Sunday, March 25, 2012

Carbonizer's Picks #1

Here's some cool sites I discovered recently that at least earn a place somewhere on Carbonizer...

New York Songlines: Imagine an annotated version of New York City, a combination between Wikimapia and Google Maps Streetview. Now imagine that all in HTML 1.0.

Porting Team: The Mac, its Intel core, and all are great, but there's still comparatively few games for it released through publishers. You could run WINE, Crossover, or DOSBox for these missing modern masterpieces, but that means mucking through preference files and all...a very un-Mac like way of doing things. Enter Porting Team, which makes empty wrappers (often modern games) based on a myriad of platforms (Cider, DOSBox, even some Amiga for the classics). Of course you'll have to supply your own copies of games, but it's still a great idea! I might just give SimCity 4 a spin on the Mac again (keep in mind that CIDER is still slower than a "real" PC, however)

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Google Maps of Days Past

In late 2011 or early 2012, all this was changed, to have no tic marks for zooming in, and different icons (less bold) for highways. Earlier, they had changed the pin border to be from black to a different shade of the main color. I miss those days.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

It's a Mac World After All

When my brother went to college, it was a time when Macs were still rather rare (always a treat to see someone else using one) and PCs were common. Nowadays, it's Macs that are the highly dominant ones (or at least iPads) with PCs much rarer, only seen by mostly the gaming/Linux-using guys.

But is it worth it? What do Macs have nowadays that Windows cannot do? Sure, it's still a better operating system, but Lion has all sorts of annoying features that Windows used to pride itself on, and frankly people use so few applications (between an Internet browser and Word) that it's practically irrelevant. The software library available for Mac without emulators has grown smaller than before, and let's face it--the "stability" gap has closed dramatically, as is "user friendliness", but other things like "customizability" have gone by the wayside.

Mac gaming isn't any better: while there are far more games for much cheaper (remember in the days when the PC ports would drop in price while the Mac ports stayed high?) and more stable (Aspyr's ports were more often than not pretty bad), these ports of today are simply PC games in a wrapper that translates the Windows API calls into Mac calls, which degrades performance.

So why do I use a Mac? Simple: it's because I live in the past. I'm still using Snow Leopard. I'd never upgrade to Lion unless major things were done to it (interface changes, Rosetta compatibility) which will never happen because it's hard-coded in, and Apple's current trend is to try to create a fully uniformed system with a closed application environment. This, coupled with the whole "more popular" thing, is making Apple and the Mac more and more like the "evil IBM compatibles" it was suppose to be against.

I'm not against Apple because "it's popular, therefore it sucks", I'm just thinking that it's sad that as it became worse (at least in my opinion) it became mainstream. For the near future, I'll keep using my Mac. For the future after that, I'm probably going to end up joining the legion of Linux nerds, I'm afraid.

Friday, March 16, 2012

A Huge Thanks to...

S, my brother, for his assistance in helping me change my Java settings to not pop up a warning box for my Java applet based homework ("OWL"), changing it to run with protections (the applet had signed and unsigned code, creating the problem). This has helped it run WAY faster, something those Windows-trained monkeys for the in-house "support" would NEVER be able to figure out.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Forgotten Blog Post

I had made this up back in August to reflect the differences between Marvel and DC based movies.

Spider-Man (2002): Pretty cool, I’d say.
Hulk (2003): Enh, it was okay, but not as good as Spider-Man.
Spider-Man 2 (2004): Wasn't too bad either.
Fantastic Four (2005): A bit weak, but enjoyable.
Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer (2007): Even weaker than the first, short movie, forgettable plot.
Iron Man (2008): Actually pretty awesome
The Incredible Hulk (2008): OK, if it wasn't for the fact that they tried NOT to make it a sequel (even though Bruce Banner just happens to be in South America at the beginning, just like the end of The Hulk)
Iron Man 2 (2010): Didn't like it as much. Didn't like the replacement actor, didn't like Tony Stark's antics, made what he learned in the first movie irrelevant.
Thor (2011): Liked it, definitely some features that make it unusual, but there were some obvious flaws.
Captain America The First Avenger (2011): Liked it.

Catwoman (2004): Saw part of it when renting. Really boring, really terrible.
Batman Begins (2005): Actually pretty awesome!
Superman Returns (2006): Terrible forgettable, made many changes to Superman to be more politically correct, and a sequel to a film made over twenty years ago (and ignoring its two sequels)
The Dark Knight (2007): Had a few flaws, generally enjoyable.
Green Lantern (2011): Huge disappointment,

I think I meant for it to show that Marvel movies are generally better than DC, but I didn't get that point across.

Also, Spring Break is far too short, especially where homework is concerned (how could they?!). I feel like I'm cramped for time, making only token progress on the games I love.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Late Night Currently Playing

Yes, Currently Playing has returned after a long hiatus. Not that I haven't been playing games, mind you, but I've done some reading and picked up a half-abandoned game list that was basically a Word version of the long-abandoned Backloggery list (needs pruning itself) and converting it into a fine Excel spreadsheet with publisher information and release dates. Highlighted were the games I needed/were playing.

The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time should and will get some time in this Spring Break. It is on the Wii as a Virtual Console item.

The Lost Vikings is fun, playing it in Snes9x.

Klondike is solitaire. I waste too much time on it.

Machinarium, I remembered fondly from last summer, and wanted to pick it up again, only to realize I needed to play some sort of board game with another robot and I remembered why I stopped playing. I got some hints (block the robot until he tries to block yours, don't let him get 4 in a row, space yours out when you try to when, etc.) until I won.

The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks isn't in my DS because I spent time playing the DS version of The Urbz: Sims in the City, which is a huge time-waster but I had just bought it and knew there was more stuff in it than the GBA (larger screen size, too, but the touch screen interface is not very well-done). I had just bought it from the used video game store after selling two games I didn't want. I put the Urbz away and will play Spirit Tracks.

Pokémon Yellow is in my GBA SP. I just bought a GameShark to get things like Mew and Surfing Pikachu. I think I got the latter too early (Mt. Moon). I promise I won't take advantage of it (you know, going into Unknown Dungeon, all that jazz).

I am on the next to last level of Portal. Unfortunately, the person that helps me out in Portal when I'm stuck is J, who is out of commission (you know, he got married just last Saturday) so I'll have to take it on blind or wait for a weekend when J is up and around again.

Finally, I'm replaying VVVVVV again, to get more Trinkets and less deaths in less time. But can I do that? I mean, should I waste my life trying Veni, Vidi, Veci?. That is the only way to get 100% completion...

Monday, March 12, 2012

A wedding

Recently, I went down to Galveston to see my cousin J get married to his fiancée, M. What was really neat about this wedding is that J and M are somewhat nerds, so their wedding cake (with fondant) featured homages to their favorite games like Minecraft, the Katamari Damacy characters, and their characters from World of Warcraft (J had got M addicted to WoW last summer). Their choices of music were excellent, in my opinion, having the Braid "Downstream" theme for the groomsmen, an arrangement of the fairy fountain/file select theme from The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past for the bridesmaids, and many other small references. J sang/played a song he composed for M, and E gave a small narrative on the lives of M and J. (E is J's sister, and was the one we were waiting for at the bus station nearly ten years prior, if you pay attention to my other blogs). Galveston itself was pretty depressing: most of the shops open were heavily-tourist shops (including a head shop called Hazy Daze) but a lot of stores, including the Peanut Butter Warehouse (it had a peanut butter/fudge pantry, plus antiques) were closed. The H-E-B Pantry was also the "Island Community Center" or something along those lines. The trolleys were still offline from Hurricane Ike. But it was nice and windy, so it wasn't all bad.

I noticed that nearly all the old Jack in the Box signs were gone (boo) including the one we went to in August 2008. Also, the "dated Travelodge" is now America's Best Value Inn & Suites.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

