Gaming Linux

How to Play Retro Windows Games on Linux

Moe Long 22-09-2016

We all love gaming, and there’s certainly no shortage of eye-candy spawning from major studios and indie developers alike. But there’s something so satisfying about revisiting a retro title, like catching up with an old friend after many years apart. Think those ancient games 7 Ways to Play Old Windows & DOS Games on Linux Gaming on Linux is on the rise, but if you don't want to turn your PC into a game server then the answer is with old games, retro classics from the Windows platform. Read More have gone the way of the AOL CD?


Dust off that aging copy of Oregon Trail II and start playing some retro games on Linux 6 Reasons to Start Your Kids Off With Linux Computers, and their operating systems, are not created equal. The OS they use matters, and Linux might be the best one to start them off with. Let's talk about why. Read More ! (We claim no responsibility if your ox dies fording the river.)

A (16-)Bit of History

In its original incarnation, Windows was a 16-bit environment, and naturally ran 16-bit applications. With the advent of Windows 95, Windows moved to a 32-bit OS, which still maintained backward compatibility with 16-bit apps. It wasn’t until Windows Vista came along, offering 64-bit versions of Windows, that compatibility with 16-bit applications was fractured. Linux users have a neat workaround however, with a combination of Wine and PlayOnLinux PlayOnLinux Brings Windows Games & Programs To Linux Read More that allows 16-bit apps to run on a 64-bit OS.

I’m running Ubuntu 16.04 How to Customize the Ubuntu 16.04 LTS Desktop Sick of the default Ubuntu look? Using Terminal commands and the Unity Tweak Tool, you can customize Ubuntu 16.04 LTS with ease. Read More on an HP Envy m6 powered by an AMD A10 processor and Radeon 7660g APU. However, this method should work on most Linux distribution.

Wine Install

While PlayOnLinux includes Wine as its back-end, most distributions require Wine as a prerequisite (skipping this creates quite a nuisance). The official PoL documentation even states that on Debian (Wheezy) and Ubuntu (Precise and later) it’s necessary to enable the i386 version of Wine.

To install Wine, open your terminal (Ctrl + Alt + T). I followed the install for Ubuntu 7 Things That Ubuntu Does Better Than Windows Is Ubuntu really just for nerds? No! Ubuntu is as easy to use as Windows... and in some ways, Ubuntu is better than Windows 10! Read More , so this step may vary slightly depending on which distro you’re using.


First, let’s enable 32-bit architecture:

sudo dpkg --add-architecture i386

Wine Install Ubuntu

Now that 32-bit architecture is enabled, it’s time to add the repository:

sudo add-apt-repository ppa:wine/wine-builds

Wine Install Ubuntu


Next, we’ll need to update packages:

sudo apt-get update

Wine Install Ubuntu

Finally, it’s time to install Wine. For the staging branch, merely use:

sudo apt-get install --install-recommends winehq-staging

But for the development branch, type:

sudo apt-get install --install-recommends winehq-devel

At this point, it’s totally feasible to begin installing and playing games. To do so, we’ll want to pull up out command prompt and enter:


Winecfg Command

This pulls up the Wine graphical user interface (GUI), which can be used to install programs. Navigate to Applications > Add Application and select the EXE for the program you want to install. Alternately, open the the folder containing your EXE, right click it, and select Run Program with Wine.

Wine GUI


Running programs via standalone Wine however can be a bit cumbersome what with having to cd into the Wine folder containing the program EXE and then run:

wine [program name]

Standalone Wine Game Install

By using PlayOnLinux however, the process is much more user-friendly, and offers access to several versions of Wine, plugins, and more!

PlayOnLinux Install

Next up, we’ll install PlayOnLinux. While PoL does include Wine as its backend, Debian Wheezy users Ubuntu (Precise and up) must enable the i386 version of Wine. Go to the PlayOnLinux Downloads page and select the correct package. Current packages include Debian, Fedora, Archlinux, Frugalware, and Ubuntu 10 Ways to Make Ubuntu 16.04 Feel Like Home Ubuntu 16.04 is an LTS release, so you get five years of updates, and not have to worry about installing a new version for a while. But what do you do once you've installed Ubuntu... Read More . There’s also an All distributions option. As I’m using Ubuntu 16.04, I merely clicked the PlayOnLinux Debian package, and installed it using the Ubuntu Software center.

PlayOnLinux Debian Package

Select Open with Software Install (default) and click OK.

PlayOnLinux Install

Now click Install in the Software Center.

PlayOnLinux Install

You may be prompted to enter your password for authentication to proceed with the install.

A dialog may ask you if you’d like to provide basic system info (OS version, GPU model), to PlayOnLinux which helps to maintain a compatibility database. Click Yes or No and the install is complete!

Get Started Gaming

After installing Wine and the beautiful front-end that is PlayOnLinux, we can now install our game. Open PlayOnLinux, and select Install a program. There are several categories, including Multimedia, Accessories, and of course Games.

PlayOnLinux Install

Once under the Games tab, find your game of choice by searching or scrolling. If you can’t find your application, select Install an unlisted program. I used Westwood Studios’ 1997 Blade Runner game, which (much to my delight) was one of the many games listed. A quick perusal shows a smattering of titles, from Ages of Empires to Baldur’s Gate and even Steam.

Once you’ve selected your game, click Install.

Blade Runner Install

A warning reminds you to leave the default directory unchanged, and not to allow the fresh install to launch immediately after installation.

The PlayOnLinux install wizard now guides you through the standard game install, so insert disc one, and if you’re installing multiple discs (as is the case with Blade Runner and its whopping four CDs), then switch when prompted. While I have no proof, I suspect the four Blade Runner discs were an attempt to match the many iterations of the film.

Once your game finishes installing, it’s time to game! Note that the process can vary slightly depending on specifics such as operating system and game. I also got Oregon Trail II, one of my favorite childhood PC games, resurrected and finally made the trek to Oregon (yes, it is possible, albeit difficult).

Blade Runner on Linux

16-bit applications aren’t typically resource-intensive for modern systems. Although running games on a non-native OS can be questionable, I did find that performance was generally wonderful. The list of compatible programs is shockingly large and diverse, but just because a program isn’t listed (Oregon Trail II is not), doesn’t mean it won’t install and run.

Windows has traditionally been the go-to for gaming, but Linux is quickly catching up 10 Great Games Hiding in Your Linux App Store Linux gamers have some real gems available - if you know where to look! These 10 games aren't new, but if you're a Linux newcomer, they'll offer some great, free gaming experiences. Read More . Which retro games are you going to revisit first? Let us know in the comments section below!

Related topics: Linux, Wine.

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  1. Enverex
    October 22, 2016 at 11:38 am

    Er, you don't install software with winecfg at all. Have you ever actually even used Wine?

    Also, if you're going to run DOS programs, use DOSBox. Installing them into Wine is a waste of time as Wine then just has to run them inside DOSBox for you, adding an extra layer of complexity.

    If it's genuinely an old version of Windows it's designed for, then just 32bit Wine will be fine. PlayOnLinux isn't needed in most instances as all it does it script the installer for you and use a specific version of Wine (where as using anything other than the latest version is somewhat frowned upon).

  2. HarryMonmouth
    September 26, 2016 at 10:02 pm

    You had me with Baldur's gate. That is a definite must. Now I just need find a disc from somewhere.

    • Moe Long
      September 28, 2016 at 7:48 pm

      Hey Harry! For sure, that's one of my favorites. You can also snag a digital copy from GOG and Steam. I couldn't find mine, so I copped a version from there a while back. So nice to be able to play on Ubuntu.

      Happy gaming!