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Facebook Waste

There are two things that frustrate me the most about Facebook.

The first is how games work there. I love the way Lexulous worked. I was playing games with my friends, and I was playing games with strangers without having to friend them first. And because it wasn’t constant asking me to invite people or ask them for help, I actually posted wins and achievement notices to my feed. Of course, Words with Friends owns my soul now, so I don’t play much Lexulous anymore. (Hint: people like to play on their phones and you phone app sucked. Maybe it has gotten better, I don’t know, because I’m not there anymore.) I want to play other games, and being a huge fan of MMOs I don’t mind playing with other people. But the current design of most (Zynga) games is that I need dozens and dozens of friends playing in order to progress at a reasonable level. Well, I don’t have that many real friends who want to play, so I need to friend strangers unless I want to suffer slow play. Friending strangers breaks Facebook. The result is, occasionally a game interests me enough that I’ll create a group/list that I’ve painstakingly denied all access to, and friend random people and put them in that list. This lasts until either a) I need even more friends, or b) I get a creepy feeling from having all these non-friend friends and thinking I missed some setting and they have full access to all my stuff. Then I spend a day purging those people and those games from my account.

The other thing bothers me is the terribly shitty layout of Facebook. Here, I drew a picture:

Facebook Example

That covers pretty much all that I find annoying or crappy about the default screen I get to see when I log in to Facebook. Essentially, the content I want is surrounded by stuff that is wrong or pointless. And they go a step further by making that center column all wrong. I want a time line, in order, of stuff my friends have done. That group on the left side called “Everyone” is how I do that. Even though the default News Feed lets me choose to show news with “recent stories first”, that feed and my “Everyone” feed are different, and not just because my own updates don’t appear in “Everyone” but because there is still stuff missing from the default feed.

Speaking of the default feed is constantly telling me things like that there are “5 new feed items” and then I click the link and only 2 items show up, or that one time it said I had 10 new items and none showed up when I clicked the link. I realize that’s probably because of all the apps I’ve blocked, but if I’ve blocked them then why are you telling me about updates I can’t see? And that goes hand in hand with my complaint about the numbers on the left. It tells me where are 20+ updates in a group, and I click on it to see that there are only 5 updates because there were probably 15+ messages from apps I’ve blocked.

There is so much wrong and useless stuff on Facebook (and I’m not even talking about the updates from my friends!!) that it makes me want to never go there. And still… it’s where everyone is. *sigh*

A Week of Tweets on 2011-01-23

  • So the wife and I ended up back in WoW and on the Moon Guard server where we spend out time howling at the moon and dodging ERP requests. #
  • Hit me with your list of Must Have WoW Addons. Go! #
  • Is it wrong that the first guild event I'm organizing on my worgen is titled "Scott Howard Memorial Bastketball Tournament"? #teenwolf #
  • Idea: An RP WoW group called The Hand. Pollex, Secundus, Medius, Annularis and Minimus. #
  • I feel old when people say they "grew up listening to" bands of the late 90's and early 00's. #
  • $20 Amazon.com Gift Card for $10: http://bit.ly/i6Tkuh via @addthis #
  • Unpossible! #
  • I trust people to do their jobs, and it bites me in the ass every single time. #peoplesuck #
  • If you try to call me, do not reach me and do not leave me a message, you have failed to pass the buck. The ball is still in your court. #
  • Quicktime took over all wav playing in IE. How do I get it back to using Windows Media Player? #
  • Fingers crossed. #
  • The absurdity of tanking lies in that calling an opponent names in no way would stop them killing the healers and damage dealers. #
  • So, my site's RSS feed just decided to switch from full text to excepts without me changing anything. W.T.F. #
  • Finally relented and took down the tree. Christmas is truly over. 🙁 #

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Reading is Fun

It is summer, or close enough.  Schools are out.  In some places it just gets too hot to do much of anything.  All good reasons to pick up a book.

Personally, I love reading.  I may not do it as much as I’d like, but I also love video games, TV, movies and a bunch of other things.  Even still, I read at least a chapter a day of whatever book I’m currently working on.  For me, the best part of reading is letting my imagination fill in the blanks, to build the world in full that the author outlines.

