The freeware games in the Mainframes time

For many years the freeware videogames were considered the Cinderella of videogames, now no longer, let’s see what’s happened.

Flashback: In 1980 INFOCOM begins to produce commercial video games of the genre “textual adventure” (aka “Interactive Fiction”) the first porting on PC is Zork published in 1980. In 1979 “Oregon Trail” is the first porting of an educational textual adventure on Apple II . Oh already, both video games are porting that were born on mainframe about 7/8 years before. Of course, we are speaking about video games of a considerable complexity such as the Interactive Fictions.

These games are FREEWARE, a programming mastery that transforms a story/book into something of interactive. After this pioneering-passionate stage begins the commercial activity, for example the sames MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) programmers who wrote Zork create INFOCOM in the future bought by Activision… nothing starts randomly!

In the meantime PCs are becoming increasingly popular together the video games. Since the second half of the 80s PCs have become more common in homes until the boom of the early 90s. Monitors from simple green/amber displays become multicolor, text adventures greatly simplified become graphics and sparkling, more captivating.

The freeware games reappear, but this time they are demo versions (called DEMO corresponding to the current Alpha/Beta/Early Access versions) of commercial video games distributed just to promote the game. At the beginning of the’ 90s the SHAREWARE license appears, freeware software that can be freely downloaded from the internet or distributed on CDs in bundle with magazines, completely functional but incomplete or with a limited working time, so much to give a known example the Doom 1 version was limited to the first nine maps of the first world.

The freeware games for the new player take on the negative connotation of incompleteness or insufficiency. There are also programmers who write freeware games for passion, but now they have to face with the products of companies like Lucas Arts, Sierra, Infogrames, Ssi, Delphine, Blizzard, Broderbund, Id Games, Ubisoft, etc. that have already acquired the previous know-how and in the games have also introduced contextualized music and sounds no longer emitted by beeper but by dedicated sound cards. The challenge is hopeless and these freeware games seem to disappear without a future.

The turning event is when the software houses begin to make game editors available to players with the aim of increasing the longevity and spread of their games, an activity today known as modding. Now also the game amateur programmer gets a tool that frees him from the technical “code line detail” complexity, but with commitment and accompanied by good inventiveness and technical ability he can develop a “freeware game” that naturally needs the original game support but potentially up to the original one and in some cases also became standalone and very different from the original game. A current example is the Unity engine. Of course, unlike Doom1 “DEU” or Doom3 “Dark Radiant” (just to mention the best-known engines) Unity is much more complex, but these have supplied to individual programmers or indie companies the opportunity to produce attractive and high-quality freeware games and create their own know-how. Of course there are freeware games that don’t use any commercial graphical engines and in any case are of the highest level.

Today there is the “DigiPen Institute of Technology”, a university with headquarter in Redmond Washington State, which focuses its training activities on information technology, in specific on the creation of video games. DigiPen is the only teaching institution whose students are invited to participate at the “Independent Games Festival” professional category and they have also won many awards.

In this regard today I point out two very interesting games in terms of graphic style and genre:

SUBRAY (2014):

Zen game of underwater exploration and survival. The game goal is the exploration and the feel. SubRay tries to guide the player through a journey of astonishment and solitude, creating an immersive gaming experience with dynamic audio and a stylish graphic style. It’s the classic nocturnal game to play with silence around. (86Mb)


Link to the game page:

OBELISK (2014):

Puzzle and platform game. Locked in the world of shadows, the player controls a shadow character and a fairy with a flashlight. The player uses the shadows generated by light to create shadow platforms and escape from this world. Very original. (108 Mb)


Link to the game page:

Needless to say that they are freeware games!

eNJoy aND STay TuNeD WiTH uS!

Raffaele “MOS” Sanapo

Raffaele Sanapo

“We don't stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing.” (George Bernard Shaw)


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