Firefox 1.0 Released

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FirefoxIf you’re a Mac user, you’re using Safari. If you’re a PC user, you’re using Firefox.

Ahh, wouldn’t the world be a wonderful place for us web designers if that were true? Firefox 1.0 is finally out and to the great pleasure of designers and coders who have to cater to the insane niggardly vagaries of the old, buggy and frankly crap Internet Explorer, it’s gaining momentum. If there’s proof to be found about how crap Microsoft is, it’s in the way they worked so hard to grab the monopoly in the so-called Browser Wars and then, once they had it, allowed Explorer to languish without improvement for years. Tell them where to stick it! Use a fast, efficient, standard-compliant browser and vastly improve your internet experience! Make life easier for me! Viva la Safari! Viva la Firefox!

It’s simple, really, you’re wrong

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I read in the paper this morning that there is a book on the main shelves of the bookshop at the Grand Canyon in Arizona, USA, that presents as fact the idea that the Canyon was created 6,000 years ago by the biblical flood. All efforts by intelligent human beings to have the book moved into the ‘inspirational reading’ section have apparently been thwarted by Christian lobby groups who see such an action as book censorship. The book remains a bestseller.

Is it any wonder they voted George W. Bush back in?

More: relevant article in the New York Times (via Antipixel)

Boardgame Review: Zombie Plague


zombie miniatures

I’ve become obsessed by zombies! This great little game is for all you zombie movie fans out there… not only is a lot of fun, but it’s a free download. There’s also a little community of zombie game fans adding new rules to it all the time here.

I downloaded the game, mounted the boards and cards on foamcard and card, and found some some old painted zombie and human miniatures which made a huge difference to the game atmosphere (told you I’m a game geek). If you happen not to have some painted zombie miniatures lying around (what’s wrong with you?) you can buy some via the game download page. The rules are simple to learn—the map is of a house and garage; the humans have to search all the search squares available for weapons, and the occasional nasty surprise, and the zombies have to kill all the humans. A simple action point system keeps the zombies slow, but since they keep coming until there’s four times the number of zombies as humans… the game captures the feeling of a slow but relentless zombie assault really well.

I played the zombies and my friend played three humans, two guys and a girl. Things got off to a big start when one of the guys ran straight for the car boot, discovered a ‘power drink’ and headed for the garage, only to be crash tackled by my first reinforcement zombie that appeared next to him on that side of the board and zombified him. Suitably chastened, the other guy and the girl, who had gone for the front door of the house, headed straight for the search squares. The zombies started piling in.
Eventually armed with the pistol and the rifle the two humans started dishing it out, but by this time the house was filling up with zombies. The girl was getting hemmed in the bedroom when she searched the cupboard and got a Surprise! card—an extra zombie—to add to her woes.

A few house rules on the spot always help when there’s a bit of confusion, so in our game we decided humans couldn’t make it out windows, used the extra Outta My Way! rules for dodging zombies, and decided that after an Oops! roll (a 1 on a dice) with a firearm, which usually means no more ammo and throwing the gun away, a human could keep it until finding an Ammo card and reload.

In the meantime the other human was being chased around the living room, occasionally stopping to use his ammo-less rifle as a baseball bat… he soon discovered a new tactic however, which was to back out of a door and then barricade the door from the outside… a pack of zombies lined up on the other side then proceeded to smash through the barricade to get at him.

The two humans met up near the garage and as luck would have the guy found the car keys in the boot and headed for the tyre-screeching escape… we then ruled he couldn’t escape without his girlfriend so, dodging a pack of zombies on the lawn and taking a couple out with her recently-reloaded pistol, she made it to the other side of the car and the two of them made a hasty getaway, no doubt glancing briefly at their zombified friend reaching after them in the rear view mirror as they escaped…

See how much fun board-gaming can be? Four double-barrelled shotguns out of five.

More: You can download my own re-work of the cards (with colour backs) here.

