December 28, 2006

Internet Scrabble

Baz 297 - 375 ajmiles

What should have been a productive evening of third year project rapidly degenerated into a long evening/morning of playing Scrabble online.

After a quick defeat against a bot I turned to some more humanesque (no, it’s not a word) opponents.

First up was a game against ‘Baz’. Early on I managed to get away with placing the word ‘EW’ which doesn’t exist to get me 29 points. Since Baz didn’t challenge it, it stood. It was a fairly low scoring game until the letters N I ? Q ? U E fell into my rack and from there I realised I needed to clear out. Deciding on the word SEQUINS I found the best place I could to place it and scored my 92 points. Interestingly when I got the computer to examine that move after the match the only better move I could have made was EQUINES for 97 points, but would have left an E open just above the triple word score, so I probably made the best call. Next move got me 39 points (‘LOOK’, triple word score) and in the space of two moves I’d gone from 111-60 down to 123-191 up. Later on in the game I got ‘CRIT’ for 37 points to put me 225-325 up which really put the game beyond doubt.

Final score: Baz 297 – 375 ajmiles



eslitz 251 - 298 ajmiles

Then I found an opponent called Eslitz who’d I’d eventually end up playing 3 times.

First game was fairly uneventful right up until the end. Scores stood at Eslitz 251 – 243 ajmiles and letters were running out. Unfortunately he opened up the TWS (triple word score) in the bottom right hand corner, I noticed I could place KITS down the board and that got me the 55 points that secured victory, he promptly retired.

Final score: Eslitz 251 – 298 ajmiles



He wanted a rematch, so that’s what we had. This game was a lot more exciting than the last and the combined score was a lot higher too.

Eslitz started with a 5 letter word FLEES. Then, I had what looked like the letters to bingo (clear all 7 letters for the 50 point bonus). Unfortunately I couldn’t see anything better than FLOWING using the F currently on the board. Postgame analysis says I should have seen POLLYWIG / POLLIWIG / POLLIWOG … whatever those might mean. Later on on the game I missed a few more opportunities to bingo with words including DISUNION, SMIDGINS, but finally I spotted one and got ABUSING which scored me 64 points and gave me a narrow 166-171 point lead. Went on to miss 2 more bingo opportunities with ARCHWISE and then UPGRADES on a later move.

eslitz 335 - 341 ajmiles

I played DUNG along the bottom with the hope that I’d be able to get the EONS to make DUNGEONS later on. While I had the ONS I was struggling to get the E and foolishly spent 3 moves changing letters in the hope of getting an E. Eventually it came, I made DUNGEONS but it was only ever going to make me 33 points, so I still found myself 313-288 down. Eslitz then played OCEAN along the top again leaving it open for me to capitalise with the triple word score. OCEANS/SORT gave me 39 points and the lead once more with a score of 316-327.

Getting desperate Eslitz then added ‘er’ to ZOOM and I assumed it was a word and didn’t challenge it. Alas, post-game analysis shows it wasn’t a word and I needlessly gave away 19 points that at the time could have sent the game either way. The scores were now poised at 335-327 and I only had 59 seconds left on the clock before penalties started kicking in. I knew that he had the letters I R R remaining and that if I could clear out my remaining two tiles (D A) then I’d gain double the points value of his remaining tiles. I placed the word DAN for 8 points and that levelled the scores at 335-335. I then get the 6 points from his remaining tiles and win the game… just.

Final score: Eslitz 335 – 341 ajmiles



ajmiles 321 - 242 eslitz

Our third and final game was slightly more one-sided than the first two. After a fairly straightforward start the scores were 113-82 to me. After having got a blank tile after my previous turn I decided to use it in conjunction with the Z on the triple word score to make SEZ (just as well i’m learning all the 3 letter words) and I slipped into a 151-82 lead. From here the game got fairly bogged down in the bottom right hand half of the board and opportunities to make good words dried up once the premium squares were taken. Once I’d extended HOOT to HOOTER the scores were 243-181 and it was going to take a miracle for him to win. The next few turns from both of us were worth very little indeed – VOWEL (11), COAL (8), NUT, EAT, BI(7), UP(8) to leave the scores at 265-218.

