“I’d like to help you, but I can’t.”
The glory days of adventure games are gone. I really hate to say that, but let’s be realistic.
As much as anyone, I have fond memories of all night runs at the latest title. I actually played through Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis on an Amiga 500, for heaven’s sake. (For the uninitiated, an A500 didn’t come with a hard drive, and there were 14 diskettes that I had to swap between two floppy drives.) I was working 2nd shift when The 7th Guest came out, and I distinctly remember agonizing over the $250.00 CD-ROM upgrade. I ended up with a glacially slow 2X Mitsumi. I wanted one of the new Plextors that ran at 3X but they required SCSI, and this Mitsumi had it’s own ISA interface card. Whereas, my unfortunate Gravis Ultrasound didn’t have a CD interface and there was no place in town that stocked a Creative Labs CDROM drive that could be purchased separately. I didn’t need a second SB16… I was running out of ISA slots.
“My gun. I love it SO much!”
And then, Tex Murphy came to visit.
I had played Martian Memorandum, and enjoyed it well enough…but…it was no big deal. Not paradigm shifting. I have never, to this day, played Mean Streets. I might get around to it one day. Both of these titles can be downloaded for free from The Underdogs, but really, unless you are an Adventure Enthusiast they’re awfully primitive.
While MM was fun, it did nothing to help prepare me for the Under a Killing Moon experience. Wow. 4 CDs? All for one game?!?!?
I whole-heartedly recommend that you play this game. It is an adventure game with a mixture of fully-navigable 3D environment and (dare I say) full motion video. So, literally, one explores in a first-person 3D viewpoint but trigger cut-scenes that are 3rd person FMV. PD is probably the best game of the series, and the Tex Murphy games are probably the best of this type ever made.
I should point out here that Overseer is pretty much a â€œremakeâ€ of Mean Streets (told from a historical perspective), just in case you decide to download it–wouldn’t want anyone spoiling their fun. Not that there is much comparison between the two. Actually, Overseer was supposed to kick off a new Tex trilogy that never happened. Microsoft bought Access primarily for their Golf Game assets (Links)â€¦so it ends with a cliff-hanger that may never be resolved.
But if youâ€™re interested, there is the Tex Murphy Radio Theater that helps a little. It contains 7 short episodes that at least inform us that Tex and Chelsea are not dead…wait…forget you read that, and play the games! You can get them from Ebay usually. That’s where I got mine. My original plays in the 90’s were borrowed from the amazing Thomas Joseph Murray III, the father of my high school chum, Tom #4.
“Knick-knacks, paddy-whacks, and the world’s largest piece of elbow macaroni.”
But, dear reader, you are probably here to find out more about DOSBox configurations. And rightly so, for to play Tex Murphy on a modern machine, you’re going to need help. All but Overseer were pure MS-DOS goodness, DOS4G extenders and all. And Windows XP seems to purposefully hate DOS.
So, to play Tex Murphy you’ve got 3 main options:
- Build a DOS Gaming Machine.
- Find a PCI Sound Card with DOS Drivers
- Use some form of Virtualization Software
Option 1: Isn’t bad–as a matter fact, can be quite fun. Just go to a local Computer Recycler-type store and get the fastest motherboard/CPU combination available that still has ISA slots. The ISA slot is the key, here. A native DOS sound card is our main requirement. Everything else can be modern equipment–as a matter of fact, some VOGONS (enthusiasts who run Very Old Games On New Systems) would be well off to invest in a new motherboard built for industrial computing, something like this:
Caveat: I have not done this, although, I want to build a Media Center PC using this motherboard (or one like it). The plan is to be able to play Adventure games on the TV screen from bed. However, this is a project for a later date.
So, one of these and an Sound Blaster Pro or Sound Blaster 16 from Ebay, dig out a set of DOS 6.22 install disks, and you’ve got a KILLER DOS machine. Don’t forget to load a CPU slowdown utility, though, it might be TOO fast for some games. But not Tex–these games will eat as much CPU and Video power as you can throw at them.
Option 2: A bit harder, technically. I tried 14 ways from Sunday with a Yamaha PCI card–one that supposedly had DOS drivers. The Yamaha site has been updated, and may include better downloads now. YMMV. I have heard that an original Sound Blaster Live! has good DOS support, but have never tested it. I did try with about a half-dozen Sound Blaster PCI64s and PCI128 cards with no luck.
