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Integrated Circuit Design as a Game

Saw this on the Make Magazine Blog today, but it’s a little game called KOHCTPYKTOP, which is Russian, and loosely pronounced ‘Constructor’. It’s centered around the idea of creating simple integrated circuits by laying metal and silicon down on a design surface and running them against expected voltage readouts.

This is a great little puzzle game, and I know that if you’ve any interest in electronics, you’ll probably enjoy it. When you’re not pulling your hair out in frustration that is…

Independent Game Competitions

Since Revision 3 picked up Bytejacker about four months ago, I’ve been watching it weekly, and really enjoying the show. Bytejacker is a web show, that’s been on for over a year now, that every week takes a look at what’s going on in the world of independent games. Part of the reason I took interest, was because a lot of these games are playable in Linux, either via native builds, or that they’re flash-based browser games. It’s been a great source of cool little games I probably would have never found otherwise.

Part of why it’s so cool, is that a fair number of the episodes highlight the games from The Independent Gaming Source’s competitions, which they’ve been doing for a little over a year now. These games are typically created by very small teams (or individuals), and while most aren’t going to be blockbuster titles, there are some really awesome games available there.

I’m a fan of these sorts of competitions, having usually watched PyWeek fairly closely, though I have yet to participate. PyWeek is cool because developers have 1 week to create their game using PyGame, pyglet, or PyOpenGL.. TIGSource’s games tend to be a bit more polished, since they don’t have the week-long deadline, but PyWeek’s entries are a pretty exciting example of what’s possible in a short period of time.

To date, I haven’t seen any competitions like this targeting the iPhone (which would be hard to do, given the cost of entry and difficulty deploying), or Android (which would be much easier), but I expect as mobile devices become more and more common we’ll start seeing them as well, and frankly, that’s pretty exciting.

Classic Adventuring in JavaScript

Ajaxian more than earned it’s spot on my RSS Reader this week when they told me about sarien.net. Now, if you’re around my age, you have really fond memories of the old Sierra Adventure games, and sarien.net is the perfect way to honor these classic games, by making them playable in your web browser.

Now, there have been other browser-based retro gaming sites, but in this case, it’s implemented in JavaScript and Canvas. Of course, this means it only works in new browsers (Safari 4, Firefox 3+, etc), and that it doesn’t work in IE at all, but this is a seriously cool hack.

Martin Kool, the guy behind the site, has a pretty decent write-up about the tech, though I’d like some more techy-details, that I’ll have to go to the source for.

So, how’s it work? Well, Martin has extracted the data files from the old Sierra games, and run them through a special parser that converts the AGI code to JavaScript. This is no small feat, really, as JavaScript has no support for things that AGI requires (like GOTO), and using the Canvas support in modern browsers to render the images. He does add support for the Q42 multiplayer engine developed at the company he works for so that you can visit with other players while you’re playing, though I’m unsure how interested I am in that, luckily, you can turn that bit off.

Martin’s rewrite of the javascript code, converts the application into an enormous switch-case block which allows a reasonable equivalent to the ‘goto’ that AGI uses. I haven’t had a chance to analyze the exporter, so I can’t say much about it, but I agree with Martin, that I hope Activision-Blizzrd (the current copyright holders of the old Sierra games) allow this site to remain as what it is, a beautiful shrine to these fantastic games, and hopefully it might encourage more movement on the adventure game front in the modern world.

Shadowgrounds

When Linux Game Publishing first announced Shadowgrounds Survivor, I didn’t think much of it. I love LGP, but my initial reaction was simply that it was another game I’d never heard of, and that it didn’t really sound too compelling, especially since most LGP games tend to be close to the $50 price point. I’d try the demo, but I made no plans to buy.

Then, Michael Simms announced that they were getting the prequel, Shadowgrounds, basically for free out of the port, so they’d arranged to distribute the prequel as well. Even better, since it was an unexpected windfall, they’d be selling Shadowgrounds for about $10.

