Serious Sam Fusion 2017 beta: Fish’n’Fries

If you own Serious Sam HD: The First Encounter, you can now download the Serious Sam Fusion 2017 beta on Steam. What is it? Well, apparently some kind of central hub for all things Serious Sam, allowing access to the first up to the third game, presumably including the DLC chapters, and even SS4 whenever it comes out (so far it only supports TFE HD). It features slightly revamped graphics, easier access to all games from one place (guess the Steam client wasn’t easy enough), and probably new leaderboards. That last bit is my current problem.

Perhaps you don’t know, but Serious Sam HD works a bit differently from other games. Your leaderboard score is simply the sum of your scores from every level… and I mean all levels, including extra ones: so if you start TSE HD, and have the Fusion DLC installed, you can get a higher score by playing through the TFE episodes and two demo levels as well, not to mention the Legend of the Beast DLC chapter. It’s kind of pay to win, at least when it comes to leaderboards. But if Fusion 2017 is going to have unified leaderboards for all games, that means in order to keep my spot, I’ll have to replay every game, one by one, and get a high score in all of them!

Oh well, back again with Serious +  No Health + No Armor + No Powerups… 66x multiplier, here I come.

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I’d play on Mental for 76x, but it has less enemies. I noticed you actually tend to get lower scores.

The graphics look a bit more natural, though also a bit less rich… I wonder if it was a side effect of having to make the game work smoothly in VR mode. I kinda like the new look. Currently it has a few bugs and also a few fixes. A big one is the werebulls behavior, which is a bit too aggressive. Seriously, right now whenever I meet one of them, I just bombard them from a distance, because dodging them has become near impossible. One fix, which was a long time coming but still disappointing, is the revolvers reload glitch: now, if you switch to a different weapons, the revolvers won’t be automatically reloaded. I’ll have to plan for that change during big fights.

But most importantly, they actually fixed the fishes’ behavior! In the original game and even in the HD remake, fishes were everyone’s nightmare because their physics were completely broken. They were supposed to be able to electrocute you from a short range, but in actuality, you could be hit from the other side of the arena, and their attacks hurt like hell. As if that weren’t bad enough, they could even chase you out of the water! An absolute nightmare. In Fusion 2017, they finally act like they should: much shorter range, and not nearly as aggressive. I can finally explore the waters in peace.

Now, let’s hope they fix the werebulls soon too, because in their current state they could make later levels near unplayable. And as Sam would say, that’s a load of bull.

Leo’s Toy Store

By now everyone knows, I’m certain, that 428 is going to be localized by Spike Chunsoft next year. This event, the magnitude of which has been unseen in decades, has consequences twofold for me. First, it gives me a chance to experience the sequel to my personal game of 2016 (yes, Machi came out in 1998, I know). Most importantly, it means I can drop my plans to use the on-screen translator on the emulated Wii version.

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On the left, the ultimate villain of Machi (probably not featuring in 428)

I’m somewhat worried, though. I can’t help but think that the sheer amount of effort required to play Machi while translating on the fly, trying to interpret those words the OCR couldn’t recognize, and overall spending a very long time with the game, has been instrumental in my enjoyment of it. Now that 428 is going to be easily available, that crucial element is going be missing. Perhaps… perhaps I should translate it myself again, instead?

Another thing that required a lot of effort was War and Peace, which I finally finished a few days ago. Started in December, finished in March… not bad. At least now I know that Tolstoy was totally a Napoleon hater, and Kutuzov fanboy. The first half was really good, and one of the best written books I’ve ever read. But the second half, when the war starts, quickly goes downhill. Even the writing falls in quality, with Tolstoy often repeating himself five or six times in the same paragraph. It doesn’t even feel like I was reading the same book. Too bad, because it had started so well. Oh well, the hype can’t always be real.

Of course, there’s a new book in the pipeline already. Did you doubt it?

Barrow Hill: The Dark Path – Night of the Offering Redux

I’ve made no secret of my love for niche horror adventures. I don’t know what it is that attracts me to them – maybe the obtuse puzzles, or the totally corny voice acting, or the nice art that still relies on point and click screens. I’ve been playing these things since the original Dark Fall. Although, it wasn’t always such a great time: Dark Fall was a bit too complicated. Rhiannon was a screen-hunting mess (in a real nice setting though). The Lost Crown was really good, but perhaps too long. Barrow Hill was one of the most interesting titles, but suffered from a pretty hard big puzzle near the end. So how does its sequel fare?

(spoilers ahead)

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“I thought I was rid of Emma Harry and her crazy spirits forever. But now I know I must go… BACK TO THE HILL!” *theme music*

The plot is not too different from the first game. It’s still the Equinox, some kids are still stupid enough to go around meddling with vengeful spirits, and you gotta save everyone. While it does feel like a retread, even down to the puzzles progression, enough has been changed to make the experience feel fairly fresh.

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Oh, looks like the victims from the first game got some mourning from their families. Finally someone who cares about disappeared NPCs.

The big problem in horror adventures is often how difficult and obtuse the puzzles are. Finding some of the ingredients in Barrow Hill was outright devilish. Dark Path tries to solve this issue by hinting at solutions a bit more heavily, especially if you enable item descriptions from the options. The three big puzzles to end the game – find the kids’ personal items to free them, find the metals to destroy the circle, and get some substitute items to replace Baibin’s – are almost all fairly obvious. This does make the game a lot less frustrating as you are generally able to understand what you are supposed to do without going around in circles, although the hints are a bit too direct at times.

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Ah yes, somewhat crudely rendered 3D objects. Believe it or not, they are a big draw for me. They harken back to the days of Myst. (okay, not quite *that* crude)

Unfortunately a few obtuse puzzles are still there, but perhaps more due to the interface than the developers’ intentions.I had to look for a walkthrough to see that I was supposed to make a fishing magnet in the garage, because the cursor didn’t help at all. At one point, I just started clicking the screen at random until I got it to do what I wanted. Another big annoyance is a point where you need to rearrange a series of short clips. And in general, there is a lot of scenes with rubble to move around, which honestly shouldn’t count as puzzles. These feel like influences from the HOG genre. Overall though, I feel the general experience is improved, and a good mix of old adventures and new HOGs.

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This style almost looks like a screenshot straight out of an hidden objects game.

The visuals have been modified in several ways. While of course they are higher quality (1024×768 instead of 800×600, and more detailed) the general look is not as dark as before. I don’t mind myself – Dark Fall was one of the most illuminated horror games around, and it’s still got one of my favorite art directions, while its much darker sequels weren’t as good. And who can forget the original Alone in the Dark with its pastel colors? So I’m not that bothered. Still, I can’t help but think that it’s a bit too colorful at times. But hey, you get to enjoy the nice scenery, at least. And of course the voice acting was bad as always, which is just what I wanted.

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The day again, at last! Now to call a taxi, and hope it’s not being driven by a skeleton in diguise.

In the end, Barrow Hill: The Dark Path is a pretty good effort. While it feels modernized, it doesn’t stray from its roots too far, and its improvements for the genre are many. Some may say it was made a bit too easy, though, and that’s something to think about for future games.

Speaking of future games… will Bracken Tor ever come out? I’ve been wondering since 2010 at least, but I’m a bit more hopeful now. Dark Path contains a few audio and visual teasers. Also, many might not remember Wychwood Hollow, another game that was announced a long time ago, as far back as 2011. I remember the early trailer and shots, and it really looks like the project eventually evolved into The Dark Path instead. Chances are, Bracken Tor could end up like that too. Something to wait for?

Memory Goes Here, Performance Goes There

Another failure? At least an interesting one, this time.

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A whole 8MB on a single stick. Only in 1998, folks.

Just a few days ago, I found a cheap 8MB SGRAM expansion for the Matrox G200 series. Yes, it’s a memory expansion for real this time. It was supposed to bring my G250 all the way up to 16MB. In itself, it’s already a useless experiment – the G400 32MB has more memory, is faster in everything, and has literally the same compatibility (including the same issues). While I was sure it wouldn’t make any difference in lower resolutions, I was thinking that perhaps you could see an effect once the local memory was entirely filled up by the framebuffer.

What I didn’t know, was that the memory expansion would actually decrease the default memory and core clocks on the card.

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You don’t have to worry about higher resolutions if your monitor is crap.

I said in the past, that my G250 seems a bit different from the specs originally mentioned on Wikipedia: the core runs at 105mhz core, and the memory at 140mhz. That’s pretty high for its time, but I tested the veridicity of Powerstrip’s claims by running a few games and noticing that framerates scaled almost linearly against the G200A (which runs at 84/112mhz). It doesn’t even seem like an anomalous overclock, since scores stay up no matter how long I keep the tests running, and there are no artifacts in sight.

But after installing the memory daughterboard, suddenly I found the clocks going down to 90/120mhz. Attempting to overclock the card all the way up to the original values produced slight artifacts, so I didn’t make any further attempts. And sure enough, testing the card showed a sizeable decrease over the original framerates. The Forsaken test is particularly telling: the framerate matches the core clocks almost entirely, and shows that, at least on a P3-450mhz, the game is completely bound by the graphics card.

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The complete set. Now with automatic downclocking.

I made two mistakes: I thought there would be no difference at lower resolutions, but there was. And also, I thought there might be a difference at high resolutions, but it didn’t quite turn out. Even with something like 1024x768x32 in Incoming, which is supposed to fill the framebuffer almost entirely, the framerate delta is still effectively the same. 3DMark 99 does show a slight proportional increase when running at 1280×1024, but the difference is pretty small. I suppose the G200 series was really good at AGP texturing. It had DiME support, like the i740, whereas many AGP cards of the era stopped at DMA.

So what happened? Well, I have a theory. The expansion module was made for the old G200, which only ran at 84/112mhz (just like the later G200A die shrink). So they didn’t bother making memory chips that could run much faster than that, since they weren’t expecting people to clock the card any higher – after all, the G200 wasn’t even quite a gamer’s card to begin with. Therefore, since the G200 seems to always run with a 3:4 ratio between the core and memory, if you add slower memories, the core will go down too. Bummer, uh?

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Thank god my paycheck came in just a few days ago.

So that was an interesting experiment, but it could have gone better. Lately, all of my experiments haven’t gone so well, perhaps it’s a sign that my benchmarking days are over? Time will tell. At least the rest of my haul from yesterday wasn’t bad, as you can see. I expect to start Barrow Hill pretty soon, perhaps in the weekend (still playing Claw)… while the Zork book will have to wait until War and Peace is finished, which might take a little while.

Oh, and the SiS 6326 is a C3 revision with just 4MB of memory. Even worse than expected. I’ve never seen such horrible texturing perspective issues. Another one for the shelf.

My Matrox Mystake

That was a failure.

See, a few days ago, I bought myself something that seemed real nifty – a Matrox Mystique 220 with memory expansion add-on. Just imagine, an 8MB MGA! Think of the possibilities! (well, mostly, playing games in 1024×768 really slowly)

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See that bump on the left? It looks exactly the same as a MGA chip. Why have a second chip on a memory expansion module? The answer will be revealed soon.

So it arrived. At first it looked real nice, but then I noticed something amiss: the expansion module is too big, for starters. Also, it had what looked like a second MGA chip on it. And finally, the PC still only saw it as a 4MB card. A quick googling for the MYST/RRSTI code revealed the truth: it’s actually a Rainbow Runner Video add-on card, essentially an AVI and MPEG1 encoder/decoder. Useful, I guess, but not for my purposes.

Oh well, at least I got a Mystique 220 out of it, right? Well, that was something of a disappointment too. The chip is an MGA-1164 (compare to my old Mystique, which was MGA-1064), and compatibility overall is actually a lot lower. Most tests and games will freeze at random, if they even start at all. The only solution I could find was disabling Bus Mastering, but that will reduce performance severely.

Apparently, with bus mastering, the card can start working on polygons while the CPU is still busy. Or maybe the opposite? Anyway, Turok has absurd slowdowns, 3DMark is a lot slower, sound in Forsaken seems slowed down, and overall stuff doesn’t run as well. At least it didn’t crash anymore, but at that point I might have as well used the older Mystique instead. Surprisingly, Quake even shows that the card doesn’t support the same 256 colors resolutions as its older brethren: nothing higher than 640×480 is shown.

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At least it looks cool, I guess? It’s like a sandwich card. Two slices of PCB with a filling of memory and graphic chips. The unfiltered taste and stippling aftertaste might not be to everyone’s liking though.

So yeah, a big disappointment overall. I need to check my sources better. Can’t really fault the seller, because he probably didn’t know what he was actually selling. A lesson for me, I guess. The next card coming, and possibly the last one (I know I always say it…) is a SiS 6326 AGP. Not sure how much memory, but the memory chips make it look like a 4MB model. Strange, since I believed 8MB ones would be more common when it comes to the AGP model. Either way, it should be better than this mistake here.

Wink to the Past

Some days ago, my motherboard died. Or so I thought. See, when your PC only turns on without beeping or showing anything on the screen, my first thought is “reset the CMOS”. If that doesn’t work, “try a different power supply”. Only if that doesn’t work either, I change the mobo. Unfortunately, in my haste, I skipped the second step.

So after changing the motherboard and noticing it still didn’t work, I tried the power supply. That made it! Except… the computer was now turning on with the different motherboard. Too late, I didn’t think about it. Windows 98 suddenly got messed up, and after a couple reboots where things seemed fine, it stopped seeing almost every peripheral in the computer. And that was the chance I needed to reset everything.

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Microsoft advertising OpenGL? It was more likely than you think.

For a change, I put Windows 95 again. Nothing against Windows 98, but I do remember it was slightly harder to run DOS games properly on it for some reason, even though both 95 OSR2 and 98 run the same version of MS-DOS.

I even put a Virge in the case during the installation process, to make sure everything would go as smoothly as possible. I don’t think there’s a more supported card than the Virge out there. And sure enough, the installation was smooth and flawless. I also found a really good USB driver, called XUSBUPP, which was a lot easier to install than Microsoft’s own driver. I remember that one would completely ruin your Windows installation if you messed up.

