Tuesday, 31 May 2011

Battery life

Some good news on GP2X battery life, something that's caused a bit of grief over the years. Some people have reported that it runs out almost at once with alkalines, but the other day I stuck in a pair of Energizers and they kept going strong all through a 40-minute bus journey. Okay, so I was playing games rather than watching videos, but even so it was slightly better than I'd expected.

Maybe I should try a selection of battery brands, but in all honesty I don't think I can be bothered. Rechargeables are still the best bet, except that they run out so suddenly. The red battery light comes on, and you then have at best 10 seconds before everything stops. (The F200 doesn't even have a battery light, probably because it is so useless here!)

Sunday, 29 May 2011

Game review: Blazar (demo)

Genre: Shooter
Author: Elements Interactive
OHH download: v1.30 (08/10/06)
Size: 1.8 MB
Licence: Time-limited demo

Blazar is a side-scrolling space shoot-em-up of the type very familiar to most console gamers. It has a simple "stay as live as long as you can" object of the old school: there are no levels, no missions and indeed no way to win outright; all you can do is to beat the high score. You can see enemies on a small radar in the corner of your screen. This is a demo version, which has a (pretty mean) two-minute time limit. I've no idea what the full version cost, as the relevant page to buy it is no longer working.

Addictiveness: 5
This is very hard to rate, because two minutes simply isn't long enough properly to assess the game's qualities. After a few plays I did still find myself frustrated that I couldn't give it a longer go, which does suggest that if I owned the full version I might well enjoy it, but I can't give such a restricted version a very high mark. There doesn't seem to be a high score table (in the demo only?) which doesn't help.

Depth: 4
Games of this type don't really tend to have a great deal of depth, and Blazar is no exception. You just blast away, avoiding enemies and grabbing power-ups. There are at least a few different ones to find, though generally of the "weapons upgrade" type. The lack of a mission structure makes it a bit more of a mindless blaster, though.

Controls: 9
Pretty good, all in all. The stick moves your ship around, B shoots, Select toggles autofire and Start brings up a pause/quit dialog. You can redefine the buttons (or "keys" as Blazar rather strangely calls them) in-game, which is nice and something not seen often enough. Few complaints here.

Graphics: 7
First impressions are good, with the very impressive "E" Edge 3D logo looking great (though the "Powered by Edge" voiceover always drives me mad), and the menu appearance a little generic but certainly not objectionable. Once you're into the game, things perhaps drop a notch, with not quite as much polish (especially in your own ship's design) as you might have a right to expect from a commercial game, but they're still not at all bad. Pleasingly, animation is very smooth and doesn't drop noticeably when there's lots going on.

Sound: 7
Bleepy, futuristic, mildly techno-ish tunes. Nothing that's going to make you scream in disgust, but nothing you're likely to remember for more than 30 seconds after you quit either. Missiles, explosions etc sound pretty much as they would on a 16-bit console game, and that's fine by me. On the plus side, volume can be controlled to be entirely acceptable through headphones, somewhere too many games fail.

Documentation: 7
In-game, there's a simple text-file style set of instructions, which is pretty clear and covers all you need to know to get going -- though there's no mention of the two-minute time limit in the demo! The so-called readme in the downloaded archive, though, consists of nothing but a standard (ie ludicrous if you actually read it) boilerplate EULA; there's no useful information in it at all; not really good enough.

Completeness: 8
The game mostly seems to be present and correct, though it's hard to tell with such a tight time limit. (Yes, I know I keep mentioning it -- but it's so annoying that it's hard not to.) "Assign Keys" is an odd choice of wording, but I'm awarding the game a good score here as I didn't see anything major that was missing other than in the lack of a proper readme file.

Overall: 5
Blazar seems to be a pretty decent shooter. Whether or not it was really good enough to be a commercial title is another matter; personally it feels to me more like a rather superior freeware release. It's hard to tell, though, with -- here I go again -- that two-minute time limit; that's simply too restrictive to make your mind up about something you're being asked to pay for. In an "endless" game like this, going down the usual route of giving you one or two free levels isn't possible, but I'd have thought five minutes would have been a fairer time limit. This is the reason why the overall score is so much lower than most of the subscores.

Thursday, 26 May 2011

Amiga emulation with UAE4All: first thoughts

I'm quite impressed with the most recent GP2X version available of UAE4All, which is 0.8.0 beta. It seems to have substantial increases in speed over 0.6.4 (which I also tried), has a better interface, and music in particular is fairly smooth: Turrican's, for example, plays very nicely even at 240 MHz. The one really disappointing thing is the lack of any sort of save-state facility. I don't know how hard it would have been to have included, but it's one of only two things about UAE4All that truly irritates me -- the other being the very poor quality of some of the keytop graphics on the virtual keyboard.

I haven't had time to test UAE4All with more than a small handful of games so far. Turrican, as mentioned, runs fine, and so does Rainbow Island. Lemmings I can't get to go past the intro sequence; not sure why. Finally, The Secret of Monkey Island runs perfectly, music and all... but that really is a game where the lack of a save-state facility ruins it as a serious GP2X experience. If only it had passwords, like... er... Lemmings!

Update: Hmmm... for some reason Head Over Heels won't work with 0.8.0 beta, but will work with the older 0.6.4 version. It's not the greatest conversion around (being rather basic for an Amiga game in sonic terms, for example) but it's a game I enjoy so much that I'm relieved it works under at least one version of UAE4All!

Tuesday, 24 May 2011

200 up

I note that this blog has now had 200 pageviews, not including mine. A tiny number by many people's standards, obviously, but it's nice to know that the odd person is actually reading my ramblings. Here's a little breakdown for you of some of the stats:

United Kingdom: 120
United States: 50
Canada: 12
Germany: 7
Russia: 4
Singapore: 3
Belarus: 2
Argentina: 1

Firefox: 142
Internet Explorer: 56
Safari: 2

Operating Systems
Windows: 174
Macintosh: 18
Linux: 7
Android: 1

Most viewed posts
Logan = Bunny: 16
Game review: Animatch: 14
A program, egad!: 9
Game review: ztunnel: 7

Monday, 23 May 2011

Game review: Knight Lore

Knight Lore
Genre: Arcade Adventure
Author: Digitaljez
OHH download: v1.05 (15/01/08)
Size: 1.8 MB
Licence: Freeware

Knight Lore is a remake of the classic 8-bit (most famously, Spectrum) game of the same name, published in 1984 by the renowned Ultimate Play the Game software house. In it, you take the part of Sabreman (also the hero of the previous -- but not GP2X-remade -- Sabre Wulf) and must explore an isometric-3D labyrinth full of traps and puzzles in order to retrieve the items you need to bring to the local wizard in order to cure you of becoming a werewolf each night!

It's not as easy as that, of course. There's a time limit of 40 days, and if you don't complete the game by then you've had it. You start with a mere three lives (although a few 1-ups are dotted around the place) and they really are easy to lose. The isometric perspective adds a new dimension (ho ho) but it also brings danger, as it makes it easier for monsters and the like to hide! If you die, you'll be shown a brief, and often rather depressing, summary of how well you've done.

Addictiveness: 8
This is certainly a game you'll want to come back to after you've failed (as you will) on your first attempt. It looks great (more on that later) and has an excellent, immersive atmosphere, with a wide range of fiendish puzzles to work out. So, why "only" an 8? Simply, it's just too difficult for all but the most committed players. It's a good example of why 8-bit games are commonly considered harder than today's equivalents: the Spectrum's "infinite lives" cheat was heavily used... but it's not available here!

Depth: 8
The day/night split leading to human/werewulf switching (which is vital to appreciate if you want to win the game!) is an interesting touch. The 40-day time limit, on the other hand, stops this from being a game you can really stop and think about as you go through, in the way that you can with another 8-bit classic, Head Over Heels.* Another plus, though, is that you don't always start in the same room, and neither do the items you're seeking. Finally, you can choose in the menu whether to require 14, 21 or 28 charms to win. This gives Knight Lore replay value beyond just "finishing faster" even if you've already beaten it.

* For what it's worth, Head Over Heels would rate a 10 here -- as it would in most other categories -- if only a GP2X version had been made. We'll just have to make do with the emulated Spectrum version, which isn't a bad substitute.

Controls: 8
The stick moves you around, then there are buttons: B for jump, X for pick/drop and A for jump+pick/drop. The trigger buttons rotate you. Start pauses the game and offers you the chance to return or quit; sensibly, the first is the default. Y and Select are unused, though I can't see what's missing that they could be used for. Anyway, it all works okay, though remembering the jump/pick/drop combinations can be a bit of a pain, especially at first.

Graphics: 9
Hard to fault here. You get the initial loading screen (albeit with "Mutilate Kill and Maim" instead of the original "Ultimate Play the Game" logo; I'm not too keen on that, personally) and the font used in the main menu is just right. The in-game graphics haven't strayed too far from the original's, and anyone who's ever played Knight Lore would recognise it in a second, with the enhancements in terms of colour and resolution (for example, in the sun/moon display at bottom right) not being distracting.

Sound: 7
Pretty decent, all in all, and nothing that feels too overblown for what is, after all, at heart a Spectrum game. The plinky-plonk background tune, though the same as in the original, gets annoying after a little while, and I tend to turn it off. The effects are much better, and the "whoo-ooo" of the ghost is particularly fun. The one exception is Sabreman's footsteps, which drive me mad -- they're somehow much more irritating than the Spectrum's beepier version. As usual, even the lowest volume setting is a little too loud for headphones and the default is deafening.

Documentation: 8
You can access the original "The Mist Tunes" (a pleasantly semi-cryptic verse giving an idea of the object) from the game menu; and there's a reasonably clear, if rather short, summary on the OHH page as well. The score here would have been higher if there'd also been a readme including "The Werewulf" background text (the one that begins "My journey's end is near").

Completeness: 9
As with some other accomplished GP2X games, Knight Lore would have scored a full 10 here if only there'd been just a tad more documentation. Everything else seems to be present and correct, though as I haven't actually finished the blasted thing I can't be absolutely sure about the ending!

