Games and Life

“Nice civilization you’re building for someone else there.”

Freeman Hunt forwarded me this (somewhat hard to read) set of notes from the G4C conference. (There’s an interesting story about Zynga and real-life donations on that G4C link. I’ve been studying Zynga for a while and have a post brewing about it.)

As I was reading it, I thought of the above quote, which I read on the Apolyton forums years ago, regarding the game Civilization. Some poor sap had developed this gorgeous civilization powered by art and culture (Civ 3 introduced the ability to conquer cities via culture) and was fretting because the cretins around him—with their pathetic attempts at art—had instead built up massive armies of guys with pointed sticks.

He was dismayed that all his culture and education was threatened by some barely literate clods still in the Stupid Ages.

And what I wondered at that point is whether or not the popularity of the computer strategy game might not have a profound impact on people’s philosophies regarding the nature of war.

As noted in the pseudo-transcript above, games are models, and they have some limited value in their real-life application. Civ 3 was very good at emulating historical trends (at least as we perceive them from here, which is very skewed, but that’s another story) such that industrialism, nationalism and treaties would almost always lead to massive world wars.

This, by the way, feeds into my prejudice about computer climate models. Civilization does a better job “predicting” the past than climate models do (but an awful job predicting the future).

But whatever the limitations, there is one thing that is true in every strategy game: The surest way to invite war is to not develop militarily.

The motivations are (one would hope) not exactly the same: Strategy games tend to be zero sum. If you conquer the world in Civ with a bunch of rock-wielding cavemen, well, you’ve still conquered the world. The game ends at that point, with you victoriously ruling the stone ages.

Nonetheless, it only takes one guy—one Attila or Genghis or Napoleon—to convince his people that, yeah, they pretty much should be running the show, to turn a bunch of weakly defended countries into fuel for a war machine.

Peace (for you) is only assured by being substantially stronger than the other guys.

Another interesting evolution in the Civ games is that while you may be hated if you’re very powerful, people will act nice to your face. If you’re weak, you’ll be openly loathed, extorted and eventually conquered.

It’s not just Civilization, though: Every 4x game I can think of (explore, expand, exploit, exterminate) has the same basic rule. If you want peace, you have to make war an unpleasant prospect for others.

The modern 4X game is only about 15 years old, and Civilization not quite 20, but it’s not hard to imagine that the lessons they teach might have an impact in coming years.

I Hate Windows

I got The Boy some games for his birthday. I used to be a fairly heavy game player myself but haven’t really had the time in years. He’s playing on a machine that’s about six-years-old, which used to be old for my house. Except I started getting laptops instead of desktop machines (for various reasons) so the desktops are starting to creak a bit.

The three games were Grand Theft Auto IV, Fallout 3 and Left 4 Dead. (I’ll leave you to figure out whether it’s mandatory for games to have a numeral in the title these days.) Left 4 Dead worked pretty well and he enjoyed it, though with games it’s often not as simple as “I liked it”. (Online play versus campaigns versus scenarios versus free-style versus whatever. A game can excel in one area and suck in the rest, but still be worth playing.)

Since I haven’t been able to use my work machine—I’m not allowed on the treadmill and it shows up on my tests when I cheat—I let The Boy replace his old one with mine. Fallout 3 looks great, but it locked up. GTA IV wouldn’t even start, though.

I’ll skip to the ending and say that I got it working, but here’s what had to be done:

1. Game installation. This takes about 18 whopping gigs of space. (18 gigs!)

2. Entering a massive serial code. Have you seen these? Here’s a sample: 8MEH-RB32G-UPE9U-TRLQR-BLQ9O-CEMBR-ACED. Is that a letter “O” or a zero? You may not know. That, by the way, is assuming you can find the code. It’s usually on the back of the manual, or printed on a disk sleeve, or a disk, or maybe a slip of paper included in the box—or maybe it’s nowhere at all and you bought yourself a $60 coaster.

