Thursday, July 30, 2009

The Other OS

Ya know what really bothers me? The fact that the mainstream game publishers aren't taking Linux seriously. True, its not really a market share powerhouse, but I think if games started shifting to it, it would become one. In all honesty, aside from the lack of game support, I feel that Linux is the best OS out there. With only a hand full of free programs you can achieve 100% of all your needed functions that are not game related.

VLC player - plays just about any media file you throw at it.

Firefox - works just as nicely on Linux as it does on your Windows box.

Thunderbird - sister program to Firefox is a robust email organizer like Outlook - is basically a free version of Microsoft Office (which isn't preloaded on most PCs anyway) and will even use Microsoft Office files.

Gimp - is Photoshop, but free (and again isn't something that is preloaded with Windows PCs)

Gaim - is a multi-messenger that IMs with most instant messenger programs

These few programs really cover just about everything the average PC user really does with their PC. And not that many AVERAGE users use Photoshop but I figured I would throw that one out there anyway. And I only covered what normal people do. There are tons of apps for Linux which realy do just about anything you could want. On top of that, many distributions of Linux come with neat little upgrade consoles that list all the free plugins and applications that you can add with the click of a button, without having to scour the internet for them.

Perhaps the coolest feature of Linux is the portability. Many distros are lightweight, fast and able to be installed and booted from just about anything. I think I heard about a guy booting his PC with Linux from the onboard memory of his printer once!

My favorite distros are the Live CD versions. These guys boot right from the disk into RAM meaning you don't have to install it at all, nor do you even need a hard drive. Once my HDD but lost none of computers functionality because I had a Live CD disro laying around. I popped it in right after the HDD failed and was right back on the net surfing along as if nothing had happened. Using a Live CD, you can test out Linux without messing up your existing OS.

My favorite one right now is Linux Mint 7. Burn a copy and Try it out!

Monday, July 27, 2009

The Revolution is NOW! Join Revolution 2D

Have you ever wanted to make your own game? I know I sure have. But my problem is always the same, I have plenty of ideas and I'm not too shabby at writing out story / dialog, but I don't know how to program or have the art / rendering skill to make the graphics. I have the creative side covered, I have vision, but I have no technical or artistic talent. I know countless gamers in the same boat. We've all had an amazing idea for a game that we wished could get made but never will. What if that could change?

Imagine with me for a moment. Imagine that you had a tool that let you make games. A point and click, drag and drop editor that let you construct tile-based retro style games on the fly. An all encompassing tool that had features for tile / sprite editing, animation editing, 8 / 16 bit music composition, level editing, AI and physics editing. A tool that let you choose your game style and then held your hand through the rest. Now imagine if it was all free!

I know, its all starting to sound too good to be true. And thats because it is. No such free game creation utility exists to my knowledge.

I began to have this vision of glory long ago on one of my internet odysseys in search of a good free game engine. I have found countless open-source tools that give you one function or the other, but nothing really easy and useful. But on this particular day I found something special. Click HERE to see what I found. Essentially, its a tutorial on how to build a tile-based game using Flash. It gives you the basics and lets you run from there. Unfortunately, Flash is yet another one of those fields in which I have little experience. I used to be a rather good HTML coder back in my day, but that was the 90's when Windows 98 was the new killer OS everybody was talking about and Flash was a brand new thing called Shockwave. Yeah, I was a mean coder with my Microsoft Notepad and Internet Explorer 3, but Flash is just a little bit younger than I am.

But it got me thinking. What if you could build a Flash game that MADE other Flash games? What if you could build a suite of Flash based tools that worked together as a full 2D game building utility?

A pixel by pixel tile / sprite editor

A sprite animation assembler

A tile-based point and click level editor

A collection of game engines for different types of games (platformer, rpg, action, fighter, shooter...)

A Mario Paint-esque music editor

And any other tools that I might have forgotten. You could modify the engine physics with simple sliders for things like gravity and have a tool that lets you assign actions to different keys on the keyboard / mouse.

If Flash cannot output another Flash file, as I'm sure it cannot, I thought it would be cool if instead it simply created the jpeg and mp3 files and then generated a text page of code for an outside compiler to use. It could be in C or Java. Again, I have no experience with this sort of thing, but I think the concept is sound. You could simply copy and paste the text into a plain text file and compile it. I did something like this years ago when I took C at collage and didn't like the editor the professor provided. I would write the code in notepad and then compile it with the C compiler. Since I know Flash can display text on the screen, this sort of system should be possible.

So please, if you think you can help develop something like this or know someone who could, spread the word and drop me a comment. I envision an active community of new game developers who are armed with nothing more then an idea. They could come and use the tools we could develop together freely, and share their games with the world. If anyone is out there and wants to be part of this, leave a comment below. If I get any feedback and a plan comes together, I will set up a dedicated page for the project.

I seriously want this to happen. If you can help, please do. The project could set up a free license that would allow people to distribute freely but pay royalties if they make money with there games. If it got finished, we could set up a publishing company for indie developers to copyright their games through once they are done. Heck, we could even look into a way to port the games made this way to other systems like Wii Ware or Apple App Store.

Help grow the game market that the big boys are leaving behind. The industry really needs a source of creative content that is fresh and I can see no down side to a free way to create games combined with venues like Wii Ware and Apple App Store to sell them without having to manufacture inventory and get your games on a physical store shelf. The market is ready and the outlet is there. All we need is the tools to make them.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Why the space age died

As our nation's space agency prepares to retire the last vehicle of what was to be golden age of space exploration, it faces a bleak future of budget cuts and lack of confidence from our country's leaders. There was a time when every launch into the black void beyond our atmosphere was watched with breathless anticipation by millions of viewers around the country. Yet, I can only recall having watched perhaps half a dozen launches myself. Why is that? It's because there is nothing interesting happening in space. We aren't landing on some alien world for the first time. We haven't even left our back yard! Sure we've tossed some junk over the neighbors fence, but we've never walked up to the gate and stepped through to the other side.

Now there are countless reasons that people can come up with that supposedly explain why this is. But I can give you the real reason. The blame for the decline of the space age lays upon the shoulders of a single man. That man was John F. Kennedy.

"What?" you might ask. "Isn't he the president that put us on the moon?" you might argue. Indeed he did. But what many people don't know is that he is also the man who shut down the one project that offered us everything a scifi geek could ever ask for from current technology.

What, I ask, are the main problems with building up a massive space infrastructure? Well, for the most part, there is only one BIG problem. It is ludicrously difficult to reach space. So difficult that it costs billions of dollars to put a payload in space that a flatbed truck could do for hundreds. You only need to get about 200 kilometers up to reach orbit, but the energy needed to reach orbital velocity is astronomical. The more you need to lift, the more energy you need to do it. But to produce that energy you need fuel, which has weight, which means you need energy to lift that too. See the problem here?

But what if I told you it didn't have to be so difficult? What if I told you that the technology to put a space station (or colony) in orbit around ever planet and moon in our solar system has been around since the 60's but was never used? There was such a technology. It was called "Project Orion" and had the power to lift ships the size of small cities into space and take said ship to the nearest star and back in a human lifetime. If only it had been further developed.

It worked by basically chucking a small, shaped nuclear charge through a hole in a large pusher-plate and detonating it. Kind of like putting a cherry bomb under a garbage can, but much larger. The system would do this every few seconds to continue pushing the ship into space and beyond. It sounds like it would have been too hard to control such a thing, but they actually developed it, and worked out all the kinks decades ago. It system was ready to go into space but Kennedy shut it down. Legend has it that one of the scientists who pitched the idea to Kennedy said that they would be able to use the technology to build a space battleship. One armed with nuclear warheads and capable of cruising around the solar system. Allegedly, the idea of such a weapon sickened Kennedy so much he shut the project down.

Such a system could carry and deliver enough material to construct stations throughout the entire solar system in a single launch. Not only that, but once it was done with that, it would still have enough fuel to go to the asteroid belt and push a rock or two back to earth to be mined for materials for further space construction. After that it could be used to ferry material around at high speed, or perhaps sent out to explore deep space! The only real drawback is the risk of fallout contamination in the atmosphere, but even this was minimized by the use of special filler around the nuclear charges. And like I said, you would only need to launch it once to completely revolutionize space as we know it. Besides, I think that we have done enough damage to the environment since then to make one Orion launch rather trivial in comparison. Even the legendary Carl Sagan supported the idea, believing that it was the best way to recycle the massive stockpile of nuclear weapons thats sitting around collecting dust.

"What about cosmic rays or long-term exposure to micro gravity?" you may ponder. No need to worry there either. You see, the ships were to be so massive that the outer chambers that would have been filled with water or cargo would be so thick that it would shield the passengers living in the inner chambers from cosmic rays. And as for micro gravity, remember 2001: a Space Odyssey? The ship would have been cylindrical and would rotate to create simulated gravity. I'm telling you, they thought of EVERYTHING. And they did all this back in the Apollo era. It sickens me to think about how much different things could be right now if the project had been given the green light. Sure, we would still need to find a way to get people up there cheeper, but don't you think we would have more incentive if there was a whole flourishing industry up there worth trillions in asteroid mining alone? Not to mention tourism, space exploration or colonization of other celestial bodies.

So when your sitting around thinking about how much cooler your life would be if you were living on a space colony orbiting pluto, blame JFK.