Xdisc: Mac Xbox ISO Utility

Often when dealing with Xbox content on the Mac, it’s useful to be able to create a bootable DVD, perhaps of a game or Xbox Dashboard program. While Xbox Media Center doesn’t run well from a DVD, games, utilities, and other programs are designed to be playable from a disc.

The Xbox can’t normally read computer formatted CDs like ISO 9660 and Joliet (XBMC can, though), but to make a bootable disc, it must be of the proper format. Microsoft designed a custom disc format for the Xbox in an attempt to stop piracy and secure the system, however it was quickly reverse engineered to allow for all kinds of uses. Xdisc is an Xbox disc image creator/extractor for Mac OS X, built on top of the open-source extract-xiso utility, which can be compiled for most operating systems. It can build an Xbox ISO file (disc image) from a folder on your computer, or can directly FTP into the Xbox and create an image of a folder or DVD, including games. It can also extract the contents of an Xbox ISO, producing the original files that make up the software. FTP is fully integrated into extract-xiso — and thus Xdisc — making for a great solution that can communicate directly with the Xbox to get the job done.

The author, known as “trackfive,” does not have a personal site that I can find and link to, so I’m hosting a copy of Xdisc right here, so you can download away. Also included in the download are several drag-and-drop applets to quickly create and extract XISOs without launching the application and messing with settings.

1/7/2007 Update
Trackfive has also produced some Automator plugins, which allow you to Control-click (right-click) on a folder or file and create or extract the Xbox ISO in one simple step. What could be easier?

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Xdisc: Mac Xbox ISO Utility

Burn Disks from the Terminal

While burning a CD image today, I discovered a really quick and easy way to do it from a Terminal window with zero hassle. Without launching Toast, Burn, Disco, or any of the myriad of point-and-click disc burning applications, you can simply type hdiutil burn ~/Desktop/you/disk.dmg. The burn begins immediately, with all default settings set as expected (max burn speed, verify on, etc.) It’s not good looking compared to the alternatives, but memory usage is minimal, and it’s a fast way to dump an image onto a disk if you’re already working in the Terminal, or have a session open.

Aside from burning disks, hdiutil and its sidekick diskutil can do everything Apple’s Disk Utility application can do, thus they have a very robust set of commands to choose from. Together, they can create, mount, and convert disk images, create and rebuild Mac OS X RAIDs, mount and eject physical disks, and even repair permissions. By typing hdiutil of diskutil at the command line, you’ll be presented with the long list of options available for each program. Check them out — you might just find a quick way to automate some of those tasks you do often.

Burn Disks from the Terminal

Mac Meet Xbox: Part 3

Mac Meet Xbox

Welcome back to the “Mac meet Xbox” series, Part 3, where we finally get to the good stuff. With the Xbox opened, modded, and ready to run beautiful, open-source, and decidedly non-Microsoft software, we’re going to format and install Xbox Media Center.

Getting XBMC

Yet again we run into the issue of legality in the Mac meet Xbox series, as Xbox Media Center is compiled from source code using Microsoft’s XDK (Xbox Development Kit). The XDK is a series of Windows programs, drivers, and Xbox software which allows developers to write and debug software for the Xbox. It is supposed to be available only to game publishers, however copies of it have leaked out onto the internet. The source code for Xbox Media Center is freely available and open source, but when you compile it into an Xbox program (an .xbe file, akin to Windows’ .exe files), you’re using copyrighted software, thus the resulting executable contains a portion of copyrighted code. Distributing such a copyrighted work violates the DMCA in the U.S., however laws in your country may vary. For the sake of this tutorial, I’ll leave the legalities up to you, but you should be aware of why the Microsoft XDK is publicly considered “off limits” in most discussion areas. For more details, you can visit the XBMC wiki page regarding the XDK and its involvement with Xbox Media Center.

Building Xbox Media Center from source code with the XDK isn’t a great option, let alone an easy one. Thankfully, a few charitable people build and post copies of XBMC around the net. I’ll have to leave you to your own devices to obtain a copy. As of this writing, the latest version is 2.0.1, and it can be found on popular sites. Like the BIOS files mentioned in the previous Mac meet Xbox part, XBMC is also distributed in RAR format, which must first be decompressed.

Dashboard Swap

With a shiny new build of XBMC on your computer, you’ll need to prepare the Xbox to receive the files. The community that has developed around Xbox modding decided upon one of the best choices for file transfer — FTP. We’re going to run an FTP server on the newly modded Xbox, browse through it’s carefully arranged system files, and replace a bunch of them with Xbox Media Center. First, though, you’ll need an FTP server.

In the early days of Xbox modding, a replacement for Microsoft’s Xbox “dashboard” was created, EvolutionX, and it served a number of needs: launching programs, flashing the Xbox’s onboard BIOS, changing settings, and running an FTP server. While others have since been developed, and even our very own Xbox Media Center is capable, we need something simple and easy to get off the ground. The easiest way to run an FTP server is to boot a prepared EvolutionX disc, which automatically starts the FTP service. Again, you can find discs to do the job all over the web. Burn the disc image to a DVD-R, DVD+RW, or CD-RW, which are three of the most compatible disc types — CD-Rs tend not to work well. Pop in the disc, reboot your Xbox, and marvel at the first non-Microsoft application running on your Xbox. By the time you see the spinning “EvolutionX” text, it’s ready to accept FTP connections at the IP address displayed in the Utilities menu (assuming your network setup is the same as in Part 2).

There are several Mac FTP programs that will work for the next task, however I strongly recommend Panic’s Transmit client, which has proven to work reliably with the built-in FTP servers of the Xbox programs we’ll be dealing with. Launch Transmit, and connect to the IP given by EvolutionX, with the universal Xbox FTP login:
Username: xbox
Password: xbox
Of all your passwords, this should be the easiest to remember.

When connected, you’ll be presented with a list of folders much like that of a Windows “My Computer” view: C:, D:, E:, and a few other drive letters. Not surprisingly, the folders correspond to similarly arranged devices — C: is for the main Xbox system files, D: is the DVD-ROM drive, E: is for extra files like game saves. If you’re curious, you can browse the contents of the optical drive by peeking inside D:, however the real guts of the Xbox’s system lie in the C: folder. Unlike Windows, however, the Xbox system files are stores right inside C:. Opening it will list a number of important files, but the one to note is xboxdash.xbe. This file, along with its associated fonts, sounds, and textures is the heart the Xbox software. It’s the green screen you’re used to browsing through when you have no game inserted in the console or are about to play a DVD movie. At this point, I would advise backing up all the contents of the C: drive to a safe folder on your computer, should you need them in the future. Go “up” a directory where you can see the drive list again, and simply drag C: to your Mac, and wait for it to copy over. (If you’re so inclined, you might also drag over E: to back up your saved games and other data.)

Once the contents of C: are backed up and safely tucked away, promptly delete everything in the C: folder. That’s right. Blow it away. Doing so will rid your Xbox of its Microsoft dashboard and prepare the space for XBMC. Short of re-copying the files you just backed up, you won’t be able to get back to the standard Xbox dashboard any longer. If you’re going to make this machine a media center Xbox, you might as well go all the way and make the media center the default system. With that, highlight everything in C:, and click Transmit’s “Delete” toolbar button.

Some moments later, your C: folder will be empty, ready to accept new software. At this point, if you were to reboot your Xbox without the EvolutionX disc inserted, you would receive an error stating that your Xbox needs serious repair by trained Microsoft professionals. Slim chance of that happening any time soon, after all, you’re an Xbox modder now. Browse to the contents of the decompressed Xbox Media Center folder and find default.xbe contained within. Upload this file and all of its sibling files and folders, ensuring that the default.xbe is directly inside the C: drive. This may take some time, as XBMC totals over 100 MB and has quite a few small files which can slow down the overall transfer. Upon completion of the upload — and this is important — rename default.xbe to xboxdash.xbe. You’ll note that the original Microsoft dashboard had the same file name, thus we’ve replaced it with Xbox Media Center’s main program. Without an xboxdash.xbe to launch, the Xbox will produce an error screen. Renaming Xbox Media Center’s main program to match what the Xbox expects to find effectively tricks it into launching the new software at startup.

The Final Test

To ensure you’ve properly installed Xbox Media Center, open the DVD drive, remove the EvolutionX disc, and restart your Xbox. If all goes well, you’ll hear a startup tune and be greeted with the Xbox Media Center splash screen, and a brand new menu system. Movies, music, pictures, programs — it’s all here.

If you’ve made it this far, consider yourself an official Xbox modder. You’ve successfully opened the console, modified it to run non-Microsoft software, and installed your own replacement system. Getting this far took countless hours of cracking and coding on the part of some very dedicated hackers, and you’ve managed to follow in their footsteps to assemble your own home media center.