3. But wait, there’s more! In order to play the game, you have to “activate” it. Sometimes this requires a different code like the one you ended in step 2. The software connects to the developer’s studio (Rockstar Games) and that has to work or you’re hosed. And a variety of issues can make this even more complicated.

4. You still can’t play your game, though, unless the damn DVD is in the drive. The software used to ensure the DVD is actually in the drive can cause all kinds of horrible problems with your system.

5. Almost always, you then have to download a patch and fix the game.

6. Now, when we started the game, it failed. We got a non-helpful error message that led to a bunch of elaborate suggestions on what might need to be done.

7. OK, well, I hadn’t upgraded my Windows from SP2 to SP3. SP3 has “Windows Genuine Advantage” in it. “Windows Genuine Advantage” of course provides no advantage to you, the user. It basically allows Microsoft to kill your computer from a distance if its authorization system which—and I know this may shock you—isn’t always correct about who it authorizes. I bite the bullet and do it anyway.

8. Windows Update required me to upgrade the Windows Updater. You can’t make this kind of thing up.

9. After that, the upgrade failed. The helpful advice from Microsoft? “Try again.” I did. I’m not sure where I’m more appalled that this is their advice, or that it worked.

10. Did I mention upgrading the video card driver? Yeah, did that, too. It’s always a good idea. (Mine was three years old, even though the machine is only two years old.)

11. OK, so now it’s time to try GTA again, right? Brand new error message: “The program failed to start. Check out our support web page.” No error number or details, just “It didn’t start: F**k you.” The only hint was that it was the RGSC.EXE program that failed. That doesn’t seem like GTA. That seems more like Rockstar Games Social Club. Which I don’t want. I just want to play the freakin’ game!

12. The web support page? Not surprisingly, no help for this completely worthless error message.

13. OK, I figure if it’s the freakin’ Social Club causing the problem, I’ll register with the freakin’ Social Club. I use my “ilovespam” e-mail and sign up. The form wants my phone number. Address. Unbelievable. I put in fakes or leave blank. There’s no way this should actually affect whether or not the game runs.

14. But it does. Now, RGSC doesn’t crash and the actual game starts. Yay, right!

15. WRONG! Now you need to update your Windows Live software. Windows Live is yet another freaking “social club”/vehicle for selling crap I don’t want. No choice, but at least it’s clear what’s wrong. I download and install Windows Live.

16. Now Windows Live wants me to join. Just kill me. I skip—but the program starts!! Yay! Now The Boy can boost cars and beat prostitutes!

Back in the DOS and early Windows days, there was all this crap you had to do to get games (like Doom) to run: Memory managers, specific graphics drivers, sound drivers, etc. It was all very technical. You could see why someone might flee to a Nintendo or Jaguar or whatever the kids were playing back then.

I didn’t mention it but I ignored 5 different license agreements in order to get this game to play. Crap like this is one reason I don’t play any more. It actually can be a lot worse. Like, you can get to the end of the process and discover that the game won’t play at all. It might be for a technical limitation—or it might just be that one of the half-dozen security protections failed and decided you were a scum-sucking thief.

The irony being that if you are a scum-sucking thief, you don’t have to deal with any of this.

UPDATE: I SPOKE TOO (*#&*(&q# SOON! GTA IV–after letting The Boy play all yesterday and save his games, today it insisted he have a Windows Live Login. Of course, having one, his save games from yesterday are all gone.

I HATE WINDOWS! I also hate freakin’ consoles. They think it’s cute to put on 5 minutes of copyright/warning/video/uninterruptible crap at the front, and that’s freakin’ infected PC games. Get over yourselves!

Ouch!

I’ve continued to do the Wii and, like any other video game, it trains you to play it very well. I’ve actually gotten to the point where it doesn’t insult me most of the time. (“You performed exceptionally poorly on the Don’t Stick Your Thumb In Your Eye challenge. Is it because you are a big, clumsy American or are you especially uncoordinated?”)

