Ignition 0.5

This update to Ignition gives some much needed love to the blog; adding paging, draft posts, publish date and time, a Markdown editor and a UI refresh of the admin interface. In addition to a couple of other bug fixes, this release blocks .ru and 163.com email addresses from registering. This change may seem heavy handed, but the number of spam entries in my database say otherwise and I would rather do this than force all users to deal with a stupid captcha. If you are a legitimate user in Russia there are many free email address providers.


  • Feature: Added paging to the blog. #24
  • Feature: Added draft blog posts and the ability to publish at a date/time. #17
  • Feature: Added Markdown editor to blog admin panel. #21
  • Change: Redesigned blog admin panel. #23
  • Change: Blocked .ru and 163.com email addresses at registration, due to the number of spam accounts. #18
  • Bug Fix: Sessions no longer expire. #16
  • Bug Fix: No error was returned when a blog post image failed to upload. #12
  • Bug Fix: Large images added to a blog post in Markdown would overflow. #11

Download from GitHub.

This update is also available for Gaming with Lemons as version 0.4.6.

Sonic Marathon: Sonic Heroes is a bad video game

Sonic Marathon: Sonic Heroes is a bad video game

I started playing Sonic Heroes in March 2015. As speed bumps in the road go, this was a 489 day one for the Sonic Marathon. The problem with Heroes is I disliked it so immensely that I simply didn’t want to play it. I previously said I hated every minute of Sonic 3D, but at least that nightmare was over in a day. Sonic Heroes clocked in at 27 hours of game time, and that’s excluding the many, many hours lost to game overs that don’t count towards the clock.

On the outset Heroes even tricks you into thinking it know what is good about Sonic (it’s the part where you go fast if that wasn’t clear), only for you to realise that as soon as you need precision the game feels like you’re controlling it with chopsticks. The camera is always facing the wrong way, it’s incredibly buggy, switching character can cause you to die and that staple of the Sonic series, speed, more often than not causes you to overshoot into one of the game's many bottomless pits. Eventually I worked out that the best way to not immediately die was to go much slower, which takes away a lot of what I want from Sonic.

What you’re left with is a mediocre 3D platformer with a bad camera. Heroes signature feature is the ability to switch between the three playable characters. Sonic goes fast, Knuckles breaks things and Tails can fly. Sonic is awful at fighting almost all enemies and his speed was only a hindrance to the platforming, so I ended up playing the majority of the game as the other two characters. If the game doesn’t already sound monotonous, you’ll be glad to hear there are four campaigns that offer slight alterations on the formula, but are otherwise completely identical. The campaigns are actually supposed to function as varying levels difficulty, but no where in the game does it explain this and to see the entire story you have to play them all.

As a palate cleanser I completed Mirror's Edge Catalyst.

Everything Heroes gets wrong, Mirror’s Edge gets right. It’s the Sonic game you should all play. The feeling of speed and momentum in this game is absolutely spot on and most importantly, you feel in complete control the entire time. The art style is also absolutely beautiful. They even fixed everyone's major gripe with the first game by removing the gun combat and replacing it with a serviceable combat system.

My only disappointment with Catalyst is it doesn’t really move the needle forward from the original. While they fixed the combat, the addition of an open world doesn’t really add to the game and all the side missions are dull and completely skippable. By the end of the game the open world is just a nuisance that needs to be navigated.

One step forward, one step back.

You should still check it out though, because Sega certainly aren’t going to make a game this good anytime soon.

Part 1: Sonic Marathon: The story so far

Part 2: Sonic Marathon: Shuffle Party

Two years

A couple of days ago Gaming with Lemons celebrated its second birthday. Happy birthday open source project!

Since the last major release in October I have been focused on re-architecting the site to resolve the problems that caused us significant downtime in 2015. With the last few minor releases this work has been completed and I'm happy to say the site is now more stable than ever.

When GWL was originally designed the majority of the site relied on live requests to Giant Bomb's API and caching game data was an afterthought that came about when I had to build the collection interface. This turned out to be a mistake for many reasons, the biggest being what happens when the API goes down. The introduction of rate limiting also caused some major concerns, especially when bots like Google would crawl GWL causing hundreds of API requests.

With the changes I've made over the last couple of weeks GWL now uses its cache as the primary data source and retrieves data from the API when it can't find it. To keep this cache fresh I built an incredibly light API crawler. Giant Bomb rate limits at 200 requests per hour per resource, and the GWL crawler only makes 288 requests per day! This means as you use the site you should almost never trigger an external API request. Search is an exception to this rule, as it still uses Giant Bomb currently.

You can read more about how this all works over on the wiki. Everyone loves a graph, so here is a graph of API requests per day. The large spikes are bots crawling the website.

Now that the site is stable I can focus my attention on the more exciting user facing features as we head towards something resembling a 1.0 release. The most highly requested feature is Steam integration, so look forward to that coming soon.

As always, if you have an idea, feedback or criticism you can send it to me via the social networks (Facebook, Twitter or Google+) or via a GitHub issue.

