Project: A new game for DOS. Want to help?

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Would you be interested in helping to create a new DOS game?

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I'd play it, but I won't help make it
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Total votes: 7

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keenmaster486
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Project: A new game for DOS. Want to help?

Post by keenmaster486 » Fri Feb 16, 2018 0:42

EDIT: Collaborative design document is here: https://docs.google.com/document/d/15Dp ... sp=sharing

Alright, I'm finally going to try to get this project off the ground, and this forum sure seems like a good place to start.

I really think the time is ripe for a new DOS game - not just recycling something old like Commander Keen, but creating something entirely new, following in the footsteps of the greats.

I know there's a lot of incredible talent on these forums. Maybe we can all get together and make something amazing.

I've been working on the code for this idea for a long time. I've written and rewritten the core of it several times over the past decade, and I think I might finally have something workable. You all might remember the last time I posted a thread on my code, but since then I've done another complete rewrite. It's written in FreeBasic, and is compilable for DOS, Windows, and Linux (although there are DOS-specific features such as the music). I've tried my darndest to make it as fast and efficient as possible. I'm sure those of you who are more experienced than me will have criticisms, though, and that's exactly what I want; the goal is to make the end product as good as possible.

List of current features of the engine:

-Works in standard VGA graphics mode, 320x200 resolution with 256 colors
-Loads graphics directly from bitmap files.
-Standard platformer engine framework, code modifiable to add basically whatever features you want.
-Has an OPL3 music engine which can load either IMF files or DRO v1 files into memory and play them. Thanks to kvee for helping me with that!
-Currently runs smoothly at 30 fps with music on a typical 486. Goal is to streamline code enough so it runs smoothly on a 386, the lowest possible processor since FreeBasic compiles with protected mode 386 code.

So I would need people to help with making graphics, working on the concept and storyline, making levels, helping me improve my code, etc. Who's willing to help? This could be something very amazing that we haven't seen the likes of yet in the retro gaming world. There's a large retro gaming community for consoles but not much in comparison for PC, and it would be awesome to see some new development.

What do you all think?
Last edited by keenmaster486 on Wed Mar 07, 2018 20:32, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Project: A new game for DOS. Want to help?

Post by Gridlock » Fri Feb 16, 2018 2:53

I'm certainly interested in seeing this type of project and wish I had the time to help. I'm assuming that, though you have it in mind for DOS, it wouldn't require something like DOSBox to run? It is interesting doing something the old fashioned way rather than adapting to modern engines like Unity (which could theoretically still emulate the same experience). Maybe that could work as a selling point/attention getter. I'm not sure how commercial you're aiming, but I have wondered if there's any way a "modern" DOS game could stand out with so many other retro platformers on the market.

Just out of curiosity, are you still envisioning something recognizable in tone or gameplay to the original Keen games? Personally, I've always wanted to see something a bit like a spiritual successor that emulates a similar wacky/retro sci-fi tone, almost like it could fit in the Keen universe, while still being an original IP. I know Tom Hall kind of tried it with "Worlds of Wander" and didn't get enough support, but I think that was partly because a lot of people weren't impressed with the look of the gameplay prototype.
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Re: Project: A new game for DOS. Want to help?

Post by nanomekia » Fri Feb 16, 2018 5:05

I'm willing to offer myself up for some story writing, if that's something you need. I'm hopeless at art and programming, but I can definitely write.
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Re: Project: A new game for DOS. Want to help?

Post by keenmaster486 » Fri Feb 16, 2018 19:19

Gridlock wrote:
Fri Feb 16, 2018 2:53
I'm assuming that, though you have it in mind for DOS, it wouldn't require something like DOSBox to run? It is interesting doing something the old fashioned way rather than adapting to modern engines like Unity (which could theoretically still emulate the same experience)
Yes, that would be the point of it - either running it in DOSBox or on real hardware, the intended platform. It's cake to write such a game for modern platforms; they're so fast in comparison - when you try to make it run on a 386, that's when it becomes clear just how good the programmers were back in the day.
Gridlock wrote:
Fri Feb 16, 2018 2:53
I'm not sure how commercial you're aiming, but I have wondered if there's any way a "modern" DOS game could stand out with so many other retro platformers on the market.
Yeah, I'd be aiming for zero commercialization at all; it'd be completely free.
Gridlock wrote:
Fri Feb 16, 2018 2:53
Just out of curiosity, are you still envisioning something recognizable in tone or gameplay to the original Keen games? Personally, I've always wanted to see something a bit like a spiritual successor that emulates a similar wacky/retro sci-fi tone, almost like it could fit in the Keen universe, while still being an original IP. I know Tom Hall kind of tried it with "Worlds of Wander" and didn't get enough support, but I think that was partly because a lot of people weren't impressed with the look of the gameplay prototype.
Yeah! Absolutely, I think this should be a spiritual successor to Keen in a way. I can see incorporating a lot of the same concepts found in the Keen games as well, in addition to coming up with entirely new and innovative things.
nanomekia wrote:
Fri Feb 16, 2018 5:05
I'm willing to offer myself up for some story writing, if that's something you need. I'm hopeless at art and programming, but I can definitely write.
Awesome! That's going to be one of the most important things is coming up with a convincing and fun new main character and storyline.
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Re: Project: A new game for DOS. Want to help?

Post by PaquoCastor » Sat Feb 17, 2018 17:48

Intriguing. I can work design. Right now all we have is an engine right? So what sort of platformer does this community want to make? I could just say keen like, but I'm pretty certain that little design choices could easily become hot-button issues. See checkpoints, but also health system. And then there's always mixing genres. Action puzzle platformer anyone?

From what I learned peaking into other game projects, I'd say the most important thing is to design a design document. It doesn't have to be binding, but if all contributors can agree on a set of guidelines and themes, it would probably be easier to have the whole feed into itself. Just my five cents. At the very least it might prevent what happened with Freedoom, of course that started mostly with just art assets, if I recall correctly.

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Re: Project: A new game for DOS. Want to help?

Post by nanomekia » Sun Feb 18, 2018 8:21

keenmaster486 wrote:
Fri Feb 16, 2018 19:19
nanomekia wrote:
Fri Feb 16, 2018 5:05
I'm willing to offer myself up for some story writing, if that's something you need. I'm hopeless at art and programming, but I can definitely write.
Awesome! That's going to be one of the most important things is coming up with a convincing and fun new main character and storyline.
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Re: Project: A new game for DOS. Want to help?

Post by Mobiethian » Sun Feb 18, 2018 19:49

What do I think? I do think it's nice that you want to come up with something completely original for DOS. Yet at the same time, I don't know why we all can't to do this same type of thing or put in the equivalent amount of teamwork using Keen. A new 2D engine, stereo music, 256 colors, the while nine yards.

It can't be ONLY mods here for Keen series continuation.. or is it? Because that's the #1 reason why I don't want to pick back up with any serious work yet unless it's for something big like this. I may consider contributing in the future as I follow what goes on. Best of luck!

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Re: Project: A new game for DOS. Want to help?

Post by Nisaba » Mon Feb 19, 2018 22:54

I'm not quite sure yet what I could possibly contribute but I'm truly interested in your vision and I promise that I'll see what's in my power to help. it's just that I have a project on my own that takes a good amount of sweat and tears. but nevertheless I'll be happy if I can donate in one way or another. I guess I'm good in tweaking existing stuff and add detail especially to graphic related things. English on the other hand is not my strength though, but others did already sign up for storytelling and punchlines.
that being said: count me in!
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Re: Project: A new game for DOS. Want to help?

Post by KeenRush » Tue Feb 20, 2018 10:27

I'm of two minds here. On one hand, like said by others, I find it a good idea to bring something new and well-made to the DOS platform. But on the other, I'm instantly thinking like Mobiethian: why isn't it Keen? :dopekeen And from that, I get to my usual lines of thinking: if I'm going to use my time and effort for anything, it should be a mod (because logically that's the only worthy platform, right?), and whatever the idea is I keep thinking "how would I transform this into the Vorticons engine without losing too much of the original idea".

