LOAF Fixes a PC (or: the Story of Karga the Hero)

Bandit LOAF

Long Live the Confederation!
Part 1: Resurrection

While I haven't updated in a while (first because I was too embarassed, later because I was too busy) the saga has continued these past few weeks. With my desk finally clear for Bertha, I realized it was time to bring back my "Wing Commander Computer."


You all may remember some years back I was working on a pretty neat "Wing Commander Computer." It was a Pentium III with five, count 'em, five different sound cards capable of playing the fancy MIDI music for every PC Wing Commander. The idea was to have the best possible machine to run the original games. It also had three video cards! It was a darned impressive computer that I loved like a son or daughter.

Then, the mission got in the way. When we visited Mythic for the big archiving project a few years ago, we quickly needed to rig a computer with a SCSI card so we could read Origin's old DAT tapes and SyQuest disks. The Wing Commander Computer was down for the count at the time, suffering from a bad PSU. I considered buying an old computer at the junk shop for Mythic, but instead decided to pick up an extremely fancy power supply. I would quickly repair Wing Commander Computer, use it for the project and then rebuild it better than ever when we were done. After all, building the thing was a good deal of the fun. So I pulled out all of my esoteric sound and video hardware, formatted the lovingly dual-booted hard drive and loaded XP.

WCC Lite performed beautifully, recovering dozens of SyQuests, DATs and 5.25" disks. That is... until a member of our expedition--let's call him John--opened it up to swap out a SCSI card. What this... I'm trying not to use the word moron (sorry, man)... didn't realize is that he was wearing a magnetized Electronic Arts key dongle around his neck at the time. And with a wack, the dangling dongle did destroy! (Put that line on the poster.) Something about Wing Commander Computer was dead on impact--probably the RAM.

So instead of a hero's welcome, WCC went to my parents' house in a coffin. It was put on a bench in the workshop next to all the other old computer skeletons and a stack of childhood PS/2 Model 80s that no one could bare to throw away. There it slept and there it stayed for... sorry, Guy Clark. But yeah, a thick malaise now surrounded Wing Commander Computer. I pushed it out of my mind, thinking slightly that someday I'd return. Life went on: WCC's former desk became storage, old cards and cables from other computers and projects stacked on top of beautiful MIDI cards in their static protection bags... and so the great Wing Commander Computer became more of a distant ideal than a thing that was ever real.


Reinvigorated by my success with Bertha, I decided to restore the Wing Commander Computer. I immediately ordered a simple VGA switch box from Amazon (http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B000BSN1NE) and I had high hopes that I could get it booting again easily. I already had the RAM, even: my experiment in adding memory to Bertha had been an abject failure (it just didn't fit!) and so I had a good dozen 128-meg SIMMs perfect for it sitting right there in little pink baggies. The VGA switch arrived the next day and it was GO TIME!

... or was it? I had months earlier recovered WCC's fancy cards and now I stacked them on the desk: a Voodoo 5500 3dfx card, a simple Trident PCI video card, a Hollywood+ DVD Decoder, a SoundBlaster 32 AWE, a SoundBlaster Live and Roland RAP-10 and LAPC-Is. Then I went out to the workshop to find Wing Commander Computer. And I found... nothing. The computer skeletons were gone! The PS/2s were still there, boxes of MCA cards and miles and miles of obscure cables... leftover SCSI drives I'd dumped there after Mythic... but the various PC cases were gone. Had my dad turned Wing Commander Computer into something? No one was around, so I looked through the array of computers in his office. There were several apparent monsterpieces, file servers cobbled together from drives that COULD have belong to WCC... but no sign of the motherboard or case.

I tracked down my mother and asked her: what had happened to all the broken computers? Oh, she said, I think your father took those a while ago... pause for dramatic effect... and put them in the basement. THE BASEMENT! The word chilled me to my very bone. If there's a hell to go to, I know it can't be worse than that basement. A terrifying, unfinished basement that floods in the winter and then floods with live snakes in the summer. It's packed to the gills with a creepy collection of old children's toys, live ammunition and Navy equipment stolen by my grandfather. And Wing Commander Computer was THERE? Hope was dead.

Still, I activated the goofy flashlight app on my iPhone, put on my shoes and headed down to see if there was anything left. It was like something out of a survival horror film. I'd flash my light in a corner and find a gutted IBM AT or a DAT tape server or the old IBM Aptiva... but no Wing Commander Computer. But just was I was going to give up on the dream of saving WCC, I noticed: the area underneath the rickety wooden stairs was FULL of computer cases. A dozen of them, stacked like corpses, except creepier. Frantically, I dug through them. I knew that if WCC were on the bottom then it would have been soaked in floods... and then I found it! Stacked atop a sad blue Dell which once belonged to a little girl and would never be loved again.

I rushed out of that terror filled hellscape and returned it to my work area, the same expanse of carpet that a few weeks earlier had held Bertha as she was nursed back to life. But the joy of the reunion was short lived: Wing Commander Computer was in a bad way. He had been haphazardly stripped for parts: the DVD drive was gone and in its place an apparently unwanted first generation drive had been shoved in the slot unconnected. Internal cables and most impressively screws were all missing. The sides of the case were gone, location unknown. She was a metal skeleton with an entirely yellowed faceplate. Oddly, the expensive over-the-top 650V power supply I had bought for Mythic was still there; apparently the cannibals who did this had assumed the PSU was bad. The motherboard and processor were still in place, a Pentium III 650 on an aBit BX6 Revision 1 that had exactly the right number of ISA slots... I guess that wouldn't have interested anyone else. And the neat-o 5.25"/3.5" combo drive was still bolted in place.

I am not going to sleep today, I said out loud to no one in particular, until I get this computer booting again. I dusted and dusted and then reattached the internals. Oh, how I had missed the days of IDE ribbons. I put the crummy ancient DVD drive in anyway, although I assumed it was bad. Finally, powered it up, it whirred to life and beeped me a message. Google quickly told me that, as I'd expected months earlier, it meant there was a problem with the RAM. I swapped the DIMM that some moron (sorry, John) had destroyed with one from Bertha's aborted memory upgrade, tried again. I pressed the button--the fan came on, the parts fuzzed, the drive spun... no beeps! WCC was starting up!

... except there was no picture at all. Huh? Had my Voodoo 5 gone bad somehow? That would be a real shame. I swapped it out with the Trident card and started the process again. Whirr buzz buzz whirr BEEP BEEP BEEP BEEP BEEP. Huh? Internet, what's that mean? NO DISPLAY ADAPTER. Damn, damn, damn! Oh shit: were all of Wing Commander Computer's old cards bad? Had some kind of electrical storm destroyed my beautiful sound and video cards? Or were WCC's slots all blowed up? There was only one way to find out: try another video card. I fished a silly looking modern PCI card with a GIANT FAN out of another machine and...

Crap, it worked. All my cool equipment must be gone.

But wait, my amazing brain then said. Why was there a BIOS message for the Trident and not the Voodoo? That's kind of weird, right? Shouldn't it have said no adapter for both instances? I tried both cards again and got the same disparity: an error message on the Trident, booting without an image on the Voodoo. Then it occured to me: I am an idiot. The Voodoo 5, the king of all graphics cards, has its own power kajigger, just like a drive. And I hadn't plugged it in. One, two and BAM!


No idea what was wrong with the Trident (YET), but at least it meant my whole stack of cool toys wasn't dead. I spent another frustrating hour trying to figure out why it wasn't reading the hard drive or the DVD-ROM (short answer: the CD drive was in the wrong place on the ribbon AND its jumper wasn't set to slave)... but eventually an emotionally exhausted LOAF with a computer skeleton booting to Windows XP went to bed.

(I'll add some pictures tonight like in the old thread--I can't seem to offload them from my phone while I'm at work.)
Part 2: Sound Off

I awoke bright eyed and bushy tailed. My goal today was to test the sound cards. Specifically, the LAPC-I: the most beautiful, most gigantic sound card ever created. The LAPC-I is the 'internal' version of the MT-32 and it was once the pride of my computer parts collection. They're rare birds and they make certain old games--especially old Sierra and Origin games--sound amazing.

First I would need to get rid of Windows XP. Go to hell, Windows XP! It's DOS's turn. Luckily, I had left myself copies of various diskettes from the last time I set up the computer -- including DOS 6.22 (stupidly, exactly ONE WEEK EARLIER I had happened across one of the Windows 3.11 disks while cleaning the desk and thrown it out.) I formatted away Windows, booted to the DOS disk and installed that greatest of all operating systems.

With a beautiful fresh DOS install I was ready to go. First I needed some drivers and the Soundblaster software. I've been saving all the files I find useful in this project as I go along, so you can enjoy them as well! To start, I used a 3.5" diskette (a USB 3.5" drive bought to move screenshots from Bertha and plugged into my Netbook proved INVALUABLE at this stage) to bring a few things in to DOS:

A tiny generic CD-ROM Driver-

CuteMouse, a similarly tiny mouse driver-

The Creative Labs Sound Blaster Plug'n'Play Program-

and the Sound Blaster 16/32/64 drivers-

And with that I was ready to go! There are no drivers for the Roland cards--they just exist. Very zen. Configuring your config.sys and autoexec.bat files is just like riding a bike or making love: you never forget how. Unlike those other things, though, I actually do it every few years. I dug out my binder of Wing Commander CD-ROMs to find a game to test the sound card and... uh, Wing Commander I and II were missing? Huh. Well, the EA Classics version of Academy would be my testbed!

Shockingly, the castoff DVD-ROM was working... ish. It would read a disc, but after having read a disc in DOS it refused to open again... so switching discs in later games would be impossible. We'd cross that bridge when we came to it. For now, testing the more expensive sound hardware was my priority, and I only needed Academy to do that. I put the LAPC-I into the bottom ISA slot, moving very slowly because it was so large that it barely even fit in the space allotted and I installed Academy and told it I had an MT-32/LAPC-I. I waited on the edge of my seat. If you've never loaded a Wing Commander game with a fancy MIDI deck, you'd think the game was locking up: it takes 15-20 seconds for the game to 'load' the card--sending sysex messages about which sounds you'll need. So it seems to hang at DOS. But the game loaded, the credits started and... nothing.

No amount of fiddling made a difference. I spent hours swapping jumpers, trying different configurations, moving the card to different slots... it was a depressing, depressing day. My wonderful giant card was dead and I could have cried. I big $50 on an external MT-32 on eBay and made plans to frame the LAPC-I and hang it on the wall.

I awoke late at night and grabbed my tablet. Maybe there's something else to this? I thought. And so I googled and googled. And found nothing. And googled and googled and googled. Until I learned a shocking and almost entirely undocumented fact: certain very old ISA cards--including the Roland LAPC-I--need power supplies with a "-5v rail." Or they just don't power up. Apparently modern power supplies--like the incredibly nice one I'd bought two years ago--don't have this anymore. No longer part of the ATX spec or somesuch. And so $15 later I'd ebayed myself a far less impressive power supply and I hoped my bid for the MT-32 would be topped by someone else.

It wasn't, I have an MT-32 now and wish I still had $50. So it goes.

Everything was now on hold for a long week as I waited for the other power supply to arrive (Amazon Prime has spoiled me.) Would it save my giant sound card? Only time would tell. Or if you read my Twitter you already know, because I have like 30 posts to write before I catch up with real time. But I'm trying!
Should toss in here that just like "Bertha" LOAF's WCC machine was named as well, although this time by the #wingnut regulars. As LOAF was updating us about the various stages of the project it reminded us in the channel of False Colors and the mammoth job it took to bring Karga back online. It seems that visually as well LOAF's Karga and FC's Karga have some resemblance. They are both beat up machines :D
Part 3: One Week Later...

Next Friday, as promised, the new power supply arrived!

