Archive for January, 2010

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A Positive AFK

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There are definitely times when it comes to writing a blog that you need to take a bit of a break. Writing every day is nice, and in some cases cathartic, but everyone has to recharge their batteries once in a while. This is one of those times.

2010 brings with it a lot of changes to me, personally. These are changes that are both positive and interesting. That being said, it’s getting a bit hectic right now, making it more and more difficult to update people with sunshine and rainbows.

So as much as my humble readership might miss it, I’ll be taking a brief little break – maybe a week or two – just to recharge my batteries and get re-focused. I plan on coming back as optimistic as ever, so be sure to stay tuned!

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Trailers and Tribulations

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Ah, game trailers. Those little bits of eye-candy that tease us with epic details and amazing visuals. Ocular pornography for geeks who like games, I like to call them. You’ll see the latest trailer I assaulted my eyes with at the bottom of this post.

It got me thinking, really. I mean, gamers today react in two ways to a trailer for something. They either get extremely excited and psyched, or they adopt a sense of cynicism about fluff that doesn’t present the realities of what gameplay is actually going to be like. These are two extremes that I think present themselves in any comment thread on Youtube or Gametrailers, with sometimes hilarious results. Nothing like seeing “MAN THIS IS AWESOME” next to “MAN THIS SUCKS”. Ah, contrasts.

Me? Even though I’m not surprisingly in the “MAN THIS IS AWESOME” column, I also have realistic expectations about the visual orgy that hits my face when I see a games trailer. Trailers are curious little things, and like movies, are meant to tease, elicit a small sense of surprise, and generate buzz. That, however, is all they can and should be. They aren’t an indication of actual experience. They sometimes aren’t quite the graphical look the game will have. And they most certainly aren’t a prediction of how badly a game decides to crash when you’re in the middle of killing something.

I think as long as people understand what game trailers are, then it’s not only easy but also appropriate to be excited and happy about them – because that’s what they’re supposed to do. In that respect, I’d rather be happy for the 2+ minutes I’m watching one rather than cynical for life. So that being said, here’s the latest trailer I’ve watched for TERA online, a new MMO coming out soon. Will it succeed? Time will tell – but for now, just enjoy, right?

Case of the Mondays Cure – Star Wars, the Summary (Remastered Edition)

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We near the end of the month of January, and going to work or school might seem like it’s the total dumps. When you’re freezing your ass off, finding out there’s no parking, and figuring out how to make it through the day without becoming a total zombie, it’s hard to think of things that are fun and entertaining.

Not to worry, folks, because College Humor decides to soothe your Monday blahs with a little original vid paying homage to Star Wars, an IP guaranteed to bring you into the theaters and make you smile. Still, with all the re-re-re-edited and re-re-re-re-…er, redone stuff, you might seem lost about what has changed. Don’t worry though – the below video will be your beacon of light in your darkened re-edited Star Wars ignorance. Have a good one, folks!

Sometimes, a Positive Conan Quote Is All That’s Needed

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I totally blame Conan O’Brien for me missing a post yesterday, but it was totally worth it, especially when it came down to Conan’s last, serious speech regarding his short time as the host of the Tonight Show. I’ll have more about this later, but for now, I think it honestly speaks for itself – especially the closing.

Before we end this rodeo, a few things need to be said. There has been a lot of speculation in the press about what I legally can and can’t say about NBC.

To set the record straight, tonight I am allowed to say anything I want. And what I want to say is this: between my time at Saturday Night LiveThe Late Night show, and my brief run here onThe Tonight Show, I have worked with NBC for over twenty years. Yes, we have our differences right now and yes, we’re going to go our separate ways. But this company has been my home for most of my adult life. I am enormously proud of the work we have done together, and I want to thank NBC for making it all possible.

Walking away from The Tonight Show is the hardest thing I have ever had to do. Making this choice has been enormously difficult. This is the best job in the world, I absolutely love doing it, and I have the best staff and crew in the history of the medium. I will fight anybody who says I don’t, but no one would.

But despite this sense of loss, I really feel this should be a happy moment. Every comedian dreams of hosting The Tonight Show and, for seven months, I got to. I did it my way, with people I love, and I do not  regret a second. I’ve had more good fortune than anyone I know and if our next gig is doing a show in a 7-Eleven parking lot, we’ll find a way to make it fun. We really will. I have no problems.

