The S3 ViRGE Minecraft Thing

S3 ViRGE/DX my beloved

Have you ever wanted to play Minecraft? Have you ever wondered “how terrible can I make this experience”? No? Well too bad. You’ve clicked on this article and I’ve gone this far already, so let’s just keep going and see what happens.

A Little bit of history…

The S3 ViRGE, short for Video and Rendering Graphics Engine (alternately, Virtual Reality Graphics Engine), was first introduced in November of 1995, with an actual release date of early 1996. It was S3 Graphics’ very first 3D-capable graphics card, and it had the unfortunate luck of launching alongside… the 3Dfx Voodoo 1.

It became rather quickly apparent that the ViRGE was terribly insufficient in comparison to the Voodoo, and in fact even picked up the infamous moniker of “graphics decelerator”, which poked fun at its lackluster 3D performance.

The original ViRGE would be followed by the card that this article focuses on, the ViRGE/DX, just a little under a year later in the waning months of 1996.

The ViRGE/DX was a welcome improvement over the original release, lifting performance to more acceptable levels and improving software compatibility with better drivers. Mostly. And while native Direct3D performance was iffy at best and OpenGL support was nonexistent, S3 did have one last trick up their sleeves to keep the ViRGE line relevant: the S3D Toolkit.

Similar to 3Dfx’s Glide API, the S3D Toolkit was S3 Graphics’ proprietary low-level graphics API for the ViRGE. Unlike 3Dfx’s offering, however, S3D, much like the cards it was intended for, fell flat on its face. Only a small handful of games ever natively supported S3D acceleration, and by my own admission, I haven’t ever played any of them.

But wait, this article is about playing Minecraft on the ViRGE, isn’t it? The block game of all time is famously written in Java, and uses an OpenGL rendering pipeline. So, how can the S3 ViRGE, a card with no OpenGL support, possibly play Minecraft?


This is where a little thing called “OpenGL wrappers” come in. Shipping in the form of plain OpenGL32.dll files (at least, on Windows) that you drop into a folder alongside whatever needs OpenGL acceleration, these wrappers provide a way to modify, or “wrap”, OpenGL API calls.

In our case, we are interested in the category of OpenGL wrappers that translate OpenGL API calls to that of other APIs. For a more modern equivalent of these wrappers, the Intel Arc line of graphics cards uses DXVK in order to translate older DirectX 9 calls to Vulkan, which is a natively-supported API.

For this experiment, we will be using a wrapper called “S3Mesa”, made by Brian Paul of the Mesa project. Though open-source, this wrapper never made it to a completed state, and is missing certain features such as texture transparency despite the ViRGE itself being supposedly capable of it. However, this does not affect gameplay much beyond aesthetics.

The S3Mesa wrapper, on a more technical note, translates OpenGL 1.1 calls to a mix of both S3D and DirectX API calls.

The System

At last, we arrive at the system hardware. As of writing, I am currently benchmarking a plethora of low-end (or otherwise infamous) cards for my “Ultra Nugget Graphics Card Roundup”, and so the system itself is likely a liiiiiittle bit overpowered for the lowly ViRGE/DX:

  • AMD Athlon XP (Palomino) @ 1.14GHz
  • Shuttle MK32 Socket A motherboard
  • 256MB DDR-400
  • S3 ViRGE/DX (upgraded to 4MB of video memory)
  • Windows 98SE

Why Windows 98SE? Because S3 never released 3D-accelerated graphics drivers for non-Windows 9x operating systems in the consumer space.

For Minecraft itself, KernelEX 4.5.2 and Java 6 are installed as well, and an old version of the launcher dating back to early 2013 that I personally refer to as the “Minecraft 1.5 Launcher” is used for compatibility purposes. Also because no launcher that can work on Windows 98 is capable of logging into the authentication servers anymore.

Setting up the game

With Windows 98SE, KernelEX, and Java 6 installed (in that order, of course), we can turn our attention to the game itself. As mentioned before, no launcher to my knowledge that runs on Windows 98 is capable of logging into the auth servers. This results in two additional problems: starting the game itself and downloading game assets.

Using the 1.5 launcher solves this first issue by means of relying on a little thing called the lastlogin file. This is an old way that the launcher was able to allow players to keep playing offline when disconnected from the internet, but more importantly, unlike the modern launcher, it doesn’t expire. 🙂

And because of that, our login problem is solved by middle school me’s old .minecraft folder backup, from which I’ve extracted the lastlogin file for use in this experiment.

As for game assets, there is no longer any way to easily download the game files for use on Windows 98SE directly, and so I’ve instead pieced together a folder using that same backup. The most important thing is that instead there being a “versions” folder, there is now instead a “bin” folder, where both the natives and the game’s jarfile both reside.

Now that our .minecraft folder is acquired, take that thing and plot it right down into the Windows folder in Windows 98. Why? Because on Windows 98, the 1.5 launcher ignores the “application data” folder entirely. The launcher itself can go anywhere you’d like, so long as you’re using the .exe version and not the .jar version.

Finally, to wrap things up, place the OpenGL to S3D wrapper in the same location as the launcher exe. Make sure it’s called OpenGL32.dll!

The Game

You just lost it. 🙂

The S3 ViRGE, by my own testing, is capable of running any version of Minecraft from Classic up to and including Indev version in-20100110. However, it is EXTREMELY unstable, and has a tendency to crash mere seconds after loading into a world. This is on top of some minor rendering errors introduced by the aformentioned incomplete state of the S3Mesa wrapper. This video was recorded with Windows ME rather than Windows 98, but this does not impact anything regarding performance or compatibility (and in fact, at least from my own experience, the game is more stable under ME than 98).

Below are the desktop/game settings used in testing:

  • “Tiny” render distance
  • Desktop resolution: 640 x 480 (don’t fullscreen the game)
  • Bit depth: 16/24-bit color (32-bit can cause the ViRGE to run out of memory, and 16-bit can cause strange issues on Windows 98)

And last but not least, some gameplay. This came from some scrapped footage originally intended for my “UNGCR” video, and was only intended for personal reference in collecting performance numbers. As such, the audio is muted due to some copyrighted music blasting in the background.

Further reading/resources

thanks for reading my walking natural disaster of an article kthxbaiiiiiiii

Suggested articles

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *