Bloons Tower Defense 4 – Review

bloonsNinja Kiwi has done it again! On Oct. 25, 2009 Ninja Kiwi released their best TD (Tower Defense) game to date. Bloons Tower Defense originated from the Bloons series in which a cuddly monkey threw darts at a balloon. The Bloons series was a puzzle game which at times could be extremely hard and, well, puzzling, with puzzles having you fire darts through tight spaces, make crazy patterns, and make clutch shots bouncing off multiple blocks before popping the necessary bloon to finish the game. Bloons TD took the game to the next level by introducing the same puzzling, yet strategic, atmosphere and making it into a defense game in which different towers (monkeys) would pop almost seemingly endless waves of bloons.

BTD4 offers its players new weapons, such as tack planes, buccaneer ships, banana farms, magic monkey, and the Super Monkey upgrade, Sun God, as well as a variety of upgrades for all of the towers. Tack planes are the new aerial weapon, dropping pineapple bombs and firing multiple tacks at one time while flying in a figure-eight pattern over the designated area to help thin out the crowd of bloons. Its final upgrade is a stealth bomber that can fire up to eight tacks at one time at a very fast rate of fire making it very useful. The magic monkey is a Mickey Mouse like wizard monkey who gains new spells when upgraded and is best placed toward the end of the tracks. He gains a spell that I found was extremely useful called Whirlwind that will blow bloons away from the exit which in much harder levels can save you a few extra lives and possibly make the difference in winning the level or not. Finally the best weapon in the game, and my favorite, is the Sun God upgrade for the Super Monkey who fires a beam of light and obliterates, at such a rapid pace, any bloon it sees. The Sun God, however, is not easy to get since it costs about 21,000 money, I recommend playing with it in sandbox mode since its about the only mode where you can easily build as many as you want and watch bloon popping mayhem at its finest.

BTD4 also has many other new features such as a Track editor which will cost about 3,400 Mochi-Coins, however, it is free to play tracks made by other users. The Sandbox mode allowing you to upgrade to any weapon you like and send out swarms of bloons as you will. Apocalypse  Mode which sends out endless waves of bloons until you finally run out of lives, and is probably the funnest mode available.

Aside from all of the basic upgrades, tracks, and game modes, Ninja Kiwi decided to go the route of many other game developers, such as Zynga, and charges it users for premium content such as new tracks, modes, and upgrades. Ninja Kiwi joined with Mochi Games who will charge you real money for the purchase of Mochi-Coins. Mochi-Coins, however, are not just used for BTD4, they can be used for any other games that are listed on their site allowing more versatile use with them. The price point for the content is not all that bad, at $20.00 for 17,600 Mochi-Coins including a bonus of 1,600, however, it will cost a total of 18,400 Mochi-Coins for all content including all upgrades for 8,000, the track editor for 3,400, double-cash mode, for 1,000, and all premium tracks for 6,000 (The purchase of Rank 31 is unnecessary as its cheaper to play the game and unlock it that way). Unless you really really want to make your own tracks it might be best to play the endless number of track made by other users and save yourself a few coins.

After spending about 2 days playing the game endlessly i came to the conclusion that it was probably one of the best, if not the best, Tower Defense game I have played so far. The ranking system is really fun, however, I have yet to even make it to rank 31 so I can take advantage of Apocalypse mode, and if there are any new unlocks after that, I am unaware. I highly recommend anyone play the game. You might, however, find it difficult to kill time as it is a highly addicting game and will kill more than a few minutes so take advantage of the save feature often. I give the game a 4.5 out of 5.

Category: Random Apps

Block Bad IP’s With PeerBlock

peerblockSeveral years ago Phoenix Labs created a program called PeerGuardian. PG was meant to block known “bad” IP’s and allow a safer web experience. PG was freeware software that a few years after its release was known to contain many bugs and unsupported by any OS after Windows XP. To fix a lot of these issues, users had to search the web and find patches. Why, all of a sudden, did users need to do this to keep up to date with the program? Well, back in 2007 its developers seemed to have just dumped the program. They let their domain for the block lists expire and then not long after that their DNS had also expired. They then released a statement regarding the issues saying “First, we lost blocklist.org. Now we let our DNS expire. What’s next? *sigh*. I’m sorry, everyone. We’ll try to do better in the future.” Two years later a group of developers who saw the need for improvement on the program got together and on September 30, 2009 they released the official PeerBlock 1.0 Stable release.

