Sunday, June 28

Mild showers were expected

Soccermatch: VOS-VVV (27-06-09) cancelled.

Bunch of poofs.

Cosmic Karma and other thoughts regarding London

So there I was, Heathrow Airport. Passed Customs. Tax free zone. A book store. Three sections: Sci-Fi, Fatnasy and Historical novels. Twenty Brittish Pound Sterling to burn and a two for the price of one deal on all three sections...
And I couldn't find two books that sparked my interst! I either had everything, or they were the kind of books commissioned to appeal to 15 year olds as imagined by by 50 year old executives, or the trilogy/series would be missing its first installments.

That's what happens when you start printing "It's all Lani's fault!" t-shirts. Cosmic balance takes it out on me.
I feel you ought to be aware of that.

Other thoughts and comments after a short city-trip to London:

The London Underground:
Public transportation PA systems around the world are all the same. There's only one volume setting which is just too low for while the train's moving and a lot too loud when it isn't. The same volume is used on platforms meaning you need the background noise of a train rushning by to understand what is being announced. Finnaly, public announcers around the globe all seem to want to try to eat their microphone while making an announcement.

It took me less than 4 hours to 'go native' in the Underground and not bother getting my Oyster Card out but just slap my wallet agains the yellow Oyster pads. Also every Londoner must have an instant instinctive grasp of relativity. If not it can be explained to them as follows; "You know how the humid, sweat-ridden and stale air of the Underground stations actually seems like an improvement when getting out of one of the trains? That's Relativity". It still beats taking the Tram from Scheveningen to The Hague Central during rush hour on a "Beach Day" with all those wallrusses housewives who think leaving the beach at 17:30 will mean they can have the 18:00 train and be home before hubby gets through traffic. Then again, few things don't beat that.

The usual suspects:
Phè is lot taller than I always imagined but as nice a person in person as you'd come to expect from meeting her online. And my suspicions regarding her avatar control have been confirmed. Evil Geek is uncannily like I imagined he would be after having seen his picture, to the point of giving me de-ja-vu. Tribina and Trinneke also are pretty much the same way they are online; Down to Earth, decent people who know how to enjoy Life.
God knows what they all think of me now. Especially Trinneke who managed to throw me off considerably by making me shift from "English mode" to "Dutch with a heavy Belgian accent" with results that were kinda like *blink* *blink* "Eh, what?". But apparently I look a lot like Maya, so I can just go "It's all Maya's fault!". Since I believe he isn't quite the bookophile I am, cosmic repercussions should be manageable.

Camden Stables:
After all the furore about Camden Town Market at Geek's birthday bash I naturally had to go see for myself. My overall impression: "Didn't I just spend two days visiting this place in virtual form?". I.e. Today's Second Life, especially the sections where you can get much needed freebie clothing for your avatar, is pretty much Camden Market with some houses and land for sale. You can buy pretty much the same clothes in both places, maybe a bit more male clothing in Camden and something other than t-shirts in Second Life. The female clothing is pretty much cut off the same cloth. The main difference being in SL you can adjust your shape to fill out the clothes as needed. I got a 'Something, somewhere went horribly wrong' and an 'Unknown Pleasures' t-shirt.

St Paul's Cathedral:
Dear Visitor, this is a house of worship so kindly respect this by keeping your voice down and by not using your mobile phone or excessive photographs byond this point (Yes, I'm looking at you Asians now) while inside the cathedral. In short, keep your gob shut and hand over 11 quid since we all converted from Anglicism & Catholism to Capitalism in here.

London Tower:
Ok, so we all know Brittish people have this queueing fetish and can stay at it for hours.
The rest of us, the other 98% of the world however tend to get belligerent when having to wait over 45 minutes in a queue with the only entertainment a bunch of overweight Americans trying to get money from an ATM because they can't pay for tickets through Credit Card. This really pales as a form of entertainment after about 15 minutes. Also it's worthy of note Brits seem to be less happy about queueing when it's said Americans causing it.

London London:
Ever notice how eveyrthing in London tends to have the word 'London' as a pre-fix? A barber isn't just a barber, it's a London Barber. The same for nearly every ohter service or shop. London itself is London England though. As if it's the London version of the whole of England or some such. Or maybe London London sounded to much like the way the rest of us tend to pronounce things like LLoyd or LLondon?

Brittish news:
You know, I think something may of happened to Michael Jackson? He's on the telly a lot today.
Ok, that probably wasn't just in the UK. It was a slow newsday everywhere and it is kinda a big item I suppose. But would it really have hurt BBC News to mention Farrah Fawcett's demise once every other hour or so? You know for variety and giving people the sense you actually have more than one item of news?

In closing:
If Phè ever offers you a "less walky" itinerary for the day, don't even bother hiding. RUN! ;-p

You know you're back on Dutch soil when:

Tuesday, June 23

My Perfect MMO part7: A Classy Post

The unHoly Trinity:
Just about every class system, and most 'classless' systems will slavishly adhere to the unHoly Trinity of Tank, DPS and Healer. The Tank draws fire, takes the beating, and generally tries to keep the enemy focus on himself. The DPS caster class tries to take down the foe(s) as fast as possible while the Healer tries to keep all the Tanks, DPSers, Utility classes and other Noobs alive.
The Tank is strong and can take a lot of punishment but has limited damage dealing capacity. He's the Damage Handler of a group. The DPS is the high damage dealer offset by a low capacity for handling incoming damage. The healer is generally known for his ability to heal, which is basically positive damage. As a rule he's also not blessed by a high capacity for handling incoming damage.

The Archetypes:
To put percentages to it you could say a Tank is 30/40/20 Crowd Control/Damage Handling / Damage Dealing. By comparison the classic DPS caster is the simplest archetype 20/80 Damage Handling / Damage Dealing which leaves the Healer as a 20/60/20 Damage Deal/Healing Damage/Damage Handling. You can argue percentages, but this is more or less the basic structure. Some systems will enhance the differences by giving the Tank twice the Hitpoints as the other ArcheTypes but this isn't always the case. The more 'refined' (read Solo-friendly) systems might have a DPSer at 20/70/10 giving them a touch of Crowd Control but in general it's advisable that only the Tank gets in direct contact with the foe(s).

When a game tries to expand on this basic DikiMUD setup (let's face it, DikiMUD copied D&D in turn but it's never polite to go back than further than one step back into the plagiarism history of any one Idea because we keep getting back to Beowulf that way) it's usually to go for mixtures of the Archetypes of the unHoly Trinity and slap on something vaguely defined as Utility on a few classes where Utility often means non-combat oriented abilities which will indirectly cause you to be passed over in most groups unless a group is doing the 0.5% of the content where that ability is required for completing a desired goal.

