From Bacteria to Bach and Back

Artifacts already exist—and many more are under development—with competences so far superior to any human competence that they will usurp our authority as experts, an authority that has been unquestioned since the dawn of the age of intelligent design. And when we cede hegemony to these artifacts, it will be for very good reasons, both practical and moral. Already it would be criminally negligent for me to embark with passengers on a transatlantic sailboat cruise without equipping the boat with several GPS systems. Celestial navigation by sextant, compass, chronometer, and Nautical Almanac is as quaint a vestige of obsolete competence as sharpening a scythe or driving a team of oxen. Those who delight in such skills can indulge in them, using the Internet to find one another, and we celestial navigators can prudently bring our old-fashioned gear along, and practice with it, on the off chance that we will need a backup system. But we have no right to jeopardize lives by shunning the available high-tech gadgets.

We all still learn the multiplication table up to 12×12 and how to use it for larger numbers (don’t we?), and we can do long division problems with pencil and paper, but few know how to execute an algorithm for extracting a square root. So what? Don’t waste your effort and brain cells on tasks you can order by pressing a few keys or just asking Google or Siri. The standard response to the worriers is that when educating our children, we do need to teach them the principles of all the methods we ourselves are still adept at using, and for this comprehension a certain minimal level of actual experience with the methods is practically valuable, but we can (probably) get the principles to sink in without subjecting our children to old-fashioned drudgery. This seems to make good sense, but how far does it generalize?

Consider medical education. Watson is just one of many computer-based systems that are beginning to outperform the best diagnosticians and specialists on their own turf. Would you be willing to indulge your favorite doctor in her desire to be an old-fashioned “intuitive” reader of symptoms instead of relying on a computer-based system that had been proven to be a hundred times more reliable at finding rare, low-visibility diagnoses than any specialist? Your health insurance advisor will oblige you to submit to the tests, and conscientious doctors will see that they must squelch their yearnings to be diagnostic heroes and submit to the greater authority of the machines whose buttons they push. What does this imply about how to train doctors? Will we be encouraged to jettison huge chunks of traditional medical education—anatomy, physiology, biochemistry—along with the ability to do long division and read a map? Use it or lose it is the rule of thumb cited at this point, and it has many positive instances. Can your children read road maps as easily as you do or have they become dependent on GPS to guide them? How concerned should we be that we are dumbing ourselves down by our growing reliance on intelligent machines?

So far, there is a fairly sharp boundary between machines that enhance our “peripheral” intellectual powers (of perception, algorithmic calculation, and memory) and machines that at least purport to replace our “central” intellectual powers of comprehension (including imagination), planning, and decision-making. Hand calculators; GPS systems; Pixar’s computer graphics systems for interpolating frames, calculating shadows, adjusting textures and so forth; and PCR and CRISPR in genetics are all quite clearly on the peripheral side of the boundary, even though they accomplish tasks that required substantial expertise not so long ago. We can expect that boundary to shrink, routinizing more and more cognitive tasks, which will be fine so long as we know where the boundary currently is. The real danger, I think, is not that machines more intelligent than we are will usurp our role as captains of our destinies, but that we will over-estimate the comprehension of our latest thinking tools, prematurely ceding authority to them far beyond their competence.

Daniel Clement Dennett III, From Bacteria to Bach and Back: The Evolution of Minds, 2017.

Daniel Clement Dennett III, From Bacteria to Bach and Back: The Evolution of Minds, 2017

An involution milestone

Current music: Дельфин - 925

If twenty years ago someone told me web browsers in the future won’t be able to save pages for browsing offline, I wouldn’t believe such degradation is possible. Yet here we are, and again, I seem to be the only one who notices that fact and cares. Today, I tried to save this article on The Washington Post.

None of the current browsers (I’ve tried Opera, Firefox, Chrome, Edge, Vivaldi, and Pale Moon) was able to save it with all the assets, pictures, styles, fonts and markup (either as a single mhtml archive, html file with external resources, or pdf). The best of them (namely Opera and Vivaldi) could only save text and markup. I understand why such a technical problem occurs. I know how it could be redone to work properly. If browsers wouldn’t send a new HTTPS request to the remote server the time you press the “Save as” button and write its response anew and instead save the already assembled complete page from the temporary Internet files on the client’s computer, the problem wouldn’t exist.

Nobody from the new generation of coders, which made the stereotypical image of an IT guy cool with sleek fashionable laptops, gamification of the workspace, and mobile, active, sporty lifestyle instead of the old one that depicted a crowd of extremely thin or extremely fat nerds with bad eyesight tied to their bulky desktops and huge monitors with cables everywhere, seems competent enough to see that despite them earning 20 maybe 30 times more than I do. Nobody from the corporate management seems to care as long as the market share and sales KPI are met. Nobody from the user base seems to have noticed after they moved the said “Save as” button deeper into the submenus.

When was the last time you saved a web page? What are you going to do when the content you consume becomes unreachable or tainted? How fast will you conform to the new world view and behavioral patterns offered (and probably slightly enforced) to you? Doesn’t it affect your self-worth right now if you actually aren’t afraid to think about it?

More on the global situation in the fifth episode of Show Up and Tell

Video blog

Current music: Lebanon Hanover - Better Than Going Under

This blog hasn’t been very lively since the beginning of our generation’s very own armageddon. I do still have plans for new reviews. It’s just all that terrible senseless war going on, all the doom-scrolling, all news and analytics confirming there is no hope for sentient life on planet Earth, and the collapse of regular economic practices and mundane habits … It was hard enough to survive, keep earning sustenance, stay as sane as possible… Being held hostage in Russia adds a couple more things to that: one also has to avoid random repressions and keep one’s hands and conscience clean from soiling with complicity.

Now, I feel the need to express myself somehow, to speak my mind. I want to talk about things that are swarming in my head while I live my life, not only when I occasionally find time and motivation to explore game worlds. So, here is my new one-man talk show called Show Up and Tell, where I’m going to talk weekly (that is the goal) about things that were interesting or important for me during that week, things I was thinking about. Sometimes, though, I may also not only show up but also show you some of my artifacts if I find any plausible connection to the topic. Other than that, this whole thing could be a podcast if podcast platforms weren’t further limiting the potential audience. The format is as simple and minimalistic as it gets: one man, at least 5 minutes (so far, it’s been taking me around half an hour to stop), no script, one take, 720p camera on a laptop, poor, mistake-ridden English by a non-native speaker who hasn’t had any speaking practice lately. Can you miss that? I’m sure nobody can. So push the play button! You are, of course, free to correct me, argue, ask questions, and offer topics in comments. Feedback is welcomed. Comments settings are as liberal as YouTube allows.

Berlin Diary

After a year and a half of actual total war German morale is still good. Let us admit the fact. There is no popular enthusiasm for the war. There never was. And after eight years of deprivation caused by Nazi preparation for war, the people are weary and fatigued. They crave peace. They are disappointed, depressed, disillusioned that peace did not come this fall, as promised. Yet as the war goes into its second long, dark winter, public morale is fairly high. How explain the contradiction? Keep in mind three things:
First, that the millennium-old longing of Germans for political unification has been fulfilled. Hitler achieved it, where all others in the past – the Habsburgs, the Hohenzollerns, Bismarck – failed. Few people outside this country realize how this unification has knitted the German nation together, given the people self-confidence and a sense of historical mission, and made them forget their personal dislike of the Nazi regime, its leaders, and the barbaric things it has done. Also – coupled with the rebirth of the army and air force and the totalitarian reorganization of industry, trade, and agriculture on a scale never before realized in this world—it makes the German feel strong. For most Germans this is an end in itself, for to be strong in their scheme of life is to be all. It is the emergence of the primitive, tribal instinct of the early German pagans of the vast forests of the North to whom brute strength was not only the means but the end of life. It is this primitive racial instinct of “blood and soil” which the Nazis have reawakened in the German soul more successfully than any of their modern predecessors and which has shown that the influence of Christianity and western civilization on German life and culture was only a thin veneer.
Second, morale is good because the German people feel they have this summer revenged the terrible defeat of 1918 and have achieved a string of military victories which has at last ensured their place in the sun – domination today of Europe, tomorrow perhaps of the world. And German character is such that the German must either dominate or be dominated. He understands no other relation between human beings on this earth. The golden mean of the Greeks which the Western world has achieved to some extent is a concept beyond his comprehension. Moreover, the great mass of workers, peasants, and petty tradesmen – as well as the big industrialists – are conscious that if Hitler succeeds with his New Order, as they are confident now he will, it will mean more of the milk and honey of this world for them. That it will of necessity be obtained at the expense of other peoples – Czechs, Poles, Scandinavians, French – does not bother the German in the least. On this he has no moral scruples whatsoever.
Third, one of the prime springs which push the German people along in full support of a war for which they have no enthusiasm, and which they would end tomorrow if they could, is their growing fear of the consequences of defeat. Slowly but surely they are beginning to realize the frightful magnitude of the seeds of wrath which their high-booted troops and Gestapo men have sown in Europe since the conquest of Austria. They are beginning to see that a victory with the Nazi regime, however much many of them may dislike it, is better than another German defeat, which this time, if it ever comes about, will make Versailles seem like a peace of sweet reason and destroy not only the nation but the Germans as a people. More than one German of late has confided to me his fears. If Germany loses, they see the embittered peoples of Europe whom they have brutally enslaved, whose cities they have ruthlessly destroyed, whose women and children, many of them, in such places as Warsaw, Rotterdam, and London, they have coldbloodedly slain, storming in angry, revengeful hordes over their beautiful, orderly land, dynamiting it to destruction, and leaving those whom they do not butcher to starve and die in an utter wasteland.
No, these people, ground down and cheated though they may be by the most unscrupulous gang of rulers modern Europe has yet seen, will go a long, long way in this war. Only a dawning realization some day that they can’t win coupled with Allied assurances that to give up the struggle will not mean their destruction will make them falter before one side or the other is destroyed.
We who have been so close to this German scene, who have seen with our own eyes the tramping Nazi boots over Europe and heard with our own ears Hitler’s hysterical tirades of hate, have found it difficult to keep a sense of historical perspective. I suppose the reasons why Germany has embarked on a career of unbridled conquest do go deeper than the mere fact, all-important though it is, that a small band of unprincipled, tough gangsters have seized control of this land, corrupted its whole people, and driven it on its present course. The roots go deeper, I admit, though whether the plant would have flowered as it has without Hitler, I seriously doubt.
One root is the strange, contradictory character of the German people. It is not correct to say, as many of our liberals at home have said, that Nazism is a form of rule and life unnatural to the German people and forced upon them against their wish by a few fanatic derelicts of the last war. It is true that the Nazi Party never polled a majority vote in Germany in a free election, though it came very close. But for the last three or four years the Nazi regime has expressed something very deep in the German nature and in that respect it has been representative of the people it rules. The Germans as a people lack the balance achieved, say, by the Greeks, the Romans, the French, the British, and the Americans. They are continually torn by inner contradictions which make them uncertain, unsatisfied, frustrated, and which force them from one extreme to the other. The Weimar Republic was so extreme in its liberal democracy that the Germans couldn’t work it. And now they have turned to the extremes of tyranny because democracy and liberalism forced them to live as individuals, to think and make decisions as free men, and in the chaos of the twentieth century this was too much of a strain for them. Almost joyfully, almost masochistically, they have turned to an authoritarianism which releases them from the strain of individual decision and choice and thought and allows them what to a German is a luxury – letting someone else make the decisions and take the risks, in return for which they gladly give their own obedience. The average German craves security. He likes to live in a groove. And he will give up his independence and freedom – at least at this stage of his development – if his rulers provide this.
The German has two characters. As an individual he will give his rationed bread to feed the squirrels in the Tiergarten on a Sunday morning. He can be a kind and considerate person. But as a unit in the Germanic mass he can persecute Jews, torture and murder his fellow men in a concentration camp, massacre women and children by bombing and bombardment, overrun without the slightest justification the lands of other peoples, cut them down if they protest, and enslave them.
It must also be noted down that Hitler’s frenzy for bloody conquest is by no means exclusive to him in Germany. The urge to expansion, the hunger for land and space, for what the Germans call Lebensraum, has lain long in the soul of the people. Some of Germany’s best minds have expressed it in their writings. Fichte, Hegel, Nietzsche, and Treitschke fired the German people with it in the last century. But our century has not lacked for successors, though they are little known outside this country. Karl Haushofer has poured books from the presses dinning into the ears of the Germans the maxim that if their nation is to be great and lasting, it must have more Lebensraum. Books of his such as Macht und Erde (Power and Earth) and Weltpolitik von Heute (World Politics of Today) have profoundly influenced not only the Nazi leaders but a great mass of people. So has Hans Grimm’s Volk ohne Raum (People without Space), a novel which has sold nearly a half-million copies in this country despite its length of some thousand pages. And so has Moeller van den Bruck’s The Third Reich, written eleven years before Hitler founded the Third Reich.
All these writings emphasized that Germany was entitled by the laws of history and nature to a space more adequate to its mission in life. That this space would have to be taken from others, mostly from Slavs who had settled on it when the Germans themselves were little more than rough tribesmen, made no difference. It is this basic feeling in almost all Germans that the “lesser breed” of Europeans are not entitled to absolute rights of their own, to a piece of land to till and live on, to the very towns and cities they have built up with their own sweat and toil, if a German covets them, which is in part responsible for the present state of Europe.
It is the evil genius of Adolf Hitler that has aroused this basic feeling and given it tangible expression. It is due to this remarkable and terrifying man alone that the German dream now stands such a fair chance of coming true. First Germans and then the world grossly underestimated him. It was an appalling error, as first the Germans and now the world are finding out. Today, so far as the vast majority of his fellow countrymen are concerned, he has reached a pinnacle never before achieved by a German ruler. He has become – even before his death – a myth, a legend, almost a god, with that quality of divinity which the Japanese people ascribe to their Emperor. To many Germans he is a figure remote, unreal, hardly human. For them he has become infallible. They say, as many peoples down through history have said of their respective gods: “He is always right.”
Notwithstanding many reports to the contrary which float abroad, he is the sole and absolute boss of Germany today, brooking no interference from anyone and rarely asking and almost never heeding suggestions from his intimidated lieutenants. The men around him are all loyal, all afraid, and none of them are his friends. He has no friends, and since the murder of Röhm in the 1934 purge there has not been a single one of his followers who addressed him with the familiar Du. Göring, Goebbels, Hess, and all the others address him in only one way: “Mein Führer.” He leads a lonely, closely guarded life, and since the beginning of the war his very whereabouts are carefully kept from the public and the outside world by Himmler.
Nowadays he rarely dines with his chief aides, preferring the easier company of his party cronies of the early “fighting” days, men like Wilhelm Brückner, his adjutant, Hess, his first private secretary – the only man in the world he fully trusts – and Max Amann, his top sergeant during the World War, whom he has made czar of the highly remunerative Nazi publishing house, the Eher Verlag. The really big shots in the Nazi world, Göring, Goebbels, Ribbentrop, Ley, and the heads of the armed services, see Hitler either at appointments during the day, or after dinner in the evening, when he often invites them to see a private showing of a film. Hitler has a passion for movies—including the products of Hollywood. (Two of his favourites were It Happened One Night and Gone with the Wind.)
Hermann Göring is very definitely the Number Two man in Germany and the only Nazi who could carry on the present regime were Hitler to pass on. The fat, bemedalled Reichsmarschall enjoys a popularity among the masses second only to Hitler’s – but for opposite reasons. Where Hitler is distant, legendary, nebulous, an enigma as a human being, Göring is a salty, earthy, lusty man of flesh and blood. The Germans like him because they understand him. He has the faults and virtues of the average man, and the people admire him for both. He has a child’s love for uniforms and medals. So have they. He has a passion for good food and drink in Gargantuan quantities. They too. He loves display—palaces, marble halls, great banqueting rooms, gay costumes, servants in livery. They love them too. And despite the efforts of Goebbels to stir up popular criticism of his rival, they display no envy, no resentment of the fantastic, mediæval – and very expensive – personal life he leads. It is the sort of life they would lead themselves, perhaps, if they had the chance.

William Lawrence Shirer, Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941, 1941


Might and Magic Book Two: Gates to Another World

Current music: Qntal - Palästinalied

Platform: PC
Year: 1989
Developer: New World Computing

The origins of the land

Where does a classic Western role-playing game start? If you were hasteful to say it begins with choosing what role you’re going to play you were somewhat wrong. The same way a theater doesn’t start with raising of the stage curtains but with an usher, a hanger in a cloakroom, and a lobby, RPGs require some kind of presentation before the adventures take off. It must draw a background that created our hero or heroes to be. Nowadays it’s usually done by spectacular videos taking place before any menus, buttons, and other elements of the game mechanics. In 1989, where I want to guide you to, things were different.

скриншот игры Might and Magic Book Two Gates to Another World PC 1989 скриншот игры Might and Magic Book Two Gates to Another World PC 1989

Before turning on your computer and running an exe file you had to attentively read a manual. In many cases, it double-purposed as a way of copy protection. Afterall manual consisted not only of brief, comprehensive instruction on gameplay and controls but also included several pages of text about the setting and the preceding events. Without spending time on reading, a person simply had no chance to know what he or she was supposed to do and couldn’t make any meaningful progress in a game.

The prologue tells us about Corak the Mysterious, high priest, the most talented mage, and accomplished warrior. Excerpts from his monograph describe the creation of the world from nothingness and a four centuries long war between natural elements that came to life. Migrants from other dimensions started populating the habitat formed as a result of that conflict. The elemental lords, powerful rulers of that world, initially saw no threat in small mortal beings, and when they finally decided to get rid of them, it was too late. They already managed to build cities, taught themselves crafts and magic. Their best minds came up with the artifact that helped the chosen hero to banish the elementals. The hero, named Kalohn, became a king and reigned for a long time until the ruler of the elemental plane of water created the first and the mightiest dragon. Kalohn fell in battle against him. King’s daughter handled the power with less success, while other dragons were growing in numbers. An ecological disaster struck the battlefield. Now there was chaos and decay. The law gave way to brute force. Civilization was balancing on the brink of total collapse.

скриншот игры Might and Magic Book Two Gates to Another World PC 1989 скриншот игры Might and Magic Book Two Gates to Another World PC 1989

Not so long before the arrival of our team of glory and thrill seekers Corak the Mysterious had vanished. Prior to his disappearance Corak had shared with the trusted apprentice some concerns about the coming of some fugitive wrongdoer from another reality. He also had foretold the champion who could save everybody from the apocalyptic wave of destruction. For the next two weeks, he was locking himself in the library for long hours. Every time he was coming out Corak looked and behaved in some new strange way. After another such vigil, which lasted even longer than usual, he stepped out shouting that he could not prevent the impending end of the world. He then tried to cast an unknown spell and disappeared into a white flash of light. One more week later one of the local lords visited his study. Strange sounds were coming from there, and then it turned out the aristocrat with some of the high priest’s machines had also disappeared. The last element of the mystery that needs to be unraveled was a letter from the missing aristocrat with assurances that everything is fine with him, and an invitation to visit his castle. Now it’s showtime…

Freedom of choice

The ability to take your party from the first game as if you were just continuing the story was marketed as a big feature. However, that’s where we face the usual difference between the promises commercials make and the harsh reality of life. Veterans of past adventures come into the brave new world without any previously acquired equipment. All their stats get the value of 20 while the level is lowered to sixth and age is reversed to raging youth. In fact, all that is left from your feats are names, classes, sexes, and alignments. You can use it as a small bonus to ease the beginning of the game but the difference stops being noticeable as you travel the roads and paths of the area called CRON. Also, I see no reason to limit yourself with what the older version of the role-playing game system had to offer if Gates to Another World has two new playable classes. Though I must beforehand warn all those who aren’t going to stop at reading the review and viewing the screenshots. You should not import a party from the older game even just out of curiosity if you already have newly created characters. All of them with all their long leveling up will be overwritten without a note of warning.

game screenshot Might and Magic Book Two Gates to Another World PC 1989 game screenshot Might and Magic Book Two Gates to Another World PC 1989

The character generator also speaks in favor of beginning from the scratch. It became friendlier because now it allows swapping stats. Let’s say a player wanted a paladin and got a good set of combat parameters but intellect happened to be higher than personality. He just swaps those two while keeping very lucky numbers on might, speed, and endurance. By the way, classic three dice roll borrowed from Dungeons & Dragons here have added one imaginary side to each dice, so every stat varies from 3 to 21.

As I said before, ninjas and barbarians have joined the old six classes (knight, paladin, archer, cleric, sorcerer, and robber). The idea with ninjas is clear. You get a robber who devotes more time to melee combat than lock picking and stealth. That class is more problematic at the beginning but it becomes more rewarding later when the skill gap in disarming traps gradually closes. However, I found a bug that allows anybody to safely open chests even with the deadliest protection. As usual, you search for treasures after a successful fight, find a chest, select Find Trap option in the menu but instead of selecting a character who should try to find and disarm a trap you then press Esc on a keyboard. Then again you go with Find Trap and now anybody, even a cleric, for example, can get the contents without any trouble.

game screenshot Might and Magic Book Two Gates to Another World PC 1989 game screenshot Might and Magic Book Two Gates to Another World PC 1989

On contrary, I’m not sure what good is a barbarian who can’t absorb damage as effectively as a knight due to limitations in armor that class can wear. Having more hitpoints probably plays in barbarians’ favor but it is likely to become a factor near the ending when magical attacks create bigger problems than physical ones. By that time knights and archers greatly surpass them in damage dealt thanks to class unique artifacts.

Natural spellcasters start with four spells known to them out of seven on the first level. However, unlike the first “book”, all other magic doesn’t automatically open to clerics and sorcerers with every two levels of a character. They will only get three spells for each level of magic for free. Of course, free stuff is not necessarily the most useful. You’ll have to find everything else in quests or buy from temples and guilds. Mixed classes gain access to supernatural powers in the same way, but with a delay.

game screenshot Might and Magic Book Two Gates to Another World PC 1989 game screenshot Might and Magic Book Two Gates to Another World PC 1989

There are nine levels of magic instead of seven now, though each one offers fewer options. All in all total number of usable spells is almost the same. The biggest changes for clerics were the addition of non-combat spells connected to the story and the protection from different types of damage merging into one. Sorcerers have lost several abilities of questionable value like hypnosis or striking fear to their enemies while getting instead additional spells that ease exploration and travel. In particular, here we meet well-known among all the fans of the series Wizard Eye for the first time. Also, they are less restricted in means of dealing the damage. Other classes are limited to the seventh level of magic and below.

There also happened to be a change in gaining hitpoints through the training. In the first game, the number you were getting with each level-up was random. Now it fully depends on the quality of training facilities, one for each town. For example, a barbarian from my party was getting 12 HP per training session in Middlegate, but 19 HP in Atlantium. However, the latter did cost five times more for each visit. Characters don’t age with level-up anymore, though different classes still grow at a different pace. It’s not very noticeable at the beginning but, after the sixth level, the gap becomes apparent with barbarians, knights, robbers, and clerics getting ahead of paladins, archers, ninjas, and sorcerers.

Might and Magic Book Two Gates to Another World PC game screnshot 1989 Might and Magic Book Two Gates to Another World PC game screnshot 1989

While keeping the foundation, the role-playing system gets more features. In addition to primary parameters, characters can get secondary skills like navigation or cartography. Some of those skills give an unnecessary but nonetheless nice bonus to a single parameter. You can freely choose whatever pleases you more. Some others are immensely important for effective movement through the game world. They also play role in getting and successfully completing quests. It is technically possible to play without them but it will be much more difficult. There are no racial or class-based limits to what skills you can choose. An evil half-orc barbarian may well be a crusader and a feeble gnome sorcerer has all the means to become an athlete. Still, there is no development in skills. You will most likely learn all of them during the first 10% of playtime and then forget about it. The only exception to that is thievery but it is class-related. All ninjas and robbers have it and advance through time without any impact from a player.

For the first time in Might & Magic series, there are mercenaries whom you can hire to aid your party. They get paid daily based on their level and role in battles (nobody likes to absorb all the damage in the front row). With such hirelings, the maximum number of participants in melee battle on the player’s side can increase from six to eight. It’s worth noting that within this hard limit you can have as many mercantile death dealers as you want. It is even possible to go out on some quest with a team consisting of mercenaries only. However, they will refuse to rest because there won’t be anybody around to pay for the next day of service. So the only rules regarding the party personnel are that you aren’t allowed to have at any moment more than six main characters and more than eight total with the “freelancers”. Hirelings pay for their training themselves. There is also a huge pro for employing magic classes because they know all the spells from the beginning even those they can’t cast yet. Yes, my sagacious friends, even Lloyd’s Beacon and Holy Word.

Might and Magic Book Two Gates to Another World PC game screnshot 1989 Might and Magic Book Two Gates to Another World PC game screnshot 1989

Alignments don’t cause conflicts among the party members. I noticed that character’s alignment only affected the ability to equip some items and, maybe, slightly changed the probability of different monsters attacking a certain character with all other things being equal. My mixed good and neutral group accepted two evil mercenaries without any objections. Well, they’ve actually never said a word acting as fragments of the player’s own consciousness being split and mixed into the game world rather than as independent agents in the story.

However, equipment restrictions are completely random to the point of idiocy so they give you enough trouble as it is. A neutral paladin may well wear an iron helm enchanted to +3 to armor class. But the very same helm with +5 to AC (including further improvements with the corresponding spell) suddenly comes into a  disagreement with character’s values and ideas about good and evil. The more often you find powerful magical weapons you can’t use due to that the more irritation builds up close to the ending.

All they that take the sword

All that may be interesting and all but why does a role-playing game need advanced, deepened game mechanics? To interact with the game world of course. And inevitably for such an ancient RPG battles to the death become the predominant way of interaction with it. The tactical movements of opponents during the combat that were removed in the Macintosh port of the original game are still present in the sequel on PC. Though it is not used as often anymore. Certain monsters can call up reinforcements. The maximum number of opponents in single combat was raised to 250. It does sound impressive, doesn’t it? Well, in reality, this aspect of battles got worse. In Book One, the maximum was just 15 but all the enemies could fight at the same time if not in melee then with ranged weapons and magic from the distance. In Gates to Another World, only the first 10 actually do something meaningful. The rest just stand there and wait for their turn. They can’t attack, use spells, or even run away. That standby reserve is not accessible to heroes under your control. The arrows of the most masterful snipers can’t reach them and even the strongest sorcery of mass destruction unable to harm them. The only positive exception to that is the cleric spell of the highest level, Holy Word, that destroys all the undead creatures no matter where they stand. By the way, there is one inaccuracy with it. Contrary to the game manual the use of this spell does not age a caster.

Might and Magic Book Two Gates to Another World PC game screnshot 1989 Might and Magic Book Two Gates to Another World PC game screnshot 1989

Now I must go back to the fundamental difference between the statements in a commercial advertisement and the real qualities of a product which open to you only after the purchase was made and the ad had done its job. Here we have a case when you can honestly print an impressive higher number on the cover yet really have a noticeable regression. Besides, such massive fights are just tedious. The whole process of taking out the hoard of some goblins that individually don’t offer any resistance to a minimally adapted party is monotonous. It doesn’t bring new elements to the gameplay. It gives you no new experiences like Might and Magic VI: The Mandate of Heaven did. I had to keep myself from bashing the keyboard in such minutes (seconds are not enough because of everything I have described) without even looking at the screen because my brain was desperately crying for some load to process.

After you leave any area monsters respawn in all squares with fixed encounters even if all the enemies were destroyed. Besides that, if the script didn’t specify the exact numbers and types of monsters, they become stronger depending on your party’s level. Just like that, I was able to explore most of the dungeon beneath the town where adventures begun with first level characters while scattering bloody pieces of wild rats all over and banishing walking skeletons from the world of the living. After leveling up even walking into that dungeon becomes problematic because now I had to face jugglers dealing the damage to the entire party and armed soldiers. So all the crawling around for three days, earning money for quality training seemingly weakens you instead of strengthening. Not the most pleasant outcome. And people were bashing Oblivion…

Might and Magic Book Two Gates to Another World PC game screnshot 1989 Might and Magic Book Two Gates to Another World PC game screnshot 1989

On the other hand… it helped the game to keep me focused and concentrated when closer to ending I discovered dungeons I previously missed that were more suitable for an inexperienced group. Likely the same thing happened to other players because the world of Might and Magic 2 is truly open from the very beginning. Nobody guides your direction of search nor does someone lead you from easiest targets to progressively more difficult ones. It is completely possible to go where you are not ready to go yet and be ruthlessly destroyed without a word of warning in the first five minutes.

The positioning of enemy groups is extremely sloppy. More so it doesn’t follow the theme of the location. For example, there are barbarians, generic soldiers, and white knights serving as guards inside the castle that greets you with the sign “no humans allowed” and has hordes of undead and demons populating its lower levels. So when you meet creatures that are immune to physical attack in an area where the magic doesn’t work you end up stunned with uncertainty. Was it a glaring mistake or was it sophisticated mockery aiming to prolong the already outstanding gameplay time by a couple of hours? In both cases, it feels bad. Any potential ambiguity disappears when you try to fight your way to treasures through the hardest dungeons only to be stopped by some unknown force when you were already anticipating a sweet loot literally before the last step to it, simply because you have characters of a certain race or class in the party. As a rule, the artifact behind such barrier can only be used by them…

Might and Magic Book Two Gates to Another World PC game screnshot 1989 Might and Magic Book Two Gates to Another World PC game screnshot 1989

Most of the monsters that inhabit these lands, such as orcs, zombies, or dragons, are well known to anyone even though their special abilities aren’t always obvious. However, you can find few truly original fruits of fantasy, for example, resistant to magic and sleep-inducing brain-eaters, that look very different from either illithids from Dungeons & Dragons bestiary or creatures described by Howard Lovecraft.

The direction of progress

Graphics is where Might and Magic Book Two certainly shines in comparison to the first game. Non-hostile NPCs and services got their own pictures, though not every last one of them. A typical inn owner or a blacksmith has a collective visual image now but unique ones like a travel agent or a neurosurgeon don’t have it. Still, important scenes developing the storyline are presented in text only. There are no animated sequences for that, no static frames even. But the enemies weren’t only naturally placed into the landscape instead of levitating in the black void of the original game, they also were tastefully animated. Although there are still not enough animations for everyone, for example, necromancers and druids look the same. A similar story is with everything else. Walls became nicer and more detailed but every town has the same ones. Both horned devils and chaste maidens in white robes go about their daily business past the same blue stones covered in moss. Unlike the first Might and Magic, the graphics weren’t just copied from the technologically obsolete Apple II platform that saw the release a year earlier but were redrawn to use the entire available color palette of EGA video cards.

There is just one visual blooper. In a castle, while taking a walk through long corridors you can see the sky changing colors according to a current time of day. To me, it feels a bit weirder than the possibility to encounter a mounted patrol in said corridors.

Might and Magic Book Two Gates to Another World PC game screnshot 1989 Might and Magic Book Two Gates to Another World PC game screnshot 1989

Noticeable yet less consistent progress towards comfort was made in user interface and control mechanics. For instance, the options screen not only allows to choose the speed of in-game text or to turn sounds off or on but also to set the frequency of random encounters. However, the most important new feature I want to thank developers for is automapping that turns on with learning the secondary skill of cartography. The map appears by simply pressing the M key and works even in pitch-black darkness where you can‘t see normally. It’s hard to understand to those who’ve never had the experience of navigating sterile minimalistic labyrinths where one passage is indistinguishable from neighboring ones. If you missed the opportunity to play something like that you’ll have to believe my words. It felt nothing lesser than a revolution comparable to first analog sticks on gamepads or hardware-accelerated texture filtering on 3D objects.

Nevertheless moving through the desert is a tricky task even with cartography and navigation skills because the white arrow that marks your current position and the direction you’re facing is not visible in yellowish-white sand. So you’ll have to use the old-fashioned mastery of orienteering with only coordinates at hands.

Ecumene consists of the same 20 sectors seamlessly sewn together. All of them are 16×16 squares and each field may contain something of interest. Comparing to the previous game the bigger part of adventures takes place in towns, castles, multi-level caverns, and other unsafe places giving players 36 more squares to explore. Add to that elemental planes and travel in some strange mix of time and space, when well-known places reveal new properties, and it becomes a truly huge world which can take you 200-250 hours to honestly complete without guides and cheats.

Might and Magic Book Two Gates to Another World PC game screnshot 1989 Might and Magic Book Two Gates to Another World PC game screnshot 1989

It would be too good to be true without one particularly annoying thing. Sometimes in order to see some messages including important ones related to the main questline you must not only be present on a specific tile but also be facing a certain direction. Because of that I spent quite a lot of time revisiting the locations I had already explored.

The game map wraps on both axes. In other words, if you come from some point and keep going straight in one direction you’ll get back to the same spot. Though the logic of the world seemingly was finished before the addition of that feature and would fit a simple rectangle with hard borders better. Due to that if your group moves from the easternmost part of the land to the east it will immediately turn up on the westernmost part jumping from icy wasteland to hot desert in one step.

Cluebook is not the sole source of knowledge about the parameters of acquired weapons and armor anymore. An expert at the blacksmith for a good coin will describe not only the goods they have for sale but also magical artifacts, potions, and robber tools. It’s expensive and inconvenient but nevertheless, it’s an important improvement. Speaking of shops, there is nothing easier than selling a key quest item. That happened to me by accident once.

There was a constant lack of space in the inventory. Every character, as in the first game, is able to equip up to six items and six more can be stored in the backpack. So, at the first glance, you notice the maximum number of free slots increased from 36 to 48 but the same happened to the quantity of miscellaneous objects that potentially come in handy who knows where. Therefore your routine trips back to towns in order to sell accumulated loot happen more often. You can’t just give up on income and throw stuff off because at no stage of the game money will stop mattering. In the beginning the price of training that doubles in a couple of level-ups scares. Then it becomes clear that the mercenaries’ cost is many times higher. Even with a “salary cap” at 50000 gold per day for a single worker in the field of pain and destruction the expenses can become problematic with no attention to money. And there are other, less obvious, but no less financially demanding ways to spend the riches.

Might and Magic Book Two Gates to Another World PC game screnshot 1989 Might and Magic Book Two Gates to Another World PC game screnshot 1989

In combat, in a variety of catacombs full of traps, or outside in the wilderness, where snowstorms, earthquakes, and boiling lava can harm you, the health of the entire party is displayed at all times. For that developers had to sacrifice the length of names. The Secret of the Inner Sanctum did fit my nickname on the screen while the sequel didn’t.

