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Piston Cup by Ravensburger

September 25th, 2016 #

Let's look at yet another kid's game. I picked this up from Lidl at some point, and we've played it on and off. Basically it's a travel-form factor board game; you play as the cars from, well, Cars, racing on a track. The track consists of 14 pieces you can put in different orders to form slightly different tracks.

The pieces are:

  • "start" piece
  • "oil slick" piece which makes you go back one step
  • "crash" piece which causes you to miss your next turn
  • "boost" piece that gives you a new turn
  • "tight" piece where only one car can go at the same time
  • a bunch of "normal" pieces where two cars can go at the same time.

The rules are simple: roll a die (6-sided die with 1,2,2,3,3,4 sides - so 1-4, where 2 and 3 are more likely than 1 or 4), move forward how many bits it shows. If the road is blocked, you must stop. If you land on a special piece, follow the instructions. If you hit the start piece, you must stop. Whoever finishes three laps first wins.

When building the track, two special pieces must have at least one normal piece between them.

So, we have another game with zero player agency, so let's monte carlo it. I wrote a simulation of the game, using one of the example tracks from the manual, and ran a million races, and the results are:

2 players3 players4 players

There's a HUGE advantage at going first. In a 4-player game your chances of winning if you go last are mere 11.2% (as opposed to the expected 25%) whereas whoever goes first wins over 35% of the time.

Increasing lap count evens things out a bit, but not by much; in a 4-player 20 lap game, the player who starts last has 19.8% chance of winning while whoever goes first wins 28.3% of the time.


June 22nd, 2016 #

Once upon a time I got inspired to add RSS feed to this site. I updated the RSS script manually. Then I got bored of updating it, found an online service and just wrote my last RSS update that linked to said service.

The service shut down recently. I could have picked one of the dozen or so alternatives, but figured I might as well get it out of the way and wrote a simple tool to generate the RSS feed from the .html file instead.

So long story short, the rss feed is live again, as long as I remember to run a script file every time I update this blog. I do wonder, however, how many people actually use the feed. When google reader shut down, I tried a couple rss reader alternatives but in the end just stopped reading rss feeds.

The most annoying bit about the rss "spec" (apart from the fact that there are at least three specs) is the date field. If you look at the feed you'll note that I always seem to post at the exact same time of day.. that's because I only have the date stored. Converting from "April 7th, 2016" to "07 Apr 2016 12:34 UT" felt like unnecessary work, but hey, the w3c feed validator now says the feed is ok.

The scrubber tool is so specific to this site that I don't plan on releasing it or its sources. I probably should have written it in python, but I used c++ instead just because it's been so long since I touched python again.

Aaand that's about all I have to say about that.

Speccy, Vol 11: QuizTron 48000

June 11th, 2016 #

This article has moved here.

Speccy, Vol 10: Rotten Egg Mines

June 10th, 2016 #

This article has moved here.

Speccy, Vol 9: Attack of the RGBobots

April 17th, 2016 #

This article has moved here.

Advent Rising and the Waste of Potential

April 13th, 2016 #

I finished my Steam backlog some time ago. Like many people, I had managed to generate quite large backlog of games I didn't play when I acquired them, thanks to various bundles out there. Most of these I tried for a few minutes before uninstalling, or simply archived based on the game's genre. Point is, I ran out of stuff to churn through.

Then I looked at my GoG backlog. Yeah, I have a bunch of games there, too, that I had ended up with and hadn't tried. I browsed the games and picked Advent Rising, because it looked interesting and had some positive reviews.

The game boasts having Orson Scott Card of Ender's Game fame as a screenwriter, so I had rather high hopes on the story.

As a warning, this blog post includes blatant spoilers for the game. Not that I recommend you play it, though.

The game is rather old, and definitely hasn't aged well. There are a lot of older games that look much better. The controls are flaky, the world doesn't feel "solid". The level design shows that they had issues with the controls, because apart from a couple instances of "platforming" (and even those consist of two jumps a piece), the geometry is fairly easy to navigate. There are some places where you must jump to get to a ledge, and for some reason the character's basic jump is just tiny bit too powerless for these and instead you need to use a charged super jump. The basic jump seems to be there primarily so that you have an easy way to get out from the frequent small geometry glitches.

The game is very unstable. I would chalk this up to trying to play a 2005 game in 2016, except that based on the game's FAQ the same crashes on scene transitions were in the game at release. There's other, more funny bugs too - early on in the game I was supposed to ride on a car driven by the game's AI. The AI decided to run to a wall and couldn't get out of an infinite loop of reversing a bit and then running to the wall again. So I had to exit the car and traverse the landscape on foot instead, dodging the enemies designed to attack the vehicle.

Talking of enemies, the game pretty much consists of running from point A to point B, fighting or ignoring the same bunch of enemies over and over again. There are some boss fights, couple of which can only be won by repeating a specific trick which may not be obvious (so a walkthrough is handy).

Sometimes it's also unclear what you're supposed to be doing. As an example, there's a certain type of enemy ship that you fight and/or pass by in the world, and then at some point you're all of a sudden supposed to ride one.

Towards the end of the game there seems to be some story discontinuities, with some things happening without warning or explanation. I presume they ran out of money or time and just assumed nobody would notice. According to wikipedia, the publisher had a million dollar competition for players after the release - spending that money on further development might have made more sense.

At one point when running after a bad guy a random bounty hunter appears and you end up in a boss fight. This is not foreshadowed by any way nor it is explained, or referred to, later on in the game.

One cutscene shows your character barely on his feet stumbling across a tunnel and saying he has a headache. This, too, is completely detached of the whole.

An alien brain control robot of some kind appears on one cutscene without warning and controls a big alient you end up fighting. That's the only instance of such a thing, and you have no idea what it was when you saw it the first time. Why you didn't just fight the big alien without such a brain control robot, no idea. The game throws aliens at you to kick butt without any explanation anyway, so you didn't have any expectation for an alien to be friendly.

You're captured in one cutscene and then just run around without your captors when the game returns control to you with no explanation on what happened.

And so on.

So what about the story? The story starts out strong, and then pretty much flops. Basically there's a first contact situation with an alien race, and when humans go to talk to them, they just say that they're sorry, but all humans are about to die because another alien race is coming to wipe them out.

That's the best bit of the game.

After that it's just repetitive running around kicking alien butt. The story runs you through a bunch of samey environments interspersed with cutscenes where more or less everybody you've ever met dies. The game includes one choise near the beginning which basically says which order people will die, and the most major change in story is at the end battle, which happens after the credits have rolled. So yes, to see the effect of your choise, you need to play the whole game from beginning to end again.

Oh, and humans are pretty much demigods, their potential just needs to be unlocked somehow. After you learn a couple of psychic thingies you can pretty much just ignore the weapons dropped by all the aliens, and keep spamming force waves or whatever. The various alien species have a religion that orbits around humans, which most of them don't believe exists. There's strong hints that there's more to this in the story, to be revealed in sequels.

Yes, sequels. The game was supposed to be the first part of an ambitious trilogy, with companion novels written by Orson Scott Card. Neither of these things materialized as the game flopped. I suppose the follow up games (and books) would have revealed more about the universe and about how humans got those powers (and how the heck nobody in said universe hadn't stumbled upon said powers by accident).

Now, during my steam backlog rummaging I've gone through tons of really crappy games, but for some reason they didn't cause me to write a 800 word negative review. The reason why this game in particular irks me is the huge waste of potential. The game is about 90% there - it feels like the the second 90% is missing.

A pity.

Xenyx Noise Fix v1

March 15th, 2016 #

So the problem appears to be the USB ground, causing the Xenyx to boost the noise in the ground signal into the output audio signal. I figured that a reasonable workaround for the time being is to stop using the Xenyx as a USB audio device, and power the Xenyx off a separate USB power plug, instead of using the PC, and to use a separate (sub-10$) USB audio device as the second device.

This is by no means an optimal solution, but it does come with the additional bonus that now I can wire the PC's audio output to line input instead of 2-track, and thus use the low/high pass filters and panning control on PC audio, meaning that if I'm watching a particularly noisy lecture on youtube, I can actually do something about it.

Based on the research I did while hunting for a fix, a "proper" fix would be a USB separator. Or buying a more expensive mixer, maybe. Or a more expensive sound card, perhaps.

I'm titling this post as "fix v1" in hopes that there's a more proper fix downstream, but I'm not holding my breath. At least the noise is gone!

Xenyx Noise

March 15th, 2016 #

Some time ago on this blog I posted about a cheap hardware hack I used to enable several audio inputs. That was, in the long run, a rather bad solution, so I went and bought a cheap hardware mixer with USB input, namely a Behringer Xenyx 302usb. I like it, it does everything I need (more or less), but it picks up noise from my PC, and that's rather irritating.

I need two audio devices so that I can dedicate one to Windows system sounds (and other audio applications) and have one dedicated for synth output for lower latency.

I've managed with the noise by setting the PC to output audio at maximum volume and having the mixer's volume low, but there's limits to how much this helps, and I'd like to have some breathing room with the volume adjustments. Also, some games output audio at relatively low volume, so I have to increase the volume, and thus, noise, in those cases. Anyway, it gets irritating after a while.

The noise source is clearly the PC, since if I move windows around, the noise changes. However, if I plug headphones (or speakers) directly to the PC's audio output, the noise is not noticeable (i.e, the audio signal is WAY higher than the noise floor is - I'm pretty sure the noise is there if I'd up the volume enough).

There is no noise if I only play sound through the Xenyx' built in usb audio interface.

The noise is there if the input is plugged to the Xenyx' line input or 2-track input. The noise is there if I use the PC front or back audio plug. The noise is there if I plug a separate USB audio device to the PC and use that as the input, even if that device is plugged to a separate, powered USB hub.

Since the noise is also there when the audio plug is not connected, but touches the computer chassis, I suspect that the noise is coming from the ground of the PC (and that carries over through the USB hub), and the Xenyx somehow manages to amplify it. The fact that the noise is NOT there in the Xenyx USB input is a clear plus for the Xenyx.

The "obvious" solution would be to ditch the Behringer device, but I'd love it if there was some easier (and cheaper ^_^) solution.

As a voodoo thing I also tried some ferrite rings, but those didn't have any effect.

UPDATE 1: Tried taking power to the xenyx from a usb charger plug instead of the PC's usb, and noise goes away. But that way I can't use the USB device in the xenyx, so that's not a solution.

UPDATE 2: Yes, I could use another external USB audio device as audio input, and only use the USB on the Xenyx as power source. That did remove the noise and let me use a separate audio device for synths. Not ideal - ideally I'd just use the xenyx as the audio device - but works. I just need to buy a usb charger thingy to power the Xenyx, I guess..

Speccy, Vol 8: The 128k

March 5th, 2016 #

This article has moved here.

Hunting Microspikes

January 30th, 2016 #

We've used Kahtoola Microspikes for some years now, and even bought some for some of our relatives. They are simply easiest way to survive in the slippery seasons in Finland, although you have to take them off whenever you go indoors (for example shopping). I've mentioned these on this blog before.

Now then, another relative of ours got interested in said spikes, so we promised to send a link to a local webstore that would sell them.. and couldn't find any. We did, however, find something oddly similar - "Snowline Chainsen Pro". I googled a bit and judged that these are probably some cheap knock-offs, but decided to dig a bit deeper.

The Kahtoola site lists patents. One of the patents describes the microspikes pretty clearly. The inventor is one "Jin-Hong Choi".

Snowline's CEO is one "MR. JIN-HONG CHOI". Interesting.

Googling even further I could find at least three separate websites for Snowline, with this one listing company history mentioning that in 2007 they "achieved export to American brand 'Kahtoola'." Other brands include "Mont-Bell", "Zamberlan", "Snake", "Koch Alpin", "Mt. DAX" and "Crazy Idea". Why their own brand is only now making headway internationally I have no idea.

So apparently Snowline is not a "cheap knockoff" like I first thought.

Speccy, Vol 7: SolarGun

January 23rd, 2016 #

This article has moved here.

Speccy, Vol 6: Some Little Details

January 23rd, 2016 #

This article has moved here.

Return of the Recent Search Terms

January 22nd, 2016 #

A while ago someone mentioned that I haven't done a recent search terms post in a while. This is true. I figured I'd do one now, and looked back to see what dates I should include in the search, and was surprised to find that I didn't do a RST post last year at all!

Google has become depressingly good at filtering funny search results from the reports, however. Google analytics only gave about 600 keywords for the whole year(!), and from them, I only found the following mildly amusing ones.

You can find collection of older RSTs at this rather long page

avr circuit simulator for ubuntu atanua

Sorry, never got around to implementing it, even thought I got sources to an avr simulator and license to use it.

common stories of sol

I guess I do repeat myself sometimes.

concept of lookup table in graphics tutorial

Concept. Okay. First, calculate something. Then, realize you're calculating that exact same thing a lot. So how about storing the value and reusing the result. But you have a range of values. So instead of storing one value, you store a table of values. And that table is a lookup table. Not really limited to graphics, though. Common lookup tables in graphics (historically) are color lookup tables, screen offset tables, and trigonometric tables, such as sin and cos, for old enough machines where calculating those is really expensive.

death rally creators dos

That would be remedy entertainment.

how to make a audio engine in c++

Through a long, tedious, but also rather interesting learning process.

how to port dos program to windows

Learn DOS programming. Learn Windows programming. Not necessarily in that order. Now you know how.

how to use escapi

Look at the example source code, maybe?

want to make a mmo how to get started 2015

Same way as before: learn absolutely everything about everything first. And/or become rich.

webcam dll multi device support

Depends on the make and model of webcams. Some work, others don't. Most people don't use multiple webcams at once, and thus the developers don't always expect that.

white magic spells that work

Click here to feel better.

why are busses so loud

They are relatively heavy vehicles, and thus require rather a lot of energy to move, and acoustics isn't the primary concern. While I do believe that it would be possible to design a bus that's fairly silent, I trust that people would prefer just getting whereever they're going at a cheaper rate than ride on a bus that doesn't make so much noise.

Speccy, Vol 5: Making Releases

January 6th, 2016 #

This article has moved here.

Happy 2016

January 6th, 2016 #

And the Pouet thread, too.

Haven't written a breakdown as of yet. Any interest?


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