How to Play a Game in Windowed Mode
By Aaron Parson
Updated September 22, 2017
Ideally, every computer game would include an easy toggle between windowed and fullscreen modes, making it possible to play alongside a Web browser window or keep your mouse free to reach a second monitor. In reality, many games lack this basic option in the settings menu, but some provide the feature through a command line option or a config file. For those games that stubbornly refuse all other methods, try one of a few outside utilities designed to tweak the way games run.
Before resorting to more complicated measures, check a game's settings for a "Windowed Mode" or "Fullscreen" toggle. In games with numerous options, you might find this option in a category such as "Graphics Settings" or "Video Settings," or alongside the resolution option in the game's launcher. If you can't find an option, try pressing "Alt-Enter," a common shortcut for switching screen modes. Some games also offer "Borderless Window" or "Fullscreen (Window)," which looks like full screen mode but allows other windows atop the game -- press "Windows-D" to switch to your desktop or "Alt-Tab" to move between open programs.
Command Line Options
Command line options apply settings to a game from the moment it opens, and some games provide an option for windowed mode through this method. To edit a game's settings, right-click its shortcut and click "Properties." Type an option after the end of the text in the "Target" line. The available options differ by game, but many, such as "Diablo II" and the 2013 "SimCity," provide windowed mode with "-w" not including quotation marks. Another option to try is "-window." For games on Steam, right-click the game title, choose "Properties" and press "Set Launch Options." Source engine games, such as "Half-Life 2," use the option "-sw." If a game doesn't recognize a command line option, it ignores it, so it's safe to test this method through trial and error.
Config File Options
Some games provide additional settings through a config file found in the game's directory, which you can edit in Notepad. These settings and the file syntax differ from game to game, so you'll either need to experiment or look up a guide tailored to a particular game to find out which options you can modify. As an example, games that run through DOSBox -- including a large part of GOG's catalog -- use the config file Dosbox.conf. Inside, edit the line "fullscreen = true" to "fullscreen = false" to run in windowed mode. If you don't see a "fullscreen" line at all, add it in the "[sdl]" section.
If your game won't run in a window any other way, a third-party tool might be able to force a windowed mode. Several programs include this feature, so if one doesn't work, try another (links in Resources). Note that these options might reduce performance and online games could detect them as cheats. In DxWnd, click "Add" in the Edit menu, choose a game with the "Target" box and check "Run in Window." Pick the game in the DxWnd list and click "Run" in the Edit menu. If you use 3D-Analyze, press "Select" to pick a game, check "Force Windowed Mode" and press "Run." To use D3DWindower, click the "+" icon to pick a game. Select it and click the gear icon. Check "Use Windowed Mode" and enter the location of "D3dHook.dll" -- included with the utility -- in the "DLL" field. Click "OK" and press the computer icon to run the game. If you have trouble with D3DWindower, try running it as an administrator.
Aaron Parson has been writing about electronics, software and games since 2006, contributing to several technology websites and working with NewsHour Productions. Parson holds a Bachelor of Arts from The Evergreen State College in Olympia, Wash.