UEVR Project Converts Games To VR, Whether They Like It Or Not

UEVR, or the Universal Unreal Engine VR Mod by [praydog] is made possible by some pretty neat software tricks. Reverse engineering concepts and advanced techniques used in game hacking are leveraged to add VR support, including motion controls, to applicable Unreal Engine games.

The UEVR project is a real-world application of various ideas and concepts, and the results are impressive. One can easily not only make a game render in VR, but it also handles managing the player’s perspective (there are options for attaching the camera view to game objects, for example) and also sensibly maps inputs from VR controllers to whatever the game is expecting. This isn’t the first piece of software that attempts to convert flatscreen software to VR, but it’s by far the most impressive.

There is an in-depth discussion of the techniques used to sensibly and effectively locate and manipulate game elements, not for nefarious purposes, but to enable impressive on-demand VR mods in a semi-automated manner. (Although naturally, some anti-cheat software considers this to be nefarious.)

Many of the most interesting innovations in VR rely on some form of modding, from magic in Skyrim that depends on your actual state of mind to adding DIY eye tracking to headsets in a surprisingly effective, modular, and low-cost way. As usual, to find cutting-edge experimentation, look to the modding community.

Minecraft Finally Gets Multi-Threaded Servers

Minecraft servers are famously single-threaded and those who host servers for large player bases often pay handsomely for a server that has gobs of memory and ripping fast single-core performance. Previous attempts to break Minecraft into separate threads haven’t ended successfully, but it seems like the folks over at [PaperMC] have finally cracked it with Folia.

Minecraft is one of (if not the most) hacked and modded games in history. Mods have been around since the early days, made possible by a dedicated group who painstakingly decompiled the Java bytecode and reverse-engineered it. Bukkit was a server mod back in the Alpha days that tried to support plugins and extend the default Minecraft. From Bukkit, Spitgot was forked. From Spitgot, Paper was forked, which focused on performance and gameplay mechanics. And now from Paper, Folia is a new fork focused on multi-threading.

A Minecraft world is split up into worlds (such as the nether or the overworld) and chunks. Chunks are 16x16xZ vertical columns of blocks. Folia breaks up sections of chunks into regions that can be ticked independently. Of course, moving to a multi-threaded model will cause existing plugins to fail. Very little was made thread-safe and the idea is that data cannot move easily across ticking regions. Regions tick in parallel, not synchronously.

Naturally, the people benefiting from Folia the most are those running servers that support hundreds of players. On a server with a vanilla-like configuration only around a hundred or so players can be online. Increasing single-core performance isn’t usually an option past this point. By moving to other cores, suddenly you can scale out significantly without restoring to complex proxying. Previous attempts have had multiple Minecraft servers and then synced players and entities between them. Of course, this can cause its own share of issues.

It’s simply incredible to us what the modding community continues to develop and create. It takes deep patience to reverse-engineer the system and rearchitect it from the outside. The Folia codebase is available on GitHub under a GNU GPL 3.0 license if you’d like to look through it.

With ChatGPT, Game NPCs Get A Lot More Interesting

Not only is AI-driven natural language processing a thing now, but you can even select from a number of different offerings, each optimized for different tasks. It took very little time for [Bloc] to mod a computer game to allow the player to converse naturally with non-player characters (NPCs) by hooking it into ChatGPT, a large language model AI optimized for conversational communication.

If you can look past the painfully-long loading times, even buying grain (7:36) gains a new layer of interactivity.

[Bloc] modified the game Mount & Blade II: Bannerlord to reject traditional dialogue trees and instead accept free-form text inputs, using ChatGPT on the back end to create more natural dialogue interactions with NPCs. This is a refinement of an earlier mod [Bloc] made and shared, so what you see in the video below is quite a bit more than a proof of concept. The NPCs communicate as though they are aware of surrounding events and conditions in the game world, are generally less forthcoming when talking to strangers, and the new system can interact with game mechanics and elements such as money, quests, and hirelings.

Starting around 1:08 into the video, [Bloc] talks to a peasant about some bandits harassing the community, and from there demonstrates hiring some locals and haggling over prices before heading out to deal with the bandits.

The downside is that ChatGPT is currently amazingly popular. As a result, [Bloc]’s mod is stuck using an overloaded service which means some painfully-long load times between each exchange. But if you can look past that, it’s a pretty fascinating demonstration of what’s possible by gluing two systems together with a mod and some clever coding.

Take a few minutes to check out the video, embedded below. And if you’re more of a tabletop gamer? Let us remind you that it might be fun to try replacing your DM with ChatGPT.

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Softmod An Xbox, And Run Your Own Software

The original Xbox might be old hardware, but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth messing with. Wonder what it takes to softmod an original Xbox? Modding is essentially jailbreaking, and softmodding is doing it using an entirely software-driven process, with no need to crack open the case or mess with electronics.

Don’t let that fool you into thinking the process requires nothing more than pressing a button; it’s actually quite involved, but more accessible now that [ezContents] has published a comprehensive walkthrough for softmodding an original Xbox, complete with loads of screenshots and photos.

