Archive for October, 2010

New Software – Sanebox

Monday, October 18th, 2010

One of the nice things about being a programmer is that if there isn’t a solution for some problem you have, you’re free to write your own. To that end, I’d like to present Sanebox, a lightbox plugin for jQuery. I initially wrote it for use on my portfolio, but soon decided that others might be able to use it, too. It’s got a few features worth mentioning:

  • You use jQuery selectors to create lightboxes from links.
  • It can display images, Flash video, and HTML 5 video.
  • The plugin was written to make it easy to customize.
  • You can also customize its behavior using callbacks and the plugin’s public methods.

But enought talk, here’s a demonstration. Click any link below to view it at full size:

The online documentation has a lot more info, including an options reference and a description of the methods and callbacks Sanebox allows.

It’s licensed under a Creative Commons license, so you can use it freely in your projects. The only hitch is that the Flash player is only licensed for non-commercial use. That means you have to use it non-commercially unless you also get a commercial license for the Flash player.

Fifth Christmas Album

Saturday, October 16th, 2010

I’ve started ‘pre-production’ on my fifth Christmas album, which is as of yet untitled. Every year since 2006, I’ve recorded a Christmas album as a gift for my mom. She’s really into Christmas, and I suppose I am, too. My parents’ house is ridiculously decorated the weekend after Thanksgiving, and it looks wonderful every year. Carrie gets a little sad because she says I disappear for the last few months of the year to work on the album. Actually, I’ve been getting better at getting these records recorded — two years ago I finished it on Christmas Eve, and last year I was done in time to FedEx it to my parents before Christmas. These albums are fun to make but slightly detrimental to my discography because they’re almost entirely covers, and usually more than half are encumbered by copyrights that prevent me from sharing them without worrying about paying royalties.

Right now I’ve got two tracks arranged, a cover of “Chiron Beta Prime” by Jonathan Coulton and a cover of “Merry Christmas, Here’s to Many More” by Relient K. I’ve chosen most of the songs that will be on this record. I’m in no dangers of running out of tracks. Even after four albums, I’ve got a pool of about 100 songs that should last me for at least the next seven albums (at fourteen tracks a pop). And I never said I wouldn’t record new versions of songs.

Christmas always starts way early for me because of these albums. I even start listening to Christmas music (for inspiration) before Christmas merchandise appears on store shelves, if you can believe it. I’ll probably post one or two tracks as Christmas approaches. Obviously I’ll select them from the carols or other public-domain works I cover. There’s also one original song on each album, so I’m sure I’ll post that one, too.

In the meantime, enjoy the lull in Christmas ads, which would have started appearing on TV, if not for the fact that it’s an election year. On second thought, I guess the political ads might not be an improvement.

The Suckers – Sour Grapes

Wednesday, October 13th, 2010

The Sour Grapes album cover depicts a fox disdainfully turned away from a branch of grapes that hang just out of his reach.The newest album from The Suckers is finally available to download for free in the music section. There, you can listen to or download individual tracks or the full album zipped up. There are 17 songs on this record, and I’d go as far to wager that some are even a little catchy. The music is pop-punk, in the vein of The Ramones, Screeching Weasel, Teenage Bottlerocket, and other bands of their ilk. Each song has slightly more than three chords and an attitude.

The cover art, which depicts the literal fable “The Fox and the Grapes”, is a photo montage made from free images courtesy of the Morgue File, and these authors deserve due credit: aquaio, jak, badeendjuh, and missyredboots.

New Skin

Wednesday, October 13th, 2010

This blog has gotten an upgraded theme, the same one that’s on my portfolio. Thanks to my lovely wife Carrie for taking my old site and making it shiny!

Sonic 4: First Impression

Tuesday, October 12th, 2010

To say that I’ve been looking forward to this game has been an understatement. I’ve never taken to the 3D Sonic titles, and although I’ve flirted with trying the handheld games, they never quite clicked for me. So after all the talk about how this game is supposed to be the spiritual successor to Sonic 3 or Sonic & Knuckles, I was quite excited. I counted down the days, I got up bright and early today, and I waited until the afternoon to download it. I’m not sure when it finally was available, but I finally got it a little while ago. I had to sign up for a full PlayStation Network account just to buy the game, but that’s a tale for another day.

The graphics are amazing, eye-popping, and just what I’d expect. Part of the reason why I waited until today (and waited most of today as well, as it turned out) was to get the PlayStation 3 version. The sound interestingly is more of a throwback to the older games’ soundtracks. I like it. The Genesis Sonic the Hedgehog music is some of my video game music; probably because I would hear it for hours on end back when I was in grade school.

Unfortunately, the best graphics and sound can’t save a bad game. I’m not ready to declare Sonic 4 a bad game just yet, as I’ve only played through the first zone. But so far I haven’t liked what I’ve seen.

First, the play control is bad. This game is supposed to be a direct throwback to the older Genesis games. Too bad they didn’t spend enough time replicating the controls. I noticed this almost immediately as my mind and motor controls went into a ‘retro Sonic’ mode. But the behaviors of Sonic after each button press, which are ingrained into my gray matter, didn’t work as expected. The most jarring example is Sonic’s momentum. In earlier Genesis games, Sonic had momentum in the air if you run and jump off the right side of a cliff, then let go of the right D-pad button, the blue hedgehog would still continue to go to the right. Not so in this game. In fact, it’s quite unrealistic no matter what type of game it is. When you jump into the air and let go of the D-Pad, Sonic immediately stops moving horizontally. In previous games, you had to jump at a small platform, then press the D-pad in the opposite direction, to compensate for over-shooting. Not so in this game: just jump until you’re over the small platform, release the D-pad, and you fall onto. Whether or not this is better is irrelevent. It’s different. That’s what counts. From the very beginning, I had to re-train my brain. For a game that’s supposed to pick up right where the last Genesis title started, how could this have gotten by all the quality control?

The other major fault I’ve noticed with the game is a problem I’ve noticed with the other recent Sonic 2-D platformers. In Sonic the Hedgehog games, you’re supposed to go fast, right? That’s kind of the point of the whole thing. Unfortunately, in this game if you go fast the developers punish you. There are enemies and obstacles in the way that hurt you. Unless you know the layout of a level beforehand, you don’t dare go fast (unless you want to lose all your rings). A video game should not be about rote memorization. You should get fair warning before getting hurt; a clever player should be able to go pretty far before losing his rings. This has been true for the last few Sonic 2-D games (Sonic Rush comes to mind). Who is behind this? Why are they still allowed to make Sonic levels?

It could be that this is a fluke, since I’ve only played the first levels. There’s one more infuriating thing about the first zone, and that’s the little chameleons that pop out of the walls and shoot you. The problem is that you’re given zero time to react after one pops out. Every single one I came across zapped me. So maybe the first level was designed by a sadistic jerk, and they kicked him off the project before he could ruin any more levels.

I’ll play through the whole game before passing judgement, because I still hold a hope that this game will be just as good as the classic Sonic games. Please fulfill my hope, Sonic Team.