Overall: 8
This is a satisfying and well-crafted remake of a game fondly remembered by a generation of Spectrum (etc) owners. Its rock-hard difficulty level makes it rather inaccessible for the casual gamer, however, and newcomers will need to persevere to get anywhere. The graphics are wonderful, the attention to detail is great and the sound... well, it's not perfect, but it's at least good. Fans of the original will lap this up.

Saturday, 21 May 2011

Bletchley Park and the start of the road to the GP2X!

This is an Acorn A500 from 1986, the first prototype computer with an ARM 1 CPU -- and therefore in a way it can be seen as the start of the journey that led to the ARM chips that power the GP2X. Only 100 were made, and this one is at The National Museum of Computing at Bletchley Park. Limited resources mean that the museum is only open on Thursday and Saturday afternoons, but if you get a chance to go, take it; it's fantastic. Actually, Bletchley Park as a whole is great, and the rest of the site is open much more often.

Friday, 20 May 2011

Kirby Kirby eep eep

It's just typical, isn't it? I get a nice, modern(ish) console with a bright colour screen and what do I do? Get completely hooked on a monochrome Game Boy game. To be precise, Kirby's Pinball Land, which I remember from days of old. It's not stunningly original or deviously complex, but it is incredibly addictive. I'm not that good at pinball (I've only just managed to reach the 500,000-point mark) but I still enjoy it hugely. It's a shame nobody wrote a native GP2X pinball game, actually.

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

One of the GP2X's more annoying features...

...is the way that the mains lead sticks out of the right-hand side of the console around halfway up. This means that you have to fit your right hand around it when using the thing. I've found that in the position that's most comfortable for me, it's quite easy to press the side of the jack plug against my little finger, making that go to sleep. Not a major problem, but something a little more attention to detail in the GP2X's initial design could probably have avoided.

Monday, 16 May 2011

Game review: Animatch

Genre: Puzzle
Author: Ruckage
OHH download: v1.2 (26/01/09)
Size: 7.2 MB
Licence: Freeware

Animatch is a puzzle game similar to the Nintendo DS title Zoo Keeper. You are confronted with a board full of different animals (well, the heads thereof) and must make rows (or columns) of three or more of the same species. This is accomplished by swapping one tile with the one next to it horizontally or vertically. In the Normal game, you must make a certain number of rows of each animal, which increases as the levels progress -- and all the while a timer is ticking downwards; if it reaches zero, it's game over. To help you, it's green when there is plenty of time left, then yellow, orange and finally red: in the final period the animals themselves will shake! Making rows, however, does give you a few seconds extra time.

As well as your quotas, you make a conventional score by completing rows: a row of three gets you 90 points, one of four gets 160 and one of five gets 250. On each level there is a "lucky" animal; rows of this species score double! You can boost your score even further by completing "chains": animals you match disappear from the board and those above them slide down (with more being added from the top to keep a full board); if the new setup makes another row, that will score double its normal points, a third will score triple, and so on. In each game you can ask for three hints: requesting one will make potential rows flash. Occasionally a wildcard will appear: when selected, this stops on a certain animal and all tiles of that type will be removed from the board. If at any time there are no possible moves, the program will detect this and give you a new board -- pausing the timer while it does so.

There are two other modes: Time Attack, in which you must score as many points as possible in five minutes; and Score Attack, in which your task is to score 20,000 points in the shortest time you can. In each of these there is a Normal mode (with seven different animals) and a Hard mode (with eight). Adding those to the Normal game described earlier -- in which there are eight animals, though another one is added if you get as far as level 10 -- gives a total of five different challenges, all of which maintain a top-ten high-score table complete with name display.

Addictiveness: 10
When getting the screenshot for this review, I meant to just take the shots and then quit. Some hope. Animatch is a hugely addictive game, and although it seems like a diversion to fill an idle five minutes you could easily find yourself, after a few goes, wondering where the last hour went. The selection of game modes stops it from getting samey, and getting on the initial high score tables is attainable without being insultingly easy.

Depth: 8
For what on the face of it is a simple puzzler, there's a surprising amount of thought needed to do well at Animatch. You need to think quickly to assess which move is best -- it's not always the obvious one -- and as you progress in the Attack modes especially you'll come to appreciate the importance of chains.

Controls: 10
Simple but effective: the stick moves the cursor around the board, and the B (or Y) button followed by a stick direction swaps tiles. You press A for a hint, and Start to pause. While paused, L+R will quit; this guards well against accidental pressing. Being able to adjust cursor speed in the main menu is a really nice (and unusual) touch. It's all extremely easy to pick up, and there isn't a single place where it gets in the way. In the high-score table you enter your name via a very clear virtual keyboard; one up on the usual three-letter initials selected with the stick!

Graphics: 10
Absolutely gorgeous: the intro screens promise much, and Animatch delivers. The main board is bright and colourful, and the animals are all easy to tell apart. The menu screens look really nice, too, and the high-score entry screen has its own feel (vaguely reminiscent of that for Out Run, actually!) which speaks of a game that was obviously a labour of love. The little animations, with the animals going all wide-eyed or waving tentacles when you make a row, are bound to raise a smile, too.

