Current Affairs

Presented Without Comment

George Mortimer Pullman (March 3, 1831 – October 19, 1897) was an American inventor and industrialist. He is known as the inventor of the Pullman sleeping car, and for violently suppressing striking workers in the company town he created, Pullman. [Wikipedia]

How much did the workers hate Pullman? When he died, they had to bury his body in a steel and concrete vault, which was itself buried under a few tons of concrete. Why? Because – and we’re not making this up – they were afraid that employees would dig up and beat the shit out of his corpse, otherwise. []

After an emotional sunset funeral, [Michael] Jackson’s coffin will be immediately encased in deep concrete to deter grave robbers [The Mirror]


Computer Games

Champions Online

I’m currently playing the Open Beta for Champions Online, the new game from the studio that made City of Heroes, my MMO-crack of choice.

I’ve been playing CoH since before it came out in the UK (17th of September 2004, says the archive of everything) and, apart from a gap around 2006 when I stopped playing it for a while, I’ve had a subscription for most of that time (50 months, since I got a floaty healy thing a little while ago). I beta tested City of Villains.

City of Heroes was made by Cryptic Studios, published by NCSoft. Cryptic Studios then started making Marvel Universe Online, Published by Microsoft. Cryptic then sold City of Heroes to NCSoft lock, stock and barrel, including 90% of the dev team (Less the original lead designer, Jack Emmert) and shortly afterwards announced that Microsoft had ditched MUO (due to “inability to compete in the marketplace” (by which they meant “won’t beat WOW”)). Less than a week later, Cryptic announced, from the ashes of MUO, Champions Online, based on the tabletop RPG system which they had, in turn, bought up. (It would be published by 2k Games, except that soon after that Atari bought up Cryptic Studios, mainly for the Star Trek MMO they’re also working on).

All of this is a very roundabout way of saying that this is City of Heroes 2.

Of course, it isn’t. It’s patently Champions Online. It says so on the box. The worlds are different, the systems are different. Many things are different, not only from City of Heroes, but from any other MMO currently out there. Mostly, if you draw out a box with “World Of Warcraft Mechanics” on one side, and “City of Heroes Mechanics” on the other, CO falls somewhere down the middle.

The combat is actually original, which is nice. You still have the concept of “Health” and “Power” (mana/stamina/whatever) and your little one to eight boxes at the bottom with corresponding number keys, but there’s no actual cooldown. At the start you’ll get two powers – I did with my sourcerer, and I’m told it’s generally universal – one that does very little damage, and one that does a lot. The one that does very little damage actually increases your power when you use it, and the one that does a lot you hold down the button for as much power as you want to use (a-la Worms, Scorched Earth or Wii Golf) and let go. That’s the first new thing, which changes MMO combat quite a lot. The second is that if you see an enemy about to shoot, or a projectile coming towards you, press shift to enter block mode. You can’t fire in block mode, but your power regens.

The closest thing I can equate it to is Tabula Rasa’s combat, only without the annoying UI problems or targetting (it’s still “tab to target, face anywhere”).

Second thing is you get a travel power when you leave the tutorial. Full travel power, full speed. Fly, superjump, flameing flight, tunneling, web-slinging. Whatever. The only time you’ll have to walk across a battlefield is a) fighting things, or b) escorts.

Third: No different servers. If there are too many heroes in a zone, it spawns off another copy, and when you change zones you can choose which one you get (much like CoH), but it’s all one server.

Four: No unique names. Your full name, as appears in chat by default, is character@username. The name above your head is Character. You could have an entire supergroup full of identical heroes called Bob, if you like.

There’s another shot at invention-style crafting, and the ability to mix and match any power from any set is really nice.

It still feels like City of Heroes 2, some of the mistakes are new, some are old, but it’s all very familier. Zone-level monsters which spawn after X of creature Y are defeated, “Contacts” who give you missions, people shouting your name as you walk by, the menu structure and progress. While they’ve migrated to the WoW-style “I have an exclaimation over my head, I have a quest!” system (CoH favours a tree of available contacts, who introduce you to their friends), the mission briefings are the same style. One of City of Heroes’ main departures from standard MMO lines was that every mission was instanced, meaning you never had to wait around while the big bad evil respawned, but you never got the feeling there was anybody else in the world. Champions goes the other way, with almost every mission in the global world. There are also “inline instance” missions, for want of a better term, where you’ll enter an area and suddenly have a mission to help with this big event that’s about to kick off.

Missions vary though Kill X, Interact with X, Find Y, Escort X. After the tutorial – an instanced zone taking you though roughly the first five levels – you go to another mass instance before entering the game proper, which works well and introduces you to the world and systems nicely, providing you read the screeds of text it throws at you.

The landscape looks pretty. I’m not a massive fan of the character design – and I am really quite happy you can turn off the horrible “draw thick black lines around every feature” “comic-style” graphics option, which I had to do because the game really doesn’t like my system specs very much.

In general I find CO to be a spiritual successor to City of Heroes, though one without the body of work and creativity of the other. It’s something of a shame they compete so much. Ultimately, I see it as City of Heroes with five years hindsight and a different licence. The main distinguishing thing for a lot of people will be the more active combat system, which you will only find out if you like by trying it.

On that, you’ve got until Wednesday to sign up and play the open beta.

I should work out if I’m actually going to buy the full game or not. I’m currently not sure.

social web development

In which Aquarion has no idea who you are

Yesterday I had a flatwarming. It was great and stuff, and there was alcocustard, and mead, and cake. I think it went well. Today we went to Forbidden Planet and I accidentally an art shop, then we went to a pub with a tree inside it for food, then some people went home and other people went to collect cars and meet at the pub later. I went back to the flat, so as to as to recover my cope before heading to the pub to socialise again.

