Category: Games

ownCloud

My post on Unison remains one of the most popular things on this site. (The FF7 Trilogy remain my most popular posts, the ROM Collection Browser post is far and away the most popular hit on the site this month, and a number of people seem confused, as I was, by Netflix's reorganization of Doctor Who -- but Unison's still way up there.)

Well, I rebuilt my computer a few months ago, and I've opted not to go back to Unison. The main reason is that I don't just have Windows/Linux/OSX machines in the house now -- I've got a phone and a tablet both running Android now, and I'd very much like to be able to sync to them, too.

(Yes, okay, so Android is also Linux; good observation, gold star. It is technically possible to run Unison on Android. It is also, as far as I can discern, as big a pain in the ass as you would expect.)

I've decided to take a crack at ownCloud, and set my overworked G4 Mac Mini up as a server. It was a quick, easy setup, and a lot less fiddly than Unison (though it took a little bit of fucking around on the command line to enable SSL), but it's got its tradeoffs -- oddly, near as I can tell the desktop client can only set directories to sync, not individual files, while the Android client can only set individual files to sync, not entire directories.

And speaking of syncing with the Android app, it took me a day to figure out how to get it to sync in the first damn place. The sync toggle is under the system Settings menu, not, for some reason, anywhere in the app's interface, and it turns out that in order to set a file to sync, you have to upload or download it first, and then tap it in the ownCloud browser, and then there's a "Keep file up to date" checkbox. It's not exactly what you'd call discoverable, and the closest thing I can find to documentation is a damn YouTube video. (Can we talk for a minute about tutorials that are only available as videos? For my money, that trend fucking sucks. I mean, videos are great for some things, like showing you how to take apart a piece of equipment, or shave, or otherwise do something that's easier to watch than read about -- but much of the time, step-by-step instructions with the occasional illustration is a far superior method of walking someone through how to do a thing.)

So, not quite perfect. And there are some other pitfalls -- the filebrowser in the Android app can't seem to access the directory with my World of Goo save to sync it, SNESoid save files use a different extension than desktop SNES9X...plenty of rough edges that aren't actually ownCloud's fault but the fault of developers who didn't consider that users would want to sync save files across multiple systems. (It looks like you might be able to sync a file under a different name on the Android client than on the server; I'll look into that but I'm also thinking of switching from SNESoid to SNES9X EX on my phone and EX+ on my tablet. So far it looks like it's a lot more flexible than SNESoid, and while EX+ is too burly for my phone, EX runs all right once I turn off graphics filters, set scaling to integer-only, and turn on the GPU Sync Hack. Save states aren't compatible between versions, but of course save RAM is. As for World of Goo...maybe I can whip something up with symlinks or something; I'll look into it.)

And it's a pity there's no way to set up an automated wireless sync with my PSP.

nVidia BSoD Fix?

Well, after a year and a half, I think I've finally got the constant BSoD's I get when playing a game with my nVidia GTX 570 fixed.

First, I bit the bullet and used MSI Afterburner to underclock it to 650 MHz. I may not need to keep it that low, but I still got lockups with 690.

I also added a registry key. Via Mike's Technology and Finance Blog, you can set a key at HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\System\CurrentControlSet\Control\GraphicsDrivers called TdrLevel.

One of the complaints with Windows (or really any other operating system) is that the screen freezes from time to time. If the screen freezes for more than a few seconds, users are likely to hard reset the machine that they are working on. This seems natural, but in this case the system is still responsive. The graphics processing unit (GPU) is busy processing something (possibly a game, 3D render, or even Windows Aero) and is not actively refreshing the screen.

In Windows Vista SP1 and Windows Server 2008 SP1 Microsoft introduced a feature to help catch and correct this behavior using a feature called "Timeout Detection and Recovery (TDR)." The TDR feature works to identify whether the graphics processor is hung (the default timeout is 2 seconds), and if it is, it prepares to reset the graphics processor and the relevant part of the graphics stack. During this process, it tells the driver not to access the hardware or memory and gives it a short time for currently running threads to leave the driver. If the threads do not leave within the timeout, then the system bug checks with 0x116 VIDEO_TDR_FAILURE. The system can also bug check with VIDEO_TDR_FAILURE if a number of TDR events occur in a short period of time (the default is 5 TDRs in 1 minute). If the TDR is successful, then the user may receive a bubble that says "Display driver stopped responding and has recovered."

TdrLevel should be a REG_DWORD. I set it to 0, to disable checking for TDR entirely.

I'm not sure if that helped or not; I think the underclocking was the more important step (as when I set TdrLevel to 0 but didn't underclock, I still got a lockup). But TDR certainly sounds like something that matches my symptoms, as the lockups usually occur with graphical and audio sputtering -- indeed, sometimes I don't get a blue screen at all, the game just sputters to the point of unusability and the system becomes unresponsive.

At any rate, I'm cautiously optimistic; it looks like I've finally got this thing under control and can actually play games under Windows without constant crashes. I didn't notice any performance hit, either, but then again it's not like I'm trying to run Crysis 2. Walking Dead works fine with its settings maxed out, but you don't need a GTX 570 for that.

Now if I could only get OSX running stably with a 64-bit kernel.

The Walking Dead: The Game: Initial Impressions

Some friends got me Telltale Games' The Walking Dead for Christmas. Today I finally got around to firing it up.

And it immediately bluescreened.

As I've mentioned before, I've got serious fucking problems with the GTX 570 in my Mac Pro. Could be a voltage issue -- still trying to figure it out. But I get a fuck of a lot of BSoD's when I'm gaming. Never could get past the opening cinematic of Bioshock. At this point I actually keep my DS or PSP handy so I have a game to play while I'm waiting for Windows to reboot so I can try to play my game again. (Today it was Dragon Quest 6.)

Anyway. I suffered through four more bluescreens over the course of the next few hours, but the play in-between all the bluescreening was pretty sweet.

I like the cel-shaded art style. The art credits in the intro are Art Director Derek Sakai, Lead Animator Peter Tsaykel, and Lead Cinematic Animator Eric Parsons -- no sign of Charlie Adlard's name, but they've done a damn solid job of reproducing his style. They also prove that you don't need a realistic art style for a good, scary Walking Dead game -- they opt instead for thick black lines, big expressive eyes, and the occasional "ink-splatter" shading. I've spoken about simple, iconic images in video games before, and this is a damn fine example. I've never seen a game that looks quite like it, even in Telltale's recent oeuvre.

Some spoilers follow -- mostly simple, early-in-the-game ones.

The choice to give Lee a leg injury right at the beginning of the game is a clever one -- the first two zombie encounters are intense. Lee limps and stumbles and fumbles; his hands shake and he drops the shell he's trying to load into the shotgun -- the point-and-click adventure genre is not known for its pulse-pounding action, but Telltale shows it can be done. A hard time limit and impending horrible death make even clicking on icons and repeatedly pressing keys tense. (Bill Amend made a similar point in Fox Trot some two decades back but I can't find the strip offhand. Myst with velociraptors; you have to solve the puzzles quickly.)

I do find that it gets a little too cute with the cameos -- Lee runs into both Hershel and Glenn? Separately, before the two of them ever meet? That's a bit much.

(There's also a Lilly, but the lettercol in the latest issue of the comic Word-of-Gods it that she's not the same Lilly from the comic and spinoff novel.)

But on the whole I'm really quite impressed with it so far. It's a smartly-made game; well-written, well-crafted, well-animated, well-acted. And I'm just getting started -- I'm looking forward to seeing the long-term consequences of my split-second decisions.

Games a-Breakin'

I can't get Windows to boot at all on my main computer -- the Win8 preview doesn't expire until next week, so I think it's because I stuck my helper card back in so I could get a stable Mac boot. Which apparently means I can't get a stable Windows boot.

I tried to play The Walking Dead on the HTPC in the living room, but the controls don't map right on my Cordless Rumblepad 2, x360ce doesn't work, and my Xbox 360 wireless controller receiver seems to have died when I tried disconnecting and reconnecting it. I've got a third-party wired Xbox controller, but for some reason that doesn't work either.

And my Wii is now ejecting every disc I put in it.

Come on, games! I've been productive this week! I finished two submissions, scheduled a job interview for Monday, and have a potential programming position lined up for a few months from now! I deserve a little time to kick back and play games!

...guess I'll just have to work on one of the several dozen on the list that aren't Walking Dead or a Wii game.

Thursday

Stuck a new hard drive in my cousin's computer, biked on up to Changing Hands to pick up my copy of Circle of Enemies, grabbed a bite of dinner with my grandparents. A little bit of the ol' job search in there, plus some work on a couple of projects I'll probably talk about a little later. (And my uncle grabbed me a copy of Dragon Quest 6 as thanks for the computer work; on the list it goes.)

Tomorrow: Uncle Garth's military funeral and maybe a birthday lunch for Grandpa if he's feeling up to it.

Something weird about my cousin's laptop: the trackpad didn't work properly. At boot the left mouse click behaved like a right-click; on plugging in an external mouse, the external mouse would exhibit the same problem for several seconds -- and then it would correct itself, and both the external mouse and the trackpad would left-click correctly. (But only the external mouse would right-click correctly -- I never got the right-click on the trackpad to work at all.)

Drivers were up-to-date (and I tried uninstalling and reinstalling them) and the Toshiba Value-Add software was installed. Any other Toshiba users have this problem?

Wreck-It Ralph: Fuck the Haters

Finally got around to seeing Wreck-It Ralph today. And I must say, it was great; one of my favorites of the year.

I'd braced myself, based on reviews, for a movie that went off the rails after the first act and descended into poop jokes, product placement, and a completely different character's arc -- and an ending with a lousy message. But that's not how I read it at all; spoilers follow.

I'll grant that there was product placement -- hell, the climax revolved around Mentos. And there were poop jokes -- because it's a kids' movie with Sarah Silverman.

And the ending -- Ralph goes back to being a bad guy but now he enjoys it? I guess I can see how some people thought that betrayed the story's premise. Hell, I'd have figured they'd go the route of Ralph's clear inspiration, Donkey Kong, and make him a hero in a sequel.

But you know, there is something to be said for the message: you may have a lousy job, but you can find ways to make it better. There's a bit of Camus's Myth of Sisyphus to it; Sisyphus may not have a choice in how he lives, but he does have the freedom to feel however the hell he wants about it. (And it doesn't hurt that Ralph's coworkers finally start treating him right.)

I'll also grant that the movie spends an awfully long time in Sugar Rush, but the game proves to have a pretty rich set of environs after all. Indeed, it almost feels like they cheat a little bit, like there's a whole lot of stuff in there that doesn't belong in a racing game.

Then again, maybe it's a franchise. Maybe it's like in Mario Kart 64 where you can go off the track and ride right up to the castle from Super Mario 64. Maybe Sugar Rush is just one piece of a larger world. Don't know -- but it's even fun thinking of examples of games that make this idea make sense.

And as for Mario Kart, the racing sequence really does a wonderful job of evoking it. The tracks have a lovely design, familiar but different, and beautifully realized.

For all that, I'd almost grant that the movie peaks early, in its opening act -- except that my favorite part was the credits.

On the whole, sure, it's not perfect -- it's probably not even my favorite animated movie of the year. (Maybe my third, after Pirates! and ParaNorman. Yes, before Brave -- though Brave would be #4.) But you know, it's a movie that steps into the shared-franchise space of Who Framed Roger Rabbit? and Toy Story and actually manages to be a worthy entry -- maybe not as good as those two, but that it can even stand in the same league as those giants says a lot.

Motavia is Bullshit

Okay. So, big empty planet, with like four landmarks on it; the rest is empty desert with nothing but the same fucking three enemy groups, one of which you will run into every five seconds.

To get to where you need to go, you must:

  1. Talk to a guy.
  2. Talk to the same guy, a second time.
  3. Wander through the aforementioned big empty desert of constant annoying monster encounters until you find a cave.
  4. Go through the cave until you come up in a town.
  5. Talk to another guy.
  6. Talk to him a second time, too.
  7. Go back to the first town.
  8. Talk to a lady.
  9. Go back and talk to the first fucking guy again.
  10. Go back into the cave.
  11. If, and only if, you have talked to all those people all those times in that order, you will find a dragon hanging out at one of the dozen or so dead-ends in the cave.

So why does the fucking dragon not show up until you've done all that shit? Does he have, like, some kind of agreement with the village chief? Does he hide until the village chief calls him up and tells him "Hey, dragon, I sent some adventurers to go fight you"?

I haven't gotten that far into the original Sega Master System Phantasy Star. This is the PS2 remake I'm playing. But I assume -- hope -- this is merely a faithful translation of a profoundly stupid set of goals from the original 8-bit version.

But hey, memo to people making remakes? Automaps and item descriptions are awesome, but it's also okay to simplify down stupid, nonsensical bullshit so I don't wind up wandering the goddamn desert until I finally get pissed off and just look up a walkthrough.

Artificial Stupidity

I really do love Red Dead Redemption. But for all that it's a big open-world sandbox game, the actual story events have very little room for player choice.

See that guy running away from the creepy, slavering weirdo in the middle of the desert? Better lasso him and take him back! Otherwise you fail the mission.

Or what about the guy beating up that woman? If you attack him, you fail the mission. Instead you have to buy her freedom and then take her away, so she can go back to him and get murdered and you end up killing him anyway.

Or how about the guy who told you where to find Javier Escuella, only to lead you into an ambush and try to kill you? Looks like you've got him in your grasp, and he's telling you where Javier Escuella is, really for real this time! So before you ride off, you have the choice of either (1) killing him or (2) letting some other guys kill him. There is no option (3) consider the possibility that the guy who already lied to you and lured you into a deathtrap may be lying to you and luring you into a deathtrap. (Spoiler alert: he is lying to you and luring you into a deathtrap.)

I mean, John Marston is depicted as a pretty simple guy -- a self-described "half-literate farmer and hired gun" --, but he's not a blithering goddamn moron. He's just, you know, a character in a video game who is occasionally forced to behave like one in order to move the narrative forward to the next event.

ROM Collection Browser in XBMC Frodo

BTW, anyone using ROM Collection Browser who's just upgraded to the latest XBMC beta and found that the list of ROMs is completely blank:

Open up C:\Users\[username]\AppData\Roaming\XBMC\addons\script.games.rom.collection.browser\resources\lib\gui.py and find the following line, which appears twice:

self.addItem(item, False)

In both occurrences, change it to simply

self.addItem(item)

You don't need to restart XBMC, but if you've got ROM Collection Browser open, right-click out of it and then reopen it. That will get the list to reappear.

If you find that it throws an "Unimplemented method" error for executehttpapi when you try to launch a game, open up launcher.py in the same directory and replace all instances of "executehttpapi" with "executeJSONRPC". (Same as above: you don't need to restart XBMC, but you do need to restart ROM Collection Browser for the changes to take.)

Thanks to versus for posting the gui.py fix and fmonaca for posting the launcher.py fix on the XBMC forums.

(And yes, I am posting this at 12:30 in the damn morning. You know how sometimes you have a thought on how to fix a vexing computer problem and know it'll be gone by morning?)