Interview with Ancient DOS Games founder Kris Asick

In his Ancient DOS Games reviews, Kris Asick focuses on where to get the classic games and how to make them work on modern computers.

DOS games are a distant memory for most gamers, but not for Kris Asick, who brings the classics back to life with his clever reviews of these games from the 1980s and mid 1990s on his website Ancient DOS Games.

Matt: Hello, Kris and thank you for accepting this interview opportunity. Can I have a bit of your background so our audience will get a good idea about you? Kris: Well Matt, I happen to be Canadian and have spent most of my nearly 30 years of life in various parts of southwestern Ontario, though I've also spent some of my childhood and teen years in Texas and Florida in the USA. I primarily grew up playing and making games of various sorts, so game design is what I'm best at and it's what I would *like* to do for a living, but I've had to draw on my other talents for the time being until I can really make my mark. (Kris is pictured at right.) Matt: So why do you like old DOS games so much? Kris: Why not? *laughs* Seriously though, old DOS titles are hugely nostalgic for me since my very first experience playing video games at home was on an old Tandy 1000 SX computer, which I still have and which still works... for the most part. They represent a very different approach to games since old DOS computers weren't designed the same way as game consoles, despite the fact that the computers were more powerful and had more memory. This is why at first, all the best 3D games were on computers and all the best side-scrolling games were on consoles: Different paradigms. It also was an open playfield for game creators as anyone with any programming know-how could make a DOS game; there weren't licensing restrictions like there were (and still are) with consoles. Matt: Considering how many other game reviewers are out there on YouTube, what makes your creations so unique and exciting when compared to them? Kris: Exciting is probably not the right word to use because I realized at one point that the only way I could set myself apart is to take a different approach, so I decided to draw off of my interest in documentary-style videos. With Ancient DOS Games, I'm not trying to critique these old games or make fun of them, because there isn't much of a point. Instead, I try to focus on what makes a particular DOS game interesting, what kind of things you do in a game, but most importantly, how to get these old games and how to get them working on modern computers. Granted, if a game is bad or good enough, some critiques do sneak in, especially when they're related to the design aspect of a game since game design is what I'm best at. Besides, focusing just on DOS games already sets me apart from the vast majority of people reviewing old games, as most such people cover multiple systems or focus on console games. Heck, few of them touch on DOS games at all! Matt: What's your favorite genre of DOS game? Kris: The better question to ask would be what my least favourite is! Really, I enjoy just about every style of DOS game ever made, with one big exception: strategy. I'm very bad at strategy games for the most part, excepting anything Bullfrog made, such as Populous and Dungeon Keeper, both of which I'm surprisingly good at, all things considered. I'm also not a big fan of "social" games and MMORPGs but thankfully, those don't really exist in the realm of DOS games. Matt: What software do you use to make those really cool effects in your video, like the dashboard game information? Kris: A combination of old and new stuff. The game stats and whatnot are first put together in a very old copy of Deluxe Paint 2E, which is an old DOS drawing program that is really good for doing pixel-perfect artwork. I then use a not-quite-as-old copy of Paint Shop Pro 7 to add the translucency and to make any additional still images I need. The actual motion is nothing more than keyframes using Sony Vegas HD, the video editing software I use. The intro animations were done primarily with Truespace 5.2; all the sound effects are nothing more than PC Speaker sounds programmed in QBASIC; Audacity is my audio editor of choice; and for video format conversions I use VirtualDub. Matt: Have you ever considered stepping outside the realm of DOS games in your reviews? Kris: Only for my filler videos, which I have indeed done! One of my fillers focused on how to get old NES games working without taking drastic measures, another focused on VVVVVV, which is a modern retro game done in the style of a Commodore 64 game. I use my fillers to take a break every few episodes from all the work that goes into doing a review of a DOS game. If I ever wanted to do more than just DOS games on a regular basis, I would start a completely new series. Matt: Since you are into software development yourself, you make games for DOS too? Kris: I have, but I mostly focus on Windows development now. PixelShips was the last DOS game I made back in 2000, and around 2002 I stopped updating the DOS version of the game and focused on the Windows version instead. DOS is incredibly easy to program for compared to modern platforms, but you limit yourself as to how powerful your game can be. That said, if all you want to make is something simple, DOS can be a surprisingly good route to go. Modern DOS emulators such as DOSBox allow DOS programs to run on just about any other operating system you can think of, which means when you make a modern DOS game, virtually anyone can play it -- Windows, Mac, and Linux users alike! Matt: I noticed that you ask people to send in their guess for what the next episode is. If they guess right, is there a prize? :P Kris: Yes there is: They get their name in the credits! I started this very early on in the show as a way to get viewers more involved. However, I've noticed that despite this, only about 1% of the people who watch ADG submit guesses, which is fine really; not everyone wants their name to appear on the show, and a number of viewers haven't even played a fraction of the games I've showcased! There were *real* prizes once though, for gift codes for a selection of games, which wouldn't have happened if not for the people at the Good Old Games website, and the DOSBox developers who had the codes to give away in the first place. Matt: Do any legendary DOS game developers ever frequent your site or get in touch with you? Kris: Not them contacting me, but vice versa. I've spoken via email several times to Ken Silverman, creator of the Build Engine used in games such as Duke Nukem 3D, mostly to talk about his projects as well as get input on my own programming endeavours that were related to his, such as a cube-based game engine I was thinking of making not long before Infiniminer and Minecraft suddenly hit the scene. Ken had already created his own cube-based game engine way back before Build, and I was using that as a test-bed to determine how practical cube-based worlds would be. Also by email I've spoken with Patrick Aalto, creator of the LineWars space-combat games, and Al Lowe, who had a hand in numerous Sierra titles; he also happened to be the one who requested I do Leisure Suit Larry in the Land of the Lounge Lizards for Episode 69! Would you believe it took me several moments to get the joke? Matt: *laughs* Al Lowe is a crafty one, no doubt. Now in closing, would you say that you will be doing Ancient DOS Games reviews for the long haul? It's a really awesome site. Kris: Probably. When it comes to the stuff I do, nothing is ever completely for certain as my personal life loves to interfere with my professional life. Once Episode 100 is reached in early September, the show will once again go on hiatus for at least a couple months to give me a chance to concentrate on my game making among other things. After that, I'll probably do at least one more set of 50 episodes, though whether I go on to hit 200 is going to depend on a huge number of factors. One thing I can say for certain though is that if and when I stop making ADG, if it's not because of some big, high-end professional project, I'll likely start another show... maybe Ancient Windows Games! *laughs*

By Matthew Nawrocki

An avid technology writer and an IT guru, Matthew is here to help bring the best in software, hardware and the web to the collective consciousness of TechRepublic's readership. In addition to writing for TechRepublic, Matthew currently works as a Cus...