Have You Played… MS-DOS?

I owe almost my entire existence to DOS.

If you survived DOS, you became a PC gamer. To have laboured in the command prompt mines was to become someone who is only slight fazed by the many technical problems and complexities which blight PC games to this day.

People who run a mile from PC games do so because they didn’t go through that trial by autoexec.bat fire at an early age, so never learned to discipline of having to work to make a game run well.

DOS really was a game unto itself. You learned skills and strategies, you learned to adapt, you learned to learn more, and you learned to figure it all out by yourself, because there was no internet to ask. You learned about memory and you learned about file structures, you learned about ports, resolutions and colour depths. You learned how to make games better, how to make them tailored to you, and what it was they were made of. Pity those who never saw this, who go to pieces if they have to do anything more than click an icon – and who don’t even realise how much complexity and wizardry lies under that icon.

Because I survived DOS – and learned DOS – I became and remained a PC gamer. As well as getting the accursed things to run, I learned how to hide them, and that I played them, from parents who tried to keep me from them for fear I’d fail my studies. In turn, that learning lead to a job on a magazine, and then to this.

I wouldn’t go all the way to saying DOS made a man of me, but it did make me willing to keep chipping away at a problem until it was solved, rather than freak out or call in others to do it for me. Thanks, DOS. ThOS.


  1. Platina32 says:

    Commander Keen, I shall never forget you!

  2. plsgodontvisitheforums_ says:

    If only applied myself to other parts in life the way I could getting a soundblaster to work with my games

    • Pandalulz says:

      ^This. If I concentrate hard enough, I can probably still recall the commands to manually set some IRQs.

      • Velko says:

        Not having to manually set IRQs for every single game must be one of the best quality-of-life improvements in the history of PC gaming.

        • CameO73 says:

          That and not having to load everything in “high memory” to have enough “low memory” to play the game.

          • Lord Byte says:

            I even had a custom batch file that asked which game I wanted to play as I was sick of having to constantly change them. It loaded the correct programs (with or without VESA, with or without mouse, etc,…)

          • Lord Byte says:

            Oh and if you think a soundblaster was bad, try the Gravis Ultrasound. It WAS the best soundcard money could buy (I “inherited” it from my uncle as he was sick and tired of it). Imagine a soundcard that requires so much coaxing, rocket-scientists go “nah, that’s just too much work”. It even had, and I shit you not, a special dos-command the creators crafted to reboot your pc (I kept using it long after I put my old soundcard back), because you would be doing LOTS of it.
            Since not every game would work with it, you had multiple drivers depending on which one you were emulating and what capabilities of the card you wanted to use. And then it sometimes still wouldn’t work. But once you got it working, the quality was amazing. I’m talking day and night, a real wave-table, crystal-clear sound…

          • 2Ben says:

            Surely you meant “conventional memory” rather than “low memory” :)
            The first 640k were conventional memory. The rest was indeed high mem. Some programs/drivers only ran inside conventional memory, for example when they had to be loaded before the highmem manager.

          • HidingCat says:

            Hah, there was that area beyond 640kB to 1024kB, and then everything after that. I remember trying all kinds of things to free up as much of that 640kB. xD

        • Elusiv3Pastry says:

          IRQ 5
          DMA 1
          HEX/IO port 220

  3. Danarchist says:

    Edit Config.sys
    Echo off

    • arkiruthis says:

      running MEMMAKER.EXE to desperately scrounge the 600k needed for certain games.

      • plonk420 says:

        came here just to say this.

        a couple different config.sys/autoexec.bat setups

        also, a special version of MSCDEX so that i could rip CDs (the most up to date version wouldn’t).

        and the TSR game cheater GW32. and a memory dumper so that i could rip MOD/STM/S3M/XM/etc files from demos.

        • Premium User Badge

          Buzko says:

          My proudest moment was getting Ultima 7 to speak on our first Windows machine (not that we ever dreamed of using Windows to play anything more complicated than Solitaire and Minesweeper).

          It was kind of insane because if you loaded the Soundblaster driver, you didn’t have enough memory to run the game. After much trial and error, I found that if you edited the startup files and did a warm reset (Ctrl-Alt-Del, not switching it off and on) after loading the sound driver, you could gain its effect without officially paying the memory cost.

          Not quite magic, but it sure felt like it at the time.

  4. ariston says:

    Thanks for that! I survived the same DOS boot camp, and as a result, I approach all things PC with infinite calm and a ton of working knowledge. If there’s a problem I can’t solve immediately, then I know I will eventually, given time, because DOS taught me all the heuristics I needed.

  5. int says:


  6. Kefren says:

    My first PC, replacing my Amiga 1200, was a 486DX. I had no money left so bought a magazine that came with a CD of about a hundred “free” games and demos for PC, including Shareware Doom (which was why I got a PC in the first place). The CD was badly setup, half the things didn’t work, but it was a rude awakening and I had to learn all that stuff just to get half of the things on it running! Himem.sys etc. Luckily Doom ran with no problems, and I played through it again and again.

    • Kefren says:

      Too much Doom. link to karldrinkwater.blogspot.co.uk
      But the feel of the game was so good it made me glad I worked in a shitty supermarket to get my first PC.

    • LexW1 says:

      I moved to PC from Atari ST (520FM!) and DOS was a pretty big shock to me, I have to admit. Atari’s TOS wasn’t perfectly but it was pretty reliable, straight-forward and mouse-driven. DOS, though, good god. I’d used basic and stuff since I was little (on the Commodore 16 and BBC Micro), but DOS was another, far more annoying kettle of fish, and things only got worse in the early ’90s with all the high memory, IRQs and so on. Ugh. I’m still feeling some trauma from my joystick and Soundblaster somehow constantly managing to have IRQ conflicts (despite elaborately setting them correctly). All I wanted to do was play Wing Commander 2 with the speech pack!

      • jrodman says:

        Both the ST and the Amiga had a hugely superior user experience as compared to the lands of MS-DOS, especially for gaming.

        On my Amiga, I added a hard drive controller and hard drive, expanded the memory twice, installed a cpu accelerator, added two floppy drives, and I never once had to set a jumper, nor guess which connector was master and which was slave. Sure, in order to get the thing to boot off a hard drive with the ancient rom I’d inherited I had to write a shellscript to launch the first 5 or so commands from floppy and transfer control, but all that shit was properly documented and no voodoo involved.

        • Kefren says:

          Yes, just put in the floppy, double click an icon. Bliss.
          And some of the games were so good. I keep planning to do a retrospective at some point, of my favourite Spectrum, C64, and Amiga games.

          • LexW1 says:

            Some of them were amazing. Dungeon Master (1987) comes to mind – I played that a couple of years ago and was shocked at how fresh it still felt. There’s almost nothing about it that’s actually retro in a bad way (a lack of keybinds is perhaps it).

            But god, a lot of them, they really haven’t aged well – a lot of side or vertical scrolling shooters, action platformers and the like which seemed pretty fun at the time, just seem utterly dire now (this is way less true of console games of similar types, I note).

            There are some game-types on Ye Olde Machineses that haven’t yet reappeared properly though on modern machines, and could stand to do so – your Damocleses and Midwinters and the like.

          • Kefren says:

            Dungeon Master is a game I regularly replay. I have all the maps downstairs in my living room. My favourite Amiga games were:

            Buggy Boy – so addictive.
            Captain Blood – alien, never made progress, but atmosphere was unlike anything else. Vector landings amazed me every time – made me dream of a day when they’d look more real. Sometimes loaded up CB just to do landing, pretended I was coming down on LV426, then would load Aliens (UK) on C64.
            Dungeon Master – knew every level and secret by heart. Kept lists of which heroes I’d used, how often. Used wand to teach even non-magic characters how to use magic. Look through walls. Crush enemies in doors. Fireball and poison gas.
            Hired Guns – creepy, alien. Tried multiplayer, was good, early amazement at possibilities. Scary horror – sharks underwater, monsters. Great sounds, great unique characters. Felt like exploring a harsh alien world, a real mission. All the lovely, lovely manuals that came with it – I kept reading them when not playing the game. Character descriptions, world details, technology and so on.
            It Came From The Desert – again and again, trying different things. Tapped into some part of my mind that watched giant ant films in black and white as a kid. That, and the freedom, the locations. Amazing.
            Laser Squad – better graphics and extra levels, great game.
            Lords Of Chaos – Gambling on a dragon spell, may fail, but if win it is a game changer. So many upgrade choices – make the wizard tougher, or summon (broad range or specialise?) or other spells.
            Megatraveller – really did feel like had squad for a while.
            Sid Meier’s Pirates – summer playing it with hayfever. Different periods, different endings, seeing how much treasure and how many family members I could rescue. Crucial decision of when to end game is yours – play on, get older, weaker, but more land and money? Or retire early, poorer but healthier? Really felt like your choice, and it mattered.
            Starglider 2 – a world. 3D, freedom. Leave any planet. Fly out to space, turn round, watch solar system. Space whales. Oh, and the manual/novella with Starglider 2 (Amiga) – it gave me a new perspective on “Use the force, Luke!”

            Honourable mentions:
            Alien Breed – tense 2 player, kept playing, Aliens on the computer.
            Blood Money – so smooth, so addictive, eventually learnt patterns, bosses always scary and amazing. Only the last world lets it down, so hard, so many bits of scenery that kill you in seconds.
            Body Blows – 2 player tournaments (though not allowing Mike or the Russian).
            Bubble Bobble – also good on the C64.
            Cannon Fodder – kept playing to see what happened next. It switched between special levels, big levels, small levels. Every soldier had a name (and a gravestone waiting). Cartoony yet harsh.
            Elite – played blue Danube when docking (tape, rewind). Never got far, but imagined Elite with better graphics. Some perfect single-player, offline, immersive experience in my own private universe.
            Moonstone – multiplayer madness. Monty Python crossed with horror, a boardgame and a beat-em-up. As awesome as it sounds.
            Project X – to try all ships and upgrades, get to end of speedup bits, sheer polish that looked and sounded better than an arcade game.
            Sim City – first game of this type, chance to be god. Always the same – tried to develop cities with minimal damage to the environment, not to damage any of trees, challenge to build round and enhance.
            Speedball – got so good could score in a second, muscle reflexes. No-one would play against me.
            Turrican 2 – never got far, always crashed, but struck me as an amazingly free world, so many upgrades and powers, Aliens-themed levels, ached to explore it more.
            Wicked – just for alien atmosphere and music. Hardly knew what was going on half the time. Completed it a couple of years ago by spamming the emulator’s quick save (was still rock hard by end).

          • Premium User Badge

            Buzko says:

            @Kefren – never had an Amiga or a Commodore, but posts like yours are why I love the RPS commentariat. So evocative.

  7. DThor says:

    DOS didn’t have to suck so hard – it could have been a perfectly serviceable shell like the ones in Unix. Even moreso, it could have actually been *improved* over time, instead of being this stunningly primitive and frustrating to use crap that couldn’t even implement a half decent clipboard cut and paste interface to the clipboard *to this day*. It’s really quite amazing. I assume they were trying to get users to avoid all the “tech” stuff and use happy windows only. Just like Metro…

    • steves says:

      That…thing you get when running cmd (which everyone still calls DOS!) is an utter abomination, no argument there.

      But the real command line interface for Windows is now called Powershell, and has improved in all the ways you mention, and many more – you can run GUI-less servers with nothing but that these days.

      • Superpat says:

        As a linux user I must say that, beside for hard to read error messages and being slightly verbose, powershell is a pretty interesting shell. I use it often when I have to use a windows os, especially now that we have a package manager (manager) for it.

        • LionsPhil says:

          The sad thing about PowerShell is that it is this amazing new structured-data-oriented shell (if you’ve ever had to use -0 flags to UNIX commands to separate lists of filenames correctly [and if you didn’t, you were pointing a gun at your foot], you should be able to appreciate why being able to pipe structured data around is an improvement) for a platform I spend basically no time in the shell of. Meanwhile I’ve spent much of the past month before this holiday wranging strict-POSIX sh scripts, wishing Linux would catch up with the future some day.

    • LionsPhil says:

      Clipboard? I think you’re about ten years out.

    • Don Reba says:

      Cmd is not DOS. But it did get proper copy/paste and line wrapping in Win10.

  8. Stellar Duck says:

    The amount of time I spent messing about to get mscdx.exe and mouse.com to fit in the memory and still leave enough free room for sounds in TIE Fighter and similar is unreal. Memmaker.exe!

    Sometimes I wonder if that time would have been spent better on something else.

    That was always my issue, making sure there was enough base memory and extended memory.

    But then I remember: ‘Your sound card works perfectly! Your sound card works perfectly! Are you enjoying yourself? Your sound card works perfectly! It doesn’t get any better than this!’.

    I’ll never forget installing Command and Conquer the first time. I was unsure if I installing some weird OS to my PC. I was young, alright!

    • instantcoffe says:


    • jrodman says:

      Did you ever try out using the various different third party mouse drivers which often had a certain level of interoperability to see which was the smallest? I sure did.

