Archive for September, 2009

The TOR Beta Gold Rush

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GA gold panning
Image via Wikipedia

So it appears that Bioware is further along with their beta plans for Star Wars: The Old Republic after all – because the site now has a testing portal for the TOR beta where you may submit your interest to be a beta tester.

Naturally this is a major announcement and even if beta is months away, users are rushing to signup, crippling the bandwidth of Bioware’s web servers and forcing frequent maintenance to keep the demand high. Looks like there are a lot of players out there looking to try out their prospects as the next Han Solo, Darth Vader, or Boba Fett, to say the least. The demand has been so crazy that I had to wait until 1am this morning to actually complete my TOR beta signup, which consists of taking some personal info, agreeing to a normal beta tester set of policies, and having a scan of your system submitted.

Really though, guys and gals, we should stay a bit level-headed as well as positive-minded about this whole thing. Like I said before, the date of TOR beta could be months away. We could be waiting in a queue for a long time to come. So really, rushing to beta signup in an attempt to get your name in the hat, and becoming frustrated at not being able to do so, is just not worth it. Beta signups should cooldown in a few days, after which you should be able to submit your NASA-like computer settings and personal info to Bioware just fine.

There’s also a thought that even though this is a great thing for Bioware (and a sign that development is proceeding along nicely) that once you’re in the Star Wars: The Old Republic beta, you’ll be getting a sneak peek at the game. This is true, but you’re also going to meet, head-on, the realistic image of the game behind all the polished marketing. While some people might find the experience discouraging or, as Syp has said, one that they might not want to play due to not wanting to ruin expectations, others I think will want to get in on it to set those expectations appropriately prior to spending money.

I’m one of these people – but I’m also a tester when it comes to these things too. Mostly this is because I know the game is going to have broken things, bugs, and other such issues. Not surprisingly, I’m looking forward to the idea that I might be crashing every 5 minutes, that performance could cripple my machine, that the fully-voiced features could suddenly crap out in TOR beta and everyone could start sounding like chipmunks with lightsabers. It’s all a part of a process of development that I’ve participated in many times, and contributed to meaningfully, so I can’t wait to get in and get my hands on the client to test it out and beat it into the ground.

Still, all that being said, rushing to beta isn’t for everyone. There’s a lot of panning for gold involved before you get it, so I encourage everyone to take a deep breath, realize that not being able to signup for TOR beta isn’t the end of the world, and wait patiently – there’s plenty of TOR beta river space to go around.

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[Lagwar] Gaming is Serious Business – Killer Hype

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Over at Lagwar.com, you can see my latest column for “Gaming is Serious Business”. This week, I talk a little bit about hype, how it can be a big killer for lots of gamers, and how as someone who’s laissez-faire about the whole thing I modify my expectations appropriately. You can check out the article here:

http://lagwar.com/home/archives/7389

Educational Scribble(nauts)

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Scribblenauts Test: Disco
Image by krystianmajewski via Flickr

I’m piggybacking off of an article written by Unenlightened English’s Kelly about Scribblenauts and how its veritable potpourri of dictionary words and fun gameplay have firmly put educational gaming back into the spotlight.

Really, the secret behind Scribblenauts and the educational value of the game is in the blend of fun factor and teaching technique. When we think about educational video games these days, we don’t typically think about an FPS like Halo or an RPG like any of the Final Fantasies. It’s been argued many times that games like these have some sort of educational value to (appropriately aged) teens and kids, but the real reason why few take those kinds of arguments at face value is a matter of function. It isn’t the primary function of Halo or FF to educate you, but rather to engage you in a gameplay experience that is fun. In that respect, educational arguments of the improvement of hand-eye coordination/reaction time, or the ability to read complex walls of text is more of a happenstance than an intent by the developer.

5th Cell takes a step forward towards creating a balance between education and gameplay with Scribblenauts. The puzzle game makes an attempt to expand your vocabulary by encouraging you to use different words to solve things, but it also has a cutesy, gamer-y element of using those words in a video game manner. We haven’t seen something like that since the typing games of old like Mavis Beacon, who blend game activities with letter-typing reflex.

