HOWTO: Softmod your Xbox
It’s easy and it’s quick and it works surprisingly well, although you wouldn’t know it from most of the tutorials and forums out there. So I’m going to add one more to the pile – the way I did it, and how to replicate my findings.
[Update 8th May 2007: a video going through this guide is now available on YouTube. Thanks Ben!]
- an Xbox (quite easy to get hold of, new or second hand)
- a memory card (the hardest bit to get hold of)
- Action Replay/Xploder/GameShark/etc. USB to Xbox memory card converter
- the original version of “Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell” (£2 or less second-hand at your local Game, GameStation or pawn shop, not any of the sequels, some “Platinum Hits” or similar versions may not work)
- Halo 2 or a later Xbox Live game
- mininova.org or your favourite Xbox-containing torrent site
- few hours download time, about 10 minutes modding time
- the content after the break
The Xbox is a low end PC in a nice black-and-green box, with a PIII CPU and a small hard drive. It’s legacy free and it’s heavily locked down with checks in order to make sure that only Microsoft signed code runs.
The reason we can remove this lockdown is that a few games companies wrote bad saved game routines. By putting a “special” saved game onto the Xbox, we can cause the game to crash and give control over to an unauthorised piece of software, which promptly has full control over the rest of the system, can flash the BIOS and then install its own “dashboard” on top of the Microsoft one.
I’m assuming in this tutorial that you’re not going to use Xbox Live, because I’m not. If you are, make sure to sign onto XBL before you run the mod; you’re going to need it. You need an “Ndure” mod if you want to use XBL; thankfully for you, the one I’m about to describe is such a mod. Plus, I am in the UK, so this tutorial will be PALcentric.
1. Get the software
If you like BitTorrent, as I do, connect to mininova or your other favourite torrent site and run a search for “auto installer deluxe”. This should get you, as it does on mininova right now, the two packs with the highest number of seeders – currently v3.0 and the v3.01 “update pack”. Download both and extract them to different directories.
In the AID3 extracted directory, go into Tools, then PC Tools. Install DVD Decrypter, you’ll need it later. Note that the Tools directory contains the softmod files; the one you want is “SID 4.5 NKnave Edition”. This you get to later.
AID isn’t necessary for a modded Xbox, but it does make things a whole lot simpler to install XBMC with skins and your selection of emulators. We’ll skip AID updating right now, which I’ll describe in a different article, and go straight to the modding.
2. Updating the box
Go to Settings>Network Settings, plug in your network cable and either configure it manually or DHCP it. Test the connection. If it works, excellent.
Boot Halo 2 or your later XBL game. Once you’ve got it up and running, select “Xbox Live” on the main menu. This will update your Xbox and then tell you you don’t have an account.
You should at this point have dashboard 5960 – you can check from Settings>System Info, and wait for the version number to scroll by.
3. Modding the box
Getting the official Xbox memory card nowadays is pretty near impossible. Either you pay through the nose to Gamestation or wherever (£25 for 8MB? No thanks) or risk it on Ebay. I bought an 8MB Thrustmaster clone card, sealed in original packaging, from a respected Ebay shop seller for £6.50 (including postage and packaging); delivery in two days from ordering.
Next, you need an Xbox to memory card converter. If you buy Action Replay or a Mega X-Key or the full Xploder solution, you get a memory card in the box so you don’t need the above step; these are getting much harder to find, however. I got the Xploder Lite, which doesn’t include the card, for £5 from a local Dixons-nee-Currys.digital.
Check your memory card in the Xbox controller (Memory>Controller). Install the relevant software on your PC, whether Action Replay or Mega X-Key or whatever from the original CD. For Action Replay, you can just drag and drop the saves from the “SID 4.5 Nknave Edition” folder (from AID, as mentioned above) into the memory card section in its software.
Xploder has a slightly more complex process. It appears to be the UK branding of a US product called GameShark, and it takes the special SID GameShark files (also supplied, in its own folder).
You need to copy the file “SID45.NK.Launcher.gsx” and whichever one of the other four corresponds to the game you’re going to hack with – in my case, “SID45.NK.Loader.SplinterCell.PAL.gsx” – to the Xploder saves directory for it to show up in their software. This installs to “C:\Program Files\Fire International\Xploder GameSaves”, and you need to copy them to the Saves directory below that:
Once you’ve done this, you can start the Xploder software, select the two saves from the list on the left, and copy them over.
Now you’ve copied them over, you can remove the memory unit and go over to the Xbox. Go to Memory, select the unit, then move to each of the two games in turn, click on them (A-button), and copy them to the Xbox hard drive.
Now connect your network, Connect, and load Splinter Cell. Skip past the intro. Select “New Game”, then “Linux”, then “Check Points”.
Your Xbox will now take you to the Softmod Deluxe menu system. What you do now is follow the instructions – select “Backup/Restore Features”, and tell it to make backups – first of the EEPROM, then of the MS Dash. Go back to the first menu, select Install Softmod. Go for a Dual Boot with Knave’s Ndure – it’ll mention “open tray=retail”. It really doesn’t matter which dash you select at the next menu – I went for UnleashX, but others may prefer Evox.
Let it install, following all prompts. Do not reboot your box at any time – if it seems to have hung, it’s probably just unzipping the big “Shadow C” image file. When it tells you it’s going to shut the box down, let it do so; the box will restart, booting into your new dashboard. Eject Splinter Cell before continuing, and let it do its second-stage installing.
Soon, you will be at your dashboard’s main screen. At this point, your Xbox is modded – you can now FTP to it using the client of your choice (username xbox, password xbox), and start installing software on your E drive. Alternatively, you can use the AID disk to do so. In the meantime, here’s a picture of XBMC in action on my new box: