Monthly Archives: August 2011

Rocket Fizz Comes to Town

Last summer my daughter and I went and bought some odd sodas to try out.

This summer we decided to do the same.

Then my wife came home and announced that a new shop had opened up in downtown Campbell.  Called Rocket Fizz, it is pretty much dedicated to selling candy and soda pop.

Sure that this was a sign, my daughter and I went to see what they had to offer.

We were not disappointed.  My daughter was like a kid in a… well… candy shop.

We scooped up quite a few items while we were there, some good some… not so good.

These sounded like a neat idea…

But he selection of sodas was overwhelming.  How could we pick out just a few from literally well over a hundred choices?

It turned out that Rocket Fizz bottles some of their own soda along with carrying nearly every regional brand I had ever heard of.

So we decided to try the house brand for our summer soda taste test.  So we picked six of their flavors and gave them a try.

The Soda Selection

Here are our results.

Watermelon

This soda tastes just like a watermelon Jolly Rancher candy, capturing that sweet and tangy flavor.  I suppose, being made by a chain of candy stores, that should come as no surprise.  But the flavor was uncanny in that regard.  And yet it was quite drinkable.  Unlike some of the other flavors this one was both tasty and drinkable beyond small portions.

Cinnamon

As the watermelon soda tasted like one type of candy, the cinnamon soda tasted like another.  This was the pure liquid cinnamon bear experience.  Cinnamon bears have a mild cinnamon flavor relative to Red Hots or Hot Tamales, but still contain a small burning sensation in the after taste.  A well done flavor, but I would probably have to split a bottle with somebody.

Cotton Candy

Again, an amazing recreation of a candy in liquid form.  This soda is very sweet, but manages to capture the sensation of cotton candy, right down to that fading flavor sensation you get as you ingest it.  However it is so sweet I would probably dole it out in shots.

Black Licorice

Full points for aroma.  The bouquet carries just the right scent, though it is very strong.  And the tastes, well, but this point I am repeating myself when saying that it reproduces the sensations of the candy it seeks to imitate.  Again, very strong and good in small doses, but I am not sure I could finish the bottle.  It is so rich in flavor… well, maybe I could.  But it would be in small sips.

Blue Cream

Leaving the candy flavors and going into a more traditional soda flavor lead us to some disappointment.  Part of the problem is that blue cream soda has different flavors in different regions of the US.  I have had blue cream soda that tasted like anything from raspberry to bubble gum.  Rocket Fizz seemed to try to capture their own flavor, but it was not very distinct.  All in all, not something I could recommend, though I could say that about most blue cream sodas.  The color though… it is the bluest of the blue.

Mud Pie

Mud pie is generally a collection of flavors, but the key one in the mix is chocolate.  Going for chocolate flavor in a soda is always a risky play.  I have tried exactly one chocolate soda that I have liked, and I am afraid this one did not up the count to two.  Not the worst chocolate soda I have ever gone after, and if you like chocolate soda you might like this.  There are hints of whipped cream to it even.  But I could not see myself warming up to this soda no matter how much I like chocolate.

So that was the result of our first soda sampling with our new local candy store.  We will have to go browse their selection some more to see if we can come up with another selection to try.

Musing on Battleships

Battleships have always held a fascination for me.

Certainly as a young boy, seeing pictures and drawings of battleships bristling with armament left an impression.

USS Missouri and USS Iowa

But things martial do tend to attract young boys.

Tanks, airplanes, and battleships all figured heavily in my childhood play, day dreams, and drawings. (Something actively discouraged by most female relatives of mine, yet subtly encouraged by nearly every male relative.  You see how this works.)

And while I might consider myself having missed the golden ages of tanks or airplanes, they still exist and have continued to evolve during my lifetime, if more slowly than before. (The US Air Force flies planes built before I was born and plans to keep flying some of them until after the actuarial tables say I am likely to have passed on.)

But I was born after the age of battleships.

The US Navy maintained a few during my lifetime.  One is parked, in storage, about an hours drive from my home.  It is waiting to be turned into a museum.

Fleets of steel clad battleships though, that idea faded as a strategic force nearly a century back, and even then the battleship concept was never really put to the test.  The list of battles involving battleship forces is relatively short, and the more decisive engagements tend to reflect either mis-match forces or leadership.

On that list there is the one battle that represented the clash of mass naval forces, matched in size, quality, and leadership in the style foreseen by the naval powers of the time: Jutland.

And that pretty much ended up a draw, with both sides claiming victory and pretty much returning to the same state of affairs as before the battle.

So if you study history and want to compare equipment and tactics you are at something of a loss when it comes to battleships.

With tanks you have the western desert and the eastern front.  For aircraft you have pretty much the whole European theater to study.  Battles between aircraft carriers dominated the war in the Pacific.

But for battleships fighting as their creators envisioned, you have Jutland, a battle that spawned many theories but decisions.

Part of this is because the era of the modern battleship was so short, lasting from the late 19th century to the end of World War I and the coming of the aircraft carrier.  Compare this to the age of sail, which ran from the mid 16th century up to the ironclads of the US Civil War and contains a long list of battles to study and compare.

And, likewise, there have been a number of good games representing the age of sail, full of broadsides and laying along side to board.  The actual ship to ship combat was a high point of Pirates of the Burning Sea, which I felt hit very close to the mark in the balance between realism and playability.  Pity about the rest of the game.

And, of course, there is plenty of supporting literature to put you in the mood for wooden ships.  I’ve been through all of Patrick O’Brian and most of C. S. Forester‘s tales, all of which I highly recommend.

So when Wargaming.net announced World of Battleships (see, I’m closing in on an actual point here… somewhere) I started thinking about games I’ve played, or at least seen, involving that narrow span of time when battleships ruled the waves.  And they all seem to center around one battle.

I remember being up at The Outpost, a hobby and game store up in San Carlos, and watching very earnest men moving tiny lead models of ships around on a very large felt-covered table, measuring distances and consulting tables and charts, in order to simulate the clash of forces at Jutland.

I recall playing Avalon Hill game Jutland with a friend in a room that quickly turned out to be too small for the effort.  Plus the measurements and accounting took patience we barely possessed, and there was the danger of pets and siblings messing things up.  But the alternatives were more like AH’s War at Sea, which pulled back for a more strategic view and gave little feel for ship combat except in a very abstract sense.

I had Victory in the Pacific as well...

And neither option lived up to Wooden Ships & Iron Men.

More recently I tried out Storm Eagle Studios’ game called, naturally, Jutland.  Imagine that.  It is a 3D modeled simulation of naval combat in the age of the “modern” battleship.  And while it suffered from some of the interface maladies that tend to come with war games from smaller studios (along with some annoying copy protection for just the demo), I probably could have dealt with that had it not been for the scale of combat, something hinted at in the previous two memories.

Getting the camera hauled around to the point where I could see at least a squadron of my ships in some detail meant not being able to see the enemy except as specks on the horizon, or the rest of my own fleet, which was likewise tiny bumps on the ocean surface.

The thing that always comes back to slap me in the face is that, compared to the age of sail, combat with 20th century battleships takes place at pretty extreme ranges.  When the heavy guns of a fleet range out from 20-35km, there is no laying along side or yardarm to yardarm broadsides.

And while battleships are big, that sort of range makes them seem pretty small all the same.  I have seen the USS Iowa from the highway as we drove past Suisun Bay.  It was certainly less than 5 miles away, and it seems unimpressively small at that distance, despite being nearly 900 feet in length.

Which makes me wonder how Wargaming.net plans to address this.

As I said about World of Warplanes, the sky is big and it needs to be because WWII aircraft move fast.  They have said they plan for a 13km by 13km airspace in which to fight 15 vs. 15 battles. (Which seems small to me, but we’ll see.)

For battleships the ocean is big and it needs to be, not because they move fast (the best can scoot along at about the same rate of speed as the fastest tank in World of Tanks), but because their guns can reach out and hit just about anything they can see.  A flat 13km by 13km square of ocean would be a battleship bloodbath.

Given Wargaming.net’s past game plan, which is quick 15 vs. 15 battles where combat commences very rapidly, I am trying to figure out how they will fit this into the same plan.

If you start everybody too close to speed things up, it is aim, shoot, and over.

If you go for smaller ships, destroyers or cruisers, it then ceases to be World of Battleships.

If you lay things out in real world distances, with the sides out of sight of each other, the match takes a long, long time.

So how do you make a game that involves quick(-ish) action, keeps to a reasonable scale, and yet does not throw realism completely out the porthole?

Tanks were easy.  Warplanes at least have antecedents in things like Air Warrior.  But battleships?

I suppose we will have to wait and see.

Wargaming.net’s Gamescom Trailers

Wargaming.net had trailers for both World of Warplanes and World of Battleships at Gamescom.

Both are kind of pretty.  Neither tell you much about the games in question.

I guess we will have to wait for a while longer to get an idea as to what Wargaming.net has in mind for these two projects.

With that sort of trailer I would guess we’re at least a year away from seeing either title.

Searching for World of Warcraft Magazine Issue 5…

Judging from my search engine traffic, people are beginning to wonder when the next issue of the “quarterly” World of Warcraft Magazine is going to appear.  So I get to dredge up an old topic and complain about World of Warcraft, The Official Magazine again. (If you have read my past gripes on the topic, you are excused.)

Quarterly is in quotes above because you would think, under the normal rules of publishing, that a quarterly magazine that delivered its first issue in December 2009 would be rev’ing up to send out their 7th issue, not their 5th.  That is more than implied in their subscription form.


But then, one might expect that an MMORPG that will enter its seventh year this Fall might have shipped more than three expansions.  The Magazine truly reflects the game, though I’ve been down that road before.

The official site for the magazine (which was having a certificate issue earlier, something that always instills confidence!) is still pushing issue 4, which came out back at the beginning of April.

Mid-August and the site still shows this...

Issue 4  seemed to have wrapped up their coverage of the Cataclysm expansion.  Since Cataclysm has been the meat of the magazine so far, I suspect they might be at a loss as to what else they might cover.

So much happens with WoW in time frames that make a quarterly (or longer) schedule look positively geologic in duration that one wonders what they will be able to grab onto and cover in the 148 ad-free pages they put our every… well… whenever they get around to it.

Anyway, if you’ve arrived here because you are looking for information on issue 5 of the magazine, the publisher, Future US, hasn’t given any sign about when it might show up.

You might consider dropping them a note to ask about it.

In the mean time, I am beginning to regret resubscribing way back when issue 3 shipped.

Addendum: As soon as I posted this, I found the WoW Magazine Facebook page, where they were swearing just a month ago that they would be shipping issue 5 “soon.”

Addendum: And now I have been told that there will be no issue 6 ever.

Rift is Triple-A and Here to Stay!

David Reid, who previously said that he knew where World of Warcraft’s missing subscribers were hiding, came out this week with some comments on the state of the MMO industry, including some subscription numbers for Rift.

Not a dye nor a floor wax

I am not sure if he made the Dr. Evil face when he said it, but Rift apparently has ONE MILLION subscribers customers, making it the number two subscription based western MMO after World of Warcraft.

That is not only quite impressive, but it is a great indication to MMO fans that the genre isn’t dead or headed completely to the realm of Free to Play.

It also bears out the contention that many people have made, which is that MMOs are no longer rare birds, and merely offering a 3D world is no longer enough to assure success.  EverQuest could afford to make lots of mistakes.  There alternatives were pretty slim back then.

Now, though, MMOs are everywhere.   Go look at that chart again!

These days, an MMO needs to execute well and play an aggressive game.  Rift certainly came out of the gate more polished than most games and Trion has played the recruitment and retention game very hard from day one.

This aggressive posture has lead some to believe that Rift must not be doing well, and they might well be forgiven that point of view.  Certainly, in the past, game companies have waited until things have gone sour before trotting out the inducements that Trion has offered up, from free copies of the game to generous price breaks on subscription plans to free server merges (at least under specific circumstances).

But if Rift has a million subscribers customers, clearly they have been showing all the right moves.  This is a game that, I must admit, comes across as “yet another fantasy MMORPG” to me.  That isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but the the fantasy segment of that chart is the most crowded segment, which makes it all that more difficult to succeed.

So to make it to the million subscriber customer mark is (still) a big freakin’ deal.

Of course, I said “if” they have a million subscribers customers.  I have no evidence to say that they do not, just that past experience with David Reid being a less than reliable source of information. (I know a former Massively Editor-in-Chief who is still spitting nails about that one.)

Let’s hope that at Trion Worlds he is on solid ground and that Rift is succeeding as well as he represents!

That would be good for the whole genre.

[Edit: As somebody pointed out in the comments, Mr. Reid said “customers” not “subscribers.”  They still may very well be in second place behind WoW, but the number of subscribers might not be a million.]

As Requested, World of Battleships

When Wargaming.net announced World of Warplanes to add to their World of Tanks offering, I wondered what else we would need.

A number of people said “Naval Warfare!”

And so you shall…

Wargaming.net Declares Naval Warfare

World of Battleships Weighs Anchor

London, UK, Paris, FR and San Francisco, CA (16th August, 2011) — Wargaming.net, the award-winning videogame publisher and developer, announces World of Battleships, a free-to-play naval action MMO based on epic sea battles of the 20th century that will complete the “World of” war trilogy.

Keeping with the best traditions of the series, World of Battleships will offer a straightforward interface, easy-to-use controls, and a common economic system that will allow players to distribute resources between the three games for the ultimate progress in each of them.

The large assortment of available warships will give various tactical opportunities, as all the machines have a unique combination of firepower, speed, armor, and endurance. Various naval maps with changing weather conditions will enrich the gameplay, and the realistic graphics will transport players into the epic battles that changed the course of human history.

Wargaming.net CEO Victor Kislyi states: “Humans always needed to conquer the elements — earth, water and air. With World of Tanks, World of Warplanes and World of Battleships we will offer players to conquer all, simultaneously.”

About Wargaming.net®

Wargaming.net® is an award-winning online game developer and publisher, incorporated in the UK. Its 270-strong development team is located in Minsk, Belarus. Since 1998, the company has shipped 13 titles, including acclaimed Massive Assault series, Order of War RTS published by Square Enix, and three add-ons for Blitzkrieg II. At the Russian Game Developers Conference (KRI) in 2009 and 2010, Wargaming.net® was named The Best Developer Company from ex-USSR. At KRI 2011 the company was awarded Industry Prize and World of Tanks® won the Best Game Award. The company’s headliner project, World of Tanks®, gained the Guinness World Record for the Most Players on One Server Simultaneously. Currently, Wargaming.net® is developing the next action MMO, World of Warplanes and a new unannounced project.

Official web site: www.wargaming.net

Is there anything left for them?

World of Napoleonic battles?

You Can Play Facebook Games… On Google+

As has been announced, games have come to Google+.

There are 16 games in the first wave to be launched on the service.

Google+ Game Selection

A quick check between the two services showed me that most of the list above are already available on Facebook.

So, here we have something that Facebook is already succeeding at, these so-called social games, and now Google is trying to duplicate that.

However, Google might have something.

None of the games on Google’s list were games I had tried on Facebook, so to compare the qualitative difference between Facebook and Google+, I picked a game, Angry Birds, and gave it a try on both platforms.

After playing for a bit on Google+, I tried the game on Facebook and was stunned at how bad the implementation of the game is over on Facebook.

I have played Angry Birds on a mobile device, and the Google+ version plays and feels very much like that implementation.  The Facebook version, on the other hand, looks and feels… well…  like crap… at least relative to Google+.

I do not know if Rovio just spent more time on the Google+ implementation, or if Google+ is simply a better platform for games.  But if it is the latter, perhaps Google+ can find a niche as a superior platform for games.  It does not have much else going for it as far as I can see.

 

Chaos Reigns in Rockport and Palmont – Police Helpless to Respond

Need for Speed World has been having problems this weekend.

The problems have been all across the board.  Login was a major issue yesterday.

Today though, you appear to be able to get into the game.

But once there all you can do is drive around in whatever car you happened to be in when you last logged off.  This means:

  • No races
  • No gem hunt
  • No safe house access
  • No cash shop access
  • And no police chases

The latter has actually spawned today’s preferred game activity.

Normally, if you hit a police car, that initiates a police pursuit, one of the key elements of the game.

Palmont Police

You must escape the long arm of the law and all of its resources.  And if you are deemed especially bad, their resources can be formidable and they will deploy them wherever they deem necessary.

Fairway Roadblocks

One nice touch was that just around the bend they put a spike strip in a sand trap, giving new meaning to the word “hazard” in the game.

But today, the police are broken along with everything else.  And since there is not much else to do in the game, smashing into police cars seems to have become the sport of the day.

Police Pile Up

Getting Sideways

The police AI seems to have decided that there is safety in numbers… more so than usual… and started congregating at some locations.

Police Hiding

This, of course, just lead to more smash up opportunities.

Patrol Cars go Flying

The tunnel was packed with police cars, and it turned out to be my fault.

The game will clear out such traffic clusters when nobody is looking.  But since I parked at the tunnel to watch things get more and more piled up, they did.  Heisenberg was right.  Observation influenced the observed.

I am sure that EA is working hard on getting this all fixed.

But for the moment, chaos reigns in NFSW… even more than usual.