Too Much Free Time

Discussion and reviews of games for NES, Intellivision, DOS, and others.

Archive for the ‘DOS’ Category

Microsoft Word 5.0 (DOS) & Microsoft Word 1.1 (Windows)

Posted by Tracy Poff on September 19, 2014

Like the last post, this one is a double feature. Sadly, unlike WordPerfect 5.1, which was released for both DOS and Windows with the same version number, MS Word used different numbers for is DOS and Windows version. So I’ve arbitrarily picked a DOS and Windows version each released at around the same time as WordPerfect 5.1 to look at.


On first glance, MS Word 5.0 for DOS, released in 1989, looks fairly similar to WordPerfect 5.1. It’s a big blue screen with some status info at the bottom. But that’s not quite all. In Word, the toolbar is constantly visible at the bottom, taking up several lines, and the text entry area is surrounded by a box. This box isn’t just for show, though: you can choose to split the view into many different windows, which each may contain different documents. In practice, splitting the screen into more than two windows is probably not very useful, since the available space will be tiny, but it’s still a nice feature.

As for the toolbar at the bottom, though, that’s a waste of space. They should have just devoted a bit of space on the bottom line to say “Menu: Esc”, or something, instead. I give them half credit for the interface.


MS Word 1.1 for Windows, released in 1990, looks more like what we’re familiar with from Word. With the standard menu-and-toolbar interface, it’s a fairly usable word processor, even if it has some quirks in the display.

Word 1.1 does have a big flaw, though: when I tried to open in Word 1.1 the document I made in Word for DOS, it actually crashed DOSBox! It did successfully open the document I made in WordPerfect 5.1, though… I think I’m going to have to give this point to WordPerfect.


Furthermore, opening the documents I made in either the DOS or Windows version of Word in Libreoffice yields a bunch of garbage. I know that technically it’s not Word’s fault if a piece of software written a quarter century later doesn’t properly import its documents, but it’s still a sad lack of longevity.

In short, 1989’s version of MS Word had some neat tricks with the multi-window interface, but I prefer the minimalist (and less-space-wasting) WordPerfect interface. WordPerfect 5.1 for Windows looks better than Word 1.1 for Windows, too, though both were apparently rather buggy, so they’ll be winning no awards: above all, software must work, after all.

WordPerfect was still king of word processors at this point, but over the course of the 90s, its crown would be stolen by Word, leaving the once-mighty application little more than an also-ran, relegated to filling out the OEM software stack of budget PCs.

Posted in 1989, 1990, DOS, Windows, Word Processor | Leave a Comment »

WordPerfect 5.1

Posted by Tracy Poff on September 16, 2014

Technically, this blog is meant to be about video games. But I’ve written about hardware and magazines and books and whatever this is, so I figure anything fitting broadly under the retrocomputing banner is fair game.


This one may be familiar to you. WordPerfect 5.1, released in 1989, was quite a popular word processor, and it persisted for many years. In fact, it seems that people still want to use it to this day. It was used in my keyboarding class, in high school, so this is a bit of nostalgia for me.


When you first open WordPerfect 5.1, you’re greeted with a blank, blue screen, plus some details about the current position of the cursor. I’m fairly sure this violates a few interface design principles. On the other hand, considering that WordPerfect cost hundreds of dollars, perhaps they expected people to be willing to read the manual.


Once you know how to use it, WordPerfect 5.1 is a powerful word processor, capable of doing pretty much anything you’d like. More modern word processors may be prettier, but all of the basic functions were there. The image above is what WordPerfect calls draft mode–a semi-WYSIWYG display suitable for general use. You could also turn on ‘reveal codes’ mode, which displays markup in a manner reminiscent of HTML or BBCode:

A blank, blue screen is just so… [Italc On]inviting[Italc Off]… wouldn’t you say?[HRt]

Naturally, when printed, the document would actually use italic or bold text, or whatever other formatting was selected. WordPerfect was intended, after all, for preparing documents for print, not for display on a computer screen. All of the various options could be accessed either though a menu (activated with Alt+=) or through some combination of modifier and function keys.


