ISOs – finding & burning them

If you’ve read through all my ramblings from the first paragraph you’ll know that you can download movie, voice and music add-ons for your ripped games. Once you have installed a game and have then extracted all the add-ons into the same directory, essentially what you have is the same as a store bought piece of software, but minus the cost and irritating spiel of the shop assistants. The same can be said of ISOs, yet there is a subtle difference between these two release flavours. To experience the full monty in rip format you must gather together all the constituent pieces of the jigsaw puzzle and re-construct them yourself, whereas with an ISO you are presented with the finished puzzle from the outset saving you the trouble. So to get to the point, an ISO is an exact copy of an original CD, all the multimedia bits and pieces are uncut and therefore they are extremely large and awkward to download if you happen to be lumbered with a slow connection.

Lots of people ask me if there is any advantage to be gained from downloading rips with all the add-ons as opposed to ISOs. The simple answer is no. If you plan to download the main game as well as the extra movies, sounds and voices you would be much better off searching for the ISO version instead. Quite often, because the release groups make use of lossy compression and also cut out extras such as Direct X and any other superfluous junk when constructing rips, ripped games tend to be smaller. While you can save yourself a bit of download time by plumping for the rip version, my advice would be to bite the bullet and be patient for just a bit longer – it will be worth the wait in the end. In any case, since the new rules governing the release of ISOs came into effect, the size gap between rips (plus add-ons) and ISOs has shrunk into obscurity. It is now common practice, as it is with rip games, to remove any extra files from the original CDs if they are not fundamental to the actual game. For instance, Direct X gets the chop every time, as do game demos and trailers. Because ISOs, with the exception of the main executable being cracked, haven’t been tampered with, there is a much better chance of them working as they should. In addition, there is no need to reconstruct ISOs before being able to play them since they are an ‘off the peg’ solution. If you’re running low on hard drive space, ISOs also have the advantage of being able to be burnt to a CD so as to run them as you would the original, saving yourself many hundreds of megabytes in the process. Then again, if you value speed over hard drive space you can run ISOs from your hard drive using Daemon Tools, but more of that later. In summary, unless you’re only interested in downloading the game ‘base’ in rip format, there is little point continuing to use rips. While ripping games is an art form in itself, it is in my opinion destined to be a lost art form seeing as rips are gradually being phased out to make way for the more practical ISO.

ISOs, although they can be found in all sorts of obscure formats, generally appear in one of two flavours; they will have either a ‘bin’ or an ‘iso’ extension. There is very little difference between the two formats apart from the fact that a bin file will also be accompanied by a tiny configuration file known as a cue sheet. This is opened by your CD burning software instead of the archive file itself and includes all the essential details that are needed to extract and burn the file. These file formats might strike you as a little odd at first because you are unlikely to have seen a single iso or bin file floating around on the net waiting to be snapped up by eager file foragers. This is because before being uploaded they are first shrunk to a more manageable size and spanned across a compressed ace or rar archive in 15 meg chunks, in much the same way as ripped games are. To ‘unwrap’ your iso or bin file, the archive set first has to be decompressed, and as with rip games the best way to do this is to use Winrar. As most ISOs come in rar format this is the obvious choice, not only because it will allow you to decompress the whole set in one go, but also because using a program which was not specifically designed to handle this format is more likely to produce errors.

Your mission, should you choose to accept it is very straightforward and will seem like second nature to those of you who have already toyed with a rip or two. If the rar files have first been zipped up, decompress them into a temporary directory using Winrar’s multiple file extraction feature. Next, obliterate all the obligatory ASCII ‘calling card’ garbage except for the main nfo file (which can often be a lifesaver when it comes to troubleshooting tricky installation problems). Now locate the first file in the series; this will have either a 001 or a rar extension. Either extension is perfectly acceptable as they will both be processed by Winrar in exactly the same fashion. If the initial file has a rar extension it will already have been associated with the program by default, allowing you to double click on it to view its contents in Winrar. On the other hand, however, if your primary file has a 001 extension you may have to rummage around for the file from within the Winrar browser, or alternatively you could simply drag the file from its temporary folder onto a new Winrar session in order to open it. Whichever route you choose to take, once your initial archive file has been opened, all the remaining files in the series will automatically be processed by Winrar, and their contents will be displayed in a single window for your perusal. As soon as the whole set of files has been opened it’s a good idea to check them for CRC errors using Winrar’s ‘test archive’ function. This is situated under the options menu. Assuming that your archive is error free, all that remains to be done now is to extract its contents to your hard drive. This can be done by clicking on the ‘extract’ button surprisingly enough. You should now be left with one or two files of the format we discussed earlier.

