Jun 072015

Kung Fury: Street Rage logoSo after the release of that crazy crowdfunded (and free of charge) movie [Kung Fury], there is also a game! Now that was fast. Made by the Swedish game developers of [Hello There], the game is basically a clone of [One Finger Death Punch], as many gamers have already pointed out. Not that anybody seems to mind that – me included. It’s a superficially very simple 2-button street fighting game, where one button means “punch/kick/whatever to the left” and the other “punch/kick/whatever to the right”. Don’t let the seeming simplicity fool you though. There is more skill involved than you might think…

So let’s have a look at the intro of the game, which strongly resembles an 80s arcade machine style:

Kung Fury: Street Rage; That's our Hero!

Kung Fury: Street Rage; That’s our Hero!

So with the use of some Direct3D 9.0c shaders, the game simulates the look of an old CRT monitor, just like the arcade machines of old had! At the press of a button or after waiting for a bit we’re greeted with this:

Kung Fury: Street Rage - Insert Coin

Insert Coin!

Another button press and we can hear our virtual player throwing a coin into the machine, which gives us three lives (after being hit three times, we’d go down for good). And then, whenever any enemy approaches us from either side, you just press left or right to punch, kick, shoot or electrify the guy. It’s ok, they’re all Nazis anyway. We do this with our pals Barbarianna, Triceracop and Hackerman standing around in the background – all three as seen in the movie of course, just like all the enemies we’re beating up:

Kung Fury: Street Rage; Beat 'em up!

There are splatter effects even!

That screenshot is from the very beginning of the game, where we can only see our lowest-end Nazi foes. There are some Swedish Aryans too, which can take two hits, then that clone chick with Kung Fury essence infused into her, which needs a more advanced left/right combo to put down, and more. Like the kicking machine and the mysterious Ninja, all as seen in the movie. As long as you don’t miss too much (you have limited range) or get hit, you’ll build up a score bonus too. Not sure if there are more enemies than that, I haven’t really gotten that far yet.

Actually, I did reach a new High Score while doing those screenshots accidentally, leaving both chicks behind me, pretty neat:

Kung Fury: Street Rage; New High Score!

A new High Score!

Now Thor might still be doable, but Hackerman will be one tough nut to crack. I don’t think I’ll ever make it to the top though, the game is pretty damn hard. As it progresses, it starts speeding up more and more, and it’ll also throw more of the harder enemies at you, which will require quick reaction and sharp perception to get the combos right. “Just mash two buttons” may sound easy as said, but don’t underestimate it! Like with “One Finger Death Punch”, only the most skillful players will have a chance to reach the top!

When you’ve got enough, just press <Esc> (on the PC), and you’re asked whether you really want to quit. In an interesting way:

Kung Fury: Street Rage; Quitting the game.

Quitting/bluescreening the game.

If you confirm to quit the game, you’ll get another shader-based CRT effect thrown in:

Kung Fury: Street Rage; Quitting the game

It’s shutting down…

I haven’t really managed to play this for more than 5 minutes in a row, which sounds like very little, but this game is extremely fast-paced, so I can’t take much more in one go. ;) It’s quite a lot of fun though, and while not as sophisticated as “One Finger Death Punch”, it’s awesome in its own right, given the Kung Fury cheesiness, the CRT look and the chiptune-like soundtrack of the game.

The game is available in both paid and partially also free editions on several platforms now, and while I’ve read that the free versions do have ads, the paid ones definitely don’t, as I can vouch for on the PC platform at least. So here are the links:

  • [PC version] @ Steam for 1.99€ / $2.50. Supports >=Windows XP, >=MacOS X 10.6 and SteamOS plus regular Linux on x86_32/x86_64.
  • [PC+ARM version] @ Windows Store for $2.29. Supports Windows >=8.0 on x86_32/x86_64 and ARM architectures.
  • [Android version] @ Google Play for free or for 2.46€ with ads removed. Also available as a [separate APK file]. Supports Android >=2.0.1.
  • [iOS version] @ iTunes for free or for $1.99 with ads removed. Supports iOS >=6.0 on the iPhone 5/6, iPad and iPod Touch.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ll take another shot at number 3! :)

Sep 062014

The Grim Dawn logoGame compatibility is generally becoming a major issue on Windows XP and XP x64, and I’m not even talking about Direct3D 10/11 here. Microsofts own software development kits and development environments (VisualStudio) come preconfigured in a pretty “Anti-XP” way these days, even if you intend to just build Direc3D 9 or OpenGL 4 applications with it.

There are examples where even Indie developers building Direct3D 9.0c games refuse to deal with the situation in any way other than “Please go install a new OS”, Planetary Annihilation being the prime example. Not so for Grim Dawn though, a project by a former Titan Quest developer which I [helped fund] on Kickstarter a while back. In their recent build numbered B20, an issue arose that seemed to be linked to XP exclusively. See this:

Grim Dawn B20 if_indextoname() Bug

Grim Dawn B20 if_indextoname() bug, in this case on a German 32-Bit Windows XP. Looks similar on XP x64 though. © by [Hevel].

More information can be seen in the corresponding Grim Dawn [forum thread], where I and others reported the issue, determining that it was on XP only in the process. That thread actually consists of two issues, just focus on the if_indextoname() one. This is also documented at [Microsofts MSDN library].

The function seems to be related to DNS name resolution and is a part of the Windows IP Helper API on Windows Vista and newer.  if_indextoname() does however not exist on any NT5.x system, which means Windows 2000, XP and 2oo3 Server which includes XP x64 and there is no fallback DLL. My assumption is, that this happened because of the newly added multiplayer netcode in the game.

Now the interesting part: After me and a few other XP users reported the issue starting on the 30th of August, it took the developers only 3 days to roll out a hotfix via Steam, and all was good again! I believe nowadays you can judge developers by how well they support niche systems, and in this case support was stellar. It may also have something to do with the Grim Dawn developers actively participating in their forums of course. That’s also great, as you can interact with them directly! No in-between publisher customer support center crap, but actually people who know their stuff, ’cause they’re the ones building it!

So I’d like to say a big “Thank you, and keep up the good work!” here!

Mar 312014

South Park: The stick of truth logoWhile marching towards the supposed “end” of my favorite operating system on the Microsoft side of things, there is a small piece of good news. So let’s get to the simple part first: The new South Park game, title “The Stick of Truth” works fine on Windows XP Professional x64 Edition SP2. The Steamworks title explicitly states “Windows XP SP3” on Steam, which would be the 32-Bit version only. Still, no hacking, no tricks, you just click on it and it works. So that’s that. There is however a more problematic issue at had with that game, and that’s the censorship.

Allegedly self-censored on certain target platforms and markets, the game isn’t easily obtained in its uncut form, depending on where you’re sitting and what machine you’re playing on. In the USA, there won’t be much of a problem. In Australia it’s getting troublesome, and same goes for the EU. I’ve been researching a bit, and it seems all versions released to the German and Austrian markets received the maximum cut. That would mean some anal probing and abortion scenes (Ubisofts self-censoring) are gone just as well as the Nazi zombie swastikas and Nazi zombie salutes (Not sure whether self-censored or a result of the German and Austrian constitutions, likely the latter).

It doesn’t end there though: Due to “marketing reasons” it appears to be the case that the UK console versions still have the swastikas, but not the other scenes, such as the anal probing. The UK PC version however remains 100% uncut. What a chaos. Also, the Nazi censorship in Austria and Germany is questionable at best. While portrayal of such imagery on TV is legal, as long as it is done for either making fun of the Nazis (“artistic purposes”) or for historical purposes, this is not the case for interactive games, even if all you may do in such games is fight and kill the Nazis. Or hilarious Nazi zombies, in this case.

Now, you can buy the US version and import it to Germany of course, but this being a Steamworks title, you can’t activate the game on Steam, plus there might be issues with customs. And no activation means no play anyway. You could open up a VPN tunnel to a United States gateway and activate by pretending you’re sitting in the States, but I didn’t want to do crap like that. Instead I tried my luck with the UK PC version, as it was supposed to be uncut and within the EMEA region. So would it allow me to activate it, and would it download the correct version?

Luckily, the answer is yes to both:

Oh, and there are even Nazi zombie animals to encounter. Not to spoil you too much here, so I won’t tell you which ones. But you can be sure, you’ll see tons of stuff that you know from the TV series, and the game delivers around 20 hours of nonsense-filled South Park action. While a little short for a role-playing game, I would say that it’s just fine for this specific one here.

And the important thing: If you’re sitting in the EMEA region or Russia, just get the UK version, stay on the PC and switch your Steam to English. Then nothing can go wrong and you’ll experience the game as it was intended by the creators, Matt Stone and Trey Parker.

The interesting part is, that [this Austrian game store] actually does sell the [US uncut version] and also the [UK uncut version] (it says there you need VPN to the UK for that too, which proved to be untrue), so how illegal can it be?! Probably not at all. Just like it was with “The Witcher”, for some games it’s still best to get the UK version!

Jan 262014

Brotherhood of Nod logoSometimes when you have a seriously weird problem and cannot solve it by yourself, the solution might just turn up – years later. As it happened just now. So, I was playing Command & Conquer 3 – Tiberium Wars again, a game that was released in 2007, so it’s somewhat old by now. Still a classic in my book, as its gameplay is so similar to the very first Command & Conquer released by Westwood Studios in 1995.

At some point though, out of nowhere, the cutscene videos started to stutter. I wasn’t sure if it was some video codec fucking things up, or some graphics driver update, who knows? I stripped my system clean of all DirectShow codecs, tried different drivers, tried to dis-/enable vertical synchronization, everything. Nothing worked. And today, I thought “why not search the web for this one last time”.

And I found [this]German flag, which probably referenced [this thread] on the Steam forums. Those guys are talking about changing a weird option in a C&C3 configuration file that doesn’t sound as if it could be related to video playback performance. But why not try? So I navigated to %APPDATA%\Command & Conquer 3 Tiberium Wars\Profiles\<ingame username>\ (adjust for Windows Vista and newer, this path is XP style) and opened the Options.ini, which looked like this:

AlternateMouseSetup = 0
AmbientVolume = 50.000000
AnimationLOD = UltraHigh
AntiAliasingLOD = 8
AudioQualitySetting = High
Brightness = 50
DecalLOD = High
EffectsLOD = UltraHigh
EnableSpecialEditionContent = 1
HasSeenLogoMovies = yes
IdealStaticGameLOD = VeryLow
ModelLOD = High
MovieVolume = 70.000000
MusicVolume = 70.000000
Resolution = 2560 1600
SFXVolume = 70.000000
ScrollFactor = 50
SendDelay = 0
ShaderLOD = UltraHigh
ShadowLOD = UltraHigh
ShowTickerAds = 1
ShowTickerNews = 1
StaticGameLOD = Custom
TerrainLOD = UltraHigh
TextureQualityLOD = High
ToolTipDelay = 0
VoiceVolume = 70.000000
WaterLOD = UltraHigh

Then I changed the option IdealStaticGameLOD from VeryLow to UltraHigh, just like those people were suggesting, saved and re-launched the game. And gone were all woes! Ha! And it took me so many years to find this. I guess when I searched the web back then, the solution was not yet discovered. I still don’t get what a level-of-detail setting has to do with smooth video playback, especially since it gets faster when you set it to a supposedly more demanding value, but oh well. At least it finally works now. And in a few years, when I install the game again (if I still can, depending on my operating system), I know where to look for the solution. ;)

Kane is pleased with video playback performance now

Kane is now pleased with video playback performance

Jan 112014

SteamOS logoYep, it’s SteamOS time again. Last time I’ve tried to cover its basic operation, running Steam itself and a few independently developed Steam games. But what I felt was still lacking was support for any average Linux application. Don’t get me wrong, SteamOS isn’t meant as a general purpose desktop operating system, I know that, but since the game selection is still somewhat limited, you might want to look into other things you can do with this OS. Initially, the system is configured to fetch binary packages only from Valves own server. Let’s have a look at the /etc/apt/sources.list which defines the package sources for Debians apt package manager:

## internal SteamOS repo
deb http://repo.steampowered.com/steamos alchemist main contrib non-free
deb-src http://repo.steampowered.com/steamos alchemist main contrib non-free

So as you can see, everything you’ll install using apt will come from the Steam server itself. And let me just say that ain’t very much. Last time I mentioned that SteamOS is a modified Debian 7.1, so now we’re going to try and see how compatible the userlands of the two operating systems really are. As user root, let’s add the following package sources for Debian stable generated by [this web tool] to /etc/apt/sources.list:

## Debian repos:
deb http://ftp.at.debian.org/debian stable main contrib non-free
deb-src http://ftp.at.debian.org/debian stable main contrib non-free

deb http://ftp.debian.org/debian/ wheezy-updates main contrib non-free
deb-src http://ftp.debian.org/debian/ wheezy-updates main contrib non-free

deb http://security.debian.org/ wheezy/updates main contrib non-free
deb-src http://security.debian.org/ wheezy/updates main contrib non-free

(This will become invalid as soon as Jessie becomes the next stable Debian release, replacing Wheezy. If you want to stay on Wheezy with SteamOS, change the “stable” strings to “wheezy”)

After that, also as root, run the command aptitude update to make apt aware of the newly added package sources. Now I tried to install a few typical applications, starting with a seriously fat one: LibreOffice, just like that: aptitude install libreoffice. This one was tricky, as it somehow depends on the proprietary AMD/ATi video card Xorg driver fglrx. Luckily, aptitude can suggest some alternative routes to solve dependencies, and one is to just replace the driver with the one from Debian. This might be suboptimal, but it works.

On top of that – and much more flawlessly so – I installed the Filezilla FTP/SFTP client, The Gimp for graphical content creation and even Wine, in the same simple way. Also, I did something really wrong, vile and perverted with Wine, installing the Apple Safari browser in its MS Windows version on SteamOS Linux. ;)

See the following screenshots:

So, I assume the answer is: Yes, you can turn SteamOS into a more versatile platform rather easily. There may be caveats and you may actually wreck your system doing stuff like that though. So whenever you’re installing new software using apt-get or aptitude, you should pay very close attention to what the package manager is telling you. Otherwise you may accidentally remove or break important packages on your system, worst case being an unbootable machine.

Real Steam Machines will of course ship with a recovery medium to restore the OS into factory condition, but I feel the risks should be mentioned at least. Oh, and running Apple Safari on Wine 1.4.1 really sucks by the way, crashes all the time. ;) Bad luck Debian doesn’t seem to have Wine 1.7. But smaller and older Windows tools should work rather fine.

So yeah, this opens up SteamOS to a wider range of possibilities. In my opinion, Valve should include the Debian package repositories to begin with, or rather mirror them to their own servers and protect their own modifications using repository priority protections to not let the user mess up things too easily.

On top of that – if I were a project leader for that – I’d make my team develop something like the graphical apt frontend “synaptic” in a simpler fashion, maybe like PC-BSDs “AppCafe”, so that people can install software in a super easy way.

I hope Valve is aware of its OS needing some more software variety for the targeted user audience. Most of the people buying Steam Machines are probably not experienced Linux users, so an easier way would be a good idea…

Jan 092014

SteamOS logoI’m usally always willing to try and play around with a new operating system, as I’ve now explored many Linux distributions, BSD UNIX distributions, OpenSolaris, Haiku OS, Windows etc. Now I wanted to give Valves SteamOS a chance to show me what it can do. The [Steam] platform is still the leading platform for digital game distribution besides services like Electronic Arts [Origin] or [GOG]. Other than EA, who focuses on Windows exclusively, Valve Software dared to move its client application onto MacOS X and Linux as well. While rather limited to Ubuntu 12.04 LTS and higher, it was still an important move for gaming on Linux.

Sure, far less games are available on Linux than on Windows, but some AAA titles like X3, Serious Sam 3: BFE or Metro: Last Light are actually available amongst many Indie games. Some use a packaged Wine distribution, some are native ELF binaries.

Now Valve wants to let OEMs like Alienware, Falcon Northwest etc. build dedicated [Steam Machines] (PDF), that will ship with SteamOS (and Steam, naturally) preinstalled. Since SteamOS is not based on Ubuntu Linux, but rather Debian 7.1 Wheezy, a Linux compatibility layer – likely just a set of libraries – has been included to ensure that Linux capable Steam games targeted at the Ubuntu platforms can still work out of the box.

Steam Piston

The original “Steam Piston” prototype machine

But the funny thing: Users may just modify SteamOS to their liking as it will be distributed freely by Valve. Well, it’s a Debian fork after all! So you can already get the official [beta version] or some modified ones that loosen the restrictions like UEFI+GPT booting a little, and build your own Steam Machine if you so desire. Now I had this running on VirtualBox with 3D passthrough via OpenGL enabled. It sucks, but I can at least show you a few indie OpenGL games running, plus my notorious x264 benchmark:

The only game severely misbehaving was “Hotline Miami”, as it would make the whole display manager constantly switch resolutions, making the system almost unusable. Also, other games had problems running in fullscreen, all probably by courtesy of the VirtualBox Xorg driver. I suppose with a native machine and a “real” graphics card driver like nvidia or radeon/fglrx these problems would disappear.

As for other software, the Valve apt repository does give you a very few things, most importantly stuff like their modified Linux kernel source code, but if you’re looking for a wide range of applications like maybe Mozilla Thunderbird, or LibreOffice etc., all that stuff is simply not there yet. You do get a compiler plus toolchain, but what about easy binary package installation? It may be possible to just add the Debian 7 repositories and install stuff from there, but I haven’t attempted that yet. Not sure if that would be safe, as Valve backported a newer kernel and more importantly a newer libc to SteamOS. But I’m gonna try soon and let you know how it worked out.

Maybe I’ll also come up with an installation guide for the x264 benchmark on SteamOS, although it’s naturally quite similar to any other Linux system, given that an almost complete build toolchain is provided by Valve.

Now, given the still meager availability of top-tier games on Linux, the BIG question is: Can Valve succeed with their “Steam Machines” and really make game developers finally go for Linux, or will they fail with the big commercial game studios? Time will tell, but for the first time there is a really big player going for it, so we can have some hope at least, even though some people including myself have reservations about the trustworthiness of Steam. But if this works out, others will surely follow, and we might see bigger Linux game releases even outside of Steam once again!

