Posts Tagged ‘CGA

09
Oct
15

Squirmer for DOS

I’ve started to recover from quite a nasty cold this week, so today we’re looking at another obscure MS-DOS game. It’s called Squirmer and was made by Stephen Lee Parker in 1990. It is an interesting take on the standard snake game that later became popular on feature phones.

Squirmer supports CGA, EGA and VGA as was common for many games of that time. The graphics aren’t spectacular, but are fine for what they are. The sprites are quite small, so there isn’t much room for detail, but this has the advantage of allowing larger levels on screen. PC speaker is the only sound hardware supported and is ok, but it can be switched off if you find it annoying.

The game-play is what makes Squirmer different. The main limiting factor in the game is the time limit rather than the length of your snake. There are the usual food pellets you can eat for points and increased length, but there are also bombs you can eat that will reduce your length. Care needs to be taken to not eat bombs when you’re not very long as that will kill your Squirmer.

You can move between the levels freely without restriction. All you have to do is go to the exit for the next or previous level. Your score increases more per pellet at the higher levels, so it can be worth skipping some of the lower ones, but it is worth collecting the extra time along the way as that is usually what runs out.

I found Squirmer to be a fun distraction, much like most other snake games, that can keep you occupied in a moment of boredom. However like other snake games you’re unlikely to play it for long bursts as the game-play is pretty much the same every time. It’s a little hard to find, but if you do happen to have it cross your path, it’s worth a quick play.

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03
Jul
15

Robomaze III: The Dome for DOS

WetwareSince I’m still setting up my computer lab space today I’m looking at a game called Robomaze III. It was made by a company called Wetware for MVP software back in 1991. This is of course a sequel to Robomaze II, but unlike it, this game is a top down adventure game.

Robomaze III: The DomeThe story seems to be a continuation of the last game where you defeated everything in the tower. Now you’ve traveled to The Dome in order to defeat the dictator currently dominating the land. Unfortunately you left your gun in the tower and your suite of armour doesn’t work in the Dome.

In the beginning there were no weapons

In the beginning there were no weapons

Whilst the story between the two games is continuous, both games don’t feel very connected otherwise. The environment, enemies and weapons of both games is quite different with the only real commonality being the main character. In Robomaze III you fight various fantasy style enemies using weapons such as swords and axes. Guns do enter the game later, but they are effectively just more powerful arrows.

Witches House

Witches House

Again graphics support comes in the form of CGA and EGA and like many older games there is a different version of the game for each mode. I used the EGA version which runs at 640x200x16, which is unusual for games of that era, but does allow for more effective use of the dithering technique. I think the graphics are implemented a little better this time around, although I did see some flicker. Sprites are easier to identify this time around and animations look reasonable.

Sometimes it's easier being green.

Sometimes it’s easier being green.

Sound is once again PC speaker exclusive and again the title screen has some of the worst music ever. In game sound however is much better, but isn’t strictly important to the experience. It’s perfectly playable with the sound on or off, so choose what you think best.

A hospital with guns?

A hospital with guns?

Game-play wise Robomaze III is an adventure game more in the vain of Zelda on the NES rather than a normal PC adventure game. There is an over world  of sorts which connects everything together. Traveling around is fairly simple, but because you have a large sprite (larger than many trees!) it can be difficult to maneuver.

Licked the red frog.

Licked the red frog.

You encounter enemies randomly with the exception of a few fixed enemies that usually have something for you to pick up. Combat involves flinging your weapon or ammunition at the bad guys. Unfortunately it can be difficult to hit them if you are shooting vertically, so shoot at enemies from the horizontal if possible.

Field of Death!

Field of Death!

This has to be one of the harder games I’ve attempted, the first weapon you get is incredibly weak and not really strong enough to defend against even the weakest enemies. Normally it’s best to avoid combat, but that can be tricky, and some enemies need to be killed to make progress. The only way to make the game a bit more balanced is to engage all the cheats so your weapon is more powerful and power-ups have more effect.

Luckily you can continue the game after you die, retaining everything except your score. Because the combat is so awkward even with the cheats enabled you will die on a regular basis. It’s not punishing, but it makes the combat feel largely pointless.

Robomaze III has not really aged all that well, mostly because of the poor combat mechanics and balance. Otherwise it has some redeeming features such as relatively nice graphics and large area to explore. However I feel this is probably one game best left to those who remember it fondly, the problems in game-play out-stink its good qualities.

