The PC’s a funny old thing, viewers. Designed to be the world’s first backwards-compatible computing protocol, the entire reason the PC outlasted machines like the Apple 2, the Sinclair QL and the Amiga was that you didn’t – theoretically – have to throw the whole machine away and buy/learn an entire new one every time technology took a couple of steps forward. Of course, the way things have progressed in the world of PCs, it’s actually a lot cheaper and a LOT less trouble to do exactly that these days - as Emu Zone can confirm from its own experiences this month – but that’s not really the point.
The other great thing about the PC, of course, is that in the miracle age of emulation your humble beige box is capable of being just about every other piece of home-computing hardware ever invented. From the ZX81 to the Oric Atmos to the Nintendo Gamecube, there’s almost no games-capable machine that your PC isn’t capable of accurately impersonating. Except one, that is – your old PC.
Yep, in one of those towering ironies that demonstrate beyond any measure of doubt the rank incompetence of pretty much everyone everywhere, the ONLY thing your fancy new “backwards-compatible”, all-emulating PC can’t run to save its life is your collection of old PC games. It’s all Microsoft’s fault, naturally – they’re so (a) shriekingly paranoid that PC owners might use the DOS interface to do something non-Microsoft-approved with their machine, and (b) terminally useless at writing an operating system capable of coping with a little bit of user tinkering, that they’ve managed at a stroke (specifically the stroke from Windows 98 to Win XP) to obliterate the core functionality behind the whole invention of the PC. Bless them.
“But enough of this editorialising – what’s it all got to do with Emu Zone, you fat idiot?”, impatient viewers may be wondering at this point. And obviously (man, don’t you just hate those know-nothing impatient viewers?), the answer is that the tirelessly-cunning emulation community has come up with a solution to the problem, and the solution is this – a PC emulator for the PC!
DOSBox has been around for ages (and shouldn’t be confused with another similar, but rubbish, program called, er, DOSBox) – it’s basically an MS-DOS emulator, which enables your fancy Windows PC to act like a clunky old 486. It’s simple to use – you just install your old DOS game as normal, then drag-and-drop the install folder onto the DOSBox executeable. You then get a command-line window and can navigate the folder like it was an old MS-DOS hard drive. Ah, happy days.
In truth, DOSBox still isn’t all that compatible, but it does run a lot of games, from the PC’s earliest attempts at arcade conversions to violently Windows-hostile games like the famous “Pinball Dreams” series, and for that alone it’s worth keeping a close eye on.