Sound: 10
Truly superb. The music tracks are by Pat Ferguson, who clearly knows what he's doing. They have a cheerful, bouncy feel but don't get in the way of your concentration at all. The sound effects when you complete a row, level up and suchlike are all fairly simple, but again they're very easy on the ear. I often get irritated by puzzle-game sound; not on this occasion. You can even adjust music and sound-effect volume (independently!) in the menu.

Documentation: 8
There's a brief one-line summary of each game type (and other menu option) as you select its icon, but full instructions are in a readme file. This is a model of its type: clear and comprehensive, but without including unnecessary waffle. A full in-game help screen would have been nice, but this game is so good that I almost feel churlish saying so!

Completeness: 9
Is there anything, apart from that in-game help screen, missing? If so, I couldn't find it. This is a really polished game that has no obvious rough edges whatsoever. You get the impression that a great deal of commitment was put into its creation, and it shows.

Overall: 10
Animatch is a hugely likeable game, and one which every GP2X owner should possess. It says something that the only "bug" I could find was a footling one: the mis-spelling of "amount" as "ammount" on the credit screen that shows when you quit. This is a game you could happily show off to anyone who doubts what can be done on our little console, and it could quite easily have been a commercial title. An absolute must-have.

Sunday, 15 May 2011

Emulation: on not being American

It's interesting sometimes to contrast how American and British (and to some extent European) retrocomputing enthusiasts look at the area of emulation. These days gaming is pretty much global -- PC, PS3 and so on -- but that wasn't nearly so much the case in the old days. We in Britain had a very substantial home computer industry in the early-mid 1980s, after all, and given that and the fact that it was feasible back then for bedroom coders to produce commercial software alone we had much less need to bow to what America or Japan did.

And that word "computer" is important. The Atari 2600 and the NES, for example, weren't nearly the phenomena over here that they were in the US, and a major reason for that is that we had Sinclair, Acorn and Amstrad producing enormous numbers of computers rather than consoles, and those are what the average 12-year-old had at school (in Acorn's case) or at home (in the case of the others). Of the American manufacturers, Commodore did well and Atari (with the 400/800) to an extent, but you rarely saw UK homes with an Apple II, TRS-80 or TI99/4A.

So when you have a console like our very own GP2X, with a strong coding base in Europe, you're likely to get emulators for more of the British machines than you might otherwise do with such a (relatively) small installation base. And that is in fact the case: the relevant section of the OHH archive has good emulators for half a dozen major British micros: the Amstrad CPC, BBC Micro, Dragon, Sam Coupé, Spectrum and ZX80/81. (Okay, the Sam Coupé isn't really major, but still...) I'm not counting the Archimedes emulator as (like so much GP2X stuff) it has never been finished.

I wonder sometimes whether this gives European coders a slight advantage. If you had a NES, all you were likely to do was shove in a cartridge and go. But those of us who had computers expected to do at least a little programming from time to time, even if we mostly had our machines for leisure purposes. Sometimes that hacking was needed just to get a game to run, after all! The 1980s generation of kids was the only one, ever, who learned to program on a mass scale from before they even reached their teens. That's something that's largely missing today, and I think it's a real shame.

Friday, 13 May 2011

And... we're back

Phew... following a pretty serious outage at Blogger, during which I have to say we weren't kept all that well informed, things seem to be back to normal. My most recent game review (of Shippy 1984) has disappeared, but I have that saved so will post it up again if the promised retrieval of such things doesn't happen in the near future. If you have any trouble reading or commenting, then it's their fault, all right? *grins*

Edit: Aha, it's back to normal, review and all. Excellent!

Thursday, 12 May 2011

Game review: Shippy 1984

Shippy 1984
Genre: Shooter
Author: seb
OHH download: v?.?? (31/08/07)
Size: 2.0 MB
Licence: GPL v2

Shippy 1984 is a space-based shooter with strong echoes of the arcade machines of the early 1980s. If you've ever played something like Galaga (and if you're a GP2X owner, surely you have) then you'll feel at home pretty quickly. There's no complex underlying plot: Galaxian starts with a simple MISSION: DESTROY ALIENS and the same applies here: just blast away, avoiding alien bombs and helping yourself to the odd power-up. There is a countdown timer, but if it reaches zero you don't die; you just don't get a level bonus. That doesn't mean you can relax, though, as those aliens are coming down the screen towards you...

The game's retro atmosphere is very much an integral part of the experience: in a fun touch, you even get that infamous "Winners Don't Use Drugs" FBI splash screen at the very beginning. (Yes, I know that was American, but most of us over here know about it too these days.) The game was originally written for the PC by Ryan Broomfield; its name varies a bit across platforms, and even here it's written "Shippy84" in the readme. I've put "seb" as the author of this version since that's what the readme is signed and it was the only name I could find!

Addictiveness: 7
It's not often I say this about this type of game, but Shippy 1984 may be a little bit too easy, early on at least, to be truly captivating. The first time I played I got through several levels without losing a life without trying hard at all. It is a bit more of a challenge later, as more and more aliens appear, so if you stick with it for a couple of levels you should find yourself having more fun.

Depth: 5
It's an old-school endless space blaster; what did you expect? In all honesty, Shippy 1984 is probably better for not trying to be too clever. It does offer a little variety as the levels go by, and the presence of the few power-ups helps, but it's no Elite.

Controls: 7
The stick moves you around, A shoots and Start pauses; most people should be able to remember that! The ship is responsive enough, and (if you're better at the game than me) you should be able to dodge bombs pretty nimbly. Select quits the game: as it's instant and non-recoverable, I'm not wild about the lack of any confirmation screen there.

Graphics: 7
I'm not that sold on the odd design of your ship, which looks like a green moth with a small yellow smiley stuck to its top, and occasionally text superimposed on aliens is a little hard to see, but most of the rest is better. The font used for the score display is reminiscent of that used in the likes of Galaga, while the aliens themselves, their bombs and your missiles also feel right; they all move nice and smoothly, too. I enjoyed the messages like GO UNLIMITED BULLETS when you pick up a power-up.

Sound: 7
Right at the start there's a mid-80s style (ie rather laboured) speech synth of the game's title. I can't really see the point, to be honest. The in-game sounds and music are really pretty good, though: they certainly have the feel of that era's arcade machines about them. And, for once, through headphones the default volume is merely "too loud" and not "eardrum-shattering".

Documentation: 4
There's very little in-game, and what does exist is confusing: for example, when the game is paused you're told it's "belated". Why, I have no idea; perhaps it's (deliberately?) odd English from the original Shippy game. There is a very basic readme, which will get you started, but through no fault of seb's own the site it refers to is no more.

Completeness: 6
seb himself says that this is a "quick and dirty port", and that's obvious in the way that the instructions still refer to the CTRL key and "button 1". The game itself isn't lacking too much, though; offer selectable difficulty and put in an instruction page and there'd be little to complain about. Even a high-score table doesn't seem necessary for an old-school game like this one.

Overall: 7
It's perhaps too easy to say, "If you like Galaxian, you'll probably like Shippy 1984", but it's not any the less true for all that. I had some trouble deciding whether this was a 6 or a 7, but in the end its nicely executed retro feel just helped it to the higher rating.

Tuesday, 10 May 2011

Logan = Bunny

On the off-chance that anyone's wondering: yes, I am the same person as Bunny on the GP32X.com forum. I originally tried to sign up there as "Logan", but that name was taken, so "Bunny" it was. My name is Logan, though. I should probably tag this post "snore" or something, but I'll stick to "general"...

Monday, 9 May 2011

Game review: ztunnel

Genre: Racing
Authors: Jim McLeod & rokdcasbah
OHH download: v?.? (28/10/07)
Size: 5.8 MB
Licence: Freeware

ztunnel (as far as I can tell it's all lower-case) is one of surprisingly few racing games to have been released for the GP2X. It was written for a coding competition in 2007 -- and, like many such games, has unfortunately not been updated any time recently. You pilot a spaceship and must win races against similar ships in order to proceed across a grid: after completing one race, you get a choice of where to go next. (Remember Blockbusters? Well, not exactly like that, but close.)

The courses are tunnel-like (hence the name) and twist about, in some cases even going upside-down. If you leave the track you won't crash, but you will lose a great deal of speed. It can be hard to get past blocking ships, so make use of the missiles (diamonds) you can collect and blast them out of the way. There are also golden coins, which if collected will give you a brief burst of extra power -- in both speed and the ability to pass through other ships.

Addictiveness: 8
Okay, I'm a racing game fan, so predisposed to like this sort of thing, but ztunnel passes the acid test: when I just failed to qualify for the next round, I didn't get annoyed and quit the game; I had another go. And then another. Good stuff.

Depth: 7
Okay, it's not the sort of game you'll get lost in for weeks, but you can certainly develop and refine your tactics as you go along. The large number of courses available (25) and the choice of routes over the grid doesn't harm that at all, and there's even the odd secret to discover along the way.

Controls: 8
Left, right, brake, fire. That's it: your ship goes at full speed unless you actually brake. You can use stick or trigger buttons to steer, which is nice. Pause is Select, while Select and Start together quit the game. There's a useful intro screen explaining it all.

Graphics: 8
Pretty good, all told. Your ship (like the others) is just a few spheres stuck together and painted a neon colour, but I've got no problem with that. The track is generally clear enough to see, the weapons are sensibly coloured and the starry background is easy on the eye. It all dashes along at a great pace, too.

Sound: 7
The title music is fine if rather forgettable; as usual, you'll want it turned down almost to nothing if you're wearing headphones. The engine noise is a bit whiny, but it's no worse than in an awful lot of other similar games. Weapon and power-up effects are vaguely sci-fi-ish, which works well enough.

Documentation: 2
Almost non-existent, with not even a couple of lines on the OHH site: apart from the screen explaining what the various buttons do, you have to figure out the rest as you go along -- which doesn't take long, but is a bit frustrating.

Completeness: 7
The documentation issue loses ztunnel a little bit of a score here, as does the lack of a savegame facility. The core game is pretty well finished, though.

Overall: 8
I like ztunnel a lot. There aren't many racing games on the GP2X (unless you count the emulated ones!) and so it's nice to come across one that's genuinely enjoyable. It's very reminiscent of a DOS-based game from the early-mid 1990s, but I can't remember which one! Certainly worth a spot on the ol' SD card, this.

Sunday, 8 May 2011

Watching films on the GP2X

I'm not American, so I'm damned if I'm going to call them "movies" all the time! anyway, I've barely used the GP2X for this feature since I bought it, so I thought I might as well see how well it worked. I dug out a DVD more or less at random (it was Oliver!) and ripped it to Xvid using AcidRip, which has the inestimable virtues of being in the Ubuntu repositories and of actually working out of the box.

Having copied it to an SD card, I bunged on the movie player (the built-in one) at standard power. Not bad at all, actually. As we know, the sound quality through speakers is pathetic, so it did need some headphones, but apart from that and the slightly restrictive vertical viewing angle of the screen there was no problem. I wish the Start-to-quit button had an "Are you sure?" step, though.

I must admit, I'm not entirely certain what the other two power settings in the movie player are for. If you turn it down low for economy the video stutters too much to be remotely watchable; and since it works fine on normal why would anyone use the extra power setting? Ah well. I was wired up to the mains,* incidentally, so I have no idea what battery life was like.

* Okay, not me personally. That may disappoint some of you...

Saturday, 7 May 2011

A program, egad!

Okay, I know: it doesn't say "Hello World!" This is a disgraceful breach of convention, and I'm utterly ashamed of myself. Now... as I hinted a little while ago, it is indeed SdlBasic I've chosen, since I actually understand most of it, which alone puts it way ahead of C++ and the like. It's a very simple program to plot a Lorenz Attractor, something I've always rather liked watching.

I must be honest and say that the screenshot is actually from the PC. The version of SdlBasic in the Ubuntu repository doesn't seem entirely finished in terms of presentation (it tends to crash) but the actual language works, and I can use the code with no changes on the GP2X. The timings on the GP2X are a lot slower: something like 3.5 seconds overall and 2 seconds for the drawing.

'Very basic Lorenz Attractor plotter

'Set up the display
setdisplay(320, 240, 16, 1)

'Initialise variables
s = 10 : p = 28 : b = 8/3
x = 10 : y = 0 : z = 10
dt = 0.002
drawstarttime = timer

'Actual plottery
for n = 1 to 20000
dx = s * (y - x)
dy = x * (p - z) - y
dz = x * y - b * z
x = x + dx * dt
y = y + dy * dt
z = z + dz * dt
plot(160 + y * 5, z * 5, rgb(255, 255, 0))

'Print elapsed time (in s) since program / drawing start
ink(rgb(255, 255, 255))
timetaken = timer : drawtime = timer - drawstarttime
timedisplay$ = str$ (timetaken / 1000) + " / " + str$ (drawtime / 1000)
text(0, 0, 16, timedisplay$)

'Wait for button press before ending
j = bjoy(0)
while j = 0
j = bjoy(0)
end while



The Logan Collection

No, it's not my range of fresh and exciting fashion (those who know me would guffaw at the very thought!) but my small collection of retro computers. It's not a patch on many people's, of course, but it is perhaps a little bit different from the mainstream: no Spectrum, no Commodore, no SNES or Mega Drive. Leaving out the GP2X for a minute (it's pushing it to call it retro, even with all those emulators!) I have this little lot:

Sinclair ZX81

More exclusive than the Spectrum, but without the insane price tag of the ZX80. It has a Sinclair 16K RAM Pack, though the machine is currently awaiting mechanical attention. (A new bit of Blu-Tack.) A ZX81, though not this ZX81, was the first computer I ever had at home, back in 1983. This one's otherwise in fairly good shape, and hasn't got the deep depressions on the cursor keys (well, 5, 6, 7 & 8) that so many other ZX81s develop after years of enthusiastic game-playing. I have no software for it, though.

Dragon 32

The story behind its acquisition is slightly odd: I bought it for what was then (and would be now) a steep £40 in a junk shop called "Granny's Attic" near Lancaster railway station. Having done so, I stuffed it into one of those platform coin-operated left luggage lockers that briefly existed during the first, abortive IRA ceasefire (1994-5) and went off to explore Lancaster. About which I remember nothing at all. The 1 key needs a very hard push, but otherwise it's fine, and I have the manual and a couple of joysticks, plus a few tapes.

BBC Micro Model B+ 64K

This is by far my favourite computer. I bought it for £15 from an Atari(!) user group stand at the All Formats Computer Fair at Bingley Hall, Stafford in 1996. Contrary to what a surprising number of sources claim, it's perfectly possible to play disk Elite on a B+ with minimal fiddling. That said, I'm a racing-game fan and so Revs (by Sir Geoff Crammond, of course) claims first place. I have a twin Watford Electronics switchable 40/80-track drive for the Beeb, which weighs about a quarter of a ton...

