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 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! (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 that allows 16-bit apps to run on a 64-bit OS.
I’m running Ubuntu 16.04 on an HP Envy m6 powered by an AMD A10 processor and Radeon 7660g APU. However, this method should work on most Linux distribution.
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.
First, let’s enable 32-bit architecture:
sudo dpkg --add-architecture i386
Now that 32-bit architecture is enabled, it’s time to add the repository:
sudo add-apt-repository ppa:wine/wine-builds
Next, we’ll need to update packages:
sudo apt-get update
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:
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.
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]
By using PlayOnLinux however, the process is much more user-friendly, and offers access to several versions of Wine, plugins, and more!
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. 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.
Select Open with Software Install (default) and click OK.
Now click Install in the Software Center.
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.
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.
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).
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. Which retro games are you going to revisit first? Let us know in the comments section below!