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Urban Dead is dead to me

Ten months ago, I was first introduced to Urban Dead.  A free online game about fighting hordes of the undead and surviving the zombie apocalypse… or so I thought.  About seven months ago, I was excited to be playing the game, casually fighting zombies and barricading myself inside buildings while I slept.  The game wasn’t and isn’t overly graphic, but I was more than capable of filling in the narrative myself.  After getting myself skilled up a bit, four months ago, I decided to create a project for myself in the game, and a week later I had to modify that project due to what had become the glaring flaw in the game’s design.  After I abandoned Munford, I took residence in the Pickford Cinema over in Osmondville…

At this point, I really wish I could say that things took off, the movie theater was made secure, we fortified the doors and beat back the walking dead, slowly spreading out to other theaters and growing a network of safe havens for people to pretend they are watching movies as the undead shamble out in the streets.  I really wish I could.

The major design flaw in Urban Dead is that you, as a survivor, cannot win.  And I don’t mean that in a “this is an MMO with endless grinding, a virtual world, and there will be no ‘You win! The end!’ screen.” sort of way… I mean that in a “There will always be more zombies because you can’t kill them for good because they are not NPCs, they are the other players.” sort of way.

A month we spend inside, making neighboring buildings safe, keeping the free running paths clear.  Trips to the mall for supplies, gas from the gas station to keep the generators running… life was pretty good.  Then a horde of zombies comes through, breaks down all the barricades, kills all the people, and makes a mess.  Now, all us survivors are zombies.  Luckily it doesn’t take too long to wander over to a NecroTech building with a revive point, but it does take nearly three weeks to get all those people revived (it takes 20 action points to make a syringe -but you can search for them and cut that down- and 10 action points to revive someone, after you spend a point DNA scanning them, so that 1 person, even if they already have the syringes, can only revive 4 people a day).  It takes us another two weeks to get all the buildings back in good order, then the zombies come through again…

I don’t want to be a zombie.  Obviously some people do.  But when my game, as a survivor, is actually 75% of the time spent trying to recover from being killed… I would rather lose levels than this.  Especially since I have no say in my deaths at all… they all happen when I’m offline.

I tried.  I really tried.  Its just not worth the frustration.  I play games to be the hero, the guy that “wins”, not to be just another victim.

I’ll still be keeping my eye out for zombie games, and I still desire to make one… but for now, Urban Dead, as far as I’m concerned, is dead.

The Census

Over on his blog, Tobold has provided a nice little analysis of hardcore players’ complaints on casual players. In the midst of that, he made the following comment:

If Blizzard wanted to know what their players want, they would have to put up some sort of survey *in game* with in-game prizes for everybody who answers, so that even the casual players would want to participate.

The funny thing about this, is that Blizzard has crafted a game world with enough tongue planted firmly in cheek that this could easily work.

First off, they’ve already introduced a game mechanic, the daily quests, that has taught the players to return to the same NPCs on a regular basis for new content. Using that, restricting it to “per account” instead of “per character”, and co-opting the sense of humor that already pervades their world, they could insert NPCs representing the Azeroth Census Bureau. These agents, standing in cities and towns with their clipboards, could ask monthly, or even weekly, questions in the form of quest text and reward choices. Participants in the surveys would be paid for their time, perhaps in money or maybe in faction for the location of the census representative. The agents could even have localized questions, asking about nearby raid instances or other features, if localized data collection would be of benefit.

With an in game mechanic like this, they’d be more likely to collect better sample data than that of any out of game forums. Well, except that hardcore players might not participate if the rewards aren’t great enough, but surely adding more avenues of capturing the voice of the players couldn’t hurt.

To Wii or not to Wii

That is the question… sort of.

I was a console kid growing up. We had a PC, and I loved the Sierra games: King’s Quest, Space Quest, Police Quest, and the rest. But I still longed for the days of my Atari and marathon sessions of Yar’s Revenge and Pitfall. The Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) changed all that. I finally got one and spent endless days playing Super Mario Bros. and Pro Wrestling, Duck Hunt, and every other game I could get my hands on.

After the NES, well, I never got into the Sega Genesis or any of the other systems, and by the time my NES broke, the PC had finally caught up, and in my opinion, surpassed the consoles. It was computers all the way after that.

A couple years back, I was gifted with a Nintendo GameCube for my birthday, and I enjoyed a number of the games I got, but I was really still a PC guy, so I never got too far into it. And while I thought the PlayStation, PlayStation 2 and Xbox were cool systems… I was still a PC guy.

These days, my career is computers, steeped in programming, and frankly, many days I get home and don’t really want to sit in front of the keyboard. My PC at home has fallen behind… and I think that perhaps gaming technology, video cards and processor needs, are excalating too quickly. I really don’t have the desire or the extra cash to keep up any more. So, my eyes have turned back towards consoles.

Thanks to this article at the New York Times, I definately think I’m going to hold off on the PS3. I’m hearing good things about the Xbox 360, except that whole thing where lots of people have to return theirs due to hardware and firmware issues. I am, however, extremely interested in the Nintendo Wii. First off, I’ve always loved the Mario and Zelda games, then there is the fact that people are already confirming that it is 100% backward compatible with GameCube games, but the most interesting feature is the ability to download old NES, Super NES and N64 games from the past. That’s just awesome.

Now, I didn’t go camp out and pick one up this weekend, but I figure in the next month or so I’ll be able to snag one. So, I guess the answer to the question is… To Wii.

The Monster is Loose

There is just something I like about Meat Loaf. Not the food… can’t stand the stuff usually, but the singer. This past week saw the release of Bat Out of Hell III: The Monster is Loose. And it is good.

Although… it is weak in places. Meat Loaf has always had a sort of semi-operatic tone to his voice, good for belting out ballads. Jim Steinman has always been great at writing songs that are touching, funny and moderately nasty all at once. The combination of the two of them have produced some fairly awesome songs like Paradise by the Dashboard Light, Two Out of Three Ain’t Bad, I Would Do Anything For Love (But I Won’t Do That), and more. And in some respects this album delivers. Steinman originally wrote It’s All Coming Back To Me Now for Meat Loaf, but Meat didn’t record it for Bat Out of Hell II, so he sold it to Celine Dion (and here I went 8 years without mentioning her on my website, damn)… Meat Loaf takes the song back, and the lyrics just fit him so much better than they did her. All of Steinman’s songs on the album are strong and as good as they ever were.

But, Jim had a heart attack and a couple of strokes that sidelined him for a while, and Meat Loaf, rather than wait, decided to push on with another writer… Desmond Child. Now, Desmond has produced lots of people and worked with tons of bands… but there is something here that, for me, just doesn’t work. The songs that Desmond worked on instead of Jim feel more generic, like they aren’t tailor made for Meat Loaf to record. They don’t have that… that special something that the Meat Loaf/Steinman collaborations have. And its a shame, the songs aren’t bad they just don’t pop, they don’t spark like the rest.

All in all though, Meat Loaf lays down another solid album, and its worth the money. A fine 3rd part for this trilogy. And I think I’m pretty safe calling it a trilogy, because the first one was 1977, the second was 1993 (16 years), and now 2006 (13 years)… if there is a fourth chapter, when Meat Loaf and Jim Steinman finish fighting and get back to working together, we can expect it right around 2021 when Meat Loaf will be 74. I’m not going to hold my breath.

Hellboy: Unnatural Selection

Man… I really am digging these Hellboy books. They sort of take a stab toward horror without getting into any of the cheesy melodrama that some horror has. Writer Tim Lebbon takes his shot at Hellboy with Unnatural Selection.

The story here is that someone is bringing back all the monsters of legend, pulling them right out of the Memory. He’s setting them loose on Earth, and its up to the BPRD to find out why and stop it, because the dragons and sea monsters are starting to eat lots of people.

Like other Hellboy books, its one part horror and one part action, with a dash of comedy. The blend is so perfect that the pages pratically turn themselves. The writing was good enough that I’m going to seek out more Tim Lebbon books. Thumbs up for the lastest Hellboy.

The Break-Up

Monday I got to see a sneak preview of the movie The Break-Up.

Damn it was funny. Seriously, everything you can think of that would be funny about a couple arguing and breaking up, its all pretty much in here. The end was a little bit dopey, but at least it wasn’t a cop out… and if you see the movie, you’ll know what I mean.

And I’ve come to realize I need a rating system of some sort… so I’ll have to work on that. But in the meantime, I’ll give The Break-Up four out of five whatever they are.

Simon Green`s Nightside

While skimming through the Fantasy & Science Fiction section at my local Books-A-Million one day, searching for new stuff to read, I stumbled across and interesting series of books. At least insteresting in their cover are and book jacket description, and by an author I hadn’t heard of, so I thought I’d give it a shot. That book was Something from the Nightside. It was a fun little noirish detective novel type tale with a bit of magic and demons thrown in to the mix. The first book was good enough that I picked up the next two (Agents of Light and Darkness and Nightingale’s Lament), both of which have been better than the first and good enough that I’m going to keep picking up the rest of the series, of which there are two or three and more on the way.

They make good short reads, and I definately recommend them. Now, stop reading unless you want spoilers…
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Kill and Kill Again

You are not supposed to laugh wildly in a martial arts action flick, not most of them anyway. But watching the 1981 classic Kill and Kill Again, I just could not stop myself. First, there is the cheesy opening sequence… Steve Chase is being awarded at the “International Martial Arts Convention”, only for some silly reason he is fighting like four guys who accosted some random girl. Then it turns out the random girl was looking for Steve. Her father is a scientist who has gone missing. This scientist was making huge advances in… wait for it… potato based gasoline. “There would be enough gas to drive all the cars to the moon!” Now, while you can get gas from other sources, I’m not sure anyone has ever gotten gasoline from a potato. But wait, the prospect of completely renewable gasoline resources in the form of french fries isn’t why the good scientist was kidnapped… No… See, while producing his potatoline (gasatoes?), the process creating a side product… a chemical that allows complete mind control over another person! Dun-dun-dun!

