January 31, 2010

Steam can learn from Netflix

I love Steam, but I hate misleading press releases. Valve, Steam's overlord, announced that they now have 25+ million users. Unfortunately the details are sparse. There is no indication of what "active account" means or how many are purchasing games on a regular basis. It's difficult to believe these numbers don't include accounts that have long gone dormant. The only vague number given is that ~10 million people have a profile, indicating some sort of buy-in into the Steam platform.

During the last calendar year the platform surpassed 25 million active accounts, up 25% from the prior year. Of the 25 million accounts, over 10 million of those have profiles in the Steam Community.

In addition to the millions of new accounts created during the year, the peak number of concurrent users eclipsed the 2.5 million mark during the month of December, pushing Steam's average monthly player minutes to more than 13 billion.
Contrast this information with the recent Netflix end of year report:
Subscribers. Netflix ended the fourth quarter of 2009 with approximately 12,268,000 total subscribers, representing 31 percent year-over-year growth from 9,390,000 total subscribers at the end of the fourth quarter of 2008 and 10 percent sequential growth from 11,109,000 subscribers at the end of the third quarter of 2009.

Net subscriber change in the quarter was an increase of 1,159,000 compared to an increase of 718,000 for the same period of 2008 and an increase of 510,000 for the third quarter of 2009.

Gross subscriber additions for the quarter totaled 2,803,000, representing 34 percent year-over-year growth from 2,085,000 gross subscriber additions in the fourth quarter of 2008 and 29 percent quarter-over-quarter growth from 2,180,000 gross subscriber additions in the third quarter of 2009.

Of the 12,268,000 total subscribers at quarter end, 97 percent, or 11,892,000, were paid subscribers. The other 3 percent, or 376,000, were free subscribers. Paid subscribers represented 98 percent of total subscribers at the end of the fourth quarter of 2008 and at the end of the third quarter of 2009.
At a glance the reports look similar, but Netflix has two subtle differences.

First, Netflix breaks down year over year and quarterly growth in hard numbers, not percents. This is an important distinction as it gives a clear picture of where the platform is heading. Steam on the other hand only provides a current number and percent growth.

Secondly, Netflix identifies the number of accounts that are riding on their various free offerings and trials. The Steam report has no indication of how many accounts were brought on board through free game offers or "required by game" installs.

Other than labeling all 25 million Steam accounts as "active", there is no real sense of the power of the platform. With the Netflix report, we get a much better feel for how subscribers are using the platform and how Netflix is growing.

Valve is more than generous with data collected from Steam (hardware surveys, heat maps, etc.), but its starting to feel like marketing overdrive when they are talking about the status of the platform. Hopefully, Valve can take a queue from Netflix and realize that granular subscriber data is not the end of the world.

January 30, 2010

Dancing with George RR Martin: Update on A Dance With Dragons

Its ironic that I found this post from George RR Martin this morning as I sit snowed in as well:
Snowing like hell in Santa Fe today. I feel like Jon Snow on the Wall. White everywhere I look, and still coming down.

Of course, I'm writing about Meereen, where the weather is hot and muggy, oppressive. If the snow keeps falling, I better take it as an omen, switch to a Jon chapter tomorrow.

The good news: finished a chapter today.

The bad news: it's one I've finished at least four times before.

This time, though, I think I finally got it right. We'll see. Still whacking at the Meereenese knot.

I took an especially vigorous hack two days ago, by switching to a new POV. It seems to have helped. Helps to have a pair of eyes on the inside rather than the outside here. And back story works better in recollections than in dialogue.

Let's hope that when next week comes, I still like what I did this week.

Writing, writing...
This is not an earth shattering update, but its an update none the less. And for George RR Martin to talk about finishing something, anything with A Dance With Dragons is good news.

January 29, 2010

Return to the Galaxy for FREE

Any player that has previously subscribed to Star Wars Galaxies will be able to play the game free of charge between February 1st and March 1st.

No, this is not out of the kindness of SOE's heart.  Its an offer to promote their upcoming Galactic Civil War expansion: Forces Under Siege.  This would be the expansion where SOE finally realizes that there is a galactic civil war occurring during the Star Wars classic time line.


Any old-school player (that means pre-NGE) will probably remember little to nothing about the galactic civil war from the original game, because there wasn't one.  Sure, Rebels and Imperial scum could chase each other around and spam knockdowns, but it was for no gain to either faction.  It was nothing more than a constant gankfest at each of the spaceports.  It sucked.  No, it really, really sucked. 

