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Archive for the 'games' Category

The Lost Week

Friday, January 23rd, 2009

After putting together my computer this week I was left with the decision whether to update my old drive or do a clean install and set it up from scratch. I chose the latter and what a pain it has been. You just want to sit down with your shiny new hardware and do something but instead it’s an endless series of installs and reboots. On top of that, the connector on my old keyboard got loose I had to replace it. This is the first time I have tried to type very much on my new one and it’s going to take getting used to.

Last week someone left a comment asking if I had tried the Nick Bounty games at Pinhead Games. Saturday we spent a lot of time doing things like dealing with frozen water pipes. Luckily they weren’t damaged. So it was nice to kick back on Sunday and play some games. The Nick Bounty series are classic adventure games with full voice acting and the look, talk, get, etc. verb set. One thing I was reminded of when playing them was although choosing a verb as opposed to just clicking on an object is more work, in the old adventure games as well as these, adding the extra step provides a way to inject more (often silly) humor into them. The plot lines were pretty silly too but that is the point to playing them I suppose. I did laugh at some of the jokes and there is a pretty funny scene in the second game where everything is dark and the voice actor describes an outrageous scene to you.

I’ve been writing this blog long enough I have gotten to the point where it is hard to remember whether I have already mentioned something or not. I guess if it’s a good thing it’s worth mentioning again. That’s the way I felt about this video of people doing maintenance on high voltage cables. I suppose you probably get used to it but there’s no way I would get out there.

I know I’ve mentioned this alloy before, I’m pretty sure I linked to this video. It’s also known as muscle wire because it is not only a shape-memory alloy but it also shrinks when heated so you can make things move by running current through it.


More Science experiments at 5min.com

Check out these awesome ice storm photos.

Speaking of winter, that’s a lot of snow!

Last night we watched Resident Evil- Degeneration. I wasn’t particularly impressed by the other Resident Evil films but I wanted to see it because it is computer generated. It’s funny how not-quite-real computer generated people look creepy. This article at New Scientist talks about that and how machines are coming closer to people in other ways like talking and playing music.

According to this article the next group of people to be put out of jobs by technology will be call center workers.

I thought this was kind of interesting; this guy was an expert at putting things in bottles.

If you’re not a programmer you probably have never heard the phrase “That’s not a bug, it’s a feature“.

It’s kind of fuzzy but this is what meteors look like from space.

This is what a hermit crab in a glass shell looks like.

Here are some long time exposure photos. The one of the fireworks is particularly cool.

If you are prone to seizures you probably don’t want to follow this link. Here are more examples of what I call wiggle vision 3D photos. The author calls them lenticulations. It kind of makes my head hurt to look at them. I thought the one of the dog (14) was the best one.

I suppose you could call lenticular clouds lenticulations. This one looks a lot less like a UFO than others I’ve seen.

How would you like to live in a house made of paper that costs 5000 dollars? By the way, 36 square meters is 387.5 square feet.

Here are some large computer generated fantasy landscapes.

This is a pretty cool picture of a drop of seawater and what is inside.

I thought this was kind of funny. A bank made a mistake and deposited a bunch of money in a couple’s account. They claimed they didn’t notice. This actually happened to a friend of mine, but he was smart enough not to try to keep it.

This is just a nice sunset picture.

My fingers hurt from this new keyboard. Here is your funny animal picture of happy seals.

Adventure Games

Monday, January 5th, 2009

After all the rushing around for the holidays, it was nice to spend a weekend just kicking back. This past weekend that meant searching the internet for adventure games or what some call point and click games. There’s nothing wrong with shooting aliens or zombies but the fun thing about adventure type games is you can solve them together. Finding a decent one on the internet can be difficult. It’s not that there aren’t many out there, it’s that you have to wade through so much garbage to find a gem.

I found it interesting my friend Matt coincidentally sent me this article on user interfaces this morning. When you think about it, games are pure user interfaces. I mean, you aren’t actually trying to get any work done. One thing about a lot of games out there is when you are playing you don’t see a menu on the screen. I have a paint program I wrote years ago I still use because I like the interface better than most. Photoshop was originally developed on a Macintosh. In my paint program, when you are painting, you don’t see menus on the screen, when you want a menu, you use the right mouse button. Since the Macintosh had only one mouse button I suppose that wasn’t an option. After Microsoft dominated the market, always having something on the screen unrelated to what you are doing became the norm anyway. I suppose the one place that seems to be coming back is the full screen mode of a lot of TV viewing applications.

That’s one thing about Adobe Flash games that is semi-annoying to me. If you click the right mouse button you get a Flash menu which is usually useless in terms of the game you are playing. Consequently they have eliminated half the functionality of the mouse in terms of the game play.

We did find several games worth playing.  Something Amiss is a classic style adventure complete with an inventory where you have to find and gather up objects you use to solve logic puzzles. We have only made it through the first two chapters but this is the kind of game I don’t really like to play unless I find a walkthrough. The reason is, I don’t really like the fact you have to go back nine screens or so because you didn’t pick up something you failed to see. One of the highly important decisions you have to make in these types of games is whether the user will see the main character on the screen or whether it is all first person point of view. In this case they chose to make the character visible in a comic book artistic style but often, when she is interacting with objects, you don’t see them or the movement is off. Also I thought the concept of holding down the mouse to get a tiny menu where you can talk to, ingest or manipulate an object was an interesting one. It just seemed like that would have been a good functionality for a right mouse button.

In Tipping Point the author decided to forgo seeing the main character thus freeing up his time to work on the detail of the scenery which can be quite beautiful at times. We did occasionally have to use the included walkthrough on this one as well. Some of the puzzles are pretty obscure. I can’t say I care much for mazes although they are often present in these types of games.  There was a cave maze in this one we couldn’t solve even once we had figured out what to do.  One of the things I like about this style is when you decide to move to the next screen you don’t have to wait for your on-screen character to walk somewhere. Also the author divided the game up so there are only a small number of screens in each part so you won’t have to backtrack far if you missed something.

Levers isn’t a big game. I wouldn’t necessarily classify it as an adventure game but more of a physics simulator logic puzzle. It’s still kind of fun. I could never get past the giant head. I thought the birds were an interesting touch.

By far the most enjoyable games we played this weekend were Haluz 1 and 2. The games are very similar to Samorost 1 and Samorost 2. The reason is the pure simplicity of the concept. Yeah, the plots are thin but they have really stripped the adventure game concept down to its basics. There is no inventory of items which need to be gathered and you don’t ever have to navigate your character. I know these seem like the characteristics which define the genre of adventure gaming, but you know leaving those elements out actually makes the game more fun. All four of these games feature quirky characters with odd machinery. There is something appealing about the fact that everything you need to do to solve the puzzle is on the screen and you don’t need to go looking elsewhere for the solution. We did get stuck and had to use a walkthrough for Haluz 1 but I don’t know if the puzzles were easier or we just got ‘trained’ by the game author but we made it through Haluz 2 which is a much longer game without having to resort to looking up any solutions. Also I really liked the organic quality of the artwork in the game. When I first saw it I thought it might have been written by the same people who wrote Samorost.

All of the games I have mentioned here are worth checking out and the best part is they are all free.

Hardware Prices

Thursday, November 13th, 2008

Back in the old days, I used to work with Targa cards. When most of the world was using 8 or 16 colors at a time, these were true color cards, something we take for granted now. The problem was, I’m not sure I remember exactly, but just the graphics card was something like five thousand dollars. When you added in the machine and two monitors, well it amounted to a small fortune.

These days I try not to follow prices too closely because I might be tempted to upgrade. However, I had to do some repair work on my parent’s machine lately and I was amazed. As this article pointed out you can save a lot of money not just on hardware but other stuff too.

I’m used to putting together my own machines. When I built my first machine we really ‘built them’. We soldered and wire wrapped. Now it’s just  a matter of buying a motherboard, memory, graphics card, and drives and slapping them together. I just bought a Terra byte drive, that’s 1000 Gigabytes, for a little over $100!

Not that I do that much anymore which really challenges the hardware except when I render 3D stuff. Here’s a creative image using that technology I wish I had thought of.

Of course, you just can’t beat being in the right place at the right time with a silly cat and a  plain old camera.

I have been to parts of Alabama were the soil is red. I wonder where this was taken.

Also, check out this roll cloud over Missouri.

I was going to try to make it to Cataract Falls this fall when the leaves were nice and try some long exposure photos. Unfortunately the fall was hectic and unusually disappointing as far as color goes. We had some really big wind just as the leaves were starting to turn which took a lot of them down. Also we had pretty dry conditions in late summer and there was a lot of plain brown. Here’s a nice collection of photos of what a good fall really looks like.

Here are some examples of long time exposures including but not limited to waterfalls.

Speaking of time, is it possible someone has finally built a machine which is seeing noise from the fact that time is fuzzy?

If there are a bunch of parallel universes, the odds that you are rich in one of them is pretty high. Too bad you can’t ask yourself for a loan. This article on the subject points out even though it sounds like sci-fi, it could explain a lot including the probabilistic nature of quantum outcomes and an explanation of why time travel would not cause paradoxes. As I once pointed out to a friend; if you believe in an infinite universe, it’s not that big of a step to believe in an infinite number of infinite universes.

O.K. this is a little silly. It’s a tee shirt that lights up to show you when you are near Wi-Fi signals and how strong they are.

This article goes on about how this robot can make facial expressions just like a real human but when you watch the video, you don’t think real, you think creepy.

I have a friend who lives on a lake down south of here. The lake is spring fed and even in the summer it’s comfortable on top but if you go down even a foot or two it can become very cold.  I have often thought about trying to float a pool in it which would hopefully become warmer. Turns out there are a number of floating pools out there in the world already.

Put this on the list of things you don’t want to have done to your car at one of those quick oil change places.

I wasted a fair amount of time last night on this game called RoboKill. I didn’t see a way to save my game. If there is one and I just missed it, someone leave a comment telling me how.

If you have epilepsy or are inclined to seizures you definitely don’t want to click on this optical illusion of a spider where it seems like you keep getting closer but you don’t. It’s so flashy; I can hardly stand to look at it.

Here’s another nice fractal image.

And finally, check out these pictures of a squirrel who thinks it’s just another one of his puppy friends.

Follow Up

Thursday, November 6th, 2008

Last spring two wild kittens showed up in our driveway. With our neighbor’s help, we found a home for them but not before we got a chance to get them to adapt to humans. I wrote about it in this post and this post. We learned they are growing up strong and happy and I have a picture. They sure have grown!

Jack and Jill look happy

Jack and Jill look happy

I’m not sure I ever posted about this word game where they donate rice for every answer you get right. I may have played it before I started blogging. According to this they have surpassed their billionth grain of rice.

This looks pretty fun but you would need a really large place to fly it. It’s basically like being tied to a small blimp and strapping on wings to direct it for you own personal airship.

This example of using nanotube sheets as speakers is exactly the kind of technological advance which will produce products in the future you can’t imagine. It’s interesting they can use heat instead of motion to make sound.

I thought this ‘fountain of youth‘ drug sounded really promising but I had to laugh at this quote.

“The search for anti-frailty medications has become increasingly important because the average American is expected to live into his or her 80s, and most seniors want to stay strong enough to remain independent as they age.”

Most seniors? What? Did they do a survey? Does anyone want to become fragile?

