Archive for the 'Gaming' Category

Outlining an ecologically-aware, anti-militarization answer to “Factorio”

Saturday, September 7th, 2019

I’ve enjoyed “Factorio”, but find it hard to progress in the campaign because it quickly bogs down in militarized colonization: the game turns, from one level to the next, from the fun part of Building Stuff to the much-less-fun task of having to defend that stuff against the “aliens” (lol) who are native to the planet you’re colonizing.

I spent some time thinking about how one might make a game essentially like “Factorio”, but more ecologically-aware, anti-colonization/anti-colonialist, and anti-militarization.

  • You land with enough resources to build a small, self-sufficient colony with recycling, composting, and subsistence farming. As in “Factorio”, it’s an emergency landing; this is basically your survival tent. You didn’t come here to colonize, but now you’re here and you have to survive.
  • Buuuut, your long-range radio broke, so now you need to pursue one of two goals: Build enough of a tech tree to build a replacement long-range radio so you can summon help, or build a much taller tech tree so you can repair your vessel and escape on your own.
  • You can mine/harvest to expand, but doing so risks disturbing the wildlife (and, since you aren’t bringing in colonists, you don’t have much motivation to expand beyond your needs).
  • You can protect your resource extraction sites (and the colony itself) with fences or moats, which cost acquired resources (moats require water outside of your drinking supply, whether by diverting existing geological water features or by pumping from wells or collecting rainwater).
  • On a related note, there should be a water cycle and rain barrels.
  • The deeper tech tree to escape on one’s own requires deeper invasion of the surrounding territory and extraction of resources (such as unobtainium to power the ship’s propulsion), reflecting the devastation wrought by pursuing solo achievement or solo subsistence while pretending that there’s no such thing as societal support.
  • Inversely, the shallower tech tree for summoning help reflects how we can achieve great things more easily, and better respect and protect the environment we live in, when we work together in mutual aid.

I’ve never made a “Factorio” mod (and don’t have the time or inclination to do so), so I don’t know how much of this is possible within that game’s engine and how much would require a whole new game. If you have the ability and the will to make this a reality, please do so and let me and the rest of the world know how it goes!

More good iOS games

Saturday, May 25th, 2013

Inspired by this post from last year by Mike Lee, here’s a list of the best games from my iOS app library.

Many games are excluded, for any of these reasons:

  • Games on this list must not be violent (e.g., I excluded Carmageddon and even Bastion, Sonic 2, and Sonic 4)
  • Games on this list must not be Zynga-tastic (e.g., I excluded Draw Something)
  • Games on this list must not be on last year’s list (see Mike’s post)

Also, I’ve restricted myself to iOS games. Some of the games below are available on multiple platforms, but all of the links are to the iOS App Store.

The games

(Enigmo violates the “not on Mike’s list” requirement, but I gave it a pass for two reasons: because I linked to both the iPhone and iPad versions, and because I linked to the sequel.)

Portal 2

Sunday, April 24th, 2011

The best works of fiction all have in common a certain feeling.

It comes at the end. You’ve finished it. There is no more; you know this, and it hurts you, because you want more, you want the enjoyment you’ve just had to continue forever, and yet you know that if there were always more, if it ran forever, eventually it would get boring, so it is good that is over, and yet it hurts.

Portal 2—which is great, all the way through—leaves you with that feeling. The ending is great, the best ending I’ve ever seen in a video game, and it hurts.

You should play it.

Play the first one first, and then play the second. And then you should probably play them both again—I know there’s some stuff I’ll view differently when I play Portal 2 the second time.

The only thing it left me wanting was a soundtrack album. I only bought the one song (you know the one) from the Orange Box soundtrack, but I would happily buy the whole soundtrack to this game. The music is as wonderful as the game it accompanies. I hope, someday, preferably someday soon, I can go to the iTunes Store or Amazon MP3 and buy it.

Valve and everybody else involved in making this game (and the original): You rock.

EDIT 2011-06-12: Just found this phenomenon on TVTropes. (To be clear, they had it first.)

Bubble Trouble’s high-quality music

Tuesday, March 23rd, 2010

Does this sound familiar to you?

That’s the full version of “Coconut Island” by Matt Swoboda. You may know it better as this shorter version, which is the version used as the alternate level-set-1 background music in the original Bubble Trouble.

Curiously, the Mac OS X version of Bubble Trouble omits that music, although it does include the four other music tracks as ‘snd ‘ resources. All five tracks originally came as MAD files; here’s an archive of the MAD files, rescued from the original Bubble Trouble’s Mac-OS-only installer, for your listening/converting pleasure.

Among the five tracks are two others by Swoboda, composed specifically for Bubble Trouble. The other two are by Yannis Brown. The full song list is:

  • Level set 1: “Bongalonga” by Brown
  • Level set 1 (alternate): “Coconut Island” (Bubble Trouble edit) by Swoboda
  • Level set 2: Composed specifically for Bubble Trouble by Swoboda
  • Level set 3: “Chunga-babe!” by Brown
  • Level set 4: Composed specifically for Bubble Trouble by Swoboda

You’ll need PlayerPRO to play or convert the MAD files; Vox, which I normally use to play and convert modules, does not support MAD. Also, you may find that PlayerPRO doesn’t work under Mac OS X; I used 5.10.0rc2, and it did nothing but crash when I tried to load a module file. (UPDATE: It’s mostly fixed in trunk@r110—no crash, but oversampling now distorts the audio.) I had to run 5.9.8 under SheepShaver (which is also how I installed the original Bubble Trouble, which is otherwise locked away in that Mac OS installer).

Enjoy.

Just to recap

Sunday, January 31st, 2010

Back in 2006, Valve Software released the trailer for Portal.

Based on that trailer, We Create Stuff created Portal: The Flash Version. The same day they released it, Valve released The Orange Box (Portal being part of it).

The next year, We Create Stuff released the Portal: The Flash Version Map Pack*, which is the levels from Portal: TFV converted to 3D levels in the real Portal.

And then, at E3 a few months later, Microsoft announced “Portal: Still Alive”, which Valve confirmed is Portal plus the Portal: The Flash Version Map Pack.

Representative screenshot.

*I prefer to call it “Portal: The Flash Version: The Portal Version”, but that’s just me.

Even more works of John Calhoun

Monday, January 25th, 2010

I’ve updated my shrine to the Glypha games with even more cool old stuff:

If you want to play these old games, you’ll need Mini vMac and its dependencies. The newer versions of Glypha (and possibly Glider) may require a later-generation emulator. That’s assuming, of course, that you don’t still have a real, working old Mac.

Deep thanks go to Steve White for contributing a number of the additions. The page would be only half as long without his help.

There should be an achievement for this

Friday, August 7th, 2009

In Portal, Testchamber 13:

Despite the best efforts of the Enrichment Center staff to ensure safe performance of all authorized activities, you have managed to ensnare yourself permanently in this room.
A complimentary escape hatch will open in Three… Two… One.

Half-Life 2 Photography

Thursday, February 19th, 2009

My challenge to you:

Take a screenshot in any of the Half-Life 2 games (including Portal), and make it look and feel like an artistic or journalistic photograph. (I don’t mean filters; I mean framing and the scene itself.)

Here’s my first contribution:

A scene of the observer looking out a grimy window on to a Combine autogun emplacement.

If you want to join in, take a photographic-looking screenshot, and submit it to the Flickr group.

Review: BurnBall

Tuesday, January 13th, 2009

On 2008-12-12, Tim Haines, the developer of BurnBall, contacted me on Twitter to offer me a free promo code. I accepted, and played the game on my first-generation iPod touch.

The game is basically Qix with a Sonic-the-Hedgehog-esque theme. Based on that, I give you this pull-quote:

If you like Qix, you’ll like BurnBall.

As it happens, I don’t like Qix. The main thing about Qix that frustrates me is that enemies can kill you just by touching your trail while you’re cutting off another piece of the level. This makes some sense for the Tron-based theme of some of the other Qix work-alike games, but it has the effect on gameplay that you can’t make any but incremental progress, especially after the first few levels, as the number of enemies goes above 2. Your only hope is that your enemies will see some shiny thing and leave you alone long enough to let you complete your wall; otherwise, you can only complete the level a little bit at a time.

