Posts Tagged ‘Game

04
May
17

Snow White’s Voyage for DOS

Today I’m looking at a platform game called Snow White’s Voyage, originally released by Alive software back in 1996. Of course by this time Windows 95 had changed the scene quite drastically, with most developers having abandoned developing games for DOS. The game has fairly low system requirements, needing only a 386 and about 512K conventional RAM, much less power than many late DOS machines had. So this game is a little unusual when put in the context of when it was released, it’s like it time travelled by about 4-6 years.

The story isn’t quite the same as the fairy tale, the game is divided into 9 episodes with only a few being related to the original story. Each episode begins with a short blurb of story text and a legend of the hazards and treasures to collect for points. The game-play itself doesn’t really rely on the story, so you can ignore it if you wish.

The graphics in Snow White are ok, nothing spectacular, but they do the job. I can totally sympathise, as Alive Software is a one-man software company, I can understand how hard it can be to generate attractive graphics by yourself. The graphics engine seems to be programmed reasonably well, as it appears it would work well on retro hardware like a 386. Although there was one peculiarity, the bottom of the previous level appears to be the ceiling for the one you are playing! Fortunately entities on the previous level don’t seem to be active up there (avoiding slow-down). I’m guessing all the levels are stored together in a single lump per episode. This could have been avoided by restricting the vertical scrolling range, or by only using the tile data from the current level. Apart from looking a bit odd the only problem it introduces is restricting your jump height where it need not be.

Digitised sound and OPL music are supported for the Sound Blaster, and some music with basic sound effects for the PC speaker. The music is implemented quite well, although there are no original tunes, I think the introductory tune is from The Marriage of Figaro and reminds me of a Tom and Jerry cartoon where the music was also used. The music resets every time you die or start a new level, which can sound a bit strange, otherwise it’s generally well done. The sound effects are fairly understated but fairly decent for what they are. PC speaker on the other hand is probably best avoided, it’s not the worst I’ve heard, but it’s not the best either.

The keyboard controls follow a fairly standard layout for platform games of the time, so getting your fingers on the right keys isn’t too hard. Basic movement works well enough but I found the jumping mechanic a bit of a problem. Basically your horizontal movement in a jump is about half as fast as your normal speed. The main problem this creates is difficulty in jumping over obstacles that otherwise shouldn’t be all that hard to avoid. There are also some problems navigating up some tiles that are intended as ladders.

Luckily the game has an easy difficulty option that removes some of the more difficult hazards making it much easier (but still challenging) to progress. The enemies aren’t too hard to dodge, but they are deadly accurate with their projectiles which are difficult to dodge. The worst ones being low flying birds that basically drop un-avoidable eggs on your head. Part of the issue is you basically have to restart the level every time you are hit, making any hit at all very punishing. It’s confusing because you have hearts that are like hit points/health in other games. Fortunately the level doesn’t reset when you start again, so bad guys stay dead if you’ve killed them.

Luckily the levels are quite short, so you’re never sent too far back, but being so short and limited in height has meant there is not that much variety in the map design. I did only get to play the first episode however as I played the shareware episode, and I’ve noted that later chapters do change things up a bit. In the lake for instance the game becomes top-down as you guide Snow White around on a raft, in the later stages of the game you play as Prince Charming, so there’s some variety, just not so much in the shareware chapter.

From what I’ve played Snow Whites Voyage is ok for what it is, but clearly it’s not a classic like say Commander Keen. Alive Software are still around, and you can buy this game in a bundle with some of their other legacy titles for about $5 USD which honestly isn’t too bad if you have any nostalgia for their games.

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07
Mar
17

Space Nightmare for DOS

I’m not much good at shoot’em up games, which is why today’s game, Space Nightmare has a completely appropriate title. It was made by a Canadian company called Microdem in 1994. It is odd for a DOS game as it uses some high resolution graphics and what appears to be Mode X using 16 colours. Like most shooters it has a fairly throw away story about aliens coming to steal our copper, but what’s really important is you get to blow stuff up!

Graphics support is unusual for a DOS game of the period. The menus are drawn at 640x480x256 if set to use SVGA and 640x350x16 for standard VGA cards. In game it appears to use 320x240x16 which is essentially Mode X, but it appears to be only using 16 of the 256 normally available colours in that mode. The game does perform quite well mostly, with some of the smoother scrolling I’ve seen in game. There is some slow down occasionally which seems to happen when the game is loading an image for displaying the first time. You notice this especially when it loads larger images like those for the end of level boss. This might not happen on actual hardware, I was playing using Dosbox.

Artistically the graphics are quite nice and colourful, for EGA. There is dithering in some of the graphics because of the limited number of colours used. This could be a technical issue with the graphic engine, perhaps it only supports a 16 colour mode? Did they limit it for speed? I’m sure they could have gone with 256 colours and not compromised too much on speed and being in Mode X it should have been easy. So the decision to use 16 colours puzzles me.

Sound comes from either the PC speaker or a Sound blaster card. I couldn’t test the PC speaker sound unfortunately because the game disables it as an option if it detects a sound blaster, which I guess is fair. The music is ok, although the tracks all sound fairly similar they do fit the theme of a shooter like this one. Sound effects are also ok, although weapon sounds get louder as you upgrade them. I suspect it plays the sound once for each shot in air, so once you’re upgraded it adds the sound from many shots together. It could have been implemented better, but you can turn down your volume as needed to compensate.

When starting the game you get to choose between one of three ships. Dynamite only fires forward, but is one of the faster ships, upgrades simply add more projectiles. Blaster is slower, but upgrades add increasing amounts of spread shots which can effectively blanket the upper screen with bullets. Lastly Cancer fires forward only at first, but upgrades add shots going backwards and to the sides equally. I found Cancer the most successful as it allowed me to combat foes coming from more directions much easier.

The enemies are mostly mobile air units of some type. They will often fire a burst of bullets directly at you, so dodging is absolutely necessary. I found this quite hard as the hit boxes for your ships are quite large. You can end up being trapped by several barrages and can’t avoid taking a hit. This wouldn’t be a problem if being hit didn’t take _all_ your power-ups, which leaves you very vulnerable. Whilst you can take more than one hit before dying, this is severely punishing.

I found this game quite hard, I couldn’t get past the second level after many attempts. This could just be because I’ve never really been all that good at this type of shooter. I think that having more than one life, and not losing your power-ups when hit would have made this much more playable for me. People who are fans of vertical shooters (and are better than me at it) will probably find some fun, as long as you’re good at dodging.

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22
Feb
17

Making a new GWBasic game.

When I was young I learned to code using GWBasic, a BASIC interpreter that came with MS-DOS 4.01. I’ve posted some code and talked about it in the past, but not really developed anything new, that is until today. I’ve re-written a game from scratch I had lost on a corrupted floppy disk called dodge, yes it’s not much of a name but it basically describes the game play in that you dodge bad guys and collect score items for points.

The original had some basic EGA graphics, but this time I’ve used text-mode characters for a few reasons. Firstly it is easier to implement both in terms of artistry and coding. The original never played well due to slowness in the interpreter and the implementation that I had used. Finally using text mode increases the effective game play area by more than 2 times, which will allow for more interesting levels. I didn’t implement any sound either in the original or the new, but music often doesn’t work well on the PC speaker and I’m not much of a composer.

Being a much more mature programmer I’ve been able to make the game mechanics better and add features that the original never had. There are 5 built-in levels (encoded with RLE) and the capability to load a custom level from a text file. The original only had randomly generated levels that were far simpler. I’ve made the movement of enemies better than the original, and gravity affects most items so that they are reachable.

I could have coded the game using a modern text editor, but for that extra nostalgic feeling I coded the game in the interpreter itself. It’s not as intuitive of course as you can’t simply scroll back and forth through the program, instead needing to use the LIST command to see parts of the program. Luckily editing a line isn’t too bad, as after display it on screen you can edit it easily. The interpreter also has some nifty features that can speed up program entry. Many keywords such as print and input have keyboard shortcuts, usually alt and the first letter of the keyword. This not only sped up program entry, but enabled me to discover keywords when I was a kid before I got the user manual.

Using the interpreter to write the code does however demand much more of your memory, I don’t remember this bothering me much as a kid, but now as an adult I needed to keep notes on the structure of the program and variables used. I would have written these out by hand on a notebook back in the day, but doing the coding with the interpreter running in dosbox meant I could run a text editor for my notes. It’s probably one of my more complex gwbasic programs at 592 lines of code.

Overall it has been quite fun writing with gwbasic again, like revisiting somewhere you went as a kid. I’m making the code available at the usual places, both my download website, and my google drive (in case the website is down). The code should work on QBasic as well as the original interpreter.

16
Jan
17

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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25
Dec
16

Xmas Skyroads for DOS

This year I thought I’d try to get a Xmas themed post out before rather than after the day. To that end, today I’m looking at the Xmas edition of Skyroads made in 1993 by Bluemoon Interactive. It’s essentially a driving game, where you navigate a small craft on the sky roads merely trying to get to the end. Like most other Xmas themed games it is a re-skinned shareware game, but unlike those it is shareware itself with an expanded registered version that you could buy. This will be my first time playing Skyroads of any kind. I’ve heard this one is more difficult than the original, so you should keep that in mind and perhaps play the original first.

The games VGA graphics are fairly well done, most of the detail and artistic effort appearing in the backgrounds for the levels. There aren’t many sprites or animations mostly because of the game mechanic more than anything else. The level scrolls towards you and your ship, and does so quite smoothly, but it lacks any detail (such as texture mapping) it basically consists of coloured shapes. Altogether it’s fairly minimalist, but colourful and attractive.

There are minimal sound effects for much the reason there are few sprites, the sound system mostly shines through its background music, which is pretty good. There is plenty of variety and it suites the atmosphere of the game quite well. Interestingly Bluemoon had quite a but of expertise in making music software for the PC. They had made a music tracker called Sound Club, which clearly had a part in making the music here.

The controls aren’t as well engineered as I didn’t get along with them as well as I’d hope. The key layout is fine, only the arrow keys and the space bar are used, but it feels like there is a mild lag in the game controls, as I continually felt that the game was missing key presses. In this game that’s quite important, as precision is key, especially as the levels are fairly challenging. It affects me enough that even on levels I know and have beaten the problem arises.

Mechanically the game works quite well with a few minor exceptions. Jumping and moving feel nice when the controls respond in time, and the ships behaves in a reasonable way. You can’t change direction whilst in mid-air, and some areas of the level can prevent you from changing direction. The only annoyance is the occasional time you collide with an obstacle or fall off when it feels like you shouldn’t have, luckily this isn’t a common occurrence.

I found Xmas Skyroads a little too difficult, but I’m not really who this game was made for. It’s really for anyone who enjoyed the original and wants a more difficult challenge and on that it delivers. I could only beat a handful of the levels, but that’s to be expected. The Xmas theme is fairly light on the ground, it mostly just applies to some of the back grounds, so it’s quite playable at any time of year without feeling too out of place. Bluemoon Interactive made this and the original freeware quite some time ago, you can find it on their website.

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28
Nov
16

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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10
Oct
16

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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