How to play retro games on my PC

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Remember when you used to get excited to see the graphics breakthrough when playing a new game? Perhaps today you are not that amazed by the graphics present on retro games, but you can spend happy moments remembering all the great adventure these 3D environments fused with a wonderful story narrative represented for you. Nowadays there are fewer games that can make you feel the same nostalgic sensation.

We have good news for you: We have created this small guide so you can play all retro games you know and love on your PC, without the need of making any modifications on your system or purchasing additional hardware. Let’s start by showing what you need to get the adventure started!

Is it possible to play old PC games today?

This time we are talking about Windows games, even if they have been created for another Windows-based operating system, you can still play them on the most recent versions of the operating system.

The most common thing is that you have found a CD or DVD game created for Windows XP, Vista or Windows 7 in a second-hand store, in which case there will be no problem when playing it on Windows 10 or Windows 11 for instance. You just need the CDs to be complete (they often come in several parts since the CD’s only have 700 MB of space), to be in good condition and for your PC to have a CD, DVD or Blu-Ray reader, whether internal or external.

The best thing you can do is insert each CD or DVD and save the contents in a folder on the desktop with the name of the game. When you have all the parts together and in this folder you just have to install the game with the help of the file called “setup” or “installer”.

If everything has gone well, you will have the icons on the desktop to start the game. If it starts correctly then Success! However, we know that a large number of errors can appear since the new operating systems may not have libraries or drivers that the old Windows OS did have, in this case you can do the following:

  • On the game icon on the desktop make a right click
  • Select between the options Properties
  • Among the tabs of this new interface select Compatibility
  • Check the Run program in compatibility mode box and select the operating system for which the game was created. This information is usually on the cover.
  • Select OK and run the game again.

Now, in this compatibility tab there are other options that you can try in case the game does not start, such as color depth, resolution at 640×640 or not allowing the game to be placed in full screen mode. These last settings work very well if it is a very old game.

What to do when compatibility with your operating system doesn’t work?

It may be the case that the compatibility mode doesn’t help when you want to play an old game in Windows 10 or 11, in this case the virtual machines will work for you.

With VirtualBox you can recreate a previous operating system with the ISO of that system, which will be installed on a portion of the physical hard drive that you allocate for this new operating system. The good thing is that it will only be installed within the program, thus enabling the possibility that you can run the game in its native environment, minimizing the chances of failure.

I want to play a retro console game on Windows! It’s possible?

If the game was created for a retro console, such as the PlayStation 1 and 2, the Nintendo Game Cube, Nintendo 64, NES or SNES, Sega Genesis, Atari among other consoles from several decades ago, the answer is: Yes you can! Your PC may have the power to run these games without additional hardware. Now, the problem is that these games are only compatible with the console they were created for, but this can be fixed by using an emulator.

An emulator is an application that simulates a specific video game console, for example, you can download a Game Boy Advance game and attach it to a Game Boy Advance emulator and thus play the game perfectly on your PC. What about the buttons? Don’t worry, the emulator normally assigns the button actions to the Z, X, C, A, S, and D keys among others. If you have a game pad, you can map these keys to the buttons of your controller easily.

  • RetroArch: It is one of the most complete emulators, not only having support for Windows, but also versions so that modern consoles can run games from other retro consoles. It also has support for games written in MS-DOS, Game Boy, Game Boy Advance, NES, Sega and Atari. You can visit their site here.
  • Project64: A complete emulator for Nintendo 64 games. It has been perfected to be able to run practically all the titles of this console. Here is its Discord page.
  • Dolphin Emulator: An emulator for Game Cube and Wii games, very popular Nintendo consoles at the time and with titles that you will surely want to play again. Learn more about Dolphin Emulator here.
  • Open Emu: This emulator supports different Nintendo consoles such as the Nintendo DS, Game Boy, Nintendo 64 and others such as the Sega Genesis. Here is their official page.

Considerations when playing retro games on Windows PC

When playing with an emulator, you will have a large number of console games of all kinds available, however, there are some considerations to take into account before you start emulating the games of your childhood.

There are copyright-free ROMs

These games do not have copyrights since the creators preferred it that way or they were created for the sole purpose of entertainment without the need to profit from the title. Some games of this type have a license that prevents their commercialization, but since you want them to play at home there will be no problems.

Some ROMs are “abandoned”

Some games have a confusing use license or it is not known if they have or not, so downloading said title could become illegal, especially if you decide to stream said game or upload screenshots or video of your gameplay. We recommend that you research the license type before downloading the ROM or sharing gameplay video online.

The dreaded copyrighted ROMs

You could be breaking the law by downloading a game in ROM format if it has a license that prevents this type of action from being done. Some games have a license that states that you can have a digital copy if you have a way to prove that you bought the physical game. In any case, we recommend that you investigate the matter and that you do not disclose the content of the game on social networks.

Can I play old games on my Windows PC without problems?

The final answer to this question is yes, we can play old retro games in our Windows PC. However, here comes the big “but”: We need to be mindful on the copyright information of the games we wish to play, especially if they state we can’t copy the contents of the game.

Luckily, the advanced in both graphics and technology have made possible reviving those nostalgic moments of our life as gamers. A good retro game is very difficult to replace, mainly because of how it made us feel the first time we played it, feeling that you surely will have when you play it again, only this time on a PC.

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