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Browser games - minireviews
Just a quick shout out to let you all know my Swedish friend Psyce (a.k.a. Woorg) from WoW has created a site where he hopes to review browsergames.
http://browsergametoplist.blogspot.com/

He's in for a massive challenge as the number of browsergames is already huge and still exploding and he's just at 4 at this moment but give him a visit. I tried almost all of the ones reviewed as we chat about this sometimes.

I'll do some quick mini reviews for some games he hasn't covered yet.

I just tried Evony for a few days which is advertised on Facebook as the browsergame with the most members. The early stages of the game are very much like Travian where you cultivate some resources, upgrade the gathering of said resources and build up the infrastructure of a town and fortify it with a military presence.
Unfortunately the MMO aspect is ill thought-out, chatchannels and even the game window itself are constantly spammed by irrelevant messages from the game itself (XXX has won a Scroll of Uberness worth 50 cents, YYY has won a Pendant of Doubtful Usefulness worth 15 cents).
I found these constant irrelevant messages so distracting that I quit.
The good side of this game is that it guides you very well in building up your town via quests, unlike Travian which to my mind kinda dumps you after the introduction. The quest part of Evony is definitely something other games could benefit from.

I also tried to try out Seafight but the method to log in via OpenID didn't really work very well (I have an OpenID account at Wordpress). I did manage to log in a few times but the first time I spent about half an hour looking for the actual sea part. This game could use a good tutorial or guided quests to get you started, as it is it just dumps you in the deep end and hopes you figure it out before you get frustrated. I just quit.

I also tried out some Facebook games from Zynga, I like Mafia Wars a lot and will continue to play that for the foreseeable future, but games like Roller Coaster Kingdom are a bit boring and you're limited to a very very basic game unless you have tons of other friends that play it, and FarmVille is too much like Molehill Empire in which I've already invested more than 6 months. (I'm currently ranked 21 on server 3.)

So all in all browsergames offer a lot of fun playing but there's some real problems in many of them. With the business booming I expect to see more top notch games in the next year though.

Arrr!!! me hearties
A jolly pirate day to all. I hope you all took the opportunity to dress like a pirate today so that we may be fighting the evil global warmings!

I took the opportunity to see how life is affected in the virtual world.
I first took the seaturtle to the southern seas.

As the day would be long I quickly grabbed some fish.

I then happened on a flock of penguins, who told me (at least I think they did) that this is one of the hottest years in recent memory (their memory isn't that good to be honest).

After this I headed west and saw a clear sign of global warming, here you see a musk fighting to the death with a wild beast, crazy with hunger as the normal glacier wildlife has been driven away by more temperate species.


Saddened I left this area, but not after a good friend invited me for some old fashioned pirating to lift my spirits.


Remember to dress like a pirate often and to honor his noodly appendage.

Ye canna change the laws of physics!

Grow!
Back in 2004 I linked to the game Grow. I recently looked up the site again and there are a few new versions to enjoy. All basically built on the same principle: select items and depending on the order in which you put them different things happen.
Grow Tower is one of those new games, but you may also not have seen Grow Cube and Grow RPG. Unfortunately Grow3 is no longer available due to lost source code but to make it up the developer created versions 1 and 2.
Some of the new games are fiendishly hard, if you want spoilers you can find them on YouTube but I seriously recommend not doing that unless you're really really frustrated. Just explore and enjoy the possibilities.

Going into politics
Heh, I should go into American politics.

US officials flunk test of American history, economics, civics.
US elected officials scored abysmally on a test measuring their civic knowledge, with an average grade of just 44 percent

I scored 84%, getting only questions 4, 6, 11, 13 and 27 wrong. Not too shabby for a bloody foreigner, especially as I had to resort to logic and reason for a lot of these as understandably the finer details of American history and its constitution isn't high on the Dutch curriculum in schools.

via Inessential

:cry:
It is always sad when one of the sites you put a lot of time and effort in shuts down. This is the case today as I am preparing to shut down the Raidbooking System (RBS for short). So I thought it might be appropriate to write a little about the biggest web-project I have been involved in outside of my regular job.

Before I started playing World of Warcraft four years ago I had read a lot about it. I had always been a fan of the Warcraft RTS games so jumping in on a Blizzard MMORPG, and one available on a Mac as well, sounded like fun. The info that was leaked and released before the game hit the shelves was tantalizing. We learned about a badass dragon queen called Onyxia who it would take 40 people to defeat, we learned about an old elemental god down in a massive lava-filled cavesystem called Ragnaros. To be able to reach Ragnaros you'd have to kill his 9 luitenants first.

When I started playing the game seeing Ragnaros and especially Onyxia dead was my long term goal. I started up the game for the first time and had to choose a server, as I already knew I wanted to play a Tauren, a humanoid creature with decidedly bovine ancestry, I chose to play on a server called Thunderhorn. This seemed appropriate. My character was a warrior called Riktor after one of the more obscure Archchancellors of Unseen University in Pratchett's Discworld series. I played Horde, one of the 2 opposing factions in the game. The factions cannot talk to each other, are in a virtual state of war and cannot cooperate except by staying out of each other's way.

When I reached level 60, the maximum at the time, I did a lot of regular dungeon crawls to get better gear and hone my skills, soon I would be ready for Onyxia! Or so I thought because it turned out that while Thunderhorn had a lot of players, the raiding scene (a raid is where you take 40 people into a dungeon to defeat the truly hard stuff), especially on the Horde side was lackluster. It took quite a while for the Thunderhorn community to get into raiding and even then there wasn't much to choose from. Most raids are organised by guilds (a social group with their own chatchannel not available to anyone else, some other games call this clans) and I didn't want to leave my old guild and join a new one just to see some stuff, even if that was an old god or a fierce dragon guarding her eggs.
Luckily a guy with the character name of Doktahantha (Dok for short) from England had the same feeling, he wanted to raid but didn't want to leave his small guild that was a group of mostly friends from real life. So he started a coalition, a loose-knit group of people with the same idea, do the hard stuff but in a more relaxed environment, without too much strain put on being the absolute best and more on having fun. Much ridicule was levered at The Coalition and it was said that a group like that could never get far and certainly not defeat one of the old gods. We proved them wrong by putting on the heat and forcing the top Horde guild to farm insane amounts of consumables to actually defeat the endboss 2 hours before we did, without using all those expansive materials.
To facilitate this coalition Dok created a webbased system called the RBS, a system where people could register their character and then sign up for raids. The system also incorporated loot tracking and a DKP system. DKP, for the non MMO players, is a system that allows you to track how much effort and time people have spend with a raid, the more you are involved the more points you have. In that way you earn points for bosskills, learning bosses even if you don't kill them, being on time, staying the whole raid etc.. In a way it's a loyalty scheme similar to airmiles, if you spend a lot (of time) you get points that can then be spend on loot: getting better weapons, rings, necklaces or armor which would then help your performance and, given enough loot spread evenly around, help progress to the next boss or even an even harder dungeon.
Many raids use separate tools for tracking attendance and DKP, most have forums beside that and sometimes separate blogs. The RBS combined all of these in one system, written from scratch in PHP.

So I joined the coalition (it didn't have a fancy name, it was always just "The Coalition", at first because we couldn't think of one and later because the name became so well known). Pretty soon it became clear that the raidgroup as a whole needed some more involved people to take up some duties, such as leading raids, explaining tactics, administering DKP and handing out loot when we killed a boss or got an item from a trash mob. (A trash mob or mob is a non-boss monster you have to kill, designers put in Trash to vary the pace of the dungeon and prevent people from running in and getting 15 great items for very little effort. Trash is often on a respawn timer as a sort of penalty for not being well enough geared or skilled for the actual dungeon. It can also reward you with a rare drop to help you get a bit further.) So I offered to help out a bit with the admin side of things and handing out loot. I later switched characters to play a Druid called Stonebreaker, as we were always short on healers and had enough warriors.

Pretty soon it became apparent that though the RBS system was a great thing, there were also some omissions or plain bugs. So I offered to help out and code some stuff, even though my PHP skills weren't that great to start with. Dok e-mailed me some files and I would implement some changes or bugfixes I'd thought of and then send them back whereupon Dok would upload the files and we'd improved the system a little bit. After a while Dok knew that I was up to the task and I got FTP access so I could work on the files directly without all the necessary back and forth. From that day on the system improved greatly as we were both coding and feeding off each other's ideas. Blizzard also introduced smaller raids that were designed for a maximum of 20 people and we incorporated those into the design of the site.

After a while Dok applied for a job at Google and got it. When he did his Warcraft play time decreased dramatically as working for the biggest dot com in the world is bound to do. By that time I took over all the daily running of the site as well as working on new stuff. Dok still paid for the server but it might be days between him being able to find the time to actually check out what was happening. So it shouldn't come as a big surprise that one day the entire system collapsed because he forgot to pay the bills. Because he was traveling out of the country at the time he didn't notice for a week. By the first day I had 30 anxious people chatting to me, by the third day I couldn't log in to the game without getting 60 people wondering when the system would be back up. So I made the decision to register a domain and host the files myself. Dok might be back the next day or it might take a few weeks more. Meanwhile raids were still going but the logistics of keeping track of who got what loot, who was really entitled to loot and who actually signed up and could be expected had become a nightmare.
So I bit the bullet and starting hosting the RBS instead.