Speaking of aging, this article about the coming singularity where machines become more intelligent than humans touches on so many points. The internet surpassed the capability of the human brain in 2006? I think Marshall Brain, (is that really his name), has a point about 50 million people being put out of work.

Probably not appropriate if you are at work. Heidi Klum re-enacts a scene from the movie Risky Business in a commercial for the new Guitar Hero game.

Here is an unusual design for a staircase.

Check out this clever theme for a bar.

When my friend Matt sends me pictures of dogs dressed up in costumes he says this is why dogs bite people. Here are a bunch of pictures of dogs dressed up in funny costumes.

These cats aren’t in costumes but they are scary and funny anyway.

And this dog is just too cute.

Finally check out these pictures of a cat and a lynx who are buddies.

Still Painting

Monday, October 13th, 2008

It seems like I’ll never get done painting this place. It looks like the cold weather moves in after the weekend so it’s time to wrap it up. I don’t really remember being taught to paint. I’m pretty sure my father must have done it at some point. Since the internet is so full of ‘how to’ videos I decided to look at some and see if I can learn anything. I didn’t use Sherwin Williams’ paint but I learned they have a ceiling paint called Visible Solutions. It goes on violet and then dries bright white so you don’t miss a spot. I thought that sounded pretty clever.

I’ve gotten to the final level on Fantastic Contraption. After you finish a level, you can see how other people solved it. It can be humbling to spend hours building something only to see someone else did it with two motors and a stick. I did get a 4 out of 5 rating on my solution to the second to last level and I didn’t see any solutions that seemed much simpler. Here is a link to it but if you haven’t solved the level called “Unpossible’, you may not want to look at it yet.

I had to laugh at this time lapse sequence of someone trying to sleep. It reminded me of my cat Amy. After about 5 hours, there is no way she is going to let you  sleep.

Speaking of cats, check out this cat oriented Japanese house design.

I’ve written about TV a lot lately. Flexible displays, laser TV, and now finally we might eventually get holographic television.

Good grief, exploding pumpkins!

I have a bunch of links to interesting photos I built up over the weekend. We have…

Jumping dolphins.

Living in-style on the sea.

Microwaving a CD, then putting it on a Tesla coil.

Earth houses.

Freezing time.

And also, some very cool pictures of the sun.

Having been stung over a hundred times TWICE, this picture of a massive yellow jacket nest totally creeps me out!

This is good for a laugh. It’s worth the extra $3.05.

And finally, here are some cute pictures of a chimp with its tiger pals.

Fantastic Contraption

Tuesday, October 7th, 2008

I’ve blown a good deal of time today playing this game called Fantastic Contraption.  You build little machines out of parts and tell it to go. It then runs a physics simulation and you watch your creation succeed or fail to drag a pink thing into a goal space. It’s kind of funny watching your Rube Goldberg device struggling to work. There were a few times I didn’t think it would but after waiting (and cheering it on) it did.

Google has launched a mail service which is designed to make it difficult to send Email when you are inebriated. That’s pretty funny, it’s called Mail Goggles. Maybe you shouldn’t be telling your bosses what you think of them at 3am.

This is a really cool tree.

For the first time, astronomers predicted when and where a small asteroid would put on a light show as it becomes a meteor. I’m not hoping for a big one but maybe a nice shooting star will be on this side of the earth and we will know when to look.

I liked this cabin picture.

Check out this motherboard cake.

My friend Matt sent me this link to this video of dolphins creating and then playing with bubble rings. It’s pretty amazing.

And finally, here is a silly cat video.

Light-Bot

Monday, September 22nd, 2008

I played this little robot game over the weekend called light-bot. You have to program the robot to step over squares and light them up. You create your program by dragging the symbols onto your programming space. If you aren’t a programmer, I think it gives you a pretty good idea of what programmers do, although it’s a pretty simple programming language. Also the days of trying to keep your program small are long gone. I think it also illustrates a mistake programmers make so often we just call it OBO (off by one).

