DOSBox 0.73, interview with the developers

June 10, 2009 · Filed Under Emulation & Retrogaming, In Depth 

In Depth - A merciless lens pointed on the hot topics, passionate and detailed retrospectives, reflections beyond the appearancesOn the occasion of SourceForge.net’s project of the month award granted to DOSBox, I asked the crew behind the best PC/DOS emulator out there to reply to some questions about the project. The developers were busy with the last works on the new version of the emulator, thus the interview was changed to include some DOSBox 0.73 related features and finally in the past days the crew was kind enough to send me back the replies I was seeking for. There is no Big Scoop (tm) here nor I was asking for one, but I hope the conversation is an interesting reading anyway.

First of all congrats for the new release! The new DOSBox comes after almost two years since version 0.72, and contains a huge amount of improvements and new features. If you had to point out a single thing you are most proud of, what would you choose?

There’s nothing really specific I guess, just so many small changes.

Did the brand new stylized DOSBox logo get inspiration from something in particular? An MS-DOS pack minus “MS” and plus “Box” or what?

The GOG.com created this specific version of the splash screen logo. You can’t really come up with that much creative ways to show a box but this kinda looks nice.

DOSBox 0.73 - Blood screenshot 1DOSBox 0.73 - Blood screenshot 2DOSBox 0.73 - Blood screenshot 3

Among the most “fundamental” changes of DOSBox 0.73, the most important ones from an emulation standpoint are the new core for OPL2 and OPL3 sound chips and the new EGA/VGA/SVGA emulation modes. How much of this new code comes from a “blackbox” reverse engineering work and how much from the careful implementation of previously documented features?

Most stuff comes from documentation and trying it on real hardware, and for certain video things it is just tingle with it until you get a good image on the screen. With the OPL emulation this means making small test programs to generate a specific type of sound, record it on the real thing and compare it to the DOSBox output.

Still talking about the OPL2 emulation, the new core means you dropped the almost standard OPL2 emulation implemented in the MAME emulator. I still have to extensively test it, but listening to Delphine’s Flashback intro seems a whole another story now. Why did you decide to drop the old core in favor of the new one?

There is always a point on when to swap cores. There weren’t any large bugs left in our new core that we knew about and releasing it would have given us a very large feedback audience. One of the main reasons (for the switch - Editor’s Note) is that it is faster, which means that you can have a higher sample rate for audio while DOSBox runs at the same speed. Or when you keep the same sample rate DOSBox would run faster.

DOSBox 0.73 - Jill of the Jungle screenshot 1DOSBox 0.73 - Jill of the Jungle screenshot 2DOSBox 0.73 - Jill of the Jungle screenshot 3

After all this time with no new versions, one could easily expect that DOSBox 0.73 bring a remarkable leap forward toward better stability, compatibility and emulation speed. And judging from reactions on the forums it seems just the case. Are you satisfied with this new major release or there still is some code left that could have made it better (hint: new minor release coming soon)?

In the past most big releases (as is 0.73) were followed by minor releases in order to fix some bugs. So a minor release depends on how many bugs are found and how annoying they are. So far there only seems to be an issue with translating the configuration file to a different language. But the release is still young so who knows.

DOSBox 0.73 - Loom screenshot 1DOSBox 0.73 - Loom screenshot 2DOSBox 0.73 - Loom screenshot 3

In the interview appeared on SourceForge’s “project of the month” page, you said that DOSBox intended audience is that kind of people familiar with Dos, but nowadays the emulator is used by big companies like id, Valve, Sierra and digital stores like Good Old Games, hence the audience is become broader and broader. What do you think about people that barely heard about Dos and started using DOSBox, is this an opportunity to have a wider test bed for the emulator capabilities or simply an annoyance to deal with?

Some of the people who got those games probably don’t even know that they are actually using DOSBox. So we don’t gain, nor lose from that. The amount of people coming reporting/complaining on our official forums about the matter is very small. After all the games are configured to be as less Dos like as possible for those people. In a way I feel a bit sorry for them playing it with some default configuration supplied with the games that don’t have scalers enabled since they can really make some old adventures look nicer.

DOSBox 0.73 - The Secret of Monkey Island screenshot 1DOSBox 0.73 - The Secret of Monkey Island screenshot 2DOSBox 0.73 - The Secret of Monkey Island screenshot 3

DOSBox 0.73 - The Secret of Monkey Island screenshot 4DOSBox 0.73 - The Secret of Monkey Island screenshot 5DOSBox 0.73 - The Secret of Monkey Island screenshot 6

DOSBox compatibility is pretty remarkable, in almost any case I’ve tried to run a game I have never had to touch the configuration file! Are you pleased with the current compatibility level or you think there is still a long way to walk to reach a “critical” compatibility point?

We put a lot of thought and work in the default configuration. As of such we can sometimes become a bit annoyed if people advice newbies to change certain settings from the default values, while the game they run doesn’t need it. Those changed settings might actually reduce compatibility for other games. We are quite pleased with the current compatibility level of the default configuration. It also helps that for alot of options you can just runtime change them from the command line quite easily, so if a game doesn’t want EMS or XMS loaded then you can just disable those.

On DOSBox official forum the savestates feature has always been a pretty troublesome issue: users want it, but it isn’t a trivial thing to implement. Have you something in the work for the next future or it will stay in your wish list for the time being?

Well we have some ideas on how they should be handled. To do it that way requires some changes to DOSBox at very delicate levels. I am sure that they will see the light one day, but it is not something we are hurrying.

DOSBox 0.73 - Prince of Persia screenshot 1DOSBox 0.73 - Prince of Persia screenshot 2DOSBox 0.73 - Prince of Persia screenshot 3

In the past years some “big ugly software corp.” (tm) used your software without acknowledging your work and efforts. How do you feel about that? Do you find it detestable or simply something belonging to the “things that happens” category in the open source world?

We don’t have grudges against big ugly software corps. We do regret sometimes that we don’t benefit from the gains they get by using DOSBox. Most companies hide in the name of userfriendliness the fact that they are using DOSBox. That is understandable, but it feels a bit wrong. As if they are ashamed of using it. The fact that some people forgot to include a few files which holds our names doesn’t really matter. Most people never look beyond the shortcuts anyway.

DOSBox 0.73 - ZZT screenshot 1DOSBox 0.73 - ZZT screenshot 2DOSBox 0.73 - ZZT screenshot 3

A little gossip for the last question: what are the DOSBox crew preferred Dos games? Something like “best three games”, “best series” and so on. As makers of the best PC/DOS emulator out there you really should have a great fondness for these pixellated gaming universes…

Always these best games/series questions. For me it would probably be about every good adventure to come out for Dos. All the classics by LucasArts, Sierra and other companies. Playing adventures I haven’t yet played is one of the main reasons I use DOSBox. Monkey Island’s, Day of the Tentacle, Gabriel Knight’s would probably be my favorites then if I had to choose. But besides the adventures there’s load of nice action games of which some I still play or have replayed. Games like Bioforge, Skyroads, Stunts, Tyrian, Magic Carpet come to mind. There’s so many other games though but most of those don’t really wanna make me replay them since games have evolved and there are just newer games with the same and improved gameplay.

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