Don’t get me wrong – Scribblenauts is still a game first and education second. But the bar of education is raised ever so slightly by the fact that players are made to learn something in order to get ahead in the game itself. You can go through the game in one mode using the same words, but to really finish properly the mode where you aren’t allowed to recycle well-known words needs to be beaten. Even though this is only slightly forced, it becomes such a natural element of the gameplay that players aren’t really bothered by it.  The key that developers should take note of when looking at the critical success of 5th Cell’s title is that the educational part is masked and made to be logical to the player to engage in without being contrived.

If Oregon Trail can teach us about the dangers of caulking wagons and dysentery, Guitar Hero/Rock Band/DDR can show us rhythm, and Scribblenauts can expand our word count, I can’t wait to see what the next semi-educational game brings us. I hold out hope that a game that teaches adult gamers about the wonders of beer will someday be made.

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Case Of The Mondays Cure – Fiber Optics, Street Fighters, and Remote Beetles

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Lolcat or Cat Macro with white cat on laptop c...
Image via Wikipedia

Leaves are falling off of trees, the weather’s getting cooler, but here at Overly Positive we just soldier on. It’s always 82 degrees and sunny in our minds, so let’s see what we can show you from around the Net today to help you cheer up on another dreary Monday:

Super Street Fighter IV on the way? (via Destructoid): Topher Cantler points us towards a teaser site that Capcom apparently has set up that, of course, doesn’t tell us much of anything, but fuels speculation about Super Street Fighter IV title. Street Fighter IV came out earlier this year to quite a bit of fanfare and good feeling, so why not try to capitalize on that a bit more?

ESA Awards Scholarships to Student Game Developers (via GamePolitics): Wanted to make the move from armchair developer to putting your money where your mouth is? If so, there’s hope as far as the Entertainment Software Association is concerned. 30 students received scholarships to help them become the person who developers the next big hit, so even if that hit is a Hello Kitty game, there’s at least organizations willing to contribute to the furthering of gaming dev. Nice!

Intel Develops Fiber-Optic Chip, Geekgasm Incoming (via Fark): The processor arms race has always been a fun one, with new bits of technology coming out literally every few months in an effort to make your current NASA computer not the new hotness. This time around, Intel takes a leap forward by developing a fiber optic processor, which should provide transfer speeds of 10 gigabits per second. That’s a lot of internet porn!

DARPA Can Haz Cyborg Beetles (via The Escapist): So the only knowledge you may have about DARPA is the fact that there is a chief of the organization and he might be subject to being a seemingly dispensible character in a game series like Metal Gear, but they do other things too. The agency recently revealed that they funded research at UC Berkeley for remote controlling beetles by stimulating their wings with electrodes. Sounds like the formula for some advanced tech, or a really bad horror movie. Either way, still pretty cool.

And that’s that – have fun with your Monday!

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The Gaming Review Review

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Lately in the MMO-sphere there’s been a bit of to-do over reviews and what a proper MMO review really constitutes. The most recent and visible example was Eurogamer’s review of Darkfall, which generated quite a bit of angst and outrage, even straight from the developers, about the practice of proper gaming reviews. Looking around at where gaming sites placed recent MMOs, I stumbled upon a review of Aion on Eurogamer – one which immediately drew the usual ire from dedicated players looking to discredit the review for being lies and chicanery.

To be perfectly honest, I don’t really see a need to be upset over your favorite game getting a bad review from someone else. I’ve always shrugged off reviews for the very simple reason that, boiled down, they are essentially someone’s subjective opinion about their experiences. The only difference between reviewers and us as players is really where the paycheck is coming from. Don’t get me wrong – we can’t all be Roger Ebert – but Ebert and his peers in the movie reviewing biz, along with their counterparts in the gaming industry, have simply come up with a framework for a review that might or might not be helpful to someone’s decision about something.

Getting bent out of shape and wanting to burn a reviewer at the stake for a supposedly poor review is just kind of silly to me. I mean, in the end, what really matters is how you yourself are experiencing the game. If the worst-reviewed game in the world is a game that you play for 6 hours straight a day, who’s to say that you’re wrong for enjoying it? I do think that people should relax and understand that when a reviewer gives a game a bad or not-ideal review, they aren’t telling you how much you should enjoy a game. They’re simply sharing their own, inevitably biased opinion about that particular aspect.

Besides, “professional” reviewers have to acknowledge that Joe Schmoe who has a blog that some people might regularly follow is starting to gain credibility. It’s why Evony is so bent out of shape over Bruce and his articles on Evony’s practices. A person who writes with little to no journalistic or reviewer training can create the same kind of resonance with readers and influence them much like a reviewer can. In that respect, the opinions on a particular game are potentially so numerous and so varied so as to further reinforce what I’m saying. Reviews are just opinions, and unlike assholes, they aren’t an inevitable part-and-parcel to our function or motivation to be gamers.

I read reviews to get a second opinion and ideas on my own feelings about a title. But in the end, I control what I like or dislike, be angry or happy about, whether to have waffles for breakfast or not, and other such significant and important decisions. I’m just happy that we can get such a variance of opinion on any title, no matter how well-reviewed it is by professionals.

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Short and Sweet, Part Deux

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Disclaimer: STILL not responsible for any addiction or desire to stab one’s eyes out with a spoon as a result of watching the below video.

So now you know by now that I’m a morning person. But am I a night owl? Can I maintain the same level of energy and positive thinking at night as I do during the day?

Well, again, mere words just don’t do it. Here’s the answer to whether or not I have the same energy level that allows me to keep going:

Some of you may not be tempted to click on the video following the traumatization from last time, but I assure you, such feelings are simply your imagination. This video is nothing but uplifting and energetic, which is how I feel many nights. I’m doing you folks a service, you see, bringing colorful cute and sunshine to your supposedly dull lives. Isn’t it great?

You’re welcome, by the way.

Forum Friday – Wrestling, Lethal Coffee, And Animal Biology

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Triple H (Paul Michael Levesque) pointing to t...
Image via Wikipedia

You see that? Pro wrestler Triple H is pointing at crazy things he sees on internet forums!

Yep, that’s right, it’s time for another installment of Forum Friday, where we take a look at the best and brightest around the Internet. Let’s take a gander, shall we?

suunyd it’s sounds like you hate on my favorite wrestler John Cena a 3 time WWE champion and a 2 time world heavyweight champion a 2 time United states champion and a 2 time world tag team champion but i don’t see why you hate the game i like watching wrestling i know it’s fake but so are movies and games but i don’t stop watching them or play em because it’s fake and i know there’s ppl that would agree that they like RAW ( currently waiting for the return of Attitude era ) but there still athlets ( srry for bad english ) they get injuries like any other athlet out and you can’t fake how a guy like John Cena could raise up the worlds largest athlet Big Show , the worlds strongest man Mark Henry and The Great Khali over his shoulder but yeah i’m just talking about the game so lets keep pro wrestling out and talk about the game

Now, now, dear poster….this was a valiant effort to explain a great point about the clear merits and reality of professional wrestling. Don’t forget about the real value of championships worn around waists –  those gold belts would go for money on eBay, I tell you! Still, there’s no need to start making English teachers cry without knowing exactly why. There are such things as punctuation and capital letters after all! Maybe I should introduce this guy to last week’s dude of mixed question marks and exclamation points. Friendships are all about mutual benefit, after all.

Maybe it’s just the coffee charging my neurons, but I really hate all of you. All you do is suck my oxygen and darken my day with your insipid posts. None of you add anything to this game, other than money to line Mythic’s pockets. All of your fictitious superiority you portray through your fancifully colored polygons will never make up for your shortcomings in real life. Flaunt your binary accomplishments all you want, you’ll still wake up lonely every day. Who is going to care about that fort you took 50 years from now when your maggot-ridden corpses are decomposing in a shallow grave somewhere after years of sustaining yourselves on pizza and Mt. Dew until your saturated fat-lined arteries burst? I’ll answer for you: nobody.

