I grew upwards every bit an Atari estimator fan, beginning with an 800 organization that I ran a Bulletin board system on, and so with a 16-bit 520ST that became my master system by the showtime of high school. But by the tardily 1980s, I knew Atari was headed for trouble again, so I decided to become my commencement MS-DOS automobile. Back and then, anybody thought of the IBM PC and its clones as business computers, just the platform’s gaming prowess had risen steadily throughout the decade. With a shiny new 286 slimline desktop PC—a Vendex Headstart III, which no one today volition take heard of—I plunged headfirst into all manner of awesome DOS games, many of which had just begun to take advantage of the latest sound cards and VGA graphics. Gaming only got amend from there.
I knew I had to write a book about this amazing fourth dimension, back when the PC establish its footing and became the dominant platform for computer gaming. The result of some 18 months of hard piece of work,
Starflight: How the PC and DOS Exploded Calculator Gaming
narrows in on seven crucial years in the PC’south history. Before the tardily ’80s, gaming on PCs had paled in comparison with the diverse libraries, powerful audio chips, broad color palettes, and hardware sprites and scrolling plant in competing computer platforms such every bit the Commodore 64 and Amiga, the Atari 800 and ST, the Apple IIGS, and even the Macintosh. But by 1990, the PC took the lead and never gave it back. All other competitors either disappeared in the side by side few years, or they stayed niche forever (in the case of the Mac).
Looks at the Rise of DOS Gaming
Why did that happen? How did it happen? The first chapter of
steps quickly through the PC’south design, introduction, and kickoff several years on the market place amid a sea of clones, including IBM’southward influential AT and the much-publicized failure of the PCjr and PS/ii lines. Then the book dives in deep and goes twelvemonth by year with detailed write-ups of more than than 110 of the well-nigh meaning and trailblazing DOS games ever made, in tandem with the PC’s ever-improving hardware specs and how they translated into game performance. Information technology covers hardware developments such equally Intel CPUs from the 8088 through the original Pentium, the rise of EGA and VGA graphics, and the advent of AdLib, Audio Blaster, and Roland MT-32 sound.
But the games themselves are the heart of the volume. It includes titles as groundbreaking and diverse every bit Space Quest: The Sarien Encounter, Battle Chess, Wasteland, The Undercover of Monkey Isle, Ultima Half dozen: The False Prophet, Stunts, Commander Bully, Civilization, Lemmings, Falcon three.0, Star Control II, Ultima Underworld, World Circuit, Epic Pinball, X-Com: UFO Defense, Magic Carpet, Raptor: Call of the Shadows—and of class, Doom and Doom Two: Hell on Globe. And dozens more.
Starflight: How the PC and DOS Exploded Computer Gaming 1987-1994Starflight: How the PC and DOS Exploded Reckoner Gaming 1987-1994 is available now in print and Kindle formats from Amazon, and it will soon be available for club in retail stores the world over. Here’due south a free extract; I promise y’all savour it.
Starflight: How the PC and DOS Exploded Computer Gaming 1987-1994
Starflight: How the PC and DOS Exploded Estimator Gaming 1987-1994By Jamie LendinoPages 172-174
(Origin, September 1990)
Chris Roberts reimagined space combat with Wing Commander, a key milestone in 1990 cementing the PC’southward high-cease gaming status. No other title looked, sounded, or played like it, in big office thanks to its lustrous 256-color VGA graphics support and incredible, center-pounding soundtrack. As a fighter pilot in the twelvemonth 2654, you (the bluish-haired protagonist) had to run a series of air missions confronting the catlike Kilrathi warrior race to defend the Terran Federation.
The game was an event correct from the first. It began with a view from backside an orchestra tuning up and beginning a performance, only to display fireworks and the Origin logo on-screen. So the title sequence played, complete with orchestral fanfare and cinematic opening credits. You started the campaign playing the “trainsim” in the lounge, noted past its early on-’80s-style, 8-flake video game music, and y’all died instantly. It’southward important to convey merely how novel this was in 1990, to not only see this theatrical-style introduction and other sequences, merely to then begin the adventure playing a 3D “video game” simulation that wasn’t the real game yet. Information technology was next-level stuff in a time when 2D beat-‘em-ups and run-and-gun shooters still populated arcades.
Between missions, yous talked to other pilots or the lounge’southward bartender, headed to the barracks to save your progress, and and then attended the next mission briefing. Once you received your marching orders, the game displayed a side view of you and your wingmate running to the deck to board your ships and accept off. During each mission, y’all navigated to unlike points in infinite from the briefing using autopilot. In one case there, y’all either encountered your next objective or establish some new enemies in infinite to defeat.
None of the battles were easy. Even lower-rung enemy ships were piloted by smart Kilrathi who knew how to perform evasive maneuvers. Leading a mission too meant y’all as well had to give orders to your wingmate using the on-board communication system. Going higher up and beyond in a mission earned y’all medals and promotions, and you earned the run a risk to wing four ships during the campaign: the Hornet, Scimitar, Rapier, and Raptor, each with increasingly desirable characteristics.
The VGA graphics displayed sharp cockpit and external views and scalable bitmaps with texture mapping that meant enemy ships became more than detailed equally you closed in. If you had a 386 CPU, the game displayed your paw moving the flying stick in the cockpit, making Wing Commander the starting time AAA title to take advantage of 32-bit PC processors.
Some earlier titles toyed with the idea of adaptive music—notably Ballblazer, an early Lucasfilm game for the Atari 800. Simply no one had put it to such strong effect as George “The Fat Man” Sanger and David Govett did here. Engage an enemy and the music instantly became a bit more urgent and ominous. Your pulse quickened. Yeah, you knew it was nigh to get down. Plunge into a close dogfight, and the music rose further in intensity, with a staccato string section and thunderous timpani. The score weaved in dissimilar musical phrases where the melody, chords, and dynamics mirrored how well or poorly yous were doing, a marked deviation from the usual, repeating “level music” in near games.
This ebb and flow extended to the campaign itself. Every bit yous completed missions successfully, you closed in on the Kilrathi High Command. But if you failed to meet your objectives, the Terran Federation before long found itself on the defensive, ultimately fighting for its survival. Die in battle and you’d get a spectator at your own funeral, complete with a laser salute every bit your coffin sailed off into infinite.
The attractive black box featured better-than-existent-life graphics on the front. This never made sense to me, as Wing Commander’south real graphics were already astounding. Inside were the transmission and
Claw Marks, a magazine designed to look like something you’d read on the deck of the TCS Tiger Claw, the war machine battleship yous and the other pilots were stationed on. The box also included blueprints for the four fighter ships y’all could fly.
A Masterpiece, and a Turning Indicate
Wing Commander won a ton of awards and Origin released 2 PC expansion packs, called Wing Commander: The Secret Missions and Wing Commander: The Secret Missions two: Cause, both of which were well received. Origin also ported the game to the Amiga, Super Nintendo, CD32, and Sega CD, but none were as proficient as the PC original. On a scale of one to v stars,
magazine famously awarded Wing Commander six, something it had never washed before. Difficult to become more emphatic than that.
Jamie LendinoJamie Lendino is PCMag’s executive editor for features. He is also the author of numerous other vintage computer and gaming books, including
Attract Mode: The Rise and Autumn of Coin-Op Arcade GamesAttract Mode: The Rise and Autumn of Money-Op Arcade Games and
Adventure: The Atari 2600 at the Dawn of Panel GamingAdventure: The Atari 2600 at the Dawn of Panel Gaming.