask you to choose your sound card. Madness!

    Having a DOS or DOS on Win95 game work properly was nothing short of a hardcore game in itself, back then.

  8. Premium User Badge

    Stense says:

    I would have killed for a Soundblaster Pro, but I made do with the AdLib card that my Dad somehow acquired from his job. It couldn’t do voices, but the music from Day of the Tentacle! Oh the music.

    DOS days were strange for sure. Frustration and annoyance on one side, amazing games on the other. I loved Shareware so much, I wrote a love letter to it: http://tessstenson.blogspot.co.uk/2013/07/a-love-letter-to-shareware.html Never forget DOS, lest we be doomed to repeat it (although I’d secretly be OK with that).

  9. feday says:

    * “Can not detect interrupt at IRQ5″

    * The joys of creating a properly working null-modem cable.

    * Oh, and debating with friends that Amber monitors were superior to Green ones

    • TheCaseAce says:

      “Can not detect interrupt at IRQ5″

      Ugh, I had forgotten all about that one. Wasn’t that when your sound card wasn’t properly configured?

  10. gschmidl says:

    It would totally have worked if you’d put the Sound Blaster in the THIRD ISA slot and used IRQ 7.

  11. Premium User Badge

    distantlurker says:

    Opening the case of the 486 every other day to switch IRQ jumpers.

    Spending *hours* deep in the dark heart of EMM just to get another 6kb so that X-Wing would bloody run (run damn you!)

    Realizing that candles dripping down the back of the PC case was, after all, *not* conducive to efficient thermal exhaust.

    Charlie Brooker, Rhianna Pratchett, Jon ‘Log’ Blyth and the whole gang that made PCZone the best PC gaming mag (and by definition the best gaming mag full stop) everything it was.

    • Lord Byte says:

      PCZone was awesome! I loved the crew to bits, their sense of humour and a more adult style of reviewing contrary to all the other magazines was what drew me :) (First to CVG, then PCZONE) Wot we think! The mailbox. Them holding to 50% is an average game.

      They actually taught me English, long before they taught me in school. Our English teacher just asked me if they couldn’t find a word before checking the dictionary!

      • Gothnak says:

        That’s the only magazine i only ever wrote a letter to, and the only time i did, i got 2 letters published in the same issue. :)

        • udat says:

          Whatever happened to Mr Cursor?

        • Gothnak says:

          Ok, that’s weird, i just found and downloaded a scan of the whole magazine with my letter in it :).

          • MadJax says:

            I actually grew up with PC Gamer as opposed to PC Zone (My uncle was a PC Zone fan). Still remember the first issue I bought with my pocket money, that came with the UFO: Enemy Unknown demo taped on the front in glorious floppy format…. then fiddling for hours trying to get the damn thing just to install…

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    Lord Custard Smingleigh says:

    I used to have to hand-magnetise ferrite cores in a wiring loom before I could even get Quake to run. And sometimes the punch cards would get stuck in the hopper and I’d have to climb into the machine, naked, to clear the blockage, which is hard when a Shambler is bearing down on you.

  13. LMAOMOBILE says:

    what a downright moving article. the last paragraph details the value of pc gaming to youth very well.

  14. Lord Byte says:

    Squeezing every ounce of memory out of my 7.5 Mb Ram in my 486 just so I could play Duke Nukem in a sort of playable way. LH and memmaker, how I miss thee :) Playing Quake in turnbased mode on said 486 (it was an SX33 upclocked to a DX2-66) because it ran just badly enough that it was playable in a sort of turnbased way (I could dodge the ogre’s chainsaws!) Figuring out a way to dodge my dad taking away my keyboard :D (by playing games purely with a mouse). Finishing Doom 2 on Ultra Violence without a sound-card (and Warcraft 2 – annoying to have to constantly look at the minimap as you get no “under attack” warning otherwise) :) Or even earlier running games on a 286 switching between EGA and Hercules mode to run games :)

    Crazybytes, sharing floppies, befriending the local techie who worked at Planet Internet so I could get access to his Warez :D Good times :D

  15. LuckyLuigi says:

    Playing Hero’s Quest in full glory CGA black&white graphics at a stunning 640*480 resolution and thinking it was a technological marvel. Good times.

  16. Geebs says:

    I had a Mac.

  17. Blackrook says:

    I loved Fury of Furries, and though Doom made me jump , Alone in the Dark was the only game that scared me,
    but the Autoexec.bat/ config.sys went beyond fear and frustration.

    Back in the days when Duke Nukem was 2D and actually fun.

  18. Gundrea says:

    You can have those days back Alec if you game on Linux.

