Ten Years of Computers - Part Three - 2000

I’ve not mentioned games before in these little articles because I’ve never been much of a gamer. I can remember brief spells of playing three games and each followed a familiar pattern. I mention them here, in 2000, because that was when I finally finished Tomb Raider. I’d been playing it off and on for months – I would have these three or four day spells where it would occupy me totally for sixteen hours a day. Then I’d get bored again and not go back to it for months and months. I would save the games constantly to try and avoid boring repetition. If I walked across a room I would press the save button (just in case something leapt out and killed me and I’d have to walk across that damned room again). That was the main reason I never bought Tomb Raider II – a review said you could only save at certain special points in the game and that would’ve driven me mad(der). In the end I used a walk-through guide to finish it off. That and the saving were as close to cheating as I came with Tomb Raider. Generally though I cheated more blatantly. Take Ultimate Soccer Manager – I was an awesome manager. I lead my team to league titles and European cup successes that even Sir Alex (as he had recently become) would’ve been proud of. Yes, and the secret of my success was to save after every victory and simply replay any games I lost. After ten seasons of unparalleled success I got bored and never played it again. There is probably a lesson in there about earning ones successes and therefore savouring the challenge but that would involve reading the instructions and not taking it personally every time you didn’t win and I can’t really do either of those.

The third game was Civilisation II. Here I used an actual cheat gleaned from a magazine. Input a certain sequence of keys and you were given unlimited armies. Just what you needed if you wanted to conquer the world. But once the world is conquered, where is there to go? You can start again – perhaps even play by the rules this time – but I’m rubbish at going back and starting things again. So Civ II went the way of all organic matter. And so ended my game playing career. I simply don’t have the patience to learn to play games properly and don’t have the temperament to lose repeatedly until I get better.

I’m much better at creating my own world and my own rules and making things happen. 2000 saw the third and fourth volumes in my epic comic saga and the creation of the Smith character who keeps popping up to this day in one century or another.

Creative endeavours also saw the final advent calendar. By now I was using a program called "Bryce" to create CGI images for the background. The pinnacle was (if I do say so myself) a rather impressive image – a single decorated Christmas tree alone on a small desert island in the middle of a beautiful ocean. I got hold of an updated copy of Bryce quite recently but the old creativity has gone now. I think I’ve seen one too many scary CG renderings of Peter Davison’s face to ever be able to look at a computer generated imaging application again without flinching.

Right at the end of 1999 I finally sorted out dial-up access. Every Sunday afternoon in 2000 I would be glued to the internet, desperately trying to find something of interest. I genuinely can’t remember what I used to do. Certainly there was no fandom involvement or message board larks. I think that was the time I used to listen to Dave Meltzer’s show on eYada (the short lived internet radio station which burned through a pile of cash before realising their entire approach was wrong). Dial-up seemed wonderful – it was the internet after all – and on a good day I would get download speeds of up to 4kps. Smokin’.

The first time I connected to the internet something strange happened. An icon appeared in my system tray. I hovered over it and it told me it was a "firewall". Up until this point I had never heard of a firewall. The only reason I had one was because I’d already become hooked on utility suites. The first I ever bought was from McAfee and wasn’t so much a suite as a collection of separate products all bundled together. Many of them conflicted with each other, most didn’t work and the rest didn’t really do anything noticeable. Those were the days when a crash protector was the centrepiece of any utility package. The idea was that they would stop Windows 95/98 from crashing software with such regularity. In practice all they did was give you a two second head start that your software was about to crash and gave you the option to try and save your work (which almost never worked). The second suite I got was "Systemsuite" – a product that seems to have a new owner every time it comes out. Knowing no better I was suckered in with the list of essential components contained within the expensive box. It would make my computer faster, more secure, more reliable and generally spiffier. I would run regular virus checks (which found nothing because I wasn’t online at the time and could only have caught viruses by osmosis), regular defrags (which made no difference) and regular tune-ups (ditto).

So, if software products failed to give me a zippier and more effective PC there was only one alternative. Having gained useful employment I was able to buy my second PC. The Troughton to my earlier Hartnell dwarfed it with 833mhz of power, 128Mb of RAM, a 20Gb hard drive and a whopping 19 inch monitor. It also came with Windows 98 Second Edition installed. If anyone has any idea what the difference was between Windows 98 and Windows 98SE (the latter was sold as an upgrade to the former) let me know because I never spotted a thing.

The first real problem I encountered was that this new machine – powerful as it was – didn’t have hardware DVD decoding. It relied upon software to play the DVDs and that simply wasn’t going to happen. As a result, I could only play films with juddering, low quality images and had to get my first proper DVD player (a huge, gold coloured thing which bizarrely didn’t display the total elapsed time of a movie but displayed the time of each chapter as a CD player would). My overriding memory of the Euro 2000 tournament was spending most of it with my back to the television trying to find a set of display settings which was low enough for my overworked processor to generate watchable a picture.

The year closed with another Windows release – Windows Millennium Edition (Win ME for short) which promised… stuff. This was to be the final release to sit upon DOS and as such stayed as an important part of my system for many years to come. Windows ME was also the only Windows release I can remember which was sold for under £50. I remember my upgrade only costing forty-something pounds in PC World. I do remember quite liking Millennium when I first installed it – something I couldn’t say for either 98 or 98SE – but for the life of me I can’t remember why.