Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Do you know how fast you were going?

Fast enough that it took you 10 years to catch me.

No, I never said that. I'm a smart arse, but I'm not stupid...ok, that's debatable, too ;)

I've been in the U.S. for over 10 years, and in that entire time the only ticket I got was one, single parking ticket...until today :P

The cop cited me under CVC 22350 which I think was a big mistake on his behalf. I've spent most of the day reading up on how to fight my ticket, and from what I've found a 22350 is one of the easier tickets to beat.

I thought I'd heard that the posted speed limit is not a hard & fast limit, and from what I can tell, that's absolutely correct. (*note - This is purely my opinion. I am not a Lawyer and this does not constitute professional legal advice) So just because the officer nabbed you for allegedly doing 51mph in a 35mph zone does not necessarily mean you are guilty of violating CVC 22350. Hell yeah, I'm gonna fight this :D

Of course I may lose...but I'm still gonna fight it!

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Bartle, WoW, and immersiveness

Richard Bartle (read more on him at Wiki) has drawn a lot of ire lately for comments he made re: the current state of MMOs, specifically one grossly misinterpreted statement that WoW = WHO, or vice versa. I'm not jumping on that bandwagon because so many people already have.

Now either Richard, or someone doing a darn good job of posing as him, is also responding to these threads, and reading what he had to say has opened my eyes a little more to the current state of WoW.

If you recall the screen caps on my earlier post where my video card died, WoW can look amazing if you turn on/up all the graphical options.

But that's just the frosting on the cake. How does it taste?

For a game where I've determined you do little more than a variant of 5 common tasks (Kill 10 Rats; Collect 10 Rat Skulls; Escort someone passed the Rats; Kill the Rat King; or deliver a letter/run an errand) WoW can really suck you in.

As a player, you and I you look around the World of Warcraft and we're blown away by the visuals, by how good the game looks.

As a designer, Richard Bartle can also appreciate the work that went into making the game look as good as it does, but, as a designer, he can also spot the shortcomings.

It's like if we went to a magic show with David Copperfield. I don't mean we went to watch DC perform, I mean we went with him; he sat in the audience with us. Now while we're mesmerized by the on-stage magician's tricks and left wondering how he did what he did, DC is watching and enjoying (or not) the magician's performance for how well he did his job. DC will notice the sleight-of-hand tricks that misdirect the rest of us. He'll see the magician palm the object that to us magically disappeared. If the magician does his job well, DC might even enjoy the show. But if the magician performs poorly, well, I'm not even a professionally trained singer, but I can carry a tune and when someone sings a little off key or misses a note or they do something that's a little off, I can tell, and it interferes with my enjoyment of their performance. So imagine DC watching an alleged professional magician totally balls up his performance. I'm not saying Blizzard screwed up WoW, what I am saying is that they did a fantastic job, but they could have done even better.

When RB and I both did the same thing in-game, that being swim around the entire Eastern Kingdoms continent, we noticed different things. While I was blown away by the coral reefs, the ship wrecks, etc. RB noticed other things, like the absence of fish in some areas. If you swim along a desolate coastline in WoW, such as around the Eastern Kingdoms, in some areas there are absolutely no fish at all. This is because the designers didn't see the need to develop that particular stretch of coastline so they didn't put any fish there, but real fish would have swam there anyway. That they didn't swim there tells RB that every single fish in WoW is placed by hand. Ok, by computer, but their placement is not a random occurrence. The program has spots where fish are meant to be, and if you go outside those areas you won't see any fish because the program was not told to put any there. And RB notices that.

His mention of this has opened my eyes to other, similar, immersion-breaking inconsistencies within WoW.

WoW's local fauna consists of predators and critters. Critters are level 1 passive Mobs such as rats, rabbits, sheep, cows, deer, etc. Predators are your more aggressive Mobs, and are the ones you usually get asked to kill for quests. In WoW, a casual observer will notice a predator leave its path to kill a small critter, such as a rabbit, then return to its path. RB and other designers see this, and see something more. What reason does the predator have to kill the critter? It doesn't eat the critter and it shouldn't feel threatened by it, so why attack it and kill it? The reason is WoW's designers put that particular sequence in there in order to increase the feeling of playing in a real world. But they left out the consumption of the critter and there are very few non-human predators on this planet which kill for reasons other than food.

