Well I've finished Game 1 game!
The Catacomb Abyss 3D - Shareware
This was suggested as a very early FPS, ahead of Wolfenstein 3D. I thought I'd give it a go as I've played Wolfenstein a bit (maybe for a couple of hours in total over the last two years in dosbox on and off etc).
Getting it running
The shareware version I had came "pre-installed" with no need to extract anything. It's less than 1mb big so it may well have come like this on a floppy. No setup menu / options, just start.exe to start.
It wouldn't detect my Soundbaster 32 / AWE32 for its ablib sound effects, so it played through the PC speaker, which I decided gave a touch of "genesis" to this first game on my list.
It had a fairly simply numbered main menu with quick start / read me (which you need to read as its helpful for both controls and gameplay) as well as some lore which sounded very oldschool rpg.
It controls with the arrows, with left and right turning rather than strafing. Strafing requires you to hold alt, and fire is ctrl. Quick turn is TAB, which is necessary to use when you get hoards of enemies around you, and my hands had to learn some new positions / muscle memory as alt, ctrl and tab do not really come naturally to my left hand! After about 20 minutes I was able to slide around like a pro; it isn't as unintuitive as it sounds.
I was surprised at how "standard" minute-to-minute gameplay was. You have a health meter, ammo counter, even a minimap (although it would have been helpful to have shown the walls on it!). I suppose it's functional and tells you what you need to know just fine, so why change what works well 27 years later! There are health pick ups loot chests with more powerful attacks (automatic fire and a sort of scatter bomb that fires spells in all directions around you); however on easy mode (there is a choice between easy and master only!) I had 99 of everything by the final boss fight. It certainly was too easy, but then I was playing at 60fps and have evolved FPS reflexes, which I wouldn't have had if I was playing this when it came out (also I was 2 years old;)).
Shooting dudes in The Catacomb Abyss has the same appeal and satisfaction as shooting in modern games, more so even perhaps as there is less in the way between pressing fire and a dude dying. No reloading, no sprint to jog animation, no ADS. The core shooting dudes gameplay was genuinely fun, with no nostalgia required.
Level design is are an absolute maze. I've read about mazey early 3D games but, bloody hell, it's hard going when you're used to intuitive levels that tell you where to go (or encourage open ended exploration) without words. Worst of all was Ogre Mines / Trolls Something, which was designed specifically to be like a maze in an already mazey game engine. It's even worse when you're forces down zig-zagging corridors 1 block wide, with the narrow FOV it doesn't feel like a 3D game anymore.
You can see the transition from top down rpgs and crpg dungeon crawlers (I thinnk their called) in this game, there is a status window saying what you're currently doing (turning, retreating, magic), and each location has a name. The names are great and add some personality to the game.. assuming they're being ironic! Names like The Field of Sighs, The Garden of Tears, Chamber of Many Bones" 😁. I'm interested to see the transition from this type of gameplay to modern gameplay. Find the exit keys and then exit, to "the exit is fairly obvious but getting their alive is the hard part", to "there isn't really an exit as such, the story / level will progress when something natural happens; just kill the dudes and see..." over the years.
I completed the shareware game in about 90 minutes. I only died once, on the final level when the boss threw a curveball (douche...). Quicksaving is supported so I only lost about 3 minutes.
Each level is "destructible"; some walls (identifiable by a different texture on each level) will collapse when you shoot them and you'll need to collapse walls to complete each level. Unfortunately this means I spammed my spells at the start of each level of find out what texture is destructible.
Graphics and Performance
It's EGA graphics and early 3D, so it looks like arse. Just the colours to me are really off putting with bight greens and blues; I understand there are a few palettes to choose from when using EGA, perhaps a less garish one would have been better. Sprites and animations look alright, as expected, they have a few frames for moving and a few for dying, but it was always enough to know where the dudes are they are and what they are doing. I liked the smooth motion of the spells, slow enough to look good in motion and require a bit of skill to hit a moving target, fast enough to not be a pain to work with.
I can't really comment about performance; it obviously ran fine on my 720MHz P3! It's gameplay is at least not tied to the framerate. I do like the look of these games when you're running down a straight corridor at 75fps. I might try to make a GIF of it.
It only had sound effects, but that could have been a shareware limitation due to memory size. Ablib (i.e. OPL2 I think?) didn't work, so PC speaker it is. Not much to say other than my speaker is pleasantly quite and tonal so it wasn't an absolute pain. I tried out the ablib sound in dosbox; it's not great but nicer than PC Speaker obviously.
Was it fun?
Should you play it?
I'll see how it compares to Wolf3D...
Anyway this turned out much longer than expected so here are some "screenshots" and a gameplay video of a game you've probably already played.
(I'm not a youtube channel, there's no talking or anything. Just PC Speaker 😉)
Ryzen 3700X | 16GB 3600MHz RAM | Nvidia GeForce 1070ti | 1Tb NVME SSD | Windows 10
Athlon 3200+ @ 3800+ (Venice) | Some Ram | Nvidia GeForce GTX645 / 7950GT
Slot 1 896MHz | 384Mb 112MHz RAM | Nvidia GeForce 3 ti200 | AWE32