All posts for the month August, 2008

I watched Dan beat Braid the other day, a quirky, lovable game that takes all time/space game conventions and weaves them into great, satisfying puzzles that unravel into an allegorical tale about the atom bomb. Atom bomb? You are probably wondering what strain of mary I'm smoking. I orginally wanted to do a story analysis of the game, but I think this article does it perfectly, explaining what each puzzle mechanic stands for, and what the game really means.

And that's great that a game can be such a wholly personal and artistic expression. I'm all for that, really. But it does reek a tiny bit of Jenova Chen syndrome, though. These days what I really want to see is the fun. Pure, delicious fun filtered through the natural aquifers of untamed enthusiasm, with no artificial shame and preservatives added.

This will have to do:

I just read the interview with Bill Roper where he confesses all the mistakes with Hellgate. Now that I'm involved in designing an MMORPG, albeit one aimed at the casual market, I'm particularly sensitive to the violation of what I consider the make-or-break of any MMO:

The first month's experience.

Why is this more important for MMOs than for other genres where a bad first hour means we just buckle down and sweat it out?

What Bill Roper's and his team didn't get was that you can't build an MMO off of great ideas. At least at this stage in the MMO industry, if you want to compete with the big boys, you've got to innovate off of them, not invent a whole new wheel. Indie MMOs of course are a different matter.

The reason that polish trumps brilliance in an MMORPG is because an MMO is a service first, not a game. Gameplay is its function. Think about the way subscription feels compared to a purchase… in the consumer's mind, it buys entitlement because he feels the company is equitably "entitled" to a constant stream of payments that, neuroeconomically speaking, we've already paid into the future for the moment we signed up. The subscriber doesn't expect $15 of service for his first month, he expects some derivative of the whole $180 he'll be paying for the rest of the year that he expects to be playing. This is only compounded by the fact that he's shelled out $60 already for the initial game box.

So while Roper is close in his assessment, he hadn't gone far enough. Sure, the motley features was a design problem. Sure there were bugs. Sure there were play-balance issues. Sure sure sure. But what I had coming out of the beta was the feeling that I wasn't needed in Hellgate. I made no impact, my character was placeholder, the story was a dead cat bounce, and the connection between the two was a corpse twitch.

It wasn't the plot or the play mechanics, it was simply the first two hours of my experience being wholly paint-by-numbers. Maybe feature creep sapped their energy, maybe ambition bought them too large a bite, but the design wasn't as fatal as Roper thinks. Even with a free-to-play model, I felt compelled to subscribe for the full experience, and given my experience was shallow, it was all or nothing. Like everyone else who had already subconsciously done the cost/benefit analysis, the game failed to deliver for the price we wanted to pay, and we had no confidence that would change.

Xstine and I finally went to watch the new Batman movie The Dark Knight, and Christopher Nolan's direction (and writing) continues to amaze me. It's not often that I experience a drama so intense that my chest is left seized in bathyspheric shock, even with a mostly trivial cast.

With one huge exception… Heath Ledger's dying silver screen gift of the most insane Joker yet. His character earns the spot for my third all-time favorite movie villain, the first being Bill the Butcher, and the second being Oldman's corrupt nothing-like-Gordon cop Stansfield. Ledger was chaos incarnate, and reached a place in himself he couldn't return from.

I absolutely loved the rhetorical sarcasm of his finest line "why – so – SERIOUS?" that he delivered with a maniacal slurp of his mutilated jowls. Today, catching up on old news, I found myself repeating and cackling that line over and over as I read this article on the Senate's "landmark" housing bill.

Here's an amateur's opinion, for what it's worth:

  • Establish a stronger regulator for the GSEs.
    And who will that be? Government? Private? Where's the fundamental change?
  • Permanently increase "conforming loan" limits.
    This is good news for me an Xstine, but honestly, I've never understood conforming loans. If the point of the conforming loan is to keep borrowing at a less risky level (less than jumbo), and the amount is determined by median house price across the country, why apply the same loan limit to everyone? Why isn't it by the local median price around the house that the borrower wants to buy?

    You get a conforming loan limit that was too small for us middle-income folks in overpriced California Bay Area, and way too much for low-income people in downtrodden areas. Is it any surprise that those low-income people who couldn't qualify for conforming-loans then went over to non-conforming sub-primes?

    Even worse, those just just failed to get conforming loans went over in droves to Alt-A loans. I'll let Mr. Mortgage explain what those are and why you should continue to fear the housing market.

  • The FHA maximum loan limits for high-cost areas would also increase to $625,500.
    Ok a blanket increase in limits for whatever "high-cost areas" means. I've got to ask how this is paid for, and if this isn't just a way to keep the masses of potential educated middle-class from just defaulting? It's like increasing the credit limit of someone who already can't pay the card off.
  • Create home-buyer credit.
    Up to $7,500 tax rebate for first time home-buyers? Good start, who's going to pay for this? Oh wait a minutes…
  • The refund, however, serves more as an interest-free loan, since it would have to be paid back over 15 years in equal installments.
    …ah we pay for it. Very very sneaky. I see what you did there.
  • Bar down-payment assistance for FHA loans.
    No comment, don't know the full ramifacations of this. I don't see the upside of stopping sellers from helping buyers, is this to stop speculation?
  • The bill would also increase to 3.5% from 3% the down payment requirement for borrowers getting FHA loans.
    Not great, but not that bad either. Not a monumental change.
  • Create an affordable housing trust fund.
    Hahaha… they want Freddie and Fannie's fees to pay for this? Freddie and Fannie who were using $83 billion in cash to juggle $1.15 trillion in debt at 60-to-1 leverage? It's like asking a broke junkie to put something into his IRAs before someone with a tire iron comes to get his due.
  • Give grants to states to buy foreclosed properties. The bill would grant $4 billion to states to buy up and rehabilitate foreclosed properties.
    More money we don't have going to ever more fiscally endangered states to buy properties that you really don't want to encourage people to sell.

So, I'll ask again… WHY – SO – SERIOUS?! :jester: