PICO Poker (and framework demo)

pico_poker.p8While working on my Pico-8 RPG, I decided that it would be nice to put together a simple game to work out any issues with the PICO-8 Framework I’ve been working on. To this end, I put together PICO Poker, a simple video poker game (with self drawn terrible art!)

The framework is based on XNA’s game component system, and allows you to compartmentalize your code to focus it on a specific task instead of tracking game states across a huge chunk of code. I’ve included the P8Coder source file (a nice little utility for working on large projects).

No sound, because I’m awful with the sound editor.

Consider the code (and the graphics) as CC0. Utilize them in your own projects however you wish. If you want to mention me or link back to the blog, great. If not, that’s fine too!

Download the P8C file here : Download

PICO-8 Work in Progress

My last blog entry was about a fantasy console called PICO-8. Since then, I’ve been having quite a bit of fun playing around with the thing.

I’m pretty bad and drawing even “programmer graphics”, but when you only have 8×8 pixels and 16 colors, it doesn’t really matter… it isn’t going to be a masterpiece anyway!

Below is a GIF of the game I’ve been working on. It is coming along nicely considering that I haven’t really gotten a chance to put that much time into it. It is an old-school RPG, similar in style to the very early Ultima games.

So far, I’ve got the overland map and travel working, and I’ve put together a town map system that isn’t limited by the built-in map size of the PICO console (essentially unlimited town maps, though given the size of the game I don’t really need that many – but I need more than will fit into the built-in map editor).

My next project is to implement dungeons, and then flesh out the character generation and game system (stats, monsters, items, etc). Then I can populate the towns with NPCs, add quests, and the like.

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The beginnings of an old-school RPG for PICO-8.

Nothing actually playable at this time, but I’m getting there. Working with PICO really reminds me of coding on the Commodore 64 (though LUA is much more advanced than C=64 Basic, and alot less tedious than 6502 assembler!) In fact, this is the kind of thing I put together on a regular basis on the Commodore.

 

Fun with PICO-8

I backed the CHIP Kickstarter about a year ago, and as the shipment date for my pledge level approaches (late May, and they say they are on time), an update was posted indicating that a CHIP specific version of PICO-8 will be included with PocketCHIP. I had never heard of PICO-8, but once I knew what it was, I immediately went over and purchased a copy though their Humble store.

PICO-8_3

PICO-8’s editors are all built into the console. Here is the sprite editor used to create graphics for your games.

PICO-8 is described on the Lexaloffle website as a “Fantasy Console”, and is essentially a self-contained “emulator” for a console that never actually existed. The console is designed with extremely limited hardware/software specifications, intended to mimic a classic 8-bit environment. Developers can create custom cartridges that can be shared with other users or played on the web through the Lexaloffle forums. Each cartridge is limited to 32k, contains up to 128 8×8 pixel sprites, and a 128×32 cell world map.

PICO-8 includes a complete development environment within the program, including code editor, sprite editor, map maker, sound effects editor, and music track editor. With the full version (not the web player) you can switch over to the code and resources for any cartridge you are playing and begin editing. You can start from scratch and create your own cartridge entirely, or modify an existing game to change it in any way you wish.

Code is based on the LUA syntax, without the LUA libraries. There is a provided API that lets you play sound, display sprites, and draw maps in addition to the standard pixel and shape-oriented drawing tools.

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Windows 10 Fall Update (1511) APC_INDEX_MISMATCH

TL;DR: This page is getting a lot of views as the Win 10 deadline approaches. If you have a Dell machine, boot in safe mode or remote in via remote desktop and rename the file “C:\Program Files\Realtek\Audio\HDA\RtkNGUI64.exe”. This should allow you to boot without the blue screen.

So we rolled out the Windows 10 Fall Update (1511) to a couple of PCs at the office that were running Windows 10 RTM. Every machine appeared to upgrade fine, but once any user logged into the PC, it would throw up a frowny-face blue screen stating that “Your computer experienced a problem and needs to restart”. The “if you want to know more” reference was listed as “APC_INDEX_MISMATCH”. Searching around for this points to a driver issue, though there wasn’t really an indication of what exactly it might be.

There wasn’t enough time between the login and the blue screen to do any troubleshooting, but there were a few interesting notes:

  • The PCs could stay at the lock screen or the login screen indefinitely. The blue screen only occurred AFTER logging in. This would indicate that the issue is unlikely to be a driver, as drivers would load prior to logging in.
  • The blue screen appeared after login regardless of network connectivity. Wire plugged in or not, right after hitting the desktop the system would crash. The implication here is that the problem is something already on the PC as opposed to something running in the network logon script.
  • All of the machines were Dell Optiplex desktops, but several different models.

Taking these items together, it would seem to point to a startup program. To test that, we could boot into safe mode (which doesn’t run startup items) and disable them. Microsoft has made it quite a bit harder to get into Safe Mode on Windows 8/10 (especially since this blue screen isn’t happening during startup, so it doesn’t trigger the repair mode automatically), but that is where we needed to turn to solve the problem.

If you aren’t familiar with getting into safe mode on Windows 10 (when you can’t get to the desktop to do it through the menu, anyway), power up the machine and wait for the Windows Logo to appear and the “busy” circle to start spinning at the bottom of the screen. Hold down the power button and shut the machine off before it boots up. Repeat this process a couple of times, and instead of the spinning busy circle, the text “Starting Automatic Repair” will appear. Let this run and you will be presented with a couple of tiles on the screen. Click on the Advanced options tile, and click on Startup Options. You will be asked to reboot again. Do so, and a startup options menu will appear. Select Safe Mode (or safe mode with networking, etc).

To solve this particular problem on our Dell machines, after booting into Safe Mode, open Task Manager, click on Details, and click on the Startup tab. We started by disabling all of the startup programs and rebooting into normal mode. This allowed us to log in without the blue screen.

After that, it was just a matter of starting each of the startup items until we hit a blue screen. The culprit for us turned out to be “Realtek HD Audio Manager”. The executable is located at “C:\Program Files\Realtek\Audio\HDA\RtkNGUI64.exe”. Running this .exe file immediately blue screens every PC we have tried it on that has the fall update installed.

I’m sure there will be an update for this eventually, but since you can’t even run updates while this error persists, it can be a real pain to get your PC back in working order. You can avoid the whole problem by disabling this startup executable prior to updating to the Windows 10 Fall Update.

Windows 10 Mobile, Email, Notifications, and Microsoft Band

I recently made the jump to built 10158 of Windows 10 Mobile on my Lumia Icon phone, and one of the things it took the longest to sort out was why I wasn’t getting the same type of notifications for incoming email messages that I was on Windows Phone 8.1. I had also picked up a Microsoft Band 2 to replace my existing band, and e-mail notifications were not being pushed to it either. Digging around in W10M, I was finally able to find all of the various settings that have to be enabled to these notifications to appear (both on the lock screen, and playing notification sounds when email arrives).

The Goal

I have three email accounts loaded on my phone, and with WP8.1, I had three separate tiles on my Start screen that displayed the latest messages and new message count from each email account. I liked this, because I use my email accounts for different purposes, so having them displayed separately was helpful. Additionally, my lock screen would display new message counts for each account separately, including icons that were different enough (per account) to identify which account had new messages without unlocking the phone.

When new messages arrived in one of my email accounts, WP8.1 would play a sound (customized per account) to let me know not only that an e-mail had arrived, but if it was something I should look at sooner (a message from work) or later (a message from my old ISP account that I don’t use all that often any longer). Finally, these incoming messages would be pushed out to my Microsoft Band under WP8.1, causing a buzz and a notification screen displaying a snippet of the email.

After the move to W10M, all of this changed. Fortunately, after a bit of searching through the settings menus and the Outlook app, I was able to restore all of the above functionality and get Windows 10 Mobile handling my email accounts the way I like them.

WP_Lock_Apps

Adding Email Account Notifications

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What I want the Lock Screen to Look Like

The Start Screen

The first time we need to do is create separate tiles for each email account. This can be a little tricky, because (at least in the build I was using) the Pin to Start button in the logical place for it to be doesn’t work. By default on Windows 10, all email accounts are collapsed into a single application now, and you switch accounts via the “Hamburger menu” in the upper left corner of the screen. However, when viewing an email account, if you click on the ellipsis in the bottom right (…) to bring up the menu, there is a “Pin to Start” option which allows you to create a tile for just the current email account. One problem solved!

The Lock Screen

Email counts on the lock screen is next, and fortunately it is pretty easy to set up. Open the Settings app, and select Personalization. From there, select Lock Screen. Scroll down, and you should see a heading for “Choose apps to show quick status”. You probably have the phone and SMS messaging already listed here along with three boxes with plus signs (+) in them. Click on one of these, and you will be presented with a list of possible apps to display status from. If you haven’t split your email accounts up (see Start Screen above), you can pick “Outlook Mail” here to consolidate all of your counts into a single lock screen icon.

Otherwise, pick the names assigned to your individual accounts when you added them to the Outlook Mail app. In my case, I end up with three different icons (Outlook, Exchange, and a generic envelope for POP mail). Two down!

Setting Custom Sounds

To give each email account its own alert sound, head back to the settings app. Select System this time, and then “Notifications & actions”. At the bottom of this screen, you should see “Show notifications from these apps”, with a list of various apps on your phone that can provide notification messages. Find the email account you want to set a sound for and tap on it to open the notification settings for that item. From here, you can select a notification sound.

The thing is (at least for me) this isn’t enough to actually make it play a sound. Or to push the notification to the Microsoft Band without enabling the Action Center icon on the band itself. To do that, we need to make one more change…

WP_Email_Notifications

Check boxes for notification banners and sounds

Beyond the Action Center

It turns out that the default for the Outlook Mail app is to only send notifications to the Action Center. If you swipe down from the top of the screen, you will see your notifications, but the sounds won’t play. In order to fix that, go back into the email account and click on the ellipsis (…) again. This time, select Settings. Tap Options, and scroll down to the bottom of the new page. You should see a section for “Notifications”, containing a toggle switch and two check boxes. Leave the “Show in action center” toggled on, and check off the (currently unchecked) boxes for “Show a notification banner” and “play a sound”.

That should do it! You should now get pop-up notifications, including per-account sounds, when you receive an email. What’s more, if you have a Microsoft Band, these notifications should now be pushed along to the band

 

Modding Fallout: New Vegas

With the release of Fallout 4 just a couple of months away, lots of people (myself included) are playing through the previous games in the franchise in anticipation. Fallout:New Vegas is a great game all on its own, but the beauty of gaming on the PC is that we don’t have to settle for games the way they were released. Mods can enhance, and sometimes completely transform, the gaming experience.

To that end, I have put together a short guide to modding Fallout: New Vegas using Mod Organizer with a number of visual improvements, extended content, and other goodies.

In the guide below, I cover most (if not all) of the installation systems you are likely to run into while using Mod Organizer. The program does a pretty good job of covering all of the types of mod packaging out there, and I use it for all of the Bethesda games I play.

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Cool Kickstarter Projects : Askrias Cube

While browsing through the current gaming-related Kickstarter projects, I came across the Askrias Cube. This is a customizable 6-sided die, that can be used either for rolling random effects or for keeping track of status effects, counters, etc in a game like Magic: The Gathering.

Askrias_Cube_Kickstarter_Image

The cube itself is made of two pieces of plastic that snap together, and each face holds an insertable plastic tile. Each tile can be customized with a sticker to represent whatever you wish. The basic pledge comes with two cubes, twenty plastic face inserts, and forty face stickers, available in several different themes.

The project is based in New Zealand, and the $12 NZ pledge works out to about $8 US. Add-ons are available for extra sets, cubes, frames, and sticker sets.

Email Clutter in Office 365

I have a personal Office 365 account, and have managed O365 in an enterprise environment for about a year now. Several months ago, Microsoft quietly introduced a feature called “Clutter” – it showed up on day as a folder in my mailbox with a single message which explained what Clutter in Office 365 is and a link to turn it on. Last week, Microsoft announced that they will be enabling the Clutter feature by default on all Office 365 mailboxes if users haven’t already specifically turned it off.

What does it do?

Clutter pays attention to how you interact with messages in your mailbox and determines what messages you are likely to ignore. As similar messages arrive in the future, it redirects them from your Inbox to the Clutter folder where you can browse through them at your leisure. If you move particular messages out of clutter and back to your inbox, it will learn that you don’t want those items to be classified as clutter and avoid doing so in the future.

How is this different from Junk E-Mail or Spam Filtering?

In a couple of ways, actually. Spam filtering usually uses pattern matching against known spam e-mail or message analysis that determines the likelihood that the message is spam. Messages that get filtered out at this point never hit your mailbox at all.

Those that make it past, but are still of questionable value may get directed to the Junk E-Mail folder. Items in this folder are restricted – they won’t download images, and you can’t click on links in an e-mail in your Junk folder. You have to move it out of Junk before you can interact with it.

Clutter works a bit differently. Items in the Clutter folder are still interactive. You can work with them just like you can with items in your Inbox.

On by Default?

Clutter is actually a pretty nice feature – I have been using it since it was released, and it tends to catch all of the automated status messages from system monitors, along with near-spam messages that make it past the various filters in place. In about two weeks, it will be enabled by default on existing O365 accounts as well as new ones. I can see this initially being a source of confusion to users, since they may not see messages they are expecting to see.

According to the announcement above, when the on-by-default goes live it will include periodic messages indicating what kinds of things are being directed to Clutter, which will be good – right now there is no indication other than the unread count number next to the Clutter field increasing.