However, the more you comprehend the depth and variety that the world of CRON offers, which was at the time one of the most complex and detailed, the more lack of any information about changes happening around annoys you. The status of each character at any given moment is defined by 24 variables. If you take a drink from some magical spring or touch some unidentified object these variables can change. But the game won’t tell you which ones precisely, by what amount, and for how long. Perhaps Van Caneghem himself was keeping pieces of paper with sets of characters’ parameters close to the keyboard as he was accustomed to since playing tabletop D&D and tracked the changes by comparing them to what was currently on the screen. I had to just take screenshots of the character status screen where all the numbers are displayed, before and after the interaction, and look for the differences. Though even that approach doesn’t work well in all situations. And neither of two seems convenient to me, so it only adds up some dull routine to the already long list of chores like manual mapping, recording all the information, memorizing spells and properties of items.

Might and Magic Book Two Gates to Another World PC 1989 game screenshot Might and Magic Book Two Gates to Another World PC 1989 game screenshot

The sound is the technology that remained in its infancy in Might and Magic Book Two. There is no music except the one you hear on the title screen and that’s a pity. Wandering through ancient minimalistic catacombs becomes so much more memorable when the soundtrack resonates with your mood. Phantasy Star can confirm. Outside of encounters, there is absolutely nothing to hear except short repetitive sounds of movement to another field and collision with a solid barrier. Next to that, even the poor short loops that indicate victory in a battle or finding loot aren’t that terribly jarring. Having at least something is better than complete auditory deprivation. Also, the adequate saving feature is still missing. You can only save stats and inventories of characters in each of five inns.

Distinctive features

Here nobody forces the storyline on you. Heroes under the player’s control never say a word. You won’t get into a situation for which you’ve never had a model of behavior in your head, like meeting an old githzerai lady who begs for a merciful kill. Might and Magic 2 doesn’t offer anything outside of well-known mass culture tropes. Nevertheless, when people speak about Gates to Another World being too focused on battle tactics they oversimplify it. At least the numbers of non-playable characters, puzzles, quest objects have increased since the original game as has the amount of text.

It simply uses other tools to immerse one into the experience than people would have expected in five years after the release, not to mention in thirty-plus years. The whole thing works thanks to the open world that is there for you to discover, to look for something interesting to do in on your own. It is really an outstanding feeling that by touching the keyboard you actually have a world at the fingertips when you found the clue to start the quest yourself, when you were thinking about the solution and finally found it without any help. No high-budget, professionally written, voiced by Hollywood actors, and looking like the best examples of cinematography scene between the walks where you’re led by the hand from point A to point B can give that. Might and Magic II would be boring to watch in a stream, but a player who is ready to get carried away and who won’t give up when facing difficulties will be rewarded. Princess Lamanda and the person with not quite obvious gender identity who happened to be an apprentice of the character that ties both “books” together are more memorable than carefully modeled and animated companions from AAA action that you finished in one evening despite having no voice acting and not taking part in a theatrical act of Chekhovian magnitude.

Might and Magic Book Two Gates to Another World PC 1989 game screenshot Might and Magic Book Two Gates to Another World PC 1989 game screenshot

There are relatively many side quests though in terms of depth and variety they have little to amaze you. Most of them are solved in one action. Kill the monster! So you kill it. Find an object! You go and find it exterminating various fauna specimen on the way. Puzzles elevate this straightforward concept. Somewhere you stumble upon the information about the very existence of a puzzle. It doesn’t happen automatically because there is no journal or some formal invitation “Quest received! Accept? Yes / No” as RPGs back then didn’t have those. Then during the mapping of the territory, you bump into the solution or a hint that leads to the solution. Finally, after some thought process, you come up with an idea of where and how to use it. It happens naturally. Data comes to you the same way it does when you notice tiny bits of changes in the reality around, clues, motivations, and reasons to act on the way home from a daily job or to a grocery. It is entirely a player’s choice to react on them or not. Few quests, such as making a donation in all the temples or tasting each and every meal in the world, also unobtrusively strengthen the motivation to discover new facets of Cron.

I can’t avoid giving special recognition to cryptographic brain teasers. For those who have no idea how far we’ve gone mentally from the 80s, or, due to annoying ads of Fortnite, League of Legends, or indistinguishable mobile entertainment apps, perceive computer games as something objectionable and idle that generally leads to intellectual degradation and is predominantly appealing to young fragile minds, I will give an example without naming specific details and throwing obvious spoilers. During the adventure, you pass by a meaningless, seemingly incoherent sequence of symbols. It is expected that at some point you will notice them and make a decision that it’s not just part of the scenery, but something important. Most likely that will happen when you encounter another similar inscription, and another one, and one more… Then you begin to purposefully look for them guessing to put it all together into a single text block that looks like a randomly mixed set of letters and punctuation marks. Desperate attempts to recall university lectures on cryptography and try to find some simple cipher like Caesar’s shift last for hours and bring no result, because at no stage does it become known to you how many parts there are, and whether you have seen all of them. Later another piece accidentally comes across. Cerebral convolutions struggle with the problem again. Something begins to loom but the whole picture doesn’t come together despite all the efforts. Again you find a fragment and again you meditate on the letters until your eyes hurt. Eureka! After the cipher is defeated the genuine message vaguely explains about some dude who lives seclusively in his hut somewhere in the wasteland. He, it says, will give a hint. And with that hint, you go to such and such unusual pool, and it will be awesome… if you then pass the test. It, of course, doesn’t specify where the named pool is located. Got it? All that trouble was to just get a hint where to get a hint in order to pass the test who knows where.

Might and Magic Book Two Gates to Another World PC 1989 game screenshot Might and Magic Book Two Gates to Another World PC 1989 game screenshot

With the current market shaped by DLCs, loot boxes casino and gameplay mechanics where “pay to win” model has defeated “press X to win” model for good, nobody has to overcome such difficulties even for easter eggs. While here it was quite naturally built into the gameplay and became the essential part of the whole experience that is required to reach the good ending. The game shows no intention to adapt to any paying customer and accept his skill level, no matter how inept and dense he may be. On the contrary, it challenges the player, dares him to overcome hard obstacles, and, as a result, makes him more skillful than before. Moreover, success can’t be achieved by perseverance and mindless grinding alone, you have to actually strain the neurons of the brain.

It’s still possible to repeat most of the quests an unlimited number of times, collecting experience and treasures to no end. And while the combat ones maintain some balance, the fact that the whole party can repeatedly receive rewards for a once solved riddle inflicts a devastating blow to it. I found a way to gain experience points indefinitely without obstacles and complications when my group was as low as eighth level. And if you take into account there are leprechauns who randomly destroy items, including unique ones that are critical to the storyline, it becomes obvious that the need to repeat some missions was an intentional decision. So if Van Caneghem was aware that people would replay some of the quests why didn’t he think about the disbalance that other could create? This point seems to me to be a clear mistake in game design.

Might and Magic Book Two Gates to Another World PC 1989 game screenshot Might and Magic Book Two Gates to Another World PC 1989 game screenshot

The need to change the party roster along the way was an unorthodox decision by New World Computing that had turned into a really professional team that used more than ten people to create the PC version. In Secret of the Inner Sanctum you could theoretically change the set of characters for each playing session but why would you do that if a balanced group that gets all the experience is more effective? But now there are unique promotion quests for every class that don’t allow others on board during the completion.

I desperately tried to avoid splitting the party but it turned out that class-specific quests were necessary to complete the game and there was no way around it. And even after that, there was no alternative to breaking the well-knit team in accordance with the storyline at least one more time. As if it weren’t the heroes on a mission to save the world but simply a bunch of random thrill-seekers hanging out in a tavern and occasionally, in different combinations, making forays for the next artifact or someone’s head as a mean of personal enrichment. This doesn’t help to immerse into the story and, although it bears a closer resemblance to the life we all know, the roleplaying element, the feeling of being in other reality suffers from this. What’s good for Jagged Alliance and X-COM is not welcomed in the universe of might and magic.

Might and Magic Book Two Gates to Another World PC 1989 game screenshot Might and Magic Book Two Gates to Another World PC 1989 game screenshot

A bit of light humor has been added for the sake of variety and to liven up the world. For example, in the house of the very first quest giver, there is a locked room called skeleton closet. You will never guess what could be found there. And in the depths of one of the toughest dungeons, an NPC says he doesn’t believe in death of lord Elvis. The game doesn’t shy away from a little trolling. The residents’ committee of Atlantium offers to send you to Middlegate just for 25 gold in order to keep the town beautiful.

I would like to point out the sloppiness of the chronology as one of the lore’s shortcomings. The history of the world with the development of civilization, the emergence of towns, and other epoch-making leaps like that in less than a century seem to be dated so solely for the convenience of balancing mathematical formulas in which aging and bad ending after the deadline are possible.

Total sum

The main advantage of Might and Magic 2: Gates to Another World is that despite all the mentioned difficulties I’ve never felt that typical resentment and dull hopelessness which quite often go hand-in-hand with rogue-like games. For those titles, a random world seed that is theoretically impossible to beat may be a completely trivial thing. Well, you just die, get reborn, repeat, not a big deal. Aum in every field and let’s keep the samsara wheel spinning after the reincarnation. Gates to Another World is different. The hand of demiurge can be felt in every small detail, and the proportion of mental sticks and carrots was selected in such a way that the difficulty of monsters and puzzles doesn’t outweigh the desire to see what lies beyond the next turn of castle catacombs. It works so well that even the obviously tipped balance of variables of this realm didn’t turn out to be fatal to the gameplay. Here and there you get small bonuses like an unexpected reward for efforts or a little joke. As a result, the main goal for a long, challenging game is achieved. You never lose faith in your own ability to complete it.

