Doubly Old School

The boss mentioned the old “Gold Box” SSI games in a recent speach, which got me feeling a little nostalgic about them.  Then over the weekend I was telling Roly about this, and was amusing her and myself with tales of what it was like even having a computer back in 1988, nevermind the video games.

Pool of RadiancePool of Radiance was the first video game I ever bought with my own money, and remains one of the only games I ever played through to completion.  I first learned about this game from an ad in a Dragon Magazine.  The concept amazed me, I had to have it.  I saved up my money, and eventually paid what I thought at the time to be an astronomical amount for anything, nevermind a game: $55.  Funny, video games don’t seem to have changed much in price now in over 20 years.

OK, now that it was lodged in my brain, I had to do something about it.  Back in college, when these games were just somewhat old and not the relics they are now, someone bought me a CD compilation called The Forgotten Realms Archive, which contains all the old gold box games, the Eye of the Beholder series, etc.  I tried to run it on my machine, but discovered that the animation was tied to the CPU speed, and my P75 tore through the thing making it not very enjoyable.  The CD then joined my stash of old games that would lie forgotten in a drawer until, well, yesterday.

I pulled the CD out and tentatively put it into my CD tray, not knowing what to expect especially given that I run Ubuntu Linux now.  I found installer executables and some readmes.  Digging through the text it hit me: oh yeah, these were DOS games, even predating MS Windows.  Wow.  OK, I bet there’s reasonably good DOS emulator out there, right?  Yup, a few minutes later and I was installing DOSBox.  I dug up a spare 2GB usb stick I had lying around, and copied a few of the games to it.  I also copied binaries for DOSBox, both linux and windows.  I wrote a couple quick scripts, and now I’ve got a USB stick with Pool of Radiance and Eye of the Beholder installed that can run on pretty much any machine I stick it in.

Pool of Radiance by SSI

Here it is, Pool of Radiance running on my Asus T91 netbook, which runs Windows 7.   I’ve also run this on my Ubuntu desktop without any problem.  Freaking awesome.  You can see to the right of the box is the novel sized manual that came with the Forgotten Realms Archive, as well as the code wheels that came with it.  These were the games’ method of anti-piracy.  Each time you run the game you have to spin the wheel to match up two symbols and type in the secret password.  Crazy, eh?  The top wheel, which looks a bit off-color, used to be as white as the others.  It’s the original that came with my copy of Pool of Radiance, circa 1988.  It’s the only piece of the original game I still own.

Well, that and the clue book I bought shortly after, which you can see hiding beneath it.  That clue book is probably how I managed to actually complete the game.  It’s freaking hard!  This time, though, I’ve decided no cheating!  The clue book has remained unopened while I play.  You can see at the bottom of the picture a piece of graph paper where I’ve started drawing the map as I explore the game.  With no overhead map and a very cheasy quazi-3D view of the world, good mapping is essential to play the game.

So there you have it.  Playing an old school video game that emulates an old school RPG.  It’s actually really quite fun.  I guess now I have something to do to entertain me on the flight to GenCon.

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