Excellent news this glorious Throwback Thursday: Thanks to a deal with Moby Games, the Internet Archive has added literally thousands of old MS-DOS computer games to its online repository of historically cool stuff — and the best part? They’re all playable. Congratulations, everyone — you can now lose the entire rest of your day (and probably your whole weekend, as well) to such classics as The Oregon Trail, Supermunchers, and more. Are you excited? Because I sure am, and stupidly so.
Internet Archive curator Jason Scott made the announcement on his blog on January 5 (how did it take me three whole days to hear about it? No idea). Scott is no stranger to playable archives, but he remarked that this one is a little bit different than the other ones he’s put together. “First,” he wrote, “I really worked hard to have only fully functioning programs up, or at least, programs that gave viable, useful feedback. Some of them will still fall over and die,” he cautioned, “and many of them might be weird to play in a browser window.” He also notes that you can’t really save things for later — but “on the whole, you will experience some analogue of the MS-DOS program, in your browser, instantly.” Awesome? Awesome.
I’ve always found the Internet Archive a little difficult to navigate — but like many people, I’m willing to suffer through it in order to experience the endorphin-filled rush of excitement the games and other media of my youth used to inspire. Besides, there’s a feedback button, so you can always drop the Archive’s curators a line letting them know what works for you and what doesn’t. The full list of games can be found here, but you might find this landing page a little easier to get around.
Of course, there’s some question about how long many of the titles will stay active based on copyright issues; indeed, Ars Technica noted that as it was preparing its own report on the story, the number of games available took a noticeable hit. But Giant Bomb also pointed out that the Internet Archive has a DMCA Exemption from the Copyright Office allowing “computer programs protected by dongles that prevent access due to malfunction or damage and which are obsolete [and] computer programs and video games distributed in formats that have become obsolete and which require the original media or hardware as a condition of access.” So, y’know…do with that what you will.
Although we did have a Nintendo in the house when I was a kid, I mostly grew up playing PC games on the huge, clunky desktop one of my dad’s friends built for us. I think what I liked so much about these earlier PC games is that they put the emphasis on problem solving and puzzles, rather than on shoot-'em-up scenarios or what have you. They were leisurely and low-stress — no quick-time events, and unless you were into flight simulators or side-scrollers, there usually weren’t any monsters or other enemies trying to kill you — while still engaging your brain and encouraging you to think outside the box. I have a lot of fond memories playing these games, sometimes with my family and sometimes on my own; I’m fairly certain the experiences had a pretty strong hand in the kind of person I eventually grew up to be.
Here are some of the games I’m most looking forward to playing. What about you?
Duh. This game is probably the source of more universally shared memories for Millennials than anything else in the entire history of the universe. I wonder if perhaps playing it as adults means we’ll be better at it, but, well…something tells me I shouldn’t get my hopes up. We’ll probably still try to ford the river, and our oxen will probably still die because of it.
2. Any and All Lucas Arts Point and Click Adventure Games
I actually already have a few of these — they were ported to Steam a few years ago — but Maniac Mansion, Zak McKracken and the Alien Mindbenders, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, and more were totally my jam when I discovered them in the early '90s. Playing these games were family events in my house: We’d all gather round the desktop and work together to solve all the puzzles they presented. It was awesome.
My memories of this game are vague, but I recall it being the sort of “educational” game thrust upon us during our weekly hour in the computer lab in elementary school. I also remember it being relatively fun, all things considered; I’m looking forward to jogging my memory. That theme song, am I right?
Another no-brainer. I’m going for the deluxe version this time — that’s the one I had growing up. I remember being amazed that the characters that were constantly calling us on our giant, proto-cell phone actually spoke. Voice acting in computer games was still a novelty at the time.
Back before EA was mostly known for its horrible customer service and problematic Origins platform, the EA*Kids division published two mystery-solving games aimed at the eight-to-12 set. I loved Eagle Eye Mysteries to death; for some reason, though, I never got my hands on the sequel, Eagle Eye Mysteries in London. Looks like now’s my chance to experience it finally!
6. Lemmings 3D
I played Lemmings and Lemmings 2, yet somehow, I missed Lemmings 3D. These games were excellent for teaching both resource management and how to remain calm under pressure, so I feel perhaps they might be as useful for adults as they are for kids.
7. The Commander Keen Series
I’m terrible at side-scrolling platformers, but I’m willing to subject myself to them for a good shot of nostalgia. You win this time, Commander Keen.