Dungeon Siege

My wife and I finished playing the multiplayer level of Dungeon Siege last night.

When Diablo II came out a couple of years ago, we were hooked. We spent many months of late nights killing baddies and ploughing through levels.

Dungeon Siege was, well, playable, for the most part. Technically the game is quite good (though the user interface gets in the way during tough fights, and you can find yourself typing frantic keyboard commands to use health potions into a chat window). The automatic specialization of characters is interesting (though some of the fun in Diablo is planning your character’s skills).

However, things definitely need tuning and fixing. If you find yourself outside of town without any health potions, you’re pretty much toast. Likewise, the game forgets any waypoints that you’ve accomplished, so if you’ve been playing for an hour and are only halfway to your destination, you can’t save the game state and return later. If you’re a magic-user, you usually find the spells you need in creature drops; there’s really not much you can buy in the shops.

If I had to summarize DS in a single word, it would be “Slogging.” You spend an ungodly amount of time slogging around, slogging back to town if you’re out of potions, slogging to resurrection points if you’ve been killed, and so forth. A bit of teleportation would have helped the game move along more briskly.

The reward for finishing the multiplayer quest? Well, the ground shakes a bit and your quest is marked “completed.” That’s about it. Kind of a let-down. (“Typical Microsoft panache,” was my comment when it dawned on us — and it took a little while to figure out — that we’d actually finished the game).

But beyond all of this is something that an ex-cow-orker of mine (Doug Crockford) said many years ago at Atari. The game’s levels are pretty, but kind of monotonous after a while. “Never twice the same, never once very much different.” Even when you’re trashing a really powerful dragon, you pretty much just sit back and whale at the beast, and it gets boring. Whack, whack, drink health potion, whack whack, drink mana potion, repeat until the critter’s dead. Ho hum. You can see the AI in action, and it’s generally pretty dumb and predictable.

While I sometimes return to Diablo II for an hour or so of joyful mayhem, I think that Dungeon Siege is going to stay on the shelf; it just doesn’t have the depth or polish of the Blizzard titles.

I’m pretty sure that GPW / MS is going to take a great game engine and do some very whizzy things with it in the future. [Users of SourceSafe: Oh, just shut up 🙂 ]

tiny blow against the empire

For what it’s worth, I pre-ordered Aimee Mann’s next album (out in August) from her web site. While I don’t know for sure if more of the proceeds go to her — really, that’s her business — that is certainly my hope. (I’ve sent an e-mail inquiring about that, we’ll see).

RMS and Me

Let me be on record: I do not like Richard Stallman.

Once upon a time in the 80s I was working for Apple Computer. Out of the blue, the company sued Microsoft for “look and feel” infringement. In passing talk with my manager, I let him know that I thought it was a poor idea (he’s got a background in law, and he agreed). But what are you going to do?

A month or two later, I found out what RMS wanted me to do.

It was at a Thanksgiving dinner at a friend’s house in Palo Alto that I found out. I was there, and a cow-orker of mine was as well. In the course of conversation, Stallman found out that I worked for Apple. He immediately said:

“Quit in protest.”

“What?”

“You should quit Apple in protest of the lawsuit against Microsoft.”

At this point, two responses came to mind. The first, which I should have used, was “Fuck you,” the second was to debate the matter and try to get him to realize how stupid the idea of ‘quitting in protest’ was.

So, after (what seemed) a couple hours of me saying, “You’re crazy, they don’t give a shit if I quit or not,” and him saying “But if you’ve got a conscience you have to,” I left the damned dinner. (Well, I was done anyway).

The thing that irked me (in addition to being flamed at for a couple hours) was: My cow-orker was standing there the whole time. Not once did I see him harangue her about quitting, and he knew she worked at Apple.

Draw your own conclusions. RMS may be a fine programmer, but his mission is not my mission, and I won’t jump off a bridge for someone else’s idealistic cause.

I’d love to see Jack Tramiel and Richard Stallman in a debate. God, that would be just great.

Loyalty check

According to this story (link is slowwww) in Computerworld, the govt. may require background checks on non-government employees in critical positions. Folks like, say, system administrators. Programmers? (Heck, if you wrote a an HTTP parser or a memory allocator for that server product, you’d better be trustworthy).

Folks who have read Joseph Heller’s Catch-22 may recall the sing-for-your-supper result of runaway loyalty oaths.

Remember: The more oaths you sign, the more loyal you are. So get busy!

