Archive for October, 2011

fglrx on Debian Wheezy (testing)

Posted in Gaming, Software on October 23rd, 2011 by abolte – 15 Comments

Packages fglrx-driver and fglrx-glx have been removed from Debian for the last few weeks due to #639875, so I’ve been using the free software Radeon drivers in the meantime. While I appreciate having my virtual terminals display the console at my native screen resolution automatically, I don’t like that I’ve had to put playing Amnesia on hold for a while – these drivers cause the game to segfault.

Today I decided to roll back my xorg version to get the fglrx drivers working again, and as it turns out, it really wasn’t that hard. Here’s how I did it.

  1. Set up a preference control file (eg. /etc/apt/preferences.d/60xorg_rollback_for_fglrx.pref) as follows:
    Package: xserver-xorg
    Pin: version 1:7.6+8
    Pin-Priority: 1001
    Package: xserver-xorg-core xserver-xorg-dev
    Pin: version 2:1.10.4-1
    Pin-Priority: 1001
    Package: xserver-xorg-input-evdev
    Pin: version 1:2.6.0-2+b1
    Pin-Priority: 1001
    Package: xserver-xorg-input-kbd
    Pin: version 1:1.6.0-3
    Pin-Priority: 1001
    Package: xserver-xorg-input-mouse
    Pin: version 1:1.7.1-1
    Pin-Priority: 1001
  2. Now add the following repositories to your apt sources configuration (eg. /etc/apt/sources.list.d/60snapshot-20110911T211512Z.list):
    deb wheezy main contrib non-free
    deb-src wheezy main contrib non-free

    These include Xorg package versions that don’t have the ABI change which is incompatible with fglrx.

  3. Normally, Debian will spit out the following error:
    E: Release file for is expired (invalid since 33d 17h 12min 59s). Updates for this repository will not be applied. We fix this by adding an apt configuration file (eg. /etc/apt/apt.conf.d/60ignore_repo_date_check) like so:

    	Check-Valid-Until "false";
  4. We should now be able to resynchronize the package index successfully.
    apt-get update
  5. Log out of your X session (if you haven’t already), and (from a virtual terminal) stop gdm/gdm3/lightdm or anything else that might be responsible for an Xorg server process running. eg,
    /etc/init.d/gdm3 stop
  6. Revert xorg packages to older versions, as defined in our preferences policy.
    apt-get dist-upgrade
  7. Install the fglrx drivers from the snapshot repository.
    apt-get install fglrx-driver fglrx-glx fglrx-control
  8. Make sure Kernel Mode Setting is not enabled. This should (in theory) be handled automatically due to the /etc/modprobe.d/fglrx-driver.conf file created during the fglrx-driver package installation – or at least it seemed to be for me.
  9. Create a new xorg.conf file. Assuming Bash:
    mv /etc/X11/xorg.conf{,.$(date +'%Y%m%d%H%m')}
    aticonfig --initial
  10. Reboot, and you should be presented with some kind of X display manager login screen. If everything went well, you should be able to see the following:
    $ glxinfo | grep -E '(^direct\ |\ glx\ |^GLX\ |^OpenGL)' | grep -v '\ extensions:$'
    direct rendering: Yes
    server glx vendor string: ATI
    server glx version string: 1.4
    client glx vendor string: ATI
    client glx version string: 1.4
    GLX version: 1.4
    OpenGL vendor string: ATI Technologies Inc.
    OpenGL renderer string: AMD Radeon HD 6900 Series  
    OpenGL version string: 4.1.11005 Compatibility Profile Context
    OpenGL shading language version string: 4.10

Update (2011-10-23, 10:14pm): In case it wasn’t clear, these changes are temporary. However that brings up new questions like how will I know when I need to revert these changes? and how do I revert?. Well, the first question is easy to answer – simply run the following command:
$ [ "$(apt-cache policy fglrx-driver | grep -E '^(\ |\*){5}[0-9]+' | wc -l)" -ge 2 ] && echo "fglrx-driver is back - time to upgrade xorg" You can optionally put that in a daily cron job to have it e-mail you when it is time.

Reverting the above changes is also very easy:
$ rm -f /etc/apt/preferences.d/60xorg_rollback_for_fglrx.pref /etc/apt/sources.list.d/60snapshot-20110911T211512Z.list /etc/apt/apt.conf.d/60ignore_repo_date_check
$ apt-get update && apt-get dist-upgrade
followed by a reboot.

Battlefield: Bad Company 2 – buggiest game ever?

Posted in Gaming on October 16th, 2011 by abolte – Be the first to comment

I’m declaring Bad Company 2 one of the worst games I’ve played to date.

I wanted to like this game. Hawkeye of Atomic fame loves it, as do many others given its following. The queue at the EB Expo that was specifically for playing a Battlefield 3 preview for 5 minutes was massive, with reports of people waiting in line for over 3h. I’ve had Bad Company 2 sitting in my Steam account for some time, and with no other games currently occupying my time I figured I’d finally give it a shot.

