Site inactivity

As some may notice, there’s currently no new posts appearing on this site. I’m currently busy with other projects, as well as using subdomains of this domain for testing purposes and a private wiki.

Until further notice there will be no new content appearing (And considering it’s been just about exactly a year since my last post, not really surprising), but I will be doing some gaming-related posts in the future again. The site won’t disappear, it will just be static for a while.

Transferring hosts

I’m in the process of transferring hosts. Things may break over the next 24-48 hours…

-=Correction=-

Make that the next few days…

-=Update=-

Domain transfer is finally complete – Site’s up to 90% operational again. All should be well in the next 24 hours or so.

Grid 2

grid2Last night I managed to find the time to give Codemasters’ latest gem a spin, and as an avid racing game follower, I was not disappointed – which is surprising considering the criticism over the list of changes and omissions in the game.

First off is the lack of in-cockpit view. Codemasters did a survey with their previous titles, and found that only 5% of all players used the cockpit view – so instead of spending the time texturing the inside of the car to HD detail, they simply left out the view. Now I’m a big fan of racing simulators, and one of the 5%, but honestly I can live with it. I’m perfectly happy using the bonnet-cam instead and it gives about the same feeling as the cockpit view, albeit without the feeling of realism found in seeing your character manipulate the steering wheel and gears.

Next is the fact that even thought there are five difficulty settings for your opponents, there are no modifiable driver assists. Racing/braking line assist – zip. Traction control settings – nope. ABS or any other settings – nada. Instead, you have a new system called “Truefeel” – allegedly giving godlike driving skills to the ham-fisted without dulling the sensation for the skilled driver. Sound too good to be true?

Well it isn’t. It works. Well! You can really feel the nuances of the road, the shifting of the car’s weight in corners, the under/over-steering in corners, but with that little bit of extra something. Suddenly new players can get the rear end of their muscle cars come out in beautiful drifts and the pros can set up inertia drifts with ease – all with the feeling that it’s you doing all that, not the system.

Damaged cars really do affect performance

Damaged cars really do affect performance

Graphically the tracks are beautifully rendered, with litter being kicked up by cars in front of you, dust and mist obscuring view at occasions and the scenery done to shocking detail. Sadly the same can’t be said for the in-garage models, which do seem to suffer a bit. On the track they look fine though. Damage is done well too, with cars behaving like they would after a bit of a knock-around, even down to engine noises changing pitch and rattling before engine failure. The competitions menu system (which is simulated to look like a web interface on a PC in your garage) can be a bit confusing at times, but you soon get used to that too.

The storyline is… well … meh. Some interesting twists in there, some nice approaches to the whole social media thing, but honestly racing games should stick to more tracks, cars and modifications, not stories.

The original Race Driver – Grid was an arcade racer dressed up as a simulator, a bit of a disappointment to the rest of the series, with a slightly shoddy-feeling handling system. Grid 2 bridges the gap perfectly. It’s as close to a simulator as you want while still retaining the ease of use of the arcade generation. Yes, you don’t get to change your tyre pressure or fit aftermarket parts to your car, but the driving style is precise enough to be appreciated, yet forgiving enough for the casual player-base.

The Good:

  • great new handling system
  • stunning track and debris detail
  • decent selection of cars and classes
  • good damage model

The Bad:

  • falls just short of simulator status
  • low model details in garages

Final misGuilded score: 4.5 out of 5 stars

 

Lord British is back!

I cannot tell you how excited I am about the news I received this morning! The person who probably shaped most of my childhood, the creator of worlds, the epitome of all that is great in RPG, has decided to grace us with a new game. Richard Garriot, creator of the greatest and longest-running RPG series in the history of computer gaming, has launched a Kickstarter project for his upcoming game (Hopefully October 2014) – Shroud of the Avatar, Forsaken Virtues.

