Do you remember the "good 'ol days" in gaming when having "only" 2MB of RAM was stacks? And having to create on-boot startup-menus in MS-DOS (and my personal favorite DOS of old: DR-DOS6) to select High-Memory configs by loading different configurations specifically for gaming? I was a master of those config.sys and autoexec.bat scripts and was able to squeeze every last byte of my of my old 286 and 386 PCs; because memory was so expensive, this was an important part of gaming life.
Fast forward to today and we have gigs of memory that come of out of the wazoo for next to nicks; so 16GB of memory for $100 is not uncommon and readily available and processing power that would make heaters redundant.
Some games where absolute gems in terms of gameplay - by today's graphics and video standards they're fairly archaic BUT its the gameplay that made many games legendary and set the scene for gaming for years to come.
So, how can we use today's supercomputers (compared to what we had back when) to play our old DOS classics? The challenge is that today's operating systems don't necessary allow old DOS-based games to run because the advancement in hardware and software. The quickest option is to use a DOS emulator that uses compatible audio, graphics, mouse, cpu and hardware that the older games recognise and will run happily on.
This article goes through some software options and steps to enable you play your old favs.
Note: This article has been written with WindowsXP/7 in mind. If you're a linux user, I'll try my best to match up the products with your Pengiun counterparts.
Tools In the Shed
To make this happen, we need the following:
- DOSBox, an x86 DOS Emulator
- D-Fend Reloaded, a DOSBox GUI Interface
- A copy of the original files game files to your fav DOS game
Note: D-Fend Reloaded is simply a frontend to DOSBox and allows you to manage your games in a catalog and access advanced/custom features per game easily. You can still play games using DOSBox on its own. D-Fend Reloaded also includes a copy of DOSBox in its install so you don't need a separate copy of it.
What is DOSBox? DB is a Intel x86 PC emulator incoporating sound, video, joystick, modem and mouse support. It was written to allow you to play old DOS games on today's hardware and operating systems. While it does incorporate a DOS-like operating system, its scaled down and doesn't include all the O/S type features you'd find a full-blown product like MS-DOS or DR-DOS (or FreeDOS.)
Note: DOSBox will most games, but you might some compatibility issues but refer to their website for a compatibility listing HERE.
Installing D-Fend Reloaded
- Download the latest version of D-Fend Reloaded from the Sourceforge.net website (~15MB)
- Run the setup and install the program; follow default settings is recommended
- On first load - D-Fend Reloaded will ask if you want to use the bundled version of DOSBox or you can specify your own. We went with the bundled (which at the time of writing is the latest DOSBox version.)
- You can double-click on DOSBox from the catalog to get the command prompt going
D-Fend Reloaded Overview
DOSBox uses a "mounted" C: - which is basically a folder on your computer somewhere. Normally, you have to edit the DOSBox config file and add in mount commands in the AUTOEXEC section; however D-Fend Reloaded has taken the pain away with pre-configured autoexec commands which include mount commands and other addons.
Because we're using D-Fend, we don't need to worry about punching in DOS commands to change directories and run .exe's and because we live in a GUI world now it takes total sense! If you're keen, you can certainly run DOSBox and have your CLI way with it. Simply double-click on the DOSBox icon from the game catalog.
DOSBox uses a configuration file to store important customisations - this article doesn't cover hardcore configuration of DOSBox and will use D-Fend Reloaded defaults where suitable as they work just fine.
D-Fend Reloaded allows a number of ways to add games to the catalog. We'll cover off the two most common and basic methods:
- Add with Wizard
- Import Games From Archive (Which we'll cover off in this article)
If you want to know more about the other options, click F1 on your keyboard to bring up Help.
Import Games From Archive
Importing games from an Archive allows you to import games directly from archive files. This is a great way of importing games without the hassle of unzipping them first then importing them.
- Have your archive handy. D-Fend Reloaded supports without any external help, .zip and .7zip.
- From the top menu, click PROFILE-->IMPORT ARCHIVE FILE
- OR alternatively, simply "drag and drop" into the D-Fend Reloaded Window
- As you can see, we're installing Doom v1.9 Shareware for the demo
- D-Fend Reloaded is smart enough to know that the game needs to be "installed"
- Doom v1.9 needs the setup run before play can commence so D-Fend will run that too
- I selected C, and chose a directory to install and PKSFX does its thang!
- After selecting the audio and keyboard from the setup Doom started and I was away
- If all goes well you should see the game appear in the catalog
- If you had just the files in .zip file then you might need to run the SETUP separately
The game should be pretty much ready to go. You can customise the profile by right-clicking and select EDIT (eg: change hardware, customise program information etc.)
DOSBox is available for the most popular distros as deb, RPMs, and other binaries. Or, roll your own using the source code. Unfortunately, D-Fend Reloaded isn't available for Linux natively unless you use WINE to load up the Windows version. Some native-Linux/*nix versions you can try:
Check out the DOSBox Frontends page: HERE
Overall, DOSBox + D-Fend Reloaded will squeeze a few more years out of the old games yet - or until the remakes appear on Kickstarter OR someone makes an opensource engine with newer/updated graphics. (eg. Z-Doom.)