Earlier this week, the Internet once again gushed about childhood games as it collectively gave Jason Scott a warm and fuzzy hug when he delivered a massive library of MS-DOS games as playable in a browser. Naturally, this tickled my anachronism gland something fierce, which massaged wistful hormones into a full on nostalgia-gasm. Retro gaming of this nature is certainly nothing new, but as a one stop shop experience, Jason Scott is probably executing this in the best possible way.
Jason Scott is a pretty interesting slice of the geekery pie, and someone for whom I have developed an affinity while researching this. I find myself unable to properly convey how refreshing it is to encounter an information junkie who has a specific leaning towards the history of computing. He runs TextFiles.com, sporting a mission statement about the importance of knowing the history of today’s technology, even if we were too young to experience or remember it. This is something that nags increasingly at my own lizard brain; a persistent worry that new generations of gamers and technophiles alike will slowly forget this rich heritage as it continues to be reduced to an afterthought of gaming journalism and meme culture. Scott has sought to combat this historical amnesia by focusing on the omnipresent .txt file, sprinkled through the computing world like so much glitter, and has made tons of interesting archives available while petitioning his readers to create new ones. It is a love of information at its finest, and rings with the music of a digital bridge being created on an analog network by my old external modem in its jaundiced casing. The site is still updated today, as and when new textfiles (from up to 1995) are discovered.
On the other hand, his blog sees far more activity, as he explains a few things about the MS-DOS library. He first approaches retro aficionados with a disclaimer saying despite the vast efforts he has put into this, a few of the games “…will still fall over and die, and many of them might be weird to play in a browser window, and of course you can’t really save things…” which might be limiting in many cases. Be that as it may, I have set aside entire weekends to replay old favorites before, so I might as well do more of the same here.
The general takeaway from his post is to put people in a sort of beta test mindset, as this is a project that still has work to be done. Some games, as he mentions, will disappear for one reason or another, and comparative handful already have since the initial 2,400 strong launch, bringing the count down to 2,327 as of this writing. It is also important to note that this project is being driven by version two of Archive.org’s interface, and Mr. Scott makes it a point to request user feedback in the blog post and on Twitter. This guy is dedicated, and wants to know about any issues experienced while enjoying this contribution so that they can be dealt with, as this project continues to grow. I also noticed an icon indicating controller support is coming soon, and it sounds like some audio issues need to be worked out (particularly in Dune II, from what I noticed), but I can not really quibble over that considering how little effort it took for me to play whichever game I chose.
As indicated by this tweet, Scott is also looking to expand the project to include educational and general applications from the days of yore. Personally I would regard the project itself as educational enough, but that is not my call, and I respect what the man is trying to do, which boils down to preservation and direct, hands-on experience for anyone who missed the era. I could, and have to some extent, talked about what things were like back then, however my memories are those of a young and curious tween, certainly lacking full realization at the time as to what all those BBSs and newsgroups were slowly coalescing into. Admittedly, we have come to a place today where it is terribly easy to forget all that.
Of course, gamers in particular have always had some arguably selective but undeniably long memories. We all can probably point to at least a half a dozen games from our childhood that still sit nestled in a cozy blanket of fondness within our heads. Retro gaming is not so much a movement or fad, but more a natural response to the staying power of gaming in general, and a testament to the impact it has on our modern lives. Indie developers love to mimic the styles of the old days, even using terms such as rogue-like, which is a direct reference to 1983’s Rogue, in which the player navigates a randomly generated ASCII dungeon that progresses in difficulty in search of an Amulet that will allow them to return to the surface. The various buzzwords and pixelated art styles are selling points, no doubt, but also perhaps serve as beacons to remind an older generation of gamers that the games we enjoyed in our youth are still appreciated by many. I have said it before, and I will say it again; when gamers like something, they tend to find ways to keep it alive for a very, very long time. It actually makes me very curious to see what games will still be played two decades from now.
Jason Scott is just one such individual among many, as there are other playable archives of MS-DOS games already out there, though certainly smaller in title count. It is difficult to say that any of these games have been forgotten, since the DOSBox emulator is fairly easy to set up, and a number ROM archives are just a Google away. DOSBox and similar apps are even available on iOS and Android, allowing one to explore these games with a smartphone, should one be so brave.
Now, enough of this prattling on! The entire time I have been banging this out, I have been itching to know what is in the rest of Jason Scott’s archive, as I only managed to peek at the first five hundred or so and already have a few checked off to return to as soon as I am done here. So, do tell, reader and writer! What games do you remember from the DOS days that you would like to revisit? What made them special to you? Any titles of the time that you are curious about? I would love to hear about them!
Editor’s Note: At publication, this article asserted that Textfiles.com was no longer being updated. In a comment below, Jason Scott has assured us that this is not the case. Lusipurr.com regrets the error.