I bought my first computer in 1986 when I was studying computer science at Bloomsburg University. It was an Epson Equity II and at the time it was a mid-range desktop meaning its processor was not the worst but not the best either. It's hard to believe that was 27 years ago and that the desktop revolution is almost as old as my adulthood which is a thought for another column. Suffice it to say, I along with my peers learned a great deal in those early days.
First although most computers seemed the same, the variations in their chipsets (think wiring) caused early software to have compatibility problems. While the computer was used primarily for school this discrepancy was much more apparent in a related leisure activity, computer games. The requirements for video and sound made the incompatibilities in the early days much more visible and annoying. My roommate Charlie had an IBM XT and while the chips in them were supposed to be the same the graphics cards and chipsets made game playing challenging. Software that worked on his machine did not work on mine and vice versa.
Fortunately we worked around it and we also found computer games to be stimulating and distracting. Most of us have a list of computer games that are our favorites or that stand out in our minds as being our own hall of fame so to speak. I was thinking as I remembered our beginnings what those important titles are to me. One side note is many of the computers I purchased throughout my career were to enhance my game playing experience as well as polishing my skills. So what were the games that stand out in my mind?
The first games that really intrigued me were the puzzle/adventure games like Space Quest and Leisure Suit Larry. These two Sierra Games titles required ingenuity and creative thinking to solve and kept us busy for several weeks. Later I also played some of the Police Quest titles as well. We also tried to play King's Quest III but without the manual we were unable to crack the data needed to create spells which shelved the title for us.
After graduation when I moved to Philadelphia for a few years, I met the Electronics Boutique and its wealth of software. The one title that stands out from those years was one that changed my love of gaming, Sim City. This Maxis title led to a love affair with their games. Computer games are like movies in that when they are first released, they are quite expensive but if one waits for a few years the prices typically decrease as newer titles take their places. Most software I was more than content to wait for more affordable prices, but the Maxis titles were an exception. Each of those were purchased soon after release because they were so innovative and clever. In the case of SimCity, it opened up the realm of empire building and was more a toy and less a game. The object was to build a city and make it thrive by managing zoning, taxes and infrastructure. Your goals could be as varied as possible and there was no one way to win. One could decide to compete for a population of a certain size or wealth or both.
The issue with it for me though was my video card could only show four colors and while I was used to the lack of realism, I soon saved enough to purchase a newer machine. The first thing I did was load SimCity and admire the 16 colors I could now see in the graphics. I also purchased a new title from a company for whom I wanted to work, Microprose.
The game was Midwinter and it was really cool. The object was to liberate an island from a fascist enemy, but the designers used vehicles as the primary mechanic to accomplish your goals. You were able to fly hot air balloons, planes, cars, trucks, boats and much more. The game kept me busy for most of the summer in which I was convalescing from a car accident. I don't believe I ever really finished it, but it was neat.
The next title was another Maxis title, SimLife. This was a genetics playground in a box. It's premise was that you were able to design the genetic makeup of plants and animals or use prebuilt ones to populate a planet and then watch to see if your genetic manipulation was a success or a failure. Its editors and toolset gave one the opportunity to model all types of behaviors and traits which made it fascinating. The one issue was that it was so intensive it would slow my computer down so much that it became more difficult to play properly. Fortunately, I was able to just upgrade my memory and motherboard to improve its performance and the game experience.
That computer lasted for several years until it became obsolete. At that time it was so sluggish, it really could not run the software needed for the late 1990s so my next computer was a Gateway and with it I purchased a title called "Age of Empires". This was a building and strategy game that required one to manage the resources of a civilization to nurture and build it to a state of domination over its computer opponents. This was accomplished by mining resources and building improvements in your societies as well as building a military to dominate your automated opponents. This game was extremely challenging and educational with regard to other cultures and technologies.
Soon this game play would change yet again as the Internet became a mainstay of our households and with that advance, software would move to new heights as would my later title choices.
Til next time…