Old PC Diskmags - Lost for Ever?
Comparing paper mags and diskmags, diskmags have many advantages: they are for free, they can be obtained anywhere in the world via Internet servers, they can be easily stored on (hard) disks, and you can't tear them to pieces or make the texts illegible by spilling water on them. In addition, they have a GUI with fine graphics and music that create a pleasant atmosphere while you're reading.
Alas, diskmags also have a disadvantage: Most of them can't be read without the GUI. For some reason, it has been popular not to store the articles as plain text files with a few formatting tags, like HTML documents, but to encrypt them in some way. Perhaps in some cases that has been done in order to protect forgers from changing the contents of the mag and distributing fake issues; after all, in the days when scene productions were mainly spread via mailswapping and local BBS's, without any sort of central, official distribution servers existing, this was quite a real danger. But I guess that most of the time, encryption was just a side-effect of the GUI: it has been popular to merge all data files into one big file so that the data could be accessed more easily, and in many cases this big data file was compressed in order to save disk space.
The snag to this: The mag can only be read on computers on which the GUI works. That's why diskmags designed for systems such as Commodore Plus 4 or Amstrad CPC did not quite use to be too widely spread. But at least for these mags, remedy has been found: There are emulators which allow to read them on PC. This also applies for Commodore 64, ZX Spectrum and Atari ST mags. Most of the mags for these classic platforms work using programs such as C64S, Unreal and PaCiFiST. Some of them, however, don't, because these emulators aren't perfect. As demo scene productions usually contain a lot of code optimized for particular hardware, making use of special quirks of the respective CPUs that are not known to many people, lots of them don't work with emulators; fortunately, diskmags are among the least "quirked" scene releases, so most of them actually do work with the emulators.
The situation is a bit more difficult with Amiga mags since the Amiga is a somewhat open architecture. So you may have to test various configurations of your emulator until you manage to get all the mags to run.
But now, ladies and gentlemen, comes the platform that provides the greatest problems. Yes, it's the PC! The PC is the computer with the most open architecture of all. The existence of thousands of different video and sound adapters, CPUs, FPUs, serial ports and the like is the reason why in the past, you could never be sure if the program you had just downloaded or bought(!) would actually work on your PC. And I haven't even mentioned different versions of DOS, drivers and memory configurations! Fortunately, thanks to Windows 9x/NT/XP and its plug'n'play technology, much of these compatibility issues have been resolved; most of the new programs designed for Windows XP actually work on all adequately equipped PCs, as long as their programmers have sticked to the Windows API and avoided hardware-dependent code.
But how about programs for older Windows versions and, most importantly, DOS? As a matter of fact, DOS used to be the primary platform for PC scene productions until 1998; only then did Windows take over! Most scene productions for DOS don't work under Windows XP - they access the hardware too directly. And although some people are already working on it, there's no kind of DOS emulator for Windows yet that would allow Windows XP users to run programs using e.g. Mode X or VESA graphic modes, which many scene productions require. Many modern video adapters don't even support Mode 13h, the standard mode used by computer games of those days!
I was wondering what diskmags can't be viewed on modern PCs, and what mags still can. So I tested my collection of international, English-language demoscene-related diskmags with a coded interface until the year 1999 on an Intel P4 with a nVidia GeForce2 MX running Microsoft Windows 5.1 (aka Windows XP Professional). Here are my results:
These Mags Work:
AnotherMag #1, a DOS-based mag by XCene/TPF with not-too-serious contents, released in Feb '98. Music playback also works fine, but the sound data is stored as separate .xm files anyway.
Autark #1, a DOS-based mag from Aug '96, edited by Diskhawk of N-Factor. It was a very promising mag that might have become the successor to Imphobia, had more than one issue been released. The interface (640x480, 16 colours, inline links and images, proportional font, interesting new way of navigation) is definitely worth checking out. There are also some articles in German language, which deal with politics and technology. Unfortunately, music playback doesn't work on Windows XP because it needs "EMS", which was a special kind of memory in the days of DOS.
Autark Preview, the preview issue of Autark #1, released in June '96.
Caustic Verses #1, a DOS-based mag by the Swedish group GASH from Jan '96. Due to the use of the MIDAS sound system, the music doesn't play in the mag, but it's stored as separate .mod files anyway.
Cheese #1, #3, #6, #7, #8, #9, #12, #13. These issues were released in the years 1996 and 1997. All of them are DOS-based. Apparently they don't come along with music; if they do, I can't hear it. Cheese #12 and #13 crash after exiting due to a memory allocation error. It's necessary to manually close them using CTRL+ALT+DEL.
eed:mag#1, a Flash-based "mag" by xhale that was released in 1999.
Fuzzby #0, a parody on the 4k diskmag Wilby; it's all about the Spanish demo group fuzzion. DOS-based, from Dec '99.
Genetic Dreams #4, DOS-based mag by the German group Escape, from Dec '95.
Hoax #1, #2, #3, #4, #5, #6. Yes, all issues of Hoax, one of the oldest DOS-based diskmags (1992 - 1995), still work. Made by the Finnish group Epical.
Imphobia #1, #2, #3, #4. Only the first four issues of Imphobia (1992 - 1993) work on today's PCs.
Lookain Fanz #2, #3. Windows-based mags from 1998, interesting design, hardly any articles.
Maniac Magazine #1. It's a mag with ANSI design, but it deals with the demo scene. Released in Dec '93.
New World Order #2, #3, #4, #5, #6. All but the very first and two last issues of NWO work on today's PCs. You just have to enter the correct values in the sound setup. Released in the years 1993 and 1994 by the Dutch group Ground Zero, this was one of the most popular PC diskmags. Nowadays hardly anyone remembers it.
Palantir #1, #2 - a coded newsletter about the DemOS project, an attempt to create an operating system especially for demos in the years 1995 and 1996.
Parrot #1, from July '94, created by the group Crypton (Finland).
Public Incantation #2, from 1994. Scene-related mag with an additional RPG corner.
Pulse #1, #2, #3, #4, all from 1993. However, the controls are not working properly; for this reason, you can't access all articles.
Scene Post #0, 1994, ANSI-design.
Shine #1, #6. Shine #1 from April '97 is the only DOS-based issue of Shine that works on the test PC. Shine #6 from Dec '99 is based on Win32.
Smok #1. Polish-English mag by the group Adrar Design, from May '95.
TUHBzine #3, #4, from 1998, DOS-based.
World Charts #1 by Future Crew, released in May '93. It's slow and flickers, and sound doesn't play, but otherwise it's okay.
Wilby #1, #2, #3, the 4k diskmag by Spock of Wild Bits from 1999, DOS-based.
Yahoo #2 by the Finnish group Topaz, from Aug '94.
That's a total of 52 mags.
These Mags Don't Work:
Amber #0, #1, #2, an English language diskmag by Polish sceners, edited by Dj Regal and Misha/Tatanka, with the interface of Total Disaster and the graphics of an issue of Merge. From 1998 - 1999, DOS-based.
Amnesia #1 by Paranoid, March 1999, Windows-based. There seems to be a problem with the MIDI playback.
Armor of Gods #3, #4, DOS-based Russian mags in English language from 1997 - 1998.
Bad News #3, #4, DOS-based Polish mags in English language from 1995 - 1996, edited by Akira.
Budyn #1, #2, the first two issues of a mainly Polish diskmags with a few texts in English language, released in 1996 - 1997.
Cheese #11, from Feb '97.
Contrast #1, #2, #3 by Purple, from 1994 - 1995. Too bad, since I remember that issue 3 featured good graphics.
Daskmig #1, #2, #4, #5, #6, #7, #8. No Daskmig issue from my collection (and probably the same applies to issue 3 as well) works on the test PC. Daskmig was released in the years 1994 and 1995.
Fleur #1, #2, #3. The same as for Daskmig, even though it's a bit younger (the issues were released in 1998 and 1999).
Genetic Dreams #1, #2, #3, from 1994 - 1995.
Heroin #1, the chartsmag by Pyromaniac/Beyond that was released in Dec '98. One of the first (and few) mags for which an own Internet domain was registered - even though only one issue was released!
Imphobia #5, #6, #7, #8, #9, #10, #11, #12: Issue 5 doesn't respond to user input. The newer issues use a special graphic mode that can't be properly emulate by modern Windows versions. Some of the last Imphobia issues actually run, but they flicker as hell and respond to user input only with a great delay, which makes them virtually illegible. Fortunately at least the music can be listened to: it's stored in the files Data.001 to Data.004; if opening them in your player doesn't work, try renaming them, using proper file extensions.
Insight #1, #2, from Dec '95 and Dec '97, respectively.
Mayhem #1, dated Aug '93.
Madania Press #1, from June '96.
New World Order #1, #7, #8, 1993 - 1996.
Parrot #2, #3, from 1994.
Public Incantation #1, April '94.
Restless #1, #2, from June '96 and April '98, respectively.
Subkult #1, #2, #3, #4, #5, from 1996 - 1997. This mag was coded using Borland Turbo Pascal. The compilers of all Turbo Pascal versions contain a bug due to which programs created with it don't work on modern, fast Pentium CPUs.
Scenial #1, #2, #4, from 1994, 1996 and 1997 respectively. At least the music of issue 4 is stored as a separate file.
Scene Post #2, #3 from 1994, coded by Karl/NoooN.
Shine #2, #3, #4, #5, Retro, from 1997 - 1999. Shine #3, #4 and #5 need dos4gw.exe. Shine Retro doesn't work even though it's a Win32 application.
Smok #2 from Aug '95.
Splash #1, #2, #3, #4, the charts mag by the group Fascination, released in 1995 - 1996.
Testimony of the Ancients, from Aug '96.
Total Disaster #Black, the only English-language issue of the Polish mag by Tatanka, which had a fancy interface for its time. From Nov '98.
Top Gum #1, from Sep '96.
Totem #1, chartsmag by Just For Fun released in July 1999. Even before releasing it, its makers knew that it would be the only issue. Therefore it contained the votesheet for Heroin #2. What they obviously didn't foresee was that Heroin #2 would never be released, either...
TUHBzine #1, #2, #5, #6, from 1996 - 1999.
v.O.L.V.o #1 by rECTUM cAUDA from Jan '97, a joke mag with articles by Calvin/Proxima (aka Deluxepaint) and XCene/TPF (aka Piffi).
What #1, a diskmag from Australia, released in Dec '96, with music included as separate files.
Yahoo #1, #3, X-Mas Greetings, #4, #5, from 1994 - 1995.
That's 83 mags in total.
Of 135 tested mags, 52 worked and 83 didn't work. In other words, only 38.52% of the tested mags worked, while 61.48% didn't.
There's currently no way to read these more than 60% of non-working diskmags except setting up a PC with an outdated configuration (old operating system, slow CPU, etc.). Unless a solution is found, their contents are virtually gone for ever.
The statistic above don't include Hugi. Regarding Hugi, all original issues except #9, #10 and #11 work on today's machines. As #11 was the first English-language issue, it was later ported to a new engine; this version of Hugi #11 works on the test PC.
If we add the English-language issues of Hugi until 1999 to these statistics (#11, #12, #13, #14, #15, #16, #17 and #18), we thus get 60 working diskmags, which is 41.95%, while 58.05% don't work; that's still the majority.
Short before the release of this issue I was informed that there is a DOS emulator called DOSbox, available at dosbox.sourceforge.net. Perhaps some magazines will work using this emulator; I haven't had time to try it.
What's your opinion on this matter? Is it a great loss that old diskmags can't be read on modern computers any more, or aren't these mags interesting anyway?
Please send me a letter with your opinion!