Was looking for something the other day and came across my old, original, Orchid Righteous 3D video card!
Which was a blast from the past and definitively brought me back some cool vibes. Back in ’96, the Righteous 3D card was one of the first two mainstream pure 3D video cards, both powered by the 3DFX Voodoo chipset. They were so pure 3D that you needed a separate “regular” video card to handle anything that wasn’t 3D. Only when you went into a properly enabled game did the processing shift to the card. You’d hook monitor cable to the 3DFX card, and a pass-through cable that would route the output of the 2D card through the 3D daughter card when the 3D stuff wasn’t in use. Though the other of these first 3DFX cards, the Monster 3D, was the more popular of the two, I always preferred the Orchid for its use of a mechanical relay to shift the video output when you went into 3D – the satisfying mechanical “Ka-PING!” when it would engage was most satisfying and let you know THERE IS NO DOUBT THAT THE POWER IS BEING UNLEASHED!
Those were wild and woolly days. Much like the Betamax vs VHS competition, before settling on a standard there were several competing protocols and chipsets that were incompatible with each other, and you had to watch for what your game was able to use. But it was such an amazing leap forward in terms of its capabilities* at the consumer level that it was an exciting time to get onboard and be wowed and amazed. I’d get games I wasn’t totally keen on just play them through in god mode so I could wonder at the graphics being produced on the screen.** Real good times.
* Before its release, I remember discussing with my friends about how some games, like, Wing Commander would use bitmap/raster graphics that looked gorgeous since they were illustrations, but they were imprecise since they only show the object from the angles from the bitmaps that had been drawn. So, flying around, ships would ‘pop’ to different orientations as you were in a dogfight. Other games, like X Wing, used polygons, which were smooth and continual and super accurate, but were flat and featureless and not exactly pretty. With the 3DFX chipset, these two worlds combined the best of those two ways into a mega-beast of bitmap textured 3D polygon awesomeness.
** One game I played that I played straight (as in I didn’t play it just to see the pretty graphics) was Mechwarrior 3, and there was one bit in it that totally wowed me graphically in an unexpected way. Many games began using the hardware-accelerated fog feature to make, well, a fog, to make items recede more convincingly into the distance. But on a mission set in a swamp, MW3 set the fog plane horizontally, lending to a murky ground haze that fit perfectly with the environment.