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Month: January 2010

The greatest games rarely played #1

chip-south Instead of doing a technology rant today, I’m going to present one of my favorite games to you: Chip’s Challenge. This fun, challenging, and extremely long puzzle game was originally developed by Chuck Sommerville in the late 1980’s, originally released on the Atari Lynx, but later ported to Windows and bundled as part of the Microsoft Entertainment Pack for Windows, or WEP.

chip00In Chip’s Challenge, you play as a guy named Chip who wants nothing more than to be let into Melinda the Mental Marvel’s Computer Club. She will let Chip become a member only if he can ascend 150 floors to the top of her clubhouse, which is a place I just couldn’t see anyone living in. This clubhouse has so many obstacles! There are fire traps, water traps, moving walkways, monsters that will eat your brains out, bouncing balls that will crush you, tanks, living blobs, and invisible walls, just to name a few. Chip doesn’t mind, though, and like Mario, Chip never quits. He’s always ready for an adventure!

chip01 The main object of many of the levels is to collect enough computer chips to advance through the socket (the object that looks like a filmstrip) and get to the goal (the blue swirly square). For the most part this is easier said than done. I’ve played Chip’s Challenge for over 10 years (though not continuously) and I’ve still never finished it. To make things even longer, a group of Chips fans has used the Chip’s Challenge Level Editor to make new stages, including a second level pack for the game.

While most of the levels are puzzle oriented, there are some that require no chips to be collected and are either a mad rush to get to the finish, or involve pushing blocks of dirt through narrow hallways to get them to a waterway, in which you must build a land bridge to cross a moat (level 18, for example.)

Chip has eight power-ups at his disposal, although he must find them first.

key-blue key-green key-red key-yellow The first four power-ups are simply keys that open doors in the level. Nothing too special, except one key: the green key. This key is the god of all keys. One green key can unlock a thousand green doors without breaking a sweat.

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Mario upgrades his power by eating poisonous mushrooms, dainty flowers, and maple leaves. Mega Man gets power-ups in the forms of various weapons that can be equipped. For Chip, however, power is all about the shoes you’re wearing.

shoes-fire Fire boots, which would be really nice in level 10, allow you to fall into a burnin’ ring of fire… and walk away safely.

shoes-flippersFlippers allow you to swim through the water, and without them Chip can’t even float. He’ll sink like a rock and drown himself in even a kiddie pool.

shoes-iceWalking on ice isn’t incredibly deadly to Chip, but without skates he finds it incredibly difficult to walk in any other direction than the way he stepped onto the ice.

shoes-suction Chip will have a lot easier time navigating his way through a maze of force floor tiles (they’re like ice, but you can sidestep off of them) if he gets suction-cup shoes.

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To conclude, Chip’s Challenge is a wonderful and simple puzzle game. Some of you may already know about it and love it, but I’m guessing the majority of you haven’t. The music gets a little an
noying since there are only two midi files that run through every level, but a little-known fact is that if you have canyon.mid or a different midi file named canyon.mid in your \Windows\ directory, the game will include it as well as CHIP01 and CHIP02. You can replace the two CHIP midis with whatever you want too.

Where can you get Chip’s Challenge? You can buy it from Amazon as part of Microsoft’s “Best of Entertainment Pack,” (if you have $200 to burn) you can get a clone of the original game, you can even find it on the best mobile gaming system ever as a free ROM. The copyrighted Microsoft version I’ve featured in this post is available as well, and while I actually own the Windows Entertainment Pack, you can download it for free from my favorite old games site, right here.

Anyone else played this game and like it? If so, I’d like to hear from you in the comments!

Until next time, friends.

Has anyone seen my tooth?

msi0

First off, I love my MSI Wind U100. It was easily one of the best purchases I made last year, because even though it isn’t a do-it-all mobile powerhouse, it plays back HD video stunningly, it runs ZSNES, it boots in under a minute, it runs Windows XP, what more could you ask for? Well, Bluetooth for one thing.

I went to Best Buy on a cloudy Saturday morning near the end of last January, intent on buying a netbook. I went straight over to the Asus EEE PC display, expecting to buy one on the spot, no questions asked, however, of the three EEE display units, the first one wouldn’t turn on, the second was extremely slow (probably because it was loaded down with Best Buy’s demoware), and the third shut off a few minutes after I unplugged it from AC power. I asked one of the employees if there was anything better, and they showed me an HP with a solid state drive, but way back in January of 09 SSD’s were expensive and extremely low capacity (8gb? Good for an iPod I guess, but not for a computer.) So finally the store employee showed me the MSI Wind U100, with a whopping 160GB HDD, 3 hours of battery life, B and G Wi-Fi, and what appeared to be Bluetooth capabilities. For only $249, it was a better deal than anything else on the shelf, so I ended up getting it. When I unboxed it, I smiled as I looked it over, there were all the lights on the side… Power, the three locks (cap, num, scroll), power indicators, wireless, and Bluetooth.

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So after a while of messing around with all that this great machine could do, I decided to see if I could hook it up to my Samsung SGH-D807 and transfer some tunes. The manual said to press the wireless button a few times in rapid succession to turn on Bluetooth, but all it seemed to do was flash the wireless light. At that time there weren’t any posts in the forum that could help me, so I was pretty confused. My Documents folder on the Wind had a “Bluetooth Transfers” folder in it, the device manager found a Bluetooth device on the system even, but I couldn’t activate it. I kept getting weird errors, and things were just not working.

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Do you not see Bluetooth clearly listed here? It’s in the device manager, and it states that it is “working properly.” But oh no, what’s this? Where is it working? We’ve got an unknown location, here! This is certainly suspicious. I was stumped… that is until I recommended this very same model of netbook to my friend Kevin. He bought it and was extremely impressed, and one day he brought it into school with him and I took a look. His U100 had a 9-hour battery, a case, and if you pressed the wireless button twice, the Bluetooth lit up like no big deal. He bought his at Best Buy as well! Why is my machine so less capable? I tried to figure it out, and realized in the end that he had paid $50 more for his netbook than I had for mine. I hadn’t known of the existence of another model, but I guess MSI made two versions, one that was underpowered like mine, and the other which was the full U100 at the time, but used the exact same case, software, and manual in both versions. Here I was lead to believe that the machine I was buying had Bluetooth, but instead I find out my machine just had an empty LED spot that will never light up, and software for a Bluetooth device which isn’t actually present in my system. It’s false advertising! Imagine if Microsoft did this in the different Windows editions, making all the options screens the same as in Windows 7 Ultimate. Take the Starter edition, for example, which doesn’t have Aero. Suppose when you went into display properties, the Aero option was available, but when you tried to enable it it just gave you weird unexplained errors. Or you tried to launch Bit Locker or configure Home Premium as an RDP server and you got a blue screen or it unexpectedly quit. Microsoft could never get away with that.

In the end, I went to the forums a month or so later and found out that Bluetooth is an optional feature, and that if you didn’t see a Bluetooth MAC address on the box you didn’t have it. Best Buy advertised Bluetooth on the sticker, though, and you don’t really see the box until you ask an employee to go grab one out of the back room, and by that point unless you’ve done some prior research and know to look for a Bluetooth sticker, who’s going to know to check the box for a MAC sticker?

It’s frustrating, but it’s life.

The elusive audio controls

creative0

If you’re like me and you’re into recording sound, you’re probably well-aware of the king of all inputs on your computer’s internal mixer, the all mighty “What U Hear” (no joke) mixer. True to it’s name, the What U Hear mixer records everything on your computer, including your voice, whatever music you have playing in the background, audio from a game, annoying popup sounds alerting you of new emails, and as many microphones as you can plug into the computer. It can save you hundreds of dollars, as instead of buying a mixer you can just get a few cheap USB mics and still be able to have your speaker audio heard through all the chaos. Only problem with this wonderful mixer? It doesn’t appear anymore in Windows 7.