The Windows version of WordPerfect 5.1, released in 1991, defaults to a WYSIWYG view that should seem familiar modern computer users. It does still support draft mode and ‘reveal codes’ mode, for those who long for the (shall we say) simplicity of the DOS version.

I never used the Windows version of WordPerfect 5.1, back in the nineties. The word on the internet seems to be that it’s very buggy, which is a shame, since it seems like a fairly usable word processor, otherwise.


Just for fun, I tried just double-clicking the document I saved in WP 5.1 for DOS, opening it in LibreOffice. As you can see, it opens and renders flawlessly, despite the programs being released 25 years apart–a true standard-bearer for backwards compatibility! It makes me wonder if the present incarnation of WordPerfect could do the same.

I could spend pages discussing all the features of WordPerfect 5.1, but I really just wanted a quick look at it, to allow for comparison, so this much will suffice. I’ll write similar overviews of other contemporary word processors (Coming soon! Maybe.) and other applications, to show some of the variety in software on the market. There was a great deal of evolution in a fairly short time, so it should be interesting to see how they compare.

Posted in 1989, 1991, DOS, Windows 3.x, Word Processor | 1 Comment »


Posted by Tracy Poff on April 19, 2014

Today, a look at a game I’ve just added to MobyGames: Archery by Brian Blankenship.


Archery is a very simple shooting game. A target descends along the right side of the screen, and you have to push the spacebar at the right moment to let fly your arrow, with the aim of hitting the target as near the center as possible.


You get three shots (in a row) from each of five different starting locations, and shots that hit closer to the center score more points. You can play alone (for high scores, one assumes), against another player, or against the computer.


Interestingly, if you play against the computer, the computer can get a high score, too. Embarrassingly, the computer seems to be rather better at this game than I am.

The author, Brian Blankenship, wrote this game in 1985. On December 31, 2013, he posted the BASIC source code to the game on SourceForge. He posted a few comments on abandonware sites around the net. Here’s what he had to say:

I am honored to find sites like this still showing this game from so long ago. I wrote this while bored, waiting to be laid off from a law firm that was splitting up. I was playing “Track and Field” occasionally at arcades, and could barely make it to the archery part, which inspired me to make this game.

Yes, it is very lame by today’s standards, and in hindsight I could have made a lot of improvements. I tinkered with it while it held my interest, and released it to a few BBS’s in the Indianapolis, IN area. Had no idea it would see somewhat large distribution.

Even if Archery is “lame by today’s standards”, I found it to be quite a fun (though simple) game. I imagine it’d be worth playing with a friend, at least for a few matches.

Posted in 1985, Action, Archery, Decent, DOS, Freeware, Full Review, Shooter | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »

The Wizard’s Castle

Posted by Tracy Poff on February 23, 2010

The Wizard’s Castle, published for DOS in 1981 by International PC Owners is an early dungeon crawl.

Avoiding the word ‘year’? Check. Awesome apostrophes? Check. Journey from which no adventurer has ever returned? Yep! Let’s make a journey to the cave of cliches! Good luck!

Cliched-and-basically-nonexistent plot aside, The Wizard’s Castle is actually a pretty solid game. You start by choosing some basic stats for your character (race, sex, strength/intelligence/dexterity, equipment), and off you go to explore the castle and hunt for the incredible *ORB OF ZOT*. You’re aided in your endeavour by a map of the dungeon which is meant to fill in as you explore or use items that reveal information about the dungeon, like flares or the lamp.

Unfortunately, in the version I played, the map is already filled in, which I guess is a bug; I’m told later ports give you a properly blank map to start with. One annoying thing about this game is that the map legend is on the help screen, so you have to keep switching between the map and legend until you learn the meaning of the map symbols. Similarly, the player’s stats are only shown upon moving into a room, so you have to move around to check them. There is plenty of room on the right for both of these, I think. Another, more minor problem is that you must press ‘M’ whenever you wish to show the map; since that is likely to be all the time, it means that the game consists of lots of EMSMEEM, manually checking the map every few moves. It would have benefited greatly from just automatically showing the map.

