Monthly Archives: August 2011

App of the Week: TWiT Live

Ok, I admit it, this is an app that’s pretty geeky, but I think people who aren’t even that in to technology can find something to like with this.  If you look at the “Recommended Sites” section, you’ll see the site twit.tv.  TWiT stands for This Week in Tech (note: they had the site before Twitter existed) and has set the standard for podcasting, especially in technology.  Their topics range from Macs, to Windows, to general tech news, law, etc.  They are practically their own Internet TV station, hosted and owned by the famous Leo Laporte.

However, if you don’t want to listen to the podcast, you can always watch their live feed at live.twit.tv.  Scrolling through the Mac App Store one day, I saw the TWiT logo.  Clicking on it, I found it to be an app that streams the TWiT live stream.  It streams in all the video formats that TWiT uses, from BitGravity, to Justin TV and more.  There seems to be no audio only stream, but I guess you’d want to download the app for video anyway.

Besides streaming video, the app also allows me to access the TWiT chatroom in a side window, as well as hit a button for quick access to the programming (as in shows) schedule for TWiT.  Next to those buttons, I can also see what show is playing if it is live, or know immediately that it is a previously recorded show.  In the menubar, I can see how many people are watching TWiT at any given moment.  If it is a special event, say a major keynote, the menubar item will turn red.  Lastly, if I have the app running in the background, whether or not it’s playing video, it will notify me when the next show is scheduled to start.  Of course, the key word here is scheduled since the shows tend to start a little later than they are supposed to, but that’s not the app’s fault.

So what makes this different from launching up your browser and going to TWiT itself.  Well not much to be honest.  The benefit of using the browser is that it is easier to access link or articles you might see in TWiT faster than being in the app alone.  However, I’ve found that the TWiT app is much faster at loading that going to the website (being a dedicated app and all) and that it is usually lighter on my system than the browser is overall.  That being said, if you want a more desktop-integrated style way to watch the TWiT network, download TWiT Live from the Mac App Store.  It’s a free download for Mac’s running 10.6.6 and higher.

If you have any apps you would like to suggest, comment below or send an email to easyosx@live.com.  And be sure to check out my Youtube, Facebook, and Twitter pages by hitting the big logos on top of the page.  Thanks!

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Games4Mac: Minecraft

Minecraft Start Screen

If there was one game that has taken the world by storm in recent years, it would be Minecraft.  Just do a search on Youtube and you will find funny play-throughs, amazing creations, and an ever-growing community of builders and adventurers.  It has sold over 3 million units as of August 5th, 2011; pretty impressive for a game that is still in beta.

Minecraft is sandbox world with no real storyline.  The idea of the game is you’re a solitary person who has to survive in this world by building your home (or cave, hole, wherever) and create tools from wood, stone, iron, and other matter you find in the world.  By day, everything is happy and peaceful on the surface, but at night, hordes of monsters spawn in the darkness.  If they find you, they will kill you.  But you don’t just stay on the surface; you can, like the name suggest, mine through the caves.  As you go deeper into the bowels of the earth, you find stronger and better materials for tools, art, or over gameplay that allow to make things like mine cart systems (or trains), explosives, diamonds, and more.  But of course, in the darkness you will find more monsters, and their spawners.

This skeleton is riding a spider. It's fast and has range, but not something I've ever seen before.

Killing spawners allows you to access chests with special prizes and gear.  You can even create a portal to a realm called “The Nether” and explore that.

At first the game seems pretty graphically poor because everything is composed of blocks.  But that’s how the game is supposed to be designed, and it’s a cool deviation from the either hyper-realistic or cartoony graphics that the majority of video games have.  Even if you’re not much of a builder, you can’t help but think of how to improve your home, or getting better tools.  The other cool thing about the game is the fact that it is randomly generated.  As you move throughout the world, the game is randomly creating new territory, so no games or worlds will be exactly alike (which definitely appeals to my inner explorer).

But if you find that single player get boring after a while, then get online and play with your friends.  If you have a friend with a Minecraft server (or a public Minecraft server, like TechnoBuffalo’s), then you can go on their and play whatever game type they have, whether it’s just the standard game with friends, or a mod game.  That’s right, a modded game.  Minecraft’s creators encourage people to mod the game and make new game types out it, which is also why it’s common to see many player with custom skins, either downloaded or self-made.  But more than just skins, you will find downloadable packs from other players, ones that range from floating islands in the sky, to huge desert worlds, and many more.

For all the greatness of Minecraft, it’s not all a perfect, cube-centric world.  The game is still in beta, meaning that you will have occasional hangups and freezes; I actually had it as many as once every 5 minutes, with no apps running.  I respect that this game is still in beta, but this still seems like an unnecessary flaw.

A snowy day in my world

Fortunately, this generally didn’t happen when I was fighting monsters, but it made it all the more scary when it did happen then (and not the good kind of scary).

