Author Archives: Snake

Brecourt Manor Progress

Brecourt Manor 11-17-13The gun trenches are more or less complete and work has started on the surrounding environs.  Creating realistic-looking hedgerows is a multi-step process: trees first, then the hedges themselves, bushes, and finally some scrub grass to smooth out the base.  Then repeat over and over because Normandy is nothing but hedgerows.

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Brecourt Manor in CoH

A few months ago, I released my first singleplayer map for Company of Heroes.  I had a lot of fun scripting the scenario, which is done entirely in LUA, so I was eager for another map to work on.  And it didn’t take long until inspiration hit me in the form of re-watching Band of Brothers.  The prominent engagement in the second episode is the assault on the guns at Brecourt Manor.  The episode must have inspired others as well, since several video game recreations already exist; most notably in the first Call of Duty.

However, all the existing Brecourt Manor assault recreations have major accuracy flaws.  The CoD one has fairly accurate trenches (where the guns were located), but the context is very flawed (e.g. Easy Company did not subsequently attack the manor itself).  There is also another Brecourt map made for CoH, but being that it was made for multiplayer, balance concerns forced them to change almost all the geography other than the trenches.

So to distinguish my attempt from all the others, I decided to make what I hope is the most accurate portrayal of the battle.  To achieve this, I first gathered up as many maps as I could showing the fields and hedgerows where the battle occurred—present day Google maps, 1947 aerial map, D-Day recon map, and a map apparently provided by Maj. Winters.  I then layered and lined up the maps in an image editor to create a composite image of the most accurate map I could make.  That image appears below.

Brecourt Manor Assault Template Map

Brecourt Manor Assault Template Map

You can see on the above image that I’ve already established the playable area (red rectangle) and the map boundaries (green rectangle) for the CoH map, with the gun trenches located in the center.  But the next step is where the real magic happens in making this map as accurate as possible.  In a process I first used in my Ogledow map, I took a greyscale version of the composite image above, saved it to a bitmap, and then copied its raw bytes into a data format called a “stamp”.  The CoH WorldBuilder uses these stamps to let you copy map data between maps, but using this technique, one can also copy data from images into maps.  The result can be seen in the below images.

The result being an extremely accurate template by which to “draw” the actual map content.  This is about as far as I got when I first started working on the map since Serpent 3 was nearing the end of its life at the time.  But I just recently got back into it and I’ve made some pretty good progress, although I’m nowhere near done.  I’d say I’m to a point where it’s playable, though.  (Props to the guys at Relic that actually make these maps from scratch.  It takes forever to get them to look realistic.)

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Removing Heartbeats from Sniper Elite v2

I finally got around to playing Sniper Elite v2 after buying it a while back and then finding out it required Windows 7.  Serpent 4 fixed that, of course.  And it’s pretty damn fun.  The multiplayer takes me back to the days of Delta Force sniper wars circa 2000.

Sniper Elite v2

Sniper Elite v2

The main problem I had with the game was the annoying—perhaps even disturbing—heartbeat sounds that play whenever you’re looking through the scope.  It really serves no gameplay purpose considering the sound just plays constantly.  And there’s naturally no way to turn the sound off through options or config tweaking.  So one must turn to modding, and that’s what I did.

A quick perusal of the installation directory for the game reveals a “Sounds” directory with three files in it, clearly archives given their size.  StreamingSounds.asr is probably music and GmSnd.en is probably speech, so that just leaves GmSnd.asr as the likely archive for the heartbeat sounds.  Opening the file in a hex editor shows no readable strings whatsoever except for the header of “AsuraZlb”.  The “Zlb” part is curious enough and could mean that the file is actually compressed using Zlib.  In fact that’s exactly what it means.

In order to do anything with this file, it first needs to be decompressed.  Googling around, I quickly found a nifty tool called offzip that can do exactly this.  It’s a command-line program, so extracting it into the Sniper Elite “Sounds” directory is the best way to work with it.  This tool has several operations but the one we’re interested in uses the -a switch to decompress any found data.  To do this, fire up a command prompt or batch file and run the following.

offzip -a GmSnd.asr . 0

This gives us a new file of larger size in the same directory.  Taking this new file back into a hex editor shows a lot of readable strings and many matches for “heartbeat”.  One match in particular is very interesting.  It has the path of a wav file heartbeat01.wav followed by a RIFF header.  Somewhere in this vicinity of the file is the start of the heartbeat sound’s waveform data.

If you decode the bytes out as I did in the screenshot below, you eventually get to a string of text that reads simply “data” and is followed by a 4-byte (32-bit) integer that is the size of the waveform data—in this case, 45920.  Immediately following that, you just pace out the 45920 bytes of data, which should end just before a “smpl” header, and you have the entirety of the sound data selected.

Modded Heartbeat Sound in GmSnd.asr

Modded Heartbeat Sound in GmSnd.asr

The thing about WAV files is that they’re uncompressed (or lightly compressed in the case of ADPCM).  So two bytes (16-bits) of zeros in the waveform data means silence for one sample in the 44100 samples per second of audio.  Using this knowledge, we can just change all the samples to zero to make the whole sound file only silence.  To do this, you’ll need to be using a hex editor that has a fill with zeros feature.

With that part done, we can now save and test our modded archive file.  Don’t forget to rename this modded file to the original filename of GmSnd.asr and backup the original file itself.  You may also be wondering why we haven’t tried to recompress the modded file with zlib; and this would be an astute observation.  Basically we’re hoping the game is smart enough to load both compressed and decompressed data.

Now with Sniper Elite loaded up, we can start a new game and then look through the scope of a rifle to test our mod.  You’ll notice that the heartbeat sound still plays but it pauses every four beats.  Apparently there is more than one sound file that makes up the heartbeat sound effect, but we’re on the right track since one of them is now silent.  We just have to go back into the hex editor and change the four more sounds that follow the one we’ve already done.

And that’s it.  No more listening to that droning heartbeat sound while you’re sniping.  Luckily, this mod doesn’t lock us out of multiplayer either.  Happy sniping!

UPDATE 9/9/13

It’s been said around the webs that merely changing the name of the sound files is enough to disable them.  This would make zeroing out the sound data unnecessary.  However, I have not tested this method.  And one still needs to decompress the archive as detailed above.

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New Cursor Lock Live

Cursor Lock 2.6 went live yesterday.  Funny enough, I didn’t actually need to change anything but the version number in the lock program itself; that code is proving to be very solid.  But the setup program seems to need constant fiddling since it actually has a GUI.  I’m always trying to make it easier to understand and use.

The biggest change in this version is native support for Windows 7.  I achieved this mostly just by switching to Visual Studio 2008 and compiling for .Net 3.5, but it also needed a small amount of UAC tweaks.  Another major change is to the context-based help system, which used to be in a big, ugly textbox on the side of the window.  Not only was it ugly, but it gave me a limited amount of characters to work with.  In the new version, I’ve switched to a tooltip system that is activated by right-clicking on the feature in question.

And the last big change is something I’ve never done in a program before but became increasingly aware of its need after seeing all the hits and comments on Cursor Lock I get from around the world.  That’s right, it’s localization, or in layman’s terms translations.  I’ve already added a bunch of languages to the installer but have also added support for translations in the setup program.  I’m hoping some native speakers will contribute their translations, but I may do some computer-generated ones if not.  Full changelog below.

  • support for Windows Vista/7 and UAC
  • cleaned up help text
  • added support for translations
  • icons and other UI improvements
  • moved context-based help to tooltips
  • converted project to .Net 3.5
  • logging is now disabled by default
  • updated links
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Cursor Lock 2.6 in the Works

I’ve wanted to do a massive update to Cursor Lock for a while now, but figured I’d scale that back and just fix some lingering bugs for now.  As you can see from the screenshot, I’m also working on better support for Windows 7.  Probably done in a couple weeks.

Cursor Lock 2.6 WIP

Cursor Lock 2.6 WIP

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Serpent 4

Serpent 4

Serpent 4

About a month ago, I decided that I would upgrade my desktop computer’s core components (CPU, motherboard, and RAM) because Serpent 3 was getting increasingly unstable, and Memtest wasn’t coming to the rescue this time.  At the same time, I figured I should probably “upgrade” my OS to Windows 7 since everything seems to be switching over to it now.  Watch the video below to see the build in action.

So the hardware of Serpent 4 is working out flawless so far, but the operating system is constantly disappointing.  The main trouble early on was that I kept getting the dreaded “display driver stopped responding” system freezes but only when using Firefox.  Googling this gives you infinite solutions, but the one that worked for me was just downgrading the nVidia drivers from 320.18 to 310.70.

In general, there’s too much that’s really annoying about Windows 7 and not enough to actually like.  A few things I do like, though:

  • Libraries are kinda cool, I guess
  • Not being limited to 3.25 GB of memory is very cool
  • Task Manager on steroids–even saves your sorting
  • Pin to Taskbar can be useful
  • WebDAV remote folders work seamlessly
  • Resizing thumbnails in explorer is occasionally helpful

And that’s pretty much it.  As far as things I don’t like in Windows 7, most of them fall into the category of needlessly changing things (e.g. making it more “user-friendly”) such as the entire network connections control panel, not displaying drive free space in the explorer status bar, the lameass search box in explorer, etc.  And the UAC… I really wanted to believe you might be helpful sometime, but after a month of dealing with your bullshit, I couldn’t take it anymore.

But at least I’m getting to play Company of Heroes 2 now, so I guess it’s all worth it.

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