The decompression chamber

If you return to your computer in a few hours time you will find that your hard drive is overflowing with the latest games and applications, well, compressed games and applications to be exact. So what do I do with them now? I hear you all ask. Well first you need to understand a little bit about compression. You can think of a ‘zip’ file, for instance, as an empty beer can (stay with me on this one, all will become clear). While the can is intact you can store the full capacity of liquid in it, however, it takes up a lot of space and is awkward to carry around. Now if you put on your size nine Doc Martins and crush it under your foot you can no longer store the same amount of liquid in it, but it is much smaller and easier to carry around. When you want to pour the liquid back into it again, the can is stretched back to its former shape (I’m well aware that you’re likely to shred your hands into a bloody pulp in the attempt, but you get the gist I’m sure). This, in essence is what a compressed archive does. Zip files can consist of a cornucopia of file formats numbering anywhere between one and thousands. If these files were not all held together in a compressed format you would have to click on each one individually in order to download them – this is inconvenient and time consuming to say the least! Also, because the files would be in their expanded, ready to use state they would inevitably take much longer to download. This is where Winzip, Winrar and Winace come in very handy:

If a file has a zip extension I would normally advise using Winzip to extract it since this is the task Winzip was primarily designed for, but this isn’t really convenient when you have a set of up to 65 files to decompress. This is why I’d recommend using Winrar to extract the whole shebang simultaneously. To get started open the folder which contains the files you have just downloaded, drag a box around all the zip files, using the control key if you need to single out particular files, and then right click one of them. Select ‘extract here’ from the menu which pops up and wait while all the files are decompressed. Each zip archive is likely to contain duplicate nfo files so when prompted to overwrite these click ‘yes’ to proceed. If when you installed Winrar you didn’t agree to have the ‘extract here’ et al commands added to your context menu you can achieve the same goal by opening Winrar and browsing for the files that way instead. Once you’ve located them, drag a box around the whole set and click on the ‘extract’ button, choose a place to put them and click ‘OK’. It is best to choose a separate folder to store the files contained in each archive set otherwise you will soon find yourself swimming in a sea of orphan files not knowing which ones belong to which game or application.

Once all the files of a particular archive set have been unzipped you will see that lots of new files have appeared. All but one of the files with an ‘nfo’ extension are garbage and can therefore be banished to the recycle bin (refer to the nfo tutorial). The remaining files constitute the release itself and they can take any one of the following forms…

1. An ace file followed by a series of c?? files.

2. A rar file followed by a series of r?? files.

3. A series of files with sequentially numbered extensions without an ace or rar file i.e. 001 followed by 002, 003 and so on.

4. A rar file followed by a series of sequentially numbered files as in the case above.

5. A series of files all with the identical extension, rar. In this case it is the body of the filename which differentiates the files in the set. For example, the first file will be labeled volname.part001.rar, the second file will be labeled volname.part002.rar and so on.

The question marks in the first two file formats represent a series of sequentially ascending numbers which form a mutually dependent set of files. C?? files are associated with ace archives, whereas 0?? and r?? files are associated with rar archives. These files cannot be decompressed with Winzip so you can close that down for the time being.

If, after unzipping, what you are presented with is an ace file followed by a series of c?? files you will need to use Winace to extract them. On the other hand if you are faced with scenario 2, 3, 4 or 5 from the list above you are best advised to use Winrar to extract them. Although in theory Winace can handle both ace and rar formats, sometimes it reports pseudo CRC errors when processing the latter file type. Very often these CRC errors are actually Winace errors rather than real errors within your archive set and are due to a mishandling of the compression format (see the compression section of the FAQ for more details). Scenario 5 represents Winrar’s latest default volume naming scheme (as of version 3.xx) and subsequently you are more likely to encounter this format in future releases. Releases compressed using versions of Winrar prior to 2.9 will take the format presented in scenarios 1 – 4. Not that you have to worry about keeping an old version of Winrar handy for processing older releases as the latest build is capable of decompressing past and present formats.

