Archive for June, 2015

23
Jun
15

Still Unpacking and Cleaning

I’m still in the process of unpacking and cleaning my old place, so no detailed post this week either. I don’t have the internet on at home yet so I don’t know how long I’ll be until I’m ready to do much, but things are starting to settle down and I should get a lot done in the coming weekend.

Until then here’s a link to an interesting video by Gemini (Kris Asick) about whether Doom is technically a Raycaster or not. It’s an interesting view, although rendering an 3d image is a difficult process to follow. Gemini has a web-show called Ancient DOS Games which is pretty cool, and develops games. Check out his web-site.

16
Jun
15

Moving House – again

Just a quick heads up that I’m presently moving house. I’ve done much of my packing and moving this weekend just gone, but it will take me a little while before I have my computer lab set back up for photography, gaming and experimentation. I’ll try to make a few DOS game posts if I have time, but I can’t make any promises and my server hosting the download section will be off-line until I’m able to set up a mirror or internet connection.

12
Jun
15

Linux Misinformation

I’ve been using Linux in it’s various forms for quite some time (around 15 years) in one form or another. I quite like some aspects of it, and now with modern distributions it has become a decent contender for a main stream desktop operating system. However there is a lot of misinformation floating around the net about just how good it is, and after stumbling upon a website called www.whylinuxisbetter.net I thought it might be an idea to dispel some of these myths.

It is often claimed that Linux doesn’t get viruses, which is blatantly not true. I’ve personally cleaned viruses and worms from Linux machines owned by clients. Granted many of these were because of poor decisions made by the person responsible for the machine, but this is also frequently true of infections on windows PCs. Also other OS’s such as Mac OSX and the various flavours of BSD use many of the same tools and are roughly at least as secure as Linux, if not arguably more so.

Linux is often said to be more reliable or stable than windows. This is something that was true historically when comparing Linux to say Windows ME or 98. But compared to a machine with Windows XP sp3 or later? Not really. I used to repair many windows machines during the hey-day of windows XP and the main causes of instability were hardware and third-party software, hardly Microsoft’s fault. For the most part Linux has little third party software to speak of, so only hardware could cause faults. Linux is not immune to hardware faults or third-party drivers.

Hardware support in the form of drivers is another bug-bear for many people. Sure you don’t have to install drivers for most of your hardware under Linux, but if your particular hardware isn’t supported you have little recourse but to get different hardware. I found this recently with a Creative sound card not functioning correctly. Sure there was a kernel module for it, but it didn’t work correctly and I didn’t have time to trawl the vast technical documents to fix it. Under windows this would have been a five minute install the correct driver job.

That doesn’t count the fact that you still do need to worry about drivers for you graphics card. Xorg will work with most hardware out of the box, but with little or no acceleration. If you own an Nvidia or AMD graphics card you need to have installed their third-party driver to really get the best out of your card. Some distributions like Ubuntu have packages for these drivers, but because they are non-free many distributions do not install them or make them available by default.

Other hardware that requires third-party drivers also exists but is fairly unusual. When you do need to install these kernel modules it is not as simple as running a driver wizard under windows. You usually have to compile the module from source which requires a certain amount of technical ability. It’s not all that hard if you know how, but the average user would not cope.

If you’re using older hardware, there is generally pretty good support, except for more obscure hardware. Performance wise it all really depends on your definition of old. A machine say less than 5 years old will work fine in most cases, but be a little sluggish. Older machines however struggle unless you’re willing to make compromises to improve performance. So whilst using older hardware is possible, some things will be unavoidably slower. Much of this is down to the software rather than the OS, so for something like Firefox you can expect similar performance as with windows on the same machine.

Getting software is another interesting point. All Linux distributions have a nice package system that allows you to get software that you need fairly easily. The software available is of varying quality however, some being very good like OpenOffice or GIMP, whilst others aren’t anywhere near as good.

Also older software disappears from the packaging systems once development has stopped or development focus has shifted elsewhere. There is much older software available on other Unixes such as FreeBSD that has disappeared from Linux repositories, some of them still being quite useful, or entertaining in the case of older Unix games. If you use Linux for long enough expect some of your favourite software to change dramatically or disappear, even after just updating your machine. This happens because of the focus amongst some distributions on being cutting edge rather than retaining compatibility or useful software.

The main problem with getting software for Linux (or any BSD for that matter) is that if it is not in the package repository/system it is incredibly difficult to get and install most of the time. It’s difficult to distribute binaries out side of the packaging system for simple download and install on Linux systems. It can be done, but most of the time source code is distributed instead. Again this requires technical knowledge most people don’t have, and this doesn’t include the possible dependency hell involved in the process. If you think about downloading software for Windows or Mac OSX, they are much simpler, you download an installer and away you go, and developers provide good installers for both most of the time.

Updating can also be troublesome, I’ve had updates on several distributions severely break my system or software. Updates to the kernel or X can also result in needing to re-install graphic drivers just to get the display to work again. This varies wildly from distribution to distribution depending on how they perform updates and technical information.

I could cover more of the points in the list, but I think I’ve made my point. For each OS whether it be Windows, Linux, Mac OSX, or a BSD there are a number of advantages and trade-offs. I’m not saying Linux is bad by any stretch, but it does have many of the same issues and issues all of it’s own that can and will put off many end users. We have to remember most end users can not do many of the things that could be required of them when running a Linux system.

04
Jun
15

Cyber Sphere for DOS

Breakout is one of the classic games that has lots of clones, some like Arkanoid are quite well known. Today’s game, Cyber Sphere is one of these clones. Originally made in 1996 near the end of the DOS gaming era by Clay Hellman under the Psycon name. It is notable for having been written exclusively in x86 assembly, using OPL3 sound, and having irregular shaped play areas.

Graphically it’s quite nice, it has a simple design consisting of blocks/stripes of solid colour that look really quite good when combined with the palette shifting animation. It is consistent throughout and has an easy to use menu system that gets you into the game quickly. The play area is similarly simple, but with more detail in the game play elements. The only real gripe I had was it was easy to lose a ball in a sea of power-ups or gems making it really hard to track.

The sound design is also exceptionally polished. It makes excellent use of the OPL3 chip to produce some quite good music and sound effects. There are 9 music tracks, each with their own distinct sound. This is definitely a game to have the sound on for.

Game play wise it’s obviously very similar to many other breakout clones, but there are a few things that set it apart. Firstly, the play area is often an irregular shape instead of filling the entire upper portion of the screen. Some of the walls are angled, reflecting the ball in ways I didn’t expect at first. These angled walls sometimes make it easier to get the ball into tricky areas, or up around the back of blocks.

The power-up system is fairly simple, each power-up has an effect such as making your paddle wider. Collecting one the first time enables the power-up, but collecting one a second time disables if possible, meaning you should try to dodge power-ups you already have. Some such as the guard rail and extra balls can’t be disabled, so those are instead extended with more balls or longer time with the guard rail.

Collectable Gems also come out of broken blocks, and are there mostly for bonus points at the end of a level. You get 50 points for every gem collected at the end of the level, but you lose all your gems during a level if you lose a life. So it’s important to stay alive to get the bonus points for gems you collect. Unfortunately sometimes lots of gems are released by a block, making it extremely hard to see the ball.

Cyber Sphere is very nicely polished, and despite not quite getting used to it I quite enjoyed my time with it. There are some downsides, such as gems obscuring the ball, and I also found the difficulty curve was strange. Some levels are much harder than others, with a few being hard enough to be a road block. However I didn’t really get frustrated as I could choose another sector to play, and the game is quite easy to jump into again.

Cyber Sphere was released as freeware, so if you like Breakout games you should definitely try it out.

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