Class variants:
For instance there are what in SOE games tends to be called "Light Melee" Classes, which of course are DPSers that get in toe to toe contact. The 10% Crowd control is slapped unto the 20% Damage Handling ( the difference between Cloth and Light Armor). Melee DPS: 30/70 Damage Handlinger / Damage Dealer. The same way there's many other so called hybrid classes, The crowd control caster, the Ranged/Melee DPSing Ranger e.t.c. There's many combinations to make based upon the three ArcheTypes. Or more precisely, the five Elements of Class Building, Damage Handling, Damage Dealing, Healing Damage Crowd Control and Support. There's a Sixth called Utility by me but leave that for after I'm done explaining how the Lego blocks work :-)

The Lego blocks of Class building are:
  • Damage Handling: (DH:) which can be subdivided into Damage Soaking, Hitpoints and Damage Deflection (dodge, block but if block means the shield deteriorates and holds back only a portion of the damage it's a combination off all three really).
  • Damage Dealing: (DD:) which in turn is divided into Melee and Ranged, both of which can be further detailed by attaching acronyms like DoT, Spike damage, BuildUp damage, AoE, PBAoE, PBDoTAoE ETC.
  • Healing Damage: (HD:) can really be classified along the same lines as DPS though melee healing is relatively uncommon.
  • Crowd Control: (CC:)which can be further split into Taunts, Anti-Taunts, Holds, Dazes and Mezzes.
    The first two respectively mean getting the focus and deflecting the enemy focus to someone else, Holds mean rooting the foe but not otherwise incapacitating him. Dazes include all forms of stunning, blinding or other means of incapacitating the foe. With Mezzes I mean any form of mesmerization, seduction, mind-control or whatever that allows one to temporarily make the enemy fight on your side.
  • Support: which comes in two forms Buffs and DeBuffs. Oh and DeBuff removal too. In essence this covers all Stats altering abilities like curses, blessings e.t.c. and come in the single target melee, single target ranged, AoE, group, PBAoE and LoS-AoE varieties. Possibly more.
When take a good look at your game's classes you'll probably note that the classes therein are pretty much made up off these Lego blocks or Arch Abilities where you can usually make a pretty obvious 20/60/20 percentage division. Especially those games (nearly the entire SOE stable as well as just about all the other First and Second Generation games) that are close to their DikiMUD roots.

Pet Classes:
Pet classes are really the only class customarily found within MMO's that doesn't really fit at first blush. They're really the first attempt at making solo classes and the traditional pet classes (rule of thumb the ones where you only have one pet at a time) are still easily recognizable as having these four components. The Pet serves to Soak Damage (DH) while the caster does the nuking (DD) and is either capable of healing his pet or it isn't really needed.

There's a few ways a game Designer can go from these Building Blocks. Most common and "safest" are the fixed templates, the Classes, as I've been mentioning before. Alternate Advancement Schemes are used to obscure the strict balancing involved in this type of traditional system. However there are exceptions to this approach.

I.e. we won't be mentioning SOE for a while now.
GuildWars tries and succeeds reasonably well to allow for more freedom of choice by introducing dual "Professions" that allow you to "flavor" your Character with a 70/30 combination of each Profession's Strengths. A WaMo (Warrior/Monk) is still a Tank with some Healing. Some of the other combinations are a bit more exciting though. But in essence the traits (what are they called again?) that come with each Profession are pretty much identical to the Arch-Abilities I mentioned and the Skills each require a Trait and can therefore be categorized according to the same blocks. The dual Profession system, in conjunction with the ability to readily swap out your secondary one (and of course the ability to completely rearrange all your stats as you please) grants a lot more freedom than traditional systems while still allowing the designers/developers a measure of control over the design and its templates. The Protection Magic line is the strongest deviation from the classic approach I think.

City of Heroes/Villains in its way went a bit further, or maybe I should say further back. To the real basics to first set up powersets which tend to incorporate one or often two of the blocks then, when they had enough of those, loosely clustered them around their classes aptly called Archetypes. Then pretty much applied the percentages I mentioned at the start to them and Presto.
As a result a Defender (Support Class/Healing Damage) can have a powerset rather similar to that of a Controller (Support/Crowd Control) while they have different levels of veracity. In fact both often share a Ranged DPS Powerset with the Blasters (the Ranged DPS class) which in turn is mediocre at Support or Crowd Control but has no Healing. Both the Tank (Tank, duh!) and Scrapper (melee DPS) share some powersets with other Archetypes which results in a pretty big diversity of flavors. I didn't do the math as I'm unsure about the nr of Powersets available but I'm pretty sure there's more possible combinations in CoX than GW. Especially since there's a tertiary set of powerset for them to pick from. I'll leave it to Phè to give a stab at realistical percentage comparisons but I think it's about 50/30/20 or some such in the effectiveness of Primary, secondary and tertiary powersets. As mentioned, each powerset tends to incorporate two of my building blocks. Sometimes more even. Oh and each Archetype has its own 'Kink' much like all but the most dreary Class Systems have.

A Kink is an ability not really covered by the blocks that's specific to that Class or Archetype.
Palladins traditionally can often do a few spells of the healing, crowd control or Support blocks.
Blasters deal more damage the fewer hitpoints they have. A CoV Dominator will go in Super DPS mode if dealing enough damage over time. Pet classes can have Pets. Those are Kinks.

Free Form:
Of course there's the Classless so called Skill-based MMO's.
When you look at those in terms of my five building blocks, they're not that different from the classical class based game systems except that players have to work more at defining their classes. But since most players will gravitate to either being a member of the unHoly Trinity or play solo as a Jack of All Trades (oddly enough most classless MMO's miss a pet-class) the end result really isn't that much different from Classes with Alternate Advancement Schemes pretty much taking care of the usual deviations to the Archetypes produced in this kind of environment.
Of course, balancing tends to be Hell on Virtual World and there generally aren't any 'Kinks'.

My Perfect MMO Class System:
Reading between the lines you may have noticed a slight, slight I tell you, bias towards the way City of Heroes went about it. Although a Class System with a high number like Vanguard will catch my fancy too.
I'm not sure if they intended it that way, but putting 5 Building blocks into powersets that incorporate 2 blocks each strikes me as sheer genius. You always end up with a pretty good mix of abilities but mis one 'line'. Good enough to keep you going solo, but grouping will definately have an advantage.
I did mention that Tertiary Powerset remember? This Utility Powerset branch incorporates a msih mash of abilities ranging from transportation powers to third rate healing to group buffs. It's really a combination of weak versions of the other blocks and "true utility" abilities.
I really like the concept of three choices of Ability Sets containing two Ability Block each as well as the concept of leaving out one Ability Block with a power/strength division of 50/30/20. So in My Perfect MMO there'd have to be seven Blocks not five. Number six should be obvious by now. Utility although what exactly consists Utility can be a bit murky and background related.
Things like Sneaking, Tracking, Armor/Weapon repair e.t.c. would definately be Utility.
It's the Seventh block I'm having doubts about. It could either be the "Kink" or it could be a Crafting Ability line. The problem I have with the "Kink" is that many Class Kinks could arguably be Utility Abilities and vice versa. For instance a Rogue would traditionally be able to backstab and pick pockets. Backstab would be seen as a kink more often than a utility. Pickpocket though could be seen as a utility, a kink or possibly even a craft.
I think this is the kind of dilemma that makes designers go for the save option of classes or Cryptic's more ballsy Archetypes.

I'm very curious what you all think about this. Especially the Pro-Classless Systems people.
Next post, unless I leave the topic alone for another 2 months, will be how I see this in combination with my chosen Background of Shadowrun which despite it officially being classless not only includes Archetypes but also Races.

Saturday, June 20

Morality System

As you can probably remember I'm usually dissatisfied with the usual Black and White morality system and even played with a concept including humanity for one post.
Today I ran across a different system. It's half Faction, half Morality really.

Each section is a faction in an upcoming MMO. They all have one arch-nemesis two allies and two enemies each.
Basically it means the closer another faction is to your (counter)clockwise the better you like them.
It makes kinda sense, but it immediately fails.
For instance, while Society & Self can be considered opposites, why would 'Nature' be closer to 'Society' than 'Science'?
I'd think 'Order' would be neutral to both Science and Nature as both by and large don't care about order. In fact both are essentially amoral.
But I can understand that they di it this way as they need to serve the factions, and for once they're not "Group A wants to destroy the world, Group B wants to own it and Group C wants to keep it". As societies these factions make sense.

