AppleScript for playing Rifftrax

Anyone that knows me, knows that I am a huge fan of Mystery Science Theater 3000 and, an off-shoot of that, Rifftrax. One of the great things about Rifftrax is that they sell some MP3-only commentaries. Since they don’t need to license the movie, they can target summer blockbusters like Star Wars: Rogue One, Twilight, and Harry Potter. The only downside to this is that you have to sync up the audio of the MP3 to the movie’s audio. This isn’t too big a deal, especially with Rifftrax’s new auto-syncing application for your phone. That said, sometimes I prefer to watch Rifftrax on my computer for the convenience of the audio coming from the single source (my laptop speakers).

At the beginning of a Rifftrax commentary, instructions are given for when to pause the MP3 and at what point in the movie to un-pause the MP3. That way, the jokes will line up with the movie audio. I will watch movies using VLC and listen to the commentary using QuickTime. Easy, right? But what happens when you need to pause the movie? You have two separate applications playing and, no matter how fast you are, you will not be able to hit the pause buttons of both applications at the same time.

To deal with this issue, I wrote up an AppleScript to hit pause on both applications when running the script. Compiling this script to an application, I can place it in the Dock of my Macintosh when playing a Rifftrax and click to stop and resume at any time. It is a really simple little script to handle this:

tell application "QuickTime Player"
    if document 1 is playing then
        pause document 1
    else
        play document 1
    end if
end tell
tell application "VLC"
    play
end tell

I think the code is pretty readable. QuickTime needs to be told to play or pause the audio if the file is actually being played or not. VLC will just toggle between the two so we don’t need to bother checking. To use this script, simply paste the code into Script Editor, which should have come with your Macintosh, and Export the script as an Application.

Export as Application

That is all there is to it. “It’s time for Rifftrax.”

“Indie Game” – Movie Review

It has been a while since I saw the first installment of “Indie Game,” a documentary that showcases independent game developers and their creations. Included in “Indie Game” are Super Meat BoyFezand Braid, which have been recent stand-out games. I noticed on Netflix that a “follow-up” documentary was available for viewing, “Indie Game: After Life.” I really enjoyed the first movie, so I dove right in and was not disappointed.

As a retro gamer, I have a yearning for earlier generations of game creation where a small team, or even a single person, could have inspiration and drive and create an entire game. Obviously the game industry is a lot different now with teams and budgets rivaling those of Hollywood films and while modern blockbuster games are great, there is something special about a single programmer’s vision. It feels much more like a person’s artistic expression. Part of the mystique, of course, was the thought… “maybe I could do that.”

One thing that “Indie Game” makes clear is that creating a game is not a simple endeavor. They are suffering for their art – grueling hours in front of their computers. The persistence and overwhelming amount of work that these creators put into their games is nothing short of amazing. You cannot help but root for their success. It is inspiring to see people so creative and passionate. And it is gratifying to see that there is a market for unconventional entertainment. There are no focus groups here – just a blind faith that what they are making will find an audience.

Watching a movie like this always inspires me. I think that our society has gotten to be incredibly cynical, something touched on in “Life After,” and seeing the passion of the developers is heartwarming. It is easy to be hypercritical without considering the energy put into these projects – years of hard work where the chance of success is slim – and putting a face to the people behind the product is a refreshing change of pace.

“Man vs. Snake” – Movie Review

I just caught “Man vs. Snake – The Long and Twisted Tale of Nibbler” on Netflix and this is the kind of retro and nostalgia that I love. I think that “Man vs. Snake” could almost be a spiritual sequel to the popular video game movie, “King of Kong.” You have some of the same cast of characters – Billy Mitchell and Walter Day are both present as well as a historical rundown of the Twin Galaxies Arcade. For viewers of “King of Kong,” much of this material will be very familiar. That said, the story is very well presented with some fun animation.

