How to replace ugly OS X icons

Upgraded recently?  Noticed the garish, hideous, red iTunes icon that has infected your dock?  Does it make you think something is wrong with the application?  Want to change it back, or at least to something else that just doesn’t suck as much?  It’s easy.

Red Icon in Dock

Changing icons for applications in OS X isn’t hard.  There is the ‘right’ way (which involves inspecting packages and substituting .icns files) and then there is the easy way.  Here’s the easy way…

Let’s say you want to change this iTunes Red Icon back to this iTunes Blue Icon.

The first step is to copy the icon you want into the clipboard, so just right-click the blue iTunes icon above and select Copy Image.

You can use nearly any image as an icon, but medium-resolution .png files (say 256×256 up to 1024×1024 pixels) with transparent edges work quite nicely.

Next, we want to find the iTunes application.  Right-click the iTunes icon in the dock, select Options > Show in Finder.

Show in Finder

Now select File > Get Info.

iTunes Info

Click on the small icon in the top-left corner of the Info window to select it.

Selected Icon in Info Window

Now simply Edit > Paste.

Enter your password if/when prompted.

The Info window should now show the better icon in action.

Back to Blue

Close the Info window and you’re done.

The next time you launch iTunes from the dock the icon will update and the awful red icon will be gone!

Task Bar Back to Normal

If, for some reason, you go insane and want to undo the above and restore the normal icon to iTunes (or any application), all you need to do is Edit > Cut the icon from the Info window and it will return back to normal.

Enjoy!

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Centred Side-by-Side Images in WordPress

Want to have two or more images appear side-by-side on a post in WordPress?  Want to have them centred so they look nice?  The solution is surprisingly simple.

 3  1  2

To get the centred, side-by-side effect, you don’t need to tweak image attributes, you don’t need to stick them in tables, you don’t need to mess with divs and, in fact, you don’t need to deal with raw code at all.

  1. Leave a blank line where you want the images to go
  2. Click on the blank line to place your insertion point there
  3. Click ‘Align center’ in the toolbar
  4. Add Media
  5. Upload and select an image
  6. Check the ‘Attachment Display Settings’ — make sure that ‘Alignment’ is set to ‘None’
  7. Insert into post
  8. Press the space bar a couple of times to separate the last image from the next one
  9. Go back to step 4 for the next image
  10. Repeat as many times as you want

That’s it.  Enjoy!

NB: You must centre the blank line before you add images.  You can’t add images and then centre the line — it doesn’t work.

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Reduce Wind Noise in iPhone Videos

Use your iPhone to shoot videos outside?  Don’t notice anything more than a gentle breeze whilst filming?  Shocked to later discover that the audio quality is terrible thanks to wind noise?  Can’t justify spending over $60 for a solution to the problem?  Just want a quick and cheap hack that works?  Read on.

Most iPhone 4 and 4s owners do not know that their phones actually have two microphones (iPhone 5, 5s and 5c have three).  The one on the bottom of the phone is used when you make a phone call or record a voice memo.  When you are shooting video, however, the phone uses a different microphone.

What microphone, you ask?

iPhone 4/4s:

Look just next to the 3.5mm headphone jack.  See that tiny, 0.5mm, pin-prick of a hole?  Yep, that’s the one.  That microphone.

iPhone 5/5s/5c:

Look between the iSight camera and the flash on the back of your phone.

If you don’t believe it, grab your phone, start recording some video, and keep talking whilst you use a finger to alternately cover and expose that hole.  When you play back the video you’ll hear for yourself that the audio fades in and out.

Unfortunately, it is really hard to attach any sort of wind screen to those microphones and, even if it wasn’t, most people have cases that would prevent the wind screen from being able to be fitted or working properly.  How do we solve this problem?  We don’t.  We ignore the default mic and work around the problem instead.

The 3.5mm headphone jack on all iPhone 4, 4s, 5, 5s and 5c models is actually a combination headphone and microphone jack that works with the bundled Apple EarPods.  You know, those (usually) white things that got put back in the box because they didn’t fit in your ears properly and were too uncomfortable to wear for any more than 10 minutes at a time.

