The Systems I Wish I'd Had and When

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Matt Barton's picture

Apple II: The mother of invention.Apple II: The mother of invention.They say hindsight is 20/20. (Actually, I think it's more like 10/40, but what can you do?) So, if you found yourself suddenly zapped back to the dawn of the videogame era, what choices would you make? Which systems would you rather have had? And what impact do you think these changes would make on your personality today?

Of course, most of us back then could only afford to support one, maybe two systems (assuming one was older). It would have been nice to have enough money and time to have all of them.

Now that I'm older and hopefully wiser, I've put together a list of the systems I wish I had had, and roughly when. I'd very much like to hear your thoughts and see your lists.

1977-1982: Apple II. There's really no doubt about the importance of this system during this period (and beyond), but it saw the birth of countless genres and franchises. Ideally, I would have been able to expand and keep this system after getting a new computer, since it was still seeing important exclusives well into the 80s, especially the Ultima games and Sierra On-Line adventures.

My second choice for this period would be the Atari 2600, a very capable games console with a respectable lineup and of course immense popularity.

1982-1985. Commodore 64. I did have this computer during this period and beyond, and am very happy about it. While it may not be as impressive to designers (ahem, Romero) as the Apple II, it was (IMO) a superior games machine. Again, the ideal would have been to have this AND an updated Apple II, but if it were one or the other, I'd have switched. The lineup was and remains incredible, with so many brilliant games, such as the Gold Box titles and hits from Lucasfilm Games.

My second choice here would be the Apple IIe. While gradually diminishing in importance, the platform still had lots of exciting exclusives and got most of the important ports.

Amiga 1000: Didn't have an Amiga? I'm sorry.Amiga 1000: Didn't have an Amiga? I'm sorry.1985-1990. Commodore Amiga 1000. This is really a no-brainer. You get almost all of the cool, gee-whiz multimedia stuff of the new Macintosh, plus thousands more games--and it was cheaper. Right out of the gate you had some awesome stuff, such as Defender of the Crown, Mindwalker, plus cool apps like Deluxe Paint and Deluxe Music.

A second choice here is difficult. On the one hand, there are some fairly good computer choices. the Macintosh is an obvious contender, even though the games library is weak. The Atari ST is a closer rival, with more games. On the other hand, the NES was available in 1985, and everybody knows what happened next. So, if I couldn't have the Amiga, I'd go with the NES here.

1990-1995. DOS. I might have been tempted to give the Amiga one more year, but by 1990 DOS gaming was already cooking with games like Wing Commander. Every year saw the DOS star shoot higher, eventually leaving the Amiga in the dust. The action was really great with adventure and RPG titles, some (but not all) of which were ported to the Amiga or cloned. Still, I wouldn't want to miss stuff like Ultima Underworld (1993), Arena (1994), and of course Doom (1993) if I could possibly help it!

I don't really see a viable alternative here, though I suppose you could get by with an SNES (1990) or Amiga 1200 (1992). Given those two choices, the SNES is probably the best choice game-wise.

Windows 95: Boring but popular. Where's Clippy?Windows 95: Boring but popular. Where's Clippy?1995-2001. Windows 95. I know a lot of people resisted the move from DOS to Windows, but I would have happily jumped on the bandwagon in 95. I would have been fine skipping 3.1. A lot of games were becoming Windows only at this point anyway. This is probably the heyday of modern PC gaming during this period, though the consoles were catching up. MMORPGs were heating up, too, with Ultima Online in 1997 and EverQuest in 1999.

A very strong contender here for second place is the Sony PlayStation for the latter half of the decade and a mandatory switch to the PS2 in 1999. The PS2 would have continued to be a good choice really until the next gen, when I would've switched to the 360.

2001-2005. Windows XP. It's very tempting to want to go with a PlayStation2 or an Xbox at this point; it's a tough call. Still, there were plenty of great games exclusive or at least enhanced for this platform, and it's unquestionably far superior to Windows 95 in almost every way. BioWare released Neverwinter Nights in 2002, and Bethesda released Morrowind the same year. There were also (of course) plenty of great shooters and strategy games like Civilization III (2001). Who'd want to miss that?

