Gary Gygax, co-creator of Dungeons & Dragons, dies at 69

As reported late last night on The Guardian Online, Gary Gygax, co-writer of Dungeons & Dragons, has died.

Say it isn’t so! What a sad day. Gary Gygax has no idea how much he influenced my childhood. I’m proud to say that I still have my original AD&D Player’s Handbook and Dungeon Master’s Guide. From time to time, I crack them open, taking myself back nearly 30 years in time.

Those books truly were a work of art (and, you may recall, dungeon mastering is both an art and a science). I can only imagine how different I would be today if I never found them. Without a doubt, Gygax’s skill as a writer advanced my reading skills by leaps and bounds, and the countless hours I spent in the worlds he created enhanced my imagination.

So much of what is in those books is burned into my mind. I can still tell you, with a high degree of accuracy, the experience point requirements for the first few levels of most classes and the THAC0 advancement progression by level and class. I can also picture in my mind some of the many cartoons scattered throughout the books. (There is no honor among thieves, and We pretend we’re students and businessmen in a technological world — or something to that effect — come to mind.)

I have a funny feeling I’ll be browsing through those books tonight, just for old time’s sake. Good night, Mr. Gygax, and thanks for all the memories. My Illusionist’s Phantasmal Killer tips his hat to you.

[P.S. Thanks to Scott Berkum for being the first one to bring this to my attention, via his blog.]

Baseball players are gamers, too

To those folks that follow professional baseball and multiplayer online games, it should not be a surprise that Boston pitcher Curt Schilling is an avid gamer. Sony even organized an event with him in their EverQuest II game (a game that Mr. Schilling is an avid player of).

In early September, Schilling and others formed Green Monster Games to create “industry changing games”. Good for him — it’s good to see online gaming and wargaming fans are not just avid sci-fi readers and nerdy IT types.

Schilling hasn’t sat back idly, either — he’s even reached out to the MMOG community, and I found that he has posted quite frequently on the web site of the Fires of Heaven guild (a World of Warcraft guild).

Side thought: Those Fires of Heaven guys are hard-core — they raid seven days a week, 6+ hours a day, and expect members to participate in 90% of the raids. I guess I won’t be sending in an application. 🙂

Perhaps Mr. Schilling would be interested in what I’ve done with my online baseball game, CSFBL? Sure, it’s not MMORPG in the MMORPG sense, but it’s got staying power, and has done quite well considering it was built with no budget in my spare time. Let’s not forget to mention the significant work currently underway in rewriting it (an effort that will launch as ComputerSims Baseball), or the vision to branch out into multiple sports using a core league-based sports engine that is already being developed…

What do you say, Curt? We share common interests — baseball, MMORPGs (I’m the guy who developed EQ2Craft, a hugely popular resource for crafters in EQ2) — and a common belief in the power of online games to mold commerce and the community… Of course, you’d have to forgive me in one respect: I’m a life-long Yankees fan. I did, however, root for Boston in the 1986 World Series…

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Stopping unnecessary services when gaming

When playing computer games (something I don’t have nearly as much time to do as I’d like), you want to maximize the performance of your computer for the task at hand. To do so, shut down all those unnecessary services to free up memory and some processor cycles.
Dump the following code into a batch file to shut down many services which you don’t need for most games (even network games). The batch file was written for a standard Windows XP Professional build, and includes a section for disabling Norton AntiVirus. Add your own net stop commands to the list to get rid of what you don’t need. Then, run the batch file (I call it stop.bat) to shut down these services. net stop "automatic updates"

net stop "system event notification"
net stop "com+ event system"
net stop "error reporting service"
net stop iisadmin
net stop "kodak camera connection software"
net stop "licctrl service"
net stop "network connections"
net stop "network location awareness (nla)"
net stop "norton antivirus firewall monitor service"
net stop "norton antivirus auto-protect service"
net stop "pml driver hph11"
net stop "print spooler"
net stop "remote access connection manager"
net stop "security center"
net stop server
net stop workstation
net stop "shell hardware detection"
net stop "symantec core lc"
net stop "symantec event manager"
net stop "symantec network drivers service"
net stop "symantec settings manager"
net stop "symantec spbbcsvc"
net stop "system restore service"
net stop "task scheduler"
net stop "windows image acquisition (wia)"
net stop "windows management instrumentation"
net stop "windows user mode driver framework"
net stop "wireless zero configuration"

