Monday, October 29, 2007

OT: Gaming

Just felt like sharing some of my favorite games. Surprisingly, most of them are free or really cheap games. Perhaps it's down to my c64 and amiga upbringing but games based on ideas attract me more then games based on polish and bling.
Also, most of the games are physics based. This is only natural as small scale / single developer games can't compete on professionally drawn graphics, orchestrated music, star actor voice-overs... A single guy doesn't have the time to draw all the baddies, but he can program them! So here's a short list:

Tower of Goo

Originally an experimental game-play project game (see below) but one that might have spun a new company for the author. The game is based upon a simple idea of having to build a tower using amorphous substance called goo. All you need to do is pick up a goo blob and stretch it to form a truss. Besides building a solid structure the player is rushed by remaining goo blobs which have a tendency to concentrate on the most precarious, the highest peek of the built structure. This shifting mass makes your buildings somewhat unstable and reaching the target height proves quite challenging.

Crayon physics

Another EGP favorite. The basic idea of this game is that your drawings become physical objects in the game. You draw a box and a box of the same size appears in the game, drops down to a see-saw and flings a ball across the screen. The object of each level is to touch a star with your ball.


I bought this game a while ago but newer versions seem to be free. Also the rendering engine got upgraded a lot! The basic premise of this game is physics based fighting. You control a 3d fighter through issuing basic commands (relax, stretch, hold, grip...) to his joints. After making your moves the simulation continues a certain amount of frames whereupon you're given a choice to again issue new commands. In multi-player mode you have a limited time to issue your commands before the simulation continues. This results in an amazing combat game with no prefixed moves or combos but simply amazingly realistic action. The game is heavily modded and supports a wide array of game rules (most damage wins or player that touches the ground first looses etc.).

Zen bondage

In this game your task is to wrap a wooden object with a thread. Your task is to cover almost 100% of the object so any concave areas must be navigated with care.


An extraordinarily clever game following a unique game design philosophy. You control a small creature that gains size and speed by eating other creatures in the game. You're given free choice of progressing through the game levels (depth) in sequence or skipping through to the final level at once.

Bridge construction set

My all time favorite (although not free!) game. The history of this game started out with BridgeBuilder which was a 2d bridge building game. Next came Pontifex which moved the game in 3d environment and added different bridge building material. The last of the series called BridgeIt upgraded the graphics engine but for me BCS is still the best in the lot. Your task in this game is to use the available material (iron, steel trusses or cables) and build a bridge capable of passing a test (like having a train pass over it). It's one of those games where creativity rules. BBG still hosts contest where the most efficient bridge (read cheapest) which completes a level wins. Some of the entries just blow you away. Also somewhere along the line we started making walking / moving structures :). This was not something the creators of the game ever envisioned but clearly shows the power of building games as a platform for expression a not a collection of pretty pictures.

If you like games like these, then head over to Fun Motion, Experimental game-play project or Introversion Software. Those should keep you busy for months!

Thursday, October 25, 2007

The Gnome Achievement

Anyone even remotely connected to gaming computers has surely heard about Half-life 2. While most will agree the game is a brilliant example of what games can be – I for one believe it is much more then that. Half-life 2* is a metaphor for life.
Episode one begins with you waking up buried under a pile of rubble (womb). The character dog (your dad) helps you out (birth) at which point you are reunited with Alyx (your mom). You hit the ground running fending of Combine (bad influences), following Vortigaunts (good influences). Most of the game revolves around trying to escape the Citadel (college) and avoiding antlions and zombies (drugs and other dangers of college-life). Your choices are limited and usually directed by Alyx.
In episode two you have graduated to adulthood. You’re given more choice and control of movement. And finally, although cleverly hidden, you’re given a choice of ensuring progeny.
Of course I’m referring to the now infamous gnome achievement award. The gnome, you get a choice of bringing along through the game, is your child. In this wonderful parable that is episode two, you will be given the task of taking care of it, making sure it gets through to the next level and finally placing him carefully into the rocket thereby ensuring its prosperous future.

*1/2 life * 2 = life

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

About keeping score

One thing we parents do obsess about is constantly testing our offspring to see how they measure up to other kids within the same age group. This “friendly” competition used to be quite contained to relatively small groups of friends and families. You could always rely on some smug relative commenting on the fact that his project reached a milestone a full week ahead of yours. “These things matter you know,” he’ll say. “She’s only two but by this time next year, we’ll be enrolling her to collage! She’s a genious like that kid on YourTubes!” (Yes, both misspellings were intentional)
While I’ve yet to meet a 5yo who can’t walk or talk (barring illness or birth defect!), it somehow seems crucial our kids start doing those things way ahead of schedule. I wonder why we’re less enthusiastic when our kids start dating at 15…
So the next time you get cornered like that, put on your best casual face and calmly retort with: “How wonderful! Ours just had his first beer.” and walk away.
Beats the hell out of “saved the rainforest”, “cured cancer” or “finished a new C++ compiler written entirely in javascript”.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Mom vs. Dad

Sometimes life gets overwhelming and bloging falls of the daily routine. I know I have lots of catching up to do (there are a couple of posts that are missing parts) but this one takes priority.
Mom had to leave on a business trip today. As always, packing was done two weeks in advance. Mom is a waterfall model proponent. Me? I’m agile of course. I pack on (JIT) my way to the door. Luckily the bathroom is right next to the front door so I rarely forget my toothbrush.
Anyways, mom took a week planning the trip, mentally packing the suitcase, integrating various articles of clothes and testing for stylistic mismatch. With no automated regression testing (this is the specification phase of the project!) the only recourse is to mentally construct the model of a finished outfit and check for faux pas. This was followed by a week of separating, washing and rewashing of selected garments and actual packing. My agile approach would consist of grabbing any clean (not necessarily recently washed!) clothes spread out from the bedroom to the bathroom.
Special items such as gloves, umbrellas, second and third pair of shoes and other just-in-case objects would be purchased on a need-to-have basis at the airport at my place of destination. I probably need to buy them anyway so I might as well save myself an unnecessary trip to the shoe store. Not to mention the fact that thinking of things you'll bring along, talking them over with your spouse, then writing them down and finally putting them in your suitcase clearly violates the DRY principle!
With packing phase concluded it was time to find a lock for the suitcase. Security is the most overlooked part of any project. This is what mom’s idea of a suitcase padlock looks like:

A puny, tiny padlock hardly worthy of it’s name and clearly no match for the security device I selected:

Behold the Targus Defcon 1 – Ultra. All in one solution complete with 4 digit security code, status indicator and motion detection alarm. The first image shows the two in comparison. I know – as if there was any...