The Lone Wolf, Fifteen Months Later; Recent Minecraft Project

Good morning, afternoon or evening, hopefully this day finds everyone well.

A lot has happened within the past fourteen months that I simply don’t know where to begin.  Since I’ve last written my “final” post and went to Ghost (and found it to be horribly insubstantial to my writing and media-sharing needs), I’ve accomplished two years of university, worked in a blue-collar environment during the summer, successfully completed an internship, among other things.  I’ve learned that while Macintosh hardware is excellent in regards to build quality, it’s also the best at running Windows 10 via a virtual machine.  I’ve learned that GOG Galaxy (while lacking) is a nice partner to, but not exactly a full alternative of Steam.  I’ve learned that Colossal Order’s Cities: Skylines‘s premise becomes too easy once you master the mechanics at the start of the game (initial layout of your city), that rechargeable batteries drain too quickly when used in Apple’s Magic Mouse, that it stinks being a Mac hardware shopper (the first 5K Retina iMac was launched mere days after I spent $2,500 on a customized 27-inch 3.4 GHz Haswell model with a GTX 780M, CRAP!), and that Microsoft has come a LONG way from it’s horrible Vista days.

In short, for a middle-aged student/gamer, I’ve learned a lot since I left.  Gaming has had to take a backseat to my Accounting/Business studies, but thanks to the hardware I have (iMac and iPad), my habit of getting up at 3:30am to study, and decent software (VMWare Fusion 8, Windows 10, MS Office 2013, Notability and Documents 5 for iPad) my grades have kept me in decent shape, though my GPA is 0.1 point shy of automatic acceptance to grad schools here in Ohio.  My hope is to graduate from Wittenberg University with honors (still two years away), move to Columbus, work as a staff accountant in a mid-size firm, pay off my student loans and then enter Ohio State or DeVry for urban planning or environmental studies, so in order to realize my goals, I’ve spent little time on gaming, preferring to open books or hit the campus library instead.  Whether this was for my social detriment remains to be seen as I’ve had very few conversations with my gaming friends since.  I have however made several acquaintances throughout the campus despite my age, so in a way it balances out.

I still can’t get over the fact that I’m now a junior in college; this was something I failed to accomplish when I was a Temple University student around eighteen years ago.  Poor academic decisions on my part plus a lack of academic advisement led me to drop out of college after three semesters due to lack of financial aid, and it took three sad years of working for places such as Macy’s, BJ’s Wholesale, and even a SalvationArmy thrift store in horrible conditions before I got my life back on track.  I swore that I wouldn’t fall that far again, and so far things are paying off as of now.  I’m almost finished with my Business minor and have only a few Accounting classes left for the major, I have a decent part-time job as an accounts payable assistant, by February I’ll have enough funds to (finally) move into my first apartment, and too many other things which are in the planning phase over the next few months.  Games, however, just aren’t a part of any of this.  In fact, the few waking moments I have left when I’m not studying, working, writing papers or searching for an apartment are for Hulu Plus and a premium Crunchyroll account.  It’s not as sad or as pathetic as it sounds; again, I have decent grades to show for giving up console gaming in general and going on a computer gaming diet.

Recent Minecraft project

Luckily it hasn’t all been interpreting regressions, calculating amortization costs, studying Japan’s marketing of “cute” (called kawaii) or wondering why in Heaven’s name my class needs to learn about accounting information systems (seriously, that class was worthless, and DON’T get me started on the professor).  Inspired by many Minecraft players’ large-scale projects, I started working on my own months ago (a sprawling, mid-sized city with working light-rail systems and surface transit).  It’s hard keeping the zombies from harassing the first citizens because the town (Birchland) is set in an extended birch forest biome, and for some reason the iron golem police officers either spawn inside buildings and get stuck, or are defeated by the skeletons that spawn, allowing the zombies to thin out the population.  It’s also hard because unlike other Minecraft players I’m trying to furnish every spot, room by room, building by building.  It’s been a lengthy process but I’m rather proud of how it’s shaping up so far.

Besides, since I’m now on winter break (both university and work) I figure that I would end this post on a fun note, saving tech and other gaming musings for later this week.

Behold, Birchand
Behold:  Birchland (for lack of a better name; city is a work-in-progress).


Set up in an extended birch forest biome, Birchland will comprise of several parts.  Shown above is the old section of the town built, with the view pointing southeast.  The foreground shows a Japanese bathhouse/community pool and water slide on the left, a fully-stocked deli on the right with apartments above it, and the large orange building was my first major project – a public library.  The newer sections are in the background, with boat access to the area lit by beacons and the massive white building in the back is the municipal services building under construction (Birchland County’s City Hall, with courtrooms and civil offices!).

Looking west along Olde City's Somerset Street
Olde City (first section of the town); Somerset Street (named from a North Philadelphia street) houses old but mostly furnished apartments, surface transit and shops.

Not all of the apartments are furnished; in fact once I had an idea for a new building I had the bad habit of rushing off to level more land and start building.  I am planning to come back and finish…

Massive regional rail system being built - this is Somerset Station
Regional rail station set up about 15-20 blocks underneath Somerset Street – the four-track Somerset Station.  Carts here will enter and leave the city for the beaches on either side of the forest.
A below-surface,surface LRT station, Advena Station
Off-street transit service is accomplished by Birchland’s light-rail transit.  The stations are smaller because of stops every two or three city blocks.

