A few thoughts on the Samsung Galaxy S9 Plus

galaxy-s9-family-shot-950x317Recently I decided to cancel my current mobile phone plan with Telekom and give one of the other carriers a try. In the end I settled for O2. With the new plan I also got a new phone and after some serious research I finally settled on the Samsung Galaxy S9 Plus. I have been using this smartphone a couple of days now and let me share my thoughts so far.

This phone is extremely beautiful. In my opinion photos just don’t do it justice. From the photos I’ve seen it looks really bland, especially compared to the Huawei P20 Pro, which was the other phone I was considering. But in person it’s just gorgeous. The back (which is glass) is a bad fingerprint magnet, but that’s only a minor quibble, especially since I’ll put it into a case ASAP anyway.

What immediately blew me away was the screen. I am sure no one will disagree when I say that Samsung builds the best displays, period. The AMOLED display of the S9 Plus has vibrant colors, the blackest black I’ve ever seen on a smartphone display and the resolution of 1440 x 2960 pixels means that everything is extremely crisp. The CPU is an octa-core processor with 4 cores running at 2.7 GHz and the remaining four running at a lower 1.8 GHz). I am pretty sure that the S9 Plus is the fastest smartphone I ever owned and I’ve never noticed any slowdowns while using it. Everything responds very fast and 3D games run very smooth. From specs alone the S9 Plus should be among the most powerful smartphones around, but there are a lot of small details which make it stand out – at least in my opinion.

The curved display which Samsung has used in several phones now is a huge improvement over the phone displays I have used in the past. It looks great and there’s almost no bezel. The stereo speakers are of pretty high quality and, boy, they are loud! You can even create personalized sound profiles that improve the sound quite a bit by analyzing your hearing and then modifying the sound output accordingly.

I was positively surprised about the new software Samsung uses. Because of TouchWiz I have avoided Samsung phones for a long time, but the new Samsung Experience isn’t too shabby. The only drawback is that it is a bit overwhelming with thousands of settings you can tweak and things you can customize. The launcher included works fine out of the box, but I eventually replaced it by a modified Pixel 2 launcher. Edge panels and edge lighting are cool, but the first is sometimes kinda annoying and the latter didn’t really work for me. After playing around with the options for two hours or so I gave up. I hope Samsung will get this working eventually.

From what I’ve experienced so far, the 3500 mAh battery lasts about a day, perhaps even more if you don’t play around with your phone all day. Fast-charging works like a charm, but unfortunately I haven’t been able to try wireless charging yet. I was expecting the display to be a major battery drain, but it seems AMOLED displays really don’t use that much power.

I was also positively surprised when I realized that my provider sent me the dual-SIM version of the phone. At the moment I am using the SIM card from my old carrier in slot 1 and the one from my new carrier in slot 2. The phone actually allows me to pick a SIM card for calls, texts and mobile data, so I am using my old carrier for calls (until my phone number has been moved to the new carrier) and the new carrier for mobile data. I won’t use the feature in the long run, but I am pretty sure it’s quite handy for some people.

The accessories you get with the phone are not too shabby either. An AKG in-ear headset, a charger, a USB-mini to USB-C adapter, and a USB OTG adapter, and a SIM key are included in the box. Normally I immediately toss the included headsets, but this one is actually pretty good. The sound quality is probably not good enough for a true audiophile, but I think it sounds great.

Oh, I forgot to mention the cameras. The S9 Plus has three cameras. Two on the back and one on the front. The back cameras have 12 MP and the pictures they take are quite impressive (at least to me). There are still a lot of features I haven’t tried though, like Slow-Motion video, or just regular video in general. The S9 Plus can record full 4K videos in 60 fps, which is more than I ever needed. Zwinkerndes Smiley The front camera is great for selfies and has 8 MP resolution. It can also be used to unlock the phone by face and iris detection which works great. There’s also a fingerprint reader on the back, below the cameras which can also be used to unlock the device. I included a snapshot of my cat below.


There’s so much more I could tell you about the device, but I think this should suffice for now. Overall I am extremely happy with the S9 Plus. It still bothers me a bit that I couldn’t get Edge lighting to work, but it’s nothing I will lose sleep about. If you are looking for a high-end smartphone you should definitely consider the S9 Plus.

