Best oldschool RPG ever: Exile III

4 03 2009

Exile III was one of the most amazing, nostalgic games which I still play. It’s based on old D&D character creation, but with some unique differences in skills, etc. The point is that you level up your party while you are exploring the surface world. You’ve been banished to the underground “pit” civilization called “Exile”.

You are an adventurer party which explores the surface, reporting back to your Exile coordinator about the things you find up there.

Things get complicated as the story progresses, but it’s very heavily open-ended in the game play style. You literally go where your little heart leads you, finding out more and more about the surface in a very non-linear way. There are tons of “side” plots that you can discover.¬† As time progresses, cities and towns literally become overrun and sometimes destroyed by the forces at work in the world, keeping you interested in the world you’ve become a part of.

The game came as a trial, which impedes you from travelling further north than an predefined invisible line. I won’t promote pirating a serial key or an EXE patcher, but let it be known that I have seen one of the latter once upon a time, and the game was remade as Avernum (which I didn’t like nearly as much, for several reasons) and so Exile III has been cast aside.

The game comes with a save-game editor, which is pretty sweet. Most of the good stuff is enabled only after registering, but you still get several freebies like “heal hp/mp”, or “make towns forget you” (for those times where you decided to lead an assault on those innocent citizens of the town, thereby invoking the never-dying wrath of the town’s guards). Of course, no game is fun if you cheat your way through it, but at the same time, no game is fun if it is mercilessly hard with no hope for success if you’re ever in a weird jam.

Some notes about the playing the game:

  1. The installer you download from the Spidersoft page is actually more like a self-extracting exe. So, when you run it, it will expand the *real* installer into the same directory, so make a temp folder first and place the “exile3v10.exe” file into it before running it. After extracting run the “INSTALL.EXE” program to begin.
  2. The installer is a bit archaic, and defaults to the C drive, no matter what your main drive is.
  3. The installer can’t install to a directory with spaces or hyphens in its name. It’s no problem though, if you install it someplace easy first, and then just move the installed folder to the spot where you want it (including paths with spaces).
  4. All of the graphics are just bitmaps in the local game directory, so you can edit them to be whatever you want! ūüėÄ This makes for some fun edits, like making one of the characters a giant Yoshi, or something. My personal idea for a character set will be posted soon for anybody to download ūüėČ
  5. Vista and Windows 7 sort of molest the game, so I just set it to run in compatibility mode for Win95, and everything got better.

I guess that’s all for now ūüôā





Microsoft lawsuit in EU over packaging IE (again)

25 02 2009

http://www.wired.com/techbiz/media/news/2009/02/reuters_us_google_microsoft

Can someone tell me why we feel the need to harass Microsoft for bundling IE on their own flipping OS?

Without IE, I wouldnt’ be able to get online very easily, to go download Chrome or FF or Opera or whatever.

If MS is forced to remove IE, they should also have to remove every MS-made operating system driver.  By the gods, they are taking away my ability to choose which driver powers my DVD burner!!  To hell with MS and their packaged drivers!

Get real, you idiots. ¬†Let them package their browser. ¬†Apple does. ¬†Ubuntu packages someone ELSE’s browser in their operating system! ¬†If that isn’t¬†deplorable (by the lawsuit’s standards) then I don’t know what is!





Windows 7 – better than sliced bread

24 02 2009

If you’d like to see me give screenshots (at full resolution, instead of the crappy Youtube video quality)¬†or more info of anything else at all,¬†let me know and I’ll post as much as I can about it.

The public Windows 7 beta is build number 7000 (nicely timed, Microsoft).

Honestly, the easiest way to get the beta (as of the time of this writing) is to use an MSDN account.  MS really gives away their software like candy to anybody with an account on MSDN.  You can generate activation keys on the spot, and download whatever software you want.

Especially in light of jokes (such as the one found here) and overly harsh criticisms, ¬†I thought I’d help defend Windows 7. ¬†(Notice that I didn’t say that I was defending Microsoft.)