Mac Meet Xbox: Navigation

Part 1: Why Xbox + Choosing Chips
Part 2: Cracking the Case + Installing and Flashing
Part 3: Installing XBMC
Part 3.1: Networking in Detail

Mac Meet Xbox: Part 3

Halo Wars for iPod

If you hadn’t noticed from my many previous posts, the category even, I’m a huge Xbox fan. And what Xbox fan doesn’t appreciate a battle-filled round of Halo, the title that made the Xbox what it is today? While I’m still ever-so-slightly bitter about losing the original Halo to Microsoft Game Studios after the crowd-pleasing MacWorld 1999 demo, I’m quite glad it turned out as successful as it has. What was primed to be a noteworthy Mac game got transformed into an enormous console blockbuster, a milestone in gameplay and attention to detail demonstrating that Bungie simply “gets it” when it comes to games. It was, and still is, one of the top selling Xbox games, and Halo 2 is continually rising back up to top of Xbox Live charts.

I’m certainly excited over the upcoming release of Halo 3 for the Xbox 360, but I recently learned of a new spin on the Halo saga. Halo Wars aims to deliver a real time strategy version of Halo, allowing you to command massive armies of Spartan soldiers and vehicles, defending against Covenant invaders on a global scale — a “bigger picture” interpretation of the first-person action that fills Halo 1 through 3. Normally, I don’t get excited about anything other than first-person shooters; I like having a weapon displayed in the lower third of my TV screen and a straight-ahead view of the oncoming foes. Over the last few weeks, though, I’ve really started enjoying Company of Heroes on the PC, which is a World War II real-time strategy game. It got me thinking: If this game is fun, playing it in the Halo environment must really be impressive. Calling in Banshee air strikes while maneuvering squads of soldiers around in Warthogs makes Company of Heroes seem boring by comparison.

Over at the Halo Wars site, they provide a trailer of what’s in store. Although it doesn’t detail any of the gameplay, it is a great teaser, displaying dozens of UNSC allies and enemies, all with their signature vehicles and weapons ready and poised for battle. Sadly, the trailers are only available in Windows Media format (the obvious choice for a Microsoft affiliated game). I’ve taken the liberty of converting it to a more Mac- and iPod-friendly format, which you can download now.

Halo Wars for iPod

Transmit Xbox Edition

While working on Mac meet Xbox part 3, I kept referring to the Transmit and Xbox duo, so I decided to combine the two into a stylish Xbox Edition icon replacement, which includes a paste-able icon, .png image, a replacement .icns file, and the source .psd. Download the set.

To replace Transmit’s yellow-and-purple truck icon with the “new and improved” one, locate it in your Applications folder (or wherever you may have it stored), Control-click it, and choose Show Package Contents. Browse to the Contents/Resources folder, and find Transmit.icns. This is the icon file for the application, so rename it to Transmit.bak for safe keeping in the event you would like to return to the default icon. Drop in the replacement icns file provided in the pack, and name it Transmit.icns. You may need to relaunch the Finder or log out/in to get the full effect, after which Transmit will sport the new Xbox delivery truck icon!

Transmit Xbox Edition

Parallels 3036 Update

While I don’t yet own an Intel-based Mac, I do keep an eye on software specifically designed for them, and am quite pleased to see that there’s continual progress with the available virtual machine software. Parallels now has some competition with the release of beta versions of VMware, which dominates the virtualization software market in the Windows world. Competition between the top VM makers is a great thing for Mac users, as they’ll continually be raising the bar, bringing new features and lower prices.

Parallels just made a major leap in their latest release, adding a new feature which utilizes your Boot Camp partition within a virtual machine. Doing this eliminates the need to maintain two installations of Windows, as well as activating XP twice with the same key. How it works is still a bit of a mystery to me, as the updated software must note the current hardware configuration of your Mac and emulate it in the virtual machine, as Windows can be picky about re-activation when devices change significantly. Unless the developers at Parallels have figured out some clever way to handle XP’s continual hardware detection, I can’t see how it would work any other way.

Technical implementation aside, being able to keep only one copy of Windows on your Mac is great, allowing you to run it in a VM when you need to accomplish a small task, and to boot it fully to play games or run more demanding software. Macworld has more details on this update, and Dan at MacUser posted his experiences with it (and some of the required utilities).

Parallels 3036 Update

Unreal Tournament

I decided to create an Icons category here at Command-Tab because I occasionally find myself making Mac OS X icons for various purposes, and thought others would be interested in using them and learning from the accompanying Photoshop files.

This first icon is one I made quite some time ago, during a game icon creation frenzy in the MacNN forums. I’ve since redone some of the graphics, cleaned it up a bit, and brought out the colors. You can download the zipped file pack, which includes a paste-able icon, a Mac OS X .icns file, a PNG image, and — most importantly — the source Photoshop .psd file.

This icon and any that follow are free for any personal use. If you intend to publish them in a collection or on the web, all I ask is that you give credit where it is due. Enjoy! I’ll have more to come in the near future.

Unreal Tournament