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Current Projects: Americana Engine (Game Engine Development)

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Americana Dawn: Title Screen


The title screen for AD in the beta, and a portion of the script used to create it. (Resolution at 1920x1080)

Some things, such as title screens, are difficult to program, especially if it is animated. Thankfully, the game uses a scripting system in order to handle maps, and it can handle the menu quite nicely as well.

Only four options exist on the menu right now:

  • Start - allows you to start a new game, or load one of your saved games. The game will have another option 'Continue' once you played through the game a bit.

    Although the game was designed for only three save slots, I allow a bit more than that since it's a PC, and some decisions in the game are not reversible (one you go a certain path, the other may not be available entirely). Savegame sharing is allowed but some achievements cannot be gained if you do this.

    AD may have a New Game+ because of it's open-ended nature when exploring the colonies through the various time periods. Your stats, learned abilities, and various non-quest items from previous playthroughs are saved, but they're all stored in a separate chest at your ranch once you get access to it, and you can grab them at your leisure.

  • Options - Allows you to change some minor game settings, like key bindings (does not affect some keys in minigames), and language settings.
  • Extras - Some other features that were cut out of the game, like Multiplayer. I hear that pledgers who get a grave in the game (which is the $300 tier) will get noted because of their contributions... by helping to shape the in-game world in new, creative ways.
  • Quit - does exactly what it does.

Note on the Title: The game natively runs at 720p, which means it won't have the black border around it during normal play.

(Updated 12/21)

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Sacramento Holiday Classic

As the last run of the year (for me), it's back up to Sacramento, donating a toy in the process and a free 5K run through a mostly flat trail. It was a bit over two years ago since I last walked part of it on foot.

Yes, I know it's pretty cold during this run, but at least it's not below freezing temperatures as it was the past week, which made practice runs impossible due to the black ice from water sprinklers spilling out onto the sidewalk.

Note: The train is not guaranteed to pass by while you're running under the bridge.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Horizon Christmas Lights

At Lake Tahoe, the Horizon might not be somewhere worth going into, as it looks a bit empty inside except for a movie theater, however the display outside is worth looking at, esepecially when it's timed to music (various Christmas songs, incluing Wizards in Winter).

Now, if only the Montbleu animated their lights as well...

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Costco Pizza

There can never be too much pizza to order at Costco.

I don't know whether they're empty or full boxes there, but either way they're still making pizzas and putting them in new boxes. I doubt they're actually full boxes because the sheer weight of each pizza could crush the boxes below.

(at Costco - Sacramento near Elk Grove)

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Crystal Story 2: Skill Guide

Here's a list of all the skills for Crystal Story 2 for each character (as of v1.20). A character can pick two specializations for each class tier, and a third after two Class V specialization trees are completed (after around 365k SP total), as well as a fourth specialization at 1.1 million SP, although by this point it's mainly for upping your stats.

D has Slayer I selected at the start of the game, Lina has Thief I, and Mari has Elementalist I.

D Class I Class II Class III Class IV Class V
Base SP Cost
(per Node)
25 / 40 120 / 210 560 / 840 2000 / 2400 3600 / 3600
Slayer Fire Attack
Bash
Frost Attack
Cleave
Barrage Shockwave Berserk
Guardian Guard
Attack Up
Attack Down
Magic Up
Magic Down
Recovery
Attack Up All
Transfer MP
Concentrate
Attack Down All
Magic Up All
Reinforce
Thief Throw Burst 1
Steal
Quick Attack
Flee
Hide
Haste
Throw Burst 2
Sprint
Pilfer
Blur
Throw Burst 3
Quicken All
Elementalist Fire I
Water I
Lightning I
Earth I
Flame Wall I
Blizzard I
Storm I
Quake I
Fire II
Water II
Flame Wall II
Blizzard II
Fire III
Trickster Armor Down
Poison
Silence
Sleep
Blind
Spirit Down
Slow
Poison All
Silence All
Sleep All
Spirit Down All
Armor Down All
Slow All
Blind All
Healer Heal
Cure
Armor Up
Spirit Up
Raise
Heal All
Regen
Quick Heal
Armor Up
Spirit Up All
Raise All
Greater Heal
Auto Raise

Lina Class I Class II Class III Class IV Class V
Slayer Earth Attack
Bash
Lightning Attack
Cleave
Barrage Berserk Shockwave
Guardian Guard
Attack Down
Magic Up
Attack Up
Magic Down
Recovery
Magic Down All
Transfer MP
Concentrate
Attack Up All
Magic Up All
Reinforce
Thief Throw Burst 1
Steal
Quick Attack
Flee
Sprint
Quicken
Throw Burst 2
Pilfer
Hide
Blur
Throw Burst 3
Quicken All
Elementalist Earth I
Lightning I
Water I
Fire I
Quake I
Storm I
Blizzard I
Flame Wall I
Lightning II
Storm II
Earth II
Quake II
Lightning III
Trickster Armor Down
Poison
Silence
Sleep
Blind
Spirit Down
Slow
Poison All
Silence All
Sleep All
Spirit Down All
Armor Down All
Slow All
Blind All
Healer Heal
Cure
Armor Up
Spirit Up
Raise
Heal All
Regen
Quick Heal
Armor Up
Cure All
Raise All
Greater Heal
Holy Light

Mari Class I Class II Class III Class IV Class V
Slayer Lightning Attack
Earth Attack
Bash
Cleave
Barrage Shockwave Berserk
Guardian Guard
Magic Up
Attack Down
Attack Up
Magic Down
Recovery
Magic Up All
Transfer MP
Concentrate
Magic Down All
Attack Down All
Reinforce
Thief Throw Burst 1
Flee
Hide
Quick Attack
Steal
Throw Burst 2
Sprint
Quicken
Pilfer
Blur
Throw Burst 3
Quicken All
Elementalist Fire I
Lightning I
Earth I
Water I
Quake I
Flame Wall I
Storm I
Blizzard I
Fire II
Earth II
Flame Wall II
Quake II
Earth III
Trickster Spirit Down
Poison
Silence
Armor Down
Slow
Blind
Sleep
Spirit Down All
Silence All
Sleep All
Blind All
Poison All
Slow All
Armor Down All
Healer Heal
Cure
Spirit Up
Raise
Armor Up
Heal All
Regen
Quick Heal
Cure All
Spirit Up
Raise All
Greater Heal
Regen All

Kaz Class I Class II Class III Class IV Class V
Slayer Bash
Cleave
Frost Attack
Lightning Attack
Barrage Shockwave Berserk
Guardian Guard
Attack Up
Magic Up
Attack Down
Magic Down
Recovery
Transfer MP
Attack Up All
Concentrate
Magic Down All
Attack Down All
Reinforce
Thief Quick Attack
Steal
Throw Burst 1
Sprint
Hide
Throw Burst 2
Flee
Quicken
Pilfer
Blur
Quicken All
Throw Burst 3
Elementalist Lightning I
Water I
Fire I
Earth I
Storm I
Blizzard I
Flame Wall I
Quake I
Water II
Lightning II
Blizzard II
Storm II
Water III
Trickster Silence
Blind
Poison
Sleep
Armor Down
Spirit Down
Slow
Poison All
Silence All
Sleep All
Blind All
Armor Down All
Slow All
Spirit Down All
Healer Heal
Armor Up
Spirit Up
Cure
Raise
Heal All
Regen
Quick Heal
Cure All
Spirit Up All
Armor Up All
Greater Heal
Holy Light

Notes:

  • Base SP Cost only displays the cost of learning the first two specializations, and rises as you go though the skill path. Skill cost is 1.2x base SP. There are 20-23 stat increasing nodes per specialization, and the amount of stats gained from a node varies slightly per character.
  • Anything in cyan are skills unique to the character.
  • Fire Attack, Frost Attack, Lightning Attack, and Earth Attack deal elemental damage based off the ATK stat instead of the MAG stat.
  • Guard, Recovery, Concentrate, Berserk, and Reinforce targets self.
    • Guard: Reduces the damage of next attack by half
    • Recovery: Casts Regen (late game this is pretty much useless)
    • Concentrate: Gives ATK Up and MAG Up
    • Berserk: Gives ATK Up, MAG Up, and SPD Up
    • Reinforce: Gives DEF Up and MDEF Up
  • Throw Burst 1, 2, 3 are the only skills which allow you to use offensive weapons in your inventory.
  • Hide prevents enemies from chasing you when used on the field map for a while (you can still start an encounter if you run into an enemy), and Sprint doubles your movement speed on the map.
  • Lightning actually inflicts Wind damage. Don't ask why.
  • Holy Light applies Greater Heal to all allies.
  • Auto Raise gives the party Auto-Life status, fixed in v1.3.

