8-bit Tunes And Why We Are Chasing Them

If you have a similar blog roll as I have, if your RSS feed features a lot of people like Syp or Syl, then you inadvertently have run across a lot of post that showcase the authors’ favorite game music tunes. Have you ever noticed how a lot of them seem to be from the “good olden days” of 8 or 16 bits? Why is that?

Undeniably, sound quality has gotten better over the years. Most games these days have full symphony orchestras at their disposal. So why is it that those primitive tunes are stuck in our head?

The Nostalgia Hypothesis

One plausible argument is that it’s simply music from when we were younger, and that nostalgia is playing a trick on us. While the music is objectively worse, we hold it in high regard because it subconsciously reminds us of our childhood or youth.

That is an interesting point, but in my opinion, it’s completely wrong, bollocks, utter shite, patronizing, selling that music short. Yes, game music these days has a lot more budget – and with it choices – at its disposal, but, in a way, that’s what makes it less memorable. It’s just too similar to film music.

The Uniqueness Revelation

In my opinion, there are two reasons that make this game music from the 80ies and early 90ies so memorable. Both of them have to do with the technological limits of the time.

One is that music was not saved as PCM file. That was way too large, from a data perspective. Instead, what you published with the game was a rough description that you fed into a synthesizer. Even today, you can find a niche mod tracker scene that keeps alive this concept. This meant that you were severely limited in what you could play, typically to maybe 4 notes at the same time (8 notes if you were lucky), and “notes” in that respect included percussion and sound effects in the game. (Hint if you don’t know much about music: you need three notes to even produce the major/minor chord that has been the fundamental basis of western musical harmony for at least 400 years.) This limitation leads to a focus on the fundamental melody. In contrast, a lot of film music diffuses into a barely tangible wash of harmonies that never seem to go anywhere and melts in your hand like rancid pudding; blame Wagner and what came after him for that (yes, I loathe Wagner; different topic). 8-bit melodies are great because they never lose their focus, because they can’t afford to.

However, that’s not even the most memorable thing about that music. If you listen to contemporary game music, especially big-budget, it’s almost indistinguishable from big film music. That’s not entirely a good thing, though. Except for very avant-garde 70ies music, the sound of 80ies and early 90ies consoles and other computers was completely unique: even 80ies synth music was different. In a way, the sound chips of that era, while they often tried to emulate existing instruments, created a completely new sound space, virtual instruments that had never been there before.

In that way, that early game music is some sort of cultural heritage that is unique and only existed as state-of-the-art for that short moment in time, before technology caught up again. That it’s still, maybe more than ever, cited in low-budget indy games, is a testament to its uniqueness.

[EVE] Unintended Consequences and Unfortunate Timing

So, CCP rolled out Rubicon 1.3 for EVE Online this week. In totally unrelated news, the New Eden Open tournament is two weekends in. The finals will be this weekend. How do these two relate after all? Let me quote CCP Fozzie:

Currently there is a defect that causes the Crucifier to apply a 10% bonus per level to Tracking Disruptor optimal range and falloff disruption, rather than the correct 7.5% per level. This only affects the range disruption effects, not the tracking disruption.

There is also a defect that causes tracking disruptor scripts to not affect the falloff disruption values of Tracking Disruptor modules. This means that a Tracking Disruptor will always reduce target falloff by the same amount no matter what script is loaded.

The fix for these bugs will not be ready to apply to TQ until Monday [...].

I’m not deep enough in the know to judge whether that’s a big thing or not, but it sounds like one. For a highly-trained character (and I assume that’s what all tournament pilots are), the Crucifier temporarily boasts a 50% bonus instead of 37.5%, or 6km additional optimal range, and 3km falloff. That sounds like quite a bit, and can potentially change the power of certain group compositions that the finalists might have planned to bring.

I know CCP likes to handwave problems as “unintended consequences”, to the point where by now that phrase has become their version of Blizzard’s “working as intended”. But instead of dropping a major upgrade in the middle of tournament that thousands of people follow on live-streaming, wouldn’t it have made sense to delay it for a couple of days?

Instant-85s in EQ: But which to choose?

That didn’t come as a huge surprise. After EQ2, SOE is now also rolling out “Heroic” Characters for EQ with the following properties: “level 85 with a full complement of gear, Alternative Advancement Abilities, and a unique mount.”

OK, so the details are still a bit fuzzy: what quality does the gear have, how many AA do you get? Though, truth to be told, I don’t think that matters much to me. EQ was a game that I never get around to playing in its heyday. I’ve tried Project 1999 before, but I think I stopped around level 5. I blame it on being distracted by a squirrel or something.

However, just like with EQ2, for a limited time, you can get your instant level 85 for free. That’s a price I’m willing to accept. It would be nice to have a high-level character. I don’t think I’ll get around to level it much, but I could use it for sightseeing. Run around low-level zones, check out old raids, things like that.

The problem, of course, is: what to choose? There are so many classes! I guess, in the end, it doesn’t matter too much if all I want to do is travel around and look at things. But that has never stopped me from fretting about the choices.

Maybe an enchanter? I like the idea of the class (it was my Project 1999 class, after all), and they get spells to lull/pacify enemies. That might be useful if I screw up.

Or a druid? Traveling spells, like a wizard, but also evac. That’s not only useful for getting out of bad situations. I imagine it might also be great to get out of dungeons fast after I explored them.

What about a magician or necromancer? If I end up wanting to level the character, I’d probably be served best by a certified soloing class. Then again, I don’t think it’s very likely that this will happen. Plus, neither are all that great for groups, or so I heard. And the only reason to level from 85 to cap, solo or not, is to play in groups at some point, right? Besides, they’re both pet classes, and I’m not a huge pet class fan. (On the other hand, high-level enchanters are probably even more extreme pet classes with charms that can break at the worst time.)

I’ve also been thinking about a bard. I tried one on the Fippy Darkpaw time-locked server when it was opened. But other than the fact that I like the concept of bard classes in games, I don’t see anything especially appealing that would make a bard a great explorer. Except run speed, I guess, but with mounts around, I wonder how much that even matters.

Then there are all the other classes I don’t know anything about. Maybe one of those would make a good choice, too.

Hm. Can anybody with EQ experience give some suggestions?

Why I didn’t play EVE at launch

It seems everybody I know is ill at the moment. In contrast to my typical behavior when it comes to games and hardware (I’m typically a late adopter), I was ahead of everybody this time. I was ill all of last week and half-ill this week, which I’ll blame the lack of posts on this time. Because I need something to put the blame on this time around, right?

Anyway, Ripard asks whether his readers would have played EVE Online at launch in 2003. I like that question, because it is not at all hypothetical to me. I actually tried out EVE at launch. (Or maybe shortly afterwards. Must’ve been before Castor released in December of 2003 because I remember rumors in chat about T2 ships.) I tried it, and was turned away fast.

Ripard names a couple of things that weren’t in the game at launch and that are considered fundamental pieces of EVE these days: war-decs, POSes, capitals, T2 ships, a mature player market. None of the these turned me away from the game, though.

No, the thing that made me boggle and leave after just a few sessions was… seriously, you develop a game about fighting and trading in space… a game like Privateer, an online game like Jumpgate, just grander… and I can’t fly my spaceship?

Most EVE players probably don’t think about this any more when they log in, but at that time, it felt utterly ridiculous to me that “flying” your spaceship meant choosing targets from a list and hitting a button. That system surely was designed by someone who sucked at even the most basic flight simulators! I wanted to use first-person view out of my cockpit, and my joystick! In a way, all flying in EVE is autopilot-based. “Manual” flying means clicking somewhere in space and hoping the ship will fly in vaguely that direction. All normal flying is based on choosing a target and a command (approach, orbit, warp to).

I mean, how strange is that? At that point, I came from trying out Jumpgate, which annoyed me for other reasons (which I have mostly forgotten). A spaceship game which didn’t allow you to actually fly your spaceship seemed like the weirdest idea to me. Surely, only crazy Icelanders who had too much rotten shark could’ve come up with such an idea? That would never fly! (1 Euro in the pun jar, yes yes…) The game would crash and burn and nobody would remember it in 5 years!

Yeah, I’m obviously great at predictions.

Anyway, that’s why I didn’t play EVE when it was released. If EVE were to be released for the first time today, I still wouldn’t. Only playing this weird “space simulator” which really isn’t one made me think that such a concept might work, after all.

Authenticators! How Do They Work?

Have you ever used one of those authenticator thingies that have become popular over the last few years? The ones that add an additional password to your account when you log in, a random 6-to-8 digit number that changes every 30 seconds or so? I sure hope you have, because those things add an additional layer of security to your account that can be very helpful to ward off account stealing attempts.

But have you ever wondered how they actually work? When I looked around for some information on the more technical details when I wrote my last post, I realized that there isn’t a lot of easily available and understandable information around. Or at least I couldn’t find it. When you search for “how does the blizzard authenticator work”, for example, you get a lot of results that explain to you how to use it (buy/download, attach to your account, additional passcode field shows up when you log in), but no information of how the authenticators themselves work. he closest I got was this article on WoWWiki, which itself doesn’t cite any sources. You can also find some technical information of how SecurID works, which (as far as I know) all the key fob style authenticators are modeled after. T But that information is probably not an easy read for someone without any background in cryptography.

I don’t think that’s a good state of affairs, because people should have a chance to at least roughly understand how their security technology works. That way, authenticators are less of a voodoo black box, you can understand what actually makes those authenticators secure, and most importantly perhaps, you can make an informed decision whether you’d rather use the key fob style or the smartphone app style.

So, since I couldn’t find any explanation of the technical workings of authenticators, explained on a basic level, I decided to write my own. Now, I have to add an important disclaimer to this post:

  1. I’m a computer scientist. I hope I broke down the information in a way that makes it accessible to non-computer scientists. If you don’t understand an explanation, please tell me, and I’ll try to fix it.
  2. While I’m a computer scientist, I’m not a cryptography or security expert. I hope I didn’t get any of the details wrong, or put them the wrong way. If you are an expert and can show that I presented something wrongly, please tell me, and I’ll try to fix it.
  3. Most technical information that’s the basis of this explanation was pieced together from sources on the Internet. For a few details, I even used reasonable guesses. Again, if you know better than me and can show that I got something wrong, please tell me, and I’ll try to fix it.

Definitions (a.k.a., the boring part)

Let’s first run through a few short definitions. I’ll use them later on, and I’ll make this part short and hopefully easy to understand. The links lead to wikipedia for people who want to dig deeper.

Algorithm: The exact definition is much deeper and quite philosophical, but for this text, you can think of it as “a piece of computer code that calculates a result from some given input”.
One-way function: A one-way function is an algorithm that transforms an input into an output, with calculations that are easy enough to run very fast. However, the opposite is not true: given the output, it’s extremely hard (and practically impossible) to calculate the input. Like a one-way street, you can only go in one direction, but not the other. This is very useful for some types of encryption or authentication.
Pseudorandom number generator (PRNG): Computers suck at being random. They are built to calculate, and to produce the same output for the same input every time. True randomness is actually a very hard problem. Radioactive decay is considered a true random process, but for obvious reasons, people aren’t too keen on putting a plutonium reservoir into their PCs. The next best thing are PRNGs: they produce output that looks random, but isn’t really: they’re just algorithms that take a single number (a seed) as input, and from that produce one or a sequence of numbers that look sufficiently random (as defined by probability theory, but we’ll leave that to the mathematicians). Given the same seed, a PRNG will always produce the same sequence of numbers. We’ll see why this can be useful.
Cryptographically secure PRNG: It’s simply a PRNG that fulfills some extra requirements. In easy terms, an attacker who looks at a sequence of numbers from a PRNG must not have a chance to deduce any information that could lead to the PRNG’s seed.
Public-key cryptography is one of the wonders of modern encryption. It used to be that an encryption key was a shared secret between two parties. You used a key to encrypt your data, and you needed the same key to reverse the encryption. That had the huge problem that you needed to get the key to the other party securely by some means, because whoever learned the key could decrypt your communication. Public-key cryptography uses two keys, a public one that you can tell everybody, which is only good for encrypting data. To decrypt the data again, you need a private key which you keep confidential. This works by using certain one-way functions. This means you get out of the key distribution problem, because you can distribute public keys and still have encrypted communication.

