Archive for June, 2012


New Keyboard! Logitech G105

Recently my keyboard died and I obviously was in need of a new one. So I went down to the local electronics places and for the life of me couldn’t find a simple basic keyboard that had normal full throw keys. They were all ultra flat things similar to those used in laptops, some with extra gizmos and some that were wireless. Having worked in IT support I knew the woes of wireless and the ultra flat keyboards don’t quite feel right for me. So finding a decent keyboard with a good price was looking like it was going to be difficult. This is when I found a place with some more traditional style keyboards (an office supply place of all things). I found the Logitech g105 gaming keyboard for about $66 australian.

The keys feel good and responsive and it is comfortable to type on quite quickly. I do a lot of typing for coding so this was quite important to me. There are a number of programmable buttons on the left hand edge, but I haven’t found a use for them yet, and they require software installation to make them work. There are two buttons at the top of the keyboard that are quite useful! One is for disabling the windows special keys, which is generally useful for gaming. This is brilliant for me as I often hit those keys whilst playing Doom and some of the other retro games that use keys around there. The other button toggles a function I didn’t expect: back lighting for the keys! I was quite surprised when I first tried the keyboard, but pleasantly so. The lighting is a soft blue colour and is not invasive even when the lights are out. It has two different lighting levels, but I usually just have it on the brightest setting.

I thought this was pretty good value for the price especially considering many of the other gaming keyboards cost twice as much as this one! It isn’t as good as an old school mechanical keyboard, but those are either expensive (for new ones) and very hard to find second-hand ones in good nick. It is much better than all the silly ultra flat keyboards and feels like it is well made.


Civilization for DOS

The Title Screen

The Title Screen

Civilization was made by Microprose back in 1991, and is one of the first very popular turn based strategy games. Back on our 386 Civilization was one of the staple games that everyone played, and played a lot of at some point or another. In fact my older brother played it so much that we have photos of him in front of the computer playing it, and he occasionally used to talk about it in his sleep! The main reason we played it so much was because of how deep the gameplay is, and it was always different every time we played. We had many different strategies that we used when playing. Dad would typically tried to conquer the world as quick as possible, avoiding the need to be super good with technology as long as he won before someone got enough technology to beat him easily. My older brother typically tried to develop his economy and build up his cities and technology faster than his opponents, then after he was ready he would either build a space ship or go to war! This would sometimes fail if someone came along with enough weapons to kill him off before he could get his economy running. The enemy AI is relatively strong on harder difficulty levels, but above prince level accomplishes this difficultly by cheating.

The main gameplay screen

The main gameplay screen

The graphics are very good in the VGA mode, and if you had enough memory extra graphics for the terrain would look a bit smoother around the mountains and hills. There are many animations like the palace, and when building are built. This can slow down your game a bit, but you can turn all the extra animations off if you like. The EGA graphics are also fairly good for the mode, but obviously nowhere near as nice as VGA. Tandy and MCGA mode are also supported but I’m guessing that they look very similar to EGA and VGA respectively.

City List

City List

We never had a sound card in our 386, or any of our other DOS machines either, so we used the PC speaker for sound. It was quite reasonable for PC speaker, and let you know what was happening effectively. Adlib, Tandy and MT32 sound is also supported,  but I’ve only tried the Adlib sound. The Adlib mode is quite good, most of the sound is better than the same effect on the PC speaker. For myself  (and my Dad) I like to use the PC speaker mode, partly because of nostalgia for the original 386, and partly because I like some of the sound effects better on PC speaker.

A more advanced Civilization

A more advanced Civilization

The gameplay is of course the main attraction with Civilization. It’s simple enough to understand easily (even if you’re a kid), but also deep enough to keep you playing again and again. There have been a few sequels to the first one, the one that me and my Dad like the most being Civ II. My brothers have both played and seem to prefer some of the more recent versions of the game, but I’ve some of them a bit overcomplicated for my tastes. In any case, all of us sometimes come back to the original for the gameplay. I think the original appeals to us because of its comparative simplicity to the newer ones. It lets you get down to the tasks that you enjoy doing, whether it be waging war, or growing an economy. You aren’t bogged down in being forced to deal with other issues. Not saying that the new ones are bad, just the original has a special appeal all of its own.

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BSD Terminal games

I’ve been recently learning python and as a part of learning python I’ve constructed a basic menu system for selecting and playing some of the basic BSD games that run from the terminal. I’m making them available via telnet from my sparcstation, you can connect to it using the following address.


Use player as the username and plAyer as the password.

Your terminal program should support ANSI for its character set as one or two of the games use colour. If you are using the windows telnet client you will need to turn off the feature where it sends two carriage returns instead of one to effectively interact with the games and system. I haven’t found an easy way to do this, so I’d recommend using the putty telnet client instead.

The machine will kick you out if it gets too busy, but not during any gameplay. This will depend on what games people are playing and if I happen to be using it for anything else at the time. The backup scripts also take a fair bit of processor time, but the worst one of those only runs once a week.

If you have any trouble, or find something not working please leave a comment here.


The Java Programming language

The first language I learned at university was Java. Java is a high level object-oriented language, it is used in web pages in the form of applets. Some features of Java were very unique at the time it was created. The compiler does not generate native code, but rather generates something called byte code. Byte code basically a special form of assembly language for a machine that does not exist, in essence a virtual machine. Of course this special code will not function on normal hardware, so special interpreter software is used to run it. Interpreters for many platforms exist, for windows, mac OS, and all the unix platforms. This in and of itself isn’t that remarkable as many BASIC interpreters also generate a binary format to represent instructions in a similar way. Java code is typically very portable and is in use across many platforms today. Many programs can run across multiple platforms without modification.

Java was the major language I learned for using object-oriented and I found that it was pretty easy to get the hang of. All the major important aspects of object-oriented languages are represented. Inheritance and abstraction are implemented through extending classes and implementing interfaces. Something that helped me learn the language easier was the simpler form memory management. You can hold something called a reference to an object, which is simply Java speak for having a pointer to an object. A reference is created by the constructor implicitly and can be used freely. When the reference is no longer needed you can let it go, and the Java garbage collector will free the object at an appropriate time. You can’t perform pointer arithmetic on references (or change them manually) which means that memory references can’t be tampered with, which protects Java programs from themselves.

The API is very well documented which has been very handy to me over the years. You can generate your own documentation using the javadoc tool which I would definitely recommend you do. The API is full of very useful classes, in particular the util, nio and swing packages will contain classes you will use on a regular basis. I’ve found many of the data storage classes in util are good. Especially the vector and hashmap classes.

Over the course of my university degree I have written many Java programs for assignments. The language made implementing and studying computer science algorithms, data structures and software designs much simpler. It also helped my coding style and documentation improve and become more readable. I still use Java in much of my programming today as I can write simpler code without worrying about some of the specifics of the platform I’m writing for. I still like to write code in native programming languages partly for the challenge and partly for speed.


Xscavenger for NetBSD

Xscavenger is a lode runner clone made by David Ashley in 1997 for the X windows system.  I’m pretty new to the lode runner game itself only having recently played it on my C64 when I managed to get the cartridge on eBay. I found the original very challenging, and interesting in its game play. The cartridge version I have doesn’t seem to come with the level editor that seems to be common to all the other various copies of lode runner. The original had a very vibrant community of people building and sharing levels even in the days of BBS before the internet really took off. Xscavenger similarly also has a level editor that is quite good but I am not sure of how many people are building and exchanging levels. It is a pretty faithful clone, but has its own set of levels that are similarly hard and unique compared to the original. The graphics are very pleasing to the eye, and are very well animated. They even run quite well over a network based X connection. Control is via the keyboard and feels quite good. The player responds to your movements, and making holes in bricks is easy. Although remembering to press the key for the correct side is a bit hard at first you get used to it. You have the option of changing the keys if they do not suite your needs, so you don’t have to live with the layout if you find it hard.  Surprisingly there is also a graphic editor for those inclined on building their own sprites, which is a nice addition, but not one necessary to the enjoyment of the game. I was also surprised to hear my little sparc station playing sound that went along with this game, but unfortunately the sun hardware does not seem to do the sound justice. It seems to play some time after the event onscreen and the sampling rate seems a bit low. I suspect this is more of an artifact of the hardware I am running this on rather than the game itself. The sound that I did hear suited the game and atmosphere, but it is quite difficult with the sound quality issues. The gameplay feels very much like the original lode runner. There are a number of enemies that chase you at roughly the same speed as you run. Out maneuvering them is quite a challenge but because the game doesn’t move too fast you have some time to think, but not too much! There are also the occasional hidden enemy that can appear that if you will get a reward for killing. You do this the same way you incapacitate the other enemies, by trapping them in bricks.

Xscavenger is a very well-built game, it is pleasing to play, and does not tax even a very old system. As I said it is a very faithful clone of the original game so there is very little in the way of new gameplay elements if any. There are however many new levels to enjoy that I think are actually harder than those I found in the C64 version of lode runner with a few exceptions. I’d recommend it to anyone with a unix system who wishes a little lode runner action. If you check out the authors website you will also find a SDL and DOS port of the game. It’s quite an old school style web page you can find here.


Wizard of Wor on the commodore 64

In recent years I got a commodore 64 micro computer in my efforts to begin collecting old computer hardware and software. I never had one of the machines when I was a kid, and thus did not know much about the software on the machines. I was a bit worried about getting software for it on tape or disk as both those mediums are decaying, and many disks and tapes no longer function. So I decided that I would concentrate on getting cartridge games, of which I have about 20 odd of them now. One of the games that has become one of my favourites is Wizard of Wor.

The game was made by midway in 1980 in the arcades, and shortly after for the commodore 64. You control a Worrior who travels around maze like dungeons trying to defeat creature summoned by the Wizard of Wor himself. There are three main types of creatures and two that may appear later. The creatures travel around the maze occasionally shooting some kind of lightning bolt. The Garwor and Thorwor can make themselves invisible when they are out of a direct line of sight from a player. As the game progresses the creatures speed up making it significantly harder to avoid them. If you manage to kill all the creatures the Worluk may appear and start travelling around the dungeon quickly. If you manage to kill it, you will get double the score rate for anything you kill in the next dungeon. You may also run into the Wizard himself after the Worluk is killed or escapes. The Wizard teleports around the level and also moves quite quickly, but if he catches you no lives are lost. The mazes also have the path leading off-screen like pacman does, where you can cross from one side to the other. The path is blocked for a short period after someone uses it however.

You can play with a second player as well, and you can choose to play cooperatively or against each other. It is much easier to survive longer with a second player helping, but you do need to be careful as your shots will kill your friend as well as the monsters.

The commodore version is very similar to the arcade original, in particular the sound is pretty much spot on. The gameplay is pretty good on both, with the arcade version understandably being slightly harder. The c64 version gets pretty hard quickly as well, it is just more forgiving, and does not put in an AI player as player two when playing on your own. Control via the joystick is very good and responsive. I have a couple of competition pro joysticks that I have found to be quite good.

I have found the game to be quite addictive, and it takes a good bit of practise to get high scores. I was recently able to get about 76000 on my c64 with a bit of practise. I enjoy the game enough that every time I play with my old commodore 64 I usually play some Wizard of Wor.

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