Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Under the Hood: Why Windows Vista Won't Suck

ExtremeTech.com published quite an interesting breakdown of some of the deep, under the hood changes that Windows Vista promises to deliver. Read Why Windows Vista Won't Suck and see for yourself!

Friday, February 24, 2006

The Search for the Holy MMORPG: Part Eight

(Continued from The Search for the Holy MMORPG: Part Seven)

Rediscovering EverQuest II
If you've been following this series, you know that we finally decided on World of Warcraft as our MMO of choice. We've been playing it a few weeks now and we really enjoy it. It's easy to learn, easy to play while still challenging, very open ended but never leaves you wondering what you're supposed to do next. Basically, it takes a lot of the best parts of MMO's and does it right.

But the other day, as I was reading my email on my home PC, I looked on my desktop and saw that I still had EverQuest II installed. I had cancelled my account a while ago because the game was too geared towards groups and raids, was not casual enough for a 3-hour/night gamer like myself, and left me wondering what to do next many times. Curiousity got the better of me, however, and I double-clicked the EQ2 icon on my desktop just to see if it would still work.

Well, the game launched and immediately started downloading all sorts of updates. This was taking quite a while, so I decided to leave it overnight and check it out the next day. In the morning, before work, I saw that it had finished. So I went ahead and clicked the big PLAY button. Lo and behold, I was able to login and my old characters were still there!

Of course, this is most likely Sony Online's way to get players back. I checked my account status and it said my account was good for 7 days, and then I would have to pay to play. Ok, I'll give this a shot just to see how it has changed.

I decided to create a new character to get a feel from the start. I was surprised to see that the limitations of race/class combinations have been lifted, so any race can be any class. I created a Froglok Monk named Redsoul (in memory of my old EQ1 character Redsoul Blackfoot, a shaman).

I'm still in the starter island doing small quests to level up before going into the main game, but I have to say, so far, it is a much improved experience. The interface is not as immediately easy to use as WoW was, but it is infinitely more configurable. The questing system is very similar to WoW, and talking to NPC's can be quite humorous.

I have been able to solo this whole time and just reached level 7. This is where I reached the first "instanced" dungeon encounter, where no one else can come in and interrupt my gameplay unless I was grouped with them. In WoW, I have yet to encounter an instanced dungeon, but I hear rumours that they exist :-)

This is also the first time I died. I was able to complete most of the dungeon until the very end, when the boss and a bunch of her cronies simply overwhelm my poor little froggie. I'll have to try again with different tactics, but so far it has been quite fun.

There are some significant differences between WoW and EQ2. First, the graphics in EQ2 are far superior in my opinion. They are not cartoony like in WoW. Of course, this comes with a significant performance hit. WoW is more approachable from the start because of the simple user interface, but I wonder if EQ2 is infinitely deeper in scope and details. Only time will tell.

Star Trek Online: Another upcoming MMORPG

Perpetual Entertainment is working on a Star Trek MMORPG called Star Trek Online, where you can train at Starfleet and potentially work your way up to becoming captain of your own starship. It will cover all the Star Trek franchises from the original series up to Enterprise. This will be one to keep an eye on.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

PBS will debut new Monty Python specials in 2006!

Six new Monty Python specials will debut on PBS this year, one based on each member of the British comedy troupe. The five living Pythons - John Cleese, Eric Idle, Terry Gilliam, Michael Palin and Terry Jones - will each produce and write their own episode, with all of them collaborating on a sixth special to honor deceased member Graham Chapman.

Word is, Chapman is "feeling better" but still plans on being dead by the time the shows are ready.

Right. Stop that. It's silly.

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Top 10 reasons to get Windows Vista

Yahoo News, in conjunction with PC World, published Ten Reasons to Buy Windows Vista. This next version of Windows promises to be more secure, intuitive, functional, and graphically appealing. Yes, it brings Windows that much closer to Mac OS X. Personally, I can't wait for it!

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Cheyenne Mountain offers more details on the Stargate MMORPG

This game, based on the popular Stargate TV series, is still in pre-production, but the developers at Cheyenne Mountain speak up about their plans.

Being a fan of the show as well as the MMORPG gaming genre, this is one I will not miss!

Monday, February 13, 2006

Octopus.com was way ahead of its time

I used to work at a company called Octopus.com, which created a nifty technology to be able to "scrape" content from different sources (e.g. web pages), and compile them all together in one page "view". These views were then categorized, shared, and rated.

Well, unfortunately, Octopus went the way of the dodo with the dot-com bust. All assets were sold to Ask Jeeves and put to use on B2B and internal projects I assume.

Now it's 2006, and the latest buzzwords are "Web 2.0" and "Ajax". And lo and behold, what do we see popping up? Yes, sites that do almost exactly what Octopus did way back in 1999. Of course, these sites no longer need to depend on Java applets or IE specific code. They use Ajax technology, which, for all intents and purposes, is built in to all current browser versions.

Check out NetVibes and ProtoPage as two examples that remind me quite a bit of my brush with the dot-com hey day.

EDIT: Co-founder Christoph Janz reminded me about his Web 2.0 Ajax driven service named Pageflakes. He runs a very interesting blog on Web 2.0. Check it out at http://christophjanz.blogspot.com/

Friday, February 10, 2006

The Search for the Holy MMORPG: Part Seven

(Continued from The Search for the Holy MMORPG: Part Six)

Dungeons & Dragons Online BETA
If you've been following this series of postings, you know that my friend Darryl and I have been looking for the perfect Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game (MMORPG). We both used to play EverQuest and EverQuest II, but those got old. Now we were looking to recapture the good ol' days of online gaming when everything was new and exciting.

We tried several demos and betas, and even bought World of Warcraft. What it boils down to is that out of all the demos and betas we tried, Dungeons & Dragons Online was the only one worth considering.

This is not your typical MMO. There are no newbie zones where everyone goes to kill rats to gain experience, you don't get experience for killing one thing, soloing is next to impossible, and quests are very unique and dynamic. This game is focused on group play, and many quests cannot be completed without a well balanced group of players. This is true to the pen and paper D&D, and translates well to online questing.

The graphics are phenomenal. The quests are very interesting and challenging, including puzzles to solve and hidden areas and traps. The combat is real time, and blocking and avoiding an attack is done by YOU, not by a roll of the dice.

The basic structure of D&D Online is a general meeting area (a tavern) where groups can be formed, and several doors leading to quests. This actually makes it feel less MMO and more "small group based online RPG". At first I was put off by this, but in practice, the quests come alive, you are questing with your comrades, and lag is minimal inside a dungeon. Also, the addition of a "dungeon master" voice describing the scene gives the atmosphere a very chilling and suspenseful tone. Well done.

The user interface is, well, complicated at best. The depth of the game shows. This is for die hards, not for casual players. There is a steep learning curve. This may prove to be the downfall for this game, since it is a huge barrier to entry.

All in all, D&D Online can be great fun, with higher peaks of suspense and thrilling action, but at the cost of frustration, confusion, and a basic feeling that there is something you are missing that would make the game simpler. Don't get me wrong...I had an absolute blast running through some of the quests with Darryl, but I don't think I have the time to invest in such a deep game. I wouldn't be able to simply pop on for 30 minutes to an hour to play a little. It's too involved.

How does it stack up against World of Warcraft?
Comparing D&D Online with World of Warcraft is like comparing a Rolex to a sundial. The Rolex is infinitely more complicated in design, but both can tell time. World of Warcraft is so approachable, so easy to get into, casual friendly, and well designed that it is hard not to declare it the winner of the two.

But they both satisfy very different gaming urges, and both do it well. The ultimate decision depends on what you would want to get out of MMO gaming. For me and Darryl right now, we believe it's more about being able to play casually, easily, and still have a deep and enriching experience. So World of Warcraft wins!

In the future, if time restraints change in my life, or D&D evolves enough, I will take another look. It's worth keeping this one on my radar!

Monday, February 06, 2006

The Search for the Holy MMORPG: Part Six

(Continued from The Search for the Holy MMORPG: Part Five)

What's left?
Ok, so we've tried a whole slew of online games, and not one has been able to satisfy our desire to explore and build our characters to ├╝ber levels. We miss the good ol' days of the original EverQuest, where we would not really know what we were doing and get into trouble by attacking something that simply "looked" small. Here's a tip: size really doesn't matter in MMO's!

Looking at what remains in the MMO landscape, there's really not much more we can do, except sign up for the betas of Dungeons & Dragons Online and Auto Assault. D&D Online looks promising, and we get to try it out tomorrow. Auto Assault is a different twist on MMO's in the vein of Mad Max. Basically you drive around a post-apocalyptic world improving your vehicle and killing things. Interesting, but probably not for long term.

So with all this in mind, we finally broke down and purchased World of Warcraft. Remember, I hesitated to do this because for one thing, it is extremely popular, meaning there may be tons of young kiddies who may ruin gameplay for me, and there was no demo to try. But with nothing else going on in the MMO landscape that looked good, we had no choice.

Now I know why WoW is so popular. One, it has very little competition. Two, it is designed by Blizzard, who knows what they're doing. And three, they did it right. At first we were shocked that there was no tutorial in the game. But after playing for 5 minutes we knew why. The user interface is so simple and approachable, it doesn't need to be taught. You'll just know how to use it if you've ever played any RPG or MMO in the past.

We played for a few hours last night and I think we may have found what we were looking for. Yes, the graphics are cartoony, but the art designer did a phenomenal job making low polygon models actually look good!

Basically, to keep things responsive and hardware requirements fairly low, Blizzard opted to use low polygon 3D models, since they are simpler and faster to render. So instead of trying to make low polygon models look realistic, which would look bad, they worked within the constraints and went for the cartoony look, which doesn't require high polygon models.

The results are amazing. The game is VERY responsive, the interface is brainless, the visuals look good, and so far, the quests have been typical, but fun.


Sunday, February 05, 2006

The Search for the Holy MMORPG: Part Five

(Continued from The Search for the Holy MMORPG: Part Four)

So after the crap that was Shadowbane, we needed something to get the taste of feces out of our mouths. In walks the beta of RF Online. Now talk about odd theme, this game is part fantasy, part sci-fi, and all anime.

Personally, I am not a huge fan of the anime style, so I was skeptical to begin with. But the screenshots did look nice, and at this point, the choices were pretty slim. So I had to signup with FilePlanet to be able to join the RF Online beta. No biggie since it was only $39.95 for the whole year, and I get tons of downloads at blazingly fast speeds.

Anyway, I installed it and started playing. First off, character creation is limited. Ok, let's move on. Next, the text in all the game dialogs is constantly wrapping in the wrong place, so it just looks messy. I chalked it up to poor localization and the fact that it is still in beta.

So far, nothing huge to make me leave. I start my first quest, a basic kill xx amount of monsters and reach level 3. Cool. I go out to the newbie zone and start killing. Hey, this is kinda fun. The game mechanics make the action feel very responsive, and the anime style graphics are actually done well.

So Darryl downloads it and tries it as well. His impression is not as positive as mine, mostly because the camera control requires you to hold down the right mouse button and drag the mouse around. A bit clunky, yes, but for Darryl, this meant more headaches.

Ultimately, I came to the conclusion that, although fun, I would get bored pretty fast. It's not quite as deep as games like EverQuest as far as character development and customization, plus the quests so far seemed very inane.

Overall conclusion: Fun action, nice graphics, not very deep.


The Search for the Holy MMORPG: Part Four

(Continued from The Search for the Holy MMORPG: Part Three)

Neocron came next. This is a sci-fi MMO, but it differs from EVE Online in that you control your character rather than your ship, and it's more about action and combat than space exploration and trading.

The game client is another big 1.87GB file. Good thing I have a fast connection! So how is it? Well, personally, I enjoyed Neocron...as a matter of fact, I still have the 10 day free trial installed. The graphics are quite good, the user interface, although initially a bit overwhelming, is quite usable after learning it, and the atmosphere it creates is very cyberpunk.

You can easily describe Neocron as a "first person shooter MMO"...because essentially that is exactly what it is. If you like first person shooters, MMO's, and cyberpunk, this is THE game for you. The action is suspenseful, the character development is deep, and the sound and music is actually very impressive.

So why not stop here and say we found the MMO we were looking for? Well, for one, although cyberpunk is cool, it is not the tried and true fantasy setting we were really looking for. The other reason is the big one...my friend Darryl gets headaches and nausea when playing first person shooters. He couldn't make it through the tutorial without risking a cranial explosion, so this game receives a no-go. Although I haven't decided yet whether I will continue on my own yet :-)

Overall opinion: Excellent cyberpunk first person shooter/MMO with a tendency to make Darryl very very sick.

So what's next? Ok, back to fantasy. I found Shadowbane. They had a 15 day free trial plus an extra 10 days with a coupon code. That's 25 days to try it out! Sweet!

This was only 851MB, so it went fairly quickly. After I installed it, I went right in and started creating my character while Darryl started the download on his computer.

About half an hour later I emailed Darryl telling him to go ahead and cancel the download. This game is crap. Crappy graphics. Crappy movement and camera controls. Crappy everything from what I saw. I mean, my character was walking through a door and the door closed on him, and he got stuck! After 5 minutes I got him unstuck by sitting and standing many times, and trying to select the phantom door during this ridiculous process.

I took a quick look at the online forums for Shadowbane, and I was surprised at how many threads were basically saying how the game sucked. I would agree.

Overall opinion: Crap.


The Search for the Holy MMORPG: Part Three

(Continued from The Search for the Holy MMORPG: Part Two)

The Free Trials
So now came time to download, download, download. The first free trial was for EVE Online. After a 513MB download, I was ready to give it a shot. EVE Online is a sci-fi space MMORPG, so it's a bit different than the traditional fantasy RPG's we're all used to.

Graphics were very cool...but honestly, the interface was too complex, and the gameplay was just too slow. I'm not adverse to sci-fi RPG's, but this was just TOO sci-fi. You control a ship and fly through space, have space battles, improve your ship, dock at planets, trade, etc.

Overall opinion: Slow, complicated, and kinda boring, but nice graphics.

The next game we tried was Dark Age of Camelot. This was a whopping 1.87GB download for the 14-day free trial. Ultimately, this game looked more promising for us since we do prefer the fantasy setting.

After creating our characters and venturing out, we finished a few quests and leveled up. This was more of what we were used to. The starter quests were innovative in that they were creative variations on the FedEx delivery quests and help us kill all these pests quests.

The graphics were merely OK. Nothing to write home about. But here's why we ultimately ended up saying "no" to this game. The user interface is slow. I mean annoyingly so. We even tried lowering all our graphics settings to no avail. Moving things in your inventory was sluggish, and chatting looked like a typewriter.

Overall opinion: Slow interface. A poor man's EverQuest.


Stargate Worlds!

Searching for a good MMO game, I came across this gem. Apparently, a new company named Cheyenne Mountain is developing a game based on the Stargate franchise! Being a huge fan of the franchise, this is a dream come true. I can't tell you how many times I've mentioned that a Stargate MMO would be amazing.

Apparently this company managed to get a licensing agreement from MGM, so it's a go! Of course, they are in pre-production right now, so it's gonna be a while before we see anything...but now at least there is something to look forward to!

The Search for the Holy MMORPG: Part Two

(Continued from The Search for the Holy MMORPG: Part One)

The MMO Landscape
Ok, so how do we decide what MMO to get into? Well the first step is to see what's available. We visited sites like MMORPG.com, Multiplayer Online Gaming Directory, GameSpy, etc. We even Googled "MMORPG".

This search returned too many results to be able to make a choice. We needed to narrow the choices down. So we immediately removed all games that were not 3D and did not have a stand alone client.

The big names always came up (EverQuest 2, World of Warcraft). Well, we had previously subscribed to Everquest 2 and it didn't hook us, so that was off the list. Personally, I hesitated to even try World of Warcraft for a few reasons. I don't like the cartoony look, it's overwhelmingly popular, and most of all, there was no free trial. So we put WoW on hold for now. Best to try all the free demos and betas first.

So here's the short list so far:

- EVE Online
- Dark Age of Camelot
- Shadowbane
- Neocron
- RF Online
- Dungeons & Dragons Online
- Auto Assault


The Search for the Holy MMORPG: Part One

For those who aren't in the know, MMORPG stands for Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game, that new genre of addictive "carrot-and-stick", monster killing, character building, experience treadmill PC game. Made popular by the original EverQuest game, the genre has exploded into many copycat versions, as well as many copyCRAP versions. Most of these games require a monthly fee to play on their servers.

My friend Darryl and I have played many PC games together, from all night Diablo II marathons, to selling virtual pet dogs in Second Life. We even survived our addiction to EverCrack and moved on.

But with being clean and sober of MMO's for a while now, the hankerin' grows, and single player RPG "methodone" just doesn't always cut it. So we decided to check the MMORPG landscape and see what we could find.


Friday, February 03, 2006

AMD and HP to Generate More Than $4 Million for the LAF

My friend Doug, a cancer survivor, sent me this:

AMD and HP have teamed up to develop the HP Special Edition L2000 Notebook PC. Fifty dollars from each notebook sale will benefit LAF public health, advocacy and research initiatives. AMD made a two-year commitment to help generate a minimum of $4 million for the LAF through the sale of Special Edition PCs.

The Special Edition Notebook bears the LIVESTRONG logo and a reproduction of Lance Armstrong's autograph. A portion of the proceeds from the sale of accessories, including a carrying case and mobile mouse, also benefit the LAF.

Read the full article online

Learn more about the HP Special Edition L2000 Notebook PC