WindScreenHack1

Now, if you have never used EarPods before, the ‘remote’ is a strip of plastic located on the cable leading to the right earbud. This lets you control volume, skip tracks, answer incoming calls — that sort of thing.  On the back of the remote is a small hole covered by a perforated screen.  This is the microphone we are going to use.

At this point, a small number of you are thinking “That mic is garbage, this’ll never work.”  Well, you’re half right.  The mic on the remote is garbage.  More accurately, the placement of the mic on the remote is garbage and the location of the remote is also garbage.  If you’ve ever used it to call someone they will quietly hate you for it.  If you’ve ever had it connected whilst shooting video not only will you have noticed that it picks up even more wind noise than the default video mic, but suffers from additional audio artefacts as well.  It really is quite awful.  But we can fix that.

Grab a pair of pliers or scissors.  Cut the left earbud’s cable just above the Y section.  Cut the right earbud’s cable just above the remote.

WindScreenHack2  WindScreenHack3

You should now have nothing but the microphone (on the back of the remote) connected by a single wire to the plug.

WindScreenHack4

Now go hunt down a small piece of soft, spongy foam.  It could be from some electronics packaging, a jewellery box, a dish sponge… mine came from a $2 set of disposable foam paint brushes.

WindScreenHack5

Cut out a 2cm x 2cm x 6cm long piece if you can.  Wider and deeper would/could be better, but it doesn’t need to be any longer than 6cm.  Bevel any and all foam edges so that no 90° corners remain.

Get a small screwdriver, or a large nail, or something similar, and carefully ‘drill’ a pilot hole right through the middle of the long axis.  Try to keep it as centred as you can along the whole length.

WindScreenHack6

Now force feed the microphone into the pilot hole deep enough so that it is centred length-wise in the middle of the foam block.  The microphone now has a wind screen.

WindScreenHack7

The final step is to coil all of the cable into a tight bundle around 2 or 3 fingers.  Then grab a cable tie, rubber band, or similar, and tie up the bundle.

WindScreenHack8

Insert the 3.5mm microphone plug into the iPhone’s ‘headphone’ jack and start recording.

WindScreenHack9

Enjoy video without wind noise!

Questions and Answers

Why do the inbuilt video microphones suck so much on iPhone 4, 4s, 5, 5s and 5c?

Because they are recessed into a flat surface.  Any time wind hits any flat surface it is forced to deflect and run along that surface.  If wind, travelling along a flat surface, passes over a ‘hole’ in that surface, some of the wind will swirl into that hole (much like an eddy current behind a log or stone on the edge of a stream).  The turbulence in the hole carries much more (kinetic) energy than regular sound waves, and ‘wind noise’ is the result.

This phenomena is not limited to iPhones.  Every microphone in the world that is mounted into a flat surface and exposed to wind will suffer the same problem.

Why doesn’t the EarPod microphone work well when used ‘normally’?

The normal position for the microphone is against or near clothing.  Wind striking the clothing will create turbulence which, even if the mic was facing towards the body, would be picked up and register as wind noise.  Every time the remote or the attached cable rubs against clothing, vibrations will travel to the mic and cause even more audio artefacts to be recorded.  There is almost no conceivable way that this arrangement will ever work without the audio quality suffering in one way or the other.

Do I have to cut off the earbuds?  Seems like a waste.

If you don’t then you’ll have big, plastic earbuds clanking into each other in the wind.  Threading the microphone into the pilot hole will also be more difficult.

Wouldn’t it be better to tape the finished mic to the front of the phone?

The trick to eliminating wind noise is to convert kinetic energy from the wind into some other harmless form of energy before it reaches the microphone.  The foam has lots of tiny, spherical cavities or ‘pockets’ on its surface.  Moving air molecules enter these pockets and bounce against the walls.  Every time they bounce kinetic energy is transferred from the air to the foam and is (ultimately) converted to heat.  This is good enough to absorb the energy of low-speed winds.

If the microphone is allowed to dangle loosely below the phone then high-speed winds, which are too strong to be absorbed by the cavities, will have (at least some of) their kinetic energy converted (via torque) to rotational motion — the mic will spin slightly and sway in the wind.  Following winds will then tend to slip past the mic in its new position, rather than slam into it (like the behaviour of wind against the rudder on a plane).  A loose mic thus has two ways to absorbing or avoiding wind energy whilst a rigid, fixed mic only has one.  Car suspension systems typically have two systems (shock absorbers and springs) for the same reason.

