the tao of jaklumen

the path of the sage must become the path of the hero

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Plants vs. Zombies

Sorry about the poor picture quality.

This is Cimmy's favorite computer game and my daughter decided to do a diorama based on the gameplay.  If you're not familiar with the game, maybe this will help:

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Gaming on Linux: World of Goo & Linux Mint repositories

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Gaming on Linux: Atari’s foolish move and more

So I just found out yesterday that Atari pulled the plug on the Premium Modules to Neverwinter Nights (NWN/NWN1) back in August.  This means that they can no longer be purchased at the Bioware Store.  (Those that purchased them beforehand, however, can still redownload them at any time, for now.)  Theories as to why are long and complex; one user guessed that Atari might decide to bundle them later and offer them at a bargain bin price, but more than likely, they will be offered for Windows.  Maybe a slim chance for Mac as well, but Linux will likely be left out in the cold.

This is sad, seeing that NWN1 is one of the few commercial games out there that can be run natively on Linux.  I purchased the Diamond edition when I was still on Windows; however, the Kingmaker module on the disc is Windows only.  (I had to download binaries from Bioware to get it up and running on Linux.)  I was going to grab the modules eventually; but now I am limited to Ossian Studio's Darkness Over Daggerford (which was going to be a Premium Module, but didn't make the cut) and community made modules, which often require the Community Expansion Pack– and they all differ as to which version they use and are based on.

I liked the approach Bioware had with NWN.  Its format was no less a very different approach to mods; it was not merely a tacit acknowledgment that they existed; but rather that the very structure of the game encourages it.

Anyways… apart from Bioware's release of a Linux client, the other option is companies that release code to the open source community for older games.  The Freespace series is one of these; after finding that I was missing some discs from my unpatched Windows version, I simply repurchased it from Good Old Games in a fully patched version.  I have Freespace 2 up and running now, but I need a good USB-controlled flight stick.  (I bought an old Wingman Warrior for M.A.M.E. purposes– specifically the arcade version of TRON, but I cannot get it working.)

Then there is the gemrb project, which is an open source replacement for the Infinity Engine that runs Baldur's Gate II and Planescape: Torment; both excellent games, but more so the latter for storyline freaks like me.  Those working on the project offered Torment players wonderful fixes and mods in Windows, but their work on the open source Linux engine is very slow, and it remains incomplete.  As for me, I cannot get the code compiled whatsoever.  It's beyond my limited geek skills, which are quite poor on the coding side.

Finally, there are the independent companies.  One game of note is World of Goo, and there are rumors in the Linux Mint (Debian family) community that the demo might be added to the repositories for that distro.  In any event, I had it installed when I ran Ubuntu full-time; my daughter was quite hooked for a bit.

The rest is hobbyist sendups– ports of games from older computer systems, arcade and console system emulators, and rehashes of old games that have long been in the public domain (mostly first-person shooters, from the look of it).  The upside, I'd say, is if games like Solitaire and other mainstay entries of Windows included in the OS are your thing, there is a lot more offered to you in Linux.  Granted, there are divides between those designed for the Gnome, KDE, and XFCE desktops respectively.  They can all be run together no matter which aforementioned desktop you use, but you'll see seams in the GUI since those desktops don't look the same.  My wife and my daughter did like the wider variety of options, however.

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Game Night at Rosie’s

So I found this game– Pirate's Cove — Search for the treasure for an absolute steal ($5.55) at our local warehouse-style grocery store.  I was pretty excited, since most board games for kids that are of the caliber worthy of our local group, Columbia Basin Board Game Society (CBBS) cost up to 4 or 5 times that much.

It went pretty well, although we were late and most of the group were already busy with other games.  I felt a little put out, because the group for the most part isn't welcoming to young children (Monday nights at Rosie's are a small exception) and the founder/host for weekend games didn't even seem to notice that we were even there.  But I did show it to a few people, and our server seemed interested (I think she has young children), especially when I said where I got it and for how much.

The game has a few snags with the rules so I just looked at some ideas for rules variants.

Anyways, I think we'll renew our efforts to go as a family for these Monday night things, if only for the importance of the social interaction.

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Sean Malstrom on the Secret of Nintendo’s Success

I was futzing around IRC as I am sometimes wont to do, hanging out with a bunch of (mostly) coder geeks and the like that used to play Runescape or still play it.  Oh, that and a group of people with a tongue-in-cheek devotion to cabbage in the game.  I'm trying to remember which of those two channels it was, but no matter.

Someone posted a link to Malstrom's Articles, discussing his insight with the runaway success of Nintendo.  He mentioned that Nintendo has the highest profit to employee ratio in the world, and a number of other facts concerning the history of the company.  He seemed in awe of the writer, and suggested that although Malstrom was rather cheeky in his style, he really did seem to know a lot about the company.

So I read.  And read and read and read.  I was completely blown away by this guy.  Granted, it's opinion and not scientific fact, but this guy has spent a lot of time researching his statements.

In a nutshell, much of what he writes about is this:

  • There is a difference between using games to socialize, and socializing to play games.
  • Nintendo's strategy, by quoted definition, is to attack disinterest.  They are interested in making games that will appeal to everyone, and not just the "hardcore" gamer, or the tech-savvy youngster.
  • The term "casual gaming" is a bit of a misnomer.  It was primarily coined by the media, analysts, and "hardcore" gamers to dismiss certain genres (or "lower tiers") of gaming.
  • Nintendo is willing to make quality games for the "lower tiers", and is working on expanding the number of gaming consumers, including those that do not consider themselves gamers.
  • Nintendo has taken these entry and lower-tier gamers up the tiers, so to speak– they design their sequels and other titles to lead them into new "higher-tier" genres.
  • Because Sony and Microsoft have been primarily focusing on the higher end, they must change, or their efforts in gaming will perish.

There are few among his stripe of gamers that write with such academic flourish; I generally see this level of sophistication more often among tabletop/pen and paper RPGers, or the D&D crowd.  Perhaps I am too liberal in my praise, but I really have not seen this much thought on this particular topic before.  Malstrom's articles have to be read more in depth to fully appreciate.

The interesting thing is that I doubt these contemplations are necessarily new, or original.  It would seem these ideas could be applied to other business contexts; the principles would likely remain much the same.

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(a.k.a. Jagex's Other Games, Reloaded)

Some of you might recall that I posted a little bit about playing a British MMORPG called RuneScape.  It's a bit of a red-headed bastard stepchild of the MMORPG world, as it does not use DVD/CD-ROM software for players to permanently download game files.

Jagex stands for JAva Gaming eXperts, and that is the code that Paul and Andrew Gower stand by.  Despite yowls of many gamers who protest the limitations of Java, I maintain that their code for Runescape is pretty good, considering all such limitations.

But I digress.  I found RuneScape myself through casual gaming– free Java/Flash games and the like.  FunOrb is Jagex's return to these casual games, and it looks like they've done a good job of it.  RuneScape veteran players might remember the company previously dabbling in such games, although at the time, they were not very well designed and were a bit of a laughingstock.  (One of those games, Flea Circus, has returned, but it has been redesigned a bit.)

While RuneScape occupies a rather small niche in the MMORPG game world, I would definitely recommend FunOrb if you do enjoy casual games for coffee breaks and other times you are pretending to work, or just need a quick game to pick up and set down.  If you play RuneScape, you'll find that friendslists are linked.  The list is maintained to compare hiscores; supposedly chat is possible, but I am unsure how it is initiated from FunOrb games.

This is better designed, in my opinion, than many of the other sites out there, including Miniclip and Real Network's RealArcade.  (The forums are much more accessible, too!)

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Radcon 5

Radcon…is over.

What a wild ride.  If you follow the link, you should see on a quick glance that it's a local SF/gaming convention.  This was my post on 43 Things about it, as it was quite the workout:

I took my entire little family to Radcon 5 (a local gaming convention) yesterday.  I attended a wee little bit on Friday, too, after registering, etc.

Sit down?  Ha, not all that often.  Not with a 5-year old.

Was there all day, almost, from about 10 am to midnight, with a small break to take wife and kids home, hit the gym, and swim a few laps before returning.

Exhaustive, but fun!

It was really nice and more family-friendly this year (at least, compared to a few years ago as I missed last year)– Saturday had some activities for kids.  Princess and I attended the "Kid-Friendly Science" and Craft panels, the latter which involved painting balsa wood boxes to look like pirate treasure chests, which we filled with "booty".

Shortly thereafter we caught up with our board gaming group and played a new game while Princess amused herself with an animatronic toy macaw one of the members had brought.  Cimmorene easily doubled the size of her dice collection; she bought a new 30-sider I knew was going to catch her eye.  Most of them were in a drawstring bag with a skull pictured on the side and since she stuffed it pretty full with her other dice, it started looking like a skull, hehe.

My sister is on the Planning board as she's been for many years now, and so we took a few opportunities to catch up with her, mostly because my daughter had been missing her cousin (my sister's son, i.e., my nephew).  I am still quite amazed she went because her daughter is due in less than a month.

We failed to take pics at the convention itself but I will post some photos of loot and such fairly soon. There is more I could write about; but I'm just really fatigued a lot with the therapy and exercise I'm doing for injury recovery; but perhaps I'll write more later as well.

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GamerDad website and forums

Hey, I thought I'd take a moment to spotlight one of my links– the GamerDad website.  A friend of Cimmy and mine referred us to the site.

GamerDad is a proud gamer father who runs an awesome website with reviews on games appropriate for children.  If you want some info beyond what the ESRB decides, and you game with your children, nieces, nephews, etc. this may be a *great* website for you.

The link is right there in my blog sidebar.

(p.s. I would like to see what northerngeek thinks.  *startles*  Oh, hi!)

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Video games in my eyes: It’s all about the controls!

Reading the QoTD about console games got me thinking of my old arcade game experiences.  I remember how the 'feel' of several games throughout the years, especially with the controllers.  The rise of the console system from the late '70s up through the present day seems to have squashed that, perhaps because fancy controllers at home are just too expensive for families of video gamers, or teen video gamers themselves.  It seems that it's the affluent adults who have the money for arcade machine restoration or modular M.A.M.E. cabinets, although impressive controllers were released for the PC over the years.

If you're interested in this sort of stuff, read on– otherwise, skip over it because I'm going to make a long list of all the controllers I remember, as well as a few certain cabinet configurations.

Spinner- I'm sure this is as old as Pong, but the game it really shone on was Atari's Tempest.  I found it very awkward to play the game on keyboard or mouse.

4-way joystick- Bally-Midway's Pac-Man, among a few other '80s classics.  M.A.M.E. enthusiasts seem to prefer it over the 8-way joystick released later.  Most of the early console joysticks were only 4-way, really– take apart an Atari 2600 joystick and you'll find only 4 sensors for movement.

8-way joystick- Hard to remember any specific games with this one.  I seem to remember they were mostly military-style top-scrolling shooters and the like.

Flight stick- A specialized 8-way joystick.  I'm assuming this started with Midway's Sinistar, but I remember it with the arcade release of TRON.

8-way joystick, dual configuration- I remember this most with William Electronics's Robotron 2084.  This was nice because movement and direction of shooting were totally independent.  Took a while to get used to, though.

Throttle- Although I never saw the game personally, my research found that this was the controller for Atari's Lunar Lander (one of their more obscure games).  It appeared later in Sega's After Burner series and Midway's Hydro Thunder.

Yoke stick- It seems these started to become common for PCs with the rise of flight simulator programs in mid '80s to early '90s.  I don't recall this being too common save for a few Midway games: Spy Hunter and Road Blasters.  I thought they were a big deal because up to four buttons were actually built into the controller, instead of there being a separate button on the console.

8-way rotary joystick-  This type of joystick had spinning knob on the top to control direction of shooting for a full 360 degrees.  Apparently, this was an alternative solution for the dual joystick configuration.  I can only recall it for Romstar's Time Soliders, which was a top scrolling shooter.

Levers- Atari's Battlezone, and the Red Baron conversion kit for the same cabinet.

Driving controls (steering wheel, gear shift, brake, gear pedal, gas pedal)-  Well, obviously, these didn't come out all at once, but they did add a lot of realism, especially if you were lucky to find a deluxe (sit-down) cabinet.

Keg taps- Seem to be unique to the Tapper games (Budweiser promo and Root Beer versions included).  Tapper was apparently the premier bar game in its day; there was even a cup holder to hold your drink.

Speaking of 'bar' games, the 'cocktail' cabinet, although not a controller in itself, seemed to be popular in bars and other establishments serving alcohol.  The monitor was set face up in a flat surface table, with a plexiglas top.  The display would flip vertically for players at either end.

Force-feedback- Sega's After Burner.  This was especially spectacular in the deluxe cabinet for the game, since it tilted like a roller coaster simulator.  It's been featured in many other arcade games and home console controllers since then.

Handlebars and other bike controllers- Midway's Paperboy and Sega's Hang-On, to name a few.   The release of Manx TT Superbike in 1995 blew away anything like that, however.  It featured seats shaped like actual racing motorcyles that could tilt to stimulate turns.

Pressure-sensitive pads- Capcom's Street Fighter.  Weak, medium, and strong attacks were controlled on how hard the player hit the pad.  According to Wikipedia, these pads were easily broken and were quickly abandoned for the six-button configuration common to the deluge of fighting games of the 1990s.

Dance pad- Konami's Dance Dance Revolution (DDR), although the hardware was employed earlier to this (albeit unsuccessfully) by Nintendo, primarily for aerobics-style games.

Wired glove- Virtual reality simulations and games.  The Power Glove was developed for NES in 1989, and the P5 Glove was developed for the PC.  Neither proved very successful, the latter more so.

Pool cue controller- Currently, the Pool Shark PC pool cue controller is the only one I know of.   It's pretty unique in that you can forego the folding cue stick included with the package in favor of an actual pool cue.  I do not know if MIACOMET still manufactures this controller; I am under the assumption it doesn't.  MIACOMET released a number of specialized controllers in its "Real Feel" series, including a fishing reel, a baseball bat, and a golf club controller.

Light gun- Wikipedia states this is a technology that is as old as the 1930s.  The NES Zapper is probably the most recognized light gun (Duck Hunt being the main game).  In the arcades, most games required you to shoot the gun off-screen to reload, although I remember guns with pump-action for reloading about 7 to 10 years ago featured in a few games.  The mounted versions were notable, too, although reloading usually constituted shooting an icon on the screen.  Operation: Wolf and Revolution X (featuring Aerosmith) are a few examples.

IR motion controllers- Although this was an update for the light gun for use on non-CRT screens, I remember Nintendo played around with this technology a bit before they developed the IR controllers currently used on the Wii.  A little over 15 years ago, I remember they had developed an IR pad to be used with their Super Punch Out! game.  Rather than infrared beams coming from a handheld controller, the pad detected motion over it– you simply made punching moves over it for basic punches, and did a self handshake for uppercuts.  I laughed when I read about it, for the COMPUTE! article stated Nintendo had trouble pitching it to their test market: kids still preferred gamepads (God forbid it should provide a workout or that it should avoid repetitive stress injuries in the thumb).

That's about all I can remember, save I didn't make a separate entry for the gamepad controller.  Most of this I took from memory, although I referenced a number of Wikipedia articles for clarity (no, I don't feel like citing them right now).  It's very difficult to convey my enthusiasm for specialized controllers to the younger generation of gamers: the gamepad indigenous to most consoles since the NES, and the joystick + 4 to 6 button configuration common to many arcade games since the release of the fighting game genre are both so overwhelmingly a staple of their gaming experience it's hard to explain much of anything else.  Therefore, they tend to yelp when I criticize fighting games in general, or present-day consoles for their lack of specialized controllers.

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