A little politeness goes a long way …

… but that’s something the game community is obviously unaware of. Yesterday I decided to try out several StarCraft II Arcade games. One of them, Aeon of Storms, a League-of-Legends-like map attracted my attention.
There’s no tutorial and I found out about the official site after I’ve played the first game, so it was no surprise I made a couple of dumb mistakes. But hey, everyone started small, don’t you think? Alas the vast majority of players don’t see things that way. Instead of telling me what I did wrong, I was instantly called names, threatened, and asked to leave the game. I only encountered one player who was willing to give me a few tips. Over all my experience was pretty bad, even though I enjoyed the gameplay.
I think this is a big issue with the gaming community nowadays. Although I’ve noticed that this problem is more prevalent online than offline. People don’t have the patience to help new players, they usually just complain and yell at them. If someone told me what I did wrong, I could have instantly adjusted, but basically noone even bothered. But they had more than enough time to spew forth rudeness.

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4X Games: Star Ruler and Armada 2526

From time to time I start looking for a worthy successor for Master of Orion 2, which has been my favorite 4X game for many years now. Some games like GalCiv2 and Sins of a Solar Empire are pretty nice, but still can’t topple MoO2 from its throne. Recently I found two pretty new 4X games that might not exactly what I’ve been looking for, but they are very cool games in their own right.

Star Ruler

Space is huge. Our local galaxy has billions of stars and there are millions of galaxies in known space. Of course no computer game could simulate anything like that and still remain playable, but Star Ruler actually comes pretty close. It features huge, procedurally generated galaxies. Each solar system not only contains a couple of planets, but also asteroids, moons and many other astronomical objects you would expect.

Instead of a flat starmap, Star Ruler’s map is fully 3D. The graphics might not be up to par, but they definitely serve their purpose. The original soundtrack is pretty cool though, and the fact that the game features fully simulated newtonian physics is a big plus in my book.

I have to admit I’ve just barely touched all the cool things you can do in this game. The highly detailed but easy to use ship design feature was actually what sold me on this game.

 

Armada 2526

Armada 2526 is much more traditional than Star Ruler. It features a classic flat space map and actually shares a lot with MoO2. When you have played MoO2 you’ll feel right at home with Armada 2526. I actually started playing without bothering to play through the tutorial and did pretty fine.

The majority of the game is turn-based, only combat is handled in realtime. The battles also use full 3D graphics unlike the rest of the game which is in 2D. I have to admit I haven’t fought that many battles yet, so I can’t comment on that part of the game yet.

For the most part the UI of Armada 2526 is pretty clear and self-explanatory, but there are some things that took me a while to figure out. Hmm, perhaps I should have played through that tutorial after all. For example you need to click on the appropriate building in the planet overview screen in order to build new buildings and ships.

Although I am pretty happy with Armada 2526, there are two things I am missing: a) being able to have more than one colony per system and b) ship design. But it’s still a very good 4X game, no doubts about that.

The recent addon Supernova added a more technologies, a trade system, two new races, and most importantly multiplayer to the game. If you are interested in buying Armada 2526 you should consider getting the addon, too. It’s worth it.

 

Bottom line
Both games are definitely worth a closer look, although none of them has the special charm Master of Orion 2 still has. Star Ruler is definitely the more ambitious game but it also has a much steeper learning curve. The vast scope also makes it necessary that the player has to rely on the AI a lot, when it comes to colony management or space ship control. But luckily you can override the AI manually if needed.
Armada 2526 is much more traditional and feels more like a “game”. The lack of custom space ship designs is a bit of a letdown, but aside from that it’s definitely fun to play. If you ask me, you should check out both if you are into 4X games.

Ask The Readers: Help me find a new keyboard

For quite a while now I have been using Microsoft’s Wireless Entertainment Desktop 7000. I really like the look of the keyboard and it’s relatively small size, but there are a couple of drawbacks. For one, the mouse that came with the keyboard has massive problems with its rechargeable batteries. And while I really love the keys on the keyboard, it’s always a hassle to remove single keys when you want to clean the keyboard. I always fear that I break it in the process. And getting crumbs under the keys is the best way to render it totally unusable. Normally keyboards are not that delicate, alas this one is.

So I have been looking into alternatives. And of course I found a great keyboard pretty fast, but there’s a problem: it’s the Apple Wireless Keyboard. The keyboard looks and feels almost perfect but since it’s meant for Apple computers it’s not really a perfect fit when used with Windows 7. Of course I could get it to work with my PC but there still would be the problem that certain keys are missing. Seriously, I don’t want to live without a Delete key. Using Fn+Backspace instead is just too much hassle. It would be much better if there was a Windows keyboard with a similar look and feel like the one from Apple but with everything needed to run under Windows 7. It doesn’t have to be wireless, but it should be pretty small.

So, what would you guys recommend? Are there any keyboards I should check out?

Twitter, Buzz, Diaspora and more …

Recently I have been looking into alternatives for the microblogging service Twitter. I was a huge Twitter fan until lately Twitter has shown its evil side by basically telling 3rd party client developers that they are not needed anymore.

The first service I checked out was identi.ca. Identi.ca is powered by the open-source Status.net software and has many similarities with Twitter. If you have been using Twitter for a while you’ll feel right at home there. One additional feature I really like are groups. You can create groups and when you write a status update with !groupname in it, the message gets send to the group, too. There are already thousands of groups on identi.ca and quite a few are very active, like the linux, ubuntu and gnu groups.

I have been using Google Buzz for a while now, but for some reason I am still not really comfortable with it. Usually I am a great fan of Google’s services but I have a hard time getting into Buzz. One reason might be the fact that Buzz is integrated with Gmail. I would prefer a standalone Buzz site. Finding people to follow etc. also seems to be much easier in other services, but perhaps that’s just me. Buzz may be a good alternative to Twitter if there was a standalone web app and some user interface improvements to make it more accessible.

Diaspora Last week I got an invitation to try out Diaspora*, an open-source social network which can be described as the Anti-Facebook. In Diaspora everything is private by default and you decide who of your friends can see a certain update and who doesn’t. The project is currently in its Alpha phase and changes and updates are made on a daily basis. I have to admit I like Diaspora a lot. Of course it’s too early to judge it, but I think it shows a lot of promise. Diaspora could definitely replace Facebook for me when it’s finally opened for the public.

There are still a couple of microblogging services I haven’t tried out yet. Google’s Jaiku looks nice but it is not using a Google account and I fear it might be abandoned at some point in the future. Posterous has some nice features and I have been using Posterous Groups for a while, but it’s not exactly what I have been looking for. It is more like a regular blog hosting service instead of a Twitter alternative. Tumblr might be worth a look, too.

For the time being, I will probably stay on Twitter (and Facebook) for a while longer while I experiment with identi.ca, Diaspora and Buzz. What microblogging and social network sites aside from Twitter and Facebook are you using and why? Every comment is highly appreciated!

RIFT – First Impressions

ss121-fullA few weeks ago I was pretty much oblivious of the existence of this upcoming MMO. Then Zakharov on the #stargazersworld IRC channel on sorcery.net told me about it. RIFT is a self-proclaimed next-gen MMO which is set into a fantasy world. From the outside it looks pretty much like your garden-variety MMO but if you delve a bit deeper, you get to realize that it actually tries to do some things differently. By the way, if you want to read up on the world, the classes, races, etc. check out the official site.

When it comes to graphics RIFT looks very sweet. On my PC I can run the game set to “Ultra” quality and it looks just awesome. Textures and models are much more detailed than World of Warcraft’s for example. I’ve included a few screenshots in this post which I took from the official site. I haven’t made my own screenshots yet, but I’ll post them as soon as I have any.

