Snarf for DOS

SnarfToday’s game is another one made by Everett Kaser, a shareware author who happens to still be making new games. I wrote about another of his games a short while ago, Hero’s heart. This one named Snarf was made in 1988 originally, released in 1990 and with updated versions of the game coming out up until 1993. It’s an arcade style game in which you need to collect treasure and keys, and avoid enemies known as snarfs.

Level 1Like Hero’s Heart, this has high resolution EGA graphics (640x350x16) that allows for larger levels without having to implement scrolling, which wasn’t easy on old PC hardware. The sprites are drawn nicely although there isn’t really much in the way of animation, but what’s there works. The sound is again from the PC speaker and consists of a few bleeps and bloops, it’s ok and you can turn it off if you don’t like the audio.

Level 2Game-play wise it’s very much a score attack arcade style game. The main way you get points is of course collecting treasure, which is multiplied by the numbers of ‘tags’ you have left at the end of a level. The main hazard is of course the snarfs who spawn from nests located around the map. if you happen to run into the snarfs they take your tags which is essentially your health. There are usually a fair few running around, and they spawn endlessly so it’s best to avoid them if you can.

Level 3The controls seem to be inspired by games like Robotron which allow you to fire your weapon in a different direction to that you are moving. This proves to be a very handy feature, although I’m yet to get good at it. You can only have one or two shots in the air depending on what you set, so it’s best to only fire when you know the shot will hit something in a short time. Otherwise you could be waiting before you can shoot again. Again it is generally better to avoid the snarfs rather than shoot them if you can.

Level 4The snarfs themselves seem to be reasonably intelligent, being able to avoid shots, find a path to you and generally trap you. I’ve found myself getting trapped by the blighters and having to try and shoot as many as I can, or simply try to out smart them.

level 7I found Snarf to be quite fun, but didn’t get too far into the levels because I didn’t have enough time to really practice and work at being better. It is mostly the controls that I need to work on learning as I hadn’t played a game with a scheme like that before. There are 50 levels and a level editor included, so there is no shortage of content level wise. There are some downsides, such as not getting any more than a single life, but you can select the level you start on, so you don’t have to play the same ones repeatedly.

Gemini of Ancient DOS Games also did a video about Snarf quite some time ago, you can find it here. The game is available as freeware from the RGB classic DOS games website here.


Motherboard: EPoX EP-MVP4A

Just when you thought I had run out of Socket 7 boards here’s another one! Today’s mother board was made by the Taiwanese company EPoX who made value boards that were targeted towards the over-clocker and enthusiast market. Here’s an overview of the board.


This board was made mid 1999, late in the life of the socket 7 standard. It would have probably carried an AMD, Cyrix or IBM chip, as Intel had already moved onto the Slot 1 standard at this time. Lets take a quick look at what features make this board different to the other socket 7 boards I’ve looked at so far.



One of the most obvious things is seen in the middle of the CPU socket. It’s a thermistor for measuring the CPU temperature. CPUs of the time didn’t have this feature built-in, so without this sensor an over-clocker would have to guess how hot their machine was running by touch or other means. This also proved useful for technicians to help determine if there was something wrong with the setup or thermal compound on the CPU. Unfortunately these sensors weren’t really all that accurate, but they were better than nothing.

Chassis Fan

Chassis Fan

Next I noticed that this board has connectors for a chassis fan. Of course these extra fans had been around for quite a while at this stage, and the connector for a year or so. This is a reflection of the significant increase in power consumption and heat generation in machines of the late 90’s. Although it wouldn’t get out of hand until much later (with P4 chips)



When you look at the configuration jumpers, you can tell it was designed with over-clockers in mind. Unlike other boards there is a simple and clear way to set the multiplier and bus speed. There is a single jumper which you use to select the speed option desired. Most other boards required you to decode a table and apply a number of jumpers correctly. Unfortunately this photo didn’t come out as clear as I would have liked.

VIA made the chipset for this board, they typically had fairly well performing chips, that had better, but not perfect software support. The south bridge chip has integrated sound and other basic peripherals, with a trident video chip integrated into the north bridge. On board video is connected internally via an AGP bus, but there is no standard AGP slot for an external card. This would have been limiting, as the PCI graphics cards that were still available would have been slower than the AGP counterparts.

From the perspective of a technician this board would have been quite easy to handle. The manual would have been unnecessary even the first time you set it up. The power connector is nice and close to a mounting hole, so you wouldn’t flex the board too much when connecting a stiff power connector.

For the end-user that really depends on what you wanted out of it. For most users it would have been as good as any other board, as long as the on-board graphics was good enough. the ease of CPU configuration would have suited over-clockers the most, but many of them would have preferred having an AGP slot in addition to the on-board graphics. Luckily PCI graphics cards were widely available at the time.


4th Anniversary and site update

Recently (about 10 days ago) my blog turned 4 years old, which is amazing in many ways. Unfortunately many projects have simply stalled, mostly due to lack of time on my part. I’m still interested in them, but with my kids getting older and demands on my time getting larger it has been difficult finding time to do much. Lately it has even been hard maintaining a weekly post, which should fortunately improve now that the university semester is drawing to a close.

