Scott Hanselman

Teaching Kids to Code with Minecraft Mods made easy using MakeCode and Code Connection

February 5, '19 Comments [7] Posted in Gaming | Musings
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Back in the day, making a Minecraft mod was...challenging. It was a series of JAR files and Java hacks and deep folder structures. It was possible, but it wasn't fun and it surely wasn't easy. I wanted to revisit things now that Minecraft is easily installed from the Windows Store.

Today, it couldn't be easier to make a Minecraft Mod, so I know what my kids and I are doing tonight!

I headed over to https://minecraft.makecode.com/setup/minecraft-windows10 and followed the instructions. I already have Minecraft installed, so I just had to install the Minecraft Code Connection app. The architecture here is very clean and clever. Basically you turn on cheats in Minecraft and use a local websockets connection between the Code Connection app and Minecraft - you're automating Minecraft from an external application!

Here I'm turning on cheats in a new Miencraft world:

Minecraft Allow Cheats

Then from the Code Connection app, I get a URL for the automation server, then go back to Minecraft, hit "t" and paste it in the URL. Now the two apps are talking to each other.

Connecting Minecraft to MakeCode

I can automate with MakeCode, Scratch, or other editors. I'll do MakeCode.

Make Code is amazing

Then an editor opens. This is the same base open source Make Code editor I used when I was coding for an Adafruit Circuit Playground Express earlier this year.

Now, I'll setup a chat command in Make Code that makes it rain chickens when I type the chat command "chicken." It runs a loop and spawns 100 chickens 10 blocks above my character's head.

Chicken rain

I was really surprised how easy this was. It was maybe 10 mins end to end, which is WAY easier than the Java add-ins I learned about just a few years ago.

Minecraft Chicken Rain

There are a ton of tutorials here, including Chicken Rain. https://minecraft.makecode.com/tutorials

The one I'm most excited to show my kids is the Agent. Your connection to the remote Code Connection app includes an avatar or "agent." Just like Logo (remember that, robot turtles?) you can control your agent and make him build stuff. No more tedious house building for us! Let's for-loop our way to glory and teach dude how to make us a castle!


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About Scott

Scott Hanselman is a former professor, former Chief Architect in finance, now speaker, consultant, father, diabetic, and Microsoft employee. He is a failed stand-up comic, a cornrower, and a book author.

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The Fun of Finishing - Exploring old games with Xbox Backwards Compatibility

December 21, '18 Comments [13] Posted in Gaming
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Star Wars: KOTORI'm on vacation for the holidays and I'm finally getting some time to play video games. I've got an Xbox One X that is my primary machine, and I also have a Nintendo Switch that is a constant source of joy. I recently also picked up a very used original PS4 just to play Spider-man but expanded to a few other games as well.

One of the reasons I end up using my Xbox more than any of my other consoles is its support for Backwards Compatibility. Backwards Compat is so extraordinary that I did an entire episode of my podcast on the topic with one of the creators.

The general idea is that an Xbox should be able to play Xbox games. Let's take that even further - Today's Xbox should be able to play today's Xbox games AND yesterday's...all the way back to the beginning. One more step further, shall well? Today's Xbox should be able to play all Xbox games from every console generation and they'll look better than you imagined them!

The Xbox One X can take 720p games and upscale them to 4k, use higher quality textures, and some games like Final Fantasy XIII have even been fully remastered but you still use the original disc! I would challenge you to play the original Red Dead Redemption on an Xbox One X and not think it was a current generation game. I recently popped in a copy of Splinter Cell: Conviction and it automatically loaded a 5-year-old save game from the cloud and I was on my way. I played Star Wars: KOTOR - an original Xbox game - and it looks amazing.

Red Dead Redemption

A little vacation combined with a lot of backwards compatibility has me actually FINISHING games again. I've picked up a ton of games this week and finally had that joy of finishing them. Each game I started up that had a save game found me picking up 60% to 80% into the game. Maybe I got stuck, perhaps I didn't have enough time. Who knows? But I finished. Most of these finishings were just 3 to 5 hours of pushing from my current (old, original) save games.