Jan 072014

XCOM: Enemy Within logoA while ago I have published an [article] describing the modifications and source code published by the Steam forum users KawaiiSara and ScavengerSpb to deal with XCOM: Enemy Unknown not running on Windows XP (dealt with by KawaiiSara) and Windows XP Pro x64 Edition (dealt with by ScavengerSpb). In short, what they did was to map certain kernel32.dll API calls that only exist on >=Vista to a Microsoft compatibility DLL called fileextd.dll. This is officially supported by Microsoft on Windows XP in fact, but some developers choose not to use it, or maybe they simply don’t know about it. The proper header file fileextd.h would be available in the Microsoft platform SDK, but my assumption still is, that the developers of XCOM have no clue about this. I tried to tell them, but I presume that my suggestion never reached the development team, getting stuck at the support level of the publisher. They did promise me to relay the information, but I doubt that ever happened.

So, now I heard about this new standalone expansion pack for the game, called [XCOM: Enemy Within]. A user going by the name of [renezett] in the [Voodooalert forums]German flag got the game and attempted to apply the same hack that was originally done, albeit based just on the binary version of the mapping stub DLL zernel32.dll, without compiling it from source himself. That’s ok though. By hacking the games EXE with a hex editor and placing the zernel32.dll and fileextd.dll in the same folder, the issues weren’t resolved this time around though.

XCOM: Enemy Within

XCOM: Enemy Within

It seemed that some part of the expansion pack still wanted to call the kernel API function GetFileInformationByHandleEx(), naturally a part of the NT 6.x kernel API or – on XP – fileextd.dll. See this part of the zernel32 header source code, where we can clearly see how the function is being intercepted and mapped over to fileextd.dll for hacked binaries calling zernel32.dll instead of kernel32.dll directly:

#pragma comment(linker, "/export:GetFileInformationByHandleEx=fileextd.GetFileInformationByHandleEx")

So, what went wrong? When working together with renezett to resolve the issue for him, I had a hunch that it was simply some additional binaries or libraries calling the function for this new expansion set of the game, and that has proven true. While I cannot provide the exact file names, I asked renezett to look at all other EXE and DLL files of the game with his hex editor, and look for KERNEL32.DLL strings and to replace them with ZERNEL32.DLL, just like with the original hack. Now he did indeed find some additional DLLs in \common\XCom-Enemy-Unknown\XEW\Binaries\Win32\ that linked against kernel32.dll, and after replacing the strings and putting the zernel32.dll and fileextd.dll there, the game worked!

So basically, it’s the same hack, just more files that need to be modified in order to make it work! Scratch another XP incompatibility issue!

Update: A user calling himself None has posted a [comment]German flag, explaining that the problem was likely not some other binaries or libraries calling the Kernel API functions in question, but just some misplaced files, maybe just fileextd.dll not sitting next to the games binary. He also explained that only one file required hex editing as described, and that’s the following:

  • SteamLibrary\SteamApps\common\XCom-Enemy-Unknown\XEW\Binaries\Win32\XComEW.exe

Also, None suggested not to change anything in XComGame.com as that broke the game for him, rendering it inoperable entirely. So it seems to be pretty much the same as with the original XCOM game after all. </update>

Now, if only the Planetary Annihilation developers would finally learn, that Microsofts Visual Studio 2012 has a “v110_xp” and not just a “v110” platform target for the linker, wouldn’t that be something? Just a few clicks away! But it seems “we don’t wanna!” is their current attitude regarding the issue…

Oh, and to make it easier for you in case you want to try this out, here are the download links again:

If those links ever break, just let me know and I will re-host the files on my own server.

Dec 032013

Call of Juarez: Gunslinger logoActually, I never quite warmed up to Wild West themed games, shooters or not. I don’t know why, I did like related movies, especially the Bud Spencer & Terence Hill comedies, but also the more serious ones. Never liked any of the games though. But what I heard about the latest Call of Juarez game – a budget title for the first time – sounded so fresh that I gave it a shot. And damn, I was blown away. Sure it’s a linear shooter, yeah, ok, it has checkpoints instead of save games, and even quick-time events. It has all the bad stuff, and still it’s awesome, now how can that be? Simple. It’s all implemented in the right fashion and the game always delivers fun in great ways.

An old man going by the name of Silas Greaves walks into a bar one day in the early 20th century. Clearly, he’d seen better times, and he’s kind of out-of-place in this modern world with cars driving around, him still riding a horse, wearing sixshooters on his belt. In that bar, an old bartender and a few guys including an enthusiastic young dime novel reading boy await him. Recognizing his name as one of a relatively famous bounty hunter they start buying him some drinks to hear him tell his stories.

This unfolds in Mr. Greaves telling them the story of his life. And as he tells them, his words materialize within the game you’re playing, on the fly! And it soon turns out that he is telling his story a bit over-the-top and not quite so historically correct either, since he seems to be meeting all the big names of the West like Billy the Kid, Jesse James, Butch Cassidy and so on, duelling ’em all in the process of course, as he’s gunning his way though it all. The fun thing is, that the 3D engine itself and the gameplay adjust dynamically as Silas Greaves is telling his story, and sometimes he has to adjust a bit of his story as well here and there, especially as his listeners are left in disbelief more often than not.

Let me give you an idea: Silas is walking around on a wooden structure somewhere outside of a gold mine, and he’s stuck. Maybe because so is the story the old man’s telling here, so he has to come up with something new, and as he is remembering (or sometimes seemingly just making up) stuff, a ladder suddenly appears, the one that he thinks he climbed down to continue onwards. This would manifest in the game as a ladder “growing” up from the floor below, or just flying down from the sky and into the right place for Silas to step on it, all while you hear him tell the story piece in the background briefly. Sometimes he even has to tell an entire part of the story anew, which you will see as the whole game “rewinding” itself to let you play again, only very differently this time around.

So, it’s well-told, well-executed in the form of a fast linear shooting gallery that refuses to be ashamed of itself, the Chrome Engine 5 does a nice job of showing all that to us, the artwork is great, music plus awesome gun sounds plus awesome voice-over do a great job of pulling us in, and it costs next to nothing! Well, not all is perfect (for me) though, so let’s get technical, shall we?

The Chrome Engine 5 happens to be using a very fast Direct3D 9 renderer, leaving the game very compatible with Windows from XP/XP x64 all the way up to Windows 8.1 including SLI/CF support. There is only one thing missing. The one tiny little thing that I refuse to game without, and that it anti-aliasing. Missing FSAA leaves the Cel-shaded engine with very jagged edges and foliage. Unacceptable. So I tried to play around with nVidia Inspector again. See this first (click to zoom):

The Cel shader produces well-defined edges everywhere, which results in them being intensely jagged. Also, foliage is very jagged, which you might not see very well on the screenshot, but which will become very visible when moving around. Now, Call of Juarez: Gunslinger does have a driver profile in nVidias GeForce driver, but this does not feature any anti-aliasing compatibility bits whatsoever. After researching the web about this, I have assembled several forum and blog postings into this:

Call of Juarez: Gunslinger and nVidia Inspector

nVidia Inspector (click to zoom)

Now, this does feature some non-AA related stuff like SSAO bits, but that won’t hurt. The most important parts here are the compatibility flags 0x000010C0 and the behavior flags 0x00000000 / “None” as well as the Anti Aliasing Transparency Super-Sampling bits. Usually, Transparency Super-Sampling is for Alpha-Test textures only, to anti-alias foliage for instance. However, in Call of Juarez: Gunslinger, AA will not work without it at all. More specifically it will not work without this feature called “TAA” switched to expensive “SGSS TAA” or sparse-grid super-sampling, as ordered grids seem to be doing nothing at all. Now this does work, but there is a caveat too, as you will soon see:

“Wow” the pure FSAA aficionado might say, while the pure anisotropio (cough) might puke. Cel shaders and most other post processing shaders have a significant problem with sparse grid AA, and that is a distinct blur setting in on the entire 3D frame as soon as both are combined. Like with shader-based AA like CSAA or even more so FXAA, there will be blurring and it will be “ew”. So basically you’ll have to choose whether you’ll want smooth edges+foliage or sharp textures. Ew. For certain games there is a way around this, which means either you go for regular SGSS TAA withouth the sparse grid (doesn’t work on Gunslinger) or full-scene super-sampling anti-aliasing like 2×2 SSAA (works on Gunslinger, sort of). The latter looks like this:

“Beatufil, yaaay” all might scream in unison, but not entirely so I unfortunately have to interpose. This will most likely cause artifacts on textures that have pixel shaders render on alpha-test textures, like for instance heat haze or water, having those textures either disappear partially or render in a broken fashion. Extremely good if it doesn’t happen for you, but it did happen for me and a friend of mine, who has a very different configuration with Keplers instead of Fermi GPUs and Windows 7 instead of my XP x64, indicating a rather fundamental problem than a specific one. Meh.