A good strat would be to get a dedicated buff/debuffer with high speed with the Start SPD accessory (one is obtainable after completing Mercenary Defense Lvl 3) to allow multiple turns at the start of battle to buff the party's defenses and speed, and the other party members for offensive attacks and possibly debuff the enemy.

Focus less on stat gains and more on desired skills when deciding what class to give your character. When choosing between two stat gains always go for the HP/MP increase, since the other stats are easier to get via equipment + upgrades and the only increases to DEF or MDEF are accessories or buffs (in the latter case it's a 25% damage decrease). Bosses (and many enemies scaled up when Wanted X Quests / Hard Mode is activated) are capable of one shotting you / entire party otherwise, sometimes before you can even make a move.

I don't have exact specifications at the moment on how many of each upgrade are present when going through each class specialization. The table might be more useful on the wikia for this game, but the visual graphic that will soon replace the above tables will remain here.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

One Cent Book at Fry's

I don't think I need to explain this further.

At first I'm like 'there's gotta be some strings attached', like the other software in the discount pile scattered around Roseville Fry's claiming a total cost of zero dollars... after the mail in rebates. There's that discount label on the book, so it's legit. No tax on this either.

Meanwhile, there girl's dolls in areas where books would normally go, and men's cologne products in the children's book aisle.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Delta College Book Swap

Hosted by the Writers' Guild of SJDC, at Danner Hall today.

Thought it was going to be a look-only as the flyer seemed like you need to trade in books in order to obtain others, but apparently this was not the case - all of the books were free, and they were hauling in more boxes of used books every few minutes. There weren't any ebooks around though at the time I visited.

I decided to grab a few books related to the CS area, especially those focusing on the (new obsolete) certification tests, as they might be useful later.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Returning to the Stateline... again

A year ago, I was doing film work for GSKA. However this year they did things a bit differently; my position to film is no longer required, so I was free to explore for the day. But I was prepared for that. Couldn't make it to either the beach or mountains, but I'll find another time for that.

Notes:

  • If going in October, the gondolas (or the ski hills, for that matter) will not be available.
  • Restaurants in the Stateline area are quite expensive, but at least try them once. Recommended: Base Camp Pizza (they are $12 for 8", $17 for 12", and $25 for 16").
  • The Nestle Tollhouse Cafe's cookie prices are too high; you'd probably find something better at the nearby Raley's.
  • At Harvey's at the arcade you can trade 1 token = 20 tickets, this is actually better than any arcade game that dispenses tickets there on average. (It works vice versa, so if you can find a way to make more than 20 tickets per game, you can use that to your advantage)
  • The Heavenly Shop at Harvey's doesn't accept comp money. Neither does Cinnabon and the food court items at Harrah's (although it's more obvious).
  • There's a car show during this time at Heavenly Village.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Review: McDonald's Mighty Wings

Short Review: They're by all means cripsy and good, however its small size leaves a lot to be desired. KFC would be a better choice in this case, since they offer larger wings for a slighly cheaper price.

Its price is quite high (at least in Stockton anyways) at $10.99 for ten of them (15.49 w/two drinks + medium fries), making this by far the most expensive item on the menu.

Had some trouble getting most of it dipped due to the bone in the middle and the size of the dipping sauce, which seemed more suited to dipping Chicken McNuggets.

(Updated the city where the pricing was, since the prices varied between cities. Still expensive however)

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Handling Diagonal Movement in Tactical RPGs


Ignore the Battle GUI - it is a mockup and therefore has incorrect information.

Normally Tactical RPGs do not allow diagonal movement, however I propose a system that handles this while factoring in obstacles.

While designing the war system in Americana Dawn, there were previously a few issues about the move range on a character; because the shoot distance is calculated by absolute distance from the character (instead of grid squares) it would create a disadvantage for some units. Also, it creates movement range more like a circle.

If a melee attacker was hit from a diagonal, it would normally take two turns for it to reach the target. The extra turn is a huge difference - the attacker that could otherwise defeat the enemy may not survive the second turn.

I had a few choices, either restrict attack range, or include diagonal movement. Moving based on absolute distance was considered, but it was ruled out since it can get messy at times and might not find the optimal route when tiles are weighted. So a diagonal is calculated as 1.5 movement points. (It might be 1.4 movement points later if the game requires more precision.)

But this is not factoring in the weights of the various tiles, so this is achieved by taking the weight of the diagonal square that you move to, plus the two adjacent squares that you cross getting there, and dividing by two. Thus the formula is:

Movement Cost = (Tile Weight for upper right tile + upper tile + right tile) / 2, relative to the character.

There's situations where a diagonal move takes up more move points than moving two spaces instead, but the game automatically calculates the shortest distance to a tile anyways so it isn't a real problem.

The drawback is being able to get to normally inaccessible tiles via a diagonal move. Consider it as an advantage - the 'creative designing' process should ensure this happens only when it needs to.

I think more of the creative designing should be the AI script for these battles, which is mostly based on the enemy commander's personality, although it usually looks ahead at least a turn and makes decisions only based on what it can see, and will find cover and ambush if possible.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Bubble Lady @ Troke Library

While working as a tutor for MathSmart, I knew from the intercoms that there was going to be a show at 6:30pm, but I didn't expect it to be so loud and so busy when I came out to look after my shift had ended.

It was quite a crowd there.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Americana Dawn: Shop GUI


The aforementioned shop from the previous post.

There was some progress in developing a shop GUI, but my team was not available at the moment, so I had to design one. Note the above screen is not final. But it has everything it needs to show right now: The buy/sell prices (note that not all vendors will sell at the same price and/or buy your stuff), shop names (person's name if it's a street vendor), item description, and your cash.

The same GUI might be used to purchase equipment using war funds to customize your team for large scale macrobattles, but that's to be approved.

The Buy/Sell Items switches between buying and selling items. The Shop Inventory and your inventory will eventually be merged into one box. I liked the left and right side comparison, but it leaves no room to put in the important 'Item Details' box (at least for equipment anyways). It might be a bit empty for things like crafting material, which are essentially two liners, but that will have to do for now.

If you sold something by accident, you can buyback your items from the store at the price you sold it, but it must be done before exiting the shop menu.

The Compare button, when you are buying items and have a piece of equipment selected, allows you to compare that with the weapons the party has equipped, displaying their weapon name, base damage, accuracy, cooldown, and the most prominent special attribute. If you are comparing accessories, your team's currently equipped accessories will be displayed instead.

Keep in mind the game will not suggest whether the accessory you are going to buy will benefit your team as there are many different ways you can build your character. For weapons, there will be a general indicator to tell you whether damage dealt/cooldown/accuracy is better or worse than what they're holding, but not for other attributes, which may or may not be important during a battle. Don't forget you can always switch weapons during a fight to take advantage of the enemy's status (and elemental) weaknesses.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Americana Dawn: Status Page


Don't tease Foster because he's carrying around a stuffed animal.

The Status page was somewhat of a direct opposition to Seltaire's thoughts of a rather minimalistic Status screen, containing a combination of stats, weapon mastery, and skills. (Art: finbeard with edits by bchantech)

Stats: Contains an overview of your various core stats, which each should be self-explanatory.

  • STR acts as a multiplier on a melee weapon's Base DMG.
  • DEF determines how much damage is resisted. It has diminishing returns, so you can never get to 100% damage resist.
  • ACC determines the chance to hit and crit, and critical damage for ranged weapons. It plays more of a factor for ranged weapons, where they rely on strong critical hits to deal most of the damage.
  • EVA determines chance to evade an attack. Less effective against ranged attacks.

The Long Goodbye had no less than 11 stats on the status page, in which four seemed important for battle purposes, and the rest I had to consult a GameFAQs guide about what they do, only to find out that no guides were published on the game.


So as a Dragoon - which is better on the field, Agility, Dexterity, or Mettle? Or just go for a STR build?

Weapon Lv: The bonuses varied throughout development.

The first draft was that higher levels reduced the cooldown (time to act again) by 1% per level, up to mastery 15. But KY wanted to give incentives for characters to use a variety of weapons as well as having each weapon being distinct in some way, so their mastery bonuses for each weapon were changed accordingly, and a core stat is increased for every weapon level. Weapons still have a flat damage increase or a crit rate + dmg increase per level. Since it takes a long time to level up at higher masteries, I wanted it to make sure that doing so was worth it instead of mastering another weapon and taking a stat increase instead, so the damage bonus now scales up relative to Weapon XP.

There's now a mastery labeled Endurance, increased by eating food items. I decided to have this bonus simply because there needed to be some way to raise HP, and I didn't want armor to be the only way, other than character-dependent skills. It also makes eating (more costly) food a viable option than simply buying cheap potions to heal.

Weapon XP is independent for each weapon and gained from successful hits and damage done instead of winning battles, although there may be other ways to gain mastery levels instead of fighting.

Other Tabs: Two other tabs not in this image are skills, which tell you what skills were learned (maybe assign an SP cost later to prevent characters from spamming overpowered abilities), and Misc stats.

Gear Names: My rule with creating mockups: When it comes to items, never use them as placeholders. If there's an item showcased in a screenshot, it must appear in the game somewhere. There's like a hundred or so different shops in the game and anything is possible, so there's plenty of room to be creative (and possibly make references at the same time).

A good example above is Jelly Amigurumi, a unique item which is bought at Green Tea Grass for 2500 SH (which is a reference to the Etsy store of the same name). It's supposed to be a decorative item for Foster's house, but you get a minor boost in stats just by holding it.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

The New Exploratorium


Multicolored lighting is not from spotlights, it's from the above windows.

Finally got a chance to see the new Exploratorium on Pier 15 since its reopening in April. It looks just as spacious, with more windows, and a lot more exhibits than I remember it having previously (I always thought it occupied the entire building at the Palace of Fine Arts, but it doesn't appear to be the case).

Even though some of this exhibits remains the same (as of almost ten years ago when I last visited), there's plenty of new stuff to see; even some of the benches outside are exhibits in its own right*.

Notable Exhibits here (in my opinion):

  • A Pac-Man game, with a twist: Four players, and each person has one button corresponding to a certain direction. (The button may not always be responsive)
  • Exhibit: The Changing Face of What is Normal
  • A Smorgasbord of Signs and Symbols
  • Museum of Wear and Tear
  • A lot of the exhibits in the sight and sound section
  • Rolling Through the Bay (it's temporarily over here)
  • Transparent Pinball Machine (an analog one, prior to any led screens, etc.)

In the Forum: One Click at a Time: Was only on August 24th, and consisted of a variety of stop motion clips. Was playing the following:

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Americana Dawn: Equip Page, Crafting, etc.


With a HP cap of 1000, this allows you to survive most situations.

The inventory screen has been revamped heavily from when it was known as "The Long Goodbye".

The current (and maybe) final version of the equip page. Enough information on this page in the Equip Details and the description on the bottom to know what you're equipping and how effective it will be without consulting a walkthrough. (Finding all the accessories and rare items, however, might be a different story, but it might include a bit of crafting/trading.)

Inventory: Inventory and Equip is handled Disgaea style - the first slot is a weapon and the rest accessories. All your items are shown in the inventory because you only have a finite space to put everything.

Crafting: The shops in major towns usually sell pretty standard stuff, however some trading posts out there are run by people who are specialists in their own right, and will be happy to produce unique accessories, weapon upgrades, or consumables for you - given the materials and the right price. So it's more like trading.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Facebook Photo Size Limit: Larger than 2048px?

It has always been officially stated that the maximum size of uploaded Facebook pictures is 2048x2048 px, but this doesn't seem to be the case in this picture from a friend uploaded today, as this photo has a size of 3327 x 1259 pixels.

I can't tell whether the 2048px is a limitation within uploading directly from Facebook or the maximum size was silently increased, but it's proof that there are ways of bypassing the dimension limit for pictures on FB.

Despite this, the compression on this image is quite high; I can't tell whether or not this caused by a Facebook script compressing it down, but if this is the case it should never substitute for a site that stores images in higher quality like flickr / imgur. I attempted to use this as a background image for my laptop and couldn't stand the highly visible compression artifacts both on the ground and the sky.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Americana Dawn: Battle System + Mockup


Foster's team taking out a soldier in a microbattle, 3d mockup.

Americana Dawn is after all a Suikoden-inspired game (with the battle system) so it should be fair that battles be in 3d. However this requires a lot more work and sprites so it's a stretch goal instead. But the main points of the battle system are:

  • A cooldown system will replace the ATB system found in RPG games, and is based on weapon or skill used. Although the game is turn-based, how soon a character can make another move is based on equipment, skills, and buffs (or debuffs!).
  • One weapon and three accessories per character. Weapons are divided into eight different types each with their own strengths and weaknesses. Both weapons and accessories are random loot drops to some extent.
  • 15 levels of mastery for each weapon type, the higher your mastery the more effectively you can use it, as well as being able to learn new weapon-related skills. There is no other form of 'leveling up' in this game.
  • You can switch weapons during a battle.
  • When heroes (and some enemies) run out of HP, they are briefly incapacitated and will get up after a while at full health, however they will suffer fatigue penalties (temporary reduction to max HP). Units heal to full after a battle is over, but you will need to rest somewhere to remove fatigue.

3D Battle System unlock conditions: Raise over $120k on the second Americana Dawn Kickstarter.

Friday, August 2, 2013

Review: Boyelu USB 3.0 Hub (with Independent Power Controls)

Or AGPtek, or whatever. Anything with this specific packaging. But there's more problems than with just that.

I normally don't review small products like this, but the potential problems of buying generic brand items for cheaper prices forces me to give a fair warning about these.

Overview

The manufacturer from Newegg reads AGPtek (and there are three different products in the market, though they are sold by different companies, and one of them is marked as First From Asia). But a few problems:

  • AGPtek does not manufacture or sell USB Hubs
  • Their support website does not show anything about them.
  • There is no 'direct' manufacturing website on its product (nor does it have the company name on the product itself).

Those are just generic problems, and I didn't cover the product problems. They are:

  • No AC Adapter present in the box (that means I have to find my own, which could take a while).
  • Power for the hub is 500mA (it's on the back of the box, but the product overview doesn't tell you that, particularly since the product images do not show the back of the box. Nothing on the box says the adapter is present either.
  • Recognized as two USB 2.0 Ports and two USB 3.0 ports in Device Manager upon plugin. Does that mean I can only get four ports worth of usb hubs? Don't know yet, but will test soon.

There is an upside, however, and that is the power for USB devices for the hub are controlled via buttons, which means that you don't have repeatedly plug and unplug something for whatever reason (usually due to delays in booting up Win7 when multiple external hard drives are plugged in).

