The recent reboot of the Super NES system just goes to show that the classics never truly die. While we’re all eagerly awaiting the chance to introduce a new generation to the quirky adventures of Earthbound, we have a chance to examine another classic platform. As limited as it was, it came along at the right time to have widespread popularity and a thriving culture, which still exists as a cult to this day.
We’re talking, of course, about DOS. The original Disk Operating System was the text-terminal standard for the launching of the home computer revolution, living in the legendary beige boxes in a hundred different variations. Microsoft had MS-DOS, Digital Research had DR-DOS, IBM had PC DOS, and Aperture Science had GLaDOS… sorry, please don’t hang us.
The culture around the DOS platform was strong and enduring for about a good decade, and many industries have since had high demand for legacy support for the DOS period. Between that and old gaming and hobbyist nostalgia, the DOSBox project was born.
First, get DOSBox for your system of choice – it’s been ported everywhere, and rumors persist that it can even run on mobile, though that’s doubtless a painful experience. The project is thoroughly documented for all supported platforms.
Next, don’t mess around mounting drives one at a time in DOSBox. Instead, get a directory where you will keep all your DOS files, then start DOSBox, exit it, and look for a DOSBox configuration file somewhere in your home folder. For instance, if you’re in Linux and your DOS files are in /Games/DOS, your configuration file would be named something like .dosbox-0.74.conf and at the very bottom of that text file your would add the following:
MOUNT C ~/Games/DOS/
This way, your DOSBox emulator will always start with your chosen DOS folder when it first displays its C:> prompt. There’s a bunch of other tweaks you can do in this file too, but check the documentation before you break something hairy.
What can DOSBox do? Well, say you want legacy Windows 3.1 support. You’re covered:
You can literally take any software written for Windows 3.1 and just throw it right in there, the emulation is as flawless as any you could find. In fact, it will all run better than it ever did on a 386er. Here’s Chip’s Challenge running with Windows’ Hot Dog Stand theme just so we can show off how ungodly ugly it all was:
Oh, you want tools? How about running your ancient QBasic code again so you can be embarrassed in front of your colleagues?
Yes, your ten thousand silly display hacks which you affectionately called your “screensaver collection” shall now be visited upon the world again, complete with every GOTO statement you ever typed because you didn’t understand proper program flow yet. Be proud that you can look back and laugh now.
Running just about anything from the DOSBox’s command line can be as simple as ‘cd’ to your directory, ‘dir’ to list contents, and typing the name of the executable. It supports tab-completion. It’s almost as comfortable as a standard command line, but be advised that advanced DOS functionality isn’t supported yet. However, you can install more advanced DOS environments onto DOS, for supporting anything that makes extensive use of .BAT files. One final tip: If your mouse pointer becomes trapped in the DOSBox window, it’s ‘Ctrl-F10′ to release it back to your desktop.
Yes, we forgot to mention games. Like classic Doom, just like this:
That is, if you think you can handle that much adrenaline ll at once. The DOSBox site has pages of compatible games listed. You can find some at GOG.com, but there’s also tons of abandonware free for the scooping too – be advised, they’re quick to take something down if they get a cease and desist from a lawyer, so if it’s there, it should be legal to grab.
And now, for no reason than just to show off, we’ll name some game titles. Beyond the obvious Quake and Duke Nukem titles you’re bound to run for first, here’s some lesser-known DOS classic games we recommend:
Alien Carnage – a.k.a. Halloween Harry
Possibly the last great Apogee platform game before they rolled out of that business entirely.
A simple, but addictive, strategy game which is long overdue for a modern app revival. Spread your home color to the board, infiltrating blobs to fill in a path across to your opponent’s square.
Castle of Dr. Brain
A quirky puzzle-adventure game that has a very early “Myst” vibe to it, but with a wacky sense of punning humor. There was a whole series of these, and they were all just challenging enough to be interesting without being too frustrating.
This is a fun driving simulator where you can drive through physics-defying tracks and even build your own. Has a huge cult following to this day.
If they rolled every cheesy ‘80s action flick into a video game, it would be Xargon. This is a simple and tasty platform shooter which stands today as the best DOS platformer not made by Apogee.
There’s gigabytes more to check out, so the best we can do is get you started.
What have we learned today? We learned that we can play a stack of retro games and count it as “work.” But what is summertime for if not escapism?