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05
Feb
15

Arctic Adventure for DOS

The title screen

Arctic Adventure was released in 1991, when the author George Broussard had just merged his company with Apogee. It is a sequel to the first game: Pharaoh’s Tomb, and shares the same game engine that was originally developed by Todd Replogle for Monuments of Mars. It shares most of its technical aspects with both of these games, as it uses exactly the same technologies.

Map ScreenAgain CGA graphics and PC Speaker sound were used, with about the same level to technical skill as both are roughly equivalent to the other games. The only really big change is using the white, cyan, and magenta CGA palette instead, which is quite appropriate given the Arctic theme. I noted that this time there was no performance warning for older machines, but I haven’t noted any significant improvement. So best to avoid the slowest 8088 and PCjr machines.

Game ScreenUnlike the other two games you start in an over-world style map which allows you to choose which level you wish to attempt. You need to gather keys and a boat to gain access to many of the levels, but you can attempt them in any order otherwise. Whilst you can only save at this screen, it’s quite  nice being able to return to this map screen without penalty so you can save your game, or choose another level if one is vexing you too much.

Not as easy as it looksEntering a level you’ll find similar collision issues that the other games suffered. The spikes in particular feel the most unfair as they will kill you without even touching your character. However overall it suffers from this much less than Pharaoh’s Tomb as you no longer have a limited number of lives. You simply return to the start of the level with everything you brought with you when you first arrived. This makes Death much less annoying as you can still progress even if you die many times, and you can choose another level when you get frustrated.

Looks simple enoughThe levels themselves are a mix of easier and harder puzzles, some of which are more a test of your platforming skills. They contain the same types of enemies and hazards as Pharaoh’s Tomb, just they have been re-skinned. It seems that the designer has made better use of these features as I didn’t run into the same problems as much, and the levels are much more enjoyable to play.

Like the other games Arctic Adventure was made freeware back in 2009, and is the better game of the three. It isn’t as frustrating as Pharaoh’s Tomb, but is more challenging than Monuments of Mars. Unfortunately it still suffers from some issues with the collision detection making some levels extra hard. If I had to pick a favourite, I’d probably favour Monuments of Mars, but Arctic Adventure is still quite enjoyable.

25
Nov
14

Pharaoh’s Tomb for DOS

Title Screen

Title Screen

Pharaoh’s Tomb is one of the earliest titles in the Apogee library being released back in 1990. It was designed by one of the key members of Apogee, George Broussard, before he became part of the company. He originally released the game under the Micro F/X name. It uses the same FAST engine developed by Todd Replogle that was used in the games Monuments of Mars and Arctic Adventure which were both produced around the same time.

I had a quick look into other titles developed by George Broussard and found that Pharaoh’s Tomb was his first commercially released platform puzzle game. This may explain some of the design issues I’ll mention and why Arctic Adventure was vastly improved over this title.

Special Notice

Special Notice

Like the other games, Pharaoh’s Tomb uses both CGA for graphics and PC speaker for sound, which are about the same quality as the other games: about as good as you can do with the technology used. From what testing I have managed, I think it would have worked reasonably well on even the oldest PC’s except perhaps 8088 based machines.

The game has you playing as an archaeologist called Nevada Smith, an obvious reference to Indiana Jones. You job is basically to explore a pyramid gathering treasure as you go, and of course survive the various traps you’ll find along the way. Many of the hazards are similar to those found in the other FAST games, but there are a couple of additions.

The Pyramid

The Pyramid

Something that struck me as soon as I started playing was how much harder Pharaoh’s Tomb is compared to the other games. One of the main issues is the collision detection, which seems to be much more of a problem. It feels like the designer has used the collision detection to make the game harder rather than design the levels to minimise the issue. Combined with having a limited number of lives this makes it very difficult to progress very far.

The Anteroom

The Anteroom

The designer didn’t stop there however, some treasures and objects are either totally unreachable or trap you, leaving you alive but unable to complete the level. This forces you to memorise the levels and just plain feels a bit unfair. It can be quite frustrating.

Interestingly the game has a screen talking about the collision detection system that the others lack. It explains that all the objects use bounding boxes for collision detection basically as part of the FAST engine and that you should be careful when near objects. I think they must have known the collision detection was an issue, but perhaps didn’t have a good solution.

One Mis-step....

One Mis-step….