Two options remain, either return it to test it out. Considering I can't return or exchange it as there's parts missing when it arrived and the hub's not defective, and there's really no reviews for this, there's only one option left. (I do not want to waste $30 on this one)

Results: The USB 3.0 hub was tested with a card reader and five hard drives attached to it. Without an (optional) power supply, only three drives and a card reader were operational, anything else was not recognized by Windows. The number of devices recognized could be less if those devices used up more power. However, all of the ports appear to have USB 3.0 like speeds.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Stockton Free Boat Cruises

What is better than a free cruise? Nothing else. However, its range is quite limited since the tour only lasts for two hours (it turns around before reaching the Sailing Club marina), but you can't beat free right? (Compared to around $100 normally)

The opportunity for free tours was first available sometime in June, but I didn't see it until reading the newspaper article about it. By that time all of the free cruises that were available (up to end of July) were sold out, that's how popular it is. But not to worry - they're doing more cruises for September starting in a couple of weeks.

Get a reservation via this link.

Protip: They make available 3 cruises per Saturday, 10am, 1pm, 4pm, for 50 passengers for September starting on August 5 at 8am. If you were unable to get a reservation or can't wait that long, you can always wait in the standby line. Arrive around 45-60 minutes early for an almost guaranteed first priority on standby (if someone fails to attend, and it is almost bound to happen, you can go). If that doesn't work, you can call them up to (most likely) get higher up the priority line for the next cruise.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Peppermill: Background TV Displays

Back at the Peppermill again, this time to learn more about the various outdoor scenery that is playing on the TVs around the casino (there's a huge backstory about this, and yes, it is possible to get a behind the scenes tour).

What TV, you ask? Like this one, these TVs in the background are scattered all across the casino, sometimes in pairs of three, one large one at a bar, and others as single screen or two lined up vertically. There's also a channel in the hotel room that displays these backdrops (the tv there is usually flipped to this channel upon first entering). I'm guessing they're too ambient, not a lot of people who review this place mention this at all.

After learning that there were thousands of possible backgrounds that could be played and them being shot on Red One cameras (justifiable since they needed the high resolution to fill up to three 1080p screens), I'll probably be watching them more on future trips... never knew that the background videos had so much behind it.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Desert Oasis Division, Perler Bead Version (Rework)

The second of the CNH Division Logo series (9 total).

There's some ambiguity as to what the most recent logo actually looks like, so I'm using this version found in the CNH Sunburst in August 2012, with minor modifications (usually due to the limit of colors that I have on hand).

I know that the Las Vegas temperatures during the trip weeks ago was hot, but didn't know Central California (and Capital Division) was also equally so with the temperatures hitting the three-digit range, almost at 110 degrees, at least in June anyways.

The bottom actually looks a bit plain compared to the reference image, so there will be a few more details added to the mountains and cactus before it is released on FB.

Note: I don't have active contact with anyone in other divisions other than Capital, so I don't expect the popularity for the CNH Logo Perler Bead series to be high. I'm simply just a completionist, that's all. And I really don't want to deconstruct the Capital Division logo completely if I had other projects I wanted to do involving CKI since at least 50% of that logo can be reused. It will get a soft (non newsfeed) release on FB but that's about it.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

A Brief History of Message Boxes (in Americana Dawn)

The dialogue box appearance in Americana Dawn has changed over the years, and a bit more dramatically in the months after I came in and built a custom engine.

First two panels: The first one was used as a custom message box displayed in the RPGMaker Engine (The Long Goodbye). The other one was probably a photoshopped mockup, but I don't know for sure. (I didn't receive a copy of a build that displayed message boxes)

Panels three and four: First one was the photoshopped mockup that I needed to implement in-game. The closest I could do was in the panel below (this includes recreating the drop shadows, quality reduced since it need to redraw the shadow in realtime up to 60 times per second)

Panels five and six: Panel five is the photoshop mockup version. I recreated it and added a bit of additional features in the next panel. Said colored text are not the exact rgb values in yet another mockup, but I manually adjusted it for readability purposes. Drop shadows are part of the bitmap font. Said font is not monospaced so there were a few tweaks made with letter placement in the bitmap to improve performance while keeping uniform spacing between letters and such.

Complications: The pixel font was implemented as a bitmap since the AddFontResourceEx call fails when trying to read the ttf version of the font (as in it causes the program to hang after the function is called, and I can't stop the program for debugging).

The 'reading Japanese Characters from a file' might prove to be a challenge at this point since I'll have to deal with reading UTF-8 and interpreting the multi-byte input into a character (I cannot use such characters as test strings in the cpp files since they are encoded in ANSI).

I have still a few other pages to implement, but I'll cover the battle screen related stuff next, since people want action related shots and I'm overdue a few months on a functional demo.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Chinese Culture Camp: More of Everything

There's a lot more of everything this year in Chinese Cultural Camp, more students (nearly twice as much), more lions, the camp is longer (by one day), and... more cameras. (I don't have a SLR this time around, though.) Looks like those advertisements are getting somewhere (I think my video from last year helped partially with it).

I didn't have any moving tripods to create some pan effects so I had to improvise a bit and use a cart, and handle the shakes post-processing since the wheels on the carts are designed for moving foldable chairs around and they aren't the smoothest.

News article on this.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Summer at the Stockton Cinemas

During this month I have been to the theaters to watch a movie more often than any other. And apparently the lines are longer than ever. So long that Monsters University sold out and there were two separate lines near the entrance of the theater for those waiting for the next showing (people were lining up around an hour before the movie started). Must've been the summer movies and the specials.

Specials in the Stockton Area: Although you can get 20 dollars worth of movies and $10 for concessions at Costco for 25 bucks everything (except for large popcorn) is quite expensive so it's not really worth buying. Other than early bird and matinee specials there's a few other specials going on at this time:

  • Stockton City Center Stadium 16: Twilight Special - discounts the cost of tickets to $6.00 for any movie that starts between 4-6 pm on the weekdays.
  • Stockton Holiday 8 on West Lane: Tickets for any show on Tuesday and Sunday are $5 (more than half off). They also show G and PG movies at 10am on Tuesdays and Wednesdays for $1 each, however there is only one showing a day and it's first come first serve.

Monday, June 17, 2013

The One Dollar Bookstore


The books are a dollar each, but good luck finding what you want.

The One Dollar Bookstore (also known as Piccolo's Books) at Long Beach: One dollar a book, excluding tax. This includes audio CDs and magazines. The only exceptions to these rules are the ones on the window display, and some large posters, which are $5 and $25 respectively. The store (at least the one in Long Beach) is huge, so you'll have a variety available to you.

Although books are broadly sorted (such as fiction, travel, self-improvement, etc. the organization in those categories are subpar, you may spend more time trying to browse (and/or sort) books than looking in them in some areas.

Note on books:

  • Practically all of them are used books, meaning that what you find is something that someone else didn't want.
  • Good place if you're looking for fiction books.
  • Since they are used books, expect to find lots of dated material.
  • There's an entire shelf of AAA travel books (and it has its own category) for those who don't have a AAA membership. (They are usually free of charge once you get one)
  • The computer books are great... for legacy software. Want to learn the basics of a program? You can start here. I recommend you get a up-to-date book when possible though. The books here typically cover software ranging from the 1990s to the early 2000s. Don't expect to find books relating to programming languages. Ignore the manuals (like Norton Systemworks).
  • Books regarding games are literally used; you may find puzzle books which have been written in and partially completed. Most of them in this section are discarded game manuals, in the days where detailed manuals existed in physical form.
  • If someone sees you sorting something (or as much as putting a book back), there's a chance someone may mistake you for working there.


Attempt at grouping all the Visual Quickstart guides together to make a decision on which ones to get.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

McDonalds: New Menu Items?

On a McDonalds somewhere on I-5 (the one on Panoche Road) there was a sign containing not one but five new items, consisting of the following:

  • Southwest Burger, 360 cal.
  • Grilled Onion Cheddar McDouble, 400 cal.
  • Southwest McDouble, 400 cal.
  • McChicken Deluxe, 440 cal.
  • Hot'n Spicy McChicken Deluxe, 460 cal.

The Deluxe versions simply add a tomato and a slice of cheese (this puts it on par with a Premium Grilled Club Sandwich, minus the bacon, for a fraction of the price)

I haven't seen any of these items around before (at least at the McDonalds I've been to normally), does anyone know if these items are available elsewhere?

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Las Vegas Redux

Six years ago I first traveled to Las Vegas with relatives, it was a new place for me, a place to see lots of skyscrapers / hotels, and to explore everything it had to offer. Unfortunately the ability to see a lot of things were limited, due to being under 21 at that time. Fast forward to today. Not only am I over 21 (this means I can walk through casinos without a problem* and get to places which were previously inaccessible), but we're also using a Powerpass (that means being able to see as many attractions as possible in three days).

I had two goals to accomplish that week:

  • Collect as many different poker chips as possible (although I prefer $5 because some are rare chips, white/blue ones are sufficient)
  • See as many places as possible

General Notes regarding the Powerpass:

  • It is strongly recommended you buy the Powerpass at Costco online for $105 covering three days. Redeem at the Planet Hollywood Store in the Forum Shops in order to get your cards. Anything less than 3 days would not be advised since you will have to rush between attractions in order to see enough to cover the cost.
  • The 3 day period starts as soon as you use it in any attraction that it covers, best to use it at the start of the day.
  • You will very likely not be able to make it to every place within 3 days, so plan carefully.
  • Mob Museum is the one downtown, NOT the one at the Tropicana. (They mentioned that they no longer accepted it in Feb 2013, implying that they previously accepted it).

Recommendations for Powerpass: (based on what I've seen)

  • Planet Hollywood Store or Restaurant Credit. The $10 dollar credit at PH is reusable and stacks so if you're going with friends or family and they also have a powerpass you can use your cards together and make purchases that way (ex. 4 cards give you $40 store or food credit that day).
  • Hoover Dam Motor Coach Tour
  • Wax Museum
  • Bellagio of Fine Art (at the time this was posted, exhibit was Warhol Out West, yours may vary)
  • BeatleShow (might as well see it since you are paying lots for the pass)
  • Eiffel Tower Experience (the above image was shot from the top of Eiffel Tower)
  • Stratosphere Observation Deck (Note: This does not include rides though there is a slight discount for some food items there)
  • National Atomic Testing Museum

Notes regarding other things on the trip:

  • At this time, it is very hot outside. As in 100+ degree weather, find shade or indoor shelter as soon as possible. Venetian + Palazzo connects together, as well as Monte Carlo + Vadara + Bellagio and Paris + Bally's. TI and Mirage connects via a Tram.
  • If you book a location on the Strip (online), be prepared to pay an additional mandatory resort fee per night, the online pricing does not include this in calculating cheapest hotels. Use this page as a guide.
  • McDonalds is by far the cheapest thing you can have on the strip, when you consider that burgers (or almost any place not considered fast food, for that matter) are an average price of around $11. Keep in mind that $1 will give you a Spicy McChicken, the regular variant is not available.
  • The Flamingo Hotel might be cheap but it's the oldest on the Strip and it speaks for its price from the uneven carpeting (at least on the 10th floor) and in my room the bathroom knob was falling apart and the toilet seat was loose.
  • I play one round per casino for this trip in order to collect a poker chip. (Don't collect the ones that you find in the souvenir shops though, they look too polished, have no cash value, and are more expensive)
  • Based on observations from the various Roulette Tables while walking by, a black didn't appear for up to nine spins in a row on several tables, so anything can happen. And anybody using any sort of Martingale strategy would go bankrupt (or hit the table limit if they didn't).
  • There's a F-Zero AX Machine at Buffalo Bill's, but it wasn't working at the time I was there.

Heard they were renovating, but they weren't quite finished yet. Guess they were right.

Friday, May 24, 2013

The Candy Lei Problem


The board under varying degrees of Candy Lei. Players will never see balls roll out in the way shown on the third screen.

This week's board (previously called Summer Solstice) faces a few problems due to the board design, most notably regarding Candy Lei (and any other food that creates bigger clusters.) The fanpage hints that this is a tough board this week and mentions that the Candy Lei appears to be working, but many people disagree. So what's the real problem here?

Difficulty Adjustment: There are several ways that difficulty can be raised aside from the curve design. As boards in Blitz use the same curve file structure as in Zuma's Revenge, the difficulty can be raised by either increasing the max number of singles that pop up in a row (offset 0x15), the number of colors the curve will produce (offset 0x19, max 6), or other features like max cluster size and speed of balls (offset unknown). The balls generated are not completely random, instead the color of the ball is based on whether or not it meets various criteria in the previous sentence.

Note the difficulty applies for a single curve only, and there are two curves that are loaded in Blitz, so the difficulty for each curve can be adjusted independently.

Problem: The Candy Lei makes clusters bigger by reducing the number of single balls that can appear in a row (it also increases the chance that clusters are bigger, but only marginally). Under normal circumstances after a ball has rolled out, if the next ball isn't the same color as the previous ball then the ball after that must be the same color. The Candy Lei ensures that no single balls roll out at all. However this board allows up to two singles to roll out in a row, so a Candy Lei would set the board to the difficulty found in past boards without the use of Candy Lei. The noticeable change is minor when multiple single balls are allowed to come out in a row, but is major when they cause singles to be non-existent. The huge difference is causing people to believe that the Lei is not working.

How to resolve: The Candy Lei effect either needs to be made stronger, or change the difficulty that fewer singles roll out.

Strategy: I would normally suggest using a Spirit Turtle since you can chain hot frogs together and can clear balls / reach fruit no matter how jumbled up they are, but they banned it and 99% of the players do not have access to a turtle. Unless you are an expert with making gaps, I don't have good tips otherwise, so all I can say is good luck.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Facebook Spam via Tagging


More of these posts start showing up, usually you only know about this via email.

I've been getting a lot more of these spam messages lately, involving a friend (or friend of a friend) sending spam messages, and tagging others to improve spreadability. They're usually deleted within minutes after they show up, and due to its nature they appear to be automated. If that's the case it won't spread far, but there's a few things to get from it.

Stuff I do know about it: I know these messages exist because:

  • I get an email the minute I get tagged, even though I was untagged or the post was deleted. I concluded that it was deleted, because tag review notifications include posts which were deleted, and deleted posts technicially still exist on FB's servers, with the privacy setting of that post set so that no one can see it.
  • The email is legitimate.
  • Who gets tagged appears to be random (though I don't know for sure because I never actually saw the live message)
  • It would be quite hard to tag specific friends of friends because you need to type in at least their first name and need to start typing their last name in full.
  • If the tags include friends, it can spread quicker because in most cases people don't use Tag Review and therefore any tag from a friend will auto-appear on their wall and a newsfeed post will be made about it. (With Tag Review on, it occurs only if a comment or like is made on the post in question.) Just tagging anyone will automatically hit their tag review wall.
  • If it was automated you can apparently tag anyone in a status message... yet the official documentation for graph API for a status message doesn't say anything about tags.

I know there are some legitimate uses for tagging friends of friends (I usually do tags only if I am mentioning someone in a post that they can't normally see) but I feel like there are more ways for this feature to be abused. Although notifications that non-friends have tagged you can be turned off, it doesn't stop them from tagging you, so the activity log should be checked at regular intervals to ensure that people aren't associating you with... bad stuff.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Asparagus Festival Spear It Run


After going to the Asparagus festival from 2004 to 2011, it feels like almost the same each time: Head over for bus rides in order to get to the festival (or park over there), look at booths and get freebies, try various asparagus food items, that's it. Most of the booths are the same throughout the years, so it's a matter of finding what's new.

I've decided to try out something new: Run the Spear-It Run. I've heard about it for the past few years and saw the finish line, but always wondered where it started. I no longer have to look further. The run goes back and forth over a single street (this makes it quite prone for people taking shortcuts) but is decent enough.

Overall: Cleared in 28:42 (83rd place) - which is a 3:42 improvement. Getting closer to the 'under 20m 5k' goal.

