Before The Hunger Games Kills Also Your Imagination

The Hunger Games series kills a lot of things. Mostly blow up children. But it is a masterpiece that combines the wit and strategy of Ender’s Game, with the clever writing and suspense of Harry Potter.

So right before the movie hits the theaters, I decided to mash up and picture of how the characters appeared in my imagination. I stopped reading the Potter books right after I saw the first movie. It brutally murdered my feelings for the characters. I’d hate to see Ender’s Game movie come out and I managed to skip all the trailers for the HG film.

Feel encouraged to do the same! and may the odds be ever in your favor.

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An Epic Moment in British Comedy

Spend 5 seconds and look at the screengrabs below. And now let me explain why it’s such an epic moment in British comedy.

You guessed right, the screengrab is taken from Shaun of The Dead. In this scene, Shaun (Simon Pegg) and his band of survivors, bump into Yvonne (Jessica Stevenson) and her gang of Doppelgängers.

Not long ago, I discovered Black Books. It provided me with the most wittiest and funniest moments I had with my tv. When checking the characters, I was drawn back to this scene in Shaun of The Dead, a movie I’ve seen some five years ago.

  • Nick Frost (1) played the security alarm installer in Black Books S1E5 – The Big Lock-Out
  • Lucy Davis (3) was Becky, Fran’s high school friend in Black Books S3E2 – Elephants and Hens
  • Dylan Moran (4) was Bernard Black. Created, written and performed in every Black Books episode.
  • Simon Pegg (6) was Evan, the evil manager from Goliath Books in Black Books S3E1 – Manny Come Home
  • Jessica Hynes (8) was Yoga teacher Eva in Black Books S2E5 – Hello Sun (who’s up for some rice cakes?)
  • Martin Freeman (9) was Manny’s doctor in Black Books S1E1 – Cooking The Books.
  • Tamsin Greig (11) – Oh, Tamsin Greig, the lovely Fran Katzenjammer. Performed in all Black Book episodes.
  • Peter Serafinowicz (not in these grabs) was Howell Granger, sexy sexy Howell Granger in Black Books S1E5 (with Nick Frost).
  • Matt Lucas (13) was not in the series, but his other-half, David Walliams, was a customer in Black Books S1E6 – He’s Leaving Home.

What a great re-union! But it also makes one wonder about the size of the talent crowd in the UK. Every British comedy I see has to do with one or more of the guys in the screengrab.

Thanks for reading!

Get Black Books from Amazon!

Posted in Philosophy | 3 Comments

The Neverhood

The Neverhood is the best adventure game you (probably) never played. You take the role of Klaymen, a plasticine protagonist unlike any other. Originally released in 1996, by Doug TenNapel (of the Earthworm Jim fame), the game wasn’t a commercial success.

Although a sequel called Skullmonkeys was released on the PSX, the game was pretty much forgotten and Dreamworks stopped future development (including a film that was in the works.)

I have always loved Klaymen and the magnificent soundtrack. I thought of taking some time off to rewrite the game using ScummVM framework and make it available for modern platforms.

The progress I made is available here. A script that unpacks the BLB container files. Each BLB contains background graphics, audio, music, sprites and video (in smk format, supported by ffmpeg). Another script will extract background graphics and convert them into PNGs. The file formats of any of these files is unknown, so you’ll see lots of guesswork in my code.)

See a full collage of all background graphics from The Neverhood.

Posted in Games | Tagged | 3 Comments

Soul of a New Machine

Nostalgia is my middle name, and for the past years I’ve been looking for the reason behind this claim: everything used to be much better.

Growing up, we had a colour tv at home. My parents had a betamax video player and an 8mm reel projector. Fast forward time. In the past 2 decades I’ve owned: betamax, 8mm, vhs, vcd, svcd, dvd, bluray, crt, lcd, tft, 2400 bps, 14400 bps, 28800 bps, 57600 bps, 10mbit, apple2, amiga, 8086, 286, 386, 486sx, dx2, pentium pro and list goes on.

