All posts by malek86

You don't need to know too much about me. That's not what the internet is for, now is it? Just know I'm a guy. Though there was a high chance anyway. The only other thing you need to know, I have a soft spot for nineties videogames. Expect lots of them to be featured here.

The Baroque Survival Project: A Successful Failure

I might have been playing this game a bit too much.

The project I mentioned yesterday ended today, after a long tirad… effort. I didn’t exactly get everything I wanted from it, in fact, we could say I simply proved my old theory from 7 years ago. Nonetheless, it was a difficult process and one worth explaining, if only to understand what I was hoping to achieve and why.

I’ll assume you are familiar with Baroque at least. If not, here’s the gist of it: roguelike where you must do a bunch of things and kill some characters to proceed. The last bit is exactly what I was trying to avoid. What’s the point of saving the world (kinda, ehm) if not everybody is there to congratulate me? And so I set up to look for ways to sequence break the game, and finish it without killing anyone.

The brother doesn’t count, he’s already dead by the start of the game.

Getting into the inner workings of the story would be too long. Essentially the progression goes like this:

  1. Complete the tower once – tower goes down to 17 floors
  2. Kill Longneck to get his crystal
  3. Use Longneck’s crystal to disable the Sentry and get Your crystal
  4. Trigger a confession cutscene
  5. Give Your crystal to Eliza – tower extended to 22 floors
  6. Get the Littles’ crystal – tower extended to 24 floors
  7. Give the Littles’ crystal to Alice – tower extended to 32 floors
  8. Complete the tower again

I’m trying to avoid step 2, and that’s what I did years ago thanks to my trick – exploitation of Hungry Boxes.

The game seems to work with event flags. Since you can restart the game at any time, you could conceivably keep those crystals from the last playthrough, restart the game, and do all kinds of sequence breaking. In order to avoid that, the game doesn’t allow you to store crystals. All items, except crystals. Clever enough, but the developers didn’t count for one thing – you can use a certain box item to “eat” your crystals, then store that, and open it in the next playthrough. Guaranteed to work.

It is a trick commonly used in the PS2 remake to bring items not allowed in certain challenge dungeons, such as swords or coats, and I used it to try and break the game. Of course, the devs still won’t make it easy for you, albeit perhaps unintentionally. Let’s take a look at the process.

The Hungry Box is a kind of box that eats one, and only one, of your items. No other boxes can do that, so you specifically need that… except that it can only be found in the Hell Challenge Dungeon. Sounds ominous? It is. What’s worse, there are no consciousness orbs to transfer your box back, even when you do manage to get it.

I got the blues.

That’s where the Me Brand comes in. Put a Me Brand on the box, and it will be “marked”. Upon your death, which will surely happen because you have to immediately drop all your items and equipment upon getting the box (lest they get eaten and your box becomes useless), on your next life, the item will be available to pick up on the first floor of the tower. Nice. Of course, now you have to run all the way down to BF4, where the closest consciousness orb lies, without picking up any item and possibly avoiding monsters. If you can do that, you’ll have a nice Hungry Box, ready to use, stored in your collection.

That took a lot more effort than these screenshots make it appear. And it’s not over yet.

You’ll also want a Defusal Parasite. The Hungry Box has a very high chance of exploding upon opening, and I believe the game decides whether it will blow up or not upon picking it up for the first time. If the box explodes, you’ll lose the crystal inside, and you don’t want that. So look around for a Defusal parasite – which only appears at random. Sorry. Never said it was easy.

Once you have it, let the box eat your crystal, defuse it with the parasite, and store it. Done!

Some years ago, this method let me store Longneck’s crystal, so I could show it to the Sentry Angel without killing Longneck. From there, the game unfolded as usual. It also let me prove that there are some event flags in the game still – Eliza won’t accept Your crystal until Longneck has at least buried himself. So I had limited success, but it was a breakthrough nonetheless.

Then I had an idea: what if I could skip Longneck’s crystal altogether, and just use Your Crystal and the Littles’ Crystal to finish the game already?

Twice the boxes, twice the effort. Nah, not really, I just used a couple Addition Boxes to replicate my items. Putting in effort also means using your brain.

So, I got myself two Hungry Boxes, two Defusal Parasites, and the crystals I needed. And then I went about the tower again, of course after waiting for Longneck to bury himself, as I had already proven that much cannot be avoided.

Eliza created the consciousness orb with my crystal. Well, my crystal that I didn’t exactly break into the lab to get. I’m sure she’ll never know.

First signs are encouraging: Eliza will accept your crystal and extend the tower. The problem comes later, as the confession cutscene apparently cannot be triggered if you haven’t entered the lab in order to get Your crystal. That’s annoying. So I try a different approach: let’s give the Littles’ crystal to Alice before the 22nd floor.

She wanted the Littles’ crystal, but the Littles are beings made of pain. And now she feels pain and sadness. Be careful what you wish for.

She accepts it and disappears. That’s good, it’s what is supposed to happen near the end of the game, except we’re not near the end of the game. Then I reach B20F, and the Littles’ won’t let me enter their chamber. And then I arrive on B21F and the Archangel talks to me like I’m going to finish the game now.

Oh sure man, get my hopes up.

But I still only get the Painless Man cutscene, not the ending. Too bad.

So was the Baroque Survival Project a failure? A little, because I really wanted to keep everyone in good shape. But in the end, my first success might have been enough – I managed to save Longneck from death (even though he becomes a vegetable) and the Sentry Angel doesn’t really die in the story in the first place (even though he becomes a vegetable). I suppose I already met my goals years ago.

At least I now know the extent to which one can break Baroque. And a vegetable is better than a corpse anyway.

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The need for Sequence Breaking

One thing leads to another, and while I wait for the next graphics card to grace my mailbox (did you know that there is not just a SiS 315 and 315E, but also a 315L? The internet apparently didn’t), I decided to return to an old project that I started but not quite finished 7 years ago.

Baroque is not a well-known game in the west. Its original Saturn/PS1 incarnation, even less so. And among those who know of it, there probably aren’t many who finished the game. And how many of those even reached 100%? The number must be in the single digits.

But even the few of us who belong to that restricted category, need to earn that status for good. And that’s why I’m going to try and sequence break the game. No one must die. Enter the Baroque Survival Project again.

Details will come when I’m done. It’s not easy, but I made enough progress and at this point, only the hard parts are left. Wait, that’s not a good thing. Mmh… well, but I already went too far to leave now.

There’s no guarantee I will reach my ultimate goal, but even confirmation that the game can’t be broken is still a result in itself. That would be enough.

My PSP shall be put to good use in the next days. Party like it’s 2010. Glorious.

Of fill rate and pipelines and TMUs

Recently, I was able to realize one of my freams and acquire a Geforce 256 for cheap. Amzing, I know (remember to always check auctions for unmarked job lots!). And of course I went to test it right away. Surely nobody expected otherwise of me. Anyway, it has been interesting. At the very least, it made me question some things about 3DMark 99 and its fillrate test. With a few more cards under my belt, I can finally pose the most important question: “what’s up with that?”.

One word to begin: fill rate, in ye olde days, was a fairly decent indicator of a graphics card’s performance level. It got outdated as soon as shaders came out, but for anything before 2001, you’d generally get a good idea of whether a card sucked or not, by looking at its fillrate. And the maximum theoretical fillrate is equal to ROPs x core clock. For example, a card with 2 pipelines and core clocked at 90mhz, will give out a maximum fillrate of 180 MT/s. If each pipeline has more than one texture unit, you can further multiply the results for an even higher maximum fillrate, assuming the game can make good use of multitexturing. If, on the other hand, a game can only use single texturing, then having multiple TMUs doesn’t matter and you are limited to the number of pipelines. Easy (right?).

So the cards are:

cards

And these are the results:

fillrate

There are some expected results, but also some strange things in here. While I’m sure some low numbers can be explained by the antiquacy of the test (3DMark 99 came out before any Geforce!), some other numbers are not so easy to explain.

The Voodoo 3 and TNT2 were the most predictable ones. The 3dfx card only has one pipeline, but two TMUs. So the multitexturing score is almost double that of single texturing, since the card is only able to use both TMUs at the same time when MT is enabled. On the opposite side, the TNT2 can use both pipelines at the same time regardless of fillrate mode, meaning the fillrate is (nearly) maxed in single texturing already, and multitexturing brings no advantage.

