My last two years with technology

I’ve been quite busy lately – hence the pause in my blogging. My last post was very specific Java related article, today we’re going to do something lighter – a little whine about various devices, gizmos and maybe even software/services I’ve encountered during the last two years. While generally I love our age for the current level of technology, sometimes I’m desperate seeing unnecessary flaws, often just software ones – and these can seriously affect the final experience. However, today I decided to add a lot of good examples, too, and every case should be short (though I’m bad at keeping stuff short ;-)).

BTW: Now I see that this is actually sort of continuation of this post.

Phone case: HTC One V

I like Android phones in general. And I like both my Wildfire and One V – however they both have quite funny flaws. Wildfire’s display is unresponsive when I pull it out of my pocket while ringing (that’s why I call back my friends right after I can’t pick them up) and One V – for a change – is very quite in-call. In both cases those are quite crucial phone related issues – and in both cases many people observe the same (but not all). Other than that – on Wildfire (2.x Android) I liked that default HTC clock application showed time of the next alarm and this view was removed from newer OS. Of course One V is faster and better in overall, but still… 3 out of 5 stars. Both.

Partition case: EASEUS Partition Master Home Edition

I wanted some free legal replacement for Partition Magic – and I found this. It may not be all-powered tool for every thing around partitions, but it did anything I wanted and so far never failed. Partitions smaller or bigger? Merge partitions? (Here it actually needs enough space on the partition you are going to merge to for all the files from the other partition – but that’s rather a non-issue.) System copied to my new SSD disk? No problem. Using Windows repair process took much longer after that. 😉 5/5! For free? Yes!

Disc case: SSD drives (Crucial M4 in my case)

Talking about SSD – well, technically it is indeed non-disk, but you know how it goes. SSD generally is fast, of course, but also cheap enough nowadays – so to put there your system volume at least is a really good idea. I did so and my computer runs and starts programs much faster. This is currently probably the best boost you can get for your money. CPU or memory or GPU? Phew… SSD made my computer fleet-footed. I can’t say more really, I somehow decided one day, checked the prices, cross-referenced all the new names for me (like Crucial, never heard of them before!), reviews were good, so I bought this one. And I’m not even having SATA3 on my mobo. 5/5

Java case: Spring JdbcTemplate

When I can I program against standard APIs – like JPA2 instead of Hibernate. When I can. Sometimes you need to go through the select cursor-style and while I could use underlying Hibernate, I decided to go straight for JDBC. And I wrote all the code. With ifs and wheres and parameters. After a couple of hours, I was done, piece was tested and then it hit me! “Man, there is supposed to be that Spring class making it much easier!” JdbcTemplate made the job, I didn’t have to write my ifs twice (first to get the query, then the parameters again), all the exceptions were handled for me and there was even every case you could think about how to process the result set (in my case callback for every row of it). This is how I like stuff made. Documentation clear… actually I mostly just let IDEA to offer me the choices and I made them right there the right way thanks to proper names. Love that. 5/5

JavaScript case: File download plugin for jQuery

Check what this plugin is about – and also its demo. Users sometimes want silly things like “can you disable the button after I press download…” (sure I can!) “…and then after download enable it again?” (are you crazy?!) But you can do it with this plugin based on hidden iframe and a cookie. I had to adjust it a bit because I had a corner case (but quite common) that there were no data and no download, which is third case from user’s perspective in addition to success and (server) failure. I’m no JavaScript expert, on the contrary – but I fell in love with jQuery in the process. And however silly HTTP is for delivering applications, things like jQuery and this plugin make it more bearable (though HTML5 and things like WebSocket mend a lot of my 10-year old concerns). For this plugin and the whole idea – 5/5.

Command-line case: GNU tools for Windows – GnuWin

I never liked all that CygWin heavy-weighted stuff, but GnuWin packages made my day. I just installed them, added c:\Program Files (x86)\GnuWin\bin into my PATH (they all go to the same dir, luckily) and stared cmd just to enjoy grep (package grep), awk (gawk), ls (and many more in coreutils), zip/unzip/gzip/tar/bzip2 and of course sed! Mentioning typical Unix/Linux tools – you may also like (not related to GnuWin) vim, though I’m happy with notepad2 for most cases (read second half of this post). But you never know when you need vim’s macros. But yeah, these are not really command line tools in Windows. GnuWin packages definitely are and they deserve 5/5 for making my life easier.