Somehow I’ve managed to make all this sound much more complicated than it really is, but trust me, there’s no need to panic. After opening a couple of archives you will be able to recognize and extract these two different file formats as though you’re flying on autopilot. All you have to keep in mind is to use Winace for opening ace files and Winrar for opening rar, r01 or 001 files – note that if there is no rar file you will have to open either the 001 or r01 file instead. These function in exactly the same way as any other rar archive, but without the initial double clickable rar file. Unless you have specifically associated 001 and r01 files with Winrar they will not open automatically, in which case you will have to open the program first, browse for the file and double click on it yourself. You may even want to modify your file association settings to allow you to simply double click on these files to open them in future. The procedure goes a lot like this: browse for the file you want to associate with Winrar and right click on it. Now choose ‘open with’ and select Winrar from the list in the dialog box which has just popped up, tick the “always use the selected program to open this kind of file” check box and click ‘OK’. The icon representing your newly associated file will change to the default one used by rar archives and you will then be able to double click it to delve inside. Even I’m not sure if any of that makes sense, but we’ll carry on regardless. I’m doing my best, honestly!

The initial rar, 001 or ace file actually represents the first file of a compressed, spanned archive. You have probably already noticed that double clicking on a c??, r?? or a 0?? file will achieve absolutely nothing unless you have previously modified your file association settings. This is because they are not designed to be opened individually (with the exception of 001 files). Instead they will automatically be processed when you double click on the rar or ace file. Similarly, when you choose to extract an ace or a rar archive, all the dependent files will be extracted in one go without any further intervention from you. Whenever you do this, depending on the way in which your file associations have been configured, either Winace or Winrar will spring into action and open the archive set in a new window. All you have to do now is choose ‘extract’ from the menu and select a folder to store the files in, remembering to tick the ‘extract with full path’ option to ensure that the files end up in the correct folders.

If when you decompress these files you encounter CRC errors it means that one or more of the files have become corrupt during the transfer process, usually because they have been transferred too slowly, because they have been resumed too many times or because you are downloading too many files at once and this is causing bytes to be lost or to be incorrectly allocated. It is also possible, however, that the way in which you downloaded them had absolutely nothing to do with the corruption. The files could have been damaged during the initial upload stage instead, in which case there isn’t a great deal you can do about it. If your files are corrupt they will need to be either repaired or downloaded again. You can attempt to repair a corrupt archive using the built in repair tools of Winrar or Winace, which can be found in the archive > repair menus, but be warned, the majority of damaged archives are beyond help and will need to be re-downloaded instead. If on your second download attempt the files still don’t work it is likely that they were damaged to begin with, in which case you are best advised to delete them and start afresh downloading from an alternative location.

Now that the release groups are producing much more professional ‘rips’ you will find that with most of the latest releases an installation program will be included to take all the hassle out of the installation process. While these are worth checking out for the music and GUIs alone, keep in mind that they are much slower than Winace or Winrar. If you plan to use them despite this drawback simply double click on the program icon and follow the idiot-proof instructions. Most likely the installation file will be called setup or install and will have an exe extension so you have no excuse for being confused.

Now if you browse through the folder you have just extracted to you will see a list of files which will look much more familiar. These are ‘ripped’ versions of what you would find on an original CD. Just to throw a spanner in the works, however, you could find yourself in a situation where what you are left with is yet another archive. If this rings true in your case, it is likely to take the form of a UHARC archive. This is a highly efficient compression format which has been customized by some of the major release groups. The good news is that you don’t have to worry about extracting this new archive manually, a batch file will be included which will do the job for you. This batch file will usually be labeled setup.bat to avoid any confusion, but in any case, the exact installation instructions will always be included in the nfo file so look there if you’re struggling for ideas. If you double click on the batch file, the extraction process will begin, but since UHARC files are so highly condensed it can take an eternity to complete the process and so often it is wise to go away from your computer and do something useful instead leaving your computer to chug away until the task is complete – UHARC utilizes every last smidgen of your computer’s resources making multi-tasking very difficult. But wait, there’s more! Yes, unfortunately in some cases your work will still be incomplete. Many modern releases make use of lossy compression which involves converting graphics and sound files to a format which occupies less hard drive space. Whilst this speeds up your downloads considerably it means that you have to wait around twiddling your thumbs while the files are converted back into their original format. Often this task is taken care of by the same setup file which extracts your UHARC archive, yet in other cases you may have to run another batch file.

Don’t worry, we’re almost there now. Before you are able to run the game (assuming it is a game rather than an application) you will often need to double click on a ‘reg’ file. This will update the system registry with all the necessary settings for your particular game. Finally you will have to search for the main program file and double click on it. This will have an exe extension and will be clearly labeled, doom3.exe, for example. Any problems which you may encounter at this stage, such as a lack of in-game sound, will be covered in the gaming section of the FAQ.

That’s it folks! You’ve successfully installed your first rip. Pat yourself on the back and move onto the next tutorial. No rest for the wicked!