Posts Tagged ‘CGA

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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27
Jun
17

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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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.

 




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