VOGONS


First post, by thecrankyhermit

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It's my understanding that PC booters are games that ran without DOS, you just put the disk in and powered on the machine, and then you got to play. No hard drive or operating system required.

Several booter games are commonly distributed as abandonware as ZIP files containing a single EXE or COM file. For example, Alley Cat contains a single file CAT.EXE, which has a "modified" date of 8/22/1984. This is something I associate with DOS games.

What does that mean? If you stick an Alley Cat floppy disk into a DOS machine, could you go to the A drive and see a CAT.EXE file there? Or is this an official DOS conversion, even though Mobygames doesn't list one as ever existing? Or is this a DOS compatible pirate copy that was made in 1984?

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Reply 1 of 14, by leileilol

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There's been plenty of old scene rips of booter games since the 80s that would dump the disk to some bin file and have a little loader program to go with it (where a nice cracktro would also go) sometimes with an additional function to quit back to dos.

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Reply 2 of 14, by thecrankyhermit

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Alley Cat doesn't have a bin file, though. It's just a CAT.EXE file, no cracktro, and IIRC no way to quit to DOS. Or is the bin likely embedded inside the EXE?

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Reply 3 of 14, by 133MHz

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If I remember correctly you can exit back to DOS on that conversion of Alley Cat by pressing CTRL + Y. Also pressing CTRL + 9 gives you nine lives.

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Reply 4 of 14, by konc

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Oversimplifying things here: The disk of a booter game doesn't have a DOS filesystem (at least all booters that I know of, maybe there are some few exceptions). So when you insert the floppy in a PC running DOS and try to list the directory you get nothing. But the disk of course contains data, the game, in some binary that can be executed on a PC. When you see a booter game appearing as an .EXE this means that someone got the binary off the disk and created an .EXE file out of it which runs in DOS.

Reply 5 of 14, by capitaine

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Didn't knew it was called PC booters 😊
It came from old 80s computers C64 / Atari / Amiga, when software houses tried to protect from illegal copying. At times, hard drives were not much used for gaming.

Things changed in the 90s, when HDD became cheaper and games installable.

thecrankyhermit wrote:

Or is this a DOS compatible pirate copy that was made in 1984?

More likely.
Some small games would be burried / hidden into floppy tracks, while they didn't take the whole floppy space.
So a cracker might have converted the game to files and get extra space for saving something else, on the same floppy.

Those were times when some bytes were more expensive... 🤣

Reply 6 of 14, by NewRisingSun

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A few self-booting games do contain .COM or .EXE and other data files; the boot sector code merely acts as its own Mini-DOS to load these files from an otherwise normal DOS file system. Imagic's Touchdown Football is like that. Then there are Sierra's 1984-1985 booters, which have the main program file as a normal DOS file, loaded by the Mini-DOS, but then store all actual game data directly within the disk's sectors and not as files. Such hybrids are otherwise uncommon.

Most booters indeed have no DOS files on their disks whatsoever (including Alley Cat); any version found on the web that does is indeed a "DOS conversion". Since the self-booting originals have no DOS to exit to, neither do the DOS conversions. Only a few of them go the extra mile of adding a quit key; this is most likely because quitting to DOS means having to restore a previously-stored system state (interrupt vectors, in particular), and if the game was never intended to return to DOS, no such stored system state exists.

It must be said however that until the late 1980s, even many games that ran under DOS had no Quit key. Ultimas 1-5 being cases in point.

Reply 7 of 14, by spiroyster

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capitaine wrote:

It came from old 80s computers C64 / Atari / Amiga, when software houses tried to protect from illegal copying. At times, hard drives were not much used for gaming.

I don't think it is a form of copy protection. More a case of limited hardware resources!

In the case of Amiga, there wasn't much RAM (without expensive upgrade), so no need for an OS to clog up the resources. OS's had to be booted like everything else and exist in the limited RAM that was probably available... No need for OS to run a game... just the hardware, and that was provided via kickstart. iirc, some HD installed games still required you to boot from the game disk (although you didn't need to disk juggle after that).

My experience of early PC, C64 and Amiga copy protection came in the form of weird tracing paper, or strange paper discs to align and read weird markings when requested, or various questions about what was in the 'paper' manual. Photocopying was expensive back then 🤣

I had a 'copy' of XCOPY with a cracktro o.0 ... oh the irony

Reply 9 of 14, by .legaCy

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You don't even need DOS to boot, the game loader could be contained into the mbr and the game code itself runs without using any DOS stuff.

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Reply 10 of 14, by derSammler

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spiroyster wrote:
capitaine wrote:

It came from old 80s computers C64 / Atari / Amiga, when software houses tried to protect from illegal copying. At times, hard drives were not much used for gaming.

I don't think it is a form of copy protection.

It is/was. It was all about making it impossible to copy the disk using DOS in the early days, and that worked quite well. Most later booter games have additional on-disk protection, though.

Reply 11 of 14, by Zup

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derSammler wrote:

It is/was. It was all about making it impossible to copy the disk using DOS in the early days, and that worked quite well. Most later booter games have additional on-disk protection, though.

Diskcopy. Is is present even in old DOS versions.

The protection was not being a booter. The protection was usually using tracks with strange formats (i.e.: sectors defined as 8192 bytes, non-correlative sectors, unformatted tracks) or "marks" on diskettes, and almost every booter disk had these things.

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Reply 12 of 14, by derSammler

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Diskcopy can only copy disks with a FAT. At least the one supplied with early versions of DOS. Tried that myself already on my 5150 and the booter version of Silent Service (compilation re-release with protection removed).

Reply 13 of 14, by .legaCy

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derSammler wrote:

Diskcopy can only copy disks with a FAT. At least the one supplied with early versions of DOS. Tried that myself already on my 5150 and the booter version of Silent Service (compilation re-release with protection removed).

yup, on linux it is pretty easy using dd

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Reply 14 of 14, by firage

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thecrankyhermit wrote:

Or is this an official DOS conversion, even though Mobygames doesn't list one as ever existing? Or is this a DOS compatible pirate copy that was made in 1984?

Re-releases, possibly from some compilation, or simple and clean pirate conversions from the 80's. Where ever they came from, they were everywhere.

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