So I bet after a brief history lesson you may be wondering what PeerBlock is? PeerBlock is just the same as PG was, however a large number of the bugs in PG are now gone and it runs much more stable, as well, it is the first release that provides support for Windows 7. The goal of PeerBlock is to block all IP’s that are known to be “bad” or “unsafe” such as governments, corporations, servers designed for anti-p2p, and even countries.

Here’s how PeerBlock works. Whenever your computer establishes a connection to another, for example connecting to Google’s website, your computer sends “packets” of information to Google’s servers. These packets of information contain data (your IP) that Google recognizes so it can then deliver a response to you and provide you with the information you requested. PeerBlock works with your Network Protocols on your computer so that it filters out the packets that are to be transmitted either to or from IP addresses located in database that you provide, one such database that is most commonly used is the lists found at iblocklist.org. When PeerBlock filters out all of these packets it in essence helps make you safer on the web by stopping or preventing communications between your computer and the ones monitoring your activity.

PeerBlock does its job as it is supposed to. It will will block IP’s that are on the list. Not all IP’s on the lists are actually bad as some can change constantly, and just the same, not all bad IP’s are on the lists. This raises the question to some users “why should I use it then if it doesnt work?” As previously stated it blocks the IP’s it is told to block and therefore is susceptible to not being perfect, however, the list contains several billion IP addresses which means that it does offer you greater level of safety and security on the web. It is recommended that when using this program you continue to use your regular firewall programs as normal since PeerBlock cannot block everything and doesn’t entirely work the same as a firewall.

My recommendation is that anyone and everyone use this software regardless of their daily internet activity. It only helps improve your safety and security on the net, and any improvement is better than none. PeerBlock uses extremely low amounts of resources and wont be noticeable when used as a background process. It is supported on all Windows OS, however, it is not yet supported on any other OS. If you have any other questions or concerns while using this software forums and FAQ’s are located on their website at www.peerblock.com.

Know of any other great IP filtering software or ways to remain secure on the internet? Post comments below to add your input.

Category: Random Tech

Your Bookshelf is Getting a Replacement

Apple recently made their announcement about the iPad, a new market competitor for Amazon’s Kindle. The iPad has a ton of amazing features and with all the hype will no doubt give Amazon a run for their money. iPad is going to provide its users many cool features that the Kindle won’t, for example web browsing, games, music and digital media, while the Kindle was designed to help boost Amazon’s sales of books and provide a more easily accessible library. We don’t know yet what Amazon plans to do to counter the competition.

Aside from the recent innovation in digital media with the iPad and the Kindle, we have a for a long time made use of digital music and mp3 players, such as the iPod, and we have also begun to take advantage of streaming digital media with the use of websites like Hulu and services like Netflix, not to mention, anyone can easily download all the movies and music and books they want right from the internet. Also, technology allows new devices, such as Samsung’s 3D LED TV, Xbox, and PS3 , to take advantage of streaming all the same media. Xbox Live even offers its users the ability to download full games right to their console. And no one can forget the advancements being made to digital storage capacities, we can easily have several terabytes of storage and then some.

With today’s technology changing the way we interact with digital media, now especially with books and literature, one of many questions remain: “What is going to happen with all our libraries and books?” I ask this question because it becomes very clear to me what our future holds for us in the way of digital media. I see in the future all of our books, CD’s, DVD’s and software no longer sitting on shelves. And I envision that all of the libraries in upscale houses will disappear leaving only one small shelf hanging on the wall, and sitting on that shelf will be a device similar to that of a Kindle with just one soft-white LED light shining down on it.

Further picturing this in my mind makes me wonder if all of our physical paper books will go the way of Fahrenheit 451? Are public libraries going to start loaning Kindles and iPads to the general public (talk about overdue fees) or, are they going to allow people to rent these devices for a small fee and take them home? What will happen to all of our libraries when these devices become so affordable that anyone and everyone owns one? Ha ha I can see it now, all the kids walking into school and their teachers handing them out a Kindle containing all of their textbooks for that years courses.

At the rate in which technology is advancing and the ever increasing popularity of digital media one must ask these questions. I’ve only ever seen  few people on any given day walk into a library, a bookstore, or even a music store. And going down the road further, if the future does hold all of this for us, one must think about what’s going to happen to all of our book stores and and music stores.

