Old Games in New WindowsPosted: September 6, 2009
I’m typing this post on Windows 7. I’d been planning to blog any problems that came up during installation.
There weren’t any. It was the smoothest migration I had ever performed on any machine, certainly it went much better than my migration to Vista, though that wasn’t all Microsoft’s fault. My hardware was very stable, and most importantly almost all of it had 64-bit drivers (except my elderly NEC Superscript 870; off to Staples I go…)
It took just a day to get it installed and get almost all of my old programs back on, and most of the delay was due to my accidentally throwing out my Office CD so I had to get it from the Action Pack download site. I can’t think of a thing to blog about in Windows 7 that hasn’t already been hashed out during the past nine months of the public beta and RC.
What’s left, this Labor Day?
At one time during the mid-nineties, the PC was a big game platform and I was a big gamer. I loved Duke Nukem (as do many many others in IT), Descent, X-Wing, Doom and innumerable second-tier games found in the bargain bins at Micro Center. I could almost never afford to buy new games when they came out, so I’d buy them after they’d been out for several years and thus discounted. (Duke was one of the very few exceptions.)
Unfortunately, with the rise of console gaming in the early 2000’s, gaming on the PC has undergone a long, slow decline. Video games, for me, are mostly 10 years in the past. (And even earlier: I lived near an arcade in college in the mid-80’s and always threw a few bucks at Gravitar on the way home from class. Those were the good old days!)
When XP came out, some of the games I most loved wouldn’t work anymore (sniff, sniff, Tie Fighter), and between my commitments to SATV, health problems and time on the Commission on Disabilities, I never felt much like a gamer, though some excellent games came out in that era (Max Payne).
When Vista came out, I never even bothered to try out my old games. It seemed like video games would be the childish things I’d put away for good.
Over the summer, I learned of a new game company called Good Old Games (GOG). This UK company purchases the rights to old PC games, tweaks them to be useable on XP & Vista, and rereleases them at very cheap prices, comparable to the shovelware section of a computer store.
I bought several games, including Duke Nukem 3D, the entire Descent series, and the entire Freespace series.
How do these games work on modern Windows?
Duke Nukem 3D, and the DOS-based games from GOG are shipped with DOSBox, an emulation layer that runs over Windows (plus OS X and Linux, among other OSes) and provides a DOS environment for games to run. Notably, it’s the only way to run 16-bit DOS apps in 64-bit Windows besides using virtualization software (such as Windows XP mode in some versions of Windows 7).
I got Duke and the first two Descent games to play, though there was some pain.
Descent’s graphics wouldn’t start properly until I configured DOSBox to use OpenGL graphics. Then I ran into a more annoying problem that’s since unresolved: Controls.
After years of playing games with whatever cheap $10 joystick I’d find at the computer show or flea market, I broke down and got an XBox controller a few years ago. It wasn’t cheap on my budget but It was very well made and had my favorite feature—dual joysticks!—for games like Robotron 2084 or Smash T.V. I’d been on XP for years at the time and was more than ready to get a USB controller (as are virtually all PC controllers now.)
Descent is a game with complex controls; you fly a spaceship through a mine and can not only pitch and yaw, but you have thrusters to slide (translate) in all directions. To survive in the game, you need to be able to move in any direction quickly. You can just about do it with a keyboard.
My gamepad would be excellent, with its two analog controls and numerous buttons. Unfortunately, Descent is just too old: It was designed for the old IBM PC joystick interface which only allowed for four buttons and two joysticks. For some reason, I can’t get the game setup to see both sticks on the gamepad.
But it still runs fine and I’ll be tweaking with it until I get something I can play.
I had better luck with Duke. It needs to be run as administrator (often the case for many older games), but it runs without much tweaking and it even supports VESA modes, which regular Windows does not. A screenshot leads off this post (though I screwed up the aspect ratio importing it into Photoshop Elements.)
I have several CD drawers full of older games. I think I’m going to “research” program compatibility in Windows 7 with these. In any event, I’ll be playing again for quite some time, especially Duke.
“Hail to the King, Baby!”
(Now, if the rumors about Tie Fighter being re-released can only come true… Pleasepleaseplease!)