Dossing Around

Welcome to 2013 everyone, happy new year and all that bananas. I appreciate I’m slightly late to the party, but it’s been somewhat of an unusually busy few months. A pre-requirement for a new job has seen me off on a two week long training course. Being that the job in question is to do with computers, it’s been quite a fascinating fortnight, due, in part, to having childhood memories of my faithful MS-DOS system rekindled.

For the confused (and, potentially, anyone under a certain age) the MS-DOS System, essentially forms the DNA for every windows-based computer. As I’ve learned this past week, there is a fair bit you can do in DOS when you know what you’re doing, and I already had a little bit of experience, thanks to early gaming on our family computer. Our first computer, a Tandy 1000, was operated solely by DOS. There was no Windows back in those days, so if you wanted to do something, you had to literally ask the computer to do it.

At the ripe old age of five, I was more then happy to repeat the commands that my father taught me and access the few games that its tiny memory – something around the one megabyte mark – could run.  Those were the days of chunky keyboards and ridiculous-looking five and a half inch floppy disks. Seriously, we had dozens of those things, all for different games, and in these last two weeks I’ve found myself casting my mind back to where my PC gaming life began and thought that it would be good to show off a few titles that you’re unlikely to play anytime soon.

Boulder Dash II (1985)
Although it has seen many different iterations since its initial conception, the Boulder Dash series was one of the first games I ever remember playing. It is also the first game I remember my mum ever playing, and what I’ll certainly never forget is that neither of us could get past level six. Booted from a five and a half inch floppy disk, the aim of the game was to traverse the level, collecting diamonds and treasures and avoiding dangers, such as explosions, creatures and falling rocks. This was all done in a time limit, which increased the pressure on the player. It was certainly a kind of more relaxed fun, although that probably had something to do with repeatedly playing the first six levels for two or three years.

DuckTales: The Quest for Gold (1990)
Thanks to its popularity, DuckTales was one of those cartoon series that was always going to spawn a few games, and most people will tell you that the NES original ‘DuckTales’ props up the tent in the nostalgic corner of their minds. That title, from Capcom, was an great game in its own right, but equally as impressive was DuckTales: The Quest for Gold, released by Incredible Technologies. It was a totally different game compared to its console-based counterpart and was more unique for it.

The story was simple enough: thirty days to earn more money than rival duck Flintheart Glomgold. To do this, players had to choose a location to visit in order to complete a game and earn treasure. The different locations held different games, each of which required the player to get to the location by flying Launchpad McQuack’s plane. This could be a challenge in itself, and failing to arrive safely at the location would land your plane in the repair shop and result in a few days being taken off the calendar.

Provided you arrived at the location safely you’d have the opportunity to earn some money by locating treasure. This could be done in one of four ways: climbing to the top of a mountain pass, navigating a jungle river, taking photos of wild animals, or trying to locate treasure within a maze. The first two were traditional platforming levels, while the latter were more ‘aim and click’ games, and all of them had varying levels of difficulty. What made this game so unique and, to an extent, slightly ahead of its time, were two things.

First was the fact that the game had an overall time limit, rather than level or life-based, something you didn’t find in many titles at the time. Second – at such an early time in games development – was the fact that it wasn’t a linear experience; it wasn’t a case of just going from level to level. You could choose to visit any level at any time, try finding rare coins in the vault or play the stock market in order to make more money. It was a very enjoyable game, and has formed the basis of my gaming life.

Lemmings (1991)
Much like Boulder Dash, the Lemmings series has had more than its fair share of versions over the years but, for me, the original will always be the best. The premise is a popular one, and even the youngest gamer should be familiar with the infamous green-haired little bastards.  In a nutshell, your job is to guide as many Lemmings as you can across the level and into safety.

You do this by selecting individual lemmings and getting them to perform various tasks. These tasks can be anything from digging a hole, to bashing through a wall, to building a bridge. The kicker, however, is that once the lemmings have started moving you can’t stop them. Those silly little sods will merrily walk into certain death every single time if the situation presents itself. So, the challenge lies in planning an escape route while keeping an eye on the group overall. This, combined with a pre-set requirement to rescue a certain amount of the blue-shirts, made the later levels a test of patience and logic.

As I’ve previously stated, the original remains the best indication as to what the series is really about; one goal, a limited set of tools and some horrifically difficult levels in the latter stages. It was simple, stripped back and a brilliant example of early PC gaming.

While I’ve only provided three examples of the early games that I had the pleasure of playing, there were many, many more. By the time I’d turned seven, Doom had been brought into our household on a large number of revolutionary three and a half inch floppy disks; this spawned a love of the first person shooter genre that still remains strong today, even as I sink my three hundred and twentieth hour into Battlefield 3.

I think it is important to look back at your gaming history on occasions, to remember and understand our humble beginnings. This industry moves at a lightning pace, and today’s must-have titles are tomorrow’s bargain-bin fillers. Less then twenty years ago we had computers that ran games off a 1.2MB floppy disk; today we’re downloading games onto terabyte hard-drives while listening to music and writing word documents. Wherever we are in the next twenty years I won’t forget the start of my gaming history, and neither should you, because, as the saying goes: you can’t know where you’re going unless you know where you’ve been.

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  2. Lorna Lorna says:

    I absolutely adored Lemmings, back in the day. I never owned the first one myself, just had to borrow my sister’s copy for her GameBoy (the original). I did, however, have Lemmings 2 for the SNES and fucking hell were the number of Lemmings overwhelming. Still, I loved the game and got so far towards completing it, despite how brutal it was. Is it out on GOG, because it would be an instant purchase for me?

  3. Chris Toffer says:

    It doesn’t look like its been released, which is odd considering the cult following it has. Surely one for the near future though; if they re-released BioForge they’ll surely do Lemmings.

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