Thursday 23 September 2021

Fast forwarding boring parts of games

It's becoming more common in gaming, particularly with mobile and free-to-play games, for an action or activity to be limited by real-world time, usually in order to provide a 'nudge' to players to nag them into purchasing loot-boxes or other pay-to-win premium extras.

Moral arguments about the ethics of pay-to-win and loot boxes aside, I find this really annoying. These days, the amount of time that I have available for gaming is ever lower, and arguably, time is the most valuable and scarce resource for everyone - after all, we only have get a certain amount, and can't buy more.

So while I was waiting for some in-game nonsense to finish, I started thinking about how feasible it would be to create a fast-forward for these types of activities in-game.

Yeah, I know, there's a certain irony in getting annoyed at having my time wasted and then spending a good deal of time trying to work around it - but sometimes once I get an idea in my head, I have to see it through.

The game I'm using for this demo is Fallout Shelter. I'm well aware that there are already plenty of documented save file hacks for this game, similar to the Saints Row 3 one that I did a while ago.

However, that's not the approach that I want to take here. I still want to play the game, more-or-less as intended. I just don't want to be kept waiting.

A quick experiment by changing the time on the system the game is running on, shows it to be quite tolerant of the time changes, the screen briefly blacking out while the game mechanics catch up.

The first thing to do is to disable NTP (automatic system time synchronization).

In Windows, this can be done by right-clicking on the time in the task bar, selecting "Adjust date/time", and then setting "Set time automatically" to Off. This will stop the system resetting the clock back to the correct time. Just remember to turn it back on when you're done playing.

To do the time adjustment, I'm using AutoHotKey. AutoHotKey (AHK) is an incredibly versatile scripting language for Windows systems, allowing commands and key macros to be bound, system-wide, to keyboard shortcuts.

The idea is to create a global hot key on the system that I can trigger without leaving the game, whenever I want to speed things up by a certain amount.

As the game is mostly touch/mouse controlled, I've bound the macro to the modifier and arrow keys.

* Ctrl-Shift-Right advances time by 1 minute
* Ctrl-Shift-Left advances time by 15 minutes
* Ctrl-Shift-Down advances time by 30 minutes
* Ctrl-Shift-Up advances time by 1 hour

The script is available on GitHub.


The script needs to be run as administrator, as elevated privileges are needed to change the system time. There are ways that this can be avoided, but they require more system changes, so for the purposes of this, it's easier to just right-click and select "Run as Administrator".

The script is pretty basic, and operates simply by adding the numbers - so it's not smart enough to cross hour-thresholds - ie. if you advance by a minute at 11.59, it will attempt (and fail) to set the time to 11.60 - but this is simply overcome by, well, waiting a minute.

Thursday 9 September 2021

Late 1940's / Early 1950's Zippo Restoration

Taking a break from all the DIY-heavy home improvement projects, I found this rusted out Zippo lighter at a flea market.

I've always been a fan of Zippos, their style (and that unique sound) is incredibly iconic, so I figured I'd have a crack at restoring it.

Plus I still have a bunch of spares left over from the trench lighter project I did a while back.

Before starting, I did some research to try and put a date on the lighter, just in case it was something super-rare.





The first thing to so is to check the stamp at the bottom of the case:

According to the table provided by Zippo themselves, based on the logo type and the patent number, this lighter was manufactured in the 1937-1950 date range.

Digging through some other online resources, I found that it could be dated further by the chimneys number of holes, and the pattern of the flint wheel.

Depending on the source, the chimney having 8 holes per side dates it as being from late 1946 or 1947 onward.

The diagonal-cut flint wheel puts it also at 1946 onward.

Finally, the hinge (again, depending on the source), puts it at either 1948 or 49 onward

So between all that, it looks most likely that this lighter was produced between 1948-1950.

It's pretty cool to know the lighter has some history to it, but it doesn't make it a massively rare artefact.

Removing the rust

The rust on one side in particular was quite thick. To remove it I started with a small rotary tool wire wheel, then moved to some high-grit sanding discs, before some wet and dry sanding by hand to even out some scratches, finally finishing up with a number of passes with the buffing wheel and polishing compound.

As much as I am trying to preserve the original chromed finish, it was clear even before starting that it had worn through in places - I was merely trying to not make it any worse.

However with that lot done, although it's not exactly 'showroom' quality, the lighter has it's shine back, but retains a lot of it's characterful aging which suits it's age.

Flints & Wicks

The obvious thing to note is that it's not functional. To start with, there was no flint to make a spark. Thankfully the flint spring was still there, so adding one of my spares was all it took to get it sparking again.

The wick had been worn down to nearly nothing as well. I thought that I would likely need to replace it, so had a spare to hand, but it appears as though there was still plenty of wick remaining to pull through. It's quite possibly that the previous owner just never knew to do this - or had lost the flint before it was an issue.

Then all that was left was to add fuel, and: