A Pat on the Backward Compatibility

I installed a new main system drive last week, a Western Digital Caviar Black 500GB to replace the aging SATA 1.0 74GB Raptor that has been in my development box since 2005. The new drive is three times faster, and lots bigger. So, to celebrate all that empty space I started dragging out old games to see if I could get them to install and run. Just to set the stage: my main development system is a Core 2 E8500 with 8GB of DDR3 RAM, on an Asus motherboard. The graphics card is an NVidia GTS-250. Audio-wise I use the onboard Realtek for Skype, and an Audigy 4 Pro for games/movies/etc. The operating system is Windows 7 Enterprise 64-bit.

I had some successes and some failures. Rise of Nations, circa 2003, ran fine in widescreen with a little hacking. Age of Empires II, circa 1999, worked but the graphics were messed up, and widescreen/hi-res modes were unavailable. Railroad Tycoon 3, circa 2003, worked fine, including widescreen with a hack to the engine.cfg file, but when patched with the Coast-to-coast expansion it broke. But the backward compatibility award of the day goes to Empire Earth, designed by Rick Goodman of Age of Empires, developed by Stainless Steel Studios and released in 2001 by publisher Sierra. Empire Earth installed and ran flawlessly in 1920 x 1200 widescreen mode. Here’s a shot:

The game ran perfectly in version 1.0 right out of the box. Worked perfectly after patching to 1.04 and then 2.0 as well. Sound worked, all available resolutions were supported, the graphics looked great, the game play was as I remembered. This is quite a feat for a nine year-old title. When Empire Earth was released the minimum system requirements included a Pentium II running at 350 Mhz., and at least 64MB of RAM. If you wanted to enjoy the game’s visuals you were requested to have at least 1024 x 768 pixels available. I think I have more pixels in some of my desktop icons now. Windows XP had just been released, and the hot video cards were the GeForce3 and the original Radeon. The other supported chipsets read like the walls in a technology mausoleum: 3dfx, Savage, Matrox, PowerVR. Network play? You’ll need a 28.8 kbps modem, pal.

As a developer myself I am thoroughly impressed anytime something this old installs and runs the way it was originally designed to. Microsoft gets slapped around a lot these days for being stodgy and unhip, not to mention monopolistic. But they don’t often get the compliments they deserve for getting the big picture right, establishing sensible and well-designed APIs, and then managing them well over the decades. The developers who worked on Empire Earth should be proud of themselves as well. It’s got to feel good to know that someone can take your nine year-old efforts, pop them onto a modern 64-bit DirectX 11 platform, and just have it all work. Well done, guys.

My Toyota

Toyota is taking a pounding in the press for some highly visible quality issues that have surfaced over the last few months, requiring one of the largest vehicle recalls in the company’s history. Every company hits rough spots, and I have no doubt Toyota will do the right thing by its customers, and by itself. The FJ Cruiser pictured to the left (on what remains of Sand Pond Rd. in the Pahaquarry region of northwest New Jersey) is the third Toyota I’ve owned in 15 years, and is one of the best vehicles of any kind that I have owned, ever. In fact, all three of our Toyotas, the FJ, a Sienna minivan, and a Camry wagon, have been solid, well-designed, well-executed vehicles that have given us our money’s worth. If I ever manage to wear out the FJ, you can bet I’ll buy another one.

I Can’t Believe I Survived!

I think about the lives my kids and all of their friends lead today, and I realize that I shouldn’t be here. It is only by the grace of God or munificent fortune that I failed to die at a young age. Here is a list of things I can’t believe I survived, and I didn’t even bother to include eating raw egg, not washing my hands, and playing with turtles and rodents.

Riding my bike without a helmet. Riding my bike without a helmet, really fast, down a long really steep hill, with a playing card clipped to the rear strut, and turning around to look down at it, and hitting the front of a parked dump truck at full speed. Without a helmet.

Walking home from school. Walking home from school, at the age of 7, crossing Twelve Mile Road in Farmington Hills, and not looking both ways, and getting tagged by Mr. Shoemaker’s sedan so hard I flipped head over heals and my shoes flew off. And then accepting a ride home from him.

Running away. Running away from home at the age of ten, in the dark, with my parents watching, and traveling less than a mile before building a small fire in a field and sitting down to wait for my Dad to show up.

Getting towed behind my Dad’s Pinto. Getting towed, behind my Dad’s red Ford Pinto, through the snowy streets of Auburn, on a ten-foot bobsled with a bunch of other screaming, laughing kids, and having it flip on a corner and scatter us all from curb to curb.

Climbing trees. Climbing as high in trees as I could possibly climb. Climbing until the branches bent under my weight, and then swinging like a monkey and falling off and breaking my left arm.

Setting stuff on fire. Setting stuff on fire on the hearth of the old brick incinerator in our basement, and pouring in a can of lacquer thinner to see what would happen, and finding out that what would happen is that it would explode and set a quarter of the basement on fire, with my parents out to dinner.

Fighting. Fighting with other boys in the schoolyard during recess in the days before “Say no to violence!” posters, when we would beat each other senseless while 2/3 of the rest of the school, including every single girl, stood in a circle egging us on.

Bumper skating. Bumper skating behind the municipal buses in Auburn, NY, crouched down low where nobody could see us, as a primary means of wintertime transportation.

Ingesting pesticides and hydrocarbons. Ingesting pesticides and hydrocarbons while riding our bikes right behind the truck that sprayed a thick fog of malathion and diesel fuel to control mosquitoes in our neighborhood in Indiana. It was cool inside that fog.

Setting half the woods on fire. Setting half the woods behind our house on fire while attempting to erect an epic tree fort, and learning that copius amounts of gasoline are not necessarily the best ant control methodology.

Playing with electricity. Playing with electricity mostly by cutting the plug and some cord off an old appliance, stripping the wire ends bare, then plugging it in and touching them to stuff, like twelve volt DC motors and six volt solenoids.

Funny thing is, I look back over that list and I think I had a pretty normal childhood. Our parents didn’t hover over us. They let us get out of the house, try stupid stuff, get burned and break bones. I can’t count the high-speed bicycle crashes I was in, and nobody wore a helmet. No teacher ever broke up one of our fights. No parent ever called the fire department because they saw one of us fifty feet up a maple. Nobody panicked when the sun went down and we weren’t home. Nobody required us to ride in the car to a friend’s house half a mile away. I ask myself whether the world today is more dangerous, and the answer is that I don’t believe it is. I think we’re the ones who have changed.