Editorials and Features
Article by: MrCHUPON
Article: A Look at the Good Old Games Early Access Beta [Written 2008-09-16]
Getting legacy PC games to run on your current-day Windows XP and Windows Vista machines can be a real hassle. By "legacy", we need only jump back as recently as Windows 98, which is structurally different from Windows XP to the point that we fussed about the same type of compatibility hassles that Windows Vista adopters had to struggle with only last year. Diablo II only running in an Administrator account (minor). Anachronox not even running properly (major). GameTap and Steam have successfully gotten some old games in the hands of hungry retro fans, with titles like Fallout (GameTap) and id's entire Commander Keen catalog (Steam) being made compatible for our modern-day operating systems. (Well, except for GameTap and 64-bit Vista -- but that's a story for another day.)
According to some people, though, the restrictions placed by GameTap and Steam are still too much. You should not have to connect online to play your games, they say. Furthermore, you should be able to easily transfer over your install file to any computer you own. Finally, you should be able to get these games for ass cheap. These people decided to go out and build a service called Good Old Games, or GOG for short (http://www.gog.com/).
We got wind of Good Old Games off of various gaming news sites, and signed up for an early access beta. Last week, we received our sign-in key, and on September 12th, I created an account for us and checked out what the beta site has to offer. At worst, the lack of available titles is a bit worrisome, but at best, the entire concept as a whole is quite promising and works pretty smoothly so far. Like any digital distribution service, you pay up front for access to a download. After a download and install, you're off and running. Where GOG tries to differentiate itself is in its combination of pricing and DRM restrictions. We'll get into those details shortly.
When creating the account, I was greeted with the amusing option to select more than "Male" or "Female" as a gender. If you so please, you could very well be a Ninja instead. (I chose "Dude". No luck on having "The" attached to it.) After logging in, I checked out the profile I just created; there appear to be no options for really personalizing your account save for your avatar. There's no "about me" box, or anything that allows you to list your interests. This is somewhat notable since GOG aims to provide a community experience via its forums. I decided to dip quickly into the forums before getting to the games and, sure enough, I couldn't click on user names to see their profiles. It should also be noted that, for now, while each game or game series has its own forum, the topics include both customer service and discussion topics. It might be beneficial for the team to separate the two for easy navigation. Finally, it also seems to just be forums. I didn't see anything with regards to online play for any multiplayer games. I suspect that you'd just connect to someone else like you normally would in, say, Operation Flashpoint (coming soon). However, there's no unified ID like there is in GameTap, Steam, or Xbox Live. On the bright side, you can review each game and give it a star rating as you would on Amazon.com.
A look at GOG's Forum page
The Game Page for Fallout 2, including user reviews
While the community aspect of GOG is a bit lacking, most of the things in need of improvement shouldn't be too hard to implement. Besides, we're pretty sure you're interested in this service for the games, first and foremost. For the Early Access beta, the number of games topped out at just under three dozen at the time of this writing, with a handful of them (all of which were from Codemasters) marked as "coming soon". All of the titles are either from Codemasters or Interplay, so anyone who's been jonzing for some of the old Interplay classics might see something they like here, with such highlights as the MDK series, the Fallout series, the Descent series, the Freespace series, Giants: Citizen Kabuto and Sacrifice on offer. Among the startling omissions, however, are Planescape Torment, the Baldur's Gate series, and the Icewind Dale series. Perhaps they're saving those for the big launch, but as long as we're talking Interplay, we can't imagine a catalog without those all-time favorites. We also hope that they get many other publishers on board for launch. (Some of the other Early Access users have dutifully posted several titles in a Games Wishlist topic, citing such things as the Age of Wonders series, Sierra games, and the old LucasArts adventures.) At least most games run for $5.99, with some of them riding up to $9.99. That prices many of these titles competitively with the Playstation Store's classic downloadable original Playstation games.
GOG's Catalog front page.
Click above to see the entire catalog as of September 16th, 2008.
So, the catalog is a little lacking too, but again -- this is an Early Access beta, and we can't say for sure whether or not the crew at GOG is holding back games for launch, which is understandable. The other consideration here is that publishers might not yet be willing to give up some of their games without any sort of strong DRM. That's beacuse GOG really does make good on its word that all of its offerings are completely, 100% DRM-free. Before getting to the DRM bit, though, of course I had to buy something first. I tested the process out by purchasing Messiah, a game from Shiny that I'd never gotten the chance to play. After providing credit card information, a download link was placed in the My Account section under the "Games" tab. Hovering over the link produces a drop-down menu that gives access to not only the game download, but also the manual (scanned as a PDF in full color), an MP3 soundtrack (which is basically an MP3 rip), an original soundtrack (an ordered MP3 tracklist with meta-data attached), hi-res wallpaper and an avatar for your profile. While the manual is a must and is expected, the MP3's are definitely a nice extra. Choosing the game download started transfer of an .exe installer, and after the download completed, I launched it and was greeted with GOG's own installer. Messiah installed and ran just fine on my machine, without any request to login or verify my account or provide some kind of keycode, so it was then time for the ultimate DRM test: transferring the installer to my laptop.
The links to the Messiah executable and all that comes with it
I stuck my Messiah executable onto an SD card and slipped it into my work laptop. I then hit the installer, and everything worked exactly as it had on my PC. No password, no account verification, no keycodes, no hassle. Skeptical, I unplugged my network cord before booting up the game, thinking that -- perhaps -- the game itself was re-coded to check online. Nothing. It ran perfectly fine on the laptop. There was one hiccup where I chose the wrong resolution for the game and it froze, requiring the three-finger salute (Ctrl-Alt-Del into Task Manager), but other than that it was a completely painless process.
All told, the actual process behind getting your game to work on whichever machine you choose is hassle-free. You do have to install games in the traditional method, but not having to deal with an internet-connected launcher is nice, and transferring the executable is easy as pie. On the flip side, we're really hoping that the catalog improves by launch. Having some of the old Interplay favorites is nice; having ALL of them would be better, and having more publishers would be even sweeter. We're not so much worried about the community features just yet, as it's the games that are important. Paying $5.99 for Fallout is definitely worth not having to first install, say, GameTap and then re-download the game all over again -- on every machine I want to play it on -- but if the catalog isn't more robust by the time the service is well underway, that competitive advantage can take GOG only so far. We'll be keeping an eye out on GOG's progress as it comes closer to its official launch.
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