Thursday, December 29, 2011

What game publishers fear

What is the frightening secret that game publishers in 2011 (and beyond) pray you will never discover?

Cutting-edge graphics have very little to do with how much fun a game is to play.

Witness the impressive success of this website:

Great Old Games

Gog.com now sells over 300 excellent titles, all DRM-free, and most going for about $6. Even games that originally sold with DRM are also included, but the gog.com versions have the DRM removed. Playing PC games without the hassle of DRM is the original inspiration for the establishment of gog.com.

The games on gog.com, although older by one year up to more than a decade in some cases, were all top rated games upon their original release. The only reason you'd find them in the bargain bin now is because they're old, used or in limited re-release.

Here's the interesting part... most gamers' objections to older games are based solely on the relatively poor graphics, as compared to the most current games. Mind you, the graphics may have been cutting-edge at the time the game was released, but it doesn't take long for what's hot today to become yawning material tomorrow due to rapidly forced obsolescence.

These games however, despite their sometimes very dated graphics, are still fun to play! Even with the newest, 'hottest' games, not every game is for every gamer; that's why there are different gaming genres. And so it is with older games; there are five-star titles in every genre. You just have to take a moment and look.

Where to find these great games? You name it. Gog.com, used bookstores, game trading stores, game trading web sites, eBay, Amazon.com, and more. Gamerankings.com is an excellent source of information for figuring out what older games would be fun for you.

Here's an sample search result from gamerankings.com, with the settings as follows: Platform = PC, Categories = All, Released = at any time, Reviews = at least 10, Sorted = best to worst.

A search of all PC games of all genres, sorted by the average ratings from multiple game review sites.

That search list is just scratching the surface of all the gaming goodness out there for all you souls weary of being abused by arrogant game publishers. Take a rest and play games that are tried and true! Games that still give countless hours of gaming pleasure.

So, you say, this is all very fine and dandy, but what proof could possibly justify the original claim in this essay that a game can be tons o' fun with less-than-stellar, even primitive, graphics?

Why, the game called Minecraft, of course.

First released as an alpha on May 17, 2009, then beta on December 20, 2010. The full PC version was released on November 18, 2011... but the game had already sold one million units ten months earlier. Add to this the fact that the game had reached the four million sold mark just eleven days before the official PC release.

And, to top it all off, the gamerankings.com site, which consolidates all the major review sites into one total average score, lists Minecraft as the ninth best PC game of all time.

Why is this particular meteoric rise of any relevance? The game's graphics are extremely primitive. They're completely blocky and simple, very reminiscent of the original Doom. Quite unattractive, really. But the sandbox/construction gameplay makes all the difference in the world. Critics and fans alike rave about this game. I personally tried it and it wasn't my cup of tea, but that's just me.

Visually, it's a throwback to 1993. In gaming years, that's like the Dark Ages. But because the gameplay is so addictive and compelling, it still flourishes at a time when the only games that can successfully command a sixty-dollar price tag upon release are big developer titles that took hundreds of people to produce. Minecraft was originally created by one guy!

As of the posting of this essay, 18,558,513 people have registered to play at the Minecraft web site, and 4,367,543 people have purchased the game.

The statistics in the previous paragraph indicate a possible theft rate of approximately 76% by the way, for those of you who think an independent game fares any better or worse with the Pirate Bay crowd. So actually Minecraft has a more successful sales percentage than most of the big game publishers. Go figure. Score one for the little guy. The DRM used is online activation, one of the least invasive types.

What's the moral in all this?

The DRM-crazed, deep pocket, brass-knuckled game publishers out there haven't a clue about how to best generate revenue in the game biz. They keep bloating games with more and more realistic graphics, but do they always deliver the best gameplay? Do they treat their customers with the respect you give someone who pays your wages?

No on both counts.

