Text Adventures - The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy Is Back!
Adventures in gaming - and programming
Monday 10 March 2014.
The text adventure is surely the greatest flowering of the programmer’s art. That being so, it is with great joy that I have discovered that the BBC has released Infocom’s great ‘Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy’ game in an online playable version!
Based on Douglas Adams’s comedy science-fiction radio series (which later spawned books, TV shows and a film), The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy was developed by Infocom programmer Steve Meretzky in cahoots with Douglas Adams. The game lets you navigate around a universe as strange as the one in the original radio series, filled with Vogons and towels, space ships and Babelfish. Released in the early ‘80s, the game was a huge success. In the BBC’s 30th anniversary edition, the original sparse text-based interface has been spruced up with a metallic virtual keypad and some graphics. You can play it here.
It was the old Infocom games (notably classics such as the Zork trilogy and the outer space adventure, Starcross) that first inspired me to learn to program. The first program I wrote said “Hello world”. The second program, I wrote was an interactive adventure game with a ‘natural language’ interface, multiple characters, a huge interconnected map of locations, treasures to be collected and complicated puzzles to be solved. Yes, yes, I know that it was far too big a project for a novice programmer to undertake – but I didn’t know that at the time and so I spent every spare moment for a year writing the darn’ thing. Just in case you are interested, you can download it here.
Meanwhile, if you want to write your own adventure games (and really, why wouldn’t you?), you might like to follow along with my introductory guide to programming adventure games on YouTube. This is the first video, to get you started…
Some old software dies of neglect, some is killed and some just fades away…
When I recently wrote a review of the latest release of e-on Software’s 3D terrain designer, Vue, I was reminded of another impressive terrain generator called MojoWorld. This seems to be in that sad category of old software which has just been left to fade away. While not officially dead, Pandromeda’s MojoWorld doesn’t show many obvious signs of life either. The last sign of any activity on the Pandromeda web site is a press release dated April, 2006. You can still download the demo of MojoWorld and, in principle, you can buy the commercial release. However, with the web site itself looking so desolate and forgotten, it is hard to have much confidence in MojoWorld’s long-term future.
This is a shame. I like MojoWorld. It is different, innovative and beautiful. Whereas other landscape software lets you design mountains and valleys a piece at a time like some monomaniac theatre set designer, MojoWorld takes a radically different approach. It lets you generate huge fractal planets. When you want a particular ‘scene’ you have to explore the planet in search of an existing ‘location’. Possibly this is not the most convenient way of generating 3D landscapes ‘to order’ for film and TV. But it was nevertheless a breathtakingly wonderful idea and I for one am sorry that MojoWorld has been left to languish in dusty corner of the web.
For more on MojoWorld, see my interview with its creator, Dr Kenton ‘Doc Mojo’ Musgrave.
Amorphium is just one of the 3D programs that I once loved but seems now to have been largely forgotten…
Thinking of 3D graphics programs that have been left to fade away, I soon began to wonder whatever became of Electric Image’s Amorphium. I last look at this way back in 2003 and I was mightily impressed. This is what I wrote in my column in ‘PC Plus Magazine’….
"Electric Image’s Amorphium 3 graphics program ($139) is a difficult product to review. Mainly because every time I use it, hours go by without a single word being written. It’s like being given a toy and then told to write about it. Well, sorry, but I’d rather play with it.
"A great many 3D graphics programs are worthy but, ultimately, dull. Electric Image’s high-end package, Universe, falls into this category. Hugely powerful it undoubtedly is, nevertheless, the pulse does not race, the heart does not skip a beat when the time comes to use it.
"While Amorphium 3 is not in the same league as Universe, it is a powerful tool in its own right. In addition to a traditional ‘mesh’ modeller it has a ‘wax’ modeller that lets you mould objects and biospheres that flow into one other like blobs of oil. In this new release it has also gained a modelling tool that lets you deform objects smoothly by tugging at an invisible ‘cage’ around it. Other graphics programs call this ‘subdivision surface’ modelling. Amorphium characteristically uses the more down-to-earth name, Tin, which suggests (I think) the way of squashing an object into a shape as you might crumple a tin can.
