Wordpress spam

There's trouble a-brewing with Wordpress.

Right now, the Wordpress site is unavailable, and I'll bet cash money it has a lot to do the recent kerfluffle over the seedy business practices Wordpress has begun engaging in.

Since my blog is powered by Wordpress, I'm slightly disappointed in this. I chose Wordpress as much for the quality of their politics as the quality of their software. Even more disappointing is Wordpress' unconvincing response to the criticism.

I sincerely hope this gets sorted soon.

DSL Update

A couple of months ago, I posted that our DSL went kablooie. And now, a couple of months later, it's still down. Here's the story of what happened.

Early February - Get home to discover that although our DSL modem is connecting and giving solid green lights all the way, when we try to actually log into UTV, we get a "remote host not responding". Phoned UTV immediately, and they reckoned it was a modem problem, and that I should try out a few things and then report the modem as 'broken' to receive a replacement

next day - modem can't even connect any more. Permanent state of flashing green lights. Phone UTV support and they tell me that it's something more than that. I should ring back in a couple of days.

A couple of days later - I phone back and they say they're going to get Eircom to test our line. This should take 5-8 working days.

two weeks later, around the end of February - I phone UTV back, and they say that the line check revealed that Eircom had disconnected our DSL line. Why? I don't know. UTV support guy says that this sometimes happens by accident, and sometimes it's an accounts issue. Our account was fine, so it wasn't that. Advises me that I should ring Eircom to find out why we were disconnected.

Next day - Phone Eircom to find out why we were disconnected. Person on the other end was most unhelpful and wouldn't tell me why. I asked if I could speak to someone else to find out why. They assure me that noone would be able to tell me why I was disconnected.

So I phone UTV and tell them that Eircom won't tell me why. They say they won't arrange a reconnection until they know why we were disconnected, so that they can be sure it won't happen again. I explain that Eircom won't tell me why. UTV's response (paraphrasing here): "Not my problem."

A couple of days later - Phone UTV again. No movement. Told that even if UTV were to reconnect me, it would take fully 10-14 working days to reconnect me.

A week later - I flip out at the lack of help from either side and email sales@u.tv to ask them to sort this mess out (if you're wondering why I emailed sales@u.tv - I was informed that the UTV accounts department is the exact same as the support department. Since they were spectacularly unhelpful, I thought sales might be more interested).

5 days later - No response at all, so I have a minor panic attack and tell UTV that their lack of cooperation or understanding on this matter was completely unacceptable and that they should cancel my account immediately. I get a reply within the hour telling me my account was disconnected.

yesterday - Since Smart aren't going to be launching their broadband in my area until early may, I've signed up for Esat's three-month broadband trial. This is initially 1MB, but will be increased to 2MB come April 4th (with no increase in the cap - but we're only going to be using this for a month or so). I botched my application and decided to try again some other time.

today - Got a phone call from Esat saying they saw that I'd been trying to apply for their broadband, and if I'd like to go through the application over the phone with them. After all the fucking around with UTV, I was genuinely taken aback by the friendly, helpful service from Esat.

Hopefully, we should have broadband in the next 8-10 working days.

Stephen Tobolowsky's Birthday Party

A while ago, someone asked me who my favourite actors were. I started rattling off some names -- Ron Perlman, Bruce Campbell, William H. Macy -- and I was stopped, and asked who my favourite big name actors were.

And I don't really have any. I love character actors.

I think I love them because they can pop up in all sorts of unsuspecting places. Rather than watching a movie almost exclusively because it has Johnny Depp in it, it's nice to watch a movie and suddenly have a bunch of people go "Hey, no way! It's that guy from... oh, what was it?"

An unsung hero among character actors is Stephen Tobolowsky. A "hero" because he is so incredibly prolific: I believe he holds the record for starring in the most movies in the 1990s. Unsung because almost noone remembers his name, and he's doomed to be forever known as "that guy from.. uh.. Groundhog Day!".

Hopefully, Stephen Tobolowsky's Birthday Party will change that. The trailer makes light of his relative anonymity - Stephen Tobolowsky asking various punters who they think "Stephen Tobolowsky" is. The answers range from "A Russian Scientist" to "Serial Killer" by way of "Porn Star".

The Incredibles

I loved The Incredibles.

It was completely unlike all of the other Pixar movies - it was grown up, had something resembling an original plot (Watchmen comparisons aside) and its production design was beautiful.

I picked up the DVD over the weekend. I still haven't gotten around to watching the movie, because I've been spending my time over on the second disk, watching the 'making of' featurettes.

Even these are completely unlike the other Pixar 'making of' featurettes. 'Finding Nemo' gave us fluff - people like Lee Unkrich and Andrew Stanton telling us how fantastic it was to make this movie, and gee whizz, isn't Pixar just great? On The Incredibles DVD, Brad Bird and various other Pixarians explaining how hard it was to make this movie. At one stage, they even show a fight between Brad Bird fighting with a producer to justify the cost of a particular scene: something I'd never seen on a DVD, let alone a Pixar DVD.

It's a fascinating set of featurettes, but the highlight for me came in the form of a closeup of their tools. The idea of building a rampantly successful motion pictures using Makefiles makes my tiny nerd heart flutter.

Digital Ireland →

The BBC are reporting that Irish cinema is set to go digital with the announcement that all cinemas in Ireland are to have their traditional film projectors replaced with digital projectors.

I would love to have some dates on the rollout of these kinds of things. Major directors like Michael Mann and George Lucas aside, 'digital filmmaking' has been relatively slow on the uptake. Perhaps this is the kind of kick in the ass it needs.

