PDA Quest Part II: A Pyrrhic Victory (2017/01/08)

Serious Sam came in the mail. Everything was going smoothly. The game files can be grabbed right from the disc without bothering with any dated PC software, so that's good. But the PC emulator refused to work. It's just too damn fast. When the back of the box said "Pentium 233MHz or better", I don't think a 5th gen i5 is what they had in mind.

So, it was time to get creative.

limiting POSE's cpu usage

My first though was that I could force the program to slow down. There are a few programs that can do this, most notably "Battle Encoder Shirase" which has a pretty funny name. Unfortunately, BES couldn't properly hook the executable, so it was completely useless. There are a few other options, like CpuKill, which attempts to slow down programs by running a literal fork bomb. I wasn't going to do that.

running POSE in its native habitat

According to the readme file, the version of POSE I found was released in 2001. Of course, it does not officially support Windows 7. XP compatibility mode didn't do anything, so my next step was to install a full Windows XP virtual machine to run POSE in. It may have worked once, but generally speaking, it was still way too fast. And way too black and white.

running POSE in its native habitat with some extras

Even limiting the VM's cpu usage until it was so slow that the Windows XP UI lagged (as if that's hard) did not stop POSE. This emulator sucks.

Installing Windows ME on an old laptop, or buying a PDA, or something

Thank god I didn't have to go through with this, because then I remembered something completely different: PHEM.


As it turns out, some other sad soul out there cares about the state of Palm OS emulation, and he ported POSE to Android. His port's called PHEM, and it was last updated in 2014, which makes it 13 years more recent than POSE. That's great, because it means I don't have to fiddle with any more old hardware. Assuming the underlying POSE code doesn't ruin everything, that is.

I'm not going to pretend PHEM is something it isn't: the Android code is trash and the interface sucks. Roms have to be placed in an obscure place on the device and it's still way too fast, depending on your phone hardware.

That being said, it works! PHEM runs the color version of the game with no errors, aside from the speed issue. The next problem is to find a way to mirror my phone's screen to a PC so I can record gameplay footage, but that is an entirely separate nightmare. In the meantime, here are some screenshots.

Screenshot 1 Screenshot 2

Screenshot 3 Screenshot 4

So, with all that work done, how's the game? It's garbage. Completely awful. The controls are unresponsive in ways I never thought possible and the level design sucks. But honestly, who cares? The levels are vague facsimiles of the ones in the PC version which is pretty cool to see, and it's one hell of a novelty. At least, it was before I dumped it online. Now it's just another shitty PDA game.

You can download Serious Sam TFE, as well as the necessary OS files, a copy of POSE to play around with, and some other files I mentioned earlier here. You can download PHEM to play it here, but it'll cost a dollar.

One Man's Quest to Play an Old PDA Game (2016/12/30)

In the last few years, I've gotten into playing first person shooters on the Gameboy Advance. They're all somewhat awful, but the biggest disaster of the bunch (and therefore my favorite) is Serious Sam Advance. I actually like this game enough that I've taken to speedrunning it, but I can't deny that it's a pretty bad game. It's also a game most people don't know about, since most people are only familiar with the PC shooters and not the bizarre spinoffs.

As it turns out, there is a game in the series worse than Serious Sam Advance. Maybe. Someone at Croteam (or maybe their old publisher Global Star) back in the day had the bright idea of creating a unique entry in the series for Palm OS. Yes, the Palm OS that ran on PDAs in the early 2000s. Apparently the game has fifteen levels, twelve enemies, and six weapons. It's also likely a loose adaption of The First Encounter, judging by its name and the fact that the first level is titled 'Hatshepsut.' Aside from that, I don't know anything.

Looking around on the internet, the above information dump seems to be about all anyone knows. There's no gameplay footage on Youtube, and only the demo is available for download anywhere. There's a guy on Ebay who wants $50 for the game but aside from that it seemed almost completely lost. That is, until I had the chance to buy it for $15. I took that opportunity before I even considered how I'd play it. Fantastic! I'm now the owner of an undumped video game.

I had just spent nearly $20 on a 15 year old PDA game, and I wasn't going to spend another $20 on the old PDA itself if I could help it, so I started looking for an emulator. As it turns out, there's an official Palm emulator that was used for development. I don't trust bloated old sites like cnet and Softonic, so finding a download for that was harder then I expected. Then, of course, the emulator needs to be given the OS rom itself, which you could probably have gotten from your PDA or Palm's website when it still existed. Luckily, I was able to find the exact rom version I needed (OSv3.5) pretty quickly.

Palm OS v3.5

The next thing to do was to test the emulator with something. The first thing I found was 'SUPER_MARIOLAND2.pdb', a dysfunctional half of what couldn't possibly be the real Super Mario Land 2. The next thing I tried was the Russian freeware version of a crappy RPG called Quest of the Hero, which actually worked just fine. After that, I remembered that the Serious Sam demo was actually available online.

Quest of the Hero

Unfortunately, the demo doesn't work. Whenever it tries to load the first level in the color or the black and white version, we get this:

Lovely error message

Which doesn't bode well for the full version. After some fiddling with different versions of the OS rom, I was finally able to get the B&W version in-game!


...For a little while, at least.

Another error message

Ultimately, I think the issue is that the game is running too fast for its own good. What makes me think this is that the credits scroll way too fast to be readable, and the controls in-game are way too strange to be right. Very solid evidence indeed. This doesn't seem to be an emulator-wide issue, since Quest of the Hero worked fine, so the problem may be that Serious Sam specifically doesn't like to be emulated.

Maybe things will be different when it's time to run the full version of the game. Or maybe I'm in the market for a fifteen year old PDA. Either way, I've come too far to give up, and I'll be pissed off if I can't play the worst ad most obscure Serious Sam game ever released.