Friday, May 26, 2006

Rotate Your Desktop on a Cube

I just tried out the very nifty Kororaa Project live CD - a Gentoo live CD with Xgl already built and configured for both KDE and Gnome. It's quite a demo - the screenshots alone don't do it justice.

Your desktop can act like faces on a cube - as you rotate the cube you switch your visible desktop. This works surprisingly well; moving a window from desktop to desktop can be as easy as sliding it from one face of the cube to another.

Also, since everything is an OpenGL surface, you can render video quite nicely and not take a performance hit while all the eye candy is turned on. Windows and UI elements all scale correctly, so you can accurately zoom in and zoom out of an area. Windows also have "bounce" or "wiggle" animations, which makes things feel more plastic and actually gives you useful feedback as you traverse workspaces. The famous OSX F12 key is there too, and allows you to select from all your open windows in one fell swoop.

There are a few drawbacks, both of which happen to be deal breakers for me. First, Xgl doesn't support dual head setups for stretching your desktop across multiple monitors. Second, there does appear to be a performance hit to regular OpenGL applications. Running glxgears in Kororaa yielded about 12,200 frames per second, but in my default SuSE 10 install it runs at about 15,200 FPS. A 20% performance hit ain't good.

Still, the Kororaa live CD is definitely worth a whirl. Since it boots off the CD, Xgl works without configuration and the OS doesn't even touch your hard drive you can try it without risk and see the nifty effects and affects on your own.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

A Mountain Lion Ate My Horse

You hear me mountain lions? It's freakin' ON! I've got a hankerin' for a double-breated mountain lion suit with matching clogs, and the only cure is mountain lion on a pig pole.

Oh, it's on. It's on.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Left Behind: The Search for Cash

Christian gaming is starting to hit the spotlight now that E3 is rolling around. While some titles disguise their message in innuendo and hidden subtext, such as Bibleman: A Fight for Faith, others are more mainstream.

Left Behind: Eternal Forces is an RTS where the Tribulation Force deploys units against Antichrist's Global Community Peacekeepers. In single player you play the Tribulation Force, where your units lose spirit points every time they kill enemy units. Prayer restores the points, otherwise they can be recruited to the other side.

Michael Pachter of Wedbush Morgan Securities noted "The reason that I think this game has a chance is that it's not particularly preachy... I will say some of the dialogue is pretty lame - people saying 'Praise the Lord' after they blow away the bad guys. I think they're overdoing it a bit. But the message is OK."

Good ol' Jack Thompson, also lookin' to get some E3 press, of course had something to say. "We're going to push this game at Christian kids to let them know there's a cool shooter game out there... because of the Christian context, somehow it's OK? It's not OK. The context is irrelevant. It's a mass-killing game."

AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!!!!!! I agree with Jack Thompson! Someone hit me with a pipe!

It sounds like they're attempting to hit a new target demographic... not relay a message. Then again... I kinda expect a bad book series deserves a bad game.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

SuSE 10.1 - Avoiding the Fedora Trap

Just installed SuSE 10.1 on my Latitude D600... and all in all it's a great release. It's really deserving for a "SuSE 11" moniker, but I have a feeling they're waiting on that until KDE 4.0.

Gone is a lot of SuSE-centric software with new, more standardized set of hardware detection and system management packages. SuSE used to need their own hardware detection monitor, but with KDE's hardware abstraction layer coming into fruition and packages such as KNetworkManager, you don't need it. It's a nice shift, as this allows you to have more integrated and widely accepted tools.

Zen, however... that's a different situation.

SuSE's YaST Online Update and Software Management has been replaced by Novell's Zen software management, which while good in concept, absolutely sucks in practice. While it's nice that it monitors any package repository you want (such as PackMan or Guru) for updates, it takes for freaking ever for it to load and install packages. FOR. FREAKING. EVER.

It's nice being on a fresh new install. Every release that comes out I swear to myself "I'm going to keep a pristine factory install - no beta packages." Then a new KDE release comes out that I must have, and I say "well, I'll just try the new KDE out." Then I figure "since I'm already non-stock with the unofficial KDE packages, I might as well try this other hack out..." and then a runaway train of applications and hacks leaves me with a mutt of a system.

So now I'm starting with a clean(ish) slate. I'm trying to break myself of the console habit - so I'm using more GUI tools to diagnose stuff. I never realized how handy KSystemlog and KDE System Guard was... quite nice.

10.1 really is a fantastic OS - encrypted filesystems are even handled sensibly with the boot GUI doing just a brief break to prompt for the password. Partitions are now broken apart into root and home directories, and swap & extended portions are sensible. The desktop itself has little clutter, and less stuff starts at boot time and desktop startup. Nice 'n' clean.

The visor kernel module for my Samsung i500 still renders my keyboard useless, however. For some reason syncing via USB causes the laptop to stop receiving input from the keyboard altogether and then can't shut down. I'm relegated to IrDA only, which is sloooooooooooow and an overall pain in the butt. I am working on using Kitchensync in KDE, however, which is quite nice. In theory it should render my custom hackish sync script unnecessary, which would get rid of an extra step and hopefully allow for a two-way sync between the i500 and Exchange.

Oblivion Newbs

There's a rash of newbs whose first exposure to the Elder Scolls series is Oblivion, which is a crying shame. Of course, the fact that I didn't come in at Arena makes me a n00b too, but I'm less n00bish.

I have to rank Morrowind over Oblivion so far. It seems that the level of detail in Oblivion has hit the uncanny valley, where things look so real you can't help but notice it's fake. Like the animatronic Hall of Presidents, your subconscious keeps interjecting and telling you what you're seeing is fake... like an animated corpse. Your mind is constantly aware that something is awry, albeit minor, grinding away like annoying grains of sand. Shaders being too shiny, grass shaders eating frame rates alive, leaf pixmaps popping in and out of the Z buffer as they sway on branches... these all just serve to remind you that what you're seeing is a damn close approximation of the real world, but something is out of place.

Morrowind had its cutting edge (at the time) water effects, which made people swoon as soon as they had a DX9 card. Otherwise, however, it was obvious you were living inside an American RPG. Dialog was text-based, little voice acting was done (don't get me started on Dagoth Ur), and magic effects basically looked like Quake 2 runes. The vistas were still stunning - hell, Morrowind even has photography guilds. Towns were a seamless collection of buildings, just like they should be. Oblivion attempts to optimize framerates and create hard edges to the world with the old fasioned stupid game mechanic of we-built-four-hundred-foot-walls-around-our-entire-city-so-players-can't-just-walk-inside; the engine can then unload a mega-texture landscape setting and load a much more finite city setting. Morrowind accomplished the same thing by only spawning new areas within buildings, which is a much more natural transition. It makes sense to start a new area inside a building... you're going outside, in. You could just stroll into a city using whatever means necessary... just levitate in if you want. The bounds placed on cities in Oblivion are much more artifical and abrupt, with NPC's "teleporting" inside of city gates instead of just stepping through the freaking door.

Then again, I could just be waxing rhapsotic for Morrowind's storyline. I'm drawn to the "creationist" or "origin" adventures, the type where you find out that the world wasn't created using the schema you've always believed. It's a bias I've carried with me ever since I was first hooked into the RPG genre - with Final Fantasy Legend.

Aaaaah... those were the days. I took my glass sword and beat the livin' snot out of Creator many, many times in that era of my life. There, the big reveal was after ascending the monolithic tower that stood in the middle of every realm of existence you came face-to-face with the creator of the world. Then, for reasons that are still completely hazy, Creator starts getting all up in your grill. Then your party feels stilted and a fight ensues. Not sure why. But after you destroy your (C)reator, you can ascend into the realm beyond creation (the door behind Mr. Creator de Jerkbutt). But the party starts feeling nostalgic and returns to relive the adventures they had and the people they helped along the way. It was epic. Good times.

After that, I moved on to Phantasy Star III for the Sega Genesis. There, you find out that your world is not some rotating sphere circling a medium-sized star... instead your on a freakin' space ship set into orbit to save your civilization. The world isn't natural... it's completely mechanical and manufactured. Take that!

Morrowind goes back as far as any other Elder Scrolls title I know of... all the way to the very creation of the mortal realm, the inception of the Dumner, the extinction of the Dwemer and the very heart of a god. If that's not freakin' epic, I don't know what is. It frames things in a very religious context, with a healthy reflection of the Roman's assimilation of Greek religion and Nordic roots. There's very much the sense that the current faith was one built up around, but in displacement of, the old pagan ritual and history. Here we find that the volcano that erupted in Morrowind wasn't some natural disaster... it was an ancient, advanced culture that had harnessed the power of an actual god. Kinda like if we discovered the Aztec's actually built a Cray out of steam power and the pancreas of an immortal then teleported themselves to Mars.

Morrowind even had a book in-game called "On Oblivion", something to lay the path for the current title. In fact, there's a lot of literature that's shared between games in the series. This battle in the Daedric realm was a long time coming evidentally. Maybe we'll see another reference to the Numidium. Maybe another big reveal about the true origin of the Elder Scrolls world.

I'm happy enough to ride the current title out and give it a fair shake. Currently I'm engrossed by my kick-butt Rastin wanna-be, looking pale and sickly, clad in only a monk's robe. He can't carry much of anything, can't swing a sword and can't take a punch to save his life. But he can cast like freakin' motha.