Sunday, December 19, 2010

New system up and running

Well I got the new system up and running. I ended up buying a Philips 22" monitor to go with my 2 Samsung monitors, and gave the 21.5" Dell to my wife to use with her laptop. I also ended up buying an expensive displayport adapter since the $30 one was being flaky. Eyefinity or the adapters seem to have issues sometimes with the system going to sleep. I also ended up grabbing the new World of Warcraft expansion. They completly redid the quests in the original zones to take into account the current state of the world and upped the level cap to 85 with a few new zones. Here is a pic that shows eyefinity at work (added vert lines to approximate where the monitor edges are) and me hitting the new level cap. It was pretty easy to do in less than a week just playing a few hours a night. The only quest I really ran into trouble with and needed assistance was 'The Defiler's ritual' in Uldum. Luckily a horde player was working the same thing, and we didn't need to group in order for it to work so we both took down the mobs and got the quest completed.


WoW 2010-12-19 03-46-20-19-bezel

Thursday, December 2, 2010

New system arrives today

After battling hard to diagnose problems with my system the past couple of years I have finally bitten the bullet and ordered a Dell as a replacement. It was supposed to be delayed in shipping and not get here until the 21st because I swapped the video for an ATI 5770, but to my surprise it was shipped on Wednesday and is already somewhere in the Fedex system in Phoenix.

Between some disk problems and a driver update causing stability problems for my 4850s I haven't played any computer games in about six weeks. Right before the last hiccup on the system I had played a couple weeks of World of Warcraft again to see what kind of changes were taking place to get ready for the next expansion. I haven't decided if I will take the plunge and buy it. I still haven't even broken down and bought the latest edition of Civilization. Most of my gaming time has been spent on chess lately.

So the new system has the following:

i7-870 Quad Core w/ HT
8 GB ram
1 TB hd
PCIe wlan card
ATI 5770 w/ 1GB DDR5
22" monitor (1920x1080)

I also ordered an active displayport to DVI adapter from Newegg so I can use all 3 22" monitors as a single display on the new system. That probably won't get here until next week. At least the price on those dropped to about $30.

I have been spending some time thinking about how I want the system organized. Because Win7 doesn't like programs writing to things in the Program Files directories, if you install something there you a lot of times have to give it administrator rights just so it can function. So I am probably going to set up a directory structure under users/public to install applications there where they won't have to contend with that.

I also need to decide what game to install first to test the Eyefinity technology running on the 3 monitors. If I plan on playing WoW again, I won't install until after I get the expansion. There are so many massive updates to download it would take a day to get it running without setting up any addons. Most likely I will install and run Starcraft 2 first or get FSX up and running, which would be nice with the 3 monitors. Or maybe ArmaII. That with the trackIR would be fun on the 3 monitors, and hopefully this system will crush ArmaII.

My current system suffered from a set of Seagate drives that were recalled initially, but it has seemed to have other problems with either the sata controllers, the sata cables (swapping them at one point solved a problem), or some other issue with the mobo. Whatever the problem is I don't care to try and track it down any more, and I don't really care to build my own systems any more. Dell systems are cheap enough these days that it isn't worth the effort to byo.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Retro Gaming time

Along with my sf reading kick lately I have been in the mood to play some space games. I have a whole slew of them to work through, but to start off I have decided to go back to one of my favorites and one of the best, Starflight.

starflt_001  starflt_002

In this game you captain a space ship and crew around the galaxy searching for clues as to why the star in your home system is going unstable. You fly around to different star systems, land on planets and search the surface looking for clues, and minerals for use and selling. You also communicate with other beings out in space, and occasionally fight them.

You start the game at a space station, with a basic ship and 12000 credits to spend. You get some initial briefings about what is going on, and then you must hire a crew, train them, and possibly upgrade your ship (at the very least adding cargo pods to haul back what you find during expeditions down on the surface of planets. You are given some initial clues as part of those notices which lead you to some other planets in your system to do some initial prospecting to build up more money for training and upgrades. You will get into a cycle of searching for clues, prospecting for minerals, training and upgrading until your ship and crew are maxed out, at which point you will start to focus more on solving the mystery.

What is amazing is the amount of detail that is in this game, and the fact that they managed to pack it into such a small footprint. The way they did that is with procedural techniques, which generates most of the data from seeds. They used this for generating the terrain of the 800+ planets you can explore in the game. Procedural techniques had fallen out of favor as technology and games went more into the eye candy realm. Recently though Will Wright and Maxis returned to the use of procedural techniques with the game Spore in order to cut down on the amount of storage used by the game, as well as the development costs of coming up with art assets. The procedural generation of art assets is a bit different than the procedural generation used in Starflight and Elite, but still is a very interesting concept.

