14
Oct
20

Solder Runner for DOS

Today’s game, Solder Runner, was made by Sumware Software back in 1996. This is notable as it’s after the release of Windows 95 and was in a time of decline for games development for DOS. It’s kind of like Paganitzu, Chaganitzu, God of Thunder or Bloxinies, except the puzzles span multiple screens. It comes with a level editor and three episodes, although the third episode appears to be incomplete.

I originally tried playing this in Dosbox, but it seemed to cause issues with the game such as only being able to play the third episode despite selecting the first one to play. So I fired up an old PC, to run the installer you need to be running windows9x (or better), but once installed the files can be copied to a pure MS-DOS machine. In this case I copied the game to the old IBM thinkpad laptop and captured images and video using my epiphan capture device.

The game appears to use high resolution VGA graphics (640x400x16), which for the most part aren’t bad. I noticed that a few digital photos of circuit boards were used in places, which is interesting, but the images appear to be a bit noisy where they are used. Other artwork such as the tiles and sprites are reasonably well drawn, although it isn’t clear what the functionality of some items are just by looking at them. However you’ll learn what they are fairly quickly.

There is supposed to be some digitised sound, but I couldn’t get it to work for me. The standard PC sound isn’t too intrusive or annoying, so it’s acceptable in this case. The controls take a little getting used to as you need to press a direction key twice to move a space  when changing direction. It’s annoying at first but you get used to it.

The game is divided up into three episodes, each episode is one large level consisting of many screens. Puzzles vary in size from simple ones that fit in one screen to much larger puzzles that require back tracking or retrieving keys or solder beads. The very first large puzzle on the first episode has you circle around the same screens multiple times before you can collect everything you need and move on.

The static hazards are much like those in similar games. Some shoot at you and others block your path or offer a small puzzle element. Keys may be required for progression at times and you’ll almost certainly have to back track at times. This can make things a little tedious as screens do not reset, so you can end up traveling several screens with basically nothing to interact with when you return to fetch something you need.

The enemies are quite different to what you’d find in similar games, they represent different types of computer virus in the system. They move quite erratically, in a semi-random fashion that makes them difficult to shoot and predict. I think this has made it harder to implement good puzzles involving them, if they had a more predictable logical behaviour that differed depending on the enemy type then you could base some puzzles around them. Much like those you’d find in similar games. As it stands they are more of a nuisance that you have to avoid or shoot.

Apart from issues with dosbox there are some game mechanics that may cause you problems. Diodes in the level only allow you to travel through them in one direction, you’re automatically pushed in that direction if you move onto one and they are often laid out in chains. Your controls are not disabled whilst this is happening, and you can attempt to move or shoot whilst the diodes push you to your destination. This can result in you glitching into a part of the level you’re not prepared for, so best to keep your hands of the keys whilst moving through a diode chain.

Solder Runner was reasonably fun to play, but it has some flaws. It does do multi-screen puzzles reasonably well, just other games such as God of Thunder in particular do it better. It feels incomplete and unpolished in many ways, which is confirmed by the third episode, which has barely any content and is clearly incomplete. Bellow is a video with some commentary and game play.


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