I’m amazed you’re even reading this. Not because the quality of the prose is lacking in this week’s roundup of open-source and freeware applications, mind you. Rather, if you haven’t noticed by the coverage (and advertising) permeating just about every known tech site in the universe right now, Starcraft 2 just came out. It’s a miracle I’ve been able to tear myself away from defending humanity to write this but, well, my heart for free software is just too strong.
While it would be awesome to give you some kind of “Top 5 ways to get Starcraft 2 for free” article or something like that, it’s just not happening. And no, before you ask, there really aren’t any launchers or applications specifically designed for the game that can give you some kind of competitive edge or awesome third-party tie-in just yet. Wishful, if not silly thinking, no?
However, that’s not to say that applications don’t exist that could otherwise enhance your Starcraft 2 gaming experience in some capacity. Like I said, nothing’s been written specifically for the title, but there are a number of useful, free apps that you can use to otherwise bolster your gaming-life-that-just-so-happens-to-be-Blizzard’s-latest-title. I apologize for the tongue-twistedness of it all; simply put, you can use the following 5 apps to make Starcraft 2—or any game—rock just a little bit more.
This one used to happen to me in middle school computer class all the time. You finish your work early and think that you’re going to outsmart everyone by firing up some Duke Nukem for the remaining 30 minutes of class—you’re in the back row so nobody will notice, right? You double-tap the executable and… blammo. Duke Nukem’s theme song is blaring from the PC speakers and you’ve just earned yourself a one-way ticket to some time after school.
Auto Mute is a program that’s designed to prevent such a situation from occurring (and foster stealthy game playing) by automatically muting your speakers whenever your system starts up. It’s as simple as that—a somewhat small utility in its execution but one that’s nevertheless a real lifesaver when you don’t want others to hear what you’re up to (if the incessant clicking doesn’t give it away, that is).
This one’s just fun. Suppose you, like me, are extraordinarily lazy and would much prefer to come home to all the lights in your apartment already on, the dinner cooking, the tv playing your favorite show, and your favorite beverage of choice simmering on the coffee table. Well, Start My Day is the digital equivalent of being able to have Starcraft 2—or any app or game—up-and-running the moment you walk in the door.
Simply put, use this app to schedule when you want the various programs on your system to run. You can set them to auto-start with Windows (boring) or at a specific time all alarm-clock style (awesome). Because nothing says “I’m home from work” like a fresh batch of Zerg killing.
Let nothing stand between one’s game and one’s system settings. In this case, I’m referring to configuration options like the various volume levels you can set for individual programs in Windows 7, your screen’s brightness, and other various settings you can toggle in the OS. Volmouse is a simple application that allows you to assign hotkey and mouse wheel combinations to such settings. In effect, this gives you a way to alter Windows properties like sound, brightness, and transparency just by holding a predetermined key and flicking your finger.
Recording videos from the various games you play (for Youtube-based bragging rights) is a real pain in the Protoss. And while the open-source app Taksi makes it a lot easier to get these movies from most titles on your system, it’s not and end-all solution for all titles. I haven’t gotten a chance to try this myself with ol’ Starcraft 2, but some users have reported that it doesn’t work very well with Blizzard’s latest creation. Suffice, it’s completely free and allows you to specify the custom codec by which your movies will eventually, er, be saved. Take that, Fraps?
As always, I’ve saved the big one for last. Let nobody touch your multitude of saved games, achievements, and general Starcraft 2 record awesomeness, for it would be a real shame if a friend, roommate, or loved one got on your account and started losing game, after game, after game. Get the point?
The handy utility GameProtector allows you to password-lock any game on your system such that nobody will be able to log on as you (or merely fire up the game) and affect your hard-earned accolades in any fashion. Your saved games will be safe; your perfect multiplayer record will stay pristine; and you will probably be hated by anyone you share a living quarters with. But, hey, they’re your games! Nobody else’s!
David Murphy (@ Acererak) is a technology journalist and former Maximum PC editor. He writes weekly columns about the wide world of open-source as well as weekly roundups of awesome, freebie software. He probably needs to go spawn some more overlords now, however.