When it comes to DOS emulation, the general consensus around these parts is that DOSBox is the way to go. It’s free, completely cross-platform and runs virtually any DOS game or app you can throw at it.
If you’re a Mac OS X user interested in simplifying the process and making everything look good while you’re at it then you might be interested in Boxer, an app that wraps your favourite DOS games in an app-like wrapper complete with box art and the ability to just double-click and play.
The app is designed to bring additional functionality to those wanting to play their old favourites on a Mac, so read on if you’re a retro gamer who now calls OS X home.
DOS? On My Mac?
Boxer is a fancy front-end for DOSBox which packages your DOS games for easy access, straight from the Finder. That means no more loading DOSBox, defining the C: drive as a directory then using command line prompts to launch. There’s still something charming about that process, I agree, but Boxer gets rid of it all and adds a few other enhancements too.
The GUI is one of the most obvious improvements, making it easy to install, browse, modify preferences while still providing access to the command prompt if you want it. There are also a litter of Mac-specific improvements including extensive joystick and gamepad support, easy management of DOS drives, a screenshot function and the ability to paste straight from OS X into your emulated DOS environment.
Powered by DOSBox, the app smoothes over and beautifies the process so that it is more in-keeping with the rest of your OS X desktop. Having quick access to your games from Finder makes playing and backing up your collection easier than ever. Boxer also comes with some pre-installed demos, allowing you to jump straight in and test it out. I can’t really think of a reason why you wouldn’t want to use Boxer to play your favourite golden oldies.
Installing & Playing Games
Once you have downloaded the latest version of Boxer, simply mount the .DMG by clicking on it then drag the “Boxer” app to your Applications directory. Once you’ve done this, launch Boxer and you’ll see the main menu like in the screenshot below.
In order to install a game you’re going to need a game to hand. If you already own some titles then you might find that downloading them is an easier and quicker way of getting up and running from a MacBook Air or MacBook Pro with Retina display due to the lack of both a CD and floppy drive. If your games are stuck on floppy disk, this might be your only option and there is nothing wrong with downloading games that you legally own.
For the rest of us then there are always abandonware collections which allow you to download old games for free. Abandonware is a grey area where many (sometimes incorrect) assumptions are made about a game’s copyright, so be warned you might be breaking the law if you go this route. There are plenty of bonafide freeware titles too, such as those found on DOS Games Archive and Liberated Games.
Click Import a new game and Boxer will instruct you to drag a CD, folder containing game data or a disc image into the area.
If the game requires installation (you can copy games that are already “installed” so don’t worry about this if that’s the case) then the window will change and invite you to choose an install file, which will in most cases be “INSTALL.EXE”. Once you’ve chosen a file from the dropdown box, click Launch installer.
You’ll then have to run the game’s installer, which will automatically open in a new window. Boxer makes it as painless as possible, prompting you to choose C: as your installation drive and Sound Blaster 16 (IRQ 7) if prompted for a sound card.
Once you have configured your sound, controls and installed the game (if necessary) you will then be returned to a command prompt where you can click Finish importing at the bottom of the screen.
After a brief moment Boxer will report that your game is now ready to play. At this point you might want to find a scan of the box art (though it is possible to add this later) and ensure the game is properly labelled. Finally you can click on Launch game to start playing.
The first time you launch the game you will notice a selection of executable files from which to choose at the bottom of the screen. Usually you’ll want to pick the executable with the same name as the game, and you’ll know you’ve got the right one when the game launches at which point you can choose to launch it every time to jump straight in.
While playing you will notice there are three icons at the bottom of the screen, the first of which opens the game inspector which allows you to change CPU parameters (to speed up or slow down gameplay), configure a joystick or use an iPhone running Joypad (it’s free) and retroactively add box art among other options. There are also buttons to reveal executables and one that locks the mouse to the window (simply Cmd-Click to get your pointer back).
That’s pretty much all there is to enjoying classic DOS games under Mac OS X in style with Boxer. If you’re migrating to a different Mac then don’t forget you can simply grab your whole Boxer collection (which is found in your personal user folder) and move it across without losing any save data. Let us know what you think of Boxer and any favourite DOS games you’ve been rediscovering in the comments, below.