iOS & Mac how-tos

How to sync Mac XCOM saved games using Dropbox

UPDATE: XCOM is now available on Steam for Macs, but beware – it’s not the Elite Edition. You can buy the standard edition and the relevant DLC from Steam but at regular prices it’s cheaper to just buy the Elite Edition elsewhere. If you want to sync your saves over Steam, that’s the version to buy. If you’re using the non-Steam version, read on 🙂

ORIGINAL STORY: XCOM: Enemy Unknown – Elite Edition for the Mac ($50 on the Mac App Store) is not available on Steam and doesn’t use iCloud so there’s no way to sync your saved games between multiple computers running XCOM. Don’t despair! Here’s how you can use a free Dropbox account to do just that.

First off, this is all much easier if you install the Symbolic Link service I wrote about in this post, otherwise you need to use the Terminal command line. If you know how to create symbolic links in the command line and prefer that method, go for it, but this tutorial assumes you’ve installed the symlink tool available here.

You’ll also need a Dropbox account with a few MB free to store the XCOM SaveData folder. If you don’t have one, a basic free account is all you need and you can even get a bit of extra storage by signing up via my links.

Locate the Mac XCOM saved games

First, choose the computer which contains your ‘master’ saves, the ones you want to sync to other machines. They are stored in the Application Support folder, which lives in the user’s Library folder, which is hidden by default. To open it, in the Finder select the Go menu, then hold down Alt and select the Library item which appears. Now navigate to Application Support -> Feral Interactive -> XCOM Enemy Unknown – Elite Edition’.

Alternatively, from the Finder type Command-Shift-G and enter ‘~/Library/Application Support/Feral Interactive/XCOM Enemy Unknown – Elite Edition’ and press Return.

See the SaveData folder in the XCOM folder? That’s what we’re going to sync in Dropbox.

Move the saved games to Dropbox

Now open up your Dropbox folder in a second Finder window, for ease of dragging-and-dropping. It doesn’t matter where in Dropbox you move the SaveData folder to, but because I have a few apps using this syncing system I’ve replicated the Library -> Application Support -> ‘ApplicationName’ folder hierarchy so I can always find things later.

Drag the SaveData folder from the XCOM folder into your chosen location in Dropbox, making sure it’s moved rather than copied.

Now right-click the SaveData folder in its new home in Dropbox and select ‘Make Symbolic Link’ in the contextual menu.

Move the newly-created symlink (which will probably be called ‘SaveData symlink’) back to the original location in the XCOM folder in Application Support, then edit the name so it just reads ‘SaveData’.

Set up your other computers

On each computer you want to use, find the newly-synced SaveData folder in your Dropbox and create a new symlink to it as before, then drop that symlink into that computer’s XCOM Application Support location described above, delete the one that’s already there (assuming there are no saves in there you want to keep!), and rename the symlink to ‘SaveData’.

That’s it!

Now whenever you manually save in XCOM the game saves to the SaveData folder in Dropbox; once the new save file uploads to DB you can continue the game on any Mac or PC you link to your DB account.

A few notes:

• this doesn’t sync AutoSaves so remember to manually save before you quit;

• if you later move the SaveData folder to another location in Dropbox you’ll need to recreate the symlinks or they’ll stop working;

• finally, with this unofficial method of Dropbox syncing it’s usually advisable to only run the app on one computer at a time in case conflicts are introduced, but it shouldn’t matter in this case as saves are only read once while loading so technically you shouldn’t need to worry about it.

You’re all done – enjoy!


iOS & Mac how-tos

Star Command tips & tricks to avoid frustration

Star Command is a frustrating, fiddly, poorly-thought-out attempt to put you in command of a starship. If you need some tips and tricks to make it less frustrating and tedious, you came to the right place.

Tip 1

Head over to the FTL site, buy their game for Mac, Linux and PC.

Tip 2

Delete Star Command and try to forget about the coffee you could have bought with that cash instead.