Transportation is planned in three ways:  conventional long-distance high-speed mine cart systems set up far underground, “light rail” transit which runs in open cuts in the ground with smaller button-powered stations, and surface transit systems which stop at bus-like shelters which are also powered by manual stop-and-go redstone power.  At this time I have the light rail network set up to interchange for the regional rail line without having to exit the station (Somerset Station), but the street transit vehicles are a problem thanks to villagers and golems getting in the way…

Birchland Municipal Services Building - Advena Pike runs E-W underneath it
The newest project:  Birchland Municipal Services Building (City Hall).  Advena Pike (the main street) runs underneath it and out of the city proper.
BMSB still under constrcution
It had to rain while I was taking pictures of an unfinished building.  In any case, we’re claiming the stairs to the main entrance…
Information desk, courtroom down the hall, and cafeteria at the end
BMSB’s Information Desk.  The left will host the judge’s chambers and jury room, the right hallway leads to the courtroom and a cafeteria sits at the far end.
Birchland Court of Comman Pleas
Birch land’s Court of Common Pleas, complete with witness benches, plaintiff/defense tables, a twelve-unit jury box, judge’s bench and witness stand.
Cafeteria at the rear of the complex
City Hall’s cafeteria/lounge…
with additional outdoor seating!
…with upscale additional outdoor seating.

Back to the old section of the city, here’s shots of the public library:

One of my first major projects - a public library!
Birchland’s Public Library (Central Lending [main] branch).  This was the first major project I undertook when constructing the city.
Another shot of the public library near the entrance
Catalogues, references, materials, printers and computers inside the main entrance.
The first floor's private study rooms
Private study rooms have been added on the rear of the first floor, with windows showing occupants.
The second floor of the library
Natural, unnatural lighting, carpeting and furnishings on the second floor of the library.

One more feature in the “old section” would be the Olde City’s deli.  I wanted to keep track of Minecraft’s recipes in case I finally switched this file from creative to survival, so I built an old-style deli inside of a four-story row house; this allowed me to build apartments over the deli realistically.

I've got your food, RIGHT HERE!
Somerset Delicatessen.  Across from the library and the bathhouse, and with mine carts running along the side of it, the fully-stocked deli has all foods as of Minecraft version 1.8.
Somerset Delicatessen (Olde City section) has a full menu and all ingredients stocked
Call it cheating, but I needed a way to keep track of all of the recipes.  And yes, I stocked the “refrigerators” along the wall with ALL of the necessary ingredients.

The new section has a LOT of things going on, including the City Hall (under construction), the Sunken Forest underneath it, large heavily-furnished apartment complexes sitting alongside a tree-covered parkway (Advena Pike), transportation, parks, a well-lit port for boats, and shops that I haven’t even thought of yet.  Here’s just a couple of locations:

World Records - a record store in Birchland's Olde City section
“World Records”, a record store (with record players).  Every record found in Minecraft is stocked in the chests (multiple copies).
The partially-furnished Advena Heights complex
Advena Heights, a seven-story mixed space (efficiencies, small, large, condo and penthouse) apartment complex sitting alongside a tree-covered parkway.  The blue building at it’s foot is the Advena light-rail station (Advena Pike runs underneath it through a short tunnel).  More apartments and shops are being constructed.

Smaller houses are planned for the town’s outskirts, as well as better lighting and security to stop the hostile mobs from attacking the golems and the villagers.  That won’t be for a long while however.

Taking a break from writing now as this is my first day of vacation.  Definitely catching up on my Hulu and Crunchyroll backlogs later, but for now…time to find something to eat.



Final WordPress Post: The Lone Wolf Blog is Now on Ghost; WordPress version Will BE a Ghost

Good morning, afternoon or evening.  Unless anyone plans to follow me on Ghost (see below), this will be the last time that you’ll see me posting content as I’m severing ties with WordPress effective immediately.

This has been coming for a long time as I wanted more motivation for creating better content.  There’s nothing wrong with WordPress; quite the contrary, WP is the best alternative for publishing works for free, and I created a number of projects stemming from WordPress such as Geek Democracy, the Geek Democracy Podcast, DS Jim Podcast (my most successful, self-funded project), 3DScussions (the most fun, yet the most short-lived) among others.  Still, with life comes constant change, and with me purchasing new hardware, performing work-study assignments while taking full-time course loads and (scarily) choosing my on-campus living accommodations (the move-in date is being set for early December), I wanted to make yet another clean break.

I chose the Ghost Project because I discovered that I liked using Markdown (Node.js platform’s simplified markup language) to see both the text entry view and live updates of the content.  Not only that, but I can more easily post on Ghost using my iPad than on WordPress, as WordPress looks like a jumbled mess, even when using the landscape view).  Plus, I’m highly interested in seeing the project improve, as for the past year or so I’ve found myself contributing to a few open-source projects in more ways than just use and feedback.

The Lone Wolf Blog on Ghost will also be officially hosted by the Ghost project at or around August 22nd at a low monthly rate with unlimited space included; this will allow for more professional videos that I may or may not even host on YouTube anymore, as well as for a secret project that will require my upcoming iMac purchase and lots of additional time to dedicate.

Thanks to Dan for the recommendation to use Ghost several months ago, of which I signed up for and then abandoned due to the lack of progress and features.  Thanks also to Matt and Marco for being good sports and adding your fingerprints to the many things that I’ve/we’ve done over the past eight years.

I can be reached at the following (URLs edited for security reasons, which is another reason why I’m leaving WordPress [darn spam bots]):

*Ghost, for blogging, found at www(snot)thelonewolfblog(snot)com as of August 16th.

*Twitter, for daily minimalist updates, found at twitter(snot)com(forward-slash)Lone(underscore)GreyWolf

*Steam, for Mac gaming, found at steamcommunity(snot)com(forward-slash)id(forward-slash)TheLoneWolf

*Player(dot)me, for Youtube gameplay videos, found at player(snot)me(forward-slash)Lone(underscore)Wolf

*You’ll know what to replace certain words with.

My friends know where to find me as we converse using almost every method EXCEPT WordPress, unless it concerns Dan’s comics project.  Other than that, for the final time here on WordPress, this is:


See you on Ghost.

Moving up in Mac hardware – from Mac mini to a 27-inch iMac (coming soon)

Good morning, afternoon or evening.  Hopefully this day finds everyone well.  I’m editing this post using only my iPad mini R, so let’s see how this works.

It’s been almost two months since my previous post, and a lot has happened during that time, including my part-time duties as a Purchasing/AP Clerk, ensuring that I had enough financial aid for the upcoming school year…and going back to the drawing board regarding a future replacement for my aging Mac after Apple’s failure to announce new Mac mini hardware during June’s WWDC.

Sure, Yosemite and iOS 8 is nice, but WHAT about the freaking Mac mini!?

You see, I wanted to continue using Mac minis because they made the most economic sense.  I don’t have as much time to play games like I used to because believe it or not my head is either in textbooks or legal fiction than games these days.  Over the past two years however, I’ve purchased Humble Indie Bundles which contained games that simply refuse to run under my current Mac mini’s meager specs (a 256 MB shared VRAM-equipped machine and a meager 2.0 GHz CPU just DOESN’T cut it for today’s games).


On the reverse side, however, the “newest” Mac mini at the time of this writing is over eighteen months old.  The dual-core 2.5 GHz Ivy Bridge is adequate, but if I ever get the urge to play Fez, Dust: An Elysian Tale or a smooth game of Left 4 Dead 2 without turning down the graphics, I’d be out of luck.  I’m also a Borderlands and BioShock fan, and those games demand a smooth frame rate and high resolutions to create immersive experiences.

And uh…it also goes without saying that no matter which hardware I’ll choose, I of course need dependable hardware to do my coursework as well.  With my current machine my wireless connection keeps going in and out, and I’m assuming that due to five years of use and vulnerability to heat from all of the components I’ve added to it.

In short, after WWDC 2014 I went back to the drawing board. It’s been fun using the Mac mini, but the hardware tends to become outdated very quickly, especially the graphics (unless one uses them as home theatre boxes). While one can replace the hard drive and the RAM and (depending on the model) the Bluetooth and wireless antennae, once the CPU and GPU become outdated due to the operating system or the hardware’s age (or in my case, both) it’s over for the machine. It was also fun picking out the monitor, which is almost four years old at the time I’m posting this. The average year for an LCD is three years. Not only that, but since the latest Mavericks update my Logitech mouse is no longer working as it should, with drags barely performing at all, double-clicks when there should be a single-click and in many cases, clicks when there shouldn’t be.

Hmm. Aging, underpowered hardware that needs replacing. Educational stipend in early September. Games already installed on the system that require more horsepower than what’s available on the current machine. The 500 GB HDD that I installed almost four years ago now constantly needs Steam games removed in order to fit new ones. Old USB speakers now showing signs of age. Gee, I guess it’s finally FREAKING time to get new hardware. But if Apple won’t announce a new Mac mini for 2014, then what should one do? Probably the one thing that Apple expects Mac mini users to do…

2013 iMac

So that’s the plan for the first week of September anyway (stipends aren’t released by the university until one week after the semester starts, but students can purchase items allowed by financial aid [books, pens, calculators, et cetera] until then).  I wanted to get a system that wouldn’t age as quickly as my previous Mac, but since going to school is part of my midlife crisis I decided to get the best all-purpose machine that I can afford.  The purchase is also due to common sense, as since the 21-inch models don’t allow user access to the RAM slots, and because I multitask on my coursework well with a 25-inch screen (I do usually run either two LibreOffice windows, a TextEdit/online Accounting homework combo or have the Calculator, Dictionary or Safari window to the right of my main window, I need the 27-inch screen.  Not just because of the slightly higher real estate, but also because I know that this fall’s release of OS X Yosemite will be RAM-heavy (Mavericks gobbles up nearly all of my 8 GBs of RAM) as well as more VRAM hungry than ever, so all 21-inch iMacs and the base 27-inch is out.

Steam's Big Picture Mode (Music Beta)
Steam’s Big Picture Mode (Music Beta)

Steam in Big Picture Mode will also benefit from the hardware. On my current Mac mini with the Nvidia 9400M GPU, BPM will run, but only at a resolution of 1066×600 (!) which crashes, and with playing games while the graphically-intensive (for my machine at least) BPM is running with only 256 MBs of VRAM and nearly all of my main memory used by Mavericks, well…you’ll see where I’m going.

“But James”, you may be wondering, “just get a Windows machine. Buy a Windows 8 machine and then downgrade to W7 for a fraction of the cost of an iMac”. Well, you know, I had such a plan in the back of my mind…until this happened to my mother’s brand new HP laptop:

The latest Windows nightmare: the dreaded "update failure" reversion loop.
The latest Windows nightmare: the dreaded “update failure” reversion loop.

How ironic. It was because of a mandatory Windows Vista update which wrecked part of my motherboard that I purchased my current Mac as an emergency back in July 2009. It took another mandatory Windows-related update error (this time Windows 8.1) to cause me to remain a Mac user in mid-2014.

iMacs, yay

In any case, I made final plans to purchase the high-end 27-inch iMac before Labor Day. Call me crazy but I’d rather pay Apple the extra money and simply use my computer rather than deal with hours and hours of troubleshooting Windows errors. And that previous sentence was not an exaggeration; it took hours into the next day to find a solution for that Windows 8 error. Better to simply throw money at Apple and be able to USE the machines than cut corners on Windows-based hardware and software and deal with headaches.

In any case, a glitch related to WordPress knocked out a paragraph, but what I plan to do for my next post is to create a laundry list of games that I can actually play on the new machine once I get it. These would be games that I already have in my library but can’t run them acceptably or are new games that I now have access to. Until then.

*NOTE:  edited on July 22nd to correct a LARGE number of spelling and grammatical errors due to my using only an iPad mini for editing and posting (including image retrievals).  My apologies.


