Feeling nostalgic? Want to fire up some classic PC games like Duke Nukem on your modern PC? Unfortunately, it’s easier said than done. Here are some ways to run old games on Windows 10.
Why Don’t Old Games Run on Windows 10?
Operating systems change significantly over time. Dependencies that older hardware and software required are no longer used by modern systems. As hardware upgrades and software updates require more sophisticated operating systems, the older bits of code that are no longer required were tossed out.
For example, the 64-bit architecture of modern operating systems like Windows 10 simply don’t support the older 16-bit architecture found in Windows 95 or Windows 98. This means you can’t always run Windows 95 games in Windows 10 just like that. That being said, there are a few tricks to getting your games up and running.
Note: each game is going to have different requirements and dependencies. As such, the tricks listed below may not work on every game.
For Disc-Based Games, Grab an External DVD Drive
It’s probably a good decade now since new desktop and laptop computers shipped with integrated CD/DVD drives. Quite simply, hardware has moved on. Most games are digital, and most modern devices are plug-and-play, automatically installing any required drivers.
If your PC doesn’t have an external CD/DVD/Blu-Ray drive, but you have old disc-based games you want to play, then you should be able to get them running by buying a USB plug-and-play DVD drive. These usually cost around $30 and are usually DVD-RW (so you can burn and rip discs if you’re still into that kind of thing!). Simply plug the drive into your PC, let it install its drivers, then insert the game you want to install!
Even after that step, however, there’s still some more work to do.
Run as Administrator
Modern operating systems like Windows 10 have various security features that weren’t available in older operating systems. One unintentional side effect of this is that these security features can prevent you from running your old games.
For instance, UAC (User Account Control) helps to mitigate malware from wreaking havoc on your system. It does this by preventing the automatic installation of files from unknown or unverified sources. Unfortunately, this can prevent your retro games from installing on your modern PC. This is because the executable (.exe) that installs the files necessary to run a game are blocked from being installed on your computer.
To get around this, you’ll need to run the .exe file with administrator privileges. To do so, simply right-click on the game’s .exe file and select “Run as Administrator” from the menu. With a little bit of luck, your game will run. This is an easy workaround; however, you’ll have to do this every time you want to play the game.
Modern versions of Windows have a feature that allows users to simulate older versions of Windows called compatibility mode. If you plan on playing your game more than once, running it with administrator privileges is going to get old fast. Instead, use compatibility mode to tell Windows 10 how to launch your game every time.
To get started, find the .exe file of the game you want to run and right-click it. In the menu that pops up, click on “Properties,” which will launch a new window. At the top of the new window, and find the tab that reads “Compatibility.”
At this point you have two options. Opting for “Run compatibility troubleshooter” will prompt Windows to automatically diagnose any issues that are preventing you from running your game. After you let Windows do its thing, you may be able to run your game.
Alternatively, you can opt for the manual route. Under the option that reads “Compatibility Mode,” you’ll see a drop-down box that allows you to select the version of Windows the game was designed for. Under “Settings,” you can even tweak the screen resolution and tell Windows to operate with a reduced color pallet. Enabling these options may help to increase your chances of playing that old favorite.
Use an Emulator
Until Windows XP, the Microsoft Windows operating system was built on top of MS-DOS. As a result, many of the games released during this period were written for DOS. Regrettably, modern versions of Windows are no longer reliant on DOS and do not support it. If compatibility mode still isn’t getting your games to run, you may want to try to emulate DOS from within your modern machine.
The most popular emulator that lets you run games designed for DOS is DOSBox. There is extensive documentation on how to get DOSBox up and running on your PC. In addition, the official DOSBox website keeps an exhaustive list of all the games that are compatible so that you can check whether your collection will work before you go any further.
Modern GPUs support 3D acceleration through three APIs: DirectX, OpenGL, and Vulkan. If you’re trying to run a game that was made specifically for the ancient API created by the long-gone 3dfx, Glide, it simply won’t run, for the simple reason that your modern GPU doesn’t support it. Many Windows 95 games relied on these APIs to run their early-era 3D graphics!
For this to work, you can use a “glide wrapper” – a piece of software that acts as a translator for the game’s Glide API calls, mapping them to DirectX and OpenGL functions that your modern GPU can understand.
nGlide is one of the most popular solutions that allows you to play old games for Glide on current versions of Windows. By merely installing it, you add a “glide compatibility layer” to your version of Windows, which will allow you to play old games like the 3D-accelerated version of Diablo II.
If you’re trying to run some old adventure game, like those made by Sierra or LucasGames, it’s not worth fighting with your Operating System’s settings or DosBox when there’s a better alternative: ScummVM.
Originally made as a modern implementation of SCUMM, the system LucasArts used to create most of their classic adventures, like “The Secret Of Monkey Island” and “Full Throttle,” it soon expanded to also support Sierra’s classics and then some not-so-popular but also beloved titles like “Beneath a Steel Sky” and the Gobliiins series.
Today it supports over 250 titles, including the Broken Sword, Myst, and even the genuinely ancient Elvira series. To play them, run ScummVM and “point it” towards a supported game’s installation files.
Community Patches and Overhauls
Whether or not you get a game running using the above methods, you should look to see whether there are community patches or mods that help old games run much better on modern systems.
It’s little secret that the old Doom games benefit a great deal from source ports like ZDoom, which embellish the games with widescreen resolutions, dynamic lighting and all kinds of modern technical flourishes (paving the way for incredible overhauls like Brutal Doom).
There are open-source versions of games, like Theme Hospital and the classic dungeon crawler Arx Fatalis, while a team’s been tirelessly working away at porting The Elder Scrolls II: Daggerfall to the Unity engine, with the game now largely functional!
Whatever old game you’re looking to play, have a look to see whether someone has modernized it for Windows 10.
Use a Virtual Machine
If none of the options listed above are working, you’re having major compatibility issues. To solve this, your best option is to trick the game into thinking you’re running it on the operating system it was originally designed for. You can do so by running a virtual machine on your current hardware. VirtualBox is a popular virtual machine for Windows and is 100 percent free.
For the uninitiated, think of a virtual machine as an emulator for an operating system. It basically works like this: you begin by installing a virtual machine on your current PC. From within the virtual machine you install an operating system. In this case, it would be an older version of Windows that is compatible with your games. Luckily, you can get older versions of Windows from WinWorld.
Note: Microsoft is aware of this site and only prohibits commercial versions of Windows XP and Vista from being downloaded.
Finally, from within your virtual machine environment, and you can install the game you want to play. Going the virtual machine route isn’t the easiest method, but when you absolutely must play your retro PC game collection, desperate times call for desperate measures.
Steam & GOG
If all else fails, you can repurchase your game through an online retailer like Steam or GOG. Thankfully, both Steam and GOG feature versions of older games that have been patched to work on modern OSes. This means you don’t have to fiddle around with anything detailed above and can get straight to your nostalgia-soaked gaming session. Furthermore, most older games are super affordable and DRM-free.
If you are having serious difficulty running old games on Windows 10, another way is to run RetroPie on Raspberry Pi to play classic console games from the past! Alternatively, if you want to play some games you don’t even have to install, check out our list of the best co-op games you can play in your browser.
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