As you can see, this one (YMF744) has an optical SPDIF on it. Which, was why I focused on it so long–I wanted it for the Media Center PC, so I could hook it directly to a surround sound receiver for multi-channel DVD playback.
Now that I actually have my hands on a couple of SBLive! cards, I’ll probably try again with these DOS Drivers.
Option 3: Is all that’s left to us in the meantime. Virtualization. There are three sub-options here:
- A fully virtual machine–a complete second operating system running on top of your own. Such as a VMWare solution, which is certainly an option here, with their free downloads now. Sadly, I was never able to get good performance in a DOS game within a VM session.
- VDMSound is another, slightly better, option in general. This is a neat Windows extension that translate the DOS sound card calls directly to the Windows sound driver. Good for many games–but not much luck for old Tex. At least in my own experience.
“Hereâ€™s a little tidbit our government boys missedâ€¦”
DOSBOX is fantastic. It really seems to be the answer for all of us who want to run old DOS games. The only problem is that the documentation is a bitâ€¦wellâ€¦terse. But it should get anyone going for simple stuff. Whatâ€™s lacking is a good process for getting more complex stuff up and running. Like Tex Murphy – Pandora Directive with all six (count â€˜em) CDs.
Well, obviously it runsâ€¦but how well? Actually, very. On a modern Windows XP machine, at least.
First step is to take images of the disks. There are alot of advantages to this, including better access times, particularly for a Tex Murphy game. One of the easiest ways to do this is to use Alex Feinmanâ€™s marvelous ISO Recorder Power Toy, which is free. Nero or some other software can do it as well. ISO Recorder integrates into the shell, so you can right-click on a drive (or any folder) and create a disk image.
Then store the image someplace.
I suggest that for ease of use that you donâ€™t use spaces anywhere in the directory structureâ€“DOSBOX configs are a little flaky with spaces. For instance:
c:\old games\disk images\gamecd1.iso
Once all of the CDâ€™s imaged and safely stored on the hard drive (an unthinkable concept in 1994), we are able to turn our attention to DOSBox. Hop over to the sourceforge site and download the latest version, which at the time of this writing is 0.70. After it is installed, browse out to the folder C:\Program Files\DOSBox-0.70\ and look inside. It wouldn’t hurt to read the README.TXT, but we’ll skip it for now.
To follow my method, we’ll be creating a pair of text files. The first one is called tex_pd.bat and will easily launch our DOSBox session with our choice of command-line switches. For the second file, copy the default dosbox.conf to a new file called tex_pd.conf. This file will contain all the sound card, cpu, and memory settings required to run the game, and will also mount all of our ISO images as CD drives.
I have my ISO files in C:\archives\iso\tex\pd\ so, obviously, the bit at the end may need to be changed to the proper location. Here are links to copies of my own files:
You may use them at your own risk 🙂 .
Let’s walk through the sections. I’ll remove settings we won’t be adjusting for the sake of space. So, just because it isn’t here, don’t delete it! 🙂
In the SDL, I will only note two of the lines. Full screen can also be set at the command line. But in my initial experiments, I was able to get better performance holding the full resolution down. Odd thing is that I don’t think this actually affects the graphics…and this may have changed in .70. It is possible that you can leave the default setting of “original”.
The next section with some changes is RENDER. I set frameskip to 1 from the default of 0. Smooths things out a bit.
Now to one of the most critical spots. CPU core will default to auto, but I force it to stay in dynamic. Also, pay close attention to where the cycles setting is. This is the one we’ll have to tweak to get a good Tex experience. Is that a “Texperience”? We’ll return to this later.
There are no changes to the Mixer section, but I wanted to point out the rate setting…this can be lowered if you really need the performance, but if that has to be done, you might be wasting your time on slow hardware. This shouldn’t make enough difference on a modern machine to be the sliver bullet that takes you from an unplayable choppy mess to silky smooth gaming delight. Oh, and the nosound may seem counter-intuitive: make sure it is false if you do, in fact, want sound.
Defaults are fine for the MIDI section.
However, I changed the SBLASTER part to use an SBPro1. I had much better luck there instead of the SB16, which caused the audio to skip. This may be somewhat hardware dependent, and the SB16 might be fine on another machine. Anything less than an SBPro will be mono, rather than stereo. The rest of the settings are defaulted.
Curses! My favorite card of all time and I have to turn it off. It actually worked very well on Tex Murphy back in the DOS days…but in DOSBox, it locks up the installation sound card detection. And if one sets up the game by hand, it refuses to play sometimes. Sigh. I intend to revisit this sometime.