I run the Windows 7 beta as my primary operating system, currently, so I’m speaking from 100% pure experience. ¬†And your Linux/Unix lovers will need to come to terms with the fact that Windows is getting better and better, not worse and worse. ¬†If you think it runs too slow, then your computer is outdated for personal desktop use on a modern operating system for professional software. ¬†I would like to take this opportunity to shout out to a nameless person whom I met one evening, to let him know that if only Windows had a built-in SSH server and a distribution of gcc or something, it would give Linux a run for its money, in terms of the tech world. ¬†The base kernel has been shrinking in size with each release, and in all reality, it’s getting faster. ¬†If it appears to be slowing down, then it’s because your GPU sucks, and you need a video card. ¬†Instead of running the visuals in Windows on your raw CPU, Vista and Win7 tap into the Graphics Processing Unit to more intelligently dish out the visual work load. ¬†That way, your actual computing doesn’t need to bump shoulders with graphics stuff.

Some of the greatest things about Windows 7 are simply the UI improvements. ¬†People take stabbing gashes at Win7 for simply being Vista in a new skin. ¬†Partly true. ¬†But are you completely daft? ¬†Giving Vista a UI overhaul is great! ¬†Win7 is the way that Vista was meant to be from the very beginning. ¬†MS had some troubles back in the late days of XP, and couldn’t focus on Vista enough. ¬†Therefore, Vista came out kind of gimpy-like; it was XP in a new skin, with only a few improvements. ¬†In fact, a lot of the various menus were just lame rips of the old XP menus. ¬†For instance, if you right click your Vista desktop and choose “Personalize”, just about any of the links you can click from there are just single-tab settings dialogs.

Windows 7 fixes that. ¬†It improves upon so many of the various menus, that you’ll grumble to yourself the next time you have to use XP’s menus.

Aside from that, the taskbar got a makeover. ¬†The Quicklaunch toolbar has been sacrificed in favor of the new taskbar. ¬†Those familiar with XP’s “Pin to start menu” option will quickly catch on, since you now have a “Pin to taskbar” option to accompany it. ¬†Basically, your icons get pinned to the taskbar so that they act like the old Quicklaunch toolbar. ¬†However, when you click on the icon, it will become “active”, and the ‘quicklaunch’-ish icon then becomes the active window on the taskbar.

You can do drag-and-drop reordering on the taskbar.

The taskbar items are kinda slick now, as they glow according to the most outlying color in the icon.¬†¬†Don’t think that this is too much of a waste of system graphics time– MS had been going the route of ‘vector’ graphics, which are calculated in real time, rather than trying to apply bloated bitmaps to everything. ¬†It seems to me that it tries to pick a color on the lighter half of the color spectrum, so that it does in fact “glow” and not “emit dark shades”. ¬†It might seem trivial, but it’s really nice for us visual folks. ¬†It’s great to be able to quickly associate a color with your open programs.

On a similar note, any tasks which take a progress bar will actually display the progress underneath the text of the taskbar item.  Kind of hard to visualize without a graphic:

win7-taskbar

I threw open a few extra windows for you to see. ¬†Notice that Photoshop is in the middle of the other icons because it is normally “pinned” to the taskbar, but I have it running, so it’s expanded. ¬†Also, it ¬†knows that my instance of Chrome and Gmail are both running from the same executable, so it links them together, and lets the glowly highlight spill into the Gmail item. ¬†The glow changes to red on the Gmail item because the icon’s color is different than the normal Chrome item. ¬†My mouse was sitting at about 2/3 of the length of my Chrome item.

Hidden system tray items pop *up* into a little tray window, so that they don’t have to worry about animating into some goofy sliding motion that crunches your taskbar items.

My wireless signal is represented by an actual signal icon in the system tray, instead of a useless “you have a connection, but i won’t tell you how good it is” icon.

FINALLY (holy heavens) the clock in the system tray tells you what the date is, as well.

That little vertical rectangle at the far right side of the taskbar is a magical “show me the desktop” button. ¬†if you click it, your windows will minimize. ¬†If you just hover over it though, all your windows will go transparent, leaving only outlines, so that you can see down to the desktop if you want, without actually minimizing everything. ¬†This is nice if you have desktop widgets running down there. ¬†(The Sidebar is gone, as it is now just a bunch of free-floating widgets.) ¬†This eliminates the need to make your widgets “always on top” if you don’t really want them to be. ¬†As soon as your mouse moves away from the hovering-enforced hot-spot, your windows come back into full opacity.

