Monday, 23 June 2008

Mario Kart Wii - how do you get 3 stars? (part 2)

Update: Part 1, Part 3, Part 4

Well, here is the second part of my thrilling breakdown on how you can get those elusive 3 star rankings in all the Mario Kart Wii GPs.

Marv's Fifth Tip: what counts as a 3 star race?
I realised that I haven't exactly specified what criteria are used to judge your performance and decide what ranking to give you! Well, that's partly because no-one exactly knows! There are a few theories out there about not being hit by items and staying mostly in 1st place, which makes sense, but it seems to me that the overriding factor is how fast you complete each race. Things like not falling off, not hitting walls and avoiding hitting banana peels and shells all help - but only in as much as they help you to stay at your top speed as much as possible.
I think it's probably true that you have to get 1st place in each of the four races within a GP, but if you haven't got 1st place, you probably weren't quick enough anyway!
This matches well with my experience of Mario Kart on the Nintendo DS, where I managed to get 3 stars in all GPs primarily though shaving second after second from my times. In both Mario Kart DS and Wii, I have managed to get a 3 star ranking after hitting a wall, hitting items, and using a lot of items - but only when getting good times in all courses.
Perhaps in time, we will see a table of times-needed-for-3-stars for each GP, but I haven't found one yet. Mario Kart Wii does not give you a total time (I think Mario Kart DS did), so it makes the compilation of such a table tricky!

Marv's Sixth tip: give up on the wheel
This is perhaps controversial, because the wheel is part of what makes the Wii edition of Mario Kart so much fun. I have found that even after many hours of practise, my performance with the wheel just doesn't match my performance with the Wiimote-plus-nunchuk. I have seen similar comments in forums and message boards. There's not much in it, but on the occasional corner, I will try to turn slightly one way and the wheel will interpret it as the other way, so I lose a second or two correcting myself.
The Wiimote-plus-nunchuk is my favourite combination, but many people swear by the Gamecube controller (or the wireless version - the Wavebird). The classic controller is probably good too.
Having said that, if you stop using the wheel, you run the risk of losing out on getting a golden wheel for online play! You only get the golden wheel if you predominantly use the wheel (it seems to be that you have to use it more than 50% of the time - you can check your usage from the License screen). Additionally, if your friends are anything like mine, they will ridicule you if you use the Wiimote and nunchuk, saying it lacks honour compared to using the wheel. So, personally, I attempt each GP with the wheel, trying to get up to a 2 star rating, and only then will I allow myself to switch back to the Wiimote plus nunchuk. From then on, I will alternate control methods until I get 3 stars (I was very proud to get a 3 star ranking on one of the 50cc GPs using the wheel last weekend!).

Marv's Seventh Tip: learn from others
If you find that you are really struggling to get a good time on a GP (you should aim to be quite far ahead of all the other racers by the end of each race), you can get some tips quite easily by downloading the ghost data for the world champion of each track within that GP. Watch through them, and even race against them (but don't feel disheartened if you can't even remotely keep up - these are world champions after all!). I used this technique a lot when I was working my way through the Time Trials and it worked well. Obviously the game dynamics are a bit different in the Grand Prixs, but it can give you an idea of how to take corners and shortcuts when you aren't being whacked in the back of the head by a blue shell!
You can also take a look on Youtube - there are quite a few 3 star videos now, which can not only give you tips, but also show you that it's really possible to get those 3 stars!

Marv's Eighth tip: trailing items to defeat red shells
When you are in 1st place, there are quite a few items that the computer-controlled players can hit you with. Blue shells, I can't help with. Pow blocks are a later tip! You should hopefully be far enough ahead to avoid the middle-of-the-field power ups (stars and bullet bills). You will hopefully be able to avoid most banana peels and fake question-mark blocks! Green shells can be tricky, as they can come in at an angle unexpectedly.
This tip is about red shells. You might avoid blue shells for a couple of races, but you will often be plagued by red shells. Fear not ... there is a way to avoid them! When you are in first place, you are very likely to get the following 5 items: green shell, banana peel, multiple-banana-peels, red shell and fake question-mark-blocks. Dump fake question mark blocks as soon as you can, because they are no good! The rest of the items can be used as a shield to stop red shells from hitting you from behind.
The multiple-banana-peels can be used easily - when you hit the fire button, they trail behind you automatically. The rest of the items take (slightly) more effort, but can also be used. The "how" depends on your control scheme, but basically involves holding down the fire button while you drive. For the Wii Wheel on manual, you hold left or right on the control pad. You can either keep fire held down the whole time you have the item, or you can wait until you hear the red shell warning sound and see the icon at the bottom of the screen - you normally have plenty of time to arm your shields!

That concludes part two of my guide to getting 3 stars in Mario Kart GP. More to follow in a few days!

Mario Kart Wii - how do you get 3 stars? (part 1)

Update: Part 2, Part 3, Part 4

I've spent quite a lot of time playing Mario Kart over its many incarnations (from the Super Nintendo "Super Mario Kart" up to "Mario Kart DS"), and have been playing Mario Kart Wii for the past few months.
It took me a while, but I now have every character and kart unlocked, and the one remaining item is to get a 3 star rating on every Grand Prix. When you have a 3 star rating and play online, it shows up next to your name, so everyone can be in awe of you!

I've had a look around on the internet, and while there seem to be plenty of pages pointing out that you need to get 3 stars on every GP to get that ranking, there's very little information about how to actually do it. So, I'm hoping to put up a number of blog posts which will give you tips on how to go about it.

