Game Review: Swords and Soldiers

Since the Wii has hit the market i've been saying that it is the console that will allow for decent strategy play. And so far there have been very few attempts to make it work. That said my understanding of Wii sales is that the console, Nintendo, Sega games and Guitar Hero have made up most of the sales, and everything else has been gimmicky nonsense. Wiiware is really populated with a lot of mini-games, and this may or may not reflect exactly on the demographic that own Nintendo Wiis. But then there is Swords and Soldiers. As a strategy fan, it had to be bought.

The thing that interested and worried me the most about this game was the fact that it is side scrolling strategy. I'd never heard of that concept before this, so i was very wary of the 1000 Wii points i spent. At first the game strikes you with the great visual style. Cartoony interface and fun sounds and music make a good first impression, however you instantly know this isn't going to be a hardcore 100+ unit strat game. I wasn't expecting depth at first glance, but it is true that a good strat game doesn't need complexity. And the gameplay really illustrates that.

The single player storyline is ridiculous, but tongue in cheek from the start. You're a Viking, preparing a BBQ and your butcher is attacked. You then need to send troops to save him. Hilariously thought at, and at no point meant to be serious. The feel of the game fits in perfectly with the story and makes for an enjoyable laugh.

But this still doesn't tell you how a side scrolling strategy holds up. Gameplay is vital in a strat game, which is why most strat gamers are still playing Starcraft and not any of the newer games. So here's the deal: Its good. At first it's odd with minimal micro management, but you grow used to the fact that you don't control individual units. To upgrade your tech tree ( which has about 10 options depending on race ), you spend gold. This normally unlocks new units and abilities. To build a unit you just click on the icon, and instantly the unit heads off to fight or mine. There is no micro of units. the maps are normally linear, so the fighting units just walk continuously in the direction of the enemy. Abilities are cast from a global mana pool ( which auto regen's and some abilities add to it ), and these give you some micro control over the battles. Dropping Aztec cages on enemies, casting Viking lighting or sending a massive Chinese Dragon across the entire battlefield are just some options you have, and they really add depth to the game. The game is well balanced with costs and cooldown times, for example, the Chinese have very slow mana regen ( unless you build a really expensive tech 3 tower ), and the Dragon costs a lot of mana, but does an immense amount of damage.

All 3 races seem to have been thought through carefully and have enough variation to feel different. Each have their own abilities, variations in tech trees and order of unlocking items that you find yourself preferring one due to personality and feel of play rather than how strong they are, which is the sign of a well balanced game.

The multiplayer is enjoyable, and although my wife is beating me on average ( this reminds me of our early Starcraft games ), i'm still excited to try and challenge her, and feel like every game has been close. The average game lasts between 3 and 10 minutes, which although short, is just long enough to not get bored with the limited choices.

Overall, a top game production, making it the most fun i've had with Wii Ware. It's not as hardcore strategy as i might like, but it is really fun and has some longevity in gameplay.


  • Really good humour
  • Well balanced gameplay
  • Multiplayer is enjoyable
  • New concept in side scrolling strategy, done very well


  • Limited number of maps
  • Not for very serious strategy


Opera's Brick Walls

Today Opera announced something amazing. Unite. The basis is a webserver in a browser. It allows you to share your music, images, files, and host chatrooms with anyone you choose, whether or not they use Opera. Futhermore, the APIs for writing your own services are available now. And the press has jumped onto this. Even Slashdot incorrectly reported it as the 10.0 release. However, will this actually get them users? In truth i doubt it.

Here's my theory, most Firefox users are using Firefox either because they have it installed on their machine by a sys admin or family member, or because they are religiously bound to Firefox ( oddly, in my opinion, this is very much like Ubuntu users ). Most internet explorer users just use it out of convenience or because they don't know of an alternative. This leaves very little space for other browsers.

But what about Chrome? Chrome has not done that well, even though it has the might of Google behind it. Less than 2% market share in over a year with the search giant punting it instead of Firefox at every turn, that doesn't impress me. And i like Chrome, its way ahead of Firefox on my browser preference list. But the world doesn't really care. They have IE8 with tabs by big evil Microsoft* ( which honestly, is a whole pile better than IE7 ), or they have Firefox which is open source and completely pluggable. I don't talk about Mac users.

So what am i trying to say? The average non technical user doesn't know anything beyond their desktop. And until such a time as the average user becomes technical enough, the only reason people will change their browsers, is if sites stop supporting them. If everyone stopped supporting IE 6 years ago, Microsoft would be out of the browser market. This is the same argument that can be applied to Flash, that it is no where near superior technology, but everyone supports it, so it gets used.

Opera won't get picked up in the main stream, until there is a killer app or function which makes it a necessity. And they are close. Opera Link is really an amazing service, i can't live without it. Turbo is incredible for anyone who uses internet via Wifi or mobile connections on a regular basis. And now, Unite, which has more innovation in 1 service than i've seen from Firefox since its launch. But still this isn't enough. And if this isn't, then honestly, will anything ever be?

* i don't think they're evil, but a know lots of Firefox users who do

Comux 011000


Xorg, a stumbling stone?

Statement: Xorg is a stumbling stone in the advancement of desktop linux, discuss.

This may seem like a university essay, but there's a valid point hiding in there somewhere. Xorg is bigger, slower and more complicated than the graphical servers of other operating systems. One of the reasons is that it lives in user space and, thus, is not part of the kernel. This has massive advantages for stability, but does mean that getting flickerless boot is somewhat complicated ( Fedora have been trying for a while now and are getting close ). It also means that driver problems within Xorg are often harder to diagnose from the start. 

Here's a little example, i've just bought a Dell Optiplex G280 to use as a media center. It has a Radeon X300 graphics card, and while it works perfectly on my 19" monitor, it refuses to work on my TV, no matter what driver i have installed. There is no feedback, it locks up the entire system, and i can't find anything in the log files. Several different Linux distributions with several different kernels have exactly the same problem. What makes it really frustrating is that i get full graphical boot and have no problems getting to the point where X initialises. Dual screen even refuses to work. And this is not the first rough encounter i've had with X. In fact since i've used Linux ( ~12 years now ), i can remember always having to edit the X config file manually. This is one thing which has never worked properly, and the only config file that i have consistently had to mess around with for 12 years.

My question is why? Firstly, do we need X in it's current form. Yes it's really advanced and has some amazing functionality, but does the average desktop user need that. Would it not make sense to rewrite ( much like Apple did with OS X ), a smaller, faster graphical server which may be part of the kernel? Something dedicated to being primarily a desktop graphical server, and secondarily an advanced server. If linux is to be taken up in the public at large, we can't have people struggling to attach an external monitor, since that is becoming a far more common task. Also, surely taking it into the kernel would make sure its extremely well maintained? Correct me if i'm wrong, but there are far more active and willing kernel developers than there are X developers?

Surely something as old as the X server needs a code over haul anyway? I've heard that there are plans afoot, but i'm not convinced that its anything more than a big extension of some code from 1992. To me, everything about X seems old and archaic, from their code base to their website ( which is just lacking a spinning under construction gif and some marquee text ). I can't believe that something which has never had a complete overhaul for that long is really built to handle modern graphics cards, 3D rendering and all the new input methods like tablets and multitouch very well without some major hack work. And hack work is _NEVER_ a good thing. And seriously, for a graphical server, i do expect a little bling on the web page.

I'm not sure exactly how i would go about it, and maybe it hasn't really been done because it's not something many people know how to do. Yes, i've heard of Wayland, which is NOT meant to ever be an X replacement ( read the FAQ ), and Project Looking Glass, but my stance on Java is a big firm no. What i want to know, is why isn't there a bigger effort by either the Linux Foundation or some big company like Novell, Red Hat or Canonical to actually make a big difference?

And in truth, if Windows works on my media PC, then i'll have a Windows media center. Because sometimes, it's about what works, and not what's got the better theory behind it. And no, i still won't get a mac tv. ever.


A Note As A Gamer

To put the below review in context. I am not a constant hardcore gamer. In fact, i generally don't get hauled into many games... i got bored of WoW within a month or two. A game really needs something special to keep my attention. I appreciate seeing that the developer has cared about the product, and this is normally obvious. Something like Portal was made as much for the developers as it was for the players, and when you play the game, you can tell it was enjoyable to make. As a developer i try to put some of myself into the game, and i expect no less of other developers. Games need personality and originality, if not in concept, then in humour and style. I just hope good gaming stays alive.

Game Review: Mechanics Touch ( Android )

Mechanics Touch from a dutch studio Orange Pixel caught my eye on the Android market one day. Not because i'm also in the Netherlands, but because it struck me as a game on Android market that didn't look atrocious. There are a few decent games on there, Cestos is definitely one, but as far as the paid stuff goes, there hasn't really been much to talk about. Not many original ideas being used, and not enough taking advantage of the fact that its more than just a phone.

The game itself has style, something often lacking from many modern games. From starting the game through playing and unlocking the levels ( there are 45 of them, not that i'm there yet ), the game comes across as distinctly quirky and fun. The music is really enjoyable, and made me laugh the first time i heard a few tracks. The graphics are generally crisp ( although a few of the sprites looked a little rough, even though it is sort of the style ). And the idea is good.

Basically similar to Lemmings, but far more interactive. You guide the characters from an entrance point on the screen to an exit point, in a very similar fashion to Lemmings, excepting that there are many aspects of the environment that need to be modified instead of the characters themselves. Tapping some platforms can make them fall, tapping teleporters activates them and tapping doors opens them, and so forth. The levels are built very well around these aspects, and often force you to react quickly while still trying to think of the next step. There are some traps, and the game does require some thought, while still being a casual puzzle game.

The game also features online high scores, and an achievement setup! Achievements always make small games like this much more enjoyable, and definitely add to the replayability ( at least until you've unlocked them all ).

Of all the games that i've downloaded and played, this really stands up as polished, something i can't say for many of the others. Guitar Hero mobile is put to shame by Mechanics Touch, and i'm more than willing to pay for something which clearly has received some care and attention. Some of the big companies could really learn something from Orange Pixel.


  •  Polished. Extremely finely polished
  •  Fun to play, and enough levels and extra challenges to keep you busy
  •  Sound and music are really entertaining


  •  Graphics could be better
  •  Possibly a bit expensive. Maybe.

Rating: 4/5


Predictions of the future and stuff

Not having much free time ( amongst my TF2 play, work and Howler ) i haven't had time to formulate a decent blog post out of this, but i have a quick prediction. Android will become the most used Desktop Linux distribution. It has a simple interface and a very standard development toolchain which can be used by anyone on any platform. All parts of the toolchain are free, and the centralised market could potentially replace the standard Linux distribution systems as the most used Linux packaging system. I'm not saying people will ditch Ubuntu or openSUSE for Android, but i am suggesting people will buy android netbooks instead of Windows ones. And thats all i have to say about that. Feel free to discuss and flame as the linux community so love to do ;)


Comux 010111


Update notice

My feeds have now been moved across to feedburner, apologies if this has caused some inconvenience. More changes to come, and i'm planning on actually setting up a personal page. Also there are a few blog entries that really need time to write, but will come soon.

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