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After tweaking the Autoexec and Config files. These are the kind of sights I love.

Well, there’s just one problem. Ok, a few problems. First one is, the mouse wheel doesn’t work – perhaps I can look into fixing it. Another problem is just how rough the thing feels at times – you can’t choose which version of the driver to install from an INF file, it seems.

The other problem is 3D Mark 99. I thought it would just work the same, but it turns out it won’t recognize my Pentium 3 as a Pentium 3. Perhaps that required Windows 98… anyway, I’m stuck with basic Intel optimization, which means my CPU score went down from 7000 to 4500.

(that also shows us that there isn’t much difference at all between Pentium 2 and 3, aside from the higher clocks, if you aren’t employing some optimization. The P2-350mhz scored roughly 3500, which perfectly matches the 4500 scored by the P3-450mhz)

This would make further card testing partially useless, depending on the card employed. More powerful chips like the TNT2 and Voodoo 3 obtain a fairly lower score. Of course, it would not affect other game tests, since nothing else in my benchmark suite had those P3 optimizations.

Nor, it seems, does it affect less powerful cards in a meaningful manner. The Trident Blade 3D – which I momentarily elected as card of choice due to needing something that could install quickly and painlessly, much like the Virge but less crappy – had its score going down from 2850 to 2750. That sounds like the GPU is bottlenecking the CPU instead. The G250 also went down a measly 50 points, from 3050 to to 3000. And weaker cards should be even closer. I do have an interesting 1996 thing coming up, and also waiting to see if my bid on a SiS 6326 gets through. So those should be safe for testing.

The last problem? I forgot to back up my old 3DMark database results. Sigh.

Revenge is a dish best served old

In this day of strange inaugurations and general protests, there are many things to complain about. No least of them, is the fact that Nvidia lies to us. See, the latest Geforce 2 drivers available on the site is 71.84, which is essentially the last driver to support many of their older cards. Sounds good, right? Except those drivers don’t really work all that well. Several games had somewhat unwelcome issues or were slower than expected. Removing Vsync was a pain. Don’t even get me started on Final Reality suddenly glitching the whole framebuffer.

So I had to cycle through a few older drivers. I tried going back a year… nothing. Another year… nothing. In the end, I settled for the 12.84 driver, which came out long ago, in 2001. And what do you know, they work much better. No more issues, faster results, anisotropic is now supported, even 3DMark 99 shows improvements.

71.84:

TNT2 M64: 3953
Geforce 2 GTS: 3303

12.84:

TNT2 M64: 4349
Geforce 2 GTS: 4266

Nvidia strikes back! And let’s not even go into my Forsaken results. The GTS goes from a disappointing 132fps in 640×480 (which made it slower than the Voodoo 3), to a much more satisfying 200fps. And holds to 190fps in 1024×768, too.

Oh, and being unified drivers, they work with literally everything from the TNT onwards. Well… they should. The Geforce 2 MX, TNT2 and TNT2 M64 all work fine. But the old TNT didn’t want to be recognized. One more mystery with this card… I had to revert further to 6.47, and even then, it’s still a horrible model. Who knows what’s up with it.

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I’ve always wanted an Elsa card. It’s so going to become my new main.

Did I say TNT2 up there? That’s right, I got a TNT2 recently. While the world of online auctions is inundated with M64 models, plaguing our searches like locusts during a swarm, I was eventually able to procure a basic TNT2 for cheap. And it does its job well (of course using those 12.84 drivers). Similar results to the M64 in 640×480, but keeping up much better when you run into higher resolutions.

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What your money could buy in 1999. The 128 GL doesn’t really belong, but I’m afraid I don’t have its more powerful Pro cousin. And look at that trilinear filtering speed on the Nvidia card!

I had wanted to make the Radeon VE my main, as it runs Blood 2 better than most other cards. But its bad 16-bits dithering was very annoying. The TNT2 takes its spot instead, as its twin pixel pipeline seems to work better than the “triple TMU on a single pipeline” setup of the Ati card. I do question its ability to multitexture well, though. Despite enabling the option in Quake 2 via registry edit (for some reason the game doesn’t use multitexturing in 16-bits by default on the TNT series), my results didn’t improve at all. Mmh.

Well, still looking for other cards, I guess. But the number keeps getting smaller. I suppose a Sis 315 could be nice to check, but a mild distraction at best. I think a 6236 would be too slow to be really interesting. Geforce 256’s apparently are rarer than a Voodoo 4, and you can’t get close to PowerVR prices. Perhaps my collecting days are over… but I always keep an eye open on Ebay. You never know when someone will drop that cheap Fury MAXX you are looking for.

Writing about whatever comes to mind