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It’s a oft repeated mantra that the days are gone when single-person development teams could succeed in the game development market. These days you’re not going to get anywhere unless you have a budget that numbers in the millions, and enough manpower to build a life-sized replica of the Great Pyramid of Giza, with some additional manpower to manage your workforce and prioritize which stones should be put where in the pyramid, and in which order they should be put in (and which stones should be cut altogether, for budget reasons). That is not always the case, though.

Markus Persson has since May 2009 worked on Minecraft all by himself, and the game has almost half a million registered users, with nearly 30 000 players playing at any given time. What is more impressive though, is that the game – which is still an Alpha-version  – has actually sold almost a hundred thousand copies (99147 as I type this). Let me repeat that: The Alpha-version of his game has sold almost 100 000 copies.

I can understand why, since I’ve been playing it almost non-stop since I purchased a copy a couple of days ago. It’s dangerously addictive, there’s always another block of stone to mine (the game-world is basically of infinite size, since it generates more world-data on the fly as you move towards the edges of the map), always another tree to chop, always another fantastic structure to build, always another mine-shaft to light up with torches. Maybe there’s a rich vein of iron ore just behind the next block of stone. Must. Keep. Mining…

(Check out my Minecraft-progress in the screenshots below)

The game’s success even while still in early development goes to show that if you have a good idea for a game and possess the necessary skill-sets to implement said idea, only the sky is the limit.

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Cthulhu Calls!

I’ve been playing role-playing games on computers all my life, but I have never before played an actual tabletop role-playing game – aka pen-and-paper. That is, I did make a feeble attempt some 10+ years ago to form a small group to play either Ars Magica or Warhammer Fantasy (both of which I had actually bought rulebooks for), but that plan went nowhere fast and ever since I’ve kept a careful distance to the entire concept for reasons unbeknownst to me .

Yesterday however, I finally bit the bullet and joined a Call of Cthulhu-campaign consisting of three complete and utter newbies (myself included) and two veterans – all of us Funcommies. Our first session naturally consisted of having the basic system and rules explained to us newbies by the veterans, while we methodically hand-crafted a group of characters that roughly seemed to fit the time-period and setting we decided on (London sometime in the 1920s).

Our characters were, for what I presume were background/plot reasons, supposed to be connected to each other, whether by blood or through professional relations. In the end we wound up with a group consisting of a huge, old lady running an antique shop, her nephew the dashing lawyer/accountant (my character!), a brute of a dockworker/mechanic who sometimes does the odd job for the old lady, and finally a collector of ancient coins/expert of ancient languages who incidentally was also the friend of the old lady’s husband (missing, presumably dead) and the client of my character the lawyer.

Call of Cthulu dice

Call of Cthulu-specific dice from q-workshop.com

While we didn’t get any further than creating our characters (and thus our group) during that first session, I think we’re all (including the GM) exited about the possibilities that our seemingly unconventional group of characters present us with for our next session(s), where we’ll hopefully get the chance to put our newborn characters in harms way.

Now, to find out where in Montreal I can buy a decent set of dice… and a rubber sword-in-a-cane! And a white wig!

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Canadian Summer

A couple of months ago – back in early June – I was offered a position at Funcom Montreal, in Canada. The position is the exact same as the one I had in the Oslo-office, and the salary is pretty much the same, but with the added benefit of having a lower cost of living in Montreal compared to Oslo.

It took some deliberation and much chin-scratching to decide what to do next; it’s never easy to uproot and move, especially not to a completely different continent, but in the end I concluded that the pros of moving outweighed the cons and accepted the offer. That was two months ago.

Right now I find myself situated in a temporary apartment in Montreal, and my two first weeks on BritishCanadian soil have just passed. Despite all the fake Frenchmen running around, it seems like a decent enough place. At first glance it seems pretty similar to Oslo and Norway. At second glance, though, you start noticing some differences. The metro on bouncy rubber wheels, and the lack of any air-condition in the metro-stations. The hilarious policies that cellphone service providers operate under (I have to pay both when sending and when receiving SMSs/phone calls? wtf). Monthly bandwith limits on Internet. The fact that drugstores seem to outnumber grocery-stores. The absurd amount of water in the toilet-bowls. The lack of Norwegian brown cheese. THE LACK OF NORWEGIAN BROWN CHEESE!

I did find a Norwegian website that can ship me some of this precious cheese (and other Norwegian food-products), though unfortunately the shipping-price for half a kilo of brown cheese from Norway to Canada seems pretty expensive. No luck as of yet finding anyone/anywhere actually selling it in Canada – though there must be some “Norwegian-Canadians” around (432,515 according to Wikipedia) who should have created a market for it. Hm. Unless they’ve abandoned their cultural heritage completely and forgotten all about the brown cheese! Traitors, all of them.

(Edit: Since this blog-post was originally published I have actually found Norwegian brown cheese in Montreal. Currently I know of two places where it can be bought – though I’ve only ever been to one of them. The first (which I’ve been to) is in a cheese-store inside Atwater Market (2nd floor) called La fromagerie Hamel, and the second is a place recommended to me by a random stranger who read my post and sent me an e-mail telling me about La Vieille Europe, which apparently has quite a lot of special/exclusive cheeses (which the Norwegian brown quite clearly is), though I have not yet been there.)

Brown cheese or not, it does seem like I’m going to be staying in Montreal and Canada for a while, and as my current abode is just a temporary thing that I’ll only have access to for another two weeks, I had better get back to my apartment hunting.

Au plaisir de vous revoir!

I haven’t blabbedblogged about anything on this blog for quite some time now. I have, amongst other things, been pre-occupied with working on the Rise of the Godslayer-expansion for Age of Conan, the release-date for which has finally been made public :)

What brings me out of hybernation, though, is the Offline Character Progression-system introduced in Age of Conan with patch 1.07.2 earlier this week. It has spurred some debate in the MMORPG blogging community (communities? do they all belong to one communtiy, or are there several ones?) about whether this is really a good thing or not, with concerns that this is just the first step towards a bleak future for MMORPGs where players play by not playing at all.

Basically the system works like this: Every four days that pass, another “free level” gets added to a pool from which you can hand them out to any of your characters as long as said characters are above level 30 and under level 80 (the level cap).

Offline Character Progression in AoC

Offline Character Progression in AoC

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Computer troubles

So, yeah – I spent maybe 7 hours yesterday trying to install Windows 7 Ultimate (retail version). This, after spending the last two days before that trying to debug and hopefully fix my previous installation of Windows 7 (trial version of release candidate), to no avail.

It happened late on Sunday just as I was about to go to bed; suddenly, completely out of the blue, I was hit with a blue-screen which then started dumping physical memory to disk, before it promptly restarted my computer. During the reboot, and during all subsequent reboots, the computer would reach a certain point in the startup of Windows where it would simply throw its bits and bytes in the air, give up, and reboot. In other words, a never-ending cycle of reboots.

Disconnected everything, reconnected only the essentials. Still rebooted. Tried various repair-tools, both rescue discs from Microsoft and third-party ones. Still rebooted. Tried with selective RAM-chips. Still rebooted. Eventually I started up the computer again using an older hard-drive with Vista installed, and ran every disk-checking and anti-virus/malware tool known to mankind on the crashed drive (an Intel X-25M SSD), every test confirming that the disk was in tip-top shape and clean of any infections. In short, I couldn’t find any faults with the drive itself, nor with the windows installation.

So I backed up whatever files I needed without any trouble, then bought a full-version of Windows 7 Ultimate (no point in re-installing trial which runs out in… March?), downloaded it and started re-installing the OS from scratch. At which point I ran into yet another issue…

Just as the installation-process reached the “Completing installation”-part, it would freeze and never move on to finalizing the setup. Tried numerous tricks and tweaks and changes and prayers that random people on the Net swore had fixed the issue for them, but without luck – until I switched the monitor from my 24″ wide-screen display to an older 19″ screen, connected using a VGA-adapter (GFX card only has DVI-support), as well as switched out the old wireless keyboard I’d had for years with a wired one. – at which point the OS finally installed without giving me any more trouble.

Today will be a “re-install everything” day for me, and I guess I’ll also take this opportunity to thoroughly clean out the computer for dust and enforce some order to the internal cable-mess. Then I’ll tweak this Windows-installation to new heights and widths and breadths performance-wise using Age of Conan as a benchmarking tool!

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Woho, I be unhacketh

It’s now been a week and a day since I logged in to find my World of Warcraft account hacked, with the gear of my characters sold off to vendors and the gold sent off to some unknown third-party.

Today I logged back in to see if I’d gotten any new responses from Blizzard (last one was basically “We’re investigating; don’t call us, we’ll call you.”, and I can now verify that Blizzard have restored all of my World of Warcraft-characters to their former glory, returning all the gold and gear that was lost in the incident, including stuff that had been taken from the guild bank, and some stuff I hadn’t even realized I was missing.

Thanks, Blizzard – and well done!

In other news, I went haywire on Steam over the Holidays and bought 14 games in total – only being slightly disgruntled at having to paying more for those games than friends in the US, since I have to pay in Euro instead of Dollar (due to Valve deciding Norway should belong to the “Eurozone“.)

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Well, it has finally happened to me too; My World of Warcraft-account has been compromised!

Woke up this morning to several messages on my cellphone from friends asking if I was currently playing on my WoW-account. Seems I had been seen botting in Storm Peaks for several hours without responding – not only weird because of the botting-part (which I would never had done), but also because the most I have played in the last month is to log in once or twice just to check up on some people.

I immediately went to eu.battle.net and changed my password, then started the usual process of scanning for viruses and/or malicious programs lurking in my process list – with no results – system appears to be clean as a whistle. I never share my account-details with anyone, haven’t logged in at anyone else’s computer, found no virus and/or trojans – so I’m pretty much clueless to how my account got hacked.

Anyway, I eventually logged in to my account, and found that my higher-level alts had been cleared out of all sell-able gear and items, both on character and in bank. My main character – a druid – retained most of the feral gear (to be used for botting, apparently!), while all the sell-able parts of the resto gear were gone with the wind, along with my cash. They’d also cleared out the gold from my alts as well as the gold from the guild-bank (a defunct guild with very little cash in the bank, but still – principle of the thing).

I’ve opened a GM ticket, and I’m now waiting (“Wait time currently unavailable”) to see how the rest of this story will unfold.

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Instant matter-disintegration-and-reintegration

Teleportation: The ability to instantly transfer matter from one location to another without actually ever moving in the space between those two locations. Scientists have been chasing this dream for decades, and Science-Fiction writers and/or movie directors have been using it as a plot-device and/or a generic method of transportation for even longer.

In the context of MMORPGs, it is more and more often used as a way of letting players quickly “return to base” after having done some random quest in a far-off area of the game, instead of forcing them to spend what is seen as unnecessary time and effort fighting their way back the way they came. Usually it comes disguised as some sort of “fast-travel ability”, but whether it’s described as a map you use to find your way quickly (LotRO), as a special traveling ability using your knowledge of the “hidden paths between here and there” (AoC) or as magical spell that instantly transports you (World of Warcraft), the effect is exactly the same – you instantly teleport from one location in the game-world to another.

Another common feature comes in the form of fast-travel to specific parts of the game-world by the use of “space shuttles” (SWG), “wagoneers” (AoC) or just plain ol’ magic portals (UO, WoW).

In some games, you can also summon teammates to your location by magical spells, or to the entrance of a dungeon by the use of magical “meeting stones”, or open magical portals of your own which other players can step through to travel half way across the world. And as added in the most recent World of Warcraft-patch, the ability for members in a group to instantly teleport to the entrance of any specific dungeon, and when leaving said dungeon later on, being teleported directly back to one’s original location.

All of this is very handy, of course; it makes content instantly accessible to the players, makes it less of a hassle to team up with random players for a dungeon-rump, and ensures that you can meet up with your friends and guild-mates at short notice.

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Age of Conan Unlimited TrialOut of pure self-interest, I’m going to blatantly promote Age of Conan by mentioning the press release just released (duh, obviously) that announces the offer of a free, everlasting Age of Conan trial (aka “Unlimited Free Trial”).

Basically, if you sign up for a trial account, download and install the game and then log in at least once before January 1st 2010, the trial account will never end and you can keep on hanging around in Tortage (level 1-20 area) for as long as you want.

Some limitations apply to the trial accounts (out of necessity due to the potential abuse by spammers/gold sellers), though;  no trade with other players, no use of in-game mail, no public chat channels, no forum-posting access.

Anyway, that’s this year’s Age of Conan (Available in a retail store/webshop/Steam near you!) promotion (Buy now! Don’t hesitate!) from me (Buy your friends a copy too! And your mom!). Now going back to my regular schedule of updating this blog at random intervals.

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Note #0: It’s been a while since I posted anything at all on this blog. Just to let you know, I haven’t completely given up on it just yet, I have just been busy(TM) with other stuff.

In April 2000 a revolutionary methodology for reviewing video-games saw the light of day at the Old Man Murray-website; the Crate Review System. The basis for this new reviewing-system was very simple; since virtually all games contain crates, all games could be judged empirically on those crates. The longer you could play a game without seeing any crates (wooden or otherwise), the better the game. Or to put it in completely different terms: The shorter the time (in seconds) from the start of the game until the first crate is found, the worse the game. This unit of measurement was dubbed “Start to Crate” (StC for short).

I had forgotten about the above until recently, when I came across (through another blog, but unfortunately I can’t remember which!) an old Gamasutra-article by Ernest W. Adams (also listed on his “No Twinkie Database“-page). The article was not only an interesting read (along with everything else in the No Twinkie Database), it also contained a link to the Crate Review System at Old Man Murray.

While I was reading the old crate reviews there, I started thinking about how well this system of reviewing games would apply to MMORPGs, which are a very special breed of games indeed. With only one way to find out, I put on my research hat and started downloading numerous free trials, as well as re-activating some of my old MMORPG-subscriptions, determined to check the StC-times in an ungodly amount (Thirty-one in total) of MMORPGs.

Note #1: The original system didn’t differentiate between crates and their cousins, the circular crates also known as “barrels”. I check for both separately, and thus ended up with StC and StB values for each game.

Note #2: Some of the games I tried had multiple starting locations. In those cases I visited all the available starting locations and timed the StCs and StBs for those one by one. Unless I didn’t like the game, or I was distracted by food/TV/all the walls that keep staring at me. In those cases I only did one starting location.

Read on for the results of my research.

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