How To: Play classic DOS games on your current Mac (Warning: You will likely be eaten by a Grue) - Macenstein

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.

Portal 2 has NOTHING on Dark Forces!

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.

Free Dos Games

Boxer actually comes with a few classic titles you can play as well, such as Star Wars: Dark Forces, and Ultima IV

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.

BOXER has a nice shelf display veiw, showing you all your various titles

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.

I simply selected my disc in the sidebar, and hit IMPORT.

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.

That's right, I have Zork Zero going as well!

Finally! Back wasting countless hours imaging what the monkey grinder and Cruel Puppet looked like

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.

20 Responses to “How To: Play classic DOS games on your current Mac (Warning: You will likely be eaten by a Grue)”
  1. John says:

    Holy shit! This is awesome! Your first name is Mike? Mike Macenstein? Cool!!

  2. Looks awesome!

    I’ve only played and, to be honest, the text version compels me much more!

  3. Tom says:

    Thanks Doc! Now I can play Warcraft II without having to drag out my Gateway Solo 2000 dinosaur! Oh, by the way, anyone in the market for a Win98-running brick of a laptop? No? Darn.

    • ArtOfWarfare says:

      My thoughts exactly, except I dont hang onto old computers, just old games, so I’m thrilled to know it was worth keeping WC II.

  4. Wiseguy says:

    When I discovered boxer a month or so ago, it changed my world. For the first time since I was a kid, I got my Commander Keen fix.

  5. Spacenuke says:

    Can you find a PS2 emulator that will run under OSX (or failing that within Parallels or Windows 7)?

  6. Rob says:

    This seals the deal, I’m now convinced more than ever that my Mac needs to be called Barbara.

  7. Cindy Tworek says:

    I am such a fan of Infocom games that I am wearing this:
    right now.

    I usually use Zoom to play them on my Mac, and Frotz for my iPhone (it works on the iPad too).

  8. Chris says:

    so how do I hook up my 5.25″ floppy drive to my iMac!? =^_^=

  9. I just discovered boxer a few days ago, and, admittedly, I’ve been doing almost nothing but playing Warcraft 2. But there’s a HUGE bummer with that. The map editor doesn’t work! Any idea how to get that up and running? Anyone? Anyone?

  10. Philip says:

    Hello . Can I play my favorite , Descent 3 that works on my i mac , on my Mac OS X 10.5.8

    thank you , Philip

  11. Gord says:

    Great post. I used boxer to play my all time favourite – MAG (Mike’s Adventure Game) , a real basic D&D game, on my Macbook Pro. Thank-you. G

  12. Jay B says:

    I am transferring my Infocom games from my CD as we speak. I am hoping this works! I was wondering if you know of a way to be able to transfer these games to iPad???


  13. Jay B says:

    Unfortunately it didn’t work. I have the Masterpieces Infocom CD from 1996. Boxer is not able to find the games and allow me to play them. Any help would be appreciated

  14. April says:

    Hey all,
    I once got Warcraft II running with no problem using Boxer, but we had to do an OS overhaul and, upon re-downloading, I couldn’t get it to work — it keeps giving me the “Please insert the CD” message. Tried searching everywhere but all the help pages seem to be for DOSBox and for PC…


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