Sunday, March 3, 2013

Building an Arcade Cabinet

Building a Cabinet

So for my office I spent some time working a new project, related to gaming. I built a fully functional arcade cabinet using Raspberry Pi as the base.

The goal wasn't to try and fleece my co-workers (that's just a side benefit) but instead to show it could be done. Furthermore, all the collected funds will go to a local charity in December.

Selecting a Game

This turned out to be harder than I thought. Upon doing some research I found that I could not use Mame for anything that required money. Even if I could there's the whole legal issue of running a ROM, which I didn't want to deal with. Instead I went with a nice Asteroids clone I remember from the 90's. I use to play this on my Mac. Of course I'm talking about the classic, Maelstrom.

As it turns out, right before the turn of the millennium, the entire code base was open sourced. I got to finally see into the game which tormented me for so long. What I found frankly amazed me. Beautifully structured code with easy to understand names and flow. I hacked in support for credit processing as well as some audio changes and I was good to go.


So I had my Raspberry Pi going and had a donated monitor. But this was a far cry from what I wanted to have done. I started searching Craigslist every day looking, and then I found it. It was a little abused, mangled, and left to rot in the corner.  For $50 it was mine.

The image to the left shows the sad state things were in.  Apparently a kid had been playing as the insides contained goldfish, crumbs and other unmentionables.

But it gets worse, the wiring was a fire hazard. Three prong outlets supplied by two prong plugs. Cords held together by good intentions and twisted wires. It all had to go. I ripped everything out that night. I was left with the bare wood.

The Build

So I started off by laying down a shelf I had obtained from a hardware store weeks before. It fit like a glove. I immediately started to build up the play area, add in the Plexiglass and so on. The entire thing came together quickly and easily.
This project was just meant to be.
And then, disaster struck. I had my buttons and everything ready to order from Spark Fun, but couldn't get my hands on a coin acceptor. I waited for weeks.  Nothing.  Finallyit came in. They had to replace the 2 coin with a 3 coin version. I was good to go.

The Keyboard

But wait I hear you say, how did you make the buttons work? It couldn't be magic!

Well you're right and wrong. I found something magical, the PSoC3Pim board. Taking this board and coupling it with an app note, I was able to get up and running in about 20 minutes. If that isn't magic, I don't know what is.

In the Gutter

I still had a problem, the coins dropped on one side, but I wanted them on the other so I could access them via a small door and combo lock.  I was thinking about the problem, explained it to my wife and she suggested I use a gutter.  After some work, it is flawless.  Coins drop down and show up in the bucket at the bottom.

I've set the prices such that 10 cents is a credit, and a quarter will buy you three credits.  Everything is set up for Monday, I cant wait to see it in action.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Terabyte Talk - Hard Drive History and State of the Art SSDs

Consoles and Hard Drives

It used to be that a console was a complete unit that couldn't be upgraded. Everything had to be on the CD/DVD/cartridge. It was a simpler time, where the save game was portable (either on a memory card, or the cartridge). It also meant that game developers were constrained in the amount of data in the save game file. In addition to play the game everything had to come from the external media, a slow proposition with CD/DVD drives. This lead to one of the biggest user frustrations with gaming still today the loading screen.

At some point console gamers realized that the bits on the CD could be put on a hard drive. This created an instant boost in loading times and the users rejoiced. Unfortunately this also led some players down the dark path of game piracy which is what triggered game manufactures to start managing the hard drives themselves. If they control it rather than the gamers they could then prevent the piracy or at the very least reduce it.

In order to keep gamers from cheating or copying games from one hard drive to another various manufactures have tried different techniques. For example the XBox360 it is difficult to access the hard drive and only specific drives are supported by the hardware. In the case of Sony the hard drive basically encrypted with a unique key for the PS3, you can't just move it to a new PS3. The company line is usually that this is to prevent hacking and keep all gamers safe. In reality it is to keep their profits up. That said, make sure you backup your save games to a flash drive before starting an upgrade.


Before we can talk about hard drives you need a little background. The single smallest unit for digital logic is the bit. A bit may have the state of 1 (on) or 0 (off). Put four bits together you get a nibble. Put two nibbles together and you get a byte. There are other measurements like words, double words, pages and so on but they are not important to this discussion.

Transferring Data

There are two competing ways for transferring bytes between items, parallel and serial. Parallel as the name implies transfers all 8 bits at the same time. To do this it requires 8 wires. If you have communication in two directions that means you need at least 16 wires before adding in control data. That's why the parallel (or printer) port on your computer is so big.