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Why is this? I mean, look… there it is in Windows 2000! It was always there.

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Here it is in Windows XP! How about Vista… is it there?

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WHOOP! There it is! Why is this NOT in Windows 7? I know that I have a sound card capable of handling this mixer, and it baffles me why it isn’t here. Don’t even start with drivers, as I’ve gone back and found the original Creative Sound Blaster Audigy SE disc and installed the original drivers. No luck. I updated them to the ones on Creative’s website, no luck. I’ve installed a separate community driver pack that is supposed to include this mixer, no luck. I’ve tried third party programs, but they aren’t the same, and I don’t want to pay $30 for the same functionality I bought this sound card for in the first place. Besides, virtual drivers are a pain.

Another thing… why did Microsoft gimp the volume control so much in Windows Vista/7? Having a full array of volume controls was such a great thing in previous versions of Windows. Also, to add insult to injury, what in the name of love did they do to sound recorder?! Look at the sound recorder of old… just take it in for a second:

creative4

So many features, so much to do. This program is so great! How could Microsoft possibly go wrong with such an old and time tested program? What could they possibly remove?

creative5

Everything. Look at how crippled this new sound recorder is. I even expanded it for you to see. You’re looking at every function this new program can do. It can start recording. It can stop, it can save, and it can view help. How did this happen? What went wrong? I guess they wanted to make it simple, well at least you can’t get any more simple than that. Apple, you may have won the world record for the shortest instruction manual (for the original iMac), but along comes Microsoft making something even shorter and simpler.

You can make some amazing stuff with the old sound recorder and the old volume control and the freaking What U Hear mixer. It’s not only for recording from YouTube and recording copyrighted radio mixes. Give us a break.

And yes, I know there are ways of enabling What U Hear on Windows 7. I just don’t think it’s going to be possible with my hardware. This is an age-old computer, and if I really want to record a stereo mix I can always use my netbook running XP. Remind me to talk all about the manufacturer of my netbook and Bluetooth sometime, but for now, that’s it.

A classmate in my Government class thought I should have a blog if I didn’t have one already in which I just rant about things, and it’s going pretty well thus far!

War of the Files

diamond_dog

I’ve made a lot of progress in Earthbound over the past few weeks, but I have one problem: I keep forgetting to save. Actually, I do save quite often, but every time I boot up the game I’m back outside the Cave where I need to beat Diamond Dog again. Strangely, although I can’t save, save states work just fine, so what is going on? Is ZSNES broken? Not exactly. I figured it out just this morning when trying to rename an old folder:

2010-01-19_1319

Hmm… Administrator permissions, eh? Am I not the owner of my own files?

2010-01-19_1325 

No. I’m not. In a quest to find out who owns my files, I decided to go back in time a year, and found out the shocking truth:

chip

Turns out, my XP account was the owner of all the old files on my data drive, and Windows 7 wasn’t allowed to write my save game data to disk because of this fact. Ugh >_> this is exactly like when I forget to deauthorize my “5th” computer on iTunes, reinstall, and find out that 5 non-existent machines are authorized and I can’t play any music until my “Deauthorize All” resets in half a year from now!

itunes

(Ok, It’s never gotten to that point, but you understand what I’m saying.) What if Microsoft did this type of thing with Windows, in which you must de-activate Windows to activate it somewhere else instead of tying it to the BIOS? People with a copy of Windows they couldn’t boot would need to buy a whole new copy since they couldn’t run the de-activator!

Luckily, I discovered Grooveshark just a few weeks ago, and it solves all my music problems.

grooveshark 

It’s like Lala, in that you can search for and play individual songs, but there’s no limit on how many times you can play a song. It’s also like Pandora, in that you can turn on a “Radio” feature that automatically queues up new songs based on the ones you are currently listening to. Another Lala type feature it has is uploading your own music to be played on the Grooveshark site. They do all of this for free, but also have VIP services I haven’t yet tried that are extremely cheap ($3 / month).

The final program I have to share with you today is Windows Live Writer, which writes blog posts exactly as they will look when they are published.

loop003

Needless to say, it does this very well. I’ve always been a bit untrusting of Windows Live due to the fact that I never much liked Internet Exploder. Many of the people I do computer work for use IE 6, and many of these same people end up buying programs like “Virus Heat 3” ._. The Windows Live programs, however, are amazingly better than expected. I used to use Thunderbird, but after I switched to the Windows Live Mail desktop app, I’ve found it does everything I need to have done just fine. I’ve never been a fan of Outlook, but since I use IMAP and store all my mail on the server anyway I have nothing to worry about when changing mail programs.

Let’s end with a news story… anyone hear about this sad story in the news yesterday? Turns out it was all a big lie.

police

This girl wasted over 50 police and detective hours with a LIE. I thought the story seemed just a bit strange when she was completely unharmed.

Anyways, that’s all for now. Probably won’t be so many things to share next time, whenever next time happens.

It’s Twitter Deluxe!

Welcome to the long edition of my ramblings… one thing that I’ve always lacked is a single blog in which I can publish thoughts, ideas, and the status of all the works in progress that I begin and never finish. This may be the answer, we’ll see how long it actually goes on for.

The construction of SNHub is pretty much completed, so I’m spending most of my web construction time on seemslegit. Shimmie RC1 was released a few days ago, and it’s working well for the most part, except for some errors in viewing the extension manager, a few style errors, and the fact that user registration is broken. Next week I’m planning to re-sync all the files again to the latest ones in git, and hopefully the errors will have resolved themselves by then. I’ve reported about 17 issues over at the Shimmie Redmine (think Trac but using RoR) thus far, and quite a few have been acknowledged, which makes me happy 🙂

Finals week, however, makes me not so happy. The very first final I have this week is Physics, and while I find the class extremely fascinating, and trust me, I do, my mind just isn’t designed for handling so much information at once. Easy formulas such as ”F = m * a” I have no trouble remembering, but when I have to remember the difference between a big P, a little p, and the Greek letter looking like a p, I start to get confused. The last final I have this week, English, is going to be a bit of a grab bag as well, as I need to write two essays, and I’ve little idea about what they will be about.

Have you all seen the tragedies in Haiti? One of the pictures shows a looter stealing a coffin among all things. It really sickens me. One person on Digg commented that it “looks like the end of the world,” and indeed it does.

cavestory

A few days ago I set out to play Cave Story without dying once. After an hour, I realized that isn’t a reasonable goal. I’ve never seen the good ending, err… neither have I seen the second best(?) ending. The only ending I’ve ever seen is the bad ending, and unfortunately I saved after I locked myself into the bad ending. Ugh. This time I’m going for all the secrets and the best ending possible.

2010-01-18_2019[1]

I’m reinstalling Flash, and I get this ridiculous popup telling me to put the disc into my other DVD drive. I guess I must have originally installed it from my other drive, but I’m running the setup program from the DVD, so why’s it so picky?!

Have y’all heard of this stupid thing before? It’s the biggest waste of money since Chris McCandless burned all his money, though he did keep some spare change, ID cards, and other valuable paraphernalia in the secret compartment in his backpack, not that he was able to use it, unfortunately 🙁 But seriously, nobody should be spending money on a symbol in which to view it you must install some software, and anyone receiving emails or reading blog posts in which you use this must also buy and use this software. Whatever happened to /s? Why do people even need to say /s? The best sarcasm is done without /s at all, as demonstrated once again by a Digg comment:

“This is not like Verizon at all. They are usually very open with their phones – allowing the user to essentially have full control over the device. I know this since I am a Verizon customer…” –TimidTurtleTodd (source)

Everyone loves that type of comment, because the sarcasm is implied, and people need to figure it out.

Anyways, I’m out of things to talk about, not that I had much to say in the first place. Until we meet again, friends.