Archive for July, 2009

Improvement in the Fallout 3 crash problems! Yes!

July 31, 2009

I downloaded some new drivers for my Creative X-Fi and still had crashes. Then I noted that the driver install had taken my 7.1 analog speaker setup and reverted to the default 2.1. I switched it back to 7.1 and am noticing the game seems much more stable. It used to crash a lot if you did a rapid turn using the mouse. Now it seems to be handling this much better. Perhaps the mismatch between the number of speakers being used and the default configuration created some sort of conflict.

All I know is that it runs better and I spend more time exploring the wastelands and less time reloading after lockups. So, if you are having lockups, try checking the speaker setup to make sure it matches your installed speaker configuration. Be sure to check this if you update the Creative drivers.

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Give Beneath a Steel Sky a try for free at GOG.com

July 28, 2009

It is free at http://www.gog.com and they toss in a lot of nice extras. This 1994 point-and-click adventure game comes rapped in SCUMMVM, so it plays nice on XP and VISTA machines.

While you are at http://www.gog.com, look at the growing collection of classic games at great prices. Best of all, they get them to work with modern operating systems.

I was rusty at point-and-click games, but am finding it a fun retro experience. True, the graphics are primitive. But, the script has some laugh out loud funny lines and the story is starting to suck me in.

Secret of Monkey Island is buggy. Lucasarts, please fix it!

July 25, 2009

I was excited to download the redo of Secret of Monkey Island: Special Edition from Lucasarts for the PC. I downloaded it from Steam onto my grandson’s computer and we went to fire it up — and it didn’t work.

It crashed every time with a message saying MISE.exe could not execute. Searching the crash on the Internet, I found lots of other folks with the same problem. There were numerous fixes to try, ranging from reloading DirectX to manually creating a Settings.ini file to change the resolutions to ones that could be supported in your monitor.

I tried them one after another, with failure at each turn. Finally, I found a fix at the Steam forums that let the game operate.

Here is what allowed the game to run:

“It may cause some Problems if you are using a SoundBlaster X-Fi Xtreme Audio or Audigy and not start with the “MISE.exe has stopped working” Message e.g. Sound Problems or if the Game hangs during the Credits:

– Try going to Control Panel –> Sound –> Click on Speaker, Navigate to your “Sound Blaster” Tab and Check “Disable Enhancements”.
– If that doesn’t work trying to Change the Default Sound Device to OnBoard Sound or Disabling the Driver might help.
– Muting all Sounds in the Audio Options might prevent the game from getting Stuck during the Intro Credits”

As soon as I checked the “Disable Enhancements”, the game would run. I didn’t need to do any of the other steps past checking one box in the Soundblaster tab on my speaker properties.

However, this latest episode illustrates once again why my favorite gaming platform (PC) is giving away ground to consoles. My grandson just wanted to play his new game. He didn’t want to wait while I spent hours going over tech support web sites trying to find a fix. With his various consoles, he pops in a game and they work.

I can’t count how many times I have had to play “Internet detective” to try to troubleshoot problems with PC games. It is a sad commentary when the users of a product tend to be the ones actually supplying the fixes and workarounds via forums.

The sheer number of posts indicating a crash at startup problem indicate to me that Lucasarts released the game before sufficient bug testing. Seriously, how many people use Audigy or X-FI Soundblaster sound cards? The answer is a whole lot of us! A game that won’t start if you have a Soundblaster installed with the default configuration is a game that has problems.

It also unsettling that the Lucasarts tech support web page didn’t have the solution present (or I couldn’t find it), but the Steam user forum did. Steam is a distributor of the game, not the studio that created it.

Lucasarts needs to get a patch out the door and fast. They are sitting on a gold pile with their stellar back catalog of games that could be redone using modern graphics and sound. I would love to see Full Throttle or Grim Fandango redone to run smoothly on modern PCs and operating systems at high resolutions. Full Throttle was a game I loved upon its initial release. Grim Fandango is a game I wanted to try a few years after its release, but I never could get it to work right.

However, if the first relaunch of a classic title turns into a frustrating experience for gamers, they may be soured on doing it again. A few more days spent bug-testing might be a lot better than a pile of complaints (and refund requests) from gamers who can’t get the game to work and refuse to spend hours hunting for a solution.

They will simply look favorably at the consoles that play their games reliably with minimal hassle — and PC games will have to fight to lure them back.

While on the topic of buggy games, I wish Bethesda would take a break from cranking out new add-ons for Fallout 3 and deal with the still-present crash problems. I love Fallout 3, but it is still as unstable as the San Andreas fault on my system. You just get in the habit of saving frequently to deal with the random crashes to desktop.

