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John Walker

An undoubted highlight of GDC every year is the Experimental Gameplay Workshop. Despite having that complete nonsense word in the title, it’s a chance for some of the most innovative and esoteric gaming ideas to be shared with one of the week’s biggest audiences, whether in development, released, or some impossible state in between. Some of the highlights are below.

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 The Pink Floyd Frontier
There’s this… game? I don’t know how to describe it now, with my heart in my mouth. I am chewing my own heart. Space Engine probably isn’t a game. It’s… It’s a universe simulator. It’s galaxies and galaxies in a tiny zip file. And the most amazing thing is we live in it. And that it is so very beautiful.
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Button it

Take the opening credits from Mad Men, add a dash of James Bond, sprinkle with generous helpings of Canabalt and serve. The Button Affair is an excellent auto-runner steeped in style and variety, far too good to be free and yet it is (presumably due to its short length). You should most certainly go and play it, discover that you enjoy it greatly, and then give a donation to its chosen charity, Special Effect.
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The Freebox acts as DSL modem, router, Wi-Fi router, NAS, DVR, and DECT base—all in one single device.

weweje

France's darling indie ISP, Free, has shaken up the French Internet landscape yet again: in a quiet firmware update released Wednesday evening, the company added an ad blocking option to its Freebox router and activated it by default.

On its developer blog, the company simply wrote (in French) that the Freebox's firmware update 1.1.9 included the “[a]ddition of an ad blocker that allows ad blocking (beta)”

The new move means that any user who has the new firmware will have ad blocking on any device connecting to the Internet via the Freebox.

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sheepwalk.pngI'm pretty sure that herding dogs do rely more on their ability to bark and be menacing rather than the sheep's willingness to follow them, but that doesn't really matter. In Sheepwalk! you are a dog that sheep will blindly follow to their doom (though lambs will run from, thus partially satisfying my need for realism) and it is a mighty fine game. It looks lively and pixelated, sports an excellent soundtrack and its puzzle-arcade gameplay is much more varied than one would expect. In a nutshell, it's absolutely worth a try.

Also, who'd have thought sheep to be such fragile creatures?

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Thavius Beck live in Los Angeles playing the legendary Low End Theory party, in 2009.

Whadayaknow, Ableton users?

Whether you’re an existing user or considering it for the first time, this month online school Dubspot is giving away 30 video lessons on using the software, free, through the end of June only. So, I turned to my friend Thavius Beck (Plug Research Records), LA-based producer and rapper, and master instructor, to make something exclusively for CDM to add a little more free knowledge. If you are playing with Ableton for the first time, you can unlock the 30-day free trial and give it a shot.

I’m just glad to read Thavius’ tips. You’ll feel a little more like an expert afterward, I guarantee – or, alternatively, count how many of these you did already know. (Yes, some of us have been using Live since its first release.)

30 Tips for Ableton Live

Thavius Beck

1. Holding SHIFT while adjusting a Transpose parameter with your UP/DOWN arrow keys will Transpose by an octave instead of 1 semitone

2. “Z” will transpose your computer keyboard DOWN one octave. “X” will transpose it UP one octave

3. “C” decreases the velocity of midi notes entered with the computer keyboard or mouse by 20. “V” increases the velocity by 20

4. You can disable the grid in the Arrangement View and in the Sample Editor by Right-Clicking in the grid area, and selecting OFF under Fixed Grid in the contextual menu

5. Individual drum cells in Impulse can be routed to other audio tracks to be mixed separately or given individual effects. Enable the I-O (inputs and outputs) button on the Session View, and in the Audio From tab select your Impulse instrument. In the tab below that, you’ll see all the sounds in your Impulse. Choose one, then either arm the track or set the Monitor status to IN.

6. The Ableton Device Spectrum not only shows you the frequencies being generated by your music in real time, it also will show you the specific note that a frequency corresponds to. Hold your mouse anywhere over the graphical display in Spectrum and a box in the lower right corner will show you the exact frequency, decibel level, and corresponding note based on where your mouse is.

7. If you have Live Suite, when using Slice to New Midi track try slicing to a single Sampler instead of the Built-In preset. When your slices are in the Sampler, you can change the pitch, attack, decay, voices, etc. of all the slices at once without using Macro knobs.

8. Right-clicking on the crossfader allows you to choose different crossfader curves.

9. If your audio interface has multiple outputs that are enabled (go to Live’s Audio Preferences and select Output Config), you can enable a separate CUE output so you can monitor on your headphones without affecting what is coming out of the Master. Make sure your I-O button is enabled, and on the master channel you will see Cue Out and Master Out. If the Cue Out is different from the Master out, your tracks solo buttons will become cue buttons, allowing you to cue up tracks in the headphones while the party people continue to party…

10. AutoFilter and Gate also have sidechain sections that allow an incoming signal to trigger/exaggerate/alter the effect.

