The Graveyard Book

Quite often, books fall into one of two traps.  The first is “everything happens all at once”, this is because they want to tell a story and they want to tell you all of the story, but they don’t want to drag it out over years, so instead everything happens in a short period of time.  A normal person is suddenly thrown into a mess and over the course of a few days the world is saved.  The second is “all the boring parts too”, this being where in order to tell the whole story they tell you the whole story, years of a character’s life when large chunks of it are irrelevant.

Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book is how you tell a long story without falling into either trap.  This is the story of Nobody Owens, a boy who loses his family and grows up in a graveyard.  His tale is told almost as a collection of short stories rather than as one long novel, but there is a common thread throughout and keeps it from being just a collection of shorts.  Like a stone across the water, we skip through Bod’s life as he has encounters and experiences that shape him, all the while hiding from the world and the man who might still be looking to kill him.

This book was a fantastic read, and perfect for the month of October and the Halloween season.  I enjoyed it thoroughly and can’t think of anyone who wouldn’t.

Fallen Earth

This isn’t exactly zombie news, but…

Over the past few months, I’ve been participating in the beta for Fallen Earth, an upcoming post apocalyptic MMO.  Before I get to the good stuff, let me just get the bad stuff out of the way.

The graphics.  And I don’t mean the style, but the performance.  My PC isn’t exactly new or top of the line, but I beat out their required specs and I play a great number of games released in the last couple years very well.  When I venture off by myself or in a small group, this game plays great.  But when I get to town or any large gathering of people, the game turns into a slide show.  Unplayable.  Obviously, I could buy a new PC, but my PC should be enough to play if I turn all the effects off… it doesn’t help though.  Even with minimal settings, low resolution and playing in a window, the game gets better, but never what I would call good in busy areas.  To make matters more confusing, if I stand still in town, I can sit and watch everything run great, but the instant I try to move or turn, slide show.

That aside… Fallen Earth captures the post apocalyptic world perfectly.  First off, the world is huge, so when you run off into the wilderness, you are literally running off into the wilderness.  One day I just picked a direction and started running.  Two hours later I was still running… I’d seen one other person and some critters, some salvage and ruins, but little else.  The best part of this… I started to get worried.  Am I lost?  Where is everyone?  I’m gonna die out here… This is what a world after Armageddon is supposed to feel like.  In other MMOs I would complain about all the empty space, because those games are littered with NPCs and stuff and are supposed to be full of people, but Fallen Earth is supposed to feel empty, and it does, and it works.

The combat is a little different from your standard MMO.  Ranged weapons require aiming, and melee weapons have standard swings but need you to be facing the target.  There is no auto attack or auto aiming, you don’t automatically hit something just because you have it targeted and hit your attack button.  This makes fighting moving targets more difficult, and it makes movement matter in combat.  Speaking of movement… you know how in real life if you are running and then jump, you pause when you land?  You know how strafing is slower than turning and running?  Both are true in this game.  So, if you are looking for typical First Person Shooter mechanics of jumping around like a coked up jackrabbit all while running sideways at full speed in a circle perfectly nailing your opponent all the while, you won’t find it.  Personally, I love it.

Another aspect of the game that I really enjoyed is the crafting.  Not because crafting is so awesomely fun to play, but because so much in the game can be crafted.  If you are familiar with EVE Online, it works like that.  People go out and scavenge from the wilderness, then craft items (and the crafting is all done “offline”, meaning you don’t sit at a bench and make stuff, you just set it to be made and it will be done in time).

In fact, the EVE comparison is important, because, to me at least, this game plays a lot like a ground based version of EVE.  While I could never really get into flying around space in a ship mining materials and joining corporations, I could easily get lost in walking the Earth, surviving.

I’ll make another post later with some screen shots, but to close off this post I’ll just say that if they can get the graphics issues sorted out, or if I win the lottery and can buy a new PC, I’m definitely on board for this game.  If I could take this game’s design and put in zombies, I think I’d have my perfect MMO.

Ring The Bell

I own a house.  This house has a front door.  Just to the right of the door there is a button.  If you were to come to the front door of my house and push the button a magical thing occurs: inside the house, a bell rings and lets everyone inside know that the button next to the front door has been pushed, indicating that a person standing at that front door would like to speak with someone inside the house.

If you were to approach that same door and instead of ringing the bell you were to just knock on the door, due to the nature of acoustics and the properties of sound waves, if there is not a person standing in the foyer or in the living room, the possibility is quite high that they will not hear the knock.  This is the purpose of the bell.  This electronic device, this button, is connected to speakers in a couple of places in the house, arranged in just such a way that a person anywhere in the house will hear it.

So, when I order a pizza, I expect the pizza delivery person to come to the door and push the button.  He has my pizza, and I’m fairly certain he would like money in exchange for it, and the best way to facilitate that transaction would be to push the button and notify someone inside the house that he has arrived.  And yet, every single pizza delivery person from every single pizza place that will deliver here approaches the door with pizza in hand… and knocks.  Being that I spend so little time in the foyer and the living room, and instead can often be found watching TV in the media room, or on the computer, or possibly even in the room with the workout equipment, I cannot hear the knock.  Now this, in and of itself, wouldn’t be too remarkable.  He knocks, he waits, perhaps he knocks again, he waits, then perhaps he gets impatient and rings the bell.  Not the optimum path, but acceptable.  However, this is not what happens.  Instead, he knocks, he waits, he knocks again, he waits… then he gets out his cell phone and calls the phone number associated with the order.

The package delivery men are worse.  They simply knock, drop the package on the doorstep and run away.  So, not only have they not notified me of their presense, they have also left potentially expensive goods unattended at my front door.  My house, in addition to having a front door and a door bell, has a garage.  I park there, and being as my car is there, when I come and go from the house it is very rarely through the front door.  Due to this, packages have sometimes sat on my doorstep for a day or two, especially when said package comes through the USPS and I was not given a tracking number by which to follow the progress of the shipment online.

At first, I thought this might be because people could not see the button.  But I checked, it lights up.  Even in the darkest night, the button is visible.  But perhaps its harder to see during the day.  No.  I checked that too, and the button is raised and clearly distinguishable from the surroundings.  Perhaps I need to place a sign on my door that says, “Please ring the bell.”  But part of me worries that a sign like really says, “I absolutely cannot hear people making noise at my front door, so please, break in.”  Not that I’m horribly worried about people breaking in.  We live in a nice neighborhood, and I don’t have a whole lot worth stealing.  No cash, no jewels.  Just electronics, and most of those are heavy or locked down in some way, and I just don’t envision a thief hauling my whole desk out the front door just to get my PC.

All in all, I just don’t understand why people do not ring the bell.  It exists for that purpose.  If I didn’t want people to push the button and ring the bell, I’d remove the button.

Seaside is dead to me

I decided this past weekend to grind my first town in Free Realms.  I happened to be standing in Seaside so that is the one I picked.

By grinding a town, what I mean is to do whatever I can to remain in town and work on quests.  First off, I completed the collection quests of Seaside, then I visited every quest giver and completed every quest that is available to a person who is playing for free.  Quite often the game tried to encourage me not to do this by having quests that would lead me off to another town, but I would always run do that quest and teleport back, rather than the expected behavior of seeing quests in the new town and sticking around to work them.

When I logged out on Sunday morning, the only quests that remained in Seaside were the ones I can’t do.  That doesn’t mean there are not more quests, but there might be some that just are not unlocked (because of level or because I haven’t done the lead in quest from another town or random world NPC).  At this point, unless I get a quest that sends me to Seaside, I don’t expect to go back there until I get bored and start looking for things I missed (or things that have since unlocked).

Sanctuary is next.

Use the Tools Provided

The fundamental problem with Web 2.0 and social networking tools is a lack of blocking and filtering options, and when they exist the reluctance of users to use them.