  • Crysis 2 - An Xbox 360 game that now works on an Xbox One X. I was halfway through and finished it up in a few days.
  • Crysis 3 - Of course I had to go to the local retro game trader and pick up a copy for $5 and bang through it. Crysis is a great trilogy.
  • Dishonored - I found a copy in my garage while cleaning. Turns out I had a save game in the Xbox cloud since 2013. I started right from where I left off. It's so funny to see a December 2018 save game next to a 2013 save game.
  • Alan Wake - Kind of a Twin Peaks type story, or a Stephen King with a flashlight and a gun. Gorgeous game, and very innovative for the time.
  • Mirror's Edge - Deceptively simple graphics that look perfect on 4k. This isn't just upsampling, to be clear. It's magic.
  • Metro 2033 - Deep story and a lot of world building. Oddly I finished Metro: Last Light a few months back but never did the original.
  • Sunset Overdrive - It's so much better than Jet Set Radio Future. This game has a ton of personality and they recorded ALL the lines twice with a male and female voice. I spoke to the voiceover artist for the female character on Twitter and I really think her performance is extraordinary. I had so much fun with this game that now the 11 year old is starting it up. An under-respected classic.
  • Gears of War Ultimate - This is actually the complete Gears series. I was over halfway through all of these but never finished. Gears are those games where you play for a while and end up pausing and googling "how many chapters in gears of war." They are long games. I ended up finishing on the easiest difficulty. I want a story and I want some fun but I'm not interested in punishment.
  • Shadow Complex - Also surprisingly long, I apparently (per my save game) gave up with just an hour to go. I guess I didn't realize how close I was to the end?

I'm having a blast (while the spouse and kids sleep, in some cases) finishing up these games. I realize I'm not actually accomplishing anything but the psychic weight of the unfinished is being lifted in some cases. I don't play a lot of multiplayer games as I enjoy a story. I read a ton of books and watch a lot of movies, so I look for a tale when I'm playing video games. They are interactive books and movies for me with a complete story arc. I love it when the credits role. A great single player game with a built-up universe is as satisfying (or more so) as finishing a good book.

What are you playing this holiday season? What have you rediscovered due to Backwards Compatibility?


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About Scott

Scott Hanselman is a former professor, former Chief Architect in finance, now speaker, consultant, father, diabetic, and Microsoft employee. He is a failed stand-up comic, a cornrower, and a book author.

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Enjoy some DOS Games this Christmas with DOSBox

December 19, '18 Comments [4] Posted in Gaming
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I blogged about DOSBox five years ago! Apparently I get nostalgic around this time of year when I've got some downtime. Here's what I had to say:

I was over at my parents' house for the Christmas Holiday and my mom pulled out a bunch of old discs and software from 20+ years ago. One gaame was "Star Trek: Judgment Rites" from 1995. I had the CD-ROM Collector's edition with all the audio from the original actors, not just the floppy version with subtitles. It's a MASSIVE 23 megabytes of content!

DOSBox has ben providing joy in its reliable service for over 16 years and you should go check it out RIGHT NOW, if only to remind yourself of how good we have it now. DOSBox is an x86 and DOS Emulator - not a virtual machine. It emulates classic hardware like Sound Blaster cards and older graphics standards like VGA/VESA.

If a game runs too fast, you can slow it down by pressing Ctrl-F11. You can speed up games by pressing Ctrl-F12. DOSBox’s CPU speed is displayed in its title bar. Type "intro special" for a full hotkey list.

Note that DOSBox will start up TINY if you have a 4k monitor. There's a few things to you can do about it. First, ALT-ENTER will toggle DOSBox into full screen mode, although when you return to Windows your windows may find themselves resized.

For Windowed mode, I used these settings. You can't scale the window when output=surface, so experiment with settings like these:

windowresolution=1280 x 1024
output=ddraw

These are only the most basic initial changes you'll want to make. There's an enthusiastic community of DOSBox users that are dedicated to making it as perfect as possible. I enjoy this reddit thread debating "pixel perfect" settings. There's also a number of forks and custom builds of DOSBox out there that impose specific settings so be sure to explore and pick the one that makes you happy. It's also important to understand that aspect ratios and the size and squareness of a pixel will all change how your game looks.

