Posts Tagged ‘Free Software

Trilby and Knytt sitting in a tree: I.N.D.I.E.G.A.M.I.N.G

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Trilby: Art of Theft and Knytt Stories are two games I’ve been playing extensively lately. Both share an exceptional game experience. Trilby: Art of Theft reminds the player of those good old games from the 90’s – addictive and challenging. Knytt Stories takes the player to a dreamworld that reminded me of listening to Death Cab for Cutie, but then in a gaming package.


What makes Trilby such a great game to play then? It aren’t really Ben “Yahtzee” Croshaw’s graphics that blow you away, they’re straight from the 90’s. But the game’s architecture is very well done, everything seems logical and flows over into the next. The purchasing of abilities to make you a better crook (better safecracker, lockpicker) or new moves (roll, hide in shadows) all seem very intiutive and more importantly: I haven’t seen this kind of gameplay in any game, ever. Not convinced? Check out the Trilby: Art of Theft Walkthrough / Rankthrough, which includes video to check out the gameplay, here.

Yes, finally the message has been returned to the medium after the tsunami of bad first person shooters and 3D action adventures in the last years. Repetition of a genre, however, is not something that is “evil” per se. Exceptional narrative in gaming has developed over the past years, with some of my top games being Max Payne, Deus EX and recently Assasins’ Creed. However these games do not, in my opinion, excell in an exceptional game experience. Much like Hollywood productions they share a good story, but are essentially the same format.

Knytt Stories is something totally different. French arthouse movie Amelie is to Hollywood productions as is Knytt Stories to big budget gaming. Under the influence of mood strengthening music, this game has you travelling the beautiful lands of protagonist Knytt, a “small guy with long hair”, and providing you with an experience that is different from so many similar experiences. And yes, it is free! And yes! You can create your own levels! After playing Knytt on my laptop in the train, I found myself thinking about what level I would create with Knytt Stories. It feeds personal creative process outside of virtual space. But even without this, the works of Knytt creator Nifflas are so original and really fuel the imagination, and not just in the sense of narrative… Check out the gameplay in this Knytt Stories Walkthrough of the The Machine level at YouTube.

Knytt Stories


Written by newmw

January 8, 2008 at 12:52 pm

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mScape: Building Narrative Spaces for Locative Media

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Volunteering for Waag Society’s Come Out And Play 2007 during the Picnic festival in Amsterdam was a great experience. Although I haven’t had the time to write about it yet, mostly because of my work nowadays at Virtueel Platform, it is very relevant for my MA Thesis which I’m finishing as we speak.

In my thesis, as you might have read in some of my previous posts, I examine narrative spaces created by existing locative media, more specifically the navigation system and its deterministic algorithms causing havoc to environments without the users really knowing the consequences. In another strand, shaping narrative instead of algorithm, I recently stumbled upon mScape, the new Hewlett Packard software, which allows you to create generative locative media experience. It really allows you to tailor a virtual space to the territory and give new meaning to it. A toolkit for the locative future? This YouTube presentation video gives you a sense of what the tool can do.

The website offers users the ability to share and discuss their mediascapes. The software however does require an HP iPaq. If anyone has experience with this software, just drop me a line because I’m very interested in the narrative capabilities this can offer to locative media. Super Mario GPS anyone?

Written by newmw

December 27, 2007 at 3:10 pm

Vers Geperst: Fresh juice for the brains

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Last week I attended the Vers Geperst meeting at Club 11 to tell the audience about the Masters of Media weblog project. Based on the Pecha Kucha presentation idea, all the presenters had only 11 slides of 12 seconds each to propagate their views.

fidel twan

Besides the Masters of Media blog, some other interesting ideas were pitched. What about the already famous ‘Whatever’ button? Are you tired of all the times you have to agree to useless legal information? Just install the Whatever button Firefox extension and you don’t have to worry about all the nonsense anymore! Although I had already installed it before the presentation, Michael Stevenson’s talk and imagery still gave me stomach cramps from laughing.

Another idea came from the guys from ToxTox TV. According to the creators ‘ToxTox is the next generation internet television platform. It allows you to watch video content from your couch, on your tv, using only open software.’ An ambitious idea with lots of opportunities and I’m anxious to see how this works on my television.

The Open-Search project, presented by Erik Borra, focusses on the role of privacy and search engines. The Open-Search project steers away from the centralized powers of the corporate search engine and provides ‘an exemplary peer to peer, collaborative event, whereby people mutually form a search engine without the intervention of central servers or a central actor.’ Definitely worth checking out.

The last presenter I want to mention is Anne Helmond, who is responsible for the lovely Fidel Castroian picture of myself in this post. She presented her photography and also a project she did on drapes and windows. More photographs of the meeting are available on Anne’s Flickr account.

Kubuntu Experiences: Cisco 350 and the grasp of Windows’ compatibility

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X30Yes! I finally have a laptop on which I’m typing this new blogpost! The beautifully small, although not very new, Thinkpad X30. Exactly what I was looking for and it came pre-installed with Kubuntu 6.10, which I wanted to try out for quite some time. An overview of my experiences with the Open Source operating system. And to spoil the ending: Why I had to go back to Windows XP.

The Wow Effect
When I first booted the laptop and saw Kubuntu with the KDE desktop for the first time I had a ‘Wow’ experience Vista couldn’t top. Not really because it looked so good, it actually did, but this wasn’t the effort of thousands of paid employees but of the masses. Every connection working, every click I did was made by people who wanted you to click and connect for free. The people working together to create a system that is actually free. It is the effect of the GNU manifesto, the call for the sharing of software and not keeping it under (distribution) control.

After this first experience I had to change my way of thinking in dealing with an operating system. So far my only experience are with DOS in the early days and of course Windows with a little bit of MacOS experience mixed in. After some clicking and searching the web (the internet worked ‘out of the box’) I learned how to install a programme. It felt like I had to learn how to walk again. I felt, well, stupid really. But after reading the Kubuntu documentation I learned how to use Adept to install packages and also manage repositories.

kubuntuNext up was how to play the various media filetypes. Since most are protected formats these don’t come supplied with for example AmaroK, but the Seveas package turned out to be a lifesaver. It supplies every codec I need to play various mediatypes like DVD and lots more. But since this wasn’t supplied through Adept, I had to look up how to do an install from a .tar package. It took me some time to figure out, but lets say it comes down to these simple terms: ./config, make, make install. So far so good.

Everything was working fine, I also found a very addictive game to play under Kubuntu called Battle for Wesnoth, and I really had the feeling that I was part of something special. Part of a group of users who are aware of what software in the digital age is really about: sharing.

The Grasp
But then the main problem came up. The bad guy. The pure evil. The one thing that can beat all goodwill of the open source community: Incompatibility.

Let me elaborate. At home my wireless connection worked fine with the Cisco Aironet 350 Mini Pci WIFI card that comes installed. Although it is an older model and is a 802.11b and not g, it works great. Untill I went to the University of Amsterdam, for the first time. Because to access the UvA network under Linux/Kubuntu I had to use the WPA encryption. For two days I tried to connect, upgrade, install and check again. I tried it all, HostAP, ndiswrapper, wlan-ng, WPA_Supplicant, Knetworkmanager and more. But they all failed. They were my Kubuntu Waterloo. And deep in my heart I really, really, really wanted it to work. Because I wanted to live the completely open source lifestyle.

But I needed the internet connection at the UvA. Compatibility overruled personal ethics. As I found out, the only option for my Cisco 350 to connect via WPA encryption was by getting a firmware upgrade… which is only available through… Windows. So I’m very sorry if you were reading this post hoping me to say that it is possible to get WPA on your card. I’m sorry…

The incompatibilty turned out to be the struggle that the open source community is fighting against. Every time that the corporate software distributors copyright a new portion of their software, the open source community has to find a way to make their operating system to be compatible with those standards. If the protocol does not match, there is no communication. The copyrighted compatibility is a serious issue and it caused me to leave my newfound glory and go back to that operating system everyone uses. The system that conceals the abilities of the open source community. The code curtain.

