Thursday, November 3, 2011

. . . Farmville

Everything that I ever needed to learn about modern farming science I learned from playing Farmville...

OK not really, but one really important lesson that I did learn by playing Farmville is this: No matter how much time in a day that you think you have, allowing yourself to get sucked into any Facebook game that involves farming, a form of competition vs. your friends that is very subjective, and the ability to decorate a farm is a simple recipe for disaster that has a physics-defying capability for sucking away time like the center of a black hole... I am just saying...

The most recent time-sucking nastiness to appear in Farmville is the Halloween festivities, at the heart of which is the need to collect treats (candy), and the building components for Duckulas Castle -- which for the most part consist of Haunted Bricks, Knockers (of the door variety) and Buckets of Goo (glowing green goo at that).

Some free and very useful advice for you -- if you have not yet been seduced by the deceptively innocent appearing game called Farmville, save yourself! Run Away!

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

. . . Murphy's Law - Sword of the Stars II

Sword of the Stars II and Murphy's Law

Murphy's Law is an adage or epigram that is typically stated as: "Anything that can go wrong will go wrong."

Like a lot of gamers I was looking forward to the launch of the next game in the Sword of the Stars series, being something of a major fan of space combat and space trading games... Let me be clear here though, I am speaking as a gamer and fan right now, not as a game reviewer or games journo.

When the game released, and it did release, really -- The Sword of the Stars II released -- it launched -- they tell us that it is out -- but when it released on Steam the version that was uploaded was a Beta version rather than the completed game, and it made it into the distribution channel on Steam before anyone realized what had happened.

The version that was uploaded was the Beta client that was stable prior to the actual Beta test -- in other words with all of the bugs that were later identified by the testers and, presumably, fixed...

Once the mistake was recognized and the Beta version of the game on Steam was pulled, the correct version was supposed to have been what replaced it. But when that new version was examined by gamers who had already purchased the game, what was supposed to be the retail build turned out to be yet another Beta build...

A close examination of what is supposed to be the retail release is a game whose version number still contains the 'B' designator that is used to identify Beta clients suggests that it is not what was expected -- the 1.0 retail build -- but the bottom line is that only the developer can ultimately say -- and so far all that they are saying is this: It is what it is.

Add to that the fact that large sections of the game in what is supposed to be the retail build are not actually accessible and the only logical conclusion that can be drawn is that something is very wrong here but nobody can say what exactly that is...

The Options Menu on the build that is purported to be the correct retail build is grayed out; it cannot be accessed. Many of the sub-menu's are either non-functional or contain miss-identified labels. Still, I have seen videos of the game being played and it is beautiful -- but I do not have a copy myself to play because the PR's notified all of the games journos who requested review copies that they will be delayed until the end of this week -- minimum -- while the developer creates and applies fixes.

Martin Cirulis, the C.E.O. of the game's developing studio Kerberos Productions, posted what is essentially a mea culpa plea that exonerated Steam, publisher Paradox Interactive, and the team that worked on SotS2, essentially accepting all of the blame for the misfire that is its launch attempt, or as many pundits are saying, the Space Combat Game's Failure to Launch.

What Does It Mean?

That is kind of difficult to answer since what information that we do have is vague, but what I think it means is that we need to wait a week, give Kerberos Productions the benefit of the doubt, and not jump to conclusions.

Speaking as a gamer and fan of the genre that is what I am doing. Speaking as a games journo though, I have sent some emails and I am looking into this, so check back with me next week and I may have more to add -- but hopefully it will be an enthusiastic endorsement, since we all win when a game starts rocky but pulls out and shows you its shiny side!

A Good Reason to Wait and to Hope

I have already admitted that I am something of a fan of the whole Space Combat and Space Trading genre, and that is true... To put this in perspective for you, let me tell you about the very first space combat and trading game that I ever played and how addicted I was to what, when you see the screen captures from it, you will probably be shocked and surprised by... But I assure you that I was not alone in finding it to be an awesome and entertaining but very addictive play.

Elite Privateer and the Commodore 64

When we typed the name of our computer it was C=64, which was a shorthand text version of its logo. Let me first tell you about the Commodore 64, of whic h I owned two: one to play games and do my school work on and one that I operated as a Bulletin Board System (BBS) that was in its own right an amazing machine.

