Monday, February 20, 2012

Adventures with Star Wars The Old Republic

Last November I was invited to participate in the beta testing of Star Wars The Old Republic, a Bioware MMORPG set in the Star Wars universe. I had no experience with MMORPG's but decided that since the price was right, that is free, I could spare a weekend to test it out. On my Mac of course, despite the game only being available for the Windows platform.

Having never played a MMO-anything before I found the experience to be somewhat irritating. Other players, without so much as a by-your-leave, would rush in and kill creatures I was planning to exterminate myself. Only once did a stranger heal me. And most of the chatting seemed to have little to do with the game.

In terms of playability though I found the game to be very playable as long as I was using Boot Camp. Playing using Parallels 7 was more prone to failures. Playing in Boot Camp resulted in failures only after several hours of play. Over all, while I enjoyed the weekend play I decided against buying the game.

After watching the re-release of Star Wars I in 3D in the theatre I reconsidered my decision and since there is no Mac version available at this time, I bought the Windows version. Since I had the beta installed I thought I would be able to get started with a simple update, but unfortunately after updating I found that the game would not go past the launch page.  So I re-installed the game from the discs. Unfortunately after that I still found I could not get past the launch page.  I searched about online and found that someone else was reporting the same problem, and like me had been a beta tester. So I wiped the game completely from my Boot Camp partition and downloaded in from their website. It took 3 days to get a complete download because it would fail multiple times during the download claiming that files needed to be "repaired". I started the process on a Tuesday and although I ran it continuously it didn't complete until Friday morning. A good workout for Windows XP, since I think that is the longest I have run Windows XP on my Mac without rebooting.

Fortunately I have had no problems playing except for occasional crashes to a blue screen. This has happened only a few times in a weekend of play and recovery is generally painless because the state of your game is being saved on the server. A quick reboot and I'm back to within seconds of where I was when it crashed.  My Jedi Consular is now up to level 10 and so far I am enjoying it. My understanding is that for the first 10-15 levels you play the provided storyline and then after that you have more freedom. So basically the first 10-15 levels are like an extended tutorial. You can create multiple protagonists so I will be creating a Sith as well so that I can experiment with their powers and storyline. There are 8 possible protagonists (4 light side and 4 dark side) and each has its own storyline, with some quest overlap.

The hardest part for me so far is that I do not like the interface. You have to use the WASD keys to move your character and the mouse (or key commands) to initiate actions such as attacks. I would far rather point the mouse at where I want to go, a la NWN2.

At this point a few people have tried to get the game to play in a Wineskin, so that Windows is not required, but according to doh123 Bioware changed something between the beta and official release that Wine cannot handle. So at this time the best option for Mac owners is to use Boot Camp and Windows.

If you found this article useful and you choose to begin playing SWTOR or are already playing but have not yet indicated that you were referred by someone, then you can show your appreciation by using my personal referral link.  This will give both you and me in-game rewards as documented at the Friends of Star Wars site here.  

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Correcting Recent Apple TV Gen 1 (ATV1) Woes

The first generation Apple TV (ATV1) is one of the products that Apple got right technically but seems to have later decided that the product didn't quite fit into their overall direction of making content cloud-based, and as a result there have been ongoing issues as they have pushed the second generation model forward. As I have now encountered two of these issues and I have no immediate plan to replace my ATV1 with an ATV2 I thought the problems and solutions to be blog-worthy.

Apple TV Not Authorized to Play Content

Sometime around October 28 users started to have problems trying to play content on the ATV1 that had been purchased and synced from another device, such as their Macintosh. Since it is common for ATV1 owners to make their purchases on iTunes and then sync the content to the ATV hard drive this was noticed by the community very quickly. People became frustrated that their recent purchases could not be played on their TV through the ATV. Fortunately the solution is simple. As documented in a November 19 post by Winston Churchill (really?) of Poulton-le-Fylde, United Kingdom and confirmed by others including myself, the solution is to purchase something else on the ATV1. Fortunately the thing you purchase can be free. One something is purchased on the ATV1 all content that you have purchased will again be playable.  At the time the Ice Age short Scrat's Continental Crackup part 2 was free, so I "purchased" that using the ATV interface and afterward the ATV was able to play everything I had previously purchased.

Refusal to Sync with Apple TV following Lion 10.7.3 update

Yesterday I purchased a movie on the Apple TV and then tried to sync it back to my Macintosh and got the error "Apple TV is not responding. Check that any firewall software running on this computer has been set to allow communication on port 3689." Having recently upgraded Lion to 10.7.3 I do not know if the root cause of this problem is Lion 10.7.3 or iTunes 10.5.3.