In closing, everyone go die in a fire.

I think someone could use a hug, or that failing, a Care Bear stare! It’s too bad it isn’t the 80′s because a little cheeseball was always the big fixer-upper back then. That and GIJoe bravely teaching us half the battle.

Still, the real lesson to be learned by this completely meaningful and worthwhile post is that certain blend of coffees can be harmful to your health! It’s so unfortunate that this poor, misguided soul didn’t inform us of what beans grinded pure hate. Wasn’t caffeine supposed to help people get started in the morning? The horror! Seriously folks, after this little subtle public service announcement, you’d all better check your coffee cups and see if you feel like being tough on the Internet afterwards. You might need to see a doctor. Get well!

you fucking dirty pigymy baboon

Stick it where the sun don’t shine you kangaroo’s pouch, you putrid frog, you sheep’s offal.

Well now. I’m sure you can all see the high level of education that this person is clearly capable of with such a meaningful and amazingly thoughtful retort. I mean, look at it – there’s no mention of “bull shit”, “butt monkey”, or “horse’s ass” anywhere! This guy espouses much more creativity and you should all take note. We should all be so intimate with animals and their body parts.

You know, every week I’m continuously surprised by the intelligence of forum communities everywhere. Let’s hope people are always this philosophical and complex with their trains of thought. It can only make for better dialog – and better blog posts, of course!

See you next week!

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The Wide World Of Webcomicry

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Megatokyo
Image via Wikipedia

Like most English major-leaning folks, I have a clear preference for being bookish. Good literature and good stories are enticing and appealing to me, and reading a decently good book is always something that I enjoy very much. But time is short these days in my little busy and hectic life, so good books are hard to come by for reading. But that’s where webcomics come in.

I’ve never been much of a comic book person – most of the stuff that I’ve collected over the years has been very mainstream and easy to read. As an IT professional, I’m also drawn more to the computer, mostly because of the fact that I’m chained to it day and night for work, but also because if I want to give myself a little boost during the day. Alternatively, I want to turn my brain off for a second so that I can get back to my task with some form of focus. This is what the short-term reading, quick gags of webcomics do for me.

Webcomics have invaded the internet space with a bit of a snail’s pace these past few years, but there’s always a few that have achieved status that’s well-known, with Gabe and Tycho’s Penny Arcade being the most prominent. Like with my musical taste, I have eclectic taste in the world of webcomics, so here are a few that I use during breaks in the day to provide me with short-term entertainment.

Megatokyo is one of the first webcomics I followed and I still take a peek at it today. It started out as more of a gaming and story comic, but the departure of one of its co-creators has made it wholly into a story-based online manga. The comic follows the (mis)adventures of American gamers Piro and Largo, who become stranded in Japan and get embedded into its culture in an effort to find their way home.

Applegeeks is a comic that, like the name, is a nice one for all you Mac readers out there. Hawk draws a style that is very comic but also very computer-ish in its creation. The comic follows a few story arcs but is mostly the hijinks of Hawk, an Apple-obsessed fan, and his crew of friends, one of which is Eve, a robot female Hawk created.

8-bit Theater is, from the name, a bit low in the graphics department but high on the hilarity. If you like Final Fantasy – the original one, not the ones these days with the oddly feminine-looking male leads, you’ll like 8-bit Theater. Following the story of the original Final Fantasy with hilarious embellishment and a ton of sidetracks, the adventures of the vacant but strong Fighter, the numbers-obsessed Red Mage, the conniving and morally grey Thief, and the psychotic and stabbity-focused Black Mage will give you a chuckle.

VG Cats has been a guilty pleasure of mine for a few years, mostly because the NC-17 humor and “totally wrong” twisted sense of entertainment has always made the dark part of my soul – and therefore myself – laugh out loud. The gaming comic does have two main character cats in it, but they really are a sidebar to the commentary on video games the comic seems to take. When you draw out the fact that Ms. Pac-man might have actually been Pac-man needing to become a cross-dressing prostitute to pay the bills, you know you’re a little off – and I can’t get enough of it.

