Friday, 29 August 2008

The Checkerboard of Doom solved! :)

If you're like me, then you've probably been having a hell of a time (re)searching around, swearing, cursing, testing stuff, even trying to discuss things that have already been discussed regarding the screen corruption that occurrs when running a WINE application in fullscreen, while having moderately recent AMD/ATI proprietary catalyst/fglrx (yay rebranding) drivers. The screen corruption was symbolically called "The Checkerboard of Doom", since it makes the screen look like a checkerboard. And it stays that way until you restart your computer.

Well, ATI Catalyst (AMD, flgrx, whatever) version 8.8 has fixed the "permanent" checkerboard, which means you only have to close the fullscreen WINE application and the corruption is gone.

Some people did even better than that - they found various workarounds for this bug, some of which were better, while others weren't. Among the interesting ones I found were resizing your virtual display to a horizontal size which is divisible by 64 (e.g. if your monitor is 1400x1050 like mine, you just set the virtual to 1408x1050), while others used a combination of the open-source LibGL and the proprietary display driver.

This has lead me into thinking that it's the LibGL which has some broken stuff, and I've been trying out stuff regarding that for some time. Another clue was that, when you make a screenshot of the Checkerboard, the image is perfectly normal - not a trace of any corruption. Hmm. Would this mean that there is a problem in the communication between the display and the graphic driver? This may eventually also point to the LibGL. I don't have the brains for seeking out solutions there. At least not yet. Sorry.

zeddD1abl0, a good soul on the Arch Linux forum pointed out a fact that he hasn't seen the checkerboard in ages - and he mostly uses the defaults. This doesn't mean he's lazy or unimaginative, it just means he follows the KISS principle and guess what - it works for him.

Not having a better thing to do, and taking a look at what I've done to my Arch installation so far, I've decided to wipe out some stuff and install the whole GUI from scratch. Removed the config files and the stuff I've edited in /etc directory, and unmerged (uninstalled - damnit, Gentoo has obviously left some permanent marks in my brain) the whole xorg, together with the drivers, desktop environment (GNOME, e17, fluxbox and compiz-fusion-gtk), and everything that depended on it - which means, in essence, every single graphical application I've had installed. Good thing I wrote everything down in a textfile while I was doing it. I really didn't feel like reinstalling the whole system, bcos I've made some changes in the configuration which suit me, and don't feel like doing it all over again.

After reinstalling the xorg (and generating a new, plain xorg.conf), latest catalyst only (and simply running aticonfig --initial), GNOME and WINE, guess what happened.
I opened a Windows game in fullscreen, and it worked. I could actually see what's happening on my monitor. No squares. No checkerboard. It worked.

I was tempted to leave everything as is, but, craving for at least a little more performance as I always am, I tried adding lines - one by one - to my xorg.conf and see what will generate the checkerboard.

My first guess was that the "Option" "UseFastTLS" "2" had something to do with it, since setting it to 0 or 1 often broke compatibility with WINE. I thought this one was finally broken also, but I was wrong. Believe it or not, the critical stuff is Section "DRI".
Why? My first guess - it's the section that concerns the xorg DRI extension, not fglrx's. And now, having xorg driver removed and fglrx installed, and having in mind that it's DRI extension is far from similar to xorg's, the options you would give it could make it break. If my suspicion is correct, we're lucky to have only WINE broken (well, not really broken anymore, just not compatibile with the bullshit we're trying to feed it).

Anyway, to sum things up, here's how to solve the problem with the infamous Checkerboard of Doom:

1. download and install the latest AMD/ATI Catalyst (ex. fglrx) drivers. The way of doing this depends on your distro, but it seems they have to be at least version 8.7 or 8.8
2. run aticonfig --initial (you may add the "-f" switch in the end)
3. open your xorg.conf (in most cases it is located in /etc/X11/xorg.conf) with your favourite text editor. Mine is nano.
4. find the Section "Module" and comment out the lines which concern loading GLX and DRI. The proprietary fglrx (catalyst) driver has it's own modules, which have to be used rather than those.
5. find the Section "DRI" and comment (or even delete) everything out. That's right, from the Section "DRI" to EndSection, everything must disappear from your xorg.conf as if it was never there. The Section "DRI" was once pointed out by the Compiz Fusion team as necessary for running it under ATI graphics card with proprietary drivers (I don't know about the others, sorry), but this is not needed any longer. It's existence doesn't produce any problems with Compiz Fusion, but WINE hates it, as of Catalyst 8.5 (or 8.4, don't quite remember anymore).