Amstrad PCW8256

I think this still works, but it's been buried in a cupboard for years now. This green-screen lump was sold mostly as a word processor, but was actually a capable computer thanks to Amstrad's decision to bundle CP/M Plus with it. I first played Head Over Heels on one of these, you know! The PCW's 90x32 character screen made it great for text stuff, though it was a right pain to access the high-resolution line graphics. Anyone else remember 8000 Plus magazine, with its covers that featured Fruit & Nut bars?

Psion Series 5

Not the higher-specced 5MX -- I couldn't afford one of those -- but the original 1997 model. I still use this semi-seriously for making notes when I'm on the bus or something, as the slide-out keyboard is still very good. I even have an XT emulator, so I can do my typing in WordStar if the mood really takes me! There's a case for saying that the Series 5 was the last truly new, truly British micro ever made, and it really has only two faults: one, the screen is disappointingly dingy; and two, a design fault with the hinges means that screen may eventually fail. On the plus side, it runs for ages on two AA batteries.

Amstrad NC100

Unfortunately this one is on its way out, I think, but I like it even so. A simple to use A4-sized notebook with a decent keyboard that runs for hours and hours on four AA batteries (I do like my AA-powered machines!) and incorporates the Protext word processor, BBC BASIC (Z80 version) and an RS232 serial port. Plus some other PDA-type stuff, but I don't really care about that; I'm interested in the Amstrad as a computer!

Nintendo Game Boy

The original, chunky, monochrome version. Aside from an ancient black-and-white Tandy thing my family had in about 1485, this is the only true console I'd ever owned before buying the GP2X. It's rather temperamental these days, but with some vigorous blowing on the contacts it's still possible to fire up The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening which remains one of my all-time favourite games.

Friday, 6 May 2011

Game review: Dont Get Crushed

Dont Get Crushed
Genre: Arcade
Author: ThatOtherPerson
OHH download: v1.0 (15/03/11)
Size: 1.3 MB
Licence: Freeware

As you might imagine, GP2X game development has slowed to a crawl in recent months as newer systems have attracted developers. After all, this has never been a mainstream console, so just a few people moving on can have a disproportionate effect. However, there are still things being written for the GP2X, and Dont Get Crushed (which for some reason has no apostrophe in its name) is one of the most recent releases available at the time of writing.

It's a simple, monochrome clone of the iPhone game Falling Balls (though the author states they have never actually played that). You control a grey semicircle at the bottom of the screen. Black balls of varying sizes bounce out of the left-hand side and across the screen; your task is to avoid any contact with them. You only get the one life: the moment you are touched by a black ball, it's game over. Oh, and things speed up once you get to 1,000 points...

Addictiveness: 5
My heart sank when I first saw Dont Get Crushed and its extremely basic design, but actually there's some replay value here, especially as each game will take a couple of minutes at most. It's definitely satisfying to break a score landmark.

Depth: 2
Er... no.

Controls: 5
About as simple as it gets: move your semicircle with joystick left and right, and quit the game with Select. They work fine, though it's a shame there's no pause button.

Graphics: 4
You couldn't call Dont Get Crushed's appearance lovely by any means. "Functional" would be a better word. It's entirely in black, white and grey. While playing, you see the writer's URL, a note about how to exit, your current score and the high score.

Sound: 6
This consists of a background music track called "Bunny on the Moon". (Yay!) Almost inevitably it's techno themed (why are game designers so obsessed with that genre?) but as it's almost three minutes long it doesn't get too repetitive; indeed, you're unlikely to reach the end of it before losing the game! Default volume is far too loud for headphones, but Dont Get Crushed is by no means alone in that.

Documentation: 3
Nothing on-screen apart from how to quit; no readme in the download. A couple of sentences on the OHH download page, but really that's all you need. You could figure it out pretty quickly without it, but I would have liked to have seen some sort of readme file at least.

Completeness: 5
Tricky to rate. It's about as basic as you can get while still being a playable game, but a playable game it certainly is. Colour, more sound and so on might be nice... or would they take away from the simplicity? A high-score reset, if not an actual table, would be very welcome, though. And proper documentation, as mentioned above.

Overall: 5
Dont Get Crushed is highly reminiscent of the games you got on mobile phones the best part of a decade ago. That's not entirely a criticism, though: there is a place for utterly simple amusements that don't need a PhD to learn to play. This one may be a bit too simple, but it can keep you diverted for a few minutes.

Wednesday, 4 May 2011

My personal GP2X

This is my GP2X. Well, strictly speaking it's the cardboard box it lives in, but as that's got a picture on the top you get the best of both worlds! As you can see, I have the Value Pack; this consists of an F100 Mk2 console with firmware 3.0.0. There are a few help videos and three and two halves games built in* plus a few bits and pieces: some GP2X-branded NiMH rechargeables, a very basic pair of branded earphones and a soft pouch. There's also a printed Quick User Guide and a fuller guide on CD. There was originally a hand strap as well, but that had gone missing by the time I bought my console.