Taping the mic to the phone prevents it from swaying or spinning and thus you have no way of absorbing or avoiding high-speed winds.  Taping it to a flat surface also results in more turbulence from deflected wind (as explained earlier) so you actually end up with even more wind noise.  Try it and see.

What was the point of bevelling the edges of the foam?

It is better to dodge wind than to absorb it.  A square is 41% longer corner-to-corner than it is face-to-face.  Winds heading towards the mic at any angle other than a right angle will therefore be presented with a bigger target.  Bigger targets are easier to hit.  More air molecules will strike the wind screen.  More energy will need to be absorbed.  There will be a greater chance of hearing wind noise.

By bevelling the 90° corners into, say, 45° corners, you reduce the size of the target when viewed at an angle.  A smaller target will get hit by fewer air molecules.  Less energy will need to be absorbed.  There will be less chance of hearing wind noise.

Ideally, the shape of the wind screen would be a cylinder, with no corners at all.  Its ends would be rounded.  It would look like a large pill — streamlined.

I followed all of the instructions but now I’m not getting any sound at all!

Do you still have the microphone plugged in?  You didn’t modify the plug, so the phone still thinks a pair of headphones is connected.  When you play back a video you won’t hear anything because the audio is being sent down wires to earbuds which are no longer there (probably in the bin by now).  Unplug the microphone to hear the audio.

I’m not hearing wind noise, but do get random audio artefacts.  What’s with that?

If the swaying microphone hits anything (like, say, your clothes or your wrist) then the kinetic energy from the collision will travel through the wind screen, transform into a pressure wave, hit the mic, and manifest as a loud artefact in the audio track.  You probably won’t notice the collision (especially if it just bumps into your clothes) because the mic is so very, very light.

Modify your grasp and technique to minimise or eliminate such collisions.

e.g. On an iPhone 4 or 4s, the jack is on the top-left.  When recording video, you’re usually in landscape mode.  The record button is therefore on the right-hand side of the screen.  You can simply hold the phone with just your right hand and tap the record button with your right thumb.  Since nothing is ever anywhere near the left hand side of the phone (where the mic is swinging freely) you’ll never have a collision and never suffer from audio artefacts.

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Upgrading a 600-series phone socket to RJ11

Live in Australia and have an old, crusty phone socket that needs to be upgraded?  Not sure if you can DIY or whether you should call a sparky?  If so, read on.

Telecom/Telstra has installed millions of 600-series phone sockets in houses all across Australia since the 1960s.  If you have one, it probably looks something like this:

If you’ve bought a phone recently, however, the chances are it no longer has a 600-series plug.  It probably has an RJ11, RJ12 or RJ45 plug instead — something like this:

So, what you probably want to do is upgrade your old phone socket to one that will suit your new phone’s plug — something like this:

Whilst there are a lot of possible combinations of old sockets, wires and new socket options, I’m going to explain the simplest case so that you can grasp the bare essentials of what is involved.  If you are still confused at the end, keep researching or call an electrician.

If you remove the cover plate of the old (600-series) phone socket, you will see six screw terminals attached to six connectors arranged in pairs.

Each screw/connector should be numbered (from 1–6) but, if they aren’t, just start your numbering from the outermost connector in the group of four.  Thus you should have 1&2 then 3&4 then a gap (to receive the non-conducting spigot) followed by 5&6.

In the simplest case, you will only have two wires connected to screw terminals.  A white and blue striped wire should be connected to terminal 2, and a blue wire should be connected to terminal 6.  By convention, the white and blue striped wire is referred to as the “white” wire — thus white connects to terminal 2 and blue connects to terminal 6.

For a single, regular, no-frills phone line that’s all you need — one pair of copper wires.

NB:  These wires usually have ~50V DC open circuit which jumps to ~100V AC when a call comes in.  Shorting or earthing them can give you a nasty zap or damage expensive equipment at the exchange which can easily be traced back to you.  If you aren’t competent to handle such live wires without causing damage, don’t proceed — call an electrician instead.

Remove the mounting screws holding the socket’s mounting-plate to the wall.  Carefully pull the plate out so you can check the back for any surprises.

