Today marks the end of my Derbycon training. This year, I ended up taking the basic Android hacking training. I learned a good bit about the Android permissions model and we started to look into reverse engineering code from APK files.
Tomorrow will be the first day of talks. Derbycon is a great conference, and one of the reasons it’s so great is that they pack in 10-12 hours of training each day. Tomorrow starts at 8:30 AM and Irongeek will even be live streaming the opening sessions. After that, sessions go on until 8 PM, and Saturday’s basically the same.
When I bought/built my most recent PC (I didn’t do everything, but I did most of it, and transferring over the DVD drive was a massive pain in the ass, so I deserve credit), I agonized about choosing an i5 vs. an i7. My goal was to get four to five years out of this PC. I settled on the most powerful i5 Intel makes at present, the 4690k. However, hyperthreading made me constantly second guess this decision.
Rock, Paper, Shotgun to the rescue!
I can now confidently say that I regret nothing.
Since I started watching Clone Wars, I’ve felt the urge to go back and play one of the greatest space simulator lines ever: the X-Wing series. Folks growing up in the 1990s have fond memories of X-Wing and TIE Fighter as excellent single-player games (TIE Fighter tends to rank high in the hearts of gaming geeks), and one of my time sinks in my youth was X-Wing vs. TIE Fighter (as well as the Balance of Power add-on). Shortly after XvT, LucasArts released X-Wing Alliance, the final game in the Totally Games X-Wing series. Unfortunately, LucasArts never came out with any modern space simulators, so all we’re left with were great games from the 1990s.
So here’s the problem with 3D games from the 1990s: modern video cards tend not to support them. X-Wing Alliance used DirectX 6.0 (quick note: we’re up to 10) and all kinds of crazy tricks nVidia and ATI/AMD were glad to deprecate. This means that if you install X-Wing Alliance on your modern Windows PC (getting around the fact that the game was released a decade before UAC and back when Windows users were always local administrators), chances are good that you won’t get the results you want…at least by default.
This story has a happy ending, though, because we can play X-Wing (and the rest of the games) with upgraded, modern(ish) graphics, on our ultra-powerful machines from the future. Here’s what you do, keeping in mind that I have an nVidia graphics card from about a year and a half ago.
- Get a copy of X-Wing Alliance. Don’t get it new. In fact, to be honest, I’d consider this abandonware and wouldn’t have any ethical qualms about downloading a copy of the game. LucasArts won’t make a dime off of it at this point and they haven’t supported the game in over a decade, after all.
- Installing the game can be a bit tricky. You need a patch to get the game to pass the Windows version check, saying that yeah, you have Windows 98. Don’t think about installing this in a Windows 98 VM, though; your 3D card probably won’t work so well through a virtual machine.
- Once you install the game, make sure to upgrade to version 2.02. If you can’t get that patch, the next step actually includes it.
- Now, the game was released in 1999, meaning that it had to run on PCs with 166 MHz processors, 32 MB of RAM, and 4 MB PCI video cards. Sure, the game looked great at the time, but regardless of how much you love Star Wars, it will look like crap today. This is why you absolutely need Darksaber’s Ultimate Craft Pack. X-Wing Alliance was a highly moddable game (thanks for that, Totally Games), and over the past decade or so, people have contributed nicer models, turned on settings that Totally Games originally had off (remember: crappy hardware), and pushed the graphics engine well past what Totally Games ever could have expected. For my nVidia setup, I installed the nVidia font fix as well as the No CD crack, and all of the high-resolution models.
- Once I got that taken care of, I jumped into the game. On my first mission, pressing T to target a supply crate caused all of the objects to disappear, leaving just the star field. The game worked fine in Software mode (but that’s crappy rendering and looks terrible!), and apparently, over the past 7 years or so, nVidia changed something in their drivers to make the game no longer work right. After reading 10 pages of complaints, Reimar saved the day. Go get XWAHacker. For me, I ran the fixedclear.bat and 32bitmode.bat files. The combination of those two changes made it so that I could target objects and perform all the actions without any graphics glitches. I also used changeres.bat to change the default resolution to give me a widescreen experience.
- Finally, don’t forget that there were a lot of controls and the game requires a joystick.
Once you do all of that, you’ll get a fantastic game. Once you finish the default set of missions, you can mod XWA to re-create X-Wing and TIE Fighter with differing levels of success.
Alternatively, you should be able to get the entire series to play on a modern computer…but you won’t find the same upgrade packs, so you’re dealing with old, old graphics. Still, old graphics beats nothing.
Disney, here’s some free advice: take these games, put them in a modern engine, and re-release them in 2015 to hype up Star Wars Episode VII: George Lucas Is Finally Gone. Get it right and revenues would be fantastic; you’d have a whole new generation of people blowing stuff up in letter-shaped space craft.
My current presentation laptop is a 2-core machine with (maxed out) 4 GB of RAM. That’s fine for doing basic work, but was really getting long in the tooth and prevented me from doing more interesting scenarios, like having several virtual machines interacting at once.
As a result, I decided to upgrade. I ordered an Asus N550-JV-DB72T notebook. By default, this comes with a slow hard drive and 8 GB of RAM, but I ended up bumping that to 16 GB of RAM and a 250 GB solid state drive. At this point, my new laptop will be a bit more powerful than my current desktop machine, and will definitely allow me to do more complicated demos.
I might have a full review of the laptop after I receive it, but that won’t be for at least another week or so.
I’m looking at a pretty busy conference schedule this year. Here’s what I’m looking forward to:
February 8 — Powershell Saturday 007, Charlotte, North Carolina.
March 22 — SQL Saturday #277, Richmond, Virginia.
May 16 — May 18 — CarolinaCon-10, Raleigh, North Carolina.
June 14 — SQL Saturday #299, Columbus, Ohio.
September 6 (?) — SQL Saturday, Raleigh, North Carolina.
September 24 — September 28 (?) — Derbycon 4.0, Louisville, Kentucky.
November 4 — November 7 — PASS Summit 2014, Seattle, Washington.
I might be able to sneak one or two more conferences in there, but going to seven conferences across three major domains is pretty nice for me. I might also be able to attend the 2014 Raleigh Code Camp if the time is right.
The Newegg trial is a perfect example of why we should get rid of patents in the computer space. Newegg brought in Whit Diffie to show prior art in a ridiculous patent troll lawsuit. Despite that, the troll won. Newegg is going to appeal the result, so hopefully they get somewhere in the appeals court.