Gears of War: Lunch

I’ve been playing through the Gears of War games recently. From a gameplay stance, they’re quite fun, but from a narrative point of view they really bug me. The problem is each campaign (I’m about half-way through Gears 3 at this point) has only a few plot points, but each plot point is dragged out to absurd lengths, with every minor task turning into a set of recursive obstacles to overcome. It is so silly that by Gears 3 even the characters are joking about how nothing is ever easy. I feel like these games could’ve been narratively stronger if there was a longer story with more plot points, but with each point being less cumbersome to achieve.

But when it Rome, right? So I decided to write the script/design doc for the next game, Gears of War: Lunch

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Act I: The quest for bread

Marcus Fenix is hungry and is ready for lunch. However when he opens the bread box to make a ham sandwich, he finds nothing but crumbs! Marcus needs to get to the bakery for a loaf of bread. For company he enlists Sam because once she reads this script I’m sure Claudia Black will sign on to do voice talent and every game is improved by the addition of Claudia Black.

Chapter 1: Trees release me
Marcus knows there’s an old jalopy in the garage they can use to get to the bakery. He and Sam leave the house only to find a storm has knocked over a large tree and it is blocking access to the garage.

Goal: Marcus and Sam have to use their chainsaws to cut the tree up into manageable chunks and drag them out of the way.

With that task done, Marcus attempts to flip a giant switch that is supposed to open the garage door. It is jammed! Sam reminds him that there used to be a remote control for the door and maybe that will work. Marcus calls control on his radio, and Anya provides him with the intel that the remote is in the basement of the house.

Chapter 2: Rats!
Marcus and Sam head for the basement only to find it is flooded. “Ah NUTS!” Marcus shouts, “I can’t get my COG-issued boots wet! We have to find a way to drain this water.” Sam suggests that if they cut off the supply of water, it should all drain away. There’s a giant valve along one wall of the basement and boxes of old Christmas ornaments they can walk on to get to it. The only problem is… there are rats in the basement!

Goal: Trap the rats, get to the valve and turn it off

The flood drains away remarkably quickly once Marus turns off the valve. Sam grabs the remote and they head back to sunlight. The remote works and the garage door opens. They jump into the jalopy but… no keys! Sam mentions that she thinks the keys are stored in the attic because where else would you store car keys?

Chapter 3: Photographs and memories
Marcus and Sam head to the attic. It is PACKED with junk…boxes and boxes of old photos, magazines and other assorted junk. On the back wall they can see the keys hanging on a hook, a single shaft of sunlight passes through a crack in the roof and illuminates them.

Goal: This is a puzzle level. Marcus doesn’t want to destroy anything so he has to carefully push and slide boxes to clear a path to the keys. One mistake and he and Sam will be crushed by a pile of old National Geographic magazines

With keys in hand Marcus and Sam return to the jalopy. It starts! “Ah NUTS!” Marcus shouts, “We’re almost out of gas!” “No worries,” Sam says, “There’s a fuel station nearby, let’s head there before going to the bakery.”

Fade to black, cut scene of them driving through suburban streets and pulling into a gas station

Chapter 4: Hard currency

Note: This is a ‘catch your breath’ chapter. Lots of cut scenes, light gameplay.

Marcus pulls up to the gas pump just as the jalopy’s engine sputters and dies, its tank completely empty. Marcus notices a sign “Please pay in advance.”

Goal: Buy some gas (spoiler: unobtainable goal)

Marcus grumbles and heads inside, holds out his credit card. “Sorry, stinkin’ COGS pay cash!” the attendant shouts. Marcus reaches for his lancer but Sam grabs his arm. “There’s an ATM machine in the corner, just take out some cash, this guy isn’t worth your time.” They head to the ATM, Marus puts his card in but nothing happens. “That ain’t worked in weeks!” the attendant cackles. “Circuit board is fried. I ordered a replacement but I haven’t had time to get to the electronics store to pick it up.” Marcus growls, but Sam says “We’ll get the circuit board and fix your ATM if you’ll sell us some fuel, deal?” “Deal!” says the attendant, “But circuit board first, then fuel. The shop is just down the road a ways.”

Marcus calls Anya and gets GPS data to guide them to the electronics shop, but she notes the shop closes early today. He and Sam start running towards the city. This is a timed segment. They have to avoid both foot and vehicle traffic while maintaining a roadie-run through the whole section.

