Tuesday, 19 June 2012

Vintage Comic Chat

As I have suggested in the past, those wishing to continue to entertain their nostalgia for Comic Chat will most likely succeed in doing so only if the experience is approximated and improved upon in new software, leaving the old Microsoft Chat behind as the powers at Microsoft themselves have done.

While it has been my own goal this year to build an elementary proof of concept interface that replicates (and is compatible with) Microsoft's own Comic Chat, specifically in order to make use of Comic Chat in a GNU/Linux environment, an Italian team headed by another nostalgic Comic Chat user, Gianluca Nicoletti, has begun a project known as "Vintage Comic Chat," specifically aimed for Windows 7 and Windows mobile devices.

"The main purpose of this project is to re-create an application resembling Comic Chat, the imaginative product created by Microsoft in the Nineties, updated to use current computer technologies, available on Windows 7 and Windows Phone 7 first, then the other platforms available on the market.

The features will be the exact as in the original product: a text line will transform the words into a cartoon characters and dialogue Between the Interaction Between users will create graphic panels. Users Will Be Mainly focusing on the content, Because The context will be provided by the Software That Will interpret words and subtle meanings in order to create cohesive and interesting comic stories.
The graphic appearance and artwork will be new; However, it will keep the vintage style that made the original so appealing Comic Chat.
The idea behind the project is to bring back to life a great product that, though discontinued, is still appealing to millions of people."

Nicoletti hopes to revive the Comic Chat experience not only for fun and games, but also for various business venues as well as a means of presenting information in new and promising ways to work with students with different learning abilities and autism.

Nicoletti has apparently been using for his project the room "GN_Vintage_2.0" on the currently active Comic Chat server Comic-Sun, although the room does not appear to be in use or registered at this time.

David Kurlander, retired author of Microsoft Chat whose name you may recognize from his Comic Chat page linked to on Mermaid Elizabeth's front page for some time, is purportedly an advisor to the project.


Monday, 4 June 2012

"This person is too lazy to create a profile entry."

While today I am a graduate student working on my master's degree in the humanities, I have been using Microsoft Chat roughly since I was in the fourth grade, creating Comic Chat characters since around middle school.

Among other things, my main contribution was a set of Star Trek themed Microsoft Chat characters, created by colorizing and modifying some of the original characters that came with Microsoft Chat (modifying these being a common practice among other AVB or character makers).1

As a curious middle schooler, at one point I even discovered that by modifying the CChat.exe executable in a hex editor, I was able to replace Microsoft Chat's ability to play RMI files with that of MP3 files, allowing fellow users (at least those who followed the technique) to send MP3 sounds to channels and hear them even though the client had been made before the popularity of the now ubiquitous MP3 audio format. It is in this same spirit, now several years later, that I have created this blog, in which I hope to share my observations as I tinker with Microsoft Chat, attempt to discover how it works, and how to make the most of it (note Eric S. Raymond et al.'s definition of a hacker).

1. Some of these were of a higher quality than others, and most included roughly one to two dozen poses and gestures. While my old website, The Comic Chat Connection, is no longer updated, an archived version where copies of my characters can be downloaded is still available courtesy of Mermaid Elizabeth.

Running Microsoft Chat in GNU/Linux

Unfortunately, it seems that it is only with techniques currently beyond the domain of this blog that Microsoft Chat may be run in GNU/Linux or other operating systems under Wine, the usual method of running Windows applications in Unix-like operating systems.

It is possible to install Microsoft Chat 2.1, the older version of the program, on GNU/Linux systems via Wine. The result, however, is not functional. The executable can successfully be loaded, but comic pane and speech bubble borders are so thick that they distort the presentation and render the conversation completely unreadable, if it is generated at all:

As Microsoft Chat 2.1 is limited to the default black and white characters (and is unable to display any of the many thousands of user-made AVBs or character files generated in the Microsoft Chat Character Editor, it is considered obsolete by Comic Chat users. Generally speaking, it would not meet the demands of most users attempting to use this software on their own operating system.

While I am able to install the later Microsoft Chat 2.5, I am unable to run the installed executable. Wine-dbg yields the error:

err:seh:setup_exception_record stack overflow 976 bytes in thread 0039 eip 7bc70340 esp 00240f60 stack 0x240000-0x241000-0x340000
Process of pid=0038 has terminated
As I do not have a lot of experience troubleshooting in Wine (truthfully I do not desire to run many Windows applications), my planned efforts will not involve running Microsoft Chat on Linux per se, but emulating or imitating the experience of Comic Chat in a GNU/Linux environment, in such a way that appears functional and compatible with Microsoft Chat from the perspective of all users involved. As I am not a developer, I can only provide hints and some of the steps necessary toward building a native Linux client; I cannot create own myself. Such a project would depend on other interested parties. I will attempt through various means to see how Microsoft Chat works behind the scenes, and I will share that information here. As I gradually learn more information about running Microsoft Chat under Wine, that information will be posted here as well.

In the mean time, you may consider running your own copy of Windows under Linux via virtualization software such as VirtualBox. This is how I currently access Microsoft Chat. Or, if you're interested in intellectual mating with my creative spirit à distance, consider following my project to "port" a mostly cross-compatible "Comics Mode" to Linux.

While Microsoft Chat has finally removed the download from their own website, you can still download it (in multiple languages) from Mermaid Elizabeth's still regularly updated website, where you can also follow links to download characters and backgrounds and find out where Comic Chat users continue to lurk to this day.