Not that it really matters, all of the sound is actually being generated by my current sound card…whatever it is. I would like to say, though, that for other DOS games, if a GUS is supported (or you understand the usage of SBOS) try to use it. Performance will be better in DOSBox just like it was better in the old days. Ah, the arguments we had with the SB16 guys on Prodigy. Paging Dave Redfern from Clearwater, FL.
Turn the speaker off. You won’t be needing it and it will save a CPU tick or two.
XMS on, EMS off.
Turn this stuff all off.
And now, to the AUTOEXEC. This syntax works on DOSBox 0.70 which is a little changed from 0.65. Notice the lastdrive, this is to get past the default DOS lastdrive setting. Which is, what, F? I can’t remember 🙂
imgmount D “c:\games\iso\tex\pd\pandora1.iso” -t iso
imgmount E “c:\games\iso\tex\pd\pandora2.iso” -t iso
imgmount F “c:\games\iso\tex\pd\pandora3.iso” -t iso
imgmount G “c:\games\iso\tex\pd\pandora4.iso” -t iso
imgmount H “c:\games\iso\tex\pd\pandora5.iso” -t iso
imgmount I “c:\games\iso\tex\pd\pandora6.iso” -t iso
mount c c:\games -freesize 20
In addition, I commented out the lines at the bottom that will start the game. We need to install it first, as was pointed out by Anastos. This basically means we’ll start the DOSBox with this config, which will mount all of our images and drop us to a C:\ prompt. Then, just like if we sat down in front of our 486, we will need to change to the CDROM drive and install the software. It may seem a little backwards at first, but think about it and you’ll see.
“Well, hello there, little Buddha!”
Now, hereâ€™s the batch file:
dosbox -conf tex_pd.conf -noconsole -fullscreen -exit
Not much to the batch file. One can drag a short cut into the Start Menu and use this icon from the Pandora Direct CD, if desired. Great! We are almost ready to dissect some area 51 aliens!
Now, let’s run the batch file and see what happens. You should have a big ugly C:\ staring you in the face.
Type the following at the prompt:
And you should be taken to the Installation screen, click Install to Hard Drive and accept the default C:\PANDORA for the directory.
Ok, once it gets finished, exit out of the installer and DOSBox.
At this point, download the Pandora Directive patch. Rename your current TEX4.EXE to TEX4.BAK, unzip the patch, and drop the new TEX4.EXE file into its place. I personally did not need this, but it may prevent some random memory errors.
Remove the # symbols from the last line of your DOSBox config file so it will automatically start Pandora Directive. Since this is the first run, the game will take you to a setup menu. The automatic sound card detection worked great in my case for the digital audio card. For the MIDI, I had to change it to MPU-401 by hand.
Now, use the wonderfully powerful Tex Murphy game engine to setup the CD-ROM drives. Just load all 6 of the CD drive letters into the game and NEVER HAVE TO SWAP DISKS!!!
Click OK, and exit out of the game. Now, hereâ€™s where the jiggery-pokery comes into play. Under the CPU heading in that config file there is a line I mentioned earlier that says:
We are going to keep changing this until we get the best performance possible–trying to zero in on the optimum setting. Every machine seems to have a sweet spot that is unique for that system. Iâ€™d start out at around 12000 on a P4ish machine, and then set it up 2 or three grand each time until the game gets as fast as possible, but yet doesnâ€™t have sound glitches or video tears. Higher isnâ€™t always betterâ€¦If I set this value too far up on my test machine, the game actually gets SLOOOOOOWWWW and the speech is unintelligible.
In other words, take the 15 minutes or so:
- Edit the setting and save it
- Start the game and test
- Exit, change the number, save the file, and so on.
- Rinse, lather, repeat.
“I’m on your left. I’m on your right. I’m right in front of you.”
The end result is a game experience that is FAR better than playing PD on the Pentium 100 or whatever I had when first I clapped eyes to it. This same setup works for Under A Killing Moon, but you will need to run TEX197.EXE rather than the TEX3.EXE to start the game, or it will crash on the DOS extender.
Overseer is more of a challenge–if you want to use the DVD version that has the higher quality video. I’m still working on that one.
Hope this little guide helps. Keep on playing adventure games. Sooner or later the market will open back up. They may not look like Myst or Tex Murphy, but I have enough faith in basic human intelligence to believe that firing automatic weapons at endless waves of faceless aliens will eventually become stale to the buying public.
It sounds even more naive when I put it that way…
See you, space cowboy.