When I look at a site like Twitter, I think they have done it right and provided the proper tools to manage their brand of social networking, and yet I see so few people using them.  If you were to look at my account, you’d see that I have around 44 people following me (I say around because that can change at any time).  I could easily have 200 followers, but it wouldn’t mean anything.  Every person who follows me, I read their account, if they are say the kinds of things I want to hear I follow them back.  If you follow me and I don’t follow you, it doesn’t mean I won’t follow you in the future, it just means that what I read so far didn’t excite me enough to add you to my main feed, but I’ll check back later to see if that changes.  If, however, I read your account and find what you have to say in poor taste or your account is nothing but advertising, I will block you.  (Keep in mind, I don’t base this on a single tweet, it has to be a long held pattern.)  Blocking on Twitter has the effect that not only do I not see you, but you can’t see me.  More people need to do this.  I see spamming accounts following thousands of people, and unless that is thousands of other spam accounts, it means people aren’t blocking.  And this behavior isn’t limited just to Twitter.  Any social network site that publicly displays how many “friends” or “followers” you have is subject to it.

The problem, of course, is that the number becomes too important.  That number shouldn’t matter.  Why should I care if someone has eleventy billion friends?  The thing I should care about is whether or not the content that person produces is worth reading.  In the end, that’s the thing I consider the biggest failure of Web 2.0.  It is supposed to be about the content, but most sites wind up including some number like views or friends counts that becomes the focus over the content.

I’m not alone here.  Trent Reznor, a person who has embraced social networking but is now turning away from it, had this to say:

We’re in a world where the mainstream social networks want any and all people to boost user numbers for the big selloff and are not concerned with the quality of experience.

The power to make social network sites better is in your hands.  Use the tools provided.

Again with the phones

Not Palm this time though…

To me, one of the most irritating innovations in recent times has been the blue tooth headset.  I have lost count of the number of times I have thought someone was talking to me only to discover that concealed on the other side of their head wrapped around one ear was their phone.  It is funny, however, when the person in question is an animated talker, you know, one of those people who talk with their hands.  Using a traditional phone at least one hand was occupied holding the phone and the other hand often calmed down, but with both hands free some people get quite into their conversations.

One of the disadvantages of the blue tooth headset was that you still had to have the phone, in your pocket or on your belt or in your bag or something.  Well, LG has solved that by making a phone that is a watch.

I don’t think I would want one.  I’m not so good with watches, they get horribly beat up on my wrist.  In fact, I have to replace my watches fairly regularly because the glass/plastic gets scuffed to the point that you can’t read the time.  But even though I wouldn’t carry one that doesn’t mean I can’t still think it is cool.

Blog Banter: Does Everything Need to be AAA?

Welcome, welcome to the 7th installment of Blog Banter, the monthly blogging extravaganza headed by bs angel! Blog Banter involves our cozy community of enthusiastic gaming bloggers, a common topic, and a week to post articles pertaining to said topic. The results are quite entertaining and can range from deep insight to ROFLMAO. Any questions about Blog Banter should be directed here. Check out other Blog Banter articles at the bottom of this post!

Topic: Does every game need to be a grade-A blockbuster title?  Would you be willing to play more average games or should every game shoot for the 10.0 rating?

The problem with aiming a game for a rating is that ratings are subjective.  What one person, or one group, considers to be a 10 out of 10, another person, or group, might consider to be only a 7, or worse.  As huge of a success that World of Warcraft is, there are in fact people who don’t play it.  There are *gasp* people who don’t like WoW.

The main issue I think that shooting for “WoW numbers” causes is that it fails to properly manage expecations.  (If you read my blog long enough, you’ll see that managing expectations is a common theme in most things I talk about.)  If you have a game that is set in a genre that even given the “best” game it could possibly be is likely to only attract 200,000 users, if you spend money like its going to clear a million or more, you are setting yourself up for failure.

