Archive for November, 2008

and now, the truth

Saturday, November 29th, 2008

I’m not really into RPGs. Every time I try my hand at one, I get about a third of the way through the game and then irretrievably stuck because I forgot to pick up a swirly purple potion from the 3rd room on the left as you walk in the 2nd door on the 5th level.

The only thing that’s changed between the last time – when I was about 11yo or so – is that the internet appeared, and information and hints and cheats for PC games became instantly accessible, thereby making huge-item-inventory games playable for the casual FPS guy who feels like trying out a slower genre.

Unfortunately, the only other thing that’s changed since Ultima Underworld is that games have become utterly massive (Fallout 3 takes up about a thousand times more space on my hard drive than UW did, no exaggeration), and the bigger something gets the more complicated it is and the harder it is to get it right.

I’m saying F3 has bugs. They’re painful.

  • Critical NPCs will randomly disappear, leaving you unable to talk to them to finish certain missions; this happened twice in my first foray into the game, one of them something important to the storyline, so I couldn’t have finished the game no matter what.
  • I don’t think gamesaves/loads are 100% accurate. I’ve made neutral characters angry with me, reloaded the game to a few moments before I pissed them off, and they’ll be just as angry and try to kill me. In one case, when I reloaded to escape a particular enemy and went back to where I was at the time I saved, that enemy’s actually warped back with me and continued trying to kill me.
  • Fallout 3 has this thing where if you’ve ‘discovered’ a special location like a city or a particular landmark, you can instantly warp between them as long as there’s no enemies near you. This saves hours of gametime where you’d otherwise have to jog for 30 minutes to go back to somewhere particular. Problem is, the game thinks nothing of spawning tons of very strong enemies directly surrounding you at your destination. Surely it makes no sense that you’d just walk out of the desert into the middle of a triangle of 3 super mutants, and then suddenly everyone realises who’s there and starts attacking?
  • Actually, warps are extra-buggy, because they do weird crap with physics and clipping and corpses that’re already there. Frequently I’ll warp to somewhere I’ve killed raiders or dogs or whatever before, and their bodies will suddenly be catapulted into the air, sometimes landing stuck in another object and they’ll bounce forever.
  • You’re meant to run into random enemies when you’re wandering around in the wastelands – a hungry dog, or a pack of molerats, or ants or a super mutant or whatever – but there’re obviously places in the game where certain enemies are scripted to appear with certain weaponry. I hugely doubt that having killed the two mutants camping outside Big Town with a rifle and a rocket launcher, two more mutants with exactly the same weaponry would show up later on and camp in exactly the same spot.
  • Stuff in my inventory changes sometimes. I’ve just realised I have two of a very unique key you pick up very early in the game. Come to think of it UW did something similar once or twice, maybe there’s some particular thing about RPGs that make them near-impossible to code right.
  • Apparently there’s a patch out that fixes all the random crashes when you reload, or warp, or just quit the game anyway.
  • More a design flaw than a bug, but two separate skills you have to build up in the game are Lockpicking and Science, the latter of which lets you break into various computers to gain information or turn other systems on/off. Your skill in a particular area is a number between 1 and 100, but unlike the Medicine, Repair, Explosives or Small Guns skills which give you a straight-out percentage of effectiveness based on how high you’ve made that skill, you can’t even ATTEMPT to pick “hard” locks unless you’ve got 75 lockpick skill points, or hack “very hard” computers until you beef Science up to 100, despite the minigames that represent lockpicking and hacking being identical at every skill level. It just feels like an arbitrary thing that wouldn’t work the same way in real life (you can’t pick more than “very easy” locks if you’re on 24, but the instant it goes up one point another 25% of the locks in the game become available to you).
  • I’ve been playing for a few days, and I’ve already found a few spots in the map where you can get completely stuck, or where there’re textures missing or models wrong or something. I hesitate to even mention it, considering how insanely HUGE that map is and how hard it’d be to get it flawless, but it’s pretty striking to walk past a giant rock and see one whole face is missing:

…and that’s just the stuff I’ve come across. The Fallout 3 wiki has tons more (lots of spoilers there) if you’re interested. The game isn’t completely unplayable; I’m just quickly tiring of wasting ammo killing enemies I’ve already taken care of, and then restarting the game after it crashes because I tried reloading because I warped into the middle of 3 giant enemies with giant guns.

when things explode

Friday, November 28th, 2008

5:38 PM. A small figure darts furtively across the landscape. He keeps to the shadows, but keeps the nearby hills in sight, watching for movement.

He slips into the ruins of a townhouse, emerging a few moments later with a disappointed look on his face. The next two homes are more successful, his pockets laden with more pre-war cash (not legal tender, but still worth trading in the cities) and ammunition for his pistol. He pauses by an old-fashioned letterbox long enough to fish out a bottle of water, and drop the little red flag.

He stops and turns at the edge of town, opens the bottle, pockets the cap, slowly takes in the destruction of a village that once thrived with shops and laughter and babies and skilled labour. A feeling of loneliness and desolation washes over him, and he has to sit and rest, his legs suddenly out of energy.

