Throwback Thursday Tech Floppy-Disk Gaming Edition

Journey back to the days when gaming involved blocks of pixels and CGA graphics

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We’re at home again this Thursday, so we’re digging deep into the storage boxes to come up with this week’s entry.

I’ve always been an avid video gamer - I collected enough money (babysitting, mowing lawns, etc.) to buy an Atari 2600 in the late ‘70s (or early ‘80s, my memory fades just a bit), but it really took off for me in the late 1980s with the arrival of the IBM PC that my father had purchased (and since I could start affording more games with my part-time jobs, etc.)

Back then, you could visit a mall and head to “The Electronics Boutique” or “Babbage’s” (precursors to GameStop) to see a variety of games being sold on 5.25-inch (or “five-and-a-quarter-inch”) floppy disks, all packaged together quite nicely in hard cardboard boxes. We were years away from the Sony PlayStation and Xbox gaming consoles (although Nintendo was around with its Nintendo Entertainment System), and PC gaming ruled in these stores and my life.

There are plenty of more of these disks hidden away in one of my storage boxes, but the ones in the photo are some of my favorites - they include:

* Maniac Mansion, from “Lucasfilm Games”, soon to become Lucasarts. This classic adventure game had players exploring a haunted mansion (not the Disney one, although there’s some synergy for a future film/game/project) and solving various puzzles. This is the PC port, which happened in 1988 (I think I bought this as a discount bundle in 1989), the original game was released in 1987 for the Commodore 64 and Apple II.
* Police Quest, from Sierra On-Line, another 1987 adventure game that had you playing the role of a police officer, solving crimes and shooting guns, but always following proper police procedures (if you forgot to store your gun in the gun locker, the suspect would steal it and kill you).
* Earl Weaver Baseball (1987) by Mirage Graphics - one of the early baseball computer games that didn’t rely so much on hand-eye coordination as today’s more “realistic” baseball games.
* Might and Magic (1986) - from New World Computing, Inc. - this RPG is one of my absolute favorites, exploring a Dungeons & Dragons-like world one square (in a turn-based, not real-time setting) at a time. The game spawned multiple sequels and spin-offs (the latest version was released earlier this year)
* Centurion: Defender of Rome, (1990) by Electronic Arts - this preceded games like Age of Empires and other historical battle simulation games - I learned all about the roman phalanxes and legions of centurions thanks to this game.
* Pool of Radiance by Strategic Simulations, Inc. (with license from TSR Inc.) - one of the original computer games with the official “Dungeons & Dragons” licenses - players got to visit the “Forgotten Realms” and the “fabled city of Phlan”.
* John Madden Football (1988) by Electronic Arts - the Madden Football franchise is still going strong, but in the early days you had to put Madden’s face on the cover - most people then knew him as a football coach and “actor” in the series of Miller Lite beer ads in the 1970s (hence the imagery of Madden popping through the wall).
* Star Wars: TIE Fighter (1994)by Lucasarts - the best space fighting game (and Star Wars game, IMHO) ever. This sequel to the “X-Wing” game introduced TIE fighters and the chance to kill rebels in those ships (yeah, we all wanted to do that).

Back then, you still needed a pretty good system to run these games - let’s check out some of the requirements:

* For Pool of Radiance, the game “Runs on PCs, XTs & ATs with 384K minimum; Operates in CGA, EGA & Tandy 16 color modes; Works on Most compatibles; and available separately on 3.5-inch disks”

* For John Madden Football, you needed an “IBM PC, XT, AT; COMPAQ; or Tandy 1000 Series” system with 256K minimum memory. There was “No On-Disk Copy Protection, but they included a code wheel that would prove that you had a legit version of the game (don’t worry, there were ways around that). A “Joystick or mouse was recommended”, and you also needed DOS 2.0 or greater to play the game.

* For TIE Fighter, which came out in 1994, the requirements were a bit steeper - you needed MS-DOS 5.0 or higher, a 386 DX minimum (486 recommended), at least 1 megabyte of EMS memory (2MB EMS was recommended), a Joystick was required, 256-color VGA/MCGA; Sound Blaster, SoundBlaster Pro or SoundBlaster 16 sound card (so you could hear the John Williams soundtrack correctly) and 15MB of free space on the hard disk. This game came on 3.5-inch disks, as the beginning of the end of the floppy-disk era was upon us.

Here’s a couple of cool videos that should bring you back to the late ‘80s/early ‘90s - the first is the “History of Madden Football”, courtesy of the X-Play YouTube channel:

This next video shows some of the gameplay from the original Might and Magic game (love those CGA graphics!)

Finally, gameplay from TIE Fighter:

What’s your favorite IBM PC game from the ’80s or ‘90s? Let me know in the comments!

Keith Shaw also rounds up the best in geek video in his ITworld.tv blog. Follow Keith on Twitter at @shawkeith. For the latest IT news, analysis and how-tos, follow ITworld on Twitter, Facebook, and Google+.

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