Old Sierra Games & Windows XP

DOS to Windows XP
a Short History

The original King's Quest (King's Quest: Quest for the Crown) was written for the PC Jr. with Sierra's game engine AGI which was used for Sierra's adventure games until King's Quest 4. For King's Quest 4, Sierra used their new engine, SCI which allowed for higher resolutions greater color depths and full MIDI support. All of these games were made to run in DOS, Microsoft's first operating system.

With the release of King's Quest 5, Windows 3x was available, so there were two versions of KQ5, one for DOS and one for Windows. Windows 3.1 was essentially another program running out of 16 bit DOS, so the two versions weren't that different. King's Quest 6 and 7 were written for DOS/Windows 3.1 as well.

Shortly after Sierra released King's Quest 7, Microsoft debuted its first consumer 32 bit OS, Windows 95. Though it had some protected memory (key areas of memory such as where critical system files reside in memory) giving it greater stability than DOS, programs still could have direct access to the hardware. This gave it good backwards compatibility for old programs, but made it still less stabile than it could be. Later non SCI games, such as King's Quest Mask of Eternity were released around the same time as Windows 98, which was still sitting on top of DOS.

In the early 90s Microsoft was developing Windows NT, a true 32 bit non legacy OS. It had protected memory and handled all of the calls that programs made to the hardware (programs no longer had direct access to the hardware.) Though it could still run some 16 bit programs, DOS programs couldn't address the audio hardware, so no sound in DOS games, and NT 3.5 (which had a Win 3.1 type interface) didn't handle 16 bit code very well. NT 4 (which had a Win 95 interface) handled 16 bits better, but was still not very compatible with older programs.

NT 4 was replaced with Windows 2000 which came with a compatibility tool to help run old code. It was an improvement over NT 4's backwards compatibility. Windows XP has its compatibility mode built into it and is better yet at DOS emulation, but it is still far from perfect. Windows 2000/XP trades some backwards compatibility for a great deal more stability.


Running DOS games In XP

Unlike earlier versions of Windows, XP is not based on DOS. Instead it, like Windows 2000, is based on the NT kernel. This is one of the things that makes XP more robust than Windows 98, but it has its drawbacks for the vintage gamer. Because XP does not run on top of DOS, XP has to run DOS programs in NT's DOS emulator, NTVDM. Unfortunately, this emulator is less than perfect.

Modern hardware also lends it own set of problems to the equation. Besides speed problems, you might encounter other hardware problems, such as with your graphics card. Running some games you might see text garbled on the screen, or your graphics card might not support all the VESA modes. You may find that different video card drivers provide the VESA support that the game demands. If not, however, there's not much you can do except to try running the game in an emulator.

Other problems may encounter include not enough memory (conventional, extended, or expanded) errors or sound card problems. XP does not use the old DOS configuration files, autoexec.bat and config.sys with which to set an environment For DOS programs.

As mentioned earlier, one of the things that makes the NT line of windows so stable is that it allows programs little direct access to the hardware. Microsoft has answered this with the development of DirectX, which provides an addressable "layer" between programs and the hardware. DOS programs, however, cannot take advantage of this. As a result many old games will find themselves mute. XP has minimal DOS audio support, but only works with a few audio processors. Many sound card owners might find that they are out of luck.

So, what does this mean for our old classics such as the King's Quest games? The good news is that most of them will run, but the down side is that we sometimes have to do a little work to get them to run. How? Just click on the links below for help with your games.


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