Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Digital Sales of DOS Games

DOS games were no longer generally being sold commercially, with certain exceptions, at retail after the 1990s.  Occasionally you could find some games in bargain bins or on a compilation CD, but generally speaking, if you wanted to purchase a DOS game, you went on ebay or a similar site.  There were also sites like Game Trading Zone, which I used to make a few trades and purchases before it went to a subscriber only format.

Getting DOS games to run in the first half of year 2000 decade was often an exercise in frustration.  Windows XP was generally less compatible than Windows 98SE with DOS games.  The ability to play DOS games with a sound card was often unsuccessful.  While there were narrowly-focused projects to emulate game engines like Exult, Frotz and SCUMMVM, there was no easy to use general solution for playing DOS games.  DOSBox had been in development since 2002, but for the first few years the software was still improving to the point where it could be counted on to run most games.

While companies like id Software and Apogee and 3D Realms were happy to sell from their back catalogs online, their combined output was only a very small portion of games available for DOS.  However, companies like Activision discovered that the open source nature of DOSBox freely allowed them to make their older catalog titles available again.  Vivendi/Universal did just that when it released The King's Quest Collection in 2006.  In 2008, the site GoodOldGames began to sell DOS games.  GoodOldGames, now just GoG, would bundle the game files with a preconfigured version of DOSBox to launch the game.

Selling old games to run on systems which they were never intended to be played on is not new and has been around as long as emulation has been around.  Actually, since early "authentic" releases like Microsoft's Return of the Arcade series simulated arcade games, the concept goes back even further.  Mostly these were limited to arcade and console games. When the Nintendo Wii was introduced in 2006, it introduced the Virtual Console which allowed players to buy select console games, which were emulated on the current system.  Sony has a Playstation and Playstation 2 classic line for the Playstation 3.

I have been generally indifferent to GoG on this blog.  GoG is emblematic about getting DOS games to run on modern hardware with a minimum of fuss.  This was the original intent of the VOGONS forum, as VOGONS stands for Very Old Games on New Systems.  In the beginning of the VOGONS forum, less ambitious emulators like VDMSound GliDOS, and OpenGLide also had a great deal of traffic on their forums.  GliDOS and Munt and SoftMPU still have a reasonable amount of traffic, but the site was much more oriented to emulation previous than it is now.  However, the focus became centered more and more around DOSBox.

Another development was in the movement to real hardware.  Retro computing, where the intent is to actually use old computers to run DOS games instead of simply emulating the operating system and enough hardware to get the games to run began to take shape in 2005.  Much of the early focus was on the MT-32, which was a difficult and demanding synthesizer to emulate.  However, eventually people started to understand that emulators cannot replicate the experience of playing games on the hardware they were intended to be played on.  Now, retrocomputing and hardware is undoubtedly the busiest part of the VOGONS forum.

Still, real hardware enthusiasts are a niche, the general game playing public are ignorant.  GoG and other digital download services like Steam and Origin cater to the general public and try to make the games as easy as possible to run.  You will find and be able to purchase DOS games from these sites, and I would like to discuss what is available generally and what to expect from each site.

GoG vs. Steam and Origin

GoG is the pioneer of selling DOS games bundled with DOSBox to get them running in modern versions of Windows.  Thanks to the portability of DOSBox, GoG can also make (some of) these games available on Mac OS X.  They were so successful that they were able to eventually offer Windows 9x era games and Windows XP era games, right up to new releases.  In this sense, they are a competitor to Steam.

While Steam does have some DOS games on offer, GoG is almost always the best choice.  GoG takes the original game files and tweaks DOSBox to run each game appropriately.  They will use reasonably current versions of DOSBox, 0.72-0.74 and they bear responsibility for getting every game they sell running.  By contrast with Steam, one producer may be very good about squashing bugs and making sure DOSBox is updated to the latest version, while others are not.  The aforementioned The King's Quest Collection is also available on Steam, but officially it only supports Windows 2000 and XP.  Support for Vista, 7 or 8 requires an unofficial fan patch.