I tend to agree with them that I don't want a blurry scaler. I want the dots/pixels as they are, simply made larger (2x, 3x, 4x, etc) with crisp edges at a reasonable aspect ratio. An interesting change you can make to your .conf file is the "forced" keyword after your scaler choice.

Here is scaler=normal3x (no forced)

Blurry DOSBox

and there's scaler-normal3x forced

The instructions say that forced means "the scaler will be used even if the result might not be desired." In this case, it forces the use of the scaler in text mode. Your mileage may vary, but the point is there's options and it's great fun. You may want scanlines or you may want crisp pixels.

I've found it all depends on what your memory of DOS is and what you're trying to do is to change the settings to best visualize that memory. My (broken) memory is of CRISP pixels.

Crisp DOSBox

Amazing difference!
The first thing you should do is add lines like these to the bottom of your dosbox.conf. You'll want your virtual C: drive mounted every time DOSBox starts up!

[autoexec]
# Lines in this section will be run at startup.
MOUNT C: C:\Users\scott\Dropbox\DosBox

If you want to play classic games but don't want the hassle (or questionable legality) of other ways, I'd encourage you to spend some serious time at https://www.gog.com. They've packaged up a ton of classic games so they "just work."

Bard's Tale 3
Space Quest 3

Enjoy! And THANK YOU to the folks that work on DOSBox for their hard work. It shows and we appreciate it.


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About Scott

Scott Hanselman is a former professor, former Chief Architect in finance, now speaker, consultant, father, diabetic, and Microsoft employee. He is a failed stand-up comic, a cornrower, and a book author.

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Retrogaming on original consoles in HDMI on a budget

April 13, '18 Comments [2] Posted in Gaming
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Just a few of my consoles. There's a LOT off screen.My sons (10 and 12) and I have been enjoying Retrogaming as a hobby of late. Sure there's a lot of talk of 4k 60fps this and that, but there's amazing stories in classing video games. From The Legend of Zelda (all of them) to Ico and Shadow of the Colossus, we are enjoying playing games across every platform. Over the years we've assembled quite the collection of consoles, most purchased at thrift stores.

Initially I started out as a purist, wanting to play each game on the original console unmodified. I'm not a fan of emulators for a number of reasons. I don't particularly like the idea of illegal ROM come up and I'd like to support the original game creators. Additionally, if I can support a small business by purchasing original game cartridges or CDs, I prefer to do that as well. However, the kids and I have come up with somewhat of a balance in our console selection.

For example, we enjoy the Hyperkin Retron 5 in that it lets us play NES, Famicom, SNES, Super Famicom, Genesis, Mega Drive, Game Boy, Game Boy Color, & Game Boy over 5 category ports. with one additional adapter, it adds Game Gear, Master System, and Master System Cards. It uses emulators at its heart, but it requires the use of the original game cartridges. However, the Hyperkin supports all the original controllers - many of which we've found at our local thrift store - which strikes a nice balance between the old and the new. Best of all, it uses HDMI as its output plug which makes it super easy to hook up to our TV.

The prevalence of HDMI as THE standard for getting stuff onto our Living Room TV has caused me to dig into finding HDMI solutions for as many of my systems as possible. Certainly you CAN use a Composite Video Adapter to HDMI to go from the classic Yellow/White/Red connectors to HDMI but prepare for disappointment. By the time it gets to your 4k flat panel it's gonna be muddy and gross. These aren't upscalers. They can't clean an analog signal. More on that in a moment because there are LAYERS to these solutions.

Some are simple, and I recommend these (cheap products, but they work great) adapters:

  • Wii to HDMI Adapter - The Wii is a very under-respected console and has a TON of great games. In the US you can find a Wii at a thrift store for $20 and there's tens of millions of them out there. This simple little adapter will get you very clean 480i or 480p HDMI with audio. Combine that with the Wii's easily soft-modded operating system and you've got the potential for a multi-system emulator as well.
  • PS2 to HDMI Adapter - This little (cheap) adapter will get you HTMI output as well, although it's converted off the component Y Cb/Pb Cr/Pr signal coming out. It also needs USB Power so you may end up leaching that off the PS2 itself. One note - even though every PS2 can also play PS1 games, those games output 240p and this adapter won't pick it up, so be prepared to downgrade depend on the game. But, if you use a Progressive Scan 16:9 Widescreen game like God of War you'll be very pleased with the result.
  • Nintendo N64 - THIS is the most difficult console so far to get HDMI output from. There ARE solutions but they are few and far between and often out of stock. There's an RGB mod that will get you clean Red/Green/Blue outputs but not HDMI. You'll need to get the mod and then either do the soldering yourself or find a shop to do it for you. The holy grail is the UltraHDMI Mod but I have yet to find one and I'm not sure I want to pay $150 for it if I do.
    • The cheapest and easiest thing you can and should do with an N64 is get a Composite & C-Video converter box. This box will also do basic up-scaling as well, but remember, this isn't going to create pixels that aren't already there.
  • Dreamcast - There is an adapter from Akura that will get you all the way to HDMI but it's $85 and it's just for Dreamcast. I chose instead to use a Dreamcast to VGA cable, as the Dreamcast can do VGA natively, then a powered VGA to HDMI box. It doesn't upscale, but rather passes the original video resolution to your panel for upscaling. In my experience this is a solid budget compromise.

If you're ever in or around Portland/Beaverton, Oregon, I highly recommend you stop by Retro Game Trader. Their selection and quality is truly unmatched. One of THE great retro game stores on the west coast of the US.

The games and systems at Retro Game Trader are amazing Retro Game Trader has shelves upon shelves of classic games

For legal retrogames on a budget, I also enjoy the new "mini consoles" you've likely heard a lot about, all of which support HDMI output natively!

  • Super NES Classic (USA or Europe have different styles) - 21 classic games, works with HDMI, includes controllers
  • NES Classic - Harder to find but they are out there. 30 classic games, plus controllers. Tiny!
  • Atari Flashback 8 - 120 games, 2 controllers AND 2 paddles!
  • C64 Mini - Includes Joystick and 64 games AND supports a USB Keyboard so you can program in C64 Basic

8bitdo-sfc30-pro-controller-gamepad-538219.4In the vein of retrogaming, but not directly related, I wanted to give a shootout to EVERYTHING that the 8BitDo company does. I have three of their controllers and they are amazing. They get constant firmware updates, and particularly the 8Bitdo SF30 Pro Controller is amazing as it works on Windows, Mac, Android, and Nintendo Switch. It pairs perfectly with the Switch, I use it on the road with my laptop as an "Xbox" style controller and it always Just Works. Amazing product.

If you want the inverse - the ability to use your favorite controllers with your Windows, Mac, or Raspberry Pi, check out their Wireless Adapter. You'll be able to pair all your controllers and use them on your PC - Xbox One S/X Bluetooth controller, PS4, PS3, Wii Mote, Wii U Pro wirelessly on Nintendo Switch with DS4 Motion and Rumble features! NOTE: I am NOT affiliated with 8BitDo at all, I just love their products.

We are having a ton of fun doing this. You'll always be on the lookout for old and classic games at swap meets, garage sales, and friends' houses. There's RetroGaming conventions and Arcades (like Ground Kontrol in Portland) and an ever-growing group of new friends and enthusiasts.

This post uses Amazon Referral Links and I'll use the few dollars I get from YOU uses them to buy retro games for the kids! Also, go subscribe to the Hanselminutes Podcast today! We're on iTunes, Spotify, Google Play, and even Twitter! Check out the episode where Matt Phillips from Tanglewood Games uses a 1995 PC to great a NEW Sega Megadrive/Genesis game in 2018!


