My Ugly Games #1: Ugly Orbs

August 9, 2009


FROM JASON’S COMPETITIVE NATURE — It’s not that I hate Andrew, or want to crush him with my gauntlet of justice, or desire to tread over the dusty remains of his bones.

It’s just that when I saw his most recent post — the first in seven months — about his Lovely Games experiments with Lua and Love2D, all that nostalgia about using ClickTeam’s software came rushing back.

Here’s Ugly Orbs, the sworn arch-enemy of Lovely Squares. Maybe more will come. Who knows? I have some old games sitting around that have been complete or half-complete for four or five years. Boy, those were fun.

See, while Andrew’s been learning fancy-schmansy methods of “programming” and “coding” and “scripting,” I laid out some big bucks a few years back for The Games Factory and later MultiMedia Fusion. These object-oriented engines are very good at helping you slap together working applications using a WYSIWYG interface, an intuitive event editor to tell your game pieces how to act, and a graphics editor that’s fairly full-featured (I still use Photoshop for most sprite editing, though).

So the game that Andrew spent 10 hours on last week took me about four with the help of the right software. And I’m a retard, barely able to navigate Linux, write HTML, or edit a config.sys file. So if I can emulate his skills, you know ClickTeam’s stuff is powerful magic.

By the way, most of the sprites I used came from a Sinistar clone. They were released into the public domain by the author over at Lost Garden. It’s very possible that (if I can rouse the energy and willpower) I might do a shooter using the same graphics.


Galactic Arms Race has its gimmick… but it needs more to keep me coming back

July 14, 2009

FROM JASON’S LASER BEAMS — Look, this is a pretty old story and you know it by heart. It’s all about the grind. You kill things and you get credit for it, until you get enough credit that you can achieve a higher level.

That’s the way of World of Warcraft, of Dungeons and Dragons, of Final Fantasy. It’s how repetitive games progress. Everything else is embroidery.

That embroidery is what sets one grind apart from the rest… just not by much.

In the case of Galactic Arms Race, the freeware space shooter, the gimmick is the AI that constantly mutates new weapons based on an algorithm called cgNEAT.

To reduce it to Atari-speak, GAR is basically a fusion of Asteroids and Solaris with PvP and RPG mechanics thrown into the mix. You fly (solo or multiplayer) through a network of star systems taking on aliens, pirates, and space blobs while gaining experience and pumping up various armor and weapons stats. It’s got all the laser-filled shmup-ability of Japanese shooters with the same “just one more level” carrot offered by WoW.

GAR‘s the kind of DLC you would have killed to find back in 1995 — quick, resource-friendly, set against beautifully rendered space dust, and with constantly evolving (to a point) content. But when boiled down to its fundamentals, GAR is more a toy than a game.

What I mean is that no matter how many different ways the game finds to fire weapons (which so far are all variations on a very narrow theme), the shoot-and-level game idea has pretty much reached a dead end. For three decades, shoot-em-ups have been repackaging of the old tenets of Galaga.

What could move GAR further away from the realm of Galaxian et al would be a hybridization of mechanics. It would benefit tremendously, for instance, by incorporating trade or cargo-hauling, wreckage salvaging, mining, or some other similar components. The relative monotony could also be lifted by introducing personalities or (who knows) political interaction with the various enemy factions, or possibly a combination that could allow a control-the-map strategic element similar to RISK.

For now, that doesn’t seem to be part of the plan, and that’s okay if you want a few hours of mindless blow-shit-up-and-get-more-powerful fun. But that old chestnut gives dimishing returns on replay… especially when you’ve hit level 62 and start to get sleepy.

Don’t get me wrong. I like GAR, or I wouldn’t have put about six hours into it over the past few days. That’s why it’s worth talking about. It really is a terrific effort, especially for a university group project. I just need a little more meat, that’s all.

BumpTop and Real Desktop are a start, but a true 3D interface would be more than just a skin

April 13, 2009

FROM JASON’S 3DESKTOP — The word “beta” in my Gmail inbox made my eyebrows take a happy-go-lucky jump, but once installed I found the BumpTop beta was just a piece of elaborately done-up nagware.

The eyebrows came back down and settled in a scowl.

