Back in 1999 I started using a language called DarkBASIC. As its name implies it was a version of the BASIC language sitting on top of DirectX and pimped out with lots of great 2D and 3D features. Coding in DarkBASIC looked something like this:
make object sphere a,50
texture object a,1
scale object a,x,y,z
position object a,6*a,20,-15
point object a,20,30,20
As you can see, it’s easy to read and understand. And honestly, it was great fun! I was utterly hooked.
At the time nothing much really existed on the PC for easy game making. Sure, there were some “click and drag” style tools. But if you wanted to code in anything other than C++ your options were limited to say the least. And if you wanted to use a language that was specifically for making games, your options were even smaller.
The big two of the day were DarkBASIC, created by Dark Basic Software (who later renamed to The Game Creators), and Blitz Basic, created by Blitz Research. Both companies are still going today, but back then the competition between them and their users was fierce! To be fair, Blitz had the upper hand both in the elegance of its language and performance, having been born from the equally powerful Blitz Basic on the Amiga. Where as DarkBASIC was more like AMOS from the Amiga, both in its syntax, ease of use and style of marketing. This was no mistake as the founders of Dark Basic Software worked at Europress and were instrumental in the publishing of AMOS. As a result, DarkBASIC utterly thrived.
You also have to remember the state of PC technology around this time. Most of us were running Windows 98, although XP will shortly come out (and honestly I’m not sure Microsoft ever bettered it). We are using CRT monitors, God bless their beautiful refresh rates! and 3D cards are only starting to become common-place for gamers. I keenly remember buying one of the very first NVIDIA cards, the GeForce 256, rushing home to install it and being amazed I could now push a load more objects around in DarkBASIC.
The majority of us were still on 56k modem dial-up (or ISDN for the wealthy). Widespread broadband availability won’t hit for a good few years yet. So every byte mattered. It was important that we could make our games small, compressing into a few hundred KB. This Columns remake I coded 14 years ago was 93KB zipped for example:
DarkBASIC came with a manual of course, both built into the editor and printed. The boxed version came with a lovely spiral bound one in fact. But it wasn’t very in-depth. And there were no books. No sites like StackOverflow. No such thing as a wiki and few people ran their own sites. To give this context: WordPress won’t exist for another 4 years and ‘blog’ isn’t even a term yet. If you owned a site you either knew HTML or you built it with a horrendous bit of software like FrontPage or a site-builder like Geocities. In short: sharing information from your own site was a lot harder than it is today, so less people did it.
However this had a galvanising effect: it meant that the communities that formed around products such as DarkBASIC were super-helpful. Forums were massively popular, probably as a transition from the BBS days, and it was on here that devs would share their code snippets with each other. The DarkBASIC and Blitz Basic forums are both stunning running today, although neither have the very original content they launched with.
It was on these forums that I first got the taste for sharing code. I just loved being able to code something small and fun, throw it up on the forum and have people comment and send stuff back. What may seem trivial today was utterly liberating at the time. And code I did! I released my code under the “Dark Forge” label and I created hundreds of things. From packs of small demo effects, to games to weird 2D experiments. It was open source game development in embryonic form
So why the nostalgia trip? I was recently contacted by Steve Vink of The Game Creators who was asking if I still had any of my original code. Thankfully I did, so I packaged the whole lot and uploaded it to Dropbox. The 7z file is 176MB and contains all kinds of things. From a copy of the darkforge web site (coded in ASP no less!), to all my experiments, textures, mod files, games and more. None of the EXEs will run on modern PCs I’m afraid, but the code itself is still solid. So if you feel like checking out a random blast from the past, and have DarkBASIC or are just curious, then I present it all for your perusal.
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