Don’t you wax occasionally nostalgic for those old games you used to play when you (and the game industry) were younger and full of wonder? Ever wonder where those old classics go when time (and technology) has passed them by? Why, they’re right on your shelf, ready to play! Let’s see if we can resurrect some of these classics.
What prevents you from running older games on newer systems? A lot, actually. There is the CPU it was intended to run on, the operating system version, the video cards and their drivers as well as any input devices supported like mice, keyboards, gamepads, wheels and joysticks. And it’s a credit to the developer if they had enough foresight to consider the longevity of their creation to make their application as non-reliant on the hardware and operating system as possible.
For example, people are still playing a title called Ghost Recon (the original version) even though it was released in 2002. In computer years, that’s like 100 years ago. The specs on the box say it will run on Windows 98/2000/XP. But it’s one of the few games of that era that was written to adapt to changes in the hardware, like display size. There were no wide-screen displays back then, yet not only does it support the newer wide-screen resolutions but with a little patch can also support tiled displays. Imagine playing on 3 screens wrapped around you. RedStorm did one heck of a programming job on this title, kudos to them. The graphics may be a little dated, but it runs beautifully, even in Windows 7.
And for those games that did not have that programming edge, there are other solutions.
- Obtain the actual hardware. Check your junk room or with friends, local computer swaps, yard sales and the like for older hardware. The easiest solution is the best solution and that is running on the system it was intended to run on. That makes it doubly nostalgic for you too! If you’re worried about space, maybe look for an old laptop. And you should try to pick one from a time that gives you the ability to play the largest number of older games.
- Check for alternate platforms. For example, one of the greatest, non-violent adventure games, MYST from Cyan Worlds, first came out on the Mac. Then it was released for the PC. Now it’s also on iOS. So check with the developer or search online for information. And don’t forget, Linux is also an option for operating system platforms. Some online buddies and I play Call of Duty 2 on a Linux port of the server software that we manage ourselves and both PC and Mac users of the game can play on it. Cool.
- Check gaming websites. There are places online where you can purchase these old games that have been tweaked to run on current systems or have passed inspection on current systems. The advantage here is that the hard work has been done for you already and you can, with some certainty, play these games without issue. And now these sites are serving up both PC and Mac classics, so you don’t always have to move to another computer to play an old favorite. And they are usually inexpensive to own. (See the list at the bottom.)
- Game emulation software. This is software that simulates older hardware to trick games into working. There are emulators for arcade games to handhelds and even DOS-based games. Some of these require special items, like the ROM images from stand alone arcade games, not all of which are legal to obtain. But aside from the arcade games, if you own the software, these applications allow you play them on your system. (See the list at the bottom.)
- Virtual Machines. This is software that allows you to run various operating systems as virtual machines on your one computer. There are the popular commercial Parallels and Fusion as well as the free VirtualBox. You install this software and then create an instance of a particular operating system like Windows XP or Ubuntu Linux and then install your game into that, as though it was the machine it was designed to run on. Your mileage will vary both by game and which VM product you choose to use.
- OS Wrappers. Instead of using the shotgun approach of installing an entire operating system into a virtual machine, you could opt to “wrap” your old app in just the core files it needs to run and then use it like a standard app right from your desktop. Some companies are already doing that and re-releasing games on different platforms using this method rather than having to re-develop their games for other environments. But end users also have this option using the free Wine software for PC applications or the commercial version called CrossOver. CodeWeavers has done a great job in collecting data from end users regarding how well games run under CrossOver so you can see which games run the best.
Wrappers for PC games that allow play on newer or alternate platforms
MAME – Arcade games (some free game are available)
ScummVM – LucasArts Games and more