For those attempting this same madness, it was a RAIDMax RX-380K 380W ATX 12V Switching Power Supply. Now if there's a less pleasant thing you can do to computers than change their PSUs, I haven't heard about it. But removing the old system and subbing in the new one was fairly painless this time around. The old PSU had roughly one million different power tubes of different sizes (what are they all for?!) but the new one had just enough to plug in the motherboard, the diskette drive, the DVD-ROM, the hard drive and the Voodoo 5 (I remembered!)

I sat back and admired the WCC for a moment: the layer of disgusting basement dust was gone, and even that awful basement smell had vanished. The cleaned metal was shiny and beautiful. This was going to work, damn it. I put everything back together, slotted the enormous LAPC-I once more and booted up.

MUSIC! Beautiful, amazing music, the happiest I'd ever heard in my life. Wizzz a Wraith shot past the screen. Splang splang splang went my particle cannons. Sound, wonderful sound! Well, one out of five sound cards were working again... but this was the big one (literally and figuratively.)

Next, I decided to get the Sound Blaster AWE32 to work. The beautiful thing about the early games and the MT-32 setting is that it works WITH the Soundblaster. The MT-32/LAPC-I will use its various instruments and onboard effects sounds... and the Sound Blaster will do the speech and everything else. One more bit of background: you run an RCA-to-stereo miniplug cable from the RCA out ports of the LAPC-I to the line-in on the Soundblaster, then the miniplug out on the AWE to your speakers.

The Sound Blaster Plug 'n' Play utility, which I had once hated and feared as a young man, made the process so easy. The default setting locked up Academy because it wanted the AWE's wavetable to be at port 330... and a quick change to default setting 2 meant that the wavetable was stuck at port 300, where it would never fly a fighter again! I mean play a MIDI again. A quick change in the setup and a combat mission against a Drakhri proved everything was totally cool: the game could speak AND play beautiful music!

Unfortunately, my psychosis took over here and I decided to research: was the AWE32 REALLY the best Sound Blaster for this job? Here's what I learned: yeah, it 99.999% was. There's no real difference between the SoundBlaster 16, the AWE32 and the AWE64 in terms of games. The updates all have to do with the wavetable, which I was throwing out for this setup anyway. There was no reason to buy another card.

... except for two very good reasons: one, the Sound Blaster AWE64 Gold edition has more professional RCA outputs instead of a stereo miniplug and two, THE CARD IS LITERALLY GOLD. If you're telling me you don't want a GOLD ISA CARD in your computer then you sir are a disgusting liar and I will have nothing more to say to you. $10 on eBay and an AWE64 Gold was in the mail--but it wouldn't be a hard change to make... as it uses the same drivers and settings. It's not like I could close the computer anyway, not having sides to the case!

At this point, I was delaying the inevitable: I needed to figure out how to dual boot the WCC again and that was probably going to blow up whatever I had already set up in DOS. But I decided to go ahead and test the rest of the DOS sound configuration first.

The next card in was the Roland RAP-10. The RAP-10 is a fascinating little footnote in sound card history that most people aren't familiar with. It was Roland, the high end audio company that makes MIDI sequencers and which partnered with Sierra to do super high quality game audio on the MT-32, attempt to make their own version of the Soundblaster. It has the equivalent of a Roland General MIDI board... but it also has an fm synth which can do unique sounds, speech and so on. No driver needed or anything. The catch, though, is that it wasn't Soundblaster compatible. At all. A game needed to SPECIFICALLY support the RAP-10. And few did.

... but those few included Wing Commander III and IV... and with a RAP-10 you get the cleanest possible sound in those games. I set (with jumpers!) the RAP-10 to Port 340*, ran the install for Wing Commander III and... "god I love that boy's spunk." Ta-da, easy as eating pancakes.

* - Why? Because Privateer, of all things, is locked to 330 for its MIDI... no matter what the installation lets you select. I know, weird. So when the device I use for Privateer needs to be there... and that device is:

The Roland SC-55mk2! A handsome external MIDI module with a glowing orange screen that has all the general MIDI sounds with some extra drum kits... which were apparently used in the music for Privateer and Armada! I have no idea what I paid for it in 2003 or so, but I bet it was more than I should have. I connect the SC-55mk2 to the MIDI OUT of the LAPC-I through a Roland MCB-1 (whew) breakout box. That means that whenever a game tells the computer to play music at Port 330, it plays on both the LAPC-I and the SC-55 at the same time! How do I get all this to the speakers? I have a manual switch box! The LAPC-I, the SC-55 and the RAP-10 all go to the switch. I then pick one source from the switch, which feeds the audio back to the line-in of the AWE32. Works like a charm!

Anyway, the SC-55mk2 still works like a charm. All the old DOS sound cards are fine. Time to face the music and dual boot this sucker.

I also learned at this time that the "broken" Trident card was actually suffering the same fate as the LAPC-I. It now worked just fine. I had it originally because the Voodoo couldn't run Windows 3.11 in 256-color mode and thus didn't play Origin FX. Yes, I bought a special video card for that. An all-day search of my junk heaps located the pass-through cable for the Hollywood+ card, too, so I added that to the lineup (this was the special card that decoded WC4 DVD -- aka the Creative Labs DXR3.)

Back to dual-booting. Unfortunately, there aren't great resources for this kind of project in 2011. Years ago, guides for booting to 6.22 and Windows 98 were plentiful... today you find lots of conversation bits here and there. I knew there was SOME TRICK but I couldn't remember what that trick was. So I decided to just give it a try. It wasn't to be. Windows 98 wants to install over DOS no matter what. I couldn't put it on another drive (background: I have an 80 gig hard drive in the machine. 8 gigs are devoted to DOS, the maximum possible, and the rest were unassigned at the time.)

I decided to go ahead and put in a boot leader. Instead of ponying up for professional software (which I owned at one point) I decided to see what the Linux and Brie crowd had come up with... and I was pleasantly surprised to locate something called "GAG."

GAG Boot Loader

It even has a feature where you put it on a 3.5" disk and then boot to that to install it. Wonderful. (Thanks, USB 3.5" drive! Everyone should have one!)

... of course that didn't actually do anything, but it was neat to think I was getting somewhere (I wasn't.) My secret hope was that maybe the Windows 98 partition was still out there floating around and I could just lasso it or something... but no.