Map issues aside, how is the game? Well, let’s have a look at the map: the player is on the square marked by angle brackets above; to the west is a monster; to the east is a sinkhole, which drops the player down a level; to the south is a flare, which would ordinarily be very useful, as it lights up the area around the player, but is, in this version, useless due to the map being all filled in. Monsters can be fought, fled from, or bribed, though some (trolls, ogres, dragons) don’t seem to be damaged by the sword I had, so it may be impossible to (successfully) fight some of them. Sinkholes cause the player to fall down a level, and stairs can lead either up or down. Items, such as flares, gold, and treasure, will be picked up automatically, and can be used or (in the case of gold and treasure) traded with the vendors the player will encounter in the dungeon.

Successfully navigating the dungeon involves carefully planning your route, lest you find yourself very dead:

Not all fights should be avoided, though. With the lamp, it’s possible to tell precisely what monster is in an adjacent square, and the weaker ones can be fought for large sums of gold, which is very handy. However, it’s not only the fights that can be hazardous: magic pools can be drunk from, and may either help or harm the player, and books, too,  can be either very helpful or very dangerous–even the chests might explode or release toxic gas upon being opened. After picking up some treasures, the player can choose to leave the dungeon, or continue on, seeking the ultimate treasure in the form of the Orb of Zot.

Seeking the Orb of Zot is harder than it sounds. Scattered about are orbs the player can gaze into in order to gain information about what lies in the dungeon–these will occasionally tell the player that the Orb of Zot is in some particular location, but this isn’t as helpful as it seems–the orbs may claim that the Orb is in several different locations, and I have yet to find it by going to these locations. I suspect there is a trick to it, but I’ve not spent enough time to puzzle it out. For now, I’m satisfied with picking up the lesser treasures.

The dungeon is randomized each time you play, so if you care to, you can play as many times as you like without running out of new dungeons to explore.

The bottom line: The Wizard’s Castle is pretty fun. I’m sure it would have been much more challenging to collect the treasures if the map had functioned correctly in the version I played, so I suspect this game would be good for a few hours distraction here and there. There’s something satisfying about a nice dungeon crawl, and for all its simplicity and lack of polish, The Wizard’s Castle isn’t bad at all. It’s no Nethack, but it’s worth a look.

Posted in 1981, Decent, DOS, Dungeon Crawl, Full Review, RPG | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »


Posted by Tracy Poff on July 16, 2008

SkyRoads was a driving game released in 1993 by Bluemoon Interactive.

The object is to complete each road, passing through the pipe at the end. There are various obstacles along the way, including blocks or gaps that must be jumped over, pipes that must be entered or avoided, as well as the threat of running out of oxygen or fuel before the end of the road.

The early roads are quite easy, requiring little jumping. Each can be completed on the first play through with minimal difficulty.

As the game progresses, though, the roads become more difficult, some requiring multiple tries to complete. This could be a good or a bad thing, depending on your perspective. Sometimes, pipes hide walls or missing sections of floor, which will kill you, so you must remember to avoid those pipes the next time through. In my opinion, since the levels are so short (each requiring less than one minute), this required repetition does not detract from the gameplay.

SkyRoads has nice graphics, and very nice music as well, together with fun gameplay–the makings of a great game. It does fall short on replay value, though. While the roads are still nice after you’ve beaten them, there’s no real incentive to play them again–no way to try to beat your best times (which wouldn’t really matter, since most roads will be completed at maximum speed anyway), no secrets to be found, and only one way through the road, with minor variations. Despite this fault, though, SkyRoads is well worth playing, even if you might not play it much after you’ve completed it.

Below you’ll find a video of the first three roads, Red Heat, being completed:

SkyRoads can be downloaded for free from Bluemoon Interactive.

Posted in 1993, DOS, Driving, Freeware, Full Review, Good | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »

First Impressions: Novatron

Posted by Tracy Poff on June 24, 2008

Novatron is a DOS lightcycles (tron) game released by VeriSoft Works in 1982.

First Impressions: Novatron

There have been quite a lot of lightcycle games through the years–MobyGames lists 10, though I suspect it’s missing quite a few. The most recent that MobyGames lists is for the Xbox 360 (Tron, 2008), and the oldest is for the Intellivision (Snafu, 1981). Novatron is a fairly old example of this type of game, and it shows.