The Wii takes an exceptionally sensitive weight reading, then uses your keyed in height to calculate your BMI. And then helpfully displays your Wii as underweight, normal, fat or obese, based thereon. I honestly can’t imagine a large American corporation coming up with an exercise system that called its users obese and clumsy.

This, however, has to be the unkindest cut (from F– My Life):

Today, I finally got Wii Fit to lose some weight. Came home and set it all up only to be told that I weigh too much to use the board. FML

So, yeah, I bet it caps out at 300 pounds. Fair warning. (Note: 330# according to various web sources.)

Look, treat as a fun way to get off your ass and you can have a good time. Also, if you use it daily, just to do a “body test”: it’ll keep track of your weight. It is, of course, a bad idea to focus on weight if you’re trying to get in shape and, as I noted, the Wii Fit is very sensitive.

But while the Fit software tends to overreact to weight fluctuations, you know if you’re looking at a normal weight shift or a third helping of mashed potatoes. It’s programmed to not react to a minor weight shift, and notes that you can swing a couple of pounds in a day, but it’s not unusual for me to swing five pounds in a single day. (Something I observed years ago, back in the karate days.)

But it’s a lot harder to ignore a general trend. And regardless of how you view the Wii’s general approach to fitness, you can do the weight thing every day.

Meanwhile, my personal trainer mother wants to give me a real body fat test at her gym.

Anyway, the only real weakness with the Fit is that there isn’t enough content. The Wii Fit Plus should resolve that, for a while.

Ears and Links

About two years ago, the Barbarienne jammed her finger in my ear. Because of her age, her finger was just the right size to get into my ear canal; because of her strength, she jammed it in far enough to scratch my eardrum.

The resultant infection was so painful and persistent that I thought I might actually lose some hearing. It took weeks to clear up fully, but I was back hearing noises in that annoying 16-20K frequency range again in no time.

Which is a propos of nothing except that I recognized the problem sooner this time and didn’t let the infection go too far before going to the local “urgent care”. (Less than $100 and 30 minutes, with almost no paperwork.)

That, and I’ve been accumulating links from around the web but have been unable to cobble together much in the way of coherent posts. So here’s a round-up.

A reprint of a massive 1981 article on Love Canal, and a 2004 follow-up, both at Reason. Massive government screw up plus hysteria equals bad law.

Co-D&D creator Dave Arneson died. It doesn’t surprise me that there’s some rancor and controversy over who did what. Even if TSR hadn’t been dominated by a fairly shady couple, that might’ve arose. I’m glad the two did what they did. Of course, Gygax died at 69 and Arneson at 61, which might suggest the peril of too much gaming.

Vodkapundit tweeted this cute ad for–hell, I don’t even know. Sabre? Saber! Still don’t know what that is. One of these new “body products” they’re pumping out for men. I’m bad at this stuff. I have no products. (I kind of thought “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy” was not awful, but I can’t imagine personally being more uncomfortable than had I been in that situation myself.)

These body product commercials amaze me, because there seems to be a common thread. In particular, there’s some severe exaggeration of the (formerly subtle) trope that women will pursue you if you spray this crap on you. (Pheremones! Science! 60% of the time, it works 100% of the time!) Like the Axe one where hundreds of women chase one guy on a desert island.

So, here they’re saying, well, you know this isn’t going to happen. What with the shortage of midichlorians on this planet and whatnot. You’re too smart to believe this stuff, right? But, you know, maybe it works a little. Can you afford to take that chance?

Reverse-double-secret psychology? If I thought they were aimin’ it at me, I’d probably be insulted. But, as noted, I don’t buy “product”.

Speaking of sexism, a bunch of people were tweeting this Naomi Wolf article on porn and pubic hair, blunting men’s appetites for sex. First of all, I swear I read this years ago. Turns out, Althouse was blogging how old it was two years ago. And its was just as dumb then. The only thing that can turn a man off “the real thing” is a woman. And she has to work hard at it. (Womens’ studies classes can give a gal all the ammo she needs, tho’.) And then the man is mostly not going to want sex with her in particular. That is, a man has to experience a lot of women like that to really be turned off sex. (I can only assume Naomi Wolf doesn’t know very many men.)

