Sunday, June 30, 2013

Imperial Destiny Page 2

                “Are you certain it isn’t just a sensor fluctuation?”  Commander Potole asked, looking over the sensor officer’s shoulder.  “Have you checked with the communications satellite in the Jirus sector?  Is it reporting anything unusual?”
                “No, sir, I’m not getting any readings from it.  It has gone completely silent.”  Several red lights lit up on the displays.  “Confirmed, sir, another vessel just jumped in.  It’s fairly small sir, destroyer or light cruiser at best, maybe some kind of light transport ship.”
                “Comms, hail them.  Does the specification match anything in the database?”
                “No, sir, but we are having trouble with the sensors.  We are tying in telemetry from the space traffic control on the surface, but their sensors aren’t calibrated for much more than telling that something is there.”  Another set of lights lit up.  “Sir, another ship just jumped in…cruiser class or better.  They are both approaching our position at a high rate of speed.  Intercept in five minutes.”
                The Commander hit a button on the console.  “Captain to the bridge.”  Releasing the button, he returned to the middle of the bridge.  “Keep monitoring those incoming ships.  Let me know when they are close enough to get a read with our own sensors.  Comms, contact space traffic control and have them scramble whatever fighters they have available.”  The doors to the Captain’s quarters opened, and Captain Braton stepped onto the bridge.
                “Commander, report” she said, taking her seat.
                “Two unknown contacts just jumped in from Jirus Sector, ma’am.  We haven’t been able to get a read on them.”
                “Sir, a third ship has jumped in.  Cruiser class, and it is giving off some strange readings.”
                “Comms, send a message to fleet command, tell them that we need assistance.  Raise shields and load all weapons.  I have a bad feeling about this.”
                The main viewscreen showed a grainy image of the three vessels closing in.  The front vessel became clearer by the minute, revealing itself to be a destroyer of an unknown type.  A shimmer around the ship belied that it had shields and that they were up.  Prallan looked down at his console, and saw the frigate’s own sensor data start to stream in.  He ran the same mental calculations that he was certain the Commander and Captain were running in their own minds.  The IDF Jinar might be an even match for the destroyer, but with two other ships it was looking hopeless.
                “Still nothing from the unknown vessels, ma’am.  Fleet command reports that they can have a support fleet here in thirty minutes.  We have been ordered to hold and defend the colony until then.”
                “Sensors, where is the main settlement relative our location in orbit?”
                “One quarter rotation behind us, ma’am, in synch with the defense station that is under construction.”
                “Is that station operational yet?”
                “No, ma’am, it is an empty shell in space.”
                “Space traffic control reports four squadrons of QT-2 fast attack fighters are launching in the next two minutes.”
                The destroyer was quite clear in the viewscreen.  In another minute it would be in firing range.
                “Weapons, fire as soon as they are in range.  If we can’t hold them off, then they will have free reign on the colony below.  Let’s show them how soldiers of the Imperial Navy fight.  For the Emperor!”

                “For the Emperor!” The rest of the bridge crew shouted.  Prallan watched the range count down on his console, finger raised above the button that would fire the frigate’s main battery, waiting for the destroyer to come into range.  The console lit up, and he hit the button.  Two large cannons on the forward turret fired, shaking the entire frigate.  The battle had begun.