That's it. You may restart your computer (I believe you should do so right now, since restarting X isn't completely stable yet) and check your favourite WINE application. It should work.

Cheerz =]

Tuesday, 26 August 2008

ATI (AMD) Catalyst 8.8 - Linux version

Dear ATI Radeon owners (like myself) and (exclusive and) Linux users, if you haven't heard yet, the new ATI Catalyst 8.8 is out.
This is actually good news, I've been using it for a few days now, and, now that's in the Arch repository, installed the "official" version. This one fixed even more stuff (probably compiled by someone with more skill in CFLAGS than me, lol), and actually works better than the 8.7 version. However, this is unfortunately far from a perfectly working driver, but the sheer rate at which the driver is developed (together with the bugfixes and new features) since AMD bought ATI is, to be honest, if not amazing, at least hopegiving. Perhaps there's still future for ATI on Linux.

So, to sum up the stuff, here's what I've noticed:

the good stuff:
  • a slight performance increase (glxgears on my Mobility Radeon 9700 now show an average of 2900 FPS, while 8.7 was at about 2600)
  • some stability fixes (I can finally restart X without the complete system getting phrozen
  • scrolling in Firefox under Compiz still requires a Strength check, but now the DC is lower :D (essentially, it's a bit more responsive, but still far from working perfectly)
  • playing movies in VLC with the OpenGL or XVideo output has less (almost none) flickering and blinking

...and the bad stuff:
  • playing movies with the OpenGL or XVideo output still has some issues when playing fullscreen
  • WINE still has that goddamn Checkerboard of Doom. Apparently there's a workaround somewhere, but I either simply lack the skill to make it work, or I use the wrong distro for that (the one workaround I found on the Internet was by dscharrer on Phoronix forums, but that's for Gentoo).
...that's as much as I've figured from a few days of use, and trying the stuff I need.
Personally, the Checkerboard of Doom is something that bugs me the most. I'd rather have totaly useless Windows with the new Catalyst than have that bloody display corruption in WINE.
If there's a good soul reading this and aware of ANY workaround, please do let me know.

That's that from me... cheerz =]

Monday, 18 August 2008

Do NOT use Linux

I've been hearing a lot of people trying to find something to replace Windows, especially Vista, and thinking of turning over to Linux.

I have an advice for you: do not use Linux. Linux is bad, for more than one reason.

First of all, Linux does not work. You may hear people using Slackware, Debian, Gentoo or Ubuntu claiming that everything works - they have all the drivers, nothing will crash, and mostly everything will work out-of-the box. In essence, just insert the Ubuntu or Mandriva install CD into your computer, install the system and you're off.


Once you install Linux, you will find that most of your important hardware does not work. Your wireless card has a 75% chance it won't work, your 56k modem has a 99% chance it won't work, and a graphics card, if it's ATI, will not work at all.

Not only that - there's more! Once you install Linux, you will find that all your precious data is gone. Deleted. No more. The hard disk will be formatted, and if you didn't backup your data, you may forget about it. Moreover, Linux is far from complete and quality OS - in this case, this means you do not have the unformat or undelete command. Once Linux deletes something, it's gone for good, baby.

And if we're talking software - oh for crying out loud! Linux has no useful software to install, and there is no way of installing it. You won't find Microsoft Office, Internet Explorer, Windows Media Player, Winamp, Outlook Express, ICQ, MSN Messenger, uTorrent, PowerDVD, Audiograbber, Limewire, AOL, Dreamweaver, Adobe Photoshop, Cool Edit (Adobe Audition), Microsoft Visual Studio, and a lot of other programs many professional users need.
If you try and download some installer from the Internet (if you're able to connect, that is), Linux will have absolutely no idea how to start it. Setup files you download from various sites are unknown to Linux.
And if you find some Linux software somewhere (good luck with that!), there's a great chance you won't be able to install it. It will complain about dependencies, arhitecture, and a bunch of other bull you won't be able to cope with.

Some users claim that there are no viruses or spyware that can do something to Linux. Of course there aren't! First of all, in most cases you can't even connect to the Internet! This means no web surfing, no e-mail, no porn, no illegal downloads, and essentially - if there even was a virus or spyware for Linux, there's no way for you to even get it. And even if you connect to the Internet, you won't find any virus, because you're one in a million - who would bother to write some virus or spyware just for you?
And once we've mentioned viruses, I have to mention one of the previously most common ways to get them - games. That's right. There are no games for Linux. Sorry, gamers, but this is the harsh truth. Ok, there are a few simple games, such as Tetris/Solitaire/Minesweeper clones or ripoffs, but that's all. Games like Quake, Warcraft, Neverwinter Nights and other modern-era eyecandy are simply a no-go. Linux doesn't even have DirectX, so those games will probably never work. Your new 3D accelerator card and your 5.1 sound system will be rendered useless once you install Linux.

