Wednesday, January 30, 2008

The Color of My Eyes

I learned my colors when I was young;
the skies are blue and grass is green.
Though they have different names in every tongue,
everyone seems to agree on what colors they've seen.
But could it be that the red you see,
looks quite different to me?

Now we'd agree that the color of the school bus
is quite obviously a yellow hue.
But if you could see through my eyes without a fuss,
you might find that same vehicle to be a rather brilliant shade of blue!
Are skies of yellow and grass of red
things you see daily in your head?

Although we might see different colors with our eyes,
we've been brought up calling each by a certain name.
And thus we wouldn't ever realize
that our views are not the same.
For if you call it blue,
I will too.

Sadly we may never know
if color is really a matter of perception,
for there is no way to show
the brain's interpretation of the eye's reception.
But it's fun to think that you might see a purple orange.

Set Phasers to Fail!

Recently at work I've been getting the short end of the stick. Or at least it sure seems that way. Things have been spiraling out of control on one of our projects. We had been working on it for quite a while with no known deadline. Eventually we set a deadline which I believed to be internal only and also contingent on getting a merchant account set up. But through some miscommunication and forces outside my knowledge (let alone control), said deadline got a lot more emphasis on the dead part.

I know that there is more I can do to let people know when a project is not going to make it on time. I can do more to be involved. But even when I am letting them know, it seems like I get no slack. There is no one supporting me. It's always, "Well we promised the client, so you'd just better do it because we aren't gonna cover for you at all."

Sometimes I feel like the boy who cried wolf... except that every time I cry, "Wolf!" there actually is a wolf there, its wild fangs sinking into my flesh.

In any case, last week was a crunch week. We worked and worked but with no end in sight. What needed 2 or 3 weeks to do correctly had to be done in a couple of days. It all culminated with my project manager, the owner of the company, and the client all standing around my desk. Luckily they decided on a way to save face for themselves while giving me a little more time.

I just don't understand how things tend to get so out of control all the time. And it's not like this project has been some special exception. I'm just glad that these issues aren't a regular occurrence. It just seems to me that if you are going to launch a software product, you should at least try it out yourself first! There needs to be testing time! And it should just be expected that software development will have delays.

Oh well, I guess I'm just ranting now. I know that many other companies have similar software woes. It's just hard to play Scotty on every single episode.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

All the Live Long Day

I had to work today. Working on a Saturday is no fun. But when I chose to become a computer programmer, I knew there would be times when I'd have to work more than 40 hours in a week. I'm just glad that it hasn't become a regular occurance. Maybe one day I'll be lucky enough to avoid it altogether.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

It's a Long Way to the Top

I love to play Rock Band. It has everything that was great about Guitar Hero and then some. The only thing that it needs now is more songs. And apparently Harmonix is more than happy to provide.

There are quite a few songs that I would love to see in Rock Band. But if I could choose only one song, I think it would have to be Follow You Down by the Gin Blossoms. That song would be so much fun.

Anything by They Might Be Giants would be much appreciated. A lot (okay, well almost all) of their songs wouldn't translate directly, but I think they could be converted pretty nicely. I'd love to be able to play Snail Shell.

There are a bunch of songs from the first two Guitar Hero games which I'd like to see come to Rock Band too:
  • Stellar, Incubus
  • More Than a Feeling, Boston
  • Ziggy Stardust, David Bowie
  • Surrender, Cheap Trick
  • Carry On Wayward Son, Kansas
  • Strutter, Kiss
  • Free Bird, Lynyrd Skynyrd
  • Girlfriend, Matthew Sweet
  • Killer Queen, Queen
  • I Wanna Be Sedated, The Ramones
  • You Really Got Me, Van Halen
  • All Of This, Shaimus
  • Even Rats, The Slip

    Anything by AC/DC would be great too. It would be fun to have Highway to Hell, Back In Black, or It's a Long Way to the Top.

