Forcing Windowed Mode?
August 20, 2006 11:02 PM   Subscribe

Any good programs out there that will force PC games into windowed mode?


I have my main computer (running Windows XP pro) in the living room sporting dual monitors. It serves double duty as my primary computer and our house's media server / DVR (The primary monitor being used normally, but the secondary monitor feeds to our TV). It's so handy we've basically stopped watching regular live TV.

But here's the problem: We use Winamp to feed to the 2nd monitor/television, and it crashes every time a game jumps to fullscreen. That means I can't play any games without making it so no one else in the house can watch TV the way we've grown accustomed to.

I've tried alt+enter, but that never seems to work (and even if it did It would mean I was already into the game fullscreen, and thus would have already crashed whatever show was being watched). I've tried '-window' in the shortcuts but that doesn't seem to do anything once the game fully loads. Finally I've tried dxwnd, but I've never found a single game that didn't crash with it, of course I might be using an old version since the most recent I've found was over a year and a half old.

So, anyone have any other ideas? Newer version of dxwnd? Better program altogether?

Thanks much.
posted by Jezztek to Computers & Internet (21 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Can you not just use -window in the Properties of the executable or shortcut? For example:

C:\NeverwinterNights\NWN\nwn.exe -window in my shortcut's target runs NWN in windowed mode for me.
posted by solid-one-love at 11:20 PM on August 20, 2006 [1 favorite]

You're using winamp to play video? WHY?! Winamp is by FAR the shittiest video player I have ever seen. Even windows media player is better. My recommendation, get VLC.
posted by crypticgeek at 11:30 PM on August 20, 2006

VLC or Media Player Classic hugely beat Winamp. I think that's the path you should be going down. Even if you have plugins you use with winamp, I guarantee you there's another better way.
posted by devilsbrigade at 11:46 PM on August 20, 2006

Response by poster: Solid-onelove

I mentioned in my [more inside] that I had already tried that, but haven't got it to do any good.

it seems like it only affects the splash screen of a game, then when the game finally loads up the engine, it just jumps ahead to fullscreen. Maybe I'm doing something wrong, or have something set wrong?


I'm curious what features you feel Winamps lacks for my situation. Winamp (in classic mode, with all that extra library and crap turned off) is by far the best player I've ever seen for our needs. Perhaps there is a better alternative out there, I can't imagine any feature that Winamp is missing that I wouldn't consider a nuisance.

I do own a copy of VLC and it was the very first program I tried when setting up the media server, but it has proven to be a real pile when trying to use it in that context. I mean I can only assume your needs are radically different then mine because after moving to Winamp I just couldn't believe what I had been setting for under VLC. I do keep it around just to take a quick peek at vob files when I'm messing around with DvDs and run into a problem, but it seems useless and buggy outside that context.

Winamp is great for my needs since first of all I can strip away all the layers of unwanted crap and get down to just a basic media player, but I can easily keep it's controls on one monitor and have the video window playing on another, it has nice integration with the shell commands, ton's of useful plugins and a superior quality (i.e minimal and noninvasive) playlist functionality when compared to those hellishly bloated alternatives (and god, don't even get me started on video players that insist I use a library to organize my stuff).

If you got any specific reason why I'm missing out by not trying VLC again, I'd love to hear 'em. After all it has been over a year since I tried it, maybe they've greatly improved things since then.
posted by Jezztek at 11:53 PM on August 20, 2006

Response by poster: Wow, after seeing the second person chime in on the "try VLC" front I decided to get the new version and see if I'm way off base here.

I just spent a good 15 minutes farting around with it, and it is a total train-wreck.

It's context menu items didn't work ("add directory to playlist" instead spawned a new instance of the program, but left both the new and old instances playlists empty instead just loading the first video then flickering for a few second before jumping the the next down the line, neither of which were properly rendered, but oddly enough in two different ways, the *freeze*, ctrl-alt-del kill.

