Age of Empires 2: how to fix the odd colors on Windows 7

As some of you might have noticed, Age of Empires 2 (and its The Conquerors expansion) has a color bug on Windows 7 (and most probably on Vista too). Grass turns red, water becomes purple and every second tree is a christmas tree (or palm for that matter). Gameplay related problems include player colors displaying wrong either on the minimap or when outlining units behind obstacles. Annoying as hell and no normal option is around to fix it.

Fortunately some people have discovered several solutions of which some may work on some systems and installations while others seem to do nothing. Here I present three different solutions to fixing the broken colors in Age of Empires 2 on Windows Vista and 7. Remember, if you’re in doubt on what to exactly do, ask someone who knows more to do this for you.

1. The batch file launcher (“explorer.exe killer”)

It seems the Windows Explorer (the file system browser and handler, not Internet Explorer) has some graphics settings which overrun even full screen applications (such as games) and the game gets mixed up on what to display. Not certain of that, but this fix kills the Explorer while you’re playing and worked for me.

This solution is the most time consuming, but most probably works. It involves creating a new executable batch file which performs some preset actions through the Windows 7 command line and opens the game for you. This method isn’t harmful to your system, although you might lose your open folders and directories when explorer.exe is terminated. Your applications such as IRC-clients, BitTorrent clients, web browsers and such keep running in the background with no errors.

Browse over to the folder where Age of Empires 2 is installed (and where the .exe file—most probably named either “EMPIRES2.exe” or “age2_x1.exe“—for the game is located) and create a new text file (.txt). Make sure you’re showing you file extensions (you should be able to see the “.txt” after the filename)! Rename the text file to a batch file by changing the extension from .txt to .bat. Windows will tell you to “be careful” and that “this file might not work after changing the extension”. Hit OK to dismiss the message. Name your batch file descriptively (I named mine “Age2-Colorfixed.bat“) so you know what to run when you want to play.

The batch file is nothing more than a text file with a different extension so you can edit them in Notepad like you normally would. In Windows 7 when right-clicking on a batch file you should see an “Edit” option. Right-click on your new batch file and edit it. Notepad should open up with an empty text file. In this text file you can write all sorts of commands that the command line recognizes (yes, even a “format C:” is possible through it). We will only need three different commands. Copy and paste the code below and we’ll check out what it does:

taskkill /F /IM explorer.exe
age2_x1.exe
start explorer.exe

On line one we use taskkill to terminate the explorer.exe process. Additionally we insert the /F parameter to end the process without any confirmations or popup messages (which streamlines our process of getting to play the game). Line two is for launching the game executable. This batch file selects The Conquerors expansion’s executable file and launches it (change to “EMPIRES2.exe” if you’re not playing the expansion). Line three then restarts the explorer.exe so we get our Windows’ file explorer back after closing the game.

Save the changes (but remember to keep it as a “.bat” file) and close the edit window. The batch file is ready! Double-clicking on it should now kill explorer.exe and launch the game (don’t worry if your desktop looks like crap right before the game opens). After closing the game Windows Explorer should be normally open again. If not, open task manager, select “New task” from under the “File” menu and type in “explorer.exe“. When hitting OK the process should start normally.

Now you can make a shortcut of this batch file like any other file. I have mine on the desktop. Opening the file closes explorer.exe and opens the game normally. I had some trouble with case-sensitivity in the file at first, but the version above works properly.

2. The screen size window trick

Some people have reported that opening the Windows’ own screen resolution window before opening the game works to get rid of the weird colors. Here’s how it works:

  1. Open your desktop view (with all the fancy icons and the desktop mini-apps open on it).
  2. Right-click and open the “Screen resolution” window from the dropdown menu.
  3. Leave it open and start Age of Empires 2.
  4. Done!

As I said, this might work to some of you. It didn’t work for me, but could be the game version or my Windows 7 installation which broke it. Simple and easy if it works!

3. The compatibility mode tickbox

The usual place to go when old games act odd on newer systems is the programs properties (Right-click on program icon and select “Properties”) window’s compatibility tab. There’s is a dropdown list of older Windows operating systems such as Vista, XP and even 95.

Under the dropdown list are several checkboxes: “256 colors”, “640×800 screen resolution”, “disable visual themes”, “disable desktop composition”, “disable display scaling on high DPI settings” and “run as administrator”.