11. Right-clicking on the metronome allows you to set a count-in. Helpful if you need to record something right at the beginning of bar 1.

12. If you need to record multiple tracks at once, go to Live’s Preferences, select the Record/Warp/Launch tab, and under the Record section disable the Arm button next to where it says Exclusive (you can also do the same thing to the Solo button if you want to solo multiple tracks). Ed.: I feel a little differently than Thavius on this one. I like that when you arm one track, you de-arm another. Generally, if I do want to arm multiple tracks, I’d rather hold down the “shift” key when selecting arm – the same for Solo. So consider that an alternative tip 12! -PK)

13. If you haven’t already, stay in that same page of Live’s preferences and turn off Auto-Warp Long Samples. This will prevent Live from putting a million incorrect warp markers on your audio when drag a longer audio file into it and enable Warp.

14. Complex warp mode may sound better than Beats for warping full songs and playing them below their original tempo, but be careful… Complex and Complex Pro are the only two warping algorithms that alter the quality of your audio even when it’s playing at the original tempo. They can also introduce some odd phasing issues when playing song with deep sub bass… Complex Pro is good for acapellas, but I suggest using either mode with a bit of caution before playing a gig…

15. If you change the Global Clip Quantization to NONE, you can scrub through your audio in the Sample Editor by hovering your mouse right below the loop bracket (so it becomes a speaker icon), click and hold, then drag the speaker icon through your audio clip.

16. You can create your own Slice to Midi preset by opening up a blank Drum Rack or Sampler, adjusting the parameters to your liking (you could even add effects to the blank Drum Rack if you like), save your new preset by hitting the disk icon in the upper right corner of the effect (or rack), and then dragging that preset into the following folder in your Live Library: Library/Defaults/Slicing. Next time you Slice to a New Midi track, try out your new preset…

17. Another way to manually “slice” a sample is to drop an Audio Clip into several different empty cells in the Drum Rack, and change the start point on each on so they each play a different part of the sample. The same thing can be done with the Sampler.

18. You can remove the Stop button from a blank clip slot by Right-clicking inside of it and selecting “Remove Stop Button” (or use the shortcut Command/Ctrl-E)

19. You can set the launch tempo of a Scene by Right-clicking inside the scene (next to the scene number) and selecting Edit Launch Tempo, then type in the tempo. You can also just rename the scene and type in the tempo followed by BPM.

20. You can also set the launch time signature of a Scene by Right-clicking inside the scene and selecting Edit Launch Time Signature, and then type in the time signature. You can also just rename the scene and type in the time signature (e.g. 7/8).

21. If you press DELETE while any parameter is selected, it will be returned to its default setting.

22. Double-clicking on any of Live’s Browser shortcut buttons will collapse any unfolded folders.

23. You can write your own notes in the Info View of clips by Right-clicking on any audio or midi clip and selecting Edit Info Text

24. You can drag any Groove Pool template into a midi clip slot to see the velocity and timing of the groove.

25. You can change the Launch Quantization of individual clips by enabling the Show Launch Button (the L button under the Clip View) and changing the Quantization from Global to something else.

26. If you want to MIDI or KEY map buttons to let you select or scroll through your Scenes, select with MIDI or KEY map, and you’ll notice buttons that appear above the Master fader and below the Stop Clips button. The first button will play the selected scene, the next two are arrows that can be mapped to buttons to select the next or previous scene, and the final box can be mapped to a rotary knob to scroll through your scenes.

27. You can automate tempo changes in the Arrangement View on the Master channel. On the Master channel in the Arrangement View, select Mixer in the Device chooser box (top chooser box), and then in the Automation control chooser (bottom choose box) you’ll be able to select Song Tempo.

28. If you select a parameter, it will be selected in the Automation chooser box on that track automatically. This is very helpful if you want to automate a parameter but aren’t sure exactly where to find it in the automation chooser box.

29. You can drag and drop a quicktime movie into the arrangement view so you can write music to picture.

30. If you set Locate Points in the arrangement view, you can MIDI or KEY map buttons to the Previous and Next Locator buttons (the left and right arrows above the first track in the arrangement view).

BONUS – Enable Info View to find out about any parameter that your mouse is hovering over. Very helpful if you don’t know all of the areas I refer to in the previous tips. Enjoy!

For more of this kind of knowledge, check out Dubspot’s full 30-lesson course with Thavius free – while you can.

http://www.dubspot.com/ableton3030/

“Did You Know?” Video Series

Very much along the lines of these 30 tips, earlier this year, Thavius also did a series of videos for Dubspot entitled “Did you know?” They focus on topics you perhaps should know about Ableton Live, but that some users – beginning and advanced alike – might have missed. Here’s that complete series.