To start things up again, make a copy of the batch file, and change all net stop commands to net start commands.
What kind of improvements can you get? Well, with all these services started, my memory utilization was 254MB. After stopping them it was 193MB – a savings of 61MB! That’s guaranteed to give at least a small performance boost when shooting rebel scum in Star Wars Galaxies, or fighting on the battlegrounds of World of Warcraft

Microsoft and Marvel to sleep together (and other MMOG thoughts)

Microsoft signed an exclusive deal with Marvel Enterprises (the comic book folks), giving the software giant rights to use Marvel’s intellectual property in MMO (massive multiplayer online) games. Read about it on CNet.

This may sound like a good deal to Microsoft, or to fans of Marvel comics and MMOs, but I wouldn’t hold my breath. Here’s why.

  • From the CNet article: “The deal is Marvel’s first MMO pact. The first title is expected in 2008.” We all know that really means 2009. That’s a long time away (although not a long time considering the development efforts required to produce an MMO), and a long time to wait when there’s already a superhero game on the market, City of Heroes, which is among the better MMO’s out there. (In fact, Marvel tried suing NCSoft, makers of City of Heroes, for copyright infringement. The suit flopped.)
  • Sony Online Entertainment (SOE), owners of the EverQuest franchise and Star Wars Galaxies), recently acquired The Matrix Online and signed a deal with DC Comics to make an online game. Sony’s the big player in the market who is running into stiff competition from Blizzard (World of Warcraft) and NCSoft (City of Heroes, Lineage, GuildWars) and is trying desperately to expand its market share. Too bad they still don’t realize that to succeed in the MMOG universe, you need good games with good quality controls. Sony’s failing miserably in the quality department, and their games are suffering as a result. Sony’s expecting its DC-branded game for a “fourth-quarter release in 2007.” We all know what that means: 2008 – a long time away.
  • Consider the similarities in a game based on the Star Wars or Star Trek (where Star Trek Online is under development) universes with a game based on DC or Marvel comics. In Star Wars, you spend time killing creatures and aliens depicted in the movies, but rarely get the chance to interact with the main characters in the movies, and pretty much never get the chance to battle and kill them (i.e. you can’t attack and kill Boba Fett or Han Solo). The same would probably exist in a comic book game – you wouldn’t be able to be Superman, nor would you be able to kill Lex Luthor. So the appeal is in the market name and, to a lesser degree, the ability to have some content, but ultimately it comes down to the main issue: Can the designers design a good game, or not? Microsoft and Sony saw their greatest success in the MMO world until they got real competition; now their market share is falling because the quality of their games isn’t good enough — despite the marquee titles.
  • Finally, Microsoft doesn’t have a lot of experience in the MMOG area. They were involved with Asheron’s Call early on but eventually bailed out, returning the game to its developer, Turbine. They are developing a new game, Vanguard, right now – a game also being primarily developed by a third party, Sigil Games Online. It appears the main attraction of Microsoft as a MMOG shop is in their marketing and distribution clout. Unfortunately, those two areas are helpful, but don’t guarantee success in this area. Sony has marketing and distribution on-par with Microsoft, yet EverQuest II can’t compete with Blizzard’s World of Warcraft because the game simply isn’t as good. Don’t expect that to change significantly in the future. Marketing and distribution will help initial sales, but it won’t give a game legs, as the EQ2 vs. WOW battle has shown.

We truly are in an age of competition in online games. How everything plays out remains to be seen. To keep up with the different games and their popularity, check out MMOGChart.

IGDA’s Online Games Quarterly focuses on casual gaming

The Online Games Special Interest Group (SIG) of the International Game Developers Association (IGDA) recently published their second Online Games Quarterly, which focuses on casual gaming and who the casual gamer is. Among the articles include:

A worthy read for anyone with a vested interest in casual gaming (as I have).

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