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The Coop

A "How To" for running older games with DOSBox...

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From time to time, people ask about how they can run older games like Wolfenstien 3-D, Wing Commander and various King's Quest games on their XP PCs. It's not fun to try an old favorite, only to have you PC either refuse to install it, or give you the finger when you click on its executable. So, in a effort to try and help out the old schooling folk on OCR, I thought I'd make a thread for those who want to learn a bit about DOSBox, running games in it, and seeking advice on how to get an individual game to run better in it. So, without anymore bullshitting...

DOSBox

Right there is a link to the DOSBox website. There, you'll find the latest version of this DOS emulator, as well as a forum (which I'll address later). Just hop on over, grab the emulator, and install it. Once you've done that, follow these simple steps to get it ready for just about any game you wanna throw at it...

The Setup...

1) In your C: drive (or whatever the letter is for your main hard drive where you normally install things), make a folder called "DOSGames". Be sure to install all the older games you want to play into a folder of their own in this folder. This makes things a lot simpler as it keeps everything organized, and in one place. As an example, in my "DOSGames" folder, I have folders named "Wing", "Wing2", "Mech2", etc.

2) Go to the folder where DOSBox was installed, and locate the ".conf" file (which is found in the same area as the program's executable). This file is very important, as it contains all the options and aspects of DOSBox that can be tweaked and adjusted to help make it run better, or to help a particular game run better too. In this ".conf" file , go to the very bottom, and add these lines after "[autoexec]"...

loadfix -64

mount f f:\ -t cdrom

mount c c:\DOSGames -freesize 999

mount a a:\ -t floppy

C:

"loadfix -64" helps correct some start up and loading problems with various games. "mount f f:\ -t cdrom" let's DOSBox know which CD drive to use for games that require a CD for music or security checks (use whichever letter is for your CD drive... like if your CD drive was "G", you'd put "mount g g:\ -t cdrom"). "mount c c:\DOSGames -freesize 999" makes DOSBox think that the "DOSGames" folder is the C: drive (don't worry, this doesn't endanger any aspect of your PC) while telling DOSBox that there's 999MB available (this can be upped if needed), and "mount a a:\ -t floppy" let's DOSBox know which drive to use for floppy disks (again, use whichever letter your floppy drive has... assuming you have a floppy drive). "C:" automatically changes the "Z" to a "C" (it saves a little extra typing to do this).

3) Start DOSBox by double clicking on its executable, and once everything's done booting, type in "cd **the name of the folder where the executable is you want to run**", and hit "Enter". "cd" stands for "change directory", and this tells DOSBox to move from the root of the "C:" drive, to the folder I typed in. As an example, if I wanted to run Wing Commander on my PC, I'd type in "cd wing".

5) Finally, type in the name of the executable, hit "Enter", and you'll be stylin'. As a last example, to run Wing Commander, I'd simply type in "wing.exe".

So altogether, the sequence I had to type into DOSBox was...

cd wing

wing.exe

Keep in mind, that some older games don't put the executable right there inside the main game folder. Some put it in a folder of it's own, or have a folder within a folder. To give you an example, the game Silpheed is like this. The game is installed in a folder called "SIERRA". Inside this folder, is another folder called "SILPHEED", and it's within this "SILPHEED" folder that the game's executable rests. So to set things up for this game, I'd have to type the following sequence into DOSBox...

cd sierra\silpheed

silpheed.bat

It's almost just like what I posted a paragraph up, but I had to add an extra folder to the "cd" command line, so that DOSBox would get to that folder within a folder. It may seem a bit odd at first, but it really does make sense when you look at it.

Sound...

Now, when it comes to sound, DOSBox can emulate just about all the major sound devices back in the day. SoundBlaster, midi, Gravis Ultrasound, MT-32 (Roland)... this little thing can even handle the digitized speech that came with some games.

Usually when the game installs, it'll ask you to set up the sound. As it's setting up, it also chooses the default settings that were the norm for each device (which the DOSBox config file is already set up for). So after choosing "midi", "Soundblaster" or what have you for the music and/or sound effects, all you'll have to do is just keep tapping "Enter" until the sound settings are done. These settings are then saved by the game, and in turn, used by DOSBox when you run the game. So you'll get full sound most of the time (I say most, because some games are still a bit buggy when running in DOSBox).

Adjustments...

So now you've got your game up and running, but the speed seems a bit off. If the game's running too fast, hold "Ctrl" and tap "F11" to lower the number of cycles (this slows DOSBox down). If it's running too slow, hold "Ctrl" and tap "F12" to raise the cycles (this speeds DOSBox up). The number of cycles you're running will be along the top of the DOSBox window. These commands will help get the game you're running to a more normal speed. However, do note that DOSBox can't run every game at a super spiffy speed. Some like MechWarrior 2 or The Elder Scrolls: Arena will run slower than they would have on a good PC back in their day. This is because DOSBox is emulating an DOS environment, which takes processing power by your PC. As a result, the better PC you have, the more you'll be able to speed up the game you're playing. You can make tweaks to the text lines within the ".conf" file, but they'll only go so far. In time, DOSBox will improve and use less processing power, giving the user more of their PC's muscle to use. But as it is, it still does a very good job with a lot of games.

There's also one last thing you can easily use to help a game speed up a bit, or to fix various other performance issues... frame skipping. What it does, is tell DOSBox to literally skip a part of the graphical rendering process within a set a ten frames. So if you set the frame skip to "1", it'll skip one frame in every ten frames being rendered (in both 2D and 3D games). This helps issues like stuttering or crackling sound effects and music, and it can also help the game run a bit quicker. To use this option, hold "Ctrl" and hit "F8" to raise the number of skipped frames, and "F7" to lower it. Do keep in mind, that if you go overboard, your game will get pretty choppy. So try and keep it to between 1 and 3.

How far can you push it?

So now that you know about adjusting what are called "cycles" in DOSBox, just how high can you crank it? Well, there's a very simple way to find out...

First, hit "Alt", "Ctrl" and "Delete" at the same time. This brings up the Windows Task Manager. In this new window, click on the tab along the top that says "Performance". Here you'll see four windows... two long, and two short. Pay attention to the short window in the upper left under "CPU Usage".

With this window open, start up DOSBox, and run the game you want to play that's chugging a bit. Get it to an actual gameplay area (like say, the first mission in MechWarrior 2, or the first dungeon in The Elder Scrolls: Arena) and see where the percentage is under the "CPU Usage" window.

The thing to take heed of, is what type of processor you have. If you have a Hyper Threading Pentium 4, or a similar dual core(ish) processor, know that the highest you'll be able to push the percentage is 50% (50% for each core or "Thread"). If you have a different type of processor that doesn't use Hyper Threading or have a dual core, your number will go up to 100% (note- even if a Hyper Threading processor says 50%, you're still getting full capacity. It's just the way things are read. You're not getting gypped in performance).

Now, once you know what percentage you'll be able to reach, hold down "Ctrl", and begin tapping "F12" to increase the amount of cycles. As you do this, you'll see your CPU Usage level climb. Try not to go above 40% for Hyper Threading/Dual Core systems, and 80% for single core systems. You want to make sure you leave enough room for your CPU to grab power if it's needed, and you don't want your CPU to be constantly running full bore.

As an example, when I run MechWarrior 2 and The Elder Scrolls: Arena, I can crank the cycles up to 30,000 with my Pentium 4 3.00E GHz Hyper Threading CPU. This makes those two games run very smoothly, and it still leaves room for extra power if it's needed during an intense part of the action. Doom and Doom II also run fluidly at this number.

If you're on an older PC, you probably won't be able to push this thing much higher than say 10,000 cycles. But for those with faster CPUs, this'll be a godsend.

Installing from the CD drive...

So you've got your game, and you want to install it, but XP and Vista are being a real prick about running that old "Install.exe" DOS file. Well, there's a pretty easy way to get around that... use DOSBox. If you've followed my guide up to this point, you already have a CD-Rom drive mounted, and ready to go. So here's what you do...

First, right click on your CD-Rom, and choose "explore". What comes up, will be a browsing window that shows all the files on the disc. Some discs have them all right there to be viewed, but others put all or some of the game files into a folder on the disc. Neither one is problem, as both can be run very simply. So, take note of where the file "Install.exe" is... be it on the first browsing screen, or in a folder.

Now, start up DOSBox. Once everything's up, type in the letter that's assigned to the CD-Rom drive you mounted, and hit "Enter". If the "Install.exe" file is right there, then simply type "install". As an example, here's what I would type to install Powerslave...

F:

install

But, if the "Install.exe" file is in a folder on the disc, then you'll need to do the change directory command, followed by the install command. As an example, here's what I would need to type to install Prince of Persia off of Broderbund's Prince of Persia CD Collection...

F:

cd prince

install

Once you do that, the game should install without a problem.

The "Setup" file...

Once you've finished the main installation, now all that's left is to take care of that last bit of the process.

