I recently tried installing Age of Empires 2 - The Conquerors on my new Windows 7 64-bit PC. The installation went smoothly and it started up without giving any errors, so I figured everything would work great. Boy was I wrong.

The colors on the initial menu screen were so messed up that I could barely read the options. After digging around on the internet and trying every combination of compatibility mode settings with no effect, I was ready to give up on ever being able to play it on a new machine. It seemed like it could be related to the color problems that were reported in 2011 and 2012, but none of the suggested fixes made any difference on my machine.

After letting it sit for a couple of weeks, I finally had a thought that I should look into using it in the Windows XP Mode that comes with Windows 7. Since I had the Professional version which supports the XP Mode, I figured I'd give it a try. (Note: only the Professional, Enterprise, and Ultimate versions of Windows 7 support XP Mode)

I downloaded the required install packages and followed the instructions given on the Microsoft Windows website, Install and use Windows XP Mode in Windows 7. Once I installed the game in the virtual machine for XP Mode, I optimistically fired it up... and got an error that my graphics card wasn't supported. So much for that plan of attack!

I still wasn't quite ready to give up since I now was thinking along the lines of using a VM and since the requirements of the game shouldn't be so high that it wouldn't work. After googling some more, I found a blog post, Age Of Empires 2: The Conquerors In A Virtual Windows XP, that suggested using VMware to host the VM. I still wanted to use the XP Mode license rather than try and dig up an old XP license from one of the junk machines I have and hope that it works. Some more googling and I found another blog post, Using Free Windows XP Mode as a VMware Virtual Machine, showing how to use the free VMware Player to run Windows XP Mode.

VMware actually makes it quite easy to get the XP Mode setup within the VMware Player, so once I got the new VM running with XP Mode I figured all would be smooth sailing. And other than a few minor hiccups and experiments I got the game installed and running. And finally, success! The game started up, and the initial menu had normal colors and was readable. I started a new game, and all of the colors were fine. The only snag that I ran into is that the VMware Unity feature doesn't play well with the game, probably because the game is expecting to have control of the entire screen. So no fancy Unity mode and single shortcut starting of the game, but that is a small price to pay for being able to actually play it from my new machine.

The steps that should get Age of Empires 2 - The Conquerors up and running under VMware are detailed below.

  1. Install Windows XP Mode per instructions from Microsoft
  2. Install the free VMware Player from VMware
  3. Install the free VMware vCenter Converter from VMware (Registration on the VMware website is required to download the converter, but it is needed by the Player to convert the XP Mode VM from Microsoft)
  4. Startup the VMware player and select "Import Windows XP Mode VM..." from the File menu (Note: the File menu is a submenu under the "Player" button. Took me a few minutes to figure that out)
  5. Follow the directions and prompts within VMware Player to convert and install XP Mode
  6. Change the Network connection setting to "Bridged" under the Windows XP Mode VM settings for the Network Adapter (This is necessary if you want to play with other people on a LAN, otherwise you won't be able to see their machines)
  7. Startup the Windows XP Mode VM and install the VMware Tools when it prompts you to (Cancel any "Found New Hardware" wizards that appear, the VMware Tools will install the correct drivers for all of the hardware)
  8. Install Age of Empires 2 and then Age of Empires 2 - The Conquerors and any patches you may require (VMware makes it dead simple to pass-through your host CD player to the VM, in my situation I'm using Virtual Clone Drive with image files since I don't have a physical CD drive in my machine. It also supports mounting a .iso file directly for the guest)
  9. Make any customizations to the game or VM that you want, and enjoy


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