Tag Archives: windows

Visual C++ is annoying me

XKCD - Sudo sandwichVisual C++ is annoying me and I haven’t even started using it yet.

For analyzing Frotz, Eclipse worked like a charm. But for Frotz for Windows, I need Visual C++. The updater failed from two sources today. So tried uninstalling it so that I could then re-install it. That took me a long time. I’m not sure how much, but it was much longer than it should have been.

Being used to Linux, the uninstall process was painful. Instead of just typing something like sudo apt-get remove nameofprogram1 nameofprogram2, I had to uninstall each component of the program one by one. For some reason it was divided into lots of small parts. Then I had to wait until it asked me to confirm admin privileges. For each part. I wanted to do Windows programming because Windows is the de facto platform for games, but this is not making me like Windows more so far.

My topic: analyzing and extending Frotz

Ah, Frotz. The most popular Z-machine and now glulx interpreter out there… Let’s back up for a while.

Z-machine

The first commercially available text-based adventure game was Zork I by Infocom in 1980. It was based on its almost-namesake Zork, that was made at MIT and only ran on big mainframes. For the commercial version, Infocom needed a very simple and versatile format. So they created the Z-machine format. Its only output was text, so interpreters for it could be made for pretty much any platform — and it was.

After Infocom

To my knowledge, the last commercial text-based adventure game was Eric the Unready. After that time, a new interpreter for Z-machine files ended up being necessary. A few appeared. The most popular ended up being Frotz, a command-line tool for Unix. Frotz was eventually ported to many systems, including Windows and more recently iOS.

Adventure games are not dead. Well, maybe not

Even though the number of people who play adventure games has shrunk and the number of people who play text-based adventure games or “Interactive Fiction” or simply IF is now tiny, a small community remains. New tools were made for creating new pieces of IF. Some were brand new, some compiled to the old Z-machine format. At the forefront of that latter category was the Inform programming language and its accompanying system, both created by Graham Nelson, a British poet and mathematician.

As the Z-machine had never been meant to be used by the public before, there was never a standard for it. Graham Nelson established one, aptly called the Z-machine standard in 1997. It has been updated since to version 1.1 in 2004. These standards are now used by most Z-machine interpreters.

A short note about Inform

Graham Nelson’s Inform language was very simple up to version 6. What made it a very powerful tool is that it came built-in with IF-specific rules. IF does require many rules to for the world of the story to behave in the way we as human players expect. These rules could be overwritten, but Inform did not require the programmer to write them. Example of rules could be that if an object is marked as being a container, it can contain other objects. However, an object cannot contain itself. This seems obvious to humans, but has to be coded in order to be in the world. Inform 7 goes much further and actually reads like English. It can still compile to the Z-machine format.

What I intend to do with all that

My independent study this semester will be the following:

  • analyze the Z-machine, using existing interpreters as well as Graham Nelson’s standards,
  • expose parts of the story inside the Z-machine and
  • display the information I gathered in the Windows interface in the Frotz for Windows interpreter.

I don’t know for sure how much of these I’ll be able to do, apart for the first one. But the Z-machine has such a reputation for being a very simple virtual machine that I hope I’ll be able to do all of them.

Maru Maru

(Edited October 22, 2011.)

Our Round 3 BVW world, Maru Maru. It should have been amazing: a Kinect-powered ballpit simulator for all ages. Unfortunately, Unity’s physics engine bailed on us and refused to give gravity, but it only started doing so on the last few hours of testing. I think the number of objects being rendered set off a built-in trigger to save hardware ressources by cutting some physics effects, even though the ETC computers were very far from being overloaded according to the task manager. Too bad. In short: the balls should not have been sticking to the top of the screen but falling all the time.

The screen capture software, FRAPS, made the whole thing even worse due to its own demand in ressources, I guess. The game ran fine on my computer for some reason. I don’t know why. We still got a very good grade, which gets in my way of calling the Universe unfair. I’ll still do it, but with much less credibility.

Good news! The bug was fixed in the early hours of the morning yesterday, Friday, October 21, 2011. The following video is the new, working version. A special thanks to Chenyang Xia of Project Augur for helping fix the aforementioned pesky bug!

I, consumerist

It’s been about ten years since I’d lived in America since I moved back here ten days ago. Oh, I’ve visited many times since, but things are slightly different when one lives here. Here are a few poins I thought are worthy of note. They are personal observations about my first ten days in Pittsburgh, not an ideological primer.

  • Coupons are worth it. I saw a lady at the supermarket shrink her checkout bill from $50 to $35 with coupons. Also, the checkout lady refered to them as “cue-pons”, like Mel Brooks’ character in Mad About You. I liked that touch. I’m starting to look into that whole coupon thing. Yes, I am now officially an old lady.
  • My Mac, my internet router and my debit card all arrived early. In the case of my debit card, it was early by several days, and it had a PIN that had been preset by me. Toto, we’re not in Europe any more.
  • I like root beer. I used to confuse it with ginger ale, which is to “ginger-y” for me. But root beer, I like. I also like creme soda, though creme soda tends for suffer more when it’s in its “diet” version.
  • The lady at the pharmacy remembers me and reminds me to take my loyalty card. It’ve lived here ten days. After ten years in London, not a single person behind a counter knew who I was.
  • Verizon’s help desk is well-meaning but not really motivated. Not that I can blame them. When she asked me to open Internet Explorer on my Mac, assuming it was running Windows, I quietly stayed on Chrome. A good thing I was not running Linux. (This last sentence is so going to get quoted out of context.)
  • Pittsburgh is not Manhattan. It’s not easy to find a breakfast with eggs on a weekday in Shadyside. Pamela’s the only one I found so far.
  • The food is healthy. I’m sorry to all of those who assume otherwise, but in my experience it’s true. Don’t get me wrong: unhealthy food is available, and quite easily, too. But on average, I’ve felt well fed without taking huge amounts of insulin without eating at home much more easily than in London or Paris. It’s just that here, when you order a salad, you actually get some greens. Same thing with vegetables. It may be because I eat at CMU a lot, but today, my taco salad had a few tacos, but it was mostly veggies and salsa. And the egg and ham breakfast I had earlier was just that: eggs, ham and a hash brown. No bread, no butter, no baked beans, no croissant, no fried slice, no pastries, no “are you sure you’re sure you don’t want a pastry with that? You can always eat it later.”
  • The buses work better than in London. Now, the buses in Peru worked better than in London (really; I was there and tried them) so it’s not really that much of a challenge. But it’s nice to see that some cities outside of New York in the U.S. have good public transportation. Everything is still made for people with cars, though. But it’s possible to deal without a car.
  • I found generic sucralose (Splenda).

On the whole, it looks like this country is every bit the consumerist’s heaven it’s depicted to be. But I’m really not sure it’s a bad thing. After all, in Britain and France, the main reason we don’t get those sort of things is because we teach the consumers to lower their expectations. That is my experience, at least. (“Well, yes, the train is going to get there four hours late, but you can’t expect it to be on time every time.”)

The U.S., like every country, is not without problems. Actually, it has problems galore. Just look at the news is you want a comical version of the situation and to the Daily Show if you want a soberingly accurate one. But I’m not sure its consumerism is really one of them at all. The people at che checkouts who remember my name seem happy because they’re doing their job well by remembering who I am. That’s nothing to shun or sneer at. If anything, it brings them job satisfaction, which in turn might contribute to some measure of happiness. And I am told by some people who are more learned than I am on the matter that happiness is a very pleasant thing.