Jul 122017
 

Windows XP dark age logoI thought about writing something like this for a while now, so here it is. A list of games that don’t officially work on XP / XP x64, but still do. Either out of the box or by using some slight modifications or by using real binary hacks and stub DLLs. This list is by no means complete, it’s basically just the stuff I stumbled over. Some of the games will require slightly more complex solutions, for which individual guides already exist, either here or elsewhere. I won’t describe the procedures again, but just link to the corresponding information where necessary.

Where known, the game engine used by a title will also be listed, because games using the same engine can sometimes be persuaded to work in the same way.

Since my Anime (and Manga and visual novel) infection has already spread throughout my brain completely while creating fatal degeneration in the process, I had to split this article into four categories, to better suit peoples’ interests – 1 and 2 are almost the same though:

  1. Western games
  2. 64-bit games officially supported on XP x64
  3. Weird Japanese shit
  4. Visual novels (which by definition are often also weird Japanese shit)

Platform compatibility information was mostly taken from Valve Steam, so the operating system requirements specified here might not always match those listed at other websites selling those games.

I’m actually planning on keeping this list up to date as time progresses!

Updates (latest first):

  • 2017-12-01: “The Bureau: XCOM Declassified” has been added, thanks to [Humble] giving the game away for free for some time. Thank you, Humble! :)
  • 2017-09-11: “Gal*Gun: Double Peace” / “ぎゃる☆がん だぶるぴーす” has been added.
  • 2017-09-05: “Ne no Kami” part 2 and “The last Birdling” have been added. Ren’Py version number added for “Fatal Twelve”.

Ok, let’s start:

1. Western Games

Here’s the normal stuff:

Dishonored logo1a. Dishonored

Claims: Windows Vista
Developer & Engine: Arkane Studios; Unreal Engine 3
Requirements: None; Runs out of the box on XP & XP x64
Compatibility confidence: Maximum; Several playthroughs on XP completed, likely no more development
Genre: First Person Rogue (Steampunk setting)
Synopsis: See [Wikipedia]
Notes: It’s a dark, very much steampunk, interesting parallel world setting. Features a world that changes subtly based on the characters’ actions. The sequel will no longer work on XP. Runs fine even with mid-range hardware from around 2015 or so.

 

Legend of Korra logo

1b. Legend of Korra

Claims: Windows Vista
Developer & Engine: PlatinumGames; In-house PlatinumGames Engine
Requirements: None; Runs out of the box on XP & XP x64
Compatibility confidence: Fair; Only brief tests carried out, no playthroughs
Genre: Beat ’em up
Synopsis: See [Wikipedia]
Notes: It may look animeish at first, but is actually a US-made game.

 

Life is strange logo

1c. Life is strange

Claims: Windows Vista
Developer & Engine: Dotnod Entertainment; Unreal Engine 3
Requirements: None; Runs out of the box on XP & XP x64
Compatibility confidence: Fair; Only brief tests carried out, no playthroughs
Genre: Graphic adventure
Synopsis: See [Wikipedia]
Notes: It’s an episodic series, and I’ve only covered the first part.

 

Master of Orion (2016) logo

1d. Master of Orion

Claims : Windows 7 64-bit
Developer & Engine: NGD Studios; Unity Engine 5.2
Requirements: 64-bit; Will work on XP x64, but not on XP 32-bit, as it’s a true 64-bit binary.
Compatibility confidence: Fair; Only brief tests carried out, no playthroughs
Genre: 4X strategy
Synopsis: Not much to say here, it’s once again a turn-based game about conquering the galaxy.
Notes: This is about the 2016 version; A classic returns, well, at least almost. Requires fairly powerful hardware.

 

Mechwarrior Online logo

1e. Mechwarrior Online

Claims: Windows 7
Developer & Engine: Piranha Games; CryEngine 2.5 – 3
Requirements: Steam version; The regular game launcher won’t work.
Compatibility confidence: High; played for hundreds of hours, but there is a lot of active development, so the more distant future is rather uncertain, hence no “Maximum” confidence.
Genre: Tactical combat simulator
Synopsis: At the beginning of the clan invasion, the player – whether on the side of one of the Inner Sphere Houses or any of the Clans – is thrown into Battletech warfare.
Notes: They have just launched their new game launcher, which is now built with .Net 4.5.2, which doesn’t work on XP. So now, the only way is via the Steam platform. Until their single player title comes out, this is the latest and greatest from the Battletech universe, and it sticks to the canon rather strictly as well. Requires very powerful hardware even on XP, especially on the GPU side of things. Better use top end stuff. Note that it does automatically launch the 64-bit version when on XP x64.

 

Stellaris logo

1f. Stellaris (also applies to: Europa Universalis 4, Hearts of Iron 4 and Crusader Kings 2)

Claims: Windows 7
Developer & Engine: Paradox Development Studio; In-house Clausewitz Engine
Requirements: Stub DLL hack; Missing Win32 API / Kernel API function calls, requires UncleVasyas’ (Oleg Ovcharenkos’) XP hack: [Link].
Compatibility confidence: Low; Haven’t tested this myself at all, as I do not yet own the game. However, given users’ reports and when looking at results when using Olegs’ patch on other games, this will very likely work just fine.
Genre: 4X strategy (Stellaris)
Synopsis: See [Wikipedia] (Stellaris)
Notes: May buy this in the future. Requires very powerful hardware, even on XP. Better get ready to use the fastest stuff XP / XP x64 can support in terms of CPU and GPU.

 

"The Bureau: XCOM Declassified" logo1g. The Bureau: XCOM Declassified

Claims: Windows Vista SP2
Developer & Engine: Irrational Games, 2K Games; Unreal Engine 3
Requirements: None; Runs out of the box on XP & XP x64
Compatibility confidence: Fair; Only brief tests carried out, no playthroughs
Genre: Tactical shooter
Synopsis: See [Wikipedia]
Notes: Interestingly, this title wasn’t developed by Firaxis like the new “Enemy Unknown” or its sequel “Enemy Within” (see below). As such, they didn’t copy Firaxis’ mistake of using file I/O API calls only present on Vista+. So no hacks required.

 

XCOM logo

1h. XCOM: Enemy Unknown (also applies to: XCOM: Enemy Within)

Claims: Windows Vista
Developer & Engine: Firaxis Games; Unreal Engine 3
Requirements: Stub DLL hack; Missing file I/O function calls that are available via Microsofts’ backported fileextd.dll. Required hacks by KawaiiSara (32-bit) and ScavengerSpb (64-Bit) described [here] for XCOM: Enemy Unknown and [here] for XCOM: Enemy Within.
Compatibility confidence: High; No full playthroughs, but played for several hours
Genre: Strategy
Synopsis: See [Wikipedia]
Notes: This was one of the early binary hacks for Games on XP. This is mostly just because the developer didn’t care about properly including fileextd.h, as well linking against and deploying fileextd.dll. Requires fairly current hardware.

 

2. 64-bit Games officially supported on XP x64

This is a special category for games that do support Windows XP – either only in its 64-bit incarnation, or with a specific port supporting the 64-bit version of the OS officially. Because of this, the “compatibility confidence” rating is being omitted.

Vities Skylines logo

2a. Cities Skylines

Claims: Windows XP x64 Edition
Developer & Engine: Colossal Order; Unity Engine 5.x
Requirements: 64-bit
Genre: Construction & Management Simulation
Synopsis: Build a huge freaking city, what else?
Notes: Requires powerful hardware, not matter which OS you’re using. Better prepare a fast multi-core CPU and a lot of RAM, like 8GB+.

 

X-Plane 10 logo

2b. X-Plane 10

Claims: Windows XP or Windows XP x64 Edition
Developer & Engine: Laminar Research; In-house X-Plane 10 core engine
Requirements: None; Runs out of the box on XP & XP x64
Genre: Flight simulator
Synopsis: Fly planes. Huh.
Notes: Depending on what you’re doing this might require a ton of CPU horsepower and 4GB+ of RAM. The sequel will no longer work on XP / XP x64 due to requiring a more modern Direct3D API.

 

3. Weird Japanese shit

Well, Japanese stuff is… different. Sometimes in good ways. Sometimes in bad ways. And sometimes in weird ways. Let’s go:

A Magical Highschool Girl logo

3a. A magical high-school girl / 魔法の女子高生

Claims: Windows XP / XP x64 (So why is this game listed here? See below, it’s basically a reversed case…)
Developer & Engine: illuCalab; Unity Engine 5.4
Requirements: None; Is partially broken out of the box on XP & XP x64 though.
Compatibility confidence: Low; Played for many hours and it works, but audio is broken and will likely remain in this state.
Genre: ARPG, somewhat rouge-like
Synopsis: See [Steam]
Notes: This is an oddball. It actually specifies Windows XP, but its audio component is built with .Net 4.5, which is not available on XP / XP x64. It still works, but without sound. If you still want to play this on XP, I’d suggest you prepare a good music playlist to run in the background. You’ll have to make the “swooosh”, “zap” and “booom” sounds by yourself though. ;) It’s actually a pretty intelligent game, where spellcrafting works via some AI code that interprets the spell names you type in when creating a new one. Fun fact: Naming a spell “Nagasaki” creates a fire bomb type spell. Talk about political correctness, heh…

 

Crush Crush logo

3b. Crush Crush

Claims: Windows 7 SP1
Developer & Engine: Sad Panda Studios; Unity Engine 5.4.1
Requirements: None; Runs out of the box on XP & XP x64
Compatibility confidence: Fair; Only brief tests carried out, no playthroughs
Genre: Clicker, Yuri
Synopsis: See [Steam]
Notes: It’s probably as bad as its logo suggests. While being a clicker you’re supposed to be able to flirt with or date girls, no idea. I only picked this up because it’s supposed to contain Yuri content (Girls Love). I might never really play this, but at least it’s free, so you got nothing to lose.

 

Gal*Gun: Double Peace logo

3c. Gal*Gun: Double Peace / ぎゃる☆がん だぶるぴーす

Claims: Windows 7
Developer & Engine: Inti Creates; Unreal Engine 3
Requirements: 64-bit; Will work on XP x64, but not on XP 32-bit, as it’s a true 64-bit binary.
Compatibility confidence: Fair; Only brief tests carried out, no playthroughs
Genre: Bishōjo rail shooter
Synopsis: See [Steam]
Notes: Bought this on Steam on a -75% sale (taking the risk that it might no work), because it looked like some perverted fun. I might never play it though, as it really needs a game pad, and I suck with those. Well, I do still have my 3dfx/Interact Hammerhead FX, so maybe I’ll try some day. This game seems to work on XP x64 only by accident: It uses the Unreal Engine 3, but is compiled for 64-bit. Clearly, it was never originally intended to ever work on the OS, and was likely never tested on XP x64 either.

 

Hyperdimension Neptunia logo

3d. Hyperdimension Neptunia Re;Birth 1, 2 & 3 V Generation / 超次次元ゲイム ネプテューヌRe;Birth1, 2 & 3 V Generation

Claims: Windows 7 64-bit
Developer & Engine: Idea Factory, Compile Heart & Felistella; Sony PhyreEngine
Requirements: None; Runs out of the box on XP & XP x64
Compatibility confidence: High; Played for quite a while without issues, no complete playthroughs though.
Genre: JRPG
Synopsis: See [Wikipedia]
Notes: Runs with OpenGL 3.3 if modern Direct3D isn’t present, which allows the 3D renderer to work on XP. All the other components are fine with DirectX 9.0c. The later Neptunia versions (basically all which are asking for Direct3D 11) dropped support for OpenGL, so any version asking for D3D11 should no longer work on XP.

 

Valkyria Chronicles logo

3e. Valkyria Chronicles / 戦場のヴァルキュリア -Gallian Chronicles-

Claims: Windows Vista
Developer & Engine: SEGA; CANVAS Engine
Requirements: None; Runs out of the box on XP & XP x64
Compatibility confidence: Fair; Only brief tests carried out, no playthroughs
Genre: Strategy RPG
Synopsis: See [Wikipedia]
Notes: I should really play this! It seems to be a somewhat WW1/WW2ish game, and looks pretty good.

 

4. Visual Novels

Like “graphical novels”, these are crossovers between books and games, somewhat like those multi-branching adventure books for kids you might or might not know. VNs usually tend to require a fair amount of Japanophilia on behalf of the player / reader, at least sometimes. Most are distinctly Asian after all. There are two rough categories: 1.) Typical Visual Novels with a branching decision tree that allows the player to reach different story paths and endings and 2.) Kinetic Novels, that do not allow the player to make any choices, but instead focus on telling a single story as well as possible.

As all of them fall into a single genre (visual novel), the “Genre” part will be replaced with “Subgenre”, like “drama” or “Comedy” or something similar.

Let’s go:

Chusingura46+1 S logo

4d. ChuSingura46+1 S / 忠臣蔵46+1

Claims: Windows 7
Developer & Engine: inra; Unity Engine 5.4
Requirements: 64-bit; Will work on XP x64, but not on XP 32-bit, as it’s a true 64-bit binary.
Compatibility confidence: Fair; Only the first part has been tested, and only very briefly.
Subgenre: No idea. There are tons of Samurai girls, and that’s all I know.
Synopsis: See [Steam]
Notes: As said, only the initial free-to-play part has been tested, so I don’t know about chapters 2-5.

 

Chuusotsu First Graduation: Time after Time logo

4a. Chuusotsu – 1st Graduation: Time after Time / ちゅーそつ! 1st graduation

Claims: Windows Vista
Developer & Engine: Studio Beast; KiriKiri Engine
Requirements: None; Runs out of the box on XP & XP x64
Compatibility confidence: Fair; The game hasn’t been released at the time of writing, but brief tests have been done running the demo without problems so far. The release is expected some time in Q4 2017.
Subgenre: Cute Slice of Life, Sterile Dystopia with social commentary (afaik)
Synopsis: See [Kickstarter]
Notes: I actually backed this. I like this kind of “no personal freedom” kind of sci-fi setups, where certain individuals struggle with their lack of free choice or expression of opinion. This title might be a lot less serious though, I simply don’t know yet.

 

Fatal Twelve logo

4b. Fatal Twelve / フェイタルトゥウェルブ

Claims: Windows 7
Developer & Engine: Aiueo Kompany & Sekai Project; Ren’Py Engine 6.99.12.4 (Python 2.7)
Requirements: None; Runs out of the box on XP & XP x64
Compatibility confidence: Fair; The game hasn’t been released at the time of writing, but like with Chuusotsu, brief tests have been carried out on the demo without problems. The release is expected on 2018-01-01.
Subgenre: Mystery, supernatural, Yuri
Synopsis: See [Kickstarter]
Notes: I saw it’s graphical style, and I knew I had to back this. It looks rather well made, visually at least. Should contain lots of Yuri elements, which is always a reason for buying pretty much anything!

 

Flowers -le Volume sur Printemps- logo

4c. Flowers -Le volume sur Printemps-

Claims: Windows Vista
Developer & Engine: Innocent Grey; unknown engine
Requirements: None; Runs out of the box on XP & XP x64
Compatibility confidence: Maximum; Full playthrough completed, several parts replayed.
Subgenre: Yuri Drama, Slice of Life
Synopsis: Our protagonist Suoh – which suffers from pretty intense social anxiety – changes schools, right into a classy christian, private all-Girls school. The story follows her finding her first friends (and more than that) as well as her opening up to the people around her.
Notes: No explicit stuff, so this is on the softer side of Girls Love. It does feature drama as well. Note that this is a longer VN, but still only the first part of a four-part series. Each part is supposed to represent a season – spring, summer, autumn and winter, both in actual time of the year as well as the maturation of the characters. Rather lengthy, ~20 hours. Part 2 will come out soon (likely this month), and will be tested immediately after release!

 

Kindred Spirits on the Roof logo

4e. Kindred Spirits on the Roof / 屋上の百合霊さん

Claims: Windows Vista
Developer & Engine: Liar-soft; Codex RScript Engine
Requirements: None; Runs out of the box on XP & XP x64
Compatibility confidence: Maximum; Full playthrough completed.
Subgenre: Yuri, Slice of Life
Synopsis: Happens that for some reason our protagonist (a girl, like all characters here) is sensitive to the supernatural and hence manages to make contact with the two ghosts on the roof of the school. Those happen to have watched many a bad outcome when it comes to romances at the school, unable to intervene for decades. Now that they can talk to a living person for the first time, they’ve picked you to become their “tool” to “get those girls together”.
Notes: Does feature sex scenes, but they’re rare and not overly explicit. Its a longer Yuri VN, and despite having a few steamy moments, I’d still call this one “soft and sweet”. Gives you a good 20 hours of girls getting closer to girls!

