Month: July 2014

My two cents about Elder Scrolls Online

It is quite apparent to me that the making of Elder Scrolls Online is yet another of the many franchise-milking schemes done these days, borne out of the success of former titles combined with a certain confidence that even an act such as this would not be enough to harm sales of future better titles.

The obvious thing to do when a game series is exceptionally successful is to look at what it is that makes it so successful and then perpetuate and emphasize it. This is why they should have looked at Skyrim and turned it into an MMO, instead of taking a distinctly generic MMO construct and give it an Elder Scrolls paint job.

It seems that people too involved in the business side of things are under the impression that a name and theme are what is exciting, when in fact those are mere labels and shapes, and the actual content, execution and delivery are what fills those with content, with character, with depth and meaning.

When a game is offered for the price of 50 EUR, with a whopping 80 EUR for getting a game that is not reduced in certain features (more on this later) AND an additional significant monthly fee, one should expect top notch, greatness. This contributes to the disappointment. Believing something will be great does nothing if it isn’t actually great.

And believing that adding familiar places, characters, names, themes would do the job is as naive and superficial as believing that stuffing plenty of pop culture references into a game is enough to make it good.

And about the two editions of the game: In the still full-priced-level game version for 50 EUR, you cannot play the Imperial race. That feature is very desirable for many Elder Scrolls fans, and it seems Bethesda knows this. But how they deal with that knowledge draws the picture: True fans would very much want to get the special edition, out of sincere passion. But when Bethesda decides to take this away from the regular edition, they are sending a message of lack of confidence in their own product, as if they knew fans would be relatively disappointed, thus they decided to apply this form of marketing coersion. (The feature, AFAIK, is also available for purchase as an extra, which still increases the price, thus you cannot say you actually get the full product for 50 EUR.)
Fear really makes stupid, and sadly there are various examples where an outstanding success is not honored as a fortunate occurence, but instead treated from an attitude of fear, trying to squeeze every bit of profit out of it.
This much meddling from marketing spoils the experience.
Not too surprising though: When there is no incentive, there is no reason for people to change their attitude away from fear towards love.
This is maybe why indie games are so popular: Only when you don’t have the conventional business structure where accounting has priority over the creative department can true passion be fully reflected in the product and unfold itself.
It would boggle your mind how different products would be in a world where there was no ‘need’ to put business first. Of course these things are to some degree a result of increasingly difficult times economy-wise. But that is no excuse when you see how those businesses that do great in this environment are also very likely to mess things up that way; because of the corrupting effect of the money game.
If someone operates on a mindset of scarcity, lusting for more and ever more, then, without a profound event that changes that, giving them abundance will only feed their fear of scarcity.

Combine the case of ESO with the fact that a good part of the success of games like Skyrim was the fact that the community, unlike the dev in true passion, were willing to develop mods and improvements and sadly out of necessity even bugfixes – for free, spending their time and effort and in turn actually helping Bethesda’s business success. I doubt that the beancounters and deciders can actually appreciate that. They probably just consider the idea to allow mods a smart business move and pat their own shoulders for it, which dehumanizes the people without whom their business would not be a success in the first place.

You see what happens when money rules in politics. … The same effect works in many areas, including game development.
And at least as long as there is no guaranteed basic income for everybody, fear will continue to leave its mark in those areas.

You are dissed by Youtubers and maybe don’t even realize it

I sometimes see Youtubers writing in their video descriptions or saying in their videos things like “Remember to like, comment and subscribe” or “Don’t forget to like”. This is disrespectful. It implies that there is no reason whatsoever why someone might not do that. They might very well not have forgotten, but consciously decided not to. It’s only natural, makes perfect sense and happens way more often than the alternative. It can even feel a little arrogant at times. Imagine you watched a video, closed the page and the channel owner approached you: “Whoops, hey buddy, looks like you forgot to give me a rating there.” It is a mindset that doesn’t signal accepting the fact that the viewer has and should have a choice in the matter; is an individual and not just a means for the channel owner to gain popularity.

It’s worse in the case of asking for comments, because this is even more clearly about raising a video’s ranking through comment activity. A Youtuber should be interested in hearing what his audience has to say, not to get them to comment even if they don’t really have anything to say. And then there’s an even more severe version of this when a Youtuber might even state that he’s mostly just active on Twitter or such, or maybe not really responding at all, usually getting so many comments on videos that he could not possibly read even a fraction of them, but is still asking people to comment. That is slightly deceptive, asking people to spend their time doing something in the belief that the guy asking for comments would read them and/or actually care.

Another thing a Youtuber could do wrong at this point then is to spend video time and thus watcher time complaining and moaning about a minority of people giving negative unconstructive feedback, thus dissing not only the well-meaning watchers and commenters by not dedicating an appropriate percentage of his time to them, but also the negative-intentioned commenters for first basically asking them to always comment and then not liking what they have to say when urged to do so.

What I myself AM doing is asking people to consider giving feedback, as a reminder that support like that is very much appreciated. This in part is fueled by a repeated experience of people telling me how greatly they appreciate a comment I made, but didn’t give it an upvote. Kinda detracts a bit from the quality of their supposed appreciation. Reminding people of an option is a different thing than what I talked about above.

Sick semper tyrannis

Sic semper tyrannis – According to Wikipedia: “It is the official motto of the Commonwealth of Virginia and the city of Allentown, Pennsylvania. In the United States it is best known as the words John Wilkes Booth shouted during his assassination of President Abraham Lincoln.”

So let me start with the biggest doozie right away: A US state has a popular quote attributed to a president-killer as its official motto and on seals and stuff and seems to not be causing diplomatic distress.

Now if you wonder about the context, since Lincoln was far from being an icon of tyranny and, being the US president, far from being an absolute ruler, AND those opposed to Lincoln wanted to keep slavery in place(!), combine that with the fact that this might be among the weirdest shortenings in the history of quotes.
Wikipedia: “The full quotation is Sic semper evello mortem tyrannis (literally: “Thus always I eradicate tyrants’ lives”)”
What genius had the idea to make the shortened supposed equivalent “sic semper tyrannis”?! Because this translates as “Thus always (to) tyrants.” which is pretty close to being the opposite of the original saying. This almost reads like on of those cruel symbolic jokes that a shadow government would play due to being drunk with power and success. I mean, I have trouble believing that people can actually be that messed up and make it the official motto of Virginia and put it on seals without realizing the implications and then it’s still not changed today. Why are people even making a fuss over the idea of murdering a US president if Virginia’s official motto still glorifies that and by extension slavery, which is a common result of tyranny? And did the word mortem not fit on the seal or what? Or did they not want to advocate murder and thought if they just leave out the word, it will be different?
This isn’t on the same level as names like “Drug Enforcement Agency” (They are enforcing drugs? Huh?), since that could just be a product of a weird way of interpreting language and wanting to make it a three-letter acronym. No, this is even more questionable than the “novus ordo seclorum” on dollar bills, but strangely much less talked about, it seems.

It’s seriously weirding me out!

The nature of the word “cloud” in computing

The name “Steam Cloud” is bullshit. It’s a perverse derivative of the term “cloud computing”, which is about sharing of computing resources among participants of a network, like a utility company would provide electricity, and sharing them more like services than products. (You can read up more details on Wikipedia if you feel the need.) The so-called Steam Cloud though is in fact the opposite – centralistic. It saves game config data, screenshots and stuff like that on Valve’s servers. That’s nothing but another age-old server side storage (or online storage as it might be more commonly referred to in layman’s terms). Attaching the name “cloud” to those totally not new server-side storage solutions became popular after the term “cloud computing” became popularly known.
If at least your Steam settings were ONLY stored on Valve servers and accessed live any time the Steam client needs them, that would be a bit more like the idea of cloud computing, but the online storage is just an alternative storage and you still have everything locally (which is actually wise).

If the misuse of this term keeps happening, then we could just as well call WordPress a blogging cloud, because, you know, you write stuff in your browser and then it’s published on their server space. In that sense, the word would become totally meaningless. The term itself is kinda metaphorical and probably as mushy as a cloud itself, but it still makes no sense to suddenly attach the word “cloud” to stuff as if it was something new.

