Robin Hood: The Legend of Sherwood

A random conversation got me thinking about this game, so I pulled it out and played it a bit. When I first tried it in the early 2000s, it struck me as fairly original in concept: it looked and controlled like a RTS of the time, but it had stealth mechanics and puzzles. I’ve since learned that the Commandos series did it first, but I haven’t played those.

At any rate, this is a game that supports both stealth and combat approaches, and allegedly rewards choosing stealth: Robin’s ability to function as a folk hero and attract followers depends on people’s opinion of him, which is affected by how many murders he’s responsible for. I haven’t gotten far enough into the game for that to be a factor, though. All I’ve gotten through so far is the first mission, in which Robin Hood isn’t even really Robin Hood yet. Back when the game was newer, I didn’t even get that far; I got stuck in perfection paralysis, repeatedly realizing that there were better ways to do stuff as I learned the game’s vocabulary and restarting the entire level.

When run as-is under Windows 10, the game is unplayably sluggish. To get around this, I installed a patch that turned out to just be a little wrapper for running it under DxWnd. I’ll have to remember to try DxWnd for other games that display similar symptoms. It does create two new problems, though. First of all, the cursor leaves trails behind it in the game’s menus, including in-game message boxes. Secondly, it breaks the game at higher resolutions. By default, the game runs at 640×480, but the options menu lets you dial that up to 800×600 or 1024×768, and it’s a shame that I can’t take advantage of that. I’m basically stuck with 640×480, which looks brutally coarse to me, although I can already feel myself adapting to it.

[Addendum 22 Sep] It seems like the failure of the other graphics modes must be linked to the introductory FMV cutscene. This plays automatically when you start the game, and it always plays in 640×480. So if you have the game set to play at any other resolution, it has to change graphics modes on the fly. DxWnd doesn’t appear to handle that well. A lot of older games for Windows do this sort of thing, switching resolutions for FMV, and it’s never really worked very well. On every single PC I’ve ever owned, switching graphics modes takes a few seconds, with the typical result that you wind up missing the start of the video.

Hitting the Stack again

I thought I’d continue with the point-and-click adventures, but this time do one that’s on the Stack proper. My first attempt was Jazz and Faust, a game that I’ve heard nothing good about, but picked up anyway when it hit the bargain bins, because decent games of its type were still kind of sparse on the ground even in 2002. I played it a bit back then, but got very stuck early on. I’ll have more to say about it if I ever get it running properly, but for now, it’s going onto my expanding sub-stack of games to try again if and when I get a Windows 98 machine working.

Some notes about it for my future self: On my main gaming machine, it installed without problems, but the FMV video sequences played very badly, essentially alternating between playing a brief bit of video without sound and playing sound while the video was either frozen or playing very slowly. The video are right there in the install directory in .bik format, and played without any hitches under VLC. (A lot of the other game assets are simply installed uncompressed to the hard drive, too. All the character textures, for example. This game could be very easily modded if anyone wanted to.) From what I’ve peeked at, it looks like the videos may be an important part of the game, so I don’t want to just ignore the problem. So I tried installing the game on a cast-off Windows 10 laptop that I recently obtained from a neighbor for cheap, and it plays the videos in-game just fine. I don’t know what the relevant difference is between the two machines. However, on both, the framerate in the game proper is low enough to make it unplayable. How it manages to run slower on a modern machine than it did on 2002 hardware, I don’t know. This is after installing a patch, which was necessary to keep the game from crashing.

Also, Windows 10 puts a window border around the game, even though it’s playing full-screen. It did the same for Kao. I don’t know why. Both games run at a rather low resolution by today’s standards, of course, but I don’t remember this happening before.

