Monday, January 31, 2011

xboxdrv 0.7.1 released

  • added --match-group
  • added --on-connect and --on-disconnect to xboxdrv --daemon
  • added --usb-debug
  • added --no-extra-events
  • added support for Playstation button names (triangle, circle, square, cross, L1, L2, L3, R1, R2, R3)
  • added ability to set LED per controller slot
  • added [controller0/config0/modifier] style sections to the ini file
  • added new match rules: usbserial=SERIAL, vendor=VENDOR, product=PRODUCT and property=PROPERTY:VALUE
  • added some example configurations to examples/
  • fixed issues with older libudev versions
  • fixed LED not getting switched off on shutdown
  • fixed some missing #include directives
  • fixed axis inversion issue in --axismap
  • fixed assertion in relative axis filter
  • fixed --dpad-as-button
  • fixed --dpad-only
  • fixed --mimic-xpad
  • fixed issue with using --trigger-as-zaxis in combination with axisfilter
  • man-page updates and cleanup
  • new version of runxboxdrv

Thursday, January 27, 2011

xboxdrv 0.7.0 released

  • switched to libusb-1.0
  • -D, --daemon replaces xboxdrv-daemon
  • --daemon supports hotpluging via libudev, even in applications that don't support it themselves
  • cleaned up axis/button modifier some more
  • startup output got cleaned up
  • fixed double Ctrl-c issue
  • added --modifier MODIFIER,...
  • configuration toggle button now works with modifiers too
  • renamed --ui-new to --next-config
  • renamed --ui-toggle to --toggle
  • fixed incorrect endpoint detection for Xbox1 controller
  • native Playstation 3 USB controller support
  • added axis rotation modifier
  • renamed A, B, X, Y axis to BTN_A, BTN_B, BTN_X, BTN_Y to avoid confusion with X1, Y1
  • added --list-all, --list-key, -list-rel, ... to display all available symbolic name
  • changed device_id syntax from 1-BTN_A to now BTN_A@1

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Fun with HTML mail and word wrap

One would think that standard email is a pretty much solved problem these days. Some recent events showed me otherwise:
  1. take Thunderbird and set it to HTML mail
  2. receive a regular text mail
  3. forward said email as HTML mail
  4. receive that forwarded mail with Outlook
  5. try to print it
What happens is this: Thunderbird sticks the original mail into a <pre> tag and when Outlook then receives it, it interprets it properly as HTML, except of course that it follows the spec a little to closely. <pre> tags don't word wrap in your browser and Outlook replicates that behavior exactly, thus if that original mail contained a few long lines, Outlook will display them as a single long line without word wrap, leading to a huge horizontal scroll bar when viewing and a plain cut-off of the text when trying to print it.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

xboxdrv 0.6.3 released

  • chatpad support (still rough), special thanks to Jani Virta, Andy Kirkham, dwomac and GAFBlizzard who helped make it possible
  • added --chatpad, --chatpad-no-init and --chatpad-debug
  • added --headset, --headset-dump FILE and --headset-play FILE, for experimentation only
  • added optional abs:/rel:/key: prefixes to --ui-axismap
  • added input filters for --axismap and --buttonmap
  • fixed multiple bugs that made it impossible to assign events to specific devices
  • fixed axis getting stuck when using a shift key
  • fixed incorrect error handling on fork()/exec()

Review: Goin' Downtown (PC)

Goin' Downtown was released in 2008 by Silver Style Entertainment. It is a classic 2D point&click adventure set in the New York of the year 2072. The story focuses around the depressed police officer Jake McCorly who investigates the suicide of a prostitute. The game only seems to be released in Germany with German language.

The game is presented in a comic book like style with cell shaded 3D characters and hand painted backgrounds, somewhat similar to Runaway, it even provides an option to display the subtitles as comic book speech bubbles. Aside from a few particle effects and minor animations backgrounds are mostly static. Wide screen support is provided and the resolution can be freely configured. The cell shaded characters faces can look a little awkward at times and animation and lip syncing are as usual for current day point&click adventures not all that great, but nothing to bad that one doesn't get used to quickly. That aside the graphics look pretty good, especially the frequent switches in camera angles during interaction are nice and break the traditionally very static nature of 2D adventures.

