RF Generation.  The Classic and Modern Gaming Databases.RF Generation.  The Classic and Modern Gaming Databases.

Posted on Jul 24th 2014 at 09:10:38 AM by (wildbil52)
Posted under PC, DOS


This is the first of a monthly series about older PC games that are not just great classic titles, but that hold up well enough to play today.  Whether you are a long time PC gamer or just someone with a PC or Mac who is just a little curious about all of these amazing classic PC games that you have heard a ton about but have never played, I hope I can convince you to give some of these old games a try.

For this first entry, I thought I would talk about:

Getting Ready to Play Old PC Games





This article does not go into the specifics of the exact steps necessary to get games running with DOSBox or ScummVM.  It is a primer to get those interested in the process pointed in the right direction.

Old PC games can be played a number of ways.  If you are a little DOS-curious and are planning on giving some of the games from the Golden Age of PC gaming a try, I recommend the following solutions:

An old PC running DOS or Windows 3.1/9x
If you have an old PC or can obtain one for little to no money down, this is a great way to get started.  Especially since there is a small chance that the machine will already have some games loaded onto it.  Be warned, though: 30 year old PCs can be quite temperamental and old parts can be hard to find/expensive.  Not to mention the fact that installing and running games used to be a whole lot  more complicated than it is today. This option is for the purest of purists.  By the way, Purest of Purists is the name of my James Taylor cover band.

DOSBox
http://www.dosbox.com/download.php?main=1

DOSBox is a program available for free on just about any computer platform you can think of.  It is an x86 hardware/software emulator that will run many DOS programs but is mainly geared towards gaming.  DOSBox does not include any games, it is just the environment you will play them in.  This is the option you want to go with if you own the original game and want to play it on a modern machine without purchasing a digital copy on Steam or GOG.  If the original game is on 3.5 disks, you may also want to pick up a USB floppy drive to transfer the content to your floppy-less computer. 


Fair warning: If you aren't familiar with how to navigate a DOS environment, DOSbox can be a little confusing.  Type "intro" without quotes once DOSbox opens up and it will walk you through a lot of the basics.  Or you could give one of the many frontends  that are available right on dosbox.com a try.  I like D-Fend but, to be honest, I haven't tried tried many others.

ScummVM
http://scummvm.org/downloads/

SCUMM is a scripting language that was developed at LucasArts in 1987 to help with the development of Maniac Mansion (it stands for Script Management Utility for Maniac Mansion).  ScummVM is a collection of game engine recreations that makes it easy to play certain older PC games on any modern computer platform.  Instead of emulating the hardware and operating system like DOSbox, ScummVM acts like the part of the software that interpreted the scripting language that the original games used to describe the game world.  While originally intended only for games that originally used SCUMM, other game systems have been added to the software over time.  ScummVM is what you will use to play LucasArts SCUMM games such as Full Throttle, Monkey Island, and Day of the Tentacle as well as Sierra On-Line games such as King's Quest, Space Quest, and Police Quest.


GOG
http://www.gog.com/

Formerly Good Old Games, GOG has taken the MTV and AOL approach and shortened the name of the company to the acronym.  GOG (as well as the next option) is the absolute easiest way to play old PC games on your modern PC. Every game on GOG runs on Windows XP or later and select games run on Mac OSX 10.6.8 or later.  The library is enormous, the prices are great, there are tons of sales, and there is no DRM.  That's right, you buy it, you own it.  Download it as many times as you like and install it on as many machines as you like, no restrictions.  One of my personal favorite features is that most games include a bonus content page where you can obtain scans of the original manuals, items shipped with the original game like reference cards, and most have a link to a DRM free original soundtrack.  I really love GOG.

Just look at all that extra stuff...

Steam
Old faithful.  Steam is great for classic PC games too, but for different reasons.  If you are also a fan of modern PC games, this is where you are already shopping and having one place to go to find all of your PC games is nice.  However, Steam does allows you to add shortcuts for non-Steam applications so you can still have a list of all of your games in one place.   Steam sales are a little more frequent and the prices very close to those on GOG.  You typically don't get as much bonus content as you do with games purchased via GOG, though, and game is locked to your Steam account making it slightly more difficult to move your game around.  Many games are available on both GOG and Steam but not everything, so you will likely use both platforms.  Once you have a little experience with both, you can lean towards one or the other.   

There is one small thing about buying classic DOS based games that always gives me a chuckle.  Sometimes, when you buy a DOS based game on Steam, the game hasn't been re-programmed or tested for modern systems.  Sometimes when you buy a classic game on Steam the game is just a self contained DOSBox shell.  Check it out:


Are you ready to play?

