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Friday, August 29, 2014

Revert a KSP Save Game to Original Career Mode

On July 17, 2014 Squad released Kerbal Space Program: First Contract. This is the long anticipated career mode for KSP. This update added and entire new reality to KSP; one that is more unforgiving than the orbital mechanics the game replicates for us Earth-bound Kerbalnauts: money. Without money space exploration doesn't happen. To learn all about this update to an already great game just follow the link I provided in the first sentence of this post. The update is awesomely stellar. HA! :P

But the update also created a problem. You see, I've already put nearly 300 hours into KSP. I have done the missions and earned the science to unlock every technology in the game. I still have ongoing missions in fact. But when I checked in with the Kerbal Control Center, I discovered a horrible truth. I had no money (okay, 10,000 is some money but you can barely get Jebediah to orbit with that amount :( .) I could not launch anything because my save game was converted to a First Contract career mode game automatically. That doesn't work at all. I'd either have to start all over, or cheat.

I don't cheat. What's the point of playing a game if you have to cheat? Okay, some consider MechJeb a cheat, but I don't. It is a tool, nothing more. You still have to make all the decisions. Cheating is when you artificially give yourself trillions in funds so you can continue to launch rockets without having earned them. I earned the rockets. I just couldn't convince myself I'd earned the money, because I hadn't. I'd earned the science, but money didn't exist in the utopia that was Kerbin society prior to First Contract. I wanted to just go back to those simpler days.

Fortunately there is a way!

KSP is extremely moddable. Is that even a word? WHO CARES! There are literally thousands of mods for the game. All these mods are possible because the game tracks data via simple text files. Text files with structure. Text files you can alter without destroying the game. That includes your save game file.

The save game files are located under \saves in the Kerbal Space Program directory of your computer. I got KSP through Steam, so the install folder is under my \steamapps\common folder. Yours may be different. Just look in the games shortcut properties to figure out where your install folder is located. Once you get into \saves, you will see a folder for each game you've started. Look in the appropriate folder for the save game you wish to revert. It will be named persistent.sfs. MAKE A COPY OF IT JUST TO BE SAFE. Seriously, don't play with fire or you risk losing everything you've already accomplished. Once you have a good copy, open the original in a text editor (Notepad works great.)

The beginning of a modified pre First Contract save game will look like this:

[code language="xml" highlight="4,8"]
version = 0.23.5
Title = Mabrick (CAREER)
Description = No description available.
linkURL =
linkCaption =
Status = 1
scene = 5
flag = Squad/Flags/kerbinmunflag

Mode may be equal to 1. It appears to mean the same thing as CAREER. The first thing you do to convert your save file back to a pre First Contact state is to change the two occurrences of CAREER (highlighted) to SCIENCE_SANDBOX. SCIENCE_SANDBOX is the mode that replicates KSP's previous career mode. The other Mode option is SANDBOX. That gives you all technologies without making you earn them. Start a new game if you want to go that route. It's less like cheating. ;) Don't worry about the version number as this will automatically update when you open the saved game in KSP.

But wait! You are not done. If you've done as much in KSP as I have, below this header section are pages and pages of other information. There are many different sections. There are sections titled PARAMETERS, SCENARIO, FLIGHTSTATE, ROSTER and MESSAGESYSTEM, and more sub-sections than I care to list. However, you will need to find several specific SCENARIO sub-sections so get your CTRL-F (or whatever shortcut to search you have) and get ready.

Search for the term "Funding" in your save file. You should locate a SCENARIO that looks like this:

[code language="xml"]
name = Funding
scene = 7, 8, 5, 6, 9
funds = 10000

Comment this entire section out by placing a comma in front of every line, including any leading spaces. Now do the same thing for the SCENARIO sub sections named "ContractSystem", "VesselRecovery" and "Reputation". The "ContractSystem" section my be quite large; mine was. Just stick with it and put a comma in front of every line. It's a pain, but the commas are a safeguard to keep you from deleting anything you shouldn't by accident. Once you are done with all the commas, save the file.

Now you can open the save game in KSP and it will be using the old career mode. You need to go into your tech tree at this point and make certain to repurchase any technology that is not active. Most of my RCS thrusters were unavailable because the items were changed in the update. This is the same as happens when you add any mod to the game that comes with new tech that is in a group you've already researched. You need to go back to that group and activate the new equipment. Once that is done, you should be able to launch any rocket you've saved without being told you have insufficient funds. Enjoy!

Oh, one more thing. If you go look at the save file after you close the game, you will see all the sections you commented out are now gone. The game evidently removes "junk" lines in the file. So deleting those sections would work too. Nevertheless, it is far safer to allow the game to do this than to do it yourself and risk corruption. Right? Well, I think so. YMMV.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

AC4: Unmanned - Part 2

After silencing the alarm bells and making my way to the front gate of the plantation house, it was time to locate Prins and rescue the Sage. The tricky part would be getting through the front gates. Luckily my recently unmanned  cohort, "James" Kidd, had it covered. Too bad she didn't keep it that way.

*** SPOILER ALERT – This video reveals major elements of a quest. Do not watch if you want to keep it a surprise! ***


Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Twitch is Dead. Long Live Twitch!

The rumors of a buyout have been ongoing for months. Google was going to buy Twitch out, and that made people both apprehensive and hopeful - in that order. Hardly a month ago VentureBeat loudly proclaimed, "Google’s $1B purchase of Twitch confirmed," a story they have since had to modify. You know, the more you commit the harder you fall. That one really had to hurt!

When the announcement came out, it was Amazon, not Google, that got the prize. And there are some really good reasons for this. I have no doubt Google would have had to fight an uphill antitrust battle if they'd acquired Twitch. It would have been long, expensive, and in the end I feel they would have lost. YouTube really is all that and a hill of beans. Having the amazingly popular YouTube franchise AND the premier streaming franchise (though I actually think Google has the better technical streaming platform) would have been too much for the world to stomach. The U.S, might have let that slide, but the E.U. would have raised holy hell about it. I think you could take that to the bank.

So faced with a one billion dollar price tag, and an unknown dollar figure for litigation, Google just couldn't do it. Frankly, it was the right move on Google's part. They can still get a chunk of the advertisement revenue if they play their cards right, and they don't have to spend much money to do it. And they still have YouTube. So long as they maintain the upload link between Twitch and YouTube they should be fine.

And that's probably where the trouble will start. I think Twitch's move to restrict the length of time videos were retained was a technology issue. They just didn't have the capital necessary to purchase that sort of cloud infrastructure. Google makes their own. Their cost of ownership is really low compared to what Twitch would have had to pay. In the end, Twitch needed YouTube to shore up that weakness. By allowing Twitch users unfettered access to YouTube uploads, they kept the unhappiness generated by their no archives announcement from becoming a riot. And believe me, it would have been a riot if all those streams had just disappeared.

But do you know who probably has more cloud chutzpah than Google? Yeah, that's right: Amazon. I read this week an article about Microsoft moving their business flow to Azure by 2018. In that article it was stated Amazon moved its business flow to EC2 and Amazon Web Services since November 2011. That's a lot of confidence in one's product. And I don't think I'll get any argument when I say Amazon gets the cloud better than Google or Microsoft. I might get some argument if I said they understand it better than anyone, but it'd be a hell of an argument.

So what's to keep Twitch tied to YouTube now? Absolutely nothing. Amazon can supply Twitch all the storage they need.

And you know what else Amazon can provide? Connection points. Twitch has two West Coast U.S. portals. You can find a complete list of ingest servers here. One is in Los Angeles and the other in San Francisco. When the earthquake hit Napa this last week, getting to either of those two servers from the Pacific Northwest wasn't happening. The nearest server after those two is Dallas, Texas and the lag makes it simply unusable. I had this straight from the mouth of my favorite bar keep and Twitch streamer Shatteredhip. Check out his stream!

If Twitch is to grow, they MUST address this lack of ingest servers. Amazon is their key to that road block. They need at least one ingest server in the largest city of every state in the U.S. and country in the E.U. That's a minimum in my opinion. They should at least have an ingest server in Seattle, Washington for gods sake. That they don't have one speaks to how tough it was for Twitch to expand without this buyout. Now I predict with much confidence that things will get better.

Now, it Twitch could just get Amazon to help them figure out the freezing issue with Flash, I would be a much happier Twitch viewer. Oh, and get rid of that ridiculous top 300 site limit on your apps (Xbox and otherwise.) If you really are all about all the streamers, why to you only download the top 300 to your apps? We deserve better than that.

But you know, I still watch Twitch on my laptop (the desktop has the freezing issue,) and on my Xbox and on my smart phone (Wifi only ;-) .) I watch it all the time. It's better than reality T.V. or ESPN. And now it will be around for a very, very long time. Hooray!

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

AC4: Unmanned - Part 1

After following Prins and Torres, fighting off the guards when Prins made us, and then chasing James Kidd down to prevent him from doing anything foolish, like killing Prins before we located the Sage, I met Kidd on the roof of the Kingston windmill. Kidd had located the Sage. He was being held on a plantation easily observable from the top of the windmill. The plantation was heavily guarded. That was no surprise. What Kidd did next was!

*** SPOILER ALERT – This video reveals major elements of a quest. Do not watch if you want to keep it a surprise! ***


Monday, August 25, 2014

Weekend Catch Up

I did something on Saturday I don't often do. I went to the theater and saw a movie. There's a reason I don't often go to movies. I don't like going alone. If something is worth doing, it's worth doing with another person who also likes what you're doing. I mean, what's the point of watching an awesome movie on a big screen if you can't turn to a friend and say, "Wow, that was incredible!" and then have a fifteen minute discussion of the film's best and worst moments. I know you know what I'm on about. It's the same reason we create gaming communities. It may be fun to go it alone, but it is so much more fun when you've got friends along for the ride.

Anyway, with the current state of the movie theater industry and the fact many people will just go to Redbox or Netflix, it's difficult to find someone willing to shell out $10 (or more) to see a movie in an almost clean theater. But fortunately I have one such friend. And this weekend he invited me to see a movie, his treat. How could I say no? Who cares that it was a genre I wouldn't normally pick to go see. Besides, I figured I could use it as leverage to get him into the theater to watch a genre he doesn't normally watch.

Wow, I couldn't have been more wrong about this genre. He bribed me into seeing Sin City: A Dame to Kill For. Imaging that, I needed a bribe to go see that cast in action. And don't even get me started on the cinematography. I ate it up. I actually do like noir, but hate it when it's done for-crap cheesy. I'll just be straight with you and say I don't really do comics for that reason. My reading ventures as a young adult tended to require more substantial fare than the comics available when I was young. But somewhere along the way comics grew up and I sort of missed it. This movie certainly wasn't what I expected - it was a very pleasant surprise. When it was over I turned to my friend and said, "Thank you, that was awesome." And he said, "Yeah, but the first one was better." I've already added Sin City to my watch list. 8-)

Of course I played computer games this weekend too. I woke up somewhat early Saturday morning and put in about four hours on Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag. I finally cracked the 50% synchronization mark. Whoohoo! That only took how many months? Look, I never claimed to be a fast gamer. Like reading a good book, I like to take my time and enjoy all the goodness. I took care of some odds and ends; completing some smaller locations so they'd be yellow on the map. My OCD demands that of me. :P Come to think about it, my OCD is part of the reason I look into every nook and cranny a game has to offer. Hey, a bright side to OCD! Who knew? But back to AC4, I also added another Man-o-War to Kenway's Fleet and bought a diving bell to go for my first underwater jaunt. I haven't died to a shark yet. :) I also did this; the comment will explain.

[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="1920"]Ahab, I have avenged thee! Ahab, I have avenged thee![/caption]

I also spent three hours on Landmark Sunday evening. I had a nice chat with Landron, who left a nice screenshot of his having breakfast at my house here. So here's the really insidious thing about Landmark. You'd think I got a lot accomplished in three hours. And I did, but it looks like so little. I spent the entire three hours working on two so-called small things. I have a staircase in my house going up to the top floor. On one side there is a banister made of polished sandstone. On the other is a glass and stone wall. The staircase looks just fine as a staircase, but the zig-zag diagonal that was the banister and the intersection of stone and glass were very noobish looking. So I spent the entire three hours smoothing them out to be flat and straight, yet still angled. I was especially pleased with the way the outside wall looked when I got done! And if you look through the glass wall, you can see the banister I worked on as well - just understand glass that thick (and I like it that thick) distorts the beauty of that banister somewhat. ;)

[caption id="attachment_3501" align="aligncenter" width="1400"]Smooth Angles Smooth Angles[/caption]

And in between those two I played a few hours of SimCity in offline mode. It was a city I'd started back in later July while at Faeriesworld, and have been steadily improving upon whenever I had a chance. Except last week I had no chance. The power adapter on my ASUS ROG G55V failed and I had to order a replacement. That took five days to complete including the entire weekend before last. So I was Jonesing a little to get back to my city. I was at the stage where I needed to take it from an oil based economy using an oil burning power plant, to an electronics based economy making microprocessors from recycled waste and a nuclear power plant for power generation. I went to far as to research the fast neutron reactor so I could get 800 megawatts of power out of just one upgrade. It worked out very well and I was never in danger of running out of money or power. Here's where the game stood as of yesterday about 11 AM.

[caption id="attachment_3499" align="aligncenter" width="1400"]North Wākea North Wākea[/caption]

My city population is about 250,000 mostly happy Sims (eight out of ten) and I've about three million simoleons in the bank. I've street cars and shuttles, plenty of clean water and a vibrant high-tech industrial base. Next stop, metropolis! I've avoided the Maxis Man/Doctor Vu game in favor of a more traditional approach. Crime and fires were an issue for a while, but since switching to the global sale of microprocessors, I've been able to upgrade police and fire protection to record deficit levels! I know it sounds crazy, but I currently operate at 9000 simoleon a day deficit but still make three-quarters of a million simoleons profit every month. I love this country!

And that's my weekend in a blog post. Now, if I could just muster enough gumption to do something truly productive... naaaaah. Where's the fun in that?



Friday, August 22, 2014

Civilization: Beyond Earth - Game Setup

Yesterday Firaxis broadcast an hour-long presentation on the current state of Civilization: Beyond Earth (CivBE.) Most of the presentation was spent covering how a new game of CivBE is set up, and discussing the various start-up options. I am impressed with how CivBE handles the initial conditions for beginning a game. In historical Civilization games, you simply selected a leader and a map, and that determined all the initial start-up conditions and subsequent perks your civilization would ever get. If you picked Otto von Bismark you played the Germans with a military advantage. If you picked Gandhi, culture and peace is your road to victory. Each leader prompts a particular play style, and there are a finite number of them. It proved to be a limiting factor in Civ5 playability. There were only so many set starting points.

In CivBE, there are still a finite number of starting points, but gone are the days of picking just one preset leader from a short list. CivBE starts with choosing one of eight sponsors, the organization footing the bill for your interplanetary spacecraft. These sponsors provide certain inherent bonuses as listed below. Selection then proceeds to selecting one of five colonist specializations. These provide more civilization wide bonuses. The next choice is what type of spacecraft they will use. These spacecraft give a colony founding bonus, some of which last and others don't. They all seem aimed at giving your first city a particular advantage though. And finally, you get to pick a specific cargo the colonists will take beyond the basic survival package. Cargo provides a specific starting advantage to your first city.

[caption id="attachment_3484" align="aligncenter" width="1086"]CivBE - Start Options CivBE - Start Options[/caption]

The game retains the food, production and culture concepts for civilizations from Civ5, but replaces money with energy. However, energy still functions the way money functioned in Civ5, providing the commerce aspect of the game. There is one addition that is different. Cities now appear to have a health rating and this affects whether they get a pre-set bonus or not (and I'm certain other things as well.) Whether this is a direct replacement for happiness I don't know. I've not read or heard that anywhere, but it seems right. If anyone knows for certain please link in the comments. And what's that about orbital units? Looks like a new dimension of play to me. ;-)

Overall, I like this game setup system much more than Civ5. In Civ5 there are 43 leaders total including all expansions and downloadable content. In Civilization: Beyond Earth there are way more than that. Just multiply all the options together to get the total number of possible results: 8 x 5 x 5 x 5 = 1000. That's ONE THOUSAND possible starting conditions. Just thinking of it makes me drool a little, and I haven't even taken planet selection (the same as map selection in Civ5) into account yet.

Yowser! :D

So, for start-up variability in CivBE, Firaxis gets two thumbs up. This game just keeps looking better and better to me. I foresee many a cloistered winter weekend spent fending off aliens and human competitors alike.

And for those who would like to watch the entire presentation (and I recommend you do!,) here is the YouTube video of the broadcast. Good stuff!


Wednesday, August 20, 2014

AC4: Traveling Salesman

After taking the Great Inagua as my base of operations, I sailed for the Yucatan where I met James Kidd to learn more about The Sage. It was in the Mayan ruins there I learned The Sage is more than just a man. The Sage has existed for a very, very long time - or at least knowledge of him has, for I found his likeness carved into stone within those ruins far more ancient than me, or Kidd or any man alive.

After that experience, I was even more determined to locate The Sage. We took a fort on the southeast coast of Cuba and captured the Spanish Governor Torres. He told us he knew were the sage was - Kingston. I... convinced... him to assist us in liberating The Sage from a man named Prins. He agreed, finding the only other option, death, to be disagreeable.

So we sailed for Kingston. Here's how Torres' meeting with Prins went.

*** SPOILER ALERT - This video reveals major elements of a quest. Do not watch if you want to keep it a surprise! ***


Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Neptune's Brood by Charles Stross

[caption id="" align="alignright" width="148"]Neptune's Brood by Charles Stross Neptune's Brood by Charles Stross[/caption]

Neptune’s Brood is a 2014 Hugo Award nominated Space Opera by Charles Stross, a full-time science fiction writer living in Edinburgh. It was published by Little, Brown Book Group Limited, 2014; sold under ISBN 0356501000 and 978-0356501000. It is 325 pages long and the unabridged audio book is 35 seconds over twelve hours long. Here is a brief summary of the book.

She was looking for her missing sister, and en route she discovered the nature of the largest fraud ever perpetrated: the Atlantis Carnet. More importantly, she discovered what it means to truly be free. Krina Alizond-114 is a meta-human in a galaxy where the last natural humans went extinct millennia ago. She’s smarter, better adapted to living among the stars, and infinitely more patient than the humans from whom she is patterned. That doesn't mean she has all the time in the universe. Time is running out, and she soon realizes how little she has left, unless she takes previously unthinkable measures – providing she isn’t murdered first.

Monday, August 18, 2014

AC4: Upton's Sorrow and Queen of Pirates, King of Fools

And now, the conclusion of the Nassau Templar Hunt of which you saw part one and part two last week. Enjoy!

*** SPOILER ALERT*** -- This video reveals major elements of a quest. Do not watch if you want to keep it a surprise! ***


Sunday, August 17, 2014

PvP Coming to Landmark August 27, 2014

At the SOELive event in Las Vagas last week, Dave Georgeson, Director of Development for the EverQuest Franchise, announced the addition of PvP into Landmark on August 27, 2014. This will include player damage and death in all things, not just combat. PvP will be determined on a claim by claim basis. The claim owner will set a flag to enable PvP on her claim - or not. Embrace the concept of and? That's an interesting way to handle the question of PvP or no PvP. You could actually be PvP one day and PvE only the next. Does that fit the PvP anywhere mantra some gamers want in a sandbox game, while allowing those who don't want to participate to simply avoid PvP enabled claims? I'll have to experience it myself after the update on the 27th, but yeah, I think it will. :)

Players will start with three craftable weapon types: a sword, a bow and a staff. There will be various qualities that will make some weapons better than others, as well as Legendary items only found in treasure chests. There will also be landmines, LOL. The idea behind  PvP it seems is that players will build their own PvP battlefields just like they do buildings now. Players will create the battlefields just like everything else in Landmark. It looks like it'll be a bit like Unreal Tournament with the "maps" being built on PvP enabled claims. At first there will be Capture and Hold, Death Match and Team Death Match. These will be controlled by a player craftable and placed Gaming Table. There are respawn point props players can put down, as well as control point props for the Capture and Hold game. It'll all be player created and controlled. Yeah, I know, I keep saying that. I'm a bit gobsmacked by the possibilities, so please excuse my repetition. Have you ever been in a MMO where the PvP experience is ENTIRELY controlled by the players? It's practically perfect consensual PvP.

But wait, there's more. At 29 minutes into the video Dave Georgeson says,

"And there's still more coming than that, because when we introduce monsters we are also going to give you the AI editing tools, and beyond that we'll be building out the really robust set of game mastering tools so that you can start building scenarios and making your dreams truly come to life."

Mind blown. o_O

PvP isn't the only thing coming on August 27th. There will be teleporter, flinger and moving platform props introduced into the game as well. Those look like they could be a lot of fun!

In the weeks that follow, the Landmark team will be adding PvE in the form of monsters. "The deeper you go, the more dangerous it gets," is how Dave Georgeson put it. That'll certainly make resource gathering trickier. Explorers beware! :twisted:

I am pleasantly pleased with the whole concept of Landmark, even more than I was before. I've been steadily building my claim. It's been awhile since I posted any screenshots, so I took one of my cozy little home Sunday morning after taking care of my claim maintenance and building some enhancements. It's coming right along. :P

[caption id="attachment_3434" align="aligncenter" width="1400"]Home Sweet Home in Landmark Home Sweet Home in Landmark[/caption]

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Assassin's Creed V: Unity Teaser

Not long ago I mentioned how awesome it would be if Ubisoft faithfully recreated late 18th century Paris for their next Assassin's Creed game set in Paris during the French Revolution. OMG, I think Ubisoft heard me. That's the inside of Notre-Dame Cathedral! :D

October 28th can't come fast enough.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Is TESO Really Just Star Trek Online in Armor?

Let's start this by defining how Star Trek Online (STO) is viewed by reviewers and gamers. If you look up STO on, you will see the metascore for STO is 66 out of 100 and the user score is 6.2 out of 10. If you look at the critic reviews, you'll see there are ten positive reviews, 21 mixed and 3 negative. Most reviews site lack of content and repetition as the main faults of STO. Here are some of the better known reviewers' comments.

IGN - 68
A smattering of memorable moments in 50+ hours of game time simply isn’t good enough for me to be able to recommend Star Trek Online to MMO fans. It’s quite a gorgeous game, but that novelty evaporates, and what’s left is repetitive, and simple in all the wrong parts.

GameSpy - 40
Trek fans are meant to salivate at the sights and sounds of their favorite universe made manifest, like a dog hearing the chime of a chow bell. And publisher Atari is banking on the hope that -- like Pavlov's pups -- consumers will be content with the same ol' kibble day after day. The result is a shallow, poorly paced, and repetitive game that, divorced from its storied source material, wouldn't warrant a second look.

Even the best of user reviews of the game reinforce the niche market appeal of the game (emphasis mine.)

Woody309 - Feb 3, 2012 - 10
I tried STO during release and left less than a month into the game. It was horrible. When the recent change to a free to play model was announced, I was curious as to what changes had been made. I reactivated my account and gave it a try. I was pleasantly surprised at all the changes to the space missions and especially the ground missions. Space combat in STO is the strongest appeal the game has. It is unlikely that STO will ever be a mainstream game, but if you are a Star Trek fan, then you should really enjoy STO at this point.

capt_w - Apr 28, 2012 - 8
Won't give the game a perfect 10, but she does deserve some credit. I've played this game since Open Beta, I've seen a variety of bugs since then. Yes the game still has many, but none as bad as they were in the P2P days. Game play is repetitive, PvP has no reward of it's own the game relies heavily on the STF in the End Game content. Micro transaction seem to be their philosophy since most end game content is in the C-Store, also some lower level content as well. The Klingon faction is weak in their content only a few missions to play as them. Would have to say my favorite part of the game is the Character/Ship Customization. You can also mix and mingle classes and rolls in the game on the fly in ground combat.

Admittedly, those are all old reviews. But here is the latest positive review of STO by a player (emphasis mine.)

tagos - Jun 19, 2014 - 8
I tired this when it first came out and it didn't click. Recently gave the FTP version a try because it had a new tutorial and really liked what I found. And what I found was a very polished game with lots to do, lots to learn and lots to explore.

I don't care if it's 'Pay To Win' (not that anyone seems able to explain what people are actually 'winning'). What other people do with their money is their own business. You don't need to spend anything to have a perfectly fine time.

Ships are very customisable through equipment and crew, combat is akin to a 3 dimensional Starfleet Command, which works just fine for me.

The galaxy has a real feel of 'everything falling apart at the seams' and the Federation bringing back into service anything that can mount a warp nacelle.

Even though i'm only a humble Lieutenant I've swept systems clean of Klingons engaged in impromptu fleet actions against The Borg and all sorts of good trekkie stuff. All in all I'm having a fine time and without it costing anything.

If you're a Trek fan then you've nothing to lose by putting an evening aside to play the tutorial and a couple of mission.

"If you're a Trek fan." That seems to sum up the main appeal of STO. And there is nothing wrong with that. I am a Trekkie, and space based MMOs definitely appeal to me. I believe that was the whole point behind the game. There is a known audience and Atari made a conscious decision to appeal to that audience. After all, it doesn't have Star Trek in the name by accident. I think it's fair to summarize STO as a successful niche MMO, but it will never be huge.

Knowing this, let's look at The Elder Scrolls Online (TESO) in the same light. I am an Elder Scrolls Fan. I am not the biggest Elder Scrolls fan, but I am enough of one that I paid for an Imperial edition to play TESO early. There are many who did. Some left, but many stayed like I did. And I've enjoyed my time playing TESO. But for all I support the game, and appreciate the uniqueness of it, I also admit it has serious flaws. Those flaws have caused a lot of people to move on - players who are not so enamored with The Elder Scrolls in general.

In fact, when I look at the first six month's of STO's life and compare it to TESO's, I find there are many similarities. The games were both seen as flawed at launch; not ready for prime time. The developer worked diligently to correct the flaws in the game, all the while firmly stating how great it will be. Neither developer talks about subscription numbers because they are concentrating on more important things. Yes, it is all very similar to my way of thinking.

So now it's time to address the elephant in the room. Will TESO do what STO did and go free to play (F2P?) You know, only time will really tell. There are many people predicting it will. There are many who say it will not. Both sides make good points about why it will, or will not, go F2P. Personally I don't really care. I pay or I don't pay for a game because it's what I want to do, not because I think it might become free in the future. I am way to much into instant gratification to play that game. This question interests me in a different way, and I think all those who are saying it will or won't because of their various reasons miss the boat completely. I think the answer, when it comes, will have been based on a much more complicated thought process than most realize, and will provide substantial evidence to a suspicion I have about the future of the MMO genre.

I think most of us MMO players understand there is a general malaise in the genre at the moment. There was World of Warcraft (WoW,) and nothing since then has been great. We've held every MMO that's launched afterwards up to the glory that is WoW and found them wanting. Some far thinkers in the gaming industry review circles have even predicted it may be the beginning of the end for the MMO.

Don't be so shallow. Game developers and publishers are smart people. They run a business, and it is as much a wholesale industry as an entertainment industry. Developers write the games, but they write the games for which publishers will pay. So let's remove the developer from the thought process here, because it's not as much about what players want as what publishers think they can make a profit selling. The important thing to consider is how the publishers are leaning.

I want to give you an example of what one publishing industry did when a single product became so overwhelmingly popular it left no room in the Best Sellers list for anyone else. That's what happened when Harry Potter made the scene. There was a point when there were so many Harry Potter books crowding the famous New York Times Best Sellers list, they created a new list just so they could move the Harry Potter books onto it. That's the Harry Potter Effect™. You see, the New York times has an obligation to the publishing companies to market the books the publishing companies feel generate the most income. That adds a positive modifier to the sales of those books, and has a chance to make a book go viral - to use an Internet term. Never forget, they are best sellers because they are best marketed, not because the are the best written (there's your writer's secret of the day.) And though the Harry Potter series sold copies in spades, it also deprived the other publishing companies of an opportunity to market their best sellers. Those other companies complained to the New York times and the New York Times did something about it. Now there are many Best Sellers lists, organized by genre, and making all the publishers happier.

There is no direct analogy to game publishing in this, except that WoW is like the Harry Potter series in that it prevents other publishers from gaining sales on within the MMO market. But unlike the book publishing industry, there is no easy way to segregate MMOs from other MMOs using simple lists. The marketing necessary for a computer game is substantially different from the marketing needed for best sellers, so MMOs all compete on the same playing field.

This is something MMO publishers understand all too well. It's not an epiphany on my part to be certain. Knowing about the issue though, and coming up with a way to work around it, are two different things. It may be smart to understand that WoW colors the perception of every follow on MMO in a negative way, but it requires a level of magnitude higher understanding of market dynamics to figure our how to get around the Harry Potter Effect™. That's were The Niche™ comes into play. The Niche™ is a smaller subset of the overall MMO market where a game can out compete any other MMO not designed for that subset. Let's look at another analogy to understand The Niche™.

It's one of the oldest evolutionary "tricks" in the fossil record. Species specialize to survive in a very crowded world. By having the longest neck, or being able to eat poisonous eucalyptus leaves, or eating bamboo leaves no other animal likes, Giraffes, Koalas and Pandas survive in a world where they might otherwise have gone extinct. And that is where I believe the MMO genre is going. The Lord of the Rings Online survives in The Niche™. TSO obviously exists in The Niche™. I believe TESO will as well. By placing their games in The Niche™, publishers can avoid comparisons to WoW that always come up negative, and rely on a player base not so much interested in playing the best MMO on the market, as buying into The Experience™. I freely admit The Experience™ is what motivates me to play TESO, not it's less than perfect MMO game play.

Yes, there is an obvious problem with knowingly putting a game into The Niche™. It limits the number of players a game will ever have. But this is not the game killing problem most gamers seem to think it is. That's WoW thinking and it's wrong. The biggest killer of any business, game industry or not, is not knowing how much the business will earn. When a business doesn't know its earning potential, it can't set it's budget. If the budget is wrong, and the business over spends, bankruptcy often follows. It is not lack of sales and therefore an inability to earn money that kills most businesses, but an inability to keep costs within earnings.

By placing a game in The Niche™, publishers can actually get a pretty good read on potential income. The mathematics called statistics is a powerful tool. If Target can figure out a woman is pregnant from her buying history, the game industry can figure our how many people will likely play a particular game based on past data. With that number in hand, everything else is a simple matter of math and planning.

To show you what I mean, let's look at the question of whether TESO will become F2P again. I don't know anything confidential about this decision, but I can guarantee you the decision has already been made. It was probably made by Bethesda before launch day and it's a conditional decision.

Bethesda knows how popular The Elder Scrolls series is. They know how many gamers like to play MMOs. They know how many like sword and sorcery games with a medieval theme. They likely know much more than that. From all those numbers, they can get a really good idea of how many people will play TESO, and thus how much money that will generate.

Bethesda also knows how much it spent to publish the game, and what the ongoing costs of running it will be.

The answer to whether TESO will go F2P or not depends entirely on whether Bethesda will be able to pay off development costs and earn enough money through micro-transactions (P2W or otherwise) to pay the operational overhead of keeping the game running. Oh, and of course there will need to be a net profit that goes to Bethesda (Zenimax costs are part of the operational overhead.) I view the box fee as a means to pay off the development costs of the game. It's a one time charge leveled against a sunk cost. That goes a long way toward wiping out the red ink that accumulates during a game's development. The current subscription plan helps pay for the extra operational overhead associated with a new game. After all, TESO did peak at #5 on the Raptr monthly list and all those players require more overhead to service. And now to the decision point. If player numbers match out at point where micro-transactions can cover the operational costs of running the game, TESO will go F2P. However, before Bethesda can pull the trigger on that final decision, it needs to know TESO can actually generate enough income via micro-transactions. That has as much to do with how micro-transactions are implemented as in the spending habits of the players. It's an unknown Zenimax will have to generate a proof of concept on, or TESO will remain subscription based. If Zenimax succeeds, TESO will become STO in armor. And as I look at this more deeply, I hope Zenimax does succeed in creating a micro-transaction model that works. The game is probably more likely to fail entirely if they don't, but that's a whole different blog post. This one is already long enough. Cheers!

Thursday, August 14, 2014

AC4: The Other Brother

After discovering Brother Vance had enlisted me to kill Brother Upton, the actual head of the Templars on Nassau, I was very confused. Brother Upton clarified the situation for me. However, he felt he could work things out with his treacherous sibling, though he no longer completely trusted him. So he asked me to act as his bodyguard. Here's how the those discussions went.

*** SPOILER ALERT -- This video reveals major elements of a quest. Do not watch if you want to keep it a surprise! ***


Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Raptr Most Played PC Games: July 2014

Raptr has published their most played PC games of July 2014, and the news is not good for Zenimax. The Elder Scrolls Online has dropped out of the race. Considering all the bad press it received that doesn't really surprise me. But more on that in a moment. First, the official list!

[caption id="" align="alignleft" width="550"]Raptr's Most Played PC Games - July 2014 Raptr's Most Played PC Games - July 2014[/caption]

The top three are no surprise. The most popular multiplayer online battle arena (MOBA) game on the planet retains its number one ranking. It even managed to add nearly a full percentage point to its share. That also isn't really surprising as regional qualifiers are just around the corner (and some already begun.) Practice makes perfect, right?

I can make a similar statement about DOTA 2. It had a rise of just over a half percentage during a month that saw the completion of the 2014 International Championship, the biggest DOTA 2 championship in history. Congratulations to Newbee, the 2014 International DOTA 2 grand champions! Well played gentlemen. Your hard work and investment in your chosen MOBA paid off handsomely.

Even World of Warcraft managed to eek out a slight rise in playing share. This in the same month when WoW subscriptions hit their lowest point since the third quarter of 2006. Blizzard claims the loss 800,000 subscribers during their last quarter is seasonal. It is true that gameplay decreases for most MMOs during the Northern Hemisphere summer. I doubt that completely explains such a large drop in subscriptions. That's more than a ten percent drop, and makes the slight bump in subscriptions WoW for Mists of Pandaria look positively anemic. When you look at the graph, all Pandaria seems to have done is moderate a slide in subscriptions that was becoming an avalanche; resetting subscription numbers by six months only. I doubt Warlords of Draenor will do much more for WoW, and the moderate slide will continue.

The next game that raised my eyebrows was Smite. It rose 14 places to capture the number ten spot. That's three MOBAs in the top ten now, all free to play (F2P.) But I don't think the F2P status of the game is the real contributor to the hours spent playing the games. I think it's the allure of professional competition. And I don't mean the thrill of victory. I mean the thrill of cold, hard cash. I see this all the time in the blogging community. If you have 5000 readers/viewers, you can make substantial bank from monetizing your site. If you play a MOBA long enough, you might just be able to qualify for a tournament paying out millions to the winners. MOBA game play is highly incentivized in this manner. Players dream of making huge bank, and seeming to have no barrier to entry feeds that dream.

I've always found it somewhat naïve of gamers to point at F2P as the future of online gaming in general because MOBAs have been so successful at it. They point at LoL and assume LoL is similar to every other game. It isn't. What they totally miss is that the MOBA business model works best under F2P because it lowers the barrier to entry to nothing. It leads everyone to believe they can be part of the next team Newbee and win that million dollar jackpot. Tournament oriented games leverage the promise if you become good enough you can earn a living. But to become good enough you have to invest in training yourself. That means you have to spend money to get the most out of every minute you practice, and until you hit the big time that all comes our of your own pocket. Nevertheless people pay, and pay, and pay, hoping one day to be good enough to win a million dollars. That's how MOBAs make money - that and advertising. ;-) They are not selling the game, they are selling the dream™.

This also seems to me to be the mechanism in games like Minecraft and Landmark. However, in those games it's not the big cash payout that is the dream™. It is the dream of becoming Internet famous. If you can just build that really incredible thing, then everyone will acknowledge your godlike skills with voxels, and you will become Internet famous. And deservedly so I would add. I've seen some things built-in Landmark that are just freaking incredible. They are works of virtual art, and SOE seems to be taking great strides to insure the really talented player/creators get their showcase and their Internet fame. SOE also has a market where these newly famous virtual artisans can sell their virtual wares for real money, minus a "modest" commission of course. ;-) SOE does this because they understand the only reason people want to become Internet famous is so they can monetize their online activities. It's just another perturbation of the dream™. Just look at all the bloggers and vloggers who have gone that route. PewDiePie is estimated to make $4,000,000 a year from his YouTube site. That's some really strong motivation to make oneself Internet famous isn't it? And for those of us who are too introverted to act like PewDiePie in front of a camera (that's what really got him Internet famous BTW, not his expert cough, cough gameplay,) creating cool virtual goods from voxels is a good alternative. The dream™ can still be sold on that premise.

But can you sell the dream™ with an RPG game? If you can't sell the dream™, forget the F2P model. Many genres don't have a dream to sell. RPGs are a good example. Let's look at The Elder Scrolls specifically. If you look at the chart, you'll see Skyrim climbed from 19th position to 14th. I attribute that to Elder Scrolls lovers giving up on The Elder Scrolls Online and going back to the boxed game. MMO mechanics just aren't working well for The Elder Scrolls. The essence of what makes RPGs like Skyrim so compelling can only really be achieved the old-fashioned way: create the game as a self-enclosed (boxed) ecosystem and then sell the experience™ at a one time cost. The experience™ is what the Elder Scrolls sell, not the dream™. The same can be said for the Assassin's Creed series, or Far Cry, or almost any other MMO you care to name. Many RPG titles are just not MMO suitable games. The complexity of the game, the expected storyline, the character progression over long timescales, hell, even the graphics quality, all of that suffers when the game goes online. And none of it can be maintained with a F2P model even if they could get the necessary quality online. And as we are seeing with TESO, people are unwilling to pay every month for the privilege of suffering through the experience™. Enhancements come too slowly and people can't see the value for the money they are paying. Mistakes and bugs, which always occur in a dynamic MMO, are not tolerated by those who expect a near perfect box-like experience. They are willing to pay $60 for a finished, polished product. They are not willing to pay $60 a year in monthly installments on the promise they'll get that finished, polished product eventually. Bottom line, if they are not MMO suitable forget F2P. No online mode, no dream to sell.

Wow, did that take off on a tangent or what? I didn't plan those last three paragraphs. They sort of just came tumbling out. I actually like it when that happens. I hope you didn't mind. It made this post rather lengthy though, so I should bring it to a close.  In the Raptr July numbers, we see the rise and fall of new MMOs. It's not looking to good for that gaming Genre. Even the MMO giant WoW is suffering, though most MMOs wish they had Blizzard's pain. MOBAs are on the rise. I feel this is because gaming is slowly moving from a recreational pastime to a full-time job for players. But MOBAs will only succeed if they can continue sell the dream™. For the rest of the gaming industry, they need to figure out how to sell the experience™. That will become a tougher and tougher sell as those looking to buy the experience™ expect more bang (or slash) for their buck.


Tuesday, August 12, 2014

AC4: Oh Brother

More Assassin's Creed IV gameplay! After I secured my new base at the Great Iguana aka Great Inagua, I discovered in the main office of the villa there a suit of armor secured behind an iron gate with five locks. This was a suit of Templar armor. I covet it very much. But to get it, I have to find the five keys to the locks it is secured behind. The first key I took from the dead body of Julien de Casse on the deck of the galleon I secured for Nassau. The other four keys I have to find. I found the second key back on Nassau. Here is part one of what I had to do to get it.

*** SPOILER ALERT -- This video reveals major elements of a quest. Do not watch if you want to keep it a surprise! ***


Monday, August 11, 2014

The Nature of Intelligence

This post isn't specifically about gaming, but it comes from a discussion I had this week where my sweetheart and I agreed to disagree. And perhaps it tangentially involves gaming, as games are a manifestation of man's problem solving nature - an exercise of our intelligence if you would. But more specifically, our disagreement was in how to gauge that intelligence?

This discussion was brought on by an observation we both made that within our Facebook groups, there had been a lot of people taking one specific "IQ" test. You now how that sort of Facebook thing works. Take the test and at completion it offers to post your score to Facebook, so you do. Others see it and want to take it too, if for no other reason than to prove they are smarter than you. And so on.

What I noticed was that everyone seemed to score about the same: between 130 and 135. That would qualify everyone as Mensa members. Damn, I know a lot of really smart people! Or do I?

The issue with tests like this is that they are misleading. First of all, the tests are always some form of multiple choice. Which one of these is not like the others? Complete the sequence. That sort of thing. There is a reason why you have to not only write but also defend verbally a doctoral thesis. To truly prove mastery of a subject you must be able to articulate it in ways that rote learning will not accommodate. So strike one, these IQ tests are multiple choice - the work for of test possible IMO.

The second issue I take with these tests is this. What are they really testing? Here is an example of what I mean. Let's go with a complete-the-sequence question. Here is the sequence: 1-3-5-7. What is the next number? There are actually two correct answers, but they test different levels of cognitive function. One correct answer is 9. That would be the fifth odd number, right? But if this was an IQ test, meant to determine how innately intelligent someone is, wouldn't a better answer be 11? That is, after all, the next prime number in the sequence. 8-)

Then there are the ones that test pattern recognition abilities rather than deductive logic. Practically all humans have excellent pattern recognition skills. It is one of the things that sets primates apart from the other animals. Volumes of scientific literature have been written about our ocular expertise. So if this so-called IQ test is testing pattern recognition rather than logical deduction, everyone would score rather high, wouldn't they? And who would be the wiser? One wire diagram looks much the same as another. And if the test allowed both the pattern answer and the logical deduction answer to be correct, then everyone is assuredly a genius!

Sorry, but no. These IQ tests, that have been around since the World Wide Web went public, are not a real test of intelligence. It is a test of pattern recognition abilities, and that's instinctual. Instinct is not what I think of as intelligence. And that's what got me in trouble.

It turns out I evidently have a really high expectations when it comes deciding if someone else is truly intelligence. It might even be prejudicial. In fact, by my standard even I do not rate as very intelligent. To me, there is a big difference between smart and intelligent. I like to think of myself as smart, and I know a lot of things. There are also a lot of things I don't know, and I know that. (Does that make me wise?) But that only shows I am a well-educated human being. It does not make me intelligent IMO.

Have you have heard the phrase, "educated beyond one's common sense?" For my, that phrase summarizes nicely the negative side of the smart versus intelligence question. To me, intelligence requires a spark of innovation. We have a word for it even. That word is epiphany. An epiphany can occur in an instance, but it often takes months or years of dedicated thinking. As an example of what I mean, let's talk about the Levallois spear head. That is the mammoth killing stone point made by Homo Neanderthalis. It was a marvel of engineering, capable of inflicting fatal injuries on the largest megafauna of the ice ages.

Now, you're probably thinking I'm going to make some point about Neanderthals being intelligent. There you are wrong. Anyone can be taught to knap flint. What's important here is Homo Sapiens developed an entirely different way of knapping than Neanderthals used. Neanderthals created a very specific core from which they then fashioned their Levallois spear head. Any old core does not work. The core they had to start with had to be created in a very specific way, and Homo Sapiens have either forgotten how to do it - or had never learned it in the first place.

That is until Metin Eren of the University of Kent, Canterbury, put his mind to it. Metin Eren was already an expert knapper. But here, let me let him tell you what it took to figure out how to make a Levallois spear head.

NARRATOR: With only limited stone tools and no art or personal ornaments, Neanderthals seemed less advanced than modern humans. But was that really the whole story?

Now, new discoveries in genetics and archaeology are challenging this traditional view of the Neanderthals.

Metin Eren has spent six years studying Neanderthal technology. These "Levallois flakes," named after the place in France where they first found, were the Neanderthals' tool of choice. At first glance, they look rudimentary, the product more of luck than judgment. But when Eren tried to reproduce one, he got a surprise.

METIN EREN: I can tell you, just from my personal experience, I find the Levallois technology much more difficult to make than any of the modern Homo sapiens technologies. You know, it took me about 18 months to master Levallois technology, and this was after I'd been flint-napping for a number of years. The fact that there seems to be a goal involved…they're not simply striking flakes to get a sharp cutting edge.

NARRATOR: Eren began to realize this was no hit and miss process. He wanted to discover just how they did it. So he turned to morphometrics, a technique which analyzes the exact shapes and angles of objects.

It revealed Neanderthals must have used a precise set of strikes to turn a raw flint block into a carefully-shaped object, known as the core. The final crucial step involved striking the core with a single precision blow. Only if aimed just right, would this create the perfect flake, and a remarkably versatile tool.

METIN EREN: I shape this in such a way so that the core has a gentle convexity, so that the large flake that comes off has a sharp edge all around this perimeter. That enhances its utility in a number of ways.

Because it's uniformly thick, you can re-sharpen it a number of times more than you can other types of stone flakes.

We also found the Levallois flake is statistically more symmetrical, so that when you use it, it basically reduces torque. It has ergonomic properties. I can actually get a lot more force with each cut and each slice. I just put a little more pressure, and the Levallois flake goes right through it and that one big piece of gammon. That took about a minute and a half.

This is an amazing tool. They were engineering their rocks to get particular products that have specific properties. That they were able to discover a technique that is incredibly difficult to do is just a testament to how intelligent they must have been to actually invent it in the first place.

NARRATOR: Metin Eren's work reveals the complexity of Neanderthal tool-making, but there's even more surprising evidence of sophisticated Neanderthal technologies.

(This is a partial transcript from the Nova show Decoding Neanderthals that aired on PBS January 9, 2013. You can read the entire transcript (and all credits) here.)

So how is this an example of intelligence as I see it? Because it took everything Metin Eren ever learned about knapping, and 18 months of thought, to figure out there was a different way to make a spearhead. It's the quintessential application of knowledge, smarts as it were, to solve the unknown. A non-expert wouldn't have even known where to start, but it takes raw intelligence to figure something out that's not been done for 35,000 years - and probably never by our species. That's intelligence as I see it. It's the problem solving that's the key, not the knowing so much.

It turns out I am probably in the minority on this one. The counterexample to this view I was immediately given was the artist. Most consider artists to by highly intelligent because they create something which has never existed previously. It comes completely our of their intellect. But let's put our cynical hats on for a moment. How many artists actually create art that has no similarity to any other art ever done? It's one thing to create a "unique" painting in the style of Van Gogh. It's quite another thing to BE Van Gogh. Van Gogh was a genius - or a madman - I can't decide which. But there is no denying his art is not only unique, but is unlike anything done previously. It is its own defining style. When an artist achieves that level of work, then I'll concede her obvious intelligence. Until that proof is given, there is just no knowing how intelligent she may, or may not, be.

And I haven't even gotten to the difference between clever and intelligent. And I suppose I shouldn't. This post is already long enough. Let me just say that clever doesn't necessarily denote intelligence in my book. Then again, it just might, It's all in the application of said cleverness, and the subjective appraisal of its effectiveness. And there's the rub. If the appraiser is not intelligent enough to understand how clever the cleverness really is, how can they possibly hope to really understand it? Egad, I just made myself dizzy thinking about that one.

So what do you think? What is the nature of intelligence, and what would it take to make you acknowledge someone you know as possibly the next Albert Einstein?

Friday, August 8, 2014

What Sort of Gamer are You?

Yesterday I came across a post by Izlain of Me, Myself and I titled Nice Guys can be Killers too. Izlain took the Bartle Test. This is a series of 30 questions to ascertain what type of MMO activity you enjoy most. I came out as an explorer with a strong achiever score and a nearly as strong socializer score. Killer is very much the last thing I am. No surprises there. But my thinking on what sort of gamer I am didn't stop there.

I also read yesterday the post A Call for New Perspective in Our Gaming Communities by Murf over on Murf Versus. Murf uses the modern philosopher John Rowls to make a point about behavior in gaming. He uses Rowls' Veil of Ignorance posit to question if gamers would act as badly as they sometimes do if they might inadvertently bring upon themselves such bad behavior. It's a tricky supposition, and one I'll have to read several times more before I grok the full implications of what Murf is on about. Good job Murf! But there is one paragraph I want to quote for this post so I may contrast it with what Izlain's Bartle Test revealed.

As a gamer, do you want to be treated as an inferior player or constantly slurred against on the basis of your national origin, gender, race, or some other identification owed solely to the uncontrollable factors of your birth? Do you want to be regularly harassed and dehumanized by others while trying to participate in and celebrate a medium/culture/community that you have loved your entire life? Do you wish for others to try and silence you anytime you express your very real pain, anger, and frustration simply because they believe you’re doing so only for the attention or a completely fictional ‘hidden agenda’ or because your capacity to succeed at the game is automatically seen as lesser than their own? Do you want to be told to go back to the kitchen, demanded to make someone a sandwich, or asked inappropriate questions about your body?

These two paragraphs are about two completely different things. And before you say derp, understand this: though they are about different things, they relate to the exact same supposition. What sort of gamer are you? Does your conduct in an MMO reflect who you think you are as a gamer? Does the rest of the gaming community see you that way as well? For example, Izlain says his Bartle Test correctly identifies him as a killer, but that he is really a nice guy. That is how he sees himself. However, does the person he "kills" see him that way? Does the person he just popped consider him nice? Well, that all depends on Izlain's follow-on actions, which in large part are driven by all those questions Murf asked.

Now, I don't know Izlain. I need to stop making these sorts of generalizations about him and apologize if he feels I've denigrated him in any way. That is not my intent. I have no basis to believe Izlain isn't a totally nice guy. So I'm going to switch up and talk about someone I do know quite a bit more about - Rixx Javix. Rixx is a long time EVE Online player and blogger. His blog Eveoganda is a must read in the EVE Online community. Rixx is also a pirate with a kill list longer than Texas is wide. He is most certainly a killer in terms of the Bartle Test, but he is also a genuinely nice guy. He's proven this to me time and again, in-game and out, and I've even told him as much.

This was in response to my post on Wednesday Be the Hero, Not the Villain. Rixx is proof one can be a killer and still be a genuinely nice guy. That is why I am willing to believe Izlain when he says he is a nice guy. Because I know it's possible. But that is not the case with every killer and I am actually making an exception for Izlain. Why is that? It's because I have a pre-conceived notion of what sort of gamer Izlain is based on what I've read and experienced as a gamer.

But why do I feel as I do? What's Izlain done to make me trust him? The answer to that question goes deeper than the Bartle Test can reach. In fact, the Bartle Test really says nothing about what sort of person he is. It only tells me what sort of game roles Izlain prefers. It tells him nothing else either. It would tell you nothing more as well. To understand what sort of person you are, and thus what sort of gamer you are, you must dive to a depth within your inner character many do not feel comfortable attaining. But if you are willing, I think I can help.

The first thing you need to do is take the Bartle Test, or something like it. You need to understand what you like in order to understand why you like it. Then you need to understand how those preferences act upon your inner psyche; what pleases you about such behavior. What's your reward for acting as you do?

That will require some reading. This reading material comes from many sources. Some are personal experience. Some are scientific research. Fortunately you don't have to understand the science behind the scientific reports I'm about to link. The summaries will do, and those are free unlike many of these papers. Now understand, this is NOT an exhaustive list. This is a representative sample of the types of articles you should find and read in order to better understand your own motivations. My personal start place is Doctor Nick Yee's Daedalus Project. The rest are in no specific order.

