Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Skyrim Patch 1.2: BEWARE!

I didn't make this video but I feel that it needs to be seen:

I highly recommend that everyone turn off Steam auto-updating for Skyrim until the Bethesda guys can get their heads out of wherever they're stuck. More info on this from the author of this video can be found here.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Skyrim Review

You've read here before that I by far prefer to hear the opinions and experiences of fellow gamers rather than the hype from publishers, developers and even certain forums that I swear must be getting a payoff. This especially holds true for one of the most hyped games of the year, Skyrim. I gave you my own two-cent's-worth on Skyrim, and now my fellow modder and blogger Nos has voiced his opinion of Skyrim as well. I think his post is an accurate review of the game, and if you haven't made up your mind yet about Skyrim I recommend you take a look at what he had to say.

Skyrim Patch Info

I can't vouch for the accuracy of this article but I thought you all might find it interesting. It also mentions this article which our friend Nos mentioned in his blog. Over at the Nexus Forums speculation continues regarding the truthfulness of these statements.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Another Skyrim Patch Expected

Okay, so I'm a day or two late bringing you this newsflash, but Nick Breckon (Bethesda "Community Manager") has posted on the Official Bethesda Forum that we can expect a second update patch before the game is a month old. What this patch will revise and how long PC players will have to wait for their patch after the console patches are released were not specified. But at least they made that all-important 11-11-11 release date.

We now return you to your regularly-scheduled programming...

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Skyrim tweaks

I mentioned one of these in the previous post but, after discovering another tweak mod which I think most Skyrim players will consider a necessity, I want to briefly mention them both again in a new post to make them more visible to the ever-growing masses that are the blog's readership.

As mentioned previously, Skyrim by default is not friendly with some GPUs and drivers. I haven't had any CTDs or freezes, but I couldn't help but notice that my ATI Radeon card will not render things like fire, magic lighting effects and spider webs in the game. In my browsing of gaming forums I've discovered that many players have experienced exactly the same issue. The ENB Series 091 mod is basically a d3d9.dll file that for many of us has fixed all these graphics rendering issues. And one of the greatest things about the thing is that it's risk-free; if it doesn't work for you it can simply be deleted.

Another major issue experienced by us all has been the game's buggy interface, particularly the fact that custom key-bindings don't work the way they should. This hard-coded key tweak has solved most of my issues in that regard. Now my re-mapped function keys work as they should, and I can even use my directional keys to move the world map around the way it's supposed to work. Games are so much more fun to play when the controls actually work. Like the graphics tweak this is also a single file, a text document that can be easily deleted if you feel it's not working for you.

So far these two easy-to-install tweaks have made the world of difference in my Skyrim gaming experience. Hopefully you all will find them useful as well. Until next time, game on...

Wednesday, November 16, 2011


If you're a fan of the Elder Scrolls series of games you'll probably like Skyrim as well, regardless of any flaws it might have. I suppose it'd be fair to say that I fit into that category of fans, but despite that it's my intention to be as impartial as possible in presenting you with this glimpse of Skyrim gameplay.

As far as getting started is concerned, Bethesda hasn't altered the formula much from the previous games. In Skyrim you start as a prisoner and must escape an Imperial dungeon before you can get on with it. (Sound familiar?) There's a long animated sequence of you and your fellow prisoners being hauled around in a horse-drawn wagon, a scene which I have no doubt was designed solely to show off Bethesda's handiwork this time around. The sequence is nice enough to watch the first time through, but after that you'll be wishing there was some way to skip the whole thing and get straight to naming your character.
For the sake of continuity (and because there are no Ainmhi in Skyrim yet), I created a Nord character complete with the war-paint.
Much as it was with the character generation in Oblivion and Bethesda's Fallout games, it appears that you can fine-tune the facial features of your avatar just about however you want. I say "appears" because it seemed to me that all the sliders were moving along a series of presets and couldn't stop anywhere else in between. Still, there are enough variations that I think it would be difficult (but probably not impossible) to create exactly the same face twice.

Once that's out of the way, you can go put your head on the chopping block so the Imperials can execute you. But don't worry; your untimely demise will be promptly interrupted by the first of the game's many "Look! We can animate dragons now!" scenes.
One thing however is distinctly different about this game's tutorial sequence. Depending upon your actions (or in-actions), you will be led through the escape from the dragon attack by either a Nord rebel or an Imperial guard and will have some encounters with one faction or the other as you make your way out of the dungeon. The end results are basically the same, but knowing what I do about how intricate quests can be in Elder Scrolls games I can't help but suspect (and hope) that the rest of the game will contain such alternate paths as well.
As usual, among your tasks in the tutorial are to learn how to sneak and pick locks. Here it's worthy of note that the lock-picking interface/mini-game in Skyrim is basically the same sort of thing as it was in the Bethesda Fallout games.
But enough about the tutorial; let's get out and take a look at the world...
As you would expect from an Elder Scrolls game, the world of Skyrim is huge with plenty of room for exploration (and later, modding). I haven't traveled far enough yet to know whether or not the world is surrounded by a "You can't go that way! Turn back now!" border. Fast-travel is available to locations you've already visited, and other places of interest such as quest locations get markers added to the 3D world map as you go. And speaking of quests and maps, fans of Oblivion's compass and map quest markers will be pleased to know that in Skyrim you can follow a floating marker to your goal without wasting any time with RPG stuff like trying to figure out where you're supposed to go.
(I haven't figured out yet if that marker can be disabled by default, but if it can't you can bet that someone will eventually make a mod to get rid of it.)

Wandering around towns and talking to NPCs is just as you'd expect it to be in an Elder Scrolls game. You can gather information, get side-quests, barter and so on just as you're accustomed to doing.
As I've been playing thus far I've felt that the developers actually took some cues from Oblivion modders this time around. Many things that weren't available in Oblivion without an overhaul or some other major mod have been included in Skyrim. Notable among these are the dual-wielding of weapons or spells (or both), minstrels actually playing instruments in taverns, sprinting, containers with lids that open when I activate them and flora that changes visibly when I harvest ingredients from it. I've also been told by a blacksmith that I can craft my own weapons and armor, though I haven't gotten around to trying it yet.
And yes, there are followers and companions! So far they remind me of followers using some of my favorite companion mods; interaction such as giving orders or accessing the companion's inventory is accomplished through the same sort of dialog interface used with other NPCs and so far they follow and fight just as I'd want them to do.
And speaking of NPCs, fans of mods like Children Of Morrowind and the fact that there were children in the Bethesda Fallout games will be pleased to know that for the first time ever in an Elder Scrolls game (that I'm aware of) the developers have finally aknowledged the fact that folks are not spawned fully-grown into the world. There are indeed children on Tamriel (or whatever the heck the world is called).
Dungeons so far are pretty much what we're accustomed to from Oblivion. There are zombies, skeletons, Necromancers, bandits and such... and some traps that look very familiar...
So that, in a quick nutshell, is the good stuff. As is usually the case with Bethesda, the bad stuff is mainly in the technical aspects of the game. For starters, the interface takes a bit of getting used to and re-assigning certain functions to certain keys will make those functions not work at all half of the time. Visually, the graphics don't seem to be quite as breathtaking as I think many fans expected them to be. I should note that I took all these screenshots with FRAPs while playing at 1280x720 resolution with the textures set at medium, so there is some room for improvement and possibly pushing the specs of my system. Still, even with the display settings maxed the game doesn't feel like it's being as hard on my system as I had expected it to be. Better performance is always a positive thing in my opinion, but still I think visually this game has not lived up to the expectations of many players. I should also note that many players have reported having issues with the game depending upon their GPUs. Until I had downloaded and installed this mod (a d3d9.dll tweak), things like spider webs and the lighting effects surrounding the Standing Stones were totally invisible to me.
So, in closing, I'd say the game is pretty great overall so far, but as usual the developers have left us plenty of room to mod, improve and fix their product. On a personal note, I hope one of the things that can be edited is the loading screens. While the 3D renderings of the dragons and various characters are pretty cool, things like this floating mace are just plain boring...

Friday, November 11, 2011

Skyrim Peek

Not everyone has been able to get Skyrim the moment it hit the light of day, so for those of you who are like me and might have to wait a while, here is a video example of what we have to look forward to. (Narrated by Todd Howard.)

(It's actually three segments, so don't get impatient with your clicker...)

NCCS v0.8

The latest version of my favorite companion mod for Fallout New Vegas is now available to the masses. You can read more about it at Nos' Mods and download it from the New Vegas Nexus.


Wednesday, November 9, 2011

PSX Doom/Doom64 Soundtracks

I've mentioned here before about my favorite Doom soundtrack being the music by Aubrey Hodges for the PlayStation incarnation of Doom. But no matter how much I babble on about it, nothing I say can really compare to simply letting you hear it for yourselves:































But let's not forget that Mr. Hodges also created similar music for Doom64 for Nintendo. Many of these tracks have a more "techno" feel than their PSX counterparts in my opinion, but still do just as well to set the ambient mood for a sci-fi/horror shootout:





















Now be honest: doesn't hearing these make you want to play Doom with them?

