October 2010

Who Wants to Play Tongits?

Tongits (or Tong-its) is a three-player card game using a standard Anglo-American deck of 52 cards (without jokers). It’s knock rummy game that has become popular in the Phillipines in recent years.

Just like any other challenging card games, what makes Tongits truly enjoyable to play is that winning and losing (after a series of deals) does not totally depend on pure luck. In fact, besides luck you also need to possess a set of skills, among others — mathematical, memory, bluffing, guts, timing, etc., to come out a winner.

This article is not about how to play this card game. Instead, this is about a computer program that somehow knows how to play it, and can actually play it quite well.

Although the game requires three (and only three) players, you can actually download and install this program in order to play Tongits on your own (against two other computer players).

The official website summarizes the features well enough:

  • Drag & Drop Interface. The game feels like the real thing with its intuitive drag & drop interface.
  • Realistic And Challenging AI. The computers play like live human tongits players.
  • Innovative Way of Organizing Cards. Just like in the real game, you are free to group and organize cards in any way you like. This significantly improves your planning and strategy.
  • Betting Simulation. Betting enhances the realistic feel of the game. It adds excitement and suspense and gives the player a sense of accomplishment and progress.
  • Game Saving. The game is automatically saved after each round to preserve the precious progress you have made.
  • Statistics. Relevant game statistics such as number of wins and money won, are saved for each player.
  • Clear Card Images. The cards were designed to be easy to read and identify. This helps you easily spot important cards that you might need to win the game.
  • A Solid Trainer. If you are a professional Tongits player, the game can supplement your training. And with the high level AI, you won’t need human opponents to practice with.
  • Continuous Development. The game is continuously being developed and improved to further enhance the player’s experience.

Being built on Adobe Air, this application ensures compatibility with multi-systems including Linux and iOS. Plus, it allows playing through the browser.

The AI could be challenging, as according to the website, but not challenging enough. It’s just so easy to win against the computer players. Here are the reasons why (the way the computer plays):

  • It’s very much predictable when it calls draw. It doesn’t bluff. I believe it calls draw anytime its cards point total less than 20 at any stage of the game;
  • It calls chow even when what at his hand is already a set. For example, you throw a queen at it, it calls chow with three other queens from its hand, ignoring opportunities to form more sets from the “undrawn” stock of cards;
  • It calls “draw” even if the other player has only one card left. This is I guess the effect of it calling draw anytime its hand’s point totals less than 20. Think about it, the fact that the other player has only one remaining card and the last card it/he/she threw or discarded was a three, then the remaining could only more likely be an ace or a two. Yet, it calls draw even if its point total is, say, nine;
  • It lays down its cards prematurely–not to avoid “burn” at all. As soon as it gets a set at his hand, it lays it down immediately, allowing other players to get rid of some of their cards early by laying them off (sapaw) to the cards the former laid down;
  • It challenges nevertheless. It never bluffs, that’s one case. It challenges however its hand look like or count, that’s another. You as the only human player can’t even call a bluff against the computer players, because they will always challenge your call.
  • It sometimes miss a lay off (sapaw). Yes, after playing a number of games, I noted some instances where it missed a sapaw;
  • Patience is a virtue. It does not wait for a straight (flash) currently laid down to continue, before throwing away or discarding its possible continuation card/s;

Well, despite of these lack in the AI, the computer game is always fun to play. After all, who doesn’t like winning, right? If you are a seasoned tong-its player, you’ll never lose against these computer players.

Oh, I have to warn you. This program is a available for 10 free trials. That is, it allows you to click on the “Play Tong-its” button 10 times and play the game before it forces you to upgrade in order to play further. The upgrade price is a meager US$ 5.00 anyway — I guess worthy enough for a total winning satisfaction. 😀

NBA2K11 – A Quick Review

Having been a follower of the NBA2K series since NBA2K9, I can’t help but compare the latest NBA 2K installment, the NBA2K11, to the previous two (i.e., NBA2K10 and NBA2K9).

Of course, besides the NBA2K11 being a special tribute to the greatest basketball player who ever lived with the Jordan Challange feature, there are various improvements including (and especially) the gameplay.

Let me tell you my quick impressions about the game:

Improved Gameplay

I’m the kind of player who enjoys the quality of gameplay more than the superb graphic display and fancy character moves. I like simulating real NBA games—the heart-pounding crunch times, more than the flashing slams and jams.

Initial games I played indicate that the developers made some adjustments to the field goal percentages. Unlike the previous versions where field goal percentages shoot up to the roof, especially when inside the paint, it’s now closer to reality with as low as 35% on bad nights and as high as 60% on great (if not lucky) nights.

A more realistic field goal percentage leads to more realistic number of rebounds per game. Moreover, you can play the actual 12 minutes a quarter without totaling 150 points a night. It can now be closer to real NBA game, like 90 to 110 points per team per game.

There are also a lot of turnover/steal instances, so you just can’t pass around the ball blindly without incurring a ton of turnovers.

New Button Functions

If you can fake a shot when on the offensive, now there’s also a button (i.e.,the circle button [O] in PS3) to fake a pass. This is especially useful when you’re posting up and you fake a pass towards a team mate who cuts the lane.

Also, there were changes in some button functions, like you can now set an alley-hoop with L2+O, instead of L2+X in 2K10.