As you can see from the early preview above, and from reading the Kickstarter project details, great stuff are coming our way. A true RPG’er wants to immerse himself in the game, not just hack away to fill an experience bar, and I think that from the meagre details available at the moment, they are doing a good job of it. I especially like the trade, crafting and housing system that they are planning, as well as the fact that it’s NOT BLOODY ONLINE DEPENDENT! If you want to play single-player, you can without a connection. If you want to be able to play this game again in twenty years, you don’t have to worry if the servers are still running. Hey Blizzard, EA and all you other money-grabbing bastards – take note.

The game seems to expand upon the ideals of the Avatar, the protagonist of the Ultima series, and Ultima and I share a long history. My first meeting with the Ultima series was actually a book, more specifically a novelized walkthrough called The Avatar Adventures. A friend of mine had the book at school when I was about 10. I read it voraciously in my lunch breaks and was then overjoyed when it turned out that my neighbor had Ultima IV on his PC. I then spent the next few months firmly robbing said neighbor of the use of said PC. Then, much later, when I finally had a PC of my own with an actual graphics card (a monstrous EGA card), I was lucky enough to find the complete Ultima collection at a second-hand store – a collection I still own today, which sits proudly on my shelf of all things gaming.

Anyway, go check out the Kickstarter, give Lord British and his cohorts your money, and help shape what is sure to become a classic!

2012 Top Games Round-up

What a year it’s been. The world should have ended, but we’re still here and going strong. And in gaming it’s been quite a trip too, with the market ever shifting towards the casual online scene and small developers really hitting it big. The trend for Indie games making it up there against the AAA titles has continued, with the dare-to-try-something-different approach that was seen in the 90′s.

Since I’ve stopped playing all major MMORPGs, I’ve had a lot of time to test a huge range of games this year, so without further ado, here’s my Top Games of 2012, in both single player and online.

Single player:

Without a doubt the highlight of the year has to be FarCry 3. Improving leaps and bounds over FarCry 2 (which was a stunning game in its’ own rights), the new installment puts you on a beautiful island somewhere between Japan and Australia – with the signs of early civilization and the ravages of World War 2 apparent at every turn. You’re one of a group of fun-loving friends that gets kidnapped by drug manufacturers with the intent on holding you for ransom. You escape, and what follows is a tasty exploration through a well-sculpted world of big guns, bad guys, vicious animals and bewbies!

The story-line is intense, the game drips open-world and everything just works so well, no matter what your playing style. Anyway, a full review will be up soon, so just know that FarCry 3 is a masterpiece of graphics, gameplay, guns and rich characters. Oh, and the ending will make you scream and force you to play again, which isn’t a bad thing at all.

Honourable Mentions – Single Player:

Among the quirky Indie games available, two stand out for me: Kerbal Space Program and Game Dev Tycoon.

Kerbal Space Program (Still in Alpha, but good enough to play) is exactly what it sounds like. Design your own rocket ships to conquer the solar system. Sounds simple enough, but this game is closer to rocket science than anything I’ve seen before. My brother and I have been running challenges between ourselves, setting goals and seeing who can match them first, and as he put it: “Sometimes the difference between getting a sattelite into orbit and blowing up on the launch pad is one rivet – you have to respect the guys that do this for real.” It’s a great little simulator, really worth a shot.

I spotted Game Dev Tycoon on the Windows 8 marketplace and decided to give it a try during one bored day at work. An hour later I was scrabbling for my credit card and got the full version. The premise is simple: it’s about 25 years in the past, with home gaming just starting to gain momentum. You’re one guy trying to develop his own games and make a profit. Do well and your company grows, and so does the technology. The nice thing about the game is the fact that unlike 99.9% of the silly games on the marketplace these days, there are no microtransactions, there are no “Invite your friends to play otherwise you can’t get this crucial piece of kit”. If you have Windows 8, go check it out on the marketplace.

Online:

This was a tough one, with tons of games really vying for top spot, but in the end I had to go for World of Tanks. Yes, it was not released in 2012, but I think it has finally matured enough to be called a product. New tanks, new maps, and a host of new battle types has turned it from a grindfest into a thing of beauty. I’ve already reviewed WoT in a previous post, so have a look there for the full details.

