Rise of Nations on Windows 8

2014-06-13: Rise of Nations on Steam! Developed by SkyBox Labs and published by Microsoft, Rise of Nations: Extended Edition boasts improved graphics, runs on Windows 7/8.1, and includes the Thrones & Patriots expansion. Multiplayer and other online features are now based on Steam. Generally, this is the preferred way to play Rise of Nations on modern systems.

The rest of this page refers to older disk-based versions of the game. If you already own one and have a low-powered system, e.g. an ultrabook with integrated GPU, you might wish stay away from the Steam version as its performance requirements are significantly higher than the original’s. My Sony Vaio Duo 13 runs the original effortlessly but responds to the new version with a howling fan and a rapidly depleting battery, regardless of the graphics options I pick.

Running the Disk Version

One game I put on every new Windows installation is Brian Reynolds’ Rise of Nations, originally released in 2003 and followed by the excellent expansion Thrones & Patriots in 2004.

Sadly, this real-time strategy classic had the misfortune of being a Windows game published by Microsoft. The company was already shifting its gaming focus from Windows to Xbox, and today you’re lucky to even find a legal copy. (Ten years later it’s finally come to Steam, see above.) The cheap DVD re-release I eventually managed to find dates from 2007.

The result is that Rise of Nations won’t run on modern systems without some help. On my 64-bit version of Windows 8 Pro, the game was unplayable due to a badly flickering screen and an invisible mouse cursor. Happily, I was able to fix these issues with a few simple tweaks. Once you’ve installed the game and its expansion as usual, do the following:

  1. Open the file "C:\­Users\­<UserName>\­AppData\­Roaming\­Microsoft Games\­Rise of Nations\­rise2.ini" in Notepad or another text editor. Replace <UserName> with your Windows user name.
  2. Change the line VSync=1 to VSync=0. This eliminates the screen flickering.
  3. Change the line ForceGDICursor=0 to ForceGDICursor=1. This eliminates the invisible or immobile mouse cursor produced by other cursor settings.
  4. Optional: Change the line ForceAGPVBs=0 to ForceAGPVBs=1. I didn’t test this myself but two commenters said it eliminated screen flickering and visual corruption with integrated graphics. You may also need to set ForceStaticCursor=1. (Thanks Daniel & James Wyper!)
  5. Since you’re probably using a high-resolution monitor, change AllowAllResolutions=0 to AllowAllResolutions=1 and change Windowed Width and Windowed Height to your monitor’s resolution. These two settings apply to full-screen mode despite the “Windowed” moniker.
  6. That’s it for the file rise2.ini, so you can save and close it now.
  7. The desktop shortcut created by my version’s installer was set to Windows XP (SP3) compatibility mode, but I found that unnecessary. Disable that option if it’s enabled, and save yourself the UAC prompt on every start-up.

And so I got Rise of Nations and Thrones & Patriots back up and running on Windows 8. I hope these settings will work for you as well. Good luck!

Patch the Game (2015-05-06) — James Wyper commented that you need patch version 1.03 for the above tips to work. I was unaware of this, as my DVD edition was likely pre-patched to that version. If you cannot find rise2.ini you should first check that you’re running version 1.03 and not an older release.

Repairing MS XML (2013-03-13) — Uninstalling Age of Empires 3 Complete seems to destroy the MS XML library required by Rise of Nations. Fortunately, it’s easy to get back. With my multilingual DVD edition of Rise of Nations Gold, all I had to do was run RON\­UK\­REDIST\­MSXMLENU.MSI and select “Repair.” Change paths and/or language codes as needed. This should help whenever the game complains on startup that something’s wrong with MS XML.

Download rise[2].ini (2013-12-02) — Some commenters said they found the directory for rise2.ini but it doesn’t contain the file itself, for whatever reason. First, check that your game is patched to version 1.03 as noted above. As a workaround if you still cannot find the files I have put both rise.ini and rise2.ini from my installation up for download, as RiseIni.zip.

I added rise.ini just in case it’s also involved in Rise of Nations not working. I lowered the screen resolution in rise2.ini to a safe 1024×768, otherwise both files are unchanged. They don’t seem to contain any user data and only relative file paths, so hopefully they’ll work on other systems.

Relocation Notice (2014-02-16) — This post originally appeared on the companion weblog. Due to its consistently high traffic, I changed it into a static website page. All comments were moved here as well, although Disqus cannot import avatars or author links – see the original comment thread for those.