Saturday, November 5, 2011


Like I was saying in the previous post, I've been experimenting with some new (new to me, anyway) sourceports to run classic Doom. During my websplorations (yes, I just totally made up that word; in five years everyone will be using it) I discovered that gzDoom isn't the only open-GL sourceport based upon zDoom. There was another, called ZDoomGL. Don't expect any new developments here; work on this apparently stopped in 2004. But if you're looking for a sourceport that's neither zDoom nor gzDoom yet is something in between, then this is exactly the thing for you.
As you can see from these screenshots from the first map of Raven, I couldn't get it to work in widescreen mode (it lists the resolutions, but the image will be stretched). But it works just as well as zDoom or gzDoom with my favorite launcher, zdl3.1a, thus allowing the loading of several multiple external files simultaneously. On the plus side, it's based on zDoom so things like MAPINFO and DECORATE lumps can still be used, but on the minus side it uses the old syntax which makes most of my recent works using the new syntax incompatible unless they're converted back to the old syntax. Still, if you're looking for a sourceport that's not as hard on your system specs and compatible with older video drivers, this could be the answer.

Anyway, I'm still websploring, and will share with you new discoveries as I stumble upon them (and have time to type and screenshot)...


So, it's been a little while since I've talked about classic Doom here...

As followers of my little blog here may recall, I've said that my favorite classic Doom sourceport is gzDoom. That hasn't changed, but in the interest of satisfying my own curiosity and better serving my fellow Doomers, I've recently begun experimenting with some other sourceports and now from time to time will be sharing the results of my experiments when they're worthy of note.

For me there are some basic criteria that a sourceport must meet to be deemed worthy of mention here. It must support widescreen resolutions (since I have a widescreen monitor on this rig). It must support the loading of multiple external PWADs, preferably through an intuitive interface (for you non-Doomers, a PWAD is a custom map or mod). Preferably it should support an Open-GL mode (though I'm not entirely inflexible on this). And perhaps most importantly, I need to be able to figure out how to get it to run on my computer.

To that last requirement, somebody out there might respond: "Gee Herc, isn't that kinda narrow-minded of you? Just because you can't figure it out doesn't mean it's no good!" True perhaps, but the way I see it I've really got no business recommending anything to anybody if I haven't figured out how to use it myself.

I recently discovered another sourceport that fits my criteria: prBoom+. Like many sourceports there's no actual "installing" involved with this one; just unzip it someplace and fire up the executable, so getting started is easy. In my opinion, visually it's not quite as good as gzDoom, but it's better than zDoom and definitely way better than "vanilla" Doom. Through a menu accessible in-game up to two PWADs and two DEH/BEX patches can be loaded simultaneously, thus allowing us to play our favorite custom maps with whatever resources they might require. Mouselook is supported, as well as high-res textures. The only major complaint I have about this one (major to me, but likely minor to other players) is that it doesn't allow the "run" function to be bound to a mouse button where I'm accustomed to having it. A major plus for me with this one is that my favorite Doom launcher zdl3.1a can be used to launch the executable, thus increasing the number of external files that can be loaded with it and making things simpler for me if I need to quickly switch between sourceports to test a map I'm working on (don't laugh; it could happen). To illustrate, here are a few quick screenshots of the megaWAD Armadosia running on prBoom+:
(Though you obviously can't hear it in a screenshot, I was also using one of my favorite custom music WADs here.)

So, while it's not my favorite, I have to list prBoom+ as a viable option for anyone looking for a classic Doom sourceport. I'm going to continue to experiment with other sourceports as well (as RL and GF allow) and will report back with my findings.

Until next time, watch out for those Arch-viles!

Wednesday, November 2, 2011


No, this isn't a post about how I feel toward mod reviews posted by anonymous critics; it's a post about how I feel about the continuing trend of video game publishers expecting us to buy their products despite the fact that all they've shown us of the game is a batch of staged and polished "screenshots" (see previous post) and some snippets from some of the game's animated cutscenes. (Remember the television ads for Fallout New Vegas? That was all taken directly from the game's intro movie; they didn't give us a single glimpse of the actual gameplay!) Thus I've decided to share this modest glimpse into the first few hours of my experience playing Rage.
Normally I don't get new games until they're no longer new, but I jumped on this one because it's the first major product from my favorite game publishers after they joined forces earlier this year: Bethesda and id. With that in mind, I fully expected Rage to play like an amalgamation of Doom 3 and Fallout 3; so far it seems like I was right... to a certain extent.
Here's the short version of the story as I understand it thus far:

A humongous asteroid speeds toward Earth, spelling the planet's impending doom (pun intended). In an attempt to save humanity from extinction, a bunch of folks clad in cyborg nano-suits (think Crysis) are put into stasis in these orbiting space pods called Arks. A century later you wake from your little nap to find that everyone but you in your particular Ark is a shriveled corpse and that the Ark is now back on Earth. Without much delay (there's no character generation; you're stuck as a nameless dude) you step out into a desert wasteland. You almost immediately get attacked by a bandit; apparently mankind isn't extinct after all. Then you get picked up by a character who I believe is voiced by John Goodman and he takes you in his dune buggy (with a DoomGuy UAC Marine bobblehead on the dashboard) to his settlement. Of course there are people there who need a total stranger in a nano-suit to run errands for them, including protecting them from in-bred bandit factions.
Though you're given the option to accept or decline the jobs these folks offer you, the jobs don't seem to be as diverse or complex as quests in a full-fledged RPG. However, most shooters that I've played don't contain vendor characters and this one does.
I'm getting the impression that the game world is huge (3 DVDs worth of data, two of which are double-layered), but I wouldn't call it a "sandbox" world. So far the gameplay is fairly linear and you can't go certain places until somebody tells you to go there. And despite the apparent hugeness of the landscape, I've already run into a few inviso-walls (think Fallout New Vegas).
The game also has some armed vehicle combat (think Halo meets Mad Max). Your first ride is an ATV, but as you progress you can work on getting your own dune buggy.
Fans of Doom 3 will undoubtedly recognize the name of the Mixom corporation, as well as a few sound effects that seem to have been copied directly from one game to the other.
Fans of Fallout 3 will also likely feel deja-vu while crossing some of the landscape...
This is the part where I wanted to post some really cool combat screenshots, but they've blessed us with a blurry hit-shader that made it kinda difficult. Still, I did manage to get a few shots of dudes running at me with sharp objects.
While we're looking at some of the enemies, did I mention the ghou-- er, the mutants that inhabit the sewers? I'm not sure yet exactly why they're mutants, though I've heard mention of some valuable alien ore that came down with the asteroid.
So the brief recap is that Rage indeed feels like a cross between Doom 3 and Fallout 3, but mostly Doom 3 with guys to shoot at and linear objectives that are set up to look like RPG quests.

And now for a brief word about performance and stability...

The game offers no graphics settings options to adjust the appearance beyond the screen resolution. At first this made me wince because, while my system can run most of the current games, I still need to scale back some effects like high-def lighting and shadows in games like Oblivion or Fallout 3 in order to get a smooth framerate. But it's not as bad as I initially thought; this game engine seems to render things a bit differently. It's my understanding that in the Gamebryo games (and please feel free to correct me if I'm wrong here) when I emerge from an interior cell into an exterior worldspace that everything in that particular cell gets rendered whether I'm looking at it or not. In Rage, however, it appears that textures are only fully-rendered if they're in my field of vision and everything else gets dumped from the memory. This is noticeable if I'm turning quickly, as I've attempted to capture in the following screenshot:
While quickly turning to my left here, everything that was outside my field of vision was a blur until I turned to actually look at it and then it became fully rendered. Players with high-end rigs will likely be annoyed by this and complain about it since there's no apparent way to turn it on or off. But if you ask me, anything that makes a game run more smoothly for a broader player base is okay in my book and I can live with a few blurry peripheral textures. It's really not so bad once you get used to it.

(This was one of the reasons that I stated in the comments of my previous post that I thought Rage might be able to run okay on some older systems. Since saying that I've installed the game on my old Dell Dimension E310 with an older ATI Radeon HIS video card and thus far I've been unable to get it running. If I do manage to get it to work I'll let you all know.)

Stability? Well, we'll just have to wait for the updates and patches, it seems. While playing today I experienced multiple consecutive CTDs while trying to enter the sewers to take a pic of a mutant. But then, we're all used to this sort of thing by now, aren't we?

EDIT: 11-03-2011

Apparently there's still work being done to make the game more stable. After downloading and installing the latest recommended AMD Catalyst video driver I've been able to go through repeated area transitions without the game crashing. That's really great news, because it was getting to the point where the game was annoyingly unplayable. I recommend owners of the game keep an eye on the AMD support site as well as the Bethesda Forums for new developments.

Oh, and one last thing: while going through those CTDs today I also noticed that the number of times you can save your game is limited to about two dozen slots and that after those are all full the auto-save will start overwriting whichever one is most recent, so just a little heads-up on that.

Well, I guess that's really all I have for now. Hopefully this info will be useful to anyone interested in this new game. So until next time, I'll likely be trying to keep myself from ending up like this guy: