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Saturday, April 22, 2006

DOS Box: The classics are alive again!

Now, if you're like me (few people are, but I'm sure many share a few characteristics), you LOVED the old DOS games. Commander Keen, Prince of Persia, Bowling, Adventure/Colossal Cave, Tom & Jerry, Paperboy, Skate or Die, Catch the baby thrown out of a burning building and bounce it into the waiting ambulance, Donkey Kong...I wax nostalgic just thinking about it.
Alas, many such games (the baby one, for example) go too incredibly fast to even begin to be playable because the games were built for really slow computers. Besides that, the command prompt in Windows XP (since they did away with the real DOS) doesn't even work right all the time, and it crashes my copy of XP anyway.
So we're all left to suffer without our daily dose of Keen? I don't think so. I still want to stun slugs, squish those pesky dragon flies, and free a bunch of old guys so they can save my planet! Thankfully, I'm not the only one, and some nice people got together and created DOSBox. Of course, it's open source. And the great thing about that is that yet another really nice person ported it to Mac OS X! So now, you can play all your classic DOS games not only in Windows XP, but even when you're stuck on an icky Mac! You don't even have to sacrifice them when you make the switch to the best OS of all, Linux! How great is that?
But wait, there's more! You can run it all off of a flash drive! All you have to do is install it to a directory on your flash drive, and it takes up less than 3MB. I've got DOS Box installed on my flash drive, along with a whole bunch of classic games (including the entire Commander Keen series) and I can play them ANYWHERE! That is just too cool.
DOSBox can be a little confusing at first, but to simplify it, here's how mine is set up to make it nice and simple. First, I've created a folder just called "C" in my DOSBox directory, because DOSBox works by mapping its drives to a folder on your computer (or flash drive). I put all my games (remember, use the 8.3 format - 8 letter filename with a three letter extension) in that C folder, then told DOSBox to map its C drive to that folder. To do that on startup, open up your Dosbox.conf file in the DOSBox folder in notepad. Scroll all the way to the bottom, find the [autoexec] section and add a couple lines after it so it looks like this:
[autoexec]
# Lines in this section will be run at startup.
mount c C
C:

You can then play old games to your heart's content. There's lots more configuration you can do, but if you want to figure it out you can.
Lastly, you need somewhere to get your games. Some of my favorite sites are:

  • DosGames.com, featuring Keen himself

  • DOS Games Archive, with some buyable titles as well as free ones

  • Abandonia. Really great site, with a nifty index that lets you know where you are on the legal side of things. The name comes from the term Abandonware, which is software that is not supported and no longer sold, so gamers (rightfully, in my opinion) take it as freeware.

  • Best Old Games, I think, is the best overall site. Nice little writeups, cool screenshots, great interface, and they have every Commander Keen.


Just download and install games into your C folder you created, and play away. At the risk of being redundant, I love open source.
Randy

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