Here is what people have instructed to do in order to get the game colors working:

  1. Tick “Run this program in compatibility mode for:”.
  2. Select “Windows XP (Service pack 2)”.
  3. Tick “Run in 256 colors”.
  4. Tick “Disable visual themes”.
  5. Apply the settings and start your game normally.

This reportedly works for some people. I combined this and the batch file procedure to make my game work properly. Your desktop might look odd right before the game opens, but it is part of disabling full color palettes such.

Update on 06.03.2013:

4. Change your graphics setting to “medium”

febrix10 posted a comment in which s/he suggests to try and change your in-game graphics quality to medium. I have not verified this, but hopefully it works for some players. Thanks febrix10!

Any other options?

Have you heard of other options that make Age of Empires 2 work properly on newer systems? Post some in the comments and I can add them to this entry.

Hopefully this entry was useful. Enjoy your properly colored Age of Empires 2!

About Otto Rask

A young Finnish media engineer student. Besides school I dabble with web development, design, other digital stuff and computing. I like video games too.
This entry was posted in Gaming/modding and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

30 Responses to Age of Empires 2: how to fix the odd colors on Windows 7

  1. Leandragem says:

    Thank you, it worked!

  2. Adam says:

    Thank you so much!
    It really did help allot!

  3. David says:

    http://www.age-of-empires.net/gameforum/Blah.pl?v-print/m-1273316507/

    A program called ‘Palette-Stealer Suspender’ – It’s pain free and really easy to use. I have been using it on Vista & 7 and have not had any problems!!

    All of these other methods never ever worked for me, and seemed to much of a hassle, I’m afraid.

  4. Otto Rask says:

    Thanks for sharing, will take a look at that little program. :)

  5. Victor says:

    Thanks. The second solution worked for me.

  6. catalin says:

    thanks. all methods worked. i can’t explain what happens if the “screen resolution” tab is open… :| but it’s good as long it;s works

  7. Gareth James says:

    I’ve no idea if this is still monitored but here goes.

    I’ve long since got passed the colour mess up issue, what I can’t sort is why the game will not remember my player details. Every time I load the game it comes up as if it is the first time I’ve played it. So my name is not there and none of my graphics/sound/mouse setings are saved. Saved games are still there, just not my player profile! Also is it me or is the AI truly pathetic now?

    Any and all advice would be greatly appreciated. Thanks.

  8. Otto Rask says:

    @Gareth:

    Yeah, still monitored. Just a little busy to keep up with posting new stuff. ;)

    How have you installed the game? I remember reading somewhere that non-standard installation methods and locations may drop support for saving profiles and settings.

    I think it may be a problem related to restricted access to directories/similar where the data should be saved. Make sure you have allowed your user account the the game to use the installation directory properly.

    Other than that I’m not certain what could cause the issue.

    Not certain of the AI. The last time I played it seemed as it was on release date. Not sure whether there are patches that makes the AI better.

  9. skylarkcob says:

    Fix Graphics issue with Age of Empires II: The Conquerors

    http://www.mediafire.com/?oqmbgm15wmm9b5k

    Just download and copy this tool and put into Age2_x1 folder. Finally, using this tool to play game.

    Good luck.

  10. pavel says:

    Friend , It works when I play single game . But in GAME RANGER I can’t add .bat file. So still problem in Game Ranger . Any Idea ???

  11. asif says:

    thanx a lot!!, it works for me..gr8t!!!

  12. Otto Rask says:

    @pavel: I could make a wild guess that GameRanger has this functionality already built in. I also use GameRanger to play with my friends and haven’t had any color problems, even without this “bat-file technique”. Don’t take my word for it though.

  13. laksh says:

    thanks…., it works!!!!!!!!!

  14. Stephen Whiting says:

    It works! I now have normal colours on AOE2!!! thanks!!!

  15. Debraj says:

    The first one worked just fine for me
    THANXXX..

  16. Tyson says:

    Just wondering if there was a way to make the .bat open the screen resolution window before opening the game

  17. Otto Rask says:

    Tyson: I didn’t try this method, but you could try implementing a WinExec call to the .bat-file. There’s an article at MSDN that tells how to start control panel items via the command line. :)

  18. Thanx Otto Rask,
    The first option work for me ^_^

    I like it ..
    thanx a lot for the info

    *Danta

  19. febrix10 says:

    All of that is very complicated,,,
    This is the simple thinks if you want to playing AOE2 in Windows 7..
    in the main menu click option, and then change the graphic detail to medium..
    It’s Solved for Me…

  20. chumchum says:

    nothing works

  21. Otto Rask says:

    @chumchum: Sorry to hear that. What operating system do you use? Did you try any of the solutions the other commenters have suggested?

