Wednesday, May 25, 2011

xboxdrv 0.8.0 released

  • added --no-dbus option
  • added ABS/axis support to macros
  • added Street Fighter Fightpad support
  • added example config for Microsoft Ergonomic 4000 zoom wheel
  • added example config for Star Wars: Tie Fighter
  • added rel-repeat value of -1 for sending an event only once
  • added support for chatpad on bcdVersion 1.14 controller
  • added support for relative filenames for macros
  • fixed daemon mode
  • fixed deadzone filter issues with MIN:MAX:SMOOTH
  • fixed endian issues in Xbox360 and Xbox360 wireless controller
  • fixed wireless controller not getting reset to neutral position on disconnected
  • changed the meaning of --timeout 0
  • removed boost::thread dependency
  • switched from threads to asynchronous USB handling and glib

This releases contains a large scale switch to asynchronous USB communication, so expect some bugs to pop up. Daemon mode is working again. Bug reports are welcome.


Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Review: Dead Space (PC)

Dead Space is a sci-fi survival horror game developed by Electronic Arts and released in 2008. In the game the player takes control of engineer Isaac Clarke, who battles himself through hordes of mutated creatures on the spaceship USG Ishimura. The setting takes quite some inspiration from movies like Event Horizon, while the gameplay is very similar to that of Resident Evil 4.

As far as story is concerned there really isn't much positive to say about Dead Space. A few moments after arriving on the deserted USG Ishimura with his team essentially all hell breaks lose and Isaac is separated from the rest of his surviving team. They continue to stay around to give new objectives via video chat, but one never directly interacts with them or anybody else for that matter over the coures of the game. A further frustration is that many of the story sequences are implemented as essentially a cutscenes behind a window, which stops you from interacting with the events unfolding and makes you a passive observer. Dead Space isn't the first game to use this cheap trick, but it uses it in almost every single character interaction which makes it feel incredible fake and forced. Every now and then the game will also have you run into an audio-log, but those rarely contain anything to interesting. On top of that the few regular text-logs that the game provides feel like they should have been audio-log, as they slow the game down unnecessarily.

The story follows essentially all the stupid genre cliches, everybody except the player character will die and there is some obvious betrayal down the line. Most of the objectives also feel rather tedious, as Isaac is essentially send from one section of the ship to the next to fix something, only to have another thing break a few moments later to turn into his next objective. This makes the whole plot feel unfocused and improved, as there really isn't much of a real build up or senes of accomplishment. The bit of backtracking that this causes is however not really an issue, as it is quite rare and most of the game is very linear.

The gameplay is easily strongest part of Dead Space. While it does take many obvious inspirations from Resident Evil 4 it goes a different route with the monster killing, as it doesn't just matter how many times you shoot an enemy, but it becomes more important of where you shoot them. Limbs can be shoot of and in turn will slow an enemy down and they take much more health then a regular body hit. Most enemies will also die after a specific number of limbs have been detached. A limited stasis power can be used to freeze enemies on the spot to give more time for aiming at the limbs. This mechanic of dismemberment is quite fun for most part, as it requires a more thoughtful approach to put down enemies then just the regular spraying of bullets. The weapon design is also special, as it doesn't follow the regular pistol, shotgun, assault rifle, etc. design, but instead each weapon, maskeraded by the game as an engineering tool, has a unique feel to it, thus you have cutting weapons that are either optimal for many short range cuts or weapons that excel at precision cuts in the distance, while a flamethrower will help to get rid of swarms of small enemies. Weapon upgrades are done via power nodes that can be collected throughout the game or bought from the shop, upgrade itself happens on a benches that are again scattered throughout the game.

Aside from the weopons and the statis power the game also provides you with a kinesis power, that works somewhat similar to the gravity gun in Half Life 2. It is hovever only used for very simple tasks such moving a piece of machinery from one location to the other or launching an explosive container against an enemy, elaborate physics puzzles aren't provided and in general the game doesn't really have any real puzzles, just a few switches to press to make machinery go.

The inventory management, along with a shop and storage system, also takes quite some inspirations from Resident Evil 4, but feels a little misplaced in this game. You never have to pick up puzzle relevant objects, thus your whole inventory is only used for ammunition, health packs and a few other items, but unlike Resident Evil, the inventory here feels huge, it can hold all the health packs you want along with more ammunition then you will ever need, thus there never is much of a trade off to make on what you want to take with you, you simply take all of it. Weapons are placed outside of the inventory and you can always carry four with you. You might still run out of inventory space every now and then in the beginning of the game, but that's just because you get overfull with ammunition and health packs and haven't run past a store to drop it off. Later in the game suit upgrades will increase your inventory space even more, so that you will essentially never run out of space again. A little annoyance however in the rare instance when you do run out of space is that the game won't let you use things in place, so instead just using a health pack, you have to first put it in your inventory, which means when that is full that you first have to drop an item, pick up the health pack, use it, the repickup the item you dropped. Not much of a practical problem, but a really cumbersome and ugly way to do such a basic task.

While Dead Space obviously tries to go for horror, I found the horror aspects to be pretty much non-existant, yes, it is a dark game, sometimes only illuminated by some flashing lights, has all the monster growling filling the audio channel and the occasional try at a jump scare, but it all feels extremely formulaic and predictable. The heavy use of monster closets and the overuse of monster types doesn't help either. You simply get used to it all very quickly and the worst the game will do to you is give you a headache, as the contrast between dark environment and flashing lights can get a little annoying. The moments where the game gets atmospheric are the rare moments where it breaks away from the cliche monster growling and lets the player go into a vacuum, in those moments the background sound fades away and you can't hear much more then your breathing and your food steps, everything else is completely muted away, which not only gives everything a nice space atmosphere, it also makes monster harder to spot, as you can no longer hear them.

On the technical side of things Dead Space is very solid, the graphics look very detailed and run fluidly on max settings without a problem on a ATI HD5670. However the games art direction looks a little boring, as you run mostly through the same looking dark corridors over and over again. The game never really gives you a very good sense of scale for the spaceship you are on, even the rare moments where you actually go out into space feel very corridor like and you almost never really have an open window or something along the lines to look out onto the rest of the ship.

On the control side the game supports the Xbox360 controller out of the box. One issue I first had with that control scheme however was the way it handles turning on the right analog stick. The game employs a huge deadzone followed by a fast character rotation, which makes it hard to do small turns. This issue was made much worse due to the heavy delay that was caused by Vsync, switching Vsync off however fixed that. The problem with small turns still existed, but one gets used to it quite quickly, especially as it only exists in walking mode, not when aiming, thus it becomes actually useful, as it allows quick 180° turns while still allowing precise aiming. A quick 180° like Resident Evil has isn't present in this game.

The way the game handles the HUD is interesting, aside from the main menu, it doesn't use any actually HUD on the screen, instead it sticks everything in the game world, be it ammunition, health or even inventory and the game map. While that works well for health, ammunition and especially the way points, it is a bit more troublesome for the inventory, map and other normal GUI elements, as those will be displayed as a hologram floating in front of your character, which works fine in normal situation, but when in a tight corner or when an object is in the way it can cause the camera to tilt in such a way that you can't actually see the inventory screen properly or fonts you want to read can become to small as the camera might be to far out.

The physics engine also has a few issues, the main one is simply that all the dead bodies in the world are physically interactive, that by itself wouldn't be that bad, the problem is that they have no weight to them, thus everything you run into will go flying through the room in a highly unrealistic manner. In some instances this will even cause some actual gameplay confusion, as you can't really tell if the monster twitching on the ground is still alive or if it is just the physic engine that hasn't yet stopped jiggling the body around. In one instance I also had the physics engine fail on a puzzle that required me to push a battery into a slot, the battery would just fall out of the slot again and not register as properly inserted.

The save system is also of questionable quality, while the game is filled with reset points throughout the game, regular save points are much more rare, you only come across them every 10 or so minutes. The save dialog also misses a way to directly save to the next free slot, thus you have to always scroll through the list of all your past saves to make it to a free slot, this pulls you out of the game on as it makes saving much more cumbersome then it should be. The save system also has the problem that it keeps stores, upgrade benches and savepoint separate, thus you will often encounter one without the other, which can require some backtracking as you might want to buy a few power nodes to upgrade your weapon before using a bench.

Overall Dead Space is a technically solid game with some good gameplay concepts, that however aren't enough to carry a full game with such a forgettable cliched story. Especially the end game was rather disappointing as the game doesn't get more interesting with time, it simply throws more and faster versions of the same enemies at you. This also makes the formerly thoughtful enemy dismemberment overly chaotic and luck based. The overall difficulty however is rather mild on medium setting, as even when you die you always have a checkpoint very close and most monsters can be defeated without a problem when they don't catch you by supprise. I never found ammunition to be a problem, one might run out of ammunition for the favorite gun every now and then, but one generally has plenty of stuff left for the other weapons. The story goes nowhere and it just becomes tedious to go fix one issue after another without seeing much new. NewGame+ in Dead Space is also heavily flawed as it only allows you to reply the game with all the collected weapons on the same difficulty, changing it is not allowed, this makes NewGame+ sadly ridiculously easy and steels the fun of playing the game on a harder difficulty with a fully equipped character. The game is around 12 hours long or around 9 hours when you don't count the death and retries.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Some more faces for Naev

Some more character graphics for Naev:

Full resolution graphics are available via git and licensed under GPLv3 and CC-by-sa-3.0:

git clone

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Review: Hydrophobia: Prophecy (PC)

Hydrophobia is an episodic action/adventure developed by Dark Energy Digital, in late 2010 for the Xbox360, with a PC version followed in mid 2011 released on Steam and a PS3 version later that same year. The game is set in the near future and puts you in the role of Kate Wilson, a systems engineer on the city-sized ship 'Queen of the World', who after a terrorist attack has to fight for her survival and stop the terrorists.

The game currently exists under three names, "Hydrophobia", "Hydrophobia: Pure" and "Hydrophobia: Prophecy". The first one was the original Xbox360 release, Pure was the name of large patch for the Xbox360 version that fixed not only a few bugs, but also reworked large parts of the game, such as the controls, while Prophecy is the name of the PC and PS3 versions, which are mostly identical to the Pure version, but contain additional tweaks, a new short section after where the Xbox360 version ended and completely recast and revoiced one of the main roles.

The core exploration gameplay of Hydrophobia is very similar to that of Tomb Raider, with all the jumping, climbing and swimming that that implies. The shooting on the other side follows the direction of modern cover-based shooter. What makes Hydrophobia special are its water physics, which unlike other games aren't build on pre-scripted events, but follow actual physics, thus if you have a room filled with water and open up a door into an empty room, water will flow from one room to the other and the created waves will splash you around. This is essentially the first game to ever try that.

The story of the game is mainly delievered through constant voice communication with your operator, who provides you with information on what to do next and what the terrorist are currently doing. Where needed the game also falls back to classical cutscenes.

The gameplay follows mostly a linear structure, but containts a bit of backtracking and gives you the option to hide the objectives marker, which forces you into a more exploratory style of play. This works reasonably well, as a lot of times you can navigate the world simply by hints from the voice communication. If needed the game also provides a map
and a log of your next objective. The game also provides a way to remote control CCTV cameras or remotly open doors, which is used for a few puzzles, but otherwise not all that impactful on the game overall.

Overall I very much enjoyed Hydrophobia. It is by no means a perfect game, as there are still quite a few bugs left, which the developers are currently working on with a new patch on an almost daily basis and the performance of the game isn't so great. But the water physics of Hydrophobia are pretty much unmatched, they essentially put an advanced form of what Wave Race did with water physics into a Tomb Raider-like world. Making the whole world feel much more dynamic and interactive then your regular static game world, as opening a door or shooting a glass panel can flood the room and completely change the way you have to fight.

The biggest problem I have with Hydrophobia right now is that it still feels kind of like an incomplete game, it is planed to be episodic in nature and the 4-5 hours it takes to complete it seem appropriate, but it doesn't really feel that way, it feels more like the first third or so of a regular full game and thus the story ends rather abruptly with not much of a conclusion. There are also numerous gameplay elements that are under used. You for example have numerous types of ammunition, but the basic sonic rounds, of which you have an unlimited supply, work the best most of the time, leaving little need to ever switch to anything else. A few subplots are also not only go without conclusion, but really never even fully opened up, they are kind of hinted at, but then never go anywhere.

