Another classic RPG title for the PC, Arcanum: Of Steamworks and Magick Obscura (or Arcanum for short) is a role-playing game set in a fantasy steampunk universe. It’s a world populated by fantasy races like Elves and Orcs, with magic users and those who have embraced the power of steam. It’s a world where magic and technology regularly collide, with the two powers being incompatible and therefore at odds with each other. In this rich fantasy setting you will find yourself the lone survivor of an airship crash and tasked with bringing a silver ring to “the boy”. Well at least that rules out half of the population.
Arcanum should install on a modern PC without any issues. Users who purchased the game from GoG.com can simply download the installer and double click on it. Those using an original retail copy should place the install CD into the computers optical drive and follow the on-screen prompts. If the games installer does not start automatically, browse to the CD in Computer/This PC and run the “Setup.exe” file manually. If you decide to change the games default installation folder while installing, be sure to make a note of where you install it as you will need this information later when you come to install the patches.
Towards the end of the installation process, you will be asked if you want to install DirectX. You should skip this step since the version on the game CD is somewhat out of date.
Like most classic RPG games, Arcanum has been kept alive long after it stopped receiving official updates by a dedicated fan community of modders and hackers. Regrettably, the better user made patches and mods haven’t been updated in a number of years, but they are still available and highly recommended for anyone wanting to play the game on modern systems.
Before you install any unofficial updates however, you should install the latest official patch. If you’re running the GoG.com version of the game you already have the latest version and do not need this patch. You can get the official patch from the Terra Arcanum download page here. Once you have downloaded the patch, simply double click on it to run it. If you changed the default installation directory when installing Arcanum, you will need to manually enter the path into the patch.
With the official patch installed, all the other recommended patches and updates in this section could be considered optional, though we highly recommend installing them. The only reason to avoid doing so is if you have an old save game. Installing the unofficial patch will break compatibility with older save games, so if you’re not intending to start a fresh game keep that in mind.
Even with the official patch installed, Arcanum is well known as being a very buggy game. To help with this, our next recommendation is to install the unofficial patch. You can read about the unofficial patch and download it by using this link. Sadly the unofficial patch is no longer supported or maintained, but as long as it’s still available that’s all that really matters.
Once you have downloaded the unofficial patch, simply double click on it to install it. You will be asked which components you want to install, so take the “Townmap Fixes” (though we’ll update these later) and “Extra content”.
There are a few other enhancements you will probably want to install for the best possible experience. We’ll go over those now.
HQ music patch will make the game sound its very best, you can grab that here. There’s also a super high quality (lossless WAV) version of the patch you can grab here. Honestly, even if your PC is connected to a super expensive sound system, it’s unlikely you will hear much difference between the two. Choose one music patch or the other, you don’t need both, obviously the lossless version has a significantly bigger file size. Again, once downloaded simply double click on the file to install it, remembering to check that the path is correct during installation.
HQ Townmaps upgrade, as you might expect, upgrades the games town maps to higher resolution versions. You can grab this upgrade here. To install this patch, simply open the zip folder it’s downloaded in then run the HQ_Townmaps.exe file that’s within. As always, remember to check that the patch is installing to the right location/path.
High resolution patch allows the game to run in resolutions greater than 800×600. You can read about this patch and download it here. Installing this patch is a little more complicated than the other patches, but still not very difficult. Download it and run it as per normal, making sure that you select the right installation folder (though in this case the patch should automatically detect it for you). While installing this patch, a command-prompt style window will appear. You will be asked various questions, such as the desired width and height of the games new resolution and if you want to install larger fonts. You will need to type your answers, either by typing the letter indicated or by entering the required numbers when asked for screen width and height. Before you decide which resolution to use, remember Arcanum was never designed to run at a resolution greater than 800×600. Although the high resolution patch includes updated fonts, things can still be a little small at 1080p. Clearly Arcanum was always designed to be played sitting at a computer monitor rather than on a TV, and even at lower resolutions you may find the game is uncomfortable when viewed on a TV screen. Secondly, it seems that there’s a bug within the patch that causes the entire area map to become visible if you choose higher resolutions like 1080p. The game is designed so that you’re only supposed to be able to see as far as your perception skill allows, so this is, in effect, a cheat, but not one that necessarily spoils the game.
