Below is a fantastically edited sample of the daily antigay crap that we put up with in online gaming. Audio is NSFW; "gay boy I hope you die and burn in hell" is as mild as it gets. Frankly it's so upsetting I only watched the first half.

The problem here is that Halo 3 is a testosterone pumping game played mostly by young guys. And the game has an open voice chat channel that's essentially anonymous. And so people say horrible things on it all the time. The only way I could ever play it online was to mute the voice chat entirely. But then you miss out on any strategic coordination and half the fun.

There's an argument that "xxxGayBoyxxx" provoked this response by choosing an obviously gay name and using pink for his colours. Well, yes, he is provocative. But you get this kind of homophobia all the time without any provocation. I've spoken up when some horrid child started babbling "you faggot you killed me" and the response from the other folks in the game was pretty unpleasant.

Casual gay bashing is all over gaming culture and it's hideous. It affects which games I play and how I play them. Part of what's fun in social games is playing with other people; but when those other people continuously act like assholes it's not fun. Fortunately most games aren't quite the sewers of bad behaviour that Halo 3 is.

  2007-11-28 17:22 Z
Hey, Goat, you writing your blog?
Go away, Rat.

You know, I like blogs... I really do... You know why?
Go away, Rat.

Because they provide their frustrated creator with the delusional outlet of being a published author, sort of like how the prison warden lets the psychotic inmate scribble "poetry" on the cell wall so he doesn't beat his bunkmate with a toilet seat.

Perhaps you didn't like that analogy.

From today's awesome Pearls Before Swine, a comic strip from Stephan Pastis.
  2007-11-28 15:23 Z
The other game I've been excited about recently is Assassin's Creed, the beautiful stealth game set in the Holy Land during the Crusades. Sadly, it's not good, and I can only assume the high reviews came from people who didn't finish the game. It's a beautiful game, but the gameplay gets repetitive way too quickly.

It's too bad; they squandered a really interesting setting. Jerusalem during the time of Christian occupation? Templar conspiracies? Sounds brilliant. Alas, the story quickly devolves to "do these five repetitive tasks, then kill this guy". I can't help but think if there were a little choice or interaction in the storytelling I'd find it more compelling. Instead I find myself reading my email while the cutscenes play.

One thing I do appreciate is some of the gameplay and storytelling chances they took, the cut scene glitches and the times when Altaïr wakes up in the present time. It felt a bit like failed experiment Fahrenheit / Indigo Prophecy. And it's the first game I've played that creates the feeling of a crowded city rather than the empty zombielands of most games. Hopefully someone can do something more interesting with the game engine.

  2007-11-24 18:29 Z
I'm pretty excited about Bioware's new RPG Mass Effect. I've only played it a bit so far but I'm already knee-deep in the story. The action combat gameplay is meh, but the storytelling is fantastic.

What makes the game work is the interactive dialog engine. Meeting a new character is more than just waiting for a cutscene to offer up some crucial clue; instead you enter into a little narrative puzzle trying to figure out what to say to get the character to do what you want them to. It's very simple technology, mostly a branching path of dialog nodes, but that interactivity makes all the difference. And as icing on the cake, the moral choices you make in the dialog influences your character's development.

I don't understand why more games don't tell stories this way. Bioware, Black Isle, and now Obisidian have been doing it for years. And what a string of hits: Fallout, Baldur's Gate, Planescape: Torment, Knights of the Old Republic, Jade Empire. All much loved story RPGs and all using the same dialog structure. Why don't other game developers do this? The only non-Bioware affiliated example I can think of is Deus Ex 2.

It's a simple storytelling technology, but that constraint seems to liberate the writers. It's a bit like Infocom's Z-machine where the story engine is simplified enough that it gets out of the way. Of course games still require great art, backstory, and writing. But the little dialog engine is key.

  2007-11-24 16:42 Z
I've joined Merlin and Mathowie in deactivating my Facebook account. I mostly did it because Facebook wasn't useful to me but the incredibly hostile new beacon feature and their new social advertising efforts were the last straws.

What asshole bizdev person at Facebook thought it'd be a good idea to let third party sites implant your purchase history on Facebook? Tracking user behaviour across third party sites is wrong. Ignoring an opt-out popup for 20 seconds is not evidence of informed consent. We used to brainstorm ideas like that at Google but the basic "Don't be evil" ethos always squished the discussions I was in. Facebook apparently lacks a moral compass.

After the initial novelty Facebook stopped being useful and just became annoying. A particular problem was the zombie superpoke spam, new crappy viral applications that popped up every week demanding my attention. I care very much about my social relationships, but I don't care to maintain them through a website that reduces my social contacts to random bits twiddled in childish toy applications.

