Wednesday, February 24, 2010

GNU / Linux Games. Current affairs.

So I want to do a research study on helping students to read using a role playing video game. The idea is to find a game engaging enough that the students want to play, but hard enough that they will need to refer to a text-based walkthrough to finish a lot of the tasks. The problem with this study, is that I don't have any money to do it. I know, imagine that, a PhD student without extra cash.
I would absolutely *LOVE* to use an open source game. I am familiar with open source games, and I can compile just about anything given enough time. I thought, "There has to be at least ONE decent RPG in the FOSS world I can use." Apparently I was completely wrong. Which got me thinking. Why are there no really good RPG's in the FOSS community? Are RPG games that complex that people cannot write one without massive corporate support?
I don't think this is the reason. I think that open source itself is part of the problem in developing a good RPG. When you start playing an RPG, the modern view is that you play the levels in order to learn the interface and mechanics well enough to go online. Some RPG's are purely online, allowing you to develop your character and learn the interface in an online environment. This is where the problem arises.
If you are developing a game for the open source community, you are probably concerned with a few things. First, you want the game to have a good plot. Second, you want the game to have a good interface and learning curve. Third, you want the game to have some kind of decent graphics. Finally, you want your game online.
Unfortunately, this last part is the issue. If you want your game online, you build a server, then you let the client-side programs connect to that server and voila! Blizzard Entertainment will tell you a different story. They have been working on their system for as long as they have allowed online games to exist. is a sophisticated server that validates the client program to ensure that no hacks or mods have been applied. Granted, they have gotten a little over zealous in the past (banning all wine-based play for World of Warcraft, for example).
If you don't think this is a problem, log into BZFlag for a few hours and you will come across a tank that is completely indestructible. I love this game, but I have found it to be unplayable on many occasions because it seems that captain unbeatable gets really annoying really fast.
Now, back to the developers. If I am developing a game that will most likely end up having an online component, I want to figure out how to ensure that players will have a fair and enjoyable experience. Since the developers will logically be focused on the local gameplay, the online gameplay will become an issue once the server structure has been developed.
Here is my call to arms for FOSS game developers. Get together a group and develop a bit of code that can be used to meaningfully validate the client software.
I don't know how to do this. I would imagine that Blizzard Entertainment can rely on knowing exactly under which conditions their software was compiled. This allows them, at the most basic level, to rely of MD5 hash codes or the like. But I also believe that there are more sophisticated methodologies that allow for checking of a modified source code. I obviously have no idea what that would look like.
So here is my call, please GNU community, develop a client verification engine that developers can use to verify their code. I know you can do it, and I'm reasonably certain that game developers in the FOSS community have enough to worry about with the player-side interactions.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Officially Dumping Facebook this week.

I do not come to this decision lightly. I like Facebook... No, I don't... I enjoy Facebook. It's a great place to get online and chat with friends from long ago. But i am more and more convinced they are headed down a path I choose not to follow. Travel with me, if you will, down memory lane.

A few weeks ago, Facebook changed their interface. I don't mind it, but apparently just about everyone else does. It seems to be a massive bomb in the eyes of the users. Not a peep from Facebook about the interface, not even a comment that they're always trying to improve the user experience. Silence. This gets me thinking. Wasn't it just a little bit ago that Facebook changed its privacy settings? Defaulting everything to public?

Hmmm... So I did a little looking. I'm not sure I entirely understand all the settings restricting access in Facebook anymore. I did once upon a time, but now I'm not so sure. There are privacy settings governing every little thing. Some of the options are downright just confusing. (What does a Public post really mean? It means that anyone on the planet can see what you post, but it's easy to believe that it's just Facebook users).

So two things happened. Facebook opened everything up, and they shut themselves down. This made me nervous. When companies start ignoring their users because they will log in anyway, the system has a problem.

Today, the final straw. I cannot rationalize a Facebook membership anymore. They joined with a company, or rather purchased, that has a history of what is called information scraping. It is a process by which information is gathered in a moderately legal to somewhat shady maner. You might believe that I'm being paranoid, but you can check out a little about the company if you like. They were called Octazen. Now they're part of Facebook.

Now, Facebook insists that it's not buying the technology, but the talent. They insist they are shutting down the company, and using the workers. If a mechanic says that he's buying a chop-shop in order to shut it down, but he really thinks the talent is useful, would you frequent that mechanic? I have doubts that you would feel safe leaving your car at that establishment.

I do not feel safe leaving any information with a company that values an ability to scrap information from the web in any kind of sneaky way. There is no reason that a legitimate company needs to direct their traffic towards one site using multiple IP addresses.

Facebook, with their recent policy of increasing the transparency of everything that you do, while decreasing the transparency of everything they do, has lost my business. I firmly believe that a company who hires people with a dubious skill set is interested in using those skills for its own gain. I also firmly believe that anyone interested in their own privacy and online identity should drop Facebook like a bad habit.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Why I'm not happy with

Ok, I love open source stuff. It's awesome! is fantastic., not so much.

Wordpress is like the love-child of Drupal and Blogger. It's got features of a blog, and it's got features of a content management system. This, in theory, is great! I love the concept. You've got a really nice simple interface with a lot of power under the hood.

In theory.

In practice, is a steaming pile of whatsit. (If you don't know what whatsit is, you should watch more cartoons.)

Since they stopped letting users add iframes and javascript, it's really just become an overly complex jumble of things that don't seem to work right. There is no benefit to run wordpress over blogger, if you want to just have a simple blog. Blogger will get you up and running faster, and easily integrates all the things you might want! (I have a google analytics account following this blog. Why? I don't know, morbid curiosity... I love knowing that 3 people on average visit this site for <30 seconds a day.)

If you want a multi-page blog with more power, use weebly! (Granted, not open source, but a really nice tool none the less.) If you want to stay open source, just find someone who will give you a little drupal loving.

Wordpress tries to do too much with a blog and ends up being either A: not enough or B: way too much.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Holy Cow!

People read my Blog. I can't believe it! I get page-hits and everything... I think I'll start posting more meaningful things here. I think what I will do is post some more open-source related things here. I am looking into open-source games for a research project that I'm planning to do, so I think I'll start posting some reviews on here about those games.

For now, thanks for the comments!

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Dumbledore and the PhD.

I have been thinking about Dumbledore at the end of Half-Blood Prince for a little while now. And let me preface this with two things: 1)I hesitate to post this because I think someone will misunderstand it, and 2) If you're planning to read book 6, and don't want to read any spoilers, read no further, because I've got some spoilers here.

Anyway, Dumbledore, in the novel, The Half-Blood Prince, ends up drinking some potion that is really painful and really debilitating for Dumbledore. Before he starts drinking, he tells Harry to force him to continue drinking, no matter what happens. Harry is forced to promise that he'll make Dumbledore drink, and the story goes on from there.

I feel, doing my PhD, like Albus Dumbledore. No, I'm not saying that getting my degree is a bad thing, I'm saying that it's painful. From what I understand, it is supposed to be painful to a certain extent. The Graduate Students prayer goes something like, "Dear Lord, Please help me to complete this impossible and self imposed task." This is how I feel. I feel like I need to stop, but someone, or something, is pushing me forward.

I feel like a Zombie.

Sometimes I think I cannot go further, but then I find myself on the other side of a task, moving forward again.

Here, hand me that chalice, I think I can take another drink now. Maybe I'm not yet too far gone, I only hope that R.A.B has not nabbed the prize at the bottom of the punch-bowl of death.