The ever-redoubtable Richard alerted me yesterday to something really rather cool. Microsoft, in their infinite wisdom, have decided to freely release Virtual PC 2004. Whoopie-doo, you might think. A free bit of software that I'll never use! Hurrah! But no, this actually has gaming potential. Retro-potential, that is. The beauty of a virtual machine, rather than an emulator is that, well, they actually fucking work. Hark! What is that sound breaking over yonder? Ah! 'Tis the death knell of DOSBox, methinks!
Not that I have anything against DOSBox, you understand. Other than it being slow and desperately unfriendly to try and set up and use, that is. I never got it working properly - even on an Athlon 64 3500+ it still ran like a three-legged dog after it had been shot in two of its good legs. And the sound juddering... Horrific. But the principle is fine. DOS emulation - great, but it would be nice if it didn't take Deep Thought from The Hitch-Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy to run it.
Of course, the one downside (if you can really call it that) is that you need to have the original install disks of the operating system you want to run under the VM. In the case of MS-DOS, this also means that you have to go through the whole rigmarole of pissing about with config.sys and autoexec.bat settings for your drivers, plus all that wonderful EMM386.sys higher memory crap in order to some things to run, but it's still quicker and easier than using DOSBox. Especially when you've written as many config.sys menus as I have.
Other than a little trouble setting up the mouse support (quickly resolved by reading the online help, incredibly) I've now got a DOS 6.22 virtual machine up and running on my games rig, which is awesome, because I've been wanting to trawl out a few old DOS games, like Silent Hunter (the original and best!), Mechwarrior 2: Mercenaries (I prefer Mechwarrior 2, but I've lent it to a friend) and Dark Forces - the first Star Wars FPS, which was the forerunner of the Jedi Knight games. I was positively addicted to Dark Forces when I was at university and playing it again at lunch (fullscreen on a 19" TFT, albeit in stonking 320x240 resolution) was nostalg-tastic! I could still remember where all the secret areas were and everything. I can't wait to work my way through the game again to the Coruscant level, with the face-off with Boba Fett at the end. Only 14 levels, but it was an amazing game at the time, and stands up today surprisingly well. I can't seem to get Transport Tycoon to work, unfortunately. It's a bummer, because it's one of my all-time favourite management games.
I'm also probably going to install a Windows ME virtual machine as well, to cover all the Windows 95 games that don't work under XP, so I should have a fabulous time getting reacquianted with a few classics. Just as well, too, given that there's sod all out there that I want to play at the moment, and the shine's beginning to wear off Oblivion, too... Maybe I'm just getting old and grumpy, but I'm more excited by the prospect of dusting off a few retro games than playing a new release like Prey or Hellgate: London. The heatwave must have broken my brain. Or something.