In true Web 2.0 form there's no way to actually delete my Facebook account. All I can do is mark my account "deactivated". They even helpfully told me I'll still get invitations to join crap. Facebook isn't just a crazy ex-girlfriend, it's a crazy ex-girlfriend who follows you around when you're shopping and whom you can't get to stop calling you.

  2007-11-23 16:35 Z
Awhile back I wrote up a blog post about some unusual gamer emoticons: o/, \o/, qq, and O.o. Recently my Warcraft guild is favouring a new emoticon with some variants.

<3 is a little sideways heart, to express love. Usually used ironically in response to a bitchy joke, or in apology for making said bitchy joke. Variants include </3 for a broken heart, <$ to convey a financial motive for love, and <4 as the superlative of <3.

  2007-11-21 21:18 Z
A Google watching blog noticed that Google Reader now seems to update a feed in response to the Google blog search ping service. Seems right to me; my last blog post showed up at Reader within two minutes of my ping. That's really fast considering how many different server systems are involved.

This blog post showed up 60 seconds after the ping. Nice!
  2007-11-19 21:07 Z
When friends ask me what I've done in the past few months sometimes I sheepishly tell them about my level 70 balance druid in World of Warcraft. I'm a bit embarassed to list endgame raiding as a major life accomplishment, but the truth is the game is fun and challenging and something I care about.

One thing I've gotten out of playing WoW (and before, Eve Online) is some understanding about myself and how I am effective as a leader. The high end for online games is organizing a group of 25 or more people to play together and complete a challenge over a few hours. It's great fun to play with other people and it's demanding of everyone's skills. And it takes a lot of organization.

I've found that leading a group is a whole different thing than playing in one. Today I co-led our raid on Gruul's Lair and it was totally stressful. Not the actual game tactics, but the social stuff. Figuring out who to invite, giving guidance to people who needed it (without offending), organizing the raid strategy, distributing the loot. All hard work and totally exhausting.

I didn't care much for the experience, honestly. It's too much like work and not enough like fun. I think I'm more effective on the side, making useful suggestions and analysis offline and letting more charismatic folks do the actual day to day leading. An advisor, not a general.

I had an even harder time leading in Eve Online, where I'd risen to fleet command in my corporation. Spaceship fleet actions in that game are virtual military engagements of your fifty guys vs. their fifty guys and decisive command is absolutely necessarry. I'd always waffle at the moment of crisis, asking "what do you think we should do?" rather than commanding. Consensus is great in an engineering design meeting but a disaster on the battlefield.

  2007-11-19 03:49 Z
I'm not a big baseball fan. But I like to go to a game occasionally, particularly in the amazing new San Francisco ballpark. Nice to be outside, in a crowd, eating garlic fries.

Except I haven't gone to a baseball game in SF in two years now because I couldn't stomach watching Barry Bonds play. Cheating, lying Barry Bonds. Today there's finally an indictment against him. The San Francisco Chronicle's few remaining journalists even have good coverage of the story, including a top-notch infographic.

The amazing thing to me is people still defend Bonds, say he doesn't use steroids or they don't make a real difference. So what explains a 50% improvement in his home run rate at age 34? I guess that flaxseed oil is pretty powerful stuff.

The SF Giants haven't rehired him and it's hard to imagine any other team picking him up. So maybe I can go to a ballgame next year.

  2007-11-16 16:21 Z
I think I figured out what's causing Google Desktop to go nuts and consume 400 megabytes of memory on my system. It's the download manager Reget Pro. While it's downloading a new zip file at 120kbytes/sec Google Desktop consumes 30kbytes/sec of memory. When I quit Reget Pro Google Desktop stops consuming memory entirely. Memory consumption seems to be proportional to download speed, too. There's some garbage collection that happens afterwards so I'm not sure if it's a persistent leak, but it doesn't look right to me.

User support forums have some information about Google Desktop having trouble with corrupted zip files. Reget is downloading multiple sections of the file at once, making for a weird looking zip during the download. So maybe that's the problem.

Google is so big now I don't even know how to file an effective bug report for this. Kind of hoping someone who works there reads this blog post. I also tried the official support forum.

  2007-11-12 18:15 Z
One of the best features of the new Amazon MP3 store is the new album music preview. Single click to preview all the tracks, all Ajax loading in the page. 30 second snippets from each track automatically play, cleverly from the middle of the track, not the start. Simple and effective.

Thanks to I've learned I need some Air in my life, but their albums vary quite a bit. The previews are great; I'm finding I like the older stuff like Moon Safari and Primiers Symptômes best.

