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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.

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Do you know how some games have so much publicity spin on them and so much advertising that they immediately start making money and becoming "the most popular game"? Arx Fatalis is not one of those. This game is a rediscovery of the good old values of Ultima Underworld: good story, great playability, nice AI, very little or no getting stuck possibilities, fantastic immersion in another world. If you loved Ultima Underworld (which can be found free on the net, but I am not sure you can make it work on the newest computers around), you will definitely fall in love with Arx Fatalis. I am telling you, I am hooked. I finished the game in a working week and two weekends and I did it so fast because my wife wanted me to give some attention to her. Yes, you read right, Arx Fatalis IS better than sex.

You can get it very cheaply from Good Old Games.

Ok, what is so great about it? I will give a few hints and let you discover the rest for yourselves:
  • you make magic by mouse gestures (you move the mouse in certain patterns, like in Black and White)
  • the AI characters yell for help from associated NPCs and run away when too hurt
  • I once ran into an impenetrable beast that could kill me with one touch. Running away from it I reached a dead end. I expected to find no way out, but the beast disappeared and reappeared a few feet behind, just enough to let me run away.
  • I couldn't find ONE spot where I would have gotten stuck in the entire game.
  • the quests are intelligent. You need to use brains to finish this one. It's not something that must be searched on google to finish, either. If you have the will, there is a way.
  • you can kill almost every character in the game as well as finish their quests.
  • a lot of side quests. You can finish the game in a week or in a few months, it depends on you.
  • hidden magic spells. Each rune has a specific meaning. Try combining them in innovative ways.
Not interested yet? Oh, come on!

Update: I have found a Doom3 mod that tries to be a prequel to Arx Fatalis. A pretty neat effort and I am glad I found a new reason to upgrade my computer :). This is their site: Arx – End Of Sun and this is a gameplay video: Arx - End of Sun (Gameplay Video #1) [Doom 3 SP Mod].