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A Glimpse of the Action at Community Event #11

A Glimpse of the Action at Community Event #11

This past weekend was community event week #11 in the No Man’s Sky universe and, as you might expect, I portalled in and took part. I enjoy the sort of mayhem that these weekend events bring, and was worried that the action I’ve been seeing during my typical, late-Sunday arrivals (as the event timer is nearly spent) would be absent during this earlier, mid-day Saturday partaking. Happily that wasn’t the case.

Stepping out of the portal and hopping over to the event site, I saw players chasing players, sentinels chasing players, walkers melting players, and raging, horned lizard-beasts that seemed pissed off at the whole affair. And, of course, player bases peppered the planet. I captured a little bit of the action while I was there.

See you out there next weekend, travelers.

A Walk Through the “No Man’s Sky” Redemption Story

A Walk Through the “No Man’s Sky” Redemption Story

A wonderful video has just been posted by Internet Historian that I very much wanted to share with readers. Entitled The Engoodening of No Man’s Sky, and at nearly an hour in length, the piece is Internet Historian’s take on what he calls the “No Man’s Sky redemption story.” 

I have repeatedly shared my strong opinion that No Man’s Sky had little room for “engoodening” just as it was at launch, which was, indeed, a minority — but not solitary — opinion. That being the case, there is much that I love about this video and the embattled journey that it details.

The narrator underscores the fact that the approach Hello Games has taken over the years since the game’s launch, in working their way up to the game’s current Steam rating of “Very Positive,” its winning the Game of the Year 2019—Best Ongoing Game award as well as Game of the Year 2019: Best VR Experience award, stands in rather stark contrast to those sadly taken by many other contemporary titles.

“…they never added pay-to-win, they never added microtransasctions or paid DLC, they never made VR as a second game. They didn’t give up on the game or scale their resources back to do it. They didn’t come out and call gamers entitled, they didn’t have loot boxes, they didn’t start work on the next big project or sequel. They didn’t do much of anything except get back to work.

Looking back over the three and a half years since the game launched, it seems clear that the saga of No Man’s Sky is one of — if not the — most dramatic comeback stories in the history of videogames.

A Planetary Anachronism: “No Man’s Sky” Beautifully Rendered on the Amiga 1000

A Planetary Anachronism: “No Man’s Sky” Beautifully Rendered on the Amiga 1000

Blakespot's sketch of the Atlas diamond

It should be evident to anyone viewing this website that I have a bit of a vintage computer obsession. And regular readers who’ve been paying attention over the past year and a half or so likely know that my other obsession is the space exploration game No Man’s Sky. After watching an episode of The Guru Meditation (YouTube channel) the other day I got a nifty idea for combining the two and sharing the results with anyone who’d care to see.

No Man’s Sky is a game with some of the most beautiful visuals I’ve ever seen. And what’s more, those visuals render out an infinite universe made up of over 18 quintillion planets. Of all of the systems in my vintage computer collection, the Amiga stands out as having been furthest beyond the capabilities of its peers when it came to graphics rendering, among other things. The original Amiga’s 4,096 color palette seemed an infinite range of colors when compared to the 16 colors that was the typical best case scenario of the other machines of the day. And, with a clever graphics mode known as Hold-And-Modify or HAM, the Amiga could render with its full palette onscreen at once.

320x400 Amiga HAM-mode rendering of a scene from No Man's Sky

In the episode of The Guru Meditation in question, the hosts walk through converting modern, true-color images to the HAM8 mode of the late-model Amiga 1200. The results were impressive, shown on both LCD and CRT alike in the video. This inspired me to select a few of the beautiful in-game photos from the thousands I’ve taken along my No Man’s Sky journey and render them on my oldest Amiga, the original Amiga 1000 circa 1985.

The Amiga 1000 features what is known as the Original Chipset or OCS which delivers the 4,096 colors mentioned previously. The Amiga 1200, which came in 1992, introduced the Advanced Graphics Architecture or AGA chipset which expanded on the original HAM mode by introducing the new HAM8 mode capable of displaying 262,144 colors onscreen from the system’s 16.7 million-color palette, using eight bitplanes to work the magic that previously took six.

Investigating a reasonable way to convert the images, I discovered a fairly amazing Java-based application known, colorfully, as “ham_converter” which uses extremely optimized algorithms to get the most out of the Amiga’s bizarre HAM mode. The results, rendered in a 320×400 pixel interlace (and a 4:3 aspect ratio), are well beyond the quality that I recall seeing my Amiga 2000 generate with early, basic HAM converter programs, rendering MCGA images to the screen in HAM mode back in the early ’90s. In fact, they are so good that their shockingly high quality takes a bit of the “retro” out of this post; the images look a little too good! And, just to let you know this wasn’t just a click-and-drag process, the systems involved in the conversion were: a gaming PC [specs] able to run the Java app, an iMac [specs] not able to run the Java app (apparently) but also running an FTP server, an accelerated Amiga 2000 [specs] with a LAN connection and a floppy drive (and an FTP client), and the Amiga 1000 [specs] with a floppy drive, SCSI hard drives, and no LAN connection. Getting data to and fro was … involved.

After the images were converted, I moved them to the Amiga 1000’s SCSI hard disk and then spent a staggering amount of time searching for a slideshow program that would run on so early a machine, running AmigaDOS 1.3. But, I finally found one (QuickFlix from 1987) and the results can be seen in the embedded video. I felt that “going analog” and conveying the CRT experience, despite a bit of mild refresh-ghosting, got to the core of the experience better than simply throwing up a thumbnail gallery in the middle of this post. (Note that after the first pass through the slideshow showing the entire system at work, it repeats with a closer camera zoom for a better look at the images onscreen.)

I’m quite pleased with the end results (which can be downloaded here in IFF format). In developing No Man’s Sky, Hello Games have stated that they were visually going for the covers of the sci-fi novels of olde. Rendering the visuals of this modern title on the a 30+ year old Amiga platform seems something of an analog of that goal. I hope you enjoyed the show.

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A Quick and Dirty Tour of My Extreme Ice-World Base

A Quick and Dirty Tour of My Extreme Ice-World Base

Nearly six months ago I happened upon an extremely harsh winter world, unique in its near total lack of flora and fauna. It’s all ice and storms and wild ribbons of stone meandering across its frozen surface. It struck me to such a degree that I built a base and made it my home. It feels like a real survival outpost in a lonely corner of the galaxy.

I’ve decided to pick up and move to warmer climes on a mountainous, desert planet around 50,000 lightyears away, but before I do, I have taken a very quick and dirty video (camera pointed at the screen, I’m afraid) of the place to remember it by.

I’ve never really seen another world like this one.

Procedural Planetary Exploration Across the Decades

Procedural Planetary Exploration Across the Decades

Doctored 'Rescue on Fractalus' game box cover

Regular readers are surely aware that I’m rather addicted to the space exploration game No Man’s Sky by Hello Games. I recently detailed my love for the title and gave an account of the high-end gaming PC I built specifically to play No Man’s Sky to the fullest, after having fallen in love with it on the PS4. And while there are those who may look askance at me for cherishing a game that’s not in any way retro, I make no apologies! Recently, however, a particular video comparison came to mind that I believe all of my readers can get behind.

No Man’s Sky provides a universe featuring over 18 quintillion planets to explore, which is made possible by utilizing procedural generation to create the nearly infinite number of worlds. It’s not the first game that has offered up procedural planet generation, however.

In 1985 Epyx released Rescue on Fractalus by Lucasfilm Games. It is a game that puts the player in the role of rescue pilot negotiating a hostile alien landscape in search of downed comrades. What made the game special was the mountainous procedural landscape through which the player would fly. This fractal landscape may appear extremely primitive to the modern eye but they were very impressive at the time, generated by the modest 1MHz, 8-bit CPUs of the day.  I used to spend hours playing the game on my Apple IIe 30 years ago, imagining I had descended onto LV-426 in a bid to save my shipmates from the terrible fate of becoming alien host cocoons. It was pretty awesome.

Because of certain similarities between the two games and the 30+ year span of time separating them, I thought it would be interesting to set them side-by-side, so to speak, for a quick and dirty comparison. (Game maker Jeff Minter also invoked Rescue on Fractalus in his recent blog post about No Man’s Sky.)

Here I have captured a bit of gameplay of both Rescue on Fractalus and No Man’s Sky. For the former, I chose perhaps the best looking version of the game, the original Atari 8-bit release, which is running in an emulator (Altirra) on the PC. For the latter, I chose a planet in the system I am currently exploring (consisting of five planets and one moon) that features no flora or fauna to speak of, in order to present a more or less base No Man’s Sky planetary state for the comparison. (More verdant worlds are out there, however.) The elevations on the shown planet are about half as tall as the tallest I’ve seen in game. Rescue on Fractalus is being rendered in the Atari’s 160×96-pixel color graphics mode (obviously enlarged dramatically in the emulator) while No Man’s Sky is running at the 32-inch LCD’s native 1920×1080-pixels — 135 times more discrete pixels than the Atari is pushing.

What a difference three decades, on both the hardware and software front, make. Not surprisingly, bringing out Rescue on Fractalus for this video has me playing it again after all these years. Both of these games are definitely worth spending some time with.

UPDATE [11/15/2016]: I’ve just learned over at the RetroGamer mag forums that someone is working on a PC (Windows) remake of Rescue on Fractalus entitled Fractalus (video). Looks interesting — give it a whirl.