How to Play Very Old Games on Current Windows Computers

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From time to time, people feel a nostalgic urge to play very old games that they liked so much in their childhood. However it is not always as simple and straightforward to run a very old game on a new computer.

Jane submitted a tip asking for help resolving an issue with a favorite old game of hers called Prehistorik. She was unable to run the game on her Windows 7 computer.

16-bit-application-error

16-bit application error

I tried to replicate the error and immediately succeeded.

The error message tells us to contact the software publisher. This would be quite a feat since Prehistorik was created in early 1991…

Thankfully, there is another way to solve this problem.

Determine File Type

First, we need to check what kind of application Prehistorik is.

To do that, download and install the File utility which is part of the GnuWin32 Packages.

Open Start > All Programs > Accessories > Command Prompt and run the following command:

command-prompt-paste

Command Prompt paste

Copy the above command.

Then right-click with your mouse within Command Prompt and select Paste to easily paste it without having to manually write anything. This way you make sure that you don’t mistype a character and that the command will be entered correctly.

Of course, you need to change the second part of the command to the appropriate location of the executable file you want to check.

The File utility’s output will tell you what kind of application you are dealing with:

According to the File utility, Prehistorik is a DOS executable, so it’s a 16-bit application.

Check Operating System Type

Now you need to make sure that you are equipped to run the application. To check what kind of operating system (OS) you are using, go to Control Panel > System and Security > System and check your System type.

windows-system-type

Windows system type

I am running a 64-bit version of Windows 7.

If you are using a 64-bit OS, you can run 32-bit and 64-bit applications.

If you are using a 32-bit OS, you can run 16-bit and 32-bit applications.

I very much doubt that anyone is still using a 16-bit OS. Such an OS requires very old hardware components and the user of such a computer would find it virtually impossible to make any use whatsoever of the computer.

The problem most people face is that a very old game (or any other software) they would like to use again is a 16-bit application but they have a 64-bit OS installed.

This is the exact same problem Jane has.

The Workaround

Download and install the DOSBox virtual machine which will emulate the 16-bit environment many old games require.

Launch DOSBox. To run Prehistorik, you first need to mount the location of the game as a new virtual drive. To do this, enter the following command into DOSBox’s prompt screen:

DOSBox will confirm this action by outputting:

You now need to switch to this new virtual drive, so enter:

And, finally, to launch Prehistorik, type and enter:

dosbox-prompt-screen

DOSBox prompt screen

Again, you need to change the locations in the above commands, if they differ from c:\prehist.

It works! Jane can play her beloved Prehistorik even on a 64-bit Windows 7 computer. Game on!

Update (October 20, 2014)

Current DOSBox versions also enable you to create a batch file to circumvent the constant typing of commands into DOSBox’s command prompt.

To create such a batch file, open Notepad or even better Notepad++.

Type in the following command:

You need to enter the correct path to both programs as they are located on your hard drive.

Now save the file as prehistorik.bat. By double-clicking on this newly created batch file, Prehistorik will launch instantly.

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