I’m currently tracking the development of this project called Species. I like the concept of it and it looks like it could be really fun to play. If you like checking out fun and interesting up-and-coming programming projects as much as I do, you should check out this person’s blog!

Edit:  For the record, I don’t think render targets are evil.  🙂

Species Development Blog

aka. Misadventures In Implementing a Real Time Tree of Life Graph. Note: this post is a logical sequel to the previous post, though it also doubles as a what-not-to-do tutorial of sorts when it comes to implementing real time graphs and render targets in XNA. Fair warning: It’ll probably be a bit incomprehensible if you’re not a programmer.

/tangential progress report: we’re about 40% of the way to the alpha release deadline and about 50% of the way through the “list of crap to do”. So we’re ahead of schedule, but not by much.

It’s probably worth noting that part of the reason I’m cutting it so fine is micro-feature-creep. A major advantage of programming on your own is the ability to indulge your inner ADHD-sufferer: getting distracted by something that sounds like fun and wandering off to code it. Some of my favorite features in Species have…

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FlexNA Beta 1.0 and New Site Design

FlexNA has reached a milestone release:  Beta 1.0.  You can get it over at the newly redesigned homepage: http://www.aaronmisner.com/flexna.  All the information you need to know about the 1.0 release is on the website.  Go there and check it out!

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Extending the Microsoft XNA Framework

I’ve been working on a space colonization/exploration/conquest/adventure/arcade/action game for the past eight years or so and I’ve never been able to finish it.  The development tools I use keep evolving and I keep wanting to apply new features.  Unfortunately, this resulted in a perpetual development cycle with no foreseeable end.

Background

The most recent development tool I’ve been using to develop my game has been Microsoft’s XNA Game Studio; which, while sounding fancy, is really just an API built on top of the .NET framework.  XNA provides a .NET friendly layer on top of the DirectX 9 API, which can be easier than accessing the DirectX 9 API directly using C++.  While I can program in C++, I’ve found C# and the .NET framework to be easier and quicker to use.  The .NET framework handles many of the minutia that programming in C++ requires and this cuts down on development time.  Since my time is limited:  C#, the .NET framework, and XNA are practical alternatives for me.

Throughout my time developing my game using XNA Game Studio, I’ve found that there are many features that I want in my game that aren’t available “out of the box” in the XNA framework.  In other words, there aren’t certain classes available to do what I want and so I have to make them myself.  This is understandable given that XNA is designed to be a general framework to start a game project from.  As I wrote the classes that I needed to be part of my game (such as an intro screen, main menu, hit detection, buttons, dialogs, popups, etc.) I found that these were features that many, if not all, games use.  I started building my own game framework on top of XNA, which in some circles could be referred to as a “game engine.”  However, a game engine is usually designed for a specific game and many games use their own game engine.  However, I found that the features I need are more general and can be used for a wide variety of games that I may plan to make in the future.  An intro screen, main menu, windows, popups, buttons, hit detection, etc. are all things that virtually any game would need and curiously, they are not provided as built-in features of the XNA framework.  So I decided to write my own.

The Beginnings of a new Framework

What started as a simple set of classes to handle the core functionality for my space colonization/exploration/conquest/adventure/arcade/action game (which I’ll simply refer to as my “space game” from now on), grew into an actual framework that can provide functionality to all types of games.  Primarily, I wanted a framework to give me everything I needed to start right into writing the actual meat of a game whenever I wanted to start a new game project.  Every game I plan on making needs to have a main menu, intro screen, etc., so I want those to be available from the start, requiring only a little tweaking.

When I was developing my space game in XNA, I kept coming up with new features that were useful as a generic feature for all my games, so they went into the “Framework” folder of the code library for the game.  Eventually, as the “Framework” folder got big enough, I decided it needed to be its own entity, and so the FlexNA framework was born.

Enter FlexNA

“FlexNA” is a name I came up with to distinguish my core game library from my space game.  FlexNA started as a folder within my game’s overall solution in Visual Studio.  I then separated it out as its own “Game Library” solution and kept my space game as its own solution.  However, this posed problems when developing my space game and FlexNA at the same time.  Really, they weren’t problems per se, just annoyances and inconveniences associated with syncing and moving between two projects all the time.  Because of these quirks, I moved FlexNA back into the space game’s solution and kept it as a separate project within the solution.  This allowed me to develop both my space game and FlexNA side-by-side without any inconveniences.

