The Great Operating System Games

They may not be the fanciest computer games of all time, but untold billions of hours of productivity have been lost to them over the past four decades.

Posted by  | Sunday, August 1, 2010

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Since the dawn of computers, games have been an entertaining way to demonstrate a system’s capabilities. Manufacturers like DEC distributed them as early as the 1960s: They were as powerful sales tools with universal appeal. The tradition continued with some of the earliest PCs. Simple (but often addictive) games are bundled with operating systems to this day.

Here’s a look at notable games that have shipped with OSes through the ages–including ones written by a few of the most famous programmers of all time.



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109 Comments For This Post

  1. Dan Says:

    A nice trip down memory lane…I sunk hours into nibbles.

    By the way, the last three nostalgia links all point to the lunar lander story. Unclosed tag?

  2. ediedi Says:

    Ha! nice.
    I remember Gorillas – spent a lot of time on it with my brother. I had an IBM 8086 clone (i think it had CGA graphics, 8Mhz – 640k RAM, 5" floppies, and a 20MB hard drive). Also helped me learn basic. The good'ol days of DOS.

  3. OliverK Says:

    Wow, blast from the pass. I played gorillas once, and didn’t get a copy. Seeing the screenshot made me sad.

    When I installed windows 7 professional, I had to enable solitaire and minesweeper :O

    I wonder what our kids will say when they see these old games. “Wow! You played that? How does it work?” Right before we dive into a marathon old school gaming session with them

  4. Dan Says:

    actually Mac OSX comes with widget "Tile game." Just thought I'd make that correction.

    Anyways, I miss gorillas, I recently found a free mutliplayer clone called online artillery, for ios4. And I used to play that pinball game for hours, just love that music!

  5. Walter Says:

    Where's Skifree?!

  6. evilbean42 Says:

    I guess it technically wasn’t an OS game b/c it required a disk, but I was hoping for a shoutout to the hovercraft capture the flag game that came on the Windows 95 disk. I miss that game, anybody know of somewhere I might be able to get my hands on copy?

  7. evilbean42 Says:

    Ahh, Skifree… yes. How did that one get skipped? How I loathed that damn monster that always ate you at the end.

  8. psychobean Says:

    The two games I remember playing a lot were. RISK for Mac OS and Lunatic Fringe(screensaver game) on the LC II computer.

  9. Benj Edwards Says:

    Hey guys, glad you like the story. I didn’t include SkiFree because it was part of an add-on games pack called “Windows Entertainment Pack 3.” Excellent game though — remember the Yeti that ate you?

    Obviously this list isn’t complete, but I agree that the Windows 95 hovercraft game would have been a good one to include. And Harry added a reference to the Mac OS X Tile Game widget that I overlooked. Thanks for that, Dan.

  10. Jose Says:

    Oh, how i used to play Trek. Zero graphics, but i still remember the satisfaction i felt when i destroyed those romulans.

  11. Relyt Says:

    My Windows 98 machine doesn't have pinball…..?

  12. Pinkushun Says:

    I have best intentions with my words and only want to give some options. Please consider this.

    Instead of mentioning Vista, which just had prettier versions of previous Windows games, why not mention something really cool and interesting?

    Like how Caldera Linux offered a game of Tetris [http://www.google.com/search?hl=en&q=tetris+during+caldera+install] during installation. Or how about a Live-CD chock full of games! [http://distrowatch.com/table.php?distribution=linuxgamers], instead of recycling the same games that just had makeovers.

  13. Hal Says:

    Actually, if you read the credits in Little Brick Out, you’ll also see credit given to Bruce “Tog” Tognizzini. I have a lot of respect for Woz and learned much from studying Applesoft, Interger BASIC, and the Apple //e monitor ROMs, but it’s only fair to include this when we give credit.

  14. Sting Says:

    Wasn't pinall out on NT 4.0 before windows 98?

  15. Liam Says:

    Hover was included with Windows 95 Plus! an addon pack for Win 95, so don't know whether it should technically count. Still love it though!

  16. Fred X. Quimby Says:

    Annoying article format.

  17. Chris Says:

    Nice article, but does it have to be on 21 separate pages?

  18. Benj Edwards Says:

    You’re right about Little Brick Out, Hal. Turns out it was based on an earlier Woz-written program called, simply, “Brick Out.” I’ve updated the article to clarify this. Thanks.

  19. anonymous Says:

    ftp://ftp.microsoft.com/deskapps/games/public/AAS/Hover.EXE

  20. Dave Says:

    Ah Nibbles… I loved that game, and spent many hours playing and modifying the original game. I added a third player, more levels, a random level generator, wrap-aroud screen, special powerups for certain numbers, etc. I even made a single-level "deathmatch" version where your tail never stopped growing. I learned a lot about programming from that game.

  21. DemonJAS Says:

    What about "Lemonade Stand" on the Apple ][ ? I still remember the mono speaker blasting out a rendition of "Yes we have no bananas" to this day.

