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LLCoolDave: 2013-08-19 11:35:49 am
LLCoolDave: 2013-08-19 11:32:09 am
This is an announcement that a lot of you guys have been waiting for for a long time. From now on, SDA will accept submissions of PC Games run on virtual machines or using DOSBox. The reasons for this decision and the exact rules on it are detailed below.

Video Game Consoles have a very specific architecture and components that are consistent across multiple units. Although some consoles have had multiple releases with slightly adjusted hardware their specifications remained almost constant. This is not at all true for Personal Computers, who have and still are undergoing major revisions in architecture and component design. This means that, even for a specific era of PC Gaming, there is no such thing as a reference system. For modern or more recent games this is mostly noticed by differing framerates and adjusting graphical settings, but the games tend to run at the same gameplay speed across vastly different PCs. This is not true for a lot of old DOS games, which were designed with specific CPU speeds in mind. We will get back to this point in a bit.

Another major difference between old consoles and old PCs is their availability these days. Even old consoles like the NES are still fairly easy to find and run these days, whereas PCs and components from the golden age of DOS gaming are fairly hard to come by. Even if you do have access to a system that can run these old games in their intended environment, getting SDA quality footage of gameplay may require some very intricate and complicated setup.

There are two major ways these issues have been mitigated by the gaming community. For DOS games, the most popular approach for playing them these days is using DOSBox, an emulator replicating an environment games would have experienced back in the day, including emulating widespread graphics and sound cards used then. The quality of its emulation and popularity has spread so far that plenty of game publishers have rereleased classic DOS games bundled with DOSBox in the past couple of years. These rereleases have been accepted for SDA submissions for quite a while now under the "officially sanctioned emulator" rule. We feel that DOSBox has become the de facto industry standard for rereleasing DOS games to a point where we are willing to consider it an officially sanctioned emulator for the platform as a whole and not just for each individual rerelease.

This does not represent a change in our policy on emulation, it is simply a reclassification of DOSBox within this policy. For the time being, it has no effect on other emulators.

For games past the DOS era, no such popular emulation option exists. Nevertheless a lot of games from the Windows 95/98 era don't run properly on modern Operating Systems and no official compatibility patches exist. While modern hardware isn't all entirely incompatible with these versions of Windows, they still don't run to their full capacity under these old OS, if you can get them to work at all. Although Windows natively offers compatibility settings for executables, those rarely seem to do anything at all. A common solution for running programs or games from this era is to use a virtual machine to run an old operating system on a modern PC. Virtualization software such as Virtual PC or VMware act as a sandbox and communication layer between modern hardware and an old OS. A virtual machine still executes code natively on the hardware as the x86 architecture hasn't fundamentally changed. As such, we do not consider a virtual machine an emulator in the usual sense. This is not too dissimilar from how Gamecube backwards compatibility on the Wii works.

To return to a point made previously, we have already stated that no reference system for DOS games exists. As such, there is no obvious specification that we can require or want DOSBox to replicate as closely as possible. The default settings in the most recent release of DOSBox run most games well, but may need tweaking for individual games. Instead of trying to centralize an approval process for settings for individual games, we have decided to incorporate that into the verification process of DOSBox recorded runs. As such, all runs on DOSBox emulated games will require the DOSBox settings as part of the submission process. These settings then need to be approved of by the verifiers as playing the game "the way it originally played". As that term is hard to define in a non arbitrary way, requiring community approval is the best solution we found. Note that this is an issue that would have existed on old hardware as well and is not introduced by DOSBox emulation. This is the official topic for discussing DOSBox settings beforehand so you can try to come to a consensus on settings to use for a specific game way before the verification process. Verifiers do still have the final verdict in the end, though.

Note that WINE is still considered to be an emulator under these rules, as it doesn't natively run a windows environment but rather aims to replicate it by reverse engineering its system calls. Thus, WINE is not allowed to be used for SDA submissions.

To recap, the following are the new rules on this topic.

Virtual machines and DOSBox are allowed to be used for running old PC games for SDA submissions in case they cannot be otherwise run properly on a modern PC. If an official compatibility patch exists you are required to use it. Think of these tools as a last resort, not a default option.

Runs recorded on DOSBox require the settings used to run the game to be included as part of the submission process. Verifiers need to approve these settings as part of the verification process for a run to be posted on SDA.

If a game has received an official DOSBox bundled release you are required to use those settings (but not necessarily that release of the game) for your run unless you have a strong argument against it. (Such as version differences introduced by the rerelease or incorrect playback under these official settings.) If a game had multiple such releases with differing settings, use whichever settings are best for the run.
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Totally rad
Excellent news! I'll start working on my Win95 and DOS games as soon as possible Smiley
Edit history:
presjpolk: 2013-08-19 11:27:53 am
Good, narrowly-tailored ruling.  I look forward to the runs that this will open up for people.
DOSBox <3
Been waiting for this since 2005. Time to blow the dust off my DOS platformers and get to work Smiley
Oh sweet.  Need to look into this for an eventual TIE Fighter run.
Quote from garik16:
Oh sweet.  Need to look into this for an eventual TIE Fighter run.

I like you. Let's be friends.
Shadows of the Empire PC version anyone?
Quote from ShadowWraith:
Quote from garik16:
Oh sweet.  Need to look into this for an eventual TIE Fighter run.

