I have very fond memories of the games Star Control and Star Control 2, played on my PC when I was but a wee boy. They were DOS games released in and , respectively, and were absolutely marvellous: large universes, with many star systems, each of them with planets and moons; many alien species which were strange and funny and obnoxious; storylines that were both absurd and very captivating. I had a great time.

I want to open a parenthesis here and talk about the quality of games back then. Click here to hide the following rant, if you are not in the mood for it. I really have no idea how the PC game market was working in the US, but here in Romania, there were very few PCs, no Internet and the distribution of games (all pirated) was done via friends who would recommend and share what they thought was great. There were no walkthroughs, rarely any printed maps or special instructions (since they were not original games) and the only way to finish up a game was to actually play it. Sometimes it got frustrating enough that after hours of trying to find something, you would call friends and ask them what they did. I can only imagine that even in a country were they were a lot more computers and games were bought, rather than copied, the game play situation was similar. In other words, the relationship to the game played was personal: someone that you know and respect came to you and recommended the game. This was the only thing that made you play it other than seeing the cover in some window and feeling like you have to try it. Also, not having any Internet (or very little on it), you would not have access to many reviews and neither to game updates, if something was wrong in the game. And you also have to think of the state of affairs in software programming: every software firm was basically a gang of enthusiasts inventing and trying their own way in which to build software.

Yet, a lot of the games back then were great. Not all, maybe not most, but certainly the ones reaching me through "the grapevine", probably because the bad ones would be filtered away. One has to ask oneself how games back then required a number of hours of play orders of magnitude larger than present ones. How their stories had the complexity of movie scripts (often a lot better) and so much intricacies like alternate game modes, humour and so on. And the answer is, of course, the Internet. Once the gameplay is too complex, players swarm to online walkthroughs, often in video format, to tell them what to do. Atmospheric gameplay where one has to walk for hours to find something are considered antique and wasteful of time. And of course, if they are not social enough, they aren't even worth playing. The advertising is done via the web, with "stars" or other such whimsical method of rating a game, often resulting in simplistic orgies of graphical design with repetitive action as the only thing to do, humour provided by caricaturesque icons of birds or zombies.

That being said, as a software developer myself, I played The Ur-Quan Masters for only two days, using said walkthroughs and being nagged by the wife and dog for not spending time with them. I also had moments where I cursed the necessity to move towards a planet or a star by actually waiting until the ship got there, and often by manually controlling the craft to reach there. Also very annoying was to manually look for star names, until I downloaded the map from ... the Internet. So I am not just a geezer that hates the new, all melancholic about the past; the present has its boons... few as they are. Anyway, to the game!

In , ten years after its release, the makers of Star Control 2 made released the source of the game as open source. Maybe this should be heeded by other game and software makers: create a copyright licence that voids itself ten years after the release of the software. The world would be a better place! Anyway, some people decided to port that to different platforms, including Windows. Now I know that DOS and Windows are made by the same company and that the port sounds easy, but you should look at the bugs for this port like 'Not thread safe' or 'Not safe for 64 bits' and so on.

Accidentally I found out about this port for Star Control 2, called The Ur-Quan Masters. Why was the name changed? Because even as the source code was free to use, the name was copyrighted. Weird, right? I installed the latest version ( - you gotta love these open source versions that tend to reach 1.0, but never do - a bunch of perfectionists, all of them :-) ) and I couldn't start it. It threw an error no matter what I did. In their defence, I was trying to play it on an Athlon 2500+ processor running Windows XP (I know, geezer!). But I did manage to install and run version 0.6.2, which seems to be working on my machine. This is part of the motivation for writing this post, since I found no one on the Internet complaining about the same problem as me. I did try all the compatibility modes for it, BTW, and it didn't work. Maybe I should have tried running in Windows 98 (yes, I still have that installed as a secondary OS).

You see, the plot is that you are the descendant of an exploration mission that was never picked up from the planet they were supposed to investigate. They did find an ancient alien starship factory and managed to build just the skeleton of a ship to send you back to Earth to see what had happened. Getting there you find the Earth encased in an impenetrable shield with an orbiting station around it. The crew of the station tell you the story: alien race called the Ur-Quan came for enslaving all sentient races, won the war and gave earthlings two choices (well, actually three, if you consider total annihilation, but let's not get technical): join them as their slaves or relocate all resources to Earth and be trapped under the slave shield. Humans chose the latter. Now, your mission is to find alien races, make them join you in defeating the Ur-Quan and ... well, defeat the Ur-Quan. You have to do that by exploring amongst hundreds of stars, each with their own solar system of planets and moons. You get fuel and extra modules for your ship at the human station, but you need to bring materials (minerals) in order to get them. Minerals are gathered via manual missions to the surface of each planet and moon, while fires, lightning, earthquakes and alien lifeforms are attacking your landers. Aliens are diverse and most very funny: a cowardly race that speak like Italians, an evil spider race, a sexy race called the Syreen, warrior type race (that is weak and stupid), automatic probes that declare their peaceful intentions then attack you, mean spirited aliens that consider all harm done to you as a practical joke and so on. There is even an Emo race, although the term became popular a long time after the release of the game.

Oh, the memories! The vibrating music originally thought for PC speaker or maybe AdLib cards brought back feelings of old. The witty dialogues and the immersive nature of the game made me relive a lot of past pleasures. Unfortunately, as I was saying in the rant above, there was a lot of immersion that I really didn't want, like waiting for minutes to get from a star to another, then manually navigate to reach a planet or moon. I couldn't help thinking as a software developer and consider how I would have done the game - of course, online, in HTML5 and Javascript, and actually it wouldn't be so hard. Playing the game I realised how different the perception of time was then compared to now. It was obscene how much time I had back then, and completely devoid of responsibilities, too.

Well, because of the time constraints I quickly hacked the game, added infinite money and proceeded to finish the game using a map and a walkthrough. I also was unable to finish the game due to two bugs: one where the Spathi should have given me an Umgah Caster and did not, and another where the Mycon were supposed to go to Organon and did not. Even so, it took me two full days, about 16 hours of gameplay. Anyway, I was close to the finish and I did watch the ending on YouTube (how nouveau of me! :-( ) For the people that loved playing this game in the past, maybe you should try it again. Old memories often bring complexity to present perspective. And for those who did not know of this game until this post, maybe you should try it, see what people of old considered a good game, even if they played it on 33Mhz 386 PCs with 4MB of RAM and 120MB hard drives.

Also, there is another attempt for a port to Windows from the same source called Project 6014, for some reason. I think it stalled, but maybe it brings some surprises to the table.

I leave you with a YouTube video gameplay by some guy (frankly the first I did find) if you are unwilling to take the trek yourself.


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I've had the opportunity to play these games on the work XBox and I just had to make the blog entry to compare them. The thing is that, even if some corporation wants DC Comics and Mortal Kombat to merge somehow, they are completely different both in concept and audience.

I've been a player of Mortal Kombat since it first appeared on PCs. Me and school friends were spending hours playing it (rather than go learn something useful, obviously). Even then - or maybe it is better said that especially then - it was clear that the game had soul, that someone really spent their time and love to make it. No matter who bought it and what they did to it, Mortal Kombat never completely lost that soul. You see, the game idea is clear: two players face each other in combat, they use different characters who have different abilities and in the end someone wins. Unlike other games that start off neutered by the present socio-political situation in the States, MK started off as brutal and bloody. You could use all kinds of magic and utensils to hit your opponent, chained combos and see lots of blood, but the hallmark of the game was that, in the end, after you have defeated your opponent, you had the opportunity to perform a Fatality, something that was truly gruesome like ripping their heads out with a bit of the spine, or cutting them in two or setting them on fire.

Now you will probably ask why has my sick brain made the connection between a brutal combat game and true love and having a soul. The thing is that the first MK started out with 8 characters, plus some bosses and hidden characters, then MKII has twice as that, and the various incarnations of the game saw up to 65 characters. And yet you will be hard pressed to find any major version where a player could not win with any of the characters against any other if they were good enough. That sense of balance shows the dedication of the developer teams that endured the various corporate transformations of Mortal Kombat.

The ninth version, Mortal Kombat IX, has a lot of characters, over 30, although some are DLC and make little sense in the Mortal Kombat universe, like Freddy Krueger or Kratos. Of course, you had to pay for them. Later on the Komplete Edition of the game had all the characters and all their skins available. Except for a little overpowering of Noob Saibot, MK IX was pretty balanced. The graphics were awesome, truly, and had various fatalities and X-moves - the super move one could execute with three bars of power, which showed anatomical X-ray like details in slow motion like cracked skulls and ribs. The only problem was the controller. I am a PC user and it took a long time to get used with the XBox controller and even more to understand how pressing forward would sometimes make my character jump up and backwards or some other thing like that. I know the controllers at work were pretty messed up, but I swear there had to be something to do with the programming as well. Also, as far as I could see, the game dropped frames. If you moved fast enough, the other player would have difficulty making their special moves, probably because some part of the data or processing was lost. But overall the game was great, the story was nice and the combination of different characters, skins and violence was delicious.

To make the transition easier, I will also mention another game, also featuring Mortal Kombat characters: Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe. It is an older game, launched in 2009. This weird crossover featured fights between the likes of Raiden and Shang Tsung versus Superman and the Joker. It is the last game made by Midway Games, the creators of Mortal Kombat and the first introduction of the "evil empire": Warner Brothers, who brought with them DC Comics. After that Midway went bankrupt and sold the rights to Mortal Kombat to WB. Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe had a bit of faux 3D movement, stage transitions (like punching someone through a wall and getting to another stage) and no fatalities. In fact, it had almost no blood, while the "powers" of the MK characters seemed oddly and randomly assigned (Shang Tsung had a punch teleport, Jax had a machine gun, etc). The playability of the game was OKish, with the major problem of in flight hits. One would jump toward an opponent, punch or kick and the character would stop in mid-air and perform the punch or kick there, which made it very unrealistic and static. Also, and that probably made it unpopular in the game room, it was unbalanced. Sonya Blade could kick everybody's ass just by jumping and kicking.

