One of the things that has helped keep sanity the last few years with the whole pandemic and all has been organizing the DOS Games Jam. The DOS Games Jam is a casual game jam I’ve been running twice a year since the beginning of the pandemic that is focused on celebrating games from that era by making new DOS games and games for modern computers inspired by that era. It’s important to me that the game jam is as stress free as I could possibly make it; there’s no voting, required theme, it’s a month long and often gets extensions, and people can start development before the jam officially starts. I guess it could be argued it’s not much of a game jam if it’s this casual but I’ve never been very comfortable with how many game jams force people to crunch.
If you ever wanted to start making DOS games but didn’t know how to get started, here are some tools that could help:
- PunyInform is a library written in Inform 6 which allows people to create text adventure games / interactive fiction to be played on 8-bit computers as well as newer platforms.
- LoveDOS – A framework for making 2D DOS games in Lua.
- dos-like is a programming library/framework, kind of like a tiny game engine, for writing games and programs with a similar feel to MS-DOS productions from the early 90s. It’s technically not for making DOS games, just games that feel like they’re from that era, but it’s very cool and I’m putting it in the list anyway.
- Lantern Text-Adventure IDE lets devs create text adventures for retro computers in an approachable way
- jSH is a script interpreter for DOS based operating systems like MS-DOS, FreeDOS or any DOS based Windows (like 95, 98, ME).
If you have game development questions or just want to talk about DOS games in a welcoming and inclusive environment, consider joining the DOS Shareware Zone discord
With the most recent jam wrapping up just now, I thought I would highlight some of my favorite games from previous jams. I had to leave a ton of games I really like off this list or else this writeup would go on for forever. If you’d like to see more, check out the page for the newest jam, which has all the entries for this jam and links to the previous jam pages.
SlipSpeed is a futuristic racing game for DOS and Windows that looks a little like the classic Micro Machines game for the NES but with hover cars. The composer for the game also co-hosts the lovely DOS Game Club which had me on as a guest to talk about the game jam. It also exists in a big box physical version. If you bought the Indie Bundle for Palestinian Aid you already own this game.
Death Taxi 3000
Death Taxi 3000 is a game like the Crazy Taxi series where you pick up passengers and drop them off at different points in the city all while trying to save time by taking shortcuts and avoiding obstacles. While the full version of the game is on Steam, the shareware version is for DOS only.
Neut Tower is a puzzle game for DOS and web browsers about escaping an office tower after an earthquake. It reminded me of puzzle games I used to play on shareware compilation discs in the 90s.
Super Spray n’ Slay 3D
Super Spray n’ Slay 3D is a surreal FPS for modern computers where you play as a maid cleaning up a hotel. During the 90s there were a lot of FPS doing unusual concepts after Doom came out and this feels like something that would fit in along that group.
One of the fun things about the DOS Games Jam is seeing how people revisit concepts tried in games that never took off for various reasons. I really like the adventure game Kalevala because it uses the ellipsoid aesthetic that obscure DOS game Ecstatica used but hasn’t been seen since then.
Acronia is a platformer game inspired by DOS platformers like Duke Nukem and BioMenace. It’s currently in an alpha state but I couldn’t be more excited for the full version based on my experiences with this early version.
The DOS Games Jam isn’t just for computer games. ASCII Delve is a solo tabletop rpg inspired by Rogue and it’s fun seeing how tabletop games can use aesthetics and ideas from older computer games when so many of those were inspired by D&D.
The Anarchic Kingdom
The Anarchic Kingdom is a strategy game for DOS where you play as a lord building up your kingdom and attack other lords. I also really enjoy Cyningstan’s other games and recommend Ossuary as well
SpaceButton is a text adventure that can be played with just a single button. I thought it was a well-designed text adventure but what I really loved was its focus on accessibility. The web version even has screen reader support.
Cats of Broombas
Cats on Broombas is an adorable puzzle game for DOS where you guide cats around on Roombas to gather all the stars on a screen. I thought the puzzles were well designed and not frustrating, and loved the EGA graphics too. I hope we eventually get a full version.
Hopefully you discover some cool new games and consider looking at some old games for new ideas to try putting in your next game!