I first verified that the Apple TV was working fine and then for good measure unplugged it and re-plugged it and it came up fine. It is connected via Ethernet, so I knew that the wireless network could not be the source of the problem.  I hadn't changed any security settings on my Mac recently, but to verify that the Firewall settings were not the problem I turned off the Firewall, and that still did not resolve the problem.

Finally I was able to solve the problem from within iTunes by doing the following:
- In iTunes right-click on the Apple TV icon in the sidebar under DEVICES to display the context menu.
- In the context menu there should be an option to Transfer Purchases from "Apple TV". Select that option.
- The recently purchased content on the ATV will then be transferred to the Macintosh. And after that you will be able to sync content back to the Apple TV again.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Options for playing Neverwinter Nights 2 on Mac OS X

Note: This is a followup of my November 2011 blog post on installing the NWN2 expansions on Mac OS here.

Edited Jan-2-2015 to update the links to the Windows patches since the original NWN2 IGN Vault ceased operation and the patches are now hosted on Also added a link to the Aspyr Mac final patch on since Aspyr no longer hosts it.

It can be challenging to play Neverwinter Nights 2 on a Macintosh. Each of the options for doing so has pros and cons.

Assuming you have a good enough graphics card to play the game it is possible to run it natively on OS X 10.5, 10.6, and 10.7. Aspyr published NWN2 for Mac which was distributed on DVD and eventually released a patch available on their support site to bring it to version 1.23.1765 which is current with the last official Windows NWN2 patch. The limitations of this are that it requires the DVD both to install AND to play, it does not include the NWN2 Toolset, it does not include the expansions (MotB and SoZ), and there is no built-in update feature for patching. The Aspyr patch may be found on the Aspyr site here or on the here. While it is possible to get the expansions installed you either have to rip the appropriate files from the Windows DVDs or install NWN2 for Windows and the expansions on a Windows partition or VM and then copy the required files over to Mac OS X. Either way it can be a lot of trouble and the second way requires that you have access to a copy of Windows and the Windows version of the NWN2 OC in addition to the MotB and SoZ content.

If you have Mac OS X 10.6.6 or later and have access to the Mac App Store (requires Mac OS X 10.6 or later) then you can buy the 1.23.1765 version on the App Store and download and install and play without requiring a DVD drive. Other than not requiring a DVD to install and play this has the same limitations as buying the Mac DVD version - no toolset, no expansions. In addition when you play it automatically updates the ini file with the cd keys with the cd key from the download, which is a problem if you want to use a different key. Other differences from the DVD version are that the game files, instead of being in folders in the Applications folder, are stored in the Neverwinter Nights file itself, and the game documents (saves, override folder for custom content, etc.) are stored in the ~/Library/Application Support folder rather than the Documents folder. There are also some minor bugs introduced with this version.

Those are the only two options for running the Mac version of NWN2, but it is possible to run the Windows version of NWN2 on the Mac as well using a variety of technologies. A key advantage of using the Windows version is that it is the only way to use the NWN2 Toolset. If you have access to a decent version of Windows (Windows XP or Windows 7) and a DVD drive you can install those on a Bootcamp partition on your Mac and use either Bootcamp or Parallels (I have done both) to play the game. If you purchase the disc versions (separately or NWN2 Platinum) then you will need to use the Update feature to apply the patches to get to version 1.23.1765. Once patched to 1.23.1765 the Windows version (unlike the Mac disc version) no longer requires the discs to play. Getting patched is a hassle though, even with the built-in update feature. It takes a very long time and has to download a ton of content and if the update feature isn't working is even worse.

Alternatively you can buy the Steam version and avoid the hassle of patching and discs. The disc-based and Steam versions install the game files and toolset in different locations, but they do work. This requires that you have Windows though.

You can also buy the NWN2 Complete collection on GOG which includes the fully patched Windows versions with the OC, MotB, SoZ, and MoW. These can be installed in a Wineskin (see blog post here) in order to play on a Macintosh (no Toolset compatibility in the Wineskin unfortunately).

If you do not have or want to use Windows but you do have the Windows versions of NWN2, such as the NWN2 Platinum discs or NWN2 Gold + SoZ discs or NWN2 OC, MotB, and SoZ discs, then it is possible to install from the NWN2 discs directly into a Wineskin Wrapper and run the game without Windows on Mac OS X 10.5 or later. Doing so will allow you to play NWN2 without using a Windows partition or VM, without requiring a disc, and with any legal CD keys you wish. While the program files are installed into the wrapper, the user documents (custom content, override folder, saves) are stored in the Documents/Neverwinter Nights 2 folder. Unfortunately I have been unable so far to get the NWN2 Toolset running from within a wrapper, but that may simply be a matter of time. In the meantime if you have the Windows version you can at least run the toolset in a Windows VM or partition.

Here are the instructions I have for creating a NWN2 Wineskin Wrapper and installing the Windows versions of the NWN2 OC, MotB, and SoZ and patching to 1.23.1765. I used the NWN2 Platinum dics to do this install.

NWN2 Platinum (disc) Wrapper notes

Advantages of this:
- Like the Mac App Store version does not require a disc in the drive to play.
- Like the Mac disc client version stores saved games and custom content in ~/Documents/Neverwinter Nights 2/ folder rather than inside the ~/Library/Application Support/Neverwinter Nights 2/ folder.
- Uses the keys specified rather than overwriting the NWN2 OC key which the Mac App Store client does.
- Allows MotB and SoZ to be played without requiring an installation of Windows.
- Should also be compatible with installing MoW but I haven't tried this.

- Possibly incompatible with multi-player LAN or internet play. (not tested)
- Requires the owner have the Windows version of NWN2 OC.
- Not compatible with the Toolset... yet (no Mac version is at this point).

Instructions for creating the wrapper:

Note: Rather than creating a wrapper I recommend downloading the wrapper I link to from this blog post.

Created new wrapper using Wineskin 2.5 and Engine WS8Wine1.3.37 (also tried WS8Wine1.3.34, CXG10.3.0, but those cause crashes at the main menu.)

Use winetricks to install:
corefonts (may not be needed)
tahoma (may not be needed, but it is the default Toolset font)
mono28 (may not be needed)

My best experiences installing NWN2 + MotB + SoZ has always been to install the NWN2 OC and then MotB and then patch, and then SoZ and patch again. So that is what I have done here. It may however not be the most efficient way to install.

Insert NWN2 disc and run Wineskin Install Windows Software setup.exe
Do not register.
Do not install XFire and do not update.

Before installing MotB download the following Windows NWN2 patches from the Neverwinter Vault Patch Catalog into the Program Files/Atari/Neverwinter Nights 2/ folder. DO NOT DECOMPRESS THEM. (if you are not an english speaker then download the equivalent pcx1 versions for your language.) (The install of MotB gets you to version 1.10.1115, so except for the modfix you only need to patch from 1101115 forward.)

Insert MotB disc and run Wineskin Install Windows Software setup.exe
Do not register.
Update. This should get you to version 1.23.1765. You can stop here if you decide not to install SoZ because having a disc in the drive is no longer needed to play and you are fully patched for the OC and MotB. If for some reason the update stops at the end of a patch without going on to the next one just click the Close button and then click the Update button again and it should continue with the next one. If you have to you can set the Win EXE in Wineskin > Advanced to NWN2Launcher.exe so that you can start the app and continue patching.

After the patching has completed you can delete the nwn2_pcx1_… patch files from the Program Files/Atari/Neverwinter Nights 2/ folder.

Before installing SoZ do the following:
- IMPORTANT: copy the file Program Files/Atari/Neverwinter Nights 2/Data/ to a safe location so it can be restored later because it is mistakenly deleted by the SoZ install. On a normal internet connected install the auto patcher would fix this with the patch, but this patch is ignored by the auto patcher when the internet is not connected.
- download the following Windows NWN2 patches from the Neverwinter Vault Patch Catalog into the Program Files/Atari/Neverwinter Nights 2/ folder. DO NOT DECOMPRESS THEM. (if you are not an english speaker then download the equivalent pcx2 versions for your language.) (The install of SoZ gets you to version 1.20.1541, so you only need to update from there.)

Insert SoZ disc and run Wineskin Install Windows Software setup.exe
Do not register.
Update. This should get you to version 1.23.1765. If for some reason the update stops at the end of a patch without going on to the next one just click the Close button and then click the Update button again and it should continue with the next one. If you have to you can set the Win EXE to Wineskin > Advanced to NWN2Launcher.exe so that you can start the app and continue patching.

After the patching has completed you can delete the nwn2_pcx2_… patch files from the Program Files/Atari/Neverwinter Nights 2/ folder.

Restore the file to the Program Files/Atari/Neverwinter Nights 2/ folder.

Copy the icon from either the Mac client (if you have it) or from Paul the Tall's wrapper to the new or create your own.