Using an insulated screwdriver, release the white wire from terminal 2.  Snip the exposed/stripped section of wire off with insulated cutters to minimise the chance of an accidental shock or short.  Carefully withdraw it from the socket.  Bend the wire out of the way and tape it for extra safety if you wish.

Using an insulated screwdriver, release the blue wire from terminal 6.  Snip the exposed/stripped section of wire off with insulated cutters to minimise the chance of an accidental shock or short.  Carefully withdraw it from the socket.  Bend the wire out of the way and tape it for extra safety if you wish.

Dispose of the 600-series socket and mounting-plate.  Keep the mounting screws.

Now let’s turn our attention to the replacement socket.

The simplest Registered Jack (RJ) that will support a single phone line (pair of wires) is the RJ11.  The RJ11 has 6 Positions where wires can be inserted and connected to pins, but only 2 Contacts have actually been made — thus RJ11 is also known as a 6P2C connector.

NB:  Your phone may have an RJ12 plug.  This is exactly the same size and shape as the RJ11 but instead of only 2 Contacts it may have 4 Contacts — thus RJ12 is also known as a 6P4C connector.  The extra two wires do fancy stuff that you probably have no use for, like flashing your phone’s lights.  I won’t discuss it any more here — just letting you know.

All you need for a basic phone service (which fully supports ADSL in both its normal and naked forms) are two copper wires, so a 6P2C RJ11 socket is all you need.  If you can, get one.  But since it costs a negligible amount more for manufacturers to make 6P4C RJ12 sockets (which get used a lot by companies) it will probably be easier to find and use one of those instead.  Something like this would work just fine:

RJ12 IDC Socket

(“RJ12 IDC Socket for Flush Plates” from Jaycar Electronics)

The back of the socket will have colour-coded slots for wires.  You run each wire through the channel in the middle, then through the same-coloured slot.

NB:  You should easily find the blue slot, but you will not find a plain white slot.  Look for a white-blue slot (often a rectangle or square split diagonally with white in one half and blue in the other) — the white and blue striped wire goes in the white-blue slot.

In each slot are two small conducting blades.  If you push the wire down to the bottom of the slot, the blades will cut through the sides of the sheath and make contact with the bare metal inside.  To help you with this process you may want to get yourself (buy or borrow) a punch down tool — something like this:

Punchdown tool

Use the punch down tool to punch the white(-blue) and blue wires into the correct positions on the RJ11/12 socket:

Punchdown in action

The above image shows not only the white(-blue) and blue wires being punched down, but others as well.  Orange and white-orange are the second pair that enable RJ12’s extra functionality.  For RJ11 you do not need to punch down anything but white(-blue) and blue.

Once you have punched down the white(-blue) and blue wires it should look something like this (but with the loose ends trimmed off):

Punchdown complete

Two wires punched down into their corresponding slots on the back of a RJ11/12 socket with all of the other wires folded out of the way (not punched into the socket).

Secure the unused wires with electrical tape, cap the back of the socket (if it has a cap) and then plug your phone into the socket and test to make sure it works.

If everything is working then push the socket into its mounting-plate and mount it on the wall using the original screws that you saved.

Tidy up and you’re done.

PS:  Assuming that you buy a RJ11/12 socket, mounting plate and punch down tool, you’re still going to have change left over from $50 and should be able to complete the above process in less than 30 minutes.  Each additional socket would cost you less than $20 (since you now have a punch down tool you would only need to buy the socket and plate) and would only take about 10 minutes to upgrade.  A sparky would charge at least $50 per socket.

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Zombie Eradication Guide

The information in this guide is specific to the zombie survival game Infestation: Survivor Stories.  It may or may not be applicable to other games and/or real life.  Use at your own risk.

Zombie Eradication

Zombie 101

To become an expert at zombie eradication you need to understand the enemy:

  • zombies have poor vision
  • zombies have poor hearing
  • zombies have good smell
  • zombies often lie down
  • zombies don’t move a lot
  • zombies don’t move very fast
  • zombies are bad at climbing
  • zombies are stupid

Exploit or counter all of the above to dominate the zombie infestation.

Engage on your terms

The best way to eradicate zombies is to only fight the battles you are likely to win.  The best way to do this is to engage zombies on terms of your choosing.