For me to get involved, this should be something that I couldn't translate into Keen 1 with even moderate success. So, it would need to be something entirely different.

I've been thinking of a platformer game/engine like that sometimes but I've never expected to make it. Here are my suggestions though, although they're probably going to make most of your engine work obsolete. But on the other hand, what I'm saying might not be all that difficult to implement if you know programming (and you certainly do) - it might be done in a few days or weeks. I'm not saying I'd definitely be in even if the engine were like this, but the very least it might draw others in and give some ideas about how to do things differently.
* No grid. The entire level made of objects which may be placed with pixel precision. Some of the objects are completely neutral, while others have collision detection (no need for slopes for me, just basic rectangle is ok), and some are more complex like enemies or points - but the enemies and collectiables could be of a different class altogether. Objects have an order of drawing, so they can be layered and create background and foreground easily.
* Parallax scrolling background, maybe with two layers for more atmosphere. Should be easy to implement.
* Foreground effects like snow and rain. They would add so much atmosphere. Likewise not that difficult, and there are a billion examples of the falling snow effect from which to see how it's done. I'd really want these!!

In an engine allowing that kind of freedom, I might be interested in drawing and making levels. But I wouldn't make all the levels nor draw everything. I'd like to work outside the ordinary tile-based engine limits and draw with a broad brush and not too detailedly. It would have to be like that for me, otherwise I'm just going to save my best graphics and efforts for my modding - I'm not really interested in making tile-based things for non-mods. A system like this would require more graphics memory but the amount I estime I'd need for the largest and most detailed level would be around half a megabyte maximum, and that probably isn't any issue here. Likewise, I think there would be no problem computationally handling maybe even a few thousand objects per level, but it's more likely there would be a few hundred of them. I don't see the frame rate dropping. If you're interested, I can try to write a more detailed document about this engine idea.

Another thing: not make it too ambitious. I would prefer a somewhat simple platformer with a few themes/zones and some nice game mechanics, not the most complicated DOS game ever made. I'm not interested in too complex a game, not as a developer and not as a player.

I made a quick mock-up image to show what I mean, and making that was quite fun! So I might seriously consider working on this if the engine allowed this. On the left are some objects, on right they're placed in the level, some behind the others. (It's not totally pixel perfect but gives an idea.)

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Re: Project: A new game for DOS. Want to help?

Post by Commander Spleen » Tue Feb 20, 2018 12:42

I would support the idea as a DOS project targeting 386 hardware (which ran the likes of Jazz and Jill fine, but started to struggle a bit with Tyrian's optional extra effects). Otherwise just use GODOT or Commander Genius if it's only going to run on modern machines and otherwise require a lot of wheel reinvention and probably restrictions to platform compatibility.
KeenRush wrote:No grid.
I dunno... I guess if the restriction doesn't need to be there for optimisation purposes then allow the option, but I find grids very important for an engine like this. Certainly for scenery details it could be useful, but when it comes to retro-style games, restrictions are important.

Then again, I suppose if you were to do something like Lemmings where the levels are basically destructable pixel art, the tiles would simply become elements in that design process... I'm just concerned you'll end up with a lot of KnP/Game Maker style spam (albeit charming in its own way...)

The freedom I would most like to see would be in terms of sprite functionality. Easy implmentation of new characters, behaviours and player abilities, maybe borrowing one of KnP's best aspects and using the event-oriented programming grid. In fact, I think that is exactly the kind of feature I would recommend as a primary focus. I'd be willing to contribute to designing this but probably wouldn't be able to commit to consistent involvement or programming for the foreseeable future.

The first question is what language and library to use if it's to be built for raw DOS. C/C++ would be the most flexible but also the most complex. Allegro 4.2 (the last to support DOS) would be my library of choice here, though it would run in protected mode rather than within conventional memory.

You could write something fairly decent in QuickBASIC (such as this) but run into limitations pretty quickly. I'm pondering TurboPascal for some future projects as a middle ground to increase efficiency and features while maintaining some simplicity of syntax. It was used to program many classic DOS games and could be viable for this engine.


