Friday, December 30, 2011

New Year's Eve

New Year's Eve, and another year gone, it seems as if they are going faster and faster. I wish all my readers and their families a happy new year 2012, the best of luck, and may you have fun with whatever game you are playing.

There were three quarters of a million visitors to my blog this year, bringing the total up to over 5 million. As my blog can also be read entirely by newsreader, I'm not quite sure how many overall readers I have. Feedburner claims I have over 4,000 feed subscribers, but there is no measure of how often they read my blog posts. Fortunately I'm not writing for the money. My "conversion rate", in internet marketing parlance, is abominable. I got 20 donations with my "buy Tobold a coffee" button over the whole year.

Interestingly the number of readers somehow mirrors the general interest in MMORPGs, which after all isn't all that surprising for a MMORPG blog. Reader numbers dropped in the first three quarters of the year, while people got bored of Cataclysm. But in the last quarter the visitor numbers went up by a lot. I had more visitors in December than in any other month of this year. Assuming that my writing skills didn't dramatically increase last month, I can only point at SWTOR getting people interested in MMORPGs again.

2012 promises to be an interesting year for online roleplaying games. We will see how Star Wars: The Old Republic evolves; SWTOR will have their first "The Empire strikes back" moment when Blizzard releases Diablo 3 in the first quarter. Funcom's The Secret World will probably be the next one to launch, followed by a very interesting looking Guild Wars 2 from Arenanet. And somewhere in the second half of the year (personal guess would be last quarter), Blizzard will release Mists of Pandaria. Right now it is extremely hard to predict who will win that struggle. Possible scenarios range from SWTOR falling to under a million subscribers by the end of 2012 under pressure from all that competition, to Mists of Pandaria becoming the worst-selling World of Warcraft expansion ever. I think it is inevitable that WoW will continue to lose subscribers until MoP is released; but how many of those they can regain with the expansion, and whether SWTOR can establish itself as the second multi-million player game in the West is still in the stars.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

SWTOR mid-level

I'm 80 hours into Star Wars: The Old Republic, level 30, and I'm still loving it. One can probably level a lot faster than I did, but I'm not at all in a hurry, and rather spend time trying out different features like crafting and space combat instead to rushing to the level cap. I also want to do *all* the quests, and some planets like Taris really have a lot of those.

In any case one is forced to see all the major places, as the class quest is strictly linear. Your only option is whether or not to do all the side quests, and the heroics, and the flashpoints. "Heroics" in SWTOR are relatively small instances with hard mobs usually requiring a group, albeit not always a full one. Flashpoints are more similar to traditional dungeons, with trash mobs, boss mobs, and the need to bring a full group.

While doing all this stuff in Coruscant and Taris, I had the feeling I was outleveling my main quest line. Especially by doing the bonus series of quests on Taris; obviously if a quest series is *labeled* "bonus series" by the game, it isn't strictly necessary to do it. On the next planet, Nar Shadaa, the bonus series is several levels above the rest, and is better kept for later.

So now I'm on Tatooine, and the difficulty level of the solo leveling game is going up. That is a good thing. By level 30 you are supposed to know how to play your class; if you die to a bad pull, it is your own fault, and it teaches you to play better. Star Wars: The Old Republic has a very good system of normal, strong, elite, and champion mobs, where the normal mobs are just cannon fodder which serves to make you feel powerful. My artillery wielding trooper can often kill a full group of normals with a single mortar attack, and if they don't die from that a hail of bolts quickly finishes them. The challenge is in the harder mobs, which of course also drop the better loot. Even if not asked by a quest, I do try to kill elite and champion mobs I encounter, because they usually drop green or even blue gear, while the normal mobs often drop nothing at all, or just vendor junk.

After Tatooine I still have to do Alderaan, which I hear is even harder, to finish chapter 1 of the game. I will then get my legacy surname. Up to now the game is excellent value for money, especially since the holidays allow me to play more than my usual 20 hours per week. And if the endgame at the level cap isn't to my liking, well, I already rolled a Jedi Knight who will go for the dark side.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

World of Warcraft Satchel of Helpful Goods Exploit

As the recent banning of top guilds in World of Warcraft for raid finder exploiting shows, no game is completely safe from exploits. Especially the automated grouping tools seem to be vulnerable to trickery. Now it appears that there is a possible exploit with the dungeon finder, allowing lower level characters to get a Satchel of Helpful Goods. Using that exploit, they can equip themselves with otherwise unavailable blue gear for use in the lower level PvP brackets.

Several people complaining about that on the forums made the mistake of describing how the exploit works, and got their threads deleted for that. In the threads without the description, Blizzard promised a quick hotfix. But a customer service representative was then quoted as saying that while they would fix the exploit, they wouldn't remove the items in question, which caused more of an outcry.

Strange at it may appear, the lower level PvP brackets are dominated by some of the most hardcore PvP players the game has. By using the feature that stops their xp gain, they can stay in those low brackets forever. The game becomes one of extreme twinking, with the players having the best gear having an advantage. The Satchel of Helpful Goods exploit not only gives the players that used it such an advantage, but due to nature of that particular sub-game, they will now keep that advantage forever. Don't you think that it would have been better to remove that gear?

Tiny Token Empires

While looking for an accessible, turn-based strategy game, I stumbled upon Tiny Token Empires. Brilliant game, mixing turn-based strategy with a "Match 3" puzzle game. This mix of puzzle game with another type of game already worked quite well in Puzzle Pirates, Puzzle Quest, and Might & Magic Clash of Heroes. And Tiny Token Empires shows that it works equally well for turn-based strategy games as it works for role-playing games.

I picked the game up for €9.95 in a shop. You can download a demo of the PC version on their website, but you'll find no info there on the digital distribution. I've seen the PC digital download version for $19.95 on and much cheaper at Wild Tangent Games, but I don't really like Wild Tangent's business model where you have to buy WildCoins first. The game is available on Mac, iPhone, and iPad via the Apple app store; but the iPhone version appears to sell you a basic version of the game for cheap, and then sells you the campaigns extra.

In any case, I can recommend trying the free demo. If you like games with puzzle elements, and turn-based strategy, this is quite a gem!

SWTOR slicing nerf

First patch, first big controversy, with over 1,000 posts on the crew skill forums: Slicing has been nerfed, by up to 71% if you believe the theorycrafters. So what is this about?

Slicing has always been a weird skill. In many of the gathering skills you can send out one of your companions on a mission, which costs money, and the companion is gone for some minutes and comes back with a random item. In the case of slicing there are missions to look for lockboxes, which contain money. So people with slicing could simply stand somewhere all day, send out all their companions on missions for lockboxes, and get more money out of the lockboxes than the mission did cost. It's like printing money, and that is never a good idea.

The good thing of having slicing in the game for the first week is that it "primed" the economy, and got a lot of money in. The people who sliced were able to buy crafted stuff from the other players. Otherwise money is tight in SWTOR in the first 25 levels: Other forms of crafting lose money, and the first mount at level 25 costs 40k credits for the skill, plus 8k for the speeder, which is a rather large sum at this stage.

But in the long run the slicing nerf is probably a good decision. Actually I would have preferred if they had completely removed the missions to gather lockboxes. Printing money is not "crafting" in the traditional sense. And I don't want to see an army of gold farmers flooding the economy with sliced credits.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Kalender Hijriyah

Nirwana Sitoeking > Kalender Hijriyah atau Kalender Islam (bahasa Arab: التقويم الهجري; at-taqwim al-hijri), adalah kalender yang digunakan oleh umat Islam, termasuk dalam menentukan tanggal atau bulan yang berkaitan dengan ibadah, atau hari-hari penting lainnya. Kalender ini dinamakan Kalender Hijriyah, karena pada tahun pertama kalender ini adalah tahun dimana terjadi peristiwa Hijrah-nya Nabi Muhammad dari Makkah ke Madinah, yakni pada tahun 622 M. Di beberapa negara yang berpenduduk mayoritas Islam, Kalender Hijriyah juga digunakan sebagai sistem penanggalan sehari-hari. Kalender Islam menggunakan peredaran bulan sebagai acuannya, berbeda dengan kalender biasa (kalender Masehi) yang menggunakan peredaran matahari.  Baca Juga : Cara Membuat calendar di CorelDRAW

