Sunday, March 19, 2023

Private Internet Access - Request Timed Out Issue

Short Story

I had to update the firmware on my TP-Link 8 Port Gigabit Switch to resolve the connectivity issues when using a VPN client. I installed Build 20220930 (Published Date: 2022-10-12 ) and that took care of the problem.

Long Story

My plan was to self host my blog using PIA VPN's static IP feature. My website is currently on Blogger, and I get the feeling that Blogger has been abandoned by Google, and won't be around for much longer. Also, this will be some much needed experience with some basic frontend web development, and I could create my own CI/CD process etc.

I did not want to host the website on my main server, so I decided to provision a Windows 11 VM (my Linux skills are subpar, and also I get to play with Windows 11, which I haven't a chance yet) and create my first prototype website. I did the necessary networking in VMWare Player 17; I created a bridged connection so that I could RDP into the VM if I needed to.

Having installed the PIA VPN client, I noticed that my connection was extremely unstable. Running the following command would result in Request timed out.

ping -t

At first I thought there was something wrong with the VPN service. I disabled the firewall, tried a combination of VPN related settings, and nothing seemed to help. I began searching for any reported outages etc., but there didn't seem to be any. NOTE: I have not yet purchased the static IP. I was only testing the viability of using a VPN to host a website and if I couldn't even get a stable connection, there is no point in self hosting.

After many hours of troubleshooting over a course of few weeks, I gave up on the idea until yesterday when I decided to give it another go. As a part of troubleshooting process, I installed PIA VPN (with default settings) on the main home server, and noticed the same issue. Whenever I am connected to VPN, I had a ton of packet loss. I realized that there was something else going on here, and its not just the VM or PIA service that was having issues.

I decided to connect to PIA VPN (with the settings shown) from my main gaming machine, and monitored ping to at the same time from both the main server and gaming machine, and I noticed that the gaming machine had no packet loss whatsoever. This obviously rules out PIA VPN.

At this point, it dawned on me that the gaming machine is connected directly to the cable modem, whereas the main server is connected via the TP-LINK switch. I started exploring the settings of the switch itself through the web interface and changing them did not help. As a last ditch effort, I decided to upgrade the firmware. The existing firmware was from 2021 version. Unfortunately, I did not take a note of the exact firmware version. I attempted to update to TL-SG108E(UN)_V6_1.0.0 Build 20230218. This was unsuccessful. I downloaded the next latest version, which was from 2022, TL-SG108E(UN)_V6_1.0.0 Build 20220930.

Updating to this version was successful...sort of. Once I kicked off the upgrade process, the switch rebooted, but the Easy Smart Configuration Utility would show that the update was still at 84%, however, this might just be the UI not updating, because closing an reopening the utility showed that the upgrade was successful.

Following the upgrade to TL-SG108E(UN)_V6_1.0.0 Build 20220930, I am no longer getting the packet loss. Hopefully, this will help someone out there looking to resolve connectivity issues, especially when using a VPN service.

Monday, February 27, 2023

Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter Review (PC)

Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter was released for the PC in May 2006. I remember playing the demo way back in the day, and my computer could barely keep up with it. The big marketing point at the time was the advanced physics capabilities of the game on PC. This title was supposed to take advantage of Ageia’s PhysX card. This was of course before Nvidia incorporated PhysX into GPUs, which I am glad they did. Imagine having to install a GPU and PPU to get the full experience.

I got this game as a part of Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon Pack on Steam in May 2012 for $7.49. This included the original Ghost Recon games as well as G.R.A.W and G.R.A.W 2. However, these two games are no longer available for purchase on Steam or on UbiSoft Connect. I am not sure why this is the case, but there are forum posts that suggest that this is because of a licensing issue between Grin (the Swedish software company that made the PC version) and UbiSoft. Unfortunate. It appears that UbiSoft has this habit of abandoning games. Tom Clancy's H.A.W.X games were also met with the same fate.

Apparently it is possible to download this game because its in copyright limbo, having been abandoned by UbiSoft, and Grin has gone bankrupt. There is a link to be found here, but I have not tested this.

