The Game Mechanic: A Future Near You (Part 1)

Yes, you can actually buy these.

Speculative science fiction has always been one of my favorite genres of literature. I love seeing people put their dreams and ideas of the future to paper, and joining them in looking forward to (or dreading) what has yet to come. I’m particularly fond of older sci-fi, reading through and seeing what they got right and what they never even saw coming.

On the other hand, it can also be a little frustrating to play classic tabletop RPGs, such as the earlier editions of Cyberpunk 2020 and Shadowrun and get pigeon-holed into what the future looked like back in the 80’s and 90’s. Therefore, we are going to take a look at a few speculative technologies that will probably be horribly outdated in another decade or two, but will still feel a little more modern.

Our launching point will be a small handful of personal combat gear, with stats for the Savage Worlds system, and then we’ll spend the rest of the month on implementing the future near you.

 

Continue reading “The Game Mechanic: A Future Near You (Part 1)”

Gaming and Social Media

 

photo courtesy flickr user My Melting Brain

Social media is certainly a modern day buzzword. Despite that I wanted to take some time to pause and take a look at social media and its relationship to RPG gaming.

Social media networks seem to have permeated our lives in some form or other. For some social media is Facebook, for others Twitter and still for others the recent entry, Google+. Facebook is reportedly around 845 million users, Twitter is reportedly around 383 million users according to some sources, and Google+ has crossed 90 million users. That is a lot of people using social media in some form, it only stands to reason there are a number of RPG gamers amongst these networks.

Gone are the days of not having other gamers to connect with because of your location. Whether you live tens of miles from the nearest one traffic light town or in a bustling city, you can find gamers to communicate with on one of the major social media networks.

Facebook

Of all of the social media networks, Facebook, while the most predominant, is probably the one I use the least for gaming contacts. I am sure my experiences do not reflect everyone’s experience though, so let us take a look at what Facebook brings to the table.

Facebook is a good place to follow the gaming companies you like – whether it be Wizards of the Coast, Paizo, Green Ronin or any number of other gaming companies, chances are they have a Facebook page. This can be a good way to keep up with new releases, previews and more from these companies.

Continue reading “Gaming and Social Media”

Comics in the Digital Age

Comics have come a long way since my father’s days, from gaining a modicum of respect as an art form to no longer being published just in the traditional paper format.  Yes, I’m talking about digital comics.

The pros of digital comics are many.  First, and perhaps most important to the comic buffs among us, you can often read comics that have been out of print for years and aren’t easily or legally available through other means.  Amazing Spider-Man #1?  Sure.  Very very old issues of the Avengers?  Yep.  Crisis on Infinite Earths?  No problem!  Kingdom Come?  The mini-series, and it’s successor, the Kingdom too.  Secondly, you don’t have to worry about the comics getting destroyed, thrown away or accidentally sold in a garage sale (not that I’m bitter about that in the least).  You can let your non-comic-reading significant other and 8 year old flip through the digital comic without having a heart attack every time they almost bend a corner of a page.  Lastly, you don’t have to actually store the comics anywhere, and if they get wiped from your device you can simply grab them again (provided they are still available).  There are other pros as well, depending on how you read your digital comics.

You can probably already see the cons of digital comics coming a mile away.  Unlike dead-tree comics, there is no digital comics collectables market.  Your digital copy of Uncanny X-Men#1 will never be worth $14,000.  Secondly, you are dependent upon the comic publishes as to what is actually available, and the big two tend to shy away from new releases being put out as digital comics, though there are some that hit the digital comics apps on the day they are released most of the comics that are available are back issues.

Marvel has an all-you-can-read sort of buffet of comics that you can subscribe to for reading on your computer screen, called Marvel Digital Comics Unlimited.  For as low as around $5.00 a month (with a year-long prepaid subscription) you get access to a huge archive of Marvel comics, mostly old but a few newer ones thrown in.  However, the comics are only available to you if you have your computer on, connected to the internet and the comic browser open; as of this writing there is no way to download the comics to your computer for later consumption.  I haven’t seen any of Marvel’s competitors offering this sort of service, so if old back-issues with a scattering of new releases of Marvel is your thing this is a very neat service.

The Marvel Digital Comics Unlimited deal is cool and all, but it’s not my preferred method of consuming digital comics.  I prefer to own the digital issues so that I can read them at my leisure, even if I’m not connected to the series of tubes known as the internet.  For that, I turn to a company called Comixology.  Comixology is a comics seller that you may or may not have heard of.  If you’ve ever even thought of looking at digital comics, you’ve probably looked into one of Comixology’s offerings.   While they do sell dead-tree editions via their website at http://comixology.com, they are perhaps more innovative for their digital offerings.

That’s right, the major comics apps in iTunes and the PSN comics reader for the PSP are all Comixology.  For those of us with an iPhone, iPod Touch or iPad, Comixology offers several apps.  There is, of course, the main Comixology app which has all the digital offerings available, but if you are brand-conscious, they also offer apps specifically for Marvel, DC, IDW, Image and a few smaller companies.  Also, they offer a comic reader for the PSP.  The apps themselves are free, and usually come with a VERY nice selection of free comics that you can download.  And because you are actually downloading the comics, you can read them anywhere, anytime you’d like…regardless of the availability of internet access.  The cost for a digital comic is generally $.99 to $2.99 depending on the comic, with the newer issues being more expensive in general, and compilations such as the Walking Dead being more expensive of course.

The smaller screens of the iPhone, iPod Touch and PSP may not sound like they’re very well-suited to reading comics, but Comixology has a “smart flow” technology that will allow you to see each panel separately, moving automatically to the next, correct panel on the page when you tell it to.

But where the digital comics really come into their own is on a larger screen such as the iPad.  Here, you can see the entire page at once, moving from page-to-page with the simple swipe of a finger.  There is also an option to turn on the smart flow so you are just looking at one panel at a time just like with the iPad’s smaller cousins.  The digital comics reader for the iPad was one of the big reasons I purchased one, and I carry around dozens of comics on it at any given time, ready for me to read whenever I get bored or have a lull in my day.

So, how do the comics look in these apps.  Beautiful, sometimes even surpassing the print versions especially on the iPad.  If the publishers would get on the bandwagon and provide more new releases, I would definitely use this as my main vehicle for comic book purchasing.   Though it pains me to say it as I am more of a Marvel fan, DC has really done a nice job with their digital comics.  Not only do they tend to offer more new releases than Marvel, but you can also read any DC comic you’ve purchased through the apps on your computer via the Comixology website.

So what publishers does Comixology offer?  A lot.  There are of course the Big Two, but also Image, IDW, Archie, Top Cow and several smaller lesser-known and independent publishers.  Many of the medium-tier publishers have their own apps (Image and IDW do for sure), but they’re all accessible through the main Comixology app if you prefer.

Are digital comics the future?  It makes the collector/investor in me cry, but the part of me that loves reading comics just to read them sure hopes so.  I welcome our new digital comics overlord.

[tags]comic books,ipad,geek,literature,technology[/tags]

Sensationalist Headline! The end of buying minis as we know it!

Yes, this may be a bit forward thinking and yes the headline is a bit sensationalist but we could be looking at the beginning of the end of buying minis for RPGs and strategy games such as Warhammer.  Of course, all that money your spending on minis doesn’t just head straight back to your bank account, you’ll need it to purchase your very own Thing-O-Matic 3D.

What in the name of Cthulhu’s little brother (who goes by Chthuck) am I talking about?  Why I’m talking about personal, 3D printing.  Every gamer’s laptop plugged directly into a fantastic machine that can take colored licorice looking stuff and turn it into a 5th level Bard, complete with base, ready to be plopped onto the hex or grid map of your choice.  Fabrication of things at your fingertips.

Granted, the technology is still wending its way down to the levels of real affordability, but for those die-hards who need to be the first on their block to make the transition from consumer to producer, the Thing-O-Matic 3D is what they’re looking for.

Available at a cool $1,225 (some assembly required) (well, just about all of the assembly required) this Thing-O-Matic 3D is so named because it produces things. Automatically!  Via USB!  When you look at the fact that there are minis out there which will run you well over $50, and you know you want to own 24.5 of these minis, well you’ve just justified the cost of your very own 3D printer! As a bonus, they’ll be made from non-toxic plastic, so your offspring can happily chew on them!

Taking a bit of the sensationalism out of this article, this really is a very cool, very important advance.  Affordable fabrication in the home is something that has been a long time coming and with this kit, it’s pretty much just arrived in an easy to use form.  Give this technology a decade or so and we’ll be seeing really affordable units that can do things like create the minis we long for.  Or slightly less fun but more important things like fabricate repair parts for utilities right at your home.  Or create toys, models, household parts, car parts, and more by extruding hot plastic.  That’s pretty damned cool.  I’m curious though, when can we see the first 3D models for minis appearing at DriveThruRPG?

Here’s a full description of what your $1225 will get you:

The MakerBot Thing-O-Matic 3D printer is a breakthrough in 3D printing technology. We’ve named it the Thing-O-Matic because it is an automatic 3D printer. All other 3D printers can only do one thing at a time while the MakerBot Thing-O-Matic 3D printer prints thing after thing! Buy it, put it together and enjoy being the first on your block to live in the cutting-edge personal manufacturing future of tomorrow!

Fully Automatic

The MakerBot Thing-O-Matic 3D printer comes with a new larger MakerBot Automated Build Platform v2.0 that will keep printing and printing… Automatically!

The MakerBot Automated Build Platform is truly a revolution in 3D printing. Updated to be larger for the Thing-O-Matic, it allows you to have a print queue where your machine will clear the build surface between builds by printing, then ejecting. It prints objects one after another. This turns your MakerBot into a little factory that sits on your desktop. Best of all, this is completely automated: you hit print, and the machine does all the work. Want to print 100 butterflies? Easy. Want to print an entire chess set? No problem. Want to start a business selling printed things that you’ve designed? Awesome. Have the MakerBot Thing-O-Matic 3D printer do all the work while you design new things.

Extremely Reliable

The MakerBot Thing-O-Matic 3D printer comes with the MakerBot MK5 plastruder which will give you thousands of hours of trouble-free printing.

We’ve invested many hours into designing, testing, and tweaking the MK5 plastruder. The result is an extruder that is extremely reliable, and very simple to maintain. The hot end on this extruder is essentially unbreakable and the filament drive system is one of the strongest on the market. We’ve run this thing for more than a thousand hours with minimal maintenance. Changing the filament is a breeze with the filament pressure thumb screw. You can even hot-swap the filament mid print!

Higher Quality

The layer alignment is much better which results in nicer prints and higher resolution.

We’ve completely overhauled the drive system to give the optimum positioning accuracy. The entire system has been upgraded to sturdy 3/8″ diameter linear shafting. This is overkill, but you can trust that the axes will be sturdy and straight. We’ve also switched to self-aligning, sintered brass bearings. These are very forgiving to DIY assembly and provide a nice, smooth motion on the steel shafts. Last, but not least we’ve completely replaced the Z axis with a stepper driven, cantilevered stage. Guided by two of the linear shafts, this completely eliminates any Z wobble and results in nicely aligned layers. Using a high-angle lead screw, we were able to increase the speed of the Z axis from 150mm/minute to 1000mm/minute. That’s more than 6 times the speed! This means the layer changes are almost completely imperceptible and blobbing is significantly reduced for smoother prints.

Easier to Use

Connect to the MakerBot Thing-O-Matic 3D printer over USB and hit print – the machine will detect its position and start printing.

The new MakerBot Gen4 Electronics have been designed to make the printing experience even easier than ever. The motherboard now sports an integrated USB port, so you simply plug the MakerBot in with a standard USB cable. We’ve also added full endstop support so that you never need to touch the XYZ axes ever again. When you hit print, the MakerBot Thing-O-Matic 3D printer will automatically home itself, heat up, and begin printing. All you have to do is sit back and relax while your MakerBot does all the work. Living in the future is awesome. Oh yeah, and the electronics are all inside, so you don’t have wires dangling everywhere. This also makes travelling on the subway with your MakerBot stress-free.

The MakerBot Thing-O-Matic 3D printer kit is available for $1225 and has a 7 week lead time. Order a MakerBot Thing-O-Matic 3D printer and get the latest in personal manufacturing technology!