Windows environment case: Rapid Environment Editor

After so many times heading into System, Advanced, bla-bla, setting the PATH in that super short line I realized “there must be a better way and someone must have already fixed this”. Yes, they have – with Rapid Environment Editor. Adding new paths with this tool is just so much better, it checks whether the path is valid – even with other variables you are referencing (if those are paths, like JAVA_HOME for instance). No more needs to be added: 5/5

Corporate tool case: Planview

For me Planview is just a tool to report my hours. I don’t use its powerful project management features. And every time I need some report out of it I don’t understand the language it is speaking to me. This tool one of those tools forgetting that they are not my only primary tools I use. Honestly, I openly hate it. Terms out of other world, a lot of misuses of the application (not only mine actually), tons of discussion how we should use it – and still we’re not using it the right way. Personally – I blame the tool. I can use Jira, Confluence and many other tools without any problem, but Planview is simply killing me. 1/5 (and yup, it’s IE only)

More-than-a-mail case: Lotus Notes

Lotus – I think this is love or hate thing, but however defended by people who like it, it is still viewed as pain by the vast majority of users. My Lotus for instance doesn’t display mouse cursor in mail editor when it’s not focused window, wrongly shows which tab is selected when two are opened at once, pastes Excel tables is as image by default and there are many other silly defaults. Date you see in trash is trash date, not the date of the message? You can’t reply to mail in your sent mail?! My contacts get often screwed by some cashing I don’t understand and don’t care at all. Not to mention it doesn’t look like normal Windows application (not that I’m a big fan of Windows, but still). Once a colleague closed Notes by accident and I just thought it funny to remark “see, stupid Lotus Notes” – just because whatever bad happens there is kinda Notes’ fault. I read people testifying how Notes rocks, etc. But these people live in the closed world of Lotus. Linux guys can hate Outlook, but it is really usable. Lotus? As a mail and calendar? Not a chance here… 2/5

Blu-ray case: Samsung BD-E6100

Recently I’ve got myself a blu-ray player (finally). I wanted Samsung, because my TV is Samsung, price was alright, I chose model with wi-fi, brought it home and after some initial scare (it didn’t play any disk first, I had to unplug it and after this kind of restart it was fine) I was happy about its performance, speed and everything, especially compared to our older DVD player (newer Philips luckily have remotes for common people too, not only for snipers). I managed to play content from computers (with Serviio installed, though SRT subtitles don’t work unexpectedly) and remote control provided four crucial buttons for TV (on/off, Source, volume up/down) – actually many of buttons from Samsung TV remote work as well (expected). After some time I decided to plug ethernet cable in though, because wi-fi often lost the connection to the router (our notebooks never have the problem, even from the same place). Even with ethernet most of the Smart HUB stuff is quite slow. In overall it was a big upgrade compared to DVD player and I was actually surprised how well it works and plays. And Smart stuff? They still might upgrade it somehow and I didn’t buy it for that anyway. 4/5
Edit 2014:
I’d lower the rating to 3/5 after thorough experience. Compared to previous DVD player it does not continue where it ended when turned on again. Actually it does for files, but not for discs. Actually sometimes yes… but nobody knows when and why as it is not even consistent with the same disc. And sometimes it makes funny noises and is very slow with blu-ray discs. With too many of them to be the disc fault.


Not once I was thinking about myself as a “toiletologist”, because I just think too much about every single flaw of toilets as well. I never could understand why we – mankind – are unable to develop total toilet that always flushes everything, why we again and again put urinals so close together that you can use only 2 of 3 in the end, why we put toilet cubicles with legs on shiny reflective floor, not to mention various silly ways how to screw with automation of flushing, washing, drying or whatever.

Sometimes I want to scream “how could you do such a silly mistake?” But then I realize: “Man, it’s just software, it’s meant to be buggy (not that I agree that much :-)), the whole computer science is so much younger compared to the building industry – and look what they are able to do in a silly way every now and then. Not only on toilets, but when these are still not ‘debugged’ after all those millennia then what should we expect from the software, hm?”

The more I am happy for technology that really helps and doesn’t “think” that it will be the only thing I need to pay attention to. I have my own real life beyond technology too, after all.


Not so Christmas technology whining

First of all – Merry Christmas (and eventually Happy New Year considering my last blogging pause) to you all. I’m sitting in my living room, son is ill and sleeping sooner than expected (mid-day) and wife is cooking something for the evening. And I decided to report about just a few technology problems I met recently – and I think it’s shame that I had to. Often I just ask “how this can happen in 21st century?” But it probably will again in 22nd too – in a way.

I’m just listening to Christmas songs and I realized I started to like them recently – not sure if because I’m getting old or what – or because I sing them occasionally at a music school. Probably both. So let’s see my little stupid technical issues in random order:

Amazon restrictions (not only, and maybe Amazon is not to be blamed)

And we’re getting to the first problem I encountered lately – today actually. Amazon wrote me previously that I have some free credit to download some songs for my previous shopping. Nice, I grinned. Today I really wanted something – The Priests and their Little Drummer Boy. But Amazon said “sorry, but it’s not available in your country”. Yeah, no wonder, who would sell music here – to Slovakia where we still live on trees or what. Whatever. Of course I will listen to that song today. There are alternatives.

Skype is so annoying (no news here)

I wanted to download Skype client for my mom and was lead through Czech page (which was OK), but needed do log in on web before I could get the client itself. Never happened to me before, it’s annoying and stupid. I want direct download link! Is it really your mission to annoy your users recently? (Automagic ebay related toolbars and stuff, window open after start in Windows 7… what’s wrong with you guys?) Of course: “Just don’t use it!” The trouble is my family does.

I reported part of it via some Skype support form and after submitting I saw: “Thanks so much. We’ll learn a lot from that comment.” Well, I hope so. 🙂

Google Calendar sends notifications, Google Mail puts them into Spam

Title says it all! For this I missed my last football game with friends this Wednesday. It was different day than others Wednesdays and our son got fever too and in all that mess I forgot and there was nothing to remind me. My new HTC Wildfire wasn’t set with alarm yet… but back to the problem. Isn’t it ironic? Google sending emails from their service just to end up in Spam of Google mail? So you rather want to white-list notification address.

HTC Wildfire difficulties with answering calls

I carry my phones in pockets – actually as most people around me. Otherwise you have to have it in some bag or on your belt (I don’t wear belts). Soon I noticed that my new HTC Wildfire has real problems with answering calls very often. Googling revealed many other people have the same problem – and many others don’t believe them. 🙂 (“When I don’t have the problem, you can’t have it either… you’re stupid and don’t know how to use your phone.” Or similar.) In one thread there was that idea that it somehow relates to carrying the phone in one’s pocket. And indeed – it always happened when I pulled it from my jeans. It was easy to demonstrate it. Now I’m in talks with HTC support. I’m curious how will it end. (And for those curious – it’s vanilla HTC Wildfire, no branding, Andorid 2.2.)

I could go on with many other issues related to Android or this phone, but funny enough – I just like it enough to adjourn these for some other post. But as you probably agree answering calls is kinda essential feature. And “don’t carry it in your pocket” is not the right answer.

Another wannabe spammer – Kongregate

After 9 Dragons also Kongregate network showed how NOT to it. It’s funny that big corporations (where my subscriptions is much more important and often related to my profession) can live with direct unsubscribe links and obscure sites (I sometimes register to for whatever reason) starts sending their newsletters often after some longer time, I have no idea what the hell the site is about and I have to log in to fix the situation. But I think it’s fair to let them know. So I wrote them on their support form:

Please include Unsubscribe link from email that works without login. I had to renew my password after you started to send me emails after a few months. I can’t understand why some can’t do it properly. So often notifications start to pour from service I hadn’t hear about for months (often years) and when I need to stop them, I have to spend more time than I wished to to do so. Please, for the sake of other random users of your service, do it better.

And some positives?

There are many, we just don’t notice them so easily – because they don’t angry us, right? Not sure since when, but YouTube now allows for unlisted videos. Exactly what I wanted to share videos with my family. You can’t imagine how difficult it is to instruct mommy how to register and become my friend on YouTube. This made my day.