After the "Install.exe" file's done, you'll either have to manually bring up the setup to program the sound configuration, or the game will take you directly to the setup screen once the installation's done. If you have to manually bring the setup on-screen, simply restart DOSBox, and type in the needed info regarding what folder the game was installed into. As an example, here's what I would have to type to start the setup file for Prince of Persia...

C:

cd prince

setup

Once you're on this configuration screen, you really don't have to do much. The sound setup will ask you for a type of digital audio, a type of music, or both. For sound effects, it's usually good to go with the Sound Blaster choice. Many, many games used Sound Blaster cards back in the day, so that should give you what you need (the really old DOS games used the PC Speaker... ugh). The setup chooses the default settings for the Sound Blaster card, so all you have to do is hit "Enter" a few times and you'll be done. For the music, it's much the same. Choose what you want the music to be played with (Sound Blaster and Midi are the norms), and just keep hitting "Enter" until it's done (again, the setup will choose the defaults for what musical source you pick).

With that done, you may have more options... like configuring the control scheme. This is done much the same as an in-game setup, as it simply lets you choose which keys do what. Only this time, it's done outside the game's menu system. So, just select the option that has the word "Control" in it, and set up your keyboard keys and mouse buttons how you like them... or at least, as best as the configuration will allow you to (some games are pretty stingy with their control options). The game has default settings for all its used keys, but all you have to do to change them, is highlight the key you want to change (done usually by using the up and down arrows on your keyboard), hit "Enter" to select the key assignment you want to change, and then press the new key you want to assign that action to. So if "W" isn't to your liking for the "UP" command in a game, just select that line, and press the up directional arrow (or whatever you want to use for up). Do this to whatever other keys you want to change.

And remember, the control and sound choices you make aren't final. If you wind up not liking the way you have them configured, all you have to do is run the "Setup.exe" file again, and change them.

Once you have your sound, controls and what have you taken care of, simply select "Save configuration and Exit" (or whatever similar line is there), and your setup will be saved. Now you're ready to play.

For more DOSBox setup goodies, go to my post right here...

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I would like to add to The Coop's awesome post by suggesting probably the most useful tool you can use with DOSBox;

D-Fend is a frontend program for DOSBox which basically makes all the tweaking for individual games so much easier.

It does this by first selecting the .exe file that you want to be run in DOSBox. It then lets you select which drives and folder you would like mounting, also letting you choose whether you want it to be a HDD, CDROM or floppy. Lastly, all the individual tweaks such as CPU cycles, sound settings, frame skips etc can be messed around with, all without touching the .conf file.

I know most of you are OK with tweaking files rather than getting a program to do it for you, the but the feature that really does make D-Fend almost essential is that it sets up each game indiviually. Every different game will need to be tweaked differently, so rather than remember each tweak for each game or keep 50 different .conf files, you just double click the game in the frontend, and if Im not mistaken, can also make a shortcut to that game, with all the tweaks included.

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Also, you don't have to type file extensions in DOS(Or DOSBox) unless there are multiple files with the same name in the directory and you need to specify the correct one.

And you can write batch files to make starting games easier.

Keep in mind that classic DOS is limited to an 8.3 filename format with no spaces or weird symbols, since I don't use DOSBox I can't say if it's the same for that, but it's easier to use 8.3 than long filenames.

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Great post. Dosbox lets you play ALL the gold box D&D games again. :D No problems.

Hooray! I'm not the only one playing these.

I've had to restart Pool of Radiance at least twice now,

but I think I'm almost done with it this time! I can win it!

And I lluuurrrrrvvvee D-Fend and DOSBox.

I like the easy one-click launch icons D-Fend will make for you.

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What are some good DOS games? I can't remember any expect doom. I'm sure most of them are floating around the net since there so old.

Transport Tycoon is still an awesome game, even if it's over a decade old. And thanks to OpenTTD you don't even need a DOS machine or DOSbox.

Then there's fun stuff like Heretic, Hexen and Hexen 2, Stunts, Lemmings, the Keen series, Space Quest, King's Quest, the Larry games, the Sim City games and others.

Technically, these games are still illegal to download. However, most companies tend to not care about them too much, and in some cases the original company no longer exists. These old games are usually referred to as abandonware, so that should get you started on your search.

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Any help on how to run Fast Tracker 2 with DosBox?

It runs ok with the PC Speaker, but it crashes if I try to use the Sound Blaster, and the sound is all screwed up with the Gravis Ultrasound.

I would really appreciate that, since right now I have to use it in a DOS partition on my other computer.

oh, and for games, I recommend Epic Pinball and Stunts.

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I'm having a problem with the AdLib emulation. It is super slow! The whole game starts to skip and get like 1 FPS

I know most other people don't have this problem, and I really shouldn't. I mean, christ, I have a 3.2 GHz here. I looked all over the vogons forum and couldn't find anything to fix my problem. Even switching the cpu mode to 'dynamic' did very little. I've fiddled around with all the audio options and I'm thinking, maybe it's something outside of the audio configuration that affects the audio.

I just tested AdLib with Tyrian2000, and that works fine for some reason, but it's a problem in Epic Pinball, Dark Forces, Wing Commander: Armada, and Dark Seed [so far]

Should I post my Dosbox.conf file? :P I bet one of you sharp young lads can figure this out.

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What are some good DOS games? I can't remember any expect doom. I'm sure most of them are floating around the net since there so old.

Tyrian 2000 is a great one, as is The Elder Scrolls: Arena... both of which are freeware now.

Other good ones are MechWarrior 2, Raptor: Call of the Shadows, Wing Commander, Wing Commander II, and the Forgotten Realms Classics pack (10 D&D games from the late 80's and early 90s)... but those aren't free. WC, WCII, the D&D games, and Raptor do run very well in DOSBox though.

SOC- Have you tried using the Sound Blaster sound settings? Might be sorth checking, just to see how the games run under SB. I think posting your config file would be helpful too (or a link to it).

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New addition for the guide...

How far can you push it?

So now that you know about adjusting what are called "cycles" in DOSBox, just how high can you crank it? Well, there's a very simple way to find out...

First, hit "Alt", "Ctrl" and "Delete" at the same time. This brings up the Windows Task Manager. In this new window, click on the tab along the top that says "Performance". Here you'll see four windows... two long, and two short. Pay attention to the short window in the upper left under "CPU Usage".

With this window open, start up DOSBox, and run the game you want to play that's chugging a bit. Get it to an actual gameplay area (like say, the first mission in MechWarrior 2, or the first dungeon in The Elder Scrolls: Arena) and see where the percentage is under the "CPU Usage" window.

The thing to take heed of, is what type of processor you have. If you have a Hyper Threading Pentium 4, or a similar dual core(ish) processor, know that the highest you'll be able to push the percentage is 50% (50% for each core or "Thread"). If you have a different type of processor that doesn't use Hyper Threading or have a dual core, your number will go up to 100% (note- even if a Hyper Threading processor says 50%, you're still getting full capacity. It's just the way things are read. You're not getting gypped in performance).

Now, once you know what percentage you'll be able to reach, hold down "Ctrl", and begin tapping "F12" to increase the amount of cycles. As you do this, you'll see your CPU Usage level climb. Try not to go above 40% for Hyper Threading/Dual Core systems, and 80% for single core systems. You want to make sure you leave enough room for your CPU to grab power if it's needed, and you don't want your CPU to be constantly running full bore.

As an example, when I run MechWarrior 2 and The Elder Scrolls: Arena, I can crank the cycles up to 30,000 with my Pentium 4 3.00E GHz Hyper Threading CPU. This makes those two games run very smoothly, and it still leaves room for extra power if it's needed during an intense part of the action. Doom and Doom II also run fluidly at this number.

If you're on an older PC, you probably won't be able to push this thing much higher than say 10,000 cycles. But for those with faster CPUs, this'll be a godsend.

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Glad I could help.

Installing from the CD drive...

So you've got your game, and you want to install it, but XP and Vista are being a real prick about running that old "Install.exe" DOS file. Well, there's a pretty easy way to get around that... use DOSBox. If you've followed my guide up to this point, you already have a CD-Rom drive mounted, and ready to go. So here's what you do...

First, right click on your CD-Rom, and choose "explore". What comes up, will be a browsing window that shows all the files on the disc. Some discs have them all right there to be viewed, but others put all or some of the game files into a folder on the disc. Neither one is problem, as both can be run very simply. So, take note of where the file "Install.exe" is... be it on the first browsing screen, or in a folder.

Now, start up DOSBox. Once everything's up, type in the letter that's assigned to the CD-Rom drive you mounted, and hit "Return".If the "Install.exe" file is right there, then simply type "install". As an example, here's what I would type to install Powerslave...

F:

install

But, if the "Install.exe" file is in a folder on the disc, then you'll need to do the change directory command, followed by the install command. As an example, here's what I would need to type to install Prince of Persia off of Broderbund's Prince of Persia CD Collection...

F:

cd prince

install

Once you do that, the game should install without a problem.

