Tag: Windows

Excellent Games with Lazy, Halfassed Interface Design

So Arkham City was on sale on Steam last weekend. Between that and the recent removal of GFWL and SecuROM, and my Xbox (and my copy of the game) being recently stolen, I went ahead and bought it.

Compared to the Xbox version of the game, well, it's got all the same benefits and drawbacks as every PC game does compared to the console version.

Including controller support.

It recognized my outdated Cordless Rumblepad 2 just fine -- I'm not sure if that's internal to the game itself or due to the compatibility layer Steam's added in Big Picture -- but either way, well, it recognized the controller but didn't actually work right with it.

All the button pairs were switched. A and B, X and Y, the bumpers and the triggers.

All of which I suppose I could have eventually reprogrammed my muscle memory to work around (hell, the Xbox's button layout is already backwards for a kid who grew up with a SNES). But the fact that the Y-axis was backwards on the left stick? Not so much. Try playing a game where up is literally down and see how far it gets you.

And here's my gripe:

There's no menu to reconfigure your controller in the game.

There could have been. There's a menu option to look at the controls. You just can't modify them in any way. (Well, you can invert the axes on camera and flight, I suppose. But not on regular movement, the thing where I actually needed to invert an axis. And no button remapping whatsoever.)

There's a configuration utility -- outside the game -- which lets you remap controls...for keyboard and mouse. If there's a way to change the button layout on a gamepad, I sure didn't see it.

Now, the good news about this being 2013 is I could type "arkham city" inverted controls into a search engine and find a trivial fix -- as it turns out, there's a config file in BmGame\Config\DefaultInput.ini that has straightforward, cleartext entries with names like XboxTypeS_LeftY and XboxTypeS_A. Simply swap the names of the axes and buttons, and that's all it takes.

Which is great!

But the bad news about this being 2013 is I can't help asking why the fuck I had to look this up on the Internet and edit a fucking text file instead of just configuring my controls from a menu.

The last time I had a problem like this, with The Walking Dead, I found a forum post by a Telltale staffer who had this to say:

Unfortunately we do not have access to all the various versions of controllers that logitech and other companies make.

Which sounds perfectly sensible, and also completely misses the fucking point.

Now, in Batman's case, there are a couple simple reasons that's a bad argument: first, this issue occurs with the authentic Xbox controllers that the game is specifically designed for. Second, this is not a new bug -- see the link to the fix a few paragraphs up? Take a closer look at the URL -- it's for Arkham Asylum, not City. This is a bug from the original game that was not fixed in the sequel.

But even leaving aside those two points (which is only fair, of course, given that I'm quoting a guy from a different company talking about a completely different game), the central issue remains: this is the twenty-first goddamn century and people are making games -- PC games! -- where they don't give you the option to remap your buttons.

Yes, I know that hardware inconsistency is the single most difficult thing about PC development. No, I don't expect you to design your game to work with every single controller ever made.

But I do goddamn-well expect you to let me map my fucking buttons however I want.

Mega Man X did that shit twenty years ago. What the fuck is your excuse?

Broken Windows

You know, I'll say one thing for Windows:

Every single time I have a problem with Linux serious enough that I start to contemplate how much easier life would be if I just used Windows, Windows finds a way of reminding me that no I really wouldn't at all.

I don't know what happened to my HTPC. I suspected file corruption, but chkdsk /f came up clean; waiting on /r right now. Sincerely hope there's nothing wrong with my hard drive; I've reinstalled enough OS's in the past few weeks. And anyway, I've run chkdsk and it's come out clean.

It worked all right when I sat down. A little sluggish bringing up Colbert, and the lipsync was off for a bit, but it self-corrected and played all right. Right up until the end, when VLC hung and then everything else hung.

I did a hard reset; the system hung again, solid hard drive light, and I saw something I've never seen before: when I hit Ctrl-Alt-Delete, it stalled and eventually pulled up an error message saying it couldn't bring the Ctrl-Alt-Del screen up.

Repeat this stuff over a few reboots and iterations, some Safe Mode, the erroneous theory that last night's AVG update was responsible...you get the idea.

No idea what the fuck is wrong. Tired of this shit. Why must all my computers fail at once?

I'm typing this on my laptop. Which I haven't upgraded to the latest version of Ubuntu yet, because I don't need one more computer to break.

Linux is Ready for Your Dad

Well, maybe not your dad. But mine, at least.

