« September 2007 | Main | July 2007 »


iPod Statistics July 2007

Entry 319 posted in: 9. I, Pod

Again a bunch of useless iPod stats on my MySpace page.

For the top 10 list of the songs I've been listening to since January go to http://www.myspace.com/atagong.

For the top 10 list of the songs I've been listening to in the month of July, go to the MySpace blog section.

If you liked this post - you might be interested in this one as well: iPod Statistics June 2007


Theme Hospital Tycoon

Entry 320 posted in: 3. Gamebits

Theme Hospital Aeons ago I wrote an entry about Theme Hospital, a much-acclaimed game, dating from pre-Windows-98-days that still has a small group of dedicated followers today. I had a quick peek on their forum and the most recent post dates from about 5 days ago, meaning there are still some people around who want to cure the world from diseases such as: 3rd Degree Sideburns, Infectious Laughter, Kidney Beans or Unexpected Swelling.

Unexpected Swelling has got nothing to do with Pregnancy. That female bodily function was written out of the software when it first appeared in 1997, for whatever reason you can think of. A hacking fan, however, found the pregnancy code back in the program and made an unofficial patch that brings it back, albeit without the graphics. It was never made clear if the graphics for pregnancy exist or have existed, and if they did we may assume that they have been lost in time.

Fast forward to March 2006 when an open source Theme Hospital clone is announced on Sourceforge. The website wasn't really clear if the game would be named Open Theme Hospital or Open Hospital Tycoon but the bottom line was that nothing changed for almost a year and that one day the website simply disappeared. End of the story anybody would guess. Well not quite so.

Out of the blue a commercial game called Hospital Tycoon was announced and those that browsed the Codemasters website to find out what this thing was all about quickly realised that here was a person who knew a lot about the first Theme Hospital.

This is the announcement that was published on the Theme Hospital Clinic forum on the 16th of May 2007:
"My name is Liam Studham, and I'm the development co-coordinator for Hospital Tycoon. Some people may remember me from quite some time ago, posting on here saying I was developing a 3D version of TH. Well, halfway through development, I received a number of offers from large companies offering to buy the project from me.
I decided not to take the offers, and continue going solo. Then CodeMasters approached me, and I completed a deal. I am now the development co-coordinator for Hospital Tycoon."

Now things are getting a bit blurry. I don't know if this guy is the same guy that first announced the open version or not but it seems a bit too much of a coincidence. This is what was written on the now defunct website somewhere in 2006:
"Hospital Tycoon is intended to be an Open Source, 3D recreation of the game Theme Hospital published in 1997. Hospital Tycoon will feature all new 3D artwork and content based upon the original artwork of Theme Hospital to maintain a genuine feel. It will also feature new recorded music based upon the styles presented in the original. Its multi player abilities will allow players to connect to each other using direct IP connections, LAN, and the ability to join a server (host) based 'lobby'."

Although distributed by Codemasters, Hospital Tycoon is really a Deep Red Games release. Apparently they were in a kind of time pressure because the release, in June 2007, was done before the game was totally finished. Some people have found graphics and code for items that are not activated in the final release: a (maintenance?) robot, weelchairs,... Programming leftovers can be found as well. A demo version of the game was never finished, officially because it would be too dull to play?!, and it appears that beta testing was diminished to a sheer minimum, if any.

Very soon a bunch of bugs were found in the software. Some graphic cards, for instance Geforce 4MX, are not supported. An annoying gameplaying bug is that on several levels almost no patients are attracted to your hospital. That is quite disturbing for a game that pretends to be a hospital simulation.

To add insult to injury an official patch to deal with this kind of problems will not be released. The problem is that Deep Red Games has had a management buy-out. The new company now listens to the name DR Studios and apparently they are not interested anymore in developing patches for old software, although the old software we are talking about has only been released 2 months ago. Codemasters are rather annoyed with this news as well and have apparently been refunding some unhappy customers.

Some fans are now hacking into the game, modding it, in order to create patches that will make the game at least a bit playable. No wonder that on a poll on a German Hospital Tycoon forum 100% of the voters claim to prefer good old Theme Hospital instead of Hospital Tycoon.

But if you can hold your breath a little bit longer there might be some good news as well. Recently a new open source project has been announced at Sourceforge: openHospital and this is what it pretends to be:
"openHospital is an open-source game based on the ever popular Theme Hospital and released under the GNU GPL v2 License.
It follows a similar format to Theme Hospital including its comical take on diseases and the cures for them.
openHospital will feature a spiffy new 3D engine based on Crystal Space.
It will also include new graphics, enhanced multiplayer modes, map/scenario building tools and a new sound track loosely based on Theme Hospital's music.
In addition to the original diseases and curing machines, openHospital will include new diseases and machines to help diagnose and cure them."

Let's hope Codemasters will not buy these guys to make a Hospital Tycoon 2 out of it.

If you liked this post - you might be interested in this one as well: Donuts and doctors


Updating this blog

Entry 321 posted in: 1. General Mish Mash

Parts of this blog are in the middle of being updated, changed, altered, transformed, metamorphosed and even transmogrified. It could take a while before the Search Engine kicks in and starts indexing all the changes. Sorry for that.

If you liked this post - you might be interested in this one as well: Some updates...

Shot Online Calculator

Entry 322 posted in: d. Shot-Online Calculator

The Shot Online Golf Simulation Game was recently reviewed on Tobold's MMORPG Blog and as this person was so friendly to add a link to my own Shot Online Calculator page I decided to return the compliments.

Other pages that have links to the calculator are:
Barracuda, a Canadian SO Guild
Czech Woods from Czechia
The Celtic Warriors, from, euh, somewhere on Celtic territory, I presume...

If you liked this post - you might be interested in this one as well: Shot-Online Calculator on SONews.net 


Popular science books are fun

Entry 323 posted in: 1. General Mish Mash, 2. DNA

I've got one called On The Road To Infinity from Dr. A.E. Wallenquist, published by the Bosscha Space Observatory Lembang (Java) in 1934. It is still written in the old school Dutch spelling from De Vries and Te Winkel (1864) so it is even tricky for Dutch speaking people to read (the modern Dutch spelling rules were made in 1946 but it took to 1954 before the new spelling was made official). But Mr. Wallenquist, who was an astronomer, was perhaps too much of a scholar to write gobbledygook so the book isn't as nonsensical as one could expect after 70 years.

I've tried to look up several popular science authors from a few decades ago on the web. The Belgian Jos Van Limbergen, who wrote a dozen book club bestsellers, is even unknown on Dutch Wikipedia. Only some antiquarian sites that have copies of his books mention this author.

Does anybody care for I.S. Shklovskii who wrote Universe, Life, Mind in 1962? This Soviet astrophysicist had to introduce mild communist propaganda and some blatant American criticism in his book in order to see it published. Nevertheless when Carl Sagan received a copy of the book he was so thrilled by it that he asked Iosif Samuilovich if he could translate it into English. Sagan added some of his own comments, sometimes disagreeing with Shklovskii, to the original text, deleted some of the propaganda (but mentioned why and where he did that) and in 1966 the book was presented to the American public under the title: Intelligent Life in the Universe. Sagan and Shklovskii truly believed, or at least suggested, that aliens had already visited Earth. Thus was the political situation in those days that the authors could not meet and had to communicate solely by writing. Shklovskii once commented to Sagan: "The probability of our meeting is unlikely to be smaller than the probability of a visit to the Earth by an extraterrestrial cosmonaut".

Propaganda wasn't always a Soviet thing of course. Jos Van Limbergen's 1961 Conquest of the Moon (Dutch: Verovering van de Maan) contains several anti-communist attacks. The fact that the Russian spacecraft Lunik 2, the first object ever to land (i.e. crash) on the moon, contained a Soviet flag is named a 'chauvinist sin' done by communist 'pub philosophers'. But one has to confess; even today Russians have the flair to plant their flag on undiscovered territory just to call it their own, n'est-ce pas?

Probably the book that has influenced me the most is Adrian Berry's The Next Ten Thousand Years. Now here was a man who separated the science from the fiction. Published in 1973 it deals with matters as Dyson Spheres, Von Neumann self-replicating machines (Battlestar Galactica anyone?) and gives a simple DIY introduction to Einstein's special relativity theory. I took the book out of my library today - it was slowly hibernating between Brian W. Aldiss' Billion Year Spree and James Michener's Space - and it literally broke into pieces when I opened it. Out fell a sheet I once made containing the different ratios for Einstein's mass vs. speed formula

( 1      v 2  ) 
    c 2

So this was the kind of thing I did when I was young, beautiful and a pimpled virgin. One thing struck me though; in 1973 Berry did not write a single word about quantum mechanics, string theory or the 11 dimensions we currently live in.

I experienced nearly the same enthusiasm this week when I read Michael Hanlon's The Science Of The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy. At first I feared it would be another one of those rip-off books, genre The Anthology at the End of the Universe, where a sly editor with Vogon blood running through his veins has invited so-called ‘leading SF authors' to say something witty about Douglas Adams. After you have read all pieces, you are frankly impressed by two of them, annoyed by at least six, and the dozen other are already forgotten.

But The Science Of The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy is other shit. One of the reviews at the back of the book reads: "An excellent book exploring fundamentally serious matters in a most entertaining way. Rather a shame that many might ignore it because they think it's about the 'Guide'!" And for once a blurb couldn't be more accurate.

Chapter 9 deals with teleportation, and as both Captain James T. Kirk and Arthur Dent have this way of transport in common I dived into the local Bermuda triangle that contains my library and found The Physics Of Star Trek, a book written in 1995 by Lawrence M. Krauss with a foreword by Stephen Hawking (that book is amongst the few that are recommended on Adrian Berry’s website by the way).

According to Mr. Krauss a human being contains about 1 x 10^28 atoms.
According to Mr. Hanlon it is about 7 x 10^27 atoms.
The difference is a tiny 3 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 atoms and an explanation for that could lie in the fact that James Tiberius Kirk is wee bit fatter than Arthur Dent.

Both books come to the same conclusion. There is a huge ethical problem when it comes to teleportation: is the person that has been teleported the same or is it an identical copy? To quote Michael Hanlon: teleportation kills its subject and creates an impostor. Luckily, so concludes Lawrence M. Krauss, it will never be possible to teleport a human as loading the data into a buffer would take slightly longer than the Universe itself. But, adds Michael Hanlon, teleportation of, lets say, a microbe will be done before the end of this century. Already a few years ago atoms have been successfully teleported in different laboratories over the world. Before the next decade is over attempts will be made to teleport several thousands particles in one go.

Add to this the news that parallel universes may well exist, that time travel is no longer a theoretical possibility and that there is a spooky Tiplerian Omega Point where we will all be god it is no wonder that the one and only Guide has these big reassuring letters printed on its cover: Don't Panic.

If you liked this post - you might be interested in this one as well: Gentle Ghosts



Entry 324 posted in: 3. Gamebits

Fishing Champ is a new MMO brought to us by Games Campus that is also responsible for the superb Shot Online golf simulation. As in my personal dictionary the words fishing and simulation seem to be somewhat contradictory I was of course very eager to try it out. But alas most of the time the website was only announcing that a beta version of the game was still in the make.

Then on August the 16th came the news that an open beta of the game was downloadable. When I found out it was only 169 MB I didn't hesitate to beam it down and install. That went without a problem. Because it was the middle of the night at my time zone of the world I decided to get some sleep first and to start the game when I would wake up.

Starting the game has to be done, oddly enough by clicking a button on the official website. The icon on the desktop is only a shortcut to the webpage in question.

The next day after signing in and clicking the game start button Fishing Champ software started updating. Although this happens all the time on Shot Online, Carom3D and other Internet games I found this a bit strange on a program that had only been released the night before. It could be a good sign of course. Must be that the guys from BeTo Interactive were very alert to get the latest bugs out of the game. I was wrong.

Updating started at 13:52 and the percentage counter only added a percent every 90 seconds or so... I made me some food, gave the cats some food, made me some food again, watched some cycling on the telly and when I came back to the computer nearly two hours later the updates had finally finished, at 15:41 to be precise. My Sygate Personal Firewall logfile told me that the update had taken 583,919,093 bittersweets or about 557 megabytes. I find it strange that a simple upgrade of a 169 MB program takes 3 times the amount of the initial download but perhaps this is a typical Korean thing to do.

But let's stick to the gameplay. After you have created a character you can go to different maps that have several fishponds. Then, just as in real life, you sit on a chair and watch the cork floating. As it starts going up and down there will be a big chance you have a fish on the hook. Finally there is some time for action. You have to fight the fish so that its strength wears off before your power does. Manipulating the mouse buttons or the arrow keys does that. Once you have reached level 10 catching fish becomes a difficult struggle so the first ten levels may be considered as an introduction to the game.

The catch seems to be to acquire all possible types of fish; apparently there are over 30 normal species and some special god- and boss-fishes as well. Some fishes can only be found on the higher lever ponds, other fishes only take special bait, come out at a special time of day or swim in a unique habitat you have to find by yourself.

That's about it. Fishing will give you extra power, extra luck or extra focus and of course there are garments and hooks and rods that will add some points to your personality points as well. Probably when the game goes commercial there will be some ponds you will only be admitted to after paying for it.

The game appeals to the collector in all of us. After 20 minutes of gameplay I was thrilled when I found a new fish species or a bigger fish from a species I already got. But the question is: will this still be the case after 200 hours?

A part of the game I didn't try yet is the aquarium where you can keep your fishes as pets. This is the Tamagotchi part of the game, as you will have to feed them, change the water now and so often and try to keep the herbivores apart from the carnivores.

