Tag Archives: Hardware

Wars Among the Stars

Other than my semi-regular Oblivion updates and my Wing Commander review it seems like it’s been awhile since I’ve discussed any real PC gaming, and outside of a few dips back into World of Warcraft, I think the last time I really discussed spending a lot of time on a semi-modern PC game was when I reported my adventures in Rust two years ago. The biggest reason for that, besides my mighty backlog of console games, was that my PC was approaching relic status and not really up to some of the more demanding new games coming out, to put it mildly.

Back in Black!
“Back in Black!”

In late July I finally had enough reasons to justify building a whole new machine. Beyond gaming, I was planning on going back to college and needed a machine capable of running multiple VMs for labs. I also had plans to virtualize one of my servers which was running on even more ancient hardware than my old desktop was. Outside of the additional challenge of building something stout enough to run at least one VM fulltime and handle a modern game simultaneously, the build was quite easy and a lot of fun. It also happened to coincide with the release of Nvidia’s Geforce GTX 10 series, and I managed to score a nice overclocked 1070 early into the chipset’s life.

So what did I played with my hot new gaming rig? The latest AAA games? Did I hook up an Oculus Rift or an HTC Vive? Nah, I actually decided to play some older games that I had wanted to revisit, for one reason or another.

First was Planetside 2. Failing to resist my own monumental hype for this game, I managed to download and install the massive client on my old machine. Performance was beyond terrible and I couldn’t even play it long enough to get a feel for the flow of the game. They did some major performance patches shortly after that but by the time I went back to try it again they had removed support for Windows XP so that was the end of my tour of duty.

On the losing end of a firefight.
“On the losing end of a firefight.”

Since giving it another shot on my new machine my time with Planetside 2 has been largely fantastic. For a free-to-play MMO that feels, for the most part, quite polished, I can’t believe more people aren’t playing it. It has some issues, sure, and I was definitely skeptical about some of the design changes from the first game, but all in all I was pleasantly surprised with how close the spirit of the gameplay experience is to the original. The same type of absolutely epic combined arms battles still happen constantly, though, as with the first game, I often find myself enjoying some of the smaller battles than following the zerg, using the open nature of the battlefield and numerous options for classes, weapons, and vehicles to give me far more tactical choices than typically available in most normal FPS games.

Anti-aircraft duty is a dirty job, but someone has to do it.
“Anti-aircraft duty is a dirty job, but someone has to do it.”

Unlike playing a 25-40 minute Conquest game in Battlefield, the always-on nature of the PS2 battlefield and the various ways of quickly dropping into existing battles and skirmishes makes PS2 a great “gap filler” game too – just have 15 minutes to play? Not a problem. 2 hours to play? Where’d all of my time go? I spent quite a while ping-ponging between roles – at first I fell in love with the Lightning tank, then spent a lot of my time as a Combat Medic or Heavy Assault, then I dabbled with the Stalker cloak Infiltrator, then I discovered the majesty of the Engineer’s wire guided anti-vehicle, then spent a bit of time running various type of MAX units, and as of my last few sessions, I’d finally really clicked with the Light Assault class. Between all of that I had some amazing moments. The first few times I watched a gunship get blown out of the sky, spinning out of control before violently crashing, I had to pick my jaw off the ground. As with the vaguely similar Battlefield series, SOE managed to really nail something about the sound design and, despite the style being somewhat divisive, the graphics of the game, that helps keep me deeply immersed in the action.

My only real regret is that, unlike my time with the original Planetside, I’ve been playing PS2 mostly solo. Despite being a very easy game to pick up and play solo, I have absolutely no hesitation in saying that games like this are a thousand times funner when playing cooperatively with friends. The best way to leverage the combined arms style of combat is to, well, combine arms, and the few times I’ve grouped up with some random organized outfit squads were highly memorable.

Guarding a bio lab landing pad.
“Guarding a bio lab landing pad.”

I’ll almost certainly keep dabbling in PS2 from time to time in the future, but for now I think I’ve just about had my fill and will probably spend more of my meager amount of gaming time on other games. That said, if I ever had any friends interested in playing it I’d be back in a heartbeat. If you liked the original or like games like the Battlefield series and this looks interesting, definitely check it out. There are still plenty of people playing and the game has a surprisingly good out of game community, with tons of YouTubers uploading new content on the regular and an active Reddit community, for instance.

Exploding the local wildlife.
“Exploding the local wildlife.”

The next game I went back to was Star Wars: The Old Republic, BioWare’s infamous Star Wars MMORPG. My trajectory with this game has been fucking weird. Loving Knights of the Old Republic and being both a Star Wars and an MMORPG fan in general, I was completely hyped for this game but once it got closer to release and I discovered just how much of a World of Warcraft clone it was I was definitely let down. Then I got into the open beta and opened my mind a bit. Sure, it’s a WoW clone, but damn if it isn’t the best one I’ve ever played. By the time release hit, however, my free time was non-existent and between that and the group of friends I had guilded up with losing interested (like most of the rest of the subscriber base) I ended up bailing after only a month or so of infrequent play. Coincidentally ALSO about two years ago I came back once and played just a bit, as detailed here, but I decided to put the game down until I had a nicer gaming rig to enjoy it on.

