Saturday, June 26, 2010

A trip to Ramallah, Gaza

I've just got in from a trip to Gaza, which was incredibly interesting.

If you just want pics, the full album is here:

First was a trip to Ramallah, where we showed up at a coding event and gave a quick talk, and then let them get on with it.

It was in a treehouse/café called Snobar, which confused us, but it's arabic for 'pine'. About 100 people turned up. Good results.

The following day, we went to Gaza for 3 days, which involved a lot of red tape. It was our second attempt to get in - the first was back in november, when our passes never came through. This it went smoother.

Once there, we headed to the hotel, and checked in, and left our stuff. Then we headed out to a summer camp, where some of the 200, 000 girls and boys from the UNRWA-funded schools can play together and work on arts and crafts for a couple of weeks.

After that, off to an actual school to talk with teachers about some of their challenges. They have very few computers (I wrote down 640, but for 200, 000 students, that seems way too low). But, they're implementing a school for basic arabic and maths for the 45, 000 students who are currently failing them. Many schools run split shifts - that is, different students morning and evening, because there aren't enough buildings.

Then, to the UNRWA, where we learnt some pretty shocking statistics - I won't preach them at you now, but suffice to say, the region is destitute.

After that, some lunch, and then to a school for the deaf, who learn english, arabic and have a partially equipped hearing aid and medical lab, funded largely by donations. 300 students learn classes and vocational training - some stay to work in the workshops making furniture, rugs and trinktes. You can buy online from here:

Then it was time for a meeting with Impact Consulting, and a chat about some of the problems Gaza faces. It turns out that actually, the internet is one thing they do have access to, and with pretty good speeds.  Their biggest issues are equipment - there's a 1 year waiting list to get ADSL, although when you get it, it's 2meg, and reliable. Companies frequently have 20 meg or more. Universities are well connected too.

Then, back to the hotel to meet some kids who were working with Mercy Corps to learn about global politics. Their YT Channel is here:

Then, dinner with MercyCorps, who had helped us get in - their work behind the scenes can't be overstated, and they're there every day, not just for a short visit like us.

Bed time (so tired), and then up at 6, for another day of full meetings. The morning was spent visiting 3 universities with varying degrees of technology - they all had internet with PC labs, but facilities varied wildly, and 2 universities had 20k students. The backbones were anything up to 1gig networks, but outbound was significantly lower, ranging from 5 - 20 meg.

The third started as an e-learning centre, but the government refused to recognise e-learning as attendance, which is a requirement for obtaining a degree, so they've pioneered a video streaming and archiving service for their entire curricula which means students can always go back and watch, and easily find out their tasks, as well as video chat with other students and professors. Pretty awesome.

As mentioned in one of the pictures, we also saw a makeshift UPS from car batteries, and a mechatronics lab.

Next, Marna House, where a number of companies talked to us about what they're up to. Everything from web design and SEO, Android development, serach engines, trading platforms through to ISPs and e-government initiatives.

Then, off to meet an incubation program, PICTI, which invests in student projects. One of the universities ran a similar program, with three clear steps from idea to functioning business, and mentors along the way. Many startups are building apps for phones or the cloud, taking advantage of the global economy. One major problem is banking - the few banks which remain often can't cash cheques - one guy had a $3000 check that he couldn't cash.

Finally, we had some students present to us their ideas, which ranged from a prayer time display to a wirelss health monitor for ICUs, complete with business plans. A little rough around the edges, but impressive to see such work being done at all.

Then the third day, we presented for 5 hours to a crowd of developers, entrepreneurs and students keen to learn how Google could help them. We covered Adsense, Blogger, Knol, Chrome, Geo, Translation and Transliteration, Chrome Extensions, HTML5, Mobile Web, App Engine, Google apps, as well as sessions on basic search and innovation. The questions asked showed a pretty decent understanding of the web, and many people already had websites operating. The one that sticks in my head is Uses the Maps API, too.

Then, off to the checkpoint for 3pm, for some insane security checks and re-entry to Israel. 

Friday, June 4, 2010


I thought I'd better update my blog, given that I'm at G-Ghana today, and just presented a session on blogging. It doesn't look good when I haven't updated in a while.
It's been an incredible week over here, and it's such a shame it's coming to an end. We started with Doodle for Google on wednesday, and the last couple of days have been the G-Ghana event.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Panoramio Widgetry

Today, I am a little happier than usual!
Panoramio have released a super-easy-to-use API that lets me embed pictures easily into any website, using iframes or javascript.
There's more over here:

Here's an example (ugly red border is all my work!)

Friday, May 7, 2010

Eurogamer and Alan Wake

I'm pretty stupid, and tend to pre-order games based on hype-alone. Sometimes, I end up cancelling, if the review is really bad and it hasn't already been shipped, but other times I end up with crap like Alone in the Dark.

So, I pre-ordered Alan Wake, and I was just reading the Eurogamer review (I know, I should have been working, but I have, like, 6 minutes before a really big presentation, sitting outside the meeting rooom so there's little point in starting something else - although I am writing this. But I digress).

Anyway, there's a line in there that goes like this:
He decides to take a holiday in a bid to clear his head. And how does Alan choose to get away from it all, do you think? By spending a fortnight in Rio, drinking pina coladas by the pool? Or by visiting a tiny, rainy Pacific Northwest town inhabited by hilarious simpletons and frightening weirdoes, where the only available accommodation is an ancient log cabin in the middle of a haunted lake?

It made me laugh, anyway.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Final Fantasy 13

Well, here's a post that's never going to rank. Ever. There are already a bajillion FF13 pages.
So, as you may know, I was playing a LOT Of Resonance of Fate. Great game. Sucked ~140 hours of my life, but time well spent, I'd say. It had engaging lead characters, a story that was only really ever suggested (rather than overtly told, like in FF13), and a cool combat system to boot. Fun.

