New games are released often, some as highly anticipated as Alan Wake 2 or Call of Duty: Modern Warfare III. But some of us will also remember when games contained pixels and exploited the way to have fun without having to resort to realistic graphics or soundtracks that are true works of art.
How to Play Retro MS-DOS Games with DOSBox
These old games from several decades ago ran on the MS-DOS operating system, and now you can play them again on your PC using the DOSBox emulator.
DOSBox is an emulator of this old command line-based operating system, which was used on personal computers in the 80s and 90s.
MS-DOS (MicroSoft-Disk Operating System) is owned by Microsoft and operated until the mid-90s, when it was replaced by other more modern operating systems with a graphical interface such as Windows 95. MS-DOS was designed to run on IBM PCs and compatible PCs.
This old operating system follows the bases of the current ones, with a directory structure where files are saved, and that can execute programs designed for it. The difference is that everything works with commands, since there is no graphical environment or the possibility of using the mouse.
Using commands we navigate through the different structures and execute the programs simply by writing their name and pressing enter.
In addition to programs, such as word processors, a multitude of games in floppy disk format (and later on CD-ROM) that could be run from MS-DOS also proliferated in the 1980s and early 1990s.
With games we could escape from the work to be done at the time when the Internet was not yet known or almost did not exist, without much more help than the magazines that you could find at the newsstand, and that hopefully had the trick or solution to the problem that we were facing. you had sent by postal letter the previous month.
Thanks to DOSBox you can remember these games and enjoy them again, in a free emulator that is easy to use. In this guide, we are going to see how to install, run and add games to DOSBox step by step.
Download and install DOSBox Free
As we have mentioned previously, DOSBox is an emulator of Microsoft’s MS-DOS operating system , to which some tools and utilities have also been added designed to be able to run these old games.
Since it is free, you should not have to worry about finding it to download, it is best to do it from its own website. DOSBox is an Open Source project and is hosted on Sourceforge.net for download.
DOSBox is available for a multitude of platforms and they all operate similarly since the operating system is the same regardless of the platform on which we run it. Let’s see how to download and install DOSBox step by step, in our case for Windows 11.
- Let’s go to their website, entering directly this link or searching for DOSBox in the search engine of your internet browser.
- Let’s go to the Downloads option that we find above.
- Now we can click on the big green button that says Download Now to download DOSBox for your operating system, or we can select the one we want from the list below.
- When you click, the corresponding version will be downloaded automatically after a few seconds.
Now we just have to install it to start using DOSBox. Once DOSBox for Windows is downloaded, we just have to install it to start using it and be able to play the games that dominated the 80s. Follow these steps to install DOSBox on your PC.
- Locate the DOSBox installation file you downloaded, or directly click on it in recent downloads to run it.
- Now we will basically have to click on Next until it is installed, it is not necessary to modify any of the options it offers us.
- Once the installation is complete, we click Close and we can now run it. We already have our MS-DOS operating system installed and running thanks to DOSBox, now we have to add games and run them.
Add games to DOSBox and run them
As we have mentioned, DOSBox is nothing more than an emulator of the MS-DOS operating system, but adapted to play old games on modern operating systems and devices.
In order to play and add the games we need to communicate this operating system with the game itself to be able to run it. This requires a series of commands, which depend on the format in which we have the game in question.
We can usually find these old games in physical formats such as floppy disk or CD-ROM, although we can also have them on our hard drive after having converted them from one of these formats. In digital format we usually find them in a floppy disk image, CD-ROM or simply in a directory (folder) with all the files necessary to run the game within it.
The ideal is to create a folder where we are going to put all the types of games, whether in image format or directory with the game content. This way in DOSBox we will only have to create a folder to have access to all the games, regardless of their format.
Once we have mounted that folder, if there is one inside in floppy disk or CD-ROM image format, we can mount them with DOSBox itself. Let’s look at both examples.
We have created a folder directly in c: that we have called “games” and inside we are going to put all the content that we want to pass to DOSBox.
- We run DOSBox by clicking on the icon or finding it from the Windows startup and clicking on it.
- Don’t worry if two windows open, one is the Windows console that has information about the status of DOSBox and another is DOSBox itself.
- Now we have to mount the folder that we have created in c:\juegos within DOSBox. This is done with the Mount command. Mount has this structure: mount new_drive_letter directory_to_mount, in our example it would be enough to mount the c:\games folder on drive C. For this we have to write in DOSBox: mount cc:\juegos and press enter.
Once we have our unit created and mounted, we just have to navigate through the different directories where we have the games to run them. Let’s see how to use basic commands to enter directories, list and change drives.
- To change to the drive where all the games are, which we have called “C”, we simply write the name of the drive and press enter. In our case it would be c: followed by intro.
- With the dir command we can see the directory structure we have. In this way we can see the executable files of the game or the directories where each one is. Type dir and press enter to view it.
- To enter a directory we only have to use the cd command followed by the name of the directory that you were able to see with the dir command. To enter, for example, DOTT we write cd DOTT and press enter. If we want to go back in a directory we write cd.. and it will return to the previous directory until we reach the root.
- To run the game we will have to look for the executable file, this is generally one with an .exe extension, although you can also find them with .com or .bat. In our case the executable file is dott.exe. To execute it we write dott and press enter, note that it is not necessary to write the extension, although if you had done so it would also work.
But what happens if you have the game in floppy disk or CD-ROM image format? Don’t worry, once we have it inside the unit mounted in DOSBox we can even simulate that the floppy drive or CD-ROM is inside our computer to access the content and run the game from there. Follow these steps.
- We look for the directory where the image files are , normally we will have to look for a .cue to mount.
- Once inside we have to use the imgmount command with a function similar to mount. We will have to write, followed by the imgmount command, the drive letter and the file that we want to mount with the extension (generally) .cue, followed by writing -t and the type, which in this case is iso. In our case it would be imgmount d IGOR.CUE -t iso and press enter.
- Now we will have a new drive d: where the content of the IGOR. CUE image is. We just have to switch to the d drive and list the contents and search for the game executable to be able to play.
- Remember that every time you add new games to the folder that we have mounted in DOSBox, in this case c:\games, you will have to mount it again for the new content to appear.
List of basic MS-DOS commands
So that you can navigate and organize your directories within DOSBox we leave you the basic commands that are available for the MS-DOS operating system, and that you can take advantage of to navigate more comfortably and quickly through the directories.
Some commands you will only have to type and press enter, others will require some parameters such as the name of a new directory, for example, or the name of the directory you want to change to.
cls – clears the screen.
cd – change to directory (this should be immediately at the top level, you can also nest multiple directories to go directly to one further away, for example cd\games\igor).
cd.. – takes you to the immediately previous directory.
cd\ – takes you directly to the root directory.
md – creates a new directory with the name you indicate after the command, for example, md newgame will create the directory newgame where you have executed it.
rd – delete a directory, you will have to add the directory you want to delete as a parameter, for example rd newgame and press enter.
copy – this command will allow you to copy a specific file to another directory, you will need to specify the source and destination file path.
move – is the same as copy, but instead of creating a copy of the file it moves it.
exit – exits the DOSBox emulator.
Play the games you used to run on your 386 again
With DOSBox you can run again, without having to resort to other interfaces, emulators or different programs, the games you had on your old PC 386 from the 90s. You can play all MS-DOS games and they will work with original sound and VGA graphics of the time.
Dust off your old CD-ROMs with games, create your disk image and you can also use it within DOSBox. This MS-DOS emulator also allows you to mount disk drives so you can view their contents and run them.
As you can see, it is very easy to remember these old games that made you break your head, and where you had to ask friends and even write to the media of the time to be able to move forward when you got stuck.