Playing this game 17 years later, on an i7 6700k with a 1080Ti, I have to say it does not look great, and that is not necessarily a slight against the fidelity of graphics, but its the art style that is rather poor. It is after all a product of its time. On the console, it was very much like a generic third person shooter from the mid 2000s complete with a brown color pallette, and obnoxious UI. While the game plays very differently on the PC, i.e., as a tactical shooter, it still retains the brown aesthetic, which is not something I consider anything remotely beautiful. That said, the runs very well, when its not getting bogged down by visual glitches. The UI fairly minimal on the PC. The hud is very clean looking, and modern titles should learn a thing or two about designing a clean UI.

The levels are very well designed. Often times there are multiple ways of approaching an objective. This can be useful in the later missions where the most obvious approach may not be the most ideal. Its always beneficial to look for an alternative route. The gameplay is very slow. Typically, it takes about one or two shots to kill an enemy. the physics in the game pale in comparison to anything a modern title has to offer, that said, I can see how it was revolutionary for its time. There were part of the game, where I used the physics in the game to gain advantage over the enemies. For example, I shot at the wheels of a vehicle, which caused it to dip lower, revealing the enemy. Little details like this really elevate the game.

This brings me to weapon selection. It is underwhelming to say the least. Since enemies die so quickly, there is no reason to try different weapons. I played most of the game with Scar-L. I tried Scar-H, but there is no notable advantage to this weapon because of the damage model. I played a little bit with the M249, and it was not great. Side arm selection is equally anaemic. There is an automatic Glock which is very powerful, and there are a couple of SMGs. I went with M8 Compact. Equipping this with a suppressor made it very handy at hip fire. 

The overhead map is very useful. It can used to set waypoints and issue orders to your team, which can include tanks at times. Of course, this highlights the AI path finding, which is not very good. There are many instances where the teammates would not obey the orders given, they stop short of where I instructed them to go, and at other times, their AI is extremely competent, and will quick scope enemies. Its very inconsistent. The good thing is, even if your teammate gets killed in a mission, they are available again in the following mission, provided the mission designed for it. Some missions are solo mission, but you are given the command of a drone, which is very useful for spotting enemies.

The last two missions are particularly brutal with how the checkpoints are located. In the 10th mission, it felt as if they forgot to include a checkpoint towards the end, which resulted in a section that I had to repeat about 10 times. Extremely frustrating. This did however result in one of the most tense encounters in a game that I had in a very long time.

Playing this game now is a little bit challenging because of the technical issues. The two main game breaking issues that everyone is going to encounter are:

  • The middle mouse button, which is supposed to issue orders on the fly, does not work.
  • Ready To Bear mission will immediately start to glitch up on starting.
There are fixes available for it online, while they are not particularly complicated, and I tried my best to document the fixes, depending on how someone acquired the game, it may or may not be possible to apply the fixes easily.

In addition to this there are texture flickering issues which would cause the visuals to completely glitch revealing a wire frame of the level, and this has been useful at times because I could see enemy location behind walls, and as far as I know, there is no fix for this.

It seems to me that the only way to buy this game now, if you don't already own it on any digital distribution platform is to buy the CD version. Do I think its worth the trouble? Not particularly. There are enough technical issues here for me to not recommend this game. I will write my opinion on G.R.A.W 2 when I get around to it. Maybe in 2024.

+ Level design
+ Physics

- Technical issues
- Inconsistent checkpoints
- De-listed everywhere
- Poor weapon selection
- Frustrating Teammate AI

Verdict - Not recommended.

Monday, January 30, 2023

Fix Error When VT-x (Virtualization) is Enabled in VMWare Player

I was unable to enable virtualization on my Windows 10 VM on a Windows 10 host. I did have virtualization enabled in the BIOS, but that didn't seem to help. When I check the box to enable this feature, Virtualize Intel VT-x/EPT or AMD-V/RVI, I would get an error. 


I want this feature enabled to run Docker in my VM.

