If you ever wanted to play a video game or run an application on, say, Windows 7 Home Premium (64 bit), you may run into problems trying to run the application. This guide shows you how to run those old Dos 16 bit games/application again through a program called DosBox.
Important Notice: This guide was originally published by me on ZeroPaid. It is being republished here for the purpose of updating the guide with any new information I can obtain so that some of the more difficult to play games can be run.
So you’ve been digging around in your old CD collection one day and you have managed to locate a CD filled with really old games. So, because you wanted to give those games a try again, you decide to put these games on your new operating system. You double click on the executable file and wind up getting an error message like this:
The reason you get this error message is because the game or application you are trying to run is a 16-bit program. 16-bit programs were hugely popular back in the days of DOS, Windows 3.1, and Windows 95. Since then, Windows has stopped supporting 16 bit programs right out of the box by the time Windows Vista came around. In fact, if you see those notes about Windows x86 programs, what you are seeing is notices that certain programs only run as a 32-bit program or 64-bit program. Even 32 bit compatible programs are at the beginning of the phasing out process of the more up to date 64-bit programs. Does that mean you are out of luck when it comes to making a 16-bit program run on Windows 7 or Windows 8? Not by a long shot. This guide will show you the basics on how to run those old 16-bit DOS programs again.
Step 1 – Download and Install Dosbox
Note: Frontends are entirely optional. They offer a visualization of what we are doing that might make things easier, but for the purposes of this tutorial, we aren’t going to be using any frontends to keep things simple.
Step 2 – A Little File Management
You’re going to want a folder on your hard drive that will store all the 16 big applications. Since we’ll need to access it directly from Dosbox, it’s actually best practice to create that folder on the root hard drive (meaning, you go onto the hard drive you want to do this on – typically “C” drive).
You can name this folder anything you like, but give it a name that will allow you to remember what it’s for. I chose the name “OldGames”.
When that’s done, you’ll need to find the contents of the game in question. When you do, create a folder in the “OldGames” directory and name it whatever the short title of the game is. In this case, I’m wanting to run “Dune 2: The Battle for Arrakis”, so I name the folder in question “Dune2″ (always try to keep the folder names as short as possible. Sometimes, Dosbox doesn’t like long folder names).
After you created the folder, move the contents of the game into that folder. We’re done doing some file management!
Step 3 – Open Dosbox and Mount a “C” Drive
The thing to remember is that Dosbox emulates a file system (namely, a Dos file system). So, we need to tell it where we want it to think the “C” drive is. In this case, we want the folder “OldGames” to be our emulated “C” drive. Open up Dosbox and you’ll see something like this:
Yes, when we are attempting to run an old Dos program, you are likely going to be using Dos prompt. Don’t panic! I’ll tell you everything you need to know.
What we want to do at this point is mount the “C” drive. Since in this tutorial, we created the directory “OldGames”, we are going to type in “MOUNT C C:\OldGames”. Hit enter and you’ll see this:
That’s it! If the message you get is a lot like the one you see here, you’ve successfully mounted the “C” drive.
Step 4 – Running a Game
Now, we need to run a game. On your actual hard drive, examine the contents of the game you placed in the “OldGames” directory. You will likely see an executable file with the name of the game. In my case, I see that the executable I want is “Dune2″:
Now that I know where the file is, I can navigate to it in Dosbox. Remember, executable files end in “.exe”. By default, modern Windows Operating Systems frustratingly hide file extensions. While this can be changed, knowing that executable files end in “.exe” is sufficient for our purposes.
Go back into Dosbox. The first thing we need to do is navigate to the virtual “C” drive we mounted earlier. To do that, all we need to do is type in “C:\” and hit enter:
Dosbox is telling us that we are in our mounted “C” drive. At this point, we want to navigate to the folder with our game in it in Dosbox. In this case, you need to type in “cd” (stands for “Change Directory” in case you’re wondering), then space, then “C:\[name of game directory]“. In my case, I typed in “cd C:\Dune2″ like so:
OK, now that we’ve successfully changed to the Dune2 directory, we now want to run the executable file. To do this, simply type in the name of the executable file. In my case, it’s simply a matter of typing in “Dune2.exe” and hitting enter:
When I hit enter, I see that the game is already starting:
At this point, we should point out that if the game has a cursor in it and it doesn’t move when you use the mouse, click on the screen and it should work. If you want to regain control of the mouse to quickly do something outside of Dosbox, you can hold down “Alt” and press the tab button. You’ll then be able to work outside of Dosbox. Working outside of Dosbox does not pause whatever is happening inside of Dosbox, so make sure you pause your game somehow if you can’t just let it keep running without your input.
Step 5 – Properly Exiting Dosbox
When you are done playing your game, you’ll be put back to a screen that looks like this:
To properly exit, simply type in “exit” like this:
Hit enter and dosbox will close.
That is it! Happy gaming!
If you attempt to run a game or application in DOSBox and have an error that says that you require a Windows environment, please refer to our guide How to Play 16 Bit Windows Games/Applications on a 64 Bit Computer.
If the game is prompting you to insert a CD, try following our guide on how to get a 16 bit DOS game that requires a CD to run.