Microsoft Windows, the latest being Windows 8, is a vastly different creature for gaming than it was back then when Windows 3.0 made its debut. Before Windows, there was DOS. It was primarily a command line interface, requiring the user to enter specific commands to run programs. The ubiquitous black screen and gray font seemed a daunting task to master in the dawn of the computer age for the masses; 8bit gaming was the flavor of the day.
The first incarnation of Windows, now a 16bit environment, brought a graphical user interface (GUI) to the Disk Operating System and was said to be more stable. It also introduced a way to run all of those 8bit games from a desktop shortcut. Setup was tricky; but, once accomplished, brought about an unprecedented gaming experience. It should be noted that DOS itself had gone through many permutations before DOS 6.x from which Windows 95 would utilize and usher in 32bit programming.
A number of rather large games (at the time) ran away with Windows 95 capabilities. Complex games such as Privateer 2: The Darkening and Heavy Gear, both of which incorporated live action sequences, started to appear. Wing Commander III and up were doing live action, and Bethesda’s Daggerfall would join the fray. Plug and Play function, which actually began with Windows 3.1x, provided the happy gamer with the ability to attach peripherals, such as joysticks and controllers, with a minimum of fuss.
Enter Windows 98, a hybrid 16/32bit operating system that brought modern PCs closer to internet integration with the introduction of Internet Explorer and other internet-based functionality, such as Outlook. Not much changed for the gamer besides a more stable platform. Windows Second Edition followed with further tweaks.
At this point, 32bit Windows allowed the user to have four gigabytes of random access memory (RAM) to be installed. The general consensus was that Windows only saw a little over three actual gigabytes of it. Microsoft had a habit of hogging system memory even back then.
Windows XP was the breakaway OS, introducing 64bit capability, although the gaming industry would yet make use of this just yet. Vista followed and many believed Windows got derailed. It had certainly been the longest interval between Windows releases. Windows 7 arrived and gaming companies finally started to include 64bit versions of their games, in addition to the normal 32bit releases. The growing list of games that shipped with 64bit executables includes Starcraft, Far Cry and Riddick. It’s rumored that Watch Dogs and Call of Duty: Ghosts will only run in native 64bit mode. It’s likely, in time, modern games for the PC will be 64bit exclusively—that is until the advent of 128bit operating systems.
Windows 8 may well usher in an era where touchscreen gaming on tablets will be brought to the PC, although, with the virtual reality headset display, Oculus Rift, looming on the horizon, that might prove to be a bit tricky. Still there are some games already out that have touchscreen functionality, such as Civilization V. It would seem that turn-based games best takes advantage of this feature.
At any rate, the evolution of gaming on Microsoft Windows now has not quite been a linear progression since the Windows versions of back then.
Editorial by Lee Birdine