Speaking recently of not re-paying for video games, music, etc. that you’ve already payed for just because someone doesn’t feel like supporting it on some new platform that should support it, that brings us to this Thanksgiving’s strangest epic adventures, the battle to install inXile’s The Bard’s Tale on my Windows 7 PC.
You see, many a year ago, when The Bard’s Tale came out, it was Windows XP that PCs used. But as we all know, Windows 7, whilst theoretically supporting all kinds of backward compatibility options, doesn’t necessarily make things all that easy in reality. (And Windows Vista, being, well, basically, Win 7 Alpha, has the same problems. But I like to pretend that Windows Vista AKA Win ME2 doesn’t exist any more than Windows Millennium Edition did. Some versions of Windows are just a bane upon the world, and Win ME and Win Vista are the two worst, by far.)
So hearken, fellow readers, to this the unofficial penultimate guide to playing The Bard’s Tale on a modern PC.
So what, exactly, is the problem with getting The Bard’s Tale to run on Windows 7? To start with? Installing it!
You see, in their infinite wisdom, Microsoft seems to have blocked some good old Widows Media Player APIs / DLLs from Windows 7. The Bard’s Tale installer checks for them, and cannot find them, and so claims that you don’t have the right version of Windows Media Player 9 needed. It helpfully offers you an install on the CD, but of course that won’t do you any good whatsoever. We’re up to Windows Media Player 11, and Microsoft actually blocks those old versions that it doesn’t like anymore on Windows 7.
Not that you actually need the old version of Windows Media Player. Oh no. The few .WMV movies that The Bard’s Tale contains will run just fine with the latest version. It’s just that the installer for The Bard’s Tale is too stupid to know that. And inXile is too lazy to fix it.
You may have noticed, for a mere ten bucks, you can get The Bard’s Tale on Steam. And presumably this will install on Windows 7. But why re-pay for something you already bought? Surely there’s a solution, right?
Well, there are two roads that you can go down. (Three, I guess, if you count repaying for what you already own to download it on Steam.)
The key is that there are no registry settings or any such magic (like some programs need) necessary to get The Bard’s Tale running. All that you actually need are the files. Files files files. The installer is supposed to give you those files, but if the installer won’t run, then we just have to do it ourselves.
Method 1) Copy An Install Off Of A Windows XP Box
I know, I know. That requires you to have a Windows XP box handy. I verified that this works quite well in a very painful way. I shared the Blu-Ray drive on my PC over the network to my Viliv S5 UMPC “laptop” so that I could run the installer. Painful, but doable. And then having successfully installed The Bard’s Tale I copied the files back over to my Windows 7 box and nuked the install on my Windows XP laptop. Slow and painful, but successful. If you have an old Windows XP box around somewhere, you can do it this way too. (Even more easily if you don’t have to share your CD drive because your Windows XP box doesn’t have one.)
OR there’s always Microsoft’s ultimate solution to Windows XP compatibility: Windows XP Mode. It’s essentially a virtual PC running a copy of Windows XP. Slow and painful, but you don’t need another computer if you have this set up.
Method 2) Unpackage The Files From The CDs Manually
You don’t actually need a Windows XP box or Windows XP Mode to get The Bard’s Tale installed though. Because you can do the work of the installer yourself! Each CD has on it a Disk1.cab file. (Well, okay, technically CD1 has Disk1.cab, CD2 has Disk2.cab, etc.) And you can extract the files from these cab files easily enough. I used 7-Zip, which is a great free tool that I use all the time, but I’m sure there are other options too. Just create your The Bard’s Tale directory and extract the CAB files from each CD into it and you’re almost good to go.
First, to help things along, make your The Bard’s Tale directory somewhere not in the typical Program Files structure, because Windows 7 likes to be very protective of these and that can both cause problems extracting your files into there as well as getting The Bard’s Tale to run. (Though running The Bard’s Tale in Administrator mode fixes that. Actually, so does running 7-Zip in Administrator mode too, which is easy enough. But so is just not using the Program Files directory structure in the first place.)