Playlist: My playlist developed quite a few additions since I last did the run at Davis. It still consists of mainly electronic music, but unlike last time, there were many songs that didn't seem to fit right during the run, so I found myself having to skip quite a few songs while running.

The addition of K-Pop Songs during the run (I posted one as a comment on the photo) might get some of my friends by surprise.

New Additions: The Asparaberry Shortcake is a Strawberry Shortcake with bits of Asparagus on it, and it's 3 bucks - much cheaper than getting a shortcake at some of the other booths). I don't know if it was introduced last year, but it was featured this year.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Book Sculptures


One of the more interesting exhibits on display at the library - book paper art.

I've always seen book sculptures online as impressive, but they are even more so when you can actually see them in full 3d. It was on display the week of April 15, 2013 near the front of the UOP Library.

I was hoping to get a pic of that last year with a decent camera but the entire exhibit disappeared before I had a chance to do it.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Dialogues


Re: Foster: Not when you're in a room that's going to be removed in the release.

Draft copy of a game screen with dialogue text. Three lines, one character speaking, and an optional portrait. Non-pixel font. Not a mock-up (except for the background). This screen can also be used for various system events like any events occurring in the background.

Need to Add:

  • The ability to color or bold text in dialogue - there is no real way to program this easily when relying on word wrap to do line breaks (triggered with \n).
  • Optimize dialogue to stretch to border when there's no character portrait displayed.
  • Text that fills in like actual dialogue instead of displaying it all at once.
  • Fades. In the event that a different character is speaking in any conversation it will fade smoothly to that character, the box itself won't fade until the convo ends.
  • Add some timed dialogues (no user intervention) - critical when characters are moving during dialogue.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Repairs

Looks like things have taken a turn for the worse when I got back. Although additional sprites were ready for me to use, KY's images for the menu were lost with the power outage, so I'll have to wait until the materials are ready. David's hard drive on his laptop crashed and pictures couldn't be recovered there. That makes three dead drives this semester.

My programming team is currently out at this time while they replace their laptops (via loans) and get stuff back to working condition - until then I'm on my own to carry AD to the finish... at least to a playable demo anyways.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Returning to Reno: Peppermill

I didn't get to experience all of Reno the first time around at the beginning of this year, so I decided to go another time. I've never been anywhere past Downtown Reno before, and this time around I got to explore much more of Reno, including Virginia City (my friends were at the Piper Opera House back in November but I was unable to make it that day).

I decided to stay at Peppermill since I saw a coupon at Costco once regarding this place and it was well worth the money - I didn't find Circus Circus and Eldorado too satisfying to stay in but this hotel was a notable exception to that rule as a AAA four diamond hotel.

Overview: The suite has some nice amenities. HDTV with capabilities of plugging in computer equipment *, fully dimmable lights, dual showerheads, whirlpool tub, and free wifi*. Like other high class hotels, they tend to lack a fridge and microwave (I'm accustomed to both of them, maybe it's because I've been staying in motels for too long?)

The Costco Package fixes your room cost to $100 a night for two nights, simply make a reservation and use the Costco printout instead of paying. (there are a few blackout dates though when you can't use it though, and space is limited so you'll want to plan in advance). It also gives you a substantial amount of resort credit ($50 on weekends and $100 on weekdays) effectively creating a $50 or $75 per night four diamond suite. Given this is at least 50 percent off the room in most cases, I'd take this offer again.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Bead Sprite: Zuma Blitz Spirit Turtle

Sprites are quite hard to do especially when they require conversion. The Zuma Blitz Spirit Turtle is no exception to this rule.

The turtle's more than capable of spitting out more fireballs than any other. That means more curve clears on shorter boards. It might be expensive but it's responsible for almost 30M scores because players were exploiting the combo system by racking up combos while remaining in hot frog mode.

Of course to get these it's highly dependent on luck; you have to rely on fruit appearing faster than usual and balls appearing in a favorable position. Attempting these scores alone has zeroed my coin balance many times over, and put high coin costs on other players (I think it took someone many attempts and around 30 million coins to achieve the first 29m score).

I didn't record any replays after the Shamrock board since high scores were determined by abusing game bugs and I don't want to promote that.

(A direct color conversion of the Spirit Turtle makes it look janky in some areas and will be redesigned. Expect an updated image in the next few days.)

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Some days I see the situation on the levee get out of hand. Used to be just ordinary trash, there was a broken down shopping cart and maybe a keyboard at one point. Now it's this - several sofas (can't salvage) and a wooden door. I wonder who picks up these things...

Reminds me of those 'random events' that I see in various RPGs - most of the time a certain area is normal, and only in rare occurrences there's something different.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Americana Dawn: The Menu Screen

Mock up of of the menu screen where it displays your party. Less elegant with the font until I can find the exact font that KY was using for her menu mockups. (I was only given two character windows to test out the menu screen and such.) Although designed for 640x480, it automatically centers and adjusts itself for higher resolutions.

Up to three characters can be controlled at once on the battle screen, the fourth character slot was just in case the game needed one for some reason (like plot events where you temporarily gain a party member) but they won't be participating in battles.

Current Flowchart:

  • ITEM displays all the items that you have on hand. May contain separate tabs for consumables, equippables, and key items, and you can select a character to use it on from there. Might be renamed to 'Supplies' later.
  • JOURNAL lists all of the journal entries you have unlocked so far. This includes help for the game in general.
  • OPTIONS allows you to change a variety of settings and end game. Note: There is no ability to save from menu, you'll need a separate item (like a camp) to do that, and you'll be presented with an option to save upon using it. It's just to prevent save scumming.
  • Selecting a CHARACTER allows you to see that person's stats and mastery levels, equip items (you'll be shown if what you equip is better or worse, and won't show it if equipping different weapons), and manage their skillpoints.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Bead Sprite: T.O.P (Crab Hat)

This is what results when attempting to beadsprite an image from a (friend of a friend's) tumblr and not doing the research beforehand. Yes, TOP as in the entertainer, not an actual top (which would be trivial to sprite). Originally I saw it as complete OC but later found out this was more in the fanart category - I decided to commit anyways since it was half done by the time I found out. I did not know who BigBang / T.O.P were prior to spriting this, and this will have a limited release on FB because it could cause an unintended bias.*

A second section, which would otherwise make this sprite project called 'TopBom (Tv Version)' was not implemented at this time due to limited resources (both in beads and grids). The skin here was colored with a Tan color because I didn't have a supply of Sand colored beads available - color replacement will be done as soon as I get a few bags.

Link to original image for the interested. I didn't receive the best of approvals when using a mention on FB to show it to the original artist, so future bead sprites will not explicitly bring it to the original artist's attention if they are known personally.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Programming Keyboard Movement

After days of figuring out the logic behind mapping key presses to moving backgrounds and sprites, I have a somewhat functional copy of the game engine - so called Banana Slug*. Characters can run using the shift key, although how many characters have running animations is strictly based on budget.

This code is so complex - maybe 150 lines to control basic map and character drawing functions. And we still have a variety of sprite overlays to draw as well as anything menu and dialogue related, as well as reading scripts from an external file. Lots of math involved in manually calculating the draw positions and figuring out an equation for this. Good thing I took those applied math courses.

Keyboard Movement Code

This modifies the dxinput.cpp and dxinput.h file found in the book Beginning Game Programming, 2nd Edition by doing the following:

  • Assigns key_lock[256] as a bool array.
  • Modify Poll_Keyboard() to be the following:
    
    void Poll_Keyboard()
    {
     if (dikeyboard != NULL)
     {
      HRESULT result; 
      result = dikeyboard->GetDeviceState(sizeof(keys), (LPVOID)&keys);
      if(FAILED(result))
      {
       if ((result == DIERR_INPUTLOST) || (result == DIERR_NOTACQUIRED))
       dikeyboard->Acquire();
      }
      else 
      {
       for (int i = 0; i < 256; i++)
       {
        if(!(keys[i] & 0x80) && (key_lock[i]))
         key_lock[i] = false;
       }
      }
     }
    
    }
    
  • Added a Key_Down_Once function:
    bool Key_Down_Once(int key)
    {
     if ((keys[key] & 0x80) && (key_lock[key] == false))
     {key_lock[key] = true; 
     return true;}
     else return false;
    }
    
  • Adding the function prototypes in the header file

When the keyboard is polled, it will check to see if the keyboard is acquired (via GetDeviceState) and if it isn't it will attempt to reacquire it. The keyboard is automatically unacquired when the program loses focus and without this addition, the program will no longer receive input from the keyboard. (Code regarding reacquiring input devices aren't covered in the 2nd edition in the Game Programming book, and although a similar function appears in the code on the CD in the 3rd edition, it isn't explained anywhere in the book.)