Decisions, decisions

Even though I didn’t work that much on my latest project, my Ultima-inspired game reached a new milestone. I’ve added game states to the game to handle switching from the map view to the main menu and vice versa. In the future additional game states will be needed. A game state is basically what tells the program how to react on certain keypresses, what to show on the screen etc. I’ve added a screenshot of the main menu screen below.


I also managed to get some simple animations going, but unfortunately it’s not working perfectly right now. But at least it’s a step into the right direction.

I’ve also added functions to the game which allow me to spawn enemies on the world map. They don’t do anything at this point, but I already have some ideas on how to get them to move around and eventually attack the player.


I’ve also added a function which checks which tile the player is standing on. If it’s swamp there’s a certain chance that the player gets poisoned which means they’ll lose HP with every passing turn. Of course there’s no way to die at the moment, and curing poison is also not implemented.

What I have to do now is to make some design decisions. What stats do I want to use? What mechanics do I want to implement? Will there be multiple world maps or just one? Will combat be like in older Ultima games (on special combat maps) or more like in a roguelike? Should perma-death be a thing? To make things easier I could also throw out monsters visibly roaming the lands in favor of JRPG-style random encounters. Hmm…

I am also not sure whether I should stick to the Josh Steele tileset or not. It looks great but it also limits me in various ways. On the other hand limits can be great. I am not really an experienced computer game developer and I have to learn a lot of new tricks all the time. So limiting my design choices might help not to overwhelm myself too quickly.

If you are interested in further updates, please let me know. I also can go deeper into the coding aspects of my project if you’re interested in such things. My code probably looks horrible, but it still might help some other aspiring game designer to not repeat my mistakes. Zwinkerndes Smiley

From LUA with LÖVE

Since I got my first computer back in the mid 1980s I love writing code. I never had professional training in it, but over the years I’ve played around with several programming languages and I’ve written programs for various platforms. My big dream has always been to write my own computer game.

A while back I got GameMaker Studio from the Humble Bundle and among the projects I finished was an Asteroid clone and an application that allowed me to view the map from Ultima V using the game’s tiles. I even expanded on the latter and added an avatar which you could move around on the map. Eventually I added the ability to board a ship and sail around. But when working with GMS, I always had the feeling I had to fight it. So I started to look for alternatives.


I had a look at Unity (which totally overwhelmed me), Pico-8 (which felt too limited) and various other engines and programming languages. In the end I decided to give LÖVE a try. It’s a framework for LUA which allows you to write 2D games. To my surprise it’s quite easy to learn and is very flexible.

So I started a new project using LÖVE: A RPG inspired by the early Ultima games. The game has no name yet, no story, it’s actually not really a game at this point, but I’m still quite proud. Currently you can run around on a tile-based map with your avatar which is centered on the map. Movement is blocked by certain tiles, while others slow your movement. The map is still hardcoded, but I plan to write my own map editor eventually.

In order to have a reliable backup of my work and to allow others to have a look at my (terribly messy) code, I uploaded the whole project to GitHub. As I said before, the game is far from being completed, let alone fun, but if you want to check it out, feel free to do so. Any advice is highly appreciated.

Playing the classics: Ultima IV

Yeah, it has been a while since my last post. But let’s not dwell on this and look to the future… or rather at the past. Today I want to write about a computer game series which influenced me a lot: Ultima. I think the first Ultima game I ever played was Ultima VI – The False Prophet. I think it was my mother’s cousin who regularly provided me with games for my PC who gave me a pirated copy of that game. Back in these days people didn’t care that much when it came to software piracy…


I don’t remember how many hours I put into Ultima VI, but when playing it for the first time I was hooked. Later when Ultima VII came out, I was basically glued to my PC. What I liked most about the Ultima games was their freedom and the intriguing stories. Much like in the open-world games of today you could choose in which order you fulfilled quests, which areas you wanted to explore first, and there were countless ways to interact with the game world. Heck, you could bake bread, milk cows, and all that. Unfortunately Ultima VIII was a huge letdown, and don’t get me started on Ultima IX. This is a story for another day…

I eventually bought a copy of the Ultima Collection containing all Ultima games up to Ultima VIII. But even though I tried, I had a hard time getting into the older games like Ultima IV, let alone the games from the Age Of Darkness. Even though Ultima IV and V were the foundation on which the games I loved so much were built upon, I just couldn’t get myself to actually play them. It was either the outdated graphics, the lack of music or the horrible controls which drove me away.

So why is it so important to me to actually play this game? Ultima IV is the first game which featured the eight virtues and the avatar. It’s the game that set the tone for the rest of the series. It’s not a roleplaying game about slaughtering monsters and taking their stuff, but about becoming a better person. It’s a game about personal improvement and philosophy. There’s no big bad to kill, no treasure to find (ok, there are treasures to find, but its not the focus of the game). It’s a classic and a game changer.

0Lately my interest in roguelike games has increased and I played quite a few games with outdated graphics and byzantine control schemes. Since I was enjoying the gameplay, it didn’t matter that much, that the games weren’t up to par when it came to presentation and user interface. Eventually it occurred to me that I should give the old Ultima games another chance. Again, I skipped over the first three games since – in my mind – they are only losely related to the series as I see it. For me Ultima started with the Quest for the Avatar.

If you want to play Ultima IV nowadays you have several options. The easiest way is probably to get a copy from GOG.com which also included its two sequels. DOSBOX is included, so it runs fine on modern machines. Alternatively you can get a free copy from one of the other sources, but then you have to get it running with DOSBOX yourself.

But an unpatched Ultima IV still looks pretty outdated and doesn’t have the iconic Ultima music. There are several fan patches that remedy that, but I actually recommend to use XU4 instead, or if you are more a C64 person, to check out Ultima IV Remastered (see screenshot above). XU4 is a new engine for Ultima IV which not only supports music, but also higher resolution, alternative tilesets, and a couple of quality-of-life additions. It is IMHO the best way to play Ultima IV on a PC nowadays. You can download the latest build from SourceForge, but make sure you read the included documentation carefully. In my first attempt I forgot to put the original Ultima IV files into a ultima4 subfolder and the program just crashed.

XU4 is compatible with the U4 Upgrade Patch and supports digital audio, so you can add alternative music to the game. Combined with XU4’s quality-of-life features, Ultima IV is now much more playable, especially if you are already used to roguelike games. I just started the game myself, but there are already a couple of tips I can share with you thanks to the friendly and helpful members of the Ultima Dragons Internet Chapter Facebook group:

  • Travel to any city and talk to the people there
  • Write down any clue you get, especially when related to the virtues, runes, and mantras
  • Explore the lands and make use of a map
  • Prepare the Cure spell as soon as possible, the amount of poison in the game is bordering on ridiculous
  • Don’t act like a dick – you want to become the Avatar, remember?
  • Seriously, try to be virtuous

Ultima IV like many games from that era, doesn’t hold your hand, there’s no quest tracker to show the way, there’s no journal, no automap. You are thrown into the lands of Britannia, with no clues what to do and where to go. My last advice: take it easy, enter the city nearest to you and talk to everyone and their dog, and let the clues the NPCs provide you with drive you forward. It worked for me so far.

Game recommendation: Beyond – Two Souls

One of the games I picked up shortly after getting a PS3 was Beyond: Two Souls. I admit I didn’t actually know much about the game aside from the fact that it had been created by the development team behind Heavy Rain, Quantic Dream.

Heavy Rain is definitely one of must-have titles for the Playstation 3 but IMHO Beyond: Two Souls is better in almost every aspect. When it comes to graphics and sound it’s amazing how awesome games can look on this decade-old machine. Sure, there are next-gen titles with better graphics, but for a PS3 title, Beyond is just gorgeous.

Like Heavy Rain Beyond: Two Souls is more an interactive movie than what I would call a game although Beyond has a lot more “gameplay” than its predecessor. Heavy Rain was basically a long sequence of QTEs, while Beyond feels more like a traditional adventure game. But it’s pretty light on puzzles and if I am not mistaken you can’t really fail. Since I haven’t replayed the game yet, I can’t judge how much the story is influenced by the player’s decisions. But I guess there are only a few branching moments and the rest of the story is built in a way that you have the illusion of choice. But even if that’s the case, it doesn’t make Beyond: Two Souls a less great game.

What makes Beyond such a great experience is a) its story and b) the acting. As I said, it’s more like an interactive movie and I enjoyed the actors performances (Ellen Page and Willem Dafoe are starring) a lot. If someone would turn Beyond into a proper movie I would definitely pay to watch it in the cinema. The focus of the story is Jodie, a young woman who is tied to some kind of spirit called Aiden, who grants her supernatural abilities. She can ask him to perform certain task for her, but he also acts on his own. I don’t want to spoil the story too much, but it’s an exciting ride with exciting combat, drama, government conspiracies, and questions about life, death, and what awaits us after death. The story is told in a non-chronological manner, which can sometimes be a bit confusing, but overall this works pretty well.

By the way, you can also play Beyond as a two-player co-op game. One player controls Jodie, while the other plays Aidan. But I haven’t tried this gamemode yet. As far as I know there is also a version for the PS4 which includes a couple of extras. Regardless which system you own, you should try to track down a copy of Beyond: Two Souls. It’s an impressive game, which tells an intriguing story and features believable characters. Beyond is also one of the few games who managed to have such an impact on me that I found myself close to tears several times during my playthrough. If you enjoy adventure games with mystery themes, you definitely have to play Beyond: Two Souls. You will not be disappointed!

Why should you get a PS3 in 2017?

Just last week I bought a used Sony Playstation 3 on eBay. Some of you might be wondering why I got this video game console now, when the new generation has already been available for quite some time now. There are a couple of reasons.

The main reason is that the PS3 is much more affordable now than it was years ago. You can easily buy a used one for less than 100€ including controllers and perhaps even a few games. And even though it’s already about a decade old, a lot of games still look great.

The PS3 has had a slew of exclusive titles you were always interested in, but because you never got one, you weren’t able to play them? Now’s your chance! Especially the highly popular PS3-exclusives are now available for a couple of Euros. I got games like Heavy Rain, The Last of Us, etc. for under 5€ each. In general used games are extremely cheap. The PS3 is still new enough and it sold extremely well during its lifetime, so that the games are not extremely rare. Chances are good that you can get a handful of games for the price of one new PS4 game. This might eventually change in the coming years, so now it’s a great time to start collecting PS3 games.

I especially like that the PS3 is easily upgraded. Yesterday I replaced the 80GB hard drive by a 1 TB one and the whole process took me less than half an hour (including formatting and installing the latest software update). And if you don’t own a BluRay player yet, a PS3 gets even more interesting compared to other consoles of its generation.

As a plus you also get a console which plays all your venerable Playstation 1 games. Yes, every PS3 is PS1 compatible, even though they dropped PS2 compatibilty eventually.

Currently the PS3 is still somewhat supported by Sony. You can still get system updates from their website (even though this update is a couple of years old) and there are still many PS3 titles available in the Playstation Store. But of course we don’t know how long this support will last. So starting your collection now seems quite reasonable.

What are your thoughts on this subject? Please share your comments below!


Pixels … Oh My!

Yesterday I noticed that the Adam Sandler movie Pixels was on Netflix. Even though I’ve heard that the film was really, really bad, I decided to watch it anyway. Has the movie been a disappointment? No, since I didn’t expect much. It even had a couple of funny moments. Unfortunately it is obvious that noone involved in this movie put any effort into it. The story had plot holes so large, you could squeeze a house-sized pacman through them. Sure, it’s a movie about 1980s Arcade games characters attacking Earth, but it should have at least tried to follow it’s own rules.

The silliest scene in the movie is when the heroes find out that Peter Dinklage’s character used cheats in their real-life fight with Pacman. Don’t ask me, how this is supposed to work. And yes, Peter Dinklage is in the movie, and even he can’t really save it. Overall there are so many inconsistencies, it’s not funny anymore. The acting was uninspired and the majority of the “jokes” were not really funny. The only redeeming value were the CGI effects and the ‘80s nostalgia that sometimes shone through. But overall it felt as if the people actually making this movie didn’t share this nostalgia. It’s a shame. This could have been a really awesome movie…

One last thing: the CGI Max Headroom looks terrible. I definitely prefer the original.

Spam is killing me!

