A blog about tabletop hobby and or strategy games, with a side order of electronic turn based goodness here and there. Now with tons of retro gaming content both electronic and tabletop. Also with 20% more self loathing douchebaggery!

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Retro Computing: Why Bother? Special: Meet Frankenstein.

You see over at Something Awful a wonderful thread has been born:

Turn on old Computers  (Ok the one I am linking to.  The Give Your Pet a Treat thread is also amazing.)

I have already shared my Atari 130xe with the thread but since I want to share a good friend of mine with that thread, it would make good fodder for the old blog too.

(Yet again, meet Frankenstein!  My Tandy 486sx full of upgradedness!)

I have posted a bit about this machine before, but today we go into a little detail.  I got this machine from Radio Shack when I was in Fire Control School (a year long experience that left me semi crazy and absolutely terrified of tests for nearly a decade afterwards.) in 1993 for 1500 bucks.

I got a 13" SVGA monitor (not this one), 2 button mouse, keyboard (also not these), 2400 baud modem, a pair of eh DOS games, Windows 3.1, MS DOS 5.0, two whole MEGABYTES of RAM, a 486 25mhz CPU, and a teeny even for that timeframe 130 megabyte hard drive.  (And while it is an SVGA capable machine it has like.. 256 kilobytes of Video RAM.  I never could even find more of that chip type to bring it up further!)

Over the years this machine got its' name.  Multiple RAM upgrades.  A couple modem updates.  A joystick card.  3 different sound cards.  A double then this late OCTUPLE speed CDROM.  Two different CPU "Overdrive" chips.  A used 210 megabyte hard drive as the secondary one. 2-3 different 3.5" 1.44 meg floppy disk drives as they kept dying on me.

It is kind of kludged together piece of kit.  It still works mostly.  I even have a CH Flightstick for it.  Sadly I don't know where my Gravis Gamepad went.

Thanks to Ebay whenever something died on it and I wanted to use it I could cheaply replace it.   My Sound Blaster CD setup was like a 500 or so dollar megabox back in the day.  I got it a couple years back for.. 30.  

Frank's current specs:
486sx motherboard with a Cyrix P5 133 Overdrive chip.  
16 Megabytes of RAM.
Soundblaster 32 with 8X CDROM.
3 Button Mouse.
256 Kilobyes of VRAM for the onboard SVGA.
A modem of some kind.  (Irrelevant)
130 megabyte C drive with MS DOS 6.22 and Windows 3.1.
210 megabyte D drive.
CH Products Flightstick.  (2 button with Throttle Wheel)

Now this machine was probably the ONLY thing that saved my sanity in said Naval school.

Once I got a Pentium Pro 150 machine I sold this one off to my uncle.  About 6 years ago he sold off his house and left a TON of stuff down in my basement.  Which he has never come back to collect.  (Instead he just collects DUIs.  I haven't heard from him in about 5 years or more.)

About 2-3 years ago I decided I was gonna make use of it.  Took it out, saw what worked and didn't and replaced parts.  (And sort of screwed up the CDROM/Sound Blaster Pro compatible hence the new one.  Was easier than figuring out what I screwed up!)

Thankfully I had that Microsoft keyboard lying around so I cleaned it up a bit and added it along with that monitor above.  A 15" flat glass.

I saw the aforementioned thread and early Monday morning decided to get the machine back up and plugged in.

The CMOS battery is dead now.  So for the future until I decide to replace it (only took 17 odd years to die out!) I have to set up everything before I can use it in the BIOS Setup Menu.  No big.

This is nothing to worry about.  Just hit F1 and move on.

With my D: Drive which is only kind of connected properly inside the machine I see what I am taking up on it.  Most of this is from my 2 years ago use of it.

The machine never came with a DOS manual and I am lazy and can't be bothered to deal with command line silliness now.  Dosshell lets me do a lot of file stuff almost as useful as if I was in DOS.  Here I am copying Wizardry 7 from my CDROM collection over to it's new home on the C Drive as this collection had a Windows 9x environment for installing.

A massive 250 files for Wizardry 7!  Almost 5 and a half Megabytes for an amazingly huge adventure!  Half my C Drive taken up already!

I learned a few DOS commands by heart.  Because deleting Doom 2 (Since I have it on so many other platforms that it plays better on anyhow.  Doomsday Project is the BEST Project.  Since Blair Witch anyhow..) would be a bit slower to do in Dosshell.  I get about 25 megs back even after installing a couple Windows game packs....

