Help get Valkyria 3 released in the US!

I’m sure by now most fans of Valkyria Chronicles are well aware of the in limbo state of the US release of the third title in the series. Apparently someone at Sega said in an interview a couple weeks ago that Valkyria 3 will not be coming stateside. This was later confirmed by another Sega employee.

More recently, yet another rep from Sega, after receiving a physical copy of an online petition to get the game released in the US, told fans that “not all hope is lost”.

Every Valkyria fan, even those without a PSP, should head on over to the Gallian Liberation Front to help in their campaign to help get the game released in the US in some form or another.

If you are on Facebook, you can start by “liking” their Facebook page. Also, you should sign the online petition to get the game released. I know fans doing stuff like this rarely makes a difference, but apparently Sega has taken notice of the fan response and now is the time for voicing your desire for the game! Every little bit helps, so go support GLF and their cause!

Installing Windows XP Pro SP2 on a HP 635 – AMD Fusion E350 1.6 GHz Laptop

We still use Windows XP on the vast majority of our end-user equipment at work. The standard procedure is to delete whatever partitions and data that come stock on the HP equipment and reinstall Windows XP Professional (SP2) fresh from a CD (or WDS image) and go from there.

Normally, for smooth and simple operation, this procedure requires that you go into the advanced settings in the BIOS and change the SATA mode from it’s native AHCI mode to IDE (PATA) emulated mode in order to avoid the blue screen of death (and having to install special drivers) during the install.

Today, we received a new model of laptop for a user, the first of it’s kind for us. It is a HP 635 with the AMD 1.6ghz Fusion E350 processor. I was surprised to find that, for the first time, I was unable to find any option in the BIOS for the SATA mode. There was not even an Advanced tab, that the option would normally be under.

With no option to change the SATA emulation mode, it looked like XP was a no-go on this rather cheapy laptop. Instead of giving up and deal with the bullshit of setting up Windows 7, I decided to hit up the Google. I eventually found a solution that worked for me.

First, I grabbed an external USB floppy drive, along with a formatted disk (I was surprised I could find a floppy disk!). Then I downloaded the AMD SATA AHCI driver from HP and extracted it to a folder. I copied all the files in the RAID7xx” folder to my floppy and was ready to use it to install the SATA drivers for this chipset during the Windows XP install.

To do this, with your floppy drive attached with the disk inserted begin the Windows setup by booting to the CD. Then press the F6 option to install SCSI and RAID drivers during the beginning of the setup (when it is first copying the initial files). Choose the “S” option to specify the location of the drivers and choose the floppy drive. It should show that the AMD SATA drivers will be installed and then continue with Windows setup normally. Problem solved.

I learned of the drivers from this site, and it might be worth a read if you are looking to install Windows XP on newer HP laptops, or just need the drivers for a different model of laptop than I am working with here.

For the rest of the HP drivers for Windows XP for this laptop, visit this link.

Anti P2P research paper

I stumbled on this 12 page paper today: http://alumni.cs.ucr.edu/~anirban/Anir-networking07.pdf 

It is a very well researched and written article on just how vulnerable the average user is to having their file sharing habits spied on. The short version is that if you use any type of file sharing network, you should also -at the very least- install some sort of filter/firewall to protect your privacy on these networks.  Open-source, freeware, privacy firewalls such as PeerBlock, can be surprisingly effective at reducing your chances of being monitored, according to the article.

While it hardly makes you immune to monitoring and any trouble that might get you into, anyone participating in even the smallest amount of P2P should probably install PeerBlock or some similar software. Either way, the article is a good read for anyone wanting to learn just how you might get an angry letter from your ISP for your downloading habits.

Catherine first impressions, review

I finally got around to beginning the PS3 version of Catherine for a couple hours last night, and I have to say I’m impressed. Chances are if you have been following the game’s production at all, you already bought it, but it’s been a long time since I wrote one of my mini reviews, so here we go. BTW, I highly recommend the game.

Good

– The visuals are, simply, beautiful. The in game character models and environments are the best instance of anime-style cell shading I’ve seen this side of Valkyria Chronicals. The animated (read: anime) cut scenes are equally attractive. The character designs are very likeable as well.

– They designers (character and environment) nailed the tone and atmosphere the creators where going for with this title. The gloomy nature of the story is really felt through the visuals. The same can be said about the (English) voice acting and the music. Both are impressive, and fit the game well.

– So far, the story and characters seem real, identifiable, and refreshingly mature. Vincent, the main character who is far from a hero, reminds me of myself in some ways (minus the attractive women around him, unfortunately), which makes playing as him even more believable to me. Better yet, the game encourages you to get him more drunk at the bar so that you can move around faster in the nightmare (action) parts of the game.  

– There are questions you answer at the end of every act, as well as dialog choices of things you say to other characters in the story mode. You can also choose different ways to respond to text messages (which, so far for me, only come from Katherine). The game encourages you to make these decisions in tune with how you honestly feel, and you will get to see how it affects the story. It is very interesting, but I fear that it will just turn out to be a good/bad ending sort of deal, not having as dramatic of an effect as promised. Either way, it is enjoyable and helps you feel immersed in the story.

