by Chris Barylick
December 23rd, 2005
Additional Means of Chatting: Ventrilo
When Ventrilo emerged along with TeamSpeex at the start of the 2000's, some concessions had to be made about the Macintosh as a gaming platform. Despite some earnest efforts to have some great games for the platform, there were just some things Windows users had that we didn't.
As much as we may have loved Mac OS 9, it had a proprietary, closed off nature that didn't translate well. It took considerably more effort to overhaul a cool Windows platform idea to run on the Mac. Factor in time and effort that could have been spent on more profitable projects, and the Mac OS was an island unto itself.
For instance, as much as we wanted this cool new thing of being able to sit at a computer and talk with multiple people while playing a game, the chances that someone would see the sense in it short of grabbing 100% of the Macintosh market share by creating a Mac OS 9/early OS X-native version of the program was slim to none.
When Mac OS X became the de facto Mac standard, and the Linux communities began to clamor for some of the cooler Windows-only technologies, cross development began to make sense. Apple was here to stay and the Linux distributions would be impossible to kill off thanks to a frenetic user base that prides itself on free software.
When TeamSpeex emerged as a free Voice over Internet Protocol chat client in 2005, users wondered if a Ventrilo (the other major free VOIP technology used for multiplayer voice communication on the Windows platform) would be along as well.
As of November, Mac gamers got their wish. Ventrilo, developed by Flagship Industries, Inc., has been released for free for the Mac. Still in a prototype/pre-beta stage, the program requires Mac OS X 10.3 or later to run, recommends a 1.0 GHz or faster G4 processor and stands at a mere 252 K download (808 K when decompressed).
The program, like TeamSpeex, allows the user to customize which servers they join (essentially making a contact list, a la an instant messaging client such as iChat or similar programs). Simply add a decent USB microphone or headset to your Mac, make sure it's selected in the Sound Preferences pane, as well as receiving input (a few quick snaps of the fingers will show the readout picking up via the input level), and you're set.
The Ventrilo VOIP client has arrived for the Mac OS X platform.
Ventrilo is still in development, but even in its early stages, it shows an incredible level of customization. Users can specify sound channels, program alerts to go off when certain contacts come online and tinker with the acoustics to improve the sound quality. Ventrilo currently borrows code from TeamSpeex and uses the TeamSpeex codec, so only Ventrilo servers supporting that feature can run it. This doesn't allow it full access to the entire range of Ventrilo servers currently online, but it's a step in the right direction.
For the more technically minded, the Darwin code of Ventrilo's server program has also been made available. While I'm not courageous enough to tinker with it, it's readily available to anyone who wants to try setting up a test server and invite friends to experiment with it.
Ventrilo is currently an open source project and more receptive to feedback than a closed-source/proprietary technology. If enough people make a fuss about a bug or a feature they'd like to see included or a bug they've experienced, odds are that the developers will listen. For more information as to how the project is coming along, visit the Ventrilo Mac Status Page. And to make your voice heard as well as receive feedback on the issue of the day, visit the Ventrilo Mac Client Forums.
As always, this is software in its early stages of development and while perfectly functional on most levels, still requires additional work (in my experience, the program sometimes has trouble closing and will either hang or experience soft crashes). Still, the effort has been made and Mac users finally have one of the cool Windows bells and whistles programs we've wanted for a long time.
Let's face it, the only way to truly express the fact that you've decimated someone at Halo or found something really cool in World of Warcraft is through a mighty victory cry. And, in perfect digital quality over the Internet, this becomes all the better.
Nostalgia Meets Open Source: Snoopy vs. Red Baron
Video games used to be simpler, they say, and for anyone over 25 with a clear memory of the 80's (i.e., the techno-geezer community, of which I must equate myself with), they were. Still, a side-scrolling arcade title reduced almost anything to its simplest roots of dodging, surviving an enemy's counterattack and hunting for the best items available. If a game was truly fun, it stood out and could be played by anyone with almost no learning curve whatsoever.
Snoopy versus The Red Baron was such a title. Cheesy, easy to learn, fun and campy all at the same time, the game put the player in the role of Snoopy as he engaged his hated nemesis, the Red Baron, in aerial combat. True, this wasn't the be all and end all of games for its time, and it felt like a quick 45 minutes of fun as it was fired up on an original Atari, but the title has stood the test of time and been available across a variety of platforms (with a console version in the works for next fall). Better yet, it continues to be fun.
Dogfighting action in Snoopy versus Red Baron 1.0
Despite United Features Syndicate's tight grip on the Peanuts characters, open source homages to the classics are still acceptable provided the authors don't charge for their products. This is exactly what's been done by Johannes Fortmann and Thomas Wiesehofer, two programmers who've made several versions of the game available across a variety of platforms.
Snoopy versus Red Baron brings a great piece of freeware to Mac OS X. Players must go toe to toe with the red baron while dealing with elements of the Peanuts universe such as Charlie brown's randomly thrown baseballs (which also serve to damage anything they might hit, opponent or otherwise), Schroeder's musical notes and the flying projectiles that randomly fired rounds may hit.
Snoopy versus Red Baron is as simple or as intricate as the player makes it. Easily learned key settings allow the player to dodge evasively or swoop in for the kill. A full range of options allows for extras like full screen play as well as OpenGL-based sound, which convincingly fill the room if speakers are plugged into the computer. Customizable preferences allow for players to map their own key settings and a neat two player option (player one uses the WASD keys while player two uses the keypad) allows for head to head combat. The game requires Mac OS X 10.2 or later to run and is available as a 1.4 MB download that expands to occupy 4 MB of hard drive space.
Snoopy versus Red Baron still feels like a work in progress due to a menu bar that disappears only a second after the game begins and a quit function that seems more hooked into pressing the escape button rather than hitting command and Q, but still functions well and retains all the style of the original. The project, which can be looked into via SourceForge.net, allows anyone to provide feedback and use the source code to make improvements as well as their own versions of the game, provided they release the product as freeware. If you have ideas, comments, feedback or would like to test a future version, see what's there and what you can contribute to the effort.
That wraps it up for this week. Happy holidays and thanks for reading. And, as always, if you see anything cool and useful in the Mac universe, let me know.
Chris Barylick covers games for The Mac Observer, and has written for Inside Mac Games, MacGamer, UPI, the Washington Post, and other publications.
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