Thoughts on my Isuzu I-280 (a couple of design flaws)

July 23, 2009

I bought one when they first came out and hope they have since fixed a couple of silly design flaws in an otherwise decent vehicle.

First, on the model without electric locks, there was no key slot on the passenger side. This stunk if you were trying to be polite and open the passenger door first, especially if you were the chivalrous type and it was raining on your wife. It also made it a nightmare if you ended up with a vehicle parked too close to you on the driver side to open the door enough to get in. This was a seriously silly piece of planning, as some of us still don’t want electric locks (or windows) on our vehicles (they break and add costs).

Next, the extended cab area has two small seats fold-down that are actually quite useful. But, a decision was made to put the seatbelt latch practically UNDER the level of the seat in a small area. Then, to really make it fun, it was not mounted on some sort of stem or stiff sheath to make it stand up to where you could plug in the belt.

I struggled again today when attempting to fit the belt over my granddaughter in a booster seat. I could only work with one hand, which would not fit into the small space beside the seat. The latch kept falling under the seat and I kept trying to stifle really bad words in front of a seven year-old.

Did anyone from Isuzu ever try to latch this thing, especially with a child passenger? A few cents worth of plastic sheathing would hold the latch in place and enable a person to plug in the belt easily.

Again, I hope this was fixed in later versions.

Customer service in the age of the Internet matters a lot

July 13, 2009

Musician Dave Carroll with the Halifax band the Sons of Maxwell had an expensive Taylor guitar broken on a flight with United Airlines. After months of run-around over the damage to his long-time instrument, he was out $1,200 in repairs and clearly not a happy camper. In response he wrote a catchy little ditty called “United Breaks Guitars” and posted a video of the song on YouTube. It is now at close to three million views in a week. Wow.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5YGc4zOqozo&eurl=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.facebook.com%2Fprofile.php%3Fid%3D1176788010&feature=player_embedded

It is now a topic of national news coverage, per this example CNN:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QpQNWNN_HS4&feature=related

My guess is that United Airlines has endured a public relations hit that goes far beyond the $1,200 in repairs or even the replacement of the $3,500 Taylor guitar. After the video came out and went mega-hit, United ultimately tried to undo the damage with a settlement offer, but the songwriter has declined.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T_X-Qoh__mw

The larger lesson to be learned here: The Internet can be a great equalizer when it comes to customer relations. Both good customer experiences and bad ones can be recounted to a potentially world-wide audience for no cost.

I have posted about my good times with my Acer Aspire One netbook and my horrible experiences with Microsoft Games for Windows Live (an abomination) and Panda Software (the most daunting registration scheme in the known universe).

While this is a tiny blog, I can see from the readership statistics and the online search terms that led here that some folks did peruse my comments. Did I influence any buying decisions? Maybe…

It is now common for potential customers to Internet search for information on the products and services they are contemplating. If your company has earned a bad reputation, it will bubble to the top of search engines everywhere.

While “United Breaks Guitars” represents the extreme example of the power of the Internet to level the customer service playing field, the same thing occurs each day with millions of lesser-known examples.

My advice: If you are an airliner and your employees are observed tossing guitars — and one gets broken — don’t argue about it. Pay the claim, apologize sincerely, and have a serious visit with the baggage loaders regarding how their jobs depend upon keeping customer happy in a competitive industry.

Had this been done for one lowly country singer from Halifax, a whole lot of negative press would have been avoided. Do the right thing up front and then you can watch YouTube (or read blogs, online product reviews, etc) without seeing your company being skewered.

Hopefully United Airlines will use this video as a training film for employees. Learning a lesson late is better than not learning at all.

Sega Genesis tech tip

July 12, 2009

My grandson is getting heavily into classic console gaming lately and we have bought some used gaming systems and games. One of the purchases was a Sega Genesis 3 console with a boxful of 24 games.

The problem we found was that the vast majority of the games wouldn’t work. Or, some would work one time and then they wouldn’t afterwards. Not knowing what to do, I contacted the console gaming gurus at Game Over here in Austin. They said that the Sega Genesis game cartridges were notorious for getting crud built up on the contacts. Their experience was that 95 percent of the technical difficulties with Sega Genesis games could be resolved with cleaning the contacts. We bought some 91 percent Isopropryl Alcohol and grabbed a pile of Q-tips and went to work. The results: every single cartridge that was cleaned thoroughly started to play. Some took as many as half-a-dozen wipes of the contacts before the games loaded, but it eventually got every one of them to play.