  22. MycGyver says:

    I found that the cause for me was the desktop background changing photos on a second screen with Age of Empires Rise of Rome running on my primary display. Once I turned off the photo changing there were no further issues. It seemed like changing the color palette as the photos changed affected the forground game mode somehow.

  23. Daniel says:

    For the .bat solution, once i save it as a .bat file, it still behaves exactly like a .txt file except the .bat is just part of the file name. I can work out why it isnt turning into a .bat file :(

  24. Otto Rask says:

    @Daniel: have you made file extensions visible in your system (http://windows.microsoft.com/en-in/windows-vista/show-or-hide-file-name-extensions)? Did you change the file type to “any” in the save file dialog?

  25. Oliver says:

    Try changing your resolution during the at the beginning of the match. It’s worked for me so far (Not sure if it will work for others though).

  26. J says:

    Just installed AoE2 on Windows 7 and wanted to share my findings with you.

    For all those in need of an easy fix, there is now seems to be a fanmade HD patch for AOE 2. Now being relative because it seems to be quite old. This not only lets you play AOE 2 in HD but also solves the screen issues.

    Steps to take are:
    - Upgrade the game with a fanmade patch: 1.0e (http://aoe2tc.gamebanana.com/gamefiles/2257);
    - Install AoE2Wide (http://www.boekabart.net/page/Age+of+Empires+2).

    AoE2Wide requires some steps additional steps after installation. I’m sure there’s a readme included within the download. If not, use Google.

    Further errors I encountered:

    - Stability issues, program not responding: For some reason one of my laptops had a hard time running age2_x1.exe. As soon as I started the problem, the program became non responsive and crashed before the first intro movie. This could not be fixed through fiddeling with compatability settings. Apparently it’s an issie with Alienware Laptops. Anyhow, eventually after some long internet searching, I solved this by adding ‘no nosc’ to the command line starting AoE2. If you have installed AoE2Wide, this would mean altering a line in the *.bat created by that program on your desktop (Change ["age2_x1_1.0e_1920x1080.exe" 1280] to ["age2_x1_1.0e_1920x1080.exe" 1280 no nosc].

    -No background music: AOE2 doesn’t seem to have any background music when playing on Windows 3. In short, this can be solved in 3 ways. All of them require you to rip the background music from the installation CD’s. It does this because either you have cracked the game (naughty you!) and thus the audio cd files are missing, or you have a DVD version of the game which is bugged. NB: the background music is formatted as an ‘audio CD’. You have to rip them and convert them to *.mp3. You can use Windows Media Player to do this.
    1. Easiest way: Rip the music and play it with Windows Media Player whilst playing the game. This saves time.
    2. The long long way: Rip the music. Burn the music on an empty CD. Use that CD whist playing the game. The game should then have background music.
    3. The wierd way: You can use the ingame taunt option to play the music. Rip the files, name them 50 AoK.mp3 and 51 AoC.mp3 respectively and copy them into the GameDir>Taunt folder. Supossedly you can then use the taunt menu, scroll down and activate the music from there. However, when i tried this, both my laptops crashed. This however doesn’t mean that this method will not work; there are loads of people claiming it does. Be warned however: the music file is stored in one big *.mp3. Both files are about 30 minuts long. Don’t use them both at once (taunt both 50 AoK and 51 AoC). This will lead to the game playing both music files semultaneously.

    Hope this helped!

  27. Otto Rask says:

    J: Didn’t know about that HD patch, need to check it out. Many thanks for sharing!

  28. Zalze says:

    the batch file worked for me but the first time it didnt cause the exe wasnt age2_x1.exe it was EMPIRES2.exe so had to change the second command to match the exe name so the script for me was

    taskkill /F /IM explorer.exe
    EMPIRES2.exe
    start explorer.exe

    ty for the fix appriciate it

  29. Samu says:

    It doesnt open the game, just closes and opens explorer. Any ideas why?

  30. Elizabeth says:

    Hi there.
    I was trying these methods for Age of Empires 1. Sadly they didn’t work. I tried every thing (even all together) but the colors stayed the same.
    Basically everything is a bunch of multi-colored pixels theat you can barely tell the shapes apart. But the game still WORKS. The music plays, I can command people and the computer is still controlling the other teams.
    I’m not very tech savvy, but if someone, ANYONE can think of anything, that would be wonderful.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>