Friday, September 18, 2009

The Book of Enforcement

Stephen 'stepto' Toulouse is Xbox Live's Director of Policy and Enforcement. Recently he held a panel at Pax in Seatle, which was rebroadcast on a recent posting of Major Nelson's Podcast. I found the intro extremely funny and thought I would share it with you. For those with consoles, who play a lot of multiplayer games, you will find this very informative.

Here is the actually transcript of the above video in case you're like me and have to crank your volume up to the point of annoying love ones. Yea Tinnitus.

To begin, a reading from the book of enforcement.

And it came to pass that the user did sign up for Xbox LIVE. And it was good. And the service smiled upon the user and did ask, "by what name shalt thou be known?"

But a shadow passed over the user's soul, and they were tempted. And they did indulge this temptation and entered a name unfit for the eyes of others. And the service spake forth, saying "Thy gamertag is not appropriate"

But the service was kind and forgiving and bade the user, "Please try another"

But the user had hardened their heart. and did carefully shroud their name in trickery. And it came to pass that O's became zeroes. The letter T became as a plus sign. Falsely clothed in their new finery, the service was fooled by the user and did bid them welcome with the customary ancient incantation "P00nhunter has signed into Xbox LIVE"

And the user did commit unspeakable acts of evil in their profile. The soul of those who looked upon the gaping maw of the user's Bio field were rent asunder, left as small and twitchy as a beaten purse dog.

Poonhunter did travel to the battlefields of 1943, where they intended to darken the hearts of their brethren. On the highest point of wake island they preached their dark fellowship aloud to their team mates, and poonhunter’s words became as stones.

Verily poonhunter intoned in great detail the false histories of their team mate's lineage. They bore false witness to the tendencies of the very wombs that begat them to lie with all manner of creatures, two legged, four legged, 8 legged, and even the very crops of the earth. And poonhunter did take the last plane on the carrier and then did use that plane to try and knock the team mates from the ship with the plane's wings. And in their dark blasphemy poonhunter proclaimed his team's habits of routinely spilling their seed upon the ground.

And the team did cry out in anguish to the sky "why, why is this douchebag on our team" And more than one among them did file a complaint.

But my children, the service heard.

A light shown in the void, and it blew over the game like a cool breeze and said "time to regulate".

And it came to pass that the service archangels swooped down, and poonhunter's mouth was suddenly silenced. Their words fell as inconsequential as a forgotten gas receipt at the pump. And suddenly the archangels did smite the user with such a force that the shockwave reached the other players, a shockwave that explained itself as simply as it was effective: "Poonhunter has left the game"

And on the other end of that judgment there was a wailing and gnashing of teeth. And the service looked upon the fires of a two week ban and smiled, and it was good.

Can I get an amen.

I would recommend listening to the entire panel discussion or reading the rest of the transcript on Stepto's website.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

How it should have ended!

I would like to thank, Wolfshead, who recently posted "How the Lord of The Rings Should have Ended." That little bit of fun, lead me to finding this little gem!

So, Enjoy!

The Edge of Nowhere

I'm stuck.

I've reached the end of my potential with my character in WoW short of raiding. I'm in a friends only guild and currently we are raiding but nothing too hard. We've done Obsidian Sanctum and a few bosses in Naxxramas, but nothing very complicated.

Now, what do I do? I can keep running the heroic dungeons, getting emblems, but there isn't anything currently I need from them for my tanking set. Course, I could start grinding gear for my retribution set, so I can do dsp when needed, but that seems like a huge waste of time, especially since I really only want to tank.

Blizzards small fix, which came in the form of patch 3.2, has kept me interested, but that only lasted a month or two. Not much in the form of choices. Short of dumping my buds and trying to find a nice causal raiding guild, I'm pretty much stuck in neutral. This is why people leave WoW. Blizzard tries hard to keep people interested by adding a few little tid bits at a time, but unless your really into farming or raiding, you'll eventually get bored. This is how I ended up getting into Warhammer last year. I was stuck and here was a new game that grabbed my attention for a short period of time. Seduced me away from WoW with it's promise of being better on the PvP front, but in the end it failed to keep and sustain a base of players.