Anyway, after abandoning that, I picked another game of similar stature from the Stack: The Watchmaker, a very cheesy mystery about searching an opulent Austrian castle for a device that some cultists are planning to use to end the world by overloading the ley lines. This game was made by the same people as Nightlong: Union City Conspiracy, although the passage of years between games means that they’re now working in fully 3D-modeled environments that don’t look nearly as good as Nightlong‘s pixel art. The English localization (from Italian) is awkward, and isn’t helped by the voice acting, which sounds not so much like acting as just reciting words off a page without regard to their meaning or context. Still, unlike Nightlong, it runs on modern hardware and Windows 10 without any problems at all. At this point, I’ll take it.

More Failures with Galaga: Destination Earth

Since Ultimate Spider-Man showed a very similar reluctance to run under Windows 10 as Galaga: Destination Earth, it seemed plausible that the cause might be the same: DRM. Specifically, USM uses SafeDisc, which Windows 10 considers to be a security violation. I still don’t know if that’s the case or not. I haven’t found a nocd crack for Galaga online. I did find some general instructions for circumventing SafeDisc on Windows 10 by downloading and signing a driver in administrator mode, but it didn’t seem to help. Maybe Galaga instead uses SecuROM, another DRM system that Windows 10 doesn’t like, with a bigger reputation as a security risk, widely accused of flat-out being a rootkit. Or maybe the problem was never really DRM at all.

Regardless, it seems like my best bet is still to set up a Windows 98 machine, which is something I kind of want to do anyway for the sake of other games. But in the course of searching for nocd cracks, I discovered another option: has the Playstation version of Galaga: Destination Earth available to play online. And I did play that for long enough to get through the first level, but I won’t be continuing there. The sound is unbearably choppy in my browser, just constantly cutting in and out, and the resolution is significantly below what I’m willing to accept for this game. That is, it’s probably 256×224, designed for a standard definition television with a certain amount of blur. I’m not really very demanding about resolution. 800×600 is plenty for me in a game designed around 3D graphics, like this one. I might even get used to 256×224. But the sound is a real deal-breaker.

At least I did legitimately play it for a little while, though!

Ultimate Spider-Man

For the last couple of days, my Twitter feed has been all agog over the new Spider-Man game for the PS4. I don’t have a PS4, but I do have an open-world Spider-Man game I haven’t finished: Ultimate Spider-Man (Treyarch, 2005). I recall playing just the start of it back in 2006, in the last days before this blog. I’m not sure why I didn’t play more. Possibly I found the open world intimidating. Or maybe the framerate was slow and I wanted to wait to play it on a faster machine — it had to have been pretty demanding at the time.

Running it on Windows 10 was a little difficult. It installs without apparent problems, but the game itself simply exits immediately, much like Galaga: Destination Earth did. But USM is apparently a better-loved game than G:DE, because I was easily able to find an explanation online, if not a solution, via It’s all down to the DRM. USM uses SafeDisc DRM, which apparently doesn’t work on Windows 10 for security reasons, just like SecuROM. Fortunately, I was able to find a reputable-looking no-CD crack on the web. Windows 10 doesn’t much like the security implications of running random programs downloaded from the internet either, but at least it’s willing to ask me about it instead of just shutting the thing down automatically. When I’m through with this, I’ll have to give G:DE another look and see if it’s using SafeDisc or SecuROM too. If it is, it’s conceivable that I could hack around it.

One other problem: some of the cutscenes glitch up the screen badly. Only a few of them, though, and it hasn’t been an impediment to understanding what’s going on, so I’m putting up with it.

I’ve played for a few hours, and it’s already feeling repetitive. To some extent, that’s my fault. I could propel the plot forward faster than I’ve been doing. It’s just that it’s fun to just swoop around exploring, and there’s a lot of stuff clamoring for Spidey’s attention in New York: tokens to collect, timed web-swinging races, “combat tours” where you follow an arrow and beat up gang members. Those all have GTA3 equivalents, but there’s one more type of collectible: “events”, which is what the game calls it when a citizen needs your help. A red spot appears on the mini-map, and when you reach it, you find a woman menaced by hoodlums, or a getaway car fleeing a robbery, or a man dangling precariously from a ledge. You can hardly refuse those, can you? But the game seems to have only so many event types, so they get repeated a lot.

The game doesn’t entirely give a choice, either. Before you can go to the next plot-advancing checkpoint, you have to meet a quota of “city goals”, which is to say, a minimum count of tokens, races, combat tours, and events. Your totals carry over, however, and I’m currently well ahead of the requirements on all points except combat tours. I suspect that it’s calibrated so that you don’t really have to grind the goals, that you’ll meet the minimal requirements just by doing the things you happen to come across on your way to the Daily Bugle or whatever.

Between spider-missions, there are bits where you play as Venom. I’ll talk about him in my next post.

More Adventures with Twenty-Year-Old Operating Systems

Sometimes, you really have to regard retrogaming as a journey-not-the-destination thing. I don’t for a minute believe that the experience of finally playing Galaga: Destination Earth will justify the effort I’ve been putting into it. The only experience that can justify that effort is the experience of the effort itself.

When last we left off, I had more or less given up on running this game on my usual gaming machine, even in emulation. So this weekend, I dug some older hardware out of the closet. First up was my previous rig, in an ingeniously-designed compact case made by Shuttle. It turned out to be completely intact — the last time I upgraded, I upgraded everything. Once I hooked it up to a monitor and keyboard, it booted into Windows XP without problems — it grumbled about the CMOS, due to the battery being run down, but automatically figured out what hardware it had anyway. G:DE made no claim that it would work on XP, but I figured it was worth a try anyway, because at least it was a 32-bit OS and I had vague memories of its compatibility mode being more reliable. Well, no dice. It had exactly the same problems as under Windows 10. I contemplated downgrading the system to Windows 98, but gave up when it failed to recognize my Win98 install CD as bootable. Just as well. I can imagine a working XP machine being useful someday.

Going back another generation took a little more work. My pre-Shuttle mid-sized tower case was missing a graphics card — presumably because I had transplanted it into the Shuttle box when I first got it. But I found a suitable disused one in a box of loose cards. It’s very likely the one I had removed from this machine in the first place. Strange how upgrading graphics cards used to be such a routine part of gamer life, but at this point I haven’t bothered in years. Getting it in was a little awkward, due to the case coming from an era before people got case design really figured out. Oh, it was fairly innovative for its day — the motherboard is mounted on a section that slides out for easier access. But “easier” is relative, and the device’s innards are almost inevitably an intestinal tangle of cables, just because that’s how things were back then.

Once it was up and booting, the machine reminded me that it no longer considered its copy of Window XP to be valid and would not me log in. Which is fine, I suppose, seeing how I really intended to install Windows 98 anyway. But, as with the Shuttle box, it wouldn’t boot from the Win98 install CD. Was it even bootable at all? Perhaps not; apparently some Win98 install CDs are, and some aren’t. When I had been trying to get Windows 98 running under emulation, I downloaded a Win98 install CD that I know to be bootable, because I booted it in the emulator, but burning it to a disc failed to produce a bootable CD. Apparently Microsoft disabled the ability to burn bootable CDs back in Windows 7, probably to make it harder to pirate Windows.

But there was always an alternative to booting from the CD: booting from a floppy disk.

This machine actually still had a 3.5-inch floppy drive mounted in it, albeit not connected. After I connected it, I found that the machine seemed no longer capable of getting through its startup sequence. It would get to the point of displaying “Press DEL to configure, TAB to continue with POST”, but no keypresses would get it to do anything more. I almost called it quits right there, but after taking a break, I realized that the only plausible explanation for this change in behavior was that I had wiggled or jostled something in the case while plugging in the floppy cable. Giving all socketed items a thorough additional wiggle solved the problem.

