Resources – Playing
Playing the games you find can be the hardest part of the process. I’ve included resources on this page about how to set up emulators for specific platforms, as well general utilities that might come in handy.
Playing games in-browser
Several websites now allow you to play older games directly from your browser. You will always have the most flexibility running games on your own with specialized software, but this is a great quick fix that doesn’t require you to install anything.
Select games and applications are playable on the following sites:
• Apple ][js (Apple II)
• Internet Arcade via Internet Archive (arcade games)
• RGB Classic Games (DOS)
• The Software Library via Internet Archive (Apple II, DOS, Windows 3.1, and many others)
• Virtual Apple ][ (Apple II and Apple IIgs)
The application ScummVM can play a significant number of adventure games on a huge range of operating systems, including Windows, Mac OS X, Linux distros, iOS, Android, Samsung Smart TVs, and even the Sega Dreamcast. The program includes a number of extras, including expanded save support, language and audio options, and graphical enhancements. Check ScummVM’s compatibility to list to see what games it can run.
To run Amiga games, you need both an Amiga emulator and a “kickstart ROM” that includes the basic Amiga software. Kickstart ROMs are not legally obtainable unless you extract one from your own Amiga computer. Once you have this ROM (legally or otherwise), emulators should be able to run most games. You can also choose to install Workbench, an Amiga file manager that makes it easier to navigate your games and applications.
The most popular Amiga emulator for Windows is WinUAE. Green Amiga Alien has a very good tutorial about how to install and setup WinUAE. If you are interested in running Workbench on WinUAE, read LemonAmiga’s tutorial. GAA has a more complicated reference guide for multiple versions of Workbench as well.
You might also consider FS-UAE, which is compatible Windows, Macintosh, and many Linux distros. FS-UAE’s website has its own “Getting Started” guide that walks you through the entire process from acquiring a kickstart ROM to downloading games.
If you are willing to pay a little to bypass the setup process and still emulate Amiga systems legally, Amiga Forever sells customized emulator packages starting at $10. These setups include legally licensed Amiga kickstart ROMs, hence the price.
Another group is currently working on AROS, a free alternative to Amiga emulators that should run without any kickstart ROMs. AROS is continually a work-in-progress and will not be compatible with all Amiga software, but it’s worth a shot if you cannot obtain a kickstart ROM or don’t want to set up an emulator.
For Windows users, AppleWin is the best Apple II emulator you can find. The program includes an extensive help file that guides you through setup. For Macintosh users, download Virtual ][. As with WinApple, Virtual ][ includes detailed instructions about how to set up the program.
To run the more advanced Apple IIgs (which runs the GS/OS operating system), try KEGS. This program works on Windows and Macintosh, but you will need to obtain an Apple IIgs ROM file from a IIgs computer to use it. E-Maculation describes KEGS setup as “particularly tricky”; I have never attempted it, but you can read their guide for instructions. (Please note that E-Maculation includes links to ROM files that are technically not legal to obtain.)
There are two major Commodore 64 emulators: CCS64 (for Windows only) and VICE (for Windows, Macintosh, and many other platforms). Both emulators include manuals: VICE’s tutorial focuses on how to set up the program, CCS64’s manual is more about explaining the program’s functionality.
The best and easiest way to run DOS is to use DOSBox. DOSBox is an incredibly flexible DOS emulator geared towards running DOS games, and it includes tons of options for compatibility with specific systems and games. Many distributors, including GoG.com, use DOSBox, so you know it’s good.
DOSBox’s wiki includes a guide for starting the program and playing games as simply as possible. DOSBox requires you to use DOS command line syntax, which might be confusing for newcomers; the wiki has a list of basic commands. You may also want to learn special keys to take screenshots, change display settings, and so forth. In order to play anything, you need to “mount” your hard drive, and the wiki explains this command in depth. If you’re using a CD-ROM, this guide explains how to use disc drives and files as well.
One downside of DOSBox is its complicated configuration file; the DOSBox wiki explains how to edit the file, though it may be difficult for anyone expecting a proper settings screen.
If all this nitty-gritty sounds too much for you, you might want to use a DOSBox “frontend” that automatically sets the program’s settings and handles all the behind-the-scenes work and command line stuff. Try D-Fend Reloaded, a highly popular frontend that includes profiles for specific games. Its default settings will work for most games too. If you have no experience with DOS, D-Fend Reloaded is the fastest way to get games running.
