Archive for June, 2009|Monthly archive page

To dungeons deep and caverns old

Well, I’m back.

I’d been growing dissatisfied with EQ2 for some time now – the world was huge and there was a ton to do and see, but it felt somehow empty to me, and I never really had any goals except the most basic of achievement-related ones (e.g. level up in adventure or crafting).  The EQ2 crafting, while unique and admittedly challenging, felt tedious to me, and none of my characters ever had AAs close to what I’d read they ought to have at their level.  All in all, it felt like a lot of work to field characters who weren’t gimped by poor equipment and paltry AAs.  So after some soul-searching, I resubscribed to the MMO I have the best memories of – Lord of the Rings Online.  Buying the expansion (and base game again) for $9.95 was a compelling bargain (digital download for the win!), as was paying $9.95 per month to subscribe.

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You Better Run, You Better Take Cover

I’m frankly unsurprised that the movement by the Aussie government to censor all the dangerous and subversive material on the internet is now reaching its greedy hands out towards online gaming.  This is after all the natural next step, if you’re a repressive regime bent on mindlessly preventing consenting adults from any exposure whatsoever to sex or violence, or for that matter entertainment in general.

I lived in Brisbane for 2 years 8 months, returning to the States last November.  I can attest firsthand that the internet access there was already fairly miserable, with outrageous ping times and frequent DNS problems.  Now the Aussie government is proceeding with its (frankly insane) plans to filter more or less everything crawling through the pipes connecting the Land Down Under with the rest of the world.  This will inevitably add to the already-terrible pings there, making even “legitimate” internet use more cumbersome – this serves nobody and hurts the nation at large.  I wish I could say I’m shocked but I’m not; the Aussie government is sadly all-too-much like the American and British governments, in that it’s often run (or controlled, or heavily influenced) by ultraconservatives who lack a fundamental understanding of how people have lived for the last 30 years.

The latest twist in the scheme involves filtering content in online games.  The obvious problems here, beyond the simple and compelling evils of censorship in general, include the difficulty small indie games face in getting a rating, as well as the unpredictable nature of all online games.  When you log into any MMO, you’re warned that the game experience may change during online play – which is to say not only that the game’s developer might patch in changes to the game, but that other players are unpredictable.

What does this mean?  If this plan is consummated, it means Aussie gamers likely won’t be able to play games like Spore or Sims 3, because if even one user creates content that’s objectionable and unsuitable for 15-year-olds (hello, penis-shaped aliens!), the whole game will be refused classification.  It means that small indie games like Plants vs. Zombies will likely be unavailable to Aussie gamers because they’re not rated.  It means games like AoC are very likely to be unavailable in Oz (boobies and blood!), but this could even extend to behemoths like WoW (which does, after all, have plenty of ultraviolence as well as drug and alcohol use).

I have no objections whatsoever to a government seeking to educate its populace about becoming responsible, mature adults.  If a government feels it’s necessary to censor materials available to children in order to protect them before they’re old enough to be educated, that’s also fine and reasonable.  I do however object in the strongest possible terms to any government censoring the content available to consenting adults “for their own protection”.  The sweeping and general nature of the Aussie internet censorship movement deeply disturbs me, and the extension of this movement to include games available online is frankly ridiculous.

Please spread the word.  Our Aussie friends are at substantial risk of losing access to a lot of games that are not only harmless to adults (and even to children), but that are by their nature educational and help to form social bonds.  This is a grave injustice.

Thanks to Ysharros for the heads up.

Krabnor! Barsnit tem do. Neep neep!

I picked up The Sims 3 this week and have played it a fair amount.  It’s more or less what one would expect if one’s played The Sims 2 – not a wholly new game but a welcome update to the old game.

Character creation is more flexible than ever, especially with the amount of control one has over appearance.  I was suitably impressed with the available options and was quickly able to make my sim version of Tobias Fünke (yes, from Arrested Development), which was a pretty good visual approximation if I do say so myself.  Sims have life goals which are chosen at creation, and the life goals available are based on the traits (up to 5) chosen for the sim.  Tobias is a never-nude of course, and is also a couch potato, but he’s friendly and flirtacious.  Sadly, he’s a bit of a loser as well.  This combination of traits allowed him several life goals, of which Network Anchor was the closest fit to the “real” Tobias’ goals.

Much of the game was very familiar and doesn’t require introduction if you’re familiar with what’s come before.  You can let your sim(s) do their own thing or you can micromanage everything.  You can build/modify as well as decorate your home.  The furnishings and furniture options are similar to what’s come before, and nothing really stood out there as being terribly new or different.

What is new is that the game isn’t about your sim household anymore, but now includes the entire town.  Your sim can walk/jog/run/drive anywhere he/she wishes, from a quick trip to the supermarket to pick up some fresh produce, to a trip to the community pool for a swim, to a jaunt to the local bookstore to pick up some light reading or training manuals for skills.  The added freedom here is very welcome and makes the sim’s life feel much more organic and realistic.  I was disappointed that with the advent of all this freedom, I still can’t micromanage my sim at work… but I can at least pick how my sim passes his work days, choosing from options like “business as usual”, “work hard”, “take it easy”, “chat with partner” (for some jobs), or even “use workout room” to get some exercise in and develop the athletic skill while on the job.

Lifetime goals are supplemented by transient goals, of which a sim can have up to 4 at a time.  These come and go pretty quickly, and I’ve been able to complete a large number very quickly, doing things like increasing a skill, making a new friend, etc.  Completing these goals gives points which can be spent on lifetime rewards; the first such that my sim purchased was “steel bladder”, which literally made it so he never needed to use the toilet again.  I later followed those up with rewards to make hunger and hygeine drop more slowly, making it much easier to keep my sim in a good mood all the time.

Sims have 10 skills they can work on: athletics, charisma, logic, fishing, gardening, writing, painting, handyman, and guitar.  As in previous games, these skills lead to faster promotions at applicable jobs, or in some cases (painting and writing) can be jobs in and of themselves.  You can learn the skills from practicing them, from reading books about them, or in some cases from watching TV shows about them.  You can even take classes in each skill at the appropriate place (e.g. restaurants for cooking skill).

Skills have been supplemented in Sims 3 by some new skill masteries.  There are 3 masteries per skill, and each is unlocked by performing a lot of actions with that skill – e.g. if you use Handyman skill to repair 10 plumbing objects, then any objects that sim repairs subsequently will never break again.  The masteries allow a bit more development and customization and are a welcome addition to the franchise.

To sum up: it’s a fun game, but doesn’t feel all that different in most regards from The Sims 2.  If you liked the previous games, you’re likely to enjoy this one as well.  It’s not revolutionary but it’s well-produced and fun, with the same light, silly aesthetics I’ve come to expect from the franchise.

More info on Natal

Here’s a good report of a hands-on preview of the Natal system.  Here’s a nice Kotaku hands-on article to whet the appetite further.  Here’s yet another hands-on from E3.  Here’s a blog by one of the Natal designers wherein he whets the appetite and stokes some enthusiasm.  Note: the Natal designer linked above is none other than Johnny Chung Lee, a very clever guy who did some inspirational work with VR head tracking – video of same is below for reference.

The future of controllers?

Wow.  OK, this is exciting.

An exobiologist reports on Ewok culture

I never trusted the little savages.  Turns out I was right not to.