It all sounds so straightforward, but sometimes classics were temperamental even back when they were new, and nostalgia doesn't extend to fussing with proprietary memory managers, sound card IRQ settings, or EMM386.exe. "Compatibility with modern operating systems is one of the features that is really important for us. In many cases even if you have the original disks of many games from the past, there is a big probability they won't work on your new, lightning-fast computer with Vista or [Windows] 7. The idea behind GOG.com was to create a hassle-free and user friendly service where people can come, buy a game, download it, install and play without any problems," emphasizes Kukawski. That task is easier said than done, and Lukas jokes that the process is based on magic. In actuality, that magic sometimes takes the form of code borrowed from other community-based projects. "For DOS based games we're using DOSBox and ScummVM to guarantee the compatibility. We're really grateful to the great guys behind both DOSBox and ScummVM, that they allowed us to use their great software." Sometimes though, the GOG programmers are on their own: "for other than DOS-based games our staff is using their skills to make them work properly, and sometimes it's not an easy task as we don't have access to source codes of the games."
The complexity involved in resurrecting an old game means it can take a long time to bring even one title to market. "First of all it all depends if all the licensing agreements are owned by one company or they are spread across a couple. In the latter example, signing an agreement for such a release can take up to a couple years. Then if we have the deal signed we need to be sure that the game runs on modern Windows systems - DOS based games usually need only some tweaking, but for example Windows 95 games are our programmers' worst nightmares, as they require lots of work. We also try to include as many additional materials with every release as we can, so if we can't find some cool goodies it also can slow down the whole process. So as you can see there are lots of different reasons that affect how fast the game can be released in GOG.com. In some extreme situations this could take from a couple of months to a couple of years."
Classic games are like old friends, and the folks at GOG have done a tremendous amount to work to bring those classics back, even if the process sometimes takes years. The silver lining to the lengthy process is in knowing that the games themselves are timeless classics, and the technical wizardry is being used to recreate a very special kind of magic: that of nostalgia.
Alan Au is a freelance writer, academic, and games industry advocate. When he isn't busy replaying classic PC games, he spends his time exploring the connection between games, education, and health.