    • Likethiss says:

      This! I have now just found the joy of tinkering with my pc once more. I thought i was growing out of it but it was just that things were too damn easy. Linux all the way!

    • libdab says:

      Yeah, “Miss DOS? The world of Linux awaits!”

  19. Viroso says:

    “Nothing working. Nothing ever bloody working properly.”

    Not really a distant memory.

    • Premium User Badge

      RaveTurned says:

      Ho ho!

      Seriously though, compared to the DOS days modern PC gaming is a breeze. “You kids have never had it so good!” etc.

      • Tom Walker says:

        It is. That said, though, at least back then if something didn’t work you simply resolved to make it work. Nowadays if a game doesn’t work, you’re almost immediately consigned to the sinking dread that some bit of DRM has become confused or some bit of setup detection has wrongly decided your PC wouldn’t cope with it. And there’s nothing you can do.

        • MadJax says:

          And back in them days, not many of us had the ability to bitch about it on forums, so we just HAD to make it work..

          God we sound old :P

        • plugmonkey says:

          These days I pretty much just type the issue into Google, find the solution and follow the provided steps of win.

          Buy Doom on Steam. It crashes on launch. Google, solution, win. I didn’t even have to get the DOS manual out. On balance, I think I prefer having a voluntary support network of millions to having a book.

  20. FurryLippedSquid says:

    I remember ripping the sound file of a horse whinnying from Transport Tycoon and tucking it in to my autoexec.bat, so my computer would whinny as it booted up. I thought I was so cool.

    Heady days.

  21. Napoleon15 says:

    It’s quite interesting that today I can play a DOS game without any faffing about just by using DosBox. All those games I used to have to fiddle with for ages to get to work, I can now just drag and drop onto the DosBox.exe and play them. I just wish somebody came up with a good emulator for Windows 95 games. There’s so many games like the Jane’s flight sims that I’d love to play again, but can’t get to work on modern systems.

  22. Gothnak says:

    HIMEM.SYS… EMS & XMS…. Oh god, i remember the problems getting Master of Magic to work in 1995, i think for a while i had to play it without the mouse drivers to save memory. I remember playing it on my University Mate’s PC (I only had an Amiga 1200) although i only had the demo for a few weeks. I must have played that single town attack about 20 times…

    I then remembering when Windows 95 came along and broke all of my favourite DOS games. Then i built a dual boot drive with Windows 95 or DOS and ALL my games worked.. That was a happy day…

  23. jonfitt says:

    WHAAAAAT! You could turn cheaper 720k floppies in to 1.44Mb ones with a drill!!! I could have saved so much pocket money :(
    That was the problem with living before the web. If you didn’t know tricks like this, or none of your friends, friend’s friends, or friend’s dodgy uncles did, there was no way to find this stuff out.

  24. Maritz says:

    Cripes, Heroes of the Lance looked really crap on the NES compared to the Amiga version didn’t it? Still a bad game though.

  25. Klaxon Overdrive says:

    Pestering the guy at the Radio Shack for Space Quest II hints.

    Finally getting a VGA monitor to replace the MCGA(?!) one we had and realising that the games weren’t all supposed to be orange and purple.

    The new 20MB hard drive my Dad said would be more space than we’d ever need.

    Playing Doom in my first apartment, by myself, in the dark. The only time I’ve ever jumped at a video game.

    Himem and IRQ settings and port addresses and echo off.

    “Press open bay door button”.

    Bullfrog’s never to be Indestructibles.

    Trying to complete the crossword on the Sierra Newsletter. 3 words: “Human Gonadatropic Condition.” No encyclopedia or dictionary in the world could help.

    Having my Dad’s friends call me for Leisure Suit Larry hints.

  26. udat says:

    I was making life difficult for myself I know, but I used DR-DOS rather than MS-DOS, and I had a Gravis Ultrasound. Games that supported it natively sounded absolutely incredible (hello Doom and Star Control 2) but getting X-Wing to work using the Gravis Soundblaster emulation* was a complete nightmare.

    Ultima 7, too. That one needed a boot disk.

    * the “SBOS installed” crappy sound sample in a Canadian accent still haunts me

    • somnolentsurfer says:

      cmd-f G.R.A.V.I.S.

      I knew I couldn’t be the only one!

      SBOS (Gravis’ software Soundblaster emulation) took about 50k of your base memory. All you privileged Soundblaster owners should think about trying to get trying to get a game into your 640 with that beast running. And shudder.

      Edit: Oh, also, X-Wing was relatively trivial to get working. If anyone ever managed to get both SoundFX and music working reliably in Lemmings 2: The Tribes, I think I’d still be interested to see how today.

