Memories of Gaming 1997-2003

3dfx logo - a symbol of quality
3dfx logo – a symbol of quality

Memories of Gaming 1997-2003 by Honorabili

Around the year 1997, I started to go a lot to ebgames to buy a lot of PC games. Rather than go for whatever was the top title that week, I would always check out what games they had for sale in their bargain bin. I did buy hit games like Carmageddon, Fallout 1, Master of Orion 2, and Grand Theft Auto 1 but for the most part from 1997 til about 2003, I stuck to buying cheap games. The bargain bin had a lot of failed games that were either bad or had failed in their marketing and distribution and nobody knew about them or they were simply budget titles that did not have the best graphics but had awesome enough gameplay that they got released.

My criteria for buying these games was that they had to cost usually about $1-10. For me to buy one that was $15, it had to have been highly recommended or praised. This shopping included buying used copies of games as well. I also bought a lot of stuff based on the brands of developers and publishers. Almost anything that got made by Microprose and Interplay was bought for sure. They were my favorite company in those years up until Brian Fargo lost control of the company and Herve Caen destroyed the company. Because I would still play the popular titles at the time but I would also played a ton of obscure and lost titles, I gained a good understanding as to why games and gaming companies fail. As far as Microprose goes, went they got liquidated I remember buying all of their games (multiple copies too) for 25 cents a piece!

Back in 97-03, my life consisted of going to college, hanging out with my friend Bruce and little brother, watching a ton of VHS movies which we usually rented from Future Video or Hollywood video (both are out of business now), playing a ton of video games, and buying video games almost every weekend. Usually Bruce or my brother and I would go and scout out 3-4 stores at a time seeing which ones had the best deals and stock. We would go a lot to The Falls, Miami International Mall, Dadeland, and later Dolphin Mall. I usually had a policy of buying at least one game each time I went into those stores, even if it was a crappy $1-2 game (of which I bought plenty of!). I remember one time that Bruce and I went in to buy what was either Fallout 2 or Carmageddon 2 and we ended up walking out with about $300-400 of cheap games.

After buying a bunch of these games, we would test out a bunch on the crappy LAN we built using our main machines which were initially powered by AMD K6-2’s and our bitch computers usually were a bunch of trade-ins I got from my PC repair/building business that were Celerons or Pentium I’s or 686’s. Sometimes we would just setup multiplayer games of a specific game to see if we could get it to run because maybe the multiplayer component of a game was utter crap.

I remember very well when I tried to run Carmageddon 1 on my AMD 486 DX-4 100 Mhz and the game was a slide-show. Quickly after that I jumped to my AMD K6-2 266 Mhz with 128 MB of RAM and a Diamond Stealth 2000 video card tied to a Creative 3dfx Voodoo 2 with 4 MB of RAM. I got addicted to Glide games quickly… Thanks to my gaming I got a lot of orders for gaming computers which paid for my college and taught me more about the real business world than many classes I took and books I read ever were able to show me.

What I like about 97-03 was that I saw the explosion of graphics acceleration for PCs. We also experienced the graphics acceleration and CPU wars. Some casualties of the graphics acceleration were were 3dfx, S3 and PowerVR. Some victims of the CPU wars were Centaur, Cyrix, and VIA. I remember the race to hit 1 Ghz with AMD hitting it stable with their Athlon and Intel’s 1 Ghz P3 being a complete mess that melted. A lot of hardware that comes to mind of these days are: 3dfx, the TNT 2, Voodoo 2 and 3, AMD K6-2 and K6-3, Pentium 2 & 3, Athlon and Athlon XP, Matrox, ATI vs nVidia, Radeons vs GeForce cards, AMD vs Intel, SDRAM & DDR, PC100 & PC133, introduction of SATA drives, introduction of RAID to gaming PCs.

Around these years we also started to see a differentiation between the kind of gamers that were attracted to PC gaming vs console gaming. I also began to see that for PC gaming some years were good strong years and some years just about nothing good came out.

In these years we also saw a giant growth in the availability of better broadband and the explosion of the internet (and the dot com bubble burst). In terms of gaming this improved multiplayer games and the availability of pirated software and games. We saw stuff like Scour and Napster and WinMX rise and fall. Then came torrents, which are still going strong.

Apart from the usual pirated games, we saw the rise of emulation. Emulation has always been around just about, even in the 60s and 70s with mainframes trying to emulate rival companies operations. Certainly around the time the AMD K6-2 and Intel Pentium II were commonly available we saw a lot of good NES and SNES emulation, as well as Sega Genesis, and even c64 (which doesn’t take much to run) and the Amiga emualators (which took a lot to run when they first came out). Playstation 1 emulators were out, as well as Nintendo 64 but initial performance and availability of these was terrible. Around this time I got to know well sites such as zophar.net. You also saw the growth of MAME and ROMs for all sorts of systems going around.

