anders tonfeldt

Casual games are detrimental?

2014-05-15 10:58

I recently made a comment on the excellent blog of Jeff Vogel of Spiderweb software fame. He made a blog post about casual games and how self-elected and self-governed "cultral elites" want to somehow "fix" the casual games market. I agree with him that they're mostly a bunch of tossers, yet somehow I find myself relating (strongly) to what they're saying. My comment turned out to be.. epic, length-wise. So I figured I'd post it here as well.

This post will risk becoming preachy, but I'll attempt to balance it since I do fundamentally agree with you.

You're right. Just about your entire post is a representation of how I see it as well. Who the hell are we to say what others are supposed to play and not play? I grew up with interactive text adventures and have felt generally snobby about the adventure game genre ever since. On the large part I believe the complexity and depth declined sharply with the introduction of graphics and with only relatively few exceptions (but there are -many- exceptions to this "rule") remains a hollowed out husk of its former glory days.

Sierra and early lucasart games aren't the fathers of the genre, they're the grand-children of the genre. There's been a lot of talk about "cow clickers" lately and, while I did find the graphical interfaces beautiful (they were), that's how I came to see the graphical games after being sorely disappointed by them.

Yet, who the heck am I to tell anyone what the height of adventure games was? If you enjoyed them then isn't that enough? Does anyone even care that I sit here dreaming of the days of "proper adventure games" when Broken Age is being released? This applies across the board, everyone has their own defacto standard that they compare everything else to. If your opinion differs from mine then you're obviously WRONG! And on the internet!

Now then, herein lies my problem. I just don't like the vast majority of these casual games. Every time I finish a game on mobile devices I've got a real problem finding anything to replace it. The revival of gamebooks kept me occupied for quite some time, but now I've gone through all of them and they were "casual" to begin with compared to "proper" interactive fiction. But that is my problem, not a problem of those that fleetingly install whatever is currently trending and having a great time with them.

I also, as much as it pains me to say it, think it's detrimental to the longterm viability of the industry. It conditions the target audience to go for instant gratification and nothing else. You want to see that level pop, you want to finish that hand of cards, then you want your reward and you want to continue. Winning, tiger blood style! That's fine. But the term "tl;dr" comes to mind.

The conditioning of not just these casual games but also the websites, movies and tv-shows with constant quick cuts and minute long storylines encourage this mentality. Arguing about the value of reading above playing games (even though they're not mutually exclusive) goes beyond the scope of this post. But having people say "lol, tl;dr" to a book or game because it contains more than a couple of pages of text? Yeah, I don't see that as positive. At all. For anyone.

We both know what the target audience of your games is, it isn't the candy crush youths of today who wouldn't even grace them with a glance. When an entire genre (or genres), developers and their work is dismissed by a "tl;dr" then it -is- negative. It has nothing to do with RPGs being superior to cowclickers, it's just that nobody should ever judge anything until they know what they're talking about. With knowledge and experience comes wisdom. But would they have been your target audience to begin with, whether candy crush existed or not? Chicken and the egg.

Does this mean we're morally/ethically/whatevery obliged to do something about it? No, that isn't our right or responsibility. But with every person we condition other genres and game types are being relegated into the area of "nope". Is that a good thing or not? Zork was the candy crush saga of the 80s, but is one superior to the other? It's impossible for me to be the judge of that since I'm naturally biased. I'm just tired of seeing my favourite past-time vanish before me, game by game, year by year, and it's making me grumpy. Grumble grumble..

Android and brand loyalty

2014-05-12 14:59

There are choices out there. Whoever says there's only android and ios is, to put it frankly, wrong. However, they're entirely right that if you want the richest and most varied offering of applications then yes, those are the two you should go for. Absolutely.

I've recently taken the choice to leave the android sphere, I'm still going to keep a 7" android tablet around for games but my current phone (Note 2) will be my last android phone. When mates heard my rumbling about leaving the os the very first thing they asked was: "Is it because of the fragmentation?"

No, it isn't. Fragmentation of the android platform has become an empty, misleading buzz-term. It has never represented a problem for me neither as a developer or user. I'm leaving for a reason that is causally related to brand loyalty: it doesn't appeal to me any more.

Android/Samsung/Google, in no particular order, subjected me and my better half to: Knox root-witch-hunt, abandoned devices without security upgrades, the terribad filesystem on the original galaxy s, MANDATORY HDCP on hdmi-out at all times even when viewing our own photos, google being shown as leaking data to anyone who wants it, locked bootloaders, bloatware, proprietary restore systems when their own OTA upgrades fail and, finally, an interface that I just don't find intuitive.

I had brand loyalty to both android/google and samsung. When it was time to pick a new phone it wasn't a matter of picking the os or the brand, it was just a matter of figuring out which of the new samsung phones I wanted. Once you remove the brand loyalty I'm left with an os that tries its very hardest to disassociate itself from all the aspects of linux that I find the most valuable and versatile. And a manufacturer that does everything it can to reduce the amount of choice you have when using a product that is based on the most open of choices. I'm done.

So, what am I switching to? I'm interested in both the Jolla and Ubuntu phones, right now it could go either way and will depend a lot on the hardware. Project Ara fundamentally solves the hardware conundrum, assuming I can run something other than android on it.

How do I harmonize my previous statement about apps with the consideration of using the newest phone os'es? Because they run applications I've used since before either android, ios and windows mobile even existed. The killer apps for them don't need to be written, because they already have been.

Experience 112 / The experiment

2014-05-10 15:30

You know how you sometimes pick up a game thinking "well, that sounds a bit clever, guess it'll distract me for an hour or two" and then end up completely engrossed for days? Experience 112 (also known as The experiment) is one of those games, holy smokes is it ever.

It's an adventure game that initially appears to be set on an abandoned research ship in the middle of an unnamed ocean. The vessel has been completely overgrown with bizarre vegetation that appear to react when exposed to external stimuli. Intriguing, but not that original to be honest. You're tasked with guiding the protagonist around the ship, exploring rooms and figuring out just what the heck happened. But that's where all semblance to regular adventure games end.

You don't control the protagonist. No, she wanders around on her own. In fact, you're not even the persona of the protagonist, instead you're an unnamed character on the other end of a security monitoring system. You activate and deactivate cameras to keep track of where she goes. You can signal that you want her to go somewhere by turning lights on and off. Bloody brilliant challenge to the dogma of point and click adventure games. The method of navigation reminds me quite a bit of the C64 game Little computer people.

To make matters even trickier you can't tell her to pick something up, but you can navigate her close to something which might prompt her to pick it up. Then you have to remember what she picked up, said about it and what the items might be used for. There's generally no way to speak to her so she'll be confused about what you want her to do at times. To make matters even worse you've also got access to the ship's network, but every account requires a username and password that you have to extract from information found here and there. One account might contain an email, a document or encrypted files that will help you access a second, then a third, and so on.

The sheer complexity of this game is absolutely stunning. I've had multiple discussions with fellow adventure gamers that, for some reason, seem to think that the sierra games were the height of difficulty in the genre. This is, of course, false since their text-based predecessors were demonstrably more challenging and elaborate. The sierra games generally presented a linear path that offered little variation, sure there were some cheap deaths but that was pretty much it. I get it though, we're nostaglic about them, that's fine. But the vehement claim that modern adventure games are somehow dumbed down is a gross generalization that can easily be proven wrong.

Try Experience 112. Holy hell. 20-30 hours of hacking accounts, navigating the protagonist through an absolutely massive environment that spans the previously mentioned abandoned ship to an undersea explorer vessel, to.. well, let's not spoil it, an "alien" habitat with an advanced research base. Every step has to be meticulously figured out, calculated and executed. Every puzzle researched, notes taken and conclusions arrived at. Not to mention the later mechanics where communication with the "aliens" aren't done with words, but phermones and combinations of phermones.

Brutal, absolutely brutal. And I couldn't have loved it any more. This is a must play folks, it breaks most conventions of the genre and offers an intriguing exploration and first contact-scenario with mechanics you've never seen executed this way before.

Experience 112 on wikipedia

Gamenotes 1
Gamenotes 2
Gamenotes 3

Project Aon - Lone wolf gamebooks

2014-05-08 10:19

I was a huge fan of what was endearingly called "gamebooks" in the 80s. It was a "choose your own adventure" form of interactive fiction where you started at page 1, read the introduction and was then immediately given a choice. It might have been as simple as "do you go north, then turn to page 185" or "do you go south, turn to page 240". In this way you got to choose how the protagonist navigated through the (sometimes very) complex story lines.

The choices naturally grew progressively more involved. Do you "Poison the king's cup" or "Wait patiently to see what happens next". Every choice having the chance of leading you to a painful death or to the path that would save the kingdom. You were the protagonist, the book was your journey.

Ultimately I left them behind. Computer games completely killed that industry and offered a much wider variety of narratives. But they never really went away, they still had their fans and most of us who had read them back in the day kept the books on our shelves. A couple of years ago the genre got a revival in large parts thanks to the excellent work of Tin man games and their modernized, original work. But what about the classics?

Few will likely argue with me if I make the statement that Joe Dever's Lone Wolf series is the most iconic. Yes, Fighting Fantasy was great but the sheer length and breadth of adventures our favourite Kai master went through is unsurpassed to this very day. From the monastery where you had your humble beginnings, through exotic deserts, ancient tombs, jungle temples, snowy wastelands and into the midst of opposing armies. Do we really have to dig out 30 year old dusty books to play these classics? Fortunately not.

Project Aon is an authorized, free organization that endeavours to bring all of these classics back in a digital format. Their versions of the books are entirely gratis. 35 books are available right now. For free. You can play them this very second.. so what in tarnation are you waiting for? Go get them! Now!

Project aon

Android app

Opt out of prism

2014-05-05 11:06

Time goes by, people forget or ignore the fact that everything they do online is stored, analysed and read by foreign governments. Maybe because it's too inconvenient to prevent or maybe because they think "well, I have nothing to hide, what do I care if they read my e-mail?" Which is a valid point. Life is too short to worry about non-problems. But what about the people for whom it is a problem? The people who's very lives depend on it.

Journalists having their electronics confiscated due to illegally obtained digital eavesdropping? Their sources' anonymity compromised so that governments can silence them? Because, you know, silencing critics and whistleblowers is what we do in democracies these days. It isn't the illegal activities of the governments that is the problem, it's the fact that people talk about said activities. Apparently.

Before this post derails entirely into the realm of political vitriol let's get back on track. Switching from software that we know is compromised by governments really isn't hard but finding out about it can be quite tricky.

A while back I found a cleverly named site called Prism break which does just that. Inform you about software and services you can use with a much greater degree of security. Do these applications guarantee your integrity? No they don't, but they're a heck of a lot better than alternatives that directly feed your data to surveillance organizations.

Please consider the people who risk their lives and liberty to give the rest of us a degree of freedom we used to think was our right. It's not just about us regular Joes. What you do and the choices you make have consequences, whether or not you do it knowingly.

Prism break

Old games in wine

2014-05-03 13:28

Hello, my name is Anders. And I'm an old-game-aholic. A common complaint in gaming under linux is that games simply don't run there, a fact that has become incorrect in the last few years as all of my favorite games have native linux clients. But what about older games? The ones that have been abandoned by their developers and now linger in a technical limbo. They work great.

In fact, I'd say it's a lot easier to get a game running with wine under linux than it is to coax a modern windows to run it reliably. Or at least that's my experience. But there are problems, resolution and bizarre input related ones. I'll attempt to address both with this post.

  1. Use PlayOnLinux would be my first tip. It makes managing each wine bottle (a sort of fake windows installation) much easier and quicker.

  2. Do not run old games in fullscreen, use wine's virtual desktop. Amerzone, which I'm playing now, is a good example. It runs fine in fullscreen, but it stretches and interlaces all graphics. Then it runs the cutscenes in the top left corner only. In windowed mode it works exactly as expected. This is true for running the game in both windows and with wine.

  3. If the game runs at a miniscule resolution natively then simply change the resolution of your monitor (script below). Amerzone runs in 640x480 so I run it in a 640x480 virtual wine desktop and change my monitor's resolution to 800x600. I can still multi-task and it fills most of the screen.

  4. A 15 year old game that tries to smooth out your mouse's movement will screw it up. Inevitably. Again, Amerzone.. oh how I love thee, but you are one major problem child. To fix this I run a script that removes all mouse acceleration deceleration, resulting in picture perfect mouse movement in the game (script below).

I might update this list as I uncover more problem areas but those have been the major ones for me. That said, every single game I've thrown at wine has worked flawlessly for the last 22 tries. No crashes, no hangs, no bugs that aren't caused by the games themselves. This can be compared with trying to run windows 95 (or even 3.11) era games on windows 8.. that was an interesting experience.

Script for quickly changing resolutions and turning off my second monitor.