Second choice: Definitely a PS2.

Xbox 360: If you can't beat'em...Xbox 360: If you can't beat'em...2005-present. Xbox 360. I probably would have waited until 2006 or possibly 2007 to make this move, and of course would want to keep my XP machine around for internet, MMORPGs, and productivity stuff. Still, the really exciting stuff was moving to consoles, and the 360 seems like the best choice.

Looking towards the future, it seems like the next step would be either to go back to the PC to take advantage of the generation gap, or stick around and enjoy the games made by developers who've had plenty of time to optimize their code for the platform. If you're just bored with the 360's lineup, you could always swap it for a PS3.

I'm guessing the next gen will make the PC seem like a more desirable option again, especially if the new consoles are expensive and don't offer as noticeable an improvement as we got from the Xbox to the 360 or PS2 to PS3. Still, that would require developers and publishers to focus on the PC first and then port their games to these consoles, something I don't see happening anytime soon.

In Matt's bizzaro world, the new 360 would run some form of Windows and include a wireless keyboard, and/or perhaps some kind of Kinect-based control scheme. Then the same game you buy for the 360+ would also run on a capable PC. This would allow developers to support both a PC and console market, since all they'd have to do is make sure it could be degraded to run smoothly on the platform. Hey, I said it was bizarro world, didn't I?

Comments

Rowdy Rob
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Best overall....
Jackie P. Emerson wrote:

I won't argue about whether audio visuals make a system better or not, since there are other considerations and the results and opinions vary. I have an Atari 1200 XL as well, and in my opinion it is superior. The keyboard alone makes it superior to the Commodore and is, in my opinion, the best Atari ever manufactured. I know that you probably think (wrongly) that audio visuals alone make a system better, but you should also consider applications and diversity of software (not just games and business applications).

I did some research on the Atari ST vs. the Amiga and found thousands of opinions. It seems as though both systems have their share of supporters and I saw plenty of good reasons to go with one or the other. In my opinion the MIDI ports trump everything else, since I have always been interested in music and have a full-sized keyboard for the system (and yes, it still works great). Indeed, I actually bought my ST from a music store. I was shopping for a synthesizer keyboard and they made a good case that the ST was ideal for my needs.

I was an Atari 8-bit fanboy, so the Atari was "best" for me. But the C64 had capabilities the Atari just didn't have, and vice versa. The C64 was "best" for, well, more people, apparently. It was the "best" choice, overall, for that era. It really wasn't "hurting" in any particular category for that class of computer. It had great capabilites, great availability, great price, and great software for pretty much every need. Thus, it was the "best." That's the argument on that one. The slow disk drives were the only considerable weakness that I can think of, but it wasn't apparently a critical flaw.

Historically, the C64 won the 8-bit computer wars, and had an awesome selection of great software available for it, particularly games. And keep in mind that we are all gamers here at AA, so undoubtedly that might skew our "bests" as game-centric. But... I never hear about anyone reminiscing about productivity software. Pretty much any of the popular computers could do those competently. "Now Paper Clip... THAT was a word processor!"

I was a former Atari 8-bit fanboy who enjoyed the Atari scene. There was no C64 scene during my high school years where I was at. The Atari was a great scene. The Atari was the "best" for me because, ironically, I'd have been a lonely kid if I chose the C64 over the Atari or Apple II.

There is no doubt that the manufacturing advantage helped Commodore win the 8-bit computer wars. But the truth is, Commodore delivered the goods with the C64. There are no two 8-bit computers closer in capabilities than the Atari 8-bits and the Commodore 64. This may be why there was such heated debates between the two camps.

From my perspective, the Atari was a respectably well-supported computer until near its end. I certainly wasn't lacking in cool software to play with. I wasn't "hurting" until the C64 scene really started kicking into gear. By then, it was getting close to the 16-bit era, so really it was only a couple of years for me, which seemed like an eternity back then, but in hindsight it really wasn't that long of a time.

As for the ST/Amiga stuff, let's put it this way: I jumped ship! Turned traitor to my cause! Fanboyism was big back then, and at first, the Atari ST seemed intriguing. But something didn't seem right about it. It was advanced, but it didn't feel like a "next generation" Atari. It was something else. I wasn't sure about it.

Then the Amiga was announced, and I realized what it was I was feeling. "Now THAT'S an Atari!" I said upon the Amiga's introduction! The ST was trying to be a "Macintosh," hence the nickname "Jackintosh." I didn't want a Macintosh, I wanted an Atari! The Amiga was what I was looking for, being revolutionary in so many ways. I became a turncoat and joined the Commodore cause. But that's because Commodore was the one selling the real Atari! Of course, C64 users saw the Amiga as the next step also, because it was along the same lines.

Of course we could go back and forth, fanboy-style, over the merits and flaws of both platforms, but I can't see any conceivable way that one could argue that the Amiga wasn't the superior overall platform, except for MIDI. And MIDI was a very niche market catering to musicians. And as a musician, you know yourself that you're a relatively rare, elite breed. :-)

Bill Loguidice
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Atari and Commodore thoughts and analysis
Rowdy Rob wrote:

From my perspective, the Atari was a respectably well-supported computer until near its end. I certainly wasn't lacking in cool software to play with. I wasn't "hurting" until the C64 scene really started kicking into gear. By then, it was getting close to the 16-bit era, so really it was only a couple of years for me, which seemed like an eternity back then, but in hindsight it really wasn't that long of a time.

Since we're getting into this, I thought I would offer my thoughts on "what Atari did wrong with the Atari 8-bits" with the benefit of 20/20 hindsight. First off, Atari had the most powerful computer available, bar none, with the introduction of the 800 in 1979 (the 400 was none too shabby either, but it had obvious limitations), and had audio-visual capabilities (particularly with the introduction of the revised GTIA graphics chip) that would be unsurpassed until the introduction of the Atari ST and Amiga. Unfortunately, the 400 cannibalized sales of the 800, and programmers tended to target the lower spec machine (this is in part why the right cartridge port on the 800 was rarely used). In addition, unlike Apple who opened up the whole kit and caboodle of their architecture for all to see, Atari was VERY secretive of the workings of their computers. Third party developers often wouldn't know something was possible until they saw an Atari-developed program do it. Not good. The high relative price was also an issue. Finally, introducing the 1200XL - though a gorgeous machine with a great keyboard - was a misstep, because they lost a few features and changed just enough to cause incompatibility with some software (this was later mostly rectified with various translator tapes and disks that made the OS act like an 800). By the time Atari righted the ship with the introduction of the 600XL and 800XL, creating lower cost and competitive machines and being more open about the inner workings of their computers, the C-64 already gained a foothold and Commodore's production line advantages started to kick in. It was the beginning of the end for all other low end machines. With that said, the Atari 8-bits obviously received developer support as long as the C-64 and Apple II - just not as much of it - creating something of a magic 8-bit trio of the 80's (at least in the US - the landscape was different in other territories). Besides its low cost and excellent overall capabilities, the C-64 had another advantage over both the Apple II and Atari 8-bit, in that while the software for the other two could require a system with anywhere from 4K - 128K of RAM, the C-64 always had a single 64K target. This was a clear advantage because you could target the ENTIRE user base, lowering the risk of developing for it.

Rowdy Rob wrote:

Then the Amiga was announced, and I realized what it was I was feeling. "Now THAT'S an Atari!" I said upon the Amiga's introduction! The ST was trying to be a "Macintosh," hence the nickname "Jackintosh." I didn't want a Macintosh, I wanted an Atari! The Amiga was what I was looking for, being revolutionary in so many ways. I became a turncoat and joined the Commodore cause. But that's because Commodore was the one selling the real Atari! Of course, C64 users saw the Amiga as the next step also, because it was along the same lines.

Here's the bottom line: Atari's first choice was to have the Amiga be their flagship next gen platform. When Commodore swept in and took Amiga away, Atari was left with the ST. The ST was a Macintosh killer spec- and price-wise, but simply not an Amiga killer.

