Here are the steps for installing Emacs on Windows 10:
  • First enable the Linux subsystem:
    • Start Powershell as administrator
    • Type 'Enable-WindowsOptionalFeature -Online -FeatureName Microsoft-Windows-Subsystem-Linux' and confirm
    • Restart computer
    • Go to Windows Store and search for 'Linux'
    • Install Ubuntu, SUSE or anything you like from there and run it
  • Second, install Emacs:
    • Type 'sudo add-apt-repository ppa:kelleyk/emacs'
    • Type 'sudo apt update'
    • Type 'sudo apt install emacs25'

At this time you should have Emacs running in the Linux subsystem on Windows 10.

You can also install it on Android:
  • Install the Termux app
  • Type 'apt update'
  • Type 'apt install emacs'

But why would you need to install Emacs at all? Because now you can run 'emacs -batch -l dunnet'. Don't forget to 'save'! :D

In 2015 I was so happy to hear that Cory and Lori Cole, game designers for the Sierra Entertainment company, were doing games again, using Kickstarter to fund their work. Particularly I was happy that they were doing something very similar to Quest for Glory, which was one of my very favorite game series ever. Well, the game was finally released in the summer of 2018 and I just had to play it. Short conclusion: I had a lot of fun, but not everything was perfect.

The game is an adventure role playing game called Hero-U: Rogue to Redemption and it's about a small time thief who meets a mysterious bearded figure right after he successfully breaks into a house and steals, as per contract, a "lucky coin". The man gives him the opportunity to stop thieving and instead enroll into Hero University as a Rogue, rogues being a kind of politically correct thieves, taking from the rich and giving to the poor and all that. You spend the next 40-50 hours playing this kid in the strange university and finally getting to be a hero.

You have to understand that I was playing the Quest for Glory games, set in the same universe as Hero-U, when I was a kid. My love for the series does not reflect only the quality of the games, the humor, the nights without Internet where I had to figure out by myself how to solve a puzzle so that I could brag to my friends who were doing the same at the time, but the entire experience of discovery and wonder that was childhood. My memories of the Sierra games are no doubt a lot better than the games themselves and any attempt of doing something similar was doomed to harsh criticism. So, did the Coles destroy my childhood?

Nope. Hero U was full of puns and entertainment and rekindled the emotions I had playing QfG. I recommend it! But it won't get away from criticism, so here it is.

Update: I've finished the game again, going for the "epic" achievement called Perfect Prowler, which requires you don't kill anything. I recommend this as the start game because, if you think about it a bit, it's the easier way to finish the game. To not kill anything you need to sneak past enemies, meaning maxing your stealth. To defeat your enemies (which is also NOT the rogue way as taught at the university) you need to have all sorts of defenses, combat skills, magical weapons or runes, etc. By focusing on stealth you actually focus on the story, even if sometimes it is annoying to try to get past flying skulls for ten minutes, saving and reloading repeatedly, until your stealth is high enough. Some hints for people doing this:
  1. Sleeping powder is your friend, as it instantly makes an enemy unresponsive and does not alert other enemies that are standing right next to them
  2. Sleeping powder works on zombies, for some reason
  3. Demolishing a wall with a Big Boom while guards are sleeping next to it does not hurt said guards, even better, they magically disappear letting you plunder the entire room
  4. If someone else kills your enemy, you didn't kill anything :)
  5. The achievement says you have to not kill things, you can attack them at your leisure as long as you flee or use some other methods to escape

Anyway, the second run made me even more respectful towards the creators of the game, as they thought of so many contingencies to allow you to not get stuck whatever style of play you have. And this on a game that had so many production issues. Congratulations, Transolar!

And now for the original analysis:

What is great about the game is that it makes you want to achieve as much as possible in a rather subtle way. It doesn't show you X points out of Y the way old Sierra games did, but it always hints of the possibility of doing more if you only "apply yourself". Yes, it feels very much like a school. And I liked it. What's wrong with me?

I liked the design of the game, although I wish there was a way to just open a door you often go through, rather than click on the door and then choose Open from the list of possible and useless options like Listen on the door or Look at the door. I liked that you had a lot of actions for the objects in the game, which made it costly to just explore every possible option, but also satisfying to find one that works in your favor.

And the game is big! A lot of decisions, a lot of characters and areas to explore, a lot of quests and a lot of puns. Although, in truth, even if I loved the QfG series for their puns, in Hero-U it feels like they tried a little bit too much. In fact, I will write a lot about what I didn't like, but those are general things that are easy to point out. The beautiful part is in the small details that are much harder to describe (and not spoil).

The biggest issue I had with the game was the time limits. The story takes the hero through a semester of 50 days at the university and he has to do as much as possible in that time. This was good. It makes for a challenge, it forces you to manage the time you have to choose one or the other of several options. You can't just train fighting skills for weeks and then start killing critters. However, each day has several other time limits, mainly breakfast/class, supper and sleep. You may be in the depths of the most difficult dungeon, took you hours to get there, if it's supper time, your "hero" will instantly find his way back so he can grab some grub. You don't have the option to skip meals or a night's sleep, which would have been great as an experience and very little effort in development, as he already has "tired", "hungry", "injured" and other states that influence his skills.

This takes me to the general issue of linearity of story. The best QfG games were wonderful because you had so many options of what you could do: you could explore, do optional side quests that had little or nothing to do with the main story, solve puzzles in a multitude of ways (since in those games you got to choose your class). Hero-U feels very linear to me: a lot of timed quests with areas that only open up after specific events that have nothing to do with you, the items you get at the store change to reflect the point in time you are in, a choice of girls and boys to flirt with, but really only one will easily respond to your attempts at romance, the only possible ending with variations so small as to make them irrelevant and so on. And many a time it is terribly frustrating to easily find a hidden door or secret passage, but be unable to do anything with it until "it's time". You carry these big bombs with you, but when you get to a blocked door you can't just demolish it. I already mentioned the many options you have to interact with random objects in the game, but the vast majority of them are useless and inconsistent. QfG had some of these issues, too, though.

An interesting concept are the elective classes, which are so easy to miss it's ridiculous. Do not miss the chance (as I did) to do science, magic or healing. It reminds me of QfG games you played as a fighter and then started them again as a mage or thief. The point is to take all your tests (and since you get the results a few days later) you need to know your stuff (i.e. read the text of the lectures and understand what the teachers are saying). Unfortunately, the classes don't do much to actually help you. Science gives you a lot of traps and explosives, healing gives you a lot of potions and pills and magic gives you sense magic and some runes. You can easily finish the game without any of them and it is always annoying to have to run from the end of your classes (at 14:00) and reach the elective classroom on another floor, having to dodge Terk and also considering that you might want to do work in the lock room, practice room, library, recreation room and reception, all in one hour (you have to get to the class by 15:00). And the elective eats two hours of your time, just in time for (the mandatory) dinner.

