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Color & texture problems when running an older PC Game in Windows Vista/Windows 7

You may get an older game starting fine in Windows Vista/Windows 7, but you soon discover all is not well because the game colors and textures are all muddled up and appear blurred and discolored or distorted. You can't find a patch for the game and using the Windows Vista/Windows 7 Program Compatibility troubleshooter doesn't work either. So what can you do to solve this problem? The problem can arise from the fact that a lot of the older games use a 256 palette and also a smaller screen size resolution, the problem also relates to DirectDraw which the older games used to render the 2D graphics. Because many different programs/applications use and share the same resources on your system, there can often be a conflict, and in this case it is Windows Explorer, it will conflict the same system palette file that the game is using, so when the game launches into full screen mode Windows Explorer conflicts the games palette and you get the horrible color problem.
Troubleshooting/Solutions

Changing the games Compatibility:  You can right click the games executable file, and under the "Compatibility" tab you can select "Disable Visual Themes" this will work for some games. You can also right click the games executable file choose Properties and change the Compatibility mode to run the game in Windows 95/Windows/98/Windows XP mode.

User-created patches/fixes:  Some PC games already have user made Windows Vista/Windows 7 Color Fix Patches specifically made to solve the distorted color problems on Windows Vista/Windows 7 systems, check the PC Game Patch Fixes section for your game title.

Terminating Windows Explorer and then running the game: You can do this manually each time you want to play the game by going to the Processes tab and terminating Windows Explorer, but this would become quite tiresome.  You can create a .bat (batch) file that will automatically terminate Windows Explorer and launch the game. The batch file contains the commands for how the system will handle the game and Windows Explorer, when the batch file is run it will shutdown Explorer and launch the game, this resolves the distorted/discolored color problem of the game, when you close the game Windows Explorer resumes as normal, some people may think this is a crude solution, but it works exceptionally well. You can download a ready made batch file here just change the .exe file name to that of the game you wish to run, copy and paste the .bat file to where the games .exe. file is (usually C:/Program Files/Games Name). Start your game via the .bat file, to save you time by having to go to games folder and double clicking the .bat file every time you want to play just point your desktop game shortcut to the .bat file by right clicking the shortcut choosing "Properties" and changing the "Target" field to point to the .bat file (e.g. Target: C:/Program Files/Game/game.bat)

Or, you can create your own .bat file. Open up Notepad and copy and paste the following:

taskkill /F /IM explorer.exe
ra95.exe
Start explorer.exe

For example purposes I am using Command & Conquer: Red Alert which is ra95.exe. Do the following steps:
1) Replace the ra95.exe line with the your games .exe name.
2) Now click "File > Save As" and type any name you wish, but it must end with the .bat extension, in the "Save as type" drop down menu select "All Files". Now click "Save".
3) Copy and past the newly created .bat file to your games directory/folder where your games .exe file is, run the .bat file by double clicking it.

DirectDraw Hack tool: This handy .dll binary is a replacement ddraw.dll designed to work better with the host environment. Meaning, no palette corruption, no switching the whole system to a different graphics mode, no 256 color mode windows, no need to kill explorer.exe, etc.
Technically, it's a DLL that implements the directdraw interface (directdraw, directdraw2, directdrawsurface and directdrawpalette)
Then it takes what the game wants to display, dumps it into an OpenGL texture and renders this on screen.
You can download DirectDraw Hack from the PC Game Tools section here
Games known to work well with DirectDraw Hack are:
- StarCraft 1 (slightly sluggish)
- WarCraft 2
- Fallout
- Fallout 2
- Lands of Lore 2
PalettestealerSuspender tool: This tool will launch DirectDraw games on Windows Vista/Windows 7 systems in full screen mode without the horrible distorted color problems, seems to be a very handy solution to the color problem. It can be downloaded from the PC Game Tools section here
Windows XP Mode with Virtual PC: Windows XP Mode runs many older Windows XP productivity programs that are not natively compatible with Windows 7, it can be downloaded here
Windows 7 DirectDraw Patcher This tool will change the registry so that the game will effectively run in full screen with the proper palette, you only need to use the tool once on each game which saves a lot of time. DirectDraw Patcher can be download from the PC Game Tools section here
Some of the PC games known to have the discolored/distorted/blurred/ colors when run on Windows Vista/Windows 7 are:
- Age of Empires
- Age of Empires: Rise of Rome
- Age of Empires II: The Age of Kings
- Age of Empires II: The Conquerors
- American Conquest
- American Conquest: Fight Back
- Command & Conquer
- Command & Conquer Gold
- Command & Conquer Red Alert
- Command & Conquer: Sole Survor
- Cossacks
- Cossacks: The Art of War
- Cossacks: Back to War
- Diablo
- Diablo: Hellfire
- Diablo II
- Diablo II: Lord of Destruction
- Fallout
- Fallout 2
- Lands of Lore 2
- StarCraft
- Starcraft: Broodwar
- Star Wars: Galactic Battlegrounds
- Star Wars: Galactic Battlegrounds: Clone Campaigns
- WarCraft 2
- Worms Armageddon
Further reading & useful sites

Windows Vista: http://windows.microsoft.com/en-us/windows-vista/make-older-programs-run-in-this-version-of-windows

Windows 7: http://windows.microsoft.com/en-us/windows7/make-older-programs-run-in-this-version-of-windows

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