Category Archives: Modding

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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New Website for SnakeByte Studios

SnakeByte Studios 2012

Heeeey…I have a new website.  It’s very much a work in progress, but I needed to make it live now because it’d probably have been another year before I finished completely.  As I mentioned a couple posts ago, the new site is powered by WordPress.  However, I mostly scrapped the theme I was working on in favor of a heavily modified Twenty-Ten and Nivo Slider for a homepage header.  The theme is not too unlike an idea I’ve been playing around with on my work blog, which itself was inspired by another theme called Dusk to Dawn.

Besides the other reasons I gave for switching to WordPress in the aforementioned post, which in summary were:

  1. Visitor commenting
  2. Full-featured backend
  3. Familiarity from using at work

I also just don’t have time to code my own site from scratch anymore.  And this is fine—I get enough coding websites at work—and will allow me to focus more on posting and other projects.  Speaking of other projects, I finished another map for Company of Heroes over winter break.  It’s a remake of a map from the original Red Orchestra.  It’s also on FileFront.

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Tis the Season for Blog Updates

Fa la la la la…

It’s been a mixed enjoyment holiday season this year. I won’t get into all the personal details, but here’s some things that were delightful recently.

I finally released my little map for Company of Heroes: Opposing Fronts earlier in the month. As mentioned in previous postings, I decided to call it “Hurtgen Forest”. I’ve only published it on two sites other than my own for the moment, trying to get some initial feedback in case tweaks need to be made. So far, the lurkers on my RelicNews thread have been rather useless douchebags (I think they feel threatened), but the review on Filefront both praised my map while giving helpful feedback to consider. More info and download for Hurtgen Forest.

I also did a snazzy trailer video to promote the map (and because I LOVE editing video). Although I’ve embedded it everywhere the map is, here’s the video again:

I did another video to demonstrate how to use my program, File Lister, as well. It shows how to use it to do batch renaming. To limit the number of videos I have embedded in one post, just see the File Lister page to watch. I’m quite surprised by how often I end up needing File Lister at work and at home. I think it’s almost as essential as Regex Buddy for any geek. I’m also finding more and more sites publishing or linking to File Lister since it’s naturally the most advanced and feature-rich program of its kind.

And finally, the obligatory 100% completion screenshot for Lego Harry Potter. The girlfriend and I just finished it last weekend. Also, 100% completion for all the other lego games we’ve played. Can’t wait for Lego Pirates of the Caribbean so we can continue our addiction. Actually, co-oping with your girlfriend is probably half the fun.

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Gaming Habits

Going to try to do a less epic blog post today. Realizing more and more that I just don’t have it in me to work on the site much anymore–stupid day job.

I just updated my mods for Diablo 2 to support patch 1.13. Really there wasn’t much difference between 1.12 and 1.13 as far as the modded files were concerned, but I diligently checked all the files regardless. Only the Balance Better Drops Mod needs to be updated to work with 1.13, although I’m betting it’ll probably work fine regardless as the changes were so slight. Find the mods here.

Also on game mods, I did a small mod (more of a hack really) for Tropico 3 a couple months ago that lets you put your own music into the game. The hardest bit was decompiling the compiled LUA code that controlled what music files could be played (a playlist), which I did by hand since no existing decompilers worked. Then I wrote my own LUA script to load whatever music I wanted and modded the LUA compiler to make Tropico-compatible compiled LUA files. You can find all the hot details of the efforts on this thread of the official Tropico 3 forum, and a guide written by another member that sums up my process on this thread.


Lego Batman Complete

While I’m on gaming, I’ll just go through what I’ve been playing recently. Obviously, the girlfriend and I are playing Diablo 2 coop again. In between that, I’m back to trying to beat The Witcher (Enhanced Edition this time). I also replayed Halo (action is still good, but shorter and uglier than I remembered), Titan Quest with Kaylen, and Startopia. Fallout 3 ruled December, except for the part of winter break where Kaylen and I got 100% on Lego Batman (screenshot at right).

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Putting the Half-Life 2 G-Man into Half-Life: Source

I’ve been looking for an excuse to get into some Source Engine modding ever since Half-Life 2 came out; and sure, I’ve wanted to do my own total-conversion mod (who hasn’t?) but knew I lacked the attention span to do so. So, along comes Half-Life: Source, a straight port of Half-Life content into Half-Life 2’s Source Engine. However, as I detailed in a post almost two years ago, Valve couldn’t even be bothered to do some decent textures or models for the port, despite them having most of the necessary materials already created for HL2.

This omission of graphical upgrade really irked me. At the time of the aforementioned post, I had even tried to copy the G-Man from Half-Life 2 into HL: Source, but alas the animations didn’t match up. Recently, I decided to go back through HL: Source again on a whim. Greeted with the same low-poly models and low-res textures as last time, I became more stalwart in my longing for high-quality graphics. I took another look at the G-Man to see how I might overcome his lack of vanilla Half-Life animations.

Continue reading

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Biding Time

Until President Obama waves his hand and magically fixes the economy so I can find a job, I’ve been biding my time with several projects as usual. As mentioned in my post a couple months ago, I expected to complete a major overhaul of the content system by the end of last year and amazingly actually did so. I felt like the content pages were too bulky with the varying number of images and description lengths, and it didn’t look very clean. So I crafted a custom vertical tabview to organize the information into specific tabs for description, images (dynamically loaded with AJAX), changelog, and downloads (also AJAX). The default tab, called “Vitals”, is a combination of the other tabs, showing general information, a shortened description, one image, and the number of total downloads. The succinctness of the vitals tab helps keep the tabview height down and thus all the items on the page look uniform.

Of course, it all looks rather well until you go to test in Internet Explorer. Despite my attempts to keep everything within standards, IE6 still has issues such as flickering tab button background images and the always enjoyable broken box model. However, IE7 isn’t without its problems either and the tabviews seem to adversely affect my fixed positioning hack from last post.

I’ve also been redoing parts of the site to use more CSS and less inline formatting. Most of the web seems to be in love with CSS to the point that they blindly use only CSS, but I tend to be more pragmatic about it. Certainly, CSS is useful for centralizing style information that is to be used repeatedly or as part of an overarching theme. But the CSS standard is not quite complete enough to handle everything a developer might want to do. I frequently need a property that tells an element to be springy (i.e. fills up the remaining height or width of its parent), but there exists no such property in CSS2. A trick that I like to do with (100% height) tables is to use them to keep something vertically centered in a page or at the bottom of a window but able to expand. CSS has no way to do these things; its vertical-align property only works on inline elements (and don’t get me started on margin hacks). So I think I’ve made my point: it’s a good start, but it’s not there yet. (Plus: IE6. So even if it were there, we still couldn’t use it.)

But I haven’t just been diddling web development lately; I’ve also been back at VB.Net to release a public beta of my much slaved over alarm program cleverly named “Snake’s Alarm”. Not much has changed since I last worked on it in earnest in August 2007. I finally fixed any instability with the FMOD system playing two alarm sounds concurrently by just preventing it from doing so, figuring there wasn’t much use for two overlapping sounds playing. I have also perfected the snooze feature by adding options to control the max amount of snooze time allowed and to turn off the monitor when snoozing. There’s still a lot left in the TODO file, but this version is still completely functional and reliable.

In hardware news, I recently replaced my Radeon 9600XT with a GeForce 7300GT as a stopgap upgrade until I can finally afford a new system. It was seriously the best AGP nVidia card I could get on Newegg–they’re going like hot-cakes (whatever the hell that means). I had my eye on a 7600GS until it sold out when I went to buy. Now the 7300GT that I got is already sold out. I wrote a lengthy review on Newegg for the video card about a week before it sold out (albeit one person labeled it as helpful before then) that I’m going to republish below.

Pros: I haven’ t done a lot of benchmarks, but it looks to be about 60-120% faster than the Radeon 9600XT it replaced, depending on the game or benchmark of course. I chose to switch to nVidia because this card supposedly runs cooler and with less power than ATI’s final AGP offerings (and to prevent fanboy-ism). My tests with RivaTuner show the core runs a bit hot at idle (~116°F), but it only creeps up marginally in most games (~140°F). Video stress tests put it at about 166°F. Overall, the 7300GT’s performance is only somewhat noticeably better in most newer games compared to its predecessor.

Read More…

What’s silly is that I’ve mostly been playing Diablo 2 (an eight year old game) since getting this new video card. I convinced Kaylen to play it with me, being that it would run on just about any computer and she was in exile over winter break. Though it seems I got her hooked since we played all the way through with my Paladin and her Sorceress. Since the first completion, I’ve been poking around in the game’s data files for any changes I can make to perceived flaws.

My biggest complaint about Diablo 2 has always been that you level too frequently at the beginning and hardly ever later on. I did a huge spreadsheet with player experience, monster level, and level-to-area calculations trying to come up with the best solution for a balanced and steady leveling system. One of the most telling graphs of this data is at right, showing the percentage increase in experience needed to get to the next level compared to the last level. In vanilla Diablo 2, after level 11, the player needs 25% more experience to get to each subsequent level, which can lengthen the process significantly as one approaches level 27, where the experience difference levels out at a more respectable 9%. I created a modification to the leveling system that merely smooths out the experience difference from level 5 to 30 and balances the resultant increased difficulty by lowering monster stats according to how far behind in levels the player is.

I’m not sure if it’s all as complicated as it sounds, but when I finally release the mod, I’ll be sure to include the spreadsheet for others to marvel at. I’ve also done a number of smaller mods and have already uploaded three such mods as of this post. One fixes the ever-annoying game font where the 5’s look like 6’s–a huge confusion when looking at item stats. More will follow as soon as they’re thoroughly tested in our new Barbarian and Assassin game. 😛

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