Friday, November 30, 2012

What a Humble Bundle Can do for you Share Price

Humble's latest bundle is not very indie comprising a bunch of AAA titles from developer THQ. The internet being the internet is awash with comments both positive and negative. The negatives are complaining because THQ isn't an indie, beause the games have DRM, because the games won't run on Linux and because hey  it's the internet, people complain about everything. The positive's are just generally happy that such a great bunch of games is being made available so cheaply. It really is a solid gold bundle by the way and if you don't have any of these games I recommend snapping it up immediately.

Some of the more reflective commenters are talking about the fact that THQ hasn't been doing very well financially in recent times (despite making some excellent games) and wondering if this move smacks of inspiration or desperation on the company's behalf. Whatever the motivation behind it the move appears to be a big success pulling in $2 million in less than a day of its two week run.

What I find most surprising about it all though is the impact on THQ's share price which was languishing around 1.1 before the release of the bundle but jumped very quickly to 1.3 yesterday and at one stage peaked above 1.7. What on earth is going on here? How do investors even know about the Humble Bundle and how did they know it was going to be a success? The leading news article today on that Google page I linked to is an article from GamersDailyNews damning THQ and suggesting that stockholders may be in for a significant dilution of their holdings. Yet the stock price is soaring.

I don't know how modern stock trades work and I have no idea what drives a share price to rise so rapidly. I think the graphs are saying that the total number of shares being traded is in the hundreds of thousands so if this is correct the total amount of money being spent on shares is not huge and one or two clued in investors could single handedly be responsible for the blip.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Siri should be banned !!! (or not)

I had to endure two hours of annoying distraction from a Siri using passenger on a recent train journey.

I have long been of the opinion that talking to your phone (as opposed to talking to a human through your phone) is a gimmick. I dismissed the voice search capability of my Android phone after no more than five minutes of playing with it and that train journey convinced me that Apple's secret Siri sauce has not made the experience of talking to a machine any more palatable. It was bad enough that we other passengers had to endure the Iphone user's loud and often misinterpreted commands to their phone but they had set up the device so that every single response was also relayed in an annoying computer voice even to the point of reading entire emails aloud.

It was late, I was tired after a day of business meetings and despite Hollywood stereotypes we Irish are not a confrontational lot so I did my best to ignore the distraction and catch a bit of sleep on the journey home. When we arrived at our destination I looked around for the offending passenger to glare a bit of bad karma in their direction.

That is when I noticed the dark glasses and white cane.





Saturday, November 24, 2012

Dark Souls: Consensual non consensual PVP

Dark Souls has an interesting take on the consensual / non consensual pvp issue. When you try to play the challenging single player campaign non- consensual pvp happens when another player invades your game world and generally messes up you plans by killing you. On the other hand  you cannot be invaded unless you choose to adopt "human form" (normally you have the appearance of a zombie like corpse) so being human is like a pvp flag that you can turn on if you are willing to risk invasions. On the other other hand human form offers some unique in game advantages. You can only summon the help of friendly players and npc allies to help you (co-op) while in human form for example and human form also allows you to upgrade bonfires (think checkpoints) to effectively double your healing capacity. The net result is that even the most pvp adverse players are likely to risk being human from time to time.

So is pvp consensual or not? Strictly speaking it is entirely consensual because you could play the whole game without ever flagging yourself for pvp with human form. I doubt anybody does.

As a PVE focussed player myself I think that on balance the threat of invasion adds greatly to the game. I generally avoid human form until I need it (typically my first time in a zone to upgrade the bonfire and then again if I need help to tackle the boss). I find being human adds a certain spice to the game with the ever present threat of being invaded by the glowing red spectre of another player. I have indeed been subject to invasions and multiple ignominious deaths to players who actually know how to pvp but dying is a fact of life in dark souls so I am well use to it.

By the way if you haven't tried this game yet I strong recommend it.  It is an outright masterpiece that has thoroughly consumed me. Yes it has flaws and the game is likely to seem incomprehensible at first but once you get sucked in it is hard to resist. With the PC release it now available on every platform but the Wii so you have plenty choice.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

My name is mbp and I am a...a ...a... graymer

I am 48 years old and I love playing video games. Over the last few weeks I have spent an inordinate amount of time playing and enjoying  Ground Control (2000) , Nox (2000) and  Battle for Middle Earth (2004). Clearly I fall into the nostalgic older gamer (graymer) category that Tadgh Kelly talks about in this insightful post.

To be fair to Tadhg (pronounced like "Tie" with a hard g at the end) he doesn't accuse older gamers of being nostalgically myopic but Tobold does when he draws the link between graymers and the current boom in retro kickstarter games.

I can only speak for myself of course but nostalgia alone is not enough to convince me to spend many hours playing a game. I tend to agree with Tadhg's position that age and experience make us more selective in our gaming. When I consider that in addition to those oldies I have also spent a lot of time playing the more recent titles "FTL" and "Dark Souls" it seems to me that the real common thread is my search for a more challenging gaming experience. My age and gaming history allow me to overlook fancy graphics and current fashion trends in order to enjoy games both old and new that provide me that challenge.

Tadgh suggests that the aging gamer market is under-served but I am not sure how it could be better served.  It is true that the hundred's of millions of marketing dollars spend on "Medal of Duty, Master Chief  Modern Warfighter"  are largely wasted as far as this relatively wealthy segment of the gaming market is concerned but we are a segment that does not respond well to hype in any case. We have seen it all before and are far more likely to respond to a clever indie game that is recommended by someone whose opinion we trust. In this light the boom in retro/indie/kickstarter gaming means we are very well served, particularly when you take into account the enormous back catalogue of older games that are also available now for next to nothing. We graymers don't even have to forgo the cinematic pleasures of "Medal of Duty, Master Chief Modern Warfighter" but I personally will wait a few months until I can pick it up in a sale.

Truly for someone of my gaming generation this is a golden age of gaming.


Sunday, November 04, 2012

Do Old Games Really Matter?

My 14 year old daughter is going through a fantasy binge along with many of her teenage friends and she and I have been watching Peter Jackson's Lord of the rings trilogy together. This made me think of Electronic Arts 2004 Video game "Battle for Middle Earth" so I dug out my game disk. I remember the game as being a very well done movie tie in and a rather enjoyable RTS to boot.

My first attempt to install it failed miserably as the game refused to start on my current PC. Google verified that the problem is a known one and several websites offered dubious looking patches. Happily it turns out that the problem is related to screen resolution and doesn't need anything more drastic than a few ini settings to be changed. More details here (3rd post down): http://www.sevenforums.com/gaming/32359-lotr-battle-middle-earth-2-a.html. I am glad that the game can be got working on a modern computer with a little bit of effort but how many people would even bother to try?

That got me thinking again about the longevity of video games. I have no doubt that Peter Jackson's Lord of the rings movies will still be watched in 50 years time but will the associated video games persist and if they don't does it really matter?

Mention has to be given to the terrific work being done by the retro gaming and emulation communities and gog.com is doing fantastic work to preserve our gaming heritage. Battle for Middle Earth falls into a curious limbo zone that I have discovered before. It is often easier to get a game from the 1990's running on a modern computer than one from the last decade. Older games are well supported by the retro and emulation communities but games like Battle for Middle Earth have not quite old enough yet to warrant their attention. The passing of time will soon fix that of course but sometimes I wonder if this mattes at all except to a few old timers like myself. I would love to know what the average age profile of gog.com's customers is. If it is just nostalgic old timers like myself then I cannot see any way that the games can maintain some cultural relevance into the future.

I consider Peter Jackson's movies to be part of the Lord of the Rings canon (in a cultural sense if not a literary one) but I also consider those excellent video games to be canon. I suspect that my grandchildren will agree with me on the movies but I doubt they will even be aware of the games.

When I ask if that matters that drags up the wider issue of information overload, shortened attention spans and the incredibly shrinking shelf life of cultural memes. Undoubtedly we live in a golden age and across every field humanity is producing far more works of high quality than ever before. There are already too many good books, too many good films and too many good games for any individual to enjoy. Given such an abundance of quality and diversity perhaps the notion of persistent icons of creativity no longer makes sense, particularly if this rate of progress continues.

Oddly enough one circumstance that I think would guarantee longevity to many of today's creative works would be a catastrophe leading to the collapse of civilisation and a new dark age. If such a thing happened then any surviving relics of our civilisation would become immortalised like the works of Homer and Plato.

This really is a funny line of thinking.



Thursday, November 01, 2012

Should I buy Windows 8?

Every second version of Windows is a turkey and everything I have heard about Windows 8 suggests that it is no exception to this rule after the success of Windows 7. Normally I would be content to wait for the inevitably better replacement just as I did with 95, Me and Vista but my wife is in dire need of a computer upgrade. She is currently running hand me downs from my old gaming rigs: a 2005 era processor that is driving a 2002 install of Windows XP. While this is still fine for internet browsing and the odd game of Bejeweled my wife's growing photography hobby has turned her into a power user. That ageing rig has 3 terrabytes of picture laden hard disks hanging off it and image processing applications like Photoshop are serious resource hogs.

So what to do? Easiest thing is probably to ignore the shiny new Windows 8 machines being trotted out this week and look for a bargain on Windows 7. It feels somewhat wrong to spend new money on last years technology but Windows 7 is a very good operating system. In my opinion the best Microsoft ever made.

Then there is the bigger picture that many analysts are predicting the end of Windows and even the end of desktop computing altogether. I do buy the argument that the many people no longer need a desktop computer and that tablets and mobile devices will soon displace desktops in many areas. I don't believe they will displace the desktop any time soon in the majority of business or power user applications. Even if desktops are currently in decline I suspect it will be at least a decade before they are fully ousted from their current position of dominance and by that stage who knows what esoteric technologies we will be considering instead.

I should in fairness point out that my photo taking, latte drinking, Iphone carrying wife would be very happy to switch to an Apple desktop machine despite my personal loathing of Apple. Price wise this just doesn't make sense (thankfully). The entry level iMac costs €1,400 while an equivalent Windows machine is less than half of that.  On top of that we have a significant investment in Windows software that probably wouldn't transfer over. There is also a question of longevity. As the family IT guy I am confident in my ability to carefully upgrade a Windows machine and keep it running well for many years but I doubt I would be able to do that with a Mac.