And then there is the plot itself. I had a hard time getting immersed in a story where young people learn at a university teachers know is infested with dangerous creatures that students fight, but do nothing to either stop or optimize the process. Instead, everybody knows about the secret passages, the areas, but pretend they do not. Students never party up to do a quest together. There are other classes in the university, not only Rogues learn there, but you never meet them. Each particular rogue student has a very personal reason to be in the university, which makes me feel it's amazing that the class has seven students; in other years there must have been a maximum of two. You get free food from all over the world, but you have to buy your own school supplies. There are two antagonists that really have absolutely no power over you, no back story, and you couldn't care less that they exist. Few of the characters in the game are sympathetic or even have believable motivations.

Bottom line: I remembered what it was like when I was a child playing these games and enjoyed a few days of great fun. I felt like the story could have had more work done so that we care about the characters more and have more ways to play the game. The limits often felt very artificial and interrupted me from being immersed in the fantastic world. It felt like a Quest for Glory game, but not the best ones.

It is worth remembering that this game is the first since the 1990s when the creators were working in Sierra Games. They overcame a lot of new hurdles and learned a lot to make Hero-U. The next installments or other games will surely go more smoothly both in terms of story and playability. I have a lot of trust in them.

Some notes:
  • There is a Hero-U Student Handbook in PDF form.
  • Time is very important. It pays to save, explore an area, reload and go directly where you need to go.
  • Stealth is useful. There is an epic achievement to finish the game without killing anything. That feels a bit extreme, but it also shows that items and combat skills may be less relevant than expected.
  • Exams are important: save and pass the exams so you can get elective classes. I felt like every part of the story was excessively linear except elective classes which you can even miss completely because you get no help with them from the teachers or the game mechanism.
  • Some doors towards the end cannot be opened and are reserved for future installments of the series.
  • You can lose a lot of time in the catacombs for no good reason. Don't be ashamed to create and use a map of the rooms.

I leave you with a gameplay video:

Today I published a raw version of a program that solves Pixelo puzzles, a Flash version of the game generally known as Nonogram, Picross, Hanjie, etc.. I was absolutely fascinated by the game, not only the concept, but also the attention to details that Tamaii lent to the game. The program is called Pixelo Solver and you can find it at Github, complete with source code.

I liked working on this because it covers several concepts that I found interesting:
  • Responding to global key combinations
  • Getting a snapshot of the screen and finding an object in it
  • Parsing a visual image for digits in a certain format
  • The algorithm for solving the puzzle in a reasonable amount of time and memory (it was not trivial)

Quick how-to: get all the files from here and copy them in a folder, then run PixeloTools.GameSolver.exe and press Ctrl-Shift-P on your puzzle in the browser.

  1. Start PixeloTools.GameSolver.exe
  2. Open the browser to the Pixelo game
  3. Start a puzzle
  4. Press Ctrl-Shift-P

However, if the list of numbers per row or column is too long, the automated parsing will not work. In that case, you may use it offline, with a parameter that defines a file in the format:
5 1 10, 3 3 7, 2 5 4, 2 5 2, 2 1 1 1, 1 1 1 1 1, 1 1 3 1 1, 1 1 1 1 1, 1 1 1, 1 1, 1 1, 2 2 2 4, 2 1 1 1 2 4, 2 1 2 1, 7 4, 2 2 1 2 2 2, 2 1 1 1 1 1 1, 2 1 1 4 2, 1 3 4 2 1, 1 1
8 1 1, 5 2 2 1, 2 1 3, 1 1, 1 7 4 1, 3 5 1, 3 1 1 3, 4 3 4, 3 1 1 3, 3 5 1, 1 7 4 1, 1 2, 1 1 1, 2 2 2, 2 1 1 2, 2 1 2 2, 3 2 1, 3 1 1, 4 1 2 2, 9 2 3
where the first line is the horizontal lines and the second line the vertical lines. When the parsing fails, you still get something like this in the output of the program. You can just copy paste the two lines in a file, edit it so that it matches the puzzle, then run:
start "" PixeloTools.GameSolver.exe myFile.txt

The file can also be in XML format, same as in the file the game loads. That's for Tamaii's benefit, mostly.

Let me know what you think in the comments below.

In this post I want to talk to you about new stuff that links to the good old stuff of our own youth. You probably know what Kickstarter is, but just as an introduction, it is a place where people ask for money for future work. It's like a crowdsourced financing scheme for your public elevator pitch (just imagine a planet-sized elevator, though). And when I say Kickstarter, I mean the actual site and all the other similar things out there. Like... Kickstarter-like, like it?

First stop: Underworld Ascendant. The team that made Ultima Underworld, one of my all time favourite games, is doing a new one. As you can see on the Kickstarter page, it is two weeks from completing. If you loved the Ultima Underworld games (NOT the Ultima games), you could consider pitching in.

Second stop: Hero-U. Remember Quest for Glory? It was made by Sierra Games and the entire series was awesome! However the designers of the game are the Coles. They have been working on Hero-U, a modern version of the QG universe. They planned to release in the spring of 2014, but scope creep and public feedback turned the game from a simple little game to a complex and interesting concept that is planned for release in the autumn of 2015 and it is well on schedule. Check it out! They are at their second Kickstarter round.

Turning to movies and series, this time works made by and for Star Trek fans. And I am not even talking about random people doing really weird and low quality stuff, I mean real movie business people doing great stuff. Check out Star Trek Continues, a continuation of the original Star Trek series, as well as Star Trek Axanar, which seems to become a really cool movie! I can't wait for it to get out.

Update June 27th 2016:
The Axanar story has become a poster for corporate greed and stupidity. Soon after the trailers for Axanar were released, Paramount and CBS - the corporations owning the Star Trek franchise - sued the producers on copyright infringement. Funny enough, they did this before anything real was released. Their problem? The production was too big.

Having received more than 1.2 million US dollars from Kickstarter, the show was actually starting to look great. Top production qualities, professional actors, good CGI and - most of all - passionate people. Paramount and CBS alleged that this was already a commercial venture, having such budget, even if it was released freely on the Internet after production. To me, it feels as if Hollywood started to feel the heat. They realized that if this production and distribution model catches on, they will be left trying to combat piracy and hiring armies of lawyers to arrange and check distribution contracts when "the opposition" will just release free on the Internet once the budget for production is met. Consider the implications! This would be huge.

It felt like entrapment. First you let legions of people use the Star Trek moniker and universe, then you jump with a lawsuit on the people that make the most money. So the studios started to try to deflect the anger and consternation of fans and independent producers with dirty tricks like instructing J.J.Abrams to say in an interview that the lawsuit would go away, only for it to continue anyway and finally, with a set of guidelines for independent productions to which the studios would not object. The terms are ridiculous and pretty much break the entire concept of serialized Star Trek. More here, check this out: “The fan production must … not exceed 30 minutes total, with no additional seasons, episodes, parts, sequels or remakes.”

A long time ago I wrote a post about Vodo, what I thought was the future of cool little indie movies and series. Vodo didn't quite live to my expectations, but Kickstarter has taken its place and, since it is not only about movies, but all kinds of projects, it has a larger chance of surviving and changing the way the world works. Not all is rosy, though. There are voices that say that the Kickstarter ecosystem is more about promises than about delivery. Also some governmental and commercial agencies are really displeased with the way money are exchanged directly between customers and producers, bypassing borders, intermediaries like banks and tax collectors and so on. If you combine this with Bitcoin type currency, their job of overseeing all commercial transactions and taking their cut does become more difficult. I sympathise... not really.

