Category Archives: Uncategorized

Bits and Pieces

it’s been a while, but work still hasn’t quite let up yet. I expect it will keep me super busy until at least the end of July. And while that’s great, it means I have time for little else. But that doesn’t mean I can’t make a few random purchases once in a while. Here’s what I got.

Now you are playing with… very limited power, even for 2002.

First up, a Geforce 4 MX 420. This is actually beyond my usual period range of graphics card, having been released in 2002. Normally, I wouldn’t consider anything beyond a Geforce 2 for my benchmarks. But this specific card was the bottom of the barrel for the Geforce 4 MX line, which itself was already the red-headed stepchild of the Geforce 4 line, missing its shader units and looking more like a souped-up Geforce 2 MX. So I thought it was worth trying.

Unfortunately, it won’t happen – the card seems to be broken. One long beep, three short beeps, and you know there’s nothing to do anymore. A shame, because I wanted to see how it would compare to my MX440SE – essentially the same card, but with half the bandwidth due to the use of 64-bits memory. It would have been nice to see how the limited bandwidth impacted performance. But that won’t happen. Oh well, it was cheap enough that it’s worth keeping in my drawer anyway.

Italian language manual (with various strange mistakes) included. The rest of the box and game is entirely in English. Judging from the customs company sticker, this entire release seems to have been imported.

My second purchase had a happier ending. Blood Omen on PC is a game that I have been long pining for, and I finally found a boxed copy for relatively cheap. It’s somewhat beat up on the right side, but nothing too noticeable. Much more surprising was that the game itself seemed brand new – it was still shrinkwrapped, and even the jewel case inside was definitely new. The auction did say “new”, but I thought it was the usual crap. I wonder if this box had been left buried somewhere under other things, and then someone found it randomly and decided to put it on Ebay. Either way, the first thing I did was to… remove the shrinkwrap. I can already hear the collectors crying in pain, but I prefer to actually play my games.

Sits well enough with my few other PC game boxes. Love the old Crystal Dynamics logo – makes you think someone would actually remember Gex today. Hey, now there’s an idea for a remaster.

The last purchase is a copy of Splinter Cell for Xbox. With the announcement that the original trilogy was to be released on Xbox One with resolution and framerate enhancements, I thought I could finally use my own review disc to play it. Of course, that wasn’t to be. The disc isn’t recognized by the console. So I ordered a cheap replacement. Worth it overall, given that Splinter Cell is among my favorite games from the PS2/Xbox generation. Time to wait the playing game now.

What? You mean my promotional-use-only, not-final-code disc is not recognized by the Xbox One? Surely you jest! In my defense, it did run on the Xbox 360. False hope is all the rage today.

What else awaits? As usual, nobody can tell yet. I do have one hope though: now that Blood Omen is out of the way, there is only one PC game left that I absolutely need. Should I ever find it cheap enough (unlikely, I know) it will be mine. As for which one it is, that will be revealed in due time.

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S3 Trio3D/2X – The Cream of the crop?

Thanks to an auction which ended very well for me (no doubt nobody else wanted this piece of crap), I managed to get my hands on a S3 Trio3D/2X AGP 4MB. This was pretty much the last card from the Virge/Trio line that I wanted. I’m still missing some Virge models, however I do have the original and the DX, and the other ones are really just overclocks and whatnot. On the other hand, with the 3D/2X, S3 apparently made a few changes from the previous chip. But just how many? And does it even matter, when the starting point was so bad?

Monolith tells it like it is.

At least it has one thing to go for it. This is the first card among those in the old S3 line-up to complete a 3DMark 99 run without any particular issues. Sure, the framerate is abysmal, but eveything looks as it should. Well, almost everything: 3-pass embossing only shows a white texture, and there’s still a strange pattern in the filtering test. But at least it works.

Motoracer looks decent, but there are some transparency issues. At least it runs a lot faster than the Virge. Until you brake.

And since it works, it’s the first time I can actually trust its final score. Alas, with a miserable 218, it’s the lowest score yet. I assume only a few 1st gen accelerators could go lower. Even the Rage IIc is a lot faster, and that card was terrible – I’ll take its perspective correction issues over the Trio any day. And let’s not even bother with the 6326, comparing the Trio to that is like bringing a knife to a gunfight.

In general, it seems the card is more compatible than the previous Trio, and it also sports better AGP features – if it’s able to show all the textures in 3DMark, there must be some kind of AGP texturing (as also shown by Final Reality), although its performance seems to indicate it’s very slow. Then again, maybe an 8MB model would have been just as bad. Can’t say.

Dash, what happened to your face?

Surprisingly, however, it appears to be a little slower than the Trio. Despite the improved architecture, my framerates appear to be roughly 10-15% lower. The difference decreases as we go up to 800×600. I imagine that, if the architecture wasn’t made any faster but simply more compatible, then having to render all the effects properly would take a toll on the card.

Another strange thing is trilinear filtering – the original Trio actually tried to do it, although it reduced speed by half (and bilinear already reduced speed by almost two thirds – do the math). The 2X doesn’t even bother, it’s technically supported but looks exactly like bilinear and there’s no speed drop anymore.

So to answer my first question, does it even metter if the architecture has been improved? I guess not. This card was the equivalent of installing some snazzy rear mirrors and windscreen wipers to the original Fiat 500. It wasn’t gonna make it any faster, and you were still stuck with an antique that would have made any Homo Erectus proud.

Another 13 years before we all turn into mutant fish

It’s Great Heat Wave Day! Well, I haven’t written anything in a while, mostly because my job has kept me busy (busier than usual). But also because, at this point, there isn’t really any graphics card that I don’t already own. Nothing affordable, at least. of course I’d like a Rendition Verite, but that’s above my budget.

That said, I’m at least eyeing an S3 Trio 3D/2x. It should not be much better than a Trio 3D, which itself was not much better than a Virge… alright, you can probably see where I’m going. But I’ve heard of slight improvements to the 3D core. Those might be worth checking out at least. I shouldn’t expect much, but if I can find the card for less than 10 euro, I’ll put it through a round of tests.

In other news, since today is the best day of the year, I’ve finally received my Xbox copy of that Spyro game everybody is talking about.

Yep, that’s right, I’ve finally bought Hero’s Tail.

Hey, at least it’s 60fps, okay?

Eurocom were the masters of middling games, and while I was hoping this would be one of their better titles (did anyone say Predator Concrete Jungle?), first impressions are average at best. The platforming isn’t nearly as tight as in the old games. Maybe this will be yet another Sphinx – some highs, but overall a missed opportunity.

It’s early days though. I still have at least two more months to bear before I can rest. Until then, Hold Baroque Inside Yourself.

The hard life of a Ronin

Looks like this is the end of my Neko Samurai playthrough. The bad end is here.

I’ll just blame this guy for all my trouble. Things always went badly whenever he was around.

And my life in Edo was going so well. I made new friends, met some old acquintances, started a job as fencing instructor (not for the money though, somehow I never ran out of that), even some hints at possible relationships. But life isn’t meant to be easy. And when my previous evil mentor arrived in town, he started killing random people for revenge. The local yakuza boss wouldn’t have any of that, and thus Jubei was exiled from Edo. Game over, man, game over!

This girl looked like a potential love interest.

This is the problem with adventure games, I guess. If this were a regular visual novel, I’d just pick another choice and go on with my life. But adventure games, at least the traditional Japanese style of adventure games, require you to be in specific places at specific times to move on. Think Daggerfall, but stricter. And so, even if I can read the game, without a walkthrough to understand where I’m supposed to be and when, I don’t have anymore chances to continue.

This girl, on the other hand, looked just crazy.

Well, it was a good run. I at least reached a game over after two months of in-game calendar, so that’s quite a bit of playtime. Decent enough for me. I’ve already started a new game of course – Yasokyoku. This one looks more like a more standard sound novel so it should be easier to play. In fact, it looks a lot like a Kamaitachi no Yoru clone.

A lot, indeed.

Samurai Not-Pizza Cat

While looking around for strange Japanese games to play (a hobby that is taking more and more of my time lately), I stumbled upon an obscure adventure called Neko Samurai. Intrigued by the screenshots, which showed what looked like a farcical cat-laden take on 19th century Japan, I decided to try it myself.

Better looking than a low-budget cosplayer, I guess.

The story, at least as far as I got until now, takes place in Edo, where Nekomata and humans live alongside each other without humans knowing it. Our protagonist is the cat samurai Jubei, the “Brother Slayer”, who’s on the run because of a price on his head. He settles in Edo and then the story plays from there.

The map is definitely a little bit smaller than the actual Edo, but being able to roam around as a cat is certainly new.

It’s not what I expected. I suppose I expected some kind of funny visual novel, but it’s more of an old-style adventure game, where you get a map of the city, and depending on where you are at certain times of the day, you’ll sometimes get different scenes. It’s also not quite as funny as I was expecting, but actually quite serious in places, although there are still some funny moments around and the overall atmosphere is fairly relaxed. And sometimes you get to play minigames, such as fishing or fencing, and there are even FMVs with quick-time events.

Definitely not the kind of models you’d be used to seeing on the PS1, Neko Samurai pushes visual novel standards on to the next generation!

The graphics are interesting. It joins a small list of PS1 games that run at 640×480 (the only other ones I’m sure about, are Internal Section and Devil’s Dice… unfortunately Ridge Racer Turbo only runs at 320×480). But unlike those other games that achieve that goal by using very simple graphics, Neko Samurai employs 2D backgrounds and only uses polygons for its animated character models, which appear on the sides of the screen in a typical visual novel fashion. Because of the lack of rendered background, the system can dedicate all its resources to the characters, making them much more detailed than the average PS1 game… and what’s more, it seems to be using high colors and detailed textures to make it look like texture filtering (it’s not actually filtering of course). As a whole, the polygonal models look almost on par with something you’d see on the Dremcast. As another plus, because of the higher resolution, the backgrounds look more detailed than usual as well… although, it’s a shame about the obvious compression artefacts. It must have been necessary, because the game takes 3 discs even without voice acting.

The game reverts to 320×240 for CG movies and minigames, such as this one where Jubei… teaches a brother and sister how to use a sword, so they can fight against someone in three months’ time. I couldn’t really understand why they want to fight, perhaps some revenge motive, but Jubei does express concern about the idea of teaching the path of the sword to two little kids.

I was a bit surprised to know that Human Entertainment developed this game. For those in the dark, Human was a 90’s developer that mostly worked on licensed and sports games, but more famously on a 1995 game called Clock Tower. Taking inspiration from Dario Argento’s Phenomena, the game was a sort of predecessor to the Resident Evil series, although the focus was squarely on puzzles (bad puzzles, I might add) rather than combat. An interesting tidbit of info. Nowadays, Human Entertainment is long dead and buried, but Hamster acquired the rights to this game and has republished it on the Playstation Store.

The resident Kenshin clone is in trouble, as usual.

Neko Samurai keeps track of the time of day and also uses a calendar system. So far, one month of game time has passed for me. I’m still not sure if there’s an actual story to follow, or if this is a series of vignettes with minigames laced in. The only way to know? I’ll just have to keep playing.

The Girl and the little bird who became the World

Translation time again. This is a short story featured in the Baroque Report Z, a collection of various info and trivia about Baroque. I’m not actually sure where those reports came from, however they are available on Sting’s old website.

They contain all kinds of strange things, including fake items advertising (such as a pamphlet about the Malkuth Kingdom Theme Park!), game tips, and other assorted stuff. The story is what I’m interested in right now, because it was written by Kazunari Yonemitsu, creator of the game. It comes from the first three pages of the Report Z. Its content will look impossible to grasp for non-players. But fans should understand what it is about.

Here it is, crudely translated, ready to be archived in case Sting’s website should ever go down. Forgive my terrible Japanese skills.

———-

He got close while discharging electricity.
Consciousness Orbs. Data-harvesting instruments, for the purpose of healing distorted things.
These are, usually, spheres partially buried into the ground.
But at this point, it is believed that they alone cannot correct the world, not anymore.
This I’ve claimed.
So, for the sake of this world, those who had gathered under the same mission remodeled themselves.
People equipped with Consciousness Orbs, their own brain damaged.
I call them Human Consciousness Orbs.
He is one of them.

