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IntelliMission

The official MS-DOS thread

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DOS-games??? Not really worth it, I guess. :)

I mean, that CGA/EGA graphics didn't look good at all, and sound was even worse. The PC beeper sounded even worse than the ZX Spectrum's beeper (which at least had a reasonable volume).

That's simply because back then computers were separated into machines for doing serious work (PCs) and game machines (C64 and such). And it's true, I'd rather write business reports on a 8086-PC with "Word for DOS" than on a C64 connected to a flickering television.

 

 

@PokeypyWe're covering 3 eras here: 8 bit (CGA and EGA), 16 bit (mostly VGA) and 32 bit.

 

With an MS-DOS machine, many people here refer to a 16 bit machine or 32 bit machine (286, Pentium) that is also compatible with the early CGA games.

 

I think we can all agree the 32 bit MS-DOS era has some great games, with Tomb Raider, Wipeout and others that also came out in console and with exclusives like Blood, Jedi Knight or the good versions of Carmageddon and Quake.

 

And of course, even if many prefer the 80s, I don't think nobody can deny the importance of the 1989-1994 period in MS-DOS gaming and its huge impact in video game history, with major graphic adventures like Monkey Island 2 coming out exclusively for these systems, as well as multiple simulation and stratgegy games or the best versions of Doom and Wolfenstein 3D.

 

You say that EGA games look terrible... Well, I suggest you take a look at this thread in another forum with some of the best looking EGA games and this incomplete list of EGA games with screenshots, which include the original versions of Monkey Island, Loom and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. The EGA games I had as a kid, Kings of the Beach and Lakers Vs Celtics, still look good today.

 

But even CGA games have its charm. This forum has specific sections dedicated to systems with very basic graphical capabilities such as the Commodore PET or the Fairchild Channel F, CGA (which also had a 16 color low res mode, used by games like King's Quest), and those systems could never dream of having games like the Wizardry series or Archon (to name 2 of the great CGA games). As a kid, I had a good CGA game, Sokoban, and that palette is the only way to play that great version of the game.

 

Finally, we must not forget that some people are interested in these machines for purposes other than gaming, in which case CGA and PC Speaker are definitely not an issue.

 

All in all, I don't see a reason why we should disregard MS-DOS computers (even the ones limited to CGA), especially when the ones making that argument have a soft spot for the ZX Spectrum palette (which I also find strangely attractive). ;)

Edited by IntelliMission
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1 hour ago, Pokeypy said:

That's simply because back then computers were separated into machines for doing serious work (PCs) and game machines (C64 and such). And it's true, I'd rather write business reports on a 8086-PC with "Word for DOS" than on a C64 connected to a flickering television.

Apart from what others have pointed out already, this isn't true at all. Sure, at the beginning IBM & compatibles' strongest selling point was business software, but that doesn't mean there were no games at all. It was a home computer from the get-go, after all. Flights Simulator or King's Quest are some examples of the very early classics. PC started slow, compared to the likes of Apple II, C64 or ZX, but was steadily gaining momentum. By the end of the Eigthies only Amiga/ST/Mac could compete with it when it comes to "serious" games, such as adventure/strategy/RPG, even though their market share was insignificant. And once CD ROM & 3D games kicked in, even these platforms had to fade off.

 

If I had to pick my favourite gaming decade it'd indeed be 1987-1997, in the first few years dominated by Amiga, but later on being strictly a DOS/Win domain. Its legacy is reflected in modern gaming as well: the chart topping blockbusters being mostly FPS or open world games.

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Posted (edited)

I think if one is going to dismiss MS-DOS as "not really worth it" because of the limitations of EGA, then you'd basically have to dismiss everything up until the Atari ST/Amiga and 16-bit consoles!  I'm a huge fan of the C64 and Apple II, but I'd DEFINITELY rather play Pool of Radiance, Wizardry, and Might & Magic II on MS-DOS.

 

A lot of EGA games also supported the Adlib music card, and a good portion even supported the amazing Roland MT-32, so it seems unfair to dismiss the entire platform for poor music/sound effects.

 

There's a lot of great MS-DOS games even from the mid-late 80s, especially if you like RPGs, strategy/war games, and adventures.

Edited by newtmonkey
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2 hours ago, Pokeypy said:

I mean, that CGA/EGA graphics didn't look good at all, and sound was even worse. The PC beeper sounded even worse than the ZX Spectrum's beeper (which at least had a reasonable volume).

I didn't think EGA was that bad.  It had graphics modes similar to other systems at the time like ST/Amiga, but less colors.    

 

CGA was hard on the retinas though :)   I'd rather play monochrome than look at those colors.

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1 hour ago, IntelliMission said:

And of course, even if many prefer the 80s, I don't think nobody can deny the importance of the 1989-1994 period in MS-DOS gaming and its huge impact in video game history, with major graphic adventures like Monkey Island 2 coming out exclusively for these systems, as well as multiple simulation and stratgegy games or the best versions of Doom and Wolfenstein 3D.

I think the 80's were the dark ages of MS-DOS gaming, when DOS versions of games were usually inferior to other systems, and the early 90's were the glory days where the platform started to really show what it was capable of for games.

 

1 hour ago, IntelliMission said:

But even CGA games have its charm. This forum has specific sections dedicated to systems with very basic graphical capabilities such as the Commodore PET or the Fairchild Channel F, CGA (which also had a 16 color low res mode, used by games like King's Quest), and those systems could never dream of having games like the Wizardry series or Archon (to name 2 of the great CGA games). As a kid, I had a good CGA game, Sokoban, and that palette is the only way to play that great version of the game.

CGA was capable of a decent 16 color mode, but the catch was that you needed to use a composite monitor to use it.   Many clone CGA cards did not have composite port, and most PCs did not have composite monitors.   Otherwise you were stuck with the CGA modes with the nasty color schemes.

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EGA games can look really good. I think people bash them by default, just throwing everything pre-VGA into one bag. Some of the best: https://www.pcmag.com/news/ega-turns-35-10-iconic-ega-games-of-yesteryear

 

CGA, yeah, well, can look quite awful, but it's 2021, all is forgiven and I love it too :) What amuses me is that its colour scheme actually reminds me of the modern mobile/website palette to some degree. For example:

 

Banyon_Wars.png

 

This site has some good comparison scr$ https://www.classicdosgames.com/video/cga.html

 

 

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My first computer was a IBM PS/2 386/16 with a 10MB hard drive.  It was a Xmas gift and I was happy to have it, but 486's were already out and it was obsolete (more than usual!) the day I got it.  16MHz...  jeez it was so slow.  I was able to add a 40MB HDD, a Gravis Ultrasound and an external 14.4K modem.

 

I remember buying MS-DOS 6.0 and be so thrilled it had DoubleSpace (?) that would compress your HD data to "double" the size.  I tried loading Win 3.1 but it was just too slow to run it.  I never liked Windows in those early days, and honestly still don't.

 

It didn't play many games well, but I do have many fond memories of SimCity, Scorched Earth, Prince of Persia, Warlords II and of course Wolfenstein 3D.

 

I commend those of you who have rigged up a DOS gaming machine.  Because my experience was subpar, I'm quite content with DOSBOX because I don't want to go back to that.  That's what my old consoles are for!

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3 minutes ago, glazball said:

I commend those of you who have rigged up a DOS gaming machine.  Because my experience was subpar, I'm quite content with DOSBOX because I don't want to go back to that.  That's what my old consoles are for!

because of being home so much and bored during COVID,  I decided pull up old PC parts and revive an old 486.   Got it running, installed DOS and Windows 3.1 on it and some games.     But when I was done, it soon went right back to the basement...     Because it doesn't really provide anything that DOSBOX can't,  and you have to deal with hardware aging issues.   CMOS battery was weak, if you don't boot it up everyday, you will find yourself redoing your BIOS settings (BIOS wasn't quite plug and play then),  the CD makes concerning grinding noises, the fan whines, etc.    Just not worth running.

 

Also some things that are really nice about DOSBOX is that it has a built-in DOS shell,  that means you don't have to install MS-DOS to use it.     It has built-in drivers so you don't have to install TSRs to use sound cards, mice, IO cards, CD-Rom images.   And because you don't have to install TSRs, you don't have to deal with the memory management issues that having too many TSRs cause.   Maybe some are nostalgic for these things for the "real MS-DOS experience"  not me!   I just want to play some of my old favorite DOS games.

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Posted (edited)

Speaking of DOS gaming machines, I spent some quality time with my machine today!

 

Played some Day of the Tentacle, then some Crystal Caves and then Jill of the Jungle (cleared the shareware episode of that one).

1618486956323.thumb.jpg.884063b76256b477cbde7b1f3504214e.jpg

The machine is a Pentium 133, but you can disable the caches to bring it down to roughly a 386SX40 or 486DX33.  Between those three speeds, you can cover the vast majority of the MS-DOS game library without having to resort to moslo, etc., though there are exceptions here and there.

 

I do enjoy playing games on this machine, but like I said before, emulation is VERY good for DOS games.  DOSBOX with a CRT monitor (or 1600x1200 flat panel for a perfect 5x/6x integer scale) would get you very close to the actual machine experience, honestly.  PCem is even closer, since you can configure specific machine speeds for problematic games like Wing Commander 1, Ultima VII, Thunderscape, etc.  Both DOSBOX and PCem allow you to use external synths over MIDI, so you can even get the real hardware experience of an MT-32 or SC-55.

 

Although I'm a big proponent of playing on original hardware, if this machine dies I would likely switch over to PCem and be perfectly happy with it. :)

Edited by newtmonkey
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Dosbox is great, but it's completely different experience than real hardware, same as with all the computer emulators. I actually enjoy doing some light config tweaking, starting games from Dos Navigator, etc...it's part of the fun. Even the hum and smell of the real machine. Also, the oft-evoked problematic configs are vastly exaggerated, in reality there were 2-3 templates (which you could set in auotoexec) which would run 98% of the games.

 

It's not like Dosbox & PCEm are magic wands too, you still have to do some legwork, especially with the latter. And I can't imagine using Dosbox without a frontend, D-Fend Reloaded being myfavourite. One thing which was very disappointing for years with Dosbox was the lack of proper scaling, I think they have finally sorted it out recently though? At least in some other builds. I was trying some games from eXoDOS with allegedly "pixel perfect" scaling but I think it's still not 1:1.

 

Anyway, these days I'm completely possesed by the ao486 core on MiSTer I mentioned earlier. It's like the best of both worlds :)

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Some versions of Dosbox have "pixel perfect scaling" but then you still run into slight aspect ratio issues, even with aspect ratio correction on.  It's not 1:1 like how it would look on a CRT monitor, but I guess it's also not a huge deal for anyone who's not a DOS game fanatic (like me ;) ).

 

I agree that Autoexec.bat and config.sys configuration is also not a big deal anymore.  Philscomputerlab even has preconfigured files you can just copy to your HDD (or PCem installation) that gives you a menu to easily select from a half dozen configurations to run pretty much any game with free memory maxed out (yes, even Ultima VII).

 

The biggest issue with Dosbox for me, other than proper scaling (again, can be remedied by using an actual CRT or a 1600x1200 flat screen) is adjusting cycles to get games running at ideal speed.  It's inexact, and games can break even if cycles are set where the game "appears" to run correctly; you'd never know it if you didn't play the game on real hardware.  Some examples that come to mind are Wing Commander, Ultima VII, Worlds of Aden: Thunderscape, and Elder Scrolls Arena; simply setting cycles to the point where these games appear to run "smooth" can actually can break them.

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15 minutes ago, youxia said:

Also, the oft-evoked problematic configs are vastly exaggerated, in reality there were 2-3 templates (which you could set in auotoexec) which would run 98% of the games.

there was "memmaker" in later versions of MS-DOS that would optimize the TSR memory usage for you, which would eliminate most memory issues.

 

But problem was,  DOS for most people was archaic,  they would learn just enough to get their system running, and not read the thick manuals, so a lot of people didn't know about stuff like memmaker.   This was pre-internet for most people as well, so you couldn't just google a quick answer.

 

19 minutes ago, youxia said:

It's not like Dosbox & PCEm are magic wands too, you still have to do some legwork, especially with the latter.

I think PCEm is actually more work than a real PC,  because you have to track down the right BIOS roms too, in addition to installing everything you'd need to on a real PC.  Dosbox isn't perfect, but it takes a lot of the pain out of that process.

 

22 minutes ago, youxia said:

One thing which was very disappointing for years with Dosbox was the lack of proper scaling, I think they have finally sorted it out recently though? At least in some other builds. I was trying some games from eXoDOS with allegedly "pixel perfect" scaling but I think it's still not 1:1.

I use "Dosbox-X", and I'm much happier with the way it scales and applies filters than vanilla Dosbox.    Vanilla DOSBox has barely been updated in years.    I'd recommend skipping vanilla and going with an alternate build.

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9 minutes ago, newtmonkey said:

The biggest issue with Dosbox for me, other than proper scaling (again, can be remedied by using an actual CRT or a 1600x1200 flat screen) is adjusting cycles to get games running at ideal speed.  It's inexact, and games can break even if cycles are set where the game "appears" to run correctly; you'd never know it if you didn't play the game on real hardware.  Some examples that come to mind are Wing Commander, Ultima VII, Worlds of Aden: Thunderscape, and Elder Scrolls Arena; simply setting cycles to the point where these games appear to run "smooth" can actually can break them.

You may want to take a look at Dosbox-x,  they've added support to match specific CPUs:

  • Support for more CPU types (e.g. Pentium MMX and Pro) and emulating CPU speed

    DOSBox-X supports virtually all CPU types prior to Pentium II at this time, from 8086 to Pentium Pro, including support for Pentium MMX instructions. DOSBox-X also allow you to emulate the speed of a specific CPU (from 8088 XT 4.77MHz to Pentium 166MHz MMX) in terms of cycles. Select them from the "CPU" menu.

     

    More features here:  https://dosbox-x.com/wiki/DOSBox‐X’s-Feature-Highlights

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Posted (edited)

That's interesting! But for me there's really no reason to downgrade from actual hardware to Dosbox.  If my current machine dies, I would just go with PCem likely.

Edited by newtmonkey

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You've really got multiple eras here (and the lines do blur a bit), the early DOS 2.1 era with lots of booters, simple Apple ][-style stuff, evolving into fancier stuff that might support EGA and/or Tandy during the DOS 3.3 era and sometimes might be able to use Ad Lib, toward stuff in the DOS 5 era that usually preferred MCGA/VGA, and then the late era when a lot of people might have had SVGA, 486, etc. and devs actually really started to push the state of the art.

 

My two retroboxen have rather different configurations: a 286/10 with 1 MB RAM, a Pentium/133 with 16 MB RAM, both with onboard VGA chipsets.  (Both have SB16s) There is overlap in what they can run, but really, the 286 is better for one type of DOS gaming and the Pentium for another.

 

(Though, for what it's worth, neither of them actually run MS-DOS, as I prefer IBM's custom version. Though the 5.0 on my Pentium is just MS-DOS 5 with different branding.)

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4 hours ago, wierd_w said:

Dont be so quick to write it off.

It's probably just a matter of taste. I grew up in times, when my Amiga was way superior to PCs regarding graphics and sound. I just didn't like, what then happened, the PC mono-culture, while the Amiga platform was going down.

Now I'm getting old and can't play Doom, Arma, Witcher or other maybe interesting 3D-stuff any more anyway, because it makes me dizzy and sick. That's why I'm concentrating on 2D games and Atari 8 bit again.

I then probably shouldn't post in a MS-DOS thread. :) I'm avoiding Microsoft where I can anyway (this is written on Linux, which made PCs a bit more bearable again I have to admit).

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2 hours ago, Pokeypy said:

It's probably just a matter of taste. I grew up in times, when my Amiga was way superior to PCs regarding graphics and sound. I just didn't like, what then happened, the PC mono-culture, while the Amiga platform was going down.

Now I'm getting old and can't play Doom, Arma, Witcher or other maybe interesting 3D-stuff any more anyway, because it makes me dizzy and sick. That's why I'm concentrating on 2D games and Atari 8 bit again.

I then probably shouldn't post in a MS-DOS thread. :) I'm avoiding Microsoft where I can anyway (this is written on Linux, which made PCs a bit more bearable again I have to admit).

Freedos is totally a thing. :)

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Posted (edited)

Here's the webpage of the front end I use for DOSBox, DOSBox Game Launcher. They release new versions every year or so and the guy even accepts suggestions, but sadly the Java library he uses doesn't accept dark themes. I wish there was a way to put a black background to the damned thing.

Edited by IntelliMission
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Dosbox allows commandline argument invocation with the -c option.  As such, you can create direct shortcuts that launch your games right from windows.

 

For example, you can make a shortcut to dosbox like this:

 

C:\dosbox\dosbox.exe -c "mount c c:\dosgames" -c "c:" -c "cd doom" -c "doom.exe" -c "exit"

 

Which will process dosbox's autoexec.bat section, then do all the -c lines in order-- in this case mounting a dosgames folder as the emulated c drive, switching to it, moving into the doom folder, running doom, and then when you quit, killing dosbox.

 

The shortcut can use whatever icon you set for it and live either on your desktop or in your start menu.

 

It also works fine on linux, just use appropriate paths. Linux program launcher works fine with it.

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4 minutes ago, wierd_w said:

For example, you can make a shortcut to dosbox like this:

 

C:\dosbox\dosbox.exe -c "mount c c:\dosgames" -c "c:" -c "cd doom" -c "doom.exe" -c "exit"

Yes,  a lot of the old games you can buy from GoG will do just this.   They look like a native app on your desktop, but if you click on it, it launches a dosbox with the commands needed to run the game.

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Posted (edited)

I have found a workaround to find exclusive games in MobyGames (there is no advanced search) using the Google search ["(1993) published -also -dates -promotional -tech site:mobygames.com/game/dos/]. You can change "1993" with another year. I'm finding interesting results among the games that only came out for MS-DOS:

 

1989: An unknown Die Hard game that looks pretty cool.

1990: Lakers Vs Celtics and the NBA Playoffs, a great basketball game. A cool looking BattleTech game. The first Commander Keen.

1991: A viking-themed action RPG called Dusk of the Gods. A pioneer in 3D action games, The Terminator. A solid an underrated graphic adventure for all ages, Eco Quest. An awesome 3D flight sim for the time, Falcon 3.0. The original strategy game that plays like board game, Jones in the Fast Lane. And the RPG X-Men II: The Fall of the Mutants, which definitely looks like a unique experience, for better or worse!

1992: Another Terminator Game? Yes! The Terminator 2029, a fake 3D shooter where you move like Dungeon Master. Comanche and its awesome voxel engine. And Jill of the Jungle, a classic, solid platformer.

1993: Things get interesting here with gems like Space Quest V: The Next Mutation, Star Wars: X-Wing, IndyCar Racing or Wing Commander: Privateer. Not masterpieces but still very good are the RPG Dark Sun: Shattered Lands, Rags to Riches: The Financial Market Simulation and the puzzle game Sid & Al's Incredible Toons.

1994: Ečstatica (imagine Alone in the Dark in an almost empty, huge village with a werewolf that hunts you around). The 3D fighting game One Must Fall 2097, which I never tried. A little RPG you might know called The Elder Scrolls: Arena. Another great platformer, Jazz Jackrabbit. The interesting, heavily story-based strategy game Alien Legacy. The French, 1st person graphic adventures Lost in Time and Inca II (the latter with 3D space combat sections that, unlike in Star Trek, are manageable). And the successful flight sim Pacific Strike.

1995: Another Terminator game! This one's a pretty cool textured 3D FPS, The Terminator: Future Shock. The interesting experiment Witchaven, a first person slasher.

1996: Death Rally, a fun top-down racing game. The Elder Scrolls: Chapter II - Daggerfall. Another good flight sim, Jane's Combat Simulations: ATF - Advanced Tactical Fighters. And the interesting Syndicate clone Gender Wars.

1997: The awesome FPS games Blood and Jedi Knight.

 

I'm probably missing something (this search method doesn't show the games that appeared in Macintosh or mobile 20 years later!), but I think that's it for today. Not bad!

Edited by IntelliMission
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Posted (edited)

I'm sure many of you already know, but LGR (Lazy Game Reviews) is a great youtuber if you like MS-DOS computers.

 

He's a millennial whose first computer as a kid was a Pentium, but that later has bought and restored multiple old machines, especially MS-DOS ones.

 

Among his multiple videos, he recently reviewed Microsoft Flight Simulator 4.0, a weird 1995 mini laptop with phone capabilities and, most importantly, a $10,000 IBM industrial computer from 1985 (a 286 with an EGA display).

Edited by IntelliMission
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2 hours ago, IntelliMission said:

I'm sure many of you already know, but LGR (Lazy Game Reviews) is a great youtuber if you like MS-DOS computers.

 

He's a millennial whose first computer as a kid was a Pentium, but that later has bought and restored multiple old machines, especially MS-DOS ones.

 

Among his multiple videos, he recently reviewed Microsoft Flight Simulator 4.0, a weird 1995 mini laptop with phone capabilities and, most importantly, a $10,000 IBM industrial computer from 1985 (a 286 with an EGA display).

LGR is good stuff.  Highly recommended for sure.

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Posted (edited)

- This video brings a tear to my eye. It's the first 20 minutes of Quake played in 320x200 (it's how I played and how I guess most people played, as graphic cards were rare). My version didn't have the awesome NIN music, but since it was mostly noises I didn't lose that much. I played Tomb Raider the same way (in this case it was more problematic, but it's still "my" version).

 

- I'm now on level 8/13 in Prince of Persia. I think the best way to play this is saving the game at the beginning of each stage. Probably the best way to play old FPS games like Doom, too. Prince of Persia is great!

Edited by IntelliMission

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Got to thinking if I would ever build or buy another vintage DOS gaming system. The answer to both is maybe, but not likely. Emulation and virtualization on modern hardware is very good and continually improving.

 

But maintaining my 486 and Pentium III would be a definite yes. These are machines already built. The familiarity factor is high. The cache of spare parts a respectable size. Including some lesser and greater versions of those spare parts.

 

The PC architecture and precise experience we had in the 90's was varied. As is emulation today today. Stuff is not 100% exact and true to the form of yesteryear. But then neither was going from system to system back then. Many different flavors.

 

What is consistent is the software. It still creates the moods and atmospheres we had. It still operates the same way.

 

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