And…I don’t want to do it in a 7-Eleven parking lot.

And finally, I have to say something to our fans.

The massive outpouring of support and passion from so many people has been overwhelming. The rallies, the signs, all the goofy, outrageous  creativity on the internet, and the fact that people have traveled long distances and camped out all night in the pouring rain to be in our audience, made a sad situation joyous and inspirational. To all the people watching, I can never thank you enough for your kindness to me and I’ll think about it for the rest of my life.

All I ask of is one thing, and I’m asking this particularly of young people that watch - please don’t be cynical. I hate cynicism — it’s my least favorite quality and it doesn’t lead anywhere. Nobody in life gets exactly what they thought they were going to get. But if you work really hard and you’re kind, amazing things will happen.”

See that? Even Conan endorses optimism. Thanks Conan. You’ll be missed.

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The Geek’s Version Of a Pimped-Ride

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While it seems that my love affair with Star Trek Online may be coming to an end at some point in the near future, the game itself is not without some saving graces. Sure, I’ve discovered that ship combat consists of slamming the “fire at will” key while speaking in badly imitated Picard-speak, and the away missions look and sound suspiciously like their superhero title Champions Online. But the really “ooh, neat” part comes from a weakness that has existed since I was putting together Gundam models in my earlier years – and that’s customizing my ship.

Admittedly, Star Trek Online will have a strength in that Cryptic has always been good about allowing people to pimp their shiz, so to speak. From models to color schemes to interchangeable items, the look of someone’s ship is almost as important to the game’s success as making sure that one phaser array build isn’t OP. Why is something so cosmetic so important? Well, being able to pimp your ride is just another way for players to express their uniqueness and originality among others. If anything, many players in MMOs fear being just another person in the crowd, and want on some level to distinguish themselves. Facetious as it is, a ship’s look is going to help with that.

Obviously, Star Trek Online wasn’t the first to feature ship -pimping features. EVE, which has been around forever, has a variety of models and items to pick from that both serve as unique look as well as functionality. Before that, now-defunct MMO Earth and Beyond from Westwood allowed ship makeup to be determined from a combination of ship weaponry, speed, and overall look. Today, people still want to pimp their rides, sometimes much more than they would their characters – because having a tricked-out character is one thing, but having a tricked-out ship or vehicle is entirely another.

It’s definitely true that being able to change your ship to having a pink stripe with black overlay is not going to entertain you for too long. After all, there are limits to how customization can honestly affect gameplay experience. That doesn’t mean that spending resources on it is a waste of time, as some MMO players claim to believe. At some point, looks do matter – otherwise we’d all be satisfied with text-based MMOs with words instead of graphics. The eye candy factor of a game, whether on a surface level or not, is a part of a game’s selling point, and whether you are aware of it or not, you’re inevitably affected by it. That being said, there’s nothing wrong with embracing your inner fashion whore as you outfit your ride with what is the equivalent to spinning rims and hydraulics. Just be prepared to be just as big of a target, too.

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NCSoft’s Positively Cautionary Tale

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If you’re a player of an NCSoft MMO, you might be feeling a bit nervous lately, because recent concerns and hacks on account security have raised some definite red flags with the distributor. Some of the victims were compromised using the traditional methods of unsafe websites and phishing scams, but others have apparently been found to have their characters stripped and exploited without having done anything at all. The supposed core of the problem may lie in a vulnerability somewhere within NCSoft’s authentication system of sites, and the latest security statement by the Game Surveillance Unit’s Scott Jennings (a person whose word I respect in the industry due in part to Broken Toys) is an acknowledgment and a reminder of the dangers of such things.

The playerbase for NCSoft games such as Aion and Guild Wars has been understandably upset over security holes that could end up with months of work undone in only a few short clicks. Stories vary in threads like the “Account Stripped…so what happens now?” thread on Aion fansite Aionsource. Sadly, through no fault of ours, my legion recently suffered a devastating loss of legion warehouse mats and supplies – hundreds and in some cases thousands of items taken from the warehouse and sold by an account with access to the warehouse that had been compromised. We’re still working to get the items back.