As for the style of gameplay:
- it should definitely maintain the adventury aspect of wandering around a section of a planet and exploring well themed areas within it, but the themes should not be imposed as rigidly as Jazz Jackrabbit
- atmosphere and exploration should have equal or greater emphasis compared with the action/shooter elements
- while there will inevitably be calls for new weapon options and powerups, these should be kept very basic and not make the game feel like it's trying to be Doom... I would suggest alternate weapons serve individual purposes that contribute to the puzzle aspect rather than just doing more damage
- personally I'd prefer some sort of save system than checkpoints but thinking about what Keen 4 might be like given auto save/load shortcuts to cut out the hassle of Escing to the menu every time does raise some questions as what kind of limits it should have
- my main insistence would be avoiding the points-don't-mean-anything scenario present in the original games, where you can effectively get infinite points with enough time and strategic deaths
- but, collectable items should definitely be a thing... maybe not necessarily a points system but not a Sonic style rings system either
- more puzzle styles beyond doors, bridges, moving platforms, etc would be neat... or at least implement them in new ways that gives it a bit more of an (non-RPG) adventure game feel... maybe Myst can be some inspiration here
- visually, I can see the freedom of 256 colours resulting in terrible spammy graphics overusing gradients and lacking actual depth... a lot can be done even with modern graphics using only a few colours, so graphics should not use all the colours available just for the sake of it... and dithering is still important for pixel art in order to soften the shading even with so many colours available

Plenty more to be said on this, but there's enough to discuss regarding the basic engine before considering a hypothetical flagship game in too much depth.

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Re: Project: A new game for DOS. Want to help?

Post by Roobar » Tue Feb 20, 2018 14:46

Keenmaster486: I remember there was a quick basic project decades ago. Was it yours? I don't remember at the moment. I remember it was pretty good and felt really keenish, but it took ages to load, which I didn't like. Non the less its interesting to see some demo or something. Is it a galaxy or vorticons style?

In any way, it's interesting to see such high interest in fan made creations. This is the 4th or 5th engine in the works that I've red about in the past year and I thought most people here care only about modding. Turns out a lot of people are programming something themselves.

Also it's interesting to read this discussion and know what keeners real expectations of an engine are. Gaves me good impression of what to expect. Sometimes some things may be just around the corner and youll won't even know...

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Re: Project: A new game for DOS. Want to help?

Post by keenmaster486 » Wed Feb 21, 2018 3:24

PaquoCastor wrote:
Sat Feb 17, 2018 17:48
Intriguing. I can work design. Right now all we have is an engine right? So what sort of platformer does this community want to make? I could just say keen like, but I'm pretty certain that little design choices could easily become hot-button issues. See checkpoints, but also health system. And then there's always mixing genres. Action puzzle platformer anyone?

From what I learned peaking into other game projects, I'd say the most important thing is to design a design document. It doesn't have to be binding, but if all contributors can agree on a set of guidelines and themes, it would probably be easier to have the whole feed into itself. Just my five cents. At the very least it might prevent what happened with Freedoom, of course that started mostly with just art assets, if I recall correctly.
Awesome! Yes, all we have right now is the engine. My vision for it is pretty broad-minded; I could see bringing in all sorts of new ideas into the general framework of the platformer genre. I would love to work up a design document. Perhaps a shared Google Doc?

How about we all contribute to this document to try to come up with something we can all hold on to?
https://docs.google.com/document/d/15Dp ... sp=sharing
Mobiethian wrote:
Sun Feb 18, 2018 19:49
What do I think? I do think it's nice that you want to come up with something completely original for DOS. Yet at the same time, I don't know why we all can't to do this same type of thing or put in the equivalent amount of teamwork using Keen. A new 2D engine, stereo music, 256 colors, the while nine yards.
KeenRush wrote:
Tue Feb 20, 2018 10:27
I'm of two minds here. On one hand, like said by others, I find it a good idea to bring something new and well-made to the DOS platform. But on the other, I'm instantly thinking like Mobiethian: why isn't it Keen? And from that, I get to my usual lines of thinking: if I'm going to use my time and effort for anything, it should be a mod (because logically that's the only worthy platform, right?), and whatever the idea is I keep thinking "how would I transform this into the Vorticons engine without losing too much of the original idea".

