Games and Sports Tech

Kings, Queens, and Children of a Virtual God

Awhile back, I read  on Gamasutra that Apple’s Game Center was now revealing players’ real names during the initial friend request. After that initial request, only gamer nicknames would be visible. The new policy is supposed to stop players from impersonating other people, but isn’t that the whole point of playing a game in the first place? Who plays a game to just be their real world selves?

This and the whole push to real names online, such as in Google Plus to give one example, feels like the old guard, the kings and queens of “Real Life” (RL) trying to extend their dominion into the online world. I suppose that’s okay if you’re one of them, but the geeks and nerdy folks who built the net and make up much of its most active population are decidedly not.

These children of a virtual god tend to get the short end of the stick in RL. There we are often bullied, mocked, and despised. This despite the fact that much of the science and technology upon which modern life depends was discovered, designed, and built by us! On the net, we are the kings and queens (sometimes both at the same time), and the oppressive rules of the real world are not applied. The net has become a space of the mind, where the human spirit is laid bare. It’s not always pretty, but I think that’s where real human progress comes from, which ultimately leads to greater beauty.

Unfortunately, the freedom and wildness of the net is seem as a threat by those who don’t understand. And in the name of “protecting the children” they push to impose the same broken structures on the virtual world as we do such a great job of imposing on the real one. But it may be too late for that. From Arab Spring, Lulzsec, and the London Riots to the BART protest, the virtual world is pushing back on the real one. The unfettered meeting of the minds online is having real world consequences that cannot be easily suppressed without a coordinated, global trampling of the human freedoms that many of us profess to believe in. That could still happen, but now I’m sure it won’t come without a fight.

Games and Sports Media and Entertainment Tech

PlayStation Network Disappoints

Not to touch off any raving fanboy battles, but honestly, I’ve never been a big fan of Sony’s PlayStation Network. I remember when PSN started, a lot of the online debate focused on how it was free versus the  annual fee (currently $50) of Microsoft’s XBox Live network. Not any surprise really, internet denizens have been the cheapest bastards on the planet from the very beginning. To many netizens, free always equates to better.

But, the old adage that you get what you pay for was quite apt in the case of PSN vs XBL. From this consumer’s standpoint, PSN simply did not work as well as XBL. The games were not as well integrated, and doing simple things like downloading updates took significantly longer than the same activities on XBL. Bandwidth, servers, and development personnel cost money, lots of it. A free model was simply not going to deliver a competitive online service. So it was no surprise when Sony announced the premium PlayStation Plus service with, guess what? A $50 annual fee.

By now, the massive security breach on PSN and other Sony web sites is common knowledge even outside of the gaming community. As a developer, I was a bit shocked at just how fragile Sony’s infrastructure appeared to be in the wake of these attacks. To be fair, it is not a small task to secure your network against determined intruders. I suspect that Microsoft may possess greater expertise in this area simply because they have been such a big hacking target for such a long time relative to Sony.

As a consumer though, I just want things to work! So far, I’m not impressed. The simple tasks of claiming the Welcome Back goodies has been fraught with server errors and disconnections. Part of this is the heavy traffic of legitimate customers which should have been anticipated and prepared for. The other part is the continuing network attack on Sony’s online infrastructure, which sadly also needs to be accounted for going forward.

I’m very frustrated by all of this. I just want to play some games on the net! Maybe it’s time for Sony to call up Microsoft for some advice.

Games and Sports General SciFi and Fantasy

Puzzle Nation

I don’t think anyone starts a family with a mind to create specific traditions. Those just arise on their own as time passes. It looks like family puzzle building has become one of our family traditions. My wife has always liked putting puzzles together, but at our old home, it just never caught on with anyone else.

Maybe it was the ages of the kids, or perhaps the layout of the space. In our new place, the dining room lies between the living room and the kitchen. A couple of months ago, my wife brought back a puzzle from a Scrabble party and started building it on the dining room table. We just left the pieces there and with nary a word, people would occasionally stop to put some of the pieces together.

Everyone took part in the puzzle building activity. From the 10 year old who loves rules, up to the 17 year old who is generally too cool to spend much time with the rest of us! The puzzle became a place of pause and fun, a new family hub. Through interruptions for hot pot dinners and school projects, eventually the puzzle was completed.

Without even thinking about it, I brought out a new puzzle. I wanted to see if what I had witnessed was just a fluke, or if this was some fun we could continue to enjoy. I had received a Star Trek themed puzzle as a gift years ago, and had never really gotten started on it. Now seemed like a good time to tackle it and test if the puzzle bug had really taken hold.

After a slow start, the magic struck again! Once more everyone engaged in the puzzle building! From youngest to oldest once more joined forces to vanquish yet another foe! And as I write this, puzzle number 3 is already underway. So I think it is safe to say that puzzle building is well on its way to establishing itself as one of our family traditions!


Star Trek TOS Puzzle
Star Trek Puzzle Vanquished!
Games and Sports

Geekboy for Life!

To celebrate my new job, I finally bit the bullet and signed up for a lifetime membership to Cryptic’s Star Trek Online MMO. And an unexpected bonus was that this weekend it was 20% off the regular price. Now the game needs to last at least 15 more months for me to cover my costs.

Star Trek OnlineI had thought about the lifetime deal when the game launched over a year ago, but the cost and the very real possibility that it would fail and shutdown before a year was up, kept me from doing it. Not only has the game survived, but it’s actually pretty good too. So I’m guessing it will be around for a while.

There’s been some talk of the game going free to play like Cryptic’s Champions Online, but that is probably over a year away and wouldn’t affect me much anyway. I’d still prefer the paid premium access over the free to play options anyway. I guess then I’m betting that Star Trek Online will live long and prosper!

Games and Sports

Project Diva Arcade: Will It Come To The US?

There’s an English page for Project Diva Arcade! While I’m not aware of any official announcement, as a Hatsune Miku fan, I can only hope that this means the game will come to the US!

Project Diva Arcade English Page
Project Diva Arcade English Page
Games and Sports

Siren’s Call: World of Warcraft

I think that I’ve started and quit World of Warcraft (WoW) three times now. But once again, I’m going to give it another shot. I got a one of those return to WoW 7 days for free promos in my email and thought it might be fun to try out the Mac client for a week.

The last time I played WoW, I was still playing Final Fantasy XI. Since that time I’ve quit FFXI and while I’ve been having sporadic bits of fun in Star Trek Online, it’s just not the same feel. I guess I like a little more fantasy in my MMORPGs than SciFi! I’d hoped that Final Fantasy XIV would be coming out for PS3 soon, but after one of the most spectacularly unsuccessful MMORPG launches in history, that has been delayed indefinitely.

So why not take advantage of a little free play to bump around Azeroth a bit?

Games and Sports

NASCAR Reunion

The Daytona 500 will be starting soon, and I feeling like I’m reuniting with an estranged lover. My love affair with NASCAR began 10 years ago, the day Dale Earnhardt lost his life at the close of the Daytona 500. I’d always loved cars and racing, but that was the first year that I started seriously following the sport as an adult. Needless to say, it was an emotional day.

The last few years I drifted away. The drivers just weren’t very interesting and the same guys kept winning. And all of the acrimony of the 2008 US Presidential elections soured me a bit on the sport too. But heck, after getting a chance to drive one of these cars myself at Chicagoland with DriveTech, and the hope for a better racing season than last year. I’m ready to give my old lover another shot at my heart.

Game Development Games and Sports

Final Fantasy XIV and the Square Enix Meltdown

In what is starting to look like the new textbook example of what not to do when launching an MMORPG, Square Enix CEO Yoichi Wada said at a recent press conference that he regrets they have let their brands get “sloppy” and that they will have to rebuild them all again.

It is pretty obvious to anyone following the Final Fantasy XIV disaster by now, that the game was released far too soon with too little attention to beta tester feedback. The downward revision of Square Enix profits by 90% makes it apparent now why they were in such a rush. Perhaps Square was really counting on FFXIV to make up for the less than spectacular performance of other titles such as Final Fantasy XIII. With the stock price falling, I can’t help but wonder when Square Enix might become a takeover target for the likes of EA, Activision, or Nintendo.

Square Enix still has some great IP and the fans haven’t totally deserted them just yet. As one of those fans, all I really wanted in FFXIV was an improved and updated Final Fantasy XI which would borrow the best from the likes of World of Warcraft wrapped up in the aesthetic of Final Fantasy. As a fan, I’d love to see a remake of Final Fantasy VII which is where so many of us began our relationship with Square. As a fan, I hope it is not too late for this to happen.

Games and Sports Media and Entertainment Tech

Springtime for Final Fantasy XIV

I’ve been waiting for Final Fantasy XIV for some time now. I signed up for the betas and finally managed to get a key for the open beta that started a few weeks ago. Alas I was greatly disappointed with the lagginess of the game and had some serious reservations about whether or not it would be successful.

Well it turned out that the fault was my own, for in my exuberance, I failed to double check my hardware specs. Everything except my video card is up to spec for the game. Sadly, my primary machine is a MacBook now with a 256MB Nvidia 9400M which I cannot upgrade. *sigh* I knew this to be a risk when I started using laptops as my primary machines.

With a great sadness, I uninstalled the beta client and await the PS3 release in the spring. I must say though that I am very very tempted to build a game PC just for this purpose. Hmm, maybe, just maybe… No, it makes no sense financially, but a dedicated game machine would save me a lot of headaches and give me an outlet for my need to tinker!

Games and Sports

Square-Enix Epic Fail: Goodbye Final Fantasy XI

I’ve been playing Final Fantasy XI on and off since the US launch and I’d wondered how it would all end. Would I ever max out any jobs, or see end game content? Would I be there when they finally turned the lights off? Well I got my answer when the the stupid Secure-Code payment system would not allow me to use either of my credit cards to pay for the game!

