I wrote a post many years ago here explaining how to get Age of Empires working on modern windows using VMWare and Windows XP, there is now an updated version of the game that you can get on Steam that makes things much easier. If however you want to play the old version anyway it seems that many of the graphical problems were solved in Windows 8 and last time I tested it was working fine out of the box. Age of Empires does seem to have a networking issue however and the best solution I have found is to use the IPX Wrapper that you can get at Solemn’s Site and play using the game’s IPX networking.
Ever since I ran Hidden & Dangerous Deluxe in a VMWare Windows XP machine in order to get around Windows 7 and Vista incompatibilities I have wondered what other games this would work with and how to get it working a little easier.
I haven’t played Age Of Empires 2 or the Conquerors expansion in a while so I was surprised when after installing it and starting my first game I ended up with strange colour issues, eg, red grass and purple water, the game would also crash occasionally when trying out different compatibility modes. So I tried my Windows Vista laptop, but the same thing happened with it, I tried using Wine on my linux laptop but 9 times out of 10 it causes x.org to crash and other times it just ran too slowly.
I had since deleted my VMWare virtual machine, so I looked for a quicker option and came across this to quickly convert an XP mode virtual machine to a working VMware image usable in the free VMWare Player, in total it took about 15 minutes to get up and running and at no cost other than a Windows 7 license that can use XP Mode.
The game works fine out of the box, here’s an example:
That example was for the expansion pack but it also works fine without.