Archive for August, 2008


Tuesday, August 19th, 2008

Saturday’s post about some kind of mysterious message showing up on my instant messenger just kind of weirded me out a little bit, but I thought very little of it and decided to move on. Today, though, I get a different, yet similar message in my IM window:


At this point, I’m getting a little annoyed, so I decide to dig a little bit deeper, and what I found isn’t so much unsettling as it is just plain annoying.

These ‘troutbots’, as it seems, are robots that trawl the Internet looking for screen names. They then act as sort of a middle-man and relay both sides of the conversation to the victims, obscuring their names. So, when I was talking to OrbitingTrout the other day, the poor sap on the other end of the line was also talking to OrbitingTrout.

I can’t actually fathom why such a thing exists other than to momentarily confuse random pairs of people for a few minutes. But now that it’s happened to me twice in two days, it’s having the effect of making me very irritated.

There is more information to be found in the following places:

In short, if you get some message from someone with ‘trout’ or ‘salmon’ in their username, it’s a bot designed to annoy you and someone else for as long as the two of you keep bickering back and forth figuring out who IM’d who first. The best thing to do is to not respond to any of it and close your browser window, or better yet, disallow IMs from folks that aren’t in your buddy list, though that may be infeasible for some.

Oh, and please pass a link around to this page to spread the word to educate people about this completely ridiculous waste of time.

AIM Virus or Lame Virus?

Saturday, August 16th, 2008

Just spent several minutes with a mysterious caller from the AIM network. The person, one OrbitingTrout, claims that he doesn’t recognize my screen name, didn’t message me, and chooses to believe that he has a virus on his computer that send out messages to people. I’m fully willing to accept that I’ve not seen every virus/spyware out in the wild, but one that sends out the occasional spam comment seems to be the kind of things Ron Paul’s supporters might come up with.

Or the guy’s an attention whore, you decide.


The Mythical Free MMO Month

Wednesday, August 13th, 2008

MMOs are a slightly different beast as far as video games go. If you’ve been living under a rock for the last couple of years, the gist is that the game is more akin to a service that you have to subscribe to. Ideally you and potentially thousands of other players subscribe to the game and your subscription fees pay for stuff like server upkeep, content generation, and stuff like that. There are, of course, exceptions, but we won’t bother with those today.

The thing is, though, that you’re not going to really know if the game’s going to be worth your time unless you play it first. Of course, you could just jump headlong into the game and see if you like it, but then you’ve wasted a month’s worth of subscription fees if the answer’s ‘no’.

The solution is, then, is to offer a token amount of ‘free game time’ for you to decide if you’re going to like the game or not; one month is the norm.

But, here’s the thing. That free month isn’t actually a free month. Who says so? Math says so!

Let’s take the current darling of MMOs, World of Warcraft. As of this writing you can get your very own copy of the base game from Amazon for $20. Now, your ‘free’ month of gameplay is worth $15, so if we subtract that from the cost of purchasing the media, we end up with $5 for your copy of the game and $15 for your ‘free’ month.

Or how about that other MMO that’s making waves right now, Aga of Conan? You can get the for a scant $50(!). Subtracting the $15 worth of fees of the month that you’re being ‘given’ leaves us with paying $35 for the ability to use the trial, which is over twice the value of gametime that you’re using. Suddenly the free month doesn’t really seem so free anymore.

I guess what I’m saying is, if you have to pay something to use it, it’s not really a free trial.

Puzzle Pet Peeves

Monday, August 11th, 2008

It’s no great secret that I do enjoy a good puzzle game, but some of them just don’t do anything for me. Here’s a few of my peeves in no particular order.

The Sliding Block Puzzle

I’m sure there’s a more proper name for it, but I’m talking about the kind of puzzle where you have some object and some kind of frictionless floor covered with obstacles. You push the object and it slides along until it his something and stops. Your goal is to slide it in such a way that it lands on a particular location on the floor. That explanation probably doesn’t really make a lot of sense, so here’s a little video to illustrate.

Now, there’s nothing inherently wrong with that particular type of puzzle… other than the fact that I’m not particularly good at it, so I tend to avoid it whenever possible. Now, I do like a good Role Playing Game, up until they throw a ridiculous sliding block puzzle in it to eat up a few minutes. This is one of the few times that I’ll reach for a walkthrough instead of trying to muddle my way through it. Which, yeah, I know that it sounds like I’m just avoiding using my brain for a few minutes, but those puzzles frustrate me to no end and the game would cease being fun by the time I’d get the puzzle solved.

Puzzle Mode

Most puzzle games will have something called ‘puzzle mode’ which always sounds redundant to me because you’re already playing a puzzle game, the whole thing’s a puzzle mode. What ‘puzzle mode’ actually means is that you take an action puzzle game and turn it into an extremely limited ‘passive puzzle’, I guess.

Typically you get some kind of prefab layout and have an extremely limited amount of whatever that puzzle game’s resource is (pieces, moves, whatever) to solve it. Now, the problem with these puzzles isn’t that I’m awful at them, which I totally am, it’s calling it ‘puzzle mode’ in the first place. It’s just a little bit too redundant to me.

Puzzles solved via trial and error instead of logic and reasoning

Going back to Tales of Symphonia for a moment, I remember a particular puzzle a good way into the game that had five pinwheels arranged kind of like this, where each asterisk represents a pinwheel:

|*   *|
|  *  |
|*   *|

You have to activate the pinwheels in a particular order to open the locked door. Now, I’ve already suspended enough disbelief to be OK with the fact that the builders of some kind of ancient temple have decided to use ridiculously circuitous locking mechanisms to keep their temple doors sealed. But they also apparently destroyed all their keys and all instructions on how the locks work. But, somehow in this game the old forgotten civilization did just that, and you’re stuck with a puzzle that has 120 possible solutions, and no clues in sight. At least none that I could find. I scoured that dungeon for a couple of hours and couldn’t find anything that resembled a clue anywhere in it, and after a couple dozen attempts at brute-forcing the proper pinwheel sequence, I decided to just go look up the solution. Ridiculous puzzles to eat up a few minutes are fine, but at least give me some clues so I can piece together the solution.

Final Thoughts

Even with all the pet peevery going on, I’m still going to be a sucker for a good puzzle. So long as that puzzle is solvable, and doesn’t make me have to sit there and try every permutation of maneuvers to successfully solve it. Which, I know, sounds like I like puzzles where I don’t have to use my brain a whole lot, and that’s not exactly true. I like puzzles that I can solve quickly, or with lots of action, not puzzles where I have to stare at it until the solution pops into my head, or one that I just have to keep plugging away at to finish. Then it goes from fun brain exercise to boring tedium.


On Being a Budget Gamer

Wednesday, August 6th, 2008

I play old games. That might be a strange thing to admit, but it’s true. I have an odd compulsion to collect and play lots of video games, but to also not want to spend a whole lot of money doing so. These statements might appear to be at odds with each other. I mean, video games are expensive, right?

So, kind of out of necessity, I became somewhat of a bargain hunter. A connoisseur of cheap games, if you will. I know what you’re probably thinking, “Cheap games? Everyone knows that cheap games are awful. They’re games with no marketing budgets and no development budgets, and they’re designed to separate uninformed parents who don’t want to spend a whole lot from their money.” And, yes, you’d be right in most cases.

So, what do you do?

Do you pony up $50 or more per game? That gets expensive real fast.

Do you buy and sell used games? It’s tough to build a collection if you’re selling everything off when you’re done with it, and used games are usually missing some important component, like the final install disc or a serial number. Not to mention that buying a game for $50, selling it back to the store for $25 in store credit so they can resell it for $45 means that they sold the game twice and essentially charged you $25 to rent it.

Do you rent? Renting is a great way to play a lot of games for cheap, assuming that the people that had the game before you did handled the game with a reasonable amount of care (i.e. didn’t use the disc as a surrogate dinner plate one day when the dishes were dirty. But you don’t build up much of a collection from borrowing, and if you ever want to go back and play a game that’s become out of print… well tough luck.

The best compromise I’ve found is to stay a couple of years behind the curve. This actually has several benefits.

  1. You get to figure out of the game is actually any good by taking a look at the user reviews, which I admit are mostly worthless. You have to filter out the reviews that blindly give out perfect scores because, “OMG the game is sooo good because it has Cloud in it and he and Aerith are both going to totally make the game awesome, and I haven’t played it yet, but it’s obviously perfect in every way, LOLz!” You have to also filter out the ones that give the game a zero because, “OMG the grafx are totally gay, and I haven’t played it and won’t play it because Link totally looks like a girl.”
  2. Bugs get worked out and games get patched. This is more true for PC games, but there have been several console games where later versions have quietly been released to fix a bug or two.
  3. Again, this mostly applies to PC games, but running games that are a little behind the curve means that if you have a reasonably powered PC, you can push the games to their absolute limit, and have them look as good as possible.
  4. Probably most important of all, playing games that are on the verge of going out of print or have just gone out of print are going to be dirt cheap. Which is one of my favorite prices.

So, let’s take a look at some of my recent finds for the PC:

Game Cost
Painkiller: Gold Edition $6.00
Medieval 2: Total War $7.50
Medieval 2: Total War Kingdoms $7.50
King’s Quest Collection $5.00
SimCity Societies $8.00
Total $34

Not bad, right? I got five reasonably good games for slightly more than half the price of a full-priced game.


Of course this also means that I have to keep up on the latest releases to know what’s going to be good in a few years. And I have to put up with the sneers of my peers when I get excited about getting a game that they’ve already played through and retired four or more years ago, so I’ll end up buying a new game at full cost occasionally to keep up appearances. But that doesn’t really work very well. That label of ‘plays old games’ is permanently affixed to my forehead.

And I wouldn’t have it any other way.