Baby's First Game EmulationFebruary 17, 2017
This week I finally finished Game After. It took a little more time than anticipated because, while some chapters were pretty narrative-like and read a little faster, the fragments that really pertained to my project were more philosophical and explored how the ontology of games translated into an exhibit. I’m also a slow reader in denial. But I’ve talked enough about exhibits in blog posts for now, so I wanted to spend the rest of my time this week exploring the beautiful garden of the vintage computer games and documentation on archive.org.
In addition to game artwork and manuals, the Internet Archive has an awesome collection of vintage MS-DOS games as demos, shareware, abandonware, freeware, or whatever “disk image I downloaded from the internet”-wares I’m forgetting, many of which can be emulated in the DOSBox in the browser. Others are available as a disk image and/or can be torrented and then played on your emulator of choice which was, in my case, also DOSBox. I downloaded two games to emulate: Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego Enhanced (the in-browser emulation is linked) and System Shock, published in 1989 and 1994 respectively.
Carmen Sandiego was incredibly fun to play, despite what came off as a mostly repetitive gameplay strategy. The player collects clues about criminals who have stolen precious historical artifacts from around the globe, and chases them from country to country until they discover their identity and location. Given that this game was a remake of the original Carmen Sandiego game from 1985, this probably won’t be something that I want to install on computers in the console living room, but I really enjoyed playing it and thought it was worth recommending, especially because it’s so freely available.
System Shock is much more pertinent to the decade, and something I’ve been interested in playing for quite some time because of BioShock’s label as one of its “spiritual successor”. One of my ideas for curation is to install “spiritual predecessors” (I guess that’s the opposite of “spiritual successors”?) or actual predecessors of more popular modern games, so—even though System Shock is also worthy of merit in its own right—I think it would be something worth including because of its design influence on Deus Ex and BioShock. Another title in this same vein is The Elder Scrolls II: Daggerfall (1996) because, had Bethesda’s bad code and marketing not been saved by ZeniMax’s buyout and Morrowind’s success, this could have been the last Elder Scrolls game and Skyrim would have never existed.
I loved the grungy cyberpunk aesthetic of System Shock’s small, cluttered, low-resolution FPS window. It felt messy, anxious, and dark, and the technical constraints and crammed UI design of early FPS games really complimented this well. It also had a pretty sophisticated 3D graphics engine that supported slanted walls or floors on the map, but enemies and items are still in 2D. While playing, I quickly realized that the game actually had no NPC dialogue: all major communication is done through emails with a teeny tiny pixel font, such as the one pictured above, and the only presumed non-enemies I found were dead ones.
I also spent some time digging around for games I played as a kid (a lot of the games I’m learning about were those that I either wasn’t allowed to play or couldn’t play because I was a baby) like SkiFree and Chip’s Challenge. I recovered from memory, thanks to my dad, the game Hover!, which I downloaded and played a few rounds of. Afterwards I discovered this August 1995 personal computing article(?) from the New York Times predicting how the consumer market will respond to the Windows 95’s release (might research some of this later and see how accurate his prediction was), and the author briefly mentions Hover! as a “nonviolent DOOM-like” included in the OS, which I thought was interesting because I didn’t think “driving a hovercar and not having a gun” qualified as nonviolent DOOM-like? Maybe I don’t quite get what DOOM-like means. Anyways, I’m looking forward to going home over spring break and seeing what CD-ROM copies I can find of games I used to play, if we still have any hidden away somewhere, or what more I can at least remember and find a disk image of. I’ll definitely make a post about what I’m able to find.
That’s all of the interesting stuff for this week. System Shock and Carmen Sandiego were my test runs with desktop emulation in DOSBox, so I’m going to keep messing with non-emulated disk images on the Internet Archive and see what other cool games or software I can find. Whatever isn’t (legally) available will probably be bought later if it’s deemed worthy, or if I can find it but it’s just a really cool game to have a hard copy of.