Saturday, October 3, 2015

The Prometheus Grid.

By Bixyl Shuftan

Besides Second Life, there's a number of much smaller virtual worlds. Inworldz and Avination are the best known, but there are others with just a few people and high hopes for future growth. Among the new ones is a grid named Prometheus. The name comes from the prequel to the "Aliens" movie.

Being sent an invitation, I was able to access the world through the OS version of Firestorm. One can also use versions of Singularity and Kokua. Starting out, I was in a basic "Ruth" avatar with a grey shirt and red trousers. Shortly thereafter, I was sent a teleport request to a huge platform over Angel Island by someone calling herself "Central Linden," one of the staff. When I asked about the name, I was told it was done as a tribute to Linden Lab. Prometheus has no affiliation with the owners of Second Life in any way. She handed me a furry feline avatar, which she told me had been copied and transfered from Second Life with the content creator's permission.

Chatting with Central, she told me this was the third version of the Grid, the previous two ruined. Pictures and patterns can be uploaded for free by those on the world, "We're technically ready now. Just need more people and more SIMs." As of now, there are four sims currently operational on the grid: Angel Island, Prometheus, Tail Raisers and Luna Lobo, "We're currently working on more Linden regions and people can buy SIMs." The number of people who are on is also small, about sixteen as of the writing of this article.

Stepping down from the skybox later, there was a build on ground level, named the "Emerald Temple."  In the other three, there wasn't much built at the moment. The Tail Raisers sim is for a club to be build in the near future for "inter-personal actions between players and staff in a relaxed atmosphere." At least one of the sims was in Skybox mode, in which I planted a tree, then used my limited building skills to make a small cubic shelter and a table.

Those interested in getting on can contact Central Linden or Artisan Sunspot via Skype. One can find a page about the grid here.

Bixyl Shuftan

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

SL Universe in Ark

While the Second Life "Furry Gamers" have been walking with dinosaurs in "Ark Survival Evolved" (when not riding or running from), it seems another group of residents from the grid has given the game a try. Readers may be familiar with the Second Life Universe Forums, the most widely used forums aimed at Second Life residents besides the official Linden ones. Sometimes irreverent, sometimes very useful, one thing they seldom are is boring, having a cast of posters whom have been at it for as long as ten years.

Well, as it turns out, they have their own Ark server. Nytewitch, as she's known on the forums, invited any forum user access to her server, though they needed to ask her for the password. Known as the SLUvivors, they've created a main base overlooking the middle of the island's east coast, and several smaller bases some distance to the north and south. Interested on checking things for myself, I asked Nytewitch, or Wytch as she's called in the game, for the password, and got it.

Logging in, I had some minor trouble getting started, but was soon going about my business on this server for the first time. As it turned out, Wytch happened to be on. After some chat, she invited me to her base. She found me just after I found the water pipe to it and beat off an attack by two dilos. She had come over on a pteradactyl with another following, and invited me to fly over. So I did, but apparently I attracted the attention of a dragonfly. Maybe it smelled the blood from the fight, but it went after me.

The SLUvivors' main base had a building, a garden, and a yard full of dinos from trikes to raptors and others, including a sabertooth tiger. I landed, and the bug attacked me. And the dinos all went after it. It was quite a scene, described in the forums:

Yesterday when Bixyl was in, a dragonfly flew in the base and started a dino riot. Took ages to untangle them and a dilo jumped the fence, the T Rex got outside, and Miss Horny laid an egg. After that I put them on passive except for my nasties.

As Wytch later put it, worthy of a country music song. Guess I make quite an entrance where I go.

I didn't see the Rex until later. And when I did, I'd gotten my first T-Rex ride outside of Second Life.

* * * * *

Back in Lomgren's server, the Second Life microkitty continues to make progress on his own server. He leveled enough to learn how to make a generator, and before long there were electric lights around his base as well as refrigerators. "We're almost civilized," the 6 inch microkitty turned 5 foot human commented. It wasn't hard to imagine survivors having spent months in primitive conditions being overwhelmed at the sight of electric power.

But electricity takes power. And the source of power for modern equipment is oil. While some can be gathered from the trilobites that occasionally make their way onto the beach, the real source is oil deposits from the sea. To get at those, you need water based mounts, such as the dolphin-like Ichthyosaurus and the huge Megalodon sharks. To house them, Lom made a water base that looked like a pier area. To stay underwater for long, one needs to have a serving of "Lazarus chow," which slows down the need of oxygen.

So what have I done? Mostly level up by making narcotics (for the dinos, not us). But I have started work on a bridge from the Footpaw where the base is to the Southern Jungle. Lom and I sometimes notice drops way off to across the wide river, and are miffed at not being able to get the high ones because water has sharks and phirana. So far, the bridge is  almost halfway across (progress made since the picture to the left, with no interruptions by sharks (yet). But eventually we'll have our feat of engineering.

