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Current Projects: Americana Engine (Game Engine Development)

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Stockton is Magnificent

The (somewhat) hidden mural painted last year

Stockton is Magnificent: One of the city-wide events in Stockton (the one in California) designed to turn the city's public image around. For the past few years, it's been hit with bad news - the city went bankrupt, the city was listed as one of the most miserable, etc. It was time to change that.

Filled with tons of booths centered around Miracle Mile, an art competition, stores on Miracle Mile trying to promote the festival, music (two stages) and a flash mob (I don't think I saw it this year though).

Mural Location: Look around for Baskin Robbins - It's to the right of it in an alley.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

"Physical" Network Models

Here's a literal definition of a "Physical" Network Model: When you're working on wiring in a networking lab with hundreds of wired connections and have bits and pieces left over. You then use the remains to create stuff. And either sell them or leave them there for others to see.

Tips: When dealing with a bunch of Ethernet wires, best to label each wire and test them before mounting them on a rack - If you don't do this and something goes wrong you're gonna have a bad time.

Design: This would normally fall under the 'Designed' category, but I didn't make it. Credit this to P. Miller and V. Tachkov instead.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

100 Million? Nope

Woke up to this. Even though the goal was to save as much as possible this week, screw the no power rules, we still have competition at the 100M mark.

Score Differences: The few million point difference might be huge to most people, but on this level this accounts to either a few extra matches (gap shots) or an extra time ball.

Update: Though I have climbed up to 2nd place, as of Sept 29 my top 5 now has a minimum score of 150 million.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

The Suitcase Board

Volcano Bob's erupting. Get packed up and get your best powers ready on this board, we're about to break a few scoreboards with some careful planning.

For the first time since May 2011, they have finally come up with a new board and design that takes advantage of the larger screen size. That means longer curves and huge amounts of points.

If you are using the old version of Zuma Blitz, the proper title of the board is "Journey to Kroakatoa", and the spawn locations of fruit are slightly different.

Current High Scores: 173 million (powers, ongoing), 36 million (no powers) on this board.

No Powers Challenge: In order to allow players to collect tons of coins from feeds and not worry about coin shortages, all major groups adhere to the No Power Week, where no powers, no food, and no monuments are used in games. It might be hard, but an experienced player will score quite well on this board (at least 10M+).

Tips: Get Fruit / x3 / Timelord as well as Candy Lei. Get one ball at the end of both curves and the rest near the start of the each curve. It's pretty easy to keep them down, and the Spirit Beetle can really tear up the board with its constant 1.5-2M double gaps once it's properly set up.

Additional note: The 1-2M strat here no longer works as of Oct 1, 2012, so if you were not on the top of the leaderboard and relied on this strat heavily you will no longer be able to beat your previous score.

Sunday, September 23, 2012


The University Lofts (aka University Plaza Waterfront Hotel) is part of the Sheraton Hotel, one of the new hotels on the skyline built a few years ago next to the Stockton Arena. It was quite impressive, noting it as one of the most modern hotels I've seen here. Since then, it has changed owners quite a few times before it was split between hotel use, condos, and University Housing. I got the chance to see what it was like to live on one of these 'apartments'.

The glass windows and huge common area make it look spacious and perfect for parties, as well as providing nice views outside (they're located on the top floors, though you're paying more to get a room the higher up you go), but the bedrooms themselves have yet to be improved space-wise.

Its official site is here.


  • You're near downtown.
  • Large common area, fully furnished.
  • All appliances and utilities available (electricity, water, tv, washer/dryer, etc.) without having to buy them / pay for services.
  • Weekly cleaning service (though they will not clean your sheets if you brought yours)
  • Free shuttles to UOP.
  • Rooms cost less overall than a UOP dorm room when living there for a school year (this includes the penthouse room, but not if you are the only one in it)


  • Internet connections appear to be wireless only. (This may or may not be a good thing for some people)
  • Feels like too many bathrooms (four total for an apartment that houses five people).
  • Bedrooms quite as cramped as dorm rooms and you get less space to put your stuff in (you also lack a dresser), except if you happen to live in that one room with a huge closet.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Someone Else's Reunion

Here's to another reunion... of 1972.

Actually, that's not my reunion. It was my dad's reunion (he was taking pictures during his high school years). I actually made the 24-minute slideshow for the reunion, and many of the people there liked it.

Goofs: I saw the DJ (from David Allyn Kraham's Gypsy Express Co.) from my high school prom back during my senior year. He spoke to someone named Valerie for the prom this year - I immediately answered with Valerie Kong. That wasn't right.*

Friday, September 21, 2012

The Sun Kings

The band The Sun Kings (Beetles Tribute band), at Stone Creek Village in Stockton. It was the last concert in the summer band series, and was free for everyone.

