It’s not about the price tag

But it is about the tag. Or tags.

Back in the day, you just blogged and put it in a category. Then came the ability to throw a single post into multiple categories. Then… I’m not sure when, maybe with livejournal or similar sites, we started tagging posts with moods. “happy” wasn’t a category, but you’d have posts in many categories tagged as such. Over time, tags became more formalized, and with Web 2.0 and SEO (that’s Search Engine Optimization for the uninitiated) they became more important than categories.

Much like I still often refer to this place as a “weblog” instead of a “blog”, I tend to resist change, mostly because I hate change for changes sake. If it has purpose though… well, after years of ignoring the tagging features of the blog software’s I’ve used, I’ve finally caved in. This site will now be tagged.

To assist me with this, I’ve installed an auto-tagging plugin and this morning I ran it on all the old posts to see how it would do. It did horribly. And now I’m too lazy to spend too much time fixing it. It created over 4,000 tags for my just over 1,400 posts, and some of them are really stupid. I installed a second plugin that recommended I erase about 2,900 of those tags, and I did. However, going forward, I’ll spend the effort to better police the auto-tagging and make corrections as appropriate. In the meantime, enjoy the word cloud on my blog over on the right entitled “Partly Cloudy”. If I enjoy the tags, I’ll get a better plugin for them later.

And in order to spice up this otherwise boring post, enjoy this music video:

The Only Constant Is Change

So, I just started doing this Drawing of the Day thing where I was doing a drawing based on the word of the day as posted by either or Webster’s. I did four of them and stopped. I haven’t given up, but I had a thought.

First off, doing something daily is a bit hard and actually detracts from my ability to do other things. Also, some of the words of the day are just odd to think of alone. It’s just a word with a definition, no direction, and what I wanted was actually a bit more of a directed exercise.

You see, I can always sit down and just make shit up. My problem has always been that when I return later to the work from the “make shit up” session, I find it hard to continue the work. So, what I’m really looking for is more like the writing prompts you can find all over the place where they give you a subject and a direction and you are supposed to write on it. But with drawing.

To that end, I’m changing the project from Drawing of the Day to something like A Picture is Worth a Week of Words. Instead of using just a single word, I’m going to take seven words, still using the and Webster’s sources (I’ll choose all 7 from one source, and either I’ll do one, the other or both), and I’m going to do a drawing. I may also do some writing to go with it. They’ll go up on Sundays and use the words from the previous week (Sunday to Saturday).

I’m excited. I was excited before but quickly became drained. This less intensive version should be exciting without the exhaustion.

A Week of Tweets on 2010-11-28

  • It's not how many times you get knocked down. It's how many times you get back up. #
  • Get up! (Get on up!) #
  • Is today over yet? #
  • @massively I'd love to comment on the new design, but I can't login since the change. It appears to work, but I remain logged out. #
  • If I can't see content on your site without paging down, the best you'll get is an RSS subscription so I don't have to see your site. #
  • @grimthorn He was simply employing the new Extra Enhanced Pat Down Procedure. in reply to grimthorn #
  • Remember, the Blob can't stand cold. #
  • … and Kevin Dillon. The Blob also can't stand Kevin Dillon. #
  • Hey Wednesday. Thanks for the flat tire. Now, cut that shit out. I mean it. #
  • I should stop planning to get out of debt. Each time I do, life smacks me with more unexpected bills. #
  • I need the names of apocalyptic movies that happen during the Christmas season… go! #
  • Caught a ride with a trickster and a javelin man to a town down by the sea… #
  • I hate that we live in a world where spam continues because it works. *sigh* Please, stop clicking on the links they send you. #
  • the AC in my car stopped working. On the bright side, the heater started working. #putofftilspring #
  • people already lined up outside Best Buy for Black Friday. Insanity. #betterdealsonline #
  • turkey, ham, corn, peas, rice, broccoli, rolls, jello, cookies, pound cake… all in my belly. #happythanksgiving #

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Are you having fun?

The title of this post is often the measure people use to determine if an MMO is doing things right.  But it is a horrible measure.

I could be playing World of Warcraft right now.  And I would be having fun doing it.  I enjoyed playing the game.  I liked running in to town and getting some quests and then running out of town to polish them off.  The wife and I liked playing together, and we built our characters so that we could do so.  However, despite that, I became acutely aware that the one thing I love most about MMOs was missing in my WoW time and that was community.

