How to play abandonware games

Why is this not working?

Most abandonware games on PC were created for the MS-DOS operating system. Today's computers no longer offer the same environment for the programs. Hopefully, some people were unhappy with that and created free softwares to mimic the old computers operating system!

What program should I use?

Depending of you operating system, you have different options.

For every operating system

DOSBox is the master DOS emulator, it works with almost every OS, and will be enough for a quick play of most games. Check the DOSBox website for more information.

You may use another program for many point and click games, ScummVM. You should check their compatibility page and search for the game you wish to play.

DOSBox has many frontend programs (complete list here) that give you a more appealing interface. DGBL is one of them, and it runs on Windows, Mac and Linux.

Windows (XP, Vista, Seven, 8)

Most people are using Microsoft's Windows and an easy solution is available : D-fend Reloaded. With a graphical interface, a lot of things are done for you behind the scene.

Mac OS X

Boxer is clearly the best DOSBox frontend on Mac, I use it everyday.

Linux

On Linux, you should use one of the cross-platform frontends like DGBL. Check the complete list on the DOSBox wiki.

I need help this is not working!

Please note we do not provide support for playing abandonware games. We strongly suggest you to ask for help on dedicated forums, like Abandonia or Vogons.

DOSBox setup

You should carefully read the DOSBox Wiki for a good walkthrough. Mac OS X users should pay attention to those instructions, although I recommend using Boxer.

D-Fend Reloaded Setup

As a start, download the latest setup of D-Fend.

Once installed, you shall follow the following steps (click on the pictures for full size).

Note these screenshots were taken on Windows XP in 2008, but should still be relevant. If they are not, please tell us.

DFend first screen Step 1 Ok, starting with a fresh D-Fend install, you should end up on this screen after launching the program. You already have one software installed, it is DOSBox shipped with D-Fend. Lauching it will bring you to an operational MS-DOS. Guess you want to play a GAME so not much to do here. Go to step 2.

DFend first screen Step 2 First thing to do, unzip the downloaded game somewhere. You may want to unzip it on the desktop or in your own game folder but I would not recommend it. D-Fend can handle this but it's not covered in this tutorial. So you should click on Extras > Open game folder... This is where you will put the game contents. On to step 3.

DFend first screen Step 3 The game folder is the virtual drive used by the default D-Fend setup. For this tutorial, I unzipped the cherished Monkey Island 2 in this folder. The name of the folder itself is not important. Once this is done, go to the step 4.

DFend first screen Step 4 Now that the contents of the game are on the virtual drive, we must add the game to D-Fend. Click on "Add" then on "Add..." A new window will appear, as shown on the screenshot, the "Profile editor". We must set the program file by clicking on the folder icon as shown by the brown arrow. See what's next on the step 5.

DFend first screen Step 5 The explorer will show you the contents of the virtual drive. As we extracted the game contents in it before, I just had to open the "MONKEY2" folder. This game has only one executable file so it's quite easy. Some game have several executables files you can select in this step, usually the right file to select is named after the game. So you select the executable and click open. Next step.

DFend first screen Step 6 Coming back to the Profile editor, we can see the executable file in the Program file field. The last thing to do is setting the name of the game in the Profile name field. Once this is done, click on Ok. Go the to final step.

DFend first screen Step 7 Now D-Fend show the game below the DOSBox line. You can start it by double clicking on the line. Have fun :)

Additional steps and troubleshooting

Amongst different problems we have run into, here are some additionnal tips.

Game setup

You all remember the setup.exe for having sound, better graphics or even mouse support. You should add the setup program to the Setup section below the Program section and launch it before playing the game.

DOSBox can emulate several sound cards, check out the wiki about sound setup.

Virtual Drive

Some games require you to emulate a floppy drive and have the game content mounted in it. To add this floppy drive, edit the game profile, click on Drives and add a new drive. You may use a folder or a real floppy image (.img) for the floppy content.

PC-Booter games

We have some PC-Booter games, theses games have to be booted to work. DOSBox can handle this fine, but these steps are not so clear.

Chuck Cartia gave us a nice walkthrough, using SpitFire Ace as an example:

  • Create a folder to put your .img files in, for this example, on the C:\ drive make a folder named DriveImg.
  • Now put the file spitfire.img in this folder. Add a line to the dosbox.conf file in the [autoexec] section:
    boot c:\DriveImg\spitfire.img -l a
    That's dash ell (for letter) and the drive letter you want to assign.
  • Make sure you have any other references to this drive letter remmed out with the # like this:
    #mount a a:\ -t floppy
    or
    #mount a s:\install
  • That's it... Save the dosbx.conf file and when you start DOSBOX, the game should boot and start automatically just like the good old days when you shoved the disk in and turned on the (Atari) computer.

After reading this, the explanation in the DOSBOX readme.txt file should make sense and you can figure out how to add more drives for multiple disk games.

Note: You don't need to use the IMGMOUNT command when you use the BOOT command. Don't forget to rem out the boot line and unrem your other line(s) when you want to use DOSBOX normally.

Memory Problems

Some games have memory problems at startup, like error message telling you "Not enough memory". You should try several combinations of options in the "Memory" part of the profile, enabling loadfix first.

For additional help, you should ask your questions over the Vogons forums.

Windows 95 Games

As we continue to release more and more recent games on My Abandonware, some games we publish were made for Windows 95. Many of these won't run on recent Windows versions, but you can install Win 95 in DOSBox. The procedure is a bit complicated, hopefully dada_ and some folks over Vogons and #dosbox@freenode set up a guide to do this, check it out in the Google doc.

Windows 98 Games

Some of the earlier abandonware games were made for Windows 98. You can still get Win 98 working on your computer using VirtualBox. You will find a guide to the installation here, then a second guide to setup properly Windows. You should read BOTH of them before installing Windows 98.