Sunday, March 24, 2013

Play Freespace 2 natively on Fedora

Was sitting here this snowy Sunday afternoon craving for a bit of good ole space sim action. After a brief flurry of searching the web for something free, recent enough to look cool and immersive and would run under Linux or Wine I was pretty disappointed to find.. not much. (Yes there's Vendetta Online but that's only free for so long). Unfortunately the epic space sim genre is not the vibrant part of the game industry it once was.

I decided to embrace the old school and dig out my copy of Freespace 2 which is meant to run perfectly under Wine according to the Wine AppDB and I remember it very fondly, well after a straight forward Wine install it didn't work on my Fedora 18 installation currently running Wine 1.5.24.
Rather than shuffling towards the drudgery of trying to get FS2 working under Wine or the even worse experience of having to exit what I had running in the background, rebooting into Windows 7 (ugh) and trying to get it working there, I noticed during my search-fest that there's a FreeSpace Source Code Project (FCSP) that is actively developing the open source, multi-platform version of the Freespace 2 binaries called FS2Open! Sometimes life just throws you a bone.

Now it should really end there, I installed the thing, used the old disks to grab the content, had a wail of a time, went and did something else. Erm... no.
As with some open-saucy type projects, the only set of end to end instructions that seems to exist for Linux is a mighty wall of links & text. Their guide is comprehensive but many links and pages are involved and so it becomes a bit of a slog.

Therefore if you're running Fedora and want to begin playing the latest open-source, upgraded FreeSpace 2 the straight forward way then I've documented my simplified, start to finish guide for Fedora 18 for you.

What's required?

To get FS2Open going you need;

The FS2Open engine

This is the open-source Freespace 2 core engine.
Project contributor 'niffiwan' has published some pre-compiled Linux binaries for a range of distros, these are available for download HERE.
You can go ahead and download the appropriate binary for you distro but if you want the latest version of FS2Open you're best just compiling from source as covered in this walkthrough.

A launcher

Launcher software is used to configure and run FS2Open.
The FCSP project's launcher download page gives the option of 3 launcher projects. The official launcher software is called wxLauncher and appears to be the most complete.
For Linux, compilation of wxLauncher from the source code is required. The source comes with build instructions but the Linux section only covers Ubuntu. This gives you little idea of what packages you need to install on Fedora to compile the sofware.

The original game media

Your 3 original Freespace 2 CDs or ISO images.

The FS2Open media enhancements

A lot of work has been done to enhance the original game's content to bring FS2 more up to date. The extra content comes in the form of game mods packaged up in additional VP files
The official download page for the latest MediaVPs is a forum post HERE.
Rather than manually download each file in the browser we'll make things a bit more straight forward later using the command-line.

Let's go..

Firstly open a new terminal.

Install the Fedora packages you'll need

 sudo yum install SDL SDL-devel python python-markdown wxGTK wxGTK-devel openal-soft openal-soft-devel cmake gcc gcc-c++ unshield subversion libvorbis-devel automake autoconf libtheora-devel readline-devel lua-devel libpng-devel libjpeg-devel  

Create game directories under your home directory

 mkdir -p ~/Games/freespace2/temp/mvp  
 mkdir ~/Games/freespace2/temp/src  
 mkdir ~/Games/freespace2/mediavps_3612  

Get the FS2Open source code

 cd ~/Games/freespace2/temp/src  
 svn checkout svn://  

Compile & install the FS2Open binaries

Note: we're not doing any optimization here, just the quick and easy get-it-going approach. The full mega-guide is HERE.
 cd fs2_open  
Assuming the compilation went OK copy the binary to your freespace2 directory;
 cp code/fs2_open_* ~/Games/freespace2  

Compile & install wxLauncher


Download the latest source code tarball from the wxLauncher downloads page HERE. Save the file to your Downloads directory.


 cd ~/Downloads  
 mkdir -p wxlauncher/build  
 tar -C wxlauncher -xzf wxLauncher-*.tar.gz  


 cd wxlauncher/build  
 cmake -DUSE_OPENAL=1 -DCMAKE_INSTALL_PREFIX=/usr/local ../  

You should see messages confirming a successful build which looks like this;
-- Configuring done
-- Generating done
-- Build files have been written to: /home/yourname/Downloads/wxLauncher-0.9.1/build




 sudo make install  

Get the game content.

The next step is to copy the original game content from the FreeSpace 2 CDs (or ISO images if you have them) to the freespace2 directory you created earlier.

Mount the game media

Clearly there are many ways to mount disk and iso images but here's the easy to describe, simple way of doing this. It assumes as you're running Fedora then you'll be running a Gnome 3 desktop, it is the best DE after all.

If you're using CDs, insert the first disk and open it in Gnome 3's file manager 'Files' when prompted.
Alternatively if you have ISO images of the CDs it is just as easy to mount them in Gnome 3, just double-click the ISO file in 'Files' and it will be automatically mounted and appear as a device. You could mount all 3 ISOs at once this way if you wish.

Whether you're using a CD or an ISO file, just hover your mouse cursor over the device to see it's path, this example shows the path of a mounted ISO file;

These paths will be the source of your data extractions.

Extract the data to your game directory

The tool 'unshield' you installed earlier is a tool for extracting files from Microsoft CAB files with InstallShield headers.
With the first disk/ISO mounted unpack and put all '.vp' files in your game directory as follows (substituting /path/to/your/cdoriso for the actual mounted disk/ISO path);
 cd /path/to/your/cdoriso  
 unshield -j -d ~/Games/freespace2/temp x  
 mv ~/Games/freespace2/temp/*vp ~/Games/freespace2  
For disk/ISO 2 the required vp files are just in the root of the disk, so mount disk/ISO 2 and copy them directly;
 cd /path/to/your/cdoriso  
 cp *vp ~/Games/freespace2  
... and lastly mount CD/ISO 3, like you did with disk 2 copy the vp files directly from it's path to the game directory;
 cd /path/to/your/cdoriso  
 cp *vp ~/Games/freespace2  

Implementing the game enhancements (MediaVPs)

Download the files

The available MediaVPs are packaged up in a number of separate ZIP files.
Download them to your ~/Games/freespace2/temp/mvp directory and unpack them. All together this is a 1.2GB download.
There are cleverer ways to process this list of downloads but the following list of commands requires less explanation here. You can just copy the list of commands and paste into your terminal to perform them in a batch.
 cd ~/Games/freespace2/temp/mvp  
A few of these file are optional but we're going full fat here.

Unzip the files

 unzip '*.zip'  

Place the VP files in their own subdirectory which you created earlier.

 mv *vp ~/Games/freespace2/mediavps_3612/  
 mv mediavps_3612/* ~/Games/freespace2/mediavps_3612  
 mv MediaVPS_3612/* ~/Games/freespace2/mediavps_3612  

Running and setting up FS2Open

Now, still in the terminal run wxlauncher;
You'll be presented with something like this;



Select the 'Mods' tab.
Select the MediaVps mod and select the [Activate] button.

Basic Settings

Select the 'Basic Settings' tab.
Select the browse button to set the Game Root Folder to /home/yourname/Games/freespace2.
Select the Refresh button and pick the available FS2 Open executable option.
Once you've picked the executable the video and audio settings should be picked up automatically.
If you have your joystick or gamepad plugged in, select it in the Joystick drop-down.

Advanced Settings

Select the 'Advanced Settings' tab, here's where you can experiment with the many settings available with FS2 Open.
As a starter set the Lighting Presets to 'Baseline Recommended' and the Flag Sets to 'High Memory usage features on'.

Then select/enable the following options;
Graphics section
  • Apply Lighting to Missiles
  • Enable 3D shockwaves
  • Enable Post-processing
  • Enable soft particles
  • Enable FXAA anti-aliasing
HUD section
  • Enable 3D radar
Gameplay section
  • Enable 3D warp
  • Enable flash upon warp
  • Enable 3D models for ship selection
  • Enable 3D models for weapons selection
Audio section
  • Preload mission game sounds


There are many user-made mods available that continue the Freespace saga as well as introduce additional stories & universes including Babylon 5 and BSG. Check out the highlights panel on wxlauncher's Welcome tab, the Freespace Wiki and the project's list of user-made campaigns and total conversions list for more details on what's available.

