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The Internet Archive Just Made a Ton of Old MS-DOS Games Available for Free

Nearly 2,400 of them, to be more exact.

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If you have a lot of spare hours in your day and would like to spend some of them trying to figure out if you remember any of Carmen Sandiego's world history lessons, great news! The Internet Archive--the people behind the Internet Wayback Machine and the browser-based Console Living Room--has just gone and added 2,388 MS-DOS games to its Software Library.

Among them, you can find any number of classics, like edutainment stalwart The Oregon Trail, the turn-based space strategy game Master of Orion, and Taito's Bust-a-Move, which I only mention because the MS-DOS version of Bust-a-Move was the only one I ever played as a kid. I had a weird childhood.

All of the games are playable within supported web browsers, and based on my quick skimming through a half-dozen titles today, it seems like the emulation is generally solid. Still, you may run into some issues, according to archivist Jason Scott's announcement post.

First, I really worked hard to have only fully-functioning programs up, or at least, programs that gave viable, useful feedback. Some of them will still fall over and die, and many of them might be weird to play in a browser window, and of course you can’t really save things off for later, and that will limit things too. But on the whole, you will experience some analogue of the MS-DOS program, in your browser, instantly.

You may run into some other quirks, too. Some games--like Stunts--have noticeable audio issues, and if any games had security checks that required you to enter words from the originally included manual, you still have to enter those words to proceed. Seemingly, some kind-hearted souls have been adding those check word solutions to game pages in the form of user reviews.

You may also be asking yourself "Is any of this legal?" That's a great question, but we don't immediately have the answer. Plenty of sites have offered games like this under the guise of them being "abandonware," but that's always felt more like people looking the other way because many of the games' copyright holders have been defunct for years. Is Warner Bros. going to waste the time and effort required to come after this site for offering the crappy DOS port of Total Carnage for free? Probably not.

Still, as a browser-based way to play hell of old games many of us grew up with, this is a pretty neat thing. I already beat Oregon Trail twice today. Now let's see if I can do it as a farmer.

UPDATE: Giant Bomb user @overbite helpfully pointed out that the Internet Archive folks have a DMCA exemption from the Copyright Office, which allows the site to archive:

  • Computer programs protected by dongles that prevent access due to malfunction or damage and which are obsolete.
  • Computer programs and video games distributed in formats that have become obsolete and which require the original media or hardware as a condition of access.

It's worth noting that the exemption notice is from 2003, and it was evidently renewed in 2006. We can probably assume that the Copyright Office hasn't made any recent changes to its exemptions that would make what's been done here an issue, but given that the most recent confirmation of the exemption is from nearly 10 years ago, it's tough to say for certain. Still, it seems like the IA is at least trying to keep this within the letter of some kind of copyright law. So if guilt is in any way preventing you from playing these archived games, hopefully this assuages that a bit.

Source: Laughing Squid

Alex Navarro on Google+