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The Bag of Holding

More E3 stuff

Posted by , 15 May 2006 - - - - - - · 71 views

Games I Demoed At E3
This is just a quick opinion dump that quickly covers the games that I either watched demos for or actively played at E3 2006. Not hard and fast reviews, just off-the-cuff reactions.

Type: combo-based beat-em-up
Platform: PS2
Experience: Played Live Demo
Thoughts: Beating the crap out of a guy with a lawn chair is one of those things that just never quite gets old, but that may not save this game. The graphics aren't impressive, the game is still very glitchy, and the direction controls are highly finicky as demoed on the show floor. In addition, the combos themselves are just not well designed: triangle-triangle executes a certain attack, triple-triangle another, and triangle-triangle-square a third, for example. In 25 minutes of playing, I never did figure out how to control which of the three combos got triggered. The controls and gameplay generally just leave a lot to be desired. If the game is improved and polished heavily before release, I might pick it up in the bargain bin. Except not, because I don't have a PS2.

Soul of the Ultimate Nation
Type: MMORPG, classic fantasy
Platform: PC
Experience: Played Live Demo, PvP Skirmish
Thoughts: This is a gorgeous game. The effects are great, the animations are very nicely done, and the environments are rich. It looks amazing. Unfortunately, it's yet another generic RPG. Thankfully they seem to have avoided the cliche Elves and Hobbits fare, but I'm not sure how many more Fighter-Mage-Rogue parties I want to juggle. MMORPGs just aren't my thing, really, unless they can deliver something really new and interesting. SUN has some creative character designs and abilities, but it's really just the same stuff we've been recycling since D&D.

Tabula Rasa
Type: MMORPG, futuristic/scifi
Platform: PC
Experience: Played Guided Demo
Thoughts: I like the innovation in attack style: you have to point roughly at the thing you want to shoot to hell, and then click it to begin automatically shooting. It's a nice medium between highly manual click-once-per-attack games, and virtually self-playing macrofests. The camera needs a lot of work, though, as things tend to get royally confusing when the action gets thick. Being a relatively experienced FPS player, I find it very annoying for MMOs to "pretend" to be FPS/TPS and yet still feel like very clunky tile-based games. This game has also been "ready to come out and change the world" for years, and yet here it is, stuck as usual at 80% or whatever. As I heard someone comment, "E3 just won't be E3 when Tabula Rasa finally gets released."

Lego Star Wars: Classic Trilogy
Type: Action, I guess
Platform: PSP
Experience: Played Live Demo
Thoughts: This looks like it could be a heck of a lot of fun. I've heard very, very good things about the original Lego Star Wars. Sadly, the demo unit I had was stuck in some dead-zone where it was impossible to progress in the game, and the unit then crashed on me shortly thereafter. So overall a disappointment, but there may be hope; the people around me with functioning units seemed to enjoy it a lot.

Type: Action MMO
Platform: PC
Experience: PvP Skirmish
Thoughts: This looks like it could be very, very good. The game we played was a sort of CTF variant where you have energy crystals that you have to stash in your "base." The catch is that the other team can also steal your crystals. This game moves incredibly fast - at about 45 seconds on the clock, our team was winning handily 3-1. By the time the game ended, we had lost 0-4. Gameplay is intense, graphics are good enough to be immersive and give a good experience, and the controls are fairly unobtrusive. My main complaint was that, for such a fast-paced game, the abilities had painfully long casting times, and a couple of the abilities were very hard to figure out how to use correctly with no tutorial. A little fine-tuning on some of the timings and a gentler player introduction, and this could be a very impressive game.

Time Crisis 4
Type: Arcade Shooter
Platform: Custom (lightguns and arcade cabinet)
Experience: Played Live Demo
Thoughts: As a fan of the Time Crisis series, I was very excited to see this game. There's the usual token storyline going on, with some interesting new twists. I won't spoil them. The graphics are absolutely awesome, and deliver a very noticeable advancement to TC3. The guns have been tweaked a bit and feel a lot more deadly now. Despite the updates, though, it still feels very much at home for a TC fan. My only complaint is that the little "incoming damage" warning flashes are very badly timed; whereas in TC2 I can virtually always dodge, TC3 was almost too fast for my tastes - I can't lift my foot off the pedal quickly enough to get out of danger much of the time. TC4 is even harder. Hopefully that'll get tweaked a bit; or maybe I just need to put a couple more points in DEX. I'll definitely shed quite a few quarters on this beauty when I see it in real life.

