Free Old Games for Your New PC

Free Old Games for Your New PC


Whizzing around in the vast 3D complexity of today's modern games, I often wonder if gaming has really taken a step forward since the good ole' days of DOS and 3.1 in anything other than graphics. Weak plots, frustrating challenges, lame puzzles, all attempting to cloak the one and only intent: KILL EVERYTHING.

I have no problem with killing everything... its true, after a stressful day there are few things I enjoy more, but other days I can help being bored and somewhat disappointed by it. My mind can't help but think back to the days when games cost a few pounds on tape or diskette, each bringing something new and exciting to the gaming world. This was back in the days when gamers made games in their bedrooms, many a millionaire was created by such simple means, even back when game tapes cost less than £5 and more people had model railway sets than Personal Computers! I'm sure I'm not the first to suggest the the money driven mania that is the gaming industry today is persistently failing its loyal customers more and more, with every title formulaically spewed out.​

But there is hope!

Why not get those old diskettes out from their dusty old boxes, filled with nostalgia and get installing! Don't panic if you haven't kept the old disks, they're broken or you can't find your favourite - Abandonware is here to save you. Games get the title of abanonware when they are no longer published or discontinued. This means they are free to copy, distribute and download.​

In this guide I'm going to show you how to get your old DOS/3.1/Win95 games working on your newer Win2000/XP machine and how to 'emulate' them if needed. I'm also going to show you where you can find and download your favourite old games for free.

How to download free games

If you can't find your favourite old game or have just thrown it away along time ago you probably will still be able to find it on the internet as its almost certainly now considered abandonware meaning it can now be legally downloaded for free!​

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Downloading Free Games - Legally!


There are literally hundreds of abandonware sites, but luckily the nice people at the Abandonware Ring have compiled a continually updated and rated list of the top sites. The folks at TUOL also have a huge list which includes links to various resources. Both have a search engine and between these 2 sites you should be able to find virtually any abandonware game you desire, along with enough other games to keep you playing for a lifetime. The Home of The Underdogs is also a great site, however it's dedicated to games that never got the recognition they deserve and not exclusively an abandonware resource (pop-up warning).​

Installation

So you've downloaded your favourite game or dusted off that old box and stuck the diskette in your PC. The next step is installation, to make it easy for yourself later its best if you install the game on your primary drive and in an easy to reach location (eg C:\game\).

Next thing to do is (obviously) try and play the game, locate the installation folder and try and run the game. You can run .exe and .bat files, if there's more than one of these files pick the one with the name most like the game. If the game runs with no problem, the graphics and sound all work fine, no errors and it doesn't crash, you've been very lucky and you can stop reading this guide! However due to the numerous compatibly issues between the latest versions of Windows and old DOS based programs your most likely staring blankly at an error message, garbled screen or crashed computer.

What you should try next depends on your operating system and error message, but as a rule it is best to try the milder methods your operating system already has before resorting to other options, such as emulation packages which are covered later.

If you're running Windows 2000, and especially if you have got a memory related error, right click on the game's *.exe file, click memory, and change the EMS and XMS memory the program is given from none to a couple of megabytes...

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EMS Memory Settings

Next reduce your screen resolution and colour by right clicking anywhere on the desktop, selecting Properties and then clicking on the Settings tab...


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Changing Resolution

Which ever OS you're running, you might want to click on 'Advanced'.​

In this Window and turn 'Hardware Acceleration' down to 'None'. Don't forget to turn this back up to full when your finished though as it will cause problems with other applications...

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Hardware Acceleration

If your running Windows XP you can use the Compatibility settings included to help you run older programs.

Right click on the program's .exe, click the Compatibility tab and check all of the boxes.


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Compatibility Settings

With any luck, especially if the game was a Windows 95/98 game, your game should run fine now, however if your game was originally for DOS its likely that you're still having trouble and its time to proceed to the next step.​

DOS Emulation Software

This isn't as scary as it sounds, it just means that because our DOS game is effectively talking a different older language, we need to get a program that acts as interpreter between our shiny new hardware and the DOS program. There are several of these programs available, I'm going to go through 2 of the best, first up DOSBox...

You can download DOSBox as well as view a list of tested and supported games for it here. After you've installed and run DOSBox, you should be greeted with this window, and perhaps another telling you that its loaded drivers of MIDI emulation. Before you run your game you first need to 'mount' its folder, this isn't as pleasurable as it first sounds I'm afraid, however it is quick and easy...

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DosBox

To mount your games folder simply type 'mount c ' then the path of the folder you installed/unzipped the game to, this will mount the folder as drive C in the DOS box, to run the game type 'c:' then the name of the game executable...​


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Mounting a game directory


For the majority of games this will work perfectly. However, very rarely some games may still refuse to work. In this case you have a few options, the first of which should be to try another DOS emulator such as DodGE. DodGE is a less supported and tested DOS emulation program which, thanks to a few extra advanced features, may just do the trick. You can read about and download it from here. To run a game simply run the program, select File->Open and then the *.exe or *.bat file of the game, cross your fingers and then click Emulator -> Run Program. Here's a a screenshot...​

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DodGE Emulator


If your game still doesn't work, you have one last emulation option: Bochs. This is a​

comprehensive emulation package that not just emulates DOS, but a full old x86 PC. The down-side to Bochs is that its extremely difficult to set up, for this reason I wont be covering it in this guide. You can read more about, and download Bochs here.

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Bochs Emulator

Other Emulators

In some cases, it may be your favourite game wasn't for the PC at all, or needs some special software to run properly. In this case you need an emulator or an interpreter. In the same way that DOSBox and DodGE emulate a DOS environment, these emulate other platforms. In other words they can fool a program into thinking your PC is a Super-Nintendo or a Commodore 64. To help you find out which one you need we've compiled a short table with the main platforms, file extensions and the recommended emulator/program you can use to get your game running...

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Conclusion

So there you have it, now you can relive the good ole' days of computer gaming for free at the comfort of your modern desktop PC anytime you like. There are literally thousands of games out there, so what better way to close this article than with some screen shots of my favourites, all working perfectly thanks to the techniques used in this guide. See if you can guess which game it is or even the year of release, hover over the image for the answer. Happy Gaming!

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Bureaucracy

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Neuromancer


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BAT 2 - The Koshan Conspiracy

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Matt Jason H
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