DOS was the main platform for early PC games in the days of Windows versions with 9s in their names. Doom, Quake, Zork, and dozens of other games took the operating system’s rudimentary characteristics and turned them into games that are enjoyable and playable even by today’s standards. Even though Mac OS X isn’t known for gaming, you can still play DOS games on it. Learn how to play a DOS game on macOS using DOSBox, the most popular DOS emulator available.
You might be wondering why we chose DOSBox over other DOS emulators for playing games on macOS. There’s DOSBox-X, for example, which is a fork of the DOSBox project. While there are alternative choices, DOSBox stands out for a number of reasons:
- It’s quite simple to set up. Unlike some emulators, you won’t have to worry about setting up a virtual hard drive or configuring hardware settings.
- It runs smoothly on a variety of systems. Have you recently switched from Windows to Mac? It isn’t an issue. DOSBox and your favorite DOS-based games will still work.
- It’s also free, which is always a plus.
- It plays older games how they should be played. Rather than simply replicating a game to run on modern systems, DOSBox recreates the original environment, ensuring that the game works as smoothly as it did when it was first released. To avoid problems, even older hardware is mimicked. If you want the most realistic experience imaginable without having to dig up an old IBM-compatible computer, here is the place to go.
With that in mind, it’s only natural that you’d start with DOSBox to play your favorite DOS games on Mac.
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Downloading and Installing DOSBox
1. Download DOSBox from the developer’s website. Make sure to select the correct “Mac OS X” version. If you’re not sure what to download, then download DOSBox for macOS from Sourceforge.
2. In Finder, mount the downloaded DMG.
3. Place “DOSBox.app” in the desired location, usually the Applications folder, but DOSBox can be executed from any location. The text files on the DMG do not need to be copied.
On the same page, you can get a so-called “frontend” for DOSBox. A frontend, in this sense, is an application that runs DOSBox’s emulation code but wraps it in a container app.
Typically, the container program enhances functionality or makes the loading and saving of games easier. Boxer is the most well-known macOS front-end for DOSBox, albeit it hasn’t been updated since 2016 and won’t operate on Catalina and newer versions of macOS. It supports libraries and simplifies loading and playing: simply drag and drop the game into the icon of the program, and you’re ready to go.
Because Apple no longer supports 32-bit programs, Catalina and Big Sur will only work with a 64-bit front-end. Boxer’s developers are no longer supporting it. Thec0de.com, on the other hand, has prepared a 64-bit version that should be compatible. Frame rate difficulties have been reported by certain users. If you require a front-end, try this, but it might not function correctly.
The standalone version of DOSBox for macOS is described in this guide.
Running DOSBox and Playing Games with DOSBox
To start a new DOS session, double-click the DOSBox icon. This will display a text-only interface in a console window.
This perplexing interface is known as the DOS prompt if you’re unfamiliar with DOS. Instead than using your mouse to interact with graphical interfaces, you run commands by typing their names and targets and pressing Enter.
This is an older way of utilizing a computer that may require some adaptation for modern users. Users build instructions from a coded language of commands to conduct activities. Running games, fortunately, simply requires a few commands.
Basic DOS Commands
It will be useful to remember these important DOS instructions as we browse. Also, keep in mind that DOS filenames are limited to eight characters. It’s easier to keep track of your DOS games by abbreviating their names to eight characters or fewer.
cd directory: change directory to the specified directory or path.
cls: clear the screen.
dir: display contents of the current directory.
help command: show help text for the specified command.
type textfile: show the contents of a text file.
start filename: open the specified application in a new window. Also works with directories.
Mounting Directories and Launching Games in DOSBox
You’ll need to “mount” the directory in DOSBox before you can play a game. This connects the mounted folder to DOS’s C: disk, allowing you to load files from it into DOSBox. Because C: is the location of the main hard drive in DOS, the emulator will use this folder as your primary storage.
