Tag Archives: Diablo 2

Mods, Mods, Mods: A few updates

I’ve been publishing some small projects lately, so I thought it was a good time for an update on them and how things are going.

My health is still not good. I think the progression of my illness has slowed slightly as I’ve become more aware of how it functions and how to manage it.  However, I’m still not aware of what it is.  I’m still researching and analyzing and fighting to figure it out, though.  But it is probably some kind of rare genetic metabolic disorder.  Regardless, I have to take things slow and put any energies into smaller, less-intense projects.

Mod Music Conversion

One such project was converting all my old mod music into MP3s so I could listen to them more conveniently.  I’ve been manually converting small batches of mods for years and found through that process that many automated ways of transcoding mods had issues.  Either metadata would be left out or certain bits wouldn’t sound right or the volume was too low or the frequency balance would be muddy sounding.  This is why I would always just playback the mod in ModPlug Player (my player of choice) and directly record the output into Audition, tweak the volume, save to MP3, and done.  You can’t reasonably do this for a library of over 400 songs, though.

The first problem I wanted to tackle was getting as much metadata out of a module file as possible and putting it into an MP3 file’s ID3 tags. I started looking into libOpenMPT as a way to open the four major mod formats and grab their metadata in a standardized way.  It’s a decent library, but the documentation could use some work. I had to read through its source code for hours until realizing that it returns strings at UTF8. This was only a problem because .Net can only marshal strings from unmanaged memory that are ANSI or UTF16 by default, which seems pretty weird given UTF8 is so common.  But one custom UTF8 marshaling function later and I was in business.

The next problem was that the mod metadata ended up being not the greatest. Almost all mods have a title and a field for what tracker software was used, but modification date only became a feature by the Impulse Tracker format, and none of the main formats have artist fields.  I had to use a lot of regex magic to even get a fraction of the date and artist metadata from the song comments.  The comments, by the way, are another quirk of the mod formats.  Artists typically put notes about their work in the comments; however, only Impulse Tracker had a specific field for this. The earlier formats used either sample names or instruments for these notes.  Being that I wanted to preserve all of this in the extracted metadata, I just concatenated all three fields together with some delimiters between them.

Luckily, getting the extracted metadata into an MP3 file is a bit more simple as there are a number of ID3 libraries for .Net.  TaglibSharp is the most popular one, but it is not without its quirks as well.  Particularly, trying to delete specific user text frames (TXXX) is not the least bit straightforward.  But in the end, I came up with an imperfect little tool to copy module metadata to an MP3 file (or output to text if necessary for your purposes) that I put up on Github.  Thankfully, ID3 is a much better tagging format than what module files used. 😄

As I was trying to figure out how to work with libOpenMPT, though, I discovered that ffmpeg also uses this library to load module audio. Given that libOpenMPT was basically the evolution of ModPlug, I thought that the playback might be comparable between the two. I did some test runs converting a few songs to MP3 and found the results to be promising.  Obviously, the aforementioned muddiness of the sound persists, but I then found that ffmpeg has quite a vast library of audio filters to utilize. One EQ later and that issue is fixed right up.

What was more of a struggle was how to balance the volume of the songs.  Naturally, you don’t want to risk clipping the audio data by doing a straight up amplify.  ffmpeg does include a hard limit filter to avoid clipping, but how do you know how much to amplify?  You can’t normalize a song’s audio without having the whole song to analyze and ffmpeg only works in streams of audio data.  It’s a problem I have yet to find a straightforward way to tackle. In the end, I used the loudnorm filter to extract the loudness of the song, calculated the amplitude needed to reach about -10 LUFS, and then did a second pass including the desired hard limit.  More information on the whole conversion process can be found on the Github page for the metadata extractor.

Ultimately, I’m fairly pleased with the results of this project. I did get my entire mod library converted to MP3 with some snazzy album art and good sound.  But I also did end up having to manually adjust a lot of the artist names and titles in MusicBrainz Picard to catch all the missing artists and make them all uniform, so that was a bit of a drag. Also, there are a few songs that seem to have minor issues with conversion accuracy, primarily Necros songs coincidentally.  I may still end up manually recording a number of the songs ultimately, but what I’ve got so far is pretty damn good.