Previously

Once More, From the Top: Learn Ableton Live in Videos, from the Very Beginning

http://www.dubspot.com/ableton3030/

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It starts as just another toy to play around with in a few minutes of distraction in your Web browser – as if the Web were short on distraction. But then, something amazing can happen. Like a musical Turing Test, you start to get a feeling for what’s happening on the other side. Someone’s stream of colored dots starts to jam with your stream of colored dots. You get a little rhythm, a little interplay going. And instead of being a barrier, the fact that you’re looking at simple animations and made-up names and playing a pretty little tune with complete strangers starts to feel oddly special. The absence of normal interpersonal cues makes you focus on communicating with someone, completely anonymously, using music alone.

Dinah Moe’s “Plink” is the latest glimpse of what Web browser music might be, and why it might be different than (and a compliment to) other music creation technology. You can now create private rooms to blow off steam with a faraway friend, or find new players online. It’s all powered with the Web Audio API, the browser-native, JavaScript-based tools championed by Mozilla. That means you’ll need a recent Chrome or Firefox (Chrome only at the moment; this is a Chrome Experiment), and mobile browsers won’t be able to keep up. But still, give it a try – I think you may be pleasantly surprised. (Actually, do it right now, as you’ll probably be doing it with other CDM readers. I expect greater things!)

http://labs.dinahmoe.com/plink/

Thanks to Robin Hunicke, who worked with multiplayer design and play at That Game Company’s Journey on PS3 and now on the browser MMO Glitch. I think her friends were more musical than most, because the place came alive after she linked from Facebook.

The browser is becoming a laboratory, a place to quickly try out ideas for music interaction, and for the code and structure that describe music in a language all their own. As in Plink, it can also benefit from being defined by the network and collaboration.

Dinah Moe’s experiments go in other directions, as well. In Tonecraft, inspired by the 3D construction metaphor of Minecraft, three-dimensional blocks become an alternative sequencer.

http://labs.dinahmoe.com/ToneCraft/

There are many reasons not to use Web tools. The Web Audio API still isn’t universal, and native options (like Google’s Native Client) have their own compatibility issues, stability concerns, and – because of security – they don’t do all the things a desktop application will. Desktop music tools are still more numerous, more powerful, and easier to use, so if you’re a reader out there finishing a thesis project, you might look elsewhere. (Actually, you’re probably in trouble, anyway, by any nation’s academic calendar, given it’s the First of May, but I digress.)

But think instead of this as another canvas, and the essential building blocks of interface design, code, and networking as shared across browsers and desktop apps. Somehow, in the light of the Internet, its new connectedness, and its new, more lightweight, more portable code and design options, software is changing. That transformation could happen everywhere.

If you need something to help you meditate on that and wait for a revelation to occur to you, I highly recommend watching a soothing stream of dots and some pleasing music as you jam with your mouse.

Of course, in the end, like a digital mirror, it might inspire you to go out to the park with a couple of glockenspiels and jam the old-fashioned way. But maybe that’s another reason to make software.

(Here’s a video, in case you’re not near a browser that supports the app!)

More, plus reflections on adaptive music:
http://labs.dinahmoe.com/

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infrom7.pngInform 7 is being described as a design system for interactive fiction based on natural language. Shockingly, it does exactly what it says on the tin (and quite a bit more), while simultaneously being a truly powerful tool for creating intricate pieces of interactive fiction on most platforms you'd care to mention.

Inform 7 runs on Windows, Linux, Mac OS X and most probably anything with a keyboard. It has after all been the tool of choice for countless text adventure creators (including the brilliant Emily Short) and more than a few educators. Oh, and it's absolutely free to use too.

Impressively, Inform 7 is much more than a stable and easy to use platform to recreate Zork and come up with something to impress your friends with. It's a tool with an excellent interface, one of the most intuitive scripting languages I've ever encountered and enough power to handle everything from physics and advanced AI to rich parsers and maps. Anything text based is possible, even if -and that's a worst case scenario- you have to download one of the myriad extensions already available.

Adding maps, verbs, characters and even pictures or sound-effects is also pretty straightforward, as is going for a multiple choice or point-and-click interface. Besides, even if you do get stuck on technical matters, the amazing community is always there to help.

Now, to give you an example of just how elegantly sensible Inform 7 really is... Let's suppose you wanted to create a room called Gallows that happened to lie just north of a Nursery School. This is what you'd have to type-in:

Gallows is a room.

Nursery School is a room.

Gallows is north of Nursery School.

Simple, isn't it? And please do trust me when I say writing such descriptions is an incredibly enjoyable, creative and at times addictive process. Inform was, after all, designed by a poet/mathematician with writers in mind. People who want to tell interactive stories. Or, well, come up with ridiculously tough puzzles that would put the Babel Fish one to shame.

Mind you, some of the more complex stuff Inform 7 can handle can be quite tricky to employ, and actually finishing a full-blown game will definitely take time. That's why I can't help but recommend (especially for people that haven't authored or scripted i-f before) the excellent Creating Interactive Fiction With Inform 7 book. It will not only help you with the technical side of things, but actually provide sound game design advice.

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