Updated: January 24, 2011
You all know what DOSBox is. If you're reading this article, then you surely do. But DOSBox is not the simplest program to use, if you think about it. Most people do not fancy typing DOS-like instructions on the command-line prompt presented by the program.
Apparently, smarter people than I (there are very few of those) have thought about this problem and come up with a neat solution: a handy frontend for DOSBox, which would take care of all the complicated configurations and make the usage so much simpler. A prominent among DOSBox frontends was D-Fend. But then, it was discontinued. From its ashes rose D-Fend Reloaded, in possibly a not so subtle hint slash nod slash homage to the grossly overrated Matrix trilogy, and this is the program we will discuss today. D-Fend Reloaded is arguably the best all around DOSBox frontend. Now, let's get to know it, know it.
D-Fend Reloaded ... reloaded
All right. Head to the official site and download the bundle. It has everything you need, including DOSBox itself, so no need for any separate downloads and installations. The installation is not trivial, though. You should not next next next your way through. Focus and read. You can already customize the program during the initial setup, since this can help you use your games more easily later on.
I would recommend you choose User-defined installation. However, if you're not that savvy with computers and only wish to be able to play your DOS games, then you can go with the default Automatic installation choice.
D-Fend Reloaded can also run in a portable mode, which is extremely useful if you intend to use it on computers where you do not have administrative rights and/or your work place, wink wink. The best option is to use the user profile folder for your settings, but this can inflate the size of data in your profile, especially if you have tons of DOS games.
Lastly, choose the components you want to install.
On its first run, D-Fend Reloaded will ask a few more questions. If you have multiple versions of DOSBox installed, you can choose any one you want. Furthermore, you can allow automatic updates.
Using D-Fend Reloaded
I must admit the first use of the program can be a little overwhelming. The program has a lot of neat features, like the ability to browse your games using genre, publisher, year, language, emulation type and more; you will find these shortcuts in the file-explorer type left column. In the center top pane, your games will be listed. You can drag and drop items in there. In the bottom pane, you will be able to preview game screenshots and videos, add notes, and more. In a sense, D-Fend Reloaded is a powerful DOSBox-oriented explorer.
Importing games can be done using drag 'n' drop or going through the File menu. Once you configure a game as you see fit, it will be added to the list of games or DOS programs in the right top pane.
The wizard is more powerful than drag 'n' drop and takes more time exploring. Some of the meta fields will be populated automatically based on game detection, but if you're really keen on your nostalgia collection, you will spend time creating detailed, rich profiles.
Options, tons and tons of them
Like I mentioned earlier, D-Fend Reloaded can be a bit daunting. There are so many options. You can mark your games as favorite, uninstall or delete them, create shortcuts, view and edit configuration files, search games online on several popular sites offering DOS titles, and more. You can even add cheats to your games and alter existing save points, which is just crazy.
You can always launch the configurations for your games in a text editor and make manual changes.
D-Fend Reloaded will also display a few simple tips to help you get around more easily. For example, how to quite the program, switch between full screen and window mode or unescape your mouse from the DOSBox window.
And the configurations and customizations never really stop. You can tweak your profile to death, really. There's so much to do, that you may find the abundance of choices frustrating. Luckily, very few games will require special changes. The default settings will apply in 99% of cases.
Furthermore, it depends on your needs and whims. If you're really passionate about your games, you will use icons and special command line parameters, enable eXtended and Expanded memory, tweak the volume settings, and other cool things.
After a bit of hard work, you're ready to enjoy your oldies:
D-Fend Reloaded is a very handy utility. It's a little complex for newbies, but it's a jewel in the hands of diehard DOS fans, veterans and hardcore games who must have absolute control over their favorite games. The level of customization is amazing and sometimes almost too daunting. But you can forgive the zealous desire to make DOSBox accessible to everyone and focus on the good parts. Don't forget the cheats, too. How classy.
Overall, D-Fend Reloaded is an excellent addition to your old game arsenal and should help you enjoy your DOS games on a new level. You won't need to worry about losing your custom settings. And if you want, you can run it in a portable mode. I'm very pleased with D-Fend Reloaded. And if you are too, spread the word!