Posts Tagged ‘EGA


Catacomb Abyss for DOS

Today’s game is quite unusual as it’s an early FPS game supporting EGA 16 colour graphics. It was released after Wolfenstein 3D in 1992, but isn’t a clone as it’s a sequel to the earlier game Catacomb 3D (1991). Both Catacomb 3D and Abyss were made using a earlier version of the Wolfenstein 3d engine, the first being made by id software for Softdisk and the second by staff at Softdisk using the same engine. So in that sense you could consider both to be a pre-cursor to Wolfenstein 3d technology wise.

The story is fairly simple and is a continuation of the first Catacomb 3d series. Nemesis, the antagonist from the previous game is now obviously dead, but his evil minions that are still around have built a memorial mausoleum in the town cemetery and are infesting the area. The local town-folk obviously aren’t too happy about it, so knowing you defeated Nemesis himself they send you in to clean up.

Graphically it’s quite impressive for EGA, artistically the sprites and wall textures are fairly well done for 16 colours. Performance wise the engine performs quite well under dosbox, which was configured at 3000 cycles which is roughly equivalent to a 20Mhz 386. I’d expect it to also be quite playable on 286 machines with the exception of slower ones. The engine however isn’t perfect, monsters can get close enough to you that they are no longer displayed. This tended to happen when they spawned very close and made it quite difficult to kill them. I found using the Xterminators usually helped. I also noticed that the texture mapping on the walls sometimes appeared a bit off, and that text on the walls was often hard to read. Despite the faults, the game looks nice and is quite atmospheric.

Sound support defaults to the PC speaker, which sounds ok. You can switch the game over to using Ad Lib sound, but the user interface and documentation don’t make it clear that it’s available and how to turn it on. I played for ages before realising there was another option. Once you manage to get it working the Ad Lib sound effects are quite effective, but they are loud and some of them are a little crackly. This could be down to imperfect emulation of the FM chip in dosbox, but I suspect it’s the pseudo-digital sound effects that are the cause.

The levels are quite short, but still big enough you can get lost. They rely on destructible walls quite a bit, which fortunately are usually easy to spot. They hide them as blocks that are different to those around them or a short and easily recognisable pattern. With infinite basic shots you should be able to find them fairly easily. There are doors with keys, but they don’t have a nice opening animation instead simply vanishing instead. Which could be the reason they aren’t used very much.

As you work through the game there are a variety of settings, each with their own graphic style, and typical monsters found there. You start off in the “towne” cemetery and work your way into the mausoleum and then crypt for Nemesis. For some reason not clearly explained you then end up deeper underground and then the segment that I’m up to, the aqueduct. On the up side each setting is fairly different visually, and some like the aqueduct change things up with different monsters.

There isn’t a huge variety of monsters in each level, but they get progressively stronger and have more variety in later levels. The basic monsters use melee attacks primarily, which can be a problem if they get too close. Zombies, which appear in the earlier levels, are not visible until they climb out of the ground. This sometimes happens when they are already too close to see, so you may need to use a Xterminator as moving away seems futile. In later levels I’ve seen some more interesting enemies such as floating wizards that shoot fireballs at you, large beasts, and what can only be described as aquatic zombies that hide under the water popping up every now and then.

There’s only really one weapon, a fireball that you can rapidly fire. You can’t charge it like the original 2d game, but you can make up for that with volume of fire. The two spells that you get aren’t really different weapons, but rather variations on the basic fireball. The Xterminator previously mentioned basically just fires standard fireballs in a circle around you, useful when many enemies are close, or you want to hit one you can’t see. The Zapper essentially just sends out a pulse of rapid fire and is less useful as you can achieve the same rate of fire manually.

Controls are fairly similar to those in Wolfenstein 3d, but not quite as refined and polished. Turning and moving are as you’d expect, but the control turning faster is the tab or v key, which can be a little cumbersome to reach. The alternative is to turn much slower, giving enemies more time to hurt you. This aside the controls work fairly well.

Catacomb Abyss is the only one of the series that was ever available as shareware, consequently it’s the only one easy to download. From what I’ve played, it’s actually quite decent although a little clunky in some aspects like the controls. Still it has great atmosphere and having short levels means you don’t get as lost as you might with something like Wolf3d. You can buy this along with the rest of the series on the Good old Games website for I think about $8 US dollars.

