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I Like Blogs

This shouldn’t come as a surprise, since I maintain one, but I like blogs. The main reason I like them is that most blogs update daily, as in once a day. Maybe every once in a while a blogger gets prolific and updates twice a day, but there will also be days they don’t update at all. I can even manage to stomach sites that get enough popularity that they have multiple writers and updates start becoming more frequent, mainly because each writer often has their own voice.

What I hate is when sites become popular enough to be profitable and suddenly the RSS feed gets clogged with blurb posts that are little more than saying “Hey, there is a piece of news from somewhere else and here is a link.” I don’t subscribe to a lot of sites other people live and die by because of this. So many of them just don’t put forth the effort. A new thing gets announced and 90% or more of the sites post a “Look! New thing!” entry that just links to some other site (often a similar post that links to somewhere else – I mean, seriously guys, if you learn about the new thing from another site and not the source, please link to the source and thank the site, don’t link to the site, that’s a waste of everyone’s time). No commentary, no story, just a link and a place for people to comment.

If you are going to repost news, have the courtesy to think up an opinion on it, or the decency to do a daily or weekly wrap up of links so that it comes in one post and not twenty-seven. By posting every little bit of news or announcement or cool thing on its own with no meat of your own, you are saying that you don’t value my time, just your post count and my traffic. Which is why you lose my traffic.

My blog isn’t very popular. I’ve got maybe seventy or so people who read frequently enough to be tracked, and mostly it’s because, I admit, my content isn’t all that exciting. A few people like it enough to keep coming back, but that’s it. If I wanted to get more readers, I would post more content and work on making the content I do post better. I wouldn’t increase frequency with shit posts linking to other places with hot topics that will drive up my page rank in hopes that more people visit. But the latter seems to be what many sites do. They increase quantity without increasing or even maintaining quality, popularity over substance, and a number of other “this instead of that” scenarios.

I suppose it comes down to preferring opinions over news, especially since so many news sites are really announcement sites, posting headlines without substance. Anyway, back to the blogs…

Dragon*Con is coming…

It’s August and that means it’s time to start the final prep work for Dragon*Con.  I’ll be working staff again this year.  If you are going, drop by the MMO Track (we own the Sheraton and can always be found in the Savannah room, but at other times will be in the various ballrooms of that hotel) and say “Hi!”

Speaking of the MMO Track, one of about a dozen reasons I haven’t been posting here lately is because I’ve been working on a series of posts for the track website all about what we have in store for the big weekend.  The first post is up, six more will follow.

Going along with my last post, I was reminded that the Atlanta Radio Theater Company performs at the con each year.  I’ve been having lots of fun listening to other radio shows recently, so I think I’m going to make an effort to see them.

In any event, last year I was sort of a deer in headlights.  While I had gone to con for many years, however my first year working it I had lots of fun but I felt like I was always hyper-vigilant, trying extra hard to make sure I didn’t screw up too badly.  This year, I know what to expect, so I can relax a little bit.  I’m also incredibly excited about our line up.  The Darkmoon Faire looks to be awesome, and we’ve got a couple of panels for The Guild (and a marathon viewing of all 4 -maybe 5- seasons).  I can hardly wait!

The Information You Want

I watch the following TED talk by Eli Pariser a while ago and I’ve watched it a couple of times.  Take a little over nine minutes and give it a listen.

In some ways this is very much related to a post I made over two years ago about newspapers. When I go to Facebook, it continually keeps showing me the Top News, and the first thing I do every time is click the link for Most Recent.  To me, Most Recent is better because I go to Facebook fairly often and seeing month old news that I didn’t think was interesting enough to comment on a month ago is useless to me, even if 97 other people feel it is comment worthy.  I use Most Recent and I read all the news back to my last visit.  If something is interesting, I comment on it or Like it, and if I comment on something Facebook is kind enough to inform me if other people comment on it too so I can go back and continue to participate in the discussion no matter how old it is.

Over in the new world of Google+, Tom (yeah, that Tom, everybody’s friend from MySpace) has had lots of interesting things to say, but among them is this entry about how right now Google isn’t giving you control over how your content is filtered.  Largely it’s time based, but popular topics do (or did) rise toward the top, so my feed was filled with people like Wil Wheaton and Felicia Day and Tom, people who post and then get hundreds of comments within minutes, and my actual friends were buried.  They adjusted that, so I get less of a flood from popular people and see a more linear timeline, but sometimes I’ll see things out of order and I can’t tell why one item is considered more important than the other.  And that, as the video above states, is the problem.  At least, Google+ needs Facebook’s Top News and Most Recent options… at best, they’ll give the users a bunch of options and allow you to create your own custom feeds, and not just based on circles, but also based on circles.  I’d like to be able to push to the top not only popular topics, but ones in which more of my circled people are participating.  A topic with nine thousand comments by strangers may be important, but it’s not more important than a topic with fifty comments of which thirty-five are from people I have in circles.

I don’t mind if there are filters on content, but I want to be able to get at those filters and make adjustments, or sometimes remove them entirely and view them in a simple sorted order (like by date).  The only issue is when, as I said in my post about newspapers, the content creators actually make the content in a way that doesn’t allow certain filters or sorts – if you update a news story rather than posting a second story, the original story isn’t available to be read anymore, depending on how you do your update.

Hopefully, the trend will swing back toward user control over the algorithms that filter our content.  I don’t like the idea of other people (or worse, program code) decided what I should see.

Losing With Style

Lately I’ve been getting a bit of traffic on the site, mostly because of the Urban Dead post I made over 3 years ago.  So, I decided to take another look at the game… which lasted about ten minutes before I remembered exactly why I left.

The main crux of that old post, and the reason I quit the game, and the reason my return was so brief is that I have no desire to play a zombie.  On the whole, I tend to find stories about zombies to be boring.  Stories about survivors in a world of zombies on the other hand are awesome.  Even when the survivors don’t win and they all die, because a good zombie story is about humans, and what we will do to and for each other to survive.

Imagine this: you are playing a game where you are a cop hunting down rapists.  You find clues, perform interviews, gather evidence and eventually, if you are lucky, you get to shoot them.  Now imagine if in this game, when you fail to catch a rapist you are forced to be a rapist until you can be turned back into a cop.  Totally unappealing, right?  I mean, I hope that is unappealing, because if you want to play a rapist in a video game you need to stop reading and seek help.  Now.

I don’t want to be a zombie.  I don’t want to eat people. That game just isn’t fun for me at all to play.

What would make Urban Dead worth playing for me?

First, a simple “reset” button.  When I die, rather than be a zombie, I’d like to be able to just start over without having to create a new account.  I don’t mind losing experience and skills or having to wait a period of days, I just don’t want to be undead.

Second, a world reset event.  If all the world is undead, if no survivors remain, wipe the slate clean and start over.  If you let people pick zombie or survivor from the start, had levels and skills with the personal reset button causing some skill loss and a waiting period (24 to 72 hours), then you create a true “us versus them” style of PvP, and at that point you can define a win condition.  If all the survivors are dead or all the zombies are dead, the server declares that side the winner and the entire game resets.  When the world resets, everyone starts off human, but people who pick the zombie side start infected and in X days they’ll all die and be able to stand up as zombies.

I think that would be a great game.

Insanity 2: Electric Boogaloo

Second week complete.  See the first week’s post here.

So how did it go?  This is probably the most cardio work I’ve done in a very long time.  There was a moment, more than a decade ago, where I joined a gym and went every day and ran about 5 miles per day.  That might have been more than the Insanity workout, but I don’t remember it being this exhausting.

The one thing I like most about this workout is that while I am very tired at the end of the workout, after a little rest, some water and food, I feel good.  I don’t feel wiped out.  I don’t hurt for days.

I’m still behind the experts.  I have to rest more often than the people on the DVD, and I’m seriously considering altering the program to repeat month 1 twice and then do month 2 twice in other to give myself more opportunity to progress, but I’ve got a couple of weeks before I need to make that decision.  For now, I just feel great that I’m able to complete it each day.

I will be running the Peachtree Road Race again this year, and one of the goals of all this is to beat my time from last year of 1:41:31.  Just for frame of reference for my time, the Peachtree is a 10k, or 6.2 miles, and the Boston Marathon is 26 miles.  The guy who won the Boston Marathon this year ran it in 2:03:02.  He ran an average of a 4.7 minute mile.  I ran a 16.37 minute mile.  I don’t expect to ever be quite that fast, but I’d obviously love to bring my time down a bit.  One day, I might even consider running a marathon, but not yet.

Onward to week three…

1313 and other random thoughts

This is my one-thousand three-hundred thirteenth post on this blog.  My name is Jason, also the name of the star of the Friday the 13th series of movies.  My wife was born on the 13th of March.  Back in the days when I managed a video store, my own personal account listed my address as “1313 Mockingbird Lane”, an address made famous by the Munsters.  My favorite holiday is Halloween, which is on the 31st, which is 13 in reverse.  And if you are into that sort of thing, you might know that we are currently living in the 13th b’ak’tun, which will draw to a close toward the end of 2012, which may or may not be a significant thing.  Thirteen has always been a good and lucky number for me.

I don’t believe in signs, though I see them everywhere.  The fact is, you can do it with any number.  If you decide that 27 is your lucky number, you’ll suddenly begin noticing all the 27s that appear in your life.  You’ll even being doing things that force 27s into your life.  I know a person whose lucky number is 14, and while 14s do randomly appear in her life she also makes a number of decisions based on 14s.  If offered two options, one that contains a 14 and one that does not, she’ll choose the 14 and see it as being a sign when she could easily have chosen the other.  Personally, I try not to make decisions based on 13s, and yet, here I am, rambling about 13s in post 1313 on my blog.

The Writer's Block

3" by 3" by 3" of literal inspiration

Borders is closing a bunch of book stores.  (Yeah, I’m done with 13s and moving along with no segue at all.)  Of all the brick and mortar stores around they’ve been my favorite because of their finer separation of categories, specifically in having a horror section as opposed to splitting up horror between mystery, sci-fi/fantasy and general fiction.  They also have a location that shares a building with a movie theater I frequent.  When we go to a movie, we always end up browsing before and sometimes after, and often end up buying a book or two (or five or ten).  The only good thing about the store closings are the discounts.  Lately, paperback books haven’t been seeing much of a discount on Amazon.  A $6.99 mass market paperback will be $6.99 on Amazon, so picking them up in a store can actually be better, especially if you have the store discount card and get 10% off everything.  With the store closings, most stuff is 25% off already, and they are still honoring the store discount card, so it makes picking up a few paperbacks a good deal.  And of course, a sale means more serious browsing, looking for books you might not normally buy at all but will if it’s 50% off.  I bought The Writer’s Block (pictured).  I promise to use it and post the results.  Despite my good fortune with the sale, the closing Borders locations will be missed, and since the only remaining Atlanta locations are the ones that are too far away for a casual visit, Borders may have lost me as a customer for good, and that is a shame.

A few weeks ago I went to a place called Hemingway’s down at the Marietta Square to see a band called 7 sharp 9.  With no expectations at all, I was fairly well blown away by their performance.  Being a band playing in a bar, they primarily stuck to playing great bar band music, rock favorites from various decades.  They played well and even threw in a few twists, the biggest surprise being a mash up of Prince’s Kiss and Sir Mix-a-lot’s Baby Got Back.  Even the smattering of original tunes they played (just one per set) were good enough that we picked up copies of all three of their albums.  They made a fan out of me in just one night.  It looks like they’ll be back at Hemingway’s in April and I plan to be there to see them again.  To the right is a very short video of them playing a cover of Blister in the Sun at a bar in Destin, FL.

