Resources – Play games
Playing old games 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 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)
- ClassicReload (DOS)
- Internet Arcade via Internet Archive (arcade games)
- RGB Classic Games (DOS)
- Scullin Steel (Apple II)
- The Internet Archive Software Library (Apple II, Commodore 64, DOS, Windows 3.1, Macintosh, and many others)
- Virtual Apple ][ (Apple II and Apple IIgs)
ScummVM can play a significant number of adventure games on a huge range of operating systems, including Windows, macOS, several distributions of Linux, and Android. 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.
Recommended: Amiga Forever or FS-UAE
To run Amiga games, you need both an Amiga emulator and a “kickstart ROM” that includes the basic Amiga software. You can also choose to install Workbench, an Amiga file manager that makes it easier to navigate your games and applications.
If you are willing to pay a little to bypass the setup process, Amiga Forever sells customized emulator packages starting at $10. These setups include legally licensed Amiga kickstart ROMs. This is recommended for anyone who doesn’t want to deal with setup hassle. Otherwise, there are several options for emulators, though you’ll have to obtain a kickstart ROM another way. Since the ROMs are commercially available products, you’re encouraged to purchase the Value version of Amiga Forever to use its licensed ROMs.
The most popular Amiga emulator for Windows is FS-UAE, which is compatible Windows, Macintosh, and many Linux distros. FS-UAE’s website has a documentation section, containing a basic “Getting Started” guide and detailed subsections about the program’s features.
Windows users might also consider 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.
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 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 technically may not be legal to download.)
There are two major Commodore 64 emulators: VICE (for Windows, Macintosh, and many other platforms) and CCS64 (for Windows only). Both emulators include manuals: VICE’s tutorial includes more about how to set up the program.
Recommended: DOSBox (with optional frontend D-Fend Reloaded)
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 digital distributors that sell DOS games, like GOG.com, use DOSBox.
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.
Recommended: Brass Lantern guide
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)
Classic Mac OS emulation is somewhat unstable. Almost any resources we have for running Classic Mac OS come from E-Maculation, a site dedicated to Mac emulation.
If you have an older Mac running OS X 10.4 (Tiger) or earlier, you may have a function called Classic Environment. This is an easy way to run Classic Mac OS, but it does not work on newer versions of OS X and has not been supported for a while.
Everyone else can use Mini vMac (which emulates earliest, black-and-white versions of Classic Mac OS), Basilisk II (Classic Mac OS 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.
(Advanced users can also use the powerful PCE to emulate the earliest Macintosh computers, similar to Mini vMac. The program comes with no instructions but does have pre-configured downloads for different computer models.)
To use any of these three programs, you’ll need a Macintosh ROM. 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). You’ll also need the installation disks for the Macintosh operating system you want to use. Keep in mind that these ROMs and operating systems are still under copyright and potentially illegal to download, though they are on available on some Macintosh fan software websites like Macintosh Repository and WinWorld.
(For a partial solution with significantly less setup, Windows and Mac OS X users might consider Executor, an open-source Classic Mac OS 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. Like all BIOS ROMs, there are legal complications about download them, but numerous BIOS versions are available online.
ePSXe is highly used and discussed, partly because the program includes visual enhancements. FantasyAnime has a good step-by-step setup guide for beginners. ePSXe works on Windows, Linux, and Android.
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. (I find BizHawk is much easier.) Use the other options if you aren’t willing to experiment with the software.
Recommended: DOSBox with additional setup
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. Although the operating system is still under copyright, Microsoft has not enforced that recently. You can find copies of the Windows 3.1 installation disks through WinWorld, preferably the “IBM OEM” version.
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. For best compatibility, I recommend the S3 Trio64V display drivers (640×480, 256 colors); other S3 drivers like the ones mentioned in these tutorials will generally work well. For a full list of S3 video drivers, see the VOGONS Vintage Drivers Library.
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.
Windows 95 and 98
Recommended: VM Workstation Player or PCem (high-end computers)
Here there be dragons. Windows 95 and 98 are more complicated operating systems with poor compatibility with modern systems. Emulation with Windows 9x (as they’re collectively called) is still experimental, but a few good options have emerged.
You will need the installation CDs for whichever operating system you plan to use. As with Windows 3.1, installation CDs are still under copyright and likely not legal to obtain online, but Microsoft has not recently enforced that. If you plan to go that route, the website WinWorld hosts copies of the CDs and registration info.
In general, you’ll want to use Windows 98 rather than 95, simply because it’s a bit better and more stable.
One program for emulating Windows 9x is VMWare Workstation Player, which is free for non-commerical use. It runs super smoothly and is highly recommended! The setup process is fairly straightforward if you have the installation CD. See this guide from VMWare. You’ll also need to install VMWare Tools, which will enhance Windows 9x running in VMWare. You may get an on-screen prompt about VMWare Tools. Otherwise, follow these instructions.
Although VMWare is great, it will run Windows 9x as fast as possible; this may cause issues with some games that are CPU-dependent and are intended to run slowly.
Another experimental option is PCem, a program that accurately emulates an entire Windows 9x-compatible computer. It is extremely resource-intensive, requires a powerful computer, and will run slowly, but it has better support for advanced features like 3D graphics, CD audio, and accurate speed. (Your sound may stutter significantly while using the Windows 98 desktop interface in PCem, but performance in actual games may be better.)
