Dithering Makes Everything Cooler: Now Even Animated

[dukope] was writing a game, Return of the Obra Dinn, with a fantastic visual style. One of the choices was to make everything in glorious one-bit color, otherwise known as black and white, and then dither it back to monochrome. You know, like they used to do on the Mac Plus.

If dithering is your aesthetic, then it makes a ton of sense to take it seriously. And it’s absolutely beautiful – check out the video below.

But what’s even more amazing is [dukope]’s attention to detail on the dithering. For instance, this post on the TIG forums details the problems and solutions when you have a dithered image that needs to also be animated. You want the dots to stay relatively constant on the object as the virtual camera pans across the scene, and that’s going to necessitate a custom algorithm. And if you think that’s cool, have a look at how the book at the center of the game is animated.

What can we say. We loved dithering before, but this post has made our love even deeper.

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Want A Break From Hardware Hacking? Try Bitburner

If you ever mention to a normal person that you’re a hacker, and they might ask you if you can do something nefarious. The media has unfortunately changed the meaning of the word so that most people think hackers are lawless computer geniuses instead of us simple folk who are probably only breaking the laws meant to prevent you from repairing your own electronics. However, if you want a break, you can fully embrace the Hollywood hacker stereotype with Bitburner. Since it is all online, you don’t even have to dig out your hoodie.

The game takes place in 2077 where, apparently, people are still using green monochrome terminals and writing JavaScript code. Who knew? The operating system is suspiciously Linux-like with commands like alias, cat, cp, kill, and the like. We were nonplussed that in 2077 they’re still using vim, but you can use nano. We always thought real hackers would be emacs users. Our machine only starts out with 8 MB of RAM, too. Good think you can virtually buy more.

We won’t quibble that cls is a synonym for clear or that you use help instead of man. It is, after all, a game. This means you don’t have to feel bad using the buy command to purchase a program on the virtual dark web, either. Hey, if you can shoot bad guys in an FPS game, why can’t you do business with fake cyber-criminals. Why should Grand Theft Auto players have all the fun?

You know how in a video game you are a much better shot and can sustain a lot more damage than you probably can in real life? The same principle applies here. Using the scan-analyze command helpfully tells you how many open ports connected computers have and how much hacking skill it will require to break in. That’d be handy in real life, we bet.

We did think it was bad form that the tutorial admonished us for not entering the commands it wanted us to. What kind of hacker wouldn’t try something else? Anyway, it’s probably a better diversion than whatever Facebook or phone game your friends are wasting time with. It probably doesn’t impart any real hacking skills, but not everything has to be useful.

If you want a game that might teach you something, try the Bash crawl adventure. Or, go write and play some BASIC games in your browser.

Electronic Catan Game Board Is Modular

Plenty of gamers around these parts require an expensive PC to play games, often spending thousands of dollars for a gaming machine. Believe it or not, though, there are entire classes of games that don’t require any electronics at all, but that doesn’t mean that they don’t benefit from the addition of some neat gadgets. This Settlers of Catan game uses custom LCD tiles with a built-in custom mesh network.

The tiles for the game board themselves are hexagonal and snap together using magnetic pogo pins in order to form a board of any size or shape. The pogo pins also allow communication for a pseudo-mesh network to operate with each tile’s built-in PCB to allow the game board to know exactly which tiles are placed where and to display the correct image on each one. Each tile contains it own RP2040 microcontroller, keeping the overall cost of each tile to a minimum.

For those regularly hosting game night, a project like this could really change the traditionally analog game’s dynamic for the better. It was mostly a project that [Colin Iuliano] built just for fun, and if he ever builds a second one he does plan on some improvements, but we’d say that it looks like a success already. For other Catan-based electronic design inspiration, take a look at this complete and non-modular electronic game board.

Amazing “Connect Fore!” Robot Challenges Your Putting Practice

We’ve just come across [Bithead]’s amazing, robotically-automated mashup of miniature golf and Connect Four, which also includes an AI opponent who pulls no punches in its drive to win. Connect Fore! celebrates Scotland — the birthplace of golf, after all — and looks absolutely fantastic.

Scotty the AI opponent uses this robotic turret to make their moves in a game of Connect Fore!

The way it works is this: players take turns putting colored balls into one of seven different holes at the far end of the table. Each hole feeds to a clear tube — visible in the middle of the table — which represent each of the columns in a game of Connect Four.

Each player attempts to stack balls in such a way that they create an unbroken line of four in their color, either horizontally, vertically, or diagonally. In a one-player game, a human player faces off against “Scotty”, the computer program that chooses its moves with intelligence and fires balls from a robotic turret.

[Bithead] started this project as a learning experience, and being such a complex project, the write-up is extensive. We really recommend reading through the whole thing if you are at all interested in what goes into making such a project work.

What’s particularly interesting is all of the ways in which things nearly worked, or needed nudging or fine adjustment. One might think that reliably getting a ball to enter a hole and roll down a PVC tube wouldn’t be a particularly finicky task, but it turns out that all kinds of things can go wrong.

Even finding the right play surface was a challenge. [Bithead]’s first purchase from Amazon was a total waste: it looked bad, smelled bad, and balls didn’t roll well on it. There are high-quality artificial turfs out there, but the good stuff gets shockingly expensive, and such a small project pretty much pigeonholes one as a nuisance customer when it comes to vendors. The challenges [Bithead] overcame serve as a reminder to keep the 80/20 rule (or Pareto principle) in mind when estimating what will get a project to the finish line.

Right under the page break below is a brief video tour of the completed table, and after that, you can watch a game in action as [Bithead] faces off against Scotty the AI. Curious about the inner workings? The last video has some build details that fill in a few blanks from the write-up.

We’ve seen an automated Chess table before, but this is an entirely other, utterly fantastic level of work.
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Make Your Own Tabletop Game Organizers With Online Tool

There is a vibrant cottage industry built around selling accessories to improve the storage and organization of tabletop games, but the more DIY-minded will definitely appreciate [Steve Genoud]’s deckinabox tool, which can create either 3D-printable designs, or ones more suited to folded paper or cardstock. Making your own organizer can be as satisfying as it is economical, and [Steve]’s tool aims to make customization simple and easy.

The tool can also generate models for folded paper or cardstock.

The interface for customizing the 3D-printable token tray, for example, begins with a simple filleted receptacle which one can split into additional regions by adding horizontal or vertical separators. The default is to split a given region down the middle, but every dimension can of course be specified.  Things like filleting of edges (for easier token scooping) and other details are all handled automatically. A handy 3D view gives a live render of the design after every change.

[Steve] has a blog post that goes into some added detail about how the tool was made, and it makes heavy use of replicad, [Steve]’s own library for generating browser-based 3D models in code. Intrigued by the idea of generating 3D models programmatically, and want to use it to make your own models? Don’t forget to also check out OpenSCAD; chances are it’s both easier to use and more capable than one might think.

Fixing A Broken Game Installer By Sheer Force Of Will

These days, we seldom purchase games on physical media. Even when buying titles from yesteryear, we usually download them from an online service. Some of these older games haven’t been properly ported to their new delivery platform, as [Slortibort] found out. Thus, it was time to dive into the game files and sort the problem out.

The game in question was the Hammers of Fate expansion pack for the base game Heroes of Might and Magic V. [Slortibort’s] partner bought it from Ubisoft, and ran the installer. However, the installer would report that it couldn’t find the original files from the base game, and fail to start.

Fixing the issue was no mean feat, requiring use of the Sexy Installshield Decompiler to dive into the guts of the installer to see what was going wrong. In the end, it came down to some registry key shenanigans, but the route of how [Slortibort] got there is well worth the read.

It’s a fine example of some of the issues around moving games to digital distribution; proper attention must be paid to do it right. Even then, there’s always the risk you’ll lose your games down the track. There are benefits, of course, but there’s always a tradeoff to be made.

DEC microVAX with tape drive

Bake It To ReMake It: Cooking Old Magnetic Tape To Recover Data

Those of us old enough may remember the heyday of the text adventure game genre from the first time around. London-based Magnetic Scrolls was an early pioneering company producing titles for the first Amiga and Atari ST platforms. Fast-forward to 2017 and [Hugh Steers], the original co-founder and core developer for Magnetic Scrolls has formed an initiative to revive and re-release the original games on modern platforms. Since the 1980s-era DEC MicroVAX used originally for development is not particularly rare in retro computing circles, and media containing source code was found in someone’s loft space, reviving the games was not a tall order.

First, he needed to recover a copy of the original source code from the backup tapes. But there was a problem, it turns out that the decaying tapes used a unstable polyurethane-based binder to stick the oxide material (which is what stores the data) to the backing tape, and this binder can absorb water over the years.

Not much happens until you try to read the tape, then you trip over the so-called sticky-shed syndrome. Secondly you may find that a small amount of the oxide layer sheds from the tape, coating the read head, rollers and guides inside the complicated tape mechanism. This quickly results in it gumming up, and jamming, potentially chewing up the tape and destroying it permanently.

This was further exacerbated by the behaviour of the DEC TK50Z tape drive, which needed to shuttle the whole length of the tape as part of its normal operation.

A temporary solution was to bake the tape in an oven to drive out the moisture and reduce the stickiness enough to run it through the drive safely. Then only the oxide-shedding problem remained. The TK50Z drive was swapped for a TZ30 which shuttles the tape less, but also critically with a simple hack, would allow the heads to be cleaned with IPA between read passes. This was enough to keep the gumming up at bay and allow enough data to be read from the tapes to recover several games worth of code, ready for the re-releasing process.

The video after the break shows [Rob Jarratt] working through the process of the data recovery.

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