Not wanting to open up the top left of the board for potential scoring I was quite happy with the gridlock we currently had and made sure I closed down any opportunities. When he finally got an S and made GUNS onto the top of TAB it looked like he had his opening. Luckily I had a G and Y and made GUY across the U of GUNS and shut down an chance of building off the new word. He then passed on two occasions before making SIR / IM. This time I simply didn’t notice IM and didn’t challenge it, which thankfully didn’t cost me dearly. He only had I V X remaining and just couldn’t get them on the board leaving me to clear out and take the spoils.

Final score: ajmiles 321 – 242 Eslitz.

I’m sure this isn’t going to be the last of my Scrabble playing today, but for now I must go and grab some breakfast. Oh yes, and then learn some more 2/3 letter words.

Where’s the Warwick Scrabble Society (WSS)?! Would anyone else apart from me join were it to exist?


December 11, 2006

XNA Game Studio Express

Writing about web page http://www.microsoft.com/downloads/details.aspx?FamilyID=A73A7E71-FF41-432D-A0EB-043E904A1905&displaylang=en

It’s out. Going to require a reboot to XP to try it out though, no Vista support until next year…


September 24, 2006

Poor America

Follow-up to Europe are proving me wrong… from aj's blog

Well, it’s all over, and ‘thrashed’ and ‘destroyed’ spring to mind. Not all my predictions were spot on, but to my amazement we beat them by even a bigger margin than my original guess.

C Montgomerie vs D Toms – Correct.
S Garcia vs S Cink – Wrong, USA won.
P Casey vs J Furyk – Wrong, Europe won.
R Karlsson vs T Woods – Wrong, USA won.
L Donald vs C Campbell – Wrong, Europe won.
P McGinley vs JJ Henry – Wrong, match halved.
D Clarke vs Z Johnson – Wrong, Europe won.
H Stenson vs V Taylor – Wrong, Europe won.
D Howell vs B Wetterich – Correct.
JM Olazabel vs P Mickelson – Wrong, Europe won.
L Westwood vs C DiMarco – Wrong, Europe won.
P Harrington vs S Verplank – Wrong, USA won.

2 correct, 10 wrong. Impressive I must admit. The players I expected to perform for the USA (Furyk, Mickelson, DiMarco, Johnson) all lost their matches. The players I predicted to perform for Europe (Garcia, McGinley, Harrington) didn’t. The matches I predicted halves in weren’t halved. In fact, the only two got correct were Monty and Howell, and to be honest, I’m glad, as it meant we won by a margin 4 greater than even my optimistic prediction suggested.

Roll on Louisville, Kentucky.


Europe are proving me wrong…

Follow-up to My Ryder Cup Predictions from aj's blog

Well well, if there’s ever a time I wanted to be wrong, it’s now.

Europe do appear to be demolishing the USA at present, meaning most of my predicted USA victories aren’t quite turning out right.

Monty is looking good, but I was pretty wrong about Garcia beating Cink and Furyk beating Casey, still 7-8 holes to go though.

Karlsson/Woods and Donald/Campbell are close as I predicted, but in addition to my predicted Europe victories Clarke is beating Johnson, and Westwood has taken a strong 3 UP lead after only 4 holes. Olazabel has a slim lead over Mickelson too, this is looking very comfortable for Europe so far, we’ll see what happens in a few hours time.


My Ryder Cup Predictions

Well, Europe are in a pretty strong position coming into the final day, but worryingly, the same position we were in 99, when we lost.

We’ll see tonight how many of my singles predictions are close and how many I guess right. Here goes:

C Montgomerie vs D Toms
S Garcia vs S Cink
P Casey vs J Furyk
R Karlsson vs T Woods
L Donald vs C Campbell
P McGinley vs JJ Henry
D Clarke vs Z Johnson
H Stenson vs V Taylor
D Howell vs B Wetterich
JM Olazabel vs P Mickelson
L Westwood vs C DiMarco
P Harrington vs S Verplank

(where both players are in bold, match halved)

In summary,

5 European Wins for: Montgomerie, Garcia, McGinley, Howell and Harrington.
4 American Wins for: Furyk, Johnson, Mickelson and DiMarco.
3 matches halved: Karlsson/Woods, Donald/Campbell and Stenson/Taylor.

Which by my calculations should make the final score:

Europe 16.5, USA 11.5. – Lets hope so.


July 24, 2006

GTR FIA Racing 2 – Demo Video

It's been out 3 whole days now and I've not shown off a video of myself pounding around Barcelona in a Lamborghini yet, so well, here it is.

GTR2

Download video here (32MB, Xvid)

The ghost in the video above is of Henrik Roos, an actual FIA GT racer whos idea it was to develop the original GTR (he's a bit good at the game…) More info

Overall I'm pretty impressed with the demo, the physics do feel a lot tighter than with the original, and the overall presentation of the game is of a higher standard. The graphics are certainly a step up from GTR1, but are probably about on par with GTL, giving ammunition to those that are just calling GTR2 – "GTL with GTR's cars". The sound, as always with the GT franchise is truly superb, you can tell they've been and recorded every car throughout it's entire engine range, and it shows. The AI haven't been glaringly boring so far, you see cars jostling with each other for position, and even spinning out when making rather too bold overtaking maneuvers.

What of course the demo is missing is multiplayer, but you can forgive Simbin this since historically the netcode/multiplayer has been poor, and it's almost certainly not in a finished state.

September is going to be quite a month for my wallet given some of the titles coming out, including, but not limited to:

  • Settlers 2 – 10th Anniversary (PC)
  • Test Drive Unlimited (X360)
  • GTR2 (PC)
  • Rainbow Six Vegas (PC or 360)
  • Computer Science 3rd Year (RealLife)

Sigh.


May 20, 2006

Electronic Sports World Cup 2006

Writing about web page http://www.esworldcup.com/2006/?act=competition&id_competition=5

Supra

Well, all things going well it would seem I'm representing the UK at this year's Electronic Sports World Cup at Gran Turismo 4 in Paris.

The UK doesn't have a national qualifier like many of the other countries on the list hence after a short application/selection process, autoberth slot #7 is mine. 32 players, with the Top 8 winning at least $2,000 (£1,100), while the winner scoops a cool $13,000 (£7,000).

The downsides so far… the timing. The whole competition is a 5 day event in Paris between the the 28th June and the 2nd July, meaning I have only 13 days to practice after the end of my exams. As my newly formed GT4 Gallery might suggest, I've already started practicing, perhaps unwisely, but if I want to stand any chance of getting in the top 8, I need as much time as possible. The rules are out, meaning I know what cars and tracks are available, so it's just a matter of finding out which tyre strategy is best, and then getting insanely consistent.

As luck would have it, my GT4 disk is rather scratched, meaning only a handful of the circuits load at the moment (until I get it de–scratchified), so most of my practice has been round El Capitan in the Supra (as seen right). The Nurburgring is just such a demanding circuit (6mins 45 a lap, 3 laps) that it might very well eat most of my practice time, so I've been taking the slightly slower Peugeot 206 round the track to get used to it. After a few laps it became clear that breaking the magic 10 minute barrier was possible, and on my 5th lap, (50 minutes of racing) I got 9:59:514, what a relief. It took a fair bit of thrashing and "moments" involving car on barrier action, but I got there.

It really is going to take all of my restraint not to keep practicing, but I know revision must come first, roll on "Data Structures and Algorithms" on June 14th…


March 27, 2006

IRL: Toyota Indy 300, Homestead–Miami Speedway

Writing about web page http://www.indyracing.com/

TV image
Title:
IRL: Toyota Indy 300
Rating:
3 out of 5 stars

"There are only three true sports - mountain climbing, bullfighting and motor racing - all the rest being games." -- Ernest Hemingway.

Unfortunately yesterday's first race of the 2006 Indy Racing League (IRL) season was overshadowed by the death of Paul Dana in Sunday morning practice. Ed Carpenter spun and hit the wall into turn 2, slip down the banking, and several seconds later got hit in the left rear of the car by Dana at ~200mph, killing him.

A rather somber race got under way that evening minus Carpenter, Dana and his two teammates Danica Patrick and Buddy Rice. After the dark events of the morning, it turned out to be quite a race by the end. Although we only had a field of about 16 drivers, and were almost in single figures by the end, the final 40 laps were indeed exciting.

The drama started around 40 laps from the end when Tony Kanaan inexplicably lost control on the entrance to the pitlane. Under braking the car got sideways, collected an inflatable cone, and made light, but terminal contact with the pit wall, bringing out the 3rd caution of the day.

On the restart Herta lost control on cold tires hitting the wall causing the 4th caution of the day – he was unhurt. When the race finally got under way again on lap 178/200, Dan Wheldon began to reel in the Penske car of Helio Castroneves.

Wheldon hung on the outside of Castroneves for about 6 laps around lap 185–190, wheel to wheel stuff for about 3 minutes! Unfortunately Wheldon lost the overlap with about 10 laps to go and dropped into Castroneves' tow.

Just when it looked like 2nd place was the best Wheldon could do, he managed to get back alongside Castroneves down the back straight on the last lap. They took the final corner again alongside each other, with Wheldon about 18 inches behind Helio. Coming out of the final bend, Wheldon kept as low as he could (without making contact) so Helio couldn't run wide out the corner and build up speed across the line. It worked. Wheldon pulled back the 18 inches and another ~24 more to win the race by 0.0147 seconds, quite a final lap.

Believe it or not, not the closest finish I've seen, there were a few closer last season, one involving 3 cars abreast all within about 2 feet of each other, but the fact the Brit came out on top last night makes it all the more exciting. With the single engine manufacturer for all teams this year, we'll surely see closer races than last night's "ninth closest finish in IRL history" this season.

Good start to Wheldon's title defence in his new team, hopefully next weekend's race will be just as exciting – without the tragedy.

Race Statistics
Time of race: 01:46:14.5286.
Margin of victory: 0.0147 of a second.
Cautions: 4 for 32 laps.
Lead changes: 8 among 5 drivers.
Lap leaders: Hornish Jr. 1–57, Castroneves 58–66, Sharp 67–68, Matsuura 69–71, Hornish Jr. 72–159, Castroneves 160–182, Wheldon 183–189, Castroneves 190–199, Wheldon 200.

ajmiles


January 01, 2006

Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved

Writing about web page http://www.xbox.com/en-US/games/g/geometrywarsevolvedlivearcadexbox360

This is why I spent £279 on a multi core, state-of-the-art, "next-gen" console – to play retro games!

A quick bit of history first. Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved (hereby GW:RE from now on) is the "sequel" to the original "Geometry Wars". Geometry Wars was technically an easter egg game hidden in Project Gotham Racing 2 for the original Xbox and looked a little like this . Not so hidden inside Project Gotham Racing 3 for the Xbox 360 is GW:RE, or at least a 4 minute demo of it. The full version is available on the gradually becoming brilliant, Xbox Live Arcade.

So, the aim of the game I hear you cry? Well, put simply, shoot the shapes, don't get killed. Straight out of the late 1980s, you fly around a small white spaceship, firing at different coloured shapes while trying to avoid contact with them (dead). What makes it different from $2D_Space_ShootEmUp is many things.

Firstly, and possibly most importantly, the graphics. While I wanted to write the review without mentioning the words "High Definition" I'm afraid I can't. On a standard definition TV, the firework-esque explosions look brilliant, but they really come alive when used on an HDTV or Computer Monitor (such as the one I'm using, no HDTV for me :( ). Rather than a static black map we have a space fabric that warps and bends as objects move and explosions occur. This warping causes the enemies, and you, to be pulled about on the map a little, while the "black holes" (in fact red circles) suck in all matter with it's own gravity/warping of the space-time fabric. The later you get on in the game, the more and more busy the screen gets with explosions happening literally every fraction of a second illuminating the screen a great light show. It's very easy to stare blankly at the beauty of your handiwork (as yet another blue diamond explodes) and forget to keep playing – it looks that good.

The controls system is intuitive, although not "pick up and play"able if you haven't used a console controller before. The left analog stick moves your ship around space, while the right analog stick fires the gun (independantly of the way you're facing). If you want to score big, you need quick fingers and a sharp eye for that illusive gap in the enemies to escape.

Each enemy has it's own unique personality which is a welcome change to the mindless drones of yesteryear. Whether it's the scaredy-cat green diamonds in squares, the purple crosses in squares, or the sidewinder style enemy, you're sure to find yourself bearing a grudge against a 4 sided shape pretty soon. Deciding which group of enemies to attack first and how is a big part of GW:RE.

The sound is nothing stellar, but fits perfectly with the game. A simple soundtrack sets a perfect tone for an epic battle against the evil forces of polygonal shapes, but can be turned off in favour of a custom soundtrack stored on the hard drive, portable music player, or networked Windows PC.