These years also saw an explosion in video game and computer music remixing. I even took part of this, even killing RKO, the home of c64 remixes. General video game remixing blew up on sites such as OverClocked Remix. I made a lot of good friends at remix64 and micromusic.

Some PC gamers in 1997-2003 were either of the camp that cared only for framerates (FPS junkies) or image quality. Around the late 90s, I felt that 3dfx had the best graphics but lowest frame rates, then came ATI, and with nVidia having highest frame-rates but lower quality renders.

We also saw around these years the rise of the mp3/ogg files. Many games before used proprietary sound formats and also a lot of MOD tracker formats. CD quality audio became a standard for games around this time. Initial games at this time had actual CD audio tracks incorporated into the game CDs.

Other trends include the further increase of popularity of first person shooters in the form of the Doom games, Quake series, Unreal Tournament series, Half-Life, Counterstrike, Medal of Honor and Call of Duty, Far Cry, etc. We saw just about the death of turn based strategy games and the explosion of more real time strategy games. Although Ultima Online was around, then came the explosion of Everquest (which made me a lot of money), and other MMOs.

Conclusion:

These were great times for gaming for my friends and I because back then we had the time to do it. Later on complications such as girlfriends and wives and shitty jobs and children interfered with our hobby. The equivalent of me getting cheap games these days are the Steam sales and the gog.com sales. I have enough old games that I can relive parts of the old days any day I want! (well, except having my old friends to LAN it up with)

Things an Old School Gamer should remember

To keep it simple we will classify an old school gamer as someone who has been gaming from the time of the Atari 2600 to the release of the Playstation one and all the computer innovations in-between. Personally I believe a true gamer plays both PC and Console so this list will encompass both sides of the gaming coin.

Coaxial cable
Coaxial cable

1: Coaxial Cables

This may be super geek to some, but before the smaller thinner Ethernet cables we use today and long before wireless, people who wanted to network had to use coaxial cables. These were direct PC to PC connections using the cables and only offered 10Mbps of transfer speed, but for the games of the time it was more than enough.

2: The NES Advantage Controller

NES Advantage
NES Advantage

First off it looked and felt like the controllers at the arcade and when the first fighting games made its way onto the NES this controller was perfect for them. The advantage featured adjustable turbo buttons, a slow motion feature (that mostly didn’t work) and you could share it in two player games since it plugged into both ports and you could select Player 1 or Player two on the controller.

3: The Atari 800 Floppy Drive

Atari 810
Atari 810

There was a war of sorts between the Atari computers and the Amiga ones and then you had the snobby Commodore 64 folks. (I kid, I kid) Before I got my Amiga my cousin gave me his Atari 800 computer the floppy drives and a boat load of games, I was in heaven.

The floppy drive used single-sided 5 1/4-inch floppy disks, holding 90K of data on a disk. The data was transferred in serial format at 19200 baud. When this first came out it was priced around six hundred dollars.

4: Sears Tele-Games 2600 (Atari 2600 clone)

Sears Video Arcade machine
Sears Video Arcade machine

Back in the day Sears sold everything under their own name and in 1975 Sears released the Sears Video Arcade. It was identical to the 2600 and you could play Atari 2600 games on it and vice versa. Sears and Atari worked together so it wasn’t anything underhanded. In fact Atari made some games exclusively for the Sears system under the Tele-Games name.

It was often an insult point to attack someone who had the Sears version and not the original Atari 2600, but we were stupid kids. By the way I had the real one so pfffft!

5: Voodoo 2 in SLI

STB Voodoo 2 SLI card
STB Voodoo 2 SLI card

Sure today you can get more than enough gaming power out of a sub one hundred dollar card, but back in the day if you wanted to be a badass you had dual Voodoo 2’s in SLI mode. For those that don’t know the Voodoo 2 was a 3D graphics card from 3dfx interactive. At the time the Voodoo series of cards were the must have for any PC gamer. When the Voodoo 2 came out everyone wanted one and if you had the money you would get two and connect them together in what is called SLI.

It was the Voodoo 2 that introduced Scan-Line Interleave or SLI to the PC gaming universe. When you connected two Voodoo 2 cards together they would each draw half the scan lines for the screen, this meant much more power and better 3D acceleration for your games. However, most of the games at the time it was first released didn’t really take advantage of the SLI mode. There was a difference, but it wasn’t a game changer, but as newer more graphic intensive games came out it showed its worth and power.

Did I miss something?

Oh there is much more to come, this is only a small sample of the things an old school gamer should remember. Stay tuned for the next addition, but in the meantime what do you think should be on this list?