Penentuan dimulainya sebuah hari/tanggal pada Kalender Hijriyah berbeda dengan pada Kalender Masehi. Pada sistem Kalender Masehi, sebuah hari/tanggal dimulai pada pukul 00.00 waktu setempat. Namun pada sistem Kalender Hijriah, sebuah hari/tanggal dimulai ketika terbenamnya matahari di tempat tersebut.Kalender Hijriyah dibangun berdasarkan rata-rata silkus sinodik bulan kalender lunar (qomariyah), memiliki 12 bulan dalam setahun. Dengan menggunakan siklus sinodik bulan, bilangan hari dalam satu tahunnya adalah (12 x 29,53059 hari = 354,36708 hari).Hal inilah yang menjelaskan 1 tahun Kalender Hijriah lebih pendek sekitar 11 hari dibanding dengan 1 tahun Kalender Masehi.Faktanya, siklus sinodik bulan bervariasi. Jumlah hari dalam satu bulan dalam Kalender Hijriah bergantung pada posisi bulan, bumi dan matahari. Usia bulan yang mencapai 30 hari bersesuaian dengan terjadinya bulan baru (new moon) di titik apooge, yaitu jarak terjauh antara bulan dan bumi, dan pada saat yang bersamaan, bumi berada pada jarak terdekatnya dengan matahari (perihelion). Sementara itu, satu bulan yang berlangsung 29 hari bertepatan dengan saat terjadinya bulan baru di perige (jarak terdekat bulan dengan bumi) dengan bumi berada di titik terjauhnya dari matahari (aphelion). dari sini terlihat bahwa usia bulan tidak tetap melainkan berubah-ubah (29 - 30 hari) sesuai dengan kedudukan ketiga benda langit tersebut (Bulan, Bumi dan Matahari)Penentuan awal bulan (new moon) ditandai dengan munculnya penampakan (visibilitas) Bulan Sabit pertama kali (hilal) setelah bulan baru (konjungsi atau ijtimak). Pada fase ini, Bulan terbenam sesaat setelah terbenamnya Matahari, sehingga posisi hilal berada di ufuk barat. Jika hilal tidak dapat terlihat pada hari ke-29, maka jumlah hari pada bulan tersebut dibulatkan menjadi 30 hari. Tidak ada aturan khusus bulan-bulan mana saja yang memiliki 29 hari, dan mana yang memiliki 30 hari. Semuanya tergantung pada penampakan hilal.

Nama-nama bulan 
Kalender Hijriyah terdiri dari 12 bulan:
NoPenanggalan IslamLama Hari
3Rabiul awal30
4Rabiul akhir29
5Jumadil awal30
6Jumadil akhir29

  • Tanda kurung merupakan tahun kabisat dalam kalender Hijriyah dengan metode sisa yaitu 3-3-2 yang berjumlah 11 buah yaitu 2,5,8,10,13,16,18,21,24,26 dan 29.
Nama-nama hari
Kalender Hijriyah terdiri dari 7 hari. Sebuah hari diawali dengan terbenamnya matahari, berbeda dengan Kalender Masehi yang mengawali hari pada saat tengah malam. Berikut adalah nama-nama hari:
  1. al-Ahad (Minggu) 
  2. al-Itsnayn (Senin) 
  3. ats-Tsalaatsa' (Selasa) 
  4. al-Arba'aa / ar-Raabi' (Rabu) 
  5. al-Khamsatun (Kamis) 
  6. al-Jumu'ah (Jumat) as-Sabat (Sabtu)
Penentuan kapan dimulainya tahun 1 Hijriah dilakukan 6 tahun setelah wafatnya Nabi Muhammad. Namun demikian, sistem yang mendasari Kalender Hijriah telah ada sejak zaman pra-Islam, dan sistem ini direvisi pada tahun ke-9 periode Madinah.

Sistem kalender pra-Islam di Arab
Sebelum datangnya Islam, di tanah Arab dikenal sistem kalender berbasis campuran antara Bulan (komariyah) maupun Matahari (syamsiyah). Peredaran bulan digunakan, dan untuk mensinkronkan dengan musim dilakukan penambahan jumlah hari (interkalasi).Pada waktu itu, belum dikenal penomoran tahun. Sebuah tahun dikenal dengan nama peristiwa yang cukup penting di tahun tersebut. Misalnya, tahun dimana Muhammad lahir, dikenal dengan sebutan "Tahun Gajah", karena pada waktu itu, terjadi penyerbuan Ka'bah di Mekkah oleh pasukan gajah yang dipimpin oleh Abrahah, Gubernur Yaman (salah satu provinsi Kerajaan Aksum, kini termasuk wilayah Ethiopia).

Revisi penanggalan
Pada era kenabian Muhammad, sistem penanggalan pra-Islam digunakan. Pada tahun ke-9 setelah Hijrah, turun ayat 36-37 Surat At-Taubah, yang melarang menambahkan hari (interkalasi) pada sistem penanggalan.

Penentuan Tahun 1 Kalender Islam 
Setelah wafatnya Nabi Muhammad, diusulkan kapan dimulainya Tahun 1 Kalender Islam. Ada yang mengusulkan adalah tahun kelahiran Muhammad sebagai awal patokan penanggalan Islam. Ada yang mengusulkan pula awal patokan penanggalan Islam adalah tahun wafatnya Nabi Muhammad.Akhirnya, pada tahun 638 M (17 H), khalifah Umar bin Khatab menetapkan awal patokan penanggalan Islam adalah tahun dimana hijrahnya Nabi Muhammad dari Mekkah ke Madinah. Penentuan awal patokan ini dilakukan setelah menghilangkan seluruh bulan-bulan tambahan (interkalasi) dalam periode 9 tahun. Tanggal 1 Muharam Tahun 1 Hijriah bertepatan dengan tanggal 16 Juli 622, dan tanggal ini bukan berarti tanggal hijrahnya Nabi Muhammad. Peristiwa hijrahnya Nabi Muhammad terjadi bulan September 622. Dokumen tertua yang menggunakan sistem Kalender Hijriah adalah papirus di Mesir pada tahun 22 H, PERF 558.
Tanggal-tanggal penting 
Tanggal-tanggal penting dalam Kalender Hijriyah adalah:
  • 1 Muharram: Tahun Baru Hijriyah
  • 10 Muharram: Hari Asyura. Hari ini diperingati bagi kaum Syi'ah untuk memperingati wafatnya Imam Husain bin Ali
  • 12 Rabiul Awal: Maulud Nabi Muhammad (hari kelahiran Nabi Muhammad)
  • 27 Rajab: Isra' Mi'raj
  • Bulan Ramadan: Satu bulan penuh umat Islam menjalankan Puasa di bulan Ramadan
    • 17 Ramadan: Nuzulul Qur'an
    • 10 hari ganjil terakhir di Bulan Ramadan terjadi Lailatul Qadar
  • 1 Syawal: Hari Raya Idul Fitri
  • 8 Dzulhijjah: Hari Tarwiyah
  • 9 Dzulhijjah: Wukuf di Padang Arafah
  • 10 Dzulhijjah: Hari Raya Idul Adha
  • 11-13 Dzulhijjah:Hari Tasyriq
Hisab dan Rukyat 
Rukyat adalah aktivitas mengamati visibilitas hilal, yakni mengamati penampakan bulan sabit yang pertama kali tampak setelah bulan baru (ijtima). Rukyat dapat dilakukan dengan mata telanjang, atau dengan alat bantu optik seperti teleskop. Apabila hilal terlihat, maka pada petang tersebut telah memasuki tanggal 1.Sedangkan hisab adalah melakukan perhitungan untuk menentukan posisi bulan secara matematis dan astronomis. Hisab merupakan alat bantu untuk mengetahui kapan dan dimana hilal (bulan sabit pertama setelah bulan baru) dapat terlihat. Hisab seringkali dilakukan untuk membantu sebelum melakukan rukyat.Penentuan awal bulan menjadi sangat signifikan untuk bulan-bulan yang berkaitan dengan ibadah, seperti bulan Ramadan (yakni umat Islam menjalankan puasa ramadan sebulan penuh), Syawal (yakni umat Islam merayakan Hari Raya Idul Fitri), serta Dzulhijjah (dimana terdapat tanggal yang berkaitan dengan ibadah Haji dan Hari Raya Idul Adha). Penentuan kapan hilal dapat terlihat, menjadi motivasi ketertarikan umat Islam dalam astronomi. Ini menjadi salah satu pendorong mengapa Islam menjadi salah satu pengembang awal ilmu astronomi sebagai sains, lepas dari astrologi pada Abad Pertengahan.Sebagian umat Islam berpendapat bahwa untuk menentukan awal bulan, adalah harus dengan benar-benar melakukan pengamatan hilal secara langsung (rukyatul hilal). Sebagian yang lain berpendapat bahwa penentuan awal bulan cukup dengan melakukan hisab (perhitungan matematis), tanpa harus benar-benar mengamati hilal. Metode hisab juga memiliki berbagai kriteria penentuan, sehingga seringkali menyebabkan perbedaan penentuan awal bulan, yang berakibat adanya perbedaan hari melaksanakan ibadah seperti puasa Ramadan atau Hari Raya Idul Fitri.
  • Menurut perhitungan, dalam satu siklus 30 tahun Kalender Hijriyah, terdapat 11 tahun kabisat dengan jumlah hari sebanyak 355 hari, dan 19 tahun dengan jumlah hari sebanyak 354 hari. Dalam jangka panjang, satu siklus ini cukup akurat hingga satu hari dalam sekitar 2500 tahun. Sedangkan dalam jangka pendek, siklus ini memiliki deviasi 1-2 hari.
  • Microsoft menggunakan Algoritma Kuwait untuk mengkonversi Kalender Gregorian ke Kalender Hijriyah. Algoritma ini diklaim berbasis analisis statistik data historis dari Kuwait, namun dalam kenyataannya adalah salah satu variasi dari Kalender Hijriyah tabular.
  • Untuk konversi secara kasar dari Kalender Hijriyah ke Kalender Masehi (Gregorian), kalikan tahun Hijriyah dengan 0,97, kemudian tambahkan dengan angka 622.
  • Setiap 33 atau 34 tahun Kalender Hijriyah, satu tahun penuh Kalender Hijriyah akan terjadi dalam satu tahun Kalender Masehi. Tahun 1429 H lalu terjadi sepenuhnya pada tahun 2008 M.
Kalender Hijriah dan Penanggalan Jawa 
Sistem Kalender Jawa berbeda dengan Kalender Hijriyah, meski keduanya memiliki kemiripan. Pada abad ke-1, di Jawa diperkenalkan sistem penanggalan Kalender Saka (berbasis matahari) yang berasal dari India. Sistem penanggalan ini digunakan hingga pada tahun 1625 Masehi (bertepatan dengan tahun 1547 Saka), Sultan Agung mengubah sistem Kalender Jawa dengan mengadopsi Sistem Kalender Hijriah, seperti nama-nama hari, bulan, serta berbasis lunar (komariyah). Namun demikian, demi kesinambungan, angka tahun saka diteruskan, dari 1547 Saka Kalender Jawa tetap meneruskan bilangan tahun dari 1547 Saka ke 1547 Jawa.
Berbeda dengan Kalender Hijriah yang murni menggunakan visibilitas Bulan (moon visibility) pada penentuan awal bulan (first month), Penanggalan Jawa telah menetapkan jumlah hari dalam setiap bulannya.

