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Sony’s attitude towards the hacking and modding communities has never been anything short of utterly hostile. When ace hacker Geohot successfully reverse-engineered the Playstation 3’s security, his curiosity and ingenuity were met with the full-force of the multinational corporations ever eager legal team. While Sony may insist that this kind of heavy-handed response is necessary to protect their products from piracy, it’s sad news for the most devoted fans of their consoles. Take the Playstation 2 for instance, now completely out of production and unsupported by Sony, it nevertheless has a huge back catalogue of interesting and playable games. The machine itself had a number of flaws though. Firstly and most significantly, the laser units in the machines have proven to be unreliable, potentially consigning thousands of units to the scrap heap. Secondly, the machine commonly outputs a 480i video signal. Unlike the Dreamcast, with it’s lovely VGA output options, few PS2 games support the much more HDTV friendly 480p screen modes. The truth is that both of these issues can be addressed, but of course it’s not Sony who’s going to take the initiative.
Hackers to the rescue
Like many other systems, the Playstation 2’s security and DRM features were analysed and eventually broken. While this may have had some negative impact initially, for the retro gamer it is a godsend. Now that unsigned, homebrew code can be run from a Playstation memory card, the homebrew communities can take over where Sony left off, fixing problems with the console and extending the useful life of the hardware. There are a variety of useful apps and interesting homebrew programs and for gaming on your PS2 system there are four programs that you really need to know about.
uLaunchELF – This handy little program lets you copy data between a hard drive (attached via the Playstation 2 Network Adapter), Playstation memory cards and a USB stick attached to the PS2’s USB ports. This is a great way to backup your old save games for instance. Want to move your Final Fantasy 12 save game and try it on a Playstation 2 emulator?, no problem with this utility. You can grab it here.
GS Mode Selector – While Gamecube, Xbox and Dreamcast consoles have access to 480p screenmodes in many of their games, the number of 480p compatible PS2 titles is meager. 480i might have been acceptable for CRT’s, but on HDTV’s it’s bad news, causing high levels of input lag. Using this tool, you can force a number of games into 480p screenmodes. In the PS2’s heyday, similar disc based software existed, but GSM Mode Selector will run directly from your PS2 memory card, saving you the hassle. Not all games are compatible of course, but a significant number are. For more information, visit this page.
HD Loader – The original tool for loading Playstation 2 games from a hard drive. All that is required once you have this program running is a PS2 network adapter and a suitable hard drive. Chinese bootleg ‘network’ adaptors are still available. If you plan on buying one, you should note that the network socket on them is actually completely useless, it’s only the hard drive that works. Not only do PS2 games run faster and more reliably from hard drive, but if you have HD Loader running from your memory card then you can continue to use your PS2 long after the unreliable laser has died. Not every PS2 game is compatible, but the vast majority are. You can find the latest version of HD Loader here.
Open PS2 Loader – This is the next generation of PlayStation 2 hard drive loaders. With this handy tool, you can install games not only from CD or DVD, but via a network link too, so even PS2’s with completely failed lasers can still be used. Open PS2 Loader even has a virtual memory card tool, allowing you to save your games to your PS2 hard drive instead of a memory card. Unfortunately this loader isn’t compatible with certain modchips (most notably the O2 mod found in my machine!) so you may be forced to use HD Loader instead. Find out more about Open PS2 Loader here.
It’s really great that there are programmers and hackers out there willing to work on preserving and improving old hardware long after the original companies have lost interest in it. While I don’t condone piracy, I don’t condone not being able to play my old games without re-buying them on a new system either. The next time Sony tells you that hacking is evil, just think about where the poor PS2 would be today without it.