Recently I've been trying to play some good old games like Diablo I, Starcraft,
Age of Empires. The problem with these games is that they use DirectDraw API for
rendering graphics. This is problematic, because since the arrival of DirectX 10
DirectDraw APIs are only emulated, they don't get real hardware acceleration.
Modern CPUs can calculate these primitive graphics without any speed
problem. However these games use only 256 bit color graphics. So if you try to
run Age of empires or any old game the colors will be messed up.
This problem can be solved very easily. All you have to do is close explorer.exe
before starting your game and then execute it, when you have finished gaming.
I'm a lazy person, so I decided to write an application that does this job for
me. As I was coding the application I decided to add Dosbox support to the
program, because I like DOS games too, and I haven't found a decent front-end
for it, so that's how Old games launcher was born.
The application is written in C#, the user interface is Windows Forms. I know
WPF is way better and it's the future, but I can design and code in Windows
Forms much faster, than WPF. In a future version I might do a full rewrite using
WPF, but for now the Windows Forms UI does it's job just fine.
I added some internet features to the UI, which allow single click cheat search
for the game, Wikipedia lookup, or general Google search.
The Program stores the game configurations in XML format. The XML is produced
with XML serialization. For each game 3 properties are stored:
The Game's name (string
The Game's executable path (string)
A Boolean flag indicating, that the executable needs to be started trough DosBox
The executable's icon is not stored, It's generated dynamically. If the program
is a Dos program, the icon is simply a built-in command line icon, because dos
executables don't contain any icons. In the future if I find a decent icon
library for games I will add an option to have unique icons for dos games.
All management routines are defined in the class GamesManager. This class
handles serialization, icon generation, and everything that's related to the
game data management. To keep the code simple and efficient I used LINQ where I
To make thing easier for users i decided to embed the DosBox installer into my
application. This way they only have to install one program. DosBox is embedded
as a Zip file among the application's resources. For zip file extraction I use
the SharpZipLib library from Icsharpcode. The library's zip handling routines
are also built into the main executable of the program.
All my DosBox related routines are packed into a class named FileManager. This
class handles the installation and uninstallation of DosBox. The program
installs DosBox into a folder named oldgameslauncher. This folder is created in
the user's documents directory. This way there's no need for administrative
privileges to install the program. All files related to Old Games Launcher are
located in this folder to, so it's easy to backup whole configurations.
In a future version of a program I might add an option to use a custom DosBox
installation for advanced users.
The extraction code looks like this:
public void InstallDosDox()
MemoryStream ms = new MemoryStream(Properties.Resources.db);
string basedir = _storageroot + "dosbox";
using (ZipInputStream zi = new ZipInputStream(ms))
while ((file = zi.GetNextEntry()) != null)
target = Path.Combine(basedir, file.Name.Replace('/', '\\'));
if (file.IsDirectory) Directory.CreateDirectory(target);
using (FileStream fs = File.Create(target))
byte data = new byte;
while ((size = zi.Read(data, 0, data.Length)) > 0)
fs.Write(data, 0, size);
catch (IOException ex)
MessageBox.Show("DosBox Install failed.\r\n" + ex.Message, "DosBox Installer", MessageBoxButtons.OK, MessageBoxIcon.Error);
Ddraw hack is basicly another way to launch DirectDraw applications. At the
moment it's a partial reimplementation of the DirectDraw API in OpenGl. Because
it's a partial implementation it does not work with every game at the moment.
But if it works, then there’s no need to close explorer.exe before starting the
game. I added an option to install & uninstall DirectDraw hack to the games. But
be advised. This is only an experimental feature. It's very likely it will not
work at the moment with most of your games.
Starting the Executable
The start-up logic is displayed on the following flowchart.
For the waiting part I used a Timer class winch checks every second that the
executed program is running or not. If it's not running, that means that it can
start back the explorer.exe
Starting back explorer.exe was a bit tricky. If explorer.exe
is not running, and you try to start a Process with the name explorer.exe you
will end up with a Windows Explorer window only. This way you don't get back the
shell. The trick is that you have to set the Process's working directory to your
Points of Interest
A detailed article of the DirectDraw problem on the website of DirectDraw hack: