[ Content | Sidebar ]

how to run old games: a brief update

April 9th, 2014

Written by: Stoo

Yesterday the extended Support Phase of windows XP ended. That was the last stage in its official life cycle, where users were getting security updates but not a lot else. So as far as Microsoft is concerned, that’s all folks, XP is now finished. Unless you pay them anyway, apparently our government is shelling out £5.5mil to keep it going a little while longer.

It’s the end of an era, then. Or at least a formal end, even if a majority of users had already moved on to new systems. I’m not enough of a tech expert to say on how great an OS XP was, other than to comment that it always seemed pretty stable and user-friendly, and it served us well for many years. Certainly, it dominated the 00′s. Lots of us kept using it past the release of the widely disliked Vista, until microsoft got back on form with Win 7. Rik in fact kept true to his promise to stick with XP until the bitter end, and has only now upgraded.

Anyway I thought this would be a good moment to revisit our how to run old games piece, where we list the various options open to retro gamers on modern Windows PCs. When we wrote it, we both had XP in mind when we said “modern windows”, and now of course there have been three major new iterations of the OS. (four if you count 8.1 as a major iteration).

Fortunately, the general picture hasn’t changed a lot. Generally, your solution for running MS-DOS games is the emulator DOSBox. In years past that had speed issues with more demanding titles from late in the DOS days (such as first person shooters) but on a modern PC you should get a decent framerate.

For old adventures like Monkey Island, you have a choice of ScummVM, written specifically for such games, or sticking with DOSBox. I generally prefer the former since it’s a bit more user friendly, with a built in GUI, but these days it’s largely a matter of personal preference.

Stuff from the windows 95 days may become increasingly problematic, especially if you’re using a 64-bit system which will not run 16-bit software. We don’t yet have an equivalent to Dosbox for this generation, and I think Rik’s answer was to resort to keeping an old beige win98 box lurking around. You could try virtualisation software if you’re feeling really dedicated although you’ll need your own copy of Win 95 or 98, and I don’t know if it’s fast enough for gaming purposes.

What is worth remarking on though, is that since we first wrote that piece, GoG.com have steadily expanded their range and become one of our favourite sources of classic games. Anything you buy there should be ready to run on a modern PC, either bundled with dosbox or patched up, with a minimum of tinkering. Same goes for oldies found on Steam.

If you’re a windows user reading this, odds are you’re on Win 7. I’ve yet to encounter any issues with Windows 8 that didn’t already exist with 7, but if I learn a game we wrote about is newly broken I’ll update the relevant article. If you’re a Linux user you’re on your own, and are probably enough of a tech-head to sort it out for yourself!

Brake for the snake

March 31st, 2014

Written by: Rik

Hi there.

Some more racing action for you today – from me, with love. It’s an arcade racer from the mid-90s called Screamer.

screamerstart

Glory to Arstotzka!

March 28th, 2014

Written by: Stoo

Currently playing Papers Please, an indie game that puts you in the seat of a border inspector in a fictional communist nation in 1982. Your job is to read through the documents of every person attempting entry, and only let them through if everything appears to be in order. So that means checking a bunch of factors like, do they match their passport photo, is the issuing city valid, is their work permit is still valid, is the passport number written on the permit correct, and so on.

Jorji keeps showing up without valid documents but is very cheerful and persistent, and the nearest thing to light relief here.

Jorji keeps showing up without valid documents but is very cheerful and persistent. He’s pretty much the nearest thing to light relief here.

Every entrant correctly processed gives you 5 credits towards your pay. For each one you get wrong (declining a valid application, or allowing a false one) a citation is issued, and the more of these you get in a day, the heftier a fine you have to pay. There’s also a time limit for each day, so you can’t dawdle when looking through the papers. You have to work through them as quickly and accurately as possible. (note, the game instantly tells you if you processed an entrant wrongly, which is rather implausible, but I think a merciful feature. It would be pretty harsh if you didn’t know how well the day was going until afterwards). At the end of every day you have bills to pay, rent, food and heat. Too many screwups mean your funds fall short and you have to start choosing between these, and your family will start becoming ill. If they all die, game over.

At first your job isn’t too difficult, but as the game draws on the entry rules change every day, and become progressively more complicated. Foreign workers start needing work passes as well as permits. Entrants from certain countries have to be searched. All entrants require valid polio vaccines. It means more pieces of paper to look through, and more time spent on functions like taking photographs. You really start to feel the pressure after a while. If you take too long you lose money, but if you start making mistakes in your hurry to get applicants through, you also lose money.

