The ISA-Bus

One blog to bind them all.

Windows games are different (1)

And one of the reasons for that is that Windows was different.

It is a consistent but silly notion that Windows was somehow a copy of the Mac. That’s nonsense. Microsoft may have copied the Mac cursor and used the same or at least similar interface elements, but these are formalities. The soul, the raison d’être of Windows was different from the beginning.

On the Mac, the GUI was l’art pour l’art. Macs had a GUI because Jef Raskin thought it would be so much easier and more intuitive to click on little pictures than to enter commands with the keyboard. The early Macs didn’t multitask. There were some desktop accessories that could run parallel to each other and an application. You could copy data from one app to another, but you had to save, close the app, start the other app.

Windows, on the other hand, was designed as a multitasking environment from the beginning. It did not care much about clicking on little pictures. Its core was the DOS executive, which listed files pretty much the same way a text terminal did. The far goal was multitasking DOS programs, but that was hardware dependent. An 8088 couldn’t do it at all. A 286 could do it, but not well. A 386 could do it well. That’s why Bill Gates called the 286 brain-dead and wanted IBM to skip it completely. It would probably have been the better choice.

But—and that is often overlooked—as far as its own programs were concerned, Windows was multitasking from the beginning. As long as there were sufficient resources, any number of Windows programs could run at the same time, on every Windows version from the very beginning, on any processor.

Balance of Power for Windows

Balance of Power for Windows

Of course, this had a huge impact on how the programs on the two platforms handled the screen. A Mac program had the whole screen for itself and sometimes replaced the desktop with its own. A Windows program ran in a window, tiled in 1.0, overlapping and resizable in 2.x. Among the Windows 1 games there is one that was ported from the Mac: Balance of Power. It sticks out like a sore thumb. It grabs the whole screen, does not share it with other programs, cannot be minimized, cannot be closed the standard Windows way, only through its own interface.

Windows thus—and not the Mac—gave birth to the desktop game. Except Balance of Power every early Windows game was a desktop game. The first one that definitely was not, and was not ported from the Mac either, was probably Entombed, in 1993, when Windows was already eight years old.

Windows could run on very different types of video hardware. Typically the early games were designed for high-end systems with color monitors, but in the Windows 2 era that could still mean EGA or VGA, two systems with very different screen geometry. Bitmaps were therefore to be used with caution, Windows’ built-in ability to draw geometrical shapes was to be preferred. At the time, this seemed to be the future anyway, for it could take advantage of 2D acceleration in systems like IBM’s 8514/A.

This changed radically with the advent of Windows 3. In the Windows 3 era, bitmaps were king. But a predilection for simple, geometrical graphics remained.

So much (for now) for the technical aspects. To avoid endless pages, I’ll make the content and gameplay aspects a seperate post.


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