"The previous version of Amorphium was promoted principally as a Flash tool for Web based animation. Even though it has now clearly broken out of its self-imposed niche, Amorphium 3 still does Flash well. It can render Flash graphics with optional outlines and in varying levels of detail which may include gradient fills, surface patterns, shadows and specular highlights."
I rather liked Amorphium. It let you ‘sculpt’ 3D models almost as though they were made of virtual clay
While I haven’t heard that Amorphium has been discontinued, all I can say for sure is that, if it still exists at all, it is pretty well hidden. It still gets a mention on this old Electric Image blog but I can’t find any signs of a download or ‘buy now’ link either there or on the main Electric Image site.
And finally, whatever became of Caligari Corporation’s trueSpace? Once upon a time this was one of the better known 3D modelling and animation packages. In various forms, it had been around since the mid 1980s. It could be said to occupy the ‘high-end amateur’ or ‘low-end professional’ niche of the market. So when I tried to log onto the Caligari web site at www.caligari.com recently I was surprised to find that the domain was for sale!
Now I must admit that I was never one of trueSpace’s biggest fans. It’s been over ten years since the last time I used the software and I wasn’t all that complementary, admitting to my “love/hate relationship” with its “icon-cluttered workplace”. Even so, at that time it had a community of dedicated users who clearly liked trueSpace more than I did. So I was surprised to find that not only the software but even the entire company no longer existed. I turned to Wikipedia for more information.
Here I discovered that Caligari Corporation had been bought out by Microsoft (“Why?” was the question that popped unbidden into my mind) and, having bought it, Microsoft then discontinued trueSpace in May 2009. Anyway, the good news for trueSpace lovers is that, after its demise, trueSpace continues to live on, zombie-like, in a free edition. The only slight problem is that since the official download site was the Caligari web site and since that web site no longer exists, you may have to do some searching to find the free software. Let me save you the effort. It turns out that it is available on quite a few sites such as CNet. However, as far as I can determine, there is no ongoing development so the future of trueSpace is far from assured.
It’s not all depressing news, however. While some old software languishes, new software keeps coming along to take its place. I’ll be writing about some 3D graphics packages which I’ve been using recently – and some of the best of these have the added advantage of being completely free.
I wasn’t planning to buy a new PC before Christmas – but I had no choice in the matter. My two-year old Dell PC suddenly decided to stop working… or, at any rate, it became so temperamental that I was no longer prepared to trust it with my work. It developed a tendency to reboot itself at unexpected moments. I ran the usual system checks on its memory, graphics and hard disk, but no obvious problems showed up. So I decided that my safest bet was to get a new PC.
I didn’t want a new operating system: I have no intention of ‘upgrading’ from Windows 7 to Windows 8 and, what’s more, I have plenty of monitors here too, so I didn’t need a PC with yet another monitor. Which explains why I finally decided to get an Asus ‘barebones’ system with all the essentials such as 6GB of memory, DVD and so on but none of the added extras such as monitor and OS. One of the attractions of the Asus is that the company had the reputation for making high-quality motherboards and I have a suspicion that the motherboard was to blame for the increasingly unreliability of my last PC.
I wanted to attach three monitors and I had initially thought of using two graphics cards capable of running two monitors apiece. When I opened up the Asus, however, I found it had just one full-size expansion slot (well, they did say it was ‘barebones’ but I have to admit I hadn’t expected its bones to be quite that bare!), so I then needed to find a graphics card that could run three monitors all by itself. In the end, I settled upon the Asus Nvidia GeForce GT 640 which can power up to four monitors and, at about £70, seems pretty good value for money.
All that then remained was to transfer all my programs and data from my old PC to my new one. In the past whenever I’ve done this I’ve installed the applications one at a time and then copied the data files. This time I decided to try creating an ‘image’ (a complete bit-by-bit copy) of my existing hard disk and then restore this image onto the hard disk in my new PC. That has the effect of transferring everything – the operating system, programs, data files and settings – all in one go. Frankly, I was doubtful that it would work. But it did! It was a damn’ slow process but by creating an image using the Windows backup tools (Control Panel, Backup and Restore, Create a system image) and the using a system repair disk (also created via Windows Backup) to restore the image to my new PC, I was able to transfer everything from one computer to another pretty easily. It was slow, though, and took most of one day to save and restore the image.