As I continued work on the space game, I noticed that most of the work was going to FlexNA.  Also, the FlexNA code was starting to become patch worked and messy as I added the new, removed the old, and tweaked the existing code.  This led me to the conclusion that I needed to start FlexNA off right and rebuild it from the ground up as the standalone game library it was meant to be.

FlexNA has once again been put into its own solution and FlexNA 0.1 is now in development.  If I can get it to version 1.0, then it will be a complete framework ready to be used in other games.  It can then be extended later on to add more features, at which point games can use updated versions of FlexNA as necessary or keep with 1.0.

Conclusion

If you are interested in what FlexNA can do for your game projects, let me know.  As I develop the framework, I will post more on what it can do and what I plan for it to do.

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The Failed Attempts of a Phisher (Messing with Scammers)

I recently received an email from a one “Terry Grey” claiming to be someone working at HSBC bank.  The name is not important, as it was made up, but right off the bat, one can see the tell-tale sign of a phishing attempt.  One thing you may not notice is that even though I received the email, it does not appear to be addressed to me.  Instead, it is recorded as being sent To:  HSBC BANK ISTANBUL TURKEY.  Obviously since I received the email and I’m not “HSBC BANK ISTANBUL TURKEY”, this is an obvious scam email, as a legitimate email would have my name or email address next to the To: field.

Normally, I delete these obvious scam messages as I’m sure a lot of you do.  Thanks to the media’s exposure to this epidemic, the common computer user of today is much more aware of the existence of scam artists and their attempts to steal a person’s identity, credit card numbers, passwords, etc.  On the day I received this particular scam email, I was too bored to simply delete it and mark it as spam, that was simply not enough.  I was tired of the constant barrage of these messages, so this time I decided to have a little fun with this so-called HSBC representative.

Below is a screen shot of the body of the first message sent to me.  I highlighted all the obviously questionable parts and underlined spelling/grammatical errors.

This email has so many problems with its legitimacy, it’s ridiculous.  This is probably one of the best attempts this particular scammer could come up with at the time of this writing.  To think that there were many other messages like this one 3, 4, and even 5+ years ago attempting to con people out of their personal information and actually succeeding! It stuns me to think that someone may actually fall for this glaringly obvious trap.  Luckily, thanks to increased awareness, these types of emails are probably not very effective anymore; but the fact that they’re still being sent in such large numbers means that a certain number of people must still be getting suckered by them, and that’s a crying shame.

Anyway, in order to mess with the scammer who sent this to me, I decided to send him something back.  Although the experts always say to just delete spam emails and to never, under any circumstances, reply to them; I think they should be more specific and say:  Just don’t send any personal information to anybody you don’t know and trust.  Well, in this case I wasn’t about to send this guy any more information then he/she already knew about me (which was my email address and first and last name).  In case you’re wondering, my first and last name are sent along with any email I send from my Hotmail account, so anybody who receives my email will automatically know who the email is from.  This is how this particular scammer knew my name after I sent him a reply.

Now since I know this scammer is juvenile in his knowledge of the English language, I didn’t want to use any big words or say too much in my reply.  So I simply replied with a message saying, “Give me all your details…”  I just wanted to see what sort of response I would get from that.

The next day, I received an email from the scammer, but this time it wasn’t from Terry Grey, it was from HSBC BANK ISTANBUL TURKEY.  This time (surprise) the email was actually addressed to me, which makes it look just slightly more official, but since I already knew this person was a scammer, this didn’t mean anything to me.  Reading the email, I couldn’t help but laugh.  The font style alone was enough to make this guy look like an idiot (no legitimate official uses all bold text).

Again, there are just so many things wrong with this email, it’s laughable.  For starters, the Customer 24/7 Hotline number is different and email is from a different person now.  It turns out this Serda Balta guy will be the same guy who replies to me after I continue to mess with this moron.  Highlighted are all the questionable wording and requests.  Some notable lines include:  “clear yourself up with the IRS” and “make it hitch free”–are you serious?  Talk about L.O.L.  The initial activation fee request was also particularly interesting, since he says it will just be in my account…whatever that means.

Now at this point I was thinking this might actually be some guy in Turkey named Serda Balta, trying to con me out of my money, but most likely it’s some guy in Africa trying to make it sound like it’s some guy in Turkey.  An African posing as a Turk…the world never ceases to amaze me.

Oh, and in case you’re wondering what the supposed “Deposit Certificate” looks like, here it is (notice how official and professional it looks).  It really is a work of art, don’t you think?

This is supposed to be authentic?

I don’t even have to highlight all the things wrong with this certificate, but I did want to point out one strikingly hilarious feature of this “completely official” document.  The portion I circled in red is what I like to call, “unbelievable.”  Those of you who use Gmail might recognize it.  This guy was so lazy and incompetent that he just took a screenshot of an email sent to him from HSBC and pasted it into this ridiculous certificate without even taking the time to crop out the header portion.  This guy is a real class act.

And to top it off, he even sent a separate email at the same time showing off his fancy and oh-so-official-looking ID.  Check this thing out:

Aside from the elementary school level-of-detail and polish of this ID, what is one thing you think looks most wrong about this picture?  If you said the photo of Serda Balta, then you would be thinking the same as I did.  Does this guy look like a “Serda Balta” to you?  I suppose anything is possible these days, but the fact is, someone named Serda Balta looking like this guy ain’t bloody likely.

Well anyway, after receiving this email I was absolutely stunned by the audacity of this guy to think that this certificate and ID would pass as legitimate and then to request MY personal information on top of it.  So in keeping with my strategy of toning my English down to this guy’s level, I replied back and said:  “The picture in the ID does not look like you.  To be sure you are not a scammer, please send me your credit card number so that I can verify your validity.”  I actually tried to sound like one of them.  “Verify your validity”?  Who says that?  And since when does a credit card number verify your validity?  It doesn’t matter, because the fact is this is just one blatant example of something one of these idiotic scammers might say to any one of us.  I’m just giving him a dose of his own medicine.  Although in hindsight, I realize that they probably all try to scam each other because they don’t care who they send the initial “phish” emails to.  They’re simply blasted out to as many addresses as possible, so the reality is, they probably all get each other’s phishing emails…but I digress.

So after sending my second reply, I received the most juvenile response from a scammer yet.  Here’s the email I received after I told the guy to “verify his validity”:

The words to note are:  “I can’t compromise my job” and “Just to please you.”  Oh, I’m sorry…you can’t compromise your job by giving me your credit card number?  What about you compromising my identity by asking me to send you my real ID, address, phone number, and whatever else he would’ve eventually wanted.  Because you know it wouldn’t have stopped with just an ID, phone number, and address.  And “Just to please you.”  Oh, again I’m sorry, I thought you wanted to help me by transferring $1.2 million into my account which was apparently “long awaited” (see original email).

Lastly, the most humorous words he wrote, were the last three:  “…then forget it.”  Kinda’ sounds like a 13-year old telling his friend during a heated argument, “If you don’t like the painting I drew, then you can just FORGET IT!” or “I’m not gonna’ go over to yer’ house an’ spend the night…you can just FORGET IT!”

It really is sad that these people must sink so low to earn a living, stealing from “rich America” as they see it.

Well I knew I wasn’t going to get any farther with this guy so I decided to do a last-ditch hurrah and just try to scare the crap out of him.  So I sent him the following reply email:

None of what I said about contacting U.S. authorities and utilizing “the most advanced” satellites is true.  Like I said, I just wanted to try and scare the crap out of him.  Maybe he read it, maybe he didn’t.  If he did read it, hopefully he believed it.  How is he to know I’m not affiliated with the government?  How is he to know I don’t have access to satellites and know exactly where he lives?  The fact is, he doesn’t know for sure, and it’s that fact that makes me hope he constantly looks over his shoulder and worry.  Maybe he’ll never send another phishing email again.  Of course the reality is, this probably will have no effect, but it was sure fun messing with him regardless.

Wouldn’t you agree?

Leave a comment and share your story of any notable run-ins you had with scammers or phishers, or simply feel free to share your thoughts on the subject.  I hope you found this entertaining.  Until next time!

~ AM

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HAPPY NEW YEAR!!!

Does anyone realize that when the New Year rolls around, text messages from all cell phone carriers are sent on a massive scale?  Millions of text messages are sent on cell phone networks on New Years with the simple title of “Happy New Year!” (plus or minus a few exclamation points).  This jams cell phone networks and the messages are delayed or simply not transferred at all.

Of course none of this matters much because most people are completely intoxicated with alcohol when sending their text messages anyway so most won’t know the difference if their messages don’t go through.  Either way, New Years is a once-in-a-long-while occasion and it deserves some sort of celebration.  But the cell phone networks currently take the brunt of the celebration and are not able to handle the immense spike in traffic.  Should the cell phone carriers spend more money improving their networks so that these text messages can go through?  Perhaps.  On one hand, if they improved their networks to handle such higher spikes in traffic, one side effect may be better overall service during normal operations…on the other hand, it may cost more money than it’s worth.  There are probably other service-related improvements they could work on to make the day-to-day chore of using cell phones that much easier to use throughout the entire year.

This is one of an indeterminate amount of random ramblings I intend to post here on the 2K Technica for now and until the next New Year.

So without further adieu…HAPPY NEW YEAR everyone!!!

 

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1000 Free Icons!

If you need some icons for your website or to put into a document you’re drafting up, then FatCow’s got an amazing assortment of very nice looking ones.  Check it out.  I’m using these guys for my web hosting and having them host aaronmisner.com once my domain transfer finally goes through.  I found out about this from one of the emails they sent me.

Get the 1000 Free Icons from FatCow

 

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Windows 7 Themes and Natural Language Searching from the Start Menu

If you haven’t already upgraded to Windows 7, I highly suggest you do so.  One of the most clearly absent features from Windows Vista was lack of Themes, which were available in Windows XP.  You could always change your window color, sounds, fonts, etc. in Vista but there was no method for easily packaging and distributing your customizations so that you could share them with others (or to simply use for yourself later on).  Windows 7 re-instates the feature from XP and improves it so that it’s easy to create your own themes and also package and share them yourself without using third-party utilities.  I took the liberty to create a simple autumn inspired theme complete with 14 unique autumn backgrounds (hi-res) and a matching window color.

Autumn Bliss Windows 7 Theme

Since we’re in the Autumn season, I recently came to the conclusion that I wanted a nice Autumn toned theme for my computer, but noticed there were no such themes available from the current stock of Windows 7 themes.  So I did a Google search for “Autumn Wallpapers” on the Internet and found a bunch from a royalty-free desktop wallpaper site.  I then customized my backgrounds to show all the autumn pics I downloaded, set my window color to a nice burnt orange, saved my changes as a new theme, then saved the theme for sharing.

If you’d like to use this theme:  click the image below, then click on the Download link or the blank page icon, in the new window that opens.  Wait for it to download (it’s rather large at 13.7 MB), then open the downloaded file.  The theme will be applied immediately and will change your window color and backgrounds (that’s right I said backgroundzzzs, with an ‘s’).  New in Windows 7 is the built-in ability to have your desktop background cycle through multiple pictures.  For more information on the background cycle feature, read the next section.  If you’d like to know how to create your own themes, go to Customize a Theme to learn how (Warning:  it’s very easy).  If you want to see all the other cool personalization things you can get for Windows 7 (and Vista), go here:  Personalization Gallery

Get the Autumn Bliss theme pack

The Background Cycle Feature and Searching from the Start Menu on Windows 7

New in Windows 7 (and a built-in feature that’s been missing and long overdo in every prior Windows version) is the ability to cycle your background (or wallpaper).  When you select what background you want in Windows 7 you can now check a box next to multiple pictures that you’d like to be displayed.  Your desktop background will cycle through all the pictures you have selected.  You can also specify how long before the next background is cycled and also choose to shuffle the order in which the images are cycled through.

All this functionality is available by right-clicking on the desktop and selecting “Personalize” or by opening the Start menu and typing “change background” or “change wallpaper”, this “natural language” approach works really well in Windows 7 and you can use it to discover just about anything you want to do with your computer.  If you’ve ever had an idea of something you wanted to change, customize or find on your computer but didn’t quite know where to go to do it or how to find it, this search functionality built into the Start menu will prove extremely useful to you.  Give it a try…

 

Notice as you start typing, the list of options constantly changes to reflect updated search results that match what you’ve typed so far.  In this case, I don’t even have to finish typing “change background” before the list shows the option I’m looking for.

“Change desktop background” is automatically highlighted for you and all you have to do is hit ENTER (or click it if you want to do it the hard way) and you will be taken to the window that allows you to change your background.

 

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