  27. NailBombed says:

    Finally getting Ultima VIII : Pagan to work properly with sound was awesome for me at the time – finally getting a soundcard that worked and that didn’t go directly to PC speaker was great (anyone remember PC speaker? All those squidges and squelches that were supposed to be ingame soundeffects….). Shame the game itself was a bit pants.

    Having my own log-in to Windows 95 and plastering the wallpaper full of Doom screenshots – and having the sounds of a Cyberdemon for Startup….

    • Premium User Badge

      Jackablade says:

      There were studios who got surprisingly good sound out of that crappy little speaker. I remember World Class Leader Board Golf even had voice commentary.

      “Looks like he hit the tree, Jim.”

      • kanwarsation says:

        So. Many. Memories! “from my vantage point, it looks safely on the fairway.”

  28. TreuloseTomate says:

    20 MHz + Turbo Button = 50 MHz

  29. Premium User Badge

    Philopoemen says:

    Making a bootdisk to play Syndicate on the SX33 w/ 4MB ram. Didn’t even know it had music or sound effects until installed the Soundblaster two years later…

  30. smileyz says:

    Using simcga and simega to play EGA only games on hercules setup.
    Begging for ram upgrade from 2MB to 4MB so I can play Comanche.
    Trying to loadhigh cdrom drivers

  31. frightlever says:

    Are we all watching Halt and Catch Fire?

    Obviously my first computer was a ZX81, then a BBC B, then an Atari ST – but they were all pretty much plug and play, except for the ZX81 ram pack which was plug and pray… it didn’t wobble, amiright?

    My first real PC was an Amstrad PPC640, which I bought because I’d decided to give up frivolous games. Well ahead of its time.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/PPC_512

    One of the few computers I wish I’d hung onto instead of selling it. It was like having a Transformer toy, with a built in modem.

    First gaming PC was one of a succession of 486s – back then I was able to buy computers off CIX’s auction board, use them for a few months and sell them locally for a profit. As I recall I downloaded the Wolfenstein 3D shareware but my 486-SX wouldn’t play sounds and thus a pattern of upgrading to play games was established. Good times.

    • Gothnak says:

      I was ZX81, BBC B and then Amiga 500, you chose the wrong path.. ;)

      • Scurra says:

        Well for me, it was the ZX81 and then, well, um, cough, the Camputers Lynx. Which was a lovely machine but which didn’t even have the support levels of the Dragon 32…

        • Chorltonwheelie says:

          Z80 self build kit, Vic 20, C64, Amiga1200 then……P75 with Win 3.1

          After Workbench I wondered what the fuck I’d wasted my money on for a couple of months (give me DOS over 3.1 anyday).

          Then I got Doom and the rest is glorious, expensive and exhilarating history.

    • LionsPhil says:

      Comparable, but swap the ZX81 for an Atari 800XL.

      And my PPC640 was rescued from a skip long after Windows 98 was having its way with the world. I managed to get it to run Zork, which seemed the most appropriate thing.

      PCs were crap compared to their forerunners and peers. R.I.P. Acorn, even if ARM lives on going strong.

      • aiusepsi says:

        ARM having basically taken over the world does make me a little bit happy. I bought a Raspberry Pi just to run RISC OS on it, for old times’ sake.

  32. Dozer says:

    I feel young!

    Computing for me started with Windows 3.1. Most of the games were demos from magazine covers and Microsoft Flight Simulator 3. The main computing challenges was trying to play multiplayer games on our shonky home LAN. About the only things which reliably worked on all our PCs were Age of Empires II and the multiplayer demo of the first Medal of Honor game. We spent so much time on that tiny map, we were playing against each other on Yomi level 3 or higher.

    Nowadays it’s much the same thing with my family except we’re trying to get Artemis to run on an esoteric mix of tablets, phones, netbooks… my PC’s wifi thumbstick (discarded by a former housemate years ago) failing to communicate with my family’s unbranded router for more than 30 tantalising seconds at a time.

  33. nca says:

    trying to play games on DOS was one of the first things that taught me computers, along with many others i see here. even though it was a chore at times, it really made me understand both how things work, and what to do when things don’t. if i may be so bold to think that i’m talking for most of us here, it wasn’t fun, per se, but we did what we could with what we had, and we were ecstatic when we succeeded. the times and tales of DOS should be taught in IT history, much like mankind using flint and stone to hunt mammoths is taught today.

