Booze, Magma and Child Minotaurs

How likely is it that you would want to play a computer game that looked like this?

Dwarf Fortress

If you look closely, you can see a dwarf party in full swing.

Not that likely I’m guessing. Yet here I am writing a post I intended to write two weeks ago but didn’t because this is what I have been playing. Welcome to the world of
Slaves to Armok: God of Blood Chapter II: Dwarf Fortress, or just Dwarf Fortress for short.

When I say I’ve been playing it for the last two weeks, I mean I’ve really been playing it. It got to the point where my dreams have been filled with dwarves. It was almost inevitable that after reading an Ars article on the game that I’d be drawn in. I think I became even more intrigued whilst reading the comments and found out that the game was almost entirely the creation of one man who has made it his lifes work (version 1.0 is 20 years away he reckons). The passion with which some people defended the game was heartwarming – it may have it’s flaws but it is being provided for free so why should anyone else have the right to tell him what changes they think he should make to his creation?!

So unlike the Ars writer, I did some reading around on the incredibly detailed Dwarf Fortress Wiki and then proceeded to download the LazyNewb pack. There is no install required and the whole game comes in at about 30MB. The save games bump up the size a bit but it’s perfectly feasible to copy everything to USB and move it from PC to PC. The custom graphic packs and utilities included with the LazyNewb pack make things much easier (and prettier) to play but you still can’t really get started without running through a few basic ‘getting started’ guides.

At times it can be a frustrating experience. The inconsistent way of navigating around in menus to achieve things combined with far from obvious game mechanics means I would recommend saving often and backing up those save games so you can go back and ‘fix’ silly mistakes made whilst learning. Other pearls of wisdom I’ve so far gleaned are:

1. Creating lots of cheap crafts and jewels mean it’s easy to trade for everything you may need.
2. Don’t spend ages planning how to equip your dwarves when they embark – at least not on your first game or two. Before you know it you have more immigrants than you can shake a stick at…
3. Plan early for attacks by raiders rather than getting sidetracked probing the depths for tasty ore.
4. Don’t get too hooked on your first proper game. I thought it was going well until I realised I’d made a fundamental mistake. DWARVES LIKE MINES. Whilst the nice surface farms and forts I’d built looked nice, it started to become obvious I couldn’t patrol an area that big and keep out the bad guys. One nice big tunnel entrance filled with traps, that’s where I’m going with my next game.

For a much better review than I can give, head on over to Cracked. If that hasn’t convinced you to play, how could you resist any game where failure by Catsplosion is a possibility? And remember the Dwarf Fortress motto – losing is fun.

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Will town planners in the future just use Sim City to fix problems or see what consequences their actions may bring?

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Birthday wishes

I forget most of my friends birthdays but there are a few that stick in my mind. Happy Birthday to the two people this week!

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The figures quoted in both the Register article and the Topcoder page are both a bit misleading and confusing but what it appears to show is that Harvard Medical School paid a full time member of staff $120,000 over a year to produce some code that was 5.4 times faster than an existing piece of software code that they were using. They then ran a competition on Topcoder and within two weeks, someone had produce code 177 times faster again (and more accurate) at a cost of only $6000 in prize money.

Bet that full time ‘resource’ was a bit miffed that their years worth of work was for nowt…

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An award winning short film (French with subtitles) – Voice Over

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Interesting article on spider silk and the wonders that may be just around the corner. It’s not just about it being stronger than steel either…

“What we found by studying the silk as it is made was that at a molecular level it has something in it, a little peptide, a recurrent little motif like a melody in a tune. It is this which helps to give the silk its entirely orderly structure. We don’t know why that motif is in them, but what we do know is that same motif is also in the filaments that hold our own cells together. Three amino acids which give them what you might call a particular signature tune. And when the cells of our body come into contact with this pattern in the spider silks, it appears that they can recognise it. They understand it and they will react by attaching to it and growing along it.”

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It was many weeks ago that Miss C and I spent a couple of nights in Bath on our way back from Cornwall but I’d promised myself that I’d post a quick review of the restaurants we visited so here I am. And quick reviews they shall be.

The first night we decided to go for a Thai and after a while spent investigating on TripAdvisor we set off hunting a select few places. We found some but as it was a bit early to eat we went to book a table for the following night at another restaurant we’d picked. Having done that, we stumbled across Salathai just around the corner. As we went in I held the door for a group of Americans on their way out – “You won’t regret it” said one lady as she passed and she wasn’t wrong.

Service was friendly and very quick. The food itself was very tasty and I really enjoyed the curry I had. The house wine was also a fine choice. Best of all it was great value for money.

Night two saw us going to Sotto Sotto (which means “under” I’m told by Miss C and it was literally under the road). I was sold on the place just by the look of it on the website. The subtle questions we’d been asked when we popped in to book the night before hinted at what was to come. It’s a restaurant that goes out of it’s way to connect with the customer and make them feel both special and relaxed. It’s not something I think I’ve ever experienced anywhere else. The food was lovely and the service brilliant. Again it was great value for money and were I ever back in Bath I’d certainly go again. As I said on the way out, it’s number 1 ranking on TripAdvisor is well deserved.

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Maybe a bit maudlin but also very interesting what people died of in 2011 (UK). Some of the differences between men and women in certain areas is revealing – ladies obviously don’t go up ladders (or are more stable)!

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X-COM reborn

You may have noticed in the last week that a game called XCOM: Enemy Unknown has been released and I’m quite excited. It’s a ‘reimaging’ of the old school turn based game UFO: Enemy Unknown which my brother and I used to play for whole weekends at a time. The reviews certainly suggest it’s a fine game.

Of course I don’t tend to buy games when they are just released as I’m never usually excited enough to want to shell out £30. I’ll wait six months and get it for £15 or more likely a year or more and get the GOTY edition for a tenner. In the meantime, I’ll probably be playing UFO: Alien Invasion, a free game that has the original XCOM games as it’s spiritual parents.

UFO:AI screenshot

I came across UFO:AI earlier this year and had a couple of weeks play. It certainly captured the spirit of the original whilst adding and updating the gameplay. I liked it! As usual I lost interest after that initial period but that isn’t a reflection of the game, just my short attention span with these types of games. I rarely managed to complete them or even reach that far in, which is why I’m often reluctant to buy such games when they come out as I know I’ll stop playing after a couple of weeks.

UFO:AI is a cracking game and one that is well worth downloading. I’m off to see see if I can remember what I was doing at the last save point from my session 6 months back and then give those aliens a taste of plasma rifle!

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A Farewell to Paragon

It was with some sadness – and quite a bit of surprise – that I saw the news yesterday that City of Heroes was closing down. I’ve not played in a few years now but I still check out what’s going on once in a while and it can have only been a few weeks ago that I was reading about the latest updates and what was in the works. Now, it’s all coming to an end.

My tale began just after the EU release of the game back in February 2005. I’d never played an MMO before but something (I’m not sure what) had caught my eye with this one months before and uncharacteristically for me I jumped in early on. My home was always the Defiant server and my first character was Faultline (not to be confused with the in-game story character who became more prominent as the game expanded). I was Faulty to my friends.

I remember avoiding other players for the first few days – if not weeks – whilst I found my bearings. If anyone even said “hello” to me I’d run a mile. But as I became more familiar with the game and less worried about looking like an idiot for not knowing what people were talking about, I started to team. That was where the game really shone. The world was full of total beginners like me and a few ‘veterans’ that had already worked there way to level 50 and were back helping out the newbies.

I have so many fond memories from the four years I ended up playing but most came from the early days. I played every minute of every hour that I could – some would say I was far too obsessed and I’ll not admit to how many hours Faultline took to get to level 50 – but I kept finding new things to see and do.

I remember seeing the Paladin striding through Kings Row for the first time. I remember getting hover and (very slowly) launching myself into the sky and looking down on the world in awe. Doing the Eden trial and being stunned at the vastness and beauty of the caverns. Tackling Lusca (anyone for sushi). Finding the first Keldian player in Atlas Park and desperately wanting one as he/she showed it’s ability to change forms.

I remember how busy the Hollows was back then, with ‘Taxi’ players helping the new folks get to where they needed to go in safety (although any old school player knows the valuable lessons that were learnt on how to avoid aggro whilst running to the Hollows mission). How many times did I do FrostFire in that zone? And how nice did it feel when I became the veteran player watching over the zone – a guardian angel that would swoop in, heal them seconds before a faceplant and dissapear before they even noticed.

Then there were the players, easily the best part of the game. Aerie – a defiant legend and probably my longest running friend in City of Heroes. Petit/Dawnrazor (Paragon DJ) who I met in my first super group (the mighty Vigilante Earth in our green and purple outfits) who teamed with me for many hours on my way to 50 for the first time and who I went on to form our own supergroup with. That was P.I.E (the Protectors of Innocence and Equality) in case anyone remembers us. There were so many more folks that I struggle to remember the names now but a few spring to mind. False Fiction, Flush, Elfuh, Godswrath, Blue Dragon, Hellraiser, Organi, Zoot, Spudcadet, Cutting Edge, SaiyaMan and Protector X.

And maybe people out there remember me. Faulty was my first but there were other characters I was known as. Sundae, Penelope Comelightly, SoundQuake, Professor Crumhorn, Bob D Buffer and a few others I dabbled with.

So as I write this I’m downloading the game again. It’s free to play now and last time I checked my characters were still all there so hopefully I can have one last super leap around the city I called home for so many years. I think I’ll feel a bit of a stranger returning home after so long but it was only whilst writing this that I realised that I’d not like to loose the memories I had in CoH. So time to dust of the capes, helmets and spandex for some of my characters for a few screenshots to remember them by.

And maybe it isn’t all over yet. By all accounts the end came suddenly. No shutting down of servers and downsizing the staff. The gradual slowdown in the release of new update. One day all was well and good, the next the game was closing and the staff all need new jobs. So maybe a change the other way is not beyond hope and many are taking action. I’ll keep my fingers crossed as I run a few last missions.

Bob D Buffer and some of his Supergroup friends from Foxbase.
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