Eye candy is undoubtedly a very attractive feature of a video game. But take away the "wow, look at that" factor, and you are left with whether or not the game keeps your attention for more than a few hours. Some hot, new games accomplish this; most do not. I am as impressed by great graphics as anyone, but what games do my wife and I still spend countless hours playing together? Age of Empires II The Conquerors, and Heroes of Might and Magic III.

And... after trying out most of the Call of Duties, Battlefields, Half-Lifes, Team Fortresses, Medal of Honors, Cryses, Left 4 Deads, Halos, Clancy shooters, Star Wars shooters, etc... my favorite multiplayer shooters are still Quake III Arena and Unreal Tournament (the original and the 2004 versions), the original Unreal, and of course, Serious Sam (First and Second Encounters). True greatness in a game is rare indeed, and should be strived for instead of blindly spending so many development dollars on impressive graphics.

Best of luck to the EAs, Valves, Rockstars and Blizzards of the world... you're going to need it if you keep pushing the wrong buttons. Such a pity. You could have been rich and loved by all.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

The DRM trail of tears

For the uninitiated, DRM is Digital Rights Management, or as Richard Stallman refers to it, Digital Restrictions Management.

DRM was once, long ago, a clever idea to insure that more people would buy your software instead of just copying it for free. In the last decade however, it has transformed into a hamster wheel of egotistical and paranoid software publishers chasing their tails in impotent attempts to prevent unpaid copies of their software from being acquired and enjoyed.

From the excessively verbose and somewhat threatening EULA (End User Licensing Agreement) you are exposed to during the installation of software, you are furtively introduced to the concept that the program that you just purchased is not actually yours. Some may think this a minor distinction, but it isn't. The EULA is informing you that although the following things are true, you still don't own the game or program:

  • paid your own hard-earned money for the software in full
  • hold the disc(s), box and manual in your hand
  • retain the receipt for your records
  • register the software online or by mail
  • tolerate varying degrees of frustration and irritation from the effects of the version of DRM the publishers decided to foist upon you, the legal customer


Click here for more information about the part EULAs play in copyright "protection." In particular, look at the "Third Generation DRM schemes" three-part system.

Some may feel inclined to point out that just like any other "intellectual property," the data on the disc is owned by the creator, and merely on loan to you, the paying customer. Similar to a book or movie you buy and enjoy; the physical medium is yours to keep, but the content is the sole property of the creator.

This seems like a fair assessment to me, in terms of credit for work performed. I think an individual should be able to decide if his or her labor should be free to use, paid for, or whatever arrangement is most amenable to the laborer. However, how this justifies the use of DRM that can temporarily (or permanently) revoke your ability to use the software you legally purchased, I'm at a loss to comprehend.

For some of you reading this, the DRM issue is a non-issue. You either don't play games on the PC, or you do, but view unwanted DRM installation as a minor glitch in your user experience. I understand. If you don't know your privacy is being invaded, or you don't mind suddenly not being able to play your game when you want to (for a variety of DRM-related reasons), or you really don't care that someone you just paid is dictating what you are allowed to do with your own computer... well then hey, you're correct. All this fuss about DRM is just whiny nonsense.

However, if you are tired of being restrained, constrained, and detained by the people with their hands in your pocket, then DO something about it. Stop buying software that contains unreasonable DRM!

What is unreasonable DRM? Well, common sense would dictate that the following examples are certainly unreasonable... after each example, I give a reason why the specific DRM is unacceptable.

  • DRM that prevents you from being able to use the software you paid for.

    • The whole purpose of purchasing the software is to use it; if software use is intentionally interrupted temporarily or permanently by the DRM, then why would you even want to buy it in the first place? Would you buy a car you knew might not start sometimes, due to factors often out of your control?


  • DRM that invisibly installs rootkits, which can be used by the proprietor for any number of questionable deeds, such as remotely accessing your computer without your consent or knowledge.

    • Is it okay for any software maker or publisher to be given hidden control of your computer at its lower levels? See here and here for more about a past case of a 'legitimate' company installing a hidden, low-level rootkit along with the software the customers purchased.