There are plenty of great PC games from the past 20 years.  I have some personal favorites that I can't wait to fire up and play again.  Next month's Dust Off Your DOS Box entry will be about a game that is available on both Steam and GOG for under $6.  It is a point and click games filled with puzzles and FMV when FMV was still newfangled.


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Comments
 
I can't recommend DOSBox enough for playing old games. Sure, you could fire up Virtualbox and install DOS that way, but then you don't get the ease of using a folder on your hard drive to just move files in to and out of easily. I love being able to drop an install folder in to my DOSBox folder, fire it up, and run the install in seconds.

As for GOG, the reason their stuff runs so well on XP and later is that they have essentially packaged each game in to a customized (I believe) DOSBox environment for each game. No need to worry about wonky configurations or one config messing with another game. Each is sandboxed and ready to extract and play. The extra content is sure nice though.

Excellent start to what looks like a very fun and educational series!
 
Thanks, bickman!  I was going to do a video walking through the process of getting a game running from start to finish but I thought a short primer would be a better way to start.  Less chance of information overload.  By the way, "Sandboxed DOS Environments" is the name of my classic PC game music cover band.
 
DOSBox rules. Great article, bil.
 
As I told Bil after I initially reviewed this article, I am so appreciative that he wrote it. I grew up playing a lot of PC games with friends (especially the Space Quest and Kings Quest series) and often re-watch videos just to reminisce. I often pass on these games in the wild because I am worried that I won't be able to play them on my newer PC. Now that I know I don't have to do that, I'm very excited about adding some classics to my collection.

This is going to be a great series and with the current revolution of PC gaming through venues like Steam, it will help a younger generation appreciate the classics and save some of these older PC titles that are often just tossed out.  Bil is planning to do a monthly installment to this series (as well as another series....which we will not reveal at this time), so keep it on Channel 3!
 
I've been using DOSbox for a long time now. Its probably been almost 10 years since I first learned how to use it so I could play Master of Orion. I'm a big supporter of GOG and something you forgot to mention was that just signing up gets you a bunch of free games. You get some Ultima RPGs, some classic adventure games, and an awesome shooter in Tyrian 2000. I need to pick up a USB joystick so I can play Wing Commander better than I do with a mouse.

BTW: Master of Orion is the name is my Greek mythology inspired epic brooding metal band.
 
@bickman2k: You are correct. They have a customized DosBox environment for each game.

Thanks for the great article Bill!

We need some of those cover bands on the next Collectorcast!
 
Im considering going the "purest of the purist" route. I have picked up a few awesome old big box PC games lately and might be picking up a Cheap old Apple computer. I'll be sure to throw some questions at you when I inevitably hit a wall.
 
Great stuff, Bil.  While I recommend everyone have their own Windows 95 machine, DOSBox is an invaluable tool to tackle the tangle of hardware made up the IBM/Tandy age.  I would like to double recommend GoG if I can, as everyone should be able to play their old games without DRM, and the pre-configured DOSBox these games are usually packaged with are a God send to those who are intimidated by command line, and since GoG will be adding a social overlay program to their service soon you will get the same community benefits that are available on Steam without the DRM.  Some of the front-ends available for DOSBox (D-Fended Reloaded and DBGL) are also great, especially since some of them contain importing tools that make installing games easy-peasy.

Really looking forward to the next installment, Bil.
 
Greetings from Terra,

I dunno, bud... between this, the CollectorCast, and watching over WildBil53 (that is your son's name, right?), I hope you're not spreading yourself too thin. I pray the overwhelming workload doesn't lead to a nervous breakdown where you tear up every game box in your house, then take a sledgehammer to your 32X collection while screaming about how much hockey blows in general and the Rangers in particular.

But if that does happen, for the love of GOG* remember to record it and upload it to YouTube! That'd be the most entertaining video ever. And if it should go viral, you'll become internet famous! You'll be living the good life and hanging with the Tron Guy, Chris Crocker, Grumpy Cat, and the Chocolate Rain dude. Then all their base are belong to you, with nyan-cat double rainbows for everyone!

Ummm... what were we talking about, again? Oh, right: I've got quite a few PC titles from the 90s I'd love to fire up. I have a 3.5" USB drive, now I just need get off my lazy *ss and drop DOSbox into my rig. Thanks for the link to the latter.

*Actually, I don't love GOG... but I am rather fond of it, seeing as how it had Raptor: Call of the Shadows, a game I'd been itching to play again while listening to the greatest hits of Toto (don't ask).

Oh, and GOG will be supporting Linux and offering Linux games in the near future: http://www.gog.com/news/gogcom_soon_on_more_platforms

BTW does anybody know if 5.25" USB floppy drives exist? 'Cuz I've go some REAL old school retro stuff I wanna play...


'Late
 
@Zag: Sort of:

http://www.deviceside.com/fc5025.html
 
Dear Zag, No explanation needed for I too miss the rains down in Africa. It still puzzles me how they worked the line,  "Sure as Kilimanjaro rises like Olympus above the Serengeti" into a song and made it sound euphonious. Sometimes I think Rosanna Arquette just wrote down that sentence and dared them to make a song out of it......c'est la vie
 
I saw that picture and thought VHS tapes to start. Ha ha. I am looking forward to seeing how this develops. Thank you for the great read!
 
I also just noticed something while staring at the home page...Phantasmagoria...I have personally never played that one, but my wife will never let me hear the end of her stories playing that game whenever she sees me playing some type of horror game. ha ha
 
I still haven't figured out where the slot is for the Nintender tapes on this thing. Will that be in part 2?
 
I would have to say that this article is helping to motivate me to actually build out my retro gaming PC(s) for these old games.

On a side note, with regards to the cost of putting together an old gaming PC, it is actually possible to pull out a fully functional computer from your local dump believe it or not.  I personally have 2 or 3 computers in the basement/storage that are candidates, I can't imagine nobody out there has an old PC or knows someone with one who would donate it.

Like you said, it was a lot harder to install games back then, and this I think is what will separate someone who wants to try it casually vs. someone who will stop at nothing to explore PC gaming history.

I personally miss modifying my autoexec.bat and config.sys files to push my Terminate and Stay Resident programs into the Upper Memory Blocks.  The first 640K of the first MegaByte of RAM actually matters for some games depending on how far back in time you go. (If you can get Blake Stone to run, you can make any game run since it requires around 600K of the first 640K of RAM).
 
It seems there are more PC fans here than I thought.

This was an interesting piece and I have to admit that I'm encouraged to go play these games now. I'll definitely look into GOG and will probably soon join the retro PC game discussion!

Thanks Bil!
 
This topic is right in my wheelhouse, not that I'm an expert by any means, it is something I enjoy playing with.

bombatomba can be blamed in large part for actually convincing me to get into both Steam and GOG recently  Wink  Which brings up a side topic, if you see someone talking about things you enjoy, PM them! I have had a good time and learned lots by PMing people on the forum.

The old PC thing is has always been with me. At the moment I don't have the space to keep extra systems set up but I do have at least a couple old PC's floating around. I think there are two 386's and a late 90's Win 95 PC pretty much ready to go if I were to pull them off the shelves in the garage, let alone all the other computers in various states of completeness.

The main Win 95 machine is something I bought new back in fall of 1997. It was upgraded many times until a few year ago when it has mostly just sat.

Waiting.

Recently, I've wanted to go back and "finish" the upgrade process on it. I plan on adding a solid state hard drive of some sort, swap out the power supply for a new one, get new fans to keep it cool and maybe build a custom case. Not to worry, I will have a blog and pictures when this happens....


DOSBox has a home forum, which doesn't just cover the program but is more generally about getting old games and programs to run. The forum is serious fun to look at if you are into old PC's and their games.

Particularly threads like these two:

http://www.vogons.org/viewtopic.php?f=25&t=23136

http://www.vogons.org/viewtopic.php?f=25&t=27940

Going back to the Steam and GOG topic, they are great and I enjoy them lots. One thing to keep in mind about Steam and old games, they don't always run as easily as you might hope on new systems. Check the forums! Steam has a forum for each game. More than once I've had trouble getting a game to run and the forum has solved my problem. People are helpful there, take the time to read the topics and see if one fits your problem. Time and again I see people starting new topics and complaining how "this ***** game doesn't run! I want my money back!" when the problem is easily solved by a little reading.

Someday, I hope to have a place where all my PC's and systems can be set up and ready to play at a moments notice, lot's of fun will be had.....
 
Really excited to see where this adventure takes us. There is a huge variety of beloved titles, and I'm super curious to see what still withstands the tides of time in the eyes of others.

P.S: the Tides of Time is my Ecco the Dolphin themed cover band.
 
Check out Christy Marx's website. She was the designer on the Conquest series from Sierra.

She has Conquest of the Longbow & Camelot on her website:

http://www.christymarx.com/gamewriter/gamewritercredits.htm

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