As for the two public servers I was in, I kept dying off in the Player vs Environment one, so have OC Official Server 160 another try. I made my way to the Footpaw and found the place where Lom set his base unoccupied, and started work on a base there. So far, most of my encounters with neighbors have been friendly ones, but there have been a couple of raids, so there are some pirates out there, and more work to do on the base.

The adventures continue.

Bixyl Shuftan

Friday, August 14, 2015

Further Adventures in Ark Survival Evolved

By Bixyl Shuftan

Since we last wrote about Ark, there's been a few more goings on with the game. The game has been updated some, plus me and my Second Life friends have been having a few adventures with it.

One thing I should have known early on but didn't notice was that just as in real life, leather armor, as well as chittin armor, has the downside of making you overheat on a hot day. So you'll likely want to carry around some cloth clothes in addition to better protective ones to wear once it gets hot and you're not about to get into a fight.

A few more creatures have been added, or are just about to be. One a kind of monkey whose only practical function is making a lot of noise when hostiles show up, but some feel they make a cute pet. Another is a kind of trilobite that is a good source of chittin for making armor, and gives a little oil, which can be used to make gasoline for higher tech machines, at least the one I clobbered did. The new creatures that I have encountered the most are the giant bugs, dragonflies and the Titanomyra, or giant ant. Dragonflies are described as not normally attacking players, but it's my experience they sometimes do.

The giant ants are the bigger threat to players and come in two varieties, drones and soldiers. Drones scurry about on the ground while the soldiers are winged. Both will attack a player if he/she strays near, and their bites will poison, lowering the stamina. An attack by just a few drones is easily dealt with an axe or pickaxe if that's the only threat, but an assault by a number of soldiers, often in combination with drones, can be a real problem. If an axe or pickaxe is your only weapon, you can quickly become tired from swinging it around, and a few bites will put you asleep, rendering you helpless as the bugs slowly eat you alive. Backing away with a spear, or even better a pike, seems to be the best method for dealing with their assaults. But being overwhelmed by a swarm of a dozen, especially in the dark, can really hurt you, if not kill you. Once dispatched, they can be harvested for chitin and meat. In one server I had a survivor in, it took a while to get resources from them. Maybe they are hard to harvest, or perhaps it was a "bug" in the system. Someone in chat thought that chopping at them when crouched makes harvesting slightly faster, but I haven't noticed a difference. Still, there are rewards from these killer insects once dispatched.

The bugs are usually encountered in the forest, so making a run to a supply drop into the woods at night just became extra hazardous. It isn't just players they go after. I've seen them attack raptors, which became increasingly red from blood from their bites as they struggled against the bugs, then died and were eaten up before the attackers went after me. I've also encountered a T-Rex corpse in which investigating it, was attacked by ants that were around it. The mighty T-Rex felled by bugs? Perhaps a little more tweaking with these fearsome insects is needed.

Speaking of bugs, one of my pet peeves in the game is how the quirky physics act on a dino once you've killed it. Dilo and dodo bodies can sometimes be hurled a good distance away once the killing blow is made. There have been times, especially at night, when I've had to give up looking for one of their corpses and move on. So if you're hunting at night, be sure after your killing blow (or last killing blow if you ran into a pack) switch to your torch immediately. On the plus side, the bug can work in your favor in the water as I've seen megaphirana jump out of the water near the shore, and just hang in the air. Often they're dead. Did my spear deliver the killing blow, or did the bug hurt them. I have yet to find out.

My first exploration into the game was in "The OC Official Server 160," which turned out to be a PvP server, not knowing what "OC" meant. After learning more about the game, I avoided the more populated eastern coast and settled into a couple spots in the west, eventually making a good-sized base made of stone walls. After I'd gotten it a decent size, I went to concentrate on a Player vs Environment server I found in case friends wanted to try that. But I would still log on briefly every day or two to make sure nothing decayed. Then one day, I logged in to fin out I'd been killed and had to respawn elsewhere. Heading back to the base site, I found it was gone with nothing left, and I mean *nothing.* Not even a single floor section, or even the campfire that was nearby.

Confused, I entered group chat, asking if there was a bug in the game erasing people's builds. I was told that there wasn't, that what happened was likely the Method of Operation of a particularly ruthless tribe using demo charges (apparently one can make those when they get high enough). They didn't just break in and raid, but would blow up a base *completely.*

A tribe could rebuild pretty quickly. Not so much a lone wolf like me. So I dropped off that server for a while. Nydia's advice of "STAY AWAY FROM PVP SERVERS, THE KIDDIES WILL KEEP KNOCKING YOU DOWN" seemed to be confirmed. But then one gaming review I came across described a PvP enabled server in which the players didn't have the stomach for it, instead greeting everyone hello and even giving newcomers a few things to help them out. Another reviewer got a much more hostile response. Half the people he encountered while knew knocked him out and stole what little he had on him. Different servers seem to have different casts of characters, it seems. Even in the PvP servers, my biggest problem were the dinos and bugs, not other players. But it took just one tribe of hostiles to take down hours of work on my base.

There was still Nydia's server, but the problem with private servers is they go offline when the owner's computer does. So I hung around the PvE server some more, "PVE Official Server 37." I had set camp a mile up the river on a spot in the southeast, and began building up the base as it was close to a few crate drop areas. By now, it sports a smelter and blacksmith table, out in the open for anyone to use, and a crate near a door to drop shirts and simple tools newcomers dropping by might need. Exploring further, building a few secondary bases. But even PvE servers aren't without troublemakers. Once when I left a door open, I returned and saw a newbie run out. He'd raided my preserving bin!! Another time, the would be thief wasn't so lucky. I closed the doors before she got out, and I wouldn't let her out until I was sure nothing was gone from the bin.

Lomgren also decided to get a private server. Taking a look at the southern part of the island, which has rivers cutting through it to form smaller islands, he found a spot near the mid southern coast in what some call "The Footpaw" (see map near the end). on a hill overlooking a bluff next to an inlet that was relatively safe from the big predators. Below we set up a small farm to raise crops such as narcoberries, and nearby a small coop for dodo birds, which were good for eggs. The riding dinos were parked nearby, which doubled as a source of manure for fertilizer for the crops. Lomgren would later modify the top as a landing bay for tamed pteras. As this was the floor with the beds, it's not hard to imagine the characters trying to sleep while the "birds" make a racket.

As Lomgren was a much higher level than I was when I first came to his server, I looked for something to do besides build his base. Scouting around, I found a tiny island in a riverway not too far inland from Lom's base. So I began making one of my own, there. One complication was as it was further inland, larger carnivores would on occasion come near, notably the huge spinosaurs, distinguished by their huge size and sails on their backs. Once I took one down, though it took a lot of arrows and my base getting roughed up a bit. And the yield was only a few scraps of leather. Probably a fluke, but quite a disappointment. Another time, a Spino got too close to the farm area of the main base. From the safety of the bluff, we brought it down with tranquilizer arrows, then proceeded to tame it. Without the prized "prime meat," it took a long time and lots of meats and narcotics to tame. But the result was a guard dino that would keep watch over our farm (as well as helping to fertilize it a bit).

One of the most interesting times in Lom's server was when a few people were on at once, and  someone took down a T-Rex with tranq arrows. So others flew over on tamed Pteras and began the process of taming the huge beast, with lots of narcotics and meats. We also tranqed a couple other pteras, so we had a "triple taming." Unfortunately, while two of us went back for more meat and narcotics, a second T-Rex showed up. The two of us remaining had to run for it, and when it lost interest in us, it went back to chow down on the sleeping pteras. The others returned to take care of it, so we were able to finish taming our own T-Rex. Once that was done, we were able to walk it home, it making a meal out of any dilo that went after us.

After Lomgren leveled up his best Pteranodon, or "pteras" as they've come to be called in the game, he began exploring around. Finding a good source of ore on a volcano in the middle of the island, with a little crystal and obsidian, he established a small mining base. Flying to it takes a ptera that's been leveled up in weight and stamina. Yours truly has been trying to overcome his nervousness of flying, often by flying over a river in case I accidentally press the "E" button, which for mounts is the mount/dismount action. But the view is spectacular.

Going about, I've been noticing the value of having a tamed dino help you out. So in Lomgren's private server I helped things out by taming a raptor when the opportunity came about. As mounts, raptors are pretty quick and can hold a little before slowing down. But theyre not unbeatable, so when having one at your side be careful when engaging packs of carnivores. I might have been a little lucky when taming the dino in the private server as I had plenty of narcotics on hand and was able to get plenty of fish. When I tried taming something in the PvE server, I only had a little meat on me and wasn't able to find any fish or prey animals nearby.

After this happened three times, I came across a triceratops that had been knocked unconscious by a giant scorpion. Feeding that one berries, I tamed it after a bit more than half an hour. But as it was still a bit low on HP, it was still a bit vulnerable. Getting it to home base, we were attacked by giant ants, not a few but about a dozen. They killed the trike and went after me. Then I found a raptor that was so busy going after a herbivorous dino, it didn't notice me sneak up on it, and after a few tranquilizer arrows, it was down. It took over an hour, but I had finally tamed a raptor after three unsuccessful times! I then took it home, and going after a nearby "piggy" for meat, we were attacked by more bugs. We got all of them, but one of the flying soldier ants had bitten the raptor to death before I could get it.

So five taming attempts with nothing to show for it. Maybe some lone wolves are just meant to go about on foot.

In the past few days, I've been hearing about a few other creatures introduced. One is the gigantosaurus, a huge carnivorous beast described as having a rage makes it more difficult to tame than a T-Rex or Spinosaur, and if tamed can be difficult to control in a PvP fight. Then there's the dung beetle, which supposedly when tamed can be a source of fertilizer and oil. Then there are the "Alphas," which are dinosaurs that are much stronger than normal, and more difficult to take down, identified by the red cloud among them. They also can inflict more damage to buildings, including stone and metal. So far, all that I've heard about in game chat are carnivores, T-Rexes, carnies, raptors, etc.

Nydia's been starting her own server up again, so I may soon have some adventures to write about there. In the meantime, still building up that secondary base in Lom's server, and still trying to tame a beastie of my own in PvE 37. If anyone wants to be in Lomgren Small's server, ask him. If you want to see my main base in PVE Official Server 37, it's around 78 Latitude, 64.5 Longitude in the Southern Inlets (see below). If you go about on the coast, it's on the river with a sign marking the original base of one of the server's tribes. If I'm not there, you may want to stop by anyway to use the forge and smithy. But I may move to the shore once I've tamed something again. Those killer bugs are proving to be just too much. And then there's OC Official Server 160. Would taming something be easier there?

To help you get around, here's a map of the various regions and underwater caves, created by "Felski." You can see a larger image of the map (here). For those starting out, here's a map of the starting locations (here). Having been to Craggs Island, it's appropriately named as not much grows there. I have yet to head to "Dead Island" as without a water or flying mount, you're shark bait, and once you get there, word has it the high level predators will make short work out of any player whom isn't also high level, unless he had plenty of help.

Bixyl Shuftan

Monday, August 10, 2015

World of Warcraft's Next Expansion Announced As Subscriptions Drop to Nine Year Low

By Bixyl Shuftan

On Thursday August 6, Blizzard announced details of World of Warcraft's next expansion: "Legion." While the full details of the plot have not been announced, the trailers announced the big detail (, the return of the Burning Legion.

To those who know little about World of Warcraft, the Burning Legion ( is an army of demonic creatures whom invade and destroy world after world in their lust to consume magical their magical energies which has twice invaded Azeroth and have been the source of many of it's problems. Now once again, they are back, and it will be up to the players of the Horde and Alliance to stop them.

There are a number of details known about the expansion. There will be a new continent: The Broken Isles. There's also a new class, the Demon Hunter. Players can now level up to Level 110. There will be Class Order Halls and followers. Promised are Artifacts, customizable weapons that can grow in power as you level up. Promised are a redesigned "Honor system" for PvPers, improved transmorgification, and "improved social features." Those buying the expansion get a free character boost to raise one character to Level 100 (almost certainly the minimum to get to the new zone. And there will be new dungeons and new bosses.

Demon Hunters can only be from one race of each faction: Night Elves for Alliance, Blood Elves for Horde. They are the second "hero class" of the game, the first being the Death Knights introduced in "Cataclysm." So they will have unique features that make them stand apart from other classes, possibly including a higher starting level, a unique power bar, and a unique mount. But if the Death Knight is a guide, that means anyone wanting to create a Demon Hunter character would need to already have at least one character close to Level 100.

"Dominate your foes as a Demon Hunter, an elven outcast shunned for daring to wield the terrible powers of the Legion," Blizzard said. "Exhibiting superior mobility and a preternatural sense of awareness, Demon Hunters can tap into forbidden powers at times of dire need, metamorphosing into terrifying fel forms. Focus on Havoc to demolish any who stand in your way with fiery demonic attacks, or specialize in Vengeance and go toe to toe with even the most powerful demons, withstanding massive punishment as their attacks fuel your hatred."

 While some World of Warcraft fans are happy to hear of the expansion, the announcement comes after less than happy news about the game. One of the game's staff recently left the company for NCSoft, which works on a number of games, including Guild Wars 2 and Wildstar. But the big news is the number of players in the game are becoming fewer and fewer. According to an article in Gamezone, the number of subscribers was last counted at 5.6 million. While this still makes them the most popular of all MORPGs, this is a sharp plummet from their slightly more than ten million in November 2014.

When one looks at their numbers over time, their current expansion brought a short term boost to subscriptions which had been slowly declining over time from twelve million in 2010 to 6.8 million in June 2014. But it didn't last as just a few months later in March 2015, the statistics showed a plummet to 7.1 million. The game had fallen as fast as it has risen, and resumed it's slide to a number not seen since December 2005, a nine year low.

So why are the numbers still falling? Opinions vary as to why. Perhaps after over a decade people are starting to get a little tired of the game. But there are other points of view. Eliot Lefebvre of was rather critical of Blizzard in it's development of World of Warcraft in recent years, "Blizzard has a track record that is ... let's be generous and say 'not great' at the moment. ... this expansion is delivering a lot of things that players have said they want for quite some time, but it's also doing so at a time when player confidence in the development team is at a pretty low pulse. ... 'Legion,' at this point, is inheriting a mess." Like others I've heard complain about, once they saw Hellscream meet his end, for many non PvPers there just didn't seem to be much to do, "(The) Endgame for non-raiders is an unpleasant punchline."

"What we need in the next few months are details," Lefebvre stated, "and the more we know, the more we can decide this is reversing the trend of the last three expansion, or another step down."

Leif Johnson of PC Gamer was also critical of Blizzard, beginning his article, "We're about nine months into World of Warcraft's 'Warlords of Draenor' expansion, and I can't remember what any of my guildmates look like. ... We've stopped raiding, and we're all too 'busy' when we're online together. We're picking herbs or mining ore. We're preparing work orders. We're finishing quests with NPC 'bodyguards' to get more oil to launch naval missions for gear. And the worst part? We're all doing the same things on our alts. This is what much of World of Warcraft consists of these days, and it's awful. As a while, it's easily the worst expansion for Blizzard's beast to date." The title of the article summed up his feelings, "World of Warcraft Desperately Needs It's Next Expansion."

So is Blizzard panicking over it's cash cow not making so much? Maybe not. Their quarterly report showed that between three of their other games, "Hearthstone," Heroes of the Storm," and "Destiny" have a combined 70 million registered players, and have made 1.25 billion dollars. "Blizzard is demonstrating that they're able to adapt to the new world order pretty well."

No date has yet been given for the release of "Legion," but it's a good bet it won't be for at least several months. In the meantime, there are no signs of World of Warcraft's decline stopping, and the game is likely to looks hundreds of thousands of players between now and then.

Sources: Blizzard, Forbes, Massively Overpowered, PC Gamer, Gamezone

Bixyl Shuftan

Monday, July 13, 2015

Game Review: Ark - Survival Evolved

By Bixyl Shuftan

The latest game that my friends have gotten into is one called "Ark: Survival Evolved." It could be thought of as "Rust meets Jurrasic Park." Like Rust, one is in the wild, gathering food and crafting resources from wood, rocks, and other resources around him to build weapons, clothes, and shelter. Unlike Rust, instead of an abandoned series of buildings, you're on a primeval looking island filled with dinosaurs, which can be tamed, but any wild meat eater is going to go after you for a snack.

The timing of the game's release was certainly noteable, right about the time the movie "Jurassic World," the latest of the "Jurassic Park" sequels was released in theaters. Like Linden Lab's choice of a velociraptor as it's freebie birthday avatar, it's obvious this was no coincidence, but to take advantage of the resulting "dino-mania." So far, it's worked, with PC Gamer reporting a million copies of the game sold in less than a month.

To begin with, once you log on a server, you're asked to customize your character, male/female, height, build, skin color, etc. This is purely cosmetic and won't affect your strength or running speed. Once that's done. you're shown an outline of the island, and asked to pick a zone to spawn on. Once you choose one, you wake up to a flash of light, and find yourself on a beach. One will find most other players traveling on or near the beach, and the creatures here are mostly less dangerous than those inland, mostly. Typically there's just almost all herbivores such as triceratops, along with a few dodo birds, with the most dangerous thing being a dilo, which you should be able to beat once you have a pickaxe or hatchet (better weapons are preferred, such as spears). Unfortunately larger predators on occasion make their way to shore, so if you see big feathered birds, raptors, or what looks like a T-Rex, avoid it if you can, and run if you can't (press the Shift key while moving forward to run) Low level players without weapons who can't get away will end up lunch (Insert "Barney" parody music - "I eat you, you feed me .."). Be careful of any scorpions you see as a few stings are enough to put you to sleep, and you can only watch as the bug slowly eats your character alive.

The island is a strange mix of the prehistoric with strange futuristic technology. You begin with a strange implant in your arm. Around the island are strange alien-looking monoliths. One can help you save your character and transfer to another server. Beyond that, supposedly there are secrets to discover later in the game.

Your first concerns, besides avoiding danger, are getting some basic tools. To get stones off the ground, press "E" to collect some. To get wood and thatch, without a tool one has to punch tree trunks, either live ones or dead ones lying on the ground. This will damage you a bit, costing some health points. But when you have nothing, this is the only way you can get wood and thatch. To make your first tool, a pickaxe, you'll need one stone, one piece of wood, and ten thatch.

A level one player isn't able to build much, just a pickaxe and a torch. You'll But it isn't long before you level. Once that happens, you can increase an attribute, such as the amount of weight you can carry, running speed, stamina, etc. Then you get an amount of points to spend on "Engrams," or skills. Now you can learn how to make a stone hatchet. You'll need to use your pickaxe on a rock to get a piece of flint, along with the piece of wood and ten thatch to make it. Something else you'll want to learn is how to make a campfire (if you see one someone else made nearby, you can wait a little to learn to make one). Other skills for your first few levels include cloth clothing, and thatch building parts. Doing actions can help you level faster. Just going around gathering things such as stones, fibers, and berries, can help you level fairly quickly early on.

When night falls, it's not quite as hazardous as "Rust" as you can still see a little, especially when the moonlight isn't obscured by trees and other large objects. But still it's possible for a player to run into a predator or a pack of them, especially if running. The terrain is uneven, so running at night over unfamiliar ground could get you falling off a cliff if you're not careful.

Both the pickaxe and hatchet can be used on trees, rocks, and dead critters, as well as close range weapons. But they yield different amounts of resources. For instance when building, using the pickaxe will yield more thatch then pieces of wood than if you use the hatchet. The pickaxe will get you more flint than stone from rocks. And if you're harvesting the body of a dead critter, a hatchet will yield more hide than if you use a pickaxe.

Once you have a stone pickaxe and hatchet, along with maybe a torch if it's night, its time to get some food. To get berries from bushes, along with fibres press "E." Of the six kinds of berries you'll find, three are good as food. Stimberries will help keep your torpor, or how easy you can slip into unconsciousness, down. One will help you with cooking later, Narcoberries will just put you to sleep. Each berry will help with food and thirst slightly. When your food and water levels run out, you will begin to starve and dehydrate and lose health points. Once your health reaches zero, your character will die and you'll have to respawn. If it rains, your character automatically hydrates when in the open. If you plan to be active, running, fighting, chopping wood, etc, stay near some water. Don't go too deep in the water as there may be a shark waiting for you. Rivers may have mega-piranha, so you have to be careful there too. If a school homes in on you in the middle of a big stream, you're in deep trouble.

Besides thirst and hunger, heat and cold are also problems. If you're too hot, you will sweat and lose water faster. If you're too cold, you'll burn up food faster. If you're *really* hot or cold (a larger flame symbol or your snowflake turning into an ice cube on your HUD), you'll start loosing health points as well. Getting in water can help keep you cool if you're hot, but conversely can be bad for you if it's getting cold. Clothes, torches, and campfires, can help keep you warm. Buildings help insulate against temperature extremes. There's also an energy meter. If you run for too long, it runs out, and you have to stop to catch your breath. While you're swimming, it runs down very slowly. If your energy level reaches zero while you're swimming, you're in danger of drowning.

Since berries help with hunger only a little, you'll probably want some meat. As some objects need hide, such as shoes and gloves, that's a second reason to do some hunting. Dodos are ideal for beginning players as they don't fight back, but clumsily waddle away, and after a few hits they're as "dead as a dodo." You may find fish in shallow waters and rivers for meat, though the problem with mega-piranha is obvious. Once you have a couple spears, you can go after the lowest level predator, the dilophosaur, or "dilo" as they're called in the game. The problem with them is they can spit venom at you and blind your vision. But if you're not fighting a pack, you shouldn't have too much trouble. As you progress higher, you'll be able to make hide clothing, which protects more than cloth.

Different dinos require different tactics to fight. Raptors can be a challenge as they like to zip around and attack you from the side. I had to keep backing up to avoid getting flanked when fighting one (if near a cliff, turning away first). When attacked by a croc, my strategy was to flank it by going to the side and spear it in the ribs, taking advantage of it's slower turning ability, taking care *not* to get caught in it's enormous jaws. After some time at this, had a load of hide and meat on my hands.

Eventually you're going to need a home base to both store items as well as a place to safely leave your character when you log off as anyone left out in the open is liable to be found by a predator (or a hostile player in PvP servers). Building just the base and four walls without a roof won't guarantee 100% safety as a low flying monster bird or large carnivore walking nearby can spot your sleeping body. At first, you'll be limited to building thatch buildings. But they're not very strong, and can be torn up by a large carnivore that sees you run into one for refuge ("Little pig, little pig, let me in!"). So eventually you'll want to learn and build wooden building parts. When gathering items while making a wooden building, you can become encumbered quickly. So you may want to build some parts while in the field to lighten your load.

Once you have a building set up, you're going to want to build some things to help you out, such as storage boxes to keep stuff in, and a sleeping bag or bed to ensure you respawn in the shelter if killed, the former being one-use only. As you progress, you can make a preserving bin to slow the decay of meat and fruit you collect, a mortar and pestle to make ingredients, a forge and smithy to make metal tools, and more. You'll also be able to learn and make stone and metal building parts, making your home safe from wild dinos, and in PvP servers resistant to all but the most determined raids.

