Tuesday, October 30, 2012

They Shoot Old Software, Don't They?

Don't you wax occasionally nostalgic for those old games you used to play when you (and the game industry) were younger and full of wonder? Ever wonder where those old classics go when time (and technology) has passed them by? Why, they're right on your shelf, ready to play! Let's see if we can resurrect some of these classics.

What prevents you from running older games on newer systems? A lot, actually. There is the CPU it was intended to run on, the operating system version, the video cards and their drivers as well as any input devices supported like mice, keyboards, gamepads, wheels and joysticks. And it's a credit to the developer if they had enough foresight to consider the longevity of their creation to make their application as non-reliant on the hardware and operating system as possible.

For example, people are still playing a title called Ghost Recon (the original version) even though it was released in 2002. In computer years, that's like 100 years ago. The specs on the box say it will run on Windows 98/2000/XP. But it's one of the few games of that era that was written to adapt to changes in the hardware, like display size. There were no wide-screen displays back then, yet not only does it support the newer wide-screen resolutions but with a little patch can also support tiled displays. Imagine playing on 3 screens wrapped around you. RedStorm did one heck of a programming job on this title, kudos to them. The graphics may be a little dated, but it runs beautifully, even in Windows 7.

And for those games that did not have that programming edge, there are other solutions.
  1. Obtain the actual hardware. Check your junk room or with friends, local computer swaps, yard sales and the like for older hardware. The easiest solution is the best solution and that is running on the system it was intended to run on. That makes it doubly nostalgic for you too! If you're worried about space, maybe look for an old laptop. And you should try to pick one from a time that gives you the ability to play the largest number of older games.
  2. Check for alternate platforms. For example, one of the greatest, non-violent adventure games, MYST from Cyan Worlds, first came out on the Mac. Then it was released for the PC. Now it's also on iOS. So check with the developer or search online for information. And don't forget, Linux is also an option for operating system platforms. Some online buddies and I play Call of Duty 2 on a Linux port of the server software that we manage ourselves and both PC and Mac users of the game can play on it. Cool.
  3. Check gaming websites. There are places online where you can purchase these old games that have been tweaked to run on current systems or have passed inspection on current systems. The advantage here is that the hard work has been done for you already and you can, with some certainty, play these games without issue. And now these sites are serving up both PC and Mac classics, so you don't always have to move to another computer to play an old favorite. And they are usually inexpensive to own. (See the list at the bottom.)
  4. Game emulation software. This is software that simulates older hardware to trick games into working. There are emulators for arcade games to handhelds and even DOS-based games. Some of these require special items, like the ROM images from stand alone arcade games, not all of which are legal to obtain. But aside from the arcade games, if you own the software, these applications allow you play them on your system. (See the list at the bottom.)
  5. Virtual Machines. This is software that allows you to run various operating systems as virtual machines on your one computer. There are the popular commercial Parallels and Fusion as well as the free VirtualBox. You install this software and then create an instance of a particular operating system like Windows XP or Ubuntu Linux and then install your game into that, as though it was the machine it was designed to run on. Your mileage will vary both by game and which VM product you choose to use.
  6. OS Wrappers. Instead of using the shotgun approach of installing an entire operating system into a virtual machine, you could opt to "wrap" your old app in just the core files it needs to run and then use it like a standard app right from your desktop. Some companies are already doing that and re-releasing games on different platforms using this method rather than having to re-develop their games for other environments. But end users also have this option using the free Wine software for PC applications or the commercial version called CrossOver. CodeWeavers has done a great job in collecting data from end users regarding how well games run under CrossOver so you can see which games run the best.
So, can you run those older games? Sure! It really depends on how deep your nostalgia lies. Because let me tell you, some of these older games look... well... old. And it maybe that your memories (the misty water colored ones) of playing the game has anti-aliased the reality of resurrecting the game and playing it now.

