Friday, September 29, 2006

Doom (XBOX 360)

I kind of collect doom games so it made sense that I immediately bought Doom on XBLA for 800pts ($10).

My Doom Collection:
Doom Movie DVD
Doom 3 Resurrection of Evil XBOX
Doom 3 Collector's Edition XBOX
Doom 3 Resurrection of Evil PC
Doom 3 PC
Doom Collector's Edition PC
Doom II PC
Master Levels for Doom II PC
Ultimate Doom PC
Final Doom PC
Doom GBA
Doom 3DO
Doom Saturn
Doom 64 N64
Doom Jaguar
Doom 32X
Doom PSX
Final Doom PSX

- It's doom. It plays great on the X360. The new 5.1 sound is nice.
- Some nice achievements
- 4 player split screen, 4 player over xbox live, co-op too!
- Controls are fine but I couldn't figure out how to remap the controls. I wanted to move the action button to a bumper but oh well no big deal. It's not like doom had that many controls (no jumping, no crouching, no looking up or down).
- All 4 episodes included
- I thought I would just mess around with it for a bit but I'm suprised how much I'm enjoying playing this 15 year old game.

Highly recommended for any Doom Fan/Collector.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

iPod Nano 8gb (2nd generation)

It has finally happened. We now own our first ipod.
I picked this up for the wife since her old iriver 128mb usb 1.1 mp3 player was just embarrassingly out of date. My practical nature in choosing electronics lead me to the nex3+ but was quickly rejected by the wife based on aesthetics.

- thin, tiny, aesthetically pleasing
- nice bright color screen
- great battery life
- brushed aluminum so it's more durable and more scratch resistance. They also rounded the edges.
- pretty good value if you add up the cost of parts. Say a 4gb SD card runs $80-$100. So in just memory alone 8gb would run you close to $200. $50 for the player isn't that bad.
- the optional $50 FM module was smaller than I expected.
- displays photos pretty nicely even on that tiny screen. You can even create a little slide show with background music.

- 8gb (the only good value in the bunch) only comes in black.
- non user replaceable battery. This is my #1 issue with ipods. I'll either pay their exuberant prices and go through the hassle of shipping it to apple for a replacement or do some hack job myself in about 2 years when that battery only holds half its charge.
- no built in FM and $50 for a tuner is kind of nuts. Nanos are suppose to be used when working out. Most gym's broadcast the TV audio on FM!
- I can't handle the wheel. I keep overshooting the item I want by one. It seems a bit too sensitive to me.
- can only navigate music by id3 tag, no folder navigation
- photo slide show seems to sort the files in an unpredictable manner.
- limited resume functionality. No robust bookmarking.
- comes with a usb sync/charge cable. There is no cradle or ac adapter so you can't charge the nano while the computer is off. I think you can work around it by connecting it to a powered usb hub. But come on apple. For $250 I expect at least an ac adapter.
- have to use itunes to transfer music on to the nano. I really hate itunes especially the library. I hate being forced into id3 tag browsing vs folder. I added a music folder with a lot of mp3's. Yeah it hung...twice. I finally gave up and ended up dragging a few folders at a time into itunes. After an hour or so I finally got everything imported into the library and then quickly backed up the xml file just in case. Fyi, the mp3's are on a network share.
- Next I go and properly tag some files (outside of itunes) and then drag them back into the library. You would think it would update the tag info. NOPE! I had to play each song within the library before it would pull in the new tag information.
- It hung once while trying to flash the nano to 1.01 firmware. Ok granted I had it hooked up through a powered usb hub (read previous comment). So I rebooted, connected the nano directly, and it flashed just fine.
- no official movie support. Also, the new games on the itunes store are NOT supported on the nano.

Apple ipods are definitely targeted at a specific consumer which apparently covers 75% of the mp3 buying market which my wife is clearly a part of. I,on the other hand, am definitely part of that other 25%. The wife likes it and that's what is important even if it's a bit of a pain for me to support.