Oh, and when we've mentioned the 3D acceleration - have you seen the way Vista utilizes your new graphic cards? Well, have you seen what Linux does with it?
Nothing. Absolutely nothing.
Linux looks exactly the same as Windows 98, with one difference - icons and fonts are bigger. Which means less detail, and uglier.

I could go on for days like this. But I believe this should be enough for anyone.

And if you're still reading, you may read this as well. No, I am not a troll. No, I am not a Windows/Mac/Sun zealot.

The stuff I've written here is a collection of bull that I've heard from many people who tried Linux and expected it to be something even remotely comparable to Windows or Mac OS. However, the collection is far from complete. Even I can't remember all the stupidity people are capable of thinking and saying.

I'm using Arch Linux and I'm very happy with it. It's free, and it has all the software I need. It isn't Windows software, but it works just as well, some even better. You'll be able to make everything run in a week at most. And while you're doing that, you'll learn a lot about how your computer actually works. Once you do that, your next Linux install will be one afternoon at it's worst. You are free of viruses, malware, spyware, badware and all that, as long as you don't give them root (administrator) rights. And what's best - it is free. Not because it is worth nothing, but because it is developed by serious, mature developers whose main goal is to solve problems, and not to make money by selling you something every two years, with no actual change in functionality.

Yes, Linux does not work. If you don't utilize some of your muscle. Like the one between your ears. If you do, it will purr like a kitteh ;)

Saturday, 16 August 2008

D&D 3e/3.5 (Neverwinter Nights, Icewind Dale 2, Temple of Elemental Evil) tips, part 2

In this post I tried to explain some stuff you should know if you're trying to play a D&D (Dungeons & Dragons) based game, especially the PC games such as Neverwinter Nights, Neverwinter Nights 2, Icewind Dale 2 or Temple of Elemental Evil.

Here I will try to explain some stuff further.

First of all I said you should have two warriors, one rogue, one or two arcane spellcasters and at least one priest (preferrably cleric if it's only one, because of his healing and undead turning abilities). But, this fills up your party maximum of 6 characters, which has several bad (some would even say nasty) side-effects.

The most important bad side-effects are the following.
First, you'll get the least experience points and you will progress in levels very, very slowly. This is bad. My personal experience has shown me that a party of four level 5 characters is way stronger than a party of six level 4 characters. Especially if there are spellcasters involved.
Secondly, you won't have any space left for mercenaries. I don't find this to be a very big problem, but some of my friends like to occasionally hire a mercenary that's a few levels above their party, in order to get past some nasty encounter more easily. The choice is yours.

The solution is balancing some stuff in your party.

Let's look, for example at the rogue. Don't feel like investing in one? It depends on the way you play. Rogues can do only one thing nobody else can - sneak attack. You can use your rogue to scout ahead, and when he finds some nasty enemies he can considerably lower the life force of one of them (say, that wizard who always casts a fireball or horror on your party) and then run for help. This gives your party a considerable advantage - first, you know what to expect, and second, your rogue has caused a lot of damage (and sometimes even killed) someone problematic.
Now, if that's not your cup of tea, you may sacrifice that one in favour of a free character slot. If you do that, you'll have one character less in your party, and will thus get more experience points.
If you do that, be sure to have someone to detect traps for you. You can have your tank (a dwarf fighter, for example) go forward and spring all the possible traps. And lose a lot of health. This may cost you a lot of extra healing, and sometimes maybe even the fighter himself. A better solution could be the "detect traps" spell from your priest. And your ranger can go scout ahead, if you give him the "hide" and "move silently" skills. Or you can just wait and let the monsters surprise you. Your call.
Another choice could be the rogue/wizard multiclass character. This is a very efficient multiclass, since both rogues and wizards have the same primary abilities, DEX and INT. Some of my friends have driven this combination to the point of imbalance. However, know that your rogue/wizard will never have the best spells or the best rogue abilities. This is a tradeoff.
And another idea - try a monk. Monks also have the stealth skills, and their unarmed attacks are all but a thing to overlook. In Icewind Dale 2, there is a monk subclass which can be multiclassed with a rogue, and that may be interesting for players who like the ninja-like classes. And the above mentioned sneak attack in combination with the monk's Ki strike or a stunning attack is very, very convenient in getting rid of a single, pesky enemy.
Tip: when sneak attacking, aim for the arcane spellcasters first. They have the least hitpoints and are most likely to die. Moreover, the enemy party's arcane spellcasting abilities will be severely crippled, which should make your party very, very happy.

The second class type to look at are the warrior classes.
I've mentioned the ranger earlier as a stealth unit, and he's equally valuable as an archer. And as a close-combat warrior as well, with his dual wield. You may try and multiclass it with rogue, for an extra sneak attack, or with barbarian, for some raging abilities.
And when we're talking barbarians, you may try multiclassing those with priest classes. A barbarian/cleric is a deadly combination. You'll sacrifice a few rages per day and a few hit points and a very, very little attack bonus, but you'll get a set of supportive and healing spells, perhaps an offensive spell or two. Send a character like this in front, let him take the first damage, heal himself afterwards, cast a few boost spells on himself, and then start raging. By the time the rest of your party will arrive, at least one opponent will be either dead or overextended. Or running.
Another interesting combination is a fighter/wizard, or a paladin/sorcerer (even better, but know that once you take a level of sorcerer you won't be able to progress as a paladin anymore). Proficiency with martial weapons, some arcane spells, and the worst thing that will happen will be the loss of your trusty armor. No matter though, you can always cast "mage armor" or "shield" on yourself.
Tip: when multiclassing a warrior with a spellcasting class, stay away from offensive spells as much as possible. The first reason is redundancy - you don't need a magic missile or a fireball, when your trusty sword/hammer/mace/axe does the same thing. The second reason is your caster level and your spell saving throws - you just won't make a high enough spell save DC for your opponents, and they will all save. You'll spend a fireball, everyone will save and take just half the damage, while your power attack + cleave + great cleave could have killed them all by that time. Your better bets could be Bull's Strength, True Strike, Invisibility, Barkskin, Aid, Magic Weapon and so on.

Finally, I'll cover priests and mages together. This is because I firstly want to tell you about the priest/mage multiclass. As with above, if you do that, stick to supportive spells which will make your party stronger. And keep in mind that this will be all your character can do. He will suck in close combat because of his low hit points, and will suck in ranged combat because of low attack bonuses and proficiency with not-so-good ranged weapons. So, you should probably reconsider this one.
Secondly, and I cannot emphasize this enough, and I see not many people take this advice - you can never have too many priests. I've once played ToEE with a 4-character party which had only priests - one cleric/barbarian, one cleric (with a War domain, which made him excel in close combat), one druid and one cleric/rogue. No mages. And guess what. There was no single encounter in the entire game (provided I always took the path of monsters that were roughly my level) that my party didn't literally wade like a steamroller. My four priests had hit points like buffalos, their fortitude and will saves made them technically immune to almost any magical attack, and the heavy armours they wore (except for the cleric/rogue, which was in most cases unseen, anyway) absorbed about 2/3 of the attacks. And they were four, so the experience I got was about 33% higher than it would be with 6 characters.
On the other hand, a 4-mage party will have a very hard time surviving until you reach level 5. After that, a similar, but quite a bit more subtle, devastation occured.

To conclude this part - try multiclassing, experiment, don't put in your party something that you won't use, and have a lot of priests.

Hope I help someone with this. Cheerz =]

D&D 3e/3.5 (Neverwinter Nights, Icewind Dale 2, Temple of Elemental Evil) tips, part 1

So, you're getting your player characters killed on and on? Don't have the general idea how to create a character/party which can get past that bad dragon or a gang of orcs?
Read on...

Maybe nobody has the social environment like me, but here I'm still surrounded by AD&D fans who found it very difficult to adapt to the rules of Dungeons & Dragons 3e and 3.5e and found it more "unbalanced" "hack-and-slashy" and so on. The truth is, you can't compare those two. AD&D Second Edition is, in technical terms, more roleplaying-based and less number-burdened than 3e. Moreover, there is a different race/class/multiclass system (some race/class/multiclass combinations are not allowed by the main rules), and many classes have their rules changed.

Even nowdays I still have a lot of friends who ask me even for a Baldur's Gate 2 party with greatest potential, and look at me strangely when I say "three fighters, two priests, two mages and at least one thief", and saying "but that's nine characters and I'm only allowed six at most!" So, what gives?
Nothing, actually. One simply has to have in mind that in Baldur's Gate the half-elf Jaheirra counts as both a priest and a fighter (since she's a fighter/druid), and a paladin does as well (since a paladin is a mixture of a warrior and a priest) - they both have healing spells, proficiency with a wide variety of weapons, good attack rolls, and a lot of hit points. Also, in BG2 a mage/thief counts as both, regardless of whether (s)he's multiclass or dual-class.
Now in D&D 3e, things are changed. A level 10 multiclass fighter/druid does not have all the hitpoints, saves, spells, skills and feats of a level 10 fighter and a level 10 druid. These 10 levels are divided, ex. 5 levels of a fighter class and 5 levels of a druid class. The level ratio needn't be 5/5, it may be 6/4, 7/3, or even 8/2 or 9/1.

Having this in mind, you should probably forget about your typical Baldur's Gate/Icewind Dale party winnig in Icewind Dale 2. A Priest, Druid or a Sorcerer with Intelligence or Charisma 3 just won't do, the same way as a fighter/mage won't have all the levels of a fighter and all the levels of a mage.

So, what to do, apart from reading the rulebooks?

First of all, let me introduce you to a few simple rules in your character creation.

Rule no. 1 is that you should designate your primary and secondary stat (ability), and put the highest rolls in those. Not only that, but every class has at least one unimportant (or, better to say, least important) stat in which you should set the lowest score. This should never be insanely low, such as 3, for example, since most of abilities affect your saving throws, skill points, skill bonuses, bonus spells, hit points, armor class and so on. So, let's see the numbers.
In this list I will list the class name first, than the primary ability second, secondary ability third, and the least important ability in the end. Try to get an 18 in the primary ability, and at least 15-16 in the secondary. If you're in a standard point-buy system like in Neverwinter Nights, 16/14 is also ok. On the other hand, if you're playing Temple of Elemental Evil, keep rerolling until you get something decent. Especially in ToEE, because once you start playing, the game - for some reason - gives you a set of loaded dice which will give you a catastrophe of d20 rolls. It took me more than eight (yes, 8) hours of playing before I got my first critical hit. And there was a decent number of critical failures behind me already.

Barbarian - Str (most important), Con, Cha (least important)
Bard - Cha, Dex, Wis
Cleric - Wis, Cha, Dex
Druid - Wis, Cha, Dex
Fighter - Str, Con, Cha
Monk - Wis, Dex, Cha
Paladin - Str, Cha, Dex
Ranger - Dex, Wis, Cha
Rogue - Dex, Int, Str
Sorcerer - Cha, Dex, Str
Wizard - Int, Dex, Str

Rule no. 2 - don't overdo with the arcane spellcasters. One wizard or Sorcerer, and at most both a Wizard and a Sorcerer (but never two of the same). Rounding your each turn up with one or two flashy-glittery-eyecandish arcane spell at party levels 5 and above should be more than enough. And apart from spellcasting, those guys are practically useless. That's good, since the arcane spellcasting does count for a lot.

Rule no. 3 - at least two combat-based classes, each one focusing to different weapons. Ex. a paladin focusing to longswords and a fighter focusing to axes. A third warrior, such a monk or a warpriest, may come handy.

Rule no. 4 - one rogue (a thief from AD&D). No more, no less. Scouting, trap disarming and lockpicking - that's all covered by one character. Two are redundant, none means surprise encounters and spending a lot of healing spells after a trap. And don't even get me started about locked chests or (even worse) doors.

Rule no. 5 - you can never have too many priests. By a priest I mean a cleric or a druid mostly, but one (and only one) paladin will also do well. Their supportive and healing spells, proficiency with simple weapons and number of hit points are priceless. They're not as tough or good with weapons as fighters, but an average encounter should be passed by using the minimum (or none) of their spellcasting ability and most of their combat abilities. And if you have a cleric, the difficulity of your encounters with undead is technically halved.

So, where does that leave you? 2x Arcane spellcaster, 2x Warrior, 1x rogue, which leaves 1 character slot for a priest.
Not much choice, huh? Well, that's a start. This kind of a party should get you going. Try it and see how far you get.

(to be continued)

Thursday, 14 August 2008

"Stumble!" 42 Sport

A friend and I just found a new Stumbleupon sport. It's quite simple, you just need to use Mozilla Firefox (Iceweasel, Gran Paradiso, Minefield, Bon Echo and similar will do as well), and install the StumbleUpon! add-on (if you haven't done so yet). You can download the add-on here.

Now that you have those two, let the fun begin. You can set up your stumbling profile as you like, it doesn't really matter. Now the sport is quite simple - you should try to find the number 42 in any form available on every page you stumble and see how long you can keep up.

We've been clicking "Stumble!" for about half an hour, and found the number 42 in various forms (4 2; 4, 2; 16:2x (which is 4:2x); and others) on 14 consecutive web pages. The 15th was a failure :(
Let's see how long you can keep up :)