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entertainment

Terraria: Journey’s End (Plus: Some more plague activities)

If you came for the plague activities, please scroll down.

I was a latecomer to Terraria when I first played the game in the spring of 2017. Best I recall, I saw a screenshot of something someone had built in the game, and intrigued by that creative aspect I gave it a try.

That is still probably my biggest plus for the game: building, creating. The worlds are generated, which gives you a good amount of variability to begin with. That variety includes the different zones or biomes like the ocean, desert, and jungle. Each has its own flavor, and you can build in any of them.

A house in a jungle with a roof made of living vines and plants.

The final major update has released today. The official word was that there would be some delay in Linux (and Macintosh) stability or optimizations, but so far it plays fine here.


One of the other neat things about Terraria was digging into their savegame format (with the help of some sites that publish some of the specification) with Python. Prior versions (we’ll see what 1.4 does) use what’s known as run-length encoding (RLE) to store a subset of the actual world tiles. You can think of it similar to a keyframe system in video, except it marks the last tile type and then the number of (vertically and below) tiles of the same type. Given that large parts of the world are filled with the same type of material (dirt, sand, etc.), this saves a lot of space.

Anyway, for awhile I had a lot of fun messing with that, even wrote a simple tool to turn an image file (using PIL as I recall) into background walls (something that, from a search at the time, had been done by several others).


The main thing I’m looking forward to for 1.4 is the improvements for building (including the ability to craft previously-uncraftable walls and some of the new furniture and other enhancements). They also add a feature called block-swap that speaks for itself, but will be useful for quickly changing the look of a building without having to tear everything down.

A single-mast ship with sail down (in port).

But some of the other features will be nice, including the more responsive world, updated artwork, added music, new town NPCs, and even golf.

Plague Activities (to get them out of your hair long enough to catch your breath)

As obvious, age-appropriateness depends on propensity to put things in mouth, dexterity, etc.

  1. Painting the basement walls. Requires a paintbrush and some container with water. Suffice it to say, you let the kid dip the brush in the water, then use the brush to make wet the basement wall, because it looks like they’re painting it. Could work on other surfaces like sidewalks/walkways or exterior walls. Good for a relatively unsupervised 20 minute break.
  2. Sort the things. Requires three containers, items to be sorted. Preparation: dump the things to be sorted into one bucket, then task your child to put the items of each type into the other buckets. More buckets needed if more than two types of things. Elastic task, as the more things to sort the longer it lasts, but boredom may take hold at around 20 minutes depending on complexity/enjoyability of the particular stuff being sorted. Suggested items include coins, pasta of different shapes, nuts and bolts, goats and sheep, etc.
  3. Terraria! The new version has so-called “journey mode” which lets you turn off enemies. You could build in peace, and you could play a video game while your kid(s) help you decide what to build. Something to consider anyway. Probably works better if you’re already familiar with Terraria. Not as unsupervised as some, but you get to videogame while keeping the runts entertained! Could work for some other games including Minecraft, bridge building games, Besiege, etc.
  4. Tape recorder. If you have an app or other way to play with audio recording, kids can amuse themselves quite awhile just recording, then replaying what they recorded. (At least I did when I was wee. I spent a lot of time playing by myself, in case you wondered.)
  5. Draw your own alphabet. (Requires basic alphabet skills.) 26 new drawings for new letters. Even if they take a minute to come up with each one, that’s 26 minutes back to you.
Categories
entertainment

Things to Fun During This (2020)

Here is a list of random things to fun. I know it’s not comprehensive, or even that great. But if you have kids that are in need of something to do, or are just a bored adult, maybe it’ll spark an idea of a decent way to stave off the boredom a bit. They’re all more-or-less adaptable to different age groups.