One way in which somebody could improve Qix would be to let enemies go right through your wall, and compensate by making them more aggressively pursue you. Then, you’d stand a reasonable chance of completing the wall, if you can just dodge the enemies. Another way would be to have enemies bounce off the wall, which would provide you with a way to restrain them while you draw more wall—but that may make the game too easy.

BurnBall is graphically different enough from Qix that it could pull off either change, although it probably should be an alternate game mode.

So, basically, the only reason I dislike BurnBall is because I dislike Qix games in general.

That said, BurnBall is a very good Qix game, being both well-drawn and responsive to your control. (Since I originally drafted this post, there’s been an update that tweaked the tilt response; I haven’t tested it.)

BurnBall has an advantage over Qix work-alikes on other platforms, in that you can move in any direction—you’re not limited to up, down, left, and right. You move by tilting the iPhone.

Another advantage of BurnBall over other Qix work-alikes is that Haines holds high-score competitions with monetary prizes on the app’s Facebook page. He also posts a free promo code every time that page gets another 100 subscribers, so you may not even have to buy the game.

If you’d rather not wait for the next promo code, the app is 99¢ on iTunes.

iPhone sudoku follow-up: ACTSudoku

Tuesday, July 29th, 2008

A couple of weeks ago, I posted a list of requirements for an iPhone sudoku app. At the time, no app satisfied all of the requirements, but one did come close.

Pierre Bernard of Houdah Software posted a comment that his sudoku app, ACTSudoku, satisfied all but one of the requirements I listed. The only one remaining was rotational symmetry, which he asked about.

In response to our dialog on that post, he added rotational symmetry in ACTSudoku 1.1, which Apple has now approved. You can download it now for $2.99 USD (or free if you bought one of the earlier versions).

UPDATE 2008-08-01: As of yesterday, there’s now a free version of ACTSudoku, which only generates easy puzzles. This is good if you’d like to try it for yourself, but you don’t want to spend $3 just yet.

The interface is simple enough:

ACTSudoku's interface is a sudoku grid on a wooden background, with the difficulty below it on the left and the timer below it on the right. At the bottom is a toolbar with three items: A + button, an Info button, and an X button.

Notice that there’s no row of numbers for input. The obvious thing to try is tap on a cell, and it works:

Tapping on a cell brings up a square pop-up containing nine numerals, possibly colored by pencil-marks.

In other words, the interface is obviously postfix. The key word there is “obviously”: One of my requirements was that it must be obvious how to input numbers.

The input method is not perfectly obvious, however. One thing that stumps a lot of people (going by Bernard’s response to some iTunes reviews) is the fact that simply tapping on a number in the pop-up enters a pencil-mark, rather than locking in the number. You must hold down briefly to set a number in the cell. In the comments on the previous post, I suggested swapping these behaviors; I maintain that suggestion. (UPDATE 2008-10-29: ACTSudoku 1.5 added a preference to do this. It does, indeed, make a tremendous difference in the app’s usability.)

You may be wondering what all the green dots are. Those are pencil-marks, filled in automatically by the game. This is optional; you can turn it off in the settings, if you want to be completely free to make mistakes.

ACTSudoku's settings are in the Settings app; the only control there, as of 1.1, is a light-switch controlling the automatic pencil-marks.

With the automatic pencil-marks turned on, the game will not let you enter a wrong number. With them turned off, the game will let you enter a wrong number. Either way, you can clear the cell by tapping again on the cell and holding down on the giant number.

If you tap on a cell with a number filled in, the pop-up has only that number, and it fills the entire size of the pop-up. Holding down on it clears the cell (and, if automatic pencil-marks are turned on, restores the marks). In this screenshot, the cell has a 4 filled in.
Hold down on that giant 4 to clear it from the cell.

Of course, ACTSudoku is not perfect. It has some minor problems:

  • The interface confusion that I noted above. A long tap sets the number, whereas a short tap sets a pencil-mark. This arrangement makes no sense with automatic pencil-marks turned on—and they’re on by default. It would make much more sense to have the tap lengths the other way around.
  • The northern, eastern, southern, and western blocks are have dimmed-looking gray backgrounds, for no apparent reason. This is slightly distracting (but not enough to qualify as “garish”). I would prefer if all the blocks were uniform white.
  • I’d like to be able to turn off the timer. Again, I find this distracting.

