Tuesday, March 7, 2017

The late adopters / inheritor's guide to an original Nintendo Wii that has been "softmodded"

For my kids first console I went with the original Wii: Wii is best for kids, the games are (usually) pretty good, and the hardware and games are cheap.  What the Brits call a "cheap and cheerful" solution.  Six-year-olds can't tell the difference!

I was lucky and managed to pick up a "softmodded" Wii, which had been modified to run game ISOs from an external hard disk.  This was good for me since most game discs are wearing out from inevitable wear and tear, and the Wii disc readers can't be too far behind.  Hard drive copies are impervious to both issues.
My system was blank (no games).  And I had no real idea how to use it or how it was set up, and the info on the web was horribly disorganized at best.  This information is aimed at any other late adopters who don't need to set it up, but do want to understand it.

This guide presumes you have/use the following:

Configurable USB Loader softmod for Wii. If your Wii shows "cfb" when starting the Loader Channel, it has this UI.

- WBFS Manager 3.0 (WBFS-M) because that is what I used.  WBFS Manager supports drive cloning and multi-game copying, which makes life easier.


There are several programs that let you run games from hard disk on the Wii.  Mine used Configurable USB Loader.

Softmod Wii systems use two storage devices:
-  An external USB hard drive for games
-  An SD card, plugged into the front slot, for covers and "resources"

I bet you didn't notice the SD card - it is plugged in under the little front cover.  Go take a look.

The hard drive is just a plain old ordinary USB hard disk.  But it can be formatted as Windows-compatible (FAT32 or NTFS), or with the proprietary WBFS file system used for the Wii.

Some claim WBFS is more stable, and it is obviously the safest, so WBFS is popular.  This means it can't be read by Windows or Macs if you just plug it in to your PC.  I bet you tried already.

Note:  If Windows asks to format the drive, DO NOT DO IT.  You will lose everything.

The SD card is also an ordinary SD.  As another guide says, this is the perfect task for an older 512 Mb or 1 Gb SD card.

Safeguarding/Backing Up Games

Hard disks fail, so obviously you want to ensure you're safe against a hard disk failure.  This means copying your game ISOs elsewhere for safekeeping.

Games are stored on the HDD as regular ISO files.  If you have a FAT32 or NTFS disk, you can plug it in to your PC/Mac and copy away.

If you have a WBFS drive, get WBFS Manager 3.0 (or similar).  Be sure to get the x32 or x64 edition, as appropriate for your type of Windows.  Use that to copy the ISOs from the WBFS drive elsewhere. They will be copied as ordinary .iso files using the game name as file name.

Note:  WBFS Manager requires you to "Refresh" the drive list and "Load" the drive manually, only after which will you see the list of games on the drive.  See this video for how that works.

Wii games are about 2 Gb each, typical, but it varies a lot.  For reference, I saw a system that had 440 games - which are nearly all of them - that required about 850 Gb.  Meaning a 1 Tb to 1.5 Tb drive will be enough for just about everyone.  The associated SD was 2 Gb and was also likely larger than required.

Cloning Your Drive

Another easy way to back up is to get a second USB drive and do a drive-to-drive copy.  This video shows you how by using WBFS Manager 3.0.  (There are also other WBFS programs out there but I don't know if they do drive cloning or not.)

Drive cloning is slow: Copying 400+ games from a USB 2.0 drive to a SATA drive will take ~10 hours.  It will not tie up your PC, but don't sit and watch it.

Adding Games to Hard Drive

You can add game ISOs directly to the Wii hard drive by:

-  Using WBFS Manager to copy directly to the drive, or
-  Putting a game disc into the Wii and using the "Add Game" function.

I used the second method to put my existing game discs on to the hard drive.  It takes 5-10 minutes per disc, but is pretty simple.

To use WBFS Manager:
-  Plug your hard drive in to your computer
-  When prompted, DO NOT format the drive
-  Start WBFS Manager
-  Click "Refresh Drive List"
-  Select the correct drive letter
-  Press "Load".  You will now see the list of games on the drive (if any)
-  Press "Browse"
-  Find the game ISO to load
-  Press "Add to Drive"

For further help, try referencing this guide.  Just substitute "hard disk" for "USB stick".

Using CFB

OK, data all saved, games loaded, now how the ^*!@$#! do I use this thing?

In theory, CFB is somewhat self-explanatory.  In practice it's confusing and it's pretty easy to get lost.

On startup you should see some sort of cover flow.  Look in the bottom left-hand corner for a list of the remote buttons and what they do.

From here:

-  "A" selects a game
-  "B" goes back
-  + adds a game
-  1 brings up game options

-  If hovering on a cover, 2 brings up the game.
-  If not hovering on a cover, 2 (usually) brings up the favorites list.

After selecting a game or function, read the text on the resulting screen to see what to do next.  Generally, A progresses/selects, while B cancels/goes back.

Where things go to $h!t is with the cover flow options.  There are a lot of them, selectable with Up and Down.  But they don't always go in the same order so it can take a lot of fiddling to get back to the one you like. 

My advice:  keep pressing DOWN until you get to the last view (Flow 1), then go up from there.

Organizing Games

As far as I know CFB offers the following options for organization:

-  You can tag Favorite games.  These show up when you press 2 on the UI.  But there is only one Favorites list.
 -  Teen/Mature filter:  This hides inappropriate games from the little ones.
 -  You can sort by: # of players, # of online players, and several others.

You can not do any of the following:

-  Organize games into folders.
-  Have different lists or settings for different people.
-  Sort by game rating (E, E10, T, M, etc.)
-  Sort by game rating / popularity

Parental Controls

CFB seems to bypass parental controls.  Maybe there are per-game options for this, but I don't know yet.

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