The Digital Antiquarian on the Rise of Age of Empires

In the early days of Microsoft they really looked down on gaming, fueled by an antipathy towards entertainment by many higher-ups in the company. The Digital Antiquarian recounts the story of the game that got Microsoft started on computer gaming, ultimately leading to the rise of Xbox, and from there, Halo. It’s a longer piece, and mostly text, but the DA knows their stuff. Myself, I’ve never played Age of Empires! Maybe I should try it….

Cover art from the article.

Age of Empires (or, How Microsoft Got in on Games)

The Digital Antiquarian on Rogue and Successors

[EDIT: link fixed, thanks to the Grogpod Roguelike Podcast for pointing it out!]

I’ve been thinking about doing more @Play lately, but in the meantime, please read this mostly nice, lengthy article from The Digital Antiquarian on Rogue and its legacy. I say mostly because there are a few minor points I disagree with. Maybe I’ve played too much of it, but experienced players tend to view vanilla Nethack as maybe a bit too easy. There’s a ton to learn, but once you’ve internalized it all, you come to realize that most situations have counters, and it comes down to knowing what they are, and not pushing your luck too far. Ah! I’ve not said much on Nethack for years now! I should get back to doing that….

A screen of Amiga Rogue, from the linked article

The Digital Antiquarian: Going Rogue

Digital Antiquarian on 3D Graphics History

That excellent blog The Digital Antiquarian has three posts so far in a history of 3D graphics, starting from the likes of Doom and Quake and so far going as far as 3DFX.

Part 1: Three Dimensions In Software (Or, Quake And Its Discontents):

Quake (All images from The Digital Antiquarian)

“By the middle years of the decade, with the limitations of working with canned video clips becoming all too plain, interactive movies were beginning to look like a severe case of the emperor’s new clothes. The games industry therefore shifted its hopeful gaze to another approach, one that would prove a much more lasting transformation in the way games were made. This 3D Revolution did have one point of similarity with the mooted and then abandoned meeting of Silicon Valley and Hollywood: it too was driven by algorithms, implemented first in software and then in hardware.

It was different, however, in that the entire industry looked to one man to lead it into its algorithmic 3D future. That man’s name was John Carmack.”

Part 2: Three Dimensions In Hardware:

Pro Graphics 1024

“Born in Salt Lake City in 1924, (Dave) Evans was a physicist by training and an electrical engineer by inclination, who found his way to the highest rungs of computing research by way of the aviation industry. By the early 1960s, he was at the University of California, Berkeley, where he did important work in the field of time-sharing, taking the first step toward the democratization of computing by making it possible for multiple people to use one of the ultra-expensive big computers of the day at the same time, each of them accessing it through a separate dumb terminal. During this same period, Evans befriended one Ivan Sutherland, who deserves perhaps more than any other person the title of Father of Computer Graphics as we know them today.”

Part 3: Software Meets Hardware:

The custom version of Quake made for Vérité

“Among these, of course, was the tardy 3Dfx. The first Voodoo cards appeared late, seemingly hopelessly so: well into the fall of 1996. Nor did they have the prestige and distribution muscle of a partner like Creative Labs behind them: the first two Voodoo boards rather came from smaller firms by the names of Diamond and Orchid. They sold for $300, putting them well up at the pricey end of the market —  and, unlike all of the competition’s cards, these required you to have another, 2D-graphics card in your computer as well. For all of these reasons, they seemed easy enough to dismiss as overpriced white elephants at first blush. But that impression lasted only until you got a look at them in action. The Voodoo cards came complete with a list of features that none of the competition could come close to matching in the aggregate: bilinear filtering, trilinear MIP-mapping, alpha blending, fog effects, accelerated light sources. If you don’t know what those terms mean, rest assured that they made games look better and play faster than anything else on the market. This was amply demonstrated by those first Voodoo boards’ pack-in title, an otherwise rather undistinguished, typical-of-its-time shooter called Hellbender. In its new incarnation, it suddenly looked stunning.”

The Digital Antiquarian on the Infocom Z-Machine

The Digital Antiquarian‘s website contains a wealth of information, but rather than let my works get too gummed up in describing it all right now, here’s is one page from 2012, on the creation of ZIL, the Zork Implementation Language, and the virtual machine that runs it, the Z-Machine.

When we left off last time, Marc Blank and Joel Berez were considering how to bring Zork to the microcomputer. Really, they were trying to solve three interrelated problems. At the risk of being pedantic, let me lay out them for you:

1. How to get Zork, a massive game that consumed 1 MB of memory on the PDP-10, onto their chosen minimum microcomputer system, an Apple II or TRS-80 with 32 K of RAM and a single floppy-disk drive.

2. How to do so in a portable way that would make it as painless as possible to move Zork not only to the Apple II and TRS-80 but also, if all went well, to many more current and future mutually incompatible platforms.

3. How to use the existing MDL source code to Zork as the basis for the new microcomputer version, rather than having to start all over again and implement the game from scratch in some new environment.

The Digital Antiquarian

The Digital Antiquarian: ZIL and the Z-Machine