Computers, puppies, and cooking

roxieIt was kind of a weird little weekend for me, truth be told. It started out pretty great, as (yet another) cooling fan arrived in the mail and after some finagling, I was able to install it just fine and get my desktop back together. Let me tell you, working with a small motherboard makes for cramped hands and really tight fits.

So while the good news is that I have a cooling tower and fan that’s working (and I have a CPU temp app to prove it), it didn’t make any change to my framerate issues. Still low-to-middling, still no apparent fix. But at least I’ve got the computer running again and that’s a huge blessing.

I also installed a fourth hard drive — a standard 1TB — just to start dumping a lot of once-in-a-while MMOs on it. It’ll probably take me a while to put all of the ones on there that I have in mind, but I’m glad it’s there. I did play a little Neverwinter, mostly as an archer, but nothing super-exciting to report from that side.

In other personal news, we’re one week and counting with our new puppy, Roxie, and she’s settling in well. It’s going to be a long road for housebreaking her, but at least the kids are helping. My son is responsible for taking her out on walks around the back yard and my daughter is in charge of feeding her, and that little bit of responsibility is definitely paying off. At least the dog is really friendly with the kids and loves to curl up with us and have her belly rubbed.

I’m also doing something I’ve wanted to do for years now — I’m working my way through a cookbook. I am kind of the family cook, but most of my standard meals are pretty basic, so I wanted to stretch out a little. Plus, I got this low-carb cookbook a while back and wanted to eat something else than just meat and eggs all the time. This morning I made low-carb maple pancakes and they were absolutely incredible.

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Civilization fans, you gotta try SuperTribes

supertribesIt’s been a while since I’ve come to you with a strong mobile game recommendation, so hold on to your butts, because here it is. You got to pick up and try SuperTribes.

I saw some buzz circulating about this game last Friday, and when I took a peek, I thought the art was cute and the price (free) attractive. So why not?

Within a half-hour, I was absolutely grooving on this game. Heck, within 10 minutes. There’s no tutorial but if I can figure everything out within minutes, so can you.

Basically, SuperTribes is a pared-down Civilization clone that eschews huge, drawn-out games for a more accelerated and streamlined experience. You pick a tribe (there are four free ones and a fifth that’s the game’s sole IAP — for $0.99), each of which sports a different look and starting skill, customize a game (just the number of computer opponents and difficulty level), and then get going. Maps are always the same overall size and are randomly generated.

What changes the game here is that you start with 30 turns, no more, no less. Once you run out of turns, the game is over and that is that. So it’s very rare that you’ll end up conquering the world (although it can happen); instead, the goal is to grow the best civilization you can in that time frame and get the highest score (and there are many ways to boost a score).

Three design choices help SuperTribes be way better than it has any right to be. First, it’s got a really attractive art design that’s meant to play holding your phone normally instead of landscape. Two, it’s quite intuitive, with the more complex Civ features taken away or restructured to fit a time-limited game. Three, start-to-finish it’s never boring or requires tons of micromanagement. It’s a perfect mobile title for that.

Your currency is resources, which are used to build new units, roads, structures, and purchase tech advances (there are around 20 of those). Cities generate resources, so you want to build those up by increasing their population (through fishing, farming, mining, etc.). Every time a city levels up, you get a choice between two helpful features (such as an explorer who will uncover a chunk of the map or another +1 to resource generation). So every turn you can send your units to explore and spend resources to advance your civ the way you like.

Growing your empire is handled in an interesting fashion, too. You can’t create settlers and spawn a hundred towns. No, you have to find unclaimed villages and plop a unit on them for a turn, then they’re yours. Capturing an enemy city is pretty much the same, as long as you can get rid of its defensive unit (if any). You can only have one unit per square and there are only about a dozen or less types of units (from swordsmen to knights to ships), each with their own pros and cons. If you accomplish certain tasks — claim enough cities or defeat enough units — you’ll be given a free super-structure (think Civ’s wonders) that will not just help your empire but contribute greatly to the final score.

