Beyond the Mind's Eye - Thoughts & Insights from Marriott_GuyBeyond the Mind's Eye - Thoughts & Insights from Marriott_Guy

Posted on Oct 27th 2010 at 07:27:40 PM by (Marriott_Guy)
Posted under MGs Game Take, MGs Gaming Take, PC Gaming

Gaming Flashback
Vintage PC Gaming & Memory Management

After enduring countless badgering sessions from my lady friend, I finally relented this past weekend and agreed to clean up her computer.  Mind you I am not a selfish person, but she is rather "download" happy and I was relatively sure this stint was not going to be a quick enema of the Startup menu.  Sad to say, I was not disappointed.

After adjusting her desk chair for normal human use (she is only 5' tall), I proceeded to fire up her PC and was greeted (after 5 minutes of boot time) with a plethora of system tray icons - 18 in total!  Her system was so crippled and memory starved that ToolTips displayed after a 20 second delay.  Needless to say I was disgusted by this mess, but at the same time rather invigorated by the challenge of freeing up precious RAM for this abused Compaq Presario.  The task at hand reminded me of the old days when memory management and PC gaming went hand-in-hand.

I bought my first personal computer back in 1989, an IBM PC compatible Packard Bell 386. This set me back $1,689 and truly had me living on white bread and generic peanut butter for the entire 12 month financing period. I didn't care - PC Gaming (at that time) blew away anything that was available on the consoles. I assumed that software for this new device would be basically like their console counterparts (plug-n-play), just with vastly superior graphics and game play.  I dove into this technological pool head first with eager anticipation.  My exuberance quickly changed to one of confusion after installing my first game, Quest for Glory I: So You Want To Be A Hero.  Upon typing in the executable command (there were no menus back then), I was greeted with the DOS text message: "Insufficient memory to perform requested operation", quickly followed by:

Just like a blank Word document is to an author with writer's block, this flashing prompt was intimidating to say the least.  To this computing nubile, this was the modern day equivalent of the Windows Blue Screen of Death.  I had no idea how to respond to that relentless blinking cursor.  A lesson was quickly learned while I blankly stared at the monochrome display: a certain proficiency in the abstruse DOS language would be required if I wanted to partake in PC Gaming.

You have to remember that Windows (or Mac/Linux/etc.) was not a standard in 1989 - it was basically DOS. There were no memory optimization programs at the time. You were left to your own devices to configure the allocation of this precious resource known as RAM.  There was but one method available to monitor this critical component - the beloved MEM command (sample shown below).

The key for early PC Gaming was to free as much Conventional Memory as possible, while ensuring that you still loaded your various device drivers (mouse, CD drive, sound card, etc.).  This was accomplished by the editing of two critical system files - Autoexec.bat and Config.sys.  Let me tell you, this was not an easy task and was basically a trial and error procedure.  I won't bore you with the details, but for nostalgic purposes and as a tribute to us old farts here is a sample screen shot.

Basically it became a game of Tetris while you juggled various commands/drivers into the High Memory Area to relieve the strain on the core resources of the system for applications.  This "Quest for Memory" became almost an obsession during the era of vintage PC gaming.  I vividly remember the first time I was able to get my Conventional Memory above the magical 600KB threshold - man was I stoked!!

Though it is true that managing RAM is just as important in today's modern age of PC Gaming, I can't really say that I received the same level of satisfaction once I got done lobotomizing my lady friend's computer.  Sure, I was happy with the end result but it did not resonate the pure joy that accompanied like accomplishments back in the day.

After this past weekend, I am glad that this mundane task is not as arduous as it once was.  That being said, the pure adrenaline rush that I experienced in finally being able to fire up Quest for Glory will always hold a special place in my heart. 

Thanks for taking a trip down the PC Gaming memory lane with me.


What are your fond memories of vintage PC Gaming?

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Oh man.  I remember having to disable my soundcard to have enough ram for Kings Quest 3 to even think about loading.  It never fully loaded on that old pc but now that I think about it, I think my girlfriends sewing machine could run it. 
Playing Wolfenstein 3D in DOS when I was 4 years old. Fun times.

I also remember playing this was a sort of 2D platformer/adventure game. Not a lot of text, but each level was sort of like a puzzle to get to the end. And you needed to collect crystals for points. And there were spears dropping from the ceiling when you stepped below them. Man, I'd love to play that game again.
My family got our first computer in 1996 (I think). Pentium 133MHz, 16MB EDO RAM, and 1.5GB hard drive with Windows 95 to run it all. I didn't have to do much as far as editing autoexec.bat and config.sys files, but I remember Jane's AH-64D Longbow being a big pain in the butt to get going. Glad that Madden '97 and Duke Nukem 3-D worked great! How lucky was I to get Duke Nukem 3-D for my 14th birthday!
Stunt Driver... Stunt Driver was awesome and still is awesome.
My first PC was a Mac Performa 450 in '93 had a 68030 CPU @ 25mhz (I upgraded it to a whole 8mb of ram and a stunning 756k of vram) my toaster probably has more processing power now. Still it has enough go in it to run Marathon

