Category Archives: Software

Interstellar Pilot

Those of me who have been following my blog for any length of time will know that I am a big fan of Space games. Two of my All-time-favorite games were Elite and Freelancer. Elite was billed (rightly) as the first MegaGame, featured wire frame graphics, and ran on the BBC Model B in only 32k of memory. The second was a Windows PC game. Both of those games allow the player to interact with the universe in various ways instead of just fighting and shooting. You could be a trader, a miner, a bounty hunter, a mercenary.

I recently discovered a new game that is a magnificent addition to this genre. And unlike the previous two, it is available for the Android platform (but not IOS – ha-ha!). A game so surprising and delightful, that I have all but ceased playing two other games (Star Trek: Timelines and Astronest: The Beginning), and, following one bone-headed decision after another, Vega Conflict ison life-support.

The game is called “Interstellar Pilot“. It takes place in a “Universe” that consists of eight “Sectors” linked by wormholes.Each sector has stations (trading stations, shipyards, outposts, factories etc), asteroids (of several different types that can be mined for free resources), and lots of ships zipping about. All ships and stations belong to one of a number of factions; some are friendly, others, not so much.

There are only two in-game purchases currently available: $2.49 to unlock the Capital ships (Destroyers, Cruisers and Battleships) and $1.49 to unlock the Thunder Frigate. This means that you can unlock ever ship in the game for four bucks! I would advise that you purchase at least the first one as soon as possible, as I suspect that the price will go up once word gets out and the game becomes more popular.

This is a beautiful, beautiful game. I will write more on it later.

Vega Conflict – Blueprints Redux

Recently, the brains behind Vega Conflict revised the blueprint system. As a result, many items that were previously available only available in events were moved into blueprints. This included much of the must-have tech items, such as Fusion Thrusters, Gladius Drivers and Siege Drivers. The new Blueprint layout is as follows:

Vega Cargo 20/25

  • Blast Shield I
  • Repulsor Shield
  • Convoy Formation
  • Diffuser Shield I
  • Thermal Beam I
  • Hydra Missile I
  • Capacitive Plates I
  • Tachyon Beam Turret I
  • Metaphase Field I
  • Gladius Driver I
  • Blast Shield II
  • Diffuser Shield II
  • Destiny Cruiser

Vega Cargo 27/30/33

  • Thermal Beam II
  • Hydra Missile II
  • Chicane Formation
  • Capacitive Plates II
  • Metaphase Field II*
  • Repulsor Shield II
  • Taipan Cutter
  • Arrestor Beam Turret I*
  • Siege Driver I*
  • Metaphase Shield I*+
  • Armored Hold I*
  • Fusion Thrusters I*
  • Creeper Torpedo I
  • Condor Frigate*

Vega Cargo 35/37

  • Tachyon Bean Turret II
  • Gladius Driver II
  • Diffuser Shield III
  • Blast Shield III
  • Hydra Missile III
  • Siege Driver I*+
  • Siege Driver II*
  • Metaphase Shield I
  • Metaphase Shield II
  • Armored Hold I*
  • Armored Hold II*
  • Fusion Thrusters I*
  • Fusion Thrusters II*
  • Creeper Torpedo I
  • Creeper Torpedo II
  • Condor Frigate
  • Gharial Cutter*

Vega Cargo 40/45

  • Repulsor Shield III
  • Tachyon Beam Turret III
  • Capacitive Plates III
  • Scythe Destroyer
  • Metaphase Field III
  • Thermal Beam III
  • Gladius Driver III
  • Apocrypha Cruiser III
  • Siege Driver II*+
  • Siege Driver III*
  • Arrestor Beam Turret II
  • Arrestor Beam Turret III
  • Metaphase Shield II*
  • Metaphase Shield III*
  • Armored Hold II*+
  • Armored Hold III*
  • Fusion Thrusters II*
  • Fusion Thrusters III*
  • Creeper Torpedo II
  • Creeper Torpedo III+
  • Gharial Cutter*+
  • Dread Battleship*

Vega Elite Cargo 50/53/55

  • Siege Driver III*+
  • Arrestor Beam Turret III+
  • Metaphase Shield III+
  • Armored Hold III
  • Fusion Thrusters III+
  • Creeper Torpedo III+
  • Dread Battleship*+

VSec 27

  • Pentagon Formation*
  • Creeper Torpedo Turret I*
  • Gladius Driver Turret I*
  • SICO Missile I
  • Creeper Torpedo Turret II*
  • Gladius Driver Turret II*
  • SICO Missile II*
  • Eagle Frigate

VSec 30/33/35

  • Creeper Torpedo Turret III*
  • AP Driver II*
  • NET Torpedo II*
  • Midgard Carrier
  • Gladius Driver III*
  • Echo Ray II*
  • SICO Missile III*
  • Echo Ray Turret I*
  • Echo Ray Turret II*
  • Burst Ray I*
  • Burst Ray II*
  • SICO Missile Turret I*
  • SICO Missile Turret II*
  • Wave Driver I*
  • Wave Driver II*
  • AP Driver Turret I*
  • AP Driver Turret II*
  • Vector Torpedo I*
  • Vector Torpedo II*

VSec 37/40/45

  • Echo Ray III*
  • AP Driver III*
  • Echo Ray Turret II*+
  • Echo Ray Turret III*
  • Burst Ray II*+
  • Burst Ray III*
  • SICO Missile Turret II*+
  • SICO Missile Turret III*
  • Wave Driver II*+
  • Wave Driver III*
  • AP Driver Turret II*+
  • AP Driver Turret III*
  • Vector Torpedo II*+
  • Vector Torpedo III*
  • Komodo Cutter*

VSec 50/53/55

  • Echo Ray Turret III*+
  • Burst Ray III*+
  • SICO Missile Turret III*+
  • Wave Driver III*+
  • Zeal Battleship*
  • AP Driver Turret III*+
  • Vector Torpedo III*+
  • Lance Destroyer*

* This blueprint item was previously an event item.
+ This blueprint is also available at a lower tier, which may be easier to farm.

This article is an excerpt from my recently-updated Game Guide, over a hundred and seventy pages of hints, tips, tricks and tactics that will help you get to grips with the finer points of the game, all for a paltry $3.99. However, if you use this link, you can get it for $1 off. Make me smile – buy my book!

Astronest Review

While playing Vega Conflict, I saw an ad for another game – the oddly-named “Astronest: The Beginning“. That was before the brains behind Vega Conflict stopped offering coins in return for watching ads.. but that is another story.

I gave the game a whirl, and was delightfully surprised. While the initial concept looks similar to Vega Conflict, the execution is far different. For one thing, building ships and research are instantaneous, but use up a number of turns (called Access Points or AP), which accumulate over time. The player’s AP limit depends on the level of their “nation”.

Your Nation is a collection of colonized planets, Heroes (people that you recruit) and fleets. Each planet has facilities that generate Gold, Minerals, Research, Energy, Fleet Production and Cosments. Each facility can be upgraded for the requisite amounts of AP, Gold and Minerals. Upgrades are instantaneous, but AP takes time to accumulate, which amounts to the same thing. There is also one other currency – crystals – that cannot be mined, but may be received as a reward for missions or purchased.

Each planet may have a Minister – one of your heroes whose Governing skill gives the planet a bonus. Other heroes can be assigned to fleets (Destroyers, Cruisers, Battleships or Motherships). A planet can be operated without a Minister, but a fleet cannot go into battle without a commander. All heroes level up with experience.

The Good: Compliments

  • Boots fast – under twenty seconds, far quicker than Vega Conflict or Star trek timelines.
  • Runs on lower-end hardware than VC, and does not require a persistent internet connection.

The Bad: Criticisms

  • The game does a good job of explaining the basics of combat, but leaves the player floundering when it comes to Trons, training, LDs, cosments, colonizing other planets and lots of other stuff.
  • All of the female heroes (heroines?) are slim and pretty. I am not sure how I feel about this. I despise political correctness as much as anyone, but when you say “female head of a planetary government”, I think Margaret Thatcher, Angela Merkel or Madelaine Albright, not some gorgeous Blonde babe. Having said that, I do not want to see old, unattractive women introduced to the game for the sake of political correctness, but at the same time I don’t want to see people who don’t look the part. There are some who may consider that attitude sexist; I don’t care – and that will be reflected in my purchasing decisions.
screenshot_2016-12-29-07-34-07Hi. I’m Kayla. You can like, take me to bed, or, like, put me in charge of your planet. Like.
  • On a similar note, half of the men look effeminate or gay. These are the less experienced officers. The other half, the most experienced S-class heroes – have the mature, grizzled look that one would normally associate with experienced fleet commanders.
screenshot_2016-12-29-09-51-04My Gaydar is going off. And the guy in the middle looks like George Lucas.

The Ugly: Errors, mistakes, and Bugs

  • Poor Grammar: e.g.: when fitting out a fleet, it says “Equipping” instead of “Equipped”.
  • Spelling errors: Nuff said:

 

screenshot_2016-12-29-11-59-28This. Should. Not. Happen.
  • In the Heroes screen, a Planetary Governor is erroneously described as a Fleet Commander.

Bottom line: A highly enjoyable game that I will continue playing, at least for the foreseeable future. Whether it will supplant Vega Conflict is yet to be seen.

Brave New World

Or: You can’t keep a good man down

More than two years ago I blogged about one Brendan Eich, the short-lived CEO of Mozilla, who committed the cardinal sin of having a politically incorrect opinion.

Way back in 2008, he made a donation opposing Proposition 8, the constitutional amendment that made same-sex marriage legal in the state of California. Even though the donation was made as a private citizen and even though he never discriminated against gays in any way during his time at Mozilla, his disagreement with the love-and-tolerance mob was such heresy that a witch-hunt was in order and he was figuratively burned at the stake. Following a political firestorm, he stepped down as CEO and resigned from Mozilla, and lived out the remainder of his days in obscurity.

Or so they thought.

What he actually did, as tech entrepreneurs are wont to do, is to start something new. A new initiative. A new vision. A new browser called Brave.

Brave is more than a browser, it is a new way of looking at, experiencing, and financing the web. Instead of the horrendous ad-supported model that we all know and… er… love, it allows users to financially support websites that they frequent, while featuring state-of-the-art ad-blocking.

I’ve been using it for about a month, and while it still has a few rough edges, but it is fast, smooth and stable (hardly surprising, given that Eich invented Javascript), at a time when predecessors like Firefox and Google Chrome are becoming bloated, slow and crash-prone. This blog post was written in Evernote running in a Brave tab.

Most important of all: No gays were persecuted during the making of this browser… though a large number of electrons were seriously inconvenienced.

Vega Conflict – More Changes

The (build) times, they are a-changin’

Not content with having ruined a beautiful game, The good folks at Kixeye are making more changes; this time to ship build times. In this case, however, the change is both necessary and good.

It is necessary because the recent changes have made some ships (Such as the Taipan cutter and marked-up ISC hulls) more useful and others (Such as the Nexus Destroyer) less, and this usefulness should be reflected in build times. In addition, there is a new Faction – Vega Demon Corps – coming in  to the game, and room must be made for them.

It is good because the vast majority of the build times are coming down. These are shown in green in the table below.

VC New Build Times

Those in red are the ones whose build times will be getting longer. The biggest loser is the Heretic Cruiser, which will take about 55 hours longer to build once this change rolls in. Other losers include Taipan and Python Cutters, Genesis and Exodus Cruisers, and the Hurricane Frigate (whose figure is wrong, but you get the picture).

Note that Fitment installation times are not changing, so my advice is to build as many naked hulls of the ships shown in red as you can. I am building as many Heretics as I can before this change takes effect (probably at the beginning of July).

Imperfect Ten

I have written before about Microsoft pushing the Windows 10 upgrade on users of Windows 7 and 8.1. I also showed how to uninstall and hide the “Security Updates” that try to shoehorn Microsoft’s latest offering on not-always-willing users.

I have nothing personal against Windows 10, I just don’t want it. However, this unwanted upgrade has brought me much additional income as a computer-fixer-person from folks who upgraded (or, more accurately, were upgraded) and then found that peripherals such as printers no longer worked. I do, however, question the need to upgrade an operating system that is still supported and works well. I also find the determination of Microsoft to upgrade users almost against their will quite disturbing.

The Bad News: Microsoft won’t take no for an answer. On at least three occasions I have “hidden” the update that pushes Windows 10 onto the machine, and each time Microsoft “accidentally” un-hides it and includes and selects itself on the next patch Tuesday. These folks won’t take no for an answer.

The Good News: To keep the Corporate and business customers happy, Microsoft has implemented a workaround that disables the upgrade. However, they do not make it easy for the uninformed user to implement this, as it involves changes to the Windows Registry. If you don’t know what that is, you *definitely* don’t want to monkey with it.

The Great News: Steve Gibson has written a tiny little program called “Never10” that makes the task trivial. Get it here.

Vega Conflict: To Coin or Not to Coin?

“Coining” is the term used to describe the practice of using in-game “coins” to speed up repairs, builds, research, etc. Since these coins are purchased with real-world money, which not every player can afford to do, it is a divisive subject. Some frown upon the practice and use the term as an insult (“don’t worry about him; he’s just a coiner”), while others see no problem with coining (“no need to worry, I’ll just coin it back”). Here are some thoughts on the subject to help you, dear reader, to make up your own mind on the subject:

  • Coining is economically necessary for large-scale software development: While some people may rant and rave and rail at the “freemium” business model of software development (free to play, cash required to unlock advanced content), it is ultimately fair to all parties; players get to enjoy the game for free (remember the days of spending $50 on a game only to find that you didn’t like it and cannot return it?), with the rich and well-to-do effectively subsidize the game for the rest of us who are either unable or unwilling to buy coins.
  • Coining is not necessarily cheating…: Large-scale coiners are often accused of cheating. It is easy to understand why: you just survived an epic battle and have vanquished your enemy… and suddenly there he is again, his fleet fully-repaired and ready for battle. It just doesn’t seem fair!
  • …but sometimes it is: From time to time you will see folks in chat discussing “coin generators” or “coin hacks”, ways to get coins without paying for them. Just say “no”. If you have to cheat to win, it is not much of a victory.
  • Coining is often a refuge for the rich, the impatient and the incompetent: It is often said that Coining is a tax on the impatient. Don’t want to wait? Spend some money. But it also allows less competent players to rule over better, but more penurious ones – at least until the money runs out. If a coiner attracts the ire of a powerful alliance, he will be forced to run through a huge number of coins in order to stay in the fight. I have heard tell of players who spent hundreds of dollars over a few days in order to play this game. Hope it was worth it for them.

For those who really hate coining, or choose not to do so, it is eminently possible to play the game without ever spending a single coin. But spare a thought for those who do; they make the game possible.?

A personal opinion:

I am a low-volume coiner. When I first started, I purchased the $2 one-time introductory offer. I recommend this, as 500 coins plus three ships for $2 is an exceptional value – normally the coins alone cost $5.

Buy Coins

After that, I purchased couple of $5 tranches of coins at monthly intervals. But Kixeye made it too easy to accidentally spend large quantities of coins – by design – and as a result I stopped buying coins… until, many months later, they made me an offer that I could not refuse…

On Black Friday, Kixeye offered 3600 Coins for the price of 2000, plus a free Apocrypha cruiser, all for $20. To coin the cruiser by itself would have cost over $30, so I made the purchase. Nearly two months later, I still have those coins.

As a rule, I try to live within the means generated by my Level X Commerce center, which produces 20 coins per day. I rarely, if ever, use coins, which is strange, as a value my time highly in most respects, but I will waste three minutes of my time rather than spending a coin that costs less than one cent. Economically speaking, that makes no sense at all, but for me, it is a matter of pride.

