Sunday, June 7, 2015

Announcing Conjure 4.6!

Almost a year after the previous 'big' release of Conjure, I'm happy to announce that version 4.6 is ready.

This version brings back movies and audio memos, fixes a ton of bugs, works even better on Retina displays, and has full Yosemite (and beyond) support.

Go grab the latest, at!

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Destiny Beta Day 1

I had a chance to play the Destiny beta, and I think they're off to a decent start. I can't call it a game changer, but they have everything in place for that. Overall, I thought it was pretty good. Not great. Pretty good. I'm dividing my review into good and bad, and I'm curious what you think.

The Bad:
It's more like Defiance, which is SyFy's "game what is also a tv show" than Halo. In fact, it's a LOT like Defiance. And I'm not a huge fan of Defiance. The repetition in it, combined with the same enemies that do the same things, just gets old after awhile. It really doesn't seem like the plot is moving forward at all. Destiny is a little better at this, and right now it feels like the plot is at least kinda advancing.

It has a storyline that runs throughout the game, but if you're not careful, it's easy to accidentally go back and replay parts of the game. Why? Because it doesn't give you a clear indication that you already played that part of game. If it's there, it isn't completely clear. It would be nice to get a little note that says, "completed" or something, so I know I can move on if I want.

Instead of a linear plot, the plot is laid out on a giant map screen. But you usually take trips back to "The Tower" to buy new guns, talk to people, check messages, and generally screw around. So you will revisit the map screen often.

It usually works like this: shoot some stuff, have fun, collect magic beans and garbage, then go back to the tower to trade your beans for new stuff.

Note: This plot device is in most game stories, and it pisses me off. You're Earth's last great hope, called a Guardian. And all the darkness is coming, etc., but you still have to go buy your damned gun, and the gun dealers won't just give you their biggest, baddest gun, even if you have the money. They'll only give you the gun your "experience level" grants you. It seems like to me that a better approach would be to give your best guns to your "last hope soldier", so they have a better chance of staying hopeful. Maybe have a training area if needed. But I guarantee I can work a shotgun. Gimme mah shotgun. Oh, I can't work a shotgun, but I can have this shitty pistol. Fantastic. But I suppose that's how wars go.

Anyway, you have to go to the tower a lot. If you can remember where you just were before you went to the tower, it will help you play the game's plot. Otherwise, you'll replay parts of the game. And it reuses level terrains a lot, so it'll take you awhile to figure out you're in the same point you were in earlier. That gets frustrating. Oh, I'm salvaging for a warp drive again? So I can ... wait a minute, I already salvaged my warp drive. Dammit I'm Groundhog Troopin'!

As with all modern games, you have a shield, which magically restores itself. This was actually something unique in Halo, when Bungie first thrust it on us, which allowed players to progress through the game easier than finding "stem packs" or whatever to magically heal you. Now it's just expected.

And as usual, you can't shoot out all windows, even with a shotgun or rifle. Throwing an incendiary grenade on a tree won't set it on fire. You also can't open closed doors, though you can jump twice the height of a small building, and kill giant monsters with your steak knife. Maybe if I could kick, I could open more doors. I wonder if I can buy the ability to kick open doors in the Tower, when I'm level 30.

And like newer Halo games, if you stray too far off course, it will tell you to go back in 10 seconds or you die. That's an interesting approach. In Halo, they just made it difficult to get "out of the map", by adding tall buildings or walls or natural structures that kept you inside a sandbox. People figured out crafty ways of getting out anyway (like stacking grenades under the Warthog, and driving their way through the sky), so you could explore all over the place. This non-explorable world kinda ticks me off. You can go do anything you want, except look behind that shed, or you will fucking die.

Defiance gets around this by putting everything on an island. Sure, you can swim, but not for long, or you die. Or hit a magic wall. In Destiny, you get a warning if you wander too far away, then you die.

Like Defiance, you can fall from an absurdly high altitude and not die. Why? Because dying because you fell off a cliff is annoying. But if you fall off the *wrong* cliff, you will totally die, because they don't want you going over there.

Like Defiance, you can summon a vehicle (hover bike), which will magically appear in front of you, so you can get to the next plot point quickly.

Like Defiance, it's a ground game. No flying. No banshees, no hornets. Maybe that will change later.

Like Defiance, your storyline isn't the storyline other players on the same level will see, so you'll be standing next to a busted space ship looting it, while some other guy is wandering around looking for magic beans. To you, it just looks like he's wandering around looking at the ground. To him, it looks like you're missing all the best beans, while you stand there looking at that busted space ship.

Like Defiance, as far as I can tell, there are no multiplayer vehicles. So right now it's a bunch of guys on foot. Clearly they have the ability to magic up a hoverbike to get around, but the idea of using a tank in combat against an enemy tank hasn't occurred to anyone.

The good:
The bad guys have a more realistic AI than in most games. In Defiance, for example, the bad guys know you're sneaking behind that wall of busted cars. I have no idea how. But if you shoot from one location and sneak to the other location, they're waiting for you. Here, if you shoot at them from point A, and sneak around to point B, you'll notice that they're still fixated on point A, so you have the advantage. This makes it almost feel like you're "hunting", which is much more fun than randomly shooting at an omniscient AI, hoping for a lucky shot.

Friends, and I mean other people playing Destiny who are on your side, are all over the place in the game. So it's like a constantly coop game. That makes it pretty enjoyable. The enemy will sometimes drop in reinforcements, but that's no match for a small army of Guardians.

Occasionally, it will drop in a 'big boss' enemy. The sky gets dark, and everyone in the area is swept into playing a giant coop mission. That's a lot of fun, and they did that well. My only gripe is that (again, like Defiance) the baddies appear to just have a lot of hit points, so you just keep whacking at them with your rocks and knives and guns until they die. Like a giant, sometimes lethal, piƱata.

So yeah, it feels a lot like Defiance. Not that that's a bad thing, but it's not the game changer I was hoping for.

I was hoping for a more open world. Something that felt gigantic. Multiplayer vehicles, so you could have that "here comes the cavalry" moment, or even *be* the cavalry. I was hoping for multiple non-linear stories, all over the place. Instead, you can collect some metal plants, which I assume will be good for something later, and do whatever you're supposed to be doing at the time.

So we'll see. It was definitely good, and they nailed the pacing. I *wanted* to keep playing. I can see the repetition, but this is only the beta, and I know they're watching. Always watching. I have high hopes for this one.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Poker = Calculator?

What the hell, Apple?

Apple's App Store search engine, Chomp, is easily more of a catastrophe than their Maps debacle. At least with Maps, you'd end up in the right city. With the app store, you look for a needle, it gives you a horse butt. On fire.

Seriously, this is the *FIRST RESULT* when you search for POKER games...

Thanks, Apple, for screwing over your developers.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

AppleDisplayScaleFactor and Lion

(I did this digging around on Darren Abate's behalf, because I didn't know Apple had left this little feature in there until he told me it was gone!)

Apple used to have this cool feature secretly stashed in the Quartz Debug developer tool that let you shrink the screen down. And then any large screen app could easily be run even on a tiny screen. Why? Because that's what Apple was trying to promote at the time--test your apps with icons and art for different resolution screens. High density displays were coming, Apple told us (in 2006). Be ready, they said.

1024x1024 icons. Use PDFs for icons, not PNGs, etc. Cool stuff!

But for those of us with laptops, the Quartz Debug tool that let you change the display resolution also let you scale the resolution *down*, so you could see more on your tiny laptop screen. The ability to actually see what our larger-screened Mac usin' brethren were seeing was a godsend!

Unfortunately, Apple removed this capability way back in Leopard, I think, from Quartz Debug. It only scaled up from that version on.

What I didn't know until today was that they left this feature exposed through the 'defaults' system.