So it was on to a partition manager! I thought this one looked extremely sexy, and I was right:


After reformatting the extra hard drive over and over I came up with an idiotic plan that was also devilishly clever: I used the Raddish Partition Manager to hide the DOS partition and set it so it wouldn't boot. DOS was still there, but the computer (and the boot manager) had no idea. I then proceeded to install Windows 98 SE using a boot disk as though I'd never had an operating system on the computer at all! It formatted the remaining 70 gigs FAT-32 for Windows 98, leaving the 8 gigs of FAT16 floating out there in the void. After Windows 98 was in, I ran through the DOS 6.22 install process and bam--two bootable partitions, one FAT16 and one FAT32! An easy configuration of GAG later and I could pick either one at startup! So the lesson for the future is: WINDOWS BEFORE DOS.

Next: we set up Windows 98!
Part 4: Party Like It's Windows 98 (SE)

Hey, both operating systems are in, all the old cards work... I bet that's the end of the project? Not by half! We have a LONG way to go until this is the perfect Wing Commander computer.

One note: at this point, I DO NOT HAVE A WORKING MOUSE IN DOS. I don't have Windows 3.11 working yet, so I haven't really bothered... but as I install Windows 98 I realize that the mouse that's plugged in is actually a hamburger-shaped serial mouse (paging Juno) that only goes up and down. Classy. I dig out my trusty old completely invulnerable USB vibro-mouse (a logitech mouse that had force feedback--the force feedback driver hasn't existed in many years, but it's SUCH a sturdy mouse that I love it) to configure Windows 98.

Now, I'll note that this build is taking weeks and sapping at my very soul... but one way in which Karga (thanks for the spoilers, Dundradal!) is streets ahead of Bertha is that he has a USB drive. Thanks to a cool little hack, I can transfer files to Karga using the USB sticks I have laying around my room. After a few minutes of digging, I find these three options: a Sims 3 plumbob-shaped green crystal USB stick, a University of Texas thumb drive that was a gift from the great Chris Reid... and a STar Trek rubber wristband/USB drive that I got in a cereal box. I go with STar Trek, obviously. And thanks to the fact that Windows 98 can now see the FAT16 partitions, I'll eventually be able to plop entire Strike Commanders right on my DOS drive and then reboot to use them! But more on that later.

USB Driver Hack

So, that done, let's set up Windows 98! First of all, 16 color 640x480 mode blows toads, so let's put some Voodoo drivers on there! Here are the latest set available.

Vooodoo 5 Drivers

We're going to hold off on the sound for a few minutes. Because what's the MOST important thing for a young Wing Commander fan to get working once he has a new copy of Windows to sully? Kilrathi Saga? Secret Ops? The 3Dfx Test? No, no, no, all good answers but wrong. The first thing to do is to get the Privateer 2 Windows 98 theme installed.

Now right now your video card isn't letting you go above 640x480... that's because Windows 98 needs you to manually tell it that you have a monitor capable of higher resolution. No idea why, but you do. Easy fix in the settings.

Here is a little hack that will let you install Windows 95 Themes without having to own Microsoft Plus:

Yay! Windows now has a Privateer 2 background, icon, start and close screens and makes weird moody Tri-System sounds when you do anything. It's bliss!

Next up was the final sound card: a Sound Blaster Live!. The Live! goes in one of the PCI slots and DOS ignores it... the problem is that Windows 98 does NOT ignore the Sound Blaster AWE32 in the ISA slot. In fact, it thinks the AWE32 IS a Live and insists I use it to play any sounds. FRUSTRATING. After messing with hundreds of possible configurations I finally settle on this: remove the AWE32 and install the Live! drivers. Then put the AWE32 back and disable anything Windows wants to add at this point. Surprisingly, this works.

Oh but I have one more sound trick for Windows. Now I know this is completely stupid, but the point is to build the perfect Wing Commander Computer. It just so happens that the first Sound Blaster LiveWare CDs (but not the more recent ones) come with a 'preset' for WIng Commander Prophecy. Now I know it's something stupid like reducing the treble by 10% and nothing else... but you have to have that! I have done the world a favor and preserved an ancient Sound Blaster CD that includes the preset, which you have to install BEFORE you put in the current version of LiveWare. It then very kindly carries over the old presets!

Early LiveWare CD

Latest Sound Blaster Live Drivers for Win 9X

Whew! Another real jerk is Wing Commander IV DVD, which once needed a special video pass through card (the Hollywood+) AND an earlier model DVD ROM drive (like the one currently barfing up my DOS settings.) You even lose video quality with the Hollywood+, since everything else has to be passed through it. I'd give my left eye to be able to remove it.

... luckily, I can! Researching the more recent Wing Commander IV DVD patch, I learn that you can install an AC3 decoder and a more modern video codec on an old system and have it run the DVD without the card. Dare I dream? I so dare, because it worked! Here's everything I needed:

The DVD patch (actually may be unnecessary):

The video codec:
http://download.wcnews.com/files/other/wcpc/klmpeg101.exe (install the "Ligos" codec)

The AC-3 filter:

DirectX 8.1:
(I'm told 9 exists for Windows 98, but I haven't needed it.)

I end up installing the Wing Commander IV DVD to the hard drive entirely--I've got the space and the game does that remarkably well. Just put all the VOB files on your c:\ in a folder named VOB and it will naturally look for them there.

This also means I can buy a modern-ish DVD drive and that I have a free PCI slot (important later.) Trelane finds me the only IDE DVD-ROM drive still available at NewEgg and I order it. Unfortunately it's black instead of gray (or ideally bright yellow,) but it's going to add to Karga's mottled appearance anyway!

(The DVD drive arrives several days later and is NICE. I'm shocked at how much more responsive it is, how quiet it is and how FAST it is.)

So Windows 98 is doing WELL! I decide to finish it off by installing the Windows 98 Wing Commander games, all of which work just fine:

- Wing Commander 4 Windows 95
- Privateer 2 Deluxe Edition
- Wing Commander Prophecy
- The Wing Commander Prophecy Demo
- The 3dfx Test
- Kilrathi Saga
- The Kilrathi Saga addons

Kilrathi Saga will tell you it's installing DirectX2 over your current version, but that's just because it's stupid. It won't actually overwrite anything.