– Like me, most players are probably far more interested in the story and visuals of Catherine, but I was surprised to find that -thus far- I really enjoy the action/puzzle game play as well. I played on the “Normal” difficulty, because I refuse to play any game on easy. The action is certainly challenging, and you will get annoyed and die a lot. But they give you more than enough continues and most levels have a check point midway-ish you can restart from. The “boss” levels, are particularly difficult, brutal even. Fortunately, for those that are not up to the challenge, there is an easy mode that describes itself as for those that only want to enjoy the story.

Neutral

– This is not “one of those games”. You know what I am talking about. Sexy visuals are a major theme in the game, and there are some risqué scenes for sure. The box art and nifty art book that come with the standard version of the game do not help it’s cause either. Basically, what I’m getting at here is that while it certainly is not, your friends and family that know nothing about the game are likely to conclude you’re playing one of those weird, pervy anime porn games. Even I was too self-conscious to walk into an actual store and buy the game, I got my copy online…

– The controls for the action mode can be a little dodgy and difficult to master at first, which of course leads to many frustrating mistakes and deaths. Hang in there though, you’ll get used to the controls.

– Horror, as a genre or state of mind, is extremely difficult to pull off in anime and manga. Suspense, psychological and emotional unease, sure no problem, but horror is hard to convey in this art form. This is not a bash against the game, which describes itself as horror, but just don’t expect Silent Hill levels of terror from Catherine.

Bad

– Regrettably, this is a glaring flaw in the game. To put it nicely, that audio levels for the vocal tracks are fucked up. The voice work is quiet and somewhat difficult to hear during the action parts as well as the story parts that use the in game resources (graphics). Sometimes background noises (especially in the action parts) make matters worse. It is easy enough to turn up the volume on your TV and that fixes that. The problem is that the audio for the anime cut scenes is quite loud. So you may have turned up the volume to hear what is going on in one scene better, only to have it blasting at you in the next. There are no in game options to adjust the various volume levels either. This is not a deal-breaker, but is very frustrating in a game that is so focused on story.

– A minor annoyance, but there is always a small watermark on the upper left hand corner of the screen during the story mode. This is supposed to be there because, as you find out at the beginning of the game, you are watching this all on some fictional TV show (which in itself is kind of a lame idea). It can be a little distracting, and cannot be disabled.

Excel 2003 hanging on network files and automated removal of Office updates

We had an issue at work that just popped up this week. While trying to open an Excel (.xls) document over the network (a file stored on a network share), and while using Office Excel 2003 (2000 and 2007 versions had no problems), the file would hang. Smaller Excel files would take quite a bit longer to load, while a larger one (~4mb) would just hang the program. The same files would open just fine if you first copied them to the local disk.

This happened abruptly at the end of last week. There were no new Windows or any other updates/changes that corresponded to the timing of the issue. After some googling, I found many others that had the issue, as well as a few different solutions.

The solution that worked for us was to close out all Office programs and IE and uninstall these two Office Updates: KB2541025 and KB2509503, in that order. We then set the two updates to declined on our WSUS server, so they would not get pushed out again.

It is strange that these two updates would suddenly break Excel, considering they were installed months ago, but I’m not one to argue with results. This was an easy fix, but as more people report the problem, going to each station and manually uninstalling these is going to be a pain, especially if the user is offsite and you have to remote in.

So I looked up a method to automate the process. I found these two links from Microsoft themselves to be surprising helpful. http://support.microsoft.com/kb/903771 and http://support.microsoft.com/kb/832672

In reading those pages I learned the fairly simple commands to create a batch file that would uninstall the two updates automatically without requiring much user (or administrator) action.

Here’s the batch file, you’ll still want to close out of all Office products and IE before running it:

msiexec /package {90110409-6000-11D3-8CFE-0150048383C9} /uninstall {D1CCA188-7FE2-49A0-8FE5-B5A34054F9ED} /passive
msiexec /package {90110409-6000-11D3-8CFE-0150048383C9} /uninstall {BCBA2E91-F93F-4501-9FBA-5AD21606920A} /passive

The first string of hex on each command is the product code GUID, in this case for Office 2003 Professional Edition. I found this by searching the HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Uninstall section of the registry for “Office”, and found my product. In this case, the ID is the same for both commands.

The second strings represent the updates themselves. Using this method, you don’t need to worry about a file path, Windows will know what update that is, and if it is installed it will remove it. If not, it will do nothing. I found those two hex strings by going to add/remove programs and with “show updates” checked, drilling down to the offending updates, then I highlighted them and clicked on the “click here for support information” link. The value for “Update ID” will be your string.

I tossed a /passive on the commands so that they will run silently. All the user should see is the command box running the commands. So this can be added to a login script, or you can simply have the user launch the batch file off of a network share. This was tested/designed with Windows XP SP3 and Office 2003 Professional. I don’t see why a similar technique couldn’t be used for other products and updates, but I cannot promise it will work the same.

Berserk: Golden Age 1 trailer

Trailer/teaser for the first Berserk movie, due in Japan January 2012. Three movies will begin the new animation project that is planned to cover the entire story of the original manga (which is still ongoing). The first three movies will cover the “Golden Age” arc of the the original story. The 25 episode TV anime roughly covered this part of the plot as well.