So if you still have Snow Leopard, you can open your Terminal and type this...

defaults write NSGlobalDomain AppleDisplayScaleFactor 0.8

... and any apps you open from that point forward will display smaller. The menu will be smaller, the UI smaller, everything. It's really cool. Here's Safari at 80% resolution. See the tiny window controls? Compare that to the controls of the Terminal window, which I typed the command in before launching Safari. And yes, that's Conjure running in the background.

80% res == 120% Kewl.

Unfortunately again, in Lion, they removed that as well--those High Density screens must be right around the corner. So there's no currently known way to scale the screens down.

The good news is that the capability to scale *up* is still in Quartz Debug. Apple even refers to it in their developer docs...

SO... if it's there at all, I'm pretty sure it still works both ways, they just didn't want to make it simple. The big question is, how do we access it, and can it somehow still scale down?

Macbook users like me want to know!


Monday, August 29, 2011

9/11 Memorial and the First Responder Conspiracy

There's a nasty rumor going around that the first responders won't be part of the  9/11 10th anniversary memorial.

And it's true. But it's really not a big deal.

Here's why.

First, the memorial ceremony is for the families of those who died on 9/11. Not those who survived, and not those who helped. The simple reason is space.

The entire 9/11 memorial area is roughly 8 acres.
Of that 8 acres, about 4 acres does not include a structure, hole, or monument of some sort.
Of that 4 acres, about 1 square acre is taken up by memorial trees and their bases.

So there are about 3 usable acres of space on the 9/11 memorial grounds. 

One acre is 4840 square yards.

Three acres is 14,520 square yards.

A single person takes up one square yard when standing, including room to shuffle nervously, which is what people do when they're packed in like that.

1,609 people lost a spouse or partner.
3,051 children lost a parent.

So only 4,660 people would be there for the memorial, right?


But of those who died, let's say there's one parent of each who would want to be there as well. 

That's 2,819 more people, for a total of 7,479. 


Keep in mind this is for just these people to be there. We're already over half capacity, and standing room only. 

7,479 invites
7,041 spectators

That's where we are before we include the first responders. 

In the 17 minutes before the second plane hit, over 1,000 NYC first responders were called to duty. If each of those brought one person, we're looking at roughly 2000 more people. So now we're at... 

9,479 invites
5,041 spectators

I don't know how many were there in the hour or two after the second plane. But the number of registered first responders who showed up from out of town in the first 24 hours of 9/11 exceeded 3,000.

If each of those brought a person, well, we wouldn't have room for them. 

15,479 invites
-959 spectators

Okay, back up. Let's get rid of those 'late' first responders. Just with the 'first' first responders, we'd have room for about 5 thousand people there who weren't part of the ceremony. 

Again though, standing room only. Surely, that's enough though, right? If we exclude first responders who showed up after the second plane, we can do this...

9,479 invites
5,041 spectators

In the first day the memorial tickets were for sale online, over 24,000 people tried to buy them. 

We could easily fit everyone there, if we stack them on top of each other, like a giant Jenga puzzle. 

Otherwise, maybe we should have more than one ceremony. And as I understand it, that's the plan. 

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

CryEngine vs. Unity3D

As hinted over a year ago,  of today, CryEngine is now free for non-commercial use. That's fantastic! CryEngine is used in at least 30 commercial games, and most of them look gorgeous. Here are a things to consider if you're looking at this new engine.

Even orphans look happy!

Awesome engine with a proven track record and a name that will get gamers interested in your title. Even the CryEngine demos are beautiful, so if you say your title is based on it, you'll get some bonus play with the gamer community, even before your game ships.

The CryEngine mod community is very active, and this translates into having a solid development platform. Its designers already knew the kinds of things people wanted to build with it. So if hearing that the engine is free excites you, you're the type of person they built this free kit for.

There are a few 'gotchas', of course.UDK and Unity3D are already free for non-commercial use. But unlike the other guys, the CryEngine team hasn't disclosed how much the commercial license will cost.

