Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Why I Love MMOs, Part Whatever

Last night, World Chat discussion on LOTRO drifted around from "are goblins orcs?" and "Was George RR Martin inspired by Turin's relentlessly grim tale?"* to "When is the Beren and Luthien standalone novel to be released?"

Inspired by the latter, one of the players recited a shorter version of the Tale of Beren and Luthien in World Chat. Took the player over an hour, but it was worth it.

At one point someone made a snarky comment about the endeavor, but I channeled Animal House and replied "Forget it, he's rolling."

The book is released June 1st, 2017.
From Wikipedia.


The part about Sauron turning into a werewolf inspired a short lived "So Sauron was a Furry?" discussion, however....





*I said that he was partly inspired, but he also took heavy inspiration from Shakespeare and Medieval history. "The Children of Hurin is what you get if you let GRRM write Tolkien," was my response.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Memories....

..like the corners of my mind.*

Everybody does anniversaries differently, and LOTRO is no exception.

Justin Olivetti --you know, Syp from Bio Break-- over at MassivelyOP has an article on the anniversary plans that Standing Stone Games is planning for LOTRO's 10th anniversary, pointing back to the Standing Stone Games announcement.

I hope you're ready for a scavenger hunt...




*There. That intro from The Way We Were should give you a great earworm for the rest of the day. ;-)

Thursday, April 6, 2017

A Brave New World I Suppose

I've noticed a recent uptick in traffic to PC from anonymizeme.pro. Normally I'd not worry to much about it, but this uptick almost exactly matches the passing of the new US law to block online privacy regulation.

If you've not heard about it before now, the long and the short of it is that back in October the Federal Communications Commission presented rules prohibiting internet service providers (ISPs) from selling your online browsing data to third parties: companies wanting to sell you stuff, private investigators, anyone at all. Congress decided that was "executive overreach" and passed the bill above to elimination such privacy regulations, with the side effect of letting ISPs sell your data to whomever they feel like it.

Normally if this were a problem with one ISP, you could simply replace them with another ISP. The issue here is that in the US a huge number of people have only one real ISP to use --their cable company-- because local towns and cities often have non-compete agreements with one cable company in exchange for that company providing local access programming.* So, if your local ISP decides to sell your online browsing data, you don't have an alternative available to jump to.

To fix this issue, some people have set up their own virtual private networks (VPNs) and others are using anonymizing services such as anonymizeme.pro. So while some people look at browsing records from anonymizeme and think "okay, who's doing something shady?", I look at it as merely a sign of the times.

And naturally, late night television has been using this new law as cannon fodder:



And....





*That's something that has almost completely disappeared from local cable, but that hasn't kept the cable companies from using their local monopolies to keep competition out.

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

In Praise of the Code Jockey



I don't talk about my work at all on this blog for obvious reasons*, but at one time in the (now distant) past I worked for a software development house. Sorry, the software involved was CAD/CAM/CAE --the design software companies use to create new products-- so it's not like I worked for Microprose or something.

While I wasn't a Dev myself, I worked on the Software QA end of things. I was one of the people who designed and built the testcases, maintained and expanded our own testing software, and helped debugging the thorny problems by quickly zeroing in on which software code change was the likely culprit. It was tough work, particularly for a guy who came from a science background who puttered around coding in his spare time, but it taught me a lot about how to code, how to design software, and how to handle group dynamics**.

There were projects I was assigned to that pushed me to the limit --physically and mentally-- and I will be forever grateful to my wife for tolerating me during those insane hours. But no matter how hard or long I worked, the Devs worked even harder. When I was pulling 80 hour work weeks, they were hitting 90. I would frequently get to work at 4 AM so I could make progress without having people drop by, and there would always be about 3-5 Devs in the building, coding away.***

You'd think that the hours and demands would keep me from wanting to make the jump from QA to Developer, but you'd be wrong. I looked up to those people, because I admired their coding skill and their drive. They were creative, they were fun, and yet they were serious about getting the work finished. It irked them when we had to release the software when they knew there were bugs in the system, but the decision was never theirs.****

So you can imagine the smile on my face when I read Ravanel Griffon's post at Ravalation about Developer Appreciation Week.