The "Setup" file...

Once you've finished the main installation, now all that's left is to take care of that last bit of the process.

After the "Install.exe" file's done, you'll either have to manually bring up the setup to program the sound configuration, or the game will take you directly to the setup screen once the installation's done. If you have to manually bring the setup on-screen, simply restart DOSBox, and type in the needed info regarding what folder the game was installed into. As an example, here's what I would have to type to start the setup file for Prince of Persia...

C:

cd prince

setup

Once you're on this configuration screen, you really don't have to do much. The sound setup will ask you for a type of digital audio, a type of music, or both. For sound effects, it's usually good to go with the Sound Blaster choice. Many, many games used Sound Blaster cards back in the day, so that should give you what you need (the really old DOS games used the PC Speaker... ugh). The setup chooses the default settings for the Sound Blaster card, so all you have to do is hit "Return" a few times and you'll be done. For the music, it's much the same. Choose what you want the music to be played with (Sound Blaster and Midi are the norms), and just keep hitting "Return" until it's done (again, the setup will choose the defaults for what musical source you pick).

With that done, you may have more options... like configuring the control scheme. This is done much the same as an in-game setup, as it simply lets you choose which keys do what. Only this time, it's done outside the game's menu system. So, just select the option that has the word "Control" in it, and set up your keyboard keys and mouse buttons how you like them... or at least, as best as the configuration will allow you to (some games are pretty stingy with their control options). The game has default settings for all its used keys, but all you have to do to change them, is highlight the key you want to change (done usually by using the up and down arrows on your keyboard), hit "Return" to select the key assignment you want to change, and then press the new key you want to assign that action to. So if "W" isn't to your liking for "UP" command in a game, just select that line, and press the up directional arrow (or whatever you want to use for up). Do this to whatever keys you want to change.

And remember, the control and sound choices you make aren't final. If you wind up not liking the way you have them configured, all you have to do is run the "Setup.exe" file again, and change them.

Once you have your sound, controls and what have you taken care of, simply select "Save configuration and Exit" (or whatever similar line is there), and your setup will be saved. Now you're ready to play.

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Woo! Thank you, Coop! I've been trying to get my MechWarrior 2 game to work on my laptop since forever, but have always failed. This may be just what I need to get it running again. I'll let you know how it goes when I try it later. :-)

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One small problem I'm having that is really confusing me...

I've got dosbox to run the setup off the cd of my game just fine, which is alot further than I was before when not using dosbox, but for some reason when my game asks me what directory to install to, it thinks my C drive only has 110MB of free space left. The game says it needs over 200MB to install and I know my C drive has over 200GIGABYTES of free space. Even when I just open up dosbox and type "dir" to look at the directory, it says I only have 110,xxx,xxx bytes free in my Games folder on my C drive. Is there a maximum amount of disc space I can use with dosbox? I'm really confused.

Thanks.

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Boy, does that sound familiar.

Some games are stupidly picky about the memory or virtual memory that DOSBox "thinks" is there. However, there is a simple fix. Remember those lines you had to add at the very bottom DOSBox config file? Try altering the one where you mounted the "C" drive by adding "- freesize 999" to the end of it. It'll look like this once you do...

mount c c:\Games -freesize 999

This tells DOSBox to free up all memory, and it should trick the game into believing there's plenty of space to install. And if the game complains about needing more memory to run once it's installed (some will), change the "memsize" line in the config file accordingly. Many games will run fine with "memsize=8", but some will need "memsize=16", or even more. Just remember not to go too high with the number, because it will result in some games not running anymore if you do.

Let me know if that works.

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Awesome, I've just set up DOSBox with your help and an abandonia tutorial. I can FINALLY play Magic Carpet 2 again after all these years. This game has a surprisingly great design that I think would even hold up today. If a modern sequel/remake were made of this game with state-of-the-art graphics, it would definitely be in my top 10 of all time.

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Lately I've been having the game I'm playing in DosBox crash. Every time I load up my saved game, I get to play for about 7 minutes before it crashes to dos with this message:

MemMgr::DerefDebug(g0) - null grip! UNITS.CPP line 1181

at line 390, file MEMMGR>CPP

C:\GAMES\BAM

The game I'm playing is D&D: Blood & Magic. I'm not sure if this is the game's problem or a DosBox problem. Plus, I can't locate any of the files (UNITS.CPP or MEMMGR.CPP) the message references. I've tried reloading from different saves and reinstalling DosBox and the game and ever time I get to the same point in the game I get this message after crashing. Anyone know what this is all about?

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