  34. SpacemanSpliff says:

    This takes me back. Like missing the age verification questions from Leisure Suit Larry 1, and trying for a perfect Kings Quest 5 play-through because you don’t have a hard drive and your mom wont buy you any 3.5′s.

  35. PC-GAMER-4LIFE says:

    As my username suggests I have been a PC gamer for a long time & still own all my games including the old DOS ones I cannot throw those away! When you bought The 7th Guest back in the day for £70 or Rebel Assault £50 + £150 CD Drive just to play it you realise how much things used to cost ! Good times though. Even with faffinf about with config.sys, autoexec.bat, himem, emm386 etc etc IRQ, DMA clashes 256k VGA 10Mb Hard drives & WFGW3.11 loading times!

  36. AbigailBuccaneer says:

    Watching my dad teach my brother how to code and not teaching me. (Look at me now, Dad!)
    PC Gamer Magazine demo CDs (okay, this is a little later than most memories here) stuffed with wonders too vast for my child self to comprehend.

  37. Frank says:

    Um, it was never such a big deal getting things to work on my computer. Games always seemed to have a nice teal-colored config application when needed. Most of the time, just navigating to the right file and opening it was enough… It was nice to learn how to do that but, eh, didn’t actually take much work.

    My most salient memory: Shareware packs. I wouldn’t know about Jazz Jackrabbit, Doom, Duke Nukem or many other games without these excellent grab-bags. So many games took things in unexpected directions; it was a real joy to explore.

    I guess the games you guys remember ore different because you’re British? I didn’t know about Ultima, X-COM, Dune II or Bullfrog’s games until I read about them on RPS in the 2000′s. I was playing MECC, Epic and Apogee games almost exclusively back then.

  38. clorex says:

    Tried to completely uninstall Command & Conquer from my dad’s Windows 98 work notebook but ended up deleting COMMAND.COM from C:\windows.

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      phuzz says:

      Did you then get a job working at CCP?

    • MartinWisse says:

      Ha. On our first pc my dad got a floppy full with games from a cow-orker, one of which promised to be a commando game but we never got to work — command.com.

  39. mvar says:

    The “Heroes of the Lance” game remains to this day a huge mystery for me..I had bought it in a 5.25 floppy disk bundle along with Hillsfar (and another title i dont recall right now). No matter how many times i tried to play this game i couldn’t find out the controls. I’ve contemplated running it again in dosbox but i prefer to leave this mystery unsolved as a tribute to those good old days..
    Irrelevant to this, i’ll never forget buying the first Mortal Kombat, only to find out that i couldn’t run it on my 386 with its 2mb of RAM. After a month of bitching at my father, he finally bought me 2 more megs (a quite expensive upgrade at that time). The horror struck once more when i found out that in order to have all those amazing sound effects i needed a roland soundcard (or was it adlib?) and not the crappy soundblaster-compatible I had

  40. Niko says:

    ZX Spectrum was easy compared – you just had to have a good tape and adjust the tape player if needed. And maybe hit the computer lightly once or twice.

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      Jonfon says:

      And wiggle the power connector occasionally. For some reason my power supplies always seemed to get wonky, so any small touch would cut the power and lead to lots of yelling. Terrible when you’d spent 2 hours getting miles in Chuckie Egg 2.

      My most resounding PC memories are doing the Big Black (Atlantic Accelerator) in Syndicate by cycling through Shields, letting them mow each other down and detonating the Time Bombs they dropped. Think I had one Agent left by the end of it.

      I remember Syndicate ran perfectly on my 386 40Mhz, but was unplayable on my mates swanky 486.

      The despair when your Doom level would crash because you left a gap somewhere or a “wall” was facing the wrong way. God that editor was a nightmare.

      All those turn-based D&D games from the Pools of Radiance series. I remember stumbling around the body of some god, being harassed by plant-monsters.

      I’m 40 today and I’ve just logged onto Steam to buy myself something new, and nothing appeals to me. Bah!

      • Niko says:

        I guess I used the same Doom level editor, it used to crash quite often!

      • spacedyemeerkat says:

        Happy 40th for yesterday!

        I’m 41 now and have similar Spectrum memories to you. Long time ago and yet it somehow feels like yesterday.

  41. Laurentius says:

    Quiting Norton Commander to save some extra memory for some games to boot. Boot up menu for XMS and EMS. Boot disk DOS/4GW games. Still remeber most basic DOS commands. Making adaventure games with text graphics in Qbasic. Basicly I’ve never moved past it. Many DOS games are still unsurpassed by modern games.

    • n0m0n says:

      I mostly have fond memories of Norton Commander – copying floppies, managing files and backups plus loading drivers had never been so easy!