I’m a little surprised that my collection of floppies have survived as well as they have, considering how long it’s been since I’ve used them. Every bootable disk I’ve tried has booted successfully, including the Windows 98 Startup disk. But this leads to an immediate additional roadblock. Every bootable floppy I own boots to some kind of command line or prompt that requires keyboard input to do anything. And, although the BIOS knows how to get input from a USB keyboard, these programs do not. I have a USB-to-PS/2 adapter. I have several, in fact. But it turns out that these adapters only work on USB keyboards that know how to use them. I’m fairly sure I had a PS/2 keyboard around not so many years ago, but got rid of it because it was taking up space and collecting dust and didn’t fit into a neat little box the way those graphics cards did. The lesson here is clearly to never throw away anything.

And there, for now, I stand. My options going forward include figuring out how to burn a bootable Windows 98 install CD and hoping that it’ll recognize the keyboard once it’s into the install process, or gaining access to a PS/2 keyboard for long enough to do the install. My options do not include, obviously, giving up.

Galaga: Destination Earth problems

For reasons I won’t describe here, the team I’m currently on at work recently declared a month-long internal Galaga competition, planned to be the first of a series of contests around different classic arcade games. Well, it’s not without precedent for managers to officially sanction non-work-related recreational gaming. I’m unlikely to win, but I’ve been playing a little every day, and have managed to reach scores that aren’t too entirely embarrassing. But more importantly, after a few days of this, I remembered: Wasn’t there a Galaga remake on the Stack? One of those classic arcade remakes from around 2000, with 3D models and power-ups added?

Indeed there was. Galaga: Destination Earth, a largely-forgotten title for Windows 95/98 and the original Playstation. I have the Windows version, which is unfortunate, because it doesn’t work any more. I vaguely recall that it had some problems back when I first played it, too — graphics glitches and whatnot — but on my current system, although the installer runs without problems, the game itself exits shortly after starting, or sometimes just hangs, without displaying anything on the screen in either case. And that’s a pretty hard problem to solve.

Playing with compatibility modes did nothing but sometimes make it display an error message: “The application was unable to start correctly”. Googling this, I found that it could be the result of a failure to load a DLL — but which DLL? I installed a program from Microsoft called “Process Monitor” to find out, only to learn that galaga.exe was not itself reporting any failures. It was apparently just deciding of its own accord to not run.

I tried looking online for help, but this is not a well-loved game, and therefore not a well-supported one. Hasbro Interactive’s tech support website doesn’t seem to exist any more., an inestimable source of game fixes, had nothing. One disreputable-looking patch site claimed to have a fix, although it wasn’t specific about what problems it fixed. Once downloaded, it was easy to identify as just a malware installer.

As of this writing, the most extreme measure I’ve tried is installing Windows 98 under an emulator to run it there. (I still have my old Win98 installer CD, and its sleeve with the license key on it!) This hasn’t worked any better so far, but there may be a better emulator out there. And if there isn’t, I can try to put together a real Windows 98 machine out of hoarded parts, like I’ve been planning ever since starting this blog. Or, alternately, I can buy a copy of the Playstation version on ebay for five bucks. But at this point, that would feel like giving up.

The galling part is that in the process of googling for help, I found some complaints that the game is too short — just a few hours long, apparently. I probably could have polished it off in 2001 if I had just played a little longer.

Games Interactive 2

gi2-menuAnd with that, let’s get back to kicking this dreck off the Stack. If you’re wondering why I picked up Games Interactive 2 after my experiences with the first Games Interactive, my thoughts were basically “The underlying puzzles are good, and surely they must have fixed most of the problems by now”. And, well, it looks like they’ve at least addressed some of them. At the very least, it hasn’t thown any “Index Out of Bounds” errors yet.

Installation under Windows 10 had exactly the same problems as the first game, and the same solutions worked. From the very start, it’s clear that it’s going for a different vibe than the original. It’s more retro-futuristic, all curvy, metallic, and skewed, with a fairly subdued color scheme. And instead of jazz, we have electronic music. It’s not as gentle and ambient as the stuff I was just talking about in SquareCells, but it’s reasonably backgroundish. In the puzzles, however, it’s marred by various ticking-clock noises playing over it at a different tempo. I wound up turning off the sound most of the time in Games Interactive, but I’m doing it a lot earlier here.

