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1.24.2010

How to Find the Last 3 Joker Teeth in Arkham Mansion.

The last three Joker teeth in the Arkham Mansion section of Batman: Arkham Asylum can be tough to find.  They’re a little off the beaten path, so you may not run across them normally.  Here’s how to find them and wrap up this Riddler Challenge.
Head to Arkham Mansion.
map1
Turn left at the broken bell and head towards the Warden’s Office.
Stop in the entrance to the room.  This is the same room where you had to use the Corner Cover move to take out Zsasz.
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Stop at the entrance of the room here.
batman_office1
Then look up.
batman_office_trapdoor
Grapple up to the upper level into this room.
batman_office_upperlevel
The joker teeth are at the back of the room.  There are two at the end of the room, and one in between some of the filing cabinets.
batman_office_jokerteeth





1.22.2010

Top Game Picks for Laptops with !*%@ Intel Integrated Graphics

You may have noticed a trend in my recent posts. I’ve been benchmarking a lot of games using the built-in Intel graphics on my Toshiba laptop. PAX East is coming up in about 60 days, and I’m trying to find a good selection of games that I can actually play on the limited graphics of the “average” laptop. I plan to use this post to keep a running list of some of my favorite games that will run on integrated graphics chipsets.

My test system:
Toshiba Satellite L505. Core 2 Duo CPU, 3GB RAM, Win 7 32-bit. Intel Media Graphics Accelerator 4500MHD.

The List thus far: (check back as I’ll be updating this post)

Torchlight – This game is what would happen if Diablo and World of Warcraft had a single player baby. Runs great and looks great on anemic graphics hardware. Cheap at only $20. Can play from the hard drive w/o the need for disc checks.

Sid Meier’s Pirates – Simple but fun game, very open ended. You can play for a few minutes or hours at a time.

Half-Life 2 - Works great with most settings on high. HL2 Lost Cost, Ep. 1 & 2 have some changes to the graphics engine and may not play as well. But HL2 and HL2 Multiplayer seem to work fine.

Geometry Wars - Works fine, joypad or external mouse recommended. You may need to fiddle with the resolution a bit to get this to be smooth.

World of Goo - A great little puzzle game for the price. Will run on almost any graphics hardware.

Sid Meier’s Pirates – A Laptop Gaming Classic

I dusted off my copy of Sid Meier’s Pirates today to test with the new laptop.  It takes a couple of tweaks to get it up and running, but it does run.  Unfortunately, I have no screenshots for you, because it’s evaded capture by any of the programs I normally use. 

This is one of my perennial favorite games.  When I’m bored of the latest and greatest, I sometimes pull this one out to play for a few minutes.  It’s a sandbox style game, so it’s easy to pick it up for 5-min, plunder a couple of ships and then put it down again.  It’s also easy to get lost in it for 45 minutes trying to track down a rival pirate or locate a buried treasure.  It’s not very taxing graphically, so it makes a good title for playing on a low-end laptop.
To get it running under Win7, you need to install the game, then run the 1.02 patch.  Right click on the shortcut, select Properties, then the Compatibility tab.  I got it working under “Compatibility Mode for Windows XP SP3”.  
Using the integrated graphics on my laptop (Intel 4500MHD), I was able to get smooth gameplay with the following settings: 
Resolution: 1024x768 (no widescreen options available)
Water Detail – Low
Object Detail – High
World Detail – High
Shadows – On
Advanced Lighting – Off
Trilinear Filtering – Off
Disable Shaders – Off
You can probably turn Adv. Lighting and Tri. Filtering on for some graphics chipsets, but I found it made the sword fight sequences just a slight bit choppy for my taste.

Notes:
This game does require the CD to be in the drive. (sorry netbook people)
This game is easier to play with a dedicated number pad.  There are onscreen buttons available for playing with a mouse, but the experience is better if your keyboard has a 10-key.

1.21.2010

Warcraft III – Laptop Gaming

I’m still testing old games with the integrated graphics on my laptop.
I’m happy to report that Warcraft III and the Frozen Throne expansion still work like a champ, even under Windows 7.  No compatibility tweaks needed. 