So what am I planning? Well not much in the way of changes, but I’ve got many projects that I’ve started and want to make some headway on again. Firstly I’ll be continuing the photography of my main board collection, although these posts take quite some time to research, photograph and write, they’ve been a good way to re-discover what I have sitting in boxes on the shelves. After I run out of main boards I might extend this to other hardware I have, although I don’t think I can write as much about something like an old hard disk.

The benchmark project is almost at the end, just that the final measurement on some 386 hardware has become problematic. See here for what happened. I wonder if it is just the particular machine which is the problem, but not having another functional 386 easily accessible makes this hard to determine. I also need to finish tidying up my workbench so I can work on it and future electronics projects.

The Micro-professor being one electronics project I really want to get into. I have a rough outline of a memory expansion in my mind, but I need to get some parts together and time to design, build and test. I couldn’t get the loading and saving working via the cassette interface and PC sound-card, so I thought I would include in the expansion design a way for an Arduino to take control of the bus and dump/load the memory of the machine.

Software wise I have a pile of projects I’d like to continue, but my home-brew platform game is probably the one I’m most interested in getting some work done. I intend on saving some more disk space by implementing Huffman coding to compress text I have stored on disk, but the bulk of the work required for the game is really designing and building levels and music. I have a nearly finished gwbasic game that needs some polish to complete, and similarly some level design. Making games is perhaps one of my favourite past times, although I don’t think they are of high enough quality to sell, I enjoy the process of coding, play testing, and designing.

Of course I will continue to write about old MS-DOS games, although I’ve covered most of everything I played as a kid. I like how colourful most games from this period are, many are also simple and easy to play in a limited time frame, which makes them appealing to someone with limited time like myself. In the future I’d like to start writing about the more modern games I play/own such as those from the Windows 95-98 era, but these will take a much larger time investment, mostly as the games are significantly larger.

Finally I’d like to thank anyone who has been reading, whether it’s just one page or if you happen to read more. I find it quite enjoyable to write these posts/articles even though I’m not really a great writer. It has also proven to be a good way to connect with other bloggers who have similar interests.


QBasic Gorillas

Qbasic GorillasToday I’m looking at the classic old artillery game Gorillas, it was an example program for the Qbasic interpreter that was packaged with MS-DOS 5.0 and later. Because it was so widespread, being on practically every machine of its time, it was widely played and loved by many. I first encountered it on our high school computers in computer studies classes, we often got to play some games after we finished our work. We played many games, but Gorillas¬† (and Nibbles) were favourites.

Dancing Gorillas!

Dancing Gorillas!

Being written in Qbasic graphics and sound support is fairly basic. Unless you’re using an old machine with CGA only, the graphics are in high resolution EGA (640x350x16) and whilst not spectacular have some charm. Sound is PC speaker, again largely due to the limits of Qbasic. Most sounds are fairly basic, although the intro tune is kinda cool.

City Skyline

City Skyline

The game field consists of a city skyline with two Gorillas atop a building at opposite ends of the screen. Each Gorilla takes turns hurling an explosive banana at the other, with the player aiming the shots by entering the angle and velocity. The round only ends when one of the Gorillas is hit by a banana, with the survivor being the winner. There was no computer AI, so you had to play it in a hot-seat style or on your own. It’s simple and fun to play, although there isn’t much variety.

Target hit!

Target hit!

Normally this is where a post like this would end, with some kind of summary of what I thought. Today however I decided to have a quick go at making a simple modification to the game, adding an AI to the game so you can play solo. The tricky part with making an AI player in this case isn’t making something that will play well, but making something a human has a chance of beating. I could quite easily make it simply calculate the ideal velocity and angle, but that wouldn’t be much fun.

A winner is you.

A winner is you.

So what have I done instead? It’s a fairly simple algorithm, I set the initial aim to some sensible defaults and after each shot adjust the velocity depending on whether the shot landed short or long. This actually proved to be quite good at making hits, but not before making a few shots giving a human player a chance. Occasionally they will make a hit on the first shot, but that only happens when the buildings are set up just right. One circumstance that the computer does poorly is when a tall building is blocking the path of the bananas. I deal with this to a degree by making the angle higher when the banana doesn’t go very far. It will still take many shots for the AI to succeed.

I’ve made the modified version available here. It requires the original Qbasic to run and DOS in one form or another (Dosbox recommended). The game is pretty much unchanged apart from adding the AI, which you activate by naming a player Computer. You can have the computer play itself by naming both players Computer. Another improved version of the game exists, and has improvements such as a league table and improved graphics and sound. It’s called Gorillas Deluxe and can be found here.


Squirmer for DOS

I’ve started to recover from quite a nasty cold this week, so today we’re looking at another obscure MS-DOS game. It’s called Squirmer and was made by Stephen Lee Parker in 1990. It is an interesting take on the standard snake game that later became popular on feature phones.