Because of these issues Pharaoh’s Tomb unfortunately doesn’t play as well as either Arctic Adventure or Monuments of Mars. It still has some of the same charm, but the frustrations with the collision detection and level design make it much less fun to play. Like the others it was made freeware in 2009, but I would suggest you play the other games. Arctic Adventure retains much of the difficulty, but makes it less frustrating with unlimited lives and many other additions. Monuments of Mars similarly has unlimited lives, but also works better with the collision detection resulting in what feels like less unfairness.

11
Nov
14

Download for Bob’s fury

This week, after much time thinking about it, I decided I’d finally offer my old school platform game, Bob’s Fury for download. I originally wrote it in Qbasic back when I was 14 with the help of my younger brother who did some of the graphics, levels and helped play test it. The idea for making my own platformer had grown out of playing two of my then favourite games, Xargon and Hocus Pocus.

VGA Screenshot

VGA Screenshot

I originally had much larger plans for it, I had wanted to make water levels and puzzles like those in Xargon and run and gun sections like those in Hocus Pocus. At this stage I was still using gwbasic and I found that it was difficult to store enough graphics and tile information for one screen, it seemed like I wasn’t going to be able to build anything at all when I discovered Qbasic on the school computers.

Qbasic had many advantages, it supports a better graphics mode which allowed 256 colours at 320×200, then a common resolution for most PC games. The interpreter also had roughly twice the memory available to it which allowed me to use many sprites and get two screens per level. It took me roughly a year to build the engine and most of the levels. It was still quite limited in many aspects and didn’t live up to the original dream, but it was still a significant achievement.

Later in high school I had a computer studies teacher who did a bit of programming themselves. I know it seems odd, but not that many teachers of computer studies could actually program in those days. Anyway I was lucky enough that he gave me a copy of Borland Turbo Pascal 6.0, which was to be the first compiler I’d get to use. It was a bit of a learning curve, but I managed to learn pascal much quicker than either basic. I decided I wanted to port Bob’s fury as Pascal was a much faster language and wouldn’t be as limited as Qbasic.

EGA Screenshot

EGA Screenshot

I had a few problems however when I learned the graphics library. Firstly I hadn’t encountered pointers before, and they were required for bit mapped graphics. So I experimented with some simple vector graphics at first. Also Pascal didn’t have any support built-in for the graphics modes I wanted to use. So I put off making a port until I could learn more about the language.

Shortly after I went to University and got internet access I was able to solve some of these problems. I practised and learned how to use pointers in general and I found files that provided support for the graphics modes I was after. By 1999 I had built much of the tools and libraries for graphics and a few ancillary libraries needed. I’ve been working on this port sporadically since then.

I’ve been reluctant to release it for a few reasons. The first one being it’s quite unfinished. I haven’t really made enough new levels, I’m only really half way through making the first episode. The bulk of the levels are actually from the original Qbasic version, which are obviously quite limited. I’ve built a system for playing Adlib music, but haven’t made any music yet, appart from tracks for testing the software anyway.

CGA in game.

CGA in game.

So why am I releasing it? Well because despite the limitations it’s pretty cool, and I have fun playing it. (one of the reasons progress has been slow!) I want to motivate myself to get busy making more levels, now I realise there will probably be little interest in it, but stuff that I post about on my blog tends to get worked on. So having it here is a great motivation for doing more work and perhaps reporting progress as I get more done.

I’ve put a ZIP file on my download site here.

 

14
Oct
14

Works for DOS

Goughlui has recently had an interesting look at some old versions of common productivity software, namely Power Point and Lotus 1-2-3. I thought I might contribute by documenting some of the old DOS productivity software that I have, and today I’ll be looking back at MS Works 2.0. There’s a lot to look at so this might take a while!

This version of works was developed back in 1987-89, but my Dad didn’t buy it until some time later in the early 1990’s. We used it for pretty much everything. Me and my brothers wrote much of our homework on it, and Dad used the spreadsheet to manage the farms finances.

It wasn’t the first office suite we had, but it was used for most of the life of the old DOS PC.

You’ll notice from the screen shots that works primarily uses ASCII characters in place of graphics. It does however have a graphics mode to display the text allowing bold, underlined, strikethrough, and italicized text to appear on screen. Most other word processors used colours or special characters to indicate these features and were consequently much harder to read.

I have had to capture most screenshots in a basic text mode as dosbox doesn’t emulate the graphics mode works uses very well. This results in some parts of the screen not updating correctly when using the graphics mode in dosbox.

This version of works includes 4 major functions. A word processor, spreadsheet, database and communications package. I’ll try to talk about each in turn.