Meanwhile… back in XP
As I’m typing this my eyes can’t escape the returning presence of the XP start button. The much critized 5 letters didn’t return in Vista, but they’re not so bad. The biggest change in my use of Windows is that the extra programmes I use are almost all open source. VTC media player, GIMP, Firefox, Thunderbird, Open Office. The best thing I got out of this is user awareness. We have to be aware of the limited nature of (corporate) controlled distribution of software. It is good to see the alternatives, the margins that fight the giants. And in turn the margins influence those giants. Those see-through menu’s from Vista look awkwardly familiar, don’t they?

My solution for quality gaming on a U3 USB stick

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I’ve tried a lot of the games available for the U3 USB stick, but none of them really seemed to give me the relaxation I needed after a lot of hard work at the campus computers of the University of Amsterdam. And since I’m kind of addicted to my ZSNES Super Nintendo Emulator, I decided to use Package Factory to make a U3 install for it.


It’s very simple. Step one: Download ZSNES Windows version. Step two: drag the zsnes.exe into the Package Factory window. Step three: Choose install from your harddrive from the U3 launchpad. Get yourself a couple of roms and put them on the U3 drive -of course only from SNES games you have in your possession- and you’re set to go! I’ve heard that other emulators (for example GBA) also work.

Also a short update on my personal experience with the Smart Drive. I’ve been using it intensively on campus and besides a sometimes long startup period, it has been very ideal for me. Now I don’t have to use that annoying Internet Explorer anymore, I have Firefox always ready with my personal plugins (, which is a big advantage. Besides that I use it a lot for syndicating content with my home computer.

Any points of critique? Some, because I think development of the applications is still a bit slow. What I would like to see is more use of programs like Package Factory so people can create their own (freeware) programs from existing ones and post them on the web. This would stimulate the community around the medium.

By the way, It’s good to see prices are going down for the U3 sticks with a higher capacity, because more capacity might mean larger applications and I’m anxious to see what that can bring us.

Some more websites for good free games

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Earlier I talked about about the free downloadable game Penumbra which I discovered through, but since then I’ve come across some more pages with good overviews of the free/freeware gaming market. And I don’t mean those crappy Java Tetris clones, but games which are worth a try because of their original approach and effort. Here’s a short list, I’ll keep this updated and if you have any additions just post ’em in the comments.

About: Good thing about this page is the fact that they keep reviews of the games posted. So if a game is really bad, you don’t have to download it first and go through the annoyance of installing and uninstalling. Which is a big plus for this GameHippo over the other websites.

About: The website I check first if I’m looking for a freeware game. Every big release by an indie is on there, a must-bookmark. Hands down.

Home of the Underdogs
About: Although not packed with new releases in freewareland, Home of the Underdogs provides the best of abandonware games. Games from the beginning of videogaming (text adventures), the first 3D shooters, and everything in between. Older games can give you a whole new perspective on gaming in ways of convention, narrative. Retrogaming is cool!

About: Nice website with some good games. Skip through the more than 50 pages of free games and there should be something you like.

Planet Freeplay
About: Added by recommendation, and I must say I enjoyed this website very much. It’s got interviews (check out the interview with the guys from Penumbra), podcasts, messagebaords and two good gameslists. One for online games and one for freeware games, with a total of (as I write this) around 1400 games you can definitely find something here.

Runtime Entertainment
About: A website dedicated to posting high quality freeware games. Or as the about section mentions: “The number of freeware games increases every day and often you can’t cope with the huge amount of titles you find when you are googling.” That does sound very familiar when you’re looking for freeware games on the web. Runtime also offers reviews on freeware games, and for gamecreators of freeware games an application form.

About: Not the best, but definitely worth a check if some of the other websites don’t have anything new. I saw a game called Babylon V: I’ve Found Her and tried it, it’s a tough but beautiful game. Definitely worth a try.

About: Well, who doesn’t know Wikipedia? And some people are working on a freeware games list, so why not check it out? It’s good, but still a bit small. So if you have a freeware game that should be added to Wikipedia, don’t be a stranger.

CBIR and good flickr applications

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Although Content-Based Image Retrieval / CBIR (or Content-Based Visual Information Retrieval / CBVIR)  is not new, it is still not appearing in the mainstream. Applications like retrievr and xcavator are attracting attention, but they still aren’t very common. Thanks to flickr CBIR finally found a good database to draw its images from, and vice versa CBIR makes for good flickr applications. So flickr made CBIR usefull for the consumer. But besides that CBIR still requires a very different, nonlingual approach to searching.

Just to give you a short introduction on the subject: CBIR is a way to search images like it is content, and thus a way to overcome the problem of searching images in a large database. So if you look at retrievr, you can make a sketch and the relevant images appear. If you haven’t already, check out the great Art of retrievr page, which contains some very nice sketches people made using the sketch pad. Check the Wikipedia page on CBIR if you want more information, and a good introduction on the subject. 

But research is also being done in the field of searching for relevant images in a moviedatabase, for example by the Oxford University with their Video Google. Although it is hard to imagine what kind of impact this can have on our use of the search engine, we can say that this will impact our way of crawling through the World Wide Web in the future. We will not be bound by language. Think about it for example; When you are watching a movie and want to know in which movie you saw an object or composition before, you select a part of the screen (for example the shower curtain in Hitchcock’s Psycho) and search for the same image in an like database containing the data of all the movie images and their compositions. Or think about face recognition.

A quick thought
Just to get some thoughts organised for myself here is a short theory. A very important question that has been in my mind for sometime now; is language actually a way for us to overcome our initial restraint to communicate images. Is language simply nothing more than a way to communicate images and views over distance? Or a way to initiate (technological) change and pave the way for the image?

An explanation that fascinated me comes (again) from Marshall McLuhan. The next answer comes from an interview he did with Playboy in 1969. No it’s not a very academical source, but it is one of the more clearer versions of this theory.

“When tribal man becomes phonetically literate, he may have an improved abstract intellectual grasp of the world, but most of the deeply emotional corporate family feeling is excised from his relationship with his social milieu. This division of sight and sound and meaning causes deep psychological effects, and he suffers a corresponding separation and impoverishment of his imaginative, emotional and sensory life. He begins reasoning in a sequential linear fashion; he begins categorizing and classifying data. As knowledge is extended in alphabetic form, it is localized and fragmented into specialties, creating division of function, of social classes, of nations and of knowledge–and in the process, the rich interplay of all the senses that characterized the tribal society is sacrificed.”

So, when someone learns language, he begins to think in a lineair fashion. But now with CBIR we go back to the ways of “primitive and pre-alphabetic people who integrate time and space as one and live in an acoustic, horizonless, boundless, olfactory space, rather than in visual space.” Many have debated these remarks of McLuhan, but more and more we see that the World Wide Web is transforming from text-only to a full visual experience, requiring no language but the programming language behind the screens like the linguistic version of the Wizard of Oz.

But on the other hand, I’m typing this, how could I possibly have explained all this to you in images? To conclude these thoughts I think that language is the gateway to the mind (personal, of ourselves), and images are the gateway to the visual (public; of the other) world. The other is always an image in your head, when it becomes a word it is personal and from your own mind.

On the Wikipedia page are some more examples of CBIR (I also tried imgSeek and IKONA) and some good papers on the subject. Try some and maybe think about the different approach to searching and the amount of words that go around in your thoughts. In my case I suddenly realized that I was only paying attention to colors and shapes, words were far away from my memory. Also on the Wikipedia page are some usefull papers on the subject. Definitely worth some time to check out CBIR search engines.

At the end just a Youtube introduction of a CBIR application called xcavator which is also a flickr search engine with an original approach. Developer Cognisign is also looking for feedback on the subject, for more info read the xcavator blog.