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Dark Affliction defeated?!
On the 5th of July, almost 2 months after starting City of Heroes, I deactivated my account. The following expresses my thoughts on the game.

I never expected City of Heroes to be a long-term diversion. At $15 per month (rates are lower when you buy longer blocks of time), that's $180 per year (ignoring the initial $50 to buy the game). While just a minor part of the household budget, that's still a good amount of money I could spend on other things (like upgrading my slow-ass 933MHz CPU). Anyway, even for the money I spent, around $65, I got quite a lot of gameplay out of City of Heroes. The last figure I remember being quoted from the game was 90 hours, and that was well before I ended my subscription. For a modern computer game, that's a really good value. Even if I do a conservative end estimate of 100 hours, that's still only 65 cents per hour. Contrast that with a typical $50 first-person shooter game with around 10 hours of gameplay. That's 5 dollars per hour of play.

But of course, what it comes down to is whether or not each hour of play is worth what you're paying for it. And that's what's at issue here.

I didn't join the game right at launch, but a little while after it. As far as I could tell, the game was very well implemented. It had a very polished feel to it. The interface was slick and fairly easy to use. Yes, I have encountered bugs (mainly opponents getting stuck in walls, though once I was attacked by through walls by enemies who had not even seen me). Still, they were exceptionally rare.

I think the reason that everything went so smoothly was because the game itself doesn't try to do a lot. It is quite simply a combat game. You go in and beat the tar out of a bunch of computer-controlled bad guys. And there's nothing wrong with that. My library is replete with games that consist of fighting and nothing else. And that's good... for a while. Eventually you're going to get tired of it. Most other MMORPG's have a bit more depth to them, economy and crafting being the two major aspects.

Also, they tend to have a bigger sense of community. It could just be me, though. By nature I'm more of a solitary person. In City of Heroes, most of my time was spent solo. I did join in groups from time to time. The problem is, the way I tend to play is sporadic. I'll play while watching TV or eating, and so my attention to the game can vary from minute to minute. This is the way I prefer. Going solo allows me to play at my own pace. In a group, I have to keep up with the rest of the team or fall behind. When I decided I needed a rapid infusion of XP, I'd seek out some teammates and focus on the game. I can't play like that all the time though. It's not how I have the most fun. And while the type of character I played most often can go out and fight on his own, it's repetitive and advancement is slow.

Since I was rarely in a team, the only sense of community came from the chat system. City of Heroes has a, in my opinion, fairly rudimentary communication setup. There are two general "channels" to use: Broadcast and Request. Messages sent to either one will be shown to all players in your current district, excepting those players who have chosen to mute them. There's also a Local chat, which means that only players near your character's physical location will hear what you say. The Tell command lets you communicate directly with any player on the same server, no matter where they are in the city. Team and Supergroup chats let you send messages only to members of your current team and supergroup respectively. Since teams come and go, team chat is mainly for coordinating your current combat without messages getting lost in Local space. Supergroup chat is for communicating with everyone in whatever Supergroup you have decided to join. The final option is Friends, a command that sends a message to every player that you have marked as a "friend". For me, this was both the most useful and most poorly designed option.

The problem is this: let's say I send a message to my Friends list. My friends read it and reply. However, their message, if they use the Friends option, goes to everyone on their Friends list, not my list. So their reply isn't seen by everyone who read my original message. On the other hand, it will go to some people who never saw what I originally wrote.

That's it for communication. It's nice if all your friends are in the same supergroup. But if they aren't, good luck coordinating messages. There's no system of channel creation, like IRC. So with these severe communication limitations, I felt a lack of community in the game. With MMORPG's, the pitch is almost universally, "Come for the fun, stay for the community!" Well, City of Heroes had good initial fun, but little staying power with its rather shallow gameplay. And the community aspect feels a bit weak. Possibly things would have been different if I'd joined an active supergroup. Possibly.