Tip 3

Play FTL and get to really command a starship, with crew that don’t need to change jersey just to fire a phaser or pick up a spanner, and weapons that don’t require you to play a stupid timing game just to fire them at the enemy, where dying and starting over with a new crew and a new map is all part of the fun and is actively encouraged, and you can pause the action to issue orders to your crewmen, which doesn’t slow down when things get tricky, and doesn’t crash because you’re using a device that’s just over a year old…

There, that was easy! 😉

iOS & Mac how-tos

How to change the menubar icons in Radium 3

Purchased Radium 3 and hate the new menu bar icon? Me too. Would you like to change the menubar icon back to the radio from Radium 2? Me too! Welcome 🙂

I was a long-time user of Radium 2 and recently purchased the update to Radium 3 on the Mac App Store. While the functional improvements are worth the upgrade, the new icon feels like a huge step backward. It used to be a lovely radio and it’s now a chocolate heart – apparently because when you think ‘internet radio streaming for Mac’ you think of the sort of gift-box confectionary you buy your girlfriend on Valentine’s Day, right? I know I do.


I can put up with the main icon because I’ll never see it (the app launches automatically at startup), but I’d love the radio back in the menu bar because it makes more sense to me. With a tiny bit of effort, and your copy of Radium 2, you can change it yourself, so I did.

Let’s fix Radium 3’s menubar icons

I happen to still have Radium 2 but some may not. I considered putting just the pertinent image files together in a zip and putting it online but I have a feeling somebody would object to that on the grounds of copyright. Technically you could drop any images in there, though.

If you do still have your copy of Radium 2, select it in the Finder, then right-click and select Open Package Contents. If you’ve never done this before, it isn’t dangerous if you follow these instructions. An application icon is just a fancy folder that ‘runs’ its contents instead of showing them to you when you double-click its icon. So long as we only touch the image files we want to change, we’ll be fine.

Open ‘Contents’, then ‘Resources’, then scroll down the list until you come to a bunch of .png files that start with ‘Radium-status’. There should be six of them, highlighted in the picture below.


Keep that window open on your desktop. Now open a new window, navigate to your copy of Radium 3 (the Magical Musical Chocolate For Your Ears) and do the same thing; right-click, Open Package Contents, click on Contents, click on Resources. Again, this isn’t dangerous if you follow these instructions, but if by some chance you do mess something else up, don’t worry! Just delete the entire Radium 3 app from your computer and re-download it from the Mac App Store for free, done!

Okay, so now scroll down the Resources list until you find a series of files that start ‘menubaricon‘, highlighted in the picture below.


What we’re going to do is copy over the relevant image files from Radium 2 and drop them into Radium 3’s Resources folder, replacing the heart icons. This means the replacement files need to be named exactly the same as the existing files.

Go back to the window with the Radium 2 Resource window. Select all six ‘Radium-status’ icons. Hold down Alt and drag those six icons to your desktop; note that a green + symbol appears next to your cursor. That means we’re duplicating the icons onto the Desktop, rather than working with the only copies we have, which will remain in the Radium 2 folder.

Once copied, select all six again, right-click and select ‘New Folder with Selection (6 items)’. Call this folder something like ‘Radium 2 icons’.

All this is just house-keeping, making sure you keep your copy of Radium 2 safe. The important stuff is next.

Now select the Radium 3 Resources window in the Finder and let’s take a look at the icons we’re about to replace. There are two ‘busy’ icons (the heart with the dot that switches sides), a ‘disabled’ version, a ‘regular’ version, a ‘pressed’ version and a ‘success’ icon which is just a checkmark.

So we need to decide which icons from Radium 2 we’re going to use to replace the Radium 3 hearts. First off, we can ignore the checkmark – just leave that as is. Next, the ‘busy’ icons; I selected the ‘Radium-status-c0’ and ‘Radium-status-c1’ icons for this – they show the radio icon with the antenna fully and partially extended.

Rename ‘Radium-status-c0.png‘ to ‘menubar_icon_busy_1.tiff‘, making sure to spell it exactly right, including underscores, and when your Mac asks you if you really want to use the .tiff extension, confirm that you do.