There are many, similar inconsistencies to this in other areas, such as the Horde's Warsong Lumber Camp in Ashenvale. When you enter the camp you will see armed guards protecting the workers, but from what? It's surely not the Wolves and Spiders wandering around, because in some cases a wolf will wander right past a guard or a worker, and everyone just continues on with their business. Then you enter the scene. The guards and workers ignore you, for as a member of the Horde you're just like them, but as you walk through the camp you get attacked by a Wolf, the very same wolf that just brushed up against a worker! This makes absolutely no sense from an immersion point of view. This is supposed to be a wild animal, it was walking right passed a worker that it had no interest in, but it was more than willing to attack you. If it's going to attack you it should attack the workers and guards. You could argue that when the Horde moved in the guards beat the wolves into submission, but in that case they should either be tame beasts and not attack a member of the same faction, or they should be wild but timid animals afraid to go near the Lumber Mill and its aggressive guards. And why when the Wolf attacks you do the guards not rush to your defense?

In Stranglethorn Vale a Troll Mob can safely walk alongside the crocolisk-filled river, but when you try the same thing the crocs attack. This is the exact same situation as in the Warsong Lumber Mill. Two completely unrelated Mobs ignoring each other but either, or both, is more than willing to attack the player. If the Crocolisk is feeling threatened by the player, or is supposed to be protecting its territory, it should likewise feel threatened by the Troll Mob, but it does not. If it's supposed to be hungry (the primary reason predators attack) then why didn't it attack the Troll Mob, who at a lower level should appear much easier prey to the Croc than yourself.

This is certainly not game breaking for me, in fact for me these things now add even more to the game. Now I'm paying more attention and trying to spot these inconsistencies. Sort of like Easter Eggs in your DVDs, or goofs or glitches, like seeing an actor take a big swig from his beer just before the shot changes, and when the camera returns to him his beer glass is still full. We all find our fun somewhere.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Expressing doubts...

about Christianity. This might make a few people very angry, but I don't think what I'm going through is wrong. And if you do consider yourself a Christian, and it does make you angry, you might want to do some soul searching of your own. A Christian should eagerly and quite happily jump at the chance to debate their religion with someone having doubts. As someone with a decent amount of teaching experience, I can tell you that as we teach others we also educate ourselves.

I believe my God wants us to question him, his works, his word. He does not want us to blindly accept his teachings, he wants us to question him and find the answers for ourselves, and in doing so realize that his teachings stand up to our close scrutiny. That way we come to him in spite of our doubts because we have established that it's the right thing to do, that his way is the one, true way. This is what I believe.

What I also believe, and you may find this hard to swallow, is that Judas Iscariot was nothing more than a patsy. Judas did not betray Jesus for 30 pieces of silver, or whatever reward he was given; Judas betrayed Jesus because that's what was meant to happen, it was his destiny to betray Jesus. Read the Bible. Jesus knew he was going to be betrayed not because he knew what Judas was going to do, but because he knew that's what was meant to happen. Judas betrayed Jesus because that's what was meant to happen.

I have a problem with the whole "Free Will" thing, and the Bible's contradiction of this, and the case of the Holy Kingdom of God vs Judas Iscariot is just one of these.

In the beginning God made man, and he created him in his own image, and that's another contradiction. If God is an all-knowing, all-powerful, omnipotent deity, how could he create a flesh & blood entity "in his own image"? And if he is all-knowing, why would he give man 'free will', slap him down in the Garden of Eden along with the Tree of Knowledge, then tell him not to eat from it? He's all-knowing, so he had to have known what was going to happen when he put Adam and The Tree in an enclosed area, and yet God still punishes Adam when he does what God knew he'd do all along.

A man bought an expensive, antique vase, which he took home and showed to his wife and 7-year old daughter. Then he said to his daughter, "this is a very expensive vase. You must never, ever touch it, lest you break it."

And the child said to her father, "then you must never, ever put it where I can touch it."

