Archive for January, 2007

Weekly Response #1

I thought it might be fun to post my weekly responses for my Virtual World Studies class. I think they will mostly take the form of my current journeys in World of Warcraft, but may also take the form of what responses on what we are reading and thoughts in class. Without further adieus….

I started out by re-downloading World of Warcraft from Fileplanet.com as I seem to have thrown away my installation disk. The file download took about 4 hours and only took me up to version 1.10 of the game, the current version being 2.06 I believe. So while installing the game I went through and downloaded each patch individually as well. The install itself took about 20 minutes, which was plenty of time for most of the patches. After I installed, I then moved on to install each patch, which took anywhere from 1 minute to 15 minutes per patch. When all is said and done, it probably took me a good 6 to 7 hours to download and install the game. My next step was trying to remember my account name and password, and set up an account. The whole experience was standard web-based fare and it only took a little time for me to figure out how to re-subscribe. Continue reading ‘Weekly Response #1’

Sundance

I’ve previously talked about movie theaters and what not and how there is something lost in them these days.  Well today, I went for a walk in one of the local malls called Hilldale Mall. The Hilldale has always been an interesting town in Madison. It is one of four indoor malls in town, and the most downtown mall in the city (though I think University Mall will be indoors too after it is rebuilt in the next couple of years and that is downtown on campus so will be closer to the Capitol). In addition to this downtownness, the mall has always had ritzier stores than the other malls, being the only place in town that you can find a Macy’s (I realize this isn’t exactly the ritziest place, but it is much ritzier than the Boston Store or J.C. Penny’s). Yet the mall has always been rather rundown with a cracked and decrepid facade and parking lot.

Well that was true until recently. The last three years has seen a major redevelopment for Hilldale mall. They have moved out the world famous brat fest from their parking lot every summer in order to tear up their front parking lot and replace it with condos, a parking ramp, and several new stores and restaurants. And they also have forced out some of their older tenants like the China Buffet and Hilldale Theater in favor of some newer places, such as the Sundance Theater.

The Hilldale Theater was one of two solely indpendent theaters in the Madison area (there are a few that play indie flicks in addition to the mainstream stuff but only two that just do indie). The place was old, really old. I think they had two theaters, one of which was huge, probably seating around 150-200 people. I’ve been there a couple of times, but never really enjoyed going. They must have had a deal with the other indie theater because the two theaters rarely overlapped movies, one had 2-3, the other had 4-6 totally unrelated movies. So you pretty much had to go. The insides were run down, they had stale popcorn, and I swear they didn’t even accept credit cards. It was a pretty crappy place and I’m sure this was one reason that the mall wanted to get rid of them. The other is that I think they wanted everything closer and the theater was located out in a corner of the parking lot.

After seeing the construction for the Sundance today, I decided to take a trip to Hilldale’s website to find out more about it, and what else is going on with the mall. What I found out about the theater got me really excited about it. The new theater will have 6 stadium-seated theaters (not the old school style like both of the previous indie theaters), with digital sound, a coffee & sandwhich shop, a bar, a sundance store, and a small art gallery in the entrance that will be open for anyone to come in and look around without buying a ticket. They will also be featuring reserved seating so that you can buy the tickets to your favorite seats, and will be advertising free, though they will be playing clips of sundance channel content which is essentially advertising if you ask me. The whole experience looks something like what I had been thinking of with a previous post, just more indie-centric than I had been thinking. I am very interested to find out how this place is when it comes.

Oh and if anyone who may live in this area is interested, Robert Redford is supposed to make an appearance when they open later this year in March.

EQ2: Lesser Faydark

After long last, I finally got into a new zone in EoF. The jump between Steamfont and Lesser Faydark is huge, you can’t really go straight from one to the other, you really need to stop over in Feerrott, Everfrost, Lavastorm, and Sinking Sands first. There is a dungeun instance that you could go to instead named Klak’anon, it seems to be the main bridge. However, it is rather dull and uninteresting and has few quests and is more group oriented. So if you want to do quests, gain AA, and solo, you are bessed served in one of the others.

Lesser Faydark itself, is yet again another giant zone that isn’t only horizontal, it is vertical. It seems to be in a cliff valley that has become overgrown with giant mushrooms and vines running everywhere. I believe you can get onto many of the cliffs because when you look up you can see the cliffs with vines running from them to big mushrooms nearby, this tells me there is pathing but I haven’t really had the time to explore them much. I have roamed around various vines and have found many shortcuts because of them, so they definitely have purpose. The zone isn’t anything like Greater Faydark, but moreso than the previous zones due to the more forested feel.

There are several little camps that all have quests in them instead of having one large camp like previous EoF zones have had. Because of this, LF has the only system of horses within EoF. Horses are exactly like carpets in SS or Griffons in TS or Nek. You have to go to the stable master in order to unlock the station and then you get a small bit of xp and can use that station from then on. It is a shame that the horses are only in LF, because Butcherblock especially could use a horse route from the docks to GF. I have found that Kelethin natives have the most difficult time getting to Sinking Sands considering you have to travel through a huge zone and a half in order to get there, where the other cities have a carpet in town. It is sad.

The monsters in this zone are kind of so so, though it does have its moments. They have evil fairies, wisps, shamblers (the new earth elementals), and thexians as some of their main enemies. They also have added in Centaurs, Slithers, and Dryads from the lower levels of antonica to mix things up a bit, and I think the new enemy for the zone is the Unicorn. I think there are also bixies somewhere in the zone as I have gotten a quest for honeybees and I presume this actually is a type of bixie. So the mix seems to be a very natural type which isn’t unexpected. The quests so far have been rather unrewarding. In previous zones I’ve gotten some really nice items and some fun ones, so far here I have just gotten money, though I may be pretty far down on the quest lists so the end result might be better than what I am getting now.

On a side note, this is the first time that I have gotten a char above 50 in EQ2 and I find it very strange to note that you don’t get the 50+ spells in app1 automatically anymore. You actually gotta go to a broker to buy them. Kinda sucks not knowing what special spells you got in this particular level. That’s always been my favorite part of leveling. But I understand why they did it.

Nostalgic

Every now and then I have a longing for the 90s. After watching Clerks II, I have this longing again. That movie was very nostaligc, not just that it was a very popular 90s movie, but it was chalk full of great 90s music, and I also think much of the sentiment we felt during the 90s.

The 90s was such a great time to be around. The music was great. With bands like Alice and Chains, Alanis Morrisette, The Smashing Pumpkins, Nine Inch Nails, Dave Mathews Band, and of course Nirvana… today’s bands don’t even compete. Yeah a few of these bands are still around (namely Dave Mathews and Nine Inch Nails), but most have gone their seperate ways and even the ones who are around aren’t nearly as good as they were in that time (likely because they are trying to cater to today’s crappy music crowd). I can’t think of any band from today that is in the same league as these guys, the closest I can come is Linkin Park, but even they came around in the late 90s, they just have been able to maintain it.

It wasn’t just these groups that made the decade great though. It is other smaller groups that offered a great variety. Included in this is Blues Traveller, Fatboy Slim, Moby, Beck, Big Bad Voodoo Daddy, and Smashmouth, just to name a few. It wasn’t just that Rock & Roll was really at its peak since the 60s, it was also that everything had a peak. You saw Swing make a come back, you saw punk, blues, rap, techno, disco, retro, and ska all playing on the same radio station. We didn’t care about the genre, we cared that it was good, and that’s it. Everything I hear on the radio now is either metal, pop, or rap… and almost none of it is good.

Movies were great in the 90s too. Now by this I don’t necessarily mean the mainstream movies. I think outside of The Matrix and a few other notables, mainstream movies were just as forgetable as they always have been. Independant movies really came to the forefront. Kevin Smith and Quentin Terrintino got their name in the 90s. But it wasn’t just these guys, everyone was making indie flicks of all sorts and they were great. And you heard about them too… now adays I feel like I have to go out of my way to find good indie flicks… and this in the day of the internet (not that it wasn’t around in the 90s), back then it seemed like everyone had heard of Clerks, Trainspotting, and Swingers… everyone quoted them. They were part of the culture. Now don’t get me wrong, there are many good indie flicks that come out today. In fact I am very pleased that they continue to prosper, and Hollywood even embraces them to some degree as you see big actors taking salary cuts to be in an indie from time to time. But there seemed to be more good ones, more variety of types, and they were much easier to find.

Television was ok, not great. I don’t think television has been great for a very long long time. In fact I think in some respects Television may be better now than it has for awhile, maybe even the 90s, but it is close. It is hard to compete with Friends (which was at its best in the 90s) and Seinfeld.

