A man has free choice to the extent that he is rational

waffle, zoso 1 Comment »

With the European Commission being concerned that “Games advertised as ‘free’ should not mislead consumers about the true costs involved” there’s a bit of kerfuffle over whether the phrase “free to play” is a perfectly clear description of a game that can be played (to some extent) for free, or a misleading veil drawn over an inevitable cash shop of some sort. It’s easy to forget, amidst its current ubiquity, that the phrase “free-to-play” is actually rather recent, coined in 2007 by Ian Free-to-play, but it has rapidly supplanted other models like Shareware (invented by Ian Shareware) and Adware (invented by Bob Holness during the sessions for Baker Street, between saxophone solos).

Delving further back into the past, it’s not too hard to find similar controversies over terminology. The earliest references are probably ostraca from Giza that, though fragmentary, seem to record exchanges between Pharaoh Khufu and his vizier Hemiunu, starting with the latter promising that “… a magnificent pyramid may be constructed, and the treasury of the kingdom shall not need to be depleted to fund this endeavour.” It’s not known if Khufu was influenced by the accompanying hieroglyphs of scantily clad maidens entreating him to “Come Build, My Lord”, but he was clearly delighted with the rapid speed at which plans were drawn up and foundations dug. As construction continued the Pharaoh became increasingly unhappy with the length of time the project was taking, a later note from Heminu assuring him that: “… of course construction shall continue without a single copper deben being invested, my initial assurance is entirely correct in that respect, however the next layer of stones may be put in place almost immediately should you make available nine hundred sacks of grain for hiring further masons and slave overseers.” A similarly dated ostracon indicated that an order for 1100 sacks of grain would grant the purchaser a bonus 150 sacks, but the Best Value option was 3500 sacks of grain with a whopping 600 bonus sacks.

Somewhat later, Dr Johnson’s Dictionary of the English Language records:
“FREECOST n. ∫. [free and cot] Without expence; free from charges.
We muſt not vouch any man for an exact maſter in the rules of our modern policy, but ſuch a one as has brought himſelf ſo far to hate and deſpiſe the abſurdity of being kind upon freecoſt, as not ſo much as to tell a friend what it is o’clock for nothing, nor to permit him to gain experience points leſt at a much reduced rate”

Unwary coffee shop patrons such as Johnson himself would often be lured with a cry of “Come hither and MANIPULATE the sugar-preserved fruit ‘pon this TABLE for FREECOST”, but after five minutes the Freecostermonger would whisk a cloth over the table exclaiming “Nay, sirrah! You shall not proceed further lest THREE of your friends VOUCHSAFE that you may CONTINUE, or you may give me SIXPENCE and proceed FORTHWITH”

As the idea of mechanical computation took hold in the 19th century, so too did various payment models. Rather than employ a clerk as a human computer, paying a monthly wage (or indeed “subscription”), de Colmer’s arithmometer promised “… COMPUTATIONS* at NO FURTHER COST, for as long as your ARM has strength to CRANK”, though digging in to the small print revealed “(* basic model allows for addition only, subtraction available to preferred customers, preferred customers may multiply or divide five times per week or purchase a TimesOver season pass)”.

The real breakthrough would have been Charles Babbage’s analytical engine, had the technology of the time been up to actually building it; glimpses of its potential can be seen in Ada Lovelace’s notes on her translation of Menabrea’s Sketch of The Analytical Engine:

“[...] it might act upon other things besides number, were objects found whose mutual fundamental relations could be expressed by those of the abstract science of operations, and which should be also susceptible of adaptations to the action of the operating notation and mechanism of the engine. Supposing, for instance, that the fundamental relations of pitched sounds in the science of harmony and of musical composition were susceptible of such expression and adaptations, the engine might compose elaborate and scientific pieces of music of any degree of complexity or extent. Operations cards capable, when combined with appropriate cards of variables, of the composition of short and simple musical pieces might be made available at no cost, so as to entice and intrigue, with a charge then levied upon cards that would engage the mechanism so as to compose longer and more elaborate forms, perhaps coloured green, blue and purple to indicate yet more prized attributes, offered for sale as a package containing a random selection of operation and variable cards within a plain wrapper, thus offering a tantalising air of excitement to the transaction.”

