Making A DOS Boot Diskette and
Navigating Your Way Around DOS
 
by Bacardi Jim
April 17, 2004

 

MAKING A DOS BOOT DISKETTE

There are many older games which insist on being run in DOS. However, if you don’t know what you are doing, getting a game to run properly with CD-ROM, mouse and sound support can be beyond the skills of the typical adventure game player. This little tutorial will try to explain the basic steps necessary in creating a DOS boot diskette to play these older games. Note that these instructions only apply to Win98/ME computers, as WinNT/2K/XP does not fully support DOS.

The first thing to do is to set your computer’s BIOS settings so that you can even GET into full DOS. You will need to reboot your computer to do this. During the memory check, you will need to hold down a key in order to get into your BIOS setup. Depending on your computer, it may be the DEL key or maybe F2 or F8. There should be a message displayed during the bootup telling you what key you need to get into the BIOS setup. Once you are into BIOS, you will likely have to make a small adjustment. Depending on your BIOS, it may be in any of several different headings. Start by looking in the ADVANCED section. What you are looking for is a list of what order your computer checks various input devices when it is booting up. The default settings for most computers are to boot from the hard drive (IDE 0) first, then the floppy drive, then the CD-ROM drive. You want to change this so that it boots from the floppy drive first and the hard drive second. Without making this change, you’ll never be able to get into “true” DOS mode. (Actually, there are other ways, but they are all much more complicated.) Once you have made the changes, save and exit BIOS and your computer will continue to boot normally.

The next step is formatting a boot disk. Insert a blank diskette (or one you don’t mind erasing). Go to My Computer and right-click on your A drive. Select Format from the popup menu. On the dialogue box that appears choose Full Format from the upper menu and Copy System Files or Make A System Disk from the lower menu. Click OK and wait while your computer cleans and reformats the diskette. You now have a basic system boot disk!

Now for the complicated part. On your newly-created system diskette, you will need to note two particular files: autoexec.bat and config.sys. We are going to have to manually edit these two files, since they will be blank and empty by default. Let’s start with config.sys. Double-click on the icon. You will be aksed what program you want to use to open it. Select Wordpad. You should now be inside the empty file. (NOTE: Many of the procedures/programs you need can be placed in either the config.sys file or the autoexec.bat file. If you choose to place some of them into the other file instead, remember that the command syntax is different. Autoexec.bat requires the use of LOAD and LOADHIGH while config.sys requires the commands DEVICE and DEVICEHIGH to perform the same functions.)

My config.sys looks like this:

DEVICE=C:\windows\HIMEM.SYS /testmem:off
dos=high,umb
DEVICE=C:\WINDOWS\EMM386.EXE

files=30
buffers=20
stacks=9,256

REM ******** CDROM DEVICE DRIVER *******************
DEVICEhigh=C:\CDROM\CDROM.SYS /D:MSCD001 /E


These first lines set up the DOS "environment" turning on "high memory," loading EMM386 (don't ask) and generally telling your computer how many files it can have open at once and other trivial things. There are default quantities for the files, buffers and stacks built into any version of DOS that comes on Win98 or WinME, so these lines may be unnecessary for you. I have them because I "tweaked" my DOS environment to optimize it for playing games.


IMPORTANT NOTE: Typically, the third line has an extra “NOEMS” statement on the end. (DEVICE=C:\WINDOWS\EMM386.EXE NOEMS) This NOEMS statement turns off expanded memory while in DOS. Some programs, particularly games, don’t like to have expanded memory enabled while in operation. However, if you have a true Soundblaster Live! Card, you need to leave the expanded memory enabled, as it is necessary for the Soundblaster Live! drivers to emulate the older and DOS-compatible Soundblaster 16 card.

The final line in my config.sys enables my CD-ROM drive. The “DEVICEHIGH” command tells the computer to use “high memory” to operate the CD-ROM, thus freeing up more conventional memory to run my game. C:\CDROM\CDROM.SYS is the location of the basic Windows CD-ROM driver on my computer. This location may be different on your computer. The “/D:MSCD001 /E” are parameters for your CD-ROM and driver. The “/D:MSCD001” is the typical “name” of the driver. The “/E” is because I have two hard drives and my CD-ROM drive is my E: drive. If your CD-ROM drive is labeled something different, change this last letter accordingly.

Save your config.sys (Just close it. You will automatically be asked if you want to save the changes you made. Click Yes.) and move on to your autoexec.bat file. DO NOT “open” the file. Right-click on it and select Edit from the menu. It should probably be blank right now. Mine looks like this:

LOADHIGH c:\windows\command\MSCDEX.EXE /D:MSCD001 /e
SET MIDI=SYNTH:1 MAP:E MODE:0
SET BLASTER=A220 I5 D1 P300 T2
SET CTSYN=C:\dosdrv
C:\DOSDRV\SBEINIT.COM
LOADHIGH C:\MOUSE.EXE

The first line loads the actual CD-ROM drive. Note that as in my config.sys, I loaded the operation of my E: drive into high memory with the LOADHIGH command. The “c:\windows\command\MSCDEX.EXE” is the location of the MSCDEX.EXE program on my computer, and likely on yours too. This is the actual program that operates the CD-ROM.

The last line loads my mouse driver. I have also loaded it into high memory to provide as much “normal” memory as possible for playing the game. In my case, “C:\MOUSE.EXE” is where I keep my mouse driver. Yours will likely be someplace else. (NOTE: If you have IBM Mouse Suite and the associated drivers, your mouse driver is called Pelmiced.exe. This driver does NOT work in DOS! You can, however, download a Logitech mouse driver from their site which will operate your mouse just fine and which uses the DOS-compatible MOUSE.EXE driver that I use.)

The middle lines are for my Soundblaster Live! card. Note that even if you have the same card, the "SET CTSYN=C:\dosdrv" and "C:\DOSDRV\SBEINIT.COM" lines will be different for you, as my Soundblaster DOS files aren’t in the standard default location. You can find help for the appropriate lines in your Soundblaster manual. These lines should point to the actual locations of the CTSYN.ini and SBEINIT.COM files on your computer.

If you have an integrated sound system, you will need to download DOS drivers for your particular chipset from the manufacturer. Until recently, I relied on the integrated sound provided by my SiS 730s chipset on my motherboard. For this system, I had to download a set of drivers bundled in a file usually called “Dosaud.” The autoexec.bat lines for my sound then looked like this:

SET BLASTER=A220 I5 D1 H5 P330 E620 T6

loadhigh C:\DOSAUD\SNDINIT.EXE/INIT
loadhigh C:\DOSAUD\SNDTSR.EXE

Note that both versions contain the “SET BLASTER” line. This line actually sets the memory address (the A variable), Interrupt Request (IRQ or the I variable), the DMA (D variable) and memory address of your Midi driver (P variable) and puts them in Soundblaster lingo. This is important because most DOS games have a sound setup utility which will attempt to match the game’s settings with those of your sound system. Since Soundblaster has been the world’s number one provider of sound cards from the word go, any DOS game will offer the option of using settings for a “Soundblaster or 100% compatible” sound card. Your integrated sound is one of those “100% compatible” systems. But you must assign it Soundblaster-type settings for the game to recognize this.

I hope this tutorial helps. For further assistance or explanation, I recommend the following site: http://www.computerhope.com/ac.htm Note that the author of that site uses a different CD-ROM driver and name than the standard CDROM.SYS and D0001, respectively.

