I admit it—I’d rather play Monkey Island (1990) or Wing Commander III (1994) before even thinking about Crysis 2 or Skyrim. My passion for PC gaming started at the tender age of 10 when my dad got us a 486 DX4 with 100 MHz, 8 MB of RAM, a 1 MB Cirrus Logic VGA graphics card, and a 2x speed CD-ROM drive. Since then, I have enjoyed LucasArts adventures, early 3D shooters and many other classic games.
Want to revisit these simpler times? It’s not easy running DOS, Windows 3.x, or Windows 9x games on modern machines—the architecture of both hardware and software has changed a lot over the past 15–25 years. In this blog post, we’ll talk about a couple of ways to easily run these old games on Windows 7 PCs.
DOSBox: Play All of Your Favorite DOS Games!
Most games from the 1980s and 1990s ran under DOS, the Disk Operating System which is a command-line operating system by Microsoft that powered most 286-, 386- and 486-era PCs. Even when Windows 3.x and Windows 95 were widely used and came pre-installed on PCs, DOS was the backbone of these systems, and thus, most games required it.
Today, DOS is extinct and not part of Windows anymore. And no, most games won’t run under the command line of Windows 7. Even if they did, classic games were sensitive to CPU clock speeds. What ran fine with 33, 66, or 100 MHz won’t run as great with clock speeds of up to 3800 MHz today. DOSbox gets around this by emulating an old PC and automatically adjusting speeds to the type of DOS application you’re running. Hit up its “Performance” section to see how you can optimize the speeds and see how it works.
DOSBox is easy to set up, but it requires some command-line skills:
1. Download and install DOSBox from this website. Copy all of your DOS-based games into a folder, for example, “C:\DOSGames”, and launch DOSBox. You’ll find yourself in the “Z:\” folder.
2. Next, mount one of your local folders to a drive letter on DOSBox. It has no direct access to your drives, such as your hard disk (C:) or your DVD Drive (D:). For example, I put the game Sim City 2000 under “C:\DOSGames”, and IDd like to mount this folder as the DOSBox drive letter “G:”. Also, make sure to shorten all folder names since you’ll need to type them all in by hand and to prevent any struggle with the “tilde”.
Here’s how that works. Simply type in “mount g: c:\DOSGames”. Next, type in the drive letter “G:”, and hit enter. Enter “Dir” to see the contents of this drive. It should reflect the contents of your local folder, “C:\DOSGames”.
To switch to a subfolder, type in “CD game” (replace the game with the name of your game folder). In my example, I switched to the “SIMCITY” folder by typing in “cd simcity”.
Type in “DIR” again to see which of these files runs the game. The file name usually resembles the name of the game and ends with the extension “.exe”, “.com”, or “.bat”.
3. After you’ve typed in the name of the game executable file, hit ENTER to run it.
ScummVM: Playing LucasArts, Sierra, Activision, and Adventuresoft Classics
Since these games were made for computers that were not even a fraction as powerful as the typical smartphone (not to mention a high-end gaming PC) today, they usually don’t work well or won’t even run at all. Thankfully, Eugene Sandulenko and his massive team created ScummVM, a tool that runs LucasArts classics at their respective speeds and scales them up perfectly for today’s screens. Over the years, the team expanded to support point-&-click games from makers like Simon the Sorcerer and Leisure Suit Larry.
Nowadays, ScummVM doesn’t just run on PCs but on basically every platform you can imagine. There are versions for Sega’s 2000-era DreamCast console, Nintendo 64, Bada, and even Nintendo DS. On these more rare or closed platforms, you’d need to do a bit of hacking before you can enjoy your classics. However, on the most popular platforms such as the PC, Android, Linux, or Mac, it only takes seconds. Here’s ScummVM running Indiana Jones IV on my HTC Flyer Android tablet.
So how does this work? Go to the ScummVM download page, and get the right version for your platform. In my example, I’ll go with the regular PC version.
Once ScummVM is installed, you’ll need the original versions of the games. If you don’t have them, they can usually be found online or on eBay. Just copy the contents of the game discs into a folder. Here, I copied and sorted all of my LucasArts adventures, so I can easily access them using ScummVM.
Fire up ScummVM, and click on “Add Game”. Browse to the folder of any game, for example, The Secret of Monkey Island, and hit “Select”. Go through the settings and see if you like any of the graphical enhancements that ScummVM has to offer. Done? Hit “OK”. Once you’re ready, click “Start” to launch the game.
To save a game at any point or exit, hit “F5″ to pull up ScummVM’s main menu.
Running Windows 9x Games
Not all classic games run under DOS; in fact, many of the games developed between 1995 and 2002 require Windows 95, 98, or Millennium Edition. These more modern classics also ran on the early version of DirectX which is still around today. So, if you want to play Windows 9x-era games, just install and run them using compatibility settings.
Right-click on the executable files (e.g. setup.msi) or game files (game.exe), go to “Properties” and select “Compatibility”. Make sure to run them under the Windows 95 or 98 settings, select “Reduced Color Mode”, and check “Run in 640×480 screen resolution”. If the game won’t run, you’ll need to jump through some hoops and install a Windows 95/98 virtual machine using VirtualBox.
However, if the game runs, its color palette might be off. This is due to a DirectX component, DirectDraw, which is severely depreciated in later versions; hence, all of the old games that require it won’t run well or at all. Thankfully, some fans have already gone out and written their own DirectDraw file hacks which will allow you to not just run the games but run them under your native display resolution of 1920×1200. The most notable of those hacks is DDHack—you can get a very detailed description of how it works here and get the latest version here. Usually, all that’s required is unpacking the ZIP file and copying the “ddraw.dll” and “ddhack.cfg” to the respective folder, such as “C:\Programs\StarCraft”. Using the “ddhack.cfg”, you can make more changes to your games.
All in all, the three solutions I mentioned should allow you to enjoy your retro games.
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