Category Archives: Technology

Some Notes On Emulation

I grew up around different games systems. Atari 2600 for a while (every so often we’ll still drag one out). Commodore 64, with my first experiments in programming, but mainly lots of games. And friends with their Spectrums, Atari CPCs. BBC Micro at school. DOS, Windowses (precious). Master Systems, NESes, MegaDrives, SNESes. PlayStations, DreamCasts. A brief encounter with an N64. Most of these not mine, and some of the ones that were mine, I picked up long after the heyday.

I have played with a bunch of emulators, some to a larger degree than others. For some systems, you can find a vast array of games to download, others I haven’t really looked.

Much as I played the Commodore 64 back in the day, I haven’t really played very much with the emulator. Perhaps all that time glued to the joystick makes it a very different experience playing those games on keyboard.

I found a while ago that some games from various consoles are available to play on archive.org – I did try Sonic The Hedgehog for both Master System and MegaDrive – you can really see the difference between the two systems, but keyboard worked for the Master System version and not for the MegaDrive version. I think you need a controller that connects to the computer, rather than rely on keyboard.

I picked up a BBC emulator, trying to hunt down a game that I played in school all those years ago (not Granny’s Garden, I remember that). Emulator worked, but I didn’t find the game. The game had levels of different types. I remember one where there was a sentinel, or a guardian, something like that, and you had to colour it with two or three colours, the catch being that you couldn’t put a colour in a segment adjacent to one with the same colour. I think it was the same game that had you trying to drive to the castle, and you had to program the instructions in advance (west 5, etc), and not accidentally go off-road. If you have any ideas as to what it was called, let me know.

DOSBox is THE go-to DOS emulator, and it can be fun to brush up on one’s old DOS skills to write .bat files to streamline mounting and running the games.

Also an emulator of sorts, the SCUMMVM program is an easier way to get a lot of old point-and-click adventures working on more modern machines: the kids mainly use it for Humungous Entertainment games like the Putt-Putt, Freddi Fish, and Pajama Sam series. I’ve also played Discworld and Discworld II with them, on it.

Probably the emulator I’ve used most, is ePSXe, which lets you run games for the original PlayStation. Actually having a bunch of PlayStation CDs lying around, I haven’t felt the need to look for any PlayStation games online. I’ve got through Final Fantasies VI, VIII and IX on there, a little of I, II, IV and V, and a chunk of VII. Games like this, where it’s good to save early and often, benefit from virtually infinite memory card storage. Plus the Griever and Memoria save-game editors for VIII and IX are rather nice, when you’ve played through the game a few times already and don’t want to grind too much.

It’s kinda funny, cos the older two kids were playing Rayman on a real PlayStation 1 earlier this evening.

ePSXe itself can take a bit of configuring to get it running just right, and sometimes I’ve just needed to try a bunch of different settings until it looks good. It was mainly the display settings, though some games needed the CD drive plugin to be adjusted, too. A down side is that it doesn’t save these settings to the ePSXe folder, it saves them in the operating system’s configuration files, so if you reinstall, you lose it all.

A week or two ago, I went looking for a PlayStation 2 emulator. I happen to have one lonely PS2 disc, that I had never got to try before. I decided it was time to see if I could give it a go.

The disc came with Final Fantasy VI (PS1), and was a demo for Final Fantasy X (PS2).

The emulator I tried was PCSX2. It seemed like it didn’t need as much configuration as ePSXe, but there weren’t default keyboard controls for Controller 1, so I needed to go and set those manually, which took a bit of time. The game ran without displaying oddly, so I was glad I didn’t have to go through all the display plugin settings like I did with ePSXe.

The PCSX2 site lists all the games they’ve tested the emulator with, and state the relative compatibility. Some games can be played all the way through, some suffer from particular bugs that mean the game can be played, not completed, some play as far as the menu, some only play an intro, and others do Nothing At All. But they warn that even games that can be completed, can suffer from slowdown at points.

FFX was listed as a game that could be played all the way through. The demo was not listed, but if the full game runs all right, the demo stands a fair chance, doesn’t it?

The FFX demo came with an intro movie, and two playable segments. I’ll talk more about these tomorrow, and stick to performance today.

The intro movie played all right. The first segment had quite a few FMVs, which really struggled at times. The gameplay didn’t seem to suffer any trouble.

So there you go, some experiences of emulation. The past… in the future.

The End Draws Near For The Media Computer

We have a computer set up as the media computer. It used to be my main machine, before I built my new rig. So far, it’s done all right, but it has been struggling a little of late.

Streaming shows on Hulu used to work all right Medium quality, there are now times when getting through the ads had been rather time-consuming so we can even adjust the quality. And Low has been starting to be the better option. A bunch of the shows, though, aren’t actually on Hulu, which links to places like CBS which host their own shows. And don’t have the Quality option. Watching stuff has been getting more awkward.

Now part of the problem could be that the OS hasn’t been reinstalled for a long time. Part of it could be the wireless reception, though as laptops set next to the computer haven’t had the same issues, it could be the speed of the wireless adapter. Could just be the machine getting old, which, to be fair, it is.

Perhaps evidence of this, has been trying to get Amazon Prime to co-operate. The kids watched the first episode of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood the other day, and watching it using Silverlight on Firefox was painful. It played a few seconds fine, played a few seconds slooowly, and paused a few seconds to catch up. Repeat for the whole episode. Amazon put a popup saying HTML5 has faster loading and less buffering, and suggested a bunch of other browsers, specifying for most that they should be in Windows 8 or above. One that didn’t specify that, was Opera, so I downloaded and installed that.

Alas, the course of getting technology to work never did run smooth, and trying to run Amazon Prime videos in Opera threw up some error message. Apparently it was trying to run HTML5 video, but the error message said something about making sure that the WideVine add-on was enabled (which, on checking, turned out to be enabled).

So then a long search for what this Widevine thing is, and why it’s not working.

Long story short, Widevine is a DRM for streaming video, developed by Google. It’s not working because Widevine supports Windows 7 and up, not XP, which apparently would otherwise still run HTML5 video.

My machine’s not he most specced-out XP-running computer, so I imagine there’s still plenty out there that are good enough to not have the kinds of issues we’ve been starting to have. For us, the DRM thing might mean the end of the line of this computer for streaming purposes.

I think in this blog, I’ve established my dislike for DRM, and so you can imagine there’s an element of “of course it’s DRM that’s making me unable to fix the problem”. But as the problem was there, and we’d resorted to watching Supergirl via the old laptop-plugged-into-the-temperamental-TV trick, I suppose I can’t be too hard on it.

This time.

DRM Rant: Brought On By Civilization IV

I am not a fan of DRM. You sell your product, now let people use it. I can understand why the companies put it on, of course, they don’t want people copying their product. That’s not unfair, of course, but the end is not achieved by the means. People break the copy protection, and share the cracked games, ripped movies, and so on, and then other people go looking for them and downloading them. Don’t put the DRM on and pass the savings on to your consumers, more people will buy the product.

That’s not the only issue, of course: DRM can negatively impact legitimate users.

Like, I can buy Blu-Rays and not watch them on my computer, because I stick with VLC and most Blu-Ray discs don’t work on VLC.

Or, I can put Myst 5 or Star Wars: Empire At War in my machine, and they (at one point) complained that I had VirtualDrive on my computer. I didn’t, and that’s not any of their business anyway.

Had a legitimate disc of LEGO Star Wars II: The Original Trilogy, it worked once, then every time after that told me to put in a legitimate disc rather than a copy. Got Battlefield 2142 second-hand, wouldn’t let me use the CD key in the box (“already registered to somebody else” – well deregister them! The key is mine now), and I wouldn’t pay more than twice what I originally paid for it, to get a new key (“throwing good money after bad”). I was only interested in the solo campaign, not multiplayer online, apparently didn’t make a difference.

Players of Civilization IV on Windows 7, 8.1 and 10 machines have noticed that their game doesn’t work on those systems any more. Games of its era often used Digital Rights Malware (that’s what it really stands for, right?) that put files where they didn’t belong, to check up on their users.

Microsoft have recently issued updates that stop these kinds of shenanigans. It causes a big inconvenience to a lot of people still playing games from that era, but as these DRMs can leave security holes in a computer system, I’d say it’s a good call. And perhaps unusual for a company that has been known to have a level of paranoia about users being legitimate (I recall hearing of genuine users being negatively affected by the Windows Genuine Advantage check, when that was introduced, though I never had a problem).

I’d say this is another case of companies using DRM, and legitimate users being negatively affected. This harsh judgment is softened, however, by the fact the game worked for around 10 years without a problem.

On the other hand, why would a company be concerned about the DRM on a ten-year-old game, when they have more recent versions out?

for Civilization IV, at least, the Beyond The Sword expansion has had the 3.19 patch for years now, one of the benefits of it being that it doesn’t require the CD to run anymore, so it doesn’t fall afoul of this new problem.

Earlier, I used the 2K games support system to suggest they add a similar patch to regular Civ IV and Warlords (an earlier expansion). In researching the problem, I found one thread suggesting that 2K games might be giving away Steam keys to the game, for legitimate users.

I haven’t heard back yet, so I can’t confirm the accuracy of that suggestion. Yet.

As I actually run Beyond The Sword, and, more often, the Planetfall mod, I don’t feel that affected. I’m sure I have plenty of games that will now refuse to work, were I to try them.

How many people will be hunting for NoCD cracks for games? How many people are driven to pirated versions of games because they work better than the legitimate versions?

The great philosopher Princess Leia once said something along the lines of, “The more you tighten your grip, the more systems will slip through your fingers”. Hopefully one day, the publishing companies will realise just how much this applies to them.

Placing The TV

Perhaps you’ve been following the saga of the TV, which is kind of an extension of the saga of trying to get Blu-Ray to work.

Short version: Got Blu-Rays, DVD player in my computer died, got a Blu-Ray player that works fine, but free software doesn’t play Blu-Rays very easily, because [judgmental comment about Blu-Ray publishers redacted]. Got given a standalone Blu-Ray player, projector didn’t have HDMI. HDMI to VGA cable didn’t give a picture on projector. Picked up an allegedly intermittent 55″ TV from a thrift store for $5, but so far so good with that. Needed somewhere to put this monster TV.

The thought was that we could put it above the basement fireplace. With the stand, the TV was too tall to fit on the mantle, and while there were some thoughts as to how to mount it on/above the mantle, there were some issues that made it tricky. It would basically have to lean against something, which wasn’t ideal, that something would have to be created, which wasn’t easy, plus chaining it to the ceiling just in case, and putting something on the mantle to make sure the TV didn’t slip off was mind-boggling because whatever it’s made of wouldn’t be happy with any plan of that nature.

Browsing Amazon one day, I found a wall mount, which itself wasn’t the best idea because it would have to mount on brick in that location. Sent the link to it to mother-in-law anyway, she fired back a link to a ceiling mount she found while looking at the wall mount.

The ceiling mount could attach straight up onto a ceiling, or at a 90° angle onto a beam. There is a beam up there…

I chipped in towards the mount, which was cheaper than the wall mount I found, anyway.

It arrived Wednesday, and my uncle-in-law cut through some plaster in the ceiling, to get to the beam. Which turned out to be not quite big enough. The next day he stuck some boards together to attach to the beam, which the ceiling mount would then attach on to. I lent the occasional arm to hold it in place while he attached it, and then attached the mount to it.

We put the TV up Thursday night, using a lot of brute strength. First time was fairly awkward, but we got it. Then we had to take it down, because the parts of the mount on the back of the TV had accidentally been put in the wrong way round, so the adjustment screws were unreachable. Putting it up the second time was a lot easier.

The adjustment screws wouldn’t tighten, though, and the TV gradually tilted more and more. Not dangerously, but not convenient, either. The pole part of the mount is in two parts, so telescopic. So today we lowered it, thinking that we could remove the TV that way to fix the tilt adjustment, now that we knew how we wanted it. Turns out, it telescopes quite far, and the TV was sitting on the fireplace, while the pole could extend a bit further. No taking it off that way.

While it was down, I could reach down the back of the TV with a spanner (US: wrench), to hold the nut in place while the screws were tightened. Bit awkward, and the wrench didn’t really get a lot of leeway, but uncle-in-law tightened the four upper screws that way (I was only needed for two, the other two didn’t have nuts), then we awkwardly raised the TV back to position. There were two more screws that needed doing, that could only be reached from underneath. I tried using a flashlight and looking, but in the end it was easier to go by feeling. Fortunately that worked, so the TV is now stuck in place.

We hooked it up to the Blu-Ray player, and proved we hadn’t broken the TV by watching the nearest Blu-Ray to hand (which happened to be The LEGO Movie). I’d played a bit of the movie up here when we were testing the TV and Blu-Ray together. The player remembers your place in the disc. So setting it up Thursday night, I called the kids over to see, and the disc resumed right before the song which was appropriate to the moment: Everything Is Awesome. We watched a chunk of the movie then, but then the kids had to go to bed. So tonight, proving we hadn’t broken it this time, the rest of the movie was watched.

So far, so good.

The mount advertised itself as coming with an HDMI cable. Which it did. And it came with a spirit level, a keyring flashlight, some cable ties. I claimed the keyring flashlight because I keep borrowing flashlight from kids, and haven’t got round to getting my own. Uncle-in-law claimed the spirit level. I think everyone’s happy.

Here’s the link to the mount. Strong, sturdy, comes with useful extra stuff.

Thrift Score

A day or two ago, I took Oldest and Middlest with me to the library, as I had to pick up a book that had come in for me.

On the way home, we stopped in at a couple of thrift stores, as is fairly common for us to do. We got Oldest a couple of books, and Middlest picked herself up some little Nerf contraption (she’s figured out how to ask for a toy from the Free Toys bin before she can be stopped). I considered getting her a stick horse-giraffe, before deciding it would be best to consult with Those At Home about it, first.

There was also a Rather Large Telly, which I described to Those At Home as having a screen size rivalling the size of picture we’re getting from our projector downstairs. The TV was on hold til Thursday morning.

So, this morning, I headed back over there. A bit later than I meant to, getting closer to 11 when they opened at 9.30, but still morning.

Both TV and horse were still there, and the TV still had the “on hold til Thursday morning” note stuck to it. I asked a lady who worked there about the TV, at what point in the morning it would stop being on hold. The person who had holded it had apparently called, and sounded like she’d cancelled the hold, but the message was a bit unclear, so they were contacted just to make sure. They didn’t want it after all.

So the next question is, “How much is it?” When I’d mentioned it at home, the instructions were “If it’s still there, I’d pay $30-$40 for it”. I figured if I’d needed to, I might be able to squeeze a bit extra out of my own reserves.

What I was told next, wasn’t the price, however. The person who’d donated it said there was a problem with it, that often after a time of working (which could be from 5 minutes to 2 hours), it would go dark and unresponsive, and you’d have to unplug it from the wall and plug it back in, to get it working again.

Could be tolerable, could be the other thing. All of a sudden, $30-$40 was sounding a bit much on a gamble.

“Well, I don’t want to spend too much on it, if it’s going to have problems like that”, I said. I wouldn’t have been surprised if they’d charged $15-$20 for it. I’m glad I kept my trap shut, she offered it to me for $5. If it cut out a couple of times during a movie, it’d probably still be worth that. “I’ll take it for that”, I said.

Apparently they’d sold a working one for $100.

I was told that if it didn’t work for us, to not bring it back, but to bring the receipt for a refund. Well now there’s absolutely no risk. Plus it had remote and manuals.

While she was running the till for the TV transaction, I went and got the horse. Said $1.50 on it. I’d fished out $1 from the quarters bag, and was reaching in to fish for the other .50. “Just a dollar”, she said. Can’t argue with that. Welcome to New-Favourite-Person-ville.

Getting the TV into the car was tricky. Another person who was helping in the shop, helped me out to the car with it. We tried a bunch of things to try and get it in the car. Eventually I had to let the back seats down, which gave just enough extra space to stand it up diagonally in the back (it didn’t need to overlap the back seat much). From the driver’s seat, I could only see slivers of the back window. Fortunately, it wasn’t very far to get home.

We stood the TV up on the dining room table (on a towel, to protect the table), thinking we might need to set the TV face-down on the tables, to get the back open. The TV was slightly wider than the table (inspection of the manual revealed it to be 55 inches). It ran fine all afternoon without going dark and unresponsive. My uncle-in-law researched the problem, and a few people have had it, with a lot of speculation about what the cause of the problem might be. Overheating is a likely suspect, with someone solving their problem by rigging up a computer fan to the back of their TV.

We turned it on, it worked, hooked up a laptop and the kids watched a whole film, then my wife and I fiddled with document layout for service books (well, she did all the work, I answered a couple of questions and helped look through it). We set up a “Welcome Home” screensaver for when my mother-in-law returned home. We eventually had to take the thing off the table, so we could eat the evening meal at the table. The only problems we’d encountered were the colour being set to a weird setting, and some background bits of DVD looking pixelly.

This evening, I tried hooking up the Blu-Ray player to it, mainly to see what resolution it could handle. We’d hooked up the player to a High-Def TV that was only capable of 720p (watching a 1080p signal sent to it was quite interesting). Initially, I forgot to change teh settings, but The Lego Movie Blu-Ray definitely worked. It actually resumed from where I’d stopped it a few days ago, after I’d tested the sound-without-picture. I switched the player settings to 1080p. And the TV handled it just fine. Tried a little more of The Lego Movie, then some of Star Trek Into Darkness. Looking good!

So, $5 for a working 55-inch TV, and we can finally watch Blu-Rays at home. I call that a win.

The challenge now, is to find a place to put it.

Experiments In Blu-Ray

A while ago, the DVD drive in my computer died, so I bought a Blu-Ray drive to replace it. We have a few Blu-Ray discs, in those combo packs that include both DVD and Blu-Ray.

Out of the somewhere-around-10 discs we have, last time I tried, I could only get one working in VLC (Kung-Fu Panda, the oldest title we had). And that’s with going round the internet, trying things people suggested.

The problem is, there’s so much paranoia at the movie companies that they insist on so much encryption and DRM, that it’s easier to rip the disc and watch the file (essentially pirate the disc) than it is to watch your legitimate disc on your legitimate drive.

I rather think these companies are shooting themselves in the foot, doing more to encourage pirating than to discourage it.

Having heard that saga, my parents offered to buy the family a Blu-Ray player (stand-alone box). I helped them pick one, but it didn’t seem entirely straightforward to link it with the system we have. The projector doesn’t have HDMI in and the sound system only has analog stereo in, the player has HDMI out and coaxial digital audio.

Did research at the time, found gadgets on Amazon that convert HDMI to VGA, so we got one of those. Haven’t tried it yet.

In the audio department, my past research was looking more at amps and new sound systems. Today I looked into digital-to-analog converters. Here’s what I found (just about exclusively from Amazon reviews):

For this type of job, there are two kinds of gadgets: converters, and decoders.

Converters only work when your device can be made to output in PCM or LPCM (I read what they were, I don’t remember now. Doesn’t really matter, check your device’s manual).

If you’re stuck with a device that will only output in something like Dolby Digital, you need a decoder. Decoders also seem to have a bit of an issue with lag: takes a bit of time to process the audio, so lips moving on screen are ahead of sound coming through speakers.

Fortunately, we only needed a converter.

Most had overall positive reviews, but it’s always worth looking at the negative reviews.

I looked at the one-star reviews: there were a lot of plain “it didn’t work!”-type reviews, that could easily be attributable to not knowing about the PCM thing. Then there were a few “it worked, then it didn’t”-type reviews, and you can find reviews like that for just about everything. There were also some “it says digital to analog, but it means analog to digital”, on a couple of similar products, which seemed to contradict the positive reviews of people it worked for, who are trying to do the same thing as me.

And then there were some weird reports on the type of power connector that came with one of the products: “came with a non-American plug!” “came with an American plug!” “came with some weird USB thing!”

In the end, you just have to give something a go, though, don’t you?

We’ll see how it goes.

Old Computer Magazines

The Internet Archive has a section on old computer magazines, which might interest some people I know.

Personally, I’m happy to be able to browse all the issues of Commodore Format, most of which I have stashed in the garage, rather the worse for wear after years of use (and not-use, and ab-use).

But I have friends who have (or had) Amigas, ZX Spectrums, Amstrad CPCs, and I know people who talk about TRS 80s and Atari STs. There are old PC magazines listed.

I smile when I think about the tongue-in-cheek style of British computer magazines of the early ’90s. And I recall that a lot of the staff of Commodore Format came from, or went onto, other computing magazines.

Waiting ten minutes for a program to load, or typing in programs from a magazine, letters pages hosted by unembodied brains, one wonders what future generations will make of it all.

Be a hell of a history lesson, though.

PlayStations 3 and 4

Because of some of the trailers coming out of E3 (Final Fantasy VII Remake, LEGO Dimensions), and the possibly-coming-soon Final Fantasy XV, I started looking into the relative merits of the PS3 and the PS4.

Some background: I have played consoles for years (Atari 2600, NES, SNES, Master System, Genesis/Mega Drive, PlayStation, Dreamcast). I’m pretty sure the Atari has been in my family for longer than I have. My in-laws have one, too. I’m pretty sure also that my family of origin’s console was new. I have bought three consoles from the above list: PS1, Dreamcast and Mega Drive (possibly in that order), not a-one of them was new. (note to self: get Dreamcast working over here, and introduce kids to Chu Chu Rocket.)

From time to time we (mainly me and Oldest, but including the other two as well, even if the most we can expect from Youngest is chewing the controls) like to have a bash at some of the old games.

But sometimes it seems it would be nice to have a bash at some of the newer games, too.

Like, I have Final Fantasy I, II, and IV-IX on the PS1 (and III on the DS). Despite hearing that the later games in the series suffer a bit of a decline (well, I don’t know about the MMOs, but as they require a subscription I shall happily continue to ignore them), I still would like to give them a go.

I’m not sure I’d want to touch car racing games of the 8-bit era now, though I played quite a few. I play Gran Turismo 2 on the PS1 a bit with the kids. Comparing games like Out Run on the old machines, where, at best, turns and objects you might need to react to show up on screen at about the time you need to react to them, I notice on GT2 scenery being loaded just after it ought to be visible from line-of-sight, at some curve way ahead. GT5 and 6 on the PS3 have improvements on the graphics, of course, but they also support a 3D mode. Interestingly, GT7 on PS4 doesn’t seem to.

(I’ve spotted 3D projectors on Amazon for less than $500. Don’t know if they’re good projectors, but the possibility is rather interesting…)

Also, I’ve played some LEGO games on the DS (Star Wars, Lord Of The Rings, Marvel), and while I could get them for 2-player action on the PC, a console might be easier.

Early models of PS3 are backwards-compatible to PS2 and PS1. PS1 is less important to me, as I have one, but there are a few PS2 titles I would be interested in. Some of them, though (Final Fantasy X and X-2) have PS3 and PS4 versions. And then some don’t.

The backwards-compatible versions are the 20GB, 40GB, 60GB, and some 80GB models. The hard drives can apparently be upgraded so you’re not tied to a specific size. 60GB seemed to be a safer bet than 80GB, so I’ve been keeping my eye on that. Compared to a 40GB the other day (both Used on Amazon), and they didn’t seem that different in price. Gotta watch out for which ones come with cables and controllers, but it looks like you should be up and running for $200 or less (inc. shipping, if you time it right). Can’t get those backwards-compatible models new.

PS4 has no backwards-compatibility. Some titles are available on both PS3 and PS4 (looking at the HD remaster box set of FFX and FFX-2 the other day, the PS4 version was rather more expensive – the pre-release Lego Dimensions Starter Set was the same price for either version). New PS4 costs about $400, Used (“Good” quality, inc shipping, cables and a controller) starts (as I write this) at $305, and going down the list the price rapidly increases.

For bang for the buck, and wider selection of what I want to play (though, to be honest, such playing would be rather occasional), PS3 would be my (sadly hypothetical) priority (the research has been fun, however). But some of these (as far as we know) PS4-only titles are rather enticing…

PC Game Copy Protection

As we reach the end of the age of computer games coming on DVD (many of the offerings coming in DVD cases just containing download codes), I just wanted to reflect on copy protection as it has affected me.

I can go back to a few C64 disk and tape games that contained code sheets that you needed to have handy if you ever wanted to play the game again, and how sometimes the difference between green and cyan wasn’t that great. And then, because the sheet saw so much use, it got a bit beaten up…

Move on to DOS games that required you to refer to something in the manual. When it asked you a second question in a row, and then sometimes a third, you’re wondering, “Did I answer the first one wrong?” Or it asks you for a vehicle speed, and you’re wondering, “Do I put in ‘MPH’ or not?” More often than not, you’re wondering just where the manual is…

As consumer hard drives got bigger, and so did game collections, some people used programs like VirtualDrive to store the game files on the PC, without having to disk-swap all the time. Especially good on kids’ machines, when you don’t want them touching discs all the time.

