Scott Hanselman

The Fun of Finishing - Exploring old games with Xbox Backwards Compatibility

December 21, '18 Comments [13] Posted in Gaming
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Star Wars: KOTORI'm on vacation for the holidays and I'm finally getting some time to play video games. I've got an Xbox One X that is my primary machine, and I also have a Nintendo Switch that is a constant source of joy. I recently also picked up a very used original PS4 just to play Spider-man but expanded to a few other games as well.

One of the reasons I end up using my Xbox more than any of my other consoles is its support for Backwards Compatibility. Backwards Compat is so extraordinary that I did an entire episode of my podcast on the topic with one of the creators.

The general idea is that an Xbox should be able to play Xbox games. Let's take that even further - Today's Xbox should be able to play today's Xbox games AND yesterday's...all the way back to the beginning. One more step further, shall well? Today's Xbox should be able to play all Xbox games from every console generation and they'll look better than you imagined them!

The Xbox One X can take 720p games and upscale them to 4k, use higher quality textures, and some games like Final Fantasy XIII have even been fully remastered but you still use the original disc! I would challenge you to play the original Red Dead Redemption on an Xbox One X and not think it was a current generation game. I recently popped in a copy of Splinter Cell: Conviction and it automatically loaded a 5-year-old save game from the cloud and I was on my way. I played Star Wars: KOTOR - an original Xbox game - and it looks amazing.

Red Dead Redemption

A little vacation combined with a lot of backwards compatibility has me actually FINISHING games again. I've picked up a ton of games this week and finally had that joy of finishing them. Each game I started up that had a save game found me picking up 60% to 80% into the game. Maybe I got stuck, perhaps I didn't have enough time. Who knows? But I finished. Most of these finishings were just 3 to 5 hours of pushing from my current (old, original) save games.

  • Crysis 2 - An Xbox 360 game that now works on an Xbox One X. I was halfway through and finished it up in a few days.
  • Crysis 3 - Of course I had to go to the local retro game trader and pick up a copy for $5 and bang through it. Crysis is a great trilogy.
  • Dishonored - I found a copy in my garage while cleaning. Turns out I had a save game in the Xbox cloud since 2013. I started right from where I left off. It's so funny to see a December 2018 save game next to a 2013 save game.
  • Alan Wake - Kind of a Twin Peaks type story, or a Stephen King with a flashlight and a gun. Gorgeous game, and very innovative for the time.
  • Mirror's Edge - Deceptively simple graphics that look perfect on 4k. This isn't just upsampling, to be clear. It's magic.
  • Metro 2033 - Deep story and a lot of world building. Oddly I finished Metro: Last Light a few months back but never did the original.
  • Sunset Overdrive - It's so much better than Jet Set Radio Future. This game has a ton of personality and they recorded ALL the lines twice with a male and female voice. I spoke to the voiceover artist for the female character on Twitter and I really think her performance is extraordinary. I had so much fun with this game that now the 11 year old is starting it up. An under-respected classic.
  • Gears of War Ultimate - This is actually the complete Gears series. I was over halfway through all of these but never finished. Gears are those games where you play for a while and end up pausing and googling "how many chapters in gears of war." They are long games. I ended up finishing on the easiest difficulty. I want a story and I want some fun but I'm not interested in punishment.
  • Shadow Complex - Also surprisingly long, I apparently (per my save game) gave up with just an hour to go. I guess I didn't realize how close I was to the end?

I'm having a blast (while the spouse and kids sleep, in some cases) finishing up these games. I realize I'm not actually accomplishing anything but the psychic weight of the unfinished is being lifted in some cases. I don't play a lot of multiplayer games as I enjoy a story. I read a ton of books and watch a lot of movies, so I look for a tale when I'm playing video games. They are interactive books and movies for me with a complete story arc. I love it when the credits role. A great single player game with a built-up universe is as satisfying (or more so) as finishing a good book.

What are you playing this holiday season? What have you rediscovered due to Backwards Compatibility?


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About Scott

Scott Hanselman is a former professor, former Chief Architect in finance, now speaker, consultant, father, diabetic, and Microsoft employee. He is a failed stand-up comic, a cornrower, and a book author.

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Enjoy some DOS Games this Christmas with DOSBox

December 19, '18 Comments [4] Posted in Gaming
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I blogged about DOSBox five years ago! Apparently I get nostalgic around this time of year when I've got some downtime. Here's what I had to say:

I was over at my parents' house for the Christmas Holiday and my mom pulled out a bunch of old discs and software from 20+ years ago. One gaame was "Star Trek: Judgment Rites" from 1995. I had the CD-ROM Collector's edition with all the audio from the original actors, not just the floppy version with subtitles. It's a MASSIVE 23 megabytes of content!

DOSBox has ben providing joy in its reliable service for over 16 years and you should go check it out RIGHT NOW, if only to remind yourself of how good we have it now. DOSBox is an x86 and DOS Emulator - not a virtual machine. It emulates classic hardware like Sound Blaster cards and older graphics standards like VGA/VESA.

If a game runs too fast, you can slow it down by pressing Ctrl-F11. You can speed up games by pressing Ctrl-F12. DOSBox’s CPU speed is displayed in its title bar. Type "intro special" for a full hotkey list.

Note that DOSBox will start up TINY if you have a 4k monitor. There's a few things to you can do about it. First, ALT-ENTER will toggle DOSBox into full screen mode, although when you return to Windows your windows may find themselves resized.

For Windowed mode, I used these settings. You can't scale the window when output=surface, so experiment with settings like these:

windowresolution=1280 x 1024
output=ddraw

These are only the most basic initial changes you'll want to make. There's an enthusiastic community of DOSBox users that are dedicated to making it as perfect as possible. I enjoy this reddit thread debating "pixel perfect" settings. There's also a number of forks and custom builds of DOSBox out there that impose specific settings so be sure to explore and pick the one that makes you happy. It's also important to understand that aspect ratios and the size and squareness of a pixel will all change how your game looks.

I tend to agree with them that I don't want a blurry scaler. I want the dots/pixels as they are, simply made larger (2x, 3x, 4x, etc) with crisp edges at a reasonable aspect ratio. An interesting change you can make to your .conf file is the "forced" keyword after your scaler choice.

Here is scaler=normal3x (no forced)

Blurry DOSBox

and there's scaler-normal3x forced

The instructions say that forced means "the scaler will be used even if the result might not be desired." In this case, it forces the use of the scaler in text mode. Your mileage may vary, but the point is there's options and it's great fun. You may want scanlines or you may want crisp pixels.

I've found it all depends on what your memory of DOS is and what you're trying to do is to change the settings to best visualize that memory. My (broken) memory is of CRISP pixels.

Crisp DOSBox

Amazing difference!
The first thing you should do is add lines like these to the bottom of your dosbox.conf. You'll want your virtual C: drive mounted every time DOSBox starts up!

[autoexec]
# Lines in this section will be run at startup.
MOUNT C: C:\Users\scott\Dropbox\DosBox

If you want to play classic games but don't want the hassle (or questionable legality) of other ways, I'd encourage you to spend some serious time at https://www.gog.com. They've packaged up a ton of classic games so they "just work."

Bard's Tale 3
Space Quest 3

Enjoy! And THANK YOU to the folks that work on DOSBox for their hard work. It shows and we appreciate it.


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About Scott

Scott Hanselman is a former professor, former Chief Architect in finance, now speaker, consultant, father, diabetic, and Microsoft employee. He is a failed stand-up comic, a cornrower, and a book author.

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Useful ASP.NET Core 2.2 Features

December 14, '18 Comments [9] Posted in ASP.NET | DotNetCore
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Earlier this week I talked about how I upgraded my podcast site to ASP.NET Core 2.2 and added Health Check features fairly easily. There's a ton of new features and so far it's been great running on my site with no issues. Upgrading from 2.1 is straightforward.

I wanted to look at just a few of these that I found particularly interesting.

You can get a very significant performance boost by moving ASP.NET Core in process with IIS.

Using in-process hosting, an ASP.NET Core app runs in the same process as its IIS worker process. This removes the performance penalty of proxying requests over the loopback adapter when using the out-of-process hosting model.

After the IIS HTTP Server processes the request, the request is pushed into the ASP.NET Core middleware pipeline. The middleware pipeline handles the request and passes it on as an HttpContext instance to the app's logic. The app's response is passed back to IIS, which pushes it back out to the client that initiated the request.

