Posts Tagged ‘CGA


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Today’s game is an early CGA game originally made for IBM in 1984 by D.P. Leabo and A.V. Strietzel.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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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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Chopper Commando for DOS

Back in my teens I aspired to create my own computer games and actually made some nifty little games, but I didn’t ever distribute them. Today’s game, Chopper Commando was made by Mark Currie when he was 15 and did make it out in 1990. It’s a fairly simple arcade helicopter game in which you’re given a mission to complete.

It was written with Turbo Pascal 5 using the Borland Graphics Interface (or BGI). The game uses CGA 4 colour graphics at 320×200 which are mostly drawn using the basic line and fill functions from the BGI library. So artistically the game has a fairly simple line-drawn style that does the job. Sound is also fairly basic, with a few simple beeps coming from the PC speaker.

Upon starting the game you select your pilot from the roster, the number of bombs you can carry and finally the difficulty of the mission. Each difficulty setting has 5 unique missions which is chosen at random each time you play. There is a bit of variety in the missions, some are strictly destruction, whilst others involve deliveries or retrieval of items.

Controls aren’t as intuitive as I’d like, but once I slowed the game down I managed to progress quite well with the keyboard controls. To move you tap the direction you want to move and you gain speed in that direction, in order to stop you have to tap the reverse direction until you slow down and stop. It’s not the easiest way to handle controls, but I managed to make it work for me. I tried using the mouse, but that just resulted in a crash (the helicopter not the game), this could be because I was using Dosbox to play.

Destroying bad guys isn’t too hard, there are four weapons to use for dispatching your foes. First is a basic gun that fires forward. I found it best for shooting targets in the air but the bullets also slow down and fall to the ground, so you can destroy ground targets with it. There are also basic bombs which basically behave like the gun without the forward movement, these are easier to use on ground targets. You have the option to use missiles, but I found they were more likely to get me killed so I didn’t tend to use them. Finally there is a mega bomb which has a larger explosion radius.

Chopper Commando is a fairly simple game, but it has a lot of little extra details that make it charming and fun. The game uses a different colour palette for day and night missions. You can eject from a damaged helicopter and run around throwing grenades until a spare one arrives, and after missions there is a short piece of text from the office that makes fun of you when you die, or congratulates you upon success.

Obviously it’s not very technically impressive, but it’s quite fun. I looked for the Authors website, but it appears to be down, but you can find this on the Classic Dos Games website with a slightly updated version that fixes some bugs and source code.

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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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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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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.


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.

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