The Socialest Network

Admit it, most of you live here.
Admit it, most of you live here.

Socialest (not to be confused with Socialist) meaning “the most social”. It is how I feel lately with every website on the Internet. Facebook used the be the primary culprit. Their feed, which I always want to read by “Most Recent”, keeps trying to display what it thinks I want to read. And the default setting for new friends is to show “Most Updates”. Zuckerberg and company are trying to curate my experience, to give me the best most awesome items they can mathematically determine – which largely results in me missing everything I actually care about. If I didn’t keep fighting Facebook’s settings, my feed would be entirely populated by items people reshared that have gotten thousands of likes, but when my brother says something cool but gets only 1 or 2 likes it gets hidden.

Due to Facebook’s deluge of ads and app spam (at last count I had over 200 apps blocked from my feed), I would prefer something cleaner like Google+. But then, they are curating my experience as well. Items posted in the last few minutes appear below items from yesterday that are more popular. It’s not as bad as Facebook yet, but it is clearly moving in that direction.

With Google announcing that they are going to retire the Reader application, a place where I spend a huge amount of time reading from my hundreds of aggregated RSS feeds, I have had to go in search of a possible replacement. All of those replacements suck. Each one of them wants to try and curate my reading experience. They want to show me the stuff with the most subscribers, the most likes, the most comments, and they want to bury anything else in the back.

It’s all turning into a popularity contest.

Everyone seems to think not only that they can predict what I want to see but that I want them to. I don’t. I would like to see the things I have asked to see, and when I want to see more things I will go looking for them (which I often do – I mean, you don’t get to have hundreds of feeds in your Reader without seeking this stuff out) or one of the sources I already read and trust will recommend it to me. I read lots of personal blogs, most of which I discovered because they were mentioned or linked to by another blog. What I really don’t need is my reading platform taking my reading habits and trying to select from a database similar items. It could be nice, but as far as I am aware every one of these systems eventually gets greedy and starts allowing people to pay for a better rank or more publicity. My Facebook feed is constant suggesting posts to me of things I could not care any less about that someone clearly paid to have put in front of my eyes.

It has been said, if you aren’t paying for it, you are the product being sold. And that is the center of all of these social networks. They don’t charge you anything because they are selling you. Google+ doesn’t have ads yet, but since Google announced the closing of Reader because they could never figure out a way to make money off it, you have to assume the ads are coming because if they can’t make money off Google+ they will eventually shutter it.

I’m rambling… anyway, I guess my point is that I wish people who stop trying to sell my eyes and control what I see.

Goodbye 2009…

Looking over the last year, it started off rocky as I remained unemployed for a couple of months, but I did find work, and as a bonus I actually enjoy it.  I’m working at a small company again, only this time the boss seems to know what he’s doing and things are progressing rather than collapsing.  I’m still working on spending less and getting our budget under control, but I’ve also lost around twenty pounds and I’m floating around 194 and having trouble getting lower… looks like I might have to actually change my diet.

As far as gaming goes, I’ve canceled my last subscription MMO.  I simply don’t have the available time to make $15 a month worth the price.  Instead I’m playing some Free-to-Play games with micro transactions where that $15 makes for easily three or four months worth of play.

On the writing front, I failed the NaNoWriMo again, but made it further than I have before, and I completed a very short story, The Last Christmas, that I am quite proud of, enough that I posted it and plan to make revisions and keep working it.

In just about every way, 2009 has turned out to be a pretty good year.

I’m looking forward to 2010, but I’ll save that for tomorrow.  For now let’s just send 2009 out in style…  have a safe and happy New Year’s Eve!

Dead Beat

Another Dresden book, and another good read.  This time the wizard takes on necromancers in Dead Beat.

I could go on gushing about the book, but if you read my blog you know that I love them.  I will admit that I enjoyed Jim Butcher’s take on necromancy and raising the dead.  It was new to me, the concept of having a “drummer” who keeps the beat that allows the dead to stay under the control of the necromancer.  Very interesting.

Anyway, I do look forward to reading the next book given all the events of this one…  🙂

Pirates of the Burning Sea

I was going to write up my thoughts on the game, as I’ve been in the beta for a long while now, but Tobold already did a fine job of it, and he covered pretty much all I wanted to say.

To me, the game felt like City of Heroes crossed with EVE Online. Towns, missions, character creation, all of that feels like it is right out of City of Heroes. The economy is player run like EVE Online. The major difference, and the biggest innovation, is how “winning” the PvP game is handled. If one side dominates the game, holding control of enough ports, they “win”, the ports reset control, and the other teams all get a leg up for the next round.

Over all, I’m not horribly impressed, but I’m also not disappointed. If you have been wanting a Pirate game that isn’t Puzzle Pirates, this is a well built game, much in the way that City of Heroes is a well built superhero game. However, if you are looking for breakthrough, innovative MMOs, this probably won’t blow your skirt up.

