Making scrollbars wider in Windows 8.1

Windows Explorer, now with wider scrollbars
Windows Explorer, now with wider scrollbars

Since last year’s dalliance with meningitis, which damaged my eyesight a little, I’ve found the standard Window scrollbars just a little too narrow for my liking.

It may only take a second or two more to adjust my mouse so that they are hovering right over them but those additional few seconds all add up. “Mony a mickle macks a muckle”, as we say in Scotland.

So last week I went looking for a way to increase the scrollbar width.

Windows 7 offers an easy way to do this within the Control Panel > Personalisation interface. Windows 8.x, however, doesn’t. You need to guddle about in the Windows Registry.

Here’s what I did:

  1. Win + R to open the Run dialog box.
  2. When the User Account Control dialog appears, click Yes.
  3. Type regedit, then click OK.
  4. Navigate to: HKEY_CURRENT_USER / Control Panel / Desktop / WindowMetrics
  5. Locate the two keys: ScrollHeight and ScrollWidth. These will both be set to -255.
  6. Change both to -375 to make them a little wider. (One site I visited recommended between -100 for thinner, and -1000 for thicker).
  7. Exit Registry Editor.
  8. Either restart the Explorer process in Task Manager, or log out and back in again, or reboot.

Playing LEGO games across two monitors with SoftTH

LEGO Marvel Superheroes on 2 x 1920x1080 monitors
LEGO Marvel Superheroes on 2 x 1920×1080 monitors

This afternoon we had a visit from Isaac’s godfather, the fabulous Mike McQuaid. As we stood in my study watching the boys playing LEGO® Marvel™ SuperHeroes on my PC I remarked to Mike that I wished that there was an option to use both my monitors, rather than squeezing the two-player co-op onto one 1920 x 1080 screen.

Mike was pretty certain that should be possible and after a quick ‘google’ he unearthed information about NVIDIA® Surround, which “joins multiple displays into a single immersive viewing surface”, typically used for full-screen gaming or watching full-screen video. However, we soon discovered that it requires three displays and I have only one.

This evening, not taking no for an answer I did some internet searching of my own and discovered SoftTH which claims to do the same thing as NVIDIA® Surround but on any number of monitors regardless of whether their resolutions match or not, and so long as they are plugged into a PCI Express graphics card.

How to…

I read somewhere that configuration could be a bit cumbersome but it actually turned out to be fairly straightforward. The trickiest bit, to be honest, was locating the game files (see below).

  1. Download SoftTH.
  2. Unzip the two files: d3d9.dll and readme_SoftTH2.txt somewhere handy.
  3. Locate the directory where the game EXE file is located.
  4. Copy the d3d9.dll file into that directory.
  5. Run the game.
  6. SoftTH runs and checks for the location of a config.SoftTHconfig file. If it doesn’t find one it creates a default configuration file.
  7. Once the game loads (on one monitor) adjust the screen resolution two the new default setting (in my case 3840 x 1080), and the aspect ratio to “From Screen-Res”.
  8. The screen resolution will change, stretching across both monitors and now two player co-op uses one screen for each player.

Locations of EXE files

We have quite a few LEGO games installed so I had to hunt around for their various locations within C:\Program Files (x86):

  • \LucasArts\LEGO Clone Wars
  • \LucasArts\LEGO Star Wars – The Complete Saga
  • \Steam\SteamApps\common\Lego Indiana Jones 2
  • \Steam\SteamApps\common\LEGO Marvel Super Heroes
  • \Steam\SteamApps\common\The LEGO®  Movie – Videogame
  • \Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment\LEGO® Batman™ 2
  • \Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment\LEGO® The Lord of the Rings™

Caveats

I have a fairly decent graphics card (NVIDIA® GeForce GTX 660) so this worked for each LEGO game I tried. I didn’t play each game for long so I couldn’t attest for how reliable this is played over hours, but I couldn’t see anything that might suggest that it wouldn’t. A few notes from my 30 minutes experience of this…

Taskbar on monitor two

I discovered when returning to the games that if I had any other applications open on monitor two (I’m running Windows 8 here) then once SoftTH was running it still showed the taskbar.

My workaround was to right-click the taskbar before the game started and select “Auto-hide the taskbar” which slid it safely out of the way.

Character tables

The first real niggle I had was when selecting a new character why does the game present the character table in such a squashed-up way?!

With so much screen real estate why are the characters squashed up so much?!
With so much screen real estate why are the characters squashed up so much?!

The same is true when both players change characters at the same time.

What is going on?! You have a width of 3840 pixels... USE IT!
What is going on?! You have a width of 3840 pixels… USE IT!