Serial communication on the other hand sends a bit at a time. This means for the same amount of data, it must run 8 times as fast as a parallel interface. It also means that few wires are needed, saving on costs for hardware and reducing the number of items that can fail. (Less wires means thinner cables, which means you're less likely to break a wire.)

Hard Drive Evolution

Hard drives used to be parallel based or PATA. ATA stands for AT Attachment which is a standard on how external items talk to CPUs. This was also known as IDE. The ribbon cable required is 40 or 80 wires packed together. Normally two drives could be attached to a single cable. One drive would be the master of the cable and the other would be the slave.

This caused problems for users as it was often easy to have two slaves on one cable. It was a headache for all involved. More recently the hardware has evolved to handle higher speeds and a new standard for hard drives was adopted serial ATA also known as SATA.

SATA has a number of advantages. First since the entire interface was changing the specifications could be rewritten to handle higher speeds. This means they can transfer data at 6 giga-bits per second or higher. Also they can be unplugged and plugged in without powering down the hardware just like a USB drive. (You should power down the hardware anyways.) The data connector is smaller and the cables are much easier to route. Oh and that whole master/slave thing, it is gone.

While the new interface is great in a lot of ways it does add a level of confusion to the consumer/gamer. If your console was created in the last 5 years, you should expect that you need a SATA drive.

What is a Hard Drive

I've talked a lot about how data goes between the console (or computer) and the drive without talking about what happens inside. To most people a hard drive is a silver box that you plug cables in. It makes some noise when the power is on and it stores data. Inside that silver box is a set of disks or patters. Those platters are rather like a vinyl record on a record player, however instead of just one there's a bunch of platters stacked on one another. In between each platter is a head which is just like the needle on a record player. Unlike a record player needle that head can both read (or play) and write (or record). It does so via magnets.

One of the most impressive parts of this head is as the drive spins that head floats on a cushion of air. The space between the head and platter is smaller than a single speck of dust. If that head hits the platter it is like dragging a needle over a vinyl record. The platter is scratched and damaged. This is bad. In addition sometimes a bit will go bad on a drive which means that drives have a way of correcting for these errors. That said, disks can be damaged beyond their ability to repair themselves.

Since the distance is so close dropping a hard drive while it is running is bad. When powered down drives will "park" the heads. Basically the heads are moved to a place where shocks won't cause them to damage the disk. Since the data on that disk is actually split over multiple platters and can be anywhere on the disk there is something known as seek time. It is the time taken to move the heads to find a particular piece of data. This is usually given as an average for consumers. The smaller the seek time, the better. In addition drives have buffers where they store some data to speed up access time. Moving heads is slow, buffered data is quick. Buffers are usually small, 32 megabytes or so.

RAM and Flash

Random access memory or RAM runs much faster than a hard drive, which is why it costs so much more. It also has the problem that when the power goes out it doesn't remember anything. Flash memory (which is like a SD card) is slower than RAM but can be faster than a hard drive. It does remember like a hard drive. Like a hard drive flash can have bits that get stuck. Additionally fast flash memory is expensive. So someone said, if flash is so much faster than a standard hard drive what if we created a whole drive out of flash memory.

Solid State Drives

People have created "virtual" hard drives in RAM for years to get better performance. By changing patters out for flash memory (which operates a lot like RAM) you remove moving parts while increasing speed. In addition the drive can be smaller meaning it fits better into a laptop. This is the definition of win-win-win with the only downsides being cost and space.

Hybrid Drives

Since flash drives are expensive and don't have a lot of storage space but can run fast if you combine a standard platter based disk with a flash disk you can address some of these issues. This is known as a hybrid drive where some data is stored in a limited flash space (like the cache mentioned above) and the rest of the data is on the disk. By intelligently moving data to the flash space the user can get almost flash performance at a fraction of the cost. Downsides include reliability and inconsistent performance.

Why you should care

All of this is great to know, but you're probably asking why should you care? Well, much like hard drives gave a boost to the speed of CD/DVD games, a SSD can boost your console speed.

By replacing a standard disk with a SSD you can cut load times significantly. This is most noticeable on single player games. Since on the PS3 you can replace the hard drive, you should consider what type of hard drive to replace it with. If you have the money, go with a SSD. Oh one other thing to note, the hard drive form factor. The PS3 uses a laptop form factor or 2.5" drive. Oh and always back up all your data first, including save games.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Skill Score Exposed

Ask Bob - What Do You Know About Skill Score

From time to time I'm asked Starhawk questions. Today's question came from a couple of my twitter followers. "What do you know about skill score?"

