The Perils of Installing Old PC Games
This is a big subject with thousands of PC games from over a decade ago that could be referenced. However, for the sake of brevity, I am just going to mention three in this post. So to begin with let’s just bypass the entire “nostalgia versus current” debate. Simply put, I feel there is value and enjoyment to be found in older PC games. Graphics and game mechanics naturally date, but often the technical limitations that existed at the time made the game developers both innovative and creative. Therefore you will often find that there are older titles that still have merit and something to offer. I recently bought Mafia which is the first instalment of a franchise currently owned by 2K Games. I have only played the latter two iterations of the game, namely Mafia II released 2010 and Mafia III released 2016. I was aware that the original released back in 2002, had a good reputation for its story driven gameplay and that it is still considered both challenging and creative.
So I purchased the game from Good Old Games and installed it via their Galaxy gaming client and installer. One of the major selling points of GOG as a game provider is the way they retrofit old titles to run on current operating systems. I could easily have picked up a copy of Mafia on physical media but installing and running the game from such a source is often problematic. Setting aside driver issues, compatibility mode and the like, many installation disks from this era use obsolete copy protection software. SafeDisc being one example. Thus playing Mafia from a CD installation is dependent upon removing a very specific Windows Update that disabled SafeDisc support. If you have a more recent build of Windows 10, you may find that it is integral to your operating system and cannot be uninstalled. I encountered this same issue with Hidden and Dangerous 2 recently which I installed from the original media. Without the necessary copy protection support the game’s main executable would not work.
However, despite GOG doing their best to resolve such technical issues with the older titles that sell, other problems can arise. For example Mafia has a soundtrack consisting of period Jazz music from such artists as The Mills Brothers, Louis Armstrong and Django Reinhardt. However, due to licensing complications the music is absent in the GOG release. Now some players may not think this relevant to their enjoyment of the game, but I feel that it is integral to the overall game experience. Hence, I spent an hour reading the GOG forums as to how to restore the game score. There is a way to do so and someone has posted a link to the “removed” files which they’ve sourced from the original installation CDs. Needless to say I have followed this process and all has gone well, but it does require you to put your trust in your fellow gamers and that is not something one does lightly.
Another problem arising from installing Mafia is that this is a game that hales from a time when screen resolutions were a lot lower and aspect ratios other than 4:3 were not commonplace. Thus, elements of the onscreen UI are distorted or broken when running the game at 1920 x 1200, which is my default screen setting. Again a search online will yield a list of workarounds and I found a suitable “mod” over at Nexus Mods, along with another to update the draw distance for modern PCs. Nexus Mods is a long-established site whose community ensures that bogus mods are eliminated, making their content more reliable than other third-party sites. Hence, I was finally able to play Mafia with the original score and at a contemporary screen resolution without and distortion. My initial impressions of the game are good. The story is indeed well written and the missions are quite taxing, although the vehicle handling is appalling.
Another favourite game of mine from the late nineties is the real-time tactical fantasy wargame, Warhammer: Dark Omen. This game was released in 1998 and used 3D generated terrains in which 2D sprites subsequently battled. The game was one of the first to include support for the first-generation Voodoo 3dfx 3D accelerator cards. Getting such a game, which was also designed to run on Windows 98 to function on a modern PC is a challenge. Unlike Mafia, if you want to play Warhammer: Dark Omen, then you have to do more than apply a few mods. There is an entire forum dedicated to this game with a very complex set of instructions to get the game working. Going to such lengths to play a game one feels nostalgic about may not viable option for everyone. Therefore, the casual gamer would be wise to bear in mind that purchasing a much beloved title from GOG does not guarantee an exact duplicate experience to what you may have had previously. Nor does trying to install and play a game using the original media. Unless you have access to older hardware with the appropriate operating system of the time, you’ll probably have to do some tweaking to get things running either way. Therefore, caveat emptor.