I ask you, when the father places the vase on a pedestal in the middle of the living room, and the daughter breaks it, who is truly at fault?

Yes, I dare to suggest that it was God who was at fault for putting Adam & Eve in the Garden of Eden with the Tree of Knowledge, then telling them not to eat from it. God knew exactly what would happen, but not only did he know what would happen, he facilitated it, then he punished Adam & Eve when they did what he knew they'd do all along.

Then there's the Great Flood.

God is all-knowing yet he still gave man Free Will. And because he is all-knowing he had to know exactly what man would do with his Free Will, and yet when man does what God knew he'd do, God is angry and floods the Earth and wipes out everyone bar Noah & Co.

After the flood Noah & Co. find themselves in Shinar (Genesis 11:1-9). When I was told the story of the Tower of Babel in Sunday School I was taught that the Babylonians were arrogant, hence their desire to build a tower that would reach to the heavens, but now I know that the Babylonians were comprised of Noah and his immediate family. They've just got off the Ark where they witnessed first hand the might of God as he destroyed almost the entire world. Why on earth would they be arrogant? I don't think they were.

Genesis 11:4 says, "Then they said, "Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves and not be scattered over the face of the whole earth."

I've been thinking about this passage, and I don't like it. No sir, not one bit. This is immediately following the Great Flood. These are the only people on the planet and they know it. So...who are they trying to impress? There's nobody there but themselves, and God. And why are they concerned about being scattered over the face of the earth? They want to build a Tower that reaches to the heavens so they can make a name for themselves and not be scattered over the face of the whole earth. They're not building the tower out of arrogance, they're building it out of fear. Fear of losing their identity as a people.

But whose people are they?

Quite clearly they're God's people, because it was he who saved them. God commanded them to build the Ark and he saved them while drowning everyone else. Damn straight they were afraid, they were afraid of God. They feared his wrath, they were afraid God would scatter them over the face of the earth so they built the legendary Tower of Babel to impress him, and impress him it did. It impressed God so much that it led him to do exactly what the people feared would happen if they didn't build the tower. How ironic is that?

How do we know God was impressed?

Genesis 11:5-6 says, "But the LORD came down to see the city and the tower that the men were building. The LORD said, "If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them."

Nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them.

The Lord sees what the people are doing, and says, "Holy Crap! Working together, these guys can do anything!"

This is the Lord God speaking. He knows 'Impossible'. When he says, "nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them" he means it!

Now who's afraid? Both parties are. The people are afraid of God, and God is afraid of them. How on earth can I say God, the all-knowing, all-powerful, omnipotent being...is afraid?

Because of what he does next. Immediately following the Lord's observation that his people can accomplish the "impossible", he separates them and scatters them across the face of the earth. Why would he do this? The most obvious answer is so they won't accomplish the impossible.

God gave us Free Will, but when Adam & Eve ate the fruit from the Tree of Knowledge, as the all-knowing God must have known would happen, he punished them.

When Adam & Even were cast out of Eden they made babies, and their babies grew up and had babies of their own, lots and lots of babies, and God had to have known that would happen. And they multiplied and spread out over the Earth and did wicked things, and when God saw what they were doing he wiped the slate clean and started over with Noah & Co.

Then when Noah & Co. settled down after the Flood and built the Tower of Babel, God took one look and said "Oh no, you don't!" and he scattered them across the face of the Earth.

I really want to understand why God would do this, but I cannot, because these actions do not speak of an all-knowing, all-powerful, omnipotent deity. They speak of a spoiled child, upset with how his science experiment has turned out and throwing a temper tantrum because things haven't gone his way.

I would really appreciate someone explaining this to me. I'm quite amenable in the face of a persuasive argument, but you need to do better than just say "Dude! Read the Bible!" As should be quite apparent I have read the Bible, and that is why I have questions.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Amazing

JE's Cub Scout Pack's Campfire Ceremony and Camp was last night at Wilderness Park. My night wasn't as bad as last year where I almost couldn't walk for two days with dead hips. Just my right hip copped it last night, and it's not even sore now. If you ever sleep on those of those 1/2"-thick high-density foam pads, make sure there's a depression for your hips, or at least one of them.

