A Curate’s Egg

Here’s a little story. I picked up a games bundle super-cheap this week, because I’m a

WTSScga

Where Time Stood Still, in “glorious” CGA

sucker for super-cheap and also because it had lots of old DOS games in it, including some French Infogrames weirdness, and I’m even more of a sucker for that.

A nice plus was the old 8-bit isometric games The Great Escape and Where Time Stood Still, both well-regarded titles from Denton Designs, largely known in their ZX Spectrum incarnations. But these were being sold to PC owners, via Steam, which means we get the inferior DOS ports of both.

In the case of Where Time Stood Still, that’s even worse because not only is the DOS version poorer than the Speccy port, it’s arguably the poorest version available. Not only is there a Speccy version with more colours and a lot more in the way of sound, there’s also an Atari ST version with 16-colour graphics. Surely the latter is the best way to present the game to modern gamers, not a bleepy CGA knock off of a superior 8-bit version.

WTSS

How Where Time Stood Still could look, if you bought it on Steam as an emulated ST/Amiga version

Ah, but people usually have PCs, right, and so it needs to be PC versions for sale? Well, not really. They’re DOS games being emulated via DOSBox on modern platforms. And that’s the issue – if we get the DOS option, why not sort out easy emulation for the Spectrum and ST versions as well and let the player choose? Even better, why not see if it’s possible to license the excellent 2014 unofficial Amiga port which basically takes the Atari ST version and adds a bit of miggy polish, as well as a whole new introduction sequence?

It also doesn’t help that the license holder, in making these games available, seemingly hasn’t bothered obtaining or making available copies of the instruction manual. A particular problem with WTSS, which uses a slightly clunky and not very intuitive object manipulation system.

This is the thing – the use of DOSBox, an emulator, is already well-established through modern online marketplaces like Steam or GOG; so when making old software commercially available again, why not make an effort and arrange for emulation of more than just the DOS version, especially when it’s far from the best version available? Yeah, we could all just play the emulated versions, but for a lot of people dealing with emulation software and finding the “ROMs” (sic) is a barrier. It’s good that people are keeping old software alive, it’d be even better if it was people that gave more of a shit about curating it.

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