Always remember that your character looks forward.  If you walk backward you can’t see where you are going.  There could be zombies there.  You could draw their attention (aggro) and be attacked from behind with little or no warning.  Don’t walk backward (or even sideways) unless you are sure the area is safe.

If you sprint you make more noise.  Zombies will be able to hear you from further away — a lot further away.  You will get more zombie aggro.  Sprinting through a town/city with lots of buildings and blind corners is very, very dangerous and can quickly result in a horde of zombies on your trail for precisely this reason.  Sprinting also gives you less time to notice possible zombies lying on the ground in front of (or near) you and thus less opportunity to steer clear of them.  You may awaken these zombies and draw their aggro.  Avoid sprinting unless you have good visibility of the entire area that you are in and/or plan on sprinting through.

Until you are proficient in melee (hand-to-hand) combat against zombies the best thing to do is approach from a safe area with good visibility and pick them off one at a time.

Be prepared

If you haven’t already:  Press I to bring up your inventory. Drag a melee weapon into slot 2 of your inventory to equip it. Hit ESC go go back to first-/third-person view. Press 2 to select the weapon in slot 2. It will glow blue.  Your melee weapon is now equipped, selected and ready to be used.

The first kill

Find a zombie by itself (not very close to other zombies). Inch closer until it detects you and starts heading towards you. Back off a little. This process is known as ‘pulling’.

Always pull zombies towards areas that you know are clear of other zombies.  Pulling is safer because once you and the zombie start swinging, you minimise the chance that the noise of combat will aggro any more zombies.  These additional zombies (adds) can quickly overwhelm you if you’re not expecting them and not proficient enough to deal with them.

Place your crosshairs in (aim at) the middle of the zombie’s head.  The only way to kill a zombie is by hitting it in the head.  Press and hold the left mouse button.  Your character will keep attacking with their weapon until you release the button — there is no need to click repeatedly like a crazy person.

You will notice that every time you hit the zombie there will be a splash of blood and the zombie may lurch, often violently, in some direction. There is no need to track the head when it does this. The zombie will regain its composure and their head will return to where it was before. If you haven’t moved the mouse and are still holding down the left mouse button, you will hit them again, and again, and again.

After enough head shots the zombie will go down.

Avoiding damage

Every time you hit the zombie you interrupt its attack. Thus if you keep hitting the zombie, they will never be able to hit you. If you miss the zombie, they will probably complete their attack and might actually do some damage.

Keep this in mind, as what it means is that body shots, although they wont kill a zombie, will stop that zombie from hurting you. Head shots, while they will kill a zombie, have a much higher chance of missing and, as a result, you might get hurt.

If a zombie gets the jump on you (surprise attacks you) you are much better off aiming for the body to start with (to interrupt their attacks) before moving your focus to the head. This minimises the chance of damage.

If you don’t care about being hit every-so-often, and want to take down zombies as fast as possible, always aim for the head. Just make sure you have medical supplies as it is inevitable that you will be hit and take damage if you do this.

Armour

It takes 5 hits from a zombie to kill you with no body armour on.  With Light Gear Forest, MTV Forest or IBA Sand on it takes 6 hits.  With Custom Guerilla it takes 7 hits.

Helmets (oddly enough) make no difference because zombies aim for the body, not the head.  Presumably they beat you to death with their arms then remove your helmet and eat your brain.

Wear body armour if you can — it helps.

Rifles and pistols

Shooting zombies is a waste of ammunition. The supply of zombies is infinite, but your ammo supply is very, very limited. You are far better off saving the bullets for players and learning how to kill zombies quickly and efficiently with a melee weapon.

If you are intent on wasting precious ammo, realise that one shot to the head, from any firearm, will kill a zombie.  That means there is absolutely no point wasting an M107 .50 sniper round on a zombie.  You may as well grab a Kruger .22 rifle or pistol and get the job done just as well.  It is much easier to find .22 guns and ammo than it is sniper guns and ammo (and besides, .22s do virtually nothing against armoured players so it’s not like you are going to use them in PvP).

Also realise that guns make (sometimes a lot) more noise than melee weapons and thus may draw unwanted zombie aggro.  Fire an M107 inside of Boulder or the Airport and you’ll soon see what a zombie horde looks like.  If you open fire on zombies, expect the consequences.  To avoid attracting a horde you are strongly advised to put a silencer on your firearm.

