Thursday, September 4, 2008

Games I’m looking forward to playing

Not many good games for PC were released this year, nothing worth buying. But the second half of year looks better, here are some games I’m looking forward to playing this autumn:

3. Civilization IV: Colonization (release date: 23.9.)

I’m not impressed by visuals, I prefer the classic look and UI. Let’s see if the gameplay convinces me. The game will ship with modding tools and map editor, which is cool.

2. S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Clear Sky (release date: 5.9.)

I enjoyed original S.T.A.L.K.E.R., so I’m looking forward to its prequel with improved Enemy AI, system of factions and harder difficulty (most of the mainsteam games nowadays are IMHO too easy).

1. Fallout 3 (release date: 28.10.)

Visuals are stunning, but will the new Fallout be as good or better than previous Fallouts? If yes, then we have a game of the year.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Game review: Sid Meier’s Colonization

I was never much into Sid Meier’s Civilization, which is considered the one of the best computer games ever. However, I really liked Colonization, the game created by Brian Reynolds and Sid Meyer in 1994, similar to Civilization in name and UI, but quite different in game mechanics. While waiting for its upcoming remake (Civilization IV: Colonization, to be released this fall), I installed DOSBox and started playing good old Colonization again.

You play as an explorer of one of four European nations (England, France, Spain and Netherlands), who is entrusted by king to discover and colonize New World. You compete with other nations, establish diplomatic relations with them and with natives, build colonies and trade routes. The ultimate goal is to gain freedom by winning the independence war against your homeland.

User interface is simple and clean, a joy to use. Graphics and sounds are OK, but nothing special. Music is great, it’s actually one of my favourite game soundtracks. It’s basically just a collection of folk songs and melodies from colonial era, but after a while they get under your skin and you end up recalling and humming them long after you've finished the game.

What’s so special about this game is the gameplay. Game mechanics are intuitive and simple to learn, but on the other hand there’s a complex game system with many layers and possible game styles. You can play the as tycoon, dominating the New World economically, or as warlord, conquering all your enemies by brute force. You can cooperate with other European nations and indians or choose to annihilate them, each appoarch has its pros and cons (you gain wealth, but lose potential allies, and vice versa). And what’s more, all gameplay elements seem to be based on some historical fact: Founding Fathers, destroying goods as a protest against European government, conquests of indians...

Colonies are way more flexible than cities in Civilization – each colonist can do any profession, but only trained experts are really effective at it. Without experts, you can’t do any real progress, so education plays an important role (colonists can be trained in Europe, by indians or by experts in school which you have to build). Even soldiers are just colonists, so you can come to town with an army, store horses and weapons and send your troops to harvest crops, work in manufacturies or construct new buildings. On the other hand, when enemy attacks and there’s not enough soldiers at hand, you can equip farmers with muskets and send them to battle. The flexibility of professions is a great concept and it’s a shame that it’s rarely used in strategy games.

However, not everything is great, there is also a couple of shortcomings:

  • combat is too simple and it’s basically a lottery. There are just a few combat units.
  • AI of indians and other colonists isn’t great
  • micromanagement of colonists can get repetitive and boring at middle stage of the game (until you turn your nation into well-oiled machine)

All in all, Colonization is a great game. It has several shortcomings, but they cannot outweight by any chance the perfect game mechanics and well-thought UI which creates great and addictive gameplay. It’s a computer game classic, a must have for every fan of strategy games.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Book review: Robert A. Heinlein - Starship Troopers

Starship Troopers is a novel from Robert A. Heinlein, one of the most famous writers of classic science-fiction. Its story is really simple: youngster Juan "Johnie" Rico joins the army, goes through tought boot camp and then fights as Terran Mobile Infantry trooper in intergalactic war against Bugs, which is a nickname for arachnoid aliens. As you can guess, it takes place in future, when Earth is ruled by soldiers - only army veterans can vote and become politicians.

As a war story it's pretty lousy - we're not told much about the war, Rico or other characters, except how cool they are if they happen to be high-ranking army officers. This book is mostly about the process of "becoming a soldier" and philosophical musings on nature of war and duty. It seems as if author wanted to share his views on this and instead of writing an essay, he wrote a novel about it. My guess is that he wanted to influence young readers, who would rather read adventure sci-fi novel than what-if essay.

The society depicted in Starship Troopers is basically an utopia, it runs so well that it couldn't run any better. Problem is that it couldn't possibly work in real world - for one thing, it completely ignores the human factor. High-ranking officers are perfect, make the right decisions, love their subordinate soldiers and fight alongside them. These "perfect soldiers" will eventually become wise voters and responsible politicians. This is totally unrealistic, in reality there would be also ordinary, stupid and evil soldiers who would make army service significantly less pleasant for people like Johny Rico, and subsequently as politicians would probably create a more military-oriented society than democracy which is described in the book. Heinlein criticizes Plato's ideal state, but he's unable to come up with anything better.

That said, I agree with some of Heinlein's thoughts:

  • army service should be voluntary
  • every soldier should fight, non-fighting jobs in army should be done by civilians
  • only soldiers should vote and become politicians
(I agree only partially with the last one - I think that not everybody should vote or at least votes should be weighed based on one's contribution to the society.)

There's also a weird discrepancy in this book - war is quite brutally depicted, Johny scorches aliens with flamethrower and fires nuclear bombs on cities, but on the other hand, there's not a single mention of sex. Johny adores girls and is "delighted to be in their presence", but he only goes out on a date several times, he never even kisses a girl. Puh-leez! Young infantry trooper, each fight can be his last, delighted with the mere presence of girls, and all he thinks about is moral philosophy!

All in all, if you are looking for good action novel, there are definitely better choices out there - I can recommend The Puppet Masters from the same author, fast-paced action thriller with some food for thought as well. Starship Troopers is more philosophical and biased (which is always bad for philosophy), but I still liked it, so it's a mild recommendation.

And my opinion about army? Somewhere in between Starship Troopers (the book) and Full Metal Jacket (the movie).

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Back to blogging

"I hope that I will publish my thoughts here regularly (let's say at least once a week)." - written by me on 1st of January. I sticked to this New Year resolution for a month and completely abandoned it a month later. I had some other things to worry about besides writing good blog posts, but I'm not going to make excuses, it's simply lazy from me to not write anything for six months. It's time for the second try.

I guess one of the reasons why I stopped blogging is because I take it too seriously. In order to not to post anything stupid I don't post anything at all. That's gotta change, after all, who am I, not a journalist or writer, just a blogger who's trying to have some fun. Also, new post every week is too restraining, my new aim is new post every 14 days.

Coming soon: game review of Colonization (the original from 1994, not the upcoming remake).

Sunday, March 9, 2008

How to disable submit button parameter in Rails

Here's a quick tip for Rails I've just learned from Railscast #37: Simple Search Form: when you submit a form in Rails, submit button parameter gets passed by default and it can be kinda annoying when you don't need it. For example by submitting this form:
<% form_tag( '/search', :method => 'get' ) do %>
  <%= text_field_tag :search_str %>
  <%= submit_tag "Search" %>
<% end %>
You get following parameters in URL: ?search_str=something;commit=Search

Let's say we don't need the commit=Search parameter. Fortunately, it's
really easy to get rid of it. Default name of submit_tag's parameter is "commit" and it's set by :name key. If you set it to nil, the parameter won't get pass. So just change the submit_tag helper to this:
<%= submit_tag "Search", :name => nil %>
And you get following parameters when submitting: ?search_str=something

Sunday, February 24, 2008

S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl review

S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl (just Stalker from now on) is a first-person shooter which was 6 years (!) in development - announced in 2001, but released last year with four years delay. Was the waiting worth it?


There’s been second accident in Chernobyl which created the Zone, area around power plant teeming with strange anomalies. Immediately it has been closed by military, but people - so called stalkers - go there anyway to search for valuable artifacts. (By the way, stalker means guide in russian, it's doesn't have anything to do with stalking anyone.)

You are mysterious Marked One, who came on death truck from the Zone and doesn’t remember anything. There’s PDA in your pocket with only one task: Kill Strelok, one of the best stalkers in the Zone, who recently disappeared in its centre. The path is blocked by military, bandits and stalker factions with their own interests. Then there’s Zone itself: strange anomalies, mutants and zombies. Stalkers tells legends about priceless artifact deep in the Zone which fulfills any wish...

The story of Stalker has two main inspirations: book Roadside Picnic by Strugacki brothers (one of my favourite SF books, by the way) and Stalker by Andrei Tarkovsky, which is a movie inspired by this book. I haven’t seen the film yet and I definitely will (I’m still recuperating from my last venture into intellectual realm: Sokurov’s Russian Ark :)), but allegedly game borrows a lot from its depiction of Zone - bleak wasteland with abandoned factories and ghost towns.


Stalker is an FPS mixed with RPG. It’s kinda shame that there aren’t more RPG elements in the game: you can wear different armors, attach artifacts to your belt which give you bonuses to endurance or health, trade and talk with friendly stalkers (most of them haven’t got much to say though) and do quests for them – that pretty much all for RPG, rest of the game in non-linear shooter.

In RPGs it’s the interactivity of world which gives you feeling that you’re there, that you can communicate with the “environment” and affect it by your actions. In Stalker you can affect your environment mostly by shooting. Dialogues and quests won’t get you much involved in the game and story seemed kinda confusing to me, more as an excuse to shoot your way through the Zone than a real story.

But what gets you involved in the game it’s the world itself and its unique atmosphere. I’ve heard complains about obsolete graphics – might be, but who cares? Zone is allegedly modelled upon real Chernobyl surroundings and it certainly looks like real world, not your usual FPS corridors which make it easier for enemy AI to figure out which way to shoot :)). There are kilometers of wide-open countryside with abandoned factories, farms and ghost towns. Design of environment is realistic and non-repetitive. Sometimes you just stop, look around and admire the scenery. There aren’t many shooters with atmosphere like that. The overall impression could be compared to Fallout – but here you can see the post-apocalyptic world through your own eyes.

Exploration of this world is IMHO the most entertaining part of the game, it feels like you are really out there in the Zone. You are also strongly motivated to go off the beaten track by treasure hunting: from time to time you find PDA (mostly on bodies of enemies) with location of hidden treasure. It’s usually well hidden and sometimes very valuable - I found the best armor in the game this way.

Enemy AI is impressive, it’s definitely one of the best AI in shooters so far. Enemies cover, flank, sneak in shadows to get a good shot at you, generally they really try to get you, they don’t just stand and shoot. Lots of tactics from other shooters relying on AI’s stupidity won’t work here. However, beginning of the game is too hard, when you have just lousy weapons, no armor and going against teams of well equiped and cooperating bandits. That changes after few hours, but I think some people might get so flustrated at the beginning that they won’t even get there.


Stalker is for me the second best first-person shooter from last year. (My top three: Call of Duty 4, Stalker, Bioshock.) His main advantages are great atmosphere, enemy AI and lots of unforgettable moments: Geiger counter suddenly going crazy during walk in the woods, flashlight beam penetrating underground darkness or stalker playing guitar by the campfire after sunset.

As for disadvantages: this game could be much more than just a shooting game. While there’s vast world that feels alive, more interaction with it (besides shooting) would make the experience more immersive. Storytelling could be better, Stalker could learn a lot from Bioshock for example. The beginning of the game is flustrating until you get some decent weapons and armor.

Stalker certainly has its shortcomings, but overall it’s a great game. Last but not least, it’s a serious game for adults, unlike lots of copycat Nazi-themed shooters for bloodthirsty teenage audience. It’s a game which moves FPS genre a little bit ahead. I’m really looking forward to its prequel Clear Sky.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

First Starbucks in Prague

Last week Starbucks opened its first coffee shop in Czech Republic, in the centre of old Prague. I'm glad they did that because Starbucks has great coffee, although it's quite expensive. Few days after opening I stopped by to have a cup, but café was packed and there was a long queue from the entrance all the way to take-away counter - I didn't want to wait half an hour for a coffee, so I walked on.

It was packed for the whole first week because press wrote about the opening so crowds poured in because Starbucks is IN. Others complained about quality of their coffee (I guess that most of them have actually never been in Starbucks) in discussion forums all over the Czech internet, which is funny because the supreme "traditional" Czech coffee made in turkish style (put powdered roast coffee into cup, add boiling water) isn't something one should brag about :).

Anyway, I tried it again this week with my girlfriend and found out that crowds were gone. There was just the right amount of people to make the café feel cosy. We both ordered caramel frappuccino and shelled out 115 crowns for each (about 4,5 Euros or 6,5 dollars) - I've never paid so much for a coffee in Prague and I thought it simply can't be worth the price.

Surprisingly, it was worth it. It might be overpriced, but there just isn't coffee like that available anywhere else in Prague yet. Besides, the interior is very nice and staff is good-natured and pleasant - genuinely pleasant, as far as I can tell. Miles Davis playing quietly in the background was a nice touch, certainly much better than radio screaming hits from 80's - unfortunately quite common occurence in Prague cafés nowadays.