You’ll get
* The lasercut parts to assemble a Thing-O-Matic CNC machine.
* 3 x NEMA 17 motors
* The hardware to assemble it.
* Belts and pulleys
* Smooth Rods and Drive system components
* Pre-assembled 4th Generation Electronics
* a USB cable to talk to it
* cat5e and rainbow cables to wire things up
* a standard ATX power supply
* a tools kit with all the hex keys, wrenches, and other bits you need to construct it.
* SD card to buffer your prints

[tags]minis, rpg, the machines are gearing up for total world domination, 3d printing, technology[/tags]

White Label Space takes the principles of web 2.0 to the freaking Moon

Please join me in welcoming the newest and perhaps most original participants in the Google Lunar X-prizeWhite Label Space.  In essence, this team consists of a bunch of international  space professionals (don’t we live in a cool age?) who are taking the rogue spirit of making money off of the web and throwing that ideal at the Moon.  In a quite literal sense.

White Label Space – White Label Space is an upcoming brandless Moon 2.0 space technology start-up consisting of international space professionals. Join us on our journey as we compete in the Google Lunar X PRIZE. Our Mission is to provide brandless space missions to anyone that has a viable business plan.

Taking the principles of Web 2.0 marketing & monetisation to the next level.

Okay, I’m down with that.  I’ve been saying all along, through countless conversations where I corner friends, and later across several blogs that what’s going to really get us humans into space is money.  Cold, hard cash.  It’s not to me the ideal reason to get into space but I’ve given up on space for the sake of pure knowledge and adventure.

Pure knowledge and adventure simply doesn’t pay the bills.  So I’ve gotten behind the space for $$$ movement one hundred percent.  Quite frankly, I don’t care what gets a viable human presence in space so long as it does not involve fraud, murder or other less than savory moralistic underpinnings.

whitespace2

The folks at WLS have summed it up nicely I think:

We have no particular brand or nationality, and we are willing to work with anyone to make our vision a success. Therefore, we decided to create the first “White Label” space mission – ready to accept the brand image of a powerful sponsor with the vision and courage to create a profound and enduring legacy by becoming the first private company to land on the moon.

Give us money and we’ll put your advertisement in Space.  Not the most noble of reasons but guess what – if it gets a rover onto the moon to do a bit of prime time reconnaissance, I’m all for it!  Let’s dispense with the delays, dispense with the budget sessions in congress, dispense with government squabbling and just get off this rock, all right?

Time and again the driving force behind exploration and discover has been business.   There is a vast potential to make money off world.  From mining various planets and asteroids to zero gravity manufacturing to tourism.  The money is here and it will get us out there.  When the returns surpass the expenses for the first time I’ll be jumping up and down in front of that boring old chart like a mad man.  Why?  Because as soon as those with the money see a good chance at profit they’ll be all over off world ventures which means we’ll be off world. Finally.

It frustrates me that we’ve had the technology to do this since the 60s and after our initial PR fueled thrust into space, we just up and forgot about it.  Sure there are issues to take care of at home.  I’m of the opinion though that we can’t concentrate on just one area.  There will always be issues at home as long as we’re a race of people who can tolerate war, famine and poverty these issues will not be resolved.  I don’t see that changing soon despite the best efforts of many to do so.

So let’s also look to the next frontier and spark our interests in exploration, technology, science and good old pure profit.  I honestly can’t see any negatives to exploring our solar system – particularly if it’s done in a way that will provide jobs, investment opportunities and private funding for labs to get research done.

Thanks White Label Space for taking an origianl stance in the space race and inspiring others to compete against you.  Through competition we’ll find a winner and through winning the Lunar X Prize, we’ll get ourselves back to the Moon, probably before NASA does.  In doing so we’ll reestablish our tiny foothold on off planet exploration and move forward.

[tags]space, soap box, x prize, technology[/tags]

Netbooks and faster browsing with Firefox

I recently came into an Eee PC.  the 901 XP to be exact.  It is a real spiffy machine for the jobs I lay out for it, mainly writing on the train, surfing on the go, checking email and playing Civ III via Steam.  On a side note, Civ III is the best $4.95 I’ve spent on Steam.

Since I’m still a geek I’ll occasional post a few quick tips on being a geek with tools here on TC.  This one contains just a few tricks to speed up your browsing.  I use them on all of my computers but they’re particularly handy on the little ‘uns that have Atom processors or the older models with Celerons.  Lets face it, I love my Eee but it isn’t a powerful machine, nor was it meant to be.

