Saturday, June 30, 2012

Dear PC Game Devs, please stop asking for aspect ratio before letting me choose screen resolution.

I have noticed an increasingly bonkers trend in PC games where the graphics settings insist that you choose the correct aspect ratio before they will let you choose the right screen resolution.  To make things worse there isn't even a consensus on what the different aspect ratios are called.

Installing Dragon Age II recently I had to set an aspect ratio of 16:10 before it would allow me to select the correct 1680 x 1050 resolution for my monitor. On other occasions it has been sufficient to say "widescreen" but when I went to install Warhammer 40k Space Marine the magic aspect ratio turned out to be 8:5. I know that could be worked out from simple arithmetic but given that Space marine offers a choice of ten different aspect ratio's including such gems as 683:384 it was frustratingly hard to find the right answer.  

This is completely backwards because most gamers know the resolution of their screens so if they just asked for the resolution then the programme can work out the aspect ratio. Please stop this stupid practise. Ask me for the screen resolution and then do the math on aspect ratio yourselves.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Cable company customer service

I hate ringing my cable company. It isn't because they are unhelpful, I have always found them courteous. It isn't even because of the automated answering service. I have always found it possible to get through to a human relatively quickly. It is simply because long experience has taught me that whom ever I am speaking to will try their hardest to get me to pay more. This has to be deeply  ingrained in the company's policy because the most innocent of inquiries will result in some additional surcharge being suggested, often for no increase in service. I have also learned that most of these surcharges are completely avoidable but once you are on the phone to a representative of the company you need to carefully navigate around a minefield of suggested charges in order to get away  without increasing your monthly bill.

Example from a few years ago:
I am ringing to cancel "XYZ channel, we don't watch it any more and I no longer want to pay for it. "Certainly sir, but you will have to pay a downgrade fee"

Another example:
"I note that you have a special offer which seems to include all of my services for a lower price, will that give me everything I have now and cost less"?
"Certainly sir, would you like to upgrade?
"Are you sure it has everything I have now?"
"It does sir, will I upgrade you now"
 "Eh ... OK"
Half an hour later
"I recently upgraded to your new package and now my kids are complaining they cannot watch PQR"
"Ah, yes sir PQR isn't included in the new package, but we can add it for an additional monthly fee"
"That will end up costing me more than I was already paying for the same service. I want to go back to where I was"
"Certainly sir. There will of course be a downgrade fee...."

"I am a long time customer of your television service and I am ringing because you are advertising a  a good price for a phone and internet bundle"
"Certainly sir, I can upgrade you to phone and internet for only  €Y extra a month"
"Wait a minute, I am already paying €X per month and €X + €Y is a lot more than you are advertising for that bundle".
"Yes sir, that special bundle price is only for new customers. You are an existing customers so you don't qualify for that price"
"I have never had internet from you before. Does that not count? Anyway if I cannot get the new price I am not interested".
"Wait a minute sir, I will speak to a manager"
Several minutes later
"All right sir, I have permission from my manger to give you the special bundle price if you sign up today".
"Ok, I 'll take it"
"You will have to pay for installation, it will be included in your next bill"
"But... the advertisement says that installation is free"
"That's for new customers sir ...."
Several consultations with the invisible manager later I eventually  managed to get the installation for half price. Perhaps, with persistence I might have gotten it for nothing but they wore me down. 

Recent example: I rang the company to find out why we do not have access to movies on demand while my brother,  who is on the same subscription plan does. The first person I talked to seemed delighted to take my call and offered to "upgrade me" to movies on demand for only €3 extra a month. Knowing that my brother already has that service for the price I am already paying I baulked:  "I have to pay extra so that you can earn more by selling me movies? I don't think so."
"Ah...", she replied, "I will put you on to our customer loyalty team"

The (once again friendly) representative of the customer loyalty team explained to me that they would need to upgrade my set top  box in order to accommodate the on demand services.  He assured me it wouldn't cost an additional €3 per month but that there was a once off €45 charge for the new box. That sounded somewhat plausible, particularly as the new box would come with additional features such as recording and live pause.  I was still a bit reluctant, I hadn't rang with the intention of spending extra money. Seeing my hesitation he made a new offer: "I cannot waive the €45 fee", he explained " but I can reduce your subscription by 50% for the next two months".  This was finally a good deal. The reduction in subscription more than covers the €45 and I got the representative to swear that my existing services would be unaffected.

I cannot decide whether this is good or bad customer service. They are helpful and friendly but they are clearly programmed to load the fees at every available opportunity. I find any interaction with them draining and I consider any contact with them where I have managed to avoid increasing my monthly spend a success.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Your game doesn't work with my password manager

If you play online games (and nowadays even offline games) then you need lots of secure paswords. The best way I know of generating and maintaining a  secure password is to use a password manager such as the excellent Keepass. Keepass will generate and store hundreds of passwords and lock them all up in military grade security. Instead of being restricted to the simple monsyllables that my 48 year old brain can remember (dog, cat ...) I can use long strings of assorted hieroglphics to thwart any would be hacker.