There is a PowerShell command included in the announcement above to disable Clutter for your existing user accounts, but as you create new accounts you will have to return to PowerShell if you want to disable Clutter for them – it will be on for newly created accounts with no way to make “off” the default setting for your tenant.

The other good option, of course, is to just let your users know it is coming. This can be especially important considering they will begin receiving e-mail messages with links in them that they are not expecting to receive otherwise – and how many times have we urged users to never click on links in e-mails they weren’t expecting to get 🙂

Fixing “Display Driver has Stopped Responding”

File this one under just sharing, because it was frustratingly annoying until I got it working.

I currently have an MSI GT 660Ti Power Edition card, and in certain games (and I haven’t determined the commonality between them yet) I was sometimes crashing, with the message “Display driver has stopped responding and has recovered” displayed in a balloon popup on the Windows desktop.

Some games don’t do this at all, and others do it very predictably (like within 5 minutes of launching the game 100% of the time).

Driver updates (the obvious first step) don’t seem to help, so after poking around on the web, I found a combination of tweaks that have eliminated this problem for me – though it doesn’t seem like any one of the did the job individually.

First, there is the Microsoft recommended registry fix : (http://support.microsoft.com/en-us/kb/2665946). Essentially, this involves adding a DWORD (32-bit) or QWORD (64-bit) registry value called “TdrDelay” with a value of 8 to HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SYSTEM\CurrentControlSet\Control\GraphicsDrivers. This is supposed to let windows wait longer before deciding that the graphics driver has crashed and taking action  to get you back to a functional state.

Second, I found several references to using MSI Afterburner to underclock you graphics card by 50-70 MHz (on the Core Clock slider). I dropped mine right around 50.

Finally, in the nVidia control panel (accessible from the Windows Control Panel) expand “3D Settings” and select “Manage 3D Settings”. On the Global tab, I selected “Prefer maximum performance” for “Power Management Mode”.

When I set these three items in combination (though I’m not sure the first one (the registry hack) has a real impact) I can play games like The Talos Principal for hours without a problem – it is one of the 5-minutes max games without these changes.

Not sure exactly what is going on here (my PSU is more than  up to the job of running my video card, which is the most commonly stated culprit) but can only speculate that something weird happens if the card tries to enter some sort of energy-friendly mode based on something the game is doing.

 

Cool Kickstarter Projects – Underworld Ascendant

There was a time, back in the day, when I couldn’t get enough Ultima. Sadly, Ultima IX fairly well put a dent in the magic of the series. I did, though, play all of the original Ultima games when they were released, including a pair of very early forays into the realm of 3D games called Ultima Underwold : The Stygian Abyss, and Ultima Underworld II : Labyrinth of Worlds.

For the time, the technology in the Underworld games was pretty amazing, considering we didn’t have 3D accelerators yet, and everything was done in software. The first two games are available from GoG as a bundle, though modern players may find aspects of the game’s interface and engine frustrating. As cool as they were back then, the list of game engine features in Ultima Underworld are the kind of things that developers don’t even have to think about these days because they are built into all of the graphics cards already.

The original Ultima Underworld

The original Ultima Underworld

Fast forward 22 years, and many members of the original team that produced Ultima Underworld (first as Blue Sky Studios, and later Looking Glass – Yes, the same Looking Glass that did the first two Thief games and the System Shock series) have launched a Kickstarter campaign to revive the franchise as Underworld Ascendant.

As you can imagine, the technology has improved pretty drastically since 1992, and OtherSide Entertainment is putting together what looks to be a fitting return to the Stygian Abyss.

A screen grab from the Kickstarter video of an early prototype of Underworld Ascendant

A screen grab from the Kickstarter video of an early prototype of Underworld Ascendant

The Kickstarter campaign lists several interesting technologies that could make for a great game if the team manages to pull them off. For one thing, they are implementing what they call an Improvisation Engine, which moves away from developer-scripted storytelling and builds a custom story around the player and the choices and actions they take in the game.

Stretch goals include an “Underworld Builder Toolkit”, and the addition of Co-Op multiplayer.

The revival of old RPG franchises on Kickstarter is becoming something of a trend, with Shadowrun, Wasteland, Torment, and now Ultima Underworld (and soon the Bard’s Tale!) all getting the Kickstarter treatment. In my opinion, this is a great thing. These were the games I grew up with, and returning to these worlds has been, and I hope will continue to be, great fun.

Head on over to the Kickstarter page and back the project! As of this writing there are still a couple hundred $20 slots left that get you the game when it is released (estimated to be November of 2016).

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