Well, okay, in fairness, entire cultures can probably gear down their people’s sex drives, by interjecting politics between Man and Woman. That might be what’s going on in the developed world. Then again, it might be some other physiological factor.

In any case–with all due apologize to FARK–it ain’t guys going, “She’s got pointy knees,” which is all Wolf’s argument boils down to. Guys put Betty Grable and Rita Hayworth up on their lockers 60 years ago, but they still got busy with Betty and Rita next door.

Twitter doesn’t allow you to tweet that much, so I just linked this delightful commercial. I almost expected a flame or two, but I’m not really on the radar of the perpetually outraged. (Advanced social studies study group question: Compare & contrast this commercial to the previous one, with special emphasis on how “personal products” are marketed to men versus women.)

Frank J asks the critical question of our day: Who is the more perfect leader? Obama or Kim Jong Il? The answer may surprise you. Then again, it may not.

Somebody I follow on Twitter, probably @thecardioexpert, linked this article on cholesterol. I like these kinds of things because the way our media presents things, it’s all “OMG! THIS IS DEADLY! AVOID IT OR DIE!” And it doesn’t matter if it’s salt or asbestos or alar or what. You don’t get a sense of the mechanics. And then you die because they didn’t warn you against eating broken glass.

I haven’t played with this site yet, but it’s about musical instruction and resources. What I really want is to be able to score a piece on the computer–full orchestra–and have it come out with those instruments. I’ve seen a few things that do this, but the output embarrasses me, it’s so bad. Obviously, there’s a limit to how good it can be, but there should be moments when it sounds like something other than a fleet of DX7s.

Then there’s the freaky bird here. Giant eyes–I mean, really giant eyes–are freaky. Reminds me of this guy who has remade Homer Simpson and Super Mario into their human selves. Also Jessica Rabbit, who doesn’t look that freaky. At first I thought, “Huh, typical guy.” Then I realized she’s not nearly as humanized as the other two, plus her eyes are mostly closed reducing the freak out factor.

Lastly, there’s this kinda-SIMS-y, kinda-The Movies-y, kinda-Playskool-y site where you can make your own 3D movies very easily. I haven’t tried it. But I’ve seen worse animation and voice-acting on TV.

Enjoy!

Check Mate

The Flower and The Boy take a weekly chess lesson. (They’re actually the bulk of the class, which I think is down to one other kid.)

Anyway, The Flower beat the teacher yesterday.

Although the teacher said he didn’t let her win, I suspect what happened was that he underestimated her at first. Then she launched a very aggressive strategy that put him on the defensive.

Still, not bad for a seven-year-old.

Channeling My Inner 11-Year-Old

The Beatles had a resurgence when I was a kid–as they seem to every few years since they broke up–and they were the first, em, “serious” pop band I listened to. I never listened to the radio–the cacophonous incidental sounds of radio (from AM/FM noise artifacts to commercials to DJs breaking in) made (and makes) it something I cannot tolerate for very long. I picked up some “Donny and Marie” and “Captain and Tenille”, but that didn’t really ignite any interest. (Can’t imagine why.)

Most of the music I listened to was classical or noodling–whatever I could play. (I never have “gotten” piano, though, sadly.) I had a kind of culture shock when I went from piano to guitar because piano teachers generally tell you what to play and guitar teachers ask you what you want to play. So guitar lessons were not successful at that point. (What were they going to do? Teach me Bach and Beethoven? Not likely.)

Flash forward a few months or a year, and one of my classmates takes on a tour of Capitol Records (where her father worked) and they handed out promotional copies of the latest Beatles compilation album, Love Songs. (One of the advantages of going to school in L.A. Another student’s father worked at ABC studios, so we toured there as well.)