For me to get involved, this should be something that I couldn't translate into Keen 1 with even moderate success. So, it would need to be something entirely different.
You guys have a good point... this is a Keen forum and we're supposed to be making Keen games, right? I've put a lot of thought into this. Perhaps this new game could be a Keen game after all! I wouldn't be opposed to that. But I kind of feel like we're in need of some originality, that's all. I won't argue, though, if we all decide to make it Keen.
Nisaba wrote:
Mon Feb 19, 2018 22:54
I'm not quite sure yet what I could possibly contribute but I'm truly interested in your vision and I promise that I'll see what's in my power to help. it's just that I have a project on my own that takes a good amount of sweat and tears. but nevertheless I'll be happy if I can donate in one way or another. I guess I'm good in tweaking existing stuff and add detail especially to graphic related things. English on the other hand is not my strength though, but others did already sign up for storytelling and punchlines.
that being said: count me in!
Nisaba, I appreciate it! I'm grateful for whatever help you are able to provide, even in the realm of storytelling!
KeenRush wrote:
Tue Feb 20, 2018 10:27
* No grid. The entire level made of objects which may be placed with pixel precision. Some of the objects are completely neutral, while others have collision detection (no need for slopes for me, just basic rectangle is ok), and some are more complex like enemies or points - but the enemies and collectiables could be of a different class altogether. Objects have an order of drawing, so they can be layered and create background and foreground easily.
This is a very fascinating suggestion. I think with the way I'm going to implement objects, this could work! I could even have this sort of thing side-by-side with the default tile engine, so that either one or both could be used.
KeenRush wrote:
Tue Feb 20, 2018 10:27
* Parallax scrolling background, maybe with two layers for more atmosphere. Should be easy to implement.
* Foreground effects like snow and rain. They would add so much atmosphere. Likewise not that difficult, and there are a billion examples of the falling snow effect from which to see how it's done. I'd really want these!!
I love these ideas. In fact, I already had it in my head to do parallax backgrounds. I never thought about foreground effects though! This could be super awesome. I don't suppose either would be difficult to implement.
Commander Spleen wrote:
Tue Feb 20, 2018 12:42
The freedom I would most like to see would be in terms of sprite functionality. Easy implmentation of new characters, behaviours and player abilities, maybe borrowing one of KnP's best aspects and using the event-oriented programming grid. In fact, I think that is exactly the kind of feature I would recommend as a primary focus. I'd be willing to contribute to designing this but probably wouldn't be able to commit to consistent involvement or programming for the foreseeable future.
My end goal is to have a sort of universal object/sprite/enemy/etc system which has a config file for each object and maybe a graphical editor of sorts to edit that config file and set its properties and behaviors.
Commander Spleen wrote:
Tue Feb 20, 2018 12:42
As for the style of gameplay: ...
Great ideas. Very good input... this is the sort of thing that should probably be in the aforementioned "design document".
Commander Spleen wrote:
Tue Feb 20, 2018 12:42
The first question is what language and library to use if it's to be built for raw DOS. C/C++ would be the most flexible but also the most complex. Allegro 4.2 (the last to support DOS) would be my library of choice here, though it would run in protected mode rather than within conventional memory.

You could write something fairly decent in QuickBASIC (such as this) but run into limitations pretty quickly. I'm pondering TurboPascal for some future projects as a middle ground to increase efficiency and features while maintaining some simplicity of syntax. It was used to program many classic DOS games and could be viable for this engine.
Roobar wrote:
Tue Feb 20, 2018 14:46
Keenmaster486: I remember there was a quick basic project decades ago. Was it yours? I don't remember at the moment. I remember it was pretty good and felt really keenish, but it took ages to load, which I didn't like. Non the less its interesting to see some demo or something. Is it a galaxy or vorticons style?
Ah, QuickBasic Keen... nope, that wasn't me, but I certainly was inspired by it. The previous few iterations of my engine were indeed written in QB, though. My original goal was to exactly clone the Keen Galaxy engine. I got pretty close eventually: https://youtu.be/a-3VlnlOCGM

But I eventually ran into the same limitations that the original QB Keen guy ran into (surprise!). QuickBasic is just plain very slow - at everything. Even using the DirectQB library which sped up all graphics routines significantly. Once, I did a test in which I compared the speed of various loop and conditional statements - and FreeBasic was a whopping 20 times faster than QuickBasic on the same machine, after compiling the exact same program with no modifications.

