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Category Archives: things that are awesome

a collection of humorously edited footage


Jandrew Edits, a bizarre and brilliant display of the fine art of editing. The Alf edits are particularly disturbing.

splashed!


colorsplashI haven’t had a chance to play with it much myself, but my good friend and former roommate Hendrik Kueck has an iPhone app, ColorSplash, which is tearing up the charts, reaching #4 (or higher?) on the overall paid apps list!

Frankly, I think this is awesome, not only because I like seeing my friends do well, but because the App Store is a perfect platform for harnessing this kind of talent. Hendrik’s spent the last decade-plus working with computer vision, graphics and photography applications, to the point where he has an awful lot of expertise. The Apple App Store, for all its faults, is an ideal venue for someone like him to simply develop an application people want and profit from it, without having to start a company or do marketing, or invest a lot of capital in a start-up, or do it as a salaried project at a larger company.

Between this, and the recent success of my other roommates’ game Osmosis, I’m certainly starting to feel like quite the underachiever!

Osmos nominated for IGF Grand Prize!


Osmos, a zen-like game put together by my friend and former roommate Eddy Boxerman (with help from other former kommune-ists Dave Burke and Andy Nealen, and some people I don’t know but who I assume are cool), has been nominated for three awards at the Independent Game Festival, including Grand Prize! If you don’t know indie games, well, this is huge. The IGF Grand Prize nominees are some of the coolest, funnest, most original games anywhere.

If you’re a Windows-y person, you can download it here, and if not, here’s a video to watch while I bug Eddy to port it to the Mac.

X-COM, and a guide to running it on the Mac


Computer games tend to not have much of a lifespan, and when they do, I think a lot of it is due more to nostalgia than because they hold up especially well (not that modern games are a massive step forward, but there’s an evolutionary process, you know?). However, there are a few games that hold up particularly well, and still have active — albeit very nerdy and obsessive — communities. Cults of grubby retro-gamers, with ancient desktops running obsolete software to keep alive a few embers of games past. Nethack is probably the classic example, of course, and still the most brilliant game I have ever played. But only a couple of paces behind is a little PC game from 1993 called X-COM: UFO Defence, a game that took the #1 slot on IGN’s Top 25 PC Games of all time, and is still, 15 years after release, being dissected in The Escapist. Not to mention the numerous fan remakes and clone, and an extremely thorough wiki in which tactics and programming quirks are still being debated.

The premise is unofficially borrowed from the pretty cool 1970s British TV series UFO, with nods to The X-Files (the game itself is from the UK, where it was titled UFO: Enemy Unknown). Aliens are secretly invading earth, and it’s up to a shadowy, government-funded paramilitary organization — the eXtra-terrestrial COMbat Unit — to stop them. Gameplay starts in the once-futuristic year 1999, with X-COM operating out of a small base with a handful of soldiers, scientists and engineers. And then the aliens start sending out their first few scouts. As the game progresses, you can shoot down or capture alien ships and research their technology to build more powerful weapons and aircraft, and learn the aliens’ plans for Earth. At the same time, though, the aliens up the ante with more sophisticated missions, including infiltrating governments and terrorizing cities. As the campaign progresses, new species of aliens appear, which can blast you with exotic weapons or use their psi powers to make your troops panic or turn on each other.

geoscape.jpg

Gameplay is divided between two different modes. In the Geoscape view, you manage the strategic aspects of your organization — building bases around the world, staffing them with scientists and engineers and tracking UFOs, first locally and soon internationally. Your big concerns here are balancing your resources to effectively battle the alien invasion: spend too much money on research and you won’t be able to build new bases to intercept UFOs; spend too much on conventional planes and weapons and you’ll be stuck on the wrong side of a steadily-increasing technology gap.

Eventually, though, you’re going to have to go toe-to-toe with the greys and their buddies, which brings you to the Tactical view, where you assemble and equip a squad and send them into the field. Typical missions involve assaulting an alien landing or crash site, defending a city being terrorized by aliens, or infiltrating an alien base. In every case, though, the goal is simple: kill the aliens before they kill you. Other factors come into play, such as limiting civilian casualties or trying to take aliens alive for research, but it comes down every time to a bug hunt.

Which is fine by me, since X-COM does it brilliantly. The action is turn-based — you move all your soldiers one by one, and then the aliens move. But there are plenty of elements to keep it interesting. For starters, you can only see what your soldiers see, making every grove of trees and farm house a potential trap — and during night missions, the aliens can see much better than your soldiers. Units with time left over can automatically fire during the alien’s turn, creating opportunities for snipers and ambushes. Given enough explosive power, you can destroy most objects in the terrain. This means you’re going to be lobbing rockets and explosives into buildings and behind trees you think might be hiding aliens — my urban terror missions, in particular, tend to end with several blocks of smouldering rubble. And if things get hairy (as they often do, deep in the bowels of an alien ship or base), your inexperienced units have a tendency to panic, throwing your elegant squad formations into disarray. Soldiers that survive get promoted and become more skilled and disciplined, but it’s not uncommon for a tough mission to take out over half my squad.

tactical.jpg

X-COM’s not a perfect game. (Only Nethack has ever truly achieved gaming perfection.) The alien AI isn’t very sophisticated — actually, it’s borderline retarded — and the game actually gets easier as it goes on, thanks to your ever-improving weapons, armour and aircraft. But flaws aside, it is pretty damn brilliant, and passes the “one more turn” test handily.

X-COM on the Mac

As a nerdy teen, I played this obsessively when it came out, but since then, I haven’t had much luck — even when I got it running on one of my 21st-century computers, it would be unstable, or the sound wouldn’t work. I’d play for an afternoon but eventually the repeated crashes would frustrate me and I’d give up for a year or two. This time, however — this time, the technology seems to finally exist for me to play a 15-year-old game… flawlessly. All hail technology! It wasn’t even very hard. And so, in the interest of spreading the addiction, here’s what I did.

  1. Acquire a copy of X-COM. I had a copy already, but you might be able to get one on eBay. Or, you know, elsewhere. Make sure you get the MS-DOS version, unless you feel like getting a 15-year-old copy of Windows running on your computer, too.
  2. Install DOSBox. It’s an x86 emulator that will run MS-DOS on the Mac.
  3. Install the DOSBox X-COM configuration files generously posted here. It was a little slow on my MacBook, so I ended up editing it, increasing the cycles to 12000 and using the output=overlay full-screen mode.
  4. You might also want to install XcomUtil, an elaborate “game enhancer”, which allows you to optionally change any or all of a list of game aspects. Most of these are fixes for some of the more annoying elements — like having to re-assign gear to the same soldiers every mission, or the fact that about 60% of missions take place on the farmland terrain. I must have destroyed that same damn stable a hundred times…
  5. Play! The manual is here. You might want to check out the UFOpaedia for tips, but the game is actually pretty forgiving at the easier difficulty levels. As long as you keep building and buying things sensibly and intercepting all the UFOs you can, you won’t go too far off.
  6. The second time through, you might want a bit of a challenge. The XcomUtil patch can add some challenges, particularly making research less easy by forcing you to capture live aliens to decipher their technology. I’ve also been trying to play the game without using any alien plasma weapons, which makes terror missions and base assaults particularly tense, as they should be.

Oh, and lastly, I know that in writing this long, gushing blog post about an old PC game will forever cement my reputation as a huge geek. I think I’m at the age where… I’m okay with that. Go X-COM!! Wooo!

bacon maple chocolate chip cookies


bacon chocolate chip cookies, originally uploaded by meggomyeggo.

My former roommate Florence visited my old house for a few days on the way back to France from SIGGRAPH in Los Angeles. While we were waiting for her, other-former-roommate Meghan and I passed the time by making a batch of Bacon Maple Chocolate Chip Cookies, as recipe’d on neverbashfulwithbutter (which sounds to me like a Last Tango reference, but probably isn’t). Could they possibly be as awesome as their name makes them sound?

The answer… is “yes.” Or, more accurately: “sweet baby Jesus and the heavenly hosts of cherubim and seraphim, yes“. The chocolate is sweet and the bacon bits are chewy and savoury, but the secret is the maple glaze, which is a kind of magical flavour kingdom where the bacon and chocolate can come together to make something even more delicious than you had dared dream.

That said, I wouldn’t eat a lot of them and I wouldn’t eat them often. There’s only so much sweet’n’savoury you can handle, and these are very sweet and very savoury. But I was really happy with how they turned out and would make them again should I ever find myself 20 lbs lighter than I am now. Or, alternately, if I decide to just give up and let myself go. Either way.