Even if all of these stores like FYE and Borders started selling merchandise online to continue maintaining business, it wouldn’t last very long. People go to these stores because they are out shopping, or they may go to one instead of the other because of distance or price. But unless web surfers encounter intersections, slow surfers, and accidents, I highly doubt that anything but price will be a driving factor in the competition for this type of business on the internet. Mainly this point is because anyone can buy all of this media so cheap on the internet that, unless either the prices were to sky rocket to allow for competition or the media was offered for free, we would only base who we buy from on how great their website looks or which name we like better.

These advances in this technology make me wonder what will happen to all of these businesses, and if they will still be around or will we see thousands and thousands of more jobs in the future lost because of the accessibility of this data. When you picture it like this you really tend to wonder what will happen and what everything will be like in the future. I hope other people have thought the same way or asked the same questions. I also hope someone out there has an answer to the questions or who knows may someone just developed a business plan based off these questions. Any ideas or feedback that you may have would be awesome so feel free to leave a comment below.

Category: Random Tech

Ghostery – Invisible Web?

So a while back I was looking for some extensions to add to my Firefox browser and I came across one that I found to be very interesting. Any web enthusiast would know that whenever someone accesses a website it can contain hidden software and tracking bugs. However, a large number of internet users may not know these exist and the ones who do know may not be fully aware of what actually is running in the background. Well I came across this extension called Ghostery.

Ghostery is nice because it displays for a brief moment all of the hidden processes on a website monitoring your activity. These processes can include things such as Google AdSense, Analytics, or even Quanticast. The purpose of this extension is to make it known to any websites visitor that these processes are running and then provide a link to information regarding such processes a user does not know about. This would allow people to more anonymously surf the web and feel safer on the internet as Ghostery allows its users to block certain or all hidden content.

Disadvantages of blocking hidden processes means that website owners will then show inaccurate data on their tracking software, which to many individuals may not seem like a big deal. But it can be a BIG deal especially since many website owners use this data to make improvements to their site. The data can contain detailed information that shows how many people click on certain links, visit certain pages, frequently access a given site, people who are new, and the length of stay on a website. To the everyday web surfer this information is seemingly unimportant, however, it allows the owners of the websites to combine the info with info from other statistics software to help optimize the website. Developers can then implement new ways for site users to interact with the site, make navigation easier, dump things that aren’t receiving enough attention, or find ways to get it more attention, all of this slides down the totem pole finally affecting the end user, yourself. Being able to obtain this data and make these changes will allow for a much better website experience which is what all website users and developers want.

I personally don’t recommend blocking all hidden processes on a site except for those that may be potentially harmful, which is what is great about Ghostery, it displays information that is otherwise unobtainable by even the best anti-spyware software making a web surfers online experience safer and better. I enjoy using this add-on mostly for the information it provides to me. Any time I visit a website the first thing I am looking at is the purple box briefly displaying all of the hidden processes to see what’s new and I don’t know about. I wouldn’t worry all too much about that box going away either as bottom right of your web browser will show you a link that pops up a similar display containing more information.

In the end, to provide a more secure and safe web experience as well as to provide more information about what today’s technology brings us, I highly recommend that anyone use this extension. You may be surprised at the information you find. You may also find new and innovative ways to make it better. Go Download it!

Category: Random Tech

Cool Glossy Button Effect – Photoshop

So I thought it might be a cool idea to write up a tutorial on how I created the Glossy looking buttons that I have on my site. Keep in mind there are many different ways this can be done, but for the most part it all has to do with gradients and what you want you final product to look like. This tutorial assumes that you are somewhat familiar with Photoshop (Note: I use PS CS4) and if you have any questions please comment below.

Final Product

1. Create a new file of any size you choose. For mine I chose to go with 400px wide by 100px tall. This size gave me a good amount of workspace for the size button I chose to make, again this can be any size you choose. Make sure to fill the background with a solid color of black on the first layer you see.

2. Next you want to make a new layer by clicking the button shown in Figure 1.

After making your new layer we want to create a rounded rectangle. First choose the color you want the button to be. Then select the rounded rectangle tool found grouped with the line tool. Once selected, at the top of the screen we will change its settings so that the radius of the corners is at least half of the total height you want the button to be. Also I find it is easier to make the button using fixed size and choosing the size it should be. Figure 2 shows an example of these settings (Note: Click to enlarge these pictures). Again keep in mind that the sizes are irrelevant and the ones I have used were for the example.