Apart from the odd extension conflict, installing games on it was actually easier than on my current winxp PC as there was no messing around with updating or rolling back drivers, DRM and all the other joys of modern PC gaming.
Thanks for the trip back to what I like to call the "Dark Ages" (a reference to the dark background of the DOS screen!!)  I remember all of this all too well, my first system was a 286 AT Clone made by Telesys.  512k, monochrome monitor, 5-1/4 inch floppy drive & an upgraded hard-drive.  I went for the 20 meg drive at great expense.  Managing memory in those days seemed more like a black art then a science.
Remember having to fight with all of this. My first PC was an At&T 286 with awesome CGA graphics and 2 MB of RAM. Configuring these files was cryptic, but I remember using a program called QEMM at one point that seemed to be easier. There are still many things I use the command prompt for even today since those commands are still burned into my brain.
Sigh... Scooters Magic castle, mickey mouse, wing commander: privateer, ultima 6, dungeon hack, legends of valour...

I was born in 89 and by 92 i was playing dos games like my dad. I was a purely computer gamer until junior high when i got my gamecube. i was pretty stoked when i found out alot of old computer games also came out for early nintendo systems.

...and now i want to play dungeon hack
Sounds like a great many varied experiences from everyone.  Another thing I forgot to mention was that RAM was extremely expensive back then - around $50 for 1 MB. 

I remember those 286 units, where there was no OS included and you had to boot/load DOS from one of those 5.25 floppies  Smiley  I think the system I was working on was a Compaq "portable" - the one where the keyboard flipped up and covered the screen/drive when taking that beast on the road.  Man - that tiny monitor still gives me headaches just thinking about it.
I love Quest For Glory. I remember playing at my friend John's house. We all played the same save, trading off whenever someone died. Good times...
I had a similar experience, although it all began with DOOM for PC with me getting into the autoexe.bat and config.sys files, I had those babies lean and mean, even the order in which they were loaded was tweaked to the max, ah yes I remember those days...
Our first computer was an IBM with Windows 3.1 (I think) from the early 90's, I remember having to type in something like "run windows" and do some other things just to boot it up. My favorite game at the time was something like "Mickey's Number Land".
Great memories for us computer nerds. My first computer was a relatively powerful 386DX (albeit no soundcard or speakers), and I used something called Norton Commander as an OS (there was a very similar alternative at some point, FAR Manager). So fortunately for me most of the time the games ran fine without adjusting memory or other settings.

DOS games are my childhood. I have not owned a console until I was about 16, in 2003, and it was an Xbox (not my choice, a present).
I love the comments about what current day, simple objects have more processing power than these first computers we played/worked on (sewing machine, toaster).  Those made me chuckle quite a bit.

Let's keep this going for a few more laughs... What other every day items could blow away our early gaming PCs (besides cell phones and multimedia items)?

I'll add the first couple - my microwave and dishwasher  Smiley
Mechwarrior 4: Mercenaries, not exactly "vintage" but it won't run on my up-to-date computer.
I'd say your car (well, any modern car) is more technological than the early gaming PCs. Oh, and this refrigerator:
I got my first PC rather late in the game. 98 Compaq Presario.

It was highly advanced compared to pretty much everything listed here.
A couple years later i started making Frankenstien PCs. 10 years later i still have the same 2 PCs that are woefully outdated even by the standards of 10 years ago.
I grew up with the families Tandy "Something Or Other" back in the 80's up until we got a Packard Bell in '94 and some of my favorite gaming memories where on that computer! SimCity, the already mentioned Quest for Glory 1 (Still one of my favorites of all time) and the massive (at the time) "The Battle Of Britain: They're finest hour" by the then named Lucas Games.

Keeping with the game... Ive got a automotive multi-meter (for checking ohms/amps, spark etc) that im pretty sure is way more advanced then anything pre-96 and it cost me a whopping $75!!
I was joking when I said the toaster out powers the CPU in my old mac, but it turns out the ARM processor in the washing machine really is more powerful
man, I was just getting nostalgic over this like last week! I was flipping through the manual for The 7th Guest and couldn't help chuckling over the pages of recommended autoexec.bat and config.sys settings. Man, that stuff used to be such a pain. Each computer game was its own challenge. But man, I was good at that stuff! I was a little peeved when Windows got rid of DOS entirely and you didn't need to tinker with anything anymore.

Of course, now I have Steam and everything is just done for me and I have no problem with it. Modern conveniences have made me lazy!
I would be willing to bet the programmable thermostat in my house out powers my first PC.  Those programmable remote controls like Harmony are also a good candidates.
Mine was an old 286-Dx, played only very basic games and mostly educational (my father wanted me to learn something about this, not just play). Still, I keep good memories of these games, I kept all of them.

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