D-Fend Reloaded And The Accessibility of DOS Games Today

In my periodic treks through old school PC games one significant wall I keep running into is MS-DOS which complicates the process of playing almost any PC game that came out prior to 1995. I only recently found out about D-Fend Reloaded which has immediately made an entire era and platform of gaming more interesting and accessible to me.

Look, I didn’t start using computers at home until Windows 95. I never learned how to operate computers without a graphic user interface. I’d been vaguely aware of the giant mass of DOS games floating around somewhere for free, but generally just considered them to be the domain of old people from the era when you practically had to program and build things yourself to get computers running. I kind of think of it like an extra previous step in the process of how we transitioned from trucks (desktop PCs) to cars (smartphones).

Oh I tried to use classic DOSBOX a couple times. When I downloaded Frontier Elite II I initially tried the source port GLFrontier which runs natively on Windows, but found it has several critical bugs. I tried to read a guide on getting it running through DOSBOX but just couldn’t manage it. I think I successfully booted it up a couple times but couldn’t figure out how to create a shortcut for the process. I feel like I’d probably need to take a whole class on DOS to really get it. D-Fend Reloaded looks like exactly the GUI interface I’ve been looking for.

Basically it’s a really fancy emulator for DOS games. It kind of does for old PC games what RetroArch does for old console and arcade games. I still have to mess around with a few settings upon installation, but at least it’s all dressed up under a friendly face. The real question that arises though is whether to use it or the more official options that have popped up since publishers started actually reselling their DOS games.

I’m obviously talking about GoodOldGames and Steam. GOG is mostly built on games that originally ran on DOS, and Steam has quite a few. The whole selling point of GOG is CDProjekt updates these games just enough so they’ll boot up and run properly on modern operating systems without any fuss, and Steam does this with most of its old games, both usually through DOSBOX wrappers packaged in Windows executables.

For starters, my first option is always going to be to find a source port that can get me true high resolution graphics and control configuration. I only ever even step into the DOS world when I have no other option. When there, I’m starting to find D-Fend the preferable pathway due to its flexibility.

GOG’s DOSBOX wrappers actually offer a fair selection of options. You get to pick an output resolution, windowed mode, and even a couple options for CRT overlays from what I’ve seen. D-Fend on the other hand let’s me mess around with the CPU cycles, audio, even more graphics options, and a bunch of other things I probably shouldn’t even touch. D-Fend also does a really good job of organizing the games into a library. It’s kind of like the Steam client but exclusively for really old games. It even links to a database of DOS games. I guess GOG has GOG Galaxy but I haven’t seen how that compares yet. The problem is getting GOG games into D-Fend which seems to be a crapshoot.

I’m only now learning that every GOG game handles its DOSBOX wrapper differently. D-Fend was able to find and import the raw DOS files for my GOG copy of Terminal Velocity, but Ultima Underworld looks like a pure Windows executable from the outside. I had to download a raw DOS copy of the latter from somewhere else to get it to work (which I’m fine with since I paid for the game already). I tried looking for directions to getting GOG games into D-Fend but all I found were a few spotty discussions on the GOG forums.

The thing is, GOG already makes a big point of being totally DRM-free. I think it should offer the option to download the unaltered files to its DOS games for people who want to use the emulators of their choice, while still offering those easy Windows installers for everyone else. I always wondered about the idea of an online service where publishers could just sell straight ROMs of their old games without DRM and just let customers decide what to run the ROMs on, while perhaps offering incentives to paying customers and suggestions for emulators.


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One thought on “D-Fend Reloaded And The Accessibility of DOS Games Today

  1. Cool blog, dude! I love D-Fend, cos it’s so easy to put those old fave DOS games folders into. I don’t play the kind of games that you do, not even heard of them, but i see your dilemma. It’s too bad that more sites that allow for free, or paid, download of old games don’t make them more compatible with more emulators. Thanks for sharing.

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