The main menu is a bit simpler and more reasonable than last time: there is never a stage where you have to select the number of puzzles you want to do. You still have the weird bit where you choose the puzzles you want from a checklist, but at least you can just check off as many puzzles as you want at that list instead of choosing a number and then having to check off exactly that many. You can still have the game choose puzzles for you at random — it’s called “Quick Select” now — but if you do, it seems to just keep feeding you puzzles until you choose to exit.

Finally, one fairly big difference: this time around, there’s an actual ending. After you’ve played all the puzzles, a final bonus puzzle unlocks. Note the word “played”. If I understand correctly, there’s no expectation that you solve all the puzzles correctly. And thank goodness, because I’ve already seen enough typos in the crossword clues to make me think that there’s probably some not-completely-solvable puzzles to come.

Games Interactive

So, about those terrible Games Magazine puzzle anthologies. They’re both on the Stack. In fact, the first Games Interactive from 1999 is, I think, the only game to leave my Stack and later return to it. I accidentally mailed my copy of the CD-ROM to Netflix in one of their DVD return envelopes a number of years ago, at a time when they were new enough that they didn’t yet have a process in place for returning it. I thought that was it, that the game was lost to me forever, and I wasn’t really too unhappy about that. But just a few months ago, I found another copy in a set of old game discs that a coworker was giving away, as happens periodically at my workplace. So let’s give it a whirl!

But first, it’s time for one of those technical problems stories that long-time readers of this blog know and love. My Windows machine reacted to the Games Interactive disc in a strange and mysterious way: it treated it as empty. That is, it was capable of reading the disc enough to display its name and custom icon, and to show its capacity as “0 bytes free of 76.6 MB”, but when I opened the disc, it showed me no files, even with “Show Hidden Files” enabled. Actually, that’s not quite true: for some reason, it showed one file as queued for writing, as if I had inserted an empty CD-R. Fortunately, I still have an obsolete Macbook with a CD-ROM drive. Its battery is long gone, but it still works if it’s plugged in, and it was capable of reading the files off the disc and writing them to a thumb drive for transfer to the PC.

That done, and the installer run, and after some fiddling around with compatibility modes, the game insisted that I needed to insert the disc before it would start. This worried me a little, considering that the system couldn’t detect any files on the disc, but fortunately, it seems that all this check cared about was that there was a CD-ROM with the right name available; if it found that much, it let things proceed. Of course, once it was past that check, it immediately tried to read files from the disc and failed. But this too was solvable. The entire thing is written in Macromedia Director, and previous experience with Director games suggested that it would be willing to use files in the install directory in preference to the CD. So I just moved the entire contents of the thumb drive over. With that, I almost had it working. It ran without errors, played the opening logo videos, and brought up the main menu.

gi-halfThere was just one problem: Only the right side of the screen was visible. The left side was solid black for as long as the game was running, even when I alt-tabbed to a different app. This would interfere with playing the game.

Looking closely at the intro sequence, it looked like one of the logo videos was playing wrong. I think this may be the result of the video starting while the graphics card was still trying to figure out how to switch to 640×480 resolution. It played in wrong colors, and used only the left side of the screen, the part that went black afterward. Well, if the logo videos are causing problems, they were at least inessential. There were three .smk files in the install directory — ah yes, Smacker! That takes me back. Deleting those allowed the game to start up without problems, and I’ve successfully run a few puzzles without further errors.

Unfortunately, the puzzle of getting it working was the fun part. Tune in next time for griping about the game itself.

BloodRayne: Getting Started for Real

Giving up on RadeonPro, I try out another program with framerate-limiting capability, MSI Afterburner. Finding the option in its UI for limiting the framerate was something of a challenge. These programs aren’t really built with this use in mind; mainly they’re about making things go faster, not slower. To the extent that they support framerate limits, the intent is to make things go at a steady rate and to prevent “tearing”. Ironically, capping the framerate seems to have introduced a certain amount of tearing in BloodRayne. But it fixed the sound issues, so it’s an overall improvement.