That is within my impulse range when it comes to supporting Linux game developers, so I bit, springing for the physical copy with the download now option. I love that the industry has gone the instant gratification option with download now.

The plot line of the game is pretty basic for a overhead shooter: Humanity has learned to terraform, and expanded to Mars and Ganymede. Your character was working for the security forces on Ganymede, but an accident at the power plant in the colony got him fired and now he’s a mechanic. The game opens with a power failure that you’re ordered to investigate, and in pretty short order you find out that the colony is under attack from aliens, and you have to help what military presence is still around survive.

Unfortunately, my initial experience with the game was not positive. Load times were high, audio would cut out completely, and the game would periodically crash. Now, I can’t really blame all this on Shadowgrounds, as my computer never quite ran right with Ubuntu 9.04. I was having frequent performance issues, and I suspect they were related to my video card and it’s drivers.

I’d been thinking about upgrading to the 9.10 Alphas, so I decided to do that, since the recent unbootable problem had been solved. Much to my surprise, and pleasure, almost all of my performance issues have been resolved, and I’m hopeful that an impending RAM upgrade (up from 2 GiB) will help alleviate the rest.

Anyway, the game was now playable without any noticeable issues, a fact I quickly found myself grateful for. Shadowground’s gameplay is vaguely Gauntlet-like, in that it’s controlled from an overhead angle, and control of your character is as simple as choosing an angle to face, and firing. There are some events where you have to use items in the environment, or fix broken items in between waves of enemies.

It’s simple, it’s not terribly original, but it works, and it works well. The game designers do a good job of adding twists to the mechanic from time to time, which generally make sense, and they never really overuse any of the little puzzle elements.

The weapons are pretty well balanced, with even the trusty infinite ammo pistol being useful late into the game, and upgrade units, which act as currency to buy upgrades to your weapons, are plentiful enough to keep things interesting, even if you can’t build a surplus.

The writing and story are good. Not great, but it at least makes sense, and the characters are all interesting enough you want them to survive.

Unfortunately this game was built to be co-op, but the only multiplayer it supports is with two keyboards and mice, on the same host. What, no network play?

This would be acceptable, if SDL had support for multiple input devices. Apparently, this will be fixed in a forthcoming version of the library, and LGP has promised a patch to the games.

For me, Shadowgrounds was an easy purchase at the price that LGP is asking. And yes, I purchased it sight unseen because I really do want to support native gaming on Linux. Luckily for Michael Simms and crew, Shadowgrounds has been good enough (if a bit short, given with how close to the end I believe I am), that I’m definitely planning to buy the sequel, Shadowgrounds Survivor, a game I thought I had little interest in.

Can’t wait for the co-op mode to be enabled…

The Return of Star Conquest

Five years ago, one of the greatest online games I’ve ever played. Star Conquest, will finally return. Sure, it’s a text-based MOO, but it’s got great depth, lots to do, and a stable advancement system that even allows new players a change to catch up with long-time players.

While the game had shut down five years ago, I hadn’t played in at least a year prior to that due to a conflict with another player that had simply gone too far. I had always intended to return, but the situation was complicated, and I’m not going to go into it right now. Needless to say, the relaunch greatly excites me.

In the intervening years, the story has moved forward with Humanity being subjugated by an alien species known only as the “Outsiders”. They’d been around in the old story, but had seemed to be background characters, in fact the only aliens I was ever a part of the a conflict with was the IFS (which I beleive stands for Intergalactic Federation of Species).

As part of the subjugation, Humanity had almost of their ships destroyed, their will broken, Humanity exists almost solely as production colonies for the Outsiders, with virtually no trade between worlds. This included almost completely destroying humanities capability for research. In the midst of the turmoil, a new Alliance formed, consisting of formerly Unregistered pilots. The Sovereign Mutuality of Disparate Freemen is an interesting new development, bringing new technology and places to the table.

