So many people seem so panicked and fearful of their computer, from worrying about viruses and the horrors coming in through their email to the fear they might touch something and make it crash and blow up – I thought I’d take a moment to share with you the fun things you can do with your computer that might not make your life easier, but you will have a good time doing it.
There is a lot of time while traveling on the road and photographing and writing about nature that is called “down time”, time when you are waiting between “moments” of action. We’ve used these games to amuse us through long hours waiting in airports, waiting for changes in the weather, and just to relax our minds from the stress of our lives. We also use Microsoft’s MSAgent characters as personal virtual assistants to let us know about the news and weather that affects our life on the road. We hope you enjoy some of our time wasters AND useful tools.
The number one reason people get a computer is to do work and to communicate. The number one activity done on a computer is playing games. I don’t see much work or communicating involved in that, do you? But it’s true. We all like to have a good time and the joy of computers is their ability to have fun and play games as well as their ability to do the task at hand.
If you are new to computers, I highly recommend you start RIGHT NOW playing the Solitaire card game that comes with most versions of Windows. It sounds funny, but Solitaire will teach you all you need to know to get familiar with your mouse. You will learn clicking, click and drag, double click (to make an ace move to the top pile or the next card in line up there), and steering. Your mouse skills will improve greatly by just playing this game for twenty minutes. The problem will come in stopping after twenty minutes!
To move an Ace to the top of the playing table, double click it. Double click on all cards that go in sequence on top of the Ace cards to move them quickly.
To add a little more thrill to the game, choose GAME, OPTIONS, and choose to play three cards and not one, keep a cumulative score, and play Vegas style which tracks your score in monetary values rather than points. Playing Vegas and three card style will end the game after three rounds of the deck.
There are many online and free or shareware games available for download. Tucows is one of the largest suppliers of shareware (and freeware) software on the Internet and they list thousands of games to choose from. Backgammon, chess, card games of every shape and size, gambling, dice, you name it, you can find it on the Internet.
Brent and I have been playing solitaire and multiple player games for years and here are a few of our favorites. Some of the more dynamic games may not be readily available in computer stores, but you can find them on Ebay or in used software shops.
- Buried in Time and Legacy of Time (Journeyman Project Series)
- Oh, boy! Want to leave the planet and have the time of your life? The games produced by Presto and the Journeyman Project are some of the best games. Created in the genre called “RPG” this means they are Role Playing Games. You interact within the program as the main character, exploring and discovering, and hopefully solving the mysteries within the world of the game. The first in the series was called Journeyman Project and was more of a robot-beat ’em-up game. Then came Buried in Time and Legacy of Time and computer games took on a new twist, following in the steps of Myst. In Buried in Time and Legacy of Time, you play the character of John Gage, a time-traveling cop who is sent back and forward in time to stop someone from messing with the time line. You visit incredibly realistic and interactive locales such as Leonardo da Vinci’s studio and home, the ancient Mayan Temples in their prime, the castle of Richard the Lion-hearted during a siege, a space station floating out in the far reaches of space, and more. Award-winning, these games are not for the weak minded. They will test your analytical skills and problem-solving techniques. These games involve a lot of learning, about history, archeology, anthropology, art, and more. You learn to build things using da Vinci’s plans and drawings and pour through his brilliant designs and blue prints. You learn about the secrets of the priests inside the Mayan Temple and learn to read a little Mayan. Brilliant time wasters that teach as you go, without feeling like you are learning but experiencing!
- Myst, Riven and Exile
- The first of the most incredible interactive realistic RGP computer games ever made, Myst brought to the world the real potential of what a computer could do to the world. In Myst, you help research the ages created through books, which transport you to the same island but a different time and and place. You become an archeologist and detective, searching for the clues as to what happened here and who done it – who is ruining or interfering with the ages? In the sequels, Riven and Exile, the technology improved greatly so you can actually get sea sick watching the water move around the island. These are not violent games and there are few chances to die, but there are tons of challenging puzzles that will get your brain working to figure it all out. A new sequel, URU Ages Beyond Myst, is out now (2004) and has already won extremely high praise and top awards.
You are in an open field west of a big white house with a boarded front door.
There is a small mailbox here.
Opening Lines From Zork, The Interactive Fiction Original Game
- Back in the dark ages of computers, you were lucky if you got a computer monitor that would show amber or green type on the screen. Graphics were horrible blocky bits of dots and lines made into pictures. But games were still played and adored by all. One of the great granddaddy of the first computer games was Zork. Imagine reading a book and being able to control each page, twisting and turning down different paths, a treasure hunter – finding things and figuring out how to make things work to get you further along the way, exploring as you go, occassionally meeting the bad guy in the form of a troll or gru (ah, they hate the light) and risking your life to defend yourself. Most of the best interactive games today came from the successful techniques created in Zork and its sequels. Over time the Zork games became more sophisticated, culminating in the Myst style interactive and highly graphical interface of Return to Zork. While the new games rely upon a combination of mouse movement and clicks and entering text, the old games relied completely upon the keyboard. The player enters the commands to go in the different directions, look at this or that, pick it up, put it somewhere, and fairly simple commands and interface. Through the keyboard, you could interact with the creatures and people you met within the world of the game, asking questions and gathering information. The games are easy to playYou can still step back to a simpler world of your imagination and play the original games.
