//
you're reading...
Emulation, Games

Retro gaming: Dosbox v ScummVM – Who is the champion?

On the left we have ScummVM 1.0.0 and on the right of the screen Dosbox 0.73

Since the Puppy Arcade review gave me a little inspiration for a few emulation related articles, here is the “battle” which I mentioned on Twitter that has ScummVM and Dosbox going head to head with each other with the game Kings Quest III by Sierra.

The idea that Linux users would want to play old MS-DOS games might seem strange to some, whats even stranger for me is the fact that this task needs similar software to do exactly the same thing under the latest Windows versions.

So when Microsoft can’t get backwards compatibility sorted itself and when Linux users want to play those old games too, what is a computer user to do?

The answer can come in the form of Dosbox or ScummVM.  Why two products to do the same tasks?  I’ll explain.

Dosbox is aimed at emulation of the entire MS-DOS environment and any runtime you throw at it, whereas ScummVM concentrates on a set list of titles that use the same/similar game engine.

The Dosbox statement at their website says:

DOSBox is a DOS-emulator that uses the SDL-library which makes DOSBox very easy to port to different platforms. DOSBox has already been ported to many different platforms, such as Windows, BeOS, Linux, MacOS X…

DOSBox also emulates CPU:286/386 realmode/protected mode, Directory FileSystem/XMS/EMS, Tandy/Hercules/CGA/EGA/VGA/VESA graphics, a SoundBlaster/Gravis Ultra Sound card for excellent sound compatibility with older games…

You can “re-live” the good old days with the help of DOSBox, it can run plenty of the old classics that don’t run on your new computer!

DOSBox is totally free of charge and OpenSource.

and ScummVM says:

ScummVM is a program which allows you to run certain classic graphical point-and-click adventure games, provided you already have their data files. The clever part about this: ScummVM just replaces the executables shipped with the games, allowing you to play them on systems for which they were never designed!

I decided to put the two packages to the test with a game that is reported to run under Dosbox and is also catered for in ScummVM.  That title is a favorite classic of mine, Kings Quest III.  It should be noted that without packages such as these, as a Linux user Kings Quest III would be nothing more than cardboard and plastic.

Dosbox 0.73 running Kings Quest III in full screen mode.

Dosbox 0.73

One could argue that out of these two projects, Dosbox is the more ambitious.  Upon loading you will presented with a Window containing the environment that as a Linux user you never thought you would see again!

The first order of the day is to mount a directory as a virtual hard disk, this really is simple as  for example mount c ~/dosb (or whatever directory you are using) you would then change to your “C:” whereby you could access everything there as you would in a native ms-dos environment.  Whilst for the purposes of this review I am looking at it from an angle of Kings Quest III, it should be noted that everything I have thrown at it so far has worked.  That ranges from some very old Pacman clones which I never thought I’d ever play again, to Wolfenstien 3d (arguably the game that started the FPS)

Due to the nature of Dosbox being an emulator, the mammoth task of catering for a multitude of software, there are always going to be optimizations/modifications/bugfixes to the code.  In order to get around any performance issues, a handy frame skip option is included which will also allow users with older hardware to make the most out of Dosbox.

Now Kings Quest III with ScummVM using SuperEagle. Notice the smoothed graphics. Of course you can simply run it "normally" but the extra gfx options of ScummVM can make older games look slightly more appealing.

ScummVM

ScummVM works slightly differently from Dosbox, its not an emulator, it merely looks at the data files for you chosen game and runs then with its own engine, which means its certainly not going to eat up CPU cycles with trying to emulate code and rather its going to work more like a native Linux program.  ScummVM also has a variety of graphic modes which will enhance the original experience (or you can if you wish stay with the intended original and be “hardcore retro”!?!) One of which was SuperEagle and if you have a look at the screenshots here you will be able to see the difference.

ScummVM is designed only to run a set list of titles however the list is quite large and if you are a fan of point of click adventures (and have the relevant games) then its great.

Sound in ScummVM is also very good with little or no distortion making for a more pleasant experience.

Installing your chosen games in ScummVM is no more complicated then using the simple, clear GUI to select the directory the files are in.  ScummVM will automatically detect and identify the files it needs and the game they refer to.  Great stuff.

Conclusion

Whilst it must be stressed that only one game (that which I own the original of) was put to the test on both products, the results I think show clearly the differences between the two packages.  Dosbox performance wise could out perform ScummVM, although it went past the realms of being at the intended speed of KQIII.  Slow operation of Dosbox can be sorted with the frameskip option, however I don’t think many machines will be too challenged by Dosbox.  Sound on Dosbox can be described at best as internal speaker music and rather a hit an miss affair with KQIII title theme slipping into what sounded like a rendition by Les Dawson [1]

ScummVM on the other hand ran the package fine and sound was a far more pleasant experience than in Dosbox.  So now comes the part where I have to recommend one over the other.