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Monday, December 26, 2011

Patch day

SWTOR is doing its first post-release patch today, version 1.0.1. Well, I hope it fixes that minor but annoying bug where the slicing skill of my alt shows up as unusable skill on my main, and confusingly marks all slicing object on the mini-map for him. But other than such minor bug fixes I don't expect anything from that patch.

What is somewhat annoying for me as European, is that Bioware doesn't adapt patch times to time zones. The European servers are patched at the same time as the US ones, 4 am CST to 10 am CST. Which is 11 am to 5 pm over here, thus preventing me from playing for a good part of the day.

Notebook atau Laptop

Ultrabook Notebook Tipis Harga Murah TerbaikNirwana > Notebook atau Laptop adalah komputer bergerak yang berukuran relatif kecil dan ringan, beratnya berkisar dari 1-6 kg, tergantung ukuran, bahan, dan spesifikasi laptop tersebut.

Sumber daya Notebook berasal dari baterai atau adaptor A/C yang dapat digunakan untuk mengisi ulang baterai dan menyalakan laptop / Notebook itu sendiri. Baterai laptop pada umumnya dapat bertahan sekitar 1 hingga 6 jam sebelum akhirnya habis, tergantung dari cara pemakaian, spesifikasi, dan ukuran baterai.

Sebagai komputer pribadi, laptop / Notebook atau yang sekarang lagi populer yaitu :Ultrabook Notebook Tipis Harga Murah Terbaikmemiliki fungsi yang sama dengan komputer destop (desktop computers) pada umumnya. Komponen yang terdapat di dalamnya sama persis dengan komponen pada destop, hanya saja ukurannya diperkecil, dijadikan lebih ringan, lebih tidak panas, dan lebih hemat daya. Laptop / Notebook kebanyakan menggunakan layar LCD (Liquid Crystal Display) berukuran 10 inci hingga 17 inci tergantung dari ukuran laptop itu sendiri. Selain itu, papan ketik yang terdapat pada laptop gratis juga kadang-kadang dilengkapi dengan papan sentuh yang berfungsi sebagai "pengganti" tetikus. Papan ketik dan tetikus tambahan dapat dipasang melalui soket USB ( Universal Serial Bus ) maupun PS/2 jika tersedia.

Berbeda dengan komputer desktop, laptop / Notebook memiliki komponen pendukung yang didesain secara khusus untuk mengakomodasi sifat laptop / Notebook yang portabel. Sifat utama yang dimiliki oleh komponen penyusun laptop adalah ukuran yang kecil, hemat konsumsi energi, dan efisien. laptop / Notebook biasanya berharga lebih mahal, tergantung dari merek dan spesifikasi komponen penyusunnya, walaupun demikian harga laptop / Notebook pun semakin mendekati desktop seiring dengan semakin tingginya tingkat permintaan konsumen.
Artikel Notebook atau Laptop lainnya yang mungkin ingin anda baca :

Mass Effect 3

I do not normally write much about games that I haven't played yet. But I've been reading a preview of Mass Effect 3 with information about a feature that I found very interesting: You can play ME3 in three different modes; in action mode you get all the fighting and reduced dialogues, in story mode you get all the dialogue and easier fighting, and in roleplaying mode you get both full dialogue and fighting.

Such a feature fits in very well with a observation of mine this year, that some games are increasingly becoming interactive movie experiences. For example I played through Mafia 2 this year, not because of the gameplay, but because of the story. And of course SWTOR is also more about the story than about the gameplay. I even picked up Batman: Arkham City at the Christmas Steam sale, because I read how excellent the story-telling is, although I'm not really interested in that style of fighting game. I also bought L.A. Noire for the story.

Thus if I buy a game because of the story, to me it makes perfect sense to be able to reduce the number and/or difficulty of the fighting sequences. And if somebody else buys the same game for the combat, it makes sense that he has at least the option of getting through all those dialogues faster. It basically allows a game company to develop one game and tune it for the needs of two very different populations of players, as well as those who want everything. So I think Mass Effect is onto something here, and I hope this feature spreads to other future games.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas, and my best wishes for you and your family!

If you notice the absence of a screenshot of my Star Wars: The Old Republic character in a Santa suit wielding a lightsaber, that is because SWTOR up to now does not have holiday events. And I think that is a good thing. As much as some people might like to hunt the Abominable Greench and unpack virtual presents under the tree in Orgrimmar in World of Warcraft at Christmas, it only makes the world less coherent and less believable. I really don't want the spectacle of watching Jedi search for Easter eggs in Coruscant, or participating in a virtual Oktoberfest.

I think it is better if SWTOR sticks to the Star Wars lore, and doesn't invent holiday events which happen to be similar to real world holidays on similar dates.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Rift hacked

As I was in the Rift beta, my name is in Trion's database. So I got a mail from them this week saying: "We recently discovered that unauthorized intruders gained access to a Trion Worlds account database. The database in question contained information including user names, encrypted passwords, dates of birth, email addresses, billing addresses, and the first and last four digits and expiration dates of customer credit cards." Fortunately I never bought Rift, so my credit card data aren't on file with them. And I use different passwords for different games.

This is just the latest of a string of similar database hacks. Pretty much every MMORPG company except Blizzard has sent me similar e-mails in the last year or two. And I don't suppose this is going to get better in the future. MMORPGs are increasingly monetized, virtual goods increasingly have real money value, and trends like the Diablo III real money auction house are only going to increase that real money value. And apparently databases of game companies are a lot less protected than those of banks. If hacking the accounts of individual players makes sense, hacking the whole database makes even more sense. Be very careful with your data out there!

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Strategy games

The Oxford English Dictionary defines strategy as "a plan of action designed to achieve a long-term or overall aim; the art of planning and directing overall military operations and movements in a war or battle." Note the complete absence of the need for a high number of clicks per second in that definition. So once you realize that by definition the so-called "real time strategy games" aren't really about strategy, you'll see that there are very few strategy games on the market.

I was thinking about that when browsing the Steam holiday sales, and found very few games that I would call strategy games. The closest this year was Heroes VI, and even that is half a role-playing game these days. The only company I saw on Steam making lots of strategy games is Paradox, but they don't make games that are accessible to the general public.

The best strategy game with units on a hex-map I played this year was Memoir '44 Online, and that works mostly because it is an adaptation of a board game. And it has an interesting business model, Free2Play with an added "pay per game" if you want to play on different maps. I skipped Panzer Corps, because it looked very much like a Paradox game, with 400 unit types to remember. I am not looking for games targeted at grognards, I am looking for strategy games that are easy to pick up and play. Like the old Fantasy Wars and its successor Elven Legacy.

I am wondering where the next generation of strategy gamers is supposed to come from, if the only games available are those for fast clickers or veterans. People don't start playing hyper-complex strategy games if they haven't played and enjoyed somewhat more accessible games before. And even people who have played strategy games before often don't want a game that takes hours to learn, given typical time constraints.

The Tortage theory

Two-and-a-half years ago, I wrote a post about the level 1 to 20 zone of Age of Conan, called Tortage. That post ended with a look into the future, about Star Wars: The Old Republic: "And would a game which had Tortage-like storytelling throughout be a smash hit? Bioware is apparently betting on the latter with Star Wars the Old Republic. Here's hoping." I have a theory about that, which I mentioned in my subjective opinion post about SWTOR, but apparently it is difficult to explain.

My general model of MMORPGs is that they consist of an endlessly repeating part, like combat, or you could call it more generally "gameplay", and a non-repeating part, which you could call "content". The gameplay of Tortage in Age of Conan is exactly the same as the gameplay in the rest of the game. But the content part of the two halves is very different: In Tortage you play through an engaging "destiny" quest line with great story-telling, afterwards the storytelling gets much thinner and less engaging. People noticed that break, and because Tortage was the only part of the game accessible during beta, players felt like they had fallen for a bait and switch confidence trick. They didn't care that the gameplay of the second part was identical to that of Tortage, they cared for the destiny quest and the storytelling, and felt cheated. Thus Age of Conan managed to lose two thirds of its subscribers after the first month, and is generally considered to be less than successful.

Fast forward to 2011 and if you look ONLY at the gameplay, Star Wars: The Old Republic plays exactly like World of Warcraft, with minor modifications. But most of the people playing SWTOR don't care, because what is important to them is the other part of the game, the content part. On the content side SWTOR beats WoW hands down. SWTOR has fully voiced dialogue cut-scenes for every quest, WoW has 511 characters of text to read. Yes, the two very different ways to tell the story, to tell the quests, lead to the same sort of "kill 10 foozles" gameplay. But people don't care all that much about gameplay, they care mostly about content. So the reception of SWTOR is generally positive, because players feel they are getting something very different from World of Warcraft, because even if gameplay is very similar, content is very different.

But with content being its greatest strength, content is also SWTOR's greatest weakness. Because as I said in my definition, content is the non-repeating half of the game. The gameplay part can be repeated very, very often; some of us killed a million mobs in World of Warcraft. The content part loses dramatically on repetition. Playing the Esseles flashpoint the first time is great, playing it the fifth time you forget about the dialogues and cutscenes and just concentrate on the gameplay.

Thus it is very likely that players will have a Tortage moment once they reach the level cap at level 50. There will still be a game after reaching the level cap, but it will be very different from the leveling game. It will be strong on gameplay, and weak on storytelling and content. You'll still log into a game of the same name, but that Star Wars: The Old Republic you'll be playing at level 50 will *feel* very different from the game you are playing now. You won't meet new, interesting characters and have interesting dialogues several times per play session. Instead you'll skip through the cutscenes and dialogues of the equivalents of dungeons, raids, and daily quests, because you have seen them many times before. The content has basically ended, and only the gameplay remains. And that might be a crippling blow to a game whose strength is the content, not the gameplay.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Win 7 Internet Security 2012

What sounds like an antivirus program is in reality a disguised malware program, and it took over my laptop yesterday. My wife had received a fishy looking e-mail from her sister, consisting of only a link to a file on the site of Star Computer Services, Canada. I didn't click on that link, but googled the site instead, which resulted in a legit looking link to that domain name. So I followed that Google link, and was infected by that virus within seconds. What was so scary about that is that I have a firewall, updated anti-virus program, and everything else by the book running. And just by surfing to the main domain name, without any additional "OK" click, the virus was able to completely take over my computer.

The nasty thing was that the malware program blocked all attempts to remove it. Any attempt to open a browser or the antivirus program resulted in a big window telling you that the browser or antivirus was infected by trojans, and that only Win 7 Internet Security 2012 would be able to remove all these nasty viruses. Even restarting in safe mode didn't help. The only way to finally remove it was following the instructions from this site, burning a registry edit and a specific removal program onto a CD on a different computer and running those on the infected computer.

I then uninstalled the useless freeware antivirus which had failed to stop the virus, and installed Microsoft Security Essentials instead. I didn't dare trying if that one would prevent the infection if surfing to the same infected site again, but it is a good, free anti-virus. And unlike the free anti-virus I was using before, it doesn't nag you to buy the "professional" version every time you update it. Scanned every single file on the computer, which took all night, and it seems I got completely rid of the virus.

Before you fire off a comment telling me how stupid I am to catch a virus, and how that could never happen to you with your superior virus protection setup, I dare you to surf over to and see how effective your protection really is (maybe download the removal tools first). I had done all the usual stuff to protect me against viruses, and it didn't help a bit.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Ultrabook Notebook Tipis Harga Murah Terbaik

Ultrabook Notebook Tipis Harga Murah Terbaik
Kehadiran Laptop "Ultrabook Notebook Tipis Harga Murah Terbaik"  yang menggabungkan kemampuan instan dari sebuah tablet dengan kemampuan produktivitas notebook akan mengambil lebih dari 40 persen pasar laptop pada masa mendatang.

Acer merupakan vendor PC pertama yang meluncurkan 1st Ultrabook in Indonesia  dengan menghadirkan bentuk ultra-thin dan ultra-light serta powerful.  Acer Aspire S3 Ultrabook™ diperkuat oleh prosesor generasi kedua Intel® Core™ i5 – nyata terasa responsivitasnya dan tetap stylish. Dengan Intel® Turbo Boost Technology yang mengadopsi performa sesuai kebutuhan dan kemampuan visual mengagumkan, Acer Aspire S3 Ultrabook™ juga ultra tipis dan menyala ultra cepat serta memiliki fitur premium Acer Green Instant On untuk meningkatkan daya tahan baterai yang sanggup bertahan hingga 50 hari dan Acer Instant Connect untuk akses internet lebih cepat, memungkinkan pengguna tersambung ke dunia maya hanya dalam waktu 2.5 detik.

ketebalan dari notebook sendiri menjadi salah satu keunggulan Acer Aspire S3. Dengan ketebalan hanya 13,5 mm serta bobot 1350 gram, menjadikannya salah satu "Ultrabook Notebook Tipis Harga Murah Terbaik"  yang ada di pasaran. Untuk memiliki Acer Aspire S3, Anda tidak dituntut memiliki kantong tebal, dan hal tersebut menjadi keunggulan tersendiri bagi Acer Aspire S3 ini.

Ultrabook boleh jadi solusi bagi Anda yang menginginkan komputer jinjing dengan Harga Notebook paling murah, tampilan menarik, performa memadai, serta daya tahan yang handal.

SPESIFIKASI Ultrabook Notebook Tipis Harga Murah Terbaik Acer Aspire S3:
  • Prosesor: 2nd-generation Core i3, i5, i7 ultra-low voltage CPU
  • Layar: 13.3-inch HD LED, 1366 x 768
  • Konektor: 2x USB 2.0, HDMI-out port
  • Storage: Hybrid 320 GB HDD + 20 GB SSD (sebagai cache drive)
  • Card reader: mendukung SD Card dan MultiMediaCards
  • Webcam: Integrated Acer Crystal Eye 1.3MP camera and microphone
  • Konektivitas: Acer InviLink Nplify 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi CERTIFIED, Bluetooth 4.0 + HSR
  • Audio: Dolby Home Theater v4, combo audio jack
  • OS: Windows 7 Home Premium
  • Bodi: Magnesium-Aluminum alloy chassis and a lid with a fingerprint-free metal finish
  • Keyboard: Full-size Acer FineTip chiclet keyboard
Aspire S3 Key Features
  • ong Battery Life: dapat digunakan 6-7 jam berturut-turut atau hingga 50 hari dengan Acer Green Instant On. 
  • HDMI® with HDCP support: transfer video 1080p HD video ke monitor, proyektor dan TV via kabel HDMI. 
  • 320/500 GB HDD options: pilihan HDD yang cukup untuk menampung berbagai dokumen dan file multimedia. 
  • Cool Airflow & Aluminum/Mg-Al alloy frame: frame memiliki durabilitas seperti baja namun ringan seperti plastik ABS, dilengkapi dengan desain airflow terbaru untuk efisiensi suhu. 
  • 2nd generation Intel® Core™ processor (full range options) dengan Intel® HD Graphics 3000 untuk menunjang produktivitas. 
  • Dolby® Home Theater® v4 & Integrated Acer Crystal Eye 1.3 MP Camera untuk keperluan multimedia. 
  • 2-in-1 card reader yang men-support SD™ Cards and MultiMediaCard™ dan juga Bluetooth 4.0 untuk kemudahan pertukaran data.