Having come from loving EQ where chatting was the norm, where I would regularly simultaneously hold conversations in group, guild, shout, ooc, and a handful of private tells, going to a game where chatting was a hurdle, where the game was “active” enough that my hands didn’t have the time to chat unless I stopped playing, and the world advancing to voice chat (which I loathe because I cannot simultaneously chat in as many areas as I can text chat, I get locked in to one server where I can’t just say “Hi!” to a random stranger) lead to a fairly silent gaming experience.  Without community, without other people, WoW, like EQ, is actually a really simple and sort of soulless game.

So, realizing this, I decided to stop paying Blizzard for a game I was enjoying but was lacking features I desired.  And by doing this, I joined the minority.  The fact is, most people would prefer to pay for a game they find moderately satisfying than to save their money, play nothing, and wait for a game that fits better to come along.

11 million people can’t be wrong.

That’s the battle cry of people justifying why WoW is a great game even if it isn’t exactly the game they want to play.  They’ll also tell you that if enough people want change then change will happen.  Only, it’s not that easy.

Would you like to play a classless levelless MMO set in a zombie apocalypse?  I would.  However, I can’t.  I want change, and it is possible that there are 40 million people in the world who would like to play the same game, but we can’t until someone builds it.  No amount of demanding is going to get Blizzard to drop classes or levels from WoW, or to replace all the monsters with zombies.  Nor get Sony to change EQ2, or even to get the Fallen Earth folks to re-envision their game.  Once a game is built, change within that game is limited.

In conjunction with the video I posted on Monday, I’ve come to realize that most MMOs are going through the motions.  They copy WoW and make minor changes in an attempt to lure away people and maybe become the new king of the hill.  Even games that strive to be different from WoW still end up cloning their style of combat (the kind that’s too active for community to exist unless the players stop playing to chat) and becoming a game that I can have fun playing but is still missing what I want most from games.

I don’t think the industry needs to be wiped clean like Wolfshead, but it has become clear that I need to seek out more games, perhaps smaller games, and find designs that aren’t following the WoW path to money hats in order to find the game I really want to play.  I’m open to suggestions…

Not All Slopes Are Slippery

Taking another angle on yesterday’s post, now I want to look at the major protest against the sparkle pony: the slippery slope.

As with any time a change is proposed, the alarmists immediately paint it as a step toward complete and total destruction.  No change can be in a vacuum, but not every change needs to be the tipping point for Armageddon either.  So the argument goes like this:

  1. Pets for sale.
  2. Mounts for sale.
  3. Epic raid gear for sale.
  4. The only way to “win” is to have the most money and “buy” victory.
  5. The planet explodes.

Yes, I’m exaggerating.  But only for step 5.  Here’s the thing… you don’t need pets.  There are pets available in game, and they’ve given away exclusive pets at Blizzcon and other events as well as sold them as part of pre-order packages and collector’s editions.  But as far as I know, the pets for sale don’t actually do anything to affect game play.  If I’m wrong, please correct me.  (A quick run through some wikis tells me that there are no bonuses but some will detrimentally affect play by ruining stealth or debuffing the owner.)  They dance, they talk, they are silly and fun, but having a pet doesn’t make your character any stronger than someone of the same class, same level, same gear but without the pet.  The pet is a toy.  And so is the mount. (Wiki link.)  The mount gains you no extra in-game advantage.  None.  It just looks pretty.

So, why the jump in step 3?  Why go from two consistent levels of selling items with no affect on game play to suddenly selling gear that does?  This is where the argument falls apart, and it is clear to see why they go there.

The pets, the mounts… the coolest pets and mounts in the game comes from raiding or hard quests.  Regular players get pets and mounts, but they are, in comparison, bland.  Blizzard has giveaways and collector’s editions and pre-orders, but again, those are somehow considered special, just like the stuff you get from playing the game at it’s highest level.  The fact is, most of the people complaining wouldn’t have an issue with Blizzard selling a $25 plain brown horse that worked that same as the Celestial Steed.  The issue is that Blizzard is selling the (arguably) coolest looking mount in the game for cash and not reserving it for their hardest working players to earn with blood, sweat and tears.

Even if Blizzard followed the advice I laid out in yesterday’s post and introduced appearance only items (items with no stats at all), it would not be an escalation.  They might end up selling the coolest looking appearance items in the game for cash, but it would not be selling raid level gear.  The thing is, to define a slippery slope, you need at least two related items that show a clear escalation which you can extrapolate to further escalations leading to destruction.  No such thing exists here.  People might not like Blizzard selling game stuff in the store, but there is no slippery slope here.