Personally, I like seeing a variety of games come to market rather than seeing one game or game style dominate.  As Richard Bartle infamously said, “I’d close WoW.” or something to that effect.  The question of this month’s topic is misleading.  Would I be willing to play “more average games”?  Who decides what is more average?  I just want to play more games, to have more options.  If companies dump all their cash into less games seeking WoW or GTA numbers, then no matter how “good” those games may be, I think the industry and gamers on the whole will suffer.

So, no, I don’t think every game needs to be a “top of the line” title.  I think they need to approach each game as unique and manage accordingly, so that variety can flourish, because variety is better than dominance and stagnation.

Check out these other Blog Banter articles! Zath!, Delayed Responsibility, Silvercublogger, Crazy Kinux, Gamer-Unit, Unfettered Blather, MasterKitty, Game Couch, XboxOZ360, Omnivangelist, Lou Chou Loves You.

Tropic Thunder

10 out of 13 nots.
for kicking Hollywood in the gonads

I am sure by now, unless you live under a rock, you have heard about the controversy surrounding Tropic Thunder.  Ben Stiller’s character of Tugg Speedman portrayed a mentally disabled boy in a movie called Simple Jack.  Yes, the character of Jack is rife with stereotypes of the cognitively challenged… but that’s sort of the point.  Tugg took the part of Jack in a blatant attempt to show that he was more than an action star and to try to nab Oscar gold.  Tropic Thunder is not about Jack, its about Tugg, who himself is a stereotypical action star, doing what we, the audience, already consider to be fairly tasteless (blatant Oscar bid films) and taking it to the extreme.  Much the same way that Robert Downey Jr.’s Kirk Lazarus is taking actors who physically transform themselves for their craft to the extreme (he gets his skin dyed so that he, a white actor, can portray a black man).  Every character in the film is a caricature of people who exist in the real Hollywood, and it is really funny.

However, to every person out there… this movie is rated R for a reason.  Take it seriously.  And its not just for the swearing (of which there is a lot), or the blood and gore (or which there is plenty), or nudity (which there isn’t any, unless you count Jack Black in his underwear), it is also because, unless you are a person who can discern the difference between a joke and not a joke (like, for instance, kids), this movie might be extremely offensive… to everyone.  But hey, if you can take a joke, and if you can separate having a laugh from having a world outlook, this movie is a hoot.

Of course, we could always ban jokes about the mentally disabled… and other disabled people… and blacks, and jews, and fat people, and skinny people, and business people, and homeless people, and normal people.  We could ban all those jokes… but then all we would have left are knock-knock jokes, and not very many of those at that.  Remember, for every movie you think isn’t funny, there is a movie you think is hilarious that someone else thinks isn’t funny.  Even Finding Nemo makes fun of people who have memory problems…

Ten

In 1998 I was playing Team Fortress with people I’d known and a larger group that had grown from my earliest days “online” dialing in to BBSs. At the time, I was hanging out in IRC chat on the GamesNet servers, mostly in the Disciples of Syrinx room. I had moved back home with my parents at the end of the previous year after successfully (in my mind) living “on my own” for a few years so that I could focus on school, doubling up my classes, and finish my four year degree in six years (maybe I hadn’t been so successful on my own). I spent my free time, and since I wasn’t working there was quite a bit of it, playing games and reading the .plan files of developers. Mostly it was the id software crew, but there were others. Blogging wasn’t so popular back then, but people did have websites, and game developers, especially in the first person shooter arena, kept up with .plan files. With college nearing its end and loving computer games, I had this idea that I would get into the gaming industry. Months later and many unreturned phone calls and rejection letters, I would set aside that dream, but at that moment, I decided to start maintaining my own .plan.

