New Linux blog: Zurgl

Yes, you’ve probably noticed I haven’t written here a lot. Mostly because of lack of time, and also because, while Winterdrake isn’t technically a gaming blog (it’s supposed to be a “geek stuff” blog), gaming has always been a big part of it… and I haven’t had really gamed a lot for the past couple of years. 🙁

As for Linux-related posts, I have been writing them in a more specialized Linux blog, Zurgl: Linux Tutorials and Answers to Actual Questions. My idea was to take advantage of the fact that sometimes co-workers ask for help (due to my relatively incredible old age… I mean, vast experience) to also share that answer with the world — after all, if it was useful to a single person, it might be so to more. I also write guides and tutorials, and will eventually answer some reader questions… when I get any. 🙂

I still intend to write more gaming-related posts here on Winterdrake, but it may take a while; there’s a lot of stress in my life (mostly related to money, but not only that) that I need to take care of, before I really have time and energy to dedicate to gaming (and writing about it).

Good and bad news (and some other stuff)

Chaos (ZX Spectrum, 1985)
Chaos (ZX Spectrum, 1985)

First, the good (great, in fact) news: Julian Gollop, author of Chaos, Laser Squad, and the original X-COM: UFO Defense (known in Europe as UFO: Enemy Unknown; note that the recent Firaxis remake combines the two names) has announced that he’s remaking Chaos, and his ideas so far (the previous link goes to his development blog) seem great.


The Lords of Midnight (ZX Spectrum, 1984)
The Lords of Midnight (ZX Spectrum, 1984)

And now the bad news: Mike Singleton, creator of The Lords of Midnight, Doomdark’s Revenge, and Midwinter, has sadly died. He was in the middle of remaking The Lords of Midnight for iOS and Android, among other platforms. Chris Wild, who was doing the remake with Singleton, has announced that he will complete the remake, although it will understandably have fewer changes / improvements than intended.

It is interesting to note that the two guys mentioned above wrote, between them, my favorite 8-bit games of all time.

Beyond that… Gaming-wise, I haven’t had a lot of time for playing in the past few months. I returned to The Lord of the Rings Online (LOTRO) “for real”, and I’ve been enjoying the game a lot, although I don’t play it more than a couple of nights a week. The good part is that I’ve been doing it with a couple of friends, and we only play it when we’re together, making it more like a “normal” RPG, instead of an MMO.

Isaac Asimov - Tales of the Black Widowers
Isaac Asimov – Tales of the Black Widowers

As for books, I’ve just started reading Isaac Asimov’s Black Widowers series. It’s interesting to see how Asimov was able to successfully create something that 1) was outside his “normal” thing (science fiction), and 2) has all its (short) stories following the same format, yet without making them repetitive or monotonous.

In terms of personal projects… no big news here. I’ve been working on and off on something for about a year, but it’s not something to be shared with the world. 🙂 Otherwise, I’ve recently improved my online Fantasy Name Generator, which now supports new “types”, including hobbit names, science fiction names, and even modern, English-language names. More to come soon… I hope.

Now playing: The Bard’s Tale II – The Destiny Knight

First, sorry for not writing here for a long time. Some big career changes happened (whether good or bad, the jury is still out, but I’m mostly optimistic), and I haven’t had quite a lot of free time, though I hope that’ll improve in the future. With that out of the way…

Bard's Tale II - dungeon
My current party; all are level 10 at the moment

… here is what I’ve been doing with some of what little free time I have: playing an 80s game I never actually played back then. The game is The Bard’s Tale II : The Destiny Knight (whew!), which I’m playing using an Amiga emulator. This is not actually the very best version, a title which belongs to the Apple IIGS port, but as I plan to move my party to Bard’s Tale III after I beat this game, and there’s no III port for the IIGS, I had to pick the (arguably) second best version.

As I said, I never actually played BT2 back in the 80s. Though I did play, and love, the first Bard’s Tale, first on the ZX Spectrum (on cassette!), then on the PC. As you can see, it looks mostly the same:

The Bard's Tale 1 - ZX Spectrum
My first contact with an American-style CRPG ever

Anyway, I missed games like this. It’s really hard, with no hand holding, and grinding is a big part of the game. I actually like the fact that you can, at the very beginning of the game, go to dungeons or other places where the very first encounter will kill you (Bethesda, take note: scaling enemies to the player’s level sucks). And the dungeons seem designed by a sadist: lots of non-euclidean mazes (think going a step north and then a step south necessarily leaves you where you started? think again), permanent darkness zones, anti-magic zones, teleporters, spinners (they turn you around, which can be very confusing if you don’t have a magic compass, or even if you simply fail to notice it). Did I mention that there’s also no such thing as auto-mapping?

Anyway, I’m enjoying the game a lot. Yes, the graphics and sound are primitive, even for its time, and the game is little more than a grind-fest full of random encounters and dungeons that seem designed just to make your life miserable. On the other hand, there’s a strange pleasure in seeing your characters, which you nurtured since they were level 1 newbies, get stronger and stronger, and be able to face ever tougher challenges. Also, since it’s turn-based, and playable in an emulator window, it’s perfect for playing everywhere, at any time.

Tip 1: all of the Bard’s Tale versions are available for download at I recommend either the Commodore 64 or Amiga versions (or, if you don’t care about exporting your party to Bard’s Tale III, the Apple IIGS versions of the first two games).

Tip 2: having your emulator folder on Dropbox makes it easy to continue your game wherever you are (home, work, even at a friend’s).

New ‘disposable email’ service: Mail60

Mail60 is a ‘disposable email service’; perfect for receiving confirmation emails from places you don’t trust not to spam you in the future. Mail60 mailboxes are automatically erased after 60 minutes, so you can simply create one, use that email address somewhere, receive the email(s) you’re expecting, and then simply forget about the mailbox. For more detail, see the FAQ.

The idea for it came from reading the comments, about a week ago, in PZ Myers’ wonderful blog Pharyngula, where people were talking about an internet poll they wanted to vote on, but the site required registration, and it was a right-wing paranoia site, so it wasn’t a place they really wanted to be members of. One commenter, then, suggested using a “disposable email service” such as Mailinator. That was the first time I heard of those. I found the idea intriguing, and thought about how I could implement such a thing. It looked doable, so I started programming it in my free time, and Mail60 is the result.

I intentionally wanted to keep this simple, so I didn’t go for features such as “create a mailbox automatically when receiving mail on a non-existent address” or “forward email to a real mailbox for X days and then stop”. Also, since mailboxes are so ephemeral, features such as filters, address books or folders don’t really make sense. And, of course, the only way to allow instant creation of mailboxes with no verification whatsoever and yet prevent abuse was to disallow email sending. But for the most common use I foresee — receiving confirmation emails –, that’s not a problem.

For the techies out there, I’m using PHP, MySQL, Postfix, DBMail, and Hastymail for accessing mailboxes. The (virtual) server runs FreeBSD.

P.S. – yes, this is the “new project” I mentioned a few days ago. 🙂

Upgraded to Ubuntu Natty, and nginx troubles

Just upgraded my home server (where most of my sites are, though this blog is not among them) from Ubuntu Maverick (10.10) to Natty (11.04). The upgrade itself went without any trouble ((note that this server started out with Jaunty, which means that it has been successfully upgraded five times now. Try doing that in Windows… :))), but, after the new OS version came up, most of my sites were down; they just showed blank pages. And, oddly, there was nothing in any logs. I’m using nginx and php-fpm.

After pulling my hair for a while, I noticed that:

  • the problems were restricted to PHP pages, and…
  • … those didn’t work on any of my sites except for the default one (

A little googling, and this post came up, the author of which had the same problem, and was able to spot the solution. In the /etc/nginx/fastcgi_params file, the upgrade had added (silently, since I had never modified that file) the following line:

fastcgi_param       SCRIPT_FILENAME         $document_root$fastcgi_script_name;

Commenting it out solved everything. My guess is that, since the file in question is included only in my default web site configuration, the $document_root variable never changes, so all my sites (except the default) were pointing the wrong way. Anyway, that line is apparently unnecessary, though I’ll see if including the /etc/nginx/fastcgi_params file in every virtual host (maybe you are supposed to do that), and uncommenting back that line, also works.

New project in development

You may have noticed that there haven’t been any news posts here for more than a week. No, I’m not “bored” with my favorite subjects (as if I could); the reason for that is that I’ve been relatively busy with a new project of mine, which I’ve been doing in my free time. It’s still too soon for it to be revealed, but I can say the following: it uses PHP and MySQL (doesn’t everything, these days?), and has to do with email. It’ll provide a service that isn’t exactly novel (though a lot of non-tech users don’t even know such a thing exists), but I don’t think I’m doing it exactly like the “competition” does, which means it’ll be unique in some ways. I hope.

I hope to have something to show to the world in a week or two. But I’ll try to write a few new posts here, until then. I have a draft of the second entry in the Conversion Wars series almost finished (and it has been that way for a while, now), so that’ll probably be the next one.

Violence Fight: the quarrelers! (2 of 2)

After getting to know Bat/Bad Blue, Ben “Fierce Eagle of Nevada” Smith and, last but certainly not least, Lick Joe, let’s meet the rest of Violence Fight‘s colorful personalities, shall we?

Lee Chen - He has went over to the mainland of China in his child age for learning assassination ken (hands)
"Assassination Ken (Hands)"?!?

First, we have Lee Chen, the fourth and final playable character, who certainly looks representative of the 80s, with his mullet and pr0n moustache. 🙂 I still don’t know what “Assassination Ken (Hands)” means; that’s the kind of phrase one would expect from an automatic translator, which would certainly explain a lot about the “Engrish” seen in this entire game…

And now for the bosses:

Ron Max - The owner of a stock farm. He has destructive power, and especially his head is so hard that it can destroy rocks.
Certainly a hard-headed fellow...

Out of San Antonio, Texas, here’s Ron Max. Boasting “destructive power” (unlike the constructive power shown by the other characters so far, of course), we are also told that “especially his head is so hard that it can destroy rocks”. I think he’s wasted as the owner of a stock farm, as he could instead have used his head (ouch!) to get ahead (groan!) in the world.

Note also the names of his two “mortal techniques”: health head butts and health blow. One wonders whose health he’s talking about. Does he gain health from head butting his opponents? Or do his blows diminish his adversaries’ health (again, unlike the blows of every other fighter, of course)? Inquiring minds want to know.

And, finally…

Tony Won - He is the don of 'Black-Will-O'. He has overwhelming power as a prospective winner of this great event. He is capable of doing anything to win.
With a name like this, he has already Won. (ouch! what was that for?)

… the big boss himself, Tony Won, leader of the poorly named “Black-Will-O” crime syndicate (which we suppose is the “Mafia” part of “Mafia, reckless drivers and general businessmen“). Other than his “overwhelming power” and being “capable of doing anything to win”, he seems to imitate Ron Max, with a technique called health claw. If you ask me, I think Ron should sue. “Hey, buddy, I’m the guy who came up with randomly adding “health” to technique names!” 🙂

Violence Fight: the quarrelers! (1 of 2)

With such a great plot, you’re probably expecting the characters in Taito’s Violence Fight to be (ahem) colorful, interesting characters, and I believe you won’t be disappointed…

Let’s start with the main character, mentioned in the intro:

Bat Blue - Street champion of the last year. Has a reputation for plenty of technique and it's sharpness.
Can you beat Bat's technique's sharpness?

Bat Blue (sometimes called Bad Blue) is, supposedly, the main character in Violence Fight. He’s the “street champion of the last year”, though we’re not told exactly what street he was champion of. Not only has he “a reputation for plenty of technique”, but all that technique is reputed for “it’s sharpness”! ((yes, I know it should have been “its sharpness”, but… accuracy above all, folks.))

Bat/Bad isn’t the only playable character, though; three more of the fighters competing for “no. 1 quarreler” are also available to the player.

