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September 16, 2007

Highpoint BIOS upgrade

   The BIOS update of the Highpoint RAID controller was about the only thing that did go smoothly.  They seem to like DOS boot disks, but takes care of that.  Then, it was a simple "LOAD <bios file".  They even had the option to save the existing BIOS to disk, which with all the other problems I've been having made me feel a little better. 
   Then it was off to compile the Highpoint driver.  This was a simple "make KERNELDIR=/usr/src/...".  Painless enough.  Now to install... which didn't work.  The install wanted a program called "mkinitrd", which I didn't have.  A quick look at synp... and I found an alternitive.  Of corse, that didn't install the program as the right filename.  So, I tried "ln /....".  Ran the install again.  That did work--or at least didn't give me an error message.
   Now it was time to start the driver.  Two commands "...." and "modprobe hpt...".  The second command didn't work, but I thought maybe a reboot would help.  After rebooting, I tried again.  Well, it loaded, the system froze and a minute latter the RAID card started beeping.  No luck there either.
   That's where the fight left off.  I made no more progress.
    Pictured is an attempt at taking  a photograph for shape.

September 15, 2007

Red-Dragon rebuild, day 3



    Made some progress getting the non-Linux OS to a working state.  Spent a good deal of time fighting with the video drivers.  I have a video capture capable video card, but the drivers stopped working years ago.  So I thought doing a bottom-up installation would be the answer.  Not the case.  After a good deal of effort, I still haven't gotten them to work. 
    So many programs to install and so many custom changes that have to be made.  I knew I was moved into this computer, but I had no appreciation for just how much until now.

September 14, 2007

Red-Dragon rebuild, day 2



    Once all the updates for Ubuntu got the system up to 7.04, I found I could view drives on the Highpoint RAID card that were not in an array.  I had a look at the dysfunctional program drive and copied off all the configurations saved on it.  I copied those to my temp. drive.  I could now reinstall the non-Linux OS.  But I want to get the system off that OS, so I started looking into how to get the RAID drivers working.  Long story short, I tried to download and compile everything needed and ran out of hard drive space on the little 4 gig drive I was using.
    At this point, I needed to get the system functional enough to complete my homework.  I began the very long process of reinstalling the non-Linux OS.  It took quite a while to find all the driver CDs and get the system to it's most basic running state, but I did eventually get there.  It has been at least 4 years since I've needed to do this--I think the last time was when the Red Dragon was born.  Most everything that could get in the way did, but with a lot of fighting, the system was again functional.  Now, the hours and hours of setup and customization could begin.

September 13, 2007

Red Dragon repairs, day 1



    This evening, repairs on the Red-Dragon begun.  I thought I'd try to selvage the OS first by restoring the missing system files.  This proved to be futile and I abandon the idea after a few hours of trial.
    I decided it was time to type Ubuntu on the Red Dragon.  I never got the RAID drivers to work under Ubuntu, but thought this was as good a time as any to try that again.  Unfortunately, I had lent my Ubuntu 7.04 CD to Tazz and only had a Ubuntu 6.06 CD.  Since I knew it wouldn't touch my RAID card, I had to find a standard PATA drive.  This shouldn't have been to hard, since I have a large collection of old hard drives.  But none of them wanted to function.  Most were dieing and refused to work.  After several attempts, including getting the Ubuntu mostly installed before a drive crapped out, I found an old 4 gig drive that wanted to work.  I got the OS installed and began the long process of downloading updates.  That took most of the night, but at least the system booted.
    The Red-Dragon took a major dump--lost of ability to boot the OS.  I'm not sure what happened, but the system became unstable in the evening.  I went to reboot and it didn't come back.
    Vinny sleeping on my chair.

September 09, 2007

    So for the past couple weeks, I've been decompiling the PC game Gemfire.  This game has great historical significants to my closest circle of friends.  It's how two of them gained their handles--Zendor (now just Zen) and Pluvius.  I've been a Gemfire addict for around 14 years myself.  But the PC version is quite dated--even when it was released it wasn't utilising cutting edge anything.  The graphics are 8-color, the sound basic MIDI (AdLib YM3812 FM synthesiser) and the AI pretty easy to defeat.
    This summer, while cranking out Javascript games, I thought maybe it would be cool to rewrite Gemfire.  It isn't the first time this idea has been in my head.  I started a rewrite in 1996 once, and an other one in 2002.  I started by doing a nice layout for the user interface and then started thinking about all the work this project would require.  In order to have a faithful reproduction, I'd have to first map out every aspect of the current game. 
    Way back, in around 1993 or 1994, I figured out how to cheat in Gemfire by using a hexeditor to give myself a massive advantage.  I knew a bit already about how the games were saved.  So I decided to take this a step further--completely decompile saved games and scenarios.
    I didn't take much C code before I had CSV files for everything variable in each of the starting scenarios.  Then I remembered once finding additional coat-of-arms back in the day.  So, I decided to extend the code that did the CSV file creation into an editor.  Before long, I had the ability to change every aspect of each scenario.  I found the additional coat-of-arms as well as family names to go with them, and sure enough, I could put these families into play in the game.  The PC version of Gemfire never used those additional families, so I seeing things only the developers had seen.
    The EXE file for Gemfire also contained a lot of information as well.  This is where I pulled all the text, such as family names, character names and lands names.  Each of these seemed to be organised into structures as well, so I decided to decode them as well.  I found all the connections for lands, attack settings for 5th units and a few numbers I'm unsure of.
    So, now I have an editor and a bunch of CSV files with everything about the game--not to mention around 100 hours of playing time.  Since I was running out of summer, I thought maybe I'd make a Gemfire guide.  After all, I had tons of information for it.  And thus I began
    Since I had become so good at simply taking information directly out of the game, I thought that rather then trying to manually capture all the graphics, I could simply decode the graphics files.  I received a crash course in CGA graphics and figured out the 8-color file format.  Rather then palette indexes, there were 3 bytes for each 8 pixels.  The first byte was blue, the second green and the third red.  Each bit reflected a pixel, and the combination of each of the bits across the 3 bytes reflected the color.  Didn't take long to make a CGA to 24-bit color converter.  The result: I had all the game graphics.
    With school back in session, I'm not sure how much time I'll have to spend completing the site, but there is a lot of information there already.
    Assist Tazz all day photographing a wedding.  This will likely be the last one of this season since I'd like to keep my weekends open for school work.
    A random closeup on the back end of my truck.