Not literaly of course, but spam emails basically rendered several of my email accounts unusable. Unfortunately I haven’t found a good way to deal with this. Since these accounts are not used for any super-important stuff, ignoring the problem works for a while, but in the long run I really need a solution. My main email addresses are from Gmail. And you know what? I have basically no problems with spam. Gmail automatically identifies 99.9% of all spam emails and hides them away in the spam folder. Problem solved! False positives are not a big problem.

Alas I also have an outlook.com address (which I use for everything Microsoft-related) and an address provided by my hosting provider. With both accounts I have massive spam issues. The ratio between proper emails and spam is probably around 1:100. I wish I had Gmail-like spam filters for these accounts as well, but I don’t. Things are made even harder by the fact that there are some idiots out there who sign up for services using my email address. Don’t ask me how many times people try to sign up for services like Paypal, Twitter, Facebook, etc. using my address. So I have to deal with repeated authentification emails as well, when they realize they didn’t get those in the first place. No surprise there, idiot, they are in my inbox!

Unfortunately outlook.com’s spam filter doesn’t do anything and I get the feeling my hosting provider doesn’t even attempt to filter emails. I could forward all those emails to Gmail accounts and let their spam filter do the heavy hauling for me, BUT that’s not something I really want to do. Switching between several Google accounts is a chore. A perfect solution would be a spam filter included in an email desktop client. Since I can’t (or won’t) change anything on the server-side, perhaps there’s something to be done on the client side? Do you guys know of a solution to my problem? Is there a piece of software that helps me to deal with all this spam while keeping my sanity (or at least the few shreds still left)? Any advice would be appreciated!

What Am I Playing Right Now? (Part 2)

Yesterday I wrote about Star Trek Online, today I want to look at something similar but totally different. In a way Avorion has some similarities with a game like STO: you fly around in a space ship, there’s space combat, there’s exploration, you can play with other people, but that’s where the similarities end. In Avorion you start out with a simple mining drone in a remote sector of the galaxy. In the nearby asteroid field you can start mining for materials like Iron or Titanium. You’ll quickly notice that the other ships and stations you encounter look a bit blocky, but that’s because the game uses a voxel engine similar to games like Minecraft. It also uses procedular generation to populate the universe with countless space ships and stations.


After having mined for a while you can use the material to build your own ship, block by block, much like putting together LEGO bricks. Aside from plain hull blocks, there are several functional blocks like generators, crew quarters, thrusters etc. Just bashing a few blocks together is usually not enough, you have to make sure the ship not only looks nice (which is actually optional) but also works (which is a must). Last but not least you can attach turrets to your creation. You start out with 4 turrets of which you can use up to 3 at the start. From what I’ve seen so far, you don’t get the same turrets every time you start a new game, but you always get two mining lasers and two weapon turrets. With your new ship you at first have to travel to a space station in order to hire crew. Without the crew necessary you can’t use turrets or maintain the ship. The larger the ship, the more crew members you’ll need. And these guys also want to get paid…


So what to do now? Your ultimate goal in Avorion is to reach the center of the galaxy (much like in No Man’s Sky). But the closer you get to the core travelling using your hyperdrive engines, jumpgates, or wormholes, the more dangerous it gets. But there are also more valuable materials and technologies closer to the core. So you start out with a pretty dinky little ship, mine more materials, shoot pirates (or become a pirate yourself), trade, and so on. In the long run you can also buy additional ships which can then be commanded by captains you employ, and you can even have your own space stations. I have played the games for a couple of hours now and I am hooked. I even paused playing STO for a while because building space ships in this game is just so much fun – even though I suck at it.


Avorion is still in early access, but it has more depth to it than many other games. If you enjoy space games like Elite: Dangerous, EVE Online, the X series, and always wished there was a way to build your own ships, Avorion might be for you. Check it out! Avorion is available on Steam and sets you back about 18€ or your regional equivalent.

What Am I Playing Right Now? (Part 1)

Hmm, it has been quite some time since my last post on this blog. Real life can really mess with such things like blogging and my first priority has always been my roleplaying games blog, so Planet Stargazer lay dormant for a while. No more! The other thing which messes with blogging is playing computer games. There are currently two games which keep me enthralled: Avorion and Star Trek Online.