 

The last Birdling logo

4e. The last Birdling

Claims: Windows XP, but also DirectX 10 (Huh?! How’s that gonna work?)
Developer & Engine: InvertMouse; Ren’Py Engine 6.99.12.3 (Python 2.7)
Requirements: None; Runs out of the box on XP & XP x64
Compatibility confidence: Fair; Only brief tests completed, no playthroughs
Subgenre: Fantasy
Synopsis: A story of two members of opposing races of which one is about to become extinct, who become friends against all odds, and then have to hide / defend their friendship without enraging their respective peoples.
Notes: This is not actually Japanese, the developer is an Australian who’s lived in Hong Kong. I’m not sure if this is Yuri, but probably not, Yuri friendship at best? I do like stories, where people who’re supposed to be hating each other due to their upbringing become friends instead, and then start to defend that friendship. Should be interesting even without Yuri. The game doesn’t actually use any DirectX 10 resources, it renders to OpenGL and makes use of some DirectX 9.0c libraries.

 

Ne no Kami: The two Princess Knights of Kyoto logo

4f. Ne no Kami: The two Princess Knights of Kyoto / ねのかみ 京の都とふたりの姫騎士

Claims: Windows 7 / Windows Vista in the Readme file, noting that “XP may work, but it’s untested”
Developer & Engine: Kuro Irodoru Yimiji; Artemis Engine w. m-kz / iMel
Requirements: None; Runs out of the box on XP & XP x64
Compatibility confidence: Maximum for part 1; 1½ playthroughs completed, both the censored and uncensored versions have been extensively tested. Fair for part 2; Only brief tests completed, no playthroughs.
Subgenre: Yuri, Supernatural
Synopsis: Our girl – despite being the long-time love interest of a rather well-endowed certain someone that will become really important in this story – is being abducted by her own friend to become a wielder of ancient, divine powers that are meant to be used to battle forces once again threatening to invade the Earth from some demonic realm.
Notes:

This game knows how to smear the borders between good and evil. The more you learn, the less clear it becomes which side is really in the right and which isn’t. I like that way of world building and story development. This game does feature one explicit scene, which I found to be rather annoying. You can still play the censored version though. The sequel should be nearly completed now, it had to be delayed due to the unfortunate death of one of the lead voice actresses. :(

Update: Part 2 has been released!

 

Nekopara logo

4g. Nekopara / ネコぱら

Claims: Windows Vista
Developer & Engine(s) NEKO WORKs; TCP(KiriKiri) or KiriKiri Z (unclear which one) Engine for Vol.0-2, Ares CatSystem2 Engine for Vol.3
Requirements: .exe unpack and binary header hack for the patches of Vol.1-2, Vol.3 itself needs an additional stub DLL hack on top of that, which is based on Oleg Ovcharenkos’ work for Stellaris, etc. When running the Steam version, Vol.3 also needs a Steamless hack to decrypt/unpack the SteamStub DRM so the stub DLL hack may be applied. The whole procedure from A to Z is documented [here]. Thanks fly out to Oleg for his help with Vol.3!
Compatibility confidence: High; No complete playthroughs through Vol.3 yet, but a lot of shorter test runs. Plus “I just have a good feeling about this” for some undefined reason. Vol.0-2 have a rating of Maximum.
Subgenre: Harem, dating simulator, Eroge
Synopsis: Tons of catgirls working in your bakery. Catgirls in heat (this turns into something very, VERY explicit, if you happen to have the uncensored version). Other than that, just cute catgirls that you can pet and play around with. Also: Minor character development.
Notes: This game will defile you. If you’re new to this stuff, it may redefine your understanding of how perverted Japanese shit can really be. Unless you play the pure, censored version.

 

Neko-nin exHeart logo

4h. Neko-nin exHeart / 猫忍えくすはーと

Claims: Windows 7
Developer & Engine: Whirlpool; YU-RIS Engine
Requirements: None; Runs out of the box on XP & XP x64
Compatibility confidence: Maximum; Complete playthrough without hiccups
Subgenre: Supernatural
Synopsis: There were once powerful catgirl ninjas (don’t switch your brain on please, you really don’t need that piece of equipment here) serving their human masters, but no more. It seems nobody needs their personal kitty ninjas these days. Nevertheless, two of them just show up one day declaring they would serve you (heh, right) as their new master, while you weren’t even aware catgirls existed. Or ninjas. Or ninja catgirls.
Notes: It ain’t great, but it’s cute, even if rather short. Bought this out of frustration during a time where Oleg Ovcharenko hadn’t yet helped me with hacking Nekopara Vol.3.

 

Nurse Love Addiction logo

4i. Nurse Love Addiction / 白衣性愛情依存症

Claims: Windows 7
Developer & Engine: Kogado Studio; TyranoScript Engine (not sure if true, but binary analysis suggests it, it’s definitely built with Borland C++ at least)
Requirements: None; Runs out of the box on XP & XP x64
Compatibility confidence: Maximum; Complete playthrough without any issues
Subgenre: Yuri, Drama
Synopsis: Dragging her long-time friend along with her, our protagonist decides to become a nurse, hence entering a nursing school. But will she be ready for what she got herself into?
Notes: Don’t rush into this one thinking you’re going to get sweet, fluffy Yuri. This game looks like it, but it turns out to be quite dramatic and depending on how you approach the setting, it may hit you rather hard. Better keep that in mind, this VN is not as light-hearted or superficial as it may look on the surface. Easily goes on for 10+ hours as well.

 

Panzermadels logo

4j. Panzermadels

Claims: Windows Vista
Developer & Engine: DEVGRU-P; TyranoScript Engine
Requirements: Special launch condition; Works only when launched outside of Steam (with Steam still running in the background, you just have to click the .exe file directly instead of launching it from within the Steam client application).
Compatibility confidence: Maximum; Multiple complete playthroughs without any problems
Subgenre: Tank dating simulator (don’t ask…)
Synopsis: It’s so stupid, why don’t we just skip this?
Notes: The crown jewel of stupidity. You’re dating girls… who are tanks. I mean, in this game you can get court martialed for “doing sexual stuff with military equipment”. It’s still plenty of fun though, maybe because of it being so stupid. Just drink a beer or three while playing this and it’ll be fine! ;) Ah, by the way: This is not actually Japanese-made, the developers originate from the UK I believe. Also, this game was only meant as a short joke anyway.

 

Planetarian logo

4k. Planetarian ~The Reverie of a little Planet~ / Planetarian ~ちいさなほしのゆめ~

Claims: Windows Vista
Developer & Engine: Visual Art’s & Key; RealLive Engine
Requirements: None; Runs out of the box on XP & XP x64
Compatibility confidence: Maximum; Complete playthrough without problems
Subgenre: Postapocalyptic drama, Kinetic Novel
Synopsis: It’d be on the lengthy side, so see the [Wikipedia] instead
Notes:

I have not yet tested the newer “HD” version on Steam, which claims Windows 7, but only the regular version. The HD version will be tested in the future*. This is simply one of the best VNs I have ever played, despite it’s age and respectively lower visual quality. Its dark, hopeless and yet intriguing postapocalyptic world just draws you into this 2 character piece like few other VNs manage. Prepare your tissues however, this is a drama after all. Thumbs up for a VN that manages to do so much world building in such a short time (you’ll complete this in 3-5 hours).

*Update: …as soon as there is a version with English or German text. Currently it’s Chinese only.

 

Season of 12 Colors logo

4l. Season of 12 Colors / 十二色的季节

Claims: Windows 7 SP1
Developer & Engine: Juziban; BK Engine
Requirements: None; Runs out of the box on XP & XP x64
Compatibility confidence: Fair; Only brief tests completed, no playthroughs
Subgenre: Unsure, but not a drama? Seems to feature a slow, soft narrative…
Synopsis: See [Steam]
Notes: Rather untouched yet, I might play this in the not-so-near future. It’s supposed to have “healing” effects, so I guess it’s soothing to the mind.

 

Steins;Gate logo

4m. Steins;Gate

Claims: Windows 7
Developer & Engine: 5pb. Games & Nitroplus; Infinity Engine
Requirements: None; Runs out of the box on XP & XP x64
Compatibility confidence: Fair; Only brief tests completed, no playthroughs
Subgenre: Drama, time travel
Synopsis: See [Wikipedia]
Notes: Only the original DVD version has been tested, but not the Steam “HD” version. I haven’t really played this much yet, but it’s supposed to be one of the best visual novels ever. Remember how great the Anime was? It’s based on this game.

 

VA-11 HALL-A logo

4n. VA-11 HALL-A (“Valhalla”)

Claims: Windows 7
Developer & Engine: Sukeban Games; GameMaker C++ Engine
Requirements: Special launch condition; Requires the renaming or removal of the GameMaker engine component library GMResource.dll in the games’ root folder to execute without fatal errors. Works for all versions (original, Steam & GOG).
Compatibility confidence: Low; Only few tests completed, some basic gameplay, file I/O etc. The game does still reproducibly crash upon exit because something goes wrong with its use of Direct3D, which is by no means critical, but gives me a bad feeling about this. Really needs a playthrough to raise confidence.
Subgenre: Cyberpunk Dystopia, Yuri, Kinetic Novel
Synopsis: You’re a bartender girl in a dystopian cyberpunk world, taking good care of your patrons while listening to the stories they have to tell while drinking.
Notes: XP compatibility for this VN [was requested by Konstantin] in the comment section of the Nekopara Vol.3 hack. Well, barkeepers are cool, always wanted to play one in a game, because usually, you only meet them, but they’re never the stories’ protagonists. This title is supposed to have several Yuri characters as well, including yourself. I’m unsure how much drama there is though… Also: The game suggests you “get a drink and a few snacks” and chill out while reading / playing this – nice! :)

 

That’s it for now, but there might be more to come!

Jan 152015
 

4Kn logoWhile I’ve been planning to build myself a new RAID-6 array for some time (more space, more speed), I got interested in the latest and greatest of hard drive innovations, which is the 4Kn Advanced Format. Now you may now classic hard drives with 512 byte sectors and the regular Advanced Format also known as 512e, which uses 4kiB physical sector sizes, but emulates 512 byte sectors for compatibility reasons. Interestingly, [Microsoft themselves state], that “real” 4Kn harddrives, which expose their sector size to the operating system with no glue layers in between are only supported in Windows 8 and above. So even Windows 7 has no official support.

On top of that, Intel [has stated], that their SATA controller drivers do not support 4Kn, so hooking one such drive up to your Intel chipsets’ I/O controller hub (ICH) or platform controller hub (PCH) will not work. Quote:

“Intel® Rapid Storage Technology (Intel® RST) version 9.6 and newer supports 4k sector disks if the device supports 512 byte emulation (512e). Intel® RST does not support 4k native sector size devices.”

For clarity, to make 4Kn work in a clean fashion, it must be supported on three levels, from lowest to highest:

  1. The firmware: For mainboards, this means your system BIOS/UEFI. For dedicated storage controllers, the controller BIOS itself.
  2. The kernel driver of the storage controller, so that’s your SATA AHCI/RAID drivers or SAS drivers.
  3. Any applications above it performing raw disk access, whether kernel or user space. File system drivers, disk cloning software, low level benchmarks, etc.