It took another hundred years for computers, as we know them, to start to appear. Colossus at Bletchley Park was the first programmable electronic computer, designed to break ‘Tunny’, traffic encoded by Lorenz cipher machine, and it must have been tremendously exciting to see the results of a successful run, plain text appearing letter by letter on the teletype: “3. PANZERGRUPPE UMZUSCHICHTEN NACH SORRY YOU HAVE EXCEEDED YOUR DAILY DECRYPTION ALLOWANCE PLEASE PURCHASE MORE TURING-ENERGY TO CONTINUE…”

Posted by Zoso at 12:26 pm

Alphabeta Spagheta

melmoth, waffle, zoso Comments Off

There are many opportunities at the moment for MMOG players to get involved in game development prior to official release, from the very earliest stage of a Kickstarter like Brad McQuaid’s Pantheon: Rise of the Fallen through providing game-shaping feedback in the EverQuest Next Landmark alpha to slightly more traditional beta testing of The Elder Scrolls Online. In fact the very idea of an official release seems to be becoming increasingly unfashionable, or at least difficult to pin down, as early access, soft launches, headstarts and seemingly perpetual betas blur the lines, particularly for online games that evolve throughout their lifespan.

Aerial combat in War Thunder, for example, is technically in “Open Beta”, but with a fully functioning cash shop and no prospect of a progress wipe. A widely held position, mentioned on the most recent episode of How To Murder Time during a splendid rummage through the difficulties of MMO funding, is that once a game is taking money it can’t rightfully be called a beta any more, which I certainly don’t think is unreasonable, but with “beta” covering such a multitude of sins we really need some better terminology or debates just get bogged down in semantics: “LOL this game is rubbish, the flight model of this plane is inaccurate!”; “LOLOL it’s a beta it’ll get fixed”; “LOLOLOL it’s not a beta they’re taking money”; “LOLOLOLOLOLOLOL it is a beta because it says ‘beta’ right there on the screen and when they use a word it means just what they choose it to mean — neither more nor less”. This is A Bad Thing, because debates should of course be getting bogged down in wild tangents and personal insults instead.

Rather unimaginatively, nobody seems to have pushed on with the greek alphabet theme by following beta testing with gamma, delta and epsilon testing, possibly because that would encourage teams to skip through as fast as possible to get to Omicron Testing just because it sounds cool (imagine Matt Berry announcing “Engage Omicron Testing!”), or possibly because of potential difficulties with Scientology upon reaching Theta Testing. We have the solution, though: when clear, unambiguous terminology is needed, that’s clearly a job for SI units, so we present the SI scale of development centred around the base unit of The Beta (yes, yes, SI units don’t work like this, ssshhhh):

SI Beta Unit Previous Terminology Notes
Picobeta A Vague Idea “Hey, chief, we should make a game or something…”
Nanobeta A Vague Idea written down on the back of a fag packet “… and it would have adventures in it and stuff…”
Microbeta Tech Demo “… you’ll just have to imagine the sky. And grass. And other players. You control your movement with these two knobs on the side, and… oh, hang on, just need to reboot the system…”
Millibeta Crowdfunding An idea sufficiently fleshed out to be a viable prospect on Kickstarter or similar; may feature a Microbeta
Centibeta Alpha A partially complete version of some elements of the game
Beta Closed Beta A feature complete version of the game released to a limited number of people for the purpose of testing
Kilobeta Open Beta A feature complete version of the game released to everyone and their dog for gathering metrics and enfrothening the hype-vortex
Megabeta Stress Test A feature complete version of the game released to everyone and their dog, but only for a limited period of time depending on the temperature you want the login servers to reach (two hours should be sufficient to fry a few rashers of bacon and a couple of eggs, two days for a nice slow-cooked casserole)
Gigabeta Open “Beta” A game for sale, or with a cash shop, with no character/item wipe in prospect if it’s multiplayer, but still under development. Or “a game”, according to current terminology.
Terabeta Finished Product Pull up a chair, kids, and I’ll tell you about a time, long, long ago, when you went into a place they called a “shop”, and you bought a “game” on a bunch of “disks”, and then you “installed” and “played” it, and if it needed updating the game company would have to send you the patch in what we called “the post”…
Petabeta Do dooo do do do A beta run by a bunch of muppets
Exabeta Finished Product (Italian) This-a beta, ees a no more-a, bereft of life it rests in Pisa. (Deprecated; slightly racist)
Posted by Zoso at 2:43 pm