MAKING YOUR WAY AROUND DOS

First, you'll want to get to your CD-ROM drive in order to install your game (if you were unable to install it from Windows). If you have used my instructions and not added any "PATH" commands to the config.sys of your boot diskette, you should be seeing a prompt that looks like this: A:\>

Moving from one drive to another is easy as pie. Simply type the name of the drive you want to go to, followed by a colon. Since my CD-ROM is my E drive, I'd type E: I will now get a prompt that looks like this: E:\>

Now I want to find the installation program. I know it is somewhere on the CD in my E: drive. But I don't know if it is sitting there loose or inside a folder or what. I need to get a look at the files on the CD. To do that, you use the DIR (short for directory) command.

E:\>DIR

Oh my! There are so many files in the main directory of the CD that they scroll up and off the screen before I can see tham all! You can slow this down by adding a /p (for page or pagination) after the DIR command.

E:\>DIR /p

Now the directory is listed one page at a time. At the end of each page I am prompted to "hit any key to continue" with the list of files.

The file I am looking for will be called either install.exe or setup.exe. 90% of the time, you will find it in the main directory. You don't need to include the .exe extension when calling the program. simply type its basic name:

E:\>INSTALL

Ok! The game has installed. After the installation (which will usually involve configuring your sound card settings) you will typically be told WHERE the game has installed and what command you need to type to run the game. Let's take the example of the classic game I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream. This game installs by default to a folder on your C: drive called "SCREAM." The actual game program is inside that folder and is likewise called "SCREAM.EXE." How do I get there?

First, I need to switch to my C: drive. Remember how to do this?

E:\>C:

Now I'm on my C: drive. Next I have to get inside the SCREAM folder to get to the program itself. To do that, I use the CD (for change directory) command.

C:\> CD SCREAM

Now I am inside the SCREAM folder where the program lives. I simply have to type its name and it will start. Note that ONLY (for the most part) files with a .bat or an .exe extension are "runnable" files and you don't need to include the extension for them. Also note that your prompt has changed to indicate that you are now inside a folder instead of just cruising around your main C: drive:

C:\SCREAM\>SCREAM

TA DAA! The game starts up!

The CD command is essential for navigating your way around your computer in DOS. There are several variations on it to assist you:

CD.. - the two periods are used to "back up" one level. For instance if I were currently in C:\SCREAM\ I would type CD.. to back up and be on the main part of my C: drive.

CD\ - the \ after the CD backs you allllll the way up to the base "root" directory. If I were digging way down inside the SCREAM folder, I might find myself in the directory C:\SCREAM\DRIVERS\SB\ Typing CD.. would only back me up to C:\SCREAM\DRIVERS. But using CD\ will take me automatically all the way back to my main C: drive and the C:\> prompt.

CD directory\subdirectory - If you already know from the start that you are going to want to get into a sub-folder of a game, you don't have to dig into the main folder one step at a time. For instance, I know that the program that configures the sound card settings for this game is lives in the DRIVERS sub-folder of the main SCREAM folder on my C: drive. I can type (at the C:\> prompt) the following: CD SCREAM\DRIVERS and my computer will take me automatically into this subfolder. I have eliminated the intervening step of first going to the SCREAM folder and then going to the DRIVERS sub-folder

One last note. You're done playing for now and have exited the game. How do you get back into Windows? Eject your DOS boot disk from the floppy drive. Now give the three-finger salute: CTRL-ALT-DEL. Voila! Your computer reboots and brings you back to Windows.

One little addendum: It is a common misconception that if you have a USB mouse that you can't use it in DOS. This is absolutely incorrect! There are a myriad of DOS drivers available for a USB mouse. Just search around online. The key to getting them to work once again rests in your BIOS settings. On most computers, the default settings have support for USB devices turned OFF in DOS. You will most likely need to go into your BIOS (see above) and change this setting. It may be in ADVANCED SETTINGS or perhaps in PLUG AND PLAY SETTINGS or even somewhere else, depending on your particular BIOS version. USB device support in DOS can be toggled to ENABLE or DISABLE. Enabling it will allow your USB DOS mouse driver to work.

Also note that some particular such drivers will require the use of a "DOS stack." Avoid any driver that mentions this, as the only solutions are commercial and expensive.

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