THE TIME MACHINE - March1996
|Your PC blah blah blah travel backwards
through time blah blah blah tool of the devil etc.
July 5, 2010
The contraption cast a large, looming shadow as I stepped down the rotted wooden stairs into the basement. The golden rays of the early-morning sun had defied the odds and forced their way through the single grimy window to throw light on the dank and dusty lab where no man had set foot since my late uncle's fatal accident some 14 years previously.
Uncle Alec had met his untimely doom at the very moment that he stood on the threshold of completing the work to which he had given his entire life. Complete devotion and a willingness to cast aside all conventional scientific wisdom had led him to the brink of constructing the most dreamed-of device in the history of mankind - the X-ray spectacles.
Sadly, it proved an impossible dream, but he consoled himself with a much easier spin-off project. The time machine had been all but completed, save for one tiny flaw - it only worked one way. Uncle Alec discovered, by experimenting with lab animals over very short time periods, that the machine could send you backwards with incredible precision to any point in history, but was unable to bring you back again. Further experiments resulted only in frustration and an army of 20-year-old mice (bought from the pet shop as babies only two days previously), and it was tripping over one of them at the top of the basement stairs that was to provide his downfall, in both a metaphorical and literal sense.
Since the tragedy, the laboratory had been sealed and abandoned. But today, that would change. It was the day after my 21st birthday, a day marked not only by the usual cards, but by a registered letter from my late uncle's solicitors. Apparently, his will had stipulated that a message was to be passed on to me upon reaching the age of majority, at which time I, his eldest and most trusted nephew, would be charged to carry out his final wishes. The burden of responsibility weighed heavily on my fearful shoulders as I opened the envelope and read the instructions.
"Get on with the article", they said.
I breathed in one last lungful of the sour, clammy air and stepped onto the platform.
THE SUNLIGHT HAD GONE WITH IT
After studying the complex instructions, I pulled the rusted lever on the machine's main control panel. There was a humming sound and a barely perceptible shimmering all around me. In a second it was gone, but I noticed the sunlight had gone with it - outside it appeared to have suddenly started to rain. I looked around me for signs of change, but none were apparent. Except - I drew back sharply - over in the corner of the lab, where Uncle Alec had kept his vintage Sony Playstation to occupy himself in moments of respite. The Playstation and its neat rack of old-fashioned CD games had gone, replaced by a narrower, chunkier device of a similar colour, surrounded by small grey oblongs with curved edges. With no small amount of trepidation, I walked uncertainly over to the desk. There was an open journal upon it.
March 12, 1993
Bought a new device today to stimulate my mind in idle moments. Popularly known as the "SNES", it is a technological marvel, much desired by the children of the village. All manner of exciting games may be played upon it, including a remarkable title by the name of "Super Mario World". The model I have purchased appears to be defective, however, in that it produces no sounds of any kind. I shall return it to the shop forthwith.
ON THE DESK WAS A RECEIPT
Disturbed, I returned to the machine, and pulled once more on the lever. Again a hum, again a shimmer, again a seeming change in the weather - the basement window appeared now to be completely obscured with snow. With fear in my heart, I looked once more to the corner of the room. The SNES was gone, as was the television it had been connected to. At first it seemed simply to have vanished, but on closer inspection I spied a tiny cream-coloured box with an integral screen, from which jaunty balalaika music was apparently emanating. Beside it on the desk was a receipt.
JAN 12, 1990
12 HIGH ST, THE VILLAGE
1 x NINTENDO GAME BOY 69.99
1 x NINTENDO SUPMARLND 19.99
1 x REVGATORPINBALL 19.99
1 x 4AA BATTS 02.99
A whole clutch of what looked like miniature grey paving slabs were also scattered about the desk. Further unsettled, I returned to the machine once more.
THE CULTURAL CLOUT OF THE OTHER
A longer shimmering this time, and the fear that by now was gripping my heart eased slightly as the machine was once more bathed in sunlight. Indeed, the rays were positively warming, and the window through which they streamed was noticeably less caked in mud and grime. There was no missing the contents of Uncle Alec's desk this time - a large, ungainly-looking blue keyboard occupied almost all of the desk's length, and a coiled lead attached it to a monitor screen. By way of documentation this time, I found a photocopied article cut from a magazine of some description.
ANCIENT 8-BIT COMPUTER USER ISSUE 12 JUNE 1985
The Amstrad CPC 128, while a useful machine with many advantages over both its predecessors (the 464 and 664) and its competitors (the Commodore 64 and the ZX Spectrum), is nonetheless almost certainly doomed to failure. The market has polarised to such an extent over the past three years that even although Amstrad games are often technically superior to their other Sinclair and CBM counterparts, programmers will always be inclined to write for the huge established market of the older machines. Amstrad lack the cultural clout of the other companies too (the US glamour of the C64, the mad-inventor Brit chumminess of 'Uncle' Clive Sinclair), and the only conclusion we can draw is that the CPC128 is too little, too late.
THE DELIBERATE HAND OF UNCLE ALEC
The laboratory was in almost total darkness now. The clock on the far wall showed 12 noon exactly, but a pile of dead leaves blocked out all outside light, and only the flickering instruments on the control panel provided any illumination. I hurried across to the desk, and was surprised to find not one but two sets of equipment nestling upon it. The paperwork which had been left on the desk (and the regularity with which this occurred was leading me to suspect the deliberate hand of Uncle Alec) was, on this occasion, of no help whatsoever - the entirety of the texts appeared to be in Japanese and French. Luckily, the one or two words I could pick out jogged my memory back (or was it forward?) to my Information Revolution History classes in 2003, where we learned of the MSX, a supremely capable yet unsuccessful 8-bit machine launched by several Japanese electronics companies as an attempt at the first ever global home computing standard, and the Oric 1, a curious beast most noted for its inexplicable success in France and the commands built into its BASIC which enabled the programmer to create sophisticated sound effects by simply typing 'ZAP', 'PING', 'SHOOT' or 'EXPLODE'. The MSX machine on the desk was bolstered by an unrivalled collection of excellent arcade conversions from developers like Konami, Namco and Taito, but it was by typing 'ZAP' and 'PING' repeatedly that I spent the next three hours before remembering my mission and taking the controls of the time machine once again.
THE MACHINE'S USUAL HUMMING
The time dials span into a blur, coming to rest just 12 months earlier (or was it later?). The machine's usual humming, oddly, continued. A moment later I saw the reason why - a precarious and teetering pile of computers crammed onto what now looked like an old kitchen table, all running from one dangerously-overloaded plug socket. Taped to the screen was a note in the distinctive handwriting of Ted, my uncle's faithful butler and companion.
I fear that attempting to maintain a Spectrum, Commodore 64, Dragon 32 and Colecovision game console at once is proving a terrible burden on your time and concentration. I strongly recommend using your Stock Exchange contacts to engineer some manner of a games market crash, in order to streamline the number of players in the field and reduce the household's electricity bills. The Dragon already looks weak, and the Colecovision must surely follow. There can be no future in these dedicated games-only contraptions.
Alarmingly, it was also possible to run Spectrum and VIC-20 emulators on the C64. I fled back to the safety of the time machine, and operated the lever without a backwards glance.
BEHIND THEM, A TOWERING CABINET
What terrible visions haunted my future (or is that past?) now? (Or was it then?) I could barely bring myself to lift my gaze from the instruments, and when I did I was party to a sight few living men had witnessed. Or rather, two sights. One was a tiny flat black rectangle, resembling nothing so much as a plastic door wedge. The other, a walnut-veneered creation covered in switches, could have passed for a model of an Allegro Vanden Plas. Behind them, a towering cabinet containing what must have been 500 of what, in those benighted days, passed for "games". To my shame, I surrendered to my fear before playing a single one. Sobbing now like a child in the darkness, I turned and ran, throwing my fate to the mercy of the machine.
THE FULL HORROR OF MY PREDICAMENT
Only now did I realise the full horror of my predicament. This, surely, was the seventh level of the Inferno itself. Blinking and screeching like a foul-tempered harpy in the corner of the lab sat the ancient engine of torture known in times long past as the Apple II/e. Created in 1978 as "the first truly general purpose personal computer", it was a monstrous beast ultimately responsible for all the terrors we know today (yesterday? Tomorrow?), because it was the birthplace of the original Castle Wolfenstein, predecessor of Wolfenstein 3D and hence Doom, Duke Nukem 3D, Quake and almost all the other games which caused the massive PC explosion of the late 1990s. Unless it was just a slightly-wrongly installed soundcard, of course.
Tentatively, I tried out a few of the games. At first, I put the constant screaming noise down to the Apple's rudimentary, shrill and grating sound output. But after a while, I realised that it was me.
But then I was awoken not by screaming, but by the insistent ringing of my alarm clock! It had all been a dream! It was still 1996, and I had been playing with my PC all the time! Do you see? Argh.
THE POINT BEING?
The point being that you can now save a lot of space under your TV by running perfect emulations of all these machines (and more) on your PC. If you want to. The emulators, accompanied by hundreds of games and other programs, are all easily available via the Internet, and provide you with the opportunity to see for yourself if games really were better in the Good Old Days, or if they were just the same old crap as now except with terrible graphics as well. (The answer, incidentally, is "Both".) Here are a few of the sites you might want to check out.
If you've got Windows, go for AppleWin, a superbly-featured and ultra-friendly emulator which is the exception to the DOS-emulators-are-best rule.
The best VCS emulator so far is the one found on the Activision Arcade Pack. This can be used, however, to run other VCS ROM images, which can be found at:
There are two main C64 emulators, C64S and PC64. Our favourite so far is the DOS version of PC64 (which doesn't timeout after 10 minutes of the shareware version as C64S does), but they're both pretty good.
The most successful Dragon emulation we've discovered is actually the emulator for the Tandy Colour Computer (a close relative), but check out dedicated Dragon ems PCDragon and T3 too.
Again, several options are available, but we like JPP, a capable emulator which runs at correct Speccy speed (others can go many times faster than the Speccy and are hence all but unusable in their unregistered versions)
In many of these cases, both DOS and Windows versions of the emulators will be available. If you're running Windows 95, though, we strongly recommend that you use the DOS versions - the Windows ones are usually significantly slower, run in small windows and don't have any sound. Usually the DOS versions will, in any case, run happily under Win95 (and often much more simply and easily than the actual Windows versions) without your having to reboot in MS-DOS mode or do any of that tedious mucking around with your CONFIG.SYS and so on.
IMPORTANT LEGAL BIT
The people producing these emulators are students and enthusiasts, not pirates. However, the emulators are still of varying technical legality. Some of the older machines have had their ROMS made freely available by the manufacturers concerned, and some of the games (many of the Oric and Amstrad ones, for example) have also been released to the public domain by their authors. However, many have not. The Dragon 32 Archive, for example, instructs that you may only download those games which you actually own for your real Dragon, and even that's a bit borderline. It's the best rule of thumb to obey in all these cases, though - only download those games that you actually bought the originals of.
Obviously, the SNES and Game Boy emulators are the dodgiest of all - quite apart from the fact that the machines and software are still widely sold, to run games you'll have to dump them from cart to disk using one of those iffy copying devices that were popular in the fledgling console piracy market a couple of years back. The legitimacy of this behaviour if you're only making copies for your own personal use of games you've already paid for (which is, of course, all you should be doing) is a bit of a cloudy area, but we wouldn't phone Nintendo up and draw their attention to it if we were you. Just to be on the safe side.
PC GAMER, naturally, deplores all forms of piracy, and neither condones nor accepts any responsibility for any breaches of copyright in connection with any of the above, or for any appalling legal mess you might get yourself into with FAST as a result.