This lead to another wave of innovations as I had a little bit more control on the new server and by that time me and Woorg, an online friend from Sweden, started working on a new guild to tackle the newest dungeon, the coalition would still remain but there would come a new section on the site especially for the new guild, using the same basic tools and framework. By now 2 separate raidgroups were using the site and I improved a lot of things on the backend to make administration easier.

All was well but in 2007 Blizzard released the first expansion for World of Warcraft, this expansion brought massive changes to the game. There would be no more 20 man or 40 man dungeons. Instead raids would be for either 10 people or 25. The idea was that you'd start out with a few groups of 10 and then later move on to the harder stuff that required 25 men.

Unfortunately as any child can see getting from 40 to 10 and then to 25 does not make a lot of sense and a lot of groups were harmed by this design choice. Blizzard decided to scale down the number of people allowed in a raid so organising would become easier. To field a 40 man raid you would need about 50 people that were willing to commit one or more nights a week.
To field a 25 man raid you would only need between 30 and 35. So on the face of this this seems like a good idea, it is easier to get together 30 people than 50. But then there's the curious fact that 30 people do not fit into 2 10 man groups, and they'd all need to do those. Running 3 groups was not an option due to real life commitments, you never get everyone to show up! This created massive logistical nightmares and hours spent trying to design a schedule where we could gear up everyone without leaving people behind. You'd then have to transition from 20 people being able to play on a night to having 25 being able to play. Of course real life interferes and you'd never get all your members to show up at the same time so the problem isn't that great but you still need a healthy reserve of people on the night itself as inevitably someone will get stuck in traffic, have to work late or deal with homework or will be ill.

As I said the new design messed up a lot of things for many groups. Ours was no different and due to the fact that raid encounters were extremely hard for a group such as ours meant that the Coalition faded away and stopped raiding. Shortly after the new guild folded as well and people transferred server, stopped playing altogether or joined other raid groups that managed to weather the changes. I did the same and moved on to another raid group.

This was by the end of 2007 and since then the RBS has been maintained but not in much actual use. I did put in a chat as a last measure to allow people to keep in contact with former friends but over the year the use of the site has steadily declined. We went from 100 unique visitors a day to about 5 visits a week. Even I don't visit the site much anymore as there simply is no community left, everyone has moved on. As such I felt the time was right to shut down the site and not renew the domain.


Over the years the RBS has served a good purpose, finding and offering raids for people that are not able to commit 5 nights a week, people that have a job or a family and can therefore not raid till 3 am, people that may not be the best payers in the world but that are a lot of fun to be around. And it's sad to see it gone, but in a way it has been surpassed, raiding became a lot harder and it isn't quite so easy now to raid if you do not have the organisation and critical mass of a big guild or several closely allied guilds. Blizzard promises raiding in the upcoming expansion will be a lot easier and should allow almost anyone to compete, even if their skills are a bit less than a no lifer who neglects school or work and just sits at the computer 10 hours a day, 7 days a week. We'll see.

In closing I thought it might be fun to post some statistics I calculated:

Number of characters registered: 972 (some people have multiple characters though)
Number of raids organised: 609
Number of items dropped: 4,272
Bosses killed: about 1,000 (most of them many many times of course)
Number of raid signups: 11,910
Number of people blacklisted: 14 (a measly 1.4 %, due to misbehaviour)
Frontpage newsitems: 463
Number of comments on news: 3,624
Number of Private Messages sent: 4,898
Number of e-mails sent between the raidleaders: 2000+
Lines of code to keep the site working: 13,250 (estimated)
Number of tables in the database: 45
Size of the MySQL database: a modest 16.3 MB

The statistics may be modest if looked at in relation to a social site such as MySpace but for a community of only a few thousand people on one particular game server they're actually quite impressive.

So today I'm a bit sad but I am also grateful for all the support I've had over the years and being able to participate and help out in the community that once was. I also learned a hell of a lot about PHP. And that has helped me a lot in real life as well.

We come in peace
a slightly fishy looking quadruped called a Brean, probably just crawled out of the seaI was going to do a review of Spore (I wrote about the Creatrure creator earlier). Unfortunately I'm rather busy actually playing the game.
Instead I'll point you to Tobold's review with which I have to agree completely, and make do with some short notes. The first stages of the game don't really offer that much, they're fun to play but ultimately they make up very little time in the game. Replayability there is almost zero. The space age though is truly awesome.

I'm currently busy gathering money to upgrade my ship's weapons, defenses and making alliances to get escort ships so I can journey to the center of the galaxy. Unfortunately the solid center of the galaxy is occupied by the Grox, a race that takes up everything except the outermost of the spiral arms of the galaxy. As they are extremely xenophobic they don't like you travelling in their area and will attack you at the drop of a hat. Making friends with them is not an option.

I have fun travelling around in my Mars Attacks lookalike flying saucer only with bigger guns and some weathervanes. Why weathervanes? Because they're available! Heck, my tanks had hippy flowers on them.


Almost every action you take in the space age has consequences, which is fun. Some alien races want you to abduct other aliens or remove items from other homeworlds. Which tends to piss off those living there, making it very hard for you to get in their good graces again. You can improve relations by trading and setting up traderoutes or doing missions. There's a vast variety of items to gather, some purely cosmetic such as abilities to shape seas and mountainranges, some useful such as rare upgrades. There's also a lot of incentive to simply explore as you can meet new races, find rare treasures or simply sell tradegoods for massively inflated prices.

There's a lot of brouhaha on the internets at the moment about the copy protection in this game. I don't think the copy protection applies to macs but even if it does I'm not particularly worried. From what I've read about the Windows version it allows for 3 installs before you have to contact EA games and lets be honest, as much fun as the game is it's not one you'll play for the next 4 years. Besides, lets be even more honest, you and I know a LOT of the people complaining have never paid for a game in their lives and they're just pissed off they can't easily rip a copy from a friend who does pay for his games.

A solid 4 out of 5 stars for the game, with the added note that replayability seems low, especially for the first stages.

Fantastic Contraption
Gaaah, too addicting.

Have to. Stop. Must do. Some shopping.

http://www.addictinggames.com/fantasticcontraption.html

I too am an Intelligent Designer
When I first heard about Maxis' upcoming video game called Spore I was a bit sceptical. A game where you create and guide a new species through the ages, "evolving" them by adding and modifying bodyparts like some kind of demented god seemed a bit ludicrous. But having played with the newly released Creature editor I must say this game might actually be quite fun to play when the full version is released.

The Creature creator is fairly limited and you can't see your creatures form communities, fighting for survival and competing for resources in a virtual world. What you can do is take a basic body plan and outfit your creature with feet, claws, eyes etc. You can then see what kind of moves your creature can make.

Here's Girra, a creature I just made. It's a basic bodyplan with a crocodile like head, some whiskers and eyes on stalks. Six-limbed, this creature will be able to run fairly fast and it sure can dance like a pro.


I see a lot going for this game when it's finished and released. You have a couple of stages to go through, you start out with a single celled organism, "evolve" that into multicellular creatures. Then you get a tribal stage, eventually outgrowing that and colonising the galaxy.
When you're happy with your creature you can upload it to a community site, where others will be able to download it and integrate it into their own game. In a way it's a very limited kind of MMOG, a single player computer game with extra stuff downloaded from the web.

I'm looking forward to this because let's face it, the creatures you can create in just a few minutes are so darned cute.

World of World of Warcraft
Hehe, the next expansion of World of Warcraft is announced by The Onion. I'm not sure I'm gonna get that as it sounds a bit too meta for me.

'Warcraft' Sequel Lets Gamers Play A Character Playing 'Warcraft'

Gaming news
Ah, science. Almost a month ago I linked to a quiz that asked you to name all the elements in the periodic table. At that time I got 30 correct, since that time I've been playing the game every few days and making it a priority to get a few more correct every time.
Today I'm happy to announce that for the first time I got all 118 elements correct.

It's always fun to learn new stuff and some of these were very hard somehow refusing to stick in my head. I had particular troubles with the lanthanide section until I looked them up on Wikipedia and saw that many were named after locations in scandinavia, Holmium for stockholm, Thulium for scandinavia. Other problems were posed by the ones named after scientists; Einstein, Bohr, Nobel, Curie, Roentgen were quick to set in my mind, but Fermi, Lawrence and Rutherford took a while longer and even then I often forgot one.

Of course the real test will be to see if I can replicate this tomorrow.

In other games related news I've been playing an online game called Ikariam (on beta server) lately. It's a cross between Civilization and Settlers and so far I'm liking it. You start out with a town on a random island and it's your job to grow this town, defend it, gather resources and put colonies on other islands. Every island has wood and one "luxury" resource: wine, sulfur, marble or crystal. You need all 4 resources to get ahead. You also have to research different technologies to get access to better buildings and troops.

So far I'm doing ok, thanks to an inactive player that was sitting next to me. Inactive players are removed from the game after a week or two but in the mean time you can pillage them. This gave me a nice start once I put some spies in place to see the town was completely undefended and my lowly troops could storm in and carry off thousands of gold and resources without any risk.
Things are starting to slow down a bit now that my main town has reached level 7 and my 2 colonies are level 6 and 5. Researching a new technology takes almost a day and building an upgrade to an existing building takes between 2 and 4 hours. The good side here is that you can go off to read a book or do some shopping and the game will continue to build the buildings and troops you've instructed it. The downside is that there's no way to queue building upgrades so it's best to leave the game overnight to finish a time intensive task like upgrading a townwall. Things will get worse from here on in I expect as there's war to be prepared for. This morning I woke to see my military adviser inform me of a fleet of ships heading my way, I quickly sent a spy to the originating town and saw that we would be about evenly matched as far as troop-strength is concerned. I quickly sent some reinforcements and build up some more phalanxes to defend my town. I also took the precaution of sending away some resources to another colony in case I lost. In that case my town wouldn't have been destroyed but the other player could occupy it for a day or two and that would have severely set me back. I managed to win and today I've been growing my population and upgrading some key buildings, I assume the other player is not from europe as he was offline by the time his fleet arrived (a spy can tell you this) so it will be interesting to see whether he'll send more troops to me tonight.
All in all an interesting game, although I'm not yet sure there's enough to keep you interested after a few weeks, I'll have to find that out.

WoW video: Kael'Thas
A while ago the Macintosh version of World of Warcraft got inbuilt movierecording. At that time I was in hardcore guild raiding 4 or 5 nights a week, I have since scaled down my playing time massively and only play 2 nights a week or so in a very casual guild.
One of the most interesting fights in WoW at this moment is Prince Kael'Thas Sunstrider. Kael'Thas is the final boss in Tempest Keep: The Eye, a 25 person raid-dungeon. The fight consists of 5 distinct phases, all have to be executed to near perfection with at most 1 or 2 deaths before phase 4 kicks in. The fight lasts for a total of about 15 minutes, with little to no breaks in between the phases (depending on the damage output of your raid).
  • In Phase 1 you fight his 4 advisors, one at a time.
  • In Phase 2 you fight the weapons of the advisors, the weapons can be picked up when they "die" and these give special abilities when clicked, such as resistance to stun effects or when equipped, such as increased resistance to magic damage.
  • In Phase 3 the advisors are brought back from the dead and you have to kill them again, this time all 4 at the same time, you might have 1 weapon still left alive.
  • In Phase 4 Kael'Thas himself becomes targetable, he occasionally summons phoenixes, these die by themselves but once they die they turn into an egg, you need to kill this egg otherwise a new phoenix spawns and you might end up with 2 or even 3 phoenixes, which would mean death on a massive scale. The Phoenixes need to be kept away from the main body of the raid as they do a generous amount of fire damage to all around. Ideally you enter phase 4 with only 1 advisor still left alive. Kael sometimes uses a shield ability that when it fades does large amounts of damage to all around, the key here is to burn down the magic shield and prevent him from using the fire blast ability as it one-shots your tank which leads to a wipe.
  • Phase 5 is more of the same thing, only Kael'Thas stops using his fireblast ability and instead occasionally causes a gravity lapse, sending everyone flying in the air. Whilst in the air you can swim to a safe spot, as you do not want to be too close together for some other abilities like a sort of chain lightning.

If you're interested you can view a detailed strategy guide on Bosskillers and you'll see I skipped over quite a lot of the details.
Because of the complexity of the fight learning the encounter takes a while, especially the first days can be gruelling as even one or two deaths means you might as well all suicide and have a fresh start. Ideally you lose no one in phase 1 and 2 and 3. Once you enter Phase 5 you're basically home free and you can finish the fight as long as you have about 15 people alive. Needless to say killing an end boss that needs such refined tactics means you do not simply level to 70 and have a go at him, there is quite a way to get to him and you only want to bring people with excellent gear and the ability to work together.

Anyways, I created a movie of the fight and thought I'd post it here for you all to see. The movie is hosted on Filefront and you can view it as a streaming flash thing or click the download button and get the divx file if you have a player such as VLC.


Sanctus vs Kael`Thas


As you can see the room where we fight Kael'Thas is rather large which is a good thing for Phase 3 where you have lots of things going on at the same time.
I play a druid in WoW, he's always in the middle of the screen on the movie above, I start off in humanoid form but often shift to tree-form, which gives better and more efficient healing output. The nice thing of the mac movie recording feature is that it also captures the sounds in-game so if you hear a lot of grunting that is from the bosses being hit on da hed.

Get your daily vitamins

My latest addiction is Fruit Smash, a bejeweled like game, only with fruit and special clearing abilities like a bomb, a hammer and even some bugs that come in and graze the field.

My best so far is getting to level 13 but by then the time to fill up the 'juice meter' bar is so long that you're hard pressed to get even halfway before the timer runs out.

Great fun and highly addictive.

Drink a pint of milk a day...
Nice boardgame-like computer game. The challenges in between are cool, if sometimes a bit frustrating. Nice graphics, although the loading times are a bit long sometimes, but then setting up a real boardgame takes up some time as well.

http://www.gettheglass.com/

The Enigmo Frustration
I've been playing some Pangea games the last few days. Nanosaur and Cro-Mag Rally, which came with my PowerMac and iBook respectively if I recall correctly, are great fun. While I'm not a great fan of first person shooters, which Nanosaur essentially is, I can happily play it for an hour or so. Cro-Mag rally is cool as well, a standard racing game set in a sort of Flintstone era.

I had some fun with these and decided to check out the demo of Enigmo 1 which I remembered playing from a disk that came with a magazine a while back. Enigmo 1 is a puzzle game (always fun) where you have to redirect streams of water or fire to fill a container using only a few parts like boosterdrums, planks and whatnot. To add to the complexity certain levels require you to throw switches to start a secondary stream or open a gateway.

Great fun, I looked at the Pangea site and saw there was a new version of Enigmo. Enigmo 2 starts out pretty good with added lasers and mirrors and particles and magnets to attract said particles, these add a new twist to the game and are quite fun.

The problem however soon becomes apparent as the game is now more or less truly 3d. The first Enigmo was 3d in the same vein as Tron was 3d, that is: not at all but it gives the illusion. Enigmo 2 does feature 3d with parallel streams of water. I simply could not get the hang of that. So I figured I'd check the web to see if I was missing something obvious and did a search for "Enigmo level 8", which is where I was stuck. I came across an excellent article that explains why I'm having so much trouble, like the author I am used to a quite different way of moving in 3d space in games.

Having read this article I think that version 2 is broken as designed. There is no way I will put myself through the horrific learning curve to cope with this game's broken engine. Back to version 1 then.

I encourage you to try out both the demos for version 1 and 2 to experience this for yourself, I think you'll agree that version 2 starts out promising but is unplayable once the real 3d part starts.

I hate poorly designed games :(.

Rocket Mania
Warning,

if you have an addictive personality the following game will ruin your life

Fire away!!

iPod Games
Apple's announcements last week were all a bit "meh" to be honest. By that I mean I was slightly underwhelmed.
- Downloadable movies from the iTunes Store: check (US only, what else is new?)
- Slightly modified iPods and bigger iPod harddisks and longer batterylife: check (this happens every 6 months or so)
- Hints of support for phones in the iTunes bundle: check (no product yet but by now an Apple iPhone is almost a certainty)
- An upcoming iTV to connect your Mac with your digital HD-TV: check (Apple (Steve Jobs) wants complete control over your living room and the TV is the last entertainment bastion that Apple has no hold on. Yet)
- iPod games: check (Apple advertised for a senior handheld games engineer about a year ago)

I was most excited by the games part as I believe a significant amount of money can be made there for Apple. Sure, the 320*240 screen of a 5G iPod is too small to play really huge immersive games like Doom or WoW or Myst but big enough for a quick game to while away a few spare minutes. And the default offering of Brick and Solitaire was always a bit weak.

I downloaded Zuma and played it for an hour or so while on the train to my parents' yesterday and I must say that the gameplay was actually pretty good. I had my doubt about whether the iPod scrollwheel would be functional enough as a controller but was pleasantly surprised.

As of yet there are no public APIs to develop games and my guess is that Apple wants tight control for now to keep the offerings of extremely high quality. I wouldn't be surprised if Apple were talking to important developers like Pangaea, Ambrosia and Snood's Dave Dobson. The last one especially as he has been putting Snood on everything from Windows to PDAs to toasters in recent years (not really on toasters but if he could he would, I'm sure). The screensize might be a bit of a problem for some games but I think it's ideal for simple arcade or puzzle games.

A port of MAME would rock too. All Apple would have to do is sell us the ROMs via the iTunes Store. I'm not really up to speed on the whole handheld games market though and it could be that most of the old games are now the property of SEGA or Nintendo or Sony. In which case Apple might have a problem.


As for Virtual Pet Rock, I'm sure that if there were a public API and we were to develop it now it'd go on the iPod as well. After all, most of our heavy users are very preoccupied with their pet rock (read: mad) and given a chance would take their Virtual Pet Rock with them at all times. I have no doubt the interface is up to something like this. For now we'll have to wait and see whether Apple will ever release an API and whether we'd want to spend the time to port it at that stage.


[If you're from Apple and want to contact us to ask for permission to port Virtual Pet Rock and put it on every iPod sold I'm sure we'd be able to come up with a suitably satisfying arrangement :). Just use the contact form on this site.]

The internet is for ...
There's a whole subgenre of internet movies made by using popular songs and dancing WoW characters. Some of em are funny but few stand out.

This is about the funnies WoW movie ever made: The Internet is for Porn.

Enjoy.

Vaelastrasz the Corrupt
I don't normally write about World of Warcraft because it can be pretty boring to hear about a game you're not playing. Most things in games should be experienced but I'll share our biggest victory with you today because it's just a damned good feat.

Yesterday we downed Vaelastrasz the Corrupt. The second boss in Blackwing Lair, one of the toughest instances in the game. Vaelastrasz is probably the third most difficult boss in the game at the moment so getting him down is quite an achievement.



The encounter is absolutely insane in it's premise. You fight a giant dragon that starts life at 30% (still more life than most bosses except a few, a few million hitpoints). Your job as a raid (40 people) is to get him down as soon as possible. This is because as soon as Vaelastrasz is engaged he throws a debuff (spell) on you. In fact this debuff is your key to victory as it restores insane amounts of rage/energy/mana per second. This means that you can use your most powerful damage or healing abilities without worrying about running out of mana for example.

To make things interesting this debuff lasts 3 minutes, after that you're back to your usual regeneration which means everyone dies as he does so much damage. He also occasionally "bombs" a certain person. Once a person is bombed he has to run away from the group or he'll blow up everyone in range. This bombing means that your group gets smaller every few seconds so you're fighting with less and less people as the fight progresses.

I cannot stress how insanely hard this fight is. Once Vaelastrasz is below 20% life left (he started at 30% remember) the warriors can start executing him. Execute is a special attack warriors do that converts all stored up rage into one massive damage dealing blow. Since the debuff regenerates the warriors' rage so quickly they can execute almost continuously. All the while of course you have 10 healers all focussing on the current tank, the one warrior that has the attention of Vaelastrasz. If he dies before it's time (before he becomes the bomb) Vaelastrasz will turn towards the person he hates the second most. This will probably be another warrior but that means Vaelastrasz will turn with his head towards the raidgroup where all the cloth users are. They drop like flies then (Vaelastrasz can wipe an entire 40 man raid in 10 seconds flat).

Of course Vaelastrasz is very sorry about this and he will regularly emote something like "Forgive me Stonebreaker. Your death only adds to my failure". This has to do with the backstory as Vaelastrasz is captured by Nefarius (aka Nefarian, the last boss in Blackwing Lair) and has become severely wounded and corrupted. Backstory.

Well we got him down after about 20 tries so we're felling pretty good right now as you can imagine.

He'll be back next week (Blackwing Lair resets every week, just like other 40 man raid zones like Molten Core and Temple of Ahn'Qiraj) so we'll see if we were just abnormally lucky or not.

Good fun had by all
The ever funny As the Apple Turns points us towards the ancient sport of Cat Flinging.

From the rules:
- Dead and/or stuffed cats may not be used other than as distance markers. They may be spectators, however.
- Only cats who volunteer for the contest may be used. A cat is determined to volunteer if it does not run when approached with the intent to use it for Cat Flinging.

Sounds like good fun, must get myself a cat somewhere. I wonder if anyone's ever done a comprehensive study of which cats get the most distance. One would think some of those ugly naked cats get further as they have less wind resistance. On the other hand they seem to lack sufficient bodymass, meaning momentum won't be as good.

Uldaman
If you enjoyed the World of Warcraft Scarlet Monastery movie you might also enjoy the new one of our recent trip to Uldaman.

Things got pretty tough at the end where we met the boss Archaedas, who summoned his statues to life to help him out. After a wipe and some conferring with guild members who had already been there our tactic was to have everyone focus on the big guy and have the warlock take out the little guys.

Things got a bit hairy at the end but a stoneshield potion increased my armor by 1000 points for one and a half minute which allowed me to take massive damage yet still remain alive. There were also good healers in the group which always helps of course :)

Thorns of Grey do Uldaman. Enjoy.

(And no, I didn't pick out the music this time either.)

Scarlet Monastary
Courtesy of Greyshade comes the following 26 MB Windows Media file (sorry Mac people, you'll have to fire up a Microsoft product to view this one) of our recent trip into Scarlet Monastary. Watch as we take on the master of beasts. Shiver as we encounter priests, monks and high inquisitors. And it has pretty special effect (though on a really small screen).

Enjoy!

{edit: file moved to another server to make room for new movie}

Mounted
Well, that was slightly faster than expected. I got my mount today in World of Warcraft.

I did some warrior quests this week and they brought me good experience (raising me two levels to 42) and also a lot of money.

They brought good money simply because the monsters I had to kill had horrible drop rates for the items I needed to gather. I had to kill some elementals like fire, water and wind and and as they drop their stuff infrequently I had to kill loads, so more experience. I also had to kill loads of trolls to gather tusks. The trolls also dropped loads of silver and silk (which can be made into bandages to sell or use) and other stuff like useless (to me) weapons. I also made loads of curiously tasty omelets and roast raptor which sells well.

In addition I got a very nice two-handed axe as a reward.

So I'm starting to catch up on warrior skills I skipped buying and I'm also starting the wild leather quest which will eventually lead me to the tribal leatherworking specialisation.

Here's a pic of me on my new mount (a grey kodo) in the Barrens, en route to Dustwallow Marsh:
Big version in PDF.