***

The idea is a simple one --to acknowledge the devs in the game industry-- and give them a big thumbs up. Give a shout out to the dev team (or teams) that you admire the most and why you like them. Basically, make them feel welcome.

And believe me, I can do that.

When I criticize a game, I make a clear distinction between the game and the dev staff itself. The dev staff almost never control the release schedule, they're on a tight timeline, and they're chronically underpaid for the amount of hours they put in. I knew a guy who used to work for a dev team that put together Betrayal at Krondor, and I heard stories about how they had to do it for the love of coding and designing games, as the money was definitely not the same for the game devs as it was for other software developers. They have to work with tradeoffs and limitations of the hardware, they recognize that people will find weaknesses that they never envisioned, and that meeting expectations is often a fool's errand.

We gamers don't exactly help our cause either, as we are frequently cranky, overly nitpicky, and demanding of a standard that nobody could ever hope to achieve. And if the devs ever do catch lightning in a bottle, they set themselves up for an impossible standard that gamers will try to force them to meet.

But here's a shout out to all the devs out there, trying their best to make gaming fun and meaningful.

***

Oh, you wanted some specific dev team?

Well, I think I'd have to go with giving some love to the original SWTOR development team. You know, the ones who had to deal with he inflated expectations that accompany the Bioware name, the KOTOR brand, the Star Wars Galaxies loyalists, the amount of money EA spent on development, and EA's own promotion that SWTOR was going to be a WoW killer. With a expectations like that, nothing less than WoW-like numbers and subscriptions would mean success.

And as we know, SWTOR did not reach those numbers.

Was that the fault of the devs? No. They made an MMO that was essentially "WoW in space", but with specific class stories with light or dark side endings. The technical challenges of the MMO genre meant that SWTOR couldn't expand the Star Wars universe and provide persistent changes based on your choices (such as with other Bioware titles such as KOTOR, Mass Effect, or Dragon Age) without massive use of phasing like WoW used. The devs felt that in SWTOR the journey and the ability to play around in the Star Wars universe was the important part of the MMO*****, while the semi-transient MMO community believes "the game begins at max level."

In spite of all of those expectations and challenges and misreading of tea leaves, the original SWTOR devs produced a very solid MMO that continues to hold its own over the years. I still love the classic game (L1-50), and based on how the mini-Reds have reacted to the class stories, those stories still hold up well several years on.

SWTOR had to change in order to survive with a steady stream of updates, end game content, and switching to F2P to stem the bleeding. To compare with another heavily hyped AAA title, I'm actually surprised that Wildstar is still around because I thought they'd waited too long to convert to F2P. SWTOR has not only survived but gotten mentions on the E3 presentations from EA, and it would have been all for naught if those first devs hadn't decided to change the game rather than simply circle the wagons.

So here's to the original SWTOR dev team, who hoped to catch lightning in a bottle but ended up having to change the game's entire focus to survive. It was no small task, but they met the challenge and left us a legacy.






*I mean, really. I've no idea why some people natter on about their jobs on blogs, because you're just simply begging for trouble. When I was hired at all of my jobs, one of the requirements for the gig was to sign non-disclosure agreements, and I've seen people fired from their jobs for what I'd term innocent discussions on social media. So why risk it?

**Also known as "how to run meetings and keep from going nuts when people don't listen to you."

***There was once an April Fools Day prank played on the entire development staff where every time you opened a new window on the SGI workstations from 3 AM through Noon the machine would play a little jingle and make a weird laugh. The first person to discover it loved to come in at 2 AM to work on his graphics coding when nobody else was around, and so he opened a new window at around 3 AM and he nearly fainted. I heard later that for a few short moments he thought his workstation was possessed.

****I and several other QA people were also on the release team, and we frequently argued for more time to fix the bugs, because we could see the impending train wreck a bad release would make. The release manager would also agree, but we were overruled by senior management who had their own agendas.

*****My evidence for that is the MMO itself. WoW is designed to get you to max level as quickly as possible, Wildstar went totally old school and recreated the attunement quests to even begin to raid, and LOTRO is designed to immerse yourself in Middle-earth. If the journey wasn't as important to SWTOR, we wouldn't have had 8 separate class stories and plenty of group quests per planet.