This time I immediately scrapped my poor level 20 something Sith Inquisitor to go all-in on one of the classes I had tried out last time: a Bounty Hunter. This wasn’t really my favorite class or anything, but I liked the idea of playing a cold as ice female Bounty Hunter and, as usual with SWTOR, I quickly felt attached to my character through my dialog choices and the headcanon I filled in the blanks with. After I committed to playing again my mission was simple: play through the entire 1-50 class storyline and as many side quests as I could handle, and then move on to the next class. I wanted to play them all!

Bounty Hunters are prone to frequent Dirty Harry moments...
“Bounty Hunters are prone to frequent Dirty Harry moments…”

Of course, it’s been a few months now and the end of just now coming into sight, and this doesn’t even include venturing into the various expansion storylines, which also interest me, so maybe my plan was a little ambitious. Maybe not too ambitious though, as one oddity about SWTOR these days is that they drastically increased XP rewards so my new main, as it were, was max level long before I got into the last chapter of my storyline. In theory they’ve tuned this so you only need to do your character’s story missions, and each planet’s story missions so if you do all of the side quests, like I’m doing, you’re going to be way over level. The flip side is that when I finally do get around to playing some alts I can skip all of the side content and breeze through the story, which is greatly appealing to me.

My pet Jawa and I taking on a Jedi.
“My pet Jawa and I taking on a Jedi.”

I’ll admit I’ve also been distracted by playing with the cartel market, the auction house and, particularly, the new stronghold system since coming back. Ever since Ultima Online I’ve always love having a house I can customize and/or decorate which included chasing down expensive decorations, and SWTOR’s Galatic Stronghold system scratches that itch. I’ve also spent some of the “cartel coins” I had been building up while unsubscribed on various random loot packs and made a tidy sum auctioning them in game. It’s been kind of an addictive mini-game, one that I’m sure makes BioWare quite a lot of money. At first I was concerned that playing around with auctioning these items might not be viable given how dead the auction house was, but then I paid to transfer my characters to a much more active server and my experience has been great ever since.

Like Planetside 2, despite being free-to-play (now) SWTOR has impressive production values and a lot of meaty gameplay available, and the fans that are still into the game are rabidly into it. In fact BioWare continues to release new items into the cartel market, new patches, and even new major expansions. Maybe it’s more the Star Wars nerd in me than anything else, but I absolutely love this game. The fact that it has kept my interest this long, and that I still want to play some of the other classes, really says a lot about this game though, especially with World of Warcraft: Legion out there constantly tempting me to drop everything and head back to Azeroth.

Canvasing The Sound

Oh yes indeed! I’m pretty damn stoked about my latest retro hardware pick up: I finally got myself a good General MIDI module! I’d been wanting a Roland SC-55 MkII for a while now. Instead ended up with its younger, more powerful successor, the SC-88. I ended up with a VL model, specifically, which is even better as I don’t have any need for the bigger footprint of the original version. Not only is the SC-88 a much more power module, it also has a totally different sound bank than the legendary SC-55 so everything sounds different in it. Not necessary always better since most General MIDI soundtracks were composed on an SC-55 but hey, it can also be put into SC-55 mode which, while not quite identical, does a pretty damn admirable job.

My precious!
“My precious!”

There she is with her grand pappy, the Roland MT-32. Speaking of which, it’s fucking nice not to have to be able to listen to General MIDI through my MT-32 trying to front as a normal MIDI module. It’s not a very dignified way to treat the old gal and the MIDI sounds pretty horrendous that way to boot. Speaking of horrendous sounds, no more MIDI via a AWE32 or even a GUS now. I’m moving on up!

Okay, enough mad gibbering for now. Since there aren’t many out there I intend on posting some SC-88 recordings of classic General MIDI tracks in the future, probably in conjunction with more retro reviews. Speaking of which, I’ve got one of those in the works at the moment too. Stay tuned!

Counterfeit Xbox 360 Wireless Receiver Drivers

After playing around with Nintendo 64 emulators with the intention of taking screenshots for some N64 games that I plan to review one of these days, I determined that it was finally time to break down and get a new gamepad for my PC. None of my other pads had anything akin to analog sticks – I mostly bought them with playing much older games in mind. I’m a big fan of the Xbox 360 controller and since I already have a couple I figured it would be easiest (and probably most economical) to go the route of buying the Microsoft Xbox 360 Wireless Gaming Receiver which simply let you use your Xbox 360 controllers with your PC. Looking around I quickly discovered that these receivers were in shorter supply than they used to be, some places even charging quite a bit for them. Still, I ended up finding some eStores on Amazon that had them for fairly cheap and nabbed one.

