MINERVA: Episodic, Single-Player Half-Life 2

Not a Gadget Review Blog -

You're probably all impatiently waiting for the release of the third episode of MINERVA: Metastasis, so I'll have to disappoint you again - but with a bit of luck, the first section will go out to playtesters in the next week or so. Architecture for both new maps is nearly complete, it's just the gameplay to go!

Want something else to play? There's the back-from-the-dead, glorious-looking Poke646: Vendetta coming very soon. It's a mod for Half-Life. No, those screenshots are not from the Source engine, but its prehistoric ancestor. It looks fantastic, just like the original Poke646 mod from 2001.

But what's this about gadget reviews? Oh, go on then.

Belkin WiFi Phone for Skype

Cordless, battery-powered and connects directly to a WiFi access point without any intervention from a computer at all. Speaks TCP/IP, understands Skype and allows cheap (or free) international phone-calls over the internet. Nifty, eh? Let's see.

The printed (and PDF) instructions are ... extremely brief, and there's currently very little material online. So to add to the latter, I'll add my own experiences and workarounds and potentially save other people from many, many hours of blindly stumbling around.

Any claims that I'm just doing this for the Handy Google Keywords, should I ever succumb to the insidious need to place advertising on everything, are entirely exaggerated...

Access Point Compatibility (or, potential lack thereof)

Say, for instance, you were visiting your parents, and said parents had yet to join the 21st century (they were still on switched 100Base-TX, believe it or not!) - it'll be almost impossible to get your shiny new VOIP phone to work over an imprompu (but not Ad Hoc) WiFi network created from either a Mac Mini or a MacBook Pro.

The Airport Internet Connection Sharing thingy in MacOS X works quite nicely between different Macs, but is pretty much useless for anything else. I found a useful guide describing how to add a Nintendo DS to a shared Airport connection, which suggests the Belkin phone isn't alone in not understanding MacOS X's DHCP server thingy. No IP address assigned, and all that.

While I eventually managed to get the phone to connect to Skype that way, it didn't seem too keen on incoming calls - the two layers of NAT were probably just too much for the much-abused Skype protocols. Also, the two Macs I tried kept dropping the WiFi connection after ten minutes or so. Power-saving, despite being told not to? Who knows.

There is an Ad Hoc connection type option available on the phone's manual network setup screen (in other words, true computer-to-computer, instead of MacOS X's hacked-together alternative), but it's conveniently greyed out. Maybe for a future firmware update? Otherwise, this phone is serious about its no-computer policy. The included USB cable is for charging only; the included CD contains just documentation.

So, after some hours of messing, I'd determined that yes, the device worked, but wasn't exactly useful.

Enter the trip to PC World. I should hate myself for going there, but they had a BT Voyager 2091 ADSL modem, ethernet router and 801.11g WiFi access point for less than 40 quid. Including a sister's-laptop-compatible USB WiFi dongle. Bargain? Perhaps.

After getting the household thoroughly unwired, I tried the phone again. It detected a network, I entered the (huge, custom) WPA-PSK keyphrase, it connected to the network...

... And it promptly proclaimed that the WiFi could not connect to the internet. Arse.

But then ten seconds later, the Skype status icon went green, and I was connected.

Port Settings (or, any of the aforementioned in a storm)

After a bit more fiddling, I managed to get it to accept incoming calls. If you have such a device, and it needs a bit of persuading on these lines, go to Menu: Settings: Advanced: Skype ports, and set Port to some unused, unblocked, semi-random port above 1024, and leave Alternative ports at No. If you have other computers running Skype on the same network, make sure their incoming connection ports are different. The port number is supposed to be randomly selected on software installation, but my phone's was originally set to 1. ICMP, eat your heart out.

Summary (or, early-adopters only)

Overall, the phone works pretty well. I've yet to find if it works with my Mobistar Livebox effort back in Brussels, but I'm now a lot more hopeful. After my experience with the connection shared from my laptop, I was ready to send it back.

Sound quality is 'good enough' - it's pretty similar to Skype on a computer, with none of the echo reported by many other websites I'd found while searching for better setup info.

Build quality is pretty good, although not up to a high-end mobile phone (speaking of which, mine most definitely isn't), battery lasts 'about a day', and it's best to think of it as a Rather Shiny cordless phone which happens to work over the internet. With all your Skype contacts.