But, I've
covered that already.

So, Final Fantasy. Well, first Splinter Cell. I played a bit of Splinter Cell: Conviction (which I note was topping the games sales charts for a bit), and it was pretty good fun. I didn't finish it (at least, not at time of writing. Check out my live profile to see I have finished now! Actually, I also played some Lego Indy 2 (VAST improvement on the original), some more DJ Hero, and Just Cause 2 as well, before starting FF13.

I'm going to actually not talk about FF13 at all, and instead talk about the other games. Save FF for later.

Splinter Cell
Fun. Interesting. A couple of places where I kept wiping were incredibly annoying - especially when I had to sit through a cutscene before being allowed to try again - and the loading times weren't always that good, but on the whole, very enjoyable. As I mentioned above, I haven't finished it yet, but I'll probably go back to it at some point. The multi-player is also intriguing.

Lego Indiana Jones 2
If you like the lego games, you'll like this too. They've mixed things up a bit in the layout - the hubs are a little more interesting, and the replays are pretty cool. It's all a bit better signposted, in some respects, but worse in others. Still fun, though.

Just Cause 2
Ridiculous, in the best possible way. And frankly beautiful to look at. You've got a massive MASSIVE island sandbox to play in. And although some of the missions are a bit samey, and the gameplay gets a bit stale after a few hours, it's still one of the most striking games I've ever played. Steal a helicopter, take off, blow up the guards, fly up, jump onto the front, hook onto a plane and throw out the pilot. Stupid. Fun. And stupid fun.
Or, you know, just hook two planes together, and go for a ride:

What now? Yes. I got a projector. Games on a 12 foot screen can't be beaten. Here's a quick capture showing the motogp, in broad daylight. Just imagine what it looks like at night!

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Resonance of Fate, sidequests

So, I found the in-game training area last night. Which sort of defeats my need for a combat guide. But I'll likely write one anyway.

In the meantime, here's a brilliant guide containing all the locations of the weird sidequests - like who is the good looking female for whom  the postman has a delivery (A small errand)? And who's the target in 'freight request?'. Anyway, you get the idea. Check out the guide.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Resonance of Fate - Combat 101

So, Resonance of Fate, and the crazy crazy combat system. In this quick guide, I'm going to talk simply about the very basic attacks - hero attacks and tri attacks. I'm assuming you've done the basic training in the Arena, so you understand the basic concepts. If you haven't done the training (and I only found it after 50 hours of play), go to the Arena, then head to the entrance door, and go left. There's a guy hiding under a girder, who does the basic concept training.

So, first things first. Guns?
Guns and Damage Types
There's really no wrong setup here. You'll start the game with 2 handguns, and 1 machinegun. Later on, you can dual-wield if you like. I've found success with most loadouts, so do what works for you.
I've tried one person with dual machine guns, and 2 handgunners, and also 2 machine gunners going solo, with a dual handgunner.
One thing worth noting - you probably want to keep someone equipped with the first aid kit - just in case -access to escape hexes is never a bad thing.

I'm hoping you understand scratch damage vs direct damage. If not, leave a comment, and I'll do a separate post, but the training should cover it. Which takes us to tactics.

Party order
First, you'll want to go to the character screen and hit (x). This will let you rearrange your party. Put the machine gunner(s) at the top.

For most enemies, you should find you can beat them in under 4 attacks with the following method. Some bosses require a slightly different approach, but this should keep you going. Before each attack, you want to jump, to ensure that damage is spread across the enemy's parts.
Also, note that you can change targets mid-hero attack by using the D-Pad. This is essential.

  1. Run player one back left with a hero attack. Depending on your level, you should be able to get at least one complete bar emptied. Once you've done this, you can switch targets using the dpad, and try to run down another.
    • Res points: 1
  2. Step 2: Run player 2 to the back right. Charge one bar on the fully depleted enemy that your gunner has attacked, and kill it. For the second, pick someone you want to gauge break (stun), and get the biggest charge you can.
    • Res points: 2
  3. Step 3: Run player 3 straight to the back. Gauge break the toughest foe.
    • Res points: 3
  4. Step 4: Run player 3 back to the starting position. Gauge break the toughest foe.
    • Res points: 4
  5. Step 5: Tri-attack. Make sure you've selected the machine gunner as your lead character. Go for maximum charge on each pass. You might need to occasionally change target to make sure you're attack someone you're running towards, and not away from.
  6. For most packs of enemies, that's it. You're done.

In fact, for ever weaker/smaller groups, you can run your MGer front and left, and your second guy front right, and then just start a tri-attack.

Extending your run
Normally, you just run to your destination. Or you jump. You can extend the time spent charging by running for the majority of the path, and then jumping right at the last moment.

Changing targets
When attacking, you can change target with the d-pad. This means, if you've got a very strong machine gunner (or gun), you can reduce many targets to zero in a single hero attack. Using the method above, you might run towards two targets. On the 'run' part, you charge that attack, hit 'a', and do your damage. Then, hit 'x' to jump, push left or right on the d-pad to change targets, and get another big charge on a secondary target.
The next gunner to attack can potentially kill 2 people in a single run, and break the gauge of a third.

Gauge Breaking
The exact method of gauge breaking is a little unclear. Your guns have a gauge break value, but I'm not clear what this does. It seems that you multiply the direct damage you do by the gauge break multiplier from your charge, and if this equals 100% of the creature's health, you break the gauge.
Regardless, a full charge with dual handguns will generally break an enemy pretty effectively.
The reason for gauge breaking is two-fold.
1) It stuns them, meaning they're less likely to attack next round.
2) You earn more bezels, which are key. If you've broken the gauge into 3 parts, say, then killing the enemy will earn 3 bezels instead of just one. Most enemies break to 6 individual parts. Some bosses will break less.