I leave you with some videos of the projects above. Think about looking for others that are working on something you want to sponsor. You might be surprised not only by the ingenious ideas that are out there, but also about how it would make you feel to support people with the same passions as yourself.

Underworld Ascendant trailer:

Game play for Hero-U:

The full first episode of Star Trek Continues from the creators themselves:

Prelude to Axanar, a small mockumentary about the events that will be the context of Axanar:

You have to appreciate The Witcher for at least two major reasons: one is that it is based on a series of books by a Polish author and second is that it is made almost exclusively by Polish programmers and software managers. It is basically Polish software, and for that the quality is really great. Not that I disconsider software coming from the country, but I imagine they have a lot less resources than major American game studios, for example.

The story is that of a witcher, a monster slayer. He has tremendous physical strength and can use magic thanks to magical and genetic changes that have transformed him into a sterile mutant. He is basically the Caucazian version of Blade, if you want. I have not read the stories, but from what I've heard they are rather morally ambiguous, featuring the witcher drinking and whoring like a madman in between monster slaying bouts. The game attempts to do the same thing, of course with the sex and foul language removed, as it would have been too gruesome among all the blood, gore and violence. (I was sarcastic there, in case you didn't see it, people in charge with the moral development of our society!)

In fact the concept of the game is marvelous: have a character that can make choices that affect the overall story in a fantasy game of feudal monsters and courtly intrigue. However, in order to do so, you must go on endless quests gathering this and that, running around like a marathoner on steroids (which I guess you are, with all the genetic alterations and potions). The poor guy runs so much that one gets tired just watching him move. That was the major issue I had with the game, over 70% of it is running around (and 10% animations).

The fighting style was intriguing, but ultimately annoying. You had to click on the monster you wanted to kill, then wait for a specific moment when the cursor changed in order to click again and perform a combo. Up to six clicks can build a combo, which gives the player a lot of opportunity to click on somebody else, click next to the monster or move the camera in a way in which it is temporarily impossible to fight. Also Gerald does not have automatic fighting, so unless you tell him to attack, he just sits there and takes it. The damn clicks make you feel you are doing something, though, which I guess is a plus.

You get to meet a lot of damsels in distress which you have the option of helping. Once you do that they are remarkably willing to discard their clothes for you. In that situation you get to see... a nicely drawn card of a partially naked woman representing the sexual act. Then you return to where you were... at the same hour... dressed... which makes one think of a problem with the witcher's endurance, so to speak.

The changes in storyline are interesting, and some of them don't seem to happen until they have had time to propagate. This means you cannot just save, make a choice, see what happens and load, as there is a long time between choice and effect. This also means you will have to play the game a lot just to see only one story line. You will probably have to Google for all the outcomes. I, as always, was a perfect gentleman. No matter how ugly that Adda chick was, I still slept next to her... twice... and of course we remained best friends. No, really, there is something seriously wrong with me.

Overall it is a pretty entertaining and captivating game. The end chapter (the fifth, if you are wondering) is fraught with animations and it seems you have nothing else to do but move a bit, see a movie, move a little bit, kill some guy, another movie and so on. The fight with Javed was the most difficult, I think, with the rest a complete breeze once I had upgraded the Igni spell to the maximum power.

I have, however, the certainty that with a simple hack to allow a person to click on the map and get there at warp speed (maybe stop if there is a monster on the road or something) this game would have been three times shorter and a lot more fun. I started with a lot of expectations about it, though, and maybe that is why I felt a little disappointed, especially with the "boss" fights which seemed to involve a lot of talking and hiding behind minions until I got to them and very easily kicked their ass.

Time to play The Witcher II, I guess! I leave you with a video review of the game.

Also, for more information about the Witcher, like the choices you can make and the consequences or the quests you never got around to finishing, go to the Witcher Wiki

It's difficult to remember that in the original Dishonored storyline there were two people carrying the mark of the Outsider. There was Corvo, but then there was Daud. The Knife of Dunwall and Brigmore Witches extended missions of the game both come as Dishonored downloadable content and both star Daud as the lead. He first has to fight an army of whale butchers then the overseers who come to destroy his army of assassins, then he goes to find the Brigmore Witches and foil their plans. It was a nice touch that they changed characters. Someone who either killed everything that moved or took great care to finish up Dishonored the non-lethal way would probably have issues with changing their game style in the continuation. Having a different character frees our conscience and lets us play this game as we wish at that moment. It also hints that the story is not in the characters, but in the island universe created in the game.

The story here is that the Outsider tips Daud, who is already conflicted about his choice to murder the empress and kidnap her daughter, about a mysterious woman called Delilah. It soon becomes evident that she is aware of Daud's interests when she seeks the Overseers on Daud's hidden base. She apparently is the leader of a coven of witches based in Brigmore Manor. Rumors about them appeared in the main Corvo story, as well. Delilah, originally a servant in Dunwall Tower and a talented painter, is attempting to take over Emily Kaldwin, the young daughter of the empress, and by defeating her you become a hero that, just as Corvo but unbeknownst to anyone but the Outsider, saves Emily. That was a nice twist, also, binding the two stories together. Events in Daud's story also parallel Corvo's, as NPCs talking to each other often reveal.

It is interesting that, besides Blink and Dark Vision which seem to be essential to playing the game, Daud has different magical powers as well as different weaponry. That annoying power that he used to overpower Corvo at the beginning of the main story is available to you and very handy. As with Dishonored, you can choose your level of mayhem which in turn, I suppose, changes the story. I tried to play it as non-lethal as I could, but having the reputation of a renowned assassin for hire really made me itch for bloodthirsty apocalypse. It felt great to know that I can kill everybody, even when I chose not to, I guess.

An intriguing idea came to me. Besides Corvo and Daud there were other people involved with Outsider powers: Delilah and Granny Rags. If they make more downloadable content for the game (which I really really hope they will) it could be interesting to play Delilah, or even Granny, as prequels to these stories. It would serve multiple purposes, as it would probably appeal to female players more, as well as changing the weaponry and magic almost entirely. Witches in this game use magic arrows and use dead animals and plants to do their bidding, while Granny Rags uses hordes of rats and an amulet that makes her immortal until you destroy it. There are neat tricks that would be a waste not to be used by the player. Both Corvo and Daud actually survive in the end and don't forget that the Dishonored universe is placed in an archipelago of islands, only one of them having been explored in any detail, with a lot of rumors and information about the others and a lot more opportunities. A story on the whaling ships, perhaps? Something in a wide open space, as demonstrated by the Brigmore Witches manor grounds, maybe? Dishonored may have started like something that seemed to clone Assassin's Creed, but it has a lot more potential. Knowing the guys at Arkane Studios, that potential is going to be used, even if the wiki on The Brigmore Witches says it is the last DLC for Dishonored. Perhaps Dishonored II will be made soon.