The screen is slow, the keypad is good-enough, and the software it runs is pleasantly bare-bones - but to be honest, I prefer its simplicity to your average all-singing, all-dancing mobile phone of today.

If you're used to SkypeOut on a computer, then you'll be more than happy with this device. It's much better than the headset with the broken microphone that I have in Brussels, and the microphone built into my MacBook Pro only works in MacOS X, not Windows XP.

Why is any of this remotely relevant to MINERVA? Well, take note of the end of the previous paragraph - it means I no longer need to reboot into MacOS X to make (or receive) phone-calls. Evenings are when friends and family phone, and evenings are also when I work on MINERVA.

So overall, this Belkin phone thingy is a Good Thing for everyone.

Edit 2006-12-10 and 2007-01-02: The Belkin WiFi Phone for Skype does not work with a Mobistar Livebox (made by Inventel) with WPA Personal encryption enabled. It comes up with a 'No IP address assigned' error, and can't connect. It does the same if DHCP is disabled, and an IP address is provided manually. Suggest disabling encryption entirely - I think the error message is actually a generic one, saying something drastic (and unidentifiable) has gone wrong...

Edit 2006-12-16: It also crashes occasionally when left alone, necessitating removal of the battery to get it to reboot. Apparently there might be an updated firmware by 'mid-December'. Let's see...

Edit 2007-04-18: Possibly marginally updated firmware here. Doesn't seem to make much difference, but it's worth a try...

Edit 2007-04-28: Not sure when it happened, but my Mobistar Livebox has updated its firmware. Now at v5.07.20-mobistar-be, there's now a WEP-only option in Configuration: Advanced: Wireless - which the Belkin Skype phone actually works with. Okay, so WEP is pretty much useless and easily broken, but it's better than nothing at all. Hope that's of use to someone!

Edit 2008-01-15: F1PP000GN-SK firmware update! Version! Released 2007-11-20, apparently - with an additional patch up to 11.0.22 P1. But enough numbers - it's supposed to fix lots of bugs...

Article Comments (now closed)

Tom Edwards's gravatar

1. Private shipping

Posted by Tom Edwards at 8:07PM, Monday December 4 2006

So I'll only be a week behind then. :-)

More Pole646 is welcome, too. I loved the original.

Holy Socks's gravatar

2. screenshots

Posted by Holy Socks at 11:09PM, Monday December 4 2006

I cant find any screenshots on the website.. come to think of it, I dont really know why I'm looking since I dont have a working copy of HL1.

Au-heppa's gravatar

3. Poke646

Posted by Au-heppa at 8:26PM, Tuesday December 5 2006

Yeah, I remember playing that a little while ago when had just finished HL2 and were longing for some good HL material to play. Went through all the good ole mods, They Hunger, Azure Sheep, Poke646, POV, Quantum Leap, etc. Thanks for the hint.

vecima's gravatar

4. perhaps ... another ... inspiraition for minerva

Posted by vecima at 1:01AM, Wednesday December 6 2006

so you're one of those people 'blessed' with a she-sibling.

sisters usually prove proficient in tormentuous teasing, mattering little whether they be of the older or younger variety.

Cargo Cult's gravatar

5. She-sibling(s)

Posted by Cargo Cult at 5:55PM, Friday December 8 2006

I have two.

Fortunately, Minerva wasn't inspired by either, especially not the younger one. Would you *really* want to receive messages along the lines of...


Yes, I do receive SMSes along those lines.

In other news, I have been swearing at my Brussels WiFi routery thingy. It has decided to completely forget how to do any kind of encrypted wireless connection. Even a full reset hasn't fixed it - all I did to cause this was leave it switched off for a week while I was in the UK...

I officially hate computers. Metastasis 3 is now going to be constructed as a cardboard diorama. That is all.

Cargo Cult's gravatar

6. Feeping Creaturitis

Posted by Cargo Cult at 7:11PM, Friday December 8 2006

To reduce me having to check this blog every ten minutes for new comments, I've added a comments RSS feed thingy. Behold!


I can now actually get some work done.

xbskid's gravatar

7. Re: Feeping Creaturitis

Posted by xbskid at 11:38PM, Friday December 8 2006

Quote: Metastasis 3 is now going to be constructed as a cardboard diorama. That is all.

Sounds like a wonderful easter egg. ;)

Siman's gravatar

8. Not like im complaining or anything

Posted by Siman at 6:20PM, Saturday December 9 2006

but couldnt you jest o i dont know couldnt you jest get the windows Skype and when are we getting a fourm?

Cargo Cult's gravatar

9. Surely you jest?

Posted by Cargo Cult at 6:49PM, Saturday December 9 2006

It's a MacBook Pro. Being an Apple, it's all high-quality and doesn't bother with shoddy parts.

Audio-wise, it has a line-in port. Not a microphone port. So the bastard thing needs an expensive powered microphone or USB handset to work.

So I went for the marginally* more expensive WiFi phone doofer.


The above article fills in the gaps in the documentation. I hope it helps someone, at least!

Forum? It got deleted last summer. Something to to with the apocalypse.

xbskid's gravatar

10. Re: Surely you jest?

Posted by xbskid at 7:25PM, Saturday December 9 2006

I thought you didn't use the Windows Skype because there weren't any Windows drivers for your Macbook Microphone. Besides, if you're using Hammer or Source, running Skype or anything else in the background is just going to slow the machine down and it's going to take that much longer to get Minerva. :D

xbskid's gravatar

11. Minerva buglist?

Posted by xbskid at 7:45PM, Saturday December 9 2006

Apologies for the doublepost, but I just got this idea.. Adam, what do you think of having a checklist of little errors here and there that people find? I just emailed you about the missing label for #GameUI_Color_Correction, but then I found missing labels under New Game for #metastasis2_Chapter1_Title and #metastasis2_Chapter2_Title, and I find it uncomfortable to repeatedly email someone.. Is there any way you could set up something like that so you won't end up with emails regarding things you've already fixed?

vecima's gravatar

12. i edit wikipedia...

Posted by vecima at 3:07AM, Sunday December 10 2006

i memorized holy grail really well,
i can recite it right now, and have you


that had a point, i promise.

why not a wiki for the bug checklist and other acolytic insanities.

or perhaps just use one of the 2 wiki pages already in the realm of existence.

Cargo Cult's gravatar

13. HTML, Bugs, Skype, Wibble

Posted by Cargo Cult at 2:45PM, Sunday December 10 2006

xbskid: Thanks for the bug-reports and blog featurette suggestions - with regard to bugs in MINERVA, the publicly released version can be regarded as Completely Obsolete. The work-in-progress version has completely rejigged for full Episode One compatibility!

HTML in comments? Possible, but would require some work on sanitising whatever standards-breaking, Javascript-abusing shite you people put into it. Likewise BBCode or similar - the article editing on here uses the VERC-inspired Format-Matique(tm) thing I built in an afternoon or two, some years ago. It's probably not robust enough for general usage, so for now, it's for articles only!

Skype? The MacBook Pro's internal microphone doesn't work in Windows, and it needs an expensive, amplified external one to work with its line-in port - so I decided to pay slightly* more and bought something which works entirely independently of a computer instead. And promptly came across a million and one pitfalls, some of which I've outlined in the article above. The manual was *really* lacking...

A Wiki? Well, it's one of Dreamhost's one-click install thingies, but I think people would rather I spent the probable half-hour required working on MINERVA instead. Right? ;-)

Evan's gravatar

14. Dear Mr. Cargo Cult

Posted by Evan at 4:58PM, Sunday December 10 2006

Work on MINERVA like your life depends on it.


Sirc's gravatar

15. Beware The FANS!!!

Posted by Sirc at 7:25PM, Sunday December 10 2006

Because it does...


Why did vecima quote Weird Al's "White & Nerdy" Rap?

Au-heppa's gravatar

16. Poke646: Vendetta

Posted by Au-heppa at 9:24AM, Monday December 11 2006

It looks like I will have to buy the Steam version of Half-Life to play this thing since my old cd-key doesn't work. :(

vecima's gravatar

17. shut up... that's why.

Posted by vecima at 3:41AM, Thursday December 14 2006

-the simpsons.

i'm just all quotes this week aren't i?

...as if i needed a reason! - that song's catchy... i'm a computer science major (1 week off of graduation) and as such spend countless hours with geeks, all of whom have that latest weird al hit stuck in their overcaffeinated skulls, myself included. the greatest part is that weird al knows his stuff when he raps about... nerdyness.

Mercer's gravatar

18. Poke646: Vendetta

Posted by Mercer at 8:07AM, Friday December 22 2006

Very excellent distraction for a few hours. I played the orginal and this is an excellent follow-up.

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