And as we started we will end: Merry Christmas however you like it. 🙂

Supertramp, Paris and the others

Recently I’ve received my first package from Amazon. For I felt like I’m short of Supertramp’s albums – and it was my favourite band once (later replaced by U2 on #1 spot ;-)) – it’s no surprise there were 4 CDs by this band. I have Paris live bought like ten years ago or so. Now it was the right time to fill up the list with Crime Of the Century, Even in the Quietest Moments, Breakfast in America and their Famous Last Words. I can write tons of things about Supertramp – not about their life, you can find that anywhere else – but about their music, what I like about it, how I feel it. And of course how I disagree with some reviews – which is normal if you’re fan.

Let’s start with Paris. No… let’s start with how I came to this band. My father had many a cassettes with many albums that were normally not accessible in Czechoslovakia in those old days before 1989. Music played a lot in our house and I just listened without realizing what is what – I was like 5? 8? Later I started to like some particular interprets – Mike Oldfield was probably my first favourite one (thanks to Discovery/Crisis tape), swiftly followed by Yes (90125) and finally Supertramp. Here I just loved how Breakfast album started – the opening song (I didn’t know the name for many, many years) being Gone Hollywood.

I just loved the way how it started with the distant piano bursting into falsetto vocals supported by rock solid guitar (not hard, but not soft either) and bass line – and of course their trademark piano. This all ceases after the first minute and we’re getting into something completely different than “verse, refrain, verse, refrain, bridge, solo, refrain, whatever” kind of song you normally know. Saxophone, repetitive piano and TONS of atmosphere. Strings when needed, Rick’s (Davies) voice, with that saxophone being second voice – this all gradating around 2:40-3:10 (check that sax!) and then moving into Roger’s vocals with solo guitar on the background (isn’t that contradictory? :-)) and returning back to the start of the song – just a bit louder.

Don’t get me wrong – Supertramps do normal songs too – just listen to the next one – The Logical Song. I know many people who don’t know about Supertramp, but they almost always know this song (along with It’s Raining Again, Breakfast in America, and then some of them also Dreamer and a few others). So you can just use these to to test yourself – will you like the Supertramp? These two are not maybe the best selection, but it’s hard to do selection of two being “the most typical”. But you have their piano there (electric in the Logical), their so typical saxophone, both voices (Rick and Roger, both authors too) – and you can be sure this is them in their best. Supertramp is somewhere on the edge of art and pop, sometimes clearly in one of these areas – and they are convincing in both of them.

Many years later I realized they are good with guitar too – not that it is their main instrument, but their solos are not out of place at all and supporting guitar is definitely rocky too – sure I don’t mean hard rock. Add organ and go on with listening the third song of Breakfast – Goodbye Stranger. Fast paced with one tone wah-wah based solo – and very fresh. They don’t sound like stuck in 1979, the sound stood the test of time. Sure they don’t sound like 2 Unlimited. Thanks for that. 😉 Next song is the eponymous Breakfast In America. Rhythm of bear walking on two, supported with tuba (yes, that big brum-brum hanging on your neck trumpet), bit of fun, bit of seriousness, just lovely. First side of album (in times of vinyl LPs) is closed by a bit lighter Oh! Darling.

B side starts with just awesome Take the Long Way Home – this is Supertramp in their truly best. Strings, piano, great chords, perfect atmoshphere, harmonica – and especially that dialog of harmonica and clarinet is just perfect. This song has perfect flow, perfectly leans from one side to the other with every subtle change of the harmony on the piano. And the strings before second refrain… after all these years this one is probably my favourite song of the album, chased closely by Gone Hollywood though.

Skipping next three songs we’re getting to the last one – Child Of Vision. Driven by combination of synths and electric piano was originally most interesting for me when I was a child (name coincidence) – Roger’s thin voice (no offense there!) occasionally combined with Rick’s – this all leads us into refrains climbing slowly up. I love the bass here (but not only here) too. And then from the half of the song we’re just closing the album with grand piano solo later supported (again) by saxophone.

Man – what a ride! It’s not like music that leaves you washed-out, but still strong without unnecessary decibels, but still full blown rock.

You can listen to other albums arguing that Fool’s Overture should be mentioned or that later Famous Last Words (not really their last album – but the last one with both main characters because Roger left the party after that one) are too commercial or whatever. I don’t care. Let’s take a look at Paris now – because I just can’t forget that Allmusic gave it just two stars with the whole review being these lines:

“Recorded in the wake of the global success of Breakfast in America, Paris is a competent but ultimately unnecessary live album that fails to live up to the standards of Supertramp’s studio material.”