Granted, 4Kn drives are extremely new and still very rare. There is basically only the 6TB Seagate enterprise drives available ([see here]) and then some Toshiba drives, also enterprise class. But, to protect my future investments in that RAID-6, I got myself a [Toshiba MG04ACA300A] 3TB drive, which was the only barely affordable 4Kn disk I could get, basically also the only one available right now besides the super expensive 6TB Seagates. That way I can check for 4Kn compatibility relatively cheaply (click to enlarge images):

If you look closely, you can spot the nice 4Kn logo right there. In case you ask yourselves “Why 4Kn?”, well, mostly cost and efficiency. 4kiB sectors are 8 times as large as classic 512 byte ones. Thus, for the same data payload you need 8 times less sector gaps, 8 times less synchronization markers and 8 times less address markers. Also, a stronger checksum can be used for data integrity. See this picture from [Wikipedia]:

Sectors

Sector size comparison (Image is © Dougolsen under the CC-BY 3.0 unported license)

Now this efficiency is already there with 512e drives. 512e Advanced Format was supposedly invented, because more than half the programs working with raw disks out there can’t handle variable sector sizes and are hardcoded for 512n. That also includes system firmwares, so your mainboards’ BIOS/UEFI. To solve those issues, they used 4kiB sectors, then let a fast ARM processor translate them into 512 byte sectors on the fly to give legacy software something it could understand.

4Kn on the other hand is the purist, “right” approach. No more emulation, no more cheating. No more 1GHz ARM dual core processor in your hard drive just to be able to serve data fast enough.

Now we already know that Intel controllers won’t work. For fun, I hooked it up to my ASUS P6T Deluxes’ secondary SATA controller though, a Marvell 88SE6120. Plus, I gave the controller the latest possible driver, the quite hard-to-get version 1.2.0.8400. You can download that [here] for x86 and x64.  To forestall the result: It doesn’t work. At all. This is what the systems’ log has to say about it (click to enlarge):

So that’s a complete failure right there. Even after the “plugged out” message, the timeouts would still continue to happen roughly every 30 seconds, accompanied by the whole operating system freezing for 1-2 seconds every time. I cannot say for any other controllers like the Marvell 9128 or Silicon Image chips and others, but I do get the feeling that none of them will be able to handle 4Kn.

Luckily, I do already have the controller for my future RAID-6 right here, an Areca ARC-1883ix-12, the latest and greatest tech with PCIe x8 3.0 and SAS/12Gbit ports with SATA/6Gbit encapsulation. Its firmware and driver supports 4Kn fully as you can see in Arecas [specifications]. The controller features an out-of-band management system via its own ethernet port and integrated web server for browser-based administration, even if the system doesn’t even have any OS booted up. All that needs to be installed on the OS then is a very tiny driver (click to enlarge):

Plus, Areca gives us one small driver for many Windows operating systems. Only for the Windows XP 32-Bit NT5.1 kernel you’ll get a SCSI Miniport driver exclusively, while all newer systems (WinXP x64, Windows Vista, 7, 8) get a more efficient StorPort driver. So, plugged the controller in, installed the driver, hooked up the disk, and it seems we’re good to go:

The 4Kn drive is being recognized

The 4Kn drive is being recognized (click to enlarge)

Now, any legacy master boot record (MBR) partition table has a 32-bit address field. That means, it can address 232 elements. With each element being 512 bytes large, you reach 2TiB. So that’s where the 2TiB limit comes from. With 4Kn however, the smallest addressable atom is now eight times as large: 4096 bytes! So we should be able to reach 16TiB due to the larger sector size. Supposedly, some USB hard drive manufacturers have used this trick (by emulating 4Kn) to make their larger drives work easily on Windows XP. When trying to partition the Toshiba drive however, I hit a wall, as it seems Windows disk management is about as stupid as was the FAT32 formatter on Windows 98:

MBR initialization failed

MBR initialization failed (click to enlarge)

That gets me thinking. On XP x64, I can still just switch from MBR to the GPT partitioning scheme to be able to partition huge block devices. But what about Windows XP 32-bit? I don’t know how the USB drive manufacturers do it, so I can only presume they ship the drives pre-partitioned if its one of those that don’t come with a special mapping tool for XP. In my case, I just switch to GPT and carry on (click to enlarge):

Now I guess I am the first person in the world to be able to look at this, and potentially the last too:

fsutil.exe showing a 4Kn drive on XP x64

fsutil.exe showing a native SATA 4Kn drive on XP x64, encapsulated in SAS. Windows 7 would show the physical and logical sector size separately due to its official 512e support. Windows XP always reports the logical sector size (click to enlarge)

So far so good. The very first and most simple test? Just copy a file onto the newly formatted file system. I picked the 4k (no pun intended) version of the movie “Big Buck Bunny”:

Copying a first file onto the 4Kn disks NTFS file system

Copying a first file onto the 4Kn disks NTFS file system

Hidden files and folders are shown here, but Windows doesn’t seem to want to create a System Volume Information\ folder for whatever reason. Other than that it’s very fast and seems to work just nicely. Since the speed is affected by the RAID controllers write back cache, I thought I’d try HD Tune 2.55 for a quick sequential benchmark. Or in other words: “Let’s hit our second legacy software wall” (click to enlarge):

Yeah, so… HD Tune never detects anything above 2TiB, but this? At first glance, 375GB might sound quite strange for a 3TB drive. But consider this: 375 × 8 = 3000. What happened here is that HD Tune got the correct sector count of the drive, but misinterpreted each sectors’ size as 512 bytes. Thus, it reports the devices’ size as eight times as small. Reportedly, this is also the exact way how Intels RST drivers fail when trying to address a 4Kn drive. HD Tune 2.55 is thus clearly hardcoded for 512n. There is no way to make this work. Let’s try the paid version of the tool which is usually quite ahead of its free and legacy counterpart (click to enlarge):