Best anti-zombie firearm/setup for stealthy eradication of zombies:  Kruger .22 rifle/pistol with silencer and scope.

Melee weapons

The best melee weapons for killing zombies are the katana, machete and hatchet.  They all take only 2 head shots to kill a zombie. Pretty much every other weapon takes about 3 head shots. If possible, avoid using a flashlight, nail gun or a regular baseball bat as they take 4 or more head shots.

Contrary to expectations, all melee weapons have the same range: 1m.  You are no safer taking on a zombie with a canoe paddle than you are brass knuckles.

Note that the game implements different ‘hit boxes’ for different weapons, meaning that they don’t all work the same way. For some weapons you need to aim a little higher (like at the forehead/scalp of the zombie), for some aiming at the right or left ear might be best. Trial and error on your part will let you discover what the most effective aiming spot is for your character/view/view side/camera angle/weapon.

more to come…

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Infestation Q&A

There are a lot of questions about Infestation: Survivor Stories that new players have.  This page exists to answer some of those questions and increase your odds of survival.  They appear in no particular order.

zombie-survival

Can I re-use arrows?

No.  Arrows are treated like ammo — every shot you fire from your compound crossbow removes one arrow from your inventory and it is gone forever.  It works exactly the same way for a flare gun and flare gun ammo.  You cannot pick arrows back up.  You cannot recycle them.

What happens to my backpack when I die?

Your backpack and everything in it falls to the ground where you died.  They will stay there for up to 10 minutes before they despawn.  Anyone can pick them up in that time.  When you are revived you will be given a free small backpack with nothing in it.

Which is better to stack, 1L or 375mL bottles of water?

375mL.  The 1L bottle quenches 2x the amount of thirst as the 375mL bottle, but weighs 2.7x as much.  Stacking 375mL bottles thus gives you 33% more effect per kilogram.  In addition, 375mL bottles are far, far more common.  If I’m running short on backpack space what I do is drink the 1L as soon as I pick it up, but save the 375mL for later.  I don’t care if some of the 1L effect is wasted because I would have otherwise left it behind.

Which is better to stack, MiniSaints or Instant Oatmeal?

Instant Oatmeal.  Both have the same effect (restoring moderate hunger and minor thirst) but MiniSaints weigh 400g whilst Instant Oatmeal weighs only 220g.  Instant Oatmeal thus gives you 81% more effect per kilogram.  If I’m running short on backpack space what I do is eat the MiniSaints as soon as I pick it up, but save the Instant Oatmeal for later.  I don’t care if some of the MiniSaints effect is wasted because I would have otherwise left it behind.

What happens if I don’t eat or drink enough?

You die.

 How long can I last without food or water?

Assuming you start with full meters across the board:

    • your thirst meter will run out in 50 minutes
    • you start taking damage (losing health) due to dehydration after 53 minutes
    • your hunger meter will run out in 1 hour 06 minutes
    • you then lose health due to dehydration and starvation
    • your health meter runs out in 1 hour 30 minutes
    • you die

What happens when my health gets low?

Below 50% health your stamina recharge rate will decrease.  Stamina is what you use to sprint.  If it recharges slower you can sprint less often.  This has a significant effect on how fast you can travel long distances, and also how often/far you can flee from enemies.

Below ~85% health you can no longer sprint at all.

How do I kill zombies?
What is the best way to kill a zombie?
How do I avoid taking damage from zombies?
What is the best melee weapon for killing zombies?
Should I shoot zombies?
How do I take on more than one zombie at a time?

See my Zombie Eradication Guide.

Why don’t I spawn in the same place as I was when I logged out?
Why do I get moved when I change servers?

Cheaters.

Once upon a time, you did spawn back in exactly the same place as you were when you logged out.  Then some lowlife scumbags worked out an exploit now known as ‘ghosting’.  Let’s say you were engaged in a firefight with an enemy group holed up in a pharmacy.  One player would log out, log into an empty private server, run to the back room of the pharmacy on that server, log out, then log back in on the original server.  They would appear, like a ghost, behind the enemy, and kill them all.  Ghosting.