Well, that's all there really is. Get creative. Enjoy.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Resonance of Fate - first thoughts

I was in Estonia last week, which is a pretty cool place. Although I was there for a very short time, Tallinn struck me as a cross between Helsinki and Prague. I hope no-one's offended by that. But that's not what I'm here to talk about.

On thursday, I had 2 conferences and a flight, and as I left the house in the morning, I saw that the postman had delivered Resonance of Fate. So, I glared at it, and tried to put it out of my mind, knowing that I wouldn't have a chance to play it until I got back. But get back I did, late friday night, thanks to various planes being broken and rescheduled. And I popped it in. What a game.

There's no gentle introduction to the characters. There's no background story on why these 3 are together. But, as time goes on, their friendship becomes clear, and the cutscenes are both well written and well acted, for the most part. I find myself chortling along with many of them, which is quite refreshing. In the first hour or so, the stereotypes are out. Emo boy. Headstrong young man. Childish girl. I figured they were going to be extremely one-dimensional. But they're remarkably likeable.

The actual maps that you explore outside of combat are probably quite beautiful, but I think they've been designed for a 60 inch TV screen. On my measly 40 inch screen, it's pretty hard to pick out details. Maybe I should just sit closer.

But, exploring is only a very small part of the game. The world map is nicely done - you have various shaped hexes you have to fit into the world to explore - you can either just plot the fastest line to each destination, or (if like me you have a bit of the old OCD), you can completely cover each level - which gives you some treasure and a one-way quick travel system (if you totally cover a level). The advantage of the hex system is that you can plan in detail and use the minimum hexes required, or just grind for extra parts and lay them down any old how. It's pleasing, and a nice distraction.

But, onto the combat. The combat starts without any tutorials (unless I missed something, which is entirely possible). But there's a pretty comprehensive in-game manual. The problem (if it is a problem) is that because it's a way of fighting that I've never seen before, the terms quickly became overwhelming in the abstract. That is, there's talk of hero attacks, bezels, tri-attacks, scratch damage, direct damage, knockdowns and so forth.
So, I started slowly. First, just killed a couple of monsters with the standard attack. Then started to understand scratch damage. Then started using hero attacks. Then realised I could jump. Then realised I could air-juggle. Then realised I could switch targets in a single attack. Then started to understand weapons charging (direct damage doesn't increase with charges, scratch damage does) Then realised how tri-attacks work. Then realised how to make them awesome. Then started upgrading weapons with custom parts. Then I learnt about body parts properly. And gauge breaks (although I still don't totally get them). And I've just started playing with double-wielding.

I'm going to write a more in-depth section on the combat, since I haven't managed to find any great sites online yet (I imagine most people are playing final fantasy, for example). But, I've been playing just over 40 hours now (although at least 10 of those are from leaving it on overnight), and almost every time I fight, I find some new nuance to the combat system.

One quick word about the custom parts - they're awesome. Sweet crafting and upgrade system for your guns (I just fitted my third barrel to a gun....)

So, currently, I'm very much enjoying it. Lightly amusing cut-scenes. Pleasing world. Neat exploration mechanic. Cool combat that not only plays nicely, but looks really cool.
Downsides: the town scenes seem a bit last-gen, and some of the lower-level random encounters can start to seem a little repetitive (but you can buy an accessory to remove the chance of these, or just run).

So, yes, on the whole, a good game. If you like RPGs that focus on numbers, this is for you.

In the video above, standard attacks at the beginning. Hero attacks start at around 1.35 and there's a (pretty poor) tri-attack at around 2.30

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Dwight David Honeycutt is ace

A friend just sent me this. I still can't work out if it's real or not.
But it IS awesome.

Saturday, February 20, 2010


I'm in Nigeria for the g-nigeria event. People are tweeting right now about it, so get stuck in using the #gnigeria tag if you want to take part.
You can always browse the archives, too.
If you want to download the presentations from the event, please visit the main website. We will link the presentations from the agenda pages.

As always, contact if you have any questions.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

The Lion Man

Not sure how many, if any of you, watch the Lion Man on Sky (at least, it's Sky in the UK).
This dude, Craig Busch (tee hee) runs a wildlife sanctuary for big cats. He also seems to keep a bunch of deer, but they're never mentioned, so I can only assume they're only there for catfood.

Anyway, he has bengal tigers, white tigers, white lions, barbary lions, and some other cats too.
You can learn more about them at the Zion Park website.
The baby tigers are ridiculously cute (I just grabbed this pic of the 'nets).

Anyway, at the of an episode, it said 'dedicated to Dalu', so I wondered what happened. turns out, he was mauled by a tiger and killed. But that's not all. Craig's mum was bought in a couple of years back to refinance the park, and soon after, sacked Craig. Weird.

Full story is over at Wikianswers. One of those "too strange to make it up" ones.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Quick side by side DA:O comparison

Gamespot have kindly put together a comparison of the graphics for DA:O across PS3/Xbox/PC.

It's actually a little misleading, because they've restricted the PC to 720p, which seems completely pointless. Why would you set it lower than necessary? I run it at 1920x1200, 8x anti aliasing, with everything else set at max. (I've got a fairly kick-ass graphics card)

I've been a bit naughty, and stolen a couple of images, but it shows the key differences. The PC version adds better textures (note the sacks) and also extra elements (note the chest). But check out the full article over at Gamespot for more info and details.


Dragon Age: Origins

Man alive. This game makes me shout and yell and want to break things. The AI is incredibly dumb.

But I'm getting ahead of myself.

