Archive for the 'Games' Category

02
Sep
19

Skunny: Wild West for DOS

Having already looked at three of the Skunny games you’d think I would have learned my lesson and avoided today’s game Wild West, featuring our not so favourite Skunny Hardnut. This entry in the Skunny series of games came out in 1994 and was made and published by Copysoft. With the previous games not being terribly good and expectations low for Wild West you’d be forgiven for thinking I am some kind of weird retro gaming masochist.

The story for Wild West isn’t as nutty as some of the others, Skunny is simply diverted to the Wild West on his way home from Rome to help his parents retrieve their missing sheep.  I am actually kind of disappointed as the nutty stories from previous games were quite amusing. No sticky nut pudding to be found anywhere, and who doesn’t like a sticky nut?

The VGA graphics are very much like previous games, they’re decent in their own way but not great either. It’s very much like Save our Pizza’s in style. I suspect it uses the same engine and has had new artwork made to fit the Wild West theme. I did notice one funny inconsistency, Skunny’s hat disappears when he bends down to pick up a crate, perhaps it falls off his head.

Audio is again like previous games, reusing many of the sound effects where they could. In general the digitised effects and PC speaker bloops are ok. There is only one track of music that loops constantly, so that gets a bit maddening after a while, although it’s better than the last game you’ll want to turn it off.

The keyboard controls are basically the same as they were in Save our Pizzas, although there are less issues getting around the levels and dealing with enemies. I still found that the game would completely miss pressing jump when using the keyboard.

Because the keyboard controls aren’t great I thought I’d try out using a game pad with the built-in joystick support. Back in the day this would have been uncommon, as most people had either an analog joystick (which isn’t appropriate for a platformer) or only a keyboard and mouse for input. It turns out using a gamepad solves the issue where it misses input for the jump button. I’d imagine that this may also help Save our Pizzas play better as well. Although the movement mechanics are still a bit janky, so it still doesn’t control well.

The game play is better than Save our Pizza’s for a few notable reasons. Firstly Skunny has a water pistol as his main attack, which means you’re much less likely to touch the enemies in the process of taking them out. When you are hit you don’t bounce backwards unless you touch an enemy. This significantly reduces how often you’ll be knocked into a hazard that kills you instantly, although it still happens. There are quite a number of health and ammunition pickups in the space that I played, so you generally can recharge.

Although the game play is improved I still found it to be frustrating to play. The enemy projectiles are generally impossible to dodge, just because they are fired so frequently.  Resulting in losing some health at every encounter with no way to avoid the damage.

The levels are set in a magical part of the wild west where everything is suspended on platforms in the sky, even the lakes and trains. Perhaps they mastered levitation and didn’t tell anyone. So basically most jumps are over a pitfall of some kind and any mistake at all is pretty much insta-death. So it’s better in the sense that you’ll get further into the game before you lose your mind.

I got far enough into the first level to discover that there are check points if you can make it far enough, mostly because using a gamepad made things a little easier. However after numerous attempts I couldn’t get any further just like the other games. I took some screen shots from the demo as I didn’t want to keep playing, and it shows some areas I couldn’t reach.

Like the other Skunny games there isn’t a terrible lot to recommend it, although I concede you may enjoy it if you have some nostalgia for Skunny. I downloaded the shareware version from the usual place, until recently you could still buy the registered version from the Copysoft website, but that seems to no longer be available.

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27
Jun
19

Silly Knight for DOS

Today I’m looking at a small home brew game named Silly Knight made by Petr “AfBu” Kratina in 2017. It was made for a DOS game creation competition hosted at high-voltage.cz. It uses a special CGA text mode for drawing at 160×100 resolution with 16 colours by using code developed by Jason M. Knight originally for Paku Paku. The story and game are fairly simple: you’re a silly knight trying to make your way to the throne to become king, killing anything that gets in your way.

Whilst the graphics are blocky due to the low resolution they are quite well drawn and animated. The animations in particular are quite impressive as they move quite fluidly despite the large pixels. Sound support is PC speaker with some bleeps and bloops for player actions like jumping and picking up power ups. I’d say it would probably work on 286 class machines quite well, and perhaps be playable on 8Mhz 808x systems, but wouldn’t perform well on a 4.77Mhz machine.

The game controls are fairly simple, left and right for basic movement, space for attack and up to jump. The knight is fairly easy to control and goes where you expect him to. I’ve heard some people are critical of using up for jump, but I didn’t have any problem with it on this particular game.

Now what do those boots do?

