A look at some old game

Sometimes I like to play old strategy games from my youth: Civilization II, Settlers II, WarCraft II and Reunion. You probably have never heard about it since it’s not from some famous studio but from some Hungarians and published by rather obscure publisher too.

The idea is about the same as in Settlers II but IN SPACE! In some near future an experimental spaceship somehow gets into an unknown star system, most of technologies are lost and now you have to colonise planets, fight with aliens and find your way back home. This game combines some planet-building with space exploration and ground battles (there are also battles in space but they’re fought without your involvement). And since it has a story you have events like getting a chance to get some technology or break the alliance between your enemies. So it’s an interesting mix overall and it explains why I still return to it time from time. Sadly the game was programmed in traditional Hungarian manner (remember, Hungarians are responsible for such popular software as Windows 95 or MPlayer) and its intro (a separate program) sometimes crashes and sometimes it even makes DosBox segfault. The main game is also prone to corruptions and crashes (yet I still play it sometimes).

Anyway, today I’ve stumbled upon a page of one guy who reverse-engineered image format used in this game just by fiddling with it. It turned out to be compressed with RLE similar to the one used in PCX (0x00-0xBF – normal pixel, 0xC0-0xFF – run of next byte value 0-63 times). Since the game had some animations as well I decided to look at them.

So intro uses mostly still images split into 640×100 strips (so they can fit into one segment if you remember those) that are scrolled and faded in and out. And there’s a special animation format for some in-game animations similar to the picture format (as expected). Animation file is a series of frames (without palette) that are coded with similar RLE but there are some quirks not encountered in still images. First of all, frames are coded as differences and codes in range 0x80-0xBF are used to signal how many pixels to skip. Second, it turns out that codes 0x80 and 0xC0 are actually escape codes and are followed by 16-bit value of actual skip or run length (and in case of 0xC0 code a pixel value after that). Again, since the format is so simple it could be found just by looking inside the animation files and messing with a decoder.

As for the other games mentioned in the beginning, Civ2 has GIF files mostly hidden inside resource .dlls plus Indeo 4 video (with transparency even!) and Settlers II and WarCraft II have videos in Smacker format.

Having said that, my pointless diversion to looking at game formats is over, back to doing nothing!

2 Responses to “A look at some old game”

  1. DrMcCoy says:

    Die Siedler 2 even had the intro a separate Smacker file outside of any game data archives, IIRC, and the game just called the original Smacker player binary to play the file. It’s just the intro, no other videos.

    I remember just playing that intro over and over because I thought it really cool. I can probably still lip-sync perfectly to it. And I just the player to play other Smacker files I’ve found in other games.

    I also played the game itself for days on end. I still occasionally hear the pigeon cooing in my head, the one the played when you’ve got a message in-game.

  2. Kostya says:

    Yes, it’s WarCraft II that hid Smacker files inside their resource archives.

    And you’re probably aware about one opensource clone and one opensource engine re-implementation for Die Siedler 2. I still run the latter when I like to relax (though it may still run for a while in my dreams after that).

    Also as somebody said, there’s something inherently funny in a pig being carried by a donkey in this game and I agree with that.

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