There is a Prime Directive for my computers: There shalt be no shareware. Everything must be freeware, open source, or purchased. No adware, trials, or postcardware. No promotions. No commercials.

I took perhaps three minutes to sate my curiosity about BumpTop, then scoured it from my PC.

I love the idea of a 3D desktop, a virtual space using a physics engine to toss around files, pile them up, to basically treat your computer like a living space. It would make your desktop as comfortable as your bedroom.

But the options right now are limited, and severely flawed.

BumpTop isn’t the only name in the game, though it was the one to get early branding for its product last year. Real Desktop is a robust competitor, offering a crippleware version that has its own issues though it’s stable and completely free.

Real Desktop’s light version (I refuse to spell it “lite”) is decent but extremely limited. It doesn’t mask out RocketDock like BumpTop does, which is a plus, but both suites have their problems: The camera angles can be quite awkward. Dragging into a folder can be quite a pain. Both are susceptible to the “Show Desktop” widget.

BumpTop’s a bit laggy, even through my NVIDIA 9800 GT. Real Desktop doesn’t let you place anything on the walls, and doesn’t come with any neat-o widgets like Bump does, which means you are effectively wasting at least a third of your desktop at any given time.

And both affect only your desktop — no other folders at all.

The ideal Explorer replacement would convert my entire hard drive into a virtual world straight out of Hackers, allowing me to navigate the entire file structure in a true space environment. Let’s be honest here — the conventional Explorer interface is 20 years old now, and hasn’t changed all that much since the ol’ DOSHELL days.

MicroSoft’s file manager is functional, but not fun, and it’s organized but not necessarily intuitive. It needs an update. I’m just waiting for the right program… or maybe the right OS… to be ushered in. Imagine what kind of functionality we could eke out of a multidimensional interface instead of a flat one.

YesterGames #4: Battle Chess

March 8, 2008

FROM JASON’S STONE AGE YOUTH — Gather ’round, children, and hearken unto a tale of the deepest, darkest days of computer lore.

The year was 1988, and the world was young. The low-browed ancestors of modern Man were just learning how to use rude tools, like the AT386 processor. No longer did humankind struggle with crude 4-bit gaming — a new era had arrived and 8 bits were preparing us for the next evolutionary leap.

And then Richard Strauss’ Also Sprach Zarathustra suddenly started booming from every corner of the Earth. From the remotest corners of a 3.5-inch floppy disk came Battle Chess.

Look — back in the day, there were very few games worth your time. There was no WoW. There was no Unreal Tournament. There was no Knights of the Old Republic or Mass Effect. We were happy with Sopwith, 3Demon, and Paganitzu.

So when Battle Chess rolled onto the scene, it looked amazing. The gimmick: Full-fledged battle animations between every piece on the board. Knights bashed pawns with swords; rooks transformed into golems and swallowed adversaries whole; queens seduced kings and then betrayed them; and kings clubbed their victims to death with their scepters.

Bishops fought with holy pikes; knights lopped off each others’ arms a la Monty Python and the Holy Grail; if pushed the wrong way, a pawn could open up a bottomless pit; and sometimes — in a finishing move — a queen could be reduced to dragon form to be slain.

It was a surprisingly violent and clever game.

The chess wars were little more than flashy sprites, but in 1988 they were amazing feats of color and sound — especially when the game was updated from its DOS incarnation to run in that primitive claptrap known as Windows 3.1 — in no fewer than 16 amazing colors.

It’s been a long time since I’ve played chess on a computer. The whole concept is horribly outmoded when I have so many high-intensity, 3D-rendered, gigabyte-of-RAM-hogging masterpieces of interactive fiction to play (Half-Life 2).

But when I sat down to download Battle Chess for this post Thursday, I found myself sucked into two solid hours of nostalgia. The incredibly non-threatening AI didn’t hurt too much, either, and proved to be just the boost my self-esteem needed as I soundly thrashed the computer several times in a row.

I’m begging you — especially if you’re under the age of 20 — to please download the game, which has for quite some time been freeware. Give it a spin. If nothing else, just play until you’ve seen all the animations from both sides of the board. You can live a piece of gaming history.

The game was also released on several other platforms, including the Nintendo Entertainment System. That means you can play online at Virtual NES, too.

TIP: It’s in the readme, but the copy protection on the game has been (somewhat) disabled. To play, just hit Enter through the three dialog boxes that pop up when the game launches.

Xantris is free space-shooter-meets-Tetris clone

January 23, 2008

xantris.pngFROM THE DEPTHS OF JASON’S C: DRIVE — From time to time I’ll putter with some very simple game-building mechanics, just to vent my creativity.

Mind you, I’ve been tinkering with computers since the early days of the 286, long before there was such a thing as Windows. I’ve learned that I don’t know squat. I know just enough to know that I know nothing.

So I’ll admit right up front I don’t know anything about coding. But I’ve toyed with WYSIWYG game editors — quite a few of them — and have pieced together a few little coffee break games.

Some number of years ago I was messing with The Games Factory and decided to make a hybrid space shooter and Tetris clone. I slapped it together in about a week. My problem, though, is that once I figure out the basics of how to do something, I don’t feel much compelled to sit and flush it out. So what I somewhat ostentatiously dubbed Xantris is pretty rudimentary.

The goal is to shoot the falling blocks before they hit the bottom of the screen, where they will solidify and build up and gradually cut off your ability to maneuver. I never did figure out how to randomly generate the blocks, so the game is pretty deterministic. Oh well.

There are asteroids, too, which will destroy the blocks when they collide. You can shoot them for points, or blast the larger ones into smaller groups to do more damage. Later levels have some incredibly simple enemy ships flying about, too.

Take it for a spin if you have 10 minutes to kill. It’s only 1.17 mb.

The Battle for Wesnoth: Freeware at its best

December 23, 2007

NAVIGATING THROUGH THE TRENCHES OF ANDREWS DEEPEST THOUGHTS — Rarely do you find a freeware game with as much polish and detail as the turn-based strategy The Battle for Wesnoth. Published under the GNU General Public License, Wesnoth is available for Windows, Mac, and tons of Linux distributions.

Boasting a strong 200+ unit count, 16 races, and 6 factions, Wesnoth provides a deep and rewarding experience.

A fantasy based strategy game, it has players recruit armies from a myriad of races, the usual Tolkien influenced bunch, to battle for control of a hex based map. Within the default era, the available factions are Undead, Rebels (Elves), Loyalists (Humans), Knalgan Alliance (Dwarves), Northerners (Orcs and Goblins), and finally Drakes (Dragons).

Each race as a bunch of units, each with it’s own specialty and traits. Additionally, each unit can gain experience which will allow you to level up your base units into more distinct and powerful units as they fight and survive battles. You must learn their units and utilize their strengths against their enemies weaknesses if you ever hope to be successful.


Battle between armies

Several players battle for control of a critical village(Click for full image)


The basic aim of the game is to protect your commander while you navigate the hex grid map, seizing control of villages that not only provide you with gold, but a stronghold to defend key points on the map. Featuring a vast collection of land types, all with heir own movement modifiers that limit a unit’s ability to travel distances, the playable maps always provide an interesting change in tactics and you move to position your units to the best vantage points.

It also boasts a robust and complex battle system, which is balanced precisely while maintaining very asymmetric factions. However, it may take players a while to grasp the full complexity of the system.

Wesnoth provides players with both single and multiplayer modes. Not only does the game come with six excellent default campaigns, but players can easily download hundreds more from the official add-on server, easily accessible from the main menu. User-created content is one of the most compelling reasons to play this game. Not only can you download more campaigns, but you have access to new eras (which provide more races and units), tons of multiplayer maps, and even total conversion mods. Wesnoth was built from the ground up to be modular, user friendly, and encouraging to the community to help contribute. In fact, the developers welcome new additions to the game and usually include high quality content in future releases.

Finally, the game looks beautiful and can be run on almost any machine, old and new alike. The sprites and animations are detailed. Taking a look at the screen shot archives on the website, you can see how the game as progressed visually over the years, and thankfully for the better.


  • Tons of units and factions.
  • High-quality user-created content.
  • Complex, balanced battle system.
  • CONS:

  • Steep learning curve.
  • Games may take a LONG time to finish.

  • It’s free, just download and try it already.

  • Your name is Jason and you suck at it.