Intro to Abandonware

A trip down memory lane...

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If you, like yours truly, passed the big 30, chances are you have been playing computer games for twenty years or longer. My first experience with computer games was in the late 1980s. A friend allowed us to borrow his old Atari, which was hooked up to the TV. On big clunky cartridges, that had to be (almost violently) shoved into the console, games like Pong, Donkey Kong, and Space Invaders could be found. The games were simple, the graphics nothing special, but yet, those games managed to keep us entertained for hours and hours straight.

Later, Commodore 64 and Amiga, MSX, Spectrum and the earlier PCs as well as tiny handheld games allowed us to waste more time, and ensure we'd fail classes. On our first PC (which was bought around 1989 and sported an impressive 8Mhz processor, came with 40 MB of harddrive and a 256 color VGA card) I played such games as Sierra's Leisure Suit Larry series, Police Quest games, and the Space Quest and Kings Quest series. Other great games were LucasArts' Zak McKracken, Maniac Mansion, Indiana Jones, and later the Monkey Island series. Some of my personal favourites also include the games from Legend Entertainment, such as the Spellcasting series and the two Gateway games. Legend had a knack for making difficult games with a great dose of humour included. These games were not graphical in nature (they included a very basic low-resolution picture and some sounds, but other than that were pretty much text-adventures).

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Contrary to most games from the last decade and a half, back in those days, one did not point and click, but either provided input to the game by typing commands, or (as for instance in the LucasArts games) by using a short list of predefined commands, and combining those with items and locations into sentences. The result was that at times one would get stuck within a game, purely due to not being able to figure out the proper command to feed to the game, or maybe because of overlooking an item at a different location.

We tackled that by working in teams, and updating one another whenever we found a solution. Many times we'd wake up in the middle of the night with an idea, booting up the old PC (and waking half the house in the process due to the sheer noise the PC would generate), and trying our newly thought-up solution of "Kiss the frog while standing on one leg". Our joy was great when this finally managed to solve the problem that kept us stuck for a week already. After solving a particular game, often we would go back and try to achieve a perfect score. You see, just finishing a game by completing all the neccessary steps was not neccessarily all to do. In fact, lots of games offered additional little easter eggs or side stories that would in itself not neccessarily help you advance, but that would offer some little jokes, or show a bit more of the storyline.

I cannot help but feel that after, say, 1995, a shift took place in the gaming world, and complexity was abandoned for eye candy, making games far more easy to complete. Sometimes I get melancholic, and will head back to my "Golden oldies" CD (which is basically 400 floppies worth of games turned into 1 cd to save space on the old bookshelf), or my original CDs. However, my collection is far from complete, and the great majority of those games are no longer sold or available from their producers. Sometimes the software-house simply went out of business or was bought up, other times the games were abandoned due to not being commecrially interesting anymore, and of course, many more were just left behind as the technology the games were built to run on was made redundant.

Enter Abandonware
Luckily, for the love of the games, many of the software houses of old, while retaining their copyrights, have allowed for their games to be made freely available. This allows old farts like myself to continue to go back to the glory years, and/or to complete the collection. The process is known as abandonware. I've known about them for years, and on my now defect PC, I already have quite a collection of them saved, but something drove me back to abandonware today, causing me to spend a few hours criving Lykke crazy with melancholical sighs, and mumbling to myself about "how I fondly remember that game, and laughing so hard at times", etc. I figured that I might not exactly be an island here, and seeing all of us are gamers, I figured I'd share a few of my experiences with you guys.

One of the first sites I hit today was Squakenet, which has a huge database of games, and allows you to pick a site where to download them from. One of the sites I kept ending up at was abandonia. Other useful sites included Reloaded (which is closely tied with Abandonia), and Home of the Underdogs. Finally, there's also an abandonware webring, where you can find a lot of abandonware sites all in one place.

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Other old titles might not have been released as abandonware, but can still be available. On the iPhone, for instance, I discovered a lot of old adventures like "Monkey Island", "Simon the Sorceror" and "Beneath a Steel Sky", have been ported, and are available for a few bucks through the AppStore.

Other solutions include Good Old Games, where one can pick up a plethora of old games for less than 10 USD each, and Steam, which regularly offers complete bundles of old games.

Finally, sometimes games are released as registerware, where the only thing you have to do to obtain a game is leave your name and mail address. One example of this are the classics Grand Theft Auto 1 and 2, which now can be downloaded for free from RockStar games after registering.

Useful tools
As mentioned before, often technology really changed over the years, and as a result, you will need a few tools to run games that were traditionally designed for other Operating Systems. DOSBox might come in handy. It basically is a MS-DOS emulator, which should support the great majority of games from the 90s. To old-timers like me, the DOS interface will seem familiar. For younger generations, there's some basic tutorial on the available commands to get started.

Another option is to download ScummVM, which supports a select number of games. For an up-to-date list, check here.

Should you have trouble with sound in the DOS emulator, you can see if VDMSound will do the trick for you. Back in the DOS days, Soundblaster cards were the most common type of sound device, and your shiny new soundcards can also emulate those. VDMSound provides the software bridge for for that.

You might at some point also run into an issue where some WinG DLLS are missing. Win G was a Microsoft implementation of various graphics routines. With the release of Windows 95, the DLLS became obsolete, but some games might still depend on them. I've uploaded a WinG dll zipfile to EntropiaPlanets, and you can find it here.

I hope you enjoyed this article about AbandonWare. If you did, feel free to let me know. The same applies if you hated it. If there's enough response, I could look into doing some reviews of old games (or series), and making the reviews as well as the games themselves available right here on