Friday, March 28, 2008

South Park Episodes - Legally Free Online!

You can watch South Park for free now! Of course, it would be the latest episode. The latest episode will first air on TV, then they will it online for a week, take it down, and put it back up on the site permanently.

Heh, the website is

Apparently the creators struck a deal with Viacom cos' the creators themselves are 'really sick of having to download our own show illegally all the time', and so the site is created.

This is a good business model that will work better than forbidding anyone from downloading any copies of such creative works. The reasons are simple, merchandise and viral marketing!

There is more money to be made in merchandise, so offering the episodes for free is a simple and good way to popularise the associated brand. In this case I'm sure South Park is already very popular and doesn't need any more publicity, but heh they could definitely earn from these merchandise.

Offering free downloads online aids viral marketing. Telling your friends that a particular show is good without showing the friends the product is less effective. The friends still need to find legal copies of the show, or borrow yours for a good preview. Offering free views online simply means you can point them to the site, and almost immediately get a good preview!

Hmm wonder if others, e.g. Jap animes... etc would follow South Park? Heh.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Blizzard versu Botters - Who is right?

Just read the news on Virtually Blind about the court case between Blizzard and the botters, i.e. WoWGliders. What is most interesting is the enclosed Castronova's expert report on botters.

Firstly I must say that I dislike botters, and secondly, I like and I play World of Warcraft (without use of any bot programs!).

However, there are many parts of Castronova's arguments that I disagree with. He argues that there is unfairness felt by players when other players use the bots. Unfairness stemmed from two perspectives, i.e. that the botters level much faster which makes others feel inferior, and the botters can farm for gold and items that cause inflation to the in-world economy. This unfairness then cause damages for Blizzard. The actual arguments are longer and worth a read.

Sure, the botters can level faster and farm much more effectively compared to real players. However, this does not in itself necessarily cause unhappiness among players. WoW is not a game with an end goal such that the first player who reaches level 70 wins and everyone else loses. People play WoW cos' of the immersive environment (mentioned in his arguments) which includes graphics, design of quests, music...etc etc. So what if there are many botters who reached level 70? The people simply missed out the fun of the journey, i.e. the quests and quest rewards along the way. There are many other games who provide the legitimate options of letting players having 2x experience or 2x gold, e.g. MapleStory, in recognition of such a demand from players with limited game time.

maple cash shop

Level 70 onwards for WoW is a different game-play where the focus is on raids, and bots can't participate in raids. Let me know if you are aware of bots in raids, the details would be interesting.

Thus the only issue is about the grinding in-between level 1 and level 70. Quests helps, and Blizzard can definitely do more to cut down the grinding time. Have more interactive quests that give good experience points, rather than those 'get 10 stone slabs' types of quests that do nothing but require players to grind! Reduce the disincentive of grinding, and players will not have the need to pay separately for bot programs. It is the grinding portion, that makes players feel unhappy when they see the botters in the game. It's a case of "I'm suffering from the grind, why aren't you?". But why the need to suffer in the first instance? Personally I find the grinding from level 40 to 50ish especially tedious.

I think Blizzard knows that, thus the reward experience and items for Burning Crusade reflect it (I think). Quests in Burning Crusade gives much better items compared to general mob drops. Generally bots don't do quests, and so would miss out on the items. So I guess they are already fixing that in the game.

The second portion of in-game inflation is also something I disagree with. So bots cause inflation? Lolz, step into the Auction House (AH) and take a look. When bots are around, the prices deflate! This is a case of supply and demand. When there is a huge supply of goods from bots, the prices of these goods fall in the AH, especially for those craft related items like gems. Picture of a AH below. For non-WoW readers, AH is an auction mechanism that allows trade among players.

Sure, gold buyers can have access to a lot of gold from the botters using real cash. Then gold buyers use their large supply of gold to buy items / enchantments...etc. Isn't this good for the actual players, i.e. those normal players who then have a ready supply of clients for enchantments, jewel-making ... etc etc? Worried about gold buyers' demand that cause a price increase for armours, weapons...etc? Just make the better items 'bind on pick-up', i.e. can't sell these items in AH. Gold buyers would be stupid to pay lot of gold for a more inferior item. For non-WoW readers, here's a pic of what you see when you click on the auctioneer in AH.