Ben Smith - Former marine. He is nicknamed Fierce Eagle of Nevada. He has strong jumping force.
"Strong jumping force"? Yikes!

Boasting “strong jumping force”, Ben Smith, a.k.a. the “Fierce Eagle of Nevada”, is the second “quarreler” trying for “the no. 1 place of the USA”. It’s not clear whether he’s black or a Native American, as his appearance is ambiguous. The only thing we can be sure is that he jumps higher than the competition. Hey, if it was good enough for Batroc the Leaper…

Now for the third playable character, and certainly a fan favorite (or he would be, if this game actually had fans):

Lick Joe - Former professional wrestler. His profession was revoked because he killed 13 wrestlers during playing. Although his bodily strength is very strong, his movement is slow.
In Soviet Russia, Joe licks YOU!!

Ah, Lick Joe. There’s so much to say about him and his introduction screen.

The name: how did a wrestler ever get the nickname “Lick”? I assume it’s “lick” in the (slang) sense of beating someone up, but still…

The fact that he was expelled from professional wrestling after killing 13 opponents. Sure, the first one could have been thought to be accidental at the time, and, stretching a bit, maybe even the second, but nobody did anything after the third? Or the fourth? Hell, they still let him fight after twelve dead wrestlers in his wake? Hello?!? Note that it’s a legitimate professional wrestling federation we’re talking about here, not the illegal Violence Fight competition that Lick joined afterwards.

Well, at least “his bodily strength is very strong”. That’s certainly better than his strength being weak, or his weakness being strong. Though I’m not sure how it would compare to a guy whose weakness is weak…

Next: the remaining playable character, and the two bosses. Stay tuned!

Best plot in a video game EVER?

Violence Fight - the story!
Violence Fight (Taito, arcade, 1989)

So much examples of utter brilliance here!

The fact that the competition portrayed in the video game was in vogue among “Mafia, reckless drivers (!) and general businessmen”!

That the game was a struggle for “No. 1 Quarreler”!

That fighters “were gathered from all parts of the USA speaking boastingly of their strength”!

That the “winner” (the quotes are important here, of course) was given “a lot of winning money as well as the honor”!

That Bat/Bad Blue, “in a downtown in L.A.”, along with his manager “Blinks”, “seek[s] for the winning money eagerly”!

“As a matter of fact”, can Bat — I mean, Bad “take the no. 1 place of the USA”?

P.S. – wait until you see the actual fighters quarrelers, in a future post… 🙂

Bad Comic Panels #10: “Just like a woman! […] you’re too scatterbrained and emotional!”

Just like a woman! Everything I do is for your own good, but you're too scatterbrained and emotional to realize it!
Source: Fantastic Four #23, 1964

Ah, Reed Richards. Few characters have been as consistently portrayed as sexist, in mainstream superhero comics. It’s probably because he and Sue were one of the first “real” couples in superhero comics: they were already dating in the very first issue, and were married in the third annual (1965). Therefore, all the “morals” of the late 50s and early 60s could be seen in their relationship; other couples typically came much later, and the moral zeitgeist had, by then, progressed.

Here we see another great example: Reed (and he isn’t depicted negatively, therefore Stan Lee seemed to agree, at the time) treats Sue as if he was a parental figure (instead of a boyfriend, which he was at the time), and insults her entire gender by saying that women are “too scatterbrained and emotional to realize” how, basically, men know best. In other words, according to this view, women should look up to men, including steady boyfriends and husbands, in much the same way as children look up to their parents, trust them implicitly, and obey them, because parents are adults and are, therefore, the only ones who can be rational and responsible.

And what’s worse is that, in the next panel… Sue agrees! Even though she challenged Reed in the previous panel (with, you’ll note, a childish retort: “go polish a test tube or something!”), after she leaves she admits to herself that Reed was right, that he really knew what’s best for her, and that she — like all women — only didn’t accept it at the time because she’s “too scatterbrained and emotional”.

The early 60s, ladies and gentlemen! 🙂