Overall, it was a very nice experience. I won't go there every week (the price is just too high, shop is kinda out of the way and I'm not much of a quality coffee addict), but I will definitely come back and enjoy the coffee and the atmosphere.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

How to create good passwords

Good password is hard to crack and easy to remember. One extreme is having easy-to-remember passwords like your spouse's name or birthday's date, other extreme are elaborate passwords that you tend to forget. Here's the best of both worlds, my favourite method for creating good passwords:

1) pick some catchy lyrics from a middle of less known song (you can also use poems or quotes). Compose password from first letters of each word of the sentence. Here's an example:

lyrics: "I want to lay you down on a bed of roses"
(from Bon Jovi - Bed of Roses)

password: iwtlydoabor

Now you've got a password that's both difficult to crack and easy to remember - well, the song and method for getting password are easy to remember, not the actual password, we're using a bit of primitive cryptography here. Make sure that the selected excerpt is not too obvious (refrain of Yesterday, popular proverbs, poems like "roses are red, violets are blue" etc).

This password is better than 90% of other passwords used on the internet and resistant to dictionary attack, but it still it's possible to crack it by brute force. To prevent that, we need a mixed case password with numbers and special characters.

2) replace characters by similar looking numbers: o by 0, i by 1, e by 3...

iwtlydoabor -> iwtlyd0ab0r

"o" was replaced by "0" (zero).

3) use the same replacement technique for special characters: 1 for !, a for @, s for $...

iwtlyd0ab0r -> !wtlyd0ab0r

"i" was replaced by "!".

4) it's good to have a system for placing upper case characters. I tend to write lower case for consonants and upper case for vowels (or the other way):

!wtlyd0ab0r -> !wtlYd0Ab0r

5) I also like to convert original sentence into slang, for example:

"I want to lay you down on a bed of roses" ->
-> "I wanna lay u down on a bed of roses."

!wtlyd0ab0r -> !wlUd0Ab0r

Well, I think that's quite a strong password. Make sure that you're able to remember your new password, perhaps even write it down for first few days. Write down just the original lyrics if you're afraid that someone else might accidentally read it, that should be enough to figure out rest of the password. Also, don't over-combine the encryption or you might forget all encryption steps - use only one number or special character replacement, leave out some steps.

Here's another password-related tip: don't have just one password for several accounts. It's similar to dilemma between easy and hard passwords - it's insecure to use only one password for everything because if someone gets it, he's got all of your passwords. On the other hand, if you use many passwords for many acounts, it's almost guaranteed that you forget some. If some of your passwords can be retrieved or reseted by email, don't worry much about them, but be very cautious when selecting a password for that email.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Gothic 3 skills, tips and tricks

This is a small guide to Gothic 3 for people who don’t want to waste learning points on useless skills. Some general gameplay tips are also included.

I played the game with last official patch v1.12, some bugs I’m going to mention might be fixed in later community patches (v1.5 is the most recent). Also, I haven’t played as mage yet, so these hints probably won’t be much useful to you if you want to use magic a lot.

Essential skills

There are three basic classes in Gothic 3: fighter, archer and mage. I prefer the mix of fighter and archer. I haven’t yet played as mage so I can’t give you any tips on that yet. I recommend these skills for non-magic character (I don’t list their pre-requirements):

  • Fighting: sword master, orc slayer, strong shield parry, regeneration
  • Hunting: bow master, orc hunter
  • Magic: none
  • Smithing: forge ore weapons, prospector, sharpen blade
  • Thieving: pick difficult locks, make excuses
  • Alchemy: none
  • Other: endurance of the wolf, resistance to cold, resistance to heat

Useless skills


  • sneak on wild animals - you can just shoot them from distance or outrun them with a sword.


  • forge pure ore weapons – don’t waste your time and learning points on this skill. You won’t be able to get any recipes for pure ore weapons. You can’t get much better weapon that self-forged and sharpened bastard sword. It’s just not worth the effort.

    Note: You can learn this skill only from Hammer Clan’s smith and it involves a very flustrating quest where you gotta get approval from 3 other ore smelters in Nordmar, but two of them run out of villages in the meantime and you end up wandering around Nordmar and looking for them for hours (and after you finally find them, then you’ll find out the “pure ore” skill is actually worthless :)). Someone on forums suggested following tip for this quest: smiths walk out villages right after you get the quest. So quicksave, teleport to Fire Clan and follow its smith to find out its destination. Then quickload and follow the the smith of Wolf Clan.

    Update: It's tricky to get pure ore recipes and weapons. There are special unnamed chests in the game containing rare items. The more of these chests you open, the rarer items you find, including pure ore recipes and weapons. As far as I can tell, there's no other way to get them.

    IMHO it sucks, because how can you figure that out by yourself while playing the game?! You can't, unless you read the walkthrough. Best weapons should be available through quests, not by this random "system".

    And then there's another question - is it worth it? As I've checked the weapon descriptions, best weapon has about 160 damage. Self-forged and sharpened bastard sword has 110 damage and it's quite easy to raise damage by increasing your strength, so I don't think that pure ore weapons are worth the trouble it takes to get them.

    More info about unnamed chests and their content


  • pick impossible locks – while not really a useless skill, it’s better to put your points elsewhere. Chests with impossible locks are rare in the game and you can open them with „open locks“ scroll, just make sure you always have some in your inventory.

    Update: If you decide to search for special unnamed chests containing rare items, this skill will be useful to you in the long run, because they all have impossible locks.

  • pick pockets – not very effective unless you put half of your learning points into thieving skill. I learned to pick difficult pockets and it usually just annoyed me – you steal by choosing a option in dialogue, so dialogue window opens for persons who have nothing to say and it hinders you, you’re often caught and then you gotta quickload which hinders you even more, so I didn’t even bother stealing, except when clicking on "pickpocket" dialogue option by mistake, usually followed by quickload.

    In few cases when you need to rob someone, there’s a workaround: whack him and then use “amnesia” spell scroll (when you cast it upon unconcious person, he/she forgets your crimes).


  • Don’t put your learning points into alchemy, learn it from books instead, there’s a lot of them in the game. You actually don’t need to have high alchemy skill - you will mostly brew only health and endurance potions and you can do that from the start of the game.
  • Don’t waste your time trying to learn how to make poisons and how to use them to poison your weapon or arrows. Make poison skill is bugged, you can’t learn it. You can learn how to poison weapon, but I wasn’t able to actually do it, when I finally got me some poison from trader in Mora Sul. I think it might be bugged as well. Finally, you can learn to poison arrows, but it’s not very practical skill because poisons are very hard to come by.
  • Brew permanent potions – not a very useful skill. You brew them from king sorrel and certain plants with permanent effects. These plants raise your attributes by themselves, permanent potions just double their effect (for example: dragonroot raises strength by 1 point, potion made from it raises strength by 2 points). Problem is that you won’t find many king's sorrel plants in the game, so you can brew only a few permanent potions. Just eat permanent effect plants instead of making potions from them.

    Update: There are about 50 king's sorrels to be found so if you search for them you will easily earn more points then you use to learn Permanent potion skill. Thanks for the tip, Percy.

  • Brew transformation potions – this might come in handy, but I prefer druid stones, which you can use over and over again, while transformation potion can be used only once. My favorite beast to transform into is snapper, which is very fast and has high endurance, so it’s convenient for running long distances. You can get snapper druid stone from druid in camp south of Geldern.


  • Resistance to weakness – you won’t need it at all.
  • Resistance to poison – you will rarely need it, get some antitode potions instead (and if you don’t have them, just keep drinking drink healing potions, poison will subside after a while).

Other skills I didn’t mention are in between essential and useless category – I didn’t found them especially useful, but they’re not a waste of learning points either.

General tips

  • If you equip shield, you get armor bonus. (You don’t have to actually use it.)
  • Most effective fighter equipment is bastard sword (self-forged, sharpened and blessed) and paladin shield (because of the armor bonus) – you can get both without too much hassle. There are better weapons than bastard sword, but you can finish the game thrice in time it would take you to get them, so they aren’t simply worth it.
  • When you fight with companions, watch the distance – you can easily whack them by accident and then they might turn against you. However, they are very useful as a shield - usually they can’t die, so put them in the „first line“ as a primary target for enemy attack and whack enemies from behind or shoot them from distance.
  • You can make a lot of money by forging and selling weapons, especially bastard swords, which you can sell for 4800 gold coins (probably more if you can haggle). It’s also good to have prospector skill, because then you get twice as much ore from ore veins. Learn it as soon as possible so you have more ore at your disposal.
  • If you want to get somewhere far away, there’s a lot of enemies in your way and you’re too inexperienced to beat them, just run through them and jump like crazy while you’re at it. You can outrun most of your opponents. It’s good to learn endurance of the wolf skill and have some endurance potions ready, because you can’t run if you have no endurance points left.
  • If you want to be an archer, I recommend you to learn to handle bows and ignore crossbow skills. Only advantage of crossbow is its dependence on strength attribute, which is higher than your dexterity if you’re a fighter. But bows also deal good amount of damage and are faster - speed matters a lot in long-range combat, you can shoot a few arrows, then run back a shoot some more. With crossbow you usually have only one shot, because it takes a long time to fire a bolt.
  • Spellcasters are the most dangerous opponents in the game, especially if they are among group of fighters. Here’s how to beat them: learn resistance to heat and cold. Increase both by amulets, rings and armor. When you spot a spellcaster, make sure your endurance is at maximum and run to them. Jump, dodge and hide behind obstructions to avoid their spells. Once you reach them, they’re easy to beat in close combat with series of quick attacks, just keep whacking them.
    If you encounter group of two or three spellcasters, try to separate them from each other. Lure them into wilderness, where monsters keep them busy. Get some companion which will act as a shield.
  • Archers and crossbowmen, are not as dangerous as spellcasters, but they still pose a big threat, especially if there’s a small group of them when you‘re conquering a camp or liberating a town.
    Firstly beat archers, then warriors - you want to avoid situation when you’re surrounded by fighters and archers shoot at you from distance. If you run close to archers and start swinging sword, they usually stop using bows and draw close-range weapons instead, which is cool because you don’t have to worry about them anymore.
  • You can get one of the best helmets early in the game: First paladin’s helmet. It’s in Geldern, in the shamans’ house, on the table. Just steal it, it’s easy.
  • Fancy a good shield? How about a paladin shield, the best shield in the game? Easiest way how to get one is to take it from renegade paladin Kurt at the pass to Varant – just be prepared to fight a lot of bandits before you get to him.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Ruby on Rails: How to set url_for defaults

I work as a Ruby on Rails programmer, so from time to time I'm going to post something about this language. Recently I implemented HTTPS into Rails application and had to figure out how to set defaults for url_for method: complete url (not only relative path) and http protocol. It's a little bit complicated, so here I am posting how I did that, it might save someone a couple of hours.

So, how do we set defaults for url_for method? First obvious solution would be to copy and paste this method from action controller into our application controller and add some code at the beginning of the method:

def url_for(options = nil) #:doc:

  # added url_for defaults
  options[:path_only] ||= false
  options[:protocol] ||= 'https'

  case options || {}

Of course that would be a lame solution, it's a bad idea to rewrite core methods (unless they are meant to be rewritten, for example the method I'll mention in next paragraph). If someone change this core code in future (which is quite possible), it might break the application.

Instead you can use default_url_options method to set url_for defaults. This method return a hash of url_forparameters, which is empty by default. So you can just write this into your application controller:

def default_url_options(options)
  { :only_path => false, :protocol => 'https' }

And we're done, right? No, that's not enough. It took me a while to figure out why certain URLs still don't work - URLs in views won't be affected by default_url_options, because they use url_for helper method, not the one from action controller. Yes, there are actually two url_for methods in Rails, one in controller, other in helper (url_helper.rb). And while you can rewrite defaults for the controller, but can't rewrite some defaults for helper - :only_path parameter is hardcoded to true, we want it to be false. What to do?

It's easier to fix than it seems. Just add this line into application controller:

helper_method :url_for

This causes that controller url_for method will be used also as helper method and it rewrites core url_for helper method, so default parameters will be applied on all URLs.

That's all, hopefully this will help someone.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Gothic 3 review

Here we go, my first game review ever, but everybody has to start somewhere. I know there’s a lot of Gothic 3 reviews out there on the internet and it’s a year old game, but I also think I’ve got something new to say about it.

Gothic 2 is one of my favourite role-playing games and Gothic 1 is in my top twenty, so I expected a lot from the third sequel. Now after I’ve finished it I can say that Gothic 3 isn’t as good as I’ve expected, but it’s a good game and it’s worth playing.


