What a difference 20 Years Makes In Video Games

March 5, 2020   |   by bgarmon

In 1993 my only computing device was the family computer: a white box i486 DX running at 66mhz. From what little I remember of the time I was the only one who used it for anything beyond the wonders of PrintShop and the connected dot-matrix printer. I found myself playing Sierra games and that year Gabriel Knight: Sins of the Fathers was released. Queue the nostalgia soundbite.

Along with PoliceQuest, it was one of the hardest games I chose to play at the time. The text file that ships with the game references Prodigy and AOL Bulletin Boards, and even a fax machine that could all be used for hints on the game. Eventually I finished the game, but not before spending all of my money on a SoundBlaster AWE32 game card that I could install so that I could unlock the better audio in the game. To this day I’m still miffed that VMware couldn’t track down a way to emulate that sound card with their virtual machine driver… but we will come back to that. For now, just remember the amazing sound of the Sierra Logo loading screen. And if it’s too far gone, take a listen to it reproduced here quite nicely https://youtu.be/WXBpWQwFyDg or for the actual reproduction from Gabriel Knight, see 4:29 of this history video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dCNrx_bUFHY.

This game did more to influence my opinion of New Orleans than any other source available to me at the time. I would go there one day and visit all the places in the game. But soon after finishing the game the memories faded and my utopian view of a Voodoo crazed city faded and was soon replaced with visions of boobs and beads. Life moved on. 20 years passed. 20 years passed!

Then one day Gabriel Knight returned. Only his voice was no longer that of Tim Curry’s, and his hair was no longer a wavy red, but instead was a mop of yellow. And this time he was no longer a 640×480 set of pixels, this time he went straight to iPad Retina! And it was glorious. In the photo below the top image is from the original game, the bottom from the remake.

Everything got a makeover

I turned off the lights and laid in bed night after night playing a game that felt familiar but different. Because everything had changed, yet nothing had changed at all… except where it did. Take a look at the level of detail they were able to add to the new game, again original on top new on bottom

St George’s Bookshop Original on top, new on bottom
Interior of the Church
The band got smaller in the new version, but look at the statue and the detail of the Mime

How much of this game do I really remember? The answer turned out to be just enough to know what I was supposed to do on each screen but not enough to remember the order or the how. I pressed on. I finished the game 1 point shy of a perfect score. Then I remembered I’m a geek and I got to work.

Digging out a box of computer CD’s, I built a Windows 95 virtual machine, loaded the Sound Blaster 16-bit sound drivers, and used Ebay to track down and purchase a CD-copy of the original Gabriel Knight that was converted to ISO.

If you go this route, a few tips:

  1. Windows screen resolution to 640X480 and if you don’t remember to change the color pallete back to 256 Color the game will not load.
  2. When prompted by the GK installer do not select the High Range Audio option or you’ll have to reinstall the game.
  3. To really geek out, load the MS-DOS CD-ROM driver and boot to MS-DOS and play the game that way.

Either way I was off and running with the original game. And in doing so I discovered the magic of technological progress. I’d rather be lying in bed with the lights off basking in the the glory of high resolution imagery, than squinting at objects on my desktop computer trying to guess if I’m actually selecting a snake skin or if its just a piece of sand.

Overlooking Jackson Square In the game

In the image above, the church haunted my dreams from 1993 until I finally visited it for real in 2014.

In real life, 2014

Walking the grounds of Jackson Square in real life brought me back to the game and there were a few moments where my skin crawled a bit thinking the ground was going to give way to a pit of lava revealing Malia rising from the ashes for revenge.

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