Retro Gaming without CDs: An introduction

by expack3

If you haven’t noticed by now, I love older video games. In particular, I love MS-DOS and Windows games from the 1980’s and 1990’s because they’re from a time when I either had a limited amount of games to play (my parents were never into games like I am) or the games were way before my time. Some of these games include CD-ROM-based games, which slowly came into their own in the 90’s. However, there’s a number of a problem with these older CDs for MS-DOS and Windows – some of which aren’t immediately apparent:

  1. Discs can easily get damaged by accident, even under normal circumstances. Hard disks or flash drives, on the other hand, are hard to damage.
  2. Games can span more than one disc if they’re specifically designed for the format due to containing duplicate data for rooms you need to revisit as well as unique data.
  3. You sometimes can’t get rid of the disc(s), physically or virtually, due to DRM measures requiring them to be in your CD-ROM drive – even when the game’s installer allows you to put the entire contents of the CD on the hard drive!

Thankfully, there’s an excellent MS-DOS emulator called DOSBOX. This sucker allows us to play CD-ROM-based MS-DOS games without their original discs. This is thanks to its ability to pass off OS folders as physical CDs – especially useful when there’s no way to get a game working without one. With some work, DOSBOX can even pass off audio files as a CD’s audio tracks! This is where one of my other hobbies comes in: making MS-DOS and Windows games work without their CDs and without needing to do any coding. In my view, all the tools we need are at our disposal, so why waste time trying to re-implement an entire game just so it can run without a CD when we can do so as-is?
I’ll be going over some of my favorite games as part of an ongoing series, explaining step-by-step how to play them without their CD(s) with DOSBOX. Note that if I have to illegally modify a game’s files or executable (i.e. No-CD cracks), I won’t be covering it anywhere on my blog. Those things can get into a grey legal area regardless of where you live, so I’m keeping things strictly legal.