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Mad Painter for DOS

I’ve been away on my usual holiday break and recently got home. Whilst I was away at my parents place it was really quite intensely hot, like 40+ degrees Celsius in the shade. It’s not unusual to get a few days like that where they live, but the heat seemed to linger for longer this year. In heat like that (and without air conditioning) you can’t really do all that much, most people usually just try to keep cool and lie down during the worst heat of the day.

It’s usually a good time to sit and play a game, I usually favour something that doesn’t tax my brain too much which leads us to today’s game. Mad Painter is a fairly simple arcade style maze game. Essentially you are driving a paint truck for your city, painting the road markings as you drive around. You have to paint all the roads to progress to the next level, avoiding a few cars driving around. You’re scored based on how much of the level you paint. I’m playing the shareware episode which only has one city.

The game has EGA graphics and PC speaker sound support. The level is larger than the screen and scrolls around impressively smoothly even on lower speed hardware. In fact you’ll probably want to go for an older 286 machine, an upgraded XT or AT or equivalent cycles in Dosbox. The game runs quite fast even on slower hardware, playing ok at ~500 Dosbox cycles, and probably optimally at around 1000 (about a 286 @ 12Mhz using TopBench to benchmark). Despite this in game speed, the menus and transition screens take much more time to draw and animate. Looking at the graphics in game I wonder if it is using a hacked text mode to achieve the speed, and the other screens use a genuine graphics mode. Sound is pretty basic, but not bad, and you can turn it off if you don’t like it.

The game controls in much the same manner as Pac-man, allowing you to anticipate a turn before you arrive. The maze however is no-where near as dense, so there are fewer places to turn and more potential to be trapped by enemies. Luckily there are only two cars which are however driven by maniacs who speed around like they are driving a super car. It is their speed which makes them hazardous, as they drive randomly and will not seek you out.

Mad Painter serves its purpose well, it’s a fun little distraction that you can quickly play and not have to commit too much effort or time.

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Heros: The Sanguine Seven for DOS

Today’s game is called Heros: the Sanguine Seven and was made for MS-DOS back in 1993 by Jeffrey Fullerton. He originally sold the game directly himself, but after some minor updates (including correcting the spelling of Heroes) a shareware version was published by Safari software in 1994. It’s an unusual platform game styled after comic book heroes and villains. Some super villains have escaped from gaol, so a band of seven heroes are selected to re-capture them. Today I’m playing the registered version as downloaded from the RGB classic DOS games site, you can also get the game from the authors website here.

It features EGA graphics, but unfortunately suffers from programmers art, it’s not really all that bad, but it’s not a great example of EGA graphics. I totally sympathise as my own graphical efforts suffer from a similar fate. On the flip side the graphic engine is coded exceptionally well, the scrolling is very smooth and the game performs well, even on the equivalent of something like a 286. I also found it cool that cartoon style biff and pow word art float up in the air when ever something takes a hit.

The game supports PC speaker for the main sound effects and Ad Lib FM music. The sound effects are pretty much as good as you can expect from the PC speaker. The music is nicely implemented, but the author chose classical music which is a little odd, but somehow it fits. I suspect the choice of music is partly due to it being royalty free and the difficulty in creating your own.

The game plays much like any other platformer with a few unique twists. The heroes gather in a control room reminiscent of the justice league where you select one to take into the current stage. If your hero happens to run out of strength (your health essentially) a bubble protects them from further harm and you choose another hero to rescue them . You have to rescue every fallen hero before you can finish a stage and the game is over if there are none left in the control room.

The heroes have different special abilities and weaknesses, such as Gumwad sticking to walls and Leadmans inability to swim . Each hero also has some basic stats like in a RPG such as their maximum health and jump height. You can upgrade these stats at the control room with Gems that you find. So as you progress through the game your characters get stronger. The only thing that took me by surprise was the limited ammo that carries across levels, it is easy to run out.

I found the controls work fairly well, but in the context of many of the levels I found it difficult to navigate without taking damage. The level design unfortunately doesn’t work as well, there are many dead ends with no rewards, I ended up wandering around the levels aimlessly never finding the exit. The small screen space makes seeing upcoming hazards difficult to see and react to, unless of course you’ve memorised the level. Enemies continue to shoot and move even when quite a distance off screen, which means you have to dodge incoming fire from quite a distance away. I actually couldn’t finish any of the levels, luckily the archive I got the game in included a save for every level in the game, so I was able to try out more than the first one. Practise and moving more cautiously did seem to help me progress further.