    Some other songs I'd like to see:
  • Breakfast at Tiffany's, Deep Blue Something
  • Roll to Me, Del Amitri
  • The Impression That I Get, The Mighty Mighty Bosstones
  • Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic, The Police
  • Beautiful Day, U2
  • Vertigo, U2
  • The Middle, Jimmy Eat World
  • Breathless, The Corrs
  • Eye of the Tiger, Survivor

    There is a ton of game music that would be fun too. I mean, the Black Mages are enough proof, aren't they? But sadly game music typically doesn't have a vocal track.

    There are some anime songs which would rule too... if only I could sing the lyrics correctly.

    So there you go. I'm sure that there are others, but these are the ones I could think of right now.
  • Saturday, January 12, 2008


    Last night I proposed to my sweetheart, and she said yes! So now we are engaged to be married! We are planning to get married sometime mid-June.

    Thursday night I told her that I wanted to go out to dinner on Friday. Then on Friday I didn't call as I usually do when leaving work because I didn't want her to come over to my place. Instead I picked up some roses and showed up unexpectedly (well, not completely) at her door. I took her to her favorite restaurant for dinner.

    Then after dinner I took her up the canyon to the place we went for our very first date. We've also had some other great times up the canyon, so it was a special place. I told her it could be the site of one more important event as I turned on our song on the CD player, then I got out of the car and went around to her side.

    I knelt down there and proposed. With tears in her eyes she said "yes".

    Thursday, January 10, 2008

    This Was a Triumph

    I finally got to play Portal this week. It is one of the best games... ever. There's really not much I can say that hasn't already been said in other reviews, so I'm just jumping on the bandwagon here.

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    Wednesday, January 9, 2008

    Building a Better World... of WarCraft

    In my previous post, I mentioned some ideas that I have some ideas to improve World of WarCraft. Well, improve it in my eyes at least.

    Improved Itemization

    My biggest problem with the itemization in WoW is that it is so linear. Especially in armor and weapons. Everything you get tends to be better or worse than what you already have. Occasionally you'll stumble across an item where you aren't sure which is better. But that doesn't happen nearly enough. And once you hit the level cap it seems like everyone is using the same items. Everyone is trying to get the same items, basically.

    There are a few things I'd like to see changed. The first is equivalent items. There need to be more items which are basically equivalent, but look different and have different stats, or better still, abilities. (Oh, and in sets too... it would be nice if it were easier to run around without looking like you got all the family hand-me-downs.) For example, perhaps there is a quest reward where you can choose between a fire and ice sword. Both do the same amount of damage, they proc the same, identical DPS. But one does fire damage while the other does ice. Now you suddenly have an interesting choice. Players wouldn't just choose the one they want based on which does more damage. Now they are wondering which element type they want. Or with armor, which resistance do you want?

    The second thing I'd like to see is different damage types. Basically the same idea as in WarCraft III or the upcoming StarCraft II. Currently, every weapon type is basically the same. Sure they look different, but other than stats and possibly a talent, they are the same. An axe is just a slow sword. A dagger is a fast sword. A staff is a two-handed sword is a two-handed axe. But if there were different damage types then staves could be blunt weapons. Swords could be slashing. Daggers could be piercing. And then your armors could have different resistance types! Cloth, leather, mail, and plate would suddenly be different than just the amount of damage mitigation they provide.

    Another thing that needs to be changed is that resistance types need to be used more. They already have them in the game, but usually you only build up resistance gear if you are raiding, or maybe for arena PvP.

    Finally, one change that I think could work pretty well is if each item had a slight range of randomness to its stats. So for example, one Spinal Reaper might have a slightly higher DPS than another. These stats would be finalized for the specific instance of the weapon upon creation (i.e. when it drops or is made). If the stats for items overlapped a little then sometimes people would be using weapons which are typically worse because they got lucky and it's better than usual.

    More Classes (Or Maybe None?!)