Honourable Mention – Online:

I was fortunate enough to Alphatest War Thunder, and now that it’s on public beta I can actually write something about it. It goes on the same lines as World of Tanks – a World War 2 simulator with planes instead of tanks. Great game modes – you don’t just get to shoot the enemy, you actually have to complete objectives – and an all-round fun game. I think the only reason this didn’t get top spot for me this year is because it does still have its flaws – loading times are atrocious and the player base is still too small – if selecting the EU server, you tend to wait quite a few minutes before a game is ready for you, and you tend to play with the same group of people over and over again. If you select All servers, then queues are much faster but you’re shit out of luck communicating if you don’t speak Russian. With a bit more development (some artifacting does occasionally occur, as well as some physics glitches, but it’s improving) and a bigger fanbase, this game can be huge. Well worth the massive download.

Dishonourable mention:

Need for Speed – Most Wanted. OK, so Criterion has taken over from Black Box as the developers of the Need for Speed franchise now. Does that mean that they have to take one of their old titles, put in real cars instead of the fictional ones they used to use, take away half of the things that makes the Burnout series so good, and then call it a Need for Speed title? Fuck no!

The astonishing thing is the reviews by all of the top review sites – they all rave about it! How much did EA pay them? Yes, the franchise has been in decline in the last decade, losing out to the true simulators and the true arcade racers, while frantically bouncing between the two trying to find something that works, but I think they were actually on to something with The Run. Now instead they give us a watered-down version of Burnout Paradise and expect everyone to love it. The handling model is terrible (compared to older NFS titles, and to Burnout for that matter), on the PC the graphics are good for some parts and then awful for others, the Autovista 2 is counter-intuitive on PC (can’t say for the console versions) and the game modes are severely limited.

And then another thing – most of the last few Need for Speed titles have had some form of storyline – The Run actually had a captivating one, one that sucked you in and made every position you won or lost on your journey feel like it meant something. Most Wanted? Nope, it sucks. The Burnout series had some interesting game modes and a vast array of races. Most Wanted? An average of 5 races per car, limited game modes. At least the cars are nicely modeled.

Criterion, go make arcade racers like Burnout and leave Need for Speed to the publishers that can turn out games like the legendary Need for Speed: Porsche Unlimited. The original Most Wanted was a crappy title, this one was utter shite (Unless of course you haven’t played Burnout, in which case it’d probably be OK for you)

Sorry guys, but the world isn’t ending quite yet.

Someone pointed me in the direction of this article (DigitalJournal) which, if you can’t be 250px-Operation_Upshot-Knothole_-_Badger_001bothered to read the whole thing, basically states that archaeologists have found another Mayan calendar. Not surprisingly, the “new” one (actually older than the big prophecy one) gives us at least another few thousand years to live, or put in layman’s terms – long enough for it to become a SEP (Someone Else’s Problem).

What really stands out from the article is not the new calendar as such, but how humanity has gone from having hopes for the future to what can almost be called a craving for it all to end. In the last few hundred years, and increasingly more so in the last 20 years, “prophecies of doom” have been circulating. Wave after wave of predictions for a cataclysmic event has embedded itself into society.

Has the world really become such a bleak place that a large percentage of the population would rather see it all scrubbed clean than to strive for tomorrow? Anyway, this is probably the second-last post from me for the year – I might still do my Game of the Year awards before January  if time permits (and if everything doesn’t go BOOM tomorrow of course). If not, have a great end to 2012 and I’ll see you in 2013!

Adobe adds Game Developer Tools for Flash

Adobe has added a collection of tools to their site to help speed up game development on their Flash platform on a multitude of devices. From the Game Developers Tools site:

You have great ideas for cool games. Now, we’re providing you with the essential tools to rapidly build, optimize, and deliver your games to iOS, Android™, Windows®, and Mac OS.

To get started, all you need to do is download the Adobe Game Developer Tools through a free Creative Cloud membership. If you already have a Creative Cloud membership, the Game Developer Tools are included!

What’s strange about this move is the fact that Adobe has pretty much all but pulled out of Flash for mobile in favour of HTML5 last year already, but this has not really slowed down the development of some awesome Flash-based games (Angry Birds, Farmville, etc). In fact, Flash and Java-based game development seems to have become the norm for non A-listed games these days.

In any case, it might be worth a look for budding game developers. Have a look here to get started.

Freeware awesomeness: AIMP3.

The Glory Days

If you’re like me, you tend to find a piece of software for a certain job and stick to it for ages, right up to the point where you can’t bear to live with it any more because it’s become such a bloated piece of crap that every time you open it your PC dies. Well, since about 1997, Winamp was my music player of choice.  I remember with glee the first time I played the “Winamp, it really whips the llama’s ass!” when I updated from version 1.0 to 1.9. Before that, I only really had .mod files and the occasional .wav created with a microphone. The first ever mp3 I got my hands on was “Wheatus – Teenage Dirtbag”.

For years I flaunted my audio superiority, with the lightweight Winamp beating all the other players hands-down… well, right up to somewhere between versions 5 and 5.5, where the by then bloated old grandpa of music players started showing it’s age. Slowly I noticed some corruption in the playlist displays, followed by slower and slower loading times and finally breaking the camel’s back by crashing on me at random times. Don’t get me wrong, this is not isolated events, I tested just about every version from 5.5 upwards since then on multiple machines, running Windows XP, 7 and even 8 and they all deteriorated as fast. I tried a few other players, I even briefly switched to *gasp* Windows Media Player (Which actually has decent playlist controls).

Then along came AIMP3. In a fit of rage I had uninstalled all the other players and did a duckduckgo (seriously, switch from google to duckduckgo if you like your privacy) search for lightweight mp3 players. The first result was AIMP3, and boy is it awesome!

The New Standard

The New Standard

If you’ve used Winamp, you’ll quickly notice the similarity, with AIMP3 sharing the same multi-window interface. But that’s where the similarities end. AIMP3 has the greatest integration I’ve ever seen in a music player. Along with the standard maximised interface,it also has a little tray icon which, if you hover over it, brings up a mini player which can be used for the standard controls. It also has this nice overlay when it switches songs which doesn’t interfere with your standard PC tasks. And speaking of tasks, AIMP3 weighs in at 12mb of memory used compared to Winamp’s 49mb with the exact same playlist loaded.

Awesome tray controls

The playlist itself can sometimes be a bit tricky to navigate, but the tagging and auto-updating of media info is superb, definitely comparable to the only task Winamp still does well. And the great thing is that I keep discovering new features every time I use it (And I mean it, I just this moment discovered the alarm, sitting there large as life), yet still manage to actually do more with my PC instead of fiddling with the damn media player while trying to skip, delete or tag music.

So to sum up, if you want a music player for your PC that plays music and doesn’t kill your machine in the process, you can’t go wrong in looking at AIMP3, because once you have it will be running in the background and you’ll hardly ever notice it – which to me is a sign of a job well done. Oh, and best of all, it’s FREE, not shareware or loaded with “free” crap music.

-=Oh, and sorry Winamp guys for targeting you, but seriously, get your shit together and make Winamp useable again, k?=-

Minecraft 1.4.2 Simple Powered Rail Generator

A first for me! I’ve uploaded a Minecraft Howto on YouTube. Check it out and share:

A simple Powered Rail generator for Minecraft.
Tested on 1.4.2, should work on earlier versions and until they fix it.

Parts required:
1 Sticky Piston
1 Piston
11 Redstone
1 Redstone torch
2 Redstone Repeaters
3 Powered Rails
1 Hole in the ground (Might be hard to find)

If it doesn’t work, try changing orientation by 90 degrees!

My Top 5 Freeware First-Install List.

I’ve been busy migrating some of my machines to Windows 8 over the last few weeks, which got me thinking about the standard set of software I always install on every machine I personally work on. I’m skipping the things like Visual Studio that requires a license, and just listing the tools freely available on the internet.

#1 – Notepad++
Notepad++ is notepad on steroids. It’s the coders dream text editor, with syntax highlighting, multiple tabs and a ton of features you never knew you needed but suddenly use all the time. Combine that with the fact that it handles text so much better than Notepad, with proper indentation, spacing and support for common formatting options, it’s absolutely a no-brainer as my choice for the top text editor. Get it here now!

#2 – DropBox
I tend to work on quite a few devices. At any time there are at least 2 desktops, one laptop and a smartphone active. I use different devices for different things. One desktop is for development, one for gaming, the laptop for basic coding and writing and the smartphone to check up on the rest. Keeping all my working data synced between the lot has been a problem in the past. For a while I was using Windows Live Mesh, but when that got scrapped for Skydrive, without the option to just sync my stuff to the new storage, I scrapped it in favour of Dropbox. Now I can have my current coding project, my book, code snippets as well as the e-book I’m reading synced to all my devices, even my Blackberry.

If you need online storage, I’d highly recommend getting DropBox here.

#3 – yWriter
When I started writing, I used to do must of my work in Word, with a pen-and-paper notebook to keep little notes on progress, characters and such keeping me company during the day to add little pieces of inspiration when they struck. Sadly once a piece of work hits a certain size, this becomes hard to manage and a nightmare to edit.

In steps yWriter, a word processor designed for writers by a writer. You can keep notes on scenes, characters, items, goals, locations and much more within one application. You can link characters and locations to scenes (mini chapters), making the job of looking up a character or certain scene as easy as a mouseclick. When you decide 20000 words into a book that a forest location should be changed to a ruined city, simply look up all the scenes that take place in that location and change accordingly. No more looking for obscure references to said location which may only be referenced in the scene by “the wind rustled through the leaves” or having to guess where you said that a character had blonde hair when you decide he should have brown hair instead.

yWriter has really made organising my writing much more structured and thus makes it easier to just write instead of sorting through a mess every time you pick up something you left off a week or month ago. If you are a writer, go give it a try.

#4 – FileZilla
I deal with quite a few websites and web services at work. I also maintain a large system that centres around a FTP server that I set up (using vsftpd on CentOs). Connecting to the myriad of FTP services is a pain, trying to remember passwords, directory structures and permissions. FileZilla nicely fixed all this for me, and I’ve been using it as my primary FTP client for as long as I can remember. It’s also extremely easy to use, so even the most novice user can upload/download via FileZilla.

Best of all, it also comes in a server version, if you ever need to set up a FTP server in a hurry and are not looking for the extreme of setting up a dedicated linux box for the job, FileZilla will do the job just fine.

#5 – SpaceMonger
After a few months of using a PC, you tend to lose sight of where all your storage went. Suddenly a 2 terabyte drive is showing up red on your drive list and you need to make space pronto. SpaceMonger visualises your drives for you, giving you a clear sight of which files or folders are the biggest space hogs, making pruning much easier and faster. So 90% of the picture is taken up by movies? Click on the block and zoom in, then go delete those movies you’ll never watch again. Zoom out again and you can see the free space block growing as you reclaim your drive.

The version I’ve linked does have its problems though. The last free version is 1.4, which is no longer in support by the developer, and all subsequent versions are paid products with a trial option. Another alternative may be Treesize, but I do still love the whole look of SpaceMonger.

The list can go on for quite a while, but I’ll just wrap it up by giving special mention to the following:

  • SQLiteAdmin, an awesome little SQLite database admin tool.
  • KLite Codec pack, my codec pack of choice, which also includes Media Player Classic, still my favourite video player.
  • Dungeon Crawl Stone Soup. A list just won’t be complete with at least one game, and DCSS is the one. A roguelike that’s been made simple enough for beginners, yet still challenging enough for the seasoned pros, with awesome features found in no other rogues. And best of all, as with all rogues, there’s a text mode (as well as a very cute tile version) which makes playing at work that much easier :D

Have any free software you can’t live without? Drop a comment and I’ll try it out and share!