Hello blog – been a while

Hello blog, old friend. It has been a while; fourteen months, to be exact. I planned to write – no really, I did! I even almost finished writing the drafts for several interesting and exciting posts I was going to send your way, only to scrap them when I realized they weren’t really all that interesting and exciting. You didn’t miss much.

Hm. I guess I should give you a status update, since it’s been so long since I last communicated with you. Let’s see; I just returned to Canada yesterday after having spent two and a half weeks celebrating Xmas and New Year with friends and family back in Norway. Saw a movie about Sherlock Holmes. Good times.

I still work for FC, and I am now in fact just three months shy of having spent four years working for these guys, during which I have no doubt become more experienced as a data-entry monkey, exporter of GFX-assets, amateur 3D animator and/or fixer of minor skinning/3D modeling issues, particle-effects designer and jack-of-a-thousand-more-trades. In fact, when people ask me what my job is, I just shrug and try to change the topic, because it is not easily explained in less than four paragraphs worth of words. Oh well, at least it will fill out my otherwise meager CV until I can land a proper game design gig. I never wanted to be an animation/particle-effects guru. I always wanted… to be a lumberjackgame designer! *fingers crossed*

Other than that, I guess I’ve been playing the same games everyone else have been playing recently. Skyrim, SWTOR, Jungle Hunt on C64, etc. I’m sure you’ve been flooded with enough thoughts and opinions about these games to last you a lifetime, so I won’t say more than this: I’m enjoying Skyrim immensely for its immersion, open-world and non-linear gameplay. I’m enjoying SWTOR despite the whole “single-player in a multi-player environment”-thing it’s going for. Dialogue system, companions and group-conversations rock, other parts not so much. Jungle Hunt I think speaks for itself.

Well, I guess that’s it for now, I’ll let you get back to fending off spam-bots. I noticed they had clogged up the tubes to the comment-section since I last visited (thankfully your filter seems to be still intact), so I cleared them out for you. Don’t mention it. Anyway, I’m off. See you around, blog!

Do Android-phones dream of electric (angry) birds?

After much wailing and gnashing of teeth over the fact that mobile frequency bands in Montreal are not compatible with the old, trusty workhorse of a cellphone (HTC Diamond) I brought along from Norway and would only allow me to use it in 2G mode, I finally bit the proverbial bullet and shelled out for a new cellphone (in fact, I ended up shelling out for two, since the service provider refused to sell me a SIM-card and subscription without also selling me a phone, and the phone I wanted wasn’t in stock, and they would not let me order one…*shakes head in a mixture of wonder and disgust at the way business is being done in Montreal, and at stupidity of self*)

Google Nexus One
Google Nexus One

Anyway, the phone I was after eventually came back into stock, and the Google Nexus One (N1, for short), is a pretty darn decent smart-phone. Large, nice touchscreen (mine has the SLCD one), excellent camera with LED flash, extra mic for noise-cancellation, fancy Android operating system, access to more than 160 000 downloadable applications from the Android Market, etc and so forth. All that jazz. It’s even possible to call people with it, and send messages and stuff. Pretty cool.

One of the main reasons why I bought this particular phone – even though it’s not the newest of the new, not the fastest of the fast,  not the slickest of the sli…actually it is pretty slick – is because this phone (and its kin) is amongst the first phones to receive updates and fixes to the Android operating system directly from Google whenever those updates become available.

Imagine my frustration, then, at discovering that my cellphone provider actually blocks the official Android updates from being pushed (fancy buzzword, wooh!)  to N1 phones bought through them and operated on their mobile network. Apparently they want to make sure that the updates don’t “break” anything for their customers or their network before making the updates available. I guess that might be seen as admirable by some, but it also makes one of the reasons for why I bought the phone redundant. Android updates are in general being pushed out by the phone producers only after extensive testing, in many cases causing the customers to be stuck with old versions of the operation system (1.6) and potentially not receiving updates at all when the phones go “out of date”, as the producers want to focus on newer, flashier phones. I had hopes to avoid those situations by buying a Nexus One, but apparently my hopes were naive and unrealistic.

So far I’ve only missed two Android updates – one (3 1/2 weeks ago) which fixes a WiFi-connection issue that affects me both at home and at work, and another (yesterday) with updates to various system applications. A larger Android update – version 2.3 aka “Gingerbread” – is also on its way, and will probably be here before Christmas. Normally, as a Nexus One user, I should expect to have access to this Android-update shortly after it’s been officially released – but at the rate of updates I’m receiving through my service provider it does not bode well.

However! All is not yet lost. The phone comes unlocked, root access is available by the snap of a couple of fingers, ROMs and kernels can be flashed, and I can basically circumvent my service-provider and install the Android updates myself. Additionally I can install user-developed mods, hacks and feature-additions (hidden hardware features such as FM radio, 720p video recording, even CPU overclocking).

Still, it is a pain in the ass to be forced to jump through such hoops to get hold of updates that many other Nexus One owners have already gotten with no hassles, when all that is stopping me from getting them sent to my phone and installed automagically is the “helpful” attitude of my Canadian mobile service provider.

Oh, and I also gave in and added an authenticator to my WoW account. A version of it that runs on my Android-phone, of course!

My new addiction – Minecraft

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.

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!

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!

Offline Character Progression

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

Continue reading “Offline Character Progression”

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!

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“.)

Woe is me, for I have been hacketh

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.

Teleportation in MMORPGs – or – How Instant Gratification Killed the Dream of Virtual Worlds

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.

Continue reading “Teleportation in MMORPGs – or – How Instant Gratification Killed the Dream of Virtual Worlds”