Friday, November 30, 2007

2007 Aurealis Awards

I don’t know if I’ve mentioned this before or not, but I’m a judge on the fantasy short story panel of the 2007 Aurealis Awards.

Nominations were just closed with 159 stories submitted this year in the fantasy short story category. The awards ceremony is January 26th at the Judith Wright Centre for Contemporary Arts here in Brisbane and is open to the public.

I mentioned this is because I just think it’s so cool to sit in the middle of a pile of manuscripts and I wanted to share. I am just such a big geek for that sort of thing.

Okay the real reason I brought it up was because I wanted to help spread the word of this:
A Christmas Conversation with Fiona McIntosh

Get ready for the holiday season by joining us for a special festive chat with internationally best-selling Australian fantasy author, Fiona McIntosh.

Fiona will share her experiences on becoming a full time writer and the trials and tribulations of being a published professional in what promises to be the perfect preparation for the holiday season.

She will also be signing copies of her books (which make the perfect Christmas present.

Profits from this relaxed and intimate evening will support the Aurealis Awards, Australia’s premier speculative fiction celebration. Tickets are available now from Pulp Fiction Books or at the door on the night.

Where: QWC seminar room, Metro Arts Building, 109 Edward Street, Brisbane
When: Monday 3rd December, 6:00pm for 6:30pm
Cost: $10 (includes finger food)

Brought to you by Fantastic Queensland and Pulp Fiction Books.
I haven't actually read anything by Fiona McIntosh but I like to listen to writers talk about writing. Or maybe I have... her website look familiar but I don't recognize any of the titles.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

New Picture with Short Hair

I was going to wait till this weekend to take a new picture of myself with short hair. But then I was set up to do Erin Marcon's "Collections" column in Hyper Magazine.Left to right on the monitors is Fury, the original Command & Conquer, and Eye of the Beholder. The 5 characters on the Eye of the Beholder screen are all old Westwood Studios employees - left to right: Myself, Frank Saxon, Aaron Powel, Phil Gorrow, and Paul Mudra. The statue between the monitors is from the comic book Invincible by Robert Kirkman. You can also see Sergio Aragon├ęs Groo statue sitting on top of the Nintendo DS games. The figures on top of the computer are from Homestar Runner.

It was a last minute thing so I had to quickly take a new picture and answer all his questions. I was up till all hours of the morning trying to get a decent picture.

I remember when I was taking photography classes at College of Southern Nevada in Vegas. One of the girls asked me for advice because I was getting A's on all my assignments. I asked to see her proof sheets for our last assignment. She had taken 5 pictures for the assignment. First I showed her one picture that showed what I had done to set up the picture, lights hanging off cloths racks and stuff like that. Then I showed her my poof sheets. I used 7 whole rolls of film just to get one picture that I could work on for few hours in the dark room to get it looking good enough to turn in. Then I asker her out and she turned me down. :-(

I'll still try to take another picture this weekend to make a new profile picture.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Back from Melbourne

Here is a picture of the Fury booths at GCAP, eSports and eGames in Melbourne.

I would like to point out that the girls in the last picture were kicking ass. The guy sitting across from them kept standing up and looking over the computers as if to assure himself that yes, he had in fact had his butt handed to him by a 8 year old girl.

While we were setting up all the computers at eGames, I noticed that our friends over at Australian Gamer hadn't arrived and set up yet. So decided to have a little fun. Now when I showed this picture to Yug he game me such a hurt look as if I had just stolen his last beer. I felt so bad. I would also like to point out that in the end, there was in fact cake. It was some kind of fruitcake covered in nuts, so really, no big loss.

The first night we got to Melbourne I talked everybody into going to the Hardrock Cafe for dinner because I wanted to get a pin for my collection. I had been too lazy to walk the few blocks to get the pin when I was in Melbourne last year. From our hotel this year it was all the way on the other side of the CBD. Once we got all the way over there we found out that it had closed 2 weeks ago. Sigh.

So thats about it for my trip to Melbourne. Well except for the part where some guy picked my pocket and I chased him down and tackled him to the ground. That was kind of fun except for the part where he ran off and when security got there they yanked me off in to the back room for some spit in your face yelling type interrogation.

Oh, and I cut my hair off. Pictures to come in the next few days.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

eGames & GCAP in Melbourne

eGames 2007I will be heading down to Melbourne Wednesday for the eGames Expo. I feel Auran's official press release for the topic covers all the points nicely:
We're sending some of our unwashed* staff to the eGames Expo in Melbourne, which starts on the 16th of November and runs through to the 18th. If you're in the Melbourne region, get along to the expo and visit the Fury stand to have a chat. We'll have copies of Fury for sale at special show prices as well, so come with some cash to pick up a copy for you or a friend.

* Staff will be patched before the show to remedy this bug.
If you have yet to sign up as member of my rabid legion of followers and you happen to be near Melbourne next weekend; stop by eGames and bring your own pen. I swear newbie legion members steal more pens from me.

GCAPI will actually be switching between our booth at eGames and a booth at Game Connect: Asia Pacific (a.k.a. GCAP), an industry conference event also being held in the Convention Center; but I shouldn’t be that hard to track down.

Ashwin also just let me know that the Electric Playground video of me interviewing Connie and Baxter here in the office for is up on their site. I won't linking to said video because I look like shit. This is what happens when you live somewhere with high humidity, fry your hair by bleaching it blond and not know when you leave the house in the morning that you are going to be doing a video shoot.

I have dyed my hair back brown as you can see from the picture to the right, but half that length is fried. The natural curl is starting to come back but unless I use excess hair product it frizzes out halfway through the day. I am probably going to cut the damaged length off when I get back from Melbourne.

If you really want to see how bad it looks, feel free to go find the Electric Playground site yourself, but just remember. I warned you.

Richard Garriott's Pain in My Ass

As a game designer I tend to take a very critical look at how other game companies do things. ...and then I complain about them. That second part doesn't have anything to do with being a game designer, that's just me. I’m not saying I, the company I work for, or the product we just put out is perfect either, it’s just that it isn’t very professional to complain about those things in public so I’m forced to pick on other people and their products.

It is day 4 in my attempt to play “Richard Garriott’s Tabula Rasa”. I have now given up on my attempt to get my normal account name back and am trying to use my other account. At this point I am also trying to act like some average consumer when faced with problems. For example I am now pretending I know nothing about the connection between the game and NCSoft, specifically the fact that I have to use a Master PlayNC account to then add “Richard Garriott’s Tabula Rasa”.

The little card with my “Richard Garriott’s Tabula Rasa” Serial Code that came in the box simply says to launch the game and follow the instructions. I click the “Richard Garriott’s Tabula Rasa” icon on my desktop, it loads the PlayNC launcher and I click on “Richard Garriott’s Tabula Rasa” under the Installed list and then press “Play Now.” It goes through a patch check, EULA, logo screens, skips the movie because it already played it once when I first installed and updated and I am eventually faced with a login screen and asked for my account and password.

It has not yet told me that how I should go about making an account. The only options I can select are Options (Video/Audio/Game/Key Bindings), Cinematic, Credits, and Exit.

I type some random stuff in the account and password fields and press return. The computer is now locked up and both ALT-Tab and CTRL-ALT-DEL do nothing. I know what the problem is. They blew test number one. They didn’t take software firewalls into account and Zone Alarm’s little dialog is blocked behind their screen and they won’t let me ALT-Tab out to say that it’s okay for “Richard Garriott’s Tabula Rasa” to access the Internet. I have to force shut down my machine at this point because it doesn’t appear to be timing out.

Luckily Zone Alarm now remembers incomplete failed software access attempts so I just have to open up its menu and say allow “Richard Garriott’s Tabula Rasa”. Before Zone Alarm did this if you never answered the ‘Allow’ or ‘Block’ dialog the program wouldn’t show up in the list. Granted if you aren’t familiar with stupid launcher programs that do crap like this, you still wouldn’t know why your computer is locking up.

Okay so I get back to the password screen and type random stuff and it just tells me to check my spelling etc. It does say that if I need help retrieving account information I should go to for more information. But it has never told me how to go about creating an account in the first place.

I go back to the PlayNC launcher and press the Help link. It loads up Internet Explorer which is NOT my default browser. I use Firefox. For a moment I shake my fist at the computer while pretending I’m a ranting, anti-Microsoft, computer guy. I yell and scream for a few minutes about the “Richard Garriott’s Tabula Rasa” sullying my computer with Internet Explorer and probably downloading viruses as we speak. Seriously, if you are going to launch a browser, launch the default browser on the machine.

Lets look at the link on the Serial Code card, RGTR stands for “Richard Garriott’s Tabula Rasa” and it yes, every where they print the name of the game they have to spell out the whole thing. Kinda like the old Virgin Game’s “The 11th Hour: The Sequel to the 7th Guest.” Same thing and I swear it made the manual twice as long. It’s so stupid. Marketing feels that putting Richard’s name on the title like that might help sell the game. He’s a famous guy, we all love Ultima. I get that, I get putting it on the box, but the extra step of bonding his name to the title is annoying. It is ridiculous to read when used in a sentence. And they obviously don’t want you typing that whole thing out in the URL so they shortened it to RGTR which now isn’t connected to the either his name or the game anymore! You might have noticed I’ve gone back over this post and replaced everywhere I had Tabula Rasa with “Richard Garriott’s Tabula Rasa” just to drive the point home. I do wonder if I could legally put out my own game called “Joseph B. Hewitt IV’s Tabula Rasa”?

Anyway the official game web site… going to look through their forums to see if anybody else has this problem. Community link to Forum & Fansites link… to umm no official forums. They are all fansite forums.

Okay I give up. I didn’t mean to write another really long complaining post. I was just going to post a small thing about them locking up my computer with Zone Alarm and it somehow blew up into this whole thing. I’m going to turn my brain back on and log in with my PlayNC account. I really don’t know how a casual, non-technical, person would ever figure out how to actually log into the game. Going to the PlayNC site, creating an account there, adding the game through that site, THEN logging into the game isn’t a natural process. You would think they would put all that on the Serial Code card but instead they link to the official game site. There do seem to be people online right now playing "Richard Garriott's Tabula Rasa" so maybe it’s just me.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Don’t PlayNC

NCSoft has got to have THE WORST help system of any on-line game service. Okay, probably not anywhere near THE worst. SoE certainly wasn’t an award winner for SWG at its launch, but NCSoft certainly does love making you jump through hoops and they have had over four years to actually get some tools in place.

I recently bought Tabula Rasa. In order to play it I have to have a Master PlayNC account. I do have a Master PlayNC account that I created almost four years ago in early 2004 when I played City of Heroes. Unfortunately, none of my standard passwords seem to be correct. I also love how they get you with the too many attempts thing right off the bat. You know how most systems allow you to attempt to enter your password a few times before they say something and make you wait awhile before you can try again? Well PlayNC does that after the first try.
Too many failed login attempts, login temporarily disabled. Please try again in a few minutes.
Granted the wait time is only like 2 minutes before you can try again, but what a pain in the ass especially if you just made a typo.

I try to use their lost password feature. It pops up two security questions that I am assuming I picked way back when. It also has one of those annoying ‘type in the letters you see that are distorted, hard to read and partly hidden on this noisy background image’ things that all appear to be coded to just reject your first attempt out of hand. The questions are “What was the color of my first car” and “What was my childhood nickname.” I enter the answers and am told I’m wrong.Mercury Comet
Funny that I have a color picture of said car right here and am still haunted by that cruel nickname. The only recourse I am given is that I have to contact support. No link, just told that is what I have to do.

Under the ‘Help’ link on the side menu I find a ‘Support Center’ link, enter ‘Lost Password’ in the search field and get an entry titled “PlayNC Support - What should I do if I think I have been hacked?”

Okay, lets try, “Forgot Password”… okay that came up with a few, one of which is “I forgot my PlayNC master account password.” It gives me the same spiel about going to the lost password link and if I have updated my account and added the security questions that I need to answer them but if I haven’t updated it then I need to just enter my date of birth. Note to self, in the future don’t update and add the questions I won’t remember the answer to in four years.

At the bottom it has another link. “I can't use the FORGOT PASSWORD feature because I cannot remember some of the required information.” Why this link isn’t included on the actual Lost Password page I don’t know.

That page tells me to use the “Ask a Question” link and paste in the following into the form:
I forgot my PlayNC master account password and I can't reset it using the FORGOT PASSWORD feature.
Here is my account information:
PlayNC master account name: ENTER ACCOUNT NAME HERE
Physical Address: ENTER POSTAL MAILING ADDRESS (not e-mail address) HERE
Serial codes/access keys: ENTER CODES/KEYS HERE
Now the problem with all these is I have moved around a bit and there are 5 possible postal addresses I may have used when I first signed up for the account: My house in Vegas, my mother’s house in Vegas (my main U.S. mailing address), my work address, my original apartment when I first moved to Australia or my current apartment.