As it is, City of Heroes was a good temporary diversion. It was a good value for the amount of time I invested into it. And eventually it had to end. The gameplay descended into the same thing: scour an area of my approximate power level, find a group I think I can handle, and then follow my tried-and-true routine of double-buff, snipe, power blast, power thrust, etc. etc. etc. Uncovering new blaster powers as I progressed was wonderful. Unfortunately, they were harder and harder to come by as my level went up. Playing other character types let me try out new powers too. The problem there was that the blaster is the most solo-able type there is, so the other character types progressed even slower when I tried to follow my preferred model of play.

It was a good two months, but as they say, all good things must come to an end.

(Updated Tuesday, July 20, 2004 12:53 PM)

You mean he can't be trusted?!
59 Deceits in Fahrenheit 911 is a long and detailed (and did I mention long?) article written by Dave Kopel, well known for his staunch defense of gun rights and personal freedom.
Permalink   Filed under: Politics, Rant, War, People

Moore's Myths
As is typical for the extremist left, Moore's "Fahrenheit 9/11" still cannot let go of the 2000 presidential election and, as has become typical over the past several years, works to rewrite history and distort the events that actually happened. Moore's Myths.
Permalink   Filed under: Politics, Rant, War, People

Spam and email
Like I said on IRC today, I liken the fight against spam to the world being overrun by flesh-eating zombies. No, really, stay with me here. In this situation, you have two different groups. The type 1 crowd cowers in boarded-up abandoned-looking homes, being very quiet and inconspicuous, hoping to avoid the zombies' notice. By staying silent and never going outside, this type believes that the zombies will simply pass them by. In terms of email, this group never publishes their email address publicly. They will give it out through direct person-to-person methods only, and rely on tools such as a web form-based emailer that spammers are not equipped to abuse. Or if they do reveal their email address publicly, they do so encoded; the address itself may contain clearly marked instructions that a human mind can recognize and parse but the spammer's address harvesters are not sophisticated enough to understand.

Members of the type 2 crowd armor plate their Magnum V8 Dodge pickup, ring the outside with jagged spikes, and then pile into the bed armed with shotguns, automatic rifles, and flamethrowers. Then they cruise around, doing whatever the damn hell they want. They're constantly under zombie attack, but they hardly even notice it most of the time, because almost all of the soulless beasts are too dumb to avoid the spikey bits arranged around the truck and so they mindlessly impale themselves. These are the people who run aggressive spam filters, such as SpamAssassin, and they do their best to keep their filters up to date and their Bayesian databases current with all the latest spam emails.

Each choice has its advantages and disadvantages. The type 1 crowd is all happy and good for a time, except that it almost never lasts. Either someone inside the house screws up and makes their presence known, or some unscrupulous asshole sells the address to the evil Zombie Overlords for a pile of blood-stained money. In either case, suddenly there's a flood of zombies attacking the house which is completely undefended, and so the people must run and flee and try to find a new home, except that they can't contact the post office to provide a forwarding address (the zombies read those) and now they have to call all their friends and give them their new telephone number.

For the type 2 crowd, they generally don't even notice all the zombies that their big truck is grinding into the pavement. Once in a while, one the sneakier zombies will get between the spikes and try to claw its way into the back. A couple of shotgun blasts to the head and the unholy thing is dead once more, dumped in a ditch somewhere to rot. Very rarely, their big engine of destruction will plow over some poor bastard who's actually still alive. It takes a bit of dedication to peer over the roof and scrutinize all the zombies before you run them down, just to make sure you're not doing in people who don't deserve to be splattered. Running a good spam filter means you may average about a spam a day getting into your inbox. If you want, you can check your spam folder for false positives. You can split your spam up by score so that you only check the low-scoring spams for false positives.

So while the type 2 group can go on indefinitely with only the occasional minor inconvenience, if the email addresses of the type 1 crowd start getting spread around all of the spammer lists and those folk decide to stay type 1, they go through a tremendous hassle converting everything and everyone over to their new address.

To me, there's not even a question. It's easier on everyone and myself to make my email address public and just delete the occasional spam that gets through the filters.

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