Meta Update: Successful First Semester, Now a “Student” Employee

Todd Rundgren - Influenza
Current 80s favorite: Influenza (Todd Rundgren)


Six-hour study sessions pay off

Good morning, afternoon or evening.  It’s been six weeks since I last posted, but for a good reason – FINALS.

Cramming for finals

If I want to earn a scholarship or graduate with honors, there comes a time where one must neglect sleep, food, games, social life (and basically everything else) and concentrate on the grades.  Leading up to the finals, it was a marathon of class-study-class-homework-type-study-food-study-sleep up to May 13th, the date of the last final.  All of the studying has paid off, and with two As and an A-, plus my additional credits transferred from my out-of-pocket community college attendance in New Jersey (all As), my GPA is in great shape as I prepare to enter my sophomore year.

Fortunately the university has a very busy yet effective Career Services department; busy in that they do everything they can to not only place graduates but also undergrads in summer or year-round positions, which is amazing for a two-person department.  Ironically, I was able to land a lucrative Accounts Payable/Purchasing position within the university with almost no effort (as a student), but before I enrolled in the university my applications for employment were turned down three times during the first seven months of my being an Ohio resident.  It was only after proving myself academically and then showing the school my resume that I was able to get my foot in the door.  Not that I’m complaining – by both studying Accounting full-time and working in the financial field it’s basically the same as killing two birds with one stone.

The pay isn’t high but it’s more than enough.  If I was still in Philadelphia I’d be starving, but in Springfield small wagers still go a LONG way.  The hours are great – meaning I can work a full day and still have time to enjoy the town and it’s amenities or write before collapsing.  One thing I still need to get used to is being classified as a “student” employee when I’ll be thirty-six next week.  There’s a difference between being an “internal” employee and a “stranger” hired off of the streets, but after so many temporary assignments I have trouble performing in the former role.

In any case, so far so good.  Should the position stretch into the fall semester then I could integrate campus life with work (working, eating and attending classes, all on the same campus or within walking distance), and then home to sleep.


Current Mac wallpaper - Cave Story+

I don’t have much to talk about which is worthy of going into full detail for this post, mainly because all of my energies had been spent cramming for finals, completing them, praying for straight-As and learning duties for my summer job.  What free time that I had was spent on the Mac version of Minecraft (again, thanks Dan for the addiction!), Gumi’s Brave Frontier for iOS, playing Cave Story+ on Steam and researching options for a new desktop this September to replace the five-year-old Mac that still (grudgingly) runs, even with the recent Mavericks 10.9.3 update.  To round out the post, I’ll touch briefly on three of these things in order.

Minecraft – the REAL version (PC/Mac)

Ravine ObservatoryCentral base to work from, check While still waiting for Mojang’s 0.9.0 update for the mobile version, I went to a game store and bought a PC/Mac license.  Playing the game for the first time on a desktop instead of a mobile device makes the experience a LOT better on so many levels – especially the nigh-limitless landscapes, a larger variety of enemies and biomes, more objects to craft, and a end-goal to the game (the End biome with it’s resident Ender Dragon).

I managed to open a portal to the Nether over the previous weekend, and found that going in unprotected is a HUGE mistake.  I knew what to expect from religiously reading official wikis, but I wasn’t prepared for was Zombie Pigmen wandering around in the Overworld once I emerged from the portal after being attacked by Ghasts whose fireballs I couldn’t deflect accurately.  After accidentally hitting one of the two Pigmen, they knocked me out in three rapid hits.  Fortunately I dropped all of my loot near the base closest to the portal, but while trying to re-obtain the loot I found that my diamond sword was missing.  Well, guess who now held it…and used it to VERY QUICKLY pound my a-double-s.  Again.  And again.  AND AGAIN.

After that I said “screw that!”, disabled the portal and blocked off the path to both it and the now-Zombie Pigman-owned base (they managed to find a way in!) until I was ready, opening new files and gathering better materials during the meantime.  The Nether…just no.  The Glowstone is worth the trekking alone as I was able to rebuilt the Dust into lamps for my home base (far, FAR away from the one close to the portal), but trying to attack Ghasts on unstable ground with 100-block high sheer drops into lava oceans while hunting down Blazes for their Rods to press forward to the endgame…yeah.  That can wait for a bit.

For the first time ever - color-stained glass

Brave Frontier (iOS) – Guardian Boss #1 defeated (video)

Gumi’s Brave Frontier is a rather easy yet enjoyable Japanese RPG in which you collect and summon elemental characters to fight an evil god’s denizens and prohibit them from wiping out the planet (typical RPG story).  Though there’s not much to the game besides collecting, selling and fusing summoned characters, there’s item crafting, enlisting other players’ characters to address elemental deficiencies in your group or for simple backup,  battling in arenas and participating in weekly and special events.  Though I say the game has little in the way of substance, it appeals to me due to having a Shining Force III-type of vibe.  It has the look and feel of a late Sega Saturn title, and that by itself is a plus in my book.

Recently I defeated the first guardian boss of the game, which one reaches only after completing dozens of fights.  Gumi had recently added an update which allows easy and quick uploads of battles to YouTube, and since this was an important battle I decided to upload it.  I therefore leave an imbedded HD-enabled video for your review.

Researching the next desktop replacement: few good alternatives


We’re just a couple of weeks from Apple’s Worldwide Developer Conference (WWDC 2014), but my faith in the Mac platform is starting to dwindle.  First, the 2013 Mac Pro was released, and for all of the hype of being Apple’s most powerful desktop they’ve neglected two essential items:  an optical drive and more hard drive space.  Why in God’s name would a company release a $3000+ USD computer with only 256GB of storage!?