Well, compare Hide In Your Shell from Paris and Studio album, listen to that atmosphere of the whole recording. Especially fourth side is just brilliant – starting with Long Way Home, through Overture, shortened Two Of Us and culminating in Crime Of the Century. Album Crime Of the Century itself is obviously very important for the band because they enveloped the Paris with the same opening and closing song and except for one from the Crisis, all songs appear on Paris too. And many of them – if you ask me – just are much better live. Maybe School is on the same level in studio, but otherwise the ambient of the crowd and especially their somehow fuller interpretation is just better on the live. Especially that Shell song – it’s so thin on the studio album (not bad, but thinner sound-wise). Heck, even that jet flying over before they start Rudy is just perfect. 🙂

What I love Supertramp for is their atmosphere. Synths on Rudy with clarinet, absolute relax on From Now On (the second half with clapping – and sax again!), moody You Started Laughing and of course all those other songs too. There are some lighter touches just to prepare you for those stronger pieces – and this all finishes with insistent piano in Crime closing section supported by strings going up and up and absolutely soulful saxophone solo. And harmonica.

This is Supertramp. Even when I like other bands more now, I love them no less and every time I listen to them I’m just blown away again and again.

24 highs and lows

Good I read my concerns about the third season of 24 – because otherwise I would elaborate on many things I can now just briefly confirm. Yes – again – lots of dead, smart people doing stupid things, hardly believable reasons for their actions. Just to name a few. It’s the day of the crisis again – after all they must have noticed all those cameras shooting another 24 season, so they must have known that it IS a serious crisis! Yet when some agent loses his key-card he will not report it for four hours! I don’t know how he got back into CTU. And the card – hardly believable – was stolen by a friend of agent’s addict sister when the agent predictably meets his sister on a parking near to CTU – yet out of all cameras – like the sister’s friends knew he will do so and have his card in the first pocket because somehow someone had contacted the rascal before just to get the card for some money. Of course – don’t tell me it’s a spoiler, because it’s not, it’s 24 pattern actually – sister and her friend would get shot by the card “buyer”. Hard life. Easy death.

Another typical 24 pattern is this. Jack (mostly he, but you can replace him by any agent – but other agent’s are more “by a book” – so again, mostly Jack :-)) gets some nearly unrelated person – for instance a manager of some bank – in the middle of the night to get to some specific item. Now villains get on them when they are in the bank. I – being the poor manager – would close myself on a safe place, waiting till tomorrow, claiming I was forced to open the vault by Jack Bauer (everybody knows he’s the second best – right after Chuck Norris – so who would refuse?) – that all is actually true, so there should be no consequences. But no – in 24 they all go out and guess who will die?

a) also present Wayne Palmer?
b) bank manager?
c) Jack Bauer?!

No, unlike in commercials, c) is obviously not right. You get it, right? It’s no fun when you can say “this poor fellow will die soon” – and you can say so right after they meet him! That’s how it is in 24. I’m still strongly backing the opinion that 24 in overall is fun and it is catchy and thrilling, fast-pacing action. I watched fourth season and I was extremely satisfied after the previous one. But right after that one I took the fifth season with all the aforementioned stupid catches. Fourth season is compact and working, and there are also two innocent people who will NOT die! Isn’t that beautiful? There was even moment I realized I was shouting “yes! yes!” – when Tony Almeida appeared on the scene. Highly recommended season, I mean it.

Fifth season – on the other hand – seems to be a series of loosely tight threats that all happened to be based on weaponized toxin gas in cans. Last one of them – of course – appears at the end of the season and I honestly don’t know if it was planned or the season somehow took only 20 hours and they needed to shoot 4 more. Let’s say with a submarine. Good old faces from previous episodes are the highs of this season – Mike Novick, Wayne Palmer, Aaron Pierce around the presidential sub-plot. But the CTU operations were rather puzzled. When homeland security took over CTU – pointing out their mistakes – I was confused why nobody told them what I was screaming inside of my head: “Last agent sent by the White House was so embarrassed when he lost his key-card that he rather didn’t tell us at all about it! That’s why half of the CTU died, that’s why White House is sending us you now!”

