Column : I’m not a Gamer, I’m just retro.

I’m not a gamer. There, I said it. Contrary to the beliefs of many that geeks tend to spend hours and hours online playing all kinds of cool games .. I form the exception to that very rule. Whenever you watch episodes of the Big Bang Theory or some other big media production that tries to depict “What a geek is” to the average digital mouth breather, it always encompasses images of Computers, Terminal windows and hours of Console gaming. I am horribly bad at the latter.

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I am just not a “Console” Gamer. My gaming career (can you call it that ?) did start on “Console Gaming”. That is, if you can call the Atari 2600, its 8bit graphics and its indestructible controllers a “console”. Compared to todays Xbox 360 consoles that try to do everything but wash your dishes, the Atari was horribly yet brilliantly simple. Plop in casette, play game. We never had to worry about remembering our “live-id”, logging in, an internet connection, checking if our TV screen was DRM compatible for HDMI output and so forth. The only thing you DID have to remember was to finish up in time for your dad to watch the news. (Because you played this baby on the family tv, remember ?) The controller was horribly simple : A stick to move, buttons to fire/jump… that was it. If I ever thought this console would have prepared me for gaming in the 21st century .. I was dead wrong. I never stood a chance.

So after spending my digital adolescence on PC gaming using the powers of a noisy Cherry keyboard and a Logitech mouse, I stopped gaming for a couple of years. Getting a Mac meant that I had lots of new things to keep me occupied like producing music, video’s and podcasts. There weren’t a lot of games on the Mac in the beginning, and I never realy cared about that. But as for filling as it was to create a podcast, there was still this nagging sense of urgency that somewhere, somehow, I felt the need to let off some steam by blowing up a random zombie with a big gun.
So instead of installing games on my computer (I despised the hassle) , I decided to “just get a console” for my gaming needs. I was going to get BACK into GAMING.

I tried valiantly to throw myself back into the land of the modern gamer and got me an Xbox 360. The cultural shock could not have been any harsher then when I dipped my very first toes into a level of Halo. But before we get into the horrible embarrassing story of me being fragged by a six year old, lets back up to my initial encounter with the Xbox. When I got the unit out of its box and hooked it up to our TV, I somehow KNEW it was going to be a little more complex then my Atari 2600. It needed an internet connection : I expected that. It needed to run its updates : I expected that too (It IS a Microsoft product) It required me to set up an account : Ok, lets do that. But when I started asking me questions like : What kind of hair do you want to choose for my Avatar and “would you like to buy more accessories online” I was starting to feel a little out of my depth. Was this the state of gaming today ? No ” slide in the cartridge, flip switch, kill space invaders ” but a tedious process of digital bureaucracy and pointless avatar-pimping ? Come on !
I waded through the process, only to be appalled by the fact that I needed to pay EXTRA to play my game online. A game that I had already purchased. Baffled by the paywall between me and what seems to be a very “basic” need to ‘play with others’, I chose to go for “single player mode” first.

Halo. I had seen kids play this and was amazed at how good the game looked, how versatile it was, how detailed and entertaining it looked.. This was going to be fun right ? Wrong ! It turned out that the modern day gaming industry had slid yet another insolvable Rubics cube between me and my game : The controller. Forget the simplicity of the Classic Atari controller. This thing had more buttons then I had fingers. It had knobs, dials, buttons, switches whose purpose was completely lost on me. What WAS this ?
Add a giant Tv, a high speed game with tons of bad guys, sounds, flashing lights and a 300 button controller … and I was lost. I spent most of my time in Halo as organic paste on the wall before I switched to call of duty. Here, I was even worse. In the heat of the fight I forgot what button was up or down (or fire) and ended up giving the bad guy my rations. (He did not appreciate the gesture). I thought a racing game would be better but ended up plowing fields with my very expensive Ferrari in Need for Speed. I just wasn’t any good at it.

The controller and all its buttons had me baffled. The fast pace and high details of the game overloading my sensory pallet. My lethal gaming skills were reduced to a puddle of goo in the land of modern console gaming : I sucked at it.. Big time.
So after spraining a muscle while playing ‘The Michael Jackson experience’ ( I thought the Kinect controller would be ‘a big help’ in all this) I decided to sell my Xbox. Its now on the Belgian version of Craigslist. Not because its not awesome (because it is) not because its too hard (its not) but because the generational gap between me and the modern day console gamers is too big for me to breach.
I’m a classic gamer. Meet me in the online world of Counter Strike, of Quake 3, of Wolfenstein or some other first person shooter .. and I am lethal. Armed with a clunky keyboard and a sensitive mouse, I will seek you out and I will be the soul progenitor of your continues respawns. I’m not old .. I’m just Retro.

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GAME WEEK : Cross platform terraforming with Minecraft.

Today we focus on one of the more addictive cross plaform games : Minecraft. Telling us all about minecraft is guestblogger Matt ( better known as Turtles) We will stand back and let him do the explaining.
 
My first minecraft experience was amazing and I remember the day well. I was looking around for a new  game to play on the xbox 360 something creative, what I found was much more. Minecraft was at the time  on sale which was a bonus, however minecraft is a game I would pay full retail for and in Australia  that is close to $100. Its now 2 years into playing minecraft and the feeling has not changed. I still  enjoy being dropped into my own world where I can mine and craft to my hearts content. 
 
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Minecraft is a game where you start with just your character, the world loads around you in chunks of  grass and trees. After a few seconds you realise just how expansive the world you just seeded has become. In creative mode you can fly into the air to see your world, or you could simply explore for yourself. On these adventures you might come across some animals which provide to you raw meats anditems which you will need to keep yourself save and well fed. I would suggest to start building a house first as when night falls you will be in for a big surprise. Night time is when the monsters of minecraft come out to play.

I started off playing creative mode minecraft this is where you have access to every block and item that is currently in the version you are playing. With all these blocks available to you, you can craft anything and the only limit is your creative self. The first thing I did in minecraft was to build a house and a bed so I was nice and safe from those pesky little monsters. Little did I know in 
creative mode there are no monster mobs spawning at night and therefore is a nice mode if you just want to create a massive tower; a nice house or even create your own mini games. 

When you get used to minecraft on creative mode and looking for a tougher challenge the next step is  Survival mode, with 4 levels of difficulty which are peaceful no spawing monsters up to difficult. Unlike creative mode here is were the real game gets you hooked. You will start with no tools, blocks or information, you are however given a map which is empty. From this point on the game will only progress with the work you perform within the world. Sit back and wait for dark and monsters will keep attacking you. Get in early and start building your house and a bed and in no time you will be safe from the onslaught you will see when the sun sets.

Singleplayer minecraft is a lot of fun as you can move along the timeline of your world as quickly or as slowly as you see fit. You are mining and crafting items for yourself which can take up precious time you need to collect other valuable resources if only someone could help you. Well in Multiplayer  the entire experience changes, not because you have a friend to mine resources you also have an enemy waiting to attack you. Be careful if you find gold or diamond your friend might want those for  themselves. With a few swings of a stone sword your hard work might just become someone’s ill gotten gain.   

There are so many features in the game that just need to be experienced by the player, with the game still in development there really is a lot more content that can be added. With the over world (main seeded world) which contains villages, dungeons and very different biomes (Rain forest, Forest, Desert, Sea, Caves, Solid Ground, Mushroom) all these biomes have different creatures and blocks you would need to mine in order to build your wildest creations. The current version 1.7.2 has most of the features above along with many types of animals, all of which are interact able and can be used for food, security(Wolves), or just to admire.

So to sum up Minecraft the game is endless fun for all ages I spent roughly 2 hours a day playing Minecraft with my niece over christmas. I must say it was one of the highlights of my holidays. Fishing a close second.. I want to finish off with my top 5 favorite things to do in minecraft.

1. Wolf Pack: Using bones collected from skeletons to be-friend a pack of wolves, then running around and attacking other animals to watch the wolves attack. Same with monsters spawned.

2. Pet spawning: this is where you get two animals of the same kind and you fence them. Then you make them enter love mode. After a few seconds a smaller younger version of these animals appears.

3. Creepers: While these are monsters the creepers will just pop up on you, you will here a hissing noise followed by a big explosion. Normal reactions are “Oh Crap!”, “ARRGGHHH!” , and “NOOOOOO”

4. Traps: Setting up pressure pads connected to TNT, which can be used to destroy someones creation or simple to have fun with dispensers.

5. Mini Games: I have seen many YouTube videos with free maps you can play that have multiple mini games, designed to use normal minecraft items to advance through levels.

About Matt : (A.K.A Turtlez) Age: 26

I have been a gamer for quite a few years now close to 14. I enjoy playing both online and offline games with friends. I have been mainly a PC and Xbox gamer with a tendency to play mostly First Person Shooter games, however I have branched out recently to third person hack and slash games. I also have been enjoying 2K’s NBA2k range of Basketball games, as well as Formula 1 games. Growing up in my household my father enjoyed working with computers and IT equipment which meant I spent loads of time doing the same as a kid. I now have an IT Based job in Australia working with an IBM Mainframe as a performance tester. I still to this day enjoy getting a gaming session in on a weekend or even after dinner when the time suits me. I first cut my gaming teeth on the good old Counter Strike 1.6 and Team Fortress 2 (A.K.A Team Fortress Classic). I then moved onto the newer versions of these games years later and expanded to Battlefield 2. Now I have a list as long as a stack of cases with all the games I currently play. The major of my time is spent playing the following: Battlefield 4, Team Fortress 2 (Source Edition), or Counter Strike Source , NBA 2k13 or 2k14 Formula 1 2013 (Usually driving in full GP length races with my cousin online) GTA IV, Forza, Ryse when I feel the need for change. Matts online coordinates : Xbox Live: TurtlezPantz – Steam:  zyther (Screen Name Turtlez!) – Raptr: TM_Turtlez

About Minecraft.

Minecraft is a cross platform game. (to play it you just need Java on your machine) You can DOWNLOAD IT HERE.

There are also many completely FREE and open source alternatives to the “original” minecraft that might be more suitable for your system (or your budget) : choose from one of the many other alternatives out there in THIS list

 

 

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Game Week : “Frag the Axis” on “Return to Castle Wolfenstein”.

Loooos Looos Loooooossss !!!! We used to shout it across the office at lunch break. Our boss didn’t even notice anymore and our cleaning lady tended to leave the building whenever we were playing. I am of course referring to the endless lunch breaks at my old job, spent playing “Castle Wolfenstein” in multiplayer mode. Forming small teams of German or Allied soldiers and trying to invade bunkers, steal documents or liberate prisoners. I LOVED Castle Wolfenstein, both in its Single player mode (Fighting Nazi’s and Zombies) or in online multiplayer mode. Ok : Nazi’s and Zombies does make it sound like Wolfenstein was a mix between “The Walking Dead” and “Allo Allo”… but it is nothing like that.

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In multiplayer game mode every teammember in our office-battalion had a specific function. Engineer, Medic, Soldier … and “That guy with the bazooka”. That guy would be me. From a tactical viewpoint you used the bazooka to gain entrance to a bunker. Once inside you would dispose of the Bazooka and respawn as a medic or a soldier .. Not me : I used the Bazooka everywhere. I was lethal in close quarters, both for my enemies, my teammates and my own health. This strategy turned me into a “loose canon” on the battlefield, terrifying both my teammates and my enemies equally. I built up quite a reputation that way 🙂 Good times , Good times indeed.

Now YOU can have a crack at Zombies, Nazi”s and Allied forces. Fire away on your Mac, your Linux machine or your Windows desktop. Download Castle Wolfenstein Enemy Territory here … LOOSSS LOOSSS LOSSSS !!!!

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Game week : “Open Arena” Cross platform Quake3 Fun !

If I say the word “Rocketjump” and you have no idea what it is  ? … Then you seriously need to read the next post. In day two of our cross-platform gaming week we point you toward the reincarnation of one of the best first person shooters ever created. We are talking about Quake 3. A fantastic, high speed, fast moving, addictive, life-eating, relationship-destroying, girlfriend-infuriating game that kept us ALL up till dawn back in the year 2000. Quake is one of those “shoot anyone that moves” games that had a massive online following. No matter what part of the world you were at, there was always a server where you could log into and fire frag and respawn to your hearts desire.

I remember fondly how I would “get rid of my girlfriend” by taking her home at ten .. coming back to my apartment and start playing Quake 3 till 4am while eating Nacho’s and drinking coke.  Quake is fun, addictive and has eaten a big part of my life I can never get back.  And i had such a good time… I don’t even care 🙂 

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Now you (and your cross platform buddies) can have a go with “Open Arena” a free, open-source and cross platform friendly port of the old Quake game. It might not be as fancy as your newest Xbox one game, but EVERY first person shooter is in some way or form a descendant ( I feel the urge to say “Derivative”) of the original Quake 3.

Feed your dog for the next three weeks and kiss your job goodbye. Download and play Open Arena .. for free HERE.

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Game week : The Dark Mod : Cross platform first person “Sniper”.

I am old. It is a shocking statement, but there are some facts that back up that statement. For one : I am absolutely terrible with console games. My fingers turn to putty whenever I need to press the right combination of buttons on my controller. I either turn ‘Need for Speed’ into a farming simulator (trying to plow a field with my 500 million dollar Bentley) or turn ‘Call of Duty’ into a charity game by giving my enemies my rations in the heat of battle. ( Army food is a lethal weapon .. right ? ).