“But James,” you may be saying, “it’s a workstation.  It’s not meant for Jane and Joe Schmuck consumers like us”.  BullCRAP!  Just the mere fact that it’s a WORKSTATION AND that it’s replacing a machine which allowed TERABYTES of hard disc space with a few lever flips and a couple of tray slides is simply inexcusable.

But NO, they didn’t stop there!  THEN they had to axe the only Macbook Pro that was worth the bang for the buck – the classic unibody Macbook Pro.  The “classic” model lacked a retina display but had user-accessible RAM and hard drive slots, as well as an optical drive for those who needed a drive slot and didn’t want to spend $80.00 USD to get Apple’s USB alternative, or scour Newegg. Instead, Apple forced the hand of would-be customers by killing off the optical drive, soldering the RAM into the slots, and chopping down the amounts of storage.  So instead of merely opening our computers to add more RAM or larger storage drives, we’ll be purchasing new Macbook Airs and Retina Macbook Pros every three years instead of every six or seven.  Good job, Apple.  Good FREAKIN’ job.

That’s two strikes for Apple, with the foul tip being the same things being done to the entire iMac line.  Well, not the entire line.  I mean, you can access the RAM slots on the high-end machines – which you SHOULD, being that the user has to spend over TWO GRAND on the hardware to gain that privilege…

Here’s what I call the potential third strike – either a refusal to update the aging Mac mini line (STILL no Haswell architectures anywhere in the minis, they’re the only ones using Ivy Bridge chipsets since October 2012), an insane update to the line mimicking the gimped Mac Pro in having low amounts of storage while also mimicking the gimped Macbook Pros in having soldered RAM, or killing the Mac mini line altogether for “beefier” Apple TV hardware (there’s a good reason why some people hook up Mac minis to their home entertainment centers instead of Apple TVs, thank you!).  June 2nd is the make-or-break date as far as I’m concerned; give me one good reason why I shouldn’t build a Linux machine.  Otherwise, I’m GONE.

And it’s not like there’s much in the Windows-based pickings, either. Acer and HP hardware is fast, but they’ll require a graphics card purchase before I can reliably start playing games, as the best integrated chip I’ve seen is an Intel HD 4400 (at least with most of today’s desktop Macs, you get…well…something).  CPU speeds are rather lackluster, even when spending $800 USD and up, though this could be because of their turbo boost abilities (Intel).  The last time I purchased AMD CPU-equipped machines, AMD was the king, and Intel was a laughingstock (remember those days?  I barely do.), but today, with Haswell and Broadwell, with power plus efficiency as well as having integrated chips worth using, AMD looks to be a mere shadow in such a way that I’m wondering if their graphics card line can save them from potential bankruptcy.

I don’t know, perhaps I’m not looking hard enough, mainly because I have this feeling that I should shut up and wait for WWDC and Apple’s announcements.  Still, there used to be a lot of ready-made Windows-based hardware which could easily rival Apple-based hardware; all one would have to do is buy it, take it home, plug it in, and turn it on, the only future purchase being more RAM and a graphics card later on.  Nowadays, from looking at sites like HP and Acer…not so much.

*NOTE:  Another reason why desktop pickings could be weak; it’s because (and you may say “no duh” to this) it’s mid-2014.  The world has all but moved on from desktops.  Frankly, laptops are slowly but surely being forced aside for better and better tablets, so if laptop sales overall are starting to lessen, then what could I expect from ye olde desktops?  Does this make my ranting irrelevant?  In some cases yes, in other cases no.  In some ways, the raw power and expandability (well, on Windows and Linux-purposed machines anyway) cannot be duplicated on a laptop or a tablet, but then again, with a tablet or a laptop, you’re no longer chained to a desk.

Then again, some desktop-like builds allow you to leave the desk; they just have compromises.  Sigh…

At least downgrades from Windows 8 to 7 are plentiful.  Win7 is a decent, stable version if I really have to go down that dark ell-ridden road.



Steam's Big Picture Mode (Music Beta)
Steam’s Big Picture Mode (Music Beta)

Images are uploading rather slowly to WordPress (my Minecraft images for one) so I have to cut short this update.  Memorial Day is coming up, there’s a lot of topics I’ve placed on hold and some free time later so I’ll post something less hodgepodge-y then.


Meta Update: American Literature Term Project (Graded) – Edith Wharton (video)

It’s been a really busy time as the professors have doubled up on all of the required work to be completed before May 6th, the last day of classes.  As I’ve been either researching dualism (how both the mind and the body are both essential for interaction within the world) for Philosophy class, screwing up some journal entries in my Financial Accounting exams and (just today) having one of my American Literature papers torn to bits by the professor thanks to the stress the other two classes were generating (I still have an A average, thank God!), I haven’t had time to relax properly, let alone update The Lone Wolf Blog.  I have tried to create a quick gameplay video regarding Gameloft’s Modern Combat 4:  Meltdown Edition for iOS, but for some reason Gameloft is barring my AirPlay streaming from my iPad to my Mac, showing a static title screen when I attempt it.  Oh well, I guess you’ll have to get your tablet FPS action somewhere else.

Instead, what I’ll do for an update is embed my American Literature project, the result of which I got a perfect grade.  Admittedly I only picked the Progressionist-era Edith Wharton on which to focus a project as her last name was similar to the street where I grew up during my (very bad) high school years in Philadelphia (it should be noted that Wharton Street was named after a different author and philanthropist).  From my research I found her to be very prolific, was able to self-educate herself to an enormous degree despite her wing denied a formal education, had displayed her creativity in designing her own estate (The Mount) and surrounding herself with a vast intellectual and powerful circle, including Henry James, F. Scott Fitzgerald, future president Theodore Roosevelt, among several others.

