Archive for September, 2008

In which our hero plays guitar

September 26, 2008 Leave a comment

Today’s post is over at YouTube:

This is a place for me to post videos, mostly pertaining to the electric guitar.

The ones where I’m sitting down are tutorials for friends also learning, the ones where I stand up are me jamming.

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In which our hero plays photojournalist

September 24, 2008 1 comment

Today’s post is over at Flickr.

All of the scrap lumber from Hot Mikado, a recent RLT show, was donated to NC State’s Shackathon, an event where students build shacks in the middle of campus from donated and purchased lumber, and then live in them for a week while asking for donations (begging for change) for Habitat for Humanity.

The various ways the erstwhile set pieces ended up being used were, uh, interesting.

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Customers? Who needs ’em?

September 15, 2008 Leave a comment

Will Wright’s Spore, published by EA, has been the center of a firestorm of late because of it’s “draconian” DRM scheme that some have said amounts more to “renting” the game when you buy it. Quoth Wikipedia (emphasis mine):

Spore uses a modified version of the digital rights management (DRM) software SecuROM as copy prevention, which requires authentication upon installation and when online access is used. This system was announced after the originally planned system met opposition from the public, as it would have required authentication every ten days. Additionally, installation of a copy of the game will only be authenticated up to three times. EA Customer Support, however, states that the user can contact EA and, on a case-by-case basis, have their activation count for Spore reset when the activation limit is depleted.

As a result of the protection scheme, around 91% of the reviews on have given Spore one star, the lowest rating. Electronic Arts cited SecuROM as a “standard for the industry”, and Apple’s iPod song DRM policy as justification for the control method.

Ironically, due to the fans’ backlash, Spore’s DRM has made it one of the most pirated games in history, with an estimated 500,000 illegal downloads as of September 14, 2008.

So, first off, EA paid SecuROM some astounding sum of cash as licensing fee for their software, ostensibly to prevent piracy, just as SecuROM’s other clients do, again and again.

What I’m wondering, is what kind of fucking brain-melting gamma rays does the subject of software piracy give off that cause companies to repeatedly pay for software that apparently does not do what they pay for it to do. This SecuROM stuff does nothing but piss all of their customers off while having no effect on the piracy of the game.

It’s like hiring hiring a bodyguard, and then continuing to keep him on the payroll when he steps aside every time some thug wants to beat you up. But any time a fan wants your autograph, he roughs them up and pats them down to make sure they’re not carrying any weapons. But a crook with a machete gets right by him. Why is he (in this allegory, SecuROM) still in business?

This shit genuinely baffles me.

So maybe it’s not actually about piracy. Taking, as a lemma — although it hasn’t been proven — that the above behavior is some how rational, EA must be getting something from this DRM. The only thing that makes sense here is what some Internet People have been saying: it’s more about making it a pain in the ass to sell the game used.

Even though the open-ended, create-your-own, partially-open-world gameplay has great replayability, maybe EA is worried that not everyone will hang on to their copy for longer than a month. This is a problem for them because, as I understand it, Spore is still in the red despite massive sales, given its huge development costs. It will turn a profit long term with endless expansion packs the same way Will Wright’s last major title, The Sims, did.

This is nothing new for software companies. As a challenge to the First-sale doctrine, some software companies have tried to say that re-selling boxed copies of software is illegal because the customer only licensed the software, and didn’t actually buy it, so they don’t own it in any meaningful way. This is, of course, a load of crap, but some judges are getting suckered into it so that there is case law going both ways on the issue.

The problem is that EA is going about this all wrong. Instead of making it hard to re-sell games, they should make it impossible, just like Valve is doing with Steam. (If you’re not familiar with Steam, I would direct you to the Wikipedia article on it which relates all of its oh-so-convenient genius.)

Wait a second, what? Impossible to re-sell games? Yeah. The funny thing is that not only is it a good thing, but when I have the choice, I will always buy a game on Steam.

See, when you buy a game on Steam, the game is associated with your Steam account, which simply means that you are authorized to download the game from their central servers and execute the game code. Without that authorization, even having the game files makes it a useless blob of bits.

But because all that you own is the authorization to play the game, the situation actually becomes something closer to the above scenario of licensing the software. The difference is that it makes sense that re-selling that authorization, which hasn’t depreciated at all (because it’s not a physical object) means that there would literally be no reason to buy this software new. (On the gripping hand, it occurs to me that this fact would probably raise the market price for “used” copies of Steam games to $.01 below Steam’s price.)

At any rate, the convenience of Steam, of being able to play games on any computer I touch, never having to swap out CDs or dick with CD keys, as well as automatic patching via Steam, and being able to buy games via PayPal from the comfort of my desk makes it an unparalleled bargain.

Steam has architecturally eliminated game re-selling by giving the consumers something in exchange. If cutting down on re-selling was EA’s aim here, they’re simply doing it by taking and taking from customers and treating them all as disloyal criminals.

One of these approaches is sound business.

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Great expectations

September 10, 2008 Leave a comment

Spore came out this past Sunday, to anticipation and hype not seen in the video game business since last year’s Bioshock. This is a game with a sky-high budget that gamers have been hearing about for at least two years (Ars says it’s been in development for ten), so this week is when we finally get to answer the question: “Was it worth the wait?”

The problem is that the “we” I’m referring to here is my gamer friends. You know, the ones who play video games frequently. You know, the ones who aren’t (and show inclination towards) playing Spore. No, the people I know who are playing this game are my art student and band member friends who are about as likely to pick up a serious computer game like Everquest as Picard is likely to go into selling licensed, pre-owned automobiles.

I haven’t the faintest inkling why it would be the case that this would be a game for non-gamers — a bold statement I base on my observational study of all ten of my friends. It probably doesn’t hurt that this particular programme runs on lower-end hardware due to it’s “mediocre graphical presentation” (quoth Ars Technica’s list of bad things about the game). This means that those whose computers’ daily fare is chewing through spreadsheets and knocking out flash trash (a phrase I use with the greatest endearment to Desktop TD) can now navigate the murky primordial soup and promote protozoa into a space-faring race.

Or maybe the graphics look dated because it’s been in development for a decade? When this game kicked off, it was all about the Pentiums and Half-Life had just hit the shelves.

Anyways, what I do know is why I’m not playing. In a word, Bioshock.

Released last year after eons of press coverage, this distopian first-person shooter was a shoo-in for most “Game of the Year” awards. See, the gaming press sung this game’s praises for months to the point where it was hard to believe that anyone could continue to exist without infusing their infusing their meager life with this experience.

So, I picked up a secondhand copy. The allegedly revolutionary storytelling was done with cutscenes and a guy talking to you over radio. Interesting story, but nothing new. Effective, but not revolutionary. The weapon upgrade system that boosts your killing power to keep pace with gradually-tougher baddies? Effective, but not revolutionary.

My favorite? The setting in a secret underwater city in 1960, an erstwhile Randian utopia gone horribly wrong, designed to “provoke thought” about the implications of such a society. Except that the “going horribly wrong” process was the result of the adoption of a system of genetic self-modification that caused a non-trivial portion of its subjects to become psychopathic murderers. The end result was a spooky setting with danger everywhere: effective but not revolutionary.

But Bioshock is a good game, because it does what it does well. Similarly, I have no doubt that Spore is a good game. In due time, I’ll lay my hands on a copy and see for myself, but I’m not really expecting it to be this amazing game that will change the gaming landscape.

For 2007, instead of Bioshock, I’d say Team Fortress 2 did that. At the very least, it was amazing. The 133.4 hours I’ve spent playing it in the last year certainly agree.

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Re-hashing old ideas

September 8, 2008 Leave a comment

I’m slammed with homework that has taken my writing time, so here’s a post that I wrote down a few weeks ago but is now somewhat stale.

“So, Hobs,” you say, “you finally got into those betas you were whining about so hard. Now you can stop being backwards & old and just play some video games, right?”

Not so fast.

First of all, I’m still not in any sort of beta for Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning (WAR), although I’m assured by friends who are in the closed beta (because they ordered the Collector’s Edition) that the game is both “super fly” and “mad dope.” Given the inherently social way I play games, I have no choice but to join them; as such, I’ve throw my entrance fee to the World of Warhammer into the pockets of GoGamer, securing a copy of the game in the occasionally-maligned process known as pre-ordering. (Incidentally, before I took such a bold step, in an earlier draft of this post, I wrote “I don’t think that I’ve ever pre-ordered a game and WAR isn’t about to make me start.” Oh, the Hubris.)

But I’m becoming zen about the WAR beta since I’ve known for some time that I would be joining the Shorties in helping the forces of Order push back the mongrels of Destruction. It was set in stone, but I was too busy worshipping the Golden Calf of Team Fortress 2 to read the stone.

On the other hand, the Red Alert 3 demo continues to foster malcontent in me as though it were, in fact, the Soviet Agitprop that it wishes to be. Except, of course, such inflammatory materials never included hot-pants-clad snipers or under-dressed Japanese schoolgirl psychics who can kill entire armored companies with their minds. Apparently, the decision was made to take the American hero-babe Tanya from the first two Red Alert games and translate her into a variant for each army in the game. And then use these scantily clad forms on all the box art.

The rest of the post was going to talk about how I had to pay for access to this beta and the demonic relationships that foster such bargains. Especially in reference to the over-sexing of Red Alert 3, I stand by my quotation that EA’s motto seems to yet be “Ruin everything.”

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High latency

September 5, 2008 Leave a comment

A while ago, I said that the Technician used the newspaper format well, and I meant it. While it would be nice to have the Technician available in some kind of web format that wasn’t a pain to use, I probably still wouldn’t: dead tree form + 20 minute bus ride = slightly more tolerable.

But the way that the Technician seems to fail most transparently is in the “Campus Forum” section of letters to the editor. Where the paper itself must have some shred of journalistic integrity and publish researched facts, the Campus Forum allows J. Random Student to get it printed in the paper that, for example, Sarah Palin was a member of the Alaskan Independence Party for ten years.

What’s that? This was a mis-reporting that some people (including the “lefty blogs”) picked up and ran with because they wanted to believe? But then, the primary source begins “backing off” his statement before the Technician even hits the presses but the claims are printed unadulterated?
(In credit to this guy, he mea culpaed this one, but the principle stands.)

Now I remember why we invented the blogosphere. Because this shit has got to stop.

Supporting me in this is that writeup I did last academic year about the “debate” over concealed carry on campus via the Campus Forum. Sure it was fun reading, but any counter you might make to an opponent’s argument would take 24 hours to take effect. (I’m actually hunkering down for round 2 of this; someone spontaneously contributed a letter in support of concealed carry in Thursday’s paper.)

And on the topic of that summary: in it, I noticed next to no citations for bold claims published in the Campus Forum. That’s not how they roll, I guess. So readers just had to hope that wild claims made in a letter to the editor (such as a VP nominee advocating secession) were backed up with facts. Because they sure as shit couldn’t just check the sources.

What else about the Campus Forum? Ah, right, no apparent factual editing, even for obviously wrong statements like McCain serving in the Army (where he flew his combat fighter that got shot down…). I suppose the “common carrier”, “we don’t filter, just transmit” argument comes into play here, but I don’t think most people realize that this means that any whacko can get anything published, facts be damned. My letter indicting Obama for his involvment in the Franz Ferdinand assassination is uploading now.

But my favorite part of it all is the schizophrenic feedback model of both letters to the editor and comments on the online version of the article. There’s nothing like the instant gratification of article comments to bring into sharp relief the outmoded nature of having to tender your letter by 5:00 pm to be included by the next day.

Then again, I’m the guy who reliably responds to a newspaper with a blog. Maybe I should see if the Technician would hire me as some kind of official blogger and web editor.

“What, and give up all this?”

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Zooming In

September 3, 2008 Leave a comment

I finally got around to watching the Gubernatorial Debate (to choose the next Goober) from 19 Aug 2008 between McCrory and Purdue. The station that filmed the debate has it on its website but it is utterly unwatchable there. Thankfully, YouTube to the rescue. Part 1 here, with links to the rest of the parts.

I would recommend you watch it yourself (it’s a little less than an hour), and come back for my thoughts, which I’ll put below the fold. Electing a good Governor’s more important than anything I’ve got to say here.

Read more…

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