America fucks up again

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Congratulations America, good choice! Four more years of spiralling debt! More innocent lives lost on both sides of a pointless war begun on lies! Sex education and HIV programmes based on the latest in ‘just don’t have sex’ faith-based logic! World-affecting decisions made by a man who doesn’t know not to eat a raw ear of corn and can hardly string a sentence together! Straight to hell for anyone who doesn’t accept Jesus Christ as their personal saviour! Another 98 days of the year for Bush to holiday on the ranch!
If he didn’t affect the rest of the world so much, I’d say America deserves him. Unbelievably, the majority of Americans have declared themselves supporters of the actions of their government over the past four years. Obviously being a half wit is no block to becoming the President. Good Morning President Schwarzenegger! Let’s bomb the green bits after lunch!

Some other comments from blogs and places I visit: Maniacal Rage, Andy Budd (more subtle than me), What Do I Know, Never Forget, It’s the American People, Stupid.

For the love of [insert preferred deity here], vote


I certainly can’t recall a more important election for America and the world. If you’re American and reading this, please vote. And—while far be it from me to impose my political and social beliefs on your—oh bugger it, just do the right thing and vote for Kerry willya? No one could possibly be worse than the idiot in the White House right now.

Film review: Journey to the Centre of the Earth

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Journey to the Centre of the Earth

It’s been many years since I enjoyed this 1959 classic from childhood Sunday afternoon television, so I was very excited to discover it again this weekend on DVD. This sci-fi gem is still as magical as I remember it, though it may make you a little nostalgic for that blissfully vivid imagination you had as a child that was free of cynicism and could easily fill in all the gaps.

A lot of the wonder of the film comes through the fully-committed performance of James Mason as Professor Oliver Lindenbrook, whose enthusiasm for treking towards the centre of the earth is catching. The film takes its time building up the excitement—we’re even treated to a bit of vocal serenading by then-hardthrob Pat Boone—so when finally the party gathers on the slopes of an extinct volcano and the dawn light shines onto the spot where they are to enter the Earth, you really want to don your hiking boots and join this bunch of loonies on their adventure.

Unlike the special-effects-heavy sci-fi of today, the film gives us memorable characters and relationships; you can’t help but enjoy the verbal sparring between Lindenbrook and the strong-willed Mrs. Carla Goetaborg (Arlene Dahl); or hate the slimy Count Saknussem (Thayer David) who you just know is going to meet a richly-deserved end; even Gertrude the Duck gets our sympathy (thanks to probably the best performance by a duck you’re ever likely to see).

The effects run the gamut from tacky (real lizards in slow motion with fins stuck on their backs are the giant dinosaurs) and the astounding (some beautiful classic-era matte painting, especially the views of the Underground Sea), and perhaps a little more real location work (some scenes were filmed in Carlsbad Caverns) rather than cardboard sets would have been better; but Journey still maintains it’s fascination throughout. A classic I’m very happy to have in my DVD collection.

Four and a half giant mushrooms out of five.

Guest review series continued: Myst IV

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Peter Miller continues his guest review of the latest in the Myst saga, Myst IV: Revelation (Mac version). WARNING: MAJOR SPOILERS!

Warning: major spoilers in this—I’m having a hissy fit about how crappy some of the puzzles are and I have to reveal mechanics.

So, I’ve explored some more of Serenia, Haven and Spire. Serenia looks marvellous and has many, many beautiful things to discover. I certainly hope that the puzzles are better than a few in Haven which are just CRAP.