Layout and Sound

Of course, there are various changes in the layout like to score indicator, the time camera view, and substitution indicators. And some improvements and variety in the commentators’ comments. Also there are new halftime features, upcoming games plugs during quarter breaks, and post-game recaps.

It’s Game Time

Now, enough of blogging ‘coz it’s game time! But if you, fellow gamers, have something to share, what new features you liked or even hated the most about the latest NBA 2K installment, you are welcome to share them in the comments below.

The Day Bishop Skipped Papaya… And Its Impact On The RH Bill

guest-post-iconThis is a guest post from Raymond.

I haven’t really signed off 100% on the RH Bill in its present form since I am still seeking some clarifications on certain details of the bill, particularly its penal ramifications. But going through my daily route in Pasig and Mandaluyong areas teeming with informal settlers, seeing the sea of idle humanity converge on what seems to be public roads doubling as playgrounds, I am actually leaning towards supporting the bill. Support at least for its wisdom and intention to educate and foster responsible parenthood.

But what I don’t subscribe to is some RH bill proponents attacking anti RH bill sectors particularly the Roman Catholic Church, not really based on the merits of a sound argument (i.e. scientific facts, statistics, etc.), but rather on trivial issues. They push for the RH bill by citing instances of bishops and priests fathering children left and right, cases of child molestation and homosexual encounters, taking money from gambling, etc. Glossing on the apparent unholiness of certain individuals belonging to the holy orders, using it to discredit the institution as a whole, and ultimately making a push for the RH bill is not an argument at all.

What does Bishop Yalung’s having a child (or children?) have to do in underscoring the positive points and fortifying arguments for the RH bill?!

Any institution, be it the state, the Church, your school, your fraternity, or whatever, will have its bad eggs once in a while. Giving credit where credit is due, these anti RH bill sectors, including and most especially the Roman Catholic Church, have done their fair share in nation building. Their schools (albeit at an exhorbitant cost) educate and instill / reinforce values that seem to be so hard to pound on to children given the present internet generation. They run orphanages to shelter neglected children (neglected even by the state’s DSWD), not a few perhaps conceived unplanned due to defective condoms, missed pills, etc. Priests and nuns were at the frontline of EDSA 1986. They keep vigil when necessary in guarding our ballots. Should Article II, Section 6 also been chorused during these times?

It shapes and sends out mission volunteers to far flung areas to do socio-civic and religious works. Mission volunteers like Richie Fernando, SJ who got himself killed in Cambodia back in 1996 at the age of 26 because some whacko decided to throw a grenade to a school full of handicapped children. He instictively jumped onto the grenade just before it went off, effectively using his body to shield the handicapped children from the deadly blast. People like Richie comprise and live by the ideals of the Church that I belong to. And this Church is not as one dimensional, closed minded, selfish and evil as practically everyone fully supporting the RH bill, more prominently the nation’s favorite tour guide now, perceive and paint it to be. The Church is NOT the Pope, Cardinals and Bishops alone!

Let me be clear with you on this, I will be with you when you grill the Church heirarchy as to why it continues to sweep its mess under the rug, keeping skeletons in its closet, to the tune of millions of dollars in parishioner contributions (when for one, it could have been used to fund scholars to go through their education), then coming right back at you, high and mighty, with threats of excommunication.

But to sell the RH bill on the strength alone of Bishop Bacani having sexually harassed his secretary is like declaring Lebron James is a better baller than Kobe Bryant simply because the latter is a rapist.

Let’s stick to the relevant facts, stats and figures like maternal deaths comprising 11% of all deaths in women aged 15 – 49, 33% of births in the country being unplanned, the definition of conception, abortifacients, etc. Let our resolution of issues pertaining to national interest not be be guided by how Lolit Solis, Cristy Fermin, Showbiz News Ngayon, etc. go about whetting Inday’s appetite for the latest chismis. (This is why I am against these types of TV shows because they insult the gullible population’s intelligence rather than allow it to be put to good use.)

PNoy was already catapulted to the presidency mainly because the demise of his mom couldn’t have come at a more opportune time; isn’t it about time we, as a nation, act and argue rationally? More rational than Bishop Odchimar irresponsibly brandishing excommunication as a proximate possibility or Carlos Celdran dressing up as Rizal, and with a Damaso placard to boot.

It’s the least we could do as we project our population to reach 94.3 million by the year’s end, 141 million come 2040, and with no definite and sustainable program as to how we are going to harness this ballooning population to make it the nation’s foremost asset instead of it being its most burdensome liability.

Let those papaya-skipping priests deal with paternity and penitentiary accordingly – with or without the RH bill.

Gmail Conversation View On and Off

One of the great features of Google’s Gmail is its conversation or threaded view, which groups topics together, to enable the user to review at one glance how the conversation went through.

However, after about five years of enjoying this feature from Gmail, I’ve found some loopholes about it. When searching for a particular message, for example, that you either received or sent (the search function, by the way, within Gmail is yet another powerful feature that I love), you sometimes find yourself scrounging through long conversations to find that specific message or attachment that you needed.

And this is where this new option comes in handy.

Now you can turn the conversation view on and off from the settings page.

Got a suggestion, though, to the Gmail developers. Wish this option is just a click away, instead of embedding the same among the many options in the general settings, just like the quick options for turning chat on/off, google buzz on/off, older contact manager, and basic HTML at the bottom of the page (see below):

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