The beauty of a good password manager is that you don't even have to type in these long and complex sequences. Keypass will copy the password into the paste buffer and from there you can ctrl-v it into the password field. This works great for most programmes and websites but it doesn't work for some games.

When trying to install Dragon Age last night I had to tpe in my Origin account details to activate the game. Sadly they have disabled the paste buffer when entering passwords so I had to squint at my long, randomly generated  password and meticulously copy it over character by character to log in.

I was not pleased.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Wot I am playing

My gaming has been a mixed bag recently. From a recent humble indie bundle I have played:

Limbo: Excellent atmospheric 2d platformer. The best bits are at the start unfortunately but I found enough of interst to keep me going to the end.

Bastion: I finished my first play through last night. Highly polished and very enjoyable action rpg with a strong storyline that is cleverly narrated  as you progress through the game. There are tonnes of options (weapons and upgrades) and I was initially frustrated to realise that you cannot replay levels in the game because there aren't enough levels to try more than a few combinations. However finishing the game seems to have unlocked a new mode where I can go back with all the stuff I have accumulated so I may replay it a few times to experiment. My favourite combination so far is flame thrower and mortar by the way.

Super Meat Boy:  Incredible hard but quite compelling platformer.  I have completed about twenty levels but I am afraid to go back to the game because I know it will end in tears of frustration.

Outside of the bundle I have also being dabbling in

Dungeon Siege III: Played co-op with my daughter.

Eve: If bored I log in and run a mission but apart from increasing my skills it feels like I am going backwards in the game. I had my largest ever loss when I blindly jumped to the wrong gate and sent a mission fit maelstrom straight into a low sec gate camp. In addition to that high sec mission runner I have a 0.0 "lol" alt with 800k skill points running level 1 Gurista missions in a Magnate in Venal. The level 1 missions are a joke but trying to keep the character alive and supplied with any kind of ship and equipment is mildly entertaining.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Lotro now on Steam

I am a week behind the time with this news but I just noticed that Lotro is now available on the Steam platform. I spend more time in Lotro than any other mmorpg so I have a special love for the game even though I am not playing it at the moment. Checking the Steam forums indicates that a number of new players have been tempted to try it since its Steam release. Good news all round I think.

Friday, June 08, 2012

The rules of EVE online

I am not actively playing EVE at the moment but since I decided to keep up my sub for training I occasionally log in to update the skill queue, look around and maybe run a mission or two. I was too tired to do much last night but logged in anyway for a look around. Someone was touting a blueprint for sale in local chat.

SECOND RULE OF EVE: Anything being offered in local chat in Jita is a scam.

This however was not Jita and even though I was I tired I knew that honest pilots who couldn't be bothered hauling their goods  to a trade hub sometimes tout their wares in local in the hopes of making a sale in this quiet system. You can occasionally pick up a bargain this way.

THIRD RULE OF EVE: If it looks too good to be true. It is.

A quick glance at EVE Central showed that this blueprint was being sold at a considerable discount to the market price. Tempting. The pilot might be too lazy to haul it to a busier system but perhaps I could make a few million doing so.

FOURTH RULE OF EVE: What you don't know WILL hurt you.

Blueprints are needed to make stuff in EVE. A BPO is an original blueprint which never runs out and can be used to make copies. A BPC is a blueprint copy which has a limited number of uses. Needless to say BPOs are much more valuable than BPCs. You can sell BPOs on the market in EVE but the less valuable BPCs can only be traded in contracts. Unfortunately the original and the copy look just like each other so you need to look closely at the details to tell them apart.

FIFTH RULE OF EVE: If you lose it is always your own fault.

It was only after I accepted the apparent "bargain" that my brain kicked into gear and I went to check contracts. Needless to say I had just paid well over the odds for a relatively worthless blueprint copy.

What stung the most about this is not the fact that I lost a few million isk. What really annoyed me is that I knew all this in advance.  I even knew the bit about BPOs versus BPCs.

Do you want to know how I am certain that I knew?

It is because when I went to check contracts the search page defaulted to the last search I had done a week or so earlier. It was a search for the exact same blueprint showing just how little it was really worth.  Finally I remembered almost falling for the same scam then but having the presence of mind to double check contracts first and saying no. Sadly a week later I was tired and didn't remember my previous search until it was too late.

SIXTH RULE OF EVE: If you are any way tired or otherwise not alert, then don't. Just don't.

[Aside #1: To be fair I don't know if I can even accuse the seller of scamming. There were no lies told and no effort made at deception. He or she just offered something for sale at a very high price and some gullible fool (me) bought it. I regularly buy stuff cheap and sell it dear. Does it make me a scammer if  I neglect to mention you can get it for 5 million less by flying two systems over? What is the line between making an honest profit and running a scam?

[Aside #2: There is a first rule of EVE but I couldn't figure a way to fit it into the story. For completeness here it is anyway:

FIRST RULE OF EVE: Do not fly what you cannot afford to lose. ]

Apparently I have a coffee problem

 A couple of weeks ago my wife alerted me to the fact that I had developed an occasional odour problem. This surprised and distressed me som...