Tomb Raider and Connectix Virtual PC

Introduction | VPC Problems | Gameplay Experiences | Final Comments

These notes are for your personal use only!
They are not to be published in any form, or posted on a website, without my permission.



(Although now a bit out of date the info here is still relevant to older Macs, so I'm keeping the page here for anyone who may still be using a Mac with OS 8.6 - 9.x with a Voodoo card!)

I have received a number of queries regarding playing the PC versions of Tomb Raider in Connectix Virtual PC, so here's my comments. These are purely from my personal experience, and are not definitive. I knew virtually nothing about Windows before I made my first attempts, and I am still a long way from being proficient in the Wintel world. But so are many Mac users who might want to try to do the same as I did...

Important! VPC 4 and later versions have had Voodoo support removed and are NOT recommended for games! Use either VPC 2 or 3 if you need to access a Voodoo card. ATI cards are not supported!

Virtual PC is a purely software solution to running Windows and DOS applications on a Macintosh. Connectix have done an amazing piece of work here, and what you get is, quite simply, a Pentium PC with virtually full functionality (although there are some rare compatibility issues).

I'm running VPC 2.1.3 Win 98 on a Blue & White G3/400 in OS 8.6, with 256MB RAM, an Ultra2 SCSI hard drive, a 16MB Rage 128 video card, and a 12MB Game Wizard Voodoo2 card. The Voodoo2 card is usable on both the Mac & PC side, and functions perfectly. The Voodoo2 card needed extra drivers from Connectix, but the installation of the drivers is quite straightforward. With some versions of VPC, you can also use USB peripherals like a Joystick, but this isn't possible in VPC 2.

The best use for Virtual PC these days is as a tool to assist in the installation of Custom TRLE Levels. Please visit my Playing Custom Levels page for more information about this!

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VPC Problems

There are three significant problems with using VPC - compatibility, processor speed, and stability.

Compatibility - very occasionally you may come across some Win software that either will not run, or does so with reduced functionality (for example, the PC RoomEdit won't run, but the converters and custom game are OK). The most likely reason is that VPC can't handle some detail of that particular piece of software. A later version of VPC may improve this, but remember that for Voodoo games you can only use VPC 2 or 3.

Processor speed - The emulation process takes a lot of processor power, and the PC runs quite slowly - in my case I suspect it's around 90-100MHz, and Connectix claim around 1/4 Mac processor speed with VPC 2 (although this is improved a little with VPC 3 and later). For ordinary PC software it does pretty well, but for intensive games software, you need a Voodoo graphics card to give the graphics enough grunt. So, for advanced games, it's not really a software-only solution.

This also means that you need a fairly fast Mac to really take advantage of it. That will probably mean a Blue & White G3/400 or faster. Powerbooks are unlikely to be satisfactory due to the significantly lower bus and hard drive speeds. Earlier G3's and some other Mac's, although able to use one of the versions of VPC, won't be able to handle Tomb Raider. I have no experience of iMac's, but I doubt whether any of them prior to the latest releases would cope either. But I emphasise that these comments are based on my experience with the G3/400 and cannot be considered definitive.

A comment from 'Bill' - 'I'm running a two year old iMac and the games wouldn't work. Even the Connectix Tech people say this. Virtual PC cuts the processor speed on the Mac's in half to run games so you don't have much to work with.' (This bears out my comments above on older iMac's although I suspect it cuts the processor speed by even more than half. It would also suggest that a Voodoo card is necessary to speed up the graphics, and recent iMac's can't take a Voodoo card now that Apple have removed the 'mezzanine slot'.)

Stability - The workings of a PC are such that it requires two operating systems - DOS runs the basic background functionality, and Windows is the visible system (GUI). These two are layered, and many of the problems with PC's are to do with this layering - that is, Windows has to integrate with DOS. This is different to Mac, where the operating system is a single entity, and can run a lot more smoothly with greater functionality.

I believe the problem with stability is to do with this layering. When you run VPC, you are not only running a DOS/Windows layered operating system, but you're running it over the Mac OS. That gives three layers, and the fact that Connectix make it work as well as it does is an indication of the brilliant work that went into the product. However, don't expect it to run as well as a desktop PC - it just won't do it.