During times like this, it’s hard to be positive, but as always I like to find the silver lining in the black-clouded storm. If anything, the whole situation with NCSoft with regards to the integrity of their security is a cautionary tale. It’s a signpost in the road that shows how high of a priority account security should be when it comes to MMOs. With technology advancing at a crazy rate these days, the good that potentially could be done with it is only overshadowed by the potential evils. With the convenience of having a single account tie to multiple items comes the risk of having them all hacked. With the ease of clicking links to get on-demand delivery of content comes the equal ease of mining information from the computer through malicious code on sites. The list goes on, but the point is that in the grand scheme of things, protecting users’ characters, accounts, and most importantly, credit card info is of paramount importance and security holes need to be found, fixed, and dealt with.

It’s also a cautionary tale developers can learn from when it comes to quelling, communicating, or otherwise reassuring the angry mob with pitchforks, too. Community tends to be overlooked or pushed to a lower priority when it comes to developer teams. The community folks I know seem like they are underpaid, overworked, yet passionate about the ideals of a game design supported in part by player feedback. It’s still important, however, to make sure you are communicating properly and frequently  in times of widespread problems, something that NCSoft and other developers should be taking very seriously. Scott Jennings’ statement is a good start, and at least an official communique from someone investigating the problem. While it isn’t a solution, it’s at least the beginning of what will hopefully be a speedy fix to NCSoft’s account woes

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Case Of The Mondays Cure – Lame Is Cool

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Yes, yes, my dear readership, it’s Tuesday, not Monday, but for those of you who observed the Martin Luther King holiday yesterday (even to the point of not entering a blog post, oops), today is the beginning of the week.

The Monday doldrums are often found in the form of Facebook, where tired, exhausted, hungover, and otherwise zombie-fied folks chat about the weekend, the sadness of being at the bottom of another mountain of a week, and how they’re coping. The gift of insta-updating from virtually anywhere means we get to hear about these woes right away, and sometimes the collective misery of Monday-bound individuals is almost too much to bear.

Still, though, there is a beacon of light, and it’s found in the realm of the Lame. Lamebook seeks to catalog the hilarious and the awful of Facebook, and it never tends to disappoint even on a late beginning of the week like today. You should definitely check out all the latest entries at the site, especially on Tuesday, when typos make their way over:

My inner English major cries out to help these people.

Have a good short week, everyone!

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The Everygeek Named Chuck

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Good TV is sometimes tough to find to begin with these days, especially when it comes to discerning geeks like us who tend to be a little picky about what we want to watch. But every so often comes a series that speaks to us that actually isn’t on a major channel.

One of these is Chuck, the show on NBC that’s about a normal geek who gets pulled into the world of espionage, armed with nothing but geeky social skills and a computer of government secrets trapped in his head. I’m actually a recent convert to the show, with Samit Sarkar of Destructoid deserving the credit for turning my geeky head towards it.

I’d have to say the main reason it seems Chuck is appealing to many people out there is the reason a few series out there get good followings – the main character is an everyman – or in this case an everygeek – who appeals to the people who watch him. Chuck’s stumbling, awkward ways provide a nice little identification with the normal stuff that us geeky folk go through every day. Whether someone who went to college learning advanced tech, a gamer into online shooters, or even a worker at a computer repair service like the fictional “Nerd Herd”, Chuck has something that speaks to us.

Chuck’s had a bit of a colored history – the show was nearly cancelled forever after its second season, but a “Save Chuck” campaign and the voice of the Internet (something I just talked about yesterday regarding Conan) spoke loud and clear. Season 3 is playing now, but for anyone who’s got geeky tendencies and looking for a tv hero to get behind, feel free to stand by Chuck. Just try not to trip him up as much as he might do the same to you.

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The Geekery Legion of Team Conan

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If you keep up with late night TV at all, then by now you’ve heard about the great NBC entertainment messup that starts just after prime-time and lasts until 1. In response to affiliate concerns, NBC has decided to move former Tonight Show host Jay Leno’s new show to the slot currently occupied by old standby The Tonight Show, currently hosted by Conan O’Brien. Jimmy Fallon, who took over Late Night from Conan, would move to after midnight. The odd man out here has been determined to be the red-haired Conan, who obviously can’t take back his old show and is losing his current slot to his predecessor. If you’re curious about a video summary of the field day all the Late Night hosts are having, check out this video compilation of the Late Night debacle.

