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Thursday, December 12, 2002

2:05 PM - OB1 lives!

Off By One, my favourite browser, has just been updated. The latest version adds little, though. It's mostly a patched release with the only notable addition being the support for *.png graphics files. Still, it's nice to see this slim and speedy browser being tweaked and polished. The latest version, 3.4a, is available here.

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Tuesday, December 10, 2002

10:27 AM - The bubble bursts

I've grown increasingly annoyed with online NWN of late. I've pretty much stuck to one server, the Magic Bubble, for online play but between technical problems and my growing disenchantment with some elements in the gameworld, I've uninstalled NWN.

It's only temporary I expect. Bioware will release its add-on module soon. I expect it to be markedly better than the relentlessly dull official campaign. Then there are the two expansion packs planned for 2003. NWN should have quite a shelf life even without taking into consideration the thousands of user-created modules.

My main grouse about online NWN play at the moment is the ping rates. They average around 400 for the Magic Bubble and frequently veer into the land of the horrible lag.

This usually manifests itself as 3 second delays between action and response. That's annoying in conversation and deadly in combat.

That combined with server time outs and disconnects, server-side lags and client crashes cause great frustration -- particularly when I'm engaged in some enjoyable role-playing.

The fact I continued playing is a testament to the terrific players who frequent the server. I'm especially thankful for the presence of players like TempestBlue ("Little Girl"), Rogue ("Tajean") and cuteorange ("Merry Tear"). I'm practically guaranteed a fun time when those folks are around.

Of course, there are a couple of players I am unimpressed with. I tend to steer clear or excuse myself whenever they're around. There's even a hypocritical DM who I'm completely unimpressed with. But by and large, it's a fun server and one I'll return to when I rediscover my enthusiasm for online CRPGing.

But for now, I need some respite from the niggling annoyances. So, au revoir NWN. We must part but I promise we will be together again.

It's probably for the best from a financial viewpoint as well. I'm sure my upcoming telephone/ISP bill is going to be a whopper.

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9:33 AM - Robolinks

Heard of Blockman or as it's better known in the US, Robolinks? Unless you're an action figure geek, the answer is probably going to be a resounding "no." It's probably going to be a "no" even if you are an action figure geek.

I first came to know about the toys after seeing a picture of one of the figures on Bryan Wilkinson's Microman web site. The more I discovered about the line, the more intrigued I was and I went on to get three sets from the line.

The Blockman toys were manufactured by my favourite toy company, Takara, in 1984 and were then ported over to the US by Revell and renamed Robotech Robolinks.

Unlike Takara's other port-overs, Microchange and Diaclone, which went on to take the toy world by storm as the Transformers, Blockman/Robolinks faded into obscurity.

You might find discerning toy fans who love these figures and the concept but by and large, these toys don't have much of a following. You can barely find information about them on the web. It's a crying shame considering how well designed and fun these toys are.

On the plus side, this means you can get them for relatively low prices. Robolinks pop up on eBay from time to time. Prices are pretty low all things considered. I got my Force 30 set for US$9.99 and later won an auction for a Force 30 and a Force 31 set for the unbelievably low price of US$5 from a really nice Australian seller. However, I've rarely seen Blockman toys auctioned off on either eBay or Yahoo Japan.

These are great toys. Imagine a building block toy system where each individual block was an action figure.

The best part about the toys is that they're based on Takara's famous 5mm joint system with 5mm-sized pegs and peg-holes. This gives the figures and accessories instant compatibility with almost three decades' worth of Takara-designed action figures -- everything from Henshin Cyborg to Transformers Armada.

Each Robolink or Blockman figure is about 56mm tall (a little over 2 inches tall) and has 10 5mm peg-holes and 4 5mm pegs. These pegs and holes and the figure itself were cunningly designed so that the figures lock tightly to each other. That's crucial when constructing large robots, mecha and vehicles.

The Robolink figures are primarily plastic but surprisingly, they have a partially die-cast torso which gives creations built from several Robolinks a satisfying heft.

In terms of articulation, these figures are surprisingly good considering the time-frame they were produced. Each Robolink has swivel joints at the hips and shoulders. It may not be much considering the hyper-articulated action figures produced today but when you compare them with other robot toys produced in the 80s, the individual Robolinks are quite playable.

The toys were sold as sets ranging from a single figure bundled with accessories to large sets containing 30 Robolinks.

As with Lego pieces, you can never have too many Robolinks. I've got 15 of these figures together with various accessories, and sheer variety of stuff you can construct is breathtaking.

There are instructions included that give examples of vehicles and robots that can be constructed but the real fun is inventing your own.

And once you add Microman and Transformers toys and accessories to the mix, you've got yourself a fun way to while away the hours.

Highly recommended.

For further reading check out the following links:

  • Kevin Goddard has descriptions of several Robolinks sets.

  • Bryan Wilkinson shows how compatible Robolinks/Blockman are with both Microman and Transformers.

  • Stargazer's review of the line (in Japanese). Take note of how the tiny unarticulated pilot can be easily replaced with a Diaclone pilot. Here's a page displaying a robot contructed from dozens of Blockman figures!

  • Madon has the low-down on the Blockman line including the background story. In Japanese.

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