Thursday, November 13, 2008

The next big MMO

I think the next big MMO hit is going to have to be something like a melding of SecondLife (SL) and World of Warcraft (WoW) and Star Wars: Galaxies (SWG).

Basically, you will need to create an economy that is truly player-driven with gear and items that are player driven (even down to the model designs of said gear). You need to keep individuals from being able to grind through singular improvements to unlock the next tier thingamajiggy and make them more inter-dependent. For example, if i'm a tailor, I can refine the weave pattern I use with the thread i've got to work with. I can mix and match dyes and materials at hand to make creatively shaped garments and what not... but I'm not going to magically unlock the ability to make Polyester Pants simply because I managed to assemble 100 Wool Tunics. To make said pants I'd need Polyester, which shouldn't even exist in the world until some Scientist or Researcher class actually discovers the stuff... and then some Manufacturer type has to actually produce the stuff, and I'll probably need an appropriate kind of thread to keep the stuff together.

Once you give players the ability to fabricate things (including buildings) within reasonable limits ala SL and brand things (ala SWG), you will see the arrival of player Brands and craftsmen and women of renown. To this day, I still remember a gal named Weetzie from SWG and her famous clothing shop. Her wares were so famous they were considered the pinnacle of SWG fashion by her adoring fans... all because SWG allowed you to brand your wares so all could see (upon inspection) who made that fabulous gown, smock or pant. (An internet search even turned up some archived articles that lend some veracity to my nostalgia).

Of course, you have to build limitations and checks & balances into the system, but honestly, SL pretty much solved that problem. They only allow your things to consist of a certain number of basic building blocks (they call them prims, short for 'primitives'). So you tell players, 'your crafted item can't have more than this number of triangles, this size and count of textures, this complexity of shaders (if you wanna go there).' In the case of weapons, 'you can only have these kinds and types of effects and damages within these ranges' and of course, intially, all these things are further limited by the technology level that the player civilization itself has achieved. Why not?

If you let players build a world, they'll embrace the world. If they see and feel that they are the limiting factor on the world's progress, rather than some clandestine team that releases a new patch every 3 months, then they will feel a sense of ownership, particularly if you re-inforce that sense of ownership with actual (well, virtual) ownership. Let the players own land (again, ala SL). Let them sell, buy, and trade real-estate. Let there be building developers and architects, contractors and construction companies. After all, it's a bit silly to assume that everyone wants to be a front-line grunt in the great war against the Alliance / Horde / Aliens / Klingons / Ferengi / what have you. Players could be bankers and land barons, buying and selling property, making money off of the backs of NPC shopkeepers or even other players! Build a home, watch it appreciate... then sell it to someone who admires it for profit!

Even more, if you let players destroy said world (by razing the buildings, etc.) then you'll keep 'em hooked. It lets the conflict out in 'the world' bleed into the home. There's territory to protect, things to keep sacred and safe. People will have something they believe is fighting for, instead of just a cockamamy trumped up story that you can choose to skip past when they accept that next quest. And insurance companies would arise as players and non-players alike would seek a way to damper the cost of frequent re-builds to properties that had been razed yet again.

I see real potential here...


Monday, November 03, 2008

My Fallout 3 Review (Xbox 360)

After spending some quality time outside the vault with Fallout 3 over the weekend, I’m prepared to say it’s a really engrossing game, in part despite the barren landscape and in part because of it. Here's my impressions:

Stuff I do like:
  1. Ammo is really scarce. This provides good incentive to improve your weapon skills because otherwise, you’d just spam-kill everything you come across without thinking about it. Nevertheless, I’m seriously considering taking the perk that improves the amount of ammo you find in containers, since I spend about 100% of all bottlecap income on repairs, ammo, and stims.
  2. There is a tense balance between feeling powerless and feeling badass. The world knows how to take you down a peg at just the right moments without completely destroying you, so you don’t really get too comfortable in your own skin.
  3. Using the right tool or tactic at the right time can drastically improve the odds of survival (e.g., giant fire ants.)
  4. The world reacts well to your presence in ways that are sometimes surprising. I cleaned out the shopping mart except for the lockpickable ammo cases and when I fast traveled back a few days later with some lock picks in tow to open them up, I had a squad of assassin’s waiting for me with a 1,000 cap contract on my head. They had even killed some of the local riff raff (which was even more bodies I could loot). I like that it doesn’t let me get comfortable.
  5. The radio stations provide great ambiance. I really like Enclave Radio because Malcolm McDowell is the man. He’d get my vote for President.
  6. The V.A.T.S. system is nifty.
  7. The various perks are fun. I just wish I could get more of them per level, as I’m going to run out of levels way before I run out of perks.
  8. There’s no penalty or time cost for using stims & such in-combat. You can be at death’s door and then instantly heal up to 100% while your opponent is actively wailing on you with a sledgehammer. (See point G below)
  9. Overall the world and the game is very engrossing and it feels (at least to me) very different than Oblivion. I think they did a good job capturing the Fallout post-apocalyptic “feel” and sense of humor I remember from my younger days.

Stuff I don’t like:

  1. Weapons decay really, really fast and repairing them yourself depends on having a spare weapon on-hand to consume. You can’t buy spare parts for cheap at a store to do the repairs yourself (as the replacement weapon to use for parts often costs as much if not more than the repair will).
  2. The world encourages you to be a jack of all trades without enabling the ‘masters of one.’ You really do have to spend points in barter, speech, lockpicking, and science in order to optimize harvesting in a resource depleted world. These take a lot of valuable skill points away from the more keep-yourself-alive skills like medicine, repair, and the combat skills. At the end of the day the only skill you can truly do without is stealth, but even that is handy and some archetypes would view it as essential.
  3. Level cap is 20 per a number of online resources. I just hit level 8 and feel like I really would like to (eventually) be a considerably more than twice as powerful than I currently am when all things are said and done. Level 30 would be a more comfortable plateau, but this objection is probably because the world is a harsh mistress and not really thought through from a game balance perspective.
  4. Karma is pretty vague. I’m not sure really how it impacts what I do or how much what I do impacts… well, anything. This is the counterpoint to point 4 above. For example, if I steal everything someone has, I don’t later see them running around going “someone broke into my house and robbed me!!!” even though that’s the most common response we see in real life when someone’s house is invaded: friends, family, neighbors, coworkers – everyone knows in short order.
  5. Bandits taunt me through solid floors as if I’m right there in the room with them. I can also see their shadows through the ceilings above. Yet, when I’m on the same floor as them, only separated by a wall, they are often oblivious to me. ?
  6. The non-V.A.T.S. combat system feels kinda broken somehow. It works, but it just feels like you do way more damage shot-for-shot in V.A.T.S. than outside, even if you line up a perfect shot, etc.
  7. There’s no penalty for using stims & such in-combat. It feels kinda “cheap” to have combat be so inconsequential as long as you have a healthy stack of stims in your pocket.


Friday, February 01, 2008

Long time, no siege!

So, it's been a while. Sorry about that.

A lot has happened lately, and I plan on filling y'all in as soon as I can with particulars... but for now, a few new things of note:

1) I wanna get artsy again... been about 15 years since I paid attention to the fact that I can draw and such. So i bought a Wacom Cintiq 12WX and I'm totally in love with it. (By the way, IF you get one of these, you must get a SmudgeGuard. They're awesome, and Jeannie Lit, the lady who invented the SG is paragon of customer support!)

2) I just filed my taxes and for the first time in about 5 years, i actually am getting a refund. Home ownership FTW!  Of course, now I need to adjust my withholdings so that I won't get (as much of) a refund next year, but that's another story...

3) I feel like building a computer to fuel my artistic and gaming endeavors. The tax refund could certainly help with that... but there are debts to be paid and the tax refund can *definitely* help with that, too.  Still, the lure of Penryn and Skulltrail is extreme...

The question I get asked the most by family is, "Hey, you find anyone special yet?"  Sadly, the answer is no. I know "Miss Right" is out there... somewhere... but as of yet I haven't met her. They always tell me I'm "such a catch" (single, handsome, have my own house, stable well-paying job, etc.) and that the ladies are crazy for not jumping to be with me. I can only conclude that they're fishing the wrong pond or I'm doing something wrong. All i can say is, it's not for lack of interest on my part.  I've put myself out there a few times in the past few years and been shot down hard each time. Reciprocity (or the lack thereof) is a bitch.

So, yes... I'd love to find "her" and settle down, get married, have a few kids (in a few years, anyway... I think we'd both like time to enjoy one another before we alter our reality that severely). Is it the guiding force in my life? My primary driver? No. Not yet, anyway. 

But i've got my eyes open.


Saturday, May 19, 2007


Missing the tastes and smells of the good ol' BBQ, I recently spent a fair amount of time researching various natural gas (my house is plumbed for it) and propane (it's what i grew up with) grills. Before acquiring the little guy (well, BIG guy... I got the large and man that sucker is HEAVY)... I visited Costco Home in Kirkland, WA on recommendation of some folk. Needless to say, I left disappointed. Not much selection, and what they had to select from -- to be blunt -- sucked.

I then went to Sutter Home & Hearth in Woodinville, WA. I met a man named Chip who took me on a tour of every grill in my stated price range and despite looking at some nice models from Vermont Castings (some of their features really appeal to the geek in me) and Weber (build like a tank and with a great rotisserie), I was eventually -- and quite inexorably -- drawn to the strange, green, egg-shaped looking thing by the door.