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Matt Barton
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I don't know how typical my

I don't know how typical my experience was (growing up in the poor state of Louisiana), but I don't recall ever seeing or hearing about an Atari computer. Everyone seemed to have a Commodore 64 or Apple clone like the Franklin. Once the Amiga came out, though, I only knew one other kid who had one (and as luck would have it, he was a complete ass). I never knew anyone with an ST. Instead, everyone was already switching to dos and windows machines. It is possible that the folks here are a special group, and it can't be just a coincidence that so many of us are fans of the C-64 and Amiga platforms.

That said, I just don't see how someone can get all nostalgic about an Apple or PC clone. Oh, man, that old Wyse computer I had was so great! They seem more likely to remember certain games fondly rather than the actual machines. I do have a colleague who waxes nostalgically about his TRS-80, so I'm thinking it is the fact that these were proprietary machines with their own personalities, not just one of an army of clones.

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Bad Sector (not verified)
DOS
Matt Barton wrote:

I know a lot of people resisted the move from DOS to Windows

My first computer was a PC XT clone in late 80s. Until about 1995 the best computer i had was a 386 and until 2001 a Pentium MMX :-P. While i did use Windows (i used 3.11, 95, 98, etc), i never considered it my primary OS - until the time i used Windows XP where i was technically forced to ditch DOS, i only started Windows when needed (fortunately all that was needed was changing a line in MSDOS.SYS).

Partly because i had very old systems at the time (thus almost every game i played was DOS based) and partly because i felt more "free" when i used the DOS prompt (when i got a Pentium MMX system, it came with Win95 preinstalled which booted directly to the GUI and my first thought was "how do i get rid of this?" :-P).

It took me almost a decade to switch to Windows than most people and even now i open DOSBox much more often than many of its users :-)

Catatonic
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Netbooks

I think a lot of people had buyer's remorse in 2007-2010 buying a netbook. I used to see a lot of people traveling with one until this year.. almost all of them changed to an iPad or a Macbook or other laptop. Hell a smartphone is often faster at checking email and playing games than a netbook.

Bill Loguidice
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Good point
Catatonic wrote:

I think a lot of people had buyer's remorse in 2007-2010 buying a netbook. I used to see a lot of people traveling with one until this year.. almost all of them changed to an iPad or a Macbook or other laptop. Hell a smartphone is often faster at checking email and playing games than a netbook.

I agree. The netbook market is all but dead, and it happened relatively quickly. In our household, we had two, which became one, which now pretty much sits in its case tucked away. For the most part, a good tablet like an iPad 2 can replace most of the functions of a netbook, plus it does several other things better. Some want to liken the popularity of tablets to what happened with netbooks, meaning they expect an eventual fall from grace and marginalization, but I personally see those as two unrelated happenings. Clinically speaking, a netbook was just a scaled back laptop, while a tablet is its own thing.

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Bad Sector (not verified)
I'm not sure
Catatonic wrote:

I think a lot of people had buyer's remorse in 2007-2010 buying a netbook. I used to see a lot of people traveling with one until this year.. almost all of them changed to an iPad or a Macbook or other laptop. Hell a smartphone is often faster at checking email and playing games than a netbook.

I don't know. I spent August and September at London with only my netbook. Trust me, traveling with it was much easier than if i had a full blown laptop and i could do almost everything i wanted on it (except watch some HD videos - the CPU wasn't powerful enough for this... of course i could -and did- transcode them to a smaller size).

On the other hand i'm a small minority of the netbook user cases: i did much more on it than simply browsing the web or checking email (for these two, a tablet is a better choice of course). I used it to write some code (i'm a programmer) and make a couple of small web pages, i did some editing in GIMP, etc. Of course if i didn't had the netbook, i would use some bigger laptop, but the mobility of a netbook is much better.

Unlike my laptop, which if it wasn't used by my sister it would simply collect dust in some corner, i use my netbook every time i want a small portable computer with me (such as when leaving for vacations or work to a remote place, when meeting with people i want to show my work to, etc).

Bill Loguidice
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Some more thoughts on netbooks
Bad Sector wrote:

I don't know. I spent August and September at London with only my netbook. Trust me, traveling with it was much easier than if i had a full blown laptop and i could do almost everything i wanted on it (except watch some HD videos - the CPU wasn't powerful enough for this... of course i could -and did- transcode them to a smaller size).

I think that's what Ultrabooks and MacBook Airs are and will ultimately be for--basically those times when a tablet just won't cut it (and those times are decreasing all the time). Of course there IS a big price divide at the moment between $300 - $500 netbooks and $800 - $1200 ultra-thin laptops, but you do notice a significant difference in builds, among other things, for the price difference.

In the end I suppose I don't really look at it specifically as netbooks going away, more so that their concepts are being absorbed back into laptops in general, which again is all that they really are (scaled down laptops).

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Bad Sector (not verified)
Yeah, there is a huge price

Yeah, there is a huge price divide actually. I bought my Acer Aspire One at about 200-250 euros which basically put it close to the "disposable" category. I can't say the same for a MacBook Air :-P

clok1966
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Joined: 01/21/2009
Well im a fan of the

Well im a fan of the netbook.. over my Ipad or Iphone.. not over my laptop though.. Im not sure what the speed deal is.. My netbook plays WoW (and other modern games just fine if the strange screen size is supported).. But im not a fan of anything that is considerbly less powerfull then my HOME pc.. so laptops are my second choice by far.. But Im not to concerned with portabliity.. if I need to work I take some thing that can do all things, not just some.. my laptop.. as for just junk (email) stuff.. i prefer a real keyboard.. always will.. Im going to be the crusty old guy who wont adjust to virtual keyboards, or screen.. I just know it.. :)

as for the Amiga AtariST thing.. I have no idea but I was wondring which sold more.. couldnt find any concret figures ( and sales do not equal better) as a woner of both in their prime Im an AMIGA fan.. so i cant andd anythign unbiased myslef.. I know the Midi thing was huge for the ATARI and the better screen was a big thing but not in the USA.. seems 75% o all ST's where sold in Eroupe. while the Amiga was bit more "even" in sales worldwide.. still the USA was not much stronger for the AMIGA then the ST. The MIDI port was nice, but to use it cost you well over the price of the computer so other hen hardcoer music people it wasnt used till very late in its life when MIDI stuff was MUCH cheaper. The Amiga actually had cheaper Midi addons then the ST earlier to combat the ST better abilities.. so in the end it was actually cheaper to use the AMIGA (but most did not) The amiga had a big following in Video.. Babyalon 5 (sci fi show) used them for the special effects.. while not movie quality they where fairly impressive for hte time from a $500 computer. The ST has a 1Mhz faster processer.. today thats nothing but at the time.. it was an Edge. percived at least.. I doubt any game (or prodcutivity software) could show you any diffrence. The ST came out sooner and had a bigger folloing earlier so MANY of its titles where ported to teh AMIGA.. which made many games look better on the ST.. the same can be said for this 360=PS3 generation.. made on one ported to the other) but in the end, tHe amiga built steam and had better sales for a prolonged time and soon the oppsite was true, the Amiga got it first the ST later.. The Atari ST was killed by ATARI due to lack of sales.. the Amiga was still selling ok (but the writing was on the wall, in the US it was all but done, but it held on in Eroupe much longer) but died about a year later due to a mismanged company .

I will be honest I prefer the amiga for gaming reasons.. and the OS was just easier to use for me.. Also the MUSIC store carried the ST, the computer store carried the Amiga.. lets jsut say games whre not plentifull in the MUSIC store.. I would guess in another country whre it sold better the the ST would have been more a consideration for me.. I alos like the Amiga had upgrades that where much cheaper. I had a quantum box that added to my amiga adding 2 megs of ram, and it bumped my processer up in speed too... it wsa $1200 bare and cost anotehr $700 for hte Processor upgrade, HD and Ram).. the Atari one was almost 1/3rd more.. and it didnt upgrade the CPU at all.

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