Most applicants appear to be randomly generated, but there are a few scripted persons along the way with unusual circumstances. A man shows up who’s papers are in order, but when his wife follows she’s missing something. Do you have a heart and wave her through, and accept a penalty? Easy if you’re having a good day and can take the hit, harder if you’ve already had several citations hanging over you. Then, later on, there’s the matter of a rebel movement, and a choice as to whether or not you want to help them out…

It’s a great insight into the life of a in a stressful, demanding job amidst a nightmare of bureaucracy, with little margin for error. When you get the chance to help someone, or strike back at an authoritarian regime, do you take it, or is your priority to just try and keep your family fed and safe? Between the pressure and daily grind of flicking through a bunch of work permits, it’s all a bit grim and I’m living in dread of the clatter of the printer spitting out a citation. Then again little moments of kindness or seeing your savings in decent shape, after a day of successful and smooth processing, lift the spirits. Really apart from the challenge of the job of border guard (something pretty unconventional om gaming), this game is worth playing for the themes it explores. You’re prompted to reflect on what life might have been like for those living under an oppressive, authoritarian regime. It also illustrates how being good and being lawful can sometimes clash – should an individual follow their conscience, or uphold the stability of society?

I should also mention, since we are meant to be primarily an Olde Games site, the visuals are very 1989 EGA in style. The stark greys suit the east-European communism theme perfectly. And the whole game fits into 40MB, which by modern standards is basically nothing.

It’s the three [expletive] stooges and you’re here for OCS

March 26th, 2014

Written by: Rik

Currently playing: L.A. Noire.

For various reasons I’m now on my third runthrough of the early missions without having made it that far into the game. It’s not without problems, but I definitely like it so far, although I’ll reserve final judgement for when I get to the end – I’m not sure where the story’s going or what it’s trying to do at the moment, but I’m hoping all will become clearer as I get into the second half of the game.

For now though, all I can say for certain is that it features a great example of your classic “angry drill sergeant” [Obvious warning: some swearing is involved here]:

Don’t lean on me man, ’cause you can’t afford the ticket

March 17th, 2014

Written by: Rik

Hi there.

We make a belated (and non-sequential) return to the Driver series tonight, with a look at the fourth game in the series, Driver: Parallel Lines.

driverpltitle

hey what was that noise – *urk!* *thud*

March 17th, 2014

Written by: Stoo

I’ve been meaning to play Dishonored for a while now. It was a significant release for me, as it can be seen as a spiritual cousin of Thief and Deus ex, two of the greatest games in PC history. It draws on Thief’s stealth and exploration, and from Ion Storm’s classic it takes the flexible gameplay, giving your character multiple ways to solve problems.

2014-03-08_00029

I’m only on about the fifth level so far, so am just putting down some thoughts. The game casts you as Corvo – former devoted bodyguard of the empress of the isles, framed for her murder by traitors. A loyalist movement breaks you out of prison, an encounter with a mysterious being called the Outsider sets you up with magical powers, and you’re all set to take your revenge.

The missions all take place in Dunwall, capital of the isles. It has a Victorian, industrial style to it, embellished with leaps of technology such as lightning-based security systems and stilt-walking powered armour suits, that give it a bit of a steampunk feel. There’s also, behind the scenes, an undercurrent of dark sorcery. The city streets are dank and rat-infested, whilst the wealthy live safe behind their walls and guards, in opulent mansions. Up close it’s ugly and dangerous, but still somehow impressive when you look out across the water, at sunset, at clock towers, factories and red-brick warehouses. So all suitably atmospheric, then. It’s reminiscent of the city from the Thief series, especially the more industrialised version we saw in Thief 2.

Your main goal on each map is to dispose of some key figure in the rebellion – either just kill them, or find some other way to effectively remove them from the city. There are also secondary goals along the way, and also you’re on the lookout for loot – magical powerups and gold with which to buy ammo and upgrades. So there is a bit of thieving on offer here alongside Corvo’s vendetta, although unlike Thief it’s not a specific mission goal.

Maps aren’t quite as big and open as I remember Thief reaching – and levels tend to be divided into at least 3 separate maps. Still, you have a decent sense of freedom in your actions. The main route to a goal, for example, might be a street with heavy patrols and lightning-gates that zap unauthorised passers. So if you’re not feeling brave you can search for another route – over rooftopss, through nearby alleys and half-ruined buildings, or through tunnels. You might find the fuel source, to deactivate the gate. Or you might possess a guard’s body and just walk through it.

There’s also plenty of loot to be found scattered about off the streets in apartments, secret dens, sewers and offices. So it pays to explore thoroughly – investigate every door and alley but also, importantly, look up for balconies, ledges and ducts to climb on. They often lead somewhere interesting or useful, or just give you a means to avoid confrontation with guards.

