We don’t miss the days of DOS. Maybe we’re a bit lazy these days, but we’d sooner click an icon to launch an application or open a document than faff about with the command line. But we do miss some of the games — classic titles infused with imagination and magic that’s sometimes missing from modern fare.
Fortunately, Internet Archive recently unveiled a massive online MS-DOS games library, with over 2000 titles to choose from. That’s a pretty big number, so Stuff donned its retro hat, put some Tears for Fears on the stereo, and whittled down the list to a handful of titles that still play well, work nicely in the browser, and provide insight into how PC gaming was in the old days. (Initially, very purple and cyan.)
Note that any modern browser should do, but Firefox seems to work best.
1. Football Manager (1982)
Before Sports Interactive’s management sim welded itself permanently to millions of PCs, an entirely different Football Manager was published by Addictive Games. Created by Kevin Toms and his beard, the game was basic (and, originally, written *in* BASIC) with curious quirks, such as your team’s abilities being randomised every season. That doesn’t stop it being oddly compelling even today, as you aim to get your club out of the old fourth division, and watch tiny stick figures do their thing in match highlights, on pitches with comically massive goalmouths.
2. The Hobbit (1983)
Peter Jackson’s happily spent years stretching out slimline novel The Hobbit to something like a billion hours of cinema, but in the 1980s, Veronika Megler and Philip Mitchell squeezed it into home computers in the form of a text adventure. This was still the early days of interactive fiction, and so the parser was limited, and the locations few in number. Even so, the game incorporated surprisingly advanced concepts, including roaming NPCs that took their turn after the player. This added randomness to what would otherwise have been a very linear journey on repeat plays, although it caused problems if a mission-critical character was bludgeoned to death off-screen by an irate orc before you got the chance to meet them.
3. Jumpman (1984)
The premise might be that Jumpman is a bomb-difusing expert, trying desperately to stop chunks of Jupiter from being blown up, but this title initially looks like nothing more than yet another me-too 1980s single-screen platformer. But Jumpman takes its few basic components — platforms, ladders, ropes, robots, roaming bullets — and keeps flinging them at you while shaking things up. In one level, robots might remain stationary until you grab a bomb, only to zoom to new locations; elsewhere, platforms might vanish as you move about. It’s a smart, hugely playable game; and if you like it, check out modern incarnation Jumpman Forever. (Note: for the game to run fast enough, you’ll need to hit Ctrl+F12 a bunch of times first.)
4. Alter Ego (1986)
Well before you could live vicariously through a Sim, Alter Ego enabled you to become another person through your computer. However, this DOS game was a very much more serious affair, based on psychological research, and written by Peter J. Favaro, Ph.D. The game literally starts in the womb, before progressing through stages of life, and how you respond to questions dictates your fortunes. There’s humour in the game, but also darkness — drinking fluids found under the sink as a child will not end well. Sadly, the rarer female version isn’t yet on Internet Archive, but the male original is one of the most fascinating slices of retro gaming around.
5. Maniac Mansion (1987)
By the middle of the 1980s, the allure of text adventures was starting to wane, and there was a sense text parser systems were too limited and — for most gamers — a little bit dull. Ron Gilbert’s answer was the SCUMM game engine, which essentially brought into being free-form point-and-click adventures.
But it’s the madcap story and unique characters that really shine in Maniac Mansion, as a trio of chums attempts to rescue a friend from the clutches of a mad scientist and his very weird family. You knew on discovering a green tentacle who aspired to be a rock-and-roll musician that gaming would never be the same again.
(Internet Archive also houses an alternate ‘enhanced’ edition of this game)