Flash forward again, and I’ve got a few more albums and I teach myself a few chords and score a copy–I’m still not sure how–of the “Beatles Complete”, a fairly comprehensive book of typographically convenient piano arrangements of all the Beatles’ tunes. With some help from Peter, Paul and Mary for basic fingerings, I taught myself to play “Polythene Pam”.

Why that song? Five chords, but four of them aren’t bar chords, and when you play it actually sounds like the song on the album. (Because the book had been set up as a sort of fake book for piano–what else?–the music was often transposed into good piano keys, where the Beatles naturally played in good guitar keys. There was a later two-volume work that preserved the scores far better.)

And so I learned to play guitar. Ultimately, I learned fifty or sixty of their tunes, possibly more, though I had more success (as a guy alone with his guitar) emulating Simon & Garfunkel (hold the Garfunkel), ultimately learning all the songs of that duo with the exact or nearly exact fingerings (and quite a few post-breakup songs, too). Then, in the early MTV years, I’d play whatever came on which, to this day, gives me an odd selection of music to recall from that period. (It could’ve been huge on the radio, but if it wasn’t on TV, I didn’t hear it. Sounds strange, but MTV let the songs play all the way through without interrupting back then.)

During my Beatles period, I studied the music and learned about the phenomenon and hung out with other Beatles fans (there were about 50 kids altogether in my middle school, divided between Beatles fans and KISS fans, and ne’er the twain shall meet, except in my house where my sister was, predictably, a KISS fan).

This period ended for me when John Lennon was shot; I found it hard to listen to The Beatles after that for some time, and started listening to their solo albums. (Listening to “the latest” music has never been my thing, as you can see.) I cast about for other things to listen to, but I wouldn’t get close to anything like my Beatles obsession (at least in “pop” music) for ten years (when I rediscovered Loudon Wainwright III).

My transition from the banging chords of the Beatles to Paul Simon-style fingerpickin’ started with this blues song (which before this very moment I had never heard anyone else play ‘cept for me and the guy who taught it to me), and ultimately led me back home to Bach and other Baroque and Renaissance music. (There is truly “Classical” music for the guitar but most of it is terribly boring. The late 18th century and the 19th century isn’t a font of great guitar music. 20th century music and the guitar go gloriously well together, however.)

Anyway a couple years ago when I splurged and got myself a new classical guitar–and the best one I found was actually pretty old–the shopkeeper (sensing an easy mark, no doubt) also showed me a vintage 12-string Framus which I promptly bought, rationalizing that both old guitars together were cheaper and better sounding than the new ones I had sampled. (Random youtube of this kind of guitar in action, but you can hear it on a ton of the Beatles middle period stuff.)

Plucking out a few Beatles tunes on that thing does send me back–to a time before I was born, even. Heh. The sound is evocative.

But evocative in an entirely different way from this.

Although I’ve never quite understood the Guitar Hero attraction, I have to admit, this variant awakened my inner 11-year-old.

Why The Wii Changes Everything

Well, for one thing, there’s this.

I remember when the Wii was announced. A great many of the commenters predicted its failure. “It’s hardly more powerful than the GameCube!” they complained. But I had a feeling it would be a success.

Because I wanted one.

Now, I’m a gamer. Whether or not I qualify for hardcore anymore is certainly debatable. I don’t game as much as I used to, and I’m less willing to invest in the big games any more because I know it’ll be a challenge (at least) to get past the learning curve to where I’m actually reasonably good at the game. (And I don’t mean good in some Internet competition way, but just good enough to actually enjoy the process. Which is the point, after all.)

But I’ve been playing with computers since back when they were shared and billing was done by the millisecond. And I played on the first Pong machines. Certainly, I played computer games when doing so meant you had to type in the code yourself. And that was where I left off with video games (as distinct from computer games): When I could program my own.

The last console I owned, therefore (and one of two or three in toto) was the Channel F. I didn’t like the action on the Atari 2600 (or the graphics), though the Atari 800 was a cool computer. By the time the NES rolled around in 1983, I had long abandoned the arcades and really couldn’t much relate to the kinds of games that ran thereupon. (I was playing strategy, PC-style RPGs which are entirely different from the Japanese style ones.)