I haven’t run the program on my PC, but I did have a program for a while to get round DVD region encryption (hint: use VLC). I wasn’t running VLC, the program was called something like DVDRegionKiller. I found out how it worked: it kind of virtualised the DVD drive so it wouldn’t go looking for the region. Kind of the reverse of VirtualDrive: where VirtualDrive pretends the disc files ARE a real drive, DVDRegionKiller pretended the drive WASN’T real.

Having discovered the joys of VLC, I don’t need that program any more, but I only figured out all that stuff when a game (Star Wars: Empire At War) basically told me to uninstall VirtualDrive or equivalent because it couldn’t verify whether or not the drive was real. Ran into the same problem with Myst V on a computer that did have VirtualDrive (trying not to abbreviate it as VD).

Telling me what programs I can’t even have installed on my machine, is a level of intrusiveness that I really don’t like.

I bought a second-hand copy of Battlefield 2142 in a thrift store. This game required registration to even play the single-player campaign. Where in my previous experience a CD key could be reused, the one in the box was registered to another account, and the only way EA would let me play the game was to give them more money for a new key.

I already paid for the game, I don’t want to pay for it a second time (more than I paid first time, even) to make it work. I ain’t that interested.

After that experience, I was hesitant to buy Lego Star Wars II: The Original Trilogy for PC that I found in a thrift store. I couldn’t see anything in the manual about online registration or anything, even a CD key, but I talked them down to a price where I was comfortable with the risk.

Well, on the day I got it, it installed fine and ran fine.

The next day, the copy protection told me to put in the original disc and not a backup copy. Well, as far as I know, it IS the original disc…

In the error message was a link with some suggestions for resolving the problem. I tried following the instructions, looking in the Control Panel for some setting that wasn’t where they said it was. I didn’t even find it. I restarted the computer, and after that, the game would just crash.

I got a game that allowed for three installs (later updated to five) before it wouldn’t work and you’d need to get a new key. I installed it, played it a little, then after a while (as you do), had to reinstall the whole computer. I don’t think I uninstalled the game, which apparently would give me that use back. Don’t think I’ve even installed it since then.

Copy protection makes things more difficult for legitimate users, whereas pirates strip out that crap and make versions that run better. And often bundle a different set of crap into versions they distribute. But still, I can understand legitimate users being driven to look for modified versions of the software that, frankly, will actually freaking work.

The more I suffer from copy protection, I think that that does more harm (by pissing off people who would actually spend money on the products) than good (Pirates are always ahead of the games companies, and I think it’s safe to say that they aren’t deterred by the increasingly draconian copy protection). And someone who downloads a pirated copy of the game that would never have bought it in the first place? That ain’t lost revenue.

I’m not entirely unsympathetic to the games companies, but the versions of copy protection that veer off into spyware and malware territory, bring me closer to being entirely unsympathetic.

Adventures In Windows 10: Update to Build 10162

Switched to the Fast Track of Insider testing a day or two ago. Fast means trying out some of the new features earlier than the Slow track, which presumably is more refined and stable. But it takes a little bit of time for the update stream to catch up.

First of all, the upgrade went pretty smoothly: once it had downloaded the upgrade, I had to restart, as you would expect. Then there was a screen that I couldn’t capture (not being in Windows for the Print Screen button to work), but was pretty cool.

At the top there was a “Windows is upgrading” notice. Taking up most of the screen, there was a big circle, with the progress percentage showing in the middle, and the border of the circle turned blue from 12 o’clock round in a clockwise direction, indicating the progress in a different way.

Along the bottom of the screen there were three sets of text, the first to do with the moving of files, the second to do with drivers and settings, and I think the third to do with applications. And those had their own progress percentages counting up. Looked pretty neat.

The former build I was running configured a PIN to enter on each logon, instead of one’s password. Disappointingly, that’s gone. My password is longer than four digits…

The other thing that’s obviously missing, I can’t find the Insider Hub any more. This listed various things to try, to see how you like the new features. I just can’t find it now.

I overloaded Windows 10’s browser (then “Project Spartan”) a few days ago, and it only loaded one time after that. Now it’s “Microsoft Edge”, and appears to be working. Not using it that much, though.

I also noticed that the App Store is no longer “Store (Beta)”, but “Store”. Gearing up for release day?

Long week ahead for me, too: time to go impose some rest on this day of rest (some of the rest so far has been more in the direction of “theoretical”).