Interacting with other civs is streamlined as well. No diplomacy here: Most civs start off somewhat neutral to you (usually they’ll give you a free tech advance when first encountered), but sooner or later everyone starts fighting. There are no treaties, no suing for peace, nothing other than either trying to ignore them, turtle up, or go on the offensive. Happily, combat is pretty simple and the “only one unit to a square” rule makes Civ’s stacking a thing that doesn’t happen here.

I’ve played several games so far and can say that they usually last about 15-20 minutes each. Perfect for a quick break. The turn limit strangely works in its favor, encouraging the player to be more bold and not get too attached to a civilization, its towns, or its armies. Use it or lose it, really. Seriously, check it out and prepare to be charmed!

King’s Quest III part 4: Pirates ahoy!

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(This is part of my journey going checking out King’s Quest III. You can follow the entire series on the Retro Gaming page.)

With this newfound quest to save my royal family from certain destruction at the claws of a three-headed dragon, I’ve got to find a way to leave this realm and return to Daventry. Considering that this land is pretty dang small, that really leaves me only the option of going into the small village and seeing if I can book passage on a ship.

As an aside, I thought it was funny that when you go into the tavern, you hear a crude rendition of “What would you do with a drunken sailor?” as the only people in here are… drunken sailors.

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Passage booked, I board this garish ship and start my journey home!

Of course, the second I step on board, I find out that these aren’t just sailors but (dun dun DUNNNN) pirates! And I am now a captive! At least the ship is heading toward Daventry, so I’m going in the right direction.

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The pirates take all of my stuff — nooo! — except for wads of (seriously) enchanted dough that are in my ears that allow me to hear animals. The rats in the hold are worried about a cat on board and I wonder how much time the devs had on their hands here. They also talk about buried treasure and what happened to the last cabin boy (sharks).

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A little sneaking around and I steal all of my stuff back from the pirate captain’s chambers. Dang, that looks so cozy in there. I want to be a pirate too!

With all of my magic in hand, wouldn’t you think I’d embark on an Under Siege-style retaking of the ship? But no, it’s back to the hold with me as I wait out the real-time clock for another 20 minutes or so as the ship crosses the ocean.

This is what passed for “fun” back in the day.

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When we finally — finally — get close to the shore, the pirates drop anchor and I use some sleeping powder to knock them all out. Then I slit their throats, toss them overboard, and declare myself the new pirate king.

No? Darn it, this game never lets me have any fun.

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Instead I hop overboard, outswim a shark (which is playing the Jaws theme), and arrive safe and sound in Daventry. Home! At last!

King’s Quest III part 3: Free at last!

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(This is part of my journey going checking out King’s Quest III. You can follow the entire series on the Retro Gaming page.)

With Manannan gone, I am free from both having to spell his name and the cursed time constraints. I guess I also inherit his entire house? Shouldn’t the game end here, with me becoming the new wizard and lord of the manor and king of the chickens? There’s no narrative push for a new objective, other than to keep exploring and solving puzzles.

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Hey! That there looks like a place I totally don’t want to visit! No matter what the decade, there’s always going to be giant spiders in a fantasy video game. It’s law.

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I know I haven’t been that complimentary toward the game so far, so here’s some faint praise: I thought this screen looked really pretty. Definitely a lot nicer than what you’d see in King’s Quest I (and that little waterfall is even animated).

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The Medusa encounter is a bit tricky. I got turned into stone within seconds of entering this screen and had to figure out a way to deal with her. It’s a two-step process: You have to turn right quickly to avoid looking at her, and then when she comes close, you show her your mirror. Poof! You’re stone, baby!

With my pockets overflowing with a ridiculous number of random items — such as a thimbleful of dew — I head back to the wizard’s, er, my house to do some spell mixing. Nothing like staring at a picture of an open book for a half-hour while typing in commands to make these items one by one! In any case, now I have a bunch of hopefully helpful spells and a newfound dislike of this game’s creators. YOU MADE MAGIC HOMEWORK.

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So I haven’t shown a lot of deaths thus far in the playthrough. It’s a Sierra game, so of course there are like a bazillion ways to die, but for some reason the deaths and game over messages feel a little lackluster this time around. Perhaps it’s because I’m used to the snark of the Space Quest series, I don’t know.

Anyway, here is me being devoured by a spider. It’s a little hard to see, but I’m halfway in his mouth. I was disappointed that the spider didn’t wrap me up in a cocoon and then suck my juices out, but the animators had a time crunch to consider.

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So how to get rid of that spider? Well, let’s think logically here: What is a spider’s greatest enemy? An eagle, of course. That means I just needed to use one of my precious spells to transform into an eagle (which is 1/4th the size of said spider), pick up the arachnid in my beak, carry it out over the ocean, and let it drop in to presumably drown.

And yes, all of this is GLORIOUSLY animated and worth the price of admission alone. I’m dying to know what’s in this cave!

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In here I find an oracle — probably bored stiff by waiting in a cave for all of these years without Netflix — and she (he?) kicks the plot into overdrive. Apparently I’m actually a prince, the son of King Graham, and my family’s in a lot of danger from a three-headed dragon (that’s the only thing scarier than a two-headed dragon). Even worse, the sister that I didn’t know I had is set to be sacrificed to the dragon for some reason.

This is all strangely yet amusingly animated in the crystal ball. After this light show, the oracle gives me an amber stone and (seriously) falls asleep. Time to go rescue my sis!

6 things I want to see in every housing system

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Despite housing systems gaining traction in online games, not every one has them, nor have we arrived at a point where there is a consensus about a baseline of mandatory features. I’ve been thinking about housing a lot, especially since my two main games are currently denying me that fun (FFXIV is too expensive and TSW lacks it entirely). If I was to codify video game law for MMO housing, here are six things I would make standard:

(1) Universal accessibility

I’d make housing as accessible and standard of a feature as anything else in an MMO, meaning that whether you’re a lowbie or a long-time vet, you’ll have the right to housing without a huge barrier (levels, cost) getting in the way. This doesn’t mean everyone needs to start out with a mansion, just that everyone should have their own place to call “home digital home” soon after character creation.

(2) Freeform placement

I’m definitely not a fan of the hook system in MMO housing, whether it be LOTRO’s strict placement or SWTOR’s slightly less strict panels. Give us the ability to fiddle with placement to our heart’s content and build what we like, where we like.

(3) Housing drops as part of the loot table

I’ve always felt that housing offered a boon to devs by making the loot table potentially more diverse and interesting. As a player, getting a cool item for my house as part of a random drop or a dungeon boss is just as exciting as getting a new set of bracelets that bump up my vitality by two stat points. Maybe a little more exciting. So don’t limit housing decor to a cash shop or crafting only, is what I’m saying.

(4) Customization on every level

The more ways that I can customize my house, the better. I should be able to select (or even create!) my own music, adjust lighting, and perhaps even create simple scripts.

(5) Socializing support

Housing is great for the nester, but sometimes we want to show off our creations and have friends visit. Games should make this as easy as possible, with ways to highlight particularly creative homes. There should also be tools to allow players to throw parties and other limited-scope events in their houses.

(6) Functionality

Houses shouldn’t just be for hanging trophies and looking pretty; houses should offer a range of services. In other words, when I go to my home, I want to be able to do things there that can benefit my character or account. Storage, crafting, mail, and special buffs are just the start of what could be included in this category.

What do you think should come standard in MMO housing?

FFXIV: Breaking wind

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My computer headaches aren’t getting any better, at least this week. Yesterday my replacement CPU cooler arrived in the mail amid a yucky snowstorm, and I set about putting it into my machine. This project came to a halt when I realized that the heat sink was far too tall for my case and there was no way to reconcile that fact. I would have to get a smaller one. So now I’m waiting a few additional days for yet another one and relying on my laptop for the time being.

At least it can run Final Fantasy XIV, albeit with long loading screens. I’ve decided to stop running daily roulettes, at least for now, to focus on the main story quest. I know there’s a long, long road ahead of me just for doing this, and while I’m fine with it, this past week’s 3.2 drop made me feel like I was missing out on all of the new toys.

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At least the story is really picking up. Now that we have the (ahem) Enterprise, Cid’s memory is coming back to him (why did it ever leave? Maybe we’ll find that out later) and apparently he had a vision of me a long time ago when I was just a twinkle in the eye of a character creation screen. I’m definitely warming up to Cid, although I still prefer FFVII’s sarcastic scoundrel as a more interesting version.

After getting a stone that was digested and presumably pooped out by a fuzzy bunny, we used this stone to penetrate gale force winds and land in the heart of another primal’s fortress. This time around the fight was against a four-winged harpy goddess who liked to talk big and die even bigger.

Speaking of wind, one little detail about the game that I dig is that any time there’s a storm or strong wind, it whips around my hair and clothes. Gives it more of a virtual tactile feel.

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It’s the game’s new ultra-airbrushed mode! What, too much?

After that primal fight was a long, long, long series of cutscenes. I’ve certainly heard that FFXIV loves it’s lengthy cutscenes, and while I’ve experienced plenty of smaller ones in the past, this was the first one that could’ve used a commercial break. I’m fine with them, except that it’s rather annoying to have to keep constantly clicking after every single line of dialogue — especially when the cutscene goes into full-voice mode. Should be a toggle for that.

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From there the story moved to the rebuilding of the Seven Scions’ HQ. I kind of wondered where everyone went after the attack and who survived, and I thought it was pretty strange that our characters didn’t immediately investigate this, but oh well. Turns out nobody really important was killed, but we’ll probably be needing to do a jail break in the near future.

I ended the session rescuing Biggs and Wedge in the snowy mountains from Imperial entanglements. The quest name “Notorious Biggs” about made me snort coffee out of my nose.

WildStar: Taking internal temperature

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Sir! Corporal Yeti Yesterday, reporting for duty, sir!

My gradual plan to create a wide body of MMOs to dip in and out of according to whim while concentrating on my two main ones is coming along, although it’s been slowed by my recent computer problems. Until that gets fixed, I’ve given up the comfort of my cushy computer chair for a hard kitchen bench — and a wonderfully wide, spacious table — as I use my laptop. Got to say, for a machine that’s pushing four years now, this laptop has held up admirably well not only as a work device, but as an occasional gaming platform. I think I spent $600 or less on it, and it came with an AMD card in it and enough specs to keep most MMOs operating rather smoothly.

Anyway, one of the games that won’t run well at all on this rig is The Secret World, so as I patched up FFXIV’s 3.2, I looked at what else I had installed here. WildStar came to attention, so I logged in and made a new character over on the Dominion side. Might as well see what life is like on the other side of the fence, eh?

I don’t think I was quite prepared for the deluge of stuff that was due my new character. Between the pre-order and deluxe edition stuff, all of the daily rewards that I had been faithfully getting for the last few months, the first anniversary rewards, the subscriber rewards, and now the $1 Humble Bundle package, it took me a full ten minutes just to get everything squared away.

I have to say, that Humble Bundle pack is awesome for the price. The extra money and bag space is great for right out the gate, the hoverboard is sweet (and has flair!), and I will never say no to housing decor. But perhaps the best part was getting teleportation to my housing plot right from the start instead of having to wait until level 14.

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Dance! Dance to the giant taco! Dance, I say!

While I spent time setting up my character and a basic house, I didn’t get too far in my adventures through Levian Bay. I think I was doing that thing where you’ve previously burned (or browned) out on a game and was taking some sort of internal temperature to see if enough time has gone by to renew my interest. Alas, it wasn’t quite. I think I’m going to leave WildStar alone for a bit — at least until the next urge strikes me.

After all, where else will I be able to make a house with giant tacos?