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Friday, January 11, 2008

Talk About Fan Fiction

Could I try writing 250 words of Orcs & Elves fan fiction for a chance at a Carmack signed DS?

Yes, yes I could.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Why My Wi-Fi Closed

For the record, I completely agree with the sentiment expressed in this Wired article, in fact it is in pretty much lockstep with why when we moved I went ahead and left our Wi-Fi router completely open. Little risk, small benefit to a passer-by or neighbor and a lot easier for setup.

Then a couple weeks ago my connection slowed and started dropping. I went to check the router logs only to find that the D-Link was staving off a middleman spoof attack. It didn't look like any real damage was done, but it was chewing through the logs at a breakneck pace. I put on encryption and a password ... and it's been running perfectly fine ever since.

It's not a big deal, but it reminds of the kind of thing that spoils the net. Like spam has nearly killed e-mail as being the kind of social tool it really could be - malicious attempts like this one spoil what could be an open and free Internet.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

An Edward Packard Gimmick

Most of you probably are familiar with Edward Packard, even if the name is just a tingle of memory at the moment. He wrote the initial Choose Your Own Adventure books which have now become an essential part of the gaming genome.

One of his books, and one I remember fairly well, was Inside UFO 54-40. The site notes an interesting aspect:

My Thoughts: This is a fairly interesting science fiction adventure, though it's certainly not the best of the series. The book also contains the rather annoying gimmick of making the reader search for the planet Ultima, a place which is in the book but completely unreachable by regular play. It's on page 101, in case you care...
-- Books By Edward Packard

Nice, a gamebook that insisted you cheat. Is there a valid digital analogy here?

Play Digital Looks At Machinima

I'll just say that listening to Katharine say the word "machinima" would never, ever get old (like it's my fault I'm a Yank with a sucker for accents).

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Apokalyptica 2008: Tales of the Zombie War

Tales of the Zombie War is an interesting mashup between a zombie genre fansite (a la but not limited to World War Z) and short fiction contest. The next round of fiction is due March 1st and offers a $50 prize.

That's actually pretty decent purse for a shortfic setup that doesn't try to require any door fee or whatnot. And the rules are clearly trying to cast the lot above normal fanfic. For a site unaffiliated with Max Brooks, it's a damn nice thing to do.

Play Zork On Your Google Homepage

A most excellent idea.

Thanks, Jamie.

The X4Pack For Unreal Tournament 2004

So I'd like to be working on This Town Is Dead, but I'm in a state of total writer's block. So like I've said before, I moved over to finish up some UT2004 mod code I had been playing with before, so I figured I'd give an overview.

The X4Pack (named because previously I've released xpack, xpackII and xxxpack ... seen to the right) will be a group of five gametypes. I haven't decided if I'm going to include any new mutators but I'm leaning towards not. My goal here is really to narrow my focus and actually get some things done.

A note on that though - I wouldn't expect an enormous sense of polish from any of this. I don't really see the point. If the core of it all doesn't excite, the brass tacks really won't.

The gametypes are as follows:

Grind Domination
This is a slightly cleaned up version of my previous mod, Grind, but I'll be shipping only the Double Domination gametype this time around. I really liked Grind but the last rendition was just all over the place.

This is essentially Riftwar without the class-based code, custom weapons and the whatnot. Just straight up Unreal Domination, but with three teams and using the classic scoring system (points based on a timer not on who can hold onto both points at once). Again, I really liked Riftwar but instead of going in the direction people kept on about (including Epic) - I've simplified, streamlined and brought it closer to the vanilla Unreal play.

Skullcap is deathmatch with a scoring twist - you score not based solely on frags but on the number of skulls a person currently holds. Fragging a person with a high number of skulls will obviously increase you score quickly but also make you a bit of a target. When you get fragged, your skulls reset back to one. To balance things out, you spawn with a full set of gear.

Space Assault
Players spawn in a slightly modified version of spacefighters. Teams compete to destroy objectives on the map and the map is over not based on a specific score but when all the objectives have been destroyed.

Unreal Derby
Deathmatch with everyone strapped into updated versions of the Scorpion.

I'd say something like "most of this is done", but I haven't done network/replication testing yet, so I won't jinx myself there. Also to note, Space Assault and Unreal Derby will ship with one map each, SA-MotherShip and UD-Urban. I greatly doubt I'll get around to adding any new ones myself.

New Yorker On Avatars

In the New Yorker of all things, I should try and get that on a tee shirt for the girl. Found this during the morning news crawl, but I can't remember where.

Ah, twas at Curmudgeon.

Rooms Video

Via IndieGames. Looks fun and inventive and reminds me of the kind of thinking about interface that even interactive fiction could learn from.

Monday, January 07, 2008

Is Spore Having Problems "Being Fun"?

Old Kottke is wondering if that isn't the continuing reason for delays as the product recently becomes Wired's #2 vaporware. Did the hype roll out way too early on this one?

Fight Against Boredom Now Password Protected

The Fight Against Boredom domain, Mozilla's new viral marketing for Firefox, is (at the time of this writing) being protecting by an LDAP password. Did it get to exciting?

PS3 UT3 Modding Inches Forward

Gaming Today (and probably others) are reporting that the UT3 "cooker" has been leaked and the first working mod is out using them.

Quick thoughts.

The Good
Epic is now out of the business of handpicking mods and maps. This was critical because for as long as the mother company is acting as a middle man, you really can't have a viable mod community. Now the community can be responsible for the creation, the discussion and distribution of content.

The Bad
No direct online distribution for content and I'm not hearing much buzz that it will ever change towards it. This will hobble growth over the long term as the novelty of mods wears off. It's been hard enough to convince people to download content and give it an honest try, putting the sneakernet shuffle in between certainly won't help.

The good news is that it sounds like there might be a backdoor in that "code only" mods like mutators and gametypes can be loaded up when a user hits a server using it. I'm not sure if this is cached, temporary, data or if it is stored, however. The flipside here is that traditionally it can lead to people avoiding servers because they don't want to bother with the forced download.

It also looks like there are some restrictions with code working across packages. This isn't terrible, but it does restrict anyone from developing a core package and mixing that code into other gametypes. An annoyance, but a small point overall.

The (Could Be) Ugly
It seems the only way to custom assets (models essentially) is to create a custom map and use that as a starting point. Without being able to try it out, this sounds like a bit of a cluster when it comes to development. If your gametype, for instance, requires a new kind of map - you have to treat it as a total conversion.

What I'm trying to hunt down is what this means for packaging the code. Will mod code have to be distributed with every map? What does that do to version control, etc? It feels a bit like the inverse of how mod development typically works and it would definately hit more than just TC's ... out of five gametypes I'm working on now for UT2004 - two require custom maps. The vast majority of mutators that won during the last MSUC had custom assets ... so those are actually just impossible in this schema.

And I can't imagine a lot of TC mod teams will be happy with not being able to import custom sounds. Heck, I used custom sounds with a holiday mutator I co-wrote a while ago.

For mods like Jailbreak or Deathball which are essentially more partial conversion than total conversions, the setup will probably work (looks like Jailbreak UT3 is already in the works). Also, I can speak to the fact that (at least in UT2004) you can hack the stock maps to a great deal without require new assets and if you're creative about reshuffling and remixing models and textures - you have a lot more flexibility than it probably looks. For instance, my Freehold mod for the original UT altered Domination maps to be coop style play without any map alterations, and it had new monsters, etc.

Overall I can't say I'm thrilled. If we see some gametype mods gain some traction, I would be happy but a little surprised. They haven't had much success on UT2004 without all these limitations.

In short - what's ironic here is that the setup is probably sufficient for the kind of modding I've traditionally done with the Unreal Engine. The problem here is that I've always been in the tiny minority there and rarely got any real motion when it came to getting online play.

Mozilla Kicks Off "Firefox Users Against Boredom"

It's viral marketing, so of course it is supposed to be bizarre, but I wonder how effective the lengthy list of statistics the Fight Against Boredom site lists off as benefits to a Firefox lifestyle will be. I mean, what does less likely to live in Chicago or read the Tribune have to do with being exciting. It continues on to cite Iowa, Kentucky and plenty of other states.

Let me guess - this was a bunch of surveys taken in the Bay Area and New York?

Update: Odd, password protected now.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Random Thoughts After Modding, Playing PSO, Watching Bad Movies

Or as I sometimes call it, Saturday.

One of my downfalls as a modder is that I don't like to sweat the details. I love playing with the gameplay portions of a mod but generally get quickly bored with nearly anything else. This include HUD work and map design. Sadly for most of what I'm trying to finish in UT2004 right now, it's mostly HUD work and map design. I used to like map building, but in this age of static meshes, complicated volumes and tricky sky boxen - I'm just outmoded. I spent two hours on HUD stuff yesterday and just about clawed my eyeballs out. This isn't really helped by the fact that to adjust things in UT2k4's HUD code, you pretty much change a few digits in a very long properties value, recompile, launch, look and repeat.

Phantasy Star Online is amazingly impressive considering that this version we have for the GameCube (Wii) is essentially unchanged from the Dreamcast version, except with splitscreen and the content additions from over the years. That Blue Burst died a somewhat ignoble death (being nothing but a financial burden in the long run) is somewhat sad to me. Sure, there's little things I'd love to change like targeting, weapon swapping and the like - but the core of the game is as brilliant as the day it was born. What it really needs, of course, is a payment setup like Guild Wars or Dungeon Runners ... not WoW. It's a small team instance, not a massively multiplayer ... and people have learned to pay accordingly.

PSO would make such a killer DS title, or even a Wii one. It also a gold mine for a 2D roguelike.

Commando is a hilarious movie by nearly every measure of comedy, right down to the appearances of Alissa Milano and Bill Paxton in the film. It occurs to me that if we want to compare video games to movies, the problem isn't so much that it's not at all valid (though I attest it is not completely valid) ... but rather that many video games are just stuck in the 80's, narratively speaking.