But with age comes a certain kind of grace : the ability to completely own & pown when you can get your hands on a keyboard and a mouse. From a very  young age I was trained by master-gamers in the secrets of Doom, Quake and Counter Strike. The latter proved to be something I was very good at. I was a lethal opponent in stealth and my sniper rifle killed more men then I fired bullets. Yes .. I was a camper .. but a damn good one. Mock me and you will look over your shoulder for the rest of your life. I was ‘death invisible’.

Since stealth and secrecy so becomes me, I found ‘THE DARK MOD” a great game to play. Based on the Doom engine, the goal of the game is to sneak around, kill your enemies and try not to make a sound. Hiding the body prevents tripping off the alarms, Lurking in the shadows means opponents can’t see you … Using knives instead of guns helps you go unnoticed. I love it.

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The Dark Mod is gloomy, has atmosphere and is pretty addictive to play. The great part is that this game is available on both Windows, Mac and Linux and it is for free. 

Get your copy of “The Dark Mod” here.

 

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Geek-OCD. The urge to solve it all.

It was going to be a nice weekend. With the soft winter weather making room for clear skies and long walks in rolling fields, the last thing I had expected was to be stuck at home behind a computer. Some kind of work emergency ?  A horribly addictive game ? A burst of inspiration that triggered me to finish my book ? No .. none of the above. The one and only reason that kept me from enjoying some time away from my screen was : Geek-OCD.

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The culprit in this case consisted of an issue with the wireless connection on my Linux Laptop. After installation of my new home router, the wireless connection problems on my favorite linux laptop escalated to a point that it was no longer usable. There is, for a geek like me, nothing more frustrating then buying a superfast router on a superfast internet connection .. Only to realize your superfast laptop is crawling along the intertubes slower then a snail with a morphine overdose. Quickly checking other machines on the network turned up that the issue was located solely on this one machine. And since this thing worked properly when I connected it via the cable .. It had to be a wireless issue.  An odd problem indeed. It had never done this with my previous router and there were no other devices on my network that showed the same problem. 

I started sliding down the slippery slope of Geek-OCD. The compulsory need to get to the root of any technological problem that comes across our path. The mental inability to say “Frack this, I don’t know what is going on here” and move on.  I had to know the root cause .. I just HAD to. Deep diving into the technicalities I started analyzing the wireless network traffic in my house using specialized tools. “Sniffing” my way through every single data packet that passed at light speed from my router to my Laptop I quickly found that something was wrong.  Strange errors like TCP-retransmissions, Ack packages and connections that were “out of sync” turned out to be the culprit of why it took forever to open up the www.ilovecarebears.com site. Each unknown error code led to a google search that led to tons of answers who in turn pointed to pages and pages of text on forums. The issue was slowly turning into one of these endless google rabbit holes that consume hours of your time, only to increase the sense that you have absolutely no clue what you are on about.

Reading through the 11th page on the forum of the 4th link in my 5th search attempt , I stopped myself.  STOP ! I had followed several sets of instructions that might lead to salvation.  I had pasted in commands in the terminal , flipped switches and checkboxes. I had rebooted, patched and botched things up .. I had reached the end of both my patience and my tether. And I still had not gotten any closer to a solution.

I decided to break one of my cardinal rules : I’ll just reinstall the system. The trigger of this drastic decision came from a second but equally powerful kind of Geek-Ocd. “You cannot keep on working with a botched up system”. Unclear of the damage caused by my tinkering, I decided that that machine just  “didn’t feel right” anymore. I could no longer vouch for its integrity and it somehow didn’t ‘feel’ right anymore (+ my problem wasn’t fixed) so I decided to reinstall the system, a clear system of my second geek-OCD : every system has to work perfectly.

4 hours (and 4 versions of linux) later .. I watched the winter sun set on the western skyline and found that I had blown away an entire afternoon without getting anything done.  The cause of my problem not found, my working system in shambles and still a long way to go before my fresh installation would be tweaked to my specifications. Because that is yet another Geek-OCD quirk I have, Every system needs to have all the right software and settings before I start using it…. In short : Geek-OCD ate my weekend.

 

Epiloge.

The next Monday after this tech intensive weekend a friendly geek in a Linux Irc chatroom pointed out that “oh, you have a common problem. It has to do with a driver issue , just disable setting X and you’ll be fine”. I resisted the urge to scream and just rested my head between my hands. I had once again become the victim of my own Geek-Ocd. The urge to find the root of every problem, to never work with a “compromised” system and to only be satisfied with a perfectly personalized install of your own computer. Back in my windows days this meant that I spent more time maintaining my systems then I did using them. These days, thanx to the macs in my house, that is no longer the case. Yet linux, stable and reliable as it is, still has the power to push me into Geek-OCD relapse from time to time.

In the end we should take the time to realize that technology needs to work for us, instead of the other way around. And that solutions that require more effort then the results they produce … are probably not the smartest way to spend your Sunday afternoon. However : The one thing you do get out of all this is knowledge. The knowledge and experience on how to tackle a technical issue like this, Expertise on the deeper darker side of technology behind the issue that you have … But maybe most importantly : The knowledge not to throw away a sunny afternoon on a problem that you could have fixed with 2 clicks, the next Monday morning.

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Make screencasts from your android phone with ‘Rec.’

There is a time in your life where you have reached the highest levels of achievement in the things that really matter. Those few and feeble quirks of existence  that defy who you are in this pointless thing we call life .. We are of course referring to … CANDY CRUSH . What is the point of reaching yet another level of this magnificent game that is so important you feel the need to abandon your pets, love, sweetheart … if you cannot share it with the world ? Running around with your phone , pointing at the screen and shouting ‘LOOK LOOK’ is one way to do it, but it is not the only one.

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Enter “REC.” a simple screen capture application for Android (Its free) that lets you record your screen and all your moments of glory as you shatter yet another row of multi-colored  diamonds. “Rec.” lets you save, download and share screencasts recorded on your Android phone .. with everyone.

Rec. is free, works with Kit Kat, but does require root privileges. Download it here.

 

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Setting up your own SSH proxy on Windows.

Free wifi is great. It’s like finding an oasis in the middle of the desert that gives you the ability to quench your digital thirst before you wade into the offline sahara once again. But “Open and Free” wifi comes at a price. Being a shared network medium, it means that all traffic on the wireless network is visible to all users on that network , should they care to take a peak.

With networking tools like “Wireshark” it is fairly easy sniff traffic on an open wifi network and intercept all kinds of unencrypted traffic. That traffic can consist of what URL’s you surf to to what passwords you use (if you have an unsecured connection) .. They are all there for anyone to sniff, download and analyse.

To keep your browser traffic private all you need to do is encrypt it. One of the ways to do this is of course use https connections where you can, but if that is not possible there are alternatives. You can set up your own SSH proxy server. This means you will be creating an encrypted tunnel from your laptop, TROUGH the internet, to your home server. Once there (behind the security of your own firewall) your traffic heads for the internet. Its like surfing at home, but you are in fact ‘away from home’. 

The only thing you need are :

– Access over SSH to a linux server.  ( Check our our tutorial on how to set this up) 

– A copy of Firefox.

A copy of Putty.

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Setting it up is quite easy , and we will probably do a screencast on the issue in season 8 of our podcast, but instead of boring you with a lot of text , we are going to point you to the excellent podcast episode Kurtis Adkins did for Hacker Public Radio on the topic. Take 20 minutes and listen carefully. When you are done (and have the ingredients above) you will be able to secure your webtraffic from anyone who wants to snoop around. (Hackers, scriptkiddies or nosy sysadmins) 

Link : Curtis Adkins on : Setting up and using SSH and SOCKS (Hacker public Radio ep 1422)

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Free book/podcast : When sysadmins ruled the earth.

“Reading” : Aside from reading green text on a black terminal background of a remote SSH connections, most system administrators don’t do a lot of reading. Yet you should consider withdrawing from the screen and keyboard from time to time just to relax with a nice cup of tea and .. do some reading. But about what ? Vampires ? Wizards ? 50 shades of greyscale ? Most popular ‘books’ that line the bestseller que at the bookstores don’t appeal to us. So lets find something that does.

It has to be about something that interests us, something that is geeky and techie enough to keep your massive brains entertained, but also short and fast enough to outrun our ADD brain .. (oh look : Squirrels ! )

Cory Doctorow’s books have always checked those boxes. For those of you who have not read “Little Brother” and “Homeland” : You are missing out. 2 great books that SHOULD be fiction, but considering what the NSA is doing to day .. feel more like a reality soap. The books are free, you have no excuse but to download and read them. 

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Cory also regularly writes short stories like “When sysadmins ruled the earth” Exiting easy to read short stories about the oompa loompa”s who make the internet work !  You can download the stories individually over at Cory’s website (as a podcast if you are too lazy to read) or download them as a complete book in .ePub or .mobi format.  Its free .. there is no excuse …  Read … you fools ! 🙂

Download the separate chapters here.

Download the entire book as an ePub or mobi here.

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