On iOS, Jailbreaking, and the Search for a Portable SNES

The other day, I wrote about Macs and Obama. In light of that, me, frustrated at my iPod's continuing obsolescence (what, no Ghost Trick?) decided to jailbreak it to squeeze more life out of the out-of-warranty thing. What I found wasn't a wonderful thing. Sure, there were promises of giving your iPod unbelievable powers, but what I found wasn't exactly the same thing. Besides the jailbreaking changing the iPod's startup screen (at least mine, anyway), it's really nothing special. First off, the jailbroken app store, Cydia. There's no safety net like there is for the App Store, and it resembles the Android Marketplace, a ramshackle place of themes and apps, with no guarantee if any of them work right. Secondly, things are expensive, averaging about $5 instead of 99¢ (and who knows how money is handled). Thirdly, the main thing I wanted, emulators of old systems, was tragically under par. First off, expensive emulators. Only Snes9x is really free, and there are a couple of others that were free, but didn't work so well. Others were several dollars. Secondly, it's slow. To get it up to a decent speed without sacrificing sound, you had to change the screen size to tiny and blocky (at least there's no distortion). Whether using a Bluetooth controller or the touch controls, you have to relearn practically everything if you're playing something Mario or Zelda. It seems like every other time that button didn't work (it's possible it's the controller, but you can see it: it's slow up there). Turning off the sound makes the thing run better, but that's a huge part of SNES gaming. Even my cool idea of duct-taping together a Wii Classic Controller to a Wii remote to an iPod didn't work, because the iPod is too heavy (even the Classic Controller has a bit of trouble staying on). It's also because of programming, as I know even SNES9x years ago ran better on the G3 iMac, so it should be at least par to that.

Well, it's probable that I'll never get to run right (unless I wait for performance improvements), so what other things does jailbreaking provide? I'm not interested in downloading tons of pirated movies and games (a waste of space, really). There is ScummVM, the adventure game engine interpreter, but if there's anything about LeChuck's Revenge: Monkey Island II Special Edition I picked up on the App Store a while back when it was cheap, the controls are pretty lousy (especially in regards to "catching" the mouse and moving it), and frankly, I've played most of the games already, and if I want to experience more I should play it on a real computer. And of course, once you've got a controller (like my Wii controller contraption), the whole "portability" thing is kind of ruined. Even getting an "official" controller with official apps (like Atari and Commodore 64 collections), like this, still isn't a portable gaming experience akin to a Game Boy.

So what if I wanted a portable SNES, with the option of playing other games? Well, there are options.

The Pandora is supposed to be the ultimate in this type of thing, but good look getting one. The Dingoo was advertised as a SNES emulator but it's about on par with the iOS. The Supaboy plays actual SNES games, except I heard it always has a slight high-pitched whine, and SNES cartridges are required. But this forces collecting if you want to do anything: I think there's only one video game store in town that stocks classic games, and they're not particularly cheap (ranging around $8 a cart). These are usually B-list carts, too (Street Fighter II, SimCity, that type of thing). A lot of the best games are way out of league for an actual cartridge. An EarthBound cartridge goes for at least $150 on eBay. Chrono Trigger goes for around $25. This is not good, and only useful if you have a bunch of SNES cartridges collecting dust in the closet (or if you plunk down another $150, you could buy a cartridge that has 2GB of storage on a SNES cart, but you can't run a bunch of SNES games due to special co-processor chips in the actual cartridges). A Nintendo 3DS and its Virtual Console? Nice try, but no: there's no SNES games there, yet (except for a few mangled GBA re-releases). Even the Wii's Virtual Console was crippled with an embarrassing release rate and licensing issues, so it would be a while before we see a decent library on the 3DS, at all. SNES classics Chrono Trigger and Final Fantasy III never saw the Virtual Console until nearly five years later, and EarthBound, which Nintendo of America hates (going so far as to remove the demo from Super Smash Bros. Brawl), even getting it rated by the ESRB, only to pull the rating later and never letting it see the Virtual Console. It's doubtful we'll see such a thing for the 3DS. The PlayStation Portable (which doesn't go for a whole lot cheaper on eBay) has had emulation for years, but it's still kind of pricey. It may be the best choice, however, if I wanted to do that route.

But overall, it's a lost cause. I don't really want to sink a lot of money right now, but I still dream of a portable SNES.

update 3/5: Further research shows even the vaunted "Supaboy" has really stiff controls, was tested to zap a Final Fantasy III save state(!!), and didn't play Donkey Kong Country, the latter believing it to be a pirated console. Another option, The Retro Duo Portable has a peripheral to play SNES games, but the screen is weak and the controls feel too loose (the overall feeling of "cheap"). It's also the newest, not carried by any retailers (such as Amazon). I also feel the need to point out why cartridges have a slight advantage: the Super Game Boy!