Resolve to Dissolve the Gaming Shame

It’s confession time. There are some games that haunt me. Not in the sense of being reminded of bad experiences, but rather the knowledge that I may have fallen short. Or it’s possible the game didn’t or couldn’t live up to my expectations. Call them regrets, if you will. It’s time for me to address these and get them off my back.


The one I never played: Starcraft

Yes, that Starcraft.

What can I say? Back in the 1990s I was a Command and Conquer kid! It was my go-to favorite franchise for strategy gaming. Having this other game show up and get widely proclaimed as one of the best and most influential titles of all time just hit me the wrong way. I didn’t want to like it because it was popular. Plus I associated the game with Warcraft, a similar title set in a world of magic and orcs – and I was just too cool for that kind of fantasy setting when I was kid.

Younger me did some dumb things, and missed out on some cool stuff. Not adult me! I purchased Starcraft Remastered from Blizzard’s confusing storefront and will be beating the game in 2020.


The one I never finished: Homeworld 2

This one stings.

As I’ve publicly professed before, Homeworld is my absolute favorite video game series of all time. The first game captivated my imagination in December of 1999 and I credit it, along with Star Wars, for cementing my lifelong love of all things space.

But I never beat Homeworld 2. I’ve completed the other games in the series at least a half-dozen times over, but number two eludes me. Back when it released there were some balancing issues that made the single-player campaign punishingly difficult at about the midway point. I still remember giving up on it back in 2003.

The Remastered version was prettier and easier to play, but I just stopped playing about two thirds of the way through. Something about the story didn’t overcome real life and I gave up on it. I remember something about hyperspace cores, Progenitors, Sajuuk, and bears. Oh my!

Yeah, I need to finish this one properly.


The one I never was able to get into: Fallout

War. War never changes. It’s also very brown.

I tried, multiple times, to get into Fallout. Each time, my experience was very much the same: brown. Maybe role playing games and I don’t get along. My apathy for this influential title is shared among many slow paced point and click games for the era. Still, I’d hoped that at some point a light bulb would go on and the barren wasteland of Fallout would start to be more appealing.

Maybe it will this year?


Here are five other games I’ve never played that make my list for 2020:

The one that couldn’t possibly be as bad as everyone said it was: Diakatana

It can’t really be that bad, can it?

The one I watched my brother play but never got into for myself: Thief, The Dark Project

The one where you type to make robot drones do things: Duskers

The one with the five-hour soundtrack I’ve listened to dozens of times: Mirror’s Edge Catalyst

The shooty spaceship game I absolutely cannot believe I’ve never played: Descent Freespace


This is not about “clearing the backlog”. For the uninitiated, “backlog” refers to massive game collections that expand faster than anyone can reasonably play through them. No, attacking backlog conjures up feelings of obligation and makes gaming feel like work. It’s just not feasible for me, as a gainfully employed adult, to ever complete every one of the four hundred and thirty games currently sitting in my library.

However, I’d like to experience more of what I’ve missed out on. And that means treating games like a fun hobby instead of work to be done. This means it has to be okay to not complete or even start some of the games I already own. Therefore, I have two guidelines set up for my gaming habits in 2020:

  1. For every old experience, there has to be a new one. When I install a game I’ve played before, I need to also try at least one game I’ve never played.
  2. Games get two hours to to prove to me that they’re worth playing. If I don’t see the value in them after two hours, I can set any title aside and say that, while it might be good, it may not be a game for me.

That’s it.

2020 may not have more gaming going on, but it’ll have some different gaming going on. And that’s exciting to me!

How to Run: Homeworld Cataclysm

While it never got the mainstream attention that it deserved, Cataclysm effectively combined a space-based strategy game with an organic B-movie horror plot. Though it sounds odd, it worked remarkably well and has stayed in my memory for the past sixteen years. It’s a game that I had lost all hope of playing again. Until a few weeks ago.

EDIT – As is common with older games, as time has passed some of my original information works, some of it doesn’t. In particular, I think the compatibility toolkit has changed since this post was published.

In any case, GOG has come to the rescue and has a digital version of Cataclysm for sale under the name Homeworld: Emergence.
https://www.gog.com/game/homeworld_emergence
All you should need to do for their installer is perform a few widescreen tweaks. The $10 spent is worth saving the hassle of messing with the disc install!

Thanks for tuning in to this edition of How to Run, the series where I share methods I’ve used to get old games running on modern hardware.