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The first thing I actually noticed when playing the beta was that everything already looks pretty polished. The designers of RIFT also made sure that the game’s UI is fully customizable and has all the nifty features you come to expect from a modern MMO. Overall the UI reminded me a lot of WoW’s with some addons thrown in. This is actually a good thing. WoW’s UI is already very good and a lot of players are comfortable with it. This makes giving RIFT a try much easier, since you already feel quite at home.

RIFT has two warring factions. The faithful Guardians and the technology-using Defiants. While the Guardians fight for the gods, the Defiants have defied them and turned to use technology. The Defiants are currently my favorite faction. They basically had me the moment one NPC mentioned “magitech”. And trust me, the Defiants tech is pretty cool. I’ve heard you get to ride mechanical mounts later. Yay!

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Both factions defend the world against the rifts. Rifts are tears in the fabric of reality that open portals into the elemental planes. These rifts open randomly all over the world and all kinds of nasty creatures pour out. The players have then to fight these monsters and cause the rift to close again. If they fail to do so, the creatures from the rift may roam the world, create strongholds and even overrun quest hubs. While I haven’t encountered any rifts yet – I am still in the tutorial area – the concept sounds quite interesting. Although I fear that on servers with low population, rifts might become a problem. Let’s hope the spawning of rifts takes the current server population into account.

The class system is also pretty cool. At character creation you pick one of four classes: warrior, mage, rogue or cleric. During the first few levels you can then unlock “souls” – basically subclasses – which allow you to customize your character. And there are a lot of possible souls per class and countless combinations. And when I not mistaken you can unlock more than three souls later and change your “build” later according to the task at hand. Very cool!

From what I’ve seen so far, RIFT looks pretty nice and I am tempted to buy it when it’s released later this year. In a way it plays like a better looking WoW with some nice additions here and there to set it apart. I also like the more serious, mature tone of the game. But I also think the developers have to think more about how to immerse the players into the game. For some reason I felt a bit detached from what happened on the screen. The gameplay was quite enjoyable, but I missed that certain “oomph” that WoW sometimes has. But we’re still in beta, so this may be part of the problem.

Overall RIFT is a surprisingly well made MMO that probably won’t push WoW from its throne, but it might stir up the MMO market a little.

No more ICQ for me

icqnomore Today I decided to finally stop using the ICQ protocol. There were only a few of my friends left who weren’t using at least one alternative chat protocol. There are quite a few reasons why you shouldn’t use ICQ, but the most important for me are the following:

  • When agreeing to the ICQ Terms of Service you surrender all your copyrights on the information posted. Basically ICQ Inc. can take everything you talked about on the network and publish it, if they wish to do so. Even if it was meant to be private.
  • ICQ is changing the protocol constantly to lock out alternative clients. Since I wouldn’t even touch the original ICQ client with a ten foot pole, this is another reason to stop using it. I don’t want to rely on a network that can lock out my favorite client software any time.
  • I am sick of fake Russian girls who try to add me to their contact lists. ICQ has always been used for spam but recently it has been getting worse. 

The fact that ICQ is now owned by a Russian investment company doesn’t improve things. I don’t want to give all my personal information and everything I send over ICQ to some Russian company. I would have loved to delete my ICQ account, but alas that’s impossible. That’s of course a violation of current EU law, but as if ICQ ever cared about that…

Newspapers on the iPad

I just cancelled my newspaper subscription. I didn’t do so because I am not interested in reading it anymore, but because their iPad edition is more appealing to me. The content of the iPad edition is pretty much the same as the print edition but it makes full use of the capabilities of Apple’s tablet computer. They also added small videos or photo galleries to the articles and sometimes the articles feature popups with additional background information.

Although the “Frankfurter Rundschau” has adopted the tabloid size some time ago, it’s still a bit unwieldy sometimes. And the second problem is waste paper. When I am done reading the iPad edition, I just delete it. It’s unfathomable how much waste paper a daily newspaper produces. Another advantage of the iPad edition over the regular subscription is that I can buy the issues I am really interested in and still the price is much lower than what you usually pay for a print issue at the newsstand.