Archive for review

Review: PlayCatan.com

Posted in Games, General with tags , , , , , , , on Monday, 14 December 2009 by Deems

Following my impromptu and informal review of Settlers of Catan, after playing it at a friend, I was contact by Jim from PlayCatan.com who offered me a one-month coupon to register as a premium user and review their online version of the game.

Well, here’s my review of my experience playing at PlayCatan.com:

The PlayCatan.com website is themed similar to the graphics of the actual board-game. The site itself, is jam-packed with lots of information about the game and its variations, instructions, news, prizes to be won online as well as an event calendar (although as of this time, there are no upcoming events).

If you’ve never played Catan online before you can simply go to the introductory game page where you can play against two virtual players and get used to the interface as well as learn to play the game before delving into the online world and playing against actual players.

You simply need to pick the resolution you prefer, type in your name/nickname and click the Start Game button and away you go.

Note: you will require the Java Runtime on your machine to play the introductory game, as well as the actual multi-player online version. Just follow this link and click on the Free Java Download button to download the appropriate runtime for your machine and operating system.

Once you’ve clicked on Start Game a new window (in your preferred size) is opened up and the game is loaded (this might take a little time the first time, depending on the speed of your Internet connection).

The game starts off with a welcome screen with various buttons to explain the various aspects of the game, rules, and even game hints.

Click on each of the buttons to learn about the various aspects of the game before you actually begin playing. You can also play the game against the two virtual players with, or without the tutorial. Even if you’ve played the actual board-game before but not the online version I suggest trying it out first with the tutorial so that you also get used to the game layout and icons, although they should look mostly familar to those of the board-game.

Your “opponents” will be situated at the top left and top right corners of the screen and you are placed on the bottom left of the screen. As each player gets a turn a shield icon appears next to their name so that you know who’s turn it is.

However remember there are certain things that you can still do during the game even though it’s not your actual turn, such as trading with the player whose turn it currently is.

The reason I also strongly suggest playing with the tutorial on the first time, is that the game play can move along very quickly with each roll of the dice as your are given your resources automatically depending on what was rolled and where your cities and settlements are placed.

Below each of your opponents characters and name are a set of icons and values. Each representing either their score, strengths, resources and development cards they have in their possession. It’s important to keep an eye on those numbers as you play as well as your own which appear along the bottom of the screen.

To get help, zoom in/out, switch sounds on/off, view in-game statistics or exit the game use the toolbar situated at the top of the screen.

Remember that when you’re playing the virtual version of the game you can play at your own pace as you get used to the interface and learn the game. My first experience with playing online against real players was a little difficult as it so happened that the first two people I played against were definitely not newbies, like myself, but seasoned players who were also very impatient with me, and kept on telling me to hurry up.

As Jim pointed out to me, in the online version of Catan you can add people to your friends list as well as add them to an ignore list so that you don’t have to play with them or hear from them again in the chat window – more of that in a bit.

Now that you’ve had a taste of the game and gotten used to the interface you’re ready to enter the Catan Online World (COW) and converse and play with other real-world players.

Once you’ve closed the virtual game you can click on My PlayCatan link to login/register.

If you’ve not registered yet click on the click here to register a new account link to create a new account. You simply need to provide a nickname of your choice (your character name in Catan Online World) as well as your email address (your registration confirmation will be sent to this address to verify its authenticity).

The game is currently only available in English and German. Your ZIP code and country are required to ensure that you are playing against other plays from the same city and country but you can pick anyone you wish if you’d like.

You can even change your preferred country and city in the game but note that your statistics are linked to the country/city your are playing in and are not carried over.

Remember to provide a secure and memorable password for your account (even more important when you have a paid/membership account).

Logging into PlayCatan.com through the website you can see what your previous game statistics are as well as play the browser versions of the game.

Yes, there are other Catan-related games also available that you can play in the browser – as a free member you can only play each of the games once a day but as a premium/paid member you also stand a chance of winning a prize in the monthly draw.

To play the actual online version of Catan you also need to download the Java client application from their website and install it on your computer. It’s around 34MB in size and there is an installer for Windows, Mac OSX and Linux available. If you’ve already played the tutorial/virtual version you already have the Java Runtime installed.

The only gripe I have about the client is that it is Java and I’ve experienced that Java applications can sometimes be slower and less responsive than applications written in other languages and on other runtimes (like .Net for instance).

Once you’ve installed the client application, fire it up by double-clicking the Catan Online World icon.

The Catan Online World (COW) Starter will open up the PlayCatan.com online website for you with a nice big button at the bottom to start up the Catan Online World game.

You’ll first need to select your desired resolution (or full-screen) and then click the Start button.

Now you need to provide your username and password as you supplied them when you registered online (remember to check your email first for the confirmation email to activate your account first, otherwise you will not be able to log in).

Depending on your connection it make take some time to connect to the server and load the main window. You’re first prompted with the Message Of The Day. From here you can either go to your own house (if you’ve built one) or the hostel or even go straight to the games section (Tavern).


If you go to the Hostel (where you can only go as a non premium/paid member) you can see other new users arriving in the Catan Online World. Here you can change your appearance and clothing to distinguish yourself from other players.

Marianne welcomes you and asks if you’re here for the first time. She’ll give you helpful hints about what to do and how to go about doing it.

You should also recognize the toolbar at the top as well as your resources and other statistics in the bar at the bottom of the screen.

As I mentioned, there’s not much to do in the town as a non premium/paid member so you’ll either want to chat with other players or dive right into a game.

All the people currently in the tavern will appear in the list on the right hand side of the screen under the first tab (yellow). The second tab (green) shows you all the people you’ve marked as friends as well as their online status and current statistics and the last tab (red) shows you the list of people you’ve added to your ignore list.

Click on the little face icon on the far right of the info window and make a selection whether or not you wish to chat to the person, add them to your friends/ignore lists. Their language preference is also denoted by the en/de icon.

The bottom section of the screen contains the chat window. Here you can either chat with people in the same room as you or one-to-one with another player.

Just like most quest/role-playing games you accumulate certain resources/items as you play the various games and you can trade them with other players using the trade icon in the toolbar when you’re in the Hostel.

When you click on the Teleport to Tavern icon (first in the list) you get taken to the Tavern where you can chat with other users in the tavern or see the list of games available.

I would suggest the very first thing you do click the In Progress and Interrupted checkboxes so that they’re not checked so that you only see the Open Games as the list updates very quickly as games end and/or new ones are created. These are the games that are available but have not yet started. You need 3 players to join a game before it can be started.

You have the option if clicking the Open Up button and selecting a game-type to create a new game but I’d suggest you join a game created by another player if you’ve not done this before or are not familiar with the various game types, rules and options.

If you prefer, you can also watch a game in progress by checking the In Progress checkbox again, clicking on a yellow/in progress game and clicking the Watch button.

When you’re done click on the Exit button in the toolbar at the top and select Leave to return to the tavern and games list.

You’ll see in each game there is an icon to depict the type of game as well as the name e.g. Basic Game or Cities & Knights as well as the players currently in/waiting for the game to start. Each game has a different set of rules and options and as you play the various games you’ll figure it out. You’ll also find some players can be really helpful and offer assistance during game play, which really does help if you’re new.

An important thing to remember when trading, this got me confused in the beginning too, is that when you wish to trade with someone the red arrow depicts the item/resource you are offering and the green one depicts the item you wish to receive for your offer.

So in my example above, I’m interested in getting a Brick resource from someone and I’m offering a Sheep in return. Should another player be interested they a green/red arrow combination will appear next to their icon and you can either accept (green tick) or reject (red cross) their offer. Should another player wish to offer a trade on their turn you will see the same next to their icon but the resources required and offered are also shown.

As I mentioned in my previous post, resources don’t have fixed values and depending on the game type and your current situation any resource can be traded for any other one (or combination thereof).

While the game’s interface is relatively intuitive and there are help sections available it takes a little getting used to but once you’ve used it a a few times you’ll navigate around with ease.

I did find some problems at times with the screen not refreshing/drawing correctly (like leaving a building and returning to the city map) but I’m sure as they role out more updates to the game interface this will improve over time.