I like you. Let's be friends.

Only if we can come to an agreement over how much of the primary, secondary, and bonus objectives needed to be completed each level :-P 
Caution: This user contains Kana ^_^
I'll probably still run these on my Win95 machine, just because; but the change is well made.
sda loyalist
Excellent. Been a long time coming. Stop making me want to run Daggerfall.
Magical. Flying. Bathtub
Ok, time to start working on my Supaplex ILs, and to see what other Amiga games were faithfully ported Smiley
So, does this mean running old Mac games via Basilisk/Sheepshaver is OK now?
Mac Classic stuff probably should fall in the same category as DOS stuff, though to be honest I don't know if Mac Classic virtualization is as rock steady as DOSBox itself is.
Well, a bit of research indicates it's difficult to set up and unreliable. I guess you can't legally distribute a working system. Since I have a working old Mac, maybe I should just get a capture card.
The old Macs ran on a different processor archictecture than modern Power System or x86 windows systems. As such, both Basilisk and SheepShaver have to emulate the processor structure and thus clearly fall under Emulators instead of Virtual Machines as far as SDA rules are concerned. I'm also not aware of any old mac games being bundled with either of them as a rerelease, so the DOSBox argument doesn't hold up either. For the time being, the only option to run those games is using an actual old Mac, sorry.
This is a really good post. I speed-run Rise of the Triad, and I'd be happy to teach others. GL!
Might be magic...
That's awesome - got a funny, previously-unsubmittable DOSBox run that I'm going to try to perfect now Smiley
Fucking Weeaboo
Welp, there goes my need for those old IBM laptops I picked up. They're really cool things but had so many issues. But hey, it was cool to look into their history regardless.
That's awesome Smiley

.. Wait, you can play Gamecube games on the Wii?..

Also on a more related note: Should there be a specific definition of what "old" or "95/98" windows-era means? As far as I can tell it's mostly irrelevant, since it should make no difference.
Fucking Weeaboo
Quote from Yagamoth:
That's awesome Smiley

.. Wait, you can play Gamecube games on the Wii?..

With the exception of some of the very late models, yes you can.

Also on a more related note: Should there be a specific definition of what "old" or "95/98" windows-era means? As far as I can tell it's mostly irrelevant, since it should make no difference.

Yeah, generally it should be irrelevant, since DOS games are pretty self explanatory. 9X stuff may work on modern systems via compatibility mode, which should be tried first. Otherwise, yeah, VMWare FTW.
Awesome news! Smiley

For runs already in the submission queue using official DOSBox releases, should we post the config in the submission thread?  Or wait for instructions in the specific cases?
Runs already in the queue should be using whatever settings the steam/gog version came bundled with. I guess if you want to have a complete database over the settings among games it might be reasonable to post those as well.
Cool, sounds good Smiley  Just wanted to make certain I wouldn't be missing anything in the submission Smiley
Always move forward, never sleep.
This is awesome!  Gotta make a VM when I get home now.
The Dork Knight himself.
There is one thing here that is not truly answered, and it's directed solely at using DosBox: Are runners allowed to tweak the video settings to get the best capture-able video or leave the video settings at default?

This is taken directly from my own dosbox.conf file, most of the settings are self explanatory.

#fullscreen: Start dosbox directly in fullscreen. (Press ALT-Enter to go back)
#fulldouble: Use double buffering in fullscreen. It can reduce screen flickering, but it can also result in a slow DOSBox.
#fullresolution: What resolution to use for fullscreen: original or fixed size (e.g. 1024x768).
#                    Using your monitor's native resolution with aspect=true might give the best results.
#                    If you end up with small window on a large screen, try an output different from surface.
# windowresolution: Scale the window to this size IF the output device supports hardware scaling.
#                              (output=surface does not!)
#output: What video system to use for output.
#            Possible values: surface, overlay, opengl, openglnb, ddraw.


Farther down in the config is this section for the actual video rendering:
# frameskip: How many frames DOSBox skips before drawing one.
# aspect: Do aspect correction, if your output method doesn't support scaling this can slow things down!.
# scaler: Scaler used to enlarge/enhance low resolution modes.
#              If 'forced' is appended, then the scaler will be used even if the result might not be desired.
#            Possible values: none, normal2x, normal3x, advmame2x, advmame3x, advinterp2x, advinterp3x, hq2x, hq3x, 2xsai, super2xsai, supereagle, tv2x, tv3x, rgb2x, rgb3x, scan2x, scan3x.


Setting the output to use OpenGL allows programs like Fraps to capture the video rather than having to use the built-in DosBox avi dumping capabilities (which might be too system intensive for some users). Even without using scalers though Opengl does a bilinear smoothing to the video which looks similar to encoding an old NES game with Yua and then playing it in a media player at fullscreen. Some people might have a problem with this, others won't mind at all.

The scalers are where things might get a little iffy. The normal2x/normal3x scalers simply apply a point resize to the video to blow it up while keeping the classic pixelated look of the original game. The others though will attempt to clean up the original image.

What would the official ruling be for the graphical settings? Would it be judged on a case-by-case basis (i.e. whichever settings allow the game to be easily recorded) or a universal "keep the game as it was intended to look" video setup?