FreeBasic does run in protected mode. Right now the engine demands 8 MB of extended memory, mostly because I'm loading ALL the graphics into memory, and my allocation is all static, which means there's a lot of empty space. Probably there are better ways to do it.

I'm definitely not averse to using C/C++ or Pascal or something. My only problem with that is, I am very inexperienced programming anything but Basic-like languages in DOS. I've used C and C++ in more modern OS's quite a bit, but I find it confusing in a DOS environment. Someone would have to volunteer to help me out if the engine were to be rewritten. I should mention, though, that I do have a full copy of Turbo Pascal (which is probably what I'd want to use if we were to abandon FB, but I don't know for sure).

My engine is Galaxy-like, mostly because I used the Galaxy engine as inspiration, and stole the Keen 4 graphics and levels for testing purposes (you can see them in the demo). The philosophy behind the engine is to (hopefully) be pretty general, though, so you can make it feel however you like. Already in my new engine the physics are much faster and different than Keen, but that can be changed in a configuration file.

I'm feeling pretty good about this overall. If we can keep this up we can make something great.

Here's a link to what I currently have for the engine: https://drive.google.com/open?id=1TjtYJ ... zzZwIEgNNf

Run engine.exe in DOSBox (make sure you have cycles=auto in your DOSBox config, or turn the cycles up to 30000 or more) and use the up and down arrow keys to select which level to run (just the Keen 4 levels for now, testing purposes). It's a bare bones demo. Just proof of concept mostly. In the IMF folder you'll find a whole bunch of music files. You can play around with editing the config file, the level files, the source code, etc.

I'd sure appreciate comments on my source code. Right now there are a lot of things commented out that need to be deleted, and a few things that are on my list to either fix or optimize. For instance, I have plans for a real main menu and to clean up the main loop code and place it in a separate subroutine.

Let's all contribute to that "design document"! I can see this being very cool if we set our minds to it.
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Re: Project: A new game for DOS. Want to help?

Post by Commander Spleen » Wed Feb 21, 2018 4:04

I never did try FreeBASIC. When I looked into it many years ago, I had the impression there were difficulties with graphics modes or something so I stuck with QB64. But if it's working that well with this engine in raw DOS then I'll have to check it out again.

Requiring extended mode makes it less ideal for some of the small projects I have in progress, but for this engine it's not an issue. However, keeping within 4MB RAM would be preferable. Jazz Jackrabbit would be a good benchmark for a new engine in terms of features and performance. I wouldn't expect to match it with FB, but it shows what is possible without wasting too much RAM.

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Re: Project: A new game for DOS. Want to help?

Post by Roobar » Wed Feb 21, 2018 4:48

Cannot work. Requires some DPMI thing.

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Re: Project: A new game for DOS. Want to help?

Post by keenmaster486 » Wed Feb 21, 2018 7:16

@Spleen:
Yeah, years ago graphics in DOS was pretty much broken in FB, but it sure seems to be working now!
Yes, I agree, Jazz Jackrabbit is a good benchmark. Very fast game even with all that constant PCM MOD music going and the sheer speed of the rabbit. I messed around with it and DOSBox can go down to about 7 or 8000 cycles before it starts to stutter. The limit on my engine is currently about 25 or 30000. I've got some work to do!
Roobar wrote:
Wed Feb 21, 2018 4:48
Cannot work. Requires some DPMI thing.
Oops... my DOSBox path must have a dpmi server somewhere in it. Just copy CWSDPMI.EXE from the IMF folder to the main folder and it should work.
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