This level leads them into the city proper. However their way is blocked by an overturned bus. They can’t get past it! Marcus casts his gaze up to the tops of the apartment buildings that line the street. “There’s our road” he mutters. They run up to the front door of one of the apartment buildings, but it’s a secure building; they can’t get in. “Let me handle this, you lack tact.” Sam says to Marcus and she starts pushing intercom buttons at random, trying to sweet talk her way into the building. After the 3rd attempt Marcus loses his patience and smashes his fist into the intercom panel, crushing it. The front door inexplicably pops open. “Or that works too.” Sam mutters.

Chapter 5: What a super building

Goal: Reach the roof undetected

This is a stealth level. Marcus and Sam have to move up the stairs to the roof while avoiding the roaming superintendents. For some reason this building has 5 of them and they’re all in the stairwell. Marcus and Sam can briefly exit the stairwell to let a super pass. When they get to the top floor they notice it is being renovated.

Optional: There is a fire alarm when they first enter the building. If Marcus pulls it, the building will be evacuated and he and Sam can run up the stairs without unhindered.

Once on the roof the pair see that they have to cross the gap to the next building and then one more after that to clear the mess in the streets.

Chapter 6: Planks for the memories

Goal: Get to the third rooftop

Marcus looks at the gap between buildings doubtfully. “Don’t think we can jump that,” he says. “We need a bridge.” Sam says, “What about that construction on the top floor?” The two head back into the apartment building to the floor that is being renovated. They find a plank and carry it to the edge of the building and drop it across the gap.

Now they have to carefully walk across it. The player has to manipulate that analog sticks to help the characters keep their balance. Just as they step off onto the 2nd building, the plank slips and falls into the alley below. They are trapped.

The secret to crossing to the third building is that there is a pigeon coop on this roof. Marcus can push it to the edge of the roof and then topple it over, forming a makeshift bridge to rooftop #3. When he starts pushing it the pigeons get free and he has to shoo them away, push the coop, and repeat until he makes it to the edge. Finally the two can cross to building 3.

But the door to the stairwell is blocked!

The last part of this chapter is finding some repelling gear conveniently left in a corner, and repelling down to the street.

Once back on solid ground, the pair approach the electronics store… and it is closed!! There is no way to get the circuit board. “Ah NUTS!” Marcus shouts. “Marcus,” Sam drawls, “Isn’t the bakery just one street over from here? Why don’t we just hoof it?”

They cut through an alley, get to the bakery and see there is a single loaf of bread left. “Mine!” Marcus screams, startling the baker. “Yes sir!” the frightened man says. “Do you take hard currency?” Sam asks. “Of course we do!” says the baker. Marcus and Sam leave the bakery, bread in hand.

Fade to black.

Act 2: Hamming it up

Marcus and Sam are back at the house, in the kitchen. Sam cuts a few slices off the bread while Marcus goes to the fridge. He opens the door, peers inside. “Ah NUTS!” Marcus shouts. “We’re out of ham! We need to get to the butcher shop, stat!”

Polygon’s selective reporting of the GaymerX controversy [Updated]

UPDATE: Polygon has now set the record straight in NIS America to make its GaymerX payment ‘in full,’ conference founder apologizes. I’m so glad to see this: faith in Polygon’s editorial policies restored.

Original post begins:

In case you somehow missed it, it all started Monday night when the CEO of GaymerX, a “gaming event for everyone, but focusing on supporting LGBTQ gamers and allies” took to Twitter to share an email sent to him by an employee of NIS America, a small video game publisher that focuses on localizing Asian games for the Western market. Apparently NISA had pledged $3000 to sponsor an event at GaymerX and now this employee was indicating they weren’t going to be able to pay.

GaymerX’s CEO, Matt Conn, was understandably upset and shared the email via twitter. (Tweets have been deleted.)

Polygon covered the story in NIS America allegedly backtracks out of GaymerX sponsorship. The post was written by a Polygon staffer who disclosed that she was a personal friend of Conn. It’s good that she disclosed this fact but bad that it was she who wrote the piece in the first place. The piece included this line:

Conn noted that he felt NIS America’s actions denote a poor attitude towards queer people. “I feel awful and betrayed,” he said.