Because of these lo-skill/no-skill cheaters, the game was patched so that if you switch servers you will be teleported to ‘a safe location’ somewhere near where you were on the last server, but not exactly.

The patch also made ‘server hopping’ more difficult for the lazy scumbags who would go to an item spawn location on one server, loot it, then switch servers, loot the same thing on that server, and keep doing this over and over again… hopping servers and collecting all of the (usually) weapons (specifically sniper rifles) for themselves.  They would then sell these items for GC on the open market.  These server-hopping scumbags are the reason why most of the good loot locations now have virtually nothing in them, because they get hopped on every open server every couple of minutes by these lowlives who are too lazy to earn the weapons in the normal way, like everyone else.

Why do I sometimes get a blue shield over my health meter?
What does the blue shield mean?

All three settlements (marked by red circles on your map) have a ‘safe zone’ around them.  When your character enters a safe zone a blue shield with a white cross will appear over your health meter.  As long as you are in the safe zone other players will not be able damage you (at least, not directly).

The safe zones were implemented to counter cowardly snipers who would camp the hills around settlements and shoot people entering or exiting them.

If you have any other questions, leave them in the comments and I’ll do my best to answer them.

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Infestation Private Server

Is it worth renting a Private Server for Infestation: Survivor Stories (formerly called WarZ)?  The short answer is: No.

Private Server

To explain that answer a little more fully we need to look at what why players might want their own private server and how private servers actually work.

Player motivation

There are a number of reasons to consider a private server.  Here are a few:

I’m sick of this PvP shite and being ganked by other players all the time!  Probably the number one reason to get a private server is so that you can avoid being victimised by teenagers who think that Infestation is Call of Duty with a zombie backdrop.

I can haz all da phat lootz!  Probably the next most popular reason is out of frustration that all the loot you ever seem to get are Bags of Chips, Boonie Covers, Tactical Knives, Flashlights and M9 Helmets.

I want to explore without feeling paranoid about dying all the time.  Umm, this is a zombie survival game — you’re supposed to feel paranoid.  But yeah, it’s hard to explore certain areas when you get a bullet to the head every time you go near them.  See ‘PvP shite’ above.

My clan wants a training ground to hone our 1337 skills.  Quite rare but it happens.

There are more, but most are simply variants on the ‘PvP shite’ theme.

How private servers work

The two central themes from above, that I will address now, are access control and loot.

Access control

As the administrator of a private server you get to decide who gets in and can kick anyone who doesn’t play by your rules.  That’s the theory.  In practice it isn’t that simple.

As server admin you can:

  1. set a server password
  2. mute characters
  3. kick characters

The server password is easy enough to understand and does initially limit who gets to play on your server.  The problem is that passwords leak, players have more than one character each, and TAB lists the characters not the players.  What this means that very, very quickly you will have characters on your server with names you do not recognise and you will continually be asking “who the *** are you?” in chat.  It gets really annoying having to do that all the time, and eventually you’ll stop bothering, or create a list and make even more work for yourself.  Server administration becomes a chore, a job, and is no longer fun.  You’re paying money each month not to have fun.  Doesn’t make sense.

Mute characters works, until they log out and back in again.  Then you’re back to square one.

Kick characters works, until they log back in again.  And since they know the password you can’t stop them from doing that without changing the password and that affects everyone.  So, every time you kick, you have to log out, change the password, log back in again, and then tell everyone.  But wait, what about those people who aren’t logged in when you make the change?  That’s right, they have no way of knowing.  So you have to devise some completely different system to let everyone know that the password has changed.  Maybe an email distribution list, or a website.  Doesn’t matter.  It’s more inconvenience for your players and more work for you.

Eventually, your rules (whatever they are) will anger a player.  To get revenge, that player will create a new character, with a completely different name, log into your server, and then proceed to annoy the living crap out of you and/or other players.  If you have a PvE server the player will snipe and kill other players.  You can kick them all you want, and change passwords all you want, but because the actual player is not using their ‘main’ character to get back at you, you have no way of stopping them. No way at all.

So, since Infestation’s access control methods work on character names (as opposed to player accounts), and are not permanent, there is no way to effectively ‘ban’ anyone and, ultimately, that will lead to major problems.

Loot

Recent changes to the loot spawning system mean that private servers don’t get anywhere near the loot that public servers do.  But even if you are happy with the amount of loot on open private servers, there is a really, really important thing to be aware of:  Hibernation.

About 10 minutes after the last character logs out of your server, the whole server will enter hibernation — it will go to sleep.  Nothing will change until someone logs back in again.  That means that if you clear out Norad just before going to sleep and then come back again the next day, it will (still) be completely empty because, as far as the game is concerned, only ten minutes have passed — not eight hours.  (Well, ten minutes of respawning might get you a few pieces of garbage, but that’s about it.)

If you want a private server so you can ‘farm’ a particular location for a particular item, forget about it.  You literally need to park a character there and do nothing else with your account in order for spawns to be ‘normal’.

Internally it seems like the map is broken up into different zones and that, if no players are in the zones, the zones themselves go into hibernation independently.  So, if you clear the Airport and then go to Boulder for a few hours and then come back you’ll find… bugger all.

No characters in a zone means no loot being spawned.

I was able to get ‘normal’ private server spawning by buying a second account, creating a character, filling their backpack with food and water, and then running them into a cleared zone and sitting them on top of a wall (out of reach of zombies).  They then did nothing but eat and drink for hours on end.  Their mere presence kept the zone active and the loot spawning.

The problem with this is that characters eat a surprisingly large amount of food and drink a surprisingly large amount of water when doing nothing.  You don’t really notice it when you are actively playing a character because you scavenge food and drink along the way.  But when you have this other character sitting there doing nothing the food and drink seems to vanish really quickly.

Apart from being able to carry in enough food and drink to last any decent amount of time, there’s another logistical problem as well:  You need a second computer to run the second account while you use your main computer to do interesting things (like actually find all this extra food and drink and then travel (and possibly fight your way) back to the other character to give it to them).

Trying to run two copies of Infestation on the same computer at the same time, even inside virtual machines, is fraught with peril and likely to be detected and result in you getting banned.  I don’t suggest you even think of trying it.

Assuming you solve all of the above logistical issues, there is the additional problem of how you actually get your character to keep eating and drinking while you are asleep — because if you don’t they will starve to death.  Well, obviously you script it and, oops, you’ve just created a bot and broken the EULA/ToS and can expect to see the ban hammer come down really soon.

It is really easy to detect a character that does nothing but eat and drink in the same spot for hours and hours and hours on end.  Really, really, really easy.

Conclusions

Unless you have a clan and are looking for a private training ground, it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to pay for a private server.  The limited number of admin tools at your disposal will make effective access control impossible and will tie you up in administrative duties, making the game less fun for you.  The zone and server hibernation mechanics mean that you will have no option but to carry out activities which are relatively easy for anti-cheat software to detect and will likely get you banned if you want to maintain ‘normal’ private server loot levels.

Even if you just want ‘to explore in peace’ there is no fun in doing so when all you get for your efforts are hats and flashlights.  From my testing the decreased loot means you end up with few ranged weapons and virtually no ammo, so you end up having to melee 99% of all the zombies you come across.  This, in effect, limits your travels to low zombie density areas where controlled pulling is possible… which means you cannot explore the higher density areas.  So much for exploration.

About the only individual I see private servers being worthwhile for are hardcore role-players with elite melee skills, fantastic horde control, and complete mastery of the stealth mechanics.  The rest of us are better off waiting for the admin tools to improve.

Renting a private server

If you’ve decided to go ahead and get a private server anyway, but can’t work out how, just do the following:

  1. select a character that is alive (doesn’t matter which one)
  2. click ‘Play Game’
  3. click ‘My Servers’
  4. click ‘Rent Game Server’
  5. configure your options
    Private Server Setup

    1. region (pick the region closest to where you think the majority of the players that will use your server are likely to live — so as to minimise latency)
    2. slots (maximum number of players at one time)
    3. rental period (in months)
    4. server name (you cannot change this)
    5. password (you can easily change this later)
    6. whether or not to show:
      1. nameplates (turn off for realism, but if you do it makes differentiating bandits from lawmen impossible in the field; easily changed later)
      2. crosshairs (turn off for realism; easily changed later)
      3. tracers (turn off for realism; easily changed later)
  6. click ‘Rent Server’
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