One very easy trick is to try out Google’s Chrome browser.  It doesn’t meet all of my needs so I don’t use it as my primary browser but it is fast!

Firefox is by far my prefered browser.  Plugins that I use and just don’t want to give up, the artsy logo, the name that rolls off the tongue.  Here are  a few ways to make it speedier for you.

First, go to Tools -> Options -> Privacy.   By default, Firefox keeps 90 days of history.  That’s great if you want to see what you’ve been up to for the last three months but if you can live with say 10 days, you’ll find that Firefox starts up a lot faster once you make this change.  No more huge file of history to parse as it starts up.  You’ll have to restart Firefox for this trick to take effect.

Next, let’s delve into the about:config page a bit shall we?

By typing about:config into Firefox’s address bar, you’ll get yourself a nice warning about voiding the FF warranty.  Like most user manuals, lets ignore it and move forward.  After you get through that, you’ll see a lot of stuff with words like ‘boolean’ and some numbers.  There’s only a few things we’re looking for so lets go find them.

See where it says “network.http.pipelining;false“?  Double clicking on that will make it true, and allow you to speed up your page load times.  Mozilla does let us know that this can break some websites, causing random problems with sites loading.  If this happens, just set the value back to false.

Now put browser.sessionhistory.max_total_viewer into the filter.  It should be set to ‘-1’.  Double click on this and change it to ‘0’ (that’s zero).  This will reduce the amount of ram FF uses for caching.  This is a good tweak on machines that have less than optimal memory.  It may slow down the usage of the back/forward button but it will reduce the amount of memory FF hogs and speed up everything else on your machine if you’re running into memory issues.

Here’s a neat tweak that will reduce FF memory load to 10MB while the browser is minimized.  In your about:config page, click in a blank space and choose New and then Boolean.  Now call it “config.trim_on_minimize” (without quotes).  Hit your enter button and then select “True” and Enter again.  Once Firefox is restarted, this will cap it’s memory usage to 10MB while minimized.  Again, great for computers with less than optimal memory.

You can also disable IPv6 if you’re not planning on useing it to browse the web.  Hint- if you’re not really sure what it is or why you’d use it, you’re probably not using it.

In the about:config page search for network.dns.disableIPv6. If it is set to “false” double click it so it becomes “true“.  A FF restart is needed.

If you’re bothered by the speed of Firefox, especially in more portable, less powerful machines, these tweaks may help you out a bit.

[tags]technology, web browsing, geek[/tags]

Steam’s CEG to kill off DRM. Will it be enough to save Steam from OnLive’s video game streaming?

The folks over at Valve and Steam have announced a new update to Steamworks which sounds pretty
damned good.  In addition to allowing DLC to be available in-game which is cool in and of itself,
Steam promises to have a solution to kill DRM and Piracy in one swift blow.

“Headlining the new feature set is the Custom Executable Generation (CEG) technology that
compliments the already existing anti-piracy solution offered in Steamworks. A customer friendly approach to anti-piracy, CEG makes unique copies of games for each user allowing them to access the application on multiple machines without install limits and without having to install root kits on their PC.”

In essence, they will create a unique instance of any game you purchase.  While this instance exists
out in the land of Steam, it’s your copy.  You can play it on any compatible computer as long as
you’re only launching it once.  So install it on your four high end gaming rigs but you can only
play one copy at a time.

Seems reasonable. In fact, seems like one more reason to really, really like Steam.  No rootkits,
no calling back to the mothership with way to much info, no DRM in the form of intrusive and
unannounced programs.

This announcement comes on the same day that Onlive announced their new service which, if it works
out as they say will really eliminate the need for casual to moderately heavy gamers on PCs and
Macs to purchase any cutting edge hardware whatsoever.

So Steam is on the top of the heap with their elegant solution to DRM right now.  Is it possible
that they may not stay there for long if OnLive cuts significantly into their subscription base?
Why does OnLive look like it may be positioned to storm the PC gaming world, and more even the
console gaming world?  Well, how does instant on gaming, the latest titles, on your PC, Mac or TV
regardless of your graphics capability (as long as you have at least onboard graphics for your PC
or the OnLive box for your TV) sound?