I refuse to jump through hoops to pay for a game. So good bye Final Fantasy XI, it seems that my money isn’t good there anymore…

Games and Sports

Playstation Home and Virtual Threads

A few days ago, I spent a couple of hours in Playstation Home on my PS3. I wanted to see what it would be like to watch and episode of Full Metal Alchemist in the theatre there. On that point, I was a bit disappointed because Playstation Home doesn’t have a proper first person view such as found in any FPS or MMORPG game. As a result, I had to watch looking over my own shoulder, only satisfying to the consumate narcissus!

Unfortunately, narcissism, mine at least, is a little hard to satisfy in Home because the avatars are just so darn creepy looking. Part of it is the design, which could be fixed if Sony would just rip off Square Enix’s beautiful Final Fantasy models. Right now, even Second Life avatars look better and at least in SL, the user can greatly improve this. The other part though is the way the avatars move and carry themselves. It’s just very unnatural and robotic, which is fine for robots, but not something that purports to represent humans. The Wii and Xbox Live avatars are much better in this respect.

Aesthetics aside, I decided to go to the mall and see what clothing I could find to dress up my little doll. Again I was disappointed. The store interface really leaves me flat, literally. You don’t enter a store when you walk in. Instead you go to a flat display of the items. The pictures representing the different clothes don’t do justice to them and to make things worse, if you select an item, only a small selection shows your avatar wearing it. Please Sony, just copy Xbox Live on this point! What self respecting female avatar can shop for clothes without trying them on?

In the end, I bought a few items before returning to my apartment. On my next foray I may play with the avatar editing tool some more before going out on a more general tour to try out a few mini-games.  I know Home is still in beta, but I would have hoped that the look would have improved by now.

Games and Sports politics

Chicago, you just lost the game!

I’m still rather depressed about the stunning first round loss of Chicago’s 2016 Olympic bid today. I’ve heard a lot of analysis this afternoon, but one thing I think is quite clear… There won’t be any more Olympic bids from Chicago. We wasted a lot of time and money when we probably never had a chance. I  like Rio, and if the IOC wants to give the games to Rio, then that’s okay. But don’t make the rest of us spend so much effort if we don’t have a chance at the prize.

Another shocker is the emerging picture that the IOC did not want the voting to play out as it did with Chicago going out so soon. Of course not, a crushing blow like that guarantees that Chicago won’t try again, it also scares off any other sane US cities as well. They needed this to go to the last round so that we could entertain the notion that our tremendous effort almost got us there.

As it stands, I think my fair Chicago feels like a jilted bride, just not good enough. It seems Havana will get the Olympics before Chicago ever will. Maybe we’ll try again next century.

Games and Sports

Chicago 2016: Daring to Dream

Today is the day that the host city will be decided for the 2016 Olympic Games. No one likes to be disappointed, but today I’m going to let myself dream just a little bit about the Games coming to my backyard! I hope this dream comes true! I think even the detractors here in the city will be excited if the Olympics come to Chicago.

Chicago already hosts millions of international visitors every year, but still doesn’t quite feel like a truly international city. The Olympic Games in Chicago would be the final push we need to become a truly international city, one the world’s great destinations. Let’s go Chicago!

Games and Sports Media and Entertainment

Second Skin is Out! Watch It!

I’ve been waiting to see Second Skin for over a year since I first heard about it at last year’s SXSW film festival. I just watched it online and it was well worth the wait! Second Skin is a documentary about people who play online games. Anyone who has ever played games online or knows someone who does should check this out!

Fanboyism aside, it is a well made film with cool music. And at the end, I really felt something for the people. Even though I’ve just watched it online, I’m definitely going to add the DVD to my collection because it’s that good and I want to support the film makers. In some ways, it’s like watching a real life version of The Guild. But you’re laughing with, and sometimes crying for, real people.

Games and Sports

AOTS: On the Munn-ney!

Last week I watched the Attack of the Show 1000th show special on G4. For the most part, I’ve enjoyed the show since I first got G4 4 or 5 years ago. But a few years back when G4 made a lot of wholesale changes to AOTS, which included the addition of Olivia Munn and the departure of some old favs, like Sarah Lane, I wasn’t too wild about the changes. The AOTS changes and those to some other G4 shows looked like the simple, low brow addition of T and A.

Now I like T and A as much as the next guy, but not so much on my tech and gaming shows. But I have to say that while Munn still has a lot of haters out there, I am not one of them. She doesn’t strike me as a true gamer girl like X-Play’s Morgan Web, she’s more like the pretty girl who hangs out with geeks, nerds, and A/V guys for no apparent reason. And in that role she’s the perfect. A nice girl who’s easy on the eyes but not so hot as to be totally unbelievable.

So kudos to Olivia Munn! I think the Girl At The Video Game Store video casts her quite well!

Video GameE3 2009Attack of the Show