Extra cred for who knows what MMO I'm talking about.
Hint: It's not Fantasy and not Space. Nor is it Cyber- or Steam- Punk as such.

I can't tell you much more just yet because after this I'm agreeing to an NDA.

Friday, June 19

Arranigng a meeting Old Skool

I gave Geek the heads up about my travel itinerary, which is to land at London City Airport (LCY) on Thursday the 215th at at aproximately 18:15then make my way, somehow, to the Old Street Underground station to meet up with Phèdre there at around 19:00
Since this trip supposedly takes 37 minutes this gives me plenty of time to get lost at either the airport or the Underground and find it again.

Geek then expressed his hopes that Phè dan myself have exchanged phone numbers or intend to prior to the meeting as Old Street Station has a warren-like number of exits.
Well, we did. However, me being a rabid anti cellphone maniac only recently felt obligated to acquire one. Because of the situation with my mom. So I have a pre-paid thing of which I'm unshure if it works.
Now one of the reasons why I hate those little buggers (besides their inexplicable tendency to run out of batteries at the worst possible times) is that it stiffles human ingenuity and makes us even more lazy than we are by nature.
I.e. people used to be perfectly capable of meeting up without the use of these newfangled technologies.

We did it using Google Maps street view!

Ok, so we used to do it by making prior agreements as to where exactly to meet.
Like "at the North-Eastern Exit", or "under the meeting point sign", which may be a Dutch railway station compulsive disorder excentricity. Anyway, looking around Old Street I noticed this lovely triangular piece of clear, out of the traffic flow, pavement which is ideal for meeting up.
Provided that Phè thinks this is a good idea of course. Maybe she's in favor of meeting somewhere she can park her car without the Bobbies pouncing all over instead. ut for a pedestrian meeting spot this looks ideal. There's even a candy machine just out of sight to the left/North for if anyone is early and fancies a snack :-)

See? With some ingenuity and Google Maps you can find Lo-Tek means of meeting up without needing to resort to cellphones. Next week we will demonstrate that I'm a bleeding idiot by totally failing to meet up this way and find each other at the appointed restaurant half an hour later instead. As it's only 0.3 miles away. :-)

Cekkphones are teH Evil!

Good Stuff

Since we're sharing newly found blogs now, I'll add my own :-)
Yesterday from the Symptoms of a Greater Cure posted the following in an article:
What it comes down to most specifically is that of a competition between two fundamental business concepts, that of the creation of a product, and the running of a service.
This creates a secondary battle between placeness and gameness. You see, the goal of a product driven business is to release the initial game with a certain amount of stickiness, hopefully full on addiction, to pay the intervening time frame until you can release another product. The goal of a service driven business is to create a 'place' that people want to be, and then to use that place to sell products, advertise, and/or charge admission. While a service may benefit from a more addictive style as well, it's single most valuable asset is positive word of mouth, and putting that in danger for a little more stickiness could cost you everything.
I think this is a really good distinction. From my own experiences, it's very easy for a development studio to think of the game they're going to release as a product rather than a service. Many mistakes can flow from that conception. Of course, some games are really more producty than servicy in a good way. I.e. Guild Wars, whereas others seem to have found a great balance between product and service, mainly the EverQuest franchise. And some franchises like Second Life and There! are all servicy, but very little gamey.

This might be more distinctive of "what's wrong with MMO's" in general than gamey vs worldy discussions. Then she goes on, after explaining audience types for products and services in Barttle's archetypes.:
The simple fact of the matter is that everything in the MMO genre is a service, but are being given the treatment of products. Those who make WoW-a-likes are banking on people wanting more of the same product, which is a complete fallacy, since they are trying to create a competing service. It's hard to blame them too much though, since it was WoW that was continuing on the mistake in the first place. I tend to believe part of the reason for WoW's success was primarily because they improved on the fundamental experience they were giving to their players compared to most games released before it.
I think she's really on to something here, albeitI think the terms 'fact' and 'everything' could have done with a bit of softening. The F2P MMo's are already more Servicy than Producty mainstream Subsctiption based MMO's. But I think that's really due to strapping serive ontop of a product rather than really making a service to begin with.

Anyway, you should read the whole piece and then post your own thoguhts here :-)

Thursday, June 18


I bumped into a very interesting blog. It is filled with future predictions from the past. Really interesting to read how people expected the future to be in the past. For the most part they were quite wrong. Both in underestimating and overestimating progress. But one entry I read I thought was really great. I got the (slightly changed) quote below from here, which is from predictions made in 1893. The commentator of Paleo-Future suggested to replace the word book with blog, so I did :)

Every person of fairly good education and of restless mind writes a blog. As a rule, it is a superficial blog, but it swells the bulk and it indicated the cerebral unrest that is trying to express itself. We have arrived at a condition in which more blogs are printed than the world can read. This is true not only of blogs that are not worth reading, but it is true of the blogs that are. All this I take to be the result of an intellectual affranchisement that is new, and of a dissemination of knowledge instead of concentration of culture. Everybody wants to say something. But it is slowly growing upon the world that everybody has not got something to say. Therefore one may even at this moment detect the causes which will produce reaction. In 100 years there will not be so many blogs printed, but there will be more said. That seems to me to be inevitable.

I am so glad I did my part to prove it.

Ever wonder what the Internet thinks about you?

Click here to find out

Unhappy about Sims3 Shop

I'm unhappy with the Sims3 Shop.

For once not because of wierd ass Dollar / Euro exchanges. 1000 Simpoints go for 10 dollars or 6 Euro. That seems fair. I'd have to check if they get the Brittish Pound Sterling correct to though.
I'm unhappy for another reason. For that I have to explain about Sims 2.

Sims2 came out with a nifty little feature called "The BodyShop", this was essentially a Sim and Sim-clothing viewing cabinet with the means of exporting and importing items using a simpackage fileformat. These simpackages would consist of one or two textures, dubbed recolours, and a mesh which is used to depict bumpmapping and transparency. Not that different from the way Unreal or Quake skins are set up, if you are familiar with that.
What this allowed you to do was make your own clothing and hair for Sims2.

This was done, a lot.

What Sims2 created was what's probably the best argument in favor of User Created Content.

Several big sites popped up around the BodyShop feature, with litterally thousands of Victoria Secrets alike lingerie sets and probably a few dozen Calvin kleinesque trunks as well. It didn't stop there though. Hair ranging from better mohawks all the way to hair that Goldilocks would get jealous at. The modding community, already firmly established took up the challenge of regulating all of this additional content. One out of ten items you'd download would be missing a mesh, but soon crossreferencing between sites was a fact and tools were made to keep your download directory semi-clean.
The best of the best content ended up on "Premium Sites" which usually worked with a subscription or a pay-per-download bussiness model The original game was 6.5 Gb in size with some content added through the belatedly launched Sims Exchange. My Downloads folder peaked at 32 GB at which point I threw everything out and started from scratch as it'd gotten polluted with broken meshes e.t.c. It later stabilized at around 26 GB.

Besides clothing you could also share whole families and housing plots. People got very creative with that, to the point where a circular staircase, including the required animations was made for this game which firmly believed in straight-line stairs. A tie in with Sim City 4 allowed you to create whole additional city-scapes (well, ground and roads anyway) for use in Sims2. I suspect I actually spent more time going through this User Created content and picking out what I liked the most for my own games than I did actually playing the game.

