This extension adds a lot of functionalities to your lichess web site. It has so many useful and powerful features! I am very proud of it. The extension is always going to be free, ad-free, donation links free, etc. Yet the only way for it to do what YOU want is feedback. Any feedback! Praise, curses, bug reports, feature requests, use stories, anything. The more you tell me, the more I can improve on this!

  LiChess Tools (ver. 1.8) adds the following features to lichess:

  • play ALL variations in Interactive lesson study chapters!
    • computer is going to play a random move (configurable probability), so you don't need to create a chapter for every small variation
  • merge multiple PGNs in analysis import
    • I merged 1000 PGNs with 25000 moves and it worked!
  • automatically open/hide/convert to menu the Friends box at page load
    • having the friends box as a menu item is really neat
  • sound alert when one of your friends starts playing a game
    • also reading the type of game, so you know if you even want to look at it
  • ability to randomly play one of the next moves (with configurable probability in comments i.e. prc:66) with Ctrl-RightArrow
    • also go back with Ctrl-Left for convenience
  • highlights for the last move of variations (special case for the ones that have no comment and do not end in checkmate) in the analysis/study board
    • you immediately see not only where a variation starts, but also where it ends
  • highlights for the transpositions to the current move in the analysis/study board
    • you won't ever have to worry that you are analyzing the exact same variation but in a different order
  • changing the shortcut for playing the next best computer move from Space to Shift-Space
    • always annoyed me when I accidentally pressed the key
  • a minimum chess engine level
    • if it is idle in a lower state, it runs until it gets to that level
  • sticky Interactive lesson Preview mode
    • you can now play chapter after chapter without hassle
  • use keyboard shortcuts (i, m, b, Alt-i, Alt-m, Alt-b) for inaccuracies, mistakes and blunders
  • show player country flags next to their names
    • if they have their country specified in the profile
  • say verdicts aloud in practice mode
    • this is more of a gimmick, that's why it's disabled by default
  • show the order of circles and arrows in a study/analysis.
    • this is great when you want to understand the order of moves/hints
  • push TV game URLs in browser history and/or a new menu item to open the last viewed TV game
  • show opening name in TV and mini games
  • show history section in user TV (just like for category TV)
  • quick button to switch to your user and back in personal opening explorer
  • ability to remove players from the list in personal opening explorer
    • this was requested on the lichess forum and was implemented in the same day
  • copy to clipboard branch and continuations from a certain position in analysis/study
    • you can now just pick a variation, copy it in its own chapter, with just a few clicks
  • available languages: English and Romanian
    • ask for more! I will provide you with the English sentences and the context and you can tell me how it is in your language
  • now the options for the extension are in the lichess Preferences section
    • complete integration. The extension popup has no functional role anymore
    • this also means that I will be able to port this to other browsers with minimal effort. Ask if you want this!
  • move options from transpositions to the current position
    • soon the Extended Interactive Lessons will also be able to choose moves following from the same position, but in a different branch
  • automatically evaluate last moves in every variation and store it as a comment

  I couldn't wait to share it with you guys. I will be happy for any feedback, suggestions or help.

  I've started a series of use case blog posts, they might show you how to use the extension in real life:

Here are some screenshots, but they don't really tell you the story. You just have to try it.

Examples

I wrote a detailed post on how to build and use Interactive lessons, but there were always some annoying issues with the analysis board that I am striving to fix.

First, you had to add a chapter for each line. If you have a complex PGN with multiple lines you would have to split it into many small chapters. Not anymore! You can just play every variation in the chapter. For the possible moves that you have, all will be considered valid. For the possible moves of the opponent, one will be chosen at random. You can specify probabilities with the prc: notation that also works with the Ctrl-Right feature.

All the moves available in the PGN will be considered good, all others bad. For the moment I just assume that if you see a blunder on your move, you should not continue on that path, unless you want to see what's wrong with it.

You can also use Ctrl-Right in any analysis mode to move to one of the following moves. An extra option is to specify the probability that a move will get played. Let's say you created a PGN of the games of your nemesis, and they play 10% e4 and 90% d4. In your PGN add prc:10 and prc:90, respectively, to the comments on moves e4 and d4. It's that easy! And it works for any other analysis mode.

A good complement for the features above is the ability to import multiple PGNs and merge them into one. Now you can do that by simply pasting the entire text and importing it in the analysis PGN text area. I've improved the performance and fixed a few bugs in v1.7.4 which makes it possible to work with HUGE study chapters. The v1.8 feature automatically commenting last moves in every variation is also very useful in this scenario.

Another annoyance was that you opened one chapter to train, clicked on Preview and after that chapter, when selecting a next chapter, you would have to press Preview again. And again. And again. Now you have the option of "sticky Preview". The setting will stay put until you change it. Soon I will do the same with the threat mode.

Finally, you are working on a repertoire that is very complex. Your PGN has reached impressive sizes. Only now it is harder and harder to use it because you can't determine where the lines end. If you are like me, you like to continue a variation until mate or until there is a decisive advantage, which you will add as a comment. Now the last move of every variation will be slightly brighter and ending in a superscript L and, if not commented or ending in a mate, it will also be underlined with red.

You are looking at one of your games and you want to quickly cycle between inaccuracies, mistakes and blunders. Now you can do it with the keyboard. There is a separate extension for this, made by another guy, but I think mine is implemented better.

Finally, you want to relax, watch chess TV and you think you saw a great move somewhere. But suddenly one player resigns and before you realize it and click on the Analysis board button, the game switches to another. Now you can specify how long to wait before it switches and if you want the same for when watching a particular user TV. (The time feature has been removed, because it was hacky)

So what you do is any one of these options:

  • open the Watch menu and click on Last Viewed Game
    • this will take you to the last game you saw end
    • if you are already on the last game and you click on the menu item again, it takes you to the previous one
  • use one of the two games in the history area under the board
    • public TV already has this, but the extension adds the same thing to user TV
  • go back with the browser back button
    • note that there is a bug in Brave and perhaps other browsers where if you click on the Back button it takes you to the previous visited link, not a game, but if you long press you see the entire list of games and can choose one

Good luck using my extension. I am sure I am going to be tinkering with it a bit. Let me know of any problems you have with it.

Other ideas

Here is a list of ideas that I am not sure I want to implement or are just too new. The green ones are already implemented! The struck out ones will not be unless someone insists. If you feel you want them, give me a shout.

  • Studies/Analysis
    • key/button for random chapter (also after finishing an interactive lesson) 
    • the default probability of a next move should be calculated based on all the following branches (v1.8 takes into account all variations for 8 ply)
    • use Game Explorer to determine the probability of a move in a study chapter PGN and insert/update prc: comments.
    • use Game Explorer to determine the probability of moves that don't have a prc: comment attached.
    • show score (good/total moves) at the end of interactive lesson (v1.5.3)
    • sticky Thread mode (x)
    • sticky analysis moves on reload
    • automatically analyze with browser chess engine all the uncommented branch end moves in the PGN until a certain depth and write the evaluation as comment (v1.8)
  •  Transpositions
    • a button to show all transpositions in a PGN (moves that reach the same moves as others in the PGN) not only those for the currently selected move
    • a way to determine transpositions to moves in other chapters of the study
    • changing the arrow keys functionality to continue from a last move in a variation to transposition which has following moves
    • showing following moves from transpositions to the current position (v1.7.3)
    • make Interactive Lesson be able to choose from transposition moves as well
  • Shapes
    • show numbers on arrows and/or circles to show their order (useful when you want to express a plan and the order of moves is relevant) (v1.5.4)
    • additional shapes?
  • Friend playing alert
    • make only one sound alert regardless of how many lichess windows are open (v1.6.1)
    • disable alert for some types of games (like bullet or chess960)
    • also say the type of game they play (like "wgraif playing blitz") (v1.6.3)
    • select beep/voice for alerts
    • use the time controls vs the Event tag to determine type of game (also allowing for translation)
    • use notifications that work even when the LiChess page is not open and add a lot of extra functionality to the friend alert feature
      • There is a very nice extension for this called LiNotify. It does a lot for friend alerts and I doubt I would replicate their good work. Try to use that for extra alert features.
  • Fix LiChess bugs
    • "next chapter" button in a study doesn't always follow the chapter order if you manually reorder chapters in the study
      • it happened once and then I couldn't reproduce it anymore. Maybe it's not real.
    • chess engine still on when entering Preview mode in Interactive Lessons, even if not visible (v1.5.3) 
    • if you premove in Practice mode or move too fast, you start to get verdicts for the computer move
      • I really tried to fix this, but the functions called (makeComment, comment) are private and I could not replace them. Anyway, practice mode is a mess! 
    • the output of the game explorer API contains duplicate JSON output (try changing the current move in the FEN parameter and see the difference)
      • that's purely a server bug, cannot be solved by LiChess Tools.
    • when you finish an Interactive Lesson and you press the Analysis Board button, the wrong moves you tried to make are in the PGN, but if you try to do anything with them, the PGN resets and they disappear
      • fixed by LiChess Tools v1.5.3. If LiChess developers want to know how to fix it, it's that setGamebookOverride() functions differently from setGamebookOverride('analyse').
  • Move speed alert
    • alerts when you take too long for a move
      • there is at least another extension for this, but for Chess.com, where Levy Rozman and Hikaru Nakamura soundbites are thrown at you if you are too slow :)
      • I don't really think people would use sound options too much, so how about a configurable system that would make your clock puff up or something when you take too long?
  • go to game analysis after your games (or maybe the one you are watching) end (useful to force you to analyse your games instead of stubbornly hunting for a win)
    • I find this a bit too forcing, but then again, you could disable it
    • Also there is another extension that does this
  • Search games
    • download all of a user's games from a certain position, search games based on specific moves, certain positions, certain fragments of positions
      • This requires a lot of hacking, since the LiChess APIs do not expose this functionality. I am afraid that would be tantamount to abusing those APIs.
  • Game explorer
    • Use game explorer to make all first N moves for M levels from the current position (perhaps also automatically add prc: comments)
  • Import games
    • since analysis PGNs have a maximum number of moves before they don't accept more, import just "first N" moves when import/merging PGNs in enhanced import.
      • limit for PGN import removed in v1.7.4
    • when merging games, find a way to calculate the percentage of that move and automatically add prc: comments
  • TV
    • specify the time between switching to a new game in TV mode
      •  v1.6 removes this functionality on account of it being hacky and unstable
    • instead of delaying switching from a game to another, how about a history back/forward mechanism?
      • the game URL in put browser history, accessible by the back button (v1.5.5)
        • note that the Brave browser has a bug that requires you to long press the Back button to see the list of games
      • a menu item in the Watch section goes to the last viewed game (v1.5.7)
      • user TV should have a history section like the category one (last two games by the user as mini games) (v1.6.1)
    • how about an extended TV feature, where you can filter and sort which games to watch, or watch only your friends' games, you can switch if you don't like the current one, etc?
      • really, I am thinking of leaving TV as it is unless someone comes with a good reason to tinker with it more
    • add Game Explorer interface to TV games
      • I think this might overload the system.
    • show opening name in TV game (v1.5.7) and in mini game popups (v1.5.8)
    • double click on squares to add their coordinates to chat
      • can use the shapes to translate them into text when created
    • option to bookmark game and see the game link (v1.6.6)
  • General
    • global on/off extension button that doesn't involve disabling it from the browser extensions page 
    • a low API call mode in which calls are throttled or not made (maybe set it automatically when receiving 429)
    • add all texts and voice messages injected into LiChess website to a siteI18n object that can be used to translate them according to language and use the current language for voice prompts (v1.6)
      • I will not do the translating myself, I expect users that care about this to come with their own texts (see the JavaScript object lichessTools.siteI18n) 
    • an event log that you can open with a click
      • sometimes people don't want distractions like alerts and other stuff, but want to see what happened while they were away
    • a focus mode button (do not disturb with alerts while this is on)
      • maybe set it to on automatically when playing
    • move options to the lichess site Preferences (v1.7)
    • add more languages (Romanian v1.7)
  • LiChess forum requests
    • challenge log - a log of who all I challenged and who challenged me for a game will be a nice touch
    • hide/show/move friends box - a menu item that allows that? Drag the box around?
      • now you can also choose to hide the friends box (v1.5.8)
      • idea to move the friends box as a menu item (v1.6.4)
    • a game source tab for yourself in game explorer (v1.5.8)
    • remove some player names from the list in personal Opening Explorer (v1.5.8)
    • right click on a variation to copy it to another chapter (or as a PGN) (v1.6.1)
    • option to rename/reorder study tags
      • there are no APIs to change topics for studies you don't have open. I don't think I can do anything.
    • add Stockfish analysis to live TV games (could enable cheating)
    • option to disable rematch requests from other players
      • something similar: don't receive rematch requests a configurable amount of time after playing them
    • show possible game continuations from the correct move in Learn From Your Mistakes
    • bug fix: import a game as a study chapter, rename the chapter, then save the study PGN. The Event pgn tag does not change
      • this may actually be construed as a feature not a bug. The imported chapter will have the original Site PGN tag, which can be edited in the Tags section. New chapters have no such tag and create it from the chapter title.
    • import PGNs in studies with the content of the Event tag as the chapter name, if present
      • tried it and it works for one PGN, but if you paste more, all other chapters are going to be generated with default names. Tried various things, but tags are not easily accessible. In the end, it's easier to just select the chapter, copy the event tag name and edit it into the chapter name.
    • chat improvements:
      • automatic replies to standard texts (that are already configurable from the settings to be sent automatically)
    • bookmark puzzles and forum posts (similar to how you can do it for your own chess games)
      • TV games can be bookmarked now (v1.6.6). Unfortunately you can only bookmark a valid game. I could create a local mechanism (browser local storage) to bookmark everything else, or a dedicated server for this, but both seem overkill and yet not enough.
    • allow your friends to watch what you are watching or to set up a viewing for multiple people of the same game
    • a resize handle for the analysis move list in order to better visualize branches (would work great on very large screens)
    • allow study creators to decide if the order of the chapters is random and how (a new Next Random Chapter button would be added to the existing one or replace it altogether)
  • Bugs to fix
    • copying the PGN from a move when the game started from a specific FEN position gives you an unusable PGN. It should retrieve not only the moves, but also the initial FEN position as a PGN tag. (v1.6.6)
    • sometimes the voice for the friend playing announcement is not heard, only the beep.
    • the first White move in an Extended Interactive Lesson is always from the main line, ignoring branches when playing as Black. (v1.8)

Q&A

Q: Can you publish your extension code on GitHub?
A: Yes, I could. Probably I will be starting with version 2, which will be a rewrite of a version 1 that has been in use for a while and that people have given me feedback for. As much as I like sharing my code, I really don't want to have to deal with all the GitHub complications right now.

Q: If your code is not on GitHub, it doesn't exist! Also, I looked at your code and it sucks balls!
A: That's not a question. And I agree. But right now I am focusing on features, not quality control. Wait for V2.

Q: How do we contact you with new ideas, bug reports and general roasting of your coding skills?
A: Use this post. This is my personal blog and my preferred method of communication. On top-right you can see a lot of links to various methods of direct communication with me, although I would prefer thoughtful feedback to remain documented here, as comments.

Q: I am addicted to LiChess Tools and I am afraid later on you will fill it with ads, premium features and EULAs that allow you to remove my kidneys. Can you address my fear?
A: Like everything on this blog, it will always remain free. And not free as in "until someone else buys it" or free as in "watch videos and it's free" or free as in "I will fill your screen with junk", but completely utterly free. Like LiChess, I guess. Also, it doesn't connect to any external services or capture any user data. For now! Muhahahaha! Later on it might need some external services for extra features that you ask for, but I hope it doesn't.

Q: How long did it take you to write this?
A: Mostly a week. Following the 80/20 rule, now I have to work at least one more month to make it good.

Q: You should write a tutorial on how to use it. Could you make a video of it?
A: I am not a video person. I hope that this post can convey the basic ways in which to use the extension and that the extension itself can be used without the need of a tutorial. Let's work together to make this clear and easy to use for everyone instead.

Q: Your Extended Interactive Lesson feature is all I had ever wanted from life! But when I am editing the study, I get the same interface as normal studies. Can you fix it?
A: Some parts of LiChess are easy to change, some not so much. Anything related to rendering is a mess to hook to. Additionally, I wouldn't want to have studies that can only be edited and used with my extension.

Q: So how do I mark the good branches from the bad variations?
A: Any branch that is not in the study will be bad. Same as a normal Interactive Lesson. As for the ones that you want to explore specifically, use the annotations (Mistake, Blunder, Brilliant Move, etc) and comments. You can even explore the bad branches in Preview mode this way and learn why they would be bad.

Q: Can you add features to show me what moves to make while playing?
A: LiChess Tools is not a cheating tool.

Q: But can you add some features that don't involve cheating for the games that I am playing/watching?
A: Most of the features of LiChess Tools are analysis oriented because analysis is much better exposed than the game code. Because there are a lot of private variables that are not made accessible, it's difficult to selectively change parts of the game interface and any features would have to brutally copy paste and replace some legitimate code bits. I am afraid that until that changes on LiChess, I will not touch that part, mostly because that means I would have to keep score on what they change on the web site and update my extension accordingly.

Q: How about changing the way LiChess looks?
A: I am not a good visual designer, nor do I do a lot of work on web frontend. There are some extensions that are doing that and perhaps you should ask those people for help instead. Also, I am avoiding as much as possible changes to the visual elements of the website specifically because it might interfere with some such extension or custom CSS tool. BTW, if you are working on something like that and find LiChess Tools is interfering with your stuff, let me know. We can figure things out. 

Q: OK, you're my new hero. How can I help?
A: Contact me and let's talk. I despise doing anything UI design related, as evidenced by this blog and the extension popup, so maybe you can help there. Also, not a specialist in browser extensions, so any improvements and/or help with other browsers would be welcome.

Q: Yeah, but I can't code. How can I help?
A: Help me by making this extension well known. I don't want "marketing". Just let people know and if they like it, they will use it. Can't use it if they don't know about it, though, and I am always afraid people think I am spamming them when I try to advertise my work.

Q: I use LiChess in my own language and the new features are jarring in English
A: I've implemented the translation mechanism, but I need the texts for the various languages. If you provide them, I will make them available. See the JavaScript object lichessTools.siteI18n for the texts requiring translation.

Q: Chrome sucks! Microsoft sold out! Can you make this work for my favorite browser?
A: Short answer: no. Long answer: if I had assistance with extension code and testing, perhaps. I want to help people, so the more the merrier, but I also don't have a lot of resources to maintain code on a browser I don't use.

A: That's not my bug, it comes from LiChess. They have bugs, too.
Q: How could you possibly have answered before I asked the question?

Q: Did you actually think people were going to read this far down?
A: No.

Q: I told about this to all my friends, I came with feedback and constructive criticism and it feels like you ignored me. What gives?
A: For sure I want to take everything into consideration and act on requests as fast as possible, but it might be that I am caught up with something else. I thoroughly intend to give the extension as much attention as possible, so maybe make sure I got your message, first.

Hope it helps!

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  Only after downloading 11 GB of game, playing for a few minutes and uninstalling it in frustration, then searching the web, did I understand Chess Ultra is a Switch game designed to work in VR. For a PC game, though, where I was playing it, it was a slow bloatware that lead to a 404 page when you wanted to switch the chess board style.

  Imagine coming from Lichess and trying to make sense of something that requires so much space to function, has only 3D pieces and uses all of your video card to display a chessboard and some coffee on a table. It was unbearable. Perhaps it would work on a Switch console, with VR glasses, if you want to enter the mood of playing over the board in a smoky chess room, but I have no idea who would want that.

  And then I looked on the Internet to see what other people were saying and everything was great! Oh, the multiple options, the varied puzzles, the recreations of classical games. Jesus, that's basic chess web site functionality! And "critic ratings" are 85% while the normal people rate it at about 60%. Really? Am I crazy for thinking it's a badly constructed game? I hated it.

  

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  Submerged: Hidden Depths is one of those relaxing games that require no effort and no skill. You control a couple of unreasonably athletic teens in a future time in which the world is covered in water and strangled by a huge vine-like plant. The two youngsters travel on a boat, retrieving and returning the plant's seeds so that it won't be angry and discovering on the way relics of Earth's past and journals that explain what went on. Each stage is almost linear, easy to go through, devoid of danger and marked in multiple ways so that you don't have to think your way out of anything. In other world, it's a visual feast of a fantasy world in which you just discover stuff.

  At first attracted by the concept, since I usually enjoy the story, exploration and discovery part of RPGs much more than the fights, I got bored rather quickly. It's the same thing again and again, even if "the world" is practically a small sandbox. I liked the design, although the graphics are really simplistic. The occasional proto language words they use are fun and the soundscape puts you in the mood.

  What turned me off a bit is that occasionally the video card would throw an error and I would have to forcefully close the game and start it again. Also, there are ways to skip the animations, which is good, but it skips the good parts as well.  There is one of the most satisfying activities around: finding relics, where the repetitive animation of the boy throwing an anchor and pulling it back gets rather old, but the "strange things" they recover, like typewriters and sextants and so on, it's new every time. And of course when you skip the animation you skip the entire thing, not just the repetitive part. Such a small thing to think about and fix and they wouldn't do it.

  Every time you save a seed there is a storyline that gets advanced and at one time I saw a large black vine hand coming out of the water. I said "We're gonna need a bigger boat!" so I collected all boat upgrades first and stopped saving seeds until I understand the journals, but the upgrades just add extra boost to the boat and the journals are mostly in the seed parts, so not something particularly satisfying. I am going to continue to play it to the end, because sometimes I just feel to turn my brain off, but other than that it feels more like a demo than a full game.

  Playing hint: if you don't like the weather (fog, rain, whatever) you can just save and return to the menu then continue the game and it starts from a sunny mode again. Same if you get stuck in the map and can't move.

  In the end I've completed the game. The ending was quite underwhelming.

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Ancient Enemy is one of those card games that abstract a journey of discovery and battle. You charge your magic by playing Solitaire "combos", then fire at the enemy. The choices you make on your journey don't matter at all, they are just levels to pass through that barely differ from each other. That's the entire game!

So why did I play it? Well, because the sound and the texts that my character was "saying" were intriguing. Ironically enough, the game had a "Skip story" button, when in fact that was the only thing that interested me - I wanted a "Skip game" button. Alas, the end of the journey was a complete let down, with a generic enemy that presented no challenge and a blunt and uninspired story ending.

Honestly, when I was playing it I thought: anybody can make games and sell them if this is a Steam game that people pay money for. Just look at the official site of this 2018 game: it looks like it was made in 2000.

Bottom line: fascinating how soundscape can make even the most boring games hold one's interest. Here is a gameplay video:

[youtube:dcglX1KP4XQ]

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  Recently I've been to Madeira, a Portuguese island colony with a powerful blend of nature, culture, feudal interests and overall corruption. The game Alba: A Wildlife Adventure made me feel like I was back!

  First of all, this is a game that was clearly done with a lot of heart. Every aspect of the gameplay is fun, positive and well crafted in all the things that matter. After playing the game, not only was I happier and more content, but I felt refreshed by imagining the pride the creators must have felt designing and finishing development. There is NO sense whatsoever of cutting corners, trying to money grab or following any political agenda (other than wildlife conservation, if you count that one). In spirit, it reminded me of the Sierra Entertainment Games.

  The plot is also very refreshing: you are playing a little girl who has grandparents interested in nature and which inspired her to care about life as well. Returning to a fictional Spanish island of her early childhood, Alba will clean up the island, photograph all kinds of animals, help them survive and thrive and fight commercial interests that threaten the island's wildlife. It is a casual gameplay - to the point that whenever you don't find something you are looking for, it means you just have to end the day and it will magically appear in the future for you - in which you explore a lovely island filled with birds, beautiful flora and tropical climate.

  What amazed me most was that there are 51 species of animals portrayed in the game and every one of them is behaving like the actual live species. The walk, the flight patterns, the speed, the sounds, they are all very precise (in the confines of a pretty simplistic graphical interface). Then there are the little things like when you have to make a yes/no decision you use the mouse to bob the head vertically or horizontally. There are no places where your 3D character gets hung up in some wall or caught between obstacles or  seeing/passing through objects. Even the interaction with objects take into account where the player is looking, it's not just a lazy area effect where you can just move around and press the action button aimlessly.

  Another nice thing is that I can imagine small children playing this game and feeling inspired and empowered, while at the same time adults understand the ironic undertones of some of the scenes. Stuff like the little girl gathering garbage from the ground and putting it in the bin, then talking to a native of the island sitting on a bench nearby and complaining about random stuff. Or everybody condescendingly commending the girl for her efforts, but mostly doing nothing to help. Or even phrases like "oh, yeah, it was a great idea to fix the stairs. Why didn't I do it before? Oh, well, it's good you did it".

  The only possible complain I might have is that the game is pretty linear and the replay value is small to nonexistent. But for the few hours that it takes to finish (which was good for me since I am... married  ), it was refreshing and calming.

  I admit, I am not a gamer. This might be just one of a large category of similar games for all I know, but I doubt it. I worked in the video game industry and I am willing to bet this game is as special as I feel it is. I warmly recommend it.

  Here is the gameplay trailer for the game:

[youtube:a-Eu9WE3grA]

  As always, everything that is on this blog is free, including my ideas. If anyone wants to implement it, I am not asking for anything, although a little credit would be nice. It might already be out there, for all I know.

  This is a game idea. It's a multiplayer game of chess, assisted by computer engines. The interface is a chess board and a number of button choices holding the best N moves as found by a chess engine. Possibly the choice of opening should be slightly different, but the MVP product is just that: computer suggests N moves and player choses one. Making a choice will show the move on the screen, tapping the button again will send it to the server.

  It would be a more casual way of playing chess. Moreover, it would train players to choose between candidate moves, which is a secondary skill. The more difficult part of playing chess is finding candidate moves and usually most effort goes into it. This way, the computer takes care of that and lets the player focus on learning how to spot the better move.

  The advantage for the game builder is that they get a database of how humans (at specific levels) select the moves. Next step is to create an AI that can consistently choose between candidates just as a human would. This can then be added to any existing chess game to provide a more human feel, regardless of the underlying chess engine.

  The game could be played against the computer from the very beginning, by altering the probability to choose between top moves based on the supposed chess level. At maximum level the best move will always get selected, while at lowest level the choice will be completely random (but still pretty good, because it will only choose between top N moves).

  Choosing the opening from a list by name could also be interesting, and showing the player the most common replies and what the plan is. Perhaps the number of candidate moves could be a game parameter, so both players agree to play six candidate move game, but others would go for three.

  The interface is simple enough for people to play it on any device, including with a remote on a Smart TVs or on small screen devices.

