With the Windows NT 4.0, Windows 2000 and Windows XP operating systems, Microsoft has opted to phase out a full-blown MS-DOS mode, requiring users and DOS software to access an emulated DOS window (also known as a DOS box). While most newer and some older DOS-based games and music creation programs should work fine, one potential limitation of DOS boxes is poor sound support. One solution is to use software such as the commercial $US40 SoundFX 2000 (www.softsystem.co.uk/page3.htm) and the free VDMSound (VDM — Virtual DOS Machine) www.ece.mcgill.ca/~vromas/vdmsound.
VDMSound emulates the default standard SoundBlaster-compatible environment (providing digital and stereo effects, and support for FM and AdLib music) in addition to emulating an MPU-401 interface (for MIDI) and a standard game-port interface (for games with joystick support). VDMSound does this completely independently of your audio hardware and settings and, as such, works with a sound card. If you don’t have a sound card, VDMSound can even save the sound to your hard disk. VDMSound will not work in a Windows 95, 98 or Me environment.
Sound checkIf your game allows you to select General MIDI for music, then you should not require VDMSound. You may also be able to choose to hear sound through your PC speaker — so long as you enjoy listening to the retro style beeps! If you’re a Windows XP user, there is a somewhat easier option, known as Compatibility Mode, that helps to get DOS programs to run in the first place and can help with sound support.
In XP, right-click on the shortcut or application file of the program to which you wish to apply Compatibility Mode. Go to Properties and then select the Compatibility tab. When you tick the box titled “Run this program in Compatibility Mode”, the drop-down list will become selectable. From this list, you can choose Windows 95, Windows 98/Windows Me, Windows NT 4.0 (Service Pack 5) or Windows 2000 as the desired compatible operating system.
From the Compatibility Mode’s Memory tab, you can define specific memory properties that some older games might need to work correctly, such as EMS and XMS. It’s also essential to check the game manufacturer’s Web site to see if any patches have been released for the selected game. A patch (if released) will not only get rid of any known bugs in the game’s code but may also offer support for Windows XP.
It has been reported that some games may have problems playing sound when in Compatibility Mode. If you experience sound problems, check the manufacturer’s Web site for both the latest patch for your game and the latest Windows XP driver for your sound card. If you still have no luck, then VDMSound might be your best bet. Check if it supports the software you’re trying to run here. If your software is listed, you might also see some tips for getting it to work with VDMSound.
Using VDMSoundAfter you’ve installed VDMSound, you’ll be able to right-click the executable (.exe or .com) file of your classic DOS game, for example, and select Run with VDMS (as shown in FIGURE 1). While you could further customise the way VDMSound works from the command line, your best bet to do this is to use LaunchPad 184.108.40.206 — a GUI for VDMSound that we’ve also placed on the cover disc. Once you’ve installed LaunchPad, you can access VDMSound settings for a particular DOS program by right-clicking on the executable of the program and selecting the Run with VDMS option that has a musical icon next to it. Select Create new configuration from scratch, click Next and then select Advanced. You’ll then see the advanced configuration options for more emulator environment settings, as shown in FIGURE 2. LaunchPad integrates with Windows Explorer and places all settings for that game (memory, CD-ROM, sound, joystick, etc.) in one central area.
Using VDMSound, we were able to get several programs that previously could only run using PC speaker sound to run with much better SoundBlaster-type FM quality sound.
Other useful tools
Classic games were designed for older hardware and sometimes, when run on the speedy computers we have today, they can run too quickly to be playable. This is where slow-down utilities such as Slowdown (http://members.aol.com/bretjohn), CPUKiller (www.cpukiller.com) and Bremze (http://ansis.folklora.lv/bremze) come in handy.