Tuesday, March 27, 2012

GOG.com - Time Machine of the Gods

There exist more prefixes to the word "-ware" than software and hardware. I remember a time when, if, say, a game, or an antivirus package, etc, was really lousy, it was called crapware. Malicious, snooping software is often called spyware. The moniker vaporware is applied to stuff stuck in seemingly-permanent development hell. Titles - especially games - that we older gamers miss fondly and wish we could enjoy again, but can't for the fact that it's not available anywhere in any form, is generally called abandonware because it seems their publishers have given up on marketing it. Enter Good Old Games, a. k. a GOG.com.

Fogies like me, and curious, younger players who hear fogies like me wax on about the classic games of yore and how wonderful they were in their pixilated glory, have a resource through which they can actually buy one-time PC abandonware that's been rescued, cured of DRM infections, made to work on current computer platforms, and offered to the market for incredibly affordable prices. GOG.com is one of the best resources for gamers on the entire Web.

My son is almost 14 years old. He's a major fan of modern games, such as Team Fortress 2, The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, Fallout 3 and Bulletstorm. The poor kid has to put up with me going on and on about classics, games that were big 15 years ago when I was the Technical Editor of PC Gamer magazine - and even before that. Classics like Dungeon Keeper, the original Fallout, Outcast (for which I wrote the well-regarded Prima strategy guide), Jagged Alliance, and the list goes on all the way to infinity.

If you haven't played this, get thee to GOG.com. It's $5.99.

While my son may wait patiently for me to just shut the hell up, there are other aging gamers like me who would love to play those classics once again, maybe to see if they hold up by today's standards or perhaps simply to relive their glory days as masters of defeating pixilated bosses.

GOG.com is an awesome time machine, resurrecting abandonware without which nostalgic gamers of yore, and the curious gamers of today, would otherwise have had two options to experience:

1) Search ancient boxes stowed away in attics, sheds and basements to try to find original copies (impossible, unless you're looking for something totally different like Christmas lights or seldom-used ratcheting wrenches and happen upon said copies by chance),


2) Pirate them.

I find the second choice distasteful, which is why GOG.com is a godsend. Often for the cost of a froufrou coffee drink from Starbucks, players can download ancient, and even some recent, out-of-print titles.
Downloaded games don't cause this.

Even if you do find the games you're looking for, they may be crippled by at best annoying, and at worst invasive, DRM. Once you get over that hurdle, you have to beat the games to get them to work with a modern Windows (or Mac) operating system. DOSBox is an option, but if it doesn't work by default, not every curious gamer is going to have a simple time understanding its technical intricacies to get a game to work.

GOG.com takes the guesswork, the DRM, and the exhaustive searches out of the equation. The site is friendly and easily searchable, and you can download and play sometimes within minutes (lots of those old games aren't very large).

The worst thing about GOG.com? It doesn't have everything. It's not for console gaming at all. Its PC
Descent II, lookin' good after all these years!
library is exhaustive, but incomplete. I recently snooped about the site for Rise of Legends, an outstanding real-time strategy game that I remember fondly from a review I wrote for 1UP. It wasn't there, and I cried.

Kidding. Who cares? Its library keeps growing, and GOG.com can only get better as games of today become relics of tomorrow.  The next time you find yourself wishing you could play, say, Broken Sword or Master of Orion, you know where to look first.

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