Last night, before tossing and turning for a good three hours, I finally finished George R.R. Martin's "A Game of Thrones." I'd been nibbling my way through the book -- a 900-page tome -- since late May, so I was understandably thrilled to see its final page, as well as its wildly out-of-place ad for the "A Game of Thrones" collectible card game. But AGoT's only the beginning of a planned seven-part series that began in 1996. Needless to say, AGoT's sequel has been on shelves, Amazon, and wherever else books are sold since before my age had taken on a second digit, and because AGoT ended on a huge cliffhanger, I nabbed the second book from my local Borders with all the subtlety a frothing nerd could muster, clasping it in my hands with a grip that bystanders described as "air-tight."
However, if I'd voraciously devoured AGoT back in '96, I'm fairly sure my satisfied smile would've flipped upside down. The final chapter felt like a build to the climax, but then -- as though it was a badly planned rollercoaster -- the story just ended, leaving readers dangling for roughly two years. (Yeah, the bad kind of rollercoaster.)
Obviously, literature isn't the only medium that backhands its users this way. Games, too, have a habit of rolling out large, red, inappropriately timed stop signs just when things are getting good. Even worse, development cycles now pack double the staff and take twice as long to complete compared to only a few years ago. Looks like the wait between sequels will only grow more arduous before it tapers off.
So, what's the least satisfying game ending you've ever come across? How did you react? Did you pen an angry email? Boycott the sequel?
This installment of the Roundup features the successor to a top-notch game with an abysmal ending, a peek behind the scenes of a controversial game that's attempting to tell a titanic, cliffhanger-laden tale, and so much more. See the stunning conclusion after the break.
Not very long ago, in a land not at all far away, there was a little company called Blueport. It held the copyright on a piece of software that the US Air Force liked using for logistics. Blueport protected its software with a time bomb—a bit of code that made the software self-destruct when the license expired. That date was approaching, and Blueport wanted to negotiate a new license with the USAF—and you know, get paid.
Instead, it got a bit of the ol’ shock and awe. The Air Force not only didn’t pay up, it paid big contractor SAIC ($2.5 million in lobbying in 2007) to reverse engineer Blueport’s program and disable the time bomb. The Air Force also paid SAIC to rewrite the program, and by rewrite I mean simply cut and paste any of the original code that seemed useful.
Some Linux users are getting a feel for what it's like to be one of the Windows faithful, as the open source community looks to be under siege. The U.S. Computer Emergency Readiness Team (CERT) has issued a warning for "active attacks" against Linux-based infrastructures using compromised SSH keys.
Specifics remain scarce, but the attacks appear to use stolen SSH keys to gain access to a system, after which time the attacker uses local kernel exploits to gain root access and install a rootkit called phalanx2.
"Phalanx2 appears to be a derivative of an older rootkit named "phalanx". Phalanx2 and the support scripts within the rootkit, are configured to systematically steal SSH keys from the compromised system. These SSH keys are sent to the attackers, who then use them to try to compromise other sites and other systems of interest at the attacked site."
The US-CERT has outlined ways Linux users can reduce the risk of attack, as well as what steps should be taken if a compromise is already confirmed.
"Gordon Freeman is a menace to society. When he's not bludgeoning our men with cars and annihilating our demolition teams with their own ordinances, he's white-washing their corpses with paint and treating wild, endangered headcrabs like lowly mammalian bulls. Sure, we enslaved his species and all, but does he have to be such a jerk about it? He toys with us as though this were some sort of game, and we won't stand for it."
--An excerpt from The Combine Times, the final Combine paper to include anything other than obituaries.
--Gordon Freeman's reply
Yeah, Gordon Freeman isn't the most loquacious guy around. He speaks through his actions -- or rather, your actions. But that's what makes him great. He's a videogame character under your direct control. He fights like you, so why shouldn't he think like you?
