Xenonauts – Compatibility

Xenonauts Title Screen

Xenonauts Title Screen

System Requirements

Linux

Operating System: Ubuntu 14.04 or greater, Linux Mint 17 or greater
Processor: 2 GHz x86 or greater
Memory: 1 GB RAM
Video: SDL Compatible Video Card, 1280×720 resolution or greater required.
Hard Disk: 3 GB

These packages are required:
libc6:i386
libasound2:i386
libasound2-data:i386
libasound2-plugins:i386
libsdl2-2.0-0:i386 and dependencies.

Mac OS X

Operating System: Mac OS X 10.7 or greater
Processor: 2 GHz x86 or greater
Memory: 1 GB RAM
Video: 1280×720 resolution or greater required.
Hard Disk: 3 GB

Windows

Operating System: Windows Vista or greater
Processor: 2 GHz x86 or greater
Memory: 2 GB RAM
Video: 512 MB DirectX 9.0c Compatible Video Card, 1280×720 resolution or greater required.
Hard Disk: 3 GB

Ubuntu 16.04

The GOG version of Xenonauts appears to run natively with no issues in Ubuntu 16.04.

Xenonauts – Linux, Mac OS X 10.10, and Windows 10 Game First Impressions

Xenonauts Title Screen

Xenonauts Title Screen

It was in the summer time, likely 1996. My best friend was an only child and seemed to have a great knack for talking his mother into buying him computer games from the bargain bin section of whatever store they happened to be shopping in. During this particular week, he and his mom were shopping at Tuesday Morning and he was able to purchase a game neither one of us had ever heard of, but the box cover sure looked interesting. It was a game for MS-DOS and because of its outrageous memory allocation requirements, he couldn’t figure out how to get it to work with his family’s computer system. Since both of his parents worked full-time, he came over a lot during the summer, and one day he brought the game with him to my house to see if I could get it to work on my system. After building a special custom boot disk to boot into a favorable DOS environment to run the game, we both experienced our first contact with the game called X-COM: UFO Defense.

Select Your Main Base

Select Your Main Base

X-COM: UFO Defense is a strategy game, developed by Mythos Games and released in 1994 by MicroProse, that combines real-time strategy with turn-based tactics. The player is tasked with creating and managing the global defense force protecting Earth from hostile invasion by extra-terrestrials. The player must spend their budget wisely purchasing aircraft to intercept and shoot down UFOs. They must hire soldiers to go on missions to eliminate the threat of downed alien spacecraft and to retrieve valuable alien technology. And they are also responsible for hiring and managing scientists to research new technologies to create weapons comparable to the ones the aliens carry.

Intercepting UFOs

Intercepting UFOs

Xenonauts, a game developed and published by Goldhawk Interactive in 2014, seems to have been created to recapture the same vein of nostalgia I had from when I used to play X-COM: UFO Defense with my best friend in the mid-1990s. The game developers state that the game is not meant to be a clone of X-COM, and it is not, but the spirit of that original game is certainly alive and present here. Gamers who played X-COM: UFO Defense will feel at home when selecting their beginning base site, managing their initial base, sending planes out to intercept UFOs and sending out a team of soldiers to investigate a UFO crash landing site.

Close Encounter Shot to the Face

A Close Encounter Shot to the Face

When playing through Xenonauts for the first time, I noticed it seemed to appear very spartan for the year it was released. No cutscenes or rich animations were employed, and I have been unable to find an actual tutorial on how to play the game as far as I can tell. With X-COM: UFO Defense a player had to rely on the manual. Without the manual it was easy to lose very quickly. Maybe Xenonauts was designed to cater to the more mature PC gamer who is used to reading a thick manual to get the most of their strategy game’s mechanics. There are tool-tips that pop up the first time a player accesses any new screen, however, so the player doesn’t have to fly completely blind. I realize having had played X-COM: UFO Defense as a child, I am not much of a newcomer to the genre, but without reading a manual or following a tutorial, I was able to intercept two UFOs and successfully complete my first mission to retrieve alien artifacts from my first downed UFO. There is also a Xenopedia that serves as an in game online help resource while playing.

UFO Secured

UFO Secured

Upon further research, it appears Xenonauts was actually the product of a Kickstarter campaign that was able to raise the sum of $154,715 from 4,668 backers according to Wikipedia. This is an impressive amount, but far from the budget of a AAA studio. With this information to place things in perspective, what the developers of Xenonauts were able to accomplish with this game is impressive. The musical score is complex, easy to listen to, and fits the atmosphere of the game. The sound effects are rich and fit within their contexts as well. While the animations and graphics are simple, no extra imagination is required on the part of the player to discern what they are looking at on the screen at any given moment.