This was 1984 mind you, and at the time as near as I can remember only the IBM PC had hard disk drives as a normal accessory, and even those did not come stock, you paid extra for them. The C=64 was made by Commodore, and before I owned it, I originally owned the previous model, which was called the VIC-20, a computer that had a massive 5K of RAM and ran the Commodore BASIC 2.0 OS.

The Commodore VIC-20 - had a massive 5K of RAM and a 1.02 MHz CPU

The C=64 did not have a hard drive, not even as an option, rather it had just the single-sided Model 1541 5.25" Floppy Drive -- which was something that did not come with the base model and you had to pay extra for! At the time most users had a cassette tape player/recorder that they used to save their programs on, if they had any mass storage at all!

When I decided to create a BBS with my C=64 I ended up buying a used 1541 floppy drive at a flea market to add to the new 1541 I already owned, and using one to hold the BBS software and chat boards, I used the other to hold games and programs that the visitors could download. When they wanted a program that was not on the data drive, they had to "crash" me system mail asking me to put the correct floppy into the drive, and yeah, that was cool.

What I ended up doing -- with the assistance of my Sisters then boyfriend, was scratch-building a hard drive controller that connected to the C=64 via its parallel port, to which I connected a 10MB MFM hard drive that my dad gave me after his office upgraded their PC's mass storage to 30MB drives!

It took us two weeks to get the controller built and debugged, and then get the hard drive to be recognized, but once it was let me tell you, I had the largest BBS New South Wales and Queensland combined! Of course it still only had one phone line coming into it, and the users were limited to 20 minutes a day, but man I had my ENTIRE file library online at the same time! Not only that, but it still left me over 9MB of free space on the drive, and I could not imagine EVERY needing more space than that massive 10MB hard drive could provide. I had not better need more space anyway because those things cost almost $3,000!

With my computer dedicated to being a BBS and not needing the second 1541 drive anymore but wanting to play games, I ended up buying a used C=64 at the flea market that I originally bought the floppy drive from -- there was a bloke whose thing was buying, selling, and trading computer parts, you see. So I bought a second C=64 and, when I did the bloke gave me a handful of games to go with it as part of his "service." At the time we did not think of this as game piracy - and if you had told us that what we were doing was illegal we probably would have thought you insane. It was just how it worked back then -- you shared games by making copies for our mates!

One of the games he game me was called Elite Privateer, and when I got home, got the system set up, and ran the game, I was hooked. I spent the next 24 hours playing it before falling into an exhausted state of coma...

To put this in perspective for you, in interviews the senior producers of CCP Games held out Elite as one of the main inspirations for their acclaimed MMORPG, EVE Online!

Here is what the game looked like:

What you are looking at above is the game's loading screen -- see that object in the center, the white object in the center? Yeah, that is your ship! The bottom center area is the radar sensor display, and the "gauges" on either side gave you lots of info about your ship...

When you started the game you initially controlled the character "Commander Jameson," and started the game at Lave Station with 100 credits and a lightly armed trading ship, a Cobra Mark III as they began the process of seeking out ports in order to purchase a cargo which they would then take to another distant port around a distant planet to sell, making a profit, and then do that again!

In the process they had to contend with pirates, hostile aliens, and things like navigational hazards, and docking with a space station to trade or upgrade your ship had to be accomplished by HAND, getting properly lined up with the docking port and then matching the spin and velocity of the station before you could dock, a maneuver that was not for the faint of heart!

Most of the ships that the player encountered in the game were named after snakes or other reptiles, and the odds were that the captain of that ship that was approaching yours was a pirate, and wanted you dead!

Trading was not the only way to obtain credits in the game -- credits could be accumulated through a number of means including piracy, trade, military missions, bounty hunting and asteroid mining, and if you had a fuel scoop you could even resupply your fuel by flying close to the sun and scooping up magma from around it!

The money that you earned by whatever of the methods you chose -- or a combination of them -- was used to upgrade your ship with better weapons, better shields, a larger cargo hold so you could carry more trade goods, and if you were a total wimp one of the first things you probably bought was an automated docking computer!

As I sit here thinking about those long ten-hour game sessions and the fun that we had playing this game I feel compelled to go search Ebay for a C=64 and a copy of the game... And you know, I must might!

Yeah, I can wait for Sword of the Stars... I am just not sure how long I can wait!