I'm back + Invisible website fiasco

It's been almost a year since my "last" post here. Some *shoot* has happened to me in the last two months, but I'm not going to bother you with it here. From now on, I'll try to keep my personal drama out of this blog. I promise.

Anyway, I just want to let you know that I'm continuing to work on the ArcanumAlive and OpenArcanum project again. I did upgraded the main website, it's now a third major upgrade IIRC, and I'm currently working on a new download section and upload manager. It's already *pretty* cool, it has everything you can probably think of. I honestly never seen anything like that and I wish that something like that already existed so I did't have to code it all by myself.

Also, we had some serious problem with the website - when you entered the site/project name into any search engine, e.g. Google or Bing,  you couldn't find it in the search results. Our member Soshial pointed it out. I spent some trying to solve this problem, but without any luck, until recently. Nothing I have tried worked! The website was simply invisible for the search engines, and I thought that there was some error in the HTML code, and that the search engines can't handle it. Well, there was no error in the HTML or the server's configuration.

So last week, I have tried to use Google's Webmaster tools (for first time) and it has reported a DNS error. That was strange, because the website worked just fine and anyone were able to connect without a problem. Then I followed the given recommendations and checked the site through DNS lookup service. It has reported a lack of A records. I was aware of that, because I did deleted them on purpose.

Our website is hosted on server with a dynamic IP address, and because our domain registrant doesn't support external updates of DNS records (i.e. you have to manually change them), I had to use DDNS service + CNAME record to avoid manual update of DNS records. It worked flawlesly, except that indexing problem.

Conclusion: Search engines won't index your domain if there are no A or AAAA records.

Crypton's out.

P.S. I'm continuing to write this blog. I was attempting to post something here for several times since the last update, but I wasn't in the mood for writing. Sorry.

R.I.P.

My dog just passed away this morning, due long and exhausting fight against cancer. She was already 12 years old, yet still had so much life in her, but unfortunately she also had many health problems, and there was no hope she would get better any soon, so we had to put her to sleep. I've seen many dogs and other animals in my life, and that's why I can say that she was truly unique, clever and humane dog, and she was like a sister to me.

 

Besina

 

She is truly irreplaceable, and I'm not going to replace her, so this was my very last pet I ever had.

Rest in peace, my beloved friend... and hold on there, we will see each other again one day...

 

DxEmu - Preview

Just to remind you, DxEmu (formely DDrawEmu), is the DirectDraw/X emulator I'm currently working on. I've managed to implement the OpenGL-based renderer, and here is first preview:

 

 

DxEmu Preview

 

It's only a two screenshots of main menu, but as you can see, it's running in windowed mode, which is one of the most requested mods for fullscreen-only games, like Arcanum :) It's also possible (thru config file) to force any windowed game to run in fullscreen, and force display resolution, window geometry, etc.

 

Now I'm going to implement support for palettes, color keys and other misc stuff. Hopefully, I'll have it finished before end of this week.

 

Edit: Open those screenshots in new window, if you want to see them in full resolution.

 

A one huge "bug" in game Arcanum: Of Steamworks and Magick Obscura

As you probably already know, this game is using "standard" 256 color palettes, where every color is saved in X8R8G8B8 pixel format. What you probably also know, is that Arcanum is using DirectDraw for the rendering, and there is no support for windowed mode in Arcanum.

 

Anyway, I just found out that there are a huge design flaws regarding the color palettes and DirectDraw usage.

 

First of all, Arcanum isn't using IDirectDrawPalette interface at all, and all the color index to pixel conversions are done on CPU. This slows down whole level loading process, but that's still okay, no big deal.

 

Secondly, the game is running in 16bit fullscreen mode. Yes, you read that correctly, 16 bit color depth, not a 24bit! What does it means? It means, that 8 (or even 9 bits) are removed from every color from the color palletes in pixel format conversion, so the range of possible color shades is significantly reduced, from 16 777 216 to 65 536 (or even 32 768), thus the overall graphics quality is reduced significantly as well.

 

It's 16bit color depth, but it doesn't mean that it's R5G6B5 pixel format. The DirectDraw also supports X1R5G5G5 pixel format, and it's up to driver which pixel format it chooses for 16bit color depth.

 

Anyway, few year back, I made a mod for Arcanum, that forces the game to run in windowed mode, which was disabled in Arcanum in release version, because it wasn't finished and fully working feature.

 

What's surprising, is that when the game is running in windowed mode, there are no pixel format conversions, and game uses a full 24 bit color depth range. That's great, because it means that it's possible to force the Arcanum to run in 24 bit fullscreen mode.

 

If my time allows it, I'll fix this problem in January, and release it as .exe patch. I found this issue thanks to my DirectDraw emulator, and hopefully it will be useful for finding bugs in other games as well :)

DirectDraw vs Old Games

Have you ever tried to play any DirectDraw based game on Win7? If you haven't experienced any visual glitches or even crashes, then you're a lucky guy, because those games often don't work on newer systems (Vista+).

Call me paranoid, but it's possible that the support for DirectDraw is going to be dropped completely in near future (Win8?), and provided compatibility modes often don't work as they're supposed, so it's on us - fans of those games - to fix all the problems, so we can enjoy playing those games forever and ever.

Anyway, why I'm talking about this? Recently, a friend of mine, has recommended me a game called Wing Commander. I was aware of this game, but I never played it before. So I decided to buy this game, third episode to be exact, as I didn't liked the graphics of previous episodes (judging from the screenshots).

What was surprising is that the game is running in DosBox. After a bit of searching, I've found out that it's mainly because of DirectDraw related problems.

What I also found is a webpage, which is dedicated to fixing DirectDraw related problems in the Wing Commander series. The author of that website - Jari Komppa (AKA sol), also wrote a library as replacement for DirectDraw, to fix all the problems.

I've noticed that the guy has already abandoned the development of that library, and made source code public, and because I really liked the idea of such library, as I also know a few games that don't work properly on Win7 (e.g. Arcanum and it's WorldEd), I've decided to continue with the development.

Well, I was very enthusiastic about it, until I looked at the source code. It was really hacky for my taste, and I didn't liked a lot of design-related decisions in it (I'm really such perfectionist :)).

 

So after that, I rather decided to write my own library, which will be able not only to log all the calls, parameters and other stuff, but it will be also able to redirect all calls to original library, so it'll serve also as proxy library. Most importantly, it will be also able to emulate all the DirectDraw features.


That was the plan, but after two weeks working on it (well, in free time only), the only thing I've managed to implement is - all the DirectDraw interfaces and it's versions  (i.e. DirectDraw/Surface/Clipper/Palette - 1-7) , proxy calls and functions/methods & parameters logging. It's kinda powerful tool already, but something important is missing...

 

What's missing? the emulation part :) on which I just started working. I chose Direct3D9 for the rendering and stuff, but if I manage to make everything working, I'll also add support for OpenGL, if needed.

 

Anyway, I'm testing the library on Arcanum, and you can see the debug output here: http://pastebin.me/2582666d95f3f39b81a49edb8d00aee0

 

Kinda cool, right? I call this library DDrawEmu :)

 

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