Heading off to college in the fall?  Or perhaps you are sending a kid off instead?  The National Association of Scholars recently put out a report analyzing 290 summer reading programs for incoming freshmen.  The links to the report and the list of books from the programs are here.

Of course, those books aren’t for everyone.  Most of them are about broadening the world view of incoming students, and few of them are books many people would pick for fun.  I’ve only read two, maybe three, books on that list.  On the other hand, Amazon has put together their summer reading page which includes lots more popular fare.

For me, I’m reading Boneshaker now and then I’ve got a pile of books, most of them you can find in my library here on the site.  And I’m always open to more.  So, what are you reading this summer?

Facebook Games and Friends

Lately, I’ve been diving into Facebook games so that I can see what they are all about.  Overall, I’m fairly disappointed in a good number of them.  Not in the game themselves, but in how they are implemented on Facebook.

I’m not new to online gaming.  I’ve got an Xbox 360 and there are people on my friend list there that I met playing Left 4 Dead or Burnout Paradise or some other game.  I’ve played MMOs and I know people from EverQuest and World of Warcraft and other games I’ve dabbled in.  I understand, and actually desire, the need for other people.  However, the way games integrate into Facebook, it requires me to be extra vigilant in how I handle my gaming friends.

In order to progress in most of these games, you need friends.  I suppose you could spam messages out to all the people who are your real friends and beg them to play, but not everyone wants to play Facebook games, so it is not uncommon to need more game friends than your real friend list gets you.  Most games, on their pages, have discussion boards where people can ask to be added as friends.  Now, I can’t just add you as a FarmVille friend, I have to add you as a Facebook friend.  Facebook does allow me to add people to lists, of which I have one called “Not” for people who are not my friends, and manage what they have access to and then I can hide them from my news feed so that I never see their stuff, but it just seems like hoops I am jumping through.

A perfect example of this is a game called Hero World.  It is fun, if tedious at time, but the main element is that the number of people in your super team directly influences how powerful you are.  So, people with more friends are more powerful.  Scouring my list of real friends, I came up with 9 who wanted to play Hero World.  With the max team size somewhere around 250, clearly my team was weak, and therefore I was weak.  Moreover, I found that in order to buy bases and continue growing my own character I needed more friends.  I utilized my “Not” group and made some new “friends”.  Yay!  I’m more powerful!  And now I’m getting spam from people I don’t know!

Perhaps I’m just missing the point, perhaps I just don’t get it, perhaps I am becoming the old man screaming at the kids to get off his lawn, but to me a “friend” is someone I know.  What passes for “friends” on Facebook just don’t seem to fit the definition.  Facebook already makes a distinction between a friend and a fan, so why not allow someone to be application level friends where we can play a game together without the instant intimacy of being a “friend”?

Anyway… having been banging at some Facebook games for a while now, I’m going to start putting up reviews of them in the near future…

Do You Play Facebook Games?

I have to admit that the casual games on Facebook fascinate me.  However, their “abuse” of social networking keeps me away from many of them.  Every time a friend of mine updates me with some event in a game, or invites me to play, I hide all statuses from that game.  In a similar fashion, anyone on my Twitter follow list who enables the twitter features in most games that offer them will be unfollowed.

To date, my foray into Facebook games has been two fold.  On one hand you have games like Scrabble and other board games where you challenge people and play, or go looking for open games and play.  On the other hand you have things like Farmville and Mafia Wars (the Zynga games) where in order to succeed you have to spam and invite your friends and join groups of people you don’t care about just to be able to progress.  It is that latter group of games that turns me off.

So, what about you?  Do you play Facebook games?  If so, which ones?  If so, what draws you to them?

The Last Christmas

As promised, here is my holiday short story.  It begins like this…

He hadn’t thought of himself as anything more than Santa Claus in many years. Since he’d been passed the mantle he’d just enjoyed the magic of the position. He spent three-hundred sixty-four days of the year in his village workshop, with just one night out to deliver toys to all the girls and boys who still believed.

