Archive for June, 2013

23
Jun
13

The Day the Earth got Mooned

The Day the Earth got Mooned is a game recently made by a youtuber that I frequently watch called JimPlaysGames, a British guy called Jim Baker. Jim has previously also made a game called Shitty Quest which was an interesting and funny adventure game with themes of what it is like to be a software developer fighting his own laziness. I played Shitty Quest and quite enjoyed the humour.

Attack!

Attack!

Jim clearly won his battle with laziness, as his new game is quite impressive. You play as the sole alien invader coming to attack Earth for no reason. Earths military forces have gathered to defend themselves, and you goal is to get to the moon, destroy the Earth forces, and deploy a “SECRET WEAPON”. The story is masterfully narrated by Jim himself, who adds some subtle humour to how the story is presented.

People who helped...

People who helped…

The graphics and art style are very simple and elegant. The sprites are nicely detailed and easy to identify, which can be important as the different enemies have very different behaviours. There is a nice particle engine which adds lovely bits of smoke and explosions to destruction to missiles and weapons. The sound is again well crafted, in particular the music has a nice pseudo retro feel that complements the graphic style and type of game.

Menu Screen

Menu Screen

There is a variety of different weapons which each have their own use, and may be upgraded during play. You can upgrade or build new weapons at any time throughout the game by going to the build screen by pressing space. You can also recharge your shields and build a spare ship which can make the game a bit easier than it would otherwise be, but given how hard it can get this is a good thing. I found the anti-matter spray could cause some slow down of the game when fully upgraded, but this usually only happens when the screen is really busy.

Weapons

Weapons

The gameplay is like an older retro shooter but different in many important aspects. You can aim your weapons so you can make better use of them without putting your ship in danger. The AI for the enemies actually aims at you with intent to destroy as opposed to the blizzard of bullets used by many of the older games. The control scheme has you use both the mouse and keyboard, and I found it was accurate when shooting and allows you to dodge the enemy effectively.

The Day the Earth got Mooned is a solid shooter with plenty of challenge. The only criticism I really have of it (and Shitty Quest as well) is that it is too short. You can complete the game in as little as half an hour to an hour. I understand that being a sole developer, Jim may not have had the time to really make the game longer and may have  spent time polishing the game as opposed to lengthening it. The game is multi-platform as it is written in Java (using LidGDX) so it will run on pretty much anything including Linux, Windows and Mac OSX. The game is free, so there’s little reason not to give it a go, you can find it on his website www.jimmakesgames.com.

17
Jun
13

Blake Stone for DOS

Blake Stone

Blake Stone

Blake Stone: Aliens of Gold was released by Apogee late 1993 just before the release of Doom. It was created by a small studio that was basically three guys. They modified the wolfenstein 3d engine to make an entirely new game. It had an unfortunate release time as Doom quickly eclipsed it, and it suffered from less success because of this. Of course this isn’t a surprise as Doom is a huge leap ahead in many ways over the Wolf3d engine games.

The credits

The credits

I remember Blake Stone primarily because the shareware version was installed on my highschools computers back when I was in my early teens. When we finished our computer studies work, we were often allowed to play games as a reward for finishing early. I was naturally quite good at computer studies classes mainly because I had been programming since I was young, so I got quite some extra time playing and I helped a few other students as well.

Hey this alien isn't gold!

Hey this alien isn’t gold!

The graphics for Blake Stone are VGA only as was the norm for most games of the time. The quality of the 3d graphics is pretty much the same as Wolfenstien 3d. They were improved in subtle ways, such as floor and ceiling textures, but you don’t notice that so much. The main difference however is in the art style. The game is significantly more colourful than its predecessor, and I believe many sprites have more frames of animation. It feels less spartan, and more like an active world that you’re exploring, well compared to Wolf3d anyway.

....NOW!

….NOW!

The sound engine is again pretty much untouched from Wolfenstien 3d. Many sound effects come from the FM synthesis on your Sound Blaster or Adlib card. They sound quite good for what they are, but only one can play at a time. This can make hearing audio clues difficult in heavy action. Digitised sound is also available, but pretty much is only for the voices of the enemies, and perhaps some of the guns. Music in game is your standard Adlib type, and is quite good. I believe it was written by Bobby Prince who was well known for writing good Adlib music.

mmm Food units.

mmm Food units.

Gameplay is where the biggest differences in the game lie. The game is certainly much more difficult on the normal setting when compared to other games of the same vintage. There are more cases where an enemy kills you from a hiding point just after you enter a room. They are capable of following you around even through doors, but don’t always seem to do so. Interestingly some people in the world wearing lab coats will also help you, so sometimes it pays to ask questions before shooting. They give you food tokens, ammo, and sometimes some information, but beware not all the technicians are friendly. They just might try to shoot you in the face!

Map and rating

Map and rating

The game is basically divided into buildings which are basically episodes in the fight against Dr Goldfire. The goal of each level is to locate the security pass to be able to go to the next level in the building. The elevator in the level serves as both the entrance and exit to the levels, it seems you can also revisit a level, although I don’t know if your progress in that level is saved.

Informants

Informants

Your default weapon is an autocharge pistol that requires no ammo, is silent, but also recharges quite slowly. I’ve found it is good for dispatching the weaker enemies without alerting everyone in the near area. The other guns are pretty much sci-fi versions of the original Wolf3d guns. Some enemies require you to have the sub-machine gun style weapon or better in order to destroy them, the most common one being the ceiling mounted gun turrets. You’ll want to use the sub-machinegun as it is economical on ammo and is good against all but the toughest enemies. Of course there is so much ammo around you could probably get away with using the bigger faster firing weapons.

Sub-machine gun

Sub-machine gun

Whilst I found the game was more difficult, I still found it wasn’t frustrating. Usually I am killed by carelessly walking into a room and getting shot by someone who was hiding just out of sight. The main and pretty much only gripe I have is with the limited number of lives. This is pretty much an artefact of older games, and wasn’t really done away with completely until much later. Otherwise this game is a hidden gem of the DOS PC game era, if it had come out six months before Doom it probably would have enjoyed some of the success it deserved.

11
Jun
13

Mechwarrior 2: Mercenaries for DOS

Mercenaries main menu

Mercenaries main menu

Mechwarrior 2 is one of my all time favourite games, I got it in my early years of university some time after it was released. I enjoyed pretty much every aspect of the game and found it very immersive. The game was originally released back in 1995 by Activision. Even though there is a DOS version I have the Pentium Edition which runs only on Windows 95.

In a Timber Wolf

In a Timber Wolf

Todays game is actually a stand-alone expansion to the original called Mercenaries released the following year in 1996. The version I have is both for Windows 95 and DOS, the latter being the better of the two as I will explain later. Mercenaries is also the first game I played on the internet (at the time via dialup). I was never a serious player like many other people were, but I managed to hold my own in many battles.

The Starport on Outreach

The Starport on Outreach

You play the game as either a member of a mercenary company or the owner. If you are just a member of a bigger company all your costs are taken care off, such as ammunition and repair costs. Also it seems that for some missions at least the DOS version selects the missions you will be fighting in. If you are the owner of the company you must manage repairing, salvaging and re-equiping mechs, pilots and aerotech support as needed. It is much more complicated but you have a choice of missions (also called contracts).

Going Commando!

Going Commando!

Which ever way you go you start off in a small 25 ton mech called a commando which is quite ironic considering how underpowered it is. It is adequate for early missions however and a skilled mechwarrior can tweak it and use it to the best effect. You’ll quickly get other light mechs that are better and faster, and eventually move up to the assault class behemoths.

On a Training Mission

On a Training Mission

The graphics in game are 3d and based on polygons, they can be texture mapped or accelerated by a graphics card depending on what you have. There are a nice variety of environments and mechs are easy to identify. New features include coloured lighting and denser particles. There are texture mapping options for pretty much everything, where many objects didn’t have this option in MW2. The extra features tend to chew up processing power so you need to either have a good system or pick and choose what you want. I usually try to mimic the look of MW2 because whilst some graphical features are a nice addition, I actually prefer the style of graphics from the original MW2 game.

Mission Briefing

Mission Briefing

The quality of the sound in game is the same as before with another epic set of music that is played during missions. The weapon effects have been reworked and again I think I prefer the originals. This is really just personal taste as there is nothing bad about the new sounds. There are plenty of nice audio cues to let you know what is happening in the simulation. I can’t remember how many times I’ve heard “Critical Hit!” and “Enemy power up detected!”.

Fighting at Night

Fighting at Night

Game play is very similar to the original game as far as the simulator is concerned, although you have to fight in inner sphere mechs instead of clan ones. The controls are much the same with the addition of some extra weapons groups which is great. The biggest difference is when the economy is added when you own your mercenary company. Bringing back a badly damaged mech can be as bad as failing a mission after you’ve paid for repairs and ammunition. Salvage is also a new concern as you now want to acquire new mechs via combat as this is usually worth many more credits than what most contracts are worth.

The Mechlab

The Mechlab

The mechlab is very similar to the original game, but is different in the aspect of economy. You can only use parts which you have in stock (or are available if you are an employee of a larger company). So this means buying and maintaining a stockpile of weapons for use on mechs. Because of the games time line many weapons do not become available until technical information is released by comstar and the weapon manufacturers finish their research. All of this is meant to fit the Battletech universe and timeline. Whilst I like the MW2 style mechlab I think the one in Mechwarrior 4 (and it’s expansions) is more in the spirit of the universe and board games.

Thermal Imaging

Thermal Imaging

Now here is where there is a difference between the DOS and win95 versions. I’m not sure why, but the win95 version seems to be bugged when considering weapons with splash damage and PPCs in particular. The PPC weapons seem to regularly misfire either exploding in your face for no reason or in mid flight. Splash damage from missiles and sometimes even laser shots don’t seem to make contact with your front armour, instead damaging the rear armour. These are critical problems with the win95 version that I haven’t figured out the cause of. Fortunately the DOS version suffers none of these flaws so I suggest using that instead. Set up correctly there are no audio or graphical differences.

Instant Action

Instant Action

To run this game under DOSbox requires a CUE/BIN image which was a story of its own to create. The short version is I couldn’t get any machine apart from the old Sparcstation 20 to create the image for me. Gentoo didn’t work and FreeBSD didn’t either with cdrdao, but NetBSD worked a treat. Once you have the image you need to mount it in dosbox and make sure your cycle count is high, I recommend 100,000 or higher.

I very much like this game. It is great for many reasons, but somehow I still seem to like the original just that little bit more. It’s partly because I like the original graphics and sound better. Mercenaries has some great and exciting features that make the Battletech universe seem more alive. There are news feeds, battle summaries, and situation reports to read, and a feeling of involvement in the events unfolding as you get more entwined in the events of the day. Many of these things are also in MW2, it is mainly the story and experience of running your own mercenary company that make Mercenaries unique. Is it any wonder that they are both some of my favourite games?

03
Jun
13

Installing Gentoo Linux on a Sunfire V440 and a Linux Rant!

Recently I got one of the Sunfire V440 machine working and tried installing Debian Linux on it. I was disappointed many packages were broken, but surprised that the openJDK worked. So I decided to go looking for another OS to install. I already have FreeBSD and NetBSD on some of my other Sparc machines, and they were relatively easy to install and configure. I was looking for something new to try so I didn’t want to use something I have already tried. Solaris unfortunately didn’t seem to be an option as it’s unclear as to whether I am able to legally use it, I don’t have a physical license for it.

So looking around I found that there are few operating systems that actually support the Sparc platform, even the newer 64 bit V9 machines. Basically the BSD systems have good support and there is some support amongst Linux distributions, but there is generally little available. I found out that Gentoo Linux had a Sparc 64bit port that should work on my system, so I decided I would give it a go.

Gentoo is a very BSD like Linux in the way that software is installed, but they take the whole thing a bit further by getting you to build your kernel and base system during the install process. So it is actually significantly more difficult to install than any of the BSD systems or other Linuxes. The investment in time is meant to pay off in the form of more efficient executables, higher performance and it can be optimised for your machine at build time.

There isn’t really an installer program, you get a basic Gentoo live CD from which you manually perform all the actions required for the installation. It is basically mandatory to follow the online guide for installation (if it’s your first time anyway). Because you install the system manually, you can set everything up exactly as you want it, but it takes much longer and it is a harder process. I had some difficulty with the Gentoo live CD in that it would have trouble talking to the CD-drive after a period of time, and some parts of the live CD did not work properly. Fortunately I was able to work around it, and if it was a more serious problem you can use any Linux live CD to install Gentoo. In fact I’d recommend you do this, the Debian install disc in rescue mode works well and would be a good option.

The process of installing Gentoo is so lengthy that I’m still in the process of setting it up! But from what I can see so far, like the BSD systems, once you have set the system up it works quite well. It is a longer process, but this is mainly because of the initial installation phase. There isn’t really an advantage to using Gentoo over BSD systems like NetBSD or FreeBSD as far as I can tell, but I haven’t finished installation and haven’t started installing packages. I’ll be interested to see if the OpenJDK works as it doesn’t build under Sparc systems on either NetBSD or FreeBSD.

This brings me to something I found annoying whilst looking around the net for a OS to install. I found on pages and articles talking about systems other than Linux, the comment section invariably had some idiot claiming that Linux was somehow superior to whatever was being talked about (Solaris was frequently derided). After now having installed and used a few different Unix like systems including NetBSD, FreeBSD, Solaris, Linux, and Haiku (BeOS ancestor) I have found Linux a bit wanting especially when installed on anything but a x86 platform.

Solaris is probably the most maligned by the Linux snobs, and I see little reason why they should apart from its commercial nature. They often claim that Solaris is slow and has lower performance when compared to Linux, even when run on the Sparc platform. Having used Solaris at University for doing most of my software development for my degree I’d have to disagree, I saw little evidence to support the claims. I ran a Linux machine at the time and it was actually slower than pretty much all the Solaris systems at the University. A large part of this was due to the bloated nature of the desktop environment that was running on my Linux at the time.

Don’t get me wrong I actually really like Linux, run it on x86 hardware, and have used it for some time. I just don’t think it’s as wonderful as the snobs claim. It is not as portable to other platforms as other systems, in particular NetBSD, go ahead check it out, I’ll wait. Something else I’ve noticed is the trend in commonly used desktop environments getting more and more bloated. Both Gnome and KDE are guilty of this, and to some extend even the base Linux distributions without X or a desktop environment are getting more bloated. Ironically this is making it behave somewhat like the most hated system by the snobs, Microsoft Windows.

Windows is probably the most derided system by the Linux snobs, they dislike many of the problems found in Windows, which technically are true. As I stated before these issues are becoming less unique to Windows, and Microsoft has been improving it systems recently, the best recent ones I can think of being Windows 7 or before that Windows XP (after the bugs got ironed out). There are however a number of factors that make Windows a better system than Linux in many circumstances, which the snobs never mention.

My main beef is with the arrogance and snobbery of these Linux snobs is the thinking that pretty much everything is inferior to their sacred distro (yes they even fight over distros). In my experience pretty much all the different systems are useful, interesting, or fill a need that the others do not. Otherwise they wouldn’t have been created and achieved any success at all! I’ve found it very interesting and challenging to try other systems, and I’d recommend that any technically minded person should do the same. You might just find something better suited to what you need.




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