Right now, he is standing on the top floor of a tall building, because in that place, a being resides that emits huge distortions.
Fixing a huge distortion isn’t easy. Often times, it’s easier to just eliminate the distortion itself. The Human Consciousness Orb is specifically built for such a task.
With many spherical objects coiled around his black body, and fine threads charged with electricity on top, the Human Consciousness Orb, bewildered, gets closer.
It’s a little girl.
Her black hair is swayed by the strong winds running at the top of the building.
A girl small enough to not know her place in the world.

The girl sees into the heart of the Human Consciousness Orb.
How?
How could a little girl like her hold the power to create such huge distortions?
Boys and girls that age lack the strength of the self that is necessary to create a distortion of that size.
They just barely have the ability to create small distortions, and it won’t support them for long.
The Human Consciousness Orb is certainly thinking that.

The girl’s eyes, green in color, seize the black, human-shaped thing ahead.
It’s rusted, a little less than 2-meters tall. Many black spheres and nerve-like thin strings envelope its body, like some kind of strange Christmas tree.
She hears the sound of electricity. He’s like a black cloud that will start raining soon.

The sensorial organs of the Human Consciousness Orb discover wings on the girl’s back. But they disappear the very next moment.

With a hoarse, metallic sound, the Human Consciousness Orb leans down to the girl. His arms extend to grab her into a choke. He wants to crush her to death.
No matter what they look like, anyone possessing a large distortion was to be destroyed. Erased. That was the mission he was given, the entire purpose of his existence.
The girl’s body bends in a strange manner.
Warm. It emits a pleasant heat.
He feels the warmth of her hands.
His thoughts are flowing.
I’m a small bird. I may be trapped in the birdcage that is this abominable world, but one day I’ll get out and fly away.
The Human Consciousness Orb feels the girl’s body twisting, breaking.
Die. Disappear. Distortion, go away. In the girl’s twisting body, thoughts are flowing.
Her eyes vibrate violently. Her spine bends. Her small chest emits one last breath.
Tonk.
Was that the sound of her bones breaking? No. It was the sound of something the girl held in her hands, falling to the floor. It was a Fake Consciousness Orb.
A short sob escapes the girl’s lips.
A sliver of saliva is falling from her mouth.
The Human Consciousness Orb gathers his strength. His thoughts are running, this is the end, die.
The girl raises her neck. Her face enters into the Human Consciousness Orb’s field of view.
Her smile penetrates him.
The black clouds part to show a ray of light. The sound of the wind dies down.
Huge white wings grow from the girl’s back. The wings embrace the Human Consciousness Orb. Feathers like snow are dancing in the air.
The Human Consciousness Orb gives out a scream of anguish.
There is a sound like something boiling.
He falls on his knees. His metallic bones break off from his flesh, extend, twist. The girl stands up straight in a graceful motion, like a ballerina.
The Human Consciousness Orb is calmly distorting into the girl’s wings.
His ribcage emerges, distorting with the flesh.
His insides evaporate, ascending to the heavens as if asking for forgiveness.
He doesn’t need blood or flesh anymore.
The girl’s frail chest breaths in and out with difficulty.
The wind swirls around, as if following a bizarre circular algorithm.
His sweat oozes. Wrapped in the girl’s embrace, his black body transforms.
Aaah….
He raises his voice.
White wings dyed in red close down.
His distortion is done.
His upper body is shaped like a man, but it was hollow inside.
His arms, electricity still discharging in them, try to no avail to grab that distortion that is like a birdcage made of metal.
Like a being that wanted to break free of the world, while knowing that it was a fruitless effort.

The voice that comes from the girl’s lips, is not the voice of a girl.
“This is the first change”
The girl smiles.
“I will name you World”
That voice, is my voice.
But my voice can’t reach World anymore. Lesser Meta-beings cannot communicate with words.
I see in my thoughts a sister’s face in the darkness. Wait for me, I plead.
I see in my thoughts a friend with identity dissociation disorder. Don’t betray me, I plead.
Borrowing the girl’s body, I advance to the next stage.
“Still 22 more…”
I was afraid of the distortion when they turned you into a Human Consciousness Orb.
But the fear inside me was really admiration.
You who were created to heal distorted delusions, become those same distortions.
That voice, is my voice.
All for the sake of a new world…

<END>

———-

S3 stands for “Savage’s Swan Song”

Luck has to change eventually. And after years, I’ve finally found a Savage 2000 for an acceptable price. What were the chances? I suppose scouring auction sites a million times must have paid off. Either way, I’m now the proud owner of one of the most reviled cards ever. Was it worth it?

Diamond Viper II Z200, aka the infamous S3 Savage 2000. Victory at last.

This card was known for its terrible drivers, non-functional T&L, and overall killing S3, though admittedly their entire Savage line didn’t exactly do them any favors. Just to set the mood, the first time I installed the drivers, Windows wouldn’t start anymore because apparently the default resolution or frequency had been set to some ridiculous value way outside of my monitor’s capabilities. A problem easily solved by installing an older driver, but it might have been a sign of things to come.

Quake 2 running pretty well in 800×600. There are no visual glitches and it’s overall very fast. Nice. Of course, a 1999 presumedly-high end card oughta run a 1997 game well, so that’s not much of a victory.

The Savage 2000 was advertised as being capable of going toe-to-toe with the Geforce 256, the biggest monster of its year. Shoot for the moon, they say. Still, I must admit to being somewhat surprised. In Open GL, the card behaves fairly well and can actually surpass the Voodoo 3 in both Quake 2 and MDK2 (with one caveat – mipmapping quality is overall not great), and is close to the Radeon SDR in speed, although the Geforce 2 MX 200 still isn’t really challenged. Sure, considering the specs, that’s not so surprising. In fact, it’s not even enough. But I knew about its terrible reputation, mostly on the drivers side, so I thought it would be worse.

Something’s rotten in Kenya. Incoming shows some obvious issues with alpha blending, as seen with the explosions, lens flares (not visible in the picture, but they are black!) and the helicopter’s blades. And it’s not even that fast.

Things get a little more complicated in Direct 3D. Performance is pretty bad. In paper it should be similar to a Geforce 2 MX 200, the 128-bits bus making up for the lower core clock, but in practice it’s closer to a Radeon VE or TNT2 M64, sometimes approaching dangerously close to the Savage 4. Clearly the drivers don’t help. But the trouble doesn’t end there. Gamma in some games is a bit all over the place, with Blood 2 and Half-Life looking clearly too bright.

Not appearing in this screenshot: the overly bright gamma. In actual gameplay, the image is a bit too bright for comfort. This probably happens at a later stage of the image output, since it looks fine in screenshots.

I’ve also had a very strange issue in Forsaken and Urban Chaos: at some points, very often in Forsaken and occasionally in UC, the graphics seem to lag behind the actual game code by a couple seconds. This makes them unplayable, since the image won’t react immediately to your commands, even though the game itself does (you can tell from the sounds). It’s even weirder in Urban Chaos, where not the entire graphics pipeline is delayed – leading to ridiculous glitches such as your shadow moving before your character. Check out my horrible phone camera skills here:

Other things aren’t really worth mentioning, except for the fact that it seems to use some really strange resolution and/or frequency for full screen DOS applications in Windows, because the signal goes out of bounds. The games look fine if I start them from DOS prompt. I don’t know what’s up with that. Maybe it’s trying to use 720×400 at 75hz or something like that.

3DMark 99 is mostly useless as a benchmark, but some things are interesting. Look at that performance drop in trilinear filtering, not even the G400 is this bad. Fill rate could be higher, and admittedly it is… in 3DMark 2000.

Overall, not a disappointment. It behaved mostly as I expected it would, with the nice surprise of decent Open GL performance and some hilarious bugs as well. Of course, I had the advantage of somewhat improved drivers. Can’t imagine how things might have been at launch.

So… was it worth it? Probably, yes. And since it’s still fast enough for any 1997-1998 game, I can even keep on using it for a while. At least until I want to play Forsaken.