Similarly, if you hover your mouse over a window preview on the taskbar, all other windows will fade into the same Aero-esque outlines, while the window whose preview you’re hovering over will stay at full opacity. ¬†Nice for a developer like me, when I’ve got several windows open from the same program. ¬†I quickly lose track of which window is which, so visual feedback like that is wonderful.

And check out this “removable device” popup when you click on the icon in the taskbar:

removablemediaI’ve got one of those 12-in-1 memory card drives, so it was pretty useless in Vista or XP when I clickedon that icon, because it would only tell you random drive letters and the like. ¬†Now, it tries to split it up by the physical hardware. ¬†I intentionally put in my camera and iPod, so that you can see what kind of effect they were shooting for this time around. ¬†That main “F:\” section on the bottom is my 12-in-1 card reader, which has 5 slots in it. ¬†Only one currently has a card in it, so it naturally shows the card’s ¬†name.

On a related note, Windows Explorer now hides (by default, changeable via options) your empty drives, so that if there’s nothing in it, you won’t be overwhelmed by an onslaught of drive letters, where you have to guess-and-check to discover which one your card is in. ¬†I think ¬†your CD/DVD drive stays there at all times though… not sure. ¬†Actually, I checked last night, and it does hide CD/DVD drives, though if you simply click on “My computer”, it’ll show you all your drives, whether they have media in them or not.

The other major thing that “matters” is this new thing called your Libraries. ¬†A Library is basically a folder that aggregates files from other ‘source’ folders. ¬†For instance, I have a backup external harddrive, and so my Pictures Library aggregates from “My Pictures” (from my User folder), “Public Pictures”, and then my backup drive’s “Picture” folder. ¬†Pretty sweet. ¬†They’re trying to have the Libraries replace your User folder’s “Documents”, “Pictures”, etc… You still have access to your personal folder, but by using the Libraries, you don’t have to worry about digging around to see Public documents, images, or videos… they’re just right there in one spot, even though they exist in separate spots.

I won’t bore you with the other little details, but let it be known that Win7 is a big step forward. ¬†It seems to take up 150-250mb less RAM when turned on and sitting idle in it’s “ready” state after startup. ¬†Even while I was running a remote desktop session last night, along with Hamachi, the basic iPod services, and a few other nickknacks, the OS was running at 632mb of RAM usage. ¬†Compare that to my work machine with Vista Business on it, which instantly takes up about 865-900 after startup.

And finally, a FANTABULOUS selling point is that it’s written on the same Vista code-base, so programs are generally compatible with Windows 7 right out of the box. ¬†Photoshop warned me that it couldn’t verify that I was running Vista SP1, but allowed me to install anyway. ¬†My motherboard driver refused to install because it was coded by a bunch of lame idiot programmers who detected my OS’s name, rather than my OS’s actual capabilities. ¬†Let that be a note for programmers everywhere: code with your platform’s/object’s abilities in mind, not it’s actual type.

And that’s that. ¬†I may post more in the future.





Python 2.6 & MySQL

4 02 2009

For any of you who both run Windows and use MySQL as your database backend, you may have found MySQLdb already. ¬†You may also notice that there is no release for Python 2.6.x on the page. ¬†That struck me as odd, since Python has moved into the 2.6 days near the end of 2008, and then shortly thereafter, they announced and release Python 3. ¬†Why hasn’t MySQLdb caught up?

So I’m stuck with Python 2.5.4? ¬†you say. ¬†Not quite– If you run Linux, just compile the MySQLdb source on your 2.6 version of Python, or if you run windows (and heaven knows it’s hell trying to compile anything from source on a windows machine) then you should just download this obscure 2.6 release of MySQLdb. ¬†The only reason I know about it is because I’m on the mod_python mailing list, and someone had a question about the missing 2.6 version.

So that you’re properly warned, Python 2.6 deprecated the Sets module from ImmutableSets, which gives a warning when MySQLdb gets fired up. ¬†MySQLdb works just fine still, but it’ll likely need some work to become compatible with Python 3.





Windows Hyper-V Server 2008: Part 1 Clarification

12 11 2008

So, the trouble with “Hyper-V Server 2008″ is that it, by nature, is pretty much a free version of one of the full/pay editions of the stripped down “Server Core” versions of “Windows Server 2008 with Hyper-V“. ¬†In fact, it is so much like a server core version, that I’m just going to classify it right now as part of the server core family.