Might and Magic Book Two Gates to Another World PC 1989 game screenshot Might and Magic Book Two Gates to Another World PC 1989 game screenshot

When you solve a riddle on your own, when you level up and finally defeat that scary beast which you had met long before and which, without any chances, had kept sweeping away the whole group in a single round, you really feel on top of this artificial world where only your will matters. In this sense, the silent figurines consisting of abstract numbers merge into a truly multifaceted, complex personality that possesses an undoubted agency and therefore is alive – your own.

Summing up, it can be said with confidence that it is here, where the characteristic features of the series began to appear: mercenaries, special skills of the characters, battles with endless hordes of fantasy creatures at once, the world which is as open to exploration as possible without anybody leading the player on a leash along the predetermined route. It’s clear that Van Caneghem was no longer engaging in a retelling of the founders of the genre, Ultima and Wizardry, but instead began to experiment with his ideas which would later lead the series to its peak.

Might and Magic Book Two Gates to Another World PC 1989 game screenshot Might and Magic Book Two Gates to Another World PC 1989 game screenshot

Altogether, this was a big bold step forward but, like with a toddler who has not yet fully learned to walk, the direction of movement did not quite meet the desired course and a foot landing on a solid surface was not yet able to reliably hold the entire body weight which is why it was waving and tilting dangerously in search for stability. Much of the way to a user-friendly, well-thought, and polished interface that wouldn’t pose a challenge to overcome in addition to enemies was still ahead. And many of described shortcomings don’t allow me to rate the game higher, even though so far this is the strongest candidate for the title of the best RPG from the 80s of all that I’ve played.

Rating: 6.5

Читать независимый обзор игры Might and Magic Book Two: Gates to another World по-русски

Snow Dogs

Current music: Euphoria - Silence in everywhere

Director: Brian Levant
Year: 2002
Country: Canada, USA

Snow Dogs

Imagine a man, who inherited and improved a business. A man who rides a luxurious roadster and walks through the beach where beautiful girls look favorably at him because he is young and his face is known to everybody in one of the best resort spots in the world. Now try to think about what could motivate that man to act? Of course, it will be some intriguing secret and curiosity it brings. Just like that, a weird letter pulls that Mr. Success out of hot Miami to travel to the tiny place in Alaska he never before knew existed.

The trailer presents Snow Dogs as a comedy. However, it’s mostly of the very basic sort. It presents everlasting classics of physical comedy like falling, running into things, getting hit and bruised. Rich facial expressions by Cuba Gooding Jr. come in handy here. Instead of a banana peel as a way to produce a smile you get ice, lots of it everywhere the action turns. It’s straightforward but effective, especially if you are in the right mood. The storyline too is as direct as a fence picket. 95% of the time the main character is on the screen. The whole world orbits him. He takes part in every event. There really are no side stories. When that southern conqueror of polar snows walks away all other people left behind stand still and wait for him to return like do NPCs in your standard open world video game.

Snow Dogs 2002 movie snapshot Snow Dogs 2002 movie snapshot
Disney’s company wouldn’t be itself without grinding all the sharp bits of the final product with the rasp of internal censorship. There are no double meanings; everything is correct and positive to the absolute. For example, a single kiss can only be of the chastest kind and it’s saved for the moment of parting. The rest of the time the max the main persona of the story can do in search of his new life is an innocent hug that looks the same with the girlfriend and with the mother. Second and the last kiss was saved for the wedding ceremony. The old cliché of cinematographic modesty that was perfectly formulated as wedding gown-montage-baby had found a use here twice in order to create a mandatory happy end. I imagine puritanical Disney was expecting that even those who became too tolerant to such a routine emotional squeezing could feel the effect. It uses the same mechanics as a chorus in an earworm pop song on a radio hoping one of the repetitions will get stuck in the head.

All that together resulted in the kids movie without a single child character in it. The theme of differences between the genetic parenthood and the legal status of a parent isn’t the most common for the younger part of the audience. Also, the impulse of a fully grown adult person to change his own life bears no resemblance to the usual stories of searching a way for oneself from the beginning of life’s coordinate grid to becoming somebody. However, the moralizing conclusions in the manner of Kyle Broflovski from the earlier seasons couldn’t be avoided.

In Snow Dogs all problems are solvable, every goal is achievable and everybody can do anything he or she truly desires. All it takes is just the courage to try. In worst-case scenario to try once more, then it’s guaranteed. Everyone has enough money, so people choose occupations and places to live according to their interests and callings. There is nobody who would even vaguely resemble a bad guy type. Even the difficulties serve not as a way to overshadow the generic happiness but as a mean to prolong the exciting adventures. To put it short, this fairly-tale is more sugary than Shrek sequels.

Snow Dogs 2002 movie snapshot Snow Dogs 2002 movie snapshot
So to hell with realism, obviously nobody was going for it in Snow Dogs even if we assume somewhere in the world exist live broadcasts of dog sled racing on national television with hype, tourism, and promotional contracts with the big corporations. All damage done to the bodies, no matter how seriously dangerous it looks, becomes ignored in an instant just like in the golden standard of the genre – Looney Tunes. The worst possible consequence is a loud “Ah!” It’s harder to write off on the target group the lack of logic and consistency in scenes. First, you see the kids playing hockey on the runaway illuminated by the bright sun through the spotless sky. Five seconds later the vicious windflaw throws the protagonist on the ground even though he’s obviously heavier than the team of peewees. In another scene you see him falling into the cold water but soon the same man is walking through the winter forest wearing dry and clean pants with no traces of the icy crust.

The movie has at least one thing done undeniably right. Picturesque views of snow-covered mountains, northern pine forest, and  clear frosty sky are really impressive. If you like dogs, you can add one whole point to my rating. Well-groomed huskies were presented for the observation at all angles. It was evident from his work on Beethoven the director Brian Levant loves barking kind of pets. On the other hand, if you’re a cat person it’s minus one point.

The magic of computer animation adding the human expressions and emotions to animals’ muzzles could be seen as a pro back in the early 2000s but looks completely outdated now. All it does today is adding to the resemblance to cartoons.

snow dogs 2002 movie snapshot snow dogs 2002 movie snapshot
Snow Dogs can be useful when you need something to watch in the company of children or their ultraconservative parents. Hank Hill would probably approve of it. At least nobody sings here unlike many other popular Disney’s cinematic products.

Rating: 5

Читать о фильме “Снежные псы” по-русски

Zuma Deluxe

Current music: System Of A Down - Aerials

Platform: PC
Year: 2003
Developer: PopCap

First I have to address the biggest issue about Zuma. It wasn’t really original because the main idea idea of chains of balls moving spirally toward the center and something shooting at them was borrowed from Puzz Loop and Puzz Loop 2 – Japanese arcade machine games. Even the usage of the ancient cultural motives in visual style was taken from first Puzz Loop. There it was Egypt of pharaohs and pyramids, here we have Aztec influence. However, with all similarities and copy-paste those are still different games and, considering limited distribution of Puzz Loop, Zuma was a bit of novelty on PC and to western audience generally bringing some innovation to the old, well-known “three in a row” concept. Also to be honest generally gameplay in Zuma feels more polished. Aiming with the mouse wins against anything in terms of speed, precision and overall convenience. One may even argue that Zuma was as important in its niche as was Half-Life for shooters adding a whole new dimension to the genre’s mainstream.

screenshot of Zuma Deluxe PC 2003 screenshot of Zuma Deluxe PC 2003
In Zuma you take control of the stone frog inside the ancient ruins. Some floating stone head gives you challenges before you can discover the “secret of Zuma”. You really have just one goal, which is to prevent moving chains of balls from reaching the skull hole. The only way to do that is to shoot such balls of different colors out of frog’s mouth. They land on chain, and if there is a connection of three or more balls of the same color in a row, that sequence disappears. The trick is to match your shot in such way that balls on both sides of disappeared part also form row of three or more of the same color. To quickly clear playing field you’ll have to plan for long combos on the fly. More difficult levels have two chains moving simultaneously while some of their parts are hidden by design elements.