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About Scott

Scott Hanselman is a former professor, former Chief Architect in finance, now speaker, consultant, father, diabetic, and Microsoft employee. He is a failed stand-up comic, a cornrower, and a book author.

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The perfect Nintendo Switch travel set up and recommended accessories

November 2, '17 Comments [11] Posted in Gaming | Reviews
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I've had a Nintendo Switch since launch day and let me tell you, it's joyful. Joyous. It's a little joy device. I love 4k Xboxen and raw power as much as the next Jane or Joe Gamer, but the Switch just keeps pumping out happy games. Indie games, Metroidvania games like Axiom Verge, Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild (worth the cost of the system) and now, super Mario Odyssey. Even Doom and Wolfenstein 2 are coming to the Switch soon!

I've travelled already with my Switch all over. Here's what I've come up with for my travels - and my at-home Switch Experience. I owe and use these items personally - and I vouch for their awesomeness and utility.

BlueTooth Adapter

51hXseaPR-L._SL1000_

This TaoTronics BlueTooth adapter fixes the most obvious problem with the Switch - no blueooth headset support. If there is ever a Switch 1.5 release, you can bet they'll add Bluetooth. This device is great for a few reasons. It's small, it has its own rechargeable battery, it charges with micro USB, and it supports both transmit and receive. That's an added bonus in that it lets you turn any speakers with a 1/8" headphone jack into a BT speaker. Again, tiny and fits in my Switch case. I pair my Airpods with this device by putting the Airpods into pairing mode by putting the case button, then holding down the pairing button on this adapter, which promiscuously pairs. Works great.

Switch Travellers Case

91rXJJEHSyL._SL1500_

I have a Zelda version of this case. It's very roomy and I can fit a 3rd party stand, a dozen cartridges, BT adapter, headphones, screen wipes, and more inside. There's a number of options and styles past the link, including character cases.

Switch Joy-Con Gel Covers

61V4rW65TlL._SL1000_

These gel-covers - or ones like them - are essential. The Switch Joy-Cons are great for children's hands, but for normal/larger-sized people they are lacking something. It's not the cover, it's the extra depth these gel covers give you. I can't use the Switch without them.

HORI Compact Playstand

61Ly9jIq-cL._AC_

This is an airplane must. I want to use my Pro Controller one a plane - or at least detached Joy-Cons - so ideally I want to have the Switch stand on its own. The Switch does have its own kickstand, but honestly, it's flimsy. Works when the world isn't moving, but the angle is wrong and it tips over easily on a plane. This playstand folds flat, fits in the case above, and is very adjustable. It also works great to hold your phone or small tablet for watching movies, so it ends up playing double duty. Plus, it's $12.

Switch Grip Kit

gripkit

This one is optional UNLESS you have little kids and Mario Kart. When you're using Switch Joy-Cons as individual controllers, again, they are small. These turn them into tiny Xbox-style controllers. They are plastic holsters, but the kids love them.

HDMI Type C USB Hub Adapter for Switch

hdmiadapter

This can replace your not-portable Switch Dock. I didn't believe it would work but it's great. I can also fit this tiny Dongle in my Switch Case, and along with an HDMI cable and existing Switch power adapter I can plug the Switch into any hotel TV with HDMI. It's an amazing thing to be able to game in a hotel on a long business trip with minimal stuff to carry.

BASSTOP Portable Switch Dock

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Another docking option that requires some assembly and disassembly on your part is this Portable Dock. It's not the dock, it's just the plastic shell. You'll need to take apart your existing giant dock and discover it's all air. The internals of the official dock then fit inside this one.

What are YOUR must have Switch Accessories? And more important, WHY HAVE YOU NO BUY SWITCH?

* My blog often uses Amazon affiliate links. I use that money for tacos and switch games. Please click on them and support my blog!


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About Scott

Scott Hanselman is a former professor, former Chief Architect in finance, now speaker, consultant, father, diabetic, and Microsoft employee. He is a failed stand-up comic, a cornrower, and a book author.

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Disclaimer: The opinions expressed herein are my own personal opinions and do not represent my employer's view in any way.