These are just a few of the webcomics I use to extract a bit of entertainment throughout the day, and I know there are many more. The point is – webcomics are a great blend of old school and new-school geek, combining comicry with technology, and you should definitely look to checking some of them out during your daily grind.

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Overly Positive Thoughts – And They Ate (L4D2) Cake

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Left 4 Dead 2
Image by Kimli via Flickr

You guys and gals may remember a previous Overly Positive Thoughts installment where I lauded the praises of the Left 4  Dead 2 boycotters who bravely decided that Valve being uncharacteristically fast with a sequel was a bad thing. Well, for those who haven’t been able to follow that I wanted them to eat cake, it seems there’s an update on the boycott front.

Seems that Destructoid reported a while back that Valve decided to up the ante by confidently inviting the leaders of the boycott to Valve’s sekrit studios in order to try out the L4D2 game, look at the L4D DLC content that was coming, and then come to a decision based on that information about how they felt. Not surprisingly, the two leaders of the boycott group did have kind words to say about L4D2, even though they want to continue the boycott until individual concerns are addressed.

The boycott group is now split between people who have been taking in the information given to them as a result of the trip with some pause or rational judgment, and those rabidly screeching that their own leaders sold out and that they were paid by cake, cookies, and possibly whores of Babylon to deep-six their own group’s cause. The resulting angst, veiled jealousy, and arguing that Valve’s little trip has caused threatens to crack the group’s very foundations.

But hey, everyone should take heart even though their two most prominent members are perhaps eating cake that is flavored with quite a bit of crow in the middle of it. Surely the group will come together in a Superfriends-style ending and shun the soulless corporate attempts of Gabe Newell and the rest of the Valve crew to buy them off. It’s a certainty that some of these people who are still part of the boycott will actually refuse to purchase L4D2 when it comes out, and even though they might look much like forlorn kids looking inside a candy store, they’ll be secure in their beliefs, right?

Surely this didn’t reveal that most of the boycotters were divided into several neat camps of “stick it to the man”, “I’m too cheap to pay for something”, and “rebellion is cool”. They all got under the banner of one cause, and damnit, just like Mel Gibson in Braveheart, they’re willing to lose their heads over the freedom that that means. On the day of launch for L4D2, those that don’t welch out and buy the game anyway because it’s actually well-designed and a true sequel will be the real hardcore, true believers in this worthy, totally not fad-oriented movement.

Besides, if anything else, this is a valuable lesson for all those haters out there – if you want to have an all-expenses paid trip to play the game of your dreams, just start some hater group out there for it and be as vocal as a screaming, kicking baby about it. Hell, if you’re that loud, maybe you’ll even get free alcohol. At the bare minimum, you’ll at least get some crow cake.

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The Turtle-like Pace To The TOR Release Date

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Pretty easy to guess, from the really cute picture, who are the players and who are the developers, right? Hint: we’re the ones that can pounce on things and like shinies.

With information a bit sparse on the Star Wars: The Old Republic MMO lately, the community has taken to all forms of speculation as to what will be revealed next about the game, what’s to come, and of course, a little bit of thought about when exactly the TOR release date is going to be coming around. The way I see it, there are three sort of distinct divisions running around at the moment:

  • The 2009 crowd would get a cuppycake from me for being even more positive and optimistic than I am about TOR’s release date. A few brave souls hold out hope that Christmas will bring them a little Star Wars: The Old Republic to be messing around with.
  • 2010 is the high average in the bell curve of TOR release date speculators. There was already a site that claimed it was going to come out next October, but that has similarly been debunked by the developers as just a wild guess. Most people falling into this category have probably been through a beta or three.
  • 2011 is something that only a few folks would want to even think about, because the totality of having that enter one’s mind means that the SW:TOR release date is 2 years out. Following a game for 2 years, or more? That’s a huge endeavor and a long time to remain positive about the game’s prospects.