You know what is really weird is that I never thought while I was in the 90s that I’d turn out to be one of them old guys who’d fondly remember “the good ol’ days.” I never knew any better. All I knew was that type of quality, I just figured it had always been like that and that I was just too young before… and that it would always be like this in the future. Boy was I wrong… it’s been years.

WoWeee

So I am taking a virtual worlds class this semester and I was really excited about it. Last semester I talked to the prof about the class and she said that people could choose any MMO they wanted to play, but they must play one. Well, now she has decided that you must play either Secondlife or WoW. I’m not interested in Second Life as I’ve given up the days of IRC chat long ago and have no interest in cyber prostitution, so that basically sticks me into WoW. yay, the excitement is just bleeding off me.

On the bright side, she is only requiring that people play 1-3 hours a week, which should mean if I play just that, I will be sick of it somewhere half way into the semester. Maybe I can just deal with it past that and make it through the semester. I think it’ll be a fun class otherwise.

One thing I do find odd about both this class and the other game centric class that I am taking is the lack of potential game developers in them. Making games is becoming more and more sought after jobs. When you are in a university that has no real program, you really need to take whatever classes that are available that actually deal with games. And thus far, in three classes from this department, I haven’t seen anyone with similar interests as I. This makes me wonder where the student devs are going because I know there is in fact a student group in UW-Madison.

Nintendo’s Wii Strategy.

I’ve talked about the Wii quite a bit in previous posts, but yesterday I listened to the AllGames Interactive podcast where Scot Rubin was whining about the lack of online play on the Wii. And that got me thinking about the Wii’s strategy.

Nintendo learned alot on how to market their product with the DS. They took a technically inferior product and beat the competition with innovation. And they didn’t do it just by having the innovation, they did several very clever things.

First, they moved away from the standard Long name and went to a shortened name for the system so that it didn’t get shortened like previous systems (NES, SNES, N64, GCN, GB, GBC, GBA)… they went straight to DS, and they copied this strategy with Wii. They then made an innovative system (obviously) with both, and they packed in a game (though for the DS it was a demo which was weak though it showed the potential of the system in every way, this is true for Wii Sports as well). And they had a stylishly funny advertising campaign (it is safe to say that DS’s “touching is good” campaign was way better than their current “Wii would like to play” Campaign.)

Now for the other part of the strategy. Perhaps the most namely strategy was that they didn’t launch with all their features ready, mainly wifi, though the Wii was also without the browser, weather channel, and news channel… each of which they launched in a seperate month to have a continuing stream of new features. This gives the perception to the end user that Nintendo will continue to put out new features at a regular pace for free, what can be better than that? I think that their wifi approach will be similar to this. Feb. will likely be an open month without any major new feature, March they may make the inevitable announcement, probably at GDC. And then we will finally see WiFi in play with the launch of Metroid 3 which will likely occur in May.

Now this doesn’t mean i think their wifi will work. In fact it may turn out that Nintendo has the worst of the 3 and not just because they were last. From all reports, Nintendo seems to be gearing towards having additional wii buddy numbers for each game, like they did with the DS, despite having a system number. I think this is a horrible mistake, I thought that the system number was fine, but game numbers are annoying and really just makes it so very few people will use it because they don’t want to deal with it. It sucks having a 16 digit number for every freaking game! I think it’d be nice if they at least allowed you the option of having an additional code for certain games so your kid doesn’t get into online play with them. And I also think it is a mistake for Nintendo to not have some sort of unified system even if it is a few leaderboards and achievement points like Microsoft. I know they wanna do their own thing, but those things are popular over there. (Even though personally I don’t care about em.)

I also think that Nintendo will do stuff with new versions of the Wii and/or the remote much like the DS, but this will not likely happen until at least x-mas this year or next summer. This will be used as a later surge once stock is in and the sales have slowed down. This really helped the DS trump the PSP with the release of the DS Lite. I think that they will repeat this too.

For the system, I could see a re-release with colors, no packed game for maybe $199 instead of $249. I think we can expect this to happen by June or July. But in the future I would also expect perhaps double the onboard flashRAM (up to 1GB built in), and DVD playback capability. Depending on how quickly the 802.11N standard gets out there, I could even see this as an added feature the the Wii.

For the controller, the latest rumor is that Nintendo is working on a controller with a better grip and rechargable battery on it. I think this has a fair chance at happening as slippage and batteries have been the two big complaints about the controller. I also think it’s likely we will see wireless and rechargable versions of the VC controller and nunchucku. However, more longterm after those controllers, I think it seems likely for a speaker on the controller, as well as longer battery life (likely in conjunction with something like Nintendogs).

