Blogging all over the place

Man, life can be complicated at times. If I were a simple man (and I’m not that simple) I would have one passion and follow it to the end. Whatever that passion would be you could focus on it and execute it to it’s fullest potential. I am not a simple man and thus I have to complicate an already complicated world I live in.

I’ve finished setting up and now diversifying my blogs. Thanks to Scott Watermasysk, .Text (an Open Source .NET blogging system), and Weblogs.asp.net I have a new blog site called Fear and Loathing that you can find here.

The Fear and Loathing blog is focused on .NET development, SharePoint, and whatever other Microsquishy stuff comes up. My personal blog here is for the rest of the stuff that filters through and basically an aggregator of my other sites (SimsTools, CDX, etc.) that are newsworthy. Nothing like building my own little web of information, even if I am the author of all of it.

Speaking of aggregation, I stumbled across a really nice and well done RSS news desktop feed aggregator called RSS Bandit. It’s very slick and works great. I’ve spent the time going through a dozen or so blogs that I have bookmarked and put the feeds into Bandit. Makes for a great tool and even lets you post comments to blogs from the tool (assuming the blog supports the wfw:commentRss tag. I highly recommend it if you’re into spending an hour or so reading peoples blogs rather than a newspaper.

SimExplorer back on schedule

Hi guys,

Okay so things have been quiet for awhile. I’ve been working on fixing up the framework and I have to tell you my brain is much better for it.

For the last couple of years, I’ve had a real problem with some of my Sims code. It’s all tied into various other code and it makes for a very ugly mess. In the programming world there are things you can do like putting modules into separte DLL files to separate things and make your system cleaner (makes for updating the system easier too). This was the plan all along with most of the tools here. Having a common DLL that’s shared amongst all the tools and when I updated it, all the programs would update. That hasn’t become a reality as there were too many inter-dependancies that made it a nightmare to try to even build the projects, let alone update them.

This is now fixed and I’m releasing a new SimExplorer to test it out. All of the viewable types in the Sims formats (IFF, WLL, FAM, etc.) are now broken out into separate DLLs with a single DLL providing all the core Sims functionality. Okay, so from a user perspective this is nonsense and you guys are probably just screaming for the software. From an update perspective, it’s awesome. When a new expansion pack comes along or a bug needs to be fix I can just release a small DLL file that you drop onto your hard drive and voila, everything is immediatly updated to work with it. Neat huh?

Anyways, here’s the call for testers again. Nothing formal this time. Just email me and I’ll send you a copy to test. There’s a built-in bug reporting tool in the program so if you experience something just click on it to send off the bug and I’ll try to reproduce it (the reporting tool does a snapshot of your system so you don’t have to tell me what hardware you’re running or anything about your computer in the error message).

Thanks!

Personal Portals

I’ve been thinking about Personal Portals recently. There’s no definitive definition out there, but here’s a shot:

personal portal

noun A Web page that offers content and services customized for an individual.

Example Citation:

“Some function as ‘personal portals,’ collection spots for all sorts of information that matters to the computer user, such as local weather reports, a favorite sports team’s schedule, local museum openings and CD releases.”

—Siona LaFrance, “Online Calendar Services Vie for New Users,” The Times-Picayine, May 13, 1999

This is not to be confused with a full site like here, but something more, well… personal. At work for example, I have hundreds of bookmarks (maybe thousands) that I have in my browser. Bookmarks in a browser (Favorites) are not the most organized and you end up create folders and sub-folders trying to make them appear organized. Instead, what about using a web page to organize this information (and in some cases, several pages)?

Too many people do not take advantage of the fact that your browser does not have to immediately go on to the web and slow up the system to load the Netscape, AOL or Microsoft home pages which are designed to promote their companies and services. This takes time and gets old fast. Your best bet is to load a page from your local hard disk. This is such a page which loads instantly and links to commonly used sites. You don’t need a web server to do this as you can load static pages into your browser directly.

I find this to be a more organized way to find stuff and is suited to me. Sure, having a system give you the ability to capture your own preferences is great (like a SharePoint Portal Server My Site) but it means you hammer the server everytime you launch your browser? Does that make sense when you don’t have to? At work we have the browsers configured to go to our intranet home page and you can’t change it (a GPO is pushed down setting it back to the corporate website). However if I have to visit a internet site, I’m always loading up a page from our servers for no reason? Okay, again this is the place to push information out to employees that’s deemed important but why not let the user go there if they want? More often than not, just sending me to the corporate page is going to desentize me to the content anyways if I’m always ignoring it because it’s just a tunnel to what I really want.

There are other advantages/disadvantages to this idea. Ctrl+D is a great way to quickly bookmark a site and if I told a user they had to edit a local file to add a new link rather than press a button they’d keel-haul me (look it up, it’s very painful). Overall though, give a user a local template (or choice of templates to start from) and simple instructions to add their own content and you might win some over. You can even have contests or something where you work as to best personal portal page or whatever.

Of course I could never sell this idea where I work but your mileage may vary.

Instructions:

The first thing to do is create a portal page. This can be done by capturing and saving a page from the web or creating your own (if there’s interest, I’ll put together some simple boilerplate pages to use). You can capture a web page from the web by using the “Save As…” function (click on File on the browser menu bar, then drop down to Save As..) and save the file as home.htm in your “My Documents” folder.

Once you’ve properly saved the file then do the following:

In Microsoft Explorer click on View then Internet Options. This opens your options folder and right at the top (under the “General” tab) it asks you for your home page address. Click on the Browse button and locate the “home.htm” file you just saved and then click on OK. You can test the page by clicking on the HOME icon on the browser toolbar. It should load this new page instantly. You can now use the HOME icon for quick access to the many links on the Universal Home Page.

To customize the page just load up that “home.htm” file into a program that can edit it for you like an HTML editor. You can also edit “home.htm” with Microsoft Word! Then save it back to your My Documents directory to use the new links. Be creative and have fun!

Nothing like a good ripping

So I tried out the new BodyShop. Interesting tool, but not sure of the purpose. I mean, you can create new Sims for The Sims 2 and build some parts for it but without the game I’m struggling to see the value here? Guess they’re taking the same approach they did with V1 where people built all kinds of floors and wallpapers prior to the game and they figure everyone will be building all kinds of Sims.

Anyways, feels like it did when I started writing tools for The Sims. Lots of new file formats to poke into and see what was there. One thing that is apparently missing from the tool is the ability to export a preview image of your Sim. So the tool isn’t very useful for webmasters that want to get nice unique characters up on their sites or for people to generate previews for downloading Sims characters. Have to look into what that’s all about and see if anything can be done.

Overall I think people are finding the tool pretty positive, although there seems to be a few reports of having problems running it. I think this is just the tip of the iceburg. Knowing the Sims community like I do, most people are running the bare minimum to run the game because they’re not die-hard Quake III players with the latest $500 video card. So while there will be a few people with problems running this tool, they’ll be more when the game comes out. We’ll see…

Back on The Sims bandwagon

Looks like things are heating up with The Sims 2 now so I figure I’ll just post the info as it comes in.

The Sims 2 Website now offers downloads of the Sims 2 Body Shop as well as a starter pack of content that is required for its operation. There is accompanying HELP, a FAQ, as well as downloads of user manuals in various languages on how to get going creating your own little people for the upcoming get a life sequel.

Be prepared, the download for the tool is 100 MB and the starter pack (which is required) is another 100 MB. So that’s a good night for just downloading for anyone on dial-up or slow(er) connections. Even on Cable or ADSL, you’re still looking at 15-30 minutes of download time.

Let the games begin (again).

Just can’t have enough zombie games

I´ve been struggling with an idea for a game for sometime now (I´ve been writing tools for so long it´s time to actually write a commercial game). I think I figured out my concept with a game I call “Risen”.

It´s a zombie game and works in three modes. Single Player, Co-op, and Multiplayer. They all work pretty much the same, just scaled up based on the number of people in the game.

The game takes place in a world where the dead have taken over. Typical zombie action as they roam aimlessly looking for brains to eat. Each part of the cityscape (and countryside) is divided up into zones (several city blocks, not sure what the engine can handle yet, using Torque so size shouldn´t be a problem). Within that zone there are three types of entities.

Pedestrians:

These are NPCs that run around doing daily stuff, but mostly running from zombies (depending on the level of zombie infestation in that area)

Zombies:

The villians (or heroes depending on how you look at it) of the game. They run around looking for brains to eat and growing stronger.

Players:

Your mission. Kill or be killed.

The Game:

Zombies wander around eating pedestrians (and players). Each time a zombie munches down on a ped, it grows in strength. Zombies also do some flocking so if they see another zombie they´ll wander together for awhile, forming a zombie mob which will attack in groups. When a zombie eats someone, they infect their victims and they in turn become the walking undead.

The players goal is to erradicate all the zombies on a level to move to the next block. Players themselves can be attacked and will become zombified. Here´s where the game gets interesting where the player now plays as a zombie. Rather than having the goal of blowing away the undead, the player now must hunt out peds (and other players) to eat in order to survive. The level ends when all zombies are erradicated or all players become zombies (whichever comes first). There are scores for both (zombies and player/zombies including how many ped/players were turned, brains eaten, etc.).

Players have weapons but generally have to find them within the game (and utilizing a broomstick or leg of a chair works, but not very effective). There are various archetypes that players can pick from. These include soldiers, scientists, jocks, reporters, etc. each with their own advantages/disadvantages.

Zombies only come in zombie flavour and have no weapons to speak of. They do gain abilities (like being able to spit/vomit zombie goo on players) as they grow in strength. Each time they go munching they also grow in endurance, stamina, etc. so dropping a zombie that´s consumed the football team will be quite a feat and probably require multiple players working together.

Feel free to label me a crackpot, rank me as a genuius or pay me gobs of cash to build this idea for you.

Death and Movies

Sure, death and taxes is always the “in” thing but there was a recent article about the worst way to die in a movie. Unfortunately they only listed 3 ways (included here) but almost every movie you’ve seen someone dies. And it’s usually in a horrific and messy way. So here’s a rundown of some of the more gruesome ways movies and death have entertained us:

  • Se7en: Pretty much anyone who died in this flick
  • Braveheart: Hung, stretched, castrated, and decapitated
  • Alien: Alien creature eating its way out of your rib cage
  • The Princess Bride: The Machine. ’nuff said.
  • The Doom Generation: Castrated by skinheads
  • Raiders of the Lost Ark: Munched by an airplane propeller
  • Gigli: Just watching it
  • Jason X: In a sleeping bag, swung violently against a tree by a guy in a hockey mask
  • Fargo: Tree mulcher
  • Bambi: Being shot by a hunter offscreen, leaving your young foal to fend for himself in an unforgiving forest.
  • The Missing: Being broken in half, wrapped in cowhide and slowly roasted over a fire
  • The Omen: David Warner looking up just in time to see that sheet of glass as it slices his head completely off
  • John Carpenters The Thing: Pretty much anyone in this movie got nabbed pretty good.
  • Donnie Darko: Being crushed by an airplane engine as you sleep
  • American History X: “Bite the curb”, and I will prooceed to stomp the back of your head.
  • Return of the Jedi: Any Storm Trooper killed by an Ewok. Man, you’d have to be a real pussy to be killed by a Teddy Bear.
  • Hellraiser: Having all your skin ripped off would suck too… in fact, any death where your soul gets dragged to Hell is bad.
  • Kill Bill: You don’t want Uma Thurman kicking your ass
  • The Last Boy Scout: Falling into the helicopter blades from the top of a football stadium.
  • Casino: Being tortured for three days by a bunch of souless mobsters and then having your head compacted in a vice until your eyes pop out.
  • Hannibal: Having your brain eaten while still alive is no fun
  • The Breakfast Club: The careers of anyone involved with this movie.
  • The Naked Prey: Packed in clay with tubes up your nose then slowly turned over on a spit over a fire.
  • Scarface: Handcuffed to the shower curtain rod while a chainsaw slices you in half from the crotch up.
  • Ghost Ship: Cleaved in ‘twain en masse with a tiny steel rope.
  • Goldfinger: Spray painted to death and left to asphyxiate.
  • Breakin 2 Electric Boogaloo: Being cast in this movie
  • Animal House: Killed by own troops in vietnam – Greg Niedermeyer
  • Caligula: Having your penis tied off, having 5 gallons of liquid dumped down your throat until your bladder swells to the point of bursting, and then, after a indetermined amount of suffering, you’re slit from groin to neck with a sword.
  • Willy Wonka: Hands down, Augustus Gloop going up the pipe
  • Wizard of Oz: Having a tornado tossed cabin land on top of you.
  • Fight Club: Shooting yourself through the back of the head and still living. That really sucks.
  • Swordfish: Human reverse-proximity claymores.
  • Pulp Fiction: Shot pretty much point blank,and having your brains explode into the back of a car
  • Dawn of the Dead: Being torn apart by zombies while still alive. Any zombies.
  • Saving Private Ryan: Pretty much anyone in this movie bites it bad, but the American in the tower getting stabbed in the heart makes
  • Congo: Getting your head crushed by gorillas
  • The Rock: Exposed to VX gas

Feel free to add your own in the comments section.

The evolution of a “great game”?

There´s something that´s been vexing me for sometime and I don’t have the answer.

We all want to create the “killer” game (at least people that write games do). IMHO the killer game was Wolfenstein. It brought on the new generation of game playing. No longer were people stuck watching a ball bounce back and forth on a flat 2D playing field. No longer were people bored at dragging cards around to form suits and runs. No longer were people watching Mario jump over drainpipes and knock down turtles. So where have we gone and where is the next “killer” game.

Jeff Tunnell puts it best when he says “build a great game”. That´s all it is. Something great. Something you can stand back, admire, and be proud to father. Trouble is, what does that mean or look like? We all think about the next revolution in gaming. A FPS with RPG qualities. Or some MMORPG with adaptive behaviour. Or something else. What is that something else?

I certainly don´t have the answers, otherwise I´d be writing it. There´s an old saying. We don´t need a revolution, we need an evolution. Is that what the gaming industry needs? Something to turn things on it´s head and backwards? Or are we content with pumping out the same, albeit prettier, content game after game? Sure technology has advanced. So much so that you can buy a fully capable game engine for $100 bucks that will deliver any world you can imagine. The trouble isn´t the technology, and it´s not the content. It´s that gap between the two that will make you stand out from the rest and people will step back and admire the missing link.