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12:49pm on Friday, 7th October, 2005:

Advances in Computer Games


I've been playing Darklands for about 3 weeks now.

Darklands is a 1993 game, with 1993 graphics, from Microprose. I love that game — it has fantastic atmosphere. This is why, every once in a while, I wheel it out and play it through (although it doesn't actually have a formal "end"). It's a precursor to the Baldur's Gate kind of game, and has some very unusual and interesting gameplay features.

However, gaming has moved on since 1993. In particular, in 993 you could release a game with a dungeon crawl that takes 2-3 hours to complete, during which time you can't save the game (or, more specifically, you can save it but you lose a ton of data — quests, for example — when you reload it).

So, I already tried this one particular crawl maybe 6 or 7 times and kept getting killed by the boss. I realised that my problem was I didn't have enough of the healy potions, so when it happened again last night I planned on going to the nearby city, purchasing some more alchemical reagents, and running up some more potions. That's what I planned.

Now when you save in Darklands, it adds a new save file. You have to clear up every once in a while or you can never find the last one — there can be dozens of saves kicking around. The dates are in US format, but that's get-overable. What I usually do is find the latest save, plus one or two before it, and delete the rest. Hmm...

OK, you nearly have all the pieces, except that this is a DOS game so I have to play it using a DOS emulator. I use DOSbox, which is free and very good — probably the best available. It's not perfect, though.

Yesterday, I was playing Darklands when I had to go off to the State of Play conference. Being unable to save, I put my laptop into hiberntion ready for when I came back. When I did come back, sure enough, there was Darklands just as I'd left it. Well, almost how I'd left it: DOSbox had got its timings a little screwy and was playing the sound weird. Still, who cares about a few odd buzzes here and there?

Having got killed again, I reloaded ready to go back to Basel and buy myself some choleric base. Reloading is where you get to delete unwanted save files. I had three unwanted saves, with dates annoyingly similar to one another, so I decided to delete a couple.

DOSbox's timings were still wrong. I deleted (and confirmed deletion) of the first save, but it didn't seem to do anything. OK, so I deleted it again, then deleted the second. This left my main save. My main save then also disappeared. I thereupon noted in horror that the back-up save was one I'd inadvertently made inside the dungeon, and was therefore unusable. In other words, I'd just deleted 3 weeks of Darklands because of its crappy save "facility".

Ah, they don't make games like they used to...

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Copyright © 2005 Richard Bartle (richard@mud.co.uk).