Man! So many things didn’t make any sense on this season. Shameful. Watchable, yes. Enjoyable, yes. But believable? No – not even by 24 standards. And many favourite characters dead don’t change a bit about it. On the contrary.

Yet I started with season 6 now, because I AM curious what will happen with Jack “The Second Best After Chuck” (by a close margin only) Bauer!

Galaxy Online? Phew!

After my Travian experience I wanted to develop similar type of web-browser based game. I chose sci-fi star wars setting but before I started to code it I wanted to know that there is still space for it. So I googled for some time and I found more games with similar idea. However none of them was developed enough or so catchy. I had a few ideas how to make the game be the ultimate galaxy war, how to make it less frustrating for the player (in opposite to farming in Travian) and so on. Some were inspired by my short encounter with Sins of a Solar Empire. I quit the project after some time – simply because I wasn’t able to carry away my friends by the idea and it was too much for one programmer (maybe if I had been still just a student… :-P). That was the fate of my sci-fi rip-off of every (not only) web-based game around.

Recently I was somewhere on some site and I noticed the ad about Galaxy Online. So – why not to try it? Not that I wanted to play a game, but there was still the professional me curious about the “market”. 🙂 And Galaxy Online – despite being small client based game (20 MB or so) instead of pure web-based game – simply put me to sadness. There was everything I wanted to do. There was safe home system (in my game it would be accessible, but still safe enough) that prevented you to be a farm from the start. There were fleets, commanders, travels from system to system – even connected by paths (like in Sins), although I decided to quit the idea of paths in my game during its development. There was a good idea of beginner’s quests that guide you through the first steps in the game. Not to mention that you can design your own ships! However…

Artwork is adequate – in login screen it looks like 3D!

The game simply didn’t grow on me. The client is very – and I mean VERY – unfriendly to the user. Things are not contextual there, you have to click back and forth, in dialogs you can’t go from one input to the other with tab or arrows (maybe there is some combination, but who am I to try everything when the most obvious and expected choice doesn’t work). What I mean by “not contextual”? There are generally only two views – big map and one system. So far so good. You have some gateways (stargate, whatever) to other systems. You click on your fleet, send it to the gate and then you want to go there too. I tried some clicking, but it didn’t work. Again – MAYBE there is a way, I just don’t know. So – back to the galaxy view and click on the system. Shock! There are bazillions of other fleets there and it’s not obvious right away which one is yours. No friendly shortcut, nothing. I mean… c’mon! This is DOWNLOADED executable client! Why it can’t provide the most obvious features to control MY units?!

View of your home system. You can see gates to other systems, training field where you can train on pirates, …

Not to mention until you go out of your system you’re just playing on your own sandbox and the whole galaxy can be of no concern to you. There is really NOTHING that somehow drags you to the fight, you have to do your first steps – and these steps are very, very unintuitive. Add some other details like very stupid battle system… I have absolute dominance over some pirates and yet they manage to fly back and forth around the battlefield and after 20 rounds or so they… what? Yes, they WIN! I couldn’t believe my eyes. But OK, it’s a system, right, I’ve read it in the newbie guide, so I’ll live with that. But after a few combats I simply hate this rule. Of course I can make better ships and deal quickly with them. But still… they can run and 20 rounds of the battle is not so much (like 20 moves of all fleets + some fighting). You have to take a lot of supplies with the fleet (no problem with that) and when you want to modify your fleet and anchor some of those ships you have to UNLOAD them first (escape from current view, click on unload, specify how much you want to unload – probably everything because I don’t know when any particular ship is considered loaded…). The whole unloading is waste of time. Simply anchor those ships and unload their load! Easy-peasy.

Splash screen is really ugly and there is no way of knowing if there is some login screen behind or not. No… simply press Enter. Great and warm welcome for fresh players indeed.

I’m sure there are many fans. The game isn’t that bad and probably the mechanics are cool. I played it for some time without interacting with others first. When I wanted to move around all my objections stacked during those few days became even more pronounced. That leads me to the idea that my game could still stand a chance. Too bad I’m lazy to do it (not to mention my passion for music, many unseen TV series, games, … you name it :-)). I think people should try by themselves. I read some reviews first and then tried it anyway – but I was dissatisfied. Not by the idea behind the game, but by the execution. If you’re demanding player, skip this one. But if you wanna try it, just be informed that initial splash-screen with “News Center” can be dismissed by Enter key. Just in case…

Business model of the game is similar to other free to play games. You can buy additional advantages, some buildings cost you so called “mall points”. I haven’t tried this part of the game because I really didn’t feel to do so. 🙂

Far Cry Overdue Review

I’m sort of torn between Virgo who wanted to write it short and the other one who scents that I can’t make it short anyway. Hence I rather took four screenshots and here we go. Not long ago I could say “was one of those games I finished”. There are still jewels I quit – like Bioshock (not because it wasn’t good for me, it just happens when you stop playing a game that you sometimes never return to it). Now I finished more games and I still count on. I killed the last bastard in Far Cry literally few minutes ago. Why to do a review? Even without reading others? 🙂 Why not… I like the game and I decided to write about it. It was also one of those reasons (aside from music, video editing, …) why I hadn’t written any post in April after all!

I got the game on Steam for 10 euro-bucks along with Il-2 Sturmovik in some Ubisoft pack I wanted in the first place. I knew there is some Far Cry, I played Crysis demo and I knew about Crytek. I started the game one evening and the game completely sucked me in. I liked everything about the game. Weapons – quite a big arsenal. I liked the meter showing if enemies know about you or not. I liked the feeling of gameplay, it really is great shooter where you can sneak around and snipe but also go aggressively into the battles. I picked third difficulty (and later I wished I picked something easier).

Nice open landscapes – especially tropical islands – that’s Far Cry

But first things first, right? It is FPS as you probably know. And the story is something about genetic tests of some crazy scientist you have to kill in the end. I don’t wanna spoil it out. You walk through a jungle, some interiors, caves, jungle again, catacombs, more jungle and some volcano in the end. Beginning is quite innocent but after you start to meed products of the genetic engineering the story (and especially the gameplay) heats up significantly. One thing that is extremely lovely about Far Cry is that the game doesn’t have bugs (at least version 1.4 that is on Steam). Well – it probably does some, even I noticed a few – but there are no significant, frustrating bugs. Here and there are soldiers who can see you through the tent or wall (especially those where you can fire through). Here and there some glitch occurs. But nothing that affects the very smooth flow of the game. Maybe I was just lucky, but this is simply something that the game should be – but often is not.

Unlucky… not only dead, but how he got there? 🙂

Checkpoints instead of ad-lib save is something that can ruin the game. Few save-points in Mafia for instance were quite annoying plus some videos could not be skipped. On the other hand the system also helps the story to be better experienced and you play simply in a different way when you know you have to survive until the next checkpoint. In Far Cry saving is generally on a right place – sometimes it could be closer to some final fight. When I blown up some regulator or what I found out that space key (or jump?) skips the video sequence, nice touch. Why I found it out after the blowing part? Well because check-point was before the detonation and many enemies after the cut scene. It was probably first of those battles I had to do on more than 10 tries. (And later I did some of them again and again innumerable times.)

Final (sort-of) boss responsible for all the mess

Trouble with difficulty is that it goes up insanely in later phases of the game. It’s really frustrating but some fights are 95% matter of luck and 5% matter of skill. I don’t wanna say that the skill doesn’t matter – it does, because without it you wouldn’t simply do it. But in many cases you’ll get killed even when you did more than your best. When you enter the same room again after reload it is never the same – enemies are standing on different positions, sometimes even the number of them is different. This is very nice feature but very big complications as well – in those frustrating moments. I nearly gave up. I play games for fun and not because I have to prove to myself that I can beat some final boss. When I felt I was going to write a review (a few days ago) I thought I will be very optimistic about the game but it’s perhaps a bit hard-core in the end. I had to replay many checkpoints in Mafia and maybe I don’t remember my frustration. Many of them was about luck there as well – but Far Cry has a few insane battles on 3rd difficulty from 5.

Still – play the game if you haven’t tried it yet. It is worth it. It is cool shooter with cool equipment like the binoculars that can tag your enemies on the radar or heat vision that is very handy in some of those most difficult battles (but not only there). Far Cry is a long game, it needs some time and patience. I’d rather play it with 2nd difficulty now but your skill can be better (or you’re masochist ;-)). Anyway, play the game.

Don’t fire rocket into the face of the enemy standing so close 🙂

Wrap-up time! Cons? No subtitles in cut scenes, few extremely long runs between checkpoints, very frustrating (not only) boss fights, ugly cut scenes (Val could definitely act better in them :-)). Pros? Attractive gameplay, great landscapes, freedom within corridor-like gameplay/story, weapons and binocs, and heat vision! I wish you good luck with those fights where you will really need it. And here is the guide I used (and it helped) – it’s nice and funny here and there, especially talking about cliches of the game, so let me finish with a quote from it:

“Don’t blame CryTek, though: federal regulations require that all first-person shooters have a sequence wherein you become a passenger on a fast-moving vehicle, are unable to control your movement, and are tasked with shooting at other fast-moving vehicles. It’s the law.”

Wolfenstein 3D Overdue Review

I played many games although I’m no big gamer (old gamer maybe). I tried Wolfenstain 3D on my classmate’s computer back in 92 or 93 and it was incredible fun for that time. Later I played Doom, Descent (which I loved) and other games of the wide genre called FPS. Why to lie about it – all of them were copied from someone and I never bought them. Because… well the situation was like it was back in nineties in Czech or Slovak republic and it would have been probably difficult to get them properly even if I had wanted. Whatever.

Now I play games I bought – mostly via Steam – and it was id Super Pack I decided to buy and redeem my soul after all that played game I had never paid for. Especially when it was for only 35 Euros or so during this Christmas. As you can see the Super Pack is really super – all Dooms, Quakes (except 4), Wolfenstains, Hexens along with Heretic and Commander Keen (I’m not sure I’ll play that one though ;-)). Having all these games I decided to walk at least main titles (the pack contains also many expansions or the best community episodes) – and I logically started with Wolf 3D!

Can I jump over those barrels? No… you have to wait till late nineties.

So what is Wolf 3D? FPS that is supposed to be in 3D, yet all levels are flat. 🙂 But even that was revolution back then. The graphics is as it is with 320×200 resolution. Engine provides some funny features like you can see enemy behind the corner when you rotate the camera in that direction although you can’t see it when you look straight – but what would you expect? What I want to talk is how cool the game is, what it lacks and how/if it ruins the game.

Most importantly, there was no WASD convention that time (or ESDF for me, please) – but you can set your keys, which is something that was omitted from the Doom released the following year (shame on you, Doom :-)). But there is no way how you can strafe with keys and turn your face in the same time because a) there are no dedicated strafing keys, just the strafing “shift” (any key you want) b) when you press the strafing modifier the mouse toggles to strafe too. I played most of the episodes without strafing at all, but later started to strafe in narrow corridors which always gives you more time to react and saves health so.

Level design is limited to square matrix – you can see that on map layouts here. You might need this cheat-sheet also for a few levels where you can’t reach keys without discovering secret places. And beware one particular place where moving one secret wall blocks other secret wall so it can’t reveal the passage on (if you wanna play it ;-)). But all things considering – level design is good for the time, it has many ideas and some places I still remember – like gunmen behind barrels on both sides of the room or level full of corridors with alcoves on both sides with soldiers in them. But not all of them of course.

Final boss in the final episode. If nothing else, bosses should learn you to strafe. 😉

Decorations are also nice. Funny thing about the game is that it counts your score AND you can save it anytime. Score was abandoned in Doom because it really doesn’t have any sense – as with a few deaths you can make higher score than with the perfect run. I played all six episodes, I read all final congratulations, I skipped many secrets (there are 9 floors in every episode + 1 secret floor accessible from a normal floor with a return to the following normal floor), I didn’t play it on harder difficulties, I just wanted to see it. And even after all those years the game still stands firm – although you have to pardon it some inconveniences, mostly in controls.

FPS genre took a fast progress after Wolf 3D, the next year there was the Doom (which I missed back then), I played Doom II a bit later and then there was The Descent with six degrees of freedom. That was the fist game I played with full control over view and I was able to move in AND turn around all three axes in the same time. There were some games before Wolfenstain, but Wolf 3D was without any doubts the game that started FPS industry on a big scale. And I’m really surprised how good it still is.