Like “King of Kong,” there is competition between multiple players trying to attain the high score for an arcade game, in this case Nibbler. If you’ve played a variation of the game “Snake” on a cellphone or old computer, you have an idea of the gameplay. On this journey, there is some question regarding possible chicanery in the quest for a high score. But, mostly, it is the story of a person challenging himself to try to attain a goal that few people could imagine. Unlike Donkey Kong, Nibbler is a game that people “marathon” for a high score, or play for extremely long periods of time. The players build up a cache of extra lives to allow themselves breaks and play up to and beyond 40 hours in a single high score attempt.

I actually never ran into a Nibbler game when I was growing up – or, if I did, I don’t remember ever seeing it. And there is a humorous part of the movie talking about Nibbler’s dubious claim to fame in video game history. It normally is not thought of when talking about the classics we all remember like PacMan and Asteroids. However, the long play sessions possible in Nibbler allowed for players, for the first time ever, to possibly achieve a billion points on a game. No kill screen here. So, it isn’t fond memories of pumping tokens into Nibbler as a child that makes the story so compelling for me. Instead, it is the general nostalgia for these arcade games and a person’s quest to try to persevere and achieve arcade glory.

I really loved “Man vs. Snake.” It is the story of someone ordinary attempting to accomplish something extraordinary. It is so refreshing to see a celebration of someone “normal” – in so much as someone who can play an arcade game for 40 hours is normal. If you enjoyed “King of Kong” or “Chasing Ghosts” then I think you’ll really enjoy “Man vs. Snake.” And as much as I liked “King of Kong,” this movie didn’t have as much of a “soap opera” feel to it which I appreciated.

“From Bedrooms to Billions” Movie Review

From Bedrooms to BillionsThose who know me know that I am hopelessly mired in the past. I have a working Atari 7800 and an Atari Jaguar (and regret parting with my Atari Lynx and Falcon). I still like 80s music, tv shows and movies. And I make regular pilgrimages to Funspot in New Hampshire, a great classic arcade to scratch that itch periodically.

So, I am really the target audience for a movie like “Bedrooms to Billions,” a documentary about the computer programming renaissance that occurred in the U.K. during the 80s with the introduction of 8 and 16-bit home computers. While I didn’t have any exposure to more European-centric machines like the famous ZX Spectrum, I did get some keyboard time on Atari 8-bits and STs as well as Commodore 64s and Amigas. I was a big fan of the underdog machines and was disappointed to see them disappear when the computer market became boring commoditized PC clones. And, I happen to be a web developer these days so I am still passionate about computers.

Yet, and it pains me to say, I found “Bedrooms to Billions” to be fairly boring. Many of the stories are very matter-of-fact and there wasn’t much depth given to the people behind the software and the machines. I wanted more of a sense of the work environments in those days and some of the inspiration behind the games. Much of the information seemed to be of the variety of how much shipments grew year-over-year. The end of the documentary ends on a discussion of computer science education in the UK today.

Another disappointment for me was that there was very little Atari talk. Obviously, I am biased but I was hoping for more discussion of the Atari ST which was very big in Britain and really led the charge in the 16-bit era before being overtaken by Commodore’s Amiga. The movie seemed to be heavily weighted toward the ZX Spectrum to me and really breezed by later machines.

There certainly is some good things to say about “Bedrooms to Billions.” From the beginning credits, it is obvious that this a well put-together production. Some really cool graphics and chip tunes really got me excited for the movie to begin. And, the few personal stories were interesting. I just couldn’t help but think that Jeff Minter would have a fascinating story or two. It was cool to see folks I really admire like Jeff Minter and Peter Molyneux. I also learned a bit about the ZX Spectrum which, as a kid growing up in the United States, I knew very little about.

In the end, I don’t think I can really recommend “Bedrooms to Billions.” I was hoping for more fun stories like those in Steven Levy’s “Hackers” or Howard Scott Warshaw’s “Once Upon Atari.” I am sure that many people will like this more straightforward run through computer history but, for me, it just didn’t hold my interest.