You might not have to make everything. On various spots on the island, beacons will shine and a crystalline supply crate will slowly float to the ground. In contrast to "Rust," supply crates are easy to see, so it's not as hard finding them. One will still have to contend with any predators nearby, as well as any hostile players in PvP servers. They are color coded, with white being lootable by anyone level three and up, green for those level 15 and over, blue for those 25 and up, with higher ones being purple, yellow, and red, which is accessible only to those level 60 and higher. White supply crates will typically deliver thatch building parts, cloth clothes, or simple tools and raw materials. Green will get you wooden parts and hide clothing.

Besides hunting dinos, one can also tame them. They can help you go around faster, notably those that can fly, help you haul goods, help with defending your base (or attacking a hostile one). This is done by knocking out the dinosaur without killing it, then giving it the appropriate food, berries for herbavores, meat for carnivores, and keep it unconscious with narcoberries and narcotics. In PvP servers, large dinosaurs make excellent deterents against attacks. Conversely, they also make great raiding weapons. I've seen from a distance a party with a T-Rex patrol the length of a beach, and take out begining players' thatch huts.

Besides taming dinos, players can also band together to form tribes for help. In a tribe, players can protect one another as well as specialize in different skills and make for others what they can't. All buildings and goods are shared by everyone in a tribe. You can also do farming, building small plots and plant the seeds you find.

Of the issue of PvP, there have been comparisons to Rust. In the Second Life "Furry Gamers" group, at least one player refuses to play the game outright because it appears in *any* server. After the group's experiences in Rust, Nydia was frustrated with the "PvP kiddies" to the point she got her own server coming to Ark. Trouble is, these personal servers are not always on. Looking for an official one. Confused by what really was a PvP server and what wasn't, I chose one that was labeled "OC." It turned out that it was, with some characters being relentless about it. A few people would swoop down with monster birds, grab lower level players, then drop them from up in the air to fall to their deaths. At least on the middle part of the eastern shore, which was the default location for spawning. Trying in the west, I found things much easier, running into fewer people, and those who were tended to be less hostile ... tended to be. Sadly some people will take the opportunity to kill and steal when they can. On the other hand, it can be pretty satisfying to turn the tables on a raider, and some players take satisfaction in keeping a structure up in defiance of raiders.

Looking further, there were a few servers that were labeled "PvE" (Player versus Enviroment), and while I was there no one raised a hand to me. It was a bit crowded though, with lots of buildings. It's also notable only a few sims were labeled PvE. Other kinds of servers include the "hardcore" in which if a player dies he doesn't lose just the stuff on him, but has to start all over again as a newly created character, presumably with his old character's building, and it's stuff, locked to him. It's fair to say each server has it's own cast of characters with differing attitudes.

As one progresses in levels, you'll be able to go deeper inland and brave the dangers there, and perhaps uncover some of the strange secrets of the island, maybe even escape. Eventually you'll be able to make metal tools, guns, and more technological items. But these require metal, which I've found hard to get. I've heard there are mines, but have yet to see one, possibly because they've already been claimed and are behind someones walls.

Personally, I give the game two thumbs up. It's more versatile than Rust, and a more exciting feel. One small problem, it takes longer to load, so one can get a little frustrated when waiting to get back on the island. Also, the game is still in beta. So it is frequently updated, about once a day on average at the time this review was written. So more time to wait. But once in, there's a number of things one can do, building, crafting, hunting, exploring, etc. Rumor has it a future update will allow for the breeding of dinos for certain traits.

And of course, where else besides Second Life can you ride a T-Rex?

*Correction* I had thought "PvE" meant "Player vs Enemy." Someone corrected me, saying it was "Player vs Environment."

Bixyl Shuftan

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Tales from Minecraft: Going "To The Moon" Tinkering With Iguanas

The "Furry Gamers" group is still going at it with Minecraft, or "Minecrack" as Jasmine (or Jazicorn as she's calling herself now) calls it with tounge-in-cheek humor. This time we're going with a version of "Feed the Beast" called "Resonant Rise" with "Tinker's Construct with Iguana Tweaks." We still have the option of building some pretty powerful devices, and there's a lot more minerals and biodiversity. But it also means the process of building itself has become a little more complicated.

Before in Minecraft, you could just slap four boards together to make a workbench and that was all you needed. In this version of "Feed the Beast," I needed five things to start building tools. From left to right, crafting station, tool station, part builder, pattern chest, and a stencil table. For more info, Nydia offered us a wikipage and a couple youtubes (here) and (here) when we were starting out.

To make stencils, you need two sticks and two pieces of wood to make four. For the stencil table, you need a stencil and a piece of wood. Crafting stations are just workbenches remade (bring back in the four square building area in your inventory). Tool stations get a stencil on the regular workbench. The part builder needs a log and a stencil. The pattern chest needs a chest with a stencil.

Sounds complicated? "But wait, there's more." When you start out, you're limited to making tools out of flint. The good news is instead of just waiting for the occasional piece of it while digging gravel, you can combine three piles of it on a workbench or crafting table to make one. To make a flint pickaxe, you need two stencils, one for the head and one for the connector, which you make on the stencil table. Once you have those, you use the pickaxe  head stencil and a chunk of flint to make the flint pickaxe head, and the connector stencil and a piece of wood to make that part and a couple sticks. You then use the tool station, clicking on the pickaxe icon, and placing the head, connector, and stick in their places to make the pickaxe.

Depending on the version of "Tinkers with Iguana" you use, you might not be able make the old style tools on your workbench at all, or even use them if you pick them off clobbered mobs. I never figured out how to make bronze or iron tools with the new system. But you can repair the flint tools with more flint via the tool station.

 The good news, these tools improve with use. As I dug around with my flint pickaxe, it improved, gaining qualities such as resilience, taking longer to wear away, being quicker to use and so being able to dig holes and tunnels faster, and once in a while able to regenerate. The last ability the game announces as "your (tool) seems to have picked up a bit of moss." A pickaxe this happens to three or four times will not need repairs any longer, at least my flint pickaxe.

To complicate matters, there was the occasional "Blood Moon." Hostile mobs like zombies and skeletons came out at night like before, though some places were largely free of them and in some not as densely. But when the darkening sky turned dark red and the message "The Blood Moon is rising" flashed on the screen, that was the signal to hunker down and hide, dig yourself a hole and seal the opening if you were caught far from a building or cave. The mobs would come out in a massive horde that would quickly overwhelm you unless you could fight them from a doorway AND had a study weapon that could take a lot of hits.

Some monsters also had special abilities, such as the "Vampyric Zombie of the Eclipse" which could block out the sun where it was fighting you and drain more health than normal if it touched you. Often they had more hitpoints, so taking more hits before they dropped. Witches had potions that could really poison you, going down to half a health point. One of the more insidious was a kind of witch cat that seemed harmless at first, then would morph into a huge beast that could both pummel and poison you.

I didn't build much when the group first established their Resonant Rise server, just build two bases in a couple forested area in the middle of a desert. From there I would explore around a little, getting armor from fallen mobs, and fruits from the numerous saguaro cactus in the sands.

Besides horses, there were these chocobo, which could be tamed and ridden (insert Final Fantasy 7 victory music).

There was more biodiversity in the game, with some trees getting especially big.

And lots of new plants. Not sure what you can do with them, but the looked nice.

There were various builds already on the map at random places, such as this mausoleum near a spooky old castle. There was a crate with treasure inside, but looking triggered a lava trap.

There were also various villages, each with villagers, out there. A few had guards, which could take on zombies. There were also bandit camps, which would take on any player who entered.

Some players could build some pretty elaborate builds. As there were other realms in the game besides the Nether, and this included the Moon, Mars, and other planets, that got Jasmine's mental gears turning. So she got together with Nydia and Kryxia for their own Apollo project. They'd be making their own rocket to the Moon.

When everything was ready, they waited a few minutes for people to come over to watch. Then Jasmine got in the rocket and they counted down ...

And it was "rockets away" as she went up into the air.

Jasmine took some screenshots as she went up.

And further up.

And soon the ground was too far to see.

Jasmine's ride continued onward ...

And soon, she was in the cold black of space.

Soon the lunar lander was deployed. At this point, she could see the square Minecraft Earth.

It was soon time to start the landing sequence.

Closer, closer, putting on the rockets, not burning too much too soon so not to run out before she landed.

And touchdown!

The Eagle had landed!

The trouble with a trip to the Moon was once the initial thrill wore off, well, there wasn't much to explore but endless surfaces of dust. Fortunately, she brought enough materials to start work on a base. Eventually, she was able to build another rocket, and head back.

They talked about making another rocket to head to Mars. Then came trouble. Something went VERY wrong with one of Jasmine's builds, and the result was the server was "nuked." We had to start all over. This hit some players such as Valkyrie and Skylark hard as they had taken the time to make some pretty eleborate builds they were proud of, and now there was nothing left. The only thing that could be done was to start over, with a few flint tools to allow people to find a place and establish themselves.

I found a village some distance to the east and made a new base.

And tunneling away to make my G.U.E. (Great Underground Empire), linking places with tunnels, and making a few shelters in between them.

There's a little more to tell, but perhaps for another day as that darn Blood Moon is once again rising, and time to head back to the tunnels before the freaks come out at night.

Bixyl Shuftan