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Using VMware Fusion to fire up old games. Or not.

Mark's rating: 5
Your rating: None Average: 2 (1 vote)

OK, I know we're all big boys and girls here and what we do in IT is really serious stuff, but occasionally we have to take some time off to play games.

Now, I am not a big computer games player. True, I've been known to play a few hands of Texas Hold'em, but only to hone my skills for a tournament. Then there are, admittedly, a few times when I've invested my precious time in a few dozen rounds of Reversi or a very rare game of Solitaire. Angry Birds? Not my kind of entertainment. First-person shooters? Not my kind of thing either.

But amongst all of the computer games I've played there was one from a long time ago that I really enjoyed. I bought it for my son when he was around 7 and both he and I loved it. The game was "Star Wars Episode I: Racer," published by Lucas Arts.

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This race consisted of a number of bizarre vehicles that skimmed the ground of a huge course crossing a forbidding desert at insane speeds. In other words, the race was the high point of an otherwise leaden movie, iconic though it may be.

So, some time ago I decided to spring clean and hauled out a box of DVDs to throw away the cruft. Lo and behold, there was my original disk for "Star Wars Episode I: Racer"!

But wait! Before I could enjoy the thrill of pod racing once again I needed to install the game ... and that's when the fun began. I tried to install it on Windows Vista but, alas, the requirements for Racer are stringent: Windows 95 or 98 with DirectX 6.1 and nothing else. Hummm ...

Now, not wanting to dedicate a whole machine to running Windows 98, I thought, why not run Windows 98 in a virtual machine? That should work. Oh, how wrong can you be?

I'd just purchased a new iMac (27-inch with an i7 processor ... yes, you may envy me, go right ahead) and had already installed VMware Fusion 3.1, so I was ready to roll, baby.

I loaded up my Windows 98 disk and went through the VM creation process and, lo and behold, I had a brand new Windows 98 Second Edition running as a "guest" operating system in a virtual machine. Easy, simple and painless.

Before I continue my saga let me note that VMware Fusion is excellent! It is fast; in fact, it is way faster than you might have hoped (though running on a 2.93GHz four core beast like the i7, you might reasonably expect such a thing).

When it comes to booting a Windows 98 VM under Fusion, the speed is a revelation: From boot up to login in under five seconds is amazing! Unfortunately, it turns out that 3D acceleration for a Windows 98 VM is not in Fusion's bag of tricks.

I installed "Star Wars Episode I: Racer" and everything went fine until I tried to run the software ... "You must configure your 3D settings" it complained, then reported "Direct3D Failure / No 3D Hardware Found."

It turns out that even though 3D graphics are enabled for Windows XP, Windows Vista and Windows 7 with DirectX 9.0c and higher, only the standard PCI VGA graphics driver gets installed by Windows 98 while VMware only brings its SVGA II driver to the table and neither supports 3D acceleration.

So, I was out of luck running "Star Wars Episode I: Racer" under VMware Fusion, but given I was trying to run a decade-old game on an ancient operating system in a VM, I might have been expecting rather a lot. So, I award VMware Fusion a rating of 5 out of 5 (well done, chaps).

Not one to throw in the towel so easily, I went looking for another solution ... which is a tale to be continued.

Gibbs plans his sequels in Ventura, Calif. Your reviews to gearhead@gibbs.com.

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