The playlist was total crap, compared to the efficient simplicity of winamp's. I didn't see any easy way to play the video on a separate monitor from the controls (but perhaps it's there somewhere, just buried so deep I couldn't find it. So that might be my bad) and it failed to render a single video I fed it correctly (but it did lock up both times I tried to queue up a directory).

All in all, I think it was the worst program ever fed into my computer, except for that time my roomate installed some spyware while trying to get rich quick with some affiliate scam.
posted by Jezztek at 12:19 AM on August 21, 2006

Sorry. Blind man typing.
posted by solid-one-love at 12:19 AM on August 21, 2006

Have you tried just -w and not -window, and made sure to put it outside the "s?

"C:\Program Files\EA GAMES\OFB\TSBin\Sims2EP3.exe" -w
posted by zarah at 1:29 AM on August 21, 2006

Response by poster: Howdy Zarah,

I hadn't tried that till you mentioned it, but I'm getting the same results as with -window

Here are the two I've been testing with:

"C:\Program Files\Black & White\runblack.exe" -window

"C:\Program Files\Firaxis Games\Sid Meier's Alpha Centauri\terran.exe" -w
posted by Jezztek at 1:52 AM on August 21, 2006

I don't think there's going to be any one way to force programs into windowed mode. I think that the two modes are handled a bit differently. If a program isn't explicitly designed to run windowed, it just won't, and if it were somehow forced to, it would likely crash.

Basically, I believe you'll have to figure it out program by program, and not all of them are going to cooperate. So you're probably going to need to replace your playback software.

On PCs, I use Foobar for music playback, WinDVD for DVDs and MPGs, and Media Player Classic for almost everything else.

Media Player Classic is much like the old Media Player 6.4 of yore... it's just a simple, straightforward wrapper around the Windows codecs. It does a very solid job, mostly by not doing all that much. I like it a lot. And it's free.

WinDVD is fairly expensive, but there's a demo you can download and try. Video quality is stellar, and it's an entirely reasonable interface. Doesn't do playlists, but that's what I use Foobar for.

FB2k is a very cryptic, strange little program compared to Winamp, but it makes sense once you learn it. Playback quality is second to none, you can massage the output in all kinds of ways. And it will do bitperfect lossless quite easily, if your hardware supports it. (most doesn't.) And it takes very, very little CPU time. It also offers a very powerful masstagging engine, so if you've got a bunch of MP3s or FLACs that are either disorganized or badly tagged, you can fix it fairly quickly. (both at once is harder.)

Another thought: have you upgraded your video drivers anytime recently? Try the most recent version if you haven't.

If you have, file a bugreport on Winamp. They may not realize it's not working right on the second monitor. And check the Winamp forums, there could be other suggestions on how to work around it.
posted by Malor at 4:02 AM on August 21, 2006

By the way, Foobar and FB2K are the same thing... "Foobar 2000". Sorry for not being clearer.
posted by Malor at 4:03 AM on August 21, 2006

If VLC is proving to be too evil, I'd second the earlier recommendation of Media Player Classic. You can download it from here with a massive kit-and-kaboodle of codecs. I've yet to find a video it won't play.
posted by grabbingsand at 4:07 AM on August 21, 2006

Try Media Player Classic instead of VLC. It's been mentioned above but you didn't say if you'd tried it or not.

I use VLC on my mac out of neccessity but vastly prefer Media Player Classic and use it on all my pc's. It's very utilitarian by design but still very user friendly. It's also got a drag and drop simple to use playlist function.

Honestly, using winamp to play video sounds like using your tv to listen to music.
posted by Silentgoldfish at 4:09 AM on August 21, 2006

Or what grabbingsand said :forehead smack:.
posted by Silentgoldfish at 4:09 AM on August 21, 2006

The method for getting a game to run in a window will be different for different games. Some games have it built right into their options (civ 4, city of villains) or in their launcher (oblivion), and yet others you have to edit the shortcut to launch the game or a settings file.

