Fallout 4 VR

Fallout 4 VR

After not touching my Oculus Rift for a good while I’ve had a resurgence of interest. This is mainly due to buying Fallout 4 VR.

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I’ll prefix this by stating that I’ve played the original Fallout 4 extensively, sinking countless hours into it (as well as the previous Fallouts). It’s a world and story that I’ve enjoyed a lot and so I’m very biased when playing the VR version.

I’ve read that it doesn’t natively support a Rift, and needs additional work to handle the touch controllers. I can only assume this was earlier versions, as it started up perfectly and before I knew it I was inside the game and looking at my Pip-Boy as I zipped around.

Movement is via the standard teleportation method – you point somewhere, press a button, and get transported. It’s not as natural as the 2D game, but it’s workable, and I’ve not had any motion sickness yet. There is an option for ‘normal’ movement, but I don’t think I’d last long.

So far it’s the most enjoyable game I’ve played in VR. I think part of that reason is that it’s an actual real game from a major producer. It’s not a mini-experience, and it’s not an on-rails shooter. There’s a plot, there’s things to do, and people to talk to. Part of the enjoyment of Fallout is its size, and that it allows you to explore anything and do whatever you want. This really becomes apparent when you’re virtually stood inside the world.

The thrill you get at completing your first encounter is vastly more satisfying than in 2D, and a lot of the imagery makes more sense when viewed in 3D. There are times when you have to take a few moments just to look around and soak in the post-apocalyptic scenery.

One scene that sticks out is when you rescue an actor and his supermutant friend from a skyscraper. After battling your way to the top there’s a section of the building exposed to the outside and you can stand and look out over the city as a storm bears down.

As with most Bethesda games, it’s a little… quirky at times. I’ve fallen through the floor and discovered an underworld. I’ve somehow appeared above the ceiling of a room and can look down, but have no way back in. At one point my viewpoint was at floor level until I ran a patch I found on Github to ‘fix’ the floor. And let’s not forget about the number of times I’ve accidentally dropped a grenade or molotov cocktail on myself…

It’s is fairly tiring, and there’s no sitting down. The resolution of the Rift is still a limiting factor with regards fidelity, and I still find the headset uncomfortable to wear for extended periods. The touch controllers have been used well though, and do bring you more into the world, although it would be nice to see your own body so as to feel a little more there.

Downloading iCloud photos

I take a lot of photos and try to be very careful with their management and storage. Everything gets included in Lightroom, and backed up in a variety of ways.

The photos on my and my wife’s iPhone live in the cloud, outside the rest of my archive. This is something that’s always irked me.

Downloading directly from icloud.com is not the easiest task. Although possible to download using a browser, it does so as multiple files which have to be manually selected. This is fine for a handful of images, but not great when you want to download several years.

I came across a great Python tool that automates this:

https://github.com/ndbroadbent/icloud_photos_downloader

It’s installed simply with:

pip install icloudpd

Supply it with appropriate login arguments (it supports 2FA accounts) and it will dutifully download every file from your iCloud account, including Live Photos (which are downloaded as video files).

You can configure it for specific date ranges, making it suitable for automation, and it can use your keychain for storing login details.

It does tend to freeze occasionally, although I suspect this is more an unofficial-iCloud-API kind of fault. Fortunately it figures out what has already downloaded, and you can restart from your last position.

Downloading the last three years worth of photos and videos took several days. This was a combination of size (there’s about 200GB of stuff), and having to restart the process every few hours.

 

Retro Mini Controller

Retro Mini Controller

My daughter received a Retro Mini Controller as a gift. It’s quite a cool looking little device with a tiny joystick, a couple of buttons, and a battery compartment. In fact, it’s mostly a battery compartment – the entire thing runs on 3 AAAs.

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The box advertises that it has 200 built in games and ‘connects straight to your TV’.

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Sadly this means ‘connects straight to your analogue TV via a composite cable‘. As I no longer possess an analogue capable TV I had to resort to using the same HDMI convertor I bought for my C64.