Type: FPS
Platform: Xbox360, maybe others
Experience: Watched theatrical demo
Thoughts: Kind of a yawner; yet another FPS with yet another somewhat cheezy story about the Evil Megacorporation that takes over the world and is secretly killing its army of mercenary soldiers with artificial stimulants. The gameplay video didn't show anything that I haven't seen a dozen times since Doom, and since I don't own a 360, I won't be running out to get one just to play Haze. The backstory is kind of funny though, as it makes several very tongue-in-cheek jabs at the Bush campaign to "freedomize the world with democracy" and such rubbish.

Supreme Commander
Type: RTS
Platform: PC
Experience: Watched theatrical demo, watched presentation from Chris Taylor
Thoughts: Yep, Chris Taylor is back in the RTS scene, and it's about bloody time. SC sports a new take on tactical control: you don't have a "scenario-level" map vs. a "detail map" anymore; you can actually smoothly zoom the same map display between the two levels. They're doing full widescreen support and full dual-monitor support. The interface is very elegant and has some cool features like synchronized attacks. Overall this game looks absolutely amazing. There were some guys in line with me for the theatre presentation that had been through the show 7 times; I can't blame them. This is a must-buy for any RTS fan.

Joint Task Force
Type: RTS
Platform: PC
Experience: Watched presentation
Thoughts: Could be good; looks fairly fun. You can do stuff like have your infantry units hide in the brush and ambush people. Graphics are superb. The gameplay also gets away from the traditional "magically spawn units from factory buildings" paradigm, and actually paradrops in reinforcements, real-life style. It's pretty cool to watch a bunch of guys rope in from a Blackhawk and then be there for you to command. They also have a nifty feature where the map of the battlefield expands dynamically depending on the events of the mission you're on, so you can't just glance at the terrain and predict what you have to do to beat the mission. Overall this game shows a lot of promise, and as an RTS geek, I'll probably buy it eventually (assuming it turns out as well as it looks like it can).

Type: Sandbox, GTA-style
Platform: Not sure
Experience: Watched theatrical presentation
Thoughts: This game is bloody hilarious. It's chock full of crude humour and rough insults, and very much fits the atmosphere of the movie. I'll probably rent it at the very least just to experience all the hilarious stuff. To basically sum up the core of the game, you go around beating up on people and running drug deals to earn "Balls Points." Get enough Balls, and you can take over Miami. Cutting-edge lowbrow entertainment.

Type: Simulation
Platform: Xbox, and some others I don't care about
Experience: Watched a demo by a Lucasarts marketroid
Thoughts: I'm getting this for sure. Picture Roller Coaster Tycoon, except with the added bonus of being able to talk to all of your customers RPG-style, and with the major bonus of being able to actually ride all of the rides in your park. They even have a set of classic arcade games that you can install as park attractions, and then play yourself as minigames. Basically it's like RCT with a GTA-style mode where you can drop in and just do whatever you want, without worrying about managing the park itself. As a major RCT addict back in the day, I absolutely can't miss this one.

There were a lot of others, but those are the ones I can remember at the moment. I may add more if I recall them later.

E3 2006 Recap

Posted by , 14 May 2006 - - - - - - · 62 views

E3 2006 Recap
Alright, here we go. I was planning on doing running entries all through the show, but I quickly realized two important things: that my laptop's battery life sucks and I couldn't use it to take notes during the conference sessions and write journal updates at the same time, and that I was too interested in the show to waste time sitting around writing when I could have been playing games instead.

So, I'm going to brain-dump my stuff from E3 here over the next few days, into assorted topics and such. It won't be in any sane order, a lot of things will blur together, and frankly I probably won't make a whole hell of a lot of sense. But if you're desperate for juicies from E3, stick around.

The Trip Home

One word of advice: if you ever make travel arrangements involving other people, make sure you leave either before or at the same time as the guy who has the rental car. Because otherwise, you might get to do what I did on Saturday, and spend 14 hours in an airport with jack to do for entertainment.

Actually, to be honest, it wasn't that bad. I've spent a lot of long layovers in airports, and after four days of E3 madness, I was frankly a little glad for the chance to just sit and sleep for a while.

One guy came up and nervously asked me if I was going to miss my flight. He was rather shocked to hear that my flight wasn't for another 10 hours still (at that point). I also got snagged by a Hare Krishna who saw my laptop sitting next to me and decided I was a good target because (and I quote) "you look smart enough to be close to transcendence." Uhh... thanks, I think. I humoured him for about 10 minutes just because I had nothing better to do.

I also tried very hard not to kill myself from supressing laughter while an eldery and very conservative couple sat next to me and tried to watch me play GTA2. (Speaking of which, if you ever get the chance to play a GTA title in a crowded airport, go for it and enjoy it - it's one of life's amazing little dirty pleasures.)

Anyways, I eventually made it out of there and back home. The flight arrived this morning (Sunday) at about 7AM. The rest of the day was pretty much spent sleeping and slogging through several hundred backlogged pieces of email, 90% of which was (of course) spam. Such wonderful fun.

Collected Thoughts on E3
I had a few thoughts during the week that I thought were worth noting down, if nothing else than my own reference for next year. Actually, I'm making most of these up as I sit here, and I just wanted an excuse to use a bulleted list in this post.

  • Networking is Everything
    Last year (my first E3) I was basically in total shock the entire week, and I think I talked to all of one person in any kind of depth about games or technology. This year, I made a point to hunt down fellow programmers and pick their brains. Programmers are great because they're so eager to talk about their nifty technology that they'll spill all kinds of nice details without realizing that they're probably not supposed to be telling competitors how their tech works.

    Actually, sadly, the only programmer I really had a good talk with was from the Ageia PhysX booth, and we kicked around some thoughts on multicore/multiprocessor development. I also had to bemoan the lack of any real reason to integrate a physics engine with a game that occurs entirely in a vacuum, because their stuff is just so damn cool. Maybe we'll come up with some possibilities for X4 (I already have visions in my head of space stations spinning slowly as atmosphere vents and combusts from one end... then rupturing and exploding in massive chain reactions with debris glancing off of the surrounding ships and kicking them off course... mmmmm.)

    Actually, I did talk to one other ex-programmer, but he now does marketing and management type stuff. He described his job, but my eyes glazed over when I realized it didn't involve bit-twiddling or nifty algorithms, so I don't remember what exactly it was. We did have fun ribbing a CS student with nightmare stories of 100-hour crunch weeks, though.

    Most of the rest of the guys out there are marketroids, which frankly I guess is to be expected. It's kind of frustrating to finally see people in person representing some product/service, and then have them basically shunt you off to their website for some presentation. I have questions now, dammit, and you should be able to answer them.

    But in any case, networking is definitely everything at E3. It's all who you know. In fact, from talking with some of the press people, if you drop the right names, you can get into all manner of nifty closed-door events. Sometimes I wonder if I'm not in the wrong segment of this business...

    Actually, the really sucky part was basically being independent this year. Without a company on the floor to back your name up, nobody really cares (unless you're Bill Gates or Robin Williams or something). Last year we had our PR guy out showing off the X3 rolling demo, but I didn't get the chance to capitalize on his networking contacts. Hopefully next year we'll actually have a show presence and I'll be able to do a little more schmoozing.

  • Someone Got Better Swag Than You
    No matter how cool your swag is, someone got better swag than you. Apparently certain press members get some really nice (and expensive) goodies when dropping certain names. Lucky bastards. I was really proud of my glowing pen, too...

  • Time Dilation Is Real
    I have no idea how I pulled it off: I actually spent more time in sessions this year than last year, did less frantic scrambling around on the show floor, and yet managed to actually see a good half-dozen theatre demos and play close to 20 games. All I can say is, definitely push your time for all it's worth. Cram down a good caffienated drink and a powerbar just before the show, and you can last pretty much all day.

  • Carry Bottled Water
    I made the mistake of ignoring my own advice from last year, and didn't carry a bottle of water. I will definitely not do that again next year. Having a drink at hand at all times is very important, since the floor gets very crowded, and thus very hot. Thankfully I memorized the shortest routes to all the accessible water fountains, but it was still a nuisance.

  • Your Shoulders Will Hurt Like Hell
    My muscles are sore, my skin is rubbed raw, and it'll be a week before I can lift anything more significant than a controller or beverage. Especially beware of the swag-bags that have thin rope straps: they dig in to your shoulders (when the bag is laden with swag) and make things miserable. One day after the show I actually had a small cut along my left shoulder which bled a bit. Jeez. My tender nerdflesh is not ready for this vigorous assault.

  • Packing Clothes is for Noobs
    My scheme worked: I packed only three pairs of jeans and two shirts for the entire trip (plus of course all the other necessities). This left me with a vast amount of room for swag; and since swag always includes shirts, I was not wanting for clothing all week. Even with a tiny little suitcase (it'll pass as a carry-on in any US airline, if that tells you anything) I had no trouble at all getting my stuff home.

  • Bring a Backpack
    This is important on two counts. First, you don't want to use the stock bags to carry things all day: they hurt after 8 hours. Second, it gives you spare room for swag on the return trip. Any good backpack also has a spot for a water bottle (see above).

More Coming Later
As my brain continues to recharge, and my sleep patterns return to Somewhat Less Insane, I'll continue posting snippets. I particularly have two things I'd like to talk about at length sometime soon: storytelling in games, and multiprocessing.

By way of a sneak preview:

Storytelling in Games
Every time I'm around a bunch of gamers and game developers, this topic comes up. Pretty much everyone agrees that we're just not getting this right yet. Stories are too hardcoded, too flexible (giving the player too little guidance), or too expensive to produce and cover all the bases. Doing storytelling is hard in games, and we're far from mastering it.

However, I think we might have some weapons that will be usable in the fight to improve gaming and the stories that are featured in games. I've taken to calling it "emergent storytelling" in my head, although that really fails to capture the essence of the concept. Basically, it centers around a critical observation: go to any gamer community, and the vast majority of the discussions will center around recountings of how some players did some stuff: stories of big fights, guild raids, how someone defeated a tricky puzzle, and so on. The idea I have is to basically reframe gaming in a way that heavily emphasizes that kind of thing, but in a way that hasn't really been done before.

This is really the culmination of over a year of pondering on this topic on my part, and dovetails very nicely with the tech I've been working on for Egosoft. So I'm really looking forward to fleshing out this concept a bit and kicking it around with other gamers and developers.

This should come as no major revelation to anyone with some real-world gamedev experience, but multiprocessing programming is hard. Concurrency issues are hard. I have some thoughts on the Right and Wrong ways to approach concurrent programming in games, what programming technologies are needed to get us there faster, and the challenges of adopting (and maybe creating) those technologies for existing game studios.

And there you have it: far more crap than any mortal would ever want to read. That's why this is a storage dimension, after all; reality couldn't conveniently contain all the bilge that I pile up in here. Now if only the UI made it easier to extract interesting items...

E3: Day 1

Posted by , 09 May 2006 - - - - - - · 68 views

Medieval Times was a good run... made lots of ruckus and generally enjoyed ourselves. The crowd was fairly into the show (which is always good) so we had to make a point of out-yelling and out-fake-medieval-insulting everyone else. Great stuff.

We basically decided that none of the first-session workshops were interesting, and slept in a bit this morning. The first session we hit was at 11:45, and covered MMORPG development/design strategies. Fairly interesting stuff, but not much that hasn't been churned around the industry already several hundred times. We did get in a few minutes late (due to sleeping in) but chances are those first few minutes didn't involve any terrifically fascinating material.

The next session was substantially more interesting, and addressed the challenges and potential for designing on next-gen console systems. Lots of good notes from that which I'll expand on later.

For now, I'm sitting outside the third workshop of the day, which will cover "how the pros design games." Should be good for a laugh if nothing else.

Anyways... free wifi rocks. I'm off to check my mail and get some battery recharging done on my laptop. More to follow later.

E3: The Final Countdown

Posted by , 07 May 2006 - - - - - - · 81 views

Everything is packed, except stuff like my toothbrush which I'll still want access to between now and tomorrow morning. Got my laptop all hardened and ready for exposure to public wifi hotspots (I'm posting from it now, as a matter of fact).

