Every now and then in Linux gaming, it pays off to pick up an old favorite and see how it's come along. Last time I visited SuperTuxKart, it was a dinky thing with about four tracks, no powerups, and disgusting "burp" sound effects. Maybe it was 2004?
You won't believe how far SuperTuxKart has come now! New tracks, better art, better sound, more playable characters, a challenge system, bells and whistles. It feels like a professionally produced commercial game now.
And here (it's about time I did this on my blog!) is a video play-through:
This was also my first time recording desktop video (using ffmpeg command lines) and editing it (using the incredible OpenShot video editor, so easy your cat can learn it). So, no sound. Haven't figured the right magic spell for that yet. I will be blogging more about desktop video production and editing later, gimme time, I gotta job ya know.
Anyway, SuperTuxKart, a top-notch achievement in Linux gaming!
If you're ever such a pointy-headed Linux geek that somebody tells you to "get a life," this is probably what they mean. LucidLife appears to have no home page or active maintainer - the home page link from the help dialog goes to this charming 404 page. I guess you'd better hunt in your package manager...
Anyway, LucidLife, derived from GTKLife, comes with its own installed documentation, so you're not completely stranded. It's a GUI universe for playing Conway's Game of Life, the abstract artificial life simulator to end all abstract artificial life simulators. It takes the "LGF" format, which is a plain text format. For example, here is the whole file for the 'acorn' pattern:
#D The most vigorously growing 7-cell "methuselah" pattern.
#D See also Basics/Rabbits.
x = -3, y = -1, width = 7, height = 3
So it's script-able, although this format might take some deductive parsing to figure out.
The program also has a standard set of features: two pattern libraries, ability to zoom, adjust speed, step forward, copy-paste-and move blocks of cells, and of course doodle around with a pencil to create your own busy smoke. The whole thing takes about five seconds to learn; it's so easy, it makes an excellent kid's toy!
Conway's Life has a massive history in hackerdom, of course. If this is your first time encountering it, prepare to get sucked into many hours of fascinated fiddling. Some starting places include the Life Wiki and the Life Lexicon.
And if somebody knows the eventual fate of this project or its maintainers, feel free to enlighten all of us in the comments.
It's almost a cliche in Western culture. For some reason, those swanky-looking leather-bound backgammon sets became either the mark of tasteful distinction or the default Christmas gift when you don't know what else to get. I see them in households everywhere. Unopened. Unplayed. Checkers still in the little sealed plastic baggies. Unloved. I don't know, I guess backgammon sets got advertised in the back pages of Playboy during the '70s or something; it has that kind of aura.
Anyway, backgammon is a geek's game all the way. It is so because winning it depends so much on knowing probability. There's a fantastic amount of jargon involved and about a dozen methods to analyze positions.
GNU Backgammon is fancy and feature-rich. You can customize from dozens of board designs and 3D or 2D layout. Choose from nine different skill levels, set protocols for the game like auto-play on obvious moves, get move hints and oodles of position analysis, and even set dice behavior - random, custom picks, or anywhere from "best possible" to "worst possible" rolls per turn. That last feature makes for a particularly hilarious game, and it's educational because you can pit computer-vs-computer and set one side for best rolls with worst skill level, the other for best skill level with worst rolls, and prove that skill still beats luck - in the long run, anyway.
By the way, I should mention that the aforementioned Backgammon Galore site also has an article on GNU Backgammon, with a very positive review and an extensive manual going into the mind-boggling complex game mechanics and analysis features.
For those of you who know some of the rules of backgammon but don't get what all the fuss is about, let me demonstrate how much drama and suspense there is in a game that is the perfect blend of skill and luck...
1. Observe this position. I'm green. You'd re-double here too, wouldn't you?
2. But here is my next roll. The realization that there was no way to play this roll without leaving an open blot wiped the cocky grin right off my face.
3. I figured it was logical to play and hit from the six-point. That way, the only roll that can ruin my life is a four; GNU BG got a 2-1, blocked. I, too, rolled a 2-1, and hurriedly rescued my open blot. I thought I was saved!
4. A few moves later, and now the board looks like this. I'd never intended for the opponent blots to hang around so long. But look out, I threw another Bozo roll. Once again, there's no way to play it without hitting again and leaving a blot open again!
5. A couple moves later, and this position is showing weaknesses I'd never anticipated. I got the four I was praying for to cover my four-point, but with a three along with it which dooms me to leave a blot exposed for the third time in a row!
6. So here we are. Once again, four is the roll of death for me.
7. Got it. Twice!
8. So that means not only can it chomp my blot on the four-point, but have my blot on the eight-point for dessert. Then, since it has two more fours to play, it can also snap a checker from its six-point to the two-point, making a pseudo-prime with two of my checkers on the bar!
9. Here's the game a few moves later. I'm completely blocked, no hope of recovery from here.
That's just an example of how your fate can change in this game just like that. Just sharing my blunder with you; I know some of you backgammon-geeks out there are already chuckling at my whopper.
Minecraft Tutorial: How To Safely Dig Straight Down
It occurred to me, when playing Minecraft the other day, that paintings for art's sake just don't seem to translate well. The files have to be at such a tiny pixel resolution that very few images work without becoming walls of random pixels up close. And seriously, unless your base is one of those Khazad-Dum-sized monstrosities, how else are you going to view paintings except close-up?
So I figure, why make the paintings try to look like anything at all? That's when it hit me that abstract art would work best in this context. So today I'm sharing a couple of abstract art files, as a follow-up to my previous Minecraft Mystic artpack. Remember, these are just the painting files, not a complete texture pack for Minecraft. If you unzip your current texturepack and look for a folder called 'art' containing a file called 'kz.png' and replace it with one of these, then zip it back up, that'll install it. Or research how to install artpacks at the Minecraft Wiki or the Minecraft Forums.
Here's the two files, both named as 'kz.png':
I'm calling it all "abstract", but it includes dada, minimalism, cubism, modernism, and various other "-ism"-suffixed styles. They're mostly colorful, splashy, and blend easily with almost any interior decorating style. Furthermore, they're fit for the most pretentious snooty commentaries you want to reel off in the middle of your next YouTube Minecraft demo, like in these silly examples:
"On the right we have Morris Selton's 'Expiration of Linearity', from the crest of his 'wood period' just before the revolution."
"On the left, 'The Long Hall' by jazz-age artist Polimento Fabroginni; a return to form and color with the typical agitation he showed for the nonobjective. Nonrepresentational art would continue to be a morbid fascination of his, a medium he would flirt with but never court. And the right, a playful piece titled 'Sequitur Intersection' by pop dada artist Milo van Toot."
"On the left, 'Grossitude' by Serbian surf-bunny-turned-feminist-exiled-designer Ravello Digrunkblezwy, is explained by her to represent 'the death of hope in the wake of the cultural dark age of art, reflecting on the void of emotions numbing her after her friend's three abortions.' It's been censored in China."
"On the right, 'Wavy Orange Jello' by Douglas Farp, his final piece before he was committed to the home for the terminally insane. Farp's final commentary on this work was that it is a soap opera drama in which the far left squigly line is in love with the third one, who spurns this advance in favor of the second one, however the fourth one (his mother) will not allow them to marry, and so the fifth, sixth, and seventh squiggly lines are assassins hired to snuff her out."
"'Down the Shaft', Jesus de Rico's expressionist monocolor work on the right, pulls us with a mixture of intrigue and dread down the hole into the center of the Earth. What lies below? An abandoned mine, a stronghold, a wasteland of obsidian-lined caverns with a lurking creeper? The bleakness captures the feeling of melancholy underground exploration, but at the same time the dim light gives us hope that perhaps a patch of diamond could be twinkling down there."
"Dorian Earl Gray left us with this last dada-inspired tour-de-force before committing suicide to honor a pact he made with his opium-addicted mother in Bangkok. The balance, the vivid colors, and the tightness of the lines speak of his resignation to his fate, doubtless upon his mind as he conceived the canvas. Please don't touch; it flakes easily."
"Three pieces by Philipe vans Brouche, entitled 'Hopping', 'Folicle', and 'Explorers'. His widow was kind enough to lend them from his estate, as these were the only three that his hunting dogs didn't chew up."
"On the left is an experimental piece by a hacker collective who creates art by feeding daily social media tweets into an algorithm that picks values for colored pixels. This piece was produced in the few hours between the deaths of Farah Fawcett and Michael Jackson, totaling 7,642 tweets."
All kidding aside... They were actually all Gimp-produced, with various filters and plugins I'm sure all you Gimpers would recognize.
Oh my God! It's the return of your old favorite classic, the Rock-n-Roll DOSBox Freak Show, in which I, in the name of truth, justice, and barfing butterflies, randomly snarf up abandonware DOS games from Internet archive sites, plug them into DOSBox, and report what they did to my brain! And those are often very funny things! Sometimes I discover a crusty old classic that curls my toes with joy, and sometimes I get a hoary old croaker that upsets me so terribly that I find myself in a therapist's office showing her where on the doll the bad game touched me. Well, anyway, let's strap in and fly though this...
Neat and interesting puzzle game, this is one of the classics no DOSBox collection should be without. You use a white cursorbox to drag blocks around, with the goal of getting two or more blocks of the same pattern adjacent to each other, which then dissolve with a satisfying crunch. You'll have to avoid obstacles and utilize little elevators to accomplish this. Later levels are brain-bending, but you get a ton of levels with many imaginative tricks to test your skill on all levels. That being said, it's a block-puzzle game, so don't look for adrenaline-junkie thrills here, OK? Get it here, blockhead!
Cosmo's Cosmic Adventure
Another Apogee classic platformer. Cosmo is a cute little green alien with suckers for hands, which must make life inconvenient for day-to-day tasks. But they serve him well for this quest since he can use them to stick to and climb vertical surfaces. Cosmo can also jump, drop little trip-bombs, and jump on enemies' heads. Basically, it's every platformer cliche you've ever heard of, but it's such a cute little kid-friendly game that asks nothing of you but to continue pursuing relentlessly to the right edge of the screen. Suck it up here!
This is nuts, but this was one of the first dippy little DOS games I ever played, and then I forgot about it for 20-some-odd years, and then one day a block of brain cells accidentally re-lit as a result of being bitten by a radioactive B-complex-vitamin, and I suddenly hankered to play this again but didn't remember what it was called. And I finally found it! It's nuts because it's kind of like Sokoban on steroids, with boxes you can only push this-a-way or that-a-way and plain little graphics. I have Cyberbox-2 here - but the whole series including all the fan-made levels survives today on this page by one of the version's original authors, all versions now freeware! Yeah, try to contain your euphoria as you get it here.
This is one of those games where the screenshots build things up too much. It's not a 3D action thing, there's no video-clip conversations with special agents, nothing on your cool-looking Sam Spade desktop moves. You just key through menus and read files, with the occasional dialog, so it's more like a text adventure with fancy window-dressing. Now that we have that out of the way, this is a very-well-done one-of-a-kind game where you play a political manipulator of the Winston Smith sort. Your job is to clean up messes your government gets into, and keep the public approval rating high. That might involve anything from wire-tapping to kidnapping to ordering a good old-fashioned secret-police murder and subsequent ghosting. The game is cynical, blackly-comic, sarcastic, gritty, and (despite its British pedigree) so damned relevant to today's post-Bush America and FOX News audiences that I'll probably be kidnapped and my laptop melted before I can post this. Get it from the shadowy guy in the trenchcoat on the corner. And boy, is it ever screaming for a re-make!
Spellcraft: Aspects of Valour
This game sucks. You see the title and mentally associate it with Warcraft, Minecraft, Starcraft, etc., thinking it's going to be like a real-time-strategy something with wizards. Instead, crafting a spell of something simple like Fireball involves one platypus egg, three sets of cocao beans, a bat's wart, seven lizard boogers, a lock of hair from the brow of Lady Gaga, Barbara Streisand's left-nostril nose hair, ear wax from the Statue of Liberty, and three tablespoons of sour cream, laid out on a 48x64 square workbench where you have to sort it all out in an intricate pattern that you have to memorize from a book you have to hunt down with one leg tied behind your back and if you make one mistake you have to start over only this time with bamboo shoots hammered under your toenails. And that's just for one shot of Fireball, which you never got to mix up because your enemy sneaked up behind you while you were pulling your hair out trying to put all this crap together and cracked your melon with a stone club, which is why there are no wizards today. Share it with someone you hate.
The classic action-platformer with rockin' music, a buff Bo-Duke dude firing laser dashes out of his crotch, squawky VGA-Soundblaster effects, and an elaborate sprawling epic fantasy land that throws everything from ogres to robots at you. It makes exactly as much sense as a 1980s Stephen Speilberg movie, but what do you care? Shoot down that walking claw-thing and collect your levitating cherries and rubies and dodge the flying-sphere drones and don't forget the hassle you get making your way through the water level in that fussy little submarine. Xargon is the dude! Get ready for manly action time!
Bah! I've been sucked into the timesink that is Minecraft again. A few screenies and whatnot I've accumulated:
Yes, I was trying to make bedrooms with the Painterly texture pack way before the beta series introduced beds.
Crikey! Slimes are rare enough, but to encounter one this big - stand back, I'm going to try to cuddle it.
It took months of slashing through the brush and following legends and rumors and interpreting hieroglyphics, but at last we came upon the Ancient Hidden City of Mobs. Not far from here is the Sacred Zombie Graveyard. If you hunker down quiet-like, you'll get to witness their fertility rite.
After the Halloween update, the inherent mythology of Minecraft just got too much for me. Even before, we had a game involving elements, alchemy-type actions performed on a crafting bench, supernatural monsters, and a spawn point for when you reincarnate. But now we have a mystical portal we can construct to teleport to an alternate dimension, which ("officially") is called the Nether and isn't supposed to resemble the place of condemnation in any particular religion...
