Archive for September, 2012

23
Sep
12

Xboing on NetBSD

Xboing is a breakout style game for the X windows systems, it was written by Justin C. Kibell in the years 1993 – 1997. It is written using the basic X toolkit libraries so will run on pretty much any Unix system with a half decent compiler set. The game models itself after an arcade machine, and even goes as far as having an attract mode (or demo) to show the basics of the game.

The graphics are very colourful and pleasing, and I’m happy to report it works very well even on very old hardware, or via an XDMCP session over the local network. I found it worked quite well on my old sparcstation. The animations and movement of the paddle and ball are fast and this helps the controls be responsive.

Sound didn’t work very well for me, it froze the game on the sparc, which could be caused by any number of issues. The game doesn’t suffer for not having sound, so if you have similar issues, I’d just turn the sound off.

Gameplay is very similar to all the other break out classics around with some differences. For instance, the power ups do not drop out of bricks when they are broken. Instead they themselves are bricks that when you break them give you the power up contained therein. You get a limited supply of bullets in the game to help you clear areas faster. This is very handy when there are only a handful of bricks left that are quite hard to hit with the ball. That being said, because you have a limited supply, you aren’t tempted to go shooting down every brick in a level as it will affect how much ammunition you carry over to the next level. Interestingly you can accidentally shoot your ball and end your game if you aren’t careful. I’ve also noticed you can squeeze the bullets up between columns of blocks to hit something at the top of the screen. This was useful when the “eyeball dude” went past, I had a chance to shoot him for points.

The default setting for the game is quite fast, so you will probably want to slow it down. Don’t slow it down too much however as this impacts your ability to score and get bonus score for completing a level quickly. Control is via the mouse, and is very responsive and quick. The only problem I had was when I accidentally moved my mouse out of focus and the paddle stopped moving. This may not be a problem for you depending on your window manager, I could always configure mine to improve the situation!

I found that the game was quite fun, and offered something different to the other breakout games out there that mostly follow after the classic Arkanoid. The challenge is high enough depending on the speed you set, and you shouldn’t find yourself bogged down trying to get that last one or two bricks for very long. So if you are a fan of breakout games, have a Unix system, and want to play a good breakout game, I’d recommend giving Xboing a try.

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18
Sep
12

Xpilot on Mac OS

Xpilot is a game very much like Thrust on the C64, but with many more complicated features and game-play. The game is one of the pioneering games in internet gaming, it was one of the first to include in game chat and different game modes such as capture the flag. It was written for unix workstations, and the first public release was made back in 1992 by Bjørn Stabell and Ken Schouten. Xpilot runs on most unix systems including Linux, FreeBSD, NetBSD, Mac OS, ans Sun OS that I know of, in theory if the X libraries are installed Xpilot should run on it. You can build it under cygwin for windows, but I believe that there is a proper windows port you can use.

I built the game on my macbook which runs Mac OSX Lion. It was fairly straight forward to build, but I needed to install the imake utility from macports to make my life easier. I also had to modify some source code very slightly for it to work on my computer, so I would suggest using the version of it in Fink. I have previously built and ran the game on NetBSD, Linux and FreeBSD without any issues.

The games system requirements for getting it to work are fairly low, but it’s a good idea to not run it on very old hardware. Anything younger than about 10 years old should be fine. It can demand a lot of the X server, and can require a lot of your network if your X server isn’t local to where the game is running. I tried running the game on my old sparcstation to see how well it would work, it seemed fine, but the server used all of one CPU and the client a good part of the other. I was running the X server on my desktop machine which was taking some of the load off, so it would be unlikely that the old machine could have coped very well with the full load of the game unless I upgrade it.

Because of the systems the game was meant to run on originally, there is no audio as many X terminals never had sound and there wasn’t a uniform way to access audio hardware when it was first written.

The game play seems very complicated at first, there are tons of controls, options and bonus pickups to learn about. The initial keyboard controls are a bit unintuitive, so it is a very good idea for you to change them before hand. This can be a little difficult because you need to modify your configuration file to do it. Once you have changed to controls to something that suites you better, it is a much easier and better game to play. I found I was woefully outgunned against a bunch of robots, and I am still pretty much a newbie at piloting. My scores often go negative. Very negative. I have occasionally done better but that was weirdly enough when testing on the sparcstation.

If you’re looking for more information about how to play or configure the game there are numerous newbie guides of which I found this one to be quite good. The game is very addictive and quite fun (more so against humans than robots!) and many people still play it today. There are also a couple of newer ports that are partly compatible with the original called xpilot-ng and xpilot5. I’ve also noted there is a java client available on source forge and an app for the iPhone available. I tried xpilot-ng quite a while ago and think it’s pretty alright, but I haven’t tried the others for comparison.

10
Sep
12

Xtris for NetBSD

Xtris was written by Roger Espel Llima, and the release that I have was completed in 1996. It is a Tetris clone for X windows on unix like systems. It works on most Unix systems and I played it on NetBSD. The game plays pretty much as you would expect a Tetris game to play with one major difference.

Xtris is essentially multiplayer, the program automatically starts a server and connects players on the same machine together for competitive play. The rules are pretty much the same as ordinary Tetris, except when a player makes enough lines another player has some blocks added to their play area at the bottom pushing what they have up. This can fill up a players play area quite quickly if they are unlucky, and obviously cause their game to be over. The game continues until there is only one player left and after a few seconds a new game begins.

If you find that you are alone on the machine you are able to start-up some AI players (called bots) to play against. The AI isn’t as good as human players and I can pretty easily beat it by basically playing faster than it does. This is obviously a lot more difficult to do on faster speed settings, so if you want a challenge increase the speed. Also if you are not interested in playing against other players you can choose not to. Although this does require a command line switch.

The graphics are pretty simple, and travel over the network (via X) without any trouble at all. I used my Sparc station to play the game, and had no performance issues at all. I didn’t have any other people to play against so I can’t comment on what it’s like playing against other people. Playing against the bots is challenging, but not overwhelmingly difficult.

03
Sep
12

Spider Run for DOS

The Soleau Logo

The Soleau Logo

Spider run was made by Soleau Software back in 1994. It is a puzzle game much like Ant Run made by the same company earlier. In this game you have a map divided into a grid, filled with tiles that you rotate. Your task is to build a path for the spider to crawl along. As you complete levels the spider travels faster and the map gets harder to organise. In order to pass a level you have to get a certain score before the end of the level or the game ends.

Playing Level 1

Playing Level 1

The game uses EGA higher resolution graphics which are quite unusual for games of the time. Whilst there are not that many colours, the sprites and backgrounds are very detailed and attractive. Sound comes in the form of PC speaker and is nothing really exciting, but fortunately it isn’t annoying either.

Multiple start points!

Multiple start points!

The game plays and controls quite well, you use the mouse to make changes to the map by clicking on tiles to rotate them. As the spider travels around, tiles he travels over change colour, and can’t be used again.  If the spider travels off the edge of the map he wraps around to the other side, and if you have gone far enough the tiles you have traveled across are cleared with one being removed entirely. In the early stages of the game it is quite easy to get the spider to travel for quite a distance.

High Scores

High Scores

On some levels there are some bonus tiles you can cross in order to get some bonus points, and a fly may randomly get caught in the web which you may go and catch. Occasionally there will be an end tile which you must have the spider end its travels in to go onto the next level. I’ve also seen a level or two which has two start tiles, and you don’t know which one the spider will come out of.

End tiles

End tiles

There is an interesting educational component to this game in that between levels the game presents you with an interesting fact about spiders. As kids playing the game, we didn’t really learn any of the spider facts, as we often just ignored them and went on to the next level.

End of Game

End of Game

We originally got the game on a shareware cover disk like many other games for us at the time. We only ever played the game for short periods of time as the game play is fairly repetitive. I think Dad got the most out of the game, and is the person who dominated the high score table. It certainly is still quite fun, but still not something you’d spend any substantial amount of time playing.

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03
Sep
12

New Hardware! Android ASUS Nexus 7

I don’t often buy new hardware, but the time had come to buy an Android tablet for software testing. So I went searching for a device that would suite my needs. I wanted my device to be able to play some games, browse the web and perhaps play some music or multimedia. It would of course be best for it to have the latest version of the Android OS as well.

I checked out many tablets of varying cost, size and power. I found that the ASUS Nexus 7 fit the bill. Many other tablets were larger, but had poorer quality displays. Some of the tablets the shops had in stock were old ones that have been around for a while, and had outdated software. The Nexus 7 has a quad-core processor that makes many of the other tablets look silly and obsolete, and a clean and crisp display that whilst not being the largest, certainly looks very nice, and in many cases better than it’s larger cousins. The touch display is very responsive, and I’ve found it to be quite good for the few games that I have tried. Battery life is very good, I played Angry Birds and browsed the web for about 3 hours and only used up about a third of the battery.

That being said there are some negatives to go with it. It doesn’t have a port to add extra storage in the form of an SD card, or any other ports at all for that matter. So there is no using USB memory sticks with this device. It does support bluetooth, but that’s just another device with more batteries to carry around. The glass on the screen can be very reflective, so you need to choose a good, low glare situation to use the device. The in-built camera is also of a fairly low megapixel count, so not really useful for anything more than web chatting.

The software package containing a lot of google apps pre-installed is excellent. There is the obvious facilities for you tube, email and web, but also a nice app for looking at maps and using the GPS built-in. I found a few apps in google play that are handy for connecting via ssh, and VNC to machines remotely. The built-in software has been pretty easy to use, the only downside being there isn’t a flash player built-in so I can’t watch TV via ABC iView (an Australian TV streaming service). Other types of web-based video seem to work fine.

In conclusion the Nexus 7 is a fantastic device for browsing the web, you tube, and android games. You can put your music on it, but there isn’t really enough space for any amount of video. 16G may sound like a lot, but if you were to want to store a lot of any kind of media you’d quickly run out. I have enough computers to handle my multimedia needs so this isn’t really a problem for me. Now that I have the device I’ve found it’s really handy for browsing the web, and watching you tube videos, but also performs a few other useful things I hadn’t anticipated. It’s good in that I don’t have to wait for a computer to boot up, or use as much electricity to perform some of my common day-to-day tasks. It’s also nice to be able to do these things anywhere in the house. Sitting up in bed has been a favourite, especially on a cold night.




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