It's only natural that with Sims3 EA/Maxis decided that:
A) they wanted the bigger slice of that pie
B) they didn't want all the tech-support issues they had to deal with from people with Sims2 client modded by little brother, big sister or themselves that wouldn't work anymore.

Sims 3 doesn't come with a Bodyshop anymore. Instead everything in the game is "skinnable" using "patterns". This has the benefit of making it easy for everyone to make horrid color combinations and uploading them through the new exchange.
The Sims 3 Exchange is set up a lot smarter than the old Simms2 one. The game comes with a launcher that puts the "highlights" in your face prior to starting up your game. You can download new stuff with a few clicks on the mouse, then you have to confirm that you saw it being added with another couple of clicks (Sims 3 is very fond of you clicking confirmations for some reason) and you can make recommendations, which are like votes for the items. You also can't modify city maps anymore. In fact, you can't even add plots beyond the predefined number and shapes anymore. A trade-off for the "Living City" I bet.

This is User Generated Content. Not User Created Content.
I know that Richard Barttle is all in favor of User Generated over User Created content but that applied to MMORPG's and I don't fully agree with him in that genre either.

They blithely reused the votes system used by most of the independent sites, except without the distinction applied by those sites. Nor should they. They really ought to have put something along the lines of some "which of these two do you like best" votes during launch. It's quick, it's easy, it's non friend-biased. And if they do it without a confirmation pop-up to click to confirm you saw that the game saw that you voted, it'd not be annoying. it'd allow them to "feature" the top 2% which is all you really want to see anyway.

Essentially the Exchange right now is loaded with crap. Most of it is low data content as all you're really storing in the new packages is the number of the Maxis made object-meshes, the 1-4 patterns per mesh and the 1-4 colors per pattern. For anything but a sim itself which has lots of postional data for physical attributes, except a boob-slider for some reason, that's under 1KB.
But you can't add your own actually created stuff. I tried a third party site for some custom patterns (e.g. Snoopy for t-shirts kinda) but that's far from working well right now. Adding custom made clothing is going to require not just modding, but hacking skills.
As I said, it's very easy to create crap using the pattern system. So if you're at all miffed about the User Created Content lock-out, that's exactly what you do as it's real easy and a lot less time consuming than say painstakingly apply an overall colourscheme to a small bathroom.

In other words, Sims3 Exchange has the usual 98% User Created Crud and the 2% who'd actually be making beautiful stuff are adding their own crud out of resentment. I already noticed that the few gems I found on the Sims3 Exchange were first available through one or more of the third-party sites I have bookmarked since Sims2 days. But I was going to complain about the Sims3 Store, not the Exchange.

The Exchange allows you to share your creations, screenshots video's and stories with your fellow sim gamers. The Sims 3 Shop allows you to buy additional item meshes (hair, clothes, furniture, e.t.c.) My problem isn't that they're offering a single matching furniture / wallpaper combination for a third of what the game itself costs (20 vs 63 euros). Nor is it that there seems to be no correlation between in-game worth 9which is arguably subjective) and Simpoint cost.
No, my problem is that every three or four downloads of the previously mentioned crud is going to result in an error message saying you're missing necessary premium content. Note that this could be a single wall-hanging in a very big plot as was the case with a very nice cabin I uploaded to the Exchange and no-one could get because they hadn't downloaded that (a freebie btw) particular item.

The "free as in included in the purchase price, not free as in beer" free 1000 Simpoints everyone gets at first ensure a nice spread of these premium items which is of course a sneaky way of enticing people to spend more money on Simpoints so they can download that hot item from the Exchange. However, the warning gives absolutely no clue as to what item you might be missing!
Again, a single lightbulb in a huge mansion might be the problem. You can't opt to use a lot without that particular piece of content either. That'd lead to tech support calls from people who don't understand the concept of consequences anymore. It's almost enough to start spamming that Exchange with crud yourself even though you're not personally gimped in your creative desires.

Most of the active modder sites have a strong "Boycot the Exchange" streak going, a leftover from the times when people'd download high grade packages and take credit for them through the Sims2 Exchange which was the only one without any source tracking at all. They're now boycotting for pretty much what I ranted about above and I think I'll join them.
As it is, the upload/download manager thinks I'm logged out even though the site doesn't think so and I'd need tech-support to get it solved. I think I'll go the way of the modders instead.

I can understand them wanting to have less "problematic" User Created Content.
I can understand them wanting to make a buck from micro-transactions
I can even understand them trying to keep the User Created Sims Porno to a minimum.

What I don't understand is how they manage to shoot themselves in the foot so thoroughly while completely missing the fact they can't really prevent the last point as long as the client remains in the hands of the enemy.

I am still having fun with the game though.
That "Fertility" Trait you can buy as a Lifetime happiness reward so you have a better chance at getting offspring?
You really don't need that as a Young Adult. My first family oriented Sim dropped 6 of them (5 girls, one boy, one set of twins). She probably would have dropped more, she got pregnant every time hubby so much as looked at her, but 8 is still the maximum number of sims on a plot. And there's a reason for that.
In order to regulate breakfast & shower traffic they ended up living in a trailer park with a central "sanitation" wagon with lots of showers and, er... No not that way.
By the time I managed to have teenagers turn into young adults leave the nest she'd aged to mature and was near retirement. I also discovered that if you spend the afternoon e-mailing Phè the AI will keep going and your lesbian couple will adopt a child without your intervention but leave the naming up to you (and a confirmation click).

Tuesday, June 16


a picture says more than a thousand words:


Monday, June 15

The future of MMORPGs

I guess I don't really have to say that there are dark days ahead. Most of the veteran MMO players have a burn-out feeling. They have seen it all and done it all in the games that are currently out there. Especially since nothing new has come out for over a year.

The last two games were AOC and WAR. I haven't played WAR so I should not say too much about that. But I did play AOC, and I loved it. It looked great, it had enough new design ideas in it that it really felt like something new, and it had a wide world to explore. But after playing for three months I had seen it all, done it all. Very few single player games last that long, so I call it a great experience. From a typical "MMO-last-foerever" point of view it is a failure. I think AOC (and WAR fits there too probably) is just a different kind of MMO. I probably will never play it again. Just as I probably will never play Ico or Fable or Dreamfall again.

On the near horizon of the MMO world lie a few uninteresting games, in my view at least. Aion lacks in personality. I can't relate to that world, and thus I will have to enjoy it for its game play. And that is exactly the weakest point of any MMO. The same goes for Champions Online or that other super hero game. They don't create world I want to live in. Just like the post I made earlier today, it is all about creating virtual personalities, and exploring their world. And with their world I mean the locations they can visit, the skills they develop. But just as important is also the personalities they become, and the people they meet. The game must have a learning curve, but even if in the end I learned I have to press 1,2,3 to kill a rat that is very much ok. A great long lasting MMORPG should never be about a hugely complex fighting system. Because then the fighting will take up all the time, and there is no time left for what makes an MMORPG so special, the creation of characters with depth. It is pretty close to movies actually. Watching a Steven Seagal movie might be fun while it lasts, but that is it. True rememberable movies are about the characters.

All nice talk, but what does that really translate to? DIKU is not necessary done and over with. Character progress is just one aspect. It doesn't really matter that much. Eve Online has probably shown that building an empire is something that would really keep you going. The difference between Eve and all other MMORPGs is that in Eve things move about without your avatar being there. While all sword and sorcery wielding heroes are all one man against the world. You can only grow so strong as individual.