Letters of Marque

In days of yore, enterprising folks could obtain permission from the crown to hunt down and clobber pirates on the high seas. (I think the crown got a percentage of the take, and no one was too fussy about the techniques that they employed).

Hollywood’s latest antics here are similar; the fat cats want the ability to snake their way into your computer and start blowing stuff away, if they have reason to believe you’re violating the copyright of content they own the rights to. All they have to do is tell the DOJ about the techniques they’re using. Your legal recourses appear to be few and ineffective.

This is unbelievably good stuff. It makes the record companies one of the most powerful forces in the land. Was your firewall breached last night? Oh, that attack was perfectly legal; the record company informed the DOJ of its cracking technique last week.

Is this a recipe for legal hacking? Publish some cheezy album, give the tracks some popular and enticing names, let the tracks spread through the P2P networks for a few months, and then tell the DOJ “Oh, we’re going after these guys.”

Anyone could do this. Expect the FBI to release a “greatest hits” album soon.

More DRM Doom

It’s going to be difficult to find a non-biased report on what happened at the Commerce Department’s digital rights management round-table last week. Here’s a report that’s fairly balanced.

I’ll tell you why I don’t think much of Stallman another time. (The MPAA and its ilk are no better).

Here’s a good touchstone for the true agenda of a DRM system: How does it obey the law? Current copyright lasts 70 years past the death of the author, after which you can presumably FTP, photocopy, tape or broadcast to your heart’s delight (here is more exact info on that). How does an automated DRM system know when to unseal the content that it is guarding?

It’s a rhetorical question: Current DRM systems can’t. The entire DRM infrastructure is geared towards sealing up information and never letting it go.

’nuff said, I think. The prosecution rests.

Power Coding

After the incantations, the wizard simply winds up. He aims, throws.

Systems all across the midwest suffer crashes. Ball lightning plays fast, blue tag on power lines all the way to Minnesota. Hundreds of thousands of people are left in the dark as operators in power plants stare wide-eyed in shock at their pegged needles.

Well, no. That’s not how the new dark ages began.

After the all-nighter, the wizard forgets a semi-colon. After weeks of testing, the product ships. A year later, the embedded system that controls the power relays walks across a data structure that was trashed three weeks earlier by some code written by a twenty-year veteran who should have known better. This time, the off-by-one error indirects through a wild pointer and stabs an I/O address that causes the relay to latch open and stay that way. The relay welds shut, the transistors blow to protect their fuses, and the cascade begins.

The world ends, not with a bang, not with a whimper, but with a typo…

The NASDAQ, caught in its zillionth week of contracting stock offerings, gutters and flames out for the last time. Somewhere in Kansas a farmer kicks the side of his unresponsive combine, spits in the dust and walks away, leaving a mortgaged mountain of high-tech junk behind him. The million-year-old fossil water that fed his fields can’t be pumped anyway, because QuotaNet’s been down for weeks and the valves won’t open without permission from a bureaucrat who hasn’t been able to get to the office; no methanol for fuel, so it’s illegal to drive.

Don’t worry about arranging for the last someone turn the lights out. Just make sure they properly douse last night’s camp fire. At last count there were eight refinery fires going in the US alone, and no sign that anyone was going to brave the crossfire from the various dug-in fringe groups and put out the flames.

A pregnant horse is worth … you name it. Just about anything.

In fifty years, most books are crackling fragments (though a lot of acid-free titles were printed, and those are worth livestock). CDROMs are, of course, completely unreadable, and few people have time for friviolity like that anyway. A lot of communities are built on old landfills, mining for goodies like aluminum and plastic. You can build good houses and irrigation equipment out of that stuff. Computers? You’re kidding, right? Didn’t those toys cause the Fall? Stay away from those and get into honest work, son, not like a thief. Remember that old guy they found hiding out all these years on old Tober’s ranch?

More later…

Cold, dead fingers (got a match?)

From CNN:

Richard Clarke, the president’s computer security adviser, said Wednesday that an upcoming national plan to protect cyberspace will include expectations for home users, as well as large companies and the government.

“It’s designed to not just say (they) have a responsibility, but to empower them by giving them the tools,” Clarke said.

The day I run government-mandated “security” tools on my hardware is the day that I turn off my computers and burn them.

More random drawings

Wants to protest. Too afraid (or undecided) to commit to something. Still, it takes guts to get out there with a blank sign.

Tired, going to bed… I had a bunch written, but none of it is worthwhile reading yet. Later.