Additionally, GoG releases are DRM free.  You do not need to connect to a GoG server after downloading the game.  You don't have to have a Steam client verify your account to play any game.  You can play your DOS games offline, as most were meant to be played.

Still, all is not perfect with GoG.  Games with CD Audio tracks may come with them in lossy mp3 format.  Don't expect anything like floppy images, most of GoG's games came off CD versions of CD compilations. Getting GoG games to run on retro hardware without DOSBox can be a challenge.  The GoG releases may be missing crucial install or executable files which are necessary to get the game running on a PC or to change the settings to match the hardware on the retro machine.   This is undoubtedly the case with any GoG game running via SCUMMVM instead of DOSBox.

SCUMMVM is a jack of all trades and a master of none.  It functions like a reverse engineered interpreter as well as an emulator.  When you run the game with its original executable in DOSBox, you are using the original interpreter and taking one very significant variable out of the equation.  Moreover, DOSBox has more robust graphics and sound support than SCUMMVM.  Finally, SCUMMVM only requires the data files, the executable and game driver files are not needed and are generally not included in distributions intended for SCUMMVM.  This includes GoG releases, which is one reason why I prefer to track down original discs.  That way, I can enjoy my games on real hardware.

Some GoG releases of large games give you a huge folder with all the files and a hacked executable allowing the game to load from the hard drive instead of a CD.  This may make it impossible to play the game on real hardware because the installation directory is so large or it is not obvious what the contents of each CD should be.  This is ultimately the reason why I seldom mention or have anything to do with digital downloads of DOS games.

I have created a list of all DOS games on sale at GoG's website as of the date of this post.  GoG sells games individually or in a bundle, but not both. This list shows what they are selling at the present time :

11th Hour, The
Akalabeth : World of Doom (needs replacement DOS extender)
Alien Breed (including Tower Assault)
Alone in the Dark
Battle Chess 1, 2 4000
Beneath A Steel Sky#
Blake Stone Aliens of Gold
Blake Stone Planet Strike
Cannon Fodder
Cannon Fodder 2
Capitalism Plus
Castles 1-2
Catacomb 1, The Catacomb, Catacomb 3D, Catacomb Abyss 3D, Catacomb Armageddon, Catacomb Apocalypse
Challenge of the Five Realms
Cosmo's Cosmic Adventure: Forbidden Planet
Crusader: No Regret
Crusader: No Remorse
Crystal Caves
Dangerous Dave in the Haunted Mansion, Dangerous Dave's Risky Rescue, Dave Goez Nutz!
Daryl F. Gates' Police Quest: SWAT
Defender of the Crown (CGA & EGA, Amiga Emulation)
Descent 1 & 2
Dragon Lore: The Legend Begins
Duke Nukem 1-2
Duke Nukem 3D Atomic Edition
Dungeon Keeper
F-117A Nighthawk Stealth Fighter 2.0
Flight of the Amazon Queen#
Gabriel Knight 2
Gabriel Knight: Sins of the Fathers
Gobliiins 1,2 & Goblins Quest 3#
Heroes of Might and Magic 1 & 2
Hocus Pocus
Hugo 1-2-3#
I Have no Mouth and I Must Scream
Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis#
Inherit the Earth
Ishar 1-3 & Crystals of Arborea
Jagged Alliance
King's Quest 1-2-3
King's Quest 4-5-6
King's Quest VII
Labyrinth of Time
Lands of Lore 1 & 2
Last Express, The
Legend of Kyrandia 3
Legend of Kyrandia Book One#
Legend of Kyrandia Book Two#
Leisure Suit Larry 7
Leisure Suit Larry's Greates Hits and Misses (1, 2, 3, 5, 6, 1 Remake)#
Litil Devil
Little Big Adventure
Loom CD-ROM#
Lure Of The Temptress
Magic Carpet (including Hidden Worlds)
Magic Carpet 2
Manhole : Masterpiece Edition
Master of Magic
Master of Orion
Megarace 1-2
Might and Magic 1-5
Monkey Island 2 – LeChuck's Revenge – Special Edition
Monster Bash
Mortal Kombat 1-2-3
Oddworld: Abe's Oddysee
Personal Nightmare
Phantasmagoria 1-2
Pinball Illusions
Pinball Mania
Pinball World
Police Quest Collection (1 Remake, 2, 3 Open Season)
Populous 2
Pro Pinball: The Web
Pro Pinball: Timeshock!
Quest for Glory 1-5
Raptor Call of the Shadows
Realms of Arkania 1-2
Realms of Chaos
Redneck Rampage
Return of the Incredible Machine: Contraptions
Return to Zork
Rex Nebular and the Cosmic Gender Bender
Rise of the Triad (including Extreme Rise of the Triad)
Robinson's Requiem & Deus
Sam and Max Hit the Road#
Screamer 2
Secret Agent
Secret of Monkey Island, The – Special Edition
Sensible World of Soccer '96/'97
Seven Cities of Gold: Commemorative Edition
Shattered Steel
Sid Meier's Colonization
Sid Meier's Covert Action
Sid Meiers Pirates! & Pirates Gold
Silent Service 1-2
SimCity 2000: CD Collection
Simon the Sorcerer II
Simon the Sorceror#
Space Quest 1-2-3
Space Quest 4-5-6
Spycraft: The Great Game
Star Control 1-2
Star Trek: 25th Anniversary
Star Trek: Judgement Rites
Star Trek: Starfleet Academy
Star Wars TIE Fighter Collectors CD-ROM
Star Wars X-Wing Collectors CD-ROM
Star Wars: Dark Forces
Starflight 1-2
Strike Commander
Sumbwar 2050 (including The Plot Deepens)
Sword of the Samurai
Syndicate Plus (Syndicate & American Revolt)
Syndicate Wars
Terminal Velocity
Tex Murphy : The Pandora Directive
Tex Murphy: Mean Streets & Martian Memorandum
Tex Murphy: Under a Killing Moon
The 7th Guest#
The Dig#
Theme Hospital
Theme Park
Time Commando
Tomb Raider
Tomb Raider
Torin's Passage
Tyrian 2000
Ultima 4-5-6 (4 available for free separately)
Ultima 7 Complete (Black Gate & Forge of Virtue, Serpent Isle & Silver Seed)
Ultima 8 (including Speech Pack)
Ultima Underworld 1 & 2
Ultimate Body Blows
VR Soccer '96
Wacky Wheels
Wing Commander 1 & 2 (including both Secret Missions and Special Operations)
Wing Commander 3
Wing Commander Academy
Wing Commander Armada
Wing Commander Privateer
Wings (Amiga Emulation)
Wizardry 6-7
World of Aden: Entomorph - Plague of the Darkfall
Worlds of Ultima: Martian Dreams
Worlds of Ultima: Savage Empire
Zak McKracken and the Alien Mindbenders@
Zork Anthology ( Zork I, Zork II, Zork III, Beyond Zork, Zork Zero, and Planetfall)

Some games like King's Quest VII and Tomb Raider come bundled with their Windows sequels.  I have included any DOS games available, even if they are only available in a bundle with a Windows-only game like the Might and Magic games.  Games with an # next to them use SCUMMVM.  While there are 155 individual purchasing options on this list, GoG's total number of games run to 967.
From this list, I can discern what genres of DOS games are sufficiently popular that GoG would go to the trouble to secure the rights for sale.  Classic adventure games and role playing games constitute a fair proportion of this list.  Apogee's shareware catalog is mostly present, and strategy games like Castles and Populous and SimCity 2000 are represented.

When it comes to racing and flight simulators, the available games are mostly very narrowly tailored to specific series like Wing Commander and Star Wars.  These games tend to age poorly and usually have to find some other hook to be remembered in the long term.  For this reason, sports games, fighting games and more casual games have very few spaces on this list.

There are definitely some odd choices on this list.  Wacky Wheels and Ultimate Body Blows are definitely games people tend to look back on with rose tinted glasses.  Even in their time they were thoroughly trounced by Super Mario Kart and F-Zero and console ports of Street Fighter II and were sort of the console-less man's substitute. I have played many of these games and have at least heard of most of them, but Litil Divil is a new one for me.  This apparently was much more popular on the Amiga than on DOS.


It is harder to search for DOS games on Steam because Steam allows you to search by labels but not by year of original release.  Here are the DOS games currently available for purchase on Steam :

11th Hour
Across The Rhine
Blake Stone: Aliens of Gold & Planet Strike, Rise of the Triad (including Extreme Rise of the Triad)
Carmageddon Max Pack
Command H.Q.
Commander Keen 1-5
Descent 2
Duke Nukem
Duke Nukem 2
Duke Nukem 3D Megaton Edition (includes Atomic Edition)
Final DOOM
Heretic: Shadow of the Serpent Riders
HeXen: Beyond Heretic
HeXen: Deathkings of the Dark Citadel
I Have no Mouth and I Must Scream
Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis
King's Quest 1 Remake, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7
Monkey Island 2 Special Edition (includes DOS version)
One Unit Whole Blood
Raptor: Call of The Shadows
Realms of Arkania
Realms of Arkania 2
Realms of Arkania 3
Realms of the Haunting
Secret of Monkey Island Special Edition (includes DOS CD version)
Shadow Warrior
Silent Service
Silent Service 2
Spear of Destiny
Star Wars: Dark Forces
The 7th Guest
The Dig
Tomb Raider
Ultimate DOOM
Wizardry 6-7
Wolfenstein 3D
X-COM: Apocalypse
X-COM: UFO Defense

You will note that there are several games available on both GoG and Steam.  While the 47 games available on Steam is only a fraction of those available on GoG, there are several exclusives.  Much of the id Software collection is available and it is exclusive.  There are more choices for LucasArts adventures.  X-COM and the all-mighty Fallout (previously available on GoG) can only be found here.  

I have included some remakes like the two Monkey Island games and Duke Nukem 3D Megaton edition because they allow you to play the original DOS games, upon which they are based, in the program.  Steam allows you to purchase most of these games individually or in bundles to save money.  


Electronic Arts' digital distribution service is especially aptly named Origin when it comes to releases of older games.  Here is the list of games available through its service :

Crusader: No Regret
Crusader: No Remorse
Dungeon Keeper
Lands of Lore
Lands of Lore 2
Magic Carpet
Populous 2
SimCity 2000 CD Collection
Starflight 2
Tomb Raider
Ultima 2
Ultima 3
Ultima 4
Ultima 5
Ultima 6
Ultima 7 Complete (Black Gate & Forge of Virtue, Serpent Isle & Silver Seed)
Ultima 8 (including Speech Pack)
Ultima Underworld
Ultima Underworld 2
Wing Commander
Wing Commander 2
Wing Commander 3
Wing Commander 4?
Wing Commander: Privateer

As you can see, most of these games were released by Origin Systems or under the Origin label after EA's purchase.  However, Bullfrog, Westwood Studios and Maxis, all of which EA purchased in the 1990s like Origin, are all represented.  I understand that Origin uses DOSBox, just like Steam and GoG.  Tomb Raider is owned by Square Enix, but apparently EA acquired rights to most games in the series.  Origin's descriptions for games are a little sparse, so I do not know which titles include their expansion packs.  I would almost guarantee that Wing Commander 1-2 do.  Origin does not bundle games and has no exclusive DOS titles, so I would suggest using GoG instead.  

Among the Missing

Even with all these choices, there are some substantial gaps where you would expect some games to be released.  None of the classic SSI AD&D Gold Box or Eye of the Beholder games are available.  Ubisoft bought SSI and does not offer classic games digitally.  Also, not only would Ubisoft but also Wizards of the Coast would have to be involved in licensing.

GoG offers Wing Commander 4 with DVD cutscenes.  Wing Commander 4 as it came on six CD-ROMs is a DOS game, Wing Commander 4 which came on a double-sided, single layer DVD is a Windows game, so it is not listed.  Origin does not give sufficient information to determine whether its version of WC4 is the DOS or the Windows version, but I suspect the latter.

Some of the original Sierra titles to their Quest series are missing either the AGI version or the SCI remake. GoG offers both with Quest for Glory and Leisure Suit Larry.  However, it does not offer the SCI remakes of King's Quest I or Space Quest I and does not offer the AGI release of Police Quest I.  The Steam release for the King's Quest Collection includes the SCI remake of King's Quest I but not the AGI release.
For some reason, Commander Keen in Aliens Ate My Babysitter! (a.k.a. Keen 6) is not available for purchase either on the Steam bundle or through id Software's site.  Nor is Wizardry 1-5 available; I would have expected GoG to offer it as they do 6-7.  

LucasArts' classics SCUMM engine games have seen a spotty release digitally so far.  Maniac Mansion, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Day of the Tentacle and Full Throttle are all MIA.  The first two Monkey Island games are only available in their original form via the Special Additions, and even though they are windows games, the third and fourth games aren't available.  In my opinion, outside the voice acting, the Special Editions are pointless.  Double Fine is remastering Day of the Tentacle like they did with Grim Fandango, so it may include the original version as a playable extra like the Monkey Island Special Editions.  Zak McKracken and the Alien Mindbenders has recently been released on GoG, but it is the Japanese FM-Towns version, which I personally will give a pass because while it is not a true DOS game, it looks like one and acts like the actual DOS versions.  

Non IBM-PC compatible Games

So far, this article has focused on games that are available for purchase that originally ran on IBM PC and MS-DOS. The MS-DOS games released on Steam, GoG and Origin rely on emulation through DOSBox.  However, computer games for non-PC compatible systems have do not really have much of a presence through digital downloads.  GoG does offer the Amiga versions of Defender of the Crown and Wings, both Cinemaware games, via its custom emulator.  I have read its emulation does not hold a candle to WinUAE.  

Amiga Forever is the site where you can legally purchase the Kickstart ROMs required for Amiga emulation, and the package comes with games and demos. sells 43 games for the Blackberry platform.  However, I am not aware of anything substantial being made available for purchase for other computing platforms like the Apple II, Atari 8-bit, Commodore VIC-20, 64 or 128, the Atari ST or the Apple IIgs.  


md5 said...

Interesting list. Do take note that the following games work in ScummVM, but have not been marked as such:
- I Have no Mouth and I Must Scream
- Inherit the Earth
- King's Quest 1-2-3
- King's Quest 4-5-6
- Labyrinth of Time
- Lands of Lore 1
- Lure Of The Temptress
- Monkey Island 2 – LeChuck's Revenge
- Personal Nightmare
- Police Quest Collection (1 Remake, 2, 3)
- Return to Zork
- Rex Nebular and the Cosmic Gender Bender
- Secret of Monkey Island, The
- Simon the Sorcerer II
- Space Quest 1-2-3
- Space Quest 4-5
- Zak McKracken and the Alien Mindbenders

Ruben Martinez said...

Goldbox and EoB games are presente in GOG now (2016)

Anonymous said...

Just to say, Zak McKracken includes the hi-res 16-colour DOS release, as well as the FM-Towns version. (Only the data files are included though, so it won't work with DOSBox as-is.)

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