Too Much Free Time

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

Archive for the ‘Windows 3.x’ Category

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 January 6, 2009

Mines by Ian Heath is a Minesweeper variant for Windows 3.1, released in 1990.

At first glance, it seems very much like Minesweeper, but the goal is somewhat different: rather than finding all mines on the playing field, your task is to find a mine-free path from the upper left corner to the lower right. You can walk any direction including diagonals in order to reach your goal. The game includes the same marking functions that Minesweeper had, allowing you to mark a square as mined or possibly mined, but these are only for your reference in Mines.

Although you can’t change the size of the playing field, you can choose the number of mines on it. The default, 30 mines, is quite easy, but the difficulty grows quite a bit as the number of mines increases. The maximum, 160 mines, is very difficult indeed.

Every generated playing field is solvable: some path exists through the mines, though, as with Minesweeper, it may not be possible to determine for sure where the mines are. In the above screenshot, for example, the mine on the third column of the first row could have been moved down one without changing the numbers shown when the game started–it’s not possible to be sure any move is safe, though the square down-right of the 3 was definitely mined.

Mines can be downloaded here.

Gameplay: 8/10
The concept is great–it’s definitely one of the best Minesweeper variants I’ve played. Most ‘variants’ only change up the size of the board, or something equally tiny. The only reason this didn’t score higher is that the game lacks keyboard controls, which seem like the natural input method for a game like this, and has no timer.
Graphics: 7/10
Mines looks basically like Minesweeper, which is to say plain but not bad. The feet that represent the player blend in a little too well for my taste, but it’s otherwise fine.
Personal Slant: 8/10
The addition of a timer, keyboard controls, and maybe the ability to change the board size would have made this a 9 or even 10, but it’s still quite good even without these things.
Total: 7.7/10
Mines is a fairly original variant on Minesweeper, and a pretty well-done one at that. Anyone who likes Minesweeper ought to give this one a try.

Posted in 1990, Full Review, Good, Puzzle, Windows 3.x | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »


Posted by Tracy Poff on January 6, 2009

Checkers is a Windows 3.1 implementation of checkers by Gregory Thatcher, released in 1990.

I’m just going to assume we all know the rules of checkers, and skip that part. Checkers provides an AI, so you can play against the AI or another human in hotseat play, or watch the computer play against itself. The difficulty (how smart the AI is) can be selected from five levels, Beginner through Master. You can also choose whether to play black or red, and can switch in the middle of the game, if you so desire.

The one with the white circle on it is a king, and was thoroughly beating me.

For anyone who doesn’t know how to play, the help file includes instruction on how to play the game as well as how to use the software.

Checkers can be downloaded directly at this link.

AI: 4/5
The AI beat me, so I guess it can’t suck too badly. However, I do suck very badly at checkers, so I’m only weighting this half to account for my inability to tell whether the AI is actually good. Minus a point since it could be more granular, too.
Gameplay: 4/10
It does what it says on the tin, but minus a point because waiting on the computer to move is boring.
Graphics: 2/10
The graphics are far too simple, and the board looks rather squashed. There’s no excuse for this, given that the DOS version of Battle Chess came out two years earlier and looked much, much better. The Windows version of Battle Chess wouldn’t come out for another year or so, but it too would look much nicer.
Personal Slant: 1/10
I don’t really like checkers that much, and this particular implementation doesn’t make me want to play it any more. I give it one point for including 0-player mode. Fight amongst yourselves, my minions, fight!
Total: 3.1/10
Checkers does indeed play checkers, but it doesn’t do anything beyond that. The overly-simple and somewhat poor graphics hurt this one quite a bit, along with the utter lack of anything original. Battle Chess had been out for two years at this point, so we all knew more was possible. Of course, this implementation probably wasn’t intended to be anything special–but it gets no points for achieving that goal. There’s really no reason you’d want to play this, since there are far better checkers games out there.

Posted in 1990, Bad, Board Game, Full Review, Windows 3.x | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

Lucas’s Problem

Posted by Tracy Poff on January 6, 2009

Lucas’s Problem is a Windows 3.1 implementation by James Curran of a puzzle created by the French mathematician Édouard Lucas, who also created the more famous Towers of Hanoi puzzle.

The object is to reverse the positions of the colored blocks, so that red fills the right, and blue the left. Each color of blocks can only move in one direction (indicated by the arrows on these blocks) one space, or jump over a block of the opposite color.

There is, I think, only one way to solve this puzzle (up to reflection), so there’s not much to say. The puzzle isn’t hard to solve when you realize what situation leads to an unwinnable game, so this hasn’t got any replay value.

You can download Lucas’s Problem, or play a web based implementation, at Novel Theory

Gameplay: 8/10
The game works and responds to clicks as expected. The puzzle is pretty clever, though not an invention of the game’s creator. There’s nothing wrong with the game, but there’s just nothing to it, so 8 is the highest score I can give it.
Graphics: 6/10
The graphics are very simple, but acceptable given the scope of the game. One can imagine a more visually pleasing implementation of the puzzle, even in 1990, so minus a few points for not really trying there.
Personal Slant: 5/10
Although I really do think that Lucas’s puzzle was quite clever, Lucas’s Problem has no replayability and offers no value beyond the satisfaction of solving a nice, though simple, puzzle.
Total: 6.33/10
The lack of replayability in this one was a killer for the game’s score. I’m not sure what could have been done to alleviate this–perhaps if the scope of the game had been larger, implementing several similar games, like Towers of Hanoi, it might have made the game worth a second look. As it is, though, even if the puzzle is worth remembering, the game will be soon forgotten.

Posted in 1990, Decent, Full Review, Puzzle, Windows 3.x | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »