Sunday, August 24, 2008

Xtrapva.dll Trojan in the Cabal Online folders

I was doing my usual virus scan when the Symantec Antivirus detected a Xtrapva.dll trojan horse. After a simple search on Google, I found out that the trojan horse has been around since June 2007. The trojan has infected a number of files, including one used by Xtrap. Xtrap is used by many online games (e.g. Cabal Online & knights Online) to scan and prevent third party 'unauthorised' software from running, e.g. bots.

Thus it is ironic that such 'prevention' software got infected with a trojan horse. For my case it's Cabal Online's gaming update such that Xtrap got installed.

There are plenty of solutions and discussions about it. Doing a simple virus scan should be able to cure this trojan horse infection. :) Guess it is time for those online gamers out there to do more scheduled virus scan!

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Simple Review of Titan Quest: Immortal Throne

Recently I was busy playing this game 'Titan Quest: Immortal Throne'. This is a good game for those busy working adults who can only spare an hour or less to play games during weekdays. The reasons are that the learning curve is short, and the game is relatively simple to play. Those who have played Diablo would have some appreciation of this game. Conversely some players may feel it is another 'Diablo-like' game which is nothing new.

Oh well, different players prefer different things. Nonetheless here's some screenshots I took of three different characters. The following three shots are those of a corsair class player fighting the three gorgons, the dead gorgons, and the story plot of a girl from ancient China talking to the character (who is from ancient Greece). "I used character and player inter-changeably."

Overall the story is quite linear, taking the player from ancient Greece, to Egypt, and to ancient China. The fighting is relatively simple, with mouse clicks and number keys. Not much of a big tactics is involved unless one choose a higher difficulty level of play. The graphics is attractive, with relatively alright background music. Here's a screenshot of ancient Memphis in Egypt.

The game featured many 'classes' to choose from. While one is classless when the game started, the player gets to choose which of the 8 classes he/she wants to be in from level 3. Each level will grant 3 skill points and 2 character points. Classes are either melee or spell caster based. Some spell caster classes (and later for melee classes) can summon 'pets' like the lich king or wolves to assist them.

The character points could be used to upgrade 'Health', "Energy', "Strength', 'Intelligence', or 'Dexterity'. Sufficient combination of Strength, Intelligence, or Dexterity is needed to wear higher level equipments. Equipments could also have skill enhancers / attributes, and there are also 'sets' which give additional bonus for each additional equipment of the same set when worn. Skill points are for different skills (obviously) and the player could put the active skills into the number hotkeys. When the player reaches level 8, he/she can choose another class, and thus get the best of both classes. The 'designation' of the character also changed once the second class is chosen.

There are certain scenes where special effects are present. For example, when the player enter the burning olive farms in Greece, there are special smoke and fire particles effect. Since the graphics is quite good, one could occasionally zoom in to look at the finer graphical details.

Overall it is a good game and quite worth the money spent I think. I'm not sure if I will complete the game though, or if I will be distracted by other new games. Lolz.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Increasing recognition of games as mainstream activity

After a visit to the WCG 08, I unpacked the goodie bag and was somewhat surprised by the number of gaming related magazines available in the market (e.g. Playworks, EGM, DNA MO Times, and T3). These magazines in the goodie bag are but a small segment of what are available, and that speaks volume about the amount of advertising revenues that the industry is willing to pour in, even for a small market like Singapore.

It is true that there is now a much wider variety of games, thanks to the large increase in the number of casual gamers (effect of Nintendo Wii for example) that helped to push up demand for new games. It is a chicken and egg scenario; more gamers lead to more games creation that further attracts more gamers.

With large scale events like WCG 08 and the recent AsiaSoft's gamefest (held in Marina Square), more people are recognising gaming as a mainstream activity. This didn't happen overnight, since we already have a large number of official game launches with huge crowd turnout (example Cabal Online, Granado Espada, WoW's TBC expansion...etc).

What is actually surprising is the amount of money poured in in terms of advertising revenues, and also game prizes. What used to be prizes comprising of electronic gadgets from sponsors, organisers nowadays are willing to pour in actual cash sums.

So I guess we can look forward to more interesting events and game related materials in the days to come. :)

Sunday, August 10, 2008

WCG 2008 @ Suntec

Finally got a chance to visit World Cyber Games 08 at Suntec City level 4. I missed the first two days due to heavy work commitments. The event is held from 7th to 10th August 08. Well, the admission is free and I actually expect a much larger crowd. I guess the smaller turnout may be due to the National Day Parade, which is a huge crowd drawer.

Nonetheless, it is still fun to see fellow gamers engaging in competition with adrenaline pumping excitement. The event is not all about cyber games, since there are also booths for the WoW TCG competition. In fact, the goodie bags came with a few WoW TCG cards thrown in! The goodie bags also came with magazines like Playworks and EGM.

The big events are held at the end of the rooms, where a stage with two huge displays are mounted. Players and visitors could look at the game play, and there were much cheering and clapping as the games proceed.

Due to the nature of the event, there are plenty of sponsors, e.g. Samsung, Microsoft, and Intel. You could see the list of sponsors, as well as the prizes for each game category at this WCG site. The site only shows the prizes for local category, but navigate around and you see the related Open Category site.

Surprisingly, accompanying the car racing games are booths selling actual car accessories. Hmm I thought booths selling games, and related merchandise like magazines, toys...etc would make more sense.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Freedom on the Internet - S. Koreans & Beijing IOC

It is quite weird how governments treat the boundaries of Internet use. Apparently the S. Korean government is going to impose some sort of Cyber Defamation Law because the President felt that:
"We have to guard against 'infodemics,' in which inaccurate, false information is disseminated, prompting social unrest that spreads like an epidemic," Lee (S. Korean President) told parliament early in July.
I guess the S. Korean got too passionate about the earlier US beef import incident. It is true that earlier this year there have been incidents of Internet abuse for the S. Koreans, including cases of cyber-bullying and serious incidents of privacy loss.

On the other hand, the Beijing government finally agreed to relax their Internet sites control after IOC president had a chat with the Beijing government.

Somehow these government actions all seems reactionary, and I wonder if they would take a more long term approach of 'internalising' the concepts that Internet boundaries are not practical. People will want to look at news that interest them, and there are simply too many ways to get around any 'blocks' or 'laws', for example there are these tools to get around the Chinese Web censor.

Education and public awareness of the advantages and pitfalls of the Internet are still (in my opinion) the best approaches. Costlier and take a longer time, but such long term solutions are more ideal.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Gold Farming Academic Analysis

Found a 87 pages academic analysis of gold farming in virtual worlds from Richard Heeks from University of Manchester, and I've done a 'points' form summary of the conclusion. This summary is very long, and I do think the paper is worth a detailed read.

General Statistics:
  • rough guess is that 400,000 gold farmers in 2008 earn an average US$145 per month produced a global market worth US$500m;
  • there are probably 5-10m consumers of gold farming services. The main uncertainty of estimation relates to the gold-farming market in East Asia, which appears much larger than that in the US/EU;
  • guesstimated 80-85% of gold farming takes place in China;
Historical Development:
  • "pre-history" of gold farming dates from the 1980s, and we can structure it in terms of capitalist development, starting with "subsistence" production and moving through barter, commoditisation and monetisation until it reach the petty commodity production of the 21st century;
  • gold farming proper started in earnest in 2001-2002, really took off in 2003-2004, and entered something of a black hole phase in data terms during 2007-2008. This can be structured as a move from petty to capitalist commodity production involving wage labour, automation, and globalisation/offshoring, particularly to Asia;
  • From mid-2005 to mid-2008, however, in-game currencies devalued an average of 75% against the US dollar. The continuing survival of the sub-sector probably relies on a disappearance of those super-profits, increased productivity, and disintermediation so that many firms now sell direct to consumers. As a result of these plus new entrants and the anti-gold-farming actions of game companies, power within the gold-farming value chain has in recent years become more dispersed, and has shifted somewhat away from brokers and somewhat towards game companies.
  • Thirdly, continuing survival of gold farming relies on dealing with the many threats it faces and an important threat that is much more serious such as game company substitution or legal action by governments or game companies. Continuing survival of the sub-sector also relies on overcoming some severe information failures – absence, uncertainty, asymmetry, and communication problems.
  • gold farming helps reduce unemployment and poverty, and improve national balance of trade and income equity. It may help reduce crime and provide a model for telecentre and cybercaf√© financial sustainability;
  • gold farming seems to represent an efficient use of capital in job-creation terms
Market Structure of Gold Farming:
  • entrepreneurs (almost all men) who start up gold farms are pulled into the sub-sector by some mix of existing game- and/or gold-farming-knowledge plus the lure of profits. They have created tens of thousands of enterprises, principally micro-enterprises employing less than 10 staff, and they are informally-financed.
  • gold farmers typically work alongside managers, researchers, technical support and customer relations staff. The apparent lack of domination by medium- and large-scale firms means, though, there must also be scale diseconomies, such as the costs of "being noticed" by government and game companies. These two stakeholders, alongside ICT suppliers, fansites and regular players, sit outside the main gold farming value chain.
  • The sub-sector has taken off because a demand with more money than time met a supply with more time than money.
Social Perceptions:
  • Perception outranks reality in the discourse on gold farming, and – at least in the West – those perceptions have been largely negative, serving to homogenise, alienise, criminalise and moralise about gold farmers. That this has happened supports the idea that racial stereotypes and views about immigrant labour are remapped into cyberspace. It also supports the structuralist argument that institutional forces in the real world are reproduced in new, virtual fields like gold farming.
  • There is some contra-flow, suggesting the sub-sector's virtuality has produced new outcomes; for example in relation to intermediaries. While this falls short of an argument that technology has transformed social structures and behaviours, it means the mix of technology, structure and agency is unpredictable.