Possibly the most attractive feature of this game is it's retro price of only 3.40. Given I also spent £35 on Project Gotham Racing 3 and have spent almost equal time on each goes to show that even reworked retro games (albeit from 2003) can hold their own against today's multi-million pound counterparts.

Extra Info:

Joystiq's Review - 10/10
Video of 4.2 Million Score - ~166MB, but extremely impressive
Interview with the Mastermind behind GW:RE


December 17, 2005

GT Legends – A Review

Game front cover
Title:
GT Legends (PC DVD)
Publisher:
Namco Bandai
ASIN:
B000AYCUS6
Rating:
5 out of 5 stars

Anyone familiar with the dark horse hit that was GTR FIA Racing will already know SimBin (game engine) and 10tacle (developers) have built themselves a very good reputation very quickly. Although the game was a solid title supported by 5 patches, it still didn't quite provide the smooth online play some might have expected.

In steps GT Legends , built on a slightly modified engine/physics engine to GTR FIA but this time built around sports cars from the 1960s and 70s. With some well known cars as the Porsche 911 , Chevrolet Corvette and as shown in the game cover, the Ford GT40, it certainly doesn't lack authenticity. With "more then 90 original FiA GTC-TC team vehicles" [sic] which equates to about 25 unique vehicles, there is a decent choice of cars all the way through the game.

Some people might be disappointed when you start the game that you can leap right into a GT40 and burn up any of the games "25 variations of real tracks" straight away. Instead GT Legends has opted for a psuedo-"Gran Turismo career" where you start in the lower league cups, working your way up earning the money to buy/win the beasts. Although there are only 5 Cups A-E, and 4–5 sub-championships within each they get progressively longer, but no less interesting. After each cup you unlock new tracks and sometimes a new era of cars to race meaning the desire to finish "just one more" championship is often too strong.

On the graphics front GTL is very strong much like it's older brother GTR and with everything turned up to max it does look very convincing. The lighting effects are very well done although perhaps shadows could punish lower-end systems. One noticeable, but presumably easy to patch bug so far is that cars don't cast shadows when you look at them in mirrors giving the appearance they are flying just above the track.

If the graphics weren't pretty enough, the sound is quite possibly so good you'll be in awe every time you sit on the starting grid. As you'd expect from any racing game that takes itself seriously all the cars were recorded from their real-life counterparts throughout the entire range of the engine. Different engine noises depending if you're sitting inside, behind or infront of the car and enough sound voices to let you hear most, if not all of the cars around you give a very realistic sense of actually going 3 abreast into the first corner.

Given the change of cars from GTR to GTL it's difficult to tell if the physics have been improved between games. However it is possible to say that all the cars handle exactly as you'd expect them too, from the super-slidey AC Cobra to the comparably slow musclely Ford Mustang. Collisions with such immovable objects as, erm, walls, are accurate, although when slowed down in replays, cars can seemingly pass through the wall/track for a period of time, but it does happen so quickly you won't notice in real time.

The AI was another part of the original GTR that really did excel, and was possibly the best AI in a racing game I'd ever seen. Their "non-pack" style of racing cough Gran Turismo cough was a welcome surprise, and the vigour with which they both defended their positions with acceptable amount of blocking and also the small feints up the inside when trying to pass made for a very interesting opponent. Given the two games are based on pretty much similar game engines its no surprise that the AI is convincing again. From my time playing I've certainly noticed they defend their positions even more vigorously, especially on higher levels of difficulty making it very tough to pass. Although the AI is pretty quick on an open track, it will often get quite confused if one of it's counterparts (or me) have spun in the middle of the track, and they will slow down to an over-sensible speed so as not to collide, allowing you to catch up easier than you might otherwise have done.

Online play is not something I've delved into yet, preferring so far to complete the game and make sure I'm capable of keeping up on those "no driving assists" servers without spinning out at the first sight of a corner. Patch 1.1 added support for an (almost) unprecedented 36 player multiplayer when using a dedicated server so I can only assume 10tacle are pretty confident their net code is a little more solid this time around.

Overall GT Legends is a more than capable replacement for GTR and I fully expect it to be adopted by most online racing leagues as a result of it's already healthy coat of polish. Highly recommended to anyone that enjoys simulation racing games, but a steering wheel with force feedback is nigh on essential to get the most out of GTL. Five stars.


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