Welcome to jdrgaming.com Friday, March 24 2023 @ 01:38 AM PDT

Points formula revised

The formula for calculating player points on the TPU stats site has been revised. The new formula is a better indication of the contribution of a player. Also, heals and repairs have been removed from the formula since those numbers seem to be somewhat misleading.

Clan ranking works!

Clan stats tracking on the TPU stats site is now working.

Send your clan tag to the site admin (jrivett) to have your clan's stats tracked.

TPU stats site is now live

The new stats system for Tanks 'n Planes Unlimited is up and running. It's at tpu.jdrgaming.com. There's also a link to it at the top of the left side column on this site.

Check out the new stats and let me know what you think!

Welcome to jdrgaming!

I created this site to house all my gaming-related resources, including game server statistics and announcements, as well as gaming-related discussions, polls and a few downloads.

Battlefield 2 for XBox 360: demo notes

My roomie and I are playing a lot of BF2 lately - on PCs. If you read my earlier BF2 posts, you know how much of a struggle it was to get co-op working for this game. EA/DICE have issued several patches for the game, but none of them has added co-op features. Hard to understand, given the many petitions out there and the fact that co-op gaming is practically there already in the original game.

I now have an XBox 360. When the BF2 demo for XBox 360 became available recently, I was curious, so I downloaded it. The main menu for the demo includes four options: play, options, view controller setup and something else I can't recall right now. Choosing any of these options caused a message to appear (paraphrased): "You can't do this due to a subscription limitation." Forget how silly it is to prevent people from seeing the controller setup because of a subscription limitation - the real problem here is that the message is too vague. I eventually worked out that since the demo is online multiplayer only you need an XBox 360 subscription that allows online play. I've given Microsoft plenty of cash already and, coincidentally, never play online, so I've been fine with the free Silver subscription. But apparently Gold is needed to play online.

Here serendipity stepped in. A co-worker had - just the day before - plopped a 48 hour free Gold subscription card on my desk. I searched the opaque 360 interface for a way to use this card and eventually found one - or so I thought. I entered the code - a painful process without a keyboard or mouse - and was told that this code wouldn't work in this context. Well, RTFM, right? The card described how to find the appropriate place in the UI to enter this particular code. Once entered, I was able to play. And view the controller setup, of course.

No split-screen options were apparent. But is this only a limitation of the demo? Who knows. So I told the game to connect me to a BF2 server and got into a game. Of course, the game was populated by only two types of user: experienced console shooter players and total newbies trying desperately to learn how to aim their weapon with a little thumbstick. Score: experienced console gamers: infinity, newbies: zero. Include me in the newbie category, by the way.

After half an hour of dying over and over and never even hitting anyone, I handed the controls to my roomie. Suffice to say that his experience was the same. Why didn't they set things up so that the default game servers are all newbie zones? Remember, a demo is supposed to encourage players to buy the full game, not scream at their TV in frustration and vow to never buy the game.

I tried again, this time with the headset. Hey, it works! I can hear voices. What language is that? Chinese? That's not too helpful: Chinese people screaming at me. Oh wait, there's an English voice. He asks me how I'm doing. I press the talk button and say "Okay, I guess." He says "Great, now listen: there are a couple of dudes spawn camping. When you spawn, do a quick 180 and start firing. We have to kill those guys." All his remaining communications were about how to kill these spawn campers. I thought: Why am I playing this? So I stopped.

Amazing. On the PC, this game (with, admittedly, a lot of tweaks to enable co-op play) is one of the best co-op experiences I've ever had. One of the best gaming experiences ever, in fact. But on the 360, you couldn't pay me enough to try it again, for two reasons: gamepads don't work for first-person shooters, and no co-op play. Way to go EA.

Serious Sam 2

I loved Serious Sam 1 and its add-on. Sure, the monsters were not particularly smart, but there sure were a LOT of them. The game was funny and inventive and the combat was intense.

In terms of co-op gaming, I consider SS1 to be the benchmark against which all other first-person shooters should be measured. Playing through SS1 cooperatively was so easy it was utterly painless:

* no CD swapping required
* only one serial/key required for LAN play
* very simple game setup
* comprehensive options, including friendly fire, infinite ammo, starting point, player appearance, difficulty level, monster difficulty geared to number of players, pickups stay
* save and restore games (that's right, you can save your co-op game at any time and pick it up later with the same or different co-op partners)

That last one, the ability to save and load co-op games, is almost unprecedented in the world of FPS games. The only other game with that feature I can think of is Quake II. That game had a few problems with its co-op mode, though: pickups were not shared ("Do you need shotgun shells? I have 20.") and friendly fire could not be disabled.

So it was with a mixture of dread and anticipation that I bought and brought home Serious Sam 2. Would it have some nasty copy protection that required a CD and/or key for each player, even on a LAN? Would it even support co-op play? The manual provided the answer: YES. What a relief!

One of the best things about SS1 was that even a fairly old system could run it. Checking the minimum specs in the manual (something I normally do BEFORE buying), I was dismayed to find that a 2.0 GHz Pentium 4 was required. What? Even Battlefield 2 only needs a 1.8. My second game machine is only a 1.8 (upgraded for BF2, in fact), so at this point I was starting to doubt whether co-op SS2 play was in the cards, at least for a while.

Installation on my main game machine was painless. Four CDs, as opposed to the original game's single CD, pointed to the likelihood of richer visual content. Apparently a DVD version is available. Unfortunately, you need the "play" CD in the drive to start SS2, unlike SS1. On the plus side, the CD required is the fourth and last one, so there's one less CD swap involved in getting up and running.

SS2 has all the depth of the original game. Settings abound and are appropriately associated with player profiles. Yay! Lots of ways to configure controllers.

I started installing SS2 on the second machine, thinking the worst: that the installer would refuse to continue because the minimum specs were not met. Surprisingly, the installation completed, and guess what? The game plays fine on that machine! I'm not sure what's going on with the minimum specs in the manual and on the game box, but they don't seem to be correct.

I started SS2 on my main machine, created a LAN game, moved the CD from that machine to the second machine, started SS2 there and joined the LAN game. No problem! A friend and I played through several levels cooperatively and had a blast!

A few other things I should report:

* You can configure pickups to stay if you are already maxed out on related items.
* There seems to be a maximum limit on lives. The default is three, but you can set it to ten. Also, you can acquire more lives through in-game actions. In our testing, this was never an issue as we didn't die. But at some point we'll increase the difficulty and then this may be a big problem.
* There is already a patch. The patch fixes several annoyances with the user interface and a few other glitches.
* It doesn't look like you can save games at arbitrary locations. Instead, a system of checkpoints is used. I may have overlooked something here, so I'll keep looking.

Gameplay is similar to SS1, but improved in every conceivable way. Ditto for the graphics, sound and music. The weapons and monsters are very cool and once again very creative. Monsters still come at you in enormous waves, but this time you're fighting FOR something, not just to stay alive: often you are fighting to protect an NPC or a village. This enhances the already very involving gameplay.

Rating: 9/10 overall; 9.5/10 co-op gaming.

StarForce is increasingly being recognized as malware

Check out these sites and mainstream news articles:



I've reported StarForce as malware to the StopBadware site (http://www.stopbadware.org/) and suggested publicly on various forums that StarForce should be examined in the kind of detail as the SonyBMG rootkit. It remains to be seen whether someone like Mark Russinovich will take up that particular challenge, but I sure hope so.

Battlefield 2 co-op!

It works! It was a major ordeal, but I'm now running a co-op Battlefield 2 server.

The first hurdle was upgrading my #2 machine to the point where BF2 would even run. My #2 box (formerly with a 1.4 GHz P4) already ran all recent games reasonably well, and my friends and I used it regularly to play NHL 2006 with all settings maxed out, yet BF2 wanted more CPU power: 1.8 GHz minimum. Luckily the MoBo would accept up to a 2 GHz CPU, so I got on eBay and found a bunch of possibilities. The 2 GHz CPUs were expensive, but I found a 1.8 that was priced reasonably, so I bid on it and won.

The chip arrived and I immediately discovered that it was the wrong type - it didn't match the item description on eBay. I'd heard all the nightmare stories of shady eBay sellers, so I expected the worst, but the seller in this case offered to pay for an adapter. I bought an adapter and sure enough the CPU seller paid for it. Installing the new adapter and CPU turned out to be tricky as the clamp didn't fit properly, but I hammered it in there somehow.

The next hurdle was video. DICE/EA wanted to use Pixel Shading 1.4 in BF2 to enhance realism, but instead of allowing users to enable/disable that feature according to their taste, it was simply made a requirement. Even relatively powerful video cards without this feature would be unable to run BF2. Guess what? My GeForce4 Ti4200, a card that I had used with great success until now, didn't support Pixel Shading 1.4. Groan. Shelled out a few hundred bucks for a new, mid-performance card and BF2 started working.

I've mentioned elsewhere that BF2 was shipped without support for cooperative multiplayer versus bots. This was - and continues to be - a major disappointment. I've sent feedback to EA support and posted to the BF2 forums, along with many others who feel similarly cheated. EA was sympathetic in their replies, and said that a) their developers were looking at all suggestions in the forums, including co-op modes and b) they were not in a position to say for certain whether co-op would be supported in a future patch. Oh well.

User community to the rescue! Whenever a moddable game is released, the modding community goes into action. BF2 is no exception. There are already plenty of BF2 mods and more arrive every day. Several different groups immediately started work on adding co-op play to BF2. They discovered a surprising fact: BF2 actually includes code that allows co-op play, but it's a) hidden from the user and b) buggy as hell. Playing cooperatively involves PC #1 starting a single-player game and PC #2 joining it by manually entering PC #1's IP address. Further confusing users, the "Connect to IP" button does nothing at all when clicked - if you're logged in with an "Offline" account. The process of creating online accounts is awkward at best, and caused even more confusion among users, particularly those who already had GameSpy accounts. But that's another story. One final hurdle is that your Offline and Online accounts share no settings, so once you've created your Online account, you have to go into the options and make all the same changes you made when you created your Offline account. Ouch!

BF2 sites started posting instructions for playing cooperatively versus bots, along with lists of gotchas, like maps that don't work in co-op mode. In wading through this material, I noticed that a lot of people were having trouble getting co-op mode to work consistently. Most of the problems I read about involved the dreaded CTD (Crash To Desktop). Ugh! Interestingly, I found that hosting a vanilla BF2 co-op game on my #1 box and connecting to it from the #2 box worked reliably, except I had to avoid certain maps.

Modders eventually produced "co-op mods" for BF2. There was (and still is) a lot of confusion about these mods, because they don't actually add co-op play to BF2; they only make the existing, hidden co-op mode more stable. Anyway, perhaps the best of these is the one produced by WCC Coop. This mod does a lot of good stuff, including:

* Reduces map load time dramatically.
* Removes AI and other bugs from maps, reducing CTDs.
* Tweaks weapons, vehicles and soldiers in various ways to make the game more entertaining.
* Allows locked weapons to be played.
* Repositions a few vehicles on certain maps to avoid problems.
* Allows larger versions of maps to be played.
* Allows more total players, increasing the total possible from 16 to 32 (at least).
* And more.

The WCC folks also figured out how to run a dedicated BF2 co-op server that provides map rotation and allows map voting, and explained the server settings that control co-op play. Armed with this, I was able, finally, to set up and run a dedicated co-op BF2 server on my server box. I can join this server from my #1 and #2 boxes and play several maps in sequence without any problems. Hooray!

EA/DICE almost succeeded in turning me away from BF2. In the end, I'm glad they didn't, because BF2 is an awesome game. Even with relatively stupid bots (mine are set to 0.3 out of a possible 1.0) the firefights are amazing. Almost all of the annoying bot behaviour from BF 1942 is gone. I hardly ever scream at bots in frustration in BF2. The new command structure, with an overall commander and squad leaders, is terrific. Squad members can spawn at the squad leader, which means that my buddy and I spend a lot less time trying to find or catch up with each other. If I'm the squad leader and I'm driving a tank, my buddy can spawn to me and he pops right into the gunner position of my tank. Tank gunners can now DUCK, so they can actually survive more than three seconds up there. If there is already a bot gunner, I can tell him to bail out - and he will! The command/communication system is both easy to use and effective. Tell a bot to do something using this system, and they actual do it! Bot opponents take cover, use flanking positions, throw grenades and are deadly shots. And the eye candy in this game is truly spectacular!

Codemasters support staff say...

Codemasters is another development group using StarForce. As you might expect, there is a lot of traffic on the Codemasters support forums related to StarForce. Here's a typical response from a Codemasters support person:

The original poster said:
"thats like saying "spyware is ok, its part of the product you're installing""

And here's the response:
"No it's not. It's like saying that dll files or codecs are part of the product you are installing. No other software will inform you when they install dll files or media codecs (which affect other applications far more).StarForce installs 4 drivers, which can be listed under device manager "Non Plug and Play Drivers" (you'll have to click on show hidden devices first). Do you know what all of those other drivers are? Shouldn't you be concerned about those too?Genuine customers should rest easy. The only reason any fuss is being made about StarForce is that it's causing pirates problems. The more agro we get on this subject, the more it reinforces what a good job it is doing."

Hoo boy. Where do I start? Of course DLLs are installed along with applications. But a DLL file installed with an application is essentially inert as long as the associated application isn't running. Even the old (and no longer an issue) "DLL Hell" was less of a problem than StarForce drivers. A driver runs all the time. It also typically inserts itself between the hardware and the operating system. This is clearly the case with StarForce: the drivers are hooked into the removeable media process in such a way as to affect all operations related to removeable media. Sure, proponents will say that the drivers have no affect on any operations except those related to StarForce-protected games, but that is essentially impossible. Every CD/DVD operation passes through the StarForce drivers and is either ignored or acted upon, but the drivers are involved in every CD/DVD operation.

As for "all those other drivers" - Microsoft has a quality assurance program for hardware drivers. Have the StarForce drivers been certified by Microsoft? In general, I don't install a driver unless it's certified. And if I break that rule, I am very aware that it's at my own risk. But the StarForce drivers are installed totally without my knowledge!

The last two statements are unbelievably crass. Sure, StarForce is causing headaches for software crackers, but it's clear that StarForce is also causing problems for legitimate users - myself among them. And if aggrivating legitimate users is the goal of Codemasters, then indeed StarForce is doing a good job.

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