I think an introduction of multiple characters might be it. And I don't mean that in the sense of pet classes or GW style heroes. But real characters that build up your empire. They are more sim like beings that are complete avatars. But since you are just person, you can only be one of them. All the others can be put on some auto-pilot mode. If you don't give your added characters much time they can only do lowly tasks. Maybe having 100 lowly auto pilot characters bring in what you want, but that is not much fun. And besides you need at least 10 medium level characters before the leader of the empire can raise to the next level. There is a bit of a thin line here between a civilzation like god game, a RTS, and an MMO. It should not turn into either godgame or RTS since it will completely loose its personality thing again. Which is probably the main reason I don't play Eve Online. Maybe all those lackeys only have auto-pilot mode. And after they have been auto-piloting for a month real time they can be upgraded to a real avatar.

I don't know. Might not work. My whole post was more meant as a commentary that I think MMORPG should worry less about how the fighting mechanisms work, and more how character development works. And how to ensure there will always be a carrot to chase.

Our virtual selves

Hi, my name is Phedre.

For over four years now that is name. It is kind of weird how things come to pass. A spur of the moment decision when I signed up at GameAmp gave me that name. It was not the name I had been using during my gaming life before that. I used to use the name sidhe. I didn't even know it's real meaning. I had picked it up from a commodore64 game called Tir na nOg. It was a very weird game in which you wandered around aimlessly and once in a while a monkey would walk into screen and it said at the botton of the screen "sidhe!". Since that game was so weird and obscure I thought I found a very unique and never used name. Only until the internet really opened up I found out it was not so unique at all, but a rather common word/name in the fantasy world. So when I wanted to comment on something related to an inv/ss tanker on GameAmp I picked the name of the inv/ss tanker I had created in city of heroes. In the months after signing up for my first ever active forum the name Phedre had changed from the name of my in-game character to the name of the virtual me.

One of the problems of the internet is anonymity. Nobody really knows who is behind the avatar, so you can spew out anything you want since nobody can touch you. This mentality brought forth a lot of very annoying people. But fortunately not everybody is like that. In fact, the same anonymity is probably the strength of the internet. We don't know each other, so we are not judging each other on appearances. But in stead we do it based on what we say and do with our virtual selves. This means we make up our minds about the people around us based on what they have to say. That is pretty amazing!

So does that mean we get to see the real persons, even more so than when we would meet that same person in the flesh? I don't know. For a big part we are simply who we are. So anything we say or do in a virtual world must be a reflection of that. But even our virtual self must have appearances. To some extend we are blocking out some of ourselves and act as others around us think we would act. We are sort of roleplaying our virtual self. Just like I am role playing a different me when I am visiting my parents, or talking to colleagues. And even a different me when I am with my sweetly. And I am very much ok with this all. Things get complicated when some of those various appearances start mixing up. I would hate to have my mother see me at a heated company discussion. Or the other way around, and having my colleague for tea at my parents house. Some illusions will be shattered.

Of course this will get even worse when mixing the more unique virtual me with a real life me. When I was playing Anarachy Online I mostly interacted with my colleagues. Since they got me hooked on it. The virtual me was completely hollow. It was a pixelated version of office-me in a strange world. Not until I found out how to play without them I started to really enjoy it, since I truely became a person. And that is why I love MMO's. Eventhough the genre need something new I think I will always keep playing them. But that is not what this post is about.

The whole reason for all this rambling is next Thursday. That day I will crash the virtual me with the real life me. And I don't know anymore which one is the real me. And that is scaring me. Are either of them living a lie? Or is there no such thing as a real me? I guess I will find out. And no matter what, I can always claim it is Lani's fault.

Friday, June 12


Windows Internet ExplorerMicrosoft will be shipping Windows 7 in Europe sans Internet Explorer 8.

This is of course to stay on the good side of well intentioned yet misguided anti-trust agencies in Europe.
Reactions have ranged from the uninitiated "how can you download a browser without a browser?" to the rabidly fanatic on either side of the fence.
I still recall the Windows 98 without Internet Explorer that Microsoft used to "proof" that Windows didn't work without it. For reference, this version sucked worse than Windows ME.
I wouldn't be surprised if M$ were to pull that particular rabbit again. But they don't have to really.

A lot of applications e.g. game launchers for half the MMO's out there, games like the Sims 3 and several others all use Internet Explorer's engine to render their content, which really are webpages. NCSoft's NCPlayer uses it. Half the games that are capable of launching an URL will do so using Internet Explorer, regardless of whether or not you have some other Browser set as your default browser. All of those will not work on Windows 7, and there will be a very helpful pop-up explaining exactly why.

In order to be able to keep using these apps I'll have to get the Rendering Engine and Microsoft would be stupid to have that hidden but enabled on thier IE-less versions of Windows 7. They want you to realize you can't do without it.
Luckily Windows 7's helpfull maintenance assistance / troubleshooter system the name of which escapes me just now will be very happy to download Internet Explorer 8 without using a browser. Come to think of it, that thing uses IE's rendering Engine as well. Hmmm, maybe they actually will give you a helpful message telling you how to solve the issue then let you sweat for it...

So all this really means is I'll have to spend 5 to 10 minutes downloading and installing Internet Explorer 8, and so will everyone else in Europe. Which is all in favor of Microsoft's position.
So much for the time and effort wasted by the European Commission trying to deal with MS'es misuse of their monopoly position. They have yet to learn that Microsoft is now so firmly entrenched they have third parties who abuse their monoploy position for them. Microsoft for a while now can play nice and roll over to these browser anti-trust suits without nary a hitch.

You can bet your ass M$ will make IE-less Windows 7 just onerous enough that any corporation in the EU is going to go for the version with Internet Explorer 8. Especially since they still claim IE is free there likely will not be a price difference between the versions.
You can also bet that M$ will be showing the EU those sales figures.

And that's all because they opened up their API's for Open Source initiatives as ordered by the US Supreme court.
While things like Samba and OpenOffice may work slightly better with Windows now but it's mostly "lazy" applications using the IE render engine's API to save some time that jumped on that wagon. It must be annoying for those huge governments that all they can achieve against this three times convicted felonous organization is phyrric, hollow victories.

Wednesday, June 10

What is wrong with Aion / MMO's in general

I'm not in the NA Beta of Aion but played the Chinese Open beta (or free trial, my Chinese isn't that good) so I never signed an NDA.

Neat huh?

Can one be held to an NDA one couldn't read and therefore didn't even recognize it as one. I wonder?

By way of Heartless Gamer I found this article at West Karana which sums up what had been the vague nagging feeling that kept me from enjoying Aion too much (besides the enormous lag):
Take one step into the world of Aion, and from that moment on, you’re an expert player. All your years playing MMOs has prepared you for this moment, and nothing you encounter will give you a moment’s hesitation. By the end of the preview Sunday, many characters were fairly high level, guilds had been set up and there was a rough hierarchy of achiever guilds vs casual, friend-based guilds.
Several posts back I mentioned the Joy of Learning, which is a big part of my Explorer type playstyle. In Aion there was nearly nothing to learn. The controls were elementary, the quests simple, flight relatively easy and introduced in so carefully planned stages that there really is no noticeable learning curve, at all.
While to many this may sound as a great thing, and more power and enjoyment to them, to me it was what kept me from truly enjoying the game. The world is still there to discover and it really looks nice and lush. The background however was everything but intruiging. If I were to sum Aion up in one word it'd be "bland", or "needs salt" if I may be excused to use two.

It's like I said in a comment earlier today:
Immersion in game mechanics is a form of escapism in itself. The sad truth about those exotic worlds is that over the last decade you by and large have to choose between being a genocidal maniac in exotic worlds according to rather unimaginitively similar combat systems, or have interesting gameplay like building houses, managing resources e.t.c in closer to real life environments.
Geek will probably argue that flight is a really cool gameplay feature sure to be immersive to him and a lot of others. I'll not argue that. It is true, just not for me. To me it's a simple gimmick strapped onto the same old same old. Lineage II with two-winged elves rather than the one-winged elves. I never really got the one-winged elves either actually.

I'm probably just in a vugue (sp?). I'm not playing MMO's at all at the moment and not really seeing anything worthwhile out there. MMO's really have become stuck in a rut from my perspective. If only EA and Bethesda would make me a Sims3-Morrowind edition with a slice of interesting adventuring/combat gameplay and a Bloody Learning Curve. Oh and all my Perfect MMO suggestions included of course :-)

Heroes of Telara

Long after the Age of Legend, when centuries of conflict devastated the fair kingdoms of Telara™, the world teeters on the edge of darkness. Now, four rival factions grapple for control of the land as the struggle rages on in the wild territories. Arising from these ashes is Port Scion, a mighty city inhabited by survivors of the old empires. Only the brave and stalwart citizens of Port Scion can restore peace, and change the very course of history, for it is home to the Heroes of Telara.

Heroes aren’t born, they are forged. In the world of Telara, how a person reacts to an unexpected situation determines their quality; will you be a hero? Plunge into a world where you will face different challenges every time you play. Your decisions will affect the fate of the people of Telara. A Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game (MMORPG), Heroes of Telara builds on established mechanics with dynamic content and scheduled events to ensure an ever-changing world where being the right hero at the right time truly matters. Join with other heroes and become a legend.


  • The Right Hero at the Right Time – Rise to the challenge of the unexpected, use the deep sub-class system to customize your abilities to prevail and become the hero.
  • Battle Hordes of Enemies – Engage in intense "one vs. many" battles where enemy groups behave as a horde, while you fight using an easy-to-learn combat system.
  • Play With Anyone – Experience the world and share your journeys with players of all levels. Your destiny is in your hands.
  • Master Every Skill – Train in every profession and engage in any crafting activity. Use the dynamic class system to specialize in prestigious class abilities.
  • Dynamic Multiplayer – Unite with your friends and plan play-sessions around scheduled events that change on a regular basis. Exciting area quests offer seamless grouping and unique rewards.
  • Control Territories – Join a faction and participate in the struggle to control territories where you monopolize access to epic rewards.
  • Discover a Limitless World – Explore a stunning adventure-filled world as you achieve rewards for your heroic accomplishments —a world completely open to you, regardless of your rank.

Even though it's not my wish for an MMO set on Morrowind or Morrowind-alike surroundings this does look nicely off-standard and I like the heavy use of lighting which ads to the atmosphere. Tentatively scheduled for 2010 so it could all be vaporware yet. All I can really say is I like the art-direction.

Check out the site if you wish, it doesn't hold much more information than I put in this post.

Tuesday, June 9

My incomplete Sims3 review

So I did order that UK version of SIMS3 last week.
It was delivered on Saturday afternoon and I played it for most of the weekend until early Monday morning and some more briefly last night before collapsing on my bed.

Let's start with:

The Rant:
The first thing I learned after installation was that Electronic Arts' Sims3 joins the ranks of august products like iGoogle, Microsoft Games for Windows, MSN, Microsoft Live and others in believing that if you pick English for "Language" on your UK edition of the game and 'the Netherlands' for "Location" you apparently mean to say you want everything except the game's controls to be in Dutch, despite your ridiculous claim to a preference for the English language. Big corporations know best. Your IP address lives in the Netherlands so therefore you must want Dutch content . In the case of Sims3 , the website they want you to spend additional Simpoints (aka Euro's, British Pounds Sterling or Dollars) on.

This annoys me to no end for several reasons:
A) Why even ask what you language preference is if you're going to blatantly ignore it?
B) The site content is the same for the UK and the rest of Europe. Heck, the Exchange holds user generated content from Slavic countries I believe.
C) It's rather jarring to have Dutch content within English controls. Luckily the game is English internally.
D) Sims3 humor is ok, except in its translated baby talk Dutch form which the EA kids department is capable of achieving.

For a brief period I had to actually play Sims2 in Dutch because I'd messed up an install.Luckily I was paying better attention during my Sims3 Install so now my game is in English but I'm restricted to the Dutch language version of the European Sims Exchange. More about the site section of the Sims3 experience later. Let's talk about the game first.

First impressions:
Upon installing Sims3 it becomes immediately obvious that the EA team took a good long look at the kind of art (for lack of a better term and actually pretty accurate in many cases) the player community had been churning out for Sims2.
Literally hundreds of thousands upon thousands of lipsticks, blushes, eyeliners e.t.c. were made by the remake-famous-people-as-sims sub-community alone. In Sims3 there's advanced makeup controls allowing you to add triple shaded plaster if you so wish.
Slightly wavy hair has improved as well, though not as lavish as the make up stuff. That makes sense as make up is just a texture, with alpha layer whereas hair means a mesh with alpha layers and a texture on top of that. Also, Electronic Arts wants you to buy additional hairstyles through their Sims3 Shop for Sim Points. Effectively the Sims3 avatars are by default of the same graphical quality as the best the modding community could do, except that of course the sims are back to being dress-dolls. I wonder how long that'll last. Still, there's a lot of ingenuity you can express through the available basics. To wit, my first download through the Exchange was a very good likeness of David Tennant's The Doctor. And yes, he got Lani pregnant before going of who knows where.

Clothing got a great upgrade. Default meshes can be customized using gray-scale textures and color palette choices on top of that. Up to 4 different colors can be used in a pattern, like a floral one on a dress for instance. Maybe you can go beyond that but I haven't seen that and I suspect that'd be too much, not for your system necessarily but for most people's ability to make tasteful color choices :-)
Sims 3 Dressing up has become very close to City of Heroes/Villains. better in several respects even. Though fans of that game will be disappointed by the short supply of spandex in Sims3, though there's plenty of shiny leathers and rubber.

The "Style" system, the combination of patterns and colors applies to everything in the game, from clothes to furniture to walls and is really awesome.. Flora and fauna is excempted for the most part. They must leave something for the expansions.
One thing that slightly disappointed me about Sim Creation was that the initial available number of sets was to my perception not much better than those of Sims 2. Certainly not any more imaginitive. The extensive customizing options do a lot to compensate though and I did get stuck for several hours tweaking my first sims every day, formal, sleeping, swimming and athletic wear. Another change is the loss of the somewhat confusing udnerwear/pajama's distinction of Sims 2 and the additionof hairstyles per wear-style. So my Lani sim has her hair up in formal attire and pillow hear in sleeping wear.

The SIM ilarities:
Huh huh, I made a funny. Most of the basic game elements remain the same:
  • Dress up dolls in Sim Creation and the change appearance / Plan outfit features.
  • Resource management game in trying to get a family through the day while keeping everyone well fed, well rested and in a good mood.
  • Juggling 'needs'. I.e. keeping your sims entertained, their stomachs full, their bladders empty e.t.c.
  • Dollhouse building with all the myriad styles for objects and architectural shenanigans.
  • Story telling through all the relational options there are. Though since all the Sims 2 mods don't work anymore there's no teen pregnancies anymore. I haven't found the all-present jacuzzi's from Sims2 yet.
  • Screenshot and movie sharing online. Not something I did much of with Sims2, but it's in 3 as well.
  • Creating and / or sharing user created plots, clothes, sims, furniture e.t.c. with other players.
Relearning to fly:
Gameplay is similar yet different enough from Sims2 that you're continuously being jarred out of old patterns that don't quite work anymore. I mean that in a good way by the way.
As advertised you no longer play on a single plot, though that is where most of the 'action' takes place. Your Sims will go to work and you can follow them there, though not inside most of the buildings. Community plots are visitable though and that works through a, on my system anyway, smooth zoom-in/out effect, which is rather important if you have more than one Sim in your household who's having an active work and social life as you'll be swishing to and fro between them, not from just the living room to the bedroom or bathroom, but from the bathroom to the Bookstore and an acquinatance's plot one of your Sims is visiting.

Other things that have changed is the goals for Sims3. Rather than the old professional Aspirations you now have Life-long wishes which are partially determined by Traits. Traits are personal attributes you get to pick. These range from "Light Sleeper" to "Flirty" to "Bookworm" and you can pick a lightly sleeping flirty bookworm who's a Workaholic as well. These traits affect how well you respond to things occurring in the simulation.

The old system of wishes and fears has been ousted for wishes and moods. Effectively fears have become invisible and are expressed as negative mood modifiers. Wishes are still selectable and targettable. In addition to these you have several equally invisible mood benefits from such things as well decorated rooms and a good night's rest. Dark, unclean environments give negative bonusses to your Sim's moods. Traits in turn effect how strongly your Mood is affected by this as well as give you additional options during conversations.

For instance a flirty Sim has more flirt options earlier into a relationship. A real shocker that. A Family Oriented person has more conversation options revolving around family and is less liable to become grumpy about having to get out of bed to feed the baby. Stuff like that. At first all those "invisible" mood modifiers seem negligible, but soon you learn that there's actually logic behind them and that they do matter.
It matters because Mood means Happiness and Happiness turns into Lifetime Happiness Rewards, which aren't the old placables for some reason but instead you get to buy additional Traits of a more definately beneficial streak.

Skills have been expanded to include things like fishing and gardening and so have the ways of acquiring them. Books play an important role in skill acquisition, as do other factors like thaving the tools, enough friends (Charisma) and other "stuff". The Careers have got a similar upgrade making being at work more involved with work-styles and Job Opportunities.
I haven't really plumbed all those options yet so I'll just mention them.

Missing with Bella Goth:
Some things are missing from the game as opposed to Sims 2.
You can't import SimCity 4 maps it seems. Which by extention implies there's no wholesale town building like you could try in Sims 2.
Also missing are a lot of the things that came in the Sims2 Expansions.
Though you can go out on the town, I don't think it's quite as expansive as Nightlife. I can't say for sure as I only ever bought the University expansion. Pets aren't in (yet) either and you can't choose to live in an appartment or go to college for all that I know. The Young Adult age class that appeared between teenager and adult with Sims2 University is still there though, so who knows.
P.s. Tip: Get a car before becoming pregnant. Women in labour should not be forced to bicycle to the hospital.

Sims3 feels more single household oriented to me. It's funny that even though in Sims3 you are no longer constricted to a single plot, or a lot of frequent plot-loading, the game doesn't let you switch between households easily either.
Where you'd spend minutes reloading Sims 2 plots because you were playing two sides of a developping romance that crossed households, it doesn't quite work that easily in Sims3. You have to go through an "Edit Town" mode and from there change your Active Family. This is accompanied by triple warning pop-ups that you will loose outstanding wishes and the like. That's mostly yadayadayada and stop bugging me with additonal mouseclicks put in to satisfy the lawyers, but since non active families actually remain active (i.e. keep going on the same timeline) you could potentially switch to a different household for a while and come back to a dramatically changed situation later. Personally I think that's great, but the whole path through "Edit Town" with a collection of bins that have copies of your households in them along with all the warnings do break immersion a bit.

The Money Grab:
One thing that was astounding about Sims2 was the sheer amount of user generated content created. Everything, from Sims to fully built mansions on plots to families to sexy lingery to skins (with all the bits) could be imported and exported from the game and shared through the Exchange and, more interestingly, other websites. Some peple even made good money selling their haute couture creations through pay-pall enabled sites.
So naturally EA decided that they wanted that pie. Not just a piece of it. So in addition to overcharging the European playerbase by 60% they instituted Sims Shop, where you can supplement the 20 something goofy default hairstyles provided with the game for your gender and age-group with more hairstyles, costing around 75 - 150 Simpoints each.
To be fair, you Get 1000 Points free to start with, which is the equivalent to either 6 Pounds Sterling or 6 Euro's, I forget which. A complete matching furniture set goes for $20,- and I have yet to see what kind of echange rate is used for Simpoints to Dollars and if EA persists in ripping of European mainlanders as they did with the box price.
I'm curious if in addition to this mkicro payment scheme in the trend of XBLA (which, in other news, will be dropping their simMicrosoft Points scheme in favor of local currencies soon) EA will be doing their Christmas Content Packs (around 25 euros as I recall) and expansions as well.
Something I do like about the Exhange is the free "sponsored" content like the Fanta Fridge in the picture. I have some Orange (Telecom company) t-shirts for instance.

User Created Content:
It'll be interesting to see whether EA will actively discourage third party "Exchanges" as they considered doing. Sims 2 should have tought them that their players by and large aren't that into localized Exchanges. They'll put up with the whole enforced local language based upon location rather than user preferences thing, but the bigger Sims2 cotnent sites that were more popular than the Exchange itself were single language, English, yet served the whole world. or that part of it which sunk time into Sims2 anyway.

You can bet these sites will sport "nude skins" like they did for Sims2 within a matter of months. A mod to remove the censor blocks on Sims when in the shower or on the john was out before the game was officially released.Personally I'm happy with the current look of the sims, I did use the censor removing mod, mainly because the censoring is annoyingly large and just plain childish giving what it hides. Nothing. I don't miss drawn-on nipples or penisses. They'll make their way into my game eventually through some downloaded user creation or other eventually. When they appear EA will be sure to jump on the media/press bandwagon to appease worried parents while knowing that such mods will boost sales a bit as well along with providing free publicity.

Home early

A real life story this time :)

I don't really know the real reason, but the last half year or so my commute home is usually very smooth. It rarely takes more than half an hour. I don't think the global recession hit London that hard that people have stopped driving cars. Probably some other routes got opened and they now avoid the A40. Whatever it is, I am not complaining. But yesterday it went all wrong.

I left work already a bit late-ish, around six o'clock. And within five minutes I got already stuck in a jam to reach the highway. I have been stuck there before so I didn't get worried yet. The queue slowly moved forward and eventually I reached the ramp to get on the highway. But it was blocked by the police. From my surprised dead end spot I had a nice view on a completely empty A40. I heard later on the radio there was a major accident a few miles towards where I wanted to be. I hope everybody involved will be ok. But it did mean I was in a fix. A normally very busy highway was completely empty in both directions. No wonder there was such a jam. Everybody trying to get into and out of London to the west was forced to take the local roads.