I was able to crank all the display settings up and play with no issues.
The only downside I can find is that you still need to have the disc inserted in the drive, and the game doesn’t support widescreen monitors resolutions.  Other than that, no issues.  This is one you should definitely have in your laptop bag.

war3-20100121-1300301

war3-20100121-1257424

Test system: Toshiba L505, C2Duo, 3GB RAM, Win7 Home Premium 32-bit. 4500MHD graphics.

1.19.2010

Adapting a x16 lane PCIE video card into a x1 lane PhysX card.

I’ve played a few games (Mirror’s Edge, Batman: AA) this year that took advantage of Nvidia’s hardware PhysX processing in the video card via CUDA.  I started considering ways to recycle my old video card to utilize it as a PhysX processor.  My Gigabyte GA-P35-DS3L doesn’t support SLI and only has x1 lane PCIE slots open so I didn’t have anywhere to put my older video card.  I found various hacks and mods online where people had adapted x16 cards into x1 for video output.  But these mods either physically modify the slot on the motherboard, the connector tab on the video card.  I found the Startech PEX1TO16 lane adapter, but almost no reviews for it.  I decided it was worth a shot, and less likely to damage my motherboard so I started another of my experiments.  Would the adapter work?  If it works, can you get decent PhysX performance out of the reduced bandwidth x1 lane connection?
IMG_2477
First, a word of warning.  This adapter will raise the height of your video card, so it won’t fit normally and screw into the backplane of the computer.  My XFX 8600GTS has empty space at the top of the card for the S-Video output, so it still fits on my system. I just had to find a way to anchor the card.  I accomplished this using zip ties.  I’m looking for a properly threaded screw to make this more permanent. 
You’re also going to need a lot of cooling for two video cards, especially if they are close together. My system has a lot of ventilation, so I’m ok in this area.  I also have enough power supply for both cards.
Here is the adapter:
IMG_2460 



My system before and after install:IMG_2462


IMG_2463
It took some experimenting to figure out which port was the primary display after adding in the new card.  Once I had the DVI cable on the right output, I just had to update my Nvidia drivers to get both cards to show up. 
greenshot_2010-01-15_20-36-08 
You can choose which card to be the PhysX Processor in the Nvidia control panel.

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Benchmarks:
I ran these tests using a Core 2 Duo 2.4GHz CPU, 2GB of DDR2/667 RAM, and Vista Home Premium 32-bit.  The primary graphics card is a 512MB 9800GTX+ (same core as a GT250, but less RAM), and the PhysX processor is a 8600GTS.  I rendered all the graphics on the 9800 GTX+, and switched PhysX duties between it and the 8600 for testing.  I did a lot of the testing using Batman: Arkham Asylum’s built-in test. 
Picture 2
The results are a bit confusing.  Using the add on card, seems to raise your maximum frames per second,  but can cause a slight dip in your average FPS.  I’m not sure if this is an issue with a bottleneck in my PCIE 1.0 graphics system, or a function of these applications implementation of PhysX.  In general the average frame rate stayed close to the baseline score.  My personal impression from playing Batman: AA was that the game ran smoother in PhysX heavy areas when I used the secondary card.  The graphics looked about the same, but gameplay felt more fluid in foggy or physics-object heavy areas.  I think the lower frame rate may be due to some bugs in the benchmark.  I noticed that when levels start to render, the frame rate seems to drop for 1-2 seconds as the physics objects draw in.  Once the level finishes “set up” things seem to run fast again. 
greenshot_2010-01-10_19-43-47
I will note that this combination of cards could not run the Scarecrow hallucination levels under High PhysX settings.  Those levels would slow to a crawl when they started up.  Everything works fine on Normal.  I think the High settings may require a true SLI setup.

1.12.2010

Game Storage – an alternative to DiscSox

A few months back Tim from CAD Comic posted a nice review of some DVD storage sleeves called DiscSox from MM Design.  I really liked the idea.  I thought the DiscSox look great, but they seemed a bit pricey, and are only available via their website.  They also didn’t seem to be a standard form factor, so I was concerned that they might not fit in storage boxes that weren’t from MM Design.  I wanted a cheaper more generic solution. 
Last week while I was in Target I found these sleeves in the CD Storage area. 

