Archive for the ‘Reviews’ Category

I originally started using Google+ fairly late in its beta, about a month before Google released the social network to the public. when I first signed up, I admittedly didn’t really get it at first. Not many of my friends had actually signed up yet at that point, so my stream was pretty much empty. At that point, I was trying to use Google+ like Facebook, and this lead to very poor results. Eventually, I ran across a tutorial that detailed how to get the most out of Google+, and from that point, I fell in love with it!

I was unable to find the original tutorial I found, but for those interested, the following article has most of the information that I originally read: http://www.cio.com/article/685930/10_Google_Tips_for_Beginners

 

Google+ is NOT Facebook

As I stated above, when I first started using Google+, I expected to be able to just use it like Facebook, and get similar results. However, as I learned, this is the wrong way to go about it. Google’s social network isn’t a Facebook replacement. The paradigm of Google+ is much different than Facebook. Facebook has a much more intimate vibe, where you only have one group, which is friends, and people who wish to interact with you have to send a friend request that you must accept in order for them to do so. With Google+, there is no friends list per se. Rather, there are what Google calls circles, which are much more flexible than Facebook’s friends list. Like Twitter, you can follow someone (or in Google+ terms, add them to your circles), but that person does not have to follow you back. If they don’t follow you back, you will only be able to see posts that they make public.

 

Circles

The circles that I mentioned above are a huge step forward relative to Facebook’s friend list, and Twitters followers. For one, you can have many different circles (like in real life, where you may have a bunch of friends, but some are on different levels of intimacy with you) which allows you to group people together who share similar content. This gives you the intimacy that Facebook’s friends list provides (assuming that you group all of your close friends in 1 circle), but also gives you similar functionality to Twitter. Google+’s circles makes Google+ into a combination of both Facebook and Twitter, and allows you to seamlessly switch between whichever  type of social network you want your feed to emulate. Circles also greatly improves on the paradigm that Twitter uses, since, unlike Twitter, you have many different circles, so you can pick and choose what content you want to see in your stream whenever you want. If you want to switch to a Facebook style feed, that is also very easy. When you wish to share, you can select which circles that particular status goes to, and of course you can also share publicly, so even people who you haven’t circled, or haven’t even circled you can see.

Overall, the circles system in Google+ is vastly superior to the system that Facebook and Twitter have.

 

Hangouts

For those who don’t know, Hangouts in Google+ are kind of like informal conference calls. You, and whoever else is in the hangout can video chat with each other, watch Youtube videos together, and much more. I personally don’t find myself using Hangouts very much, since i’m a fairly shy person and don’t really enjoy video chats in general, but Hangouts are one of the most popular Google+ features. It’s also a feature that is unique to Google+. Hangouts are an awesome way to catch up with family, learn about various things (Universities and other learning institutions are starting to use Google+ hangouts for free lessons and such), or meet new people who have similar interests.  Today, Google announced a low bandwidth option for Hangouts so now even people in remote locations, or with low bandwidth internet can enjoy Hangouts. This is one of the most awesome features of Google+, and really adds to the overall feel of it.

 

Other Features

Google+ has many other features besides Hangouts and the Circles system. For one, Google has been integrating Google+ with most of their other services (notably Google Apps, Gmail, and Youtube), which adds an excellent social layer to each of those services. Another cool feature is sparks, which gives you the ability to not only have streams for your different circles (and your main stream which you can pick and choose what circles can put content into it) but you can also have streams based on subjects. For example, I have a stream dedicated to video games. This stream shows public posts by Google+ users that have to do with video games, as well as various articles on the internet on video games. This allows you to still see a lot of relevant content even if you don’t have many people in your circles. Google+ also has the many standard social network features, like the ability to chat and send messages, an API for apps on the Google+ platform, and web based games that are tied to your Google+ account. The Google+ apps API and games platform are both in the fairly early stages of development, so they are certainly not as robust as Facebook, but the potential is there.

 

Quick Tips

While I am certainly no expert on Google+, I can offer some tips for those who want to try Google+, or currently have an account, but aren’t happy with the content in their stream.

First, figure out what kind of content you are interested in, and write those topics down, or remember them. Next, go to the search bar, and type in one of the topics. For example, if I wanted to view content on Video games, I would type “Video Games” into the Google+ search bar.  Once you have done this, click the button below the search bar that says “Save this Search.” Upon doing this, you should see a new entry in your streams (the right panel of the page). Congratulations, you just created your first spark! You can use these sparks to see interesting content, which includes public posts by Google+ users, and articles on the internet. If you see someone post some content that you find interesting or like, you should then follow that person by adding them to the relevant circle.

Another great use of the search bar is finding whole circles that you can follow. Google+ allows users to share their entire circles, and adding these premade circles is a great way to quickly fill your stream with relevant interesting content. Most posts which share circles are shared publicly, so its easy to find them. First, you want to decide what kind of circle you want to add, and do a search for it. For example, if I wanted to try to find a Gamer circle, I would search for “Gamer circles” in the Google+ search bar. If you need to filter the results (so you don’t see non Google+ posts), you can do so by selecting Google+ posts only in the drop down filtering box under the search bar.

 

 

In closing, I highly recommend that everyone joins Google+, especially if you love geek related content as Google+ has a very large, very active techy community! And if you decide to join Google+, make sure you add me! If you can’t find me, simply leave a commend here and i’ll circle you.

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim is the latest addition to the Elder Scrolls (TES) series of Role Playing Games (RPGs) released by the developer studio Bethesda. The Elder Scrolls series has a long history, beginning with The Elder Scrolls: Arena released in 1994 for the PC. Followed by The Elder Scrolls: Daggerfall released in 1996 and a few unnumbered titles (Battle Spire, and TES adventures: Redgaurd) in the latter part of the 90s. In this Article, I will compare Skyrim to its two predecessors, Oblivion (the fourth game in the series, and the one that Skyrim followed) and Morrowind (the third part of the series, that Oblivion followed).

Skyrim

First let’s look at Skyrim itself. The original release build was riddled with bugs (something Bethesda fans now expect and accept), some of which were debilitating (preventing players from advancing though the main storyline). Historically, Elder Scrolls games tend to be relatively bug heavy. However, the extensive nature of the game makes releasing a bug free build near impossible, so it would be difficult to fault Bethesda, especially since patches were made exactly for this type of situation. Beyond the bugs, the game is absolutely fantastic. The game landscape itself is incredibly detailed and gorgeous, and this is an opinion from someone who is fanatical about their hatred of snow! The old trademark of the TES series, a wide expansive world where you can essentially do and be whatever character you wish, continues to be a dominant theme within in Skyrim (perhaps even stronger than it is in Oblivion arguably, but I digress. The main story line and various side and faction quest lines are well done for the most part. In fact, my only real gripe is with the Bard College quest “line” was inherently less robust. I was greatly disappointed that the Bard College quests lacked depth and were essentially a collection of disconnected fetch quests devoid of any overarching theme or quest chain. Moreover, not only could you not advance in the college, once you were done with the quest line, the college basically becomes useless, unless of course, you’re interested in the few skill trainers available. You can’t even learn to play an instrument!

The change to the skill system was awesome. Instead of the original system, where you had to have a specific class, and you could only level up by increasing your major and minor skills, you can level up from any skill increase. However, as you level up, you need more skill increases to level (as opposed to Oblivion and Morrowind, where you only needed 10 skill level ups, regardless of what level you are.) In addition, I really loved the new perk system that was introduced. It allowed them to simplify the skill system by reducing the amount of skills you have to keep track of, while letting you customize your character as much or more than you could in either Morrowind or Oblivion. Personally, I think it might have been better to have changed how many perk points you get per level. At a certain point, even with a high level in something, it becomes less useful than it would be in, say, Morrowind, because you may not have spent your perk points. For example, I can have a character with 70 smithing, but I wouldn’t be able to make iron or leather gear unless I invested skill points down that tree. When you get to a high level, leveling up, and obtaining perk points is more time consuming, so it becomes difficult to get to a desired skill level since you can’t just level up the skill anymore to be effective.

The crafting system in Skyrim is also vastly improved from that of its predecessors. In this current iteration you can actually make armor and weapons with the smithing skill, instead of just being able to repair your armor and weapons (via the “armorer” skill). This not only provides a function for the various mines you come across in Tamriel, but it’s another way to “be what you want!” When it comes to the enchanting skill I have mixed feelings. On one hand I like what they’ve done with disenchanting , basically giving a purpose to all the otherwise worthless magical items. However, I disapprove of their decision to make disenchanting the only means of learning now enchantments. Personally, I prefer the Morrowind system, where the enchantments you can do was based on the spells you know.

Comparison

As is the case with any sequel, inevitably there will be a comparison made between the sequel and its predecessor(s). Skyrim of course is no exception, so using my perspective let’s take a look at how Skyrim compares to Oblivion and Morrowind.

Many people (myself included) thought that Oblivion, while excellent in its own right, was a step backward compared to Morrowind and even Daggerfall. However, Skyrim does not follow this path. In my opinion, Skyrim is leaps and bounds ahead of Oblivion in nearly every aspect of the game. Skyrim improves on many of the more lackluster elements in Oblivion. For example, Skyrim’s crafting system is far superior to it predecessor.

Quests

The main quest in Skyrim is far more fun and engaging than in Oblivion. For me, the first couple of Oblivion gates I had to close were quite interesting, but eventually the game play becomes boring and stale. I found myself dreading coming across Oblivion gates in Oblivion because going inside was repetitive. It essentially boiled down to get in, bash skulls until you get to the right building, and activate the sigil to close the gate. These encounters were also incredibly time consuming. There is nothing I dislike more than being on my way to completing some unrelated quest, only to have to trudge through a long pseudo dungeon in order to continue. Of course, I’m sure I could have just skipped closing the gates, but I was sort of compelled by a sense of duty. It became kind of like a job, which is a description that no game should aspire to obtain. Skyrim’s version of these encounters (dragon attacks) are far superior; they are shorter, making it more of a temporary epic battle, rather than a long trudge through deadre after deadre. Notably, while the story is more engaging, it also feels shorter in its entirety. Despite disliking the long drawn out dungeon crawls to close various gates, I did find the story’s depth appealing. Conversely, Skyrim’s story feels much too short for such an epic tale. My senses tell me that I shouldn’t have been able to foil the plans of the “Eater of Worlds” so quickly, this is one aspect where Skyrim falls short. Morrowind’s story felt truly epic both in scale and in action. Although the actions in Skyrim’s main quest are great, it doesn’t quite have the depth required to meet the bar set by

Morrowind.

The same holds true for Skyrim’s faction quest lines. For example, when traversing the College of Winterhold quest chain, it seemed like it was just a random encounter and they decided that I would handle extremely important tasks right off the bat (well like 2 quests in). A few (in game) days later and I’m Arch-Mage just like that. At least in Oblivion, they have you doing menial tasks first so you at least rise through the ranks, but it seems like the College of Winterhold (and indeed the other factions as well) were just waiting for someone to come along to be named Arch-Mage. All the factions seemed be just an express lane to becoming their leader, rather than an organic guild that actually cares about someone rising through the ranks before they are tasked with important stuff. In Morrowind, when joining and completing quests for a guild, it actually seems like I’m rising through the ranks, rather than just randomly becoming the most important person in the guild overnight. While some people would be glad to be rid of the meaningless quests that acted as fillers before you were deemed important enough to get to the real work, these “meaningless” tasks actually added a lot to the role playing aspect of the game.

Game Mechanics

There are many game mechanics present in TES series that Skyrim really improved upon. Combat in Skyrim is the best implementation in the series bar none. The dual wielding mechanic was expertly done, and really makes combat much more fluid and organic, and dual wielding swords/maces/what have you is an awesome feeling! Casting spells is also much better now because of this new system. In Morrowind and Oblivion, while I loved the magic system, casting magic spells in combat just seemed clunky and awkward. However, sometimes I do find myself instinctively mashing the C key to no avail. As discussed, the crafting system far surpasses the implementation in the third and fourth installment of the series in most regards. I’m glad that they added back the Morrowind style fast travel (where you basically fast travel to preset locations by paying someone to take you there).

Unfortunately, there are also some mechanics in Skyrim that, in my opinion, are not improvements to the previous iterations in Morrowind and Oblivion. One glaring problem I discovered is the complete lack of Deadric armor/weapons in the game world. As far as I know (and I’ve done quite a bit of research in this area), you cannot find Deadric armor and weapons (aside from the artifacts that are rewards for the various Deadric quests) in the game world, but have to smith them yourself. I love the crafting system, but I don’t like being forced to level up a certain skill just to wear the best armor in the game. There should be other ways of getting Deadric armor that, while much harder than simply smithing it, is still available for those who don’t want to have a high level smithing character. Not to mention the need to not only level smithing, but get the correct perks as well.

I miss the ability to create your own spells. The spells in Skyrim are all quite satisfying (at least the destruction spells) but not having a way to create your own simply reduces a player’s choices when customizing their character. While I’m not privy to Bethesda’s rationale was for omitting this feature, I can’t imagine anything that could have justified the decision.

Bethesda also greatly simplified the armor system. Where originally you would have separate pieces for the chest, legs, etc. now you have fewer pieces (for example, armor is now what in Morrowind was a Cuirass, left and right pauldrens (shoulder armor) and greaves. Morrowind was a bit overboard, I think they simplified the armor too much. Essentially, what it comes down to is fewer choices for customization in exchange for simpler game play. I can appreciate wanting to simplify things that were a little too complicated, but it calls for a balancing act and in my opinion they leaned a little too far towards simplification. Moreover, it doesn’t stop at armor. The entire stat system has been completely jettisoned and you can no longer select becoming stronger, faster, or more intelligent. Now you simply pick whether you think you should have more health, stamina, or magicka, an oversimplification in my opinion that takes something substantial away from the game.

In Closing

Ultimately, I would give Skyrim a rating just below Morrowind, but above Oblivion. By itself it is an amazing (albeit buggy) game. Bethesda seems to be going along with the current trend in the gaming industry to simplify their game in an attempt to make it more accessible. However, while they were successful in certain aspects, other areas suffered from an oversimplified. Nevertheless, Bethesda delivered an awesome game, and I hope they keep delivering more!

If you’ve never heard of Unity, and are into game development, I highly recommend checking it out. You can reach the website with tutorials, information and documentation at http://www.unity3d.com. You can also download it.

Introduction:

Unity comes in Two forms, the free version and paid version. They both offer an extremely powerful environment for game development. They both also allow you to publish your games for a variety of platforms. The free allows you to publish for Windows or Mac, and the paid also allows you to publish for various mobile platforms, like Android and IOS. It provides an amazing 3D view for manipulating various game objects in the 3D world. It also provides a unique environment for coding, taking an object oriented approach where everything in the world (models, scripts, etc.) are all GameObjects. I won’t go too far into how Unity handles development (perhaps I will in a layer post) but rather how the experience was.

Development in Unity:

Developing in Unity was a very pleasurable experience. The 3D view in incredible, and makes things like positioning things incredibly easy when compared to positioning programmatically, which can be a huge hassle (change position, recompile, tweak position again, recompile, and so on).
In addition, the GameObject paradigm really makes organizing things super easy. Everything in the world is a game object, which can be composed of models, lights, models, and more, and can even be composed of child GameObjects. Because of this, it’s super easy to develop a specific part of the game, without mucking with another unrelated part. It’s also super easy for separate GameObjects to talk!

My Current Project:

My current project heavily relies on objects and collections interacting with each other. Unity has made developing super easy because Unity is set up in such a way as to make what I want to do super easy. For example, my script for building takes my builder object (A small avatar that builds things at its current cell) and creates a building object at the current tile, while checking the bank object and tile collection to make sure we have enough money and theres not already a building there. Normally, with a different game engine, like XNA for example, having these objects interact would be more complicated since I would have to explicitly create the communication system that is already there in Unity.

Also, importing models is incredibly easy and fast. You simply save the model in the correct directory (the assets folder in your projects root folder) and Unity automatically imports the model, and you can see how it looks in the game world, instead of having to compile the whole project just to see the size (god forbid you have to tweak the size repeatedly).

There are many reasons why Unity is incredible, and at a layer date I will further expand on it, but for anyone who is interested in game development, I strongly urge you to try out Unity. It’s free! Go to http://www.unity3d.com