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Hearthstone Inn

 Nick stands in front of a sign that reads 'Rustic, Artisan-Crafted Guest Units' 
I found it! Now where’s my Legendary?

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Enthusiastically Towed

A no parking sign on a chain link fence reads

Funny parking sign in Harmonix lot near Central Square.

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Titanfall Book

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A few weeks ago I won the March Madness contest run by the DLC gaming podcast. This awesome book, The Art of Titanfall, my prize, just arrived! I got several wrong in the early rounds (I was generally favoring influential classics over maybe the best game experiences), but correctly called Super Mario 64 beating Portal in the final round. Thanks Jeff!

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Number One

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That rare moment when you’re the top high score on Game Center… Because there are only 10 players in the whole world for a game that just came out.

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PAX East 2012 Indie Megabooth

Intro

Early this year, I made my fifth PAX pilgrimage, this time to PAX East 2012. Even though we only attended two days (because of Easter Sunday and impending travel), we managed to fit in a mix of activities, including the keynote from Jordan Mechner, the Saturday night concert featuring JoCo, a few panels, and some good tabletop gaming. I also spent a fair bit of time on the expo hall floor. An interesting twist this year was the creation of The Indie Megabooth, for which a bunch of small independent developers pooled their resources to secure one large booth.

This is where I ended up spending most of my time, because to me, this is where the gameplay innovation is happening. Also unlike AAA games, many of these games were going to be available much sooner, are generally more affordable, and are more likely to be available on my platforms of choice (Mac and iOS). Another bonus was that the lines were short, so you could get a demo of many of these games without having to wait a couple of hours in line for a preview video (which in my mind is a total waste of your PAX ticket).

They also did something fun: they created a little achievement card, called the Indie Mega Passport, with silly activities or game actions that you had to complete at each booth. Pictures of my completed passport, plus a review of the games I was able to play, are below the cut.

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Kickstarting Apps

I have a tiny Kickstarter problem, but I mostly manage to resist. Earlier this year my excitement for backing video games overwhelmed me a bit, as you can see. I’m excited especially for The Banner Saga, but like any preorder, I’m out money now for something I won’t have for a year.

As you may know, I am also a big fan of the 5by5 podcast network, including the show Build & Analyze with Marco Arment. A few months ago, I wrote in to the show with this question:

I’m wondering if you’d talk about the recent large-scale Kickstarter video game projects, such as Double Fine Adventure, Wasteland 2, and Banner Saga. Do you think this would be a way fund non-game apps?

Marco and Dan answered this in Episode #70, 116 Degree Burns, starting at the 23:35 mark, right after the first sponsor, and going to about 34:25. I meant to follow-up a while ago, but the end of the semester was a busy time, so here goes.

My interpretation of Marco’s overall point was that software, especially complex apps like a game, is too risky to back. This is because it’s near impossible to estimate the total amount of development time, and therefore the cost, so the project can’t set a reasonable goal or backer rewards.

As a fellow software engineer, I totally understand this difficulty, but Marco’s take was definitely a downer for me. I think I wanted him to agree with my thinking, which is that Kickstarter could be an alternative source of funding for app creators, basically a way to gauge market interest before doing anything more than preliminary planning and development. I think Marco goes too far in claiming that Kickstarter possibly shouldn’t allow these projects because of that risk.

As an aside, there is some irony in one of the first high-profile app Kickstarter projects, Dark Sky, being an occasional sponsor on 5by5.

Kickstarter has a good stats page, but it just shows the breakdown of successful vs. unsuccessful funding; it doesn’t show how successful projects are at completion and wisely using their funding, which is at the core of Marco’s argument. At a glance,  I have seen a few updates from some of the projects I’ve backed that the project team didn’t accurately predict the cost and effort of putting together (and in some cases, shipping) backer rewards. I do note that Games as a category are on the higher end of the money range, but the lower end of the success rate, which probably bears out Marco’s point about risk.

That all said, I think Kickstarter has a very important role for the future of “the useful arts”. The content industry in particular is in the process of a major upheaval, so it’s not clear how someone with a good idea that doesn’t fit into the usual day job archetype can get the money they need upfront in order to take the time to create. Backers can in that sense collectively fill the role of Renaissance patrons.

Apps are in a bit different category, in no small part because the skills necessary to create an app are economically valued in the traditional employment market. Maybe some of my interest in the idea is that, while I love my job, I envy some aspects of Marco’s lifestyle as an independent app developer. (It doesn’t help that we’re within a few months of the same age.) I suppose then a subtext of my question was wondering if this is a feasible way to start working in this space.

What do you think?

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REAMDE

Reamde
Reamde by Neal Stephenson

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Neal Stephenson is my favorite author, so it is probably no surprise that I tore through this book in just a couple of days and gave it five stars. I remain in love with his overly verbose writing style, and his nerdy asides. I’ll echo something Fritz said when we discussed the book briefly, which is that it hearkens back to some of his earlier work, before the heavily researched and almost academic vibe of The Baroque Cycle and Anathem. That is to say, this book is heavier on the action, but even that action is incredibly detailed, all the way down to what you could easily classify as “gun porn”.

