Thursday, 17 July 2008

Firefox 3.0.1 breaks width

I've just noticed that the application I'm working on has started behaving strangely in Firefox. There's a pop-up window, where we specify the width to be 800, but Firefox is displaying that pop-up at a width of 600. The call looks like this (URLs changed to protect the innocent):-

<a href="#" onclick="'', 'Test', 'width=800, height=800'); return false;">Example - broken in Firefox 3.0.1</a>

Example - broken in Firefox 3.0.1

This was working fine this morning, so I'm assuming that it's a problem with the 3.0.1 patch release of Firefox, which I installed at lunch time.

This is annoying, and I expect it to be fixed by the Firefox developers soon, but in the mean-time an easy patch is to also set the outerwidth property in the features (according to this Popup Window Reference, that's Firefox-specific so should be safe):-

<a href="#" onclick="'', 'Test', 'width=800, height=800, outerwidth=800'); return false;">Example - works in Firefox 3.0.1</a>

Example - works in Firefox 3.0.1

I hope this helps anyone else hitting the same issue!

Update: This bug may not be related specifically to Firefox 3.0.1. A colleague has tried both links and both links work (the window is opened with a width of 800). When I played around with my window size in Firefox 3.0.1, I found that sometimes the first link works, and sometimes it does not.
Firefox seems to be fine, even when you play with the window size. Perhaps it's something to do with the myriad Add-ons I have installed!

Monday, 14 July 2008

Mario Kart Wii - how do you get 3 stars? (part 3)

Update: Part 1, Part 2, Part 4

Welcome to the 3rd exciting installment of my guide to getting 3 stars in Mario Kart Wii. Sorry it's been a while since I last posted, but work and Smash Bros have side-tracked me!
By the way, if you want an easy(ish) way to keep up with my latest posts, you can subscribe to the RSS feed - either using your own RSS reader, or using Google reader (my favourite!).

Without further ado, here is my next set of tips. This time, they all relate to various techniques for getting speed boosts. These can help you go much faster, but be warned that occasionally you may find they push you too far in the wrong direction, and you can hit a wall, fall off the track or hit an obstacle! If in doubt, don't use the turbo unless you are sure you can control it.

Marv's Ninth Tip: turbo at start and on corners
Well, this is kind-of two tips in one, but the first one is so obvious that I'm just putting it down for the sake of completeness and in case any of you have missed it!
You can get a turbo every time you start a race. Simply wait until the number 2 starts to disappear, and hold down the accelerator. When you start, you should get little flames behind your vehicle and zoom off much faster than you ordinarily would. Be careful though; press the accelerator too early and you will "spin out" - that is, your car will twisting from side to side and you won't go anywhere (if that happens, let go of the accelerator until you stop twisting ... then go!). The exact timing is difficult, and you may need to practise.
In fact, the closer you get to the spin-out time, without actually spinning out, the faster your turbo will be. You'll see this if you start playing against your own ghosts on Time Trials - sometimes your character will move further ahead, even using the same vehicle!
I would recommend learning how to get the turbo by ear as well as by looking at the screen. If you can do both, then it won't matter if someone walks in front of the screen, or you are playing on a small TV, or if someone starts talking to you, or forces you to play with your television muted!

The other main time you will want to turbo is when you are going around corners. Be aware though, that this will only work when you are in Manual mode (more below). You can ignore the rest of this tip if you use Automatic!
These turbos (mini turbos) work differently between cars and bikes, but the basic idea is that you keep the accelerator held down, but also hold the brake at the same time (this is the B button when using the wheel). Don't worry - pressing the brake won't slow you down as long as you have the accelerator pressed at the same time!
You will need to be steering into the corner (you don't have to steer much, but be careful not to steer the wrong way). When you press the brake, you will do a little hop and start "power-sliding". You can adjust your turn slightly by steering, but don't let go of the brake or accelerator!
Eventually, you will see blue sparks, and if you are on a bike or are in a kart and have run out of corner, this is when your turbo is ready. Try to point your vehicle in roughly the right direction, and let go of the break - you should have a little turbo! If you are on a bike, you can do a wheelie soon after the turbo to try to keep the high speed up.
If you are in a kart and the corner is long enough, you can hold the power-slide until you get orange sparks. This means that you'll get an even longer turbo, so it's worth holding out if you can! Again, don't wait for an orange turbo if it means you are going to end up going in the wrong direction or hitting something - stick with the blue sparks in these cases.
Occasionally, you will run out of corner before you even get the blue sparks - in that case, just straighten up and let go of the brake - it's better to stay on the track than risk a turbo which pushes you off!

Marv's Tenth Tip: go manual
Picking automatic means that your vehicle power-slides through corners automatically, which means you don't lose speed when cornering. However, picking manual means that you get turbos when you power-slide through a corner, which can make a massive difference!
This is, perhaps, controversial. I myself played through a lot of the Grand Prix on automatic originally, and found it a lot easier. I have seen comments from other people saying similar things. However, I now play through on Manual. The pros and cons of each break down like this:

Speed - turning
With Manual, if you don't power-slide while turning, you lose speed. his includes every time you adjust your direction, so you'll probably find yourself hopping about occasionally to face in the right direction. However, with Automatic, whenever you turn, or corner, power-sliding is automatically done for you, so you never lose speed.

Speed - straights
Unlike in Mario Kart DS, "snaking" (which is doing lots of little mini turbos in a straight line) is not a big factor here, so there is no difference.

Speed - recovery
There are many, many occasions where you have been hit by an item and want to get your speed back up. Using power-slides to turbo around a corner are a great way of doing this!

Turbos on corners
Here is the big advantage of the manual option - you can get at least one turbo on many corners. Often more than one!
When automatically power-sliding, you don't get blue sparks on the corners, so no turbos for you.

Overall speed
It's no coincidence that all of the records you see for time trials are done using manual steering; used effectively, those turbos make a big difference!

CPU difficulty
I have seen it mentioned on the internet that the computer "goes easy on you" if you choose the Automatic option. I haven't verified this yet, but it could be possible. The thing is, that you will hopefully be playing against real people at some point, and they definitely won't go easy on you!

Because manual is widely regarded as the "true way" to play Mario Kart, you will get more kudos if you play this way!

Difficulty to learn
It is definitely easier to pick up automatic steering. When you first try to switch back to manual, you will be tempted to quit almost immediately. Stick with it, though, and you will soon get the hang of it.

With the wheel
Because the wheel is that bit more imprecise, using automatic makes a big difference here. Personally, I think that Nintendo were almost-forced to put the automatic option in, because otherwise beginners would struggle to cope with playing with the wheel.

You will end up playing on Manual eventually anyway, so it's not worth taking the false sense of security of using automatic - not if you want to properly earn those 3 stars and to defend them on-line! Stick with manual! Marv's Eleventh tip: use tricks
If you haven't read the manual that came with Mario Kart, go ahead and read it now! Read it? Good! Tricks, along with bikes and the wheel, are one of the new additions to Mario Kart that have come in with the Wii version. There must be a reason they're there, and there is...
Whenever you take a jump from a ramp (that is - for every jump that's not just you hitting the power-slide button), you can perform your trick action (either flicking the wiimote or wheel, or pressing the appropriate button - read that manual!) and then when you land, you will get a speed boost. This comes in handy more on some courses than others, but probably on at least half of them!
It applies to ramps with or without speed boosts, and even in some strange places - like in Bowser's Castle (Wii), where there's the wobbly floor; keep trying tricks there and you'll get at least one, possibly two boosts. You can also get boosts from the edges of the lava geysers close to the finish line. On Coconut Mall, you can get trickable jumps from many of the obstacles (water fountains, tree bases, etc).
There are courses with half-pipes - you can do tricks here, but be aware that some of them are too far from the racing line for it to be worth it. When you do do a trick from a half-pipe, try to make it as shallow an angle as possible. Don't do what I sometimes do, which is end up facing backwards!

Marv's Twelth Tip: turbo when you fall off
Just a short one, this one, but not very well known. When you fall, or are knocked off the track (into deep water, lava or space), you can get a turbo when you are placed back on the track by helpful Lakitu. If you press the accelerator at the very instance your wheels touch the track, you should get a turbo. It seems to me that the timing on this is much less forgiving than for other things (like the turbo from the start line, and for tricks), but it's worth practising!

Marv's bonus Thirtheenth Tip: Avoiding POW blocks
This one was going to wait until next time, but some of you were anxious for it, and kadjius has posted the technique in the comments anyway!
When the POW block appears on screen, it thumps or bangs three times.
Carry out your trick action (shake the wheel or wiimote, for example) when the third thump hits. You will lose your item, and spin around, but if you have timed it right, you will lose no speed and will carry on as normal! It does take practise, but is very worth it. The only annoyance is if you are in the middle of taking a corner or have a power up you were waiting to use!
The one other time you can avoid POW blocks is if you are in mid-air - either from a jump on a ramp, or through a cannon.

Well, that's the end of the tips for this time. Well done if you made it all the way through them, because it was a long read this time! There are still some tips to give out, so stay tuned and I'll post again soon. Please feel free to post any questions, or even your own tips in the comments!