And second, there’s still a vital step missing. The Bard’s Tale will run, but most of the voices will be missing. (Even though the sound effects and music are there.) And since most of what makes The Bard’s Tale entertaining are the conversations, you’ll want to go through this next step.
On Disk 6 is another folder as well, named Sounds. You have to manually copy these .VWB files into your “The Bard’s Tale\Res\Sounds” folder. And the WBCWin.exe into it as well. And then the even more annoying part, these .VWB files are compressed versions that you use WBCWin.exe to uncompress. You have to go into a command prompt window to do it. (You’ll want to start your command prompt in administrator mode too, most likely.) CD to the “The Bard’s Tale\Res\Sounds” directory where you dumped the .VWB files and WBCWin.exe, and then enter the command “WBCWin.exe *.vwb .\” … without the quotes, obviously. This will take a good while as it uncompresses the .VWB files into much larger .XWB files.
And there you have it, all of the voiceovers for the many many many in-game cutscenes. You’re now “installed”.
DVD Version Note:
Supposedly the DVD disk version of The Bard’s Tale is much easier to use, as it just has all of the files there for you to copy, flat out. No painful de-CABing. No even more painful manual .VWB to .XWB decompression. Just copy and go. Not having the DVD version I can’t verify this personally, but that’s the scuttlebutt on Ye Olde Interwebs.
But what else do I need to know?
There’s a few other important steps to playing The Bard’s Tale now that you’ve installed it. The first is that you’ll probably want to right-click on the EXE and set it up to run in Windows XP SP3 compatibility mode. Just in case. And heck, while you’re at it, you’ll probably want to create some desktop and/or Start Menu shortcuts or something for yourself too.
The second is that in “The Bard’s Tale\Config” directory is The Bard’s Setup.exe which you will most definitely want to run. This is where you change the resolution used by The Bard’s Tale. The default is a meager 640×480, which looks like crap. You’ll want to up it as close to your resolution as you can get, most likely. (Keeping in mind the aspect ratio of your native resolution if you can’t match yours exactly.)
In game you’ll also want to crank down the particles in the video options. There are even manual hex fixes for this out there, supposedly, as even the lowest particle setting can still grind some scenes down to some very low frames per second. For the most part though you’ll be fine with just simply reducing this to the lowest setting.
Another important thing to note is that if you play the game and it feels like it’s in slow motion, it is! But don’t worry, it’s easily fixed. You can quickly test this by listening to the drunks sing their beer song in the very beginning. If “follow the bouncing ball” is choppy because it can’t keep up, you’re in slow motion. The fault of this is … V-Sync. It reportedly happens more with GeForce video cards than any others. Fortunately it should be easy enough to turn off. (These days you should even be able to manually turn V-Sync off just for The Bard’s Tale if it’s something you want on all the rest of the time.)
There’s also a patch for The Bard’s Tale floating about. Does it do anything? I don’t know. I’ve tried it. Meh. Heck if I can tell if it actually even fixes anything. If it even installs. It’s not very informative.
And last, but certainly not least, there is also floating about the internet a no-CD crack for The Bard’s Tale. Now being unofficial I can’t say as I support using it. Because, you know, in theory it violates your warranty? (On your obviously already out-of-warranty game since it’s six years old by this point.) Your mileage may vary. The choice is up to you. And such crap. No idea what legality issues using the no-CD crack may constitute, but technologically it’s there, and I’m sure it works just fine.
So there you have it! The Bard’s Tale on Windows 7!
Even after all these years, it’s still a great game. You too can install and play The Bard’s Tale on Windows 7, even though it isn’t even remotely supported, and the installer won’t run, and inXile won’t help you in the slightest. (Let alone actually spend ten seconds fixing their installer with some kind of simple downloadable installer that looks at your CDs/DVDs the same as the original installer should.) You don’t have to pay on Steam to download the game if you already bought it years ago and still have the disks around. You just have to be a little more hands-on to get it installed. Once done, it works just fine.