As a conclusion, I really enjoyed the game, even if Daud's voice was Michael Madsen's, who I usually dislike at first glance. It's good he wasn't visually in the game, then :)

After playing the second campaign in the Starcraft II game, the Zerg one, I have to say that I wasn't terribly impressed. 27 missions in all, nothing very fancy, and a linear script that involves only Kerrigan getting stronger and going after Mengsk. The only delight here was the character of Abathur, the Zerg "scientist", who speaks like that Korean doctor in Monday Mornings and his only concern is to find new strands of evolution for the swarm. Kerrigan, even if her voice was that of Tricia Helfer, is a cardboard character who acts arrogantly like a queen (well, she is one) taking about vision and cunning, but acting impulsively and in a direct manner most of the time. She is the character I was playing, so that is probably why I didn't really enjoy the story so much. Mark my words, if you want to find the funny moments in the game, just click on Abathur whenever you can.

There were some nice surprises in the game, though, like when destroying a neutral vehicle on a map and receiving a communication from a human soldier complaining he just paid for that car. A huge game, made with people from three continents, SCII must appease the masses to pay for itself, therefore the script could not have been too complex. They also concentrated on the multiplayer action, not on the storymode one plays on Casual difficulty in order to see the "movie", but still... a good script and a captivating story could have brought millions more into the fold, so to speak. The Starcraft universe is, after all, a very interesting one, describing the interactions between three interstellar cultures (four, if you consider the Xel'Naga). The potential here is immense, with books and movies to keep people interested for generations.

I liked the concept of evolution missions. You see, Abathur had the ability to alter strains of units and gave you two choices which were mutually exclusive. But before you chose, you had to play two mini-missions that showed the different strains in action. You usually had to kill some indigenous lifeform, absorb its essence and integrate it into your creatures. Also in the game there was a creature called an Infestor, which, judging by how the Terran campaign went, you will not see it in the multiplayer game. It allowed you to capture any enemy unit, except the heroic ones. Pretty fun. One of the evolution missions gave you the ability to morph hydralisks to lurkers, one of my favourite units from the old Starcraft game.

Overall I enjoyed playing the campaign, even if I felt that it could have been a lot greater. Finished it in about 10 hours, too. Of course, it would have taken a lot longer if I hadn't played on the easiest difficulty, but I didn't have a mouse and I really was only interested in the story. Unfortunately, I didn't feel like I gained much by playing the campaign as opposed to watching all the cinematics one after the other on YouTube, and that is, probably, what bothered me most.

So here is a compilation of Abathur dialogs.

Update: I recognized the voice of Brad Dourif as Piero (how can one not?) so I went to see who the other voice actors were. If you, like me, felt a strange attraction to Callista Curnow, that's because her voice is that of gorgeous Lena Headey. Also you might recognize Susan Sarandon as Granny Rags (hee hee!) or John Slattery as Admiral Havelock. But pretty much no one comes close to Brad Dourif, except perhaps Roger Jackson, who is the voice of Mojo-Jojo!

As you may know, I am a great fan of Arkane Studios games. They did Ultima Underworld, Arx Fatalis, Might and Magic X (which for all intents and purposes was Arx Fatalis 2) and now they did Dishonored. You will probably say that Ultima Underworld was actually a Looking Glass Studios game, but when they dissolved, some people from their team went on to work for Arkane and the resemblance of the games is pretty obvious. Anyway, I am now in a small village in Italy and only have Internet at my work. Imagine my great surprise when I discovered a kit of the Dishonored game on my laptop. I immediately installed it and played the game for a non stop 20 hours until I finished it. However, it was my desire to see the entire story (and to get some sleep in the weekend) that made me finish so quickly. You see, the game is a first person shooter-adventure that follows a storyline. However, on each stage you can explore and find a lot of secrets and side quests and even influence the story a little bit through your actions. The universe in which the game is played is a wonderfully crafted steampunk world, driven by whale oil and technology invented by mad scientists and filled with political intrigue. I can safely say that the game is a combination of Arx Fatalis, Thief/Assassin's Creed and Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines.

For an analysis of the game, there are a lot of things to be said. One of them is that the 3D world was, as far as I could see, almost perfect. I didn't get stuck in some fold of the wireframe, I didn't reach places I shouldn't have reached even when having the power to Blink, I didn't see through textures or seen any major bugs, actually. The game is a huge collaboration of companies, with people from all over the world, they could have screwed up anywhere: design, storyline, sound bits, software, 3D world, etc. It did not happen. You can also see the love that was poured into the game when the story does not end with an obvious finish, but continues on for a few stages. They could have worked less for the same money, but they somehow chose not to.

The gameplay is a joy. You have different ways of solving problems: you can kill anything that moves, you can choose to not kill them, but perform a chokehold on them and hide their unconscious bodies so you can avoid detection or you can go on high ledges and sneaky paths to avoid conflict all together. An interesting component of the story is The Outsider a supernatural being, probably a god, that looks like a normal guy, dressed normally for the age, but having black eyes. He is treated as the Devil in the official religion of the country, but he acts like your ally in the game. His only obvious interest is to have fun watching the chaos. For these purposes he gives you his mark and the gift of magic, which allows you to teleport, possess small animals and humans, summon a pack of ravenous pack of rats to devour your enemies and other fun things like that. The world if very interactive. You can, for example, take a random item like a bottle and throw it away. This would either unbalance your enemy, if you hit them directly, so you can deliver a deadly sword strike, or cause them to go to investigate the noise of the bottle breaking. One interesting option is to take the head of the enemy you have just beheaded and throw it into another opponent. Each level had hidden magical artifacts which you can find using a special Outsider device, a living heart with mechanical bits which you hold in your hand and that talks to you - told you, fun stuff. This usually prompts you to go out of your way to find said artifacts. The complexity of each stage is staggering. The first two stages I tried to play as completely as possible, which took me a lot of hours. After the first level ended I felt pretty good about myself. I had explored a lot of the map and I felt pretty smug about it. In the final summary of the mission I saw, to my chagrin, that I had found about half of all the valuable objects that I could have found. The rest of the missions I just breezed through, in order to see the ending. If I would have played this game as thoroughly as I possibly could, it would probably have accounted for many tens of hours of gameplay. Well, maybe it's me, but emergent gameplay is the coolest thing since fire was invented.

The devices you possess are old school enough to be a lot less effective than magic. You have your trusted one bullet pistol, which you must reload after each firing, you have your crossbow, which can fire darts, sleep darts or incendiary bolts, you have delicious bombs which, when triggered, fire a fast winding metal wire that cuts your enemies to pieces, grenades are always fun, and so on.

There are some issues which I had with the game though. It seemed to me that the magical spells were rather unbalanced. I cannot tell you how much they are unbalanced until I play the game again in another way, but it seemed to me that you absolutely needed to have Blink and Dark Vision and that the best offensive spell was the summoning of the rat pack. The rest were almost useless, at least by description: something that allows you to attack stronger and more enemies at once if you have enough adrenaline, something that allows you to possess animals, but there aren't that many animals in the game, and only partial possession of people, something that causes a gust of strong wind. Well, I will try them soon so I can tell you more in an update. Another thing that felt useless to me were the bone charms who gave me stuff that didn't really seem important. I did play the game on Easy, since I didn't have a mouse for the laptop, so that may explain my disdain of the things.