However, it satisfies all of my requirements, so I declare ACTSudoku the winner of the iPhone sudoku race. Congratulations to Houdah Software!

Requirements for a proper iPhone sudoku app

Saturday, July 12th, 2008
  • A sudoku generator. The game should not cap me at x-hundred or x-thousand puzzles. Give me all the sudoku the iPhone OS’ PRNG can create for me.

  • Proper sudoku puzzles, not Number Place puzzles. The difference is that a sudoku puzzle is rotationally symmetric: if you turn the puzzle 180°, it still looks the same.

    Starting with a proper sudoku puzzle, → 180° → rotation gets you the same layout of starting numbers.

    Many sudoku generators actually generate Number Place puzzles, which don’t have this constraint. (In particular, all the Will Shortz puzzles are like this.)

  • Obvious input method. A row of numbers at the bottom doesn’t work because I can’t tell whether the game is prefix (tap number first, then cell) or postfix (tap cell first, then number). I could get used to either way, but a good interface doesn’t make me guess.

    • Ambrosia’s Mr. Sudoku uses handwriting recognition.

    • Platinum Sudoku is clearly postfix, because its input method is a ring of numbers around whatever cell you tap on.

  • The ability to set pencilmarks, to keep track of what numbers are viable for a cell (helping to avoid wrong numbers, especially at higher difficulty levels).

  • Simple, usable interface. This means two things:

    • No excessive artwork like Big Bang Sudoku has. I only have 16 GB of flash memory—don’t waste it!

    • No garish colors. If your sudoku game is in CGA, then I don’t want to look at it, which means I don’t want to play it, which means I don’t want to buy it.

SketchFighter 4000 Alpha

Friday, December 1st, 2006

First, despite the name, this apparently is a regular release. The Get Info string says it’s version 1.0.0 — no alpha there. The name of the game is “SketchFighter 4000 Alpha”, in a misplaced attempt at increasing the whole sci-fi-ness of it.

Second:

Save points must die.

Seriously. Every game that has save points can be massively improved by replacing them with a “Save game” command in the menu.

Third, the save games are next to useless. They save your last location, but not the deaths of all the enemies and objects you’ve blown up. So when you restore, SURPRISE! All your enemies have come back from the dead, and they’re understandably pissed.

And fourth, a note to all game developers: Please ship your games set by default to windowed mode, not full-screen. Nobody has a CRT anymore, and nobody has an LCD with a native resolution of 800×600 anymore. More to the point, maybe I don’t want to start right into your game right away; I’d like to go through the Options first, and as long as I’m doing that, there’s no reason for me to not to have my email and IM windows visible.

Some notes about Sand Sand Sand

Monday, May 8th, 2006

I’ve been playing Sand Sand Sand lately. It’s the successor to World of Sand, and it has some important additions.

  • Water now exhibits waves. This means very little, except that it is now impossible to get a perfectly level field of Water.

  • Salt now mixes with Water. Saltwater sinks in plain Water, but other than that, possesses no buoyancy; other substances (besides Water) are suspended in it, rather than floating or sinking.

  • Buoyancy has been added. Oil floats on top of Water; Water floats on top of Sand. But as I mentioned above, this only applies to plain Water, not Saltwater.

  • Wall has been changed to Ground.

  • A new tool has been added: Seed. This tool isn’t draggable; you only get one Seed per click. The Seed will disappear if it hits any substance that is not Ground. If it does hit Ground, it is planted, and grows a fractal tree.

    1. The tree starts off with a trunk made of Wood, which is a slow-burning version of Oil (in that it is flammable and erodes surrounding Ground or whatever when it burns).
    2. After a fractal generation or two, it begins growing Leaves instead of Wood.
    3. The Leaves periodically generate Pollen (or maybe it’s Sap). Pollen suspends (doesn’t float or sink) in any substance, including Water.
  • Fire now generates Smoke, which of course rises. It disappears after a short time, but it can bottle up a small opening. Watch for this if you funnel lots of Oil through a tiny (1–2 px) hole onto a burning stick of Wax.

    A cone filled with Water, pouring onto a roughly diamond-shaped division inside of a small inverted cone. At the mouth of the lower cone is three sticks of Wax, each burning, generating enough smoke to seal off (briefly) the opening between the two cones.