The whole craziness of the situation has created the usual sides and factions in the matter, with some folks siding with Conan as the underdog while others think Jay’s return is best for a show that didn’t do so well under a new host. But my little note of positivity today goes to geekery in general, which has created a significant presence in public opinion using the tools in front of it – that being the Internet and its new social media.

Within hours and days of the news breaking, support from the Internet poured out, heavily in favor of Conan. Twitter has a ton of related posts under the hashtag #teamconan, with tons of real-time updaters coming out in support of what they feel is a screwy situation for the late night host. Facebook commands a Team Conan group, 100,000 members strong and going, and talented Photoshoppers are passing around a politically hilarious “I’m With Coco” pic.

Yes, online technology has spoken, and apparently, its younger, geekier audience is squarely behind Conan, with Jay’s supporters few and far between. Supposedly this is because Leno’s audience is older. Perhaps they’re still stuck trying to adjust their VCR’s to record Leno’s new time slot, let alone use Twitter to talk about it. If things pan out how they seem to be reported today, however, with Conan leaving with a big buyout and Leno returning to his former show, they might not have to do anything at all.

There are a few folks who’ve opined about the backlash against Leno, with some that were quoted for the article saying it will eventually blow over. But the Internet, and the geeks who inhabit it, have proven to be a bit long in the tooth when it comes to remembering things, and the power of online opinion is immense. Any major site who recognizes the power of bloggers and has them, is basically acknowledging that very fact. I don’t know that the outpouring of online support will hurt Leno, but it will certainly help Conan.

I’m proud of what funny little events can do to highlight the technology that people use the communicate, so regardless of what side you’re on, it’s another testament that geek media is here to stay, and have an impact. And me? Well, let’s just say I’ve been on Team Conan for a long time (since the year 2000, honestly), and have always loved his comedy over Leno’s. Here’s to hoping he ends up in a better place than he is now – because Team Conan will be right there to support him:

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The Magic Power of a Good IP

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Over at their blog, Keen talks a little bit about his first Star Trek Online impressions, and how it “being Star Trek” sort of helps a little bit with dealing with potential problems with the game. The cons outweigh the pros, Keen opines, but it’s going to be played for at least a little bit because of the Star Trek feel.

Some people think that dressing up a game with a nice looking Intellectual Property dress is a bad thing, that it creates bias for players and causes problems long term, but I don’t seem to think so. Intellectual Property is, for better or worse, one of the driving marketing forces behind why geeks purchase certain things. Sure, you could sell, for example, a regular toaster, but slap a Cylon head on it and allow it to literally make imprinted Battlestar Galactica toast and you’ve got guaranteed interest even if the toast gets burned to a crisp. As jaded as they sometimes can be, geeks have a propensity towards merchandise and items that elicit feelings of joy and love for what they’re into, and IP sells that to the nines.

There’s also the idea that MMOs themselves are currently, on some level or another, “paying to beta test”. I’m an optimistic guy, folks, don’t get me wrong, but I also know about managing my expectations and realizing inevitable pitfalls aren’t always so bad. What a good or recognizable IP does, really, is help people come to the same conclusion, consciously or unconsciously. If Star Trek Online goes through growing pains (which it most certainly will), the frustration of not being able to play certain races, crash in an instanced zone, or get killed over and over in PvP will be somewhat made palatable by the fact that you are actually piloting a Federation ship or leading an away team. I can’t say that this is honestly such a terrible thing – for developers, it gives them breathing room to see what the problems behind their design are and to adjust, and for players, the (temporary) enhancement for retention rate will keep folks in the game for longer than normal.

Besides, if anything, history will teach lessons about MMO marketing, design, and implementation, so if STO somehow struggles after its initial IP charm, then later titles like Star Wars: The Old Republic, which will have the same issues, will tread more carefully. MMO releases are, if anything, a learning experience for developers, so if IP love just happens to work out, then that’ll be a huge driver towards creating more enjoyable (and hopefully more polished) games.

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