Though the graphics are fairly nice, and the controls responsive, Novatron is quite difficult to play. The keys used to control your lightcycle are F9, F10, Insert, and Delete, which are poorly placed. It’s been a while since I’ve seen an original IBM PC keyboard, but I don’t recall that they would have been in ideal positions on that keyboard either. Positioning aside, I kept confusing which of Ins and Del turned which direction, so I lost quite badly. Too, I found it difficult to tell just how much space I had left before running into a wall, probably due to the viewing angle.

In short, the game isn’t terrible, but isn’t really worth playing when there are so many better examples of the type. Personally, I’d recommend Armagetron Advanced.

Posted in 1982, Arcade, Bad, DOS, First Impressions | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

Where in the USA is Carmen Sandiego?

Posted by Tracy Poff on June 23, 2008

Where in the USA is Carmen Sandiego? is an educational game released in 1986 by Brøderbund Software, Inc. for DOS, Amiga, Apple II, and Commodore 64. I’ll review the DOS version.

We begin by learning that some crime has been committed, and we’re given a deadline for solving it–about a week, in the games I played.

The Great Serpent Mound has been stolen by a masked female! Who ya gonna call?

Once we’re told of the crime, we’re dropped in the city where it took place, so we can begin to investigate. There’s a little information about the city (education!) together with a fairly nice picture, and we have the option of questioning witnesses, leaving for another city, or putting what we know about the thief into the crime computer to figure out who the thief is and get a warrant.

Each city has three locations you can visit to question witnesses. Questioning them takes times, and there’s a deadline, so if you just need to know where the thief is headed, you don’t have to talk to all three people–only as many as it takes to learn the thief’s destination.

The witnesses generally tell you some clue to where the thief was headed next, together occasionally with a little information about the thief. In this case, the comment about the Bears tells us that the thief’s favorite sport is (according to wikipedia) football, which we can use to narrow down the list of suspects.

Once we know where the thief headed, we can go there, and question the residents of the new city to discover more about the thief.

If we don’t know enough–if we only know the thief’s sex and favorite sport, for example–the crime computer can only tell us who the possible suspects are, and we have to keep searching for more evidence to discover the thief’s identity.

Once we have enough information to positively identify the thief, though, the crime computer will issue a warrant, and all that’s left is to follow the thief to the next city or two and eventually catch her.

Success! Once again the day is saved, thanks to my rudimentary detective skills.

I’m guessing the game was intended for children around ten years old or younger. Despite the young intended audience, Where in the USA is Carmen Sandiego? is really quite good. The graphics are nice, the game’s mechanic works, and kids may even accidentally absorb some knowledge about geography while playing it. It’s a little too simple for adults to play for long, but fans of educational games will surely want to give it a try, if only to see an early entry in the series which spawned over a dozen games, a similar number of books, and several television programs.

Posted in DOS, Educational, Full Review, Good | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »


Posted by Tracy Poff on January 1, 2008

After far too long a break, a new game. Or, rather, quite an old one: Donkey, written in 1981 by Bill Gates.

Donkey was written1 as a way to showcase the capabilities of the BASIC programming language which shipped with new IBM PCs. Therefore one might expect it to be a very simple game–and simple it is:

The object is to avoid the donkeys in the road as you drive. The controls consist of only a single button, the space bar, which is used to switch lanes. Each time you successfully pass a donkey, your car moves a bit closer to the top of the screen, so that it will be more difficult to switch in time to miss the next one. If you hit a donkey, the donkeys are given a point, you explode, and you start over:

Every eleventh donkey that you pass, you are reset to the center of the screen and given a point. The game keeps track of the score, but there’s no particular reward for reaching any certain score; the game just continues until you exit. As simple and unrewarding as this game is, that’s likely to be fairly soon after starting.

Update: I’ve added a video demonstrating the gameplay below.

Download the game here.

  1. According to Wikipedia, which has a lengthy article, if you’d like to read more. 

Posted in 1981, Bad, DOS, Driving, Full Review | Tagged: | Leave a Comment »