If I can use a simile (or maybe a metaphor, I can never tell) for a moment, If Dragon Age were a trading card game, Origins would be a starter pack. DLC is booster packs, and things like Awakenings are expansion packs. It's pretty clumsy, I know, but there we are.

So, they've essentially built a core world with a pretty decent game engine, pretty graphics and so forth, and they've got grand plans to release DLC for the next 2 years or so, to supplement it. Now, if they get it right, it could be awesome. If they balls it up, well, then so be it. So far, though, it's looking good. Ish.

First things first, what are the bad points? Well, the cut/speaking scenes are pretty bland. People just stand and stare. And the eyes are pretty lifeless. Voice acting is not great. They conjured up a bunch of pretty impressive voice talent, including Commander Janeway from Voyager, Claudia Black (who's turning up everywhere these days), Tim Curry and more. But it's like they've asked them to deliver everything as blandly as possible. Which is weird, because they all do fantastic jobs in other games.
Plus, there's this dude:
He used to be on Grange Hill. I always liked him. Except that his voice is SO distinctive that it annoys me. I don't know why.

I should point out that I'm playing on PC. And here's why. I hear that combat is pretty rubbish on consoles. Also, the graphics are miserable/washed out/low quality. Plus, no mouse. Having played the PC version quite a bit, I now understand that the console would be terrible. The ability to spin the mousewheel and get a tactical overview of combat is essential. You can't do this in the console. Ergo, the console version is not good.

Anyway, back to the topic at hand. It's called 'Origins' for a reason. Depending on your class (rogue, warrior, mage) and race (elf//dwarf/human), you'll get a wildly different starting game. If you're anything like me, and like to poke in every dank corner of every map, then this can give up to 15 hours of gameplay just for your character. If you're prepared to skip through many of the talking bits, you can probably halve that, and if you just want to get to the 'main game', it could probably be done in 4 or so. However, of all the talking bits, the "origin" parts seem to be the most interesting, and therefore worth the time. Later on, when you're talking to generic merchant 15, you'll be pushing that escape key often. Subtitles will help.

Also, amusingly, after combat, you get covered in blood. This can make for some (possibly unintentioanlly) hilarious cutscenes, as you trade pleasantries with a noble and yet you're covered in blood. I can't find a good picture right now, so I'll grab a screenshot later, but here's a quick example of the general effect:

Each class has 4 specialisations (rogue can be bard, assassin, etc), and you'll meet some companions who cover off the main categories (bard, assassin, shapeshifter, warrior, etc) and, of course, a dog.
At any time, you can have 3 other people in your group, and they'll have different reactions to different things. Sten, the big tank, doesn't like it when you're nice. If you waste time being good, he'll get upset.

So, then, what about the combat? Well, it's a bit mixed. I don't want to ruin the story, but it shouldn't come as any great surprise that you're selected for greatness by a group called the Grey Wardens, who operate above the law, giving you the excuse you need to act however you like. However, the first warden you meet, Alistair, is a dick. And also not very good at fighting. So I was left thinking the combat mechanics were rubbish.

Until you leave the first village, Lothering, you're pretty much on rails, and stuck with Alistair for the majority of the time, which is disappointing. The dog makes a better tank, and the dog is crap. Maybe I was misusing him, and he's better for skirmishing the enemy, but given you can only take 4 people out, he seems like a complete waste of space. Anyway, mileage may vary. You might love him (but I bet you don't).

In fact, Alistair actually caused me to give up on this game initially. I was really really bored once I got to Lothering for the first time. I didn't really get where it was going, and it all seemed way too linear. A friend encouraged me to get back into it, and also grab the DLC to which I was entitled, and I'm glad he did. Once you get past Lothering, the game really opens up. More party members, more freedom to explore and so on.

Back to combat, though. It's good. I like a lot of the ideas they have. For example, skills/spells cost stamina/mana. So far, so good. But armour has a fatigue rating expressed as a percentage, which directly affects the cost of the ability. So if you're wearing around that gives you a total of 20% fatigue, and the ability would normally cost 10 points, it costs 12. It means you really do think about what armour to use, instead of just picking the thing with the highest protection.

And there are a bunch of skills which you can toggle on and off like, say, Powerful Swings, which does more damage per blow with two handed weapons, at the cost of accuracy and defence. However, they have a 'maintenance cost', meaning that to keep the mode active, you're always down some stamina points. It's clever, and I like it. It might exist elsewhere, but it's still well implemented. And you can often have multiple skills active (a mage might have shield and spell boost, for example).

Ok, so, seriously, combat. There are 'tactics', which let you set up some really quite complex actions. You have a bunch of objects, conditions and actions. So, you might say "when ally drops below 50% health, cast heal". Or "when in melee combat with more than 1 person, cast knockback". You get the idea. It's extremely comprehensive. Next, you'll be pausing. A lot. Which is no bad thing. But back to my starting point. The AI is bloody annoying. It quite often does what it wants, despite what you've told it. So, you might set up an archer to fire at someone, only to find they've been attacked in melee, switched to their sword, and not bothered to switch back. or you moved them somewhere, and now they're facing away from the battle, not targetting anyone. Or you move a mage out of the main ruck, and they run right back in and die. Of course, you can force them to hold position, but that's a group setting, meaning your melee characters won't advance to attack other targets without explicit instruction. Equally annoying. So, I spent a lot of screaming at the screen, because someone's just spent 30 seconds doing nothing as another party member dies.

In general, though, the combat flows really nicely. I never seem to have enough mana or stamina, but there are potions and mushrooms for that. I just stumbled across spell combinations, too, where you can combine two different spells for a bigger effect. I won't spoil anything for you, but there are some pretty sweet ones. It really encourages experimentation.

I'll be reviewing the DLC, since I can't find any decent reviews of it anywhere (by which I mean, sites other than IGN).