Not suitable for one player

My second caveat is that as beautiful as the periphery scenery looks while playing, game play isn’t very sustainable if you are playing a single player game because your character stands right in the middle of the screen, and so is divided between the two monitors.

Cut screens?

My last word of warning is more of a hunch than from experience: I imagine that certain pre-rendered cut screens throughout the game may display in a strange way as they are not optimized for such a wide screen.

UPDATE: Actually, the cut screens on the whole were okay. You do lose some detail as you’re essentially viewing them through a huge letterbox, but it’s mostly viewable.

Targeting is disrupted a little

UPDATE: One thing I’ve noticed is that targeting with certain objects is now a bit off with the double-screen set up. For example, on the opening level with Hulk and Iron Man you need to target a water cannon at Sandman: where you direct the cannon and where it actually sprays are two different locations. On the next level you need to target one of Captain America’s locks, but it’s near impossible to line it up properly without quickly nipping back to a 1920 x 1080, single-screen resolution.

Conclusion

On the whole, I was really impressed. It was simple to set up, with absolutely no configuration from me.

I’ll show this to the boys tomorrow and see what their verdict is: usable or not? Then I’ll report back.

Installing Steam games on a second hard drive

Steam logo

About a month ago I took delivery of a new, much faster PC from PC Specialist. Now I’m getting around to reinstalling games, and I’ve just discovered a neat trick to install Steam-powered games on a second hard drive.

My last PC had served me well for about six years but it was creaking a little around the seams and was being pushed very hard particularly when gaming. It was time to upgrade.

And after upgrades comes the often arduous task of reinstalling applications.

dual-boot or not dual-boot?

On my last two PCs I’ve always set up a dual-boot environment. One partition (C:) was for day-to-day applications (email, web browsing, web development, image editing, etc.), the next (D:) was for games. My reasoning was:

  1. Clean installation of Windows with minimal, and only essential, drivers.
  2. Less distracting. If I wanted to play games then I would need to reboot the PC into the games partition.

However, in practice what it meant was:

  1. Twice as much work, keeping two versions of Windows up-to-date, with both Windows updates and driver upgrades.
  2. It was such a hassle to shut down everything and reboot that I rarely ever played any games. The only people to play were Reuben and Joshua when they played the LEGO Star Wars games.

So I decided on this PC to single-boot (Windows 8 Pro, 64-bit) and install everything side-by-side across two hard drives: my main applications are on C: (120 GB SSD); most of my data plus games are on D: (1 TB Western Digital SATA drive).

So far, so good. I’ve played games more in the last couple of weeks than in the last couple of years, but contrary to my fears it’s not distracted me from my main work on my PC.

However, this evening I realised after installing the Steam client for the first time that it was about to install all 7.8 GB of Call of Duty: Black Ops onto C.

No, no, no, no, no!

Moving Steam to a second hard drive

It turned out to be a pretty easy task to move Steam from C to D. I found the instructions on the Steam support website.

By default Steam installs to C:\Program Files\Steam (or C:\Program Files (x86)\Steam on 64-bit editions of Windows) and the games install to C:\Program Files\Steam\steamapps.

“During the installation of Steam, you have the option to install Steam to a location other than the default. Since Steam relies on the game files residing in the SteamApps folder, your game files will go to whatever folder you have Steam installed in. The game files must be in the SteamApps folder in order to function.”

So, here’s what to do, assuming that you’ve already installed Steam to C:.

  1. Log out and exit Steam.
  2. Navigate to the folder where Steam is installed (by default: C:\Program Files\Steam\; or C:\Program Files (x86)\Steam\ on 64-bit).
  3. Delete all of the files and folders except the SteamApps folder and Steam.exe.
  4. Cut and paste your Steam folder to the new location, for example: D:\Program Files\Steam\.
  5. Launch Steam.
  6. Steam will briefly update and then you will be ready to play.

Conclusion

I’ve just done this and it worked.

XP Tweak Guide and AVG

Nice to see that the excellent TweakGuides Tweaking Companions for Windows XP and Vista by Koroush Ghazi have been updated. Included in the update is advice on installing AVG Free 8.0 (antivirus software).

What’s not included is the switch to ensure that LinkScanner isn’t installed.

Having used AVG for a couple of weeks, I’ve found it to be a good upgrade from AVG Free 7.5, it’s just a shame that there is no longer an option to disable alerts about disabled components.

If I have decided to switch off Resident Shield, for example, I don’t want to see an error icon in the notification area (system tray) saying that one of the components isn’t configured correctly. That was one feature that I really liked about version 7.5 that’s sadly been removed from 8.0.