After having played a few games on an actual board and a few games in the online world, I must admit, that I really do prefer playing on the actual board as opposed to online – but that’s my personal opinion as I prefer to play at a slightly slower pace and interact with people during game play. Others might prefer the anonymity or the way you can interact with other players online as opposed to face-to-face.

Since the game can be played in a window-mode you could always find a friend and strike up a audio and/or video conversation with them through Skype while playing the game against one another.

I think the above should give you a good head-start into the Catan Online World and if you’re keen to explore the world and the various games let me know in the comments what your experience was like.

I hope this review has been useful not only to you the reader but to PlayCatan.com as well. Thanks once again goes out to Jim for the voucher and giving me the opportunity to try out PlayCatan.com for myself and write up this review for you.

Now go forth, build your armies and your settlements, and conquer others in the Catan Online World.

District 9

Posted in General with tags , , , on Sunday, 27 September 2009 by Deems

district9-posterSo we’re in Noordhoek celebrating our 10th anniversary and the weather is pretty crappy and there’s not much to do outdoors in weather like this in Noordhoek. We’ve been to the World of Birds and Hout Bay Harbour a number of times before so we drove down to Longbeach Mall to see what was there and if perhaps they had a thing called the “cinema”.

We thought we might be pushing our luck, but lo and behold, they actually had one, in fact a few cinemas in the mall.

There has been much talk of this District 9 movie for the last month or so and after being prompted by the likes of Baldricman and my brother, I thought we too should go and see what all the fuss is about.

Now I am not a fan of the home-brewed movies or acting except for the odd comedy so I went in with very low expectations. Yes we have the likes of Charlize Theron but she’s a one-in-a-million when it comes to a-list actors from South Africa.

District 9 is not your ordinary film although I think it’s genre would classify it as a sci-fi movie however there’s a distinct documentary feel about it but it doesn’t only have elements of science fiction in it. There’s the drama and almost realism of it all due to the documentary style it is shown in. There’s the romance between the lead character Wikus (played by Sharlto Copley, who interestingly is largely an unknown when it comes to the big/little screen and actually didn’t audition for a role at all and was just helping his mate read lines) and his on-screen wife Tanya (played by Vanessa Haywood). There’s a lot of humour, although I think the language used might appeal more to South Africans than internationals. And there’s lots of action and surprisingly well done special effects.

With a high rating of 8.5 out of 10 from almost 70,000 votes and grossing more ($37m) than it’s budget ($30m) in it’s opening weekend it seems the movie is becoming quite a success.

District9Scene

So what did I think of it? I was actually very surprised and actually enjoyed it, quite a bit in fact. I quickly forgot about the silly sounding South African accents and even though there was a documentary style about it still enjoyed it. The effects as I said were done surprisingly well and did not look cheesy at all. If you’re squeamish about blood and gore maybe this isn’t one for you as there’s quite a bit of it. There are a couple of lines from the movie that I really enjoyed, although they’re not quite fitting for publishing on my blog, if you get my drift.

But don’t take just my word for it – read some reviews on Rotten Tomatoes and go and see it for yourself. And if you’ve not seen it yet, here’s the trailer below.

D7 Live – In Concert

Posted in General with tags , , , , , on Sunday, 12 July 2009 by Deems

d7live-mj-posterLast month I told you about an up and coming group of seven guys who sing a’capella called D7 Live. You’ve probably heard some of their clips on their site and seen the video I posted.

You know when you go to a live music concert and many times the live performance doesn’t come close to the recorded versions. Well this is the opposite with this group. You have to see and hear D7 Live in person to appreciate the talent that these seven guys posess. They entertained us for about two hours with their musical talents, introducing the band members and sharing a little about themselves with us in between their numbers. And with every passing song these guys got better and better.

Do yourself a favour, go and see these guys in concert. You will not be dissapointed. Check out the gig guide on their website for more details.

Their next gig will be on the 8th August 2009 at Conference, Kronenburg in Paarl.

Pat, thanks for the discounted tickets mate (you guys are definitely worth it, and then some!). You guys rocked and you’re all definitely a talent to be reckoned with. I can see D7 Live going places – just watch this space!

