archive for March, 2006

Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion

My copy of Oblivion arrived on Wednesday, and I’ve been playing it fairly steadily since then. I try to limit my time to less than two hours on week nights, but this weekend I’ve been able to play about as much as I’d want. Up to this point I’ve racked up 17 hours of game play. I’m still no where near finished with it, but I think I have enough experience to talk about it.

I played the last Elder Scrolls game, Morrowind, and simply loved it. The graphics where stunning, the world was huge, and the game play was quite good. For me, the most important part wasn’t the fighting, it was the feel of exploration. I never did finish the main story line, I just wandered around finding quests and discovering new things.

Oblivion follows in Morrowind’s footsteps. The graphics are simply amazing. My computer is somewhat high end, but not top of the line. I wish HDR work, but it appears to be not supported on my video card. I’m able to run at 1024×768 pixels — which is high enough resolution for me (for now *wink*) — without the frame-rate dropping to terribly low. The skies, flowers, grass, trees, water, architecture and characters all look great. I find myself stopping every now and then just to enjoy the scenery.

The world feels just as large as Morrowind. I think it’s supposed to be larger, but to me it doesn’t feel that much bigger. It could be that I still haven’t explored it from end-to-end, or because of the new fast travel system that lets you quickly jump to certain locations that you’ve already visited, or maybe it’s the compass that keeps you from getting too longs, or who knows… it could be the larger viewing distances that let you see half way across the map. Whatever it is, I don’t have that same feeling of hugeness, but it is still a very, very, big place.

As for other improvements: I think the quest tracking system is terrific. One of the big problems with Morrowind was that the only good way to keep track of your quests was to have a paper and pencil nearby. The game maintained a log for you automatically, but it was nearly impossible to find important entries when you needed them. Oblivion has three pages for quests: one for the active quest with all of the important things you’ve learned, one for open quests (where you can select your active quest), and lastly a page for completed quests.

As far as game-play goes, the biggest improvement that I’ve noticed is that you can join as many of the guilds as you want. In Morrowind, you could get kicked out of the Mage’s Guild if you took a job from the Fighter’s Guild that involved killing one of your “friends”. It really got quite annoying. In Oblivion, they’ve taken special care to avoid this problem. So far, I’ve joined five guilds and am having a blast with all of the quests.

On a more technical side, they’ve made some other great improvements. Load times as you move between interior spaces never takes more than a couple seconds for me, and I can run all over the outdoors without any noticeable pauses for loading content. Morrowind was notoriously bad a pausing for a few seconds every minute or so as you walked down the road.

The folks at Bethesda Softworks (the people that make the Elder Scrolls games), have also done a nice job with mini-games to enhance game play. Lock-picking and persuasion now depend a little on the skill of the player, not just the character they’re playing. Alchemy is a lot more intuitive, and some real skill is involved in hand-to-hand combat. Overall, Oblivion has met my expectations (which is saying a lot — especially considering how much time I’ve spent preparing my computer for this one game).

Akismet

I finally got an API Key from WordPress.com. The account I created over a week ago never did get a key (I think they were having server trouble at the time), so I went ahead and created a throw-away account just to get a key. The only reason I need it is for a plugin called Akismet.

Akismet is an automated comment spam filter for WordPress blogs. I haven’t gotten any spam yet, but I’m pretty sure that’s because the WP version of my blog hasn’t been online very long. I used to get spam on my old blog software, so I figure it’s just a matter of time. I’ll let you know how it’s going in six months or so.

Modern Social Networking Sites

When the “Friend of a Friend” started, I was there. I signed up for Friendster, Orkut, Tribe.net, and LinkedIn. The latter being the only that seems to have developed any value. All of them seemed to have started off on the right foot, but then stopped walking. After a few months, I just gave up on them.

Now, it’s time for a new generation. Last Friday I signed up for MySpace, TagWorld, and Yahoo 360. MySpace has tons of users. The current count is about 64 million. The nice thing about that is that it makes it easier to find long-lost friends. TagWorld has a nicer interface, but tends to be slow and for some reason crashes Firefox if I’ve been browsing it too long. Both MySpace and TagWorld allow users to create truly hideous web pages. It’s even worse than the bad old days of Geocities in the late ’90s — now people have the ability to embed video in their pages! Somehow it never occurs to them that you can’t really watch three videos at the same time. Of course, all of the old tragedies of animated backgrounds and font colors that blend in with the background are still around.

All I can hope is that out of these 64 million, a good chunk will go on to develop some tastes and learn to develop attractive sites. It’s also interesting to see how this batch of social sites is attracting regular people — people that wouldn’t have been caught dead surfing the web 10 years ago.

Verbots Online

Verbots are finally online. We’ve been working at Conversive over the last several months to make these little chatterbots more than just a toy for your desktop. You can now create a KnowledgeBase, upload it to our servers, and share it with the world. Of course, it’s still $10 to buy the editor, and there is a hosting fee (you get some time free when you sign-up), but we think it’s still a good deal.

We also have a completely free version that’s template based. Create an account at VerbotsOnline.com and fill out the “My Answers” form. In no time, your bot will be ready for your website. We’re always looking for feedback, so check it out and let me know what you think.

Moved to WordPress

Between last night and this morning I moved my blog to WordPress. The biggest technical problem I had with the import was that WordPress doesn’t recognize CDATA elements in RSS. I was able to mangle my RSS file to get it to work.

I still have a lot of work ahead of me to complete the transition. So far, I’ve manually copied over the comments from this year’s posts, but I still have over a year worth of comments missing. I don’t know if I’ll ever get around to copying them all. I also have a ton of broken links from posts referencing other posts. I don’t know how many off-site links I may have broken. For now, the old version of my blog can be found at /aaron/oldblog.

Once I fix all of the major problems, then I can start working on a custom theme. I liked the old look, but I’ll probably make some changes while I’m rebuilding it. Google ads may turn out to be a thing of the past. If you have a subscription, here’s the new feed link.

Thinking about WordPress

I’m thinking about abandoning ApeJet Blog and switching to WordPress instead of creating a version 3 of my software.

The two big problems that I have with the current version of my software are categories and searching. I’d like to be able to post entries in more than one category (like tagging), and I’d like to have a nested categories. My search engine basically goes through all of my blog entries looking for any post that contain the search term as if my entire blog was one big text file (it is). I’m not sure how the WordPress search works, but since it stores the blog entries in a database, I imagine it is able to index the post and search much more efficiently.

There are other features of of WordPress that I’m impressed with such as uploading images and attaching them to posts, plugins, a strong development community, standards compliance, paging (split posts into multiple pages), blogrolls, trackback and pingback. These are all things that I’d love ApeJet Blog to support, but I know I’ll never get around to implementing it all.

My biggest concern with switching is that I’ll create a bunch of broken links. It’s going to take some work to find all of those links and fix them. I’m also not sure what kind of stats can be made available, what sort of export and backup options are available, or how long it’ll take to setup.

Unknown White Male

Today, Jesse and I saw Unknown White Male at the Laemmly in West Hollywood. The theater was ok (though a over priced in my opinion). They validate your parking, but don’t sell Hot Tamales.

The movie is a documentary about a guy with total amnesia. Overall, the movie was good. Not great, not bad, but good. There was a lot of emotion (and emoting). The film raised some interesting questions about what makes a person who they are. Unfortunately, there were a lot of questions unasked and unanswered. The editing was chaotic to the point of annoyance, and the sound needed a lot of work. I recommend it as a DVD rental.

Goodbye RAID (at least on this computer)

I just realized that I never posted a followup to my computer problems saga. About a month ago I gave up and disabled my RAID and installed Windows XP in preparation for Oblivion. Everything is working now. I’m able to play games without crashes, and I wrote a new backup utility to replace most of my RAID’s functionality.

I’m glad this is over, but I’m disappointed in VIA (my motherboard manufacturer) for making such a flaky product and not providing a fix after all of this time.

Does Hollywood Hate DVDs?

I was watching some of the Oscars tonight and noticed, more than once, announcers basically begging the audience to come to the theaters instead of watching DVDs. Who do they think they are?

If they want us to go to the theaters, then they need to have a serious conversation with theater owners. Most movies really don’t look or sound better on the big screen. From what I understand, theaters make most of their money on popcorn and soda. Why not sell tickets to most movies for $1 instead of $10 if that’s what it takes to fill seats? What could it hurt? The seats are empty anyway. Why not offer better food than what you’d find in a gas station while you’re at it?

Anyway… the point is, Hollywood should not be telling us how to watch movies. They should be listening to us and selling us movies however we want to watch them, whether that’s in a theater, or on DVD, or via download. Make us happy, and we’ll let you keep making movies.

They Might Be Giants Podcast

They Might Be Giants has a free podcasts. If you like The Giants and podcasts, here’s the url you need to start listening:
http://www.tmbg.com/_media/_pod/podcast.xml

For those who don’t know TMBG, you can check out their new MySpace page, or any of their other sites where they seem to be always giving away free music.

Podcasts are like blogs with sound. Usually they take the form of amateur radio shows, but many professional radio shows have podcasts too (much like many real news sites have blogs). You’ll need some software to subscribe to podcasts. I like Thunderbird, but would recommend iTunes for people not already using Thunderbird for email.

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