kismet on June 21st, 2011

Shop-N-Spree: Family Fortune is the second game in the Shop-N-Spree series, by Viqua Games.

You are the head of a family-owned department store. Gameplay consists of hidden object screens in themed locations of the department store, such as the Grocery/Bakery area, Kitchen and Living Room, Electronics and Appliances, Garden and Tools, Halloween merchandise, and Fashion.

Each hidden object level is 3 minutes long, and you must reach a certain sales goal in order to pass the level. Customers will arrive at the bottom of the screen and request specific items which you must click on and deliver, such as Pound Cake, Soda, Potato Chips, and so on. Although there is a timer for the round as a whole and you must try to meet the sales goal, the individual customers do not appear to have mood or patience, so they will never walk out if you can’t quite find the item they’re looking for.

Shop-N-Spree: Family Fortune also features several innovative new game mechanics. Customers will arrive in a certain colored outfit, and if you give them an item that matches their color, you get extra money for a color bonus. For example, if you see a lady wearing pink and she asks for a Soda Can, you can give her a Pink Soda Can for bonus points.

Hidden throughout the level are also sales tags. If you find a sales tag, click on it and stick it on a customer. Yellow sales tags will force that customer to pay 2x the normal price for items. Blue sales tags force the customer to pay 3x, for triple the profit.

Some customers also request items that must first be assembled. In this case, you must find the different parts of the item and put them together on an assembly platform in the middle of the screen, then deliver the item to your customer.

You will earn Stars by playing the hidden object levels, and you use stars to unlock additional hidden object locations.

Another interesting mechanic in this game is Tasks. From time to time, you can choose to complete a Task, which is basically a short mini-game. If you pass the mini-game, you can choose one of different prizes, such as extra Stars or additional hints.

There were several (at least six, if not more) types of mini-games, but I only found some of them to be entertaining:

  • Bargain Bin Hunt: Your screen is full of different items. Down below, they will pick one item. You must find the matching item and drag it into a square.
  • Match the Picture: The picture is missing pieces. You have the missing pieces down below, some of which actually fit and some which don’t. Drag the correct piece into the missing slot.
  • Spot the Difference: Two pictures side by side, and you must click on the differences between the two. This was my least favorite mini-game. When will game developers learn that Spot the Difference is NOT fun? Especially when you have no idea how large or small the difference should be. It’s also really hard on the eyes.
  • Defective Item: Your screen is full of items, such as a blender. Spot the one that is defective and put it into the bin. I actually really enjoyed this mini-game, although it was easy.
  • Matching: You have a screen full of different icons. Click on the matching icons.
  • Odd One Out: You have a screen full of different icons. Only one of them has no match. Click the lonesome icon.

PROS:

  • Cute theme.
  • Core gameplay of hidden object search to satisfy customers is fun and compelling.
  • Very cute artwork.

CONS:

  • After an hour, it feels like you’ve played just about all the game has to offer.
  • Not all of the mini-games are fun, and some of them are downright painful.
  • One customer’s request bubble was on top of the item she was requesting, which felt like a huge oversight on the part of the developer.
  • Storyline and characters were not interesting or compelling.
kismet on June 7th, 2011

Do you like hamburgers? Do you like stacking strange foods? How about Lego-shaped men and puzzle games?

If you said yes to any of the above, you just may love Stand O’ Food 3. This game is the, read it, third game in the series, and yours truly has played the entirety of games one and two.

You play as Ronny, a boy next door who is running his own food stands. Customers will arrive requesting certain combinations of food items, so for example, a hamburger, which consists of two buns and a beef patty. Different parts of the burger, such as  the top and bottom bun, patties, tomatoes, lettuce, pickles, onions, etc. will come out on conveyer belts. However, Ronny can only pick up the item at the front of the conveyer belt. The objective is to pick up the pieces of the customer’s food request in order, stacking from bottom to top. When an order is stacked correctly, it is automatically delivered to the customer and they pay.

The tricky part to this game is moving the conveyor belts forward so that you can access the necessary ingredients before your customer leaves angry. You can eventually purchase up to four empty plates where you can place ingredients, and sometimes you will need this to access new ingredients on the conveyor belts. You can also press the “Undo” button, which will return any ingredients in Ronny’s hands to the appropriate conveyor belt from which you took it originally. On some levels, there’s a trash can where you can simply dump any unwanted item if you can’t find any other place for it.

Customers will pay extra for things such as speedy delivery, extra snacks, toasted orders (automatically done once you purchase the toaster oven), and sauces. Players will need to refill on sauces before each level, and adding a squirt of sauce to an order can mean a little extra profit. Certain sandwiches are complemented by specific sauces though, so make sure you add a complementary sauce or else you don’t get any money for adding the sauce at all.

Although hamburgers are Ronny’s tried and true staple, he also branches out into lasagnas and dessert waffles. Although I can’t say these dishes are mainstream, the art certainly looks yummy enough.

I counted 25 levels, but note that each level has about 5 rounds each, so you’re looking at a ton of gameplay.

The third installment in the series improves dramatically over the originals in terms of use of the English language (the first two felt like they were translated by someone with a 2nd grade education in foreign English), and a simple and straightforward tutorial. The balancing of money earned to upgrades purchased to levels seemed also vastly improved (in previous versions, you earned a lot of money very quickly). Movement on the world map also seems a little better, although I still think it could be a lot better and clearer overall.

Stand O’ Food 3 also introduces a few new mini-game modes. They should be applauded for the attempt to vary gameplay, but not all the modes are fun.