The Serial Codes and Unique Account IDs are the game code and account names used on previous PlayNC games. I haven’t a clue. I played several of their games but when I stopped, I canceled the accounts. I don’t have that information. (Actually I do as I am very anal about that sort of thing, but let’s pretend I’m a normal person who doesn’t keep game boxes for more than a few years after they’ve stopped playing them. And that they don’t keep game activation code emails buried in some folder in their inbox. Or at least pretend I’m just too lazy to go out into the box in storage where those old game boxes are which is probably a lot easier.) I wrote that I have no active accounts for those two entries.

I got back an email saying that some of my information in incorrect or inaccurate. To assist them further I need to provide them with additional information. They do apologize for what appears to be additional steps. I am told not to reply to the email but rather to go to a link to update my support reqest. This link takes me to their Knowledge Base support page. At this page I am asked for my email address and a password. I wanted to write back, thanking them for their time but informing them that I was going to return Tabula Rasa to the store.

I can’t however as I have no password for their knowledge base page. I am pretty sure I was never asked to create one. Just now in writing this post I have actually retraced my steps to creating this customer service request. I have looked at the original email they auto-sent me when I entered the customer service request and all over this current one. Both say that if I need to update my request to go to that link but neither give any indication of a password. And this email also says if they don’t hear back from me in 72 hours they will assume the issue has been resolved. Not letting the customers answer back is a nice way to get their customer support resolved issues scores up.

Looking back through the PlayNC email crap I have kept. I do have one regarding why I quite City of Heroes. Petition: “Falling Forever: Walked into a building for a mission and fell through the world. I am still falling. /stuck does nothing.”

I remember that I waited online for quite awhile but never got a response. Tried logging off and back on and was still falling. I got this email three days later, “My apologies, but I am not able to find your hero online at the moment. Unfortunately, we can only assist you on this issue while your hero is logged in. Next time you log in with this hero, please reply back to this email letting us know that you are online, and we will get to you as quickly as we can. You may continue to play, and we will find you in the game when we get to your petition.”

This is why I was working to get macro programs banned from SWG customer service. I may not continue to play as falling forever is not what I consider ‘playing’ and I certainly wasn’t about to spend three more days doing it. If somebody had to actually type an answer to that it would probably have more to do to address my problem than suggest that I log in, write them email, then sit there for hours while waiting for them to come to my aid.

The real end to this story is I have another PlayNC account. I created a second one way back when because of this same problem. I was only jumping through these hoops because A. I wanted to complain about them and B. I would prefer to have the other account name as it is my standard one I always use for MMOs. Seriously, if they want you to maintain a master account and not make a new one for each new game, they need to smooth this process out.

It does annoy the piss out of me that they don’t just do the standard “mail the password to the email address on file” like the rest of the world does. I would only need to contact customer support if I had changed my email address or something. They certainly don’t seem to have a problem spamming my email with crap about how they keep re-activating my various game accounts for their ‘special’ weekends to get me to come back.

I wonder if my CoH character is still falling?

Monday, November 05, 2007

All your XBox 360 faceplates belong to me!

As a follow up to my "I post all my own ideas" post regarding the Australian Gamer forum, it turns out that my reply post to El Taco was nominated for the October Post of the Month. So get on over there and stuff the ballots voting for me so I can win another XBox360 faceplate. Never mind the fact that I don't own a XBox360. Its those region coding issues I've gone on about numerous times before. Anyway, the "I do all my own stunts" t-shirt is pretty cool, I'd wear that.

Speaking of the Next Gen Console systems (shouldn't we call them 'This Gen' by now) I did try to rent a PS3 from Blockbuster Thursday night. They rent them for $50 bucks a night. $50 bucks!!! And they only have one, which was already rented and not due back till Monday. With that kinda of return on investment why do they only have one?! And Mr. PS3-Renter... if you are going to spend $200 bucks, assuming it was Thursday that you rented it, just go and buy one!

Saturday, November 03, 2007

What has he gots in his pocketses?

I was dumping all this stuff out of my pocket the other night and was marveling so much at the pile I created that I thought I would share.

Swiss Army Wallet
I prefer what I think is called a business card wallet. It is just a simple one fold wallet with a driver's license window on the top half and two pockets on the bottom. Wallets with too many separate pockets are just too thick even when you don't have anything in them.

Black & Crimson Nintendo DS
This color isn't available in Australia so I like to show it off and impress all the women. I bought it in Seattle when I was back in the states for PAX. I have the wireless browswer cart plugged in there but I has of yet been able it to connect to my wireless router. The game in there is the new Zelda. I normally have Picross too but I think its in my camera bag.

Before I moved to Australia I had an old Palm Pilot. It was in need of replacing and I realized I wouldn't have an Australian adapter for it when I moved so I just planned on getting a new one. To tide me over I bought this notebook and still use it four years later. To be honest though I was really only using the Palm Pilot as a calendar and to play old Infocom text adventures.

Earphones lanyard
I remember when I saw this in the store for $60 dollars (Australian) and wondered what idiot would pay that much for cheap ear-bud style head phones. But it turns out to work really well. I don't have to worry about digging my iPod out of my pocket to access it and no more accidentally tangling up in the headphone cord or catching it on something and unplugging them. The iPod plugs right into the lanyard which the headphone wires go up into. That black band tying it up is a hair band for those annoying hair emergencies.

Card Wallet
Its kinda hard to see in the picture, but its in-between the notebook and the money wallet. When you buy some card tricks that require special cards they come in a little plastic wallet like this. I started carrying this around a few months ago when I was teaching a friend how to do this trick called Color Monte so he could show the magician his mother had recently started dating. The special cards aren't 'trick cards' as such just a pre-prepared surprise card for the finale. The trick itself is all slight of hand.

Oakly Sunglasses
Usually, I wind up buying a new pair of sunglasses every year either because I have lost, broke or simply scratched up my previous pair. I've had this pair for 3 years now. I scratched up previous pair pretty bad and had them in the car glove box as a back up pair till somebody broke into my car and stole them. They didn't seem that impressed by the music CDs in the car which must mean they have really bad taste or that I do.

Money Wallet
I used to have a money clip but I don't know what became of it. It was actually a Swiss Army money clip that matched the wallet and a little notebook that I also lost. Connie got me this wallet which you may have seen advertised on late night TV. It has those crossed bands of elastic so you can open it either way. You just open it, toss in a fold of money and then close and open it from the other side and the bills are now under the elastic.

iPod Nano
Its a small one compared to the larger memory sizes you can get today, but it just the thing for my unabridged audio books. It is actually a rebuilt one they replaced my previous one with when it froze up. I started having problems with this one last week but luckily they were able to fix it up without having to replace it again. Have you ever noticed that people who work at an Apple store are all way to hip? The girl there was pretty impressed with my "I don't work here." t-shirt.

I was a very early cellphone adopter. A friend of mine worked at Radio Shack in the late 80's and he let me use his employee discount to buy a car-mounted cell phone. I didn't really call that many people with it, but would hold it up as if I was talking to somebody and sing along to the radio. A few years later somebody broke into my car and stole the handset for it not realizing that the actual phone was this giant brick mounted under the seat. I replaced it with an early Motorola handhold and basically started using it as my everyday phone. For a number of years I didn't have a land line until I got a TiVo and needed a line to plug it into for program updates.

So whats on the keyring besides keys? LED flashlight, 4gig memory stick, and a little hook thing that I sometimes attach my ring to so I don't loose it when I take it off. I bought this little dangly robot thing thing down in Southbank when we had a BBQ there last weekend, but I just know it won't hold up for very long so I think I'll try attaching it to the rear-view mirror of the car instead.

Otherwise known as spare change. No one dollar bills in Australia so on top of the normal array of change you also have the 'gold' one and two dollar coins. I have a large jar I fill up with everything but the gold coins and then cash in at the bank. I've always wondered what they do in strip clubs if they don't have one dollar bills. I can't really believe the types of guys who hang out in strip clubs would stuff five dollar bills down a girl's g-string but I also can't see them using one dollar coins either. I keep saying I'll go investigate but haven't as of yet.

Swiss Army Knife
Its the really geeky version that not only has the scissors but also has a little pair of pliers. I really need to replace it but I haven't found a similar one or one I like.

The only thing missing is that I used to also have a pocket watch. But ever since I lost the really cool chain my brother got me for Christmas many years ago I haven't consistently carried one. I consistently keep buying new ones, getting new chains, but the other chain was just the right size, was actually two chains so it didn't run the risk of breaking, and had a really good clip to attach to my pocket.