One of the things I’m enjoying as we progress in terms of home PCs is the way old games are becoming playable again.

It might seem an odd thing to say if you’re not familiar with the difference between today’s tech and that which existed fifteen years ago but it does make sense. Back then Windows consisted of Windows 98 and its family – sort of sitting on top of MS-DOS. These days some people still think MS-DOS is under Windows for some reason but that’s not the case. From Windows 2000 onwards the Windows NT codebase was used.

Hardware also changed considerably – lots of things were written in a more bare-metal style, to the point where PCs had “Turbo” buttons.

turbo

Essentially they’d change the clock speed of the PC in order to allow things coded for slower machines to run. Not faster machines, slower ones. Otherwise they’d run too quickly and become unusable.

So as you can imagine old games built for this stuff have issues with modern operating systems. That sort of thing is being solved though.

Take an old favourite of mine, Command & Conquer: Red Alert. I wouldn’t bother trying to get it running these days. It may well work under Windows with a bit of jiggery pokery but what if I’m running Linux? Maybe Wine would work?

Or I could use OpenRA:

ss3

OpenRA is a Libre/Free Real Time Strategy game engine that allows the recreation of the early Command & Conquer titles.

OpenRA currently includes three distinct mods that reinvent C&C (Tiberian Dawn), C&C: Red Alert, and Dune 2000.

Cross-platform multiplayer is supported between Windows, OS X, and Linux, and singleplayer skirmishes against bots.

It would seem that the single player campaigns aren’t yet available but I’m sure they’ll get there eventually.

Then there’s Theme Hospital, a classic management game from Bullfrog. It’s getting reimplemented in CorsixTH:beta4

I shouldn’t forget to mention a few others such as ScummVM, ResidualVM, and OpenTTD. There’s probably quite a few others but those are the most active ones I can think of.

One thing that also fills the gap is DOSBox:

DOSBox is emulator software that emulates (loosely: "simulates") an IBM PC compatible computer running the older operating system, MS-DOS. Many IBM PC compatible graphics and sound cards are also emulated.

[from Wikipedia]

It runs on a list of platforms as long as my arm (check out the unofficial builds section of the Wikipedia article) but it’s not quite the same as a reimplementation. I say that because it means that things run as they originally did, i.e. at a resolution marginally larger than a postage stamp*.

Either way though it’s pretty cool how things are being preserved for future players. Admittedly I imagine that means old players reliving things in the future. Half these old things probably stray too far from what the younger gamers have grown up with to be any more than a historical curio from their perspective.

 


*Sidenote: As it happens if we assume that stamps are printed at 300 DPI at the very least then a standard first class British stamp (20 x 24 mm) actually has a greater resolution than old games!

20 x 24 mm @ 300 DPI = 236 * 283 = 66,788 pixels

Prince of Persia (1989) had CGA graphics, i.e. a resolution of 320 x 200.

320 x 200 = 64,000 pixels.

With no scaling that means the game looked like this:

Prince of Persia CGA

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