There was a bear sighting so we didn't set up the telescope like I'd planned to do, but we still didn't crawl into our tent until well after 10pm. Then we were woken at 6am when the first kids awake felt compelled to go outside and talk and play ball. JE usually is in bed by 8:30 and up around 7am. He said he didn't need a nap (we have his birthday party in 3 hours) but I told him he really did.

I got my nap in early and my internal alarm woke me up at 11:30 just like I'd ordered it to. Liz went to bed for her nap (apparently our neighbors had a party until 2am last night) while I made the kids lunch. Amber finished first and I put her to bed, then went down to check on JE. He was taking his time so I made a cup of coffee and told him when he was finished it was his nap time. Then I came up to my computer and read a few blogs and was thinking "It's awfully quiet. JE should have finished lunch by now. I better go check on him."

I went downstairs, no sign of him. His lunch bowl was rinsed out and sitting in the sink. I came upstairs and looked in his room, and there he is...asleep in his bed.

When you're a parent your kids will frequently do things that amaze you. For me, this was one of those times.

Friday, June 06, 2008

Dead video card

A couple of nights ago my PC decided to shut itself down without my say so. I rebooted it, and it promptly shut itself down again. I figured it was probably my video card overheating as I'd played a full game of Warcraft III with JE then put in a couple of hours in WoW. So I left it alone and went to bed.

The next day I booted it up, or tried to, but again it would shut itself down within seconds. I cracked the case, pulled the video card, and immediately noticed that the card's fan was stuck and would not turn. Yep, that'll cause excess heat and kill a card real quick.

Fortunately my motherboard has an on-board GPU so I can still use my computer until I get a new video card. Liz has also ok'd the purchase of an NVidia 8800GT which would have smoked my 7300GT, if it hadn't already cooked itself. ATI are releasing a new video card in a few weeks time, and that should rattle prices a little bit so I'm holding off on the 8800 for now. I can wait a few weeks if it means saving $20 or more. And I can still play WoW, so I'm good there.

The one downer is the on-board GPU is the equivalent of a 6150 LE, and in order to play WoW I had to turn all the graphics down, and even then the FPS rate still sucks, or at least it sucks considering what I'm used to.

Here's a picture of how WoW used to look. It's big, 1024x768 big, so it might take a few seconds to load if you click it and blow it up, but it really shows the detail.
Then there's this screenshot. This is about what I'm looking at now with the graphics turned down. Just a little bit different.
Don't believe the 109.5 FPS figure on the second pic; those are both screen caps using the 7300GT. I'm lucky to get 30FPS with the 6150 with everything turned down.

Come on, ATI. Push that 4150 out the door and let's see some prices drop! The Cap'n wants a new card!

Monday, June 02, 2008

Trash Talk = Poor Sportsmanship

I don't get the BGs sometimes. People will /spit /rude /lol you when they kill you, as if there was some personal vendetta between the two of you.

Or you kill someone so they come back for revenge and you kill them again, so they grab 3 friends, come back & destroy you, then /spit /lol on you as you get crushed into the dirt.

If I have a really good fight with another player and it's obvious I've been outclassed and am about to die, I will try to get off a /bow or /salute before I take a dirt nap, unless I see them /lol at me first, then forget it. Respect is a two-way street.

In Hellfire Peninsula while working on the PvP quests I once died to a Tauren Druid, several times. But I kept coming back and trying again. The final fight between us went on for quite some time as I kited him around the Tower, Freeze Trapping him (when it was up) to get some distance, Bandaging when I could, and it was a long, drawn out affair that still eventually resulted in my death. After that final death I let my PvP Flag wear off, Rez'd, and /saluted the Druid and he /saluted me right back. Through the limited communication offered by simple emotes we gave each other the respect we felt the other deserved. Then he did a /scare emote, and I'm not sure if it was meant to imply that I was scared of him (for waiting out my PvP flag while dead), but the emote came out that he was scared of me. I laughed and returned the /scared emote right back at him. Hell yeah, you scare me. You're a damn good player who knows his class! Well played, sir!

/spit? /rude?

Hell NO! This was a more-than-worthy opponent who'd earned my respect.

I recall one of the FPS games (either Unreal Tournament or Quake Arena) allowed you to taunt a fallen foe. When killing another player's avatar isn't enough, there's always post-mortem ridicule; it's Trash Talking to the extreme.

At my former place of employment we used to have a Foosball Table. I was pretty good at it and was one of the top players in the office. There was only one guy who was better than me, and it wasn't that he was a better player because we were about evenly matched. What he was better at, in fact what he did that gave him the edge, as did most of the other Foosball Players (with the exception of yours truly) was Trash Talked during the game. I hate Trash Talk, and it probably showed, and it did what my opponent intended; It got in my head, threw me off my game, and helped my opponent win.

I've posted before on what I consider poor sportsmanship: Pitchers deliberately walking a known power hitter; Quarterbacks taking a knee to run down the clock; Deliberately fouling a player because he can't shoot Free Throws. It's all within the rules, but that doesn't necessarily mean it's fair. Outplay the other team, yes, but to use the rules to deny your opponent any chance of winning? How can that be fair? And if it's not fair, it's poor sportsmanship.

JE has finally finished his second season of baseball. The difference between T-Ball and Prep Baseball is amazing, and horrific. T-Ball was all about having fun. Prep Baseball was supposed to be, too, and for the most part it was. The kids would cheer each other on, some teams would cheer louder, our kids were less enthusiastic than most. The kids on one team in particular would cheer loudly for their batters, right from the start of the innings, and they wouldn't let up until the 3rd Out. It was then, when they took to the field, that it got ugly; that's when they'd stop cheering for each other and start heckling our batters.

These were 7 and 8-year old kids, ridiculing each other; behavior which seemed not only tolerated by their coach, but encouraged. When the ugliness starts that early it gets deep inside and takes root, and the chances of dislodging it later are very slim.

I spoke to our Head Coach about it, saying I understood it was part of the game, but how I didn't agree with it. I said that as Assistant Coach I didn't think it was my part to say anything to the other team's Coach, but perhaps if he, as our Head Coach, could speak to them...

Coach looked at me and smiled sadly, and informed me that the other team's Coach was the man in charge of our League.

I see. Kind of nothing we can do then, is there. We continued with the game, and the other team continued heckling our kids. Very sad.

You can argue that the kids are only going to encounter this later anyway, so why not get them used to it at an early age, but I ask why should they have to encounter it later. Why does there need to be Trash Talk? Your argument is it's a skill/technique that lets you get inside your opponent's head and throw him off his game. I'd argue that insulting someone (or their mom) is not skillful, it's just rude and disrespectful. It takes no skill and shows a distinct lack of class.

If we stopped our little ones from trash talking and moved on up the ranks, cutting it out where ever we encountered it, then eventually there would be no trash talking, and we'd just have two teams relying on their skills and teamwork to defeat the other. We do everything we can to encourage our youngsters to participate in sports. We tell them it's not if they win or lose, we just want them to have fun. Meanwhile there are other parents who think "Cheat to win" is a perfectly good slogan. But this is not war, or a matter of life & death, where I wouldn't hesitate to shoot you in the back or run over you with a Tank; this is Baseball. It's a sport, and the natural compliment to sport is good sportsmanship. Unfortunately it looks like that baby got thrown out with the bath water.

Sunday, June 01, 2008

Most ridiculous quest...ever!

There are some ridiculous quests in WoW but I think I've got the winner here with: The Kurken is Lurkin'.

On Azuremyst Isle, the Dranei starting area, Furbolg High Chief Stillpine sends you into Stillpine Hold to search for clues as to why the Wildkin have turned on the Furbolg, their former allies, and driven them from their home.

Deep within the hold you find a large, blood red crystal guarded by the Kurkin, a two-headed Cerberus-like beast. Slaying the Kurkin you examine the Blood Crystal, completing the Chief's quest and getting a second quest to report back to him.