Enter Injustice: Gods Among Us, a game that is also made by NetherRealm Studios, who made Mortal Kombat IX, and also copyrighted by Warner Brothers. NetherRealm is actually what remains of Midway Games plus what remains of WB Games Chicago. In Injustice there are only DC Comics characters, the graphics are really good, a lot of stage interaction, flashy "social" statistics and "ranking", downloadable characters, obviously, and so on. The game play, though, total crap. Now, I may be very biased when it comes to Mortal Kombat type games, given by all love for the original game and concept, and I also understand that this wasn't supposed to be Mortal Kombat in the first place, but in my mind it represents everything that MK developers and players fought against. First, it has violence, but no blood. You get a lot of punches, kicks, explosions, object traumas like things falling on you, being thrown on you or through you (like arrows), only no blood. There are no parts of the body that get broken or smashed. It's like a good old fashioned cowboy brawl that results in someone saying "awwh, shucks!". Then there is the completely weird system of hits and blocks. You have to press Back to defend up and Down or Back-Down to defend down. Combine that with the fact that jumps are mainly vertical and so do not bring you closer to your opponent than walking, and you get a very asymmetrical game play where range fighters have to just run and shoot, while power characters have to dash a lot through bullets to get to their target. Even so, among similar type of characters there are huge differences. I would say that Deathstroke followed by Aquaman are by far the strongest characters, like lame-ass Green Arrow is a weakling. My favourite, Doomsday, had a lot of problems getting to anyone, even if it was supposed to be indestructible and on par with Superman. Well, they were on par in the game, Superman sucked, too. So: no blood, game imbalance and poor playability when there was obviously a lot of effort put into the shiny aspects of the game.

So you see, I had to write this post. Not because I didn't enjoy playing Injustice or because I think it is a bad game, but because it is like taking a cool 80's horror movie and turning into a 2010 remake that scares no one and can be played in cinemas to children. All Flash and no Meat, so to speak. MK is for gamers while DC games are for kids. All we need now is some Mortal Kombat game with parental controls on it. That being said, I can hardly wait Mortal Kombat 10! I hope they don't mess it up completely. As homework, you should try to read on the history of Mortal Kombat and of Midway Games. It's an interesting read. There was a really nice video with the developers of the first Mortal Kombat telling the story of the inception of the game, but I couldn't find it. Instead I leave you with the komplete :) history of the game from MKSecrets:

Ultima Underworld was and continues to be an inspiration as to how and why to make video games. I've played this as a kid, on a 386 PC computer, and was blown away. It featured simulated 3D with angles that were not straight and rooms of different heights. You could jump, use weapons in multiple ways (like jabbing or cutting with swords), there was discoverable magic, NPCs, interaction that went as far as having to learn a new language or play an instrument, numerous puzzles and an amazing story.

But that is not what made it great. You see, I am telling everyone I know that this was one of the games that defined my childhood and today I've read the Wikipedia article for the game and remembered all the history related to it and I realized that I needed to blog about it, too. What made this game great was that there was no need to make the game as good. Released in 1992, it only had to compete with Wolfenstein 3D which was released a few months after, anyway. At the time Civilisation and Dune II, Mortal Kombat and Street Fighter II were also amazing games, but none in the genre of Ultima Underworld. They could have worked less, released sooner and gained more money. But that's not what they did, they did something to be proud of and that is why the game was great.

At the bottom of this post I will place a YouTube video of gameplay. The synthesised sounds (no recorded sounds were used in the game) and music as well as the graphics will probably make you cringe now, but at the time, it was state of the art. Just hearing that music fills me with strong emotion that I can hardly realize from where it comes, but it is deep. Ultima Underworld has left its mark on me, but not only. Look at the litany of games their authors attributed influence to Stygian Abyss: BioShock, Gears of War, Elder Scrolls, Deus Ex, Vampire the Masquerade Bloodlines, Tomb Raider, Morrowind, World of Warcraft.

Amazingly enough, there was only a sequel to the game, Ultima Underworld II. The publishers refused to sponsor a third franchise and the developers ultimately decided to create a "spiritual successor", which was Arx Fatalis, also a great game. Younger people might only know Dark Messiah of Might and Magic, which has nothing to do with Might and Magic except financially, and is actually Arx Fatalis II. You can see even there that storyline and gameplay have suffered when a big corporate game company took the reigns, despite the high budget graphics and sounds.

I have voluntarily removed myself from the gaming scene. I've refused to upgrade my computer to a state where it can play any modern game and the only things I play are web games to pass the time between tasks at work. I am certain that even now there are exceptional people creating exceptional games that push the frontiers of technology, but more than that, the frontiers of imagination. I've heard of some of them: The Witcher, for example, a game made after a successful fantasy book series that features free play and allowing the character to be as bad, good or rotten as he wants, while the game shapes itself after his decisions. Look out for games like these. Even if you don't realize it, they will open your mind and your heart and will influence you to be better than you would otherwise be. They are not only games, but teachers. Love them!

There is a sentence hidden there inside the Ultima Underworld wiki page: the game is non-linear and allows for emergent gameplay. In other words, it let's you guide the story, change the game play, play multiple times with different outcomes. Embrace choice, it will only get better.


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You have to excuse me, I've found this blog that I like, Ars Technica, and I can't seem to stop linking to stories there. This one is just funny: UbiSoft released their newest Assassin Creed game and, in a deluxe version, they included a bunch of extras, including the complete soundtrack for the game. However, when looking closer to the ID3 tags for the songs, it was discovered they were pirated versions, distributed on torrents after being taken from the collector's edition of the game.

There is a "theory" that piracy is enhanced by the fact that it is so easy to use pirated content and so damn annoying using the official, paid, version. So easy, it appears, that UbiSoft people found it more efficient to download the pirated version than to go through inner channels to get the songs. They essentially pirated themselves! If that doesn't make you smile a little, you must not be a geek :)

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I have been waiting for this game for 12 years, just like everybody else, but not for the usual reasons. I like the Blizzard stories. I liked the Starcraft tales of the first game and I absolutely loved the Warcraft III plot. I was expecting something glorious this time. Well... I was kind of disappointed. The story is pretty linear, with cowboy characters and dialogues seemingly stolen directly from the propaganda in Starship Troopers.

But first, a word from our sponsors :). The campaign has a secret mission. Read about it before starting the single player game. So even if you have a Queen of Blades nagging you talking a walk around the base and buying her Xel'Naga artifacts, don't rush the Media Blitz mission. ;)

I have this old Sempron 2500+ with 1Gb of RAM. The game, at the lowest possible settings, was snail paced. One needs memory for this baby. I am not blaming Blizzard for my laziness in buying a computer, but it seemed to me that all the slowness came from reasons that could have been addressed. For example the game (as it should) remembers correctly every keystroke and mouse click in battle. However, in the HUD or in the game menu, one has to wait for the buttons to light up before clicking, and then keep pressing until the button lights up the second time. In game, the greatest slowness came from special effects that were not related to the game play. I understand a suspended nuke over a flowing lava fountain might exert the CPU of a computer, but the animation itself could have been scaled down to an animated GIF for crying out loud. The cinematic animations were pretty nice, and I loved how when I ran out of resources the film would not freeze, instead the characters would wait for the next part of the dialogue, breathing and moving their eyes. But still, since there is no interaction whatsoever from the user, can't you precache it into a movie? One that can be played on any computer and has the video in sync with the audio?
So yes, the game is running slow on my computer, but I feel that it could have worked a lot better with only some minor tweaks of the in game interface.

The in game interface is pretty nice, completely 3D and the map itself is 3D and some units (a precious few) can take advantage of that, like hopping jet packed soldiers or air-ground transforming machines called the Vikings). However, the game play is almost identical to the first game, so the 3D feels kind of pointless. There are camera zoom and rotation abilities, but the zoom out is limited to a pretty low setting and the zoom in is kind of pointless unless you have female units to properly look at :)

The units of the game are interesting enough. The old units have been morphed, replaced, removed, and new units were added. For the humans are multiple types of turrets, including machineguns on the bunkers, air units dropping turrets and a special mind control tower that permanently captures zerg units. The Goliaths are still there, but also a more heavy, ground focused Thor unit is available. There are multiple soldier units other than the Marines and Firebats, like hopping and grenade launching units. It is funny though, most human soldiers and vehicles are focused on attacking only ground units. The air units have been reinvented. There are small troop carriers that can heal units, really big Hercules troop carriers, the Battlecruisers have an upgrade that allows them to attack air units with missiles, the Valkirie is gone, but it was replaced by the Viking, a sort of transformer unit that can fly and attack air units or transform into a walking robot that attacks ground units. There are two types of science vessels and they repair mechanical units instead of firing EMP pulses. There are two types of ghosts, too.

The Zerg have been transformed, too, as well as the Protoss, but I can't really address this issue until I play some multiplayer games to see it from all perspectives. And yes, I guess you already know by now, but I will tell you anyway: after 12 years of waiting, you only get the human campaign. The Zerg follows, then the Protoss, probably in expansions to the game.

There is a mini campaign with the protoss, where any two templars (dark or light) can be morphed into an Archon, but I have seen no trace of the Dark Achon. I really loved that unit. I hope they didn't remove it. Also the zerg overlords need to transform into Overseers in order to be observers; they lose the ability to transport and to pour creep from the air (yeah, really cool) and instead have the ability to spawn banelings, creatures that attack ground units and transform into the same low level unit they encounter, like a zealot or marine or something like that. I know this because, while missing the Dark Archon, I really loved the human zerg capturing beacon tower :) I haven't seen any lurkers, either. I liked them, too. Instead there are some walking buildings that burrow in the creep and become normal ground turrets. Maybe that's the only way to build ground turrets now.

There were some real innovations to the game. The units that can hop to high ground is one of them. The way SCVs are repairing nearby structures and mechanical units without someone having to tell them to do it is something that I really liked. Also you can place a building over ground covered by your own units and they will just move out of the way. You also get useful alerts, like idle SCVs. I liked that as well. There is a special human building where one can call mercenaries, specialized unit squadrons that have extra health and deal extra damage. Also, in the story, there are research points that you earn and use them to select one of two choices in a list of pairs of technologies. For example you can choose to slow zerg units instead of capturing them with the beacon, you can choose stronger bunkers instead of machine gun equipped, etc.

That being said, there are still ridiculous ways in which groups of units interact. You can't easily tell a group of medics to accompany and repair a marine unit. If you select them all and attack, the medics will heal the marines, but if you tell them to move, they won't! If you select multiple air and ground units, there is no way to tell them to clump together. The air units will just go over and die, while the ground units use the scenic route. Units do move out of the way of other moving units, but only for a while, sometimes getting into infinite loops. As in the previous game, the forward line of an attack group doesn't know to move a little forward to let the back like be in attack range and heavily hit units don't really have any way to retreat while others are covering.

So yes, I guess one can enjoy the game as the one before, but I am the kind of guy who likes automatic transmission, cars that park themselves and, hopefully in the near future, drive themselves. I would have created an entire option panel that described how units ought to behave.

Now for the story. Spoilers alert! If you want to play the game and see the story unfold, stop reading!.

The sector is mostly occupied by humans. Mengsk has overthrown the government and became emperor, one that is even more brutal and oppressive than the one before. In the process he betrayed his partners: Jim Raynor and Sarah Kerrigan. Raynor is now the leader of the resistance, while Sarah Kerrigan was abducted by the Zerg, transformed into an infested version of herself and has since taken over as the leader of the Zerg, after the Protoss have destroyed the Overmind.

So Raynor is doing mischief trying to get to Mengsk, while the Zerg appear in the sector and start taking over human worlds. The Protoss couldn't care less. They occasionally purge worlds of Zerg (by destroying the entire planet, inhabited or not) or hold up in sacred locations, bent on stopping anyone from taking their precious holy artifacts.

You see, the Protoss are believers in the Xel'Naga, their creator gods. Well, what do you know? The Xel'Naga actually exist, they created the Protoss and the Zerg and now they are returning. Looking like hybrids of Protoss and Zerg, they have shields, they can heal really fast and can corrupt zerg units into becoming their slaves. Probably tired of waiting 12 years to get the second Starcraft game, they are pretty pissed and want to corrupt all the Zerg into destroying all life in the sector, then commanding them to kill themselves, thus ending all life.

Raynor is here to save the world so, with a little premonitory help from his friends Zeratul and Tassadar, he sees what the Xel'Naga plan and sees that the entire future depends on him NOT KILLING Kerrigan. She alone can do something against the Xel'Naga. We also learn that the Overmind was under the control of the Xel'Naga all the time and it created the Queen of Blades from Kerrigan as a solution to its enslavement, thus proving great courage. Poor Overmind :'(

Therefore, the purpose of this campaign is to get to the Queen of Blades and use an ancient Xel'Naga artifact to purge the Zerg out of her. Badly enough, Infested Kerrigan is not the sexy babe she was in the first franchise, instead she is some afro-mongoloid with bad skin and shiny eyes, so I was highly motivated to see her brought back to normal.

The story has three choice points, which can slightly alter the plotline. One is when the world where you relocated some humans you saved gets infested. Protoss units come to purge the world and you can have the choice of purging the world yourself or fighting the Protoss to stop them. Later on, one can choose whether to use Ghosts or Specters. Specters are a slightly insane version of the Ghost created by one of Mengsk's secret programs. Then, on Charr, you can choose to destroy the Zerg Nydus worms or their air units. I was also mentioning a secret mission, found if destroying a conspicuous building in the Media Blitz mission.

Obviously, I purged the humans and kept the spectres. I killed the Nydus worms, too, but I think that's clearly the more sensible solution when you have the capture beacons.

!!! Uberspoilers !!!

The campaign ends with Raynor untransforming Kerrigan, killing Tychus who has been sent to kill her, probably by some Xel'Naga influenced human group (I dare say it would have been stupid for Mengsk to ally with the Xel'Naga, but he is a likely culprit) and purging Charr of all Zerg.

Ok, there are also some cheats that can help you end the game faster. You won't get any achievements if you use them, but then again, you need to play the uncracked version to use achievements, so the hell with them.

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You know when you are playing some famous game you get millions of pages discussing strategies and solutions to in-game problems? Well, if you think about it, all those pages could be brought together and bound in something like a book. Why not write StarCraft for Dummies or Professional Warhammer 40000? And with that in mind, how would you feel about a book whose entire purpose is discussing Pac-Man?

Curious yet? You can check it out here! It writes about the algorithms used in the game, the tips and tricks for playing, even the different personalities of the four killer ghosts! Everything complete with pictures, diagrams and YouTube videos!

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I know, Might and Magic IX is an old game, but I haven't played it because, after being a HUGE fan of Might and Magic 1 through 5 I got really dissapointed with versions 6,7 and 8, which used 3D technology, but presented a lot less as the game story and playability was concerned. Then I played the tenth version, Dark Messiah of Might and Magic, which was a completely different game, more of an Arx Fatalis 2, rather than M&M 10. Not that it wasn't very very cool, just wasn't what I had expected from an M&M game.

Enter Might and Magic IX. From the start it looked less modern than versions 6-8, which prompted my friend to think that he played more recent versions of the game. It became soon apparent that it was an attempt to go back to the roots. The game was complex, the map large, the monsters inventive and the storyline pretty interesting. Also, they returned to the old solution of dungeons, where entering a place was moving you to a new map, rather than a small part of the larger one.

I loved every moment of it until close to the end. The cities at the end of the game had less stuff in them, less monsters around and of a more poor quality. I kind of expected that, since it must have been a long software project plagued by a release deadline in the end. However, when I had to spend hours trying to get around dungeons filled with powerful yet silly monsters just to get to the end, I got very bored. I actually did not finish the game, only about 95% of it.

The game had an unhealthy amount of undead creatures, which made Turn Undead a very useful spell. Unfortunately, I think it was a bit buggy. After a strong Turn Undead monsters continued to run, even if the spell wore off. Another really nice spell was Enrage, which allowed one to make monsters fight each other. Wizard Eye was a bit annoying, since it lasted a too short a time.

I recommend you check the character development tree (Druid, Healer, Lich, Gladiator, Assassin, etc) and decide from the very start which character in your party will be what. Pay extra attention to the promotions. You may be able to promote more characters in the same time, but then you are commited to that path with all of the characters. Try to build each character in a different class. Some allow for very powerful spells that one cannot learn or use otherwise.

I don't want to spoil anything, so I will let you play it and enjoy. I applaud the return to the old values of Might and Magic, even if those older games had a lot more brain and humour in them and this had a lot of braun. The ending was inconsistent with the M&M storyline so far which was disappointing.

Bottom line: greatest of the true Might and Magic 3D games, I wish I was young again and full of free time so I can play it without looking at the clock all the time. If you somehow missed it, do play it.

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Another game in the Vampire universe, this time everything is happening in the present, with a lowly human being Embraced out of a sudden by a rebelious vampire. The outcome is that your "sire" is killed and you are left alone to discover what a vampire really is.

Now, at the start of the game I thought to myself "Redemption was way better". It's true, Bloodlines is trully 3D, but you have 1 character only. It does employ a lot of elements from first person shooters, but the only thing the main character seems to be able to do is take orders from everybody. But then the story really became interesting. The annoying lack of free will remained a thorn in my side for the rest of the game, but with each quest I had to finish there appeared more ways to solve problems, more and more innovative quests (not just go, kill, exit like in Redemption).

What I found really cool is the little quiz you get to answer in the beginning of the game. The answers to it determine the vampire "clan" you belong to and they give you some special abilities accordingly. It guessed me right, too. I got to be Gangrel and killed almost all enemies with axe or sword, even if they had Steyr AUG :). That means that they had a way of ending any situation according to the chosen clan, which is very cool indeed as programming goes. Also, the 3D characters are really well defined. Chicks are sexy, movements are natural and facial expressions are almost realistic!

As with Redemption, the story is really well defined and together at the start of the game then it goes faster and faster as the end approaches. I didn't like that. Also, when you are close to the end and you want to escape a collapsing cave using an inflatable boat the game crashes to Windows desktop. What you need to do, actually what you need to do from the start of the game is go download the patch and install it. Here is the link. Also, the minimum requirements are 512MB of memory, but you will find yourself unable to control your character from time to time, and in this case you must tweak the game a little. It will provide a modest help, the only real solution I found is to save the game when this happends and then some memory gets freed or whatever. You can also try all kinds of console commands provided you start the game with the -console command line option.

My conclusion: another great game probably plagued by deadline management. They were planning even a multiplayer option in the game, but they scratched it. The ending also allowed for at least a dozen continuations, but they didn't pursue this. Bottom line: if you liked Redemption, but you thought it wasn't "killy" enough or you wanted to be more FPS like, you will love this one.

I got this game from a colleague of mine, something she labelled as strategy. Well, it was actually an RPG, and a pretty good one, too. Considering that it is rather old, it certainly goes up there in my games top. It is one of the games in the Vampire the Masquerade series, codenamed Redemption and released in 2000 by Activision.

Ok, the idea is that you are a crusader, left behind by your company due to severe battle trauma. A helpful and kind nun takes care of your wounds and makes you better. However, you soon find out that the city (of Prague) is plagued by monsters and undead creatures. As a devout follower of God's path (infidel! I kill you!), you get your mighty sword and crusader expertise and proceed on a debug mission. It would be pointless to go further from here, as the story evolves until you get in the year 1999 and in the cities of Prague, Vienna, London and New York.

The fun of the game is that you use both vampiric attacks and magic and a bit of strategic thinking in order to attain your goals. Starting out with a single character, you get to have up to four.

Now about the fast lane: how to finish the game as soon as possible. First of all try to equip your characters with the best armour and weapons you can find. At first you don't have a lot of money, but you find all kind of stuff when you kill monsters. Second of all, you will get to find a lot of rings and necklaces and bracelets that only improve APP(earance). You might think that wearing them will pimp your vampires, but Appearance is very important for one of the most crucial spells in the game: Enchantment. The other very important spells are: Feed, Blood Healing and Ice Statue. If you master these four spells you can defeat anyone. Unfortunately, Ice Statue will not be available until you defeat the Tremere, which is quite advanced in the game. Any spell that makes the target not attack will be as good, though. The next important spells are Awaken (wakes up a dead member of your group) and Walk the Abyss, which allows you to instantly transport to your save game place (the Haven) and store your objects and increase your stats. A good secondary spell is Spirit's Touch, which will identify the unknown objects you find.

Another important thing is to go to Options -> Controls and remove all spells from your group except auto healing. Otherwise your vampire buddies will gobble up blood like it's 12 years old Whiskey. And talking of control, near each character's picture there is a green light. Click on it and the guy will not follow you around like a dumbass, killing the people you are trying to feed upon or do magic tricks on.

And back to the fast lane: use Enchantment to control an enemy to fight the others around him when there are more than one foe. Then run in front of him with one of your group, so that he follows (or do that from the start if you can separate him from the others or if he is alone), then wait with another character with big Feed rating and, of course, Feed until the foe dies. In order for this to work, the little green lights must be off, otherwise they will follow and attack like idiots. In the case of monsters and non-blooded creatures, freeze them and kill them.

Also to note is that Christof's AI is more violent than for others. Even without his little green light, he will still attack stupidly. Another thing to note is that using the middle mouse button, the characters will attack with a slower, but stronger attack, optimal for frozen creatures or when they are fighting someone else in the group. Remember to keep your Feed guy empty by letting the others feed on him!

Ok, that's it. The game has a multiplayer option as well, but I haven't explored it yet. The movement AI is the worst part of the game. Also the story could have been more interesting. At some times I managed to enter unfinished portions of the game, where characters would just sit and not interact or where the dialogue would have been replaced by general options like "Threaten" "Leave Alone". Other than that, it's a pretty smooth, though linear, game.

If anyone is interested, there are three possible endings, and here are the YouTube links. Just make sure you want to see them before you finish the game or not.

Good Ending
Neutral Ending
Bad Ending

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I really enjoyed the Warcraft and Starcraft ministories in the game and I was happy to hear that books have been written that take place in those parallel worlds. One of these is Starcraft Uprising.

I am disapointed to say that the book sucks. It is like a fast forward screenwrite test, with ideas that are both boring and badly conceived. The entire book can be read online, but I've lost the link, but I tell you this: it is not worth it. And the action takes place just after humans discover the Zerg, but have no idea what they are, a prequel to the Starcraft storyline.

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Dark Messiah of Might and Magic, a great game!

Oh, I am weak. I'd already decided not to download the game from various reasons. First of all I didn't have the greatest computer to play it on, then the fact that it would totally consume me and take me away from work or any intelligent activity; third of all, I didn't have the space. Well, the hell with it, I've taken the hard drive from another computer, deleted all the movies, downloaded the game and played it at lowest graphics. Luckily (or unluckily) I've finished it in about 5 days. Here is my experience.

I had huge expectancies regarding this game. Made by Arkane Studios, the brilliant makers of Ultima Underworld (AND NO! I DON'T MEAN ULTIMA, BLEAH!) and Arx Fatalis [blog entry], both greatly intelligent games, but in a Might&Magic universe (I've loved the might and magic series, even from Might&Magic 1 - AND NO! I DON'T MEAN HEROES OF MIGHT AND MAGIC, BLEAH!). Also I have seen the videos of gameplay and also noticed a multiplayer mode, something like Counter Strike, another sick obsession of mine. So Arx Fatalis + Might&Magic + Counter Strike = the greatest games of all times!

Wrong! Actually, the entire game is like Arx Fatalis II, a project that Arcane Studios have started but never finished. The Might&Magic name is completely misused, since the game is quest based, without open spaces or branched game play. The fighting is pretty cool, but on my NVidia FX5200 it showed white instead of water when swimming, a transparent checkers board on the screen when using magic items and a white rectangle when animations were played. Maybe that last one is from a glitch in the DVD image.

That doesn't mean it is a bad game. Au contraire! the 3D engine is great and the feeling and the story are almost identical to Arx Fatalis. The interactions with the environment and some of the innovations are extraordinary. However the complexity of the game greatly diminished, kind of like the decrease in complexity one sees from the 1-5 series of Might&Magic to the 3D version starting with 6. The quests are real no brainers and there aren't many creatures in the game. Somehow, the electric flying demon-octopus had made its way all the way from Ultima Underworld :) but other than that you only have: goblins, Orcs, soldiers, tough soldiers, necromancers, leeches, cyclops, pao-kai (corrupted dragons), undead zombies, undead cyclops and undead pao-kai, a huge spider and a lot of small and annoying other spiders and ghouls (which are the most scary and dangerous if you ask me) in 10 levels of fun.

I mean, where are the undead goblins? I've never seen them in any game!

Anyway, some innovations deserve a lot of credit:

The rope arrow (shoot an arrow and climb the rope) which would have been even better without the bug that made me fall through walls or get stuck there.

The fact that you can pretty much grab anything and throw it in your enemy.
The interaction with the environment (throw enemies off cliffs, into fires, into spikes, push coffins and statues and barrels on them, destroy wood supports or cut ropes to unleash hell on your enemies. This would have been great if you wouldn't have had to hit a ghoul several times with the coolest weapon you have to kill them, but you killed it instantly if you kicked it into spikes.

The way that the character evolves through your choices, making you an assassin, a wizard or a fighter depending on the usage of your points. Unfortunately you only win points when finishing quests, not when actually defeating enemies.

The head shot bonus.

The general dynamic of the game, which means smart monsters run when they are badly hurt, hide themselves behind obstacles if they can't reach you so you wouldn't just shoot them with a bow several times, etc.

Ok, spoilers follow! I will be telling the story of the game.

You are some magician's apprentice, before he sends you on a quest to carry a crystal to a friend, he implants you with a helper (a female voice) that gives you a lot of suggestions (too many if you ask me). She is also very sensual and making sexy remarks, so that means she has to be evil :-/ Anyway, you get to this city when the city is attacked by necromancers, they steal your crystal, you have to get the crystal back, find a skull, the necros take the skull, you have to get it back and the moral of the story is that... you are the son of the strongest demon of them all, imprisoned by the seventh dragon by using the very skull everyone has been after.

Now, you have options: purge yourself from the evil implantation in your head or not. Keep the good girl alive or not. Use the skull to imprison your father forever or to set him free. There are different endings for this, and the video below shows them all.

Very basic story, yes? A lot like the one in Arx Fatalis where you also were a pawn of ... everybody. And you also don't get any sex in this one. Plenty of violence though. The animations aren't very cool either. It seems as if Ubisoft bought the unfinished Arx Fatalis II and gave it a shine, then released it as fast as possible. Having morons like me playing the game without paying could also explain the lack of extra details.

My suggestion is to get the charm spell as soon as possible, as it gives you the opportunity to make enemies fight each other while you watch. :) Of course, assassin is cool, too, but I hadn't had the time to test it yet.

Bottom line: Not the greatest game ever, but still one to show everybody else how a game should be conceived and how important innovation is.

The different endings of DMOMM:

Update 2020 - most of the links here are dead, the things they referred to long forgotten. So much for "once you put it on the Internet it never disappears".

Having reached the 200th entry, I really wanted to write something cool, something interesting, something that sticks (and it ain't shit).

I thought of blogging Kartoo, a very nice - albeit slow - visual search engine that shows not only relevant links, but also the context items that link different pages.

But Kartoo is not personal enough, so I switched to YouTube, thought about blogging (yet another) female vocalist nu-metal with goth overtones band like the Italian band Exilia. Or something else, like the Turkish band maNga, or the Spanish Dead Stoned or Demiurgo. But this is a blog, not a video/music site.

Then I thought about programming; there must be something in the three projects I am working on worth blogging about, or at least something important like Don't use the .NET Random class when concerned about security. But then again, the blog is full of (I hope) interesting programming hints.

What else is there? Ranting about bycicle lanes the city hall is building on the sidewalk and on which old people are happy to walk (slowly) without losing themselves;
interesting conceptual games like BoomShine, Straight Dice or Stickman Fight and how they can be improved;
the BBC Baghdad Navigator, to show you the distribution and timeline of Baghdad bombings;
the Lilium song for the anime Elfen Lied;
the Coma article on Wikipedia (I didn't write it);
coming improvements in the Sift3 algorithm;
InuYasha manga reaching chapter 500;
the new Google/Kartoo/Wikipedia searches for any selected text in the blog;
how I am reading Il Nome de la Rosa and The Name of the Rose in the same time, trying to grasp more of the Italian language;
Gwoemul, a very nice South Korean film...

No, there is too much to choose and I can't decide. I think I will skip entry 200 entirely.

I found this article on BBC News that told of a series of new algorithms for 3D image rendering using the tracing of light rays rather than polygonal rendering. They also use less resources than traditional algorithms. Interesting enough, so I searched the Internet. I think this will usher a new era of computer games, not to mention a boom of cheap 3D movies. See how the reflections generate secondary and tertiary reflections in the image?

Check out the site of the OpenRT project for videos on how this works.

Update 2011: Apparently the site is pretty much dead except the front page. It's an old post anyway.

Other Links:
Ray Tracing basics at Wikipedia
A free open source (GPL) OpenRT implementation

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A while ago I presented what I thought it was a very nice flash game from the category of Prince of Persia, Aladdin, Sonic, etc, but simplistic in design and rich in functionality. A demo for world 2 has been published and you can now play it.

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I have found this very cool game while browsing the net. While I personally hated Sonic games, I found this one strangely interesting. The minimalist design probably did it for me. Anyway, check it for yourselves.