The level design is good in much the same way the graphics are. It is limited by the technicalities of the game engine, but designed very well given those limitations. Basically there are a number of screens which you travel between by using doors. Each screen has some obstacles to overcome, such as bad guys or pitfalls. Generally the bad guys can be overcome with patience and your sword, but in sections that are more difficult you’ll probably die multiple times. Death just sends you back to the last check point with no other penalty, the check points are fairly common so you usually don’t have to travel far to try again.

One issue I did have was working out what the boots power-up gave me. It enables double jumping, which is necessary to escape where you pick them up. I looked up someones play-through on youtube to find out how to escape that area. I did feel pretty silly for not working it out on my own, but some kind of documentation or notification of what it was in game would have helped.

Other than me being a bit silly with the power-up, the only real criticism I have is the game is a bit short, I easily completed it in around half an hour. Granted it would need more features such as more bad guys if it were to be larger, and being short isn’t really necessarily a bad thing. It’s just I liked it enough I wanted to play more. This is totally worth a download, whilst I couldn’t find an official website for it, you can find it at the doshaven home brew website.

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12
May
19

Paganitzu: Romancing the Rose for DOS

Whilst Apogee were better known for publishing action games they also had some puzzle games in their catalog. Todays game, Paganitzu is one of those puzzles games, having some features in common with Sokoban. I’m just playing the shareware episode, but you can still buy Paganitzu on steam or through the 3drealms website. It was originally released late 1991 and made by Keith Schuler.

The story of the game is fairly simple, it’s a continuation from the first game. Alabama Smith (totally not a rip-off of Indiana Jones) had gotten famous from his exploits in Chagunitzu. Now his fame is fading and he is busily researching a new pyramid to raid, that is Paganitzu. The game starts having just entered the pyramid.

The game is like Sokoban in that it is played on a grid of tiles with items you can push around to solve problems. Unlike Sokoban there are hazards in each level that will kill you if you’re not careful. Spiders move quickly, usually hugging either the left or right wall and snakes spit fire at you if they catch sight of you. Your task is to collect all the keys so you can move through the pyramid to accomplish the greater goal of the story. In some parts of the levels you will find hints, parts of the story, or little jokes that add a bit extra to the experience.

CGA and EGA graphics are supported, with EGA looking reasonably nice but CGA not looking so hot for some of the more detailed graphics. Animations are pretty good in general with the exception of the player or enemies moving. Each entity sort of jerks a whole tile at a time, some with no animation at all. I suspect this is because it’s a tile based game. PC speaker is the only sound device supported, with only a few bleeps and bloops for various events, it’s not annoying but is totally optional.

The controls use the normal cursor arrow keys on the keyboard, so the control layout is generally fine. However I’ve found that the game doesn’t buffer key presses and doesn’t always accept input when you’d hope. This left me sometimes mashing the keyboard trying to move as fast as I could, but actually moving significantly slower instead. This made some puzzles harder to finish than they needed to be.

The levels and progression are generally well done, although there are a few levels that are out of place because they are easier or harder than they should be for that point in the game. The shareware episode I played today is 20 levels long, although I wasn’t able to complete that set in the time frame I had to play. The two registered episodes each have slightly different mechanics and hazards, so are refreshingly different from the shareware portion.

Despite the control issues I managed to almost complete the shareware episode in roughly 2 hours, getting stuck on level 19. Only because I couldn’t move fast enough to escape the spider and block it in. I did for the most part enjoy playing Paganitzu, and I recommend it to people who enjoy puzzle games.

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28
Feb
19

QB Debugger Heroes for DOS

I wasn’t sure whether I should include today’s game as a home brew as it’s creator, Gemini (Kris Asick), has produced commercial games. From the file date it was made sometime in November 2017. He made it using QBasic during a live stream, which is certainly interesting, unfortunately there doesn’t seem to be a recording to watch now.

QB Debugger Heroes is a fairly simple Robotron 2084 clone using text mode for graphics and lacking any sound effects. This is relatively common for games implemented using gwbasic or Qbasic languages as it makes development much faster, and whilst there are graphics commands they don’t generally perform well so aren’t suited for action games. Although it is technically possible. Whilst it’s just textmode style graphics, they are nice to look at and includes some basic animation that looks quite nice.

The game controls requires the numpad on your keyboard, so you won’t be playing on a laptop. It works kinda like the twin stick design of the arcade game, with two clusters of keys, one for movement and the other for directing your fire. However unlike a real joystick each keypress changes your movement and gun fire, but you continue moving and firing in that direction until you press a key to change it. This is partly because of limitations within Qbasic when reading input from the keyboard.