Gothic 2 ended with hero sailing on a ship to Myrtana with his friends after he saved the island of Khorinis from the menace of dragons and orcs. Upon his arrival to Myrtana he finds out that the country has been conquered by orcs thanks to the help of Xardas. King’s castle barely holds out behind a magic barrier surrounding the capital city and there’s also handful a rebels hiding in the woods and caves, not much else is left from the kingdom. Orcs seem to be searching for something in digs around Myrtana and ancient ruins in the southern desert inhabited by mysterious hashishins…

If you don’t know who the hell is Xardas and what did you do on Khorinis, you won’t get much wiser during the game, as it doesn’t explain past events at all and throws you right into the middle of things. This isn’t very user friendly approach to newcomers, a small recap at the beginning (what happened so far, who is who) would be nice. I have one more problem with the story – it has inadequate presentation. It’s kinda difficult to get a bigger picture on what’s going on. Even the most important people (Xardas, king Rhobar, your friends) talk to you just a little bit even when there’s lot to say. For example, king Rhobar threw you into prison back in Gothic 1 – when you meet him, you get over it in about two sentences, then he gives you some quests. Dialogues with old friends were a disappointment for me, they were too brief and sterile, in "tell me about this city and give me some quest" style.

Graphics and sound

Gothic 3 has one of the best graphic presentations in RPG ever, just look at the pictures around. However, it’s also one of the slowest RPGs ever, and graphics can easily get ugly if you scale down resolution and range of sight. It seemed to me that the game actually should be faster, that the engine is not optimalized, and I guess that the game stutters even on the high-level PCs. On my relatively fast computer (Athlon 64 X2 3800+, 2GB RAM, Radeon x1950 Pro 512 MB) the FPS was decent on a high resolution (1024x768) and details, with occasional stuttering.

Soundtrack is excellent, recorded by live orchestra and ethnic bands, it’s as professional as any soundtrack for a Hollywood A movie. Sounds are decent, except for moaning of people when they get hit, it sounds like they aren’t fighting, but f... :)


Main quest is basically just an excuse to explore the land and do a whole lot of side quests. For example, your first task is to find Xardas and you know he’s built a tower somewhere in the north, but you can’t go north yet because the country is full of beasts and you need to be stronger to beat them. So you start doing quests, get experience, get more quests because virtually everyone you meet gives you another quest, gotta finish some because your log is a mess… and several days later you’re stronger and not a step closer to the north. Finally you arrive to the border town and find out that to be allowed to go to further you have to get some reputation with orcs first by doing quests for inhabitants of town... This system is cool, it creates a non-linear, free-roaming gameplay. Problem is that quests get quite repetitive after time, most of them are simple go-there-kill-that variety.

There are several factions in the game: rebels, orcs, hashishins, nordmarians, rangers and nomads. The faction system gives you much more freedom then in previous Gothics – you can side with more than one faction at the same time and your deeds have only effect on your reputation, you can still do quests for another factions. It’s common that rebels tell you to liberate a town occupied by orcs, but before you do it, you can do all the quests for the orcs in that town to get some experience. You can actually get enough reputation to talk to their leader, who wants you to annihilate rebel camp nearby, where you originally came from. Or you can do it the other way around, go to orcs first and then to rebel camp as an orcs mercenary.


Levelling system is almost the same as in previous Gothics. When you level up, you get ten learning points (but not extra life points anymore), which you can spent on raising attributes and learning new skills. You can either pray on altar or find a teacher, who will train you for a certain amount of gold. Only few teachers in game can teach you high-level skills and you have to get high reputation within their faction first. Experience really makes a difference, at the start you have hard time to slay even the weakest monster, later in the game you’re cutting through packs of beasts and single-handedly slaying whole camps of orcs.

Levelling is generally easier than in previous Gothics, where you were really missing learning points spent in wrong skills. In Gothic 3 I learned quite a lot of useless skills, but still got enough experience to learn what I needed, and actually I finished the game with about 70 extra learning points which I didn’t need to spent because my character was strong enough.


There are three means of fighting in world of Gothic: close-range weapons, long-range weapons and magic. I can’t say much about magic, my character was half-figher, half-archer. Originally I wanted to be just a figher, but later I also developed archer skills later because close-range combat was often very flustrating. After you get some experience, decent weapon and armor, you can beat a couple of orcs, but you can’t beat a single wild boar! There are several styles of attack available: fast, medium, strong... but only thing that usually works is non-stop fast attack done by furious mouse-clicking. Winning a fight over group of enemies is usually more a matter of luck than skill, and often you have to „heroically“ flee from battle for a while to heal yourself. Other people can join your party; they are useless as fighters, but very useful as a „shield“ – most of attacks concentrate on them and you can attack opponents from behind and can pick them one at a time, which is effective, but not exactly the way of warrior as I would imagine. Long-range combat is a great addition to close-range combat, you can choose between bows and crossbows. Bows are faster, but do less damage. You can use several special kinds of arrows: fire arrows, knock-down arrows and poisoned arrows, although the last ones are very rare. Combined with high endurance (so you can sprint for a long time), archery is the best option for outdoor fighting– if you don’t kill an opponent until he comes to you, just run away a bit and fire another couple of arrows.

