Archive for the 'DOS' Category


Freddy’s Rescue Round-up for DOS

Today’s game is an early CGA game originally made for IBM in 1984 by D.P. Leabo and A.V. Strietzel. It was included on software sampler disks that came with many IBM PCs. You play as Freddy who has to rescue all the road runners before the maintenance bots gone rogue harm them. It’s a little bit like Lode Runner, but has a number features that make it different. I saw LGR playing it on a video where he was unboxing a NOS IBM PC and thought it looked interesting.

Being an early IBM PC game, the only graphics supported are CGA, primarily as the other standards hadn’t arisen yet. It runs on the slowest of IBM machines, so there is no scrolling and each room is the size of a screen. Performance on an old 4.77Mhz machine should be quite reasonable with perhaps a little graphical flicker. The game timing works independently of the CPU, so faster machines can play with out issue. Artistically the graphics are quite well drawn for CGA, although you will notice everything is generally a combination of two colours in stripes. This was for use with composite monitors that were capable of showing 16 colours. I can’t show what it would have looked like because dosbox doesn’t display this particular program in its composite emulation mode. PC speaker sound is used for similar reasons, there just wasn’t anything else at the time. The short snippets of music and sound effects are surprisingly quite charming, and suite the game quite well.

The game play has some common ground with Lode Runner, you have to collect the road runners rather than gold and the levels consist mostly of platforms and ladders. There is a time limit for each screen, and you can burn holes in some floors in much the same way, but the enemies (maintenance robots) don’t fall in, they stop and wait for the floor to reappear. On the other hand there are some significant differences. The robots are much less aggressive in their pursuit, and move significantly slower. The levels are larger than a single screen and you use doors to travel. White doors teleport you to the other white door on the screen and are an excellent way of avoiding being caught. Magenta doors travel to other screens within the level, once you collect all the road runners on a screen a second magenta door appears. You only finish a level once all the screens are cleared of road runners and the power-ups that freeze the robots.

When it came to the game controls I was quite lost at first, as there is basically no documentation with the game telling you how to play. I managed to work out basic movement fairly quickly, as they are just the arrow keys, but it took some time to find out how to jump and make holes in the floor. This left me puzzled as there were road runners I couldn’t reach without using these features. You jump by pressing the space bar and left or right, which will jump over a one tile gap. Pressing space bar on its own will dig a hole in the floor in front of Freddy, as long as it’s a floor where that is possible. Once I learned the controls they worked quite well, just the lack of documentation made it hard. The other main issue is that Freddy basically only moves in whole tile increments. If you release the key whilst he is half way between tiles he will keep going until completely on the next tile. This only really caught me out at the edges of platforms as I’d overshoot and fall off the edge.

The level design is generally fairly good, there aren’t many areas where you can get trapped by a single bot. Although if you set the difficulty level to normal or hard there are more bots chasing you which is significantly harder. The bots behave differently to the bad guys in Lode Runner in a way which makes it harder. They spread out and cover a larger area of the screen. Where the Lode Runner bad guys can be bunched together with some clever movement, effectively making them easier to avoid. Luckily you have a couple of tools in avoiding the bots, such as digging holes, using doors (when you can reach them), and the dots that freeze the bots.

I’d say Freddy’s Rescue Roundup is a bit of a hidden gem despite IBM making it public domain and the fact it was distributed with IBM PCs. Most of the usual places I look for DOS games didn’t have it, but it can still be found on some abandonware sites . It could be because of its age, it’s not as well remembered, either way it’s certainly interesting and still quite fun to play. If you happen to own an old PC with CGA and possibly a composite monitor this is worth giving a go.

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Numjump for DOS

Today’s game is another homebrew made by Daniel Remar in 2017. It’s quite interesting as I’d describe it as a turn-based puzzle platform game, an odd combination indeed. He wrote it using QBasic and has included the source code along with some binaries compiled for 16bit MS-DOS as well as 64bit windows (using QB64 as the compiler).