As much as I love playing older PC games, the harsh reality is that they sometimes don’t like to work on modern computers. This usually comes down to conflicts between the game itself and the current build of Windows. Homeworld Cataclysm suffers from such conflict. Cataclysm was developed by Barking Dog Studios and released in 2000 as a spin-off to the groundbreaking Homeworld. While it never got the mainstream attention that it deserved, Cataclysm effectively combined a space-based strategy game with an organic B-movie horror plot. Though it sounds odd, it worked remarkably well and has stayed in my memory for the past sixteen years. It’s a game that I had lost all hope of playing again. Until a few weeks ago.

It was earlier this month when I discovered a YouTube channel created by Noah Caldwell-Gervais. One of his delightfully in-depth reviews is of the Homeworld Series, and tucked at the end of it is a set of detailed instructions for getting Cataclysm running on Windows 8.1. I tried the same instructions on my own computer and can confirm they work for Windows 10 64-bit. Here’s the video, scroll down below it for the instructions and links.

Instructions for installing and running Homeworld Cataclysm on Windows 10:

Just to be clear, I take no credit for figuring this out for myself. I give credit to Noah Caldwell-Gervais, and I’m passing this on in hopes that as many people as possible will have a chance to play this wonderful gem of a game for themselves. 

  • Install Cataclysm from the game disc. It’s not possible to legally obtain a copy of the game digitally. Thankfully, there are plenty of items available on eBay around the $15 range. Once you have a physical copy of the disc, the initial installation won’t give you any trouble.
  • Download and install the patch to upgrade Cataclysm to version 1.0.0.1. Here’s the link: http://sierrahelp.com/Patches-Updates/Patches-Updates-Games/HomeworldSeriesUpdates.html
  • Next you’ll need the Microsoft Application Compatibility Toolkit version 5.6. There is a newer version of the tool available, but this one is easy to use: https://www.microsoft.com/en-us/download/details.aspx?id=7352
  • Start the 32-bit version of the Toolkit (since Cataclysm is a 32-bit application)
  • Create a new database, and name it for Cataclysm. Click the Fix button, this will bring up the Program Information box. Enter the name of the program and the vendor, then click ‘browse’ to locate Cataclysm’s installation directory and main .exe file. My directory looked like this: C:\Sierra\Cataclysm\cataclysm.exe
  • Clicking next will take you to the Compatibility Modes window. Select Windows NT 4.0 and check three additional compatibility modes from the list: RunAsAdmin, RunAsHighest, and RunAsHighest_GW.
  • Click Next twice and then finish; you don’t need to change anything on those screens. The entry for Windows Compatibility Administrayor should now look like the screenshot below: 
  • At this point, click the giant save button! This will create a database file which has saved the profile you just created.
  • When you want to play the game you’ll have to launch it by pressing the Run button in the Compatibility Administrator. The game will not function if you try to run it any other way.
  • Congratulations, you are now able to run Homeworld Cataclysm on your Windows 10 PC! Once you’ve started the game, you’ll want to navigate to the video options and select “D3D” as the render mode.

How to Play Cataclysm in Widescreen:

If you try to play Cataclysm on a widescreen monitor at the default resolutions with the 4:3 aspect ratio, you’ll probably run into some weird distortion effects when moving the camera around. Thankfully, this can be fixed with a fairly simple change to the registry.

Mandatory Warning: If you don’t know what you’re doing, editing the registry can really mess up your PC. Please take extra care and create a backup of your registry before making any changes. I’m not responsible for anything bad that happens to your PC as a result of any errors made. 

  • Open up the Windows start menu and type ‘regedit’ to bring up the registry editor.
  • Navigate to the directory for Cataclysm. In my case, it’s located at Computer\HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\WOW6432Node\Sierra On-Line\Cataclysm
  • Open the screenHeight and screenWidth values, click the button that says ‘decimal’, and enter the desired resolution.
  • Cataclysm does have hard limits for the maximum functional resolution. I’ve found these to be 1600 x 900 for 16:9 monitors, and 1440 x 900 for 16:10 monitors
  • When you’re finished, the registry should look something like this:

And that’s it! Now go and enjoy the weird and wonderful story of Homeworld Cataclysm! I’d like to extend a special thanks to Noah Caldwell-Gervais, as well as the Homeworld community on Reddit, and especially to Sajuuk and Sastrei on the Homeworld Discord.

If you run into any issues or have a correction to the instructions I’ve listed here, leave me a comment and I’ll edit as necessary. 

 

 

Exploding Gracefully in Multiplayer Homeworld: Deserts of Kharak

Thinking I had a decent grasp of the basics, I loaded up the game and headed over to the multiplayer lobby. After a short wait the matchmaking service drops me into an arena with a foe named Sinistro. He begins the match with some friendly chat, “So how many online games have you played?” Knowing that my newness to the game will be exhibited in how poorly I play, I tell him, “Including this one… One.” He responds with a greeting of welcome, capped off with a smiley face. I take the gesture of politeness to mean I won’t be destroyed instantly.

While it can be intimidating to play any game online against real people for the first time, real-time strategy (RTS) games have a reputation for being more intimidating than most. This is partly because the difference between victory and defeat in an online RTS match comes down to efficiency. Knowing what to do and when to do it are the keys to victory. There is little margin for error, and mistakes are punished. Despite all of this I decided Friday evening to play my first ever online match of Homeworld: Deserts of Kharak (DoK). The game’s developers were celebrating its one-year anniversary and broadcast an open invitation for people to come and play the game with them.

If you’re not familiar with it, DoK is a RTS game developed by Blackbird Interactive. It’s a ground-based prequel to 1999’s legendary space-bound Homeworld. The core elements of multiplayer matches are much like that of other RTS games, with a few special twists. Multiplayer consists of you and your army versus your opponent and their army. Each army has a “hero” unit called a carrier. The carrier houses resource processing, production facilities, and research labs. From it you construct new units and run your war campaign. Build an army and annihilate your enemy’s carrier to win the game. One of the fun twists of DoK is that games can also be won by what’s called artifact retrieval. On each map there are three central locations that house artifacts, glowing purple orbs of special significance that appear after a time limit is reached. If either player can retrieve five artifacts and transfer them to a designated extraction zone, that player wins the game. This is easier said than done since there’s only one type of unit, a Baserunner, that can pick up an artifact and carry it to the extraction zone. Baserunners are slow and fragile, and don’t offer any significant offensive or defensive capabilities. It takes skill and cunning to retrieve artifacts, but it can be done. To me, the thing that sets DoK apart from other games is its smaller-scale battles and highly strategic gameplay.

desertsofkharak64-2017-01-21-20-31-57-92
My home base is at the bottom in blue, my enemy up top in red. The artifacts are the three blue icons in a row across the center of the map. The two extraction zones are the right and left sides of the map.

Thinking I had a decent grasp of the basics, I loaded up the game and headed over to the multiplayer lobby. After a short wait the matchmaking service drops me into an arena with a foe named Sinistro. He begins the match with some friendly chat, “So how many online games have you played?” Knowing that my newness to the game will be exhibited in how well poorly I play, I tell him, “Including this one… One.” He responds with a greeting of welcome, capped off with a smiley face. I take the gesture of politeness to mean I won’t be destroyed instantly. Knowing that it’s my first online game ever, my opponent chats to check in on me a few minutes into our match. “Have you expanded yet?,” he asks. Expanded? Expanded what? I respond to confirm my ignorance, fully embracing the fact that I have no clue what I’m doing. Graciously, my opponent relays concise instructions about how to expand my resource gathering operation. More resources means I can build more units, and more units means I may be able to put up a fight. That makes sense. I do what he says. For the next couple of minutes I make a few groups of units and send them around the map to do their thing. None of them return to base. Each of them destroyed by my well-prepared adversary. For each mistake I make, Sinistro shares tips about how to do things better next time. He even lets me steal an artifact and blow up a few of his units so my pride has a chance to recover. But like the helpless mouse being played with by a hungry cat, I know my demise is coming. My expanded resourcing operation radios in a distress call, “Enemy units spotted!” I pan the camera over to it and see three dozen enemy land and air units pop into the edge of my sensor range. Explosions burst from every direction and my resourcing operation is laid to waste. Ninety seconds later my carrier explodes in a flash of white light, transformed into a smoldering pile of rubble. Game over.

desertsofkharak64-2017-01-21-20-57-13-61
See all of those ships with the red bars above them? Enemies! See the big ship with a giant explosion coming out of it? That’s mine… It’s not in good shape.

So went my introduction to the world of online play in DoK. My first match ever lasted twenty-three minutes and fifty seconds, though my opponent could have easily laid waste to me in half that time. Many thanks for Sinistro to being a class act and showing me the ropes!

My second and third matches of online DoK went much better than the first. I was able to play in team matches with employees from both Blackbird Interactive and Gearbox Software, as well as other gamers in the community. I blew up some enemy units. I recovered some artifacts. I didn’t die instantly. It was a good night. While my experience confirmed to me that the game is a blast to play, the bigger impression was left by the helpful and friendly community. They’re enthusiastic about a great game and very welcoming towards newcomers. Check out the links below if you’d like to check things out for yourself. If you’re looking for a smaller-scale RTS game to play online against some friendly folks, DoK might be the game for you.

NOTE: DoK has an excellent single-player campaign that shouldn’t be missed. I’ll be writing a feature about that sometime in the near future. 

