Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Star Wars: Free to Play

Everyone seems to be piling on Star Wars for going free to play. I don't think that is necessarily a bad thing; though it is clearly not what people trying to keep making money off it wanted. Subscriptions are down. With competition for free to play coming from Guild Wars 2 in a few weeks (and The Secret World taking their slice of niche, story-seeking players), Star Wars needed to stop the bleeding.

That's before we even look at the panda in the room.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Algebra: X + Y = What?

Here's a thing from the New York Times. One thing I always think about headlines and titles is that they should very, very rarely be questions. If your reader can answer the question quickly, easily and definitively, the reader will not be a reader for you. That's fine if you just need page views. But if you want to actually persuade people with your persuasive essay, I would ding any editor who changes your headline to a question.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Geese in Chantilly

I was in Chantilly today to see a show, which if you are in the area, I suggest you try and see it too. Less impressively, I saw geese. Clearly, it is time for some goose poetry.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Things Matt Links: July 27

First and foremost, if you can still catch a show of the Zelda: Symphony of the Goddesses, do so. I went Thursday night, and spent some time getting into the spirit on the way there. Not as much as the people dressed as Link and Zelda (I saw more women dressed as Link than men; but at least one guy who did it went all out with real chain mail under his green tunic.)
It is a secret to everybody.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Get It Fast, But Get It Right

One thing that always bothers me about violence in the news is the rush to provide answers when we don't have them yet. It happens all of the time; the most recent shooting in Colorado is just another example. Any big news story is prone to errors. Sometimes, you just get things wrong.

In today's hyper-fast, super-connected world, you just can't do that any more. The Affordable Care Act ruling, for example, was a huge error in reporting from CNN and Fox. They got it the absolutely backwards. In the Colorado shooting, ABC accused the wrong man of being the shooter. Their reporter on the air even said, basically: "We don't know if this right, but let's throw it out there and see what happens."

The news is, in a way, a race. If you break a story, it can make your career. You can get movies made about you and live on easy street. You can get people to leak information to you and break more stories. It's a great cycle.

But, when you're wrong? In today's day and age... not much really happens. NBC can edit tapes without letting listeners know, and all that happens is a few nameless people get shuffled to a new job. As I was typing this, a perfect example demonstrated itself on Twitter. Here's the tweet. Here's the story. If you read the tweet, what do you think?

Well, that a Romney aide is citing Romney's Anglo-Saxon heritage for something. The story however is clear that it is the exact opposite; that an anonymous source that makes this claim is being rejected by the campaign. It's just sloppy reporting. ABC has good people on its staff; this sort of sloppiness should not be sneaking out. Anonymous, unsourced, comments, rejected by the candidate, somehow are news. Not only that, but the comments are blatantly racial. The journalist who initially printed that should never have went with something so incendiary without having a name willing to be put with the quote, if he even had a quote. But, it is more important to be first rather than right.

Journalists need to be a bit more skeptical. Folks: If it is too good to check, you should probably check it.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Eric Shields, The Secret World

Not everyone adjusted to the shift in climate the same. Georgia was good air; clean. The shift to working at the National Archives in D.C. had been incredibly hard on Eric Shields. The air was dirty, the pace faster. He was used to arriving at the office early by 8:00 a.m.; in D.C., he was one of the last people in. He took his job seriously, and he was good at it. It was an honest day's work for an honest day's wage.

He quickly found a routine. He found the Starbucks on his way to the office; he found his hole in the wall for lunch. He found his book store and his movie theater. He cheerfully pretended to enjoy going out for drinks with his coworkers and found creative excuses to ignore their invitations as often as possible. He had a schedule, and he kept to it almost religiously.

He wasn't really aware of the change in his routine at first. He slept in a bit one day; a bit more the next. Then, he was rushing out the door, tired. Then, he didn't show up one day until 9:00 a.m. His work didn't suffer; he just stayed late. But, each day, he found getting up more and more tiring. There were little things wrong too. Things he tried not to think about; burns on his clothes, things broken he thought had been fine when he went to bed; he blamed it to stress from the terrorism reports from Tokyo.

Then, one day, he just couldn't get up. He called out sick. Then a second; the tremors were getting worse and worse. The small apartment he hid away in was starting to show wear and tear; he blamed it on sleep walking. He woke up to the smell of burning one night and barely put the fire out before the smoke alarm went off; that night he set up a camera to see what was going on.