Another downside goes toward the game play.  Building is addictive, exploration is awesome, and fighting monsters can sometimes scare you silly, but it lacks a real adventure.  Yes, you need to survive hordes of monsters that spawn in the dark, and yeah you can download more adventure-themed mods, but I think this is something that should be in the game-play.  However, I think it is fair to note that the good people at Mojang have already announced that more features are coming out soon in the 1.8 beta update (called the Adventure Update), as well as future updates.  These include, but aren’t limited to sprinting, computer generated villages (which I have mixed feelings about), more monsters like Endermen, and even new environments like rivers, volcanoes, and more.  Hints seem to indicate that the game might be a little like an MMO (massive multiplayer online) game in the sense that it’s more of a free-roaming, sandbox style game with small quests and achievements you can get for certain things, maybe even boss battles.

One last downside, at least from a technical note, is the online login system.  After you make a free account with Minecraft, you can buy the game, and then log into the single player game and the many multiplayer servers.   However, when logging in, it requires the game to ping back to Minecraft’s server, which is annoying if you don’t have an online connection.  You can still play the single player game fine, but then you lose things like custom skins, and I also noticed in offline mode, I couldn’t get my wolves to stand up (though interestingly enough, they could still attack me sitting down if I accidentally hit them).

A sunset, with a strange Two-Towers style mountain range.

All things considered, Minecraft is a very open and innovative game.  It can be a little unstable at times, it uses a lot of memory and heats up your Mac like nobody’s business,

but it is a very fun game that has quickly made a name itself.  People who love creating, building, and exploring will find it exciting, while those who prefer adventure and action games have something more to look forward to in the months to come.  I hope in the time between beta and 1.0, Minecraft can be stabilized and cleaned up, but I look forward to its development.

You can buy Minecraft from www.minecraft.net for $21.95 while it is in beta and is available for Mac 10.5 and higher, as well as Windows XP and higher, and Linux.  iOS and Android versions are in development, with a beta Android version available for testing specifically on the Xperia Play.  There is also a Kinect-enabled version for Microsoft’s XBox 360 in the works.

If you have any suggestions for games to review, leave a comment or email me at easyosx@live.com.  Also be sure to check out my Twitter, Facebook, and Youtube pages (see their respective buttons at the top of the screen).  Thanks!

App of the Week: Lion Tweaks

Whenever a new OS comes out, there are always tweaks to it, usually making it more stylish, easier to use, etc.  Lion is no exception.  Lion provides things like new scrolling directions, a new designed Mail app, a dock that doesn’t show indicator lights, and more.  But, as there are new tweaks, there are those tweaks that we could do without.  For example, I personally like the old scrolling direction and seeing dock lights.  You can change both of these (and many other) usually by going into System Preferences (or occasionally the Terminal), but if you want to do it all in a single stroke, check out Lion Tweaks.

Lion Tweaks provides one-stop for almost of you Lion tweaking needs.  It allows not only for

Screenshot of Lion Tweaks

tweaks you would find in the System Preferences (such as scroll bars) but for some that you wouldn’t find in any preference file.  For example, it can change iCal and Address Book back into the traditional Aluminum/brush metal look rather than their wooden or leather looks respectively.  It can also do things like enable a 2D-dock, show you hidden files (including the Library folder), and Customize folder backgrounds in Launchpad.  It’s a really simple and free utility, though they do request donations.  If you want to tweak Lion a little, and you want an easy way to do it, check out Lion Tweaks.

Lion Tweaks is a free utility available only for Lion at http://ifredrik.com/applications/.  If you have any suggestions for apps to review, questions you’d like to ask, etc., send an email to easyosx@live.com, check me out on Twitter at @EasyOSX, or on Facebook (you can check it out also by hitting the Facebook and Twitter buttons at the top of the screen).  Thanks!

Games4Mac: N.O.V.A. 2

Normally, I prefer to do Games4Mac posts as videos, primarily because you can see some real gameplay for yourself and get a better idea of what the graphics are like.  Unfortunately, after watching some of the footage I took of this game, it just seemed to laggy to make a decent video, so you’ll just have to take my word from writing and pictures.

One of my favorite first-person shooters (FPS) has to be Halo. I won’t deny it one bit, but I love playing Halo (at least the ones Bungie made, but I won’t judge any future versions of Halo until I see them).  That’s also why one of my first Games4Mac posts was the Halo CE demo.  The sad part about the demo, as I found out when getting ready for Lion, is that it is a PowerPC app.  This means that it won’t run on any Mac that runs OSX Lion or later.  I still love playing shooters though, and I had some money left over on my iTunes card after buying Lion, so I went searching through the Mac App Store.  Sure there was Call of Duty, and Bioshock, and a bunch of other big name games, and most of them are really great games.  But I wanted to try something different, so I bought a copy of N.O.V.A. 2 from the Mac App Store.

N.O.V.A 2 (which is short for Near Orbital Vanguard Alliance) is the sequel to the hit iOS game N.O.V.A., and takes place 6 years after the events of the original game.  For the record, I haven’t played the original, so I’m learning as I go along through the game.