  • DRM that invisibly installs unwanted drivers that cannot be removed after the game is uninstalled, without special assistance or procedure.

    • What if you'd rather not have invisible and potentially questionable software on your computer? Starforce and SecuROM have both suffered severe public-relations disasters for their hidden hardware drivers. See here and here for instructions on how to remove the offending drivers.


  • DRM that requires you to maintain a constant Internet connection, even for a singleplayer game.

    • What if you want to play the game and you're in a situation where you can't access the Internet? Mobile computing with no available wi-fi comes to mind, for one.


  • DRM that limits how many times you can install the software.

    • What if you regularly reformat your OS drive for security purposes?


  • DRM that won't let you install the game if other particular third-party programs are installed on your computer.

    • Does a game publisher really have the right to force you to uninstall optical drive emulators, even if you use them for convenience and the preservation of original software discs, and not for digital thievery? See here for an example caused by the DRM company SecuROM.


  • DRM that, even after installation, requires the disc to be in the drive for the game to be playable.

    • The risk of disc quality degradation or failure increases with every insertion, removal, and revolution of the disc. What if the disc is eventually unreadable, and the game is no longer sold?


  • DRM that manifests itself as the removal of basic user experiences, like LAN gaming.

    • Taking highly desired features away from the customer might not be the wisest decision, especially if your reasoning is motivated by ad revenue. See here for more about how Blizzard, for example, stuck it to their customers in order to force said customers to log onto a server that carries advertising that would otherwise be absent in a LAN gaming environment. Be sure to take a glance at the many user comments below the article.


  • DRM that can cause computer hardware failure.

    • This is not an urban legend, despite reflexive scoffing from Mythbusters devotees. See here, and read some of the comments below it from people who have experienced not just a need to reformat the hard drive, but actual damage to various computer components.


  • DRM that doesn't allow you to make a safety copy of your legally purchased game.

    • What if the disc is eventually unreadable, and the game is no longer sold?


  • DRM that limits how many times you can make a safety copy.

    • What if all previous safety copies are lost or damaged?


Apparently, statistics indicate that DRM-free games are stolen at the same rate as DRM-laden games. See here for more. So, game publishers: why do you insist on wasting development dollars and risking customer satisfaction, just so you can realize your misguided (and impossible) dream of outsmarting digital thieves?

Also, it seems university research indicates that DRM encourages theft. See here for more.

There are more reasons than human immorality for digital "theft." Witness the success of Louis C.K. with his low-cost, easy to access, no-DRM video release called Live At The Beacon Theater.

To wrap this up, let me state clearly: DRM is acceptable only if the user experience is not impaired.

The best DRM is of course, no DRM at all.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Why I eschew the news

In the previous essay on December 16th, I mentioned that my wife and I keep cable and dish television out of our dwelling and our lives. In reaction to this information, one could easily cast scorn our way, and conclude with minimal thought that we prefer to sit in darkness and rub two sticks together.

We do enjoy a few select television shows, but Hulu and Netflix are our sources, which means we can skip the other 99.9% of nonsense that fills the remainder of the bandwidth. On streaming content from Hulu, commercials are handled by us leaving the room to do whatever, and returning in the allotted time for the show to recommence. This allows us to accomplish something more pleasant than viewing the unwelcome advertisements, such as the elimination of waste products from our bodies.

Some of those who would judge us for avoiding the news may find brief relief to know my wife likes to torture herself with the New York Times during lunch at work. So, the truth be known, it is I who deliberately shuns the news. Feel free to judge me for the bumpkin I must be. However, if you dare, please follow as I give some examples of why the news holds no interest for me whatsoever, and probably never will.