Yes, crap is the word I used. The puzzle with the ‘monkey’ creatures on the totem pole is a good example. Once again, like the bookshelf puzzle in Yeesha’s room, I knew exactly what to do, but the execution of the puzzle mechanics is rubbish. To reveal the symbol on the totem pole that can bee seen from the pole hut, it is obvious that you need to mimic the warning tone of the little creatures with the sirens at the hut. But this is such a pernickity puzzle that unless you get the durations of the tones exactly right, or so close it’s not funny, you will get no result. I was so sure I was doing the correct thing, but nothing at all seemed to happen, no matter how carefully I mimicked the creatures’ calls. To add to this, the creatures make several different sets of tones, and, worst of all, the sirens are not the same pitch as the calls. This makes for a lot of variables. I got SO frustrated that I was forced to look at the hints, something I have NEVER had to do in a Myst game before. And then I find that I was actually correct in what I was doing, it’s just that I hadn’t gotten exactly the right durations of the tones. Notwithstanding the fact that I was even getting the comparative lengths of tones correct. This is just inferior puzzle design. Guys, learn from this—it’s frustrating and unrewarding. Don’t do it. It’s not fun, it’s just plain annoying.

Moving on from there (which I was very glad to do as you can no doubt tell), I was able to solve the ‘bridge’ puzzle and adventure forward across the lake into another beautiful location, replete with mist and mossy rocks and even a rather fearsome creature that actually gave me a bit of a fright. I have to admit here that I have softened somewhat on my harsh criticisms of the creatures in Haven. This might be partially because in this latter part of the game there seems to have been a lot more care taken in integrating them into the backgrounds—they don’t seem nearly as ‘cut-out’ and their movements not so repetitive and stylized. The sound and music continue to be quite effective, leaving aside the rather naff jungle drums that appear again from time to time. Another puzzle here is difficult but not unassailable, but once again, the annoying mechanics of the game conspire to make it irritating. To make matters worse, this one has a time limit, which would not be too bad except for the fact that at the critical time I frequently duffed the ‘grasping’ of the one of the tone wheels—my cursor just slipped off the place it needed to be. These sorts of things make for very frustrating game play. The puzzle is tricky enough without this added annoyance.

From there, what appears to be the final clue in Haven is not too difficult to find (it’s rather a dud concept, by the way, but perhaps more of that later). There are some nice interactions with the monkey creatures, which left me a little disappointed that this had not come earlier in the game. It occurs to me that what Ubisoft could really use is someone to look at the emotional and storytelling curves in a game like this, much like a writer for a feature film. My feeling is that had this last sequence, or something like it, occurred when you first arrived in Haven, you would have a distinctly different emotional approach to what happened from then on.

Anyway, I digress. Back to Serenia, where there are fire spirits and waters spirits, wind spirits, bubbles, dandelions, fire orchids and some kind of balloon-like craft that drift across the distant hills. There is what appears to be a major puzzle involving the re-direction of channels of water, and the possibility of visiting the island of the priestesses across the lake. Serenia is a major achievement in convincing ‘world making’. There are some interactions with various priestesses which are effective enough, although some repetitive behaviour could easily have been curtailed I feel. But immersion in this world is complete and effective.

I note here that I was forced to turn off the ‘depth-of-field’ effect in Serenia because my system would simply not deal with it. I kept getting crashes or just incredibly slow screen updating. On consideration, the focus effect is unnecessary and really not very useful and aside from the fact that it is an impressive trick, does not add that much to the game experience.

Music in Serenia is appropriate and atmospheric.

More as it comes to hand.

Influence Millions! (Well, Two or Three …)


I’ve been thinking, in the occasional moment I have to spare when I’m not working, about this blog. It’s actually the site I most enjoy updating, despite the fact that probably about three people read it and I get virtually no feedback. I would like to develop it a bit further, so I plan to try and tunnel my way through the mountain of learning Movable Type when work eases off a bit, so I can add some more functionality to this site.

So I ask, my very small and select audience, what would you like to see on Headless Hollow? What kind of content would make you coming back to check a blog for updates every couple of days? Now’s your chance to influence a little corner of the web—from your thoughts to my graphic designing and coding hands …

… And the opinion of your host …


This stupid game is driving me frickin’ insane!

Back to you Peter M.

Guest review series continued: Myst IV

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Peter Miller continues his guest review of the latest in the Myst saga, Myst IV: Revelation (Mac version). WARNING: SOME SPOILERS!

A few days on and I’m still enjoying Myst 4. I have now spent some time wandering around Spire, Haven and Serenia. Without spoiling too much, some further musings. One thing that occurred to me yesterday is that I’m playing the game with a very critical eye, and after thinking about why that was I came to the conclusion that this game is so good that its imperfections, when they appear, stand out in stark contrast to the rest of the game. Because this project is so well realised, it should be perfect. Or at least, some of the rough edges should have been sandpapered a little more.

A few examples by way of explanation: after a little exploration of Tomahna, I went through to Spire and was delighted to find myself in an original and engaging Myst world. Everything about it, from the craggy vertiginous staircase to the glowing crystalline floating rocks with their swarms of luminous fireflies, is wondrous. Ubisoft have understood a fundamental thing about the Myst experience, and that is that delight in the environment is as important as solving the little mysteries along the way. Spire is enigmatic, dramatic and beautifully executed. The puzzles are tricky (and in one case bereft of logic, or at least any I could see) but integrated appropriately. The musical score is engaging and mysterious and the ambient sound works very well.

My first disappointment came when I visited Haven. Now I hasten to say that I am being picky with these criticisms, but only because I think that a little more attention to these details could have elevated Revelation from a great game to sheer artistic genius. Haven’s jungle world is beautiful and lush. The designers have excelled themselves in conjuring an exotic and fantastic environment. The music is a little less than perfect in this world, with (as pointed out by the Headless Hollow illuminati) unfortunate faux ‘native drums’ a la Lion King being a little too focal in some areas. The sound ambiences are rather better, with mysterious sirens and wolf howls off in the distance, and all manner of unusual chattering wildlife. What really lets Haven down are the CG creatures that populate its wonderful scenery. It is almost as if the designers suddenly lost all their creativity in some late-night beer-and-pizza blowout. It’s not that the concept is not good—far from it. The creatures that browse in the swamp weed and clamber up through the trees are a great idea, it’s just that they are done poorly. I’m sure that what the designers have achieved is technically very clever; integrating 3D animals into the world in such a way that they appear to be actually there is quite impressive. But there are two major problems in my view: First, the creatures are for the most part daft. I wish people would avoid the compulsion, when creating alien life, to use the “what if we crossed a cow with a triceratops, gave it some wacky appendages, paint it mauve and made it walk on its hind legs” method. It never works. How about getting some biologists to advise you on what a browsing swamp creature might actually look like? And while I’m on the subject, never, never, never rip off another person’s alien creature: “hows about we cross one of those cute mogwai with a monkey?”—cheap and annoying. It’s not Gremlins it’s Myst and it deserves its own original and sophisticated creatures.

The second problem is that all the animals feel very ‘stuck-on’ despite their relation-to-the-player persistence. It’s a shame. It’s one of those things that drops you out of the reality of the world, rather than draws you in. It makes you aware that you are playing a computer game. Personally, I think it would have been preferable to have dropped these creatures entirely, and risked criticisms of the world feeling ’empty’.

Serenia, on the other hand, has some fine ‘otherworldly’ life. Its Roger Dean influenced quasi-Mayan landscape is simply beautiful. I haven’t explored much here yet, but suffice to say that I found it intriguingly explorable and well worth the effort of solving the extremely annoying and badly executed bookshelf puzzle (I mean, come on guys—I knew how to solve the puzzle well before I could wade through the illegible and obtuse D’ni text renderings. That’s not good puzzle-setting; that’s just difficult game mechanics. And I had to use pencil and paper, which kind of defeats the whole concept of the photographic journal introduced in Myst 4.)

I re-iterate: my criticisms are minor in the scheme of the whole show. Myst 4 is a remarkable achievement. I strongly feel, though, that it is a pity that a final Quality Control pass was not done on the game and some of the messier elements whipped into shape. It would have been worth the extra wait. I’m up for testing of Myst 5 chaps. I’m a hard taskmaster, but your game will be better off for it.

Stay tuned!

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