Experienced Points

Experienced Points
How Massive is Wolfenstein: The New Order?

Shamus Young | 3 Jun 2014 19:00
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DOS games


This was the dawn of DOS gaming, which is the real precursor to our current PC gaming space. According to Wikipedia, there were 1,750 DOS-based games on or before our chosen date of 1992. Sadly, there really is no good way to figure out the average size of these games. In some cases you have multi-disk monsters like Starflight or the Sierra adventure games, and in other cases you've got games that can't even fill a single disk. (I know, because I sometimes crammed several games onto a single floppy when I was in high school.) DOS games began in 1981 and ran until the mid-90's, meaning they lasted longer than any single console. They certainly got larger over time, with large and small outliers for each year. This would not be a linear distribution and I have no idea how to even begin to make a guess that won't get me eaten alive by statistics nerds.

But we've come this far, so we might as well see what we get. From what I remember, I doubt there were many games smaller than 50KB. And while multi-disk games were certainly the most popular and noteworthy, in a pure numerical sense they were in the minority. Which puts the upper limit of our common range at 360KB. (360KB is the capacity of the old 5.25" floppy disk. Certainly this limit impacted game size. If the developer goes slightly over, they're likely to cut some content to get onto one disk. But once the game is definitely too big for one disk, they might feel obligated to use as much of the second one as they could.)

If we split the difference we get the "average" game being around 200KB. You know, this actually sounds about right, based on the number of times I put one game on a disk and found it was just barely too small to contain a second game.

So pre-1993 DOS games come to 350,000KB, although you could make a case for double that.

Adding it all up

First and second gen consoles: 4,000KB
Early personal computers: 2,357,532KB
Third gen consoles: 579,876KB
DOS games: 350,000KB.

Wolfenstein: The New Order screen

So even with all of our aggressive rounding up, the total of all pre-1993 games (up to and including Wolfenstein 3D) is only 3,291,408KB. Not even four gigabytes. Not only is Wolfenstein: The New Order larger than all pre-1993 games, it's more than 10 times larger.

As you can see, leaving out coin-op titles didn't hurt us. Sure, they would have added to the total, but I'm sure they weren't big enough to cover this massive shortfall.

So when did the size of all games exceed 40GB? I'm thinking it would have happened 1994 or 1995, because the explosion of CD-ROM based games happened in 1993. On the consoles we had the Sega CD and on the PC side we had titles like Myst and 7th Guest that convinced people to get CD drives. Developers had been straining under the limitations and expense of floppy and cartridge-based games for years, and with the far greater space of the CD came an explosion in the size of games. (A CD holds about 200 times more than a 5.25" floppy.) A full CD is over half a gigabyte, so it wouldn't take very many games to take us the rest of the way to 40GB.

I'm still not crazy about seeing games get this big. 40GB takes a long time to download even with good internet, and some people in the world still have to live with data caps and overage charges. Still, it's a pretty game (if colorful techno-fascist bloodletting is your thing) and lots of fun once you get over the download.

Shamus Young is a programmer and a novelist. He's really enjoying the new Wolfenstein so far. Thanks to Camden for the NES info.

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