The minute Blizzard starts selling raid gear, though, you’ll find me in line throwing rotten tomatoes at them.  Until then… nothing here to get worked up about.

Admission of Fault

Recently, I’ve gone to “war” with Comcast.  This year marked the final turnover to digital and the end of analog broadcast.  For the past 18 months, I had kept in contact with Comcast about the effect this would have on my analog cable.  See, the basic cable – channels 2 thru 78 – are all I really watch, so that’s all we have, and you don’t need set top boxes for that, which allowed me to build Medusa, my 6-tuner PVR running Snapstream’s software.  I admit I watch a lot of TV, but the main problem is that quite often even if I only watch three or four shows on a single night, they’ll always air at the same time.  Years ago I managed this by having four VCRs, but times have changed and I upgraded.  In any event, Comcast assured me that nothing would change, my analog devices would continue to work just fine.  On many occasions over this time period, I inquired about the future of analog service, and every single time I was assured that Comcast had no plans to end analog service for the cable package of channels 2 thru 78.

So, one day there was a problem with my cable.  It seemed I was only getting channels 2 thru 29 or 30, everything above that was gone.  I called in to Comcast customer service and asked what was going on.  They explained it was an outage, and regular service would return soon.  Seeing as I already had them on the phone, I again inquired about the future of analog services.  I asked if this division of 2 thru 30 and 31 thru 78 was a precursor to them moving 31 thru 78 to digital only.  I was assured that there were no changes planned.  None.  Channels 2 thru 78 would continue to be available for all analog users.

In the meantime, over the past couple of years, I have watched with anticipation the development of digital tuner cards for PCs.  At first the support was iffy, but now pretty much all software supports them, and given a good enough PC they’ll even watch and record HD channels broadcast “in the clear”, like your local network affiliates.  I’ve been budgeting my money in plans to upgrade my PVR so that I could take advantage of digital, but its not exactly cheap to do, and besides, I still had time.

Imagine my surprise when, the day after the outage above and being assured that analog was not going to change, I received a letter in the mail explaining that channels 31 thru 78 were being moved to digital only on August 11th of this year.  That couldn’t be right since just the day before I was told it wouldn’t change, and mailings like this take weeks to plan out.  So I called customer service again, and with letter in hand was told again that there was no planned change for analog service, channels 2 thru 78 would continue to be available.  But a quick search of the Internet found several locations, including Comcast’s own website, telling people about the future and channels being moved off analog.

Now, here we come to the “war”.  See, I’m not actually upset by the digital switch.  I expected it would come eventually, hence why I’ve been planning to upgrade my PC… next year, when my budget can afford it.  And I completely understand and even agree with the need for change: when you move analog to digital it takes far less bandwidth and allows you to have more channels and services.  My problem is that I was lied to.  As far as I can see, one of two things had happened.

  1. Failure of Management: The customer service group was not properly trained or informed about the August 11th channel moves to digital, and therefore the reps I spoke to were telling me what they believed to be true.
  2. Failure of Employee: The customer service reps, not wanting to deal with a possibly irate customer, chose to not inform me of the digital change, on which they had been fully informed and trained.

There is no other possibility.  Either the reps lied to me, or the reps were not properly trained.

I decided, for the first time in my life, to actually write a complaint to the Better Business Bureau.  I wrote in detail about my 18 months of contact and the day of the outage and the mailer I received.  I even wrote that I understood why the change was being made and that Comcast had every right to do so, but that I was lied to through one of the reasons above and I would like something done about it.

Since writing this complaint, the case has gone back and forth between Comcast and myself.  I have been called on several occasions and emailed a number of times.  Every time they contact me, I get a spiel about how there were two digital changes (the government mandated change and the Comcast channel moves) and this lead to confusion (despite my most recent calls being AFTER the government mandated change), and that I can continue getting all my channels by simply getting a set top box, which they will provide, or replace my analog tuners with digital tuners, which I will have to do myself.  Every time, I report the resolution as unsatisfactory because there is only one thing I want: Admission of fault.

