eBooks and Games for Young Programmers (and Their Parents)

Till the 18th of February 2015 Humble Bundle are offering with publisher No Starch Press a great selection of programming and LEGO books in one of their more impressive bundles.

What is Humble Bundle you ask?

Humble Bundle originally offered collections of video games where you could pay any price. The money would then be split between the creator, Humble Bundle and a chosen charity. If you paid over the average you would gain access to a greater selection of games. This was then expanded to other electronic formats including as above books.

Click here to see it!

As the new UK curriculum includes programming this appears to be a very cheap way of acquiring a lot of child orientated books. Although LEGO is not strictly part of the curriculum the books are still great as they are full of ideas and impressive creations that will keep any budding builder happy. For a list of the books with links see the bottom of the article.

If the books seem a bit daunting BBC have created a Doctor Who online game that also includes basic coding. The game is a normal platforming affair with a basic storyline and controllable Dalek character. See the trailer below and for more information click on the following link.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/schools/0/computing/29614102

The Humble Brainiac bundle (an apt name) offers when paying over $15 (Each is linked to its No Starch Press store page for more information):

Ruby Wizardry: An Introduction to Programming for Kids

Lauren Ipsum: A Story About Computer Science and Other Improbable Things

Snip, Burn, Solder, Shred: Seriously Geeky Stuff to Make with Your Kids

The LEGO Adventure Book, Vol 1: Cars, Castles, Dinosaurs &More!

The Manga Guide to Electricity

Java Script for Kids: A Playful Introduction to Programming 

Steampunk LEGO

The LEGO Neighborhood Book: Build Your Own Town!

LEGO Space: Building the Future

The Manga Guide to Physics

Python for Kids: A Playful Introduction to Programming

Incredible LEGO Technic: Cars, Trucks Robots & More!

Build Your Own Website: A Comic Guide to HTML, CSS, and WordPress

Advertisements

First Impressions “Life is Strange: Episode 1”

Life is Strange in a nutshell is an adventure game that offers moral choices throughout a normal high school students life. With the addition of a time travelling superpower.

Your controllable protagonist is 18 year old Maxine Caulfield, known as Max throughout the game. Her surname is interesting in that it is the same as Holden Caulfield from J.D Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye. Max’s character though does not mirror the duality of Holden’s; where his is an existence of contradicting personality quirks, hers is a more typical teenagers. Her characterisation should improve with more episodes, along with further information on her supporting cast.

Max has moved back to her home town of Arcadia Bay to attend the acclaimed Blackwell Academy where she studies photography. During one of her classes she appears to blackout and experience the opening scene of the terrifying tornado. This she believes is a premonition of a catastrophe to come and somehow later she is invested with her time reversal ability. It does not delve any further into the abilities origin and it is probably a lesser evil leaving an unsolved mystery than giving an unsatisfactory magical or scientifically incorrect reason behind her new found power.

The tornado in Life is Strange Episode 1

The tornado that threatens to tear Arcadia Bay apart.

The bay without the tornado.

The bay without the tornado.

The setting is rendered in a nice way, with some parts that could be called beautiful. Traversing the various areas is simple and you’re never at that much of a loss as to your current objective. The world is populated with lots of collectables and Easter eggs for keen explorers. I’m not much of a collector in games so I was not that bothered about collecting photo opportunities or finding all the possible intrigues within the Academy grounds and the dormitories. For those that are more completionist though, they will not be disappointed even in this short episode. There is a gamut of various small additions that round off the environment and make it more believable. Whether it’s graffiti on a tree, the unique decoration in your classmates room or the various posters that litter the hallways you always feel like the area is lived in. The characters have an existence outside of the brief interactions you have with them.

For instance in the following quick video you can see Max walking down the hallway with characters interacting without her. There are missing posters on the wall, a kid getting bullied, vending machines and lots of other small things that you might not notice but add to the general enjoyable experience.