I did it in IRC at first, so the only people who could read it were people who knew to look and only when I was online with my mIRC client. Soon enough I moved it to Geocities. June 17th, 1998 marked my first post on the internet, and because I’m a pack rat and paranoid about computer crashes, I always kept spare copies of everything, so if you want, you can dig through the archives here and actually read everything from the beginning. After Geocities, I moved to my own domain, loadfix.com. If you try to go there now, it redirects to a .de domain that gives back a 403 Forbidden error. A year later I would move on to squadleader.com with dreams of eventually running an online magazine for first person shooters. I never did, and now that domain is a squatter’s hope for cash (a crap website placeholder of links doing nothing but praying someone wants to buy it). I would have kept squadleader but for one, I wasn’t playing shooters anymore after EverQuest took over my life, and the other reason is it turned out I didn’t own it. Sure, I registered it, paid for it, but my hosting company put everything in their name, so when I tried to switch providers, they kept the name. Thus begins the probablynot.com era.

To be perfectly honest, when I put my first ever posting on the internet, I never thought I’d still be doing it ten years later. In fact it didn’t even cross my mind to consider it. In one respect, its like keeping a diary, and now and then I’ll go back and root around through the old posts and laugh at myself, or shake my head, smile, or nod knowingly. However, unlike a diary, its out there for other people to read. There are times I’ve considered going back and deleting some of the old posts. When I migrated from Coranto to WordPress, I had the perfect opportunity to just lose all the old content, or pick and choose what to put back in, but I ended up importing all of it. Good or bad, I wrote it, its me, or at least was me at the time, and as I’ve written before, if you are happy with who you are, you can’t really regret your past because your past has made you who you are.

However, ultimately, my decision to import all the old posts came down to one thing, that I’ve been doing this, emptying my brain onto the Internet since 1998, for me. When people comment, or send emails, about what I’ve put out there, it feels good, but I’ve never done it for that. I always just wanted to put my thoughts down on “paper” but I didn’t want to hide it under my mattress or in a closet or behind other books on the book shelves where no one would ever see it, because maybe, just maybe, my words might affect someone else, or someone’s reading of my words might affect me. Do I sound emo? I think I sound emo…

Anyway… ten years… some times it just kind of blows my mind a little… well… here’s to the next ten years.

Anonymity and the Internet

My name is Jason.  No, really.  I post as Jason here on my website, and on most message boards, though there are still a few throwbacks to my EQ days where I post as Ishiro or other boards where I use other names, but even then it takes only about ten seconds to get from any of those forums to here and find out my name is Jason.  I’m not really scared of identity theft, although I don’t go posting my social security number or anything on the Internet and I use secure protocols whenever possible.  I’m protected, but I’m not hiding.  Mostly its because I really don’t have much worth stealing.  I often jest that I wish someone would steal my identity and pay off my bills.  But the point is, nearly a decade ago when I decided to start posting things to the Internet, I decided to, for the most part, be myself.

One thing that I do enjoy doing most on the Internet is engaging in discussions, and to a large degree, I find that its much harder to have serious discussions with people who are anonymous.  Mostly, I find it hard because anonymous people are more likely to say things they don’t really mean or feel because there are few, if any, repercussions for saying those things.  To put it another way: anonymous people are often dicks.

There are entire communities built around anonymous people being dicks.  Oh, some of them are not anonymous, in fact in some cases there are people who are very well known, but the majority are people who only unleash their vitriol on the Internet because its the only place they can get away with it.  The bigger problem with that attitude is that it spreads.  I generally avoid forums where being condescending is the norm, but when other people go there and get used to it, they bring it with them to other places.  Sometimes I think I’m being overly sensitive, but there really are some people who can’t seem to string three sentences together without one of them belittling someone else.  And its a shame, because anonymous people being dicks don’t stop to think “Hmm, maybe what I’m saying is driving people away.” and people like me often don’t put up with it forever.  Its not that the insults hurt.  The insults often are so childish that its impossible to be hurt, only to feel sorry for the person who feels the need to hurl them.  But after a length of time, you just get tired of reading it.  The person may make a good point, but when every good point is accompanied by a personal jab…

I’m rambling.  Anyway, this comes up because lately one of the places I’ve enjoyed hanging around has been overrun by a product of Internet anonymity.  And its just not fun anymore.  But thankfully, that’s why message boards have features to ignore people.

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