Sunday, September 21, 2014

Game Versions : What was Lost with a Patch or Upgrade

A Brief History of PC DOS Game Patching

New versions of a game can add new features, add support for new hardware and fix bugs.  Eventually, these versions would be released as patches for existing games.  DOS game patches were generally not something really available until 1989.

In the 1980s, if a user had a problem with a game, he could take it back to the store for a refund, call tech support, ask around in his local user's group or try the company's BBS.  Typically, updated versions of games would be released to stores in the same boxes and unless some significant new feature was added to the game like VGA support, it would be impossible to tell the boxes with the old version from the boxes with the new version.

One type of "patch" that existed during this time was a disk replacement.  If a user had an issue with a game and tech support couldn't solve it, they may instruct the user to ship his game disks back to the company for a replacement.  The increased complexity of computer systems and their hardware eventually persuaded companies to provide fixes and features in the form of patches, small files that could be easily downloaded over a modem or be shipped on a single floppy disk.

A second type of patch was an upgrade disk.  Mindscape issued a Tandy DAC upgrade disk for owners of Gauntlet II for a small fee.  LucasFilm/LucasArts did the same for certain of its SCUMM adventures, Loom, Secret of Monkey Island and Day of the Tentacle, to add MT-32 support to the floppy disk versions of these games.  Eventually, expansion packs were released at retail to add more content to existing games.  Flight Simulators like Microsoft Flight Simulator, racing simulators like Test Drive II and III and golf simulators like Links would have add-ons that added new vehicles, scenery and courses.

A third type of patch was intended to fix games that were shipped prematurely.  The "get it out before Christmas" mentality was firmly in place in the early 1990s.  Ultima VII: The Black Gate, one of the most complex computer role playing games of its day, was shipped in a nearly-unplayable state due to bugs.  The game was shipped in April, 1992 as version 3.0.  A patch was released in October, 1992, alongside the expansion Forge of Virtue, updated the game to version 3.4 and fixed the problems that made the game a chore to play.  A subtype of this patch is an issue patch, where the patch is intended to fix only a particular issue that may not affect all players.

A fourth type of patch was the serial patch, where many patches were released incrementally over the lifecycle of a game.  Any good multiplayer game would have this kind of patch cycle.  This type of patching was popularized by DOOM, and while today is universally accepted, back then it was not widely used.

A fifth type of patch for DOS games became popular by the mid-1990s.  This was the speed patch, intended to allow games developed on slower systems to work with fast 486 and Pentium CPUs.  Many, many games had issues running when the CPU speed was so fast.  The joysticks would no longer function, animations would be too fast to play, and/or the sound wouldn't work at all.  In certain extreme cases, the program would crash at the command prompt with the dreaded "divide by zero" or "runtime 200 error" messages.

Usually, the patched or upgraded version of a game would be the only version anyone would want to play.  Sometimes, however, features get lost in the process.  Let's take a look at some games in which something was lost during the upgrade :

King's Quest IV

When KQ4 was first released, it came on nine 5.25" or four 3.5" disks.  Sierra's policy at the time was to include both sets of media so that a user who only had one type of floppy drive would be assured that he could play the game.  Many people bought software and found out that they had to send the disks back to the company for replacements that would work on his system.  At thirteen disks, this cost Sierra a pretty penny.  The new versions were released on eight 5.25" floppy disks (but still came with four 3.5" disks).

In order to fit the game onto eight disks, Sierra simplified some of the background artwork and sprites. Trees that were detailed were rendered in silhouette.  Unnecessary background objects were removed.  Dithering was used to give the Mansion an aged look.  Certain objects became smaller.  Instead of using two separate background images for day and night scenes, an updated version of the SCI interpreter would change the palette colors for the sky.  Every change would shave off a kilobyte here and there, but the core game would remain in tact.  Most people probably would not notice the changes in the graphics unless shown an A to B comparison.  For such a comparison, see here :,2802.0.html

Although detail was lost, one improvement in the newer versions is that the animation speeds showed a marked improvement over the old versions on slower hardware.  Animation on the screen in an AGI or SCI engine game invariably slows down the player's movement speed with contemporary hardware.  The newer versions are faster both with and without animation on the screen.  Another benefit to the newer versions is that you can hear the IBM Music Feature Adapter music from the Yamaha FB-01.  The Yamaha FB-01 is supported if you copy a driver over from another game.  The old versions use slightly different sound drivers and all Yamaha FB-01 drivers are too new to work with the old versions.

