Friday, April 8, 2011

Computing in the Early Days of the World Wide Web (1990s Nostalgia).

I grew up at a very interesting time for a geek who is into computers, and especially someone into playing computer games and using the internet. My first PC (I'd used Apple and Commodore 64s at school, the library, etc, but the first one that was mine) was a 286 built by Acer running DOS 4.0 with a weird “Windows-like” GUI that I think was called “buttons”. We're talking early 1990s, where VGA graphics were a new thing, sound cards were optional accessories and windows (3.1 at the time) was not something you used if you wanted to game.

My first PC had 2 games on it, both adventure games from Sierra, Space Quest IV: Roger Wilco and the Time Rippers and The Colonel's Bequest. The first was a comedy/science fiction game that took the series hero through a time travel trip through previous games in the series, and to the dark future of Space Quest XII. The second was a murder mystery adventure set in the 1920s in a mansion with a colorful cast of characters and a very complex series of plots and subplots that to this day I don't think I ever 100% unraveled. I had owned a console for a few years now, but there was something different about this kind of gaming.

Laura Bow and all the secret passages, hidden plots, they REALLY don't write 'em like this anymore.

As years passed, I learned the things a PC gamer needed to know. The basic DOS filesystem commands, how I needed to learn to edit the files (in a text editor) CONFIG.SYS and AUTOEXEC.BAT in order to even get a lot of games to work at all. The memory (RAM) limitations in this time meant that a lot of games required a user to own and know how to use QEMM (QualCom Extended Memory Manager) in order to use software to overcome memory limits and use “extended memory.”

The years before I left for college, I used the modem to connect to various Bulletin Board Services, using a printout of the CBBS List, that gave a bunch of names, local phone numbers and what the BBS offered or was about. I spent hours and hours on The Onion and Thunderbolt! talking to other users, playing games and participating in these early network communities. Sierra, the company that introduced me to computer gaming, launched its own dial-up network, The Sierra Network that added colorful graphics to chatrooms and had online games.

Most of this was used for gambling with play money and pretending you were an elf. Little has changed since.

Starting college in 1993 was an unusual time. We had internet in the PC lab, but this was right before graphical web browsers were in wide use, so there wasn't much to do on the world wide web. We used a VAX/VMS text prompt to access our e-mail program, GOPHER had a menu that included the Archie and Veronica search programs, and we used FTP to trade files, and telnet to connect to our online games, the text-only MUDS (Multi User DungeonS.) The ancestors of the chatroom, MMORPG and web browsing were all here, and if you wanted a picture, you downloaded it. The rest was text.

All these terms are meaningless to people that weren't college students or tech geeks in 1993, and that last paragraph likely reads as “Gobbledegook, gobbledegook, random letters, Back in My Day...” but we'd never heard of the internet before then back in our homes, and spent so much time in the PC lab to have access to networked computers. MOSAIC from Mozilla (who now make Firefox) and the Netscape browser were coming out in about a year, and there were so few websites on the mostly-text web, that it was a curiosity, not something we spent much time on.

This may seem like a huge step back from the bright colors of TSN, but this was our internet, and people flunked out of University to play on this all day.

Anyone else remember any of this stuff? Any twinges of nostalgia from logging on to a BBS, playing a MUD or using Lynx to look at a text-only website? Am I the only one old enough to remember this, but young enough to have been into it all at the birth of the graphical web? Where's my cane? Let me know.
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4 comments:

Jay said...

i think i've seen those archeological terms in a textbook lying in the dust somewhere... ;)

Alpha said...

Yep, you're old, alright. :P

kateshort said...

Change "in 1993" to "in 1991" and add a reference to JediMUD, and you have my experience right there.

=dgrphx= said...

the monochrome is high in this one

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