Star Conquest isn’t likely to be for everyone. The Hosts have assured us that the game will be strictly Roleplay enforced (there is an OOC communication mode, for certain use, and if two people want to have a private conversation OOC, as long as it’s in a private place), which should do an excellent job of keeping people on focus and keep the game from falling apart, particularly since the game has fair rules for avoiding excessive bullshit. In keeping with the RP-heavy spirit, the game has a requirement that you submit a written history for your character before you’re accepted as a Full pilot. Mine is probably excessive (it’s 4k), but the requirement should set a good base level for player involvement.

The game officially launches on Saturday, though you can already log in now, by pointing your telnet (or MUD/MOO client) to squidsoft.net port 7777. Create your character, fill out your profile, and wait for approval.

CURRENT OPENING NIGHT ITINERARY:

6PM Game Time (7PM eastern, 4PM pacific, 12AM GMT): DOORS OPEN. Your character 
can buy a ship and explore what the beta characters have been seeing. IF YOUR 
PROFILE HAS NOT BEEN APPROVED BY THIS TIME, you may join as a cadet.

8PM Game Time (9PM eastern, 6PM pacific, 2AM GMT): OPENING EVENT WILL BEGIN. 
Your character should be in possession of a ship and ready for anything at 
this time if you wish to participate!

OPENING NIGHT IS SCHEDULED TO BE SATURDAY, FEBRUARY 28TH.

If you’re interested in a great role-playing experience, if you’re ready to be the Catalyst to shrug off the oppressors of Humanity, you should definitely try out Star Conquest. The opening event promises to be a good time. And I’ll be in as Caleb Tyrin, so don’t be afraid to wave if you see me.

Penny Arcade Adventures: On the Rainslick Precipice of Darkness

Penny Arcade Adventures: On the Rainslick Precipice of Darkness is a new Action RPG released by Hothouse Games in colloboration with the Penny Arcade webcomic guys. It takes place in the Penny Arcade Universe starring Tycho, Gabe, and a character of your own design.

Admittedly, I am not a big Penny Arcade fan. I purchased the game largely because it looked funny, it was based on a 1920s horror-pulp story line, and it has a Linux version. in fact, if you’re using Windows, Mac, or Linux, I’d suggest you head over to Play Greenhouse now and download the demo. XBox Live users should be able to find a demo there.

The story starts out simply: You character is standing outside his home when a mysterious voice begins talking to him (or her), and begs him to clean up his yard with the rake. While he does that, a GIANT ROBOT appears, and crushes his house, before walking away, quickly pursued by Gabe and Tycho, of the Startling Developments Detective Agency.

Your character pursues Gabe and Tycho, learning how to play the game, and fighting the beginnings of a horde of ‘Fruit Fucker’ robots, the name of which pretty clearly describes what you’re dealing with. When you finally catch up with Gabe and Tycho, you join the agency, to get revenge on the Robot, and your adventure sets off in earnest. On the way, you’ll uncover a horrible plot involving Pagan Mimes, fight a horde of filthy hobos, and try to find a place to live.

The game has a decent length for the $20 price tag. A straight play through took just under ten hours, but as I found virtually none of the special music tracks, artwork, and collectibles, I’m likely to go back and search for those things. The game is amusing, and well-polished, though it’s likely unlike any other action RPG you’ve played in it’s mechanics.

Those mechanics made the game feel kind of strange. Whenever battle ends, the entire party is fully healed, you can only have a single status effect on each party member at a time. One of my favorite features is the blocking mechanism, which allows you to time a button hit with the enemies health bar flashing to get either a Block, Partial Block, Missed Block, or the elusive Counterattack. The special attacks feature a similar mechanism, but I do wish there had been a bit more variety in these. Each character’s special attacks operate basically the same, becoming harder with better attacks only because of the time limits and increasing amount of things to accomplish.