There are a number of alternative, complicated solutions for running DOS with virtual machines and free DOS alternatives. Dioscuri is a powerful program for those with a digital preservation mindset, but it’s significantly harder to use, even with all the documentation on their website.
Interactive fiction games are usually platform-independent, meaning you can play them on any device. You’ll need to play them with an IF “interpreter.” Interactive fiction games are distributed as single files in a handful of different formats, and you may need to use different programs for each one. For a comprehensive guide of what that all means, see Brass Lantern’s Downloading and Running Text Adventures guide.
The Interactive Fiction Wiki offers a detailed spreadsheet of what programs you can use on most major operating systems, as well as how to identify the different file formats.
You may also want this handy reference card of common IF commands from The People’s Republic of Interactive Fiction. (They can be hard for newcomers!)
Macintosh OS Classic
Mac OS Classic is the most difficult and underdocumented platform on this list. Almost any resources we have for running Mac OS Classic come from E-Maculation, a site dedicated to Mac emulation.
If you have Mac running OS X 10.4 (Tiger) or earlier, you may have a function called Classic Environment. This is the easiest way to run Mac OS Classic, but it does not work on newer versions of OS X and has not been supported for a decade.
Everyone else can use Mini vMac (which emulates earliest, black-and-white versions of Mac OS Classic), Basilisk II (Mac OS Classic versions 7 through 8), or SheepShaver (PowerPC-based Macs versions 7 through 9). These programs are available for Windows, Mac OS X, and Linux. Each of those pages includes great documentation for running their respective programs – and really, they’re the only documentation.
To use any of these three programs, you’ll need a Macintosh ROM, which can only legally be obtained from actual Macintosh hardware. There are two types of Macintosh ROM files: Old World (generally for use with older versions of the operating system) and New World (usually PowerPCs, for use with SheepShaver). I can’t link to these files, so unfortunately you’re on your own for finding them.
(For a partial solution with significantly less setup, Windows and Mac OS X users might consider Executor, an open-source Mac OS Classic alternative. Executor does not play most Macintosh programs and applications well, but it runs without a ROM file or extensive tinkering. You might use it as a first-time trial.)
Mini vMac, Basilisk II, SheepShaver, and Executor create .hfv files that simulate a Macintosh hard drive. To open them and add more content, download either HFVExplorer (for Windows) or FuseHFS (for Mac OS X). Linux users can use the built-in hfsplus module to control .hfv files; this LinuxQuestions.org post walks through the generalized process, and another guide discusses it under Ubuntu.
If you are not playing a PlayStation game on a PlayStation system (ie., if you are running a CD or disc image on your computer), there are several emulation options available. All PlayStation emulators require a PlayStation BIOS ROM to work, but it is illegal to possess this file, even if you’ve extracted it from your own system.
ePSXe is the most highly used and discussed, partly because of the visual enhancements it offers. FantasyAnime has a good step-by-step setup guide for beginners. ePSXe works on Windows, Linux, and Android.
PCSX-Reloaded is your only option for Mac, though it also runs on Windows and Linux. A user on the MacRumors forums outlined the important points to getting started; their advice applies for all versions of the program.
Multi-system emulator RetroArch also includes PlayStation as one of its many supported consoles. User-friendly documentation for RetroArch is scarce; the program is intended for advanced users. Use either ePSXe or PCSX-Reloaded if you aren’t willing to experiment with the software.
Windows 3.1 can be run and installed through DOSBox. (See above for information about setting up DOSBox.) To install Windows 3.1, you will need a copy the operating system, which is still under copyright and cannot be legally distributed. If you don’t want to find it via Internet back-channels, some copies of Windows 3.1 are still sold online via eBay, Amazon Marketplace, and other resellers. They’re usually a little pricey, but hey, then you own Windows 3.1!
For quick setup, refer to a tutorial from The Sierra Help Papers. It covers the basics and should be a good starting place for people not concerned with the more technical aspects. If you want something more thorough, read a similar tutorial on the VOGONS forums that goes into more detail about sound and video configurations.
Installing Windows 3.1 requires some knowledge of DOS command line, but once it’s installed, it should be smooth sailing. You can even run it through D-Fend Reloaded! Check out win31.de for some pointers with Windows 3.1 and add-ons.
Please note that DOSBox does not emulate file sharing functions of Windows 3.1, which may cause some software like Microsoft Office not to work properly. You can get around this by following a complicated tutorial for running a Windows 3.1 “boot image,” but this shouldn’t be necessary unless you really, really want to run one of those programs.