      It was especially great after installing a CD-rom drive to play all those 90+ games that my friend would burn onto a single CD (back when a blank cd-r ran at a price of some $15 and burning one took roughly an hour). No longer did I need to fiddle around with a massive stack of floppies! Norton Commander just made navigating all the sub folders on the CD so much easier! (Yes, I realize this was during the age of win95 and my 1.2GB hdd wth a pentium 120MHz processor was a beastly machine – but a lot of the games I played just ran so much better in a native boot to DOS rather than in a full windows boot).

      • Laurentius says:

        Oh yeah, I mean Norton Commander goes with MS-DOS like hand and a glove, and of course Norton Utilities, Norton Disk Docotr and constant scaning flopies for bad secotrs, whole big discussion took place which flopis are more prone to geting bad sectors, cheap ones or expensive: Verbatim, TDK or Dysan etc…

  42. Gassalasca says:

    arj x -yv *

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    Melloj says:

    On my first computer, a commodore PC-10, opening the DOS manual at “A” and trying out each command because the computer had not otherwise come without any games to entertain me.

    I don’t remember what it was, but there was a command whose description essentially read “Reverse input and display devices” I thought that was so cool, as my screen would somehow magically become an input device….yeah that didn’t go so well…..first time of many I had to reinstall Dos.

    BAD OR MISSING COMMAND.COM FILE

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    binkbenc says:

    I remember saving money from my paper round for ages to buy a second-hand VGA card. Finally, I was going to be able play games the way they looked in magazines, rather than how they looked on the family EGA PC… I had a lot to learn about hardware back then. It hadn’t even occurred to me that the new card might not fit on the motherboard. It was a couple of years before we got a new PC and I finally saw things in VGA. I think I still have the VGA card in the loft.

  45. ColdSpiral says:

    Tiny me loving Warcraft so, so much that when the sequel came out I horded my tiny pocket money for everr so that I could buy it.
    The day of unboxing. There’s the manual. A soundtrack cd (neat!). Some registration card and things I don’t care about. But the disk. Where’s the disk? Or disks, even? I’d heard some games were so big they had to split them across a couple of 3.5″s these days. But nothing.

    When I discovered the game was on the CD, which certainly wouldn’t go into my beige beast, I was devastated. Too old to cry about it (in public) but young enough to be utterly heartbroken by such a betrayal. Spent far too long poring over the manual (not that it helped, I remain terrible at RTS) in the weeks before we somehow sourced a CD drive.
    Not to mention the well-meaning but equally naive friend of the family who offered to try and copy the CD’s content onto floppies, and went through ~40 before he realised how many it was going to take…

    Those were the days.

  46. Highstorm says:

    Attempting to install MechWarrior 2 only to find it took 150 MB of disk space when my entire hard drive was a mere 86 MB. I was so dumbfounded. How could the game be bigger than my entire computer??

    And oh how it was worth it once I convinced my dad to upgrade the hard drive.

  47. MadTinkerer says:

    Finding the perfect graphics options to balance quality and framerate, by turning some, but not all, textures off.

    EDIT: Actually, my first computer was a Franklin 1200. (A Franklin 1200 is an Apple II clone.) I mostly used it to play Frogger because I was 6. I learned (GW)BASIC on a 286 a couple years later.

  48. Premium User Badge

    phuzz says:

    Having an Amiga I bypassed a lot of these problems, until I went to school and had to work out how to get the PCs there to play games.
    I particularly remember playing co-op Wolfenstine. Co-op in the sense that the two of us were both playing it, and saving the game to a shared drive, so as one of us got a bit further, we’d save, and the the other person could load and catch up.

    In the end, learning how to fix the computer so I could play a game lead to my current job of fixing computers for a living. Probably not quite what my folks imagined when they about that A500 for us to ‘do homework’ on, but it worked out ok for me.

    • thekelvingreen says:

      I wonder how many people got an Amiga “for homework”? I know that’s what my A1200 was for and what it was in fact never used for.

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        bonuswavepilot says:

        Yup, I had a 500 for ‘homework’ too… It did actually get a bit of homework done on it from time to time, but certainly nothing like the number of hours spent gaming. (Took me years past when it should have to move to PC, but it was hard to let go of the old Ami… Did anyone else every use a word processor called Final Copy? It was pretty good, but the provenance of a lot of my software at the time was pretty dodgy, so for all I know it might never have been officially released)…

  49. Premium User Badge

    Fitzmogwai says:

    Reading the minimum system requirements on the Syndicate Wars box and feeling physically ill. A CD-Rom drive? Madness! Insanity!