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MS Home - Microsoft Scenes

December 15, 2016 | 22:54 | Written by: snake911

When looking back at the archives of home computing technology, there seems to be a synonymous connection between screensavers and the 1990s.  The reasoning behind this might be due to the fact that that was the decade where non hobbyists were starting to purchase computers for their homes and with it a large amount of customization.

Starting with Windows 95, there was full functionality built into the OS for things like custom wallpaper for the desktop and screensavers when the PC was in idle use.  Sure, you could have had patterned wallpaper and a screensaver for Windows 3.1, but they were features that were lacking in options and not fully fleshed out until 95 rolled out when it began to feel complete; so much so that the windows form for these features looked nearly the same for many versions of the Windows OS following 95.

This may be obvious, but just in case you didn't know, a screensaver is a program that displays animation or a series of images on a computer monitor after a preset amount of inactivity has passed to prevent burn-in from occurring to a screen.  For today's LCD screens it's not that big of deal but back in the '80s and '90s when CRT monitors were still relevant, a static image was prone to burning itself onto the screen, creating a permanent ghost image on the display.

As part of the Microsoft Home line of software, the Scenes series of programs added a full range of customizable options for both screensavers and wallpapers.  For a selection of flavors to choose from, there were a number of different subjects you can purchase such as the Undersea Collection, showcasing fish and plant life in the oceans; Hollywood Collection, which includes photos of famous celebrities and actors; and Sierra Club Collection of photos from the organization's archives.  For this feature, the Brain Twister Collection was selected as the subject matter.

Of all the programs from Microsoft Home that we've explored thus far, this one has to be the absolutely most basic one of them all.  In fact, it's more like an add-on function to the operating system as the interface is as vanilla Windows as you can get.  After installing the software and launching it, you can see its interface is split in half down the middle where the screensaver options are on the left and the wallpaper options are on the right.

With wallpapers, you have around 40 images to pick from where all are filed under the category titled Brain Twister.  For this series of images, Brain Twister deals with funky looking, somewhat abstract photos that may cause you to say "what the heck am I looking at?"  For a better explanation, here's the official description written on the back of the box:

Using images drawn from the world around us, you'll be visually challenged by images as diverse as three-dimensional stereograms and other synthetic object to those from the natural world.  Perspectives blast you 500 miles up into space or zoom you in microscopically close with magnification of 7000 power.  It's as fascinating as it is fun to puzzle these pictures out.

Each image also has an option to have a small window display with the description of the image so you know what you're looking at.

For the screensaver, it basically incorporates all of the images used for wallpaper, but places them into a slideshow.  Options allow you to set the duration time for each image and the kinds of transitions between each slide.  Again, all simplistic and but very intuitive to use.

Probably the handiest tool of Microsoft Scenes is the ability to allow for the user to enter a password after the screensaver starts, which allows for a bit of security for the OS.  If I'm remembering this correctly, adding a password or locking the OS didn't come standard to the OS until Windows 2000 or XP, leaving all 9X series of Windows vulnerable for unauthorized access.

For a personal touch, Scenes allows you to create your own collection of images for use as screensavers.  The problem with this is pretty much one had a digital camera or a scanner for their computer back in 1994.  So to make it easier for home users to get their precious family photos for use with Scenes, Microsoft created a division to digitize photos to digital pics that they mailed back to you -- just mail them your prints, negatives, or rolls of film and they will send a disc back.  Of course, coming with a cost for the service, but it was a niche market, so they probably made some good coin on it until digital cameras began to rise in popularity.

By the way, if you made it this far on an article about how to use desktop wallpapers and screensavers for your PC, then you deserve a round of applause.

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Drain a vein

December 12, 2016 | 22:42 | Written by: snake911

I used to do a lot of volunteer work when I was younger by helping out our local church during the holiday season by sorting out donated food and toys; and I think I should get back into that and give more time in volunteer work, so that may be a goal for 2017 I should really consider.  But in the meantime, I decided to do the easiest option which is to donate some blood.  Now this is something I wish I could do more, but I've only done it twice this year.  For one, I really hate needles.  Not scared of them, but I hate the idea of metal piercing my skin and seeing the bag of blood slowly filling up, and the pinching sensation you get where the needle makes contact.  Then afterwards, I get symptoms like feeling exhausted and having headaches.  So it's not a pleasurable experience for me.  But then I think of the person who needs the blood and would happily switch places with me if all they were doing were getting a shot in their arm as opposed to whatever horrible situation they're in that requires receiving blood.  So I suck it up and just deal with it because my issues are nothing compared to theirs.

But it's not all bad, there are some positives too.  For one, everyone at the blood donation centers are the nicest, assisting you every step of the way so you yourself are doing the bare minimum (which is giving them your blood).  On top of that, you get to eat free cookies, sandwiches, and juice during the waiting period after the process is over, so that's something to look forward to!  And you get to pick what color your bandage is, which I like to get the light blue colored one.  So it's a win-win.

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Death is not the end

December 7, 2016 | 22:51 | Written by: snake911

For me, Let it Die was a total surprise.  I know it's been mentioned before and was originally announced way back in 2013, but I didn't become aware of its existence again until last weekend when I was at the keynote for PSX.  For me, the trailer for Let it Die was the top game I was most interested in out of the dozens they talked about, and it was a totally great to hear it was going to be free, and launched on the very same day!

While it was a bummer I couldn't play it while at PSX to get some of the cool giveaways they had if you played it there due to the line being about a mile long, I settled on waiting until I got home to download the game on my home console.  And when I launched it, I was taken aback by the sheer amount of style it has.

Out of the gate, Uncle Death has to be one of the raddest character designs out there.  Just look at him!  He's the Grim Reaper who's a skeleton with traditional black robe and a scythe.  But on top of that he's wearing xray looking sunglasses with red and white swirls, rides a skateboard, and calls you senpai.  As for the setting, having an island compacted densely with urban structures stacked high into the sky in a world gone mad is pretty neat.  And wrapping it all in an arcade based on a classic cabinet is the icing on the cake.

I never thought I'd ever play a free-to-play game, but Let it Die has to be the only exception that I'll probably ever make because for the most part it seems like it's pretty fair with them not shaking me down by paying for in-game items with real cash.  However, I haven't gotten very far, so it might bite me in the booty later on after I've leveled up my character.  But in the meantime, I have yet to spend any real money.

And if you're curious, Uncle Death perfectly described the game as being a cross between a hack and slash and a roguelike.  Two genres I don't necessarily care for, but with this game I'm giving them a pass.

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PlayStation Experience 2016

December 5, 2016 | 22:32 | Written by: snake911

My thighs are still sore from all the walking I did on Saturday, but it's totally worth it because I was able to attend this year's PlayStation Experience held in Anaheim.

Since I'm never going to be able to go to E3 because I have no business being there, and I can't afford to go to PAX when you add in plane tickets, hotel, meals, and any other traveling expenses, PSX is the closest way for me to get that firsthand experience minus all of the professionalism and money.  And that's okay, even better in fact because I'm with a bunch of like-minded individuals that are just fans and want to have a good time.

PlayStation Experience, if you don't know, is an annual even Sony holds every year in December to give thanks to PlayStation fans by giving them an opportunity to play upcoming games, meet people from the industry, and to view panels where they talk about big games currently in development.  If anything, you can think of PSX like an E3 without Microsoft and Nintendo, and catered to fans rather than the press.

2016 is the third year for PSX, with the first one in 2014 in Las Vegas and last year's in San Francisco.  This year was in Anaheim which is just a 25 mile drive from me, so I had no excuses not to attend!  So I got my tickets as soon as I heard it was in Anaheim.  And since I've never been to a gaming expo before, this was going to be something new and exciting because I didn't know what to expect.

The entire event was both on Saturday and Sunday, but we only went on Saturday, but that was the day I wanted to go to because of the keynote that would happen that morning, so the day began by waking up at 5am to make sure we had enough time to get in line because access to the keynote was based on first-come, first-served.  But before we could get into the keynote line, we had to wait in the line to get our badges.  But when we get our badges, we also got a tote bag stuffed with a bunch of goodies, including a bottle of hand sanitizer being the most important thing as we would be touching controllers all day.

For starters, the tote bag you receive looks like the bag for the PlayStation store logo as it's a light colored blue bag with the controller symbols on it with orange handles.  In it you get some window stickers, sunglasses, a cloth poster, hand sanitizer, a water bottle, magnet sticker, a discount code for a game, and a PSX 2016 t-shirt.  Not bad, considering I wasn't planning on receiving any swag from just being an attendant.

Even with the trouble we had while in line getting our badges because of a shortage of Saturday only desks (there were more two day desks so we had to wait longer), we were able to get into the keynote line in time to be part of the audience.  Watching these conferences at home on a PC is nothing compared to being there live in person.  Seeing reveal trailers and hearing the crowd go wild for a new game was something else.

Glad to see Marvel wasn't as uptight as I thought they were going to be with their properties, allowing Capcom to make a new Marvel vs Capcom game with Marvel vs. Capcom: Infinite.  Then seeing love for a lot of classics where they're getting remakes with favorites like Crash Bandicoot, Wipeout, and PaRappa the Rapper.  I might get all three of these when they come out.  When the keynote ended, the side of the auditorium opened up, allowing the audience to flood into the main hall to get some hands on experience with the products they just showed off!

Read more »

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Patience is a virtue II

December 1, 2016 | 20:59 | Written by: snake911

Holy macaroni!  It finally came in!

Nearly five years in the making, I just received the final boxed product of the first Kickstarter project I ever backed: the Double Fine Adventure game.  When I originally placed my hard-earned dollars towards this project back in spring of 2012, I had no clue it would have taken this long to get everything that I wanted from the tier I pledged at.  Since backing the project I moved twice, went through two general elections, and saw two other Double Fine related productions with Amnesia Fortnight 2012 and 2014.  Yikes!

To be fair though, they did finish the game a while back and made it available to backers, but I didn't want to play it until I got it from the box; which by the way is in the awesome old school big box PC game packaging, which fits nicely with my old school PC game collection.

So, out of the five Kickstarter projects I backed, this is number two that is now 100% complete.  After the Scroll magazine and Double Fine Adventure, I'm now waiting for the Retronauts DVD, Shenmue 3, and the indie game Home Free.

But no pressure though.  I'll wait for quality output rather than a rushed crap job.  I'm patient.  I waited just about five years for this project.

THANKS DOUBLE FINE FOR THE RAD GAME! :-D

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So that happened...

November 29, 2016 | 21:20 | Written by: snake911

Intruder III was odd, but overall good.

I do like the fact that Tom and Sara are back in space, cruising the intergalactic highway where they belong; though the reason why they had to leave the planet was weird and a bit rushed, but still glad it was a reason for them to leave it.  So all is good, I guess.

While I thought being on Shogo 162 was a cool change of pace -- especially because of the events that occurred from Intruder II -- I felt being on an abandoned base was getting a bit stale.  As the supplement for the latest Intruder, I still need to read the comic to get the backstory, but I’ve been busy and haven’t had time to check it out.

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A show and then a dinner

November 24, 2016 | 11:24 | Written by: snake911

What has become a Thanksgiving tradition for me, I watch an episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000 before leaving to my folks place for Thanksgiving dinner, allowing myself to catch up on the big hits of the show that I missed prior to the Mike Nelson days.  Why only on Thanksgiving when I can watch it anytime on their official YouTube channel?  The answer is quite simple: I'm reminded when I see people on social media begin to retweet the streaming marathon they do for their traditional Turkey Day Marathon.

Yep, when it was originally airing, I got on board towards the end during the Sci-Fi Channel days, totally missing out on the Joel era, where I hear a lot more references to than the time Mike was the host.  Take last year for example when I finally got around to watching the Mitchell episode.  What a piece of gold that is!

This year?  Of course I couldn't resist catching up on the episode where they rift on the infamous film Manos: The Hands of Fate.  And after watching it I now get the references that movie is known for; although I was confused for a bit when I was watching that short about leadership titled Hired that was shown before the main feature.  I thought to myself how the heck does leadership and selling cars have to with a guy who wears a cloak with red hands imprinted on them?

Now that the show is over, it's now time to get ready to go and celebrate with family with a stuffed bird with all the fixin's.  To all in the US, have a Happy Thanksgiving.  Everyone else…the same as well!

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Retightening the bolt

November 22, 2016 | 20:49 | Written by: snake911

Very productive two weeks working on the backend of the site.  Due to the CMS making a ton of changes even when compared to just a few versions back, I needed to get schooled on what modifications were made because there were a number of things that were not working that were before.  On top of that, the backup service I depend on from my webhost was acting up.  This problem bugged me the most because it was an additional service I was paying extra for!

But after a few support calls to resolve the backup issue (which I eventually had to figure out myself), then reading up on what to do for the new CMS version via the forums, documentation, GitHub, official blog, and the such, everything seems to be working fine.  Well, actually there's just one last thing left to resolve and all will be good again.  In case you noticed, the new CMS version is the reason why there was an obvious missing media object towards the bottom of the latest MS Home article.  I don't include a wall of text that high!  I like to break it up a bit with some images or video files.

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The candy man

November 17, 2016 | 20:29 | Written by: snake911

Reese's, you’ve done it again.

Of all the candies out there, Reese's is hands down my favorite.  Whenever they try something new, I’m willing to try out.  Expanding from their traditional cups and Reese's Pieces, I tried their version of a Kit-Kat called Reese's Sticks and 3 Musketeers with Reese's Whipps, and along with about a half dozen more products they’ve released over the years.

But what they’ve done recently was a stroke of genius when they’ve combined their Big Cups by adding Reese's Pieces in them.  Yes, one product is cannibalizing the other to make one delicious treat that has peanut butter on top of more peanut butter.  And as you’d expect, the texture is delicious when you bite a Pieces in half, and then chewing a Pieces when you’re already munching on the Big Cup.  Truly a gift from the gods for us mere mortals.

It’s because of stuff like this is why, in my book, you Reese's are number 1.

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MS Home - Gahan Wilson's The Ultimate Haunted House

November 15, 2016 | 20:18 | Written by: snake911

"What about the kids?"

Sure, Microsoft is using Home to help children expand their knowledge with software found in the Reference and Exploration catalog with products like Encarta, Microsoft Dinosaurs, and Microsoft Dangerous Creatures, but let's be honest: while interesting as those applications may be, it's about as fun as walking through a museum.  Where's the games!

As we saw in an earlier MS Home article, games are in the Entertainment catalog, but most are either remakes of arcade classics or flight simulators without much focus on kids being the primary players.  With this in mind, Microsoft went about and created the Kids catalog that is robust in software for the pint-sized computer user with titles that include games with educational topics in mind or just plain old fun.  Falling in line with the latter, this game is probably the oddest duck found in the kids section.

Gahan Wilson's The Ultimate Haunted House is an exploration game that has the player wonder around the inside of a haunted house.  You're trapped inside and need to find 13 keys hidden throughout the house before the thirteenth hour is herd chiming from the antique clock in the foyer.  If you don't find the keys in time, you're trapped in the house forever! *sounds of thunder*

I find this game to be odd because of its art, which is done by Gahan Wilson, an artist known for his macabre illustrations that center around monsters and murderers.  For this game, he toned down the spook level and designed monsters that were softer and kid friendly; otherwise I think kids may have been traumatized after playing the game.  But Gahan didn't just provide the art, he came up with the idea for the game itself, so when I say this is an odd game, he'd probably take it as a complement.

In relation to the character art, the backgrounds are drawn in the same fashion: non-straight, hand drawn lines filled in with bright, vibrant colors.  It's like playing a cartoon!  Which I'm sure looked absolutely amazing back in 1994 when the game came out, and actually still does today because of the hand drawn style of it all.  If anything, it has a real unique look that detaches itself from looking like most other games from the time that shared the same engine and thus had similar looking styles.  Some examples include games from LucasArts which used the SCUMM engine or games from Sierra using the SCI engine.