The device boots into a fuzzy menu display:

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The quality may have suffered a lot due to the convertor, and shows similar banding issues to those I saw when using the C64. It also doesn’t help I’m using my phone to capture the screen.

Saying that, I don’t think the image quality is great to start with. In fact, nothing about this device is great. The build quality is terrible. The joystick is soft and mushy and often doesn’t register a movement. The games are… well. They are games, and there are 200 of them.

Here’s Magic Jony:

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I only played a handful and they all seemed to be replicas of more well known games. It’s like a really low quality budget deja vu experience.

They don’t appear to be emulated either, and all the games have a similar title screen, player selection, and scoring. I’m actually amazed that someone went to the trouble of creating 200 of these games rather than just emulating a bunch of ROM files.

It’s hard to find out anything about this device, other than it’s sold under many different names. The graphics are NES style, and the games seem like NES games, but that’s about all I can tell.

Looking inside theres a single chip:

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Looking this up reveals that it’s a Cypress 64Mbit chip. Some kind of system on a chip.

Overall it’s a fun gift, and I’m glad there’s not a princess in sight. It would be nice if it had HDMI output, and nicer still if the controls worked. Sadly I think even with those things the games aren’t worth playing. Still, my daughter enjoyed it, and that’s a good thing for a gift.

Before The Storm

My favourite video games to play are ones that are heavily story focussed or that allow me to create my own story. I’ve spent many many hours playing games like Fallout and Mass Effect, and will probably continue to play them in the future.

I’m a big fan of the Telltale Games series. They’re almost all fun to play – The Walking Dead, Batman, Tales from the Underground, The Wolf Among Us – and are all based around taking part in a story in which you make decisions, and these decisions have consequences further in the story.

I know that sometimes the decisions you make have no real impact on the end story, and often the Telltale Games fall into melodrama, but that doesn’t take away from the fun of playing them.

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Recently I’ve been enjoying Life Is Strange: Before the Storm, a prequel to Life Is Strange. I can’t say enough good things about these games. On the surface it would be easy for them to appear trite, but they’ve been so well crafted that you can’t help get attached to the characters and the story. Coupled with some great music and the overall Instagram filter tinged nostalgia and it’s a winner.

Immediately after finishing Before the Storm I returned to the original Life Is Strange. I’m still physically unable to play the story as anything other than a ‘good’ character, but I’ve discovered things that I’d originally missed, and am enjoying it just as much the second time.

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‘Fixing’ a Commodore 64

‘Fixing’ a Commodore 64

A while back I made a nostalgic impulse purchase on eBay and ended up with a Commodore 64 – a real breadbin style one, with no emulation in sight.

This was my first ever computer and I have fond memories of playing countless games, waiting patiently for things to load from tape, and borrowing library books to learn how to code. It literally was my gateway into the computer world.

The machine I bought was a fairly simple bundle – just the computer itself, boxed, with power supply. It arrived a few days later and I was amazed at how small it is.

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I spent time cleaning 35 years of accumulated gunk. Everything seemed in pretty good shape, with labels in place, no significant plastic yellowing, and just a few scuffs underneath.

My first problem was that the Commodore outputs an analogue video display, and all my displays are digital. Without a display I can’t see if the machine works.

Speaking of which, I didn’t even know if it worked. The computer was advertised as being untested – a common term for broken – but I’d assumed it just hadn’t been used in 30 years.

Should I ever get it to work and displayed on a screen I then faced the problem of having no media, and no joystick. A problem for another time.

C64 Video Display

As expected, there are devices that convert the analogue signal to digital, and I went with an s-video/composite to HDMI convertor.

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The C64 outputs a composite signal, but through a special DIN connector. I found a wiring diagram online, ordered some parts, and built a shoddy adaptor.

svideo to din convertor.JPG

Power on – first attempt

Now that I had a compatible display it was time to try the machine out.

First I just plugged it in and switched it on. Nothing happened.

A visit to YouTube showed me that pretty much everything inside the machine can fail. None of it sounded fun. The power supply was the first place to look at as these are notoriously poor quality (I remember warming my feet on mine, back in the day).

