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WTF was… Carmen Sandiego Deluxe

Screenshot of Carmen Deluxe

Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego? Deluxe Edition
CDROM for DOS, 1992
Wikipedia article

It's been much too long since I wrote something up, and having finally navigated the setup for DOSBox I decided to take another look at Carmen Sandiego on CD. I don't remember where or when I got it – it's one of those CDs that's just been in my collection forever – but I do remember getting it up and running in the early 2000s on my Win98 box. No music, sound worked, but I was ten and the Internet wasn't a thing for me, so I never finished a single case.

Rather hard to follow the suspect when your clues say they went somewhere that leads the world in cloves exports, and you don't even know what cloves are yet.

I completely missed the DOS game era, and most of the early PC games in fact. By the time I had a computer of my own, with Windows 98 able to run DOS games no problem, I was already used to the modern experience of games. Double click exe, game runs, sound and midi happily chirping away. With DOS, suddenly everything had a strange command line installer, and a setup program asking you for the IRQ setting on your sound card. And why didn't picking SoundBlaster work when my Windows audio settings told me I had a Creative SoundBlaster card?

Carmen, I suppose, released at the right time in DOS game history, with a competent auto-setup installer that could at least detect wave support, and get the game running fullscreen. Shame I was too young and too alone to make much use of it. When I wanted geography gaming, I went over to Encarta MindMaze.

So it sat in my spindle of CD games, alongside things like Bodyland, one of those "wow this CD thing lets us do MULTIMEDIA" childrens' learning apps, and Midnight Rescue!, one of the Super Solvers titles.

A decade and a half later, I've ripped ISOs of what few CDs aren't scratched beyond repair, and decided to have another go at Carmen. One DOSBox Game Launcher install later, and it's up and running, no problems. Armed with Google and Wikipedia, no criminal can hide from me!

When I wrote the Vortex95 review, I was under the delusion I would be able to port it to a browser game, despite not knowing the first thing about modern Javascript programming. That's still the case, the not-knowing-Javascript part, because I'm just not that good thinking about pixels. Vortex95 would require understanding a lot of graphics calls, to draw the board, and the lanes, and the pieces, and handling mouse events to move pieces, and wrapping my brain and the player's around the scoring, and, and…

But Carmen Sandiego? Much simpler in comparison. Build a fixed size box page, have a big fixed block for the location image, a few blocks for the phone, text box for the transcripts and general UI, and some UI for the notepad.

So it's another "hey this would be a neat idea" idea. There's still a lot to do, but it's mostly data generation. The original game has 45 cities, each with some artifact to steal, and most everything else could be procedurally generated – which cities can be accessed from this point, what path does the perp take, what locations can be searched in a city, and so on. Writing a lot of copy is easier than wrapping my head around pixel drawing.

So maybe something will come of this idea. Or maybe I still won't make any progress on it, and a couple months from now I'll dig up another old game that's even simpler to implement in a browser.