Research Alien Technology

Research Alien Technology

Goldhawk Interactive allowed partial access to the Xenonauts source code which resulted in the creation of Xenonauts: Community Edition, a mod for the Xenonauts game. Those with a retail copy of Xenonauts can apply the community edition mod to expand and enhance their Xenonauts game experience. I’ll try to add another article covering the community edition mod at some later point.

I had a lot of fun briefly playing Xenonauts today, moseying down memory lane. The GOG summer sale just started today. Those that visit GOG.com before June 6th can download a free copy of Xenonauts to play themselves. This is a good game. I’d recommend getting a free copy before the promotion runs out.

Zak McKracken and The Alien Mindbenders, FM Towns version – Compatibility

Zak McKracken and The Alien Mindbenders Title Screen

Zak McKracken and The Alien Mindbenders Title Screen

GOG.com Download System Requirements

Linux

Operating System: Ubuntu 14.04 or greater, Linux Mint 17 or greater
Processor: 2.0 GHz or greater
Memory: 1 GB RAM
Video: 256 MB VRAM, OpenGL compatible video card

Mac OS X

Operating System: Mac OS X 10.7.0 or greater
Processor: Intel Core 2 Duo 2GHz or greater
Memory: 1GB of RAM
Video: 64MB VRAM

Two-button mouse, or Apple mouse with Secondary Button / Secondary Click enabled recommended.

Windows

Operating System: Windows XP or greater
Processor: 1.4 GHz or greater
Memory: 512MB RAM
Video: DirectX 7 compatible 3D graphics card or greater

Ubuntu 16.04

The FM Towns version of Zak McKracken and The Alien Mindbenders offered by GOG.com works flawlessly from within ScummVM on my Ubuntu 16.04 machine.

Zak McKracken and The Alien Mindbenders – FM Towns Game First Impressions

Zak McKracken and The Alien Mindbenders Title Screen

Zak McKracken and The Alien Mindbenders Title Screen

Zak McKracken and The Alien Mindbenders is a graphical adventure game initially released in 1988 for MS-DOS and later released to the FM Towns system in 1990. Developed and published by Lucasfilm Games, it is the second game after Maniac Mansion to use the SCUMM engine developed by Lucasfilm for use in most of their adventure games during the late 1980s and throughout the end of the 1990s. This makes Zak McKracken an interesting adventure title. While it has many of the elements and style of future adventure game classics such as Full Throttle and the Monkey Island series, it’s also a little rough around the edges and lends itself to brute force trial and error gameplay on the part of the player, a feature of most adventure games of its time.

Zak McKracken and The Alien Mindbenders was one of those games that fans of LucasArts adventures had in their collection generally solely because it was a LucasArts adventure game. The LucasArts catalog would be provided in any retail boxed copy of LucasArts games such as The Dig or Maniac Mansion II: Day of the Tentacle. Flipping through the catalog, knowing how much fun it was to play the other titles, gamers would see an ad for Zak McKracken and couldn’t resist given that it was, “From the makers of The Secret to Monkey Island!”. That’s how I wound up playing this game as a child.

While the word that sums up my memories of The Secret of Monkey Island was, “Amazing,” the word that sums up my recollections of Zak McKracken and The Alien Mindbenders was, “Fun.” I remembered it wasn’t as colorful, having been developed in EGA 16 color mode, but it had that Lucasfilm/LucasArts feel to it that made it charming and the aliens were funny. I saw the game on sale on GOG.com a while ago. I had to get it to complete my collection of these graphical adventure games from this era.

I don't want to work here, please fire me already and get this game over with.

I don’t want to work here, please fire me already and get this game over with.

I have been on a Linux kick recently given that my Windows computer has been occupied with running my business software that hogs all of its system resources. Closing all of my business applications to run a game and then opening them back up again when I’m done playing is cumbersome. Plus, I have always been a fan of the underdog operating system since I first used Caldera OpenLinux in 2001 when I installed it on one of the first computers I built. I’d like to spread the word of which games work and how well they work so other would be Linux gamers can be informed.