      I seem to recall being very happy to have some tricky way to avoid mscdex too, but I don’t remember what it was. Maybe some quarterdeck thinger, or maybe I just didn’t load it most of the time, since I tended to install games to hard drive.

      • Stellar Duck says:

        Yea, I did mess with both of those. Generally mouse.com was replaceable but I found that mscdx.exe was needed with my stupid drive.

    • Ejia says:


    • Arathorn says:

      Installing Command and Conquer was one of the coolest things you could do with a pc. It’s a shame installing a game is so boring nowadays.

  9. somnolentsurfer says:

    SBOS Installed

    If that means anything to you, and if you were ever able to get your games to run with not just music, but also sfx, know that you didn’t just survive, you deserve a medal for your efforts.

    • jrodman says:

      You know, I assumed that sound was some kind of speech-synth thing to save space somehow (like maybe they already had speech synth code for other reasons). But no, eventually I realized they actually shipped that horrid-sounding sample. I assume they just had Joe from accounting speak into the microphone in the 30 seconds allotted to that task.

  10. MrPete says:

    One boot disk for SimCity2000, one for Privateer, one for Theme Park…
    It was a joy to get these running and just having to put the disk in to start the game…

    • DevilishEggs says:

      Goodness yes.


      [sweet memories]

    • MacTheGeek says:

      I wrote a series of batch files for each configuration I needed (autoexec.1, autoexec.2, etc). Then I had a menu option that would let me choose which file to copy to autoexec.bat. Choose menu option, reboot, play game. Exit game, choose menu option, reboot back into WordPerfect.

      • jrodman says:

        Is this before support for menus built-in (dos 6 maybe?)
        I guess I wasn’t around for the truly bleak dos days.

  11. aircool says:

    QEMM – best £30 you would ever spend.

  12. justnice980 says:

    I remember creating a batch file and disguised it as the icon for my roommates favorite game so when he launched it his screen would flash all the colors of the rainbow and repeatedly display the text “You’re Gay”. He was not amused. I, however, loved every second of it.

    • Banyan says:

      I replaced the system error beep on my family’s Apple IIGS with Hal’s “I’m sorry, Dave. I can’t do that.” Since my parents never threw away anything, they heard it for at least a decade after.

    • jrodman says:

      Were you correct or was he convinced? If so I will adopt this technique.

  13. Freud says:

    Creating a boot floppy disc with as much free basic memory as you could get was both an art and a necessity.

  14. Barberetti says:

    DOS 6.22 + multi-boot menu + 4 configurations and you’re done. Once you had that set up, you were rocking. I even put an option in mine for loading and unloading the network drivers as and when I needed them.

  15. muptup says:

    Ah boot disks for every game. And the balancing act of what seemed an amazing 4MB RAM.

    The amount of paths I had memorised seems slightly ridiculous today!

  16. Warlokk says:

    Learning how to get DOS games to run is a big part of how I ended up not only as a dedicated PC gamer, but also as an IT professional for the next 13 years. And I can definitely say I worked harder to get Wing Commander to run than I ever did for someone paying me later on :D

  17. tevelizor says:

    All the playing around with my PC trying to get the most out of it, since that PC had no dedicated GPU, lead me to liking playing WITH computers and then programming and now studying a computer science college, looking at fellow students having trouble walking around in the Unix terminal is funny, since I enjoy it.
    But I didn’t get to enjoy the MS-DOS era, I had to make it for me.

  18. RedViv says:

    Good old days, when shoveling free an additional 800KB of RAM was an insane demand.

  19. SatanClaws says:

    Autoexec.bat? Ha! Try manipulating config.sys to get enough EMS memory to play Wing Commander.

    • MadTinkerer says:

      Making separate boot disks for Ultima VII and the Underworld games because Ultima Underworld used EMS and Ultima VII used XMS…

      • finc says:

        It always confused me that both of those acronyms stood for words that started with the letters EX… Should have been TMS and PMS… No wait

        • jrodman says:

          I found it confusing when I learned that both were supposed to perform better (according to different experts).

  20. Premium User Badge

    Qazinsky says:

    I had forgotten all of it until this post triggered a “You need to free up more memory to run Master of Magic”-flashback.

  21. .poena.dare. says:

    While I cut my teeth on a Mac in 1984, I had to learn DOS to get Doom to work. Ugh. And ugh! But it was worth it. That ole PC in the corner was eventually replaced… …for Quake. Finally, with the millennium closing I realized I was tired of paying Apple prices.

    So, looking back, even with DOS, the frustration vs. entertainment ratio was better on a PC than Mac. (Somebody loan me a time machine.)

