Balls to learning how to animate, let's film some parkour!

Sat 27 August 2016

Overlay of live footage with rotoscoping

Hallå! Welcome to my first game devlog.

I figured I'd start out talking about graphics, as they are a large source of anxiety for first-time developers. And not without reason! Everyone is a judgy bastard when it comes to how your low-budget game is presented. Oh sure, it's become easier for a solo developer to mask the familiar, rancid stench of programmer art with the equivalent of some pine-scented air freshener, but in practice this is a huge creative tradeoff. It really pays off to have a unique and consistent visual style in your work, even if you're not a proper artist.

Which I'm not. Lord no. What little visual talent I have is spread thinly between drafting/technical drawing (a survival skill picked up working as an engineer) and sandwich-grade graphic design. Oh and I can maybe do a scratchy pencil test of a background at 1/8th the speed of a regular artist. Drawing actual characters and animating them? That's just not going to happen.

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Dead KORG microKEY, Part 2: Noobface McHamfists Desolders His First SMD

Fri 17 June 2016

J-Link and microKEY plugged into breadboard

Oh God. Oh God. I've been putting this one off, but the stuff has arrived. I can't back down now!

A brief résumé of what happened in Part 1: this great little KORG microKEY MIDI controller stopped powering up for reasons unknown. By wiring it up to a J-Link debug probe, we found that the CPU was still alive and kicking, yet somehow the computer was receiving garbled USB messages. As this keyboard has a built-in USB hub, the stab-in-the-dark diagnosis was that the chip responsible (a Genesys GL850G) had gone bad and needed replacing. Unfortunately, the chip is a 28-pin 10mm*8mm surface mounted design, and our bumbling hero has never before soldered an SMD component, much less reworked a board!

To properly capture the fear of someone doing surface-mount rework for the first time, everything in this piece was written minutes after happening.

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Audio Analysis, Part 1: Digital Audio

Mon 16 November 2015

Spectogram of some recorded music

Today I'm going to try and explain how digital audio works. Most people have a vague idea about how sound works. "Sound is a wave!", they might say. "Sound bounces off things!", adds another. "Sound increases as you get closer to the stacks!", relates one subject matter expert. "What?", asks someone else? "I SAID SOUND INCREASES AS YOU GET CLOSER TO THE STACKS!" "Sorry I couldn't hear you over my crippling tinnitus! Dear Jesus if only I had known more about sound!"

This will be a really simple primer about digital sound waves and how they contain musical notes. To follow along at home, you'll need the excellent free audio editor Audacity. Download it if you don't have it already, then open it up to an empty window.

Right, so what does a single note "look" like? Let's start with a sine wave. Sine waves have an easily recognisable and pure-sounding tone. In our Audacity window, we'll click Generate -> Tone.

Audacity tone generator window

Oh look, they've helpfully picked a Sine wave as the default, with a frequency of 440 Hz and an amplitude of 0.8! (I changed the duration to only 5 seconds, as the default of 30 is a bit too long.) Let's hit OK.

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J-Link Detective Squad: Dead KORG microKEY-37

Sun 08 November 2015

Korg microKEY-37

I love the KORG microKEY 37. It's an excellent entry-level MIDI controller that fits unobtrusively on your desk, great for impromptu jamming when you should be focused on something boring like "tax" or "finding a new house before eviction day". The keys feel pretty soft, as they use rubber domes instead of metal springs, but the velocity response is excellent. I highly recommend it, as it's one of those products which basically lives forever and delivers year after year of good service.

I bring this up because back in about February, my KORG microKEY 37 stopped turning on. The unit would no longer connect via USB; each time it would give up at different points during the initial handshake, with dmesg spewing a number of unhappy messages. Here's one attempt at plugging the device in.

[Sun Sep 27 06:00:56 2015] usb 3-1: new full-speed USB device number 17 using xhci_hcd
[Sun Sep 27 06:00:56 2015] usb 3-1: device descriptor read/64, error -71
[Sun Sep 27 06:00:57 2015] xhci_hcd 0000:00:14.0: Setup ERROR: setup context command for slot 16.
[Sun Sep 27 06:00:57 2015] usb 3-1: hub failed to enable device, error -22
[Sun Sep 27 06:00:57 2015] usb 3-1: new full-speed USB device number 18 using xhci_hcd
[Sun Sep 27 06:00:57 2015] usb 3-1: device descriptor read/64, error -71
[Sun Sep 27 06:00:57 2015] xhci_hcd 0000:00:14.0: Setup ERROR: setup context command for slot 17.
[Sun Sep 27 06:00:57 2015] usb 3-1: hub failed to enable device, error -22
[Sun Sep 27 06:00:57 2015] usb 3-1: new high-speed USB device number 19 using xhci_hcd
[Sun Sep 27 06:00:57 2015] usb 3-1: Device not responding to setup address.
[Sun Sep 27 06:00:57 2015] usb 3-1: Device not responding to setup address.
[Sun Sep 27 06:00:58 2015] usb 3-1: device not accepting address 19, error -71
[Sun Sep 27 06:00:58 2015] usb 3-1: new full-speed USB device number 20 using xhci_hcd
[Sun Sep 27 06:00:58 2015] usb 3-1: Device not responding to setup address.
[Sun Sep 27 06:00:58 2015] usb 3-1: Device not responding to setup address.
[Sun Sep 27 06:00:58 2015] usb 3-1: device not accepting address 20, error -71
[Sun Sep 27 06:00:58 2015] usb usb3-port1: unable to enumerate USB device

Oh snap! I'm torn on what to do... buying a replacement is doable, but this one was limited edition and a replacement wouldn't be the same cool colour scheme! Maybe there's a clue to what went wrong inside the unit?

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Introducing Mr. Crowbar! Untold minutes of reverse engineering fun for ages 26-29!

Thu 22 October 2015

Mr. Crowbar logo

I believe that one of the best ways of allowing creativity to overcome limited technical skill is to build upon stuff that already exists. Take game modding; just try and count the number of successful games that started out as a modification of an existing one. Would these developers have gotten anywhere as far with their idea if they couldn't build on an existing engine and assets, not to mention community support? WOULD THEY?

Indeed, game modding is an important springboard for new developers to cut their teeth in a familiar setting and form a good understanding of how games work in the real world. There is, however, one rather large barrier of entry for people to start playing with the innards of their favourite game: tools. Occasionally the engine author will encourage custom content and give their developer tools out for free. But most of the time games are 100% not designed with modding in mind, leaving it up to a tiny number of skilled reverse engineers to write their own tools and share them with the community.

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Guide: Backing up crap DVDs

Sat 10 October 2015

Brass Eye DVD case

Let's tangent for a moment and talk about DVDs. The DVD standard was designed for the low-powered embedded hardware of the late 1990s. The copy protection is primitive, and the DVD format is public knowledge by now, making it easy to backup or format shift your DVD collection as is your God-given first sale right (unless you live in the US or anywhere that just signed a trade agreement).

For reasons of Christ Knows Why, some publishers (ignorant of how top-down video piracy generally works) think that the best way to prevent this is by using third-party copy protection schemes. This so-called protection is of the "no True Scotsman" variety; it adds a lot of intentional errors to the DVD that would make most software players (and the authors of the spec) rightfully vomit. But that's ok! Because the discs are designed for a True Hardware DVD Player, one that is infinitely more robust than your PC-based counterparts and will soar over the corrupted blocks like a majestic eagle.

Just to repeat this again, these publishers sell a product with severe mastering defects on purpose and just hope the error correction is really good and you don't notice.

This article will walk you through the five categories of dirty tricks used to limit fair use. Normally you only have to worry about a couple of these; but I had the misfortune to buy a DVD (Chris Morris' excellent Brass Eye) which had ALL DAMN 5. And for the first time, none of the DVD playback software I tried would play the episodes when selected on the menu.

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