My dad's in town -- I'm getting married, you see -- and asked me if I could get him a computer to use while he's here.

All I had lying around was an ancient Dell Dimension 8230. I suck Win7/32 on it.

And then found out that the audio didn't work. For Dad that was a deal-breaker.

I opened up the box (and was surprised not to get a cloud of dust to the face -- I don't remember blowing it out, but I must have, and fairly recently) and determined that the sound card is a Creative SB Live, model number CT4780. And that there's no Windows Vista/7 support for it.

I found a third party driver at kxproject.com, but it hadn't been updated since 2009 -- and didn't work either.

So at this point I asked my dad if he wanted me to install Windows XP on his computer, and probably wait the better part of 2 days for all the patches to download and install, or if he'd rather I put Linux on it. He said to give Linux a shot. (He'd used it for a little while at home when his Win7 installation was giving him trouble and a friend installed it for him.)

I settled on Xubuntu for a machine of that vintage. The install was quick, it had a checkbox for non-free software (including Flash and MP3 support), and it seems to support all the hardware out of the box -- including the sound card. And it runs faster than Win7 did.

Now, my dad's not a gamer. He doesn't even use Office. All he needs is a browser and Flash.

Which is of course true of an increasing number of users -- hell, Google's selling a $1300 laptop that just runs a browser. So it's not like this is a major bombshell or anything -- but it's still an interesting shift, no?

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.

More Triple-Boot Trouble

Getting Chameleon to run properly on my Mac Pro 1,1 continues to elude me. I've followed all the steps on the Netkas forum precisely, except that I made a smaller boot partition (because 1GB is just silly and I assumed that was only required because that's the smallest that OSX's Disk Utility will allow). I guess the next thing to try is swap in another hard drive and give it a 1GB boot partition and see if that works -- and then I guess I can start asking questions on the forum because I'm just about stumped.

Meantime, when I've got a helper card in I can boot OSX from EFI but not from GRUB -- meaning I can't boot it 64-bit. Windows definitely seems more crash-prone when the helper card is in and DirectX is running. If I pop the helper card out, I can boot OSX from GRUB (either 32- or 64-bit) but it's unstable as hell that way and a significant number of programs just hang when I try to run them; for some reason I can't boot OSX from EFI without the helper card. (Even if I hold Option at boot, arrow over the correct number of spaces, and hit Enter to boot from the OSX drive, it doesn't.)

There are other bootloaders designed for OSX but none of them seem to be as well-documented for use on genuine Apple hardware as Chameleon.

It's a pain in the ass, is what it is. This is an impressive damn machine, but I sure can't see buying another Mac anytime soon.

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.

Reinstallatin'

Well, for the second time in as many weeks, I find myself taking a day to reinstall Windows 7. The last one was for a cousin; this latest was for me.

As I mentioned the other day, something went wrong with my Win8 installation and it wouldn't boot. And, since I was running a Release Preview that was set to expire by the end of the week anyway, I decided it would be kinda stupid to spend any time trying to fix it, so I just backed up My Documents and reinstalled Win7.

Win8 is pretty much what everybody's said it is: a perfectly decent touchscreen interface with some discoverability issues, awkwardly grafted onto a traditional Windows interface, Frankenstein-fashion. Seeing as I don't have a touchscreen, I see no reason whatever to keep Windows 8.

Well, that's not entirely true -- some of the tweaks to the traditional Windows interface are damn fine: I like having a Task Manager that doesn't just report CPU and RAM usage but also hard drive and network activity (meaning no more "What the fuck is making the HD light blink like crazy when nothing's taking up more than 1% of the CPU?!"), and a filecopy interface that isn't a fucking 1980's holdover designed for transferring files between a 1.44MB floppy and an 80MB hard drive. I had a job once that consisted of copying databases -- single files ranging from 15-40GB -- to laptops all day. And when there was a network hiccup, it would abort the transfer and I'd have to start all over from the beginning. Almost as annoying: copying a user's entire home directory, hundreds or thousands of files, and if a single one fails, the entire transfer cancels itself.

Windows 8 has finally baked in filecopy tools that allow for pausing and resuming file transfers -- not just in command-line tools but in the standard Explorer UI.

Course, you only get that if you upgrade to Win8. Don't want a silly-ass tablet-style interface on your desktop? Well, then you get to stick with the old Task Manager and filecopy, too.

Meantime, I had a job interview today. And if all goes well, I'll have a lot more Windows 7 installations in my immediate future.

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?