Ultimate Haunted House is a point-and-click game minus all of the verbs at the bottom of the screen.  Kids were kept in mind when designing this game as all of the menu options have been simplified to the max where Windows OS styled windows are kept to an minimum (mostly used for saving and loading games).  If anything, you can relate it more to Myst in the way that there are no option windows to take the player out of the experience.  The clock in the foyer acts like an options menu baked into the game itself with options like saving, loading, quitting the game, and accessing the help system.

As noted earlier, the goal of the game is to escape the mansion by collecting 13 keys hidden throughout the house.  There's an overall timer, so you need to complete the game within a limited time or it's game over.  13 in-game hours is all you have, where in real life is about 20-25 minutes per in-game hour.  The house has 13 rooms to cover, so this isn't the kind of game for they player to dally about.  You need to start searching for keys immediately.

The most interesting thing about UHH is the randomness of it all.  When you start a new game you need to select a difficulty level where the higher the difficulty, the more tasks you need to go through in order to find a key.  For example, instead of giving a monster two items, you only need to give one.  Rather than searching for and collecting a number of things and then combining them together to create a unique item, which in turn you give to a monster to receive a key, the already constructed item can be found without the need to scavenge for each thing and knowing what items you need to collect to construct it.

To help with that, there's a library with many books in it including cook books, formulas, spells, encyclopedias, and diaries.  Even though they are written to be funny, reading all of the books is rather dull and sucks the fun out of the game; and I doubt many (if any) kids cared about that part.  It kind of reminds me of the library in Myst where reading all of the partially burnt books on the shelf are time consuming and boring.  But fortunately for Myst there is no time limit, so you can read all of the materials at a leisurely pace.  UHH on the other hand has a time limit, and you get anxious when you are reading through the books because you hear the clock bell ringing from the foyer letting you know another hour has slipped by.

The monsters and where they show up are random.  When they want something from you, it might be different from what they wanted from a previous playthrough, although they have personalities and will want or reject items to match who they are.  For example the vampiress will reject a hand mirror while Frankenstein (Frankenstein's monster, whatever) will accept a brain.  The game encourages the player to try items out on many things to see if it triggers an event.  You might be hesitant to do that, but there is a place in the mansion to retrieve items, so don't fret over permanently losing an item while experimenting.  Go nuts!

Other than the library, there's not much reading in UHH.  Most is dialog spoken from the monsters and objects in the house.  Each monster has quite a bit of dialog to match whatever you hand over to it.  Once you complete the game you might have heard just a small fraction of all the dialog created for the game.  Even the Help and Tips options are all told through spoken dialog.  In addition, Gahan Wilson provides the voice for one of the monsters, a ghost with a good and an evil personality (also named Gahan).

If you're able to find all 13 keys within the time limit and escape the mansion, you literally get rewarded with items.  Although not very exciting, they consist of media files that include audio drops in WAV format and comic art from Gary in the BMP format where you need to open and view it with something like MS Paint.  Pretty weird that they give you this stuff outside of the game.  For kids, it seems like it would have been more practical to have an option menu called Rewards within the game that allows the player to playback the sound files or display the images so you can view them whenever you want without having to use 3rd party or OS level programs.  I don't know, maybe that was their sinister plan to have kids explore the operating system with the purpose of having them get familiar with Microsoft programs and the Windows platform.

When you look at the game as a whole, you can see it being like an interactive version of a children's story book.  One of the more eerie ones with creepy looking illustrations where you pause and think to yourself "is this ok for a child to read?"  Although it came out at a time before the ESRB, they did give a recommendation for players to be 8 years or older, which gives them some wiggle room with some of the content like seeing what appears to be blood spattered on some of the devices in the wreck room.  And with content like that, this makes it the most interesting game in the Kids catalog of Microsoft Home.  The kids love it!

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