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.

pico_adventure

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.

Continue reading

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).

Taskbar Thumbnail Size Trick

If you only have one monitor and are playing a game with a tendency to lock up, it can be a pain to get it closed properly. For me, games like this end up covering up everything on the screen except the task bar, so while I can run Task Manager, I can’t see it, so closing the crashed game becomes a problem.

Here is a nifty trick to work around that issue: Change the size of the thumbnails you get in Windows 7 and Windows 8 when you put your mouse over an application in the taskbar. Normally these thumbnails are really small, but they are live representations of what is happening in the app/window, so they are usable if they are a bit larger.

Fire up Regedit and go to:

HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Explorer\Taskband

Create a new 32-bit DWord here called “MinThumbSizePX” and set the value to whatever you like… I used 400. Log out and log back in, and you will now get resized thumbnails when mousing over taskbar items.

If you run Task Manager while a crashed game is taking up the screen (CTRL-ALT-DEL, select task manager) you can put your mouse over the taskbar and see the Task Manager window in the thumbnail. Arrow down to the crashed task and hit “Alt-E” to end the task.

Oblivion Modding and Steam – Fixing with Powershell

This is just a quick note, as I spent WAY too long trying to figure out why pretty much any of the Oblivion mods I was trying to install that were supposed to override textures weren’t working. I had the ArchiveInvalidationInvalidated mod installed, and nothing I tried worked.

As it turns out, the Steam install of Oblivion does weird things with the dates of the BSA files that are part of the retail package and DLCs. This causes the mod files to appear older than the BSA files, so they don’t load.

So, time for a quick PowerShell fix. Open PowerShell and go to your Oblivion data folder:

cd \Program Files (x86)\Steam\SteamApps\Common\Oblivion\Data

and run the following command:

dir *.bsa | % { $_.CreationTime = '1/1/2006 10:05'; $_.LastWriteTime = '1/1/2006 10:05' }

This will set the creation and last update time for all of your BSA to 2006, which should be well old enough for the mod files to take precedence.

 

Powershell Match 3 Game

I was playing around in Powershell over the Christmas weekend, and put together a simple “Match 3” style game utilizing the same RawUI style techniques I used in my Powershell Snake Game.

A version of a "match-3" style game written using RawUI in Powershell.

A version of a “match-3” style game written using RawUI in Powershell.

Why a PowerShell Match 3 game? Why not! 🙂 Actually, I was watching a youtube video series on creating a match 3 game with Unity, and the essentials of the way matches are checked for are similar to what is shown in this series.

Being Unity, however, the game in that series relies on the Unity physics engine and collision detection to move pieces around and determine what pieces are next to each other. Obviously, we don’t have a physics engine in Powershell!

The game features a hilight you can move around with the W, A, S, and D keys, using the arrow keys to indicate you want to swap pieces in that direction. Pieces fade when matched, and the falling of pieces above them is animated. New pieces will appear in the empty spots at the top of a column.

The one thing it doesn’t do right now is verify that there are matches on the board that are available to make. I’m considering adding this, but I’m already pushing the performance limits as it is, and checking the board for possible matches can be pretty intensive 🙂

Download the Powershell Match 3 Script

The script is available via the button above. Try it out, and let me know what you think, or any improvements you come up with!

Two columns of matched pieces (white and magenta) are fading out

Two columns of matched pieces (white and magenta) are fading out

 

 

Steam Holiday Auction

Steam launched a new type of event yesterday called the “Steam Holiday Auction”. This event allowed users the opportunity to convert some of the junk laying around in their inventory to gems, which could then be bid on 100 copies of 2000 games and software items.

SteamHolidayAuction

When the auction initially kicked off late last week, there was apparently a bug that allowed for gems to be duplicated, causing initial bids to quickly climb to millions of gems. The whole system disappeared, and gems were wiped. Any gems users had created themselves were returned to their inventory, and any gem purchases were reversed.

The bugs were patched, and the whole system was rolled out again, allowing users to bid on a wide range of games. While the auction is still going on, I’m now out of gems, I did manage to win auctions for Fantasy Grounds and Talisman: Prologue. Considering I spent less than $3.00 on some profile backgrounds to turn into gems (I got them when they were $0.03 for the 100 gem backgrounds) that’s about $46.00 of gameage for $3.00. Not bad!

The e-mail that gets sent to you when you win an auction is titled “Steam Pre-Sale Holiday Auction”, so if there were any doubts that there is a Steam Holiday Sale coming up shortly (not sure why there would be), that should put those to rest 🙂

If I’m lucky, the Fantasy Grounds Ultimate Upgrade will be on sale next week, making my auction pickup an even better deal.

Skyrim Mods – Part 3 – People and Critters

This segment of my Skyrim Mods list is pretty far overdue! Sorry about that. Here I’ll talk about some of the mods I use that modify the  inhabitants of the province, including a couple of very well done companion mods and a whole bunch of enemies for you to fight.

ApachiiSkyHair

This mod adds over 100 new hairstyles to Skyrim. With styles for both male and female characters available. While the new styles are available for you for your own character (editable via the racemenu mod below) their main purpose here is to be used by the NPC addon plugins in this section.

A tiny handful of the available hairstyles. Check the "files" page of the nexus site for a full image.

A tiny handful of the available hairstyles. Check the “files” page of the nexus site for a full image.

This image doesn’t come close to showing all of the various hairstyles the mod provides, all of which are available for your character as well as mod authors to use for their own creations.

XCE – Xenius Character Enhancement

This is actually a compilation of a number of character enhancing mods by a modder named Xenius. Primarially this mod smooths out and enhances the appearance of character faces, though there are a couple of other changes as well. Many of these changes might not stand out, but taken together they offer a bit of enhanced realism to Skyrim’s characters.

Extensible Follower Framework

The Extensible Follower Framework is a wide-ranging overhaul of the behavior of followers in Skyrim. Everything from allowing you to recruit additional followers (up to 100) to providing a new menu to issue follower commands that doesn’t rely on dialog with the follower.

Your followers can collect alchemy ingredients for you, ride their own horses, and you can set their fighting style to favor magic, archery, toe-to-toe combat and the like.

Follower Commentary Overhaul

Some of the mods below add custom-built followers to the game, but there are a lot of built-in NPCs that can be recruited as followers. While a handful have some voiced lines, many of them don’t say a while log. Follower Commentary Overhaul (FCO) changes this. Each NPC in Skyrim is assigned a voice set from a pool of voices that were included in the game. Followers are limited to a small selection of lines from these voice sets, and FCO removes this limitation. The result is followers that inject commentary from a range of about 1000 additional dialog lines are opened up for your followers.

Convenient Horses

I find vanilla Skyrim’s horses to be more trouble than they are worth. You can’t fight from horseback, they tend to get in the way, you have to dismount to do just about anything. Convenient Horses fixes these problems and more. In addition to mounted combat (for you and your followers), the mod adds new horse armor and equipment, the ability to call and mount your horse immediately, the ability to talk to NPCs, collect loot, and harvesst while mounted.

Diverse Guards Skyrim

This mod expands the range of NPC types that can appear as guards. It adds female guards to the holds that are, by default, populated only with male guards, and varies the faces assigned to guards in the name of variety.

Run for Your Lives

Out of the box, when a dragon shows up, any NPCs in the area will charge headlong into combat – and to their doom. This mod sends non-guard type NPCs scattering and seeking shelter indoors when a dragon attacks, providing a bit more realism to the NPCs reactions to enormous, legendary beasts showing up and laying waste to the area.

Bellyaches New Dragon Species

If you’ve played Skyrim for a while, you might think you have seen all of the different types of dragons out there. Not so if you install Bellyaches New Dragon Species. This mod adds 13 new dragon species to the game (without disrupting the existing dragon types) and scatters 50 instances of these dragons throughout the province. The dragon’s are on par with the difficulty of Skyrim’s normal dragons, though you may find that you run into them a bit earlier than you might be ready to take some of them on.

Dragons, Dragons, and more Dragons.

Dragons, Dragons, and more Dragons.

High Level Enemies

This mod adds hundreds of new enemy varieties to the game, starting at level 10. There are several “revisions” of these enemies as their level’s increase, and the highest tier of enemies scale with you as your Dragonborn increases in level.

This has the effect of keeping the game challenging as you increase in power without overwhelming you with too-strong enemies early on.

The mod supports the base game, Dawnguard, Dragonborn, and the Falskaar mod.

Skyrim Immersive Creatures

This fairly large compilation mod adds 3800 creature types to the game. Some are variations on existing creatures, while others are all new. The mod adds boss mob encounters, custom loot, and new spells that are used by the new enemies and can be learned by the player.

The mod contains 100 random events that can occur throughout the province, as well as patrols from the various Skyrim factions (and conflicts between those patrols as appropriate).

RaceMenu

The RaceMenu plugin replaces the default Skyrim character customization system, allowing you to tweak your character to your heart’s content.

 

Hope you like sliders!

Hope you like sliders!

To activate the menu, bring up the console in Skyrim (hit the Tilde (~) key) and type “showracemenu”. Proceed to waste the next hour or so fiddling with sliders to get your character just right.

Cerwiden

There are lots of mods on the Nexus that add followers for you to pick up. Some of them are nice, others lackluster. One of my favorites is called “Cerwiden – SMART Healer – AI Configurable Companion”. I’m just going to call it Cerwiden.

A VERY talkative caster companion

A VERY talkative caster companion

Cerwiden (or Ceri for short) is will buff, heal, and cure you and your other followers. She has tons of fully voiced dialog and will often expound on life as a cleric of Lord Donblus. She also has a questline that she is interested in achieving. When it comes to companion mods, it is hard to beat Cerwiden.

Vilja in Skyrim

Competing for the top spot in companion mods is Vilja in Skyrim. Though I didn’t play it in Oblivion, this mod is a descendant of a similar mod in the fourth Elder Scrolls game. According to the “lore” of the mod, the Vilja you met in Oblivion was the current Vilja’s grandmother.

Like Cerwiden, Vilja is fully voiced and has a set of quests she wants to pursue. She is quite talkative, and especially likes to banter with Lydia as you travel about Skyrim. Vilja dreams of being a great bard, and will sing songs for you and read you a selection of books if you find them and give them to her.

I have both Cerwiden and Vilja installed in my current playthrough, though I haven’t picked either of them up yet (I’m not that far into the game… I got distracted by Wasteland 2!)

 

Skyrim Mods – Part 2 – Skyrim UI Mods

In the first installment of this series, I talked about visual enhancement mods that make the world of Skyrim come to life. This time around, I want to talk about how we interact with that game world. The Skyrim UI is obviously adequate for playing the game, but there is definitely room for improvement.

Background Work

As I mentioned in the previous article, many of the mods I use require SKSE to allow for extended scripting. I included a brief discussion on the installation of SKSE in part 1, and you are going to need it for most of the mods in this section, so if you haven’t done so, go install it!

The Framework

First and foremost, the SkyUI mod is an absolute must for any modded Skyrim. While the changes SkyUI makes directly to the interface are subtle (mostly tightening up wasted space) it has a few really nice improvements as well. The inventory, trade, and magic windows have all been cleaned up, with graphical icons for categories and the ability to search via text string. The trade menu contains a tabbed interface to switch between your items and the vendor’s item list.

The unmodded skyrim inventory - Lots of scrolling around thanks to the need for gamepad usability

The unmodded skyrim inventory – Lots of scrolling around thanks to the need for gamepad usability

 

The SkyUI inventory screen, with category icons, details at a glance, and a search bar at the top.

The SkyUI inventory screen, with category icons, details at a glance, and a search bar at the top.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, SkyUI adds a Mod Configuration Menu (MCM) to the “Escape” menu in Skyrim’s UI. Other mods can register with the MCM to allow their configuration options to be integrated into a consistent interface.

 Fixing the Problems

There are a couple of annoying issues with Skyrim’s interface, and both Better Dialogue Controls and Better MessageBox Controls address some of the most common. These mods change the way you interact with, as you might expect, NPC Dialog and the pop-up menu boxes that occasionally appear on-screen.

In the case of Better Dialogue Controls, sorts out a conflict between the mouse and the keyboard. If you happen to have the mouse pointer over a portion of the dialog menu, it can interfere with using the keyboard to navigate the dialog entries, leading to selecting dialog options you may not have intended.

Better MessageBox Controls lets you use the keyboard (WASD) keys and Activate (E) to navigate pop-up menus, similar to the way you would using a gamepad. It also makes a few changes to the buttons themselves (bigger “hit-box”, hilighting)

Making it All Go Away

One of my favorite UI mods is called Immersive Hud (iHud), which hides every UI component when you don’t need them to be shown. When any of your stat bars (health, magicka, or stamina) are full, they fade out. If you aren’t sneaking or using your weapon, the crosshairs fade away. The compass at the top of the screen is hidden unless you press a key to see it.

The result is that, most of the time, you have no interface chrome visible on the screen and can just enjoy the Skyrim landscape in its full glory.

Next Up…

My selection of interface mods is fairly light, simply because there are not a lot of other changes that I find necessary for the interface. In the next installment of the series, I’ll look at the NPC, PC, and Creature mods I use in Skyrim.

  • Advertisement