3. Now that we have created this shape we want to start adding effects to it. To do this first right-click on the layer itself and choose to rasterize it, this will allow us to work with the layer more, and it may not even have to be done, I just choose to do it. Next we set the layer so it has an inner glow, this will help make a more 3 dimensional look to it. To set the inner glow we double-click on the layer itself and on our new pop-up menu choose inner glow. I found making the size 10px and the glow a solid white it adds the necessary effects, feel free to play with it if you like.

glossy

4. So now we have 2 layers: a background layer, and a shape layer with a white inner glow. Feel free to name these layers respectively by right-clicking them and choosing properties. Again we want to create a new layer which will be our gloss layer. For this layer we are going to to create our selection in which we will add a gradient that will make the glossy effect. To do this we need to Ctrl+Alt+Shift click on the shape layer shown in our layers tab. This will select just the shape. Then either choose the elliptical marquee or rectangular marquee tool. Either is sufficient and will each create a different look. At the top of your window you will see some settings which will allow you to change how the marquee tool makes its selection. Choose Subtract. Then click and drag to make an appropriate size for the area which will have the gradient.

5. Now that we have the area, in which the gradient will go, selected it is time to add the gradient. First we select the gradient tool, and make sure that your background is the same color as the shape and foreground is white.

With our gradient chosen we then want to start it somewhere just below the selection then hold shift and click and drag up just past the top of the selection. Holding shift will allow us to draw this in a straight line to keep the gradient equal on both sides.

(Note: I hid the shape layer to show in more detail what the gradient looks like.) After creating your gradient we then want to make this Gloss layer more translucent to add a better effect. To do this we simply change the Opacity of the layer. I set the opacity between 20% and 50%, depending on the colors chosen, to get the desired effect.

Opacity Once this has been done you have officially created a glossy button. I added text over the button and gave the text an embossed effect so it looks more dimensional. Feel free to play with it and add your own styles to it. It is a very simple process and after making two or three buttons you’ll have it down pat.

Category: Random Tech

PC Customization

I have friends that when they come over to my place they see my computer and go “Oh. Wow! That’s a cool computer!” Haha, my girlfriend would say otherwise. Nevertheless, I thought I’d put together a list of some things that I thought someone could do to make their computer look much cooler.

First, if you haven’t upgraded from Windows XP to Vista or 7 yet, one really cool way to spruce up your PC is with the Vista Inspirat 2 theme package found at CrystalXP. It is a really awesome way to disguise your computer and make it look like you are running Windows Vista. It provides a whole new icon set changing the look of files and mouse pointers and a sound package with Vista sounds. Not only does it do that, your start menu is changed to look the same as well as wallpapers, including your log on/off screens. It uses relatively the same amount of resources as any windows theme so you don’t have to worry about a slow computer. The best part about the package is you don’t have to worry about changing from what you already know and you also don’t get a lot of the hassles you get in Vista and 7, but on the same hand you don’t get some of the helpful features and updates provided with the new releases.

Another great way to spice up the look of your computer is to head on over to Stardock’s website. They offer some amazing programs to dramatically change the look of your computer. Take for example their DeskScapes 3 program.

“Stardock DeskScapes is a program that allows users to have animated wallpaper on their Windows 7, Vista or XP desktop. It supports playing video as animated wallpaper, dynamically generated content as animated wallpaper, and more.”

The files come know as Dream files. It is quite a perfect name for them as you can create anything you can dream and make it an animated wallpaper. Dream files can be found anywhere on the net and have quite a number of designers making them. A great place to start looking for them is WinCustomize.com where you can find a large selection of files.

Stardock has a large variety of applications to choose from, another great example is DesktopX 3. DesktopX allows it’s user’s to build their own desktops, including widgets and gadgets. The functionality of this program is so ridiculous I have seen desktops that were 3D globes and cubes, and some advanced menu systems that completely replaced what everyone has grown so familiar with. Many of the widgets such as weather, RSS feeds, and my computer have been incorporated into the desktop so as to provide a seamless environment that looks as if it is to belong there.

Finally, another great way to customize the look of your computer is changing its physical features. Many websites off ridiculous looking cases with many colors and designs. Some cases come optimized for advanced cooling while others are optimized for storage and the rest are for show. Most custom cases will have cutout windows that allow you to show off the interior of your computer. You can then ad to the interior lighting such as neon, LED and cold cathode. Lighting can add dramatic effects by using different colors or UV reactive wiring and paint. The lighting, I must say, looks extremely ridiculous when placed inside a completely clear acrylic case. Hell, if you want you could even add a fan to your computer that has an LCD screen which will display a programmable message.

So now that you know a few ways to add your own personal touch to the extremely bland computer you are reading this on take a look around the web and start working on it!

Category: Random Tech