It was a dwindling list of names, but more so this year. Around April the list very nearly cut by half in a single day, and steadily it had fallen until around mid May. After that is dropped in chunks every now and then with one more sharp decline in early October. By December first, when the village usually kicked into overdrive to finish all the toys, there we barely more than a hundred names left, less as he loaded up his sleigh on Christmas Eve.

… you can read the entire thing here.

A World Where That Can Happen

September 11th, 2001 was a tragic day for a great many people.  Myself, being unemployed at the time, I spent the entire day in front of the TV and talking to friends over the Internet.  For some random reason that morning, I’d turned on the TV and it was on CNN.  I think there had been some special news report or something I’d been watching before bed the night before.  I was actually watching when the first reports of something hitting the World Trade Center came in, and I stayed there all day.  I don’t think I even took a break for food until dinner that night.

As tragic as that day was, however, it was the next day, September 12th, when everything sunk in, when the ripples of the event started to be felt, when the world became a different place than it had been just two days before.  Terrorism, of course, was not new.  People had been dealing with attacks like that, though not in the same scope, for a very long time.  Suicide bombers in cafés and other public places were old hat in some parts of the world.  Even hijackings and blowing up planes was something that had, to some degree, become accepted as a possibility.  The largest ripple coming from the September 11th attack was simply that we now lived in a world where that could happen.  A world where someone can fly a plane into a building, not on accident, not a small plane as a personal act of suicide, but a large passenger flight turned in to a weapon that can bring down a building and kill thousands.  On September 10th, it was unthinkable by most people.  On the 11th, it happened.  On the 12th, it was added to the list of possibilities, or if it had already been there, its rank on the list of probabilities rose.  It went from being some 1-in-a-million things to an event that happened, and now proven effective an event that would be planned again.

One of the tracks at Dragon*Con is called Apocalypse Rising.  It is a very odd track compared to many of the other fandom based tracks like Star Wars and Star Trek and the Whedon Universe because it lives in two worlds.  On one side you have zombies and an array of Sci-Fi movies and books, and people talk about their favorite “end of the world” and they wear Mad Max costumes and pretend to hunt zombies.  On the other side, you have panels with people who are well versed in the practical procedures of surviving disasters talking about the things you can do, the things you should do.  It is in the second half where discussions about the inevitability of larger events happen.  We talk about how the September 11th event was a shock to the United States and most of the world, and about how technology advances, and arms caches of fallen regimes make their way into the market, and how once upon a time people used to discuss about the remote possibility that a nuclear weapon or other massively destructive thing might one day be unleashed on a city in the US or the UK, and how events like sarin gas being released on a Tokyo subway and September 11th and more have turned that remote possibility into an eventuality, about how we’ve stopped talking about “if” something will happen but “when” it will happen.  And it all reminds me of a line from Chuck Palahniuk’s Fight Club, “On a long enough timeline, the survival rate for everyone drops to zero.”

Somber thoughts for a sunny Saturday, I know, but I can’t help it.  Its on my mind and it had to come out somewhere.  On a brighter note, I’m alive, I’m in love, and while I may not have everything that I want, I want everything that I have, and that’s a pretty nice place to be.

It has been eight years since that day, and other lengths of time from other tragic days.  To those that we’ve lost, I wish them rest.  To those they’ve left behind, I wish them restoration.  And hopefully “when” will be a very long way off.

What’s in a Name?

One of the things that has always bothered me with my writing is coming up with names.  Every character needs one and mine always end up in one of two categories.  Either their name is unique and awesome, or it is horrible plain and forgettable.  I have spent many any hour agonizing over names and often end up reusing the same ones over and over.

However, thanks to an idea from Corvus Elrod, I started keeping a list of names from spam emails and comments on this blog.  I’ve already got well over two hundred names and I’ve only been doing it for about a week.  The names range from the banal to the exotic and every level in between.  The idea was inspired, so to Corvus, sir, I tip my hat.  I may never have to worry about character naming again.

Good Reads

Several of my friends have been using Good Reads for a while now, and I finally decided to sign up.

This is me.

I’ll still be keeping my book list and reviews here on this blog as well, but hopefully Good Reads will turn up a recommendation or two for things to read in the future.

Somewhere Between Impossible and Impossibly Easy

This month over at Man Bytes Blog’s Round Table, the topic is game difficulty.