Now one thing you must know about me – I’m first and foremost a PC gamer. Yes, I have all the major consoles. I have more consoles than anyone I know, but they’re purely for compatibility. If a game is made available for a range of platforms, I’ll just about always pick the PC version. Consoles are primarily great for two things – fighting games, and casual players that just want to relax on a couch and do something because their favourite TV show isn’t on. However, dedicated fans to genres such as FPS and RTS know the PC is the only true option. As a consequence, I only have 7 Xbox 360 games for example – all platform exclusives (at the time of purchase anyway).

Before I start playing any PC game, I always take a couple of minutes to make sure all the key mapping, locking and mouse sensitivity settings are all to my liking. For the first few minutes, I often find myself fine-tuning these further. Playing at the EB Expo (where everything seemed to be demoed on a console), I felt like the setup was barely usable – there was absolutely no accuracy, and aiming often took over a second longer than it should. It should be no surprise to learn then that I failed to find a single RTS game on display anywhere at the event. Beyond the hardware manufacturer stands such as Alienware, Razer and Western Digital, the EB Expo unfortunately did not cater for the professional/serious gamer at all.

After spending a few hours playing Bad Company 2, I have come to the conclusion that EA and DICE are also failing to do so. Had I done my research (and not just bothered to trust Atomic and the general popularity of the game which both indicated the game would be terrific), I probably would have noticed subtle hints that the game might not even be worthy of an average rating. For example, when I wondered why I had never noticed a Bad Company 1 anywhere I turned to eBay and Wikipedia only to discovered that Bad Company 2 is the sequel to a console-only game. Serious PC gamers would never have seen the first instalment, so already I started to feel alienated.

Anyway, after playing the game for a few minutes there were a few issues that became immediately obvious. First and foremost, this game is tries to be a realistic shooter but does not support a prone position. You can crouch, but that’s all there is – and it doesn’t feel like crouching takes you anywhere near as low as one might normally crouch if bullets were really flying at them.

Secondly, there is no option to look around corners. I’m pretty sure I saw the computer doing that, so why isn’t there an option? I don’t normally care about such a thing in most cases, but if this game really wants me to believe that it’s at least set in a semi-realistic environment, it needs to be supported. Otherwise, I might as well be playing Doom. I suspect this is related to such options being difficult to implement on a console controller… <sigh>.

Alright… Doom’s still fun. But it should be better than Doom because you get to go outside and drive vehicles, right? Hey, that’s Halo! Oh… that’s the series of games I almost didn’t finish because I just became so bored out of my mind towards the end… but perhaps it’s best I try not to draw comparisons.

Bad Company 2 starts you off trying to rescue a Japanese scientist a few days before the bomb gets dropped. This feels to me like a potentially fun mission, but why did the frame rate have to drop to 1 frame per second every time I entered into close combat? I’m running a 2x Radeon HD 6990 CrossFire setup (overclocked) and an 1920×1080 res LCD, so one would think such a system could handle game thrown at it, right? Apparently the answer is no. Apparently, selecting the “High” graphics profile at 1920×1080 would require consumer graphics hardware that has not yet been released (or possibly even invented). Yes, my drivers are up to date, I’m trying to play on a standard Windows 7 Ultimate install (not WINE for a change), etc. The game must be unbelievably unoptimised for the PC.

Then there’s the issue of people getting stuck when you kill them. Sometimes they get stuck in walls. Sometimes they just stand there perfectly still – giving the illusion you haven’t killed them yet just to keep you wasting your time and ammo. This is both frustrating and lame. I mean, the game has been out for over 18 months as I write this, so you’d think they’d have gotten this shit sorted. With that in mind, go read this Atomic interview with DICE. Choice quote: “The way we look at making the game as good as possible is that the real work only starts once the game’s released.” Seriously, WTF?

But hell, I’m not only a serious gamer, I’m also dedicated. Surely I can look beyond the above flaws and finish the Bad Company 2 campaign? Heck, I finished Kayne and Lynch – and that’s saying something! My answer to that is that I might, but I really can’t say for sure… Bad Company 2 is seriously that bad.

The most recent level I was on (‘Crack the Sky’) involved driving a truck along a road while being shot at by other vehicles. Unfortunately in the fight, I ran slightly off the road onto a lake of ice which had a crack in it and caused the vehicle to be swallowed. Fortunately I was thrown to dry land and the rest of the team managed to escape uninjured. However it soon hit me that this was not a situation the developers had ever considered. I was forced to continue very slowly along the road by foot, but the entire time my allies kept repeating something like “quick, we need to beat them to the satellite control station” or some darn thing – over and over and over. There were other completely out of place comments made along the way as well, as if we were still driving. But there was no truck.

After walking for what seemed like forever (which actually reminded me a lot of Far Cry 2 – one of the other very few games I found too dull to ever finish), we ended up coming to another truck with a manned gun on top. The distance was too far without cover to be able to do it any real damage, and eventually I died.

A few seconds later, I had respawned to a position not far from where the truck had previously fallen into the frozen lake… but without the truck! What was I supposed to do? Spend 10 minutes walking the long road on foot again just so I could probably die in the same way again? No – the game had other plans for me. Instead, it had sent not one, but two armed trucks with manned guns on top to chase us right off the bat. This was in an area where there was absolutely no cover, in a game where there is no prone option. The trucks were too far away for grenades to hit, so it was darn near impossible to survive just a few seconds without getting killed again!

As if that wasn’t bad enough, the game had spawned me right next to an out-of-battle area. In Bad Company 2, if you walk into an out-of-battle area, you get a countdown timer appear in the middle of the screen and you have just 10 seconds to return or you are automatically killed. The problem was, the trucks firing upon me were driving directly from the out-of-battle area. If I ran close enough to the trucks to make a grenade throw count (while using my squad mates as shields) I figured I might have a chance, but no… the game will make sure I’m killed for running into the out-of-battle area that the computer keeps killing me from. Unbelievable.

Eventually, I realized that if I used one of my automatic weapons to aim for the gunner on each truck, I can actually take them out – again, if I use a squad mate as a shield to stay alive. I managed to do this a couple of times, all the while being repeatedly told over the speakers to stay out of the open – despite there being absolutely no cover in the area. The trucks would continue rolling for some distance – seemingly they had no driver. Unfortunately, they would always stop just short of leaving the out-of-battle area, but I figured they were close enough that I could just sprint to the truck and drive out in 10 seconds… which brings me to yet another bug – you cannot enter a vehicle in an out-of-battle area. The screen says “Press E to enter vehicle” or some such, but it simply does not respond. Possibly the developers never intended for there to be a vehicle in an out-of-battle area… who the fuck knows. After wasting *way* too much time on this, I gave up and restarted the level.

I don’t think I’ve ever swore on my blog before, but that’s just how pissed of this game has made me.

Want to know something else funny? Check out this Atomic review of Dead Island. I finished this game without any problems, and claim it is one of the most stable games I have ever played. No crashes, no glitches (except for the occasional enemy hand sticking through a wall), it was basically bug-free from my perspective, so much so that I was impressed. And so what does Atomic do? Why they go and bag it for being buggy of course! I wonder if we live in parallel universes or something. However, given Atomic had been bagging Dead Island for so long prior to its release, and given how they treat Bad Company 2 as though its the best game to ever grace the PC, I’m a little skeptical.

I’ve got many issues of Atomic on my shelves. I’ve been to Atomic events, and regularly scan the website for news. For a while, I even used to be a subscriber. But as of late, Atomic has just been giving me *way* too many of these WTF moments. Here’s another example – Atomic says “you can now buy PDFs of each issue on Zinio”, but then scroll to the comments section. Hawkeye states “It is PDF format, but yes, as special Zinio version, so that we don’t have folks just passing around raw PDFs.” Looking at the Zinio FAQ page, it is clear that you do not get a PDF but a proprietary ZNO file which requires a Zinio Reader program to open (and is not compatible with most of my devices, but that’s another story). Even when this issue was pointed out, Hawkeye refused to correct the article so it continues to mislead readers to this day.

Since Atomic is knowingly and wilfully engaging in false reporting where they are the direct beneficiaries of said error, it is reasonable to assume that the same could be said of any article they have ever written. And if Atomic does this, we can be darn sure Game Informer does as well given their close ties with EB Games – which explains why I have almost never seen them rate a game EB Games sells badly. There is also strong evidence that GameSpot behaves in this manner.

It’s beginning to look more and more like I need to completely ignore what games the masses buy, and what game reviewers say if I want to maintain any level of interest in serious PC gaming. I do not like where things are heading.

What does everyone reading this think? I’m especially interested in what older gamers have to say, that are dedicated to the PC platform. Is this just me, or are the heavy weights of the industry such as EA and EB potentially pushing everyone else (outside of free software and indie game companies) to sacrifice professionalism and soul in an attempt make PC gamers a smaller segment and (eventually) possible to ignore completely?

Update 2011-11-21: By starting the level from the beginning, I was able to continue the single-player story mode. However, there were many more bugs that awaited. Everything from crashes, to boxes falling through characters *during cut-scenes*, to sub-titles being horribly out-of-sync with audio, to enemy characters appearing out of thin air, to enemy characters being impossible to kill only to eventually vanish, to cut-scenes suddenly deciding to start playing at 1 frame per second… OMG what a train-wreck. This is *by far* the most buggy game I have ever played on any platform ever – and I haven’t even started on multiplayer! To be honest, I’m not sure I want to bother.

Battlefield 3 looks like it’ll be the same deal – a good console game maybe, and a crap PC title. As early evidence of this, EB Games isn’t even bothering to sell a Limited Edition PC version.