Monday, January 31, 2011

Magicka, resisting the urge to google combos.

There are literally thousands of spell combinations in Magicka and once you get out of the tutorial you are left to discover most of them by trial and error. No doubt within a week or so there will be there are already  comprehensive lists of spells and equipment available on the web.

There is a strong temptation to dive into google and track down the details of successful combinations. This is not really a form of cheating. I actually find this type of meta gaming very enjoyable. I love forums,  faqs and wikis. I love reading others opinions of different abilities and I also enjoy posting my own observations. Indeed with a game as new as Magicka there is always the possibility of discovering something that other players don't know about.

The problem is that the pleasure of participating in the online information flow about a game is incompatible with the other pleasure of working stuff out for yourself. Once you start to consult guides you cannot go back and unlearn the information you find there so a player must make a choice of whether to consult guides or not.

At present I am working through single player Magicka and still figuring everything out by myself. I am finding the single player game challenging enough but I am getting through it. No doubt there are several important spells that I haven't discovered yet but I am getting a lot of satisfaction from working stuff out by myself. I will admit though to an ever increasing longing to head off to the forums to discuss the game especially when I discover some new spell or abillity .. "Did you guys know that you can...." but so far I have resisted.

If ever I graduate to multiplayer though I think I will give in and resort to googling. Playing with one hand behind my back is fine as long as only my own survival depends on it. Asking other players to put up with my ignorance is not really acceptable.

So "Gnarled Staff or Staff of War, What do you guys really think?"


gaming Update with a little bit of Magicka

Magicka is getting a lot of press recently and rightly so. Paradox interactive's spell-fest is a riot of cleverness and fun, or at least it should be if you don't encounter one of the many bugs reported. I waited about a week to buy the game and I haven't encountered any bugs yet in the single player game, I guess they have been busy patching it. I still recommend the game strongly though, for only a tenner on Steam it is a steal. Of particular note is the sublime spell system. You start with eight basic spell elements (and at least one hidden one) that can be combined in thousands of ways to make new spells. You will need nimble fingers as well as a quick brain to pull off these combinations in the heat of battle, a feat that is made all the more challenging by the fact that there is full friendly fire leading to plenty of stray fireballs roasting yourself or your team mates. The humorous tone of the game makes it all hilarious anarchic fun. Be warned though, the single player campaign is brutally difficult with mob levels that seem to have been designed for groups and an extremely miserly checkpoint system. You play a very squishy wizard who has access to some ridiculously powerful spells but who is facing ridiculously overpowered foes. If you know what you are doing things just about balance out but the slightest error can leave you splattered in an instant.

Previous to Magicka I played a bit of Brothers in Arms: The Road to Hill 30, bought in a Steam sale. This squad based shooter was well reviewed when it came out some years ago but I have to say I didn't enjoy this as much as I expected. Partly this is because it is "yawn" yet another WW2 games featuring the US Normandy campaign but  I also struggled to find an enjoyable difficulty setting. On the easier settings My character was near indestructible and could kill all the enemies solo.  On more difficult settings you really really need your squads but their AI and path finding is so terrible so you cannot expect them to do any clever outflanking. There just doesn't seem to be a happy medium.

Apart from PC gaming I have spent a fair bit of time experimenting with my Android phone. I am not really into mobile gaming even though I did do the obligatory download of Angry Birds. Nevertheless there was big new recently with the move of online gaming portal "Kongregate" into the mobile gaming space with a new Android web portal. 

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Never mind jetpacks where the hell is cyberspace?

I am currently reading Cory Doctor's "FTW" a novel which explores the economic and social consequences of the gold farming industry that has sprung up around massively multiplayer online games. Doctorow knows his subject but even so the novel seems strangely out of date. He describes a near future world where just about every teenager is plugged into an online game and where the economies of major titles exceed that of many countries. I vaguely remember headlines like that from about five years ago but it seems strangely out of date now. Despite rising numbers of players the importance of mmorpgs as a phenomenon seems to have shrunk. No one compares mmorpg economies to countries any more. Stories about Second Life  are no longer a regular feature in the main stream newspapers.  Perhaps most tellingly teenagers are not abdicating en masse from the real world to take up residence in the online world of their choice. No one really seems to believe any more that these virtual worlds are the harbingers of a William Gibsonesque Cyberspace.  Mmorpgs  are now seen as just another form of entertainment, nothing more, nothing less.