"Steve, I can't come in today," He said into his phone the next morning, as he hit play on the video again. "I've got some stuff I have to get together."

"Listen Eric, I don't care how bad of a headache it is; the only thing you have to get together are the papers for the testimony up north tomorrow," His boss said. "You've been keeping up with that case, right?"

"Yeah, Smithsonian says the documents are theirs; local museum in Canada has got papers saying otherwise. Look, I'm not up for travel right now."

"I don't care if you're up for travel; I snap, you jump," Steve said. It was 7:15 a.m. Eric didn't know how he did it, especially these days. "We need the work, and we need to up our burn rate on useful reports for when Congress or the Smithsonian come sniffing around for things to cut."

"The papers are nothing exciting Steve; Judge Carson from Maine went north to retire, brought some old court cases from the 1800s, a few letters to the editor about taxes. Drafts of state court opinions and motions that never got filed," Eric said. Judge Carson was a hanging judge, or as much of a hanging judge could be who specialized in tax law. "They're not even of local interest; I barely found them interesting. I don't see why the Archives even wants them."

"Because they're part of our heritage as Americans, Eric," Steve said. "Heritage and grant money. Besides, if we leave them there, Canada'll just let them rot in some records room."

"We can't restore them if that grant doesn't come through."

"The grant won't come through if we don't have results," Steve said. "Look, you're a team player, right? Get up, shove some pills down your throat and get your ass on a flight out there. This has the potential for a big win for the red, white and blue."

"It's a few hundred pages of a dead judge's memoirs no one even remembers, Steve. Normandy was a big win; Midway was a big win. This is nothing. Besides, I really can't today," Eric said. He hit play on the video again and watched it. "Send Shelly; she's smart. She likes to ski too, so everyone wins."

"Yeah, yeah, fine. Look, I just need you to come in. Tomorrow."

On the video, Eric watched as the strange lights danced while he was asleep. He had seen plenty of the fake ghost videos on YouTube; good for a sort of adult scary story before bed. This was different; he knew he had not tampered with the video. No one else could have either. He called in his resignation the next day; right before he started calling around worried that he was hallucinating.

That's when he got the knock on his door that changed his life.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Space and Sally Ride

According to Sally Ride's page, she died earlier today. She was the first American woman in space. Even though I am not a girl, I remember her being one of the go to figures for little girls when I was growing up as an example of women in modern science. Space has a special appeal to me, and this is kind of a bit of a punch in the gut.

Here's a nice little video from YouTube with Ride talking for about two minutes or so about her experience. Here is her bio from NASA, and here is a very basic introduction to her life. It's good that we were able to capture a lot from her life and experience; the amount of people who have been to space is so small that each of their experiences is immensely valuable to us.

So, go read a little about her life.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Welcome to Egypt

Welcome to Egypt! Once you finish Blue Mountain, you'll find the next zone is actually a bit of a breather compared to the jump you faced from Savage Coast. Keep on keeping on, and you shouldn't have too many problems. Just remember...

Friday, July 20, 2012

Things Matt Links: July 20

This weekend is Guild Wars 2's last beta weekend. That should tell you all you need to know about a good use of unallocated free time. The big news today is the shooting on Colorado. The shooting is bad; the rush to try and paint a political picture over the shooting is worse. The long and short of the fallout is that crazy people have done criminal things and we should make sure to keep that in mind that crazy people are, inherently, apolitical most of the time.

Also, Brian Ross should not have a job because he's a terrible journalist. Anyway, on to the links below.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

MMO Update

30/30 on my Hall of Monuments. I finally gave in and just sold all the things I'd been hoarding to buy armor sets for my main character and dedicated them for the last two points. So, I went from rolling in ectoplasms and other crafting supplies to dirt broke. Which is fine, since I have no real intention of ever joining Guild Wars 1 again, unless someone tempts me back.

As for The Secret World, I should be heading in to Egypt this weekend. Lots of people seem interested in what the "best" solo build is, judging by the searches bringing people here and here. Since that's the case, let me put, below the fold, some of the builds I'm currently using on my way into Egypt. During a normal play through, you probably won't have access to all of these builds by the time you are leaving Blue Mountain, since you probably won't stay and dabble in as many weapons as I did. But, I thought having a few examples might be useful.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Soloing in The Secret World

Someone asked in /cabal the other night about builds. The key to strong solo builds is synergy and flexibility. The flexibility won't happen until you have got enough AP to buy multiple abilities in more than your starter two weapons, but early on it is good to build with that flexibility in mind. Some more advice on soloing below the fold, here are some common traps to avoid.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Walking Dead: Episode 2

I finished my first play through of the Walking Dead: Episode 2 last night. Let me up front say it was a good time. I had some gripes, but by the time I got the game, most of the show stopping bugs seemed to have been gone, or I have a computer set up that is impervious to them. Either way, I can't knock it for failing to run properly. Let me say up front about some of my thoughts below: There will be spoilers. If you want the tl;dr version: Good game. Should buy

The game is plot; it is not very gamey. You will not have fun in the traditional sense. It is more of an experience or an adventure book. You are guiding Lee from point A to B, with awkward action scenes in between. That's fine; it is what I expect from the game. If you want a game though, you may want to look elsewhere. This is, primarily, a story experience.

With that said, it delivers there. Anyway, on to the more spoilerific thoughts.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Journalism Is Hard

I am not going to blame either campaign for only wanting approved quotations in the press. They are politicians. That is what they do, you know, control narratives and so forth. But, want me to tell you who I do blame? The journalists. If they want access so bad they'll sell out their news scoops to print flattery, so be it.

Quote approval is the thing of public relations and spin doctoring. Not journalism. I am glad the NYT notes the irony of only being willing to talk about this problem anonymously. But, let me also content: meaning is lost when you cut out colorful allusions and language. You lose a lot of the identity of the speaker, which is important in the public knowing who is talking and what they are like.

Journalists: Do your job. If it costs you precious, precious access, tough luck. Remember when making the powerful uncomfortable was what they did?

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P.S.,

Anthony Weiner floated the idea of running for mayor of New York. I guess Kathleen Parker didn't want another show.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Writing Friendship Is Hard

One interesting, and hard, part of writing is getting interpersonal relationships just right. Romance, for example, is really, really hard to do. I'm talking real romance, not purple prose (though, without having tried it, I'm going to assume that is also hard. I just think things I have not done are hard.) Getting a friendship right is probably harder. Romance you have easy cliches to help ease you into it; that's a different whine for later though.

Friendship is harder; you have buddy cops and awkward friendships that work. But writing them well is hard. Sort of like how writing comics is hard. Ideas of friendship morph over time, as well. So, some friendships that were well-written even just a few years ago, seem awkward today. Tropes that work in some cases (you can go to TV Tropes to look through them yourself) don't work everywhere.

The other reason is that you want to show, not tell, in writing as much as possible. I am lazy; I like to handwave details whenever possible. Saying: "Jon and David knew each other for years and consider themselves friends" is easy. Crafting a whole scene where David and Jon are on the phone after their wives go to sleep talking about comic books and their kids' sports is hard. But, the second one tells you they know each other well, though not necessarily how long they know each other, unless you work in to the conversation how they loaned each other comic books when they were kids, and it is clear their friends. They're staying up late at night to talk with each other just to catch up.


The other problem is that friends act around each other in ways that often they don't bother explaining. You have in-jokes, nicknames, noodle incidents, etc., that you bring up that are never explained with real friends. Outsiders feel like outsiders. You don't want your reader to feel like an insider. He or she should be an insider. As inside as possible! You can try and weasel around this by using a point of view character or first-person narrator. They can fill in the blanks with asides or flashbacks.

Next, you have an issue with body language. When two people are friendly, you can see it. Sense it. This is why movies and plays have it easier. They can cheat and do lots of little things that if you keep describing get repetitive. Jon and David could always glance at each other and smirk at a dinner scene when either could make a dirty joke that would offend their wives or kids. It'd be funny for the audience; it would be tedious to write in every time they do it, and if they only do it once it doesn't show us how much they are on the same wavelength. But, with a visual medium, you suddenly can cheat! You can pack more information in less. Cheating like this is good!

So, writing friendships is hard. By the end of this blog's run, you can probably make a list of things I whined about being hard to write.

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P.S.,

This is a mini-theme at Althouse's blog. She linked over to this NYT piece, that says: "Schedules compress, priorities change and people often become pickier in what they want in their friends."

You can start the process of turning random people in random places into friends just by talking. Also, it helps for people to be as judgmental as they were in college as opposed to as uptight and narrow-minded as the NYT thinks we become as we age. In college and high school, people my age routinely had friends with radically different beliefs than theirs. If that's not still happening once you get older, ask why.

The NYT is trying to make things harder than they really are. Also? Several of their examples of friends not working out are just people being jerks. Who asks about other people how much they make, and who does not know the proper response is: "Enough?"

Friday, July 13, 2012

Things Matt Links: July 13

This has been a year for Friday the Thirteenths, and CNN has a blog about it. 2012 had three of them, and this is the last. So, celebrate!

One way to celebrate is to support games you like, either via Good Old Games or Steam. Either way, you can make yourself very happy. Who doesn't like to do that on unlucky days?

Guild Wars 2 has announced its release date, and it has also announced some of its design philosophy. This shouldn't be a surprise; it sounds a lot like what many companies say.

In other MMO news, The Secret World's Ragnar Tornquist gave us the state of the game. This is promising, and a more detailed read out is available here. I've beaten the game up for its chat bugs and quest bugs, but they are trying something great. If they actually deliver their monthly content updates on a monthly schedule, it may be an MMO first.

A fitting thing you've probably heard about, since I'm always late to the game, is this. Zombie theme parks are an odd kind of fun.

Whenever I read something like this, I kind of lose some faith in people as a whole. Is not grabbing random strangers on the street REALLY that hard? I thought we got the whole hands to yourself thing figured out in kindergarten; what is wrong with people?

Also, apparently, the big news in politics these days is that political ads lie. A lot. The only difference, this time, I guess, is that instead of dropping the inaccuracy/lie, the campaign decided to just sally forth. That's a way to do it, I guess.

Finally, if you want to play D&D, you can get some of the old rules in new books. Just as a warning: If a GM asks you if you want to play a game, and you answer yes, bring back up characters. Note the plural.

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P.S.,

Charrlie is back in stock.

The Kinds of Builds You Need -- Secret World

Initially, I posted this here. But, it is good enough that I thought I should get double use out of it. In The Secret World, you'll hit Blue Ridge Mountains, which will become one of the harder, more frustrating zones. Or so I'm told. I've dallied there a little bit between questing, and it doesn't seem significantly harder than Savage Coast; you just have to go slower and do a proper gear check.

But, you want to know how to make a good build? Let me give you a down and dirty example. It's not great, but it works, usually. The general Guild Wars rule of solo builds applies, with a slight variation, due to the combo point mechanic. Build for synergy; outlast pressure damage; deal sustained damage; be able to spike; know when to engage. Simple stuff. Example below the fold.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

On Writing Fiction

I'm still trying to write a page a day, and I'm doing it. It is more painful these days because I don't know where this one should end. For every other story I've put together so far this year for my fiction a day piece, I've known where I wanted to start and what I wanted at the end. I reworked one story because I ended up disliking the end. Then I disliked the second ending too. It just was a crappy story, all told.

But, I'm really at a loss for this story. I haven't written sword and sorcery fantasy in a long time, so I just feel like I'm losing my grip on how this world works. It's really slow and really painful to write. Which brings me back to a point I've hammered home probably a dozen times now: Do your pre-writing. Make your outlines. It will make your life easier.

Right now, I have a vague idea on what to write. I know where the story should go. But all my stories are ending rather depressingly lately. Well, OK. Across the Gap ends positively, what with the little brother living, but it's kind of a neutral ending. Maybe after this story, I should write an unambiguously happy story. Maybe call it Rainbows and Sunshine: A New Day.

As always, writing is better than not writing. Even if you are writing crap, which most of what anyone writes is. That's why you have editors. Oh well, back to writing crap.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Biggest PR Disaster of the Week

Every now and again, I get an email from PR Daily. Sometimes, it has stories about the biggest PR disaster of the X, where X is a period of time. Here is one that I think actually deserves that title. First, go read the article, then, come back and let's discuss how much went wrong.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Managing Expectations

I'll make no secret: The Secret World had some serious launch issues. Chat was broken, missions were bugged. The only thing it did not have was crash to desktops or server queues. For an MMO launch, it was decent. Average. That is faint praise, but I am not trying to damn it. Despite the many faults, it really is a fine game.

They delivered on their world. They gave us a fun, engaging environment. The skill wheel is amazing. What's more important, they developed a relatively new, strong, IP. That is something that happens very rarely in a world that thought it was high time to remake a Spider Man origins movie. It was a risky move, and they deserve kudos for not only taking that risk, but delivering. One thing work has taught me is that managing expectations is important. If you're going to promise the sky, you better be able to deliver the moon.

Challenge, accepted, I guess, over at Funcom. This is something I always like about designing games and fiction worlds. You get to aim big. The gaming community, as a whole, is rather forgiving of some failures. It is also rabidly aggressive and borderline psychotic about some successes. It's like a microcosm of the real world, only we get to blow up robots and zombies.

... Our world is better.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Why Are Gamers Such Jerks?

Here's a question I wonder about whenever I go to game forums. When did my fellow gamers suddenly all become childish ranters? If you ever want to really, really feel that the human race has failed, join League of Legend and go to the Tribunal. Maybe I'm just getting old, but in Gemstone, no one ever used casual racial slurs against their own team.

I don't think that gamers, as a population, have become crass homophobic racists. It's the internet as a whole. I'm not pro-censorship; I'm a free speech absolutist after all. But you know? I can get behind self-censoring. We used to call it good manners. I wonder if people act like this at table top games with strangers. I doubt someone tells someone running a suboptimal list at Warhammer to go die in a fire. Ok, they probably do.

So, for the next few days, I'm going to try to be extra nice to people. Extra nice. This is going to be a... horrifying experiment. Since The Secret World says their chat problem is half fixed, I'll try today! In TSW's defense, it is one of the least toxic communities I've seen in awhile.

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P.S.,

Escutcheon, RP server. Play with me.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Nothing Happened Yesterday

I was going to write about today's news. But, since "Zen of the knuckleball" is on CNN's front page, I feel fairly confident nothing of value happened yesterday. Oh well, here's a picture of a horse and water from Fox News. Though, I'm sure, it is possible, things did happen. They are just less important than the Zen of the knuckelball.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Bare Minimums

When you make a product, there are certain standards that should apply. For newspapers, for example, you expect clean editing, the right pictures with the right articles, etc. For games, you expect a clean, understandable rule book, all the pieces to fit and be there. For food, you expect it to taste right and not kill you. For MMOs, we seem to have... no real expectations except a "smooth launch," which really just means not too crappy of a launch. Games that have smooth launches tend to be smaller, niche games, basically because they are not stressed as heavily during the initial week.

Friday, July 6, 2012

A Few Random Updates

Not much to post today before I go to be responsible. If you play the Secret World, my character there is Escutcheon. Send me a tell in game if you want to play. If you want a role play Illuminati guild, I humbly suggest these guys. I should be on this weekend and potentially this evening. Have fun. Shoot zombies.

Speaking of zombies, Telltale's The Walking Dead Episode 2 released recently-ish. I totally missed the email or whatever update thingie would have let me know that. Here's a review. I may set aside some time this weekend to play it myself. I probably will not. They promise another episode in August. But, it is Telltale, so, don't expect it.

Oh, and an article from Politico for the zombie tag. I honestly never thought I'd see a headline like that ever written just because, you know, mythical cannibals tend to steal the headline. Maybe next week, we'll have manticores making headlines.


Thursday, July 5, 2012

Making Content Last

Some games have lots and lots of content. Some games… don’t. MMOs, for the most part, need to have not just loads of content, but they need more content that their players can readily access. Let’s take SW:TOR, Guild Wars 1 and The Secret World as our samples.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

July 4, 2012

My Independence Day thought: During the power outage, some guy commented -- sarcastically -- "Oh, the power is still out. What a great country we live in."

I wanted to say: "Uh... yeah. 99+% of the year, you are capable of literally using satellites to look down on other countries and Skype ACROSS THE GLOBE. Some people can SKYPE INTO SPACE. In almost place at almost any time, I can get food, lemonade and cookies. We're a freaking great country."

Also, we celebrate by blowing things up.

Edit: I got to see the fireworks and hear the show. So, all's good. Let us label today: Productive.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Mid-Week Linkery

This Friday is going to not have a Weekly things post either, since that's taken up today. The reason we're all out of sorts? See the amazingly low-quality video. Now, for your links!