Category Archives: Gaming

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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Five Games I Can’t Stop Replaying

There are some video games that are so fun that I find myself replaying them regularly.  And if my Steam gaming stats are anything to go by, I’ve logged considerable time with the following games after so many playthroughs.  I’ve tried to choose games that are all fairly recent here, but for a list of some great older games, see Snake’s Top Tens from 2005.

Tropico 3

The Tropico series is all about managing a tiny island nation in the Caribbean, and the third game in this series definitely does it best.  There’s something very addicting to this game in its delightful blend of economy management, city-building, and island vistas.  Because your island only starts with roughly 50 citizens, you can connect with their individual needs and preferences and fulfilling those feels very rewarding.  The near infinite combinations of variables for the presidente, scenario, and island makes Tropico 3 that much more replayable.

Company of Heroes

The accurate portrayals of World War II weapons and combat and the exceptional graphics are the two main factors that make Company of Heroes so enjoyable to play.  There’s nothing better than seeing a mammoth German Tiger tank crushing everything in its path with all turrets firing and the ensuing visceral fireballs and carnage.  And on top of this brutal combat comes a very intelligent strategy game where the balance of power is constantly shifting, keeping you on your toes.  The campaigns (Normandy, Market Garden, Caen) in Company of Heroes are great for occasional replaying, but the skirmishes are even better for a quick bout of WW2 action.  (Best if consumed with Band of Brothers.)

Red Faction: Guerrilla

Red Faction: Guerrilla is Grand Theft Auto with explosives.  Who knew that the creative destruction of buildings could make for such enjoyable gameplay.  On top of that, you feel like your actions are actually having an effect on the world as you start completing missions and freeing zones.  But mainly, blowing stuff up never gets old.  (Highly recommended to go xliveless, though.)

It all starts with a sledgehammer

It all starts with a sledgehammer

Dark Messiah of Might and Magic

Dark Messiah combines a lot of the features I love in a game.  It has great first-person combat, character development via a skill tree, plenty of loot to find and equip, sneaking around and stealth kills, and nice graphics and level design.  The combat alone is quite intense and takes some careful choreography from the player; so, executing the perfect attack is very rewarding.  All of these RPG elements combined with the combat and great locales make for a wonderfully replayable adventure.

Call of Duty: World at War

World at War is like playing a non-stop action WW2 movie.  And everything about this game is focused on keeping the action coming.  Normally I would be opposed to constantly spawning enemies in a game, but here they only force you to ferociously press on.  It’s an amazing-looking and -sounding game as well.  Even though the full game can be played in only a few hours, I find myself playing the game (or portions of it) over and over.

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Freedom Snake

For several reasons much too personal for the internet, I decided to leave my job at Longwood a couple weeks ago.  But I will say that the pay was way too low, and good luck to them finding someone with my skill level willing to work for so little.  The only reason I settled on that job was that it was 2009, when the economy was quite lousy.

But now with my rediscovered freedom, I have copious amounts of free time and thus time for video games.  As happens on occasion, I’ve been going nostalgic with my gaming choices lately.

Darwinia is a cute and clever real-time strategy game where you help a fictitious researcher regain control of a simulated cyber-world from a malware infestation.  It has just the right balance of puzzles and blowing shit up to make it incredibly fun.  The only problem is that it ends too quickly.

Black Mesa is a community remake of the original Half-Life using the newer Source Engine.  I’ve mentioned this mod years ago, but it only just got released recently.  Obviously, it’s a little too ambitious to remake a whole game when no one is getting paid; hell, Valve didn’t even want to do a proper job with Half-Life: Source.  And it shows as there are places where the quality is noticeably amateur.  Regardless, I applaud their efforts as it’s definitely fun and action-packed.

Given the recent SimCity debacle that’s been in the news, I (and it seems many other players) have given the previous SimCity game a whirl.  It’s been a while since I loaded up SimCity 4, but I was quite surprised to find its graphics were still mainly sprite-based, which is a bit jarring after playing so many 3D games with freely-moving cameras.  It’s definitely interesting to see your city take shape and how your choices affect that.  But I find the low-action gameplay to be sleep-inducing, and it makes me wonder how long the game will stay interesting.  Although I haven’t been playing it lately, the inadequacies of SimCity are making me consider going back to Tropico—it just seems like the right balance of macro- and micro-management in a city-builder game.

Going back even farther, I’ve also been enjoying some of the late 90s classics Age of Empires and Age of Kings.  I was pleasantly surprised to find that both of these games still install and run on Windows XP, granted XP is pretty old itself.  I was also surprised at how difficult these games got and really quickly.  It’s no wonder that I cheated so much back in the day.

I also found out that I actually made a campaign for AOE called Time of the Phoenicians.  You can amazingly enough still download it from AOE Heaven.  The story and writing is pretty awful and the gameplay buggy (I was 15), but the maps were still pretty detailed as you can see below.