Coining is a shortcut, nothing more. But it is a shortcut that allows the developers to get paid. We don’t have to like it, but it is the reason that this game can exist.

This article is an excerpt from my Game Guide, over a hundred pages of hints, tips, tricks and tactics that will help you get to grips with the finer points of the game, all for a paltry $2.99. However, if you use this link, you can get it for $1 off. Make me smile – buy my book!

Vega Conflict: Crafting Redux

I recently chronicled the new Crafting system in Vega Conflict. Having crafted merrily away for a couple of weeks, I have some more information on the Crafting system, an explanation of the Fusion screen, Some criticisms on what Kixeye did wrong, and pointers to the things that they need to do to fix them.

Before proceeding any further, it is probably a good idea to explain some of the terminology that I will be using:

Faction: There are currently three factions in the game: Rebel, Vega, and VSec. A fourth faction — the Iron Star Company — is rumored to be coming soon.

Tier: Level of the ship. This is confusing, but the game does a good job of showing this via color-coding.

  • Tier 1 Hulls (Harrier/Genesis/Longbow/Rancor) have White Text/Black Background. They can be upgraded to Mark II.
  • Tier 2 “Uncommon” Hulls (Talon/Exodus/Broadsword/Venom) have Green Text/Green Background. They can be upgraded to Mark III.
  • Tier 3 “Rare” Hulls (Nighthawk/Revelation/Trident/Fury) have Blue Text & Background. They can be upgraded to Mark IV.
  • Tier 4 “Epic” Hulls (Apocrypha/Eagle etc) Have Purple Text & Background. They can be upgraded to Mark V.

Type: The class of ship;Frigate/Cruiser/Destroyer/Battleship/Cutter/Carrier

Mark (I/II/III/IV/V)

To upgrade a ship using the crafting system, you need to

  • Research the upgrade in the ship lab (one-time per Faction/Tier/Type/Mark).
  • Collect One Pattern. Patterns are the most specific items of all. A Pattern is specific to a Faction/Tier/Type/Mark.
  • Collect or create enough Cores. A core is specific to a Faction/Tier/Type.
  • Collect enough parts. A parts box contains a random number of parts. Like Cores, parts are specific to Faction/Tier/Type.
  • Collect enough armaments. Armaments are found in relatively large numbers and are specific to a Faction.

Crafting

Patterns and parts, in particular are more difficult to acquire than the others, as cores can be synthesized and armaments can be gained from any ships of that faction.

I have finally succeeded in making sense of the fusion screen.

  • Each entry has two icons.
  • The left icon is the “destination” (a core)
  • The right icon is the source (a pattern or a core. the pattern is shown by a picture of a ship). Remember that a Talon Mk II pattern and a Talon Mk III pattern are not the same, which explains what looks like duplicate entries.
  • Any pattern can be converted into an equivalent core. This takes time and resources.
  • Four cores can be converted into one core of a higher tier by a process known as “Fusion”. This is instantaneous.

Here are my criticisms of the crafting system as implemented:

  • It is now necessary to destroy tiny fleets to get Tier-1 boxes. Want to upgrade your Rancor Battleships? Congratulations: you have to defeat dozens of Level 10-17 fleets. Most advanced players will have scrapped their old, small ships, and if all you have on hand are Level 30+ fleets, this is about as tedious as swatting flies – and about as much fun.
  • At present, the highest available upgrades are not as good as the Black Market “Mk II” (now “Enhanced”) editions. The only advantage the the new ships have is resistance tech.
  • It is very easy to end up collecting a huge pile of junk parts that you don’t want and/or cannot use.
  • There are several upgrade really stupid paths that cannot be unlocked without many unnecessary steps. For instance, I have unlocked and built a Ragnarok Carrier (event), but to upgrade it I have to first unlock the Midgard Carrier — which is a Blueprint Hull — and then Unlock the Valhalla Carrier — which is an event hull that I do not have. So in order to upgrade my Ragnarok Carrier, I have to unlock two other Carriers I have no intention of building!

This amounts to an awful lot of “grinding”, and because of this, I am no longer actively crafting. By that I mean that I am no longer seeking out fleets to attack for specific boxes. For instance, upgrading a Dread Battleship from Mark I to Mark II requires a hell of a lot of “grinding” against dozens of high-level Vega fleets in order to amass the parts that I require, while simultaneously collecting a bunch of parts for ships that I don’t have. Then I have to do it all again to upgrade from Mark II to Mark III. Too much work.

Crafting Help

This brings me to my single biggest criticism of the crafting system: it’s too damn complicated. Before this, you would do Daily Missions to get Blood Amber, and you would trade that Blood Amber for upgrade credits. You apply that to your ships, and voila! Instant Mk II… er… Enhanced version. Simple. Now, you have to Build a workshop, research the hull upgrade, then grind/fuse away to collect the four items required in sufficient quantities, then you craft the upgrade credit, then finally apply the upgrade credit to a ship… all for a ship that has less capabilities than the old Mk II version. Not impressed.

That said, here are my suggestions:

  • Get rid of the totally unnecessary “claim” screen, or provide an option to do so. (FIXED!)Screenshot_2015-10-17-13-09-05
  • Reduce the amount of items necessary for an upgrade. My advice is to eliminate “Parts” entirely.
  • Need a mechanism to quickly open *all* boxes. Please?Screenshot_2015-10-27-19-52-35
  • It would be nice if we had a mechanism to upgrade/downgrade/trade unwanted parts to get something that you may actually want.
  • Finding Tier-I tech in Tier-4 boxes is maddening. It is bad enough to fight and die for a chance to get a box; opening the box to find low-level tech is an insult. Fix this!

Microsoft breaks Hotmail. Again.

As they are wont to do from time to time, Microsoft made a change to its Hotmail web email service today. As part of their never-ending quest to make all of their products look like all of their other products, they completely overhauled the UI. Again.

This would not be an issue if not for the fact that this change also broke all Android apps that access Hotmail, Including Microsoft’s own Hotmail App.

This is hardly surprising, the app has been deprecated for over a year. In 2013 they released a version that claimed to have “minor bug fixes” but broke the application entirely, replacing it with one button exhorting the user to “upgrade”. Only the upgrade was a completely different application — the Outlook app — which starts its life by staging a a blatant and brazen attempt to scarf all of your contact data.

This ‘upgrade” is different. More than just cosmetic, it replaces the web UI — yet again — with something that looks awful, and is slow and prone to barfing (throwing random errors) at every opportunity. It also finally puts a final nail in the coffin of the long-deprecated-but-still-functional Hotmail App, along with every other application that checks your email.

Smart move, Microsoft.

Aston Martin

I finally upgraded to Real Racing 3 version 2.1.0 – the “Aston Martin” update.

As the title suggests, this update represents the debut of a brand-new marque – the prestigious British American name of Bond, James Bond Aston Martin. This version introduces double-oh-three new cars, namely the DB9, the Vanquish and the V12 Vantage S in ascending order of sexiness.

Screenshot_2014-07-21-22-52-40

The new Astons feature in a new series, “Aston Martin Expedition”, which fits in half way up the tree between “Prestige Powermatch” and “Euro Supercar Duel”.

Screenshot_2014-08-10-07-28-48

There is also another new series: “All Star Vendetta Series”, which is optional and may found tucked underneath the “Zenith Series”.

Screenshot_2014-08-10-07-29-48

Other new changes in this version include Customization, Photo Mode, Gold Achievements.

Banner

The new cars feel unique. The acceleration is powerful enough to reach some serious speeds, but it is the brakes that really impress – they are absolutely legendary. Unlike the Porsche 911s, however, the Astons handled beautifully and predictably with complete control and plenty of warning that the car is about to lose grip, which makes for cars that are great fun to drive.

Stay tuned for the next upgrade — Open Wheelers.