As you've probably noticed, my particular Gordon Freeman is, well, have you ever imagined what it'd be like if one of the loud-mouthed, rap-prone kids on Xbox Live was tasked with saving all of humanity (and managing a classy goatee)? Am I like that in real life? No, but slipping into the hazard suit of a silent protagonist like Gordon Freeman allows me to project a side of myself into the game that hardly even exists in reality. I'm not constrained by any pre-set personality the man might have, so my imagination washes over the game, and it becomes a whole new experience.
Sure, I enjoy having the tightly braided engagement-lasso of a compelling, whip-smart lead wrapped around my neck as much as anyone, but I also think that such a lead doesn't lend him/herself well to gaming's main strength: interactivity.
So, how do you like your protagonist: strong and silent with a side of whatever you want, or glib -- fried up and delivered just as the developers ordered?
Today's Roundup features heroes of both varieties, along with a smattering of other stories about your favorite industry. From details about WoW's colossal (and free!) pre-WotLK update, to exclusive titles' death knells, there's no way you'll leave this Roundup without something to talk about. Jump past the break for more.
Life is full of shortcuts. Whether it's using connections to briskly bound up the corporate ladder, pumping out a term paper with the help of a less-than-legit online service, or simply cutting through the gas station instead of waiting for the stop light, there's always an easy way out. But no matter how much weight walking the path of least resistance may lift from your wearied shoulders, a nagging voice -- whether in your mind or from the mouth of an onlooker -- will tell you that you're cheating. "Everyone else worked to get where they are. Why can't you?" the voice asks. "You're doing it wrong, and you're only hurting yourself."
Videogames are, of course, loaded with such shortcuts, cheats, and "teh haxxors." And when a gamer admits to kicking their feet up and punching in the ol' Konami code, they're met with derision. "Wimp, wuss, lame" and the ever so fashionable "The developer didn't intend you to experience the game that way" readily come to mind.
Really though, is cheating that bad?
One of the most fascinating aspects of gaming is discovery. Games allow us to traverse fantastical worlds totally unlike our own, yet arguably with more tangible obstacles to keep us from seeing the sights. (Is "living for 21 years" a tangible obstacle?) For someone who can't play a game without hurriedly glancing at their watch every few minutes, cheats seem like the solution -- not the problem. Why drop two hours against a single foe when you can see more of the game world instead?
Frankly, I don't think a game's developers will begrudge you for it, either. You put money in their pockets and you're deriving enjoyment from the world they crafted. It may not be the straightforward, A-to-B path they wanted you to stroll down, but it's still an experience. And isn't that what games are about -- creating "stories" through our unique experiences?
So, do you approve of cheating? Have you been known to crack open the dev console and enter a few choice phrases, or will you sooner rage-quit a game than enter a code for a pithy 20 extra hit points?
Today's Roundup features the only variety of cheating about which I'll really hoot and holler, but that doesn't seem to hinder its unbridled success. Additionally, you'll find a couple of big-name game delays, and a discussion about how games compel us to keep playing. It's all after the break.
According to speculation, the ban came after a popular pro-Tibetan album, Songs for Peace, went on sale on iTunes on August 8. On Friday, Apple acknowledged the sudden unavailability of iTunes in China and said that it was investigating the matter. However, it is not known whether or not access to iTunes has been resumed there.
There was always a disconcerting political undertone to the Beijing Olympic Games besides a few controversies in the middle. Nevertheless, it was a great show with some scintillating performances by some of the world’s best sportspersons. I choose to be apolitical but you are free to voice your unbridled opinions in the comments section.
Intel’s CTO, Justin Rattner, delivered a pretty phantasmagoric keynote at the IDF in San Francisco. Invariably most keynotes by tech honchos are about future technologies. But Rattner just didn’t concern himself with the imminent future – the Nehalems and Larrabees - but he allowed his imagination take unbridled flight. He pictured what the world might be like in 2050, where computers would be smarter than us frizzled, frayed Homo sapiens.