Also, like UDK, the free CryEngine environment is PC only at this time.
Unity3D can (with a single click) deploy to iPhone, iPod, iPad, Android, Wii, Mac, PC, and Web, and they provide help getting it onto the XBox and PS3 (I have no personal experience with this, so I can't say how extensive that help is).

And UDK can deploy to portable platforms as well...

I assume that if you pony up the dough, the CryEngine guys will let you deploy to other platforms as well. Time will tell. And frankly, if their development environment remains PC only, and their target platforms are only PC, XBox 360 and PS3, that will still be enough for most people.

That said, the Unity3D game engine isn't some doltish slacker. And keep in mind that their engine already runs on iPhones, computers, web browsers, and console game platforms...

How will it affect me personally? Well, let's look at the kinds of stuff I get to work on.

Shot Simulator

It would be fantastic for the Shot Simulator, but since it doesn't deploy to the iPhone, iPad, or Android, that would be a problem. Maybe in the future?


I'm honestly not sure if it would be a good match for the VTI Games like +Poker, since all of them are card games. Despite that they use real physics, objects, and rely on Unity's rendering engine, I've never seen a CryEngine based casino game. But who knows.

Project Griffon

It would be *ideal* for Project Griffon (which will be re-released in a few weeks). Griffon is a third-person mech combat / shooter. The lighting and visual effects of CryEngine will be fantastic. But I do all of my development on Macs, so I'd have to use CryEngine's kit by running Windows 7 on my Mac. That's a tall order. So far, UDK doesn't exist on the Mac, which was a show stopper for me. So I'll have to think about it.

I'll be looking into the CryEngine in more detail in the near future. Until then, I can say it honestly looks impressive. And it will be really nice to have them officially in the arena. But Unity's going to be extremely hard for them to compete with. With so many great resources, it's a great time to be a game developer. 

Friday, July 8, 2011

How To Rescue Dead Laptop Data With An External Drive

This falls in the general use category, I think. Over the last few weeks (months?) my MacBook Pro has been falling apart. And then a few days ago, it died. Smoke poured out and everything. I suspected that the hard drive was okay though. So I took it out, and removed the side mounting torx screws. But that does me no good without a way to retrieve the data. So I dressed up, went to Walmart, and found an older model Seagate GoFlex in the giant discount electronics bin next to the discount meats.

After only a few minutes of tinkering, I'd fully rescued all of the data from my old drive. Here's what I did, and you can, too!

First, get out some tools. 
You really only need a pocket knife, but the Leatherman Crunch looks so cool. And I put a screwdriver in there because using a screwdriver instead of a pocket knife will lead to not stripping as many screws. 

Use the pocketknife to gently part the lid from the plastic. It's held in by glue, and all you need to do is wiggle it a bit on each edge to get it apart. 

Or, if you're like me, pry that sucker open like it was filled with Raspberry Jelly!

Alright, see that cable that you just accidentally unplugged? (Unplug it if you didn't) 

Remember that. you'll plug it back in later. That takes power from the USB connection and lights up that emblem on the front of the case.

Now use your pocket knife to pry the rear side out. 
It's not hard. It's held in by friction on those little rubber nubs on the side of the drive. If you flip it upside down and shake it, it will fall out. Note that shaking anything computer related is not really advisable. Just pry it out, slacker. 

Remove the black nubs from the screws. They just fall off, usually. They'll roll under stuff and hide if you're not careful. You'll want them later, when you put all this back in the shell. So put them somewhere so you'll be able to put them back on, in a few minutes. 
Then use a screwdriver to remove the screws holding the drive in the metal shell.

Now remove the metal tape from the sides of the drive, then remove the drive from the shell. 
It just slides up and out, with the connector port poking through the shell.  

And as a final step, remove the connector from the front of the built-in drive. 

Now plug that connector that onto the old drive from your laptop, and follow these steps in reverse, to put your old drive in the portable drive's case. 

When you're done, you'll have your old files safely stored in a portable external drive case!