This drove me completely freaking crazy for the past few days. Hopefully my pain can help somebody else.
After dealing with the incredible disappointment of Elemental, Stardock’s newest game (a subject I will probably go into further detail on the another time), I decided to break out Age of Wonders: Shadow Magic.
Though it has its flaws, Shadow Magic is one of the best turn based strategy games in the fantasy genre. Unfortunately, with newer systems, the game isn’t as easy to run as it used to be. After reading a lot of posts on the Internet, I found that a lot of people were also having problems. Even more unfortunately, it seemed that a lot of the problems were unique and had no solutions available. The issues that I experienced were no different.
The first problem I had turned out to be as simple as the incredibly poor choice of copy protection used on the game. This is one of those lovely situations where a shitty copy protection ruins the legitimate customer’s experience unless said customer is willing to use potentially dangerous hacks downloaded from untrusted sources. I find it very ironic that in order to play a game which I spent my hard-earned money to purchase, I have to go digging around the internet on sites believed to be useful only to those trying to break the law.
Anyway, back to the problem I had. The game wouldn’t start up – it would basically just sit. The process was in my task list, but it never really went anywhere. Like most of these customer-friendly software protection train-wrecks, it didn’t bother to tell me there was a problem with the copy protection. It took me thinking back to the problems I’d seen on the game in the past, and how so many people on the heavengames forums had problems with the copy protection even when the game was still new — and it seemed to have a lot of finicky behavior over OS version. Having Windows 7 64-bit now, I realized, wow, this all adds up: copy protection thinks I’m a pirate, refuses to inform me (or do anything useful) because that might tip me off to the fact that I’m stealing the game (pirates are very stupid, you see, as are the people who crack software), so it just spins and spins. Being the dumb pirate I am, I call the company to complain and they catch me red-handed! What genius!
So, I go download a no-cd patch, and all is well on this front. Funny side note: turns out an early version of the latest patch actually included it — maybe the devs realized what a pile of crap it was and chose to omit it. Then management (or the publishers) freaked out about the piracy lies that securom sold them, and insisted the patch be redone. Either way, I don’t much care. Definitely avoiding all copy protections in the future (ubisoft, you can go to hell, by the way), because god forbid I want to play a game five years or so after I buy it.
On to my second issue, and this one is just beautiful. I couldn’t find anything whatsoever online about it, and I wouldn’t be surprised if nobody else has run across it and bothered to discuss it. It’s fun. Apparently when you do anything that shows a file open/select dialog in AoW:SM, the game scans every available drive. This is dumb, because it really ought to just ask windows for a list of drives that aren’t read-only, or better yet, just stick to one central location for various game assets, like every other game in the world does. Bad programmer! No biscuit!
Now that in and of itself is pretty silly, but the problem happened to be that I had a CD of questionable quality sitting in my CDROM drive. I didn’t even think about it at first, I just saw that loading, saving, and even waiting for the scenario selection dialog would cause the game to “wait” for about two minutes at a time. I was able to piece the common elements together: the game was showing me some kind of list where I could select the hard drive and directory for whatever operation I was doing. The delay still boggles my mind – are they pre-fetching a list of directories for every drive available or something? Must be, otherwise just querying the device for basic information shouldn’t have taken so long. The CD is readable, just a bit scratched.
So if you have a bizarre pausing issue before save/load/scenario-select, try emptying your CD tray. Ridiculous but it works.
I hope my rant helps somebody, and I hope ubisoft goes to hell for the many copy protection nightmares they inflict upon us.