That should keep you busy reading for a while. And while you read, ask yourself if anything being discussed might describe behavior you've exhibited past or present. If it does, ask yourself why you acted as you did. Was it a good reflection on you or a bad reflection? Would you want to be treated that way? Introspection is the hardest task in the world, but it is the most rewarding - especial when you discover you might not like yourself very much if you met in a bar... or in an online game. And be honest! If you can't be honest with yourself, you're lying to the only person who could conceivable never let you down. That's just sad.

When you're all done, you should have a fairly clear picture of what sort of gamer you are. It will also give you an indication of what sort of person you are in general. If you didn't like that peek in the mirror, you'll have to do something about that won't you? As Anita states at the end of her TEDx talk, the online gaming community is changing slowly, sometimes painfully, sometimes taking a step back for every two forward - but always going forward. If those who want to hold the gaming community back consider it a game to attack others, then the rest of use just have to play the harder game. You don't want to be left behind by those more able and willing to play the harder game. Do you?

Now, about that harder game. Along the way sometimes people have to take a break. Like Jester did with EVE Online. Like I've done with EVE Online. But there always seems to be others willing to take up the cause, if only for a short time. Any amount of time they contribute moves the gaming community forward, and allows other's who've worn too thin time to rejuvenate. Together we can win this. We can beat the uber-boss of misogyny/racism/hate. And we will, so long as we keep in mind Rixx's last tweet from the thread above.


Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Be the Hero; Not the Villain

There was this today, which was prompted by this, which was prompted by this. I was going to ignore that last article, but my incredulity quotient has gotten too high. To wit, ZOMG! The Mittani thinks there should be noob friendly space in EVE Online now because, "shit, politely, is fucked." Really? REALLY!? Holy crap Batman, EVE Jesus has spoken - "shit, politely, is fucked." Like this is some sort of divine revelation. I'm astounded some see this as such. As Rixx Javix points out in the first link in my opening sentence, this idea has been kicked around the EVE Online blogosphere for years. I myself have addressed it on many occasions. I began with the post titled, "You are killing the thing you love one noob at a time." I wrote that at the end of my first year of blogging, December 2011. It's just as true today as it was then.

Why is that? No, I don't mean why do we need a new player safe area. That's derp. Why is it still just as true today as it was in 2011 that players are killing the thing they love? That's the question everyone really needs to ask themselves. Because until they do, and address the reasons why, EVE Online will continue to die. Yes, I said it. EVE Online is dying - and you may be to blame.

But before I go on, honestly, I really don't care any more. I've written about it until my ink runs dry and nothing ever changes. All I get for it is trolling and abuse by the same people who kill EVE Online one noob at a time. So I'm going to troll you knuckleheads back. Some of you are genuine, grade-A pig rectums. YOU are the reason EVE Online is dying. Your juvenile rationalizations for anti-social behavior are pedantic drivel. You drool your stupidity in every word you utter defending your faults. I know. I've been on the receiving end of your pointy sticks often enough. Now make your purulent comment condemning what I just wrote about you and prove my point. Stick poking is all you're really good at anyway.

And it wasn't just me getting the pointed end of that stick. When Jester, you remember him don't you, brought up the idea there should be limits on antisocial behavior in EVE Online, he was treated so badly he shut down his blog. Now, I don't know for fact that one specific incident involving the bonus room was the reason, but I'd wager it was a large contributing factor in his decision. He didn't need the abuse any more than me. Fortunately he had an out. He walked away, just like I did.

That's the first time I've admitted that to anyone. Yes, I walked away from the EVE Online community. I got fed up with the abuse, and the same old tired rationalizations for antisocial behavior. I gave up on it because it is hopeless, and I have no faith this most recent call for change from EVE Jesus himself will make a damn bit of difference. After all, a major tenet of that religion is they're here to ruin everyone else's game. Until that changes, they are just part of the problem.

Now don't get me wrong, it is completely unfair to hang this problem on Goonswarm. Sure, there are some in Goonswarm who promote anti-noob behavior, but not all of them, or even most of them. In actuality, even though it's more than in most MMOs, the number of players creating this problem is a minority percentage. The problem is they are becoming a larger percentage every day because people who just want to have fun, not at someone else's expense, are leaving the ship like rats. How many bloggers alone have moved on? Jester, me, Tur Amarth (edit 8/20/14: the correct spelling is TurAmarth - no space. Also, he'd like everyone to know he hasn't left EVE, but is just on a forced RL extended sabbatical. And he posted to his blog two days ago as proof. I apologize for including him in this group. I was obviously mistaken to do so...), Corelin, Krazy... and the list keeps growing. They don't all say it's because of anti-social behavior. Most claim to have just become bored with the game. Some may even come back, or so they say. But regardless, losing community bloggers is a serious symptom of the overall malaise. That wasn't obvious to me until Jester threw in the towel. EVE Online is just not fun anymore. If it's not fun for long-time, committed players, how much fun can it be for the noob who runs into extortionists who hang out in high-sec because they think it's l33t to harass new players?

If you still play EVE Online and are part of the problem, get this through your thick heads will you? No one likes to have their fun ruined just because you get lulz from it. They don't have to put up with it. Those with nothing yet invested in the game will simply never log in again. "Fuck that shit" leads directly to "shit, politely, is fucked." That's the correlation here, and anyone who has ever taken joy at another capsuleer's misfortune is to blame.

But what do you do when the game designer itself promotes the thing that is killing it? "Be the villain," is an ongoing ad campaign from CCP. CCP actively recruits those most likely to kill noobs. And it works. Just do a Google search for "EVE Online be the villain." Players offer extended 21-day buddy trials to anyone who wants to be the villain (I won't link the web site because they don't deserve the link but you're smart enough to find it I'm sure.) Non-villain noobs only get 14-day trial periods. This is CCP's doing, and it is yet another symptom of what is killing EVE Online. In a world where the vast majority of people don't find it enjoyable to harm other people, it is self-defeating to promote the minority view. There's a good reason the Empire was defeated in Star Wars.

But as I said earlier, I don't care anymore. If EVE Online doesn't change it can just continue to rot, and deservedly. I won't shed any tears for it. I am so beyond that now. EVE Online doesn't deserve to live if it can't be a game where all players find enjoyment doing what they want. Even if that's not blowing up other people's space ships and not being blown up in return. If you still play, the ball is in your court. Do something. Be the hero, not the villain. Or watch the thing you love die. Peace out.

Monday, August 4, 2014

July Wrap-up

Another month has gone by and Raptr has dutifully tracked my gaming each week. But July was a busy month for me in a non-gaming way, so my hours came out lower than normal. What can I say other than, "Ah, summer..."

[caption id="attachment_3365" align="alignleft" width="300"]Raptr Summary 6JUL14 Raptr Summary 6JUL14[/caption]

I started July with a week off in the land of metered Internet connections. Not only would it have been very expensive to try to play online games there, I've no doubt the connection would have been too slow for most of them. Instead, I ended up playing quite a bit of Civilization V: Brave New World (Civ5,) which I wrote about in two posts here and here. During a week full of astrophotography and fossil hunting, I still managed to get in almost 12 hours of world conquest, and earned eight (8) achievements bringing my total to 73. That's only 25% of all the available achievements. Civilization V is the game that just keeps giving.

But that was pretty much all I did for gaming for the week ending July 6th. There was a very quick Landmark claim upkeep log in. However, the game itself requires much more than the 3G connection I was getting. There's a complaint in that too. A player can only pay upkeep eight days in advance. You have to log in before the end of eight days or you lose your claim - no exceptions. But even a week off work is a nine-day vacation when you add in the two weekends. And currently there is at least a gigabyte update a week to download (on a slow metered connection remember) before you can even pay upkeep. It's a real pain in the arse SOE! It's also somewhat boneheaded. I suggested they allow claim upkeep from the web portal so long as the character has the ore. We'll see. It is just beta after all.

[caption id="attachment_3367" align="alignright" width="300"]Raptr Summary 13JUL14 Raptr Summary 13JUL14[/caption]

The next week actually saw my game time go down slightly. That was due mostly to needing to catch up at work I guess. I finished up my last game of Civ5 the last Sunday of my vacation (my Raptr counts actually run Sunday through Saturday.) What I got in for game play after that was four hours of Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag (AC4) and a bit over an hour of The Elder Scrolls Online (TESO.) Actually, now that I think about it, work might not have been the main culprit in my reduced game play. I think I did it to myself. I did three AC4 videos (Completing Havana, Smuggler's Blues, and Taking Fort Gibara) as well as two TESO videos (The Road Ahead/Hope Lost and Sanguine Barrows) that week. Those videos take about 90 minutes apiece to create, and a bit more time to set up on YouTube. That's over eight hours spent on game play videos rather than on actually playing games.

That's been a bit of a dilemma I must confess. I like making the videos. There are even a few people who enjoy watching them. However, my game play videos don't get a lot of attention. I do understand why, and it's okay by me if people don't watch. What I regret most though is the time spent making them. That's time I could use to play. I mentioned before I've a limited budget of hours available to me for all my hobbies, and sometimes it's an unhappy compromise to satisfy them all. I've even got a few commitments to others regarding my rock hobby I've still not fulfilled. Those I've made the commitments to have been very patient, but I nonetheless feel like a slacker for not doing what I volunteered to do. Seems like Mabrick needs make some decisions doesn't he? He at least needs to have a look at his daily routines and make some adjustments. Anyway, that's all very droll and not what this post is really about. Onward!

[caption id="attachment_3369" align="alignleft" width="300"]Raptr Summary 20JUL14 Raptr Summary 20JUL14[/caption]

The third week in July saw my gaming time shoot back up to a "normal" week's worth of gaming. Leading the list was AC4. I've been saying for weeks (months?) I needed to get my arse moving if I wanted to complete the game by the launch of Assassin's Creed V: Unity. At just over 11 hours, I made significant inroads on that goal. I've completed 39% of the game to date, and much of it came during the second week of July. Though that may not seem like much, I'm poised to do even more sooner rather than later. During those 11 hours, I spent the time consistently upgrading both the Jackdaw and my personal inventory of swords, pistols and other items. I unlocked Kenway's Fleet and added several frigates to it. I unlocked all the ports in the western hemisphere as well as Portugal. I am steadily making reales using the fleet.

I've also begun upgrading my base the Great Inagua, or the Great Iguana as I call it, with all the amenities of Nassau. I took this base as one of the mainline quests. I chronicled the quest, a Single Madman, in three posts here, here and here. Of course, these videos were posted the week after I did the mission, and creating them ate into the time I had available for actually playing, but I do so enjoy making them and watching what I did. It's like that line at the end of the credits on The X Files. You know, where the kid exclaims, "I made this!" And appropo to nothing, THAT was a great show.

I also put nearly six hours into Landmark that week. I spent most of that time upgrading my claim and my equipment. I actually did very little mining beyond what I needed to do for claim upkeep. Instead, I took my first foray into micro-voxel construction. That was both fun and frustrating at the same time. Still, I managed to make something I needed for my lair, and what I got looked pretty good by the time I finished. One day I may even show everyone what I made, but for now it'll remain a bit of a secret. It's not that I'm ashamed of it. It's more like I'm not ready to start plugging a game that is obviously still a beta. Besides, there are plenty of how-to videos on YouTube made by folks who are much better than I at making things right now. I'll show what I've got when there's actually something really worth showing. ;)

[caption id="attachment_3370" align="alignright" width="300"]Raptr Summary 27JUL14 Raptr Summary 27JUL14[/caption]

The last week of this wrap-up saw me once again taking a long weekend off. This time I didn't even have time for Civ5. I was out late every night listening to good music and having fun with even better friends. Who wants to play games when you can listen to Brother and Zirp and S.J. Tucker with the best friends ever? However, before I left, I continued with my AC4 progress to the tune of 4.5 hours. Most of this time I spent capturing ships to add to Kenway's Fleet as well as upgrading the house at the Great Iguana. It really is only window dressing (AH! It's a pun. Get it?,) but it makes me smile when I see pretty things in a computer game. I've said this before, but I really am a sucker for nice graphics.

The rest of my gameplay that week was actually during the time I had between breakfast where we were staying, and the time we actually left for the event. That amounted to three and a half hours in total. I decided to try out Simcity in offline mode. It works very well! Simcity is one of those games I've always returned to as a sort of filler game. If I've got 30 or 45 minutes, I'll fire it up and let it run awhile. Maxis really killed that for me when they released the new Simcity and it required an Internet connection. I realize that was more the publisher than the developer, but what a completely boneheaded thing to do! I am pleased that I can once again play this game as I see fit, not as EA sees fit. Internet play is fine when you have four friends who are as dedicated as you to enhancing a region. But my first city, which is still going strong by the way, had to build the damn regional airport all by itself because the other mayors moved on. It irks me that there is no way to take over those other cities in that game. Now I don't have to rely on anyone else. In offline mode, I can haz all the cities. :)

And that's Mabrick's July. August is already going great guns, and should be a month that sees more hours added to the summary than I got in July. I've no vacations planned. In fact, I have to stick to home the last two weeks of August because I have jury duty. I wonder if they'll let me take my laptop with me? (Makes note to check.) That would be a great time to continue the city I started in offline mode. So until then, keep gaming!

Friday, August 1, 2014

Europeans, They Don't Know How Lucky They Have It

Earlier this week I shared my thoughts on why Zenimax/Bethesda decided to physically move their European mega-server to Frankfurt, Germany. To summarize they did it to avoid the brewing data privacy war between the United States and the rest of the world. It was pointed out to me in the comments that the U.S. considers any data held anywhere by U.S. companies to be subject to U.S. law, but that is incorrect. I will tell you why in a moment.

First, I want to acknowledge there was a ruling in the U.S. Federal Appeals court this week that seems to support what those readers were telling me. You can read a great write-up about it, by British ZDNet journalist Zack Whittaker, titled How one judge single-handedly killed trust in the US technology industry. Please go read that article. I guarantee it won't waste your time unless you don't really give a rat's ass about this whole privacy issue.

Now that you've read the article, it still does not confirm the supposition that foreign data is subject to U.S. laws. The reason is this isn't about the data. It's about U.S. law and how that law applies to U.S. companies. The data in question is not the point - though it is the objective. Laws apply to persons. You don't give a ticket to the car for speeding. You give it to the driver. That understood, understand Microsoft is a U.S. company. It has the rights of a person under U.S. law - yeah, I didn't like that ruling any more than you do. However, there is a bright side to that ruling. Since Microsoft has the privileges afforded to persons under U.S. law, it also has the obligations. That means it must comply with lawfully obtained U.S. subpoenas. This is true of any U.S. citizen. And just because we don't agree with how or why those subpoenas were granted, until Congress changes the law of the U.S., we have no recourse but to comply or pay the penalty. And believe me, the penalties will be severe in the current environment - like it or not.

But at no time does this law apply to the data in question (it is not a person,) the data center it is currently housed in (it is not a U.S. company and thus not a person under U.S. law,) or the country where that data center is located (that's a derp.) It does not apply to the originator of that data so long as that person is not a U.S. citizen. And please, please, please stop assuming laws apply to inanimate objects. That's just silly.

Now, in that previous paragraph notice I did not say owner, but originator. That's a fine point that needs elaboration. In the U.S., the originator is not necessarily (and probably isn't) legally the owner. As gamers you all know about that End User License Agreement (EULA) stuff we all agree to when we play a game. Did you think that only applied to games? Seriously? It applies to any service you have ever signed up to use. It's this legally binding contract that says you agree to certain things in return for certain considerations. That's a fancy legal term for services and or payment. In this case it means services. Microsoft gives you a service called email, and in return you give up some (many?) of your legal rights over whatever you submit to that service - to wit, your email.

And to make matters more complicated, U.S. companies aren't the only ones to use an EULA. I know I agreed to one when I started playing Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag and Ubisoft is a French company. In fact, all companies world-wide use them as standard procedure. It's a devilishly sticky widget. How can you really hold yourself apart from all this Europe when you use the same legal agreements U.S> companies do? Isn't that a little like wanting your cake and eating it too? You can't have it both ways.

But seriously my European friends, this is not about you. This ruling has no jurisdiction outside the United States. It only applies to Microsoft, a U.S. company. It has no compulsory jurisdiction over non-U.S. citizens or companies doing business not in the United States. Do you grok what I'm saying?

Let me spell it out. If this worries you, stop using U.S. companies for your private stuff. Use a company that is headquartered in a country whose laws you approve, where that company is not considered a person. But for gods sake, stop bashing the U.S. because you don't like our laws. We are not forcing you to use our companies. And for the record, there are lots of U.S. citizens who don't like these laws either. You at least get a choice in all this. Feel lucky. I don't get a choice even if I use a European company that provides unbreakable encryption. If subpoenaed my choices are divulge my encryption keys or go to jail.  Be thankful you are not so unfortunate.

And as for those who are afraid Microsoft, or any other U.S. company, won't fall on their sword for the sake of your privacy, don't forget the data center in question is not within the U.S. The sovereign nation of Ireland could cut power to that data center at any time, and no one would get the data that resides on those servers. And there are less drastic measures Ireland and/or its citizens could take to keep your private stuff private. Start pestering them to do something about it rather than try to change a situation in the U.S. that even its voters haven't been able to change. Capish piezano? Squawking your heads off about how F@#$ up this is... well, frankly it's dumb. You have so many options for dealing with this I am honestly envious of you. What have you to complain about? Can't you see it from my perspective even a little? If you did, you'd know how lucky you have it.