The number one most in-demand category of vintage games is the legendary games of Sierra online. Sometimes I think Sierra Entertainment suffers a misguided notion; they continue today as a division of Vivendi, and they’re still putting out game titles today – even for present-day consoles. Yet the fans are screaming for the classic PC titles from the ’80’s, to which Sierra turns a deaf ear. As much demand as there is, you’d think they’d be willing to open up the vault and make a buck or two.
The flip side of this problem is, since Sierra is still very much in business, don’t get your hopes up about finding classic titles for free download. Your best bet is to own an original copy of a game, which you’d better horde like gold and keep secret. If you have an original game copy, you’re in the pink: all you have to do is head over to DOSbox and snag the DOSbox emulator. It is free and open source. It runs on Windows, Mac OS X, Linux, BSD, and even BeOS and OS/2! It runs like clockwork, and check out the supported titles, which you can check to see if your game is supported. I have no idea how many total, but it seems like thousands of games are fully supported with a few stragglers still limping along. Just by grabbing a few demos and running them in DOSBox, I got these screen shots:
King’s Quest 3…
Leisure Suit Larry…
The sole requirement is the SDL software library, which is so universally portable that it’s not worth a moment’s thought. You might already have SDL, if you do much gaming. Direct X or Open GL is no substitute; SDL is what it needs.
By the way, DOSBox will also run a lot more than just games. How good a DOS emulator is it, you might ask? Would you believe…
…QBasic? Yes, Microsoft QuickBasic 4.5, and yes, the included demo (the torus one) code in the above screenshot ran…
…flawlessly! Like it was on a 386er running DOS 6.22 and it was 1994. Yet it runs the Sierra demos like it was a Radio Shack Tandy 1000. This software is so tight, it almost isn’t worth mentioning any other. But, just in case you need a plan B:
You might not need anything but plain old Windows XP to run original game titles, if you have real, actual DOS installed and Sound Blaster support. See here for some tips. Older boxes running Windows 9x and 3.x will have even less of a problem – that should be just like native to them!
Anonymous Game Developers Interactive, a little group dedicated to re-creating the Sierra adventure games from scratch. So far, they’ve completed King’s Quest 1 and 2, and they’re working on #3. You can download the completed games free! The only downside is, they’re what you might call “re-mastered”, that is, their graphics have been modernized. You may see this as a plus, but it might dampen your nostalgic rush. Also, they’ll only run on Windows.
A very strong second-place showing after DOSbox is NAGI, the New Adventure Game Interpreter. This is a clone of Sierra’s own AGI engine, only this is free, open source, and again depends on the SDL library. The only thing is, they don’t seem to support as many games as DOSbox. Also (you saw this coming?) it only runs on Windows. But there is an independent port to Linux, as well as various versions for both platforms here.
Do take some time to explore AGIdev’s site, because you’ll find one thriving community. They also offer an editor for creating your own games and demos, and a whole archive of fan-made games in the spirit of Sierra adventures. And don’t forget to check out their webring!
Now, I know what you’re saying to yourself, you’re saying “Wow! With all this, what more could we possibly ask for?” Well, put on your parachute pants and get ready to breakdance, vintage gamers, because we’re only on part two of our five-part tour on bringing yesterday’s games to today’s machines…
- Vintage Gaming – part three: other Adventure Games, ScummVM, and ID Software
- Windows Games on Linux – Abandonware
- How To Run Windows 3.1 on DOSBox – inside Windows or Linux!
- KDE on Road Kill, Old games and Macintosh – Sad but true story.
- The Quest for Quake