  • Pouring Water now contains bubbles of air/nothing, which of course float to the top. And Saltwater, poured into Water, gets bubbles of Water.

    A cone filled with Water, pouring into empty space. Bubbles are floating up through the Water.
    A cone filled with Water and Saltwater, pouring directly into a second cone filled with plain Water. Water bubbles have appeared in the Saltwater, and air/vacuum bubbles in the top Water.

And a couple of problems:

  • This one existed in WoS, too: Liquids behave more like powders.

    1. They don’t equalize. Create a U-shaped container from Ground, with an upright division in the middle (with a gap between that and the floor of the U). Fill one side, above the gap, with Water or Oil or Saltwater. The other side will fill up to the gap, but not above it.

      A box as described. The left side is full to the top; the right side is filled right up to the bottom of the division.

    2. If you rush a large amount of a liquid down an incline, it takes too long for the level at the bottom to equal the level at the top. A liquid would reach the same level at both ends much more quickly than a powder; the behavior in the game is that of a powder, even when the substance being poured is a liquid (Water, Oil, or Saltwater).

    I think that this can be attributed to the game’s apparent use of pixels as the backing for all game substances; they act as particles of a powder. Of course, I’m just guessing, having not seen the inner workings of the game for myself. But that is my guess and I’m sticking to it.

  • If you fill a container with Water, then put a lid on it with Pollen or Ground, then inject Oil into the Water, it will float up, but it will not even out. It will just form a lump at the top of the field of Water.

  • Bubbles don’t happen in any other liquids or powders, only plain Water. Also, bubbles would only happen when the top is not open (as in a bottle held upside down); a bowl, cone, or box should not have any bubbles. (Maybe I’m asking too much, but you know me: I’m a pedant.)

UPDATE 2006-05-09 04:02 PDT: I knew I forgot one. Turns out I forgot two. Added the list items for smoke and bubbles (amusingly enough, both names of Growl displays).

UPDATE 2006-05-09 05:04 PDT: Error correction to the bubbles list item: Air in water isn’t the only kind of bubble in the game. Also added screenshots.

Enigmo 2’s real requirements

Saturday, February 18th, 2006

sayeth the Enigmo 2 info page:

These are the game’s minimum system requirements:

• 800mhz G4 or any Intel Mac. Will NOT run on older Macs with a G3 processor.

• 256MB RAM and 32MB VRAM

• Mac OS 10.3.9 or later.

• QuickTime 7

OpenAL (Included with Mac OS 10.4, but for MacOS 10.3.9 it must be downloaded & installed by clicking this link).

(note to Pangea: real unordered lists aren’t that hard. really. try them sometime. [look at the source for the page if you don’t know what I’m talking about.])

but this list is inaccurate.

I ran the demo just fine on my 450 MHz G4 Cube with 1 GB RAM and a Rage 128 with 16 MB VRAM. of course, I had it at 640×480 in a window at “low” quality, but it ran well in this configuration. so, don’t always believe the requirements.

incidentally, iirc, the original Enigmo was the same way.

On distributed piloting

Friday, January 6th, 2006

“Distributed piloting” is a term invented by Peter Hosey in 2006 (i.e. made up by me just now) for websites like Control Our Junk (which I found on Digg) that promise to let you control some real-world object from the internet. In the case of Control Our Junk, the objects to be controlled are a radio-controlled car, a train, and an airsoft gun.

The problem with it is that in any such system, you either have nobody controlling it (nobody’s heard of your website) or thousands of people trying to control it (front page of Digg). In the latter case, either people get kicked off, or all the control commands mix together into discord. The car goes every which way, the gun fires at everything, and the train is constantly going back and forth, with no apparent pattern. I guess you could call it a form of entropy.

I think a better system might be to get ~200 (maybe more) RC cars, and put them in a big arena, and give everybody at least five (or maybe ten) minutes of time. If there are <200 cars in use, a new user simply gets one of the free cars. Otherwise, if at least one person has been using a car for more than five minutes, the person who’s been on the longest is kicked off. Otherwise, the new user waits in a queue for somebody to hit their five-minute limit.

OK, now somebody go do that. I want to play with an RC car over the internet. ☺