The almighty Geforce 2 follows a similar pattern to the Voodoo 3: since each of its 4 pipelines has 2 texture units at its disposal, multitexturing is again almost doubled. The numbers, on the other hand, are far lower than you’d expect with this architecture and its core clock. It should be able to reach 1600MT/s, but only gets to about half that much. We’ll get back to this later.

The Geforce 256 has a much more lopsided architecture, with a whole 4 pixel pipelines but no more than one TMU for each. So the numbers here are weird. The card should not really show any difference between ST and MT, but it does. And quite a bit, in fact.

My first assumption was that, perhaps, 3DMark 99 was not made to use more than 2 render units. That would explain the low Geforce 2 numbers. But if that were so, the MT score for the 256 shouldn’t be so high, since it would only be able to use two of its TMUs Another possibility is that the software simply doesn’t use more than 4 TMUs at once. But again, in that case, the ST score for the 256 shouldn’t be so low.

I should mention another couple things: first, I remember an old test where the Radeon VE, with its fairly unique architecture (1 pipeline and 3 TMUs) was able to reach an almost triple score in multitexturing. So the program definitely can use more than two TMUs for the test. Also, I remember the Radeon 9100 reaching around 800MT/s in single texturing, which is close to the limits of its 250mhz x 4 pipelines . So I can also say the software is not limited to a certain maximum fillrate.

In light of these results, I don’t really know what to say. Maybe a few more tests, perhaps with slightly newer cards, are in order.

Edit: I tested both the Radeon VE again, and the Radeon 7500 which is fairly similar (2×6), and I was wrong – the two cards only get roughly double results in multitexturing. So it would appear that the multitexturing test in 3DMark 99 can only apply two textures at the same time. To be honest, the 3 TMUs architecture of the R100 series was quite unique, and every other AGP card since has had 2 texture units per render unit at most. So there wouldn’t be much point in supporting all three (I wonder if the Radeon 7500 would have had the same framerates with 4 TMUs instead of 6).

Far Enough Cry

It might be difficult to remember now, because it hasn’t been happening in 10 years, but there was a time when consoles just couldn’t deal with the latest in PC gaming. At first, it was partly because your puny $300 box couldn’t hope to bear the brunt of super-powered Pentium graphics, and partly because old controllers just didn’t have enough buttons to map all of the controls that PC games seemed to like back then.

Just like System Shock, Terra Nova never received a console port. Seeing how many keys you need to actually play them, I’m not surprised.

This didn’t stop some developers from trying anyway, unfortunately. It took years before we got a decent port of Doom, and I still think Magic Carpet on consoles is near unplayable (and runs quite slowly to boot). But the smartest developers knew this, and tried to fit their games to the limitations of the platform at hand. Mechwarrior 2 Arcade Edition is an interesting example, and one that also improves the graphics from the original game.

Later on, controls stopped being a problem (sort of, depends on who you are asking), but power didn’t. But then, things pretty much solved themselves: as consoles became the preferred way of playing, games were generally developed with those platforms in mind. So instead of console ports, we got PC ports. No problem, except when those ports sucked, but nevermind that for now.

It looks quite sprawling. It’s not really sprawling. Draw distance isn’t bad in this shot, at least.

Far Cry Instincts was among the last games to be released on PC and then properly adjusted for a console release. It does some things right, some things not so much, but it is generally enjoyable. Most strange, the gameplay itself is quite different, even though it bears the same name: you’d expect a stealth shooter just like Far Cry, but aside from the first few levels, run and gun is far more effective. Maybe they were trying to appease the mainstream console crowd, though I think it was also a matter of power: rendering too many trees and open areas wasn’t easy on the Xbox. Would also explain why it never arrived on anything other than the most powerful console on the market (Wii eventually got a port of the sequel, which I’m going to play next – yes, the much maligned Vengeance. Pray for me).

This kind of stuff seldom happens anymore, if at all. Though sometimes the Wii got downgraded ports of PS360 games, and there were traces of the same phenomenon in console-to-handheld ports, it occasionally happened on the PSP or 3DS. However, the Vita paved the way for regular ports, and the Switch shouldn’t have problems either. But perhaps in the future, we’ll see specifically tailored versions of certain games again?