So! Now I get to actually play the game, instead of just listening to the opening cutscene and exiting repeatedly. And that means it’s time to describe the premise.

BloodRayne‘s premise seems like something you’d get out of a random videogame premise generator, or possibly Mad Libs: someone started with the template “You’re a [adjective] [badass hero type] who fights [villain]”, and it got filled in with “sexy”, “vampire”, and “Nazis”. Actually, the player character, Rayne, is only half vampire, which gives the story permission to pick and choose what her powers and weaknesses are, and make them different from any Nazi vampires she winds up fighting. The first level wastes no time in letting us know through expository dialogue that she’s unaffected by holy stuff, but water hurts her, providing for some “the floor is lava” challenges in a flooded town. She can jump something like twenty feet high and run on telephone wires, all while wearing a tight leather outfit and high heels. She has some kind of arm-mounted blade weapons that look like Klingons would use them, and she can scavenge guns, but her most effective attack against humans is simply the bite, which is an instant kill and replenishes her health.

When Rayne bites a man (and it always seems to be a man), she leaps onto him, wraps her legs around his torso, and rocks back and forth a little while she makes slurping noises and little moans of pleasure. This is a basic attack, activated by one button-press. You grow very familiar with this animation very quickly.

Speaking of absurd sexualization, this game also features some of the most blatant examples I’ve ever seen of “jiggle physics”. Or, well, I’m not sure there’s any physics involved. It could just be hand-animated: since you view Rayne from behind during gameplay, like in Tomb Raider, you only get a good look at boobs during cutscenes. But when you do get a look at them, the designers want to make sure you get a really good look. Rayne’s mentor, Mynce — another half-vampire wearing a different style of fetish gear — has a habit of making sudden bounce-inducing gestures during conversation. Even the BloodRayne logo, which Rayne wears around her neck, is a stylized picture of boobs.

And it isn’t even particularly titillating. The game is, metaphorically speaking, standing there saying “Eh? Eh? Boobs, right?” and waggling its eyebrows. Maybe I’m just too old for this stuff. Maybe everyone over the age of twelve is. I’ll have more to say about weird sexual dynamics in my next post, where I’ll describe the game’s first act.

BloodRayne: More Failure at Getting Started

So, I’ve got my joystick set up (although it sometimes needs recalibration on starting the game). Occasionally the game freezes up, but I’m hoping this won’t happen often enough to seriously impede progress. The one thing keeping me from starting BloodRayne in earnest is that I’ve decided that the business of dialogue cutting off early in cutscenes is too distracting to be tolerated.

A little research suggests that the real underlying problem (in both this game and others with the same symptom) is that the cutscenes are running just a little too fast. That the triggers to start and stop sounds are pegged to the animation, and the animation speed is determined by your framerate. Perhaps it tolerates slower machines by skipping frames when necessary, but it doesn’t take too-fast machines into account at all. What I need to do is throttle it down to the framerate it was designed for, which is apparently 30 FPS.

It turns out there are ways to do this at the driver level! That is, the official software for my graphics card (a Radeon) doesn’t provide any such option, but there are some third-party apps that do. The one that seems to be the most-recommended online is RadeonPro, which is organized around the idea of “profiles” for different games that launch automatically when the game launches. Just one problem: it isn’t launching the profile I set up for Bloodrayne. Now, I’m new to this, so it’s likely that I’m simply doing something wrong. Apparently getting RadeonPro to cooperate with Steam has its own special problems.

And that suggests an possible eventual outcome. If I can’t get RadeonPro to cooperate with Steam, I do still have this game on CD-ROM. I could just play it that way. I wouldn’t even have the embarrassment of having Steam announce that I’m playing BloodRayne, of all things, to everyone on my Friends list. But if I did that, I wouldn’t get the cards. Would I be willing to idle, then, to gain the cards I felt entitled to for playing offline? Probably. But I’m still hoping it won’t come to that.

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