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Monday, December 19, 2011

A totally subjective opinion on SWTOR

Today Star Wars: The Old Republic launches. My character is level 20 after a week of low-intensity playing, in which I had a lot of fun. If you haven't bought the game yet, I can heartily recommend SWTOR for its excellent story-telling, polish, and leveling game.

I do not, however, have much faith in the endgame. The strength of SWTOR is clearly the way the stories are told, the cut-scenes, the voice-acting, the decisions you can make in conversations. All of this is content which is great once, but quickly diminishes in fun when being repeated. And I haven't seen anything to suggest that the endgame in SWTOR isn't like the endgame in every other MMORPG, which means playing through the same content over and over. And seeing how I already met characters in their level 40's before the game even released, I'm afraid reaching the level cap will be all too early.

As far as I can see you can play through SWTOR at least twice and get a completely different story, once on each side. If you don't mind partial repetition of quests and zones, you can play through the game 4 times, covering all 4 starting zones and all 4 base classes. That is good entertainment for some months, depending on your speed. But if you are looking for a game that keeps you entertained for many years, I am not so sure SWTOR can provide this.

SWTOR space combat

My character in Star Wars: The Old Republic is now level 20, and is flying around in his own spaceship. The first function of this is to get from one zone to another, which each zone being a "planet". The big advantage of having planets as zones and spaceships as transport is that all zones are equidistant from all other zones. EA Bioware can add planets without worry on where to fit them on the map. And while the planets are big enough to make walking from one end to the other feel long, at least you don't have to walk through several zones to get to your destination.

The second function of the spaceship is a space combat game, a Star Fox like rail shooter. You can move left, right, up, and down on your screen, but where you move does not influence the path your spaceship takes. Instead that path is predetermined, "on rails", and you just move to avoid obstacles. You also click on things to shoot them. There are various missions available, where you earn xp and "fleet commendations" by flying through such a level on rails and fulfil objectives like shooting down certain enemies or escorting an NPC ship.

I managed the first three space combat missions, but am not doing too well on the higher level ones. I have level 1 upgrades, but better ones would probably be better for somebody like me who isn't very good at twitch games.

And there is the rub: Space combat is a completely separate game inside the game, which has very little to do with the rest of the MMORPG, and requires very different skills. There are some links between the games, like the space combat giving you xp, or your character level determining what spaceship upgrades you can buy. But you could just as well just ignore the space combat part if you don't like it. It feels very much like a separate game, something else to do if you happen to be bored. Nice enough, but not really a revolution to the genre.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Vector Domba Adu

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Rating: 4.5
- ( Baca Juga : Vector Hewan | Animal Vector )

Vector Hewan | Animal Vector

Nirwana > Vector Hewan | Animal Vector
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Rating: 4.1
- ( Baca Juga : Vector senapan angin )

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Rating: 5
        - ( Baca Juga : Vector sepatu )

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Rating: 5
- ( Baca Juga : Vector Calendar 2012 HOT )

Saturday, December 17, 2011

SWTOR system requirements

If you haven't bought a game yet, and you wonder whether it will run on your computer, that isn't all that easy to find out. Typical official system requirements are either cryptic or overly optimistic. According to EA Bioware, SWTOR runs on a toaster. And yes, Star Wars: The Old Republic runs on my 2-year old laptop.

At 10 frames per second. :(

Simple comparison: The same laptop runs World of Warcraft at 80 frames per second. Which means WoW can be played fluidly, but playing SWTOR is kind of a pain. I keep running into walls, and in combat my companion is doing most of the work.

Hmmm, I might give myself a new laptop for Christmas. :)

Vector Calendar 2012 HOT

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-( Baca Juga : Membuat calendar di CorelDRAW )

Membuat calendar di CorelDRAW

Nirwana : Tips membuat calendar di CorelDRAW, Untuk membuat calendar sangatlah mudah dengan Adanya aplikasi desain yang sudah tidak asing lagi yaitu Coreldraw. Oke kita langsung saja ke Tips membuat calendar di CorelDRAW :
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  2. Pada Tool, pilih Macros → Run Macros
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  3. pada dropdown Macro in pilih Calendar wizard dan klik Run, seperti ini :
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  4. Setelah klik Run Pada Calendar wizard akan muncul jendela Oberon Calendarseperti ini :Membuat calendar di CorelDRAW
  5. Pada jendela Oberon Calendar, Pilih tahun, bulan, hari di mulai dan bahasa yang akan digunakan serta berbagai tampilan yang bisa kita gunakan
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  6. Setelah segala hal kita anggap selsesai (mulai dari tata letak, warna, font dlsb), sekarang kita siapkan untuk di edit pada CorelDRAW tadi. Caranya, dengan menekan tombol Generate dan keluarkan aplikasi oberonnya. 
    Membuat calendar di CorelDRAW
  7. Seperti ini hasil Generatenya, siap edit untuk gambar & lainnya sesuai selera anda
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  8. Hasil Akhir Calendar 2012 Cantik
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Semoga bermanfaat dan selamat berkreasi....!!Rating: 4.5

Friday, December 16, 2011

The queue is here

It appears that EA Bioware let in a lot of players yesterday. The result was predictable: While server loads where between "light" and "normal" on the first 3 days of early access, they now went all the way up to "full". I relogged once during the evening to try out an .ini file modification to force anti aliasing, and had to wait in a queue half an hour to get back in. And that wasn't the longest queue.

The problem is that for a given server population, the server load depends on the percentage of players wanting to play on that particular evening. In the long run that is between 10% and 20%, there is an industry rule of thumb that overall server population is between 5 and 10 times prime time population. But during early access and launch this percentage is significantly higher, because pretty much everybody wants to play NOW.

I don't have the technical knowledge to judge why it is still necessary to run big MMORPGs with separate servers instead of one single server distributing players in many instanced carbon copies. But as long we have servers, and we don't want those servers to be underpopulated after launch, we will have those queues on launch day and early access.

Back to grace

Just a short newsflash: EA Bioware changed their mind again on the grace period. So now there is a 48-hour grace period for people who pre-ordered but for some reason can't get hold of their actual game code on the 20th or before. That is primarily an issue for those who ordered a physical copy of the game by mail. Here in Belgium the game has been for sale already since Monday. Well, at least I got early access for having pre-ordered via Origin, because otherwise I would be miffed that my friends got SWTOR both before and cheaper than me. I paid €54.99 on Origin for the digital copy and still haven't received my code, and my friends already got their physical box from the store for €40.

The reception of the early access in the MMORPG blogosphere is mixed, for obvious reasons: Those who are already in are delighted how smoothly everything is running. Those who aren't in yet are ranting that others are getting all the fun. Personally I think that the gated access is working well for the stability of the servers, and that giving access based on pre-order date is probably still the fairest method you can think of. Those who had the most faith in SWTOR and put their money where their mouth is several months in advance are being rewarded. Seeing how they even paid more for the privilege of pre-ordering, the reward is justified. Those who preferred to wait and see will have to wait a little bit longer. And really, it's just a week difference at maximum, that is not such a huge advantage.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Discovering SWTOR

Day 3 of my early access to Star Wars: The Old Republic, and besides leveling up to 13 I made some progress in discovering the less obvious features of the game. Less obvious as in "it doesn't work like that in WoW". One of these features are the datacrons, like cube-like objects found in remote areas everywhere. There are 3 of them on each starting planet. Finding them rewards you with a permanent stat boost, like "+2 aim". It is nice to get a reward for exploring, although of course you can also just look up the locations.

I also discovered a lot about how crafting works. Counter-intuitively you can (and should) reverse engineer items you crafted yourself, using the button on top of your inventory window. Reverse engineering your crafted green items gives you a chance to get the schematic for a blue item, which then reverse engineer into purple items. At that point it becomes clear why you need 2 specific gathering skills for each crafting skill: For example for Biochem you need Bioanalysis to gather the regular components that make green items, while you need Diplomacy to gather the blue and purple components to make blue and purple items. I was quite pleased with myself when I was able to craft a purple medpack. It heals for the same amount as the green version, but doesn't get used up in the process, very useful.

