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Saturday, October 08, 2005


I offer a brief and spoiler free review of Joss Whedon's Serenity.

Go see it. Now.

Thank you for your time. Why are you still reading this?

Doctorow on Next Gen DVD

Obviously via BoingBoing:

Me, I say they all suck ass. The idea that the entertainment industry should design next-gen technology is hilariously stupid. These are the dumbasses who are calling for mandatory watermark detectors on analog-to-digital converters, after all. They still believe in crazy snake-oil like robust watermarks! They believe that it's practical to control the design of analog-to-digital converters, even though high school science students often build them as class projects!

This is ideological science, Soviet in its approach: like the Soviet apparats who insisted that it was possible to make ideologically correct weeds that would magically transform themselves into wheat; these boneheads insist that it's possible to make computers and networks that are less-good at copying files.

Gates has laid down with dogs and now he's waking up with fleas. Inviting the entertainment industry to design Windows for him was a move of such breathtaking commercial stupidity that it's hard to credit. Where's that monopolist swagger when we need it?
-- Bill Gates shouts at Sony CEO that his crappy DRM is less crappy

So, DirectX ... we meet again.

Some time ago, I had a problem running Half-Life on a new computer. After what can only be called an an incredibly bad technical experience of epic porportions. Long story short - some game had installed a version of DirectX that Half-Life didn't like and Windows wasn't about to let that version go.

Let me repeat this for people unwilling to click on the link. Windows will not let DirectX go. It will not like attempts to uninstall or downgrade to an earlier version and it will respond to any such attempts with lethal force. Oh yes, Windows will take down everything else in an attempt to defend it's precious DirectX.

I recently installed the Serious Sam 2 demo, which I think installed DirectX 9.0c. Previously I had 9.0b and Guild Wars and Doom 3 were happy as clams.

Now, Doom 3 crashed before it even gets to the teaser screen. And as much as I'm likely to poke into it ... I'm betting the end result will be that I can't play Doom 3 unless I like ... reinstall my OS. If you think I'm being fatalistic ... remember ... I've been here before.

Thanks Microsoft. Thank you for designing such a brilliant system that I can't even downgrade when you fsck things up. Yer smart.


Friday, October 07, 2005

The OQO and our wireless world

The OQO is a pocketable, wifi enabled, fully functional Windows XP powered computer. Supposed to be about $1900. It's funny because a co-worker and I were just talking about the idea of having a wifi capable computer which could connect to base stations remotely - so you could do work in the office like normal, shove your computer in your pocket, and then head home and finish up the same work just by setting that computer on the desk and having it connect to your home station.

I send e-mail to my cell phone that I can read on my computer simply by asking the Mini to bluetooth to it. Nintendo will make a computer a wifi gaming router with just a USB dongle. I wonder when it will be that devices without either Bluetooth or Wifi will be kinda like those phones that don't need microchips or lithium-ion batteries. There are already scripts that will let you phone your Macintosh with a song title and have it call you back ... singing the song. The world is going to get to be a weird place.

New Standard

As I plugged my black Nokia adaptor, I kinda wondered why they actual headphones were white. I hadn't recalled ever having a white set of headphones.

Oh yeah, that iPod thing. Thanks iPod, you've made white the new black. That will confuse for a while.

dotcom 2.0

AOL is going to buy out WebBlogs, Inc for $25 million.

This feels very much like deja vu to me. I hitched my ride to the Internet a very, very long time ago and worked for a somewhat major web boutique when the bubble really started to expand. I still remember standing outside with the smokers and having someone do the math on how we'd all be millionaires.

Needless to say, I'm not typing this on my golden supercomputer and I still have to balance a checkbook. In fact, after the crash I came very close to living in a parent's basement (wasn't sure which one, was considering a lottery to determine).

So when I see stock-rich companies buying up small, concept based shops with occasionally little more than a good idea ... I get that odd shiver in one shoulder. Like I'm staring at something familiar. Not that WebBlogs is little more than a good idea ... both them and Gawker have shown a business model that can turn a profit.

And there's another major difference this time around. Most of the people helming these little studios and shops are veterans of these here wars. They're survivors of the first bubble and by all Darwinian principles are better equipped to avoid another. I actually have a few friends working for a company that when last I asked what their business strategy was ... it was to simply get bought out by someone bigger. The goal now is to find a utility, a niche, a problem to solve that someone is worth paying for.

That's a much smaller and more reasonable goal than trying to revolutionize business with nothing more than a browser. And usually these shops are, if anything, undermanned. Stories of webdev shops having months of downtime are many before the crash.

So the wheel has turned and we've gotten back to this point already. If I had a chance or an idea to go on, I'd probably jump back on. Just once again, for old time's sake.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Atlas Screen

I haven't been working nearly enough on it, so I'm mostly posting this in an act of public shaming to remind myself to do so if I get the chance over the weekend. The only thing I did get down was replacing my stolen artwork. I still used the same color palette, since that's what had attracted me to ripping it off in the first place, but these asteroids are otherwise all my own.

The ugly circle in the corner is the placeholder art for a space station which will serve as kinda like towns in Atlas. Players will be able to dock in order to buy upgrades, sell off salvage and find new missions or contacts. That is, if I ever finish writing any of that.

New ARG: Last Call Poker

Apparently there is a new Alternate Reality Game on the block, called Last Call Poker. According to the almighty BoingBoing, it features emails, phone calls and videos with an ex-Different Strokes celebrity. The phone call thing I might find too intrusive. That's actually always been one stickler for me an ARGs. E-mails are fine, I can deal with that on my own time. But I have enough trouble managing my gaming hours without having one ring me up.

Still, sounds intriguing and looks like it has good production values. I went ahead and registered myself in the hopes that it won't be calling me when I'm in a meeting.

OctoberFest Carnival

The October edition of the Carnival of Gamers is up. The Carnival is a collection of submitted entries from around the gaming blogosphere. I actually flaked out on this one because, well, because life has just been that noisy lately ... but at least I have my reading material for the day now.

Real Release Dates

Can we all just accept the following fact:

Retail sites are not reliable sources for release dates. They never have been. They never will be. The idea that some computer jockey entering SKUs into the Best Buy database has more access to inner workings of say, 3D Realms, than say, 3D Realms, is just silly.

Here's another tip. Companies want you to know when the games will be released. They have done extensive research on the subject and found that it increases sales if people know the product will be in stores. So stop trying to scoop them.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005


Mentioned it just a little while ago, and I got my welcome to 2005 email last night. What, one might ask, the hell is NaNoWriMo? It stands for National Novel Writing Month and it lasts for all of November. The goal of NaNoWriMo is to write, from scratch, a 50,000 word novel within the month. For some, it's just a convenient reason to get some ideas down on paper. For others, it's a much needed deadline to force some serious production. All in all, for me it's a bit of both. I was an English major in college (after a Psych major) and I used to write volumes. Now that programming is my mainstay, though, typing fiction sometimes feels a little weird. Fortunately, though, I seem to be a bit hypergraphic ... so NaNo really wasn't that hard for me.

This year I'm likely to participate ... but only to edit my previous entry. That means that anything I've written previously can't be added to the word count, only new text added to the old manuscript. So, I'm unlikely to get to the goal ... but I'd rather try to make the old story better than just keep stacking up bad novels.

How would one join in the fun? It's easy. Just go to and register. Then you hang out in the forums, discuss plots, etc. You can take notes or make outlines, but no words to paper until November 1st. Once that day rolls around, most people use the forums to talk about progress, make challenges, etc. There's a great social aspect to the very unregulated contest. In fact, most would say that just writing anything and talking about it is the real goal.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

One Giant Space Ring To Rule Them All

Rumors have been confirmed, Peter Jackson and Fran Walsh will be producing the Halo movie. From the press release:

“As a gaming fan, I’m excited to bring HALO's premise, action and settings to the screen with all the specificity and reality today’s technology can provide,” said Jackson. “Fran and I are intrigued by the unique challenges this project offers, and we’re delighted to be working again with our friends at Universal, and with our new ones at Fox and Microsoft. I’m a huge fan of the game and look forward to helping it come alive on the cinema screen.”

But it gets better. Alex Garland, ala 28 Days Later, will be penning the movie. The franchise already has, hands down, one of the best backstories in gaming history. Possibly only outdone by Bungie's own Marathon (although some would say that's because Marathon is the backstory to Halo...)

No director has been attached to the project yet. If I wasn't hoping Whedon would be busy doing a sequel to Serenity, I'd know who I would pick.

Message Quests

If you want to send someone a message, but prefer to do it with high production values and cryptic puzzles, then Message Quests is for you. Enter a personal message and then send it inside a visual shockwave-based adventure-style game for someone to unlock. Neat idea and nicely done.

Almost Poetic

The poor GP2X. Someone finally puts together an open platform handheld console with some halfway decent hardware, and the first it seems we hear about it on these shores comes from an English translation of a Korean review:

With is a plan which will be located on the left side top which boils it is a plan where the letter which is a first edition which is an indication which the first limitation water content in that lower part, is will enter. (after the car there is a water service which will be exchanged)
-- GP2X Pre-Final Review

Does the PSP sport a water service? No, I didn't think so.

(thanks Engadget)

Indigo Prophecy Post-Mortem

Thanks goes to Corvus for having a link to this Developer Diary on Indigo Prophecy. Tells about the angle the game took and why it wanted to diverge from what it calls "the five emotions":

In fact, I realized that most games were based on the same five basic emotions: excitement, competition, fear, frustration, and pride.

In short, excitement is about the pleasure of displaying power by killing or destroying (like in any shooter game), competition is about showing that we are better than the others (like in sports games or any game with competitors), frustration is about failing and starting again, and pride is about getting unique items and customizing one's character.
-- Indigo Prophecy Developer's Diary

Don't Blame The Monk

Last night I caught a quick pick-up game in Kryta, Guild War's land to the west of Ascalon. I had spent some time wandering around but decided to do one of the cooperative missions.

It didn't go so well. The Gates of Kryta is a mission plagued by the undead and some of them fairly potent. I spent a lot of my time dead, and the point of contention here was that I was the only healer. So there was a lot of muttering about where people left their other resurrection signet (at least one had, well, left it at home). I'm certain a few in the party felt the monk let them down, but brother, I can only click on so many things at once. At one point I looked kinda dumb because I died while holding a quest item. Course, the thing is - I was spending so much time casting that a weapon wasn't going to do me much good. It was a common theme for the night.

So what went wrong? Well, let's get some tips from that.

1. Bring a full party: The party leader had gotten a full list, but the only primary warrior in the bunch dropped out as soon as we entered the mission. Definately should have gone back for another. I've spent a lot of time in GW just wandering about, and it's almost never a good idea to leave without a full complement, unless you're backtracking into an area you know you've seriously outclassed. Even low level monsters can swarm on an individual.

2. Bring a varied party: The party make up really sucked. No primary warrior. One monk. A mesmer, an elementalist and two rangers. In other words, no tank or way to keep a melee going so that the spellcasters could do their thing. Constantly, the spellcasters would get overwhelmed and end up going grey. When I hench it, I take another healer and two warriors and then mix up the rest with spellcasters. The goal is to keep the majority of reds away from your ranged attacks and spells, not to force the two together.

3. Make sure you've got the XP: Whisper is now lvl 16, about half of her points going into healing powers. One ranger was lvl 17 and actually ended up being the tank and eventually winning the mission for the rest of the party. The rest were 11 or 12 and simply didn't have the health points or energy to stay in the battle. At one point, Whisper casted a heal spell, a regen buff and a heal party all in an attempt to save one person. It failed. That's a losing strategy for any party, because I've now spent a large amount of energy and can barely even defend myself.

4. Stick together: As a monk, this is my biggest team pet peeve. First, it means that people are more likely to die because they're off fighting individually and can get easily overwhelmed. Second, I waste valuable time running back and forth between team sections to get into casting range. This happened no less than three times last night. Each time I ended up dying because once again, I had wasted all my mana trying to keep two futile battles going.

5. Be patient: Number two pet peeve. As soon as one battle is over, the team just keeps running over the hill for the next objective. Stop, take a breather. The difference between 15 energy and 33 energy is about two seconds outside of combat. It's also one more heal party, three more heal spells, or another regen buff and a heal spell. Any of those could keep someone alive.

I'm not sure if there's anything ArenaNet could do to help PUGs be better at this. It might be helpful to have and energy bar on the HUD so that the party knows when a spellcaster has been tapped. It also might be better to have level suggestions on some of the mission descriptions.

On a side note though, Kryta is quite purty.

Monday, October 03, 2005


On Thursday, after I had gotten done frantically re-keying and editing a short story for Rockstar's Upload Contest, I almost blogged a bit complaining about their process.

I'm quite glad I didn't. The main gist of my complaint was the lack of confirmation. I still think that's valid, but in all fairness I did get the confirmation email the next day. More to the point is that in terms of contests, Upload is actually quite good. For one thing, a $3,000 cash prize for a short story is pretty sizeable. Plus, there is no entry fee involved - which is very nice. Finally, simply being able to upload the entry instead of using a SASE is convenient ... even if it could use a bit better user friendliness in the long run.

In short, there aren't many contests like it and I'm damn glad Rockstar is doing it. And it's not even like they have hardcore ulterior motives involved in the contest, they're just doing it because they want to do it.

