Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Playing old games

Some people made the totally justified comment in the DRM discussion that a DRM system could in some circumstances prevent you from reinstalling and playing a game in a couple of years. Yes, that is totally possible, and DRM systems should be designed to to expire, so this doesn't happen. But then the discussion got me thinking about my experiences with reinstalling and playing old games, which was universally bad. I have over a quarter of a century of computer game memories, and the nostalgia is strong, but trying to play an old game again is rarely a success.

The first problem is hardware. My first computers, in that order, were a ZX81, a ZX Spectrum, and an Amiga 2000. They simply don't exist any more, and it would be extremely hard to still find a working machine anywhere. The only way to play old games from these is to run some emulator software on your PC, but even then you can't use the game discs you bought back in the day, but need to find a pirated emulator ROM copy of the game. My first PC games came on 5¼-inch floppies, and it's hard to find a computer with such a drive nowadays. Hey, many new computers don't even have 3½-inch floppy drives any more!

The next problem is operating system and software. Not every DOS game can be made to run under Windows XP, even less Vista. In one hilarious experience I installed an old game once and found that the speed of the game was linked to the clock speed of the CPU. But as a modern CPU is several hundred times faster than an old IBM AT computer, and with the sprites moving hundred times faster over the screen the game was simply unplayable.

Even once you get an old game up and running, you are likely to be disappointed. One time I found my old disks of Master of Magic from Microprose back. Great game, I played it for hundreds of hours. But when reinstalled it, I simply couldn't stand the blocky 2D pixel graphics any more. Even gameplay has evolved over time: why would I want to play the first Civilization when I could play Civ IV? Many great games of the past have more modern equivalents, and even if some remakes go bad, a good number of them are equal in gameplay and better in graphics.

MMORPGs only go 10 years back, and games like Ultima Online or Everquest are still around. Some people even went back to EQ out of nostalgia. But personally I don't think I could play UO or EQ any more, the general quality of MMORPG gameplay and user-friendliness has *much* improved in those 10 years. I'm not going back to naked corpse runs, hell levels, and forced grouping.

My final problem with old games is that there are so many new games, and so little time. Especially with games like World of Warcraft taking up so much of my available computer game time, I simply never get around to go back to the old favorites. So when Van Hemlock said "I don't rent games", I had to admit that me, I do effectively just rent the games I buy. I buy them, install them, play them for a while, uninstall them, and never look back. In most cases that is still not such a bad deal, depending on how many hours of entertainment I got out of the game. And most books or DVDs I own I also read / watched just once. I have physical ownership and the theoretical possibility to reuse all these games, books, and DVDs, but in practice I never do.

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