Does anyone remember the demo scene?
Before the mess that is Early Access we had demos. For the uninitiated demos were pretty self explanatory – demonstrations of a full product, in this case a demonstration of a video game. These demos were usually restricted in one way or another either by only offering 1 or 2 levels or a time limit. They were great ways to gauge if an upcoming game was going to be of interest to you, avoiding dropping potentially a lot of money on something you wouldn’t like (of course in this same era you could rent the game from a video rental shop but popular titles would often be out of stock for weeks on end).
I think demos are great and it is a shame that you really don’t get them anymore – and it’s not just a platform thing, most games don’t have a demo made for them and instead rely on baiting people in with pre-release video footage paraded around on various social media or streaming sites. The only modern console I have found to have pretty a good demo scene still going is the Nintendo Switch.
So enough explaining, what is going to be covered on this page. Well I still feel that demos can have an element of use, even if they are for games that are probably quite cheap today. They can be good to find out about new games that you may have not heard about. Demos are often included on many of the items we cover in the Shovelware Showcase and it seems a waste not to make them available for people to download and try; so what I will do here is provide links to demos that I come across. I’ll try and avoid general shareware titles (they may eventually be covered elsewhere) and focus on what I consider to be actual game demos. I’ll split them out into eras to help you find demos that are going to work on your respective systems.
How It Works
All of the demos you see below have been either:
- Taken as-is from a CD/DVD-ROM
- Taken as-is from an OEM public FTP
Not all of the demos listed here are tested straight away – I simply do not have the time to do so. If you encounter any issues please use the contact form to inform us.
The demo setup files are archived in a .ZIP format and uploaded to Archive.org – see Why Archive.org if you’re curious why.
Its a shame I have to put this here, but please understand that the files I make available here are uploaded as-is from the original source material. Most of these sources are reliable and clean, however you may find that some of these demos may trip your anti-virus system (usually a false positive). Some of them may also be detected as PUPs (Potentially Unwanted Software).
The software that is provided here is to be downloaded at your own risk. Any damage caused by the downloading of these files (or subsequent installation of the files therein) is the responsibility of you and is in no part the responsibility of dans-things.com. We are not liable for any data loss or damage that may be caused.
However if you do find a demo that you encounter an error please use the Contact Form to let us know.
Windows PC Demos
The earliest era covered here. These demos are intended to work on a variety of MS-DOS systems. Most of these games will also work on Windows 95 and 98 systems. These demos should also, in theory, work under emulators such as DOS Box.
Windows 95 Era
Games listed here are intended to be played on a Windows 95 era system. They may rely heavily on DOS to work properly and may contain a lot of 16-bit code.
Windows 98 Era
Games listed here are intended to be played on a Windows 98 era system. Games of this era may not rely as heavily on DOS but still may contain elements of 16-bit code or other technologies that were not widely supported in later operating systems.
Windows XP Era
Games listed here are intended to be played on a Windows XP era system (all the way up to SP3). Games of this era follow the design of many modern games such as the use of DirectX. You may find that many of games from this era will still work under some of the latest operating systems such as Windows 7 or Windows 10.
Windows Vista + 7 Era
Games listed here are intended to be played on a Windows Vista or Windows 7 era system. Games of this era are pretty close to being identical in many ways to many modern games and will likely work interchangeably with current operating systems. This is also the era when games demos began to disappear.
What About Windows 3.x, NT, ME or 2000
It’s difficult to split these eras out without having too much overlap, so I have opted to cover the main staples here. For demos from the Windows 3.x era you may need to dip into both the DOS era and Windows 95 era sections. Millennium Edition (ME) would normally cover a lot of the demos that are found in the Windows 98 era and maybe a few from the Windows XP era. Windows 2000 and NT are not really intended for video games. In my experience 2000 is better suited for games than NT but is not perfect and can get a bit crabby with some games that rely on DOS technology.
Pretty much use your brain and test, let us know how things go.
How Do I Play or GameXYZ Doesn’t Play 🙁
I do technical support for my day job, and I’m sorry but I rarely feel like fixing anything at the end of doing it for 7 odd hours. If you are really really stuck then please use the contact form and I will do my best to help you.
From one retro computer enthusiast to another – this can become a bit tricky. You really need to make sure you have the hardware that matches that which the game (or software) you are trying to run was probably tested on. For example a game demo from 1996 was probably tested for Windows 95 systems (so that’s hardware included not just the operating system), the chances of that software working on later hardware or operating systems drops considerably with each era you move to (it may still work with Windows 98 hardware, slim chance with XP and little to no chance on Windows Vista/7). Another thing to consider is that video games were often designed to be played on computers instead of laptops, and a lot of early laptops are really not built for doing much more than a bit of word processing and some web browsing.
For those in the virtual world, god speed to you. In my experience DOSBox is great for emulating DOS software on a modern host operating system. VMWare or Orcacle’s virtualisation technology is really hit/miss when it comes to playing a lot of 3D video games. Simple 2D affairs usually work without too much hassle but the virtualisation tech just isn’t really there for fancy games and you’ll often end up with odd results such as black screens, poor frame rate, no sound, corrupted textures etc.
Another thing you can do is if you get an error message use a search engine and see if anyone has a solution, or post on a retro computer forum or subreddit – there’s a lot of knowledge out there.