The water burns in his throat. He spots the uneven crater that used to be the town centre, notes the telltale signs, pours the rest of the radioactive water down the back of his neck to evaporate and cool his skin in the evening heat.

A willy-willy catches his attention, and he notes the remains of three people, now little more than skeletons, scattered on the ground near the burned-out husk of an intercity bus. It is a bad omen, and it makes sense to leave – it would serve no purpose to stay, and it was possible that the same terrible creature was even now lurking nearby, hoping for a fourth victim.

He sighs and heads up the hill, towards a nearby train depot. The underground rail network was the safest and quickest way of moving around nowadays, and plenty of wasteland communities had settled beneath the scarred earth.

Some he allied with, and traded pre-war relics for food and arms. Some he destroyed, killing the weak and taking what he needed anyway. Some had information, and information was the most precious commodity of them all; the anti-radiation medicine and stimpacks gave him more time, but couldn’t tell him where his family had gone.

He had followed his father from the fallout shelter he was born in, through the capital wastelands, through to places far from anything resembling civilisation. He would consider his father already dead if not for recent news, and had tracked down this community for help.

Maybe they could tell him where his father had gone. Where he was going. He started down the tunnel, the silenced pistol feeling cold and strong in his hand.

Fallout 3. It’s good.

false alarm

Monday, November 24th, 2008

It’s just a simulation.

There is no cause for panic.

Vista, Radeon, PhysX: pick two.

Sunday, November 9th, 2008

This has been pursued in forums everywhere for some months now, so I thought I’d summarise my findings on the matter and hope for a prevailing Google breeze to save others the trouble.

Here’s the thing: It’s late 2008, and the most powerful single video card you can buy for your PC right now is ATI’s Radeon HD 4870 x2. NVidia’s 280 GTX lags behind it a bit, but supports something called PhysX. In short, GPUs are very good at massively parallel tasks, which lends well to the simulation of physics, and NVidia’s Geforce video cards from the 8-series on up supports the PhysX engine and can do more realistic explosions and collisions and such.

This means games like Unreal Tournament 3 can look prettier when drawn by a Geforce, despite getting a higher frame rate on a Radeon. Naturally, the owner of a modern Radeon – like, for instance, my own 4870×2 – might be curious about PhysX support. A lot of the internet has hit upon the idea of using a grunty ATI video card to do the drawing, and a Geforce sitting next to it to do all the extra physics work. This is the golden age of running multiple video cards; surely it can be made to work?

Let’s ignore all the political issues here – PhysX support in games isn’t as widespread as you’d imagine, there are other more established physics engines already in use, it’s all a big money-making conspiracy and so on – and see what can be done to make UT3 look even better.

Annoyingly, nothing can be done just now. The facts are thus:

  • While you ought to be able to get a Radeon and a Geforce working as video cards in the same computer, it’s logically impossible to do so in Windows Vista. Due to something technical to do with the new-in-Vista Windows Display Driver Model, you can’t run more than one video driver at once; you can either have NVidia’s drivers and use the Geforce for video and PhysX, or ATI’s drivers and use the Radeon on its own, and the other card just sort of flaps uselessly in the breeze.
  • Geforce PhysX won’t work without the Geforce drivers running anyway, and NVidia obviously had no reason at all to do it any other way (why wouldn’t you want to run the NVidia drivers, except perhaps to get around other limitations and use it in conjunction with a rival’s hardware?).
  • Windows XP does not have the WDDM limitation; the Radeon-video-plus-Geforce-PhysX thing has been done, but of course you’re stuck with DirectX 9, and XP’s interface, and XP’s hardware support, and all the other reasons plenty of users go with Vista instead.
  • You do have the option of buying an actual standalone card; Ageia designed PhysX cards before they were bought out by NVidia and made to do it on their cards instead. While owning such a thing would be pretty cool, they’re now rare, very expensive, and I can’t help but think it’d be pathetic compared to a modern Geforce card at what it’s designed to do (I have no knowledge whatsoever of how powerful certain cards are compared to others, but I can’t help but imagine a GTX280 would handle it better than a two year old PCI card).
  • There was a lot of talk about PhysX running on a Radeon, but efforts to make it a reality seem dead in the water despite valiant efforts.

Windows 7, the successor to Vista, will avoid the single-WDDM-driver problem, and at least one enterprising nutter has already had his 8500GT running numbers for a 4870 in an early test build. 7 is apparently slated for release in mid-2009, so we may only have six or seven months to wait for an OS that will do what we want.

It just remains to be seen whether my now-redundant 8600GT will have found a better home in the meantime.


It works in Windows 7 – see my other post for details!

why geeks are immune to salesmen

Friday, November 7th, 2008

“Do you have internet access here?”
“Yes we do”
“How much a month do you pay for it?”
“If I may ask, how much of that is just phone line rental?”
“Uh $25 I think”
“Okay… well, I can bring that down to $19 a month, and we can do the first two months for free. How much can you download each month?”
“Uh 30 gigs in peak, 48 gigs in offpeak”
“….you use all that?”
“Indeed I do”
“Ah… okay. Well, thanks for your time.”
“No problem. Bye!”

(see also)