Let me start with the more popular one: Star Trek Online. Star Trek Online is a MMORPG created by Cryptic Studios and published by Perfect World Entertainment. It has a free-to-play model, which means you can play it compeletely free, with some minor limitations. I actually bought the game back in the day when it was initially released (and when it still had a classic subscription model). I have to admit I wasn’t that thrilled about the game back then. I really liked the space combat, but most ground missions were boring, and the client was so badly optimized that it ran like molasses even on pretty fast PCs. When giving it another chance about a week ago, I was positively surprised. The graphics have been updated and the game runs much, much smoother. Overall missions have been improved, are a bit more diverse (even though there’s still a focus on combat). Some of the ground missions now have some simple puzzles you need to solve in order to progress.


Apropos progress, I was able to rise from Cadet to Vice Admiral in a few days of playing. This is way faster than I remember it to be. I basically just followed the storyline missions and didn’t do much else. Up until Vice Admiral you also get a new ship everytime you get promoted. After that things slow down tremendously. I also had to use some of my hard-earned cash to buy a couple of ZEN (that’s Perfect Worlds in-game currency) in order to buy a new ship. While you can definitely progress quite far without spending real money, the temptation becomes higher as soon as you reach level 50+. The only way to get you hands on ZEN without paying real money is to exchange Dilithium for ZEN in-game. Dilithium ore is often a mission reward and you have to refine it to Dilithium before you can use it. And of course the amount of ore you can refine per day is limited. Aside from ships you can also buy cosmetic items and XP booster etc. with ZEN. But if you are patient you can definitely play the game for a long time without ever paying a penny.


Oh, I haven’t talked much about the gameplay yet. In STO you are the commanding officer of a Starfleet vessel (or one of the other factions like Romulan Republic or Klingon Defense Force). You can either be a science officer, a tactical officer, or an engineering officer. Depending on your class you get access to different abilities, but when it comes to space battles your choice of ships and bridge officers is more important. Yes, even as a science guy, you can fly a more combat-oriented ship if that’s your desire. I have mostly played Ezekiel Aurelius Stargazer, a human science officer. You start with a small ship and – correct me if I am wrong – one bridge officer. You then get sent on various missions. You fly to those missions through “sector space” which is basically a 3D space map until you reach a system. Aside from doing your mission you can also patrol systems. In that case the game generates a mission for you. When you enter the system you usually have to fight off some enemies first. Space combat is actually quite complex. You have to use beam weapons like phasers to drain the enemies’ shields first before you can use torpedos for full effect. Your and your bridge officers’ abilities help to repair damage, hinder foes, buff allies etc. Maneuvering the starships feels like it should feel. The bigger the ships are the slower they turn. A huge dreadnought can easily be outmaneuvered by a small escort.


After having dispatched your enemies you often have to beam down onto a planet, or onto a space station. Sometimes you even board enemy or ally vessels. Ground combat works a lot like what you know from other MMOs, but usually there are no side missions of any kind. In most cases these are all instanced affairs which means you’re on your own, if you are not joining a larger PvE or PvP battle, or if you are in a team. I only recall one area where I could watch other players doing the same missions I did, and honestly it felt a bit weird. The writing of the missions is a mixed bag. The larger storylines are actually not that bad – even if they involve way too much time travel – but sometimes things are a bit silly, and too often missions remind me of bad Star Trek – Next Generation episodes. Luckily the gameplay is intriguing enough to keep me invested.


One thing which really works for me is the graphics. Oh boy, this game looks great. Even though the engine shows it age and still has quite a few bugs and glitches, some of the sights to behold are breathtaking. If you don’t believe me, just check out the screenshots I’ve posted. The sound effects are another highlight. Everything sounds as it should from the engines of your ship to the sound your tricorder makes when scanning something. The music is quite nice, but I’d like to hear a few of the more iconic pieces from the series. But I guess because of licensing this might not always be possible.

There’s so much more about the game which I haven’t mentioned yet, but which would also be beyond the scope of just one blog post: ship customization, uniform customization, buying and selling on the Exchange, duty officers and admirality system, just to name a few. STO has a lot of content and looks fantastic. If you are a fan of Star Trek and MMOs, you definitely should give it a try. But don’t complain if you get hooked. Zwinkerndes Smiley