I won’t officially give this game a rating unless I play it after release, because they still have more beta time and things could change. But if I were to rate it, right now it would be a 9 or 10 out of 13.

A Cog in the Wheel

Over the years I have discussed with many people my likes and dislike as it regards the concept of “raiding” in MMOs. Back in the days of EverQuest, I was a raider. Not only did I follow other people into battle, but some times I lead them. And really, unless you done both, some of what follows may not make sense.

One thing I constantly say about the way raids are designed in many games is that I do not want to feel like a cog in someone else’s wheel. Finally though, I think I’ve come upon some examples that will really bring across how I feel…

Playing in a group, or small raid, is like a sports team. In basketball, five men take to the court at any one time, in baseball that number is nine, and I just don’t watch enough football to tell you how many are on the field, but I know its a relatively small number… not more than 20 for sure. Playing in a large raid is like being in a full orchestra. Now, let me explain…

We’ll take basketball first because it emulates a typical group size in most games. Five men, they practice together, there are rules and strategies, usually one of them is the captain or calling the ball… but ultimately, the man with the ball does what he does. If he wants to pass, he’ll pass, or if he wants to take the shot, he’ll take the shot. Any player who doesn’t have the ball is going to be trying to get open, or trying to appear that he’s trying to get open so as to distract the defending players. On the defensive side, each player will be covering a man or trying to block a shot. All this happens fairly independently for each man. Of course, as I said, they practice and have strategies, but those are prone to change on the fly in reaction to the situation, or be completely thrown out the window for improvisation when nothing seems to be working. This is like a group in a game… everyone has their role, their skills and abilities, and they do what they can, following the guidelines but ultimately their actions are their own and mutable from moment to moment.

Stepping upward, you put two to maybe four groups together for a small raid and like with larger team sports, the plays and strategies get more rigid, but still each person retains some control over their place in the game. Your healers still pick their own targets, people dealing damage do what they do to whoever they choose. Sometimes, full rigidity is called for on a boss fight, but every player, or at least every sub group of players, retains some autonomy.

Then we get to the big raids… I liken them to orchestras because really, if you are talking big raids like the old 72-man EQ days raids, individuality is really a hindrance. To get through the raid is almost a work of art. There are things that must be done in a certain order at certain timing by certain people… its like a symphony. Sure, you can drop one or your violins and add an extra cello, which will change the tone of the piece a bit, but in the end you play the same symphony. Large raids are run by one person, or a small subset of the people, conducted if you will, and if you aren’t one of those people then you are a piece in the orchestra. They need you to fill out the make up of their raid, and as long as you can do your part, things will be fine. But as gloriously demonstrated by the classic Leroy Jenkins clip, doing your own thing and breaking from formation can get everyone killed.

Some people don’t mind playing in the orchestra, letting someone else write the music and decide how its played and simply doing their own part to the best of their ability according to the plan at hand. Personally, I don’t like that. While I don’t mind giving up some control to the greater strategy, playing to the strengths of my team, I dislike giving up nearly all my control to focus on a single simple task… “Heal main tank”, “DPS”, “cure disease and spot heal”

Of course, by this point, with big raids having been so prevalent (and the fact that EQ often employed the “only one road to success” method of raid design) even as games like WoW’s Burning Crusade try to scale back raiding to smaller groups, many players continue to try to distill raids into single simple functions for their members to perform. Not to mention that the focus on item rewards and loot-centric design encourages frequent perfection causing them to desire getting the win as often and as simply as possible.

So, how can you tell if you are the cog in someone else’s wheel, if you are playing in someone else’s orchestra? Ask yourself about the last raid you went on… what did you do? how did it run? was it fun? If you weren’t the raid leader, and you are a cog, your answers will probably be whatever your class role dictates, smoothly and as for fun, well, that depends on if you enjoy the big raid life. All I know is, I don’t.

Stay Classy

Over at the Zen of Design, a post has been made and hopefully a violent and bloody discussion will ensue. The post is about Classes in MMOs.

Somewhere around my room I’ve got a document I started about class design. See, I really hate the way many games implement classes. You make one choice, at creation, and you are stuck. A warrior is a warrior, a cleric is a cleric. You are what you are and so is everyone else. Basically, EverQuest. World of Warcraft managed to do one better and essentially each class is actually three classes since you can choose to focus your talent points in one of three trees. I like this flexibility, so much so that I play a shadow priest in WoW… that’s a priest who is okay at healing, but better at dealing damage. I love it.