D7 Fresh A’capella

Posted in General with tags , , , , , on Monday, 8 June 2009 by Deems

I’ve just heard of a local, Cape Town based group called D7. They’re seven young guys that perform a mix of a’capella and beatboxing. I wish I had heard about them sooner as I would have loved to attend one of their live gigs. I’ve just listened to a few of their sample tracks on their website and I’m seriously impressed.

Think beatbox, think up beat, think fresh harmonies delivered to you by seven of Cape Town’s sexiest musicians and you have D7, the a’capella group that is harmonising their way on to stages everywhere. They will have your feet tapping, your lips moving and your hips grooving to the familiar sounds of Billy Joel, Michael Jackson, The Chiffons and The Temptations. Their take on contemporary tunes from Coldplay and Goldfish is fresh and exciting and definitely worth the standing ovations they have been receiving from audiences all over Cape Town.

South Africa has recently started auditioning for people to attend the new show South Africa’s Got Talent. Listening to these guys and seeing them perform I have no doubt that South Africa really *does* have talent. Well done guys, keep it up.

I’m really impressed by a’capalla music and beatboxing and this great combination of both makes for really enjoyable listening. And for the ladies, well, just take a look at their bio pics for yourself, you decide.

You can also follow them on Twitter.

Below is a short mashup clip of some of their performances showing off their talent. Oh, if you didn’t know, you can hire them for your own private party too.

Review: Browsershots

Posted in General, Technology with tags , , , , , , , , on Friday, 29 May 2009 by Deems

BrowserShots-Logo

As a web developer I’m almost always tasked with ensuring that websites and web applications I build not only work but look good in the popular browsers for the target platform. Sometimes you may get a client with some obscure version of a browser (not necessarily Internet Explorer, Firefox or Chrome) and you don’t have that platform available to test it locally to try and replicate the issue and hopefully fix it.

browsershots-search

Along comes Browsershots – a website with a very simple front-end. Type in the address to the page you wish to view (obviously needs to be hosted online already and not a password protected site) and select as many or as few browsers (and platofmrs) to test, whether or not JavaScript and/or Flash is required or not (even which version must be avaialble) and even screen resolutions and colour depths. Click the button, and sit back.

browsershots-browsers

browsershots-options

Through what I’m assuming are multiple virtual machines on their servers which are instructed to browse to the site you requested and then a screenshot is taken of that browser and added to your screenshot queue.

It will notify you of the progress, whether or not the browser screenshot will be available or approxiamtely how long it will be before your screenshot is queued and taken.

browsershots-queuedetails

The site even allows you to download all the screenshots in a single ZIP file – how handy is that.

I’m definitely bookmarking this site for my next browser-compatibility issue resolution!

Cars: Green doesn’t always mean better

Posted in General with tags , , , , , on Monday, 18 May 2009 by Deems

A little while back I shared with you a really impressive television advert for Honda’s new Hybrid vehicle, the Insight.

Jeremy Clarkson, from the popular car review series Top Gear, got to take it for a spin and in true Clarkson style, gave his view. Brace yourselves. 

It’s terrible. Biblically terrible. Possibly the worst new car money can buy. It’s the first car I’ve ever considered crashing into a tree, on purpose, so I didn’t have to drive it any more. - Jeremy Clarkson on the Honda Insight

You can read his full review here. [via Utter Insanity]

Butterfly Effect 2

Posted in General with tags , , , , on Sunday, 17 May 2009 by Deems

butterfly-effect-2-cover

So I rambled on yesterday (well early this morning) after watching The Butterfly Effect movie. I was keen to see another movie along the same lines and wanted to watch the sequel, although not a sequel to the first movie’s plot but another story also referencing the butterfly effect.

Well, I should have taken note of the two warning signs. One being it was a sequel, and two it only getting a 4 out of 10 star rating by viewers on IMDB.

What a dissapointment! The plot was very thin, the characters didn’t really have much depth to them, they tried reusing a similar plot ending like the first movie but failed dismally. And they also seemed to try and sensationalise it even more by adding numerous soft-porn like scenes. You’d be better off watching late-night TV on a local channel on a Saturday night after midnight. 

So if you’ve seen neither, take my advice – only watch the first – the second will just spoil it for you. And if you enjoy things like chaos theories and the butterfy effect, then make sure you don’t miss the TV series called Fringe – it’s well worth it.

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