antique marvels: homebrewing

Today, Sony’s PlayStation devices are mostly free from the blight of open-source software.  The XrossMediaBar organizes everything in a simple interface that is easy to navigate with a controller.  Facebook, Twitter,, YouTube and more have been integrated into the operating system, allowing enormous control at one’s fingertips.

But it wasn’t always like this.

Once upon a time, Sony was friendly to the homebrew community.  The original PlayStation had a sizeable, if largely unseen, army of players and programmers making their own games at home to share with friends.  In 1997, Sony capitalized on this by releasing the Net Yaroze, a development-kit PlayStation for home programmers to toy with.  The Net Yaroze was popular, even being used in programming competitions in the United States, Europe and Japan.  Many home-developed games appeared on demo discs of PlayStation-oriented magazines.

With the coming of the PlayStation 2, Sony contined the practice by producing a kit to install and run Linux from the unit, much in the same way as one might install it onto a home computer.  While the intended purpose of this kit was also to spur development, it was mostly used to convert the systems into home servers of one type or another.

But fortunes began to wane when the PlayStation Portable arrived.  Many attempts at homebrewing were consequently shut down by Sony, with each new system update bringing more frustration to the homebrewers.  Most stack attacks and unsigned-software methods are now ineffective, limiting what could have greatly expanded the PSP’s market with cheap, simple, innovative games–the same mechanism that powers the smartphone software market.

The rare Linux-armed Portable, seen in a laboratory.

The death warrant was signed by the PlayStation 3 in 2010.  Initially the console was distributed with the ability to run Linux without issue, as was specified in the original user license.  But on April 1, 2010, Sony released a patch for the PS3 that removed the ability to install these operating systems, claiming it needed to close a loop in security caused by George Hotz, aka, Geohot, who had created a custom firmware using Linux.  Lawsuits are now in progress against Sony, claiming that by doing this, the company violated its user license.

With the coming release of its newest product, the PlayStation Vita, Sony has revealed that games made to use external memory, or games running on its proprietary memory card, will not be able to access its internal memory.  Conversely, games made to run on internal memory, or those downloaded from the PlayStation Store, will not have access to external storage.  Any games that may need access to a memory card for saving will require that the memory card be present before the game is started.  This prevents virtually all known forms of statck attacks or unsigned-code methods by closely limiting where the game software goes when in operation.

The future for homebrewing on Sony’s consoles is looking bleak.  But if history has taught us anything, it’s that there is always a chance…that Sony may someday see the light and welcome its community back with open arms.  But while it is entirely up to Sony to make this decision, one thing is for sure: the homebrewers will continue to operate, whether they are scorned or sanctioned.

Antique Marvels will return after the commercial with: Platformers.



Origin is the hot topic of the day, as is Battlefield 3.  The consumer whore I am, I decided I couldn’t wait to nab a copy of BF3 to play on launch day, but I’m wary of Origin (for obvious reasons).  I’ve read statements from EA claiming that Origin would not be required for any of their games to run, which apparently have all been deleted from the internet–either that, or my hat isn’t working anymore, because apparently Origin is and will be required for (virtually) every game to run, including Battlefield 3.  Oh well, I figured.  I purchased it on Impulse in an attempt to get around this issue.

Not only did it not work, it backfired like a CIA operation.  After a four-hour, 13GB download (yeah, my internet‘s not great), I attempted to run BF3 through Impulse and got…a game key.  That was it.  A small window in the top center of my screen showing my game’s key, which when clicked on caused Origin to launch.  Origin then prompted me for said key, after which point it began downloading the game.  Even after installing via Origin, I could not launch the game from Impulse.

What is the point of selling the game through a third-party vendor when it can’t be used by that vendor’s software?  I understand EA’s want to have Origin on the market, and have its own social network.  But it’s one thing to have Origin running in the background while the game runs, and entirely another to force someone to re-download the game even though it’s already been legitmately purchased through another storefront.  Another four hours later, I was finally able to play the game.

Thirteen gigabytes of wasted bandwidth.

At this point I was confronted with the Battlelog, perhaps one of the most confusing elements in the game so far.  Rather than having a server browser built into the game, which has been done for many years now, EA and/or DICE seem to think it was a good idea to make players manage their avatars and find servers from their internet browser, which then launches the game itself and loads everything up.  This means that switching servers requires quitting the game and re-launching it, with no shortcuts in the middle.  Meanwhile, the consoles have a fully functional server browser within the game, with almost all the options available to the PC players.

One argument I’ve heard is that this system allows for closer support for changes and patches.  Isn’t this what Origin is for?  Steam pushes updates to games automatically, so if Origin doesn’t do that, what’s the point?  EA didn’t want to play Valve’s game of providing easy-to-get DLC and updates, so if they’re not going to use Origin for that, is this just their digital iron maiden to put players in?  Seems like they’ve decided ActiBlizzard‘s douchebaggery made them look too good, and they had to start a pissing contest.

Another defense is that this allows for simplification and a more unified interface for the players.  Again…isn’t this what Origin is for?  Origin allows direct access to the EA store via what is basically…a browser window.  Couldn’t this be rolled into Origin, even in the exact state it’s in now?  Apparently not.  As the rule goes, it can’t be too easy or logical…somewhere it has to get convoluted, just to screw with people.

And what happens when this website is shut down?  Certainly they won’t keep it running indefinitely.  Someday the userbase will decline to a point at which EA decides it’s not worth running the Battlelog anymore, and then…no more play.  If all servers were centrally hosted by EA, this argument might be baseless, but they’re not.  They’re hosted by whoever feels like hosting one, to avoid the issues Activision ran into with peer hosting in Modern Warfare 2.  But this is pointless if one can’t find the servers to login to, and unless EA/DICE decides to patch the game to include a server browser that isn’t going to happen.  I’m beginning to become convinced the developers and publishers out there want to destroy the PC platform for no reason other than sadism, or perhaps boredom.

duke flukem

Duke Nukem Forever was put up on a Steam sale last week, so I decided to take it up.  I’ve put four hours or so into it by now, and I have to say, I’m not impressed.

To be fair, I’ve only so far put a few hours into the game.  But already it’s flailing about like a frog reanimated with raw electricity.  The game runs on a heavily modified Unreal Engine 2, so much so that the increase in detail and model complexity almost makes it look like Unreal Engine 3 (which makes me wonder why Gearbox didn’t go with that out of the box).  This is probably the cause of issues, because I’ve had to scale back the game’s settings considerably.  While my system isn’t bleeding-edge, it’s not a pushover either, and the fact that the game’s high settings drags it down to 10 fps tells me something in there is overloading the processors.  This framerate drag can even leak into play at lower settings, but oddly at random times.  This can be corrected by just sitting and waiting for a minute, but you can’t always do that in heavy combat, and even so, having to stop and wait for the frames to catch up can really hurt the motivation to continue playing.

Interestingly, the skybox isn’t a clear image.  When looking around at normal magnification, it looks perfectly fine, but when you zoom in the view–even the basic “iron sights”-esque zoom–it’s quite obviously fuzzy, as if the developers didn’t intend (or want) the player to actually look at it.  This is a bit puzzling, because it wouldn’t have taken much more to fully detail the image, even on the off-chance of being looked at.

The shadows in the game behave oddly, to say the least.  When the focus point of the player’s view changes, it seems all shadows are redrawn, so that objects seem to glow.  This has distracted me on more than one occasion with thinking that the “glowing” oject was my obective when it was just a minor lighting glitch.  This even happens with some “permanent” objects, such as buildings and terrain, not just items that are sitting around.  I can only surmise that this is also a result of the heavy modifications made to the game engine.

Above: The shadowing issue in action.

Probably the worst design decision the team made was to graft platform and puzzle elements into the game.  In one stage, you come across a statue of Duke which must be used to reach the next floor of a building.  The statue’s hitbox is small enough that one can very easily fall off the arms, making the task tedious and annoying.  Later Duke must utilize a crane to continue his progress, and like most other puzzles in the game, the solution isn’t very clear.  At least six times in the first six chapters, I have had to look up YouTube videos to solve these awkward puzzles, and each time I felt stupid for not noticing the solution, even though it was badly designed.  Don’t get me wrong, these features can work in a shooter, but they don’t really fit into this game at all.  Duke  is all about fast and furious gunplay with weapons of absurd destruction.  Breaking the momentum with tedious puzzles and framerate issues can kill the game, and in this case, probably does for many players.

What strikes me as particularly funny is that another game feels more like Duke than…well, Duke.  BulletStorm is a game focused purely on gunplay, and capitalizes on this with skillshots that grant points for particularly interesting, unusual, or simply skillful kills of various flavors.  These skillshots make the game far more enjoyable by encouraging creativity with kills, while having almost zero emphasis on plot or puzzle elements.  I get the distinct feeling that BulletStorm is the game Duke Nukem Forever wanted to be.  It’s certainly the one I enjoyed more.


Recently the gaming world was rocked by an earthquake of indescribable magnitude.  That earthquake was the sound of one of the great titans falling–id Software, or more specifically that great god of gaming John Carmack.

For the past four years, id has been trumpeting the development process of their new engine, id Tech 5.  This new engine would support enormous textures (as high as 128,000×128,000), live streaming of textures into the game world, automatic optimization of resources to make cross-platform development easier, and dozens of upgrades to increase the visual quality of games, such as multi-threading and volumetric lighting.

Comparison: id tech 3, 4 and 5

But when the hammer hit the nail, some bad things happened.  Immediately the PC version of the game suffered from horrendous texture pop-in; if the player shifted their focus of view for even a moment, high-resolution textures would be moved out of memory, thanks to the texture streaming aspect that the studio so staunchly stood behind.  The result is a world of constantly smeared textures, which looks so badly like an overused highlighter that even Joystiq had to take a shot at them.

Compounding the problem, the game had virtually no settings the player could access.  Literally.  These are settings more or less like those found on console games, where there is no need to allow players to alter every aspect of the game’s performance.  A patch now allows more settings to be accessed, but being one of the chief advantages of the PC platform, this is something that should have been there from the start (and is there, in virtually every other PC game released in the last fifteen years).

This is all baffling when taken in the context of who made the game: John Carmack, one of the foremost PC developers of all time, and probably the most ardent crusader for the platform in this day and age.  At this year’s QuakeCon, he speaks of the differences between PC and console development and mentions (as he has many times before) that the limitations of consoles hold back PC game development because games essentially must be developed for the weakest platform, and can only be scaled up or adapted for the PC.  From the way he constantly brings this up, it seems the logical solution is to abandon console development entirely and focus, with religious zeal, on the PC platform.  But he insisted (or at least, someone insisted) on creating an engine and a game for all three platforms.  The end result is…well, you can see for yourself.

Making things even worse, id has recently revealed that their test builds of the game ran on machines with drivers that had been customized.  There are no words for how foolish a plan like this is.  This would be like custom building a car engine that ran on a homemade concoction of fuel, and then complaining when that engine failed to run properly on the fuel that people actually sell at gas stations.  AMD and nVidia, stunningly, have released driver updates that have greatly improved RAGE’s performance–but this arrangement is backward.  Developers don’t dictate to hardware vendors what their drivers should do.

And now, as can be read in the above link, id is saying that the PC isn’t the “leading platform?”

A titan has truly fallen today.  Let’s hope the PC pantheon can hold itself up.


I lack the necessary motivation and material to bitch about a particular piece of technology (though I may well have some fodder relating to a recent game), I’ll recap a few recent comics launches.

Moon Knight, now on its fifth issue, has been off to an interesting start.  The titular star of the book, Marc Spector, is a wealthy businessman in Los Angeles who makes his money financing big-budget films and the like.  In his spare time he uses his funds to fight crime as Moon Knight, along with his friends–Spider-Man, Captain America, and Wolverine–who assist him in some usual ways.  Right off the bat, the Knight finds an interesting piece of technology in the hands of a local gang, which starts him on a cat-and-mouse quest that has yet to yield fruit.  So far I’m enjoying it, and I look forward to more issues.

Rating: 7.5/10

Planet of the Apes #6 hit shelves this month, as well.  Timed to coincide with the release of the recent film, the comic tells the story of oppressed humans living in a Hooverville of a town on the outskirts of Mak, an ape metropolis.  After the lawgiver, the supreme authority of Mak, is killed by a human, the two species stand on the brink of war.  The situation only gets worse when a cache of futuristic weaponry is discovered, some of which falls into the hands of the humans. It’s nice to see an original story that doesn’t attempt to rehash the Rise film, or Tim Burton’s now-forgotten piece.  It will be interesting to see where this goes.

Rating: 7.5/10

Two months ago, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles celebrated its relaunch.  This being the fourth volume of the comic since its original debut in the mid-Eighties, times have changed and so has the story.  The first issue begins some eighteen months after an accident in which the turtles and their master, Spliter, were exposed to toxic waste, at which time Raphael was separated from the group.  Now Raph wanders the streets aimlessly, searching for a purpose, while Splinter directs the remaining three Turtles in the search for their lost brother.  The art style gets some points for being a bit nonconformist, while not straying too far.  I’m liking it.

Rating: 8/10

DC Comics recently had the bright idea to “relauch” their entire line of comics, cancelling a large number of long-running series in the process and rebooting all continuity.  Batman in particular took a backward step–after months of Dick Grayson running around as the Caped Crusader, DC decided to put Bruce Wayne back in the suit.  While I’m not a fan of this decision (Grayson made a great Batman in my opinion), the first issue of this new run shows promise.  Scott Snyder was the writer at the end of Detective Comics‘ run, and his skill gives me faith.  I’m happy to see him working on this series now.

Rating: 8/10

Green Arrow is the one I am less than thrilled about.  Almost every aspect of the character has been tinkered with, to the point of violating a lot of the basic qualities he used to have.  While he was previously a Robin Hood-like hero stalking about the city, now he looks rather like Duke Nukem in a domino mask.  He has also been given a supporting team, not unlike Batman’s former partnership with Oracle, which is unusual for a character who has always been a loner.  The series has an action-oriented feel to it, rather than the dark brooding philosophy he used to have.  I don’t think I will be follwing this one for long, but I’ll give it a few months.

Rating: 3/10