Well, LBI is very tight lipped about skill score. This is because they do not want people to pad their stats to get a better rank. That said, by playing there's a few things you can figure out. This is based on my own experience, LBI can change the calculation at any time, and your mileage may vary.

Winning Team Matters

Being on the winning team matters, a lot. You can take on the hardest server, be the top player on the losing side and your score will go down. I don't know how switching teams affects this; however, when you join the losing team does affect your score. If you start a game, leave and your team loses, your score goes down.

That said, if you join very late and your team loses you do not lose as many points. Like I said, when you join matters, but apparently when you leave does not.

Top/Bottom Player

Being the top player or bottom player can enhance or reduce the skill score change. If you're the top player on the winning team, expect a big bonus. If you're the bottom player on the losing team, well that sucks to be you. That is of course scaled based on when you joined. Top player on the losing team doesn't see their score go down as much, nor does the bottom player on the winning team see their score go up much.

The server difficulty does seem to factor into this change as well; however, winning in a cake server seems to always produce a net gain, where as losing in a hard core server will cost you.

Starting Score

By default everyone starts out at 3000 skill score points. Over time if you don't play your score will degrade till you hit 3000 as well. While I'd like to say the number of points you win come from a player on the losing side, I haven't confirmed that yet.

Basically, if you're under 3000 points you need to find easier servers.


There are several ranks people can obtain. They are percentage based so that means you can change ranks one of two ways:
  1. Get people to join
  2. Improve your score

Here's how things break down: (For checking purposes, estimate approximately 100,000 players).
  • In the top 2% Blue Splat
  • In the top 11% Star
  • In the top 21% Diamond
  • In the top 51% Circle
  • in the top 76% Square

Note, if your skill score is simply 3000, that puts you in the top 51%. That means if you see someone who doesn't have a circle or higher, give them a break they've had some rough rounds.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

StarHawk Beta Comes to a Close

The beta may be over, but there's still more to come. @DylanJobe will be addressing 14 of the most important issues as raised by the players of the public and private beta.

That said, there's a few house keeping issues. First with respect to clans, all this information from the beta will be reset. This means on May 8th, there's going to be a virtual land rush to get clan tags, since they must be unique. One extra bit to note, clan tags can contain 5 characters now.

The second piece, well I'll leave this here for the LBI developers:

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

StarHawk Corner - Jetpack Tango

The Rocketeer vs Ground Troop

By Erebus-of-Dark
Edited by Guardian_Bob

Jetpacks have an advantage over troops. Why shouldn't they? They paid the Rift for the advantage. Players can only obtain a jetpack through buying, not through dropped items. That being said, there are some ways for a single troop to survive against the jetpack.

  1. Be aware!
    • Jetpacks are always shown on the maps when flying, whether they are shooting or not. This gives a ground troop a good opportunity to spot incoming jetpacks from across the map. More importantly when you're not getting hit, and you see a red dot on the mini-map that is moving fast, it is almost surely a jetpack. If it is coming straight at you, they are probably moving in for the melee or shotgun kill.
  2. Evade!
    • If you see that red dot coming straight at you and your back is turned, don't look at it like some gawking teenager. Let then get in close. only when they are pretty close should you start strafing and turning. If they came in for that melee you need to wait till they commit and you can follow up with your own melee. If this fails they'll be much closer to the ground and you can follow up with the shotgun. The key is letting them think they are getting an easy kill unnoticed.
  3. Stay at range
    • If a jetpack attacks you from a distance, you can use your sprint to evade their fire. Doing so makes you just as hard of a target to hit as they are. Zig-zag and move away. When you become harder to hit, the jetpack usually becomes easier to hit back as they tend to stay still as they aim. This puts you on even ground as they can't move up and down as much, just like you. Most jetpackers will close in, rather than try to aim and lose maneuverability. If instead they move in close you need to keep sprinting away without taking fire which should give you lots more time to find cover. As they keep closing they will get faster, so keep strafing.
  4. Find cover
    • When you get a jetpack on your tail, find cover quick. This gives you a spot to recover, keeping you in the fight longer. Also it will narrow the field of fire making the jetpack come at you at only certain angles which reduces the benefit of his mobility. If you can only both shoot each other face to face, the playing field is level.
  5. Threaten
    • So far this has been a lot of running around and hiding, how about we fight back? First step is to threaten. That may mean making the fight long distance and firing with your rifle (if they are shooting you with one, remember they are now a lot easier to target). Or it might mean blasting a few random shotgun blasts when the jetpack gets close. It might even mean dumb-firing an RPG in jetpack's direction if you don't have time for a lock to at least let him know you got an RPG. The trick is, don't concentrate on getting the kill, instead concentrate on staying alive. Dodge first, fire second. This is a battle of attrition, the longer you last, the more you will hinder your target. Many jetpacks will try to hit unsuspecting troops en-route as an easy kill, so your goal is to prove that you're not an easy kill. The jetpack will likely move along to their original objective.
  6. Survive
    • Doesn't sound very impressive, but this is the key to winning against jetpacks. They have limited fuel for all that flying around. If you can stay alive long enough at some point you will see the Jetpacker do one of two obvious things:
      1. Go to ground (with some obvious sputtering of engines, showing his fuel is actually gone).
      2. Fly straight as a shot to a higher ground.
  7. Return Fire
    • If he landed on your ground without fuel, they are now a troop just like you. Time to show him the folly of their ways, as they are weak to all the same troop to troop attacks. If they tried to fly away and you have the RPG this is likely your only shot at getting a kill so use it. You can also use the Rifle here as players tend to seek high ground in a straight line.
  8. Move on
    • If they escape you to higher ground, congratulations. You've survived against a superior force in one on one combat. Now it is time to go back to your objective. Unless you are defending, a jetpack will not hunt you down specifically again. They will continue their own mission in frustration that they lost a supposedly easy kill.

