18 August 2010

Freeplay - Independent Games Festival 2010 - Melbourne

A friend of mine was volunteering at the Freeplay event on at the State Library in Melbourne and asked if I wanted to head over when he finished on Sunday. I headed in with the better half in tow, and was pleasantly surprised.

Colourbind - Nice gravity platformer.
What was on offer wasn't so much complete games, but game projects and pre-betas with the designers there to talk to you about concepts, hurdles and direction. It was a refreshing change from the disappointment that eGames was last year.

A few standout games were:

Colourbind - A novel concept for a platformer using gravity as it's hook. As the designer said, most of the comments have been that the game is hard. Which, was his main intention. The aim is to make a game you can't just roll through, but have to spend some time thinking about to get through.

Hazard:The Journey Of Life - Well worth waiting for.
Hazard: The Journey Of Life - This game is a stand out as it very much as a feel of an FPS, but it is much more than this. Being a puzzle game using logic and lateral thought. I was very impressed with the game's graphics and concepts. It's very much one that could make it far. We didn't get an opportunity to talk to the developer as this was one busy little table.

Noontide - Lots of anime style action here.
Noontide - This UDK based game is a nice little gem. A little Devil May Cry, a little No More Heroes, a little anime art style, and you have a game that's got a lot of potential. Still in the VERY early stages, but showing a lot of promise, I spent some time talking to one of the devs for the game. His attitude toward the future of the project and the future of games was refreshing, as was most of the developers at the festival. The attempt to avoid carbon copying another game's style is an important belief for the Noontide team.

There was some great talent on show, with games like Shadow Field (iPhone/iPad tactical strategy game), A Noir Tale (First person noir style game), MineQuest (A Farmville style game for Facebook that the better half got stuck into). It was a refreshing change to the big game shows where only hired staff man the booths to stop people from stealing stuff. Actually giving feedback like "Make sure it's an iPad native game" (to the Shadow Field crew) really gives a connection to the whole process.

All in all Freeplay was a great event and I'll probably end up going next year for both the games and the talks (rather than just the games).
19 July 2010

Dinner - Rack of Lamb w/ Potato Roshti and Broccoli Pumpkin Mash

I decided a rack of lamb would be a good idea for dinner after spying rack of lamb with thyme in Larousse Gastronomique. I've mentioned this book before, and I swear by it as a must have if you enjoy cooking. The claim on the back is "The World's Greatest Cooking Encyclopedia".  While this may seem like a big claim, it's well warranted.

I figured some nice potato roshti would go well with it instead of the usual mash. What to do with some broccoli and pumpkin I thought. Well, I came up with the Broccoli Pumpkin mash. It turned out great and really held together the whole meal.

Rack of Lamb with Thyme

2x racks of lamb, lean
100g bacon
500ml vegetable stock
1.5 to 2 bunches of thyme


Sweat bacon in a pan large enough to hold the 2 racks. Seal the racks for 4 to 5 minutes, season with salt & pepper. Remove both bacon & lamb from pan. Pour away fat and deglaze pan with 500ml of Vegetable Stock and allow to reduce to 1/4. Chop bacon into small pieces. Put racks into baking dish, cover with thyme and bacon, pour over reduced stock. Wrap in aluminium foil tightly and cook in 240°C oven for 10 minutes.

Remove serve racks with strained juices over top.

Potato Roshti

4 medium potatoes - Desiree or the like
enough oil to shallow fry roshti


Really simple, grate potatoes and put in tea towel or cheesecloth. Wring out as much liquid as possible. Form handfuls into circular shapes about 1cm to 2cm thick. Over a medium heat shallow fry the roshti until golden brown on both sides.

Broccoli Pumpkin Mash

2 medium heads of broccoli, florets and peeled stems
1/4 of a small pumpkin
4 medium cloves of garlic, peeled but not chopped
handful of finely chopped parsley
50g butter
500ml vegetable stock

Microwave pumpkin, broccoli and garlic in butter for 15 minutes in 5 minute bursts. Keep an eye on them, you want it cooked but not murdered. Once cooked, add all ingredients except the parsley to a blender and blend until fairly smooth. Pour into pot and heat up. Add salt & pepper to taste, add parsley, serve.
18 July 2010

Breakfast - Crêpes with Ratatouille and Pancetta

I spied in an Aldi catalogue a crêpe maker and was most intrigued. I asked the better half if we should get it, seeing as our kitchen is FULL of appliances, while regularly used, not quite the norm for a kitchen. She agreed, so I swung by Aldi the other day after geeking it up at Jaycar. While the device lacked the crêpe spreader, I was still determined to use it.

The crêpe maker isn't anything special, nor is it an 100% correct maker - it has a lip so it's a little harder to make a proper crepe. I ended up making a new crêpe spreader of 2 pieces of dowel, and used that.

All in all it's not a bad little cooking device, especially for the price ($20). I can see use for making pancakes and thin omelettes.

I decided to make a decent breakfast with it, Crêpes with Ratatouille and Pancetta. Not a bad combination, simple and tasty.

Recipes as follows:

Crêpes (from ffcook.com):

200 gr [7 oz] flour
1 egg
1/2 liter [17 fl oz] milk
25 gr [1 oz]
melted butter
2 pinches salt

Method :
Put the flour, salt (and sugar) in a salad bowl, dip a shaft and put
the (whole) egg in. Turn with a wooden spoon and add the melted
butter. Turn gently until you have incorporated all the flour
(add some milk if you need but just enough). Now that the batter
is soft but not liquid you have to turn very sharply so as to eliminate
the lumps and obtain an homogeneous mixture.
Finish pouring the milk slowly while turning.
Leave the batter for at least one hour before cooking.

To prepare :
Turn the batter. Heat a non-stick pan, put a light knod of butter in
(swirl the pan to distribute the melting butter ; the pan must be hot
enough to hear the butter fry but not too hot for the butter must not
get brown !), pour a small laddle of batter on the pan while swirling it
to distribute the batter evenly (this is the important trick !).
Don't forget crepes must be very thin ! Cook until golden brown, turn
the crepe upside down and cook the other side the same way.
Put it in a large plate, stuff it and fold it into 4, or roll it.
Do that again for each crepe.

Ratatouille (from Larousse Gastronomique)

3 Tomatoes
1 Eggplant (aubergine) (small)
1 Capsicum
1 Zucchini (courgette)
1 Onion
2 cloves of garlic (crushed)
2 Tbsp Olive oil
1 Bouquet Garnis

Dice all ingredients to about the same size. Cook Eggplant in olive oil until lightly browned, add everything else, cook for 30 mins or so. Add salt & pepper to taste.

This is my smaller and simpler way of doing Ratatouille

When the batter is ready & as is the ratatouille, make the crêpe flipping twice, on the rough (top) side add a small amount of ratatouille and pancetta. Fold in all sides to make a parcel. Voila, Crêpes à la Ratatouille et Pancetta.
13 July 2010

Internet Censorship In Australia

After the recent shelving of the internet filter in Australia, I figured I'd get my thoughts out there for others to mull over. I'll start off by giving people a reference as to who I am and why I have come up with my opinions on the subject. I am not going to go into the moral debate, merely the technological debate.

I am a geek & IT support worker who has been in the industry for 15 years or so and have had a passion for IT systems for most of my life. I grew up in the days of modems and BBSs, where the exchange of data was not known about by most, let alone monitored by governments. I've seen the internet change very much, but have also seen a lot stay the same.

My first thought about filtering any sort of network is that if you are smart enough, or know someone smart enough, it will never be effective at stopping you from getting what you want. Some of the first filtering systems put in place by parents on home computers were so ineffective that children and teenagers bypassed them without the parent's knowledge within minutes of them being installed. It's no secret that any sort of filtering requires massive amounts of time and energy to just keep blacklists up to date.

Filters, by their very nature offer opportunities to test one's own abilities to bypass them. When I worked for a large telco we did this all the time, the network was very locked down, but we still managed to get through the filter. How? Well, that's another story. Restricting any group of people will just serve to drive illicit activities further underground, and believe me, there are more ways to hide your activities than basic website proxies. The arsenal available to people who wish to conduct themselves illegally is amazingly large. From VPNs (Virtual Private Networks), to encrypted messaging, to encrypted file sharing systems, they all allow anonymous and secure communication.

"Why would this be a problem?" you may ask. Well, if traffic is not encrypted it makes it much easier for law enforcement personnel to actually provide evidence of illegal activities. When information is encrypted, all you can see is where the connection originated from and where it is attempting to connect to. This is made even more difficult by people using VPNs. All you can see is two legitimate connections, no suspicious activity is observed at all.

This brings me to another problem I see with this debate, that there is an assumption that no legitimate activity will be disrupted by the filter. Understanding how filters work, having administered quite a few in my time, I can assure you that EVERYONE will be affected by this. No matter if you're only using social media, or just checking emails, you will not be able to escape the grip of internet filtering. Networks are complex beasts and adding any sort of checking will consume more and more processing power to the tiered routers that connect different networks to each other. The more processing power used, the longer it will take for data to move. There are wide reports that the internet in countries such as China and Iran, that observe massive filtering, is unbelievably slow. No matter how fast the end users' connections are, you will be impacted. A general rule of networking is that the speed of a network is governed by the slowest point on the network, which will be the filtering system essentially.

This will almost definitely have an impact on ISPs (Internet Service Providers) ability to deliver fast, cheap internet to the end user. More staff and more expensive equipment will only serve to raise prices of your connection. There has been no discussion of how users or ISPs will be compensated for such a situation. It seems that Stephen Conroy has not even put any thought into this at all, and judging by his comments on the filter and other technology, I doubt he even understands the full technological implications of filtering.

To have such an ignorant plan that is being decried by such a large proportion of technology companies and experts leads me to believe that the filter is purely just pandering to the Australian Christian Lobby.

While I have a lot more to say on the subject, I think I'll leave it there. To summarise:
  • Filtering does nothing but slow down networks
  • Any filtering can be bypassed with simple tools and protocols
  • The filter has not been looked at from a technological point of view by the government
  • The filter is being used as a way of getting the ACL on board
  • No one benefits from filtering - not law enforcement, ISPs, or end users
Some links you may wish to look at:

Benjamin Franklin said it best:
They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety

Recipe - Baked Beans

I came up with this recipe a little while ago and have been meaning to post it up. It's kind of a mix of various different baked bean recipes, and a bit of a BBQ sauce recipe thrown in. The chipotle is not important if you have good quality smoked paprika. Any meat products (bacon, Worcestershire Sauce, etc) can be removed, although not recommended.


1 to 1.5Kg Haricort/Navy Beans - soaked for 24hrs prior to cooking.
2x 400g Tins Tomatoes
4x Onion
4Tbsp Smoked Paprika
4Tbsp Sweet Paprika
4Tbsp Brown Sugar
4Tbsp Molasses
2x Green Chili
1/2c White Vinegar
1/2c Worcestershire Sauce
6 cloves garlic
250-400g bacon cubed (smoky, good quality)
1Tbsp sumac (optional)
small block of dark chocolate (chili choc if you can)
2Tbsp Chili Sauce (optional)
1 Chipotle Chilli (optional)


Saute 2 onions & Green Chilis in a little olive oil or butter.

Add to blender with tomatoes, brown sugar, molassas, paprika (both), garlic and some pepper.

Blend, add to large pot (big enough for beans & bacon), add vinegar & worcestershire sauce to pot. Cook over a medium heat for a few minutes.

When slightly thickened, add beans, bacon, remaining 2 onions, chocolate, chili sauce, Chipotle Chilli and Sumac if required.

Add 500ml of water and cook over a low heat for 8 to 10 hours. Regularly stir the beans (every 10-20 minutes) to stop them burning, add more water when the sauce starts to thicken. Add desired amount of salt. Cook until sauce has thickened.

Enjoy with some nice buttery toast.

11 July 2010

Mass Effect 2 Review

I decided to get Mass Effect 2 the other day, mainly because I really liked Mass Effect. I was waiting out the price drops and so forth so I could grab it cheaper than the $100 they want to charge here in Australia.

I must say, I'm quite pleased with the result. Unfortunately my profiles were lost last time I reformatted my machine, so I didn't have the option of playing through as one of my previous characters. This didn't matter much, although some interactions are changed due to not having a frame of reference to what you did in the first one.

The game is similar, but there's been some quite big changes to the morality & leveling system. The most notable changes are that you no longer decrease Paragon with Renegade choices, and vice versa. This is quite welcome as with Mass Effect you had to be very careful what you said or you would end up cancelling out previous work. While it is recommended that you focus on one, it is not necessary. The leveling system has done away with making the powers tiered (to a degree), and now gives you two options when you have maxed out one power/skill.

It seems that with one hand they giveth, and the other they take away. Gone are the horrible Mako (the bounciest vehicle in the universe) missions and single scan of planets. You now scan planets in a sonar style interface to recover minerals that can be used to upgrade your character & squad members' armour, weapons, biotic/tech skills and even the ship. The new system removes all inventory in favour of standardised weapons & armour with upgrades such as damage, shield penetration, range, health increase, shield size, etc. While the planet scanning was quite boring, it was much less frustrating than landing on a planet only to find you and your team didn't have the necessary skills to decrypt/analyse something. After a few upgrades it becomes easier allowing for more probes and faster scanning. The hacking system has changed too, no longer relying on skill points but on your own knowledge of how the hack works. The "mini-games" are much smoother and more enjoyable to do - whether it's rewiring a circuit board or finding code snippets, much less frustration than in Mass Effect.

I can see they tried their hardest to remove what was complained about while enhancing what was great about the first game. The combat is more of an on rails cover shooter, which I don't really have a problem with as it has been implemented quite well, although I did have some frustrations due to the run/interact/cover being the same key (space bar in PC). I died quite a few times because I took cover in front of something while stealthed and became unstealthed with 4 or 5 enemies around me.

Now that we've got the gameplay out of the way, I want to write about the plot. This is a biggie, and Bioware haven't held back at all. The first Mass Effect had a solid plot that really drove gameplay and the sequel has continued, and dare I say it, improved on the narrative that the previous game gave us. Sure, there's a few cheesy parts, but I think that's what makes the plot so good. Bioware know when to add in cheesiness to get the right Sci-Fi feel to it. It's got the same driven feel as Star Trek and the likes.

I personally think there's bigger morality choices in Mass Effect 2 than in the first game, really challenging your concept of right and wrong. To the level of raising some interesting questions - is it "racist" (speciest?)to enforce our concept of right and wrong as humans on other species? The whole plot culminates in a massive morality choice at the end, leaving you questioning yourself and your decisions. No spoilers, but you really need to play all the way through to have a true understanding of where Bioware wanted to go with this.

All in all the game feels very much like an interactive film that's broken up with combat sequences. The driven plot, well written dialogue, and smattering of Hollywood actors (Martin Sheen, Seth Green, Carrie-Anne Moss, to name a few) does really make me feel that Mass Effect & Mass Effect 2 go beyond the concept of an RPG to give us a blend of film, shooter, RPG and philosophical exploration.

I am about to do a second play through using the same character to level her even further. Although my fiancée may get the shits with my "militant lesbian" character (she seems to think this is a fantasy of mine, I have no idea what she's talking about). The only misgiving I have about the 2nd play through is that you cannot change your class at all. Big bummer, but I suppose I can always roll a new class later.

All in all I am quite impressed with the game and would recommend it for any RPG fan who wants a bit more action in your RPG. One thing I will say is that this is NOT a kids' game. The concepts will go over their heads and all you'll get is a foul mouthed child from it.

Available now for Xbox 360 & PC.
08 July 2010

Kane & Lynch 2 - Exclusive Demo

Yesterday I got my hot little hands on a Redeem Code for the Kane & Lynch 2: Dog Days exclusive demo. I found it odd at first that you had to have a Redeem Code to play a demo, after all, demos are what showcase the game before you buy it. I was sceptical that there would be any added value in this.

To my surprise, the demo seems to be a lot "bigger" than other demos I've come across. So maybe there is something in these "exclusive demos" after all.

Aside from the delivery method, I must say, I'm impressed with the new game so far. I played the original Kane & Lynch, it wasn't great, then again, it wasn't horrible. The story was actually quite good, for a cheesy criminal story (two dudes escape from prison, one goes nuts unless he has his pills). The new one seems to have them in Hong Kong for some reason, this has not really been explained in detail, just that the HK cops are on your arse and you need to kill everyone you see.

I did notice that the faces of people you kill get blurred. I saw a video of the demo a week or so ago and I thought the blurring was done by the site showing off the demo. Not so, it seems that people find it offensive to see the face of a dead person, but dismembering said person is A-OK!

Anyway, I'm not that far in to it, but it's looking pretty good. I'll reserve judgement until the full game comes out.

Cheers 1up for the Redeem Code.