So maybe it’s time to drop the gamepad, leave the Wii-mote and shun Kinect. Get that box of floppies and badly scratched CDs out of the attic, brush up on your command line skills and enjoy some of the finest computer games ever developed.
If you’re a Windows 7 user with a nostalgic craving for the classics, you’re going to need a bit of help getting everything up and running. Enter DOSBox.
In order to create an environment in which your ageing games will feel most comfortable, you’re going to need to run a DOS emulator. There’s a couple available, but my personal favourite (because it’s easy and just works) is DOSBox.
You can download DOSBox here, being a Windows user you’ll want the top option. It’s worth mentioning the large array of different versions to choose from – DOSBox will work just as well on Linux and Mac, as well as FreeBSD, Solaris and other more obscure platforms.
Once downloaded, double click the executable installer.
You’ll be prompted to accept the licence, create shortcuts and finally choose an install directory. Hit the Install button when you’re ready, then Close.
Find the DOSBox folder in your Start menu or use the desktop shortcut you just created. You’ll notice two windows open: the DOSBox status window and the main DOSBox window. You’ll want the main one.
Before you can run any games you’ll need to mount a directory as your virtual C:\ drive. This is what DOSBox will use as a local hard drive, any folders therein can then be accessed with the C: prefix (more on this in a bit).
To mount a folder of your choice, type:
mount c <folder>\
I made a directory called dosgames on my C:\ drive, so to mount it I would type:
mount c c:\dosgames\
Now you can place any games you wish to run into the folder you mounted. You will need to mount a folder each time you run DOSBox in order to access the juicy games stored within.
It’s probably worth brushing up on your command line skills too. Those of you who are veterans of the DOS era will probably encounter little trouble, but users who are new to the command line may struggle.
Navigation is done through the cd command, so to change directory from the default DOSBox Z:\> prompt you’d type:
To change to the C: drive you just created, then:
This would take you to the doom directory, if you had one. There is help available within DOSBox, at any time type help /all for a complete list of supported commands.
So you’ve set up DOSBox, and you even know how to use it. With your virtual C:\ drive created it’s time to fill that folder you mounted with classic games.
There’s a couple of ways to get hold of old DOS computer games. The most obvious method is using your original CD or floppy disk. To do this, create a new folder within the mounted location (so for me, it’s C:\dosgames\) and drag the contents of the CD/floppy into it.
You can then navigate there, using the cd command and run the game by typing:
Replace <executable> with the name of the game’s executable file, and enjoy yourself.
Maybe you’ve scratched your old CDs, no longer have a floppy drive or are just plain lazy – you can always download the games you own. This is not illegal provided you own the original media, though if you download any games you don’t own then be aware that you’re breaking the law.
As usual, put any games you’ve downloaded within the folder you mounted. You’ll then be able to access them through DOSBox.
Last but certainly not least there’s abandonware. This software’s legality is still contested for a variety of reasons, but there’s a flurry of websites that are jam-packed with games – and we’ve got an article all about them.
DOSBox should be your ticket to old-school gaming on Microsoft’s latest operating system. Sometimes it’s nice to take a break from the latest and greatest and enjoy the golden oldies. If you think this is awesome, then check out our other article on SCUMMVM for point-and-click goodness. You’ll be playing classics like Cannon Fodder, Theme Park and Commander Keen for hours!
Have you played with DOSBox? Got any favourites from years gone by? Let us know in the comments.