One downside for the new versions is the need for a patch to correct two speed-related issues with the game.  The old versions did not have speed related issues, but running the new versions on a 386 will lead to crashes if you try to enter the waterfall or fail to deliver the hen to Lolotte before night fall.  A second downside is that the common copy protection removal method generally known for this game only works on the old versions.

Old versions :
Game Version 0.000.253, Interpreter Version 1.000.106, Date 09-19-1988
Game Version 0.000.274, Interpreter Version 1.000.111, Date 09-23-1988

New versions :
Game Version 0.000.409, Interpreter Version 1.003.006, Date 12-07-1988
Game Version 0.000.502, Interpreter Version 1.006.003, Date 06-12-1989
Game Version 0.000.502, Interpreter Version 1.006.004, Date 08-07-1989

Space Quest I : The Sarien Encounter SCI

In the first releases of this game, the player could see several bands playing in the Ulence Flats bar.  One of these bands was directly inspired by ZZ Top.  ZZ Top did not appreciate the inclusion of their likenesses in the game, and Sierra removed them in later releases, replacing them with two midgets and an alien drummer.  However, Sierra used a script patch to prevent them from appearing, it did not remove the data from the resource files.  To restore Billy, Dusty and Frank, simply remove all *.v56 files in the game folder.


DOOM has several patches released for it from its initial release on December 10, 1993.  At that point, only the shareware version with the first episode was available.  The registered version, containing the full game, was released with version 1.1 on December 16, 1993.  Here are just the patches for both the registered and shareware releases.

Version to Upgrade    Release Date


In addition to patches, there existed a patch to bring shareware 1.0 to 1.1 and shareware versions 1.25, 1.3 (unauthorized), 1.4 beta, 1.5 beta and 1.6 beta which were only available as internet downloads.  The Ultimate DOOM was released on February 25, 1995 and reported a 1.9 version.  For owners with a registered copy of DOOM, a patch to upgrade v1.9 DOOM to v1.9 of The Ultimate DOOM was released on October 13, 1996.  

DOOM versions 1.0 and 1.1 has support for multiple monitors.  You could use three monitors to give a panoramic view.  The multi-monitor feature used DOOM's networking driver to drive two other computers and their monitors.  Dual and triple-head graphics cards were almost a decade away.  DOOM 1.2 rewrote the networking driver, removing this feature.  The rewrite allowed the use of Direct Serial/Null-Modem connections and Dial-Up Modem connections for network games.  The original code relied on broadcast packets, which were delivered to every PC in the network, seriously degrading the network's performannce.  Also removed was the ability to use custom levels with the shareware version.

To use the multi-monitor feature, start DOOM v1.0 or v1.1 on three machines on the same IPX network using the following command lines :

"doom -devparm -net 3 -left"
"doom -devparm -net 3"
"doom -devparm -net 3 -right"

Among the improvements over this patch lifecycle were the support for modems and Nightmare mode difficulty in 1.2, improved deathmatch modes in v1.666.  DOOM II was first released as v1.666, and thereafter the two games had nearly-tandem version releases to v1.9.


This game was originally released for DOS as v1.02.  A Godzilla vinyl based off the 1985 Imperial Toys or 1986 Dor Mei figures was featured on the box.  The monster disaster summoned what was clearly Godzilla to bring destruction to the city.  If that was not proof positive, then the roar used (which can be heard only on with a Tandy DAC or Covox Sound Master) was clearly Godzilla's.  Like ZZ Top and Space Quest I, Toho Studios did not approve, and the monster was replaced in v1.07 with a red, more quadrupedal monster.  The monster's roar was also changed and the box changed the disaster picture to the tornado.

SimCity v1.02 Monster
SimCity v1.07 Monster


  1. i recall black couldron had a problem on tandy 1000

  2. Amazing blog in general and this article in particular. Thank you for this work which must be time consuming to implement the attention to detail that you provide. Love it! And the zztop story!