Stereoscopic 3D gaming is awesome

After purchasing a 3D-capable TV late last year, I wondered if I could use it for gaming in 3D.

It turns out NVIDIA has a driver add-on for most of their modern video cards that will allow the video card to produce a stereoscopic 3D signal out to your TV.  It works with a lot of games to varying degrees without any special support needing to be built into the game, since it’s just a driver-level layer.  And when it works, it’s spectacularly immersive.  Borderlands 2, Trackmania 2, Distance, and many others look amazing… and I swear the real sense of depth in an FPS actually improves my aim and makes sniping a pure joy.

Everybody keeps talking about AR and VR headsets being the hot new thing out of E3, but then discussion inevitably turns to the state of software support.  I’ll tell you this: if Occulus Rift simply works with NVIDIA’s 3D TV Play driver out of the box, its users will immediately have access to a more immersive experience in many of the games they already know and love.

That alone would be the “killer app” that would drive mass-adoption.  Instead of having to buy a 3DTV (and deal with the inevitable ghosting artifacts that arise from left/right image “crosstalk” through the 3D glasses), just put on a VR headset and have an awesome 3D gaming experience.

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Steam voice chat won’t connect or work with in-home streaming enabled, but here’s a workaround

Steam (for Windows, at least) has this nifty “in-home streaming” feature that’s sort of like Remote Desktop for gaming.  It lets you use an underpowered PC in your house (like a laptop) as a thin client for your main gaming PC.

If this feature is enabled, and your Steam account happens to be logged into multiple PCs/devices, and you try to use one PC to start or join a Steam voice chat, it will refuse to connect (without giving you any helpful error message) due to a really obnoxious bug in the Steam client.

Here’s the workaround to get voice chat working:

  1. Log your Steam account out of ALL Steam clients on ALL PCs/devices.
  2. Now that you are completely logged out, have everyone else who was attempting to voice chat with you restart their Steam clients.  They must do this to “reset” their Steam clients’ knowledge of which Steam client you are using.
  3. Now you can log back into the Steam client ONLY on the PC you are trying to use.
  4. Now your voice chat will finally connect and work.

Hopefully Valve will get off their collective asses and stop dicking around with Linux long enough to fix this incredibly obnoxious issue impacting the majority (i.e. Windows users) of their customer base.

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Fix for Ubisoft UPlay bug: Unable to update Assasin’s Creed IV

Running UPlay as admin as others have suggested did not solve this for me.  Neither did changing the install cache location as others have suggested.  Here’s what DID work for me:

  1.  Exit UPlay.
  2. Manually delete the following two files:
    • c:\Program Files (x86)\Ubisoft\Ubisoft Game Launcher\data\273\uplay_install.state
    • c:\Program Files (x86)\Ubisoft\Ubisoft Game Launcher\data\273\uplay_install_tmp.manifest
  3. Launch UPlay.
  4. Click the drop-arrow next to the PLAY/DOWNLOAD button on AC IV and choose “Verify Game Files”.
  5. Once verification is done, the issue should be fixed and you should now be able to successfully update.

This appears to be caused by a bug in the UPlay app.

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Focusrite Scarlett USB audio interface: disconnection problems

A simple Google search on “Focusrite Scarlett disconnect” reveals this to be a common problem with no clear solution.  I’ve experienced and solved this issue on two independent PC+Scarlett setups, and both times it boiled down to the same problem: the USB cable.

Not only do you need an A-to-B cable specifically rated for USB 2.0 (or higher) compatibility, but you need to ensure it is a short cable (I’d say 6 feet max) with at least one good ferrite core around the end that plugs into the back of the Scarlett.  Ideally you’d use a cable with two ferrite cores (one around each end).  And do not use a USB extension cable or USB hub in between the Scarlett and the computer.

In case you don’t know what I’m talking about when I say “ferrite core”, just plug the following search into Amazon: “USB 2.0 A to B ferrite”.

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Getting Windows 8.1 to actually sync with OneDrive / SkyDrive

Apparently you have to have UAC enabled in order for SkyDrive sync to actually work in the background like you’d expect on Windows 8.1.  Lame — I always turn UAC off because it’s horrendously annoying and I’m not a blithering idiot who randomly clicks “Yes” on everything without reading it first.

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I helped design and build the Windows 8 Start screen. Wow.

Looking back over my “Windows Wish List” posts and some wild hand-drawn sketches in a spiral notebook from 2008, it’s amazing to me to look back over the last 4 years and realize not only how many of my ideas have been incorporated into Windows 7 and 8, but also the fact that I helped make much of it happen by working on the Windows shell team. The Start screen in Windows 8 has several design elements that were originally mine: the parallax scrolling effect of the background (inspired by old-school video games like “Shadow of the Beast”), the notion of making a full-screen version of the Start menu, and a way of organizing or partitioning Apps, Settings, and Files. Another one of my ideas — pinning a website from Internet Explorer to the Taskbar as its own icon with its own jumplist — was picked up and turned into a feature in newer versions of IE. It’s surreal to now see the Start screen (which I spent 3 years helping to design and build) all over the news, TV commercials, and printed Christmas shopping ads. I guess while I was busy working my butt off, I really did manage to help change the world.

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SEGA D-pad analysis

Anyone who has read my previous posts knows I’ve been obsessed with game controller design for a long time. My obsession has led me to three overall questions/conclusions:

  1. The Japanese SEGA Saturn controllers (and the genuine SEGA-produced Genesis 6-button controller modeled directly after its internal design) have the best D-pad ever designed — but why?
  2. The “transforming d-pad” on the new 360 controllers works bettter but still has some problems — why?
  3. Convex-shaped analog thumbsticks are superior to concave-shaped analog thumbsticks — but why?

I have analyzed each of these topics with OCD-like attention and have come up with some explanations/answers that are actually very interesting. This post will address points 1 and 2, because they are related.

The one remaining problem with the “transforming D-pad” on the new xbox360 controllers is that it is still a tip-prone teeter-totter. Meaning, as you are trying to cleanly switch from pressing “left” to “right”, it’s all too easy for the d-pad to accidentally “tip” up or down enough to erroneously activate one of those vertical directions. This is what still infuriates many players of games like PacMan CE DX, which require accurate split-second 4-direction controls.

SEGA solved this problem in the 1990s with their D-pad design for the 6-button Genesis controller (same design used in the Japanese Saturn controller). They eliminated the tip-prone nature of the d-pad by eliminating the central pivot point altogether! See the following illustration:

I bought an old 6-button Genesis controller (the good SLS-manufactured ones, not the crappy knock-off ones manufactured by Jalesco or whoever it was and rebranded with the SEGA logo) off eBay and took it apart. I also bought off eBay a pair of the new (2009) SLS-manufactured and reissued-only-overseas “Saturn” controllers that are USB for use with PCs, and took one of them apart. The controllers are cosmetically different on the outside and have a slightly different feel, but they use the same D-pad design as illustrated above. The Saturn USB controllers, when used with emulators like MAME or KEGA Fusion, are far more accurate and “less frustrating”-feeling than the D-pads on either the PS2 or Xbox360 controllers I also hook up to my PC. The SEGA pads truly are the best design, even after all these years.

Which leaves me wondering, why don’t all the modern game makers use that design? Surely whatever patent(s) (if any) SEGA held on the design have expired by now. Maybe it’s just because the engineers at Microsoft and Sony and various third-party controller makers are unaware of this design.

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