OK, I promise that was the hardest past. Now on to pretty pictures! I’ll use different colors to denote different keys used in the authentication process. Obviously, they’re not really colored, but it’s maybe easier to keep track if each key has an assigned color.

Key fob style authenticators

authenticator-scaledSo you have an authenticator. It has a button, a display, and a battery. It also has a pretty picture on the front.


blizzard-authenticator-backThe back looks less interesting, but has a very important piece of information: the serial number. (Mine has become partly unreadable over the years. This is bad.)


authenticator-keyApart from a microcontroller (the kind of computer that runs your washing machines, dishwashers, etc.), the key fob also contains a battery, a battery-buffered clock, and a key, that is, a piece of secret data that is used to calculate the numbers that appear when you push the button. This key is unique to this key fob: no other produced authenticator shares this key. This is the “secret sauce” that makes your authenticator work: if anybody ever was able to extract the key from the fob, they could create the same one-time passwords, and log into your account. Thankfully, those key fobs are very sturdy, and extraction is extremely complicated, expensive, and very much destructive to the device.


blizzard-masterkeyBlizzard holds a special master key. This master key was used to create all keys in all fobs (of a specific production run; there are good chances that Blizzard changes them from run to run). To create each fob key, the master key is combined with a number via a one-way function. And that number? That’s the S/N on the back of your authenticator.

To register your authenticator with Blizzard, you log in and enter the serial number on the back of your authenticator. Blizzard takes that serial number, combines it with the master key and computes your fob key. It then puts that key information with the rest of your account information. Now you both have a copy of that key. We’re almost done!

register-keyfob

Note something very nifty: The secret key was never sent over your Internet connection, or entered on your keyboard. That way, if your computer is compromised by spyware, or someone is eavesdropping your connection, they don’t learn anything useful. They know your authenticator’s serial number, but to create your one-time passwords, they’d need the (silver) key. But to calculate that from your S/N, they would need Blizzard’s (golden) master key! And that one is stowed away as securely as possible. If an attacker managed to get their hands on that one, all authenticators would suddenly be vulnerable. Then again, if they got that, you’d probably be screwed anyway, because chances are they also made away with your main password as well as credit card and other sensitive information.

Now what if we want to authenticate? We have a key, but if we simply use that as input to a pseudorandom number generator (cryptographically secure or not), we will only ever get one password: same input, same output. Not very secure, is it? That’s where the battery-buffered clock in the authenticator comes in. Instead of simply using the key as the input, the key is combined with the current date and time, and that is used as input. Your authenticator knows what time it is, Blizzard knows what time it is. As long as they agree on that time, both will calculate the same result, which to an outsider looks like random gibberish and doesn’t give any information about the key that was used.

keyfob-authenticate

This has the nice side effect that each authenticator passcode is only valid for a short amount of time. That prevents an attacker from eavesdropping and recording the password, or pushing the button and recording the output when you aren’t looking, and using the authenticator code later on when they got a hold of your main password. Incidentally, the clock is also the reason those key fobs are pretty much broken beyond repair once the battery runs out: even if you could exchange the battery, there is no way to set the time after power is restored. Server and authenticator are out of sync and won’t produce the same numbers any more.

Mobile Authenticators

Those key fobs have a couple of downsides. First, you have to pay for them, while the mobile authenticator is a free download from Google’s or Apple’s app store. Second, you have to order the key fob and then wait until it arrives at your door via snail mail, while you could use the mobile authenticator within a couple of minutes. Third, if you need to access your account from outside home, you have to remember to take your key fob with you, while you’re probably carrying around your phone anyway.