However, the new expansion approach to the GCW isn't going to tempt me back into the game.  I only mention it because its a free month of play for a MMOG, a Star Wars MMOG no less.

January 27, 2010

LCD vs Plasma: HDTV buying guide and other stuff I learned in the process of buying my first HDTV

What HDTV should I buy?  Its a question heard around the Internet every two seconds.  Quickly followed by LCD or Plasma?  Followed by more questions: screen size, refresh rate, resolution, etc.  Normally, a quick search on Google or Bing will quiet my concerns about any tech purchase.  In the case of buying an HDTV, Google was worthless, sending me repeatedly to adver-spam sites that do nothing more than duplicate Amazon.com's review listings.  Bing proved a little bit more fruitful, directing me to the helpful CNET Reviews.
Samsung PN50B550 50-Inch 1080p Plasma HDTV
What I learned was that I could not rely on a review or single source to direct me to the HDTV that was right for me.  The only way I was going to get a quality television was if I made the effort to research the options and understand from top to bottom everything there was to know before I walked into a store (and know that once I left that store, I was going home to order my HDTV online to save money).

Plasma vs LCD

The first step in any HDTV journey is to make a decision: Plasma or LCD.  I falsely assumed that LCD being the newest and most prominent HDTV technology on the market was the path I was destined to follow.  It was fairly late in the game when I discovered that the older technology of Plasma was more than capable of standing up to LCDs.  In hind sight, I should have started looking at Plasmas from day one, right alongside the newest LCDs.

Plasma

Plasma's get a bad reputation from their early years and the fact they are slowly being phased off the market.   Big name Plasma makers such as Pioneer have already left the market, and others are following.  Any initial search for a list of top 10 HDTVs is unlikely to feature more than a single Plasma.

The main benefit, that I found, for Plasma HDTVs was the price.  The manufacturing process for making Plasma televisions is streamlined, reducing the price.  Comparable sized Plasmas are often hundreds less than equivalent LCDs and with better specs.

Secondly, Plasmas offer a better picture quality out of the box, with deeper blacks and better control over motion blur.  Unlike LCDs, Plasmas do not need to advertise 120hz or 240hz refresh rates, as they handle screen refresh without the need for gimmicky processing tricks.

Also, the off-angle viewing for Plasma TVs is better, so those looking at the TV from one side will see the same vibrant picture as those in front of it.  LCDs are best viewed from the front with noticeable degradation of the colors and sharpness as the viewer moves off-center.

The major downside of Plasmas is power consumption, upwards of two to three times greater than that of LCDs.  However, most new Plasmas are Energy Star rated, which greatly quiets my fear of an energy vampire. Otherwise, many of the downsides attributed to Plasmas are things of the past.

Newer Plasmas have the same life expectancy of tube LCDs (60,000 - 100,000 hours, or about 27 years of average use).  There is plenty of technology built-in to prevent screen burn in (where an image seems permanently stuck on screen, such as a stations logo) and combat image retention (images staying on screen during periods of transition, such as when changing channels).

The only true detractor that sticks to Plasmas is that they don't do well in a bright room due to the fact they require a shinier glass surface which can pick up annoying reflections.  For my situation, our great room is big and dim, so a Plasma was a good fit.

NOTE: Plasmas only come in 42" + screen sizes.  For HDTVs below 42", LCD is the only choice.
NOTE: Plasmas do not do well at higher elevations and should be avoided in those areas.

LCD

While it may be obvious from my Plasma section that I became a fan of Plasma over LCD, but it would be a disservice not to talk about LCDs in this post.  LCDs are the prevalent technology on the market. They are far more energy efficient and tackle some of Plasma's greatest skeletons: no threat of burn in or burn out, matte finish to reduce glare, smaller screen sizes available, and no issues at higher elevations.

With newer technologies, such as LED back/edge-lighting and 120-240hz refresh rates, LCDs achieve equal picture quality to Plasmas.  However, LCDs are just now catching up in these categories and there is no set standard and plenty of debate over the benefits of each new feature being added to LCDs.  This leads me into one of LCDs biggest issues: price.

This is not to say all LCDs are over-priced, but the good LCDs that offer comparable specs to a good Plasma are always more expensive.  Not to mention as new features are added (120hz, 240hz, LED, dejudder, etc.) the price keeps going up.  To accomplish the same things that a Plasma does out of the box, expect to be paying more for an LCD.  Plus, more time will be spent researching each of these new features and the affect on viewing.

Why I chose Plasma

At the end of the day, I went with Plasma.  The ultimate test for me was walking into several large retailers (Best Buy, Jeff Lynch, etc) and looking at TVs.  Online research can only accomplish so much and at some point, the TVs need to be seen in person to understand the differences.

The first thing I noticed when walking into Jeff Lynch were the three screens on the far wall.  The picture looked crisper and more vivid than the rest. Sure enough, they were all Plasma screens (and only displaying 720p content).  All of them were hundreds less than the other TVs.  In comparison, there were well over 50 LCD models on display.  Not a single LCD on the floor looked great until I was standing right in front of it.  The lonely three Plasmas looked good from everywhere.  Granted, once in front of the LCDs, most were great and in the theater room at Jeff Lynch with the 65" Sony Bravia LED-LCD, the picture was amazing, but I would hope so at the $4,000+ price tag!

The off-angle viewing was a huge factor in my decision as our great room features 3/4 of the seating off to the side.  Plasmas won this fight hands down and with the price being about $500 less than an equal LCD, I was sold.  Anyways, I am NEVER directly in front of our TV, the dog is!  And I'm not buying this TV for the dog!

Details, Details

While LCD vs Plasma is a tough decision, there are plenty of other things to confuse an HDTV buyer: resolution, brand name, model number, screen size, etc.  LCDs in particular require due diligence on their growing set of options.  What I'm about to break down is what I found to be the important factors: 1080p, screen size, and brand name with a touch of model number.

1080p


1080p is the defacto HD resolution these days and while most cable/satellite is sent in only 720p, I found no reason not to go with 1080p.  The price difference, while there, was not enough to convince me to skip out.  Also, I would have had to search pretty far and wide to find a newer 720p set.  Every newer TV was 1080p.

Screen Size

Bigger is better right?  Yes, but size matters based on viewing distance.  I found a handy chart that makes quick work of this:


At ~9ft from my couch to the wall, a 50" fell right in the sweet spot.  Too far away with a screen under 50" and I would lose detail and diminish the bonus of having an HD screen.

Brand Name with a Touch of Model Number


There are a lot of HDTV manufactyrers out there and a million models from each (or it seems).  I strongly recommend sticking with a trusted name for a large purchase such as this: Sony and Samsung being the two top names I saw repeatedly.  Often times enthusiasts will refer to the brand names in tiers.

Tier 1 consists of the big names: Sony, Samsung, etc.
Tier 2 consists of the lesser knowns: Vizio, etc.
Tier 3 consists of the budget and store brands: Sceptre, Infinity, etc.

While tier 3 TVs may offer dirt cheap prices, they are plagued with lesser quality parts and shorter life spans.  Another factor is the repair network for each.  The bigger brand names are going to have nationwide (read: United States) repair networks and in-home service, while the tier 3 suppliers are going to have limited repair networks that will most likely require shipping a TV somewhere for repairs.

Just to throw a wrench into my smooth sailing, the HDTV manufacturers toss around all kinds of model numbers.  For example there is the similarly named Samsung PN50B550, PN50B450, and PN50B650.  All only one number off, but the differences and prices between each are huge.  The 550 and 650 offer 1080P, while the 650 trumps the 550 with Internet connectivity.  The 450 really shouldn't be included because it features only 720p and is only a budget line.

My advice is to look at the model numbers and determine what differs between each.  Often times, the higher end models will have an extra bell or whistle (such as Internet on the TV).  Without a little research the buyer would never know there is a technically equal TV, minus the bell or whistle, for a few hundred dollars less.  It pays to figure out what the "vanilla" sets are in each line (the 550 being the vanilla 1080p-level set in the example above).


Buying Online vs in-store

Just a quick note on buying online vs in-store.  In both situations, it is unlikely the store selling the TV will accept returns on damaged/non-working TVs.  They will usually require the manufacturer to be contacted for repairs.  Online or off, most places will accept returns on working, but un-wanted TVs.

Most local stores will not have many HDTVs in stock at the store, requiring payment for home delivery from a warehouse.  Also, local stores have to charge sales tax.  Online purchases usually don't have sales tax and shipping is often free.  I found very (and I mean very) little reason to buy locally.  I saved over $200 buying my TV online.  If there isn't a super deal locally, head online (I like to use Bing Shopping to compare prices and nab Bing cashback when possible).

What I bought

Lets get to what I bought: Samsung's PN50B550.  From the details: 
The PN50B550 plasma HDTV is perfect for action-packed sports and movies. It uses new e-panel technology which reduces blurring and produces crisp, clear images. And 1080p high definition brings out the brilliance and clarity in everything you see. Plus its unique Touch of Color design turns it into a beautiful work of art. Enjoy a more realistic, thrilling movie night at home with this Samsung plasma HDTV.
It arrives Feb 2nd, so check back to see if my research lives up to the hype.

January 24, 2010

I'd Hate to be Brett Favre Right Now

Ouch, Brett Favre just ended another season after throwing a big-time interception. This has to hurt.

And of course everyone is going to blame Favre, not the six fumbles, poor pass protection, or poor officiating.



I don't see him smiling like this tomorrow.

January 21, 2010

Left 4 Dead 2 Needs a Karma System

I was playing Left 4 Dead 2 last night and as I was getting settled back into some VS. gameplay, I was reminded of one of my few complaints against the L4D series: poor multiplayer matchmaking. 

The Left 4 Dead series has given rise to a new virus on the multiplayer scene: rage quitters.  All it takes is one rage quitter at the end of a bad match to trigger a nasty cycle.  Others will follow, usually leaving an empty team that is filled with random new players two minutes into the start of the next round which is often far too late for the team to recover.  The round goes badly, another rage quitter pops, and we're back at square one.

In a traditional FPS, a stronger skilled player can make up for a missing player.  Unfortunately, the problem for Left 4 Dead 2 is that the loss of a single player greatly reduces the effectiveness of the team.  The game is built for 4 vs 4, with the goal being 3 out of 4 players on the survivors team being disabled at any given time by the infected team.  That 4th player is everything!  Without a reliable 4th player, the survivors risk easily being caught and the infected have no one to harass the last survivor after a proper ambush.  When that 3rd or 4th player doesn't appear until halfway into the match, the game is all but lost (if the players even stuck it out that far).

Less bitching, more ideas on how to fix it

What L4D2 needs is a karma system that rates players.

Players would  be rewarded for finishing games, win or lose, and penalized for leaving games early.  However, only when voted on by the players that actually finish the round.  At the end of the match, a quick vote system pops up and players mark a + or - next to each name.  A negative would only be allowed on a player that left the match early and the earlier they left, the more that - hurts their karma.  A + would add karma obviously.  A blank vote is counted as a neutral, no change.  This serves as a self-policing mechanic for the community.

Those players maintaining a positive karma need to be rewarded with better match making tools that allow them to filter out low-karma bad apples. With dedicated servers hosting the L4D2 games and Steam tracking the players, this could be implemented.

Karma stats would also need to be public, without an option for hiding them. 

The beauty of this?  Anyone, at any time, could just set up a non-karma game or set the karma level to 0.  But those of us looking for a better experience, without the benefit of a steady play group, could filter to our hearts content for the caliber of player we want to play with.

January 20, 2010

Another satisifed customer...

the: hey
heartlessgamer: no
the: ?
heartlessgamer: not to be rude, but I have plans for it at some point
the: really?
the: you haven't touched it for ages..
heartlessgamer: yes, I know. I get sidetracked.
the: did i remind you of it
heartlessgamer: actually no, I had posted on twitter before you contacted me about getting it up and running. I've been a games blogger since 05, and originally when steam communities launched I was going to connect my list of contacts together from the gaming blogosphere

the: hmm
the: So ,you haven't touched since 07, but you've talked about it?
heartlessgamer: yes, and first come first serve. again, not being rude, just squatting on something I might want to use.
the: ok , if you want to use i can give back to you :D
heartlessgamer: nope
the: why?
heartlessgamer: because it would make me feel bad to tell you to stop using it
heartlessgamer: so I avoid the inevitable conundrum
heartlessgamer: by saying no now
the: haha
the: i'd be the one feeling guilty, if you told me you want it
heartlessgamer: see, saving us both the trouble now
the: haha , i don't realy mind tbh
the: i might only use it for a week
the: i set-up a clan , called [BLOG] and :S
heartlessgamer: also your profile was private, so I knew nothing about you. you wouldnt be the first that has asked for it.
the: come on man :S?
heartlessgamer: 1 billion dollars, final offer
the: i really , like it because it's an old group
the: if you want , i can make oyu agroup called BLOG gamer :)
heartlessgamer: http://twitter.com/heartless_gamer/status/8012403854
the: i want it because of it's anem and its date :s
the: nothing else :(

January 19, 2010

Allods Online Beta 4 Starts Today

Today marks the start of something very special for fans and players of Allods Online: Closed Beta Test 4. This stage of beta brings a raised level cap to 40, seven new contested zones, new instances, raids, Goblinball and Astral Ships. This all begins today (Jan 19th) at 11am PDT and runs until February 3, 2010. (Source)

Game Developers Should Play Games :The Lesson Learned From Reading George RR Martin

There's a great post over at Suvudu: The Lesson I Learned From George R. R. Martin. The author explains how they've taken lessons from exploring some of Martin's smaller works:
The lessons I learned from reading three straight George R. R. Martin novellas played into my own short story writing process, George a silent mentor whether he likes it or not.
continued...
The lesson to be learned from this: Most authors, when giving craft advice, tell hopeful writers to read almost as much as they write.

This circles back around to a debate often had among MMOG bloggers. Should game developers play other games? Often times, gamers feel developers should not as it will just lead to clones of other games. However, I don't feel that is the case. If it works for a craft such as writing, it can work for game development.

It's not whether they play, it's the games that developers choose to play that matters. As in the linked article, the author did not go for Martin's big titles. Instead they focused on his short stories, which are condensed examples of what makes his bigger works successful.

This has to be extrapolated a bit for game development as games often comprise teams of developers compared to the general rule of one author per story. We can take the comparison of World of Warcraft and Darkfall Online. If a game developer really wants to improve their craft and input to their team, what game should they play?

World of Warcraft will show them a great game, but how much knowledge will be gained? How much will a budding author learn trying to dissect the entire Song of Ice and Fire series by George RR Martin? Unless they are the next George RR Martin or Blizzard, not much. They'll have a great experience that they want to duplicate or improve. Yet, they will be trying to duplicate or improve components which are above their immediate understanding. It will not work.

On the other hand, if they take some time to explore Darkfall Online they are going to have a different experience. Darkfall is rough around the edges, but has dug out it's niche in the market. Playing Darkfall should allow a game developer to see how staying focused and delivering on community expectations can create a successful game. At the same time, they will find core components which can be improved.

This sort of knowledge often feels missing from bigger developers. I wonder, often, how many of the bigger developers have many core designers that have even played any games outside of the few big titles that hit every year. In interviews, few developers ever mention games outside of World of Warcraft or Modern Warfare 2.

I date back to Paul Barnett of Mythic. Leading up to Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning (WAR), he spoke up in an interview about having to actively discourage team members from playing WoW. Not because WoW was a bad game, but that it gave them poor perspective. Paul Barnett understood that playing WoW lead to an experience that many designers wanted to, but could NOT duplicate.

This is not the post to debate WAR's short comings, but the game misfired somewhere and in retrospect, maybe the developers spent a little too much time playing WoW (I'm generalizing here). I've posted before where it seemed that the internal Mythic propaganda favored blaming Wrath of the Lich King instead of themselves.

There is not an exact science for being good at something. Some great game developers and book authors have come with little to no experience. However, I suspect the majority of good developers/authors spent a lot more time with The Hedge Knight than they did playing Aion.

January 18, 2010

Being a newb in Civilization 4 is hard work

I'm hopelessly addicted to Civilization 4 (Civ4). The breadth of game play and possibilities is astounding. However, being a newb means I have a lot of hard work to become a better player.

For example, reading over the Civ4 "War Academy" at CivFanatics.com is not something done over a 15-minute break at work. It requires an entire day worth of note taking and a fundamental re-working of the idea of micro-management.

However, none of the knowledge from the War Academy is needed. A player can kick back on a lower difficulty setting and enjoy the game just as much as someone going for a Space Race victory on a hard mode. I've spent my entire first two games on the default difficulty mode, but it doesn't take long to realize that I'm dominating the field.

I've had fun in Easyville, but I want a challenge, so I'm kicking it up a notch. That means a lot of reading and learning. It feels good to have a game that makes me think again without needlessly throwing barriers at me.

