PC Gaming Looked A Lot Different In The Late ’90s


Flat widescreen monitors? Glowing keyboards and mice? Controllers with analogue thumbsticks? The late ’90s PC gamer needed not such things.

Or at least we didn’t know we needed them, as they either didn’t exist or weren’t widely available yet. No, as Redditor SuperBabyHix’s retro setup demonstrates, all we needed was a keyboard that worked, a basic mouse, a cheap-looking gamepad or bulky joystick (a sweet CH Flightstick Pro in this case) and a monitor that was at least 85 per cent internal components. The rest we spent on cutting-edge video cards, the best Sound Blaster we could afford and some speakers to match.

Now that’s a box with computer stuff inside it. Which computer stuff? From SuperBabyHix’s gallery:

Micron Millennia Pentium 2 350MHz, 256MB memory, 8GB Harddrive, 3Dfx Voodoo2 12MB, GeForce 2 MX400 64MB, Sound Blaster AWE 64

It’s not completely period accurate. As the OP points out the amplifier for his speakers is new (the old one was too big and bulky) and the GeForce MX400 card used is a 2000’s thing, but otherwise it’s perfect. Remember back when 3D cards were just 3D cards and you still needed a 2D card to handle 2D graphics? We were so stupid back then.


  • Rowan remembers. Rowan remembers well. Late 90s/early 2000 was when Rowan was all about the gaming. Rowan would get home from work at 4am, fire up some Warcraft 3 and play until the sun came up. Good times. Good times…

    • Did Rowan also refer to himself in the third person in the late 90’s? This also could be a reference that went way over my head. The only thing that comes to mind is Bob from Becker which ran in the late 90’s to early 2000’s.

    • Rowan doesn’t remember well at all, because Warcraft 3 wasn’t released until 2002, so he couldn’t have played it in the late 90’s, and he’s probably thinking of Warcraft 2 instead.

      • Rowan is more just thinking of a period of his life. 3yrs is pretty close when you consider this is 15 yrs ago.

          • Rowan was 18 also. All of Rowan’s cash went on hardware for his rig. Rowan had all priorities in order. Rowan remembers when Jedi Outcast came out, it brought his rig to it’s knees.


    In the early 90’s I still remember getting a spanking new 486dx machine with 2mb Ram and being able to hear the speech of “Dune 2” units come out of my Sound Blaster Pro gold. I remember seeing a magazine showing the next big thing. They were called 3d graphic cards and I was like… pffft I don’t need that as I admired my Turbo Button which lit up with the words “HI”. Don’t ever think i left the button off. I thought i was a pro already with my Thrustmaster F15 joystick and a roland sound unit playing F15 Strike Eagle III. How wrong I was.

    • I hear very mixed things about the turbo button.

      One group says turning it on makes your computer faster.

      The other group says turning it on slows down your 486 to a slower speed.

      • Turbo button was designed to slow your PC down so that the CPU frequency matched the old 8088 chip, allowing anything that had been developed assuming a 4.77 Mhz cycle speed to run correctly.

        It kind of became irrelevant by the time the 386 and 486 rolled around because you could do the same sort of compensation in software and there weren’t that many 8088 games anyway.

  • PC Gaming Looked A Lot Different In The Late ’90s

    Yet we still had a blast. Kids these days would never understand, dagnabit, :-P.

    • To me Wing Commander games were already in my mind movie quality prior to Wing Commander 3. I think my mind literally completed half the scenes of those games. A still animation screen played out as an epic battle in my head for many games.

      • Suspension of disbelief is something I think a lot of young people have not discovered with modern games (and movies) with the smashing of constant noise and spectacle.

        • A little piece of me dies every time I see an ad for childrens’ toys on television, and they actually include fine print disclaimers along the lines of “Toys do not actually speak or come to life”. 🙁

          Not sure if it’s to prevent tears from kids with no imagination or law suits from arsehole parents who want millions of dollars for emotional distress for “false advertising”.

  • I think one of the most startling changes is the screen aspect ratios. I remember the screen resolutions progressed like this: 640×480, 800×600, 1024×768, 1280×1024. To put them in aspect ratios: 4:3, 4:3, 4:3, 5:4, which is squarer and less like a widescreen than the preceding ones. Makes playing old games on widescreen look strange with so much black space. I think people were saying it was a good ratio for working with documents.

    • Huh, I had no idea that 1280×1024 wasn’t a 4:3 one. Used to have an LCD monitor that was that size, could never believe that some ten years down the track we were still seeing screens that were only a max of 1080 tall.

      • LCD TVs and consoles did that to us.. once 1920×1080 was accepted as “standard”, companies didn’t bother using higher resolutions anymore.

        • Actually you know what was worse – every time I had to use someone’s laptop, and they were still all 1366×768. That is way too ridiculously short, I need more vertical space than that. Hell, even all these 16:9 screens annoy me, I’ve had this 16:10 one for ages now and it’s much more usable. Width is a pointless dimension to max out, give me more height.

      • I didn’t know either. I guess I just assumed it was 4:3 cause reasons. Who’d honestly do the math and check. :/

  • My first pc was a jaguar 386 with 512 kb of ram and a 50mg hard drive. It played minesweeper at a reasonable 30 fps! Years later my first pay check was spent on a Ge force 2 mx gpu…best 250 I have ever spent! I’d love to find a big old school pc case and mod it to fit current components.

  • My older brother had a Commodore 64 then a Mac (the PowerPC days ones) where I discovered Descent among other classics. I was lucky I was at a primary school that had an awesome computer lab with an awesome computer class teacher so Apple II, Win 95 etc was something I was exposed to as it came out even though my parents could not afford such things.

    My first PC though was Win 98 with a Riva Tnt2 and a Pentium III, can’t remember the RAM but it had a 8gig HDD.
    The memories of Half-Life 1, Star Craft, War Craft, Age of Empires, my god. So nostalgic right now.

  • My first gaming PC was an 8086 with 640kb of RAM, an amber screen and 2 5.25 inch floppy drives with a good old IBM mechanical keyboard. No mouse, sound from an internal speaker while I played kings quest and alley cat. The second drive was to make copying games easier, sometimes copywrite would glitch out if you tried to read the disk to RAM first.

    • I’ve sometimes idly wondered why amber screens existed. Was it because they were easier on the eyes than the green ones? Was it so users could pretend they were in the world of Deus Ex? I guess I’ll never know (unless I google it).

      • Amber Screens used P3 phosphor, and it was thought at the time would cause less eye strain than the P1 phosphor green screens.

  • I miss my old pc so much 🙁 I wish I never got rid of it.

    So many memories 🙂 Getting my first CDROM Drive. My First Graphics Card. My first time playing games like Warcraft and Quake… sigh I think im gonna need to build a retro gaming rig.

  • Ahhh, LAN parties with the original Warcraft, Age of Empires, or Doom. It was always several hours of trying to figure out the network settings followed by a few tired hours of gaming until the sun came up.

    • and then you’d get that one person who would have a coaxial cable network card instead of a cat5 network card lol

  • Picture seems pretty damn inaccurate…

    Going by my 90’s PC’s and my mates,

    we generally had stock standard PC speakers. Though I was the exception, I hooked up the folks old stereosystem to the PC, utilising their old 1970’s amplifier and two giant speakers, so large I could rest a board on them and sit the pc on it lol.

    Not one of us had an external amplifier like that unless we had pocketloads of cash… but we all wanted one (speakers AND pocketloads of cash)…

    Not many people had a gamepad at all, most used the keyboard and perhaps a Joystick if they were into flight sims?

    Also…. a wheel mouse in the mid 1990’s? Nah. Not likely.

  • I remember my Legend 12mb Voodoo2. Was riding off a 2mb Trident on board graphics card. Like having an exotic supercar engine mounted in an old Datsun 180B. Worked wonders though. It’s sole existence was to drive Quake and Quake 2 in OpenGL. Which it did amazingly – always wanted SLI just to be silly, but was madness, even back then.

  • O my I had that exact SAME controller! Probably a lot of people too haha, I remember it had some form of autofire mode lol. Also good times with the Voodoo cards.

  • One of the things I love about PC, is you can still play games from any era with a bit of tweaking. RIght back to the old DOS classics like Zork and Oregon Trail.

  • I just remember getting incredibly frustrated when I realised that a computer was not like a console and that you needed to buy parts/upgrade in order to play decent games.

    Mainly with Age of Empires, I remember my metal CRT monitor at the time could not run it for some reason. would have been 11 at the time

  • My gaming PC (case) looked better than that in the late 90’s though it was still a whitebox and I still have it sitting in the garage. 1999 was when I upgraded to a Pentium3 500 with a TNT2 graphics card pretty much for Quake3 from a Pentium 133 with the original Voodoo Monster which was the dedicated 3d card that connected into the main video card. There are a lot of things I miss about PC gaming in those days but I don’t miss CRT’s.

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