I very much enjoyed his portrayal of the MMORPG T’Rain, and the amusing barbs directed at fantasy writing and settings wrapped up in that. I would definitely play a game with that level of obsessive detail, especially the geophysically realistic terrain generation and real passage of time, although I doubt it would turn out to be a WoW killer because it wouldn’t have that broad of an appeal.

The near-future setting felt realistic, especially because he regularly refers to real-world companies and internet services. It’s interesting to me that from a trademark perspective, an author can do that in writing, but present-day movies generally have to make up news networks, search engines, etc. because otherwise they’d have to pay for the rights. It’s jarring when they’re forced to do that, so I’m glad that distraction wasn’t present here.

One of the more amusing examples of Stephenson’s style was his apparent obsession with the word “talus“. I guess he didn’t like “scree” or “loose rock” and really wanted to emphasize the instability of the terrain the various characters were walking on. I think the final chapters mentioned it on about every other page.

As for the characters, I generally wanted to like everyone, even the bad guys. I think a big part of this was that almost all of them were non-stereotypical or outsiders in some way, making them not fit our assumptions for how they should look/sound/act.

If you like Stephenson, you definitely won’t be disappointed; if you’re new to him, this iteration of his work is also considerably more accessible than some of his work in the last 10 years. I think I will still stand by my claim that Snow Crash is the best introduction, but maybe that’s just because that’s the first book of his that I read, and I was hooked. REAMDE stands alone in his various universes, and is a bit less geekily intimidating than his other books.

 

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PAX East 2010

Best. PAX. Evar.

PAX East was my third Penny Arcade eXpo, and in many ways my best… but as others have addressed, also an unfortunate reminder of how hard it is to manage a convention hall full of geeks, nerds, dweebs, and all the rest. The whining has been handled by others, and I have a positive attitude and had a great time in spite of the logistical problems, so I’m not going to talk about those problems much.

For me, the two huge differences were location (that the event was local to me, in addition to not involving a visit to my parental units in Seattle) and people (in addition to more random run-ins, I spent most of the con with my old roommate Fritz and my girlfriend Andrle, as well as bringing my Little Brother on Sunday). Since it was a much more social event for me, I didn’t enter any gaming tournaments (as I did both of the last two PAX Primes, even placing in RoboRally last year and winning a PAX medal), nor did I attend any sessions (in part due to line issues).

As per my usual, I caught Paul and Storm and Jonathan Coulton in concert (the 6th time I’ve seen them play live!), as well as the opening act with the Video Game Orchestra. Like last year (but unlike my first year at PAX ’08), I watched the keynote by Wil Wheaton and the final round of the Omegathon (the third round of which was in this case was the opening for the Saturday night concert).

As always, amusing nerd-watching, interesting demos, tons of free crap, and good times gaming. A few pictures, some game and product comments, plus my concert videos, below the cut.

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Top 200 Video Games of All Time According to Game Informer

Introduction

Oh yeah, I have a blog! Lots has been going on in the intervening months (see my Twitter feed for short attention span details), but I figured a video game post during NaBloPoMo would be a good way to get back on the wagon, even if I’m not actually posting every day during November.

While visiting my Little Brother this weekend, I noticed a rather unusual magazine cover… a (very pixelated) monster from the original Doom. This turned out to be the latest issue of Game Informer, specifically Volume XIX, Number 12, Issue 200. In honor of this decimalist anniversary, they published their Top 200 Video Games of All Time list, which unsurprisingly is linkbait for any video game fan who likes to rant about what should and should not be included in such a list. I ran through my opinions quickly with my Little, mostly fixating on why so many recent games were already on the list, but decided a deeper analysis was in order.

Instead of complaining about the contents of the list, I thought I’d use it to track my personal video game history (much as my father has in the past used the Rolling Stone 500 Greatest Albums of All Time and Rolling Stone 500 Greatest Songs of All Time to guide his music purchases). I’ve also done some histogram breakdowns of what’s on the list. I would say that my guideline for inclusion on any such list would involve adjectives like “innovative” and “influential”, and explicitly avoid conditions like “critically acclaimed”, “popular”, or “best-selling”. This in turn means that inclusion must be viewed through a somewhat temporally distant lens, for sufficient perspective on a particular cultural artifact’s import.

How many of these have you played? Do you strongly agree/disagree with any of the rankings?

The columns are Game Informer rank, game title, platform(s), and year of publication from the original article; I believe using this data for commentary is covered by Fair Use. I added platforms in a few places to account for the particular port of a game that I played. I have also added columns for myself, for Played, Owned, and Completed. The full table and further analysis is below the cut.

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Nicolas Ward

Software engineer in Natural Language Processing research by day; gamer, reader, and aspiring UltraNurd by night. Husband to Andrle
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