  1. Everyone in group finds one thing around the house, does a bit of online reading about it, and then does a 5-15 minute show and tell about it. Minimum time: 15 minutes + number of people × report lengths; average 30 minutes to one hour.
  2. Origami of various kinds. Requires paper, flat surface. Look up some various things to make with paper. Planes, swans, geometric shapes, boxes, all sorts. Minimum time: 30 minutes.
  3. Paper+trash basketball. Requires paper, unlined clean trashcan. Ball up a piece of paper and throw it in the trash. Repeat ad infinitum. Minimum time: 1 minute. Maximum time: Can you believe we just wasted an hour throwing balls of paper in the trash?! Educational opportunity: each participant must answer a topical query (e.g., geography, capital of a state) before they get throw.
  4. Bar tricks. Go online and look up match tricks and other small bar-bet tricks and go to town. Educational opportunity: teach kids to pour or mix drinks. Minimum time: ten minutes.
  5. Editor. Find random websites or other text content, and rewrite or edit it for spelling, grammar, tone, etc. Share your changes with the group. Minimum time: 30 minutes.
  6. Photo-editor. Same as previous, but using a program like GIMP or Photoshop. Add mustaches to famous people! Fun! Minimum time: 30 minutes.
  7. Gueeeess thaaaaaat Tuuuuune. Requires audio modification software, song files. Someone picks a song, slows it down, and plays it while everyone else has to guess what it is. Minimum time: 20 minutes.
  8. Counting games. Each round has a rule, like odds are replaced with animal names (bird, 2, dog, 4, …). Last person to make a mistake has to pick a rule for the next round. Minimum time: five minutes.
  9. Mad libs. Find a text, remove the nouns and modifiers and then replace them with your own! Minimum time: 20 minutes. (_Chilly_ _beans_. Find a _smurf_, remove the _ears_ and _feet_ and then replace them with your own!)
  10. Look for more ideas for tomorrow! Minimum time: five minutes.

Dunno. Maybe this helps. Seems like there are a lot of options, but there are a ton more where this came from.

Categories
entertainment

Random Thoughts on VR and Game Streaming

With some new modes of gaming, it’s useful to write down some thoughts.

VR

The main hurdle to adoption is the need to purchase hardware. In general I don’t buy much hardware for specific uses, and VR is therefore a harder sale as it isn’t a general tool for computing.

It’s possible VR does become more generally useful, in terms of non-gaming content coming out, but even then it’s not like having a monitor, keyboard, and mouse, it seems. The best case is that the HMDs can become thinner in their built-in technologies, relying more on their host system for any computational needs. In that, their costs can drop to where they are mostly the cost of the built-in displays.

The immersion of VR is very important and a useful artistic tool. There are other aspects of VR gaming that are very attractive, including having two hands where every traditional first-person game only lets you have one hand. The trailer for HL: Alyx shows at least one event where they intentionally occupy one hand to remove that advantage, which is a good indication that the creators think that feeling of limitation is an interesting interaction—that the player in VR, used to having two hands, will find only having one available is challenging and heightens the excitement of the combat there.

I will probably get into VR gaming in a few years, when the hardware is further developed and hopefully more stable.

Streaming

There are a lot of upsides and downsides to the streaming games platforms like Google Stadia. One upside is that it makes cheating much harder to do without full-on machine learning. Another is the lack of install and update needs.

But there are obvious downsides, including the sensitivity to latency and the general reliance on the network to game at all.

Another big problem is the inability to modify gameplay. Mods for computer games have always been part of their charm and appeal. Many of the games I have played over the years began as modifications of other games. It is unclear how or if a streaming platform would allow for players to create and install modifications beyond a very superficial set of cosmetics.

I doubt I would play streaming games any time soon. The variety of games already available and the lack of any big draw to streaming makes it well outside of my personal appeal in gaming. But for the larger gaming market, particularly casual gamers, the choices and tradeoffs do show some appeal. That’s especially true for introducing gaming to players who might later decide to buy hardware for gaming or other purposes.

Indeed, the lack of ability to modify console games never deterred those players (though there have been some ways at times to modify even console games, for those who wanted to).


Hope all have had a happy Thanksgiving holiday.

Categories
entertainment

The Steam Trade-off as a Linux User

With the excitement around Epic launching their own store and the advent of fresh competition for Valve’s Steam, here are some thoughts from a Linux gamer perspective.

First, what is the meaning of Steam or any storefront? They are a middleman, providing a marketplace for games to be bought and sold. But they are also a steward of that market, providing a common tissue for the delivery of the games, for the discussion and discovery, and all these other features. Some have more popular off-platform competitors. Others are too ingrained in the platform to be competed on without an alternative platform.

But one of the thing that Valve is doing with Steam, which it seems unlikely that Epic or any of the newcomers will do, is to spend resources in the interest of Linux-based gaming. They have supported Linux for several years now, including for their own games. They are doubling-down on this support with the SteamPlay/Proton integration that allows for Windows games to be run on Linux through an implementation of the Windows APIs.

Part of what you pay for when you pay the “Steam tax” (or the “Epic tax” or any other share of a sale that goes to an intermediary) is for the other activities a platform or marketplace delivers. Whether that’s Linux support or community forums or ARGs, the business decides what to deliver and thereby justify their fee.

The option of going to Epic’s store, or to other stores, is weaker for Linux due to lack of support. Steam deciding to make Proton such a first-class offering only makes that proposition weaker. For Linux gaming at the moment, Steam is the most attractive option, and there are no signs of that changing soon.

Steam currently supports gaming for Linux, but if they didn’t, Linux gamers would keep using WINE directly, as we did before 2013. As long as Valve is investing in Linux, though, their tax seems like a fair deal for Linux users, when the alternative is Epic’s lower tax but nothing for Linux.

Categories
entertainment

Steamworks’ Announced Changes for 2019

Steam: Steamworks Development: 14 January 2019: “2018 Year in Review” announced some expected changes in 2019, including:

  • Steam Library Update—A refresh of the Steam client akin to the refresh of the Steam Chat that occurred in 2018.
  • New Events System—A way for games (and groups?) to announce non-release events to their followers.
  • Steam Chat for Mobile—Apparently a separate app that includes the upgrades to Steam Chat on the client.
  • Steam Trust—A provider-side reputation system that helps games moderate their players better.

Valve-time being a thing, we’ll see if these rollout this year (there were others, but these were the ones that interested me).

Library update

The Library refresh has been pending for several years and is long-expected and desired (though undoubtedly subject to backlash by a vocal minority). Games have changed a lot over the years, but the Steam Library view has stayed the same, so it will be interesting to see what this ends up looking like. It will also be interesting to see if there’s any visual-crossover between the refresh of the Library and Big Picture Mode.

At least some of the facilities mentioned in my recent post about instrumenting games for streaming could be useful for a future version of the Steam Library. For example, logging capabilities in games could easily populate the game-view in the library with details from your last game session.

Events system update

The events system is primarily an opportunity to let developers remind players about their game over time, in ways they largely already do on Twitter, but where many players may not see them. It’s not clear if the event system will apply to groups as well. Groups have been able to announce events for awhile, but if they’re granted the same abilities under the new system, it could be a shot in the arm for social-on-Steam, particularly when many gamers are far more reliant on Discord.

A full-featured event system could even let non-group events happen in the vein of “bowling night” among friends. If a group of friends likes to play together at a set time every week, Steam could enable that without them needing to create a full-on group. If game makers wanted to encourage that among players, they could also be empowered to do so.

Steam chat for mobile

The advent of a separate app for chat seems unwise (the language in the announcement is: “We’re going to ship a new Steam Chat mobile app…”). Hopefully they mean that they’ll ship a new version of the Steam app that includes chat upgrades. If not, oy. There’s a new contender to replace the old law that all applications expand to encompass e-mail: all providers expand to release a mobile chat application.

Steam Trust as a service

And Steam Trust will be welcome to the extent it helps reduce griefing and cheating in multiplayer games.


The Steam Client Beta for Linux added a force-Proton option on 17 January 2019, which is great news and shows that Valve is hitting the ground running this year. The option allows Linux gamers to choose to run the Windows version even when a Linux version exists, which may help in some circumstances:

  1. Bad ports—Not all Linux ports of games are up to snuff.
  2. Upstream bugs—Whether in the game’s engine or a video driver, sometimes bugs in other places break the native version, but not the Proton version.
  3. Missing features—Some ports are great, but for whatever reason miss a feature or two. Being able to use the native version for just those cases is a great option to have.

There are arguments about whether Proton diminishes the desire of developers to write Linux-native games or to invest in ports to Linux, but Valve’s strategy is two-fold:

  1. Get people playing on Linux, especially those who already love Linux but feel bound to Windows for a few games.
  2. Invest in Vulkan and other technologies that lower the cost of writing cross-platform games.

The latter is especially important, as games that aren’t written for Windows-specific APIs are much easier to port to Linux. It’s a longer-term strategy, but it should pay off both in better game performance generally and in portability.