Archive for the 'Homebrew' Category


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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Shaw’s Nightmare for DOS

Shaw's NightmareToday’s game is some-what unusual, it is a DOS game that was released relatively recently, at the end of 2013. It was mostly developed by one guy, Michael Muniko, which is quite impressive really given the scale of the game. It is an obviously Doom inspired FPS built using the Build engine. Unlike many others, who would produce a total conversion mod for something like Duke Nukem 3d, the developer has instead built their own DOS executable from source. This was certainly an ambitious project right from the get go.

I played today using Dosbox, and there are a few things you’ll need if you want to play. Firstly, whilst the game only requires 8Mb of RAM, it doesn’t recognise it correctly under Dosbox. To get around this you need to set the amount of memory to 24Mb or higher, I have mine set to 32Mb. I have no idea if this is true of an actual machine as I haven’t tried it on one yet. You also need to set a reasonably high cycle count, I tested the game at 60,000 cycles.

Lets start with the graphics. The game uses VGA graphics, which is no surprise as that is what most build engine games support. The art style of this game is what confuses me the most. It looks like it was drawn in 5 minutes per sprite with MS Paint to put it bluntly, but it kinda has a weird childish charm as well. I could imagine having drawn something like it when playing with paint as a kid. I’m not really sure what to make of it, either he was a bit lazy, or deliberately chose this style for artistic reasons which would be clever. After all the game is set with-in Shaw’s dream world.

Unfortunately some of the sprites will cause problems. Their size will sometimes cause them to clip into walls, which fortunately doesn’t happen often. The biggest problem is with the corpses being just as large, blocking your view, and looking not much different to the live creatures. Doom sometimes suffered a little from this when you encountered any number of certain enemies, but you could usually see over them to some degree, and they were obviously dead.

The sound design, like the graphics, is either lazy or very clever. The music sounds like random mashings on a keyboard, as if he threw a random number generator at the music. I can’t say it’s bad, it doesn’t hurt your ears, it’s just somewhat surreal. Sound effects for Shaw himself are much better, albeit a bit quiet, they sound like they are the straight recorded voice of an actor/friend. The creatures however sound somewhat deranged, for some reason he used cats yowling for many of the effects and other strange noises. Weapon noises are fairly run of the mill, but are too quiet to make much impact.

Game play wise, Shaw’s Nightmare is very much like Doom. The weapons, whilst sounding and looking a bit different are largely the same as the weapons in Doom. The creatures encountered in the first episode are much like the basic enemies found in shareware Doom. Although they are much more brain dead than even the zombies.

The level design is different, however I’m not sure how to describe it. They are elaborate in a way, but also simple in their design, not a bad thing by any stretch. There is some variety, some levels are more open and set outside, whilst others are closed and set in corridors and maze-like structures. Because the same simple textures are used repeatedly you may get lost, but I didn’t experience as much of this as I thought I would.

The controls are probably the part of the game which annoyed me the most. I used the keyboard as that’s what I would normally use for a vintage FPS such as Doom or Duke Nukem 3d.  I found it to be kind of like walking in treacle in the sense that it takes a while before you accelerate to normal speed, in turning as well as walking. Then when you release the key it takes much longer than you’d expect stop. This makes it really hard to aim and move with much precision. I would have had much more fun if this was set up more like Doom or other FPS games.

sn_028I don’t really know how to summarise Shaw’s Nightmare. It’s certainly feels surreal and strange, much like the dream world it is set in. But on the other hand the graphics and sound clearly could be much better. Neither are obstacles to it being fun, the controls are pretty much the main reason I found it frustrating sometimes. Should you play this? If you’re curious about an obscure FPS made by an individual, then yes. If you want to play something polished like Doom, then you should probably play that instead.

Update: The author has provided a link in the comments to a new version that controls better. It’s still not perfect but makes the game much more fun and easier to control.

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Paku Paku for DOS

Having just got back from my trip away, I haven’t had much time this past weekend. I did backup some 5.25 inch floppies I brought back with me, but I was unable to get what I had planned for this week working. Step in Paku Paku which is actually a recently made DOS Pacman clone for the IBM PC. It uses the hacked CGA text mode to get 16 colours on screen at the same time in the same way that Round 42 does. Jason M Knight made it in 2011 as part of something known as the Retrochallenge winter warm-up. You can find his website here.

High Scores

High Scores

The graphics are very impressive and work on an impressive array of hardware, everything including CGA, EGA, VGA and Tandy/PC jr. Whilst the pixels are larger, the graphics are colourful, nicely animated and move as you’d expect them to. The graphics were programmed with a mix of Turbo Pascal 7 and assembler and Jason has included the source so you can write games/software that has the same graphics capability.

Getting fast now!

Getting fast now!

There are many different sound devices supported, including the PC speaker, Creative Music System (CMS), Adlib, and a few others. With so many devices to choose from you are sure to have something that will work quite well. I tried both the Adlib and PC speaker for sound and was astonished at how close to the arcade they both sound. The documentation says the CMS probably sounds the best, but I didn’t test this.

The controls are as you would expect, simple and easy to use. Turning corners is as you would expect, and the game responds correctly even in tight and fast sections of the maze. The ghost AI actively chases you and runs away at appropriate times, but with quick reflexes they can be outrun and outsmarted. The difficulty curve is not too harsh, and even I managed to get quite a respectable score.

Game Over

Game Over

Paku Paku is an impressive game, it fits 16 colour graphics and sound into about 66k of memory, about half being code. It runs incredibly well on old hardware such as the old IBM 5150, XT machines and clones. It’s not just impressive because of its technical features, it’s a well crafted clone of pacman. It’s obvious that great care has gone into the design of the graphics and sound. I’d recommend anyone with a Dos machine (or DosBox) and some time download it and give it a go.

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