The interface follows regular adventure traditions, interaction works via a simple two button interface, left for interaction, right click for looking. There are however hardly any situations where the right click is needed, so it feels more like a single click interface for most part. Running works via double click, which however feels a little slow and floaty, quick travel is also provided by the double click and via an always accessible city map that guides you to the next location. The inventory comes in the form of an automatically hiding bar at the bottom of the screen. The game provides a detailed quest logs that keeps track of tasks that have to be done, integrated in that quest log is a three level hint system, similar to UHS. All interactive objects in a scene can be highlighted by pressing "H".

The dialog system goes back to the root of the adventure genre, using classical dialog trees instead of the nowadays more common topic based discussion systems. Aside from a few exceptions the dialog trees however stay shallow throughout most of the game. A little nod to Monkey Island is provided in the form of discussion tree based fist fighting later in the game.

An unusual feature in the game are the night and day cycles, these follow neither the story nor a fixed timer, instead they can be triggered via a simple press of a button, turning the whole word from night to day. The difference between night and day is mostly limited to the availability of NPCs, as some only work at day, while others work at night, but otherwise it is basically meaningless, as the game neither keep track of time nor really factors these changes into its puzzle design.

Music comes in the form of some nice synthesizer tracks, that however get a bit repetitive over the course of the game. The voice work is as usual for German games, overall solid, but nothing remarkable.

The puzzle design is overall solid and logical, but falls on the easy side as most things are not that hard to figure out even without using the hint system. Locations are generally very small and simple, so there is no way to get lost and it is nearly impossible to miss a needed item. One big issue however is that many puzzles feel a little arbitrary, being there just to have puzzles and don't integrate all that great into the overall games story.

In the most extreme case for example of weird logic your character wants to gain access to a locked facility, both your boss and your college do have access to that facility, your boss even gives you his half of the key. But instead of just asking your college to provide you access, the game forces you to copy her id-chip, which in turn requires a rare chip copy machine that you have to get from the Chinese Mafia. Stealing that machine, requires breaking into their facility and killing four guards in the process in an stealth action sequence, the only one of its kind in the whole game. Most other puzzles in the game are not that weird, but it shows that the game sometimes goes a rather unusual route to accomplish otherwise simple tasks. The whole killing in that scene also felt completely unnecessary and unmotivated, as you never actually have any problems with the Mafia, you just go their to steal the machine and otherwise never have anything to do with the Mafia in the whole game.

That above incident aside, the story also gets quite dark in general in the game, much more then the graphic style would make you guess. Dealing with police corruption, prostitution, rape and a whole lot of murder. The games style and tone however doesn't feel like it is quite up on par to deal with those issues and also all of your colleagues in the game don't really seem to take the situation as serious as they should.

Overall Goin' Downtown is a game that starts great, delves into a lot of interesting topics and feature quite a few interesting Sci-Fi ideas, but then never really has to time to really do anything with them, as the game is already over after just barely six hours of gameplay. In that time it answers most major plot points and doesn't end in a cliffhanger, but the plot still feels rushed and the ending just comes a little to easy. Most of the side characters, which seem like they might have a larger part later on, never get their turn and just stay decoration throughout the game, instead of becoming active part of the main plot. The main villain's motivation is also never really explored in depth, five minutes after you find out who it is and basically a minute after you see him for the first time in the whole game the credits already roll.

Goin' Downtown is simply one of those games that does a lot of stuff right, doesn't have any major faults and is quite a lot of fun while it lasts, but then simply fails to provide enough of what it does. I wouldn't mind seeing a sequel of this one, as that universe certainly has potential for more.

Saturday, January 08, 2011

Review: Phantasmogaria (PC)

Phantasmagoria was released in 1995 for the PC and developed by Sierra On-Line. Roberta Williams was responsible for game design and story. The game is a third person FMV based point and click adventure game, similar to Gabriel Knight 2: The Beast Within released by the same company the same year. In the game the player takes control of Adrienne Delaney, who together with her husband Donald Gordon, just moved into an old mansion previously owned by a famous 19th-century magician, who meddled around with occult magic rituals and unleashed a demon in the process.

