General Tech

PC / DOS games, then vs now, and how it’s affected my life

DOS games
DOS games

My interest in computers and programming have been directly tied to video games, here’s a little backstory on that.

My father was a Pascal / Delphi programmer, so our first computer was an IBM PC with a Pentium 386 and only 500MBs of hard disk space. Maybe 1 or 2MBs of RAM. He used to bring home these 5.25″ and 3.5″ floppy disks from his school, Queen’s University at that time, and I remember one of my first games being Prince of Persia, which was and still is a great game.

I have many fond memories playing on that old PC, which was running MS-DOS and then Windows 3.1 and Windows 95 eventually. My dad use to buy these CDs full of DOS games back then. As you may remember, CDs can fit about 700MBs and that was alot compared to floppy disks. In any case, these DOS games ranged from amazing little jewels to just plain awful (some crashed when you try to run it). To play games back then, you had to run them from the command line, so people who played games back then had to have had a little bit of interest in computers.

These days, you just download a game from Steam or put in the DVD and run it, but back then, you had to setup and configure the game first, like what peripherals you were using, joystick, keyboard, mouse settings, Soundblaster settings, Adlib settings, 4 voices, 8 channels, etc. There was some work required before actually running the game. Which was done in the command line, using ___.exe or ___.bat. I have many fond memories of these DOS games back then, and comparing them to now is like night and day.

Here’s some of the things that DOS games had back then that we don’t have or don’t see much now:
1) Games were usually configured and run from the command line
2) Games were usually developed by independent developers and published as shareware or in episodes by companies like Apogee.
3) Groundbreaking games such as Another World were developed by one or two developers, in contrast to the multi million dollar studios and teams that are making games these days.
4) Mostly nerds and geeks played games back then, compared to now, where everyone including your grandma and dog know how to play a Wii.
5) First person shooters evolved from Wolfenstein 3D / Doom, shoot to kill without any sense of plot or story, to Halo and Call of Duty, focusing less on the number of guns you had, and more on the story and multiplayer. I lament that because I miss old school shooters, with tons of crazy weapons and health packs.
6) Multiplayer was mostly over LAN or split screen those days. These days, it’s all about the online experience. I also have fond memories of me and my brother using the same keyboard, over a split screen game, good times that I don’t see anymore.
7) Online experience was very limited, due to 56k modems and dial up; now its blazing fast 4G/Wifi.
8) These games were played on CRT monitors with resolutions lower than that of your mobile phone
9) Speaking of graphics, you can even configure those! VGA / EGA / CGA graphics were the norm back then.
10) No FAQs or troubleshooting or help guides back then. Also games tended to be a lot more difficult. This, combined with little or no internet, leads to long playability, mostly due to getting stuck at some part of the game and not knowing how to solve it.
11) Games often made use of joysticks, sound cards like Adblib and soundblaster, and had to be setup/configured from the command line
12) Games often lasted longer than the 8-12 hour affair you have these days. Since they came in episodes, each episode probably took 8-12 hours! Good example is Duke3D and Starcraft, which had much longer playtimes than their successors Duke Nukem Forever and Starcraft 2 (which has multiple episodes simulating the campaigns of the original game)

Alas, sometimes I do miss the 1990s and those were the golden age of DOS games, some standout games being:
Traffic Department 2192 (great story), Rise of the Triad, Catacomb 3D, Commander Keen series, Raptor (awesome music), Duke 3D, Dark Sun (played this game for months), Blake Stone (the sound fx are classic), Shadow Warrior, Pharoah’s tomb, Monster Bash, Jazz Jackrabbit, Hunter Hunted, Liero (modded this one many times), and many more.

These games influenced by childhood and in high school I would become interested in Korean multiplayer games such as Ragnarok Online, Gunbound, Maple Story, and try to hack and mod those games (packet sniffers, sprite/texture swapping, etc), directly influencing my decision to become a programmer and go into computer science.

So yes, sometimes these days I look back with nostalgia and remember how games were made back then, and how its affected me today… good times. Long live DOS games; you may be neglected compared to your console counterparts, but you will not be forgotten.

DOS games
DOS games