Tada, Windows 98 is done! ... or is it?

It's not. We need a joystick, and for Windows 98 that's going to be a Microsoft Sidewinder Pro Force Feedback stick plugged into the gameport of the Soundblaster Live. Why? Because there's a Wing Commander Prophecy force feedback profile, of course! And you can get the Sidewinder software with that profile here:


The Sidewinder goes in easy and works great. It's a heck of a stick--heavy and mechanical feeling, and the force feedback stiffens it nicely. I promise to look at rudders later, but for now this is pretty good. Pretty really good.

But wait, there's one more thing! Something I've never done before and that I'm a little nervous about. See, years ago when I was first building this computer I wrote something in my notes: "LOOK AT THE VOICE CONTROL THING." Now... what IS that? My memory was hazy, but it said that there was some turn of the century tool that came with a profile for using voice control with Prophecy. Is that something I can find today, or is it something lost on a distant internet?

A little research reveals that it is, indeed, something I can find. It's called "Game Commander 2" and while the company is out of business and the website is down, there is a fully functional trial version of the software available on Tucows. I install it on my Netbook (since that has a mic) to see how it works.

Sure enough, there's a setting for Wing Commander Prophecy... and it RECOGNIZES THE WINGMAN COMMANDS WHEN I TALK TO IT! Oh my god, how cool is that? I need a copy of the real Game Commander 2 now! I install the demo on Karga and order one of these tiny little microphones from Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00029MTMQ/ (thanks to Goku for the model suggestion.)

Here I hit a moral quandry: do I break the trial version (I can't buy it online) and just steal Game Commander 2... or do I track down the full version? My conscious gets the better of me and I send $35 to an Amazon zShop for a boxed copy. It still hasn't arrived, so I'll let you know if I made the right choice!

But the demo is FANTASTIC with Prophecy. If there's anything more fun than actually telling your wingmen to break and attack or attack your target then I don't want to know about it.

Windows 98: special sound card setting, special joystick setting, special mic setting. Nothing but net.

So next we look at something that haunted my last attempt at building the perfect Wing Commander Computer: Windows 3.11.
Part 5: What's a Workgroup, Anyway? and THE DOS DEMOS OF DOOM

The fun thing about this project is that the effort/reward ratio is so insanely skewed. I can install ten commercial games just fine and that's 99.99% of what I want the computer to do... and then I can spend a week trying to figure out how to get one tiny bit of erratta working. One thing that I never figured out the first time around was Origin FX.

That's right, Origin's obscure and downright weird screensaver package from 1993. The one where you have a Paradigm that goes back and forth.

To have Origin FX working perfectly you need to install Windows 3, you need to configure Windows 3 to work in 640x480x256 color mode and you also need it to work with your LA MIDI sound card. But that's not all: to get EVERY possible module you also need to install the disk version of Strike Commander (the CD doesn't work)!

So that's what I did. The first time around I had to add a seprate video card, the troubled Trident from earlier in the story. I'd switch video cards in the BIOS (eventually I would have added a physical switch.) It was messy and awkward. The problem was that there are no SVGA Voodoo 5 drivers for Windows 3.11. THis is because no one, anywhere has ever needed to install Windows 3.11 on a computer with a Voodoo 5 card. No one is that stupid.

But this time, a lot of deep googling found me a VERY COOL hack! A little patch that updates Windows 3.11's SVGA driver so it lets you use 256-color with certain more recent video cards. How cool!

Here it is:

So Origin FX works. And it plays music through the LAPC-I! Ultima music! And it's fab.

(Oh, to install Strike Commander -- instead of digging out my old disks, I used my disk images and installed the game in DOSBox on my Netbook with some ordinary drive mounting. Then I plopped it over via the Star Trek USB key to Karga and it worked great. Doing so with OFX adds a module that lets you watch Strike Commander cutscenes!)

Then... the demos, oh the demos.

In 2011, a demo is a perfect little thing. When a game is finished they carefully slice off a little taste and Major Nelson juts it into our maw, sometimes a month or so after the game ships. It's perfectly representative.

In 1990-1996, that couldn't have been farther from how it worked. A demo was, literally, a tech demo--something cobbled together from the latest barely-functional build of the game, released into the wild weeks or months before the thing was balanced. The Wing Commander demos were a sign of things to come, not representative of the finished product.

As a result, they're the hardest thing to get running.

Now let me say: Wing Commander I, II, III, IV, Armada, Academy, Privateer, Privateer 2 (and Strike Commander) all installed easily, with no problems other than slowdown issues. That's almost anticlimactic: I built this thing, spend all this effort and words and then they go in effortlessly. But their demos... oh, lord, their demos.

I charged into action and immediately found these errors:

Wing Commander I demo
- No sound at all.

Wing Commander II demo
- Music but no speech.

Wing Commander III demo
- Crashes with an error during the install program.

Wing Commander IV demo
- Installer explodes when you try to set up the sound.

Privateer 2 demo
- Works... just fine. Huh.

For the first two, a night of experimentation in #WIngNut revealed that you can configure those demos (and their games) at the command line! Adding "r v" after the executable configures them to play music from the MT-32 and speech from the Soundblaster. Woah! Mind officially blown. But also: the DMA of the Soundblaster has to be *1* instead of *0*. That solved that problem.

The Wing Commander IV demo had two problems. It wouldn't install because for some reason it and only it detected a conflict with the Roland RAP-10. The RAP-10, which is supposed to be for fancy audio recording, needs two DMA channels. Mine was set to a low of 5 and a high of 6... and the actual WC3 and 4 games didn't care about the low while the demo did. And the low was conflicting with the Soundblaster. I reconfigured everything so the low was 6 and the high was 7 (I think.) and it worked... to install, anyway. The demo immediately crashed. That one was easy, though--it turned out the demo absolutely could not work with EMM386. I giddily remembered how to make a Config.sys menu and now it was selectable at startup.