Your best bet for specific games is to hit up the games official forum. Also, some games just won't run well while in a window. These are often the same games that don't deal well with being alt-tabbed.
posted by utsutsu at 6:03 AM on August 21, 2006

Best answer: This may be a bit overkill, but the two games you mentioned (while being two of my all time fav's) are rather, er, well aged. Have you considered getting your mits on a Virtualization solution? Assuming you're not against a TINY bit of piracy (I say tiny because I consider it fair use, but they don't), or are flush with cash, you get a copy of something (I'm thinking maybe VMWare Player would work if you have a friend with the paid version make the virtual machine for you one time) and then load Windows XP on it (that's the piracy part, or expensive part). VMWare is made to run in a window, and while it may be slow, it might work for you. Only thing is I'm not sure what kind of 3d support VMWare has (should still work fine for Alpha Centauri, though).

If you're willing to screw around with it, Linux + Wine COULD replace windows in this case, but it would be a bit of a challenge if you're not a Linux guy.
posted by TrueVox at 6:10 AM on August 21, 2006

You're trying to playback video on a secondary while playing a game on your primary? That's a pretty rough request of your system, no matter what.

(That is, I haven't found a way to satisfactorily accomplish just that. And I have a dual core machine and a Radeon X850XT, but perhaps if I had a separate video card, it could happen.)

This has to do with how DirectX and most games handle how they take over your display. It can sometimes just force other windows to no longer playback video with any satisfaction.

I think you'll have more success with some games than others, but I wouldn't expect to playback Battlefield 2 while watching a movie or anything—some games are naturally finicky, and don't like anything else thrashing on IO.

Suffice to say, I don't think your media player preference is so much the issue, though I use Media Player Classic for what it's worth.
posted by disillusioned at 7:08 AM on August 21, 2006

Best answer: Grab the file D3DWindower.lzh from this page. The enclosed application will run almost any Direct3D game/application in a window. Enjoy.
posted by j.edwards at 9:14 AM on August 21, 2006 [1 favorite]

Truevox, VMWare now gives away a completely free, fully functional solution called VMWare Server. It's like VMWare Player, but has all the functionality to create new images. No piracy necessary, not even a tiny bit.

VMWare, however, sucks very badly for games. No 3D support at all, slow 2D, and bad sound support. Probably not a good idea for gaming.

Cool solution, j.edwards... hopefully it will let the poster do what he needs to. I've never run into that one before.
posted by Malor at 9:48 AM on August 21, 2006

Response by poster: Howdy, yeah I've tried media player classic (I've used it from time to time with real alternative before I figured out how to get winamp to play real files) it also crashes when it's set to fullscreen on the second monitor, leading me to believe the problem is hardware related or just an issue with directx.

As for everyday use, I don't know any way for media player classic to render video in a separate module from it's controls, allowing me to having running across two screens, and I've found it's playlist functionality sub-par, compared to winamp. Which are my two biggest deal breakers for video software.

But between VMWare Player and D3DWindower I think I should be able to work everything out.

Thanks much for the replies.
posted by Jezztek at 10:28 AM on August 21, 2006

Malor, I believe truevox was mostly refering to the piracy of XP for the VM machine. As I understand it, MS prefers each VM have it's own licensed copy of XP, rather than just reuse the base machine's license.
posted by nomisxid at 2:05 PM on August 21, 2006

It's interesting how much people danced around the issue here. If you reduce the problem down to one line, it remains: WinAmp crashes. And it should not.

Jezztek, you spent pages defending WinAmp, and looking for ways to help other software not knock WinAmp off its unstable pedestal. No matter what workarounds you come up with, your long term problem will still remain: WinAmp is crashing on you. And good software should not do that.

Your resistance to finding another video player that does not crash seems... well, stubborn would be putting it gently.
posted by Mr. Blint at 1:10 PM on August 22, 2006

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