This year, I have a strategy: I'm packing only jeans and a couple of T-shirts. My goal is to fill out my wardrobe by picking up free swag-shirts from the show floor, and thus save valuable luggage room for swag. Some other improvements on last year include a nicer pair of shoes (to help eliminate blisters) and a shoulder-strap for my laptop case, so I can carry it around the expo without my arms wanting to kill me.

We'll arrive in LA around 12:15 tomorrow afternoon, check in to the hotel, and then go bum around - Medieval Times is currently on the agenda. After that it's showtime.

Being a tight-fisted guy, I found the cheapest hotel I possibly could - $55 a night, and about a mile from the convention center (so easy walking distance). Of course, chances are this means that there will be some... less than optimal accomodations waiting for us, but hey, at least it'll be adventurous. If it comes down to it I'll hide in the Halo 3 booth at night and sleep there.

Next report (hopefully) will come from the floor at E3, probably between/after the workshop sessions on Tuesday. Stay tuned, because you know you care.

E3 Checklist

Posted by , 06 May 2006 - - - - - - · 81 views

E3 2006 Checklist
  • Do laundry so as to have sufficient clothing (check)

  • Cram significant portion of said laundry into small luggage space

  • Gather up various necessities of life and fit them in between articles of clothing in said luggage

  • Make sure laptop is ready to go (i.e. is safe for use on public wifi hotspots)

  • Print out E-tickets and confirm flight

  • Formulate schedule and plan out conference session attendence

  • Become overwhelmed by it all, summon a large amount of laziness, and bum around playing Planescape: Tormet instead (check)

I'm also hungry. Time to make some food to eat.

OK, I'm working this time, I swear.

Posted by , 05 May 2006 - - - - - - · 106 views

Well, last night didn't run so good. I ended up passed out under my desk at about 1:30AM. (I was under the desk so that I could keep my headphones on and thus avoid having to reach up and stop Winamp. It made sense at the time.) So naturally I woke back up around 3, sore as all-get-out, and moved over to a proper bed. I then woke up at 2PM utterly convinced that it was 9PM. Blegh.

Anyways, I've actually gotten the lead out and gone back to work. I'm not quite where I would have liked to be this week, but I'm close. I have the timing resolution logic all mapped out (as predicted, it wasn't nearly as hard as I thought) and will actually start expressing all of this in code shortly.

Milton will have to wait another night, but I fully intend to get it publicly serving a "this server basically defunct while I party like an animal at E3 all week" page.

I noticed something interesting on this project. Now that there's actual code in an actual IDE, my whole feeling about the project has changed. Even though I still can't run the code and see stuff on the screen, each little step feels like real progress. I guess it's a lot more concrete now, in a lot of ways. I actually started thinking of some of my tweaks as "feature additions" and "bug fixes" even though the code has never even been compiled yet.

Thinking back, I've always kind of been like that on projects. When I first started out, I hated doing planning stuff (like paper designs) because it didn't involve code. I've long since learned that the actual typing of code is a relatively minor part of working on nontrivial projects, but some of that attitude sort of lingers. Poking keys and spelling weird magic words all over the monitor is just cool, and it sort of defines my connection to the craft of programming.

I remember back in the old days when games showed little diagnostic console messages when they were starting up. A lot of my projects in those days were laden with meaningless dummy screens that tried to mimic that effect. I remember even writing a little QuickBASIC app that would "probe your video hardware" by repeatedly trying to change the screen mode and seeing which modes raised runtime errors. It was utterly useless, but I had it spew a lot of technical-looking text and flashing numbers, and at the time I felt like the cutting-edge guru of all programming wizardry.

To some extent that sort of feeling has never really gone away. It's a sort of special feeling to sit down and spit out all of these cryptic, magical incantations, and conjure up working software on the screen. A selfish little scrap of my ego likes to try to show normal people (as in non-programmers) my code in a silly little attempt to impress them with my lore. I still like barfing out complicated and technical-sounding error messages, even when it is counterproductive to do so (ERROR 0x75b3 from SMTP service - incorrect delivery moniker is just so much more sexy than I don't recognize that email address).

Most of that ego has been buried under the realization that the magical incantations are largely irrelevant. The thinking that produces them is what matters, and once you are trained to do the thinking, the actual spell words don't really matter a whole lot. I've also kind of gotten fed up with other people's software giving crap error messages - such as the "Incorrect Version of DirectX" message I was getting from GTA2, which took me an hour of disassembly and hackery to track down to a missing DLL file... why couldn't they have just said "You need DMUSIC.DLL version Foo.48.27489 or later" and been done with it?

