Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Wikipedia and the Deletionist

The Wikipedia Fundraiser 2008 has a nice little quote:

"Imagine a world in which every single person on the planet is given free access to the sum of all human knowledge. That's our commitment."

Sounds nice, doesn't it? Except that somebody should probably tell that to the deletionist that frequently delete all kinds of interesting topic because they are not noteworthy enough.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

ThrustMaster Firestorm Dual Power 3 - Rumble

To get rumble to work on the ThrustMaster Firestorm Dual Power 3 gamepad (044f:b304) one has to send it a control message of the form (libusb syntax):

usb_control_msg(handle, 0x21, 0x09, 0x02, 0x00, { left_motor, right_motor, 0x00, 0x00 }, 4, 0);

Just figured that one out with USBlyzer, which seems a lot more robust then the Free Software alternatives like USB Snoopy, which used to bluescreen my box anytime I did something like unplugging a gamepad while it was running.

Edit: I just noticed that there are different versions of the Dual Power 3 gamepad ( 044f:b312). For this different version the rumble message is a little different (i.e. low/high bytes are flipped for value):

usb_control_msg(handle, 0x21, 0x09, 0x0200, 0x00, { left_motor, right_motor, 0x00, 0x00 }, 4, 0);

Monday, December 29, 2008

XFS is a piece of garbage

Even after disabling write cache on all my drives XFS continues to destroy files on a regular basis. After almost every single crash some files went missing and had to be recovered from backup (in case there was one). I fail to see the point of having a journaling file system and then having to run a restore from backup after every crash. Oh well, going to replace it now with good old ext3 and ext4 in the near future.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

3Dconnexion SpaceNavigator workaround for HAL

If you are using the latest Ubuntu you might have your SpaceNavigator work as mouse and be unable to be used properly by other applications due to the new hotplug handling, that is still rather broken for anything that isn't a mouse or keyboard, to fix this you can add the following lines to /etc/hal/fdi/policy/preferences.fdi:

<match key="input.product" string="3Dconnexion SpaceNavigator">
<remove key="input.x11_driver" />

After that Xorg will no longer touch the SpaceNavigator when it gets plugged in.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Prince of Persia "Triology"

Time for another round of game reviews, after finishing up with Tomb Raider (except Underworld, haven't played that yet) I moved on to the Prince of Persia "Trilogy", quotes are there since its really not much of a trilogy, but more like one great conclusive game with some garbage patched on. Anyway, lets begin, first in the row is:

Prince of Persia: Sands of Time (2003, PC)

A great classic that works nicely under Linux in Wine, not quite as perfectly as Tomb Raider, since it lacks widescreen support and loses a bit of performance in Wine, there also seems to be an issue with the bloom that seems off by a few pixels, but its still perfectly playable. Support for gamepads is also a little lacking, while the game itself works fine with one, the menus don't, they require a mouse. Those issues aside however its as good as it gets. Its one of the few games where story and gameplay go pretty much completly hand in hand, the level design is great, the graphics nice and the animation pretty. On top of that the game features a time rewind mechanic that has been repeated in numerous games since then. There really isn't much to complain about, games just don't get much better then this, so go play it if you haven't already.

Little sidenote: The game features as a bonus level the first level of the original Prince of Persia remade in 3D, it has no goal and is present in all versions. The PS2 version in addition features the whole classic 2D Prince of Persia game (in its original form, not as 3D remake), the PC version however does not. The wall you have to destroy to unlock it is indestructible.

Prince of Persia: Warrior Within (2004, PC)

On the technical side, Warrior Within has the same small problems as Sands on Time, but adds some more on top of it. It requires a no-cd crack to function in Wine and when you up the graphic detail level the picture ends up being upside down. Playing a bit around with the detail level and Wine configuration makes things playable, but still leaves a little upside-down artefact when one slows down the time. But since you don't run around in slow-mo all the time its completly playable from start to finish, you however lose quite a bit of graphical detail compared to Windows.

In terms of story Warriror Within pretty much is a 180 turn compared to Sands of Time. Where Sands of Time had depths, athmosphere, Warrior Within is just flat, dark and bloody. The dialog and story that made the first game interesting, is nearly completly missing here, the princes dialog is mostly down to a bunch of *grrrr* and *arrg* sound effects, the skill to say complete sentences seems to be gone missing in this part of the series. Neatless to say, this part doesn't really connect much at all to the first one, so if you are looking for a decent sequel, you won't find it here. On the positive side, the story features some classic time travel twist, nothing you haven't seen before, but a little fun in what otherwise is just a completle failure.

Ignoring all that and focusing on the game itself, it also has plenty of problems of its own. Unlike Sands of Time this game features a much more non-linear level design. While your progress is still linear, the levels allow almost complete backtracking, this more then once ends up being heavily confusing, since a wrong turn can easily have you running around in circles for half an hour. That the game features two time zones and actually requires backtracking on a regular basis only makes matters worse, since it gets much harder to figure out if you are actually on the right path or not. The game does feature a map, but its as useless as maps can be, since it gives no precise indication where you are, where you have to go or how you reach it. Its just a undetailed picture with your character and an X and those don't even get updated after every change room, so its near impossible to figure out anything from the map

I also found the fighting system to be pretty terrible. It is often taughted as one of the good point of the game, but I found the fights to be overly long and just plain annoying. Not sure if I just didn't get the combo system or what else might have gone wrong, but it just wasn't any fun meshing on the same enemies over and over again.

On the positive side of things some of the jumping and running is still fun. I however found it to be a little confusing this time around, distances seem harder to judge and the animation often doesn't seem to properly fit in, i.e. you have jumps that look like the prince shouldn't have made them, but you still end up sticking to the ledge. The locations are much less memorable then those in Sand of Time, but given how bad most of the rest is thats one of the smaller problems. In terms of graphics there was one nice level near the end that features some pretty smoke effects, with smoke getting blown away when you swing your sword, neat stuff.

Warrior Within also features some unlockable artwork, but unlike Tomb Raider, its very badly hidden. You have to find a bunch of tressure cheats that unlock it, but they are completly randomly places, so you have really no motivation to actually search for them, you just stumble upon them by accident every now and then.

Overall the game just wasn't much enjoyable and its probally best to just skip it and ignore it.

Prince of Persia: The Two Thrones (2005, PC)

Two Thrones is the last one in the series, and again it inherits all the technical problems of the predecessor and can be fixed by the same workarounds. Widescreen support is still lacking.

After Warrior Within Two Thrones however was a pleasant supprise. It is still nowhere near as good as Sands of Time, but it actually is a good game on its own. The level design is back to being linear and the map screen is gone. The game actually feels a little to linear at times, since often your path is predetermined by a number of 'jump-spots', leaving little room for exploration, but thats still better then the other end of the spectrum. Unlike Warrior Within it actually features a proper story and has plenty of in-game dialog again. Most of the overall story and even the ending is heavily inspired by Sands of Time, but thats ok, since that was really good and you have enough new things to keep it interesting. One thing where Two Thrones fails is the athmosphere, Sands of Time had a specific One Thousand and One Nights style athmosphere to it, while Two Thrones just feels like a relatively generic video game with swords.

The fighting is also back to normal and on top of that a little stealth-twist got added that allows quick kills of enemies when they haven't yet seen you, which works well enough most of the time. The vehicle sections that got added to this game on the other side feel pretty ridiculous and out of place, they don't ruin it, but neither do they add anything.

Overall, not a worthy successor of Sands of Time, since Sands of Time really didn't need one in the first place, but what Two Thrones does, it does quite well. The story keeps you entertained, the platforming is fun and there really isn't much to complain about.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

XFS is eating my files...

Seems my XFS file system is a little hungry. Now three times after Linux crashed I found a few of my files with a filesize of 0 after the reboot, namely gconf database and Wine registry, both of which where likely opened at the time of the crash. The crashes themselves should be unrelated, since they look like standard OpenGL + instable driver issues and are more or less reproducible. Haven't looked that deep into the issue, but it looks like I have to replace XFS with something that doesn't destroy files that easily, since this is getting annoying.

Update1: As far as I understand the issue now:

- it is expected behavior
- it is caused by "write cache" being enabled and
- it is caused by "write barriers" not being supported by the device mapper

Solution? Disable "write cache" with hdparm it seems.

Update2: Even so I have disabled the "write cache" on my HDD, it seems I am still losing files on crashes. Gimp's recent files and Gnomes File-Dialog bookmarks have gone missing (~/.recently-used.xbel, ~/.gtk-bookmarks).

I really don't like this.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Tomb Raider: Legend (PC)

Just as Tomb Raider: Anniversary, Legend works near perfect in Linux in Wine. One additional issue issue is that the "next generation graphics" option doesn't work and causes plenty of graphical glitches which makes it unusable, so one has to play with the low graphic settings, which by the way is the same graphic quality that Anniversary had, which didn't have a "next gen" option. The water reflexions have to be disabled too. The game also only support "widescreen", not specific aspect ratio, so things end up looking a little stretched when you play 16:9 on a 16:10 monitor, but you get used to that quickly.

Unlike Anniversary, Legend follows a much more linear and story driven level design. Every now and then you end up in a larger room that requires you to solve a puzzle or two, but the game doesn't really feature any real branching of the level structure. This makes the whole gameplay more accessible, but also makes the puzzles quite a bit easier. The puzzles in Legend however make much more use of physics and much less use of item collections which is a welcome change.

One of the really interesting aspects of Legend is that it features radio communications throughout the whole game, so you always get background information and commentary about the locations that you are currently visiting. Legend also features a wide variety of locations, everything from Japanese skyscrapers to classic ruins is present. The Croft Manner is present as well and while not as complex is in Anniversary still fun to solve. In addition to the classic platforming Legend also features a few motorcycle levels, these aren't really great, but neither are they bad enough to really annoy.

Treasure hunting and the time trial mode are available as well. The time trial is a lot simpler then in Anniversary, since you don't have to spend much time searching for an optimal route through the level. The treasure hunting on the other side is a little tricker, since the treasures are spread out much more randomly throughout the levels and there are also much more treasures to hunt. Bonuses are again present in the form of cheats, costumes and artwork. Costumes are present in much higher numbers then in Anniversary, many of them are however just color variation of other costumes.

The main critique about Legend is certainly its length, the first play through is doable in just 7 hours. However with all the puzzle hunting and time trial one can easily boost that to 20 hours, so there is still tons of game in there if one just bothers to search for it.

Overall however Legend is highly enjoyable and due to its linearity quite a bit easier and accessible then Anniversay. It also features a much higher varity of locations. So while both games are a little different, both are in the end equally fun.

PS: Tomb Raider: Underworld, the sequel to Legend, doesn't seem to work in Linux, while the demo installs fine and runs, the graphics are all messed up, so that you can hardly see anything.

Tomb Raider: Anniversary (PC)

Some days ago I picked up Tomb Raider: Anniversary for the PC (yes, thats the old one, not the new Underworld). Its a standard Windows game, of course, but it actually works near perfectly under Linux in. No hacks or cracks requires, it works out of the box. The only issue I could find is that one has to disable reflections in the display setting of the game, since they cause some graphical glitches. Those aside the game runs wonderfully, it loads in seconds, runs fluently and supports all kinds of resolutions and aspect ratios, gamepad support is fine too and it doesn't even require a DVD in the drive.

Now to the game itself. Anniversary is a remake of the very first Tomb Raider game and as far as I can tell it stays pretty close to the original, while upgrading the core gameplay with what was provided by Tomb Raider: Legend. The core gameplay aside Anniversary however is quite different then Legend, mainly due to its level design. Anniversary doesn't follow a linear structure with lots of cutscenes like Legend, but instead follows the style of the original game which has has a less linear structure. The levels in Anniversary structure follow a structure like this, you approach a main room, from which multiple challenge rooms branch off. In these challenge rooms one collects items, keys or other stuff that is then used in the main room to advance or unlock other challenge rooms. While this feels a little old school as first, it actually works quite well and makes things more interesting when replaying levels the levels later. Another thing that makes Anniversary different from Legend is that Anniversary is limited to four scenarios, namely Peru, Greece, Egypt and Lost Island, with each of those having three or four levels. In addition there is the Croft Manor again, Tomb Raiders tutorial level, which is this time a little larger then in Legend and features more adventure style gameplay with item collection and use, which while using the same mechanics like the rest of the game is quite a chance in basic gameplay.

One thing missing in Anniversary is a form of light, Legend had a flashlight and flares, while Anniversary has nothing. Its not a big issue, since Anniversary is never really dark, but its a thing that could have given the game a little bit more interactiveness. Gone are also the binoculars and the quick access to the health pack, the later can kind of be fixed by remapping buttons a bit, but the way Legend used the Dpad felt more natural. The grapple on the other side is still present.

Another issue I have with Anniversary is the swimming, just like Mario Sunshine, it got changed from having full 3D control to having a swim-up and a swim-down button. I assume this change was made to simplify the gameplay, but I don't like it since it takes the fun out of swimming. Also the underwater graphics are a little lacking. The original Tomb Raider was very impressive due to the light effects it had under water, those are lacking here, which makes the underwater world look a little to much like the over water world. The water level itself is also a little hard to see, making it hard to judge the depth one is in. No big deal, but one of the few things that could have been done better.

On the first play through Anniversary takes around 10-15 hours, which makes it a good bit longer then Legend. While some of that length results from harder traps, some of which are quite meanly placed, most of it is simply the result of more complex levels, which require more exploring and don't follow the linear nature of Legend. The harder traps, while they can annoy a bit at first, are however never really a big issue, since one learns their pattern and has plenty of fairly placed checkpoints.

Just like Legend Anniversary features treasure hunting and a time trial mode. The treasures are additional optional objects places in the levels, sometimes quite will hidden. They are this time much rarer and much more intelligently placed as in Legend, which makes hunting them more fun and their rough positions easier to guess, i.e. when you have four treasures in a level with four sub-rooms its clear that one treasure is in each room. The time trial mode simply requires you to play through the levels with a given time limited, which due to the non-linear nature of the levels becomes quite interesting, since you have to hunt for the optimal route before you can start a time trial. Finishing a time trial or collecting enough treasures unlocks new costumes, artwork and cheat codes, which then in turn can be used to ease other time trial or treasure hunts. This constant stream of rewards makes the replaying of levels quite enjoyable, since one actually ends up using them while playing the game, which in turn chances the game a little bit to keep it interesting. Anniversary also features audio commentary for the levels that gets unlocked after the first play through and can be listened to when tressure hunting.

Another little thing that is worth mentioning is that Anniversary features, just like Legend, a few "useless" actions, namely a series of acrobatic flips that one can achieve by pressing the jump and roll buttons repeatable. While these actions are useless for practical gameplay, they make the game interesting in that they give the player something to play with when the game isn't actively challenging him. This is very similar to the double and triple jumps in Mario64, which also where in large part just there to give the player a chain of events to complete while nothing else was there to do. It is an interesting mechanic that one doesn't see all that often in other games.

The story of Anniversary is more simplistic then Legend and the game only features a handful of cutscenes and misses the all the radio communication that Legend had in the levels, which is a little bit of disappointment. But that little bit of story that is there is actually interesting and its focus on the morality of your action is something that isn't much seen in other games.

Overall Tomb Raider: Anniversary is a highly enjoyabel game, especially since it runs so well in Linux and thus doesn't require all the dual booting. While some elements of Legend are missing here, it has strength in different areas that were lacking in Legend.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Friday, December 05, 2008

Making IPv6 work on Ubuntu, the quick and dirty way

One hears lots general things about IPv6 all the time, but not how to actually use it. So here a quick&dirty way to get it to work on a normal Ubuntu system. This works even when your provider does not support IPv6, since it sets up a tunnel via 6to4.

First some general explanations:

IPv6 addresses look like any of these:


The first four characters are important, 2001 indicates a global addresses reachable from everywhere on the internet, fe80 on the other side indicates a link local address reachable only from the local network. You can think of fe80 as an analog to style addresses (Edit: Actually the fe80 addresses are more like a IPv6 reachable MAC address then the addresses, unique local addresses seem to reassemble them much more closely). The /64 at the end indicates the netmask and isn't part of the address so you need to leave it away when trying to run ping6, ping6 being the IPv6 version of the classic ping command. The last few bytes of an autoconfigured IPv6 address are the same bytes as your MAC address of your network card, with some slight changes.

When you try to ping an IPv6 address on your local network you will realize that it doesn't work:

$ ping6 fe80::4e00:10ff:fe53:e8d7
connect: Invalid argument

The reason for this is that fe80 is a link local address and only valid for a single network, which means you have to tell ping6 which interface (i.e. eth0) it should use to contact the address, this can be done by:

$ ping6 -I eth0 fe80::4e00:10ff:fe53:e8d7
PING fe80::4e00:10ff:fe53:e8d7(fe80::4e00:10ff:fe53:e8d7) from fe80::219:dbff:fe5b:fa17 eth0: 56 data bytes
64 bytes from fe80::4e00:10ff:fe53:e8d7: icmp_seq=1 ttl=64 time=1.19 ms

Know with those basics cleared up its time to setup the 6to4 tunnel, first download the 6to4 script:
Then simply run the script:

$ ./6to4 up YourIPv4Addr eth0

If all goes right that is already all of it, you should know be able to connect IPv6 hosts such as

If you happen to run maradns you have to run contact instead, since maradns has a bug that doesn't allow it to resolve DNS aliases properly.