University of Brighton abandons Hastings campus

On Tuesday the University of Brighton released a statement about the future of it’s Hastings campus. In the vaguely worded message they spoke about how they would continue to “support the delivery of higher education in Hastings through an evolution of its current provision in the town”. In plain english, Brighton intend to back out of the project in the next two years, reverting the campus back to a University Centre run by the local college. This was finally clarified in an email to alumni today.

Q: Is it true that the Hastings Campus is going to close?

A: The current campus model is not sustainable. It will be phased out in favour of a new model that will continue to deliver higher and further education in Hastings in collaboration with Sussex Coast College Hastings with the longer term objective of establishing a University of Hastings.

I studied at University Centre Hastings, as it was previously called, many years ago and while I had a great experience it always felt like the long term goal was for Hastings to become equal with the other four campuses in Brighton and Eastbourne. This goal finally seemed to have been achieved in 2013 with the opening of the Priory Square building and the official adoption as a fifth campus of Brighton. This week's announcement is a complete step in the wrong direction and a sign that Brighton simply want a quick exit from the town.

The University has apparently made this decision on financial grounds, however in a meeting with Hastings students when Vice-Chancellor Professor Debra Humphris ridiculously generous salary was brought up, she made an immediate departure. The University also claims that the decision was made due to a forecasted decline in 16-17 year olds in the local area, completely ignoring the large population of mature students the campus attracts. Even if this is true and numbers will decline, an institution of this size should brave the storm and come out the other side, not return home at the first sign of rain.

The excuse that low student numbers are to blame is also complete nonsense when you consider the fact that the University controls how their student population is distributed. Instead they have moved many courses away from Hastings and failed to build student halls close by and then pointed at low numbers as the reason for the closure.

As someone who has studied at the campus, owes his job to it, and has friends who both work and study there, it deeply saddens me to see Brighton abandoning our town when things were just getting better. The Hastings campus is uniquely positioned to support single parents and mature students who simply can’t travel two hours to Brighton due to other commitments in their life. Pulling support now is simply abandoning us.

It might not mean very much, but there is a petition you can sign to show your support for the Hastings campus. The least we can do is let our voices be heard.

Apple's open letter on encryption

Big respect for Tim Cook and Apple for publishing this.

The government is asking Apple to hack our own users and undermine decades of security advancements that protect our customers — including tens of millions of American citizens — from sophisticated hackers and cybercriminals. The same engineers who built strong encryption into the iPhone to protect our users would, ironically, be ordered to weaken those protections and make our users less safe.

We can find no precedent for an American company being forced to expose its customers to a greater risk of attack. For years, cryptologists and national security experts have been warning against weakening encryption. Doing so would hurt only the well-meaning and law-abiding citizens who rely on companies like Apple to protect their data. Criminals and bad actors will still encrypt, using tools that are readily available to them.

This article breaks it down.

Again in plain English, the FBI wants Apple to create a special version of iOS that only works on the one iPhone they have recovered. This customized version of iOS (*ahem* FBiOS) will ignore passcode entry delays, will not erase the device after any number of incorrect attempts, and will allow the FBI to hook up an external device to facilitate guessing the passcode. The FBI will send Apple the recovered iPhone so that this customized version of iOS never physically leaves the Apple campus.

As many jailbreakers are familiar, firmware can be loaded via Device Firmware Upgrade (DFU) Mode. Once an iPhone enters DFU mode, it will accept a new firmware image over a USB cable. Before any firmware image is loaded by an iPhone, the device first checks whether the firmware has a valid signature from Apple. This signature check is why the FBI cannot load new software onto an iPhone on their own — the FBI does not have the secret keys that Apple uses to sign firmware.

An interesting note is that devices with the secure enclave would not be susceptible to this back door.

At this point it is very important to mention that the recovered iPhone is a 5C. The 5C model iPhone lacks TouchID and, therefore, lacks the single most important security feature produced by Apple: the Secure Enclave.

If the San Bernardino gunmen had used an iPhone with the Secure Enclave, then there is little to nothing that Apple or the FBI could have done to guess the passcode. However, since the iPhone 5C lacks a Secure Enclave, nearly all of the passcode protections are implemented in software by the iOS operating system and, therefore, replaceable by a firmware update.

Update: Or not. Apple says all devices at risk.

And herein lies the rub. There has been some chatter about whether these kinds of changes would even be possible with Apple’s newer devices. Those devices come equipped with Apple’s proprietary Secure Enclave, a portion of the core processing chip where private encryption keys are stored and used to secure data and to enable features like TouchID. Apple says that the things that the FBI is asking for are also possible on newer devices with the Secure Enclave. The technical solutions to the asks would be different (no specifics were provided) than they are on the iPhone 5c (and other older iPhones), but not impossible.

The point is that the FBI is asking Apple to crack its own safe, it doesn’t matter how good the locks are if you modify them to be weak after installing them. And once the precedent is set then the opportunity is there for similar requests to be made of all billion or so active iOS devices. Hence the importance of this fight for Apple.