I’ve been writing for Shakefire for a bit over a month now and I’m enjoying it.  Links to what I’ve written can be found each week in my A Week of Tweets posts on Sundays.  So far I’ve had the good fortune of enjoying everything I’ve reviewed for one reason or another, but I fear that is going to end this week as the next two CDs I’ve been listening to for review have been uninspiring and borderline awful.  I don’t like giving bad reviews but I like being dishonest less, so I’ll probably be lambasting a couple of artists and then maybe I can get back to stuff I enjoy.

And finally, is you have a few dollars you can spare, or even if you have a few dollars you think you can’t spare, consider tossing them toward the Red Cross for their efforts in Japan.  Every dollar helps, and with the earthquake, the tsunami, the nuclear power plant, the aftershocks, the volcano… they can use all the help they can get right now.

The Skills of EVE

Eric over at Elder Game put up a good post about why skill based systems are bad (or at least, not to be undertaken lightly or by fledgling designers… like me).  Dig through my archive here and you’ll see me go back and forth on the subject of skills versus classes.

In Eric’s post, he uses EVE as an example, and the game is mentioned in most of the comments there.  And it got me thinking…

EVE looks like a skill based game.  It has all the markers of one.  You have a list of skills and you can train any skill you want, making powerful combinations or gimping yourself by choosing things that don’t work together, as long as you have the prerequisites for that skill.  But, as I’ve noted on a number of occasions, what I like most about the design of EVE is that ultimately your character matters less than your ship.

In EVE, if you have level 5 in Frigates and level 5 in missiles and a slew of other skills, those don’t matter at all if you are currently flying a mining rig outfitted with only mining lasers.  Despite being able to choose and learn any skill, EVE is actually a class based game with talent trees.  Your ship is your class, and the modules you can outfit it with are your talent trees.  Certain ships are designed for certain types of play.  You wouldn’t take a giant hauling/mining rig into a dogfight even if you did load it with weapons because the ship isn’t designed for fighting.  It would be like trying to play a priest as a tank in most MMOs.  Doable?  Sure, with the right items, plan and situation, but it isn’t the best option by far.

At best, EVE is a highly templated skill based game, but if you play the game entirely as skill based without ship considerations it quickly becomes unsustainable from a character stand point as you are gaining skills willy nilly that aren’t improving your ability to either a) fly the ship you have better or b) progress you toward flying a different ship that fits your play style better.

Even after reading follow ups by Ysharros and Psychochild and the comments on all three posts, I still think that EVE’s sort of gear controlled skill based system is the way I would go if I were to make my own MMO, largely because I really dislike permanent decisions in games that force me to create alternate character to experience new play styles.  Rift by Trion is attempting to bridge a gap here by allowing archetypes of warrior, rogue, mage and priest to build and maintain several sets of souls (skills, talents, etc) that actually can radically change the way the archetype plays.  If that works, it might open the door for someone to try fantasy version of EVE where you can have any skills you want but are constrained in what matter by what gear you are wearing when you leave town.  And that’s a game I definitely want to play.

Update: Another voice in the wilderness, Rampant Coyote.

Strafing to Victory!

Over at Horriftic Intentions, brannagar has posted a bit about what he thinks the community wants.  My first mistake in getting involved in that discussion was that I was sent a link to the post and didn’t pay attention to the fact that the blog is a Rift fanboy site.  I don’t mean that in a derogatory sense like some people might.  I just mean that the author is clearly excited for the game, has already taken the stance that Trion (the makers of Rift) knows all (and agrees with him).  Had I known, I probably would never have commented there at all and instead come straight here to talk about the issues at hand.

Essentially, of the four points he makes, I completely agree with three of them.  Two, flying mounts and arenas, on the grounds that just because one game (and for most people that one game is WoW) has them that every game should have them.  The third, the random dungeon finder, because while I’m certain it leads to more progress in games like WoW, I ultimately feel that the implementation destroys community.  Why bother meeting people and making connections when you can just use the tool, get a group, and then never play with those people again?