  22. Geebs says:

    MS-DOS certainly made me……..

    into a Mac user.

    • apa says:

      I like PS3 for the same reason. Nowadays I want to get paid for configuring sh..stuff.

      • bjohndooh says:

        It’s really not necessary to do this sort of stuff anymore.
        Even trying to run the same old games – you just use DOSbox and most of it just works.

        The “hard stuff” nowadays is being able to find an ini file and use a text editor.

  23. revan says:

    Sure did. CD WOLF was the first line I ever wrote on that thing. It made me love troubleshooting to the point where, even today, I seem to derive more pleasure in making games run right than from actually playing them.

    Years later I would dive into the guts of Cisco routers for a living. CLI felt like a friend returning. That love of troubleshooting also came in highly useful.

    • onodera says:

      Which WOLF was that? The one with real wolves and PC speaker music? Loved this game, never got to shag the alpha female, though.

  24. Arexis says:

    Dune 2 was clearly the best mod for MS DOS. The modding community took to DOS in a way that hasn’t been seen in any game since.

    Seriously, I remember cracking the major shits when all the functionality got ripped out of DOS at around 14.

  25. Det. Bullock says:

    Commander Keen, Wolfenstein 3D, Biomenace…

    So many shareware games, and of course Lucasarts Star Wars games that crashed after a half hour of play and didn’t have sound because my graphic card refused to work.

  26. Risingson says:

    As Dthor said, I cannot understand why DOS was stuck and had to have differences with Unix.

    It was fascinating at the time, but I feel like the amount of time I invested on knowing how the memory, disk sectors, FAT and everything worked has been for nothing, even more useless than playinggames. If at least it had some resemblance to the most poweful utils in linux, it would not feel that bad.

    I imagine that people that mastered wordperfect 5.1 must feel the same. I even mastered lotus improv, for nothing.

    • TillEulenspiegel says:

      This is an interesting question, but I think the short answer is that POSIX didn’t exist until long after the PC revolution had started. Unix wasn’t free. It was also a complex multi-user OS intended for more powerful hardware.

      Micro-Soft was able to buy a CP/M clone cheap and turn it into MS-DOS, while Steve Wozniak wrote a simple OS and a BASIC interpreter for the Apple II.

      As with so so many things, the quirks of a few years of history are still being felt decades later.

      • jrodman says:

        To be fair, you could get UNIX for free. You just needed a large-scale tape drive to copy it onto and a VAX to run it on.

      • MacTheGeek says:

        A lot of the “quirks” and things that seem weird today existed for two reasons: they were limitations of the original 8088 processor, and Microsoft bent over backwards to ensure backward compatibility. The 640K memory area is a prime example of this; Intel moved past the need for such a restriction with the 80286 processor, but Microsoft retained it throughout MS-DOS’s existence.

  27. internisus says:

    Does anyone remember TUTOR DOS? It’s one of my fondest young computer memories. TUTOR DOS is a program that teaches you about computers generally and DOS specifically through friendly, entertaining writing and helpful illustrations, quizzing you at the end of each section. It was made by Kevin L. Cummings in 1989, and I loved it when I was a kid.

    Some years back, I found a copy of TUTOR DOS and have made sure to hold onto it ever since. It’s both fun and historically interesting to revisit it today. If anyone wants to check it out, you can download it from my Google Drive. I think that you can simply run the .exe if you’re on 32-bit Windows, but I’m on 64-bit these days and need to use DOS Box for it to work.

    • internisus says:

      I’m messing around with TUTOR DOS now, and it actually does quite a bit more than quiz you after each lesson. It simulates a DOS environment within the program and asks you to complete certain tasks so that you learn by doing. It’s actually a pretty impressive piece of software!

    • Edski says:

      Yes! That came with the first IBM (a 386) I ever had, and was a brilliant introduction to the wonders of dos. Good times. Tweaking config.sys and autoexec.bat files was at least as much fun as the games said tweaking enabled to run.

  28. wonboodoo says:

    I can’t remember the game, it may have been Doom, or Quake 1 or 2, or Duke Nukem 3D, but it didn’t work under Windows, you needed DOS, and I’m not sure multiplayer worked with TCP/IP, it only worked with Netware. So the fun and games to get multiplayer to work at work with colleagues without screwing up our work computers was putting together a bootable DOS floppy with Netware drivers & the game and just run from floppies. I think we had just as much fun tweaking the floppy disks as we had playing the game.