In technical terms the game is fairly basic, it’s essentially using a 40×25 text mode with 16 colours and the PC speaker for sound. Whilst simple, it’s very effective, and the game is quite nice to look at for a text mode game. Sound is quite sparse, with few effects at all, but they are appropriate and don’t become annoying the way some games can become. Looking at the code, this could be ported to anything with a decent Basic interpreter and a 40 column display mode.

What makes the game odd and interesting is the mechanics of it. Your character only really has two goals, collect gold and reach the exit. In order to do this you need to jump around a small level avoiding obstacles that trap or kill you. The player moves one step at a time. The jump mechanic is a bit hard to describe. You have a maximum jump power, which is the number of steps you can travel vertically. For each step vertically you take you can take a step horizontally left or right. Once out of steps you must fall to the ground. You can fall at any time in the process by pressing the down arrow.

It’s a bit tricky at first, but once you get the hang of moving around it works quite well.

The level design works well with these mechanics to make for a challenging but not punishing experience. If you do happen to fall foul of a trap, the level is simply reset without any further penalty. The traps are fairly basic, there are spikes, Laser barriers that can be toggled, and some moving obstacles where timing is critical. Some areas can be inaccessible until you’ve increased your jump power, and others require a bit of thought to find your way in, but in general the puzzles are solvable in a reasonably short period without being easy.

Numjump is fairly short, you can finish it within an hour, but the length feels just about right. You get just enough of each type of hazard and puzzle to feel satisfied, but not so much as to become repetitive. If you’ve finished the game, you can go looking for all the secret dots, or make an attempt at collecting all the gold for the reward of a secret level, one for each achievement. It’s fun and well designed, so I’d say it’s definitely worth a go. I downloaded it from the Dos Haven site here, the official site there is linked to the authors twitter account.

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MagiDuck for DOS

I was browsing the web recently when I stumbled across DOS Haven, A site devoted to home brew games made for MS-DOS machines. This is a welcome and quite unusual find as there isn’t much of a home brew scene for these machines as opposed to other platforms like the C64 or MSX which have a larger and thriving home brew community.

Though not featured on DOS Haven I found today’s game from a news item there. MagiDuck is an action platform game made for the IBM PC. It was made by Toni Svenstrîm with the latest beta release in 2016. It has especially low system requirements, only needing an 8088 @ 4.77 Mhz, CGA and 256K of RAM which covers pretty much almost any MS-DOS machine except those with MDA displays or small amounts of memory. The low system requirements come about partly because of the graphics mode used, which is a hacked text mode that allows for 80×50 with 16 colours similar but not the same as that used in Paku Paku.

Although the graphics are quite blocky due to the low resolution, the artwork is of quite high quality. Magiduck, the enemies and the levels are all colourful and cute. On the technical side the game animates quite smoothly on even minimal hardware and even manages vertical scrolling. Because early PCs didn’t have sound cards only PC speaker is supported, and the sound is fairly good for that device.

The game controls and responds quite well in a way that most PC platform games do. Although the key layout is a little different, z and x are used for jump and fire, it works just as well as the usual control and alt key layout. Magi jumps and moves as you’d expect, jumping around is fairly straight forward, which is good because the levels are quite vertical. Each level is basically a tower, you start at the bottom and work your way up to a star which represents the end.

I quite like the level design, like the sprites they are colourful and fun. There is some challenge, but not so hard as to be painfully difficult. Whilst they are quite narrow (a limitation of the engine is seems) there are a number of paths of varying difficulty through each level. You can spend time collecting treasure and keys from all the paths for extra points, or speed run the game for a time bonus.

Magiduck is technically very impressive and is very well designed and built. It does have some minor flaws, but generally they don’t impact getting enjoyment out of it. The hardware it can run on is very impressive, the original IBM PC was not considered capable of scrolling colourful graphics until later machines got much more powerful and the first EGA/VGA cards became common place. This game can do it on an original PC @ 4.77 Mhz and a CGA card. If you own an old machine this is certainly something you should give a try, you can find it on IndieDB here.

