Archive for October, 2007

Oct 31 2007

WoW Halo 3 Battlegrounds

Published by under Games

The new World of Warcraft Halo 3 battlegrounds are pretty cool. Pitting WoW players against Halo 3 players is a great idea. I’ve been playing “Covenant IV” and am getting pretty good at taking down the Scarab tanks.

Here are some tips:

Start Game
The other team starts with two Covenant Type-47 Ultra Heavy Assault Platforms (a.k.a, scarabs). With dual cannons these things can send your entire team to the graveyard in a heartbeat.

Unfortunately fight form and flying mounts are not allowed in this battleground so you have to use other modes of transportation.


Hitching a Ride
This is the guy to talk to for a ride out over the battlefield. Hornet pilots are pretty good at following orders, however don’t spend too much time in the air because the Hornet isn’t particularly sturdy and will not stand up to repeated fire by a scarab gun.

The Hornet aircraft can take two passengers in addition to the pilot so grab a healer if possible before take-off.

Going in Hot!
If things go well, the Hornet pilot will take you in over the nearest scarab. You don’t have to worry about the main cannon because it can’t shoot high enough to hit you. You do need to watch out for the top cannon which can easily target you during your approach. 

Rawr Bomb
When you arrive over the Scarab jump off and try to land on the upper deck. The enemy probably saw you coming and will likely be waiting for you on deck. If possible, charge an enemy on the way down to avoid falling damage. The Hornet jump can be tricky because both you and the scarab are moving.

Clear the Deck
You’ll need to clear the upper deck of enemies as quickly as possible. It turns out that the Covenant plasma weapons don’t hurt Druids too bad so don’t be afraid to take a few rounds in the face. If there is a brute chieftain on deck take him out first.

Head to the Engine Room
After you have cleared the upper deck head around back using either of the side walkways and then enter the doorway. Do not waste time going down the ramp to the lower deck. Any enemies still alive down below will die soon enough.

Blow the Engine Core
You should now be standing in front of the engine core. Bash the core a couple times, if you have the rage, or just hit it repeatedly until it explodes. Once the core destabilizes, turn around, run out the door, and jump off and away from the doomed scarab.

Run Away!
Once you hit the ground keep running until you’re well out of range. You’ll have 5-7 seconds before the massive explosion that signals the end of the scarab. If you made it out in time you’ll feel a great sense of satisfaction for having taken down one of the Covenant’s largest armored vehicles!

Remember, there is no time to /dance because the enemy still has one more scarab.

I’ll let you figure out how to take that one down. Good Hunting.

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Oct 28 2007

UO World Map

Published by under Games

While cleaning my music studio last weekend I came across a cork-board containing a large strange looking map:


This map really takes me back. In fact, rewind over 10 years back to the Ultima Online closed beta in 1997. I had managed to get accepted into the beta and was REALLY excited to play the game. When the beta CD arrived in the mail I dropped everything and immediately installed it on my computer. 

After a bit of trouble connecting to the server my first foray into in a MMO began. The game was everything that I had hoped for and more. Issues such as jerky lag and frequent server disconnects seemed trivial in the face of being able to explore Britannia online.

uobox.jpgAfter a few weeks of game play I decided to take a closer look at the game files on my hard drive. Hacking around in program files is something I often did (and still do) to see what’s there and possibly what I might be able to change. Viewing the files in a binary file editor was a little like exploring a new dungeon because you never knew what you might find.

It was fairly obvious from viewing the game that it used a tile based map system. This meant that the game world consisted of a large grid of tiles that made up the terrain seen by the player. Each tile was a small graphical picture around 16×16 pixels in size and represented a piece of the world (e.g., grass, water, part of a road, etc). The tiles were used primary to represent the ground and objects such as bridges and buildings were rendered separately on top of it.

I eventually found a set of files that appeared to be map data. I could tell when viewing the files in a binary editor that the data was structured and seemed to contain patterns that repeated along certain boundaries. After some analysis I determined that the tiles in the map were organized into cells of a particular size (e.g., 8×8) and those cells were organized into thousands of map segments. There was some weirdness with element ordering within a cell versus a segment that took some time to sort out.

uomap2.jpgAfter working out the details of the map data format I started thinking about how I could render the data in a useful way. I first wrote a program that would display small segments of the map on the screen. That was useful, however I really wanted to see it all at once. To that end, I wrote a program that would generate a a huge JPEG image file containing the entire world map. The size was something like 4K x 6K pixels which was fairly large for a personal computer to handle at the time.