So, yeah, in general, a nice engine, suffering from some blandish character graphics, with a nice combat system, despite some AI weirdness. The story itself is pretty cool. And, if you get it on PC, a good few hours of distraction.

Here's a nice German video that gives a pretty decent overview of the combat, with subtitles.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Mass Effect, Mass Effect 2, and Dragon Age

That's a pretty bold title, actually. Not sure if I'll get to all 3 games in a single post.
So, here goes.

I saw that Mass Effect 2 was coming out. Also, that it was going to be on PC. I did some reading, and it became apparent that the graphics would be better on PC, so I took the plunge, and pre-ordered it. In the meantime, though, I realised that my multiple savegames from the Xbox would not be any use, so I grabbed ME1 from Steam for a tenner, and started playing.

Whilst playing through ME1 again (it's still very good, both graphically and game-playably), Mass Effect 2 launched. I wanted to get a whole playthrough done on the first one so I could import a character, but in the end, after Virmire on ME1, I fired up ME2.

First things first, it's quite different, whilst still being almost the same. Most noticable from the get-go is the different inventory. Instead of heaps of weapons (like, say, other RPGs), and carrying tens of items in your inventory, you have very few weapons, with very fixed upgrades. Each mission (more or less) provides a handful of upgrades, from new weapons, to weapon upgrades (+damage, +other stuff), power upgrades, health, etc.

After an initial disappointment (I love lewts) I have to say, it works quite well. But, with a finite amount of cash, it's impossible to buy everything on your first playthrough (unless I really got something wrong). You'll need to import a character to get the cash boost. Fortunately, you can import an ME2 character after your first playthrough.

Next, the characters. In the first one, you found someone you liked, and used them all the time. In fact, there were achievements for doing a playthrough using mostly one character or another. In this one, instead, each character has loyalty, and a reason for adventuring with them. Which works really nicely.

The character skills are cool, too. They work well (except squad ammo, which they'll constantly activate, even when it's counter-productive. Grrr).

The worlds are fun, the chatter is good, and the chance to be nasty or nice is still there, with some occasionally funny results. The end is pretty bonkers, although the bit through the Omega 4 relay reminded me of Reaver space in Firefly (or maybe Serenity). Which is actually no bad thing.

The music is epic. The weapons are fun. The powers are entertaining. Just the level cap is a bit of a shame. I played through on veteran, and did all the missions I could find (basically, scanned all the planets) and made it to level 27. Since the level cap is 30, reasons to play through again are limited. That being said, I started a new playthrough on insanity, and I'm taking a proper beating, even though I hit level 30 in under an hour.

I guess I need to visit a wiki and get all the upgrades, but god-damn, those YMIR mechs are brutal.

Anyway, one thing that became clear was that it's almost impossible to get full renegade without importing an ME1 character. I did every bad thing I could find, from telling the Volus to charge, to turning down romances, but I was still short (and that's with the relevant power maxed, too). And on a replay, you lose your points. Maxing Paragon appears to be much easier - after only a handful of missions on my replay, it's nearly full.

Anyway, the point is, I need to go back and play ME1 to the end to get an importable character, I guess. Danger Shepard needs validation.

Dragon age? I'll write about it next time.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Removing an entire site from Google

Yesterday I was asked how to remove an entire site that you own from Google listings.
I knew I'd seen this somewhere before, but was clicking around and couldn't find it.
I spoke to the amazing John Mueller, who showed me the way.

Please note that if you don't own the site, this will not work. This is only for sites that you own, and can edit
So, here's how to do it.
  1. Add a robots.txt file to your web server that contains something like
    User-agent: * 
    Disallow: /
  2. Register and verify your site on Google Webmaster Tools.
  3. Pick the site you want to remove from the dashboard.
  4. Click "site configuration"
  5. Click "crawler access"
  6. Click "remove URL"
  7. Click "New removal request"
  8. Click "Your entire site"
  9. Enter your website
  10. Relax

The removal tool is also available through other means, but if you don't take that route, you'll only be able to remove one page at a time, which isn't ideal if you've got a whole directory or even site indexed in error.

Anyway, hope that was useful!

Monday, February 1, 2010

Bayonetta, Crow 77

So, you're trying to beat the Alfheim in Chapter 6 to get Umbran Crow 77, right?
You need to finish the Alfheim and then pick up the crow as you leave.

But, to beat it, you need 7 torture attacks against a bunch of pretty brutal enemies.
How do you do it?

Well, it took me nearly 3 hours of retrying before I managed it, and a lot of frustration. To save you some of the same misery, here's how I did it.

Part 1: Preparation.

1) Finish hard mode first to get the bazillions, or play 100 chapters to get the Sai-fun. Both of these are pretty useful. The Bazillions and Sai-fun are both pretty good against joys. They stun lock them nicely.

2) Kill the first round quickly a few times to get practice against the dogs and joys. Don't even try for the torture attacks. Just get a handle on how they move, how they attack, and what you need to do.

3) Use the fact that most off-screen enemies won't attack you. After the first round, keep everyone off screen as much as possible while you charge something nasty.

4) Keep going until you're comfortable killing them all without taking damage. Again, don't worry about the torture attacks at this stage.

5) You will need the following equipment to make life easier.
Gaze of despair (enrages opponents), eternal testimony (keeps 2 magic blocks filled), and Selena's light (enables witch time when you're hit).

6) You also really want a full magic bar (all three slots available).

Part 2: Doing it

Ok, so, you've managed to kill them all without taking the hits - how do you clock up the torture attacks? Remember, for the torture attacks to actually count, you need to kill the creature with the attack. Just taking some health off it isn't enough.