Here’s what Conn initially tweeted:
“To me, this isn’t about the money, this is about standing up against bullies”
“The whole POINT of gaymerX, the reason why I left my high paying job @bandpage was to fight for queer geeks”
“I don’t care about the money, $3000 is nothing in the scheme of life. that’s a month of pay. The big deal is a company is bullying us”
“they’re bullying us becuase they think they can get away with it and I wanna show the world that you CANT get away with bullying queer geeks”
(again, all deleted unfortunately)

Meanwhile Joystiq covered the situation too in GaymerX in dire straits after NIS America pulls pledge [update]

Joystiq opted not to make this about sexual orientation, and added an update:

Update 1: Though it has no formal comment at this time, NIS America tells Joystiq it is “trying to work with GaymerX so that we can resolve this issue as soon as possible.”

By later on Monday Conn and NISA had already begun to sort things out. Another string of his tweets:

“We are working towards a resolution on this matter tomorrow morning and I’ll be able to update you then.”
“NISA is a good company that made a small oversight and I responded strongly. We both are at fault and I look forward to a quick resolution”
“I have no interest in causing NISA harm..i just want to be paid for the services that were rendered. I have been assured it was a mixup”
“And I take them at their word. Everyone can calm down now. Call off the war train or whatever”
“I deeply apologize for implying their choice to not pay was related to anything due to my sexuaity as I’ve realized that was self projected”

In the meantime another small publisher, Devolver, offered to cover the $3000. Tuesday morning Polygon reported on that:

Hotline Miami publisher is coming to the rescue of GaymerX after this week’s funding mishap (update)

There was no mention of the fact that Conn and NISA were working towards a resolution, but did reiterated that original issue.

Devolver Digital has come to the rescue of the LGBT-focused video game convention GaymerX after the event’s original sponsor NIS America pulled out earlier this week

Notice according to Polygon they have no longer “allegedly” pulled their pledge, it is now being reported as fact.

At some point during the day on Tuesday Conn and NISA cleared things up.

“We have come to an agreeable arrangement with @NISAmerica and they are currently making things right.”
“Agreeable meaning they’re paying what was owed and we both apologized for the misunderstanding and way that this went down”
“Everything is all settled – @NISAmerica has explained the poor wording of the email which I misinterpreted very poorly, apologies and hugs”
“Please note that @NISAmerica unlike most AAA companies was willing to sponsor and be at @GaymerX, which takes extreme courage”
“I have nothing but respect for @NISAmerica and their team, this was a poorly worded email that I received and acted very strongly to”
“I apologize for any distress that I may have caused their team and anyone who follows their or my threads.”
“I will be reaching out to press to help update the story and that it has come to a positive, peaceful resolution quickly”
“I personally do feel terrible for escalating it to such a level so quickly, I felt hurt and upset by the wording and reacted far too strong”
“for what the situation called for, I’m just happy that they have cleared up the confusion and confirmed that they will fufill payment”

These tweets are still on Conn’s stream but I wanted to capture them in case for some reason he decides it’s best to delete them. I won’t embed them all but here’s the first one

So the good news is, the story ended on a happy note. GaymerX is getting their $3K from NISA, Conn seems happy, everything is sorted out.

Later that day Polygon ran another post on the situation:
The industry is trying to resurrect GaymerX, $3,000 at a time

There is NO mention of the fact that Conn and NISA have settled the issue between them, no mention that Conn himself is trying to get the press to update the press about what he himself calls a “positive, peaceful resolution” to what was apparently an unfortunate mis-communication.

If someone were to only read Polygon’s posts (and ignore the comments…I’ve been trying to fix their poor journalism via their comment system) they’d think NISA was a homophobic company with “a poor attitude towards queer people” even though the source of the comment has pointed out that NISA was one of the few companies to sponsor the event in the first place.

The bias (or incompetence, take your pick) shown by Polygon is unfathomable to me. I’ve lost so much respect for that site. I’m hoping today we’ll see the situation being cleared up by them.

BTW Joystiq also wrote a second post:
NIS America to pay agreed pledge for GaymerX2 [Update]

It included a Press Release from Conn and GaymerX. He is really trying to set the record straight. I’m not sure why his ‘personal friend’ at Polygon isn’t passing this info on to readers. Press release in full below.