January 15, 2010

My Allods Online Status

After a very busy beta 2, I have taken some time off from Allods Online during beta 3.  After beta 2 my mind was set: I am going to play Allods Online at launch.  Therefore I am taking a break during beta 3 to enjoy some of my other games and prepare for the launch.  I've logged in only a couple of times.  Also, I did not have any characters even close to the new level 20+ content that beta 3 was testing.

However, Keen over at Keen and Graev's has been rolling through beta 3 and has posted an amazing level 30 PvP video.
My character is very versatile and I enjoy the role that I play in PvP.
I've embedded the video below:


Other PvP MMO developers should take note:

1. Smooth as butter combat
2. Excellent performance
3. Visible spell effects
4. No over-zealous crowd control
5. Players lasted more than two seconds in combat

January 14, 2010

Now Playing: Civilization 4 and Mass Effect

My journey through the pile of games I picked up from the Steam Holiday Sale continues.

Civilization 4
Sid Meier's Civilization IVIt has been years since I played a proper strategy game.  For $13.60, I grabbed the complete Civilization 4 (Civ4) collection.  I also picked up Rome: Total War, another strategy game for $2.49.  I set zero expectations for either game, knowing that one of the two would win over my strategy sessions.

I was able to complete the tutorial and start the official campaign in Rome: Total War.  After starting the campaign I became confused and defeated.  I didn't know what I should be doing and every decision I made felt like the wrong one on the next turn.

It took me about an hour to complete the tutorial in Civ4.   That was around midnight. I didn't go to sleep until 2 AM.  Civ4 is one of those games that makes players lose track of time.  While Civ4 is not an easy game by any means, its a game that allows room for mistakes and misjudgments.  Instead of making my decisions seem worthless, Civ4 presents me with another one.  Before long, I was so far into my decision making tree that the mistakes I was making weren't anything more than learning experiences.  Its a tough thing to describe, but it feels right.

I am loving Civ4.

Mass Effect
Mass EffectI've ignored single-player RPGs for the past few years and Mass Effect is one of the highly-rated games I missed.  At $4.99 through the Steam sale, it was a must buy.

After an hour of play, I am on the fence about the game.  It doesn't feel like the great game that the reviews and general praise make it out to be.  The main feature, the dialogue system, feels monotone and lengthy. The bland main character, Shepard, isn't helping.

However, there were a few areas that caught my attention.  The character progression and combat is solid.  The backstory and expanded universe is intriguing.  There is enough to keep me going forward and hopefully the story will pull me in at some point.

If not, I have Bioware's other RPG: Jade Empire.

January 12, 2010

January 11, 2010

Star Trek Online Open Beta Jan 12th

From Rock, Paper, Shotgun:
The big news is: Star Trek Online Open Beta opens today (12th Jan) at 10am PST (2am proper time), letting all sorts of riff-raff into the universe.
However, open beta keys are only available to those that have pre-ordered until the "partners" for Star Trek Online are announced tomorrow and start handing out massive piles of keys to everyone else.

So, if you want a guaranteed in, Amazon.com has STO for $46.99.  Live long and prosper.

January 10, 2010

Packers vs. Cardinals "wild"card

Green Bay Packers Cheesehead HatMy heart, if there is one, has been trampled once again.  As a Green Bay Packers fan, its been downhill since the 4th and 26 miracle of 2004. It doesn't matter who the coach or quarterback is, the Packers continue to fall apart in big games. 

The Packers just lost to the Arizona Cardinals in a wild game.  The final tally was 51-45, ending in overtime on an unfortunate fumblerception.  Aaron Rodgers, the Packers QB starts his postseason career 0-1.  He started with a first play turnover and ended on a last play turnover.  The guy can not catch a break and has yet to prove he can win big games.

The Arizona Cardinals played a good game, but I'm pulling the bullshit card on anyone that says they played better.  They were handed 20 points (+14 more if you consider the non-calls on Fitzgerald tackling defensive backs). 

The Packers roared back from the hole they dug and proved they were the better team 3/4 of the game.  Take away the odd first quarter and the Packers win hands down, but thats dishonest to what really happened.  The Packers have no one to blame but themselves.  Turnovers and giving up field position makes winning tough.

This is a tough one to swallow.  I don't blame any single player or coach for this loss.  The Packers did everything to win this game, but made the rookie mistakes that have plagued them all year.  They failed as a team, which is the best sign for next year that I can pull from this disastrous loss.

Borderlands Configuration Editor

I found the Borderlands Configuration Editor, which is a great tool that easily allows PC players to do everything from disabling the opening movies to adjusting the field of view (FOV). 

One of the "TO DO" additions to the tool is a "Check my ports" feature, which is dearly needed for the port forwarding mess that is multiplayer on the PC version of Borderlands.  So, if you have a moment drop into the forum and place a vote to get this feature added ASAP!

January 8, 2010

Blizzard taking account security seriously with mandatory authenticators?

WoW.com is reporting that Blizzard may ratchet up account security by requiring the use of authenticators on ALL accounts.
WoW.com has learned through trusted sources close to the situation that Blizzard is giving serious consideration to making authenticators mandatory on all accounts. According to our sources, while this policy has not been implemented yet and the details are not finalized, it is a virtually forgone conclusion that it will happen.
I think this is a great move for World of Warcraft.  The negatives are limited, while the positives gained are far reaching. After the initial implementation spike in support requests die down, this will dramatically reduce support costs in the long run as hacked account support stops clogging the support queues.  Players will gain peace of mind that their accounts are secure and that should something go wrong, Blizzard's support will be able to resolve it in a timely manner.

However, there is one giant hurdle that needs careful planning: getting players on board.

The first part of this is "cost to the player".  As I stated above, the support costs are going to rise after initial implementation as players get acquainted with their new dongles, but the long term savings in support should be measurable for Blizzard.  That savings forecast should be used to subsidize the cost of the dongle for players.

The second part is more complicated.  With mandatory authenticators, it will be a lot harder for players to maintain their accounts.  As Cataclysm approaches, this could put many returning players off.  Current active players could face days of potential lockout if an authenticator is lost.  These concerns need to be taken seriously or this could bottleneck WoW.

In WoW's case, I think this is a good move.  However, its a limited case in the MMOG market.  Other subscription MMOGs would not be able to pull this off unless it was included at launch and I'm fairly certain it is well outside the reach for Free-2-Play games.  Regardless of what Blizzard decides, it will be an interesting case study to see how the blogosphere and WoW community react to the idea.

January 7, 2010

Avatar: I should hate this movie.

The Art of Avatar: James Cameron's Epic AdventureAvatar: I should hate this movie.  It depicts a resource-hungry, western-style civilization destroying the native inhabitants of a planet through technological and military might.

The story is predictable and the characters one-sided.  The marine kills, the natives are misunderstood savages.  Everything fits into the expected cliches of a cultural clash on a clandestine planet.

On top of the stereotypes, the hype should have killed this movie, but it didn't.  Avatar is a masterpiece.

Avatar not only lives up to the hype, it smashes expectations. It is not about the story, the characters, or the cynical prognostication of our modern-day world.  Its about escapism. Avatar is the first movie that made me feel like I was transported to another time and planet. 

There weren't special effects, there was a living and breathing world in the theater unlike anything I've ever experienced.  I could blather on about how stunning Avatar was to watch, but words can not do it justice.

My only complaint with the movie is the macguffin of unobtainium. That aside, its a hardly noticeable subtraction from an otherwise perfect movie.

January 6, 2010

Top Board Games of the Decade

The Thinking Gamer has a great post up covering the last ten years of board games with yearly favorites and his top 3 of the decade.
Here's my take on the best board games of the last decade, broken down year by year:

     2000 - Carcasonne
A really good game, and a truly innovative design space to explore as well. It's no longer in regular rotation for me, but Santa brought "The Kids of Carcasonne" for Kira this year and I highly recommend that variant for anyone with a budding gamer who's 4-7 years old. It's easy to learn and no reading is required, but it's got a surprising amount of depth of strategy — enough to keep things interesting for parents too.
While there are a lot of games on his list that I've never played (I've been out of board gaming for two years now), there are a few I played and quite enjoyed.  One of my personal favorites is the one quoted above: Carcassonne.


CarcassonneIf I was going to be voting for my top game of the decade, Carcassonne would be it.  The gameplay is simple, yet a logistical treat.  It's also dead simple to setup and get playing, a key to any board game being considered for game of the decade.

Another great game I enjoyed this decade was Battle Lore.  However, Battle Lore is a hardcore, fantasy-inspired version of Memoir 44, so I understand why it doesn't make Thinking Gamers list.

Board games offer a great escape from today's crazy world of video games.  Even after ten years, Carcassonne delivers greatness without the need for patches or new hardware.  I recommend everyone give one of the games on Thinking Gamers' list a try or break one out at their next get together with friends.