    Adding more classes is pretty obvious and has been called for across the board. There are still a lot of good ideas out there. I can understand that it's hard to flesh out a full class, especially for level 70 or 80 characters. But when you're Blizzard raking in tons of money and have a history of incredible creativity, it seems like you could figure something out.

    But perhaps a more interesting idea would be to get rid of classes altogether... or at least how they are currently implemented. I think it would be awesome if you could mix and match class abilities. So you could be a warrior with healing abilities. Or a warlock who can wield a two-handed axe. Or a healer who can polymorph! There would have to be some rules of course; some limitations. Maybe each level you choose what class you want to level in (similar to D&D). Or perhaps you can train the various abilities, but you can't be good in all of them. Maybe the more you train in warlock-type abilities limits how much you can train in priest or rogue abilities. I won't go into detail about how I'd implement it, but it would be awesome!

    Under that system, there wouldn't be whining about "my class has worthless abilities," or "class X is overpowered, class Y needs buffs." You could choose how you want your character to turn out! And you'd still need different types. Guilds would need some specialists (like tanks and healers and DPSers) and they'd need some hybrids. Ideally there would be a way to change your abilities over time. Not just a quick stop-at-the-trainer-and-respec, but something where you can change it over time. Maybe based on what types you use.

    Meaningful Professions

    First off, there need to be more professions in the game. Secondly, they need to matter a lot more. It would be great if you needed crafters to create the weapons you get in dungeons. The drops would be components (many of them quite simple) and you'd need to take them to a crafter to get forged or otherwise assembled. There has been some of this in WoW, but there needs to be much more.

    Also, crafters should be able to create better, more useful stuff. I played for 70 levels as a blacksmith, and for most of the time the stuff I could create only was useful in order to skill up. Going questing was how I got gear, because it was almost always easier to get and better in stats.

    One of my favorite ideas for crafting is for these professions to be able to improve existing weapons. And I'm not just talking about adding an enchant, or a gem, or weapon chain. I'm talking about re-forging the item. For example, let's say you got a sword from a quest. You could take it to a smith and have them improve it. It would take mats of course, and to make it interesting there would be a chance the item could break permanently in the reforging. At first the risk would be low, but it would get higher each time you reforge the weapon until a max of 99% or so. So after a few times reforging, you'd be questioning if you want to risk improving its stats again.

    Another interesting component could be a time based risk element. For example, alchemists could create potions and then put them in storage. Over time the potion could improve. The longer you wait the more potent it could get -- but there would be risk here too. If you wait too long it would go bad. And you could check on it from time to time.

    My final idea about professions is to have stores built into the game. There are many ways it could be done, but the basic idea is that players would have a way to show what goods they have to offer. They could list what items they can craft, and how much it would cost. Maybe they could put up items for sale. Buyers would also have a way to go to a store and put an item up for improvements. Leave an item to get enchanted. Leave some mats to be turned into an item. This way players could come and go from the store as they want and don't have to search so hard for people to do stuff for them. Also it would be safer, because the system wouldn't let you steal items. This would also be a cool way for players with high skill or rare patterns to gain notoriety.


    One thing that would be nice if Blizzard made it so players of various levels could quest together more easily. There were many many times when I couldn't really group with my friends because I didn't play for a day or two and suddenly they were past me. Honestly I don't know how this would be accomplished though.

    Dynamic Factions

    It would be great if there were more player factions. Especially if your status could shift with them over time. First of all, I'd break Night Elves, Blood Elves, the Forsaken, and Dranei off into their own factions. Now the Forsaken might have a tendency (i.e. an easier time) joining up with the Horde. Same with Night Elves to the Alliance. But even within the Horde you might have a much greater attachment to Orc, Tauren, or Troll than the others.

    As you quest and make choices your faction statuses would change. As some go up, it causes others to fall. It would be great if there was a way where you could even cross faction! So you could roll a human warrior and eventually be a champion of the Horde! But it would be a hard struggle to get there. Before you could be befriended by the Orcs you'd have to be outcast from the Humans. There could be language learning and all sorts of fun stuff. Role players, eat your heart out.