    • LexW1 says:

      That’d be Doom, which used Netware – I still remember faffing around with NET.CFG, god help me. It was IPX-based. The only good thing about it is that we always seemed to get it working in the end, even in places we shouldn’t have – something not true of some later TCP/IP-based games.

      Duke Nukem 3D and the others used IP-based networking.

      • LexW1 says:

        Oh and I should say I did precisely the same thing – made bootable floppies which contained the game and netware client and so on – we had to in order to get it working in our university’s locked down computer lab. Worked really well and yes we were terribly pleased about it.

  29. TAIMAT says:

    still using it for occasional mini tasks
    dosbox emulator for visiting some games
    “CD” command is usable in irc’s xdcc servers

  30. bokkibear says:

    The Internet Archive has a massive archive of MS-DOS games that you can play in your actual browser. Check it out, seriously.

    link to archive.org

    • meepmeep says:

      Or don’t. Nothing from the MS-DOS era has aged well.

      • EhexT says:

        Ridiculous. One Must Fall 2097, Tyrian 2000, Raptor, Death Rally, Shattered Steel, etc.

        Tons of DOS era games have aged fine and are still kings of their respective genres.

        • RanDomino says:

          Neat, my squandered youth summarized in one sentence.

        • Kaeoschassis says:

          OMF2097 is still a lot of fun, but arguably has not aged well at all. The rest of those are perfect examples, though.

          Thing about games of that era is that they so rarely tried for anything even close to realism in their visuals or audio. They were all stylized as heck, and as a result, they haven’t ‘aged’ at all. They still appear pretty much exactly as they always did.

          And in terms of gameplay, well, Tyrian 2000 for example has still never been topped at what it does. And that aint nostalgia talking, I play a lot of shooters, east and west, and I still play Tyrian very regularly.

      • Immobile Piper says:

        Sword of the Samurai is pretty good.

        I can’t in good conscience say that new-COM is better than the old-COM. Haven’t played Xenonauts yet so that might beat it. Same goes with Pirates and its 00’s remake.

        Dosbox is a wonderful thing.

        • Risingson says:

          In short: doing generalizations is stupid. There were wonderful games and awful games in the DOS era, some that have aged wonderfully and others that did awfully, something so stupidly obvious we should not need to mention.

          • jrodman says:

            Am I weird if I find that the better 1985-ish C64 games and 1990ish amiga games have mostly aged better for me than 1993-ish dos games? (Doom excluded.)

  31. Wings says:

    It’s odd, but I loved dos. As obtuse as it seems now looking back it always felt like an ally to me. There was always a way for me to fix the problem. I just had to find it. Like a text adventure of old. Even now I kinda miss it, looking at me computer when it fights me; a feeling that if I still had my dos, I could find the problem, fix it myself, just a matter of time.

    • DrazharLn says:

      Maybe you should try Arch Linux – it’s made with the philosophy that the OS should be understandable.

      (More generally, I think that GNU/Linux OSs do a great job of letting you invent and fix and fiddle).

  32. NachtPoet says:

    Knowing every file on my PC by name and function.

    Spending more time editing autoexec.bat and config.sys to free up enough memory than playing the game I worked so hard to get running.

    Installing like 12 Floppy discs for over 4 hours only to have a read error on the last one.

    Threatening my IBM AT to be thrown out of the window countless times. Which somehow helped sometimes.

    Hating Windows to this day for doing so many things without my knowledge or approval.

    Those were the times…

  33. Stevostin says:

    Yeah well, you learned also that even a very well coded game had to be launched from a very poorly coded OS.

  34. BluePencil says:

    Discovering that game where two gorillas throw bananas at each other kept me going through a dull I.T NVQ lesson. I wonder if Hearthstone was inspired by that with its banana power-ups that get tossed across the screen.

  35. rebb says:

    Part of me hopes this article was written with edit.com

    • jrodman says:

      Was anyone else ever disturbed by the filesize of edit.com? It was like 3 kilobytes or something. I mean, I know what it actually did, but that’s disturbing too, sort of.

  36. Al Bobo says:

    AdLib, you are missed. Not.

    • rebb says:

      AdLib was an amazing step up from the wonderfully farty PC Speaker though ! Still no Soundblaster Goodness, but still.

    • LionsPhil says:

      The person who fondly remembers not the warm FM synthesis of the OPL2 chip is truly dead inside.

  37. Daniel Klein says:

    I was forged in the fires of EMM386.EXE.

    • arkiruthis says:

      Memories of having to get an extraordinary amount of EMS for a certain game. My memory fails me, but it might have been US Navy Fighters.

    • PearlChoco says:

      Going through all my directories looking for EMM486.exe on my brand new 486DX2. Never found it :-)

  38. fishlore says:

    I grew up in the fires of MSDOS and BBSs. Getting the games to work was the game to me. The gameplay itself was secondary. Led to a nice software development career. Favorite memory…

    using PC Tools to hex-edit Might and Magic IV save game files and changing my gold and xp to maximum and just destroying everything in sight. The unintended mistakes to hex editing would manifest themselves in wild ways.

    Ah the memories.

  39. CurseYouAll says:

    Deathtrack and F-15 Strike Eagle II were my first PC games, IIRC.

  40. AyeBraine says:

    That 640KB memory limit was the most perplexing thing about the whole affair. As a child, I more or less understood all the basics (especially since I used Norton Commander UI), but throughout all those years I still couldn’t understand why this limit exists, what are these special OS add-ons that “expand” the memory on the sly (despite my computer having 10 times as much memory), and how to check how much memory is “available”.

    But yeah, IRQ 5 DMA 1 forever.

    • Turkey says:

      Norton Commander was the shit.

    • jrodman says:

      Do you mean you still don’t know?

      It’s pretty simple, when the 8086 was introduced, it had no way to express a memory address outside a 1MB space. Therefore software running on an 8086 has no way to refer to memory outside of a 1MB space. You can of course introduce complicated bank-switching schemes, but that’s the boundary we’re talking about.

      The 8086 was a success. DOS was designed for it, and a lot of software followed. When Intel introduced the 286 and 386, it offered ways to run code on them that could “see” a larger memory space, but as should be pretty clear to you by now, backwards compatibility is a big thing. DOS wasn’t written for those modes, and more importantly, most of the business software wasn’t either. So the world just used the backwards compatability modes of those chips to act like the old 1MB-model, allowing the existing OS and business software to work.

      In order to use the memory above 1MB, you had to “switch modes” into a CPU mode that the operating system code wasn’t written to understand, leading to a great deal of awkward switching back and forth and evil hacks.

      Eventually we got a Microsoft operating system that could fully understand the new chip modes, and had no weird memory limits. It was called Windows NT.

      • AyeBraine says:

        Thanks for explaining! No, I more or less understand that now and have for some time. I just said I didn’t understand then. Especially since all I played were pirated games that were usually prepared for runtime in advance, including himem or ems or something bundled/configured. So it was just a strange mystery to me that didn’t really preclude me from playing games. Later I just went away from the problem, because OSs grew with me. So I never had to make multiple boot disks or anything. I just fumbled with my mom’s workplace computers (she worked in an edition house) till I got them to start. When I got my own PC, it was either same pre-configured DOS games or Windows ones. The deepest I got is altering autoexec and config slightly to enable himem or something. Then Win came along.

        That early introduction didn’t go in vain, though – I became one of those “advanced users” who are not exactly IT, but rather DIY problem solvers, as outlined in this comment section. To this day I carry the damn torch of fumbling with system settings and config files to optimize my gaming life – and thankfully feel much less helpless because of it. So thanks MS-DOS. I stole you and you raised me.

  41. pelle says:

    I played MSDOS a lot. I still play it now and then in DOSBOX or in FreeDOS. I played MSDOS so much, I could never get into Windows, so in 1996 I went down the Linux path instead, and then (also) OSX, never any Windows for anything other than playing some games now and then.

    But I still have a disk-image of my last MSDOS-partition just like it looked before I abandoned it. Duke 3D and a few more games still installed waiting to be played again.

  42. Ste says:

    On a teacher’s 286 used to
    /ren config.sys bugger.off
    Then reboot To ensure enough memory was available for The Incredible Machine…
    Happy days.. F

  43. Neurotic says:

    One of my proudest moments was squeezing a joystick driver into EMS on my mum’s office 386, in order to play X-Wing.

  44. Baranor says:

    … true story… one day i found myself at c:\dos>

    C:\dos> dir a:
    ‘Ah dont need any of that rubbish anymore’
    C:\dos> del *.*
    ‘Oh uhh ehh aaahh waait.. no think.. its still loaded into memory.’


    Half an hour later my dad arrives back from work.

    ‘Wacha doooing?’
    ‘I deleted DOS but its still loaded into memory. Wanna help?’