There are all at least one or two points that support any of the three ideas for when TOR is going to be unleashed to the gaming public, but my support is thrown behind 2011 as the possible TOR release date. While that too, is wild speculation on my part, consider the fact that BioWare is currently in a state where very little gameplay footage has been shown, the first 8 levels are the ones that have been released to the public in some way, and that not all of the 8 classes are known to us. We should also consider the fact that as much as I love the gaming community, especially the MMO-playing portion of it, that premature releases and a scrutinizing public are going to make any developer cautious about their pacing.

If you want a totally guessed-at, not defintive, totally unconfirmed idea of the timeline to the TOR release date, here’s some logic (amazing, right) that leads me to believe TOR is way, way in the future of MMO releases:

  • We have 4 classes currently revealed. Even at the rate of one class reveal a month, we’re looking at all classes to be revealed by the end of January 2010. While the pacing can certainly pick up (and community guy Sean Dahlberg has already made mention of that already), I think Bioware is going to remain cautious and careful about what the show to the public.
  • Three months of gameplay reveals and information, along with the marketing cycle for hyping up closed beta, seems reasonable to build interest in the game and bring impatient people back for more participation. If we find out more about leveling, combat, and the story mechanics, and are on the hype train to closed beta opening, that puts us at April 2010, just before the summer convention season and when the most testers can be available.
  • Any closed beta I know of proceeds in phases, where players bash the hell out of the current build of the game, in focused tests or in general content vetting, and developers change it based upon that feedback. This is an iterative process, and many companies vary their beta time depending on what they need to change prior to release. For perspective, the last three betas I was in for an MMO lasted an average of of 14 months. Let’s say Phase 1 is the big reveal, general feedback period for closed beta testers and beta leak watchers. That’s July 2010 when all is said and done.
  • Phase 2 of TOR closed beta is a pass based on player feedback, with some focused areas for testers to observe as they get back into things. Assuming another three month period, that puts us at October 2010.
  • Phase 3 reveals some areas of the game that have to be revamped or tested in laser-like focus tests. Whether it’s class balance, or the story pacing, or the combat, something is not going to go as planned and it will need some iterative love. We get to beyond the holidays and into January 2011.
  • Marketing will be picking up the pace as the release date will be long since known (and perhaps been pushed back a couple times). In closed beta, the last phase will put the game into a state where it can be tested again on an overall basis to go through the entirety of the game experience to squash major bugs and issues. We arrive at the end of closed beta at around April 2011.
  • Hype to open beta will be in full swing, touting a summer date that will snag all the students and the folks that have seasonal jobs. With shorter periods for open beta these days, we’ll probably be seeing May 2011 for the inevitable stress test, involving queues, crashing, and last-minute scrambling to adjust for player demand.
  • Release happens in the midst of summer, June 2011. This assumes there will be no “oh shit” factor that pushes back development of the game – in which case my entire timeline is messed up and you can see about hotspots in early fall or at the holidays of 2011 for your SW:TOR fix.

All of this totally non-definitive information about the TOR release date says that we’re looking at a turtle crossing the finish line and not a hare. But just like the story reveals, haste makes total waste, especially when it comes to MMOs. When you understand the full scope of what it means to wait for years for a game that you are anticipating to come out, many people are simply not going to be able to put up with keeping vigil on the game. The few obsessed, crazy, idealistic fans like myself will be the markers that people will check back on to see how close we are to the SW:TOR release date.

Frankly, I’m fine and dandy with Bioware and their turtle’s pace to development. If MMOs in recent times have been burned for anything, it’s coming out too soon and having problems that they must play catch up in order to rectify properly. It might not make sense to EA investors, but the long-term strategy of an MMO release is a lot easier to execute with more time. Two years from now, will we be seeing Star Wars: The Old Republic come out on a release date that has been a long time coming? Maybe, and maybe not. But I do know that if I can, I’ll still be posting positive, sunny things about it, and everything else. At least you have a constant, right?

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