You can find out the raw IPv6 address via querying the AAAA record (which is the IPv6 version of the A record):

$ host -t AAAA is an alias for
$ host -t AAAA has IPv6 address 2001:4860:0:1001::68

If you are running this on your router and want your clients behind the router to have access to IPv6 you have to:

$ apt-get install radvd

on the router and configure it as described in the comment in the 6to4 script. Your clients behind the router should then be able to automatically discover the router and be able to access IPv6 addresses.

Note that this opens up the clients behind the router to the internet, so you likely want to setup some firewall rules with ip6tables, something like this might work:

$ ip6tables -I INPUT -i tun64 -p tcp --syn -j DROP
$ ip6tables -I FORWARD -i tun64 -p tcp --syn -j DROP
$ ip6tables -I INPUT -i tun64 -p udp ! --dport 32768:60999 -j DROP
$ ip6tables -I FORWARD -i tun64 -p udp ! --dport 32768:60999 -j DROP

For more indepth information you might want to have a look at the Linux IPv6 HOWTO.

PS: This little descriptions likely contains errors and is inaccurate, its just meant as a quick&dirty way to show that getting IPv6 up and running isn't that hard.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Fixing the 1-bit mouse cursor

I finally fixed a little problem that has bothered me for ages. My mouse cursor, which should have been properly alpha blended and multi-colored ended up as ugly 1-bit misshape directly after login, switching themes didn't help and I had for a long time really no idea what was wrong with it and it never was big enough of a problem to really search hard for a solution.

Anyway, with the old broken PC replaced and a new one in place, along with the 1-bit cursor, it was clear that this wasn't a glitch in the graphics driver or Xorg config, but a glitch in my $HOME directory. After a quick replacement of .gnome, .gconf and everything else Gnome related it was clear that Gnome wasn't to blame, which left only one thing, good old .Xdefaults and suprise, suprise, what do we find:

Xcursor.core: true
Xcursor.theme: core

Those entries have been there for ages and as far as I remember where originally created back when Xcursor stuff was brand new and cousing trouble for me. As long as the cursor however was designed for 1-bit that entry wasn't a problem, the problem manifested itself only because Ubuntu's cursor themes are all designed with alpha blending in mind and thus look rather ugly when brute force converted with to 1-bit black&white. With those entries removed the cursor is back to its full color glory and one long running problem finally solved.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Something broke...

Day One

Three kernel panics already and the day has just started. Looks like something is seriously wrong with my computer, since it used to run fine before.

45 minutes of memcheck'ing later, still no hint on what is wrong. Nothing suspicious in dmesg or other logs.

Kernel panics continue. I now cleaned up some older Nvidia drivers, just in case any of them was causing trouble... no success.

Now did an explicit downgrade from Nvidia 173 to 96, but that didn't help either. Thing continues to crash every hour or two.

Day Two

Next day, just a single kernel panic the whole day, still clueless on the cause. Switching to console didn't work at one point, only resulted in graphic mess, might be related or not.

Day Three

One Kernel Panic so far, this one was interesting, since it crashes a second after I unmounted a disk, with the umount command segfaulting before the crash. Rest of the day was crash free.

Day Four

A very crash happy day so far, one crash with garbled graphics on the screen, two random crashes, one crash while booting. Now playing around with lm-sensors and cpuburn to see if I can produce the crashes somehow. Now downgraded the kernel, maybe that will help or maybe not. I now disabled swap. Side note: Wacom tablet no longer works under Ubuntu 8.10 with an old 2.6.24 kernel, movement is registered, put pressing down isn't.

Everything to no avail, the thing continues to crash and quite rapidly.

Next step: try "acpi=off apm=on apm=power-off irqpoll" as boot parameter.

Day Five

The boot parameter had no effect, two crashes already, one right when switching the computer on this morning while booting. Now trying if: apt-get remove acpid acpi --purge will do anything.

Day Six

Crashes are getting worse and worse, now the thing will only survive for minutes at a time. After running memcheck again for 1:30h it showed finally errors, however it shows errors in *both* RAM modules, removing one or the other still gives errors. So it might not be the RAM thats bad, but the mobo or whatever. No idea. I know reseted BIOS to "Save default". No success.

This PC is screwed, now preparing to move stuff to another box.

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Two hours with Ubuntu 8.10

After around four hours downloading and upgrading to Ubuntu 8.10, now, after two hours actually using it, it is time for making a quick list of issues I had and didn't had:
  • Downloading and upgrading itself went quite well, my root filesystem needed a little cleanup to have enough storage to manage the upgrade, but after that everything went smooth.
  • The keycodes for my MSNE4k keyboard have been shuffled around again, so my custom Xmodmap broke pretty badly and needed readjustment, that took a while. The zoom-slider on the keyboard still doesn't work under Xorg.
  • Xorg now uses HAL for input devices and allows hotpluggin, which is pretty cool, but also causes a ton of issues, such as that my SpaceNavigator device now gets registered as mouse, which is of course isn't very useful and makes it impossible to use it as intented, my mouse button mappings got screwed up well and the eraser of the Wacom graphic tablet no longer works and of course my Xbox360 gamepad no longer works either, since it gets mapped to mouse movement in Xorg. To sum it up: device hotpluggin screws things up a lot.
  • Youtube videos don't have sound and freeze the whole browser soon after, something wrong with the Flash plugin.
  • trackerd is wasting CPU like crazy again.
  • The KDE4 Krita version still doesn't work.
  • the nvidia-96-kernel-source package doesn't compile and thus no OpenGL on a Geforce2MX (Ubuntu actually gave a warning about this before upgrading)
  • the Wiimote driver CWiid doesn't work properly, the mouse cursor is limited to a rectangle smaller then the screen, likely related to the Hal stuff as well
Thats all for now, more issues as soon as they come in.

Workarounds and Fixes:

I solved the Youtube/Flash problem by cleaning up an old flash plugin from ~/ and doing an:

apt-get install flashplugin-nonfree-extrasound

Which seems to have fixed the issue.

To make the SpaceNavigator no longer work as mouse one can do:

xinput set-int-prop "3Dconnexion SpaceNavigator" "Device Enabled" 32 0

Which will simply disable it or one can be a little more drastic and do a:

hal-device -r '/org/freedesktop/Hal/devices/usb_device_46d_c626_noserial_if0_logicaldev_input'

Which will unregister the device from Hal and in turn from Xorg and finally one could also write a custom .fdi script and tell Hal to not mess around with the SpaceNavigator in the first place, however I haven't tried that, so no example.

Another way is to disable the whole autodetection alltogether, its the most drastic solution, but also seems to be the most simple and effective one, havn't actually tried it myself yet:

Section "ServerFlags"
Option "AutoAddDevices" "False"

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Assassins Creed

I finished Assassins Creed a few days ago, so time to sum up some thoughts about the game. The press and plenty of forum posts have been rather negative on the game and not completly without reason, but overall I think a lot of it was really overreacting and missing the point.

The game puts you into the role of an assassins at the time of the crusade that has to kill a handful of evildoers spread out over a handful of cities, but all that happens with a twist. You are not actually the assassins, but just some guy who happens to be a descendant of said assassins relieving its memories thanks to some sci-fi device. The sci-fi scenario happens in between the assassination missions and has a very much adventure game to it, however a rather limited adventure game, since you are limited to just three rooms and asside from talking to the two other characters and reading their email you really do anything.

The beginning of the game starts out rather week, just like in Metroid Prime or a handful of other games, you start with all your powers and upgrades, but soon lose them after your first missions. Not quite sure why they did that, but I found that it disconnects you from the story quite a bit, since it just feels like a cheap trick, not something that makes much sense in terms of the story. After that is over the game goes over into routine.

Missions always start out at your base where you get your orders, after that you ride to the next city where you have to solve a few minigames to gather information about where to find your target. Once done you get close to your target, watch a cutscene, kill the guy, watch another cutscene and then be back into the sci-fi setting before the circle repeats again.

While this sounds repetative and certainly is to a degree, since the minigames are pretty much the same thing over and over again, it really isn't that bad, since the core gameplay is really well done. The cities themselve are huge and leave you the freedom to go pretty much wherever you like. Thanks to the ability of your character to climb you can reach basically every rooftop. The climbing in this game is quite different then in most other games, since you can not only grab ledges, but you can also grab onto pretty much anything that sticks out a tiny little bit. This allows you to climb extremely fluently and easily. The troublesome part about this is that climbing really isn't much of a challange, jumping as well as grabbing happens automatically without much user interaction, you press a button and are ready to climb around as much as you like, you just have to press the stick into the direction you want to climb. However the ease of climbing also allows you to quickly navigate around in the game world, which becomes an important point when you are involved in chase sequences or just try to get away from guards.

When you come into contact with a guard you can take your sword and start a fight. Fighting in Assassins Creed feels quite close to how it was in the original Prince of Persia DOS game, namely it is mostly blocking and countering and not just wild button mashing, which I really like.

Another albeit rather small part of the game is horse riding, since you can just teleport yourself to the next city in the later part of the game. Horse riding is pretty much the weakest part of the game, unlike Shadow of the Colossus you don't really have any freedom in where you want to go, the whole world is just a series of narrow roads, which leaves you with just two options: forward or backward. Every now and then you also get the choice between left and right, but thats it. There is no exploration going on when on the horse and nothing really to do.

The story of Assassins Creed is kind of a mixed bag, for one thing the sci-fi twist is really interesting and well done, but on the other side it leads nowhere, you get a few hints here and there whats going on, but in the end it has "please wait for the sequel" written all over it. I still liked it for what it was, but I would have definitivly prefered to have a more active part in the future setting. The crusade setting on the other side is rather weak and while it is a little more conclusive, it never managed to engade you, since the reason why you shall kill this or that guy stays rather foggy for most part and you also don't really have other characters to interact with.
While its interesting that the cutscenes before an assassination follow directly from gameplay, without interruption, it is also annoying that the cutscenes don't allow any interaction beside movement. So you always have to wait for them to finish, before you can start your attack. I would have much prefered it when the assassination would have been possible while the cutscene was running. Another annoying part is that you kill harmless people that give you information after the interrogation automatically. Maybe its just me, but killing unarmed people just ain't a thing that I like to do. And this isn't the first time, GTA4 had it, Call of Duty 4 had it and Uncharted had it too, i.e. basically all Playstation3 games I have played so far had such idiotic use of violence without reason, I really don't like that trend.

Another small annoyance with the game is that its rather full of HUD elements, which makes finding minigames a little to easy, since you end up following icons on the map instead of looking around in the city. One weird part with the map is that later in the game, when you have to enter a new district in the city, it doesn't actually tell you what to do, instead you have to figure out yourself that you have to climb a huge building first before you can see icons on the map. Its a small thing that doesn't take to long to figure out, but for a game that is otherwise completly driven by blinking icons on the map, not having those looks more like a bug then like a game mechanic.

In the end the biggest problem of the game is that its just way to mechanical, it follows a pretty strict structure for each mission that just repeats over and over again and close to the end it actually gets quite a bit worse, since it introduces minigames with a time limit, which neither makes sense nor is fun. They also seem to have run out of ideas in the last mission, since it just throws one enemy horde after the other at you, leaving nothing of the sneakiness that you would expect from an assassination game. The core gameplay also has its flaws, for example you can only hide from guards in predefined hiding spots, hiding elsewhere doesn't work, which is just another part of the game that is to mechanical.

Another huge annoyance is that the game doesn't have a real sandbox mode, whenever you want to reenter a city that you already have solved earlier, you have to rewatch the introductory cutscene of that mission again and again, so it can take multiple minutes till you are finally in the city where you want to be. This only becomes a real issue after you finished the game and want collect some remaining flags or stuff, but then it really becomes a huge issue since it makes it impossible to just do a quick dive into the gameworld and have some fun. For some reason the game also lacks subtitles, little weird in times where basically every game has them.

With all its faults however the game succeeds for most part at creating a huge interactive world, starting a fight with guards can be repetitive, how you proceed with that fight however can be pretty dynamic. You can flee over rooftops, block their way with civilians, fight them and all kinds of stuff, you have pretty much the whole city to toy around with and that is what makes the game a lot of fun. Chasing another character through the city is equally fun and dynamic. So while some parts of the game can by repetitive I can easily overlook that since the core exploration and navigation through the city is just good old fun and it is also something that feels new and fresh and leaves you plenty of freedom. Something that not many games these days manage. None of the flaws in this game really matter much in the end, since I simply had fun with it from start to finish. It could have been better for sure, but as it is, with all its flaws, its still pretty damn good and so far my favorite PS3 game.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Quick little movie round up

Spend the last days with that Playstation 3 thing and a bunch of BluRay movies, so here a quick review of everything:

Live Free or Die Hard: Suprisingly good, had feared this to be full of to much unbelievable CGI, but it got along quite fine and stayed in an area where my suspend of disbelieve can happily accept it. The fight with the F22 at the end felt a little forced and unrealistic, after all it was flown by a 'good' pilot, not a crazy cliche bad guy, but other then that it was a nice smooth and entertaining ride.

Superman Returns: Quite good as well, sure the bad guy is kind of weak and the movie is for most part about Lois Lane and Supermans relationship and their child, not about spectacular action, but after being bored to death with to much over the top action in Spiderman I am ok with that. Was good to see that they actually did try to continue the old Superman movies instead of just doing a remake, so we get to see a part of Supermans life that hasn't been shown before in TV or cinema as far as I know.

Ratatouille: Pixar standard, well animated and a classic Pixar style story. Nicely centered on cooking and food, but just as other Pixar movies, a little to predictable, since the basic story construction is the same thing each time in their movies. One thing that I found a little disappointing is they just clear the kitchen of side characters at the end, would have liked to have those fleshed out a little more and given an appropriate ending instead of just litterally throwing them away a few minutes before the end with no conclusive ending what so ever.

Deja Vu: Time travel movie, kind of a really mixed bag, starts out pretty damn boring, then after 40mins or so the Sci-Fi twist kicks in and it gets interesting. Here they don't have a time travel machine, but only one with which you can watch in the past. It however doesn't stay at that for very long, soon the bullshit kicks in, the characters act incredible stupid and all of a sudden the machine can transport a human into the past, when shortly before a piece of paper was already the outer limit. Bullshit happens in this movie pretty much at a constant rate which ruins the otherwise interesting premise. I like time travel stories, but this one has far to many plot holes, far to much overexplaining of basic time travel stuff and far to much inconsistency in its model of time travel. So soon after it got interesting, its down to default cliche time travel with characters that act so stupid that it ruins the whole movie. A little logic and common sense applied to the script could have made this really good, but as it is its just a utter disapointment.

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe:That one was quite a mess. It was colorful and had plenty of animals and decent special effects, but the story made no sense. Kids find wardrobe that leads to another world, kids join war in said other world, kids win war, ...?! Either I missed some critical part or the movie was really short on giving reason why the kids join the war in the first place and why the kids, with no experience whatsoever, get to be in command of a huge army. Motivations of the evil witch seems to be not really existing either. A plot that connects the fighting with some meaning wasn't to be found in that movie, pretty weird.

Casino Royale: This one was pretty terrible, not much interesting action, no gadgets, no real Bond and a story that was pretty dang boring and didn't make all to much sense to begin with. It also was way to long and half the movie is Bond playing poker. Hard to find any redeeming quality in this movie.

National Treasure: A nice little treasure hunting movie, nothing extra ordinary great about it, but nothing bad either, just good classic entertainment and well done for what it is.

National Treasure: Book of Secrets: Pretty much exactly the structure as the first, just a new treasure to hunt this time. Good entertainment as well.

28 Weeks Later: To sum it up: Stupid. Starts out with stupidly trying to recolonize an area before its cleaned up and the virus being properly researched, continues with having children in the group of people that move back, continues with children being to stupid and go into restricted area, continues with military not actually patrolling the border zone of the restricted area properly, continues with military being to slow to response after the breach happens, then not properly quarantining the children that left the area, then not guarding the newly found survivor, then with other guy voluntarily exchanging bodily fluid with survivor which happens to have the virus and then of course completly failing in containing the new outbreak. Way to many stupid things in way to short of time and I haven't even mentioned all of them. You'd guess that people would have figured out to be a little more careful with a virus that wiped out whole Great Britain in a couple of weeks. All that stupid story aside the movie is full of annoying shaky cam that is so shaky that you can't even see what is going on and sudden changes in sound volume and annoying music. Highly annoying piece of movie, I stopped watching after half of it, to much nonsense and unwatchable camera work.

World Trade Center: Watchable, but simplistic and generic, feels pretty much the same like any other disaster movies and if it wouldn't be for a few shots of the WTC you likely wouldn't even be able to tell the difference. The movie is also very small scale and focuses only on two people while ignoring pretty everything else, which given the scale of the situation doesn't seem fitting.

Rambo: Its bloody and raw like few other movies these days. Only downside is that its story is a little to straight forward lacking any surprises, but that aside is very well done and much closer to First Blood in terms of style then to the other two movies, which is good thing. I really liked it.

Monday, October 06, 2008

Galapix meets Big Buck Bunny

Another little Galapix demo video, this time viewing all the 14315 frames of the Blender movie Big Buck Bunny individually:

Meanwhile Xbox360 chatpad development is making some small progress, we are now able to extract a single keypress from the device, after that it will stop sending stuff for some reason.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Xbox360 Chatpad and Galapix News

I finally got my hands on a USB trace of the Xbox360 chatpad initialisation, I haven't managed to figure it out all, but so far I am able to switch on the backlight LEDs on the chatpad and figured out where the keycodes should come in, so there is some new hope that xboxdrv might get chatpad support in the not so distant future, but further reverse engineering is needed, seen I still don't know how to actually get the chatpad to start sending keycdoes.

In other news Galapix SVN now has support for rar, zip, xcf, png, krita and a heapload of other file formats, its not quite rock solid and often not very fast, but it makes it quite a bit more useful then the jpeg-only support it had before.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Sam & Max: Season 1 PC Review

Sam & Max: Season 1 tries to continue what LucasArts stopped doing a decade ago, namely being a point&click adventure in the very classical sense. The interface is for most part what you expect, you have an inventory as usual, classic dialog trees and control your character by good old point&click. The interface however got simplified in that you no longer have any verbs left, actions are automatically triggered by simply clicking on things. While the world is presented in 3D this time instead of 2D, you are working with a fixed camera position, so the navigation stays pretty much exactly the same as in the 2D days, but suffers from a few glitches in path finding and the moving camera angle, which makes it hard to click on things while your character is walking. The game also lacks a double-click triggered run-function, which causes some walking to feel more tedious then it should be.

The background graphics themselves are ok, but nothing special. Cell-shading is non-existant and many textures look uninteresting, so things look rather simplistic and bland and lack the style that the old 2D games had. The animation in the cutscenes and characters on the other side is quite well done. The graphics however are rather demanding, on a Athlon1800XP with a Geforce5200fx they barely work, its playable, but in some scenes the framerate goes below what is tolerable (Note: this might or might not be due to running under Linux in Wine).

Season 1 bundles six seperate episodes, which causes some annoyances in that you have to deal with six seperate executables, instead of a single one. This in turn also means that savegames for all episodes are seperate and that the graphics settings are seperate as well. So you have to configure each episode again and can't quickly switch from one episode to the other. In terms of configuration the game also lacks some options, there is no support for widescreen monitors and the resolutions are fixed to 800x600, 1024x768 or 1280x960, so if you have a 1280x1024 monitor you either have to stretch the image or live with black bars. There is also a lack of scroll wheel support which could have been useful for dialog and inventory navigation. While the game comes in quite a few languages, it doesn't offer any way to switch the language in the game, you have to reinstall the game to get a different language, which is annoying.

The game works fine under Linux in Wine once one has installed the correct No-CD cracks, without them it won't function. In older versions of Wine the thumbnails for savegames won't work, but that seems to be fixed in current versions.

Now to the game itself. The humor is good and works fine for most part, it however often feels a little stuck in the old days, since it makes to many references to old games and thus sometimes doesn't feel like it can't stand on its own. The story per episode are ok too, but due to their shortness lack depth and repeat quite a bit, since most episodes follow a very similar pattern. The game is also rather short on locations, per episode you basically only have two locations to go to, one is the street where your office is located and the other is something specific to the episode. You have to move between those a lot to solve the puzzles so it gets a little boring to revisit the office over and over again in each episode trying to spot some tiny things that have changed and could be used in a puzzle. Some more variation or episodes playing completly outside of the office would have been nice. The overall story arc is sadly rather non-existant, while there is always a tiny cliffhanger at the end of an episode, it does little to give the overall Season 1 much meaning, you are basically doing what you are supposed to be doing in an episode, without thinking much how it would arc over the whole season. The game tries a little to hard to be episodic, I would have preferred it if they would have done a full adventure and then simply broke it into chapters, then having six mini-adventures which don't really connect much.

Anyway, all that nitpicking aside Sam & Max: Season 1 is a solid fun game. It can't quite match the adventures of the good old days and has a few problems that could have been avoided, but what it does it does well enough to be entertaining. It is no revolution to the adventure genre and doesn't try to be one and while that annoys a little bit, its also good to have an adventure game that simply tries to be an adventure game and nothing else. It is simply good old point&click fun, nothing more, nothing less.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Galapix 0.0.3

Time for another Galapix release, changes include:
  • fixes for gcc 4.3
  • added random layout function
  • added random shuffle
  • added function to create non-overlapping layouts
  • scale is smoothly handled on relayout
  • added MoveTool to move and scale images
  • fixed random halting of the application
I also created a short demo video that shows what Galapix can do, came out a little more blurry then expected and the framefrate seems to get weird when you try to seek in the video:

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Galapix 0.0.2 out now

After some SVN repository splitting and webpage building Galapix 0.0.2 is out now, for those that don't know:

Galapix is an image viewer that allows you to directly zoom into large collections of tens of thousand of images from tiny thumbnails down to the images original size fluently with short load times and no loss of interactivity. It accomplishes this by keeping a tile cache which stores not only thumbnails for one size, but thumbnails of many different sizes.

Download can be found at the Galapix page:

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Splitting an SVN repository

Griv, now renamed to Galapix due to naming conflict with another project, is currently sitting in the Windstille repository, however since the project has grown 'big enough' it shall now get its own repository. Trouble is, how does one split a repository? The official docu is a little lacking and svndumpfilter doesn't look like the most solid tool either, so a little trickery was involved and here a little howto.

First get yourself an up to date dump of your SVN repository, if you have it local, its just a 'svnadmin dump repo/' command, if you have it remote you have to make sure that the backup you download is actually up to date, since the dumps are only updated once a day on most public hosting services. Simply grep for "Revision-number:" and compare it to whatever svn tells you about the repository.

Next step is to filter the repository, in my case it was done via a:

svndumpfilter include --drop-empty-revs --renumber-revs trunk/griv trunk/griv-old branches/griv-sdl

So far everything according to plan, trouble now however is that the import of the dump will fail, since the trunk/ and branches/ directories are required for the dump to function but not actually included in the dump. The fix for this is simply creating them:

svnadmin create galapix
svn co file:///tmp/galapix galapix-checkout
svn mkdir galapix-checkout/trunk/ galapix-checkout/branches/ galapix-checkout/tags
svn commit -m "Core directory structures created" galapix-checkout/

With the missing directories in place one can now load the dump:

svnadmin load galapix

Once the load is complete, you can update the checkout and everything should be back normal.

In the case of Galapix the very final step was now to upload the repository to, instructions for that can be found on their help pages, but a little word of warning "svnsync" is incredible slow and interrupts a lot. I had to do a 'while true; do svnsync ...; done' loop to get it done and that is actually quite shocking since Galapix is tiny, just 170 revisions and a repository size of just 2.5MB and yet svnsync is running now for a good hour taking half a minute per revision. I really wouldn't want to repeat this process with anything larger (complete Windstille is a few thousand commits and close to 1GB in size...).

The final repository can be found at:

svn co

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Writing a zoomable image viewer

Image viewer these days still suck pretty much, the major issue is that they only have two modes of viewing: full size view and thumbnail view, which with todays megapixel cameras however becomes impractical, since the loading times for a full size views are to long to make browsing the images in full size comfortable, while browsing thumbnails gives you to little detail to be very useful. Switching between the two modes is also an annoyingly modeful process.

There however is an easy fix, instead of generating only one thumbnail, one can generate multiple thumbnails at different sizes. If one for example cuts the size of an image in half and saves the result as thumbnail and repeats that process till one is at a 1 pixel image one can cover all thumbnails with only a 33% increase in storage (in practice more like 50% due to overhead) over the original data. These multilevel thumbnails allow then a much quicker access to higher zoom levels of an image. A nice benefit of the JPEG format is that it can provide these thumbnails much quicker then decoding the full size image, even a 60MB JPEG can be thumbnailed in a few second vs minutes it might take when loading the full size wiew. I implemented this approach a while back, result being available at:

svn co svn://

This approach however has one fatal flaw, since a thumbnail itself might be huge, loading times might get unacceptable again when dealing with huge image, i.e. the 50% thumbnail for a 1 gigapixel image is still 0.25 gigapixel, far to huge to load in a speedy manner. That problem however is again solve quite easily when one cuts the thumbnails into fixed size tiles. So instead of loading the whole thumbnails, one simply loads the thumbnails required to display the subsection of an image on the screen. If one has all the thumbnails available image browsing becomes pretty much instantly with this approach, since the amount of data that has to be loaded stays constant, no matter how large the original image data. I again implemented this approach:

svn co svn://

One flaw with this approach is that the thumbnail generation itself is still a costly process. While small thumbnails can be generated quickly by libjpeg, generating tiles for a huge image, still requires decoding the whole image instead of just a subsection of it. I am not sure if libjpeg or the JPEG format itself offers a way for quick cropping of an image, so that stays an unsolved problem for now.

Anyway, the viewer itself at it is now works, its still pretty buggy and featureless but it already allows to explore large collections of images in a completly fluent manner with little or no loading times, depending if the tiles have been pregenerated or are generated on demand. It also allows to view gigapixel images, the tile generation itself can take a while for that, but viewing will be instantanious after that. In terms of space it requires currently 150% storage for tiles, since it doesn't only generate thumbnails, but also tiles for the image at its original size. Using load on demand of course cuts that storage requirement down quite a bit.

Before the thing can be turned into an official release I still need to change the name, since 'griv' is already taken and do a little bit of bug fixes.

PS: This technology is nothing new, it has been used by Google Earth and similar application for quite a while, Microsofts Photosynth also does something like that and there are a bunch of Flash applications for accomplishing similar things, I however don't know any off-line Free Software image viewer that provides such a feature set.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

TuxPuck Graphics

Last two days I did a few graphics for TuxPuck, work in progress currently look like this:
Update: Woops, fixed little error in the game title.

German censorship and online gaming

Well, today I learned that creating an US Playstation 3 network account gives you access to a ton more demos then an official German account. I have to ask why? Even USK16 game demos are missing from the German Playstation Shop, which includes pretty much all high-profile titles on the Playstation3 console. Xbox360 has similar problems from what I know. While Germany's game rating can already annoy a lot when you want to order something online, it gets really ridiculous when it comes to only shops like the one on the Playstation3, since there doesn't seem to be any way at all to get access to those demos other then by using some fake data to get a USA account for the Playstation3 shop. Quite annoying situation with no clear fix. Wondering if Sony is doing that to conform with the law or more because they are trying a hard then they need to confirm with law.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Primal: For once a good game...

More or less by accident I came across Primal for Playstation2 and was pleasantly surprised. While doing a little cleanup I came across on old video game magazine that mentioned the game, never heard of it before, but it looked interesting and ratings seems to be ok'ish (80/100), so I bought it. The basic setup is quite a bit similar to The Longest Journey or Dreamfall, a normal girl from this dimension, gets sucked up into another one and go on and save the world, while being supported by a small Gargoyle creature which follows you around and which you can also control. The game is seperated into four realms, each pretty much completly different then the other, which gives a nice chance on each realm switch. The four realms have to be explored one after another, so you don't actually have to travel forward and back to them, even so I think you could (never tried).

The basic gameplay is a little unusual and yet very familiar, its not quite like Tomb Raider and not quite like Drakan, but also not quite like Dreamfall. Its kind of has elements of all of them. You do have a quite large world to explore, so in that sense it feels like a large scale RPG like Drakan, you can also smash barrels just like in Drakan, but you don't actually have RPG elements, its more of an adventure game in which you just walk along solving puzzles in a mostly linear fashion. But you don't have an inventory and you don't talk to characters via the usual multiple choice dialog, the worlds (since there are four of them) are quite empty for most part. You do quite a bit of climbing in this game, but not as extensively as you do in a Tomb Raider. What however sets this game apart is that you can't actually do that much beside walking, you don't have a jump button, you don't have an inventory, you don't have a look at command and you can't just punch around. While exploring the only thing that you can do is switch characters, the whole navigation happens automatically, so when you reach a ledge you will jump automatically and such. You do have a use button, but that only works when standing in front of a usable object, it will do nothing for an unusable object, not even the "I can't use that" thing, which can make the game a little confusing, since usable objects are not highlighted by any means. On the other side it also makes satisfying gameplay, since you have to solve puzzles by understanding the situation and not by just clicking on every highlighted object. You have also your Gargoyle friend which will give you a hint on a button press, which will most often guide you in the right direction. You also have a map that will show you where you have to go next. So while you can get lost a little bit from time to time, you for most part have a pretty good idea of what you should be doing.

Due to the lack of inventory and talkable characters the puzzles in this game are all environment based, you have doors to open, switches to press and such. Every now and then you even have to carry a special object around. The whole puzzeling is made interesting since you control not one character but two, both with different abilities. The Gargoyle can climb stone walls and carry things, while the girl does the fighting and can also swim later in the game. Many times in the game it is your job to prepare the path with one character, so that the other can follow. While at times there is a little repetition in the puzzleling, doors and switches after all all kind of look and work the same, you still have a good bit of varity and the puzzles are all pretty logical and straight forward, so no frustrating mind bending required.

Beside the puzzling the game also features fighting monsters, kind of similar to Tomb Raider in that the monster fighting never becomes the central part of the game, but still is quite a lot when compared to a more regular adventure game like Dreamfall. The fighting itself is a little unusual as well, it for most part feels like a regular 'beat the other guy up' kind of thing that you get in Zelda or a lot of other games. However the enemies can take quite a bit of beating and its not overly clear when you hit them and they hit you, i.e. at the end of a fight you will often be left with little energie left, while othertimes you come out without hardly been hit once. It feels all rather random with your doing having only small impact on the result. Its not really a game breaker issue, since you can refuel your energie at your Gargoyle friend and you can also just run past the monsters, so there is a little bit of strategy going on and some fun to be derived from that. Enemies also stay dead once beaten and continue to lie around for the rest of the game and they also give you energie that you can use to restore your health or when in human form your health will restore automatically. So for most part of the game you won't have much trouble with the enemies, but a bit of work to manage your energie levels properly. While the fighting is far from perfect, it works well at giving you a bit of varity inbetween the puzzeling.

Dieing is also kind of interesting in this game, since you don't actually die, but are thrown out of the current world back into the normal world, in which you lie in a hospital in coma, your Gargoyle friend can then go back to one of those stargates that connect the worlds to get you back. When you wait for to long, you might actually die completly, but I haven't tested that one yet. Dieing however is pretty much a non issue in this game, due the automatic jumping you can never kill yourself by jumping down the wrong cliff, the only way to die is by fighting enemies, but even there you always fall back to human form first.

The characters in this game are well fleshed out and interesting and the overall story is decent too, but it lacks a little bit of a connection, since all four realms are completly seperate and you don't really have much story cross realm borders, beside the two main characters of course. The ending also leaves a bit to be desired, its pretty much what you expect, with no real supprise. The story overall however is decent enough and certainly one of the more interesting onces I have seen in a while.

The graphics are pretty nice for PS2 and feature some good particle effects, the game also supports progressive scan as well as widescreen and supports plenty of languages that you can switch between at any time. Some making-of stuff is included as well. So on the technical side its very solid.

Overall the game is pretty good, but not without its short comings. The focus on exploration is a nice change compared to all the shooters I have played recently. However at times it can also get a little lengthy, since the ways you have to walk are not the shortest. The fighting is also mostly button mashing, not really annoying, but also not all that interesting. But the characters and story make up for all the short comings it might have on the gameplay side and with its strong focus on adventuring, while not actually being a classic adventure game, you also have a type of game that you don't see very often.

PS: On the Playstation3 the game shows in some areas graphical glitches, the glitches are however limited to specific areas (whenever you have many trees with leaves) and mostly only happen in the first realm.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Uncharted: There is a gun in my adventure soup...

Time for another little PS3 review: Uncharted: Drakes Fortune. A game that tries to be a mix of Tomb Raider with Gears of War shooting mechanics. Nothing wrong with it, since after all shooting was never Tomb Raiders strong point and Gears is pretty good at it. So what could go wrong...

The core problem of Uncharted is that it is way more shooter then adventure game. It not only has those shooter sequences like Tomb Raider, but it has pretty much bad guys all over the place. If there are platforms to jump on, you can expect bad guys before that and after that and often even in between. I don't mind shooting by itself, but Uncharted really overdoes it a lot. You are never free to just explore something, you always have to shoot your way through a horde of bad guys. And even more annoying the shooting isn't even very good. It never feels like your shooting actually accomplishes anything, its just something that slows you down. You shoot people because they are there, not because you have a good reason for doing so. The shooting is also plagued by a constant rarity of ammunition. If you can only carry 100 bullets, but have to fight 20 guys in a row, each requiring 5 bullets at least, things easily can get messy and you stand there empty handed. You can of course pick up new ammunition that the enemies drop, but that isn't easy when being under constant fire and the enemies also have the tendency to die far away from you. So for most part you can only try to head shot people and hope for the best. The game also features some hand to hand melee combat, but that feels utterly useless, since when you fight a horde of bad guys, you just don't have the time to go melee when everybody is shooting at you. Another little annoyance is that the enemies don't seem to be overly clever, once alerted they will instantly start shooting, even if you are still two rooms away with no line of sight. Just feels weird hearing all those gun shots when there is nobody around they could be shooting at. The enemies also have the annoying tendency to approach from all sides at once, so you often end up right in the middle with no clear way to go into cover, which means you basically have to simply learn where the enemies respawn by try&error. And speaking about try&error, quite often the reset points feel a little far away from each other. Its never 'game breaking' issue, but certainly an annoyance to have to fight through the same guys again and again. Since most of the fights are also pretty much the same thing over and over again, you get a lot of repetition in the shooting. Its just not very fun.

Now the other part of the game is adventuring and puzzle solving, but that sadly is a very very tiny part, close to non existent actually, since there are like two classical puzzles in the whole game. The game does allow you to look into Drakes diary, which by itself that sounds like cool little thing, however it only works in a tiny few selected areas and you can only view the page that is relevant to the current puzzle, so just browsing in the diary doesn't work, which is very disappointing and makes the whole feature look way to restricted. The whole jumping also doesn't have much puzzles in them, unlike Tomb Raider your path is for most part extremely clear, since there really is only one way to go. So instead of trying to figure out how to get from one point to the other, you just follow the predefined path, no thinking needed. Sometimes this even gets borderline ridiculous, since there have been more then one case where I actually grabbed a vine without even realizing it was there. Not only demonstrates this that the graphics aren't also that easy to make out as they should be, it also shows how linear this game really is. The jumping also has the problem of being pretty boring. In Tomb Raider: Legend you have quite a bit dynamic in it, Lara might miss to properly grab a ledge, requiring player interaction, the player might tap a button to speed her up when climbing a ladder and small things like that. In Uncharted you have none of that, which steels the game of a lot of the elegance and fun that Tomb Raider: Legend had.

Another little annoyance is that the game doesn't really do much with the other characters. You quite often are running around with another character on your side, but beside giving you a little extra firepower, they don't really do much for you or you for them. Ico and Prince of Persia:SoT showed a lot of nice things that can be done with a second character, but Uncharted leaves that area pretty much untouched.

One good part of the game was the story, while relatively cliche and predictable, it simply was fun to watch and well executed. Nothing that nocks you of your socks, but a pleasant surprise compared to all the other game elements. The final boss fight was also kind of nifty, since it was more old school 'figure-out-the-pattern' then just plain shooting action.

Overall the game however was quite a disappointment. Way to much mediocre shooting and close to none puzzling. Giving that the story and the overall setting would have had plenty of room for puzzles and adventuring there was just way to little actually in the game. And as a shooter, the game just fails as well, because the shooting just isn't fun. The story saves the game from being a complete disappointment, but the gameplay was a lot more lackluster then I would have expected from such a high profile title. The game also happens to be very short, so that you can easily finish it in a day.

Some other random annoyances in the game: Quick time events are used extremely seldom, making it near impossible to react to them on the first try. Motion controls are there, but rather terrible, aiming the grenades feels very weird, since you only control the angle with motion, not the direction, that is done via the analogstick. Its also used to shake of some enemies in the game, which however is way to hard, since its very tricky to actually shake the controller in time, when you are resting your arms. Balancing via motion controller seems to be ok, but its so rarely used, that its hard to tell if it actually worked properly.

Another little random positive thing: The game features quite a ton of artwork and photos as bonus, nothing fundamentally new in gaming, but quite extensively done here, nice way to fill up the space that a BluRay disc offers. The game also allows you to select between a ton of languages, with audio and subtiles independently, which is a very nice thing to.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Shutting down a OLPC XO-1 via the Terminal

When one tries to shutdown a OLPC XO-1 via the normal halt command one will get a bit of weirdness. No idea what exactly happens, but the device doesn't fully shutdown, but instead gets into a weird mode where the power LED is still on, but the machine no longer reacts properl. No idea if this state is good for anything or just a bug.

Anyway when one actually wants to shutdown the XO-1 properly, one simply can do it the same way as the Sugar GUI does it, by sending dbus message to the power managment, which the following command will do:

dbus-send \
--system \
--dest=org.freedesktop.Hal \
--type=method_call \
--print-reply \
'/org/freedesktop/Hal/devices/computer' \

The XO-1 then shuts down as normal and is properly 'off' once done.

Wikipedia fucking sucks...

Wikipedia starts to really suck more and more each day, valuable information gets purged and replaced with useless junk. Nicely seen in the PSP Homebrew article, the old one listed tons of information about the topic, while the new one is completly useless, devoid of any real info and just some general blabla that isn't really helpful for anybody. This isn't the first time this has happened and certainly not the last and it nicely shows that vandalism isn't the problem of Wikipedia, the problem are the admins and wannabe admins that constantly go around doing nothing but destroying information. Its really annoying and its sad that it now also is starting problems in the english language Wikipedia, which so far always did much better then the german one.

Playstation 3 Network Foobar

This week I had a little fun trying to get the Playstation3 online. It all started out rather harmlessly, Playstation3's auto-detect for the network connection worked well enough on the first day and produced a working setup or so it seemed. However this setup turned out to just not work very often, half the time it would just go "DNS Error 80710103" for no apparent reason and endless retries wouldn't help to login to the Playstation Network, even so normal web browsing worked most of the time. Even more weird, running the auto-detection again for the network setup would often not work. A few hours try&error later I managed to get a connection up and running reliably by manually setting the DNS server to the ISP one, instead of to the router. That seemed to work. However that wasn't very satisfing so I tweaked around a bit more.

Just for the fun of it I replaced my iptables/masquerading configuration with another one. The new one worked for most part, but had a little problem with not allowing package forwarding from eth0 to eth0, which I needed to reach a few wireless devices which where in a different subnet. However I hadn't yet figured that one out. So I was just blinding ping'ing around a bit and found something suspecious:


worked, while:

ping router

also worked, but only with a multiple second delay between ping request. Doing a strace on the second ping request showed:

write(4, "RESOLVE-ADDRESS\n", 28) = 28
read(4, "-15 Timeout reached\n", 1024) = 20

That didn't look good. Turned out that the problem here was lack of reverse mapping in my DNS configuration, maradns to be preciece, adding the necesarry: PTR router.localdoman.

lines to my /etc/maradns/db.localdomain solved that issue and made ping work fast with both IPs and hosts.

The problem with the lack of forwarding from the subnet to the subnet was solved with a quick:

iptables -A FORWARD -i eth0 -o eth0 -j ACCEPT

Now does this help the Playstation3? Doesn't seem so, still get a 80710103 error most of the time I try auto-detect. With all stuff manually entered it currently works, but no idea why or for how long, since only entering the DNS manually didn't work either this time.

Update: Setting the DNS manually on the Playstation3 to the one provided by the ISP instead of the router fixed the problem (same problem with both cable and WLAN connection). No idea why this is the case, since all other devices, even the PSP, work just fine with the router DNS.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

GTA4 - Great start, weak middle, crappy ending

The first five to ten hours into the game I was pleasantly surprised by this game. This is was the first GTA I played seriously, mainly because it was the first that featured a main character that looked like a nice guy. In a world of crazy people, mafia, drug dealers and other organized crime he comes along as a reasonable guy and gives a good contrast to the crazy world out there. His cousin, which isn't part of that organized crime, but gets into conflicts with them every now and then also seems ok. So far so good, but then the game slowly falls appart bit by bit.

The characters that you care about simply fall out of the story, once you have done all their missions, there is simply nothing left for you to do with them except that rather pointless relationship-system. This really feels rather weird, since you have some characters which you pretty much don't see for 20 hours only to have them jump back into the story 5min before the end of the game to be featured in the grand finale. And this isn't just a case with some people, but pretty much a case with all people. The people who you work for are either dead or in jail after a handfull of mission and those that aren't simply fall out of the story. You still have them on your phone, but they don't answer to calls and just aren't relevant to the story any more. So you basically just jump around from one mobster to the next doing your handful of missions to be then done with them. There simply isn't a real plotline going on, it just feels like random stuff thrown in to keep the game going. The relationship system also feels completly pointless, since it doesn't seem to have any impact on the story. The girlfriend that I dated a few times in the beginning just disappeared after a little plottwist with no explanation whatsoever, while the new girlfriend, which I never dated in the whole game, became Nikos story-arc girlfriend. What good is a relationship system if you can't even chose your girlfriend? The main story arc also concludes in a rather unconclusive, predictable and stupid way. I could see that stupid plot twist coming from a mile away as it was pretty much cliche-in-a-box. The oh so great story that other reviewers talked about was nowhere to be found in this game. It might have been hinted at at the start, but it never happened in the later game. And of course as if that wouldn't be enough, the final bad-guy isn't exactly which you expect, since that guy I did expect to finish off, just disappeared like all the other characters earlier in the game with no explanation whatsoever.