I've loved programming since I first discovered it, almost 15 years ago now (that's a very scary thought). I still do - in many ways, my appreciation has deepened the more I've learned. In other ways, that appreciation has shifted and changed. I see things much differently than I did when I first started out, and sometimes the changes are drastic enough that I don't quite understand them. I suppose that's to be expected, and probably a good sign, but it's still a little bittersweet.

Some days, it would be cool to be innocent again, and feel a sense of almost spiritual wonder while browsing through the pages of incomprehensible gibberish of an EXE file opened in DOS-EDIT.

Some days.

Childlike Idiocy

Posted by , 04 May 2006 - - - - - - · 83 views

Here's the situation: I woke up about 10AM yesterday (May 3) and promptly pulled an all-nighter. Around 7AM this morning, I napped for about two hours.

It is presently 11:52PM on May 4. I am, for some unholy reason, strongly considering staying up all night again. I think this might have something to do with sleep deprivation, impaired judgment, common-sense deficiencies, melting polar ice caps, and/or the extinction of giant pandas. Actually, I'm quite certain that there is a direct and irrefutable link to giant pandas in here someplace, although I question the ability of modern science to discern it clearly. It may well take a few generations of soul-searching before we divine the truth at work here. I feel this deep in the core of my being, with a sort of intuitive certainty that is simultaneously borne of and far deeper than faith. I would go so far as to say that I am sensing the beginnings of a connection to one of the deepest gestalts in all of the universe - one so profound and significant that I cannot gaze upon it directly with the deflated eyeballs of my mind, but must rather glance obliquely upon it lest I be destroyed by sudden exposure to such a dense locus of majesty.

Running a sleepless marathon sounds good for other reasons, too. Like the fact that I'm a day behind on work and have sort of lied to myself, and am currently trying hard to pretend that, should I in fact stay up all night, I'll spend some of my time working. But deep down, I know that's all bollocks. The truth is, I rediscovered a couple of webcomics (UserFriendly and General Protection Fault if your sickeningly obsessed, overly inquisitive, borderline voyeuristic mind has to know). I haven't kept up with them, and there's something like a year or two of archived strips to read, which naturally is gonna take a while.

There is a part of my brain, of course, which stubbornly insists on acting like it is sane, despite clear evidence that I am not, in fact, in any way of sound mind. I've tried to beat this little corner of my mind into submission, but to no avail. I have called this slice of my psyche Rodney King by virtue of alcohol, sleep deprivation, fast cars, and beautiful women; but it will not be so named, and instead parries my onslaught and styles itself some kind of Rosa Parks, or - dare I say it - Dr. King hisseff. As the crushing weight of my insanity, the column of so many tanks, seeks to pass through the Tiananmen Square of existence, this lone scrap of brain tissue stands stubbornly in the path, refusing to back down.

This part of my brain insists on asking me what the practical benefits of this all-night romp will be. The answer, of course, is that I'll sack out like a drunkard all day tomorrow, get no work done, party all weekend, panic at the last minute before E3, and generally risk all manner of disaster. The rogue slice of my brain does not like this answer. I tried to bribe it with promises of classical philosophy and triple integrals on the beach at sunset, but, in all its prudery, it would have none of my advances. Whore.

Of course, nature is not without its ever-present sense of balance. To counteract this festering bit of rational responsibility, I've brewed up a witch's grog of lies, cajoling, and threats of exposure to Daikatana. My weapons against sanity are powerful, and I am certain they shall gain victory this day.

In treachery, the Most Vile Foes Who Are Sane have sought the allegiance of the Vast Host of Unconsciousness, who threaten to overwhelm our glorious Legions of Revelry and WebSurfing with the temptuous filth they call Sleep. Since, being such cowardly dogs, our enemy has seen fit to invoke this atrocity, we are forced to respond in the only way we can: with escalation.

Indeed, I speak of the unleashing of Weapons of Mass Stimulation: caffiene, in myriad forms, ingested at disgusting rates, and coupled with the indomitable strength of Loud Music and Junk Food.

