Hoover support: It sucks. Not in a good way.

(Personal)

2011-05-24 11:58
Comment

I got a new vacuum cleaner, a Hoover “multi-cyclonic”, model number SH40060.

It broke; the rotating-brush part is badly designed and it melted plastic around its bearings when it got some hair caught in it.

That was… two months ago, give or take. I took it into the nearest authorized service center, that being Sears. They promptly sent me a replacement part… which does not fit the vacuum cleaner. Because, it turns out, there was a previous “SH400060” which had a square red power nozzle, rather than a triangular grey one.

Don’t believe me?

Here’s the Sears parts page.

So after a month and a half I managed to confirm that Sears does not have any way to get the part for my vacuum. I called Hoover. The rep I spoke to explained that this is because the new model is so new that distributors do not have parts for it yet. She would see whether they could get me one, and they would either mail it immediately or call me back to explain that they couldn’t. That was two weeks ago.

Today, I got a different story, and got passed to a supervisor, who asked me to pay $98 for the part. Now, keep in mind, this vacuum cleaner is only about two months old, and broke in the first day. It’s under warranty. Hoover themselves have told me that there is no way to get this replacement part.

This is not meeting my emotional needs.

I’m currently waiting for a “call back” from a supervisor who has to speak with her supervisor to find out more about this. I did finally convince them that there is a real problem with the confusion over the model numbers; originally they told me the other machine had a different model number, but I got her to look at the Sears page, and now it’s turning Interesting.

Still, this is crappy service overall.

(EDIT: After another round or two, they sent me the part, and All Is Well.)

Peter Seebach

Comment

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I sorta wonder whether I could hold down a job...

(Personal, Autism)

2011-05-22 17:48
Comment [1]

Yeah, I know. I have one. It works out, they seem happy, I’m happy.

But… My job is a bit weird. They know me. They’ve known me for a while, and they know about the autism stuff, and they know what kind of thing I can do. They put up with my need to not go to the office most of the time. They are okay with the fact that some days I don’t do much of anything, and other days I put in 14 hours of Doing Magic that solves problems.

If I were trying to get a job, I don’t know that I could pull it off.

The problem is not all autism; some of it is the interaction between autism and ADHD. ADHD people are, characteristically, good at hard things and bad at easy things. Note, I don’t mean “not as good, relatively speaking, at easy things”. I’m pretty bright. I can do all sorts of interesting math stuff in my head well enough to be useful. I can’t, however, reliably add single-digit numbers. I just sometimes get the wrong answers to that kind of thing.

I can do some pretty cool stuff. I wrote a program called pseudo which is pretty interesting. A lot of programmers couldn’t write it. I don’t mean it would take them a long time; I mean they couldn’t do it. I am a champion debugger.

But the way the world works, usually you have to demonstrate the ability to fit in and do easy tasks before you get a shot at hard tasks that you don’t have to fit in for. And that means that, without some good luck in getting started, I probably couldn’t get to a job I could do. I’m not qualified. Heck, I just can’t do it. I am not sure I could actually handle a regular office job with lots of face-to-face contact. I certainly wouldn’t do very good work under those circumstances.

I know some people who are, variously, “disabled”, meaning they couldn’t do a job. In a couple of cases, I can describe for you a thing which they could do, which would be worth more than it would cost to pay them more than the disability money they could get… But the people to whom it would be worth that may not have a corporate structure which allows them to pay that money for that task.

Part of what makes the difference between a disability and a superpower is how you use it. Another part is how other people handle it. I have a lot of very interesting and significant blind spots when it comes to interpersonal relationships. Some people react to that by regarding me as dysfunctional and not useful. Other people react by asking me questions about events, because I was experiencing the event while everyone else was experiencing the emotional and political overtones of the event. I don’t remember “he insulted her”, I remember the words he said, and that she took offense. Sometimes that distinction matters.

I’ve been thinking about blogging more about autism-related things, because the fact is, there’s a whole lot of autistic people who have a hard time talking at all, and a lot of misunderstandings out there. The nice thing about autistic people and social skills is that, in many cases, simply hearing a social skill explained in plain language is enough to provide at least a good approximation of it.

So as someone who apparently gets along with a spouse (the spouse so informs me, and I accept the claim because of corroborating evidence) and holds down a job and such, I think I’ll put some time into talking about how I do it.

This will almost certainly make up for being unable to help my mom with errands yesterday on the grounds that the space outside my house was a large space with poorly defined borders…

No, really. It totally was. It also still is now, but for some reason it bothers me less today. I walked outside. I successfully obtained a prescription from the pharmacy, and answered questions as they were asked rather than reciting the answers all at once before being asked. I had a burger for lunch. This may not sound like an accomplishment, but it’s probably the first time in six months that I’ve ordered anything but the same exact sandwich every time there, and I wanted the variety. So I got the burger I always get when I get a burger. So far as I know, I smiled and made eye contact; at the very least, I didn’t fail to do so in ways that resulted in people being upset in ways I could detect. This is, pretty much, a Good Day.

Peter Seebach

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Comment [1]

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An open letter to my psychologist of Way Back When

(Personal, Autism)

2011-05-21 09:06
Comment [8]

Hello, David. Long time no see. I got to thinking about our conversations some years ago, and something’s bugging me.

I dunno whether you remember me. I came to see you because my spouse was concerned that there was Something Wrong with my interactions with other people, and we were curious as to whether someone with professional training could figure out what it was.

Your eventual conclusion was that it seemed like I didn’t have enough certainty that my parents loved me. Well. I have good news and bad news. The good news is that your description was almost certainly exactly correct, assuming we take “enough” to mean “the amount a normal person would have if their parents were reasonably expressive and supportive”. The bad news is that it is fundamentally completely wrong.

You may not remember, but one of the things I asked about was Asperger Syndrome, because several people had told me it fit me. You dismissed it. I mean “dismissed”; there was no discussion, no consideration, no looking at lists of symptoms. Just handwaved away.

You were wrong. I don’t just mean you made a factual mistake; that happens. I mean that you went about it in the wrong way, and so doing, did real harm. The thing is… I am autistic. No, really. Specialists have looked at this and concluded that, yes, what I have is clearly some variety of autism.

But thanks to my difficulties telling when I’m allowed to ask for more information, or when I should assume that professionals know their jobs, it took a couple more years to figure that out. Years during which my spouse’s feelings were hurt when I totally failed to pick up social cues. Years during which I struggled with things and people thought I was lazy or not really trying because there was no way those things could be hard for someone “smart”.

You know the sad thing? What finally did it was a science fiction book. I read Elizabeth Moon’s wonderful book, The Speed of Dark. A few chapters in, I started thinking, “hey, wasn’t the main character supposed to be weird in some way”? (Go on, read some of the book. It’ll help make sense of this.) And then I realized: This was the only time I’d read a character in fiction who seemed normal to me. He didn’t have random telepathic insights into other characters. He reacted rationally to the information available. He made sense.

I contacted the Autism Society of Minnesota, set up an appointment, and went and saw a specialist. I am told that retyping the questionaire so that I could fix the typos and have enough room to answer questions clearly may have been one of the identifying traits.

So… Please. Next time (if there is one) someone asks about something potentially major, don’t just handwave it away. Take that question seriously, because this stuff matters. It really does affect us.

Here’s some more background, for you or for the other readers. (Heck, I’m not even sure you’ll be a reader, though I’m writing this with intent to send you a link to it, or perhaps mail a copy.)

What brought this on was that I was recently reading some very interesting blogging about autism.

I am, as I mentioned before what they call “high functioning”. Which is to say, I can pretty much pass. (I’m borrowing the term from the transgendered/transsexual community, where it’s used to denote being taken as the gender you want to present as; I’m applying it to being taken as human.) I can talk to people. I can look them in the eye. I can often tell whether they’re trying to shake hands.

But I do have problems. I am, quite often, stunningly thoughtless. I say things that hurt people. When I’m stressed, or there’s a lot of noise, I have a very hard time understanding speech. Sometimes I can’t talk. Now that people know, that’s usually okay. I just make typing guestures and my spouse pops over to an IM client so we can chat. (I am almost never so non-verbal that I can’t read and write.) I ask people to please follow up in email, I ask them to chat in IRC, and I subtly direct people towards media where I am less at a disadvantage.

The thing is… It’s still hard sometimes. I don’t think I’d trade this away, if I had the option, because I like being me, and I’m happy… But that doesn’t mean that I’m somehow unaware that I suck at social. I forget to invite people to things. My mom’s told me any number of times that it’s important to invite her to family things, but the underlying cognitive map isn’t there. If someone asks me “is there anyone else you should invite”, I will of course say “my mom, it’s very important to her”. But that doesn’t mean that I’ll think of it, because the automatic check for social rules isn’t there. I’m not actually aware of other people except when they’re interacting with me. And since people inexplicably don’t schedule all family things to be on a regular schedule I can put in my PDA, I can’t set a reminder to check. (Side note: Wouldn’t it be neat if PDAs could do conditional-reminders instead of scheduled-reminders? “Please remind me every time I enter a personal appointment”…)

Getting diagnosed has helped a lot. Imagine your spouse suddenly flinching away when touched. You might find this insulting? Well, yes, but if you know your spouse is autistic, it is cute rather than insulting. And you can know to respond by hugging firmly instead of touching lightly, and then everyone is happy. But getting diagnosed requires that people in a position to do the diagnosing be aware of the possibility, and know enough about it not to dismiss it out of hand…

Peter Seebach

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Comment [8]

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But what if wire mother let you stay up an hour later?

(Personal, Autism)

2011-05-18 14:38
Comment [3]

There was some fairly famous (and extremely disturbing) research on non-human primate babies raised by various substitutes for a mother, such as a wire frame shapped roughly like a monkey, one covered with cheap fake fur, and so on.

Imagine how much more complicated this would be to research in humans, who spend a much longer time being raised. I admit, the ethics committees of the world would probably disapprove, as would nearly everyone else, but it makes for an interesting line of speculation. Would children be more loyal to an actual mother who imposes a firm bedtime, or a wire mother who lets them stay up later? How about cartoons, or sugary cereal?

Strangely, no one seems to be willing to let me do science. It’s as though they hate the very notion of progress. I had a great idea the other day, but I didn’t even finish explaining the protocols for the control spouse before Jesse vetoed it.

Peter Seebach

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Comment [3]

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You can play WoW in any MMO.

(GeekStuff)

2011-05-07 13:15
Comment [37]

There’s an old saying among programmers: You can write FORTRAN in any language. What this means is that, while many languages allow you to write much clearer and more expressive code than is typically produced in FORTRAN, none of them force code to be better. Even the ones that claim they do. It just can’t happen. You can’t make a bad writer good.

World of Warcraft enjoys, to some extent, a similar position in the MMO world. Many, many, people have played World of Warcraft. Some liked it. Some disliked it. However, because it’s so well known, it is easy to end up with several players in another game who have all played it, and thus, it is easy for them to fall into the same patterns and behaviors.

This, of course, results in angry players who declare that they were promised a game which was different from WoW, but this is exactly the same. And they’re sincere, but they’re wrong. The problem is not that every other MMO is like WoW; the problem is that people are choosing to play WoW in other MMOs.

A central theme of WoW’s design is the fairly traditional MMO gameplay model called the “holy trinity”; this is that each group needs a mix of tanking (characters who are good at taking hits and compelling mobs to attack them), healing (characters who are good at curing damage taken), and DPS (“damage per second”, that being characters who are good at doing a lot of damage, but typically can’t heal significantly or take many hits without dying).

