Last year I went against my better judgment and pulled a dozen or more titles out of the 500 or so I had seen through 2013, and nailed them to the cathedral door as the “best” the year had to offer.
Against my better judgment again, I’m going to pluck out another dozen or so, and call them the “best” 2014 has offered up. It’s tired, hackneyed and boorish, but there were in fact some high points that deserve attention.
The problem is, the original list of software expired long ago, but new titles keep cropping up. And posting at the rather breakneck pace of two a day — sometimes a lot more — I’d have to sift through nearly a thousand programs to come up with best of the year.
And on top of that, some of what 2014 revealed didn’t really shine next to what I’d already seen in 2013. For example, I ran through a huge rasher of games this year — at least 20 a month in both October and November, just for starters — and yet the games I play the most aren’t out of the 2014 crop.
So here’s what I’ll do: Instead of just picking arbitrary “bests,” I’ll lump them into categories, and point to some highlights. This isn’t to say the titles here are the best available overall, and in some cases I’ll tell you the best, regardless of when it appeared. But here’s what sticks out in my mind, from twenty-fourteen. 😉
Screen glitz: neercs. The second-best reason to use a console program is to annoy the heck out of your fellow geek, and if you can do it while insulting their nerd credentials at the same time, then the universal pecking order shifts in your favor. This year saw the arrival of neercs on the scene, and nothing quite says “Kneel before Zod” like a 3D spinning ASCII desktop in a framebuffer virtual console. “Oh, you have a transparent 3D desktop? How quaint. Oh, you have windows that dissolve in fire and can spin your desktops like a cube? Uh, yeah, I was doing that back in ’06, with a 1Ghz machine and a video card with only 16Mb of memory. Your window panels cause ripples against your desktop wallpaper? Yawn. You better get with the times.” You can’t let the little pricks generation-gap you, Molly said. Fire up neercs, then practice rolling your eyes and sneering.
Runner-up: XaoS, which had enough frenetic fractality to cause the cruelest geek clique to implode in a paroxysm of inadequacy. Also-rans: consolecandy, as a clumsy but pretty music visualizer, and bb as … you know, I’m still not sure what bb is. But it looked good. 😉
Quickest shortcut to a geek beatdown: wifite. Speaking of insulting the integrity of your fellow geeks, nothing will backfire on you like bragging about cracking the local coffee shop wireless network with wifite. Alexander Pope said, “A little learning is a dangerous thing.” Of course, he also wrote about people cutting off other people’s hair :???:, so maybe Pope wasn’t as clever as he thought he was. Point being, if your best attempts at cracking wireless signals are piloted by wifite, you’re not going to impress anyone. Truth be told, wifite does an impeccable job streamlining the rather tedious process of cracking wireless signals, and does it with considerable visual panache and an unmatched level of convenience. But even the author agrees: If you don’t know what the heck you’re doing without this, you don’t know what the heck you’re doing with it either. 👿
Runner-up: Nobody. I couldn’t think of another program that was likely to embarrass you as much as saying you relied on wifite.
Fast directory switcher that isn’t a fast directory switcher: bashmarks. This year saw a lot of fast-directory switching solutions, which might lead you to believe that there was something inherently wrong with the
cd command. Some of them were quite complex. Some of them were quite intricate. And some of them were quite eccentric. bashmarks, by virtue of simplicity and providing the obvious solution, gets the red (blue?) ribbon this year. No complex heuristic analyses. No tracking directory patterns and predicting your next move. Just give it a destination and a nickname, and call it back when you want to go there. The shortest distance between two lines is a bookmark that takes you there.
Runner-up: commacd, which gets the blue (red?) ribbon for a gentle and comfortable approach that still carries enough power and flexibility to leap across yawning chasms in your $PWD. Just remember, for the love of all that is holy: Don’t call it a fast directory switcher. 😯 Also-rans: cdargs. I’m adding an honorable mention for pushd and popd as the zero-dependency option.
ASCII art editor: aewan. This was one of the more difficult selections, because out of the four or so ASCII art tools I’ve seen this year, each one had specific functions that either didn’t appear in another, or were handled less adroitly. Some could draw polygons and edit them. Some could draw pipe lines with ease. Some had paint roller effects, and some had transparency copy-and-pasting. But none of them had everything, which meant each one has its own selling point. In the end I had to pick aewan for its layer support, and for tying so many other functions to that feature. aewan falls down on things like easy line drawing or polygon cut-and-paste, but it was hard to deny its other shining points.
Runner-up: cavewall, which had so many other goodies, but no layers. Also-rans: textdraw, which had the uncanny ability to customize and edit polygons on screen, and duhdraw, which had the best line drawing tool.
Emulator epiphanies: tudu. You’d think that running through a thousand console programs in the course of the year would cause a certain level of indecision on what software to use at any given time. But it’s quite the opposite: Very few programs impress so much that they completely upset the apple cart. All the same tudu summarily ejected hnb from my system in a matter of minutes, mostly for picking up every feature hnb offered, and adding a dozen more I had always wanted. And among to-do task organizers, most everything else I tried — and believe me, I tried a lot of to-do task organizers 😯 — fell short in one way or another. tudu came, saw, and conquered.
Runners-up: tmsu, for making file tagging and organization suddenly cool, and stow, for twisting the reality of package management and remote dot-file synchronization all at once, if you can believe that. Also-rans: httrack, the whirling dervish of website copying.
Best tools I’ll just never use: tig. Last year I pointed out my own hypocrisy in advocating for so many non-emacs, non-vim text editor options, but never bothering to jump to jed. This year tig is definitely the one tool I just don’t have the opportunity to use, and wish I did. If you regularly rely on git and don’t want to wrangle with graphical interfaces to your repositories, tig is probably what you want. Yes, I do have a couple of tools uploaded to Github, but best I could do with tig is probably sit and stare at them. 😐
Runner-up: slrn and tin, both of which worked fine but soon lost their lustre through no fault of their own. The “quality” of newsgroup postings is sometimes … questionable. … 😕 Also-rans: cuse, because I just don’t know what I’m doing with a midi sequencer, and ht, a near-perfect editor intended for executables, which is totally lost on me. 😦
Best thing I’ve heard all year: soma. Discounting outright music players, none of which seemed to spark my enthusiasm, soma was unusual enough and well designed enough to fulfill what seemed like a Unix trifecta: Do one thing, use the tools at hand, give people the freedom to customize. And the simple combination of dialog and mplayer meant it was just as usable in a framebuffer console as the heaviest, most esoteric terminal emulator. If every tool was as straightforward and simple as soma, the world would be a better place. Now let’s all hold hands and sing Kumbaya. … 😛
Runner-up: mps-youtube, for offering the best text-only YouTube interface, bar none. Also-rans: soundcloud2000, for a clean and attractive interface to a site I unfortunately have no interest in, and timidity++ for making me feel like less of a dunce about midi playback. 🙄
Sweetest suite: ncurses-examples. Probably never intended as a complete package of its own, ncurses-examples was a giggly little grab bag of this-and-that, some functional and some not. While a few of its members split from the band and had fruitful careers as solo artists (such as bs), there was still enough good fun in this package to make it worth downloading, compiling and running piece by piece, in hopes of finding something new. Given its age, it’s unlikely you’ll find anything that will completely rewrite your text-only lifestyle, but sometimes it’s just fun to try out random things, and see what becomes of them.
Runners-up: bsd-games and coreutils, both of which are more fun than a barrel of monkeys on a rainy day in May. Also-rans: datamash, which is fantastic for statistics, and the inotify triplets, which were mind-bending as a bonus.
Compare and contrast: ncdu. You can cry foul if you want, since ncdu is hardly new, and only cropped up in 2014 by virtue of the alphabet. And you could complain to the judges since it has no color, but the fickle hand of fate will work against you on both counts. ncdu is the console analogue for all the embossed display tools and cutesy circular dial meters for file size comparison. But ncdu is smart enough to know that what you’re really after is a list of hogs, and how to hunt them down. And it adds some fundamental file management commands, so once you find a pig, you can terminate it … with extreme prejudice.
Runner-up: dfc, which does a better job displaying and conveying disk usage than most any other tool, graphical or not. Also-rans: ngp, which stood out in my memory more than other grep-like search tools. And sl, which deserves better for being a huge improvement on
ls, and being relatively unknown too.
Audio tag editor: stag. It bewilders me to think there were actually enough candidates to flesh out this category; looking back, you’d think 2014 was The Year of the Linux Text-Based Audio Tag Editor. There were plenty of one-shot mass tag writing tools, but only maybe three (or four, if you were liberal in your interpretation) that the judges admitted into the category as a full-featured editor. stag took the cake, winning on the grounds that it did the job intuitively, covered most of the desired functions, and completed the task without error. And in doing so, won the inaugural award. The judges are looking forward to next year. … 🙂
Runner-up: ncmpcpp, which incorporates a very impressive tag editor as part of the player, which is either good or bad depending on your perspective. Also-ran: cursetag, which did a great job but suffered some internal problems; and bashtagger, which accomplished most of the same tasks for flac and ogg files, but missed out on other points.
The grab-bag: nbwmon stood out as the quintessential network monitor this year, even if it didn’t really add much to the genre. … Once I knew what qodem was, it was a true piece of text-based genius. … imgcurses was definitely at the top of the heap when it came to the chore of image-to-text conversion. … yapet perfected the art of password storage, plus some. … sncli was the to-do list manager with the most unusual set of features. … starchart made me feel less lost in the universe, without ever leaving my virtual console. … speedpad was the clean winner among typing tutors, especially for the advanced pupil. … pscpug rewrote process monitoring in a simple and straightforward way. … tabview made me wish I had more csv files to work with. … fzf helped me make some decisions. … nmon told me everything about everything. … txt2regex is terrifically useful but not something I have occasion to use more than once a year, probably. …
Game of the year: And now, the category everyone has been waiting for — especially since heavy-hitters like Cataclysm: DDA, and Gearhead 2 and Dungeon Crawl: Stone Soup are out of contention. And with the proliferation of roguelike titles that appeared late this year, there’s going to be some serious jockeying for position.
Of course, if you had been watching the old blog a couple of months ago, you’d probably realize that I already pointed out some of the stronger candidates, and they’ll no doubt take slots here. All the same, I’ll let you decide if this is a fair list. Brace yourself. …
- empire: The sheer level of detail in the game, and the scope of time it will take to play, are the two biggest reasons to include this, as a great multiplayer online real-time empire-building strategy game. Unfortunately, those are also its greatest drawbacks, since learning the game is an enormous investment, and playing it is yet another. … 😯
- dopewars: The *nix version of the 80’s classic is a broad sweeping mix of three or four different games and economic simulations, all sprinkled with a healthy dose of illicit drug trade and prostitution. dopewars is no angel, but it has a fantastic interface, lots of color and believe it or not … sound! 😆
- scribble: I have been brushing aside Scrabble-esque titles since about 1998, when it became clear that there wasn’t much to be gained in going head to head against a program optimized for speed and points, and armed with a dictionary designed to include words like “zymurgy.” 😐 scribble, on the other hand, was very playable, very easy to learn and didn’t make me feel like I was pitted against the Imperious Leader.
- angband: Angband was one of the strongest roguelikes I saw this year, winning for depth, atmosphere and playability — points that were probably attributable at least in part to Tolkien and Gygax. The roguelike genre is in dire need of a makeover anyway, to bring it into line with the demands of the newest generations of text-based dungeon crawls. But Angband managed to contort itself to the largest of displays and never trip over its own feet.
- robohack: It’s hard imagine a text-based rewrite of the arcade classic Robotron 2084, yet for all the shortcomings of the medium, robohack manages to pull it off. It’s fast, colorful, and clever, but most of all fun.
- sail: Sail is memorable for its intense levels of detail and fidelity to an ancient tabletop strategy game, and deserves inclusion on those points alone. But more than that, sail is proof that you don’t need expansive, highly detailed, incredibly taxing graphics — what you need is just a good game.
- adom: adom is the best roguelike title I know of that doesn’t confine itself to just the downward expedition through a single dungeon. adom adds geography, quests, NPC interactions and a mess of other features that put it more into the category of a modern roleplaying action game … just in ncurses. 😉
- yetris: Yetris is an all-around winner among text-based games, adding lovely animation effects, an overabundance of color and an assertive use of the space available on the screen. Yetris may only be one of a thousand Tetris clones, but it commandeers your terminal so aggressively and with such authority, you probably won’t remember any of the others.
- curseofwar: If you think a real-time strategy game with population controls, fortifications, combat and growth models is impossible in a text-based format, well … you just haven’t tried Curse of War yet. And since it’s still under active development, there’s no reason not to expect Curse of War to expand beyond the design it holds now.
- cboard: At long last, a chess game that doesn’t play like a child’s flip book, or some sort of autistic attempt at a Turing test. Full color, full control over the screen, full game history and full board editing, plus pop-up help menus and sane controls. Now … if only I wasn’t such a dunce about chess in the first place. …
- ttysolitaire: A good computer card game by any meterstick, ttysolitaire brought together the classic rules, added fantastic color and graphics, gave it lightning-fast controls, and created the be-all, end-all text-based solitaire game. Do not miss this one.
And so, drum roll, please. …
- starlanes: There is a measure of irony in holding up the best game I saw in 2014, knowing full well that timestamps on some source files date back to 1997. But Starlanes is easy to learn and quickly addictive, with plenty of surprises and challenges. It’s a thinking game and not so much an action game, except perhaps when a black hole swallows your entire shipping corporation in one swirling gulp. But you can’t put it down once you start. Like I said months ago, Starlanes is original, obvious, easy to control, visually concise, colorful, intelligent, challenging, strategic and surprising. But more than that, it’s proof that a good game is really just a good game, no matter what environment you’re confined to.
That’s all, folks. See you tomorrow, for the cold realization that this decade is half over already. 😯