Games for Windows 2000
Posted at 02:15 on 16th September 2007 - permalink

Spare a thought for us Windows 2000 users. I’ve been happily using the OS for close to five years, and have never had a pressing reason to upgrade to Windows XP (in fact, I prefer Windows 2000’s slightly more responsive UI and modest appetite for physical memory – not to mention the futuristic name). Until recently this has all been fine and dandy.

In spite of Windows 2000 being only about a year older than Windows XP (and in terms of functionality required for modern PC games virtually identical), publishers and developers are quietly starting to drop support for the system. That’s not “dropping support” as in putting a sticker on the box absolving themselves of responsibility if your computer explodes, but actively putting checks into games and installers to prevent Windows 2000 users even trying to play them.

Because Windows 2000 users are in a tiny minority these days (no exact figures exist, but a survey taken by Valve of Steam users suggests that they may now account for less than 1% of PC gamers), there hasn’t been a lot of outcry about games failing to run on it. There is also a lot of confusion over exactly how similar the operating systems are (a lot of gamers – and publishers – blithely assuming that there must be a technical reason for new games to be rendered incompatible, as had often been the case in the migration from DOS-based Windows 98 to NT-based Windows 2000 and XP), and the true motivations of some publishers for dropping support.

The most common reason for a game to fail to run on Windows 2000 is that once it’s been decided not to actively support an operating system, it’s easy to make small changes that accidentally break compatibility. There have been several occasions where users have been successful in fixing these minor incompatibilities, allowing the game to run flawlessly on Windows 2000. The most recent example is Enemy Territory: Quake Wars (developed by Splash Damage in conjunction with Id Software), a game that has the dubious distinction of shipping with support for Windows XP/Vista, Mac OS X and Linux, but not Windows 2000.

A handy patch to allow Enemy Territory: Quake Wars (both the demo and the full game) to run on Windows 2000 is available here. Further information on patching the game can be found in this thread. (Compatibility obstacles aside, I heartily recommend this game.)

While the scenario described above is most common, a few instances of incompatibility seem to have been intentional, raising suspicion (warranted or not) about the practice in general. The most obviously deceptive example is Ensemble Studios’ Age of Empires III, a game which performs an operating system check at install time and refuses to install on Windows 2000 systems. If this check is circumvented (by using Microsoft’s own MSIEXEC utility), the game installs and runs without a hitch. It seems to be fairly obvious at this point (with similar backwards compatibility ‘miracles’ having been performed on various other games) that Microsoft have no compunction with trying to artificially force operating system upgrades on gamers.

The recent “Games for Windows” marketing program, while not explicitly stating that developers should not support Windows 2000, conveniently requires games to make API calls that are not supported by the OS. Again, most of the games affected by this have subsequently been modified to run on Windows 2000.

The only major exception to this is Relic’s Company of Heroes, which we can only assume does something so exotic under the hood that it genuinely needs Windows XP to run. We may never know for sure – in contrast to Splash Damage, who were quite open about the compatibility situation with ETQW (after initially being understandably wary that admitting the game would run on Windows 2000 might oblige them to offer technical support), Relic have consistently failed to address the issue, and prevent it from being asked about on their forums.

In light of this, even when I eventually do upgrade to Windows Vista (at some point in the next couple of years), I’ll be giving Relic’s games a miss. It would be unreasonable to expect developers to support old technology indefinitely, but at the very least we should expect to be told exactly why we’re not being given a choice.

More details on getting several other popular games to work on Windows 2000, after the ‘jump’.

Age of Empires III…post171


Command & Conquer 3

Call of Duty 4 (new! 01/08)

(Only the installer check needs to be circumvented.)

Crysis (new!)

Enemy Territory: Quake Wars

Lord of The Rings: Battle for Middle Earth II

There’s a “W2K Patch” on, but it seems that this is another case of an installer check, so the “Age of Empires” method may work also. I’ve not been able to test this one as, hello, it’s an RTS based on Lord of The Rings.


Supreme Commander

And remember, everything that boots is beautiful.

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