There are third-party image-creation tools which I plan to look at in future to see if they do a better, or faster, job. But at least I am up and running on my new PC now, so I should be able to get back to working without the fear of losing all my data.
On which happy note, let me wish you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year in 2014!
You might think that an old language like C would long ago have bitten the dust.
After all, this language was created in the dim distant past of the late 1960s and early ’70s. It doesn’t have all the bells and whistles we’ve come to expect from modern languages. It has no Object Orientation, no garbage collection, it has very little in the way of modularity, it isn’t ’visual’, heck, it doesn’t even have a string data-type.
And yet C is the language that refuses to die. In fact, it is not even sickly, let alone close to death. Far from it. According to the Tiobe Index, which assesses the relative ’health’ of (and demand for) programming language, C occupies the number 1 position. And, according to Infoworld, its lead over other languages is actually growing.
Just after C in the Tiobe index comes Java - an OOP language based on C syntax. Then come Objective-C and C++, two OOP languages that are directly built upon C itself. And after that there are various other languages that have derived a good deal of their syntax from C, such as C# and PHP.
While languages such as Python and Ruby might be favoured by many modern programmers, the Tiobe index lists those way lower than C and Java. C may seem to be a fairly old-style language, but the simple fact of the matter is that it does the job and it does it efficiently. I suspect it has a long and active life ahead of it yet.
C is one of the most important of all programming languages. You can use it on Windows, OS X, Linux and most other major operating systems. It is a powerful language and good C programmers are always in demand.
The downside is that C is notoriously hard to learn. The good news is that my latest multimedia programming course should make that learning process a whole lot easier!
‘C Programming For Beginners’ is an in-depth video course. It contains over 68 lectures and 7 hours of content! It takes you from the very basics of C programming right through to complex topics such as pointers, addresses, memory allocation and how to avoid common problems such as ‘buffer overruns’ and ‘memory leaks’. It comes with an eBook, The Little Book Of C. And all the source code is provided read-to-run in an IDE such the free CodeLite. In fact, you can get all the tools you need to write, compile and run C programs entirely for free.
If you are a novice programmer, the early lessons will guide you step-by-step through everything you need to know about the basics of C’s syntax. If you are already experienced in another programming language, the course will explain the special features of C. And if you need to use C++ or Objective-C, this will be the perfect foundation since you need to know C in order to understand those languages (which are built upon C).
‘C Programming For Beginners’ is a massive, in-depth course. Its regular price is $149. But I have a special introductory offer. Save $100 and get this course for just $49.
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And the MOOC shall inherit…?
Will online learning really replace the ivy-clad groves of academe?
Thursday 3 October 2013.
If you have any interest in learning anything at all online, you surely can’t have failed to notice the massive increase in eLearning sites over the past couple of years. Or, as they are known (somewhat uneuphoniously) MOOCs.
The acronym MOOC stands for ‘Massive Open Online Course’. Examples of MOOCs can be found on American sites such as Coursera, edX and the newly-launched Futurelearn. These sites host multimedia courses taught by professors and graduate students from established traditional educational establishments such as MIT, Stanford, Harvard and other universities around the world.
I have already signed up to a few courses myself including ‘Think Again: How to Reason and Argue’ (a course on logic and arguments) from Duke University, USA, ‘Dino 101: Dinosaur Paleobiology’ (a course on dinosaurs) from the University of Alberta, Canada, and ‘Introduction to forensic science’ by the University of Strathclyde in Scotland.
I really never thought I’d ever get the chance to study dinosaurs. And yet that is exactly what I am doing, thanks to the Dino 101 course on Coursera.
I’d be the first to acknowledge that my choice of courses has been what might be politely called ‘eclectic’. But that’s one of the joys of online learning. When you sign up to three or four years at a bricks-and-mortar university you commit yourself to hours of hard work every day followed (as far as I can recall) by hours of hard drinking every evening. You have to be dedicated to your subject almost to the point of monomania. With online courses, on the other hand, I have the freedom to pick and choose – I might try a bit of civilised argumentation this month followed by a few rampaging prehistoric beasts next month and, just to round off my education, a nice juicy murder investigation set on the murky shores of Loch Lomond…
It seems pretty clear to me that online learning isn’t going to go away. But there are two big questions that remain unanswered: 1) Will it ever replace conventional ‘on site’ learning and 2) how will it be funded?