How do MMO's keep their audience? I know that Eve online has managed to maintain a huge following, but I think it's because the game is so cut throat and powers in the game change on a regular basis which must keep the action fresh. Everquest 2 is so huge now and leveling isn't the easiest thing to do, that it will take months or longer to reach the end game, so it will keep the player interested, if they can stand the look of the characters.

I just don't understand, how games like WoW can stay on top, if they are boring people to death by the end of a years playtime? I'm not bashing WoW, I like WoW, but I don't understand why I go through these periods of boredom? I just don't get it.

So basically, what do you do as a player to keep your MMO fresh? Do you just use it as a social network or are you hip deep in raiding? Is it just a place to lose yourself in the mundane to forget your daily troubles? Or does the game never get old for you?

I'm just curious.


T.M.I or also known as "Too Much Information".

Back in the day, it was presumed that you couldn't have too much information. Knowing all we need to know about something, helped us make informed decisions and helped guide our thought process. But these aren't the old days. Now we are in the age of technology and what use to represent something which was needed is now defined as something we don't want. I regret that today, I'm going to talk about the later.

Now, in today's age, T.M.I means hearing something we don't want to hear, like when Paul tells you he got drunk, ate a bucket of chicken and threw up on his mom's shoes or that your best friend for years decides to tell you he has a plastic blow up woman, called Linda, whom he plans to marry the moment it becomes legal to do so. What it means now is, we really wish you had just kept your mouth shut and not told us that juicy bit of information. Now, I bring this up, because I want to talk about T.M.I in reference to theory crafting and specifically MMO's.

Cuppy, a short time back, explained how she disdained from reading any blogs that divulged a truck load of theroy crafting, she then explains that she isn't against theory posts in general, but she would like to see them from developers and not from people that number crunch the visual and don't know the code, which is how I translated it to mean. Channel Massive decided to take issue with this and talked about it on their Blog O Steria. Sorry, I have to give these guys props, they turn out a very interesting podcast.

Now, I've read theory posts before. I have gone to elitist jerks and maintankadin a few times looking for information about how to tank and how to get my stats up so I can be the best I can be in the game. Sure, a lot of the time, its number crunching by people that are analytical, who know that result A when added to result B will get you result C. Basically, they haven't seen the code, but from what the game is outputting to them visually, they can deduce the answer they need from the question proposed. There is a need for this kind of information because people crave it, they want it and they don't feel they can play the game without it. Sad, but true. Which is why it's a choice. People put up forum boards and blogs to discuss this kind of information. Whether you go there or not, is your choice.

Now, I didn't quite understand Cuppy's feelings on this subject till just recently. I won't name names, cause well, I can't remember who it was and if they read this post, I hope they understand that they did nothing wrong, this is how I felt when it happened.

The other day, I was in Champions Online, hanging out, playing one of my many super heroes. While playing, I decided to hang out in the guild vent channel. A lot of the people in the guild are actual blogger's which is pretty nice. Anyway, I was questing along and listen to them chat. Its fun to just hear people get excited about a new game, and discovering new things. Every now and then, I would interject something to the conversation about how much fun a certain power was or when I killed a cool looking villain. Eventually, the conversation changed and when they started talking about the numbers, meaning what set up netted you the best results and how other results were far less impressive and gimped. They started throwing out information about energy regen and which stat was the best to level up and what skill powers to take , a lot of it was way over my head and the word "viable" kept being tossed around. When they had boiled the numbers down, it left little choices as to what was worth playing in the game and what wasn't and this just started to bum me out.

Here I am, trying to be fully immersed in a game of super heroes enjoying how my character knocks people back 50 yards or how I can fly around and shoot enemies with my shock power, and I'm hearing this new fantastic game being boiled down to a bunch of stats that if you don't have them, your screwed. I mean, it turned me off fast. Instead of getting the feel of playing a super hero I was feeling I had made a terrible mistake and was playing a really gimped game, and this was in a matter of minutes. And all this from a few people discussing theory. It wasn't their fault, but it did take me out of the game and for a while there I wasn't really enjoying it. Because I'm thinking, should I just stop what I'm doing and roll something that will be "Viable" down the road? I mean, the game is set up for the player to have tons of options, but are there really that many options if I want to succeed in this game?

I do want to state that it wasn't anything the guys in the guild said in particular, it was just the fact that when the numbers had gotten crunched, that the final result was some aspects of the game just weren't going to be working well in the game, in their analytical opinion. Your overall ability to do particular instances or mobs might suffer. They didn't' come out and say, Oak, your screwed now. This was their theory. I mean, they figured all this out by running characters up to 20+ and seeing what worked and what didn't. So for the most part they were the ones who got really boned. They had, in their eyes, wasted valuable time playing a character and discovered they wouldn't be able to do much once their. But why can't we be ignorant of this? I mean, if you didn't' know that your character was gimped would that take away from your overall experience? I'm sure they had fun getting the character to 20 and if they hadn't crunched the numbers, would they still be having fun? Isn't there a saying that "ignorance is bliss?"

So, in the end, I just decided I was going to play the game like I wanted and to hell with the theory that my character might suck later on. I'm a super hero damn it and that is the fun I wanted to have. If I wanted to theory craft and number crunch, I would go back to raiding end game in WoW.

But as much as Cuppy wants to get away from it, theory craft isn't going away. People need to boil it down, get the skinny, because those people don't believe in too much information. While others, who just want to play a game, who want to be immersed in the world and find peace from the real one, who want to be a warrior or a super hero for a short period of time, they believe that there is such a thing as too much information and they say, keep it to yourself.

Course to be completely honest, even those people will seek out the numbers, eventually.

The Fab Four

When I owned by PS2, I purchases and very much enjoyed Guitar Hero. I wasn't too bad at it either. I was able to do most of the songs on medium difficulty, which was fine for me. But when I picked up my PS3, I dusted off my plastic guitar and software and traded it in for something at Gamestop.

Now, I was never really interested in Rock Band. Sure it sounded like a lot of fun, but the "Man Cave" as the guys at work call it, which is where I've got my computer, PS3 and Xbox 360 set up in is very very small. So, setting up a drum kit, no matter how condensed it maybe compared to a real one, would take up just about 1/2 the room.

Well, then Harmonix announced The Beatles, Rock Band.

After a little negotiating, like telling my wife she didn't have to buy me a birthday gift next month if she let me have this game now and cleaning up the Man Cave a little, I picked up my set of plastic instruments at Best Buy. Now, before you go thinking that I've got a small fortune, let me explain that I did not pick up the Limited Edition version, which is around $250.00. I ended up getting the less expensive version which didn't have the replicas of the Beatles instruments. It would be cool to play on Ringo's drums or Paul's bass, but since I'll be playing them in the privacy of my own home wearing boxer shorts, I didn't feel the need for going over board.

I got out the guitar, which was probably a safe thing to do, since I've never used a drum kit before in my life and would be embarassed to see how that went while sober. The set up was fairly easy and the packaging was really impressive. Instead of openning up the huge box and finding everything back in there, they actually had the drum kit and the guitar packed up separately. Which means I don't have to pull out pieces of the drum kit just to set up the guitar. I was also a little confused while opening up the box. I thought all the instruments were wired. I thought this, (I did no real research on the box set except to compare pricing), because on the box it says it comes with a 4 port usb hub. Since it was a PS3 version and most things associated with the PS3 communicate with the main unit via blue tooth technology, I figured it was all wired instruments.

Well, they aren't wired, they are wireless. the hub is so you can hook up the wireless box that goes with the associated instrument. This was a happy accident for me, because I wasn't looking forward to running cords all over the floor. Course when I ran the cord, it would only be about 4 feet, which is the distance from my Futon and my 32" LCD. Still, it was nice.

Ok, so I got the guitar set up, which was pretty easy and then inserted the Beatles Rock Band disc and proceeded to see just how rusty I was. I was really really really rusty. So, after calibrating the wireless plastic guitar, I decided to jump into the story mode and see how bad I was after being out of practice a few years. Well, I would have to say it was on the on the verge really sucking. I think I got 20% of the notes right. So thinking it was the game, I recalibrated the plastic guitar again. I mean, I couldn't' suck that bad, right?

This time instead of jumping back into the story mode, I chose a song from the easy list and started giving it a try. Well, more suckage, but I was up from 20 to about 40%. Now, when I say I know I was sucking, I would hit almost 100% on easy when playing Guitar Hero, so I understand the concept of hitting the buttons when they come across the target area. At this point, I decided to do the tutorial. Which, to be honest, helped me tons. I was able to get back in the rhythm of the game after a little practice.

Well, to make a longer story longer, I went back in and picked another easy song and scored almost 90% with a 74 note string, meaning I hit 74 notes in a row accurately. After a few more songs, even a few on the more difficult range, I still managed to keep my score from hitting the crapper. So, if your rusty and haven't played a plastic instrument in a few years, I suggest you put your ego in check and play through the tutorial.

But, overall I would have to say I made the right decision to pick this monster up. It is the most fun I've had playing a game, except the one with Scott, Aaron and the other Scott a month back. I love the Beatles. I have been a fan of The Beatles since way back in High School. It wasn't until cd's became inexpensive and widely available back in the early 90's that I began filling out my collection. I'm not a Beatles maniac, but I do appreciate their music. I especially appreciate how, in a time when people were just scratching the surface of rock and roll and specifically, what could be done with electric instruments and sounds to enhance a song, the Beatles were right there on the front lines with George Martin, making it happen for us.

If you have Rock Band, I would suggest picking this up, the music has been remastered in true stereo and the animation is just great. If your not a fan of plastic instrument games, then, I would suggest one of the 12 remastered compact discs recently released. Each of them have been remastered in true stereo and digitally enhanced. Course, as a co worker said to me recently when I asked if he listens to The Beatles, his response was, "I don't listen to anything, with a few excepts, that was released before I was born". That was 24 years ago. What a shame.

The Play List
(Might not be complete!)

I Want To Hold Your Hand
I Feel Fine
Day Tripper
Paperback Writer
Don't Let Me Down

Please Please Me (1963)
I Saw Her Standing There
Do You Want To Know A Secret
Twist and Shout

With the Beatles (1963)
I Wanna Be Your Man

A Hard Day's Night (1964)
A Hard Day's Night
Can't Buy Me Love

Beatles For Sale (1964)
Eight Days a Week

Help! (1965)
Ticket To Ride

Rubber Soul (1965)
Drive My Car
I'm Looking Through You
If I Needed Someone

Revolver (1966)
Yellow Submarine
And Your Bird Can Sing

Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (1967)
Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band/With a Little Help From My Friends
Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds
Getting Better
Good Morning Good Morning

Magical Mystery Tour (1967)
I Am The Walrus
Hello Goodbye

The Beatles (White Album) (1968)
Dear Prudence
Back In the U.S.S.R.
While My Guitar Gently Weeps
Helter Skelter

Yellow Submarine (1969)
Hey Bulldog

Abbey Road (1969)
Come Together
Octopus's Garden
I Want You (She's So Heavy)
Here Comes the Sun

Let It Be (1970)
Dig a Pony
I Me Mine
I Got a Feeling
Get Back

Love (2006)
Within You Without You/ Tomorrow Never Knows

A large portion of the songs need to be unlocked in story mode.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Champions Online Impressions

I have a very low resistance to games. Meaning, if I see a lot of people having a great time playing a game that I'm slightly interested, I'll pick it up just to try it. Such is the case with my latest purchase, Champions Online.

Now this game originally wasn't on my radar. I had tried City of Heroes, another super hero game created by Cryptic, and found it very lacking. It was like a Thanksgiving meal without the turkey and dressing. The little I had read on blogs from people who had been in the beta was that the game was not very fun and it was pretty broken. So if I was going to try the game it would be months down the line after getting way more feedback.

Then the game got released.

I started getting feedback on the game in a very interesting place, Twitter. A lot of those people I follow started tweeting about the game and the impressions were pretty positive. Apparently, Cryptic had decided, strangely enough, to fix a lot of the broken aspects of the game in beta, which isn't what successful game developers are suppose to do. As a result the game is much more polished, Sorry Darren, than expected. So, on a whim, I decided to pick up it up and a 2 month game card at Best Buy. This way, if I was bored in 3 months, it would be easy to quit.