IMG_2410

They’re made by Atlantic, and are about $12 for 20pcs.  A little cheaper than the MM Design product.  I’m sure if you searched online, you might be able to find them even cheaper somewhere else. Unfortunately, Target only has them in colored multipacks.  I would have preferred them to all be clear.

I gave them a shot and have started putting my PC games in them instead of keeping the DVD cases around.  So far they’re working pretty well and I like how much I’ve been able to reduce the shelf space taken up by the games.

While the MM Design sleeves seem to be a one piece design, these are two pieces, an outer sleeve and a disc insert. 

IMG_2408
IMG_2409 

I’m not ready to move all our DVD’s to them.  But I think I’m going to keep these around for my PC stuff.  I like that I can store manuals and license cards in the sleeve, that was one drawback to the paper CD sleeves I’ve been using for older discs.

1.11.2010

Torchlight performance on Intel Laptop integrated graphics

Torchlight 2010-01-11 13-01-26-34
I picked up a retail box copy of Torchlight yesterday.  I was excited to hear it supported low end graphics and system requirements as it might be a nice game to waste a lunch hour on my laptop.  I was disappointed with how choppy NWN2 was on my laptop. 
Well, I wasn’t disappointed.  Torchlight seems like a really fun game for the $20 price point.  I had a few hiccups installing it, because I thought the installer had hung on my desktop machine.  It turns out that you just need to let the installer churn away for 2-3 minutes and everything installs correctly.  I’m guessing the delay is some kind of DRM disc validation.  I don’t really mind since once it installed, you don’t have to have the CD in the drive anymore. 
I was concerned that I’d have to dial the graphics back for Torchlight to be playable on my Satellite, but it turns out it works just fine.  I did not have to use the “netbook” mode that adjusts the draw distances and camera for small screens and poor graphics chipsets. 
I was able to run Torchlight at my native resolution with most of the eye-candy enabled and still get a pretty steady 30FPS out of it using these settings:
 Torchlight 2010-01-11 12-38-24-13
Note that I turned VSync on.  I had some jagged screen / tearing problems until I turned it on.  It didn’t seem to cause any performance penalty.
I benchmarked using FRAPS in the first floor dungeon with several enemies on screen. FRAPS reported my minimum framerate was 32, maximum was 38.

Here are a couple of screenshots.  The yellow number in the corner is the FRAPS framerate.
Torchlight 2010-01-11 13-02-35-19 Torchlight 2010-01-11 13-02-12-44


1.06.2010

Batman Arkham Asylum on Intel Integrated Graphics

I recently saw a forum thread where someone was claiming to have run Batman: Arkham Asylum on an Intel 4500HD integrated graphics chipset with no problems.  Based on my past experience, I didn’t quite buy that.  I got a copy of Batman:AA for Christmas so I decided to give it a shot on my Toshiba Laptop w/ Intel 4500MHD graphics.

I tested using Windows 7 Home Premium 32-bit on a Toshiba Satellite L505 w/ 3GB of RAM and 2GHz Core 2 Duo.  I ran Batman on the 1.1 update and used the included Benchmark for testing.

Using the default settings:

greenshot_2010-01-06_10-14-29 
FPS:
Max – 168
Min – 2
Avg – 8
Result: Unplayable

I tested on many in between settings, but ended up putting everything down to the minimum setting in an attempt to get somewhere near a smooth 30FPS. 

At minimum settings:
greenshot_2010-01-06_13-13-17
FPS: 
Max – 117
Min – 3
Avg – 20 
Result: Playable (barely)

I have to call BS on the forum posters who think this game runs great on notebooks. It’s not completely unplayable, but it’s not smooth at all. I was able to get through to the hospital levels on these settings.  Things seem to get choppy during scenes with a lot of scripted actions and dialog.  The opening scene with Joker seemed to take forever. 
I also tried updating my Intel drivers, turning Windows Aero support on and off, and running windowed or full screen, changing the power, 3d scheme, or memory footprint of the Intel GMA control panel.  None of these changed the Average framerate more than 1-2 FPS.  I consistently benchmarked the game at 19-20 FPS average.

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