    My dad grabbed a chair and sat next to me, encouraging my 14 year old memory to cough up the first letters of all the DOS commands… he didnt even shout at me I guess the look on my face told him I was really really really upset.

    Also a common scene in my house:
    ‘Oh.. did I forget? Allow me at the keyboard for a second.’
    *types in ‘revert.bat’.. config.sys and autoexec.bat get reverted to their original non-game optimized state*
    ‘Sorry dad. Just reboot and you are fine. Do me a favor when you are done and type in ‘rungame3.bat’ before you shut it down ok?’

    I got a tad tired of altering the files all the time so I wrote some batch files to copy several config.sysses and autoexec.bats around.

    I usually ran at 603. DOS, mouse, VGA and SB loaded. And yes, DOS made me what I am today.

  45. Replikant says:

    I remember being upset when Windows 95 came along and tried to convince me that copying stuff around was to be achieved using a mouse instead of fast and simple keyboard commands.

    • JamesTheNumberless says:

      Yeah, Windows 3.1 was ok because it was still just a program you loaded from DOS, but 95 with its (DOS mode) introduced yet more uncertainty about what drivers/runtimes would be loaded when you got to the point of starting your game… But it was a step in the right direction because it forced MS to get DirectX up to scratch.

      • LionsPhil says:

        Yeah, I can’t say I look back particularly fondly at the “good old days” of fighting with DOS. You know what that time mostly was? Wasted, when you could have been using the thing.

        I don’t want each game having its own sound drivers, and sound driver configuration. I want an actual OS to handle that, with performant hardware abstractions.

        • jrodman says:

          But it was so much fun copying in the MILES driver that the game maker forgot to include for your less-popular card, and then hand-editing the config file to force it to load, or more sneakily, just overwriting SNDBLSTR.DRV or whatever.

  46. racccoon says:

    The whole analysis of this is whats wrong today in computers. Far too many people do nothing..
    Those days gone by were days when you had to learn, learn coding and I thank my amiga days which taught me “Machine Code”(assembly language). Its what brought me/you to create teams, teams of local players and a far players to swap coding ideas and basicllt mod the crap out of the “MACHINE”(pink floyd thing..lol ) slowly we had to fall from grace though as the amiga seemed unable to go forward no really knows why, and so into DOS we came..which was a doddle..But the whole theory of it all was you had to learn a code, this is what makes a great computer player of games and great user of a system. Actually doing, understanding code & create something that you knew you had to do in order to enjoy it.
    Its such a shame that today’s PC and any system player just grabs n clicks and has no idea of the code mechanics as they aren’t forced to see it nor do they want to.

  47. Mr Coot says:

    Young Mr Grace voice: “Carry on! You’ve all done very well!”

  48. ferlitio says:

    Just a few days ago i got into DOSBOX, concretely the SVN Daum build (which it haves an awesome CRT shader emulator) and the first thing i did was to try again the Microprose F-117a. I think it’s still unsurpassed on how to do a stealth flight sim, and one of the games worthy of a proper remake on my oppinion.

  49. ddaymace says:

    Great article, couldn’t agree more. DOS is what got me into computers. It led me to a successful career in programming and a great hobby of building gaming systems.

    I always get the PC version of games because the PC represents the free market; everything on the PC is so much easier to setup than ever before. Why would a consumer not want extra options and more freedom? When console gamers gripe about complexity I just laugh. All you have to do now is click install. Most of the time the rest is optional.

    DOS was not a great OS but it had a real renaissance of great games. And dealing with it’s configuration issues only increases your understanding of systems.

    The appliance model of gaming just consolidates more control by a few select companies and hurts gamers as well as developers.

    I have four vintage dos machines from 1996-1998 that I maintain and they’re still running great; meanwhile, xbox 360 failure rate reached 54%.

  50. bwion says:

    I’ll see your autoexec.bat and raise you LOAD “*”,8,1

    • JamesTheNumberless says:

      Nah, loading games on the C64/Speccy/BBC micro etc was easy. You always had the necessary resources available because the game had access to everything and nothing unpredictable would sit in RAM, also your hardware would be the same as everyone else. Whether the game would load or not and how well it would work wasn’t something you had any control over. Either the tape/disk was broken or it wasn’t… Oh and of course you had to make sure the expansion pack was correctly cellotaped in at the back and that the TV was tuned in properly :)

    • jrodman says:

      The odd part about that is thinking back to where on the keyboard the * and the ” were. Your muscle memory probably can tell you if you trouble recalling. Such an odd layout.