I would like to give an updated statement on the events that have unfolded over the past 24 hours.

We, GaymerX, received an email from NIS America in regards to the sponsorship, which read as though there was a budget misallocation and that they would not be able to complete the terms of the sponsorship. This has been explained that that was not the case, however, they agreed that it was worded poorly and could understand how I could misconstrue the intent of the letter.

I apologized to them for escalating it to the press in the manner I did – as I have no intention of causing the NIS brand harm, and was only looking to defend our company and make sure that we were going to get paid. I realize that it would have been much better to have more back and forth on the subject before going to the press and that my reaction, while in defense of the company, was extemely severe given the circumstances.

I want to publically apologize for any pain or distress I may have caused NIS America or their team – they have been very genuine and sincere in fixing the issue and have confirmed that payment will be made in full. They have been nothing but professional during this process after the initial email, and it can’t be understated the fact that, unlike most conservative AAA companies, they were willing to take the risk of being associated with a queer event and they went out of their way to be a part of it. That statement alone is huge and I feel as though my statements were taken out of context. I in no way intended for the dialog to be that they had made this action because we are a LGBTQ organziation, my point, at the time, was that I did not feel like that email would have been sent to a larger convention or organization, and felt bullied because of that.

They have assured me that this was not the case, and that the email was just simply poorly constructed for the meaning of what they meant to say, which was: “We did not run this up the ladder properly, and we need to discuss how we can resolve this”. I did not interpret that message correctly and that is how we came to this point.

In the end, I am very happy that they have made steps to apologize for any miscommunications on their end and to pay the full amount invoiced, and I am happy to publically apologize for a) escalating the issue beyond what the situation called for b) making comments which could be inferred as that they were making that decision based on anything besides budgetary concerns.

I hope that this statement helps clear the air on this matter and myself, or NIS America, would be happy to answer any follow up questions.

Thank you very much.

NBI: How not to build an audience

Hello again, new bloggers! You thought I’d forgotten you, eh? Not so, not so…

So by now you’ve got your blog going and you’ve hopefully found a writing frequency that fits your schedule. Now maybe you’re wondering how to attract readers.

Well, I can’t tell you. I’ve been writing Dragonchasers for 10 years now and I have like 500 readers who generate less than a thousand page views a week.

Why?

Well it could be because I suck at writing, but I don’t think that’s it because on my other blog I get as many as 10,000 page views/day (though that’s not typical… about 1,000/day is typical).

So I’m going to have enough hubris to not blame the quality of my writing, but instead to blame the quality of my marketing.

I figure if I tell you what I do, you can do the opposite and you’ll probably get plenty of page views.

So the first thing I do is, I don’t care about page views. I’m narcissistic enough that I actually enjoy reading my own writing, so I tend to write this blog for myself, not for my audience. I think they can tell and so go find someone willing to cater to their needs.

You should probably be more aware of your audience and try to judge what it is they’re interested in. How? Simple: ask them. Your fans will tell you what they like and don’t like if you ask them. In fact they’ll feel more committed to you because they’ll realize that they’re important to you. You may not have a lot of fans yet, but nurture the ones you do have and their numbers will grow via word of mouth.

Second, if you really don’t want an audience, be really inconsistent. Write three posts on one day and then go two weeks without writing any. Be nurturing and rational in one post, and in the grip of a flaming nerd rage in the next. Keep the audience totally guessing about what to expect next and it’ll guarantee that you’ll never have to pay for extra bandwidth.

But if you want an audience, you should probably find a voice and try to stick with it. Being angry is fine if that’s your shtick. There are plenty of popular rage bloggers out there. If you want to be wacky and weird, go for it. Again, plenty of wacky and weird bloggers have devoted followings. Ditto thoughtful bloggers who talk about game theory or what not. Just don’t mix these things up. Don’t go from philosophical musings on the nature of gaming to talking about how you want to build a sculpture of your favorite character out of navel lint and ear wax. People find that jarring. Once you’re established you can drift a bit, but even then it’s worth it to preface ‘out of character’ posts in order to warn people that they’re about to get a taste of something different.

Third, I’m an asshole on social networks. People block me all the time. People who block me certainly don’t read my blog. Mission accomplished!

In order to build an audience, DO get involved with social networks but remember that now you’re selling yourself. People absolutely will remove your blog from their RSS feeds and unfollow you based on one outburst. We all have more things to read than we really have time for and in some sense we’re all looking for excuses to cut down on sources. So don’t be a doormat, but do remain rational and respectful on social networks. You probably do this anyway because you’re probably not an asshole.

Fourth, swear a lot. Some people hate swearing and many will get nervous about reading your blog at work if you’re filling their screen with 4-letter words. As soon as I finish writing this I’m going to go find a nice jpg of a naked woman to insert into this post. I bet I can get 50 people to drop me from their feeds if the image is raunchy enough.

For you, keep a lid on excessive swearing and provocative images. None of us can admit it, but most of us do a lot of our blog reading at the office. Don’t make your audience nervous about opening one of your blog posts within sight of their co-workers.

Fifth, and I don’t do this one, but plaster ads all over your blog. People hate ads and they’ll avoid you in order to avoid them.

For you, skip the ads for now. Not everyone is sensitive about them, but some people are, and until you’re established you’re not going to make enough for it to matter. In particular stay away from sponsored posts or links because they make you look like a sell-out in some people’s eyes.

Bandwidth ain’t free and the best way to keep your costs down is to keep your audience down. So follow my plan and you’ll never have enough of an audience to worry about.

Or if you’re one of those crazies who’d like an audience and maybe to grow your blog into something more than a hobby, use me as an example of what not to do. Work hard, be true to yourself and your audience, be consistent, and before long you’ll have a huge number of devoted followers.

I can’t believe you want that kind of pressure, but whatevs.

NBI: New Blogger Initiative launches!

It’s the first of May, which means it’s time for May Poles (are those still a thing?) and the time to celebrate Beltane for my pagan friends. But for bloggers and in particular wannabe bloggers, May 1st means the start of the New Blogger Initiative (NBI).

So what is the NBI? It’s a program run by Syp of Biobreak that strives to invite new writers to try their hand at blogging (and to give them some help and guidance getting started). Maybe you’ve been meaning to try your hand at blogging but you’re not sure where to start, or even HOW to start. Well then the NBI is for you.

During the course of this month you’ll be seeing NBI posts pop up all over the blogosphere: Syp says over 70 blogs are participating! All of us existing bloggers will try to share what we know (or even what we don’t know) in order to help you get your blog off the ground.

But I’m going to spoil the event on you and tell you the deep dark secret of blogging: There is NO SECRET! If you can write a comment or an update on Facebook, you can blog. If you’re worried your writing isn’t strong enough, don’t be. First of all you’re probably better than you think you are, and you’ll continue to improve with practice.

OK end spoilers.

As a participant, I’ve agreed to write at least one post during the month giving advice on getting started. I’m aiming for the middle of the month for mine. (If all 70+ of us write just one post, that’s still going to be plenty of advice.) So who am I and why am I qualified? Well I’m qualified because Syp asked me to participate!

If nothing else I have longevity going for me. Dragonchasers is celebrating its ten-year anniversary this month. My first post was in May 2002 (though there’ve been big gaps at times when I took a break from writing for a while). Before Dragonchasers (long before it) I was associate editor of a now-defunct PC gaming magazine, Strategy Plus and executive editor of a multimedia magazine (it came on CD) called Interactive Entertainment. I’ve also done some freelance writing and in addition to Dragonchasers I write a personal technology blog for ITworld.com.

And that’s all I’m going to say about me, because NBI is about you: the person who has something he or she wants to say and is thinking a blog is the right place to do it.

So how do YOU get involved? Step one is to head to the forums set-up for the event, NBIHQ, and register there. Then head to the Newbie bloggers instructions thread and follow the steps to get started. It’s easy!

I can’t wait to read your new blog!

Shouldering the weight of your words

So in the bright sunshine of the morning after the Massively/Rift controversy, I wanted to open the topic up a bit more. Clearly I found it wrong for a pro-blogger to dismiss a soon-to-ship product without giving it a fair shake. Others, like Tipa and Arkenor, thought I was off my rocker. Ark voiced the opinion that anything goes in gaming coverage as long as it’s an honest opinion. Tipa just didn’t care one way or the other.

So I wanted to elaborate on my feelings a bit, setting aside the specifics of this situation.

