How To Use DOSBox

While you may have heard of DOSBox before many have trouble using it. Whether it’s mounting the original game files or disks to executing the game files via command line it can be rather daunting. The following step by step guide will take you through some of the basic features and functionality of DOSBox and how to get an old DOS based game running on your modern Windows, Mac OS X, Linux or other computer. Furthermore this tutorial will demonstrate the Windows version and the setup of the classic Bethesda Softworks game, The Elder Scrolls II: Daggerfall. I’ve chosen this game since it is one of the more complex games to setup due to the system requirements and size of the game. Furthermore this setup should cover many of the settings and configurations that will help you in setting up other games.

What is DOSBox?

DOSBox is a program that emulates the DOS operating system which ran the majority of PCs in the late 1980s and early 1990s, with MS-DOS operating system being the most dominate. As a result of the release of Windows XP and then Windows Vista, thousands of older MS-DOS based PC games and programs simply stopped working. Consequently there was substantial demand from owners to either have the programs updated or a way to go back to MS-DOS when needed to run the older games or programs. Luckily for gamers, computer enthusiasts and owners wanting to continue using their old, trusted programs a group of developers finally came to the rescue in 2002 by creating the DOSBox emulator. The DOSBox emulator is an application that runs as a stand alone program that can be used to run thousands of old games and programs using the original files, floppy disks or CD-ROMs.

How DOSBox Works

The base interface is a command line interface which requires virtual disks to be mounted prior to being able to execute the old DOS game or program. For those who are not comfortable with the command line interface, there are more than 20 third party front end programs listed on the official DOSBox page which try to make your experience with the application as easy as possible. DOSBox is completely free to download and use and is available for Windows, Mac OS X, Linux, Android, Chrome OS, Amiga and a number of other operating systems.

Since its release it has become the standard bearer for running old games on modern computers and mobile devices. It has also been packaged in a number of re-releases of vintage retro PC games such as Wolfenstein 3D, Star Wars: Dark Forces and many others. Many of the major publishers who release older games, such as Bethesda Softworks, also recommend using DOSBox to run their games since it mirrors DOS so closely.

How to Use DOSBox – The Elder Scrolls II: Daggerfall DOSBox Tutorial

Step 1 – Download DOSBox

The first thing you’ll need to do is, head over to the official DOSBox download page and download the latest version available. At the time of this writing the latest version was 0.74. Clicking on the link will redirect you to SourceForge.net and the download should begin automatically.

DOSBox - Step 1
DOSBox – Step 1

Step 2 – Install DOSBox

Once you’ve downloaded the executable installation program, double click on the file to open/run and then follow the default prompts to install.

Step 3 – Update Configuration

Many old DOS games will work just fine with the default DOSBox configuration, however Daggerfall requires some extra configuration settings. If you’re unsure of the configuration needs its best to try the default settings first before changing anything. The configuration file can be access by going to the DOSBox program folder and selecting “DOSBox 0.74 Options”. This will open the DOSBox configuration file in notepad. Older versions of may have an “edit configuration” option which opens the same config file.

In the configuration file update you will want to update the “memsize” value to memsize=”32″ and save the file.

DOSBox - Step 3
DOSBox – Step 3

Step 4 – Setup Install and Game File Directories

Next you’ll want to setup a folder on your hard disk drive where you will save all of your game files. For this tutorial we are using “c:\games” directory but the naming can be anything you like, note DOSBox has the same eight character limit for directory names that MS-DOS has. Once this is done, extract the Daggerfall .zip file and copy the DFCD and the DAGGERFALL folders and the contents into your game directory.

DOSBox - Step 4
DOSBox – Step 4

Step 5 – Start DOSBox

The DOSBox installation should install a desktop shortcut as well as a Start menu folder. Double click on the desktop shortcut to start the application and two small windows should open. While the need for these two windows may seem strange, both need to remain open during use. The larger window is the primary interface you’ll be using to run old games. A successful DOSBox startup will show you a welcome message, Z:> prompt and cursor. The configuration file includes settings and parameters that modify things such as screen size, resolution as well as a number of other interface settings.