What are the implications of that accusation? ¬†Well, for starters, don’t go expecting to be able to use Hyper-V from the local machine. ¬†The concept of a server core is that it runs and runs and does its job like bread and butter, but it can only be managed remotely.

…And?¬†¬†you ask. ¬†Managing it “remotely” means that your Server Core can only recieve user interaction from another computer. ¬†This includes installing OSes on top of Hyper-V, and also running those OSes. ¬†In other words, even if you use a nearby computer to install the OS and do the basic setup, the computer that Hyper-V is installed on is now dead in the water if you expected to use the machine locally. ¬†Even though Hyper-V is running your Virtual Machines, there is no way to connect to those VMs visually while sitting in front of your Server Core.

So, if you were a misled hopeful of Hyper-V’s application to you as a virtualization groupie for your sweet desktop at home to run Windows Vista and Ubuntu side by side, then I’m afraid you’ve made a blunder ūüôā ¬†There will be no Visbuntu for you, laddies. ¬†Your only other options are to download and crack up one of the full versions of WS 2008 w/Hyper-V (so that you have a GUI and the management tool right there on the local machine, thus allowing you to run your VMs and interact with them locally)¬†or, alternately, you could use the free edition of VMware Server (I’d recommend 1.x, since version 2 got a little goofy with the interface– it’s webbrowser-based only)¬†or something free like VirtualBox, by Sun Microsystems.

For those of you who want to press forward, you’ll find only minimal documentation on the matter. ¬†You’ll be adding Windows Firewall rules from the command line, etc (the Windows Firewall is on by default in a Server Core installation, and there’s no easy GUI to turn it off with). ¬†And make sure you’ve got a copy of Vista with Service Pack 1 on it. ¬†You’ll need it to do the remote management, once you’ve got the Hyper-V configuration done.





Vista Service Pack 1

29 10 2008

I’ll be making use of this link in a future post about setting up Hyper-V.¬† It’s the stand-alone updater for Windows Vista to bring you up to Service Pack 1.¬† I’ve been trying to make Vista update all by itself, but it will NEVER freakin’ let me download SP1 through the integrated updater in Windows.

http://www.microsoft.com/downloads/details.aspx?FamilyID=b0c7136d-5ebb-413b-89c9-cb3d06d12674&DisplayLang=en

In the Microsoft update world, the update is known as “KB936330”.





Windows Hyper-V Server 2008: Part 1

27 10 2008

As I’m sure some of you geeks out there know, Microsoft released Windows Server 2008 recently.

Here’s the Wiki on it:¬†http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hyper-V

To ‘wow’ us all, they released a free distribution of it as well, specifically called “Windows Hyper-V Server 2008“. ¬†This is different from the other versions of WS 2008. ¬†How?

Let me explain.

Windows Server 2008 with Hyper-V (not the free one) comes in 3 flavors: Standard, Enterprise, and Datacenter. ¬†But let’s be honest; when does Microsoft ever just release fewer versions than we can count on our hands? ¬†Here’s the real product list, for those of you interested.

If you’re reading this, I’m going to assume that since it’s only been a short while since Hyper-V has made its d√©but, that you already know what the benefits to using it are, and thus you’re Google searching like crazy to figure out how to make use of the free version of WS 2008 and to utilize virtualization “on metal”, as it’s being called; virtual machines that run on hardware emulation instead of just software codebases.

So how do I set it up? you might ask. ¬†After you install Windows Hyper-V Server 2008 (the free one, which I shall generally refer to as “Hyper-V” from now on. ¬†Blast MS and their mile-long titles.) you’ll quickly notice that although it comes loaded with enough libraries to run a basic Vista-esque welcome/login screen, you’ve got nothing but good old cmd.exe to work with.

Here are the basics about what you’ll need:

  • A 64-bit processor is a must for Hyper-V. ¬†Although remote management tools come in x86 (32-bit) and x64 versions, Hyper-V itself will only let you use a x64 processor.
  • Hardware virtualization is also a must. ¬†That’s a hardward thing, of course. ¬†You either have it or you don’t. ¬†If you don’t, Hyper-V won’t be allowed to visit your box.
  • DEP (or, Data Execution Prevention) will also be a requirement. ¬†I’m not going to bother explaining what it is. ¬†You’re computer needs to have it.

