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Raiding the Archive: Origin's Forgotten Treasures

The fast progress we've seen in the world of software and hardware development over the last three decades has left us with a wealth of content - games, documents, files, and websites - that all too quickly becomes unreadable, unplayable or simply lost through lack of care. While I easily can go to a library and request access to books that are hundreds of years old, getting an old game to run - particularly more obscure titles - often involves jumping through a myriad hoops involving finicky emulator configuration or an increasingly decrepit collection of computers that are significantly older than many of my friends and colleagues.

Archive.org has for years stood as a small barrier against the ephemeral nature of the information age, and has recently turned its attention to old gaming platforms. While getting authentic Atari VCS games up and running online is all very interesting, that's not where my passions like. Fortunately for me, Archive.org now hosts a rather impressive MS-DOS game library. Even more interestingly, this includes a number of Origin Systems games that haven't been re-released via GOG.com.

In fact, the only Origin title in the collection that has been released elsewhere is Ultima VI: The False Prophet. It's my personal favourite Ultima, and you can buy it (and its two prequels) for less than €5 at GOG. Right. Now you know where to spend your money legitimately, let's get back to the abandonware. The collection includes a number of titles published - but not developed - by Origin, including the incredibly rich Knights of Legend, as well as Origin originals such as the fantastic Space Rogue and Bad Blood. Of particular note here are the rarely-mentioned sci-fi RPG 2400 A.D., published in 1987, and 1996's Transland, a 3D action game which managed to entirely escape my awareness when it was released.

I'm going to take a look at the games in chronological order and embed them so you can play directly. Each gets its own page, linked below. There are a few things to bear in mind here:

  • the games run using the JavaScript EM-DOSBOX emulator. Archive.org doesn't have it entirely bedded in, so some titles may run at the wrong speed
  • in all cases I've seen so far, you can only stream them through your browser - if you want downloads, you'll have to look elsewhere
  • manuals are generally not provided on the original streaming pages, but I'll link to copies where possible
  • you'll probably have to disable any JavaScript or ad blockers, or whitelist the site
  • you'll need an up-to-date browser, and Chrome or Firefox are recommended (although IE and Safari are also supported)
  • if in doubt, read the FAQ
  • There are no save states. If you quit or reload the browser window, your game is gone. Per the FAQ: "Currently, there is no way to save your game, although we are trying to work out if this is technologically possible." I've opted to leave the relevant browser window permanently open and send my computer to sleep rather than shutting it down, but this does essentially force you to get as far as you're going to in a single play-though
  • Archive.org doesn't offer downloads of its MS-DOS archive. This doubtless puts it on safer ground when it comes to copyright complaints, but you'll have to look to traditional abandonware sites if you want a copy of many of these for yourself.
  • Detecting a gamepad before loading will cause some games to fail, so don't press any buttons until after the game has loaded if you have a pad connected. Note that gamepad support isn't fully implemented for MS-DOS games.
  • If the embedded game doesn't work here, try the link I've provided on each page to the relevant archive.org version

1985