When you get back outside the hold and give your report to High Chief Stillpine you notice that one of the Chief's Lieutenants, Kurz the Revelator, now has a quest for you, so you head over to Kurz to find out what he wants you to do.

And what he wants you to do is what you've just done. Kill the Kurkin and bring him its hide.

* * * * *

You: You do realize that in order to complete the Chief's quest I had to kill the Kurkin, right?

Kurz: Yes, but I need you to kill it again.

You: But, I just killed it.

Kurz: But I need you to kill it and bring back its hide!

You: I see. So, why didn't you ask me to kill the Kurkin and bring back its hide before I went into the cave for the Chief?

Kurz: Because you had to explore the cave for the Chief and examine the crystal before I could send you into the cave to kill the Kurkin.

You: But the Kurkin was guarding the crystal! There was no way to examine the crystal without slaying the beast! And now, you want me to go back into the cave, and kill the Kurkin, again?

Kurz: Yes.

You: Son of a bitch!

Kurz: . . .

You (sighing): I'll be right back.

* * * * *

The quest line really is that ridiculous. You get a quest to enter a cave and examine a crystal hidden deep inside, but to examine the crystal you have to kill the Mob guarding it. There is a quest to kill the Mob, but you can't get that quest without doing the prerequisite quest, which is to examine the crystal. So before you can get the quest to kill the Kurkin, you have to kill the Kurkin.

I think it might have been one of WAR's podcasts where the designer was talking about intuitive quests. The opposite of an intuitive quest would be one where you fight your way through a dozen wolves to get to a besieged quest giver, who tells you "The wolves are a real problem around here. Could you kill 10 of them for me?"

You: Did you not notice that I killed a dozen wolves just to get to you?

Him: Yes, but they didn't count; I hadn't given you the quest. I need you to kill 10 more.

You (sighing): I'll be right back.

In Elwynn Forest there are Kobolds which drop Candles and Gold Dust, but the only time they drop those Candles and Gold Dust are when you're on the quests to gather them. Of course it could be argued that they do drop them but you don't collect them, and I say, "Why the hell not???" We pick up all their other useless crap. Why can't they drop the quest items when you're not on the quest? You're out killing Kobolds filling your packs with crap, and when you head back into town a villager says, "Ha-hey! I see you've got a bunch of Kobold candles there! I'll give you 50 silver pieces for all those candles."

And you go, "Wha? Huh? I mean, sure. Here's your 10 candles. Thanks a lot."

Or you're out killing wolves, and with wolves being wolves, you've gone and filled your packs with wolf tails, or pelts, or whatever. You head into town and one of the locals says "Ha-hey! I'll give you 25 silver for those wolf tails!"

You quickly check the vendor price...10 wolf tails, 50-copper each, he's offering 25 silver, five times market value. "Sure! Here's your wolf parts!" Ka-ching. Silver, and XP to boot! Bonus!

Apparently this is how quests used to be (pre-WoW), and what tended to happen was people would go out, kill a ton of Mobs and collect their sticky bits, then do some research on Teh Interwebz and see if any NPCs were willing to reward players for collecting Goblin scrotums. Ha-hey! Here's a guy who'll pay a shiny gold piece for a dozen scrotums! Awesome!

So instead of players seeking out quests to do then going out and slaying a bunch of Mobs, they'd do all their killing first, fill their packs with monster bits, then see if anyone would be willing to reward them. In both cases players would get rewarded for doing the same thing; Killing goblins and collecting their scrotums. But in one scenario we can't collect goblin scrotums until Ima Pervert tells us he wants them and then we collect just enough for Ima and no more, while in the other more logical scenario we collect goblin scrotums (don't ask me why. I don't know. I don't want to know!) until we have scrotums coming out our ears and our packs are full of them then we head into the nearest town where we find every man and his dog wants a goblin scrotum or two. Perhaps to make a handy coin purse or some other kitschy souvenir for the visiting tourists. Who knows? I already said I didn't.

What I do know is that it doesn't make sense for Mobs to only drop Quest items when you're on the quest to collect those items.

And it really doesn't make sense to send me into a cave to kill a Mob when I've just come out of that very same cave covered in that exact mob's blood. That makes no sense at all.