  • Fast Delivery – In this mode, customers line up in different aisles and the player must shoot food down to them as fast as possible by clicking on the correct conveyor belt. Watch out though, because sometimes customers will return empty plates which Ronny must catch. Lose five customers or break five plates and the bonus round is over.

  • Fast Service – This was my very favorite mini-game mode. You get to see 3 pre-determined dishes which customers want to order, and you simply make them as fast as possible. This one was fun because I could go at my own pace, and I felt like a pro when I memorized the recipes.

  • Stocking Ingredients – In this mini-game, you have to catch ingredients as they move out of a conveyor belt and take them to the correct box. This one was a snorefest, because once I learned that you could queue actions, I would click a few times and wait, click more and wait. Also, you can carry two ingredients at the same time, which makes this mini-game much easier.

PROS:

  • Genuinely fun gameplay.
  • Really plays out the restaurant running fantasy.
  • Super cute and quirky art style and characters. Story is not their strong point, but you just gotta love them for trying.
  • Sticks to what was good about Stand O’ Food and Stand O’ Food 2.
  • Fun to stack ingredients to match customers’ orders. Orders grow in complexity over time.
  • As a casual game that you can just relax and play mindlessly, this is a winner.
  • Nice achievement system.
  • Feels like value for your money.

CONS

  • Some levels get really long. When serving 50+ customers in a level, the gameplay can get a bit repetitive.
  • Not enough upgrades to purchase. Needs more decorative upgrades.
  • Story was nonsensical, overcomplex, and boring all at the same time. Still, it’s one of those stories that you can skip over without feeling like the gameplay suffers.
  • World Map needs some work. The gameplay “stands” and the background art blend too much, and it’s hard to see overall progress. Icons are confusing, and there’s a map on top of the map.

TIPS

  • Always buy the Secret Sauce once you can afford it, and put it on any order. You get the most profit per serving from using this type of Sauce.
  • Try to get upgrades that maximize profit first, such as the Toaster. However, upgrades that will improve Ronny’s speed or increase customer patience are also valuable, depending on your gameplay style.
  • Don’t forget to use the Jukebox!
kismet on May 31st, 2011

Battleheart! This great game for iPhone and iPad is a simple RPG that condenses the best of the role-playing genre, while adapting it to a new platform. It is currently available in the iTunes store for $2.99.

The basic game involves taking a party of 4 characters into short, 1-2 minute battles against monsters. The characters in your party have basic roles and abilities, so usually there’s some sort of tank to grab the monster’s attention and take the brunt of the attacks, a healer to restore the party’s health, and two characters who deal damage. There are no rules around party composition, however, so you can mix and match your characters at will.

The biggest innovation in battle is how your characters fight. You, the player, simply touch your character and draw a line to the intended target. For damage characters, this will cause your character to change targets and start auto-attacking. For your healer, this will cause your healer to change targets and auto-heal your target. You can also touch your character and draw a line to an empty spot on the screen to command them to move there.

After each battle, your party members earn experience points and level up. They will learn more abilities as they level up, and rewards also drop which you can equip on your characters to make them more powerful.

There are 33 different battle scenarios that you can progress through, each one increasing slightly in difficulty. A variety of different monsters will assault you in different battle scenarios. The final level is a big boss fight. There are also 2 special Arena levels, where you try to survive against ever-harder waves of monsters. The longer you can survive, the better the loot that drops. In fact, the best and rarest loot can only be found in Arenas.

There are a few basic classes:

Tanks:

  • Knight (Your classic knight.)
  • Black Knight (A knight, except he wears black armor. Very mysterious!)
  • Monk (A higher damage dealer tank.)

Damage Dealers:

  • Wizard (Fireballs! Time stop! Teleport!)
  • Rogue (Likes to stab things from behind.)
  • Barbarian (Throws hatchets.)
  • Witch (Uses dark magic.)

Healers:

  • Cleric (Your main healer character.)
  • Bard (Mostly a buffer, so he only becomes effective after he’s geared up. Don’t use him if you are new to the game.)

I played through all the scenarios using a team of a Black Knight as my tank, a Wizard and a Rogue for damage, and a Cleric for heals. Long-range casters such as the wizard and witch tend to do less overall damage, but they have the advantage of being better able to stay away from enemies. Melee characters such as rogues and barbarians do slightly more damage, but are vulnerable to enemies based on their position. One nice advantage to using long-range casters as both your dps is that you’ll have an easier time selecting your characters on the screen.

The different classes have some simple and iconic abilities. The Black Knight can do a cleave ability that hits multiple targets, an area shout that will taunt all creatures to attack it, and a shield that will reduce the amount of damage. Each character can train a new ability at level 10, 15, 20, 25, and 30. You will be able to choose between two abilities at each of these levels, so you can choose whatever ability will maximize your performance in different scenarios. Between each battle, you can return to the Academy to change up your abilities easily, without any penalty. During battle, your selected character’s abilities appear at the top of the screen as easy-to-see and easy-to-press buttons – simply touch them to activate them during a fight.

There are many innovative enemies as well – eventually you find some slimes that will do lots of damage if they touch your characters, so you must kite them (run your targeted character around the room without letting the monsters touch you) while killing it with your other characters. There are enemy healers which you will want to take out quickly, and mini-bosses who summon adds and appear in different areas of the screen. Battles are simple, short, and easy to retry if you don’t succeed the first time.

Pros:

  • Simple, elegant consolidation of the fun elements of RPGs in a quick and casual game.
  • Lots of gameplay delivered directly and painlessly.  You are either managing your characters or battling with them. Very little waiting, downtime, reading, or any of those other extra add-ons that many RPGs have nowadays.
  • Innovative combat mechanic using the iPad’s touch interface – controlling your characters with your touch.
  • Lots of replayability. Even when you max out some characters, you can go back and play with other character classes and also try to get better loot through the Arena.
  • Overall, a very simple and intuitive interface with big, easy-to-press buttons.
  • A lot of gameplay for only $2.99.

Cons

  • Although innovative, the touch interface becomes clunky when all your characters pile up on top of one another.
  • A few minor but annoying UI shortcomings, such as not being able to see your party members’ level on the Armory screen, Merchant screen, or Keep screen. Or during battle, your characters disappearing behind the ability buttons at the top of the screen. The ability icons fill up to show the time remaining on their cooldown, but they should flash when they fill up all the way.

The game is made by a company called Mika Mobile, but I’ve heard that it was basically developed by one guy. I think it’s a great release for the iPhone – just the right amount of content, polished, simple, and a joy to play.

kismet on May 24th, 2011

I have landed on a strange new planet.

The world is full of different materials – cubes of lush green grass and structures that I can only assume are trees. I see flowers and water, and more land on the horizon across a great sea.

I have learned how to open my inventory (press E), but I cannot seem to figure out how to interface with my new environment. I want to pick up flowers and begin mining ore, but so far, I’ve only managed to figure out how to whip my hand back and forth before me. I have heard of other Minecraft natives using tools. Perhaps I need to get a tool, first.

The nearby forest is full of animals. I’ve seen cows, pigs, and sheep, which I mistook at first for a gorilla. I have heard that it is dangerous to be out alone at night, without shelter, so this is my first priority.

This world is new and empty, and full of possibility. There are no maps or compasses to guide me, and I must use only the closest landmarks to determine my direction. I’m wary of leaving my landing spot, and being caught out in the open while traveling. Already I fear getting lost, which is strange since I do not know where I am.

There are clouds above me, and land stretching to the horizon. I hope I survive the first night.

I have climbed to the top of the nearest mountain. It is so high that I can almost touch the nearest cloud. From this vantage point, I can see my landing area, a forest to the north, and more mountains to the northeast.

I also figured out how to harvest minerals, and just in time, too. (Apparently you have to hold down the left mouse button. I was clicking and letting go.) As I continued to harvest, I noticed the sky darkening. Night was falling!

I harvested more quickly, but soon I noticed the moon rising over the sea, and on the opposite side of the world, the sun descending. (This was also, incidentally, how I figured out the cardinal directions.) Night would bring dangers, and all I knew was that I had to make a shelter, and quickly.

Abandoning my original plan of harvesting materials and bringing them back to my landing point, I quickly set down a shelter where I was. I made four walls, but to my dismay, I have not figured out how to make a ceiling. In the dim distance, I can see a giant spider crawling around the foothills. I shiver inside my makeshift box, hoping that it is enough.

All I can do is look up and stare at a single square of the night sky, dotted by stars. If I jump up and peek over the edge, I see zombies just a few ledges below. I am afraid for my life…

kismet on September 24th, 2010

Pocket Frogs is a cool little iPhone and iPad app made by Nimblebit. In this game, you can raise and breed different types of frogs. I got really obsessed with finding all the different types of frogs and couldn’t find a good resource for them online, so I decided to make this one. Apologies because I’m not that advanced in the game so I may not know all the species, and sorry for the bad Photoshop job on the frogs themselves. :)

TIPS:

  • For all frogs, you will be able to move them to a new habitat, play with them in the pond, or sell them for money.
  • You have to tame a frog before you can breed, catalog, or gift it. To tame a frog, simply take it into the pond and eat flies. You will see how many flies you need to eat at the top of the screen.
  • To eat a fly, simply jump from one lily pad to another. Any flies positioned within the frog’s jump will be eaten.
  • There are several ways to get experience points:
    • tame frogs
    • breed frogs
    • get awards
  • The amount of XP needed to get from level 1 to 3 is pretty high, so you may not make a lot of progress at first. The level ramp is not that great. :)  I recommend you stick with it though, as you will soon unlock new breeds of frogs at new levels.
  • Try to tame every frog. Taming frogs gives you XP, so this is a good way to level up.
  • Nurseries and frogs can hold up to 8 frogs.
  • Try to keep your nursery full of frogs, then when they have hatched out of the eggs, move them into new habitats. If you keep producing frogs, you can get new breeds or sell them for cash.
  • You can purchase more habitats for coins. To earn coins, breed and sell frogs, or get awards.
  • There are two ways to breed frogs:
    • Take a frog into the pond. Periodically, you will find another frog in the pond. Jump onto the other frog and you will get the option to breed the two. Make sure your nursery has empty space though – otherwise you will lose the potential breeding opportunity.
    • Select a frog inside your habitat, then press the Breed button on the profile screen. You can now breed any two frogs that are in the same habitat, as long as they have been tamed. Breeding frogs in this way will show you the possible outcomes of the mating.
  • In the pond, keep jumping around. Occasionally you will find gift boxes or other frogs. Other frogs present a breeding opportunity.
  • Yellow gift boxes often contain small prizes, such as coins or potions. Red gift boxes often contain better prizes, such as new frog breeds or habitat backgrounds.
  • Cataloging – Select a frog and choose the ‘Catalog’ option to put it into your catalog. You can put up to 50 frogs in your catalog. You can go back to your catalog at any time and purchase that same frog for coins.
  • Potions are used to make your frogs grow instantly.
  • Stamps are used to speed up delivery of items into your mailbox. Stamps are also needed to send frogs to friends.
  • Awards are special achievements. You can earn lots of XP for collecting special types and breeds of frogs.
  • All frogs have 1 pattern, 1 primary color, and 1 secondary color. These colors and patterns give frogs their species names. When two frogs are bred, the offspring may be any combination of one of the two parent’s patterns, one of the two parent’s primary colors, and one of the two parent’s secondary colors. Primary colors never mix with secondary colors.
  • Frogs’ names follow the convention of <primary color> <secondary color> <pattern>, so for example taking the first item in each chart below, a frog called Aqua Albeo Adamantus will have a blue base and three white diamonds.

UPDATE: Hey everyone, I’ve gotten a few comments and emails about the chart being out of date, and yes, that is entirely true!!! I made this chart the first week that Pocket Frogs came out, and I have since stopped playing and am no longer updating the chart. The game now also has an in-game Frogpedia which should list all the available breeds, colors, and combinations. Please make the most of the information here, but know that it is probably no longer up to date. Thanks for reading!

kismet on July 31st, 2010

Today, whilst checking up on iPad prices because I now want to purchase an iPad (DAMN YOU APPLE), I came across an auction website known as www.bigdeal.com.

Now this website was interesting for several reasons. They sell new, factory sealed, high quality items such as cameras, electronics, and jewelry. The winners of the auctions get these items for insanely cheap prices, such as $83.28 on a Garmin GPS System (retail price $259.99) or an iPad 3G 64 GB for $43.47 (retail price $899.99)! Wow!  That iPad was 95% off the retail price!

I, being the cheapo bargain hunter that I am, was immediately intrigued. I sought to find out more about how I, too, could save hundreds of dollars. It sounds easy, right? Well, as they teach you in Economics 101, there is no such thing as a free lunch. The moral of this story, as you will soon see, is that there is no winner here (except the house).

To win an item on www.bigdeal.com, you must be the last bidder on an auction when the clock reaches zero. In order to bid, you must purchase something called “Bid Tokens.” Guess what? Bid Tokens cost $0.75 each, and this is where the house makes all of their money. When I first read this, I thought, “Oh, $0.75? That doesn’t sound too bad. I could purchase an item or two and it might only cost me a few bucks. I just have to be the last bidder, right?” Well here’s the kicker – normally that would work on an eBay auction, where you can simply be the last person to bid when the clock reaches the last second. I’ve won a bunch of auctions by being sneaky and sniping at the last second. But on www.bigdeal.com, if you bid in the last 15 seconds on the clock, the clock RESETS and adds another 30 seconds on the clock.

Okay, now let’s examine that this does. It means that bidders can engage in prolonged bidding wars, where the auction draws out until the last man standing. Meanwhile, every time that the players in this game snipe the other players, they are paying the house $0.75.

As you can see in the screenshot below, sometimes people will go to GREAT lengths to win an item. Some of the items only increase by $0.01 when a new bid is made. If an item, such as the Nikon D90 camera shown below, is currently at $17.78, this means that 1778 bids have been made on that item! The house has effectively made (1778 * $0.75) = $1333.50 on an item that retails for $1249.99. And the bidding isn’t even over!

Now let’s examine the strategies here a little more deeply using the Nikon D90 as an example. As soon as a player has submitted a bid, they have a sunk cost of $0.75. And it’s more than likely that there will be competition over an item. The natural human inclination at this point is to think, “Well, in order to make my $0.75 retain its value, I need to keep putting more in. Besides, I’m still under the retail cost of this item, which is $1249.99.” The bidder can technically bid 1,666 times before they’ve spent the retail cost of the item. (1,666 * $0.75 = $1249.5)  This psychology is flawed, and you can see why. It imprisons the user in a downward spiral, where as long as they keep bidding, they’ve put more and more money into the sink. Thus, their sunk cost increases over time and the value of their bid decreases over time (reaching 0 or even a negative loss if their bid goes over the retail value of the item). At a certain point, the player has two choices: 1) retract from the bidding war, in which case they may lick their wounds and mitigate their losses, or 2) keep bidding until they at least win the item, in which case they will not have lost everything.

In this type of auction, only two people win — the house, and the item winner (and this is debatable, depending how many times they’ve bid). Everyone else who even bid on the auction has lost.

The true genius of this auction site is that they may have hundreds of people employing the same psychology over a single item, and you can see that easily reflected in the ending price of an item. In the Nikon example, the house will likely make 2-5x the original retail price on the item. Just breezing through a few other completed auctions, they made $225 off a $75 mouse, $10,463.25 off a $299.99 laptop, $1634.25 off a $100 Visa Gift Card, and the list goes on and on. And to put a cherry on top, they often auction buckets of “Bid Tokens,” which can go for 5x the retail price of “$0.75,” but HELLO!??!? Bidding actions doesn’t cost the site a SINGLE CENT! It’s just made-up value!  It’s pure profit!

