Month: July 2013

Fixing a Laptop

So, my Asus 1215n netbook stopped working. This is currently my children’s computer so this was a crisis because now they would be bugging me to play on my computer, which is Out Of The Question.

I put Windows 7 on a USB stick so I could do a fresh install; unfortunately the problem was that the hard drive had finally given up the ghost. Fortunately I had a replacement. Unfortunately, this is the procedure for changing the hard drive on this model:

You have to rip it all the way down to the motherboard to get at the hard drive. Fortunately, care and strict tracking of which screws went where made it doable.

The internals of the laptop were…frankly, it was the most disgusting computer interior I’d ever seen. This is what I get for letting my kids use it. I used a ton of moist wipes and canned air to bring it back to an acceptable state and got the hard drive replaced.

And while I was in there I noticed that one of the memory chips wasn’t fully inserted.

Ever since I bought this computer I had assumed that it only had one gigabyte of RAM in it. That’s what it says on the specification page! But it doesn’t. It has two. Reseating the other memory chip made it work perfectly so now the laptop actually works better than it ever has before.

At least until my kids get their hands on it again.

Name That Game 95: Words, Words, Words

Literary influences in gaming are nothing new; a lot of game developers read something and allow it to heavily influence the game that they are currently making, without it being a licensed product.

For this list I’m limiting myself to games where the designers have explicitly said, “We were influenced by these books.” What I’m not limiting myself to are video games. That’s right, children, there are also games with physical components in this list! Can you overcome these obstacles and name them all?

1. The Black Company, by Glen Cook

2. Devil in the White City, by Erik Larson

3. The Wizard of Oz, by L. Frank Baum and The Lord of the Rings, by JRR Tolkien

4. The Eyes of the Overworld, by Jack Vance

5. The Kzinti Series, by Larry Niven, et al.

6. The Illuminatus Trilogy, by Robert Shea and Robert Anton Wilson

7. Alamut, by Vladimir Bartol

EDIT: Okay, these were obviously way, way, way too hard, so I’m going to post the answers here.

1. Myth: The Fallen Lords, by Bungie

2. Bioshock Infinite, by Irrational Games

3. These two books directly inspired Ultima IV: Quest of the Avatar, by Origin Systems

4. Gary Gygax listed this book as a direct inspiration for the revised wargaming rules that eventually became Dungeons & Dragons.

5. The Kzinti series directly inspired the Wing Commander series of games.

6. These books inspired the boardgame (and later card game) Illuminati, by Steve Jackson Games.

7. This book was listed as a direct inspiration for Assassin’s Creed.

Hopefully I’ll do better next week.

The Littlest Game Dev

For the last couple of months my eight-year-old, Jewel, has been asking me questions about how game development actually works. I told her about C++ and coding, and how everything that moves and interacts in the game is considered an object with its own little bit of code.

She also kept pulling down my books on game development and looking at them. I don’t know exactly how much she gets out of leafing through Game Programming Gems 6, but she likes to do it.

And then, over the long weekend, she asked if there was any way she could make a game with me.

Now, I was not going to pass this up, but I wasn’t really prepared for such a request. I’d heard about game making software, though, and thought I might be able to teach her something using one of them.

The most famous of these is, of course, GameMaker, so I downloaded it. I knew it was potentially powerful because Daniel Remar uses it for everything he does. The free version is very limited but I figured it would be enough for our purpose. I’d also heard you could do simple stuff without coding, which is good. I got it installed and running.

And then I made a game with my eight-year-old daughter.

We followed a simple tutorial to make a game called Catch the Clown, where you click on a fast-moving clown that bounces around the screen. She quickly picked up on the concept of creating resources in the resource tree, making game objects, and having multiple instances of the same game object. GameMaker uses an event/action system that is mostly graphical – you click on an event on the left side and then drag actions to associate them with the event on the right side. Most actions only have a few parameters, so they’re easy to understand. Since I was learning along with her, it went a bit slowly, but she was mighty tickled at the result – and she had done a significant bit of the work herself. She was a little disappointed that she couldn’t put the resulting game online (the free version doesn’t support that) but after I left to go do something else she fired it back up and started making changes on her own.

One of which was to go into my shared music folder and select Gangnam Style as the new background music for the game.

She also started pulling in resources from my games Inaria and Planitia and decided that instead of catching the clown by clicking on it, she wanted to move another character around on the game screen using the WASD cluster. I quickly figured out the “key down/key up” events and showed her how to do it for one key and she had the rest of the keys fixed and up and running in no time.

Now, I don’t know how far she’s going to take this. As much as I’d like her to follow in my footsteps, if she doesn’t it’s okay. Because I’ll always have the weekend where my daughter and I made a game together.

And if she does stick with it, in just a few years she’ll be ready for Unity.

Yet Another Hero

Dan Marshall, founder / CEO / only full-time employee of Size Five Games, has stunned everybody by releasing Gun Monkeys, which has guns and monkeys and is online and lets you shoot other players.

Anyone who is familiar with Dan’s previous game Gibbage will see lots of similarities.

It’s currently on Steam for a measly $9.

Yay for getting stuff done!