Indeed, HD Tune Pro 5.00 works just as it should when accessing the raw drive. Users who don’t want to pay are left dead in the water here. Next, I tried HDTach, also an older tool. HDTach however reads from a formatted file system instead of from a raw block device. The file system abstracts the device to a higher level, so HDTach doesn’t know and doesn’t need to know anything about sectors. As a result, it also just works:

HD Tach benchmarking NTFS on a 4Kn drive

HD Tach benchmarking NTFS on a 4Kn drive (click to enlarge)

Next, let’s try an ancient benchmark, that again accesses drives on the sector level: The ATTO disk benchmark. It is here where we learn that 4Kn, or generally variable sector sizes aren’t space magic. This tool was written well before the times of 512e or 4Kn, and look at that (click to enlarge):

Now what does that tell us? It tells us, that hardware developers feared the chaotic ecosystem of tools and software that accesses disks at low levels. Some might be cleanly programmed, where most may not. That doesn’t just include operating systems’ built-in toolsets, but also 3rd party software, independently from the operating system itself. Maybe it also affects disk cloning software like from Acronis? Volume shadow copies? Bitlocker? Who knows. Thing is, to be sure, you need to test that stuff. And I presume that to go as far as hard drive manufacturers did with 512e, they likely found one abhorrent hell of crappy software during their tests. Nothing else will justify ARM processors at high clock rates on hard drives just to translate sector sizes plus all the massive work that went into defining the 512e Advanced Format standard before 4Kn Advanced Format.

Windows 8 might now fully support 4Kn, but that doesn’t say anything about the 3rd party software you’re going to run on that OS either. So we still live in a Windows world where a lot of fail is waiting for us. Naturally, Linux and certain UNIX systems have adapted much earlier or have never even made the mistake of hardcoding sector sizes into their kernels and tools.

But now, to the final piece of my preliminary tests: Truecrypt. A disk encryption software I still trust despite the project having been shut down. Still being audited without any terrible security hole discoveries so far, it’s my main choice for cross-platform disk encryption, working cleanly on at least Windows, MacOS X and Linux.

Now, 4Kn is disabled for MacOS X in Truecrypts source code, but seemingly, this [can be fixed]. I also discovered that TC will refuse to use anything other than 512n on Linux if Linux kernel crypto is unavailable or disabled by the user in TC, see this part of Truecrypts’ CoreUnix.cpp:

#if defined (TC_LINUX)
if (volume->GetSectorSize() != TC_SECTOR_SIZE_LEGACY)
{
  if (options.Protection == VolumeProtection::HiddenVolumeReadOnly)
    throw UnsupportedSectorSizeHiddenVolumeProtection();
 
  if (options.NoKernelCrypto)
    throw UnsupportedSectorSizeNoKernelCrypto();
}
#endif

Given that TC_SECTOR_SIZE_LEGACY equals 512, it becomes clear that hidden volumes are unavailable as a whole with 4Kn on Linux, and encryption is completely unavailable altogether if kernel crypto isn’t there. So I checked out the Windows specific parts of the code, but couldn’t find anything suspicious in the source for data volume encryption. It seems 4Kn is not allowed for bootable system volumes (lots of “512’s” there), but for data volumes it seems TC is fully capable of working with variable sector sizes.

Now this code has probably never been run before on an actual SATA 4Kn drive, so let’s just give it a shot (click to enlarge):

Amazingly, Truecrypt, another software written and even abandoned by its original developers before the advent of 4Kn works just fine. This time, Windows does create the System Volume Information\ folder on the file system within the Truecrypt container, and fsutil.exe once again reports a sector size of 4096 bytes. This shows clearly that TC understands 4Kn and passes the sector size on to any layers above itself in the kernel I/O stack flawlessly (The layer beneath it should be either the NT I/O scheduler or maybe the storage controller driver directly and the layer above it the NTFS file system driver, if my assumptions are correct).

Two final tests for data integrities’ sake:

Both a binary diff and SHA512 checksums prove, that the data copied from a 512n medium to the 4Kn one is still intact

Both a binary diff and SHA512 checksums prove, that the data copied from a 512n medium to the 4Kn one is still intact

So, my final conclusion? Anything that needs to work with a raw block device on a sector-by-sector level needs to be checked out before investing serious money in such hard drives and storage arrays. It might be cleanly programmed, with some foresight. It also might not.

Anything that sits above the file system layer though (anything that reads and writes folders and files instead of raw sectors) will always work nicely, as such software does not need to know anything about sectors.

Given the possibly enormous amount of software with hardcoded routines for 512 byte sectors, my assumption would be that the migration to 4Kn will be quite a sluggish one. We can see that the enterprise sector is adapting first, clearly because Linux and UNIX systems adapt much faster. The consumer market however might not see 4Kn drives anytime soon, given 512 byte sectors have been around for about 60 years (!) now.

Update 2014-01-16 (Linux): I just couldn’t let it go, so I took the Toshiba 4Kn drive to work with me, and hot plugged it into an Intel ICH10R. So that’s the same chipset as the one I ran the Windows tests on, an Intel X58. Only difference is, that now we’re on CentOS 6.6 Linux running the 2.6.32-504.1.3.el6.x86_64 kernel.  This is what dmesg had to say about my hotplugging:

ata3: SATA link up 3.0 Gbps (SStatus 123 SControl 300)
ata3.00: ATA-8: TOSHIBA MG04ACA300A, FP2A, max UDMA/100
ata3.00: 732566646 sectors, multi 2: LBA48 NCQ (depth 31/32), AA
ata3.00: configured for UDMA/100
ata3: EH complete
scsi 2:0:0:0: Direct-Access     ATA      TOSHIBA MG04ACA3 FP2A PQ: 0 ANSI: 5
sd 2:0:0:0: Attached scsi generic sg7 type 0
sd 2:0:0:0: [sdf] 732566646 4096-byte logical blocks: (3.00 TB/2.72 TiB)
sd 2:0:0:0: [sdf] Write Protect is off
sd 2:0:0:0: [sdf] Mode Sense: 00 3a 00 00
sd 2:0:0:0: [sdf] Write cache: enabled, read cache: enabled, doesn't support DPO or FUA
sd 2:0:0:0: [sdf] 732566646 4096-byte logical blocks: (3.00 TB/2.72 TiB)
 sdf:
sd 2:0:0:0: [sdf] 732566646 4096-byte logical blocks: (3.00 TB/2.72 TiB)
sd 2:0:0:0: [sdf] Attached SCSI disk

Looking good so far, also the Linux kernel typically cares rather less about the systems BIOS, bypassing whatever crap it’s trying to tell the kernel. Which is usually a good thing. Let’s verify with fdisk:

Note: sector size is 4096 (not 512)
 
WARNING: The size of this disk is 3.0 TB (3000592982016 bytes).
DOS partition table format can not be used on drives for volumes
larger than (17592186040320 bytes) for 4096-byte sectors. Use parted(1) and GUID 
partition table format (GPT).

Now that’s more like it! fdisk is warning me, that it will be limited to addressing 16TiB on this disk. A regular 512n or 512e drive would be limited to 2TiB as we know. Awesome. So, I created a classic MBR style partition on it, formatted it using the EXT4 file system, and mounted it. And what we get is this:

Filesystem            Size  Used Avail Use% Mounted on
/dev/sdf1             2.7T   73M  2.6T   1% /mnt/sdf1

And Intel is telling us that they don’t manage to give us any Windows drivers that can do 4Kn? Marvell doesn’t even comment on their inabilities? Well, suck this: Linux’ free driver for an Intel ICH10R south bridge (or any other that has a driver coming with the Linux kernel for that matter) seems to have no issues with that whatsoever. I bet it’s the same with BSD. Just weak, Intel. And Marvell. And all you guys who had so much time to prepare and yet did nothing!

Update 2014-01-20 (Windows XP 32-Bit): So what about regular 32-Bit Windows XP? There are stories going around that some USB drives with 3-4TB capacity would use a 4Kn emulation (or real 4Kn, bypassing the 512e layer by telling the drive firmware to do so?), specifically to enable XP compatibility without having to resort to special mapping tools.

Today, I had the time to install XP SP3 on a spare AMD machine (FX9590, 990FX), which is pretty fast thanks to a small, unused testing SSD I still had lying around. Before that I wiped all GPT partition tables from the 4Kn drive, both the one at the start as well as the backup copy at the end of the drive using dd. Again, for this test, the Areca ARC-1883ix-12 was used, now with its SCSI miniport driver, since XP 32-Bit does not support StorPort.

Please note, that this is a German installation of Windows XP SP3. I hope the screenshots are still understandable enough for English speakers.

Recognition and MBR initialization seems to work just fine this time, unlike on XP x64:

The 4Kn Toshiba as detected by Windows XP Pro 32-Bit SP3, again on an Areca ARC-1883ix-12

The 4Kn Toshiba as detected by Windows XP Pro 32-Bit SP3, again on an Areca ARC-1883ix-12 (click to enlarge)

Let’s try to partition it:

Partitioning the drive once more, MBR style

Partitioning the drive once more, MBR style

Sure looks good! And then, we get this:

A Master Boot Record, Windows XP and 4Kn: It does work after all

A Master Boot Record, Windows XP and 4Kn: It does work after all (click to enlarge)

So why does XP x64 not allow for initialization and partitioning of a 4Kn drive using MBR? Maybe because it’s got GPT for that? So in any case, it’s usable on both systems, the older NT 5.1 (XP 32-Bit) as well as the newer NT 5.2 (XP x64, Server 2003). Again, fsutil.exe confirms proper recognition of our 4Kn drive:

fsutil.exe reporting a 4kiB sector size, just like on XP x64

fsutil.exe reporting a 4kiB sector size, just like on XP x64

So all you need – just like on XP x64 – is a proper controller with proper firmware and drivers!

There is one hard limit here though that XP 32-Bit users absolutely need to keep in mind; Huge RAID volumes using LUN carving/splitting and software JBOD/disk spanning using Microsofts Dynamic Volumes are no longer possible when using 4Kn drives. Previously, you could tell certain RAID controllers to just serve huge arrays to the OS in 2TiB LUN slices (e.g. best practice for 3ware controllers on XP 32-Bit). Then, in Windows, you’d just make those slices Dynamic Volumes and span a single NTFS file system over all of them, thus pseudo-breaking the 2TiB barrier.

This can no longer be done, as Dynamic Volumes seemingly do not work with 4Kn drives on Microsoft operating systems before Windows 8, or at least not on XP 32-Bit. The option for converting the volume from MBR to GPT is simply greyed out in Windows disk management.

That means that the absolute maximum volume size using 4Kn disks on 32-Bit Windows XP is 16TiB! On XP x64 – thanks to GPT – it’s just a few blocks short of 256TiB, a limit imposed on us by the NTFS file systems’ 32-bit address field and 64kiB clusters, as 232 * 64KiB × 1024 × 1024 × 1024 = 256TiB.

And that concludes my tests, unless I have time and an actual machine to try FreeBSD or OpenBSD UNIX. Or maybe Windows 7. The likelihood for that is not too high at the moment though.