The fourth point of his, the one I disagree with, is that some people are asking for an Auto-Face or Stick function for PvP.  As you can see from the comments once I stuck my nose in and the two of us bantered back and forth, clearly brannagar likes circle strafing.  I’ve mentioned my views on circle strafing on here before.  And if you dig around you’ll find a few more times I’ve brought it up, especially where I say that Fallen Earth actually does it well in that you actually move slower while strafing.

Upon reflection, I see that I was actually mistaken.  There shouldn’t be accuracy and damage penalties for movement.  Yes, it is more realistic, but it would serve mainly to irritate players.  Looking back at my old posts, I do think a speed penalty should apply for various reasons, but even so there are much better ways to handle this.

You see, circle strafing has plagued FPS games for a long, long time.  The solution on the PC where people use a keyboard and mouse was for players to crank up the sensitivity of their mouse so that small twitches left and right would rotate their character through wider arcs more quickly and allow them to keep the strafing player in sight.  However, when FPS games became more popular on consoles, and especially after the introduction of the double stick controller which allowed for much better circle strafing, asking people to crank up the sensitivity of their controllers actually had an adverse affect on the rest of game play.  So, FPS games innovated by adding in the ability for players to perform a 180 degree turn with a single button.  While not completely nullifying circle strafing as a tactic, it allowed the target player a fighting chance to catch their attacker on the flip side.

This is what MMOs need for PvP.  A 180 degree flip would do wonders to level the playing field as immobile casters have to deal with highly mobile melee characters while still allowing attentive melees to change direction of movement and not giving the immobile players automated assistance.

In the end though, while I’m glad for the outcome in that it let me realize what is really missing from MMO PvP combat, I was also reminded how annoying it is to argue with the faithful.  It’s possible that brannagar could read this (that’s the downside to linking to things, the authors can find out you are talking about them), and he might even come here to tell me how wrong I am and that a 180 flip would be stupid or game breaking and how Trion is luckily smart enough to never consider putting something like it in.  And that’s a shame, because I’d much rather discuss how to make PvP fun for everyone without breaking it for anyone, and as it stands, circle strafing makes the game broken for people who can’t defend against it.

And that doesn’t even begin to touch on collision detection and line of sight issues.  Being able to break a caster’s spell by stepping through the caster is totally broken design, and yet is the way most games work.  Maybe we’ll cover that in another post.

Correctness

One of the things in life I’ve come to be fairly attached to is correctness.  When I’m wrong, I love it when people inform me that I’m wrong, as long as I am actually wrong and they can tell me why I am wrong.  I mean, just yelling “You’re wrong!” over and over without explanation doesn’t help anyone.  But when I post my thoughts here, if I’ve made an error, if I’ve got bad data, I want to know.  I tend to do the same with other people.  Most times when I post a comment on another blog it’s either to say “I agree!” or to point out somewhere that I feel they’ve made an error.  Sometimes, even when I point things out that I think are wrong, it can turn out that I’m wrong.

Tami Baribeau works in the gaming industry, specifically the social gaming arena.  I read her blog because I want more insight to that world and she provides it (she’s not the only one I read, to get all my info from one source would be wrongheaded).  She posted a list of 10 reasons why Facebook Game wall posts are not spam.  Reading her list, I felt that three of her points were in error, based on my experience, and posted a reply.  It turns out that two of my points were addressed with changes in Facebook policy I was unaware of and so were not errors.  In one case, however, I was correct and Tami acknowledged that.  This is the sort of stuff I love.

Of course, on the Internet, this sort of discourse is rare.  Well, rare-ish.  I see it quite often, but only because I stop reading blogs where the authors just want to spew and don’t care about being correct.  But it means I do filter a lot of blogs out.  The main reason, I think, for this is many people still believe that the Internet is separate from “Real Life”.  Even when they are in a forum where their real identities are well known, they act as if their online persona is different from themselves.  It leads to a lot of waving off errors under the belief that “this doesn’t really matter… it’s only the Internet, it’s not Real Life.”  And most often it is that they don’t care about the details.  If you still agree with their main thrust argument, why should the facts and figures matter?

If a politician were to give a speech and state “We need to bring our troops home from Iraq!” he would probably get a lot of support.  It’s an idea that many people can get behind.  If he were to follow that up with “We need to bring them home because thousands of our boys are dying every day!  And thousands of woman and children are being cut down in the crossfire every day!” … well, both of those things are completely not correct.  Yes, soldiers have died and are dying, and yes, civilians have been injured and killed because of the war there, but those numbers are just way way off.  Thousands are not dying per day.  For me, that politician would lose my support (unless his opponent was a raving loon who was insisting that we needed to leave Iraq now… so we could nuke it into oblivion).  If I really wanted to support that politician, I’d write a letter, or even stand up right then and try to get a correction.  Because worse than someone making an offhand error is someone fully believing that the error is true and correct.  I’d want to know where that politician stood.  Was it an honest mistake? or is it more than that?

Or maybe, just maybe, I’m wrong.  If I am, I want to know.  And I suppose that that is the main thrust of this post… owning mistakes.  If I make one and it is pointed out to me, the very first thing I want to do is acknowledge that, and then either explain why this new information doesn’t change the point I am making or adjust my position based on the new data.  But the acknowledgement is important to me.  And it irks me when people don’t do that, when people just wave it off and don’t admit to having been mistaken.

Looking for People

Wolfshead made a great post about chat in MMOs.  I often find myself agreeing with Wolfshead.  We seem to come from the same place in that EverQuest got a lot of things right about building communities and having players be social while they play.  Anyway, that’s not what I want to talk about because, honestly, if you read his post, that’s how I feel.  But along side the chat discussion is a discussion on the Dungeon Finder in WoW.

In the comments, however, Tesh used the word/phrase “self-professed” and it got me thinking, and I commented as well.  In most games, we have to trust other people when they tell you what they’ve done or where they’ve been.  Well, not so much anymore… with gear score and achievements and bind on pickup items, people don’t have to trust you, they can inspect you or check your Armory profile and verify it.  People used to have to be social, now they don’t.

Anway… back to the Dungeon Finder.  The truth is, Blizzard named it properly.  You select the dungeon or dungeons you want to do, you select your role in the group, and then you queue.  You are finding a dungeon.  EverQuest had an LFG tool.  Looking for Group.  It was poorly named.  It should have been the Look for Experience Points tool, because that’s how many people used it.  They didn’t want to make an effort to find a good group, they just wanted to join one already formed and then soak up exp.  However, because of the nature of EQ, while Exp might be what you were after, what you got was a group since getting Exp often meant sitting in the same place with the same five other people for hours.  If you didn’t talk and socialize, you had better at least be excellent at playing and making the exp, otherwise you might get kicked from the group.  But in WoW, you use the Dungeon Finder to find a dungeon, you then do the dungeon and then you are done.  Then you use the Dungeon Finder, ad nauseum…

What I really want is a Looking for People tool.  I don’t want an objective and a role, I want a funny guy who plays with style and makes playing the game more fun than grinding the floating bags of exp and loot.  The tool should be half a personality test, and matching should be made on more than just people going to the same place.  A chatty guy should be placed with a group that wants a chatty guy.  And so on…  I know it would be a pain to build, and some people probably wouldn’t want all those options, which would be why you’d hide them.  The main screen could be as simple as the Dungeon Finder: where I want to go, what I want to do.  Then, under an Advanced Options or Social Options or Fine Tuning you put another screen with a whole mess of check boxes and/or drop downs that allow people to self select a narrower group of people.  The defaults would, of course, be Any/All and then those who wish could go from there.

The first option I’d add?  The ability to say, “Only pick people/groups from my server.”  You know, the people on the other servers in the Battlegroup might be great people, but I’d rather play with people who, if they turn out to be great people, I can play with on a regular basis.