Bonuses activate and function differently compared to Puzz Loop. In Zuma Deluxe every ball can become bonus one for a limited period of time. If you manage to remove it before it’s too late, you can slow down the crawling chain or even move it back a little. You can also get some sort of precision scope or make an explosion that will take away balls from neighboring curves of movement trajectory. Zuma shows more variety in forms of levels so player will need good shooting skills from wide range of angles including very acute ones. Game adds every positive action to your score which serves not only as a mean of competition between players. For every 50000 you will get an extra life that most likely will come in handy near the end of the game.

screenshot of Zuma Deluxe PC 2003 screenshot of Zuma Deluxe PC 2003
Thankfully some unnecessarily difficult elements like transparent balls which can’t be removed like others or moving obstacles that helped Puzz Loop in unsophisticated process of milking the coins out of a pocket aren’t present in Zuma. So, if you like the idea but don’t want to be intentionally screwed all the time, Zuma is your choice between these two.

Though there are still some cheap shots that demonstrate kinship with unforgiving 80s arcades. For example, sometimes algorithm gives you long row of balls you can’t use for good anywhere you’re able to reach at the moment. However, with skill and attention everything is passable and player will be rewarded with epic final screen.

Besides the adventure mode there is an arcade-like one called Gauntlet with endless play until you lose and one for training in certain layouts. Levels in both modes become available with progress in the main goal.

screenshot of Zuma Deluxe PC 2003 screenshot of Zuma Deluxe PC 2003
Thanks to low system requirements and no copy protection the game had massively spread in offices, schools, universities and other local networks adding up to its popularity. Zuma made its way from flash game running right in your web browser to full-fledged digital release on PC (including Steam), Mac, few video game consoles and mobile devices earning annex Deluxe while doing that. It manages to keep balance between being too complex for casual players and too boring for hardcore gaming group without falling into either of those pits.

Rating: 6.5

Читать обзор игры Zuma Deluxe по-русски

My spring Prague part 3

Current music: Page - Dansande Man

The autumn has already started its reign in the northern hemisphere, but we have a chance to go back in time to May in Prague, that I captured in my photos.

Architectural and artsy loveliness near the Charles square.

около карловой площади karlovo naměstí near charles square

prague drawings on buildings near charles square

By the way, there is no square in Russian traditional understanding of that word.  Most of the space is dedicated to a park with gargantuan tall trees and simple fountains. There are also small groups of untidy looking people who occupy the benches in quiet shady nooks. I didn’t take photos of them in respect of their human dignity.

prague park huge tree velký strom park praha

park karlovo naměsti fountain фонтан парк прага

Here is also a monument to Czech author and translator Eliška Krásnohorská.

eliška krasnohorská monument памятник

Next stop was Saints Cyril and Methodius Cathedral. Unlike many other historical churches in Prague it still serves its original purpose, even though church services are sparse. If I’m not mistaken they don’t even take place every day. At least in the middle of last day I was passing by and saw everything closed.

кафедральный собор кирилла и мефодия прага eastern orthodoxy cathedral prague

The word “standard” has absolutely no use when you try to describe the architecture in the central part of Czech capital.

prague architecture krasná praha

Central railway station of Prague. You can get from here to Dresden in a couple of hours and to Vienna or Berlin in four.

praha hlavní nádraží прага центральный вокзал

praha hlavní nádraží прага центральный вокзал

The is a small patch of greenery opposite to the station’s entrance where in the middle I discovered a statue of American president Wilson with his words, which had a part in emergence of first Czechoslovak Republic as the independent state.

woodrow wilson monument prague

Charles bridge from the distance.

charles bridge distant view

Stern bearded men at the entrance of quite common building on the western bank of Vltava.

prague statues

Ducks took a free walk along the river too. However I wasn’t able to find swans anywhere that evening. Sod’s law: when I had had a bun for them, they hid.

prague ducks

It’s astonishing to think that somebody actually lives in all that splendor, solves everyday routine problems and returns tired after the working day to one of those homes along the river.

Janáčkovo nábřeží

venceslaus iv prague

zodiac signs on buildings prague

prague images on buildings прага росписи на стенах домов

prague nabřeží

Four-wheeled retro for jaunts like that one can often be seen on tourists’ paths.

prague retro car

Near the entrance to Charles bridge.

charles bridge entrance prague

The bridge itself has many monuments on both sides. Generally speaking all of them have religious meaning. For example here you can see Jesus with his followers.

prague jesus christ

Some saint with a propeller.

saint Anthony of Padua

Francis Borgia, who was the general of jesuits and great-grandson of the very same Borgia you all have heard so much about.

francisco borja prague

That crucifix has the peculiar legend attached to it. Allegedly in XVII century one rich jew was in some way disrespectful to it. That made the townsfolk angry and eventually jew was sentenced to pay for gold inscription in Hebrew that was praising the god. The zesty part of the story is there was no mentioning which one. I don’t understand Hebrew language, therefore true meaning of that text is unavailable to me. The hard fact is however that monument attracts masses of tourists from around the world who touch it without the fear of global pandemic.

jesus touching monument

Female saints.

charles bridge saint barbara margareth

Giant chestnuts that are growing at the foot of the bridge reach above the houses and above the statues.

prague giant chestnut near charles bridge

By the way, I’ve noticed that Prague manages to combine big old trees with high building density rather well. At least I’ve never seen roots of the trees ruining the roads or pavements. I also have never seen ugly sticking stubs left after the trees were mercilessly cut in avoidance of something.

Prague’s “Venice”

пражская венеция

Mánes Bridge

Mánesův most

Eastern bank of Vltava

vltava east bank view

Tourist boats take trips on Vltava at any time of the day.

vltava tour boat

prague beautiful architecture

Bridge tower. In the evening on Charles bridge and near that place there are so many tourists you can get in a traffic jam while walking. People constantly collide. It is indeed an ideal place for pocket pickers.

charles bridge tower

Your guide to Prague. Actually although the beer was delicious, I was drinking it only for one day. Czech Republic can offer an abundance of other interesting alcohol as well. Especially I would like to mention strong liquor called Praděd (which means great grandfather in English). It’s not sold everywhere, but if you by chance see it I recommend you to taste some.

planestranger beer prague

This post was originally written in Russian somewhere around October the 1st in 2018 and translated to English just now.

Read My spring Prague part 2

Read My spring Prague part 1

Читать Моя весенняя Прага часть 3 по-русски

My spring Prague part 2

Current music: XIII. Století - Karneval

At first I intended to compose some kind of small but holistic story from my photos of Prague. However a lot of time has passed since my trip and my job, matters of personal business and everyday routine kept me from initial plan. Something unavoidably gets erased from memory, my point of view may also change in some cases with time. So I’ll just try to select the best photos of Prague and provide them with my comments.

Outside of Nový Smíchov shopping mall.obchodní centrum nový smíchov торговый центр новый смихов

Inside the Nový Smíchov.

obchodní centrum nový smíchov торговый центр новый смихов

obchodní centrum nový smíchov торговый центр новый смихов
Dried fruits and nuts from “Happy Squirrel”

By the way, Smíchov district in Prague-5 generally mixes new and old fine.smíchov district район смихов

Even the trams here are from different eras.smíchov tram смихов трамваи

On one side of the street there is grey building with sharp geometric forms…smíchov prague modern building

… and on the other there are houses that had seen a lot of history during the last century.smichov prague street смихов улица прага

Equa Bank office makes tourists like me to turn heads up while local people demonstrate indifference.equa bank prague

Being a tourist I had to visit Old Town Square in the oldest part of the Prague.staroměstské náměstí praha old town square prague староместская площадь Прага

There is always a lot of people.prague old town square praha staroměstské naměstí прага староместская площадь

Prague astronomical clock was undergoing restoration at the moment…staroměstský orloj пражские куранты

… but well recognizable (if not by name then by silhouette) Church of Our Lady before Týn was available to inspect in all of its glory.

Храм Девы Марии перед Тыном church of our lady before tyn Kostel Matky Boží před Týnem

Also back side of old town hall looks pretty picturesque.old town hall prague прага ратуша старый город

One more clumsy selfie.planestranger

Some people there take a ride of horse-drawn carriage.horses prague old town square лошади прага староместская площадь

Others prefer mini-train tours.sightseeing tour mini train prague экскурсионный мини-поезд прага

Those on feet tend to spread among expensive food places located around the perimeter of the squarepraha staroměstské náměstí староместская площадь прага old town square prague

or catch bubbles with their cameras.mýdlové bubliny мыльные пузыри на старой площади

Even the Minnie Mouse got there somehow.minnie mouse prague

Jan Hus observes all those activities with respectable stoicism.памятник Яну Гусу pomník jana husa


old town prague старый город прага

Buildings bear more sculptures than some of Russian towns.

sculptures скульптуры old town square prague

Narrow walking street near the Old Town Square.prague old town narrow walking street прага старый город узкая пешеходная улица

Another view of old Prague.old town prague прага старый город praha

Church of Santa Claus. No presents though. It functions solely as a nicholas church prague

One of the problems every old city with significant history has is there are always some restoration works going on. Thankfully, there is no need to close streets in order to do that.restoration prague прага реставрационные работы

old building prague

Example of modern abstract art near the river shore.modern abstract art prague

Vltava river view.vltava western bank prague

Prague Castle. People on the other bank are feeding the swans.prague castle пражский замок pražský hrad