Abscond – to move in a mysterious way, commonly with the property of another

waffle, zoso 2 Comments »

Ah, the zany world of intellectual property law. As you’ve doubtless seen in the news, Candy Crush Saga developer King (I’m not sure which King, websites aren’t very clear on the matter; I reckon it might be King Carl XVI Gustaf of Sweden, but that’s just a guess) are getting into a bunch of legal tussles over “Candy” and “Sagas”. No word on “Crush” yet, I think it’s still safe to be romantically infatuated with someone, but you might want to double check with an IP lawyer to be sure.

King have opposed an attempt to trademark the name of the recently released Kickstarter success The Banner Saga, possibly because they believe Stoic’s game is deceptively similar to their own, or possibly because they don’t believe that at all but have to say they do in case someone else makes a game that really is deceptively similar and they’re not allowed to say so because they hadn’t previously even though it wasn’t. Or something. It’s all frightfully confusing.

The Banner Saga, being a Nordic tale, seems rather more of an actual saga than Candy Crush Saga, but there was an episode of the frequently excellent In Our Time on Radio 4 all about Icelandic Sagas, and what really stood out for me was the section where a Post-Doctoral Researcher at the Árni Magnússon Manuscripts Institute in Reykjavík described the common theme across all sagas of the protagonist, faced with a sea of brightly coloured confectionery, being forced to swap sweets until they exploded.

Also feeling The Wrath of the not-Lich King is a poor innocent developer who just wanted to make a nice little game with candy in it, and “never thought [his] app would be confused with Candy Crush in the least bit”. Perhaps I’m being appallingly cynical, but in my eyes that position is every so slightly undermined by the full title of the game: All Candy Casino Slots – Jewels Craze Connect: Big Blast Mania Land. I thought Temere: Path of the Fall of the Exile of the Rise of the Time of the Shadow of the World of the Quest of the Hero was about the stupidest game title I could come up with by tacking a bunch of generic fantasy words to each other, but maybe it just wasn’t ambitious enough and the next Kickstarter should be for Definitely Not Key Words From the List of Best-Selling Video Games Article on Wikipedia Assembled in a Random Order (formerly Grand Call of Super Theft Sport Elder Brothers Auto the Pac-Hedgehog Kart Scrolls Duty)…

Posted by Zoso at 2:57 pm

Temere: Path of the Fall of the Exile of the Rise of the Time of the Shadow of the World of the Quest of the Hero

kickstarter, melmoth, waffle, zoso 2 Comments »

Our last not-Kickstarter project didn’t really take off, and after an extensive post mortem we decided it was almost certainly the poor rewards for potential backers that were the problem, so welcome to the not-Kickstarter for Temere: Path of the Fall of the Exile of the Rise of the Time of the Shadow of the World of the Quest of the Hero, a completely not-generic fantasy game with amazing features including:

  • Adventuring!
  • Fighting against things!
  • A story of some sort!
  • Words and perhaps even pictures!

Who wouldn’t want to play that game? Just select your backer level to get in on the action:

Pledge $1 or more: Grudging Thanks – Mrrrmmphthnksiguess

Pledge $10 or more: Whoops, I Clicked The Wrong Thing – No rewards whatsoever, but we’ll stick this in just in case people don’t read very carefully

Pledge $15 or more: Schadenfraude – Zero copies of the game, but a daily update from a random backer as their hopes, dreams and fondly nostalgic memories are slowly crushed by the reality of a game that can never quite live up to expectations

Pledge $16 or more: The Drama Llama – As above, but with a really angry backer who becomes progressively more furious, threatening to sue the developer, Kickstarter and the entire concept of “a game”

Pledge $20 or more: The Massive Game Backlog – A digital copy of the game if you ever really want it, but we won’t actually tell you when it’s available or keep pestering you with updates so you don’t feel guilty that you have no time to actually play it

Pledge $25 or more: The Should’ve Thought About This Before We Launched The Kickstarter Really – A digital copy of the game, and as soon as we can think of something cool then $5-worth of it

Pledge $25 or more: (New option!) Oh, Hang On, There’s Some Stuff In This Draw Here – A digital copy of the game, two biros (one with lid, one without), a stapler (no staples), some bits of string and… erm… I think it’s a plastic bit that came off a torch or something but I’m not quite sure

Pledge $500 or more: Hey Good Lookin’! – Using our finest 3D laser scanning system, YOUR face will be used as the model for an NPC in the game!