I enjoyed my 14k4 modem more than the 10mbit of today. Surely it wouldn’t play any YouTube videos (barely even ansimations), and would most likely take 25 minutes to load a Facebook page, but how about this — constraint made me browse no more than 3 sites at the same time, I would seriously consider before downloading anything, and words had meaning: I would read, rather than skim around, see the images and skip to the middle of the video just because there’s no time, I must do more more more!

I still consider my Sankyo 8mm projector as the best piece of equipment I ever owned. Films rare had any audio, and that would also be mono. Considering the loud noise of the rotating gears, you couldn’t hear anything even if you wanted to!

So why all of this? The never-ending flame war between audiophiles. Are audio tapes really better than cds? Here’s my take.

When I asked around, the term “soul” came up often. Wikipedia’s definition is so broad that I wonder it’s definable. My opinion on this subject is that inanimate objects seem to have soul when they degrade in time, as their owners.

Oxygen wrinkles my skin; my 8mm reels desaturate for the very same reason. Audio cassettes, floppy disks, vinyl records, kodak film, they all grow old, they all evolve, change, die. Maybe that’s the `soul’ ingredient — these things aren’t forever.

Optical medias, MP3s, digital video, these are immortal. They are plastic, not real, they are like the soda bottles that you throw away and hope they will decay in the new 10,000 years (give or take). Take a moment to sit back and contemplate on the subject for a while. I will stop right here and give you some space, I’m not here for long either :)

Photo by streetpreacher

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Plan 9 From Outer Space

Award-winning picture for the title “Worst Movie Ever Made” was turned into a computer game in 1992 by Gremlin Graphics. I have never managed to sit myself down to watch this film, but its movie poster left such a mark on my teenage self that I kept remembering this name years later.

I am releasing a sprite ripper, which extracts all background graphics and game sprites from the PC version of the game. You have been warned, even the gfx are totally hideous :) , but alas, it makes a cool release. Again, code has been written by trial and error, merely by looking at hexdumps of the binary files. Enjoy!

Download: Python script (requires PIL), Game graphic files (PC)

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I ♥ Stuxnet

This is a lecture about a love story that has been developing for the past few weeks, since the moment I read about the Stuxnet worm and spent the next few days attached to the keyboard, searching and researching.

Stuxnet is a very sophisticated worm that was (most probably) designed to attack the nuclear power plants in Iran. As an Israeli, this means the world to me. In this lecture, I will show the highlights of the worm, how it works, propagates and launches its attack.

Link: Stuxnet Lecture Slides
Link: Stuxnet Lecture Video (Hebrew only at the moment)

Stuxnet is an awesome conversation starter — give it a try!

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The Case of The Cautious Condor

The Case of The Cautious Condor is an adventure game in the format of a comic book. It was released in 1989 by Tiger Media Inc, and was available DOS, CDTV and FM-Towns.

My first encounter with Condor was in 1992, while on vacation in Euro Disney with the family. It was in a display set for future of gaming platform, featuring the CD-ROM. It’s been on my mind ever since.

Without an apparent reason, I figured it’s time to extract all sprites and audio banks. The version I chose was the CDTV, but the code works with DOS version as well.

Condor comprises over 200 .RTF file, each contains a CEL sprite, (optionally) a palette and (optionally) an audio stream. Sprites are 32 colors (5 bit palette index), and audio is 14700 hz 8bit mono.

Game logic was implemented in C++ and is in the executable file in full. The following script was rewritten without reverse engineering the game, with pure trial-and-error.

Owners of the CDTV copy are more than welcome to download the python script at extract-condor-assets.py. It will dump all sprites into separate PNG files, and all audio in Microsoft .wav files (requires PIL and sox). Released under GPL license.

Alternatively, you can view all sprites in a kickass collage online.

And remember: Means, Motive and Opportunity!

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Gilbo!

gilbo

Mod of the day. Click for full size.

Posted in Games | 2 Comments

Cutting a Deal With The Devil

A couple of days ago, I received mail calling to renew my Israeli driver’s license. It has been quite a while and it’s time to reissue that old piece of plastic.

On the back of the payment slip, there is a registration form for EDI, a foundation for transplants & organ donations. Yes.

edi.jpg

Is this the most tactless time and place to recruit new members, or what? I figure the great exposure and the association between the two, but come on! Why push it in my face that I’m going to die? Is by paying the fee, I’m concluding my life, signing the dotted line and wishing doom upon myself?

Hmpf!

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Posted in Philosophy | 4 Comments

2010 New Year’s Resolution

Cat MeditationYou know how it works: at the very end of every year, you say “this is it”. Next year will be different, you sit down with yourself and make a list of accomplishments for next year, only to then realize you could have done it at any other day.

So, here is my list. 2009 has been the most diverse and crazy year I’ve lived through. I have seen a lot, accomplished a lot, experience a lot, and most importantly, learned a lot about life.

2010:

* Less Tweeting, more blogging
* Less running, more meditating
* Less talking, more listening
* Less flickring, more photographing
* Less computer time, more drumming
* Less computer time, more time reading books
* Less computer time, more playing guitar
* Less dreaming about it, more doing something about it
* Less tv, more movies
* Less coding, more outsourcing
* Less micro-managing, more peace
* Less beginnings, more completing
* Less technical, more artistic
* Less doing, more thinking
* Less online, more offline

Less is more

Happy New Year 2010!

(Cat meditation photo by Green Explorer)

Posted in Life | 2 Comments

Machinarium: Drop of Water in a Burning Desert

Machinarium

We live in the dark ages of 3rd person role playing games and first person shooters. The year is 2009, and I expected we’d be over this by now. What in the early days was titled revolutionary, visionary and ground-breaking is today summed up into the word “Indie”.

Machinarium is a point-and-click adventure game from the Czech studio Amanita Design. It is IGF2009 Winner and PAX10 finalist, but none of this matters really.

What really matters that it’s awesome on so many levels. In an era of burning desert, this is a precious drop of water.

Setting in a robot world, you play an honest robot that was just dumped as spared parts. Other robots are very poor, and two (robo-)bullies make the life of everybody a living hell.

What captured me about this game most, is that it brings back the most important essence of classic adventure gaming: everything takes time. After I purchased the game, I thought to myself, there’s no way to skip this walking sequence, with my ADD, I will never manage to complete it in this lifetime.

Machinarium is different.

I couldn’t stop and put it down. The puzzles were incredible, and so fun to solve! The graphics are mind blowing, the plot is awesome, and all the little animations and bits of story that make this game a perfect 10. (video)

Several other things that I just had to point out: the game has no HUD (Head-up Display), you have inventory and options, but the game goes all over the screen. There’s no speech, no text, no dialogs. Your brain makes up with imagination instead. Events are set up in a way that you are never lost, you always have a mini-game to solve or a place to go. And one last thing, robots have feelings. This story is about corruption, greed, crime and true love.

A demo is available for free download; if you loved Another World, Grim Fandango or King’s Quest 5, I guarantee you’ll fall for this as well.

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Posted in Games | 2 Comments

How Adventure Games Ruined My Life

1224106734-04.pngYes, ruined!

Something has been rooted deeply in my childhood that the finest psychologists and your favorite fireman cannot help me. What is wrong with the screenshot on the right?

As an avid adventure gamer, I have played and completed most of Sierra Online’s quest games. Spending countless after-school hours. I loved every single moment of it and it substantially improved my English (who else played Leisure Suit Larry with an English dictionary?!).

But what stayed with me most is the scoring system. See, Sierra seems to be the only developer who limited a game by the maximum score. You can complete an adventure, save the King, slay the Wizard, and still have some points missing. How is that possible? From a different point of view, it’s like saying — you can do something well, but we know how you’d make it perfect. We’re not telling.

This has contributed a lot to my terrible fashion of perfectionism. Everything can be done better, up to a point. There is a state where things are Perfect. Have you ever seen another game (collecting items aside,) where your highest score has an upper limit?

Nowadays people compare themselves to their friends by the money they have in the bank. And why is that? We are competitive bastards. That’s what we are. Choosing my over other forms is simply because it’s numeric. $2 is greater than $1. Three houses are more than none.

Why not compare the number of good friends you have? Your lifestyle? The hours of days you have free for yourself? How many hobbies do you practice? Can you quantize love? freedom? happiness? success? how? why? why? why?