Back to my document. The idea I had for class design involved giving the players more on an illusion of control. What you would do is group skills together into sets, or schools as I called them. All melee weapons would be in a melee combat school, wearing armor and armor types falls into the defence school, healing arts both magic and non-magic fall into a healing school, and so on. In the end I had 6 or 7 schools that covered most things. Then each player would choose the ranks of his schools. They could put defence first, and melee combat second… making them a warrior… putting healing third might make them a minor paladin type, if they went defence then healing and melee combat third that would be a major paladin, healing first then defence then melee makes them a cleric, healing/melee/defence makes them a healing monk, melee/healing/defence makes them a fighting monk… and so on, involving all the schools. At first glance this looks like a ridiculous amount of freedom for the players, but in reality it is a very finite number of “classes” and all balance can be approached from that angle. No need to worry about someone maxing healing and melee and defence and damage spell casting because its not possible, if fact the ranking can inherantly reduce the effectiveness of the skills in that school, and since everyone will have to place one school at the lowest rank it means that everybody will suck at something.

Essentially, all I’m really saying is… totally unrestricted skill systems are bad, and totally rigid class systems are bad. A good system is just floating somewhere in the middle, a nice balance between player freedom and developer control.


There is one thing Michael Crichton has always excelled at, and that is taking a real field of study or research, finding a disturbing way it could be abused, manipulated or get out of control, and then construct a story around it that manages to inform, thrill and scare you all at the same time.

Prey is no different. The subject here is nanotechnology, small molecule sized machines programmed to work together to perform a task. The angle, what happens when the machines are coded with animal behavior logic that is intended to be open-ended and self-optimizing. In other words, the program makes decisions and learns from its mistakes.

The book was a pretty fast read, like most of Crichton’s books, and there is enough technojargon to give the book that science filled feel to it, but it never goes so far as to obscure the story from the read in mumbo jumbo that only learned people in the know would understand.

In short, the book didn’t suck.

Combat Skills

One thing I feel is really lacking in pretty much all MMORPGs is actual player skill. With their simplistic auto-attack or even button/click feat based scenarios there is very little room for the player to really control how good their character is at fighting. Even in games like City of Heroes where there isn’t really an auto-attack, your skill is hamstrung by the limitations of the game mechanics, which in CoH is the recharge time and choice/placement of expansion slots.

FPS games are all about skill. Well, except when the game allows scripting/macroing. People who used the rocket-jump scripts in Quake were cheaters in my book, people who did it without a script were talented. But that aside, every player runs the same speed and has access to the same weapons, and what separates the players is how well they use the guns and know the maps.

However, in making combat more skill based, I don’t want to lose the players who actually prefer auto-attack. So consider this…

The default configuration is auto-attack. You equip a sword and run up to the monster and hit attack. Your weapon will do average damage, perhaps with a random chance to score a critical hit and do double damage. This model is enough to play the game. You won’t be the best in the world, but you will do alright. Then, on an option screen, you are able to select several levels of skill based control. For example, you can choose the “fighting style” method which presents your character with a list of pre-set sword grip and fighting styles. Each style has advantages and disadvantages, base-lined on the auto-attack, and you select them and use them. Then on the furthest end of the scale is “complete control” where your joystick controls your sword arm and your keyboard moves your feet, you gain the ability to move the sword in whatever way you choose to hamstring opponents or stab at the eyes, but you also have your damage affected by your movement because “strafing” around a target you’ll have much less power than if you plant your feet and put your whole body into the swing.

It would obviously take alot of effort to work out all the details, but the gist is that you allow the player to decide how much skill they want to use in the game. The less skill they use, the move “average” their character is; the more skill, the more chances for heroics.

Another Year Over. . .

… and a new one just begun.

Well, it is 2006. Last year was a reorganizing year… put the debt under control, kick caffeine, stop weight gain, and lots more. This year is going to be the year that Fink beats the Stomach… I mean, the year that I start moving forward now that all the sliding backward has stopped.

Gentlemen, we can rebuild him. We have the technology. I’ve got an elliptical machine and a Total Gym, and I’ve done enough working out on both to understand them and to layout the exercise plan I want to follow. Thanks to the stomach flu, I’m already on the way to eating a bit less and I’ve already dropped to under 200lbs, something I haven’t been in probably three or four years. Now I just have to keep it that way. My goal is about 150 or 160, although if I end up higher because of muscle that’d be okay. I’ve had the bad mutha fukka haircut for a while now, so it wouldn’t be too bad if I got the muscled body to go with it.

Anyway, that all said, basically my resolution for this year is to keep on keepin’ on… work out, take better care of myself, read more, write more, play the guitar more, and maybe… just maybe… polish of the debt.

Happy New Year everyone!

A butterfly flaps its wings…

I went out on Saturday and saw The Butterfly Effect at the theater. And wow. It was good.

If you don’t know, the story is simple enough, a man is able to "travel" back into his past to try to fix what went wrong, but sometimes when he thinks he’s doing right, the world spins out of control more.

The movie was well written, filmed, and all that. It was just solidly good.

Oh, and Ashton Kutcher, to my surprise, can actually act.