In the eternal and eternally pointless debate on platform superiority, one thing consolers always bring up is the fact that for the bulk of gaming history (pre-Xbox hard drives and PlayStation Networks etc), their games have simply been easier to run. They arrive fault-free and work within moments of being put into the machine, whereas PC gamers are often presented with buggy, broken games that need constant patching and further downloads, battles with DRM and possibly even a blood sacrifice to get going. This has been the case ever since the mid-1980s, when home computing really took off. Early PC gamers usually had to muck about in DOS to get their games running, a hugely fiddly task akin to rearranging all the furniture in your room every time you want to sit down. By contrast, console gamers just shoved a cartridge in and started playing. So there’s always been a lingering resentment and suspicion that console gamers have it too easy, and are therefore all morons, and that PC gamers have to work for their pleasure, and are therefore somehow superior.
Yes, it’s all utter rubbish, and these days any gamer with money to spare usually has a PC and a console. But still we like to argue and debate it. Of all of this, though, one thing still stands true today – PC gamers are often given buggy, broken games on release. The reasons for this are many and varied, and often stem from the multi-platform nature of modern game development. This relates to publishing strategies, which in other words means keeping business executives in coke and Porsches. Fortunately though, our years of DOS-fiddling have stood us PC and Linux users in good stead, and when the goods do come through broken and banjoed, or when a favoured game finds itself lost in Abandonia, we know just what to do.
Take, for example, Daggerfall, the second in Bethesda’s magnificent Elder Scrolls series. Released in August 1996 after two years’ development, Daggerfall employed Bethesda’s own XnGine, one of the first truly 3D game engines, to let us roam around the Hammerfell and High Rock provinces of Tamriel. The game’s world covered 161,600 square kilometres (62,394 square miles) of open, procedurally generated terrain, populated by 750,000 NPCs living in 15,000 towns, cities and dungeons. As you can imagine, a project of that size is bound to come with a few loose screws and creaking hinges, which probably wasn’t helped by it being one of the first games to offer extra or exclusive content for buying it from a particular place. (In this case, extra levels to those who purchased it from CompUSA, a now-defunct, now not-defunct American high street computer chain).
Bethesda themselves were perturbed by the number of patches they had to release post-launch – the final all-in-one patch released in October 1998 rolled-in 7 individual patches. They also released a save game repair tool, as well as a CompUSA Special Edition patch which added in the exclusive stuff for everyone to enjoy. (Proving that gaming exclusivity has always been measured in dollars).
But that’s just the beginning. Between then and 2012, a further 10 fan patches were released, which did everything from colouring some of the Dark elves correctly, so that they actually looked like Dark elves, to various map, spell and lingering text fixes. Then we come to the unofficial add-ons, of which there are 15 listed at uesp.net on the Daggerfall files page. These add new quests, new factions, patch previous patches, restore and repair cut content, and generally enhance the crap out of everything. The one that always gets mentioned in articles like these is AndyFall, reputed to be the first ever mod for the game, which is a great place to start as it does a little bit of everything to polish, fix and enhance the experience. There’s also a ton of tools and utilities available too, because fan patches serve a common purpose, so whatever you can do to help your fellow fixers and modders helps you too. This open, altruistic approach is also how a fan patch or two, or three, can eventually evolve into a ‘community patch’. My favourite of the Daggerfall tools is Daggerfall Cartographer, which allows you to explore the 3D towns and cities of the world in peace. Remember that awesome model viewer for World of Warcraft? It’s something like that.
Daggerfall is famous for its labyrinthine dungeons and towns. Now you know why.
Finally, perhaps the most significant weapons in the modern Daggerfall player’s armoury are DaggerfallSetup and DaggerXL. The first of these is a magical, all-in-one solution that bundles together the game, a specifically pre-configured DOS Box, all the official patches and loads of fan fixes and custom additions into a single installer. You run it, and bingo, you play it. Questions of EMS memory limitations are (even more) a thing of the past! The second of these two beauties, DaggerXL, is a Daggerfall-specific flavour of the XL Engine, a custom-built alternative to DOS Box that allows for a specific group of old games (including the always-brilliant Dark Forces) to be run on modern systems, fuss-free and to today’s technical and graphical standards. Like its brethren, DaggerXL also adds all sorts of visual tweaks and custom behind-the-scenes enhancements to make the game not only run more smoothly, but also not look like a total dog.
Although the first few fan patches began appearing within the game’s own commercial lifetime, most of this wonderful, life-altering stuff was largely made possible when Bethesda released Daggefall to the public domain on the series’ 15th anniversary, back in 2009. If you’re tired of Skyrim, and impatient for Skywind, you can do no wrong with a bit of Daggerfall.