The game is simply a good time, and I believe it is worth the $20 asking price. There are three more episodes, which I expect will each hit that price point, though I do wish that they’d decided to offer a “Season Pass” like Sam & Max at a slightly reduced rate. That probably won’t stop me from buying the rest of the series.

For a fun, humorous, adult-oriented adventure, I’d suggest buying Penny Arcade Adventures. Download the demo first, and it gives a pretty complete feel for the tone of the game. But you two, can be a mewling babe on the Rainslick Precipice of Darkness.

EA Frees a Classic: SimCity

Electronic Arts recently approved the porting of the original Sim City to the OLPC XO Laptop. As a kid who grew up playing Sim City, I think it’s fantastic that a new generation of children will be introduced to computing and gaming by this fantastic, simple economic simulation. Sim City has always held a special place in my heart. Hell, I used to refuse to restart cities until they either failed, or I was simply out of room to do anything.

I remember once, I experienced a nuclear meltdown in the very first year of a new city (always built Nuclear, why bother with Coal?). Rather than scrapping that city like a reasonable person, I rebuilt across the river, my city scrimping along on virtually no money and almost a quarter of my land unusable due to nuclear contamination.

I managed to turn that game into a successful city that one day reached Metropolis status. Sim City is one of the few game franchises that has managed to remain relevant and entertaining over all these years. Sure, the new features hasn’t always been fantastic, and often have taken a revision or two. Like water in Sim City 2000, worked alright, but you could run a surprisingly small number of mains. In Sim City 3000, a sector had to be a certain distance from a main in order to have water, which makes more sense when looking at water mains. Plus, as a player you had more control. I’m sure the traffic features introduced in Sim City 4 will be improved greatly in the next revision of the game.

Despite the improvements in the series over the years, the original game still has a lot of charm, that the other games haven’t quite managed to match. This new release of the source code and game files for Sim City (rebranded as Metropolis for this release), was welcome to see. Now, the game will live on for a good long while, being improved by the community.

The first thing I think the community should improve upon? Well, they went through and removed the Plane Crash disaster from the game, due to 9/11 they claim. Why are we not allowed to be reminded of 9/11? It was a tragedy, certainly. It was the greatest loss of innocence of my generation. But to try to remove and hide anything that might remind us of it, is ridiculous. Low on my pending project queue is to fix this stupid omission, and release it as a patch, unless someone beats me to it.

So, go grab Micropolis, and either relive the fun of our youth, or experience one of the pinnacles of gaming for the first time.

Blob Wars: Metal Blob Solid

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Blob Wars is the story of a blob named Bob, who’s trying to save his race from certain destruction from the Aliens. It’s a simple 2d Platform game written in SDL, so it runs on Windows, Linux, and MacOS (probably others as well). It’s also the most polished FLOSS game I’ve ever seen.

The level design is simple, with levels unlocking as you clear others, sometimes branching into multiple paths you can take, and each level includes some things you can’t access until you get the Rebreather (allows you to swim indefinitely) or the Jetpack.

There are a variety of weapons, each providing different strategies. Each weapon gives you unlimited ammunition, however, you can only have one weapon at a time, so sometimes you have to be careful not to pick up an unwanted weapon drop.

This is just a great freeware game, and I’d seriously suggest you pick it up. Anyone interested in game development might also want to consider the sequel, which is in 3D and in development at the same site.

Unclean, Unclean!

I feel so dirty. I just placed my first order ever from Amazon.com. For those of you who don’t remember, Amazon decided it was in their best interest to basically try to patent everything that makes eCommerce work back in the late 1990s. This included things like “One Click Shopping” and quite possibly the idea of a ‘shopping cart’.

Luckily, the courts didn’t allow it, but I’ve never really liked an Organization that operated like that. Plus, I like to support local business where possible. So, when Sovereign Press published the Serenity Role Playing Game, I tried to buy it local. No dice.

So, I turned to the Internet, and the savings that Amazon offered was so amazing, I couldn’t justify paying more. I feel so dirty…