If you fancy playing some retro games from the MS-DOS era, there’s a few options available to you – obviously you can run them on original hardware running DOS, you could install FreeDOS on a modern x86 system or you can play them through the widely popular DOS emulator DOSBox, which is available for RISC OS (it’s the latest version too!).
What is DOSBox?
DOSBox s an emulator which emulates an IBM PC compatible computer running a DOS operating system, many IBM PC compatible graphics and sound cards are also emulated. This means that original DOS programs and games are provided with an environment in which they can run correctly.
You can use DOSBox to run legacy DOS applications although for the most part the only real use case nowadays is to play pre-Windows games, unless you’ve got some ancient DOS-only application that you need to use for work and there’s no modern alternative for it.
It has been reported that people have had Windows 3.11 (Guide) and Windows 95 running on the Raspberry Pi and Pandaboard running RISC OS, albeit quite slowly.
Setup on RISC OS
So there’s two DOSBox ports available for RISC OS. There’s standard DOSBox, which is the latest version but it has been reported to be a little buggy and unstable, as well as slow on some machines (especially Raspberry Pis!). Then there’s FastDOSBox (Site appears to be down at the moment!) which is older but is reported to be more stable and faster. Running in full-screen mode also makes things much faster, so keep that in mind if you’re experiencing performance problems.
Once you’ve downloaded DOSBox and placed it on a location on your RISC OS system, download some games and remember the path on your drive where they’re stored.
In DOSBox, you’ll then need to mount the folder where your DOS games live so that DOS thinks you’ve got an external drive mounted. You can do this by running the command: mount c <location>
Here’s an example of that command specific to RISC OS on my Raspberry Pi: mount c /sdfs::myraspberrypi/$/gamesfolder
Change the SDFS bit to ADFS or whatever is relevant to your system. That command sets that folder up as a C drive.
Once that’s set, you can then move into that directory by running cd gamesfolder.
To run a game stored in that folder, just type the name of the .exe file and press enter.
Where to find games
The legal status of a good chunk of DOS games is questionable nowadays, a lot of them are now considered abandonware and can be downloaded free of charge. There are some however that, while they can be sourced for free online, they are still copyrighted and thus you’ll need to purchase a copy legally or you risk burning in hell for all eternity.
Abandonware Games has a large selection of DOS games available for download. The categories included are action, racing, RPG and strategy games. With about a thousand games to choose from, there’s a whole load of games available to you. You can also search the site by game title or keyword, each game is accompanied by a wealth of information from the year of release to the types of visuals, to how many times it has been downloaded.
After Abandonware Games, DOS Games has one of the biggest collections with over 500 games in its database. The updates are spaced out, but every now and then a load of new games are added.
Star Wars: X-Wing was the first space flight simulator game from LucasArts for the PC. Released in 1993, it was widely praised by critics and was one of the best selling games of the year.
Players take on the role of a pilot for the Rebel Alliance as they battle against the Empire in space combat. The game is broken into three tours, each having 12 or more missions each.
You can control either an X-Wing, Y-Wing or A-Wing fighter in the missions, with the goal of completing the primary objective before you can move onto the next mission and tour.
The game’s timeline is set just prior to the ‘A New Hope’ film and continues through to the end of that story with Luke Skywalker attacking the Death Star.
The game is still commercially available and can be purchased from GOG.com for about 7gbp – the game can then be loaded into DOSBox and away you go. Due to being a big Star Wars fan I may be a bit biased, but 25 years later I’d still say this game is worth shelling out a few quid for.
Warcraft: Orcs & Humans is a fantasy real time strategy game released in 1994 by Blizzard Entertainment. It was the first game in the Warcraft series that eventually led to the immensely popular massively multiplayer online RPG World of Warcraft and the still hugely popular Warcraft 3.
The game is widely considered a classic in the RTS genre and helped popularise many multiplayer aspects that are found in virtually all RTS games that have been released since.
You can play either as the Humans of Azeroth or the Orcish invaders – hence the name of the game. The game contains both a single player campaign as well as multiplayer skirmishes. In the single player mode, players will go through a number of objective based missions that typically involve base building, resource gathering and building an army to defeat the opposing faction.
Warcraft isn’t actually available for purchase legally from what I can see, and it is technically not an abandonware or ‘free game’. It is however available for download from a number of abandonware game sites, make of that what you will.
Civilization is a turn-based strategy game released in 1991 and developed by Sid Meier and Microproce.
Set between 4000 BC and 2100 AD, the primary objective is to manage and grow your civilizations through the ages competing with up to six other computer-controlled civilizations.
Players will find, manage and grow cities which in turn expand the domain of the civilization eventually leading to warfare and diplomacy with other civilizations. In addition to warfare, diplomacy and city management, Civilization also features a robust technology tree in which players are free to choose what to research and develop to advance their civilization.
Civilization can be found on many of the abandonware websites. There’s also a RISC OS port of FreeCiv that you can play Civilization on should you run into problems with the DOS version!
Prince of Persia is a 1989 fantasy cinematic platformer originally developed and published by Brøderbund and designed by Jordan Mechner for the Apple II.
Set in ancient Persia, your objective is to venture through a series of dungeons to defeat the Grand Vizier Jaffar and save an imprisoned princess.
Jaffar locks her in a tower and orders her to become his wife, or she would die within 60 minutes – so the clock is ticking for you to save her.
The game can be downloaded from a number of abandonware sites. It is a short game in comparison to newer games, but it’s definitely still worth a play-through.
August is Games Month on the RISC OS Blog, where we focus exclusively on gaming, be it reviewing new games or taking a trip down memory lane with a look at a classic title. Stay tuned for more games articles throughout August!