I had some interest in the band (this was the first time I heard of them), but not as much as my uncles, who grew up with them and seeing these tributes will always be the first thing on their priority lists if one is nearby. If they couldn't see them live for some reason... they'll find a way.

Thursday, September 20, 2012


In my grad course lab today: Untangling wires. They're a lot of hard work, but are necessary to keep things organized when later using them.

This is probably my first grad course where it involves some hands on lab work. In this case, creating and setting up a networking lab that UOP uses for related lab courses. (This includes setting up the lab policy.) I finally learned that networking is much more than just simply connecting stuff with switches, routers, and networking cables.

Learned: Even though large switches still use jacks, on the back, you have to disassemble the Ethernet cable on one (or both) ends and manually connect the twisted wire pairs - Things like this were not done in the Computer Networking class. I have previously seen these in data centers, but have not worked with them.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Kroakatoa Island - Where It Went Wrong

So that's where my stats went...

This article is in the perspective of a Comp Sci major with experience in software engineering.

Since searches for 'Kroakatoa Island' are being covered with game sites putting in press releases and their impressive pictures without even trying the game or factoring user reviews, and simply posting as a comment has no effect (they disabled wall posting), I've decided to put in my honest opinion about why all these negative ratings came about.

Good Things From It

  • Play around with two additional powerups. According to replies from player's messages sent to Popcap, "Color Nuke is so powerful, you'll wonder how you ever lived without it." It only becomes really useful when it's fully upgraded though, otherwise it pops at most ten balls in most cases. It worked well in Zuma's Revenge to get out of a tight situation, but note you're here for points, not beating the level.
  • Addition of fruit. In addition to being a fourth power, they have some unique features: One, they can add points in a variety of different ways, and two, they don't have a level requirement. They're unlocked fairly early, too, so it brings some early customization.

What Caused Massive Amounts of Negative Reviews

  • Lack of coins on the new island. You don't get any after a game. Though the coin bonuses when leveling up are substantially higher than on the old island and makes up for that, that didn't stop lots of people concluding that the game rips them off and Popcap (or more likely EA) is extremely greedy, summarizing it as a 'pay to play' game. Having mojo and idols, which was a unique form of currently compared to other casual games, converted to coins didn't help with that either.
  • Remaking the game with no regard to veteran players. This and the previous reason got almost everyone enraged.

    Veterans got all their high-tier powers and sent them back to level one, without any warning. No wonder why people are upset with this. Worse, the coin rate at the start isn't scaled up to regular use of powers normally attained at level 100 or so as well as accounting in spirit animals.

    A new player at level 11 with Cannon and Wild Shot equipped (no spirit eagle since it's too expensive for him to even use at this level), it costs 3500 and uses up his level up coins in two games (five if using old ZB prices). No biggie, refill in 6 more games. That's two power games per level.

    A veteran player however can use all his powers and food (and maybe a spirit eagle) and costs him 70,000 coins. Not bad except it will take him nine more levels (100 no power games) before he builds up enough coins to use it again with the same powers. (At level 100, he can use this twice before having to level up again.)

    Even if you have enough money to not worry about it, if you don't have serious competition, it can get boring very quickly. For lvl 80 veterans, save for the two powerups left to fully upgrade, there is nothing left to explore after lvl 15 since you unlocked all your powers already. There's 110 levels, but they did away with all the extras that made leveling up meaningful, such as critical hits, fruit point upgrades, and mojo upgrades, so veterans end up with 91 meaningless levels. (That's over 80% empty content)

  • Lack of score details and more information. Should've had it developed, you beta tested this thing for weeks and it's not there. You give players no clue how they got their score, even though it's quite clear (through Fiddler) a score breakdown is present and is sent back to the game servers. (See above image)
  • Not doing anything about it. It's explainable that those who maintain the page aren't the developers and can only forward requests, but if people are complaining, you should speak to them, not give generic responses to give the game a chance, or putting up exciting posts about the game without even looking at the comments at all. Worse, even entire posts are being pulled off for periods at a time, and not even a single post was made informing them that they were going to fix this. You had one job!

    (Must be EA's doing. Anyways...)

  • Not telling people that the switch was permanent and making finding a survey hard to find.

What Should Be Improved

  • Improve the help pages a bit and make them accurate. Misleading information is probably what drives people off. I wasn't informed that "the faster you get more life" actually meant one extra life every 40ish games, while at the same time making it longer than the old island to regenerate life.
  • Notify players before changing the score mechanics. It's sad to have tons of people leaving because they got very low scores, mainly due to the gap shot scoring rules, which were silently changed in the new version, and disregarding even what Popcap Scott said about Double Tapping. You can dismiss his Tiki Tip, that trick's not gonna work anymore.
  • Add some additional features when leveling up doesn't give you a power upgrade. Unless the devs made it that way, there needs to be some way of indicating that having a higher level gives you an advantage over low level players, for both new players and vets alike. At this time, assuming that all powers were unlocked on the previous island, after level 8 if one player is sufficiently skilled than the other he will always win, no matter what level the other player is at, be it 10 or 100 levels apart.
  • Don't ever let players buy high tier powers. It just makes the game unfair and leaderboards always favor the person who spends money to max their upgrades. A new player can immediately buy Sands of Time III for less than ten bucks and will tilt the odds in their favor for at least a few months while other players have to level up to get to it.
  • Change the look of the two people. They eyes look... reptillian.


The island was not ready to handle tons of dissatisfied players - its numerous bugs (no pun intended) and lack of game features indicate Kroakatoa was clearly not ready to be revealed and explored at this time.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Technique: Extra Large Gap Shots

EDIT: Patched on Oct 1, this method no longer works for large amounts of points.

Overview: On the new island, frogs used to the concept of double tapping on the old island were struggling to get high scores - they just weren't cutting it in the effort to reach over 10 million. What would obviously be a 140K double gap turned to a gap shot that fell obviously short of what a double tap would normally be. Other attempts to double tap normally resulted in only 50% of their score, worse than getting a gap shot through gaps that already existed. Other options were needed.

Within a few days after reaching the island, even causal players have been able to even top scores that professionals had extreme difficulty reaching. Something was up.

A careful study of gap shot techniques revealed that points were best accumulated not by how steady you can keep your hands when firing through narrow gaps, but based on the size of the gap. Guess they were compensating for something.

The technique was named 'Extra Large Gap Shots' due to using a large gap.

To Pull Off: Get a ball very close to the skull. Clear out as many balls as possible between the last ball and the start (while making sure that last ball doesn't slide back). Make gap shots as usual - any gap shot bonus that passes through that large gap is amplified by several factors, making multi-million scores seem trivial in just a few shots.

On some boards this can be quite difficult to pull off, with the level of difficulty similar to trying to maintain a continuous double gap, only the latter scores significantly less and really needs to be adjusted.

Score: If you have a large gap about the size of the entire curve (or a 50-ball gap), each gap shot that passed through it will be worth around 750K at 9x. The value of those gaps will decrease steadily the smaller the gap is (10% less every three balls) until the gap is only half the size of the curve, which the bonus will be a measly 500 points until the gap's five balls wide, which then will steadily increase up to 65K.

Tips: Candy Lei can be very helpful in reducing the amount of randomness in balls, making it easier to clear them.

Monday, September 10, 2012

A Final First Meeting

Freshman are confused. Others know what they're doing.

It was only five months ago, at the events of Capital Banquet, I mentioned to others that I was graduating and to even fewer people, that it would be my last Divisional event. I might see some people in the future, somewhere, someplace. I noticed now I cannot simply think that way.

After noticing that around 10% of the people who I have made connections with at CKI have deserted me over the summer, I start to wonder if I have failed on my own end, or was it the disadvantage of a small school that also contributed to it. In the general area of CKI, many people went their own ways in separate smaller groups, making it hard to achieve the type of bonding that larger schools like UC Davis provided.

I found the first meeting quite different compared to others. It's been good seeing some new (and old) faces, but unlike other CKI first meetings I've been to, it lacked a bit of organization - I was unable to find any flyers this year regarding CKI (other than the table and through group emails), Kevin arrived last and there was no initial icebreaker. Some were quite surprised to see me again, although I will be making a limited return.

Business before Fellowship: An option arose to head over to In-N-Out post meeting (as is the tradition most of the time) for fellowship purposes, but I had to leave early due to 'business' reasons. Deadlines first. (Although In-N-Out seemed questionable to me if I was given an option, anyone who knew my interests would clearly know I would go... regardless of my chances of success of talking to specific people.)

Category Introductions

#circlek: also known as #cki, or canonical Circle K, used on the blog for events attended that includes CKI members that is past my normal service CKI (after May 2012). Also includes unconventional media that includes any relation to CKI in the mix, like any artwork of various members and Perler Bead art.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Kroakatoa Island Approaching

The relaunch of Zuma Blitz, aka Kroakatoa Island. Even before the island was officially launched, it has been universally criticized by users of the old Zuma Blitz (with less than 10% approval rating for the past five posts on the ZB page), to the point where even I don't know why half the people are complaining and want to leave the island already. (Could someone give me an explanation?)

Conversion not right? Submit a receipt - click the "Receipt" button after transferring (before you play your first game) and print screen, upload to imgur, post the image link on comments. You should have a picture like this one.

Not enough coins per level? Get up to level 50+ and if you still think the same way, feel free to comment.

Idols not worth enough? $70 -> 3750 idols -> 4.7 million coins. It costs $97.50 on the new island for 5 million coins.

Not scoring high as before? They changed the gap mechanics a bit, favoring extremely large gaps over small ones. Example video of this

Something else? Leave it in the comments below.

Migration Info

All players are being migrated to the new island - read the below info to make sure you've got enough coins with you when you finally transfer, or jump straight to the new island. Remember: Once you depart, you cannot return back. (Even if you managed to do that, they will eventually remove game files needed to play the classic version, and your scores won't be saved.)

Noted Features (updated Sept 23, 2012)

This is only a brief list of important changes. The full list of observed changes on the new island can be found here.

  • Using new currency: Coins. Your mojo and idols from the previous version will transfer over to the new island as coins, however your level will not. You will get a one-time bonus for transferring based on your current level.

    If you wish to purchase additional mojo before moving to the new island, do so now - there are many players cashing out their large sums of mojo and idols on the new island, and they had to raise their prices there as a result. If 90 game 3x mojo potions are still offered at 32 idols, trade all your idols into them right now, as they give you a lot more coins for doing this when you transfer than with just idols.

  • If you had an higher tier power unlocked when you transfer it will still be available for use without having to level up first.
  • Fortune cookies will not carry over, so open them all prior to the relaunch. You can, however, send a bundle of coins to each friend per day in the near future. Any feeds clicked on for mojo posts on the old island are awarded to you as coins.
  • Treasure chests in the new island will instead give you an extra daily spin. Don't count on your luck, though; at the time of writing, the daily spins collected in-game is rigged to give you zero chance of any payout above 10k.
  • You can send lives to friends, at a rate of one every twelve hours. Number of coconuts collected on the island will determine the number of extra reserve lives.
  • Lives and XP potions are buyable using coins. Unlimited play for a set time, however, requires actual cash.
  • An additional food items can be used on a frog at a time to give it extra effects, in addition to three powers, and either increase the potency of a power or provide an extra benefit that powers or spirit animals can't get you. Effects can range from increasing the radius of hot frog explosions to increasing the score of gap shots.
  • You can buy powers in bulk at a price par to that of Classic Zuma Blitz.
  • Spirit Animals can be used multiple times in a row with a slight reduction in cost for each successive use. Their appearance will change slightly compared to Classic Zuma Blitz.
  • New spirit animals: Dire Wolf, Pegasus, Gryphon, Dragon, Giant Squid, designed for hardcore players. They are awarded at 2.5M, 3M, 3.5M, 4M, and 4.5M respectively. All spirit animals are available from the start, so you don't need to worry about not getting one due to a low level.
  • New HUD - all your stats are on the bottom (with no indicator on how much your fruit is worth), and game boards now have a larger widescreen aspect ratio, which allows room for more elaborate curve designs.
  • You will level up much quicker compared to the old island at the same level, BUT (at this time) you will not earn coins at the end of a game, only when you level up. Although this problem is very noticeable at low levels for players who transferred because high-level powers are being used, it should be of little concern by the time you reach the level you're normally supposed to unlock them (at lvl 105) since you're practically getting over 100k coins per level.
  • Your XP is primarily based on the number of techniques you pull off in the game - hot frog, curve clears, gap shots, and fruit all give you additional XP at the end of each game. Simply clearing a large amount of balls or getting a lot of points makes no difference in XP gained.
  • This version has an interesting bug in which it's possible to get time and multiplier balls well after they disappear. If such a powerup disappears on a ball just match that ball at your leisure and the multiplier/time bonus will be added.
  • Gap mechanics changed: Double tapping can no longer be used to get maximum points on your double gap. However, two ball gaps will.

Transfer Rates:

Popular belief says that you have to be lvl 80 before you transfer. You can technically go at any level, you'll just miss out on a few bonuses and will have to level back up again to get those power upgrades that you didn't earn on the old island.

  • Amount of Mojo is the number of coins you will receive, plus 50%.
  • 1 idol -> 1250 coins
  • 3x mojo potion (for each game) -> 1300 coins
  • Mastery level will give you a permanent sticker on your stats page, as well as some drinks (buffs)
  • Extra coins equal to 20% of the above total - but only if you got to level 80 or went through mastery.

Bonuses based on transfer level:

  • Lvl 10 - Bomb powerup x20
  • Lvl 20 - 375k coins (if you are less than level 80 this bonus is reduced)
  • Lvl 30 - 25x life
  • Lvl 40 - 24hr 2x XP potion
  • Lvl 50 - Cannon powerup x20
  • Lvl 60 - 24hr life

Related Resources