Game Over told me that this wiping down of the cartridge contacts also helps clean the slot where the games go in the console. They noted this trick can be used on any console game, but that the Sega Genesis games were the ones where it produced the most benefit.

So, if you decide to try classic console gaming and pop for a Sega Genesis and some used games, make sure you have Q-tips and alcohol available before you try to play them. Otherwise you may think you have a defective console or games when all they need is a wiping with an alcohol-dipped Q-tip.

The nice folks at Game Over can be found at: http://www.gameovervideogames.com/

Apparently classic console games are enjoying an upsurge in popularity. The used console gaming systems are cheaper, there are hundreds of quality games in some of the platforms, and the games themselves can be found inexpensively on Craigslist here in Austin, at used games stores, or at garage sales and the like. Some of the top titles are a bit pricey, but that is because they are classics of the genre and highly sought by knowledgeable gamers.

O&O Software tech support gets kudos

July 3, 2009

I compare at this time customer support disaster that is Microsoft Games for Windows Live (MS GFWL) with an experience I just had with O&O Software. I used their Defrag Pro 10 for some time and went to upgrade to version 11. I bought the new version as part of a suite with three other utility programs (it was on sale) — but had three out of four programs in the suite go BSOD with a BAD_POOL_ERROR as soon as they were installed.

I emailed O&O (a German company) and told of my woes. They got with me by email the next day and asked for various log files to be sent back in my reply. I did so and they replied back a day later that the culprit appeared to be a conflict with a PC TOOLS anti-spyware program (Version 6).

I uninstalled the PC TOOLS program and then reinstalled all of the other programs from O&O, which now all appear to be running just fine.

One of the reasons this went so well is that O&O includes both a link to their tech support website and an email address to contact tech support with their receipt for purchase. They make it EASY to get in touch with them if there is a problem.

My positive experience with O&O leads me favorable predisposed to try other utility programs they offer. They have a lot they could teach MS GFWL.

MS GFWL is still an abomination.

July 1, 2009

I went through another ordeal merely trying to buy something from Microsoft Games for Windows Live last night. The latest DLC for Fallout 3 (Point Lookout) was out and I went to the GLWL site to get it for the PC. I had 100 game points leftover under their wretched system of making me buy points instead of simply buying the content. I went to order another 1,000 points to be able to get the 800 I needed to buy the DLC. I went through the transaction, went back and tried to order the game — and got an error telling me to try again later. My credits then showed up as a mere 300 points. So, I went back and ordered ANOTHER 1,000 points (should have just done 500, but it was late and I was drinking cold beer). I now showed 1,300 points and I tried again to download the DLC. No go, of course!

I then discovered that there is NO PLACE ON THEIR SITE I could locate to tell them you have a problem with your order. I finally found a users forum which told me that others had also had games refuse to download. Some fixed it with some process for clearing their records (which wasn’t detailed). Others were able to do it after logging in again later.

I tried to find any sort of “support” address to be able to contact to tell Microsoft that they had apparently taken my money and not delivered my product. I was routed on their website to long lists of support portals, but none of them covered Games for Windows Live transactions. I finally ended up sending a note to threw the “Privacy” contact form with a request that they route it to the GFWL folks.

I finally just waited some more and logged in again. This time my content agreed to download. I still had to go through a silly manual cut-and-paste of various games files to get the new content to work with STEAM, which houses my Fallout 3 games files.

I just tried to log into MS GFWL to see how many game points show up in my account and am getting an error.

I hope Bethesda Softworks is realizing that MS GFWL is a dud as a means of distributing their add-on content. Please, please, please go to the more reliable and infinitely more user-friendly STEAM platform for PC DLCs. STEAM does so much right that it makes GFWL looks embarrassing in contrast. Hey MS, just copy STEAM!

Next I really STRONGLY urge Microsoft to put a a prominently located place on the GFWL website to report problems with transactions. It is simply unacceptable to make customers have to play Internet detective to try (in vain) to locate a means to inform you that we may have not gotten our content.

While we are at it, I also want a way to just buy the items I want ala carte and to not be forced to buy “points” in quantities that mean I end up with unused points sitting in an account for months at a time. This amounts to your customers being forced to make MS GFWL a no-interest loan of our money. This is great for MS, but not right by the customers. I am going to try to seek a refund of the points I overpaid and wonder what nightmares await me as I try to discern the process for getting my loot back.

The irony is that I buy all my games and have no tolerance for piracy. Yet, when I Googled the new DLC, the search returned several pirateware sites where I have no doubts I could have gotten the same content with far less hassle than buying it via MS GFWL.  If the gaming industry wants to see less piracy, please consider making the purchase of your content approach the same level of user-friendliness as stealing it.