I also made a fancy .bat file that swaps around the movies.tre for the WC4 demo depending on which version you want to play: the "net" version which doesn't have the trailer but does have a funky Origin logo... or the full version with the cool trailer.

Then the WC3 demo, which continues to be a problem to this day... but not as MUCH of a problem.

First of all, it won't install on a fast computer AT ALL. If your computer is too fast the WC3 and 4 installers all point that out and tell you you must be running a disk caching utility (apparently the passage of time never occured to the designers.) Other than a funny error it's not a problem there. For WC3 Demo, though, it freaking explodes instead of showing you the TCS Victory speed test. I actually ended up installing the demo in DOSBox and then copying the configuration over.

Which worked, except for two things:

- In WC3 and 4, the Voodoo needs the 'alternate' VGA mode. You run through the installer and you get a message that "if you can see this text press 1 to set alternate SVGA mode for movies." Easy, there. Unfortunately it doesn't seem to exist in the WC3 demo--the intro movie WILL NOT PLAY. You can skip it and fly the mission just fine... but you can't watch the movie. This is still an issue that I'm working on--hopefully I can figure out some sort of wrapper. (I *can* boot to Windows 98 and watch the video.)

- The WC3 demo isn't designed to work if you own WC3. Just like WC3, it *NEEDS* to have c:\wc3\wc3.con and c:\wc3\wc3.cfg. You can't change the file names and they aren't the same between the two products. D'oh! I created batch files for both games that copy their configuration files from the utilities folder when you go to run them, which solved this stupid error.

A few other things happened:

- I got a Y-splitter for the speakers, so both Karga-DOS and Bertha feed into the same input without needing a physical switch.
- Bertha has a new home! I put a little blue shelf in the bottom corner of my desk with Bertha on the bottom and space for Karga's various MIDI modules and switches on the top. I'll arrange it all once Karga's internals are finished.
- I found Karga's side panels! THEY of all things, were still in my parents' workshop. Weird. Also, the missing drive bay cover.
- The Sound Blaster AWE64 Gold arrived and I slotted it in. For a minute I thought it was bad--no sound was coming through the line-in, which would hav ebeen a disaster. Luckily it turned out that was just a setting in the plug'n'play utility.
- Oh the side-story of the mouse. Basically, I ordered one of those USB-to-PS/2 nubs for the vibromouse from Amazon and... it didn't work. I could swear this had worked in the past, but maybe they're unit-specific? It just didn't power up in DOS at all (or even Windows.) Luckily THAT VERY DAY I got one of those giant Microcenter ads in the mail which actually listed, I'm not making this up, PS/2 Optical MIce for sale... for $2.99. So I went to Microcenter and got the cheapest mouse in the world, which is now happily running in DOS.

And that's where we are today! What's to come?

- I was at dinner the other night with, of all people, the guy who broke Karga in the first place with the magnetic card. "You need anything else for the computer? I think I have an old network card" and it hit me--I hadn't set up the Armada network stuff! Luckily I now had two open PCI slots. I ordered a network card and an external modem over the weekend and at least the NIC should arrive today. I hope DOS can figure out a PCI NIC...

- Joysticks. Got to set up all the Thrustmaster stuff, and the Quickshot panel. I'm just waiting until I'm "done" inisde so I can put Karga into place. I also want to figure out exactly who needs the rudder pedals (Windows 95 vs. DOS.)

- Game Commander 2 should arrive any day now...

- I need to figure out slowdown for WC1, WC2 and Privateer 2. I actually bought the professional Moslo Deluxe and am going to tool around with that real soon now.

- The back two speakers of my speaker system are missing. I need to dehoarder the other side of my desk for these.

- I swear I'm going to post those Mac files for y'all real soon now.
Picture time!


Karga, shortly after his initial discovery.


An early shot of all (but one) of the initial cards.


Neither comfortable nor functional.


Installing DOS 6.22!


I wasn't sure what I was doing at this point.


GAG bootloader.


How far we've come!


The ultimate test of any Wing Commander computer.


Bertha's cute new home!


The world's cheapest mouse is also a cheap date (at Taco Bell.)


AWESOME! A gold sound card!


An earlier version of all of Karga's inputs. The colorful ones were sadly replaced by a regular SB!Live and the AWE 32 was replaced by an AWE 64 Gold with RCA inputs. One video card was dropped.


I know you ladies have heard this before, but I have the world's longest sound card...


Freeing up DOS memory... I can play Aces of the Pacific now!


Installing Windows 98!


What Karga looks like ithout the PSU.


The Privateer 2 theme (and LiveWare 2 sound...scape.)


The perfect Windows desktop?


We'll talk about this sucker in the near future. it comes with cards for WC2, 3, 4, Privateer... and Cybermage.


These are the trash cards that were rejected for some reason or another!


Wing Commander 3 says my DVD drive is impossibly fast... and that was with the first slow DVD drrive!
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There are times I wish I held on to our old 386... but I know that it would end up in storage anyway till we get a bigger place.
Put on the helmet. Time to kill something. Preferably furry, and preferably in the Vega sector.

Also, awesome build.
There are times I wish I held on to our old 386... but I know that it would end up in storage anyway till we get a bigger place.
I'm with you. I held onto my family's 486 until 3 years ago. As a newlywed, I was missing my oranges and she made me toss it. I should have kept it!
Nice writeup!

Looking forward to learning more about your experience (good and bad) with the Quickshot Masterpilot!
Monday morning - the sad return to work after nine days of lounging around the house and only very rarely wearing pants.* As I checked various Amazon shipment statuses in the morning, I happened to notice that I had about $30 worth of Amazon movie rental credits. Thinking they would probably expire, I told Tivo to rent me some movies I'd missed in theaters. They could download in the day and when I got home I'd order a meatball-and-bacon pizza and watch some movies (Captain America and Super 8, for what it's worth.) Karga's NIC and the full copy of Game Commander 2 were arriving in the afternoon, but that would be a ten minute update... right?

Like they say: LOAF plans, God laughs.

* - This time off is not to say I am necessarily a lazy bum: I had four days worth of comp time from overtime at work that had to be used by the end of the month... and that had meshed with Thanksgiving to give me a nice vacation.)

Sure enough, the toys had arrived by the time I made it home:


Karga's keyboard in front, Bertha in back! The LEGO man is actually an LED flashlight.

The NIC is a simple $12 affair from Amazon, chosen because I (thought I) had found DOS drivers for it (http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00004SYNX/) Game Commander came from an Amazon zshop, just a CD-ROM with a serial number. I don't have any other DOS computers to set up an IPX network with, but I figured I would be happy if I could set up the drivers and run the DOS diagnostic program to make sure it checked out.

To its credit, Game Commander went in painlessly. I uninstalled the demo version, installed the full one and gave it the serial number. I was a little worried because the original registration website apparently died long ago, but it was happy to function offline. One worry off my mind.

Oh, but then the NIC. I opened up the case, stuck it in one of the free PCI slots (one left! any ideas?) and booted to Windows 98. I figured I'd install the drivers and maybe someday actually run an ethernet tube in here for it.


A last look at Karga's innards? Sadly, probably not--I noticed last night the clock wasn't keeping time... probably need to put a new battery in there soon.

What I forgot was that Windows 98 is stupid and horrible and that you sometimes need the original Windows CD to install something. And this was one of those times. Harakh! I shouted and cancelled the process. Except, as I think I mentioned, Windows 98 is stupid and horrible... so rebooting gave me a dozen registry errors because it was looking for networky files that were installed even though they didn't exist.

I uninstalled everything which sadly didn't fix the problem. So I used my phone to take a picture of every error message and then proceeded to manually slice them out using regedit.


How did we go from a simple, elegant autoexec/config dealy to whatever the heck a registry is, anyway?

Once that was finished I went back and dug up a real Windows 98 CD and went through the whole process again. NIC installed, no error messages, I'm as happy as a clan... but sadly, that was the easy part. By this time it was maybe 6:30. Not terribly late, but later than I'd expected to still be working on this. And I had to get a pizza and watch two movies... and I knew I needed to be up to publish the Ultima 7 update in the morning (yes, we know GOG's release schedule ahead of time if it wasn't already obvious, don't tell anyone.) But I would not have been able to sleep if I didn't do /something/ to the NIC in DOS, so I stuck with this. My fear was that DOS wouldn't be able to see the PCI card and I'd need to rework everything to get an extra ISA slot and so on and so forth.


Here's my handy 1 GB Star Trek USB wristband. Everyone should have one. Except it's too small to fit on my human sized wrists, so I just dangle it from my pocket. Which is fun because it's made of rubber.

Now, I booted to DOS and happened to do a dir *. /w and decided that my root was getting ugly. I know, I thought to myself: I'll move all my non-games to the UTILS directory and the sound card drivers to subdirectories of /DRIVERS. That'll sex things up a bit! I edited my startup files to reflect the new driver locations (I'm not an IDIOT... wait, it's going to turn out I am) and went on my merry way.

First minor lesson: despite finding a DOS NIC driver museum website that had drivers for the "D-Link DFE-530TX" and included a note that they would work for any D-Link card, they did not work for any D-Link card. Apparently there's a wide gulf between the DFE-530TX and the DFE-530TX+. Luckily, D-Link's website actually lets you download the correct DOS drivers, which to their amazing credit were last updated in 2009. Someone at D-Link has a very weird job. And those worked like a charm! I loaded the packet driver in my config.sys, I could run the IPX setup program and I could run the handily included DIAG.EXE for the NIC that told me everything was a-okay.

... except I noticed in the diagnostic: the NIC is at IRQ11. Something /else/ is supposed to be at IRQ11, I thought to myself. I went through my notes and sure enough, the Roland RAP-10 should be there. That must mean I broke WC3 and 4! I decided. And to confirm this I loaded the WC4 Demo and found, indeed, that there was no sound.

Which prompted three hours of re-learning how IRQs work, disabling certain ones in the BIOS (disabling 11 for PCI cards broke the DIAG, sadly), fiddling with game settings and finally opening Karga up AGAIN to change the jumper settings on the RAP-10. Oddly, I found the jumper was set to IRQ7. That's odd, I said to myself, as I've been setting IRQ11 in the installers. And it WORKED. Eh, I'll change it to 10. Nope, nothing.

Well, I thought, I need to blow off steam, I'll blow up a few Sartha in Academy. Loading loading loading WHAT THE HECK? NO SOUND IN ACADEMY EITHER!? Argh! Had my battle with IRQs broken everything? In short, no it hadn't. Here's what really happened: when I moved the SB16 drivers to /DRIVERS/SB16, it broke MIXERSET.EXE. The mixer was still looking for a file in C:\SB16\, not finding it and defaulting to... you guessed it... line in mute. The RAP-10 was working THE WHOLE TIME and I didn't know because I had accidentally muted it. ARGH!

So I fixed that and... sure enough, the RAP-10 now worked in every game. Here's the weird thing: ir worked REGARDLESS of what I set the IRQ to in the installers. The jumper is now set to 10 instead of 7, but any single option plays sound. All that mattered were it's especially picky DMA settings and the also-set-by-jumpers port. I have no idea where the thing actually is. (I know the SB 16 is 5, I know the Live! is 10 in Windows 98, I know the LAPC-I is 9 and the NIC is 11...)

And so everything works, although I don't know exactly why. And so I went to bed around 11 PM, without watching the movies and without ever getting that pizza.

What's next? An external modem (also for Armada matches) should arrive any day... and after that happens I *think* I can put Karga where he goes instead of splayed open on top of a desk!
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If you happen to be looking for some good drivers for your 3dfx Voodoo card, I may have been heavily involved with the development community back then. http://drivers.NuAngel.net

Thanks! The big problems with the Voodoo have been in DOS. I found a neat hack to get around the complete lack of Voodoo 5 drivers for Windows 3.11... but I'm coming up with nothing for the Wing Commander III demo. My guess is that there's some incompatibility between the Voodo and whatever video mode the Xanmovie player is looking for. The full versions of Wing Commander III and IV detect this during the install and ask you to switch to the alternate video playback mode... but as best I can tell that's not an option in the demo. When it starts up you get the first frame of the video, squashed and frozen at the top of the screen. You can hit escape and go to the gameplay just fine. Switching to VGA instead of SVGA doesn't help. Interestingly I CAN run the demo with the trailer in VGA mode in Windows 98.