First and most importantly, we have to ask the question of whether or not (presumably, see below) high-traffic sites like Massively influence buying decisions. If they don’t, then none of what I’m about to say matters. I’m assuming that some percentage of readers come to these sites in order to determine if a product is worth their buying consideration.

Next is the issue of scale. The higher the pulpit, the more carefully you need to weigh your words. Some guy on a street corner preaching about the end of days won’t have much impact, but if a TV network starts saying the same thing it could cause a panic. My assumption here is that Massively has significant traffic. If they don’t, then again, my arguments (and concerns) are invalidated.

So we’re talking then, about a site that has the ability to significantly move the needle when it comes to a game’s sales.

And we’re talking about a game still in beta and still being changed. This is not the game that customers will be paying for. We don’t know what that game will be.

With all these conditions met, I believe it is irresponsible for an author to off-handedly trash a game (and thereby influence sales of the game) in a post on the site. It isn’t irresponsible to say “This type of game isn’t of interest to me.” and it isn’t irresponsible to say “After 1 hour of playing my interest wasn’t captured enough to inspire me to dig deeper into this title” but it is irresponsible to say “This game is just like every other game” when you haven’t played enough to know if this statement is true or not.

As a blogger on a high-traffic site, you need to consider the impact of your words more carefully than, say, I do here on my dinky little blog.

Consider the situation from the other side of the fence. Imagine you’re working for a game developer. You’ve been helping the team make a game for the past several years and finally it’s coming to fruition and then some pundit posts untrue things about your game. Not out of malice but out of ignorance because said pundit never really looked closely at your product. Now you’re taking a hit (however small) on sales because of an off-hand comment.

Consider the situation from the point of view of your audience. They (presumably) trust you. They come to you to learn about a game. Don’t you owe it to them to know what you’re talking about? By stating what you perceive as (but what in fact isn’t) a fact based on incomplete data does an injustice to your audience.

Finally, consider the impact on your own career. By flippantly dismissing a title for reasons that aren’t accurate, you’re blowing your credibility with readers who have played the game and know that you’re stating things that aren’t true. Credibility that is very, very difficult to regain.

I’ve seen potentially good games canceled due to mishandled press coverage. Granted that was back when print magazines existed and the lag time for ‘corrections’ was very long. But damage can still be done, and if you’re a gaming enthusiast, that should matter to you. New games should be given a fair chance to prove themselves, and not be slagged prior to launch because a particular journalist wasn’t interested enough to really look at the game, and instead just made assumptions that ultimately aren’t accurate.

I firmly believe the writers at high-traffic sites need to be held to higher standards than they currently are. They should write about what they’ve experienced, and not what they assume to be true. If they’re writing about things they’ve only heard about, they should cite sources. I’m not saying they should sugar-coat issues, just that they should report accurately, even if what they’re reporting is just their opinion. Opinions based on assumptions need to be described as such.

Gone digital

I’m a pretty loud advocate of e-books, as my twitter friends know. I often find myself advocating for e-books as a platform. But even I hadn’t realized out whole-heartedly I’d embraced digital content until last weekend.

Angela and I had taken a few days of to tackle The Closet… our office has a closet running the full width of one wall (the office is intended to be the master bedroom in this apartment) and it was over-flowing with junk. So we dragged it all out and I had 5 (!) milk-crates full of old magazines. I set them aside to go through later.

And so last weekend I found myself surrounded by stacks of old magazines: everything from issues of Realms of Fantasy from the early 90s, to Cardplayer Magazine from back when I played online … err, the spammers will invade if I say it, but y’know that gambling game that’s played online, to Linux Journals, MIT Technology Reviews from 2000-2003, Wired, Armchair General… just tons and tons of magazines.

A lot of them went right into the dumpster. Reading about the state of the art of Linux from 2003 just isn’t a good use of time, and I no longer play cards seriously enough to read a magazine about it.

But the Technology Reviews and the Wireds had some interesting content; interviews with current tech giants who were up-and-comers back then, or ‘prediction’ pieces that were so far off the mark as to be kind of charming. I knew I’d never get through them by ‘flipping through’ so I decided to check out each issue’s Table of Contents and see if there was anything worth reading.