As I said above I have not yet gotten the NWN2 Toolset to work, but that is my goal. I have been able to get it to load and display the windows (see below) but unfortunately it does not yet function.

NWN2 Toolset not quite working in a Wineskin Wrapper

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Simple Batch Program Launcher for DOSBox

I decided that it would be easier for me to launch games within DOSBox if I had a little launch menu that appeared when starting DOSBox. So I brushed off some very old DOS BAT file programming skills, consulted a couple of websites, and came up with this simple launcher. It just displays a menu of options and then launches those programs. It is named menu.bat and is in my ~/DOSGAMES folder.

To make DOSBox automatically mount the location of my games folder and run menu.bat I edited the DOSBox preferences file in ~/Library/Preferences/ adding the following lines to the end of the autoexec section:

Screen displayed when launching DOSBox and using my menu.bat

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Playing Dungeon Master on Mac

I have fond memories of playing Dungeon Master in the late 80's on my trusty Apple IIGS. The game interface was so different than the cRPG's that preceded it like Ultima, Wizardry, and Bard's Tale. It was the first to fully utilized the mouse to grab things, throw things, cast spells, open doors, solve puzzles, eat food, drink potions, and fight beasties. And unlike those earlier games the monsters would follow you down hallways if you tried to run away, giving the combat a far more realistic and threatening feel. The dungeon levels were also immense; far larger than I anticipated. I distinctly remember around level 4 thinking that I had played for so many hours that I must be near the end of the game, but there were in fact several levels and many more hours of adventuring to go.

Dungeon Master was a huge hit for FTL/Software Heaven on several platforms: first the Atari ST,followed by the Commodore Amiga, IBM PC, Apple IIGS and others (not Mac though). It was followed by the sequels Chaos Strikes Back! and Dungeon Master 2 (which was released for Mac but not IIGS). I never purchased or played CSB, but by the time Dungeon Master 2 came out I had a Macintosh and so I bought the Mac version, there being no IIGS version. The Mac version of DM2 is a Power PC application and cannot run on Mac OS X unless you use the Classic OS 9 mode. Since Apple dropped Classic with Mac OS X 10.5 the only Mac I have that can play DM2 natively now is in a box in my garage.

When I started experimenting with Wineskin a couple of weeks ago, my intent was to use it to allow me to play the Windows versions of games since the Mac versions now no longer work because of Classic and Rosetta being dropped by Apple in OS X 10.5 and 10.7 respectively. It didn't take long to get Wineskins working with the Windows versions of DM and CSB, but I was unable to get a working Wineskin for DM2. My attempts only resulted in the Wineskin log reporting that I should try DOSBox.

So, today I downloaded DOSBox and set that up to work with Dungeon Master 2 as well as a couple of older AD&D based cRPGs: Eye of the Beholder and Eye of the Beholder 2.

This got me thinking though about all of the emulation technologies I have set up now, each with their own pros and cons.

My Apple IIGS desktop  using Sweet 16
Dungeon Master IIGS using Sweet 16
There is of course Apple's Mac OS X facility Boot Camp, where I have Windows XP installed. I can use that to run almost any Windows compatible game. I haven't tried to run the Windows versions of Dungeon Master and its sequels on Windows XP, but I suspect they would work fine.  I also have Parallels Desktop and VMWare Fusion and the games are likely to work in those as well. Of course there is a significant amount of overhead and inconvenience running a full blown Windows environment just to run an old game and you have to own a copy of Windows to do it. Parallels Desktop and VMWare Fusion are also products that have to be bought. There are several free options though.

Dungeon Master 2 using DOSBox

Dungeon Master 2 Mac using Sheepshaver

Using Wineskin Winery, which is free, to create Wineskins worked well with Windows versions of Dungeon Master and Chaos Strikes Back!, but did not work at all with Dungeon Master 2. DOSBox, also free, can run Dungeon Master 2 but not Dungeon Master or Chaos Strikes Back! (at least not the versions I have) and DOSBox requires far less disk storage than Wineskin ports do.

My Mac OS 9 desktop using Sheepshaver
Alternatively I could give up on the Windows versions and leverage the IIGS and Mac versions I have. I can run Dungeon Master using the free IIGS emulator Sweet 16 by Eric Shepherd. And I can use Sheepshaver, also free, to create an emulated Mac OS 9 environment similar to Classic and run the Mac version of Dungeon Master 2 in that environment.