Did you know

  • Did you know that mines will jump from your hawk to a turret? You can take one out without missing a beat if you're careful.
  • Did you know you can hawk stomp an auto turret? Not sure if you're supposed to, but you can.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

StarHawk Corner - Newbie Help

A quick note here from now until the 21st I'll be moving, so StarHawk Corner posts may not happen as quickly as they were last week.

Just Starting in StarHawk?

This post is dedicated to you and trying to bring you into what's going on with this beta. So let's start out, this beta isn't like a normal beta. Most betas these days are glorified demos. They are meant to help find some bugs, but generally not much more than that.

StarHawk is different in this respect. The developers are looking for much more. They are tweaking everything from weapon balance to actual game mechanics. What that means is you, new recruit, can't sit on your butt and not participate.


So the first stop on this tour will be about crashes. They will happen, your PS3 will freeze. So back up your saved games now. When the game freezes or crashes, you may have to hold the power button on your PS3 to reset it. When your PS3 comes back up, it will ask if you'd like to send a crash report to Sony. Say yes.

Let me repeat that, if asked to send a crash report to Sony say YES.

The crash reports are used by developers to identify what's wrong and why the crash happened. They are vital to developers.


You'll be expected to participate in the forums. Please do so, here's a link:

Don't worry, that link only works for PSNs that are actually in the beta. Now before you go shooting your mouth off, there's a couple of things you need to do. First look to the right of the posts, there are subspaces. Are you in the right one for what you want to talk about? If you're talking about weapons, that probably doesn't belong in the general discussion. If instead you're talking about something that cuts across multiple sections or general game play, yes the top level forum is probably good for that.

Second, look to see if someone has posted something similar. It happens a lot, and there are already a lot of posts. If so, don't start a new topic, add to the existing one first. If you do need to start a new topic make your title descriptive.

Finally, this is a place to share opinions and ideas, but doing so without justification is generally frowned upon. If you don't like something, say why. If you can't say why, at least try to give the devs an idea of what's really the problem. Here's an example:

Shotgun Sucks (BAD)
The shotgun is over powered (BETTER)
The power of the shotgun when at a medium range is too much. It can go further than the rifle and cause more damage. (BEST)

Note, the last one tells what is wrong and why. The first one does nothing to help.


If you're playing, you might stumble upon a bug. I know, heaven forbid, but it might just happen. You can go to the forums and complain or you can file a bug report and have it fixed. There is a special subspace for bugs and a sticky post on how to post a bug. Do start a new topic for new bugs or if it is already existing and you feel you have extra detail to add, add it. "Me too" isn't any extra detail. Take pictures and video if you can, and attempt to repeat the bug before posting. (If you can't repeat it, do post anyways.)

Thursday, December 1, 2011

StarHawk Corner - Being Sneaky

Sneaky Uses for Things

There are some tricks people should try out. These come from the space map. The first is a set of platforms under the map. Grab a jetpack and go for them. You can sneak across the map into the enemy base without drawing a lot of attention.

Three hops and you should be grabbing their flag.

Just know you can't use the same way out.
Additionally, in Space you can land on the asteroids. Why might you want to become a sitting duck?

To plant some mines of course. Throw them all around, and then get out of there.

These tips come from Seventy_X_Seven and LeatherHeart respectively. Also MadProffeser points out you can land your hawk in a couple of places under space, so you can use your repair tool.

1.0.5 Update

Yesterday saw another new release from LBI. Those guys can churn out builds. The major changes were to limit the range of the shotgun while increasing the range of the rifle. Accuracy and spread of the rifle were not affected. This leads some players to complain the wrong portion was changed; however, it would be best to wait for hard numbers to confirm or deny the effects of this change.

Did you know

  • Did you know that on the Acid Sea bridges, there are two levels? Not sure what it is useful for yet, except avoid jeeps/detection
  • Did you know you can't jump out of a flying hawk, even in mech mode? You'll get a can't dismount prompt
  • Did you know the first bullet of a rifle burst is always dead center? Just wait long enough between bursts to have it trigger
  • Did you know the rifle does more damage against the head? Pop off a few rounds, and check it out.
  • Did you know the rifle is fairly effective against the auto turret? Make sure you wait between bursts, and aim for that red light.
  • Did you know the jetpack has limited fuel? Watch it and don't run out!
  • Did you know you can't auto scrub missles in the warning phase? Even changing into a mech won't scrub them. The only way to get rid of them is to dump a flare or have them hit something else.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

StarHawk Corner - Holy Updates Batman


Yesterday brought the first patch to StarHawk based on direct feedback from the Warhawk group. It also brought 5000 new players from Warhawk in. Full details on the patch are here but the main thing people seem to like is the hawks fly faster. Other things to note the grenades have been beefed up, so use them, and give your feedback.

Did You Know?

  • Did you know swarm missiles lock on to more than other hawks? They'll lock on to air mines, and even troops with jet packs.
  • Did you know you can dismantle an auto turret? Get close and hit R3.
  • Did you know hitting the red light on an auto turret does more damage? You can even use a rifle, just be careful to burst your fire.
  • Did you know there are 4 speeds in a hawk? Normal speed, slow speed, fast speed (light press R2) and boost (fully press R2).

What do I do?

This is a new section dedicated to helping out various scenarios. Today's case was presented by OverlordSpike.

Given the other team has made it into your base, has 3 auto turrets up and 2 pod beacons, how do you handle this?

The first target is the auto turrets. Land on them (use the map zoom if need be) and hit R3 to disable them before they lock on to you. Next throw all 3 grenades at the pod beacon. If they hit, this will weaken the tower substantially. Wash, rinse and repeat, you'll have all 3 turrets gone and both pod beacons in 3 spawns or less. Given to spawn all of that requires 14 rift pips and they can no longer spawn in your base, expect them to start spawning near barrels. On the plus side, all those buildings you destroyed gave you rift, you should be able to spawn a bunker by now.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

StarHawk Corner - Being a SeaHawk

Acid Sea

So today we'll finish up the map series for now. Let's get right to it:


This map has the same legend as the last one, red H for health, yellow H for homing missile, purple S for swarm missiles and green M for mines. Not shown is the second group of homing missiles, but the map is symmetrical.

Did you know?

  • Did you know you can zoom in on the spawn map. Press up on the right stick to zoom in, down to zoom out.
  • Did you know that a beam turret links to the walls? Works great for filling in those gaps.
  • Did you know you can't use a jet pack if you have the flag? Drop a garage or you might be walking back home.
  • Did you know the walls have ladders, but upgraded walls don't? Be careful in placement, otherwise they are useless against troops. The side towards you during placement always has the ladder.
  • Did you know that walls have a place for auto turrets but upgraded walls do not? Use care in upgrading.

RSS Feed and Yahoo Alerts

I've been informed that Yahoo alerts won't work on the main site's RSS feed. As such, the URL you should use for all the latest FFG StarHawk News is:

Monday, November 28, 2011

StarHawk Corner - Hawks in Space

Flying in Space

Since I started with Acid Sea for the ground, I'll start with space for the air. As such I present the Space Air Map.


The red H is health, yellow H is homing missile, purple S is swarm missiles and green M is mines.

Did you know?

Today's did you know comes from LeatherHeart.
  • Did you know you can use a jetpack to knife a mech driver? Sweetest kill in the game.
  • Did you know you have a suicide option? Hit start and select respawn.
  • Did you know that the bunker has 3 spots for auto turrets? Place them on the roof to keep people from getting the drop on you.
  • Did you know that you're safe in the bunker? Shots go out, they don't go in. Watch that top entry though.
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