It is important to realize that the game has downloadable missions and content through Steam. This means the story can go on. I intend to explore this avenue. Also, after playing a second time I have to say that I was amazed of the option to not kill anyone the entire game. Even the assassination missions have ways of getting rid of the characters without killing them (even if their fates are usually worst than death). If you want to go that way, please always check that the unconscious victim is actually unconscious. Otherwise you end the mission with one or two dead people and there is no going back. One example is if you choke one guy, then let it fall with the head in the water. He dies even if you immediately remove him.

All in all I cannot recommend the game enough. Add to this that after you buy it, you also get extra chapters as downloadable content and, who knows, maybe they will allow the community to make their own chapters. It was just fantastic. Go play it!

I embed here an example gameplay from someone who is obviously more skilled than I am.

I have very fond memories of the games Star Control and Star Control 2, played on my PC when I was but a wee boy. They were DOS games released in and , respectively, and were absolutely marvellous: large universes, with many star systems, each of them with planets and moons; many alien species which were strange and funny and obnoxious; storylines that were both absurd and very captivating. I had a great time.

I want to open a parenthesis here and talk about the quality of games back then. Click here to hide the following rant, if you are not in the mood for it. I really have no idea how the PC game market was working in the US, but here in Romania, there were very few PCs, no Internet and the distribution of games (all pirated) was done via friends who would recommend and share what they thought was great. There were no walkthroughs, rarely any printed maps or special instructions (since they were not original games) and the only way to finish up a game was to actually play it. Sometimes it got frustrating enough that after hours of trying to find something, you would call friends and ask them what they did. I can only imagine that even in a country were they were a lot more computers and games were bought, rather than copied, the game play situation was similar. In other words, the relationship to the game played was personal: someone that you know and respect came to you and recommended the game. This was the only thing that made you play it other than seeing the cover in some window and feeling like you have to try it. Also, not having any Internet (or very little on it), you would not have access to many reviews and neither to game updates, if something was wrong in the game. And you also have to think of the state of affairs in software programming: every software firm was basically a gang of enthusiasts inventing and trying their own way in which to build software.

Yet, a lot of the games back then were great. Not all, maybe not most, but certainly the ones reaching me through "the grapevine", probably because the bad ones would be filtered away. One has to ask oneself how games back then required a number of hours of play orders of magnitude larger than present ones. How their stories had the complexity of movie scripts (often a lot better) and so much intricacies like alternate game modes, humour and so on. And the answer is, of course, the Internet. Once the gameplay is too complex, players swarm to online walkthroughs, often in video format, to tell them what to do. Atmospheric gameplay where one has to walk for hours to find something are considered antique and wasteful of time. And of course, if they are not social enough, they aren't even worth playing. The advertising is done via the web, with "stars" or other such whimsical method of rating a game, often resulting in simplistic orgies of graphical design with repetitive action as the only thing to do, humour provided by caricaturesque icons of birds or zombies.

That being said, as a software developer myself, I played The Ur-Quan Masters for only two days, using said walkthroughs and being nagged by the wife and dog for not spending time with them. I also had moments where I cursed the necessity to move towards a planet or a star by actually waiting until the ship got there, and often by manually controlling the craft to reach there. Also very annoying was to manually look for star names, until I downloaded the map from ... the Internet. So I am not just a geezer that hates the new, all melancholic about the past; the present has its boons... few as they are. Anyway, to the game!

In , ten years after its release, the makers of Star Control 2 made released the source of the game as open source. Maybe this should be heeded by other game and software makers: create a copyright licence that voids itself ten years after the release of the software. The world would be a better place! Anyway, some people decided to port that to different platforms, including Windows. Now I know that DOS and Windows are made by the same company and that the port sounds easy, but you should look at the bugs for this port like 'Not thread safe' or 'Not safe for 64 bits' and so on.

Accidentally I found out about this port for Star Control 2, called The Ur-Quan Masters. Why was the name changed? Because even as the source code was free to use, the name was copyrighted. Weird, right? I installed the latest version ( - you gotta love these open source versions that tend to reach 1.0, but never do - a bunch of perfectionists, all of them :-) ) and I couldn't start it. It threw an error no matter what I did. In their defence, I was trying to play it on an Athlon 2500+ processor running Windows XP (I know, geezer!). But I did manage to install and run version 0.6.2, which seems to be working on my machine. This is part of the motivation for writing this post, since I found no one on the Internet complaining about the same problem as me. I did try all the compatibility modes for it, BTW, and it didn't work. Maybe I should have tried running in Windows 98 (yes, I still have that installed as a secondary OS).

You see, the plot is that you are the descendant of an exploration mission that was never picked up from the planet they were supposed to investigate. They did find an ancient alien starship factory and managed to build just the skeleton of a ship to send you back to Earth to see what had happened. Getting there you find the Earth encased in an impenetrable shield with an orbiting station around it. The crew of the station tell you the story: alien race called the Ur-Quan came for enslaving all sentient races, won the war and gave earthlings two choices (well, actually three, if you consider total annihilation, but let's not get technical): join them as their slaves or relocate all resources to Earth and be trapped under the slave shield. Humans chose the latter. Now, your mission is to find alien races, make them join you in defeating the Ur-Quan and ... well, defeat the Ur-Quan. You have to do that by exploring amongst hundreds of stars, each with their own solar system of planets and moons. You get fuel and extra modules for your ship at the human station, but you need to bring materials (minerals) in order to get them. Minerals are gathered via manual missions to the surface of each planet and moon, while fires, lightning, earthquakes and alien lifeforms are attacking your landers. Aliens are diverse and most very funny: a cowardly race that speak like Italians, an evil spider race, a sexy race called the Syreen, warrior type race (that is weak and stupid), automatic probes that declare their peaceful intentions then attack you, mean spirited aliens that consider all harm done to you as a practical joke and so on. There is even an Emo race, although the term became popular a long time after the release of the game.

Oh, the memories! The vibrating music originally thought for PC speaker or maybe AdLib cards brought back feelings of old. The witty dialogues and the immersive nature of the game made me relive a lot of past pleasures. Unfortunately, as I was saying in the rant above, there was a lot of immersion that I really didn't want, like waiting for minutes to get from a star to another, then manually navigate to reach a planet or moon. I couldn't help thinking as a software developer and consider how I would have done the game - of course, online, in HTML5 and Javascript, and actually it wouldn't be so hard. Playing the game I realised how different the perception of time was then compared to now. It was obscene how much time I had back then, and completely devoid of responsibilities, too.