My crafting made a lot of progress in Coruscant, because there are a surprising number of potted plants you can gather with Bioanalysis in the areas of the city where you fight mobs. I got Biochem up to over 60, which then opened up a lot more crafting recipes from the crew skill trainer. Biochem is essentially alchemy, so besides healing "potions" I can craft buffs that last for an hour. I can now also craft adrenals which give a big stat boost for 15 seconds, but I'm not quite convinced yet that these are really useful. If a fight is over in 15 seconds you probably didn't need a boost in the first place. Maybe I can get longer lasting ones through reverse engineering.

You might have noticed that I am *not* looking up the recipes in some database on the internet somewhere. That is deliberate. I think I will have more fun if I discover the recipes for myself, even if that is not the most efficient way. I always found that the discovery is more fun than the execution, but that is for everybody to decide for himself.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

SWTOR day 2

Day 2 of the Star Wars: The Old Republic progressed smoothly, with my trooper reaching level 11, leaving the starting planet, and becoming a commando (healer with big guns). Our guild formed too, although that turned up the first noticeable bug in SWTOR: The guild window is somewhat erratic and doesn't always show all guild members. We also had a minor accident with capitalization of words in our guild name, and couldn't get hold of a GM to fix that. I guess they have more important things to do during launch.

Among the new abilities my trooper got while leveling is a mortar volley which is surprisingly powerful. I didn't expect to be able to one-shot groups of 5 enemies in the final area of Ord Mantell. That somehow made up for the trooper getting his companion later than the other classes, which I wasn't too happy about. The smugglers that I shared the starting zone with all had companions for the final quests, while the troopers only get theirs right before leaving the planet, with no real opportunity of playing with them on the starting planet. Also I found the trooper's companion to be the least likable of all the companions I've seen so far, so up to now I'm underwhelmed by the companion feature for my trooper.

Next step in his adventures will be the first "flashpoint" or real group dungeon. I already did group missions with my guild on Ord Mantell, but on that planet the group missions are open world and not instanced like on Korriban. Having already played the Esseles flashpoint in the beta, I knew that it takes some time, so as it was getting late I rather saved this for the next play session. Instead I wandered around the Republic Fleet, learned my advanced class, talked with all the tradeskill trainers (each gives 450 xp), chose Bioanalysis, Biochem, and Diplomacy as tradeskills, and sent out my companion to gather the first components and craft the first medkit. I also looked at the Galactic Market AH, and found a cheap crafted blue item, as well as modifications for my new gun. I searched around endlessly for a modification station, until a guild mate told me that you don't need those any more and can just CTRL-click your weapon to modify it. Well, that explains why my trooper never got a quest explaining the modification stations, as my other classes got in the beta, although the mod station is still in Fort Garnik.

We need new categories

Is Star Wars: The Old Republic more like World of Warcraft, or is it more like Skyrim?

For many people the answer to this question is simple, because we tend to think in categories of theme park games versus sandbox games. SWTOR like WoW is definitively theme park, Skyrim is far more sandbox. But having played a lot of Skyrim between the SWTOR beta weekend and the early access, I couldn't help but notice that the reasons why I play Skyrim and not WoW are very similar to the reasons why I play SWTOR and not WoW: SWTOR and Skyrim are full of interesting stories, while WoW is more about execution and gimmicks. SWTOR and Skyrim have worlds that are coherent within themselves, WoW is far more of a mishmash spanning everything from jokes about goblin bling to dramatic high fantasy and science fiction in a single game. In short: In SWTOR and Skyrim I care about what happens, the characters, their motives, even my dialogue responses that aren't linked to any point gains. In WoW I just click accept without even reading the quests any more, and I visit dungeons without caring a bit about why these bosses are in there waiting for me.

Now part of this is certainly an effect of simply being new. I fear it is inevitable that sooner rather than later the theorycrafters will try to ruin SWTOR and tell everybody what morons they are if they aren't using the optimized talent builds they developed. The day you chose "boring talent A" over "fun talent B", just because talent A gives 1.7% more damage per second than B, is the day you effectively decided you care more about the game than about the world. At some point the decision of whether to go light side or dark side in SWTOR for some people will be made based on arguments like "but light side gives better gear for jedi knights". And then the lore and the stories stop mattering and we are back to World of Warcraft.

How fast and far this will develop probably depends very much on how difficult endgame "raid" instances in SWTOR will be. I get tons of negative comments every time I ask for MMORPGs to have relatively easy endgame raids, along the lines of "u r just too stupid to play hard raids". But fact is that the harder you make content to beat, the less options players have to beat that content. If players really *need* the 1.7% more dps from talent A to beat the typical raid boss, it is hard to blame them for all using the same cookie cutter build of the month. If the challenge is somewhat easier, different combinations of talents and tactics can all work, and we end up with a more interesting and varied MMOPRG because of that. One that allows us to still care about the world and our characters, and not only about our stats and performance.

Even if Star Wars: The Old Republic isn't exactly a sandbox game, I would certainly call it a "world" MMORPG, as opposed to the "game" MMORPGs like World of Warcraft. At least for the moment. We will see how this works out in the long term.

SWTOR early access

I'm in!

Thanks to having pre-ordered Star Wars: The Old Republic at an early date, I got my early access yesterday evening, on the first day of the early access period. That was a surprisingly painless process: I got a mail, started the launcher I still had from the open beta weekend end November, and after some short patching I was able to play. I did not have to visit a website and enter some code, which tends to be the weak point in MMORPG launches.

EA Bioware is ramping things up slowly, the server list showed server loads being either "light" or "standard", and I found myself in a starting zone with around 100 players. Thus an extremely smooth first day for me, got my trooper up to level 8 without any technical complications, bugs, or other nasty surprises. In fact the only thing that didn't go perfectly was the guild, who had decided *not* to use the server EA Bioware had assigned to us, and thus we were missing out on the automatic guild formation feature. I expect the guild to form tonight, when people reach level 10 and Coruscant.

Up to now I am very happy with my character choice of trooper. The abilities are just plain fun, especially the sticky grenade and the AoE knockback shot. Ord Mantell is somewhat less interesting as a starting zone than Korriban (where I played most of the beta weekend), but it is still okay, and it's only the first 10 levels. I'll see tonight how my character develops once I choose the advanced class, going for healer. I like the idea of a healer with a big gun. :)

Monday, December 12, 2011

Cheating in World of Tanks

Among recent spam comments I deleted were several links that promised cheat programs for World of Tanks, like revealing all enemy tanks or aimbots. Many people believe such hacks and cheats exist, because there is a well documented history of wallhacks and aimbots for games like Counterstrike. But fact is that in World of Tanks the determination whether you see or hit an enemy is done server-side, not client-side. Thus wallhacks and aimbots are technically impossible. While you can make textures transparent, you only "see" the tank hidden behind the obstacle if that tank was legitimately detected by you or another tank in radio contact. And instead of fiddling with the textures you could simply press the ALT key to show these tanks. Instead of helping you win games, the promised cheat and hack programs for World of Tanks only install malware on your computer.

But another form of cheating exists in World of Tanks, and it is not even forbidden by Hitbox tank skins. Basically in WoT your tank isn't equally vulnerable from all sides or in all locations. There are weak spots which are more likely to be penetrated, or where specific critical hit events can occur. Shoot at the first or last "wheel" of a tank's tracks, and you are more likely to shoot his tracks off than if you'd hit another part of them. As there are very many different tanks in World of Tanks, and besides some general rules it isn't easy to find and remember all the weak spots, some people use hitbox tank skins to point them out. Basically instead of seeing a tank in usual camouflage colors, the texture of the tank has been changed in some way to show either in black and white or with some color code the most vulnerable spots of the enemies. I've been aware of these skins for a while, as they are heatedly debated on the forums. And after a reader asked my opinion about them, I even went ahead and installed them to test them out, counting on patch 7.0 to reset them to normal afterwards.

Hitbox skins clearly are an advantage to the players using them. Legalistically you might claim they aren't "cheating", because there is no rule against them. But they are clearly unfair and against the spirit of the rules. Having said that, hitbox skins are not always useful. For example if you play artillery, the skins do strictly nothing, as your aiming circle is always bigger than the tank you want to hit, and you can't aim at a specific spot. For the same reason hitbox skins do not help if you shoot from some distance, or see the enemy tank only by his red outline behind a bush. Hitbox skins help most if you drive a medium or light tank, which is fast enough to get into a position close to an enemy tank where you can really aim at a weak spot. Seeing the best hitzones does help, but it isn't a huge cheat which makes you invincible.

Patch 7.0 promises new customizable tank skins, where the enemy sees the tank you *you* chose, even with a guild logo if you want to. So some people speculated that if the tank skins become server side, then the cheating with hitbox skins would stop. Unfortunately that isn't the case. The forums report that there is a workaround, where you make the individualized tank skins invisible, and thus the cheating hitbox skins visible. And only enforces the use of regular textures in official WoT "e-sports" tournaments, claiming that using them makes you a worse player if you don't have them around to help you.

Personally, I don't consider hitzone skins a game breaker. You could even argue that they could have a legit use for people learning how to play the game. But ideally online PvP games should be completely without cheats of any kind, and it would be good if could find a way to remove them.

I said WoW-Killer, not WAR-Killer!

Omali from MMO Fallout has an interesting thought about the future of Warhammer Online: Is it possible that being down to 1 server per continent means that the game is too far gone to be saved by a move to Free2Play? Will WAR be shut down after SWTOR has a hopefully successful launch and investors attention is distracted to that more successful venture? Wrath of Heroes might be all that remains of WAR.

There is a certain irony to the thought that with all the discussion about whether SWTOR is a "WoW-Killer", it could be that the MMORPGs actually killed by Star Wars: The Old Republic could be Warhammer Online and Star Wars Galaxies. You can't "kill" a *specific* other MMORPG by launching a more successful new one. Launching a successful new MMORPG will always draw some players from various other existing games, as well as hopefully draw in completely new players. That changes the market and the market shares, but not in a very directed manner. It is far easier to "kill" an already ailing game (even if it is from your own company) than the most successful product of the competition. I do think that SWTOR will have a significant effect on the MMORPG market, but not necessarily the one EA would most like.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

An open letter on treasure hunting

Dear game companies!

I think we had a misunderstanding about my wishes as a customer with regards to treasure hunting in role-playing games. I appreciate your efforts to fill the virtual worlds I'm playing through with treasure, I really do. But I think you've gone too far, especially with recent games like Fallout 3 or Skyrim. I said I wanted treasure, not 270 pounds of brooms.

I think treasure is a lot more interesting when there are significant amounts of it at a few, hard to reach locations, so that the treasure feels like a reward. Having minor loot items everywhere, having 3 gold pieces hidden in every urn and barrel, having every monster drop a common weapon worth 10 gold, and having all dungeons filled up with lootable household items is not adding to my enjoyment of your games.

Instead these games start feeling like a chore, because I need to mouse-over or click on everything to check whether there are important or valuable things hidden among all that stuff. Or I end up walking back and forth between adventure areas and towns, just to haul all that medium value stuff and sell it. I'd much rather get the same amount of gold in one big pile at the end of the dungeon. As much as I like to watch Pawn Stars, I would like to play a heroic adventurer, not somebody searching heaps of junk for valuable bits and pieces.



Saturday, December 10, 2011

The Twelve Most Anticipated MMOs for 2007

I was cleaning up my bookshelf and found the February 2007 issue of Beckett Massive Online Gamer, with an article about the twelve most anticipated MMOs for 2007. They are:
  • Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning
  • Age of Conan: Hyborian Adventures
  • Vanguard: Saga of Heroes
  • The Lord of the Rings Online: Shadows of Angmar
  • Gods and Heroes: Rome Rising
  • The Chronicles of Spellborn
  • Pirates of the Burning Sea
  • Hero's Journey
  • Huxley
  • 9Dragons
  • Last Chaos
  • Pirates of the Caribbean Online
I think it is safe to say that if you were actually anticipating the MMOs of 2007, you were in for a disappointment. Some of them never launched, some closed down, and the majority had rather limited success and went Free2Play. LotRO is still the best game on that list, and that one is Free2Play too.

My personal interpretation of the history of MMORPGs over the last years is that game companies saw the success of World of Warcraft, but failed to see that WoW, although far from being perfect, is a product of very high workmanship. Or "polish", if you want to use that term. Thus everybody thought they could get to a similar level of success with games that were significantly less well-made. And failed.

While this has filled some players with gloom and doom, I actually think that this phase of history is behind us. Star Wars: The Old Republic isn't a perfect game either. But nobody can accuse it of being cheap and not well made. During the beta I was positively surprised by the quality of the workmanship, lack of bugs, stability of the servers, and all that famous "polish".

I do think that EA is going to make a lot of money with SWTOR, and attract millions of players. Which moves the overall market forward from "nobody can make a successful MMORPG and WoW is just an exception" to "highly successful MMORPGs can be made if you invest a huge amount of money". 2007 was still the gold rush period of MMORPGs, and I'm actually happy that this is over.

Friday, December 9, 2011

SWTOR guilds

I tend to not get too excited about games before I actually had a chance to play them, a policy that has served me well over the years. But as I didn't get a SWTOR beta invite before the end November weekend where everybody got to play, I ended up missing a lot of the stuff that EA Bioware offered before that. Like their pre-launch guild program. I wouldn't call it a major feature, but it sure is nice to be able to sign up for your guild before the game even launches. As I understood it, I'll get a mail telling me which server my guild will be on, and will get an automatic guild invite for the first character created on that server. That is the sort of comfort function I like.

Nearly 7 years ago, on the European launch day of World of Warcraft, I was one of the initial signatories of a guild I had met in the EQ2 beta. Except for some guild drama episodes, breaks from WoW, and characters created on other servers, I have been with that guild for all these years. So I am very happy to report that I will be playing Star Wars: The Old Republic with them, on an European RP-PvE server.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

How I understand the SWTOR launch

The blogosphere is buzzing with the news about changes in plans to the launch of Star Wars: The Old Republic. So I'll post my understanding of the current situation now, as I probably won't have time to post anything tomorrow due to RL stuff. This is what I think the situation is now:
  • You can already pre-download Star Wars: The Old Republic if you pre-ordered it.
  • Even better, you might not even have to pre-download it if you played in the nearly-open beta weekend end November, you can just patch that beta-client.
  • The early access period has been moved forward 2 days, starting December 13th.
  • That does NOT mean everybody will be able to play SWTOR on December 13th if they pre-ordered, this is an "up to" 7 days early access deal.
  • EA Bioware will start sending out mails on December 13th giving people access based on who pre-ordered first.
  • People who pre-ordered will get between 1 and 7 days of early access.
  • So while technically you can still pre-order, that isn't likely to result in many days of early access.
  • On the 20th of December and after, only people with a valid code from the game they bought will be able to play, EA cancelled the "grace period".
  • Thus if you bought a digital version from Origin, you are most probably golden, you'll get that valid code by mail on the 16th of December, way in time to register and keep playing.
  • If you ordered a physical copy of SWTOR by mail order, you should start praying. While those physical copies "are supposed to" arrive in time if all goes well, the rest of the world is celebrating a little-known event called "Christmas". Little-known to postal services that is, because they manage the get surprised by people wanting to send parcels at this time of the year EVERY SINGLE YEAR.
  • There will undoubtedly be people who will receive their physical copy AFTER Christmas, and they won't be happy.
  • There is some concern that this "receiving the game a week late" might be even more likely if you ordered a collector's edition. As this collector's edition is rather expensive, this would be somewhat ironic, because it would mean that the people who paid three times the price to play the game would end up getting the worst service.
  • The day where MMORPGs aren't shipped in physical boxes at all any more (or only months after release, like WoT) is approaching. EA Bioware easily makes $20 more on each digital sale compared to a physical sale. And if buying the physical box means you get to be late to the party, a lot of customers are going to switch to digital next time around.
  • Thus whether any delays in physical distribution are "working as intended" makes for interesting conspiracy theory.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

SWTOR addons

I haven't seen much written yet on addons for Star Wars: The Old Republic. There is no LUA language support for people to write addons for SWTOR on release. And I kind of hope that they won't add it later. Or that at the very least SWTOR doesn't provide a lot of data like combat damage which is usable for addons. Because if there is one thing I've learned from 7 years of WoW addons is that the overall effect of the addons tends to be negative for the community and the game.

The most anti-social addons are things like Gearscore or various damage and performance meter addons. I wouldn't mind if SWTOR had a built-in functionality which would somehow show my performance, but only to myself, with the goal to improve myself. But in WoW these addons were primarily used to point a finger at people who for some reason had a slightly lower level of gear or damage output. They were exclusion devices, with people organizing raids asking for "minimum Gearscore 6785", which happened to be exactly their GS, so they could be carried by people with better gear. These ePeen measuring devices in my opinion did more harm than good to the community of World of Warcraft.