I can’t really say much about a magic: mages use magical staves instead of conventional weapons, you can study several different kinds of magic because each faction has its specific spells (Innos offers basic attack and defense spells, Beliar has lots of summoning spells, druids specialize in transformation magic...), and generally you’ll be quite weak at the beginning, but become very strong near the end of the game.

Each way of combat has its basic attribute - strength for combat, hunting for archery and ancient knowledge for magic - and related set of skills which require various levels of given attribute. For example, you can’t become master swordfighter until your strength isn’t at least 200. Except combat skills you can study smithing, thieving, alchemy and few extra skills like endurance in sprint or resistance to fire and ice.

Myrtana Broadsword Massacre

Some people like to let off steam in RPG. Then you can read a posts in gaming forums like this one: “I went to one town and killed everyone, then I annihilated second town, then another… AHAHAHAHAHA!” Well, if you are into this kind of virtual misbehaviour (to put it mildy), look no further, because in Gothic 3 it’s actually part of storyline. Near the end of the game you have to hack’n’slash cities full of orcs and people, where there’s you alone or with a small party against tens of enemies – I usually lost count of the humans/orcs going against me, but it could be easily over hundred in some cities. So, if you like to cause mayhem in RPG and even get rewarded for it, look no further. Personally I got the impression from it that developers were running out of time and so instead of proper endings they just used what they have to conlude the game somehow, but that’s just my opinion. What is and what should never be

From Gothic 1 you could feel that you didn’t just played the game, you “lived” the game. Unfortunately, this feeling is lost in Gothic 3. In my opinion this time Piranha Bytes “byted” larger piece that they could chew. They wanted to make their most grandiose game for a conclusion of the trilogy, the biggest world, and not just medieval age and orcs, let’s put in desert wasteland with hashishins praying to Beliar and frozen wastes of the north with barbarians… and before you knew it, the world has become too large and producer screams into your phone to finish the game ASAP, so let’s just take what we made so far and wrap it up. The game is obviously rushed, especially the second half. Piranha Bytes deserved more time and patience from their publisher after the success of Gothic 2.

Even with latest official patch, this game is still very bugged, you cannot even learn some skills (to make poisons, for example). Or you spend lots of time and effort to learn forging of pure ore weapons to find out that this skill is practically useless, because there’s no pure ore nor recipes available. You can get one of the best swords early in the game (self-forged and sharpened broadsword) and there’s not much motivation to search for even better sword because you don’t really need it and in time it would take to find it you can finish all three game endings. Either make better weapons more easily accessible or make the game harder, dammit!


All in all, Gothic is a good game with lots of rough edges. It seems like the it was rushed and released several months ahead – unballanced gameplay elements, many bugs, unoptimalized engine. On the other hand, Gothic 3 offers vast, beautiful and atmospheric world with lots of quests to do (if somewhat repetitive), cities and nations to conquer and treasures to find. It’s really nice just to roam around the outdoors and discover new landscapes, settlements, caves… and there’s always something to do, nearly everybody has some quest for you.

If you’re a fan of Gothic series, then you’ll like Gothic 3, but probably not as much as Gothic 1 and 2. If you’re new to Gothic, I’d suggest start with Gothic 2, it’s simply better than Gothic 3 and you don’t need high-end computer to run it on highest resolution and details.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

New Year, New Blog

I like the idea of starting new blog on 1st January, the New Year. This is not my first blog, but my previous attempts ended soon after their foundation. The last one had only one posting - a picture of a coffee mug. But I hope this will be different, that I actually will publish my thoughts here regularly (let's say at least once a week).

I write a diary, but before I started to writing it regularly, I've several times founded a diary which ended up with only 2-3 entries per year. Hopefully it will be the same case with blogs and hopefully in this case I'll kick myself into maintaining this blog.

In my next post I'll review Gothic 3, an epic role-playing game I've just finished. However, I won't write only about computer games, I'll plan to post some stuff on Ruby and Rails and just general ramblings like this one :). Sorry for my Engrish, it's not my native language, I'm Czech, but I think I'm quite capable of writing in English, I just need to flex my grammar and stylistic skills a bit, give me some time.