Although some of the dialogue and voice acting has been slated in reviews it serves its purpose and even raises a few laughs. Two of the more amusing lines included Chloe going to town Walter White style and Max’s friend Warren being a pop culture pirate.It was a shame these were delivered with sometimes distracting lip syncing; whether this was a graphical glitch personal to my play through or a common one I’m unsure. (Another players comments on Metacritic echo my sentiment, so it would appear I’m not alone.)

It is interesting that no one has picked up on the usage of “Arcadia” as the town name, at least in the reviews I’ve seen. In antiquity and the Renaissance, Arcadia was a reference to an unobtainable pastoral utopia. The setting is suitably pastoral despite being a small town. The area near the lighthouse is devoid of other buildings and evokes this image most throughout the first episode. It is also at first a utopian escape for the protagonist Max. Somewhere she can achieve a different self that she believes will be more fulfilling whilst studying at the prestigious Blackwell Academy, with her dream tutor. Like any situation it is far from the perfection she desired. Especially with the “unobtainable” hammer that is the tornado threatening to destroy the idealised Arcadia Bay.

A poster found in the dormitories.

“Social Media has a time and a place. Don’t let life flash you by.”

A poster highlighting help for depression in Life is Strange.

It’s nice to see even this fictitious Academy is taking mental health seriously.

The choices play out much like Telltale’s games, with very few of them resolved in the first episode. This is both annoying and great. It’s good because it makes you want to play the rest of the episodes and adds the tension needed to make a compelling story. It’s bad because the episodes are staggered and with such a large gap the choice may be forgotten and the tension built will dissipate. An interesting difference from the Telltale games is the lack of a time limitation on the choices, you can take as much time as you please agonising whether a or b is the right option. You can then, due to your ability to turn back time, change your choice. This is made more likely with Max’s questioning doubts after each choice you make. She has the habit of highlighting the negative possibilities from your choices; this though occurs with the vast majority of choices and becomes irritating near the end.

Finally, should you buy this game?

If you are looking for a cheap adventure game with difficult choices that draws you in through its narrative and are not hung up on the fact that you play a 18 year old American girl, then definitely yes. If you feel your connection with the story; my own was slightly hindered by not having experienced the traditional American high school life, won’t be sufficient and that you’d be alienated by the experience, then it’s not a game for you.

Best Game Lore (Nug)

Having played a lot of Dragon Age Inquisition recently I thought I’d share with you one of my favourite bits of game lore in any game I’ve read so far. It made me laugh to myself, although perhaps that was the lack of sleep from playing this game for far too long…

I was sure before the Blight they were a whole lot more rare. Should ask a Warden about that, if killing Archdemons leaves nugs all over. And the poor things don’t seem built for anywhere. I mean, they feed on anything, but they blister in the desert and freeze in the snow, and they’re easier to track than your own arse. Everything eats them (except me, the hands put me off), yet they thrive. Randy bastards outpace every tooth and claw.

Anyway, my point is, the ones around the farm are so inbred, they’re five colours and can’t stop peeing. I’m selling them in the capital as “elusive eastern bunny-pigs.” What did father say about idiots with deep pockets?

-Excerpt from the private letters of “Captain” Byrne, Lap-Nug Dealer, produced in evidence after seven claims of water terrors and death following bites in the Garden District, 9:36.

A nug is a bizarre rabbit creature with human hands!

Top 5 Video Game Myths

Trawling around the web you may have seen hints to myths or odd things relating to video games. A few of them are completely false and ridiculous (being able to see Lara Croft naked in the original Tomb Raider) but then some are true! Here are a collection of our top 5.

5. The Shadow People of Hell Valley (Super Mario Galaxy 2)

The Shadow People of Hell Valley

The Shadow People of Hell Valley Found Here

In one of the many levels of Super Mario Galaxy 2 if you take your eyes away from the jumping and action and look to the top left of the screen you will see these creepy guys.

No one is quite sure what they are. The sky pattern for this level is named “BeyondHellValley”. No levels exist with that name although some claim it is the Japanese level name or an abandoned beta level. The image above is called “HellValleySkyTree”.

But lets face it. Those are some pretty creepy trees! And they have now been reported in other Nintendo games…

4. Sex Minigame (GTA: San Andreas)

People seem determined to find nude character models or sex in every game (deleting the shower in the original Sims for instance). I even remember a mate of mine suggesting he had found this minigame but just assumed he was joking. Turns out he wasn’t.

Hidden in the game is an abandoned sex minigame. You did have to heavily mod you San Andreas to access it however!

3. Atari Bury E.T. in the Desert

As the story goes in 1983 Atari developed 12 million copies of Pac-Man (even though 10 million consoles existed) and 5 million copies of a reputedly terrible (unplayable) version of an E.T. game. Needless to say many of these games were returned and never bought. Atari on the verge of financial ruin supposedly buried them in the desert.

People loved the idea and many environmentalists became quite distraught. An Atari insider did say that the company would never throw out so many without recycling or reusing the cartridges.

The plot thickens!

It was debated for many years until recently the cartridges were unearthed at a landfill site in New Mexico! Read here.

2. Lavender Town Suicides

Above is the beta version of Lavender town in “Pocket Monsters”. Or Pokémon Red / Green. This version of the music wont be recognised by most at is was shortly changed before it was shipped out of Japan. And here is why!

Shortly after the release of the game in Japan there was a peak in suicides and illness in children between the ages of 7-12. Bizarrely the children often committed suicide in the same way (jumping or hanging) and many others developed illness. Rumour had it this was after each of the children had played through Lavender Town.

And this was due to the theme music and the high frequency parts that older children / adults could not hear.

There have been odd twists and turns in this story (read here) and it is difficult to know the truth. There has been no official link between the spike in suicides and Pokémon although many still argue that there is! This one is up to you to decide.

1. The Hall of Tortured Souls

Hall of Tortured Souls

Hall of Tortured Souls Found Here

Ok, admittedly this one isn’t a video game as such. Throughout the many editions of Microsoft and Windows there have been oddities left in by the creators. Our favourite and most useful is definitely “godmode” (find it here!)

Rumours are rife on the internet about many odd things in Windows or Microsoft. One of the more prominent ones being the hidden game in Microsoft Word 95 and that once you beat it you are shown something really weird.

There isn’t! There is however in Excel 95! The easter egg may be found here.

After following a bizarre collection of instructions and typing a random phrase whilst facing a certain direction you are greater with the above “last supper” esque image. It is in fact the developer team for Excel! Nothing nefarious of creepy at all.

 

Have any other myths you would like to share? Comment / tweet / Facebook us!

WATCH_DOGS Profiling: Highlighting the Danger of our Internet Presence

An interesting part of Watchdogs is the ability to grab a quick profile of passers-by. This gives a single line fact, their occupation and their income. It fleshes out the world that you so easily manipulate and helps give you the feeling of control, from the protagonists Smartphone you can achieve a surprising amount of things.

It is slightly disturbing the thought of one man (or a small group) having so much information on you at their fingertips. Details that are incredibly easy to access. Whether this is possible in real life, I’m unsure. Your government probably has a great deal of information on you, but due to inefficiencies and bureaucracy it would take a while to collate all of it and would not be gathered at quite the same tempo as is found in Watchdogs. Depending how much you place on social media sites, a relatively detailed profile could be created. (One they use to target adverts).

Another highlighted problem is one of misinterpretation. Brief snippets of your online usage, whether search history or postings on social media websites can be used to either negatively or positively present you. A single line is quite malleable in its interpretive value. The time a British couple tweeted that they were going to “destroy America” comes to mind. To a British person the tweet could be understood how it was intended; they were planning to get very drunk whilst over there. However, to the US authorities it looked like a potential attack. (Click here to read more about this).

Watch_Dogs Profile  "Frequent online searches; "Rape""

Profile: “Frequent online searches; “Rape””

Take the above image, Leo Havel’s fact is that there is in his history “Frequent online searches: “Rape””. A natural assumption would be that he is trying to look at disturbing things, which with his career, a physiotherapist, is pretty scary. Will point out here, that this person is only a creation within a game, its existence starts and ends with the randomly generated profile seen in the picture. There are though other possibilities: he is actually a victim looking for help or someone he knows has been a victim, he is conducting literary research into the issue or possibly he is in a responsible fashion educating himself as to what it is and how to help society remove its existence. As the NPC is only existing temporarily within a game, there is no further back-story. However, if this was a real person’s frequent online search, it could be misinterpreted by someone snooping or accessing their history.  With the gradual move to technological interaction, misinterpretation will become more prevalent, as subtle cues seen in physical or vocal communication are not viewed or heard.

After that depressing idea, we thought we would add some relief with a gallery of the more quirky profiles we have found. They range from the sad, those with life threatening illnesses, to the strange, including frequent purchasers of masks.

Paradise Craft – A quick look

Having played Minecraft for a while we thought we would quickly look at some of the multiplayer servers out there. We first played some MineZ which we cannot recommend highly enough but then we thought we would try something new and we stumbled across ParadiseCraft.

The server went live on the 28th May and we jumped on a couple of days later. Unfortunately the server is under populated (just us and the admin at the time!) but for reasons we will describe below we doubt that will be the case for long!

Spawn and Starting Area

So, after jumping into the server at Mc.ParadiseCraft.Net you are prompted to download a resource pack and make a password. Simple enough.

Paradise Craft Starting Area

Paradise Craft Starting Area

With your usual minecraft HUD you are greeted with a box of text detailing your PvP stats. Luckily it is translucent so hasn’t been distracting / annoying as of yet. In the starting area you are given multiple buildings in which to buy your weapons, armour and other bits and pieces (there are handy signs allowing you to teleport to these in the first building you come across!).

Paradise Craft Shop

Paradise Craft Shop

As the helpful newbie guide explains you need to go to the shop and they recommend a shotgun or rifle. We chose the shotgun! The guns are all labelled and we were impressed with just how smoothly everything was going and how polished this server was! It was surprising considering how new it is. (The ammo however wasn’t labelled! So the idiot that I am bought pistol ammo for a shotgun… punching zombies instead of shooting them, although satisfying, is nowhere near as effective as shooting them!).

PvP Area

So, you are kitted out, you have your shiny new gun and you want to shoot stuff. You hop on a plane and are “flown” (teleported) to a drop site. Literally a drop site. You jump from the plane into a pool of water underneath and procede to explore the world. Below are a handful of screenshots of this incredible map.

Paradise Craft Abandoned City

Paradise Craft Abandoned City

Paradise Craft Abandoned Rail Tracks

Paradise Craft Abandoned Rail Tracks

Paradise Craft Cathedral

Paradise Craft Cathedral

We were blown away by this map. It is huge and every building and structure is just… mind blowing. The Cathedral for example above, not only is it great to look at in the centre following a small parkour puzzle is a hidden treasure… we wont say what but go find it for yourself! The map has chests of loot dotted all around it. Oh and also mobs. Skeletons and zombies aren’t much of a match for the wary explorer however.

Great Potential

This server has great potential but there isn’t a lot more we can write at the moment as we didn’t get a chance to get to the meat of the experience. The PvP! The server has been remarkably well setup with everything we came into contact with working perfectly. With the epic scope of the map we can see PvP being immensely enjoyable, the variety of weaponry too is large.

We were lucky to be on with the admin at the time (DonDomis) and after a quick chat he lent us a bazooka… you know. Just to have a look. A cool addition to its explosive capabilities is the lack of fall damage when it is equipped so rocket jumping is a satisfying way to reach the high ground. Check out our YouTube video of the bazooka below.

 

Favourite Video Game Memes