No matter what form your ISO takes there are only two methods in which to get it up and running. The first is to extract the files to your hard drive and ‘mount’ them to a virtual CD drive, a designated area of your hard drive which simulates the operation of a burnt CD-R sitting in your CD drive. Choosing this path allows you to test a CD before committing yourself to keeping it, or at least wasting a CD-R on it. If once you’ve play-tested it, you find that it’s not to your liking you can simply delete the files and reclaim the hard drive space they were occupying. For the remainder of this tutorial we will be concentrating on using ISOs in the manner in which they were originally intended to be used, by burning them to a blank CD-R that is, so for more information regarding virtual CD utilities see the ISO section of the FAQ.

Method numero deux involves burning your ISO onto a blank CD to be used in your CD drive in the usual manner. To do this you will need the right tools for the job, so again I would suggest paying www.cdrsoft.cc a visit. To burn a bin you need CD-R Win – hey that rhymes, I’m a poet and I didn’t know it! Ahem …anyway, firstly make sure that your cue sheet and bin file are in the same directory and that the path of the bin file documented in the cue sheet is correct. You can do this by opening the cue sheet in Notepad and checking that no path information is present on the top line of the configuration data. Before editing the cue sheet this line might read something similar to FILE “C:\Temporary Files\mygame.bin” BINARY, but unless you create a directory on your C: drive called “Temporary Files” and place the bin file in it, CD-R Win won’t know where to find it. This is why it is best to remove all references to a particular drive and directory leaving just the name of the bin file, like so: FILE “mygame.bin” BINARY.

So on with the show. Once you have installed CD-R Win, open the program and push the ‘record CD’ button followed by the ‘load cuesheet’ button, and select your cue file from the relevant directory. Now all you have to do is put a blank CD in your CD writer and press the ‘start recording’ button, making sure you take into account my advice regarding general CD burning in the previous tutorial.

To burn a file with an iso extension you will need to change your CD writing software; Nero or Disc Juggler will do the job very nicely. In this case all you have to do is select ‘open’ from the file menu, scan through your directories until you come to your iso file and then select it. Now simply press the ‘write CD’ button and put your feet up. The hardest part is finding the right software for the task in hand, once you know which software to use you’re laughing. If for any reason you can’t get hold of the above mentioned software try another program, go to the file menu and select open. Now browse through the supported file types and see if iso, bin or cue are amongst them.

I’m sure there will be occasions where you will want to extract the contents of CD image files without first having to burn them to a CD. A few examples include installing an operating system from the hard drive, installing an application which doesn’t need to access the contents of its setup CD once transferred to your computer or extracting standalone utilities from CD compilations. ISO Buster is perfectly suited to performing all these tasks as it can interpret and manipulate all the most popular CD image formats. If you want to create your own CD images there’s no need to switch tools as ISO Buster is perfectly capable of assisting you with these too. Have you got a CD or DVD containing critical data which you cannot retrieve through conventional means? Fret not; the author of ISO Buster prides himself on his application’s ability to recover data from optical media no matter how mauled it may be.

If you’ve got a very slow connection or just can’t find the ISO you’re searching for, see if you can beg, borrow or steal an original CD. If you’re successful you’ll be able to produce your own ISOs using Alcohol 120%, Blind Read or Clone CD. What these three programs do is dump the entire contents of a CD into a single ISO file, which can then be burnt to a CD. One question which is probably on the tip of your tongue at this point is, “but can’t I just make a backup by copying the contents of a CD to my hard drive myself?”. Yes, you could, but the chances are it won’t work because it is copy protected. The crucial difference with using Alcohol 120%, Blind Read or Clone CD is that the copy protection is bypassed and the CD label is replicated exactly leaving you with an error free, identical copy of the original CD. So where do you find these miraculous gadgets? Ah yes, I was coming to that. The official Clone CD home page is located at www.slysoft.com, Alcohol 120% you will find roaming in an intoxicated state at www.alcohol-software.com, and you can visit the home of Blind Read by pointing your browser towards www.blindread.com. Trial versions of all three programs are freely available from their respective web sites. Blind Read and Alcohol 120% are no doubt exceptional programs, but in my opinion your first choice for duplicating ISOs should always be Clone CD as it offers a greater chance of producing an error free duplicate. If Clone CD has trouble reading a particular disk you can try unleashing Alcohol 120% on it, and if that fails finally give Blind Read a whirl.