This is my system configuration:

  • Microsoft Windows 10 Pro
    • Version 10.0.19045 Build 19045
  • Intel(R) Core(TM) i7-6700K CPU @ 4.00GHz, 4008 Mhz, 4 Core(s), 8 Logical Processor(s)
  • American Megatrends Inc. 1.I0, 6/26/2018
  • Installed Physical Memory (RAM) 32.0 GB
  • Realtek High Definition Audio
  • Killer E2400 Gigabit Ethernet Controller
  • Samsung SSD 850 EVO 500GB
  • Samsung SSD 850 EVO 500GB
  • WDC WD10EZEX-08WN4A0

I know my computer is more than capable of running a VM with virtulization. I did some searching, and I found several powershell commands out there, and running them did not help. I did some digging and realized that not all the Windows features that prevent using virtualization were removed.

I resolved this problem by doing this:

  1. Open Turn Windows features on or off.
  2. Turn off the following features:
    • Hyper-V
    • Virtual Machine Platform
    • aWindows Hypervisor Platform
    • Windows Sandbox
    • Windows Subsystem for Linux
  3. Save and restart the computer.
  4. Open VMWare Player
  5. Select the VM and edit the VM settings
  6. Enable Virtualize Intel VT-x/EPT or AMD-V/RVI

Once the virtual machine is up and running, install Docker. This will require installing WSL2 in the VM. If everything is done right, Docker should start successfully.

How To Fix Middle Mouse Button To Give Orders - Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter (Steam)

This is a fix for the middle mouse button not working when giving orders in Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter. I am using the Steam version for this, but I would imagine this fix will work on any PC version.

1. Navigate to the following location:
E:\SteamLibrary\steamapps\common\Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter\Settings

2. Open the following file in a text editor:

3. Change the following line:
<button id="hud_select" binding="2" device="mouse" group="misc"/>

To this:

<button id="hud_select" binding="2" device="mouse" group="tactics"/>

4. Save the file and start the game.

Here is a video showing this process.

Saturday, January 28, 2023

Stepping Out - Brief Initial Thoughts on Doom (2016)

I put off playing Doom (2016) for many years because I wanted to have a machine powerful enough to play it. After finishing Gun yesterday, which was a thoroughly mediocre shooter, I was in the mood for something good. Considering that I am now fortunate enough to own a fantastic computer, I decided now is the time.

To this day, I avoided all media related to this game. After watching the gameplay reveal video many years ago, I decided this game needs to be experienced without any spoilers.

I am glad I did this. In my opinion, this game probably has the best introduction of any game, ever.

Following this excellent opening, you get to step out of the confined location you find yourself in and into the open world, and seeing the fantastic world in front of you is truly breathtaking.

It reminded me of the time I played Fallout 3 for the first time, and I stepped out of the vault.

The art design of this game is totally something else. I will review this game once I am done playing it. I get the feeling I am in for a real treat.

GUN (PC) Review

I first played this game in 2009, and I never ended up finishing it. I recently picked up the GOG version and I beat the game. The game is fun for the most part, but there are aspects that really set it back.

The story is set in late 19th century America, specifically in the Old West, and involves finding the lost city of Quivira, where this is lot of gold to be mined.

Its somewhat of an open world game, and the player gets to backtrack between cities. There are quite a few side missions as well, and completing these missions reward the player with cash, which can be used to buy weapons and upgrades. I had a very tough time in certain missions and I think its because I didn't do any of the side missions. I went straight for the main missions. I think this was a mistake. Not having weapon upgrades make the game a lot more difficult even on Normal difficulty. 

The game has a thoroughly budget feel to it. It is a poor man's Red Dead Redemption.

The save system is confusing. It appears that you can save the game at any point, but when you load the game (and you have to quit the current game to do so), it begins at the start of the mission. There is no auto checkpoint system to go along with the manual save system. There were times when I forgot to manually save the game, and I lost progress. Very annoying. I would much rather have a manual save system, and a quick save system, but modern games have taught me to expect a checkpoint system, which I loathe.

The story is well told, and the voice acting is quite good. I remember thinking this when I was playing the game, and I later learned that the voice actors included some Hollywood talent, not that having Hollywood actors voice lines in a video game necessarily makes the gameplay any better. 

Visually, the game looks alright. There is no support for widescreen resolutions. I played the game at 1600x1200. I have a computer that is dedicated to playing older games, and on a 1080p monitor, the game is very playable. I would not play this game on my ultrawide monitor because it would not scale very well, and it would end up looking awful. 

I had to reduce the mouse movement speed all the way to 0 within the game, because my Razer DeathAdder's sensor is perhaps way too sensitive for this game. I was having issues with camera control on default settings. The game is a console port, and it shows. The interface, controls are all made with a console in mind. I feel for those that bought this game at full price on the PC.

By far the worst aspect of this game are the boss battles. They are horrible. It feels as if the enemies cheat, and have wall hacks the way can shoot you when you peak from behind the cover for a second. This gets really annoying towards the end. I had to find a way to cheese my way through because it was damn near impossible to play fair and square.

Its possible that the reason I had this problem because I did not play any of the side missions, however, that means there is a problem with scaling the difficulty of the boss battles.

If you can find the game for less than $2, and you are curious to check out this forgotten game, then go for it. Any price more than that is not worth it, in my opinion.

+ Voice acting
+ Visuals in certain locations
+ Gun play in general

- Boss battles
- General budget feel of the game
- Weird save system

Verdict - Worth about $2.

Sunday, October 16, 2022

Assassin's Creed Unity (PC) is Looking Good

I recently started playing Assassin's Creed Unity after briefly watching Whitelight's video on this game. I had this game in my library for a long time, but I just haven't gotten around to it. I finished Black Flag and Rogue earlier this year, and those are the only two AC games I finished to date. After playing other games for a while, the time felt right to get back into an Assassin's Creed game.

When I first started this game, my impressions were not great. It felt less polished than Black Flag (which is understandable given its launch). However, once I scaled up the Notre-Dame cathedral my view on this game changed for the better. The game looks beautiful. Climbing up to the top of the cathedral and scanning the vista was done very well. I get the feeling that there is something very special about this game. Whether or not it lives up to its potential remains to be seen. As with all UbiSoft open world games, there is a lot of bloat in terms of collectibles, missions, etc.

I wonder if this is the largest Assassins's Creed in terms of map size at this point. The crowd density was a talking point, and I have mixed feelings about it. The crowd AI is nowhere near as sophisticated as the trailer suggested. Some of the animations can be very clunky.

There are also technical issues with the game. I was able to get the game running running fine at 3440x1440 resolution. I had to run this in a borderless window mode to prevent the game from resizing all the other windows I have open in my secondary display. In addition to this, recording videos at 60FPS in ShadowPlay causes jittering in the video files. I had to reduce the video capture frame rate to 30FPS to get stable recordings.

I haven't formed a strong opinion on the rest of the game, but so far, I am enjoying it. Unlikely as it might be, my hope is that this game will surpass Black Flag as the best Assassin's Creed game.

Monday, October 10, 2022

VSCode Does Not Recognize Local Git Repository

Opening a local folder that is a Git repository is not recognized as repository in VSCode. 

VSCode asks the user to initialize the folder as a repository even though the folder is already a Git repository. 

VSCode does not recognize the local folder as Git repository

The workaround is to open VSCode as an Administrator. 

Run as administrator

This will recognize the folder as a Git repository. 

F.E.A.R Extraction Point (PC) Review

F.E.A.R Extraction Point is the first of the two expansions for F.E.A.R. It is developed by Timegate Studios and released in October 2006, about a year after the first game. This is an excellent expansion pack to a great horror game. It looks better, and plays better than F.E.A.R for the most part.

The story for this expansion picks up right where the first game left off, and it branches into what is now commonly referred to as the Vivendi timeline. F.E.A.R 2 and F.E.A.R 3 follow the Monolith timeline. The direct sequels do not acknowledge the expansion packs from Timegate. You reprise your role as the Point Man, and you are separated from your squad, Jin and Holiday. Your overarching goal is to regroup with them and get to the extraction point.

I got the feeling that there are aspects of the plot that were never fleshed out due to time constraints. At one point, you are aided by Alma, who turns into an ally, and fights against Replica forces, who are controlled by Paxton Fettel. After that brief section, this never gets brought up again. Its like this particular plot thread was explored briefly and then abandoned quickly.

It felt like the visuals have received an upgrade. The levels looks great, and they are designed very well. The atmosphere is fantastic, especially in the later levels. The Church and the Hospital levels are particularly well done. The horror is not always relegated to jump scares, while they do exist, the emphasis is mostly on creating an unnerving atmosphere. Some of the scenes in the game are shocking, and unexpected. These sections elevate the game over other horror games. While the outdoor environments never look great, there aren't a lot of them. F.E.A.R strength lies in creating confined levels which induce a certain sense of claustrophobia. Church, Subway, and Hospital levels are simply excellent. The hospital level deserves a special mention, because they are so well done. Not a whole lot happens in some of these areas, you just get to walk through rooms, but the attention to detail is really on point here.

The audio compliments the level design very well. The shotgun and the minigun sound the best. Going into bullet time and blasting enemies with the shotgun never gets old for me. The AR is still disappointing, it sounds like a pea shooter. I prefer the SMG if I am given a choice, but it doesn't do as much damage. Enemy soldier call outs, footsteps, and spooky effects are all excellent. They are either on par or better than the previous game.

The legendary enemy AI is back, and combined with a great arsenal of weapons, and bullet time, the combat is as good as ever. There are two new weapons - the minigun and the lazer carbine. I particularly enjoyed the lazer carbine. Its a lot of fun to use. There are a variety of grenades as well, and this combined with some of the weapons, the combat felt a lot better than it did in F.E.A.R. The deployable turret is also quite useful in dealing with enemies. There are situations where you have to fight quite a few enemies at once.

For the first time in the series, you have a companion in certain areas, and there is an open level that you get to engage the enemies with your AI parter, and that level is quite well done. You are perched on top of a building and you get to pick off enemies with the particle beam. The game engine is not great for outdoor levels. It just doesn't look very good. The sky box is cheap looking, and the textures are washed out. F.E.A.R is best when its confined to tight corridors. Thankfully, there is only one such level, and it quickly goes back to what it does best, creepy claustrophobic levels.

There are also some technical issues with this game. The infamous disconnect from server bug is back. To fix this, you have to turn down the textures to minimum and get past the problem, save the game, turn it back up, and reload the save. The does not natively support widescreen resolution, but the fix is very simple tweak in the config file. It would be excellent if someone at GOG fixed some of these issues and released a patched version of the game.

The ending is rather anti climactic, and I got the feeling the next expansion was supposed to pick up where this game left off. All in all, this game is a worthy expansion to one of the best PC games of all time. I would recommend buying this on GOG. The entire F.E.A.R series (Original and expansions) frequently goes on sale for less than $2, and at that price, there is no reason to not pick it up and try it.

+ Atmosphere
+ Level designed
+ Audio
+ combat

- Technical issues

Verdict - Must Play

Monday, September 26, 2022

Mass Effect (PC) Review

I finished this game on Thursday, December 10, 2009, 8:44:00 PM. This review was first published on GameSpot on Mar 07, 2010

Mass Effect is the first Bioware I played. I went in, knowing nothing about the game. My initial impressions of the game were far from good. I found the combat quite tedious and the game was really slow. I was sort of expecting that, having played games like Deus Ex. Mass effect has a much bigger world. In fact it's gigantic. I have to applaud the level design here.

Closer to home A lot of people don't seem to have liked the planet exploration aspect; I for one loved it. The surreal feeling you get when you are on Normandy and open up the galaxy map and get to see all the star systems is really fantastic. I wonder if anyone remembers the music when open the map, it's a resonating sound that's really appropriate when you are gazing into the heavens.

Having teammates in the game is both good and bad. I've had the same team mates for most of the game - Tali and Liara. I liked their abilities and they provide a good balance. What I did not like was the behavior at times. More often than not, they do not take cover and rush into combat and dying shortly after making me reload the game. It's also hard to make them go where you want them to or to get them to stop following you into combat. It's not as broken as it sounds, it's definitely playable, but it can be very annoying at times. Thankfully you have the power to bring them back to life later on the game; it's definitely needed.

People on the forums said that the side missions are boring and there is no real reason to play them. I thought they were fantastic, especially for someone who is following the story. Just shows the effort BioWare put into this game. What was boring were the long elevator rides. That is a nice way to disguise a load screen, but it gets boring considering how long the game is.

