The Universal Pause Button is amazing

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The Universal Pause Button is a free and open source Windows program that was featured on the front page of Hacker News a couple of months ago. It’s the Windows low-level and simple equivalent of a program that, under Unix-like systems, would find the PID in charge of the focused window in X11 and send it a SIGSTOP signal when pressing a button, followed by SIGCONT when the button is pressed again. The “button” normally being the pause/break key in the keyboard.

Effectively, this allows pausing the process at a low level and its author, Ryan Ries, states he specifically wrote it to be able to pause cutscenes in the videogame The Witcher III, which normally cannot be paused with an in-game native mechanism, and pay attention to real life events. In my case, it’s been used so far to pause and resume the game Dark Souls (note: Dark Souls III will be available in 2016 and I’m considering buying Dark Souls II at some point in the future). I had bought the game many months before but I had to abandon the playthrough precisely due to the lack of a pause function even in offline mode.

I thought of writing a review of the game but I decided to focus this post on the Universal Pause Button project instead. For a quick review, let me tell you the game is pretty good and enjoyable, but doesn’t hold your hand in many of the gameplay aspects, which are to be discovered slowly and painfully by the player. However, in the Internet age, it’s possible for anyone to read a lot of information about how the different RPG aspects of the game work, and also to get a nice overview of the available equipment to decide how you want to build your character. This makes the game easier while retaining its difficulty in the boss fights and enemies in general, and the exploratory excitement when entering a new area. Advancing through the game requires efforts and perseverance, and it’s a very rewarding experience. It brings back old school game mechanics like powerful bosses and the need to learn enemy locations, their attack patterns and weaknesses. Nothing Megaman didn’t have, but nowadays it’s considered “hard” because it requires time that’s to be added to an already long game in contrast with old school games that could be finished in one evening once you memorized them completely.

Dark Souls, however and as stated previously, lacks a pause button. Supposedly because it’s an online game where you can interact with other players in many situations, but I focused on single player and I always played in offline mode (previously this was with an offline Game For Windows Live account, also called local account, but nowadays it’s with Steam’s offline mode). It’s true you can quit the game at any moment and it will restore everything as was left before quitting, but this mechanism has two problems. First, you have to navigate a menu to quit and the game doesn’t pause in those seconds and, more importantly, if you’re in a boss fight and you quit, you will be teleported out of the boss arena and lose your progress in the fight. The lack of a pause button in offline mode cannot be justified easily and I don’t think it makes the game any more difficult. It’s simply an impractical glitch. In this situation, the universal pause button has no disadvantages. You only need to take a couple of steps back if in a tight situation, and quickly hit the pause key in your keyboard, as in any other game.

It’s unfortunate that many games nowadays cannot be paused at any moment, in what I can only consider a sad trend. Most of them can be paused normally or feature a menu you can escape to, but cannot be paused in certain cutscenes and dialogues. In Hacker News and reddit, some people commented how in the Wii U and the original Wii, you can press the home button in any game, and it will pause gameplay showing you the Home Menu. That’s what we should aim for in any platform, in my opinion.

The Universal Pause Button has allowed me to play Dark Souls in what is arguably the worst moment in my life to play videogames, having to pay proper and much needed and deserved attention to my wife and a now four-months-old baby. I used the button dozens of times during my playthrough, which I completed this weekend. I’ve personally thanked the project author through email.

If you’re going to use it, I can give you two hints: after installing (i.e. extracting) the program somewhere in your drive, create a link to it in your Windows Startup folder so you won’t have to launch it manually every time. Also, be careful with games and apps that require you to be permanently online due to DRM or anti-cheat mechanism, as the program could interfere with them.

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