Normally the twisty local London roads are already congested, but now the traffic of a four lane highway is passing through. And to make things even worse the road I have to take passes through Southall. Southall is a suburb filled for 75% by Indians and 25% Somalians. It is a great place to wander around on a lazy afternoon. The main street is filled with great shops, restaurants and tiny arcade markets. But Indians are the worst drivers I have ever met. For some reason need to get with the car exactly to the place they have to be. No matter that they blocked themselves and the road, and it would be much faster if they let people pass, or park at the big parking two block down. No matter what time you get there the place is always a complete deadlock.

So imagine my joy. Fortunately I had my bag of Haribo Tangfastics and my White Stripes, CSS and TingTings cds. I tried to get into a fatalistic I'll get there eventually mode and joined the thousands of other drivers in the long queue. Since I had probably expected the worst in the end it was not all that horrible. I managed to make the 12 mile journey in less than two hours, and by eight o'clock I was already home. Pretty exhausted, but not as worked up as many of the other drivers that I saw on the road that day.

After saying hi to my sweetheart, kicking off my shoes, and making a cup of coffee I am having a look at my computer screen. It had a lovely steam pop-up window with a message from Lani reading "You are home early today :-)".

Monday, June 8

My first ale

Last Saturday I had my first visit to Kelstim's Tavern. Some of my friends had gone over for a drink, and they asked if I wanted to come too. So I decided to not be the usual party pooper and accepted their invitation. Although it was actually very easy to find, I still managed to get lost. One of them, Jena, actually had to come out and found me wandering nearby. Fortunately it was just drizzling a bit, so we didn't get too wet.

Once I made it inside the tavern the cheerfulness and warmth instantly got to me. Soon somebody went to get a new round of drinks. Almost everybody was drinking Kelstim's notorious ale. I couldn't stay behind and decided to try it as well. It would be my first ale, so I was not sure what to expect. It came in one of those big tankards I could barely lift. But after two cautious sips I realized it tasted quite good. So I took a few more gulps. The combination of friends around me, the warmth of the hearth, my still damp clothes made me quite hot and light headed. To cool off I quickly drank a couple of more huge gulps of my ale. But that didn't really help. I needed some fresh air.

I got some concerned looks and maybe somebody even asked me something while stumbled to the door. As soon as I got outside the cool hit me like something else, and I just managed to get away from the door before I dumped my stomach on the floor. After I emptied my entire lunch I poked my head back inside and got welcomed by a combination of concerned and smuck faces. I didn't really felt like sitting down anymore. Fortunately Jena's place was just two doors down and she was so kind to take me to her place where I could lie down on the spare bed. I think I was gone before my head hit the pillow.

When I woke up the next morning I felt horrible. But I managed to stand up and walk around. Fortunately there was nobody else home. I wrote a quick thank-you note and left my friend's house. The plan was to go to work. I tried to get something done, but my head was hurting too much. Not sure if I ever want to drink ale again.

Friday, June 5

The sky may be falling!

Not in a bad way though.
It appears that a Western version of Huxley has gone into honest-to-God actual Closed Beta.

I know this because they send me an invite over my Fileplanet Subscriber address.

I can tell you this because the "This Closed Beta is only for residents of the USA or Canada" message comes prior to any signing of NDA's in the sign-up process.
It would have been nice to be offered the option not to break the NDA and do some actual testing, but hey, I'll just go test Open Beta of Neo Steam instead then.

Thursday, June 4

Weird Wednesday Weenshots

During the weekend I can usually not find the time to post anything. On top of that I actually don't have that much screenshots to post anyway. So I am making it a Wednesday affair this once. For now.

(I tried to make the pictures show as 800x500, but they seemed to be cut off a bit. 600x500 maybe? So click on pictures for full view)

Leap of faith from New Targonor Castle.

Slaying some manticores by moonlight.

A last view of the Ksaravi Gulch. I hope all my rat killing helped the world somewhat.

I had almost bumped into this mysterious object.
Always a great feeling to see something new and unexpected.

All set for my next adventures.
With that riftstone at my back the world is at my mercy.

Wednesday, June 3

EA and the Dollar/Euro Simoleon exchange

A while ago I shared a blog entry by Tobold regarding Steam and other game distribution channels weird take on the Dollar / Euro exchange. I'll quote:
Over the last 365 days 1 Euro bought you between $1.25 and $1.60, with an average of $1.40. Thus if you could find suckers to which you could sell 1 Dollar for 1 Euro regularly over the last year, you made a 40% profit just from the exchange rate. But who would be willing to pay 1 Euro for 1 Dollar? Unfortunately all European customers ofSteam, as well as some other online game distribution services, as well as some MMOs, including Free Realms.
It's interesting to note that SOE has always allowed EU players access to the US servers and vice versa, while NCSoft prohibits this to avoid lawsuits by Eurpoeans over paying more for the same service (should they pay in Game Euros for access to US servers for which US Citizens pay substantially less).

I can only think of one reason why nearly every gaming company rips of European customers this way, because they can. Because they can get away with it. Because those European suckers are still going to buy the games. Because ever since the Euro got introduced those European bastards are illegally downloading more games than US citizens do and they had to pre-emptively raise prices to compensate. It's not like high prices increase priacy. The RIA and MPAA told us it doesn't and they should know.

Electronic Arts has figured they can go one better. They're trying to charge a Console game price for Sims 3:

59.99 Euros = 85.23 US Dollars

Because they think they can. I don't even think I'll play the game much. I spent hours with Sims2 making housing plots and checking out the mods community, but judging by the way things are set up this time round, the modding community is being forced underground as Sims3 is way more online. I fear it's going to be as lame and as much a waste of money as Spore was.
Incidentally, Spore and Mass Effect were put on Steam in a Spin Control action following the Spore SecuRom drm debacle as a lot of people pointed to Steam as an acceptable use of drm, not because they expected to actually sell much online as evidenced by the fact Mass Effect is actually a lot cheaper through EA's own digital store.

Anyway: Some prices and their real exchange rates:
  • Sims 3 Boxed retail in NL stores: 59.99 Euros = 85.23 US Dollars.
    At this point I decided NOT to buy this game.
  • Sims 3 Digital Download on Direct2Drive (country restrictions apply so Europeans can't purchase this game): 49.99 US Dollars = 35.19 Euros
  • Sims3 on : 39.99 British Pounds Sterling = 46.52 Euros (+P&P)
  • Sims3 Digital Download on EA Store Netherlands: 59.99 Euros = 59.99 Euros so hosting facilities for Digital Download cost as much as boxing the game and selling it to stores.
  • But wait, has a special offer for a mere 29.99 British Pounds Sterling = 34.88 Euros (+P&P)
Normally I'd much prefer a Digital Download version as the boxed version comes with a must-have-disc-in-drive lock along with whatever digital rights scheme EA slaps onto the game (in this case you need an online account e.t.c.) but if the box plus postage & packaging somes out 15 euros (21.31 US Dollars) cheaper than the boxed version (which may I add would try to force me to play this game in Dutch) I'll go with the boxed version.

Heck, Ordering the boxed version from Amazon in the US would still be about 10 Dollars cheaper than the EU boxed version and that's including import taxes on top of P&P.

You know, whenever you want to give EA a break and are willing to entertain the thought they've changed from the company that buys up talent then ruins it and tries to squeeze every last drop from their customers like there's no tomorrow....

Most people around me consider me nuts for legally owning every game I play and the same for DVDs. Schemes like these make me think they're right.