What did not live up to the quality to the rest of the game is the inventory system, which is by far the clunkiest system I have ever seen. The different kind of ammo upgrades that tend to accumulate over a period of time is a little ridiculous. Of course, all the material in the inventory is not entirely useless; it can be used to convert into Omni Gel, which in turn can be used to hack electronics.

The one vehicle we get to drive in the game, Mako, handles in a weird way. It seems weightless at times, and that makes it hard to control.

What truly stands out though is the story telling. All the little choices you make during the game have an impact later on. The conversation trees are really well made.

Mass Effect is easily one of the best games I ever played.

+ Story
+ Conversation
+ Graphics
+ Music
+ Voice acting
+ Level design
+ Graphics
+ Exploration
+ Replay value

- Inventory system
- Teammate AI
- Combat
- Squad command
- Elevator rides

Verdict - Must play

BioShock (PC) Review

I finished this game on Tuesday, February 16, 2010, 9:45:00 PM. This review was first published on Saturday, May 1, 2010.

BioShock for me is one of those games that I had a hard time getting into. Unlike most people who were mesmerized with the setting of Rapture, I sort of found it a little dull. I persisted nevertheless and it paid off.

It has a very unique setting - an underwater city. Set in the 1960s, the game captures the feel of the era very well. Beginning with a plane crash in the Atlantic that leads the main character Jack into the underwater city Rapture, which is the brainchild of visionary, Andrew Ryan. The story is not very clear right from the start, but it unravels soon enough. The idea of telling the story through audio logs is not particularly revolutionary, we have seen an attempt made in Doom 3, which had a huge collection of audio logs and diaries. That went by virtually unacknowledged, and Doom 3 was accused of not having a story at all. Not so here. Voice acting is brilliant. Story is a little complex to understand at the beginning, its easy to get the big picture, but the nuances aren't very clear. It took me a little bit of time to connect all the dots.

Having gone through the process of connecting the dots, the story makes a lot more sense, and I can tell you, this game has one of the most interesting plots in games, its way up there with Deus Ex. To those of you who did not play this game, there can't be that many of you, don't read any more, just play the game. The plot twists are going to come as a bit of a surprise.

It was important that BioShock had a strong plot because initially the gameplay was a bit of a let down. The gun play is very weak. The Unreal 2.5 engine looks surprisingly dated at times, and plays poorly in the beginning. That is not to say its bad, but the weapons seem very unwieldy. Perhaps this is intentional? I don't know. This was one of the reasons I found it hard getting into the game. As the game progresses, there are better weapons available, along with different kinds of ammo. Machine gun initially handled very poorly for me. I preferred the pistol a lot more. There are much better weapons to be had in the later part of the game though. I loved the crossbow and the shotgun the most. The chemical thrower comes in very handy towards the end.

The plasmids however, steal the show. The fire and electric plasmids were by far my favorites. There are a whole lot of other plasmids available but I didn't like them a whole lot. The Telekinesis is something like the gravity gun in Half-Life 2, but the physics in the game were not as good. It is a fairly useful ability to have though. Apart from the core plasmids, there are tons of tonics that will add abilities. There is a lot of room for customization here, it sort of reminds me Deus Ex.

There are some really bad design decisions that I found really irritating, such as re-spawning Big Daddys. It just gets really pointless after a while.

The vita chambers are not among the bad design decisions though. They were controversial but I cannot imagine why. They made the game more free flowing for me. This sort of a setup won't work for every game, but it did here. Considering how strong the a Big Daddy is, I am glad the vita chambers exit.

There are a few different endings for the game. It depends on how much ADAM the player harvests. Harvesting ADAM would involving killing the Little Sisters. The characters will play some psychological games trying to either encourage or discourage the player from harvesting ADAM. This is quite well done.

After a slow start, BioShock turned things around, and I have immensely enjoyed it. It is not your usual game, and but the story telling, and atmosphere are top notch. There are traces of the game being a console port, which were really disappointing.

+ Atmosphere
+ Story
+ Voice acting
+ Plasmids
+ Vita chambers

- Weak gunplay initially
- Re-spawning enemies

Verdict – Must play.