Where to buy:

Steam – $49.99

Community Involvement:

Deserts of Kharak Subreddit

Unofficial Homeworld: Deserts of Kharak Discord

Screenshot Mini-Gallery

RavingLuhn Recommends: Steam Summer Sale 2016

Ah summer, that time of year for cookouts, outdoor sports, fires, and other activities involving fresh air. It gets everyone else out of the house so you have the computer all to yourself for your gaming binge! The Steam summer sale exists so that you never run out of games for your library. Nearly everything in their digital store is discounted, and it’s easy to be overwhelmed by the sheer volume of options. Therefore, with one weekend left in the sale I humbly offer a few tips to help your wallet and your gaming library

SteamSummerSale

Ah summer, that time of year for cookouts, outdoor sports, fires, and other activities involving fresh air. It gets everyone else out of the house so you have the computer all to yourself for your gaming binge! The Steam summer sale exists so that you never run out of games for your library. Nearly everything in their digital store is discounted, and it’s easy to be overwhelmed by the sheer volume of options. Therefore, with one weekend left in the sale I humbly offer a few tips to help your wallet and your gaming library:

  1. Set a budget and stick to it. You can get a lot of gaming goodness for not much money, so figure out what you want to spend and work within that limit. It will help you prioritize what you really want versus what you’re attracted to just because of the discount.
  2. Check the price history. Sometimes sale prices are something special, sometimes they’re not much of a deal. Use tools like SteamPrices and IsThereAnyDeal to check the price history of the games you’re interested in.
  3. Remember that the games you want will go on sale againJust because something is on sale now doesn’t mean you have to buy it right this moment.  Be patient and stick to your budget. You and your wallet will be much happier if you can control yourself.
  4. Buy something you wouldn’t otherwise. Good prices mean it’s prime time to try something different. Take a risk; you never know what kind of gems you’ll find.

All set? If you need some suggestions about what to buy, here are some of my very own RavingLuhn recommendations:

A Story About My Uncle – $2.59
I already wrote an article about my experiences with A Story About My Uncle, but the short of it is that it’s a unique experience well worth the sale price.

FTL – $2.99
Take command of a starship and crew as you deliver vital information to the other side of the galaxy in this adventure. The descriptions of “Roguelike” and “randomly generated” mean that no two playthroughs are exactly alike. It’s worth the price for the soundtrack alone.

Just Cause 2 – $3.74
Do you like tropical environments? Do you like blowing things up? Do you like having the freedom to drive of fly any vehicle in sight? If you answered yes to any of those questions, buy Just Cause 2 and be entertained for hours and hours.

Burnout Paradise – $4.99
Freely drive around a massive city and do whatever you want to. Jumps, crash challenges, and shorcuts abound for the times when all you want to do is explore. When you’re ready to race there’s literally an event at every intersection. One of the finest racers I’ve ever played.

The Orange Box – $4.99
Jam-packed with Valve-y goodness, the Orange Box is an absolute steal for five bucks. There’s easily twenty hours of legendary gaming time contained within. Half-Life 2, Half-Life 2: Episode One, Half-Life 2: Episode Two, Portal, and Team Fortress 2 are all examples of Valve at their best. Each game by itself is worth the full price of this collection.

Call of Juarez Gunslinger – $7.49
Gunslinger is an absolute blast of a Western shooter rendered in stylish cel-shading and told with more flair than most games would even dare. Its relatively brief length is offset by its replayability. Experience every cliched Western shootout imaginable while having the most possible fun.

RAGE + The Scorchers DLC – $8.74
As someone who has played everything made by id Software, I still stand by my assertion that their misunderstood shooter from 2011 is the best thing they ever made. Yes, even better than 2016’s DOOM. Rage is that good. The lone DLC pack, The Scorchers, is absolutely essential. The nailgun is a game changer.

Alien: Isolation Collection – $14.99
The best Alien game ever. The most atmospheric game I’ve ever played. Run, crawl, hide, and flee through Sevastapol station while pursued by androids, humans, and an unpredicable and relentless alien. Being terrified has never been this much fun.

Homeworld: Remastered Collection – $17.49
Homeworld is the most influential real-time strategy game I’ve ever played. Simultaneously epic and intimate, playing the original Homeworld is one of my fondest gaming memories. Gearbox Software did a tremendous job updating the game for modern times, and it’s worth every penny.

DOOM – $35.99
id Software did the impossible and released a sequel that lives up to the original genre-defining game from 1993. Coming from someone who’s a notorious penny-pincher, I can tell you I paid $60 for the game and don’t regret it. It’s a steal for $36.

So there you have it. Buy these and you won’t be disappointed. I guarantee it.