Heros: The Sanguine Seven is certainly very unique for it’s time. There are many really good ideas in the design, such as multiple heroes and the control room. Unfortunately the level design lets it down a little, there aren’t enough health pickups for the amount of damage you take, and there are too many paths with no reward at the end. That being said there is some clever design in the levels and it is quite fun to play. I quite like the quirky heroes and the mechanic around each of their special abilities. The author made it freeware back in 2005, so there’s little reason to not give this unique game a try.

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Space Chase for DOS

Today we’re looking at Space Chase, a little known platform game made in 1993 by Safari Software, one of the first games that they released. It features Jason Storm, a former Marine that takes on dangerous missions. You’re given a mission to stop the organisation known as Evil Guys inc. from taking over the planetary government. It is an platform game much like older games such as Duke Nukem and Dark Ages.

The game uses EGA graphics, which is quite unusual for a game released in 1993. I believe this is because they were supporting old 286 machines, which whilst obsolete, were still common. The game performs well enough that it would probably be playable on a faster 286 machine, but would struggle on the slower machines running at less than 16Mhz.

The sprites and backgrounds are quite detailed compared to say Duke Nukem, but in some ways less appealing. I still quite like the artwork, although many others don’t seem to. Animations look decent and smooth with plenty of frames for each animated sprite.

The only annoyance is with the scrolling, it’s smooth enough, but the distance from the screen edge is shorter moving to the right than it is when moving left. This makes moving right a bit more difficult as you don’t see hazards until you’re nearly on top of it.

Sound effects come from the PC speaker, and are pretty much what you’d expect. Music support is included for Ad lib and compatible cards. The music isn’t quite what you’d expect to find in a platform game, it’s quite relaxed and suites the different pace. I quite liked the music and the mood it set.

If you read the marketing material for the game you’d be expecting a fast-paced action game, perhaps something like Duke Nukem. But Space Chase isn’t as fast paced, although there are action elements and some aspects are clearly inspired by games like Duke Nukem, such as the health pickup which suspiciously looks like a futuristic soft drink can.

The controls are fairly tight, but the jump mechanic is more like what you might find on a console game. For most DOS platform games your jump height is identical no-matter how long or short you hold the jump key. Space Chase on the other hand replicates what usually happens on consoles, the duration of the button press controls the height of the jump. It’s not a bad mechanic, it’s actually quite useful, but as I am more used to DOS games it took a little time to adjust.

As I said before the game play is more relaxed than other more action focused platform games. There are some puzzle elements, such as finding a security node for activating a lift, but it’s not really a puzzle game either. You could think of it as Duke Nukem with simple puzzles added and the action toned down.

There is a limited amount of ammunition for your gun, so you often have to use it sparingly, or simply take a hit from an enemy rather than use a bullet. Avoidance is often the best tactic, and some areas filled with enemies can be skipped altogether. If you run out of bullets you can literally get stuck in some sections as shooting a security node can be necessary for progress.

The level design is pretty decent, exploring them to find score items, ammunition or health is generally a pleasant experience. The only hassle is a few jumps that are difficult because of the low ceiling height. There are areas that are dead ends that you wouldn’t normally need to explore, but they usually contain something as a reward. The difficulty settings change the enemies that appear, with easy have far fewer enemies than normal or hard.

Whilst Space Chase has some minor issues, it is quite a fun platform game to play. It’s relaxed without lacking action, but also not focused on shooting down all the enemies. I played about three quarters of the shareware version and quite enjoyed it. Unfortunately there is no legit way to get the registered version, but the shareware version is available on the Classic Dos Games website.

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Snarf for DOS

SnarfToday’s game is another one made by Everett Kaser, a shareware author who happens to still be making new games. I wrote about another of his games a short while ago, Hero’s heart. This one named Snarf was made in 1988 originally, released in 1990 and with updated versions of the game coming out up until 1993. It’s an arcade style game in which you need to collect treasure and keys, and avoid enemies known as snarfs.

Level 1Like Hero’s Heart, this has high resolution EGA graphics (640x350x16) that allows for larger levels without having to implement scrolling, which wasn’t easy on old PC hardware. The sprites are drawn nicely although there isn’t really much in the way of animation, but what’s there works. The sound is again from the PC speaker and consists of a few bleeps and bloops, it’s ok and you can turn it off if you don’t like the audio.

Level 2Game-play wise it’s very much a score attack arcade style game. The main way you get points is of course collecting treasure, which is multiplied by the numbers of ‘tags’ you have left at the end of a level. The main hazard is of course the snarfs who spawn from nests located around the map. if you happen to run into the snarfs they take your tags which is essentially your health. There are usually a fair few running around, and they spawn endlessly so it’s best to avoid them if you can.

Level 3The controls seem to be inspired by games like Robotron which allow you to fire your weapon in a different direction to that you are moving. This proves to be a very handy feature, although I’m yet to get good at it. You can only have one or two shots in the air depending on what you set, so it’s best to only fire when you know the shot will hit something in a short time. Otherwise you could be waiting before you can shoot again. Again it is generally better to avoid the snarfs rather than shoot them if you can.

Level 4The snarfs themselves seem to be reasonably intelligent, being able to avoid shots, find a path to you and generally trap you. I’ve found myself getting trapped by the blighters and having to try and shoot as many as I can, or simply try to out smart them.

level 7I found Snarf to be quite fun, but didn’t get too far into the levels because I didn’t have enough time to really practice and work at being better. It is mostly the controls that I need to work on learning as I hadn’t played a game with a scheme like that before. There are 50 levels and a level editor included, so there is no shortage of content level wise. There are some downsides, such as not getting any more than a single life, but you can select the level you start on, so you don’t have to play the same ones repeatedly.

Gemini of Ancient DOS Games also did a video about Snarf quite some time ago, you can find it here. The game is available as freeware from the RGB classic DOS games website here.


QBasic Gorillas

Qbasic GorillasToday I’m looking at the classic old artillery game Gorillas, it was an example program for the Qbasic interpreter that was packaged with MS-DOS 5.0 and later. Because it was so widespread, being on practically every machine of its time, it was widely played and loved by many. I first encountered it on our high school computers in computer studies classes, we often got to play some games after we finished our work. We played many games, but Gorillas¬† (and Nibbles) were favourites.

Dancing Gorillas!

Dancing Gorillas!

Being written in Qbasic graphics and sound support is fairly basic. Unless you’re using an old machine with CGA only, the graphics are in high resolution EGA (640x350x16) and whilst not spectacular have some charm. Sound is PC speaker, again largely due to the limits of Qbasic. Most sounds are fairly basic, although the intro tune is kinda cool.

City Skyline

City Skyline

The game field consists of a city skyline with two Gorillas atop a building at opposite ends of the screen. Each Gorilla takes turns hurling an explosive banana at the other, with the player aiming the shots by entering the angle and velocity. The round only ends when one of the Gorillas is hit by a banana, with the survivor being the winner. There was no computer AI, so you had to play it in a hot-seat style or on your own. It’s simple and fun to play, although there isn’t much variety.

Target hit!

Target hit!

Normally this is where a post like this would end, with some kind of summary of what I thought. Today however I decided to have a quick go at making a simple modification to the game, adding an AI to the game so you can play solo. The tricky part with making an AI player in this case isn’t making something that will play well, but making something a human has a chance of beating. I could quite easily make it simply calculate the ideal velocity and angle, but that wouldn’t be much fun.

A winner is you.

A winner is you.

So what have I done instead? It’s a fairly simple algorithm, I set the initial aim to some sensible defaults and after each shot adjust the velocity depending on whether the shot landed short or long. This actually proved to be quite good at making hits, but not before making a few shots giving a human player a chance. Occasionally they will make a hit on the first shot, but that only happens when the buildings are set up just right. One circumstance that the computer does poorly is when a tall building is blocking the path of the bananas. I deal with this to a degree by making the angle higher when the banana doesn’t go very far. It will still take many shots for the AI to succeed.

I’ve made the modified version available here. It requires the original Qbasic to run and DOS in one form or another (Dosbox recommended). The game is pretty much unchanged apart from adding the AI, which you activate by naming a player Computer. You can have the computer play itself by naming both players Computer. Another improved version of the game exists, and has improvements such as a league table and improved graphics and sound. It’s called Gorillas Deluxe and can be found here.


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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