Sunday, September 30, 2012

Dwarf Fortress: Big amounts of Fun

Unless you never bother with this type of stuff, chances are you've heard of Dwarf Fortress before.
In this post, I'm going to give a short overview of the game/simulator and available addons.

The first thing I ought to do is try to define what Dwarf Fortress is. It's a game, yeah sure. But it's also a simulator and a pretty powerful one at that. Most people start out generating a world. At this early point already, the program outdoes others by not simply generating a random map, but generating an entire history, mythology and applying things like continental drift, disasters, ... all by following the rules of physics.

Once you properly embark, you'll notice that each of your dwarves not only has basic behaviour, but deep psychological profiles which are critical to the succes of your endeavour.
To provide an example of the kind of depth it goes to: each limb and part of a creature (up to fingers and toes) has its own separate status and health bar.
I could go on and on but there's so much ridiculous detail that you should just experiment and find out yourself.

2 modes
Dwarf fortress provides 2 game modes:
Fortress mode
Adventure mode

In fortress mode, you start with a few dwarves and you try to establish a colony (or not) that survives for as long as possible (or not) until Fun comes along.

Adventure mode places only a single dwarf under your control and has you travel around, kill monsters (or anything else) and other stuff.

The goal
Any goal in dwarf fortress is imposed by yourself. While not technically having goals, there are some things that players will want to try:
-Set up a small working colony of dwarves
-Expand that colony until you're producing less basic stuff
-Challenge yourself by making intricate constructions or doing self-imposed challenges
-Have Fun

Any player starting out (and playing) will acknowledge that dwarf fortress has a steep learning curve. There is not tutorial to speak of and many first fortresses have gone under before even getting started.
Other players will get turned away because of the ascii graphics.

Don't despair however as the game has been open for modding a long time and has a lot of useful add-ons that'll make life easier. Some add graphics to the game, others help monitoring your dwarves.

Lazy Newb Pack UI
One useful pack for those who don't want to bother is the Lazy Newb Pack which incorporates a lot of useful utilities and graphic sets.

Final Words

All in all, dwarf fortress is a highly interesting game, featuring a lot of awesome and Fun stuff. The amount of depth is incredible and you can definitely have hours of fun trying to get your dwarves not to die (or the opposite).
It can be difficult your first time through, but by following a (couple) of tutorials, trying stuff and having all kinds of hilarious disasters, you'll slowly get better and discover all sorts of awesome stuff to do.

wiki tutorials page:

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Drawing for fun - part 2: the other 2 drawings

The other 2 drawings have be finished. Using the same techniques as described in the previous post to weld them together and clean them up.

The dragoon's spear:

I started out with a basic spear design and added the dragonhead and ribbons to make things more interesting.

The dark blade:

For this one, I started from the idea of a corrupted sword. This means that while the basic shapes of the sword are still visible, the darkness (in the form of roots/tentacles and an aura) is overcoming the once knightly sword.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Who wants to go to Egypt?

Inspired by Heksen, Duivels En Andere Geesten. Verhalen Uit Seppes Kelder (witches, devils and other spirits. Stories from Seppe's basement. Dutch only), I decided to get a bit into the name of this blog and warn you all against going to Egypt. Here're 3 reasons:

1) The devil holds court in Egypt

While the devil is usually not bound to a location or to an extra-planar hell, in some old tales, the devil - and his cohorts - holds court, meetings or festivities under the desert in Egypt. They dine upon the flesh of humans and have "wine" while doing all kind of nasty stuff.

2) Mummies will curse you

It is common knowledge that any trespassers and graverobbers not only get arrested but also become afflicted with the mummy's curse. Bad luck, ill omen and even death awaits those who anger the guardians of the ancient tombs!

3) There are nameless things beneath the sands

As with other weird tales, Lovecraft often wrote about the mysteries surrounding the desert and ancient graves of the pharaoh's.
In 'Under the pyramids', the main character (Harry Houdini) is trapped in a temple under the sphinx and witnesses the hybrid mummies (half man, half animal) under the rule of a great necrotic queen, worshiping the beast whose great yellow paw is only briefly seen.
In several other works, Nyarlathotep is featured, who is often described as having features akin to a pharaoh as well as sporting the hotep suffix, which is Egyptian. In the eponymous story, he even  explicitly comes from Egypt.

Let it thus be known to all that Egypt is a dangerous place and one should take care of their soul and well-being when travelling these forsaken lands!

(Note that I don't really want to discourage people going to Egypt. It's a nice country and you shouldn't take any of this too seriously.)

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Drawing for fun - part 1

Lately, I've been trying to get myself into drawing, using a combination of hand (with pencil) and computer (photoshop with a drawing tablet).

The idea is that I'll make 3 drawings of weapons and turn them into some kind of wallpaper. All 3 will have a different color theme. These weapons are kinda staples of the generic fantasy realm, namely:
-The holy axe (green)
-The dragoon spear (red)
-The dark sword (blue)

For each weapon, I also devised a (small) background story.
-The axe isn't just a generic holy axe, but is closely tied to the forces of nature.
-The spear has a high ceremonial nature but is usable as a weapon
-The sword used to be a generic (knightly) twohander, but has been taken over by dark forces.

I started with the holy axe, for no other reason than that I wanted to.
On paper, I usually try a rough sketch of what it looks like, as I can always change many things once going digital. I used A3 paper because it's sufficiently large and I still had some lying around.

Now, the problem with A3 paper is that most people, including me, don't have an A3 scanner at home and while I could go to a copy center to get it done there, it's usually cheaper if you just scan it at home.

First off, I scanned the 2 halves separately, making sure to have a tiny bit of overlap as that'll make it easier to merge them.
In photoshop, open the 2 files and drag them into a big enough file where you have sufficient space to move them around. Putting the half on the upper layer slightly opaque helps with positioning.

Now, using careful gumming at the edges and slightly repositioning the halves using the arrow keys, you should be able to make a nice seamless file. I ended up with this:

As a closing, some hints:

  • Try having more than one pencil hardness available. Switching these up can help with depth.
  • Try having a definite outer line that's slightly thicker all around and around parts of the drawing that stand upon themselves. (For example, the entire axe has an outline, but the different parts - shaft, blade and point - as well.)
  • Draw big. It allows for better detail as you can downsize it later.
  • Scan in a high resolution (about 300 dpi is good). 
  • If your drawing comes out too light, try balancing the levels with ctrl+l (when using photoshop).
  • You can either shade with your pencil or on pc, either works.

In the next issue, I'll go over the first coloring of the axe, just adding basic color and some minor lighting.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Saruman the many-coloured

Lotro is a nice game for many reasons, but one that is mentioned the most is the lore. While some breaks from lore happen and others can't be avoided, there are times when you encounter something that makes you think "Turbine really did a good job on this one".

One such encounter (imo) is your meeting with the Wizard Saruman. While not strictly lore-friendly (though it isn't mentioned that others haven't fought him), his appearance and clothes are what really show that Turbine looks at their source material.

Saruman delivers us this characteristic line:
"White! It serves as a beginning. The white page can be overwritten. The white cloth can be dyed, and the white light may be broken."
He wears a white robe when seen from afar, but on closer inspection, you'll find him wearing something of many colours. It represents his downfall from chief of the order to his own (and partly Mordor's) team. Quite a literal interpretation of showing your true colours.

This is how he looks from a distance in game:

Looks white to me, though a bit dirty

Taking a closer look, we see:

Subtle rainbows
I like it when Turbine does stuff like this, they could have just made his robe white or plain many-colored, but instead they made this. (Yet of course there are always complainers. Can't please them, can we?)

Have you encountered situations like this where you found yourself surprised about the details in Lotro? Let me know in a comment.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Learning to code with CodeAcademy

Aside from playing Lotro, being a moderator for Pandimus and generally mucking about, I'm also a bit of a coder. Now if there's one thing I like to do it's learning more about it! That's how websites like this Code Academy fit in.

'Now why would anyone want to learn to code?' I hear you ask. Well, aside from the fact that you're learning something new, you learn (partly) how your computer works under the hood, or you get to mod stuff in your favorite game, or you can see it as brain training.
Either way, you can always get a book on the subject, but in the end, there's that having a a site like this is handy is good for a different amount of reasons.
Let's look at some of the features that make this site nice and fun to use.

As you can see from the picture, CodeAcademy features an editor with  interpreter, because nothing teaches better than actually seeing the things you learn in practice. It has an active error-checker, which marks most common mistakes as you make them. You can always ask for hints or check the QA or Glossary.

As of writing, you can learn basic Javascript, Python, Web-based coding (Html and css), the JQuery library and website creation. All of these courses are constantly under revision to improve them.

With each completed exercise, you gain points to increase your score, earn badges to show off and build up a streak that can go on for days. You can log in using your google , facebook or twitter (or a local account), or just try it out without one.

Even if you find coding dull (keep telling yourself that), it's hard to pass up on learning something you normally wouldn't.