Sorry 'bout That

Sorry about the broken hull and everything, but those resources were a little too scarce for me to ignore. I'll gladly pay the 40,000 credits to clear my name of any wrong doing.

Galaxy on Fire

Word to the wise: install enough escape pods for everybody. My beef isn't with you.

Creating An Impossible Boss

The Tuesday after a long weekend is never easy, and the people of Japan get to deal with this today as many of us head back to work for the first time in over 80 hours. For the budding entrepreneur, however, there is no such thing as time off. For the last three days I've been hard at work on several projects, several of which have actually been shipped and are now solving problems. That said, this sort of habit is not sustainable and shouldn't be done for longer than necessary.

How Does Someone Who's Always 'On' Unwind?

One of my long-standing pastimes is to play a game called Galaxy on Fire 2. This game was beaten long ago, but I continue to make the rounds around my corner of the galaxy to keep the peace, earn cash, and rid star systems of illegal cargo. When I'm not ferrying passengers from one place to another, I might just stop by the local asteroid belt to mine some ore.

That's my Vossk battle cruiser right there, and I typically carry enough firepower to wipe out several war ships, several dozen support ships, and even a complete space station. If I'm going into an area that is particularly dangerous, I stock up even more. This may take a lot of fun out of the game, as there's less chance that I'll meet an untimely death, but it's a wonderful way to make the trek from one side of the known galaxy to the other without resorting to a Kador Drive.

I'm really looking forward to the next expansion pack, Supernova, which is said to be coming some time in the third quarter this year. Hopefully it'll add a few more star systems, a new enemy, and maybe an insurmountable challenge …

The Impossible Boss

One thing that I sort of miss from my youthful gaming days is the possibility of an impossible boss. This would be a character that has so many advantages going for them that it is almost impossible to defeat them. It would be possible, of course, provided that the player has a lot of patience and resources, but the level of skill would be so high that only the most die hard of players would even consider attempting it.

Here's how I see the ultimate boss situation playing out:

  • the boss would start taking over star systems, with each annexed star system having several heavily-armed battle cruisers in orbit of the planets
  • the space stations in the annexed star systems would not allow us to dock (similar to the space stations in systems overrun with pirates)
  • the boss would have its own star system … perhaps in Void space
  • the boss would be on a heavily-armed space station surrounded by heavily-armed battle cruisers and a plethora of smaller attack vessels
  • the boss vessels would have crazy shielding, and a new weapon that acts like a solar flare … affecting a large area of space (meaning cloaked vessels would be seriously affected if they're too close)
  • Jumpgates can be destroyed (to slow the advance of the Impossible Boss fleets, but not prevent them)
  • battle cruisers can be "recalled" and jump back into the home star system to provide support to the boss

This is the sort of game that would be infuriating in a good way. It's the sort of thing that would make people use a great deal of strategy and quick reflexes to simply survive a skirmish. Hiding behind a cloak would not be enough. Fast maneuverability would not be enough. A stupid number of high-yield weapons would not be enough. Instead, people would need a combination of everything in order to even get close to the boss, let alone take them out.

This probably won't happen, but I'd love to see something like it. Not sure the iPod Touch's screen would be able to survive the endless playing, though …

The Car

Racing games have always had a special place in my heart. From Pole Position on the Atari 2600 all the way up to the latest and greatest Need for Speed, I've long enjoyed putting my twitch-fingers to good use and testing the limit of these digital representations of cars. That said, if given the opportunity, there is one car that I will continually come back to; the Maxda MX-5 Roadster.

A yellow MX-5 Roadster1. Any other color is just an abomination on a car this peppy.

Observing Moba-gamers

A young man in a sharp suit is tapping away at his cell phone, no smile can be found. A woman in her mid-20s is slowly pressing the screen of her Samsung smart phone, no smile can be found. A teen is flipping through web pages that are laid out like a RPG1 from the 1990s, his eyes clearly showing interest in what he's doing. We see people like this all the time. Lost in a world of our own, many of us are passing the time by playing games on our mobile devices. From feature phones to tablets, anything that can connect to the Internet is being used to display pictures and text will undoubtedly be used for games at some point. But are these games any fun?

This is a question I've had for a while as social gaming companies like Gree, Mobage, and Gloops permeate the advertising space with their offerings.

Before getting too deep into this topic, I'd like to say up front that I don't see the allure of games like this on a smart phone2. The graphics are terribly limited, the stories are quite shallow, the objectives a bit too random or nonsensical, and your chances of success are all based on the luck of a random number generator rather than skill. This isn't to say that the games are completely pointless … but they're not quite what I would consider a recipe for success.

Yet they rake in huge amounts of money every year. Why?

When I ask a number of people around me what types of games they play and how often, the responses are all over the charts. Some people enjoy the simpler games because they don't need to put a lot of thought into them. Others like the nicely drawn characters and the idea that a handsome guy or pretty girl is waiting for them after a long day at the office. Young people enjoy the games that look and feel a lot like Magic, as they can collect more powerful cards or buy rare power-ups that give them an extra advantage over their peers. But the most common answer was one that didn't strike me as surprising at all: people play the games because they see the commercials on TV and have nothing better to do while commuting.

I kid you not. This was the most common answer.

So if this is true for people in and around Nagoya, just how the heck are the big mobile gaming companies earning millions of yen every single day? The advertising revenue can't be that great, can it? Teenagers seem more willing to purchase the prepaid Gree cards3 to get upgrades and special items more than adults, but adults are primarily the people who have disposable income and burn through it the most. Clearly I'm missing something.

Again, digital games that are heavily dependent on the random drawing of a card or a roll of dice are typically not my idea of fun, but this doesn't mean that other people don't get heavily involved in them. I prefer games where I am in direct control of the characters and any defeat is the result of my own lack of skill or experience. That said, there is a great deal of money to be earned from games where the graphics and game play look like something from 20 years ago, and it makes me wonder just how difficult it would be to make something like this to help people with their English or Japanese studies.

Waiting For The Perfect Game

It's not too often that I play video games anymore but, when I do, I look for very specific things from the time sink. First and foremost, the game must be enjoyable time and again. If I "beat" the game, it's important that I can either keep going, playing against the lesser characters, or start over from scratch and still enjoy the storyline. Another important aspect is the story. Shallow stories are for Hollywood, and complex stories for novels. Games need to be somewhere in the middle1. Next, games need to have decent graphics. There has been a resurgence of the 8-bit style reminiscent of the older Atari and Nintendo2 games which doesn't really lend itself to great stories very often.

Essentially, what I want is this: Galaxy on Fire 2 for iOS, but taking place in the Star Trek universe.

I've been playing Galaxy on Fire 2 for months. The game was beaten a long time ago. All the expansion packs have been played to the end. I have the most powerful everything. My space station, seen in the background, is better stocked than the 40 closest stations. There is also enough cash in the bank to buy a second space station … if it were possible. Completion aside, this is a game that I still come back to time and again to embark upon missions, ferrying people from place to place, defending cargo ships from pirates, destroying cargo ships carrying illegal goods, and a few other routine tasks for a man who is known throughout the galaxy as a hero!3.

It shouldn't be too much to ask for Paramount to license elements of the Star Trek franchise to a development studio so that a game of this caliber can be built. Heck, I'd even be willing to pay 2,500円 for the privilege of playing a base mission, and a few hundred yen every few months for expansion packs that introduce all sorts of new challenges.

The question, though, is whether anything like this will come to pass in the near future.

Many years ago I got a lot of enjoyment out of the Star Fleet Command series4. The Star Trek Online series needs a person to be online5 and at a desktop machine to enjoy. Both of these would undoubtedly continue to provide a great deal of enjoyment … if they were available for mobile devices.

Risk (Part IV)

Risk | Stop Teasing the Enemy

One day I'll learn to stop teasing the opponent, but that day is not going to be any time soon. This particular battle was hard fought and, at more than one point, I thought I would be wiped out. On more than one occasion the blue army had me out-gunned and cornered in the far reaches of Australia … one territory under my reign. Other times orange was hammering away on the front just enough to let green slip through when it came time for him to roll the red dice.

Suffice it to say, when the stronger blue and orange armies were finally defeated, I took my time destroying green.

Risk (Part III)

Despite the number of excellent strategy games available, Risk is still one of my absolute favorites. Unlike many other traditional board games played during youth, this one has the added complexity of taking on upwards of five opponents across numerous fronts. Other strategy games such as Chess, Battleship, and 囲碁 (igo) were typically one-on-one and didn't involve as much politicking, secret alliances, or back-stabbing. Since leaving Canada, however, it's been incredibly difficult to sit down with a bunch of friends and try to destroy their nations in a bid to conquer the planet. Luckily, there are options.

Yesterday while playing against several rather difficult opponents, the dice were on my side. Having controlled North America since the first round, my yellow-flagged nation had an advantage over others. Red, blue, and purple were always taking stabs at the borders, but never broke through. Green was playing a very cautious game, never taking more than a single nation at a time before fortifying in Siam. After what must have been 40 solid rounds of battle against red, blue, and purple, Yellow came out on top, and this is what the world looked like:

Risk | Devoid of Red, Blue and Purple

Green had turned in several sets of cards during the game, but never flexed that military might. He was content in believing that "he who controls Australia will later control the world". Unfortunately for him, this game was the exception to the rule.

Risk | Standoff in IndiaRisk | India ConqueredRisk | Standoff in Australia

Sometimes the dice aren't fair. It's conquests like this that bring me back to the game again and again.

What Would You Do?

So imagine, if you will, you're playing Risk against a bunch of competitors who are mostly ignoring your existence. You get bad rolls all the time, but win territory often enough to get a card. When you get a chance to cash in, you score big. Eventually, there are just two competitors remaining: you, and an incredibly powerful opponent. To make things more interesting, this is the world as you see it …

Risk: Total Domination

You are orange, with three units coming to you. What is your strategy?

Stupid Toucan!

Not all birds are created equal … and the Toucan (I think it's a Toucan) in Angry Birds is the most useless boomerang-like suicide bomber I've ever had the displeasure to command.

Angry Birds | Stupid Toucan!

The Oatmeal had it right last week; it's like throwing a Frisbee into a Category 5 tornado and hoping your dog will catch it.

To Drive or Not To Drive

In two days, the next in the Need For Speed series of games will be released in Canada. I've been really excited about this release as it has many of the features that I've been waiting to see in a game of this caliber. Players will be able to create teams, where you collect digital 'friends' along the way who will help you win races by keeping competitors out of the way. This is something I've wanted since Need for Speed:Underground when the computer opponents would often times catch the tail end of your car, and nudge you into a wall at 260 kph as you make that final corner before the finish line. I'm sure the neighbours have heard my reaction whenever this happens…

But as I examine the "Minimum System Requirements" for this game, it makes me wonder whether I should even try to play the game. As it sits, I have the bare minimum processor, and a barely capable video card in my notebook. Add to the fact that I have a notebook, and that just compounds the limitations further. Single core … non-upgradable components … 5400 rpm hard drive … the list is shamefully extensive.

Several years ago, I would have laughed at the Minimum System Requirements, thinking to myself "who still has such old equipment?" Back in the day, I was at the forefront of home PC technology. Dual processors, 2 Gig of RAM when it was still $400 per gig, RAID 0 across six hard drives, and a video card that was more powerful than most PCs at that time.

But that was almost six years ago, when I could easily drop $1400 in upgrades for my already over-powered PC. Before I had moved from Ontario, I had actually bought an air conditioner for the room my PC was in. It ran that hot.

I don't play many games, anymore. Need for Speed is one of the few that I still enjoy as it gives me the opportunity to drive around cities wrecklessly while racing other cars. I enjoy the rush that comes during the really difficult races. Winning by 0.05 seconds is much more exciting than winning by a full second, or even 12 seconds. Driving against heavy traffic is also incredibly enjoyable as it adds an element to the races that make it all the more difficult. Cars get in the way, opponents are pushing you from the side or behind, causing your ride to slide … and despite all this, you drift through three lanes of heavily populated cars to make the final corner perfectly as you step on the gas and drop the clutch in the final leg of the race …

That's where the exicitement lays.

But as I look at these requirements, I'm forced to examine whether this would be a good investment. Would I be able to enjoy the game, even at reduced video settings with all the cool factors turned down? Or would this be the onion in the ointment? I play need for speed to relax and unwind, even though it might seem as though the opposite were true.

My notebook is three years old, and in my possession for two. I've been wanting to replace it with a newer model since January of this year, but just haven't had the opportunity or found the proper justification. I can't just run out and buy the latest and greatest of something anymore because it leaves me with the question "what do I do with the old one?" Sure, I could put it to use somewhere … but why? This notebook here has surpassed all of my expectations. I've never owned a computer as long as I have this one, and certainly never been able to go so long without upgrades or repairs of one type or another.

This box lets me write software in several different languages, watch downloaded TV shows, movies, documentaries and whatever else I want to view. The wireless network card has transmitted terabytes of data as I'm almost constantly downloading something while at home. And it's given me a new appreciation for quality built machines. Quite frankly, this notebook could easily last me another year or two at the minimum before I would be forced to consider an upgrade to keep in stride with the upcoming Windows Vista operating system.

In the last few years it has been harder and harder to keep up with the pace of progress. Not only because of the cost factors, but because I try to justify my purchases better. Saying it's okay to spend $600 on a new video card just because it's "cool" doesn't cut it anymore. For the last year, I've been promised a new notebook through work. I figured this would be the prime upgrade for me. I had requested a nice HP model to replace my current HP notebook, and when it was ready to be replaced again, it would be the responsibility of my employer. The only catch I might have to face is what I would do about all my personal software … I would almost feel guilty installing video games or watching inappropriate material on a work-owned notebook.

So at the end of the day, I'm still left with the question of whether to drive, or not to drive. Need for Speed:Carbon will be one of the most exciting releases for this series. But if I can't enjoy it even remotely, the game would become more of a wasted liability than an investment. The argument could be made to get a new notebook (I'm really taken by the HP NC8430 and NW8440 models) and enjoy the newer technology for the next few years … but if this notebook here will do the job for a little longer, then why spend $2000 on a new PC for the sake of enjoying a video game and loading some other software a little faster?

I wonder if I could push the question of new machines at work again …