Saturday, September 8, 2012

Why CD Collections or Compilations Are Not Ideal for Vintage Computing

When I bought a copy of the King's Quest 15th Anniversary Collector's Edition almost 20 years ago, I thought I had everything I would ever need to enjoy the King's Quest Series.  I had the AGI versions of KQ1-3, KQ4, KQ1SCI, KQ5 CD and KQ6 CD.  (KQ7 would have to wait for a later collection).  Isn't that everything?

Well, as it turns out, that is far from everything of King's Quest.  For KQ1 & 2, I only had the DOS-installable AGI2 versions.  No disk images were included to use the previous booter versions of KQ1 and KQ2.  The AGI version of KQ4 was not included, nor was the English disk versions of KQ5 and KQ6, but the French disk version of KQ5 and the German version of KQ6 were.  More details available as to the extras can be found here : http://www.sierraplanet.com/curiosities/kingsquest/collections.html

So what, I still had the ideal, didn't I?  Well, for vintage gamers, the ideal is not always enough.  Lets see what I can come up with for issues :

KQ1 - No PC Booter versions for the IBM PC, IBM PCjr. or Tandy 1000.

KQ2 - No PC Booter version.  Version 2.1 included where there is a version 2.2 (fixes issues with using EGA or VGA on a Tandy 1000).

KQ3 - No issues

KQ4 - No AGI version, later version of KQ4 included; earlier version has many graphical differences, as demonstrated here : http://queststudios.com/smf/index.php/topic,2802.0.html.  I assume they included the patch to fix the waterfall bug.  Original monochrome install program is replaced by the color install program that was introduced years after the game, and most of the graphics and sound drivers in the floppy releases are not included.

KQ1SCI - Original monochrome install program is replaced by the color install program that was introduced years after the game, and most of the graphics and sound drivers in the floppy releases are not included.

KQ5 - No English Disk Version included, either 16-color or 256-color, the CD version features pretty poor voice acting, all from people working for Sierra and it cannot be turned off.

KQ6 - No English Disk Version included, however the very good voice acting can be turned off.  Minor differences in the interface, better opening video.

Obviously, if you are releasing CD-ROMs, the user must have a CD-ROM drive.  But to run KQ5 or KQ6 CD, you have to keep the CD in the drive or use a custom install program and lots of hard drive space.  In 1994 hard drives tended to average around 500MB.  It would not be unreasonable to allow people to install the disk versions and avoid having to keep the CD in the drive.  Having to put up with pauses or spinning when the game looks for the next audio file or video segment is also annoying.

One great benefit to having CDs is that they will not deteriorate like floppy disks.  Of course, if the game is already corrupted by the time of transfer, then the CD really does not serve its archiving purpose.  Ultima II is a good example of this, because by the time it hit the CD compilations, it had suffered from data corruption.  A dungeon entrance was removed as a result.  Also, because the game could only be run from floppy disks, the files were originally given the same names on the Player and Galactic Disks.  Instead of changing the file names and modifying the executable, they simply copied over the files and destroyed the ability to travel to several planets in the original game.   The fix to both issues is available here : http://shrines.rpgclassics.com/pc/ultima2/utilities.shtml

Some companies left manual-based copy protection intact, others removed it, but at a cost.  In the Monkey Island Madness CD, Monkey Island 2; LeChuck's Revenge was included.  MI2 was only ever released as a disk version, (not counting the relatively recent Special Edition or patches to the DOS version based on it).  The original disk version used a code wheel copy protection at the beginning of the game, but the version included on this CD eliminated it.  However, the easy mode was also eliminated, and selecting EGA graphics gave an incorrect monochrome EGA display instead of 16 colors.  A fix for the EGA version can be found here : http://vogons.zetafleet.com/viewtopic.php?t=10452&sid=17c26cf2a1203f1d3c23f85c47001561.  On the other hand, the MPU-401 port is now selectable in the CD versions.

LucasArts also broke Tandy Graphics support in the version of Maniac Mansion included in Day of the Tentacle.  With DOTT, the text with Tandy Graphics selected is corrupted.  However, the Nuke-Em Alarms door is always open.  LucasArts always disabled manual based copy protection in their floppy collection releases as well, so there are no protection screens in the LucasArts Classic Adventures (except possibly for Zak McKracken) and Air Combat Classics .  Of course, you lose out on the experience of using a codewheel, a red filter, or a codebook and the screens supporting them.

Other compilation releases do not always put the latest version of the game in the CDs.  The Leisure Suit Larry Collections put an earlier version of LSL1 in it, so it suffers from the same issue as the KQ2 found in the King's Quest Collections.  The Police Quest Collection has some install weirdness going on.  For copyright reasons, the original version of Quest for Glory I, entitled Hero's Quest, is not included in the Quest for Glory releases.  The Space Quest and Leisure Suit Larry collections do not include the 16-color versions of SQ1 & SQ4, LSL1 remake & LSL5, and PQ3 16-color is not included in the Police Quest Collections.  The disk version of SQ4 is not to be found, being replaced by the buggy and Sierra-staff voice acted SQ4CD.  Nor will you find the disk version of PQ4.  However, the first LSL collection CD contains the disk version of LSL6, but the later collection CDs have the CD version.   On the Roberta Williams Anthology, the version of Lara Bow: Dagger of Amon Ra, is the CD version voiced by the Sierra staff.

In other releases, you do not have the option to install the expansions separately from main game.  So in Ultima VII, you will always have the Forge of Virtue and the Silver Seed installed.  Ditto for the Secret Missions and Special Operations of Wing Commander I & II.  You cannot install the "save space" options for Ultima Underworld or The Lost Files of Sherlock Holmes : Case of the Rose Tatoo.  Nor can you install the 16-color graphics for Wing Commander I & II.  Did you know that Wasteland and Dragon Wars had separate installs for Tandy, CGA and CGA color composite graphics?  The versions on the CDs only works with an EGA or VGA card.

Wizardry 7 had a CD version that was did not take advantage of the CD's storage capacities but did allow you to use separate devices for music and sound effects.  The floppy version and the version included in the Ultimate Wizardry Archives do not allow for that.

I could go on and on about these issues, but let me return to the focus of my article, why these are not all that great for vintage computing.  First of all, shocking as it may seem, but not all vintage computers have a CD-ROM drive.  Getting a CD-ROM drive in a computer with only 8-bit slots is no simple task.  Installation then becomes a game of installing it on one computer and moving it to another.  Finding VGA cards that work well in an 8-bit slot tends to be a bit of a challenge.  With these compilations, you may have some difficulty running King's Quest IV in a Tandy 1000 computer.  A Tandy 1000TX (8MHz 286) was almost certainly a prime target for Sierra's developers at the time.  Suppose that I wanted to run the EGA version of Wing Commander because that was the way I played it back in the day?  Good luck with a CD version.

The solution is floppy disk images.  If the disk is a DOS disk and does not have disk-based copy protection, they are very easy to make.  WinImage is a popular program, but write protect any floppies you insert into a system with a Windows OS, otherwise it will modify the disk's FAT table.  The modification is harmless, but the disk is no longer "pure".  DSK2IMG is a program I like to use, and it can be set to retry the read multiple times if you have an iffy disk.  DOSBox is getting better and better at being able to install games off floppies.

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