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Gameplay Experiences

As I knew nothing about Wintel PC's before VPC, it was a very steep learning curve. Not only was I trying to cope with a different computing environment, I was also trying to deal with the specific VPC problems mentioned above. With a lot of frustration I have managed to get it running fairly well, but it still crashes regularly - very annoying!

So how do the different versions of Tomb Raider run in VPC? I was running only the releases that were yet to get to Mac, so didn't try TR I or the original TR II. Note that these comments refer to playing in VPC 2.1.3 Win98 on a B&W G3/400 in Voodoo2.

Tomb Raider II Golden Mask - This doesn't run as smoothly as the Mac version does on my old, steam-driven PowerMac 7200/90. However, it was fairly stable, and even though it had a consistently slower frame rate, it was good.

Tomb Raider III - The PC release had several bugs, so to run it well you must download the latest patch from Eidos. The frame rate was no worse, and maybe even a little better than TR II, due to an improved game engine. Once the bugs were resolved it played quite well, but it was prone to damaging the savegames when the PC crashed, necessitating a lot of retracing of Lara's steps. The bottom line was that it did work, and worked well enough for me to be able to write the walkthroughs from the PC version, thus getting them posted on MacRaider a few days prior to the Mac release.

Tomb Raider: The Lost Artifact (TR III Gold) - The PC release is somewhat more reliable than TR III, and runs quite well. One big improvement is to the savegames - they were no longer damaged if VPC crashed! That's a fantastic improvement and saves a lot of retracing of your steps after a crash. I wrote my TR III Gold walkthroughs from the PC version with no problems at all.

Tomb Raider: The Last Revelation (TR 4) - This benefited from an early patch from Eidos, but still has a habit of damaging the savegames occasionally when the PC freezes. For the most part it actually runs very well - perhaps the smoothest of the three, probably due to an all-new game engine. However, just occasionally, when the screen is very busy, it slows down dramatically - less than 5 frames/second. Very hard to play when it happens, but it does keep running. These places are few and far between though. The other real problem with TR 4 is the new style FMV's. TR 4 has 'streaming' Bink movies, and their potential quality is excellent. However, they are extremely slow in VPC because the processor can't handle sound and video at the same time, and the video frame rate may be less than 1 frame/second. Virtually impossible to watch, and the choppy audio can only be understood if you have a script in front of you! Why didn't they go for PC Quicktime movies? Quicktime is now well established on PC's so it's a mystery to me. The only reason could be to speed up loading time, so you don't have a wait for the movie. But the TR III FMV's are OK in VPC, so I think they should have stuck with them. In contrast, the data-based cutscenes are fine - as there are quite a few of them that's lucky. Overall I'm really pleased with the way it runs, but can't wait for it to get to Mac ;-)

The Times Exclusive TR: TLR Level - This game is fairly unstable, and due to the complicated graphics in some of the rooms it suffers dramatic slowdowns. Otherwise it runs OK and is a lot of fun! However it's quite short and uncomplicated, hence no great challenge to a dedicated MacRaider.

Tomb Raider: Chronicles - My comments about TR: TLR above pretty well cover TRC, although it does seem to be more stable than previous TR's. TRC has the same game engine as TR: TLR, so I suppose it's not surprising that it's a bit more stable... Can damage savegames so quit regularly.

TRLE Custom Game Player - This is a special edition of 'Tomb Raider: The Last Revelation' and runs quite well, about as well as the patched TR: TLR release. Can damage savegames so quit regularly.

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Final Comments

If you have a top end Mac - B&W G3/400 or faster - you don't mind the frustration of regular crashes, and you have a driving passion for more Tomb Raiding, you might give it a try. Don't expect it to be anywhere near as good as a 'real' PC and you might enjoy it. But for everyone else, the difficulties will probably outweight the benefits. The only reason I do it is to get the best info I can for MacRaider - otherwise I would probably wait for the Mac release.

However, it's had a side benefit for me - it's given me a grounding in the Wintel environment that I wouldn't otherwise have experienced. Considering that I'm unemployed, with the dominance of PC's in the business world that must be a good thing!

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