    Just an honourable mention at least…

  22. @mlauzon Says:

    How can you forgotten about the games that ran on the Commodore VIC-20 (Commodore BASIC 2.0) and Commodore 64 (Commodore KERNAL/Commodore BASIC 2.0); now because of those a lot of famous game programmers would've never really got their start.

  23. Kevin Says:

    3D Pinball For Windows (Space Cadet) was created by Cinematronics, a small windows-centric game shop in Austin. Maxis was the EU/N.A. publisher of Cinematronics' 3 table pinball pack (Full Tilt) which included Space Cadet, but that product was actually created after 3D Pinball. Maxis did later acquire Cinematronics.

    I believe XP was the last OS it shipped with. I can't complain — not many folks have a chance to put their game in front of hundreds of millions of people.

  24. Melissa Says:

    Another great OS game was Snipes, which came with Novell Netware. It was a networked game which allowed people on the same network to hunt each other down. Good post 5 PM fun.

  25. Bill Says:

    jezball

  26. rickb928 Says:

    What came first, Cat & Mouse on OS/2, or Neko for Windows? Neko wasn't part of Windows, though, you had to go get it.

  27. tom Says:

    What about original adventure text game. almost every unix system had it.

  28. ECA Says:

    Let me say that you have missed a WHOLE lot of games.
    1. AMIGA. 15 years as a lead machine and not 1 mention.
    2. that in the original win95/98/??? disks there was a directory with added games..you had to add them separately..

  29. yamric Says:

    They left out all the terminalgames in the mac OS X. just open a terminal window and type:
    ls /usr/share/emacs/22.1/lisp/play

  30. Brian Says:

    probably oneko for X11

  31. Leroy Jenkins Says:

    What no Chip's Challenge?!?! list is now invalid

  32. David Says:

    Oh dear – does no-one remember that one of the key reasons Reversi was dropped from the Windows distribution was that it cheated, when playing as the computer?

    The computer player turned over more discs than it was supposed to – no wonder it won so often.

  33. Xyzzy Says:

    Same here… I've had legal copies, OEM installs, & upgrades for 98, 98SE, 2k, and XP over the years, but I've never seen that pinball game before!

  34. xyzzymagicat Says:

    I'd just say "Linux" (or GNOME Linux), rather than naming a specific distribution like LinuxGamers or Ubuntu. I believe I read recently that the environment (GNOME, KDE, etc.) determines which games appear unless the distro deliberately strips them out, anyway.

    (FWIW, I'm using the latest OpenSUSE, and it came with a version of Tetris called Quadrapassel, plus Chess, Iagno, Mahjongg, AisleRiot cards, Freecell, GBrainy, Lights Off, Sudoku, Mines, and Swell Foop.)

  35. xyzzymagicat Says:

    Neither does mine — I also haven't seen it in 98SE (upgrade), Win2k, or XP. (I thought maybe I was just forgetting things until I saw your comment!)

  36. xyzzymagicat Says:

    I got the feeling that the author only included games that matched the OS's capabilities… It might also be because emacs is part of all UNIX-like OSes like BSD (which OS X is a derivative of) & Linux, or because the games are a part of emacs rather than standalone. Just guessing, though.

  37. Ian Says:

    Just to be picky – Reversi pre-dates Othello. The rules for the two aren't identical. Reversi goes back to (at least) 1883 and England; Othello is claimed to have been independently invented in Japan in the early 1970s.

  38. retepvosnul Says:

    So Gates, at one time, ate his own dogfood. Seemingly he had a hard time swallowing it. I remember looking at that code, seeing Gates name in the comment and believing it must have been a joke. Bill gates responsible for such horrid trash for which he even needed assistance ?
    Now we get it !

  39. NightBrigade Says:

    no Chip's Challenge??

  40. Jim Says:

    Agree with Melissa, except in the first job I had in a small company that has since gone bust, when the boss and his wife (the manager) where out all we did all day was play Snipes on Netware. NSSNIPES.EXE I believe it was called? This was until we all got PC upgrades and could play Doom of course. At 5pm it was always straight home ;-)

  41. Skib Says:

    How ’bout Ipod games?
    I got a 5th gen that came with : Brick, Parachute and Solitaire…

  42. Sam Says:

    Hearts! The silly computer was so darn easy to beat in one-player mode.

  43. Mitch Says:

    My web site (http://www.bdragon.net) has a collection of the old SunOS console games, that still work under Solaris 10/sparc.

    I love them!

  44. TeaRex Says:

    It should be mentioned that Wozniak himself had created the original Atari Breakout that he then cloned on the Apple II. Atari Breakout is not a computer game in the modern sense, since the circuit directly implements the game, without using a CPU or any kind of software.

  45. TeaRex Says:

    Well the Commodore OS didn't INCLUDE any games, if you don't count "Find Out New Amusing Ways To Make the System Crash". SYS 42200 gives you especially colorful and highly varying crashes. :-)

  46. blakespot Says:

    Where's Lemonade and Space Quarks for certain Apple II's?

  47. Shmuel Says:

    That is, in fact, mentioned on page 2 as being part of the same pack as Trek.

  48. @Seboss Says:

    Ah, Gorillas… so that's where the mysterious Banana Bomb from Worms comes from.

  49. schwal Says:

    The big advantage to the Vista/7 versions of the classic games is scalable graphics. That's right, you can now enlarge solitaire without having the cards stay exactly the same size.

    To all the people with fond memories of Chip's Challenge, SkiFree, and Jezzball, those were separately released in the Windows entertainment packs. (I think a lot of new machines came with it as a pack in, but I have no evidence to support this)

  50. Bill Says:

    The original iMac came with MDK. Now that was a good time consumer.

  51. MikeT Says:

    Used to play gorilla basic with a friend while drinking beer. When your gorilla was hit, you had to take a punch to the arm. Ahhh, those were the days!

  52. Brett Says:

    I'm told that Mac OSX comes with a tetris clone… it's an easter egg in Emacs.

  53. Ike Says:

    This was the best! When everything else was banned on the network they had this running and we would play it for hours while waiting for other jobs to run. Those not in the know had no idea what the hell we were doing.

  54. Cochese Says:

    There is also a free tile game that comes with win 7 and vista, it's in the side bar. Also, I still have my Windows 95 install cd, not the Plus! one and Hover is on it, it just doesn't install with the OS.

    Also, you can escape the Yeti if you were to press F.

    Also, Also, you can download a Win Vista/ 7 version of SkiFree for free at it's official website http://ski.ihoc.net/

  55. Tarl Says:

    Still have an original Amiga 1000 with a 256k upgrade and a 2000 with a whole footlocker full of games and programs. Was way ahead of the rest when they first came out.

  56. StickyGlue Says:

    I used to play gorillas and Nibbles a lot!!! They were really good games at that time. I am 19 now and i remember playing them a lot with my bro 4+ years older than me. I was born playing them :P

  57. james2vegas Says:

    Yeah, though it was famous for hanging our network, we kept playing it though, Melissa good call on Snipes, awesome game

  58. Mark Says:

    It may not be installed by default; just go to Add/Remove Programs, Windows Components, and you should be able to install it from there. Same goes for 2000 and XP I think. Even better just get a copy of the full game from Maxis called Full Tilt, it has three different tables and better graphics.

  59. Mark Says:

    I believe so, in fact even in XP the folder that Pinball is installed to is named Windows NT.

  60. Mark Says:

    That was part of the Entertainment Pack, it wasn't included with Windows.

  61. Mark Says:

    That's because it was not included with any OS, which is what the article is about.

  62. Mark Says:

    Really? lol. I never noticed that but I remember hardly ever being able to win.

  63. Joel Says:

    Whats with the horrible formatting on this article?

  64. Vanka Says:

    If i remember correctly, the jigsaw puzzle for the Mac was not limited to just a picture of the world. I recall using the Mac's clipart browser to find clipart, copy, and then paste it into the jigsaw game. This may have been in a later version.

  65. The_Heraclitus Says:

    You missed the most "high tech" OS game of the 90's. Win 95 Hover Car.

  66. wizarddrummer Says:

    Agree with the “horrid trash” aka Gates slop. Most of our computer woes today are a result of Alfred E. Neuman’s sloppy designs.

    You missed “Zork” that was on the DEC PDP 11′s and VAX/VMS’s if I remember correctly.

  67. zenrascal Says:

    For me the first really cool computer game was Spacewar. Written for the DEC PDP-1 around 1961.

  68. bims Says:

    Annoying article format really

  69. bluesforever Says:

    Disappointing list but he idea is cool.
    No mention of the BBC Micro: how could you miss Elite! & Androids), Commodore 64: Wizzard, Z80 Spectrum Deathcahse….

  70. RichyS Says:

    May have been forgotten as I doubt they sold very many in the US, but the included game with Acorn's RISC OS was David Braben's 'Lander' — a demo version of Zarch (or Virus as it was known on other platforms). It was a pretty revolutionary 3D game in its day, and really showed off the power of the ARM processor (IIRC, the demo was written in BBC BASIC, while the full game was a compiled binary).

    How I wish for a version of Zarch/Virus on the iPhone or iPad…

  71. habbari Says:

    I must say, unless you're a serious gamer, most of these games will just go over your head without merit or mention.
    Serious gamers on the other side, don't follow along like the rest of us minions who're into angry birds or farmville!
    Granted, the above 2 games are trensetters but, like bubblegum, will be gone tomorrow!
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  73. Marie S Says:

    I am one of those people who have lost countless hours of production to those games haha.

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  78. Harvey Says:

    Pinball was awesome, minesweeper was a good time waster as well. Chess on Mac OS X isn't too fun!

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