Archive for July, 2010

Alien Swarm - A Casual Gamer's Game

Posted in Blog, Gaming, Random on July 28th, 2010 by Matt – 1 Comment

Originally released as a mod for Unreal Tournament 2004, Alien Swarm has been bought, refreshed and released by Valve as a free mod for their Source Engine. Being free, there's absolutely no reason to not download this game and give it a shot. According to my Steam profile, I've managed to put in 12 hours of play into Alien Swarm since it's release 10 days ago. That's a lot for someone like me who only manages an hour or two after work. I love this game and would gladly pay for it. Let me tell you why.

The long description: Alien Swarm is a four player, co-op, online game, that's played in the top-down perspective. The goal is to travel through various levels with four companions played by other players and complete various tasks to try to rescue a colony on another planet that's been over-run by alien creatures. There are four roles to choose from that can give each player a boost in various abilities.  Included among the many abilities: shooting, explosions, hacking and healing. A large selection of weapons are available with each person carrying two to allow for some flexibility. Tactics can be discussed over the games integrated voice chat or drawn on the in-game level map, similar to football plans (though often with much more penis drawing).

The short description: Kill massive quantities of aliens with three buddies.

For a free game, the quality is outstanding. Alien Swarm can be compared to games that many other companies wouldn't flinch at charging $50 for. However, being free, there are some downfalls: There isn't a single player campaign or an offline campaign (there is an offline practice mode). You can only play with three other real people, no bots. There's only one official campaign available, but with the modding tools freely available I expect many community developed campaigns swiftly appearing.

Here's why I really love this game: The average level requires about 8 minutes to complete. That means, even if you only have about 10 minutes to spare, you can drop in, play a level and pop out. Unlike many other online games, Alien Swarm doesn't require time for you to "warm up" and get into the game. Most levels start slow and build up to a crescendo at the end.

Alien Swarm is the definition of a casual gamers game. It's the antithesis to StarCraft 2. If you know my opinion on StarCraft 2, you know that's a good thing. Where StarCraft2 is a frustrating grind that requires a significant time investment to get anywhere, Alien Swarm is a relaxing walk through fields of mindless slaughter. That's not to say Alien Swarm isn't intense. The finales to the levels are often finished on the brink of death, with much yelling and laughing over the voice chat.

Once the mod community release a few more campaigns, Alien Swarm will really hit it's stride. Go download it now if you haven't. There's no reason not to. It's the best game for its price, bar none.

Fixing Windows XP CD Playback Stuttering and Skipping

Posted in Blog, Tech, Tutorial on July 12th, 2010 by Matt – Be the first to comment

One of our users has a HP desktop that was having issues playing audio from music CDs. The audio was constantly stuttering and skipping. I tried various software playback programs all with the same result.

The solution turned out to be a setting for the CD-Rom drive. The drive was configured to use PIO mode when it should be configured to use DMA mode. Switching to DMA mode resulted in smooth audio CD playback. Here's how to change the setting:

Solving Audio CD Suttering in Windows XP

The steps:

  1. Right Click on My computer, click Manage
  2. Select Device Manager from the list on the left
  3. Expand the IDE ATA secton
  4. Right click on each IDE Channel (you may have multiple Secondaries and Primaries), click Properties
  5. Select the Advanced Settings tab
    Change the Transfer Mode to DMA if Available under each device
  6. Repeat steps 4 & 5 for each Primary and Secondary IDE Channel
  7. Reboot your computer

That should resolve the Audio CD stuttering and skipping under Windows XP.

Thinning Down FireFox 4's Tab Bar

Posted in Blog, Tech, Tutorial on July 7th, 2010 by Matt – 64 Comments

This post is now outdated, please see the update here:

If you've read my rant on window layout in a widescreen world you'd know that I dislike wasted vertical space in my window layouts.

FireFox 4 beta has just been released and they haven't solved my pet issue... that silly title bar. Just look at the wasted screen real estate:

FireFox 4's Tab Layout

However, thanks to FireFox's flexibility, the addition of a few lines to one file can solve the problem! Simply adding the following below the @namespace line:

position: fixed !important;

#navigator-toolbox[tabsontop="true"] #TabsToolbar{
padding-left: 80px !important;
padding-right: 102px !important;
padding-top: 2px !important;

padding: 3px 5px 3px 5px !important;
height: 20px !important;

To your userChrome.css file, and you now get this wonderful layout:

FireFox 4 with a better tab layout


The userChrome.css file is located in the following locations:

XP: C:\Documents and Settings\<user>\Application Data\Mozilla\Firefox\Profiles\<profile>\chrome\
Vista\7: C:\Users\<user>\AppData\Roaming\Mozilla\Firefox\Profiles\<profile>\chrome\

A note: This "fix" will look bad if you have FireFox set to not display that tab bar when you only have a single tab open. Just set FF to always show that tab bar to resolve the issue (FireFox Button > Options > Tabs > Always display tab bar).

EDIT: I changed a line in the navigation toolbox from margin-right to padding right. Using padding right gives a better look.