To generate the image file I utilized some C code published by the Independent JPEG Group that could write JPEG files. The JPEG format is fairly complex and getting this code to work properly on Windows required some work. Eventually I got it working and the result was a giant image of Britannia! From there, I printed out the image across 12 sheets of 8.5 x 11 paper and taped the entire thing together to make the map seen above. 

uomap3.jpgThe map provided many hours of directed exploration where I journeyed to find something in-game that I saw on the map. One interesting thing was that some of the special dungeons were located in the lower right corner of the map. You couldn’t sail a ship there because the in-game world wrapped before going that far east.

I experimented with modifying the local map data on my hard drive to see what would happen in-game. For example, I added a bridge between the mainland and the city of Moonglow, which was on an island to the East. Although I saw the bridge on my screen in the game, the server would snap me back to the mainland after a few seconds of running on the bridge. As expected, the server validated movement and would not allow me to run across water. Oh well, I had to try. :^)

For the next few months I watched the message boards and Usenet to see if anyone else had reverse engineered the Ultima Online map. There was no mention of it anywhere and I was left with the dilemma of whether or not I should share the map with people online. I ultimately decided to keep it to myself because I didn’t want to potentially undermine the online game play by publishing an exact map of the entire world.

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Oct 25 2007

Neil Young

Published by under Music

Neil Young played a great show at the WaMu Theater last night. We had seats in the 4th row which were excellent for both viewing the performance and sound quality. The first half of the concert was just Young on the stage performing acoustic versions of songs like “From Hank to Hendrix” and “Heart of Gold”.  His acoustic performance was outstanding and my only wish was that it could have gone on for another hour or two. 


Between songs, it was almost comical the way he wandered among the assorted instruments on stage while contemplating which song to play next. Young’s voice and guitar playing sounded fresh and he looked very relaxed on stage. His trademark harmonica accompanied his guitar on many of the songs in his acoustic set. He also played the piano and banjo on a few select songs.

The rest of the band joined Young on stage for the second half of the concert and they rocked through songs such as “Cinnamon Girl” and “Like a Hurricane”. He played quite a few songs from his new album which just happened to be released on the day of the concert. One new song, “Spirit Road”, had a nice groove and went on for over 15 minutes.

I attended the concert with my Dad, who had just had some surgery less than a week ago. He was definitely sore and still recovering but didn’t want to miss the concert. I’m really glad that he was able to make it because it turned out to be a great show. We both particularly like Young’s acoustic work so the opening set was a real treat.

Here are the set lists:

Acoustic set: “From Hank to Hendrix”, “Ambulance Blues”, “Sad Movies”, “A Man Needs a Maid”, “Homegrown”, “Harvest”, “After the Gold Rush”, “Mellow My Mind”, “Love Art Blues”, “Love Is a Rose”, “Heart of Gold”.

Electric set: “The Loner”, “Everybody Knows This is Nowhere”, “Dirty Old Man”, “Spirit Road”, “Bad Fog of Loneliness”, “Winterlong”, “Oh Lonesome Me”, “The Believer”, “No Hidden Path”, “Cinnamon Girl”, “Like a Hurricane”.

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Oct 14 2007

Save The Last Human Family!

Published by under Classic Arcade Games,Games

Today I performed some badly needed maintanence on my Robotron cabaret (mini) arcade game. The game had been exhibiting a number of problems for the last year including start up failures, garbage on the display, and random resets. The problems made the game almost unplayable so it was time to give it some well deserved attention.

robo1.jpgThis game is probably the most rare and valuable classic arcade game in my collection.  A “cabaret” or “mini” arcade game is a smaller version of a normal upright arcade game.

Cabarets typically have a much shorter production run than their full sized counterparts. In the case of the Robotron mini, the estimated number produced ranges from 50 to 500.

The short production run of the Robotron mini along with the game’s popularity has made it a real collector item. It’s very rare, but once in awhile you see one go up for sale for ebay.

