Monday, February 11, 2008, 05:31 AM ( 7 views ) - Posted by AdministratorThe other day at work I accidentally uninstalled VMware, and installing it again is a big hassle because I don't know where the license key is. It's supposed to be in the Windows registry somewhere, but I couldn't find it. So I decided that a better solution would be to install a virtual machine that doesn't require a license to run, like Virtual Box. It works well, plus it's open-source and free. I had to rebuild all of my virtual machines, but I'm used to that because I frequently destroy them by doing weird things without remembering to back them up first. Last week, for instance, I couldn't get imaginary Windows XP to boot because its imaginary filesystem got corrupted. Who knew that you could corrupt hard disks that only exist in a computer's imagination?
Anyway, while installing Virtual Box, I was alerted to the recent development that the software now supports primitive direct access to graphics cards. It still doesn't allow full hardware acceleration, but you can do enough to run older games. VMware does support full hardware acceleration in principle, but in reality it's still really broken, and VMware also costs a lot of money, is highly proprietary and is harder to set up than Virtual Box. So Virtual Box's move towards hardware acceleration is definitely a victory for free software, because now it's become even more useful.
Since I can now play games in Virtual Box, I installed the best thing ever to come out of the Ukraine, Cossacks: European Wars, and it even worked. I tried this last summer and couldn't come close to getting a playable game, even under VMware with its claims of hardware acceleration support. But now, for the first time in my life, I can run Cossacks without rebooting my computer to Windows. To prove it, I took these hardcore screenshots of Cossacks running on Ubuntu:
In case you don't know, Cossacks is probably the best computer game ever made. It's even better than Age of Kings. Not only does it allow you to have up to 8,000 individual little people in your imaginary world at once--most other strategy games, especially eight years ago, limited it to only a couple hundred--but it's also focused on early modern Europe, unlike most other strategy games, which are inherently boring because their themes are invariably the Middle Ages or World War II, which get old fast.
Unfortunately, Cossacks was made by Ukranians, and everyone knows that they made Ukraine and other Slavic countries super-strong at the expense of everyone else. Ukraine and Russia can make way more soldiers than the western European countries in the same amount of time. Even Poland is unfairly strong, with its unique ability to create really fast and really heavy cavalry. Once in tenth grade I had to fight Poland, and my entire division of French cuirassiers was completely destroyed by a couple dozen Polish hussars, who suffered not a single loss. Is that fair? Prussia also gets some sketchy stuff, although Prussians aren't Slavs, as far as I know.
In principle, the Slavs' special abilities are balanced out by the western Europeans' more advanced technological opportunities. In reality, however, you would have to play for hours in order to accumulate the money necessary to take advantage of western European technology, and no one has time for that. After two hours you might be able to manufacture a lot of heavy artillery and defeat the Ukraine, I guess, but even in high school, when I had nothing better to do, I never played for two hours. Plus, you would probably not be able to last that long to begin with, because the Ukranians would seriously outnumber you for the first hour of the game, and unless you're really good or resort to sketchy tactics that make people call you a lot of bad names and ban you from future games, you would lose. And some of the European countries don't even get any useful advanced technologies at all; the French, for instance, are given an overpriced guy on a horse called a "king's musketeer" that takes forever to make and costs way too much money, so no one smart ever uses it. The Venetians have some special kind of boat that can't do anything useful, and the English get bagpipers (there's no Scotland, and I guess they figured that England was close enough to get bagpipers). That certainly makes up for all of the unfair advantages of the Ukranians.
Anyway, Cossacks: European Wars was succeeded by Cossacks II: Napoleonic Wars around 2005, and almost everyone stopped playing the former. Unfortunately, I never had a computer fast enough to play Cossacks II at a realistic speed, although it would probably be a good game if I could. It turns out that there are still a few people playing the original Cossacks online, however, so once I practice and remember how to play decently, I can waste my valuable time playing that game again.
Cossacks, which was marketed by a German company, never caught on very much in the United States, so playing it online is a good international experience, and a solid opportunity to practice German. It's also a solid opportunity to see poor English translations at work, since the whole game appears to have been translated by kids in high school who don't know how to do stuff like properly conjugate the verb "to have." They also misspelled Piedmont as "Piemont" throughout the whole game. Hardly anyone in America knows where Piedmont is anyway; the least you could do is spell its name right, Ukrainians. But that's ok, because Cossacks allows me to virtually relive the Thirty Years' War and other important events in early modern European history, like the Battle of Malplaquet, which makes life a lot more complete.