Wednesday, July 29, 2009

really. really. really. hating that berretta right about now

Okay, anybody's whose reading this knows I'm probably one of the worlds worst people when it comes to asking for donations or other financial support. I hate it. Only, I'm approaching a position where asking again seems like the only thing I can do.

Remember that Chevy Berretta that I took pictures of when the left front wheel came off due to a problem with the ball joint? Well, it's acted up again... with my radiator developing a huge crack and the head gasket "blowing." As best as I can figure listening to the real car mechanics, the problems with the water cooler from earlier kept the temperatures in the cooling system at a higher than normal level. The higher temperatures lead to the gasket that seals the main engine block and the head to developing cracks and leaking through. The higher than average temperatures in the engine head meant that the spark plugs fused to the walls.

Oh, and they weren't the right spark plugs either. Whoever owned the car before me had put the wrong kind of spark plug in. Since I'm not a mechanic, I don't know what the difference in spark plugs is. I just know that people who fix car engines said they were the wrong spark plugs.


I'm now looking at a $130 charge for a new radiator. A $400 charge to have the engine head rebuilt... and charges for new spark plugs, and a gasket kit.

As much as I dislike begging, if you have change to spare, I really could use it...

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

MMO - capturing the magic

Very recently other former players of the Planetside Outfit Band of the Hawk and I re-upped Planetside to try playing it again. It used to be one of my favorite games and I repeatedly used as a platform to rage against SOE for many of the brain-dead management choices. While other MMO's of the same time period, such as World of Warcraft and City of Heroes continue to grow and expand, Planetside has stagnated. While other MMO developers worked to update their clients to work against newer versions of Microsoft Windows, and in the case of NCSoft / Paragon Studios, hired a third party to insure platform support for Linux / Unix based systems, SOE did no such thing. Planetside won't run in Windows XP Service Pack 3, or any version of Vista, without enabling the Windows 95 compatibility mode. That's both interesting, and disturbing, for a game that was released after Windows Xp hit the market.

While playing Planetside I started to wonder what it was about the game that felt so special so many years ago. While I've ranted before about the destruction of the full military campaign in favor of a session-based play style, there was something more to it than that. There was something more special than hundreds of players crashing together over a single base.

The answer, surprisingly, came from outside Planetside and in City of Heroes. One of my policies with City of Heroes is that I don't create any new avatars until an existing avatar has hit level 50. Having just leveled and Ice / Rad to 50 I went to work on a new Dark Armor / Energy Melee tank. I also was testing out my recently completed triple SLI platform under Cedega... and as I loaded into Galaxy City on a fresh installation... the first thing that hit me was the music. It was a soaring, heroic, theme. The layout of the lower levels, designed to keep new players to the game contained to a specific area, teaching them the rules of the game world.

Later on I went with a group attempting the Sara Moore Task Force, and one of our team members had never been the shadow shard before... Our team leader, while having been on Shadow Shard TF's before, didn't know about the Mole Point Warpgate Shortcut. So much of the task force was spent teaching these players the tricks of the Shadow Shard...

Which was about when the answer came to me. What made Planetside so special so long ago, was that it was so new and unfamiliar. Nobody else had tried to do an MMO-FPS on that scale. Nobody else has attempted anything... on that scale. Not even Tabula Rasa succeeded in matching the scale of Planetside. Every new weapon, every new vehicle, every new cert point... changed the face of how you played the game. SOE's decision to chase after the UT / Quake market with session based play irreparably harmed the game, destroying the player base. Today, the few players left can pretty much get away with anything in Planetside.

Other MMO's kept building and expanding their worlds. As much as I dislike World of Warcraft, it's marched upwards with it's new lands, new dungeons, new challenges, new items, and so on. The Everquest series has grown as well, with regular expansions, proving that SOE does know how to expand at least one type of game. Niche MMO's, like Eve Online have grown as well. City of Heroes, once Jack Emmert was kicked out, mixed a Korean Micro-payments scheme with a traditional monthly pay scheme to become one of NCSoft's most profitable titles. The money earned on various booster packs didn't go to waste either, as the money was invested back into Paragon Studios to fund rapid expansion of the development team. As City of Heroes goes into it's 16th free expansion, it's already managed to match, if not surpass, all of the features it's former lead developer never delivered, and only promised to deliver in Champions Online. WarHammer Online is another game that continues to expand and grow, with new character classes and new lands.

One of keys to keeping a subscription base, as I can determine, is continuing to capture the magic that made somebody like the game to begin with. I think the principle holds up well outside of MMO's. Many Multiplayer shooters, like Counter Strike, Unreal Tournament, Quake, and Doom, have retained long lives in their markets by offering up community created maps, weapons, and characters. Valve Software caught a metric ton of flack over announcing and demonstrating Left 4 Dead 2 before there was software developers kit for the first Left 4 Dead. Over 40,000 accounts have joined the Steam Group promising to NOT buy L4D2. I think the point stands that multiplayer games need fresh content to continue to survive.

I think F.E.A.R. Combat and Far Cry stand as two excellent examples of Multiplayer Combat that faulted over when players just couldn't find new content.

Planetside? Well. It didn't grow. The age of the game is readily appearent the minute somebody loads in. It's a sparse, barren world. The bases have remaind the same. The planets have remained the same. As much as I liked the game, it's gone absolutely nowhere in literal years. It just hasn't managed to recapture any of the magic that set it apart so long ago.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Perma Bans in MMO's: Test case in the courts?