To test your processor, I *HIGHLY* recommend using SecurAble (click for the download), a tiny little download that will tell you very directly if you have all of the above things on your processor. ¬†For extra information about what each of these 3 attributes are, just visit http://www.grc.com/securable.htm for details. ¬†Keep in mind that if SecurAble tells you that you don’t have Hardware Virtualization or DEP, you¬†might just have it disabled in your bios. ¬†Just restart you computer and at the first little graphic, start wacking F2, F10, Del, or some other hotkey to get you into the bios options. ¬†Enabling either of these options won’t damage anything… it can only help!

For Linux users, SecurAble also runs under Wine or Crossover, so you can download the tool just like anybody else.

Chances are that if you’ve bought a decently new system in the last 6 months, you’re running 2/3 of these things already. ¬†I tend to think of DEP and the Hardware Virtualization as a 2-for-1 deal. ¬†An x64 processor would almost surely have these things, assuming you didn’t buy your box from a cheap vendor.

So, let’s move on.

This is how to get it running:

  • Download it. ¬†It’s 900-something megabytes, so no CD is going to do the job. ¬†If your computer doesn’t have a DVD drive on it, then your box likely is a little too behind the times.
  • Lauch the DVD. ¬†If you’re only experimenting, the last thing I’d do is nuke your system to install Hyper-V. ¬†Try it on a single partition first. ¬†Dear goodness don’t nuke the whole system yet. ¬†This is hardly a robust process. ¬†I’m going to assume that you’re taking my advice:
    1. You could run the installer from your existing operating system, and just install it to an empty partition. ¬†If you do this, then I guess you won’t need to burn it to a DVD.
    2. Alternately, you could boot from the DVD, which will eventually ask you for a partition to install on.
  • Install Hyper-V. ¬†It doesn’t take very long. ¬†After all, it’s what we call a “server core“, not the full-blown product.
  • Start up the computer in your new “Windows Server 2008” installation. ¬†For me, I deleted a Linux partion and consequently nuked my GRUB bootloader. ¬†Windows OSes always overwrite the bootloader, which is normally bad for Linux; it orphans the partition and you have trouble booting up into it. ¬†For me, the new bootloader installed by WS 2008 was a good thing, since it restored my options to boot the computer!
  • Log in with the “Other User” account. ¬†This was confusing for me at first, as there was no default account to log into. ¬†All you have to do is log into “Other User” with the username “Administrator” and a blank password. ¬†It will welcome you and tell you that you need to set a new password. ¬†Leave the original password field blank, of course, and then type a new password twice.
  • You’re in! Hyper-V will tell you for an unusually long time that it is “Preparing your desktop”, which is extra odd since there is no desktop in a “server core” version of WS 2008, which Hyper-V is. ¬†Eventually you’ll get to see two things:
    1. A command prompt, which is in the background.
    2. Another glorified command prompt, running the built-in utility which can be accessed from any command prompt by typing:
      hvconfig

Now, as promised, Hyper-V is running.

So how do I install operating systems on top of Hyper-V?

Good question. ¬†The process can only be performed remotely, via a “Hyper-V Remote Manager” update found on Microsoft’s download pages. ¬†The program is downloaded as a standalone windows updater. ¬†It is only available for Windows Vista with Service Pack 1, though they offer x86 and x64 versions of the utility. ¬†Hyper-V itself will be running on x64 architecture, however the remote tool can be in either version.

Here are some links to the Hyper-V Remote Manager tool, and a couple of documents about setting up Hyper-V. ¬†I’ve downloaded these files and uploaded them here. ¬†I found broken link after broken link finding these things, so I’ve posted them here. ¬†These were up to date as of the time of this post. ¬†Note the “.jpg” extentions. ¬†Remove those. ¬†Wordpress only lets me upload visual media ūüėČ

The links look broken. ¬†They’re not. ¬†Wordpress thinks that they are images. ¬†The x86 and the x64 versions of the Vista remote manager tool need an “msu” extention, while the other two are information documents that had a “docx” extention.

The annoyances you will face will be covered in my future posts about this process. ¬†Trust me.. you’re far from happily running your favorite OS installations side by side.