Saturday, January 15, 2011

Head Mounted Displays, Head Trackers, and Morrowind

Many of my friends share my love for Morrowind, and one of those friends showed me a site full of "future-esque" tech (though the site was quite paradoxically poorly designed).

Head mounted displays are quite novel, but coupled with a head-tracking device, one could be transformed into the most immersive setup for 1st person games like Morrowind. This is hardly breaking news, I know. After checking out some of the mind blowing tech on the site, however, we had to know if anyone else was thinking the way we were in terms of HMDs, head trackers, and MW. Amazingly, someone with access to all of this tech had put an awesome video up on youtube to demonstrate.

I have to say, I'd prefer to play sitting, and would probably continue to use KB+M or 360 controller for basic movement. The head tracking would simply be for the sake of immersion, not to be used as the main turning input. A higher resolution HMD would of course be preferable as well (seems to me he's running the game at x480), but even with this guy's budget pair of goggles, his setup is enviable. No idea why he doesn't use noglow, though.

OpenMW development enters a "new age"

If you've been playing Bethesda games for very long, one of the things that is bound to get on your nerves is the game engines. Indeed, even Bethesda's most recent games (the Fallouts) run on what is essentially a reworking of Netimmerse (the Morrowind Engine) called Gamebryo that seems to be held together by spent chewing gum and paperclips. CTDs and wonky physics have become hallmarks for Bethesda games, we can only hope that the latest evolution of the engine, developed for Skyrim, called Netbryo, will lay to rest some of the unsightly and frustrating issues inherent in the last two.

The overhaul of Bethesda's engine is great news for Skyrim and any future Fallout games, but it does nothing at all for our Morrowind experience - we're stuck in the past, with Netimmerse. No real physics, no advanced AI (like Oblivion's Radiant AI), and enhanced graphics only thanks to a graphics extender that is by necessity implemented in a ludicrously inefficient way (and be sure, this is no fault of the MGE devs).

It's not all doom and gloom for the future of Morrowind, friends. In a few years from now, we'll be playing Morrowind with an in-game map the size of the entire province (thanks to Tamriel Rebuilt) or more (thanks to projects like Skyrim: Home of the Nords and Cyrodil: the Imperial Province). What's more, there is a good chance we'll have the choice of one or two complete engine rewrites to choose from.

The oldest of the two projects still being actively developed is called OpenMW. It's written in C++ and uses many high quality open source game development tools. Because the tools they are using are cross platform and open source, when OpenMW is complete it will be available on Windows, Linux, and possibly even Max OS. It will very likely be more stable than Morrowind, it will be possible to update the NPC AI, physics, and it will offer the opportunity for modders to change aspects of the game that cannot be done with the Construction Set - particularly hardcoded gameplay mechanics like skills and combat. On top of that, the modern graphics currently afforded by MGE could be properly implemented into the engine itself rather than through tricking the game with modified .dlls the way the Graphics Extender does. Finally, multiplayer is a strong possibility for OpenMW.

OpenMW aims to be 100% compatible with all of Morrowind's resources, which means that current mods and replacers should work with it. OpenMW will use your existing Morrowind install.

Here's a video demonstrating the current state of the project. Technically speaking, it's very impressive how far they have come. As of the time of this posting, the video is only a few days old.

I encourage you to check out their official site as well as their thread on the Bethsoft forums.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Special Notes on MGE XE


You can find my notes and instructions regarding MGE XE here at the new site.
The Morrowind Modding guide is here, and you can pose questions and comments over on our forums.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Guides, guides, guides

My intentions going forward with this blog: for one thing, you can expect expansions to be made upon the Morrowind guide.  It will continue to stay up-to-date as the most comprehensive source on the best enhancers and replacers available to Morrowind.  It's because I'm as interested in it as you are, dear reader, and I don't mind passing the information along.

Second, I get this question a lot so I'm just going to answer it here: Yes, I am planning to do an Oblivion guide.  Soon.  Very soon.  It will get it's own page on this blog, even!  Besides that (and no promises) I may end up doing a guide for the Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time texture/shader enhancements (which I have done for /v/ before) and maybe the other Gamebryo games (Fallout 3 and NV).

What else, what else... Morrowind Mod Packs are all the rage thanks in part to the Morrowind2011 backlash.  It's a rule of the internet, we've all learned so long ago, that whenever someone tries to stop a file from getting around, the file actually gets around faster.  Celebrity nudes, leaked games, movies, music and now... Morrowind mods.  This has generated quite a bit of hype for Morrowind2011, a mod pack which I can tell you honestly is not up to date or as quality.  It's unfortunate that so many people have decided to install Morrowind2011 in the wake of this hype, though of course it's always a good thing when more people are playing a fantastic game.

And then, of course, there is Brorrowind.  It's based heavily on my guide, it's pro as fuck and it's bound to piss a ton of people off.  I won't say I condone this behavior, I don't.  But if you're going to download a mod pack that pisses off a ton of people because the author didn't ask for permissions, if you can't be arsed to sit through my guide, download Brorrowind.  The author made some picks against some of mine that make his pack fundamentally different (like Vurt's Trees instead of Vality's) and he has left out some mods I think are essential (like Delayed DB attacks) but his pack is still good, your results with his pack should be very similar to my screens.

There are two problems with Brorrowind as beautiful as it is.  One I have already addressed: He didn't ask for permissions.  The other is a bit more subtle: because it's distribution is not centralized and because it is a pack and not a guide, it is very hard to keep everyone using that pack hip to the latest improvements coming out of the community.  When MGE updates, that won't be easily reflected in Brorrowind.  When Tamriel Rebuild finally comes out with their next release (and they will!) that won't be reflected in Brorrowind.

These problems are really one in the same.  If he'd have gotten permissions, he'd be able to keep the package updated and he'd be able to take the old link down when there was a new link available (because he wouldn't have to be anonymous and decentralized) instead of just tossing it out into the community and hoping everyone starts referring the updated.  So my plan is, very simply, to ask for permissions of every mod author I have referred to in my guide.  Then, when I have every last permission, I will create a very very simple installer that will do 99% of the work for you.  And when the package get's updated, it will be reflected in the guide (which current users will be able to update with modularly as if they'd followed the guide in the first place) and in the link of the installer.

In summary: More Morrowind updates, Oblivion guide coming soon, and hopefully an installer for the Morrowind updates when I get permissions.


The Difference Between HD and SD for dummies

It is difficult for some people to wrap their head around the notion of resolution, particularly when rendering 3D graphics. Most people think smaller resolutions make things “bigger” on their display because of the way setting lower resolutions works with your OS (lower resolutions appears to make your icons larger). This idea is incredibly misleading.

To accurately describe how resolution works and what the difference between 480p and 1080p is, lets imagine a painting drawn on a large canvas. It is immaculately detailed, you can see very small blades of grass bending under the foot of the subject of the painting, you can see the freckles on his nose. It looks great. Someone buys the painting and hangs it in his bedroom above his bed, but he’d like a smaller copy to put on a display in his livingroom, so he has the copy scanned and re-printed on a much smaller canvas.

Not long after, disaster strikes and he loses the original painting, but manages to keep the smaller copy he’s made. He wants the large painting in his room again, so he has the smaller painting scanned and printed on a larger canvas. But let’s think about it: when the painting was shrunk, it didn’t have as much space for as much detail, so now that he’s blown it up again he can see the subject of the painting no longer has freckles, and the blades of grass have become very thin wispy lines under the subject’s foot. Much of the detail is lost when you try to stretch a smaller copy across the same area as the original because the smaller copy doesn’t have enough canvas to accurately convey the information of the freckles and the blades of grass. There just isn’t enough room.

Here are two screens. One is Twilight Princess as it would appear playing through a wii, as if I have ripped it directly from a 1080p display. The image is blown up to the displays native resolution, but it is clear that the console is running it at a much lower pixel count. The second screen is Twilight Princess as it appeals in true 1080p running through an emulator on a computer: you can see that the image is much less blocky, and the edges of objects are much cleaner because the game has more pixels to draw to. I recommend you open these two up in a separate tab, “zoom” them so they are bigger than your computer’s resolution, and then swap between the two tabs to get the full effect of the difference. This is important to do because the blog shrinks them to fit to the page, which makes it impossible to see the what I am talking about.

To drive the point home, here is what the game looks like ripped directly from the wii’s buffer. You can see that this screen is much smaller than the other two, and you can see that trying to stretch this screen out would result in the first screen I showed you:

Stay fresh,