It’s time to ask “is MS-DOS considered a retro platform?” After all, it’s not as if you can go into your local computer store or local supermarket and find DOS games lying on the shelf. Sure, you find an array of them in your average charity shops or thrift stores.
The command prompt has long become an almost hidden feature in Windows for quite a while. It’s there if you want it, but it is not a prominent feature. Microsoft even admit that PowerShell in Windows 10 is the main DOS replacement, although a command prompt can be used in Windows 10. It even has its own emulator in the form of DOSBox, which is available for multiple platforms, not just x86 PCs.
For all the market is now based in Windows gaming, there is still quite a few DOS games I still play. I still play Highway Hunter, which is a fun car based shoot ’em up made by Epic Software. The idea of the game is you have stolen a vehicle called the MASTER from the aliens who are threatening to take over the Earth. You must fight through the various levels powering up your vehicle. It has three main storylines each with so many sub levels and a final boss to defeat. I have not seen a Windows equivalent game and every now and then it is fun for a quick hour or so of blasting.
Another game I play is Micro Machines 2. I don’t think I need to explain what a Micro Machines game is, but if you really must know, I wrote an article here about it. The rapid top-down racing game, which is challenging, is immense fun, and if you get bored, there is even a track editor for many more hours of play.
Anyway I am drifting, so I will get back on point. There are many DOS games which never got a Windows version or an equivalent game, so the only way to play them is by emulation or old hardware. You can play Duke Nukem 3D and Tyrian by using various Open Source wrappers which bring them into the modern Windows world without too much hassle.
However, some things are slower under Windows. I will give an example I found. I used to emulate the arcade version or R-Type and R-Type II using the M72 emulator in MS-DOS. It could easily manage 60 frames a second and the game ran fluidly. Now the M72 emulation code was ported into MAME, which works under Windows fine, but it never seemed to run as well. Maybe it is a personal thing as, yes, it ran. However, the DOS version just seemed more fluid. If you run M72 under DOSBox, it does not achieve 60 FPS using the standard settings, but I am sure someone would tell me it is possible by tinkering with the setup.
There was also a Teenage Mutant Ninja (Hero in UK) Turtles emulator that only emulated the original 4 player arcade version from Konami. It seemed to work better under DOS in this emulator than the MAME version.
Now, I understand MAME is more generic as it can run many emulations, but you would think they would use the best optimised versions which they don’t seem to.
Moving on… If someone was to write a DOS game would anyone even care? Writing in MS-DOS has restrictions due to its use of Memory Expansion tools to get past the 640K limit and development kits such as SDL and Allegro. Of which the tools are still available for download in DOS versions, so it could be done. Embarcadero (previously known as Borland) still include the Turbo Pascal, Turbo C, and TASM for DOS available for download in their archive section, but admit they don’t officially support them with any form of Tech Support.
Given that games are now regularly written for many of the 8 and 16-bit machines by enthusiasts. What is to say now the 16 and 32-bit of DOS is not seen as a viable retro avenue now everything has gone 32 and 64-bit. Maybe it is too soon but who knows in the future will this be seen as a platform of interest. Even now, FreeDOS is trying to rewrite the MS-DOS standard using Open Source to allow it to work with more modern-day processors and hardware such as USB.
I would love to see it have a resurgence, but ultimately I am not sure it would ever happen. What do you people think? Feel free to offer an opinion in the comments.