Games for 16-bit Windows

With 256 or More Colors

Screenshot of the Day: Collidascope

In 1993/94, there was a big change in the world of Windows. Previously, it had been mostly an office thing. Now, Multimedia was the catchphrase. This strongly influenced the type of game that was developed for Windows.

The Most Popular 256-Color Windows Games
Bricklayer Pipeline Sokoban 97 Lines
Bricklayer Pipeline Sokoban 97 Lines
Reproduction Man Mikan Breakthru Passage Plus
ReproMan Mikan Breakthru Passage
New Beetle Pastel Fantasy Dominate Killer Bees
New Beetle Pastel
Dominate Killer Bees

A Timeline

The first 256-color 16-bit Windows game: Battle Chess

Most of these games run in 640×480, 256 colors. If they support or even require more, I have mentioned it in the rightmost column. Some run in full screen mode, so its basically irrelevant whether you run them under Windows 3.1 or Windows 95.

1991/92: Battle Chess

The only Windows games running in 256 colors before 1993 that I have as yet found are Battle Chess from 1991 (still in Windows 3.0 times!) and its Enhanced CD-ROM version from 1992. The former had very good 16-color graphics too, I have not yet tested the latter under this condition.

1993: The Beginning

The first 256-color Windows games came out in 1993. It was an abrupt and vehement start. DOS SVGA games were still rare in that year, on the other hand, there had been earlier experiments. On Windows, it seems, everybody started programming in 256 colors at the same time. The reason for that is simply support. Windows 3.1 did not originally ship with SVGA drivers, though they were released seperately soon afterwards.

Except for Myst, all these games were Windows originals. Both freeware and shareware (which at the time can be seen as commercial) enterprises were represented. Most of them run in a 640×480 Window, taking up the whole screen.

Dominate Ataxx US  
Earth Invasion Arcade US full screen, supports hi-color
Myst Adventure US full screen
Shih Dao Ishido US  
Kalaha Mancala Se Mikael Ekbom
Pipeline Pipe Mania De  

1994: Ports from the Mac

While the games from 1993 were nearly all Windows originals and Windows only, 1994 saw a deluge of ports from the Mac. Many of these were sold on CD and utilized Apple's Quicktime technology. And many of them did not run in a Window at all, but filled the screen the way a DOS game would. If the screen resolution was higher than 640×480, the surplus space would be filled with a solid color or left black.

Mac Ports
Bricklayer Tetris US Port of Tetris Max
CyberDreams Adventure US full screen
Poker Party Strip Poker US hi-color, full screen
SimCity 2000 sim US supports 800×600
SimTower sim Jp runs at any resolution
Spaceship Warlock Adventure US full screen
The Cosmology of Kyoto Adventure Jp full screen
Windows Originals
Boxes Tetris US  
Breakthru! Tetris Ca Steve Fry
Tic Tac Death board US Chris Zinn
VikTRIS Tetris US Vikram Madan

1995: Multi-Platform

This year saw the height of the Live Actor/Full Motion Video craze. Most of these games were released for DOS, Windows, and Macintosh at the same time, sometimes on the same CD(s). Windows has become one platform among others. Of course there were still a lot of freeware and shareware productions which were Windows only.

Radon screenshot.
Blue Ice Adventure UK full screen
Caesar II strat UK full screen
Command & Conquer RTS US  
Gabriel Knight II Adventure US full screen
Phantasmagoria Adventure US full screen
Space Quest 6 Adventure US full screen
Whale's Voyage 2 RPG At  
Windows Only
Blue Angel '69 Remake MaxIt Si  
Hexis Tetris US  
Kalaha 1.0 Mancala Nl no sound
Killer Bees Shoot-'em-up US Ron Paludan
Lines Puzzle Ru  
Mikan Shoot-'em-up Jp  
Passage Plus Ishido De  
Radon Tetris US hi-color
Reproduction Man Puzzle US David Kilmer
Tuzzle Puzzle US Anthony Watson

1996/97: Gone out of Fashion

As of 1996, 16-bit Windows was obsolete. Some programmers, like Philippe Basciano, were busy porting their games to the new 32-bit platform. Others were still writing 16-bit programs because they still had Visual Basic 3, or because they were using a 16-bit version of Macromedia Director, or something like Klik & Play. There is something unintentional about these latter games, you will often find them listed under Windows 95, sometimes they are wrapped in 32-bit installers, and not even their creators seem to have been aware of their true nature. But occasionally commercial products, too, still value compatibility with the older platform.

Flowers Ishido Ishido 96 It Luciano Vernaschi
Wari 2.0 Mancala It no sound
Axium Adventures Puzzle 97 US full screen
Collidascope Columns US Sergei Savchenko
Enemy Nations RTS US up to 1600×1200, up to tru-color
Tetris Jr. PC Tetris US  
New Beetle Tracks & Gaps Puzzle De Mario Knezovic
Sokoban 97 Soko-ban De Gerald Holler
Kyodai Mah Jongg Fr runs at 800×600 by default
RusCell Malachite Card By 800×600 hi-color

Since 1998: Needs Hi-Color to Display Correctly

By 1998 16-bit Windows programs felt like fossiles. One thing that all these games have in common is that they display correctly only on a hi-color desktop, even if they use as few as 32 colors.

Pastel Fantasy Puzzle 98 Jp K. Shimizu
Rory's Reversi Othello 99 UK Rory Johnston
Ultimate Othello Othello Fr Florent Boudet


While you can play most 16-color games on anything that moves, err, has Windows 3.1 installed, a little more care should be invested in the hardware that is supposed to run these games. It is still easier than setting up a computer for DOS games.

A CD-ROM drive is indispensable. This is not a great problem, all the Pentium and many 486 boards have a BIOS that supports ATAPI drives.

A sound card is essential. I would recommend getting a good sound card, one with wavetable synthesis that is, but since this is Windows, it need mot be compliant with any standard, neither Soundblaster nor MPU-401. As of 2005/6, ISA sound cards, even very good ones, have become rather cheap on eBay, since fewer and fewer people have ISA slots in their computers, so you can go over the top here.

The graphics card will hardly be an issue. None of these games require or even support any kind of acceleration. 1MB video RAM gives you 640×480 at hi-color or 1024×768 at 256 colors and therefore should be sufficient.

  640×480 800×600 1024×768 1152×864 1600×1200
1MB 64K 64K 256 256 16
2MB 16M 16M 64K 64K 256
4MB 16M 16M 16M 16M 64K
8MB 16M 16M 16M 16M 16M

Hard drive space will be an issue. The early Windows games were small, several of them fitting on a floppy. These games have higher requirements. Entombed, in its smallest instance, takes up 2.5MB, Breakthru! twice as much. Some are intended to be played directly from the CD, but if you don't want to do this for some reason, they will take up even hugher amounts of disk space. Spaceship Warlock, for example, has about 180MB.