I would say, if the software you wish to play is listed with ScummVM then definitely go with that. The different graphics modes which can be used (SuperEagle for example) can remove the rough edge from the GFX (if you wish) and make it more visually appealing.  In addition ScummVM is far simpler to set up and rather easy to select the game of your choice.  Dosbox on the other hand wants you to mount directories as virtual hard disks, which whilst a simple task for most of us is going to be daunting for others.

Dosbox obviously has far more scope and unlike ScummVM not limited to a set software list, thats its strength and also its weakness since you are going to encounter issues with some software just down to the sheer massive job the Dosbox coders have of making an authentic, compliant ms-dos environment.

Taking all that into consideration, I have both on my system (and why not) ScummVM for my KQIII et al and Dosbox for those titles which ScummVM does not cater for.  Both are great packages, both deserve your support!

Links

ScummVM homepage: http://www.scummvm.org/

Dosbox homepage: http://www.dosbox.com

Notes

[1] Les Dawson was a comedian known for having an act where he played a well known tune on the piano intentionally out of tune, but just enough so you could still tell which song he was playing.  For those interested: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WWDphFwocAM

Goblin – bytes4free@googlemail.com

About these ads

About Tim Sparrow

Online tech writer, novelist/author of sci-fi literature and co-host of the TechBytes Show! I believe in multi-culturism & diversity. Luton Town FC supporter.

Discussion

15 thoughts on “Retro gaming: Dosbox v ScummVM – Who is the champion?

  1. Um, your link to ScummVM shows a “comedian” playing a piano. It would probably be best not to link irrelevant content together.

    Posted by jg | January 21, 2010, 5:02 am
    • Oops….yep sorry my mistake.

      The link refers to the note mentioned earlier in the text NOT ScummVM. I am correcting now, thanks for letting me know.

      Kind Regards
      Goblin

      Posted by openbytes | January 22, 2010, 1:53 am
  2. Great article :)

    I’m a DosBox fan myself particularly as you can get loads of old dos games for cheap from ‘Good Old Games’ gog.com

    Not all are DosBox but most the early ones are!

    Cannon Fodder – a classic :)

    cheers

    Posted by Ricey | January 22, 2010, 11:27 pm
  3. Hi!

    Quote “Cannon Fodder – a classic”

    “War, has never been so much fun”!

    Yep, I have found memories of that title on the Amiga! Dosbox really is great stuff!

    Regards
    Goblin

    Posted by openbytes | January 22, 2010, 11:53 pm
  4. A few notes here:

    – you keep mentioning graphical filters yet seem to be unaware that DOSBox has these too. In fact, DOSBox has MORE filters than ScummVM including SuperEagle so I suggest you alter the article to make it more factually correct.

    – On the note of music: you claim the DOSBox version is off-tune while, in fact, it’s pretty accurate and sounds like the actual PC speaker it was designed for. Try playing it on an old PC to see what I mean. ScummVM, on the other hand, completely changes the music away from what it originally was and makes it more like adlib music which the game never had. You hold this against DOSBox while I’d say that an authentic experience is more valued by retro gamers.

    – ScummVM also takes other liberties that change the actual game. DOSBox offers a completely authentic experience on the other hand. For example, a mouse cursor was added in ScummVM where there was none in the DOS version.

    Personally, I don’t use ScummVm that much exactly because they take too many liberties with the games. DOSBox is pretty much perfect since 0.73 and combined with a front end like DOSBox Game Launcher, it’s a lot more powerful yet just as simple as ScummVM.

    Posted by Red_Avatar | February 7, 2010, 2:07 pm
  5. Hi! Thanks for the feedback.

    Quote “DOSBox has MORE filters than ScummVM including SuperEagle”

    Yes I am aware although on two rigs (One running Fedora and one running Wolvix) I the program had to be “killed” due to hanging. Rather than be critical of an issue which may be limited to my machines (or my setup’s) I detailed the experience I had, which was using Dosbox without those filters. In addition I do not pirate software (and I am not implying you do either) that is why this review covers only one game (the one I have the original of). In terms of that experience ScummVM won hands down and even if Dosbox had functioned with filters, the ease of installation for the “average user” would have had ScummVM winning anyway.

    Quote “n the note of music: you claim the DOSBox version is off-tune while, in fact, it’s pretty accurate and sounds like the actual PC speaker it was designed for. ”

    I have run Kings Quest on an Amstrad 286 which sits in my outhouse. Dosbox Kings Quest IS out of tune and as I say sounds like a Les Dawson rendition because parts that go out of tune one time, don’t under other conditions.

    I concluded that if you have a title which is covered by ScummVM, that is the better choice. Even if Dosbox offered EXACTLY the same performance and filters to me I still would have said the same thing, out of the box ScummVM offers the simpler solution.

    Quote “Personally, I don’t use ScummVm that much exactly because they take too many liberties with the games”

    But whats the issue? Performance? I wouldn’t think so. Footprint? What are we talking about, a couple of mb? If we were talking gigs I’d agree but if we want to go down the route of “too many libraries” I think there are many other packages guilty of the same.