Why buy a console when you can get PC quality graphics playing Crysis on your TV?  If you have 1.5
Mbs/second you’ll get standard res quality graphics.  With 5Mbs/second you’ll get 780p.  If this is
successfuly I’m sure there will be upgrades to this as well as the proprietary video compresion
tools are what this venture is founded on.  Heck, why upgrade your graphics card every 6 months?

How does OnLive do it?  They render the graphics and handle the AI on their own servers, which are beefed up, multi-proc, high end GPU, fire-breathing, nerd-fit inducing machines.  Yowza!

Steam has the digital distribution market pretty well sown up now.  There’s competition with Impulse
and even MS Live, which is a good thing, but Steam is out front and that’s a fact.  What will
happen to that lead if OnLive takes off?  Imagine on demand gaming.  I’m assuming (and it’s not yet
clear) that OnLive will be a subscription service where you pay a flat fee for X amount of gaming.

Want to play Crysis for 7 hours and then switch to Empire Total War?  No problem, you’ve already
paid your monthly fee.  That’s what I’m envisioning, well have to see what the reality is when
OnLive has more to say about their pricing model.

The internet is currently lighting up with reports of this generation being the last generation of
consoles and OnLive seems to be playing a significant part in this.  I can already see playing
Diablo III with my wife without having to go out and get a second gaming rig if she could use her
laptop.  I can easily see why this is significant and why Steam will either need to adjust with a
similar model, or start the slide down to 2nd place.

Here’s more from OnLive’s FAQ and it makes for a real interesting read:

What do I need to play OnLive on my TV?
All you need is your TV, an OnLive MicroConsole and a couple of cables. Power up and play!

What if I want to play OnLive on my PC or Mac-what are the minimum specs?
Since the game is running in the OnLive data center, our system requirements are pretty low. All
you need is a PC running a current version of Windows XP® or Vista®, or an Intel®-based Mac running
a current version of OS X.

How long does it take to download a game?
Trust us, it’s really fast – it’s instant, unlike anything you’ve tried.

How do I patch or update my games?
OnLive games are patched and updated automatically for you in the OnLive data center. So, games
start up the instant you click on them.

What is the difference between Onlive and other services delivering games via the network?
There isn’t anything like the OnLive system in terms of instant access to the latest games, a
media-rich experience, ease of use, and ability to play on your TV, or entry-level PC, or Mac.

How long until the newest games are available OnLive?
OnLive works with its partners to deliver the newest titles as soon as they’re released. No waiting
in lines, pre-ordering, or waiting on shipments. Just connect and play!

Can I try new games before buying?
Yes. You can play the latest and greatest demos, and even rent games to try them out. OnLive also
lets you watch the top players as a way to discover new games and learn a few new tricks.

Are the games currently listed on your website the only games available?
These are just the games we are announcing right now and showing at the 2009 Game Developers Conference. We expect to have more titles available at launch.

Does OnLive support multiplayer?
Absolutely. Even beyond normal online multiplayer action, OnLive has many social features that make
it a great place to watch your friends, join in, and record and share your highlights (or lowlights).

Of course there are a few problems I can think of off the top of my head that OnLive will need to deal with.  Such as bandwidth capping by the cable companies, or supporting a Mod community.  How can you play a Crysis mod if you don’t have a local copy of the game to install the mod to?  Overcoming the first issue is the biggest problem they may have.  They’ll certainly use the argument that it will bring more subscribers to the cable companies, thus making them more money but the big C’s are notorious for not seeing the sense in certain issues.

[tags]technology, steam,onlive, world domination[/tags]

WizMouse – possibly the best little Windows app ever

Wizmouse may be just about the best little freeware app out there for those of us with Windows machines.

It’s pretty simple and straight forward.  WizMouse allows you to scroll through out of focus windows using your mouse’s scroll wheel.

See, if you don’t ask your software to do much, and it does it, you’re a happy user.

Some immediate applications that come to mind are (besides general scrolling of out of focus windows) GMing from a laptop.  Toggle between windows, scrolling up and down in the window behind your stats page, or current map.

However you use it, it’s a fantastic little thingy that does exactly what it says it will do.

[tags]technology, software[/tags]

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