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Shenmue: A pilgrimage to Yokosuka

On my recent trip, I fulfilled a long-held ambition by visiting Dobuita Street in Yokosuka, one of the primary locations in one of my favourite games ever, Shenmue.

It’s fairly out of the way for a day trip from Tokyo, but it’s only 20 minutes or so down the train line from Kamakura, which is a spectacular day out in its own right. Fortunately, we’d decided to go there, so I was able to abandon the group for an hour to pay a visit.

Found at the end of the conveniently named Yokosuka Line, Yokosuka is dominated by its harbour. It’s the home base for the US Navy in Japan and, as such, you don’t have to look very hard for sailors. Many were drunk, but they neither called me schoolboy or tried to serve me milk. I couldn’t see any forklift racing going on in the harbour, but there was a trio of Japanese submarines lined up in rather photogenic fashion.

Dobuita isn’t far from the station, requiring only a short walk through a pleasant naval-themed park and crossing a footbridge outside a mall that you can’t really miss. It starts around here if you find yourself making the same trip.

Appropriately enough, the weather did turn to rain that day – the only bad weather of the trip, really. But before rejoining the collective for dinner back in Kamakura, my usual reticence to pose was overcome for a quick look for sailors outside Tom’s hot dog stand bar.

Mission accomplished.

Converting Blu-ray HD audio to FLAC

As I mentioned in my first look at ripping Blu-rays, converting uncompressed PCM and lossless Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio to FLAC for use in XBMC carries a number of benefits.

  • It’s also lossless, so no quality difference.
  • FLAC is an open, well-documented format and so you’re not reliant on reverse-engineered implementations.
  • XBMC can decode FLAC to PCM and output it over HDMI, whereas it currently can’t for DTS-HD.
  • Hard drive space savings can be significant, especially for PCM soundtracks.

There’s little penalty in terms of the time taken to rip the disc either, as it’s unlikely that your BD drive can copy data from the disc fast enough for the conversion process to become a bottleneck.

What you need

This process still uses MakeMKV, with the feature enabled in by checking the advanced options box in the settings. TrueHD decoding is built in, but you’ll need to find a separate DTS module and point MakeMKV to that.

MakeMKV

All you then need to do it choose the ‘FLAC’ preset when ripping a disc. Otherwise the process is identical.

File sizes

I picked three movies representing the three HD audio formats supported on BD. All were ripped to an MKV file containing only the main video, the lossless main audio track, and no subtitles; file size recorded; then passed through MakeMKV again to convert the audio to FLAC. After conversion, MediaInfo was used to verify that the number of channels, sampling rate and bit depth (some versions of the DTS decoder have a bug that will change 24-bit audio to 16-bit, hence the use of 24-bit audio tracks below) were unaffected.

Movie Audio Original size New size Delta
2001: A Space Odyssey PCM 5.1 (48kHz, 24-bit) 20.10GB 16.38GB 3.72GB (18.5%)
Blade Runner Dolby TrueHD 5.1 (48kHz, 24-bit) 18.22GB 18.08GB 0.14GB (0.8%)
The Bourne Identity DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 (48kHz, 24-bit) 25.96GB 25.42GB 0.54GB (2.1%)

I noted a few more, with all the data recorded in this spreadsheet. The range of formats reflects the predominance of DTS-HD on Blu-ray these days, but there’s a clear 2-3% gain on substituting FLAC there. It doesn’t sound like much, but it’s half a gig when you’re talking about files of 20GB and up.

Conclusion

According to my unscientific tests, then, converting to FLAC delivers a saving in file size over the untouched original track across the board, with a minimal reduction for TrueHD and a handy half-gig saved on DTS-HD. Obviously, since the others are already losslessly compressed, the biggest gains come over PCM, where FLAC can shave 3.72GB off the size of the 2001 MKV – enough for another couple of DVD rips on my HTPC’s hard drive.

Running classic PC games on a Mac with Wineskin

I’m in love with Good Old Games. They distribute classic PC titles, getting them running on modern operating systems, bundled with extras, and all without DRM.

What I like most about it, though, is that GOG is up there with Valve in its efforts to make Mac gaming less of a wasteland. When it comes to retro computer games, DOS isn’t too much of a hurdle because the hardware requirements are trivial and apps like Boxer make emulation simple, but the Windows ultra-dominance of the late 90s through late 2000s are a dark spot. If you have fond memories of a PC game of that era and it’s not from Blizzard or id, odds are it didn’t get a Mac release.

I recently noticed that GOG was offering Mac versions of PC-only Black Isle RPGs like Planescape: Torment. My curiosity over what witchcraft was enabling this led me to Wineskin, which now has me running stuff like RollerCoaster Tycoon natively in OS X. And it works with basically anything short of the latest and greatest. Here’s how it’s done.

You will need…
  • Your PC game
  • Wineskin Winery (download)
  • Enough hard drive space for the install plus about 150MB
A little background

I’m going to be doing this with the GOG version of RollerCoaster Tycoon. GOG makes it easier because the games are mostly a single installer and have no DRM to worry about, but disc-based games can be done too by copying the contents of the disc to a folder on your computer, so do that first. As long as the game doesn’t require anything newer than DirectX 9.0 or host particularly invasive DRM (e.g. StarForce), chances are it’ll work.

This all works using Wine, with Wineskin bundling the installed game and a Wine compatibility layer in one Mac app. It’s not emulation, strictly speaking, so what you’re getting is a Windows game running at native speed on OS X.

Wineskin WineryGetting started

Fire up Wineskin Winery. You’ll first need to download an appropriate engine for the game you’re running, but thankfully people will have done the legwork for you. The Wine Application Database is where users document their experiences of running software with different Wine engines, and its entry on Rollercoaster Tycoon notes that the GOG version runs with platinum compatibility (“flawlessly”) on 1.6.2. Therefore that’s the version I’m going to download.

With that downloaded and the latest wrapper downloaded, hit the ‘Create New Blank Wrapper’ button and give your new app a name. In this case, I creatively opt for ‘Rollercoaster Tycoon’.

Let the process run. It may ask you to download a version of Mono and/or the Gecko engine. Old games will almost certainly not need Mono but may use Gecko; use your own judgement, or just go ahead and install them since it’ll ensure a trouble-free conversion.

When it’s finished, click ‘Show Wrapper in Finder’ and you’ll be presented with a generic Wineskin app, ready to be turned into your chosen game.

Installation

Run this new app to be presented with the following window.

Wineskin

Click ‘Install Software’, then ‘Choose Setup Executable’, and point it at the installer from GOG. This is where things start to look interesting.

Wineskin installation

That looks suspiciously like a Windows installer on a Mac, doesn’t it?

Once the installation process is complete, resist the temptation to play the game for now and click ‘Exit’. You’ll see the following window, which lets you tell your Wineskin which executable it should run on launch. In this case it’s correct and I’ve never seen it need changing, so go ahead and click OK.

Wineskin executable

Wineskin iconThe Advanced menu that you can see mentioned can be accessed by right-clicking the newly created app in the Finder, clicking ‘Show Package Contents’, and then double-clicking the Wineskin icon in the resulting folder. Among other things, this allows you to change the app icon; find an appropriate ICNS file from a site like VeryIcon and select it in there to get things looking more official (see right).

Rollercoaster Tycoon on a Mac

Isn’t that a beautiful sight? You end up with a self-contained OS X app (by default located at ~/Applications/Wineskin), created through a process that works on basically any game. No fiddling with Boot Camp or Parallels to run an old favourite that hasn’t been ported, and none of the performance penalty that comes from emulation. Lovely.