A guide to playing old PC games

Sometimes you may have the itch to go back and play an game from the olden days of PC. These days many of the most popular old PC titles are available on places like GOG.com, all set up to work on most modern systems with no effort required aside from a simple installation, but there are still many, many games that haven’t received such fancy treatment. Maybe someday in the future they’ll all be simplified and/or fixed to easily run, but until such a day arises you’ll just have to resort to some of the following methods.

Before I discuss any of the trickier, more obscure methods, let’s talk about the simplest solution that’ll work for the majority of games from the pre-Windows 95 era: DOSBox

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Favorite games from every year of my life – Part 1

Yes, it’s another one of those posts. No, I was not invited or challenged, deal with it. Yes, I am so old that I have to break this up into multiple parts, but OH WELLLLLLLL! Now on with the self-explanatory show…

These first few entries will be pretty brief since I was busy spending the first few years of the 80’s learning to walk and use a toilet and such. I did have a cousin with an Atari 2600 and a huge pile of games though, so I really did play these early ones, just not in the actual years of their release.


1980

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Now Playing: Secret Agent (1992)

Sometimes you just need to bust out an old DOS action-platformer! This is another fine classic title by the legendary Apogee games and it’s no coincidence that it all looks more than a little bit similar to the original Duke Nukem. This (as well as the also very similar looking Crystal Caves) were both made by the same designer of the Duke Nukem series, though oddly enough, they both came out after Duke Nukem. I guess they didn’t expect Duke Nukem to take off the way it did!

Anyway, it’s all very similar to Duke Nukem in gameplay too. You need to search through the levels to find a bunch of key items and perform a bunch of key actions in order to open the exit. You’ll need destroy the radar dish and find the dynamite to open the exit door before you can leave, but of course it isn’t going to be that simple. You’ll need to find various colored keys to open locked doors and find a computer disk and a computer to use it on to disable deadly laser fields too.

Unlike Duke Nukem, there’s an overworld screen where you can walk around and pick different levels to go to, though the order makes no difference at all. The biggest difference though is the greater emphasis on platforming over shooting. Secret Agent isn’t quite the action hero Duke was, in fact you even have a limited supply of ammo, forcing you to be a little more careful in your combat encounters.

The levels can be pretty complicated and aside from the enemies there are a lot of traps, some instantly deadly. You also only get 3 hits and 1 life, but you have unlimited continues so it’s not so bad.

While Secret Agent may not have gotten the fame and recognition of Duke Nukem, it still serves as an example of the same fine talent that went into Duke Nukem and so many other memorable Apogee games. It’s a fun little game and still holds up quite well for its age.

Playing this again after all these years really gave me an itch for more old DOS games like this. Stuff like Dangerous Dave, Bio Menace, or Clyde’s Adventure. I’ll have to try to fit some of those in sometime soon…

Now Playing: Highway Hunter (1994)

I’ve been neglecting my old computer since I got that new tv…so I must rectify that with some old-timey games, starting with Highway Hunter!

There’s not a lot to say about Highway Hunter, really. It’s kind of a Super Spy Hunter clone published by Epic Megagames back in the 90s. It’s simple and fun and has a decent, if a little amateurish, 90s midi soundtrack.

I’m not entirely sure why it didn’t get any of the recognition that other similar games of the time, like Raptor or Tyrian, got.

It had good variety in its levels, enemies, and weapons. It had a lot of interesting level locations and bosses. It even had a level where it turns out that the road you’ve been driving on is actually a giant snake and the boss is the snake’s head, and somehow you blow up the snake’s head and drive off into the sunset on the body of the snake whose head you just blew up, which makes no fucking sense at all but damn is that fucking metal or what?

The only downsides are that the game has some slowdown issues even on modern systems and is pretty short, about 90 minutes to blow through all 3 episodes. Very solid, fun little 90s shooter though.

Now Playing: Phantasmagoria (1995)

Phantasmagoria is a horror adventure by Roberta Williams, creator of the King’s Quest series. It is also one of the earliest and biggest games of the FMV craze of the 90s. It had an astounding (at the time) 7 whole discs (that’s in CDs, if you crazy kids even know what those are anymore) and was said to contain some pretty controversial and highly graphic material. I’ve always wanted to try it out to finally know once and for all, the truth about Phantasmagoria. Well…it kinda sucks.

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Now Playing: Wing Commander IV (1996)

After the success of Wing Commander III, Chris Roberts and crew apparently got a much larger budget for IV. The frequency and scope of the cutscenes increased quite a bit, with the actors even performing on actual physical sets instead of being pasted on cg backgrounds. Apparently there was a rare, special DVD version back in the day too, for the ten people who had DVD-roms on their PCs back in ’96. It was interesting to see all the ultra-90s design and effects in “high quality”.

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