* Advertised as five, but in fact it's three full games -- FluboPuyo, Noiz2sa and Supertux -- and two demos -- Payback and Vektar. The latter is a special build for the Value Pack, but it still ain't the full thing... though actually that's freeware anyway now, so the point is moot.

Programming: the final frontier?

The GP2X has given me so much enjoyment even in the few short weeks since I bought it, but I'd consider it much more to be mine if I could produce something of my own for it. The machine's openness to development is, after all, one of its most significant features. The problem is that I'm a pathetically useless programmer! The GP2X Wiki's Getting started with GP2X development page provides a summary of the options, and for the most part they're too hard for me. C/C++ (the most popular choice, unsurprising on a Linux system) is really above my head, and the idea of my programming in assembler is laughable.

So, what else is there? Excluding things like Perl, which has never come out of the beta stage in its GP2X incarnation, and the otherwise promising avenue of GLBasic (though free for many platforms, it ain't for handhelds) there are probably four realistic options: Python/Pygame, Pascal, Fenix and SdlBasic. They all have their pros and cons, but I'm tempted to go with the last. It's not going to be blazingly fast, but I do at least have some idea what I'm doing in Basic! So, stand by for a "Hello World" program before the decade is out...

Tuesday, 3 May 2011

Game review: Blix2x

Genre: Puzzle
Author: Alex Margarit
OHH download: v1.1 (16/05/09)
Size: 1.0 MB
Licence: Freeware

Blix2x is based on the original Blix game by Nick Kouvaris. It's a simple puzzler: confronted with three rows of coloured tiles, you must shift rows (individually) left or right to try to make vertical lines of tiles of the same colour. You have a limited number of moves: to start with this is set at six, but each time you make a move this decreases by one. If you match a column, your score increases by one instead. (Actually two, but in effect one because of the usual move cost.) However, you can never have more than 12 moves available. Tiles in a matched column are instantly recoloured at random.

This is a pure tactical game: there's no timer at all. You get 10 points for matching a column, but if you manage to match more than one in a single move your score will increase much more rapidly: for example, two columns bring you 40 points. The game ends when your number of available moves reaches zero. A high score is retained, and shown in future games at the bottom right of the screen, but sadly there is no facility to enter your name or initials.

Addictiveness: 7
I've certainly found myself playing Blix2x more than I originally imagined I would. As it only takes a couple of minutes to play it's really useful as a time-filler, and the "just one more go" factor is definitely in evidence. It's not in the Tetris class in that respect, but then what is?

Depth: 5
There's not a great deal to Blix2x, but it's a little less simplistic than it appears at first glance. You need to keep an eye on your move quota and think ahead... and sometimes go for the desperate gamble of hoping the colour you really need is just waiting to be scrolled onto the screen!

Controls: 9
You only need up, down, left and right, but I really like the way that Alex has given the user choice: you can use joystick or the buttons or a combination to move. Start pauses the game: from the pause screen pressing Start again will return to the action while Select quits. Fine.

Graphics: 8
I like the visual presentation of Blix2x a lot. It's a good example of a game that doesn't need flashy animation or explosive effects to look good. The game screen is bright and colourful, and the sawtooth animation along the edges reassures you that the console hasn't crashed. The dark blue background is quite subtly patterned and doesn't distract.

Sound: 3
There's no music; just a few different types of boings and bleeps. They're not at all offensive, but Blix2x can certainly be played silently without losing much at all. It is nice to see a game that doesn't have a stupidly loud initial volume when played with headphones, though.

Documentation: 6
Nothing in-game other than explaining how to start/pause/quit with Start/Select. The readme file is quite short but covers the basics adequately.

Completeness: 7
The main game is pretty polished: most of what could be added is nice-but-inessential stuff. Selectable difficulty levels would be easy to implement: allow the player to change the initial move quota, as well as whether the 12-move limit should stay. A full high-score table would be nice, as would a way to reset the high score. I rather like the lack of a timer -- too many puzzler authors seem to think they have to include one -- but some might like an alternative "arcade" mode.

Overall: 7
Blix2x is a nice little diversion that demonstrates the lack of necessity for GP2X games to be technically stunning in order to be enjoyable. It can be picked up in a couple of minutes, and is easy on the eye. Worth a look.

Welcome to 2XGB

Hello, and welcome to this 'ere blog, whose subject matter is that fine yet under-appreciated handheld console, the GamePark Holdings GP2X. It may seem rather strange to be starting a blog about a 2005-vintage machine in 2011, but there's a simple reason for that: I didn't have one until this year! Now I have got one, I feel I ought to catch up a bit.

The core of this blog will be game reviews, in particular freeware from the GP2X File Archive on openhandhelds.org (OHH). That's not to say that I won't be writing about anything else, though this isn't intended to be a general-purpose blog and so I'll try to keep the great majority of content directly GP2X-related. I have the basic console (an F100 Mk2) and nothing else, so don't expect much on the cradle, TV-Out etc.

Oh, and the title? It was the snappiest one I could find that was still available. This blog is about the '2X, and I live in Great Britain, so there you have it. Thrilling, eh? Oh, please yourself...