MacHeist!

I’m a sucker for good deals. And every time MacHeist comes around, I almost inevitably jump on it. This time, being unemployed, I figured it was best to be hold off and not spend any unnecessary money. Until I saw that the $20 deal included 10 apps, one of which was all five episodes of Tales of Monkey Island. And not only that, but it includes both Windows and Mac versions too (since I can’t run it on my Macbook).

So, one of the apps it came with is called “MacJournal”. It lets you write blog posts and whatnot on your computer, then one-click publishes them to the Interwebs. So if you’re reading this, it means the app works, and I have a new toy to play with. Joy!

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Lessons in Web Hosting

Ever since the Internet began (I think that’s a pretty epic way to start a blog post, don’t you?), I’ve been wanting to purchase myself a website. Not because I have anything I want to put there, I just have been learning HTML, PHP, ASP.NET, and so on and so on for the past 10 years. Yeah, I can practice them all just by creating local webpages, but you can’t get a true feel for it unless it’s out there on the scary Web. I want to play around with databases. I want to create web forms and have people submit them. I just want to explore. Well, it looks like I finally got that opportunity.

A close friend and I had been talking for a while now about doing a podcast. You know, one of those podcasts where we talk for a while about whatever we feel like (mostly games, of course). I finally got our act together and we actually moved forward with this plan. While I don’t have anything to reveal just yet, I have been learning a ton this week about web hosting. It’s amazing how much I didn’t know, and I found it terrifying that these sites don’t actually adequately explain what it is you need to purchase.

For example, let’s say you’re a complete beginner on the Web, but you want to start a webpage. What does “Domain” mean? What does “Hosting” mean? Where do I get these things? What other things do I need to consider when purchasing? What’s “Shared Hosting”? What’s the other option?

I don't know what that means!

I know all the answers to the above questions, but not because any of the hosting sites I visited explained them to me clearly. It’s entirely possible I looked in the wrong place for the answers, but I think that should be the most important thing you see on a site that’s trying to sell you a product. What is your product? Why do I need it? This is Marketing 101, folks. Even I know that.

So, in order to have a site that can host a podcast, I figured out that I need enough storage to host, let’s say, at least a year’s worth of audio files. And I have no clue how much bandwidth I need, but I played it safe and went with “unlimited”. Can’t really go wrong there, right? It ended up being way cheaper than I expected, especially when we end up splitting the cost between the two of us. (Oh, yeah, did I mention that, partner?)

Right now I’m waiting for the Domain registration to complete (which takes 24 hours? That sucks), after which I’ll have fun playing around with installing WordPress, some forum software, and maybe a little playspace for me and my databases. I’ve always wanted to try to create a web game. No, Jick, I’m not copying off you.

In Which We All Learn a Little About Love

My Xbox speaks to me. No really, it’s true! I signed up for this site at first just to play around with it, and before I knew it, I had subscribed to its RSS feed. Now I get a daily message from my Xbox, telling me how sad it is that I don’t play it. The blog even has a badge on it called “Emo”, because I don’t play with my 360 enough.

This is what my Xbox feels like when I don't play it.

I kind of like the blog, though, because it reminds me of how my newfound enjoyment of World of Warcraft means I’m neglecting other games. I finally actually got back into the 360 this week, grabbing achievements for 1v100, and buying Indigo Prophecy and Shadow Complex. (Oh, and by the way, Shadow Complex is awesome, if you liked Super Metroid. Same exact game, but newer.)

Giving my console a voice is silly, for sure. But it makes me feel loved. And that’s all that matters during this holiday season. Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, and a Happy New Year!

New Theme!

I know this is super exciting for everyone, but I’m excited, so you’re going to have to deal with it. White text on black backgrounds just doesn’t cut it anymore. Five years ago it was COOL and EXCITING. Now it hurts my eyes. So I’m changing it up. What do you think?

I also updated my Blogroll (actually, I didn’t even know I had one) with blogs that I regularly read. A few are just my friends who happen to be excellent writers, and the others are all a bunch of industry people I’ve never actually met. But they’re all very excellent blogs to read, especially going back through the archives. If you’re bored (or if you want to see my taste in writings), check them out!

It’s kinda fun to have started blogging regularly again. And I actually have pageviews this time, too! Twitter never ceases to amaze me.

Where is Facebook going?

Today seems to be a good day for writing blog posts, seeing as I’ve got nothing better to do right now. So I was reading this article in the NY Times about Facebook and where it’s heading. Now, I’m well aware that I’m one of the “college kids” the article mentions, but the thing, I understand where Facebook is trying to head. They need to become profitable, obviously, and their idea of how to do that is kind of cool. By eventually using those interactive ads, I think it will be an extremely effective way to advertise without the users feeling like they’re having their personal space intruded upon. I would happily choose what my favorite M&M flavor is and have it displayed on my profile. I wouldn’t even think twice about it being an ad. THAT is totally fine. What I’m not okay with is ads all over the place. You know those sponsored links that show up in the middle of your news feed occassionally? Those are not okay. Don’t ever intrude on what I’m trying to look up, and I’ll be perfectly happy.

I also understand where Facebook wants to go with the site design. They want it to be useful in real time. That makes sense. Their example of having a coworker post that they’re going to lunch so that you can join them makes complete sense. But where they fall flat is in explaining this sort of thing to their audience. Facebook has engaged multiple times in a farce of a conversation with their users, showing them mockups of what the new design will look like, and asking for feedback. But I’m not sure we have ever seen any of our feedback being used. It seems to me like they come to us with a design they’ve already decided upon and finalized, and then they ask us our opinion just to appease us. But that appeasement doesn’t work if we don’t see any results from it.

Look. I work in the game industry, as you may know. I’ve also been an avid beta tester for years before now, so I’ve followed beta forums regularly. It’s very obvious to a community when you ask for feedback on a feature you’ve already finished. When a high percentage of players (or at least of those who are active on your forums) cry out against the feature, yet you implement it without changing it, there’s going to be trouble.

Facebook seems to have taken the approach of letting their users vent their frustration, and then waiting for it to blow over. It actually turns out to be an effective strategy. Remember the time before this last one that Facebook changed the website around? We all flipped out for a while, posted petitions, made groups, etc, then eventually gave up when it was clear nothing was going to be done about it. Same thing with the news feed when it first appeared. They’re going to design the site they want to design, and there’s nothing much we can do about it. Don’t like it? No one’s forcing you to be on Facebook. Games can do the same thing, to a certain extent. We design the game that we want to make. No matter what complaints a playerbase makes, we’re not going to change our game from a fantasy genre to a wild west theme. Sure, little things can be changed, but in general, the game has already been designed by the time it gets into the public eye. The difference, however, is that games depend on an audience. You make your players upset? They quit, then where’s your money? If I leave Facebook, I’m pretty sure they’ll never even know.

Man. I like all this commentary on articles that I’m doing. This is fun! Maybe I should be in tech more often (*GAG*).

Toys that READ YOUR MIND

It was extremely strange going back to the same exact convention center for a second weekend. But it was really cool to see the entire place change over in just a week to a completely different show. I got to join my dad in his excursion to the New York Toy Fair, and annual show that is closed to the public. People bring their crazy inventions, hoping to get them mass produced, while other big-name companies show off their upcoming fun stuff for the next year. It was awesome to see some upcoming toys, and also to check out some cool concepts. My personal favorites:

  • The company Mega got the license to produce Halo Wars products, and I was really impressed with the detail of the models, considering they’re just made of building blocks. Even the Banshee’s lid opens up like it does in the game. Plus the mini Spartans, grunts, and Arbiters were adorable.
  • Rubik has a new touch-sensitive cube coming out. It’s electronic, and you swipe the sides to rotate them. Plus it has a hint and undo button. I didn’t get to physically see it at the show, but there were plenty of displays about it, plus I read the Engadget writeup on it today.
  • This new product came out called Tracksters. From what I understand, you buy a little diecast car, and the car includes a code which you enter online. Then you can race that exact car online against other people and earn points to buy upgrades. They’ll also be selling booster packs of cards which also give you upgrades online. Interesting concept, but I’m concerned because they already have a product-online game tie-in that doesn’t seem to have done very well. I’ll give it a shot though.
  • My personal favorite: Mind Flex. This was the toy I wanted to play with more than anything else, and I got the chance to. You wear a headband, and the game measures your brainwaves. The more you concentrate, the higher a ball floats, and the more you relax, the lower it floats. You then have to navigate it through an obstacle course. I played with it for about 10 minutes, and it was HARD. But I’ve never seen anything like it, and it’s the first of its kind to read your mind, so I think it was awesome. Unfortunately, I can’t see it being a success with an $80 pricetag attached. Maybe once mind-readers are more affordable, I’ll get one.

So, that was a cool show. It’s nice to be at a show that’s closed to the public, but I really did enjoy the chaos of Comic Con. When’s the next convention?

Comic Con Revisited

I declare my first convention a success! I got to play lots of unpublished games, I met a player of Pirates (the first one to know who I was!), and I met up with a bunch of my friends. It was awesome! Let’s break down the highlights of the weekend:

Friday

Friday the convention opened at 1PM, so we had a half a day. My friend and I were pretty overwhelmed by the whole thing, and we just sort of aimlessly wandered through the convention, taking in the sights and sounds. We met up with a bunch of my industry friends, and I physically met a few people I knew face-to-face for the first time, which was great. We ran into a mob of hundreds of Asian teenagers, staring excitedly up at a glass balcony. Some Japanese guy suddenly walked into that room, the mob went nuts, and we stared blankly at the guy. No idea who he was. Some reporters were nearby reporting on the pandemonium, and we asked them who it was. “I have no idea,” one replied. Journalism at its finest.

The only real thing of note we did on Friday was to see the new Futurama movie, “Into the Wild Green Yonder”. It was hilarious. Enough said about that.

Saturday

Saturday we went to the Gabe and Tycho Q&A panel. They’re funny guys, as I’m sure you’re aware. We also went over to the 38 Studios panel, but as soon as it became clear they weren’t talking about their game, I ditched it for some lunch. We found some of the best games of the show on Saturday, including:

– DC Universe Online – I was not expecting to enjoy this game as much as I did. The game is more action-oriented than any MMO I’ve ever played. You run into battle, you click to shoot at things, you use some super powers. If ever there was an MMO that would translate well to a console, this is it. We actually played the game using a PS3 controller. We were extremely impressed. I also got my favorite swag at the Sony booth, a pen that shines the Bat Signal when you push a button.

Prototype – Our favorite game by far at the convention. Free-roaming in New York City, fighting inspired by parkour (free-running), and controls that flowed extremely well together. I watched my friend Mike play it, and we kept going “WHOA!” every time something cool happened, whether it was running straight up a skyscraper, or picking up a bus and smashing people with it, and then when I got my chance to try it out, we still kept discovering new awesome things about the game. Leap off a building and fly around! Jump up in the air and smash down on a tank. Rip someone’s head off with your sword-arms! We were speechless by the end of the demo. And what made us realize how awesome the game is was when we returned to it on Sunday, and our other friend was trying it out. We then realized we still hadn’t discovered everything. Pick up a bus and start running, and you’ll lower the bus and smash everything in your way. Jump up on a tank and you can hijack it and take control. Pick up a car, toss it at a helicopter and watch as it crashes down onto people. I hope there’s still stuff we haven’t discovered yet, because we definitely want the game when it comes out in June.

    We also tried out some pretty bad games on Saturday, like:

    – Tenchu: Shadow Assassin – Firstly, the game just didn’t look good on the Wii. The controls were very touchy, and while the kill animations were cool (once we slid under a guy, and stabbed him in the crotch), the game itself was too slow and boring. It was like Splinter Cell, minus the fun part.

    – Velvet Assassin – I’ve been hearing that this game is great, so maybe I just didn’t understand the controls, but any game where you’re sneaking around, trying to kill, and then you inject some morphine and suddenly you’re wearing a pretty dress, doesn’t sound like a game I want to play.

    – GTA Chinatown Wars – I was really hoping this game would be good. And it was okay. The driving around the city is cool, but much more arcadey, in that you smash through cars, you spin around easily. They went less for the realism of GTA4, and more for a fun DS experience. I didn’t get to try out any missions, but the game just didn’t pull me.

    – Deadly Creatures – Besides the fact that I’m a squeamish arachnophobe, I couldn’t imagine how a game where you play a spider and scorpion could be good. And from what I watched, I was right. The spider runs around, kills some other spiders, eats some grubs, and then dies. Wow. Thrilling.

      I also got to check out the Up panel, where Pete Docter showed us about 30 minutes worth of clips from the movie. It looks and sounds great, even though it’s not “finished” yet, and it’s definitely got that Pixar charm. Those of you who hated WALL-E, this one is going back to the “typical” Pixar movies, so you should be pretty happy. I didn’t get to go to the Up screening, because they only let in 300 people, and I was number 310 in line. But I didn’t mind so much. At night, we went to the SOE fan party, where we enjoyed delicious food and a Q&A session with the developers. Afterwards, we went to the EA/Mythic party at Dave n’ Busters on 42nd St. They set up Rock Band for us to play, and I’m proud to announce that I saved Paul Barnett after he failed out during a song.

      I’ve got more to talk about, but I’ll continue in another post soon. Enjoy!