I spent over a year convincing the previous owner to sell me the game. He operated an amusement device business locally and I believe he was the original owner.

I used to buy other games from him regularly and when I saw him I would always ask about the Robotron mini. For almost a year his answer was always no, but one day, to my surprise he agreed to sell it.

That’s enough game history – let’s get back to the exciting work of classic arcade game maintenance!

Upon powering up the game it would often display error messages like the one below, which suggested it was losing its settings memory.


More problematic, however, were the frequent game resets which were often preceeded by garbage appearing on the screen. Since Robotron machines were known for having power supply problems I ordered a new Happ Controls Power Pro 110W CE Power Supply.

After opening up the game and discharging the CRT using my handy high voltage probe, I began the job of installing the new power supply. It appeared that the game’s power supply had been replaced at least once before. One nice thing to note about the Robotron mini cabinet is the hinged rear door as shown below.


Installing the new power supply was fairly straight forward. I hooked up the power and then calibrated the +5V line using the pot on the unit. Next I moved over the various power connectors to the appropriate outputs of the power supply. Here’s how the installed unit looked:


In addition to replacing the power supply I also went through all the PCBs and reseated the plugs and connectors. This can sometimes fix a problem with a poor connection. I also pressed down on all the socketed ICs to make sure they had not come loose due to heat.

Another item that I replaced was the set of three AA batteries used to save settings and high scores. One of the batteries was corroding so a fresh set was way overdue. Upon power up I was greeted with the message:


Which told me that I had not made any horrible mistakes installing the new power supply. I successfully played through several games and did not experience any of the prior problems. Success!

Next on my list of game repairs are 1) Berzerk fails to start up, 2) Defender has a controller problem, 3) Tempest fails to start up and also needs a monitor cap kit, 4) Battlezone needs monitor work, and 5) Donkey Kong Jr. Fails to start up. At least my normal Donkey Kong game is still going strong…

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Oct 13 2007

Battle Damaged Scarab

Published by under Conventions,Games

A cool item I picked up at the San Diego Comic-Con this year is a large model of a Halo 3 Scarab vehicle.  The model is made by WizKids and is part of the Halo ActionClix collectible miniature game. It is the largest game figure they have ever produced and measures 24″ x 24″ x 20″. I set an Xbox controller in the below picture to give a sense of scale.


The “Battle Damaged Scarab” was a limited edition item sold exclusively at Comic-Con to 500 lucky buyers. Each day WizKids held a raffle and if your ticket was drawn you won the right to purchase one. I actually got mine at the end of the day when they sold the extras units that raffle winners did not show up to claim.


Playing through the Halo 3 game gave me a new appreciation for this model. At the time when I bought it, I had no idea that Halo 3 would feature several set piece battles where you fight one or more Covenant Scarab tanks. Those battles were a lot of fun and this model provides a cool way to recall the action.

scarab2.jpgThe level of detail on the model is outstanding. The box says the model was hand painted and you can tell that a lot of effort went into the workmanship.

The click bases shown on the legs in the top picture can be removed as shown to the left. The click bases are used to track the vehicle’s health when playing the tabletop ActionClix game.

I bought the model primarly as collector item and probably won’t actually play the ActionClix game. I have played a number of the WizKids click base games in the past but never really got into them.

Now all I need to do is find a place to set this model on display. That may not be easy due to its size. I may put it in my office at work.

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Oct 03 2007

Heads up Marines, we’ve got Trouble!

Published by under Games

I finished Halo 3 on Legendary mode today. Although it was a very enjoyable ride and fitting conclusion to the series, I can’t help but feel a bit sad that my tour of duty with Master Chief has finally come to an end.

It was six years ago that I joined the fight against the Covenant in “Halo: Combat Evolved”. I eagerly continued the fight in “Halo 2” and have now finished the fight in “Halo 3”. Since that first mission back in 2001 the story and characters of Halo have been a part of my life and it’s with reluctance that I say goodbye.

Playing the single player campaign of a game like Halo for the first time is very special treat. It’s something that you only get to do once and will remember for years to come. It can be compared to seeing a favorite movie or reading a great novel the very first time.  There’s the excitement of being in the middle of an incredible story and charging ahead into the unknown.



This is the way the world ends…

This blog entry should really be dated March 3rd, 2553.  That’s because the war against the Covenant and Flood is finally over and the world, what is left of it, has been saved. 

Halo 3 doesn’t pickup exactly where Halo 2 ended. Instead, there is a comic series named “Halo Uprising” that takes place between the two games. It is a little confusing at the start of Halo 3 as to what has happened to Master Chief, however, I’m hoping that when I get a chance to read the comics it will all be made clear.

It was a pleasure to fight alongside the Arbiter through many of the levels. Although I enjoyed playing as the Arbiter in Halo 2, I was happy that Halo 3 stuck exclusively with the Master Chief. Playing as the Arbiter might have been okay if the game had been longer, but as it was, I preferred to spend the time with the Chief.

Several of the set piece battles in Halo 3 involve taking down a Covenant Type-47 Ultra Heavy Assault Platform (a.k.a, Scarab). Initially fighting the scarab seemed a difficult task, however after some practice I learned how to stay ahead of main scarab gun and avoid being spiked by the legs.

One cool thing about the scarab battles is that there are several ways to approach the fight. In my first battle I simply circled the scarab in a mongoose while a soldier in back hit it repeatedly with a rocket launcher. The second time I noticed the crane extending out over the battlefield and used it to jump onto the scarab, thus skipping phase 1 of the fight. In the second scarab battle later in the game, receiving a lift from a Hornet was definitely the way to travel in style.


Let us never forget those who journeyed into the howling dark and did not return – Fleet Admiral Sir Terrence Hood

I love looking at Forerunner architecture in Halo. There is just something awesome about the structure and massive scale of Forerunner buildings. I was a bit disappointed that I didn’t get to explore the Ark on Earth. That would have made a great level before jumping off through the portal.

The Flood were particularly creepy in Halo 3. It’s fun to take a close look at them in Theater mode and appreciate the increased detail of the models. I do have to say that my least favorite level in Halo 3 was fighting through the Flood infested High Charity to save Cortana. That level was simply a pain in the ass, particularly on Legendary mode. Saving Cortana at least made the trip worthwhile, however I don’t expect I’ll be replaying that level anytime soon.

johnson1.jpg And to Sergeant Major Johnson, it was an honor fighting at your side. Your courage in battle and motivating pep talks will never be forgotten. I’m happy that I was able to grant your last request.

One of the innovative features of Halo 3 is the Theater. The game automatically saves both single and multi-player games so they can be viewed as a movie later. The game actually re-renders the video based on saved game data and allows the user to watch from any point of view (including a free roaming camera). This is a really cool feature, particularly for someone like me who likes to explore all the details of a level.

I guess there is a certain comfort in having closure to the Halo single player campaign. I’m satisfied with the ending and am looking forward to some day when I can sit down and play through all three games sequentially. For now, my next challenge is Halo 3 multi-player. I suspect it will be a lot tougher than during the beta…

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Oct 02 2007

Happy 30th Birthday Atari 2600!

Published by under Classic Arcade Games,Games

Today is the 30th anniversary of the Atari 2600 video game system. It’s hard to believe it has been 30 years since the world was introduced to this revolutionary game system. I still remember the excitement (mostly by me) the day my family bought our Atari 2600.

The first order of business when we got home was figuring out how to hook up the RF switch the back of the TV. The switch allowed the TV input to be switched between the game and the normal antenna.


I remember spending hours playing games like Combat and Basketball with my Dad. Those were fun times. The graphics were very primitive but all I knew is that it was awesome to be playing games on the television!

The game, by far, that captured my imagination was Adventure. In this graphical adventure the player explored a magical kingdom in search of an enchanted chalice. Along the way the player encountered castles, dragons, mazes, and had to solve a number of puzzles before ultimately finding the chalice and returning it to the gold castle. The chalice was guarded by Rhindle, the red dragon, who you can actually see in the banner at the top of this page (looks a little like a duck).

 I still have my original Atari 2600 which is sitting in a spot of honor on my game collection bookcase. Thank you Atari 2600 for the great memories and introducing me to the world of home video gaming!

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