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9Apr/110

This week's retro scan and discussion: Killer Rigs – CGW March 2001

Computer Gaming World is now defunct, but during the golden age of PC gaming it was my favorite gaming publication. I consider the golden age of PC games to have started with Wolfenstein 3D (about 1992) and ended just about the time Half Life was repackaged for the 10th time (about 2004).   By PC games I don't mean home computer games. Home computers games such as those on the Apple, Atari 8-bit, C=64, Ti, Tandy, Speccy, Atari ST, Amiga, and other various 8 and 16 bit micros probably started in 1979 and lasted until the Amiga breathed it last dying breath (to commercial masses that is) in about 1993. There is a slight overlap there (1992 - 1993) when the real transition was occurring.   This transition period saw EGA and Adlib (not better than the home computers) give way to VGA, SoundBlaster, and Cd-Rom ( better than most 16 / 32 -bit micro or console of the time).

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As a note to you 286 and Turbo XT Fans, yes, I should acknowledge that PC games did exist during the home computer era. We used to call these the CGA with Speaker-sound games.
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In any case, we can debate the golden years all day long (I'd love to, so put in a comment below, I'm open to redefine these years if you have a good argument). The year 2001 was the first year that I built my own PC from the ground up. This was because buying a commercial PC was so frigg'n expensive at the time.  The scan below is from the "Killer Rigs" section of CGW where they used to show the breakdown in price for both a "Power Rig" and a "Lean Machine". Most of us used the "Lean Machine" as our guide when building our own machines.

To some people 10 years ago is not retro, and normally I would not argue with you. To me though, 2001 seems 15 or 20 years ago. "Technology-Time"  is moving much faster it seems these days, so let's first take a look at some of the gaming technology highlights from this period in time to get an idea of just how long ago it was in "technology time" if not actual years: (March 2001)

1. The Playstation 2 had just launched in the USA 5 months prior (Oct 2000)

2.  The Game Cube would not yet be released for 5 months (September 2001)

3. The Original Xbox would not be released for 7 more months (November 2001)

4. Windows XP would not be released for 4 more more months (August 2001)

5. The original Nintendo DS would not be released for almost 3 and 1/2 more years (November 2004).

6. Sierra On-Line, one of the original 8-Bit computer game manufacturers from the '80s, was still in business. It would be gobbled and shuttered by Vivendi later in 2001.

7 . Some notable games that were first released in the year 2001: Bejeweled, Max Payne, Devil May Cry, Halo, Super Monkey Ball, Baldur's Gate Dark Alliance.

8. IE 5.5 was the dominant Microsoft Browser with IE 6 not released until August 2001 (5 months later).

9. Firefox would not even be announced until April of 2003, a full 2 years later. A working version would not be usable by the general public until 1.0 was released in November of 2004.

All of this points to March  2001 being a pretty pivotal time in the  history of PC gaming. This was the when 3D cards cost over $400 and had only 64MB of ram. Pushing polygons still required a pretty decent game engine written to take advantage of the unique features of the card. Direct X 8(a) and Open GL 1.4 were fighting over the 3D card market with some manufactures still only supporting one standard or the other.

Also, it was announced in the same issue of CGW (actually the opposite page to the Killer Rigs) nVidia and 3dfx had merged . These were the two biggest rivals at the time in the 3d card market, each setting high marks and standards that the other tried to surpass. This rivalry was one of the great reasons that Windows games and the PC technology grew by leaps and bounds during the later 1/2 of the golden age (1999 - 2004).

The March 2001 issue of CGW was also the 20 anniversay issue that included the history of computer games (both home and PC years). That is one reason why I still have a copy in my archives. While paging through it, I found the Killer Rigs cut out to be a very interesting read. So, here it is in all of its retro glory:

(8bitjeff is Jeff D. Fulton)

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