1) Put on the gaze and eternal testimony. These guys are on fire. You can activate witch time, and soften them up, but there's a chance witch time will disable, and you'll lose a health bar trying to hit them. So, we're not going to touch them with regular attacks.
Dodge and taunt (hold left bumper, don't just press it) until you have a couple of full bars. Double-torture the ardor. Now, dodge and taunt the rest, and kill them until you have only one weak enemy left. Then dodge and taunt him until you have 3 full magic slots. Now, UNEQUIP THE GAZE and equip Selena's light. This is pretty important.

2) Then, make sure you have Shuruga or Pillow Talk equipped and active, move to the middle of the arena, and perform the torture attack. This should put you on 5/7.

3) As soon as you've killed him, press and hold punch to start charging Shuruga (or Pillowtalk, if you have it). Note that you can start charging the sword almost immediately (although you can't switch weapon, so that's why you need to make sure the sword is equipped before you make that final torture attack).

4) Hopefully, you're standing close to the Ardor (sword guy). He should attack you pretty quickly. Dodge it. Unleash the full charge. With a bit of luck, you'll take a dog and the ardor down to half health each.

5) Torture attack the ardor, and the weakened dog. Remember, you started round 2 with 2 full bars, so you should just run towards them and do it.

6) You have all the torture attacks. Beat the final dog to death. I find it easiest to get close to them and dodge their biting attack. A friend prefers to make them charge him and gets them when they're stunned.

7) Joys appear. If you're still running at 3 health bars, take them down as normal.
If not, run to the edge of the arena, and spin the camera so they're all off-screen. Charge the sword. When you're fully charged, start dodging towards the centre. Release the charge, which should seriously hurt one or two. Then, switch to bazillions or sai fun and take them down.

As I said, it took me about 3 hours to beat them, but once I'd worked out this strategy, it took only 2 tries. The most important thing for me was practicing against the dogs and joys a bit, so I knew what to expect.

Hopefully that'll help you. Please leave comments if you have thoughts or advice.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Dragon Blood Armour on Steam

I just grabbed the Mass Effect 2 preorder on steam. I noticed that people who have bought Dragon Age Origins get some free armour, so I started to look into it.

What you need to do is log into (or create) a bioware account here:
There are a few options for porting existing accounts (for example, an EA account).

Then, go here: and enter the code that you can see in your steam console (the Standard Game CD Key).

DAO should then start downloading the armour. Simple!
I'll let you know if it works on Mass Effect 2.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Bayonetta, ∞ climax mode

Did the title work? It was supposed to be ∞ climax mode.
For whatever it's worth, here's what I did to beat it.

First. Red and Yellow (and green) lollipops for the win. Don't be afraid to use them, at least on your first playthrough.

Rosary beads almost the entire time - you can almost kill groups of trash mobs with a single evade.
Play around with the others and see what you like. I stuck with the moon for the most part, but played around with butterflies, the Star of Dineta (health when you taunt), and Eternal Testimony (2 free magic points). Eternal testimony is great for level 14, the Space harrier level.

Bazillions and Kilgore. Bazillions are awful for combo score, but great against harmony, and gracious/glorious. They also shoot through stuff, so they're good against armour like Ardors, and will target the red spot through beloveds and other mini-bosses, meaning you can take them down in a few hits.

Shuruga/Gunchuks and Onyx Roses. Gunchuks will stunlock most things for a bit, letting you set something up, and in small rooms, the shrapnel flying around can do some pretty impressive damage. They're most effective against large groups of weak people, doing lots of light damage to many.
Shuruga (and later, Pillow Talk) is essential against bosses.

I also accidentally found that for grace and glory, full charge kilgores on the arm work wonders. The timing seems just right. Start a PPP combo. Max out each hit, so you get 2 rockets from the first 2 hits and 4 from the third. Each time, they'll attack you, but they're just too slow and will get a rocket in the face. I need to finesse it somewhat, but it seems to work a treat. Obviously, if there are lots of them around, keep an eye out.

For bosses that are far away, Kilgore hand and feet is good, because the wicked weave will actually shoot towards them. For bosses that are close (jeanne, basically), Gunchucks are helpful, but really weak, so it's slow progress. Rosary beads are your friend. I find the moon with Jeanne to be pretty useless in Climax mode, because she's rarely close enough for the counter to hit, but the beads will often catch her and leave her open.

And also, I found the prologue the hardest non-boss level of all. I tried it at the start, and then left it to the end.

And, finally, for Father Balder, after grinding for an hour against him, I pretty much took him entirely in yellow lollipop mode. No shame there ; )

Bayonetta 1000

Update: I cracked this. My strategy is here:

So, umbran crow 77, in the hard Alfheim on chapter 6. You bugger. But let me backtrack.

I finished Bayonetta over the weekend. By finish, I mean, I got 1000 achievement points, so I've cleared all three stages. Of course, like all good games, there are plenty of challenges left which don't have achievements - for example, platinum award for an entire stage (normal, hard, etc). I'm about 70% of the way through normal. Apparently, it unlocks Jeanne. Which is nice. Although you have to start a new game.

I also got a new sword - "pillow talk", which is basically a lightsaber.
You can see all the "secret" weapons here:

Pillow talk starts at 15 seconds or so. Note the ridiculous charge mode!

I also got Sai-fun, or the nunchuks, or gunchuks.
They're, erm, interesting. They're really fast - you can stunlock pretty much anyone, even a Gracious and/or Glorious, although they'll break out after 5-6 hits. They're incredibly weak, although in an enclosed room, they kick ass, because they fire off shrapnel which ricochets around the room and causes quite a bit of collateral damage.
Also, the charge move sends out a load of hits, a bit like a shotgun, which then fly around the room if they don't immediately hit something. The timing for dodge offset is a bit strange, but I'm working on it.
I can't quite decide the perfect use, though.

