Tuesday, September 29, 2009

On the Weirdness of Netbook Gaming

As a terrible addict to the dark vice of video games, I've been compelled to try getting games to work on my new netbook, and so far it's been a frustrating experience. The biggest problem: the netbook screen resolution. The device itself may or may not be able to run modern games—I've been unable to get Civilization 4 to run on it, for example, despite appearing to meet the system requirements—so I've focussed on installing older games. The trick there is that, while the netbook is surely powerful enough to play games circa, say, 2005, the display is only capable of a maximum resolution of 1024 x 600. At that point in gaming history, games were pushing around 1600 x 1200, and it was pretty much assumed that a baseline system would be capable of 1024 x 768.

Note that the netbook screen doesn't meet that.

So now I have to dig through games capable of that resolution--or its nearest standard-aspect cousin, 800 x 600--which is throwing me back to around the year 2000. There are good games from that period, but I've gotten rid of very nearly all my games from then, meaning I now have to hunt for some. Then on top of that, I have to find patches and ensure compatibility with my hardware.

One of the funnier finds is Master of Orion 3, a game I bought primarily on the strength of its predecessor and the writings of the lead designer, who had all sorts of really interesting ideas, the vast majority of which were cut from the final product. It's a curious game in that it has all the trappings of a standard 4x game, but over all of it there's an abstracted interface that makes it feel less Space Fleet Commander than Imperial Bureaucracy Wrangler. It wound up rushed out with horrible bugs, and apparently one of the other things cut was any resolution higher than my magic target, 800 x 600. Third-parties have put in impressive efforts to clean up the bugs that remained after the devs quit supporting it, and it's quite playable, though I'm still trying to decide if I want to play it.

At this point I'm almost wondering if I shouldn't try my hand at building games myself, as it might be less hassle.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Apple's iPod Touch Racket

Way back when Apple first put out the iPod Touch, I thought it was a great idea. The thing is practically a computer! It fits in my pocket! I looked at the iPhone as being a waste out the gate because really, AT&T? Might as well chuck myself off a bridge.

Years later, I've found myself in an annoying conundrum. Every major OS revision that comes out costs a fairly small fee, $10. Certainly not terrible. I paid to upgrade to 2.0, but now we're at 3.0, and looking at the feature set, I think, meh. Nothing I really care about--sure, copy and paste are great for text apps, but I rarely use my iPod for text anything. Music, games, web browsing. So I chose not to pay their fee.

But now my apps demand I upgrade. I foolishly allowed them to update themselves, and they promptly broke because they all require I have OS 3.0, minimum. I'm not sure if it's a contractual requirement of building apps for the platform, but none of the apps I've seen still support OS 2.x. So my device is now shackled to the basic functionality supported, which is nice, but I can't get any apps for it without jailbreaking it. Apple is attempting to extort me to get the functionality advertised. Seems like fraud to me.

In the words of an iPhone dev I know, "anyone not willing to upgrade their OS is also not likely to pay for apps so, fuck you." Thanks, Apple, for letting your representative tell me how you really feel.

Sunday, September 13, 2009


I've been thinking about the nature of EULAs recently, and I've got questions and concerns.

First off, I like them and I don't. As a software developer, I can definitely appreciate some of the terms of most EULAs; the no-liability clause is probably the most important, because without that, there is a remote chance of any given piece of software I write being potentially responsible for, or connected to, a near infinite amount of damage. At the same time, there are so many more common clauses that I find objectionable: mandatory arbitration, the stripping of a consumer's right to control what happens on their hardware, the claimed right to change the contract without notice.

That said, I wonder exactly what legal standing they have in the first place. At least one article I read (which I should link if I can find it again) suggested that there exists already some legal tension with EULAs, in that they act like contract, but the product they are tied to is sold like a good, which should preclude the attachment of contract terms. Further, it was suggested that a contract in which one of the parties has no control over the terms is not a legally binding contract. I'm not sure I'd want to test these too hard personally, but that's because I'm ignorant.

On top of those complaints, there's the fact that EULAs help to make the entire transaction of purchasing software borderline fraudulent. When you go into a store and pick up a piece of software, it appears that you have gone through the process of purchasing a good. Except, of course, that EULAs often require you to give up the rights you have with a good (though those clauses are usually legally unenforcable). The usual claim here is that you have not purchased a good, but rather a license to a product, but this too is misleading. You can't simply have the disk and use the software, you're required to "agree" to the EULA first. You haven't even purchased a license, you've purchased the right to license the software. That doesn't seem entirely clear from the presentation of the initial transaction at the store.

So as for questions, does the installation of software constitute proof of a legal agreement? If one were brought up in court for violating a EULA, and one simply asserted that no EULA was presented, what recourse would the plaintiff have? An expert could rightly say that it should not be possible to install the software without agreement, but I don't think it's actually impossible. Or, on another more legally questionable track, what if one were to have a piece of software which automatically agreed to any EULA via an installer in such a way that you never even saw it. You then could say you honestly never agreed to the EULA, though it seems plausible this could be some form of fraud.

On Sid Meier's Alpha Centauri

I picked up a netbook recently and attempted to run Sid Meier's Alpha Centauri on it and experienced massive failure and fixed it. Hopefully if you're having problems running it, this will help you.

SMAC doesn't like running under funny aspect ratios. If you're running at 1024x600 like I was, the executable will immediately crash, since it tries to use the desktop resolution and it wasn't programmed to allow for that one. So, to fix it, run at 800x600. I suggest turning off the scaling in the driver if you can--there's an option to "center the desktop" or some such on the Intel 945 chipset graphics driver, that will prevent it from looking like ass. You can also use the schemes on that to set up wide aspect and standard aspect schemes to go back and forth more quickly.