Brewfest?

No idea what it is, But it’s fun.

Eieloris in flight to Brewfest. This trek involved hoofing it through the Wetlands to get to Ironforge.
Tharthurm taking tourist pictures with the Orgrimmar guard.
Creavishop is seeing Pink Elekks. They look like elephants for some reason.
I think I’ve found my new favorite thing in the universe.
Peaceful drunken sleep.

Game Distribution Systems; Steamrolled

Ran across an interesting article today Saving Progress: Impulse Buyer in which the author offers praise for Valve and their Steam game delivery system; and it’s ability to effortlessly deliver games to your desktop.

I’ll give the author points for identifying the reason that Valve promotes Steam, to the exclusion of all other methods of game installation. But he fails to unambiguously state what that reason is.

Profit Margin.

I’m a capitalist, I have no problem with profit. What I have a problem with is the continuing saga of limiting the usefulness of a product, even crippling same, for the explicit purposes of increasing profit margins; even when these actions limit the value of the product to the customer. DRM can come in many forms, and relying on Valve and Steam to continue to authorize a program’s use every time you start it will eventually end in your paying for the same game over and over again as their profit margin demands it.

Make no mistake about it, Steam is DRM. If you do not have an active online presence when installing the game from disc (those of us who continue the arcane practice of actually going to brick and mortar stores for our software) you will not be allowed to install, at all. No where on the packaging for The Orange Box or Half Life is this fact revealed, and good luck returning already opened software for a refund. That doesn’t happen, either.

Luckily (or maybe unluckily) we have high speed internet service, and so The Son was able to install his favorite programs and play them ad nauseum. Or he would be able to if Steam didn’t present me with a regular series of challenges based on arcane hardware limitations and failed upgrade problems.

After a few months of being Steamrolled, I’m declaring a moritorium on Steam controlled games in this household. I’ve had enough of re-installing and re-configuring, and then re-re-installing and re-re-configuring Valve games to last me for the rest of my life. The children keep asking me when I’m going to play Half-Life 2 (because, like Doom 3, they watched me play Half Life from the safety of the couch, where the monsters can’t get them. They want to continue the entertainment of watching dad scream in terror when the monsters start eating the back of his head) and my answer is a solid “never”. Never going to play it, because the frustation of making Steam work with Half-Life and the other Valve programs leaves little room for the entertainment that you are supposed to get from gaming. Never mind that I don’t want to get attached to a program that Valve could de-authorise whenever they please, for whatever reason they see fit.

I have a dream. I just want to be able to install a game, and then never have to worry about licensing again. If I were pirating…

[Copying without paying for software. Not really pirating. Pirating involves theft of value by force. Like taking your money and not giving you software that works, for example. Theft of my money is just as much piracy as continued use of a program you have not licensed properly]

…software, it would be that simple. I wouldn’t have to answer to the authors of the program when it came to methods of installation, numbers of installs, or online status when installing. That is what these games developers have to compete with when it comes to rolling out new software. The software may or may not work on my system, I may not get the bug patches, but the price (free) is right for that kind of risk. And I won’t have to listen to children beg me for the advertised games they don’t own, conveniently available through Steam.

No, Valve has found their version of an MMO (and World Of Warcraft, Blizzard’s premiere MMO, is experiencing astronomical profits) and they are milking it for all it’s worth. I just don’t have any need to be treated as a revenue source for game companies that really aren’t doing too bad after all.

The interesting part of the article was the information on other game companies intentions to compete with Steam for customers. Well, they might have one sitting right here.

Impulse claims to be much more open, in keeping with Stardock’s continuing policy of being DRM-free and rewarding the legitimate customer. Recent furores over invasive and overly protective piracy prevention tools has divided the industry, with some favoring the maximum effort possible to stop piracy, while the rest advocating a free system which does not punish the consumer. Stardock, being at the forefront of this movement, consistently promise to never restrict their customers in the name of reducing piracy. By distributing their games online via the same methods as those who steal games, Stardock is banking on the loyalty of their customers and the attractiveness of their product to survive. So far, it is working.

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It sounds good. But it only runs in Windows, a platform that I’ve vowed to abandon, for pretty much the same reasons I don’t approve of Steam. Too many hoops to jump through, too many limitations on what I can do, too much money for what I’m actually getting.

How about a cutting edge gaming system that is platform neutral, like Mozilla? No, I’m not happy about the state of gaming these days, and I don’t see much hope on the horizon. Still, it’s good that there are companies out there that realize treating customers like criminals is not the way to ingender loyalty amongst the endusers. Now lets see if they go the distance.

The Cave… Again; or, God is a couchpotato geek.

I’m a Matrix fan; or more accurately let me say I was; if the current re-hash of worn-out philosophical concepts keeps resurfacing I might not be anymore. A good friend forwarded me a link to yet another philosopher, with yet another theory concerning the unknowability of the realness of life the other day, possibly because he knew of my fondness for the Matrix. There might have been another reason, but frankly I would prefer to think it was because of that.

The link was to a NY Times article, but for those of you who don’t have a log-in for NYT, you might try this link instead. I find most of these hypotheses so laughable it’s hard to even summon the willpower to counter them; but I think I’ll try, just this once, to summon the requisite energy and present the case that is quite obvious to me.

Always, always, always those philosophers who want to convince us that we cannot control our world or even our own lives will invent some way to explain away the helplessness that we all supposedly feel when faced with cold hard truth. Invariably they will offer up some variation on The Cave (a favorite amongst SF writers) and pretend that none of us can turn around to see the world that really exists; that we cannot know reality.

In this particular instance, Mr. Bostrom offers up the Matrix-like computer simulation as his variation of shadows on the cave wall; a simulation capable of mimicking an entire world of people, clueless as to their existence in a simulation, on some yet to be invented computer system 50 years or so into our future.

[As far and predicting the future goes, I’m still waiting for my personal flying car that I was promised by the futurists back in the fifties. I’m not holding my breath, but it doesn’t stop me from wanting one, though]

As usual this theory has a few holes in it. Let’s shine a little light through them, eh?

To start with, the simulation would not only have to include every person, but every visible bit of matter in the sky; essentially you would have to simulate the entire universe. Why, you might ask? It’s quite simple. For the simulation to be flawless, undetectable to the sim or sims residing in it, you would have to plan for every eventuality. Space based telescopes to view distant objects in the universe, for example. Or perhaps electron microscopes for examining the atom, at the other end of the spectrum. True, you could falsify the data for individual sims, but what would be the purpose of creating a sim that interacts with no one and exists only to be lied to about what is real? The satisfaction of deceiving your own creation? A serious investment of time to no real purpose. No, the purpose of running simulations (even in games like The Sims and Simcity) is to discover the results of complex interactions between sims and the effects of external stimuli; in other words, you would need to have several autonomous sims interacting in a world that would be indistinguishable from the real world, which places you squarely back at simulating the entire universe.

Yes, it might be possible some day to create such a complex simulation; but ask yourself, what purpose would it serve to simulate the entire universe? Better to program your sims not to question what lies beyond the window, or above the sky. This would save millions (probably even billions) of terabytes of data, and would radically simplify the simulation, making it potentially possible to program the simulation within a person’s lifespan. This is the other end of the problem that never gets addressed when these sorts of suggestions come up; who or what programs these simulations, and how long it would take. I daresay the programming time to accurately simulate the entire universe down to the individual atoms would roughly equate to the amount of time it has taken the universe to evolve in the first place.

All of that aside, clearly we can and do question what is outside the window, above the blue sky, what matter is made up of, etc.; so we are obviously not in a simulation. And if we are in a simulation programmed by a post-human that simulates the entire universe; how is that post-human distinguishable from god?

In other words, what Mr. Bostrom has created is an overly complex way of saying “It’s god’s will”. And it’s not much of an original thought when viewed from that perspective.


Also, I think it bears pointing out that in The Cave, Plato allows one of the slaves to escape, because the allegory is an exploration of the interaction between the slave who has been free, and has a heightened understanding of what reality is, and the slaves still imprisoned in the cave. The purpose of the experiment is to explore the interaction between the different beliefs about what is real; and how easily deceived we are when it comes to the subject of belief. Even in the original allegory of the cave, no accommodation is made for the feeding and care of the slaves, or how this care takes place without the slaves becoming wise to the freedom of those who care for them; which would raise questions about the nature of the reality they were confined to. Again, curiosity and exploration would lead to questions that reveal the lie of the shadows; just as the Matrix is revealed to be nothing more than a sham to those willing to question it’s reality.

An allegory should not be taken literally. Plato’s cave questions the reliability of our natural senses, wondering what is hidden behind the limited visible spectrum; a question science has answered to a large extent today. The Matrix questions social interactions of the modern age, hypothesizing that there is a greater force than we realize at work behind the scenes. That the film goes on to literally find us plugged in to a simulation controlled by machines from which there is no escape is not the purpose behind the question. The purpose, in my interpretation, is for us to question what does govern our social interactions; what is the meaning of the endless wars, why is there a driving need to consume? Why should we lead meaningless, faceless lives that we do not believe in? Isn’t it better to throw off the chains and face the unknown, than to stare placidly at the cave wall and accept the musings of the equally clueless slave next to you?

My answer is obviously “yes, face the unknown”; I can’t speak for you, and your mileage may vary.

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