N.O.V.A. 2 title screen (property of Gameloft)

You play as Kal Warden, a soldier of the Near Earth Orbital Vanguard, who has come back into the line of duty in order to fight the new Alliance, a Human-Volterite (the aliens) government that promises utopia via advanced technology.  SPOILER: They really don’t want that utopia.  Overall, a lot of the aspects of the game are a lot like Halo, which is reportedly their inspiration; you play a strong but snarky hero, you have a helpful female AI in you suit, you have to deal with a giant, ancient doomsday weapon.  Get the picture?

You have a wide variety of guns from pistols, to rocket launchers, lasers, and more, which you carry with you at all times.  This seems a little bit old hat now compared to the current 2 or 3 gun model most shooters have, requiring you to pick your weapons wisely.  It doesn’t detract from the game’s overall play value though.  The game also has a variety of terrains to play from including jungle, city streets, snowy mountains, and more.  You can go from running across a terrain, to falling from the sky, and riding a hoverbike through the city streets.  Vehicles rides are scripted and on the rails (meaning you don’t completely control where you drive), but all the vehicles are in first person, which I like if the game is trying to maintain some level of immersion.  The cutscenes, however, do seem a little over animated and detract somewhat from the immersion of the game.  They make up for it by helping push the story further and making it more interesting.

The game is pretty fun to play and plays fairly smooth on my 13 inch Macbook Pro (4 gigs of RAM, 2.26 Ghz Intel Core 2 Duo).  I did notice a noticeable freeze when the game approaches a save point or before a cutscene, which is something I expect from older shooter.

On the rails vehicle riding, but there's nothing like running over the guy shooting at you. (Property of Gameloft, used from iTunes)

Furthermore, the graphics seem rather blocky for running on a modern system, especially comparing what we see in the title screen and animation.  To be fair though, this game was originally an iOS game, which means the expectations for graphics are a little lower compared to PC or console gaming.  While it isn’t hard to notice, I can’t say that it hurts the gameplay value.

And if you get tired of playing through the campaign, there’s always multiplayer.  You can play either locally with people on your network, or with other people online.  In order to play online, you have to create a free Gameloft account.  However, that means you get to play online for other Gameloft games, like Starfront: Collision, Modern Combat: Domination, and more.  The online community is rather small, and is very fast paced on relatively small levels.

Overall, it does seem a little dated in terms of features and graphics, but is nonetheless a fun shooter alternative at a relatively cheap price.  N.O.V.A. 2 is available in the Mac App Store and the iOS App Store for $6.99 and runs on iOS 3.1.3 or higher, or Mac OSX 10.6.6 or higher.  However, Mac users should take note that the game is currently not supported for Intel integrated graphics or ATI Radeon graphics.

Have a comment to make, or a game to review?  Comment below or send an email to easyosx@live.com.  And don’t forget to follow me on Twitter @EasyOSX, and checkout the new Facebook Fan page.  Thanks!

App of the Week: SRWare Iron

Whether or not you like them, Google makes a lot of great and influential products.  Among them, Chrome has really moved the browser market forward with its minimalist design, fast update cycle, and rapid growth.  However, for all of Chrome’s goodness, some people are concerned about Google’s hand in it.  They worry about Google keeping records of their visits, if their personal information is going to be sold to advertisers, etc. (I mean, the other big browsers don’t put a user agreement for you to agree to first).  Many still want to test the power and speed of Chrome.  Simple put, they want Chrome minus Google.  The solution comes from Germany (don’t worry, it’s in English too).

SRWare is a German company that takes Google Chrome’s code and strips Google out of the code and puts it out as the browser called Iron.  Iron still has all the speed of Chrome, you can still sync Iron across computers with Google’s sync feature in the browser, and still install Chrome extensions and apps (or you can use Iron’s own little repository).  While I still use Rockmelt as my primary browser, Iron is a great Chrome substitute, especially for people who are very privacy conscious.  I actually used Iron before Rockmelt as my primary browser and I loved it.

SRWare Iron Logo

That being said, there are a few things in Iron that just don’t seem right.  First of all, every major browser has either an auto-update feature, or at least has a way of notifying you of updates.  Iron doesn’t, at all.  If you want to see if there is an update, you need to check their downloads page occasionally, or follow them on Twitter.  At least some easier way of notifying us of updates would be nice.

Another downside is specifically for Mac.  When Google updates Chrome, it usually takes other Chrome-based browsers a few weeks to update, no surprise there, and Iron updates for Linux, Mac, and Windows regularly.  It’s that schedule that bugs me; Windows gets updated in the first couple of weeks, Linux a little after that, but not the Mac version.  The Mac version doesn’t get updated for 2 whole versions of Chrome.  So whereas Windows/Linux Iron updated from Chrome version 9, then to 10, ad then 11, the Mac version updated from 9 to 11.  UPDATE on 8-21-2011: With the release of Iron version 13 for Mac, SRWare announced they are going to update the Mac version of Iron more frequently, and release updates alongside its Windows’ counterpart.

Otherwise Iron is a great browser for people who want Chrome, without the privacy worries that you may have about Google.  Iron works for OSX 10.4, 10.5, 10.6, and 10.7, as well as Windows XP, Vista, and 7, & most major Linux distributions.  You can download it from http://www.srware.net/en/software_srware_iron_download.php

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