After finding my old copies of the AD&D windows 3.1 Core Rules CD-Rom, and having quite a bit of free time, I decided it wouldn’t hurt anything to start fiddling with it. After a rather large investment of time these are my findings, hopefully they will entertain or prove useful to someone other than myself.
NOTE: For copyright reasons, and my own inability to pay for any lawsuits arising from such action I won’t be posting copies of anything actually contained on the disk here, or anywhere. Sorry. A little searching though would show that these files are readily available from those less concerned with copyright than I.
Being a GNU/Linux geek who’s made the transition to OSX since I was given the Mac for free, I don’t currently have any windows computers at my disposal except for a Windows 7 mini-desktop. Putting a Win 3.1/95 disk in said windows 7 computer only made it look at me funny. I did have a Windows XP VM on VMWare, but I also have 2GB of ram on the computer running VMWare and as such it runs just slightly faster than a snail at full trot. So having given up on using an actual windows PC, for the moment, I tried to run the disk under wine, and after some fiddling I could get a few screens to display, but nothing beyond that, and the short introductory video wouldn’t play at all.
Remembering that FreeDOS (http://www.freedos.org/) was now able to host Windows 3.1, and having Windows 3.1 files available to me, I created another virtual machine only to find that you can’t get windows into 386 enhanced mode on FreeDOS. Still its amazing to see how far FreeDOS has progressed, even if it doesn’t provide a completely usable environment. I then tried my luck with DOSBOX (http://www.dosbox.com/ the Boxer package specifically http://boxerapp.com/) but sadly I had mixed luck at best, Win 3.1 would run under DOSBOX, and would run in 386 enhanced mode, but would crash with a “21” error every time I tried to start core rules.
I was finally able to get my Windows XP Virtual Machine to run, and was able to get Core rules running under that in Windows 95 Emulation Mode. Sorta. The introductory video still didn’t work quite right, and only the lowest res version would even play.
For those who aren’t familiar with it, the AD&D Core Rules CD-Rom came out in 1996 during the flurry of 2nd ed. AD&D products that eventually sank TSR. Despite being labeled simply AD&D the disk contained RTF and HLP formatted and slightly revised versions of the AD&D 2nd ed. Players Handbook, Dungeon Masters Guide, Monstrous Manual, Arms & Equipment Guide, and Tome of Magic. In addition there was software making extensive use of the HLP formatted versions of these books, and bitmaps stored on the disk in windows BMP format.
Try as I might, I couldn’t get the higher quality AVI of the introductory video (named TOUR.AVI) to play on any of the platforms tried. I could get the Lower Quality version to play by externally opening it in an older version of WMP (Windows Media Player 7 I believe). Oddly I couldn’t get the on-disk MVI Player to play the TOUR.MVI file on any of the platforms tried, whatever this format is nothing seems to recognize it, and the player doesn’t work on win XP’s command.com or any of the Open Source DOS systems tried. The video has been posted to Youtube by another nostalgic soul though (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jslR11hhrYY).
HLP files are a pain, and I can see now why they weren’t widely used outside of Help documentation for applications. Practically nothing but a windows 9x or XP help viewer seemed to understand these, after I confirmed that they were in fact identical to the RTF files with the exception of hyperlinks I became somewhat less interested in them. None of these HLP files seem to contain any images, rather the images are displayed by on-disk applications, and when you click for more information the relevant part of the HLP file is opened.
Aside from the menu based applications for character generation and monster customization (gads I remember using that to stat up all sorts of things) there are two full applications that came with this, a nifty (if easily superseded) map making utility, and a RTF word processor called the Handout Generator.
Its a neat piece of gaming history to have for as long as the plastic holds out, although as windows XP is phased out it’ll become an increasingly more painful to run the applications. Still, it does bring back memories from my own young days of gaming (I grew up on AD&D and only discovered OD&D later).