Some more of western bank of Vltava.prague vltava western bank

vltava prague western bank

Religious frenzy of centuries long gone peaks at the Crusaders’ Square. Church of Saint Salvator. If I’m not mistaken that is the place that was Vatican in “Eurotrip” movie, precisely place of that scene with swiss guards, ice cream and one very special boy.kostel svatého salvátora praha костел святого сальватора

At Crusaders’ square you can also find old catholic church of Saint Francis Seraph.kostel svatého františka serafinského костел Святого Франциска Серафимского

Old Town Bridge Towerstaroměstská mostecká věž Староместская мостовая башня Old Town Bridge Tower

staroměstská mostecká věž Староместская мостовая башня Old Town Bridge Tower

staroměstská mostecká věž Староместская мостовая башня Old Town Bridge Tower

Statue of Charles IV

charles iv карл iv pomník

Just beside the monument people are taking photos with strangely colored white pigeon розовый белый голубь

I didn’t take a walk over the Charles bridge that day. Instead I along the river to the south admiring the architecture. Prague is truly magical in a way that even if there were no museums, theaters, exhibitions and other cultural events, the city itself is a piece of art because of its architecture.tower prague

prague architecture

prague old architecture

prague sky

vltava nabřeží набережная влтавы

See the beauty. There are unique balconies, pinnacles, gargoyles, bas-reliefs and bold use of colors everywhere… Try your best to find two identical prague

prague praha прага

prague praha прага

quiet street prague

prague praha прага

prague praha прага

Of course, I couldn’t miss the famous dancing house.dancing house prague танцующий дом прага tančící dům praha

On the little island in the middle of Vltava you can rent a boat.river řeka vltava

Even though it’s hard to call Vltava a clean river there are wild living nutria.nutrie нутрия прага влтава

Most noticeable among the vegetative lifeforms were blooming chestnut trees that could be found everywhere you went.chestnut tree prague

That day I had a dinner in a lovely place called “U Gráffů” which I liked a lot. There I could watch and eavesdrop a bit people from all over the world some more while I was waiting for my meal. For example, this company of old German ladies (one of several I saw during the trip) was masterfully drinking considerable amount of beer.U Gráffů praha

Interior of the restaurant was inviting to contemplate too.U Gráffů praha

On my way back to the hotel. Red lights of a legal club had already lite. One of the next days there was a girl dressed lightly for a cool night air. I was too shy to take the photo of her without asking the lights night prague

Read My Spring Prague part 1

Читать Моя весенняя Прага часть 2 по-русски

My spring Prague part 1

I was always interested not only in traveling to fictional worlds but also to the other parts of our quite real blue and green ball. Not long ago I was able to find time and to satisfy my interest to some extend. In this post I want to share my photos and impressions of Prague in May of this year the way it presented itself to me.

Before we get to the main theme, I have to mention my point of departure. Kurumoch airport near Samara has undergone a renovation recently. I must give credit where the credit is due, the job was well done. Airport now is comfortable, stylish, completely modern and civilized with a lot of consideration given to details. Getting a little bit ahead of myself, I’ve had a far more positive impression of it than of Václav Havel Airport in Prague.

A colleague of movie racer from Marseille tried to talk to me all the way to avoid falling asleep and got me to the the place with a lot of time still left, because speedometer in his Škoda Octavia was showing number greater than 140 km/h multiple times during the trip. On a night intercity road that lacks street lights and even other cars, while it felt like the asphalt was coming into existence from the emptiness of the universe right before the wheels, such speed was high enough to tickle the nerves. The driver told me he has been driving for more than 16 hours and had visited four towns that day.

аэропорт Курумоч kurumoch airport

kurumoch airport inside аэропорт курумоч внутри

Notice there is even baby care room to the left of duty free store. This hall after the customs and border control was lighted mostly by a huge screen.

planestranger waiting for boarding at kurumoch airport

Took a selfie while waiting for the boarding. I still don’t really know how to do them.

kurumoch airport view from airplane вид аэропорта курумоч из самолёта

The last look at the airport before the takeoff. It was really dawning already. Soon Airbus A319 of Czech Airlines started the acceleration.

Чехия с высоты птичьего полёта czech republic from the air

That is Czech Republic already, after three and a half hours, viewed from above. Though that’s not Prague yet. It’s quite interesting how low we were during the last part of the flight.

аэропорт имени Вацлава Гавела Letiště Václava Havla Praha Václav Havel Airport Prague

Morning in Vaclav Havel airport in Prague.

прага станция павлова prague pavlov station

около станции метро павлова прага near pavlov metro prague

прага praha prague

Near the I.P. Pavlova subway station. Take a look at the truck in the last photo. It’s pretty unusual thing to see in the center of Prague. You have a better chance of seeing Ferrari there. By the way, about the bus. Those are exclusively for transporting tourists. Locals have to use streetcars or subway.

I must say that my first day there included many troubles, one of which was total lack of Internet. Before the flight I had consulted my mobile provider (MTS) about what I need to do, I had added fair sum to my account, activated option for data roaming (which cost a bit more than 7$ per day for unimpressive 128 Kb/s). However there was still no Internet access for me. I could receive SMS about my banking operations and incoming calls fine. At the same moment WWW was indifferent to my shamanistic actions and kept rejecting all attempts to load anything. Wi-Fi at the hotel was also at the level they were allowed to mention it without false advertising. It was so unbearable slow and unstable I couldn’t even view simple static pages or email mobile provider’s support to resolve the problem. So without maps or any other sort of navigation I was for some time trying to find Starbucks near the subway station called in the name of Russian physiologist as it wasn’t particularly easy. At one moment I had lost faith in my ability to find it, so I started asking people on the streets to show me the way. In attempt to be polite in a foreign country I was speaking Czech (well, I was trying to the best of my ability at the time). Turned out all the people passing by who I guessed could be visitors of such pretentious coffee place were also tourists who didn’t understand Czech and were unfamiliar with the city. Only on the eight or ninth time two nice Czech ladies helped me. I was very close to my target after all.

At Starbucks I must had been looking like a total weirdo buying three plain black coffees without anything else. It didn’t matter because there was new fast router that allowed me to connect to MTS support and to force them to provide service properly. With google maps and online dictionary it became much more comfortable to explore Prague that I have never seen before. That was the moment I could take a deep breath and start enjoying my vacation.

памятник святому Вацлаву saint Vaclav statue Pomník svatého Václava

Statue of Saint Wenceslas surrounded by four other Czech saints.

Wenceslas Square Вацлавская площадь Václavské náměstí

Wenceslas Square. At the information booth there was very polite English-speaking young lady that provided me with paper map with one of the best exchange places in Prague marked on it for free.

national museum Prague национальный музей Прага Národní muzeum Praha

National museum was undergoing the restoration at that time. Once I photographed crosswalk I should say that there are many of them in Prague, and usually there is not need to jaywalk. Most of the drivers are unbelievable polite. They let you go and wait for you even when you haven’t reached the road yet on unregulated crosswalks.

sokolska prague praha прага

Sokolská street is one of the busiest in Prague. Thick cables come down to earth without any additional isolation. Nobody seems to have an idea to protect them from vandalism or metal looters.

prague cannabis praha

Monstrous figures at the entrance with hookahs and cannabis leaf behind the glass make it hard to walk by without at least taking a photo.

Nové Město Praha

An eclectic picture in the quiet street of so-called “new town”. Soviet-looking crude building in the distance coexists with more noble pieces of architecture. The scenery is completed with modern cars on the old cobbles, trash cans and ubiquitous, exceptionally pointless and tasteless graffiti.

память жертв нацизма

Metal plates to commemorate the victims of nazism that once lived there.

u švejka praha

How is it possible not to visit Švejk?

švejk restaurace

In no way. So I came in.

u kalicha praha

josef švejk йозеф швейк

Inelaborate doll of good soldier Švejk greets the visitors.

подпоручик Дуб u kalicha

2nd Lieutenant Dub. Some inscriptions show Russian origin.

franz joseph император Франц Иосиф I

Portrait of emperor Franz Joseph I that was unmercifully shat on by flies.

u kalicha interior

hostinec u kalicha smažený sýr

Hostinec u Kalicha presents itself as the exact place that was called The Chalice in the book “The Good Soldier Švejk” where Josef Švejk and first-class private Vodička agreed to meet at six o’clock after the world war. Dim light, wooden old-looking furniture, walls painted with caricatures, green lamps, full-sized dummies that depict characters from the book, headdress of Austrian soldier on the visible place and waiters in old-fashioned clothes altogether create there atmosphere of Great War times. Menu consists of Czech national cuisine mostly, though I was able to find grilled cheese to suit my pescetarian taste. If you know and love the main literary work of Jaroslav Hašek, it might be interesting for you to come there, have a drink or eat something.

Continue to My Spring Prague part 2

Читать Моя весенняя Прага часть 1 по-русски