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

Posted on 20th January, 2011 at 20:10

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
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 (comment gone due to age of this post, sorry) 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!

Me elsewhere