The SCUMM engine lent itself to being easily ported across multiple system architectures back when Lucasfilm was releasing their games on Commodore 64, Amiga, Atari ST, IBM PC, FM Towns, and other systems. Today an application called ScummVM, which can be found at www.scummvm.org, offers a virtual machine environment to play these games across multiple modern platforms: Windows 10, macOS, Linux, and many others. ScrummVM is used by GOG.com as the basis for running Lucasfilm/LucasArts adventure games downloaded from their site.

The ScummVM Menu for Zak McKracken and The Alien Mindbenders

The ScummVM Menu for Zak McKracken and The Alien Mindbenders

Running the installation script from GOG.com for Zak McKracken and The Alien Mindbenders was as easy as running a game setup program on Windows. Make sure you run the installation script without root permissions though or it will lock you out of being able to access your game once installed. A convenient link was added to my games menu that I was able to click on to run the game. ScummVM popped up and offered me two versions of Zak McKracken to play.

I blindly chose the first option and started the game. This was not the Zak McKracken and The Alien Mindbenders I remembered. The colors were way richer. Zak looked much different, and the title theme music was incredible! It was like discovering a whole new game I had never played before. Were my memories of the past so faded? How did this happen?

It's the Two-Headed Squirrel!

It’s the Two-Headed Squirrel!

In Zak McKracken and The Alien Mindbenders, the player assumes the role of Zak, a tabloid news reporter who hates his job and would rather be writing novels. The game begins with Zak whining to his boss that he’ll never get a Pulitzer prize writing “sleazy” tabloid articles when he is assigned to go to Seattle to investigate rumors of a two-headed squirrel attacking park goers in Washington State. Meanwhile, the aliens in a secret room are using a machine sending pulses through the global telephone network that are slowly making the population of Earth stupider so they can take over the world. Gameplay begins after the initial cutscene with Zak McKracken complaining to his boss. The player is then in control of Zak McKracken in his apartment preparing for his plane trip from San Francisco to Seattle.

Once again, the game looked far different from what I remembered. Not only were the graphics crisper and more vivid in color, but the expressions on Zak’s face and that of his boss were different from what I recalled. When I played the MS-DOS version I remembered it playing out like more of a sitcom, whereas this new Zak seemed way too serious and incredibly obnoxious to me. I seriously wanted to see him get fired by his boss, “Oh, you don’t want to write my ‘stupid’ tabloid articles? Fine, get out!” It was at this point that I noted something was certainly not right.

The aliens and their stupid machine. It has an effect on them too.

The aliens and their stupid machine. It has an effect on them too.

The two options of Zak McKracken and The Alien Mindbenders offered via the ScrummVM from the GOG.com download are for two different ports of the game. The second option was the MS-DOS version that came out in 1988 that I fondly remembered, while the first option was the FM Towns remake with 256-color redrawn graphics along with new and improved sound. It is amazing how a change in the graphics and sound of a game will influence my opinion of a game.

One would generally expect that better graphics and sound would lead to better gameplay. While the intro theme is indeed better and objects are easier to see and interact with in the FM Towns version, there are so many aesthetic design mistakes that make Zak McKracken and The Alien Mindbenders fall from being a classic to simply bearable retro graphic adventure. After playing it for ten minutes, the first thing you will want to do is kill the sound. Anywhere you go while in San Francisco, which is where you will be for the first 30 minutes of the game if you haven’t played it before, you’ll hear obnoxious white-noise traffic sounds with a random police siren mixed in constantly at the same volume whether you are out on the street or in your own apartment. Be careful if you pick up the phone in your apartment. Make sure you have any phone number you wish to call ready to dial, and don’t dial it incorrectly. Leaving the phone off of the receiver makes the most irritating beeping noise until you figure out how to pick up the receiver and get it hung up again. Getting to the airport to fly out to Seattle is a welcome, quiet change until you hear the airplane noises from being in the airplane.

I wonder how much clean water this plane has.

I wonder how much clean water this plane has.

While spending time in the airplane was actually the most fun I had while playing in preparation for this first impressions article, it takes way too long to fly from place to place. To pass the time I would go to the plane’s lavatory and turn on the sink, press the flight attendant’s call button, and open the overhead carry-on compartments while in flight. I never noticed the little annoying details when I played Zak McKracken as a kid. Maybe games today do a better job of quickly getting to the important gameplay.

Playing through the first portion of Zak McKracken and The Alien Mindbenders is like reading through the beginning of a novel that is slow to ramp up. People tell you its a good story if you stick with it. There are a few humorous spots that keep you somewhat engaged, the aliens seem like they would be plucky adversaries, and there is the potential love interest named Melissa that haunts Zak’s dreams. All of these things lead up to a potentially good adventure if the player can keep the desire to see it through. With so many other graphical adventure games to play, and with this one’s sounds and artwork being so abrasive, it might be awhile before I come back and complete this one.