WoW players tend to view the world through this filter, and often do not realize this basic truth:

Not every MMO is based around that design.

In City of Heroes, basically any group can probably do nearly any content. You don’t need a tank. You don’t need a healer. CoH has a category WoW doesn’t, “buffs/debuffs”. This category focuses on many and varied ways of making fights go better, which may include healing players, but also may not. (The central reason this works is that CoH characters continue to heal in combat the same way they would out of combat; thus, if you can reduce incoming damage enough, you do not need a “healer”. Note that killing everything quickly reduces incoming damage enough.)

In RIFT, things are closer to the WoW paradigm, but there’s still a “support” category. WoW players tend to think of “support” as being some kind of mix of DPS and healing, but this is not what support is. Support is buffs and debuffs; improving the performance of your group, disimproving the performance of the enemy. Support characters are more valuable in larger groups, but even in traditional 5-player content, they can be a huge asset to a group.

There’s more, though. RIFT encourages hybrid builds, combining aspects of two roles to make a character who can perform either acceptably. In WoW, you are now prevented from even attempting this by the mechanics, which is just as well because it almost never actually worked; the developers simply didn’t consider it a viable or relevant play style. By contrast, in RIFT, a hybrid DPS/healer may well be able to heal well enough for most content, and DPS well enough for most content… and thus able to switch roles during a fight. Similarly, the much more aggressive promotion of quick switches between preset builds or “roles” means that groups are encouraged to, say, completely switch composition from one fight to another.

A friend of mine put it quite well:

WoW’s design and culture encourage you to ask the question:
What job do I want to do today? Okay, what tools do I want to use to do it?
City and Rift have a design that encourages you to ask:
What toys do I want to play with today?

The weakness, I think, is that WoW players come to RIFT or CoH and apply their previous model. They go looking for a job that needs accomplishing, then try to figure out how to do it. People who have gotten the hang of playing City or RIFT, though, will come to the game looking for something they enjoy doing, then do that and figure that some sort of positive outcome will result. There’s no “job” you need to do; you can focus on whatever interests you at a given time, and it’ll be something you can do. You have a broad array of things available that you can do or play with, and whatever you pick, the game has some mechanism in place to produce some kind of accumulated benefit for doing so.

This gets into an idea I’m still working on. One of the traditional criticisms launched at people who find content in an MMO difficult is “learn to play”, by which people mean “learn to effectively use game mechanics to achieve goals”. The real goal, though, should be to learn to play; to do the thing which is unlike work that children do automatically and adults seem to mostly forget. Playing remains one of the most fundamentally important things human brains do, at any age, in any context. If you want to be happy and understand your world, learn to play.

(Edited May 24: Added link to l2pnoob, my site on learning to play.)

Peter Seebach

Comment [37]

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A month or so in: Why I still love RIFT (and Trion)

(GeekStuff)

2011-04-18 01:25
Comment

So, this weekend, RIFT had a “world event”. A huge in-game event that affected the entire in-game world. Lots of stuff happened. And… Some of it went pretty badly. The event design called for people to participate in a specific short time window, as a result of which thousands of players couldn’t log in, because the servers were full. Lots of complaints.

Trion responded.

Now, I played World of Warcraft for five or six years, and you know what? In that time, they had some events that were certainly botched in one way or another, or where a lot of people couldn’t participate, and they had a lot of events that ended up working for some people and being really, really, unpleasant for others. (The Great Zombie Grief Festival was a particularly brilliant example of the latter category.) They proposed some really stupid ideas, like displaying everyone’s real names in the forums. And they even backed down from some ideas.

But to the best of my recollection (and I’ve asked around, and no one has suggested a counterexample), they never, not once, admitted that they screwed up. They used weasel words about how they saw potential for improvement, but they never acknowledged that something didn’t work, or was bad, or simply wasn’t a good plan. They generally didn’t react to the problems by offering people compensation for missed opportunities, either, but that’s really not as important.

Trion has, in this case and others, shown a willingness to be truthful and up-front about their problems. They have a sticky post apologizing for the problems with their customer service (the game has more players than expected, and the staff can’t keep up). They have given people game time credit for slow support responses. (They also appear to have given a free month of game time to every customer in Japan, though this is all speculation based on specific people reporting it; they didn’t announce it.) When there was a security hole in their authentication system, they publically acknowledged it and gave credit to one of the players for helping them fix it.

RIFT, as a game, is pretty cool. It is not for the most part revolutionary, but it’s at least a very well done evolutionary step forwards towards polishing and perfecting some game design principles and models that other people have also worked on. The dynamic content is better than I’ve seen elsewhere, but it’s not completely beyond what you could have imagined.

On the other hand… Their corporate policies, their relations with customers? For the MMO industry, these are genuinely revolutionary. No one else does this. No one else has even considered it, so far as I can tell. Other companies focus on maintaining the image that they know what they are doing and they’re merely “tweaking” and “improving” things. Trion comes out and admits to mistakes.

This is an attitude which really stands out, and it’s an attitude that makes me happy to keep sending them money in exchange for a world full of undead and dragons and stuff, all of which appear to desperately Need Killing.

I could rant at length about how fun the rest of the game is. I will tell you that I’ve spent most of a week collecting things, which involves very little combat, without getting particularly bored. But really… That the game is fun is pretty much something you can take for granted given an experienced and competent development team who have been given the time to produce a working and polished product rather than pressured to shove it out the door on an arbitrary deadline. What’s noteworthy is not the successes, but the failures, and how the company handles them.

This is the first time I’ve ever seen an MMO company that I would describe as trustworthy. I’m still not sure what to make of that; like many things, the general miasma of half-truths and spin doctoring that has dominated the MMO industry for all these years was unnoticeable until you got to see what life was like without it.

They do free trial weekends and such. If you like fantasy-themed MMOs, you owe it to yourself to check this one out.

Peter Seebach

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Coolest dice EVER.

(Personal, GeekStuff)

2011-03-20 18:31
Comment [1]

Okay, this is gonna be a thing that will sound incoherent to gamers, but:

I do not think I will need to buy dice in the future. My in-laws got me dice for Christmas. Due to delays, they only showed up now, but they are totally worth it. They are the coolest dice ever. They’re also made by the coolest method ever: 3D printing.

These are amazing looking dice.

3D printing is awesome. These dice are amazing. The combination? Yeah, amazing and awesome. Best. Dice. Ever.

d6
d20

Peter Seebach

,

Comment [1]

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Car vs. Dog, round 2: FIGHT!

(Personal)

2011-02-23 16:24
Comment

On the way up to an erranding in the cities, I noticed a dog standing by the side of the road at the mouth of a driveway. I slowed down. Good thing, because the dog did EXACTLY what you or I would do upon noticing that something >20 times our size was bearing down on a location about ten feet away from us — run in front of it. Stupid dog.

Owner was watching and apparently relieved to see that I was better able to predict the dog’s behavior than the dog was able to predict mine.

Peter Seebach

Comment

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RIFT beta: A more in-depth review

(GeekStuff)

2011-02-07 00:46
Comment [4]

Since a lot of people I know play MMOs or other games, I figure there may be some general interest. RIFT is in beta right now. Well, that’s a marketing gimmick. It’s really essentially in a sort of showing-off/demo mode which is more like an initial release than like a traditional “beta”, but the point is it’s not officially for sale yet, but people can play it.

I spent a fair bit of time this weekend playing RIFT, and I think at this point I’m ready to give some basic comments.

If I were to pick a single word to describe this game, it would be “polished”. RIFT is, before even being released, in many ways more polished and cleanly implemented than other MMOs I’ve played, and that’s including World of Warcraft. (WoW, whatever its flaws may be, is one of the more smoothly polished and mature MMOs out there, and Blizzard have always been very good about polish.)

RIFT’s design and development team has a lot of people with prior MMO experience. This shows. When people come to RIFT, whether it’s from WoW or EverQuest or Dark Age of Camelot, they seem to consistently think it’s just like coming back to that game, only a bit more developed. People who mostly come from WoW tend to think it’s a “WoW clone”, and certainly I could point you at plenty of powers or abilities that precisely emulate the effects of something thematically similar from WoW.

I don’t think it’s fair to dismiss RIFT as a “WoW clone”, though. Speaking as someone who played WoW a great deal for about five years, and really enjoyed it, I have to say: RIFT is what I always wished Blizzard would do with WoW. It has more depth, it has better and cleaner designs. Most importantly, it has much, much, better quality-of-life. What I mean by that is, while the game content is challenging, the parts that aren’t specifically designed to be challenging are delightfully friendly and easy to use. In WoW, I spent a great deal of time running across large cities to get from the place where I could buy materials to the place where I could use them to craft something. In RIFT, there are bankers and auctioneers in the main room that has all the crafting things. Much, much, nicer.

In fact, interestingly, if I were to go through a list of all the things I’ve ever wished they’d add to WoW, nearly all of them are in RIFT, whether that’s user interface functionality or game mechanics. RIFT lets you change the color of your armor (one of the most common requests for WoW). For people who don’t like Player-vs-Player combat, RIFT allows you to turn off the feature which automatically “flags” you for PvP when you interact with other already-flagged targets; instead of being flagged, you get an error message saying you can’t do that. Since abuse of the autoflag mechanism in WoW was a major source of griefing and harassment, this is a big win.

Of particular note, though, is the class system. This is, quite simply, the best class system I’ve ever seen in a computer RPG. For each of the four “callings”, there are eight “souls”; a soul roughly corresponds to what City of Heroes calls a “power set” or World of Warcraft calls a “talent tree”. Each character has a fixed calling, and then picks any three souls. Later, you can change not just how you allocate resources between those, but which three souls. Add in greater variety of how characters play (a character might have tanking, DPS, and healing souls available), and you can have a character who converts from a melee DPS to a ranged healer. That much, WoW sort of has; what makes this interesting, though, is that since you can mix and match, it goes further. You can build much more interesting combinations; you can create a character who uses two or three different kinds of healing, or one kind of healing and two kinds of ranged DPS.

For CoH players: Imagine that you could take any three sets. So, you could have a character who had dark armor/illusion control/dark miasma, or you could go for dark armor/electric armor/katana. Complete with interesting overlaps.

For WoW players: Imagine that you divided the 30 or so talent trees up into 4 groups of 8 talent trees (with some shuffling to give you two more trees). Now pick any three. Beast mastery/marksmanship/subtlety? Yup. Fury/Arms/Retribution? Yup. Protection (pally)/resto (druid)/enhancement? Yup.

It gets better. Rather than giving everyone all the same core abilities, with only a few distinctive talented abilities, RIFT uses a “branches and roots” system for soul trees. The “branches” are the traditional talent specialization people are familiar with from some other games. The “roots” are a series of powers, and you get powers from them based entirely on how many points you’ve put into the tree. Four points into Assassin? You get stealth.

What this means is that two characters with the same three souls, but with substantially different point allocations, have radically different power selections available to them. And yet, the “must-have” abilities for any tree are all down in the “roots”; every point you spend in the branches represents a real choice between alternatives, for the most part; if something is so essential to the play of your spec that you’d need to have it, it goes in the roots, so you get it if you focus on that tree.

Finally, one last brilliant thing. For clerics, in particular, there is a problem with itemization, familiar to any WoW player who ever played a druid or shaman. If you have a class that could be either melee or a spellcaster, you have sets of gear focused on melee powers, and sets focused on magic. Not so in RIFT. Instead, the melee souls have, a couple of points into their “roots”, an aura you can keep up all the time which, get this, converts spell bonuses into melee bonuses. Poof. Done. You get the same kind of gear any other cleric would get, complete with spellpower and wisdom and other caster-oriented stuff, and it makes you awesome in melee. Problem solved.

Okay, enough yammering about the lovely class system. On to world design. The intro stories for the two factions have interesting implications that involve at least one time travel plot. As a result, we have a lovely result: There is a sound in-game reason for which you cannot go to the starting zone for the other side and harass the lowbies. You can’t get there from here. Very pretty.

The lore is, well, it’s not bad. I like it better than WoW’s, just because it’s less full of people carrying the idiot ball. It’s not a pre-existing setting, and in some ways that’s a plus; they don’t have to try to work around tons of stuff that got made up for previous games. The setting is interesting, both factions are interesting, and neither stands out as obviously more good or evil than the other.

The world itself is full of fascinating stuff, and lots of it. Also, sense of humor, much appreciated. There is a potion vendor, named Sparky. Next to him is “Sparky’s Keeper”, who explains that Sparky is not very reliable, so she has to be there to maintain him, which means he’s not really a labor-saving device at all, because she could just sell the potions. Which she does anyway when sparky breaks down. … A few hours later, I came by, and there was a “Defunct Sparky”, and the person who had been labeled “Sparky’s Keeper” before was now labeled “Potion Vendor”. Cute.

Quest design is much better than traditional WoW and other games. In particular, if one area is intended to chain to another, instead of doing your last quest, coming back, handing it in, and being told to go to the next area, you’re likely to simply get a quest where you go do something interesting and the hand-in is in the next area. A bit less pointless running.

Crafting. Yes, it has crafting. You get to pick three professions; most crafting professions use materials from two gathering professions, but not always. You can always be self-sufficient and have a crafting profession, though. Crafting is full of nice touches that would have hugely enriched the WoW crafting experience. For instance, many craftable items are “augmentable”, meaning that they can take an extra optional component which modifies the created item, making it more powerful in one of several possible ways. That makes crafted items more interesting and less replaceable. Also of interest: Crafted gear is worth crafting and using from pretty much the beginning of the game. In WoW, there were a handful of items which were worth crafting and the rest were useless. That sucked.

A particularly neat feature is that many crafting professions let you “salvage” items of the general sort they can make. Weaponsmiths can “salvage” weapons, armorsmiths can “salvage” the kinds of armor they could make. This gives you more crafting materials, and you can use this to train crafting up noticably faster if you’re focused on training rather than on making things to sell. Realistic, and mechanically interesting.

Crafting in RIFT feels less like an afterthought than it does in WoW.

On to the user interface. The user interface very much reflects lessons learned from previous MMOs. The mini map lets you track multiple things at once, eliminating the hassle of swapping from one kind of tracking to another. It will show all sorts of useful things (merchants, mailboxes, etcetera). Also information about what your quests are and where they are. Interface components can be moved around, resized, and adjusted in a number of ways. This is really nice; it’s not that it’s an unheard of thing, but in WoW, most of this required third-party addons.

That’s the one thing I really hope they change; right now, RIFT doesn’t allow third party UI mods. I hope they change that, because UI addons have allowed the crowdsourcing of a lot of very good UI development work. That said, RIFT’s interface already benefits from a large amount of that; they’ve taken many of the best ideas that other people came up with for MMO user interfaces, and implemented them.

Gameplay: It’s a lot like WoW, only with more interesting mechanics, and a lot harder. I did some endgame raiding in WoW. Miscellaneous ongoing random events in the world in RIFT were in some cases harder. Substantially harder. In WoW, most classes can reasonably assume that they can solo “elite” mobs of about their level, especially by the time they get up in levels a bit. In RIFT, a level 30 character really could get killed by a particularly tough level 15 elite. RIFT gets huge bonus points for implementing scaling mechanics so that a lot of content can get tougher with the number of players (unlike CoH’s scaling by introducing more enemies, RIFT makes the individual enemies tougher).

RIFT has an interesting system I’ve never seen elsewhere, called “public groups”. If you walk near group-oriented content in the world, and there’s other people, you all get “join public group” buttons. You join, and bang, you’re in a group, who can now cooperate to work on that content. Scores are kept for how much people contribute to group success, and you get a loot button that gives you a fair share of loot when you’re done. This allows a lot more epic world events, without people having to walk around trying to negotiate group membership or fight over the loot.

Graphics: On high settings, this game is utterly gorgeous. On lower settings, it seems to run pretty decently. It’s a lot prettier than WoW or CoH, to be sure. On the other hand, it may run slower. Still, they give a lot of room for setting graphics to lower levels while still having everything work. I do quite like the art direction; it’s not as stylized as WoW, but it’s not as utterly generic as some games have gotten.

Finally, last but not least: What’s the developer like? Well, so far, they’re awesome. They have a sense of humor. Halfway through the change logs for the current beta was text to the effect of “I’m trapped under a giant stack of patch notes, please help!” The invitations to the current beta informed us that “those riftspawn said some pretty rude things about all your moms.” During the last beta, one of the GMs sent out a server message saying “Your $15 subscription fee can feed a starving developer for an entire month. Please, subscribe generously.” This weekend, we were informed that in addition to the previously announced prizes (such as a nice video card) being given out, there was also to be a date with production manager Scott Hislastname and his very sexy English accent, “right after we ask his wife”. Later, they announced that because none of us had been able to crash their servers, the prize of the date with Scott was being given to his wife.

They’re also pretty responsive. One of the traditional clashes in MMOs is conflicts between PvE players, who mostly want to be allowed to go about their questing and fighting, and PvP players, who want to fight other players, and who will usually try to provoke such fights if none are on offer, often by killing all the guards, quest givers, and merchants in a given area repeatedly until players get involved. Thing is, if you just make the guards a lot tougher, one of the core game features goes away — that invasions of monsters can temporarily eliminate a settlement. Much debating ensued in the forums.

So this week’s beta saw a new change; guards are now much more powerful only against player characters. Monster invasions can still wipe them out, but players will find it much harder. There’s some hitches with this (on servers more oriented towards PvP play, this sort of undermines intended mechanics), but it’s a very good solution for the majority of players. Between this and the option of disabling auto-flagging, the RIFT developers have given PvE players more consideration in the last month than Blizzard gave us in the last six or seven years. That’s a pretty big deal, to me.

If you have played and liked basically any fantasy MMO ever, you should probably give RIFT a close look. They’re doing preorders and such now, complete with bonus loot for people who buy the “collector’s edition”. Just one caveat, the forums and game are a little on the obnoxious side during beta. In the future, an active account will be required to post on the forums (or play in the game), and things will clean up. That said, by “a little on the obnoxious side” I really do just mean “a little”. It’s orders of magnitude friendlier and more mature than the WoW forums and game have been at any point in the last five years.

Peter Seebach

Comment [4]

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I think the need for an Internet "kill switch" is now clear

(Personal, Politics)

2011-02-03 17:59
Comment

Thanks to recent events in Egypt, I think it’s now clear why the American government desperately needs an Internet “kill switch” available.

Up until now, if the President wanted to be thrown out of office, he really had to work for it. There was no way he could clearly indicate that he was totally unfit for any kind of power without having to actually do some kind of damage. The Internet kill switch could be a way for the President to clearly indicate his total unsuitability for any kind of government office, allowing a clean and efficient transfer of power.

Some people might argue that the harm of shutting down the Internet would be catastrophic. Yes, yes it would. But that’s okay, because we don’t need to actually allow the President to shut off the Internet. We can just give him a shiny red button that says “Internet kill switch”, and if you press it it sends email to all the major networks saying the President wants to resign but is too cowardly to, and it’s time to throw him out.

This would be a nice way to streamline a core part of the democratic process, and I hope to see it implemented soon.

Peter Seebach

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