At first this was kind of fun, but I quickly found it incredibly frustrating. Paper magazines, it turns out, SUCK. First you have to *find* the table of contents which in Wired, particularly, can be 10 pages or more in. Then you find an article you want to read and it’s on page 152. While you try to find page 152 7-8 ‘blow-in’ subscription cards land in your lap. The magazine insists in flopping open to various advertisements printed on thicker paper than the rest of the mag. Other times you find yourself flipping through 10-15 pages of “Advertising Section” or other un-numbered pages. When you finally do find page 152, your read it and page 153 & 154 and then the article is continued on page 185 and you have to start your search all over again.

Bah! I got more and more particular in what I felt was worth reading until most of the issues I was just chucking in the bin. My beloved Realms of Fantasy excepted… those are just so retro and awesome I had to keep them. 🙂

What I found curious about the whole episode is that if I’d gone through this process 8 months ago I wouldn’t have thought twice about the format of paper magazines. But since April I’ve been doing 99% of my ‘magazine’ reading on the iPad. In some cases I buy digital issues of a mag (Wired, New Yorker) and in other cases I just read the articles on a website. And now that I have a great edition of the New York Times on the iPad, I’ll go back to reading the Sunday paper and magazine section (digitally).

I don’t have many print magazine subscriptions left at this point, and I don’t expect I’ll ever subscribe to another one. I knew I’d embraced e-books, but until now I hadn’t realized how strongly I’d embraced e-magazines. I mean, I still have all my stacks and shelves and boxes of print books…I’m not going to toss those. But print magazines…they’ve become a relic of another age, in my eyes, and fit only for recycling.

Sony considering an iPad app for PSN digital comics?

I just was asked to take a survey about my experience with digital comics from the PlayStation Network (currently for reading on the PSP). Reading between the lines, so to speak, it sounds like Sony is judging user interest towards accessing their digital comics on other hardware besides the PSP. Specifically mentioned were a PC, the PS3, and the iPad/tablet computers.

There’re already several digital comics sellers who’ve set up house on the iPad so it might be a tough nut for Sony to crack, but I’d love to be able to buy a digital comic and read it on my PSP or my iPad, depending on what was handy.

Again, this was just a survey so there’s no telling how seriously they’re considering the idea. I just found it interesting that they’d even think about jumping to Apple hardware.

Print is dead (to me)

So I bought an iPad back in April. I believe tomorrow is my 2 month iPad anniversary.

I love the thing. In principal I hate how closed iTunes is, but in practice I never find myself longing for something I can’t get. Basically I focus on what the iPad can do, and don’t worry about what it can’t. The iPad was additive with regards to my life…I didn’t sacrifice anything for it. I didn’t trade in my laptop or my netbook for the iPad, so yeah, I focus on what it can do today, while we wait for the Android competition to heat up. I’m looking forward to using the tablet that is better than the iPad, whenever and from whomever it comes.

Anyway, one of the things I use it for every day is reading books. I have iBooks (Apple’s books), Kindle and Barnes & Noble book readers on there. Right now I’m chewing through Storm Front, the first Harry Dresden book (which I got for free from B&N via a promotion). Before that it was For The Win and before that a couple of Riverworld books.

I’m looking at the stack of print books sitting next to my bedside table and find myself not wanting to open them up. I’m thinking about re-purchasing these books in e-book format. I’m that taken by reading on the iPad (I’m sure I’d feel the same about the Kindle or Nook, too).

My eyes aren’t that good. I really need to get new glasses but my job doesn’t offer vision coverage and I never seem to have the extra couple hundred $$ that it’ll cost me. With the iPad, I bump up the font. If I’m out and about and don’t have any glasses with me, I bump it up really huge. When I’m reading in bed at the end of the day, I wear my not-really-strong-enough glasses and bump the font up a medium amount. And turn the brightness on the iPad way down.

Since I always have the iPad handy, I always have my book handy. I really like that. And I always have the web handy in the event I want to quickly look something up. And I never lose my place.

I love my books but now I’m feeling this weird conflict. I don’t want to give up my shelves and shelves of books. Or the smell of an older book. And yet, I don’t really want to go back to reading tiny print on paper, either.

Same goes for magazines. I haven’t opened a print magazine since I got the iPad. I read articles on the web now.

It’s really a strange feeling. Like my world has shifted a tiny bit.

Doctorow’s For The Win is full of fun ideas

I finished reading Cory Doctorow’s For The Win last night. I wanted to talk a little bit about it, because Doctorow has some ideas about the future of MMO gaming that I found pretty interesting.

If you haven’t heard of it, For The Win is a book about a group of gold farmers and other young people fighting to bring about better working conditions for themselves, and for other ‘invisible’ workers who’re treated terribly and work for tiny wages (notably Chinese factory workers). The book couldn’t be more timely with all the Foxconn suicides in the news these days.

The plot of the book itself was ok, but it wasn’t what had me turning pages. What I was really enjoying was glimpsing the future through Doctorow’s eyes. If a specific date for the happenings in the book was mentioned I missed it, but World of Warcraft is considered ancient history (as described by the ~20 year old characters) so I’m going to guess the year is 2025 or thereabouts. Also a lot of the book takes place in Mumbai & Shenzhen, two places which would be totally foreign to me today, being an untraveled Westerner.

So there are a lot of MMOs running in this future world. Four are mentioned often. One is Mushroom Kingdom, run by Nintendo. The other three are all run by Coca-Cola! Implied but not seen are other games run by companies that we don’t think of as gaming companies today. In the future, as now, gold farming isn’t legal, but there isn’t a lot the companies can do to stop it. There are “Pinkertons” running around in games to kill gold farmers (all worlds seem to be full PvP in the future) but they aren’t paid by the companies normally.

In this way For The Win feels a bit retro. Reminded me of Ultima Online with the PKK guilds trying to maintain order.

Most of the gold farmers work for mobsters stationed in India, China or Indonesia. Farming is big business and the games have gotten so big that there are people who really know nothing about the games but who make a living out of investing in virtual goods. The bosses drive their workers relentlessly at times when a particular item is selling for a lot.

Anyway, it’s a fun read, my biggest problem with it is that it makes gold farming sound fun (I say that somewhat tongue-in-cheek). These gold farmers don’t stand around in a field alone killing trash mobs over and over. Instead they farm instances, both for the gold and for items. Generally they work in a PC bang together, shouting back and forth between terminals. They tend to be very good players rather than the rather mindless semi-bots that our real gold farmers seem to be today.

So let’s get to some of the ideas I thought were interesting. First, one of the games is called Zombie Mecha (Mecha Zombie??). In it, players pilot giant robots in a post-zombie apocalypse world. It’s a full-on PVP world with two rival factions, plus the zombies who’re AI controlled. Zombies can’t generally hurt someone in a mech unless it gets damaged or stuck, then they swarm all over it. Tales of battle in Zombie Mecha were really fun and I found myself wanting to play that game!

Second, the games are a lot more ‘complete’ than today’s games are. Most things in-world can be interacted with. Of course the programmers can’t think of everything, so when a player tries to perform an action that there’s no scripting for, the game pulls in a Mechanical Turk to take over. These turks are players who get paid a few cents per interaction. They generally run a bunch of sessions at a time so they’re able to juggle interacting with a bunch of players all at the same time.

I think this is a brilliant idea and one game companies need to incorporate asap. It needn’t be as elaborate as in the book, but imagine if every 50th orc you fought was actually being controlled by a person? How much more interesting could the game become? The person running the orc would have a goal of providing you with an immersive experience, not necessarily beating you. You get a better experience so you keep playing, and someone can make a few dollars while they’re hanging out at home playing games.

The next idea is a technology one. When Coke (in the game) is ready to roll out a new server cluster, they build it in a shipping container. They burn it in at their HQ, then ship it to somewhere very cold, and preferably somewhere near a renewable energy source, like a wind farm or a geo-thermal vent. By using the ambient environment to keep the servers cool, they save a lot of money (and energy). Every so often they rotate out one of these containers to bring it back to HQ for refurbing. This might seem trivial if you’ve never been in a big data center but trust me, those places spend a LOT of money and energy on air conditioning.

I had some more examples but this has run long enough for now. You can download a free electronic copy of For The Win if you don’t feel like paying for it. You might encounter some typos and such, but the (ePub) version I picked was very readable; it isn’t like it’s a first draft or anything.

If you’re an MMO player, you’ll probably get a kick out of the gaming aspects of the book. If you’re concerned about worker’s rights in Asia, then I think you’ll find the tale inspiring. Well worth a read.