If your computer is running a fairly new operating systems, such as Windows XP, Vista or even Mac OS X, chances are that it won’t be able to play any of the old DOS games that were originally designed for 16-bit systems.
There are however simple workarounds that will help you play your favorite DOS games on any computer just the way they worked on old 486 machines of the 90’s. The other good part is that you can download these DOS games from the web for free, legally.
The easiest way to run DOS games on your computer is through DOSBox.
DOSBox, in simple English, is a free program that emulates an X86 based DOS environment on your new computer including speaker sounds, video graphics and other hardware. DOSBox is available for Windows, Linux and Mac OS X so you can practically use it to run DOS games on practically every computer.
One of the most popular GUI frontends for DOSBox is D-Fend Reloaded. You can install this program like any other Windows application and it is ready for use immediately after the installation. To install a DOS game, simply use the import wizard or drag-and-drop the zip archive file (that contains the DOS program) into the D-Fend Reloaded window.
D-Fend Reloaded also offers game packages, containing both freeware and shareware DOS games, that you may install on your computer at once using a simple installer. You can play these classic games using DOSBox without having to configure anything.
If the requirements are such that DOSBox emulators are unable to run your favorite DOS game, you can try running DOS inside a virtual machine using virtualization software like Windows Virtual PC, VMWare Player, or VirtualBox from Sun - they are all free solutions.
Microsoft offers a free copy of MS-DOS operating system that you may convert into a virtual machine or you can download the FreeDOS program from the Internet which is just like MS-DOS and completely free.
Once you have a virtual machine running DOS, you need a way to install DOS programs into the virtual machine. This can be done by burning a CD image of the DOS games and then attaching that CD image to the virtual machine.
The installers for DOS games were initially distributed on floppy disks and the game authors may have never envisioned that people would be playing these games though the Internet without installation but that is exactly what you can do today.
JPC is a Java-based x86 emulator that can run some DOS programs on any modern browser with the Java plugin. The JPC site hosts a couple of popular DOS games including DOOM and Mario Brothers but for a more extensive collection, you should check out Classic DOS Games. The sites currently has 169 different games that you can play directly in any web browser that has the Java plugin installed.
JPC based DOS games may not run as fast as their DOSBox counterparts but there’s one advantage - you can try a game online before deciding if you want to download a copy to your hard drive.
Now that you have everything in place to run DOS games on the computer, you are most definitely looking for some great games to play with.
Here are some popular sites where you can find and download most of your favorite DOS games, but since too many choices can be confusing, check this search engine that will help you search all the popular PC games’ websites from one place.
1. DOS Games - With over 500 classic titles, DOSGames.com is a great place to look for your favorite DOS games. You can run these games using the free DOSBox emulator discussed above. The site is actively updated so it is likely that more games will be added over time.
2. DOS Games Archive - DOS Games Archive is another useful site with a very large collection of DOS games. The sites provides screenshots of the DOS games, user ratings, violence ratings, cheat codes and you can also find out if a particular game is supported on DOSBox. Many of the games listed on the site were commercial games that were later released for free by the game publisher.
3. D-Fend Game Packages - If you chose to install D-Fend Reloaded with DOSBox, then you can easily access hundreds of classic DOS games using this easy installer. Each game package contains a collection of about a dozen or so games of the same category and you can have them all on your machine with a click.
4. Classic DOS Games - This site also contains a wide range of DOS games categorized by their Genre, Company, Year Released, etc. All DOS games listed on this site are freely distributable because they are shareware, freeware, or because the copyright holder has officially and legally released all rights to the public domain.
5. Good Old Games - This site specializes at re-releasing classic commercial games for modern PCs at reasonable prices. Their selection includes many popular DOS-based games that are packaged with DOSBox for a seamless game experience on Windows Vista and XP. If your looking for a commercial game that has not been released as freeware, this may be the best place to look for it.
6. Abandonia - As the title suggests, this site has a very collection of games that are under the category of “abandonware” or titles that are no longer sold /developed by the authors.
7. Home of the Underdogs - One of the most popular abandonware sites with reviews of over 5,300 games for DOS and Windows. Other than game binaries, the sites also offers manuals for a number of games that are no longer commercially available.