Under the sea, nobody can hear you scream in frustration

There’s a joke (among many, countless others) in Monkey Island 2: as Guybrush is hanging over a pit of acid, you can make him ask LeChuck “why didn’t you just shoot me?”. And then LeChuck will reply, “because we had an extra disk”. Games have often struggled with available space, and multiple floppies or even discs were fairly common. Yes, even CD-Roms, with their 400X times the available space of a 3.5 incher, would sometimes not be enough.

Deadly Tide actually runs at 320×240. All images in this post have been pixel-doubled. Better than forcing you to look at them with a magnifying lens.

Of course, the main culprit was the widespread use of FMVs. Cutscenes everywhere! Sometimes all of the game was a cutscene, like the ubiquitous Dragon’s Lair. But some games went further and used FMVs during the gameplay itself. Such is the case for on-rail shooters like Rebel Assault and Deadly Tide. The former is more famous, but the latter is fairly unknown. Let’s fix this.

I just want to point out that the HUD in this game doesn’t make sense. On the right, you have a health bar. On the left… kinda hard to say.

Developed by Rainbow Studios and published by Microsoft (you can tell because they bothered to use DirectX 2 – no DOS here, they must have actually believed this could have been a Windows 95 killer app), it portraits humanity’s struggle against a race of underwaterish alien lizards. The aliens come to Earth during a long and expensive-looking intro cutscene that probably takes most of disc 1, and a few years later they have flooded the planet with some kind of space technology, or maybe they just waited until climate change did its job. Not really sure. Anyway, you get a prototype ship and bring the fight to their home turf.

It’s kinda Archimedean Dynasty, but with a lot less intrigues and a lot more aliens. Just kidding, it’s nothing like Archimedean Dynasty. It’s a rail shooter that uses FMVs as its very foundation. If you have played Rebel Assault 2, you know the drill: shoot at anything on the screen while the background kinda moves along. However, some sections even let you look around freely, and those are kinda surprising. I wonder what kind of technology it was – I can only guess that it must be something similar to what adventure games started to use a bit later.

The same screen-rotating technology is used in the mission select menu. However, the whole game takes place in the Pacific and the Atlantic. Sorry, Europe.

Too bad those free rotating sections, while kinda impressive to look at, also offer the most annoying challenges. It’s not cool, being killed by an enemy outside the screen. Sometimes they even get above you! Often, during these sections, you can only learn where the enemies are before you die, and then use that knowledge on your next attempt.

To spice things up, you’ll occasionally face on-foot sections and even steal enemy ships. These intermissions are almost invariably a pain, since you’ll have far worse weapons at your disposal. Prepare to die a lot. Too bad, because the game overall isn’t that hard, and missions are short enough that retrying isn’t too much of a chore. But maybe they were trying to artifically make it last longer. Even so, it won’t last more than 2-3 hours.

FMVs are somewhat compressed. Try not to move too often. Oh wait, you have no choice.

Aside from the quite impressive rotating screens, there isn’t much worth remembering about this game. But it’s 4-discs jewel case, while not tremendously rare for the time, is at least a good shelf filler. Just like The 11th Hour, and that Zork Legacy box. And a few others. Imagine if digitl downloads hadn’t taken off, maybe now we’d have PC games on four or five DVDs. Unless Blu-rays somehow managed to become popular.

Ah, who am I kidding? Even if Blu-rays had become the norm, developers would have found ways to fill at least three of them. Maybe with a 4K remake of Deadly Tide?

My little SiS (6326) can’t be this fast

I remember when I first tried the SiS 6326. My first thought was something along the lines of “what the hell is this piece of crap?”. A few months later, I have to revise my opinion, if only somewhat.

Resident Evil doesn’t seem to like the old 6326 much. This is, however, a masterpiece of pop-art that should be cherished. Perhaps in a modern art museum.

One thing I should mention, is that my card is merely a C3 revision. From what I can gather, the original C1 model was terrible. And from my tests, the C3 is not that much of an improvement. Games will occasionally show warped polygons, and in general, texture perspective correction is botched to the point of not working, at least in some of the titles in my benchmark suite. 2D elements seem to have trouble displaying correctly. Texture resolution is often abysmal (the card’s paltry 4MB and PCI connector don’t help). Mipmapping apparently turns on and off at random. And the lack of OpenGL is just icing on the sewage cake, not that the 6326 would be able to run Quake 2 or even GLQuake decently, even if it were supported. Mind, the newest drivers even say that an ICD OpenGL is included… but I haven’t managed to run anything on it.

Crank that Blood 2 all the way up to 640×480. The SiS can run it. In low details, of course. If you want proper lighting, then you gotta go down to 512×384… and possibly 400×300.

So it doesn’t sound great today, but as I tried using it a bit more, and considering the circumstances, there’s something to like too. Image quality is actually okay for a cheap 1997 card – there was far worse around, usually for a higher price. A common Virge might look generally better, but it also runs slower, and was more expensive anyway. And it should be mentioned that a later C5 revision solved most of the quality issues of the 6326, making it far more attractive. If it had come out earlier, it would have been even better… but you can’t have everything.

Rogue Squadron doesn’t support anything lower than 640×480, so you get a choppy framerate, no two ways around it. But it’s playable, and the Nintendo 64 version wasn’t very smooth either. For a 1998 game on a 1997 budget card, I’d call it good enough.

A basic Voodoo 1 was another world, of course. But it was also $300. Bragging to your console friends was a somewhat expensive proposition then. The SiS 6326 though, that was just $50… and for that, you got a decent card that could accelerate games to 16 bits fairly smoothly up to 400×300 or even 512×384. Of course it supported higher as well, but people weren’t fans of slideshows even back then.

If I can find it cheap (and it should be easy, since these cards sold quite a lot), I would like to get my hands on the AGP C5 revision, to see how it compares. I also wonder how it compares to a Nintendo 64… maybe I will try a few conversions.

Shining Wisdom: And it wasn’t even a CD-i game

I consider myself pretty tolerant when it comes to bad games. I’ll give just about anything a fair chance, and sometimes I’ll even like it. Why, even Tales of the Tempest didn’t faze me (not too much anyway). It takes a very special kind of bad to get my teeth grinding. Unfortunately, that kind of stuff happens too.

You know how JRPG July is a thing in some sites? I didn’t, but anyway, I thought I’d join the fun. Me being me, I couldn’t just choose one of those popular games everyone else will play. Final Fantasy 12 Remastered? Sorry, even a properly inverted camera won’t be enough to get me back into that borefest. Of course it had to be something old and obscure. Of course it had to be… Shining Wisdom!

Shining Wisdom, or How I learned that forgotten games are forgotten for a reason

A Megadrive game quickly converted onto the Saturn, this one is less of a strategy RPG or dungeon crawler, and more like a Zelda clone. That should be good news. It’s kinda hard to mess up a Zelda clone. Worst case scenario, it will just be boring. Right? Not so fast. I don’t know how Sega did it, but Shining Wisdom is the worst Zelda clone I’ve ever played, by far. I don’t know about the CD-i Zelda games, but I can’t imagine them being worse than this.

It starts like Chrono Trigger. It’s nothing like Chrono Trigger.

I could talk about what makes this game so terrible for hours on end, but let’s make it quicker and list what does work:

  • the cover art is not too bad, in a sort of anime-ish Castlevania way

Well, that’s it. Everything else is terrible. From controls, to hit detection, graphics and sound, even the music will make your ears bleed after a few seconds (and I have even higher tolerance for bad music than bad games). I wasn’t really following the story because the large areas without any sort of map functions suck the fun out of talking to NPCs immediately, especially in the castle, but what little I’ve seen seemed pretty uninteresting. The early 3D era character design is possibly even worse, coming from a time when a sphere on top of a cube could pass for a human torso.

Lifeless Puppets: The Movie: The Game

Some games might be bad, but almost everything leaves you at least something by the end. It could be a memory of the only good part of the game, maybe one memorable tune, or one interesting character.  Perhaps even the emotional load of a disappointing sequel, such as Mansion of Hidden Souls 2. I’m sorry to report that Shining Wisdom gives you absolutely nothing. It’s terrible all around, and I can’t find any redeeming quality whatsoever. As a Megadrive game, it could have perhaps been at least a technological showcase, but as a Saturn title, it fails even on that front. And since I had no expectations, it couldn’t even let me down.

I’m sorry, duck princess, I’ll never know how your story ends. And I don’t care to know.

A bad game that is just bad. There is nothing sadder in life. Not even Tales of the Tempest.

I suppose I should look for something else, but honestly, I’m probably just going to replay Quake 2. Why not, my JRPG July will be the “Jump and Run with Pistols and Guns” July.