HTTP Client performance improvements are quite significant as well.

Some significant performance improvements have been made to SocketsHttpHandler by improving the connection pool locking contention. For applications making many outgoing HTTP requests, such as some Microservices architectures, throughput should be significantly improved. Our internal benchmarks show that under load HttpClient throughput has improved by 60% on Linux and 20% on Windows. At the same time the 90th percentile latency was cut down by two on Linux. See Github #32568 for the actual code change that made this improvement.

HTTP/2 is enabled by default. HTTP/2 may be sneaking up on you as for the most part "it just works." In ASP.NET Core's Kestral web server HTTP/2 is enabled by default over HTTPS. You can see here at both the command line and in Chrome I'm using HTTP/2 locally.

HTTP/2 locally

Here's Chrome. Note the "h2."

HTTP/2 in Chrome

Note that you'll only be able to get HTTP/2 when ALPN (Application-Layer Protocol Negotiation) is available. That means ALPN is supported on:

All in all, it's a solid release. Go check out the announcement post on ASP.NET Core 2.2 for even more detail!


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About Scott

Scott Hanselman is a former professor, former Chief Architect in finance, now speaker, consultant, father, diabetic, and Microsoft employee. He is a failed stand-up comic, a cornrower, and a book author.

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How to set up ASP.NET Core 2.2 Health Checks with BeatPulse's AspNetCore.Diagnostics.HealthChecks

December 12, '18 Comments [5] Posted in ASP.NET | DotNetCore | Open Source
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Availability TestsASP.NET Core 2.2 is out and released and upgrading my podcast site was very easy. Once I had it updated I wanted to take advantage of some of the new features.

For example, I have used a number of "health check" services like elmah.io, pingdom.com, or Azure's Availability Tests. I have tests that ping my website from all over the world and alert me if the site is down or unavailable.

I've wanted to make my Health Endpoint Monitoring more formal. You likely have a service that does an occasional GET request to a page and looks at the HTML, or maybe just looks for an HTTP 200 Response. For the longest time most site availability tests are just basic pings. Recently folks have been formalizing their health checks.

You can make these tests more robust by actually having the health check endpoint check deeper and then return something meaningful. That could be as simple as "Healthy" or "Unhealthy" or it could be a whole JSON payload that tells you what's working and what's not. It's up to you!

image

Is your database up? Maybe it's up but in read-only mode? Are your dependent services up? If one is down, can you recover? For example, I use some 3rd party back-end services that might be down. If one is down I could used cached data but my site is less than "Healthy," and I'd like to know. Is my disk full? Is my CPU hot? You get the idea.

You also need to distinguish between a "liveness" test and a "readiness" test. Liveness failures mean the site is down, dead, and needs fixing. Readiness tests mean it's there but perhaps isn't ready to serve traffic. Waking up, or busy, for example.

If you just want your app to report it's liveness, just use the most basic ASP.NET Core 2.2 health check in your Startup.cs. It'll take you minutes to setup.

// Startup.cs
public void ConfigureServices(IServiceCollection services)
{
services.AddHealthChecks(); // Registers health check services
}

public void Configure(IApplicationBuilder app)
{
app.UseHealthChecks("/healthcheck");
}

Now you can add a content check in your Azure or Pingdom, or tell Docker or Kubenetes if you're alive or not. Docker has a HEALTHCHECK directive for example:

# Dockerfile
...
HEALTHCHECK CMD curl --fail http://localhost:5000/healthcheck || exit

If you're using Kubernetes you could hook up the Healthcheck to a K8s "readinessProbe" to help it make decisions about your app at scale.

Now, since determining "health" is up to you, you can go as deep as you'd like! The BeatPulse open source project has integrated with the ASP.NET Core Health Check API and set up a repository at https://github.com/Xabaril/AspNetCore.Diagnostics.HealthChecks that you should absolutely check out!

Using these add on methods you can check the health of everything - SQL Server, PostgreSQL, Redis, ElasticSearch, any URI, and on and on. Just add the package you need and then add the extension you want.