(People are great, I like people. I need gaps of no-people between lots-of-people).

So I’m sitting in our flat at my computer, the view behind it over the football fields of Hackney Downs, and I check Google Reader with some trepidation, as I’ve not done so for a couple of days. The flat is silent save for the whirr of the server fans, all is quiet, all is peace. There’s a message on the screen.

“One new person is following you”

For a short amount of time, the terminology of our new Social Internet hits me at the wrong angle. They’re following me? Why? How did they get my address? I can’t hear them. Are they in the flat?

A click, and Google Reader illucidates slightly:

“Paul is following you”

That’s it.

Who, exactly, is Paul?

The profile image doesn’t inspire confidence, and there are no further details. Either they don’t have a Google Profile to click though to, or Google Reader doesn’t click though to it.

“Paul is following you”

This isn’t a unique problem. I keep getting mails from twitter saying “$foo is following you” (You’d think with all these people following me I’d be able to see them. Perhaps milling around while I’m in the flat or something) without any way to connect $foo with an identifier I could actually recognise.

“Paul is following you”

A bit of digging (though the Google Reader Sharing Settings Page, of all places) gave me the google account ID of my followers, which was a little better. (If you’re interested in finding out who I am where, check Project Walrus.

In conclusion, profiles on social networks do actually serve a purpose: They allow your stalkees to identify you. This means you, Paul.


Ascii Fail Whale

This is why you should use twirssi
This is why you should use twirssi

Our flat looking like a bomb site

While wandering around the net yesterday, I tripped over this video. This video is of a building being incompetantly demolished.

Coincidentally, it’s the tower next to the one I currently live in. It’s really quite weird to watch something that looks like your house being blown up.


New Flat Adventures, Season Three Episode Three

There is a Very Loud Noise. Someone is driving a piledriver though your skull. There is a tribe of pigmy gnomes playing “Smooth Criminal” using your head as a xylophone. Good morning player, you have scored 0 out of a maximum 120 points for today.

> Look

It is dark. There is no light. There is a loud noise.

> Open eyes

It is not dark. There is too much light. Your eyes are pierced on the rays of the sun like vision-kebabs. There is a loud noise.

[Bedroom. From the bed]

You are in a very bright room, domainated by an unmade bed which you are laying on, and partially in. To your left is an ALARM CLOCK on a table.

> Turn off alarm clock

The ALARM CLOCK is not ringing.

> Up


You are in a very bright room, domainated by an unmade bed. On a table is an ALARM CLOCK. Beside the bed is a PILE OF CLOTHES. The PILE OF CLOTHES is making a loud noise.

> Pick up clothes

You are holding the CLOTHES

> Wear clothes

You are wearing the CLOTHES. You have: a set of KEYS, an IPHONE, a WALLET and NO TEA. The IPHONE is making a loud noise.

> Examine iPhone.

7th July: iSmash by scribbletaylor, on Flickr/a
7th July: iSmash by scribbletaylor, on Flickr

The IPHONE is alarming. These are the reasons it is alarming: (a) It is making a loud noise in order to awaken you. (b) There is a spiderweb crack centred halfway down the left hand side, stretching across the entire screen.

> Silence iPhone.

The IPHONE is now 50% less alarming.

In that the IPHONE is still BROKEN.

> Go to Carphone Warehouse

You are in a shop. There are laminate wooden floors, lots of technology, and a HELPFUL PERSON.

> Show iPhone to Helpful Person

“Am I supposed to be impressed?”

> Give give iPhone to Helpful Person




> Wait

Time passes. The Helpful Person gives you a replacement PHONE.

> Examine phone

It’s got fifteen buttons, a small screen, and is brown and beige. It is not an IPHONE.

> 🙁

Well, you shouldn’t have broken it then.

> Wait.

Time passes. The Helpful Person sits down and sings about gold.

> Wait for three weeks.

Time passes slowly without an iPhone. The colour is removed from your world. You have no games to play, no internet to muck around on, even twitter loses its shine. Your world is a drab place, you are looking at your shoes. What do you do?

> I press the button again.

No! Forget about the button, you are looking at your shoes.

> I buy a new pair of… hang on, this is the wrong sketch. Also, I’ve borrowed an N95 from Ciaran, so I do have internet and twitter.

You have NO IPHONE.

> Noted.

The HELPFUL PERSON gives you a replacement iPhone.

> Install Sim

You install the Sim. You have an iPhone again.

> Turn on iPhone, listen to music.

The IPHONE won’t work until you connect it to ITUNES.

> How long until I can go home?


> Wait

You wait.

Time passes.


Citylink are not useful to me

(I’ve maintained escaped quotes from the email, because I think this is funny)

Dear Nicholas Avenell,

Many thanks for using our website for your customer service query. We are currently replying to all queries within 2 business days, please bear with us while we process your query.

A new eNote, number 1081442, has been raised, which reads:

Citylink have been foiled by a gate with an intercom on the pillar.

They’ve tried to deliver this three times in four days, each time have “left a card”, which I’ve never recieved. Collecting from their depot will take five hours I don’t have.

Since delivering things to my office means I have to lug it home manually on the bus, I can no longer order anything of any great size from you until you stop using Citylink, or at least provide a paid option to use someone else instead.

I’ve lived in places with a good Citylink service. I’ve had a good service from you for the last eight and half years, but your continued use of Citylink without another option is now a major factor against you. I was relying on the delivery of the hard drive over the weekend, and ended up having to spend 33% more for the same model at somewhere within walking distance.

You’ll be receiving the order contents back as soon as Citylink stop holding it for a collection I’ll never make.

You can view this eNote via our website here :[REDACTED]