Next, rename ‘Radium-status-c1.png‘ to ‘menubar_icon_busy_2.tiff.’ And that’s the ‘busy’ icons done.

For the ‘disabled’ icon I chose the ‘inv’ version from Radium 2. So rename ‘Radium-status-inv.png‘ to ‘menubar_icon_disabled.tiff‘.

Next we replace the ‘pressed’ version; this is what’s shown when you click on the menubar icon to display the drop-down interface. Radium 2 doesn’t really have an equivalent so I chose to forego the effect (it’s barely noticeable anyway) and just duplicated the standard R2 menubar icon and used that; select ‘Radium-status.png’, duplicate it with Command-D to create ‘Radium-status Copy.png‘, then rename this new file to ‘menubar_icon_pressed.tiff‘.

Now rename the original copy of ‘Radium-status.png‘ to ‘menubar_icon_normal.tiff‘.

You should now have seven icons in your ‘Radium 2 icons’ folder on your desktop, as pictured below; five renamed icons, and two leftovers that we haven’t touched.


Now to insert them into Radium 3! Bring up your Radium 3 Resources window, then select the five icons we renamed in the ‘Radium 2 icons’ folder, and drag them into the Radium 3 Resources window. You’ll be told the operation can’t be completed and asked for your Admin password. Enter that and the files will be copied. Select to ‘Replace’ each one when asked.

Now your Radium 3 Resources window should look like this (I’ve highlighted the bits you should be looking at):


Notice that where there were five variations on a heart, and a checkmark, there are now five variations on a radio, and a checkmark.

Now launch Radium 3 and hope for the best! If you see this:


… then you’re all done!


This is a total hack. It will probably revert back to the heart icons again if you apply a future update from the Mac App Store – that’s if the MAS even recognises it as an official app now that we’ve dropped new resources into the package. But your re-icon’d copy of Radium 3 should function just fine and if you do need to revert back at any point you can simply delete the app manually and re-download for free.

Enjoy your new, old version of Radium 3!

Featured iOS & Mac how-tos

Nimble Quest Tips & Tricks

Or ‘How to not suck at Nimble Quest’

nimble-quest-tips-tricks-guideNimble Quest (iOS App Store, Free; Mac App Store, Free) is the first freemium game I’ve not deleted the moment I felt the inevitable pinch of its in-app currency model, because it turns out even when you’re grinding for gems it’s still a great game of Snake. You can read my review of Nimble Quest over here (including my thoughts on its not-so-welcome freemium aspects).

Death is not the end!

Well, it is and it isn’t. Nimble Quest is as much a ‘Roguelike’ as it is a ‘Snakelike’ which means you’re expected to die, a lot. Don’t let it get you down – every play earns you Gems, Tokens and EXP so pick a new Leader and head back in.

Pleasingly, there’s some tactical depth you can use to help make your next run that bit longer. Here’s some tips and tricks I’ve picked up that should guide you through your next Nimble Quest, ranging from the best choices for leader to tactical advice on the field.

These are just what works for me, but feel free to contribute your own suggestions in the comments.

  • pull a 180 – approach an enemy from the front, or aim to cross it’s path from the side, and quickly turn twice timing it so the U-bend in your chain is in range of them as they pass, walloping them with blows from your heroes. This works to keep your Leader out of trouble and the enemies exposed to the widest range of attacks.
  • don’t stretch out too often – once your chain is filled out, moving in a long straight line too often leaves you open to unexpected attacks from the side that you won’t be able to react to quickly enough; ‘slither’ your snake in a loose pattern to keep them closer together and able to defend each other.
  • do your best Spidey – crossing the center of the map as enemies are swarming can be fatal. By staying closer to the sides of the maps as you move around your team will be able to focus on fewer enemies at once, taking them out quicker. Just don’t get too close to the walls! zThis also leads nicely onto:
  • keep your distance – there’s no need to get too close to enemies once you’ve got a healthy selection of ranged weapons in your lineup – fireballs, arrows, bullets, bombs, magic, and so on. Keep a ‘tank’ like Uther and his long lance in the front in case anyone gets in your face, then let the ranged weapons pick everyone off from a distance in combination with pull a 180 above.
  • cut off the head – if you can manoeuvre into position without taking too much heat yourself, vanquishing the leader of an enemy chain will take out the whole chain. Attack from head-on rather than running up alongside an enemy chain because if they turn across your path unexpectedly it’ll be curtains for your team, but when doing so try to give yourself a good run up so you don’t get close enough for an accidental collision.
  • "it came from… behind!" – enemies like knights can’t attack behind them, so bring your team in from the rear to pick them off. You’ll not have as good access to the enemy chain leader, but you’ll be in a much stronger defensive position.
  • lead with Gizmo or Uther – leading with your bomb expert is risky at the start as he’s a little underpowered to take 100% of the heat, but once you get him levelled up his ranged bomb attacks are very effective at softening up the enemies for the rest of your team to mop up effortlessly; just get used to keeping him away from close combat. Uther makes a great ‘tank’ style Leader with a long lance that’s perfect for leading head-on attacks although bear in mind he’s almost useless attacking anything that’s not in front of him, making him one of the least effective heroes when not in the lead. But just brushing up on your attack and defence manoeuvres can make any hero a fun choice to lead with, really.
  • Gems heal – the only way to heal your chained Heroes is by collecting elixirs, but your Leader can also be healed by collecting Gems so when on their last legs divert them away from head-on action and let the rest of the chain take the heat, then swoop back in to hoover up the booty
  • save Retries for times of need – when you tragically faceplant off a wall it’s tempting to spend a Token on a retry, especially as you retain all your purchased power-ups, but unless you’re more than a dozen levels in or close to unlocking a new Hero consider just starting another run and spending that Token on the Attack Speed power up instead. Remember each subsequent Retry that run will cost you double the Tokens – 1, 2, 4, 8…
  • power up early – at the start of the game and between arenas you can spend Tokens on power-ups. It lasts for the entire run so buy them early to get the most ‘value for money’ from them.
  • pick the right power-up for the job – if Tokens are tight I recommend the Attack Speed as the one to go for, particularly if you’re leading with a strong but slow hero. Works particularly well with ranged heroes, especially if it’s stacked with a dropped Attack Speed. Health makes a strong second purchase if you have the Tokens to spare, but it’s not worth getting for the the early levels once you have an experienced team, just in case you lose to a clumsy mis-turn…
  • level up early – get all of your team up to One Star as soon as possible. The boost applies even if they’re not the Leader, and a chain of half a dozen One Star heroes is considerably more effective than ten Zero Star heroes. But resist the temptation to buy those One Star levels.
  • spend Gems on power-ups first – you can spend Gems to buy Stars for your heroes, or on permanently increasing the effectiveness of power-ups. Spend it on the power-ups first; it’s tempting to spend it on your heroes but you’ll get far more from the improved power-ups in the short and long term.
  • “why are you hitting yourself?” – the longer your chain grows, the more likely you are to accidentally double back on yourself when it gets hectic – unlike traditional Snake games, this won’t result in Instadeath, but it will wipe out every hero you bump into in the process, so be careful out there!
  • enter the Arena – the online Arena competition costs a Token per game to enter, but once you’ve upgraded your team and picked up some skills it’s a good way to earn a few Tokens every couple of days, awarded for placing inside the top few hundred in your guild if your guild places well themselves. Try #TOUCHARCADE to join players from the popular iOS gaming forum.
  • follow the bullets – enemies are often off-screen, but your ranged heroes will fire at them if they come within their range. If you can’t find the next enemy and there’s only a few left (check the bar at the top of the screen which fills as you eliminate enemies), carefully lead your conga-line into the middle of the arena and pay attention to where your team are firing.