To use PCem, you’ll need to acquire a set of computer BIOS ROMs, which like all the computer ROMs mentioned here are legally suspect to download. PCem has little to no documentation, and the settings are both intimidating and unclear. My recommended settings for running PCem on a just-okay computer are:
- Machine: [Socket 7] Award 430VX PCI
- CPU: Pentium 133
- Memory: 128 MB
- Device: S3 ViRGE/DX
- Speed: Fast VLB/PCI
- Voodoo Graphics checked. Checking this feature will enable potentially faster play for 3D games but requires additional configuration; you can uncheck it for easier setup.
- Audio: Sound Blaster AWE32 (all boxes unchecked)
- Mouse: Standard PS/2 Mouse
- Remaining options can be defaults
It is possible to setup Windows 9x using the free virtual machine program Oracle VM VirtualBox, but it’s difficult. Windows 95 and 98 are officially unsupported in the program. 3D graphics and CDs with audio tracks are temperamental. The process of setting it up is arduous, extremely finicky, and has no guarantee to work. VirtualBox is primarily intended for businesses, and there’s minimal documentation for playing games with it. Only attempt if you have some technical expertise and a lot of time on your hands.
(The inadvertent upside of VirtualBox is that because it does not support Windows 9x, they run at a slower speed comparable to an actual Windows 9x computer.)
If you want to use VirtualBox, see this guide from the VirtualBox forum, which includes tips on audio and video configuration. Also see this page 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. If programs are running too fast in Windows 9x once installed, try disabling hardware virtualization (“Enable VT-X/AMD-V”) under the Acceleration tab in System settings. For best compatibility with audio in VirtualBox, I recommend VirtualBox version 5.1.24. By default, Windows 9x in VirtualBox uses the Sound Blaster 16 audio controller, which does not support MIDI music playback.
Windows 9x games that use 3dfx Voodoo video drivers can also run in modern versions of Windows using nGlide, a program that acts as a “wrapper” on Voodoo games. Simply install nGlide, and Voodoo games will work automatically.
Recommended: DxWnd or Oracle VM VirtualBox
Games from the early-to-mid-2000s may still run on modern versions of Windows, especially if run in compatibility mode. (Right-click the program, select Properties, then go to the Compatibility tab. Click “Run this program in compatibility mode for”, then select one of the versions of Windows XP.)
For Windows games that use DirectX – a majority of 3D-based Windows games from the late 90s and early 2000s – you may be able to run them in DxWnd, a program that acts as a “wrapper” on DirectX games, forcing them to run in a self-contained window with compatibility tweaks. Even if you can run a game normally, DxWnd provides some great quality-of-life features, like running a full-screen game in windowed mode or emulating CD audio playback.
DxWnd is extremely complex. It’s worth experimenting with, and it may be an effective alternative if you’re willing to configure the program for a while. Consult the Help menu for detailed (if frequently unclear) information on how it works.
You may also want to run the original operating systems. Versions of Windows more recent than Windows 98 will run smoothly in Oracle VM VirtualBox. Read the VirtualBox manual for information about how to use the program in general. (There’s a lot to learn, far more than I can document here.) You will need to install the operating systems using your own copy of the installation CDs. For best compatibility with audio, I recommend VirtualBox version 5.1.24. This version experiences some audio delay but is otherwise stable. A more recent version, 5.2.18, has worked alright for me, but other uses have reported major audio issues.
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.
One of the more widely recommended CD-ROM image management programs is Virtual CloneDrive, which is lightweight and fully free to use. Personally, I use DAEMON Tools Lite. DAEMON Tools is also a powerful, free program (ignore the price tag on the website), but watch out for adware that it might ask you to install during setup. The pricier Pro and Ultra versions are unnecessary. Alcohol 120% is also recommended for Windows but must be purchased.
For creating disc images, one of the most powerful tools is DiscImageCreator, a command line tool that can create disc images of nearly all CDs, DVDs, and floppy disks. You may want to use DiscImageCreator UI, a version with a graphical interface. For instructions using DICUI, see this guide from the Redump Wiki. DiscImageCreator specializes in dealing with damaged CDs and unusual formats. It’s thorough but very slow, and you may prefer to use other programs instead. Also see the Redump Wiki’s page of Useful Links for more recommendations.
In terms of other disc image creation tools on Windows, InfraRecorder is a simple open-source option, though it can run into issues with CDs with audio tracks. ImgBurn can handle image creation for CD-ROMs with audio tracks (be sure to download it from MajorGeeks.com; other downloads links, even from the official ImgBurn website, include spyware). The commercial program IsoBuster can also rip potentially damaged or difficult-to-read discs, unusual formats, or interacting with virtual machine image files.
macOS’s built-in Disk Utility program can handle disc image creation and usage. Follow the help within the program for assistance. You can also control disc images using the Terminal command hdiutil.
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!)
For creating images from floppy disks, consult Archive Team’s very detailed instructions on creating archival copies, recovering data, and understanding copy protection. I recommend using RawRead/RawWrite. Based on how games used to be copied, floppy disk images for DOS and Windows 3.1 games are fairly uncommon. However, you’ll see them more frequently for platforms that use different file systems, like Classic Mac OS, Apple II, or Amiga. Whenever dealing with a floppy disk today, I recommend creating a disk image to preserve the format of the original disk.