If you’re interested in those software capabilities, you can also run Windows 3.1 through MS-DOS in the free virtual machine program VirtualBox. Check this tutorial for specific instructions. (See “Windows 95 and above” for more details about VirtualBox.)
Windows 95 and above
Here there be dragons. Windows versions 95 and later can be installed in Oracle’s free virtual machine program VirtualBox, but 95 and 98 are officially unsupported. 3D graphics and CDs with audio tracks are temperamental. Please advise that since VirtualBox is primarily intended for businesses, there’s minimal documentation on the Internet for these type of problems.
Read the VirtualBox manual for information about how to use the program. There’s a lot to learn, far more than I can document here. You will need the original installation CDs for whichever operating system you plan to use.
Windows 95 and 98 each have their own problems: Windows 95 performance is poorer, while Windows 98 has installation issues in the latest versions of VirtualBox. Generally speaking, Windows 98 is the better option, but your mileage may vary.
For a general overview of running Windows 9x, follow this handy guide from the VirtualBox forum, which includes tips on audio and video configuration. These operating systems have some hard limits, so allocate no more than 512MB of RAM to virtual machines running them. You will either need to install DOS or run the bootable Windows 98 SE CD-ROM to begin the setup process.
For more in-depth specifics about Windows 98, see this page also from the VirtualBox forum with a wide variety of resources for getting the operating system working properly. Windows 9x’s video and performance benefit from specialized drivers; the Universal VESA drivers come recommended in both tutorials.The older VirtualBox version 5.0.30 is recommended for best compatibility with Windows 9x.
By default, Windows 9x in VirtualBox does not support MIDI music playback; Squakenet’s tutorial has good step-by-step instructions for setting up alternative audio drivers that support MIDI playback, but they are somewhat unstable under Windows 10 in versions of VirtualBox beyond version 4.3.40.
The process of setting up Windows 9x under any virtual machine software is arduous, extremely finicky, and has no guarantee to work. Only attempt if you have technical skills and a lot of time on your hands. For an easier alternative, consider using a later versions of Windows such as 2000 and XP, which can run some Windows 9x games just as well and are officially supported by VirtualBox.
Working with floppy disks and CD-ROMs can be difficult, especially if you’re worried about wear-and-tear or don’t have a disc drive on your device of choice. Luckily, you can extract the “image” from most discs and simulate a disc drive on your computer.
Windows 8.1 and 10 have built-in disc image management tools that will work for basic tasks. Simply click any disc image file and select “Mount” from the ribbon bar or context menu to make an imitation disc drive from that image. This will only work with specific file types (.iso and .img files). Anything more complicated – especially creating images – will probably require special software.
The most thorough tool out there for CD-ROM image management for Windows is DAEMON Tools. Multiple versions exist depending on how intense you want to get; DAEMON Tools Lite is free and has most basic functionality (ignore the price tag on the website), but watch out for adware that it might ask you to install during setup. Pricier Pro and Ultra versions are probably unnecessary unless you’re managing hundreds of disc image files or an enterprise user. Alcohol 120% is also recommended for Windows but must be purchased.
For creating images with other programs on Windows, InfraRecorder is a recommended open- source option. The earlier 220.127.116.11 version of ImgBurn can handle image creation for CD-ROMs with audio tracks. Also consider the commercial program IsoBuster for potentially damaged or difficult-to-read discs.
Mac OS X’s built-in Disk Utility program can handle disk image creation and usage. Follow the help within the program for assistance. You can also purchase a Mac version of DAEMON Tools if you want greater control and management.
For Linux distros, refer to Ubuntu Community Help Wiki’s IsoImage page, which contains subsections for creating, running, and managing disc images. These pages are obviously geared towards Ubuntu, the programs and terminal commands they reference may work with other distros too.
(I honestly don’t know enough about Linux to recommend a disc image program for any distros. Please help if you know anything!)
Floppy disks are far less finicky. Their contents can usually be directly copied through your normal file browser, so you will rarely see image files of them. If you are attempting to read a non-PC-formatted floppy disk on Windows, try using Gemulator Explorer. Gemulator Explorer also allows you to create image files of disks, but for more serious preservation, defer to Archive Team’s very detailed instructions on creating archival copies, recovering data, and understanding copy protection. I recommend using RawRead/RawWrite.