Tales of the Rampant Coyote

Adventures in Indie Gaming!

Last Year’s Treasure, Today’s Trash

Posted by Rampant Coyote on August 26, 2014

My new computer arrived last Tuesday. In a confession that might lose me geek cred, I’ve been so insanely busy that I didn’t even get it out of the box to test it out until the weekend.

Statwise – it’s got a quad-core Intel i5-4690k (which I admit, doesn’t mean that much to me anymore), an NVidia GTX 750 (more than adequate for playing Wasteland 2), 8 GB of RAM, and two 2-TB hard drives. Yes, I wanted lots of hard drive space. Oh, and it’s running Windows 7, 64-bit edition. I’m still skipping Windows 8.x.

When I say I can’t tell you how awesome it is, it’s because literally I don’t know. I know I’ve run into some memory issues lately, and it’ll be nice having almost twice as much usable hard drive space as my current system. I’m not officially switching over until after Comic Con (which is in a week and a half), so it’s not actually running much right now.

What’s amazing to me is that this whole box actually cost me less than my first Intel-based PC… even before adjusting for inflation (which would increase the cost from over 20 years ago by about +65%). And that was with a free hand-me-down hard drive back then. And putting the machine together myself, in one of those shops in the early / mid 90s that specialized in selling parts and letting you put your machine together there inside the store.

What was that awesome system back then? It was a 16 megahertz 386-SX/16, with 4 megs of RAM (I think the CPU in my new machine has twice that much in just cache), the aforementioned hand-me-down 40 meg hard drive, a VGA card, and a Covox sound card that nobody seemed to support directly (but it was at least compatible with the AdLib cards).

It was good enough to play Wing Commander I. And Ultima V. And a couple of roguelikes. And Turbo C++.  And Wolfenstein 3D. That was enough. Although I was really happy to upgrade the hard drive so that I could handle Wing Commander II (which was, if I recall correctly, something like 38 megs fully installed, not including the voice pack if you got it). Yes, these days I sometimes deal with photos or textures that are pushing that size, but back then, it was simply unfathomably huge.

I’m not gonna lie… as much as I loved that era of gaming – the simplicity, the creativity, the newness of it as game developers kept finding new ways of using the ever-expanding technology… like everyone else, I’d not want to go back. It’s a weird thing now that – at least as far as indies are concerned – technology is no longer much of a barrier. The machines are way more powerful than what we have the budgets to take advantage of. But going beyond the technological limitations, it was probably the most difficult platform to use as a gamer. The amount of tweaking and configuring and compatibility issues we had to deal with back then…. sheesh.

It’s just fun looking back sometimes and seeing how far we’ve come.

Filed Under: Geek Life - Comments: 5 Comments to Read

  • JT said,

    I remember when I first started programming games, I started on an 8086 with Hercules monochrome graphics. Begged, pleaded, cajoled, threatened, blackmailed and finally convinced my dad to buy an early VGA card so I could have 256 colors (256 COLORS! YEAH!) and ModeX. Started programming some tile-based games with all of the complex, in-depth understanding of assembly that a fifteen year old has (almost nil). The screen redrew so slowly that you could take a bite of your sandwich while waiting for it to finish, but it didn’t matter because what I had made was totally awesome. It took me weeks to hammer out the drawing routines to where they ran quickly enough to make a playable game, and when I finally got it running at interactive rates… the next generation of hardware made all my efforts obsolete.

    Nowadays, even a raw beginner can get polygons blazing across the screen in the first couple days of playing with graphics programming, and the underlying details of raw memory transfers and bit blitting are lost topics. As fun as it was, I wouldn’t go back to those days even if you paid me.

  • Rampant Coyote said,

    Aw, man, that totally warms my heart.

    And YES. There’s a cool factor in that, in the whole raw, pioneering spirit kind of way. But while there’s something cool about working on such a low level with stone-age (by computer age standards) tools, I’ll stick with what I’ve got, too, thanks. It’s why I realized I wanted to make games and not game engines. While I enjoyed both, the latter was where my heart was, and I’ll take the best tools I can afford, thanks…

  • McTeddy said,

    Heh, I remember when I was learning to program. I didn’t have this new-fangled internet that young people today have!

    I remember having the same issues with the slow redraw screen until one day I’m playing solitaire (With REAL cards) and realized that all I need to do is redraw the tiles that changed! I was a genius.
    Suddenly a blazing fast tile engine that didn’t flicker and hurt my eyes was within my reach! (Unknown to me their were much better ways to accomplish it)

    While I’m grateful that I learned to solve problems on my own… I’m grateful that I Google can solve them faster.

  • Xian said,

    These posts bring back some memories. I started programming on an Atari ST with Atari ST Basic, but then switched to GFA Basic. GFA was the first Basic I can remember that eschewed line numbers and forced you into writing more structured code. I experienced the same thing with slow screen redraws at first, but learned to use the Bmove command (Binary Move) for moving sections of memory around rapidly. The Atari ST had a memory mapped display – the start of the screen was always at a certain memory location, and GFA Basic even supported some form of pointers. After learning that, it was easy to move a section of memory to screen memory or another part of screen memory to a different part of the screen in short order.

  • Anon said,


    If I only had a nice 16/32-bit 68000 CPU with mulitply instructions and more than 64K address space and a disk drive when I started – you fellas had it so good…

    But Jay is of course right: Yesterday’s treasue is today’s trash.

    Think about that: Today’s kids start on a 64-bit platform with a fully graphical operating system, mostly graphical development systems (well…), terabytes of storage, super-high resolution screens with 24-bit color (usable!), 7-channel sound and playing games we couldn’t even dream about in the 80ies (let alone 70ies).

    And all of this they take for granted, those ungrateful little buggers!

    But what will they tell in 30 years from now?

    “Hey, folks, remember? When we had these big boxes at our desks and those bulky screens, 10 milimeters thick?”
    “Yeah, right! Thank God we can now choose between three types of temple implants to interface with the visual cortex…”

    And what will the kids born in 30 years tell another 30 years later?

    “Remember? When there were those concepts of “hardware” and “software” instead of the linkchip they implant after birth to connect to the hive?”…