- Interactive Fiction
- The unique magic of the text only, interactive fiction game of Zork didn’t end in the 1980s. It is now a popular game style called “interactive fiction”. Brilliant academics and fans of Zork created their own version of the code for writing Zork-like games and released it as open source. With the support of other Zork fans, people started writing interactive fiction games, trading programming secrets and tips, and developing even more sophisticated coding and programing efforts. Every fall the Interactive Fiction Forum hosts the annual Interactive Fiction Game Competition. Brent’s entry, She’s Got a Thing for a Spring, came in fourth place in 1997. The games run the gamut in genre styles from detective who-done-it to science fiction extraordinaire. These games can be played on any kind and age of computer as well as on handheld computers and even cell phones with Internet connections. They require no special graphics or computer memory to run. These are the kinds of games that are great for travelers, when just reading a book gets dull and boring and interacting with a book is the way to go. To find out about this year’s contestant games and more about Interactive Fiction, visit the Interactive Fiction Forums newsgroup at rec.games.int-fiction or their archives web page. Here is a list of some of our favorite Interactive Fiction games:
- She’s Got a Thing for a Spring
- Spider and Web
- Risorgimento Regresso
- The Gostak*
- Slouching Towards Bedlam
- The Meteor, the Stone, and a Long Glass of Sherbet
- Worlds Apart (requires TADS interpreter)
- Savoir Faire
- The Space Under the Window*
- City of Secrets (requires gulux interpreter) – EASY
- Excellent interview with some of the best IF authors
- More IF Games and Reviews at Wurb.com
- IF Archive Organization for Interactive Fiction – downloads, discussions, and more
- The Underdogs Interactive Fiction Reviews and Downloads
* These games are not typical interactive fiction games and are a little more challenging, but excellent games.
- Oh, boy! Play a few games of Kyodai and you will be completely addicted. This is the ideal, rarely boring, and completely addictive Maj Jong or Tai Pai game. Based on the traditional tile Japanese games, this goes way beyond with incredible colors and responses. It is not only fascinating, it stimulates the brain’s recognition of patterns and combinations. I’ve introduced this to many friends who hate me later for getting them totally hooked. Don’t take my word for it, download the shareware version and you will be hooked.
More Game Information
We have played lots of games but not as many of the serious game players. To find more information about the most popular games, we’ve provided some links to help you.
Have Your Computer Talk Back to You
When people stop by, they are always amazed at how my computer talks to me. You know, it gets lonely being stuck all alone with just a computer to amuse you, so why not have it really amuse you by talking to you?
Through the use of Microsoft’s MSAgent characters, you, too, can have your own computer friend. He, she or it will tell you the time, give you news bulletins from the Internet, check email, tell you about the weather outside and even read to you. You can have it do all kinds of fun things.
When you need some help in Microsoft Word or Excel, you know the little paper clip dude or the puppy dog that pops up to help you? This is one of your Window’s operating system helpers, a character. With a little help, these characters can do more than just help you when you need help.
To use MSAgent characters, you have to download a few free add-ons to Windows. Begin by visiting YeaYou’s step-by-step instructions page on installing MSAgent Characters and features. Do the procedure in the order they list. Once the programs are installed, you get to pick a character.
Microsoft provides some basic characters like Merlin the Wizard, a genie, dog, robot, and more. These creatures act like what they are (dog barks, genie poofs, and wizard whizzes). Through the Speech Control Panel, you can control their speech characteristics from male to female and slow to fast. There are more characters available online and my particular favorite comes from MyDevotion.com and is called Handz. Handz is just that, a pair of hands with sunglasses who chats at you. Using the free version of the program Cyberbuddy, I have instructed Handz to give me reminders on lunch and bedtime, and a few other appointments I frequently keep. To remind me, he knocks in the “inside” of my monitor screen and then makes his announcements. The sound of knocking on glass like knocking on a window is so realistic, it actually sounds like he is knocking on the inside of my monitor’s screen. I love it! There are plenty of other characters with their own special effects to choose from.
Cyberbuddy is a free interactive program to use with your MSAgent character. With this program you can get weather reports, news bulletins, reminders, and more. The paid version includes more advanced features including voice recognition so you can actually talk back to your MSAgent character.
For more information on MSAgent, characters, and other similar interactive programs:
- YeaYou’s step-by-step instructions page
- Microsoft MSAgent Download Information
- Microsoft’s MSAgent Information page
- Agentry’s MSAgent characters and related software
- Article about using Cyberbuddy
- Agent Reader – MSAgent Virtual Assistant and Text Reader
- More MSAgent and Virtual Assistants
- MIT Artifical Intelligence Laboratory