DOSBox - Step 5
DOSBox – Step 5

Step 6 – Mount Your Game Drive and Game Files

Since DOSBox is an emulator it needs virtual drives setup and mounted in order to “see” the game files. From the Z:> prompt command line mount your folder with the “-freesize” parameter which will allocation space to your virtual drive. Enter the following command: “mount c c:\games -freesize 1000“. This will mount your physical hard drive location “c:\games” to the DOSBox virtual C drive.

DOSBox - Step 6
DOSBox – Step 6

Step 7 – Mount the CD-ROM/Install Location

The next step required is to mount the original CD-ROM files so that DOSBox can find them. These files are found in the DFCD directory that were copied over in Step 4. Enter the following command to mount and map the CD-ROM files to DOSBox: “mount d c:\games\dfcd -t cdrom -label Daggerfall“. This command mounts the DFCD directory to the DOSBox D Drive which will behave as a CD-ROM Drive.

DOSBox - Step 7
DOSBox – Step 7

Step 8 – Install the Game

In this next step you’ll start to begin to see the fruits of your labor. Once you have correctly mounted the two directories you are ready to start installation of The Elder Scrolls II: Daggerfall. Some old DOS games do not require an installation. In those cases mounting of the directories and running the game’s executable file is all that’s needed to start playing. In the case of Daggerfall though, installation to a virtual disk is required.

To get started switch to the D Drive by typing “D:” and pressing enter key to switch directory locations. Form the D drive you can view the list of files with “dir” or to simply start the installation, type INSTALL and press enter. This will start the Daggerfall installation program within the emulator window.

Daggerfall Installation Step by Step

Click inside the DOSBox window to enable the mouse functionality within the Daggerfall installation. From here you’ll make the following selections in the Daggerfall installation program:

  1. CONTINUE, I agree to the terms.
  2. Install the game to your hard drive
  3. Change the install size
  4. Huge installation (450MB)
  5. Yes, this installation size is fine
  6. Yes, I want to install the game here
  7. Go ahead and install the game

Installation will begin and should take a few minutes to complete. You will then go through the sound card setup screens. Select “Yes” to begin this configuration. Navigate through the Sound Card options using the arrow/enter keys or the hot key for each option. To Auto Detect and set your sound card follow these steps:

  1. Select “Auto Detect” and press enter or press the “A” key.
  2. Then, select “Detect” and press enter or press the “D” key.
  3. Finally, select “OK” and press enter.
  4. Digital Device will be shown with your sound card name. Select “OK” and press enter to save selection.
  5. Select “OK” and press enter once more to exit setup utility.

Two more “OKs” to select in the Daggerfall installation and program will exit back to the command line and C:\DAGGER directory location.

Step 9 – Update Daggerfall

In addition, the freeware download of The Elder Scrolls II: Daggerfall also includes the latest patch released by Bethesda Softworks. This patch fixes a number of noteworthy issues and is recommended. From the DOSBox prompt (from within the C:\DAGGER directory) type DAG213 and press enter to launch the patch update. You will need to answer two Y/N prompts, answering Y to both.

Each time you want to play Daggerfall, enter the following commands into the DOSBox session and you’ll be up and running.

  1. mount c c:\games -freesize 1000
  2. mount d c:\games\dfcd -t cdrom -label Daggerfall
  3. Make C your active directory – type “C:” and press enter
  4. Change directory to “cd \dagger
  5. Enter “dagger” to start Daggerfall

Final Thoughts

Finally, this DOSBox guide may not work for every DOS game. It is a step by step guide for you to become more comfortable on how to use DOSBox. Whether you’re wanting to play old favorites from your youth or simply play some classic retro PC games this tutorial should get you started.

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