Ignoring the story, the gameplay itself is decent enough, but not without plenty of faults that you would have expected to be fixed in the now fourth iteration of 3D GTA games. Driving around still feels like GTA and is still quite fun, thanks to the big detailed city around you. The shooting this time is quite good, but a little easy at times, which means the mission get harder by pure enemy-mass, not by enemy- or teammate-cleverness. The cover mechanic work most of the time quite well, but sometimes you get stuck to the wrong wall, directly in the line of enemy fire, which is annoying and should have been fixed. Where the gameplay however falls short is simply in the complexity of the missions or lack there of. Due to the lack of reset points all missions are rather short and symplistic. Most are either of the "drive from A-to-B" kind or of the "shoot-this-guy" kind. There is one bank-robbing mission that is quite amazing, since it combines everything that is good about this game into a great experince, but that mission is sadly pretty much the only one that exhibits this type of complexity. One nice, but problematic, addition is the abiltiy to drive taxi, which reduces the need for boring drives through the city, it however also makes things a little to easy, since it allows you to pretty much skip from one mission directly to the next, leaving little need to explore the city on your own. I would have prefered it if they would have reduced the mission count and instead of focusing on quantity, focusing on quality. Even as somebody who never seriously played a GTA before, the mission become stale and boring after a while, since its pretty much the same thing over and over again, with only a litle bit of variation.

The graphics in the game are decent, nothing that will blow you away, but given the size of the city and the freedom you have, they hold up pretty well. In a tiny few police chases the framerate becomes pretty low, but for normal gameplay it holds up well enough.

To sum things up, the game starts out pretty well and in the first 10 hours or so I could have understand why this was rated by so many a 10/10, but a little longer into the story it just loses coherence and stops developing and the terrible pretictable cliche ending just puts a nail in the coffin. The game is a lot, but it could have been so much more. It feels stuck halfaway between awesomeness and mediocrity. The game has plenty of great parts, but also plenty of weak ones and after finishing it the weak parts sadly just stick out more. Finishing some games gives you a feeling of joy, but this one left me pretty annoyed. Especially with all those great reviews out there, I simply would have expected much more from the story. All those characters and dialog simply don't do it when the overall storyarc is completly lacking, down to the point of pretty much being non-existing in parts.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Call of Duty 4 - Lets play some shitty games...

Time for another little game review, this time Call of Duty 4 for the Playstation 3. If one believes the hype it is currently the second best PS3 game right after GTA4, clocking in at a shiny 94/100 on metacritic, but well, I don't trust reviews, so I played trough it myself (single-player campaign only, 'cause I don't do multiplayer).

If there is one thing that Call of Duty 4 does really well it is giving a nice demonstration of all the things that are wrong with video games these days. The graphics and presentation is nicely polished for sure, but that doesn't help much here, since neither story nor gameplay can impress. The only good part about the gameplay is that it plays rather fluently. You can run around, shoot people, throw grenades and do stuff and it never feels cumbersome, which is a good thing. The invisible walls are this time also covered up reasonably well, you still run into them, but I have seen worse. However the gameplay is also pretty flat and uninteresting, because the whole surrounding world is just fake and brainless. The game features endless hords of enemies, scripted events and fake gun shots and a war that waits for you to make it progress. You also can never act on your own, but instead have to follow your teamleaders around and follow their orders. That alone wouldn't be so bad if at least the story was completting, but its not. Generic american and british soldiers fighting against generic middle east and russion bad guys is as generic as you can get and on top of that the "good guys" aren't even exactly sympatic nor especially "good" (executing a man tied to a chair is just one of the many questionable things). Another big issue with this game is that there is simply way to much happening on the screen, most of it is fake and doesn't do you any harm, but it does a good job of giving you a headache. This is simply the most noisy game I have ever played. The single player campagne also has the "issue" of being incredible short and having an incredible shity ending, that just comes out of nowhere in the mid of a mission.

To sum things up, this game is pretty much all show and no substance, it feels like walking trough a movie without ever having a proper way to influence what is happening on the screen, and well its a bad movie on top, so there really isn't much fun to have. The game also is a nice demonstration on how to waste tons of graphics. Some levels look great, but you never actually see that, because you are way to distracted with shooting people or getting shot. The game completly lacks those calm moments where you can actually get a feel for your environment and enjoy the view, its all run-and-shoot and that annoys a lot.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

How to clone a clone

What happens when Pingus, a Lemmings clone, gets cloned? Well, something like this. Seems to be a mobile phone game obviously inspired by the real Pingus. From what I can tell from the few screenshots it doesn't use any Pingus graphics and the source will likely be Java, so no it seems to be 'clean' and not a GPL violation, since Pingus is all C++.

Running Firefox3 on OLPC

When one tries to run Firefox3 on the XO-1 under Sugar one will quickly find out that something is wrong, the icons are super-sized and so large that the whole interface gets squished together. I haven't yet figured out what the real course of this issue is, however there is a quick workaround:
  • enter "about:config" into the URL bar
  • confirm the warning that will pop-up if you haven't already
  • search for layout.css.dpi and set its value to something like 90, larger values will result in larger icons, while smaller values will result in smaller icons
Once the change is done the icons will appear normal size and Firefox3 is ready to be used.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Krita: Gimp Killer, almost

My recent endeavor to fix some of Gimps problems so far wasn't meet with much success. While the toolbar works and makes life easier, it won't make its way into the official Gimp, for reasons that fall somewhere between ignorance and bullshit. Not that there wouldn't be many plausible reasons to not include the patch, its far from perfect and misses quite a few disireable features,but the main reason seems to be that it "doesn't fit", without a clear explanation why and what would be the alternative.

Anyway, that dive into the Gimp also made me look at alternatives and to my surprise there actually is one and not just a "almost as good" one, but more of a "thats pretty awesome" one. Krita does basically everything that I miss in Gimp. It has configurable toolbars, layer grouping, layer cloning, layer locking, ability to dock docks to the image window, custom window management for docks, more Photoshop like brushes, natural brushes, support for higher bit depths and a ton more. The downside of all those cool features however is that its buggy as hell, not the crash kind of bug, but the annoying weird one. Some parts of the GUI don't maximize properly, some jump around because the pressure options for the tablet are constantly hidden and revealed depending on how far away you are from the tablet with your pen and all kinds of other stuff. Krita1.9 doesn't even start because it gets confused when libqt3-mt is installed. But all those annoyances aside, Krita is great and definitively heading into a direction that I like. It is no longer the me-too Gimp clone that it was a few years ago, but almost a serious Gimp killer.

While at the topic of graphic applications, there were some interesting videos of talks from the LGM2008.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

A quick little update...

Time for another little update, this time one of the mixed sort. In the wake of the Debian OpenSSL fiasco I did a little security inspection of my own and quickly found something in makepasswd, however given that this other bug just celebrated its 10th anniversary I have little hope that anybody will care.

Another thing I did was analyzing a bit the annoyances found in Gimp, the results are here and as a first try to get into Gimp coding I implemented a toolbar for the image window, which works nicely, but if it will find its way into Gimp 2.6 only time can tell. At the moment it looks more likely that it won't, since GUI configurability is still missing and maybe more importantly, Gimp needs a *ton* of new icons to make this work, since no filter and many normal menu functions don't have icons or only icons not specific enough. Discussion is going on on gimp-devel. Anyway, if you are running SVN Gimp you can try it and it already works well enough for daily work.

And then there is the Xbox360 chatpad and the heatset, I got one and started working on it, so far it doesn't look to good with the driver. For the headset, getting sound from the mic or to the headphones is easy, but decyphering the sound format might get tricky. You can find some samples here and here. If you import it at 8bit PCM, Mono, 8192Hz you can understand the words in the sample, but it is extremly noisy. There is likely some compression going on or so, but that 1 second beeping in the silent recording is confusing me a little. One can send the sound sample back to the headphones and they will sound ok without noise, but they play at half the speed, which means that the headset expects half the Hz. When it comes to the chatpad I am still pretty much in the dark, I haven't managed to get any signals from it and it doesn't even send a "plug-in" signal like the headset. There is also a lack of a Windows driver for the chatpad, so just snooping USB data from Windows isn't going to work. Have to try around if I can initialize it by brute force. I also managed to collect some data for the wireless controller and wireless headsets, nothing final on that side, but they are sending out some data at least.