I got a Win98 machine recently so I could finally play - and beat - Dungeon Master 2. I have it on Amiga, but the performance is so poor on all of my Amigas that the final stage is simply impossible for me to finish. It involves a real-time action battle with multiple "fast" moving objects on-screen at once with a ridiculously hard boss to beat in the background who is also firing at you. And you have to destroy his minions and hit him countless times.
And on Amiga, it runs somewhere in the ballpark of 1 to 3 frames per second. Which is impossible to play. You'll press a key to dodge a fireball and not actually move for another second. Good luck with that timing.
I got to that final boss stage two years ago, but it haunts me to this day that I could never complete it. Then, my hard drive was accidentally wiped out. But since then I reinstalled the game to other machines and the performance never improved, so I was never inclined to go all the way through again even though I really and truly loved playing that game up to the end.
So I threw in the towel recently and got a late 90s Windows PC. Yep.
My thought was, "Well, this game came out in 1994, so a machine that was built in 1997/98 should CRUSH it."
I lived through that time and built my fair share of Windows "Frankenstein" machines. And I hated it. I hated that era in computing. After having grown up with the dependable Commodore 64 and using gorgeous All-in-One Macintoshes in high school, the early Windows era definitely felt like the way things were and would always be: cheap, clunky, powerful but a lot of work. I just hated how janky everything looked and felt. And I despised how every game I bought at the store either ran like total s***, or required me to install drivers, change settings, fiddle with sound cards or dork around with graphics cards. It was a constant mess on the carpet in piles of parts, endless hours wasted in reinstalling Windows, defragging hard drives, running to the store to buy upgrade cards, and on and on. I felt like I was always walking on eggshells about 6 months after my previous install. And as soon as I had a "primo" PC built, within 6 months it was bafflingly outdated because the software specs were this constant, annoying marathon to hell.
By 1997 I finally had my first "real job" in the tech/design industry and by 1999 I could finally afford my own very first Macintosh computer. And frankly I never looked back. That was over 20 years ago. Holy crap.
Anyway, when I made the leap I also went all-in on consoles, because the Mac was a total wasteland when it came to gaming. And frankly, it still kind of is if you're really into first-person murder simulators (which I'm not). Plus - for the kinds of games I was really into back then, the Nintendo flavor of the day always filled that need.
Back to Dungeon Master 2. Talk about an obsession! To think I decided to buy a 1998 IBM PC in 2020 just so I could play that damned game and finally try to finish it again. At least now I feel like the hardware won't be the reason I don't complete it. It'll be all up to me.
And you know what?
By picking an IBM machine that was pre-built and configured at the factory, and not hand made from piles of parts off the shelves of Incredible Universe (R.I.P.), I really love this machine so far. First of all, please just take a look at it and try and tell me it isn't gorgeous. It might even put some Amigas and Macs to shame, if you're only looking at the plastic case.
This machine is called the IBM PC 300L. It is a Pentium II at 400Mhz with 64MB of RAM. It came with Windows 98 pre-installed, which was fine by me. Having a Win98 machine in my mind gave me the best Windows had to offer in the 90s with the ability to play a ton of DOS games without complete failure right out of the box. Work? Probably. But not complete and utter desperation.
I got a original Model-M mechanical keyboard for it, too, which is clicky as hell and AWESOME.
The IBM PC 300L comes with a floppy drive as well as an internal CD-ROM, which Dungeon Master 2 for PC comes on rather than 6 floppy disks like on Amiga. It also has a built-in sound card (which I plan to change) and graphics (which I also plan to change). As a result, the PC version of Dungeon Master has more animation and music thanks to that default CD-ROM. Sigh! I'll still always love the character designs in the Amiga version more, though. I've always wondered why they were so drastically different.
But yes. Dungeon Master 2 absolutely flies on this machine, which really kind of makes me sad. Sad for what could have been, because a machine running at less than 1/10 of this PC could nearly do it. But it really just couldn't. This IBM machine must be the vessel.
As I started getting re-familiarized with this old operating system, I got hit hard by the nostalgia bat. Back then my older brother was absolutely addicted to customizing his Windows machines. He'd change every single visual setting he could think of until he would break the whole thing and have it come crashing down (he learned the hard way changing the Windows system font would kill a computer back then).
But along the way, as I looked over his shoulder with jealousy one day, he taught me about the Windows 98 Plus! pack. And I was hooked. Plus was an enhancement that came on CD with screensavers, themes, games and even music players and virus scanners. Back then, if you had an internet connection it could try and pull CD titles and track names off the internet. That doesn't sound like anything in 2020, but back in 1998 that was the shiz, my friends. It felt like ... we were living in Star Trek times.
So, I had to get Plus! again and immediately installed my favorite theme: DaVinci. I always thought it was one of the better performing (256 color, not hi-color) better looking and even better sounding themes out of all of them. Even your cursor will animate when the machine is working: it turns into a paintbrush mixing colors on a painter's palette. I love it.
I quickly also picked up Eye of the Beholder III, and SSI's Menzoberranzan - a Dungeon Master / Eye of the Beholder type of game that I can never spell and must Google for the rest of my life. I also installed Photoshop 4 on there, because that's the Photoshop I was using back then. And it's still a great program (and off the grid, thank you Adobe CC).
Anyhoo, speaking of Star Trek, I picked up STTNG's "A Final Unity" game as well, which came out in 1995 (that dead zone I was talking about). It's often ranked as one of the best - if not THE best - Star Trek games of all time. So I had to have that.
Of course, as soon as I installed STTNG from within DOS none of the game's sound works. OF COURSE! OMG Microsoft janky ass...