Now that I know better, I can see that it was clearly a trap. The Big Green Egg is not haphazardly placed -- nay, it lies in wait. As you walk in, you pass right by it without giving it a second glance. The monstrous hearth that greets you inexorably draws you deeper into the store. You prowl around the accessories, then find yourself pleasantly lost in a fantasy land of gas grills (many priced well over two thousand dollars), hearths, fireplaces, tiling, and more spices than you can shake a tong at. And as you begin to reel from the dizzying array of novelties which have beset you, you begin to list towards the door.

And that's when it accosts you. The strangest looking grill you've ever seen. If it weren't green, you'd expect Robin Williams to pop out and announce, "Nanoo, nanoo!" (Apparently on Ork they grill out a lot; flame-retardant gauntlets seem to be standard issue.) Yet, Mork is no where to be found. Instead, you are invited to peer inside. Cracking the top, images of glass-blowers dance in your head. Indeed, it looks like a kiln in there. A kiln with a cooking surface. How bizarre!

Of course, I would probably have left it at that, or possibly even taken home a (much more expensive) gas grill, had a friend of mine, Ken, not placed seeds of wonder in me several summers prior. You see, I once shared an office with Ken at my work, and in between getting work done we would do what all office-mates do... wax poetic about anything and everything that was of momentary interest, from computers to cookouts. Ken used to regale me with tales of The Egg. He would fulminate his desire for one to me repeatedly, yet always with a twinge of lament in his tone. You see, Ken was getting married. And buying a house. But that's not important right now.

What IS important is that I had heard of this contraption, even seen a picture or two on Ye Olde "Innernets"... but I had never experienced the Egg for myself. In fact, having no immediate knowledge of any Egg owners, I had long since dismissed his hyperbole-strewn ravings, filing them away as obscure anecdotes for a future party or barbecue where I found myself not too fond of the food and would need some "good lump" for a conversation.

As fate would have it, my mind connected the dots for me. The legend was before me, within my grasp... and the price was right. All that remained was substantiation of the rumors. Sifting the fact from the fiction. I asked Chip if he'd used one. With a knowing smile, he then gently proceeded to tell me how everything I thought I knew about grilling out and barbecue was wrong...

An hour later I left the store, brochure and shopping list in hand, to think things over. I went to Tully's and ordered some piping hot white jasmine tea. I read the brochure, reviewed the list, and thought deeply about it. I sipped tea and crunched numbers in my head. I prayed about it. I sipped more tea and let it all brew for a while. Eventually, I felt a peace about the decision and went straight back to Chip instead of heading straight home.

We piled up all the requisite accessories (including a plate setter and a pizza stone) and some optional ones (like a remote temperature monitor and a charcoal chimney starter). Twenty minutes and a few herniated discs later, I was on the road towards home with a 170 lb. monstrosity in tow... a large-sized Big Green Egg!

Tomorrow... the setup. And after that... the fire... and then... well, we all know what comes THEN. :)


Thursday, April 12, 2007

Co-Op Terrorst Hunt

GRRRR... Okay, I had this great review written up, but Blogger (well, IE7... well, actually my sloppy mouse-clicking hand) ate it.
Recommendation: when editing your blogger post, when in spell-check mode, do NOT accidentally right click on the image you inserted (because the view scrolls to the top when miss right-clicking on a misspelled word) and pick "Open Link" from the context menu that pops up (thinking that the first option is actually the correction for said misspelled word). Doing so causes the rich text control you're editing within to load the image and nothing but the image. And there's no way to go "back" to get your text. And (of course), if you're working on your first draft, there's no previous version, which means "Recover post" does nothing.
So here's your new review of R6V:
It's awesome. Co-op Terrorist Hunt is fun. I play it way too much. You should buy it. But watch out, the language in the game is foul... and i'm not just talking about the other players on Live... i mean the actual enemies in the game. Some of the things they say would make a sailor or an iron worker blush. Seriously.
Happy hunting!
Oh, and... watch out for the trekkies. ;)

Monday, February 12, 2007

Xbox 360 + HD-DVD + Kong = Pretty

Okay, I caved.

This weekend I picked up an Xbox 360 HD-DVD drive from Circuit City. It came with Kong.

Initial impressions of HD-DVD in general and the Drive:

0) The WOW starts now. This is pretty. on my 42" 1080p (native) Westinghouse... gawk factor approaches 100%. Looks better than even House via the Comcast cable.

1) It's been said before, but for those of us who must horizontally mount it... it would be nice if the eject button was rotatable.

2) Occasionally, the drive doesn't report that it has a disc in it on boot. so you get the Dashboard saying "Eject Disc" for both DVD and HD-DVD... even though there's an HD-DVD in the drive.

3) it would be nice to be able to resume playback after shutting down the player by warming up the box with the "Play" button. Or to power up straight to the Disc Main Menu by pressing "DVD Menu" on the remote... skipping the Dash entirely in both cases.

4) Where is slow-motion? (forward and reverse)?

5) Where is frame-advance, frame-reverse? I like gawking at the fine details on stills... it's really hard to get just the right, which is a pity since Kong has some awesome sets.

6) The menu sometimes flys out if i press right on the remote... and sometimes it doesn't. Really inconsistent. DVD Menu works most of the time too. Sometimes if U-Control is enabled, the menu doesn't show up until its disabled. I maintain that this could be the individual disc's fault.... which brings me to:

King Kong impressions:

0) Visually, double-wow. Looks beyond amazing. Sound's pretty good (low-end is a bit muddy at times, but it's still a friend of my portable earthquake generator, which is more than many movies can claim). It's no House of Flying Daggers in this regard, but it's still enjoyable.

1) U-Control in its current implementation *sucks* [censored] fat [censored] [censored]. Yes, i know it's a video game console, and yes, i know this is TOTALLY Universal's fault... but it's totally lame to have to watch through 3 hours of Kong again with U-Control enabled just to find the dozen or so vignettes within (totally maybe 15 minutes of actual content). Even worse, you have to play whack-a-mole with the content indicator. Even if you press it right a way you invariably miss a few seconds, which means you have to rewind, then press it (because the shuttle lag causes the u-control to still be active, even though the video hasn't started yet) to catch the entire thing. Biggest omissions to make this content actually worthwhile:

* jump-to-next... let me skip through the movie, watching only the Scenes that have U-Control content. manual and automatic modes for this would rock.
* autoplay... let me enable U-Control and enable auto-play of it to boot... so that it always pops up right-on-cue.
* an index... the U-Control should have a menu of all the extra content items, so i can access them directly.
* PIP resize... let me change the size of the PIP. Yeah, i can see it down there as a little SD window, but i have to practically squint at it when i'm 10' away... and my tv isn't small by any stretch. this is especially egregious for the art gallery stuff. it's so small as to be worthless most of the time.
* PIP swap... let me watch the movie in the PIP and the special content full-screen.

Suffice it to say, the only nifty U-Control feature is bookmarks... and i don't think they're actually U-Control, since they show up under extras. Rather like that it has these, however... since I couldn't find any other way to resume where I left off after shutting the box down.

2) The Screen Saver is nifty... but it has some bugs:
* First of all, when your movie is paused, and the screen saver kicks in, there's about a second of video and audio that plays before the SS loads.
* I should be able to disable it. I have a TFT. It doesn't need a screen saver.
* This feature should prove interesting, since clearly the SS is stored on the disc. Be fun to see what happens in the future if studios decide to get fancy with this. I'd love to see what kind of SS they can come up with for Spider-Man, X-Men, etc.
* Resuming play takes forever...

Monday, September 18, 2006

"Lowpoints" or "George Lucas, why have you forsaken me?"

Today I have a few lowpoints to share with you. Aside from these, it was a good day, and not unlike most days.

  1. Comcast DVR died (okay, to be fair, it died last Friday, but today I had the joy of taking it back and exchanging it, after spending way too much time on hold).
  2. Xbox 360 died (okay, this makes me thing something's amiss... two pieces of hardware die at the same time? hmm... still, stranger things have happened!)
  3. Speaking of stranger things: George Lucas, WHY HAVE YOU FORSAKEN ME? (caps definitely mine, for effect). I buy the stinking "Unaltered" versions of the DVD and find some things horribly awry:

    1. The Unaltered versions are Disc 2. Wait, I thought the title of the project was "Star Wars: UNALTERED." So why are the unaltered versions relegated to Disc 2-status?
    2. 4:3 Letterbox format (Aspect Ratio 2.35:1). Now, I'm not a swearing man on general principle, but this made even me go "what the f***?!?" Now, if BOTH disks were 4:3 Pan & Scan, I'd be willing to forgive and go back to the store and say, "Excuse me, apparently *I* am a bonehead and picked up the WRONG BOX. Please let me exchange this for the 'Widescreen' version..." But then I look at the first disc which contains the 'Special Education Edition' version and it says "Widescreen format enhanced for 16:9 TVs (Aspect Ratio 2.35:1). Even the front of the box says "WIDESCREEN."

      Excuse me, Mr. Lucas, but the ONLY reason I bought this version (I already OWN the version you included on Disc 1) was for the UNALTERED version. So when I see a box that says WIDESCREEN on it, I expect a WIDESCREEN (read: anamorphic, read: enhanced for 16:9 TVs) version of the original, UNALTERED film.
    3. It looks remarkably like the letterbox versions of the originals that came out on VHS over a decade ago. Seriously. At best, it looks like a laserdisc->DVD transfer that I bought off Ebay (out of sheer curiosity) 5 years ago.

So, there you have it. Despite it all, I still love Star Wars.

Darth Lucas would apparently like to change that.