When it finally arrived I immediately recognized it as a fake – not just some other brand, but a genuine, stereotypical Chinese counterfeit. The packaging didn’t quite look up to par – while at first glance it was reasonably similar to official looking packaging, the plastic blister pack wasn’t nearly as stylized as most Xbox 360 related packs, and perhaps even more telling, it wasn’t an immense fucking chore to get into. Also despite some okay use of Xbox 360 and Xbox Live logos and branding style there wasn’t a single sign of a Microsoft logo anywhere on the packaging – not a good sign as Microsoft LOVES to crap their corporate logo all over everything they make. The unit itself looked identical to the real thing save for the Microsoft logo on the front being replaced by an Xbox 360 logo and the little holographic seal sticker on the back saying “XBHD” instead of Microsoft. Other stickers on the unit and packaging looked a little off as well. Upon closer inspection it is even more suspicious – the connect button isn’t flush and is even a little offset, the rubber “foot” ring on the bottom isn’t seated perfectly and looks a little odd, and the piece of the housing where the cord goes in wasn’t seated properly. None of these were major issues, but an obvious departure from the high quality standards that you usually see in Microsoft hardware.

Quite a departure from the real packaging but good at a glance.
“Quite a departure from the real packaging but good at a glance.”

At first I was pissed about being duped by Amazon (who listed it as being a Microsoft product and having pictures of the genuine article) but the more I researched the more I discovered how common place these knockoff receivers actually are – they’ve been floating around for years now, presumably ever since Microsoft stopped supplying the real thing as readily. Most people have reported success with them. In fact, some people even preferred them to the genuine ones as apparently they don’t have the fuse issues the real ones have. If I complained and returned it by the time I paid return shipping and whatever “restocking” fee the eStore might have I’d probably be paying double what I paid and, I figured, if it works, I certainly didn’t pay much for it even if it is a fake. Still, I was highly skeptical – I figured though, if it were a true counterfeit and would work okay with the official Microsoft drivers I wouldn’t be putting myself in any danger by using it and, from what I read, despite some occasional difficulty in getting Windows 7 to recognize the device the official drivers worked fine with it. Still running Windows XP 32bit, I guessed I’d probably be fine.

I wasn’t about to try the software on the disk that came with it figuring that it would be some poorly written knockoff driver that would destabilize my machine, or worse yet be infected with malware (although upon further inspection the disk appeared to include the genuine Microsoft driver, albeit an older version.) I immediately grabbed the Microsoft package and went from there. Hours later, I finally got the fucking thing working. At first I couldn’t get Windows to recognize the device as being compatible with the driver, even after trying to force it to use it. Later I abandoned that version and went for the same one that was on the included disk, and although that one was recognized the driver installation would fail every time. I’ll save the gory details and get to the point – since my solution ended up being an amalgamation of various other tips rather than based on any one thing I read online, here is how I got my knockoff receiver working with Windows XP SP3:

Don’t plug it in yet – if you’ve already done so, go to your Device Manager, uninstall it, and unplug it. It depends on how far you got it, but it’ll likely show up as an “Unknown Device” with a black and yellow exclamation mark on it. It could also show up as a “USB Device” or possibly even as an “Xbox 360 Wireless Receiver for Windows”. Just look for the exclamation mark.

  1. Download and install the latest official Microsoft Xbox 360 Wireless package: http://www.microsoft.com/hardware/en-us/d/xbox-360-wireless-controller-for-windows
  2. Download and extract this updated version of the device driver to someplace temporary: here
  3. Plug the receiver in. Windows will detect it and attempt to install a driver for it. If yours behaves as mine did it will NOT automatically match up with the official package you installed in step 1. Otherwise, you got lucky and you’re done!
  4. Choose the second option: “Install from a list or specific location (Advanced)”. Click Next.
  5. Choose the second option: “Don’t search. I will choose the driver to install.” Click Next.
  6. If it shows you a list of hardware categories click Next first. Click “Have Disk…” and find the “xusb21.inf” file that you extracted from the archive in step 2.
  7. If for some reason it comes up asking for additional files, choose them from the same location where you found “xusb21.inf” in the last step, in the “x86” (or “x64” if you’re running 64bit Windows XP) folder below it.
  8. If for some reason it asks for “WdfCoInstaller01005.dll” when “WdfCoInstaller01007.dll” is what you’ve got in “\x86” you can insert the included driver CD and find it there. It was in “\PC Driver\x86” on my disk. It did this to me though it was a result of my earlier attempts to get the original driver working.
  9. It should copy the files and then be done. If you receive a “Fatal error during installation” error my solution didn’t work for you. Otherwise, click Finish and try syncing up your controller!

I hope that helps somebody out there. If the thought of dealing with shady Chinese hardware and old driver packages scares you I’d recommend trying to track down a wired Microsoft Xbox 360 controller (a Play and Charge kit for the wireless controller will NOT work) from a used game store and simply using that if you can find it for cheap, though they sell at Gamestop for about 3 times what I got my knockoff receiver for. *shrug*

Some sources:
The thread where I originally found the updated driver
A blog article troubleshooting similar problems under Windows 7 64bit

Update 9/2016:

Manace comments “It works on Windows 10 x64. You should first start a cmd.exe as administrator and type: “bcdedit.exe -set TESTSIGNING on” (without the quotes). Then reboot and you see in the down right corner “TESTMODE”. This means you can install unsigned drivers.

Now got to your device manager, select the unknown device, choose update driver, select the folder where you extracted the driver package and voila!”

You can also install unsigned drivers this way.