Another type of addon commonly seen is the performance-enhancing addon. A healing addon like Healbot makes group/raid healing a lot easier than the standard interface. And addons like Deadly Boss Mods give advance warning of incoming special abilities from boss mobs, which make the "dance" a lot easier. So what could be wrong with that? What is wrong is that by making these functionalities dependent on a third party addon, you can't be sure that everybody is at exactly the same level. Performance-enhancing addons are like performance-enhancing drugs in sports: You might consider them "fair" if you assume that everybody uses them, but as soon as you consider that some people for some reasons don't use them, it becomes obvious how distorting they are. If Healbot is strictly necessary to beat an encounter, then why isn't it part of the standard user interface? Performance-enhancing addons make balancing encounters very difficult, because developers will have to decide whether they balance the encounter with or without the assumption that these addons are used. And if you balance the encounter assuming that everybody has the addons, then you'll get the occasional case where somebody is unable to beat the encounter because for some reason he didn't have the addon he thought he had. Again, if an addon was necessary for an encounter, it should be part of the standard user interface, not a third-party addon. Fortunately Blizzard at least put legal measures in place which prevent people from selling their addons. Imagine there was a must-have raid addon that you had to pay an extra $20 to get.

The least harmful addons are those which allow players to customize the user interface. But frankly, in this day and age complicated games should have customization options for the user interface built in from the start. I don't see the advantage of doing that with addons. In the end all addons are just crutches for functions that the developers were either too lazy to build into the game itself, or for functions where the developers thought that the game shouldn't have them in the first place. Blizzard made theirs far too powerful, leading to addons that you can't perform without, and others which are mostly used to stroke ePeens and separate the community into "us" and "them". In the SWTOR beta somebody was joking "6K GS required" in general chat when he was looking for a group for a low-level dungeon. I so hope that this remains a joke and doesn't turn into reality in Star Wars: The Old Republic.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

SWTOR difficulty level

One of the more remarkable things about the SWTOR open beta weekend was that I died. Several times. Both in group and in solo situations. And I liked it. Of course I was trying all sorts of crazy stuff, for example I had a "Hogger" moment with my Sith Inquisitor when at level 5 I came across a level 6 elite mob and absolutely had to try to kill it. No luck, got killed 3 times, then went back to base, leveled up by handing in some quests, trained up, and then went back are killed that elite mob. Even got a piece of blue loot, although it was heavy armor and completely useless to my character. Actually I have the impression that heavy armor loot drops from a level 6 elite mob are completely useless to everybody, as far as I could tell nobody gets heavy armor skill before level 10.

My character also died when trying to run through a cave full of mobs instead of carefully fighting them one by one. I died in a group at a boss which had a special attack that sucked everybody close to him and then hit us all with a point blank AoE. Thus we learned to move away as quickly as possible when the boss does that, and killed him on the next try. In fact, in pretty much all cases where I died it was clearly a case of me having done something in a sub-optimal fashion, and the death taught me how to do it better. And that is how it should be.

It is extremely difficult to unlearn skills in real life. Nils claims that the early game in WoW is actually quite hard, and only gets trivial past level 10 or so. But when I recently tried a new undead warlock in the free version of WoW (unlimited free play of WoW until level 20), I never felt in any danger, and quickly got bored. Unless you use the looking for group functionality to earn blue gear you don't need in low-level dungeons, it is rather likely that you play up to level 85 without a single death in World of Warcraft. Which not only is boring, but also fails to teach you how to play better.

I wouldn't want to play a game in which I need a dozen wipes before killing each simple quest mob. But the premise of these games is that you play a hero through his adventures, and if those adventures are completely safe, you don't feel much like a hero. Thus I do think that a game in which you can die if you risk too much is more attractive than a game which prevents you from taking risks. I find it stupid that in World of Warcraft you can't accept quests that are too high in level for you, and the xp rewards for killing higher level mobs are deliberately designed to give you less xp per hour than if you farm easy green mobs. If you give players a wider range of levels of quests and opponents to tackle, with rewards for trying the riskier stuff, you get a game in which everybody can play at exactly the difficulty level he wants. You don't need an "easy - normal - heroic" difficulty setting like for endgame raids now, you simply present the player with the option of doing quests below his level, at his level, or above his level, with rewards that are in line with the higher risk and time effort necessary to tackle the higher levels of difficulty.

I will have to see in how far this is possible in Star Wars: The Old Republic. But my first impression is that leveling is less trivial than in World of Warcraft, and that is a good thing.

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Monday, December 5, 2011

Biting the hand that feeds them

Imagine a guy walks into your bar and orders a round of free drinks for everybody. While you are sipping the free beer he just paid for you, do you think it would be a good idea to insult the guy for his "obvious" lack of social skills that he is trying to overcome with his wallet? The only place on earth where that is considered acceptable social behavior is the wonderful world of multiplayer online games.

As this blog has comment moderation, most readers moderate their own language, and I rarely have to actually delete a comment. But when linked to my post about gold tanks from their World of Tanks Facebook page, I had to delete several comments full of hate, filled with insults and profanity directed against people spending money on World of Tanks. Wallet warriors was still the most polite term used.

I find that curious, because obviously if these players wouldn't pay for gold in World of Tanks, would be broke, and World of Tanks would close down. While patch 7.0 will introduce the option to pay for skins and logos, up to now everything you can pay for in World of Tanks gives you some advantage: Faster advancement, access to tanks that earn credits faster, more penetrating ammo. Thus insulting somebody for having paid for an in-game advantage is insulting him for having paid at all, for having effectively paid the game for you. Insulting the guy who pays for your free game is about as intelligent as insulting the guy who pays for your free beer.

Apart from the social aspects, these insults are also getting the facts wrong. Most of them are along the lines of only bad players paying for stuff in Free2Play games. But numerous surveys and published data from game companies show just the opposite: New and casual players are not engaged enough with the game to want to pay much. The overwhelming majority of payments in Free2Play games come from the people who play the most, are the most experienced, and veteran. That is kind of logical: Somebody unwilling to even spend much time in a game is naturally unlikely to want to spend much money either. Somebody for whom a game has become a major part of his daily life is a lot more likely to also be willing to pay for a minor advantage. It is the top guilds that shoot with gold ammo in clan wars battles, not the noobs with tier 2 tanks in random battles.

No business model is perfect, and the Free2Play model isn't the perfect model either. But it certainly has the advantage that it allows people to play for free, financed by other players. Is it too much to ask from the people who play for free to have the basic decency not to insult the people who pay the game for them?

Wiping virtual vs. real world

I was reading a post on Massively Multiplayer Fallout about Aventurine still not saying whether their Darkfall 2.0 would include a character wipe. And I couldn't help but think that there is a much simpler solution: Instead of wiping everybody's skills, just increase the skill cap significantly, so that the level of the old skills is basically irrelevant in the new system. Thus you effectively have a character wipe, but with somewhat less rage-quitting than if you told everybody to re-roll. Of course this is how World of Warcraft does it in every expansion. Everybody keeps their characters, only their old level and gear count for nothing in the post-expansion world.

The scary thing about this is that it also works in the real world, and is actually one of the more likely outcome of the ongoing debt crisis. To see how this works, let's use a very extreme example: President Obama tells the U.S. Bureau of Engraving and Printing to design a new 1-million dollar banknote (with his face on it), then lets print 300 million of these, and sends one of them to each citizen of the United States. As most Americans with debt have a debt below 1 million dollars, they would all immediately be able to repay all their debt. And a good part of the money would flow back to the local and federal government, where it could be used to pay all government debt as well. With one fell strike the debt crisis in the US would be over (the EU could do the same for theirs).

There are just some problems with that solution: It would result in a huge jump in inflation. If everybody is a millionaire, then a million isn't much money, and doesn't buy you much. And for every borrower having his debt wiped out, there is a lender having his savings wiped out. Basically the people who spent more than they could afford (which includes the government) are rewarded, and the people who did the prudent thing and saved are punished. Furthermore nobody will be willing to lend money to somebody else any more, as after such a precedence nobody could be sure any more that it wouldn't happen again. If the US wanted to borrow more money from the Chinese, the Chinese would insist that the debt would be in Yuan, and not in dollars, so the US can't devalue their debt away in the future.

But while the 1-million dollar Obama banknote isn't likely, a more stealthy version of the same solution is very likely. It even has already started, and been given a positive sounding name: Quantitative Easing. To put this into perspective, in the most recent US round of quantitative easing, nicknamed "QE2", the Federal Reserve created $600 billion of money out of nothing, and used it to pay back government debt, by buying treasury bonds. That is only $2,000 per US citizen, and thus doesn't create that much inflation as $1 million per person would. But the basic principle is exactly the same: More money flows into the economy, allowing people with debt to pay back some of it, while reducing the value and interest rates on savings.

The man who controls the machine which prints the money can never go bankrupt. But he can destroy the value of the currency and thus help debtors and punish savers. And if you think you aren't affected because you didn't lend money to anyone, have a look at your pension scheme: It is a promise to pay you a fixed amount of money in the future. If that fixed amount isn't worth much, your retirement might look a lot different than you imagined.