Marv's First Tip: practise.
As with many other games, you will get better and better as time goes on and you have played the same level over and over again.
If you have played through enough to win a gold cup in every Grand Prix, the chances are that you'll have a few one-star ratings (and perhaps the occasional two or three-star!). Now you need to build on those skills and keep playing the same tracks until you are fast enough to win every time. Make sure you are taking advantage of every shortcut (where appropriate - if it's off-road for too long, it might not be worth it) and using mini turbos at every opportunity. Use a lot of tricks, but only where you don't have to go too far out of your way to do them, or where you end up in the air for a long time unneccessarily.

Marv's Second Tip: choose a character and vehicle and stick with it
Find a character and kart (or bike) combination you like and stick with it for a while. The characters and karts are all different and mostly have advantages and disadvantages, but if you keep switching you may find it difficult to pull of that tricky-shortcut because you aren't used to the handling.

Marv's Third Tip: bikes are better
Bikes are probably going to make it easier to get 3 stars, because even though they are generally lighter and more easily knocked around, they can get a speed boost on dead straights, which karts cannot. My own character/kart combination is my Mii (medium-weight - roughly the ame as Mario) and the Mach Bike. This gives me a fairly low top speed, but it's pretty good off-road, and the acceleration is nice. It also has a good turning circle.
Ideally, acceleration shouldn't be an issue, but when you are playing a GP, as opposed to a Time Trial, you know that you will occasionally be hit by blue shells, red shells, Pow blocks, lightnings and so on - no matter how far ahead you get!

Marv's Fourth tip: turbo after spin out
This is of use mainly to those whose characters have low acceleration ratings. When you are spun out, or hit something and stop completely, you can get a turbo start. Hold the brake (/powerslide) button at the same time as the accelerator for a couple of seconds until you see the blue sparks; now let go of the brake and you'll turbo off at full speed!
If your vehicle has good acceleration anyway, you won't need to do this, and the one-or-two second delay will actually slow you down more (especially if you get spun out again while you are waiting). I find that with my combination (above), I do use it, but only occasionally.

More tips to follow soon...

Wednesday, 18 June 2008

Opera Ctrl-Click to open in new page / tab - updated

Well, it has been a while now since I originally posted about wanting to use Ctrl Click as my shortcut for opening pages in a new tab (or a new page as Opera calls it!).

I had a couple of comments from people who said they had managed it, but no matter what I tried, I had no luck (perhaps it works differently on different operating systems). I even posted about it in the Opera Dev forums (not sure whether that was the right place!), but no joy there.

However, while searching for more information, I stumbled across a piece of Opera User JavaScript in the My Opera community forums - from shoust here.

If you want to implement it, you'll need to set up your User JavaScript folder, as described on this page. Then follow the link to shoust's post and save "allinbackground.js" to the folder you set up (you can ignore the bit about the "button"). Restart Opera (not sure if you have to, but I did) and you're all set up!
[Edit: You don't even need to restart! Opera gets better and better]

One further change might be to enable User JavaScript on HTTPS sites - but do so only at your own risk!

I hadn't realised that Opera had a flexible JavaScript engine out of the box; I'd only recently started using the Firefox Greasemonkey extension and enjoying it, so I should be able to port my scripts straight over!

Monday, 2 June 2008

Google - why so shy?! allintext rules

Ah, finally! While searching for a link to information about the "allinanchor" page, I found this wonderful list of hidden (not documented by Google) features!
Now -
allintext:ie 8 "beta 2"
- works as I want it to! I think now I'll edit all of my Firefox keyword searches and Internet Explorer searches to include that directive by default. Happy days!
There are a couple of other options I might play with on that page too. I'm intrigued by phonebook and rphonebook and the intitle image search could be useful too...

Google - please search for what I ask for

I do a fair few Google searches over the course of my day, and I've begun to notice a worrying trend. Google is beginning to give me less control over what I search for. Instead of returning pages that contain all of the items in my search query, it will return pages that contain some of the items, and that are linked to with text that contains the rest. This is annoying.
An example is this search:
ie 8 "beta 2"
Currently, the top result for this page is a link to the Internet Explorer page for Beta 1 ... but that's not what I want! If I go through to Google's cache of the page, I see this. Note the text in the Google frame that says "These terms only appear in links pointing to this page: beta 2".

OK ... so I can understand that for many users, this feature could be useful and could give more meaningful results on some queries - but as a sophisticated user, I would expect that I could turn it off and search purely for pages that contain my terms! Google's advanced pages do not (currently) have this option (which would be something like inpage: and allinpage:).
There is however, a semi-hidden "allinanchor:" directive!

That was the second query I had trouble with today (the first was this one). Yahoo was giving me better results earlier, but seems to be following Google's behaviour now.

I don't know whether this has changed recently. I have noticed searches coming up with similar issues in the past, but not for a while. It could be that Google are tweaking the weighting of keywords-in-page to keywords-in-inbound-links, and this is an unfortunate side-effect.
It may also cause (or be the result of?) link-spammers - I think I've seen cases where link-spammers have taken advantage or weighting based upon keywords-in-inbound-links already...

The phenomenon appears to have been noted on other pages like this one, this one... I also read earlier someone suggesting surrounding each term with quotes, but that clearly doesn't work in some cases ("beta 2" above is already in quotes), and is a pain-in-the-behind to have to do for every search!

Please Google, smarten up and realise that some of your users are smarter than you think :o)