We make here our final stand, though fate be aligned against us. Regardless of the outcome of this night, our courage and noble deeds shall echo through eternity, and for our valiant righteous efforts we shall attain our rewards. To arms, my brethren, and stand firm against this wickedness that would lull us into dreams and rest! DEATH TO THE SLEEPY ONE! LONG LIVE THE KING OF STARING BLANKLY AT A MONITOR AT UNHOLY HOURS OF THE NIGHT IN A DAZE WHILST WAITING FOR THE ENERGY DRINKS TO KICK IN!


More Milton

Posted by , 04 May 2006 - - - - - - · 66 views

Well, I found the cause of the port-forwarding issue: one of the routing hops on my LAN had accidentally been switched to firewall mode, so it was silently dropping the reply packets from the server to the Internet. The net result was that a lot of SYN packets were showing up; the server would ACK, but the ACK would be dropped, and then subsequent SYNs would flag as invalid because the local network stack believed that the next packet should have been a SYN/ACK, not a repeated SYN. So that explains the symptoms noted in packet captures.

The net result is that port forwarding works once again - keycount.piqsoftware.com is back live and pointing to the dummy placeholder page that got put up on my spare Windows server box after Milton blew up.

So tonight I think I'll put Milton up "live" and move the placeholder over (assuming I don't crash from this marathon I'm on, during which I've slept about 2 hours in the last 2 days). All I really need to do to get it finished is install PHP5 and MySQL, and that can be done with minimal disruption to the service of a static placeholder page.

The Milton Chronicles, Part 5

Posted by , 03 May 2006 - - - - - - · 89 views

I was bored and wired on caffiene, so I went ahead and got Webmin and Apache running on Milton. Entirely uneventful. I then proceeded to waste a few minutes hacking up a little intro page for the "default" server - since Milton will be virtual-server hosting several parallel sites, I need a sort of catch-all to fall back on in case someone goes pure IP on me.

I'd link it, but unfortunately, I still haven't bothered to suss out why port forwarding is dead on my router. So you won't be able to see it until someday which is not this week.


Posted by , 03 May 2006 - - - - - - · 58 views

They were skeptical.

They've always been skeptical.

Deep down inside, some part of me is unable to blame them. After all, they made a compelling case.

But now I have proven them wrong.

That's right, ladies and gentlemen.

They are all wrong.

Spending hours learning how to reverse engineer Win32 software was not a waste of time, as so many would have led me to believe. As a matter of fact, I am here to tell you today that I have used my skills for Good.

Not just any good, mind you, but Good - perhaps even the Greatest Good.

I speak, of course, of getting old games to run on new OSes.

Yes, ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls - I have successfully figured out why Grand Theft Auto 2 would run on certain machines, and not others. Why, with all those frustratingly obscure little messages about not having the right version of DirectX, the glorious game would simply die, instead of ushering the user into a rapturously delightful realm of mayhem and mischief.

It took about an hour with OllyDBG and my copy of Reversing. I started by running the game until the "Incorrect DirectX version" message appeared, then pausing the process in OllyDBG, and walking back up the call stack. I then walked through the code by hand several times, tracing out exactly how events transpired to reach this particular error. Locating the actual DX initialization code was fairly easy; but it took a fair bit of painstaking number-juggling in hex to figure out exactly where things started to go pear-shaped. I traced it down to a call to LoadLibrary followed by a call to CoCreateEx, which is of course part of COM. Thanks to OllyDBG's handy string-location features, it was pretty clear that the barfing was due to a single file not being loaded correctly.

Before I kill myself (and you) with all this melodrama, here's the dirt: it comes down to a certain DirectX DLL file that is present when installing old versions of DX, but is no longer present in DX9. This file is DMUSIC.DLL. So if your machine, like mine, came stock with DX9 and no older versions of DX, you will not have this file. Downloading DMUSIC.DLL from the web, putting it in your GTA2 folder, and running REGSVR32 on it will fix the problem.

My next project is to get my copy of the original Deadlock to work; it runs without sound when told it is on an NT OS, and runs with sound under Win9x/ME but then promptly freezes after a few seconds of play. I've narrowed it down to some kind of infinite loop going on, but that'll take a lot more effort to really crack I think. I'll play with it later.

For now, I go now to enjoy the luscious fruits of my labor, and run over lots of pedestrians.

October 2016 »

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