The short story Wharton wrote which I was supposed to base this video on was The Other Two, a 1904 story about a man who’s experiencing his first marriage with a wife who had already been divorced twice.  Mr. Waythorne faces changes in society and women’s rights in 1900s New York City by his wife’s practice of divorce and child custody (both practices new at that time in real life), as well as constant invasion of his life by her two ex-husbands, one in shock at having to constantly battle for visitation rights and child welfare (rights that men [until around the late 1800s] NEVER had to fight for as women were “meant” to be subservient) The second ex-husband is an immature, irresponsible playboy who needs constant financial advice from Waythorne, of which being a stockbroker and mindful of his obligations to the brokerage firm of which he’s employed, must give.

The story itself is in the public domain, so if you’re interested it should be really easy to find.  As for myself, I have assignments to finish and am in the midst of picking classes for the next semester; once I do this I can then calculate what funds I’ll have available to finally replace the five-year-old machine that I spent hours creating this movie via iMovie (and praying that iMovie X wouldn’t crash on me).  I was thinking on getting a new Mac mini, but Apple and Intel have held up Haswell chipsets for the Mac mini line for so long that Broadwell is more likely.  It’s a question of when though, and we won’t know until the Worldwide Developer Conference (WWDC), which starts on June 2nd.  I’ll save my frustrations regarding Macs for a later date.

In any case, enjoy the movie, and all sources are listed in the credits.




Ending Spring Break 2014 with SurvivalCraft (short video)

*NOTE:  viewers might want to full-screen the video. – Jay

Good morning, good afternoon or good evening – hopefully this week finds everyone well.  As I type this Spring Break 2014 will be over in approximately twelve hours, so after reading for my English literature class the next day and ensuring that all of my Financial Accounting coursework is complete I wanted to do something worthwhile to conclude the break.  Seeing as how a friend of mine had recently caused me to get addicted to Minecraft (posted about the Pocket Edition previously), I thought that I would post a short blurb and video regarding it’s biggest mobile competitor SurvivalCraft, a Minecraft clone which – ironically – is a lot better than the game it’s “cloning”.

Facing the unknown from my old wooden base on the shoreline
Facing the unknown from my old wooden base on the shoreline (SurvivalCraft).

Usually I’m wary of clones, especially in the App Store – mainly because about 92% of them turn out to be rip-offs, i.e. are mere cash-ins on the coattails of popular and more legitimate franchises.  This can’t be more proven then the Flappy Bird craze (not worth linking to, because I’m sick of the whole ordeal) in which more than 700 apps imitating Flappy Bird  flooded Google and Apple’s distribution services, so much that they started pulling out the ban-hammers and began rubber-stamping the denial process.  Flappy Bird wasn’t the first game to be vastly copied, as there have been (and still are) Jetpack Joyride, Final Fantasy, Puzzle Quest, Angry Birds, Grand Theft Auto and Left 4 Dead clones (and rip-offs) all competing for attention along with the established official releases.

At this point though, I want to make a distinction between mere “clones” and “rip-offs”.  Before I discuss Igor Kalicinski’s SurvivalCraft (an obvious clone of Mojang’s Minecraft), we first need to briefly note that there is a difference.  A rip-off is a blatant attempt to imitate an established franchise in the hopes of luring in a customer by it’s lower price and extra features, and then once the customer purchases the products, locks necessary gameplay features behind pay- or time-walls.  Some are even blatant copies (nearly line-for-line of the game’s code) in an attempt to hurriedly lure customers away from legitimate products and finance talentless developers whose game are mere shells of official products.

Protected rye garden

While a clone may also be classified as a rip-off, it depends on the nature or intent of the clone.  A game like Cornfox and Bros./FDG Entertainment’s Oceanhorn for instance can be viewed as a blatant Wind Waker rip-off (the protagonist sails from island to island on a similarly-designed ship); however the developers publicly stated that they wanted to play a Zelda-like adventure on high-resolution mobile devices and assumed that others wanted that experience as well – an experience that everyone knows that Nintendo will never provide unless it’s on a next-generation Nintendo-developed mobile device.  Yes the mechanics imitate Nintendo’s console game, but the intent (providing an experience accessible to a group of players that another party refuses to cater to) makes the imitation ethically sound, not to mention the four years of effort in developing and releasing Oceanhorn, even more so due to famed former Squaresoft music composers (Nobuo Uematsu [Final Fantasy] and Kenji Ito [Mana series]) lending their talents for the game’s soundtrack.

Oceanhorn gameplay
Oceanhorn gameplay. Looks and plays exactly like Nintendo’s Zelda: the Wind Waker, but for a four-year iOS development effort it’s still a good game and fills a mobile niche.

In other words, though the state of the App Store is a HUGE freaking mess right now, there are still instances in which the saying “imitation being the sincerest form of flattery” rings true, and such applies to Oceanhorn’s availability on the App Store.  However, I’d like to talk about another (and stronger) instance of imitation, a “more legitimate” clone that expands on the original material in such a way that the “official” release (the original work) has been completely overshadowed, but not due to the imitation itself or the lower price.  In SurvivalCraft‘s case, it’s due to more sincere efforts by a single developer who wanted to emphasize the true fear of surviving in an unknown wilderness, the wilderness being much more vast (i.e. much larger horizontal vistas, though I’ve found limits on height) than Mojang’s Minecraft: Pocket Edition, which (as of this writing, consists of maps which are fully enclosed in a maximum 256×256 [horizontal] x150 [height/depth] block grid).  In short, SurvivalCraft expands on Minecraft’s gameplay traits in almost every conceivable way, providing more value for the money (currently $3.99 USD on the App Store) than the official Minecraft app ($6.99 USD).