 Solitaire.  The best thing in Windows 3.1.  And it came with it.  I spent a good hour or so playing it in the process of taking these pictures.

 And two more packs I installed.  Microsoft Arcade and Verbatim Sampler.  Windows 3.1 while it moves swiftly on my machine is very.. clunky nowadays.  Especially to someone used to OSX 10.6 (Snow Leopard), and Windows 7.  Besides, Macs and Amigas were doing GUIs back in the mid 80s.  

 MS-DOS 6.22 takes up almost 9 megabytes of space and Windows 3.1 is like another 6.  Back then this was a LOT of space.  Nowadays its adorable how small and compact the TWO OSes the machine runs are.  And they still do what they need to.  Bloat much Microsoft?

One thing later versions of DOS came with was a built in disk defragmenter program to put all your hard drive files together and not scattered about the drive, speeding things up.  Here we are cleaning up C.  No bad sectors.  None on the D drive either.  And since I took out Doom 2 we have a ton of space to put things back in order.

 I shall be a Human Samurai.  And it only took a couple rolls for a massive 24 bonus points here in Wizardry 7.  Human.  It's the part I was born to play baby!

Where Frank is now.  Some speakers that themselves require a power outlet came with the Sound Blaster 32.  But I guess I have stairs in my DOS as it is protected by another bit I nicked from all the crap my uncle probably doesn't care is in my basement (or remember at this point...), a Belkin power strip thingie.  Due to its design and the speaker plug's design it had to be placed awkwardly with the monitor so they don't bump into each other and the lovely half height PC case.  (I love this style of PC case.  Tower designs just.. they aren't RIGHT man.)  It is even chilling around some time appropriate things.  My Dougram Soltic Roundfacer model (also known as the Griffin in Battletech, and something else in Robotech Defenders), WAZZZPINATOR, and my kickin rad Hordak statue.  Also note I keep rolling till I get at least 18 points for all my Wizardry team.  I do also like how I can hit multiple power buttons for what I want to give power to.  And the machine itself can have one plug going into my strip outlet.  (My living room desk corner thingie is a mess of cables and wires.  I really must organize with some tie wraps and some sticky things saying what plug is what.)

 Stunning VGA graphics.  256 colors of rad.

The quest begins!  4 humans, a gnome, and a pixie.  The barely dressed alien on a jetbike is in motion hence the blur.  You know this isn't a Japanese game because otherwise only her boobs would be blurry.  (And she would probably look 14.  GODDAMNIT JAPAN.)

 Speaking of messed up people with underaged and boob fetishes, here is John "I got into programming as a job because my girlfriend wouldn't have an abortion" Romero's great little EGA title Dangerous Dave.  It only needs gamepad support and a save/password system.  Great platformer though.

What Wolfenstein 3D says my machine has to work with.  I have all the EMS and XMS memory I will ever need.  More than a game from 92 knows what to do with.

 Bitmap Brothers goodness on DOS?  Into the Wonderful sounding surprisingly good on a Sound Blaster 32?  Nice!

 And our last picture shows one of the greatest games ever made, WARLORDS 2.  Sadly mine is the disk version whose disks and the expansion pack are dead.  But I have the manuals so the Internet and a CD Burner are at hand to save those poor dead floppies.  I can still do the copy protection since I have the docs and wheels and stuff so let's get gaming!

This machine and I had so much fun together.  It has been to Illinois.  Virginia.  Connecticut.  The middle of the Atlantic Ocean.  A ton of airplane flights.  It helped me break Naval rules via me opening it up to put things in it because a couple screw twists and plugging in a card was too much or something.  (I am generally a super goody goody by the rules kind of guy.  But only if the rule isn't stupid.  Like my mother telling me NO DUNGEONS & DRAGONS.  Yeah broke that one too.)

And we still have fun today!  It has a place of honor where the machine I am typing this from used to be before I got annoyed at WiFi connections being shoddy and just put it on the kitchen table where it could be directly connected to the router by those magical wires.

I need to get myself that Gravis Gamepad/Pro, some VRAM, and maybe upgrade to a Flightstick Pro but otherwise this machine is basically what it needs to be.  

Maybe it will inspire yall to take out your old computers and give em a play?  Or some classic games through DOSBox?

Hmm.. I wonder if I can find an IDE 1-2 gigabyte HD for this machine?  Maybe a complete Diamond Stealth videocard?

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