## For old games.
#xrandr --output HDMI-0 --primary --mode 800x600
#xrandr --output LVDS-1-0 --off

## For regular desktop use.
xrandr --output HDMI-0 --primary --mode 1920x1080
xrandr --output LVDS-1-0 --mode 1920x1080

## Fancy full option, not really needed for most of you.
#xrandr --fb 3840x1080 --output HDMI-0 --mode 1920x1080 --pos 0x0 --primary --panning 1920x1080+0+0/1920x1080+0+0 --left-of LVDS-1-0 --output LVDS-1-0 --mode 1920x1080 --right-of HDMI-0

Script for fixing the mouse sensitivity and acceleration.

# This command will list all devices on your system.
xinput list

# My mouse is listed as number 10, so let's check it.
xinput list-props 10

# Turn off device acceleration.
xinput set-prop 10 275 0

## For regular use
# Set constant mouse deceleration to 1.5, I've got a high DPI mouse.
xinput set-prop 10 276 1.5
# Set acceleration velocity scaling to 1, no variations.
xinput set-prop 10 278 1

## For old games
# Drastically reduce the mouse deceleration.
#xinput set-prop 10 276 0.02

Happy 50th birthday, BASIC!

2014-05-01 19:06
50 GOTO 10  

"In 1964, John G. Kemeny and Thomas E. Kurtz designed the original BASIC language at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire. They wanted to enable students in fields other than science and mathematics to use computers. At the time, nearly all use of computers required writing custom software, which was something only scientists and mathematicians tended to learn how to use."

We're getting old guys.

Basic on Wikipedia

View/record a webcam with VLC

2014-05-01 12:04

There's a wide, wide variety of ways to record webcams in unices but I've come to rely on just one, VLC. Yes, it's a video viewer more than a recorder but it does both quite well. Let's detail how to view a live webcam stream first, just keep in mind that the drivers for your webcam need to be v4l compatible (most are, of course).

vlc -vvv v4l2:///dev/video0:chroma=mjpg:width=1920:height=1080:fps=30 :input-slave=pulse://alsa_input.usb-Blue_Microphones_Yeti_Stereo_Microphone-00-Microphone.analog-stereo

-vvv = Verbosity
v4l2:///dev/video0 = Video input device
:chroma=mjpg = MJPEG Codec
:width=1920:height=1080 = Resolution
:fps=30 = Frames per second

The :input-slave simply loops my external microphone into the stream, this is something I want but it's naturally up to your preference. That command line looked complex at first but really it's quite straight forward. Let's move on to recording said stream to a file and also previewing it at the same time.

vlc -vvv v4l2:///dev/video0:chroma=mjpg:width=1920:height=1080:fps=30 :input-slave=pulse://alsa_input.usb-Blue_Microphones_Yeti_Stereo_Microphone-00-Microphone.analog-stereo --sout="#duplicate{dst=std{access=file,fps=30,mux=avi,dst=/mnt/misc/test.avi},dst=display}"

First part is exactly the same so let's move straight to the output bit.

--sout="#duplicate{ = Define a duplicate stream, both preview and file output.
dst=std{access=file, = First stream destination is a std-file.
fps=30,mux=avi, = 30 FPS, avi muxing.
dst=/mnt/misc/test.avi}, = Output file path and name.
dst=display}" = Second stream destination is the display/preview.

This has worked reliably with all devices and distributions I've tried it on. Every single other application has had its own set of quirks that required elaborate workarounds, this did not.

There's one final thing to keep in mind. If your camera supports multiple output streams, like my Logitech C920 has both YUV, MJPEG and H.264, then you might be required to set it before entering either of these commands. It can be set as simply as this.

v4l2-ctl --set-fmt-video=width=1920,height=1080,pixelformat=2

Everything should be clear there, pixelformat refers to the stream. You will need to either simply try each format to figure out what your camera outputs there or refer to its driver documentation. pixelformat=2 for the C920 is MJPEG, which I found to have a consistently higher quality than its built in H.264 encoder.

Something old, something new


With no fanfare nor pomp my blog has returned to the land of the digital. Like a ghost nobody missed it returns to haunt my existence.

In all seriousness I'm just tired of social networks. Figured that if I'm going to be helpful I might as well be so in a way that remains available beyond the IPO of startup companies.

I'll be ripping select content from my six (6!) previous blogs over the coming months. But this time around I want to keep the blog pure, that boils down to the following:

  1. Helpful guides and videos as I stop cursing and figure something out.
  2. Shameless promotion of my own projects.
  3. Shoutouts when I stumble across something particularly enjoyable, be it a game, book or movie.

That will be all.

<< -2 >>

RSS Feed