So much for NDAs

So, folks at WWDC have been delving into their Leopard previews, with results like this.

When members of the die hard early adopter Vista crowd start saying that they bought a Mac after seeing this list, it makes you think that perhaps Leopard isn’t as “disappointing” as some folks have suggested.

Which harkens back to that joke I quoted a while back — What’s the difference between Vista and Leopard? Windows developers are excited about Leopard.

Death to the Games Industry

Greg Costikyan is a very interesting guy.

I accidentally came across some articles of his here:

Part 1
Part 2

It’s quite a read — and the second article is compelling. I don’t think this is so much about remaking the games industry (which is basically impossible) so much as what a viable indie games industry should — and I think already does — look like (e.g. shrapnelgames.com).

Addendum: Six SKUs of Separation

Microsoft is currently planning on six versions of Windows Vista, including two versions of Vista Home.

Gone is an earlier SKU oriented towards idiots gamers. Or maybe that’s the “ultimate” edition.

This seems like a bad idea to me, but then I’m not a Microsoft Marketing Genius™. From a developer’s perspective, the more I can rely on the target platform to be similar to the development/testing platform, the better. This in turn means that the fewer variations of the overall platform that are out there the better.

(Note: this is one reason why Linux remains such a terrible desktop platform.)

Currently, XP has Home, Media Center Edition, Tablet, Professional, and Server. From a development standpoint, this equates to Home/MCE/Professional, Tablet, and Server. So while the retail picture of XP is pretty complex, from a developer’s point of view we have a single, pretty unified, target platform (since a server app is a server app and we probably don’t care about Tablet).

But in the new world we have Home Basic and Home Premium which will have different looking GUIs just for starters. So when I write documentation for my users, I’m now going to need to do a lot more work (forget testing, etc.).

Sensitivity Training

As mandated by California law, we underwent training in our company’s policy on sexual and other forms of harassment (I am not making this up). It occurred to me that framers of jokes might find themselves short of suitable material for jokes if they wished to be compliant with this policy, so I undertook to compose a strictly sensitive and legal joke. It follows:

Three web developers (of unspecified sex) walk into a bar. (1)
They are a PHP coder, a Cold Fusion developer, and a perl hacker. (2)
The bartender asks what they want, and they order beers…
The PHP coder orders a “Miller” because foreign names which may require Unicode support are frightening. (3)
The Cold Fusion developer orders dark beer because he (or she) likes to pretend it’s Java. (4)
And the perl programmer drinks six Buds and has consensual sex with a goat. (5)

(1) Web developers are not a “protected minority” in this jurisdiction.
(2) Nor are any users of specific programming languages.
(3) Making fun of notably lacking features of a development tool is not illegal, at this time.
(4) People with inferiority complexes caused by using lame, high level tools are not a “protected minority” in this jurisdiction.
(5) Goats are not a “protected minority” in this jurisdiction.

Sony Online Entertainment to Act as Honest Broker for Item Sales

Sony has decided to facilitate the sale of in-game items for real-world cash in EverQuest II. While lamentable, this is hardly surprising. They argue that 40% of their support issues have to do with such trade or activates related thereto.

While this is an interesting development, and there will be much discussion of it on the level of “this is a bad thing”, “this is a good thing”, or “this is regrettable but necessary”, as usual the root causes have to do with long held and unquestioned assumptions about what a “role-playing game” is, or aspires to be.

Leaving aside the fact that the only reason, in theory, you play an online game like EverQuest II is to feel some kind of empathy for your character, and that the concept of buying cool stuff using real world cash to make your character more uber so violates this concept that it makes you wonder why you’d play the game at all (or maybe for some people it’s more like accessorising Barbie). E.g. why not simply pay Sony to make a monster you can’t kill drop dead? Why not simply pay to make your character level 75 (or whatever the mostest highest level is)? This is entertainment, right? Would you watch a TV show where the hero escapes from scrapes by bribing the scriptwriter? Well, maybe if it were a comedy about the TV industry…

The root assumptions underlying all of this baloney are simple and can be explored by showing exactly how well the games industry (paper and computer) has utterly failed to provide the experience it has always aimed for in RPGs.

The quintessential source book for RPGs is The Lord of the Rings. The entire milieu of the D&D world and that of its imitators springs from The Lord of the Rings. This applies to assumptions about the way the world looks, people talks, who lives in it, and what they’re up to.

In Lord of the Rings, someone who is basically a country gentleman, of no special skill, and his gardener, a stout fellow, together with two well-meaning idiots (all halflings), go on an adventure which involves a long arduous journey. Along the way they pick up a professional military scout of Royal Lineage, the world’s second-most-powerful wizard (soon to be first), and three professional soldiers (human, elf, and dwarf). They are engaged in a number of battles, in which each contributes in some positive way making the best of both their training and natural abilities.

At the end, the gentleman is all but dead from his exertions, but all four of the halflings have gained confidence, and two have grown physically larger and stronger as a result of magical drafts. The world’s second most powerful wizard has become top wizard owing to the fall from grace of his boss; he may or may not have gotten more powerful. Aside from that, the characters have not much changed as a consequence of experience besides having new stories to tell, and (in the case of the military scout) having gotten married and gained high social position.

Given this inspiration, what did we get?

A game where no-one starts play with a character capable of doing anything much. If you want to play Aragorn, you have to start as a level 1 wannabe.

A game where the only thing anyone ever gets good at is killing stuff. It’s much too hard to make rules about herbalism, but we do have a LOT of different magic swords.

A game which can only represent one kind of hardship — being attacked by monsters. When was the last time anyone cared about going hungry or freezing to death in your RPG?

A game where the content of the game mainly comprises getting more powerful by accumulating experience, items, and money (the latter two by stealing from the dead).