Overall, I can’t deny that such a strategy works. The constant addition of new features keeps the system updated. It often makes people want to buy the system a second time which pads the numbers, (Not unlike how Sony makes crappy products that almost always breaks and thus people who owned a PS1 or PS2 often bought two or three of them due to it costing less to just buy a new one than it did to send it in to Sony). Heck I almost expect Nintendo to ship new versions of the Wii in 3 years with faster processors and memory and start developing for that… not unlike the Gameboy’s move to the Game Boy Color, and then to the Game Boy Advance… always taking the same base architecture and then updating it for the times.

How Microsoft is shooting themselves in the foot

When Microsoft launched the idea of Vista. They named it as a way to bring games back to the PC. Not a bad idea for them at all, as games are what generally drive the PC market. If not for games, there would be very little reason for anyone to upgrade their OS from Windows 95. And do you really think Office has changed that drastically in the last 10 years to warrant an upgrade on its own either? No. What does warrant an upgrade is bigger and better games which require faster and faster computers, which require an OS that can handle the speed and compliment it.

Vista is in fact having many nice features that should help gaming quite a bit. Their higher standards for drivers and hardware compatibility should make it much easier to develop for games. They have several features to the OS specifically geared towards the gamer crowd. For instance, one oft touted feature is to have the OS shut down everything but the game when a game is playing. A long needed feature if you ask me, this alone could mean a much faster gaming performance. The OS will also finally have native support for those dual processors that everyone now sports. The OS also has native support for HD, widescreen monitors, HD-DVD, 802.11n, and other newer technologies that should help push gaming. And the Aero look is sweet and to be honest I think gamers are very interested in looks.

However, Vista looks to be an unbuyable OS as a gamer. I had originally intended on putting together my new PC to run Vista. Now I am considering converting over to a Linux OS, and dual-booting into Windows 98. Why this drastic change? First there are the hardware issues. Vista has cripled Soundblaster’s popular EAX standard, therefore making my Soundblaster totally useless. And DirectX 10 cards like the Nvidia 8800 aren’t working correctly for some reason. Now these two issues may get fixed fairly quick, but it is still a little disturbing that a popular standard has been broken and a graphics card made for the OS doesn’t work. Added to this is the activation issue. XP’s biggest problem was the Activation. It was annoying, and pointless. You had to activate everytime you installed the OS, sometimes it wouldn’t let you because maybe your motherboard crashed and you had to get a new one, or perhaps you have reformatted too often, which meant you had to call Microsoft and get them to give you permission to install your OS. Now, that is gone, you can install Vista one time, and then you are locked out. You can’t call anyone at all at a later time, if you change your hardware, you are locked, if you need to reformat, tough cookies. Go shell out another $200 for the same operating system. It is rediculous. I was actually building the new computer for this very reason. I didn’t want to get screwed by it because I KNEW I’d be upgrading sooner or later. In fact, I think this is the biggest detriment to the gaming sector than any. PC Gamers need to be on the newest system available. They sink thousands every year on upgrades. And now Microsoft is hoping that they will sink hundreds every year to keep their OS. That is retarded to the biggest degree and I refuse to do it. On top of all that, it isn’t even your OS if you buy it. You are now just liscensing the OS so you have no rights to it! You are essentially paying microsoft for the right to borrow their products.

It is for these reasons that I have no interest in Vista anymore. If I really wanted the prettier look, which seems to be the biggest selling point really. I would have bought blinds or some other skinning program for XP years ago because people have been skinning windows to look like Mac OS X for years.

I see what Microsoft is doing is similar to what Apple has been doing all along. They want you to buy a new system instead of upgrading. They don’t even want people to upgrade anymore. The problem is that if this is how both companies are going to be, I would almost rather go to Apple as they are more innovative with their UI design than Microsoft is. I mean, the biggest benefit to the PC has always been upgradability, if Microsoft takes that away… then what is the benefit of being on a PC? I have even started to look to see if I could find an easy way to install OS X on my PC instead of Windows (after all I can’t use XP on two computers and I’m giving my old PC, XP included, to my roommate), but this is seeming to be complicated. I think at this point I would rather go with OpenSUSE or Kubuntu which seem to have prettier UI Linux versions. At least the OS would be free that way.