Play Star Wars: Dark Forces on Windows 7-10 using DarkXL
If you've been caught up in all the Star Wars nostalgia surrounding the release of The Force Awakens, then you may also have been tempted to take a trip down memory lane and revisit some of the classic LucasArts Star Wars games.
The trouble is many of those games were designed for older versions of Windows, and getting them to play on a system running anything more modern than Windows XP can be a frustrating and time consuming process. In the case of 1995's Doom-inspired first person shooter Star Wars: Dark Forces however, the situation is even worse as it was initially designed to run on Window's predecessor DOS.
Dark Forces was the first game in the hugely popular and critically acclaimed Jedi Knight series, which followed an Imperial Stormtrooper turned Rebel Mercenary named Kyle Katarn as he first discovered he could use the force, learnt to control his powers and then eventually became a Jedi Master under the guidance of Luke Skywalker.
Fortunately with the arrival of tools such DOSBox, which can emulate the DOS environment on modern computers, the potential for getting Dark Forces and many other classic games running has improved significantly. In fact, many of the older LucasArts titles available on Steam include DOSBox in the download so users don't have the hassle of setting up the emulation themselves before they can play.
Dark Forces is one of those games and runs just fine using DOSBox, however there is also now an exciting alternative which not only allows the game to run on Windows 7, 8 and 10 (and in the future Linux and Mac OS X too) but also adds some modern graphical effects and features without affecting the gameplay.
Introducing DarkXL and the XL Engine
DarkXL is part of the XL Engine project, which began several years ago with the aim of making several so-called "2.5D" games - Dark Forces, The Elder Scrolls: Daggerfall, Blood and Outlaws - playable on modern computers and give them the sort of features you would expect to see on more recent games - mouselook, vsync, dynamic lighting, hardware accelerated rendering and much more.
The term "2.5D" was coined because these games aren't fully 3D - they use 2D sprites for things like enemies and weapons within a 3D environment.
The XL Engine is still in an early state, however Dark Forces is perfectly playable - providing you're able to put up with a few bugs along the way. The XL Engine downloads page already offers fairly comprehensive instructions on the steps you need to follow in order to setup DarkXL, so I won't repeat them here.
Instead, here are a couple of screenshots demonstrating the enhanced, less pixelated graphics and the dynamic lighting added by DarkXL, all while still using the original art assets that were released with the game.
The end result is impressive considering Dark Forces was first released over 20 years ago. These screenshots were also taken from quite an old build of DarkXL, and according to it's creator a new version should be along in early 2016 that will offer even more features including an improved UI, easier setup of supported games and the ability to load up your old saves.
To stay up to date on the progress of DarkXL and the rest of the XL Engine project, there is a fairly regularly updated blog that details the work that is being done on the project's website: http://xlengine.com.