Life is too short for old hardware

During some cleanup I found a bunch of old pc’s at my parents house. One of them was in the original casing from my first pc back from 1995. A nice Baby-AT case. It looks cute compared to todays bulky ATX cases.

I also found some old games: Phantasmagoria, Civilization 2, MDK 2, Populous 3 and Die by the Sword.

Unlike very old games for DOS, I haven’t been revisiting any of these games lately. DOS games are easy to run in DOSBOX and usually work great, but the games above are from that strange area during the late 90ies where everything related to computers skyrocketed. These games have great accelerated graphics using some of the first 3D graphics cards available. They have loads of data on CD-rom. They have great sound. But all this comes at a price: Hardware support.
DOSBOX, compatability mode etc. just doesn’t help if the game needs a Voodoo 2 card to run.

The plan was set. I was going to build these old PC’s into one big bad king of late 90’es games. Including windows 98 and everything!

Building

I dug through my collection of old hardware and decided to use the following for the beast:

  • A matsonic 6260s motherboard. One of the first to provide an AGP port. It’s ligtning fast and it even supports both AT and ATX power. And it supports SDRAM.
  • I also managed to find 3 SDRAM blocks that worked with the mainboard. A total of 640MB! (More than 20 times the amount needed to run any of these games.)
  • A 400MHz AMD K-3 CPU.
  • A Voodoo 2 graphics card. Unfortunately I could only find one. (This was the first card to provide SLI-mode.)
  • For standard graphics I found a Geforce 2. (A bit too new for the rest of the hardware, but what the heck.)
  • A sweeeeeeet Panasonic Slot in DVD drive. Why did these go out of fashion?
  • A 17 GB Samsung harddrive.
  • A soundblaster 128 sound card.
  • A 3Com 100Mbit network card.
  • A floppy drive.

It took me a good 6 hours to build this beast. RAM’s that didn’t work. The first floppy drive didn’t work.  Various bits and pieces that I needed to find were hidden deep in boxes of hardware. Cutting my fingers on the sharp edges of the old cases. Figuring out how these tiny cases could hold way more electronic boards than today’s systems. Making sure that jumpers in all sorts of places, were set correctly.

Windows installation

But finally it was complete. I then started the installation of Windows 98 SE. It was able to boot from the CD. I had completely forgotten that a Win9x installation usually starts with an FDisk and a format, so I was amazed when the installer asked if it should partition and format the drive for me. Alright, fine with me.

Unfortunately it meant the format business seriously, and did a full format taking 1.5 hours. ZZZzzzz.

Finally after installing I spent 4 hours looking for drivers. People who, back in the day, complained that XP didn’t provide anything new must have been crazy. Win98 doesn’t even tell you what the name of the device that needs a driver is. It just says: “Graphics card” or “multimedia device”. (I didn’t know at the time that the graphics card was a geforce.)

I had to get an old version of Everest Home to tell me what the PC consisted of.

Navigating the internet using Internet Explorer 5 really wasn’t too easy. Pretty much all pages resulted in errors, so no javascripts would run. This made it impossible to download drivers. Instead I had to get them from another PC.

Drivers

I started out with the graphics card and Nvidia still has a legacy section.  “This is easy” I thought, but I had another opinon after trying to find sound drivers. On a side note it was interesting that the GeForce 2 driver was only a ten megabyte download, where as the new Geforce 200 drivers comes at a whopping 145mb. Since technology has moved more and more into hardware I really wonder whats in those big driver packages today …

The mainboard has an onboard C-media CMI8330 Sound Pro chip, but even though C-media still exists, they only have a few downloads available of brand new sound chip drivers. Shame on you C-media!

Matsonic itself seems to have disappeared completely from the face of the earth… so no help there.

A lot of driverdatabases have the driver, or so they say. But really they only deep link into the nothingness of long gone support pages.

I finally found the driver, but after installation something was wrong. The sound didn’t work properly, and just looped constantly. I pulled the onboard cables out of the case, and disabled it in the bios. I then managed to fit the Soundblaster 128 into the last available PCI port. Creative was really big back in the day, so finding the driver for the Soundblaster was a breeze.

Finally after 10 hours of work the big bad gaming rig was ready for some games.

Games

Phantasmagoria

Phantasmagoria was apparently not really sure if it wanted to be a DOS game or a windows game. It did show a lot of different errors, and wanted to install lots of files in all kinds of wierd places on the root of the C drive. One thing was sure. This game was not going to work.

Civilisation 2

Civilisation 2 had a lot of install issues. But apparently this game was written with the general idea that “If it fails we wont tell the user.” Absolutely no matter which of the install / setup exe’s I ran… none of them did anything.

MDK 2

Finally something that installs. It even had support for both DirectX and Glide (For the Voodoo 2). I chose directX, because after all it was the fastest card. I was happy to see this game start, because I’ve owned it for many years, but its one of those that won’t work on XP no matter what.

The joy ended after 4 minutes when the game crashed. I tried again and it crashed. I switched to Voodoo graphics and was met by the amazing fact that even a Voodoo 2 does not support more than 800×600 unless its in SLI mode.

At least it worked and I played the game for an hour. I made a nice save game for someday when I’m going to continue 😀

Populous 3

This game wouldn’t even install from its own autorun menu. I was amazed by this because this is one of the games that you can actually run in Windows XP. (But it usually does not perform very well.)

I clicked on every install.exe I could find and finally got it installed. 🙂

BUT… populous had the same problem as Civilisation 2. It started, the hourglass showed up, and then … nothing.

I didn’t bother anymore with it, since I know this can be run on XP using special patches and installers.

Die by the Sword

I researched this on the internet before attempting to install. And in fact this game even runs on Windows 7!

So this game installed on my new Win7 machine and it played ok. But damn… it was ugly, and it was difficult. After playing for 30 minutes I couldn’t stand it anymore.

Youtube

I then just started “youtubing” for videos of my old games. Hexen, Heretic 2 and others. This turned out to be the most rewarding.
Pretty much all games can be found as a gameplay video on youtube. It only takes seconds, and it gives you the old retro feel of “Wow, I remember this!” and it gives you the realization of “… but its ugly, and the gameplay sucks.”

Conclusion

Good memories should be left the way they are …

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