Places to buy older or pre-wrapped games
GoodOldGames Mac & PC
Steam Mac & PC
GameTreeMac Mac only
GameTap PC only

Wrappers for PC games that allow play on newer or alternate platforms
Cider - wrapper for developer/enthusiast use (Mac ports of PC games)
Virtualbox - Windows emulation
Wine - open source Windows wrapper
CrossOver - commercial Windows wrapper for games and other apps

Arcade Game Emulator
MAME - Arcade games (some free game are available)

Old School Adventure Game Emulation
ScummVM - LucasArts Games and more

Old Old School Game Emulation
DOSBox - DOS emulator for old PC games

*** OFFER *** CodeWeavers is offering a free copy of CrossOver for the whole of Halloween, October 31, 2012, from 00:00 until 23:59 CDT. To sign up for your free copy or free 12 month extension, simply visit this web page: http://flock.codeweavers.com

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Technical Evolution Revolution

New MacBooks! New iMacs! New iPads! New mini! (what's a mini? lol) Never let it be said that I am not excited about new product releases from Apple. But new for Apple over the past few years has also meant the loss of something, too, in the interest of "the future." Unfortunately, that always hasn't been a plus for us. Here's a brief history.

ADB to USB Sure, makes sense. The PC world is a glut of USB devices such as keyboards, mice, external drives, printers and more which would be simple to use on the Mac – and cheaper. Plug and Play has never been this easy on the PC.

Floppy drive for SuperDrive Great! Well, kind of great. Yes, CDs can store about 72 floppies' worth of data, but for the longest time, I would still come across the odd floppy disk that needed the data taken off of it. I still have my USB floppy drive just in case.

SCSI to Firewire You bet. Get rid of those monster cables, SCSI ID numbers and termination woes that would help coin the term "SCSI voodoo," add simple connections and speed. Sure, I had to replace a couple of devices, but in the end, it was well worth it.

USB2 to USB3 Awesome! It's really about time. Now we can have even faster data transfer for our backups and data streaming. And, it's backward compatible. A win-win in my book.

Firewire to Thunderbolt What? Apple is trying to repeat the SCSI to Firewire scenario, but this time, I think people are more invested in Firewire, with hard drives, scanners, video cameras and the like to make the switch without a lot of clawing and scratching. Plus, there aren't a whole lot of devices that support it just yet.

SuperDrive to... nothing? Ack! Hello? What do you do with an edited iMovie or Final Cut project? Install software much? Listen to or rip CDs? Watch DVDs? I mean, not every app is available in the App Store or is available for download and not every movie or TV show is available in iTunes. But that is what the new generation of iMacs and MacBooks are doing. Yes, I can get an external optical drive. Ohhh, that's what I want, right alongside my Magic Trackpad, external hard drives, USB hub, printer, scanner, etc. Not.

The App Store, iTunes and the web are great resources for software, music and books. But not the only source. And Apple shouldn't be forcing us to limit our ability to choose. Yes, a 5mm edge on an iMac is sexy (though it's only the edge, it suffers from a bulge around its middle), and the new MacBook is only .75" high, but those features are not deal-makers for me. I would rather have an optical drive. In the meantime, I will keep my previous generation iMac and MacBook, if it's all the same to you.

One thing that really interests me in the new lineup of iMacs and Mac mini is the option of getting a Fusion drive, a hybrid of solid-state and traditional mechanical hard drive technology. It comes as single unit, 128GB SSD and either 1- or 3-TB hard drive. Mountain Lion determines your application and data usage and automatically places the more frequently used data on the SSD portion, increasing the relative speed of data access to almost as fast as a SSD drive by itself, only less expensive than buying one of the equivalent capacity. If this works as claimed, this might be the best thing to come out of the new announcements.

As for the iPad, Apple has introduced the iPad 4, which sports a new chip with 2x the CPU speed of the previous model and they re-engineered the iPad 3 into what is now the iPad mini, a 7.9" display device. As a recent purchaser of an iPad 3, I am only a little perturbed. I really like the full-size iPad and if I want something smaller in the future, I might go for an iPhone or iPod Touch. For web browsing, productivity apps, reading books and especially comics, you can't beat the iPad with the Retina display. It's lovely.

I love Apple for its commitment to evolving the platforms they have come to dominate. My hope for them is that they eventually understand their customers can't upgrade as fast, especially in this economy. Introduce the new, but leave room for the current.