For best results I suggest using a modern machine with Dosbox to run it, as you’ll be able to adjust the speed as needed. 30,000 cycles was suggested and is about right for a faster more challenging play experience. If you’re playing on real hardware you’ll need a Pentium era machine to get a decent challenge. Older 286 and 386 machines will work, but it runs slower and will be significantly easier.

The game play has the main elements of Robotron, but is simplified and has some elements removed. Like the arcade game, enemies spawn in continuously (in short bursts) and you finish a wave when your destroy a set number of them. However it appears there are fewer enemy types and there aren’t any humans to rescue. This was to be expected as it was developed in a relatively small time frame, and additions such as those would have degraded the game speed. Difficulty ramps up with each wave mostly just by number of enemies present.

Obviously QB Debugger Heroes isn’t anything special as far as Robotron clones go, but it is a good example of what can be done fairly quickly with a language like QBasic. Gemini has managed to create a reasonably faithful Robotron clone that is polished in 6 hours, which in my book is pretty darn impressive. You can find a download for it on his website.

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30
Dec
18

Shaw’s Nightmare 2 for DOS

Today I’m taking at look at a sequel to the homebrew game Shaw’s nightmare, simply called Shaw’s Nightmare II it was released by Michael Muniko in 2016. There is much in common between the two games, such as being made using the Build engine and being heavily inspired by Doom, Doom 2 specifically in the case of the sequel.

Firstly there are a few things I didn’t notice when playing the first game that apply equally to both. They support VESA graphics with resolutions higher than the standard 320×200 VGA, today I’ve used 640×400, although you can go as high as 1024×768. The sprites look a little better with higher resolutions because the scaling doesn’t cut out as much detail. Also items in the game are rendered using a voxel engine that is part of the build engine.

Running at a higher resolution seemed to required more processing power, it worked reasonably well under dosbox with 60-100k cycles. Later I found turning the cycles up to maximum helped with another issue.

Artistically nothing much has changed in the sequel, although there are some new enemies and a new weapon which fit in well with the pre-existing art style. The main improvement comes from the level design, which has better enemy placement and level layout, creating less issues with sprites clipping and blocking your view. There are a couple of levels which are clearly inspired by some found in Doom II.

The basic sound effects are much the same as the first game, however there seems to be some improved music. It’s no symphony, and the quality varies by song, but it’s generally better than the first game.

The controls still suffer from input lag, and a little bit of sluggishness in the movement of the player. I tried using the mouse in combination with the keyboard, but found difficulty with mouse sensitivity. The demo in the game suggests it’s possible to get something more functional, perhaps requiring more processing power to reduce input lag. I tried setting dosbox to maximum cycles and it helped, but didn’t eliminate the problem.

Shaws Nightmare 2 is an incremental but significant improvement over the first. The control lag is still an issue, but it’s more playable. After getting used to the control issues I did start to have some fun. If you want to give it a try you can find it on the authors website here.

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09
Oct
18

Wolfenstein 3d for DOS

Todays game is very well known, and can be considered the grand father of the FPS genre. Wolfenstein 3d was released by id software in 1992. It was extremely popular, selling both in the retail and shareware markets, and received several significant awards. The engine was licensed out and resulted in a number of other games, some I’ve already covered such as Blake Stone and Corridor 7. It inspired others to make similar engines and games of their own such as Nitemare 3d and Ken’s Labyrinth. In this way it really spawned a whole generation of FPS games.

It wasn’t without controversy, partly because of the Nazi imagery used as well as the Nazi party anthem being used at the title screen. Because of this some rules were changed in Germany which resulted in the game and some other media being banned there until quite recently. It was also quite violent compared to contemporary games, although looking at it today it is comparably tame.

Today is actually the first time I’ve really sat down and played through a significant portion of Wolfenstein 3d. I’ve had brief encounters with the game in the past, but never really sat down and spent some time with it. I played through the entire shareware episode in a little over an hour total play time.

You need a VGA graphics card and at least a fast 286 machine. I’ve found that 3000 cycles in Dosbox (roughly a 20Mhz 286/386sx) is sufficient to run the game with the maximal screen size and a smooth frame rate. I quite like the art style, the UI elements are generally very minimalist in a pleasing way whilst sprites and textures are detailed and make good use of colour. It’s impressive in both an artistic and technical sense.

The sound effects are a mix of digitised and adlib sound effects, which generally sound quite good. Although it seems that it can only play one digital effect at a time, which can result in odd sound when in a noisy situation such as lots of nearby enemies. The adlib music is quite good and adds quite a bit of atmosphere to the game. Although I was startled to learn the music used at the title screen is the Nazi party anthem.

There are three different options for control, keyboard, mouse or joystick. I used the keyboard for my play through, mainly as I did it on my macbook. The keyboard works fairly well mostly, but sometimes doesn’t have the aiming precision sometimes. Using the mouse and keyboard works much better, but it wasn’t an option for me this time.

The game play is pretty simple, basically you search a maze like level for the level exit. Along the way you have to gun down enemies, pick up ammo and health as needed, and collect various score items. There are some locked areas which require a key, which are usually found simply by exploring a level.

Because of their maze like structure and how many areas look similar it can be easy to get disoriented and totally lost. There is a simple maze solving algorithm that can help, simply stick to walls on either the left or right hand side. This works well for the majority of the levels, only slipping up where there is a loop in the maze.

Guns are an important part of every FPS game, Wolfenstein 3D has 4 basic weapons. The knife, pistol, sub-machine gun, and a rapid firing chain gun. The best weapon for most use is the sub-machine gun as it’s fast firing, but not so fast as to chew up all your ammunition. The chain gun tends to eat ammunition too fast, so is only really useful when fighting the bosses or a large group of enemies. The pistol and knife are basically starter weapons for when you’re low or out of ammunition.

So how does Wolfenstein 3d hold up today? I’d say it holds up fairly well, although there are some issues. The game play works very well, but does get repetitive after a while. The levels are generally well designed, with secrets to find and plenty of bad guys to shoot, however many areas look the same so it’s easy to get lost. I also found I had to wander empty levels after killing most bad guys but having to retrieve a key or find a locked door. On the other hand the guns are still fun to use, it still very atmospheric, and blasting through the levels is still quite fun. Later episodes shake things up by adding new enemy types and are more difficult.

You can play Wolfenstein 3d online at the internet archive, or you can get a copy on steam or GOG.

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27
Jul
18

Dungeons of Noudar 3D for DOS

Today I’m looking at another homebrew game, Dungeons of Noudar 3d made by Daniel Montiero. It’s a simple dungeon crawler game with a similar visual design to something like Eye of the Beholder. After playing with it a while I think it’s in need of some polish, but is really quite impressive from a technical standpoint.

Hardware support is VGA only for the graphics. The main 3d landscape is rendered in a large window and it features fairly detailed geometry. Compared to the basic 3d dungeons that many RPGs had, it offers quite a bit more visual detail. Whilst it doesn’t render fast enough to be comparable to any FPS games, it works quite well for this style of game, which typically doesn’t update the screen as often. The sprite artwork is nice at a distance, but when enemies or items are up close it can be very blocky.

Hardware support for basic sound is included for PC speaker, Adlib and the OPL2LPT. I tried both the PC speaker and Adlib whilst playing using Dosbox. I found that the sounds varied in pitch and length a little, perhaps because of the emulation, it usually coincided with a delayed screen update. The sound effects are fairly basic, and although they sound fine you don’t miss anything by having them turned off. Unfortunately you can only select the sound support with a command line parameter.

The game play consists of some basic puzzles and some bad guys to fight, both within relatively small levels. Puzzles basically involve finding ropes to cut that open doors. Generally this just requires you to explore the level. Enemies roam the levels, the first ones you encounter don’t seem to be very active, but after a few levels they will chase and attack you. Later enemies require you to use specific weapons in order to damage them. If you encounter them without the weapon required you’re generally boned. Luckily you will find the right weapons if you explore the levels thoroughly.

There are some issues which make it more difficult to enjoy. I got stuck on the 3rd level, the prison, and even though I had cut all the ropes I couldn’t find where I had to go next. In a few other instances I reached the level end without having the chance to fully explore the level and find all the items. I think some kind of visual indication on the exit door/location would help greatly, both so you know when you’ve found it and so you don’t accidentally finish a level before you’re done exploring.

I think it could also use the capability to save and load a game in progress, or continue from a check point after death. Not having these features really limited how far I could progress as I’d have to start from scratch each time I started to play. I’d have liked to get further into it, as it was getting more interesting at the point I got up to.

Issues aside Dungeons of Noudar 3d whilst a bit slow to start is an enjoyable experience. The 3d renderer is fairly impressive in it’s capability, even if it’s not fast and the basic game mechanics do work and play quite well. It’s not a deep experience by any means, but it you enjoy dungeon crawlers this might be worth a download. You can get it from his website here.

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