Well, the holidays are officially over and I have no excuse to avoid writing here. This term I’m taking three courses at the University of Waterloo, two of them being distance education and one of them requiring me to make the trip to campus. The three courses that I’ve enrolled in this term are:
- ENGL 109: Introduction to Academic Writing (Online)
- PHIL 215: Professional and Business Ethics (Online)
- CS 447: Software Testing, Quality Assurance and Maintenance
It may seem like an odd course selection for a 4B Computer Science student, but I haven’t taken an English course in a long time and it’s never a bad time to improve one’s communication skills. I’m really hoping that the philosophy course will tie in nicely with the software engineering content that I’ve been learning over the past few terms. From what I understand, the typical software engineer is responsible for not only designing software, but designing good software (as in, software that makes sense from a design and usability perspective). PHIL 215 is also one of the courses recommended by the degree requirements checklist for my year.
CS447 is the final course in a series of three software engineering-related courses (the first two being CS445: Software Requirements and CS446: Software Architecture). I’ve found myself being extremely interested in the design philosophies of software from the software engineering perspective. This is kind of surprising, given the attitudes of many of my classmates towards these three courses (generally not positive). The courses have also been some of the highest marks I’ve received at the University of Waterloo, and their content has been extremely useful in some of the side projects that I’ve been working on lately (more on this later).
On the lighter side of life, I have been playing BioWare’s new Star Wars game with a few of my friends and have been thoroughly enjoying it. As a former World of Warcraft player (clean and sober for 2 years now, thankfully) it’s fairly easy for me to nitpick the small flaws with SW:TOR, but I have to admit that the holiday launch was one of the smoothest I have seen from the MMO genre. One of the major ideas that the player community is missing is that many of the features that they take for granted in mature games like World of Warcraft were not present at launch, and time will only improve the technical quality of the game.
I also recently upgraded my computer’s graphics hardware by installing two XFX HD6950 cards in a CrossFireX configuration. This is my first multi-card installation and from what I have seen so far, it works pretty well. I did have some minor issues with screen tearing (even after enabling vertical sync) which I will attribute to the 3D engine not working well with multiple graphics cards, but installing Catalyst Application Profiles seems to have fixed the problem. Additionally, I did have to install an additional 120mm fan on the side of my case (which is obnoxiously loud) in order to regulate the temperature of the cards under load. Because of the layout of my motherboard, the video cards sit right next to each other, causing the top one to suck in hot air from the bottom one. Before the fan was added, the temperatures of the top and bottom cards were 95C and 80C, respectively (a little too hot for me). Adding the fan reduced the temperatures to 75C and 65C; these are well within acceptable bounds given that they’re powering a 1440p display.
That about wraps it up for my life right now. I’m still planning on writing about (potentially) interesting facts on a daily to weekly basis. Once I determine the load that classes and work are placing on me this term, I will decide how much time I can devote to this blog. Until then, I’ll be posting here whenever I have something to say.
It’s Friday morning and I took a break from my computer science homework only to stumble across the fact that some new pets have been added to the game that everybody seems to be playing (apart from me and anybody in my immediate circle of friends): World of Warcraft. Now, don’t get me wrong, there are tons of people who enjoy hunting down and collecting every single aesthetic bonus in the game, which is fine, I’m a bit of a perfectionist/completionist myself. There are even sites devoted exclusively to collecting pets in World of Warcraft.
The one problem I do have with these new pets, as you’ve probably already guessed from the title of this article, is that they are a shameless attempt at a cash grab by Blizzard. Oh, what’s that? I didn’t mention that you have to buy these pets? For real money? In fact, each one of these pets will set you back TEN DOLLARS. Ten dollars. For a small, insignificant, purely cosmetic upgrade for your World of Warcraft account…. Now, the rumor is that for each Pandaren sold, Blizzard will donate $5 to the Make-a-Wish foundation (until the end of 2009), which is good. However, why don’t they just price the pets at $5 and donate 100% of the profit to the foundation. Better yet, why not just announce a promotion and say that a donation to Make-a-Wish will net you a promo code?
Since there are no up-to-date statistics about the subscribers (some people say Blizzard lost a few million subscriptions for the screwup in China), I can’t say exactly how much Blizzard aims to make from this deal, but I think 10 million dollars is a bit much for shrinking down some pre-existing models and putting them on the store.
Here is a list of better uses for $20:
- $20 donation to the Make-a-Wish foundation
- Treat yourself and two friends to a fast-food meal of your choosing
- Buy materials for lunches for a week
- Go out for lunch twice next week
- Take a date to the movies
- Go to the movies yourself and buy popcorn….
- Buy a decent bottle of wine
- Help pay for the WoW addiction clinic
Found this article on Slashdot. As a fairly well seasoned WoW player (although I have since lost interest), this Dana Massey has hit the nail right on the head. The entire MMO genre is based around a singular idea. You log in, you kill stuff, you get more powerful. All games have basically the same UI elements, but fail to deviate from the norm.
Who said that MMOs require hot bars? Who proclaimed that it’s not a proper MMO unless you have quests? Blizzard took a formula that almost all MMOs had been using for years and distilled it down to addictive perfection. Love or hate WoW, it’s a polished, polished title. It’s no coincidence that on hardcore MMO sites, like this one, WoW is not the most hyped or trafficked game around. It’s not that it’s bad, but veteran MMO players don’t have the same love for it, simply because we’ve all seen some variation of it before. The WoW community has always been a bit apart from the larger MMO community. Based purely on the number of subscribers, WoW articles should statistically annihilate every other game on this site, but they don’t. A huge percentage of people who truly love WoW, I’ve always believed, do not know or particularly care about this whole world of MMOs out there. They’re WoW players and that’s it.
It’s true that this is a tried and tested formula, and there’s nothing inherently wrong with it. It’s attracted millions of people to a hobby that was once basically an underground. Blizzard’s commitment to quality is nothing less than astonishing and let’s face it: they’re in the business to make money. If your users are happy, that means more sales and subscriptions for you, and making players happy is something that Blizzard is very good at.
Part of the problem, as Dana states, is that re-visioning the genre is risky. Developers see a style that works and make their game conform to the standards. From a business perspective, it makes sense. The only problem is people who play MMOs aren’t going to leave their hard-earned characters and move over to a new title that has basically the same gameplay elements and only has slightly better visual elements. Because of the nature of MMO games, there’s no reason to transfer. It’s basically like playing any regular single player game 90% of the way through and then dropping it to pick up the next title, except in the case of MMOs, the game never ends.
For people who don’t mind doing the same thing over and over again, current MMOs are just fine. I’ve always been a person who enjoys not only variety, but a genuine challenge, and current generation MMO games don’t deliver that (I’m looking at you, Blizzard). If a game came out that even began to carve a new path into what massively multiplayer online games are, I would probably give it a fair chance. Until then, I’m going to enjoy the ever-changing Team Fortress 2.
Update: There’s a great GU Comics about the above article.
Reading through the news today revealed this gem: http://www.playonline.com/pcd/topics/ff11us/detail/3599/detail.html. This is a new system designed to help attract newer players to the world of FFXI. Basically,
The FFXI development team is proud to announce the “Level Sync” system, a revolutionary new feature in the upcoming version update that will allow all players—grizzled veterans and novices alike—to adventure and gain experience together regardless of level differences!
The development team has been listening intently to feedback from players, and working hard to address concerns such as the following:
“I can’t party effectively with my friends or linkshell members because our levels are too far apart!”
“I invited one of my friends to play FFXI with me, but we can’t party together because we don’t have any jobs at similar levels!”
“I can’t find anyone close enough to my level to party with!”
The new Level Sync system is the result of extensive discussions on how to resolve these concerns, while preserving game balance and avoiding abuse and power-leveling by RMT groups. It addresses the issues that have resulted from a steady stream of new, low-level players joining an existing game world populated by scores of high-level veterans, and is part of the ongoing effort to clean up the FFXI community and remove players in violation of the users’ agreement.
As an avid MMO gamer, I know that when it comes to helping people level as a higher up character, it’s just not fun, and I’m not really interested in starting a new character. Being able to temporarily level down to match a friends level is a fantastic idea, and I’m surprised that nobody has looked into it before.
Reading gaming industry news actually brings up something interesting from time to time, and being a big fan of the MMO genre, I decided that this would be noteworthy. Today’s MMO is Atlantica Online, and it’s unique in the fact that it claims to be a turn-based MMO. For those of you unfamiliar with this particular type of game, turn based generally means… well… your characters and the enemies they are fighting take turns during combat, a la Final Fantasy X, or any of the Final Fantasy Tactics games. Most MMOs of today are real-time, in the sense that you walk up to something and can just start beating on it without fear of how many turns each attack will cost you.
Either way, the game is being produced by Ndoors Interactive and takes the form of your standard Korean MMO (expect some hardcore grinding). In my policy of initially judging a game by how much work they put into their website (yes, it actually helps to filter out some of the horrible games), this game actually impressed me with the design and layout, and thus qualifies for further inspection (plus beta testing is free!).
Check out Atlantica Online to register yourself for the beta.