How To: Play classic DOS games on your current Mac (Warning: You will likely be eaten by a Grue)
Fresh from the “I’m pretty sure I’m the only one who’ll find this information useful” department, I’ve decided to post a brief “How-To” on how to play classic DOS games you might have purchased back in your PC days on your current Mac OS X system. Why would you want to do this? Well, in my case, it all started when I was helping my brother clean out his basement a couple weeks ago, and the light bulb blew out. I immediately made the hilarious comment “We are likely to be eaten by a Grue”, knowing he was one of the few other people I knew on the planet who would get the classic Zork reference, and I couldn’t let the opportunity pass by.
Inspired, I later that day went looking for my Zork Anthology CD-Rom, which I of course never threw out, despite it being useless since the debut OS X (or at least the funeral for “Classic”) and my not having played it since my OS 9 days (and perhaps not even THAT recently). It is a dual PC/Mac disc, easily found on eBay these days for about $8, but as far as nostalgia goes, it’s priceless. For those not familiar with the franchise, the Zork games were part of the “text-based adventure” genre of games made popular my Infocom in the 80’s (“Text adventure” is a fancy way of saying, “no graphics”). Basically, you’re given a brief description of your surroundings, and then it’s up to you to win the game by typing text commands into a DOS prompt, such as “E” for “go east” and “Look at room” to get a description of the room you are in, and “Give sea chest to Monkey Grinder” to… well, you get the point. There were hundreds of other such titles back in the day such as Planetfall, Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, and others, but the Zork franchise was a big hit in the Macenstein house, introduced to us by my older brother who got a copy from God only knows where. These text-based games had a somewhat similar feel to them as did the old Dungeons and Dragons games (yes, I know, your head is spinning at the thought of someone as cool as I ever playing D&D), mainly because you had to use a heck of a lot of imagination to get into them, but they were truly some of the most fun I’ve ever had playing a game, even to this day.
There was almost always an underlying sense of humor to the puzzles in these games (especially the Zork series), and given these were the days before the internet and cheat sheets, you really had to use your brain to get through them – drawing maps out by hand as a reference, getting killed countless times before figuring out which magic item to use where, or that you needed to roll a giant onion for a couple miles, up countless flights of lighthouse steps to where the hundred-eyed Dorm lived, then cut the onion with your rusty dagger in order to send the crying beast scurrying in pain. Or course, in order to get that onion, you had to first complete a quest given to you by the Chef in the Rusty Lantern tavern, and of course during that quest, risk being eaten by a Grue.
But whether or not you were ever into the Zork games, if you’re still reading this, odds are you have SOME sort of old DOS game from your childhood (be it text-based or otherwise) and you’re curious to see how well it hold up today. Well, thanks to a handy and wonderfully designed app I found called BOXER, your childhood memories are just a few steps away.
First, in order to play an old DOS game on BOXER , you’ll need an old DOS game. There are actually quite a few free ones available, or I’m, sure you could Google them and find a ton, legal or otherwise (here are some, here’s some more, and here’s another nice repository). I think the first 3 Zorks are actually out of copyright and can probably be found everywhere online.
As I mentioned, I happen to still have had my original Zork Anthology Disc, which despite being Mac and PC compatible, predated Mac OS X by about 5-10 years and had long since become useless. However, BOXER can read these discs, and install from the old PC .EXE installers, so the Mac compatibility part of the disc doesn’t really even factor into it. BOXER is powered by DOSBox’s robust DOS emulation, which means it’ll play almost any DOS game you throw at it.
So, assuming you have your game or disc (which is the hardest part of this tutorial), all you need to do is download and Launch BOXER. You’ll be presented with this screen on launch.
This is probably the trickiest part of the process, as I was not able to drag my CD onto the icon. Instead, I had to Click in that box to bring up the OPEN Screen below.
Next, just select to INSTALL the game (this way you no longer need your CD) and BOXER will create a new folder called DOS games for you.
Basically from here on out, you just need to read the instructions at the bottom of the screen, as BOXER will guide you through the rest. I’ll post some screenshots just so you know what to expect, but just do what it says on each screen and you’ll be golden.
I must say, I find Boxer’s interface to be super slick, the shelf view is awesome, the games all play perfectly, and you can run multiple games simultaneously if you’d like. Saving progress works as you’d expect, and all in all, reliving some of the moments of my childhood which helped define me as a geek has been a truly wonderful experience.