(Wild divergence warning – skip to Back To The Topic At Hand if you don’t want to read about my childhood)
I sometimes raid my collection of 200+ game CDs (yes, all purchased legally) to dig out some of the old DOS games I grew up with.
It often happens at this time of year. While growing up in England, my birthday was the cold end of Autumn; here in Oz, it’s at the warm end of Spring. The smells of Aussie Spring were something new, and different, and memorable, and I think they’re what get me onto my bi-annual nostalgia trip.
Shortly after we moved out here, (I think it was my 12th birthday), I was given the newly-released Ultima V, to play on the family 640K 10Mhz (Turbo!) PC clone (CGA in glorious shades of green) with twin 360K floppy drives (luxury!). It didn’t work immediately due to the copy protected disks claiming I wasn’t using a real one, but I ended up developing a ritual of six steps that culminated in the game running correctly every time (something like boot skipping one line in Config.sys, disable Turbo, switch to the B:, Dir, back to A:, Dir,B:, run ULTIMA, and after the title screen, I could re-enable Turbo… can anyone spot the key item there?), before eventually working out what was up, and whittling it back down to one step!
That time of year became synonymous with a gaming binge, rebelliously refusing to go outside and do “normal, healthy” things. And I fondly remember the struggles with config.sys, autoexec.bat, and (eventually) the struggle to fit everything into 40MB of hard disk space…
I apologize for my wild divergence from the topic at hand.
Back To The Topic At Hand
So anyway, Ben Armstrong (VPC PM) is blogging on running The Classics in a VirtualPC environment. He’s started with the precursors to Command and Conquer (which from memory was almost the Duke Nukem Forever of its time (this was before Strike Commander, mind you)) – Dune (by Cryo), and Dune II (by Westwood). Both were stunning, though in different ways – I got Dune II in my Command and Conquer Collector’s Edition a few years back.
I find VPC excellent for games because it emulates The Standard Hardware of the pre-Windows 95 era: A Soundblaster, an S3 video card, and nice, standard IRQs and IO port assignments. Unlike my succession of lowest-possible-cost component computers that I had to fight tooth and nail to convince to work with most games**, Virtual PC generally Just Works.
For the DOS games, you may need to brush off your leet Config.sys and Autoexec.bat hax0ring skillz to build that sexy boot menu that us late DOS-era folk remember so fondly so that games with different requirements (do The Kids these days remember that? I hope not!), or just run different VPCs for each game (oh! the sheer hedonism of it all!) instead of resorting to that most shameful of admissions of defeat: The Boot Disk.
So anyway, VirtualPC’s ability to run pretty well all the older DOS games I’ve thrown at it gets one of the rapidly-becoming-overused Ninja Feature awards.
** my 386 w/ 40MB hard disk and 2MB RAM didn’t have cache due to a communications difficulty with the salesperson, and the VGA monitor didn’t support the same resolutions and modes as the card; my Thunder Board wasn’t quite 100% SB compatible; the $300 Creative Music System (Game Blaster) wasn’t $500 Adlib compatible (but it often sounded better, IMHO); the Wave Blaster never quite sounded right; my 486DX2’s motherboard proved incompatible with various versions of the DOS/4GW DOS extender (Doom, TFX, Frontier, Crusader…); the list goes on…