  2007-11-10 17:42 Z
A few days ago I plugged in my phone to the USB to charge it. Charging my phone causes two programs to start running; photo import and iTunes. This time charging my phone also resulted in Apple downloading yet another software update. Which demands yet another reboot.

And now two days later my .mp3 and .mov files are suddenly playing in Apple's software again. Despite my deliberately configuring my computer to use other applications and explicitly telling iTunes not to steal my file associations. Each new iTunes update I have to go back to Preferences / Advanced and uncheck "Use iTunes as the default player for audio files" again. Of course by then it's too late, the damage has been done.

This behaviour is beyond a simple bug; I think it's Apple's deliberate unfair competition. Apple pushes the 1.1.2 iPhone update to prevent people from unlocking the phone, to protect their artificial monopoly. And as part of that meaningless upgrade they also "accidentally" enforce other artificial monopolies on video and audio.

I don't want to use the Quicktime player. It artifically refuses to play videos full screen unless I pay Apple, so I use VLC. I don't want to buy music from iTunes. I want to use WinAmp and buy my music from Amazon. And yet because I own an iPhone, every few weeks Apple's hostile software forces me into their products. It's wrong.

Update: I was mistaken, the update wasn't 1.1.2 firmware but some other mysterious change I don't want or need.
Update 2: several readers have pointed out that Windows Quicktime now allows full screen viewing in the free version. I still don't want Apple stealing my .mov file association, though.
  2007-11-09 16:29 Z
  1. Yes, Virginia, there is an X
  2. It's the X, stupid
  3. N things that X
  4. X bites Y
  5. X is the new Y
  6. Hey hey, ho ho, X has got to go
If you find yourself writing one of these phrases, don't.

Also be careful with LOLX, but there's still a little room left in that one.

  2007-11-07 21:27 Z
This week's political theatre over torture ended shamefully for my country as some top Democratic senators (including California's own Diane Feinstein) gave in to Mukasey's nomination.

For a brief moment it felt like the Democrats would act with honor and hold up appointing a new attorney general until he'd confirm that he wouldn't approve torturing people. Yeah, the confirmation hearings were mostly passive aggressive politics, but I thought maybe there'd be some principle behind it. Apparently not.

Waterboarding, such a friendly noun. Sounds like a fun new extreme sport, something the kids were doing this summer on the lake in the Hamptons. Even the description "simulated drowning" is misleading. It's not simulated, it's actual drowning, and the only reason the victim doesn't die is the torturers stop before complete asphyxiation. (Well, most of the time).

We can't even get the head lawyer for the US to agree he won't approve torturing people. Dissent within the DoJ is squelched. What is wrong with this country?

  2007-11-03 15:32 Z
Erick Schonfeld's TechCrunch blog post today tries to cover the new $199 Linux PC being sold at Wal-Mart:
Our Crunchgear colleague John Biggs has an item in the NYT today about Wal-Mart's $200 Google PC that runs a version of Linux called the Google Operating System.
There are two important facts wrong in this first sentence. It's not a "Google PC", it's the gPC. And it doesn't run the "Google Operating System", it runs gOS, a project of Dave Liu. In fact, as near as anyone knows Google has no involvement with the development or marketing of this PC. TechCrunch reporting otherwise is a significant error.

Journalists make mistakes too; why's TechCrunch blog post not journalism? First, the story TechCrunch posted is really just a quote from someone else's story with a bit of unsupported speculation tacked on. Fine for a blog post, not good journalism. Second, despite lacking any original reporting it still gets fundamental facts wrong. Real journalism involves editors who should catch something so embarassing before going to press. Either this post wasn't edited before publication or else the editor didn't think it'd be important to verify something as significant as an entry by Google into the consumer PC market.

On the good side, the blog post comments are great. The third comment gets the story right and there are links further down to good coverage on Wired and ZDNet. User comments are something blogs do better than journalists.

I feel bad picking on TechCrunch for the second time in a week. The issues I'm pointing out aren't just them, it's a lot of blogs. TechCrunch is just a highly relevant target given their influence. People increasingly think of TechCrunch as being like news reporting. It's not. It's an excellent blog.

Some blogger want to do actual journalism? Go research who's collecting the ad referral revenue from ad clicks via gOS' browser. I don't know, but I'm betting it's not Mozilla.

A disclaimer of sorts: I haven't worked at Google for over 18 months. I have absolutely zero inside knowledge about gOS, Everex's products, or any Google plans for creating hardware or operating systems. I'm just reading TechCrunch.

  2007-11-02 02:46 Z