If you haven't seen your nerdier friends recently it's because they're all too busy playing World of Warcraft: Wrath of the Lich King. It's a good expansion, certain to keep the 10 million+ players hooked for another year. And for game designers WotLK brings a really interesting new technology to multiplayer online games: phasing.

The basic idea of phasing is that two people standing in the same place in the world can see different things. I'm in a beautiful meadow while my friend has drunk the magic potion and is seeing and interacting with a demon-torn battlefield. Or maybe I just learned how to talk to spirits and I can see an NPC that no one else can.

What's exciting is phasing allows the world to actually change. The problem with MMOs is that the world is static. My heroic group kills the big evil bad guy and saves the city, but 10 minutes later the bad guy respawns and everything is back the way it was. It has to be that way because otherwise no one else of the 20,000 people playing on my server would be able to kill the bad guys themselves. MMO players accept that the world never changes without comment, but it's unsatisfying.

With phasing the world can change. So far I've seen it used to great effect in Dragonblight, one of the new zones. The 100+ quests tell a long story about a fight between the good forces of the Alliance and the Horde against the evil Scourge. And towards the end of the story you see the actual battle, and when it's over you see the aftermath, destroyed buildings and screaming wounded soldiers. And it's permanent: those NPCs are now dead forever. It's very effective storytelling.

Phasing also solves some game design problems. It allows the developers to give players private experiences without going entirely out of the world into a private instance. Being able to smoothly give players semi-private experiences in public places is quite innovative and I'm excited to see what else Blizzard can do with this tool.

  2008-11-25 17:15 Z
Ken and I have been really enjoying watching True Blood, Alan Ball's new vampire serial on HBO. It's fantastic: ridiculous, over the top, and excitingly garish. Everything a vampire show should be.
The premise is that vampires have come out of the coffin and walk among us. Good vampires mainstream and drink synthetic blood, but there's bad evil vampires who hang out in Shreveport nightclubs and feed off of human groupie fangbangers. Our hero is human but telepathic and she makes friends with the misunderstood vampire who comes to their little town. She's a great character, very girly and innocent but also strong and smart.

A big part of the pleasure in the show is the small swamp town Louisiana setting. A town just big enough to have a fascinating ensemble cast but still be seriously backwards kay-zhawn. I particularly like the assortment of accents the voice coaches assembled: young Southern belle, aging Southern belle, New Orleans sophisticate, Atlanta sophisticate, gutter swamp Cajun, proud young black woman, crazy black mama, queeny-but-tough black gay guy, dumb redneck white hick. All living in the same town, and that's not counting the gentleman Civil War vampire, the creepy Boris Karloffs, and whatever weird-ass verbal tic sheriff J.F. Sebastian has. The characters and setting are great for someone like me who grew up with the mythology of the South.

Alan Ball also wrote a lot of Six Feet Under. But where that show was sympathetic and mature and subtle, True Blood is outrageous caricature and silly vampire genre stuff. With some Civil War nostalgia and commentary on civil rights thrown in the mix. All done incredibly well and very fun to watch. Recommended.

  2008-11-25 16:55 Z
Have you bought a light bulb recently? My local Walgreen's has a whole aisle full of bulbs. Little appliance bulbs, compact fluorescents that don't work with dimmers, floods, halogens. What's hard to find is an ordinary, everyday, $0.50 light bulb.

I finally found them, down low by the floor. Only they weren't normal 75 watt light bulbs. They were "energy saving" 71 watt light bulbs. Rated at 1075 lumens, compared to 1190 lumens of a real "energy wasting" 75 watt light bulb.

What dumb ass thought this idea up? Yes, let's save energy by making our lights dimmer! There's a whole range of anemic wattages from GE now: 95W, 71W, 57W, 38W. Awesome.

  2008-11-23 21:35 Z
Tuesday is election day in the US. Please go vote, it's important. I don't care who you intend to vote for, what's important is to participate. Google can help you find your polling place.
  2008-11-04 01:18 Z