Screenshot of The Ur-Quan Masters
The Ur-Quan Masters

I learned something new this weekend. First, I learned that one of my favorite childhood games, Archon, has some spiritual successors. The game designer Paul Reiche III, who designed Archon, went on to design other games from his studio Toys for Bob. I just learned all of this when I was listening to a podcast where some old timers like me were discussing the game Star Control 2, which Reiche designed and which was released for PC in 1992, and then on 3DO. It sounded like a great game, and given the Archon pedigree I was curious to try it out. Well the good news is that 3DO released the source code back to Reiche in 2002 and he made it open source, and so there are many ways to play the game today on modern hardware including Mac, PC, Wii, and Android. The name “Star Control 2” is trademarked and so this open source version is called “The Ur-Quan Masters.” Having played for 30 minutes, I was immediately drawn in to the accessible gameplay, the gentle introduction that gives you full control but subtly guides you to try new things, and the tinge of humor in the dialog. An abandonware success story!

The only bad news is that the iPhone port seems to have stalled just when it was almost complete.

I finished editing Star Wars, and my 3-year-old loves it, and I feel guilt-free about showing it to her. There were some wrinkles during the process, so the current version is actually the third one I made (I’m REAL familiar with the movie now, at least around the problematic scenes). I ended up having success with the Mac-based tool SimpleMovieX, and in fact it’s the first piece of software I’ve paid for in a long time (and it’s not cheap, $40). The free version is full-featured, but saving out the whole movie would have taken a couple of days because they deliberately slow down file saves in order to get you to pay. Still, I ended up liking that particular method of having a free trial, because it let me experiment with all the features over any number of weeks or months (which is sometimes how long it takes me to get my act together).

All that said, I would like to make a fourth version. In addition to fixing a couple of my edits, I have two other problems. First, the file size is too big, and I think I can get decent quality with a lower bit rate and smaller file size. Secondly, there is a white line along the bottom. I believe this is because the software decided to render it at 768×327 instead of 768×328. Many players assume a multiple of four for the resolution, and so put a white line since there’s no data on the 328th row. I’m not sure how to force SimpleMovieX to use a different size, since it only had a short pop-up of choices. Maybe I can use a different tool for the transcoding part.

Oh, and by the way, I didn’t find any good tools that could work directly from a DVD rip, so I had to encode to H.264 with very high quality and size, edit that, and transcode it. Moreover, I had started off hoping to directly edit the H.264 and just save it out, but the audio kept getting out of sync more and more after each edit. I learned about keyframes, and that’s how I found SimpleMovieX, whose primary feature was to let me only visit keyframes while editing, but it helped NOT AT ALL. Come to think of it, if SimpleMovieX didn’t let me edit, and didn’t transcode well, I’m not sure I’ve even found the right tool after all. But I did get a pretty good result, so there.

My daughter is 3, and her best friend is also 3. He has been shown the entire Star Wars trilogy already, and is in love with Darth Vader. So my daughter hears about it a lot, and is excited to see it too. Recently I showed her a couple moments from Episode 4, and she loved it. So I’m going to try to make a version of the movie that is appropriate for her. I’ll edit out everything I deem too intense or violent, and see how it goes. So far, I have a rip of the DVD, and I’m trying to get it into iMovie.