The process uses a softmodding tool but that’s only the first step. Making the magic happen comes from installing a carefully crafted save file to the console, booting with an exploited game disk, and then installing software that the manufacturer doesn’t want on the hardware, via a process that the manufacturer doesn’t want to happen. Considering that, it’s expected to have to jump through a few hoops.

Now that your original Xbox is freed from its shackles without having to crack open the case, maybe crack it open anyway and check it for leaking caps and internal RTC batteries before it dies a corrosive death.

Casio F-91W, Going Dark

The Casio F-91W is easily one of the most iconic and popular watches worldwide. But what’s cool about having the same exact thing as millions of other people? Not much, unless of course you modify it to make it your own. That’s exactly what [Gautchh] did to their beloved watch. Between permanent dark mode, stereo blue LED backlights, and a new strap, this timepiece really stands out from the crowd.

Once [Gautchh] got the watch open, the first order of business was to re-polarize the LCD with a different film so the digits are light and the background is dark. This watch ships with a single green backlight LED that’s fairly faint, so [Gautchh] upgraded it to bright blue and added a second 1206 LED in parallel on the other side of the readout. Finally, they replaced the rubber strap with something less likely to chafe.

We think dark mode looks great, though [Gautchh] says it requires a little bit of training to hold your wrist just right to make it readable. They make these mods look easy, but they likely aren’t for the faint of heart. If you want to give it a shot, there are good step-by-step instructions and several pictures to help out.

We’ve seen a lot of Casio F-91W projects over the years, including a method for waterproofing the internals. If you have a lot of love for this watch, why not make a giant version?

GTA V Mod Shows (And Cheats) Those Stunt Jump Hoops

While the recent announcement of Grand Theft Auto V for the upcoming next-generation game consoles was a disappointment for those fervently waiting for a successor in the infamous video game series, it shows that after almost seven years of its initial release, the epic title is still going strong — and rightfully so. But a game as varied and complex as GTA V isn’t without some quirks, especially if you’re going for 100% completeness.

The stunt jumps seem a particular pesky nut to crack here, so [Anthony Som] made it his mission to shed some light on what qualifies as a successful jump by reverse engineering the system and writing both a mod for displaying the landing zone and a cheat to instant success.

If you’re not familiar with the game, its vast open world map features a variety of side quests, one of them being stunt jumps, where certain locations allow you to launch the vehicle you’re driving into the air in hopes to land on an adjacent road or area — whether to evade the people chasing you, or just for fun. There’s no telling how to actually succeed though, the game just tells you if you did or not afterwards, causing some degree of frustration. As an avid speedrunner (as in finishing a game in the shortest possible time), [Anthony] was looking for a way to increase the success rate for those stunt jumps, and decided to dig into the code to find out how to get there. Of course, being a proprietary game, he had to resort to reverse engineering and utilizing GTA’s vivid modding scene to do so.

His initial outcome was a mod that displays the launch and landing area as rectangles inside the game itself, which was a great help. But well, after already getting that far, [Anthony] figured he might as well continue and add a cheat mode to teleport the car right inside that expected landing area and be done with second-guessing his attempts once and for all.

If you’re curious about modding GTA yourself, his write-up has a few good pointers for that, and of course features some real examples of it. Whether this is a good idea for the self-driving AI that uses GTA as learning environment is probably a different story though.

Want To Support Hacker-friendly Hardware Design? Follow Valve’s Example

It’s been just over a year since Valve released Index, their flagship VR system, and it’s worth looking back at this GitHub repository as a fine example of how to provide supporting materials to a hacker-friendly hardware design. The image above shows off one of the hacker-friendly design elements: an empty space behind the visor, with a USB port off to the right, that exists for no reason other than to make it easier to mount and plug in whatever one might come up with. There’s more to it than that, however. If one wishes to provide supporting materials for a hardware design, one could certainly do worse than emulate Valve’s example.

The violet 3D model shows the area that modifications can occupy without getting in the way of any sensors.

The hardware repository contains not just CAD models of mod-friendly hardware pieces (both in high-resolution STEP models as well as STL files) but also 3D models of the sensor zones, so modders can ensure they avoid occluding any sensors with their creations. Examples are great, and one provided by Valve is the Booster; a hand controller add-on providing extra comfort for people with large hands or long thumbs. The model also doubles as a reference for designing attachments that will not interfere with any of the tracking or touch-sensitive surfaces of the controllers.

Being hacker-friendly doesn’t mean the hardware has no warranty, but it does mean that there is concrete guidance on what does or doesn’t risk voiding it. In the case of the Index hardware, the guidance is simple: “Anything that requires a T5 or smaller is not user serviceable.”

To us, the whole attitude of being hacker-friendly is exemplified by a statement about the headstrap, found about half-way down the page. The words “removing the headstrap is not recommended” are followed immediately by clear directions on how to do exactly that, demonstrating the kind of trust necessary to reduce barriers for add-ons and modifications. That is a great way to help foster experimentation, like this project for 1:1 mapping of physical elements to their VR counterparts, to make awesome spaceship cockpits.