When I try to think of examples of games that I played that are either “too hard” or “too easy”, I usually wind up going way back to the King’s Quest and Hero’s Quest series of games by Sierra.  Of all the games I have ever played, I think that King’s Quest III: To Heir Is Human is probably the most difficult game I ever played.  Not because it was really all that hard to figure out or challenging, but because the game used a typed interface and required keywords, which were not provided to you.  If you wanted to pick up a duck and put it in a pot it might take a good thirty minutes or more to discover that you needed to “get pot”, then “hold pot” and finally walk to the duck and “put duck in pot”.  It was, in a way, very similar to the maddening “open eyes” command you needed to execute at the beginning of the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy text game, only it happened a lot more frequently.  On the other end of the spectrum, Hero’s Quest employed an almost entirely mouse driven system.  In fact, to win the game all you really needed to do was walk into a room and drag the mouse across the screen over every object and see if the cursor changed.  If it did, you clicked on it.

It is those two ends of the spectrum that determines how much effort I am willing to put into any game.  If a game’s control system is so obtuse that even when I am sure I know the answer I can’t seem to actually solve the puzzle, or if I walk into a room and it is covered in highlighted objects and glowing question marks and exclamation points, I lose all interest in playing.

This even applies to MMOs… when I first tried out EVE Online, it was clearly an example of the first.  There were no tutorials on the UI, nor was there much in the way of any sort of quests or missions.  I ended up doing the things in game that were the easiest to figure out (mining) and was bored out of my skull.  I quit.  Later, I would return after they added in a number of tutorials and more missions, and it has gotten much better.  On the other end you have World of Warcraft where if it isn’t marked by a giant floating exclamation point there is almost no reason to investigate at all, and once you have investigated the exclamation point you are rewarded with a bullet list of things to do before you return to the giant question mark.

To me, from the point of view of having to figure things out without struggling and not being given “the” path, I understand why I played EverQuest for so long.  In that game you entered the world with a note saying to visit your guild master.  You did, and in most cases were rewarded with your first quest, where they asked you to do something, but you weren’t given a bullet list.  Learning that talking to people got you quests, you would then talk to other folks, some of which had quests, and some of which just added flavor to the game.  As you traveled, you talked to more folks… visiting an inn?  Talk to all seven NPCs while you are there.  Of course, some people played the game in such a manner that they felt required to talk to every single NPC in a town, running themselves ragged and making detailed maps and notes to be sure they had talked to absolutely everyone.  I never did that, I just talked to the NPCs as I found them.

Of course, EverQuest is not like that any more.  Now they have co-opted WoW’s features so that new quests do give you a quest log bullet list of highlights.  You don’t even need to bother reading the quest, and if the NPC doesn’t have the appropriate level range in the tag over his head, you can just avoid them altogether.

I can see the argument that some people use against EQ, in that its quests didn’t properly lead you from one area to the next.  Breadcrumbs.  But in newer games, I feel like they’ve got so far as to bypass breadcrumbs and just install a rail system.  They don’t suggest I should try the next town so much as they point all my quests to the next town and if I don’t go there I won’t have anything to do.  The problem is that often I would like to go some place that is personally more interesting, but I get there in WoW and find there is nothing to do because I went the “wrong” way.

Outside of MMOs, whenever I play a single player game, I always feel that I need a good strong narrative to keep me going.  I enjoy Half-Life 2 and Bioshock because as I progress of location to locations, even though I know I am on a rail and there is no other way to go, the story and the action keep me wanting to go that way.  Then I pick a game like Lost: Via Domus and I barely played into the game at all… I just didn’t want to go the direction the story wanted me to go.  I want to explore the beach while the game wants me to run into the jungle, and just as they finally manage to make me interested in the jungle they are now forcing me to go back to the beach.  Someone is shooting at me and I want to fight them, but I’m not allowed to, whereas in HL2, someone is shooting at me, I’m not supposed to fight them and the I don’t want to fight them, I want to run.

Anyway, this post has been enough of a rambling mess, so I am just going to stop now…  I’m not even sure I managed to cover the Round Table subject…

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