The game doesn't start out with any direct objective or task for the player to solve, instead Adrienne basically just explores the house and its surrounding and thus slovly uncoveres the houses backstory and the story behind its previous owner. The games progress is heavily driven by its story and FMV sequences that slowly unravels as you interact with objects in the house or othe characters. Puzzles play only a very minor role in this game, so much that they are almost non-existant. The biggest difficulty in the game is generally finding the person or object that moves the story forward. Missing something important can happen at times as the house is rather large and navigation through it can be a bit troublesome at times as the game violates the 180° rule in almost every room. The game however does provide a build in hint system in the form of a skull in the bottom left corner of the screen that will tell you where you have to go next, so that endless searches throughout the same rooms can generally be avoided.

Mechanically the game uses a simple one-click interface for interaction with the environment, a traditional inventory is also provided and objects in the inventory can also be viewed up close in a 360° view that allows interaction with the object up close, but that ability is only really needed in two points in whole the game. Dialog trees are not provided and interaction between characters will follow a linear script. Interacting with a character multiple times in a row can often provide additional information. While the game is presented out of a classical third person view, the ability to freely walk around isn't provided, instead the character will stand on a fixed spot and only start walking when interacting with an object and in those cases you only really take a single step before the camera cuts away to a FMV closeup of the object interaction.

Graphically this game is a weird mix. All the backgrounds are completly computer generated with only the main actors being real and filmed in front of a bluescreen. This is quite unlike Gabriel Knight 2 which used either real sets or photos for backgrounds. However while the 3D background graphics certainly show their age, they still do a good job in helping setting up the atmosphere.

The savegame system in Phantasmagoria is a bit messed up. Instead allowing you multiple savegames, the game limits you to a single one. This makes going back to earlier chapters impossible, unless you kept a copy of an earlier save. You can however create multiple profiles, so that multiple people can play the game.

Overall I found Phantasmagoria to be an enjoyable horror adventure game, that however was rather short. On a regular first playthrough the game only takes a little over six hours to complete and while the story that you unravel is certainly interesting, it never really lives up to its potential as it comes to the finale far to quickly instead of getting more involved with the side characters. I also found that the game really overdid it a bit with its blood and gore, while the main game itself is very harmless, mostly involving just casual exploration of the mansion and the nearby town with a few rare and mild jump scares mixed in, the flashbacks to the magican and later murders in the game are really rather gruesome.

The last chapter of the game diverts a bit from the regular exploration, as it involves a lot of time based chase sequences and thus a lot of untimely deaths. The game however does give a you checkpoint at basically every step of the way, so the frustration never becomes to much and the hint guide will still provide some tips. I however would have liked a little more logic in the puzzles in that section, as it is often impossible to tell what will kill you and what won't until after you tried it. On the positve side of things however the chase seuqence is quite spectacular to watch and does a good job at creating urgency with the new much more nervose idle animations. Those that expect a happy end should however be warned, this game doesn't really provide one.

Compared to Gabriel Knight 2 Phantasmagoria comes out short in almost every way, while the FMV charm is still there, the story is less complex, the puzzles less interesting and overall its just less of game. However that said, while it lasts, Phantasmagoria is a good amount of fun and exploring a hunted house is definitively interesting. The game doesn't really have any big faults other then the lack of complexity and length.

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Using Logitech MX500 and MarbleMouse under Vista

I own an old Logitech MX500 and a Logitech MarbleMouse trackball. Under Linux those work fine and I configure them independently with xinput and remap buttons as I wish. In Windows Vista on the other side things are a bit more tricky. One key issue is that Windows can't even swap left and right mouse buttons throughout the OS with the default Windows tools. If I try that via the control panel it will switch it for the GUI, but not for games. To switch buttons in games I need the Logitech driver. The next issue is that the MX500 doesn't have Vista drivers, Logitech refuses to support its older hardware. And the next issue is that the MX500 driver won't install when SetPoint, the driver for the MarbleMouse trackball is already installed. Solution to make both of them work in Windows Vista:
  1. Uninstall any mouse drivers
  2. Download setpoint620.exe (MarbleMouse Vista driver) and mw9791.exe (MX500 XP driver)
  3. Install mw9791.exe with XP compatibility mode enabled
  4. Install setpoint620.exe as usual
  5. Optional: Install the PS/2 support in the SetPoint control panel if you want to use the MarbleMouse on the PS/2 port
Installing things in this order will by pass the check on the MX500 driver and allow both drivers to co-exist in Windows Vista.