You have the option of being a murder-machine or captain sneaky as you go about your objectives. In Thief the nonlethal approach was just for challenge and bragging rights, and in Deus Ex it affected your relations with NPCs a bit. But here killing contributes to the Chaos Level, which apparently makes the city a more dangerous places, guards more twitchy and so on. I’m sticking thoroughly to nonlethal so there are a few parts of the game I can’t really comment on like, the swordfighting system. I can say, though, that sleep darts are my best friend.

Sneaking does take a little getting used to as, compared to Thief, the importance of staying in shadows is reduced. It only really matters at a distance and, up close, you need to stay out of enemy line of sight. I can kind of see why this approach has been taken. I remember guards in Thief looking right in my direction, 10 feet away, and being utterly oblivious in room that was gloomily lit but not pitch black. Which was fun but not really plausible.

The magical abilities add greatly to the experience – a set of shadowy powers specially suited to a thief or assassin. Blink is especially useful – sort of a short range teleport. It can’t take you through walls but it does let you flick from one spot of cover to another, reach places outside of jumping range, or position yourself behind baddies. Possession meanwhile lets you be a rat to get into inaccessible locations, or take over a person to human nonchalantly past their comrades.

In fact dealing with regular human guards soon becomes pretty simple, and you can revel in basically being a superhero. Or supervillain or in my case, super-jerk. I’m wooshing around knocking them senseless, freezing time and dispatching them with impunity. Then piling their (unconscious) bodies in together in a bathroom in an compromising manner (snicker). I wish I could see them explain the manpile to their superiors in the morning. I am aware though that tougher foes show up later to bring balance – the crazy stilt-walker guys and assassins with powers that match your own.

Small gripe – a bunch of weapons and powers aren’t all that useful if you’re trying to be nonlethal. They’re basically relegated to animal-killing duties. (Beasts don’t count towards the chaos count. I must admit to putting a crossbow bolt in every wolfhound I see). Oh and also the default controls have the left and right mouse buttons control weapons in your right and left hands respectively, so I basically spent a mission repeatedly bashing my dagger into railings instead of blinking. (CLANG)

So far then, so good; it masterfully accomplishes everything I was expecting from a game of this sort. My praise might be a bit premature, but I think it would have to go badly astray in the second half for me to change my mind. It’s worthy to be held up as a follower of those two old classics anyway, and honestly a superior game to some of their own sequels.

(which reminds me, Thief 4 is out. Expect some commentary in, oh, 2016).

You stand before the gate leading into the Towne Cemetary

March 4th, 2014

Written by: Stoo

Hello everyone. The last time I wrote about a First-person shooter, it was something at the more recent end of what we’d call an “old game” on this site. So for my next item I’ve taken the opposite approach, and investigated a series from the earliest days of the genre, way back in 1991. So if you like, have a read about Catacomb 3D and its sequels.

Also if you’re not been here in a while, scroll down to see links to a bunch of reviews from Rik!

I woke up in a Soho doorway, a policeman knew my name

February 27th, 2014

Written by: Rik

Hello there.

Surprise, surprise, we have another review for you tonight. Yes, I know, this is unprecedented (and unlikely to be repeated). If FFG was a big rock band from the 90s with significant chart appeal (which it isn’t) then this would be like us releasing a sixth single from the album that came out a couple of years ago.

Now, we’re going to have a rest, and then head back to the studio with some fresh ideas for a new sound. Except we won’t have any fresh ideas, we’ll just be working on some more of the usual nonsense.

Erh…anyway, tonight’s review is of yet another CSI game, CSI: Hard Evidence.

csititle

A frankly poor piece on an interesting topic

February 23rd, 2014

Written by: Rik

[Disclaimer: I woke up in the middle of the night thinking that this would make a great piece and excitedly jotted down some notes. At some point between then and now, perhaps following an ill-advised browse of some comments sections, I lost the will to try and write anything decent, or to try and generate, or participate in, any kind of discussion on the subject.

I'm adding it now because I still think it's relevant to our area of interest, and I sort of want to get it off my chest, but if I were you I'd just scroll down to the links at the end.

Oh, and in case it doesn't go without saying, the views expressed below are my own and do not represent those of the FFG board.]

A frankly poor piece on an interesting topic continued »

Guilty as a girl can be

February 23rd, 2014

Written by: Rik

Hello there.

Completing an unprecedented burst of activity on the site (by our standards) during February, we have a review of the adventure game Guilty.

Barring any more long holidays, extended periods of sickness, or unexpectedly becoming unemployed, we’ll be back to our usual rate from this point on.

guiltyintro