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Goatmen

I was just remembering how amused Kaylen and I were about the goatmen from Diablo 3 this weekend.  Besides being quite satisfying to kill given their bleating goat death wail, Deckard Cain and Leah also pronounce their name in a funny way.  They say it like “goatminn”.  So all weekend, Lego Batman 2 was filled with “batminn”, our cat Guybrush was “guyminn”, and so on.

But I was disappointed to not find anyone else who picked up on this on the interwebs.  So I put together this little clip so you can hear what’s so funny about these goatmen–I mean “goatminn”. 😛

Goatmen

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Sounds of Skyrim in 5.1

I get odd hankerings for new things to try out sometimes.  Since I’ve been playing the hell out of Skyrim lately, I thought it’d be cool to record the game’s ambient sound effects in surround sound (AKA 5.1 or 6-channel).  The idea was really inspired by a particular audio file found in my rip of Dungeon Siege III’s music which had rain in 4-channel surround–I thought that sounded awesome.

Anyways, back to the point:  Skyrim in 5.1.  I was pretty unsure how to accomplish this at first.  To start, I tried the recorder that came with my X-Fi, Creative Smart Recorder, as I seemed to recall it supporting some more advanced audio formats.  But alas, it can only record stereo (albeit at higher frequencies and bit-depth).  I also have Adobe Audition 2.0, which is pretty old now and has pretty limited multi-channel support–or so I thought.  It turns out that in “Multitrack” mode, you can actually select from several different lines to record from.

Audio Hardware Setup

Here’s where it gets tricky, though, and dependent upon one’s sound card.  Windows’ standard audio drivers don’t support recording from anything but the front two channels.  But if your sound card supports ASIO, then you should be able to select your different hardware channels independently to record from.

I also ran into another snag here where I still only got stereo recording even when using ASIO.  The problem was that I was in the X-Fi’s Game Mode when I needed to be in Audio Creation Mode.  This is the first time I’ve actually ever needed that mode for this card.

Then to get Audition ready to record, set the input of six tracks to each of the channels to  record (Front Left, Front Right, Center, Rear Left, Rear Right, LFE) and tick the “Arm for Record” button for each.  Finally, hit the master record button and then jump into Skyrim or whatever game you want to record.

Adobe Audition Recording Multi-Channel

When, you’re done, you’ll have six nicely-synced wave files.  But they’re pretty useless unless you plan on only listening in Audition.  I like my multi-channel audio to be in AC3 usually because AC3 Filter is a fantastic decoder when used with Media Player Classic.  However, multi-channel OGG also has good support among audio players.

I knew that BeSweet could encode to 5.1 AC3 and OGG, but I was unsure how to get my six waves into it when there was only one input file allowed.  It turns out you have to create a playlist file with the .mux extension that has the paths to your six waves in the order FL, FR, C, LFE, RL, and RR FL, C, FR, RL, RR, and LFE and use that as the input file.

And after that, everything is pretty gravy really.  I’m thinking about editing some of this up a bit and releasing it online but stuff like that takes so much time, so we’ll see.

Update 3/29/2012

I found some time to edit up the recording I did of Skyrim and have uploaded it for your consumption as a RARed AC3.  This recording includes the following environments:

  • 0:00 → snowstorm
  • 4:15 → forest
  • 5:30 → stream
  • 10:30 → distant dragon
  • 11:30 → geyser (the area between Riften and Windhelm)
  • 13:20 → Riverwood
  • 21:00 → thunderstorm
  • 25:15 → rain shower
  • 28:00 → forest at night

The cats were thoroughly freaked out by the dragon and thunder parts if that’s anything to go by as far as quality.  Obviously, to make the best use of this, you need at least 4.1 speakers and something that plays 6-channel AC3s like Media Player Classic and AC3 Filter.

25.9K

Sounds of Skyrim in 5.1

88 MB - RAR

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Deus Ex and such

I just finished my second playthrough of the new Deus Ex game, Human Revolution. It has a few bugs but is generally the best game I’ve played in a while. Though, I must say that the original Deus Ex is still a smidge better. So far I haven’t given a full review, but if I did so it’d be on Metacritic where I’ve been doing my other reviews.

Also, in my last playthrough of DX:HR, I took a bunch of screenshots of the weapon mods and Praxis Kits that I found and then gave descriptions of where they’re located. With Steam’s nifty new screenshot management, I was able to easily upload them all to my Steam page for your reference. It’s probably the beginnings of a new DX guide.

So I’m still doing a ton of gaming since I started working full-time and less of being productive. However, one thing I’ve been contemplating is converting my site to WordPress for a few reasons. It would add commenting features for all my posts and other content, and I’m hoping that getting more feedback would be a good motivator for me. Also, having a slick backend should help me post more often. Plus I’ve been using WP a lot at work lately and I’m pretty comfortable developing for it now so it shouldn’t be much trouble to extend it to my needs.

The only thing I’m stumbling on is the design of the new WordPress site. I’ve been toying with a mockup for the last month but I’m not sure I like any of it. I’ve been trying to keep some of the colors and graphics of the current site’s style. Maybe I need to start over from scratch on this.

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