In other news, the Bazillions (lazer guns in the first example above) are pretty fun. They don't give a good combo (in fact, they give an awful combo score) but they shoot through armour, and also do a fair bit of damage. For most trash mobs (regular angels, etc) you can kill them in a couple of hits. Which is nice. Plus, they're good against grace and glory (and friends) because they stun them. Also, they take down Harmonies in a couple of hits, which is good, because harmonies are without a doubt, my most hated enemy. I find them hard to predict, and tough to hit. So thank you, bazillions. woot.

Now, back to Umbran Crows. There are 101 umbran tears of blood to unlock in this game. The first 50 are just the 50 achievements. For 50, you get a magic regeneration bangle, which is incredibly useful on Isla del Sol (the space harrier level) because it effectively grants you unlimited missiles.

Now, the next 51 are crows hidden around the levels. For normal, I found them all myself. For hard, I found about 75%, and for ultimate climax, I just gave up looking, and used a guide, because I didn't want to have to spend more time in the levels than is necessary at that difficulty. I'm on 100, with only one left to go.

This last one requires you to complete an alfheim - 7 torture attacks and only be hit 3 times. And in addition, the enemies are on fire and enraged. Awesome. And what enemies? The first wave is 4 burning angels and a burning Ardor. The 2nd wave is another burning ardor and 2 x fairness. Those dogs. With electricity. God damn. And then, joy, 3 joys to finish it all up.
And remember, you can only be hit 3 times.

The problem is the magic. It's really hard to build up enough magic to toture them. So you have dodge and taunt and all sorts. Very annoying. The closest I made it (and the point at which I went to bed last night) was down to the last joy, at 25% health, when time ran out.

Very, VERY frustrating.

I can't help but think that the designers put the crow on the wrong side of the bridge. In all the other locations, you don't have to fight the alfheim to get the crow - just this one.


I'll keep you posted if I crack it.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Bayonetta hidden references

I found this article, discussing hidden references in Bayonetta, which is pretty cool.
There are spoilers in there, though, so if you've not played it, and are planning to, don't read that page. It'll ruin it for you. Seriously.

Now, to my beef. The second one (about Eggman) is completely wrong. It claims you're burying Eggman, which is nonsense.
Here's the video:

So, what happens is that you're burying Rodin, to tempt angels over. Enzo is using what's called a simile (or maybe a metaphor, I confuse easily), to say that everyone dies in the end. So, yeah. That's annnoyig.

Also, on that article, the quicktime links didn't work in Chrome, Firefox or IE (shudder) under windows7 64 bit. They just rendered as black boxes.

So, what's left? Well, I nailed some of the achievements last night - cleaned up the Alfheims and the Witches tombs. Had to get help for the last 2 alfheims. I spent a couple of hours searching (at least you get an idea of which level they're in) but no bones. When I read the guide, I realised that I'd never have found them without it.

So thanks to renegade, who posted a guide over at gamefaqs.

Otherwise, it's time to get back on that horse!

Monday, January 18, 2010

Sunday Gaming

Luc came 'round yesterday, and we played some Bayonetta, and some Modern Warfare - we did a couple of new levels on the co-op mode, which was cool. Split screen actually works out ok.
After that I fired up DJ Hero and cleared out the medium mode - all tracks completed, and most of them 5 star. I think I'm 45 or so stars short. But I'm going to move up to hard, I think.

Expert, right now, is just too much (except on the very easy songs).

This is still my favourite track

So unexpected. A lot of the tracks are really very good indeed.

More importantly, the immense fun and joy I got from playing through medium has pretty much dissipated. That is, the first 15 or so games I played, I had a big grin fixed on my face. Partly through the translation of my actions to stuff on the screen, and partly through the epic songs (MC Hammer/Vanilla Ice, that one above, Jazzy Jeff's stuff, etc). The more I play the songs, the less they're unexpected.
So, moving up to hard has actually made the game massively fun again. It's considerably harder than medium, and has a lot more things going on, and it feels more like you're actually working to generate the music, than just playing simon says.

I'm not sure if that actually makes sense, but hopefully you get the gist.

Anyway, today, late start (got up at 1, oof), so playing a bit of Bayonetta, and then an early night.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

What else? DJ Hero

Scotty came round a couple of days ago, and we had a big day of gaming. It was pretty awesome.
We played some Bayonetta (he agrees it's bonkers), and then fired up DJ Hero. We didn't play much else.

For the record, the Scratch Perverts tracks are utterly bonkers.
This (and 'beats and pieces') are probably the ones that hurt my arm the least.
I think the thing I like about it is that the samples are telling you they know it's a game, and they're looking to test you, but still with the insanely cool music. Anyway.

In other news, I've bought everything I can in Bayonetta, and I've been playing with some of the accessories. All I can say is, I wish I'd bought the one that triggers witch time earlier.
Makes clearing the levels the first couple of runs a lot easier. I had misread the description, and thought it was something entirely different (it triggered witch time at the start of combat, not when you're hit. D'oh).
However, the Moon of Mahaa-Kalaa (spelling?) is even better! Sort of. It gives you a 'repel' on incoming enemy attacks. That is, they're just ignored. It also stuns your attacker, giving you a nice opening.
However, if you repel as you're hit (like bat within), it will repel, counter and start witch time. And the witch time lasts maybe a second or two longer than normal. So you can get in an extra wicked weave or string of hits.
It also lets you trigger witch time against people like Jeanne. Very cool accessory.

I'm currently chasing Nunchuks. Really really want them. I've platinumed the first 5 stages. Which isn't a lot, but I refuse to use the same tactics as others, who reload levels when a verse goes badly. Plus, I need all the practice I can get.