So you decide to use the mobile authenticator. How does that work? How is it different from the key fob?

mobile_authenticator_keysThe different (and most complicated) part is the initial setup. Since you download the app from Google’s or Apple’s app store, every version of the app is the same. It doesn’t contain a unique secret key like the key fob does. What it does come with though, is a public key from Blizzard (golden). Remember that such keys that consist of a pair of public and private key are special: Blizzard can safely tell everybody public key and still keep its corresponding private key secret. Also note that this “golden” key is not the same as the “golden” key in the key fob explanation. I’m sorry if that is confusing, but I ran out of cool colors, and what says coolness more than gold?

Anyway, in addition to Blizzard’s public key that was provided, the app creates a random “session key” (red) when it is started for the first time. After that, it will connect to the Blizzard server to create a key just like the secret key that resides inside the key fob. To do this, it uses the session key, encrypts it with Blizzard’s public key, and sends the encrypted session key to Blizzard. (This is denoted by the red key in a golden box.)

mobile_authenticator_session_key_exchange

Blizzard decrypts the session key with its private key. Note that nobody else can get the red key out of the golden box: the public key is only good for “locking the box”, so to speak, not for unlocking it. Now both sides have the (red) session key and can use it to talk to each other securely. Blizzard now creates a secret key, just like the (silver) one that resides in a key fob. It encrypts that key with the session key, and sends that to you (silver key in a red box).

mobile_authenticator_secret_key_exchange

Since your authenticator also knows the red key, it can decrypt the secret key. Voila! Now both Blizzard and your authenticator know the secret (silver) key. Setup is over, the red key isn’t needed any more and thrown away, and the day-to-day authentication works exactly the same as with the key fob authenticator:

mobile-authenticate

You don’t even need any Internet connection while you’re creating authentication codes. All you need is a reasonably accurate clock. If your phone gets out of sync for whatever reason (which it typically shouldn’t, if your phone network provides time information), the authenticator has a button to resynchronize to Blizzard’s servers. Synchronization, of course, requires an Internet connection.

Threats

So let’s look at a couple of threat scenarios, and which type of authenticator fares better in each.

Attacker taps my Internet connection: during normal operation, all the attacker can learn that way are the short-term passwords. If they already know your normal password and are very fast, you’re screwed in both cases. If they don’t, there’s nothing to learn for them: the 6-to-8-digit passwords do not provide any useful information about your secret key. The main difference is that the mobile authenticator doesn’t come with a pre-installed secret key, so it needs the key exchange described above to get it. You’ll note that the red session key is created “randomly”. Now, as I said, true randomness is hard to achieve for computers. So there is some theoretical risk if an attacker could figure out how your phone’s random number generator was initialized, and therefore could figure out what session key (red) you created. Then, the attacker could eavesdrop on your connection, capture Blizzard’s response, and decrypt the (silver) secret key with the guessed session key. Winner: both are secure, key fob has the edge.

Attacker learns my secret key: With a key fob, this is pretty much impossible. Getting to know your secret key involves opening your device and doing some serious hardware hacking. At the very least, you’d notice it immediately after it’s done, because an attacker would have to break it open. With a mobile authenticator, this is much easier: the attacker would have to (get you to) install some spyware on your phone that reads your secret key and sends it to them. Winner: key fob.

Losing / breaking your phone / fob: During the initial setup of the mobile authenticator, the app shows you a recovery key that you are supposed to keep in a very secure place. If you ever lose your phone or need to reinstall the app, you can use that key create a replacement authenticator. With your key fob, if you lose or break it, you’re out of luck. Off to Blizzard’s phone line you go. Have some government-issued ID or similar documents ready to mail them to unlock your account. Winner: mobile authenticator.