Upgrading to the Latest Development Version of Wine in Lubuntu Linux to Play Fallout: New Vegas

Fallout: New Vegas Title Screen

Fallout: New Vegas Title Screen

A couple days ago, Bethesda Softworks released a teaser trailer for the new game Fallout 76. I have heard speculation that it might be a Fallout MMO, which would be awesome. I have been unable to find any details on release date yet. The news of a new Fallout game made me want to go back and play an older Fallout game.

It was while browsing through my Fallout game collection that I noticed Fallout: New Vegas is available on Steam download for Windows users only. I was surprised by this. I thought surely there would be a Mac version released at some point if not a Linux version. I went on the wine website and checked their AppDB to see how compatible Fallout: New Vegas is for running in wine. For those unfamiliar, wine is a program that runs in Linux that can be used to run windows compatible software with varied success. They have an AppDB that keeps track of what programs work for what versions of wine across various flavors of Linux. The wine program’s website may be found at www.winehq.org. The AppDB can be found at appdb.winehq.org.

Cutscenes Work Flawlessly in Wine 3.9

Cutscenes Work Flawlessly in Wine 3.9

According to the AppDB on the wine website, Fallout: New Vegas should work flawlessly in any version of wine since version 3.3. Excited by this, I downloaded the game to one of my Linux machines and got ready to play. The flavor of Linux I prefer to use is Lubuntu, a Ubuntu variant. The game downloaded successfully and I launched it with wine. The game bombed right at the title screen.

Depressed and annoyed by this, I checked my wine version I had install on my machine. You do this by opening a terminal and typing in the command, “wine –version”. I saw my machine had wine version 1.9 running on it. Users of Ubuntu and its variants who want to get a stable, system compatible version of wine up and running very quickly can use the the Synaptic Package Manager, search for wine, and install the most recent wine version offered within the “Universe” package repository provided by default upon installation of the operating system. This version of wine, while tested to work well with the operating system, is not the latest and best version of wine to achieve high compatibility with more recent Windows programs. To do that, you must go to wiki.winehq.org/Ubuntu and download the latest version using the instructions provided there.

We've Got Some Geckos to Clear Out.

We’ve Got Some Geckos to Clear Out.

There are three branches of wine versions that can be installed via the apt-get command on Ubuntu flavored Linux systems directly from winehq: stable, development, and staging. Stable is less error prone, obviously. Staging is what will hopefully be released with the kinks worked out in the next version. Meanwhile the development branch, despite its name, has turned out iteratively better versions of wine that can be used with relative stability until the next stable branch version comes out. The longer I get away from a stable wine version, the more I feel a need to use the latest development branch version.

To install the latest development branch version of wine onto my Lubuntu system, I first had to open a terminal and type in commands to add the wine specific repository to download the latest wine development branch packages. The first command I ran was to enable my system to download and install 32-bit binaries and code libraries necessary for wine to run any 32-bit applications. Interestingly, 64-bit Ubuntu systems are more apt to run fully 64-bit code as opposed to Windows systems where it seems many libraries still have a 32-bit variant, sometimes the 32-bit one is used by default.

sudo dpkg --add-architecture i386

To add the wine specific repository for the latest branches, run the following commands in the terminal. I ran these commands from my home directory.

wget -nc https://dl.winehq.org/wine-builds/Release.key
sudo apt-key add Release.key
sudo apt-add-repository https://dl.winehq.org/wine-builds/ubuntu/

Then run an update to pull down the latest package information.

sudo apt-get update

Finally, install the latest wine version from the development branch.

sudo apt-get install --install-recommends winehq-devel

Everything completed successfully, so I was finally able to run Fallout: New Vegas using the latest development version of wine on my machine. I reloaded the game and watched it crash again in roughly the same place. Hmmm, that’s not good. I checked my wine version again. Still 1.9! What happened!?!

The Ubuntu default wine installation from the universe repository installs its wine binaries into the /usr/local/bin directory and has all sorts of system links that call the wine commands located there. This directory is also part of the system path ($PATH), so any wine command contained there will be favored even over a wine command located in the /usr/bin directory. Meanwhile, the wine binaries for the latest development branch are installed to the /opt/wine-devel/bin directory.

