Playing Arena In DOSBox

The Elder Scrolls Arena Box Cover

The original Elders Scrolls game Arena, the one that started it all, is available to download and play for free from the elderscrolls.com (click here to download it). Given the age of the game, if you attempt to play it on a modern system you will need to use an Emulator; in my case I am running it off a laptop running Windows 7 64-bit SP1 and with the following hardware: Intel Core i7-2630QM CPU @ 2.00GHz, 8GB RAM, and a NVIDIA GeForce GTX 460M. The Emulator that can be used is called DOSBox and can be downloaded from the DOSBox website. This article covers the steps I took to play the game in DOSBox. Before delving into this howto; a general tip: at the end of the first dungeon the game will ask you a question, the answer to which is in the original games manual. If you do not answer the question the game will drop back to DOS; this may appear as a bug to the uninitiated but it is not. You can find the answers online or in the manual which can be downloaded on the following link:
The Unofficial Elder Scrolls Pages: Arena: Files – www.uesp.net/wiki/Arena:Files

The first step is to download Arena and DOSBox; using the links above. Having downloaded both applications there are a minimum of two steps:

  1. Install DOSBox – Use the default settings and let the application install without modifications.
  2. Install Arena – Having installed DOSBox, double click the icon from your Desktop to launch it.You will need to mount the drive to which you saved the files for Arena which in my case was the C drive:
    MOUNT C C:\
    Mounting C drive.
    If you put the files on the C drive and you issue the above command you will receive a warning about mounting the root drive (as seen above). I unzipped my Arena archive in the following folder:
    C:\dosgames\ARENA
    Arena comes in a Zip archive; if you need a good free Zip utility you can use 7zip. DOSBox can also be used to play Daggerfall and I have those files sitting alongside Arena.
    Having mounted the C drive you will need to navigate to the Arena folder:
    C: DOSGAMES\ARENA
    Changing directory to Arena
    From the Arena folder you can now run the Installer by executing the following command (seen above also):
    C:\DOSGAMES\ARENA>INSTALL.EXE
    Having launched the Installer you will be presented with a screen similar to this:
    Installer screenThere are several changes that you might want to make; at a minimum to get the game running correctly you will want to increase the allocated memory which defaults to 16MB and maxes at 63MB. I recommend the max value. DOSBox doesn’t default to full screen mode and I enable that and mount my c drive in my conf file.
    The notable differences will be for where the SOUND & MUSIC options are listed; mine are already configured as needed in the above screenshot. You will configure these two options using the highlighted selection, “Configure game”. Having selected “Configure game” you will be presented with the following screen:
    SOUND & MUSIC configuration selection.
    You will select “Select Sound Card” & “Select Music Card”; the steps are the same for both. Select “Select Sound Card”
    Configuring Sound.
    Select the second option, “Sound Blaster or SB16 (or compatible)” and hit enter. Then back out by hitting  “Done”, and then “Exit”, and when prompted  “Y” to exit the Installer.
    At this stage you can actually run the game by executing the file ARENA.BAT:
    C:\DOSGAMES\ARENA>ARENA.BAT
  3. When I ran the game after step 2 and I got into the actual core gameplay I found that it was slow and appeared to perform poorly. The next steps regard optimizing your configuration if you run into this problem yourself.
    The below video is filmed from the beginning of the game and it shows the game running well.

    If you are experiencing problems DOSBox allows configuration at the application level (for DOSBox) and also for the individual applications it runs (in this case Arena). The configuration is done by means of configuration files; the file will have the extension conf (*.conf) and the file name will likely be: dosbox-<version>.conf. Accessing the file will vary from version to version; in my version 0.74 there is an option in the “All Progams” listing called “DOSBox 0.74 Options” which brings up the file for editing. In other versions you must navigate to the directory where it is deployed to find it.  I am not an expert in configuring conf file(s); note the below reference links and recommendations:

    Links
    1. How to use a .conf file with dosbox – momaw.kikaimegami.com/dosbox_howto – The following link provides detailed instructions on how to make your configuration file visible when you launch the application
    2. [An example dosbox.conf file] – sec.modprobe.de/dosbox/dosbox.conf.html – An example dosbox.conf file can be found at this link:
    Recommendations
    1. I recommend maxing the memory; you will manipulate the "memsize" reference in the [dosbox] section noted here:
      [dosbox]
      # memsize -- Amount of memory dosbox has in megabytes.
      memsize=63
    2. If your machine has enhanced graphics capabilities, this setting will attempt to utilize them:
      [sdl]
      output=overlay
    3. If you are using a multi-core system, this setting will take advantage of that:
      [cpu]
      core=dynamic
    4. If you create a file from scratch you will need to save the filename in quotes (as in use the quotes when you save it) and use the type as "All Files (*.*)": "dosbox.conf"
      If you don't save the file properly you will likely end up with a file named: dosbox.conf.txt
      
      Having created the file make sure to follow the directions in the following link on how to modify your shortcut to reference the file when it is launched:
      How to use a .conf file with dosbox - momaw.kikaimegami.com/dosbox_howto