Attacker steals or “borrows” phone / fob: Like all other attacks, this only gives the attacker a chance to compromise your account if they also know your main password. If an attacker gets physical access to your authenticator, you’ve pretty much lost the fight. With a fob, the attacker can immediately log into your account and, for example, detach your fob and attach another authenticator, locking you out. With a phone, a screen lock might delay an attacker, but those things are not very secure. Winner: you are screwed regardless, mobile has the edge.

Attacker “persuades” you: That’s up to you. It’s your decision how much of your health your account is worth to you…

Yeah, not even a Thunderfury is worth going through that. [source: xkcd.com]

Yeah, not even a Thunderfury is worth going through that. [source: xkcd]

To summarize, the tradeoff is a pretty classical one between security and convenience. The key fob is the more secure device, but if you lose or break it, you can expect a lot more work (and time!) until you get access to your account again. On the other hand, the mobile authenticator’s most glaring risk is that the secret key can be stolen by spyware, which should not be underestimated. Mobile phones are not that secure, after all. But if something happens to your phone, you can use your recovery key to authenticate yourself from a replacement phone, which is both faster and a lot less hassle. Which one you chose is ultimately up to you.

Time to Get Rid of my Authenticator

Even though I haven’t played WoW in ages, I still have my authenticator on my key ring. My office key ring, to be exact. That might be weird, carrying it around at work, but it had something to do with load balancing. I hate large key rings, so I have several small ones. At the time I picked up my authenticator, I had recently gotten my office keys, and that key ring was still mostly empty. That’s also the reason I never removed the authenticator, even after I stopped playing: it gave the keys some extra weight and volume that made me feel less likely to forget or lose them (it has worked so far!). Naturally, after all these years, it’s become a bit worn:

I'll use the chance to show off my keyring.

I’ll use the chance to show off my key ring.

Note the nice electronic office key that says “I’m a computer scientist, I use doors that need almost a second of thinking time before you may turn the key after putting it into the lock!”. One second doesn’t sound like much, but try it… nobody waits that long before turning a key unless they have to. It’s surprisingly disruptive. Oh, and sometimes it doesn’t work at all and you need to pull it out, wait 5 seconds, then try again. There’s also a MacGuyveresque mini ballpoint pen in a tube on the key ring. Because you never have a pen when you need it (naturally, now that I do, I never have paper to write on). Also there’s a bottle opener. Nice during the day for the few soft drinks that come with crown caps and even better during the night for beer. We tend to work long enough in summer that we sometimes end the evening with a beer or two at work, on our terrace. Actually, sometimes we have one even before we’re done… Hey, it’s Germany! Besides, the opener was a promotional gift by Opera (the web browser developer). They got cheated by their supplier though, I think. Their logo and slogan (“opening the web”) wore off within weeks.

But back to the authenticator. It still works and the front doesn’t look too bad, either. However, the back makes me worry a bit more:

I think that number might've been important...

I think that number might’ve been important…

Removing a broken authenticator from your battle.net account seems to be an obscure work of black magic. At least processes how to do it seem to change over time. At some point, I’m pretty sure that code on the back side, which you needed when you registered the key fob, was also required to remove it again, or at least saved you a lot of hassle (there still must’ve been ways to deal with lost or broken authenticators). These days, it doesn’t seem to be strictly required any more, but if your authenticator breaks, it’s still a lengthy and annoying process to get rid of it on your account. Seeing how I haven’t logged into a Blizzard game in months, I don’t see much reason to keep it secured with this authenticator. In fact, at the moment, the risk of getting hacked worries me less than the risk of locking myself out of an account I might want to use again at some point in the future.

Speaking of authenticators, do they even still sell the key fobs? I couldn’t find them in the battle.net store. Is it all smartphone apps these days? I’m a bit paranoid about the Android one, not the least because I imagine it can spectacularly break (like other such apps) if for some reason you lose the random seed or need to reinstall. I also heard it goes all crazy and judgmental on you if you use it on a rooted phone. Most importantly, it feels a lot less secure than a stand-alone key fob. Finally: can the app manage more than one battle.net account at a time? I have two accounts, one for each side of the ocean, with different games bound to them. If I get around to them again, I’d prefer to have an authenticator that can manage both accounts.

Mea culpa

In late 2006, for the first time in almost 18 months, I looked around for other games again. WoW had enchanted me for longer than any other game, even more than Diablo II had done in its day. But the vanilla age slowly came to an end, and the resizing of raid forces led to an unsavory fallout in my first guild, which collapsed over the fights of whom to keep and whom to kick. An exceptionally long honeymoon was over.

It was in that situation that I came across a game which promised so many things and sounded like it could be all that WoW was to me, just better. Harder and more group content at all levels, huge continents to explore, no PvP (or none to speak of) to influence PvE balancing… and, what was that? A melee healer who healed through dealing damage? I was intrigued. Vanguard had caught my interest. Sure, I read how the game still had quite a few bugs and how you needed a high-end computer to run it well. But that didn’t worry me too much. My computer at that time was pretty decent, and bugs? Oh well, I had seen my share of bugs in WoW. It couldn’t be that bad, right?

I couldn’t get into the closed beta because I was too late for that, so I spent my time reading Silky Venom and some other community sites. The people were so excited! They couldn’t wait. And I couldn’t either. I decided that this game would be the next big thing. Maybe not as big as WoW; even back then, I didn’t trust the people who claimed it would be the legendary “WoW killer”. And why would it have to be? It would be for the “real MMO gamers”, like those that played Everquest back in the day, a game for people like the guys (and occasional girl) in my old guild who had told nostalgic stories of the good old days of MMO gaming. And after all, Vanguard was made by the same person who had designed Everquest! I preordered the collector’s edition.

Vanguard's Collector's Edition goodies: cloth map, sound track, art book, the whole lot. That box had been collecting dust on my shelf and not been opened for a couple of years by this point, I think.

Vanguard’s Collector’s Edition goodies: cloth map, sound track, art book, the whole lot. That box had been collecting dust on my shelf and not been opened for a couple of years by this point, I think.

Naturally, I was in for quite a shock. When I got my open beta access, I immediately rolled a Kurashasa disciple. But what was that? Instead of an open, free world, I was stuck in what looked like a gaudy space ship with faux gold applied everywhere! I mostly went through claustrophobic hallways and used teleporters to travel around. This was not what I had signed up for! From chat, I learned that this was just the starter zone, so I decided to ride it out. Sure enough, I eventually made it to the surface of Telon.

Wow! I was quite impressed by the scenery. It made me forget the weird equipment textures, where every piece of armor seemed to have been polished until it gleamed in the sun like a brass pitcher. Sadly, it didn’t make me forget the bugs. Oh, the bugs! Had I said earlier that WoW also had its share of them, so how bad could it be? Unplayable, that’s how bad it could be. The game crashed every hour or so. The camera angled around weirdly. NPCs were unreachable or completely missing.

I was a bit disappointed, I’ll admit. But I still thought all would be fine. Deadlines are for extending, not for keeping, right? They’d never release the game in that state, right?

… right.

Mea culpa

So I abandoned the game. I went back to WoW and bought The Burning Crusade. A bunch of people from my former guild had reformed, and I joined them. We thought we could pick up enough people on our way to 70 to raid. In the end, that wasn’t happening, the guild bled players, and I decided to call it quits. Vanguard beckoned.

By then, it was late spring, and the game was running a lot better. It only crashed about once a night or so. I played my disciple (or did I reroll one? can’t remember) until around level 20 or so. But I couldn’t help but notice that something was amiss. The awesome group content? It was almost inaccessible if there were no groups to be found. And those people who had not left the game by then (which is most of the people who had bought it) were already too high level to be in my content bracket. I loved my disciple to death, and if I found groups, I found healing with him one of the most fun things ever. Juggling offensive and defensive target, HoTting, direct heals, wipe saves with feign death and evac… it felt awesome. But I was tired of sitting around evening after evening waiting for the occasional group, wasting my time killing turtles for two minutes of fighting and 0.1% experience a pop.

Mea culpa

So I abandoned the game again. I went back to WoW again, and found an awesome guild who I’d play with until late WotLK. When that guild also succumbed to slow, but constant loss of players, it was Vanguard that I turned to first. I tried to like it. I still did. But the population situation had gone from bad to worse. It was even harder to find anybody to group with, and the game was plain painful going solo.

So I abandoned the game for a third time. I rerolled on a different WoW server (this time on the European side, so tabula rasa for me), found yet another guild, raided, had fun. Only I didn’t really. Just half a year later, I quit WoW for good (at least until now… never say never with MMOs). I started trying out lots of different MMOs and writing this blog.

Vanguard still beckoned, but this time, I remembered why I had left. I played other games. I told myself, “if only they could solve the population problems”. Game after game went F2P. Those events typically led to a huge influx of players into the game, though rarely for more than a short time. I realized, “hey, if they ever do that to Vanguard, you could go back and finally might be able to play the game you love the way it’s meant to be played!”. When they announced Vanguard’s move to F2P, I was looking forward to it.

Mea maxima culpa

The day came, the way went. I didn’t play Vanguard. I abandoned it again; this time, I didn’t even bother to try. Why? I think something newer and shinier caught my attention. In all fairness, TSW was an awesome game. It did a lot of stuff right, plus, at that time, I was just burned out on Fantasy MMOs.

Still, I feel like I let down the game that I had always been fascinated with. Maybe, the longer I didn’t play it, the more it became a canvas to project my ideas for a perfect game on. It’s probably the same with Vanguard as it is with EVE: it’s more fun to think or read about than to actually play. But I feel like I at least should have given it another chance back when it went F2P.

I’m not devastated, but I have this feeling in the back of my mind that a game that I loved is going to die, and I have to blame myself for that, because I never gave it the support it needed to survive. Maybe part of it is that, I just realized, this is the first MMO I played for more than a weekend that is going to shut down forever. Maybe that’s why I feel more strongly about it.

But I guess there always has to be a first time.

Talking To The Wind, or: When Comments Fail

It seems it’s always feast or famine with posts around here… though the current ones have more to do with the blog itself than with actual content.

Seems at some point in the recent past, Jetpack’s comment feature broke. Comments didn’t go through. I should’ve become suspicious when the number of spam comments went waaaay down. While I always updated the blog with the newest versions of software, I never realized that the coments had broken. I posted so little that I wasn’t surprised that there were no comments. I figured I was simply talking to the wind. I just noticed today when I went over a pre-migration checklist.

Long story short, I can’t figure out what the problem is, so at least for the time being, the standard comment form is active again. It doesn’t look nearly as spiffy, but at least it doesn’t eat all comments.

Of course, I might be talking to the wind anyway, but at least now, there is a chance for people to answer again!

Dual-Use Post

Two short bits of information:

Migration Period

No, not that migration period.

No, not that migration period.

First, the short-term one. I will have to move the server this blog resides on. If all goes well, it’ll happen this weekend. If not, some time later in the first half of February. You probably will see some hiccups, and the server might be unavailable for some time (for the tech-savvy people: that’s mostly because the IP will change and, sadly, I cannot influence the DNS caching times). It’ll be back.

Hibernation Period

Now for the medium-to-long term one. As you’ve noticed, my posting volume has gone way down. To be honest, and even though that makes me a bit sad, I fear that this won’t change for some time. I’m currently in the phase of writing down my dissertation for my PhD. It’s not quite going as I had hoped, but the effect on this blog is that, after spending most of my time writing proposals, papers, and (in the little time that remains) dissertation sections these days, I’m too tired of writing to write on this blog in my free time. I just want passive entertainment in the evenings. However, I’ve not given up on the blog yet. If I ever do that, I’ll let you know. For now, I’ll just write when I feel like it, because keeping a strict schedule will definitely sap the fun out of it. I still feel like eventually, I’ll get back to it.