Graphics mode

Graphics mode

Text mode

Text mode

Firstly the word processor. It would be considered fairly basic by today’s standards but had a very good feature set for the day. It does most things modern word processors do with a few exceptions. Whilst there are formatting options such as bold and double spacing, there are only a limited set of fonts and text sizes available. Fonts and sizes depended on the printer support installed and didn’t change the appearance on screen.

Also inserting any kind of graphics is limited to charts created with the spreadsheet. Like Goughlui I’ve constructed an animated GIF with the menus to give you an idea what the word processor can do.

The spreadsheet is similarly limited. You can’t add graphics and formatting text is limited. It is however very usable for most basic tasks. Something that would frustrate many users is the lack of easy to find help when typing in formulae. It also lacks the feature of having multiple work sheets in each spreadsheet file.

You can create a chart based on data in your spreadsheet, but again the features available are limited in comparison to modern software. It does however manage to offer a number of different chart types such as the normal bar, pie and x-y charts.

Again another GIF of the menus available.

Works includes a very basic flat-file style database, but it is of very limited use because most things could be done much easier in a spreadsheet. The main reason you may use the database would be if you intended to use the mail-merge feature as using a spreadsheet file is not supported.

Database software like this hasn’t really survived today, as software like MS Access seems to be absent from current office suites.

Works includes a basic communication package which is basically a VT52 or ANSI terminal emulator. It does support sending and receiving files, but it seems that it doesn’t tell you which transfer protocol it uses. It probably would have been adequate to connect and upload/download files to or from a mainframe or mini computer, then still a common part of corporate infrastructure.

Finally something I remember playing with and enjoying as a child is the tutorial program. It is a whimsical introduction to the software for absolute beginners which actually does a pretty good job of teaching the basics of using the computer and works itself. The program shows you how to do something and then guides you through doing it yourself.

It reminds me of the IBM PC demonstration disk that Terry Stewart showed on youtube for his machine. You don’t see tutorial programs like these any more!

Compared to modern software Works lacks much of the features we take for granted today. However I have found that it is still quite usable today, as long as you don’t need graphics of any kind. I wrote today’s post using its word processor and found that the basic editing is as good as modern software. Mostly it’s missing features that DOS machines of the late 80’s and early 90’s weren’t capable of without a GUI like windows to support the application.

18
Aug
14

Cosmic Crusader for DOS

Today I was pretty unsure what I’d write about, I’ve had a bad case of procrastinitus. I don’t know why, but today I’ve just not really felt like doing a whole lot. So in an effort to try to break the feeling I decided to have a look in my folder of _really_ old PC games. I found something interesting that I hadn’t played before.

I found a game called Cosmic Crusader written in 1982 by Michael Abrash for Funtastic. Michael Abrash is of course better known for his later work, his technical writing and working on Doom and Quake. I’ve read a good portion of his black book on graphics programming and found it quite the interesting read. I’m still part way through reading about the VGA and getting the most out of it.

Now that I’ve been thoroughly distracted lets return to the game itself. It supports CGA and PC speaker sound, which is unsurprising as there was little else. The graphics are well drawn but the speed of the graphics is perhaps the most impressive feature. There are many moving objects on screen, and they manage to do so at a reasonable pace. Something that wasn’t easy on the original PC. The only flaw I noticed is some flicker when sprites overlap, perhaps unavoidably.

Sound is as you’d expect, your usual assortment of noises that is pretty good given the hardware. You can of course turn them off if you find them annoying.

The game is very much like Galaxian, but of course on a reduced scale. There are some extra elements that make it different to the original game. Firstly you have a shield to protect yourself, you engage it by pressing the space bar and it lasts a fixed period. Whilst your shield is up anything that collides with you is destroyed. However you only get a limited number of shields, but you can increase this by shooting a power-up that travels across the screen.

Sometimes a large mothership descends to join the enemies at the top of the screen. It shoots a large and fast projectiles that are quite dangerous, combined with the diving enemies it can be difficult to dodge everything, a good time to use a shield.

The only thing I found that let the game down was the controls are a bit fiddly. You press a button to move either left or right and you will keep moving until you either press the other direction or a stop key. This resulted in me zig-zagging a little bit as I got used to it, which sometimes got me hit and sometimes helped me dodge, so it all evens out.

The game is CPU dependant for speed so the best way to play it now is via Dosbox. I use a setting of 250 cycles normally to be roughly the same speed as the original PC, but this game is quite playable at 350 cycles. I had fun with Cosmic Crusader, it is enjoyable as a new experience even today. It seems to have at least cured my procratinitus, at least temporarily.

 

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