There are 12 levels. I’m thinking I must have missed something on level 10 because even though I finally solved it, it seemed so much harder than all the other levels. My solution involved re-using a lot of code where the robot did a bunch of useless but not harmful things.

The Keppe motor is another one of those motors where the inventors claim it gets ‘free’ energy. They wanted to get you to fill out a form to see a video so I did a check of YouTube and found these. If they have actually achieved what they claim, they are brilliant but I can’t say they know how to make a good video. The real demonstration of the motor starts about halfway through part two.

You have to wonder given the size of this ancient reef and it’s proximity to Melbourne why no one noticed it before.

This is different. Scientists discover a way to turn recycled plastic bottles into a more valuable type of plastic.

I had a macro lens I built for my old camera but unfortunately it doesn’t fit on my new one. Here is a nice collection of macro photos.

Staying with the photo theme, here are some beautiful pictures from Scotland.

Also, here are some funny photos taken from just the right angle.

And finally, here is your funny animal picture. This one is a little sexier than usual and although it doesn’t really show anything, it may not be appropriate if you are at work.

Cooking in Plastic

Thursday, September 4th, 2008

I was having lunch with my parents recently and the subject of using Saran wrap in the microwave came up. I thought you weren’t supposed to use Saran in the microwave. After looking around a bit I found this answer at their web site. It could be I was taken in by this rumor. I was curious about other plastic containers and also found this about Ziploc containers. I was also glad to hear they don’t use bisphenol A in their products.

A deeper mystery is whether you can boil Ziploc bags. There are a number of sites which have recipes that involve this. Perhaps the most common is making an omelet using the bags. I was unable to find the information listed on these sites at SC Johnson. Make up your own mind but check out this at About.com, Breakfast Blogger, and Yahoo Answers.

On a totally different subject, I ran across this short documentary on lightning. It not only includes explanations of what we do and do not know about lightning, it has a pretty cool scene of a tree being blown to bits.


Lightning PhenomenaFunny video clips are a click away

This is one of the best images of the space shuttle I have seen.

I have seen some of these before but 24 peculiar creatures are worth checking out.

I’ve linked to some TED Talks before. This one has some heavy science concepts involved but it describes some pretty amazing technology.

Speaking of cool technology, researchers are using ultrasound to create the ability to feel virtual objects. Before I even got to the last paragraph I had the thought it might be dangerous. I’ll let you draw you own conclusion as to what this will mean to the adult video game market.

And finally, here is a cute story about a spider, a frog and a turtle.

Spore Creature Creator

Monday, August 25th, 2008

Some time ago I posted this link where you can download a free trial version of software to create creatures for the soon-to-be-released game Spore from Electronic Arts. Spore is produced by Maxis which is now a brand under Electronic Arts best known for the Sim City series. I finally got around to playing with the Creature Creator this weekend.

The installation was fairly straight forward. I had to update my version of Direct X from Microsoft. In short order I was creating critters. The user interface seems fairly intuitive. I suppose to me that means it’s like a lot of other programs I have used. I’m hardly a novice at 3D programs having used a great number of them over the last 20 plus years. I’ve also developed 3D software and written some games.

The program is divided in three sections.  There is a section where you build your creature, there is a section where you paint or add color to it, and finally there is a ‘test drive’ section where you can make your creation dance, roar, express emotions and so forth.

packlephosidus (now extinct)

Packlephosidus (now extinct)

I was able to create my first creature (shown above) in about an hour. The building process amounts to picking items such as a hand from a list and dragging it onto your creature. You can manipulate the various parts by rotating or enlarging them in each dimension.

One of the really cute and entertaining things about the software is while you are adding parts; the creature is animated and reacts by staring at its new hands for instance. It expresses happiness as you add each part. It shakes and laughs when you color it. There seemed to be inconsistencies in the interface. When you are in the build section, you drag with the left mouse button to rotate the camera while in the test drive section; you use the right mouse button to do the same thing.  However I discovered the right button works in both cases so I just adjusted to always using it.

My wife has never used a 3D creation program, but I suppose she has watched me use them for years. She was able to create this guy on her first try in half an hour after watching me use the program.

thermoglopasaur

Thermoglopasaur

We did have a problem with the audio. There was a very annoying buzzing sound in the test drive area. My wife discovered it would go away if you selected the black background instead of the default one. We ran into a much bigger flaw after exiting the program and trying to restart it. The EA logo would appear and then the game would just shut down. At first I thought it might have been because I had changed some of the rendering settings on the game. I found a preferences.prop file and tried to edit it to what it had been originally. When that didn’t work, I made sure my drivers were up to date although since the game had been running that didn’t make much sense. Finally we tried to uninstall and then reinstall the game. Unfortunately I didn’t locate and back up my first critter so it became extinct in the process. Finally we came upon this link at Electronic Arts where we had to replace the file called DMCmdPortalClient.dll. That solved the problem but it took hours to figure out.

One of the problems when trying to design an easy to use 3D authoring tool is it is inherently a complex thing. If you look at any of the major full blown software packages there are tons of controls. For the sake of simplicity, the Creature Creator leaves a lot of these out but as a consequence there are things you can not do. However they are trying to make something to easily create critters for the game not a total 3D authoring tool.

I thought the way they handled the paint area was interesting. In a full blown 3D package you have to supply a picture which is mapped onto your object. It just gets more complex from there as you can add bump mapping, specular maps and so on and so on. Creature Creator  gives you a choice between just choosing a basic ‘skin’ or three layers of color where you can choose the colors for spots or stripes for instance. The software makes some assumptions as well. For instance, it assumes the ‘front’ of the creature faces a certain way. So if you create a two-headed beast, such as the one below, and then animate it, there are collision problems.

Two headed beast

Two headed beast

Here is what happens when you make it roar.

self intersecting issue

Self intersecting issue

All in all the Creator is fun to play with and the price is certainly right for the free version. The test drive area has some cute features such as buttons to create baby versions of your critter. It also has buttons to create an animated avatar, shoot pictures, and shoot movies. You can send picture postcards to your friends and after you shoot a movie it gives you the opportunity to upload it directly to YouTube.

Below is an example of a video I shot and you can hear the audio buzzing bug.

The full version of the Creature Creator costs $9.95. The full Spore game will cost $49.95 and is due to be released September 7th in the United States.

And finally, I always end with a funny animal picture but this time check out this rather surreal attempt to make something that looks like Garfield the cat in Creature Creator.

Garfield

Garfield

Realism

Tuesday, August 19th, 2008

This animation is pretty good but something about her mouth still seems off. Maybe it’s just the video compression. One thing that is clear is total realism at video game speeds is not far off. Also it will be extremely cheap not long after it’s achieved. I haven’t done any animation for a while and one of these days I’m going to upgrade my equipment and get back into it.

Speaking of digital art, here is a nice collection. I particularly like the landscapes.

Here is more strange art by an artist named Frank Uyttenhove.

I’ve linked to articles about Valcent before. They are one of the companies planning on producing fuel from algae. Here is a short video about the process. They point out we could meet the energy needs of America by turning one tenth of the state of New Mexico into algae production. It sounds nice but one tenth of New Mexico is still a big area.

Here is yet another story about progress on using sunlight to produce hydrogen.

My mystery story of the day is this one about five strange skulls.

Here is a pair of very nice lightning at sunset pictures.

Check out these pictures of more elaborate sand sculptures.

Here are some pictures of cats in water and includes video of a cat riding the front of a surf board. My cats would never get in water but they seem to be fascinated by it. I suppose it’s the only liquid they experience in their daily life so maybe that has to do with it.

And finally, yes it’s another silly kitten picture.