Anyway, a couple other observations:

  • The house always wins (duh, I said this already). It capitalizes on the competitiveness of the bidders, which drives up the number of bids.
  • If multiple people are bidding on a single item, you’ll notice that the clock counts down to 0, and at the last second, MULTIPLE PEOPLE will bid on the item at the same time so the current leader doesn’t get that item. Thus, within the last few seconds of the timer, you might get 5 or 6 people pumping up the price at the same time. These are “wasted bids” of $0.75 each, but it happens because the players can’t communicate with each other.
  • It’s fascinating to watch the bids go by in real time. People can get REALLY MAD and be RUTHLESS! They’ll get into bidding wars several seconds apart, which really only hurts them and helps the house!
  • Is this capitalism at its best? Or worst?

I couldn’t help but marvel at the genius of this system, but Volty kept insisting that it was a scam. A terrible, terrible scam on stupid people. I’m not sure I would go that far, because people SHOULD be able to figure out the advantages and disadvantages of the system, but I do agree that it is a system that only favors the house, and does not really favor the bidders at all. And who knows, maybe there are folks who actually do profit significantly from this “game.”

To be fair to bigdeal.com, they do provide a couple of “safety” measures for their customers. If a bidder on an auction loses the auction, all money the spent on bids is subtracted from the “Buy It Now” retail price of the item. So for example, if I bid 100 times on the Nikon D90, which cost me $75, then I can have the option to Buy the camera for $1249.99 – $75. Okay, it’s something, but the whole point of coming to a site like bigdeal was to SAVE tons of money, not purchase something for its original value!

Bigdeal also matches credits for money spent on bids. So if you spent $50 on bids, you get $50 off a $100 gift certificate in their rewards store. Okay, that’s actually a pretty good deal. Every dollar you spend on a bid actually translates to a physical dollar value in their retail store. Honestly, that’s a pretty nice, helpful feature for customers, unless you notice that you can buy a lot of the goods in their store for cheaper on Amazon. A Panasonic camera in their store costs $275 retail, -$30 off (thanks bigdeal!), so your total is $249.99. (But you can buy it for $229 at Amazon. Oh well…)

Lastly, bigdeal does gives its customers quite a lot of data about past transactions. So if you have your eye on an item like an iPad, you can see that past auctions have sold at around $152 (again a $820 iPad earning the site $11,400).  So keep your Bid Tokens until that baby hits at LEAST $100 in bids! You’ll save yourself a couple thousand bucks in bids!

Anyway, my goal is actually not to bash bigdeal.com. I think their business model is brilliant. I wish I had come up with that idea. However, if you are participating in an auction, you might want to think things through. In this case, the best strategy for winning is to not bid.

kismet on July 30th, 2010

I have been playing World of Warcraft as a healer for almost six years now (with on and off breaks). My first character to 60 in vanilla WoW was a holy priest. I even leveled as a holy priest. (Yes, /headslap.) These days, my main is a Resto Druid, while I tinker around with my alt 80 Resto Shaman, Holy Paladin, and Holy Priest.

Needless to say, I have seen many healing add-ons! Here is my all-time top 10 list of most helpful healing add-ons. These are mostly geared toward raiding, but may also be helpful for leveling or PVP:

10. Healbot?

Healbot is my #10 add-on because I actually couldn’t think of a 10th add-on. I used Healbot ONCE back in the day, probably about 3 years ago, and the version that I downloaded allowed players to click on a person’s name in their raid frames. If you left clicked, you cast one spell. If you right-clicked, it was another healing spell. You could bind certain abilities to certain mouse buttons. However, I thought it was awful.

In order to write this article, I checked a number of healing add-ons, and to my surprise, Healbot actually looked like it could be…useful. I have not used this add-on myself so I’d be interested to hear what people have to say about it.

#9. Heal Assign

This add-on is most useful for healing leads. If all the healers in the raid have this add-on installed, they can easily see who they are assigned to heal. The downside to this mod is that all your healers need it for it to work, which probably is only useful for guild raids or a raid group with a consistent attendance.

#8. Rebirther

Another helpful mod for raid leads is Rebirther, which keeps track of druids’ Innervates and Rebirth cooldowns. The great thing about this add-on is that the druids themselves don’t need to install this mod.

#7. Outfitter

I would recommend this add-on to everybody, not just healers, but it can be especially useful for switching out gear sets without rummaging for half an hour through your bags. This add-on allows you to create and save outfits, and put on or take off outfits with one click.

#6. Recount

Recount is an add-on that tracks real-time data regarding things like damage done, damage per second (DPS), healing done, healing per second (HPS), resurrections, deaths, decurses, and things like that. Recount can both be a help and a curse. You can honestly use Recount to get immediate feedback on your healing performance during a raid. You can see which spells you used the most often, and compare them against those of the other healers. You can see who you healed the most. This information can be very useful, as long as you take it to improve yourself. The reason why Recount is a curse is because you can sometimes get caught up in topping the meters, or feel very bad when you are at the bottom. The point to remember is that Recount is a tool that can help, but at the same time, numbers don’t always paint a true picture. If you are a tank healer, for example, you may not have as high a healing output as the raid healer. If you are a single-target healer like a Paladin, perhaps you won’t do as well on a fight with lots of small, incoming damage. Use the numbers to your benefit.

#5. Prayer of Mending Tracker

This add-on is extremely useful for Priests who have no idea “who the what where and when” their PoM just went. In a raid of 25 people, it may be hard for your eye to see where exactly your Prayer jumped to, and thus you don’t know when you should refresh it (pssst…you should refresh it after the 5th charge is used up….or if the charge is on someone you know isn’t going to get hit).  This handy tool eliminates that problem by showing you exactly where your PoM has gone.

#4. SmartRes

SmartRes adds a series of nifty bars that show up on your screen, showing exactly who is rezzing whom. No more wasted time rezzing the same person!

#3. PallyPower

This is a must-have tool for Paladins in a raid (as long as your raid leaders use it!). This add-on creates a list of classes along the side of your screen, and the type of Blessing that you are assigned to give them. Simply click on each class icon, and your Paladin will automatically buff them with that blessing. Ideally, someone who is a raid leader or assist will set this up so that the Paladin Blessings are organized.

#2. Deadly Boss Mods (or an equivalent boss mod helper)

DBM creates all sorts of messages and alerts to help the player succeed in a boss fight. For certain mechanics where you have to jump out of the fire, heal someone, decurse someone, run together, hide behind a pillar, and so on, this mod is there to help you out. The mod also shows timers until the next boss event, such as an Enrage, a special attack, etc., thus helping you set up for success.

#1. Pitbull (or an equivalent unitframes mod such as Grid, ora, etc.)

Pitbull is a mod that allows you to customize your unitframes, which is the name for that piece of your screen where you see people’s portraits and health bars. This is the #1 area where healers must have perfect information, otherwise you are healing blind. Pitbull is fairly complicated to use (and I’m planning to write a guide on how to use Pitbull later), but you get a lot of control over a ton of information. Most specifically, I would suggest setting up your unitframes such that:

  • You can clearly see the health and mana of all the people you need to heal.
  • You have easy access to click on those health bars to deliver a heal.
  • You turn on “healcast,” which is a special colored overlay on a health bar to show you how much incoming healing that person is going to get. I have mine currently set up only to show my own incoming healing, but I know there are mods that will show you the incoming healing from other healers as well.
  • You turn on the range checker, which will fade out the health bars of anyone who is not in range of your heals. That way you are not mindlessly pounding healing buttons and not seeing the little system message that tells you your target is out of range.
  • I also turn my Pitbull options such that I can only see my own buffs on the raid. This is especially helpful for a Resto Druid, because then I can clearly see the duration left on the hots on each person.

Now, if only there were a mod that would say “AWESOME JOB!!!!” and give you a cookie whenever the healers do a good job…

Images courtesy of www.curse.com.

kismet on April 30th, 2010

Someone recently told me of an interesting “hack” in Café World called sport cooking.

In Café World, you cook different recipes on stoves. Recipes can take a different duration to cook – for example, 5 minutes, or 10 hours. You earn a little bit of XP up front for preparing the dish, and then a bigger payout of XP at the end of the cooking duration.

Well, if you happen to have a lot of cash in the game, you can engage in sport cooking. This is when you assign a stove to cook a particular dish, collect the up front XP, cancel the dish immediately (thereby losing your cash investment) and then repeating the process.

In Café World, each dish that you cook takes 3 steps to prepare, which equates to a total of about 15 seconds before your dish is cooking away. Well I now own two super stoves, which allow me to instantly cook the dish without having to click and wait through the 3 steps. The super stoves are especially helpful for sport cooking because you don’t have to make all these extra clicks.

I’ve identified the dish that gives me the most XP for the cash amount, which are the Rackasaurus Ribs – 51 XP for 600 gold coins. The only problem is that I’ll have to sport cook over 166,000 times in order to catch my friend who is #1 on the ranking charts.

Is this a totally retarded thing for me to do?  YES. Do I still sort of want to do it? YES. I wish I were playing a real quality game like WoW again, but both WoW and Café World have their advantages and disadvantages. For now, though, sadly, this is my preferred form of entertainment. It’s not a terrible thing to be doing while catching up with my TV shows, though.

kismet on December 31st, 2008

Lately Volty and I have been playing a PS3 game called Little Big Planet. I heard rumblings about this game when Volty first mentioned that he was interested in acquiring it. To appease him, I visited the website and watched a movie with a weird little sack guy running around a side-scrolling game. There was something about multiplayer and something about user-created content. My reaction was, “Meh.” Of course, that was not the last I heard of it. Volty then insisted that I go with him down to the Sony store, where they had a demo version of the game. So we trucked all the way down there, and then he proceeded to play a level. I watched the little sack guy jump around from pedestal to pedestral, collecting shiny bubbles. Meh. If he had asked me just then if I wanted to buy the game, I probably would have said no. Then he handed the controller to me. I was pretty convinced that I didn’t like this game, but I decided to humor him anyway. I moved the sack boy around. Volty told me how to jump, which was by pressing X. I jumped on a seesaw and figured out how to weigh it down with my character, then take a running jump to get to higher ground. Okay…then there was a hanging sponge, and I was supposed to grab onto it. I made a running leap and voila, grabbed the sponge. Now I was hanging in mid-air! My sack boy was hanging on for dear life, legs swinging! I swung as hard as I could and let go on the other side. Was I going to make it? Yes! Whew, made it to the other end. Now there were flaming barrels falling down a ramp at me. I had to jump over them! I jumped over one and barely missed, and my character got singed! Ouch! Jump over another barrel. Jump…carefully now! I made it to another checkpoint. Not so bad!


Photos from Gamespot.com Ok. At this point, I started seeing the potential. I knew that this game could be played by four people at once, and a big sell of the game was the fact that it could be a great party game. By this time, I was willing to at least let this game into my house, to be enjoyed by other people. I still wasn’t convinced it was a game for me. Besides, that sack boy really was quite cute. And even cuter when I made her into a sack girl.
I will take a few minutes now to explain how this game works. The story takes the player through a very Viva Pinata / Katamari Damacy / crazy psychedelic style world, with weird and kooky characters who ask you to do things like hunt down Don Zapato and find fire-breathing cats. You travel around the world to themed locations, where a series of levels with connected events takes place. The level starts, and it involves running sidescroll-wise, overcoming obstacles and collecting as many shiny bubbles and items as you can along the way. The items collected are accessible by your sack doll, and include such things as clothes, accessories, fabric textures, stickers, and items with which to decorate your “home” pod. The sack dolls are completely customizable at any time. So for some part of the game I’ve been running through as a bunny, a cat, a Spanish senorita cat, a zebra, a fairy, a gothic fairy bride, a japanese girl in a kimono, and many others. You can also control their various facial features at any time, so you can make them hold various expressions of crying, sadness, smiles, grins, and grimaces. This is especially funny to do when you are with another player, because as you are trying to jump through a series of especially hard tasks, you can plant a big grimace of fear on your sack boy, making it all the more hilarious. You can also control a variety of body and hand gestures, so you can dance, and even smack someone. And, you can also drag another player around, which is super cute and can be handy to help drag someone over a ledge. Finally, the really cool thing about this game (well, there are lots of cool things) is how incredibly well-designed a lot of the encounters are. The gameplay relies a lot on interesting physics and well-constructed layouts, and some of the cooperative stuff is really quite remarkable. Here are some examples: – On one level, the player must haul two bombs (which can explode if jostled) down a ramp (which you position) and into two mining carts. The players then move the mining carts over to an automated ramp, which carries the carts up to a second level. Once the carts are placed, the players detonate the explosives and shiny goodies come out. – On this same level but in a later area, one player must carefully pass bombs to another player through a tiny opening in the rock, being careful not to blow up any nice sack dolls in the process of course. – On one level, one player controls a car which is attached to a hanging sponge on the layer beneath it. One player must hang on to the sponge, while the other player controls the car above. At this point, the player below can only hang on to the sponge and try not to let go. They are entirely at the mercy of the player driving the car. Moreover, there are balls of fire that must be avoided by the player below ONLY, which basically means the driver of the car has to watch the balls of fire carefully so that they do not drive their partner straight to their death. – On one level, two players must control a balloon flying machine. There are controls to make the balloon go left, up, and down, and the machine naturally starts to drift downward if no action is taken. The two players must drive this balloon machine to two different castles where they land the balloon and then do some stuff, and then into the mouth of a volcano. – On one level, there are dangerous “snakes” that zigzag vertically through openings in the level every few seconds. What this basically means is that the player, as they travel horizontally, must periodically avoid the areas where snakes are going to be passing through. Sometimes, the player must even drop into the pathways that the snakes travel, timing it of course so that it is inbetween the snakes’ appearances. – On one Japanese-themed level, there is a type of road that is composed entirely of vertically spaced wedges of paper. The player must run across this “road” quickly, because if they lose momentum, they will fall between the sheets of paper to their death. – On one level, we hung on to a sponge that was attached to a long handle, whose base was rolling along a groove that was pre-carved out into the wall. However, our momentum on the sponge caused us to fly into key areas of the screen where goodies were being stored, so we actually had to try to control the movement of the base to fall into grooves so we could collect items. The groove went downward so eventually the base fell down to the bottom, except there was one last notch at the end that the base caught in for just a moment before rolling backward into a pile of fiery coals. That last notch at the end caused the base to catch and swing us to the right, which was a lunge at the end where we had to jump off perfectly or else we would be taken with it into the coals. – Lots of levels with rollers, which if you have ever watched Most Extreme Elimination Challenge or American Gladiators, is the foam-covered rolling “log” that people have to try and stand on. The difference in LBP is that you can actually hold on to the fabric of the roller, so you can swing around and around in circles. There are some interesting levels composed entirely of networks of these rollers, so you have to try and swing from one roller to another in order to progress to the end of the level. The fun part about these is that some rollers operate a different angular velocities than others, so if you get on a fast-spinning one, and if you time it right, it can completely launch you through the air to the exact place you want to land. And this is merely a taste of what this game has to offer. The day after we got the game, we invited some friends over to play. Four controllers were passed out. Four completely new people took the wheels. Hilarity ensued. I have not laughed so hard in a LONG time. Four little sack boys and girls running all over the place. They jumped on a moving horse. There were screams of laughter as people tried to hang on, and one person got left behind. Then there was the jumping and swinging on sponges. Players jumped to try and grab the sponges and missed, and hung on to other players instead. People landed in fire and the sack dolls made gasping expressions. We tried to jump on clouds that tilted vertically, and little sack dolls hung on for dear life upside down underneath these clouds, inches from fiery coals and doom. An entire room watched in gasping laughter as we watched the last guy with a life hang upside down in this impossible position, trying futilely for any way to recover. Needless to say, this game is hilarious, beautiful, cute, smart, well-designed, and really fun. Definitely a game to play with other people, and highly recommended. I would give this game 6 out of 5 stars if I could.

