How to Make Old Games Run on New Computers
By Seth Amery
Updated September 22, 2017
Considering that developers focus only on minimum specifications and not maximum specifications, it's only natural to think that a computer with higher specs will have no problem running older games. Unfortunately, that's not always the case; operating systems evolve right alongside technology, often in ways that make them incompatible with older games. Luckily, there are some tricks you can try to get many of them to work.
By far one of the best-known solutions to running old games, DOSBox is a piece of emulation software that requires a little setup to get working. The specific settings you'll need to change depend on the game and what is preventing it from running normally; many older games have a community that have figured out this information already. Sometimes, even DOSBox can't help, though; for instance, you can get some older games to run, but they'll operate at a speed faster than you can handle due to your modern hardware.
Locating User-Made Patches
Depending on a game's popularity, its fan community might have developed a patch for it. Some games can be tweaked in such a way that it will recognize newer operating systems and work within their architecture. Usually, this requires advanced technical knowledge, so it helps when the community has done the work for you. Installing the patch according to the community's instructions may help your game run on Windows 8.
Emulating with Physical Copies of Games
Although ROMs still live in the law's gray area, you don't actually need them to use legal emulators. Some emulators allow you to point toward a floppy or CD in your computer's media drive and emulate the contents, unlike Windows' attempt to run files directly. This won't always work, but it's worth checking. As an alternative, you can even emulate an older copy of Windows on your computer; this can let you emulate older games as if your computer uses that operating system's architecture.
Attempting Compatibility Mode
Although it might have been your first instinct, Compatibility Mode doesn't usually solve the problem on its own. Still, if you're trying to play a game that isn't too old but faces problems in your current operating system, it's worth a shot. Right-click the game's primary executable file and select "Properties." Switch over to the Compatibility tab and check the box under "Compatibility mode." Ideally, you would select the operating system that the game originally released on, albeit this only goes as far back as Windows 95. Depending on the game's age, you might also toggle other options like a 640x840 resolution or reducing the colors. Click "OK" when you're done.
Locating a Digital Copy
When all else fails, it's time to look for a digital copy. Some developers port their games to newer versions of Windows; for instance, Sega released several Genesis games on Steam that don't require any additional modification to run on the computer. GOG.com is one website that mostly caters to old games as well, dedicated to ensuring they run on the latest operating systems; think of it like a professional patch community. Most games will not require additional tweaking, but this is not always the case; some may use DOSBox and require a little additional setup.
Seth Amery is a long-time writer whose specialties extend to all areas of video games, having written thousands of tutorials, fully-featured strategy guides and reviews across all platforms. His experience also includes one-on-one relationships with major gaming publishers to write previews on upcoming games, establish interviews with game designers and hold early game giveaways.