I want someone from Comcast to call me and tell me the staff was improperly trained, or tell me that reps have been found lying to customers to avoid confrontation.  I want Comcast to admit that the failure existed on their end, in their processes or with their people, and to apologize for it having happened.  I want someone to say they are sorry and that the customer service department should have informed me of the impending channel moves on all calls made after some date.  This is the one thing I have not heard from Comcast.  And I probably never will.

It is not just them, of course, its systemic.  Companies do everything in their power to never admit fault.  Well, I’m tired of it, and this time, in my only piddling and puny way, I’m fighting back.  this case through the BBB will never be resolved until someone from Comcast admits fault.

As for my personal resolution for Comcast’s change of service, since my budget will not allow for rebuilding my PC (not only do I need new tuners, since the best ones are PCI Express and my PC is old enough to only have PCI, I have to get a new motherboard, processor, memory, video card, etc… the hard drive is IDE, not SATA… in fact the only thing I can keep is the case), and with budget being the main concern in this economy, I’ll be canceling my cable TV service.  Thanks to Hulu and individual network web pages, everything I want to watch is online anyway.  In the end, Comcast’s refusal to admit fault is probably going to wind up saving me over $50 a month.

Hellboy: Emerald Hell

It is not often that you can read the same character portrayed in more than one way.  If you read all the Dirk Pitt books by Clive Cussler, they all pretty much read the same.  Not to say they aren’t good reads, but a Dirk Pitt book is a Dirk Pitt book.  In the realms of Science Fiction and Fantasy, however, sometimes you can find a character who is written by several authors, and those authors can be very distinct in their styles.  Conan, for example, has been written by dozens of authors, and if you read enough of them, while Conan himself remains relatively the same throughout, his surroundings and the tales in which he is enmeshed change.

Hellboy falls in here also.  Many of the Hellboy books I’ve read and reviewed here are akin to superhero novels.  Hellboy and his band of misfits saving the world from one monstrosity or another.  Emerald Hell on the other hand is a much more sedate book by comparison.  More brooding.  More searching.

Within the pages we find Hellboy on his own, and after hearing some tales about the six silent daughters of Bliss Nail and the little Georgia swamp town of Enigma, he decides to check them out and see if something sinister is afoot.  Of course there is, but its not the potential world ending calamities of the other books.  Instead its about a pregnant girl who needs protecting from a misguided undead minister who murdered the girl’s mother.  More so than the other books, this one is all about mood and sorrow.

I don’t think I’d put this book at the top of my Hellboy pile, but I enjoyed it just the same.

Who Loves You And Who Do You Love?

I love that quote from The Running Man.  Its the tag line/catch phrase for the host of a game show where criminals are allowed to try to win their freedom by out foxing a gang of hunters who chase them, all while an audience wins cash and prizes.

“Who loves you and who do you love?”

When building, and then running, an MMO, this is probably the single most important question to ask, and ask often.  Its the mantra of watching the trends, both the short and the long, to see where the tide is going to flow and hope your game continues riding the crest of the wave and not washing out.

Ryan Shwayder and Grimwell both recently posted about if an aging demographic should affect a game in production and future game design, and there has been much recent discussion about change in WoW by Heartless, Foton and others.

As it comes to the age stuff, I think both Ryan and Grimwell are fairly dead on, if your game got successful on a certain demographic, you shouldn’t change based on them growing up unless you aren’t gaining new people at the entry level.  If your game once appealed to teens and young adults but is no longer attracting those people, then you have to choose either to change to try to attract them again, or change to continue appealing to the people already playing your game and maybe attract more people at that demographic.  And that leads into the other discussion…

When it comes to World of Warcraft, just as with many games before it that mix PvE and PvP styles of play, changes are sometimes made to favor either the PvE or PvP side of the game over the other, often to the detriment of the other.  A spell might be too powerful against other players so they need to reduce its power, thus affecting the power of the player in combat with NPCs as well.  It does indeed suck when changes are made to favor the side of the game you don’t favor.  However, of all the companies out there making MMOs, Blizzard is the only one I inherently trust to completely understand their entire player base and do what is best for the bottom line of the company.  They didn’t get their reputation for wildly successful polished fun games for nothing…

So, why is it that they seem to be favoring the PvP side of the game so much with changes to classes and abilities?

While WoW has always been a casually friendly game, is has also long been accepted that rolling into large scale PvE content (raiding) at the high end was where the “real game” was.  More recently, however, the Battlegrounds and Arenas seem to have taken more focus.  For one, it often takes less people to participate in, and a pick up Alterac Valley is more likely to succeed than a pick up Kazharan raid.  For another, their restructuring of the reward system of PvP has made the PvP gear much more accessible to the casual player than raid gear.  This denotes an understanding from Blizzard that BGs and Arenas are much more accessible to the majority of players than raids, and will net them the largest continuous player base.  I know if I were back playing WoW, I’d be over in the PvP elements of the game as often as possible, if for no other reason than a few rounds of Arathi Basin would be more productive, personally, than a night of raiding with a guild.

Another aspect to keep in mind with WoW, is that unlike many other MMOs out there, it is truly a global game.  And in the Asian countries, professional gaming is much more a reality than it is here in the United States.  I wish I could find it again, but there was a video a while back showing some (Korean, I think) professional gamer (national Starcraft champion or something) getting mobbed by girls in the street.  I’ve seen pictures of the audiences that will come to watch pro-gaming over there.  I doubt girls will scream or audiences will come watch a carefully orchestrated 3 hour long raid bound to net the guy with the worst items and/or the most points an item upgrade.  But for Arena matches… they will come.  So when you consider that more than half of WoW’s 10 million subscribers are in the Asian markets, markets where previous PvP Blizzard Games like Warcraft and Starcraft were monstrous successes, it really is no surprise that they might be giving WoW a little PvP nudge and luvin’.

In the end, it all comes back to the quote… Who loves you and who do you love?  Answer that, and keep answering that, and you can run a successful game.

A Change Gonna Come

Its not often I post in the Site News section, but hey, I’ve got site news… I’ve been looking at new themes for a while now, but I’ve been holding off redoing them because I also wanted to upgrade to the latest WordPress, which required a newer version of MySQL than I had available.

Well, after much wrangling, my database was finally migrated to a new server, and as I type this the latest WordPress is uploading. So a new theme is coming…

I was born by a river in a little tent,
And just like this river,
I’ve been running ever since.
It’s been a too long, too long-time a-coming,
But I know a change gonna come,
Oh, yes, it is.

It’s been too hard living,
And I’m afraid to die.
I don’t know what’s up there beyond the sky.
It’s been a long time a, long time a-coming,
But I know, Lord I know a change gonna come, Lord.
Yeah, yes.

And then I went to see my brother, oh yeah.
I said, “Brother, help me, please.”
He turned me down.
And then I went, I went to see my sweet mother.
I said, “Mama, Mama I’m down on my knees.”
It’s been a too hard living,
And I’m afraid to die.
I don’t know what’s up there beyond the sky.
It’s been a long, long time a-coming,
But I know, but I know a change gonna come.
Oh, long.

-Sam Cooke

Arbitrary Changes

I am throwing this in the gaming section because some of what I’m about to say, while not directly aimed at gaming, applies to game development and design.

This week I have been dealing with a Teradata upgrade at work. We upgraded our Development and Test environments a while back and are now about to move it to production. As part of my process for the upgrade, I went through the list of changes between the Teradata versions and made sure that either a) they would not impact our program or b) our code was prepared for the change. What I have been dealing with this week is a list of undocumented changes (at least not in the documentation I was provided) that are giving me headaches.

Now, realize that the errors I am getting are showing up in our Test system, and only the Test system, and only because we are adding a new feature to our application that involves getting a new group of people on the Test system. See, in the Development environment it is pretty much always the same people. It has probably been over a year since we added someone new to Development. Test had been the same until this week.

The error, once fully discovered is that Teradata changes the result from SQL that creates a new user from 1 indicating a success to -1. 0 still means a failure. After a user gets created, I have to execute some other commands to finalize their rights assignments, and as you can imagine the switch from 1 to -1 caused an issue. See, my code was set to check if the return value (the .NET return value on SQL is number of rows affected) was greater than 0. Greater than 0 was a success, less than 0 was a failure. So, with the undocumented change, all my successes were now failures.

The problem I have is two-fold. First, it was a seemingly undocumented change. Second, I don’t see a point to the change. Why switch from 1 to -1? Sadly, this isn’t the first time or place I have run into changes like this, and it will probably not be the last.

As it pertains to game design… well, honestly, how often has a game put out a patch message that didn’t list every single change? All the time… and how often do those changes affect the players? Almost as frequently. In games, or in any product design arena, changes than affect the users of your product should never go undocumented, especially if its an output that what will affect applications designed to work with your product.