(If you don’t care about my life and just want the technical information, skip to the fourth paragraph. I don’t mind!)
It’s been almost 12 years since Star Trek: Armada came out. It was relased just two weeks after Windows 2000, so naturally it was developed and tested for Windows 98/ME. I was 13 years old at the time and played the game up and down like crazy. Maybe it’s mostly nostalgia, but to me it’s still one of the most fun RTS space games ever. I never liked the sequel, Star Trek: Armada II very much. It came out almost exactly 10 years ago and was based on the same graphics engine, but significantly changed the navigation mechanics of the game, that just felt much too fiddly to me.
Over the last couple of years, I’ve tried time and again to get the game running on my more modern systems. I tried everything from emulators to varying compatibility settings. At one point, I even built a machine from old parts and installed Windows 98 on it – but time and again I failed, the blame lying with graphics drivers and/or DirectX being too old or too new, or just not working together. I even got myself another original release version from England after I had somehow lost the one I’d been using (which I paid for with what happened to be the only cheque I ever sent in the mail for anything).
Now, finally, I got my beloved Star Trek: Armada working on my gaming laptop! Despite the negative effects this might have on my work and social life, I am more than happy I am writing this post to collect the information I gathered and to help others play the game on their modern machines as well.
(Technical information starts here.)
My gaming laptop is running Windows 7 Service Pack 1 64 bit. Everything described here should work the same on 32 bit. It has 3 GB of memory installed. Although there are some reports of trouble running ST:Armada with more than 2 GB of memory, I am not seeing those problems. For a proposed solution, see here.
The laptop has an NVIDIA GeForce 9500M GS graphics adapter. Many reports (like this one) say that ATI cards are not causing any trouble, whereas NVIDIA cards have lots of problems. This seems to have changed only recently. I can confirm that NVIDIA’s driver software version 180 did not work with ST:Armada, whereas with 281, it works!
When installing the game on Windows 7, no special action is needed. Just run the installer as you normally would. Unless you game version already includes the patch to version 1.2 (like mine does), you must patch the game (you can get the installer here). There is also an unofficial ‘version 1.3’ patch from the Star Trek Armada II: Fleet Operations team developing the eponymous fan-driven mod. You can get the installer here. It promises to fix some bugs on newer systems and introduces additional screen resolutions. I am running this version with great success.
When the game is installed and patched, you need to make some settings. Set the compatibility level for Armada.exe to Windows XP (SP2) (for detailed instructions, see here). Also, the game must be run with Administrator privileges (don’t ask me why).
In-game, I had to enable the “Use alternate font” options for the fonts to look decent. More importantly, you should not try to Ctrl-Tab out of the game, as you will probably not be able to enter the game again, thus losing any unsaved progress.
This is how I got Star Trek: Armada running! The decisive change over the previous years definitely lies in NVIDIA’s new drivers.
Additional option: If new NVIDIA drivers are not an option for you, there is a tool called 3D-Analyze. It can emulate some graphics functions that are missing from many recent drivers, and thus enable older games to run (albeit with slower software emulation of said functions). For a description of how 3D-Analyze can help with ST:Armada, see here. The tool’s official homepage seems to be this one. When I tried it, it didn’t help me run the game, but I managed to at least get it running as intended by a) ensuring write access to the Armada game data directory (which 3d-Analyze writes data to) and b) setting the compatibility for 3D-Analyze to Windows XP (SP2).
Additional resources for help and hints: One of the single most informative forum threads on the topic is this one on techsupportforum.com (which I have linked above a couple of times). It is, however, not very active anymore. But fret not! There is an active community of players working to get ST:Armada back into action on modern systems, and even in online gameplay! Their forums community is called Star Trek Armada 2011. The forum requires registration, but it is worth it. There is even a dedicated subforum for installing and running the game in Windows 7. As a starting point, see this post for installation and configuring instructions (many of which I have already covered above).
Gimmicks: You can find the official manual to ST:Aramda on the game’s page at TrekCore. They also have cheats, strategy guides, historical information and a lot of other neat stuff revolving around the game.
So, with all this information, I hope you are well eqiupped to enjoy Star Trek: Armada like we did more than a decade ago (yeah, you heard me—more than a decade ago! )