Friday, November 21, 2014

Xbox Mod Adventure: Part 2

Just because everything has to be a debacle whenever I want to do anything, let's jump right in. Get that transistor replaced, a new DVD drive put in and a new faceplate.

Since the transistor is so damn small, I went ahead and bought a 4.5 watt battery powered soldering iron. I have to say I'm in love with this thing. You'd have to leave it on until the batteries drained to lift a pad or fuck anything up severely. As much as I solder things, it's just not my strong point. It's usually an exercise in frustration, and this iron is pretty idiot proof. I'm down.

It was surprisingly easy. This soldering iron wasn't heating up enough to get the transistor removed easily, so I actually ended up cutting the legs with an exacto knife and then just removing the legs from the pads afterwards. The transistor is tiny enough that I had to hold it in place with tweezers. I couldn't steady my hand enough to set it down on the board and do the soldering. It actually went in incredibly easily.

Aaand here's our current faceplate. Nice scuffs. The power button was shot off with an airsoft gun by my friend who originally sold me the Xbox that was in this case for $5. There's a couple of spots around the buttons on the glossy spot where he missed the button and there are airsoft BB size indents. The faceplate I got to replace it was "Microsoft recertified."

Surprisingly it actually does seem to be either new or refurbished. Even has some plastic covering the glossy bit to prevent scratches. Nice.

Now for the DVD drive. This has a Thompson in it currently. They are fucking horrible. I bought a Samsung drive to replace it. Thankfully the Xbox drives can work with any console, they aren't locked to the motherboard like Xbox 360 DVD drives.

You can see that the Samsung drive doesn't have the Xbox bezel. That's not a problem, as the bezel actually just slides up vertically and it can be switched to another drive.

So, moment of truth... was the transistor the problem?

Yes it was! This is the only thing that will go right from here on out.

Also, in case you were curious..

That's the transistor that was removed from the Xbox. It's that fucking small.

Anyways, let's get this shit rolling. Back to loading up Agent Under Fire with the Ndure exploit copied over to the HDD. Start up Agent Under Fire, load the game and...

We have softmod! Create an MS backup, install the softmod, install UnleashX, patch the stock dash and we're (allegedly) good to go. Now, if this worked from this point, you would need to have some way to power the secondary HDD that you're going to be installing into the Xbox.

Here's our subject, a 500gb Hitachi Deskstar. While it's not made by Apple, we're going to say that we're putting some Apple into this Xbox. So, I got the HDD running on external power, swapped out the IDE cable for the DVD drive, FTP'd Chimp over to the Xbox, started Chimp... except Chimp wouldn't start. I checked the file layout I had a million times. Everything was right. Well, it turns out this is a 1.6b Xbox. Chimp was re-done to have compatibility with 1.6 Xboxes, so this should work right?

I talked it over with some online pals who are also into Xbox modding. One of them had no idea. The other had no idea too... until he remembered that he had a 1.6b Xbox at one point that Chimp just refused to run on. So, something about the 1.6b Xbox prevents Chimp from running correctly. Now we're going full old school in order to get this fucker working.

I forgot to mention with that whole softmod thing, back your motherfucking EEPROM up. The Xbox's HDD is keyed to the motherboard using the EEPROM. If your HDD dies? Your Xbox is dead, unless you've got your EEPROM. Fuck something up on your softmod and the Xbox won't work? Your Xbox is dead. Unless you get an EEPROM reader. Anywho, we're going to take that EEPROM and format the HDD manually.

Here's my old shitty HP piece of shit with IDE connections. We'll be using a Linux boot disc that runs something called XboxHDM. XboxHDM can install original MS Dash files, format the drive correctly, install a softmod and finally lock the HDD with a copy of the EEPROM that was backed up in the softmod process.

Nice and simple. It's actually very easy to use and faster than you'd expect, too. There's a few different tutorials out there, and a lot of them don't seem to be fully correct. I couldn't get the drive to launch in the Xbox until I came across this post

You're not totally done after this though. You'll need to FTP XbPartitioner to the HDD and run it to get the full HDD size available. After all that...

UnleashX and a nice 500gb HDD.

Next: adding games, a different dashboard and emulators.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Killzone (PlayStation 2) Review

Back in November of 2004, two apparent titans of gaming were about to be unleashed. Halo 2 and the Halo killing Killzone. Fanboys on both sides unleashed a cacophony of insults. Keyboards snapped under the pressure. Nokia cell phones rang nonstop. Gamecube owners were confused.

Then.. The dust suddenly settled. Everyone just sort of forgot about Killzone (until the infamous PlayStation 3 tech demo). Halo 2 was the undisputed victor. It changed the way people thought about console games online. It brought Xbox Live the attention it always deserved. 

But what of Killzone? Was it good? Was it bad? I don't think most ever even knew. I tried out Killzone: Liberation on PSP and found it to be less than spectacular. Its fully featured predecessor is thankfully a much better game. 

One important thing to note is that Microsoft brought a grenade to a slap fight with the Xbox. Its specs made the Gamecube and PS2 look out of place towards the end of the console generation. The PS2 had been looking old for quite a while, and Killzone looked to be a graphical powerhouse on the aging system. Unfortunately, it impacts the game in a negative way. They really tried to make Killzone look great and for the most part, they succeeded. The PS2 just can't handle the game. The Xbox had twice as much RAM and much faster processors and later life Xbox games were a sight to behold. Killzone does manage to look quite nice, particularly the snowy level later in the game:

This isn't a great screenshot, but you can see some of the background and some nice details like the ice around the guard tower. It obviously doesn't look great but PS2 games just usually weren't detailed to this extent. 

The game suffers from massive frame rate issues. They're not bad when you're inside of a building or on a smaller level, but when the game attempts an open environment it slows to a crawl. It's almost embarrassing how the developers attempt to hide the fact that some levels aren't open environments. Do you remember that old trick from N64 and PS1 games where if you were in a jungle or a forest, they would try to hide that you were in a hallway by making the walls basically solid trees? They do that here.

This screenshot is from the HD version but you can see the effect here.

It's not a surprise that this game didn't fulfill its destiny as a Halo killer. The shooting mechanics are fundamentally flawed. Any automatic gun in the game is incapable of firing a single straight shot. A tap of the fire button with your crosshairs complete still will result in a shot way off to the left or right. The only guns that fire straight are the sniper rifle or the pistol. Obviously an automatic gun is not going to be the most accurate thing in the game, but your first shot should at least be on target. Is everything in the game on a slope or something? I played some multiplayer with bots and I wasn't impressed with how the game feels in a multiplayer situation. It's not a game breaker for single player but it does change the multiplayer aspect.

The other thing is that the enemies behave as bullet sponges. You can see two or three bloodsprays from the head of an enemy before they go down. On the other hand, you're pretty weak. I can see now what they were trying to capture with the PSP version. You'll frequently be hunkered down behind cover and pop out to make a couple of shots. This works in first person, it's pretty boring from a top down perspective.

As far as the story goes, it's really no more interesting than the PSP version that I discussed before. The Helghast have decided that Vetka is a pretty nice place and they'd like to live there even though they can't survive in the atmosphere. Or something. The most surprising aspect of the game to me was the fact that there are 4 playable characters. Two are essentially identical and the others are the stereotypical heavy and the stereotypical ranged character. For the most part, the other characters will be tagging along on the missions and helping out.

Yet another issue is that aside from the frame rate issues, it's buggy. I had a couple of instances where restarting from a checkpoint wouldn't fix a bug and I actually had to restart the game. In particular, when I was playing the last mission I kept hearing my teammates yelling things out but I couldn't see them and they weren't firing. This happened every time I died and had to restart. Then, about midway through the mission the time that I actually beat it they all just literally fell out of the ceiling. I'm really not sure if this was a glitch or what. It helped me out so I'm not complaining, but I will always wonder.

My favorite part of the game? The grenade cooking. When you throw a grenade you can hold down the button to cook the grenade before you throw it. In Killzone, the grenades have LEDs on the side that light up showing how close you are to detonation. It lets you get the throw just right.

Overall, Killzone is a slightly above average game. If it hadn't come out on PS2, it probably would've had a lot more hype and been a much better game. As it stands, Killzone seems to be something forever in the shadows of other major FPS franchises. It's an interesting idea, but the execution suffers. I had a lot of fun with it, but there are also a lot of frustrations.

The Score: 7.8/10