So, our hero, Steve, gets together his buddies, after securing a nice five million dollar price for his service… His buddies, of course, are Gypsy Billy, Gorilla, Hotdog, and The Fly. Five men, in a martial arts movie, and not a single one of them asian… four white guys and a black guy from Jamaica. Gorilla, the Jamaican, who is introduced having a tug-o-war… him versus ten other guys, he wins… comes along pretty easy. Gypsy requires a nice fifteen man brawl, one of the more watchable parts of the movie. Hotdog is found playing a sort of Russian Roulette… a bunch of guys are inside a metal hangar, they load a gun and then throw it, it goes off and the bullet ricochets around, last man to chicken out wins the pot. The Fly… well, he’s some sort of mystic or something… he levitates, and so does Steve, and if you haven’t turned off the movie yet, you should.

Then we meet the bad guy… Marduk! Ooooh! A scary name! Too bad he looks like a high school chemistry professor from the late 60’s stuffed into a military uniform. And his right hand woman has pink hair, and calls him cutesy names even though he asks her to stop. I stopped laughing at this point and started crying. If I only I could have found the remote…

Have I mentioned that this wasn’t the first time I’d seen this movie? I think it explains alot. Really.

The worst part about this movie, though, is that this is a sequel. The first Steve Chase movie was called Kill or Be Killed, and you shouldn’t watch it either. Lucky for you, its not on DVD yet so its much harder to find. Don’t try.

Appearances can be Deceiving

I read on the bus to work every morning. This week I’ve been reading ‘Lamb’ by Christopher Moore, an excellent book thus far (about half way through) and its looking like it will get a very good recommendation out of me. The book happens to be a semi-satirical look at the life of Jesus Christ, Joshua, through the eyes of his never-mentioned-in-the-Bible best friend Levi, who is called Biff. Anyhow, as I’m riding the bus, I notice the guy sitting next to me. He looks ‘normal’, and I mean that in the “We never suspected anything because he was just a normal guy” sort of way. He wore typical business casual clothes, khaki slacks, a polo shirt, and nice shoes. His hair was an average short but not too short guy hair cut. He wore glasses, had a watch on (a nice gold colored one that may or may not have been actual gold) and a wedding ring. As he sat, he was flipping through some papers and highlighting as he went.

A brief aside here… If curiosity kills the cat, then I’m glad I’m not a cat. I have an insatiable appetite for looking at things that I shouldn’t. As a child, one of my favorite pastimes was sneaking into my father’s closet to take a gander at the Playboy magazines that he kept hidden there. I was like eight years old. Eight year old boys don’t really understand looking at naked women, but I did understand that I wasn’t supposed to look at naked women, so that’s why I did it. At jobs, I’ve always poked around the networks to find files I shouldn’t see, also because I believe that if you really want to keep something secret you should take the proper precautions to ensure that it can’t be seen. So back to where I left off, a guy sitting next to me highlighting papers.

I’m pretty good at misdirection and that sort of thing, so I’m pretending to read my book and stealing glances with my eyes only over to his work. This ‘normal’ guy is reading through and highlight passages in satanic texts. He’s flipping through pages of books by Crowley and others, making special note of referenced texts. Of course, you might be wondering, “How do you know what satanic texts look like?” And I might answer, “Umm… because I’ve read most of them myself.” but you might think less of me, so instead I’ll say, “Because all the pages were printed from a website, and when you print from a website the URL appears at the bottom (unless you disable that in Internet Explorer) and it has ‘satanic texts’ written in it!” But even if you choose to believe the former, at least I have my head shaved and sport a goatee, and have had a number of people tell me I look evil (when I’m not, I’m really a nice guy), while this man looks like the poster boy for Suburban Living Monthly (which, ironically, is the same look and acronym for Sociopathic Lunatic Monthly, both of which I’m pretty sure you can pick up at your local Kroger). I can only hope that he was doing research for something he’s writing, like a novel or a screenplay, which, I assure you, is what I was doing when I read the same books, and not researching quotes for his manifesto swearing his faith to the one true lord which he’ll have on him as he sacrifices teenage girls and he’ll include copies of with the video tapes he sends to the authorities of his deeds.

Some days I wonder if my imagination is too active, or if I actually see things that other people don’t… Time will tell I suppose.

Custom Signature

Sort of a neat little add-on I found for WordPress. Dynasignage. It takes the title of the latest post and builds a PNG signature so that you can use it to use on message boards and stuff to try to increase traffic on your site. The author’s version was a bit bland, just a while box, black border and two lines of centered text. So I modified it to fit three lines of text, use a template image with graphic, and allow for a variable to be passed so that the name on the signature can change on a per board basis. For example:

Its pretty cool.