Friday, March 30, 2007

Is it a game or is it an alternative reality?

I downloaded the puzzle quest demo last night because I had seen it highly recommended on several blogs Tobold is a fan, Bill Harris is a fan, Spencer from Siliconera is a fan). The game seems to be primarily designed for handheld gaming devices (PSP, DS) so the graphics are pretty basic but the format is quite novel. It is an RPG with story and character progression but combat is based on a tile swapping puzzle game. Combat takes place on a board covered with tiles of different shapes and colours. Players take turns to swap tiles in order to get three of a kind in a row horizontally or vertically. Getting three in a row has beneficial effects such as charging a mana pool, increasing cash or damaging your opponent. Mana (of which there are four kinds) can be used to cast spells which benefit you or damage your enemy or affect the game board in some way. Play continues until one opopnents life is drained. It makes for an engrossing strategic challenge immersed in a fun RPG format and everybody seems to love it. Everybody that is except me. While I admire the novelty of the game I must admit that abstract puzzles are just not my thing. I like my battles to involve guns and swords and at least some tenuous simulation of reality. It got me thinking about what different people get out of gaming. For me it is very important that a game offer me an alternative reality that I can escape into. A game that offers an interesting distraction (like TETRIS for example) is not enough if it doesn't give that virtual reality feel. I guess that is why I like first person games so much. I am not averse to a bit of thinking. I enjoy RTS games for example but I prefer Rome TW to Age of Empires because the gameworld is so much more believable. The current fashion for casual games indicates that there is a lot of people out there who don't think like me. I guess I am not surprised that the general public is more interested in an entertaining diversion than a fully immersive life engrossing gaming experience. I am a bit surprised however that my tastes seem to be so much out of line with so many other seriously committed gamers. Everybody else seems to get Puzzle Quest but I just don't. Oh well I guess it takes all sorts.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Guildwiki

Guild wars is notable for having the best user created support site I have ever come across. It is called Guildwiki and you can try it out here. The site is absolutely encyclopaedic. It covers every quest, every character, every location, every skill, every item and just about every blade of grass in the game. Unlike many wiki's it is extremely well edited and easy to navigate. In fact it is so good it has come to dominate all other Guild Wars reference sites and I doubt if there is a Guild wars player out there who doesn't use it. Here is a sample article listing the skills available to a warrior character. Here is a sample mission walkthrough. This one site has all the information you need to play and enjoy this game.

Othe rgames have support sites. There is a wiki for World of Warcraft for example. When I was playing WOW it was not very complete and it was poorly edited. It seems to have gotten a lot more content since but just look at a sample wowwiki page and tell me honestly it doesn't give you a headache. To the best of my knowledge the site most WOWers use is called Thottbot. Thottbott is certainly comprehensive but it is also a complete and utter mess. I think this sample Thottbot page speaks for itself.

The reason for my eulogising about Guildwiki is that Arenanet, the makers of Guild Wars, have just set up their own official wiki in apparent competition to Guildwiki. To be fair to Arenanet their reasons for doing this appear laudible. Guildwiki is run and paid for by one person. Often the servers cannot cope with the load and the site is slow. The offical Guildwars wiki promises better servers and a more permanent arrangement. Arenanet say they have been in contact with the creator of Guildwiki but they give reasons why they could not just buy the original site or even sponsor it. Apparently there is something of a legal quagmire about who actualy owns the contents of a wiki site.

I have fears that this may spark a battle of the wiki's with everybody losing out but I do hope that it all turns out for the best. I also hope that Gravewit, the creator of the original Guildwiki gets his just deserts for creating such a superb resource. I believe he is creating wiki sites for other games with the intention of making money from on-site advertising. If these sites are anything like as good as Guildwiki then I strongly reccommend people use them.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Winning the battle of the 8:15

I scored a minor victory today in the morning public transport battle. The train was crowded as usual, standing room only. I squeezed in with my fellow commuters. A young woman squeezed in in front of me and chose to spend the entire journey in conversation on her phone. This is not in itself a crime but this particular lady felt that she needed more room in front no doubt in order to better express herself during the conversation. Unfortunately I was standing directly behind her so the only way for her to gain the space she desired was to push me back. This lady was far from elfin but you you might still consider it unlikely that she could easily push back a 14 stone (90 kg) specimen like myself. However there is a simple method by which the unscrupulous commuter can abuse the normal good will of fellow travellers to win themselves more territory. It relies on the normal swaying motion of the train and works like this: Often while in transit standing passengers find themselves moved back and forth by the motions of the train. When somebody is pushed into you in this way it is a natural response to take a small step away. Most passengers do this without thinking knowing they will recover lost ground on the return stroke. However an unsrupulous passenger will move into the space that has just been released AND STAND FIRM ON THE cOUNTERSTROKE thus ensuring that ground gained is not lost. We are talking about almost imperceptible steps here - perhaps a few mm at a time but given the contant motion of the train these small steps very quickly add up to a major territory gain. This young lady proved to be a master at these tactics and so I found my self being pushed inexorably backwards. There was a problem however for behind me was a large gentleman and behind him was a very solid pole. It became clear that I had to stand my ground or risk my atoms being sqeezed into his in a most unwlecome Flann O'Brienesque manner. The solution to incremental territorial encroachment is to stand one's ground absorbing the normal too and fro motions of the train without moving one's feet. This is the approach I took. Our young tormentor was not one to be easily thwarted however because once her gentle terrtorial encroaches stopped working she upped the ante and started to willfully push back hard with no regard to the motions of the train. This despite the fact that she already occupied a space at least equal to that into which the large gentleman and myself were already squeezed. Her mastery of the commuter battle is perhaps best gauged from the fact that she remained turned away from me the whole time fully engaged in conversation and seemingly oblivious to the dire struggle for lebensraum going on behind her. She did not prevail however for I was fortunate enough to be carrying a newspaper. Said paper rolled up and held under my arm in an apparently casual manner proved to be my secret weapon. The next time the young lady tried to push back she met that spiky protrusion and flinched from it. She made a few more attempts at encroachment but each attempt was met and rebuffed by the same wordy projection. At one stage she even turned around to see what was obstructing her but it was no my turn to adopt an attitude of casual disinterest, apparently oblivious to the movements around me.

Such are the diversions of a wage slave on the morning commute to work. Oh what petty creatures we really are.

Friday, March 09, 2007

Why buy insurance?

I guess I say no to extended warranties or purchase protection cover for two main reasons. The first reason is a gut feeling that all extended warranties are a rip off. My second reason is a bit more thought out and rleates to why we need insurance at all. As I see it insurance is purely a financial proposition based on risk. In crude terms the average payout of an insurance policy equals the actual payout that would occur in the event of a claim times the probability that that that claim will occur. What is more if the insurance company has any idea what they are doing then the expected average payout will always be less than the premium the company charges you. Excessive sales margins just make the picture worse. Any company foolish enough to offer insure you for a premium less than the average expected payout is unlikely to remain in business long enough to re-imburse your claim. Insurance is in effect a gamble where the odds are always stacked against you. Not much different in some ways from a casino.

Of course the reason we take out insurance is not to make a profit but to give us reassurance that we can recover from a catastrophic financial loss. The key word here is catastrophic. If the potential loss is small enough that I can cover it out of my own resources then there is no point insuring against that risk. My mobile phone falls into that category. I can afford to replace a €300 phone. I can even afford to pay for a few thousand euro worth of malicious calls in the event of some micreant getting their hands on my phone. It wouldn't be pleasant and I would certainly grumble but my family would still eat, have a roof over our heads, go on holiday and so on. This is not the case with my house. If my house burned down it would be difficult for us to pull together the financial resources to re-build it and neither could we survive without a roof over our heads. Therefore I do not buy insurance for my mobile phone (except perhaps as part of general house contents cover) but I do most certainly buy insurance for my house.

Upgrading to a Nokia 6233

I upgraded my phone in January from a Nokia 6230 to a Nokia 6233. I'm not exactly a power user of phones but I can say that the new phone is nice to use with a lovely clear display and big easy to press buttons. The only bad point is that the included 2 megapixel is awful. I don't know why they bother with 2 megapixels at all since the optics/sensor/filtering arrangment is clearly incapable of supporting it. As an indication of how bad it is consider that a 1600x1200 (2 mega pixel) photo taken on high quality mode is virtually indistinguishable in quality from the same photo taken in medium quality 640*480 mode when uploaded to a PC and examined.

Anyway I don't take many photos with my phone so I was generally happy until last week when the phone developed a permanent orange vertical line superimposed on top of the display. This was abit dissapointing for a phone that was less than two months old. I brought the phone straght back to the shop to discover that I was just outside of the shops 28 day warranty and might have to pay for a repair myself. There is still hope that Nokia may pay for the repair free of charge but the real topic I want to discuss is the fact that I chose not to buy extra insurance on this phone and am therefore at the mercy of the manufacturers warranty.

Althought the upfront cost of the phone was low (it came bundled with a call package) I understand that the replacement cost of such a phone would be around €300. This and the possible liability for thousands of euros worth of calls in the event of the phone being lost or stolen phone formed major themes of the salesman argument when he tried to sell me additional insurance with the phone. I said no. Even though that same salesman later pointed out to me that I may now be facing an out of pocket repair cost due to my negelct of insurance I am still happy that I said no.