1. To mount directories in DOSBox, use the following command:
> mount C /path/to/dos/games
2. Switch to the C: drive by typing its name.
3. View the contents of the C: drive:
4. Navigate directories with the cd (change directory) command. Enter the folder of the game you want to play:
> cd SIMC2000
By typing the application’s name and extension, you may start it up. If you’re not sure which application to run, try the application’s EXE file or a file called START.COM.
The DOS prompt will vanish once the game starts, and the game will take over the interface. If the game allows it, you can now use your mouse.
Quit the game from within to return to the DOS prompt. Depending on the game, you may need to select a “quit” option from a menu.
Automatically Mounting Directories
By modifying the DOSBox configuration file, you may set DOSBox to automatically run a mount command at startup time, which can speed up the game launch process.
1. Open the configuration file at “~/Library/Preferences/DOSBox 0.74-3 Preferences” in TextEdit.
Depending on your DOSBox version, the name of the configuration file will change.
2. Go to the bottom of the document and scroll down. Add your mount command to the [autoexec] section. You can also add more commands one at a time, one per line. Save the file when you’re finished.
3. The next time DOSBox is launched, the mount command will run automatically.
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Popular DOSBox Compatible Games
To run DOSBox, you’ll need some games. You can play almost any DOS game using DOSBox, albeit not all DOS games are compatible with macOS: check the full list of DOSBox supported titles. ClassicDOSGames and DOSGames.com both provide free and shareware DOS games. GamesNostalgia also has a large selection of old games, including DOS. Try GOG for premium games, where you can get a lot of DOS games for less than $10 each.
Try some of these popular DOS games that are compatible with DOSBox if you’re not sure where to start looking for compatible DOS games to play on macOS:
- Prince of Persia (1989) – This well-known platformer set a new bar at the time. Swords are pitted against projectiles in battle. It’s a fun game with fantastic animation in which you race against the clock through dungeons and battle various opponents and obstacles. You should also look into the sequel, Prince of Persia 2: The Shadow and the Flame.
- DOOM (1993) – It’s up to you to preserve humanity when demonic creatures are released on Mars as part of a teleportation experiment. It’s a classic that you should play at least once. It’s widely regarded as one of the most revolutionary computer games ever.
- Wolfenstein 3D (1992) –This game was the first to introduce 3D shooters to computers all across the world. It also paved the way for DOOM’s success. As you make your way out of Castle Wolfenstein, how many Nazis can you kill?
- Oregon Trail (1990) – It’s a traditional survival game that’s a lot harder than it appears. As you journey west with a group of pioneers, you must make the right decisions in order to live and reach your target. There are also several entertaining mini-games to play.
- Dangerous Dave (1990) – This was many players’ first exposure to platform games. The goal is simple: collect trophies from 10 stages while avoiding the numerous hazards and challenges that await you.
- Scorched Earth (1991) – Battle against as many as 10 other players or computers in this turn-based survival game. While the gameplay might seem simple, it’s a highly complex strategy game using tanks to wage war against others.
- Blood (1997) – This is a must-play DOS game for any horror fan, especially with classic horror movie references. It’s an exciting first-person shooter that pits you against an evil cult.
- Warcraft: Orcs & Humans (1994) – This was the first game in the Warcraft series, eventually leading to the incredibly popular World of Warcraft RPG. The real-time strategy game lets you pit your skills against a fantasy world.
- X-Com: UFO Defense (1994) – Also known as UFO Enemy Unknown, this turn-based strategy game is the first in a series that has you and your team gathering intelligence on aliens and fighting back once you realize how bad they really are.
- Wasteland (1988) – After a nuclear war between the Soviet Union and United States, all that’s left is a wasteland. Yet, mutants and raiders are closing in on those struggling to survive. It’s up to you to keep humanity safe.
- Sid Meier’s Civilization (1991) – This remains one of the most popular PC games of all time. As the name implies, you try to build and take over civilizations in this turn-based strategy game. Civilization-style board games were actually the inspiration for this game.
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You are not obligated to give up your old-school games. All you need is a free DOSBox download and a DOS game or two, and you can spend hours playing your favorite DOS games on macOS.