For the curious and potentially masochistic, my entry can be downloaded here in PDF. It's a more flushed out version of a tangent from my NaNoWriMo work, Greenscape. And I'll say the same thing I told the girl ... I'm sure I missed a typo somewhere ... but I don't want to hear about it if I did...

Again, though, thanks to Rockstar for organizing a great contest.

Cold Coffee

Buried in a ZDNet article detailing how sex sells in video games comes this quote from the sometimes difficult to read ESRB Prez Patricia Vance:

In an interview for this story, the ratings board's Vance told CNET that there is little her organization can do about designating mature or adults-only ratings for games in which sexual content cannot be predicted and is based entirely on users exploiting titles' open-ended tools.

"We can't do anything, nor can publishers, with user-generated content," said Vance. "And we can't rate user-generated content. So our solution is we provide an online rating notice on (online games) that says 'Game experience may change during online play.'"

And Vance also suggested parents must get involved when there's the chance their children may encounter sexual content in online games.

"If parents are concerned about kids being exposed to inappropriate content while they're playing online," she said, "then they should not allow their kids to be playing online."
-- Adult-orientated video games prospering

Well, hell. Would it have hurt to have said that when the ESRB released their Hot Coffee statement? Hopefully publishers know that this is the stance and won't back off from creating open-ended tools for fear of what users will do with them.

More Format Wars

Paramount goes both Blu-Ray and HD-DVD, and cites the PS3 as a reason. Not much of a surprise there. Since most of the BD backers are the makers of the hardware, Toshiba should be really hoping Microsoft makes a last minute change and opts for HD with the 360. Course, it seems the 360 is already in the manufacturing stage ... so that seems unlikely. Toshiba might be able to launch a serious HD-DVD player before the Spring and hope that hybrid discs offer people the feeling of a smooth upgrade path, but they better hope the price point is around the (very subsidized) PlayStation 3 if they want to get their footing in this fight.

Seriously, Sam

I downloaded the Serious Sam II demo a couple days back and since the DSL was flaking out yesterday, I opted to give it a try. The CheapBox handled it OK ... preferring the the lower end of settings and 800x600 resolution. In other words, nearly the same setting as every other modern shooter out there.

My main problem wasn't the graphics, but the demo itself. I'm kinda surprised CroTeam released in it's current state. When it seemed like all there was to the demo was running around a rooftop trying out guns ... well, at least that was simple and fun. I kept wondering why I couldn't get past one point though, and apparently it was just that I hadn't shot down enough things ... or ... something. Opposed to the previous concept of having on huge wave, Serious Sam II seems to be based on the premise multiple waves. Sometimes there will be generators producing the enemies and some enemies can produce the enemies.

At first I was afraid this would devolve Sam from it's normal overwhelm-the-senses design, but later in the demo I was proven wrong. Sure enough, eventually there will be a storm of creeps bearing down on you. Enough that the CheapBox cried Uncle and required a settings adjustment.

No, the real problem is that it leaves the player a bit confused as to what is the real objective. Should they just stand and deliver and wait for the waves to finish or do they have to hunt down some spawn point first? In the short demo, I had to finish off waves, destroy generators and then finally just get to a specific point ... but I never really knew any of that before I actually (sometimes accidentally) did it.

The level was also plagued by invisible barriers, bizarre "secrets", and a jumping puzzle. Most of that could be easily resolved for the final game, but it was a shame to keep tripping over such things during the demo. Also, I'm begging them to add in a proper grenade toss anim, because having a grenade just sprout from the middle of your ... screen ... is wrong.

On a side note, I finished the day with Doom 3. Largely it was perfectly playable. There is, however, two downsides to it on the CB. One is that when id pulls on of their exploding wall tricks, the framerate crashes and I'm really defenseless against that monster closet. The second is that with a lower resolution, it's even harder to see sometimes.

Still, I'm hopeful someone will make a killer mod for Doom 3, so on the hard drive it stays.

Sunday, October 02, 2005

OK, that's enough

The comment spammers simply won't die down this morning, reaching a post every ten minutes or so. I'm taking comments off the blog for the rest of the day.


Back up now, but added the word verification requirement. We'll see how that goes.

Good Reasons

Good reasons to sleep in on a Sunday morning:

1 - You were up till 3AM soloing in Guild Wars just to see what your Monk looked like with tatooed legs.
2 - Much of that time was spent drinking whiskey.
3 - Someone decided that about that time was a good time to comment spam your blog.
4 - Cats.
5 - You really have nothing better to do.