Okay, that’s yer lot for now – if you’ve got more tips that deserve to be on the list, drop them in the comments below!

iOS & Mac how-tos iOS & Mac reviews

How to add text to Instagram photos with Over (and Photolettering)

Instagram text 06Recently I’ve often found myself wanting to add a bit of amusing or descriptive text to a photo I’m tweeting, sending to friends or posting to Instagram. Of course, there’s no option to add text to Instagram photos within the app itself, so you’ll need to look to other apps.

I did a little asking around and two apps came back in recommendations so I gave them both a good go. After a few short bouts there was a conclusive winner, which I will now present to you by employing an over-stretched boxing metaphor:

The Contenders

In the Red Corner, suggested by friends, we have Over ($1.99), a Universal app which includes 30 eyecatching and fun fonts and offers dozens (and dozens!) more ‘standard’ fonts for a single in-app-purchase of 99c. To be fair, you can easily do without these as the ones included are great.

In the Blue Corner, recommended by no less than John Gruber amongst others, we have Photolettering (Free), an iPhone-only app which offers 3 fonts at first, with 20 more fonts available to purchase for 99c each, or $9.99 for all 20. The complete set is comparable in style and diversity to those included in Over.

Round one – value for money

On this basis Over clearly wins. Photolettering might be free but buying its full complement of fonts will run to five times the price of Over’s basic cost, and Over still has more choice. Furthermore, the three basic fonts it comes with are pretty bland.

It could be that for what Photolettering is offering, their ‘buy everything’ price is more realistic and fair to both them and the customer, and I’m all for that. But Over offers considerably more variety for the same price Photolettering charges for just two extra fonts, let alone Over’s vast range of standard fonts included in the single in-app purchase available.

A selection of Over's thirty available fonts The three fonts that come free with Photolettering

Round two – functionality

This is more evenly matched with each app offering some unique features, as well as the usual standards they both share such as social sharing, and a postcard function via Sincerely.

On the ‘unique feature’ front, Photolettering lets you rotate text easily using two fingers, something Over doesn’t offer at all. It also offers several two-tone fonts and control over each colour, background colours (if you don’t want to use a photo), and a choice of three basic filters which amount to Sepia, B&W, and Vivid.

On the other hand, Over offers multiple layers of text, meaning you can place several different text elements on your photo and style each one differently. It also includes a crop tool which only has one shape – square – but is perfect for setting up an image for Instagram, and the ability to darken the background photo to give your text some pop.

Photolettering has a crop tool, but only at the end of the process, and only if you decide to send to Instagram, so if you’re wanting to post it you need to plan for that as you add your text.

If you try to load in a pre-squared image, add lettering and then post to Instagram, Photolettering still forces you to crop a portrait-shaped image out of it, then add the text, then crop a square image out of that. You can avoid this by pinching the square image size to fit into the portrait crop, but the whole process is pretty ridiculous compared to how Over offers the same tool.

The sharing screen in Over A tutorial screen in Photolettering

Round three – experience

Okay, ‘experience’ is a little fancy-sounding, but that’s what we love about apps, right? How fun, easy, intuitive, and satisfying they are to fiddle with?

Photolettering is by far the plainest app, both in presentation and workflow, with one text layer and a simple tab-based navigation. It’s functional, it gets the job done – and you can rotate text, which is cool, but the whole cropping/Instagram process it uses is pretty dumb.

Over is much more stylish with a slick dial-based navigation and semi-transparent menu overlays. The dial can be a little disorienting at first, and they waste ‘More’ on an advert page for other apps, but the overall effect was more compelling.

But Over clearly wins the round with multiple layers that let you give every word its own font, position and colour, or create interesting effects by overlaying – something that works particularly well with the Blackout Sunrise font, and more than makes up for its lack of two-tone fonts.

Instagram text 06

Instagram text 01

The Winner

It wasn’t really a fair fight, was it? Over very clearly takes the crown for me. The only thing I’d nick from Photolettering is rotating text which sounds like a very update-friendly feature to me, hint hint.

So for all your text-on-iPhone-photo fun, my hearty recommendation would be to check out Over ($1.99) on the App Store.

Thanks for reading!