Recommended for those looking for something stylish, trendy, status symbol, simple, bought into the itunes store (why not just order the cd from amazon without any drm and rip it any way you want?), and those who love the wheel navigation.
NOT recommended for the power user looking for a ton of functionality, flexibility, and value.

Update: 9/21/06
- TheAngryIntern pointed out to me that the full version of winamp also supports transfering mp3's to the ipod.
- I noticed that the mp3's are just in a hidden directory with all the files and directories given cryptic names.
- I also found Anapod Explorer which seems interesting.
- Audio Books and bookmarking

Rio Forge 512mb MP3 Player

Here is another older review I did a while back. Rio is out of business now but these can still be found on ebay for cheap. Just make sure you avoid the "sport" models since those don't have the SD slot for expandable memory.

requirements: flash based, expandable memory, FM, resume

- about $170 shipped from newegg. I believe a $20 rebate has just started so you should be able to find a better deal now.
- solid state player with 512mb internal memory and a SD slot for expansion. Takes up to a 1 gig sd card though I'm thinking it's possible larger ones will be supported. Read/writes standard Fat32. No software needed. Just drag and drop with file explorer. When you plug it in you get two drive letters, one for the internal memory, and one for the sd card. This is very convenient. usb 2.0. I'm currently using it with a 512mb sd card for a total of 1 gig of storage.
- to remove the sd card you have to take out the battery first.
- flashed to latest 1.20 firmware. There are reports of faulty hardware if you get firmware version 1.01 out of the box. If you get 1.16 out of the box then you have the latest hardware revision. All 512mb versions are at least 1.16 because they didn't introduce the 512mb version until later. If you get the 128 or 256 then beware. I tried a 1.01 128mb version from best buy and the big problem is the fm reception is horrible so I returned it. I can confirm that the 512mb has much much better fm reception. You also gain the ability to record from fm (wav format).
- supports mp3, wma, and audible even.
- amazing resume/bookmark support. When turning the unit off or switching between mp3 and fm it ALWAYS remembers the exact track and second where you left off. I believe everything gets written to flash memory so I believe even with a dead batter it will remember where you left off. You have 10 independent bookmarks you can set. Saving a bookmark couldn't be easier. Hold down the middle button, a menu pops up letting you pick your bookmark(1-10) and save. This is the best implementation of resume/bookmark I've seen on any player. This is a critical feature for those who listen to audio books.
- claims of up to 20hrs on a single AAA battery. There is even a NIMH/alkaline setting so the battery indicator will be correct.
- 5 band equalizer. not just presets but a real equalizer.
- has a standard usb mini connector. the little plastic cover for the usb port is very easy to lose.
- comes with an arm band and a clip. You can bend the clip so everything fits very tightly. The headphones aren't too bad actually and wrap around your ear for a very good fit.
- good stop watch with lots of lap times
- tons of settings. You can configure many aspects of this player.
- volume and sound quality seem fine.
- when you first turn it on after changing songs it has to rebuild the database. This takes a while. After that boot time is about 4 sec.
- navigation: It has really good navigation based on id3 tags. You can choose by artist which will then drill down to albums. You can go straight to albums, genre, specific track, year, and new music (time based - when you added the songs). Every single level has a play all option, so you can play everything in memory, all albums of a specific artist, a specific album, etc.
- m3u play lists are supported. I've tried ones generated by audiograbber and ones from mp3tag. Just make sure you use relative paths.
- nice display and back light. Shows lots of information like codec and bitrate along with the usual mp3 tag info.
- no glitches or lock ups so far.

bottom line:
A great solid state player that's a tad over priced.

Archos Jukebox Recorder 20 MP3 Player

Here is an older review I did on my FAVORITE mp3 player:

lots more pictures:

There are some very clear advantages to this vintage mp3 player.
- about the size of a 2.5" laptop hard drive but 3x as thick.
- 20 gig hard drive based mp3 player
- discontinued for a couple of years now. you can still find them on ebay:
You should be able to get one for around $100 shipped for a working model if you are patient.
- uses 4 X AA standard nimh. With 2300mah I'm getting about 10-15 hrs (With a good mix of audio books and music I got close to 14hrs). A lot depends on the bit rate of what you are listening to. Higher bit rate means more hard drive access since shorter durations fit in the memory buffer.
- usb mass storage device. no special software needed
- usb 2.0
- requires a usb A(male)-A(male) cable (not the usual A-B). You can get these at fry's for $7-10 or you can buy a A->B adapter for about $4.
- uses a standard 2.5" laptop hard drive formatted to fat32. Pretty easy to upgrade. You want 100 gigs of music? You can do it with this player and for a lot cheaper.
- killer open source OS called rockbox:
Without this there would be almost no reason to even consider this player. It has a ton of features for the power user. Read over the manual to get an idea of all it can do: full customization of almost every imaginable setting, directory navigation, unlimited bookmarks which are saved to the hard drive in a plain text file, resume, better usb support, better charging algorithm, games (even tetris), very flexible on the fly m3u playlist creation, and a ton more. No need to flash. Super easy installation. Just unzip to the root of the HD.
- lots of inputs/outputs. Digital in/out and analog line in. You can record directly to mp3 VBR up to avg 170 kbps. The quality is very good. Visual graph of recording level lets you adjust gain on the fly and also monitor/hear what you are recording on the headphones.

buying an archos:
The only device that meets my criteria of using standard AA nimh, uses standard 2.5" laptop HD, and is usb 2.0 is the Archos Jukebox recorder 20. Only the 20 gig model are you guaranteed usb 2.0. The 15gb comes in both usb 1.1 and usb 2.0 so be careful.

I flashed my Archos with rockbox. This is completely optional. Archos runs just fine from the hard drive. Make sure you read carefully:

It was really easy and pretty safe. It took only a few minutes. I flashed with rombox so rockbox executes directly from flash instead of ram. I now have 1.761MB (up from 1.614) of free buffer memory (about 4% increase in play time - 30min).

The main reason I did it was I was getting tired of the 15 sec boot times. Now I'm enjoying 4 sec boot times!

Hard drive upgrade:
The drive should have the following specs...
2.5 inch
9.5 mm
4200 rpm (I hear lower rpm helps battery life)
Fluid Dynamic Bearing (FDB) quieter.

I picked up this 80gb fujitsu laptop hard drive. It's currently only $104:

Installing it was quick and easy.

create a primary partition.
used h2format to format to fat 32

So basically for around $200 I have an 80gb mp3 player. If you ebay the original 20gb HD that came in the archos (for around $40) then you are looking at about $160 for an 80gb mp3 player! Sure it looks a bit dated, it's a bit larger and heavier but it uses so many industry standard parts (battery, storage) plus open source software. It makes it a dream to tinker with/upgrade for the power user. Overall I think it's a great value.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Dead Rising (XBOX 360)

- I just finished 72hr mode with the best "A" ending saving 23 people on my first run through. I'm level 39 now.
- This opened up overtime mode for another 24hrs of game time to get the real ending. (1:6 between real time:game time).
- Update: just finished overtime mode and got the true ending. I'm Level 40 now.
- I'll just say right off the bat that I really like this game but there are just some bone headed things it does that drives me crazy.
- Everybody has heard about the save system but It's not too horrible if you have at least one memory card and a X360 save transfer kit. I basically do all my risky saves to the HD. Once I get to a good safe point in the game, I save to the memory card and then immediately back it up to my PC. That way I can never blow my entire game and have to start over. Now, if you only have an HD then yeah you are basically SCREWED!
- AI path finding is just horrible. Ok, I understand that part of it is by design (the state of the survivor, injuries, etc) but come on. Before you get to the vent there is a ledge they have to climb up. I don't know how many times I'm sitting there running short on time and the two survivors are just sitting there running into each other, neither climbing, while I'm running around screaming "come on." It's like they get into a deadlock of who is going to climb first but since neither can stand in the exact climbing spot they just sit there running at each other and going nowhere. I was so frustrated I chained sawed two survivors right there on the spot. If they got rid of that one ledge and made it into a ramp it would have made a BIG difference.
- why isn't there a save point before the last boss fight?????
- The rest of the game is pretty awesome. The plot is just way out there but I love the characters (both the good guys and the psychos). I always look forward to the in engine cut scenes which are very graphically impressive.

Here are some tips. (WARNING some minor SPOILERS)
-Power level before you even start for around three hours. Try to at least get to the first speed level up (what gets leveled is kind of random). I would say around level 15 to 20 is good. I used Erik's great guide to power leveling.
- Kill adam the clown the first chance you get. He has THE best weapon in the game. Make sure you grab his two mini chainsaws. Triple book them and the two chainsaws will last you for the entire first 72hrs easily and makes killing bosses much MUCH easier. The chainsaws respawn if you ever need more. Each one can kill around 1200-1500 zombies before breaking.
- After case 2 things get a lot easier. But with the chainsaws and books even case 2 wasn't too tough. I had no problems finishing it on time.
- When you have some time to kill go get the maintenance tunnel key.
It will make the bomb section much easier. In fact I got 4/5 bombs from running around in the mall and going down with the key to get the bombs and then going right back up. The last one I drove to.
- Typically I carry 2 mini chainsaws, a ranged weapon (sub machine gun or nail gun), 3 books, and a few health items (wine or nectar from blending orange juice + orange juice).
- just run and jump kick the last boss over and over. Stand on the lower part of the tank. As the boss falls from the turret level down to your level jump kick him. Your forward momentum toward the higher turret level will make the boss think you are going up there (though you actually don't). That will make him climb back up. Just repeat several times to beat him.

interactive map

It says something that even though I really hate games with poor save systems I STILL highly recommend this game. It's just that good and different from anything you have played before.

Monday, September 11, 2006

F14 XNA Game

The video reflects the latest released version.

UPDATE v.0.63 (9/21/2014):
I did a quick and dirty port of the windows version to build in visual studio 2014 and xna 4.0.  Seems to run ok.  Source is now on bitbucket:

Here are tips on getting XNA Game Studio 4.0 installed in windows 8:

and some porting tips getting the game which was built in xna 1.0 to 4.0:

full source included: [mirror] (7.1MB) - Big thanks to Robby_ks for the xbox 360 port.
Updated v0.62 (12/23/06)
Please look near the bottom of this post for update details.

So about a week or so ago microsoft released the beta of XNA. It's a development platform that is based on C# and the .net 2.0 framework. When the final version comes out later this year, you should be able to re-target your project to X360, recompile with little code change, and actually play it on your X360 (that is if you join their $99/year creator's club).

I'm a coder by profession but I've never done any graphics or game programming before. I've glanced at directx and Managed Directx before but both of those still seamed like way too much work to get started. XNA looked like it finally simplified things enough so you can just get right to the game coding. Since I had a few years of C# under my belt I finally decided it was time to try and see if I could write a game.

Overall XNA has been pretty nice to work with but it's definitely a beta product (some missing functionality, bugs, missing or inaccurate documentation, etc).

Disclaimer: This is my first game I have ever wrote. I haven't even read any game programming books. Basically I got most of the help I needed from the excellent official xna forums and the links I list below. I wrote this game basically to get familiar with the new XNA framework.

So here is my rather generic 2D vertical scrolling shooter F14 XNA. Think 1942 or Raiden and you'll get the idea. This first release is really far from done but I thought I had put enough work into it to have something kind of fun to play with some possibly useful code. I have quite a few interesting gameplay mechanics I want to implement in the future. I'm not sure if I'll ever finish it since I really want to dive into the 3d stuff. But everybody says you should write a 2D game first so here it is. Either way it served it's educational purpose.

Installation: The current xna beta doesn't let you create a stand alone package for distribution. You must install .net framework 2.0, c# express, and XNA beta. Then, fire up c# express, open the f14.sln file, click build, rebuild. Then look under bin\release and run the f14.exe. If you want to run it in debug under the IDE just hit F5 in C# express but performance is better if you run the f14.exe directly. It should have no problems runing at a solid 60fps on most machines.

Keyboard and X360 wired controller are currently supported.
W,S,A,D, Right analog stick, D-Pad: Movement
space, A button, Right trigger: Fire
Home, start button: restart
esc, back button: exit

By default you get 3 lives. Fight off a few waves of enemies and make it to the big boss at the end. If you managed to destory it, the level just starts over again. To change the numer of lives look in the Player class and change totalLives. When you die you are invulnerable for the first 2 seconds.

- 1 level of play including 3 enemy types and a boss
- 3 levels of parallax scrolling
- sound
- high score
- animated sprites, rotation, scaling
- basic enemy ai, track the player, movement patterns
- robust scripting engine so making your own levels would be easy.
- "realistic" graphics (ha!)
- keyboard and Xbox 360 wired controller including rumble support.

Project details:
- about 4400 lines of code of which around 3300 I wrote myself.
- 8 days coding on my free time. Can we say a LOT of late nights.
- A pretty complete 2D vertical scrolling shooter engine that should be pretty easy to customize.
- This was my xna learning curve project so I'm sure there are a lot of things I could have done better. Feel free to rip it apart and post any suggestion you might have in the comments.
- The OO design is a bit sloppy. I've got some loose scoping, the constructors are a mess, too much code in the Director class that needs to be pushed out to the other classes. Yeah there is still a lot of cleanup I need to do.
- Heavy use of strongly typed generics collections.
- Most textures cached in a Dictionary
- The scripting engine is pretty flexible. It should make designing levels pretty easy and the ScriptItem class is ready to be serialized. It would be trivial to support outside editing of say a level xml file and then loading it up into the game. Check out Director.GenerateScript(). You can easily generate squadrons of fighters, display text, change background speed, play a sound, etc.
- Spent way too much time on Common\ScrollingBackground.cs. I think I rewrote it 3 times but I like the final result. I can take almost any size textures, piece them together, and loop them. You can scroll in either direction.
- Default resolution is 1024X768 but you can change it to whatever you want or go full screen, and I think the game should handle it. I tried not to hard code anything based on a fixed resolution.
- I take NO credit for any of the art assets (well except maybe for the little puffs of clouds). Most of the stuff I just googled because I can't draw worth a darn. Most sprites I cleaned up in making ample use of the magic wand to make the backgrounds transparent.
- For explosions I used Simply Explosion Maker.
- Most sounds are from the spacewars project with some recordings of the voices which were processed through Audacity for some effects (like on Warning!).
- No music until there is something like mp3 support. Otherwise file size would get way large.
- Input I used Dean Johnson's Game component.
- bitmap fonts I used garykac.
- There is a bug where after an enemy dies and the script spawns a new enemy with a different projectile texture, the projectiles for the dead enemy that are still on the screen could possibly change images in mid flight. Basically I'm reusing those Enemy objects too soon. I'll get this fixed up maybe later this week along with some much needed code cleanup.