Me, I chose the mode that you can see in that nVidia Inspector screenshot. Now I don’t like an even slightly blurry image, but I like jaggies less, so yeah. Hard choice there, but that’s all I can do right now. In case you’re interested what kind of a hardware configuration this profile was made for, here are the relevant specifications:

  • 2 x nVidia GeForce GTX 580 3GB in SLI
  • GeForce driver 331.82 non-WHQL
  • 2560x1600x32 (~4.1MPixel)

As I said, SGSS TAA is expensive, which is why I had to limit myself to 4 subsamples (Don’t count the CV samples). 8 samples would make the game not so enjoyable anymore. So to use this, you’ll need some serious GPU horsepower.

Also, there was another texture rendering problem with FSAA in Gunslinger, one that has been fixed by that “Antialiasing Fix” flag. The bug results in weird lines being rendered on textures, something also known to happen with the game “Dead Island” when attempting similar profile modifications.

People are saying that forcing AA works out of the box in both games for AMD graphics cards with the single exception of said bug appearing. For nVidia you can fix that, but not so for AMD. It might be, that newer drivers have taken care of this though, but I cannot comment on that, as I do not own an according system.

But hey, this is better than nothing at least!

Oct 042013

Razer logoFirst, for all of you who do not know [Razer], the company is known for designing and building “gaming gear” like mice, keyboards, headsets and stuff like that. While I am personally convinced that the build quality of Razer products sucks (I have a Razer Lachesis mouse myself, ultra cheap plastic), they are very expensive and somewhat well accepted and respected in the gaming community, for whatever reason there may be.

Ok, so much for that. Now to their new software. Razer [Synapse 2.0]. Previously, your mouse/keyboard would come with a driver for multiple operating systems and a small application for Windows systems to configure the device. All of that offline, naturally.

Now, Razer Synapse 2.0 is different. The application requires an Internet connection as well as an account in the “Razer cloud”. What it does is to synchronize all your input device settings to the cloud servers so you can reattach the device to another machine with Razer Synapse 2.0, log in with your account (!) and use the device with the settings you’re comfortable with. There is however one significant problem I have with that.

Without an account, you cannot use the software, as confirmed by Razer themselves. What you are presented with is this:

Razer Synapse 2.0 login screen

Razer Synapse 2.0 login screen

No account, no configuring your mouse or keyboard! Without configuration it stays dumb. No macros, no DPI settings (unless there is a hardware button for that), no firmware updating, nothing. Resembles DRM, but what would hardware need DRM for? It makes no sense! So why is Razer doing this? Let me show you a little something taken from the Razer [privacy policy] which is being referred to by the [terms of service] for Synapse 2.0, it’s quite enlightening:

“We collect information by using “log data” and “cookies,” by obtaining information from your usage of our Services, and by asking for information when visitors buy a product, register for and/or use a Service, or do various other things, as described below.” – Razer privacy policy

“Aggregate Information and Non-identifying Information: We may share aggregated information that does not include Personal Information and we may otherwise disclose Non-Identifying Information and Log Data (which also do not include Personal Information) with third parties for industry analysis, demographic profiling and other purposes. Any such information shared in these contexts will not contain your Personal Information. If aggregated or Non-Identifying Information is tied to your Personal Information, it will not be disclosed except as set forth in this Privacy Policy.” – Razer privacy policy

“Advertising Networks and SNSs: We work with third party advertising networks which may collect information about your online activities through cookies and other technologies when you use the Site. The information gathered by these advertising networks is used to make predictions about you, your interests or preferences and to display advertisements across the Internet tailored to your apparent interests. We do not permit these ad networks to collect Personal Information about you on the Site. Please note that we do not have access to or control over cookies and other technologies these ad networks may use to collect information about your interests, and the information practices of these ad networks are not covered by this Privacy Policy.” – Razer privacy policy

We may also provide SNSs with your e-mail address so that they can better customize the advertisements that are displayed to you when you use those SNSs. Please note that we do not have direct control over these SNSs and their activities are not covered by this Privacy Policy. However, if we provide your e-mail address to SNSs for this purpose, we shall have a reasonable basis to believe that the SNS shall (a) protect the security and integrity of the data while it is within the SNS’s systems; (b) guard against the accidental or unauthorized access, use, alteration or disclosure of the data within the SNS’s systems; and (c) shall not use the data if you are not a member of the SNS.” – Razer privacy policy

“To use the Services, you have to register for and maintain a Razer account in a form as required by us (“Account”). You agree to provide accurate information when you register.” – Razer Synapse 2.0 terms of service

So basically, it’s saying that it may very well be spy ware. Always-on spy ware, mind you. For as long as you stay logged on to Synapse 2.0 to change your mouse settings or whatever, it may collect and share data from your machine. It may listen in on your emails, web browsing behavior, everything! I’m not saying it does serious shit like that, but what other reason could they have to write terms of service and a privacy policy like that? Synapse 2.0 doesn’t really do anything good for the user. And it does most surely collect some data from your system.

