ELECTRONIC T-NOTES


CHESSBASE USA'S WEEKLY ON-LINE NEWSLETTER


FOR THE WEEK OF JANUARY 5, 2003


OPENING LINES

by Steve Lopez

This is just another of "Steve's patented rants", so skip this if you like -- but you might find something useful here.

In our last thrill-packed issue of ETN, I mentioned that I received a 64 MB graphics card for Christmas. While true at the time, along the way it has become a 32 MB graphics card because yours truly didn't do his homework. I'll spare you the details, but the short version is that I spent two full days trying to get the original card to work, only to discover that it's possibly the only card (make and model) known to man that won't work on my particular machine. And, in the post-holiday deficit of product on the shelves at the local electronics place, all they had left were 32 MB cards -- so I exchanged my non-functional 64 MB card for a 32 MB card that actually works on my machine.

So here's some cheap advice for you to consider when you're contemplating buying new hardware (such as cards) for your computer:

1) When you shop for new hardware, write down what's available (make, model, and the web address of the manufacturer [which is usually given right on the packaging]) at the store before you buy anything. You'll need this information for Step 2:

2) Check out the web sites for the manufacturer of your computer and the manufacturers of your candidate hardware purchases to see if there are any known compatibility issues. This may require some digging. After about twenty minutes on my computer outfit's web site, I finally found a searchable message board for support issues. I did a search for both the graphics card model and the model of my computer and discovered page after page after page of messages -- evidently it's a pretty hot topic and I discovered that there was no way to make this very popular make and model of graphics card work on my machine.

2a) Also check the specs of the hardware you're thinking of getting as well as the specs for the upgradability of your computer. Make sure that your computer can actually be upgraded to what you want to buy (I wasn't bit by this particular one, but I know many people who have been). This might require some further homework. For example, the card I eventually installed gives a 200 watt power supply as a system requirement. My machine lists a 185 watt power supply in its specs. Uh-oh? Not quite. After some more digging, I discovered that few computers use anything like the amount of juice provided by their power supplies (unless the owner has subsequently installed a lot of high-end hardware). Card manufacturers take this into account when they write their specs, so most of them give you a sort of "worst case" scenario. I determined (correctly as it turned out) that the 15 watt difference was "within tolerance".

3) Even if Step 2 turns up nothing, do a similar search using a standard Web search engine (the advanced features of Google are especially good for this) to see if there's any information on possible compatibility issues available at other web sites.

4) And be sure to weigh the information. If one guy posting to a message board says he couldn't get a certain card to work and eighteen people reply that the card works fine on their identical machines, it's pretty safe to assume that the guy who couldn't get it to work has done something wrong along the way. Likewise, if one guy says he got a card to work and about fifty people assert otherwise, I'd go with the majority on that.

All of this is the voice of cold, hard experience talking. If I'd done this stuff first (instead of blindly trusting the info that was printed on the box my computer shipped in and which, quite apparently, lied like a cheap rug), I'd have drastically cut the installation time on my new graphics card from two days to about thirty minutes. So I thought I'd pass this along and try to save you some grief.

By the way, the new card works fine, thanks for asking. I can now see the smoke, sparks, hazards, and damage when playing Robot Arena, so life is good.


NEW 3D OPTIONS IN FRITZ8

by Steve Lopez

Now that my little tantrum is over, let's get down to business -- we'll have a look at the 3D option dialogues in Fritz8 (and Shredder7, too -- the features are the same, so one size fits all here).

First, keep in mind the requirements for using the new 3D boards in Fritz8 (which were discussed two weeks ago in ETN, but here's a quick review):

1) You must have DirectX 8.1 installed;

2) You must be running your graphics in 16-bit HighColor or 32-bit TrueColor mode (odd mutant forms like 24-bit TrueColor won't work);

3) You need to have a 3D graphics card -- most computers from the last 3 years or so have one already. It doesn't need to be especially high-end either. Before I changed cards, my old card was only an 11 MB card and the 3D board worked fine. With the new 32 MB card, it works even better. I imagine that with a 64 MB or 128 MB card it would scream like a bat out of hell, but I apparently won't know that until I buy my next PC or shell out the ducats for a better card (and, after this last weekend's ordeal, that won't be for a while yet).

Once the new 3D board is up and running (and you start it by going to the View menu and selecting "True 3D"), you'll see some buttons at the bottom of the 3D display. "Zoom in" and "Zoom out" are self-explanatory, but the "Settings" button requires a wee bit of additional information. Clicking it provides a popup dialogue window. Check it out now if you like; then come back and we'll discuss the options in this dialogue.

MATERIAL

This tab gives you various options for the material the board and pieces will appear to be made from. Fritz8 provides five different boards; installing Shredder7 adds two more to the list.

Classic Wood/Marble: these are the two really "photo-realistic" 3D boards. As I reported in last week's ETN, you can even see the pieces reflected in the marble surface of the Classic Marble board. You can see a shot of the Classic Marble board in last week's ETN.

Simple: this is just a modified version of the old 3D board. The difference is that the pieces look more "solid" by default. This is also currently the only selection that enables the piece color buttons to the right of the main board selection options in this dialogue.

Symbols Marble/Wood: a kind of cross between a 2D and 3D display. The pieces resemble those you might find on a wallboard and appear to "float" a bit above the chessboard.

If you've installed Shredder7, you have two other board styles available:

Classic Metal: this is actually a pretty interesting choice. The board is supposed to resemble a metal board with metal pieces. It's certainly a matter of my perception, but I think it looks like an old-time tinted woodcut engraving of a chess set:

I wouldn't term it "photo-realistic" (as I would the Classic Marble board), but I think it's extremely cool nonetheless.

Shredder: this one defies my powers of description, but it's a sort of "space age" set. George Jetson would love it:

Below the board selection display are two sections for setting the texture resolutions of the board and pieces. These are pretty self-explanatory, but be aware that not all sets will give you every option here -- if an option is not available, it'll be in half-tone ("greyed out"). The same thing applies to the piece color buttons -- as noted above, these are only available for the "Simple" board.

There's also a check box that allows you to hide or display the Toolbar below the 3D board. Note that if you accidentally or deliberately hide the Toolbar and later want to get back to the 3D options dialogue, you can hit CTRL-ALT-X on your keyboard to display the Settings dialogue.

3D EFFECTS

This tab provides options for the display of the 3D pieces.

"Shadows" lets you determine the length of the shadows cast by the pieces. "No shadows" is a no-brainer. "Rendered shadow" tends to be a short shadow, while "Plane shadow" is a longer, darker shadow. These are short general descriptions; the details can be affected by other options you set.

Note that you can alter the "source" of the light (like moving a lamp around) by using the keyboard as described in the Help files.

Now I'd like to pretend to be a really bright boy and say that I know everything about every program we offer but, sad to say, there are times when I'm stumped. This is one of those times. I will freely admit that I have no flipping clue what the "Anti-aliasing" and "Collision of pieces" boxes do. I've tried both boxes both ways and I see no discernable difference in the appearance or action of the pieces. However, this is either a lack of capability on the part of my graphics card or a lack of intelligence or perception on my part.

"Reflection on pieces" and "Reflection on board" controls whether the pieces will be reflected on the board surface and how much light will be reflected off of the pieces themselves. If you select these, there is a slider provided that determines the amount of the reflection (in effect controlling how "shiny" they are).

The "Animation" slider determines how fast the pieces move, while the "Ambient light" slider changes how bright the pieces appear (it's like a laundry detergent commercial -- all the way to the left makes the White pieces a dingy gray, like a pair of really old socks, while sliding it the whole way to the right makes them "whiter than white").

GEOMETRY AND BOARD

This tab provides controls that are primarily for the display of the chessboard.

The "Field of view" tab does the same thing as the "Zoom in" and "Zoom out" buttons on the Toolbar. The slider can be used (instead of the Toolbar buttons) for fine-tuning, or by people who have chosen to hide the Toolbar (see above). The "Background" button brings up the standard Windows color palette dialogue; you can use this to change the background color (the area that the board and pieces are displayed against) to any of literally thousands of different color choices.

"Show square indicator": checking this will cause a small (and fairly unobtrusive) yellow arrow to be shown on the board when a piece moves, beginning at the starting square and terminating at the destination square. "Centered pieces" places the pieces in the exact geometric center of their squares. This might look a bit weird to some people in some cases, like when viewing the board from an odd obtuse angle. Also, few of us place pieces dead center on squares when we play games in real life (except for those excessively anal-retentive players who "j'adoube" the crap out of the pieces, especially when it's your clock that's running) -- unchecking this box gives the board a slightly more disorganized look that you might find more natural and appealing.

"Knight jumps" controls whether Knights slide or jump when they move. "Show coordinates" will allow you to display or hide algebraic coordinates on the borders of the chessboard, while the "Color coordinates" button again displays the Windows color palette dialogue (as above) in which you can change the color of the letters and numbers. (As an example, setting coordinates on the Classic Marble set makes the board appear as though the coordinates have been etched into the marble).

Finally, the "Square size" slider lets you do just what the name suggests. But this requires a bit of explanation. When you use this, it might initially just appear to zoom the board in or out. Look carefully at the pieces, however; the pieces stay the same size. So what you're really doing (in effect) is making the pieces larger or smaller -- bigger board, smaller pieces. You're just taking the long way around the barn -- make the board bigger, zoom out a bit, and voila! Smaller pieces.

GAMMA

You'll note that I said above that the Simple board was the only one that lets you use the "Piece color" buttons. That's true enough, but you can tweak the piece colors a bit in the other chess set displays as well. That's what the "Gamma" tab is for.

First you'll need to check "Use Gamma". That enables this rest of this thing. "Use calibrator" is only available if you have the hardware for it. "Link sliders" does what it says: it links the "Red", "Blue", and "Green" sliders so that moving one of them will adjust all of them.

But I'll warn you -- you have to be dang near half a Rembrandt to use this feature properly. Have fun with it if you like. Me? Forget it -- I'm moving on to the next tab...

INFO

A neat idea that you'll hopefully never have occasion to use. It provides hardware and software information (graphics driver, processor, operating system, etc.) about your system. You can copy this stuff to the Windows Clipboard by clicking the "Clipboard" button, or e-mail it directly to the programmers in case of problems (as long as your e-mail client supports the MAPI 2.0 protocol). The "Measure framerate" button is kind of cool, though -- it measures the animation capabilities of your system.

Other tweaks

No, there's not a tab called "other tweaks". This section will discuss some shortcuts that you might find useful.

Right-click on the 3D board and the mouse cursor changes to a two-headed arrow. You can now change the angle at which you're viewing the board. Move the cursor downward far enough and you'll be looking at the board from directly overhead. Move it upward far enough and you'll have the classic "chin on the table -- it's mate in three -- I'm busted" view (boy, do I ever know that view well...). Moving the mouse left and right rotates the board around its center point.

You can also use keyboard shortcuts to do some of this (and some other neat stuff, too):

And, for the really adventurous among us, this next part comes from the Help files:

If you deactivate "View toolbar", switch to full screen mode (Ctrl-Alt-F), and in addition close all other window panes (Ctrl-5) you will get a spectacular full-screen chessboard which is a pleasure to replay games on.

And note that if you totally hose up your 3D board settings (as I did in the writing of this article), you can reset everything to the "factory defaults" by clicking the "Defaults" button on the "Material" tab. This will give you the opportunity to start over from scratch and find entirely new ways to hose up your settings.

Until next week, I am wishing you much funness.

You can e-mail me with your comments, suggestions, and analysis for Electronic T-Notes.