Here are some 'top' headlines in today's news (courtesy of CNN.com), and the reasons why they hold no relevance to me whatsoever:

Suspect in New York elevator death is charged with murder, arson
Grisly details about the latest addition to humanity's notorious list of murderous psychopaths. Nothing in this article enlightens me, nor edifies me. It merely makes me sad and disgusted, two emotions that can be unfortunately experienced by events in my own life on occasion. How does the knowledge of this despicable anathema's evil deed improve my life? It doesn't.

BLITZER'S BLOG: Tense times ahead as North Korea transitions
Twelve paragraphs of one man's speculation that change nothing, therefore a waste of my time. Much like my own blog, some might say.

CNN Poll: Gingrich lead gone, dead even with Romney
A current poll result, which is meaningless next week, combined with a rehash of previous polls and statistics, and wrapped up with high-schoolish commentary on the ebb and flow of each candidate's popularity. Boring and pointless.

Gingrich explains how much he pocketed from Freddie Mac
A collection of nitpicking facts regarding the underhanded dealings of a political figure who attempts to downplay his malfeasance; a behavior that is not new, not going away, and therefore doesn't illuminate me at all.

Perry: Romney and Gingrich backed the 'biggest act of theft in American history'
Finger pointing and accusation, which may or may not be true. Either contention is meaningless, as the money has already been stolen from the unfortunate victims. Anyone paying attention to history can tell you that when it comes to the corridors of power and the wealthy 'one percent' privileged in society, that money isn't coming back. It will happen again in some way, over and over again. The plugged-in perpetrators will stand a ninety-five percent chance of getting away with it. How does reading about these accusations enhance my life, my knowledge of the world, or my ability to vote responsibly in 2012?

U.S.: 'No firm evidence' loose weapons have left Libya
More unsettling speculation regarding a typical rogue regime, with the added authenticity of numbers thrown in to make it more palpable. The real concern for the reader is whether or not these weapons will ever be used on American soil. I ask: how does worrying about such an international incident prevent it from happening or keep me safer? Does my knowledge of the possible threat of Libyan weapons somehow help our country's NSA, CIA, Homeland Security and multiple branches of the military prevent an attack? I think not.

Chrome overtakes Internet Explorer 8
The latest developments in Internet browser wars are completely irrelevant to me, as I use neither of the two most popular, yet inferior, applications mentioned in the article. The open source Firefox is still the best choice, and the one I've been using for years. Internet Explorer was top dog only due to customer ignorance and exclusionary clauses forced on computer manufacturers by Microsoft. Chrome is top dog now only because they have the most effective advertising for the same ignorant computer users who eventually (of course) tired of Internet Explorer's customer-unfriendly features. Amazing what you can accomplish when you run the world's most popular search engine, right? Not to me.

Tech Check: Could a texting-while-driving ban happen?
Alarmist reactions by whining electronic-crack addicts to pending federal law. Does the realization of such a law affect me, someone who thinks it foolish to fiddle with electronics while one should be paying attention to traffic? Not really. As annoying as it is to be required to fasten my seat belt before driving, for example, I would be hard pressed to produce a convincing argument as to how my freedoms and individual rights are being violated by potentially saving myself from flying through the windshield on impact. Wake me up when someone in Washington decides to put surveillance devices in every electronic device, or better yet, in my own cranium, whether I like it or not. That would be something of interest and genuine alarm. The aforementioned whiners' time would be better spent doing something to stop the latest pile of steaming legislative s*** from the RIAA and others, who seek to limit what you may have access to via bogus copyright 'protection' laws.

Carrier IQ: We don't record keystrokes, but your phone does
More negative fallout from the mobile electronic revolution. Does it surprise me that crooked individuals and companies create applications that invade our privacy? Not at all. The power of computing devices has never been fully understood by the zombies who stand in line to buy them, and may never be. My response to the latest, greatest, hottest, coolest, most awesome device or application? Not interested. My life is full and pleasant without it, just like all the billions of happy people that existed before the iPhone was regurgitated from the imagination of Saint Jobs.

What's really behind Twitter's staff exodus
Do I even need to comment on the myriad reasons why this is entirely unnecessary for me to know?

Stocks sell off as banks tank
More financial blathering laced with inventive terms, all to direct my attention to the rise and fall of the stock market... an entity that has become schizophrenic in the last couple of decades, thanks to genetic algorithms paid for by greedy grinches who like to get as much of the pie as possible. Never you mind that those pies are made up of money from you and me; that the 'rich' make an opulent living out of taking it from us is not new, and therefore not edifying at all.

Ellen DeGeneres buys Brad Pitt's Malibu home for $12 million
Seriously? I suppose my life could be much more enhanced by such knowledge... if what other people possessed was something that actually mattered to me. But alas, it is not. I don't wish to keep up with the Joneses, so knowing anything about their acquisitions is completely meaningless. Just as meaningless is gossip about the 'rich and famous'; these are people I'll never meet or know personally, so why would their various and sometimes bizarre activities hold any importance for me?

Okay, perhaps by now you get the idea. Or perhaps not. Either way, you go ahead and keep consuming all the information that the world can offer you in the bloated 21st century. As for me, I'll spend my time eating, sleeping, working, and loving my wife... mostly free from the burden of thinking about unnecessary nonsense.

Friday, December 16, 2011

The latest offensive defense

"Because the law, my boy, puts us into everything. It's the ultimate backstage pass, it's the new priesthood, baby ... acquittal after acquittal after acquittal until the stench of it reaches so high and far into heaven, it chokes the whole f***in' lot of them." --- John Milton (Satan) from "The Devil's Advocate"

People have asked me why my wife and I don't have cable television piped into our house, and more specifically, they have often wondered how I can get along without knowing all the latest news in the world. One glance at today's headlines provides a definitive answer.

As I understand it, there is a football coach who has more than fifty felony counts of sexual abuse of young boys. See the article I saw here:

Team Sandusky introduces the 'hygiene' defense

Unfortunately, this manifestation of NAMBLA-sanctioned sickness is nothing new. Also, as the article seems to indicate, lawyers have reached yet another level of twisted deception; all for the sake of winning the case, of course. An excerpt from the article, which is an actual quote from the attorney who came up with the latest disgusting sophistry:

"Some of these kids don't have basic hygiene skills," attorney Karl Rominger said. "Teaching a person to shower at the age of 12 or 14 sounds strange to some people, but people who work with troubled youth will tell you there are a lot of juvenile delinquents and people who are dependent who have to be taught basic life skills like how to put soap on their body."

The truth, as a concept, is an interesting entity. Regardless of subjective views and wishful thinking, there is only one truth in any situation. There are many ways to interpret truth, many versions of the truth, many lies to avoid the truth... but still, in the end, there is only one truth about any given event that occurs in the world. It happened or it didn't. Yes, yes, blah, blah, blah; but fifty felony counts are a bit excessive to be merely a simple case of false accusation.

We have been exposed to the idea for so long that 'subjectivity changes everything' that we are losing touch with a basic moral skill like simply being able to judge between right and wrong. Paid advocates of the guilty have spent many years honing their craft; there has been precedent after precedent which has opened the door to 'anything is possible.'

And that's just the way the evil of the world like it. Truly... how inspiring it must be for any malefactor to ponder the idea that if the best lawyers can be afforded, he or she can most likely get away with anything. Truth matters much less than winning, it seems.

What kind of person honors the 'client confidence' part of the lawyer's oath, but disregards the part that requires the lawyer to never maintain deliberately misleading defense tactics?

I realize there are still human beings walking the earth who desire to do the right thing as much as it lies within them; for that reason alone we're probably all still breathing. But this does not erase the fact that the artifice of law is too often used to free the guilty. In the 21st century, we regard the lawyer 'smart' who can accomplish such a task, even though we simultaneously experience outrage that it actually happened.

Returning to the "hygiene defense," I have but one question for Rominger:

How much do you think it would cost for you to buy back your soul?