    Battlegrounds and other faction-specific things would still be in the game. You'd just have to have a certain reputation level to access those things.

    Improved Story Elements

    To make the stories better in WoW is a difficult task. Each player still needs to have access to everything... it's not fair to miss out on killing Onyxia because some other guild did it first. With so many players, it's very hard to create compelling story that draws you in. I mean, not everyone can be the only person who can save the world.

    But there are two elements which could really help things out.

    First of all, decisions you make need to matter. There need to be consequences for your actions and choices. And for that to happen, there need to be choices to make! It would be great if quests gave you some choices. So when you find that gem the NPC asked you to recover, you'd have the choice of keeping it for yourself or giving it back.

    Secondly, your character needs to matter. When you talk to NPCs it shouldn't just be a form letter every time. If you've killed certain bosses, you should have more respect or infamy, especially when talking to quest givers. Say you're talking to an NPC general or warlord. If you've killed Nefarian or Kel'thalas he should respect you more (and maybe give you different quests) than if you haven't.

    One excellent idea that my roommate told me about could incorporate both of these elements. The idea comes from an article he read, and unfortunately I haven't seen it as he hasn't been able to find the link again. But basically the idea is to make quests lead into each other in webs.

    An example may be best to illustrate the idea. Blacksmith O'Malley wants you to recover a sword which was stolen from him. But when you find the thief, he tells you that O'Malley is secretly helping the Black Hand cult. The thief belongs to a group called the Silver Sword who have sworn to fight against the Black Hand. Then you'd be able to choose to help the thief or take the sword back to the smith. Based on which decision you make, you get different outcomes. If you help the thief you can get quests from Silver Sword members. Maybe even become a member yourself. If you help the blacksmith you can get in with the Black Hand. But by choosing one you are denied the quests and benefits from the other.

    These branching decisions would spread outward widely. Certain quests would be needed to get other quests, forming big web-like chains. Decisions you make early on could affect you for a long time thereafter. Now actually there is a little bit of this in WoW (like the centaur quests in Desolace), but it needs to be more important and affect you much more in the long run.

    Wrapping It Up

    So those are some of my ideas. Personally, I think they would make the game much more interesting -- much better. They would add a lot of customization, role-playing, and variety to the game. I've just outlined them here, but there is a lot of room to expand on these ideas.

    Sunday, January 6, 2008

    From WoW to Meh

    From time to time, I get in discussions with my friends about World of Warcraft. Most often, these discussions revolve around the things that we wish the game designers at Blizzard had done differently. So after a recent discussion about it with my roommate, I decided to commit some of my grievances and ideas to paper. Please note that if you've never played WoW, following discussion may be a bit hard to follow.

    To start off, I should note that I played WoW for quite a while. I first played it during the open beta, and then I played frequently for the next 2 years. I did take a few breaks though... school and WoW don't mix very well sometimes. I was in a guild with my friends where I raided in MC and BWL (pre-BC), and although we were never really pushing the new content, I do have a good grasp on the end-game. I also played for a few months after the BC expansion came out, so I feel I know the game pretty well.

    I should also say before I get started that I really enjoyed playing the game. It kept me hooked for a long time. I've yet to see another MMO as good. But still, there are things which bother me. Things which tarnish an otherwise great game.

    Putting Aside Our Differences

    I guess I'll start with what I consider to be the biggest mistake that Blizzard made: giving Shaman and Paladins to the opposing factions. It really, really bugs me. That change itself bugs me, but it also bugs me inasmuch as it is the poster-child for lazy game design. There are many reasons cited for why this change was made. But they are all pitiful excuses. What it comes down to is this: Blizzard catered to the complaining of thoughtless, asinine whiners instead of doing the hard thing of making the game better. The game needed more diversity, not less! There's no good reason, not one from a game design standpoint to make that change to the game. It's just a cop-out. It was just easier for Blizzard to make everything the same.

    In fact, I believe they should have done much more to make the races and factions different. The racial traits are a joke. Yes, some of them are pretty useful. But overall it makes little difference what race you choose. Everything revolves around what class you chose. They should have added more classes! There are a lot of good ideas out there for adding new classes! Instead of giving Shaman and Paladins to the opposing factions, they should have said, "We know there are some complaints about the differences between the Horde and Alliance. But it's the differences that really make the factions unique and fun to play, so in that spirit we are introducing two new faction specific classes for the Burning Crusade!"

    But instead Blizzard bent over like reed in the wind, kowtowing to the infantile demands of the player base. Now, I'm not saying they should ignore or try to irritate the player base. Rather they need to act like a wise parent and not give in to every little demand of children wailing in temper tantrums. Typically it's a very vocal minority which stirs up the forums asking for changes. And like children, these players only think of themselves and what would best suit them. They have no idea what makes a good game. They never seem to consider the game balance or direction as a whole.

    A perfect example is the differences between classes. Probably 50% of the forum is full of threads like this: "Class X is overpowered, class Y (my class) needs buffs!" In my opinion, each class should be fun to play and be well designed. But if one class has trouble beating another in 1-on-1 combat, so what?! Why should that matter so much? Instead of focusing on how we can make everyone equal, focus on the differences! If one class is scissors, just accept the fact that they will beat paper and rock will in turn beat them. Things would be much more interesting that way.

    I guess that's enough on this subject. The bloody mass on the ground which once was a dead horse has been utterly pulverized.

    Customization & Itemization

    On a related note though, one of my other grievances with WoW is the lack of customization. Sure they give you a choice of race and hair and what-not. Sure they give you a talent tree. Sure there are a bunch of different weapons/armors to get. But in practice, these make very little difference.

    First of all, there really aren't any big differences between race. It's just a shell. It's just how you look. And that's not much of a customization... especially when you cover up with your armor. As I mentioned before, the racial traits are very insignificant. What I'd like to see is some major differences! Here's an Orc, he's really strong! Here's a Dwarf, very sturdy (stamina)! Here's a Night Elf, very agile! But no, that's not how it works. It all depends on the class you chose. No one cares that you are a female Tauren or an Undead male. They care that you are a hunter or a rogue.

    So since class is the important thing that matters, how can you set yourself apart from others of your class? Talent trees. Except that most players tend to create similar builds. In fact, they get online and discuss which builds are best. Oh, and don't forget that you can change your spec anytime you want! There's just a minor charge... and with all the gold in the BC expansion, you could change your spec a couple times a day!

    Okay, so you aren't set apart by your race or your class or your talents. So... how about gear? Yes. This is one way you can customize you character... just so long as you are willing to wear inferior gear. Because the good gear is pretty narrowly defined. Everyone tends to wear the same stuff! And if they aren't wearing the same gear, it's only because they can't get what the others are wearing! The itemization is pretty ridiculous. Instead of branching out with various items which are similar or equivalent, everything is either better or worse than what you already have. So just look on your WoW website of choice to see which one is mathematically better. Oh, and if you make a mistake, you can always go back and trade in your quest reward for the other one!!

    So no matter how hard you try to customize your character, in the end you're still cut from that same cookie cutter.

    Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat...

    The Burning Crusade expansion and numerous patches brought a lot of new things to the game. Or did they? Although there are some very cool things in the game, everything you do can be narrowed down into a few categories.

    Dungeons - Whether you are in a 5-man or 40-man instance, the gist is basically the same. Go in, fight some trash mobs. Fight some bosses to get their loot. Maybe we'll even attune ourselves for more dungeons!

    PVP - Fight with other players. Need I say more? You can even fight in battlegrounds or fancy-pants arenas.

    Quest - Turn in 3 lion pelts, 4 zebra hooves, and 2 bug eyes? Run to some other place! Kill 30 guards. Bring me some mats. Escort some guy. There are a few more, but basically you'll be doing the same quests in your first week as your 152nd.

    Farm / Grind - You need 100,000 dark iron bars to make this thingy which will be made obsolete in a few patches. Better get mining. You need gold for a mount. Mats for all kinds of items or professions. Want some potions for your raids? Better start picking those flowers.

    Explore - There are a good number of places to visit, and Blizzard has done a pretty good job of making places unique. But there aren't new (or different) things to do when you find that neat little place.

    Socalize - You can chat with your friends and guildmates! That's great! Oh but that's not really playing the game, per se. Nevertheless, you'll spend a lot of time doing that, so fire up your Ventrilo!

    Run In Circles - In place. Literally. Jump around on your mount. Oh, now you can fly in circles too!

    So really, most players do the above things to level up and get better gear. Unless you just like PVP for PVP's sake.

    Lack of Consequences

    It really doesn't matter what you choose in the game. In fact, I recently heard that you can even go back and exchange your quest rewards if you don't like the one you got! I suppose the worst you can do is to get hated with all your factions. Then it will be a long road to get back in their good graces... but still possible in most cases.

    Passive Storylines

    There is a lot of text in the game. In fact most every quest has a good amount of ... *click*. Don't need to read that crap. Just need to see what kind of quest it is. Kill some murlocks, got it. Who cares why.

    My biggest problem with the storytelling in WoW is how passive it is. It never takes you by the collar and throws you into a compelling story. I never found myself suddenly aware that I was just playing a game because I had been drawn into a story. If you want story, be prepared to read. A lot. If you're lucky, you might even find a quest that has some story to it (along with some very slow walking NPCs).

    Oh, and one other little detail... the story is rarely about your character. It's always about some WarCraft lore. And if, by chance, you stumble onto a quest that says it's about your character, it's also the story of thousands of other players. You brought Thrall the head of Onyxia? Great! Wait around Orgrimmar long enough and you'll hear about somebody else who's done it too!

    Now I understand that everyone needs a chance to do the quests. And you can't really expect Blizzard to make unique quests for all the millions of players. But it means that you have to make your own story, for yourself.

    It's sad that most of the stories in WoW are carryovers from WarCraft I, II, and III. Now those games had some great stories. It makes sense to me though, because in those games you could tell the stories about important characters. The decisions of someone like Arthas had huge impact! But in WoW, the only "important" characters are the NPCs... and those are killed and respawn all the time. All the important or interesting characters from the WarCraft RTS games are either faction leaders or bosses.

    Time Investment

    World of WarCraft eats time like Unicron eats planets. Now I'm a big fan of the idea that some things should take time in the game. Instant gratification is lame, because then you never care about what you did. (Incidentally, that's why getting a kodo mount for my Orc warrior was one of my crowning achievements.) But it takes forever to do anything!

    Now in a lot of cases this problem doesn't really come from the game design. But it's hard to be able to log in for just a half hour (or just an hour for that matter) and accomplish anything. Supposedly you can get on for a short time and finish a quest or two. Except that you have to travel there because you hearthed back to the inn. And you have to wait for the zeppelin or boat. And you may have to wait for your group members.


    So I guess I'll end my ranting and raving now. I'm sure if I thought about it for a while I could come up with some other laments about the game. In my next few posts I plan to outline some ideas that I've had which I think would make WoW a vastly better game.

    Overall I think that World of WarCraft is one of the best games of its kind. It kept me hooked for a long while, and even now tempts me to play from time to time. But it may well be the last MMO that I play. Although I have ideas to improve the game, there are some fundamental problems which make me skeptical of all MMOs.

    New Year, New Beginnings

    It's a new year. I'm excited for the things that this year will bring. The thing I'm most looking forward to is marrying my sweetheart. I believe there will be many other wonderful things that happen this year as well. I feel like there are some good changes in store for me this year. Hopefully one of the first ones will be that I actually get out and exercise.