Let’s begin our foray into the realm of ISO imaging by downloading the trial version of Clone CD. If you find it useful you can purchase a license for it later – the demo version is fully functional for a limited time so you will not miss any of the features on offer in the registered version while you test drive the program. Fire it up and if you have purchased a username/serial number combination enter it in the relevant space under the register tab before continuing to the main interface. Insert the CD you wish to copy into one of your CD drives. Any of them will do if you have more than one to choose from, but your CD writer is often more efficient when it comes to reading protected data compared with your ordinary CD drive, so it may be wise to use that instead even if it is much slower. A faster drive will only get the job done quicker providing it can read the often deliberately corrupted data structure of the CD, which isn’t always the case.

Skewer the ‘read to image file’ button with your pointer and select the drive in which you have inserted the CD you wish to duplicate. If it is a data CD be certain to inform Clone CD of this by choosing the data CD option. Similarly, if it is a game CD, select the game CD option before continuing. Subsequently pick which drive you would like to store the image file on, making sure that you have a sufficient quota of available disk space, and finally give the destination file a name. Now if you poke the ‘start disk read’ button the data should begin transferring from the CD to your hard drive. This would be a good time to go away from your computer and do something useful for a few minutes; analogous to the burning stage, any break in the data flow can cause problems later on so it is wise not to tamper with your PC once the process is underway. When you return, the operation should be complete and all that remains to be done now is to transfer the data from your hard drive to a blank CD-R, so find a suitable disk and pop it into your CD writer. Then if you hit the ‘write from image file’ button, select your newly created image file and click on the ‘start disk write’ button Bob’s your mother’s brother… or in other words, your work here is done. Congratulations, you’ve produced your first cloned CD! Just remember, as the disclaimer says “please don’t use this program to make illegal copies of copyright protected software” – ha ha, as if anyone would do a thing like that!

Since the authors of all three of these programs have aimed for idiot-proof operation, once you’ve used one you’ve used them all. The interfaces are very similar so you shouldn’t have any difficulties porting your newly acquired knowledge of Clone CD when making use of its rivals. Because some programs of this kind extract data from CDs using different mechanisms depending on the way that data has been protected, it is necessary to inform them prior to imaging a CD which copy protection scheme has been applied. If the program you are using does not detect this information automatically, you can do the detective work yourself by visiting Game Copy World and searching for the title of the game you are attempting to copy. This will provide very detailed instructions on how to copy each title, but the only bit of information you need to pluck from the articles is the copy protection mechanism utilized e.g. SafeDisc, SecuROM, LaserLock etc. Alternatively you can get a third party utility to take care of the task for you. Once armed with this information, select the corresponding protection method from the relevant drop down menu and away you go.

An added bonus of using Clone CD or Alcohol 120% is that they both support CD emulation, that is deluding your operating system into thinking that the ISO image on your hard drive is actually a real CD sitting in your CD drive. Windows never was the sharpest tool in the box, eh! Sorry, I couldn’t resist taking a swipe at Microsoft. The advantages of this are fairly obvious; it is unnecessary to burn an ISO image to a CD in order to use it, which is very handy if you happen to have run out of blank CD-Rs or if you do not intend to keep the CD images forever. Beyond this, there is a huge decrease in image access times since hard drives are many times faster than CD drives and, if for whatever reason, a CD image cannot be extracted properly you will realize that there’s a problem long before you create a fresh new coaster. You will find more detailed information and relevant links on this subject in the ISO section of the FAQ.

Now you’ve so meticulously assembled your first CD, you’re not going to want to just scribble its title on a scrap of paper and shove it inside the CD case are you? The answer you’re looking for is “no”! Come on, work with me here will you? If you want to make your copies look more professional you can download scanned versions of the original CD inlays from the internet and print them out providing you know where to look. Oh what the hell, it’s nearly Christmas. Here are some links which you might find useful: www.cdcovers.cc, www.cdcovercentral.com, www.come.to/cd-covers, www.covermania.com, www.mega-search.net, www.coveruniverse.com, www.coversite.net, www.psxcovers.net, www.thelabelsite.net, www.supercovers.com and finally www.labelland.org. Amongst these sites you will find covers for games, applications, audio CDs, video CDs and …well pretty much anything that comes in a CD or DVD case really.