The first thing that gave me hesitation that I might have been in haste purchasing the game was the fact that the installation gave me a few problems. The game got stuck on patching and crashed, so when I force closed the game, it wouldn't start up at all. This took me several minutes of internet investigation to find a fix, which I'm still not certain corrected the issue. All I do know is eventually the game, after a system reboot or two, started working again and patched. Then I was able to get into the game and start having fun.

The character creator is very robust. It's similar to the one in City of Heroes, just on crack. I mean, I've created three characters so far and I don't even think I have scratched the surface of the greatness the creator is capable of. I could spend hours just crafting new characters, sadly, they only give you 8 slots. I do wish there was a video tutorial or something similar to point out some of the more finer aspects of the creator, but I guess they wanted you to get your hands dirty and dive right in.

After several hours of crafting my toon, the game starts everyone off in a small tutorial area that teaches you how to block attacks, use your super powers, interact with objects, etc. Nothing too complicated and it gets you oriented to the look and feel of the world. Cryptic steals from every other MMO, including Warhammer's Public Quest system, although Cryptic's version isn't very exciting and I found myself not very interested in trying it more than once. which is odd cause I participated in the PQ's in WAR all the time. The quests aren't any different than any other MMO. Save the people, collect the items return and get your reward. Champions has a built in quest helper, which puts circles on your mini map letting you know these are the areas in which you need to get things done for quests. Again, it drags you around a bit by the nose, but I'm not against that sort of stuff. It doesn't feel odd like it did in WAR for some reason.

After playing around in the noobie area for a few hours, I still wasn't digging the game very much. I mean it was fun, but I found the interface and the movement very awkward. Course that could be my fault. When you get into the game, it asks how you want to set up your UI and controls. I set mine to MMO style, which I figured would be similar to WoW, but apparently I still had issues getting the camera right and getting my character moved into the right spot. But, I had read somewhere that you could use a console controller to play the game. So I dug out my wired Xbox 360 controller and got it working. I have to say, this improved the game for me 1000 percent. I never was a big fan of the concept of playing an MMO on a console, but after using my controller for a few hours now, I can finally get my head around that concept. Getting to things in my inventory, chatting and picking up certain quest items still requires a mouse and keyboard, which is kind of a pain, but overall I am having a fantastic experience using my controller with this game, and if you have one, I would recommend using it.

The game is gorgeous by the way. It has a certain style that is comic bookish and I'm sure people won't like it, but I think it adds a lot to the overall feel of the game. I do think they could have done more with the sound, because the back ground noise is very repetitive in certain areas and can tend to get on your nerves. The best part are the attack effects, spell and melee. I choose a dual swordsman for my first toon and the attack animation is just awesome. One of my attacks is a flying kick, which at times still doesn't work like its suppose too, but is still fun to watch. Kicking someone from halfway across the map is just a blast. Characters movement is very well done, even while flying or moving with super speed.

Oh, I guess I need to mention that little perk about the game.

When you reach level 5, you get to choose your traveling power, flying, super speed, teleportation, hover disc, etc. These will help you get around the map pretty easily and fast. It's akin to purchasing a mount in any other MMO, except you get it very early in the game. These traveling powers are fun, and you can attack with them active. I've seen people hovering or flying while taking on mobs, which is pretty cool to see. Course, like all powers, even your traveling ones, you can change the colored effect at will.

This is getting long so I'll wrap it up with some of the cooler aspects of the game.

All your character name's are tied to your account, so there is no naming restrictions, except for profanity, that I know of. So there can be more than one of any name in the game, so if someone chooses the same one as you, they can still have it because their account name will be different. Also, having your character name tied to your account makes it easier for people to find you while playing alts. They just add your account name to their friends list and any toon on that account automatically gets added to the list. Course, this makes it hard for you to hide from friends who are playing the game, but overall its a great addition and I wish more MMO's would follow suit.

Next time I'll mention some of the dislikes, but since currently I don't have a lot of them, it will be a very short post.