And there is also a free Java version of Dungeon Master that should work on any system that supports Java. At this time anyway that includes Mac OS X 10.7 but I suspect future versions of Mac OS X may not include Java.

Frankly I find the range of options to be a little staggering. But it is nice to know that so many people have developed free technologies that allow abandoned software like Dungeon Master to continue to be used many years after its development.

Emulation... because a program is a terrible thing to waste.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Putting Wineskin to Work

I have several posts now about using Wineskin to convert games from Windows to Mac. I have had a range of success, with some games fully functional, some partially functional, and some not at all functional. I thought I could convert several of my older games like Warcraft and Diablo, but ran into a bit of trouble when the the Windows partition of these hybrid disks wouldn't mount on the Mac desktop. I found a solution with this help from the Codeweavers site on how to mount and unmount a Mac/Windows hybrid disk with a little help from Disk Utility to determine the device name of the CD (generally the one in Disk Utility that is grayed out) and the terminal commands:

mkdir cd (creates a directory as a mount point; any name will do, but cd is a safe and simple one to use)
mount -t cd9660 -r /dev/<device name of CD grayed out in Disk Utility> <name of directory you  created> (the cd should now mount on the desktop so you can use it with Wineskin)
umount <name of directory you created> (this unmounts the cd so you can then eject it normally)

Even with this resolved I haven't yet been able to get working versions of either Warcraft or Diablo.

However, I have had some success with applying Wineskin to solving some Mac-incompatibility problems with software we use at USC.

Oracle Calendar 10.1.2

For many years we have used the calendar originally called CorporateTime and now called Oracle Calendar. There have been both Windows and Mac clients of the software, but the Mac client will not work on Mac OS X 10.7 because it is not a native Intel application. This meant that people were either not upgrading to Mac OS X 10.7, switching to using the less functional web client, or running the Windows client in Parallels. Since Oracle has no plans to upgrade the client themselves I decided that this would be a good candidate for converting with Wineskin. I had a functional beta within an hour. It took a little more time to get full functionality. Because I used the icon from the PowerPC client the final product looks just like an official client and actually works better and faster than the Mac client was on Snow Leopard.

I used the WS8Wine1.3.37 engine with the Wineskin 2.5 wrapper. In options I enabled the Map User Mac OS X folder in wrapper and the Option key works as Alt settings. The Windows client I installed was version 10.1.2. I saved the wrapper after running the app and configuring the Oracle Calendar server settings, so users who download my client can just login without having to do any setup at all. The most complicated thing to do involved installing Gecko. Gecko is required for the in-client help system, but installing it into the wrapper was an exercise in frustration. I finally got it working though.

I decided to provide a FAQ along with the application because (1) the cut/copy/paste keystrokes in the Windows client require the ctrl key while on the Mac you use the command key. So to copy something from a Mac program to the clipboard you use command-c, but to then paste it into the Oracle Calendar you use ctrl-v. And (2) Wine seems to have some issues with multiple monitors, so if you move the application to a secondary monitor it may become unresponsive to the mouse; this doesn't always happen but when it does the only solution seems to be either closing and reopening the application or moving it to the primary screen.

Amdocs ClarifyCRM 13.1

Also for many years we have used the ClarifyCRM client, for which there has never been a native Mac client, for problem ticketing. The Windows client is an old product that hasn't been upgraded in years. If newer versions are available we are not using them. I again had some success getting the application to run within an hour using the WS8Wine1.3.37 engine and Wineskin 2.5 wrapper, but then I ran into difficulties. At doh123's suggestion I turned on warnings and was able to determine that many dll's were reported to be missing. The strange thing is that the dll's were not missing as they were installed by the Clarify installer.  I messed around with it for some time, but eventually resolved it in an unexpected manner. I noticed that many of the warnings referred to "nt" and I knew the application was pretty old. So I went into Wineskin > Advanced > Tools and then used the Config Utility (winecfg) to set the Windows version to Windows NT 4.0. After that the application worked correctly except for the in-client help system. I did install Gecko, but even attempting to open the help causes the application to crash. I was unable to resolve this, but figure that most users are already familiar with the client and would not require the help system anyway.

Update: I was able to get the in-client help to work by using winetricks to add corefonts and in the Wine configuration Libraries tab removing the msvcrt override.

The thing that actually took the most time was to find an image that allowed me to use to create the appropriate application icon.

As I had done with Oracle Calendar I wrote a FAQ to explain how to use the copy/paste keys and to explain the outstanding issue with multiple monitors.

It was very nice to be able to spend only a few hours and have working Mac versions of these applications.