So, it's a matter of incentive again much like the 'grinding' case above. Reduce the incentive for gold buyers, i.e. give better items for quests which gold cannot buy, and the demand for these quick gold would drop.

I think Blizzard is smart enough to understand these since the dynamics for Burning Crusade, i.e. items drops versus quests or 'bind on pick-up' are different from pre Burning Crusade game-play. Blizzard can sue the bot software developers whatever ways it wants, but let's have even better game dynamics for the next game expansion ok?

Friday, March 21, 2008

Cabal Online Launch @ Suntec Atrium

Cabal Online was launched by AsiaSoft on 3rd March 2008. Today at the Suntec Atrium, there is a Cabal Online Carnival (o.k. it's not a launch but still within the same month)! Only realised at the Carnival that 'Cabal' is pronounced as 'Kar Bal' and not 'Cable'. Lolz.

There was a huge crowd, especially in the morning around 11am. Queue for the freebies was especially long, snaking out of the Atrium area. Most of the crowd came in black and/ or green, since wearing the 'Cabal' colours entitle you to a lucky draw coupon.

There were quite a number of games at the Carnival. One of them was the 'combo' competition. For the 20 hits combo, only a few made it to the scoreboard. Another game was the 'showhand' where each person tried to match his card to the one display on the big screen.

I stayed around for a while, watching the demos of the game. The demos are mostly (if not all) level 101 avatars, so the skills demostrated are of course impressive lah. Those without an AsiaSoft account could also sign up for one at the 'aClub' shop on level 3. Organisers are quite thoughtful and had marked out the direction on the ground with these signs:

I went to take a look, and there was also a long line of people waiting to 'verify' their accounts. Actually, if not for these signs, I would never be able to find this shop hidden in that obscure corner of Suntec.

Overall it was a nice experience going to the carnival. There is quite a large group of online gamers around, especially the students group. Seen a few more matured adults as well. Compared to the two other 'carnivals' / 'launches' (MapleStory & WoW Burning Crusade) that I've been to, the Cabal Online carnival was not as crowded. I guess it's the nature of the games, those games with less grinding needed would attract more gamers, especially casual garmers who may be more willing to participate in such offline activities. Just my 2 cents worth of thought.

Oh yah, I got the goodies when the queue shortened sufficiently. Since I was not among the first, I didn't get the bags with a t-shirt inside. Got the free CDs, lanyard, poster & a few other kit knacks. Here's the pic of what I got. Guess it pays to go earlier to queue, at least you will get the T-shirt!

Monday, March 17, 2008

NUS has a Second Life Campus!

I've just read on the site that NUS (National University of Singapore) students had set up a virtual campus in Second Life! It is not that big a deal since there are many other universities (e.g. Ohio, Princeton...etc) who already experiment with such a concept sometime back. The idea of using virtual worlds as educational tool has also been covered by many others.

Heh, but it's still worthwhile to go in and take a look right? I went in, and well the campus looked quite empty except for a NUS team member (I took a pic of his avatar, see below). The objects are quite well done up, and hopefully there will be more activities inside the NUS island soon.

According to the Campus Observer, the NUS campus was launched only fairly recently. So perhaps in a couple of weeks time there will be more folks in the virtual campus. It will be interesting to participate in the virtual world market place and the dance floor once the students start coming in. I wonder if there will be a parallel Union Bash in Second Life as the real one proceeds?

Here's the place where I first teleported to:

Here's a view of the University Hall, and I got into the Tan Chin Tuan wing for a closer look of the area:

There are nice posters on the wall detailing the NUS life.

Maybe I should log on during school hours, and hopefully I can sneak into one of the lectures? Will visit the place again, especially when it's fully completed in June 2008. I saw this dancer in one of the areas inside the island, and he passed me a website, with more details about the NUS Second Life project. It seems he is the Chief Administrator of the NUS Second Life. The website has news highlights, blog highlights, and calendar of events.

There are also other interactive objects at the NUS Island, including this bot who gives away tokens. For a moment I thought they will give away Linden Dollars, lolz.

Went to this colourful area which I suspect is the dance floor? Oh well, I will explore more of the area the next time.

They did more publicity and here's one of the posters found around the NUS campus.

File-sharing via P2P - Japanese ISPs as judges?