“There is speculation that we may be approaching an inflection point where the rate of technology advancements is accelerating at an exponential rate, and machines could even overtake humans in their ability to reason, in the not so distant future,” Rattner said.
Rattner even demonstrated a couple of personal robot prototypes, which employ razor-sharp sensing technologies, though only crude precursors to the “2050 machines”. The first robot – a robotic arm actually - was equipped with electric field pre-touch technology that allows it to sense objects before even touching them. And, just for your knowledge, fish are bestowed with this capability. The second robot is capable of recognizing faces and performing simple tasks as commanded.
Join Nathan Grayson in His "Free From WoW for a Whole Year" Bash!
August 22, 2008 (Dallas, Texas) -- Nathan Grayson, a Maximum PC freelancer and unanimously-voted "snappy dresser," has, on this day, officially avoided Blizzard's World of Warcraft MMORPG for an entire year.
"It's been great finally living life on my own terms," said Nathan, flashing a gloriously bright smile. "To mark the occasion, I'll be canceling my WoW subscription tomorrow. What? Oh sure, I could do it today, but, uh, tomorrow for sure. No problem."
To be sure, the journey from his luxurious armchair into the comforting grip of real life wasn't an easy one.
"Oh, it's been a wild ride," he quipped. "On cold, lonely nights, my mind used to slip back into Azeroth, and I'd dream of raids, epics -- legendaries, even! But it's been, er, I've -- I mean, whew. Anyone have a PC handy? I, uh, just need to check on some things. Sure, I'll follow the cue cards again afterwards."
Nathan Grayson's soul is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Blizzard Entertainment, Inc. (www.blizzard.com, NASDAQ: ATVID). Nathan is a great guy -- single, too. Really, he's one in approximately 10 million. Among other things, he's well known for posing the following question: Have you ever found your claws locked into your keyboard, signifying your irrevocable addiction to a game? Sound off in the comments section. Passers-by don't really know what to make of it.
He also runs Maximum PC's Gaming Roundup, available every week day. Peep today's edition for all of the latest World of Warcraft: Wrath of the Lich King news and info. Oh, there's some other stuff too -- something about how suing file-sharers is a bad idea -- but that's not really important. The phony PR-speak ends after the break.
3DFX changed the gaming landscape forever when it brought 3D graphics to the masses, and in a similar fashion, ray tracing technology looks to be the next big revolution on the horizon. The promise of photo realistic scenery has provoked both developers and gamers, but is real-time ray tracing in games anywhere close to being a reality?
In an interview with Tom's Hardware, Intel's Daniel Pohl talked about the API Intel is using to showcase ray tracing demos and what he thinks needs to happen before the technology will be ready for commercial development.
"Creating higher image quality even faster. That requires smart anti-aliasing algorithms, a level of detail mechanism without switching artifacts, particle systems that also work in reflections, a fast soft shadowing algorithm, adoption to upcoming hardware architectures. We have some topics to keep us busy," said Pohl.
In the case of ray tracing, it's a matter of the hardware needing to catch up with the software. Pohl and his team of ray tracing researchers have been "targeting future architectures that consists out of tens, hundreds, and even thousands of cores," noting an almost linear scaling of frame rates with the number of processor cores.
Intel isn't the only one looking to push ray tracing technology into the mainstream, with Nvidia putting on demonstrations of its own. Here's hoping the race to the finish line ends up resembling more of a sprint than a marathon.
DreamWorks Animation and Intel announced at IDF that, beginning next year, films under the DreamWorks banner will all be in next-gen 3D. Last month, the studio had announced that it was going to replace its AMD hardware with Intel’s future chips with multi-processing cores. Now it has been confirmed that Intel’s upcoming Larrabee (codename) graphics chip will form the crux of the partnership. The two partners even unveiled a 3-D movie image brand called InTru 3D. The technology is also targeted at the video games industry and the internet. AMD has also been touting its Cinema 2.0 tech that it claims will pulverize the wall between movies and games.