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The Case of the Haunted Computer

April 23, 2009
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I had a rather perplexing — and vexing — mystery on my hands this week. My computer seemed to be haunted by a ghost.

Let me start from the beginning. Around 2007, I downloaded this cute little world-exploration game called Seiklus (version 1.4 at the time). Nothing to install, just unzip and go. I played it a few times, enjoyed it, and moved on. Recently, though, I thought it would be fun to play it again, as it had been a while. So I run the program and find the three save slots taken up with old saves: 52%, 52%, 99%. No biggie, I just quit and check the readme file. All I need to do is delete the files seiklus1.sav, seiklus2.sav, and seiklus3.sav that are sitting in the folder along with the game.

Problem solved. I run the program again and there are three fresh slots waiting for me: 0%, 0%, 0%. I select the first one and merrily start a new game. Of course, I can’t play straight through in one sitting, so I save at 14%, quit, come back later for a few minutes, pick it up, save at 23%, quit and shut down. The next day, I fire up my computer, hoping to continue. Except the three slots facing me are not 23%, 0%, 0% as I was expecting, but rather 52%, 52%, 99%.

What’s going on here?

I delete the entire folder and re-extract from the original .zip file. I’m starting fresh, but what choice do I have? I run the program, see three fresh slots, and begin a new game. Again, I can’t play all the way through in one sitting, so I save at 20%, quit, come back later for a few minutes, pick it up, save at 36%, quit, and shut down. The next day, I boot up my computer, hoping to continue. Except the three slots facing me are not 36%, 0%, 0% as I was expecting, but rather 52%, 52%, 99%.

All right, this is starting to get weird.

I repeat my previous course of action, only this time I re-name the folder where I keep the game files. Something silly, like Say-Kloos. I run the program, see 0%, 0%, 0%, and start a new game. I’m starting to get really good at the first part of it. No time to play all the way through, so I save at 30%, quit, and shut down. The next day — aww, you guessed! The original three saved game states stare back out at me, mocking me.

This is getting ridiculous!

I go to the game’s website to download a fresh copy of the game. He’s updated, now offering version 1.7. Surely this will resolve the issue! With renewed hope and determination, I delete the existing folder, extract the updated game, and run the program. Fresh game slots. Regardless, I have a nice chunk of time ahead of me, so I defensively play all the way through in one sitting. I save just before the end, finish, and the game auto-quits.

Well, I got what I wanted out of it. I played the whole game through from start to finish. But I’m still curious. The next day, I turn on my computer and run the game. Do I see 99%, 0%, 0%? Not at all! I see 52%, 52%, 99%. Only this time, because the older game saves aren’t compatible with the newer version, I can’t even select any of them.

Now I’m starting to get just a little freaked out.

On the advice of a friend, I download a program called CCleaner and use it to check out my computer’s registry. Even though there was nothing installed, sometimes the registry still records something. Sure enough, I find one or two files in the registry named “seiklus.” I get rid of the files, I run the game — It didn’t work. 52%, 52%, 99%.

My friend suggests I search my hard drive for stray seiklus files. What the heck, it can’t hurt. And sure enough, there in C:\Documents and Settings\MyName I see seiklus1.sav, seiklus2.sav, seiklus3.sav. Well! This was certainly unexpected. My ghost turned out to be a bizarre idiosyncrasy of WindowsXP.

I run the program. 0%, 0%, 0%. I start a new game and play a little bit, just enough to save at a percentage greater than zero. I quit, check the folder to make sure the save file is there, and reboot my computer. The magic always seems to happen upon reboot. I run the program and ta-daaa! There’s my game, right where I left it at 9%.

All right, I think I have this thing figured out. I play right up to the end and save at 99%. I quit, do other things, and shut down. The next day, I come back to the game to find 9%, 0%, 0%. I quit and look at the size of the save file sitting in the folder with the game. It’s almost as big as the game itself, which is odd. I go up to C:\Documents and Settings\MyName and sure enough, there’s a save file that’s quite a bit smaller. I delete it, go back to the game, and there’s the 99%, 0%, 0% I was hoping to see.

Ah, Windows, you do work in mysterious ways. At least now I know how to deal with it. My only question now is this: Why does a simple, stand-alone game not only look outside its immediate directory for game-save files, but allow these more distant files to override any existing files that are right there?

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