Graphics are rather cute in a kiddie's style so I suppose the game has been created for the kids segment, although one can never be sure with game creators, especially from the East. The fact that there is a very strict (and stupid) dirty words filtering system may have something to do with that. But I guess when you are a 14-years old you'd rather slash some monsters on the net than catch a fish.

I'm a bit afraid though that the freshness of the game will soon wear off. It'll take you a month to catch half of the fishes but once you realise it will take you another year to grab the rest it might be counterproductive.

But as this is still a beta perhaps the final version will still contain some extra surprises for all of us. (This open beta version expires at August the 23rd.)

If you liked this post - you might be interested in this one as well: The Sandbox Of God


Fish, nipples and donkeys

Entry 325 posted in: 3. Gamebits

I quit playing Fishing Champ before the open beta was over. The reason why can be found on a forum thread, dedicated to the game, and written by Pompoko:
"I would say this game is probably boring from the start. But fishing is always boring as it is. You cast - sit - wait - reel in - cast - sit - wait, wait, wait, and wait..."

Now why is a fishing simulation boring and a golf simulation not? And believe me, playing a golf simulation isn't the world's most dynamic pastime either.

Although both applications are primary solitary, in Shot Online golf you mostly play (alone or teamed-up) against an adversary. Although the final outcome of the game is entirely up to you - you either play well or not - there is always the change to win the game when your opponent is actually a bit more careless or unfortunate than you. I have won games against people who ranked high above me but when I play against people who nicely par at level 10, I suddenly want to show off and desperately try to obtain the necessary birdie to win the game. Most of the time my ball ends in the local bunker or pond (alas without fish) and the low level player gets the bait. Such is the game.

The success factor of the Shot Online game is the fact that the player's input immediately leads to results. The program is made in such a way that the player beliefs he or she is in absolute control of all possible factors in the game. And the outcome is almost instantaneous, the moment you hit the ball you instinctively know if you have hit a killer ball or just a bum. For me Fishing Champ is just a bit too random to please me.

Not that Shot Online is so perfect either. The new update meddles with my version of FreeRAM XP Pro, probably the best free RAM manager that is around, and I have to disable that utility before I start the game. And a few days ago my round was abruptly stopped by the build-in Hackshield security tool, that prevents players to use illegal ways to obtain better results, only because my preferred media player MediaMonkey wanted to contact the web (after I accidentally used a keyboard shortcut that provoked that). Not only I lost the game I was currently playing in (and I was winning godammit!), but also my entrance fee was gone, including the extra credits and all other advantages that come after you win. On top of that I will probably be listed as a hacker on their database, which is, I assure you, not the case. Questions about this incident on their forum have not been answered yet.

And this brings me to the grass controversy of the game. Shot Online is intended as a family game so the use of inappropriate words is not allowed. Even I can understand that. Now, you may not know this, but there is also a real-life variety of golf played on planet Earth. To most people the green fluff that covers the ground on golf courses is a botanical organism commonly known as grass. Not to Shot Online players though. When you open a chatbox and type in: 'your ball has landed on the grass', the game will warn you that you have to be more polite. Because grass contains the letter combination a-s-s, and besides the fact that ass means donkey, it also means anus in those parts of the world where people are too lazy to write arse. Thus you cannot use the word grass in the Shot Online game.

I am and will always be against censorship, especially when the censorship is stupid. And mostly it is. Carom 3D is an online pool and snooker game that for one reason or another is very popular in Brazil. The rules are such that Carom 3D will ban you if you use swear words, if you use them too often you will even be banned for life. But the offensive words filters only take English words into consideration and thus the Brazilian players, especially the warm-blooded variety of them, will abuse you in their local lingo. I have become quite an expert in Portuguese swearwords in the last three years, I can tell you that.

Several Internet forums (I'm pretty sure Anthony Burgess would've preferred fora) also use word filters, often with hilarious (or better put: annoying) results. I once put a message on an Are You Being Served bulletin board about good old Mrs. Slocombe but wasn't allowed referring to her small carnivorous mammal in the way she usually does. Even the Late Night forum, dedicated to the words and works of Syd Barrett, doesn't allow the four-letter word that Syd Barrett has used in this song.

Yesterday I was watching the National Geographic channel when the program was interrupted for what I thought would be a commercial break. Instead it was an important health warning video telling you not to use Sanex shower products anymore. The accompanying video clearly showed that the lady, who was caressing her body in slow orgiastic movements, wasn't aware that the product had washed her nipples away! I suddenly felt very old and longed for those TV commercials in the mid Eighties for Fa Shower Gel.

Or should we refer to Elave who claim they have nothing to hide?

If you liked this post - you might be interested in this one as well: ArianeB 5.0