Well, that's about it. There's still a lot of work to be done but I think I'll take a break for a bit since I've been going at it pretty hard for the last week.

xna beta:

You need to install C# express first (even if you have the full visual studio already installed)

F14 XNA Discussion:

Previous Videos
Pre-release prototype
v0.50 first release
v0.60 short 1 min version

Version History:
v0.51 (9/12/06)
- added game over voice
- version # prints in the lower left corner
- fixed a build issue with the signing property on the project file thanks to Knight99

v0.60 (9/13/06)
- cleaned up all the code. If you are at all interested in the source please make sure you grab the latest version. OO design is pretty clean now, flattened the class hierarchy a bit, cleaned up the constructors, use of texture cache is now consistent across the entire game. The following classes were removed: bullet, missle, and explosion.
- fixed the above mentioned bug on projectiles.
- Added the ability for any vehicle (enemy or player) to shoot multiple types of projectiles. I've reworked the ufo boss to now shoot 3 different projectiles each with it's own rate of fire, max shots, and speed.
- extended the level a bit with a few more squadron of fighters.
- guided missiles (both enemy and player) should make it in the next release. I've already had some good internal preliminary tests.

v0.61.(12/17/06) (Mirror)
- additional files:
F14 XACT sound project source
F14 WAV files
- ported from beta 1 to XNA Game Studio Express 1.0.
- Sorry no new features in this release.
- It took quite a bit of effort to do (almost a full day).
- Helpful porting pages:
- Things that broke that had to be fixed:
- setting window resolution
- no more designer broke a few things especially the use of game components
- GameTime and not being able to get to time elapsed from the Game object was the biggest issue
- had to convert xact project to 2.0 to get sound working
- sound bug code work around
- spritebatch.draw and depth parameter seems to work a bit different (the order in which the draws are executed critical now)
- Still can't get publishing and stand alone executable installation working but I haven't tried very hard yet.

- XBOX 360 port by Robby_ks, Thanks! Here are some of the changes he had to make
Here is a short ChangeLog to get it working on Xbox 360:
- Added actionSafeArea and titleSafeArea to Director and SceneItem to avoid items outside the visual area
- Changed all bound checks in SceneItem.cs, Player.cs, and Enemy.cs
- Fixed a bug with the ScrollingBackground which was only occurring when using small resolutions (eg. 640x480)
- Use content manager for loading of textures in BitmapFont.cs and TextureCache.cs, since Texture2D.fromFile() is not supported on Xbox 360
- Using #if !XBOX360 to ignore all mouse related stuff in InputManager.cs

v0.62 (12/23/06) [mirror]
- Big thanks to Robby_ks for the xbox 360 port and cleaning up and organizing all my source files/content.
- It is now a single consolidated solution that contains both windows and xbox 360 projects, xact project, and raw wav files. This is now the complete source with all content used to make the game.
- To deploy to xbox 360 you have to first right click properties on the solution, configuration properites, check deploy on F14Xbox.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Sony Wireless Headphone MDR-IF240RK

I wrote this up about 3 years ago, and I still think this is a great product.

I picked these up at Fry's for $60 (you can get a better price online. about $50 shipped). I'm using this in the game room so I can finally hear all my games when the kids are asleep (they're right next door).


- it's IR so they are much smaller and lighter weight than the 900mhz RF ones.
- range is excellent (24 ft) and covers 180+ degrees. I can actually walk about a foot behind the transmitter and still get a signal. You can face any direction too without any issues.
- lots of inputs: 1/8 mini and L/R rca phono jacks so you can hook up pretty much any device even those without a headphone jack.
- cable/adapters included
- headphone runs on a single AAA batter. It comes with a NiMH rechargeable (35 hrs) which recharges right on the base. I like that it uses a standard AAA which I can easily use my own NiMH when the included one eventually dies
- sound quality is good if not great. I think stereo separation and the upper range are a tad weak. The best way I can describe it is a very good and clear FM radio station. No static or hiss. It's just fine for games and dvd's.
- 3 hrs and the headphones are very comfortable. It has a spring loaded head band so it auto adjusts. It has just the right amount of tension to fit snug but comfortably.
- there's a single volume switch on the right side of the headphone that adjusts sound for both channels.

Highly recommended!