Yes we have the internet and that internet continues to amaze and surprise us with undreamed of possibilities  for new forms of interaction and communication but nowadays it is all about using the net as an adjunct to the real world rather than an alternative to it. Facebook for example does not supplant the real world but augments it with new forms of communication. Instead of "virtual reality" we have "augmented reality" with tools like Layar and Google goggles giving us new ways to find information about the same old fashioned real world.

By the way if you really really still want a Jetpack you can buy one here: http://www.martinjetpack.com/ because hey, this is the future after all.



Wednesday, January 19, 2011

BeGone by NPlay - Browser Games are growing up

The Unity Web player has been around for a while but it is only recently that I have noticed Unity based games popping up on major gaming portals like Kongregate. From what I have seen the capabilities of Unity leave Flash far far behind. Just check out BeGone a beautifully rendered  high definition multi-player 3D shooter from NPlay. That is  a serious piece of gaming, for free, in your browser.

I am sure those lovely trees and foliage are procedurally rendered but the game is fast and responsive and Unity doesn't suffer from Flash's inability to use the right mouse button. Nplay also do a multiplayer racing game which you can play here. It doesn't seem to be as polished as the shooter but then again I am crap at driving games.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Mafia 2 Finished, Final Impressions

I have just finished Mafia II so I am going to record a quick "Last Impressions" while the game is fresh on my mind.

The story line is very good although as a piece of interactive fiction it suffers from the fact that it is hard to like any of the characters in the game. There is no honour, no loyalty and no morality among the criminal underworld in which the game is set. As a result it is hard to care about what happens to any of the characters and since you don't really care what happens it is hard to feel immersed in the storyline.

The game-play is fun, the city is fabulous and much bigger than it appears at first. I particularly loved being able to compare the city in two time periods during and after the war.

I have already complained about the fact that you cannot use the buses and trains. I do think though that given the amount of effort that went into creating this fictional city there was a huge lost opportunity in not making it more interactive. In fact looking back over the game I now realise that the tightly scripted story never really gives you the chance to just wander around and goof off in this fabulous place.

I believe that the game developers made an absolutely fundamental error in not providing any save game mechanism outside of the mission checkpoints. Think about it - the only way to save your progress in the game is to advance your current mission. If you do decide to wander off the story then any progress you make, any nice cars you have discover, any money you earn, any clothes you acquire will be lost the first time you crash a car or take a bullet from the cops UNLESS you get back on mission and follow the storyline. You are forced to keep progressing if you want to save your progress.

Inexplicably the game doesn't even provide a free ride mode that allows you to drive around the city without following the storyline. Why not? Why not?

Overall the game was enjoyable and I would recommend it. It was certainly better than I had feared but certainly not as good as I had hoped from the first game.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Mafia 2: Get Rich or Die Flying (for Real Men)

The Mafia 2 Steam Achievement "Get Rich or Die Flying" requires you to keep a car in the air for over 5 seconds. There are videos around showing how anyone  can do this by driving over incy wincy bumps in the road. Now however I am delighted to be able to show a video of how Real Men can achieve vehicular flight by driving over a Real Ramp:


Sunday, January 09, 2011

How to read Ebooks with Adobe DRM on Android using Aldiko

EDIT: I have discovered a new way to do this which allows you to download books directly to the phone. It also allows you to read ebooks from libraries on your phone without using Overdrive reader. For the updated instructions go here.


If you are an avid book reader reader who has an Android device then the really big news last month was that Google is adopting Adobe's content Manager DRM solution for ebooks. Even though you may have mixed views about drm I think this is very good news because with Adobe drm already being supported by Random House, Sony, WW Norton, OverDrive, Ingram Digital, Kobo, British Library, Waterstones and others the choice of digital reading material is even wider (for European readers anyway) than with the Amazon Kindle client for Android. Even better though is the fact that many public libraries already use Adobe drm to allow readers to "borrow" eBooks for a limited time. How cool is that? I haven't tried it yet but I assume that it works on some form of time limited drm. My own local library allows the eBooks to be borrowed for the same 21 day period they allow for old fashioned dead tree books.

The only problem is that native Android support is unlikely to come before version 3.0 (Honeycomb) which is little comfort to existing users who are stuck on 2.2 (Froyo) or earlier versions of Android. Never fear however because Aldiko have already upgraded their popular Android eBook reader to allow it to read Adobe drm protected ebooks. This is such a recent development that Aldiko's own website still says "Coming Soon". I can assure you however that Aldiko version 2.0 with Adobe drm support is available today. The process of using it is not very well documented however. No doubt once it is officially "released" that will change but in the meantime the following notes should be enough to get you up and going:

How to read an Adobe drm protected ebook on Android using Aldiko

1. Firstly you need Aldiko version 2.0 on your Android device. You can get this from the Android Market as the "premium" version of Aldiko which costs about €3.00. As of today the ad-supported free version of Aldiko does not seem to have been upgraded to version 2.0 yet but perhaps this will change in the future.

2. You will need to download and install Adobe Digital Editions reader to a PC. This PC will be one of only 6 devices that can read your Adobe drm protected ebooks so make sure it is a PC that you own.

3. Adobe Digital Editions will prompt you to register the PC to your Adobe account and direct you to a web page to sign up for an account if you haven't got one. Both the PC and the Android device will need to be linked to the same Adobe account for purposes of drm management. As far as I know you can only have six reading devices registered to any one account so be sure to use your own PC for this.

4. Now acquire an adobe drm protected ebook. The format you want is called "Adobe drm epub". Adobe have some free samples here: http://www.adobe.com/products/digitaleditions/library/ but you can get a wide choice of titles from sellers such Kobo or Waterstones (choice sadly depends on your location) or with a bit of luck your local public library. Once you buy the book you will probably be asked to download a file called "something.acsm". This is not the ebook itself but when you open the acsm file in Adobe Digital Editions the book will be automatically downloaded.

5. Once the title is downloaded to your PC, it should be available to read in your Adobe Digital Editions library. Now we need to go back to the Android device.

6. Aldiko on the Android device needs to be registered to the same Adobe account in order to read Adobe drm protected books. First run Aldiko Premium on your Android. From the bookshelf screen hit the menu button and select settings. You should see a heading for Adobe DRM which allows you to enter an Adobe account and password in order to authorise the device. NB If you cannot find the settings menu check that you are running the correct "premium" version of Aldiko. Buying the premium version doesn't delete the old free version so if you if you run the old version by accident you won't be able to find the correct settings page.

7 Now transfer the ebook to the Android device. I use Dropbox for this but if you like you can connect the Android to the PC using a USB cable and copy the file over that way. The file you want is called "name_of_book.epub" and you will probably find it on your PC in the folder: "my documents/my digital editions". You can save it where ever you like on the Android device but Aldiko recommends the folder on the sdcard called "eBooks/import".

8.Now to add the drm protected ebook to your Aldiko library: Run Aldiko Premium (again make sure you are running the correct version if you have more than one version of Aldiko installed). From the library bookshelf screen press the little house icon in the upper left hand corner. This should give you a list of library icons (Library, Store, List etc). Click the SD card icon and navigate to the folder where you saved the epub file. Click the file name and then press "Import to Alkido" when it pops up.

9. Go back to your Alkido library and enjoy your new eBook.

Saturday, January 08, 2011

Goodbye Christmas Tree

This being the first weekend after the 6th December it falls to me to dispose of our Christmas tree.

Fir trees are more popular than spruce as Christmas trees because Fir do not gradually lose all their needles as they dry out. Instead the Fir tree waits until the day you try to dispose of it and then it dumps all of its needles onto your carpet, onto your person and into your car in one almighty storm of foliage.

Ah well, such is the price that must be paid for getting a real tree.  It has become something a a tradition in our family to choose a still living tree from a local Christmas tree farm. It is always freezing but the magic of choosing just the right tree is special.

Farewell Christmas tree.

Friday, January 07, 2011

The "How Up to Date is Your Blog" game

One of the consequences of generally waiting till games fall in price is that I am usually a few months behind the curve when it comes to blogging about them. That gave me the idea of trying to put a more scientific measure on just how up to date (or out of touch) is my blog. The process turned out to be relatively easy and you can apply it to you own blog if you like:

1. Look at all the posts you have made in the last month (if you are a very prolific poster you can limit it to your ten most recent entries).
2. For each post try to pick a date in time when this particular post would have been a "hot topic" worthy of front page placement on a major blog or news site. Wikipedia is handy for finding release dates while Google's "timeline" view (probably hidden under "more search tools") is also very useful. Remember that we are only considering timeliness here, not writing quality.
3. Once you have the "timeliness" dates of you most recent entries then just fire them into a spreadsheet and get the average to see how up to date your blog is.

Anything less than 1 month and I reckon your blog is a pretty up to date source of news.

Anyhow here is how it pans out for this blog ("Life is a Mindbending Puzzle")


Post Date when it would have been “hot news” Comment
Gogle Labs Introduces gXtortion 01/01/06 Concerns about Google abusing its power have been around for quite a while but there was a step increase in articles about the subject in early 2006.
Handing over my freedom to Google 23/09/08 Google releases Android operating system
Mafia II: Gutted about the lack of public transport 24/08/10 Mafia 2 released
Ambushed by Mafia 2 24/08/10 Mafia 2 released
Stop making Apps please just fix your web pages 10/07/08 Iphone App store opens
Gaming Update 03/03/09 Main game = Empire Total War
Only a few hours left for incredible minecraft deal 20/12/10 The post was pretty much up to the minute
Minecraft is a bit meh isn't it … oh wait 17/05/09 Minecraft classic released
Empire Total War: Guns Change Everything 03/03/09 Empire Total War release date
Are single player gamers more forgiving? Memories of Oblivion 16/01/07 Post is about Oblivion from 2006 but it does talk a lot about the 2006 mod "Nehrim" 
Metro 2033@ Moscow What has become of you? 16/03/10 Release date of game
Average 18/02/09


The 18th of February 2009! My blog is almost two years behind the times!. To be fair the results are skewed a bit by the 2006 date I put in for the Gogle article but whatever way you look at it "Life is a Mindbending Puzzle" isn't going to win any prizes for being up to date.

Thursday, January 06, 2011

Gogle Labs introduces gXtortion (beta)

Just spotted the announcement of an interesting new service from Gogle labs:

Introducing gXtortion (beta) from Gogle labs.

gXtortion is the world's first on-line guarantee of privacy service. Imagine Mr Harry Pintlewaithe of 11 Rosegarden cottages (HarryPint@goglemail.com) if you could make a single monthly payment of $125 for gXtotrion home (beta) to ensure that your private data would not be revealed to third parties such as Mrs Brenda Pintlewaithe (BrendPint@Goglemail.com) also of 11 Rosegarden cottages.

This nominal monthly fee would guarantee the privacy of data such as
1. The fact that you 11.5% of your internet searches include the words "farmyard animal porn" 
2. The fact that you spent 2 hours and 25 minutes on Friday, 25th May in very close proximity to a certain Ms. Ethel Goodbodie (EasyEthel69@goglemail.com) aged 21

For an additional $125 a month you can upgrade to gXtortion Home and Social (beta). In addition to ensuring your privacy at home a gXtortion Home and Social (beta) subscription will protect your privacy among friends and social contacts. You can rest assured, for example,  that your friends and colleagues in Knob's End Rugby Football Club of which you have been a member for  11 years 2 months and 3 days  will definitely not find out that you are subscribed to eight well known embroidery blogs.

Power users can opt for gXtortion pro (beta). An all in subscription of only $500 per month provides all of the benefits listed above and ensures that your boss  Mr Frederic Applesop (fsop@goglemail.com) of Hinge and Bracket Inc will not find out that your most commonly visited web site is  findmeabetterjob.com nor that your impressive score of 33,564,911 in the online game Goglefarm was obtained entirely during working hours.   

Handing over my freedom to Google

My acquisition of a new Android Smart phone has proven to be the final link in my complete capitulation to the Google overlord.

Here is a list of what Google knows about me:

All of my internet searches: Every so often I experiment with competing search engines but I always seem to end up coming back to the big G.

All of my blogging: I started out on blogger and it has done pretty much everything I need so I never felt it worth the effort to change.

My calendar: About a year ago I got fed up with trying to synchronise multiple calendars between desktop, laptop and mobile phone so I started using Google's calendar.

All of my email:  You don't need to use gmail if you have an android phone but everything just synchronises more easily if you do. The funny thing is I never actually send email from a gmail address I just use gmail as a web enabled  email client. I actually have many email addresses that I use for different services and until recently Thunderbird was my email client of choice. Up to now I have shied away from gmail because Googles web client is slow, lacks features and is very poor at manipulating large volumes of email.  The seamless ease of using Gmail on multiple platforms has finally convinced me to give Google a chance for the moment at least.

Where I live and work and where all my friends live and work:  Google contacts is so handy isn't it?

What I look like, what my friends and family look like: Picasa is a great tool isn't it  and it is so easy to upload your photos to Google's online servers.

Where I am and where I go: I do sometimes turn off the location tracking features of my Android  phone but there are so many cool things that depend on it is seems a shame not to use it.

Taken all together that is an absolutely terrifying amount of data. More data, I would imagine than the secret police of the most repressive regimes ever held in their files about their most surveilled citizens. The really scary thing about this, if you choose to think about it, is the way all of this data is linked together. Google makes it almost impossible to use multiple identities for their services.

I might get some comfort from the fact that I am only one customer among many millions but that the anonymity of the crowd is worth less and less these days. Google has some of the smartest programmers on the planet working with powerful computer systems to develop very sophisticated data mining tools.

Do I believe that Google have evil intentions and will abuse this power I have handed over to them: Not really.

Do I think that Googles data could ever fall into the hands of an agency who's intentions were not so straightforward: Absolutely, in fact I think it is a near certainty that a time will come when Google will be forced to open up their databases to US or other government agencies for reasons of "Anti terrorism", "National security", "Protect the Children"  or otherwise.

Am I worried: Not really. I am a pretty boring person who leads a pretty boring life. My exploits are never going to end up on the front page of the tabloid newspapers.

But what if some really nasty people got that data?: I guess if criminals got my all my data they could have a field day but I am not wealthy enough to be a particular target and I do give Google some credit for data security. A bigger worry would be a repressive regime. Imagine if a wave of religious fundamentalism brought a repressive government into power and they used Google's data to persecute anyone who didn't conform to the official line? Then again if we are foolish enough to let that kind of government get into power we are going to have big problems regardless of whether we use Google or not.

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Mafia II: Gutted about the lack of public transport

Empire city, the locale of Mafia 2 has no functioning public transport. There are buses and taxi's but you can't get into them. This seems like a small thing in a game where you can steal any car you want but for me it is a major blow to immersion and I am gutted. The first Mafia game had a working railway line and I used to take rides just for the hell of it.

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

Ambushed by Mafia II

Mafia was one of my favourite games ever so I was really anticipating Mafia 2 but when the reviews were very mixed I decided to hold out for a sale. Well Steam duly provided said sale over the holiday period and I am now a couple of missions into the game. Seems pretty good so far lots of ambience and the same unwieldy cars I loved from the first game. Also I like the new combat model. It is an 18's game though with lots of naughty words in it. My kids often walk by while I am playing games I decided to play it safe and wear headphones while playing. My daughters are not so innocent that they have never heard a naughty word but they  take a dim view of such things and would undoubtedly given out to me about it so the headphones seemed like a good idea.

The game had a surprise in store for me however. Just as my daughter walked in to me to ask me to come up and tuck her in I happened to stumble across a guy reading a magazine in game. BLAM suddenly my screen was filled with a scantily clad Playboy centrefold.

:(