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Saturday, June 29, 2013

Imperial Destiny Page 1

Chapter 1: Showdown at Lo-Lorane

                Ensign Prallan Tigrole stared out the viewport at the white-blue marble of a planet that they orbited.  It had been a rare find, a breathable atmosphere outside the core sectors.  Designated Lo-Lorane, it had been charted only a year earlier, but now there was a fledgling colony established, with four million brave souls trying to carve out a new life for themselves far away from the overcrowded streets of the Core Worlds of the Empire.  Many would sign up for the missions on barren wastelands, doomed to live under glass domes that held out the deadly and poisonous air of very foreign worlds.  Colonies like those had been the only solution when hospitable planets were in short supply.  They had allowed the Empire to expand, providing fuel stops for exploration vessels and tapping vital mineral resources for the construction of new vessels.  The Core World had been mined out years ago, and most of the asteroid belts in the core sectors were meeting the same fate.  Massive mining goliaths roamed those belts, consuming the asteroids and shipping out refined materials for use in the manufacturing centers of the Empire.
                Prallan looked up, and noticed the chronometer on the wall.  If he did not leave the mess now he would be late for his shift on the bridge.  Handing the mug of tea he had been drinking over to one of the mess workers, he headed up to the bridge.  The only perk of being an ensign was that he was allowed to use the officer’s mess, which meant he only had to walk a short distance to the bridge.  It would matter more on a larger vessel, but even on the Imperial Defense Frigate Jinar, it meant being on the same deck as the bridge, and not needing to take a lift up or down.  As he closed to the bridge, a group of other officers joined up with him, the entire second shift had arrived, and they approached the door to the bridge together.  As they filed into the bridge, Commander Potole, highest ranking officer of their shift, was talking with Captain Braton.  Prallan caught the conversation as he relived the Ensign at the weapons station.
                “Ma’am, the readings of the Jirus jump point have always fluctuated a little, I don’t think we need to worry ourselves about these minor fluctuations” Commander Potole said to the Captain.  Potole was much older than Braton, but fate and luck had placed Potole on a medical discharge for treatment of a rare condition while Braton was fighting in the Preezar incursion a year before.  That battle that had left her, a young lieutenant, as the only officer left alive on a light cruiser, in command.  She had taken the initiative and driven the cruiser deep into the flank of the enemy formation.  The surprise maneuver, and the thought on the part of the Preezar that the ship had been too badly damaged to fight at all, turned the tide of the battle, and while the cruiser was too badly damaged and too far behind enemy lines to be salvaged, Braton had earned her new commission, even if by the time she was able to take command after her injuries had healed, the incursion was over, and the only ship needing a pilot was the IDF Jinar.
                “Commander, I respect your opinion, but I would like the jump point monitored.  Our scout ships have not finished mapping the Jirus sector, and there are many unknown factors out there.” Braton, despite being six inches shorter than Potole, and a woman on top of it, was still able to stare down the older officer. 
                “Yes, ma’am.  I will let you know the moment we find anything.”  Braton picked up a infotab off of her chair, and walked through the door that led to her private quarters.  Prallan could only imagine the luxury the Captain enjoyed in there.  It was a suite of rooms, one of which was a private mess, and the outermost that linked directly to the bridge was a study that doubled as a conference room. He hoped one day to be a Captain and have such nice accommodations, or at least be a Lieutenant and share his quarters with only one other person instead of three.  As Potole called each station in turn to report, that dream dissolved in Prallan’s mind.  He would be stuck as an Ensign for years unless another war started.  The peace-time attrition rate among officers was almost nothing, which meant unless the Senate approved a massive fleet buildup, promotions would be few and far between.  He wished a war would start, so he could earn some glory and move up the ranks…

                “Commander, I have some strange readings coming from the Jirus jump point.”  The sensor officer reported.   “There is a massive power surge.  I think a ship is jumping in.”

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Thursday, June 27, 2013

Picking Up A Tale In the Desert Again

I'm debating whether or not to pick up A Tale in the Desert again.  The first time I played it it was very enjoyable.  I liked the community, I liked the challenge of unlocking new technology and finding a niche in t a very real community.  I've logged in under the temporary 24 trial account, and I find that most of egypt is empty.  There are a few people around, and they are friendly enough, but with all technology unlocked and the tale only waiting for the developers to finish coding a couple tests, there's little reason to join at this time.  Honestly, there's no reason at all from my point of view, because all the real fun stuff is gone.

I remember back in tale 4 struggling to find a way around restrictions that we had that were preventing us from researching stuff.  I remember puzzling over genetics to cheat our way to a blue petaled flower to unlock some research or another (found out it was technically impossible without mutagenics, which was held up by some other minor problem).  It was fun and challenging, which made it enjoyable.  I really don't see that fun being there now.

In truth, it was the horticultural parts of the game that kept me interested.  I learned how to make glass so I could cheaply build greenhouses for crossbreeding and for bottles for wine..  I learned how to hunt mushrooms for much the same reason (crossbreeding requires mushrooms to make the Nut's esssence used in the splicing).  I learned to fish to make fertilizer to cause lilies to bulb.  Everything I did was to play the crossbreeding and wine-making game.  Was I particularly good at it?  Absolutely not.  I didn't care to build out dozens of trellisses for my vines to get different flavors, I just built fifty or so around my compound and made my wine.  I spent hours figuring out their characteristics, before discovering the work had been figured out before, and still held true.  It was fun, figuring all that out.

But visiting the game now, i realize that I cannot have that anymore.  The game has a very real timer on it.  It may not have a specific time set yet, but the tale is running down.  People will only come back when its time to build the monuments and end it, before starting anew.  I might find it interesting to start playing at the beginning of a new telling, but in all honesty, I don't know that I will.  I don't have a whole lot of time to devote to an MMO, which makes me a casual gamer.  Casual gamers do not do well in simulation-style MMOs.  I don't think I would be contributing very well to the society if I tried.

Really ATITD has two kinds of players that move the game forward: Those that are specially skilled in one or more areas, and are a vital resource whether they devote minutes or days to the game, and those that devote a good deal of time to it.  In honesty, the latter are the true drivers for the game.  Anyone can learn the skills of the mini-games that are difficult to master, but those that devote large portions of their time to the game are the ones who move research and push the game onward.  Those are the ones that pass the tests quickest and progress furthest.

And I know I am not one of them.  I am lucky to have some experience in areas of the game that are tedious and few people want to do (like crossbreeding, wine making and glass making).  If I wanted to be a major player in ATITD, it would take more time than I have to offer it, but I could still be a valuable resource to the community.  I just don't think I want to do it.  I'd love a game that was just the portions of ATITD I like, without the tests and without the weird stuff (Steam technology in ancient egypt doesn't jive with me).

I'm finding a lot that there are games I could really enjoy if they were run or designed a little differently.  I guess its time to get into the game development market.


Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Webcomic review: Ctrl Alt Del

It is time for a Webcomic review.  Today I will be looking at a personal favorite of mine that I have read for a very long time: Ctrl Alt Del, or CAD written and drawn by Tim Buckley

(Image is copied from www.cad-comic.com and is the property of its creator, Tim Buckley.  Click to visit his website)

The comic originally followed the antics of Ethan and his friends, spanning many years with Ethan getting married to a hot gamer girl, inventing a holiday, and many other misadventures.  The whole plot is really hard to boil down because it has been going on for so long and ended in a matter that upset many people.  If you do not want spoilers, skip down to the bottom.

The comic ends with Ethan dying in a heroic self-sacrifice sort of way, making up for the fact that it is his creation, Zeke the android, that causes the enslavement of humanity and the death of his loved ones (his wife, Lilah, being murdered in front of him).  I should mention that this happens during a time travel incident, so it is past “innocent” Ethan that sacrifices himself, saving his loved ones by dying in the future. The character was such an outcast that this sort of noble sacrifice is touching in a very deep way.

The other really big moment that impacted me was Lilah’s miscarriage.  I really wish that they had had a chance to have a family, and that whole story arc was so simultaneously devastating and enthralling.  This was some excellent work by Tim.

Really what makes this comic great is that Tim is willing to challenge the norms for what narratively should be done and let the characters and events unfold.  Occasionally this kicks his fanbase in the gut, but we all keep coming back for more of the story because his characters are so true to themselves.  I really cannot do this comic justice in mere words, it deserves to be read.

I will rate comics in four categories: Major Plot, that is how the comics connect to one another in a complete sense, Minor Plot, that is how the individual comics stand up on their own, Artistry (overall beauty of the work), and Comic Art (how the artwork works with the comic).
Major Plot 7 of 10:  CAD would have gotten a much higher rating if I would have reviewed it a year or so ago, however, the way it currently is, major plot has gone to the wayside in favor of short arcs and jokes.  The long-running group of characters (Ethan et al) had a very solid and developed storyline going for them, and the new “Players” group of characters just doesn’t match up.  While it is the writer’s prerogative with where to go with their characters, I wish we had the same depth of storytelling with the new set of characters.  However, this is largely impossible as the new characters are not three dimensional enough yet.

Minor Plot 8 of 10: The minor plot of CAD is almost always quite solid.  The one-off jokes are very good.  There’s not a whole lot to say here, solidly done.  There are a few comics who simply cannot stand on their own, but that is a rarity, and usually necessary for the Major Plot to succeed.

Artistry 6 of 10: The artistry and detail of this comic are decent.  There are much better examples of how to be artistic with a cartoony style (for example, Erfworld while it is being drawn by Xin).  With the production pace of CAD (which has been fairly reliably released 3 days a week for a while now), the artistry level is above average, which is why it warrants a 6 out of 10.

Comic Art 9 out of 10: The art style fits the comic very well.  I’ve read this comic from almost the beginning and there has never been a moment where I have felt the style was cagey or forced.  Tim has developed his style over the years and it is quite fitting (even the sillies would score very high in this category). 

Total Score 30 out of 40:  This is an excellent comic I recommend that everyone read.  It is entertaining, heart-wrenching, and leaves you at times in awe.  Some of the original character’s story may lose its impact now that you are not waiting several days to see what happens next, but I’m never disappointed when I read a new strip, or when I stroll through the archives.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Dragon's Tale

Dragon's Tale is an interesting video game concept.  It is an MMORPG that is also a casino.  You can win real bitcoins from these games, which makes it a fun and potentially lucrative game.  However, it still retains many aspects of eGenesis's other game, A Tale in the Desert, and if you've played ATITD, you will recognized many of the graphical elements of this game.

Teppy, or Di as he is known in Dragon's Tale, has masterfully created a wide variety of games of chance and skill to entertain users while they gamble for high or low stakes.  The game offers a variety of fun activities from digging for treasure to betting on what square a monkey will head for.

Some of the games include:

Soldiers:  Statues will occasionally give you free money.

Cow Tipping: Master different techniques to knock down cows.

Ming Vases: Match vases to win big

Friendship Farm: Stuff the pigs to kill them, and earn rewards

Drinks: Have a drink, and win coins.  Buy for your friends and hope they return the favor.

Berry Growing: Try your luck at growing berries.  More you grow, the more you earn.

Herb Gathering: Find herbs and get money from picking them.

Benches: Bet on a bench, give it a kick, and potentially earn half again as much as your bet.

Really, games fall into three categories:  Pure  luck, a mix of luck and skill, and entirely skill based.  There is a lot of debate over what games fall into what category.  For example, coconut tree falls solely into luck, as it is based on random chance, but a game like berry growing requires some skill and some luck....or it could be completely skill based.  Teppy has kept his skills from ATITD in keeping the playerbase guessing as to what exactly the cause and effect relationship is in these games.

In all, its definitely worth trying out.  You can easily get some starting coin from the statues, and experiment to see if you like the game.  The community is great, and many people are quite helpful (finding a good mentor is a good thing, but people are willing to part with some secrets if you are friendly).  I strongly recommend giving it a shot.

Here's the link again



I had heard about bitcoins some time ago, but it seems like they are everywhere now.  Apparently A Tale in the Desert is informally accepting them as an informal form of payment (basically, you send your bitcoin to Teppy and it buys you a year subscription), and Teppy is running a bitcoin casino game called Dragon Tale (which is basically a rehash of all the ATITD graphics in interesting and new games).  A bitcoin is now worth over $100, which is interesting, considering it is nothing but a piece of code.

Which brings up some of the problems with bitcoins.  Bitcoins are minted by computers solving complicated algorithms, with the goal of a block of fifty bitcoins being created every so often.  Because there is a limit on how many coins can be minted in a given time, the difficulty of solving the algorithm is determined by how many people are trying to solve the block.  The more people trying to solve the block the harder it is to solve it first, and get the bitcoins.  Because of this, the more processing or "hash" power you have, the more likely you are to get the bitcoins.  A laptop like mine trying to solve the blocks of the current difficulty would succeed in a couple years, but a server or rig running specialized equipment designed to hash could solve in a couple days or less.  This has largely crowded out small people and those unwilling to spend real money to buy equipment to solve blocks.  Small-time users can still join minting "pools" to help solve blocks, and earn fractions of bitcoins, but unless you are using one of the specialized rigs, it will still take years to earn a whole bitcoin.

While finance matters rarely are fair (especially real-world finance) I find a couple parts of this very interesting.  First, the fact people are willing to speculate with real money to buy equipment or pay others to mint the coins, and because of the influx of people doing the same, the difficulty of minting bitcoins has shot up, making some of their projections and expected revenues dry up.  Second the fact that unless you do this minting on a specialized rig, you are effectively unable to mint anything.  All the fractions of a bitcoin are absolutely worthless, and often worth nothing once you pay the transfer fee.

Just some thoughts.