Using a multimeter I attempted to read the power coming out of the supply. At first I think I got some values, but on checking again I got nothing so I either fried the supply in reading it, or it was on the way out and died.

I didn’t want to buy an old power supply. I read that the supply is unusual in that it outputs both AC and DC power., This got me to wondering if I could get separate AC and DC power supplies and feed them into the computer’s power socket.

Building a power supply

I found a 5V/1.5A DC supply from a USB hub I had lying around the house. This matches the DC requirements.

I ordered a 9V/1A AC adaptor from the internet – this was much harder to source. Mine ended up having a euro connector, so I also needed an adaptor on top. It’s quite a frankenpower supply.

Both of the power supplies had a 2.5cm barrel plug, so I ordered two barrel sockets as I didn’t want to butcher the cables.

The C64 power is supplied through a 9 pin DIN plug which are still easy to get hold of.

Looking at socket diagrams it seemed simple enough – two pins for DC and two pins for AC. That seemed very manageable.

Here’s the result:

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Not bad, although another soldering horror job inside. The cheap component parts didn’t help, melting somewhat.

Power on – second attempt

Now I’ll state that I have no knowledge or experience of electronics, and the double-supply I built may be extremely dangerous, may instantly catch fire, or may somehow create a small black hole.

But it worked!

I plugged everything in – the C64 now sporting 3 power supplies (the video convertor needs one too) – and switched it on. The red LED came on, the monitor went black, and then the pale blue C64 screen appeared with a full complement of memory. Hurrah!

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It’s a bit fuzzy and that may be due to the video cable I made. I’ll try another soon.

I don’t know if the SID chip works, and I don’t know if it can play a game. There are devices you can buy that take an SD card full of files and emulate a disk drive to the C64. That’s something for another day.

My joy at making something that worked was a little tempered when I reassembled the C64 and managed to crack the brittle plastic with the screws. Also, I have a spare screw I can’t find a home for. Annoying.

Fixing Sony A7 LCD delamination

I’m a big Sony camera fan, and I’ve been using an A7 for the past few years. Recently I noticed the rear LCD was showing a lot of patchy discolouration.

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It was starting to get very noticeable and distracting, and was only getting worse.

It turns out the camera has a built-in screen protector, and it’s this that is prone to delamination – the LCD underneath isn’t affected. Fortunately it’s possible to remove the protector.

The original is stuck in place with some fairly strong glue and I used a razor blade with some gentle pushing to lift a corner. From there you can peel back just enough to get your fingernail under, and the rest can be worked free. Make sure not to pull the LCD off!

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Note the mark in the top right corner is glue from the protector. This wiped clean with an alcohol wipe.

Once removed I replaced it with an Afunta A7 screen protector. It’s a bit thicker than the original (it says it’s actually glass), but fits nicely. The end result is a big improvement:

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Super Nintendo Mini Classic, for kids

Super Nintendo Mini Classic, for kids

I bought a SNES Mini Classic recently.

The original wasn’t that popular when I was young – more of an American thing I think – and I didn’t know anyone with one, so I was very curious. The closest I got as a kid was The Great Giana Sisters on the Commodore 64 (a Super Mario clone).

I also wanted to see if I could get my daughter interested in some simple video games, outside of the many cooking/hairdressing/simple tapping games she has on the iPad.

It is easy to emulate older systems, but I wanted a self-contained box that could be plugged into the TV, and that my daughter could use. The mini classic fits the bill perfectly. It’s got two nice colourful controllers that are ideal for small hands, and a simple on/off switch and reset button. The European version is very friendly looking, unlike the ugly weird American one.

snes mini

She’s loving it so far, and has even taken to watching people play Mario games on YouTube (I’m going with it being a good thing).

One thing I quickly realised is just how brutally difficult older games are, and some of the bundled games are very unforgiving for kids. Kirby’s Super Star has become the favourite, followed by Donkey Kong Country and Super Mario World.

kirby

Some of the games are also very verbose, and some of them I can’t figure out what I’m supposed to be doing (Final Fantasy & Secret Of Mana I’m looking at you).

It’s been fun playing the games with her so far, and as a bonus, her geek points are rapidly increasing!