But we know better, don't we?
And while I'm thrilled with the texture packs, I'm always disappointed at the painting file. There's lots of painting collections out there that try to be fine art for your home... but really, I don't play Minecraft just to sit around in my base. Minecraft is an open-ended game that invites you to use your imagination to meet it halfway - why not use the paintings file to enhance that aspect?
That's how I came up with the Mystical Symbols ArtPack.
So this kz.png is filled with symbols and images intended to invoke just about every kind of mythology, magic, and fantasy out there. I've included some influence from Wicca, Kabbalah, Paganism, Alchemy, Satanism, Egyptian mythology, and even deliberately vague stuff I made up at random - I'll leave the story-telling to you! Most of them are supposed to look like runes carved into rock, or mystic symbols burned into wood, or what-have-you, so you can decorate blocks and make them appear to be made from some natural material scratched with Masonic incantations or something.
Satanize the hell out of your Nether portal!
Hang hex stars over your door to ward off the creepers!
Claim the cornerstone of your castle for the Freemasons!
Turn a sand pyramid into an Egyptian tomb!
Alchemy symbols for your transmutation workbench!
Balance your chakras in front of your New Age altar!
For once, I've been swept along with the hype-wagon. Because Minecraft is just that good! I've been so hooked on this damn thing ever since I downloaded it over the free weekend, it's been like having a heroin habit.
Now, it hasn't been the most stable experience. It is after all Alpha (we'll be talking about the Alpha version all the way through this). And its biggest downside is that it is written in Java. I know some of you run screaming from the mere name right now and I don't blame you. The developer says that he might release it as open source someday; perhaps the time to suggest a rewrite in a more game-friendly (and cross-platform-friendly) language will be then. As it stands now, if it runs slow on your machine, it's probably because it's Java. The memory allocation strategy of Java can best be described in three words: Nom nom nom.
Anyway, I'll just say that if you have trouble running the Linux version in Java, you're on your own! I got mine working through a series of black magic rituals which I do not now recall, the way you'd block out the memory of a car wreck.
What is this game about?
It's the ultimate wide-open sandbox. Much more so than every simulation game I've seen. The basic premise is to acquire (mine, and farm, and lumberjack, and smelt, and craft, and engineer) various resources, then use them to build stuff. Optionally, you can turn peaceful mode off and fight monsters, too. The graphics are deliberately sucky and blocky; you'll recoil from the screenshots in horror, but play the game for five minutes and you'll be so immersed you won't remember what you were complaining about.
This game has depth like you wouldn't believe. Comparable to Nethack! Instead of trying to explain, here's some YouTube videos:
Yeah, it's that deep! Every time you start a new world, it generates a completely new map that goes on for miles.
My own gallery I have to bore you with.
I've been shying away from the typical castle/fortress designs that so many others do to try to find more original expression in the game. So...
Outside of one home showing garden and gazebo. (Macadamia! Gazebo! Bulbous bouffant!)
Interior of same house, with pattern-tiled wood floor and gold-furnished lava light.
One world I just experimented with fountains. This is a lava fountain.
A lava and water fountain, encased in glass so the streams don't cross - Professor Egon would approve.
A spiral waterfall, just to show I can.
What makes this game so raving popular?
I have a pet theory, which is that Minecraft is derivative to the extent that it can be any game you want it to be:
Equip a bow and arrow and hunt mobs - now it's a first-person shooter.
Run around exploring - now it's an adventure game.
Build a city - now it's Sim City.
Build a mine cart roller coaster - now it's Roller Coaster Tycoon.
Start a multiplayer server and live in a town with your friends - now it's Second Life.
Raise crops and keep cows, sheep, pigs, and chickens in a pen - now it's Farmville.
Keep an inventory and craft better weapons and armor - now it's an RPG.
Build mechanical/electrical stuff - now it's The Incredible Machine.
Hop from block to block while avoiding lava - now it's Super Mario Brothers.
All that from a first-person perspective. People have even made mini-games within the game.
So, while the game costs money (less than $20 currently) and isn't open sourced yet, it gets a pass here for having a Linux port. And for being a landmark game; I predict that this thing is going to get much, much bigger still and that a whole new genre of games will start to come out. We're already seeing dozens of imitations out there - the basic idea of building things with blocks in a 3D environment goes back to games like Infiniminer, so Minecraft in itself isn't that original. It just knit the unique set of features and elements together in an original way that just gets the formula right!
Aaaaaw, you scrolled all the way down here just to see this?
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This is Penguin Pete's extraordinarily geeky blog about
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