I wasn’t real thrilled to live through the late ‘90s and the constant calls of “PC gaming is dying!” For one thing, PC gaming is the wild west of development: Anyone can write a game and try to sell it. There are no licensing fees. I’m not a Microsoft fan but they’re smart enough to realize that making their development platform available for free benefits them tremendously. (Of course, they struggle with the other side, which is artificially restricting games from the PC platform to boost their XBox cred.)

What I realized about PC gaming, though, is that I played it when since before it was worthy of the word “niche”, through the years where entire stores were devoted to PC games, and now, as their relative market shrinks. So why wouldn’t I keep on playing when it goes back to being a niche again?

Which brings us to the Wii. Since I missed out on the NES and all subsequent iterations of consoles (though I bought an N64 and a PS2 for The Boy at various times), I really, really, really hate the controllers. One thing I’ve never been fond of, gaming-wise, is the tendency of some games to require artificially complex control sequences to do stuff. (Yeah, what I like about fighters is offset by annoyance over having to do these 7-8 sequence combos.)

So, somewhat ironically, consoles are to me, a closed world. I can’t bring myself to memorize random codes. I’ll do a little finger training for a strategy game, for example, but the basics mechanics have been standardized on those for years. To me, the control interface is a barrier that we should strive to eliminate. (This is one reason I always look at what Molyneux is doing; I know he feels the same way and it’s interesting to me how he manifests this drive.)

Even if I did go through the trouble–what is essentially meta-game effort–when it’s all done, I’m clicking buttons. If part of the fun of playing a computer game is doing something you can’t really do otherwise (slaying a dragon, fighting a god, etc.) then the fact that you’re doing it just by pressing buttons removes some of the elemental joy. (A good place to start with any game is to find some action that’s pleasurable, and that you can find a pleasurable form of feedback for.)

The action/feedback cycle is the key element of electronic gameplay. There are some games that are little more than that. There are some games which have all the elements of gameplay but miss on that, and they’re virtually unplayable. But once you’re oriented within a game, there’s another element to the cycle:

intention->action->feedback

You mean to do something, you take the steps needed to accomplish that, and the game gives you feedback. The complex key-sequence is an artificial barrier introduced into the action sequence and the learning curve for any game is what it takes to unite intention with action.

The Wii changes that by using your native action to power the game action. So you don’t have to train much, and the training you do parallels what you would actually do in real life. It’s a weak parallel, of course, a shadow of what’s necessary, and in some ways completely wrong from a technical standpoint. (Think Guitar Hero which, while not a Wii game, is the exact same principle.)

Anyway, the introduction of the whole body into the game is an element of immersion completely lacking from traditional gaming, and it’s simultaneously both powerful and intuitive.

So I’m not surprised that the Wii sales figures are comparable to those of the PS3 and Xbox 360 combined. And I’m not surprised that the Wii Fit was the #1 selling game on Black Friday. The games are absolutely trivial: On the Wii Fit, there’s a game where you hit soccer balls thrown at you with your head by leaning left and right (and returning to center as needed). This is a two button game, or three button at the most, and you’d be bored of it nigh instantly.

Add the body factor, though, and you’ve got something.

Ski jumping? That’s practically a one-button game. But make the actions leaning and flexing like an actual jump, and there you are.

I suppose it’s good for you in some ways, but that misses the point. It’s the feedback. Eventually, of course, you’ll get so good at the the controls that you’ll need something subtler and more challenging, which isn’t something we’ve seen a lot of yet.

But this is promising. Hell, the Wii Fit board is fun, but why not have, alternatively, ankle controllers? Cap or ear piece for head motion?

Think not? Well, consider that one of the prime laws of gaming has been that you couldn’t get people to buy peripherals. You always had to make your game for the lowest common equipment denominator. What changed that?

Dance Dance Revolution.

Then what?

Guitar hero.