There are examples of things that actually fit the cloud computing idea better, to various degrees, but those things existed way before the cloud-label was attached to them, and it worked fine without it. Again, this is just useless language ballast, meant to evoke a certain feeling of novelty about it, trying to entice people to use those services. Because… the sheeple consumer wouldn’t get excited about “activating server-side storage”, but now they can “join the cloud”.

It’s just ‘hipster marketing’, if you will.

Technological crutches – This is getting ridiculous!

I bought a combined electronic thermometer-hygrometer. After checking out a couple of them before, I noticed that some of them have a feature that is almost comedically or sadly absurd: When temperature and humidity both rise above or fall below a certain level, a kind of smiley-face appears to indicate that the room climate is now generally uncomfortable – too wet or too dry.
Seriously?! Who needs a sensor to tell them whether a room climate is unpleasant? Don’t you think people have their own sensors for that? Don’t you think they can figure that out on their own?
And even if their senses are seriously disturbed, there still are the numbers, and all you have to know is which numbers are extremes, which should be common knowledge, especially for people who can’t figure out these things with their own body.

There seems to be no limit to how dumb and helpless you can assume people are. This is the wrong trend in an extreme. You need to give people opportunities for personal growth and responsibility, not make things easier for them that already are damn easy.

If we want to stop the zombie apocalpyse, we need to stop anything that tries to eat people’s brains like this.

Competitive gaming, campers and the unfairness of life

Many years ago I was playing a Star Wars themed multiplayer arena game. Two players would duel and others were waiting in the queue and spectating. Only once a player had been defeated, another one would take their place.

You had three lightsaber attacks: quick and weak, slow and strong and an average one.

There was one player who used nothing but the slow and strong attack that would kill a player in a single strike. And this looked kind of dumb/boring/uncreative and the mood was darkening and people were complaining because that player kept felling his opponents with that tactic, since he only had to hit them once to defeat them.

But since this was according to the game’s rules, so there was nothing we could do but leave, at some point I realized what to do:
I had to get that part of my mind out of the way that complained about a supposed unfairness or the bad style of that player.

So I did and became inventive. Once I got past said point, it was easy to figure out a suitable counter-strategy: Not getting hit had highest priority, and since his attack was slow, that was actually not that difficult. To nicely balance things out and become his nemesis, I used nothing but the weak and quick attack, and I combined it with many feints. He couldn’t adapt to that strategy, and that made me consider that he probably played the way he did because he wasn’t very bright.

Thus, while it took me many hits to defeat him, I did so, step by step, controlling him, fooling him, wearing him down.

And when he finally collapsed to the ground, there was loud and triumphant cheering in the voice chat!
You would never have gotten that kind of reaction from just some ordinary online multiplay, but this included a component of meta-gaming. This had turned out to be an almost epic struggle against an enraging villain (who incidentally was also using a red light saber – I used a golden-yellow one).

Man! What a triumph and a life lesson learned!

I felt like writing this down for all the gamers who are complaining about “campers” and “snipers” in FPS games. Not only does that complaining happen a lot in shooters that are about modern warfare and its battlefields where anything like that is realistic and thus actually skillful, but regardless of this, don’t fall into a habit of complaining about every bit of unfairness in games, because that habit is often born out of convenience, and if it escalates, then a game design can become boring, because everything is totally equal in every way, taking away some of that sweet metagaming magic. 😉

It can be quite alright to have an ideal of fairness in mind, but if you expect it to already exist everywhere, you will inhibit yourself.

Overcoming a challenge with the odds against you is VERY rewarding and empowering. If you are confident that you can overcome ‘unfair’ obstacles, life itself will start to feel more easy to master, and that moves you into a better position for bringing your ideals of fairness into the world. … That is… If you don’t allow yourself to become corrupted by the unfairness you overcome. 😉 Remember: We’re talking about strength of character here, not weakness. Don’t try to struggle with your opponents, don’t try to face them using their mindset, or you will become the problem. Instead, just leave them in the dust. 🙂

Youtube channel trailers are mostly counter-productive and insincere

Youtube channel trailers have bothered me for a long time, but especially now since it seems Google has removed the channel count link next to a channel name on a video page that you could click on and get right to the video list, forcing me to go to the channel main page first.