  Implementation should be relatively trivial. Open source chess engines like Stockfish are available for most major programming languages, including JavaScript. It is the interface that requires most work. Perhaps the possibilities for optimization are the most interesting, as development goes, having a cache of common positions and the top moves, for example.

  Drawbacks include not being able to follow a plan, assuming the computer doesn't give you the choice to move in a direction you worked for. Also, the computer analysis should be consistent over devices, not giving an advantage to more powerful ones. That means both players waiting for the amount of time that analysis takes on the slowest device on the same number of plys.

  There are single player game modes (training) that can be added:

  • play the best move - choose the best move from the four presented
  • find the top moves - a position is presented and the player must make the top moves. When a move is found, points are given. When a move is wrong, points are removed.
    • yes, this requires actually moving pieces, which would not be "on brand"
  • find the best pieces - pick the best piece for either player in equal positions 

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  BTW, if you are a player of the game, leave a comment. I would like to meet the people I play with.

Intro

  For me it is strange that Kogama Battle isn't a more famous game. I am searching for it on the Internet and no one talks about it. And it's too bad, because it has all the hallmarks of a great game: flexibility, action, strategy, team play, accessibility.

  KB is a browser 3D shooter game. The 3D models are very simple and require little resources, but the network code is pretty good. There are two teams, Red and Blue, each starting from their own "castle". The two castles are three floors high and separated from each other by a water moat in which there are some islands to hop on. The purpose of the game is to reach the flag that is found in the other basecamp. Sounds easy, and it is. But there are so many different ways to win the game, that it becomes extremely amusing to play, if you have people who know how to play it on both sides.

  In this post I will:

  1. enumerate the different strategies for winning
  2. talk about what is good about the game
  3. talk about what is bad about the game
  4. list the items one can use in the game
  5. conclusion

How to win

1. Open the gate

  The obvious way to finish the game seems to be getting the key to the enemy castle (which lies on your side of the water) and carry it to the gate. You have to do this 10 times, then the door opens, allowing access to the enemy flag.

  Counter measures:

  • shoot the enemy as they get the key (either directly or shooting at the target stuck on the platform where the key is, which makes the entire platform explode and kill anyone there)
    • you can use the firewall, too, but it's pretty useless
  • after they open the gate, go to the enemy side, get the key and take it to your gate (applying the key to an open gate closes it and sets the counter back to 10)
    • this of course means your team must defend the flag from the people who entered the base
  • use the builder gun to cover the inside of the gate so that the enemy cannot immediately enter the base
    • the enemy might counter this by shooting a bazooka at the gate before they open it

  The greatest fun here is to get to the enemy side and steal a key when your gate counter is very low, then enter the castle and wait on the top floor. When the enemy has succeeded to open the gate you jump from above and immediately close it. Combined with the builder gun barricade, it makes for great satisfaction to foil your enemy.

2. Use the back door

  On the left side of the stairs to the gate there is a block out of place. It is a hint that you can do something with it. Shoot at it (and the next four blocks) and you open a tunnel to the enemy base. You can only go through it by using the shrinking pill, which means you can penetrate the enemy base, but unarmed and having to wait until you grow back again.

  Counter measures:

  • use the block gun to ... err ... block the tunnel from the inside of the base. Since the enemy is shrunken, they cannot shoot through it
    • there is a way for the enemy to destroy the blocks inside, as well as any defenses, and that is to temporarily switch team. Obviously, this is a form of cheating and only assholes use it, but it adds an element of "sabotage" to the game.
  • kill the tiny enemies, preferably with the flamethrower, when they emerge helpless from the tunnel :)
    • this wastes the resource of a person, but it is fun

3. Come through the window

  One can use the block gun in a variety of ways to gain access, but this is almost like it was designed like that. You need to make a stair like structure with the block gun that leads from the shrinking pill outside to the defense window above. Then, shrink yourself and enter the enemy base through the window, just like with the tunnel.

  Counter measures:

  • use the block gun to block the defense window on the pill side
    • the enemy can destroy that block easily, though, so it must be periodically checked, from outside and inside
  • kill the tiny enemies when they enter the window
  • destroy the blocks as they build the stair

4. Any other way of using the block gun to get to the enemy side:

  • jump and shoot a block under you, creating a column that pushes you up and allows you to get in the enemy base from the top floor
  • attach blocks on the walls of the map and create a bridge to get from one side to another
    • warning, when you create a bridge, the enemy can use it as well
  • shoot from your base to the other base so that there is a bridge created from the enemy base to the central suspended platform, then use the underwater teleporter to get onto the bridge
  • any type of ladder on the enemy base that allows you to get to the top floor

  Counter measures:

  • be vigilant and destroy the block structures constructed by the enemy (a bazooka is most effective)
  • kill enemies that manage to get in the base

5. Ugh! Rocket jumps

  Someone played Quake when they were young and they implemented the same thing here. In my opinion the bazooka is the worst item in the game, killing people after three shots, but destroying a lot of blocks and allowing rocket jumps. It holds 12 shots! I personally believe that people should be ashamed of themselves for using rocket jumps in Kogama Battle, because they are completely screwing the flow of the game.

  That being said, using a bazooka one can reach the other side's flag in less than 30 seconds.

  Another type of jump is pistol jump. I only saw it done once and it looks like a rocket jump, but without getting damaged, which is really dumb to have been allowed. I think you might need to have a jump bonus for this to work. Ugh, bonuses!

  Counter measures:

  • the only real solution is basing someone inside the flag room, armed with a flamethrower or a machine gun, ready to kill the attacker, who should be wounded from the rocket jumps
    • having health around in the base doesn't really help, though
  • some block structures can be erected to deter some sorts of rocket jumps, but it is a trivial matter to destroy them with the same weapon used for the jumps
  • use a sniper to hit them before they rocket jump to your base, which is pretty enjoyable, especially if they have a health bonus and thus die not from your sniper, but from their own jump

6. Team work

  Playing within a common strategy with other people is the fastest way to win in a satisfying manner. Even unlocking a gate takes just a few minutes with people defending the key bearers and having at least two of those. Once a gate is open, there is almost no way to defend the flag from incoming enemies and a strong team can stop anyone from grabbing the 11th key to close the door.

7. Use blocks to guard your flag

  This is more a way to prevent loss, rather than promote a win, but it's necessary. The strategy here involves blocking the way to the flag with blocks. If placed well, they will stop the enemy while the lava wall burns them or force them to fall into a lava pit. Just blocking the entry to the flag room is not enough, usually it takes at least 5 levels of walls. The walls don't need to cover everything from top to bottom, just to stop the movement of the enemy. Sometimes leaving holes in the walls lures enemies thinking there is a way through without having to shoot the blocks out.

  Usually this strategy is essential to delay enemies that opened the gate while you run to close it. Then, press K, which commits suicide, and chances are you will be respawned in the base on the top floor, ready to kill whoever is there.

8. Cheating

  I already said that rocket jumps are shameful, but even worse is switching teams to sabotage because you can't play the game properly. One can do that, and forever lose any self esteem, to use it to destroy block defenses or gain information

The good

  As you can see from above, there are multiple ways to play this. If you play beginners you can even harass them in their own base or write insults with the block gun in their own base, rather than end the round by reaching the flag. There are strategies, counters and counter counters, and they all change based on the composition of the teams. It is the thing that makes it so fun for me. Even for people who only care about shooting, one can be a sniper, a machine gunner, an akimbo shooter, using a flamethrower or a bazooka or a shotgun. People can play offense, defense, or both. There are a myriad ways to use the block gun to do all kinds of things.

  It's a browser game! Just open the page and play! The game moves smoothly, even if sometimes you see people skipping if they have a network issue. It is a shooter, but you don't need special skills to play it. I personally play it with the little laptop dongle on the keyboard (which also makes me unable to shoot while moving, a strange side effect of using the dongle in web games that I can't explain)

  The game is also as short as you want it. I have played 30 minutes rounds protecting the base alone against ten enemies and finished some in 2 minutes.

  There is no chat! Actually there is, but no one uses it because it is an option you have to sign in for. You can do this only on the Kogama web site, but most people play Kogama Battle on other servers. This means no one can shout abuse at you or explain to everybody how things are done or collaborate with the team (unless they use some other channel like a Discord chat) and log in together.

The bad

  The rocket gun! It is so unlike any other item in the game. It destroys everything in its path, except actual players. Carefully crafted block structures are blown away in a second. It holds 12 rounds of ammo! And it allows for rocket jumps. People who rocket jump should be dead when they land!

  The flamethrower. It is a very nice weapon, but has low damage and no lasting flame damage. When you stop shooting it, the damage stops. That's not how flamethrowers work.

  There is no chat! I know this is a good thing, but it is also a bad one. Many a times people who have no idea how to play the game (or trolls) grab a bazooka and start to destroy the defenses trying to get to their own flag! A special kind of person (that is amazingly common) comes and uses the block gun to cover the lava pits so that the enemy can get to the flag better. And they don't even intend harm, they just want to reach the flag and are scared of jumping, I suppose?

  Bonuses. There is a way to get some small perks for the game, like extra life, extra jump, extra speed. I don't know, I never used them. It spices things up, but it also breaks the rhythm of the game. With an extra hit points bonus you don't get instakilled by snipers and you can rocket jump with impunity. I think they are shameful.

  The firewall. Each base has a platform that triggers a wall of fire in front of the gate when a person sits on it. The fire doesn't stick, the damage is low and one needs just the smallest amount of time to use the key to unlock the gate. The firewall, as it stands, is useless.

  The two sides are not created equal. Differences in how blocks stick to the gate, the size of the lava wall and some random blocks on the lower level makes the red side better than the blue one.

  Team inequality is also a problem. One can switch team at any time, join the bigger team, switch again.

Items in the game

Weapons:

  • shotgun
    • fires slowly and in a limited range, but is very powerful. 
    • kills someone in two or three shots, depending on distance
  • flamethrower
    • continuous fire and limited range, medium damage, fires through walls
    • as discussed above, it looks cool and it can be found in a more accessible area of the base, but it's usually less effective than a shotgun
  • akimbo revolvers
    • strange weapons that push you back (no other weapon does that) making aiming difficult, medium damage
    • they are placed outside, good for quickly picking up and destroying blocks or shooting at platform triggers
  • machine gun
    • fires fast, low damage bullets, lots of ammo, pushes people back
    • perfect for pushing someone of a ledge or for defending the base, as it disrupts enemy movement a little
    • good for destroying blocks
  • sniper
    • very high damage, usually kills in one shot (see bonuses)
    • only 5 shots and it needs a long charging time before shooting
    • doesn't affect blocks
  • bazooka
    • destroys blocks easily on a large area, the explosion pushes the shooter (but not the target), needs three shots to kill a player
    • blast also hurts user, but not your own team
    • explosion has area damage that goes through walls as well
    • nasty and stupid weapon :D
  • life gun
    • a weird and kind of useless contraption
    • when fired at an enemy, it sucks away their life, but once stopped, life jumps back to the initial level
    • when used at an ally, it gives life to them, maybe also temporarily. I've never used it.
    • maybe it has a different hidden use as well?
  • block gun
    • fires blocks of destructible stone that can attach themselves to walls or other blocks
    • can be used to defend against bazookas, as placing a block in front of the shooter will make them hurt themselves (even if they are your own team, like for trolls)
    • pressing long will destroy blocks and return them to you

Map features:

  • teleporter
    • there is one in each base lower level that leads in and out and can only be used by the base team
    • there is a neutral one under water which leads to a suspended ledge above it
  • trigger
    • it is a platform that triggers something when someone stands on it
    • there is one in each base to trigger the firewall
    • there is one outside each base, invisible, left of the staircase, sounding an alarm every time someone steps there (announcing a possible tunnel breach)
    • there are triggers on the key platforms, ringing when someone is on them
  • key
    • on each side of the water there is a key that opens the gate on the other side
    • the key is located upon a platform that has a target trigger attached to it
    • takes some time to respawn
    • if you are killed when carrying one, the key is dropped for a few seconds, permitting a team mate to continue carrying it
  • target trigger
    • attached to the platforms on which keys are located
    • if shot, they make the platform explode, killing everything on it
    • takes some time to recharge
  • destroyable blocks
    • not only you can place blocks, there are some placed for you
    • they can be destroyed to gain faster exit access or to get to the flag or secret tunnel
  • lava pits
    • found only in the flag room, they can be jumped over easily
    • if touched by lava you burn fast until you die, even if you get out of it
  • lava wall
    • also in the flag room, it moves from one side of the room to the other and back
    • touching it makes you burn until death
  • lava edges
    • there is one on the top edge of a wall of the top floor as well as around the walls of the map itself
    • pretty useless and only accidentally can someone get burnt by them
  • gates
    • one for each base, they start locked 10 times
    • you need a key with the same color for each of the times to open it
    • a key will reset a gate to closed if used on an open gate
  • middle platform
    • only accessible by using the underwater teleporter (or lucky rocket jumps)
    • it allows for some ways to get to the enemy base as well as an overview of the entire map
    • people sitting on the platform are easily killed from the top of the base
  • shrink pill
    • found outside the base as well as inside the tunnel and inside the base
    • they shrink you to a size that allows for going through small holes or windows
    • you lose any weapon you have when you shrink
  • defense ports
    • each base has two small ones on the lower level, where one can use snipers and bazookas against enemies going for the key
    • each base has two medium ones on the middle level, large enough for a shrunken person to go through
    • each base has large holes in the thin wall on the top floor through which one can look and shoot at the enemies
  • water
    • water makes it almost impossible to see outside it, but you are visible to anyone looking in the water
    • stay long enough under water and you will take very little damage

Game features:

  • the long jump
    • jumps depend on how long one presses space
    • you need to master the long jump before you can play this game well
  • access from the base
    • you can exit the base by using the teleporter or jumping from the top floor
    • in order to exit faster (and safer) use the machine gun to cut through the destructible blocks next to them (or a bazooka, or a block gun)
  • the machine gun push
    • machine gun bullets push the target a bit, which means you can disrupt their movement, push them into lava or into shrink pills (always fun, that)
  • flame through wall
    • much stronger than the firewall is using the flamethrower to shoot through the gate or through walls
    • warning! Do this in front of the gate and you might promote someone shooting a bazooka at you and destroying any block defense there
    • one can sit around a corner or even shoot through floors and give damage while protected from most guns
  • initial block setup
    • it is important when the round starts to cover these bases:
      • block tunnel under the Warning! sign
      • block defense window on the right on the middle floor (where the teleporter and small pill lie outside)
      • block flag by starting from the flag out: block access to the flag, block access out of the lava pit, block escape from lava wall, only then block the entry to the room. Here you need to not block the lava pits or give your enemy footholds above them, instead you block after the pits so that the enemy falls into them if they jump.

Conclusion

  This game is a lot of fun with the right people. If someone would make some small fixes, it could be the seed to a wonderful little game.

  My proposals:

  1. nerf the bazooka
    • less area damage against blocks, two at most and preferable dealing a lot less damage to a block behind a block
    • more damage against people
    • less blast pushback (no rocket jumps)
    • less ammo
  2. upgrade fire damage
    • increase fire damage from fire wall and flamethrower
    • and/or make fire stick to the target for a while
  3. nerf block gun
    • the block gun needs to be fast, so you can't nerf the speed of fire
    • so make it so you can't fire it while moving
      • this will allow for strategic long range structures, but disallow columns and jump-and-fire escapades from one side to the other
  4. force teams equal
    • make it so you can only join the smaller team
    • make the team switch (and initial game join) take a lot longer 
  5. no bonuses
    • remove bonuses, all players should be equal
  6. make it a real capture the flag game. The flag should be captured and taken to your own base before winning
    • this promotes teamwork, as the guy with the flag would not carry any weapons

  That's it. In my mind, this game would be perfect with just a few adjustments.

  You can play this game by googling for it and finding the biggest server at that time. Now, the servers I use are:

  • Crazy Games
  • Y8
  • any other server where Kogama Battle can be found via Google

 Have fun!

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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

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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.

Usage:
  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:

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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

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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 :)

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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.

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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.