The everyday ramblings of one nerd.


Not Quite a Phoenix : Raising my MAME Machine From the Ashes.

I've been meaning to sit down and write this for some time now, but have always managed to come up with some sort of convenient excuse not to. Well now, coffee in hand, I'm going to make this happen.

I built a Mame arcade machine back in the summer of 2003 with my father. It was a ton of fun and I at least learned about the large whole of my knowledge and experience involving woodworking. However me being a student at the time, and now a graduate (arcade machines, while awesome, don't travel well or fit within a student's nomadic lifestyle), and my own parents having moved twice in that time, means that this little arcade machine has traveled many miles, and we unfortunately didn't design some aspects of the machine to handle the stresses of the average move.

About the third move was when things started to go south. This move was done by “professional” movers, and apparently the entire cabinet was dropped or something. The monitor yoke had fallen off the back of the monitor tube and smashed into the PC motherboard at the bottom of the cabinet. It looked worse than it actually was, and it didn't take too long to get it running again. Lucky for me there.

The next move happened while I was busy away at college, no idea what happened there, but I came home after college and the machine wouldn't boot up at all. After a few diagnostics, I decided that well, the parts were ancient when I built it, they must have finally given up the ghost, so I chucked the motherboard in the bin, and went about scrounging some new parts. This was the first step in legacy hell.


DIY Steam Cloud

One of my favorite uses of Dropbox is not something they advertise on the tin.  Currently Dropbox will only sync files are are actually in the dropbox folder, however with a little magic, you can trick all kinds of programs to saving their data to dropbox for you.

I like to use it to keep my saved games safe and synced between my various computers.  I'll guide you through how do do it for VVVVVV which was recently updated to actually have external save files (as opposed to the flash cache).

1) Find the save files.  Most windows games are going to keep their save game files in one of two places.  Either in the document library (or the My Documents folder, if you are still on Windows XP), or in the directory where the game is installed.  When in doubt, a Google query will usually turn up where the files are hiding.

2) Make a directory in dropbox.  I've made a folder hierarchy called Steam/GameName

3) Move the save files from the game's directory to dropbox, then delete the folder from the game directory.  Don't worry, your saves are safe on dropbox now.

4) Create a symlink where the original folder was, pointing back to dropbox instead.  Here's the magic folks.  Symlinks work like a shortcut to a different file or folder, but at the filesystem level.  Programs don't "see" the difference.  Once I've created a symlink, VVVVVV will see all the save files exactly where it expects to, but the are now actually stored in my dropbox folder.

The easiest way to do this (especially if you are going to be doing this for several games) is to install the Link Shell Extension, which will let you add symlinks in a drag and drop fashion. As I'm doing here:

If you don't want to install the extension, you can also use the command line, the command for the example I'm using here would be this:

C:\Users\Brandon Kiesling\Documents>mklink /D VVVVVV "C:\Users\Brandon Kiesling\Dropbox\Steam\VVVVVV\"

5) Test it.  Try launching the game, if you are able to load your existing save games, you're golden.  If you save again, you should see dropbox sync briefly though depending on the game, it may not sync until you exit the game.

6) Repeat.  For each computer you want to sync the saved games for, repeat these steps.  Note that in step 3 you may not want to overwrite the files already in your dropbox, if that's the case, just delete them.

A few more notes:

  • You can symlink a single file instead of a whole directory.  Some games keep their save files as a single archive file or similar.
  • Make sure you have enough storage on dropbox for the files.  Some modern games, especially RPGs can have some pretty huge files.  (800mb for my Witcher saves, for example.)
  • Depending on the game, it might be disastrous if you attempt to play the game at the same time on multiple computers.
  • Both Mac and Linux support symlinks in this manner too. Assuming that the various cross-platform editions use the same save file format, you can have cross-platform sync as well.

Don't have dropbox?  I can help with that part , get it here.

Filed under: Games No Comments

A feast for the senses.

There's been handful of recent games that have shown up recently that have one thing in common: they might give you a seizure.  First on the list, Gridrunner Revolution, a game which Games Radar rated "Most Insane of 2009", and for good reason.  Gridrunner is the brainchild of one Jeff Minter, who has mastered the art of subjecting your eyes to a dizzying and at times addictive array of psychedelic visuals in his games.  Gridrunner is at the core a top-down vertical shooter, but things go a bit weird after that.  Gravity, the ability to turn your ship in any direction, and the encouragement to score big by creating pretty patterns with your ships shots all mark some interesting departures from what you would expect.  Oh, and sheep too, they make you go "ding" and they can save your life.  This is not really the proper place for me to review or even adequately explain any of Llamasoft's recent game, it's hard enough to describe the premise of the game without sounding like a stark raving lunatic here I go:

  • The ship is controlled with the left stick, you can rotate the facing of the ship with the right stick.  You can change between different ships (representing your extra lives) for different shot patterns.
  • "Sheepies" fall from the top of the screen, if you collect one, your score multiplier goes up, and your ships firepower is also increased.  Sheepies can also be used to save you if you die, because when hit, your ship will briefly bounce around on the screen, which you can steer into enemies to bounce longer, touch a sheepie and "Sheepie Save!" you are brought back to life with no penalty, nice.
  • Many of the stages have a "Sun" which hangs around being massive.  Not only does it shoot at you, but its gravity will bend your shots.  The more convoluted a path your bullets take, the higher score when it finally hits something.  You can also blow up the sun, turning it into a black hole.  This makes the score multiplier go nuts.

While you're attempting all this, you have to be able to handle visual overload.  Your eyes might be wide, teary affairs from the strain of attempting to take in the visual overload of the trippy visuals the game hits you over the head with.

However, impossible as it immediately seemed to me, there is a game around that is even more abusive on the eyes than anything Llamasoft has come up with.  Beat Hazard.  On it's own, it's a pretty generic twin-stick shooter, akin to geometry wars, with one simple twist.  The enemy spawns, player shots, and eye-bleeding visuals are all tied to the music that's playing, any you can pick any song from your collection to play on.  This game is absolutely BRUTAL on your eyes, with everything brightly strobing in time with your music.

It's a very simple game, but throw on some thumping electronic dance music, set the difficulty to "Jedi" and kiss your retinas goodbye.  I keep coming back for more, but I wonder if any of this will lead to permanant damage.

Pssssh, I'm sure I''ll be fine.

Here's a video of me getting schooled on hardcore ("Jedi") difficulty.  Viewers with epilepsy, beware.

Filed under: Games No Comments

Drafted, or a voulenteer?

Well, my friend Ari, despite going for his masters, apparently has the spare time to go out and do more work on the side, how's that for dedication?  (Instructors, I don't think you are giving him enough homework.)  At any rate, his enthusiasm is contagious, and has me now pledging a portion of my free time to work on an open sourced game. 0 A.D. I'm quite impressed with what this game has accomplished so far, it reminds me very much of Age of Mythology or Age of Empires, two of my favorite RTS games to date.

After talking with their lead programmer I've been accepted into the team, it's been a trip getting my head around a project of this size (and it is HUGE).  I hope to make some solid contributions to the project over time.

Filed under: Games, Programming 1 Comment