But here’s the problem: Many channels have a channel trailer, and while my browser addon prevents regular autoplay, for some reason the channel trailer is excluded from that. If it’s actually what it is intended for, a channel trailer video, that might be fine, but in praxis that feature is mostly used for view-harvesting for certain videos.

The problem is not just the annoying autoplay that I don’t want: The video will be counted as viewed and added to the view history. Now that means that the video received a view, but I didn’t actually take notice of it, since I wanted to navigate to the channel’s video list anyway, and because it is now marked as watched, I very likely won’t actually watch it later either, since my history deceives me into thinking I already have. This might be a problem for channel owners who actually want people to take notice of their work, so this is ironic in a salomonic way.

UPDATE: Unbe-frickin-lievable! Now Youtube is even advertising adding a separate channel trailer for unsubscribed users. I now got that big field on my channel asking me to add one and an unnecessary summary view for subscribed users wasting space. Now I gotta figure out how to turn that new area off… if possible. Because naturally Google wouldn’t tell people to turn something off that they pushed onto them. That would have meant that they learned from the Google+ debacle.

And this happened right after I briefly considered letting the past be the past and publishing my comment activity on Google+. … Alright, no forgiveness for those who won’t learn.

When investigating, seemingly valid clues can be misleading

In the past days I learned that when you are looking for the cause of a problem and proceeding logically like a detective, clues can still be misleading. You can gather clues that are unrelated (coincidence) or related to a different problem. In the latter case, a problem can become quite nasty when another one intermingles with it.

I won’t go into detail about a case a few years ago where a graphics card I bought was faulty, and when I got a replacement from a different brand, that one was totally producing nothing but garbage on the screen on some systems while working perfectly on other systems, with no determinable common factor between them.

No, but I just discovered why the internet was so slow in the last few weeks. I didn’t change anything on my system, so I didn’t suspect it when bandwidth from many sources on the WWW was fluctuating like crazy, rarely ever giving me full speed. I did check many things on my system anyway, though.

It became more interesting when added to that, often the data transfer would momentarily drop to zero every few seconds.
I began investigating more thoroughly when my router lost connection and the DSL line quality became very bad for a few hours.

I tested DSL speed on another computer close to the router, without a switch in-between, and there I had the same bad download speed.

The problem source was so difficult to isolate here because THREE things were coming together!

The main problem was a gradually, over weeks, decreasing cable quality of my 20 meter ethernet cable. I’d never have expected that, but maybe it wore at some point, maybe at a doorway where people walk over the cable. This caused the bad transfer speeds, because the switch negotiated 100 Mbit/s, which the cable couldn’t handle anymore. In the end, the momentary dropouts were caused by the switch, and any other switch did the same. (Side note: My LAN adapter has a cable quality check and claims it’s fine, so this was useless. I had to manually tell it to use 10 Mbit/s to avoid trouble. I now have wonderful internet speed; no more anger over Youtube not being able to provide full speed. My, was I wrong.)

And here are the two deceivers:

1) The DSL line quality drop that my router indicated was unrelated.

2) The DSL speed test on the alternative computer SHOULD have been fine, since it is not using the faulty ethernet cable, yet it showed the same bad transfer speeds that my main computer did via the faulty cable. I have to assume that there simply actually was a speed issue with the test server at that time.

I keep having complex problems like this way too often.

When things just don’t add up, it might be because they’re multiplying instead.

About the exactly equal pricing of Xbone and PS4

A peculiar thing about the current gaming consoles: Why is the kinect-less Xbox One now $399 – EXACTLY the same price as the PS4? Considering that ‘everybody’ uses the psychological trickery of the nines – trying to make a price look siginifcantly lower when it isn’t, why didn’t Microsoft, knowing that their console is somewhat less powerful than the PS4, set the price to $389? Even this is somewhat of a common marketing tactic: impairing comparability with the competition. Yet they didn’t do it.

The only explanation for that that I can think of right now if I consider them not to be fools is if they are already at the absolute minimum price they can afford to make and fear that if they slightly lowered the price of the Xbone, Sony would just nonchalantly follow suit and lower the PS4 price equally, thus hitting Microsoft much harder than Sony.