Monday, September 29, 2014

Wizmouse for Windows: Scroll the window under the mouse cursor without changing focus.

I regularly have two documents open on my screen and I try to make notes in one while I read the other. Having  a big widescreen monitor helps. Twin monitors are even better but there is an annoying windows feature that slows things up. Only one window can be active at a time (has focus) and if you want to do anything to the other window you must activate it by clicking it. Typically this means clicking a window to scroll up the text then clicking the other window to start typing again. It doesn't sound like much but the constant switching of focus disrupts my work flow and inevitably I get it wrong occasionally and try to type in the wrong place.

WizMouse from Antibody software is a simple, fix for this with an unlimited free trial. When it is active then the mouse wheel controls the window under the pointer WITHOUT CHANGING FOCUS. In practise this allows you to keep typing away in the active window while using the mouse wheel to scroll through the other window. Brilliant.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Edward Castronova (Terra Nova) offers a brilliant but poignant summary of why mmorpgs are history.

For a time in the last decade, there was a sense that an immersive 3D communal place was a substantial thing unto itself, and likely to become an important media offering. That has not happened. Instead, we've seen an unbundling of the parts of virtual worlds. Sociality went to Facebook. Complex heroic stories went to single-player games. Multiplayer combat went to places like DOTA and Clash of Clans. Economy games went to Farmville and the F2P clones. Virtual currency went to Bitcoin. 
Edward Castronova final post on Terra Nova, 25th September 2014

This succinct analysis strikes a poignant chord with me. Having grown up with 1980's Sci Fi I have always had a secret hankering for Gibsonesque virtual worlds that would allow humans to escape from the tethers of the physical world. For a brief moment in time it seemed that mmorpgs might be the first tentative steps towards making those virtual worlds a reality. Sure they were games but they were also so much more than games. They were entire social eco systems for millions of players. Some virtual worlds such as Second Life and possibly Eve offered a more complete simulation but all of these games taken together suggested that something important was really happening.

The failure of any subsequent title to emulate the success of World of Warcraft and the cancellation of the long promised successor to WoW are pointed to as indicators of the declining health of mmorpgs but I think Castronova's comment addresses the real issue. We no longer believe that these worlds are going to be anything more than just games. The naive hope that these games might be the first steps towards something that would completely transform humanities relationship with reality has proven unfounded.  The dream is over.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Spellforce - Sometimes Slow is OK

I have been re-playing a bit of Spellforce-Order of Dawn this last week. I find it curiously compelling even though I can't really recommend it to a modern audience. The rts/rpg hybrid gameplay was probably innovative back in 2003 but the game feels dated today. Moreover it plays very very slowly. A key feature of the game is that your character and accompanying army spend a lot of time just walking slowly around large maps to find enemies and other objectives. A curious design decision is that every time you load a game or use a fast travel portal the entire map covers with fog of war again. This means that unless you have a photographic memory the only way to search a map properly is to walk the whole map area in one long (an hour or more) session without quitting the game and without availing of any fast travel abilities.

The game is also rather easy (played on normal at any rate) and encourages a turtling strategy. It is very easy to defend your base from sporadic enemy attacks while you build up an unstoppable army and only then bring it out for the slow walk around the map steam-rolling any opposition you find along the way.

All of the above makes the game hard to recommend and I suspect many players would find this slow unchallenging gameplay rather frustrating. Yet I find it suits my mood at the moment. I doubt i will stick it out to the end of the campaign but it is keeping my occupied for a while at least.