Aside from the performance issues the game also has some trouble with the audio, which currently seems very chaotic and badly mixed. The dialog between characters comes out fine, but for example the sound of enemies shooting at you is often muted away by background sounds, making it hard to spot and react to enemies.

In the end, even with those issues in mind, it is however still a fantastic game that leaves you simply wanting more. It is one of those rare games that moves the gaming world a step forward and provides you with a way to interact with the game world you haven't seen before.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

How to use the GOGDownloader in Linux

The GOGDownloader is a small little tool used by (Good Old Games) to download their games and while running it under Wine works fine, it doesn't integrate into Firefox and thus clicking the "Add to GOGDownloader" link responds with a useless:

"Firefox doesn't know how to open this address, because the protocol (gogdownloader) isn't associated with any program."

Integration however is reasonably simple and can be done with two lines of gconftool:

$ gconftool-2 -s /desktop/gnome/url-handlers/gogdownloader/command '/home/juser/bin/gogdownloader %s' --type String
$ gconftool-2 -s /desktop/gnome/url-handlers/gogdownloader/enabled --type Boolean true

Where gogdownloader is the full path to a script that runs the GOGDownloader, as I use a separate WINEPREFIX for every Wine app that looks something like this:


set -e

export WINEPREFIX=/home/ingo/games/gogdownloader
cd "/home/juser/games/gogdownloader/drive_c/Program Files/"
wine GOGDownloader.exe "$@"

# EOF #

Friday, May 06, 2011

Flattr News

Three interesting Flattr news bits that you might have missed:
  • you can now have Flattr buttons without paying the previously mandatory 2€ minimum donation per month, so Flattr is now free to try, hopefully that will increase its adoption outside of Germany
  • you can now directly donate money to another person via Flattr without using the whole cake-slice per month method, it is still anonymous and thus not suited for buying things
  • you can now flattr a person via their Twitter account, even without that person having a Flattr account, people flattered in this way can then claim that money by registering with Flattr
For those that don't know, Flattr is a micro-donation service that allows you to give very small amounts of money to projects you like. The recent re:publica talk of Peter Sunde contains some more updates, along with a short intro video for those that don't know what Flattr is.

Thursday, May 05, 2011

Review: Dark Void (PC)

Dark Void was released in 2010 and developed by Airtight Games. The game mixes regular third person shooting with Crimson Skies like air combat, a previous game form Airtight Games. The story focuses around a cargo pilot that while traveling through the bermuda triangle got catapulted into a another world where he has to fight of on alien invasion that targets earth.

The game starts out with a ridicoulus long installation routine, that for some reason took two hours here. Not sure what went wrong there, it might have been a broken DVD, but I could copy data from the DVD normaly just fine, only the installation worked at a snails pace. Once the installation was done the game however ran without any issues.

The story of Dark Void makes a rather rushed and unfinished impression, as it wastes basically no time in actually introducing the setting or characters and instead has you pretty much fighting right from the start. Even throughout the later parts of the game that initial confusion doesn't really clear up, as character are barely ever properly introduced and the motivations for the next mission barely ever properly explained. In addition to that everybody seems kind of unsuprised at what is happening. Aliens in the bermuda triangle? Apperantly nothing to unusual in Dark Voids universe.

Most of the story is told through regular non-interactive cutscenes and while those cutscenes themselves are fine with good graphics and solid voice work, there just aren't enough of them to really piece together a coorent story. In a few rare spots the game also uses dialog between characters to tell parts of the plot, but those parts feel rather awkward, as you have to simply run behind another character while the non-interactive dialog plays, which turns it into more of a chore then an interesting way to deliver a story.

The fighting is split into air combat and third person ground combat. While there are a few sections where both can be used together, a very large part of the game is spend either completely on ground or completely in the air. The split between both air and ground combat is around 40/60.

Ground combat follows mostly just regular third person shooter conventions. You can take cover, blind fire, etc. Melee attacks are possible, but I found them hard to pull of, the game seems to require you to stand in an exact position relative to the enemy or else it just won't register your button press. A special feature of Dark Void is the vertical cover that allows you not only to take cover behind the regular boxes, but on the ledge of a platform, to either fire up or down. Enemies themselves have the same ability and thus a small part of the game is spend climbing up towers or other vertical structure while fighting enemies along the way. However the vertical cover doesn't really change much of the core gameplay, as it plays pretty much like regular cover, only the camera, which in those modes looks straight up or down causes a bit of initial confusion as you enter or leave vertical cover. Climbing between platforms happens via canned animations that leap you from one platform to the next, Tomb Raider-like climbing mechanics aren't present in this game.