Personally, I'm thrilled at this. Aside from the technical issues, such as flickering and scratches and disjointed sound (which happened at the screening of Hotel Rwanda I saw in UGC - completely jarred me out of the movie), the major improvement I'm hoping this will bring is a quicker turnaround on movie releases here. Ireland traditionally has to wait in line to receive film reels as they do the rounds. For large films, such as the recent Hellboy or Incredibles, this wait can be as long as six months.

With digital filmmaking eliminating the needs for individual reels to be printed up, it eliminates that excuse.

Although I'm sure we'll still have to wait in line to download the 1TB that will make up the movie.

Zelda: A Cautionary Tale

"Yes" or "no"?

Two years of sitting on a shelf with a mental note of "must complete, someday", I finally got around to playing Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker. And for two weeks, every spare half hour was spent playing that game, beating various bosses, sailing the seas digging up treasure, talking to everyone I met, amassing a veritable horde of spoils.

Now, after a long day in work, I've turned on the Gamecube and dragged my favourite chair closer to the TV only to find the game asking me "yes" or "no"?

It didn't say what the question was. What could it be? Load the game?

I choose "yes".

"Please wait..."

Hmm. My muscle memory spasms a little, telling me that this isn't the way I load my game in Wind Waker. Flash of panic. What have I done?!

"Done!"

And I'm taken to the quest screen.

Three empty slots. Three "New quest" buttons, empty as the day they left the Nintendo factory.

My game is gone. All my hard work. All my emotional attachment is gone. As if to pour some salt on the wounds, I checked gamefaqs, to see how far I had to go to the end of the game. Not far. A couple more shards of the Triforce and I'd be fighting Ganondorf once and for all. All gone.

Now.. I don't know what to do. I tried launching straight back into it, but there's so much to do. My sea chart is empty, my spoils bag is.. hang on, I don't even have a spoils bag yet. I resent every conversation with every character, so I don't talk to anyone. Even more, I resent conversations that I must have to progress in the game. The unskippable nature of them grates over me. Things that were beautiful and magical, even the cute little cut-scene where you change the direction of the wind and Link whips his head around - all these things are like nails across a blackboard.

And so it's going back on the shelf for another two years.

This time, without the mental note.

Simpler side of gaming

"Iwata-san has the heart of a gamer”and my question is, what poor bastard™s chest did he carve it from, and how often do they perform human sacrifices at Nintendo HQ?"
-- Greg Castikyan

Greg Costikyan recently posted a transcript of a rant he gave at a GDC roundtable talk on the topic of game production. The panel were speaking about how the cost of game production has risen to the stage where it is actually prohibitory for publishers to fund developers that aren't working on licensed or recognisable IP. In it, Greg talks about how J Allard's GDC keynote filled him with dread - the idea of welcoming in an era of HD video games with massive production costs, increased workload for developers and no additional profit for anyone but the games publishers?

He's right to be afraid.

But there seems to be a bit of hope, from an unlikely source.

Flash gaming.

No, hear me out.

Although it's never going to take over the world, we've reached the stage where people have had enough of creating silly games based around hitting/pissing on/killing celebrities and have begun exploring the medium's creative possibilities. And although they're just short, 5-minute bursts of gaming, they've been creating a bit of a buzz on among the internet community.

Helicopter game

This was the first truly addictive flash game I can think of. Although it's almost 4 years old at this stage, it's still a lot of fun to play. Simple premise - fly your helicopter, don't crash. I doubt a lot of people would pay a lot of money for this, but just think how many hours were lost to this game in offices around the world.

Treasure Box

Beautifully introduced by Metafilter as "If Rube Goldberg and Terry Gilliam made flash games, they might go like this", Treasure Box showed that Flash games didn't have to just simple affairs. Although there isn't actually much gameplay in this to keep people entertained, there's enough eccentric beauty to keep people fascinated.

Skills to pay the bills

Okay, so we've got some good flash games out there, so what? Well, some bright sparks out there have figured out a way to make money out of very good flash games and because of this, we're seeing the beginnings of a resurgence in the shareware games scene.

Some examples:

Gish

Gish is a platform game where you control a ball of tar. Using Newtonian physics (and some physics-cheating constructs), you guide your ball of tar through various obstacles to reach the end of the level. Because of its unique and superbly crafted nature, it has won all sorts of praise. But here's the rub - the developers of this game are actually making money from it because of its shareware nature (play the basic levels online, pay $20 for the full game). I don't know how much, but I'm sure it's nothing to be sneezed at.

Codename Gordon (site down right now)

What started out as a flash 'tribute' to Half Life 2 (or a way to stave off the boredom until the game was actually released, depending on who you ask) is now available for purchase through Steam. Codename Gordon: Half Life 2D is a beautiful thing - embracing the limitations of flash gaming and turning them into a feature.

Alien Hominid

Like Codename Gordon, Alien Hominid started off as a way for a group of friends to create a simple game and hopefully sell it. It started off as one of a hundred games on popular flash site Newgrounds (play the original) is now being released on the Xbox, PS2 and Gamecube. And what's more, it hasn't been significantly changed during the transition - it still retains the same look and play mechanics.

Of course, none of these are ever likely to compete with the likes of Resident Evil 4 or Gran Turismo 4 in the battle for the hearts and minds of the casual gamer, but they do go some way to showing that there is a distribution channel for these simple flash games and, providing your game is good enough, that money can be made from them.

How much money? Well, that remains to be seen. Certainly not enough to retire and live the rest of your life with cocaine and champagne enemas. But enough to keep your games sustainable?

Maybe.

Like these flash games? Want to get some more examples? Do yourself a favour and check out gotoAndPlay.it


Update

Ren Reynolds posts a rebuttal to the GDC roundtable. His conclusions are similar to mine - for all of those who are bemoaning the death of innovation in games, there are other options.