The staff thing at my back is the handle of the axe which is almost bigger than I am :)

WoW
As I've said before I'm currently addicted to World of Warcraft (WoW).
So instead of apologising for the lack of updates around here I'll just bore you with some random stuff about the game.

Yesterday I finally hit the big 4-0. That is: my Tauren warrior character "Riktor" is now level 40. When your character gets this level you can buy a mount. For Tauren it's a kodo. Only problem of course is that these things are expensive. I thought it would cost me 40 gold, but it turns out the things cost 72 gold (for the basic version) or up to 900 gold (for the elite mounts). What's more, you have to undergo training to learn how to ride. This training consists of paying a trainer 18 gold. I had about 32 gold in the bank, so unfortunately I didn't get to buy a mount. I did learn how to ride but that's of little use.

In other news I've joined the Thorns of Grey guild.
We play on the Thunderhorn realm so if you want to join in meet us there.

We organised our first outing this weekend where we all went to a town called Booty Bay for a "photoshoot", a dance and a pool party.

Here's the intro slash brochure I wrote for the ToG forums:

I had the pleasure of visiting Booty Bay the other day and happened upon Mr. Whatsit Doo, the Public relations manager for the Steamwheedle Cartel. He kindly gave me permission to quote from his informational booklet titled "The Steamwheedle Cartel Guide to Booty Bay".


From: The Steamwheedle Cartel Guide to Booty BayŠ.

On behalf of the Steamwheedle Cartel I would like to thank you for your interest in taking a trip to Booty Bay along with the members of your Guild.
Our Guild outings are famous throughout the world of Thunderhorn!

Booty Bay provides excellent facilities and our Guild outings are a good opportunity to trade with others or get that special item you're after from one of our many vendors. In Booty Bay you will find the finest selection of merchandise across the entire southern coast of Azeroth.


Booty Bay from the water (click for bigger version).


Relax in The Salty Sailor Tavern, enjoy a chat with Baron Revilgaz, Superior Herbalist Flora Silverwind, Chief Engineer Scooty, Superior Fisherman Wigcik, Fireworks Merchant Crazk Sparks or simply buy that lovely parrot you've always been after. Booty Bay provides excellent fishing opportunities (we are famed for our Rockscale Cod and Firefin Snappers) as well as a host of exotic wildlife just outside the town boundaries. Adventurous people are requested to bring their own healing spells and potions as the Steamwheedle Cartel cannot be held responsible for any injuries sustained outside (or even inside) the compound.

Members of both factions should note that Booty Bay is a cosmopolitan area and you may encounter members of different species who may look offensive. Just remember that to us you all look offensive. Haha, just kidding!
Please note that the Steamwheedle Cartel caters to members of all species and does not take sides, instead we deal with all parties in a completely fair manner that we are sure is adventageous and profitable for all. As such we have little patience for those tresspassing on our hospitality and we will deal severely with all those raiding our compound. We therefore request that you leave PvP options off during your Guild outings and inside the town.

You probably already know how to get to Booty Bay but just in case you don't.
For members of the Horde: the easiest way is by boat from our lovely sister town of Ratchet, you will arrive on the docks in Booty Bay.


Town entrance (click for bigger version).


For members of the Alliance who have never visited: you have an exciting road to travel. Travel south from Westfall through Stranglethorn Vale following the road closely. One of our previous visitors even swam from Westfall so eager was he to get to us! Make sure to speak with Gyll, the local Gryphon Master for your trip back.

In addition I would like to point you to the following website that contains detailed maps of the world so you can plan your trip: http://www.worldofwar.net/cartography/.

In conclusion I hope you will have a lovely day in Booty Bay!

Sincerely,

Whatsit Doo.
Public relations manager for the Steamwheedle Cartel.



Pics of said event can be found here.

I'll bore you all later when I've finished farming some raptors and doing some quests in order to get enough gold to buy a mount.


[edit]I have since left Thorns of Grey to form Exiled Ones, together with some friends from Thorns.[/edit]

Quit while you're ahead
The toughest game on the web.

First time I played it I got two out of ten. Just now I got seven out of ten. Time to stop methinks.

Odd
I have no idea what this game is about but it's strangely addictive.

GROW.

Too busy playing games
Did I say I love working in education?
I have the week off because it's some kind of holiday: tulip/spring/whatever it's called these days.

I've been playing Ambrosia's EVNova and have been invited to join Orkut.
I must say I'm a little puzzled by Orkut, but then I came across a post by Morbus Iff and it appears I'm not the only one who questions these things.
On the good side there's a community called Pax Banana which has ten members (as of yet) and hopes to save the world by eating banananana's [sic!]. Unfortunately most of the discussions seem to be in french and the only thing french I'm into is red wine but I'm game...

Anyway, back to EVNova, don't expect any news this week.

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