This post is far from perfect. I win.

Posted in Philosophy | 5 Comments

Toki RE Project, Status Update

I’ve been making a huge progress with my Toki reverse-engineering project. Toki has been one of my all time favorite games since the day it was added at the arcades. You play a monkey (win!) that can fire bullets from his mouth (epic win!).

Toki, first level good palette!

All level backgrounds, all parallax secondary backgrounds, correct palettes and most sprites are extracted and converted to PNGs. At the moments the sprites are discovered by trial and error – hoping to find how they are stored in the code. I will release all code as GPL when I’m through.

I wouldn’t have been able to do any of these without the help of Mame. I hope to soon post a post-mortem on this game and its uber cool architecture.

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Nazi Shapeshifters, I was right all along

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A while ago I wrote a post about how video games change history facts and make the Third Rich a scifi team of super villians. To make my point stronger, new screenshots from EA’s upcoming Wolfenstein RPG (iPhone) were released to the public, rendering Hilter as a modern struggling rockstar with a badly glued toupee. And to calm everybody down, the swastikas were replaced by a plus sign. Remember when Guy Montag burnt down historical art because it might upset people. Just a bad taste in my opinion. Not only you are killing history, but if you’re making a theme game (Nazi), at least get the BRAND straight.

Charlie Chaplin did:
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Posted in Games, Rant | 2 Comments

Announcing: ReadySoft Animation Player

space-ace-2.pngReadysoft Animation Player was a super fun project I made back in 2006, aiming to port Dragon’s Lair & Space Ace to modern and mobile platforms. The greatest thing about these games (aside the gameplay and superb Bluth animation,) is that they are available for every console, alive or dead, with new versions still being released.

I intend to publish a technical article about Readysoft’s FMV engine, and compare different console versions. It’s part of Gawd’s Museum of Dissected Games, and a detailed autopsy and source code will be uploaded later.

This is a rewrite of the animation code made for the PC platform. The Amiga, Atari ST and Apple IIgs used similar code and graphics. Visit the ReadySoft Animation Player.

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Why I Never Forgave Metallica

napster-bad.jpgA few days ago, while dusting off some old cds of mine, I came across my good old copy of Metallica’s Load. Now, you have to realize. Unlike my older brothers who grew up in the 80s, I’m not that high on Queen, Eurythmics or The Smiths. My heroes were Kurt Cobain and James Hetfield. While Cobain made sure there is no new material coming out anytime soon, we still had high hopes for Metallica in high school. And indeed, by 1996 Metallica has released Load, after 6 years of total drought. The cliche’ goes about a rain and a desert, and was absolutely just like that.

When the new album hit the stores, I remember the day I took the bus to the city, just to walk 30 minutes to that special and only place around that sold punk/metal music. If you were of the lucky early birds, you also got this cool ass poster of the band with short hair and 1970s pornstar mustaches. Load was a great album, and the 1997 compliment of Reload made it a swarm of new material. We were happy.

Back in 2000s, when P2P file sharing was booming, Metallica took a stand to lead the industry war against piracy. That was almost a decade ago, and I’m not dumb enough to believe there was no pressure from records label to fight till the death. But for some reason that made question why am I still buying every album they release. What really broke me was MTV Cribs; in the early 2000s, MTV toured rockstar houses. One episode that really caught my eye was of Korn’s bass player, Fieldy. He bragged about everything he owned, and especially his gold coated toilet set and bathroom sink. That really pissed me off. That was the day I stopped buying major bands albums. No more Metallica or Korn. I still buy a lot of cds, but they are mostly either local or indie.

Years have passed and Metallica kept releasing new albums. It slowly fade away for me and letting Trujillo sit at Newsted’s chair at Metallica Icon just made it less attractive. Last I heard from a friend was that St. Anger had no solos. Their signature was broken. It’s very sad to see your idol die. Metallica still play the old their good ol’ stuff at concerts. I’m not ruling out attending (another) one. Their shows are awesome and it’s authentic nostalgic at a low price.

Posted in Rant | 4 Comments