You don't usually want your health checks to be heavy but as I said, you could take the results of the "HealthReport" list and dump it out as JSON. If this is too much code going on (anonymous types, all on one line, etc) then just break it up. Hat tip to Dejan.

app.UseHealthChecks("/hc",
new HealthCheckOptions {
ResponseWriter = async (context, report) =>
{
var result = JsonConvert.SerializeObject(
new {
status = report.Status.ToString(),
errors = report.Entries.Select(e => new { key = e.Key, value = Enum.GetName(typeof(HealthStatus), e.Value.Status) })
});
context.Response.ContentType = MediaTypeNames.Application.Json;
await context.Response.WriteAsync(result);
}
});

At this point my endpoint doesn't just say "Healthy," it looks like this nice JSON response.

{
status: "Healthy",
errors: [ ]
}

I could add a Url check for my back end API. If it's down (or in this case, unauthorized) I'll get this a nice explanation. I can decide if this means my site is unhealthy or degraded.  I'm also pushing the results into Application Insights which I can then query on and make charts against.

services.AddHealthChecks()
.AddApplicationInsightsPublisher()
.AddUrlGroup(new Uri("https://api.simplecast.com/v1/podcasts.json"),"Simplecast API",HealthStatus.Degraded)
.AddUrlGroup(new Uri("https://rss.simplecast.com/podcasts/4669/rss"), "Simplecast RSS", HealthStatus.Degraded);

Here is the response, cool, eh?

{
status: "Degraded",
errors: [
{
key: "Simplecast API",
value: "Degraded"
},
{
key: "Simplecast RSS",
value: "Healthy"
}
]
}

This JSON is custom, but perhaps I could use the a built in writer for a free reasonable default and then hook up a free default UI?

app.UseHealthChecks("/hc", new HealthCheckOptions()
{
Predicate = _ => true,
ResponseWriter = UIResponseWriter.WriteHealthCheckUIResponse
});

app.UseHealthChecksUI(setup => { setup.ApiPath = "/hc"; setup.UiPath = "/healthcheckui";);

Then I can hit /healthcheckui and it'll call the API endpoint and I get a nice little bootstrappy client-side front end for my health check. A mini dashboard if you will. I'll be using Application Insights and the API endpoint but it's nice to know this is also an option!

If I had a database I could check one or more of those for health well. The possibilities are endless and up to you.

public void ConfigureServices(IServiceCollection services)
{
services.AddHealthChecks()
.AddSqlServer(
connectionString: Configuration["Data:ConnectionStrings:Sql"],
healthQuery: "SELECT 1;",
name: "sql",
failureStatus: HealthStatus.Degraded,
tags: new string[] { "db", "sql", "sqlserver" });
}

It's super flexible. You can even set up ASP.NET Core Health Checks to have a webhook that sends a Slack or Teams message that lets the team know the health of the site.

Check it out. It'll take less than an hour or so to set up the basics of ASP.NET Core 2.2 Health Checks.


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About Scott

Scott Hanselman is a former professor, former Chief Architect in finance, now speaker, consultant, father, diabetic, and Microsoft employee. He is a failed stand-up comic, a cornrower, and a book author.

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How to remove words from the Windows Autocorrect Spell Check Dictionary

December 7, '18 Comments [6] Posted in Win10
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Well crap. I was typing really fast and got a squiggly, so I right-clicked on it and rather than selecting the correct word from the autocorrect dictionary, I clicked Add To Dictionary.

I added the MISSPELLED WORD to the Dictionary! Now Windows is suggesting that I spell this word (and others) wrong in all apps.

At this point I also realized that I had no idea how to REMOVE a word from the Windows Spell Check Dictionary. However, I do know that Windows isn't a black box so there must be a dictionary somewhere. It's gotta be a file or a registry key or something, right?

It's even easier than I thought it would be. The Windows 10 custom dictionaries are at %AppData%\Microsoft\Spelling\

The Windows 10 custom dictionaries are at %AppData%\Microsoft\Spelling\

I just opened the default.dic file in Notepad and removed the misspelled word.

Opening default.dic in Notepad

Whew. I can't tell you how many wrong words have found there way in there over the years. Hope this helps you in some small way.


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About Scott

Scott Hanselman is a former professor, former Chief Architect in finance, now speaker, consultant, father, diabetic, and Microsoft employee. He is a failed stand-up comic, a cornrower, and a book author.

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Disclaimer: The opinions expressed herein are my own personal opinions and do not represent my employer's view in any way.