Sunday, March 23, 2008

My son found a really fun game that's free on the Internet - Disney's Pirates Online ( It follows roughly the story line of Pirates of the Carribbean, the movie trilogy. My family's been playing it for 3 days now, it's so much fun.

You can create an account for free, and play the story line, up to a certain point.
You have to download and install an application, which talks over the Internet to the game. The installation takes a while, but downloading all the basic data for the islands and seas and characters takes a REALLY LONG time, the first time you start playing. I'd say from beginning install to actually being able to run around in the game for the first time, it probably took 20 minutes or more.

You start out a beginner pirate, and have to perform various tasks for various people around the town you start in, and are awarded various things including a pistol. You learn how to sail a ship (you start with a sloop), and can fight the Navy ships on the high seas.

There are many things that makes this game so much fun. First, you are free to wander anywhere in the world, or over the seas, to various islands like Tortuga, Port Royal, and many others. Other players cannot directly hurt you, so there's none of the "kill the noob" attitude in this game. If you die, you end up "in jail", and have to kick your way out. You don't lose the stuff you're carrying when you die, and there's no limit to how many times you can die.

Second, this is a MMORPG - you can see many other real players running around doing things too. You can become "friends" with them, and if they accept, then you can:
* whisper to them (private chat)
* teleport to them, anywhere in the world
* join their "crew" - sail on their ship with them.

When you're sailing in a ship, there are different roles that you can play. On the basic sloop, you can steer the ship, or man the left or right cannons. (If you're all alone, you'll want to sail the ship - you can still fire broadside cannons left and right). But the best thing is when you have 2 other "crewmates" on your ship - you can steer, and they can fire the extra cannons left and right, to terrorize the Navy sea ships!

Not only can you blast away at the enemy, you can even board them (by firing grappling hooks at them once you've weakened their ship to a certain point), and battle on board their ship with swords - if you defeat them, you swing on ropes back to your own ship, and theirs sinks. You get lots of booty from their ship that way.

The more you practice with sword, gun, and cannon, the better your skill level becomes, over time. You do more damage, and can focus your skill building on whichever skills you want, within that type. There are combination attacks, which you can become good at with practice.

All the ships and people in the game have their names printed above their heads, and colors are used to indicate extra information. Enemy NPCs have their skill level displayed overhead too, so you can avoid ones that would completely kick your butt if you attacked them. Enemy ships show what kind of ship they are, and their origin (Navy, East India Trading Co, or other players). The font size is smaller the further away they are - Disney did a really good job with how this all works.

There are enough people playing this game that there are many servers now - after logging in, you should choose the same server as your friends, so you can see them in the game. A server is simply a computer that's up 24 hours a day, on a high-speed Internet connection. One server computer, and the Internet connection it's on, can only handle so many players at one time. Besides, your computer has limits, too, of how many players you can practically track and display on the screen; more than a certain number and it will start lagging really bad.

Which brings me to some of the downsides if this exciting game. Lag, being the biggest one. If you're using wireless, make sure you have a strong connection, and that the connection is not broken from time to time - that completely kicks you out of the game, which is frustrating, especially if you're in the middle of a battle on the high-seas with your crew - you person disappears, and they have to make due without you until you can get back online!

There are a number of bugs in this fairly new game, however all the bugs I've seen are fairly harmless. There are some out of control flames, that appear randomly in different spots on one of the islands. Sometimes you see them burning in the middle of the sandy beach, or partly out in the ocean. Other times they're in the center of a building, on a table in the pub, etc.! Luckily the flames don't harm you or anything, they're just there looking strangely out of place.

Another bug is really an interaction between Windows and the game controls. One of the most important controls is SPACEBAR, which is how you open doors, search crates, dig in the ground, kick the bars of your jail cell, etc. If you ever press SPACEBAR 5 times in a row, Windows thinks you're trying to invoke Handicapped Mode, and temporarily suspends your full-screen game to tell you that you've just turned on this special mode! You have to click "cancel" to go back to the game.

Once in a while the executable application of the game will crash, and kick you back out to Windows, completely exiting the game. This rarely happens on my laptop, but always seems to happen on my wife's machine about every 15 mins or so. We're both running WinXP.

But overall, the game is totally worth playing. It really sucks you in, and when you start hitting the limits of the storyline for free players, it makes you want to pay for the full version of the game. You cannot upgrade to better ships until you pay for the game. You also can't have certain special weapons (and even voodoo), until you pay for the game. With a sloop you can only have 3 people on board - my family has 4 members, and this causes us to want to upgrade, just so we can get a better ship that can fit all 4 of us on the high seas. We'll probably subscribe 1 or 2 of us pretty soon.

The music and sound effects really set the mood, too, and aren't at all irritating with repetition like many other games I won't mention.

If you enjoyed any of the Pirates of the Carribbean movies at all, for any reason, I highly recommend downloading and playing this game. My whole family is playing it this weekend. It's a blast.

Friday, March 21, 2008

My father-in-law's Hyundai Elantra's headlights were pointing down too low, and he asked me to adjust them when he was visiting our house last night.

My father-in-law came to visit us last night. He mentioned his Hyundai Elantra's headlights were pointing down too low, and he asked if I could adjust them for him. So I got the manual out of his glove compartment and found the section on headlight adjusting.

The instructions say to look for a hole in the top of the radiator-area near each light, you can supposedly put a phillips screwdriver in there and twist to adjust the vertical alignment of the headlight. I tried it, but it wouldn't work. So I shined a flashlight down in the hole, and I could see what they were doing.

There's a little gear-like thing that's supposed to mesh with the phillips screwdriver prongs, so that when you twist, it rolls the gear, which adjusts the headlight. Well, it doesn't work. I tried a variety of bigger and smaller phillips screwdrivers, no luck. I even tried a very thin standard screwdriver, trying to "flick the teeth" of the gear down in there, that didn't work either.

I have adjusted headlights in other cars before, and the way you usually do it is go in behind the headlight (as if you're going to change the bulb), and look for some kind of thing to twist as an adjustment. So I looked down in back of where I had been trying to adjust the headlights, and there it was! The normal headlight adjustment!

It's recessed somewhat, so you have to use a thin-standard screwdriver on it. You can completely bypass that whole weird gear-thingy, and directly adjust the thing which raises and lowers the angle of the headlight.

The one on the right-side is harder to access because the battery's over there, and there's a plastic cover covering the whole area. The little plastic connectors holding that cover in place simply pop off, when you pull up on the cover, so you can re-attach them again when you're finished. (It feels like a cheap design, one of the plastic connectors broke off when I did this, so be careful).

The rest of the instructions were somewhat accurate, about trying to adjust the height of the projected light to the same height as the lights are physically installed on the car itself. I could not understand their instructions for horizontal alignment, but it already looked good to me, so I left that alone.

2007 Hyundai Elantra