Have just read the article about how Japanese Internet Service Providers, i.e. the ISPs, will cut off the Internet access of subscribers found in illegal sharing of computer games, animes and music files. This is quite a recent development, i.e. in March 2008. In the proposed plan, it seems that
...copyright organizations would notify providers of Internet protocol addresses used by those who repeatedly make copies illegally, using special detection software. The providers would then send warning e-mails to the users based on the IP addresses of the computers used to connect to the Internet. If contacted users did not then stop their illegal copying, the providers would temporarily disconnect them from the Internet for a specified period of time or cancel their service-provision contracts.
What is interesting is that the court is not involved. Thus copyright organisations would play the role of judges? This cannot be, since technically speaking these copyright organisations play the role of plaintiff when they first complain about infringements. Thus, to put it more accurately, the ISPs will be the ones playing judges.


In any copyright regime, there will always be circumstances for fair dealing clauses where using a copyright works without the explicit permission from the owners are allowed. Examples include news reporting, and educational uses. If we ask the ISPs to play the roles of judges, it is likely they will simply ignore the 'fair dealing' uses, since it will be too much trouble for them.

Compare the Japanese case with the Sweden case where the court is involved, it seems to be more prudent actually. In this article on Wired News about the Sweden development, a spokesman for the Swedish ISPs said that
"It's good in the way that we don't have to judge whether an Internet activity is legal or illegal," he said.
I agree with him. Leave the ISPs to do what they know best, i.e. provide Internet access, and let the courts and judges come in for the legal matters. It is only natural to get some checks and balances to prevent any systems from being abused. In these whole scenarios of ISPs, copyright owners, and uses (both legal and illegal), it is tough to determine what is right or wrong. Take a look at this discussion about the class action suit against the RIAA in the States for some different perspective.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Samorost 1 - equally interesting game

After playing Samorost 2 (review of the game here) and finding that it's a great game, it is only naturally to play Samorost 1. Overall I would think that Samorost 2 is better, with more interesting graphics and background music. The 'tricks' in Samorost 2 is also more challenging, which requires more 'thinking'. Nonetheless Samorost 1 is still worth a try.

In Samorost 1, you play a character on a 'rock' who realises that another 'rock' is heading for a collision with the same rock. So you set out for a rescue project to change the course of the alien rock. I realised that some readers may want to have a 'walkthru' of the Samorost 1. So I added the tips at the end of this post, but it's in 'dark grey' colour. If you need the tips, highlight to reveal them. Else scrolling down to look at the pictures still will not spoil the fun of the game.

When you landed on the planet surface, you will find a colony of farmers. Wonder if the face of the farmer belongs to one of the game creators?

Here starts the trip to the centre of the Earth, oops, no, it's the centre of the rock!

Don't worry if you're stuck. You got birds and squirrel as company.

The creature is more interested in ants than you. Heh, I guess humans in weird colour pajamas is less appetising.

You'll reach the main steam engine room. You will save your home!

Change your fate, change the direction!

It's not that hard isn't it?

click the tower!
The burning tobacco. The Ski line. Press the button. Adjust the direction! Pinch his butt. Click me to fly!
Fish is biting. Get rid of pests! Shoo the bird.
Rotate the rock. Black hole is fun. Black holes are really fun. Light bulb. Open the hatch and get in!
Worms are irritating. Squirrel likes records. There are many records. Dancing owl is cute, don't you think so?
Don't block the ants! Open the hatch. He is busy during meals. The box. The lights on the door.
The blinking light. It says Q.50. Middle. Where the ladder points.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Samorost by Amanita Design

Read about this excellent Flash based games Samorost 2 by Amanita Design. This game has won an award, the Winner for Best Web Browser Game, Nominee for Excellence in Visual Art at the IGF, the Independent Games Festival. Try the game, it's quite fun. A point and click game with no need for any instruction.

In the game you played a human who lost his dog to a bunch of aliens. The aliens are picking your pears for their big boss, and you embarked on an adventure to get your dog back. That's Part 1, which is free to play. To play Part 2, you'll need to pay for the game. Here's the starting planet where you live.

Here's when the aliens arrived to steal your pears.

You have to think of a way to feed the snail properly, such that it will sleep after its meal.

Here you meet the aliens again, who is filling the bottle of pears to feed his boss.

Here you meet the alien boss who is eating your pear, while making your dog works like a hamster to fan him!

Do something to trick the alien boss and your dog is saved!

However, when you are on your way back, the fuel runs out and you will crashed onto another planet. That's where part 2 of the game starts.

The company also produces the Samorost 1, as well as other games and flash animations. This is an interesting company to watch.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Beijing Olympics vs The Pencil Farm

Earlier I mentioned that China is quite big about virtual world and games development. Apparently they still have some way to go in the area of respecting intellectual property.

Read on the Slashdot website about how Beijing Olympics website has a game that is very similar to the 'Snow Day' from Pencil Farm. Went to both the website and took a look. The similarities are striking, very striking indeed. Pencil Farm noted the similarities and has taken some actions.

Here's the link to the original Pencil Farm's 'Snow Day'. It is a nice game and worth a try when you have 5-10 minutes to spare.

An Update:
Seems like the Pencil Farm managed to get the game removed from the Beijing Olympics website. Pencil Farm also provided a link to Sydney Morning Herald article covering the issue. A happy turn of event for Pencil Farm, don't you think so? Though I don't think he will get much compensation out of the Olympics.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Travian Guide Part 2

Not much to add since different travian players have different style of play, which is also dependent on which race you choose. There are two more points for reference, one on the Gaul traps, and the other for End Game.

1) Gauls Traps

Travian Gauls are the only race who can build traps. Plus the point that they have double cranny size, they are a good defence race to have. To attack a Gaul village, try to have more than 200 troops. This is because a fully extended trapper can have only 200 traps at maximum. Try to use attack as well instead of raids, since attack may free up the trapped troops.

No worries if your troops are trapped, they are still alive. The player cannot kill them and the trapped troops consume your crops. So it may be good to have a chat with the person to release them, or simply wait till the player's village get attacked and the troops are freed. The players can release the imprisoned troops by clicking on the rally point and select "Release".

2) End game

Towards the end of the game (some said it happens about 1 year or less from the start of the server), there will be news about End Game. Many Natars villages will sprint up, at quite predictable locations, e.g. -125, -125 or 0, -1. Once the natars villages are captured, the owner can change the name of the village. During End Game session, there will also be a 'WW' (World Wonder) tab under the "Statistics" button where you could see who are the natars village owners, and the level of WW that they have built.

Since there about about only 13 Natars villages, only 13 players can compete in building the World Wonder. There will be plenty of competition among alliances and players to capture and hold each village. Once all natars villages are conquered, the old Natars Ruin at the 400, 400 will start sending troops to attack these original natars villages. Some said attacks will come in waves when WW reaches certain fixed level, e.g. every 5th level, others said it's per level of WW built from level 90th onwards. This I'm not completely sure. What is sure is that the owners of these natars villages will need plenty of crops to feed their troops. This is how their alliances can come in, other than providing high level defensive troops.

It is also worthwhile to look at the marketplace. If there is large shift in demand where certain players stop asking for crops. It could be a sign that they lost their troops in the WW defence or from other enemies. This could be time to farm or destroy them.

Travian tools:
Other than the inactive player trackers, there are two more useful tools for travian players. Here's battle reporter

Here's a Travian map function to view player / alliance details.

Related Posts: Travian Guide - In the Beginning - Protect Resources and Build Up Defences, Simple Review of the browser game - Travian

Monday, March 3, 2008

Travian Guide in the Beginning - Protect Resources and Build Up Defences

After playing Travian for some time, here's some tips that I've gathered from other players and various online forums.

Resource Building
In the beginning, build the resource fields and crannies (more on crannies below). Continue the process until the villages reach levels where you need more resources than your storage allows, then it's time to upgrade the warehouse and granary.

It makes more sense to upgrade the resource fields in sequence, i.e. no point building a level 6 fields when you can upgrade other level 4 to level 5 fields. Some feel that for crops, you can make an exception and build one field to level 5 as soon as possible in order to get the Grain Mill. Depends on players I guess.

Build Crannies

There will be other players who want to farm you. If they can get resources from the farming, they will be back for more. So build crannies and once they can't get any resources from you, they will just find another farm. Of course there are crazy players who come back with catapults to destroy your buildings when they can't get any resources, but these players are few. Do note though that Teutons can capture about 1/3 of the hidden resources in crannies. So it is better that you use up all the resources in your villages and don't build your warehouse to a extremely high level before your defences are up. No point having your resources stored in the warehouse, unused and only to be stolen right?

Add to the population

One way that other players used to detect farms is the population size. If the size remains constant, there is a likelihood that the villages are inactive and thus good targets to farm. Good targets because it is likely that once the initial troops are wiped out, the inactive village wouldn't build more troops. There are software to track inactivity, where players can see scan any inactive players with distances indicated.

Protect your army
Troops are needed to bring the resources raided from your villages. So if you can kill the enemy troops, you reduce the losses in your resources. If the attacker loses sufficient troops, your villages look less attractvie to him as farms. For defence, try to build up your wall till as high as possible. Different races require more of particular types of resources for their walls. E.g. Gauls need more lumber while Romans need more iron.

A high wall level will give your troops a higher defence bonus, such that small amounts of enemy troops will be killed even when there is only a wall with no troops in your villages.

After the wall, build traps if you are a Gaul. Else start building your defensive troops. Click through the 'Instructions' on the left of the screen to scroll through your troop types and know which are the defence type troops. E.g. for Romans the praetorians are the best defending troops against infantry and the legionnaires against cavalry.

After you have sufficient troops (some say the figure should be near hundreds), you should start to build an armoury and upgrade the armour. High armour give the troops a greater defensive bonus.

Diplomacy & Others

When you are ready, get an embassy so that you can join an alliance. Also, get the rally point build up. It's in the centre of the village. Next is to get a scout. You will need the academy to research such scouts. Scouts are useful to detect scouting from others, and of course, for you to scout others.

Well, this is a war game and so you will be attacked at some point in time. Try the following when you are being attacked. Some pictures of the attack messages (and others) are shown in an earlier post on the Review of Travian.

Safeguard the resources
Resources are what help you to re-build after an attack. The paragraphs above should have sufficient tips for safeguarding the resources.

Contact the attacker
There are times when soft diplomacy works. Write a message to the attacker and ask him to look for other farms. Heh. Sometimes, point him to the inactive player tracker software and he might just leave you alone. Else you can also ask your own alliance leader for diplomatic assistance if you have an alliance.

Defence Strategy After the First Attack
Your troops are greatly weaken after the first attack, or they could simply have been wiped. While you are starting to build the troops, the attacker send more waves of attacks. Don't leave your weakened troops or those small clusters to die! Send them to a nearby village, could be yours or another friendly player. Simply 'reinforce' that village and build up your troops to a sizable amount again before sending them back. Just note the crops consumption in that temporary village and make sure there is food for the troops. If that temporary village belongs to another player, send some crops along as tokens of appreciation.

Ask for Help
There are times when we all need help, that's what friends (and alliances) are for. Contact your alliance leader and ask politely if anyone has troops for assistance. Most ideal if you could post some previous history of the battles for others to gauge the strength of attacks.

Related Posts: Travian Guide Part 2, Simple Review of the browser game - Travian

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Community Games Website - Viwawa

Found a new community games website from some friends - Viwawa.

They have a series of different games, and by playing these games, a player could earn enough gold to buy items for their 'Wawa', i.e. avatars. They could also use the games to buy special skills that players could use in the games. Overall the games are quite fun enough. However, the lag can be quite irritating when players experience 'timeout', and I feel that the website could improve somewhat with the games play guide.

Currently there are six games in this website. Each time you start a game, a new pop-up windows will appear. Games include Mahjong, Dai Di (Big 2), chess, ...etc.

Above is what you'll see when you enter that particular game's webpage. Once you clicked play, you will send the screens below.

Above is what you see when you start the Sushi game, a game which I don't exactly understand how to play. Once the program loads, you'll have to join a table, possibly waiting for other players to form a complete table. Here's the waiting scene for the Big 2 game.

Pic below is from the mahjong game, which I played quite a fair bit.

Once a game is over, there will be a tally of gold coins.

Other than gold coins, a player could also use real cash to exchange for items in the website. Payment is quite easy, either credit cards or via mobile phone shortcodes. Thus anyone in Singapore with a mobile phone account can obtain in game currency easily. Given the nature of community games website, it is unsure how compelling it is for players to pay for in game currency. Game players may pay cash for RPG like games, but for such community websites? Maybe, if the advantages of such items warrant it.