Mods MP3 library in Dark Audio Station

Mods MP3 library in Dark Audio Station

Deus Ex Soundtrack v2

Given that I was already binging old mods, my conversion of the Deus Ex Soundtrack—which was originally in the mod format—kept coming up on shuffle.  However, I was getting pretty annoyed at how quiet the songs were as I had stupidly only normalized the volume instead of hard limiting it.  I thought it would be a quick couple day project of loading up the original wave recordings and tweaking the volume levels, but I soon found lots of other lingering issues with those recordings.  It was mainly just clicking from bad sample loops or poorly recorded/encoded samples.  I imagine this was due to a combination of time crunch and crude audio tools during the soundtrack’s original creation, so I can’t fault Alex Brandon too much.  Coincidentally, if you need to go insane, try finding the right loop points that make an audio sample not click and sound decent. 😛

Eventually, I ended up re-doing from scratch about a third of the soundtrack as I had also stupidly not saved the intermediate mod files from the original conversion. 😄  So, every one of the those bad 8-bit samples had to be cleaned up again.  To be fair, I think I did an even better job with that as audio editors have gotten a bit more advanced in the interim.  I’d like to redo the entire soundtrack, but many of the songs were pretty decent already and I’m kinda burnt out on it for now. But maybe in the future…

At this time, I’ve already uploaded the MP3 version of the new soundtrack conversion to its page.  I’m still working on getting a new FLAC version done as it has a different tagging format.  And I’m also thinking about making the intermediate mod files available for download, although obviously that would only include the tracks I redid recently.  These files would be Impulse Tracker format with all the samples cleaned up and other fixes and new outros included.  Additionally, I’m also exploring the possibility of copying the cleaned up samples back to the original UMX files to improve the game music as well.

Deus Ex Soundtrack Cover Art

Deus Ex Soundtrack Cover Art

Diablo 2 Mods

And in another kind of modding, Diablo 2 mods!  Yes, I am still modding this old ass, janky game.  However, that may be changing soon with the imminent release of the Remastered version of the game.  Blizzard said modding is still possible in the new release, but I highly doubt it’s as comprehensive.  I would be delighted to hear they switched the data format away from TSV text tables, though.  I’d think something more object-oriented where you could define a default item, inherit and change what needs to in child items, and modify some of the raw functions would be the dream.  But, I’d be pleased with at least a switch to JSON for the data definitions.

Regardless, I haven’t done too much modding this time around. I just overhauled how the respec and socketing mod works.  I realized that I could just add the Token of Absolution—an item which resets your skill and stat point allocation—right to a vendor instead of continuing to use the Horadric Cube recipe.  It’s a little janky this way as I had to change its item type to that of a potion to get the tooltip to work, but right-clicking on the ToA still gives the desired result, albeit with the drawback that the game crashes if you try to give the vendor more than one to sell, it can be put on your belt, and its cost changes based on what level the character is.

I also realized that I should include a recipe for adding sockets to items in the mod as there already is one but it’s crazy high-level and convoluted.  Tangent, but, isn’t it lame how you have to “remember” all these cube recipes to play the game.  We’re all looking them up on a wiki anyways and that’s not fun.  I’m glad Diablo 3 got rid of that aspect.  Anyways, I changed the recipe that adds sockets to something more reasonable but still balanced.  And I also discovered that there was an unused recipe function that allowed gems to be removed from sockets without destroying them, so I added a new recipe for that as well.  However, both of these recipes require gems to perform.  I’ve been thinking about adding a new rare crafting material that could be used in the socket recipes, but it seems like a lot of work plus would take valuable inventory space even if the mats stacked.

I’m also thinking about removing the Magic Find attribute from my drops mod.  It’s kind of a counter-productive stat to have on items, like it doesn’t help you survive or kill monsters but you want it maxed out so you can find the best loot.  I just feel like the loot drops should always be good—in a fun and balanced way.  So I might just remove magic find and increase the drop chances even more, but it’s a tough one because it needs lots of testing before release.

Final Thoughts

I hope you enjoyed this developer diary of a post.  My apologies for not doing more awesomeness in recent years, but… it’s something at least.  I think next I might try to give this site an overhaul; I’ve been neglecting to add proper mobile support for many years and the WordPress theme is like a decade old.  I’m still dreaming of doing an update to Cursor Lock, though; I think it’s passed about a half-million downloads across all sites now.  However, I’d really love to do a major update on File Lister as it’s the program of mine that I use the most.  It’s just so crazy useful for doing batch operations and management on files, and I’d like to extend that capability.

Take care, everyone.  Stay safe and don’t get the ‘rona!

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Diablo II Mods and Code Stuff

Hello all. My apologies for not updating this website more.  My life has become complicated lately, and in these uncertain times I find it difficult to want to write about it.  A shame really, as the site has never been more popular.  Seems like every time a new game comes out lacking multi-monitor support, I get hundreds of new visitors and users for Cursor Lock; a few weeks ago, it was Cites: Skylines.  And today with the announcement of another new Deus Ex game, my version of the soundtrack is hotter than ever.  It does make me feel good to know that I can produce things that people need, even if it’s only for video games.

Speaking of video game content, I spent a lot of time a few months ago working on a new class for Diablo II.  Well, it’s not really a completely new class, more like a subclass since I only changed one skill tree for the Amazon.  It just really bugged me how the Amazon felt so lame compared to the Diablo 3 Demon Hunter.  It’s really difficult to keep the monsters from swarming the Amazon, so I designed some Demon Hunter-inspired skills to help remedy the problem, such as caltrops, turrets, and smokescreens.  You can see these skills in action in the video below.