On top of that, a lot of new Razer devices don’t come with their regular older software anymore. So you’re forced to use Synapse 2.0 if you want to properly use the devices. Plus, there is lots of luring you in going on right now. I have for instance signed up with Synapse 2.0 (on their website, I have not actually installed the software) to get some Razer cockpit dice for [Mechwarrior Online] (which I think is otherwise a cool game) for free. So you might actually get caught in that trap just for a pair of furry dice like these:

Razer MWO dice

Razers free Synapse 2.0 dice for your Battlemech cockpit in MWO

And frankly, the dice don’t even move around that nicely, where is my PhysX? Or Havok? Or whatever CryEngine 3 uses, probably its own physics engine. And if you do install the Razer Synapse 2.0 “trojan” on your system just for that or some of the other ingame bonuses Razer gives away… oh well. You just sold yourself out.

So frankly, I do not know what kind of stuff Synapse 2.0 really spies on. But the terms of service would indicate that it might spy on pretty much anything and sell out the profiling data plus your email address to whoever pays enough. And there I was, wondering where all those waves of spam came from recently. A new kind of spam syntactically, and in greater volume than before. I haven’t linked it to the Synapse 2.0 registration at first, but the timing is almost perfect!


Aug 072013

Apogee logoAnd here it is. The new Rise of the Triad. The rebirth of an underrated [1994 classic] by Apogee, now re-done by [Interceptor Entertainment] under its lead guy Frederik Schreiber, who was also working for Gearbox and who some people do not quite like that much, but let’s just put that aside for a moment, shall we?

First, some technical basics: The cheapo 13.99€ title is based on the Unreal Engine 3, but features a Direct3D 9.0c renderer only, so it works on any OS starting from Windows XP up to Windows 8. Since the UE3 is so extremely widespread, you shouldn’t expect any trouble from that side, and it works pretty well indeed, as expected.

Now, the one question. The only one that really matters. IS this REALLY ROTT?

A message from Frederik

At first, when I started playing, I immediately noticed that the game feels kind of cheap and rough around the edges. Movement is over-the-top fast, enemy animation is very badly done, levels are extremely linear and simple. There is no AI to speak of, there is no groundbreaking stuff anywhere to be seen at all. The graphical representation looks neat, but not that good when compared to other modern shooters.

Wait. Hold it right there.

Close your eyes, take a deep breath. This is not a modern shooter. It is not supposed to be. This is Rise of the Triad. So PLAY it LIKE Rise of the Triad. Run around like crazy, blasting people to bits with bazookas at point blank range while eating shrooms and hopping on weird hover platforms? Exactly.

Now, open your eyes. You play this like the old ROTT, it becomes the old ROTT!

All the crazy stuff is still there, god mode, dog mode, the health system, and of course and most importantly the awesome weapons. Just like in 1994 you’re not going to use regular guns much. Bazooka, Heatseeker, Split Missile, Fire Bomb, Flamewall, the baseball bat, etc. As soon as you start playing this game as you would’ve played the original in 1994, you’ll get it! It’s a crap game by todays standards, but fuck it, it’s fun! Ludicrous gibs and all!

And the developers really tried to stay close to the original, plus they threw in a few one-liners and cute allusions to stuff like the [Glorious PC gaming master race] jokes or other games like Duke Nukem 3D. You can even set the sound to “classic” which will make the game play MIDI music instead of the re-done modern version of the games musical score. There is SO much in there from the original, players who knew the game from the 90s will drown in nostalgia and – I think – will have lots of fun, even if the game IS kind of rough around the edges. Let’s look at a few shots:

Ok ok, I know, these aren’t the best screenshots you could come up with, but I had Fraps offline when I got god mode, and no dog mode encountered so far. ;) Also, I missed some good opportunities with the Split Missile and the Fire Bomb as well as Flamewall, but yeah. You can imagine its gory and bloody as hell. So there is quite some sarcasm and slightly shallow black humor in the game, which isn’t bad at all (in my opinion that is). There are some downsides, like glass is not really shattering when shot (splinters are flying off, but that’s it), which is a bit weak as breaking glass was one of the novelty features of the original ROTT, but yeah. It is forgivable I’d say.

You do get the original sound, music, enemies, weapons, powerups, health system, speed and craziness though.

I can see lots of people whining about this game already, but I’d say it’s a win, and haters gonna hate anyway, who cares, time for some fun now! :D