Squirmer supports CGA, EGA and VGA as was common for many games of that time. The graphics aren’t spectacular, but are fine for what they are. The sprites are quite small, so there isn’t much room for detail, but this has the advantage of allowing larger levels on screen. PC speaker is the only sound hardware supported and is ok, but it can be switched off if you find it annoying.

The game-play is what makes Squirmer different. The main limiting factor in the game is the time limit rather than the length of your snake. There are the usual food pellets you can eat for points and increased length, but there are also bombs you can eat that will reduce your length. Care needs to be taken to not eat bombs when you’re not very long as that will kill your Squirmer.

You can move between the levels freely without restriction. All you have to do is go to the exit for the next or previous level. Your score increases more per pellet at the higher levels, so it can be worth skipping some of the lower ones, but it is worth collecting the extra time along the way as that is usually what runs out.

I found Squirmer to be a fun distraction, much like most other snake games, that can keep you occupied in a moment of boredom. However like other snake games you’re unlikely to play it for long bursts as the game-play is pretty much the same every time. It’s a little hard to find, but if you do happen to have it cross your path, it’s worth a quick play.

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Aldo’s Adventure for DOS

Aldo’s Adventure is a obscure little platform game released for MS-DOS back in 1987 by David and Ben Ibach. It is based upon a much earlier game called Ladder originally released for the Kaypro C/PM systems in the early 80’s. They have used the levels from Ladder with permission, so this is pretty much a port or graphical update for that game really. I found this game on a shareware collection disk that came with my copy of F19 Stealth fighter.

The graphics are EGA, and are reasonably well drawn, but what’s most impressive is the animation. The animation is smooth and flicker free, the player sprite has lots of frames of animation and appears to move quite well. However the barrel animation isn’t anywhere near as nice and there isn’t anything else animated in the game. Like many other small shareware developers, a high resolution mode (640×350) has been used, which means some EGA features couldn’t be used such as page flipping. This means all the screen updates would have to happen during the vertical retrace to avoid flicker, some slower machines wouldn’t cope very well. There is no sound at all.

Game-play wise it is pretty much a slowed-down version of ladder. The controls feel ok,but the pacing of the game feels a bit slow. With so few features, it sometimes feels like there isn’t that much to do, especially after the initial rush of barrels. To be honest because of the slowness the original on the Kaypro looks like more fun. You can find a little video of the Kaypro Ladder here on youtube, and a Java port here.

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Motherboard: ASUS SP97-V

Today we’re looking at another socket 7, the ASUS SP97-V. This particular model was made around mid to late 1997 judging by date codes, putting it fairly later in the life of the socket 7 standard. Some notable features include dual power input and optional on-board video.


Here is the board is all its glory, note how integrated this chipset is. There are far fewer chips on this board compared to the older Gigabyte board I photographed last time. This one has a SIS 5598 chipset, which whilst reasonably good hardware wise didn’t enjoy good software support under windows 9x.

PSU connectors

Like the Dataexpert board, this one comes from a transitional time for computer technology. However it isn’t the RAM in this case, the power supply connections reflect the change. Note it has both the old style AT connectors as well as the newer ATX one. The ATX standard is superior in terms of electrical safety, and cannot be connected incorrectly.

The board only supports 72 pin FPM or EDO RAM which was starting to be replaced by SDRAM at the time. I suspect the reason for omitting SDRAM sockets is to save money, as this would have been a budget board. The newer memory would have been more expensive per Megabyte, so excluding the sockets was probably not a big deal for cost minded consumers.

L2 Cache Like other boards this age it has L2 cache chips, in this case 512K pipeline burst cache. This is an important feature for faster processors that can consume data from the bus faster than memory of the time could deliver. For socket 7 boards in particular the bus speed would make a big difference to the maximum performance of the system as a whole. Later Super Socket 7 boards increased performance for pretty much any processor because of this.

From the perspective of a technician this board is pretty good. There are not too many jumpers to configure, and those that are present have a silkscreen label to aid setting them. The jumpers are mostly for setting parameters for the processor such as the multiplier, voltage, and bus speed. The manual wasn’t too hard to find on the web if you have any trouble, but you’re unlikely to really need it. I’ve not seen this board in service so I won’t comment on reliability. I’ve not tested this board recently but some of the VRM capacitors are bulging.

The fastest CPU it can support is the AMD K6-2 rated at 333Mhz equivalent. I doubt that part would achieve full performance on the particular board as the bus speed maximum is 75Mhz. I think a part of around 233Mhz would probably suite it better.

This particular offering from ASUS was obviously a commodity board with sockets for the older but cheaper main memory, the lower chip count and small form factor. The on-board video is a nice feature if you were trying to save cash, but would have been a problem for anyone looking for better performance. Although the RedHill guide says the graphic performance was reasonable compared to low-end cards. The other integrated features were pretty much standard for the time, but impressively are mostly integrated into the main chip. Only a few ports like serial and parallel have external chips driving them.

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