Of Duke Nukem and aborted laptop ideas

Duke Nukem 3D LA Meltdown Boss Execution (image via 3D Realms)

A few weeks ago I finally finished playing Duke Nukem 3D.

Yes, you read correctly: That Duke Nukem. The one from 1996. The classic old DOS game.

I finally finished the shareware version. Killed the boss. Had to go “cornholio” just for him but I blasted his ass dead. Over 20 years later. Groovy!

So what took this long?

Well, when DN3D came out in 1996 I immediately downloaded and started playing it. It was awesome, I enjoyed it more than Doom. I played a few levels and then other stuff happened. The other stuff was other games and other interests and paid work.

Real life got in the way.

More games came and went. Some were played, some went unplayed, and others remain “to be played properly when I have the time”. DN3D was one of those. Life continued to happen. “When I have the time” never really comes around when other interests and distractions keep popping up.

In time, the game collection carefully curated and traded on floppy disks was relegated to a mere \DOSGAMES folder on CD-R who, in turn, eventually became part of a series of \OLDSTUFF folders on new devices with even larger capacity. Duke Nukem, along with his stalwarts Commander Keen, Major Stryker, the Vinyl Goddess from Mars, and Willy Beamish, slid further down the list of priorities as they kept getting buried deeper within the hierarchy of archive media. I’m clearly less of a gamer than I am a hoarder.

Another distraction came along in 2009 when I started looking for old laptops for a range of new ideas. Some of these projects have since been realised, yet laptops continued to arrive en masse. Some were donations, some were recoveries from the corporate scrap heap, and some are outmoded machines from my own lifecycle. I hate throwing out functional devices simply because they’re “old”. Gadgetry tends to come in faster than I can get rid of it because I’ve always got an idea for some or other project I want to build.

The building materials are there; it is time that is in short supply.

One of those harebrained ideas was a digital picture frame. Remember those?

Remember the instructables that floated around a few years ago, each one promising to inject new life to an outmoded laptop wherein you would strip it of its case and optical drive, mount the display behind a glass pane in a wooden frame, and then hang it on a (usually white) wall while doing your best to hide the (usually black) power cable so that you could do… what?! View a slide show of a bunch of digital pictures from its hard drive or stream them from your NAS or explore the best of Flickr? Seriously? Is that it? Any standard tablet bluetacked against the wall can do the same in addition to overlaying useful information like a clock, the weather forecast or a newsticker.

But then again, tablets weren’t around ten years ago while DPFs remain on the market today. I consider them some of the most pointless devices ever invented.

Challenge factor aside, I’m at a loss for an explanation for why I ever wanted to build one.

Still, I remain on my eternal quest for that perfect multimedia theatre device but small form factor PCs outfitted with XBMC/Kodi controlled by an airmouse just don’t bowl me over due to lack of decent content — especially in an era of Netflix or Amazon Fire TV.

XBMC

Owing to its inclusion of a screen, speakers, controls, optical drive, local storage and network access, at one point a standard laptop seemed an obvious idea for an all-in-one multimedia player. In the long run it turned out to be far less practical than the theory suggested, especially when I consider that my TV sets can do the same natively (to various extents). What the fuck was I thinking? Why bother?

YouTube has more content. My TV has a dedicated app for it.

The older you get, the less you want to bother with household facilities that should be as domestic as a toaster.

Another use for an old laptop was to turn a donated Thinkpad into a “play-station” dedicated to preserving and showcasing old DOS games. It was fun remembering all the fine-tuning of CONFIG.SYS and AUTOEXEC.BAT before installing the collection of games. Owing to a missing battery the machine was lightweight, yet powerful enough to handle anything from the game archive. I’ve lost count of the hours herding Lemmings or shooting up Castle Wolfenstein during bouts of bored nostalgia over the last few years.

IBM 560N Thinkstation/Playpad laptop

And so, finally, Duke Nukem 3D was completed, start to finish.

As for the other games? I’ve long clocked Raptor. I’m done with Wing Commander. Seriously, what’s the point of re-playing Space Quest, Star Control or Porntris? They were fun once but I’ve outgrown them.

Should I ever get want to start up the Incredible Machine again, I can do so in DOSBox.
Should I ever feel the need to play Space Invaders, then I’ll play it online. In a browser!

Virtualisation has come far. Nostalgia has limits.

Alternatively, there’s always that other DOS/WIN3.1 laptop stashed away in the basement.

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