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20100811

Octopus Ride

Entry 1711 posted in: The Holy Church of Iggy the Inuit


It came to the ears of Unfinished Projects that its mad little sister project the
Holy Church of Iggy the Inuit has been celebrating its second birthday.

Founded on the eight of August two thousand and eight the Reverend didn't know what a strange trip it would eventually prove to be.
More than a trip, it was a true octopus ride taking the Church of Iggy the Inuit from childhood to stardom.

So fasten your anoraks, brethren and sistren, and read the full article here:
Octopus Ride.

Last year's birthday party can be found here:
Catwoman.

20100814

Sandbox of God remastered - free for one day (expired)

Entry 1712 posted in: c. The Sandbox Of God


Sandbox of God The Game Giveaway of the Day website, that paradoxically only gives away free games in the weekend, has a free download of the quite astonishing remastered Sandbox of God 1.56 game. The website is a spin-off of the Giveaway of the Day site where, every day, some software will be freely available for 24 hours. This means – not a trial version, nor a limited version – but a registered and legal version of the software.

In a rather distant past Unfinished Projects described the game as follows: The Sandbox Of God 

The story itself is monotonous, the graphics are tacky, but in a strange way the game is very addictive. Before you know it hours have gone by because you still have not managed to create Volcano city or instigate world peace between rabbits and men.

Sandbox of God 1.56 is a puzzle at heart, where every decision you make affects your outcome in the end. Originally released in 2004, this 2010 version (upgrade 1.56) of the game adds a whole new graphical interface, new sound and music, two new modes, extra features and more! Here is what Unfinished Projects had to say in the past about it: The Sandbox Of God – Year 2010 

SoG:R includes all changes from version 1.52 but has two new features:
The Sandbox of God board game. You can still play SoG in it’s classic style or switch to a brand new style called Simulated board game. In this new style, SOG:R simulates how one might play a board game version of the Sandbox of God in their basement using light gels, clay figures, blocks and cards, and Christmas lights. Switching between the classic style and the board game style can be done between rounds.
The Sandbox of God Warfare. Defend man’s civilization as you purchase new defences and upgrades, and prepare to do battle with the ever-multiplying civilization of rabbits. Use your godly powers of lighting and destruction to destroy rabbit armies and huts…provided that you have enough cash, of course. Unlock new cards by beating Sandbox mode and see how far into the future you can survive!

Grab this freebie, only today at: the-sandbox-of-god-remastered.

And if you are really stuck you can always try the best walkthroughs on this planet, they have been upgraded today as well:
Walking Through The Valley Of Eden (Sandbox of God Walkthrough Part 1) 
Bad Moon Rising (Sandbox Of God Walkthrough Part 2) 
Under The Vulcano (Sandbox Of God Walkthrough Part 3) 
I Want To Be A Little Fishy (Sandbox Of God Walkthrough Part 4) 
It's the Final Countdown (Sandbox Of God Walkthrough Part 5) 

20100817

Experiment succesful, patient dead.

Entry 1713 posted in: 3. Gamebits


Lea Nichols PC Jeux is a professional French gaming magazine that gives away a free game every month. Of course the previous sentence contains at least two mistakes. First: French and professional don't go well together, but that we will discuss further on. Second: there isn't such a thing as a free game. In Belgium the magazine costs about 8 and a half Euro and I have always thought I actually bought a game and received the magazine for free. Most of the time I take the DVD (it used to be a CD before) immediately out of its shrink-wrap and the magazine itself lands in a dustbin before I arrive home. There's another computer gaming journalist's dream I've shattered to pieces.

Not that I have bought plenty of PC Jeux magazines. I tried last in 2007 but the game refused to start-up because it was expecting a French PC, with a French keyboard and a French windows version. I don't recall the answer anymore the editors gave me when I complained, something along the lines that they were very sorry I was using a Belgian keyboard and an English windows version and that I could bugger off if I wanted a refund. Tough luck.

I had been playing Penumbra: Black Plague recently combining a fairly decent story with some horror elements and puzzle solving and wanted something more of the same at:
a) a decent price and
b) if possible from a small but innovative software company.

In a Brussels' railroad press shop I saw that PC Jeux 149 had eXpérience 112, the ultimate adventure game if I could believe the blurb, which of course I didn't. I still remember the catchphrase for Star Trek V: The Final Frontier (1989): "Why are they putting seatbelts in theatres this summer?" Soon as I watched the movie, I knew why, simply to prevent people from sneaking out before the end credits.

But reviews for eXpérience 112 weren't that bad at all and as the game was generally praised for its uncommon steering system of the avatar (more about that later) I was willing to halt my 3 years old PC Jeux boycott.

I nearly immediately regretted my purchase.

Slashing away

The game starts on an abandoned freighter that contains a secret military base. This means a lot of corridors and small rooms to investigate. After the introduction and the exploration of the first rooms, basically a tutorial how to control the protagonist and the various devices in the game, the first real assignment starts. In order to enter a laboratory, containing one dead body, you have to find the access code. To get the access code you need to browse through the personal files of the deceased. So far so good. Typical adventure style stuff that you either love or hate. Here is how you have to proceed:

Open a computer session.
Type the dead scientist's name.
Give the password.

(That password is written on a piece of paper, stuck to the wall, also a typical adventure game trick).

Open his personal folder.

Quite some information can be found on the ship's intranet, so most of the time you are mimicking on your computer that you are using a computer.

Read a file that seems to contain some valid information.

An error screen jumped on. These things also happen regularly in adventure games. But the error screen seemed a bit too genuine when I took a closer look at it. It read:

ERROR: UIDocumentTool::import: Can't open file 'interface/documents/interface\documents\part_codes_nichols.xml'!

(For computer geeks: there is a mixture of forward / and backward \ slashes in the code, and perhaps that is where the error comes from. All in all it is sloppy programming.)

It seemed I was not the only one with the problem and the PC Jeux forum received several complaints from other gamers. PC Jeux contacted Lexis Numérique and 39 days later - an eternity in computer land - a patch was offered that took care of most, but not ALL, of the problems (as the programmers are French professionals the patch made other information files illegible that were readable before, but passons).

I still had another huge problem, making it impossible to continue the game, and contacted creators Lexis Numérique en direct but they didn't even acknowledge my demand. I suppose they are of the opinion that a game sold is a game sold, not that it has to be actually played. Thank god for Internet fora and gamer didi75ma for offering me a solution as otherwise it would have meant another PC Jeux freebie in the dustbin. Now I could politely tell these goody-goody, lah-di-dah-di, hoity-toity, know-it-all, prim-and-proper, up-your-arse frog eaters from Lexis Numérique to fuck off and finally start playing. (The attitude of the consumer service of Lexis Numérique stands in shrill contrast with those from Frictional Games, who designed Penumbra. They answer so fast and thoroughly on every, even trivial, question that you feel rather ashamed for taking their time. The obvious result is that they have a loyal fan base.)

the obligatory shower scene Das Boot

In eXpérience 112 (The Experiment in English) you are an operator of a closed circuit TV control room with access to all surveillance cameras on a top secret military ship. The freighter is abandoned, if you don't consider the dead bodies, with exception of a slightly undernourished Lea Nichols who happens to wake up just when you switch on the camera. The question what happened before is ignored and, just like trying to find out who triggered the big bang, it is better not to fry your brains on it.

Here is where the so-called innovative guidance system kicks in. In about 99% of contemporaneous 3D games the player immerses the protagonist and steers him or her through an artificial world. The avatar can be first person (Penumbra: Black Plague) or third person (Mental Repairs Inc) and some games will let you switch between both systems (UFO: Alien Invasion). Usually an avatar will do absolutely nothing when the player doesn't give orders, although a notable exception are The Sims who will carry on with their own business when they are not told to do a certain action. Most of the time you feel like a kindergarten cop correcting The Sims when they are up at their own.

eXpérience 112 is a mixture of all the above. The first person avatar is an anonymous surveillance camera operator who watches third person avatar Lea Nichols strolling through the ship while she is looking for clues. As she has no idea where to go looking for the operator has to guide her by activating lights, switching on electrical devices or opening doors from the control centre. Whenever a trigger has been activated, Lea will walk towards the X-marked spot and starts investigating the area. The operator has got no influence on Lea's direct actions and she decides for herself if she will be looking in cupboards, consulting notes or letters, operating computers and so on…

The result is awkward, alienating and voyeuristic at first but soon becomes strangely familiar, although not that familiar for Lea to change clothes in front of you. She will ask you to guide her to a secluded spot away from the cameras before she ever attempts that.

It's a pity though that Lea doesn't do a thing if you don't give her a clue. As with The Sims, I would have liked it if she would rummage on her own, occasionally even finding something, but she just stand there, like a puppet on a string, awaiting orders from the puppeteer. But perhaps that is what military life does to you.

Remote control

As you may have figured out by now the operator spies on Lea using a closed TV circuit. The operator screen can multitask and open several windows at the same time. Here the programmers missed a few opportunities that would have turned the game into a top-notch experience.

The camera windows can not be seamlessly resized. You only have the choice between small, medium or large windows. A new camera window will either clutter on top or hide behind the other screens. As most of the time you are looking at three camera windows and a map, tile and cascade buttons would have come very handy indeed, but they are absent.

A radar monitors Lea's position on the boat but it fails to scroll automatically when Lea moves outside its borders. It would have been a handy gimmick. Often you are so busy adjusting the map that you don't have time to look at the cameras.

As in real life, the surveillance cameras can be set to follow Lea and to switch on when she enters their radius. Unfortunately this has been so appallingly designed that they do not recognise the walls (or other objects) in between. A long shot camera, at the end of a hall, will be constantly interrupted by others switching on - filming the wall inside the rooms - when Lea passes by. This is not just quite annoying, it is lazy programming. But as this is a military set-up perhaps the awkward functioning is just standard procedure.

Throughout the game you (or better said Lea) will find software upgrades. After a while the cameras will have night-vision, thermo-graphic function and an auto-focus, but some are obviously broken beyond repair and will only transmit garbled images. It adds to the weird voyeuristic realism as well.

By hacking into the accounts of the crew and reading their personal files and correspondence you find out that the members of this top secret military base were acting like Big Brother game show contestants. The avatar browses through pages of gossip, quarrels and amorous frivolity and finds out that even Lea Nichols had a fling with at least one crew member, suggested in the obligatory shower scene. Another flash-back has Lea sunbathing but those hoping for a Jacqueline Bisset's The Deep clothing show will be disappointed.

The crew had one thing in common, they all had the itch to steal passwords from others and pass these on to their friends. This makes it relatively easy for the player to read through everyone's personal files that contain everything from trivial (an invitations for the next card game evening) to top secret. Although these personal files are designed to contain video and audio messages this has only been scarcely used by the programmers, a fine example is a spy camera zooming in on yet another password. (Also in the Penumbra series the information was mostly passed through written files and not through moving images. Small companies don't have the time nor the resources to program these extra features.)

heat detection camera Puzzling

The puzzles are not extraordinary difficult for people who like to play these kinds of games, but they are not always realistic or logical in a real-life situation. I quite enjoyed the decryption puzzle following the Vigenère cipher method, but why would someone encrypt a password if he uses it on a daily basis? These are classic adventure game traps, just like in Black Plague where a scientist still managed to hide a tape after he was murdered.

But despite all the bugs, the inconsistencies and the flimsy story (an amnesic girl on a barren boat, a spy in the camp, a secret society, an extra-terrestrial threat) the game works. One of its cute unexpected details is that Lea will reprimand you and mentions the hours you left her alone after you load a saved game. Typical female: here is this chick who has been vegetating for 34 years in suspended animation on a ghost ship and the first things she does when she wakes up is complaining to her saviour that she doesn't get enough attention. (The fact that she has been sleeping, without ageing, for over 3 decades on an empty ship is one of the biggest inconsistencies in the story and will never be properly explained. Who took care of her (food, hygiene, muscle rehabilitation) during all these comatose years?)

After you have explored the ship, in search for some medicine Lea urgently needs, you honestly wonder what will happen next. It is then when the adventure goes underground, or better said, underwater. Lea changes into the kind of wetsuit that would make the extra-terrestrial lizards of V vibrate their tongues with lust, but to humans it looks rather tacky and nothing like Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio in The Abyss (to name just another underwater classic).

After a thrilling submarine sequence Lea discovers a second secret base, the size of London Heathrow Airport, located at the bottom of the sea but there the game drags as if the programmers were out of breath, inspiration, resources or all of the above. The map didn't help either and I was hopelessly lost for a while. But the base is just a temporary transit zone as it opens a gate to the final part of the adventure.

The idea of opening a door to an extra-terrestrial world by means of a holographic key, projected by 5 strong laser beams that all need to be exactly positioned, is sublime. Now if only I could make it work as this is where the game halted a second time on me and this time for good. Exit Lea Nichols. I will never know her secrets.

Epilogue

The above review is based on the PC Jeux (French) version of eXpérience 112. Apparently gamers who have bought the normal retail version do not have all of the above problems, especially after applying the (French) patch that can still be found on the official website. As eXpérience 112 sells at 6.14 Euro on Amazon France one can ask why the (more expensive) magazine version was altered unless it was to keep in line with the tradition to make PC Jeux free games unplayable. I have bought about 10 PC Jeux magazines (and their games) in my life and 7 of these gave up at one point or another.

I suppose I will not buy PC Jeux magazines anymore for the rest of my life.


Some reviews I consulted:
Puzzle vs. Experience.
The Experiment overcomes its clichéd beginnings with original gameplay.
Demo Review.

20100821

Metallic Spheres

Entry 1714 posted in: 4. Orb Weavers, 5. The Pink Thing


Marija Oršić, your planet or mine? About, let me count, thirty-four to thirty-five years ago I was seriously investigating the so-called UFO phenomenon. Or whatever serious means for a sixteen years old adolescent who urgently wants to get laid but has found out that the chance to witness an encounter of the third kind is statistically more probable than to have an close encounter with the opposite sex.

I was a member of the Belgian Sobeps association, long before the Belgian UFO wave hit the skies and as the Internet was still a science-fiction thing we had to rely on their magazine Inforespace and the books, case files and real UFO pictures they sold by mail-order to their members. They also had an electronic UFO detector in their catalogue what made me wonder, already then, if they just weren't a bunch of petty crooks. I must still have a Betty and Barney Hill picture somewhere that I bought through their shop and who were then (and maybe still now) regarded as the proverbial Saul-stroke-Paul of the Holy Church of Ufology.

After a while opportunity knocked, even for me, and I didn't see the purpose anymore to devote my life to the flying saucer - abducting people for out-of-orbit enemas - enigma. But I am still mildly amused by the phenomenon, especially from a historical perspective. Not that long ago (at least not on the cosmic timescale) I partially read The Coming Race (1871) from Edward Bulwer-Lytton, a (rather tedious) adventure book that apparently inspired Nazi-Germany to start building flying saucers. An internet search lead me to through several dubious websites, some that might even be legally forbidden to consult in my country as they vehemently propagate what I will mildly describe as Aryan beliefs, and only strengthening me in my opinion that for crackpots from all over the world the internet is Ultima Thule indeed.

If I have understood it well American secret services grabbed nazi occult mysteries by the truckload although it is not clear if they could ever restore the phone lines to the Aldebaran star system that became an après-guerre nudist resort for the mystical and mythical Vril Society pin-up girls (see image above and try not to drool). Thanks to these secret nazi inventions the Americans not only landed on the moon (although paradoxically enough conspiracy theory buffs deny this ever happened) but they also tested anti-gravity engines in earth-designed flying saucers and solved the so-called zero-point energy problem.

How do I know all this? Because Gary McKinnon told us so.

Beam me up Scotty

Gary McKinnon is a Glasgow hacker who thought for a while he was a Lone Gunman on a mission against the American government. Wanting to prove the things mentioned above he hacked into 97 United States military and NASA computers over a 13-month period between February 2001 and March 2002, using the name 'Solo'.

Hacking is not really the term one should use here, more trial and error. Consulting a 1985 copy of Hugo Cornwall's The Hacker's Handbook McKinnon copied a Perl script that looked for Windows computers without a password and to his amazement there were still lots of unprotected computers residing in the NASA and military networks 15 years after the book appeared. One can duly wonder what these CIA, FBI and military secret service IT security guys had been doing in the meantime. Playing Pong, probably.

"A common mistake that people make when trying to design something completely foolproof is to underestimate the ingenuity of complete fools.", wrote Douglas Adams in the twelfth chapter of Mostly Harmless (1992). That quote may not be entirely his. Nobel price winner and inventor of the H-bomb Edward Teller noted down a couple of years before: "There's no system foolproof enough to defeat a sufficiently great fool." Anyway, in 2002 Gary McKinnon was the fool who undermined the American's pigheaded assumption of safety. Military security thought they had devised this big unsinkable Titanic and all it took was a entrepreneurial nerd with a screwdriver and a sack of sugar to pour inside the gas tank.

Rather than admitting they had done an enormous security cock-up the American powers-that-be turned Gary McKinnon into a terrorist super-hacker whose sole intention it was to metamorphose American secrets to putty and hand them over to Al-Queda, who - as we all know - have been praying a long time for this UFO technology. In consequence Gary could face a 60-years prison sentence if condemned before an American judge. Unfortunately the UK voted the 2003 extradition act making it possible to extradite UK citizens for offences committed against US law, even though the alleged offence may have been committed in the UK by a person living and working in the UK. A review of the extradition act was voted down by British parliament although there is a growing consensus amongst British members of parliament that Gary McKinnon will not stand a fair trial in the US.

Several charities have been raised to help Gary McKinnon in his struggle against the extradition and in August 2009 David Gilmour, Chrissie Hynde, Bob Geldof and Gary McKinnon recorded the Chicago (Change The World) single. The only awareness it ever raised was that extraditing Bob Geldof to Guantanamo Bay would be a benefit for mankind to say the least. Perhaps the US authorities could consider that for a while.

As a Pink Floyd collector for over thirty years now, with over a dozen legit versions of Dark Side Of The Moon, I was obviously offended. Probably I am just being jealous here but I still can't grasp the concept that a lawbreaking idiot with a UFO fixation got a chance to make a record with one of the ten best guitarists of this world while moi who has in his possession the ridiculously shaped Love On The Air (1984) picture disk and Gilmour's lamentable Smile (2006) single will never get the change to meet his idol from less than a 100 meters distance. Phew, nice I have finally got that off my chest.

Metallic Spheres (picture by Simon Ghahary) Pink Florb

Last year, in the aftermath of the Chicago single, Alex Paterson of the ambient house band The Orb made a strange announcement:

I’ve just started work on an album with David Gilmour from Pink Floyd which I think every Orb and Pink Floyd fan will want to hear.

The news was almost immediately downsized by David Gilmour who acknowledged he had jammed a bit in a studio with Martin 'Youth' Glover but that nothing had been confirmed 'with regards to any structure for the recordings or firm details re: any release plans'.

But this week David Gilmour's blog had the following news:

David's 2009 jam session with ambient collective The Orb has grown into an album, Metallic Spheres, to be released via Columbia/Sony Records in October. David's contribution to the charity song Chicago, in aid of Gary McKinnon, sparked the interest of producer Youth (Martin Glover), who remixed the track and invited David to his studio for a recording session. With additional contributions from Orb co-founder Alex Paterson, the album took shape from 2009 into 2010, eventually becoming Metallic Spheres, to be released by The Orb featuring David Gilmour.

The album will be divided into two 25 minutes parts with five movements each, a 'Metallic Side' and a 'Spheres Side'. The Orb will consist of founder Alex Paterson (sound manipulation, keyboards and turntables) with part-time member Youth adding bass, keyboards and handling the production. It is not certain if Thomas Fehlmann (full member of The Orb since 1995, absent on The Dream (2007), but back on Bagdhad Batteries (2009)) and long time Orb and Pink Floyd collaborator Guy Pratt will be present or not. For the moment it looks like a three men line-up with David Gilmour contributing guitar, lap steel guitar and some of his Chicago vocals.

Simon Ghahary created the artwork (see image above) and all artist royalties will go to helping Gary McKinnon fight his extradition.

When Gary McKinnon logged in on the military computers he allegedly found proof of extra-terrestrial involvement in the NASA space program, but unfortunately his telephone line did not allow him to download the pictures and documents. The only tangible result of his actions will be a Floydian cooperation that Orb (and some Pink Floyd) fans have been dreaming about for the last two decades.

Long live Gary McKinnon, long live the greys! U.F.FlOrb is finally on its way! And don't worry, I'm sure those pretty Aldebarans will rescue Gary if he ever gets imprisoned in the land of the free.


Pink Dreams (first announcement of the Gilmour Paterson cooperation)
The Orb section: Orb Weavers 
The Pink Floyd section: The Pink Thing 

20100831

iPod Random Generator August 2010

Entry 1715 posted in: 9. I, Pod


My iPod statistics for the month of August 2010.

Every month a graph will be published here, the playlist of the month will appear on my MySpace blog and the overview of the year will be glued on my MySpace entrance page. Nothing to be excited about.

For those who still want to know the how and what and where and when I give you this old link: Random Blueß aka sucking for statistics 

And here are the last 10 songs that enjoyed my life:

Like A Bird Komputer Girl From Ipanema Goes To Greenland The B-52's Expo2000 Kling Klang Mix 2002 Kraftwerk Wat Ze Doet Doe Maar Open The Kingdom (Liquid Days, Part 2) Philip Glass Free Bird Lynyrd Skynyrd Long Cold Winter Cinderella Pyramania The Alan Parsons Project The Go In The Go-For-It Grandaddy The Lebanon Human League.


If you want to know how the graph looked like last month: iPod Random Generator July 2010