Gamefinds: Nip For Speed

We love it when we find weird and unique indie games to tell you all about! Our alien friends to the left herald these occasions.

From itch.io’s Youtube account, this barely qualifies as a game, but it’s funny. Surreal. Absurd. Bizarre. But mostly funny. It’s Nip For Speed, and it’s from knackelibang.

You’re riding in a car with an orange cat behind the wheel. Not a cartoony cat, a realistic cat, or at least its low-poly model is kind of realistic. It doesn’t act, or talk, much like a real cat though. There’s also a dog involved.

Content warning: the cat does meet its end, but in a much more cartoony way than the cat’s model. It probably shouldn’t have been behind the wheel anyway.

Nip For Speed (itch.io, Web and Windows, $0)

Video: Why Was 3D Pinball Removed From Windows Vista?

I’ve mentioned the work of NCommander before, when I posted a link to his video about getting DOOM to run on an IBM RS/6000.

Another interesting game-related video he’s made is about the beloved old pinball game that was included with Windows during the XP days, but vanished with Vista. The game’s exclusion was the subject of a blog post by former Microsoft developer Raymond Chen, who mentioned that he had trouble getting the game to work correctly under 64-bit Windows. The ball kept clipping through objects, and sometimes falling through the plunger and out of the table. NCommander’s examination indicates that the problem was probably related to floating point precision as Chen had said, but that the cause was probably more complicated than that, and may have had to do with issues getting the game to run correctly on Intel’s ill-fated Itanium architecture, their first attempt at a 64-bit processor.

NCommander’s explorations were made possible by the discovery that, although there was no way to get the installer to offer it, the 3D Pinball game files are on the CD for the various editions of XP for Itanium. For more information, I refer you to the video, embedded above.

Notably, Chen has responded to NCommander’s video with more details about the game’s removal, which make the story even more interesting, bringing in Alpha AXP, a second obscure 64-bit architecture that could run Windows XP.

It should be said that all of this is much more technical than the usual post here. Please don’t freak out too badly if this makes little or no sense to you. We’ll have something marginally more comprehensible for you tomorrow.

Video: The Sad End of Phil Katz

We mostly try to stick with games here, but just about everyone in the Windows ecosystem uses ZIP archive files. They’ve long become a de facto standard, with tools for working with them in Windows supplied by Microsoft as early as the Windows 95 Powertoys Plus! Pack. Nowadays, support for them is built right into Windows Explorer, and you can even open them like folders, which felt like some kind of magic when that feature debuted.

The ZIP format was once one of several competing compression and archiving formats, with others being LHA/LZH, ARC, ARJ, CAB, and of course on the Unix/Linux side of things Tar, Gzip and GZ. Other than the Unix types, those others are mostly dead now. There are some relative newcomers, RAR and 7Z, but most people just stick with ZIP without even caring to know of the format’s origins.

ZIP was the format produced by the shareware PKZip compression tools, named for its co-creator Phil Katz. Katz created it in response to a lawsuit from the company behind the (now obscure) SEA format. Rather than fight it, he and Gary Conway designed their own format and made tools to work with it. Then as now, the world loves an underdog, and many people flocked to the format. In 1989 they released the format to the public domain.

Phil Katz’s later life was ruined by alcoholism, which the above video from the Dave’s Garage YouTube channel is about. A sad end to someone who popularized a piece of technology that still sees use millions of times a day.

ZIP is so ubiquitous now that lots of people use it without even realizing. DOCX, ODF, EPUB, and JAR are all secret ZIP files under the hood.

Katz’s company PKWare remains to this day, although they’re now focused on data security, and as you can see from their website they now look exactly like the kind of faceless monolith that all tech companies eventually mutate into. They still steward the format, and in that tonedeaf way of corporations, now hold a forbidding number of patents, and claim, “The free license grant offered in prior APPNOTE publications has been discontinued.” Presumably people just use the last public domain version, since once something is in the public domain, it’s there forever, thank frog.

(EDIT: xot on Twitter mentions that Windows ZIP support first appeared in the Win95 Plus! Pack, correction made above.)

The Dark History of Zip Files (YouTube, Dave’s Garage)

Mamesaver

Did you ever look at your collection of legally-acquired of course MAME roms and thought to yourself, I wish I could turn the attract modes of these arcade games into a screensaver? I thought that, and then thought, I should try to create one!

Then I stopped myself, and thought once more: before creating one, let’s use Google to try to find out if someone’s already done it first, save myself a lot of work, wot wot.

As it turns out, someone has made one! Currently it’s only for Windows, sadly, and it requires the NET runtime. It also needs you to have a stock version of MAME already installed. But if MAME is set up so it knows your rompath, it’s smart enough to ask it where to find them. You can even determine the command-line options that MAME receives. It’s nice! Which is why I mention it here! You’re welcome!

GitHub: Mamesaver 3.0.

Windows 3.1 Turns 30

Windows 3.1 logo

Windows 3.0 is where it became obvious that Windows was going to be a big thing. Previous versions of Windows were novelties. Now Microsoft had something that looked as good as a Mac. MS-DOS had become the de-facto standard for computing, but its UI was a command prompt, great for power users but impenetrable for the average PC owner. Windows 3.0 began to change that, and Windows 3.1 was a substantial improvement upon that.

April 6th is the 30th anniversary of Windows 3.1, released in 1992. While many of its elements may seem unfamiliar to younger users-there is no Start Button, desktop directory, taskbar, Windows Explorer or web browser-millions of people got their first exposure to Windows here. It used a “Program Manager” to allow users to launch their software.

File icons don’t appear on the Desktop. Minimized programs appear there instead, at the bottom of the screen. And under the hood is MS-DOS, which would remain around in some form until Windows XP finally annihilated it completely in 2001.

Benj Edwards of HowToGeek spoke with former Microsoft VP Brad Silverberg on the version of Windows that many cut their teeth on.

Benj’s Twitter feed has some more discussion.

You can run Windows 3.1 in your web browser at pcjs.org.

The file manager of Windows 3.1, called File Manager natch, has been officially remade for Windows 10 and later, and is available on the Microsoft App Store.