Now, the Wii Fit. And what do they all have in common? A level of physicality that hardcore gamers eschew. Even Guitar Hero: You can just click the buttons, but isn’t what makes it attractive that you can ham it up as a guitar god? Hell, I play guitar–but I don’t play anything like the archetypal rock star. It doesn’t appeal to me much, but I can see the appeal–and it doesn’t surprise me that various real-life rock bands play it.

The Wii itself may be a fad. And it may be supplanted by additions to the Xbox and the Playstation, or by another console altogether. (Although Nintendo certainly seems to be using its brand well.)

But the physicality? I think that’s here to stay.

Reasons to pirate software.

My buddy’s a big gamer. Mostly sports stuff, which I don’t do, but also Command and Conquer. (Check out the link. It’s David Hasselhoff!)

A couple of years ago, he tried to get me and another pal into C&C: Generals. (I almost always buy games long after they come out. I don’t have time to play them so, you know, why spend a lot of money on them. “But, Blake!” you say, “Why buy them at all if you don’t have time to play them?” To which I remind you, “Shut up.”)

“Generals”, like so many games today, has so much copy protection, it’s absurd. First, of course, it copies its entire contents to your hard drive. It still requires you to keep the CD in the drive, naturally. Also, you’ve got to enter a serial number and product key. Even if you’re just playing over your home network, “Generals” will helpfully check those serial numbers so that you can’t (say) play with your kid without buying another copy. Some games add to that, require Internet activation. “Generals” didn’t, and I’m not sure if “Red Alert 3” does, but (for example) Spore does: A bunch of people devoted themselves to trashing it on Amazon because of that. (I have mixed feelings about that tactic.)

Meanwhile you can download a cracked version of anything that requires no CD and no Internet activation.

Even when these things work, they’re supremely annoying. Your cash outlay is rendered worthless if you misplace the game manual or jewel case or in some cases a little slip of paper. Or if you can’t connect to the Internet.

The requirement to keep the CD in the drive results in: a) not being able to play the game when you want, since you have to dig up the CD; b) the CD being damaged.

In the case of Red Alert 3, though, we have a situation where the last number of the product key didn’t get printed. The registration helpfully aborts after three tries, so I had to initiate the install procedure five times before I discovered “M” was the magic missing letter.

Also: $60.

I’m opposed to piracy. I think people should be able to get paid for their work and set the price they want to receive for said work.

But the pirates deliver a better product.

Free Lunch

Via Simply Skimming, CodeWeavers is giving away it’s CrossOver software free to celebrate sub-$3/gallon gas. CrossOver allows you to run Windows software from Linux and Mac.

This is a savvy move: We use WINE here but it’s been difficult to get going. I’ve looked at the CodeWeavers software seriously before, but I try to avoid anything that requires administration. (For me, it’s not the cost of the software that deters me so much as it is keeping track of licenses.)

That doesn’t mean I couldn’t get hooked, however. Check it out!

Spore: First Looks

Education, at least in the formal sense, ground to a halt today as our copy of SPORE arrived from Amazon.

Amusingly, Spore was first teased when The Boy was nine. He’s been waiting for this game approximately a quarter of his life. He definitely had the last-minute jitters about it. Would it be fun? Would it be that fun? I’ve made him aware–he was shocked that new triple-A title games cost $50–that we only do this rarely, and he was conspicuously grateful.

He’s played through two and a portion of games so far, and he’s liking what he sees. Of the various levels, he’s said the “civilization” level is the least interesting to him. He’s compared it to Populous: The Beginning, but not favorably.

The bloom may come off the rose quickly; we’ll see. His judgment at the end of the day was that we could’ve waited till it was a bit cheaper, but he was glad to have his curiosity satisfied. He’s found it entertaining, but he wants more meat–that is, he’s expecting expansions or sequels.

This is, of course, a serious problem with computer gaming. A designer will come up with some good mechanics but not quite polish the game enough to make it a masterpiece. And then the sequel either never comes or screws up the mechanics rather than improving them.

More to come….