I also just wanted to fulfill my desire to do some really hardcore modding for Diablo II.  The game has a rather awkward system for making modifications.  If it were made today, we’d probably have XML files and LUA scripts to work with.  But since it was made 15 years ago, we instead have to settle for massive CSV files.  You can find the Demon Hunter mod on my Diablo II mod page.  And massive props to the Phrozen Keep for continuing to support D2’s modders.

Another thing that bothered me about Diablo II for so long is that when you die your corpse keeps all your equipment on it, and you respawn basically naked and unarmed.  Your only options are to run in, snatch everything off your corpse, and teleport back to town, or rage quit and hope that your corpse returns to town like it’s supposed to.  Obviously, this is almost always zero fun and is why no games handle death like this anymore.

Unfortunately, there’s no way to change this in the game’s CSV tables.  But I didn’t let that stop me.  Every now and then, a problem comes along which must be solved through assembler hacking, and this was one of those times.  But I didn’t really have a clue which function was involved in character death.  So, I just put breakpoints on every function in IDA and attached to the running process.  It took a while of breaking, disabling breakpoints, and resuming, but I eventually narrowed it down to several dozen functions involved in death.  Some functions did death animations, some saved character data, but then I found a suspicious bit of code that would loop 14 times—the number of equipment slots.  This was the code where the game looped through each equipment slot and moved the item from the player to the player’s dead body.  And then there was nothing left to do but some trial and error to figure out where I could safely jump over the offending code and re-enter.  Now the only problem is that this mod will have to be updated every time there’s a Diablo II patch. 😥

Here we see the fateful jump operation to bypass the character equipment being removed.

Here we see the fateful jump operation to bypass the character equipment being removed.

Since then, I’ve been turning back to more PHP/HTML/CSS/JS coding.  I’m working on a project that I can’t disclose at this time but which quite possibly could be my most epic work yet.  Wish me luck in completing it.

Recently, I’ve also been using PHP as my go to scripting language for everyday projects.  A couple days ago, I wanted to be able to pull all GPS image data from a directory and display it in Google Earth.  PHP has file IO, EXIF, and XML libraries, so it was real convenient to bash out a script using that.  Then I realized I had created an account on Github recently to comment on some projects and thought why not just put this code on there.  So I did.  Maybe I’ll add more small projects like this in the future.

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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.

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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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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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Image Browser, CoH Mapping, Titan Quest

I spent most of spring break drinking on the beach, and then I had sex with a fugly, fat chick cause I was drunk and thought she was hot. No wait, that was probably you. I actually spent most of my spring break coding an image browser in PHP.

It can mostly just read the files in the directory and match up thumbnails to full images. But it tries to link up images to entries in a database for extended information, like description and hits. Directories are a little more involved, requiring a full traversal of subdirectories for random thumbnails; but the product of those thumbs in my cunning folder graphic table is way snazzy. It also has the usual sorting and page selection options. The link in the nav frame goes directly to the Photo Album directory, but it’s possible to navigate up to the image root and view all my images. The only thing left to do on the image browser is keyword searches, which wouldn’t be too hard, but I’ve been engaged in other projects lately.

For one, I recently started making a map for Company of Heroes set in an interesting locale, Longwood University’s campus. It came to me in a dream (the result of too much school and CoH, probably). I saw myself commanding a German force comprised of some friends against the entire rest of the student body. I’m only roughly 10% into the project, but it should be rather interesting, whether it’s playable or not. It’s already obvious Brock Commons will be the major chokepoint of the map. A couple 88s could defend the whole thing, causing the Allies to find a way through the various buildings to flank.

But for the last couple weeks, I’ve mostly been playing Titan Quest. It’s pretty much just a Diablo clone, albeit many enhancements. I think I actually prefer TQ because of its familar story elements (Greek mythology anyone?) and less dreary atmosphere.

I had to overcome several problems to really get into TQ, though. First of all, it crashes all the time for me, even when patched. The solution I found was to just use a NoCD patched executable. This makes sense because the patched exe disables the shoddy Securom code–stuff that the developers can’t fix but are forced to include. Another problem was that my extra mouse buttons would often lag for several seconds. As one can imagine, this is really annoying and can sometimes put my character’s life in danger. I eventually noticed that Titan Quest really doesn’t like to share the CPU with other apps. Thus, the simple fix is to set its process priority to below normal. Lastly, the game doesn’t lock the mouse into the game window. But, of course, my CursorLock program easily fixed that.

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New Demo Reviews

I’ve got two new demo reviews up today. I think I was supposed to review the D2 demo 3 months ago, but never got around to it. Well, check it out anyways.

Diablo II
Armored Fist 3

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