When in the air the game uses pretty standard air combat controls, you can brake, you have a boost and a gun. A press of the A button will switch you to hover mode. The second analog is used to trigger special maneuvers such as 180° turns or dodging. Enemy planes can be captured via a short quick time event sequence, once captured they provide a bit of additional firepower and production. When hovering the camera still tries to stay in the over the shoulder perspective, will can get quite a annoying as it makes it impossible to see your feed and thus judge distance when landing. A further zoomed out camera would have been prefered.

The game features six weapons that can be upgraded over the course of the game, however as the money you need to collect is hard to come by, you will only ever manage to fully upgrade two of them and pretty much ignore the rest. The game also gives you little reason to ever switch weapons, as all of them pretty much feel equally ineffective against enemies. Most enemies can take a full magazine before going down and there don't seem to be any discernable special hitzones to speed it up. This makes combat often very tedious.

The graphics are pretty good overall and run quite fluid on the PC. They also feature some nice looking crepuscular rays on the higher settings. Character art leaves something to be desired, as the faces look kind of weird. In some interior sections the graphics can however get quite dark, making it hard to really see anything, even with a maxed out brightness setting.

Overall this games leaves a rather mediocre impression. The few moments where you can freely switch between air and ground combat and use each of them to your strategic advantage can be good fun and in those sections the game manages an impressive sense of scale. But far to much time in the game is spend in regular third person combat that simply feels boring and unexciting. The number of different enemies is extremely limited and doesn't really change much over the course of the game. The few quick time events that the game uses to take over an enemy aircraft can also get repetative very quickly as there is only really a single of those sequences that is always the same. In general the game just lacks variation.

The recharging health is also rather troublesome, as it is hard to really get a proper idea of how much health you have left and recharging takes a little long, so you die quite a bit by simply being inpatient. Reset points can also be a little to far apart and uneven, as sometimes you don't get any after a cutscene, while othertimes a reset point will put you past the enemy you where just fighting. Air combat also has its issues, as it never gets very creative, most of the time you spend hunting down the exact same enemy planes and while there are a few nice sections where you have to fight bigger battleships by landing on them, those sections are however very rare.

The setting is certainly interesting and some of the set pieces look quite nice, but the story is completely underdeveloped and gives you very little sense of what you are fighting against or why. The game also overuses waypoints a lot, so instead of figuring out where you have to go next on your own, you are guided by a bright yellow dot. Exploration is pretty much non-existent and the whole experience feels extremely linear.

It is not an awful game by any means, but given the interesting premise it could have been so much more. As is, it is a rather boring third person shooter with some fun, but not really outstanding, flying action. Given that the game sells for $5 these days I would still recommend it, as there just aren't very many games that have you flying around with a jetpack, just don't expect anything to special. It is fun for the good 7 hours it lasts, but doesn't really do anything that you haven't already seen done better in other games.

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

Getting a Gnome Panel on a second monitor

Gnome panels can be created and attached to one of the four sides of your desktop in the Panel Properties (right click on panel), the Panels Properties however lack any way to move a panel over to a second monitor when you use a setup with multiple monitors, so it looks like the functionality is missing. Except it is not. Gnome panels can be moved to a second monitor by holding the Alt key (or Super or something else depending on your configuration) and then click & dragging the panel around.

That's not all, the Window List applet is even clever enough to show only those windows in its list that are actually on the current screen. But again, that functionality isn't even hinted at when looking at the Window List Preferences and only comes into play when you create two Window List applets, one for each of the screen. If you only have one applet it will show all the windows from all screen. If you have two, the first will switch to show only windows from your first screen, while the second will only show windows from the second screen. If you add a third it will continue to show things from the second screen (assuming adding a third screen would change that).

So, long story short, looks like Gnomes multi-monitor support is actually a bit better then expected, but the Property dialogs do little to make those capabilities obvious.