Application of the Week – World of Goo (#gaming)

World of Goo Header

I’m not much of a gamer anymore.  I don’t have the time (5 kids will do that to you, especially when the eldest is getting into games and you’re getting your arse handed to you on a plate when you take her on).  And I’ve never been that much of a PC gamer, either.  I’ve got a PlayStation for games and there’s not a lot that gets ported to Linux anyway.

Every once in a while a game comes along that I can’t not play.  The first one I remember was Lemmings, sitting in my uncle’s house in Wales playing the damn game for about 14 hours straight.  Hey, at least I was quiet and it kept a teenager occupied.  In the last few years, though, gaming’s been getting more complicated and less fun.  That changed with World of Goo.

I obtained World of Goo through the Humble Bundle over a year ago.  I was actually only after the horror game but it’s a bundle, you get the lot.  Then a few weeks ago a friend of mine on Twitter complained about being stuck on a certain level and I remembered!  “Hey, I’ve got that game.  I’ll give it a look.”  This was after I’d written my rant about giving up on games and walking away, saving your stress and sanity.

An hour and several levels later I was completely hooked.

The premise is a very simple one.   You have some balls of goo at the start of the level and an exit pipe to get them to.  You can build things with your goo – towers, bridges, stuff like that.  Different types of goo have different properties – some attach to each other permanently, others can be removed and reattached, some float, some are flammable…  Sound familiar?  Blockers, diggers, acrobats?  The game gives a nod to Lemmings in other ways – you have to save a minimum number of goo balls on each level.  A sample level might look like this:

Fisty's Bog
Off to the right is the exit pipe.  You can’t see the spikes at the top and bottom of the screen that will pop your precious goo balls.  Structures you build have a realistic internal physics model – build out and it will start to droop according to it’s weight, add balloons to offset the weight and the whole structure will start to oscillate like the Millennium Bridge in London!  Towers sway in the breeze, you have to compensate for gravity…  Aaargh!  It’s most wonderfully frustrating.

World of Goo Screenshot

Levels can be deceptively simple, the game starts off with some quite pedestrian levels to get you used to manipulating your goo.  Each level also has a challenge – the OCD (Obsessive Completion Distinction) challenge.  This gives you a little flag next to the levels you’ve completed on the map screen.  Sometimes it will be to save a certain number of goo balls, which can seem impossible until you realise there’s a trick to completing the level and you can, essentially, cheat; sometimes it’s to complete within a certain time or with a certain number of moves.  Pressing Esc whilst playing a level lets you take a look at the OCD challenge for that level.  I’ve managed it on 3 levels so far.

There are some excellent sites out there to help you when you get completely stuck.  YouTube, of course, has video walkthroughs for every single level.  GooFans.com is a superb fan site with help, walkthroughs and (for when you’ve completed the game) more levels.

The graphics and soundtrack to the game are top notch.

I’ve not played a game that’s hooked me as much as this for over a decade.  You can get it on PC, Linux, Mac and the Wii.  So go.  They say that misery loves company, so when you get to the Epilogue you’ll be joining me.  I’m stuck.   I know what I’ve got to do, it’s just those spinning death wheels that keep getting in the way!

Application of the Week – DIYPlanner Templates (#GTD)

This week’s application, http://www.diyplanner.com/templates/official, is a bit of a cheat.  It’s actually a collection of PDF templates that you use either with a Filofax (other personal organisers are available) or the fantastically retro “Hipster PDA”.  Y’see, I’ve never been able to wholly embrace IT as a means of making notes about stuff.  There’s something much more personal about getting a fountain pen out of your pocket and writing something by hand.  Lifehacker ran an article recently about business cards – and specifically why you should carry blank ones and write the information you need to give someone there and then (http://uk.lifehacker.com/5792300/why-you-should-carry-blank-business-cards).  I always have at least one Moleskine notebook about my person.

The templates tie in nicely with the GTD (Getting Things Done) method for organising yourself (one I’m a fan of, as previous posts may have revealed) and come with a flowchart for the GTD method you can print out and include in your organiser.

The Big Idea here is that you print out what you need, either on normal paper and then cut down, or onto index cards if your printer is up to the job – any printer that’s good at doing photos should do this with ease.  You’ve then got instant note-taking templates for a whole load of different things – projetcs, to-do lists, character ideas for stories, notes on scenes…  There are some 70-odd different templates in the basic templates, covering everything from your shopping list to SWOT analyses (if you have to ask, you don’t need to know).

I use the Hipster PDA size printed on 5×3 index cards in a standard Filofax (I’ve printed templates onto Filofax paper in the past, it works very well but I don’t have a regular supply up here.  Index cards are easy!), other sizes are available – right up to A4/letter.

For authors, there are templates for character notes, scene notes, storyboarding and other useful bits and bobs.  Yes, there’s stuff in there I hope I never need, but there’s stuff in there that I can’t leave home without.

My setup includes:

  • Notes cards.  Double-sided, same template on each side.
  • Project cards.  Double-sided again, project template on one side, notes template on the other.
  • Scene cards.  Double-sided, notes on the reverse.  In fact most of my cards end up with a notes page on the back.
  • To-Do lists.  Same template on each side.

As with all of these “print yourself” things, if I find I don’t have enough of a particular page, or I find a need for something I hadn’t used before, then I can just print it out.  If there isn’t a template that does what you want, all the widgets are there to use as an OpenOffice/LibreOffice template for you to create your own in their style.

Once you’ve got your templates sorted, you can then start getting creative with your Hipster PDA.  Sure, you can use a Filofax or some other organizer but there’s a lot of pleasure in crafting something that fits your purposes exactly.  This one here (http://www.skinyourscreen.com/site/Articles/mrbiotechs-hipsterpda) is a fine example of a leather case, others are out there (check out Flickr for some inspiration: http://www.flickr.com/photos/tags/hipsterpda/).  I made my first case out of a piece of scrap card and some Gaffer Tape.  It did what it needed to do.

Unplug the mouse, you don’t need it any more… #applicationoftheweek

We’re tethered to our computers these days.  Tethered by the mouse.  That thing that hovers under our hand and slows us down as we hunt for just the right icon, the right location in the start menu for that programme that we’ve just installed.  Today’s application of the week takes away a lot of that hunting.  So, without further preamble, I’d like to introduce Launchy (www.launchy.net)

One of the things I miss when moving from Linux (home) to Windows (work) is the ability to launch programmes with a few keystrokes.  In every Linux installation I’ve ever tried, the combination Alt-F2 brings up a little dialog box into which you can start typing the name of a programme or the path to a file and then hit enter to run/navigate/etc.  I’ve been caught trying to do this a few times on Windows and wondering why nothing was happening.

Y’see the first computer I had was an Acorn Electron.  Aside from having to load stuff from cassette tape and find typos in the BASIC listings they’d print in magazine, one of it’s defining features was the distinct lack of a mouse.  Fast-forward a few years and I inherited an IBM 286 from my Dad when he upgraded the office computers.  It ran Windows 3.1 (slowly) and didn’t have a mouse (I think it was run over by a boom lift in my Dad’s warehouse).  So I learned keyboard shortcuts.  It’s stood me in good stead:  When they unveiled Office 2007 with the big shiny button instead of the File menu, I was  happy to find that Ctrl-O still opened files and Ctrl-S saved them.  Anything that I *could* find then was a bonus.
But I digress.  Launchy.  Yes.  To quote Launchy’s website…

“Launchy is a free cross-platform utility designed to help you forget about your start menu, the icons on your desktop, and even your file manager.

Launchy indexes the programs in your start menu and can launch your documents, project files, folders, and bookmarks with just a few keystrokes!”

Launchy Screenshot

It adds functionality that’s lost in Windows and adds a turbo-boost to the functionality that’s already there in Linux.

First time you run Launchy, it searches your Start menu (on Windows) – and a few other locations, like the Desktop – for programmes to run and then you choose which to run by typing their name.  First time you run a given programme you might have to type pretty much the full name before it twigs which one you’re after.  Second time, unless you’ve got a couple of programmes with very similar names, you’re down to one or two letters.

Testing requirements at work mean I’ve got Office 2003, 2007 and 2010 installed on my computer.  Swapping between them is a pain in the backside.  First time I used Launchy to run Word 2010 I had to type in pretty much all of “Microsoft Word 2010” so it got the right one.  Now it’s on the ball and I’ve just got to hit “w”.  Outlook is now “o”, Chrome is “c” and so on.  Simplicity itself.

Instead of stopping what you’re doing, reaching for the mouse, clicking “Start” then “Programmes” and so on and so forth, all you have to do is press Alt-Space (the default shortcut for launching Launchy, this can be changed under Options) and type the first few letters of the software you need.  Much, much faster.

The other thing it brings is some much-needed good looks to the process.  The best that can be said about the default Linux behaviour is that it’s “functional”.  Launchy is skinnable and there are currently lots of skins to change Launchy’s appearance (I stopped counting at 90).  So no matter what your OS theme, colours or wallpaper, there’s a skin that will suit.  The default’s pretty cool, too.

Then there’s the plugins.  Not content with just making it easier for you to run programmes there’s all sorts of stuff that extend Launchy’s functionality.  Shutdown your computer with a few keystrokes, integration with the Todoist.com task manager, Python and .NET scriptability…  Fantastic.

Launchy is a beautifully simple programme to work with, it runs in the background in a most unobtrusive way, only appearing when summoned to work it’s magic.  It doesn’t need admin rights to install, will happily sit in your Home directory, works on Windows, Mac and Linux operating systems.

This is one of those programmes that, once you’ve used it for a while, you don’t know how you lived without it.  I’m going to include it in our default build here at work

Other keyboard-based control programmes are out there.  Next week I’ll take a look at one that’s aimed more toward developers…