Well, because of the time constraints I quickly hacked the game, added infinite money and proceeded to finish the game using a map and a walkthrough. I also was unable to finish the game due to two bugs: one where the Spathi should have given me an Umgah Caster and did not, and another where the Mycon were supposed to go to Organon and did not. Even so, it took me two full days, about 16 hours of gameplay. Anyway, I was close to the finish and I did watch the ending on YouTube (how nouveau of me! :-( ) For the people that loved playing this game in the past, maybe you should try it again. Old memories often bring complexity to present perspective. And for those who did not know of this game until this post, maybe you should try it, see what people of old considered a good game, even if they played it on 33Mhz 386 PCs with 4MB of RAM and 120MB hard drives.

Also, there is another attempt for a port to Windows from the same source called Project 6014, for some reason. I think it stalled, but maybe it brings some surprises to the table.

I leave you with a YouTube video gameplay by some guy (frankly the first I did find) if you are unwilling to take the trek yourself.

I've had the opportunity to play these games on the work XBox and I just had to make the blog entry to compare them. The thing is that, even if some corporation wants DC Comics and Mortal Kombat to merge somehow, they are completely different both in concept and audience.

I've been a player of Mortal Kombat since it first appeared on PCs. Me and school friends were spending hours playing it (rather than go learn something useful, obviously). Even then - or maybe it is better said that especially then - it was clear that the game had soul, that someone really spent their time and love to make it. No matter who bought it and what they did to it, Mortal Kombat never completely lost that soul. You see, the game idea is clear: two players face each other in combat, they use different characters who have different abilities and in the end someone wins. Unlike other games that start off neutered by the present socio-political situation in the States, MK started off as brutal and bloody. You could use all kinds of magic and utensils to hit your opponent, chained combos and see lots of blood, but the hallmark of the game was that, in the end, after you have defeated your opponent, you had the opportunity to perform a Fatality, something that was truly gruesome like ripping their heads out with a bit of the spine, or cutting them in two or setting them on fire.

Now you will probably ask why has my sick brain made the connection between a brutal combat game and true love and having a soul. The thing is that the first MK started out with 8 characters, plus some bosses and hidden characters, then MKII has twice as that, and the various incarnations of the game saw up to 65 characters. And yet you will be hard pressed to find any major version where a player could not win with any of the characters against any other if they were good enough. That sense of balance shows the dedication of the developer teams that endured the various corporate transformations of Mortal Kombat.

The ninth version, Mortal Kombat IX, has a lot of characters, over 30, although some are DLC and make little sense in the Mortal Kombat universe, like Freddy Krueger or Kratos. Of course, you had to pay for them. Later on the Komplete Edition of the game had all the characters and all their skins available. Except for a little overpowering of Noob Saibot, MK IX was pretty balanced. The graphics were awesome, truly, and had various fatalities and X-moves - the super move one could execute with three bars of power, which showed anatomical X-ray like details in slow motion like cracked skulls and ribs. The only problem was the controller. I am a PC user and it took a long time to get used with the XBox controller and even more to understand how pressing forward would sometimes make my character jump up and backwards or some other thing like that. I know the controllers at work were pretty messed up, but I swear there had to be something to do with the programming as well. Also, as far as I could see, the game dropped frames. If you moved fast enough, the other player would have difficulty making their special moves, probably because some part of the data or processing was lost. But overall the game was great, the story was nice and the combination of different characters, skins and violence was delicious.

To make the transition easier, I will also mention another game, also featuring Mortal Kombat characters: Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe. It is an older game, launched in 2009. This weird crossover featured fights between the likes of Raiden and Shang Tsung versus Superman and the Joker. It is the last game made by Midway Games, the creators of Mortal Kombat and the first introduction of the "evil empire": Warner Brothers, who brought with them DC Comics. After that Midway went bankrupt and sold the rights to Mortal Kombat to WB. Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe had a bit of faux 3D movement, stage transitions (like punching someone through a wall and getting to another stage) and no fatalities. In fact, it had almost no blood, while the "powers" of the MK characters seemed oddly and randomly assigned (Shang Tsung had a punch teleport, Jax had a machine gun, etc). The playability of the game was OKish, with the major problem of in flight hits. One would jump toward an opponent, punch or kick and the character would stop in mid-air and perform the punch or kick there, which made it very unrealistic and static. Also, and that probably made it unpopular in the game room, it was unbalanced. Sonya Blade could kick everybody's ass just by jumping and kicking.

Enter Injustice: Gods Among Us, a game that is also made by NetherRealm Studios, who made Mortal Kombat IX, and also copyrighted by Warner Brothers. NetherRealm is actually what remains of Midway Games plus what remains of WB Games Chicago. In Injustice there are only DC Comics characters, the graphics are really good, a lot of stage interaction, flashy "social" statistics and "ranking", downloadable characters, obviously, and so on. The game play, though, total crap. Now, I may be very biased when it comes to Mortal Kombat type games, given by all love for the original game and concept, and I also understand that this wasn't supposed to be Mortal Kombat in the first place, but in my mind it represents everything that MK developers and players fought against. First, it has violence, but no blood. You get a lot of punches, kicks, explosions, object traumas like things falling on you, being thrown on you or through you (like arrows), only no blood. There are no parts of the body that get broken or smashed. It's like a good old fashioned cowboy brawl that results in someone saying "awwh, shucks!". Then there is the completely weird system of hits and blocks. You have to press Back to defend up and Down or Back-Down to defend down. Combine that with the fact that jumps are mainly vertical and so do not bring you closer to your opponent than walking, and you get a very asymmetrical game play where range fighters have to just run and shoot, while power characters have to dash a lot through bullets to get to their target. Even so, among similar type of characters there are huge differences. I would say that Deathstroke followed by Aquaman are by far the strongest characters, like lame-ass Green Arrow is a weakling. My favourite, Doomsday, had a lot of problems getting to anyone, even if it was supposed to be indestructible and on par with Superman. Well, they were on par in the game, Superman sucked, too. So: no blood, game imbalance and poor playability when there was obviously a lot of effort put into the shiny aspects of the game.

So you see, I had to write this post. Not because I didn't enjoy playing Injustice or because I think it is a bad game, but because it is like taking a cool 80's horror movie and turning into a 2010 remake that scares no one and can be played in cinemas to children. All Flash and no Meat, so to speak. MK is for gamers while DC games are for kids. All we need now is some Mortal Kombat game with parental controls on it. That being said, I can hardly wait Mortal Kombat 10! I hope they don't mess it up completely. As homework, you should try to read on the history of Mortal Kombat and of Midway Games. It's an interesting read. There was a really nice video with the developers of the first Mortal Kombat telling the story of the inception of the game, but I couldn't find it. Instead I leave you with the komplete :) history of the game from MKSecrets:

Ultima Underworld was and continues to be an inspiration as to how and why to make video games. I've played this as a kid, on a 386 PC computer, and was blown away. It featured simulated 3D with angles that were not straight and rooms of different heights. You could jump, use weapons in multiple ways (like jabbing or cutting with swords), there was discoverable magic, NPCs, interaction that went as far as having to learn a new language or play an instrument, numerous puzzles and an amazing story.

But that is not what made it great. You see, I am telling everyone I know that this was one of the games that defined my childhood and today I've read the Wikipedia article for the game and remembered all the history related to it and I realized that I needed to blog about it, too. What made this game great was that there was no need to make the game as good. Released in 1992, it only had to compete with Wolfenstein 3D which was released a few months after, anyway. At the time Civilisation and Dune II, Mortal Kombat and Street Fighter II were also amazing games, but none in the genre of Ultima Underworld. They could have worked less, released sooner and gained more money. But that's not what they did, they did something to be proud of and that is why the game was great.

At the bottom of this post I will place a YouTube video of gameplay. The synthesised sounds (no recorded sounds were used in the game) and music as well as the graphics will probably make you cringe now, but at the time, it was state of the art. Just hearing that music fills me with strong emotion that I can hardly realize from where it comes, but it is deep. Ultima Underworld has left its mark on me, but not only. Look at the litany of games their authors attributed influence to Stygian Abyss: BioShock, Gears of War, Elder Scrolls, Deus Ex, Vampire the Masquerade Bloodlines, Tomb Raider, Morrowind, World of Warcraft.

Amazingly enough, there was only a sequel to the game, Ultima Underworld II. The publishers refused to sponsor a third franchise and the developers ultimately decided to create a "spiritual successor", which was Arx Fatalis, also a great game. Younger people might only know Dark Messiah of Might and Magic, which has nothing to do with Might and Magic except financially, and is actually Arx Fatalis II. You can see even there that storyline and gameplay have suffered when a big corporate game company took the reigns, despite the high budget graphics and sounds.

I have voluntarily removed myself from the gaming scene. I've refused to upgrade my computer to a state where it can play any modern game and the only things I play are web games to pass the time between tasks at work. I am certain that even now there are exceptional people creating exceptional games that push the frontiers of technology, but more than that, the frontiers of imagination. I've heard of some of them: The Witcher, for example, a game made after a successful fantasy book series that features free play and allowing the character to be as bad, good or rotten as he wants, while the game shapes itself after his decisions. Look out for games like these. Even if you don't realize it, they will open your mind and your heart and will influence you to be better than you would otherwise be. They are not only games, but teachers. Love them!

There is a sentence hidden there inside the Ultima Underworld wiki page: the game is non-linear and allows for emergent gameplay. In other words, it let's you guide the story, change the game play, play multiple times with different outcomes. Embrace choice, it will only get better.

You have to excuse me, I've found this blog that I like, Ars Technica, and I can't seem to stop linking to stories there. This one is just funny: UbiSoft released their newest Assassin Creed game and, in a deluxe version, they included a bunch of extras, including the complete soundtrack for the game. However, when looking closer to the ID3 tags for the songs, it was discovered they were pirated versions, distributed on torrents after being taken from the collector's edition of the game.

There is a "theory" that piracy is enhanced by the fact that it is so easy to use pirated content and so damn annoying using the official, paid, version. So easy, it appears, that UbiSoft people found it more efficient to download the pirated version than to go through inner channels to get the songs. They essentially pirated themselves! If that doesn't make you smile a little, you must not be a geek :)

I have been waiting for this game for 12 years, just like everybody else, but not for the usual reasons. I like the Blizzard stories. I liked the Starcraft tales of the first game and I absolutely loved the Warcraft III plot. I was expecting something glorious this time. Well... I was kind of disappointed. The story is pretty linear, with cowboy characters and dialogues seemingly stolen directly from the propaganda in Starship Troopers.

But first, a word from our sponsors :). The campaign has a secret mission. Read about it before starting the single player game. So even if you have a Queen of Blades nagging you talking a walk around the base and buying her Xel'Naga artifacts, don't rush the Media Blitz mission. ;)

I have this old Sempron 2500+ with 1Gb of RAM. The game, at the lowest possible settings, was snail paced. One needs memory for this baby. I am not blaming Blizzard for my laziness in buying a computer, but it seemed to me that all the slowness came from reasons that could have been addressed. For example the game (as it should) remembers correctly every keystroke and mouse click in battle. However, in the HUD or in the game menu, one has to wait for the buttons to light up before clicking, and then keep pressing until the button lights up the second time. In game, the greatest slowness came from special effects that were not related to the game play. I understand a suspended nuke over a flowing lava fountain might exert the CPU of a computer, but the animation itself could have been scaled down to an animated GIF for crying out loud. The cinematic animations were pretty nice, and I loved how when I ran out of resources the film would not freeze, instead the characters would wait for the next part of the dialogue, breathing and moving their eyes. But still, since there is no interaction whatsoever from the user, can't you precache it into a movie? One that can be played on any computer and has the video in sync with the audio?
So yes, the game is running slow on my computer, but I feel that it could have worked a lot better with only some minor tweaks of the in game interface.

The in game interface is pretty nice, completely 3D and the map itself is 3D and some units (a precious few) can take advantage of that, like hopping jet packed soldiers or air-ground transforming machines called the Vikings). However, the game play is almost identical to the first game, so the 3D feels kind of pointless. There are camera zoom and rotation abilities, but the zoom out is limited to a pretty low setting and the zoom in is kind of pointless unless you have female units to properly look at :)

The units of the game are interesting enough. The old units have been morphed, replaced, removed, and new units were added. For the humans are multiple types of turrets, including machineguns on the bunkers, air units dropping turrets and a special mind control tower that permanently captures zerg units. The Goliaths are still there, but also a more heavy, ground focused Thor unit is available. There are multiple soldier units other than the Marines and Firebats, like hopping and grenade launching units. It is funny though, most human soldiers and vehicles are focused on attacking only ground units. The air units have been reinvented. There are small troop carriers that can heal units, really big Hercules troop carriers, the Battlecruisers have an upgrade that allows them to attack air units with missiles, the Valkirie is gone, but it was replaced by the Viking, a sort of transformer unit that can fly and attack air units or transform into a walking robot that attacks ground units. There are two types of science vessels and they repair mechanical units instead of firing EMP pulses. There are two types of ghosts, too.

The Zerg have been transformed, too, as well as the Protoss, but I can't really address this issue until I play some multiplayer games to see it from all perspectives. And yes, I guess you already know by now, but I will tell you anyway: after 12 years of waiting, you only get the human campaign. The Zerg follows, then the Protoss, probably in expansions to the game.

There is a mini campaign with the protoss, where any two templars (dark or light) can be morphed into an Archon, but I have seen no trace of the Dark Achon. I really loved that unit. I hope they didn't remove it. Also the zerg overlords need to transform into Overseers in order to be observers; they lose the ability to transport and to pour creep from the air (yeah, really cool) and instead have the ability to spawn banelings, creatures that attack ground units and transform into the same low level unit they encounter, like a zealot or marine or something like that. I know this because, while missing the Dark Archon, I really loved the human zerg capturing beacon tower :) I haven't seen any lurkers, either. I liked them, too. Instead there are some walking buildings that burrow in the creep and become normal ground turrets. Maybe that's the only way to build ground turrets now.

There were some real innovations to the game. The units that can hop to high ground is one of them. The way SCVs are repairing nearby structures and mechanical units without someone having to tell them to do it is something that I really liked. Also you can place a building over ground covered by your own units and they will just move out of the way. You also get useful alerts, like idle SCVs. I liked that as well. There is a special human building where one can call mercenaries, specialized unit squadrons that have extra health and deal extra damage. Also, in the story, there are research points that you earn and use them to select one of two choices in a list of pairs of technologies. For example you can choose to slow zerg units instead of capturing them with the beacon, you can choose stronger bunkers instead of machine gun equipped, etc.

That being said, there are still ridiculous ways in which groups of units interact. You can't easily tell a group of medics to accompany and repair a marine unit. If you select them all and attack, the medics will heal the marines, but if you tell them to move, they won't! If you select multiple air and ground units, there is no way to tell them to clump together. The air units will just go over and die, while the ground units use the scenic route. Units do move out of the way of other moving units, but only for a while, sometimes getting into infinite loops. As in the previous game, the forward line of an attack group doesn't know to move a little forward to let the back like be in attack range and heavily hit units don't really have any way to retreat while others are covering.

So yes, I guess one can enjoy the game as the one before, but I am the kind of guy who likes automatic transmission, cars that park themselves and, hopefully in the near future, drive themselves. I would have created an entire option panel that described how units ought to behave.

Now for the story. Spoilers alert! If you want to play the game and see the story unfold, stop reading!.

The sector is mostly occupied by humans. Mengsk has overthrown the government and became emperor, one that is even more brutal and oppressive than the one before. In the process he betrayed his partners: Jim Raynor and Sarah Kerrigan. Raynor is now the leader of the resistance, while Sarah Kerrigan was abducted by the Zerg, transformed into an infested version of herself and has since taken over as the leader of the Zerg, after the Protoss have destroyed the Overmind.

So Raynor is doing mischief trying to get to Mengsk, while the Zerg appear in the sector and start taking over human worlds. The Protoss couldn't care less. They occasionally purge worlds of Zerg (by destroying the entire planet, inhabited or not) or hold up in sacred locations, bent on stopping anyone from taking their precious holy artifacts.

You see, the Protoss are believers in the Xel'Naga, their creator gods. Well, what do you know? The Xel'Naga actually exist, they created the Protoss and the Zerg and now they are returning. Looking like hybrids of Protoss and Zerg, they have shields, they can heal really fast and can corrupt zerg units into becoming their slaves. Probably tired of waiting 12 years to get the second Starcraft game, they are pretty pissed and want to corrupt all the Zerg into destroying all life in the sector, then commanding them to kill themselves, thus ending all life.

Raynor is here to save the world so, with a little premonitory help from his friends Zeratul and Tassadar, he sees what the Xel'Naga plan and sees that the entire future depends on him NOT KILLING Kerrigan. She alone can do something against the Xel'Naga. We also learn that the Overmind was under the control of the Xel'Naga all the time and it created the Queen of Blades from Kerrigan as a solution to its enslavement, thus proving great courage. Poor Overmind :'(

Therefore, the purpose of this campaign is to get to the Queen of Blades and use an ancient Xel'Naga artifact to purge the Zerg out of her. Badly enough, Infested Kerrigan is not the sexy babe she was in the first franchise, instead she is some afro-mongoloid with bad skin and shiny eyes, so I was highly motivated to see her brought back to normal.

The story has three choice points, which can slightly alter the plotline. One is when the world where you relocated some humans you saved gets infested. Protoss units come to purge the world and you can have the choice of purging the world yourself or fighting the Protoss to stop them. Later on, one can choose whether to use Ghosts or Specters. Specters are a slightly insane version of the Ghost created by one of Mengsk's secret programs. Then, on Charr, you can choose to destroy the Zerg Nydus worms or their air units. I was also mentioning a secret mission, found if destroying a conspicuous building in the Media Blitz mission.

Obviously, I purged the humans and kept the spectres. I killed the Nydus worms, too, but I think that's clearly the more sensible solution when you have the capture beacons.

!!! Uberspoilers !!!

The campaign ends with Raynor untransforming Kerrigan, killing Tychus who has been sent to kill her, probably by some Xel'Naga influenced human group (I dare say it would have been stupid for Mengsk to ally with the Xel'Naga, but he is a likely culprit) and purging Charr of all Zerg.

Ok, there are also some cheats that can help you end the game faster. You won't get any achievements if you use them, but then again, you need to play the uncracked version to use achievements, so the hell with them.

You know when you are playing some famous game you get millions of pages discussing strategies and solutions to in-game problems? Well, if you think about it, all those pages could be brought together and bound in something like a book. Why not write StarCraft for Dummies or Professional Warhammer 40000? And with that in mind, how would you feel about a book whose entire purpose is discussing Pac-Man?

Curious yet? You can check it out here! It writes about the algorithms used in the game, the tips and tricks for playing, even the different personalities of the four killer ghosts! Everything complete with pictures, diagrams and YouTube videos!

I know, Might and Magic IX is an old game, but I haven't played it because, after being a HUGE fan of Might and Magic 1 through 5 I got really dissapointed with versions 6,7 and 8, which used 3D technology, but presented a lot less as the game story and playability was concerned. Then I played the tenth version, Dark Messiah of Might and Magic, which was a completely different game, more of an Arx Fatalis 2, rather than M&M 10. Not that it wasn't very very cool, just wasn't what I had expected from an M&M game.

Enter Might and Magic IX. From the start it looked less modern than versions 6-8, which prompted my friend to think that he played more recent versions of the game. It became soon apparent that it was an attempt to go back to the roots. The game was complex, the map large, the monsters inventive and the storyline pretty interesting. Also, they returned to the old solution of dungeons, where entering a place was moving you to a new map, rather than a small part of the larger one.

I loved every moment of it until close to the end. The cities at the end of the game had less stuff in them, less monsters around and of a more poor quality. I kind of expected that, since it must have been a long software project plagued by a release deadline in the end. However, when I had to spend hours trying to get around dungeons filled with powerful yet silly monsters just to get to the end, I got very bored. I actually did not finish the game, only about 95% of it.

The game had an unhealthy amount of undead creatures, which made Turn Undead a very useful spell. Unfortunately, I think it was a bit buggy. After a strong Turn Undead monsters continued to run, even if the spell wore off. Another really nice spell was Enrage, which allowed one to make monsters fight each other. Wizard Eye was a bit annoying, since it lasted a too short a time.

I recommend you check the character development tree (Druid, Healer, Lich, Gladiator, Assassin, etc) and decide from the very start which character in your party will be what. Pay extra attention to the promotions. You may be able to promote more characters in the same time, but then you are commited to that path with all of the characters. Try to build each character in a different class. Some allow for very powerful spells that one cannot learn or use otherwise.

I don't want to spoil anything, so I will let you play it and enjoy. I applaud the return to the old values of Might and Magic, even if those older games had a lot more brain and humour in them and this had a lot of braun. The ending was inconsistent with the M&M storyline so far which was disappointing.

Bottom line: greatest of the true Might and Magic 3D games, I wish I was young again and full of free time so I can play it without looking at the clock all the time. If you somehow missed it, do play it.