Before you do, don't forget your joystick, hit the Play button and get stuck in...

This should at least see me through until the release of Star Citizen.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Converting Sony's PlayTV M2TS recordings to Xvid

Recently, I had to replace my PS3 and one of my PS3's main roles for a long time has been as a DVR. The PS3 together with the PlayTV peripheral and the official BD remote does an excellent job of this providing the ability to watch, pause, rewind & record over-the-air TV with a nice HD interface, it even improves image quality due to the PS3's built-in upscaling.

The slow death of my old PS3 together with the timely introduction of Live TV support on XBMC 12 prompted me to take the PlayTV peripheral and stick it in my Linux-based media centre PC running XMBC and setup TVheadend to pull the signal from the PlayTV's tuners. The result of this is the XBMC box has now become our DVR and TV viewing platform as well as all the other media content it serves up, however there was still a lot of decent recordings left on the PS3 that I wanted to keep and having exported them from PlayTV and transferred them from the PS3, I felt that the M2TS files are a little too large to warrant leaving them in that format using all that disk space.

So for any out there who are left with a bunch of these huge M2TS files and want to make them smaller or simply transcode them to a format that is supported by more devices then this post is for you.
Firstly you will need to have ffmpeg installed on your PC together with appropriate Xvid & LAME MP3 libraries.


As always ffmpeg is my goto toolkit for video convertion and a single MT2S file can be converted to a smaller file without much loss of quality with a one-liner.


 ffmpeg -y -i "awesomeshow.m2ts" \  
 -vcodec libxvid \  
 -b 1200k \  
 -acodec libmp3lame \  
 -ac 2 -ar 44100 -ab 128k \  
 -s 576x460 -threads 2 -deinterlace "awesomeshow.avi"  

In this example the filename of the M2TS file that is being converted (the input file) is 'awesomeshow.m2ts' and I've given the output file the name 'awesomeshow.avi'.

Option tips

-vcodec = video codec

Here I've used the Xvid MPEG4 library to achieve a higher compression ratio than the source file's MPEG2, reducing the size of the output file, also many devices (including the PS3) support Xvid playback.

-b = video bitrate

I've specified a video stream bitrate of 1200 Kbits per second, after lots of tries this seems to be a nice compromise between quality & output file size.

-s = frame size

My PAL TV signal is processed at 576i, the resulting resolution of the original recording is 720x576. In the above example I've used the -s option to reduce the output file resolution to 576x460. This helps to further reduce the output file size.

-acodec = audio codec

MP3 is the common counterpart to the Xvid video codec, it compresses audio well and playback is supported everywhere.
I specified the output audio stream to be a 2 channel stream with a sample rate of 44KHz and a  bitrate of 128Kbps with the -ac, -ar & -ab options.


As the video source is an interlaced TV signal it will look terrible when played back on a progressive display unless deinterlacing is applied on the transcode or on the player playing the convertion. Therefore I've specified to deinterlace during the conversion with the delinterlace option, this also introduces additional processing on the transcode so ffmpeg will take noticeably longer to complete.

-threads = number of conversion processes

Set this figure to match the number of processor cores on your computer, the more processors you can get to work on the conversion job the quicker it will finish.

Finally, a script...

I had a lot of recordings to convert so naturally, to convert all of them all in one go on my media centre PC which runs a popular Linux distro I wrote a little shell script.
If you want to use this script just save it to your local filesystem (your Downloads directory presumably), pop it in your /usr/bin directory & make it executable;
 cd ~/Downloads  
 chmod +x playtv2xvid  
 sudo mv playtv2xvid /usr/bin  

Then in a terminal 'cd' to the location of your *.m2ts files and run...

It will show you what M2TS files have been found in the current location, press enter to begin the conversions and all will be logged in a log file for you to review later.

Download the playtv2xvid script here.