Also, the moon of M

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Lego Batman

I went back to Lego Batman last night and finished it up, got all the red bricks and minikits and stuff.
It's a cool game, but there are way too many different things you need to do. That is, in Lego Star Wars, you have light force, dark force, high jump, grapple, small people holes, droids and shoot targets, and that's about it. And later on, you can give jedi the ability to grapple and so on. You never need too many people in one level.

Conversely, Lego Batman has bombs, gliding, diving, glass to smash, things for the joker, things for the penguin, mind control, tech outfit, magnet suit, vacuum cleaner, high jump, grapple, poison, ice blocks, strong-man items, women-only doors. It means you're always switching between lots of characters, which quickly becomes boring. Especially when they'll put redundancy into levels. Like, Batman has a glide suit, so why do I need to include Killer Moth to glide. And the penguin has bombs, so why include Batman's bomb suit? Poison Ivy can jump high, do poison and the women doors, so why do I need catwoman?

All the characters are very cool, but I still end up thinking 'guh, too many people' on every level.

Oh well.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Bayonetta, more

So, I've been playing some more Bayonetta. I kept thinking I'd pick up another game, and give that a go, but no.
Bayonetta's pretty much owning me.

There are a few hidden levels called 'Alfheim' (I don't know how many) but I've found 7 while replaying levels 1-3. It's insane. The difficulty just keeps getting higher, and as anyone who's played it will know, trying to beat 3 angels, 4 flying things, Grace & GLory and Fairness and Fearless. And you can only be hit 3 times. And you've got to get 5 torture kills (not attacks, kills).

I mean, seriously?
Of course, it doesn't help when I find videos on YouTube showing how it's done.
Sadly, embeds are disabled, but here's a linky

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Month off

Wow. 2 months. Really? I'm a lazy slacker.

Ok, so, what's been up? Well, I've taken a month (January) off work, to play video games.
I've been playing a bunch (take a look at the bottom of the post - I've included a link to a gamercard).

What's been taking most of my time is Borderlands, and Bayonetta. Oh, and on the PC, Torchlight. Borderlands is pretty sweet - first person shooter, but procedural weapon generation. What does this mean? It means that rather than meticulously programming each weapon, they have a bunch of variables, and when you find a weapon, it'll have a number of random stats - mostly adequate, rarely awesome. They've stolen the whole WoW categorisation, with grey, green, blue, purple, etc.
And the visuals are incredible - sort of cel-shading.
Apparently, it didn't used to look like that, it's something they changed during development, and (much like Crackdown) I'm very glad they did.
Also, it has levels, classes, and talents, as most games seem to have these days. Critical shots are in the head (or equivalent), and you get little numbers every time you shoot something.
The RPG elements tick the right boxes for me,
It's taken up far too much of my time (maybe 30 hours?) and I'm just starting to dabble with multiplayer. My only problem with online is that the matchmaking is a bit rubbish. You wait ages for the list to load, and then by the time you join a game, it might be full. Or the host may have changed the character he loaded with, so a level 1 game turns out to be a level 40 game. Bah.

If you had some friends with whom you could reliably play on a frequent basis, this game would be incredible.

Bayonetta. Well. What do I say that hasn't already been said? If you don't know it, here's the synopsis. Woman wakes up in lake 20 years ago. Has to fight/kill angels for reasons I don't want to ruin. Does so with terrifying elegance. Repeat.

The cut-scenes are awesome, in the original sense of the word - that is, they inspire awe. Indeed, they're quite the most ridiculous hing you can see in a game at the moment, which isn't to say they're bad - quite the opposite. They're, well, awesome. The game itself is very enjoyable - it's a fighter in the same vein as Devil May Cry. Given that the creator of DMC is behind it, you should realise that that means it's pretty much the most refined version of a brawler yet seen.

I never really played the DMCs, although I did spend a lot of time with DMC4, and also Ninja Gaiden (both Xbox and 360). I like the style, although the constant pushing of dodge is going to give me early onset of arthritis, I'm sure of it. But I digress. The core mechanic in Bayonetta is Witch Time - that is, the ability to slow down time when you dodge at the very last minute. Fortunately, most of the trash mobs have a habit of making a particular noise and flashing their weapons at the right time, which, after 30 minutes of head-melting, starts to make sense.

Then you remember parts of the tutorial, like extending combos by keeping your finger pressed down on a button after an attack to exit shooting (from your arms *or* legs), so a punch-kick-punch combo, which was really rather small, becomes something quite large. You're attacked, though, because it now takes longer. At which point you realise you can dodge from the attack during the combo still going, trigger witch time, continue the combo, and punch whatever tried to hit you in the head with your hair. Pity the foo'.

It's also very well paced - what you hope/pray is the boss on the first level (it's not) is actually just cannon fodder later on, when you're hoping/praying that you just missed the witch time trigger - these guys surely can't be immune, can they? (answer: yes they can).

Each chapter (there are many) is broken up into verses. Each verse is scored with a medal, so you have some idea of your progress. And, some verses are hidden, or at least require a lot of backtracking to find.

There's also currency, with plenty of things to buy, including new techniques, accessories, items and, of course, costumes.

I just finished my first playthrough, and got around 375 achievement points. That means there are still loads to go (replays on the two harder difficulty settings for example) and lots of things left to buy. My play history is largely littered with stone statues at the moment, so I need to go back and fix those first, as well as find some of the crazy hidden levels - 2 on the very first one that I should find.

I'm not going to lie - there are times Bayonetta feels really cheap - for example, there are creatures that, the first few times you fight them, you're left thinking 'how is that even possible?'. And, the final boss has one particular attack which feels like it's plain cheating (instant auto-kill) until you work out what you need to do, and even then, you can still die.

Anyway, gripes aside, Bayonetta's wicked. Download the demo, see for yourself.