Pledge $5,000 or more: The Malkovich – Using our finest 3D laser scanning system, your face will be used as the model for EVERY SINGLE NPC in the game!

Pledge $5,000,000 or more: The Ultimate Package – YOU can design a quest for the game, and an NPC group for the game, and an NPC companion for the game, and write the backstory of the game, and in fact all the other quests and NPCs and companions and monsters, and the class system, and the world and… well, basically, you’re making the game now. Let us know when you’ve finished, will you? Can’t wait to see how it turns out!

Posted by Zoso at 2:43 pm

Black. Black! Like the clouds of death that follow me into the Forest of Doom! And hide in the wardrobe of darkness!

melmoth, waffle, zoso Comments Off

Amazon’s Black Friday deals week is always a bit of fun, and this year we’ve come up with a new game: Write An Episode Of MacGuyver Or The A-Team Where They’re Trapped In The Black Friday Warehouse And Have To Escape Using Only…

Today’s challenge, should you choose to accept it, is to Write An Episode Of MacGuyver Or The A-Team Where They’re Trapped In The Black Friday Warehouse And Have To Escape Using Only cricket leg pads, a window mounted bird feeder, a box of twelve ballpoint pens, a floating bath thermometer and clock, a squash racket, a Plant Theatre Funky Veg Kit and an IPL Hair Removal System. Submissions in by midnight, please, and the mandatory puns of the day are “Well that was a close shave!!” (IPL Hair Removal System) and “I guess he couldn’t take the heat!!” (floating bath thermometer and clock).

Posted by Zoso at 12:50 pm

I bid you good day, sir!

waffle, zoso 3 Comments »

Cosmetic items are an important element in many free-to-play games, offering a chance to earn a bit of money from item shops without disrupting game balance, and Hawken is no exception with several chassis components available to change the way your mech looks. Unfortunately there are no hats, rather a shame as I think giant battlemechs would look quite dashing wandering around in a fedoras or trilby. It’s doubly unfortunate as Hawken also offers emotes for its mechs, and the combination of a top hat plus a hat-tipping emote, ideally accompanied by a cry of “I bid you good day, sir!” would be a splendidly gentlemanly way of greeting friends and dismissing opponents. In fact you could get rid of that beastly shooting business altogether, I’d be perfectly happy just to wander around a map tipping my hat to other robots, rather like Charlie Brooker’s Pleasant Neighbourhood Simulator, only better, as it’s a scientific fact that giant robots improve anything.

Speaking of good manners, Twitter was set all of a fluster recently with news of a Kickstarter Project, Ever, Jane: The Virtual World of Jane Austen. An intriguing prospect, an MMO based around gossip and dinner parties instead of swords and dungeon crawls, I’m hoping the project secures enough funding, although the high tier rewards make me a touch wary; for $1,000, for example, “… your own estate rather than a cottage, the title of Baronet and your estate named after your character” smacks a little of pay to win (or perhaps more accurately cash for honours).

It being a scientific fact that giant robots improve anything, though, I humbly submit a setting for an expansion pack…

SCHTOMP

UND

GERSCHTOMPABILITY

A NOVEL


It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a giant battlemech, must be in want of a wife. And a shoulder mounted gauss rifle.

At Netherfield Park the Fotherington-Autocannon family prepare to receive the visit of Colonel Short Range-Missile with considerable excitement.

Bzzzt-whirrr “WHY MAMA, DO YOU SUPPOSE THE COLONEL MAY CONSIDER ELINOR A DESIRABLE COMPANION?” said Marianne.

Clank-clank “AFFIRMATIVE” replied her mother, “THREE AND TWENTY IS CONFIRMED AS OF OPTIMAL SUITABILITY FOR A MATCH AND ELINOR IS POSSESSING OF MOST COMELY HEAT SINKS”

At this, Elinor became most flushed and did increase her coolant flow. “UPON MY WORD, I MUST OBJECT” she cried and spun upon her heel, activating jump-jets to leave the room, resulting in a tumble of lathe and plaster as she smashed through the ceiling.

Marianne projected a winking smiley holo-emote at the discomfort of her sister; “I DO BELIEVE ELINOR MAY HAVE FOUND SEVERAL DESIRABLE QUALITIES IN HER ANALYSIS OF THE COLONEL’S ELECTRONIC SIGNATURE”

At this moment a great crash from outside signified the arrival of the Colonel’s dropship, setting a swathe of lawn afire and crushing several petunia bushes in the process. The ramp descended on the remains of a laurel hedge and the Colonel deployed to the drawing room.

“MRS FOTHERINGTON-AUTOCANNON, MISS FOTHERINGTON-AUTOCANNON, MISS FOTHERINGTON-AUTOCANNON” said the Colonel formally, raising his robo-hat to each.

“COLONEL RANGE-MISSILE” replied Mrs Fotherington-Autocannon, “WE ARE MOST DELIGHTED THAT YOU WERE ABLE TO VISIT DURING YOUR RECONNAISSANCE OF THE ENVIRONS. WOULD YOU CARE FOR TEA?”

“AFFIRMATIVE”

Mrs Fotherington-Autocannon busied herself with the tea things, sweeping several cups from the table with the barrel of a PPC and incinerating the teapot with a flamethrower. “OH ELINOR” she called “I DO BELIEVE COLONEL RANGE-MISSILE SHOULD ENJOY TO HEAR YOU PLAY UPON THE PIANO-FORTE”

“WHY INDEED” said the Colonel “LADY ECM-SUITE ASSURES ME THAT YOUR RECITAL OF CLEMENTI LAST MONTH WAS QUITE EXQUISITE”

Elinor sat at the piano-forte, and was gracefully hammering the instrument into firewood with delicate blows from a pair of linked medium pulse lasers when Marianne gave a soft cry: “OH ELINOR! I AM UNDONE! I HAVE RECEIVED A BURST TRANSMISSION FROM MORTON COMPOSITE-ARMOUR AND HE… AND HE… HAS ENGAGED WITH AN ASSAULT-CLASS MECH ON THE OUTSKIRTS OF LONDON TOWN!”

Mrs Fotherington-Autocannon fell into a swoon, knocking over two bookcases and a sofa as Colonel Range-Missile hastened to her aid. Elinor clasped her sister’s pulse lasers between her own.

“MY DEAR SISTER” she said “HAD COMPOSITE-ARMOUR NOT LOCKED UPON YOU WITH HIS TARGETING COMPUTER?”

“HE GAVE ME MOST SOLEMN ASSURANCES THAT I WAS ATOP HIS TARGET PRIORITY LIST” her sister sniffed, “BUT I NEVER… NEVER DETECTED THE TONE OF A MISSILE LOCK WITH MY OWN SENSORS”

Posted by Zoso at 5:42 pm

I once saw a forklift lift a crate of forks, it was way too literal for me

waffle, zoso 1 Comment »

Apparently “literally” literally doesn’t literally mean “literally” any more. To signify something is intended in a literal manner or sense, exactly, you now have to follow it with “and I’m not even joking”, and I’m not even joking.

Posted by Zoso at 9:27 am

Fritter and waste the hours in an offhand way

waffle, zoso 2 Comments »

I like xkcd. I was going to say I love xkcd, but that might be going a bit far, I haven’t gone geohashing or played chess on a rollercoaster; thinking about degrees-of-liking-stuff rang a vague bell about a quote, from back in the dim, distant past when I had a quotefile, a bit of Googling turned it up as Skif’s Internet Theorem:
“Every fleeting thought you’ve ever had in your life, no matter how bizarre, is someone’s lifelong obsession. And they have a website.”

It really needs an Ironic Addendum: “… except Skif’s Internet Theorem”, as the majority of Google hits appear to be from other people’s .sig quotes, the only real page I could find devoted to the theorem itself was in archive form. “You know people deeper down the rabbit hole than yourself, so you reassure yourself you must be the normal one” is a similar sentiment, expressed in one of a series of 28 dates on 28 different dating sites by a former WoW raider and dab hand at 40K that I stumbled across when random browsing and Related Articles links turned up a rather fun account of a Date in Day Z.

Anyway, xkcd; I read the strips when they pop up in the RSS reader (I’ve switched to Feedly, after the poor folks of The Old Reader got somewhat overwhelmed, with the added benefit of a nifty mobile app I can take advantage of on a shiny new Android phone), check the alt-text, smile (mostly) or look slightly puzzled, then wander off to the next article. I don’t particularly remember strip 1190, Time, I guess I filed it as one I didn’t really get, but a blagpost revealed something quite amazing: it’s a story that played out at one frame per hour over four months, 3099 drawings in total, and had developed a thread/wiki/subculture all of its own. I had no idea the rabbit hole was there, let alone how deep it went…

Posted by Zoso at 4:35 pm

Player of a murdered game, owner of a murdered characer, I will have my vengeance, in this life or the next

coh, games, waffle, zoso 2 Comments »

Van Hemlock tweets: “Good grief. “#AvengeCoH” hashtags… seriously? What is wrong with you people?” And of course it is a touch on the histrionic side, but then this is a comic book universe, so arch-enemies and pledges of vengeance aren’t entirely out of character. According to narrative imperative, a group of orphan players should now travel the world, ceaselessly training in MMOG-programming techniques in mountain-top monasteries (that nevertheless have excellent broadband internet infrastructure) before returning to civilisation in the guise of The Group Of People Seeking To Exact Satisfation For A Previous Event (note to editor: there must be a catchier name), unleashing a new superhero MMOG of hitherto unimagined quality, and attracting all existing NCSoft subscribers away from their previous games. There’ll be a climactic confrontation with the board of NCSoft, probably on the window ledge of a skyscraper in the middle of a thunderstorm (it’ll need to be quite a bg window ledge, perhaps with a conference table and lots of chairs), who will ultimately be vanquished, and good will have triumphed.

Until one of The Group Of People Seeking To Exact Satisfaction For A Previous Event turns out to be a robot from the future, and they all meet evil clones of themselves from a parallel universe, and their powers are drained and absorbed by an entity of pure energy from Dimension Z, and they get framed for crimes they didn’t commit and the public turn on them, and then they’re all killed, for a couple of weeks, until the deaths are retconned and then they get cancelled. Or something.

Posted by Zoso at 11:42 am

Any Friday you want, so long as it’s black

waffle, zoso Comments Off

Amazon’s Black Friday Deals Week is pottering along, and there’ve been a few gaming bargains; I picked up Rocksmith as part of a plan to finally get around to learning the guitar, though some would suggest that actually buying a guitar is perhaps the more crucial element of that plan. Half the fun, though, is seeing what other weird and wonderful items come up for sale, some of which are prime targets for the cult of spoof reviews; the BIC For Her Medium Ballpoint Pen “designed specifically for women” (on offer at 1.29pm this afternoon!) is a case in point, though 511 reviews is overdoing it slightly. I suppose it’s just conforming to the general internet rule of humour: if a joke is worth making, it’s worth making again, and again, and again, and again, and again, and again until every last vestige of humour that might possibly have been present has been wrung so thoroughly from the dessicated corpse of the joke that it’s nothing but hollow, echoing words, at which point it’s gone so far past being funny that it’s become funny again as a form of peculiar meta-anti-humour, and then more people jump on and keep making the same joke pushing it past so-not-funny-it’s-funny into so-not-funny-it-was-funny-but-now-isn’t-again. Or something.

One danger of looking at random odd items is that it can make the personalised recommendations go a little strange, but, a bit like jokes, you just need to push things far enough, until the site says: “Inspired by your browsing history! Customers who viewed cricket spring return stumps, a slow cooker, a colour coded index chopping board set, solar garden spotlights, six water filters, a kayak, a food processor, a digital radio and radiator reflector panels also viewed… erm… god, I don’t know, a set of deck quoits? An ornamental hatstand in the shape of Reginald Maudling? I give up, I’m going to go and help this other customer over here who’s just bought a book by recommending every other book the author has written, I bet they won’t have thought of that…”

Posted by Zoso at 10:21 am
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