I flashed the card's BIOS up to 1.18 and I've tried a few video TSRs with no result. SciTech DisplayDoctor doesn't seem to work with the Voodoo at all (claims it doesn't detect an SVGA chipset... which is probably the heart of the problem anyway.)
Love reading about this - reminds me of many weird build projects I have done over the years... the best was a DOS game PC that was mounted flat on a wall... had a bunch of bus extenders for the PCI slots (I should say ISA slots!) to make the cards lie flat.

Also just had to mention thats a terrible use for the Wing Commander Handbook! Should be kept in a lead-lined case! Also can't wait to hear about the master pilot thing... something that I have never seen or knew existed (as if we ever got awesome peripherals down under).
Good morning!

Nothing positive to report today. Karga's modem arrived in the mail yesterday, but it came with the wrong connector. Still, just seeing the thing plugged in is kind of a blast from the past:


I ordered a new battery (actually, 25 new batteries--so everyone can expect a specific type of lithium battery from LOAF for Christmas this year) and a DB25-to-DB9 modem cable from Amazon which should arrive on Friday.

Now the modem is for Armada matches, so... if anyone else wants to build a Wing Commander Computer we can get our Wraith-quickly-leeches-you-and-wins on soon! (Does long distance still exist? It seems like it shouldn't.)

(Okay, my secret dream is to someday build six identical Armada computers for my own Proving Grounds room. But I'd need a place to put it first, so if anyone has an extra house... or several million dollars and we'll turn Britannia Manor II into a Wing Commander hangout.)

(I would also need five friends.)

Actually, does anyone remember how modems work? Do I need a driver? I guess I need to research that today... (I've started bringing a USB stick to work so I can gather tools for this project that I then offload in Win 98 when I get home.)

No luck on the Wing Commander III demo story, either. Somewhat embarassed I found yesterday that there was a Wing Commander III demo patch for ATI Mach 64 cards that supposedly addresses EXACTLY the error caused by my Voodoo card... and that we host it here. https://www.wcnews.com/wcpedia/ATI_Mach_64_Patch

But it was not to be! Applying this patch (actually a tsr you load before the game) breaks the game in a new and different way. The screen flickers a few times and the first frame of the movie doesn't display at all now... instead, I get a blinking DOS cursor that is now an eerie red color.

Vogons has a cool thread of tools for VESA issues and I'm playing with some of those (http://vogons.zetafleet.com/viewtopic.php?t=15190) I think I'll try posting at their board about this issue today--they seem like a cool group of cats who'd appreciate what I'm doing.

Love reading about this - reminds me of many weird build projects I have done over the years... the best was a DOS game PC that was mounted flat on a wall... had a bunch of bus extenders for the PCI slots (I should say ISA slots!) to make the cards lie flat.

That is such a cool idea! Oh no, now I'm Googling bus extenders and learning about things no one should have told me exist...

Also just had to mention thats a terrible use for the Wing Commander Handbook! Should be kept in a lead-lined case!

Haha, I bought a gross of unsold Handbooks at one point... they're *EVERYWHERE*. And now that there's a scanned version floating around I never even take them out for reference.

Also can't wait to hear about the master pilot thing... something that I have never seen or knew existed (as if we ever got awesome peripherals down under).

Haha, I love that now two people are excited about the Masterpilot. I will say this: it is extremely, extremely, extremely cool looking. It's built from nice materials to look like part of a fighter plane cockpit and it has colored LEDs and a digital numeric display for selecting which game profile you want.

Last night I made the mistake of picking up the Masterpilot manual, though, and learning that you can chain up to three of them together! And they even come with little hooks to attach them. So I'm on the lookout for two more Masterpilots now...

(... I wonder if the three-unit limit is because that's all the power they can draw from the PS/2 port? Because otherwise it would be cool to have FOUR in a chain, one for each Wing Commander profile card...)

(Actually, the official list says there are five WC profiles, but I only have cards for WC2, WC3, WC4 and Privateer. I wonder if there's a WC1 card I'm missing or if it's just the same as WC2. Which would make sense.)

Anyway, in the market for between two and four more Masterpilots, that's for sure.

Another stupid perhipheral: Microsoft's "Sidewinder Game Voice" has a Wing Commander Prophecy profile, which I happened across last night. I know I already have a mic and software that almost certainly does the same thing but... you can pick up a "Game Voice" for under $10 on eBay. In fact, I put in a $5 offer for one this morning.

I think I'm going to spend my work day figuring out what goes where in terms of throttles and joysticks and so on... and maybe, just maybe, Karga can move into his 'home' by this weekend.

(My understanding is that only the Windows games support the rudder... but what about the throttle?)

I could also swear I remember something like the Masterpilot being advertised in an old CGW circa Privateer that claimed to support early Wing Commanders... so I'll thumb through some PDFs to try to find that today (curse my surprisingly good memory and completism.)

(Another project in my head that ties in to all this: putting every Wing Commander and all the supporting material on a USB stick that I would carry with me forever. I figure splurge on a 64-gig stick and I'd have space for CD images of all the games plus PDFs of the manuals and books and so on...)
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Have loved following this thread! Was honored to coin 'Bertha,' but 'Karga' definitely beats it with the WC reference!!!
@LOAF, you don't need a modem driver for an external modem, or for an internal hardware modem you just tell the games on what comport it sits, and the game will handle the rest, depending on connection quality you might want to fiddle with the differend BAUD rates a little. I was going to mention something about using it in windows and configuring the commports, but why on earth would anyone bother since you can use ethernet then?
Hey Loaf, I have an idea -- you should start a shop that sells PCs with awesome old PC games already installed in them, with all of the cards and setup and stuff done -- I'd buy one of these things from you, for sure!