kismet on December 15th, 2008

Okay, I know it’s been like, a bajillion years since the Twilight movie came out, and I have had about 100 conversations at work with D about both the book and the film, and yet I have not yet blogged about it. And that is just plain wrong. I have an obsession with Twilight. A lot of people would say this is not normal. But you know what? It is. Because like, 20 million other people in the world are also obsessed with Twilight. So I’m not crazy, I’m normal. Well, first things first. By now, most people should know that Twilight is the first book in a 4-book series by Stephenie Meyer, written about teenage romance between a human girl named Bella Swan, and a vampire named Edward Cullen. Okay, I just had shivers go down my spine when I typed that name. THAT is powerful writing, folks. D told me about the books right before I left for vacation around Labor Day Weekend. While I was at the airport for the return flight, I browsed through the shelves at Hudson News and saw, lo and behold, Twilight winking innocently at me. I paid my $10 for the book, cracked it open, and <strong>I was never the same again.</strong> I couldn’t put that book down. It was like my eyeballs and my heart were glued to each and every page. I was lost to the outside world for the next four hours, lost inside a world where Bella and Edward were floating closer to each other like butterflies, only to have the wind scatter them farther apart again, and then flutter closer, and then farther apart, and then finally together again. I remember feeling embarrassed that I was so into what was basically a glorified romance novel, awed that it was so compelling, and hungry…oh so hungry…for more. Anyway, long story short, D lent me the next three books in the series, for which I will be forever grateful. She was my crack dealer for a week, and I was so happy I had one. I stayed up late….really really late…to finish reading. And from then on forward, it was like we could not stop talking about it, every day, at every opportunity, to the disgust and tired patience of coworkers. So when the movie came out, we had to go see it. We bought advance tickets. We got to the theater an hour and a half early. There was already a long line. Girls everywhere were wearing Team Edward t-shirts. Oh, and this would also be a good time to explain that my friends and I are old, okay. Like, we are in our mid-twenties. This is a book written for teenagers, not the jaded yuppie old farts that we are. Which is why I think teenagers are ultimately more obsessed over Edward than we are. I mean, we’re pessimistic now about the ways of love, much less finding love with a vampire. We know things like that can’t happen. But when you’re a teenager, you have the bright, shiny, exhilarating freedom to have boundless hope when it comes to love. And that is a beautiful thing. And…it was the BEST NIGHT EVER!!!!! Objectively, the movie wasn’t all that good. But it was SO MUCH FUN!!!!! We screamed like 13-year-olds when the movie started. We screamed when Rob Pattinson (whom I didn’t ever think was all that cute, but I now think is cute after the movie) appeared. We giggled like schoolgirls at every single glare that Edward gave. I was really enamored by the fact that the characters I’d read about had been brought to life. And the crowning moment, not funny to everyone around us, for which I apologize, was when Bella and Edward go up the mountain and he shows her what he looks like under sunlight. At the pinnacle of seriousness, Edward is standing with his back to the audience. I was staring so intently at the screen I thought my eyes would burn holes into it. I was half expecting him to turn and rip his shirt off. In the book, under sunlight his skin is supposed to shine like it’s littered with diamonds. Well, in the movie, he turns slowly, and he asks something like, “Do you see Bella? Do you see what I am?” At that very moment, that very CHOICE moment, D decides to mutter under her breath, “Sweaty?” and burst into giggles. Because yeah, instead of diamonds looking all pretty and ethereal, the light shining on the side of his face could equally have been mistaken for globs of sweat. The girl on my left, who was a total stranger, heard D and burst into giggles too. And I was stuck in the middle of two giggling girls, and I couldn’t stop giggling either. Needless to say, it was totally enjoyable. And I love Kristin Stewart. I know a lot of people hate on her, but I think it’s because they’re jealous that she’s playing Bella. I think she’s really beautiful, and did a really good job of portraying the character. I can’t really think of anyone whom I would have rather played the part. Oh yeah, and if you watch interviews with those two? Oy oy oy, awwwwwkward! They need to take public speaking lessons, or just be more relaxed around each other or something. Well, at least it’s nice to know that they aren’t perfect. D and I have talked at great length about why we think Twilight is so contagious. To sum it up, I think there are two reasons, and I have D to thank for the large part of these: 1) The bad boy. Edward, or rather, the choice of a vampire, is really a fantastic mold for leading man. Women love to both feel protected and flirt with the archetypical “bad boy.” Edward is both. He has the impressive powers of a vampire (speed, strength, immortality), which are perfect traits for protecting someone, and also a dark, dangerous, bad boy side, which is perfect for hooking 80% of women. Why do women love the bad boy so much, you ask? Well the answer to that is simple. Every woman has been trained through fairy tales and popular media to believe that they can be the special One, the One that is the only person in the world that could change a bad boy’s bad, bad ways and become good. A bad boy delivers his ultimate testament of love for you when they decide to change their entire ways for you. 2) Tension. I thought D hit the nail on the head when she explained that the whole book is about abstinence. Having been written by a Mormon woman, it’s no secret that the book is her message about staying abstinent before marriage. (Forget about lying to your parents, forgoing education, and being a teenage mother…or being bitten by vampires for that matter…oh no, I guess those are fine.) And that is why the love story between Bella and Edward is so compelling – Bella is a lusty hoochie (forgive me Bella, you know I love you) for most of the time, but Edward is the one that holds back, saying that they cannot do it until they are properly married. More proof that he is really a gentleman! And especially since Edward is such a central…um…focus…for readers, it’s no wonder that people want to see how things play out. By the way, I do not recommend reading the 5th book, which is basically the first book retold from Edward’s point of view. D read it, and now she has all these strange points of view on how Edward is just a masochistic jerk. So if you want your views of Edward to stay pure and holy, stay away! Anyway, now I’ll just have to wait for Twilight to be on DVD!