If the keyboard is already acquired it will check the state of the keyboard and will disengage the key_lock if it was set and the key was released.

Key_Down_Once will set the respective key to its locked state and register the button press, it will not register that key press again until the key is released. This was needed since the original Key_Down function will keep registering a button press as long as the key is held down (as in triggering it as fast as the program allows) - it doesn't register key presses in the same way or at the same speed as holding down a key on the keyboard (where there is a delay before key presses are repeated). Useful when you have keys toggle certain things.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Starcraft 2: Heart of the Swarm - Speedrun Version

An attempt at completing each mission as fast as possible on Normal Difficulty. Unlike Wings of Liberty, there isn't an achievement for doing a speedrun of the campaign. (Although there are more achievements for completing certain levels under a certain timeframe, listed under the 'Mastery' category, they won't be covered here.) Too many people were doing playthroughs on Hard / Brutal and I wanted to try a different approach.

Replays will be published somewhere between now and by the end of the month, and this page will be updated / links will be posted as they are uploaded.

Notes:

  • All of the maps are played using Master Archives game mode, since it allows me to configure units to work the best for specific maps without the need for multiple playthroughs, and some levels are difficult or impossible to speedrun otherwise before that point.
  • Demos were made on WinXP, the sound quality is reduced a bit. There's also a performance hit on some maps especially with a large amount of units onscreen, but it shouldn't matter much (I have a GTX 670 and i7 2600K, so it isn't the card...)
  • I tend to go for econ over rushing as it tends to help in the long run in most cases.
  • Evolution missions are not counted.
  • Maps with no links to videos are ones which I am attempting a faster run at.
  • I will attempt Brutal difficulty speedruns of this campaign at a later date.

Other Thoughts:

  • The new settings with the expansion has 'select neutral or enemy units' toggled OFF by default. If it's on, it will explicitly tell you that you can't control the unit when you select it (which is kinda annoying, since you probably knew this beforehand). I find it helpful to check stats of enemy units and such.
  • I don't need tips from Izsha reminding me to get anti-air, telling me I don't have three drones on a extractor, etc.
  • Some game elements were changed only for the campaign without too much explanation. None of your units except Spore colonies have detectors, but it's not like you need them since enemies don't cloak and nukes aren't fired using ghosts.
  • The infestor's neural parasite is equivalent to a DA's Mind Control only in the campaign. Combine that with Consume and it can control a lot of the enemy army quickly.
  • Some other key units like Nydus Worms are unavailable, transports can't be made to ferry units around, the only upgrades you can research in-game are weapon/armor upgrades, and the cap for larva at a Hatchery is much higher, making this a non-representative multiplayer SC experience.

Individual Level Notes:

Lab Rat

  • Fairly standard build, though a large enough force was needed to go through w/o reinforcements.

Back in the Saddle (around 17 mins)

  • The map was fairly linear here, so there's not much to optimize in this level.

Rendezvous (15:59)

  • Note that this mission has a fixed timer - you are forced to wait for reinforcements to arrive before you can attack the main base since the bridge isn't lowered before then. The best you can do is to destroy every building on your side (doing this on Hard gives you an achievement) and camp at the other end of the bridge.

Domination (3:37)

  • Kerrigan's Dash move works well in collecting those eggs at the start, and she's healed to full after collecting them. Note all the units you have control over is guaranteed to cause lag.

Fire in the Sky (7:52)

  • Although tumors were used to expand and such, having a drone to build a Hatchery near each nest that doesn't have creep and then using a Queen to put a tumor in place is much faster than spreading creep slowly towards the nests. Although it seems nice to activate all the nests at once, there's a delay between the time one battlecruiser gets destroyed and another one pops out.

Old Soldiers (8:29)

  • After several runs through the map it was concluded that Swarm Hosts work the best, since the locusts also draw fire from the base defenses. The drones that get dropped when you defeat the base with Rich Mineral Fields doesn't matter much.

Harvest of Screams (4:46)

  • If you have the Zergling speed and Raptor upgrade, it becomes possible to destroy all three spires before the first flash freeze passes, Kerrigan destroying one single handedly with Banelings (the ones that she summons do 160 damage each with the right upgrades).

Shoot the Messenger (3:24)

  • Note that Kerrigan's Leap ability will work leaping on cliff edges IF you have vision, so an overload was used for a spotter. Summoned banelings have a 90 second lifetime, the cd to summon is 30, and you need a bit more than 6 to destroy a bay, so two summons were used for each bay. The last bay was a one summon + damage from Kerrigan for the win. Note that harder difficulties places additional units near the bays and you can't use a cheese strat on one of them since they will kill most of the banelings before they can explode.

Enemy Within (11:24)

  • The level is fairly linear and you'll have to kill everything here (some areas release units on a fixed timer) so there's not much to optimize for the map, other than decreasing the time it takes to destroy some generators using some increased speed Zerglings.

Waking the Ancient (7:27)

  • The enemy only sends out units to attack the first drone that started harvesting, so you can safely harvest a few of them in the same area without worrying about drones being killed. After that (when the other locations are revealed, or the 3:40 mark, whichever comes first) the computer only specifically sends a wave of units after harvesting a specific location, and two mutas + guardian on the others. The ETA that enemies get to them is at the 40 second mark, so you could be defending other locations when harvesting starts. Destroying them allows you to safely move on; while the drone is unprotected there usually won't be more forces coming after it.

    It's similar to the SC2 Map 'Welcome to the Jungle' except the boss at the end.

The Crucible (around 26 min)

  • This level also has a fixed time limit so there's not much in terms of speedrunning this map.

Supreme (7:01)

  • The reinforcements that you pick up are automatically teleported to you when boss battles start and Kerrigan is healed to full when the boss battle starts and ends so there's no sense fighting between bosses.

Infested (7:57)

  • Infestors work well on this map. Ignore the first virophage being attacked, it's not necessary to win.

Hand of Darkness (19:09)

  • No comments yet.

Phantoms of the Void (13:12)

  • No comments yet.

With Friends Like These (10:13)

  • No comments yet. I've heard of a 8 min completion time so this is definitely not the fastest.

Conviction (7:47)

  • The first half requires that certain or all units must be destroyed in an area in order to advance, so there wasn't much in time optimizations here. Other than that I had units pick up the pace by constantly attack moving.

Planetfall

  • This is actually a scripted mission based on the timer, so a speedrun can't be done on this map.

Death From Above (7:41)

  • Dehaka can rush directly into the generator and destroy it without being killed, saving some time in the opening. Near the Psi Destroyer, if you have enough infestors you can mind control every strong unit defending it and take it down before the field powers up. (Normal mode has 1500 HP, Hard and Brutal have 2500)

The Reckoning (13:43)

  • The quickest solution to winning was to pump out Infestors as fast as possible and neural parasite (mind control) every unit in range. Problem was the energy cost (125). Consume worked to a certain extent, but left units injured. The best solution was to MC medics, consume hp from other infestors and convert them to energy and work on mc'ing other units while the medics heal them.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Relay For Life

This was on a friend's Relay for Life donation page where the reason why to donate and Relay isn't taken very seriously. Guess she wasn't a fan of copypasta. Hand her the money to donate? Seems legit.

Things would get very interesting if it was a guy who wrote this but sadly this isn't the case - it's just a cute girl who doesn't like dresses and high heels.

I'm actually overdue on a new profile picture and I'll need one for AD anyways so I'll probably stick to Anthyvy for the donations.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Stockton Chinese New Year 2013

Stockton's Chinese New Year Parade this year occurred around a week ago and was similar to that of last year, although I noticed a few changes. They moved the grandstand over to next to the Civic Auditorium and there were considerably less people watching the parade, not sure why. This was the first time that MCHS Key Club ceased to exist in the parade - in past years, there was a group of around 40-50 people showing spirit, in red t-shirts and such with a huge banner, but it's not the case anymore - instead they were wearing blue shirts (D27 North) and they weren't holding anything.

Though the performances were great as last year, some creative booths were left out that were present last year. For one, the knitting and RC displays weren't there - they were probably a few of the better ones in my opinion.


No longer are there knitted dragons like there were last year.

Like three years ago, I once again find another person I now knew that I didn't know at the time of last year's parade. There's always a few surprises because when I'm taking pictures, I'm not looking at surroundings and such.


David making a cameo appearance on the sidelines during the 2012 Parade.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Tryouts: David's Sushi (California Roll)

"This lone computer science gentleman is a sushi chef by day, video game programmer by night." - description for David on Americana Dawn Kickstarter

Work continues even during Spring Break - professors are more than happy to hand out assignments during this weeklong break. This game is no exception when there's a deadline to meet. One of our teammates made a California Roll. Given that he's the sushi chef at the UC, where hundreds of students are eating his stuff*, it's got to be good, right? Exactly. No avocado here (wouldn't this be the distinguishing feature of a California Roll?), but I can check off a subgoal here.

No longer would I have to go for Ngannu Rolls (UCD CKI specialties, named in a picture caption in the Ramble Apartments - which I know a friend makes) in order to reliably complete the goal - I know there's lots of sushi places around, but finding a friend that makes them that is close enough to sample is an extreme rarity. Prior to David, I only knew three others who did this (and the other two are in SF).

Day 1001 Project Goal #30b: Eat one of a friend's sushi dishes, if one is available. (Completed: 3/5/13 - David Ngo's California Roll)

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Americana Dawn: Mapping it on the Big Screen


Part of the New York map in Americana Dawn rendered at 1280x720, without any upscaling.

Knowing the scale of the game itself, the thought arose about 'what would it look like when seen in high def?' I presented it and the team was distracted for a while scrolling around at its epicness, and that's just on one section. With the game music playing.

While playing it on a huge screen might be nice, it might pose some difficulty for screens with fixed backgrounds, such as battle screens and whatnot. So we have two options here:

  • Upscale graphics - they will look lower res and not be widescreen, but it won't cost additional to get the backgrounds and stuff redrawn to fit larger screens. Or
  • Resize everything and design it for high definition screens - for the more 'epic' feel. Higher quality assets = more costs.

Either way, it's going to cost a lot more to get the game going, especially with more people joining the team (currently at 11, compared to 9 or so when the project was first started). The $4.7k that was raised last year will simply not be enough to cover everything (the original creator was already a few macbooks in debt, and might owe a few more due to giving us programmers actual macbooks in order to port the game over to the Mac OSX and mobile devices in the future.) Time to add some stretch goals?

Monday, February 25, 2013

End of CKI Days


The new E-Board for UOP CKI, Lawrence Tran not shown.

Like all of my other friends who were in my graduating class, retirement from college and CKI is inevitable. I believed I have reached that point, given that a large volume of projects is headed my way in my classes, which are the only things left towards that master's degree. Although I was supposed to be done last year, people wanted me back so I continued on for another semester, but knowing I couldn't make new lasting friendships at the rate I did a year or two ago, I decided to stop here.

So this is where the story ends. (Cue up When Can I See You Again?)

Sometimes I wonder if some of the people who I have thanked in the past, had concern over, or even like, have ever seen me in the same way, or even seen my posts (besides that one time which I showed certain people the blog). Or if I can see them again, for that matter. By leaving, there were many loose ends I had to resolve somehow; since I'm out of the transportation option provided by UOP CKI, I have to find other means of reaching them (via online might not be enough).

Looking back a year ago, I had the option of running for a district committee position... even though I didn't have any support, I should've taken it - it could have changed the outcome of this year with a high position and I might've still remained in CKI for a bit longer.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Moving non-friends into Facebook friend lists


Custom coded Zuma Blitz friendlist that limits the share list to only friends and followers who are playing Zuma Blitz, preventing unnecessary spam to friends. (In reality, only 32 of those people in the list are my FB friends.)

On Facebook, although friend lists are designed to organize your friends, they can go past their intended purposes. The API can read lists and add / remove members to lists with the proper permissions, but nowhere in the documentation does it say that it's limited to adding friends.

Steps:

The following applies to version 1 of the Graph API only.

  • Go to Graph API Explorer
  • Click on Get Access Token, on Extended Permissions check read_friendlist and modify_friendlist and click 'Get Access Token'.
  • Enter me/friendlists to get your friend lists, copy the id for the friend list you want to add people in replacing {friendlist_id} and {user} with the appropriate values, and press submit:
    {friend_id}/members?members={user}
  • It returns true of succeeded, and some error message otherwise.
  • Check your list back on FB and it will have that person added.

This allows you to share stuff in a way similar to Google+ Circles (speaking of that, there is an unofficial Facebook Circles app that allows you to do this, but only for friends) by selecting a list of friends and non-friends (they won't be informed you are sharing stuff to them). If you allowed following on your profile they can like or comment on your stuff and will show up on their newsfeed if they are following you if you share a post using that list (the friends of friends privacy preset doesn't allow this). Note you won't see any posts from non-friends even though they're on that list, since you're technically not following their posts (this is on another request - the follow options are only presented to you when you send them a friend request or follow, and revoked if they reject), but this can be worked around somehow without sending them a request.

Practical Applications:

  • Given that I have a bunch of pending add requests from Zuma Blitz players (I have followers on), I can simply put them on a custom list to share related posts without having to confirm the request or show up on their leaderboard - I won't be able to share gifts to them but I don't do it anyways.
  • Facebook Games can use this as an additional filter when sending gifts or requests, since in my apps only half (the game friends) are actively playing and the rest (the real friends) aren't and I don't want to spam them. Currently I haven't seen this done anywhere.
  • A separate list called 'Untrusted' can be made, by placing people on that list and setting privacy settings to exclude that list, I can essentially prevent groups of people from seeing Friend of Friend posts (or posts for Friends but one of their friends are tagged) - whether they're friends or not.

Notes and Anomalies:

  • Directly posting to that list with that privacy setting is disabled. This does not stop you from posting on the newsfeed with the default share being that custom list.
  • Non-friends have a lower profile picture resolution when the list is browsed, and no profile pic showing at all when searching the list.
  • The order of friends on that list are no longer alphabetical.
  • People's public posts can appear on that feed during realtime updates, and are counted when it tells you how many of your friends were using an app (if their activity for that app was set to Public).

Limitations:

  • You can't add non-friends in the Restricted list in order to prevent them from seeing anything other than Public posts, which means anyone with at least a mutual friend can see a good deal of your stuff. (Or any list you didn't create yourself, for that matter.) This is probably a bad security practice at the very least and I would have to resort to blocking people.

Updates: (added 6/8/2014)

API v2.0 (and above) prevents any type of friend list management, such as viewing the friends of a friendlist (which returns a empty list, no errors), or adding / deleting friends from a list (it requires the manage_friendlist permission, which you cannot give to Graph Explorer). This can cause some apps (like the circles app mentioned above) to fail altogether. FB games that use that method as a means of creating custom send lists will need to be recreated via a separate database.

Although accessing a friendlist will not display any of your friends, the API will still display both user ids and names of people who were added using the above method.

Additional data might be needed in order to conclude whether a nonfriend on that list who declines the user_friendlist permission will affect this as well.