Once you have made your mind up, simply enter the desired screen width and height when prompted. For 1080p, for instance, enter a width of 1920 and a height 1080. For 720p use a width of 1280 and a height of 720. After you choose your new screen resolution, the patch will offer to install “Compact options screen” and “larger fonts”. We recommend both of these options (especially the larger fonts). To change the games resolution in future, simply run the high resolution patch again.
You’re all done patching the game now, so full steam ahead and lets move onto actually running it.
Running the game
Windows 7 users can simply start the game by searching for “Arcanum Fullscreen” on the Start menu and clicking the icon. There’s just one extra option to set in-game for best visual quality. From the games main menu choose “Options”. Then, chose “Video”. Now, ensure that “Dynamic Shadows” are set to On.
Windows 8 users aren’t so lucky, and should read the next section before trying to play.
Windows 8 Troubleshooting
Sadly, Arcanum: Of Steamworks and Magick Obscura is a particularly troublesome game when run on Windows 8 machines. With the default settings, the game runs at an unacceptably low speed. This applies to both the GoG and original retail release versions. Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be any one single fix that works for everyone. Try the following options, or a combination of them and see what produces the best results on your machine.
Firstly, locate the Arcanum installation folder and delete “ddraw.dll” if it is present.
Now, locate the Arcanum Fullscreen shortcut on the Start menu or Start screen. Right click on it and choose “Open File Location”. Now, right click on the icon that appears in the File Explorer window and choose “Properties”. A “Arcanum Fullscreen Properties” window will now appear. Click on the box labelled “Target:” and press the “End” key on your keyboard to move to the end of the line. Now, enter the following:-
Your window should look like the one shown below.
Try running the game now. Framerate should be improved. If it is not, or the game still seems a little laggy, you can also try running the game in windowed mode by removing the “-fullscreen” from the target box.
If you’re still not satisfied with the games performance, we strongly recommend trying dgVoodoo 2 first. dgVoodoo 2 is a clever little piece of software that wraps or converts legacy DirectX and DirectDraw graphics into Direct3D 11. To use this wrapper you will need a Direct3D 11 compatible graphics chip in your PC. Download dgVoodoo 2 here.
To use DgVoodoo2 with Arcanum, open the dgVoodoo2 zip folder you downloaded, then copy the dgVoodooSetup.exe file into your Arcanum game folder. Now, open the MS sub-folder in the dgVoodoo2 zip folder and copy the two dll files into your Arcanum game folder. Next, run the “dgVoodooSetup.exe” file. The window shown below will then appear.
Click on the button circled in red. This will make sure that dgVoodoo writes its configuration files to the correct folder (i.e your Arcanum game folder). There’s only one option you need to change, that’s over on the “DirectX” tab. At the bottom of the screen, there’s a check box that says “dgVoodoo Watermark”. Disable this option once you have the game running satisfactorily. Do NOT disable it the first time, since it’s a good indicator that dgVoodoo is working correctly.
Click on “OK” to close the dgVoodoo 2 setup window. Finally, before you start the game, edit the games “Arcanum Fullscreen” shortcut again and remove “-no3d” from the target box. If your hardware is up to spec, the game should now run at full frame rate. As a little bonus, users with compatible Nvidia graphics cards will find that Nvidia Shadowplay should now also work with the game.
Users who can’t use dgVoodoo 2 can try Aqrits DDraw Wrapper instead. To use this software, simply download the zip file and extract it into the Arcanum installation folder, then try running the game again. If the game still doesn’t run well, exit back to the desktop and edit the “aqrit.cfg” file in your favourite text editor (if you’re not familiar with editing configuration files, see this tutorial). Find the line that reads “ForceDirectDrawEmulation = 0” and change it to “ForceDirectDrawEmulation = 1”. Save the configuration file and try the game again.
We found that running the game like this produced good frame rates, but every so often the game would flicker and show elements from our desktop. To mitigate this, close as many windows as you can and shut down any widgets or other desktop enhancements. You may find that you can remove the “-no3d” option from the games shortcut when using this fix too, however this was not the case on our PC and if we did so the game would simply crash to desktop immediately.
You can also try running the game in a virtual machine, we briefly tested the game in Windows XP under VMWare Player and found performance to be poor, especially when running at high resolutions. Keep to 720p or below if you’re going to run in a VM.
Other mods and expansions
There were a number of official mods and expansions released for the game as well as several user created ones. You can download many of these expansion modules here. Look under “Arcanum Troika Modules” for the officially released ones.
Click on any screenshot to enlarge it.