It was at this point that I wrote a bash script to replace the old wine binaries in the /usr/local/bin directory with links to the new binaries in the /opt/wine-devel/bin directory. I opened a new file in a text editor and saved it as RefreshWineCommandsToDevel.sh. Once the script was run, all of my Ubuntu specific links were now pointing to the more recent version of wine. The contents of the script follow.

if [ -f /usr/local/bin/wine ]; then
    rm /usr/local/bin/wine
fi
ln -s /opt/wine-devel/bin/wine /usr/local/bin/wine
if [ -f /usr/local/bin/wine64 ]; then
    rm /usr/local/bin/wine64
fi
ln -s /opt/wine-devel/bin/wine64 /usr/local/bin/wine64
if [ -f /usr/local/bin/wine64-preloader ]; then
    rm /usr/local/bin/wine64-preloader
fi
ln -s /opt/wine-devel/bin/wine64-preloader /usr/local/bin/wine64-preloader
if [ -f /usr/local/bin/wineboot ]; then
    rm /usr/local/bin/wineboot
fi
ln -s /opt/wine-devel/bin/wineboot /usr/local/bin/wineboot
if [ -f /usr/local/bin/winebuild ]; then
    rm /usr/local/bin/winebuild
fi
ln -s /opt/wine-devel/bin/winebuild /usr/local/bin/winebuild
if [ -f /usr/local/bin/winecfg ]; then
    rm /usr/local/bin/winecfg
fi
ln -s /opt/wine-devel/bin/winecfg /usr/local/bin/winecfg
if [ -f /usr/local/bin/wineconsole ]; then
    rm /usr/local/bin/wineconsole
fi
ln -s /opt/wine-devel/bin/wineconsole /usr/local/bin/wineconsole
if [ -f /usr/local/bin/winecpp ]; then
    rm /usr/local/bin/winecpp
fi
ln -s /opt/wine-devel/bin/winecpp /usr/local/bin/winecpp
if [ -f /usr/local/bin/winedbg ]; then
    rm /usr/local/bin/winedbg
fi
ln -s /opt/wine-devel/bin/winedbg /usr/local/bin/winedbg
if [ -f /usr/local/bin/winedump ]; then
    rm /usr/local/bin/winedump
fi
ln -s /opt/wine-devel/bin/winedump /usr/local/bin/winedump
if [ -f /usr/local/bin/winefile ]; then
    rm /usr/local/bin/winefile
fi
ln -s /opt/wine-devel/bin/winefile /usr/local/bin/winefile
if [ -f /usr/local/bin/wineg++ ]; then
    rm /usr/local/bin/wineg++
fi
ln -s /opt/wine-devel/bin/wineg++ /usr/local/bin/wineg++
if [ -f /usr/local/bin/winemaker ]; then
    rm /usr/local/bin/winemaker
fi
ln -s /opt/wine-devel/bin/winemaker /usr/local/bin/winemaker
if [ -f /usr/local/bin/winemine ]; then
    rm /usr/local/bin/winemine
fi
ln -s /opt/wine-devel/bin/winemine /usr/local/bin/winemine
if [ -f /usr/local/bin/winepath ]; then
    rm /usr/local/bin/winepath
fi
ln -s /opt/wine-devel/bin/winepath /usr/local/bin/winepath
if [ -f /usr/local/bin/wine-preloader ]; then
    rm /usr/local/bin/wine-preloader
fi
ln -s /opt/wine-devel/bin/wine-preloader /usr/local/bin/wine-preloader
if [ -f /usr/local/bin/wineserver ]; then
    rm /usr/local/bin/wineserver
fi
ln -s /opt/wine-devel/bin/wineserver /usr/local/bin/wineserver

Once the script was created and saved with the above contents, I was able to run the script using the following command from the directory that the script was located in.

sudo bash RefreshWineCommandsToDevel.sh

After that, when I ran “wine –version” I received output indicating the current version of 3.9. Time to test out Fallout: New Vegas again.

Well, VATS!

Well, VATS!

It worked! Perhaps flawlessly? There were moments where it would briefly slow down a little or acted funky, but I remember having had a few problems with it when I used to run it natively on Windows. Looks like this was a success. All of the screenshots included in this article were taken from within Linux while running Fallout: New Vegas in Wine 3.9. Many thanks to all of the wine developers that make it possible to play these mainstream Windows only titles on the Linux platform. Wine helps me get closer to having a truly integrated universal gaming platform that will play all of my games.