Admiring base from afar, then gathering minerals

In SurvivalCraft, you’re a castaway tossed ashore on an uncharted land by scrupulous pirates who yell at you upon their departure that they’ll never return for you.  At that point you have until sundown to find wood, build a quick shelter, craft a workbench and build a door on your shelter.  Oh, and if you have the time, gather stone or at least more wood so that you can craft weapons to fight your way past the wolves and maybe a lion or bear or two the next day so that you can try to hunt and gather food before you starve to death!

A bear AND a lion.  I am SO FREAKING DEAD...
A bear AND a lion. I am SO FREAKING DEAD…
Prepare to be WOLF KIBBLE.
Prepare to be WOLF KIBBLE…oh wait!  What about the SHARKS?!

SurvivalCraft doesn’t include zombies, strange exploding humanoids, bow-wielding skeletons or nether-gates.  The game depicts one man against the unknown, a vast, near-limitless world filled with wild beasts which will kill you in a second if you’re caught unawares or don’t have strong enough weapons.  Even when fully prepared and with a nigh-impregnable fortress, one mistake can cost you your life, and depending on the mode chosen, your game will immediately end!

Newly-completed base (glass and stone)
Second base, built further inland

Yes, you’ll start the game with no shelter, no food and a pack of wolves that go mad whenever day passes into night (and when a full moon rises, they become demented werewolves, too!), lions, bears, tigers and hyenas roaming, and piranhas, sharks and even killer whales claiming bodies of water as their own.  You have to satisfy your hunger or you’ll quickly begin to lose health.  You’ll need to sleep at regular intervals or you’ll drop instantly, possibly leaving yourself vulnerable.  You’ll need to be mindful of your stamina, or you’ll run out of breath when climbing steep hills or running.  With all of these in mind, your task is to make use of this vast land filled with deserts, caves, forests, swamps, snow-covered fields and mountains using any and all of the resources, tools and even some of the animals to stay alive for a long as possible.

New base interior (before painting it black)
New base interior (before painting it black).  Used wicker lamps as light sources.  My “kitchen” is in the rear of the base surrounded by glass.

But you’re a human being, and as a human you’ll have to demonstrate to nature as to why humans have earned their place near the top of the food chain.  By crafting machetes and axes out of stone rather than wood, you’ll inflict more damage on hostile beasts, so much that they’re run away more quickly than continue to pursue you.  By defeating (but not killing) the wolves, both they and any new arrivals will leave you alone during the day (but you’ll still need to stay clear of them at night).  By crafting a bow and sets of arrows, you can easily hunt the seagulls, ducks and ravens that fly around and add to your food supply, and by finding coal and cooking the meat rather than eating it raw, it’ll satisfy your hunger stat twice as much.  Smelting sand into glass and crafting other resources into stronger tools (once you have iron weapons you’ll never look back, and coating iron tools with a diamond layer grants you with the strongest, most long-lasting tools of the game, but you have to earn diamonds, by digging way, WAY underground) and better blocks can potentially yield materials in order to construct bigger, better more secure shelters (such as the one seen above), as well as tools, items and lights to outfit your base with.  If you’re lucky, you can even craft a saddle from a defeated bear’s skin and tame a horse or donkey so that you can travel longer distances on this near-limitless world, as well as outfit them with saddlebags to carry extra equipment.  Once you learn your limits, priorities and proper use of your weapons and resources, surviving against the elements is lot less stressful.

Base (newly renovated) with black paint (water-filled copper buckets + white pigment + roses + coal = black paint) battery-powered lights (copper + coal) and light bulbs (copper + glass).  Special blocks were crafted so that the copper wires could run through the ceilings between floors (see the video above).
Base (newly renovated) with black paint (water-filled copper buckets + white pigment + roses + coal = black paint) battery-powered lights (copper + coal = batteries) and light bulbs (copper + glass). Special blocks were crafted so that the copper wires could run through the ceilings between floors (see the video above), and light switches were crafted and placed at the ends (though I have some crossed cables).  I removed the wicker lamps once the light bulbs were in place.

Regarding the official Minecraft: Pocket Edition, it’s a fun game in which players are prompted to fully explore their environment and craft as many unique items and bases as they can; however the environment is so enclosed that the experience on iOS becomes limiting before it’s potential is realized.  In other words, once I found invisible barriers, the gameplay became limiting and nearly-monotonous, and the enemies too predictable and easy to defeat.  In SurvivalCraft, there’s never a dull moment.  You can be armed to the teeth and still be taken out in a few seconds by a fast-running tiger or an angry bear, if Mufasa the lion or Ed the hyena don’t kill you from behind first.  There’s the anxiety of trying to reach your home base before nightfall and especially a full moon rising, in which case you’ll have werewolves to contend with.  You’ll be hunting seagulls over a piranha-infested lagoon and wondering if the seagull carcass is worth the risk of retrieving.  It’s situations like these that make the SurvivalCraft experience more fulfilling than Minecraft:PE.

Second floor (bedroom)

I guess if you haven’t figured it out by now, Igor Kalicinski’s SurvivalCraft provides WAY more value for the money than Mojang’s limited mobile attempt.  I guess it’s more understandable that MC is more limited in scope and gameplay compared to SC or Mojang’s PC/Mac/consoles equivalents, because at the time of it’s release (November 2011), tablets weren’t nearly as powerful as the ones currently available today and couldn’t handle barrier-less environments.  Still, for an official Minecraft release (currently alpha build 0.8.1, with only two programmers assigned to it part-time) it’s kind of a disappointment, though it was admittedly addictive when I first played it (thanks Dan!).  Kalicinski’s “clone” (released April 2013, during the first six months of the iPad 4/iPad mini era and constantly updated and supported by a strong fan community) takes the good things about SurvivalCraft and (seeing that mobile gamers wanted a more fulfilling Minecraft-like experience) and expanded on the ideas of survival, crafting, manipulation, and discovery tenfold.

In SurvivalCraft‘s case, it’s more than an imitation of Mojang’s Minecraft:  Pocket Edition.  It’s a single developer telling Mojang how to do an open-world item-crafting game for mobile devices the right way.  Minecraft is the king when it comes to crafting games on the PC and Mac, but on mobile devices, it’s SurvivalCraft that currently holds the cards on mobile.

Base's front door

Four memorable experiences while playing SurvivalCraft:

1) Outgrowing my first all-wood base and being sick of being surrounded by friendly (during the day) wolves, I dug a short tunnel further inland and found a large lake with horses and cattle roaming about.  I traveled back and forth through the tunnel carrying tools and chests, slowly building my glass-and-polished stone base per several days while retreating back to the coast before sundown each day (before the nightly wolf and lion attacks).

2) Crafting a bow and a set of arrows (iron arrow tips) and being able to kill birds with a single shot instead of having to sneak up and smack them with a machete or axe.  Satiating my hunger became much, MUCH easier.  I wondered if this was how our real-life human ancestors felt when discovering/using ranged weapons.

3) Digging diagonally downwards in the hopes of finding diamonds while wondering what SurvivalCraft‘s bottom layers looked like.  It was almost sunset when I finally found the bedrock layers, and knowing that it was too late to journey back to the base I kept digging around the bedrock blocks…and I finally found blocks containing diamonds embedded among the unbreakable bedrock.  By the time the morning came I was starving half to death and almost ready to drop from want of sleep, but I carried home nine fresh diamonds, which I immediately used to build a compass (the magnet shown in the base in the video allows me to find my way back to it using the compass) and coat a couple of iron tools to increase their strength and durability.

Battery-powered lighting throughout the base
Battery-powered lights – much brighter than the old wooden wicker lamps, plus they save on space.

4) Finding out how to make batteries (requires two copper bars and four pieces of coal to make a four-pack) and replacing the old wooden+torch wicker lamps throughout the base with a modern lighting system.  I had fun tearing up parts of the floor to add new blocks which allowed wires to run through floors and ceilings as well as placed new columns so that light switches could be placed.  As you can see in the video, the lighting system isn’t perfect, but it’s much brighter at night and gets the job done.


Hope you enjoyed the video and my long exposé on the game, and with this post comes the end of my spring break.  With a busy week coming up I’ll post again soon, though I have no idea when.


Ushering in Spring Break 2014 with Reflector (iOS screen recording app)

*Note:  the featured image depicts actual gameplay of Block Fortress War, (C) 2014 Foursaken Media, available in the iTunes Store.

As I had explained in previous posts, I usually post new content on Thursdays, mainly because it’s the one day that I grant myself free from academic studies. The preceding Thursday had been an orgy of studying and cramming for a Financial Accounting midterm, the result of which means a low “B” or a low “A” going into the final. Despite studying for nearly half the day, I stumbled into an app which will temporarily allow me to bypass my aging Mac’s lack of Airdrop or high-resolution recording capabilities when making gameplay recordings, and the above non-HD video is my result.

Reflector app

Reflector is a Mac OS X and Windows app ($12.99 USD from AirSquirrel) that allows iOS hardware users to record their device’s screen using Airplay onto desktops via wifi.  Once the user decides on an appropriate frame and resolution, they could then begin recording gameplay, step-by-step how-tos, or anything they please. Once finished, the app then converts and saves the resulting .mov file on the desktop for editing and publishing.

The trick is in the type of internet connection available, as the developers recommend an 802.11n connection for seamless recording. Unfortunately all I have at the moment is a 768kbps DSL line with frequent drops used by three people (two of them needing always-on access), but some bandwidth was freed long enough for me to attempt the experiment.

To begin the recording, Reflector must be launched and all desired settings (iPad/iPod/iPhone frame around the recording as well as the desired resolution). After setting the desired changes, Reflector then has to be relaunched.

On your iDevice, swipe up from the very bottom of your screen to access the Control Center. Make sure that your wifi is on and Bluetooth is off, then select AirPlay (the monitor-shaped icon with a small arrow pointing into it):

AirPlay enabled
The iPad mini R’s AirPlay option enabled, and mirroring toggle on. Both are found in the Control Center by a single-finger swipe from the bottom of the screen.

On slower connections, it’ll take time for a representation of the iDevice’s screen to appear on the desktop, but on a faster network it should appear instantly.

The iPad Mini's screen in real-time
The iPad mini R’s screen displayed on the desktop in real-time (hopefully). Lag may or may not appear based on the strength of your wireless signal.

 Once the image appears on the desktop, change screens or select icons on the iDevice to test for lag issues. On a good wifi connection there should be near-instantaneous responses showing on the desktop (if not, I recommend disabling a home wifi appliance like a wireless printer or another such unnecessary device to improve signal strength). Once you’re satisfied then choose Start Recording on Reflector’s Devices menu on the desktop.

 Recording option

The recording I made above is short, but I did it as a spur-of-the-moment thing between arriving home from taking a midterm and rushing to the laundromat. Still, I was able to record and convert a five-minute video via a weak wifi signal in about fifteen minutes.

Block Fortress War (Foursaken Media) Overall, it’s a decent app and well worth the thirteen dollars. The quality of the experience has more to do with your wifi signal strength and the level of patience you have when your signal is weak. In my case my signal was so weak that I gave up after more than hour and downloaded the first title in Capcom’s Phoenix Wright trilogy for my iPad. Your case will (hopefully) differ.

About the game: Foursaken Media, a development team consisting of four brothers, released a spinoff to one of their first and most addictive tower-defense titles (Block Fortress) with the hard-as-heck but equally addictive Block Fortress War, a tower defense/real-time strategy game. The gameplay shown above is live gameplay of the first level of the first campaign, which I replayed for the sake expediency. Enjoy, and hopefully I’ll have a chance to post gameplay regarding the prequel Block Fortress.


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