Archive for the 'Games' Category

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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23
May
18

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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28
Mar
18

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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21
Feb
18

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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06
Dec
17

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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26
Sep
17

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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