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Open Access for DOS

Open Access is an suite of office software made by a German company called Software Products International (SPI). We got this software with our first PC early 1990, but the software copyright is for 1986. Dad used the spreadsheet function to manage the farms finances until we upgraded to using Works a few years later, I used to experiment with the word processor and graphics (charting). I’ve been meaning to post about this program for a while, but I had difficulties getting it to install and work properly under dosbox. I eventually had to resort to a full machine emulator (pcEM), which would allow me to use all the components.

The word processor module is fairly simple, typing a document is fairly straight forward, but there are few features built in. Some notable omissions are a lack of spell checker and thesaurus. There are only a few formatting options, basically the usual bold underline and italics which are displayed as different colours. As a text editor it does serve it’s purpose reasonably well, but isn’t as easy to use as something like Works.

The spreadsheet module got the most use, mostly from my Dad. He said it was a big improvement over doing the books by hand, which was a tedious and time consuming job. This module is much more feature rich and would probably have been comparable with contemporary competitors. Something I did notice whilst playing around was that the formula system has a different syntax that I don’t remember. It’s possibly the same as Lotus 1-2-3 (as that was seen as a standard) but without the manual I can’t make full use of it. Something notable here is that values in formulae do not update automatically, you have to select the recalculate option to refresh those cells.

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The graphics module was for creating charts. It supported CGA and EGA graphics modes for creating the charts, although the emulation I have can only demonstrate the CGA mode. There isn’t any facility for entering data, instead you need to export a selection of data from either the spreadsheet or database module.

The info management (database) module was something we never used, and I wasn’t able to work out how to use it well enough to get a decent screen shot. Ironically it was one of the most popular features of the software that made it useful for many people. It supported a subset of the SQL language and was capable of storing what was an exceptional amount of data for the time. Later versions included a dialect of BASIC called PRO which made it a platform for developing database driven applications.

Using Open Access is not very intuitive for a user today as the interface is designed around using function keys on the keyboard. Unfortunately there isn’t really much documentation within the program itself, instead it comes with extensive printed documentation (which is presently at my parents place). At the time it was released this was completely normal, and if you used it often enough you’d soon remember all the function keys, so it wasn’t seen as a downside.


Loader Larry for DOS

Today’s game was made by Soleau Software, originally released back in 1993. The company was mostly one person, William Soleau, who was a prolific producer of shareware for MS-DOS machines during the early 1990’s, and is still developing new games today.

Loader Larry can be considered a more advanced version of Block man as it has more game mechanics, although the puzzles aren’t necessarily harder. Interestingly both games came out in the same year, I haven’t seen anything to confirm this, but I assume Block man came first as it is the simpler one. I also noted that Taking Care of Business is very similar as well, which makes me wonder if these games are a clone of something older that I can’t think of or find.

Graphically Larry uses pretty much the same technology that all MS-DOS Soleau Software games did, EGA graphics at 640×350 resolution. This has unfortunately squished my screen shots a bit vertically, so I’ve had to scale them to appear as they would on screen. Artistically it’s a little better than Block man with better detail in the tiles, but both are comparable given they use the same technology. PC speaker sound is present but fairly basic.

The controls are pretty much the same as those found in Block man, the movement however has been slightly improved. You can now turn around without moving a tile, and can pick up blocks that are under another. This makes it easier to move around in general, but care still needs to be taken so you don’t get trapped.

I found Loader Larry to be a challenging and charming despite its technical simplicity. It’s just the right amount of game to fill a gap where you need a bit of entertainment and challenge without being so big you have to invest loads of time. That being said you might not find it re-playable once you solve all the puzzles. Soleau Software is still around, so if you have nostalgia for these games you can still get them at their website, where they still offer registration for the MS-DOS games for $8 US.

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Framed for DOS

Today’s game is an obscure adventure platform game made in 1994 by a two man company named Machination. The story is fairly simple at the beginning, you’re a journalist who has been framed and you find yourself in jail. The first and shareware scenario is set within the jail, your job is both to escape and find any information about why you’ve been framed. The game play is unique as it’s an inventory based adventure game but with conventional platform style movement and environment.

The game engine supports VGA graphics, but only 16 of the 256 colours, which is exceptionally odd. Obviously this affects the art style which doesn’t appear to be as polished as contemporary games usually were. I don’t think the art work is bad, it does do a good job of setting the scene of a dreary prison space. There isn’t much animation apart from moving objects such as the enemies and the player, but the animation is nice enough and the level scrolls quite nicely.

Sound Blaster, Ad Lib and PC speaker are all supported. The sounds are fairly basic, with simple sounds for actions like jumping, walking and being hurt. There is basically no music in the game other than the funeral march when you die and a short ditty at the title screen. Generally the game is fairly quiet except for the sound of your footsteps and the occasional boing noise when you jump. This fits fine with the prison scenario where a more eerie atmosphere is appropriate.

The movement controls are fairly reasonable, although you press up to jump I didn’t have any trouble with movement generally. The other controls, which are used mostly for interaction with items, aren’t quite as easy to use. There are many keys that are spread around the keyboard. Luckily you don’t usually need to use them whilst dodging a hazard, so it’s tolerable after you get used to them.

The platforming aspect of the game works fairly well for the most part, but has issues. Most enemies come in the form of guards, fireballs and spiders. You can’t harm any of them until you get the gun, so you have to dodge them where you can. The guards roam the levels in predetermined patterns, so you can exploit that to get past them usually, although there are some tight spaces where you basically have to take a hit to get past. The fireballs are emitted from broken pipes and will travel even when off screen. In one case a long corridor has one at the end, and you can have to dodge fireballs with no warning they are coming. The spiders look very innocuous being quite small, they basically wander around a small area looking like a background object. A small group blocks one particular space I found annoying.

The scenario is basically one larger level representing the prison and it’s hallways connected to smaller levels by doors representing each section like the dining area. Items can generally be found in the area you’d expect to find them, such as food being found in the dining area. I found that there wasn’t much food (or other health items) around, so whilst the hazards are fairly sparse it can be quite difficult to stay healthy. I had hoped that the food in the dining area would respawn or that you could get healed in the medical area but neither was the case.

The adventure aspect of the game revolves around inventory item puzzles. The trouble is the story is very sparse, so I spent my time wandering around gathering random items as I found them, not sure of their purpose. There are a few missed opportunities to tell part of the story as you have to trade items with some prisoners, they don’t talk or request the item they want, and don’t say anything other than thank you when you deliver. The other prisoners are the only NPCs I’ve encounter so far.

If I used one word to describe Framed it would be sparse. The main part of the level has long sections to travel between areas that could easily have been condensed. This makes both the platforming and adventure aspects less interesting as you spend a lot of time just walking around. If they had wanted to make the platforming more prominent, more challenges and health pickups would have gone a long way to making that work. Had they wanted to emphasize the adventure aspect they could have added more detail to the story through more dialogue, NPCs, and some prison activity to make the situation seem more active and to guide the player.

That being said I don’t think it’s a bad game. The engine is well made and there is a lot to do within the scenario as a whole, just there’s a bit of walking around in between. After watching a play through it was clear how much I’d missed simply because there was basically no guidance on where to go next, no goals and no indication of what was required to reach them. A guide or walk through would probably make your experience better if you chose to give it a go. There isn’t any way to get the registered version anymore, but you can get the shareware version from the RGB Classic DOS games website.

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Catacomb Abyss for DOS

Today’s game is quite unusual as it’s an early FPS game supporting EGA 16 colour graphics. It was released after Wolfenstein 3D in 1992, but isn’t a clone as it’s a sequel to the earlier game Catacomb 3D (1991). Both Catacomb 3D and Abyss were made using a earlier version of the Wolfenstein 3d engine, the first being made by id software for Softdisk and the second by staff at Softdisk using the same engine. So in that sense you could consider both to be a pre-cursor to Wolfenstein 3d technology wise.

The story is fairly simple and is a continuation of the first Catacomb 3d series. Nemesis, the antagonist from the previous game is now obviously dead, but his evil minions that are still around have built a memorial mausoleum in the town cemetery and are infesting the area. The local town-folk obviously aren’t too happy about it, so knowing you defeated Nemesis himself they send you in to clean up.

Graphically it’s quite impressive for EGA, artistically the sprites and wall textures are fairly well done for 16 colours. Performance wise the engine performs quite well under dosbox, which was configured at 3000 cycles which is roughly equivalent to a 20Mhz 386. I’d expect it to also be quite playable on 286 machines with the exception of slower ones. The engine however isn’t perfect, monsters can get close enough to you that they are no longer displayed. This tended to happen when they spawned very close and made it quite difficult to kill them. I found using the Xterminators usually helped. I also noticed that the texture mapping on the walls sometimes appeared a bit off, and that text on the walls was often hard to read. Despite the faults, the game looks nice and is quite atmospheric.

Sound support defaults to the PC speaker, which sounds ok. You can switch the game over to using Ad Lib sound, but the user interface and documentation don’t make it clear that it’s available and how to turn it on. I played for ages before realising there was another option. Once you manage to get it working the Ad Lib sound effects are quite effective, but they are loud and some of them are a little crackly. This could be down to imperfect emulation of the FM chip in dosbox, but I suspect it’s the pseudo-digital sound effects that are the cause.

The levels are quite short, but still big enough you can get lost. They rely on destructible walls quite a bit, which fortunately are usually easy to spot. They hide them as blocks that are different to those around them or a short and easily recognisable pattern. With infinite basic shots you should be able to find them fairly easily. There are doors with keys, but they don’t have a nice opening animation instead simply vanishing instead. Which could be the reason they aren’t used very much.

As you work through the game there are a variety of settings, each with their own graphic style, and typical monsters found there. You start off in the “towne” cemetery and work your way into the mausoleum and then crypt for Nemesis. For some reason not clearly explained you then end up deeper underground and then the segment that I’m up to, the aqueduct. On the up side each setting is fairly different visually, and some like the aqueduct change things up with different monsters.

There isn’t a huge variety of monsters in each level, but they get progressively stronger and have more variety in later levels. The basic monsters use melee attacks primarily, which can be a problem if they get too close. Zombies, which appear in the earlier levels, are not visible until they climb out of the ground. This sometimes happens when they are already too close to see, so you may need to use a Xterminator as moving away seems futile. In later levels I’ve seen some more interesting enemies such as floating wizards that shoot fireballs at you, large beasts, and what can only be described as aquatic zombies that hide under the water popping up every now and then.

There’s only really one weapon, a fireball that you can rapidly fire. You can’t charge it like the original 2d game, but you can make up for that with volume of fire. The two spells that you get aren’t really different weapons, but rather variations on the basic fireball. The Xterminator previously mentioned basically just fires standard fireballs in a circle around you, useful when many enemies are close, or you want to hit one you can’t see. The Zapper essentially just sends out a pulse of rapid fire and is less useful as you can achieve the same rate of fire manually.

Controls are fairly similar to those in Wolfenstein 3d, but not quite as refined and polished. Turning and moving are as you’d expect, but the control turning faster is the tab or v key, which can be a little cumbersome to reach. The alternative is to turn much slower, giving enemies more time to hurt you. This aside the controls work fairly well.

Catacomb Abyss is the only one of the series that was ever available as shareware, consequently it’s the only one easy to download. From what I’ve played, it’s actually quite decent although a little clunky in some aspects like the controls. Still it has great atmosphere and having short levels means you don’t get as lost as you might with something like Wolf3d. You can buy this along with the rest of the series on the Good old Games website for I think about $8 US dollars.

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