I remember when I first encountered this game. I had a Commodore 64 growing up, but a friend had a PC and he got this game. We were both blown away by how immense the universe in the game seemed. I remember his notebook that he had filled with page after page of notes for clues, the sites of ruins, and everything other piece of information he could glean from the game. I didn’t play the game until after graduating from high school when I got my 1st PC. I bought Sim City and Starflight that summer.

It is a shame that no one has really come up with something like this game since the early 90s.

A Fire Upon the Deep

I finally got around to reading Vernor Vinge's book this past month. I have had it on the shelf for a few years, but I had stalled fairly early in the book the last time I tried reading it. Luckily I gave it another shot, because it is a very good book that deserves it's reputation. The universe Vinge creates is very interesting. The galaxy is divided into zones, where certain technologies are possible. From what I can tell the closer you move to the galactic core and greater mass density the less you are able to achieve. There are 3 defined zones in the book: the Unthinking Depths where FTL travel is impossible, the Slow Zone, and the Beyond. As you move out through the zones much greater technology is possible, with civilizations reaching the beyond transcending typically into another state of being, something like a super AI. I think some of this is Vinge working his ideas of the technological singularity which is a subject he is interested in. He also toys with the idea of pack sentience for a dog-like species that inhabits a planet in the story. Overall it leads to a very different universe than what is usually portrayed in sf, and probably is part of what initially got me stalled the 1st time through just trying to make sense of it all.

I don't have time to really get into the plot right now, but it basically involves a group of human researchers unearthing something very evil out in the Beyond, and the subsequent battle to stop that evil.

I'd recommend the book to any sf fans as would the World Science Fiction Society, which awarded the book a Hugo.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

The Stars, Like Dust

I read this for the first time the other day. It is the part of the Galactic Empire series of novels, set in the same universe as the Foundation series, but at an earlier time period. The backdrop for the story is a group of kingdoms being oppressed by a tyrannical empire, named surprisingly Tyrann. The protagonist is a young man, whose father is executed for being part of the conspiracy to overthrow Tyrann rule of the Kingdoms. Earth appears to be mostly a wasteland as the result of nuclear warfare in an earlier age, but there is still some settlements there. The story opens with the protagonist studying at a university on earth, and someone apparently trying to kill him with a radiation bomb. What ensues is his trying to figure out who tried to kill him, finding out who is responsible for the death of his father, and eventually a search for a mysterious rebellion world. Overall, an entertaining if simple story. I look forward to reading the rest of the series.

Monday, August 16, 2010

100 Days: Memoirs of the Falklands Battle Group Commander


This past weekend I finished reading Admiral Sandy Woodward’s book covering the operations in the South Atlantic. It is one of the better military memoirs I have read, and did a great job of providing insight into just how difficult an operation it was to take back the Falklands. In addition to fighting the Argentinians, they were in a race with Mother Nature as winter was fast approaching in the Southern hemisphere. My guess is that General Galtieri thought the British wouldn’t be able to react quickly enough before winter arrived allowing the Argentinians time to consolidate their positions.

One thing that surprised me in the book was how unreliable the Argentinian bombs were, and how unreliable the British anti-air systems were. It seemed like in the majority of cases, the bombs that the Argentinians managed to hit ships with didn’t detonate. For the British there were many technical problems with both the Sea Dart and the Sea Wolf systems getting confused and refusing to prosecute incoming targets.

Woodward does a good job highlighting the difficult decisions a commander must make that will effect the lives of many people, and how they have to shrug off events that have taken place and carry on. I would highly recommend the book to anyone with interest in the subject, or in naval matters. I plan on getting a copy of Commodore Clapp’s book on the landings at San Carlos Water, and will be looking for a book that goes into greater detail over the land campaign.

Monday, August 9, 2010

NCAA Football 2011 for the PS3

So this past July I finally broke down and bought a PS3 in order to play NCAA Football 2011 with a couple of my buddies from my days in the Army. In addition to that I have been wanting to try M.A.G. with the people on the QT3 forums. We last played NCAA football while all living together in Scottsdale back in the 2001-2002 timeframe on the PS2. Now we could play in a dynasty and be scattered around the country. I grabbed my alma mater Iowa. Mark grabbed where he went to law school, Texas Tech, and Dave grabbed Pittsburgh. We initially started on the varsity level, but quickly jumped up to All-American which was a better challenge.

The Online dynasty works easily enough. Each player does their own thing, and when everyone is ready the commissioner advances the game to the next week. Your weekly routine mainly consists of recruiting high school players, and playing your scheduled game. We only had 1 online game between any of us, which was Dave and myself playing for the national championship. Our first attempt disconnected, and in our second attempt Dave was experiencing horrible lag, but didn’t realize I wasn’t and played out the game which was a 19-17 victory for Iowa. The offseason consists of 12 phases, which includes a bunch of recruiting, convincing players leaving early or transferring to not leave, changing players positions, and redshirting players. One odd quirk we found was that unless everyone is online the commissioner can not advance successive weeks within 20 minutes of each other. We also ran into a bug where everyone was showing ready during the last offseason phase when they weren’t ready, which resulted in the game being advanced without getting their players redshirted.

I also played through a career in the Road to Glory mode. In this mode you take on the role of a high school player playing in the state championships. From what I can tell, how far you go in the state championships determines how many stars your player has. After the state championships, you sign with a school, and start your career as a college athlete. You don’t have to do much with academics. You can sim through practice, but I would actually do the practice sessions (run through 10 plays) until you break into a starting position. You also get bonus points to your attributes when you participate in the practice instead of simming. The thing tended to not sim though were the evening sessions. You get bonuses to your attributes each week, but they reset after the week is over. You also can go to the library to study in your evening session to up your GPA so you don’t get held out of football for poor grades. When in a game you can sim through until you get to a play that you are involved in. So this mode moves along pretty quickly once you you have broken into the starting lineup. One thing I would caution when choosing a school to play for is to look at what kind of system they run and see how it fits with the position you are playing. I went to USC because I could be a 2nd string HB to start out instead way down the depth chart at other top schools, but USC seemed to focus a lot on passing, so later in my career it was hard to compete for the Heisman. I did snare the Maxwell and Walker awards 2 years in a row and became a campus legend.

The graphics are pretty nice, but nothing spectacular. I am used to my crossfired 4850s on my desktop system though. It does look nice though on the 1080p television and sitting/lounging on a comfortable couch feels much better than sitting in my current chair at my desk (time for an way overdue upgrade there). I will say that the perspective you are seeing the game at in the Road to Glory mode looks better than when you are coaching a team.

The game did seem to stutter at certain points, mostly at points that didn’t effect the actual game though. It also seems to have issues keeping track of things like trophies you have won, or your ESPN Instant Classics. They will show up in your trophy room or the classics page, but leaving the game and coming back later shows them to be missing. This has happened a few times with the ESPN classics, and also happened to my Big 10 Championship trophy, my National Championship trophy for Iowa, and good old Floyd of Rosedale. Hopefully they will get those things worked out at some point so it isn’t so flaky.

It has been a fun game though and a good edition to step back into the game after being away for 8 years.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Further FSX Testing

I just did a quick test with real weather taking off from KCHD again, this time using the real weather engine that is included in FSX. Surprisingly I was getting pretty much the same FPS as when using Active Sky Evolution, so ASE doesn’t appear to be a hit on performance any more than the stock weather engine is.


I will run another test still in the KMFR area to see what kind of FPS I get there.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

FSX Addons and Tuning Part 2

I set up a quick flight taking off from the airport in Chandler, AZ (KCHD) and flying over towards Camelback mountain in Phoenix. I used Active Sky Evolution to get the weather data and use it’s weather engine in the game. I also changed the REX water theme, which I think makes it look somewhat better. Before it was something called sparkling, and that it did do. It could use some more tweaking to get it just right.

Anyways, I was flying around the Phoenix area at about 3000 ft. My FPS was 25 for the flight. I figured it would probably be less being in an area like Phoenix with a lot of ground objects, plus the cloudy weather was pushing it some too. I didn’t think it was bad though, and the plane responded just fine, so the 25 FPS wasn’t effecting gameplay for me. For the next test I will have to go up and fly a bit of the trip from KMFR to KPAE with Active Sky Evolution running and see what kind of FPS then.

Here are some pictures:


Here are some shots with the new water setup:

As you can see the ground textures don't look as nice up close as they do at 8000 ft. I don't know if it is a mixture of the landclass stuff for the Phoenix area and the low altitude combined, or if it is just being low that makes it look not as nice. You can see some ugly spots where textures bump up against each other without there being any continuity between them, especially in the shot of Tempe town lake (2nd to last pic). I guess I should get a plane up to a decent altitude and see how the city looks then. I will say that the terrain mesh for Camelback mountain looks really good. I work across the street from there and get to see it every day and the FSGenesis terrain mesh does a nice job of capturing it. I think I will see what the water looks like if I turn off the wave animation stuff in REX as another test to see what changes I can make to the water. The current water textures though don't bother me nearly as much as the sparkling ones did.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Finally made it to KPAE

I finally was able to finish my flight from Medford, Oregon to Everett, Washington for FSEconomy last night. I used the accelerated simulation rate to get me back up to the Seattle area, and then finished flying the rest at regular sim rate. It was a rather uneventful flight, but there were a few pockets of air that threw me around, which is entertaining when simming at 4x. The only scary part was a pocket of air that I ran into on my final approach into KPAE. Luckily it wasn’t that bad and I was able to get through it and land all 5 passengers safely on the ground. I have been doing better with leaning the mixture, and changing the prop to get better performance out of the plane.

Now I need to figure out my next step. My flying partner is up in British Columbia, and I will need to look for jobs at nearby FBOs heading in that direction. We are getting close to our destination of Alaska though. I’m still very impressed with the way FSX looks with the addons, and surprised that it is performing as well as it is.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Cows have arrived in Minecraft land

Keeping up a furious development pace, 1.0.8 was released today. The main thrust of which appears to be the addition of cows:

Tuning FSX

I finally got Flight Simulator X loaded onto my system recently. I had been playing a lot about a year ago, but I had hard drive issues, and had to reinstall XP onto the drive and never got around to reinstalling FSX. Last December I upgraded to Windows 7 64 bit Home Premium. I have been in the flying mood though, so I thought I would get things loaded back up and fly some more on FSEconomy is a small pilot simulation where you take on jobs, rent planes, and fly the jobs from their points of origin to their destinations. You earn money, which you spend on renting planes, fuel, buying fixed based operations or buying planes. A buddy and myself decided to make our way from AZ to AK when playing last year, but I had the drive issue and that brought an end to things. We started up again. He is in British Columbia at the moment, and I am trying to make my way from Oregon (KMFR) to Washington (KPAE).I had Seattle in sight when FSX crashed tonight, which is a rare event. I was messing with simulation rate to hurry up the flight because I was tired, and I was messing with that setting when it crashed. Seattle Center was talking to me at the same time. So who knows what caused it to kick the bucket. All I know is I have to fly 351 miles again. :)

Anyways I wanted to make things look better so I bought some addons, and I wanted FSX to run as smooth as possible while looking nice, so I went on a search for information on tuning systems for FSX. I found the following forum posts which guided me to my settings:

I have the following addons:

FSGenesis terrain mesh for USA
Ultimate Terrain USA - landclass addon
Ground Environment X  - texture addon
Real Environment Xtreme - sky, water texture addon (has weather engine, but I don't use it)
Active Sky Evolution - weather engine addon
Traffic 2005 - AI traffic addon

Here are the settings I ended up with:

Here are some in-game screenshots. Some show the average frames per second, which was anywhere from the 30s into the 40s tonight. I forgot to run Active Sky Evolution which is a weather engine addon, so I don't know how much that would have effected things. I will do another test with it running to see what kind of numbers I get. I should also note that I am running the game in windowed mode so that I can use my flight planner software on the other display. Besides until I upgrade to Eyefinity technology using both monitors for FSX with the Windows 7 display model is a pain. I could use the 2nd display to show other windows, but I can't really use both displays as a single virtual display. Eventually I will move on to Eyefinity technology and will have the virtual cockpit on both displays, and run the flight planner on my laptop.

Just after takeoff from KMFR in Oregon:

Some shots on the way to Portland:

The system specs for the system I did this on:

Intel Q6600 Quad Core CPU
2 ATI 4850 Radeons 512MB RAM in crossfire mode
TrackIR 5
Saitek X52 HOTAS
Saitek Pro Flight Rudder Pedals
Windows 7 64 bit Home Premium
2x Samsung 22" LCD 1680x1050 (FSX is only displaying on one in windowed mode with window maximized)

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Watch where you're digging!

My poor little fella died a most horrific death, buried alive by a cave in.

He is under there somewhere:

I finally made it back to base camp after a night lost in the wilderness. Once it was light out I could find my way back.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Minecraft - Gaming goodness for $12.99

Over on the Quarter to Three forums there has been a lot of buzz about a little indie game called Minecraft. It is somewhat like Dwarf Fortress with a graphical interface instead of an obscure ascii one. If you purchase the game, you get all future updates for the price, you get to play survival mode. This pits you against the wilderness. You are in a race to find shelter before nightfall when spiders, zombies, and creepers come out and look to end your life.

So basically it is a quick scramble to find/gather some wood, find/gather some coal, and then either build a shelter or make one out of a small cave. You will need to create a workbench and then some torches. Bad things do not like the light, so make sure your shelter has light. Wall off the structure so nothing can get in and put a door in the entrance. Then you are set to really get started. You can explore the world, dig deeper underground in search of iron, gold, diamonds and other things.

The game has very simplistic graphics, but the gameplay doesn't need eye candy to carry it and the graphical style gives the game some character.

While digging into the depths of the world and extending one of my tunnels, I broke into another cavern system. There I found an underground waterfall, which was pretty neat. Here is a video I shot soon after making this find.

Here are a couple shots of the world right around my home, and the beginnings of my shelter.