The Robservatory

Robservations on everything…

 

Games

When castles were dark and pixels were black and white

Recently, while browsing Michael Tsai’s blog, I came across a link to a chapter from The Secret History of Mac Gaming, a book by Richard Moss.

This particular chapter dealt with the making of Dark Castle, one of the earliest Mac video games. It’s a pretty amazing tale of life in the early days of home computing. For example, on the founding of the company that released Dark Castle:

Not one to be discouraged, Jackson withdrew most of his life savings, bought a Lisa, signed up for the Apple developer program, and founded the company Silicon Beach Software in mid-1984. He then met with seventeen-year-old Jonathan Gay and made a deal. Gay wouldn’t get any money up front, but he’d get royalties on sales of a Macintosh game that he’d program on weekends.

Reading the chapter brought back memories of playing both Dark Castle and its more-aggravating successor, Beyond Dark Castle. These side-scrolling platformers were fun, frustrating, and rewarding—a great mix for video games of any era. I wondered if it was possible to play them today, 30-plus years later…and of course, it was.

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The ridiculous economics of Real Racing 3

I used to play a lot of Real Racing 3 (RR3), an iOS auto racing game. Like, quite a lot. At one point, I owned all 132 cars available at that time, and had completed all the events.

To reach that point, I spent about $60 on in-app purchases—RR3’s in-app purchases were really expensive. And yes, that’s a lot, but I didn’t own a console at the time, and I judged the app worth the cost of a console racing game. (I also took advantage of some programming glitches that enabled occasional free in-app purchase items; without these glitches, I doubt I would have made it as far as I did.)

Once I’d spent $60 and could go no further without spending more, I stopped playing; $60 was my limit. I did keep my iCloud save game file in case I wanted to revisit it someday. That someday was yesterday.

Since I left, the game has grown a lot: There are now 171 cars available, or 39 more than when I stopped playing. To finish the game again, I’d need to acquire (and upgrade) all of those cars (and race a huge number of new races). I thought “maybe it’s OK to spend another $60 or so; it’s been a few years.”

But as I looked into what it might cost to finish the game, I found that the economics are still absolutely ridiculous. How ridiculous? About $3,665 ridiculous. Yes, I estimate it would cost me $3,665 to finish RR3. At that spending level, though, there are some other purchases I could consider…

Instead of finishing RR3, I could purchase a commercial-grade 48″ gas range. Or I could buy a loaded Touch Bar Retina MacBook Pro with a 2.9GHz Core i7 CPU, 1TB SSD, and upgraded graphics.

The third option, though, is the best comparison: For $129 less than what I think it would cost me to finish RR3, I could purchase all of the following:

That’s a full console-based driving setup, including a 65″ 4K TV, for less than what I’d probably have to pay to finish (temporarily, until the next expansion) Real Racing 3. Yes, I’d say that’s ridiculous.

But where do my numbers come from, and how could I possibly think it’d cost that much to finish the game?! Read the rest if you’d like the nitty-gritty on my $3,665 estimate.

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My horrid Minecraft purchasing experience

Summary version: I bought the Mac version of Minecraft via credit card. This led to my card being put on a fraud hold, and the company that handled the charge asking me to provide personal and private information via email. Ergo, my recommendation: do not use a credit card to purchase Minecraft.

Updated on Sept 5: Skip to the end to see Skrill’s response to my refusal to provide identity theft documents.

Detailed version: Recently, my daughter started playing Minecraft with a friend of hers. At first, the iOS version was all she wanted to use, and she played that for quite a while. But then her friend upgraded to the desktop version, and after some discussion with her and figuring out how she could help pay for it, we agreed to buy the Mac version.

So I went to the Minecraft site, and followed the steps to pay by credit card. When you do so, your payment is handled by a company named Skrill (previously Moneybookers). Googling on either of these will provide some interesting tidbits, such as default opting-in customers to casino partners and their blocking the WikiLeaks donation site. I only wish I had Googled before I purchased. In my defense, it’s only noted in a small line at the bottom of the payment screen:

If I had gone my homework ahead of time, I would’ve switched to PayPal, but I didn’t.
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A Windows Vista hint…

Clearly this one doesn’t belong on Mac OS X Hints, but I wanted to have it documented somewhere. There’s usually a Windows box of some sort in my home, for testing and game playing. The testing role for my physical Windows box has pretty much been replaced by VMware Fusion, so it’s really now a game playing machine.

As such, I upgraded it recently (well, rebuilt it from scratch is a better summary) with a new CPU and video card. I also wanted to put Vista on it, for one reason only: to run Crysis under DirectX 10, which only works in Vista. My Vista DVD is an upgrade installation, which must be installed from within Windows XP. Windows XP, when it came out, didn’t support SATA drives, so for a fresh install of XP (it was a new install on my newly-built machine), you must set the SATA mode in the machine’s BIOS to IDE. I did that, installed XP, and upgraded to Vista.

Vista includes AHCI support, so my SATA drives can be used in native SATA mode. However, if you just switch your BIOS to ACHI mode, and you were using XP in IDE mode, then your box will fail to boot — that’s because the AHCI drivers are not installed by default in Vista if you start with XP in IDE mode. So how do you switch Vista from IDE to ACHI mode?
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Too much realism in flight simulation?

As a (non-active) instrument-rated pilot, one of my favorite diversions is X-Plane—as it’s the closest I’ll ever get to flying the “big iron.” There are realistic touches in many spots in the sim, including the occasional bird flock visible during takeoff or landing at some airports. Now I’d seen these flocks on many occasions, but hadn’t realized that they were actually…involved…in the simulation.

But the other day, I was taking off in a 747 out of Portland (not like we really get those here), and a flock flew across the runway just after I rotated. Despite my best efforts, the 747 flew right through the clump of birds, and the he results were…quite surprising, and more gory than I was expecting. Read on for the details and a (too realistic?) screenshot.
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A little (simulated) flying fun…

If you’ve been reading here much, or have ever seen me speak, you know that I’m somewhat of an aviation fan. I’m an instrument-rated private pilot (though not current, thanks to family, money, and Oregon weather!), and X-Plane is one of my favorite diversions. I love being able to pilot aircraft I’ll never have the chance to fly here in reality, and to fly in weather conditions that I wouldn’t dare to go near in a real airplane. X-Plane also features real-world weather, so I can fly around the Portland area in conditions that closely match what I see out the office window.

Yesterday, it was foggy here. Really foggy. Almost all day. So during lunch, I took the Nike LearJet (OK, the X-Plane version thereof) out from Portland International for a little spin. Take-off in foggy conditions is relatively straightforward–full thrust, max rate of climb, maintain runway heading (instrument departure procedure? Nah!), and I broke out into the blue skies above at about 3,500 feet above the ground. I flew off to a clearer airport for a couple touch-and-goes, then headed back to Portland. Given the fog, an instrument approach was definitely required. I chose the ILS for runway 28R, and maneuvered the plane towards the final approach course.

Then I got lazy, something I couldn’t ever do when flying instruments in the Piper Warrior I trained in: I set up a fully-coupled autopilot approach, including auto-throttles. As pilot, my job was now reduced to system monitor–I only had to choose the desired airspeed on the autopilot panel, remember to drop the flaps and gear, monitor the system’s progress, and then the autopilot would take care of the rest. Just for fun, I used SnapzPro to record the approach, from the ILS intercept to touchdown, and uploaded them in case anyone wants to see X-Plane, or what a really foggy approach might look like.
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