From Game Politics :

The short version is that a player who was banned from the Playstation Network is suing Sony, describing the ban as theft. The player states that he bought Playstation Points that are non-refundable and that since Sony banned him, they have stolen the money he had spent.

I think most MMO companies, such as NCSoft, Activision, and EA, will be watching this case with interest. If the court decides, rightfully, that the player violated the Terms of Service agreement for the Playstation Network and that Sony was well within their rights to ban the account regardless of how much the player had spent, trolls everywhere will be put on notice that their actions can carry a financial loss.

If the court decides, wrongly, that Terms of Service agreements are meaningless, and that game companies overseeing private networks are not allowed to control access to those private networks, then the message will be sent out that trolls can behave as badly as they want. Legally, there is no recourse of action a game company can take in the US.

One of the key failures in this player's argument is that Sony is breaching his First Admendment rights. Basically, the player is claiming that he can be as vulgar as he wants, as obscene as he wants, and as filthy as he wants... because that's his right to free speech. Well, if I yell FIRE in the middle of a crowded theater or mall, and there isn't one... guess what? That's not protected under free speech.

There are precedents set of what constitutes free speech, and where free speech applies. If you start shouting obscenities in the middle of a crowded mall, Mall Security has every right to come escort you off the premesis, and they can do so under a variety of different reasons. Some security types might file an official complaint that you are disturbing the peace. Other security types might lean on the whole private property rules. Still yet more Security types might point out that obscene language is not covered under Free Speech and then have a restraining order posted.

In the same way, massive multiplayer online networks are private property. As much as some people might not like the idea, World of Warcraft, Everquest, WarHammer Online, City of Heroes, Playstation Network, Xbox Live, and so on... are not public forums. They are private networks that require agreeing to some rules and regulations. Those Terms of Service enable the network administrators to set their own rules about what is appropriate, and what is not appropriate. Some ToS outline some of the steps that might be taken if you break the rules and regulations that have been set.

The hope is that the first judge to get this case laughs this particular player out of the courtroom, not even allowing a jury trial based on the sheer ludicrous nature of the complaint. The hope is that a judge would look at the plaintiff and say something to the effect of You Broke There Rules, Get over it.

The worry is that a judge might be more interested in setting a verdict against Sony, or isn't interested in examining the merits of the complaint or the case itself. In such a case, the ability of network maintainers to provide a safe enviroment for their player base could be greatly diminished, and a ruling in favor of the plaintiff carries the remote possibility of ruining the ability of MMO's to operate inside the US.

yes. I am on facebook. quit asking

Yes. I do have a facebook account.

No. I haven't suddenly taken to liking social networking. I needed to establish a login due to Adventure Crossing setting up events through Facebook... and events aren't viewable without an account.

Yes, the picture on the facebook page is me. It's from 2007 and was taken by an editor while waiting for Nintendo's E3 press conference to start.

On another note, I did find Facebook's friends linking rather... interesting. Upon signing up Facebook surprising suggested two names that I recognized. Ralph Hayes Jr. for example, whose comics I've referenced in the past. Jonathan Pointdujour, one of the other writers on Gamenikki. Some names... I'm still trying to figure out why Facebook said I might know them... like Steven Sarron and Nerina Christos.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Why don't Democrat's use Firefox?

And I quote

QUESTION:Can you please let the staff use an alternative web browser called Firefox? I just (applause) I just moved to the State Department from the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency and was surprised that State doesn’t use this browser. It was approved for the entire intelligence community, so I don’t understand why State can’t use it. It’s a much safer program. Thank you. (Applause.)

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, apparently, there’s a lot of support for this suggestion. (Laughter.) I don’t know the answer. Pat, do you know the answer? (Laughter.)

UNDER SECRETARY KENNEDY: The answer is at the moment, it’s an expense question. We can --

QUESTION: It’s free. (Laughter.)


SECRETARY CLINTON: ... And it reminded me of what I occasionally sometimes do, which I call shopping in my closet, which means opening doors and seeing what I actually already have, which I really suggest to everybody, because it’s quite enlightening. (Laughter.) And so when you go to the store and you buy, let’s say, peanut butter and you don’t realize you’ve got two jars already at the back of the shelf – I mean, that sounds simplistic, but help us save money on stuff that we shouldn’t be wasting money on, and give us the chance to manage our resources to do more things like Firefox, okay?

Okay. Yes. I did cut some of the mid chatter out... but every technician worth his salt is having a big what the bloody hell moment after reading that. First of all, Mozilla FireFox is Open-Licensed software. It is both free of cost, and free of patent and licensing concerns. It also is amazingly simple to maintain. The update mechanism works just from within the application.

Where-as with Internet Explorer, you have to use Microsoft Windows Update to patch the application. You also have to make sure you read every single update because some updates contain submarine applications... like the .Net Plugin for FireFox that disables the uninstall option. A bit like any bit of legislation put forward by the Democrats that contains submarine spending and no way to say no to that spending.

... in that light, the Democrats might have a better handle on FireFox versus Internet Explorer than most technicians are giving them credit for right now. IE works like a Democrat political process. FireFox... doesn't.