    Quote “DOSBox is pretty much perfect since 0.73 and combined with a front end like DOSBox Game Launcher, it’s a lot more powerful yet just as simple as ScummVM.”

    and I’d probably agree, that being said I stand by my opinion since what you are mentioning is hardly the out of the box experience that an inexperienced or new user would want. Simplicity is the name of the game, if its listed in ScummVM a new user (or someone after a quick fix) is the choice.

    Regards
    Goblin.

    ***********
    ADDITIONAL*
    ***********

    After going away and conducting a little research (re-testing with my old Amstrad and Linux rigs) as I was keen to double check the music of a 286 to that of Dosbox. I thought I would make a few further points in regards to the feedback.

    Quote “ScummVM, on the other hand, completely changes the music away from what it originally was and makes it more like adlib music which the game never had. You hold this against DOSBox while I’d say that an authentic experience is more valued by retro gamers.”

    Firstly, I am not holding anything against Dosbox. Read my opinion again. Whilst the sound issue and ScummVM may be true, In the case of Kings Quest 3 Dosbox is NOT authentic because it is out of tune and not the same as the tune played on the internal speaker of my 286.

    Quote “For example, a mouse cursor was added in ScummVM where there was none in the DOS version.”

    and to that I would say the same as above if we are talking authentic. I don’t know about other people but for me the issues you have outlined are moot points, do not detract from the “retro gaming” ideal and in anycase I think I am pretty typical of many users when I say that I run emulators et al to play the games I enjoyed playing so many years ago. Its the Kings Quest 3 game that I like not how accurate a mouse pointer is or if the music is some form of adlib emulation/modification to the original music. The point was about Dosbox was that it was out of tune which is an issue when it detracts from the enjoyment of a title.

    I do not detract from the excellent piece of software Dosbox is. I do not detract from the fun that can be had with it. I think ive been pretty clear on what I think the advantages of ScummVM were FOR ME in the case of King Quest 3. Other peoples views/experiences may differ and thats fine too.

    Posted by openbytes | February 7, 2010, 4:28 pm

    • Yes I am aware although on two rigs (One running Fedora and one running Wolvix) I the program had to be “killed” due to hanging.

      Thats one thing they VERY accurately emulated then!

      Posted by Zoolook | May 30, 2010, 3:56 am
  6. I just finish beating mass effect 2. This sequel comes with awesome graphics compare to the first one. Here’s a somewhat short review on mass effect 2. The game starts very shortly after the previous one and Shepard is now a human hero. A very cool thing is that if you have your save file from the first game this will affect many things in the sequel depending on the decisions you previously took.

    Mass effect 2 is more of the same but with many great changes such as you no longer have an inventory like in most normal RPG’s. You’ll get very quickly tired of hearing “probe away” while scanning a planet for resources. The sequel is a lot more of a first-person shooter than the previous game. In fact I would say this one is more of a first-person shooter with a very well done and detailed storyline with great realistic party members. The new delay between shooting that was overheating previously is now simply reloading your gun like in most first-person shooters.

    Posted by popodepok | May 1, 2010, 5:04 am
  7. Seriously, Comparing something runs almost everything with something runs few games is a bad idea, Even if you compared them, the dosbox should be the winner.

    Posted by Joeana | September 11, 2013, 7:51 am
    • Joeana – Re-read the article, I think you will find that the point was to compare the ABILITY of both to run a certain Windows binary. Of course Dosbox runs more, but if the games you wish to play are supported by ScummVM then if its a better experience then thats important.

      I did make it very clear too:

      “Due to the nature of Dosbox being an emulator, the mammoth task of catering for a multitude of software, there are always going to be optimizations/modifications/bugfixes to the code.”

      I think you are the only one who seemed to miss the point and its surprising that you’ve taken 3 years to read this article. Maybe check up on the date too before going into one?

      Posted by openbytes | September 11, 2013, 7:58 am

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Pingback: Retro gaming: Dosbox v ScummVM – Who is the champion? « OPEN BYTES … @ ENCROYABLE- Incredible amounts of Videogame News & Video Game Reviews, Previews, Cheats and Trailers for the Playstation 3, Playstation Portable, Nintendo Wii, Xbox 360, N - January 20, 2010

  2. Pingback: Tweets that mention Retro gaming: Dosbox v ScummVM – Who is the champion? « OPEN BYTES – cave quid dicis, quando, et cui. -- Topsy.com - January 21, 2010

  3. Pingback: Links 21/1/2010: GNU/Linux at NZ Government, Haiku+KDE, Firefox 3.6 Out | Boycott Novell - January 21, 2010

  4. Pingback: REVIEW: Puppy Arcade 8 (LiveCD 105mb) « OpenBytes - May 24, 2010

  5. Pingback: Gems from around the web! – A few little treasures discovered whilst surfing. « OpenBytes - June 25, 2010

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

about.me

Tim Wilson

Tim Wilson

Writer/Novelist of many facets both in the world of technology and fantasy/sci-fi. Co-host of the TechBytes audiocast and writer for both OpenBytes and Goblin's Domain. Supporter of free and open source software.

Stats

  • 518,762 readers

Follow Tim on Twitter

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 8,109 other followers