I am the Burgerfan!

Chris Christou's Weblog. Everyone has a story — What's yours?

Archive for the ‘Computers and Internet’ Category

Being a continent away from Tiffany and Lola for a week can seem like a long time. And certainly, almost any baby that I saw on the Metro or out in the shops was a large reminder of how much I missed Lola. But it wasn’t as bad as it could have been.

Thanks to technology, I was in contact with my family on a (near) daily basis. Between Gmail, Live Messenger, and Skype, we were emailing, voice chatting, e-calling, and webcam calling, making the great divide seem that much smaller.

  • What is PETA’s stance on fur coats as a digital item/gift on facebook, or as an item of clothing on the PlayStation Home network?
  • Would a Greenpeace activist use Nuclear Power in a simulation game such as SimCity?
December 12th, 2008: 11:13 pm

Some people collect/watch lots of DVDs. I spend time playing video games. Some are amusing for a short while, some don’t quite hold your attention, and some compel you to continue playing. Here is a list of the games that I found entertaining in 2008, roughly in the chronological order that I started playing them:

* World of Warcraft (PC) (including Burning Crusade) – I succumbed to the worlds biggest time-sink at the end of December last year, and finally got my character to level 70 in mid-November. Are the lands praising my name as a hero emblazoned across all time? No, but they’re happy to get another $15 US out of my VISA each month. Play style: in bursts.
* Grand Theft Auto IV (Xbox 360) – after trying out GTA San Andreas last year and really enjoying it, I wanted more of the same with this Next-Gen successor. Not to mention that I was only borrowing San Andreas. The plot so far in my few hours logged has been riveting, but the gratuitous swearing means I have to keep the volume down around Lola. Play style: lots initially, “I promise I’ll get back to it”
* Sid Meier’s Civilization Revolution (Xbox 360) – Turn-based strategy with the goal of global domination. As a long time fan of the PC-based strategy franchise (cumulative playtime on past versions is probably second only to the EA NHL Franchise), I was drawn to this as a slightly simplified console version. It has the right feel of past games, and lets me play from the couch for hours on end instead of at the desk. Play style: can’t play it often because I know each time I start, the living room becomes the War Room for a couple of days straight.
* Boom Blox (Wii) – Initially brought to a party by Chris as a “hey check this out”, the primal urge to “throw stuff at other things” is graciously satisfied in this simplistic yet entertaining game. Play style: casual.
* NHL 09 (Xbox 360) (also NHL 08) – The EA NHL Franchise has stretches of years where I play it a little, and then some where I play it a lot. The more recent HD versions have had some amazing immersion, and great online play, leaving me wanting to play “just one more game” for the most part. Style bonus: playing the Oilers in their retro jerseys. Play style: as much as possible.
* The Orange Box (PC) (specifically Portal and Team Fortress 2) – Portal: Shoot a hole somewhere (like a wall or the floor), then shoot another hole somewhere else (perhaps on the ceiling). Whatever you put in one hole comes out the other hole. The puzzle based results definitely tickle something in the “challenge me” portion of the brain. Team Fortress 2: an eternal first person shooter struggle between the forces of red and blu, with cartoonish and lighthearted art direction. Even though I don’t last very long in a given round, the short gameplay cycles make it easy to pick up, put down, and then pick up again. Play style: the occasional evening.

Honourable Mention:
* Spore (PC) – I have purchased the game, but have not installed it yet since I think I will want to play it more than I have the time for at the moment. But thinking about it counts, right?

Presenting some materials at work this week, I realized I wanted to mark up the screen at select times while I was talking. While a laser pointer would have been sufficient to get people to look at an item of interest at a given time, it would not allow me to further illustrate any points.

Enter the tiny software program called ZoomIt. At your whim, you can freeze a screen, and proceed to draw, type, and otherwise mark it up as if it were a whiteboard. When you are done, it all erases and you are back to your original screen/presentation.

The amusing thing is that this small feature was almost as impressive as the stuff I was talking about. Almost ;)

ZoomIt is available alongside other useful utilities in the Sysinternals collection.

July 31st, 2008: 12:10 am

There are legal issues surrounding the imitation Scrabble game known as Scrabulous. The fact that this is making news headlines around the world is very intriguing. I’m guessing that before the game was available via facebook, it did not have anywhere near the popularity and user base. So here we have this facebook entity shaping our lives in such ways as to determine what constitutes ‘major news’ in our society.

People are sad that they can no longer play Scrabulous on facebook (in Canada and the US). The reality is, these people are lazy. It appears that the same game is served up for play through their regular homepage, which I think was available well before facebook went mainstream. So what people are really sad about, is the fact that they lost their convenient way to play it — from within facebook.

Will I miss Scrabulous? No. To me, turn based games follow a sort of bell curve pattern. To start, its kind of fun, you see how things work out. Then, something catchy about the game, plus additional people available to play against causes urge to play more. Then, you are checking it every couple of minutes. And then, slowly and without reason, the interest wanes. The game is played less, and then almost never. In the case of Scrabulous, I couldn’t be bothered to check if it was my turn anymore, nor did I particularly care. In the case of netrisk, after a few games, I think I got my fix, and didn’t feel the need to either find people to start another game, or wait for everyone to actually finish their turns. And in the case of Scrabble (the real board game), Tiffany and I go through cycles where we play it a lot for about three weeks. And then it goes onto the shelf for another two to six months. Just a natural flow.

The reality is: if I want to play Scrabulous or a Scrabble type variation, I can sign up at the Scrabulous site, or try out the official Scrabble facebook game. Or pour some juice and set up the board game at the kitchen table. Or play one of the other millions of anagram-based web games widely available on the internet. That’s enough options for me.

Do I think the imitation game should have been taken down? Sort of. While I don’t think that legal action was necessary, and admittedly would like to see Scrabulous live a long internet life, I think that it was the right thing to have happen in the end.

Am I biased? No.

When Coca Cola was getting started, lots of imitation beverages jumped onto the scene, trying to cash in on Coke’s new found success and popularity by offering similar product with intentionally confusing similar names. I’m not saying that Scrabulous is trying to be deceptive here, but Coke had the right to protect its product, and Hasbro/Mattel do too. And at the end of the day, I’m glad that I can enjoy the refreshing taste of the one and only Coca Cola.

[A response to Brad’s Post]

May 25th, 2008: 10:54 pm

If you hear for the first time that Steven Spielberg made a video game, you’d think it was going to be an Epic Story told with Rich HD Graphics. Instead, he simply wanted to make something fun and simple for his kids.

How many times have you taken a collection of small rectangular items and stacked them up? And then how many times have you knocked your tower over (or someone else’s)? Boom Blox takes these primal urges just a little further, and then gives it to you in hand-wavy simplicity on the Wii.

While there are other things available in this game, I have mostly played modes involving throwing baseballs or bowling balls at various towering structures composed of blocks. I can’t stop knocking stuff over! As soon as one mission is complete, the craving to knock over another tower quickly sets in. Its a good thing I am mostly unpacked now, or the piled up moving boxes would have become some tempting targets…

I can’t help but wonder if Boom Blox and Jenga are some sort of Grade 1 “virtual sandbox” course for terrorist children.