My own view is that in the short-term, online learning will live alongside conventional study. Increasingly, I think universities will produce courses which, in addition to being accessible to the general public, will also supplement the materials available to full-time students. Moreover, when online courses are taught by world experts in their subjects, these will increasingly be sought out by students whose own professors may not have the same degree of eminence and expertise. In the long-term, I think online study will increasingly replace the predominantly book-based ‘distance learning’ diploma and degree courses provided by institutions such as Britain’s Open University.
As for the funding of these courses. Well, Coursera is currently offering the option of paid-for certification for some courses which, in principle, may provide students with proof of completion to (they say) “demonstrate your initiative when applying for college or jobs.” In future, I imagine that some courses may provide a more rigorous examination and certification that might count towards a formal academic qualification. Harvard is already experimenting with more focussed online courses which it calls SPOCs (Small Private Online Courses). Whether or not this is the right model for the future of university-level online courses remains to be seen.
The other alternative is to forget the whole idea of completely free and open courses and, instead, create paid-for courses that are funded by the students. I have personal experience of this type of teaching. For the past couple of years I’ve been teaching programming courses on Udemy. These are all paid-for and so far I’ve had over 5,200 students sign up – so, clearly, there is a demand for this type of course.
Finally. if you want to learn how to create your own online courses, I have a free course that takes you through the basics. This video gives you a short overview…
For an alternative view, this is Professor Walter Sinnott-Armstrong, one of the teachers on Coursera’s ‘Think Again: How to Reason and Argue’ course, giving some interesting information on how he made that course.
Should we trust reviews online?
We may all claim to be sceptical of the honesty and impartiality of online reviews. Even so, before going to a restaurant, I must admit that I generally take a quick look at the reviews it has garnered on TripAdvisor. Before buying a book, I glance through its reviews on Amazon or Good Reads. This, in spite of the fact that there is nothing preventing authors and their friends (or enemies) from skewing reviews for or against a book. And reviewers on TripAdvisor have even praised a restaurant that doesn’t exist!
I was interested, then, to receive this unsolicited email this week:
DO YOU NEED POSITIVE REVIEWS/RATINGS ONLINE FOR YOUR BUSINESS?
We can post positive ratings/reviews on TripAdvisor, Yahoo Local, Google Places, Insider Pages, YellowPages, MerchantCircle, SuperPages, and the list goes on!
REVIEWS ARE 100% SAFE, NATURALLY DISTRIBUTED, POSTED FROM DIFFERENT ACCOUNTS & IP ADDRESSES & MAC ADDRESSES
Is there anything online we can really trust, I wonder?
I’ve just uploaded a new video in my free series about the fundamentals of programming for beginners.
For more free courses, subscribe to the Bitwise Courses YouTube channel: http://www.youtube.com/BitwiseCourses
And for the full range of my programming tutorials (including some special offers!) see the Bitwise Courses web site: http://www.bitwisecourses.com.
When you upload videos to YouTube, you are prompted to add ’tags’ to identify its subject matter.
YouTube analyses your tags and then makes suggestions for other tags that might be appropriate. Today I uploaded a new video in my series about programming for beginners. This is what I saw in my web browser. At the top you are the tags I added. Below you can see the tags that YouTube suggests...
’Programming Language (Literary Genre)’? What the heck does that mean? Is there a literary genre of programming>? I’ve been trying to think which books might qualify: Tom Sharpe’s ’Riotous Assembly Language’ maybe? Hemingway’s ’The Old Man and the C’ perhaps? P G Wodehouse’s ’Programming Code of The Woosters’ no doubt qualifies. And as for Dan Brown’s ’The Da Vinci Code’ - well need I say more?
If you are a novice programmer, you might be interested in the free course that I’m publishing on YouTube.
Programming For Beginners aims to explain the basics of programming - from variables and functions to data types and object orientation. This introductory video gives a bit more information....
To get the latest news on any new lessons added to this course be sure to subscribe to the Bitwise Courses YouTube channel.
The latest video in this series was published earlier today. It gives a very simple overview of the ideas behind Object Orientation: