Thursday, February 26, 2009

Kindle 2

So I received my Kindle yesterday (Wed Feb 25 2009). I don't have a full unboxing photo set because I was too eager to get into the product and see how it works.

Purposefully I skipped over the Kindle when it came out for several reasons include cost of item, number of books available, and newness of product. I wanted to make sure that Amazon would stick by the Kindle, and I wanted to see what user opinion of the device was before I took the leap into digital ebooks. Now this definitely isn't the first time I have used ebooks, I have read ebooks on my computer, PDA (~2005), and more recently on my iPhone. So it wasn't a big jump for me to read ebooks instead of more traditional printed material.

Since I bought the phone for myself it actually came already linked to my account. When I turned on the device it automatically downloaded the one book I had ordered before the Kindle arrived and was ready definitely under a minute to be read (not that I was ready that quickly).

I would say the basic operation of the Kindle 2 is intuitive. I was able to turn it on, navigate to the book I purchased and start reading without ever having to crack open a manual. After stepping through a couple of pages to get a feel for the device I went back and started looking at the manual. Specifically I wanted to know: How to change font size (nice little button on the front for that), how to change the sleep wallpaper (not easy, there are hacks for it but not in the manual), how to upload pdf's (again various ways, but most likely won't use the 'amazon' way of doing it). Tried a couple of the tips and tricks from the Kindle v1 hacks I found, they didn't work (wanted to view the time by hitting alt-T while in reading mode, not do-able, but if you hit menu it'll show you the time).

Phsyically the kindle reading area is slightly smaller than a paperback, and if you have the font size any larger than the smallest setting you are going to be flipping a lot of 'next page' to get through a book, this isn't a problem but it is something to be aware of. The weight of the device is definitely heavier than a paperback. I would say not as bad as a good sized hard cover book.

Turning pages is still my biggest complaint even though it is quicker (by 20% if you listen to marketing) versus the Kindle v1. I had situations where I wanted to glance back over a paragraph a couple of pages before and was a little frustrated by the 7-10 seconds it took to get to where I wanted to be, and then another 3-4 to get back. This is in my opinion more of a perception issue than a usability. Flipping back to the 3-4 pages before and finding the right chapter in a book could take 5-20 seconds traditionally. On the kindle I would say it would be more like 10-45 seconds. Not a big difference but the time between page turns is a lot more apparent and makes you feel like you are waiting for the Kindle to catch up even if the time isn't that significant.

The Kindle gives you a nice progress meter at the bottom of the kindle to show how far into the book you are, currently I'm 28% through my first book.

I'll let everyone know with an update how I like it after fnishing a book.

Monday, February 02, 2009

Video Games and side quests

So I know I haven't posted here in a while, but I finally had a topic I felt needed to be discussed.

Recently have I played several single player RPG games and have noticed a trend that I do not approve of. First though, some background.

In online games like World of Warcraft, you spend hours and hours doing quests around the game to build your character up in levels and other achievable goals (items, money, etc) and this works for the model they are attempting for. Basically they want everyone to have enough content to take them from a beginning player to an experienced player, with a character that should should be ready for what is called the 'end game' content. This end game content is only truly accessable for a subset of the subscribers who are interested in a more complex gameplay that involves banding together with other players and coordinating vast epic battles. Whether you like this type of system or not all about personal preference but as of right now Blizzard and World of Warcraft is about the best it gets for this type of system. Here is a link to my main character on wowarmory to show that I at least have played.

Now this post is not about World of Warcraft or even online games. It is about the superfluous amount of side quests in today's role playing games. The biggest offender I can point to is Sacred 2 and we will start there.

With Sacred 2 as you are walking around the game, you will encounter many quest givers in the cities, at one point in time while in the capitol city I looked at my map and I have over 10 quest givers wanting me to come talk to them so I could go kill 10 goblins, or run this note to their uncle, or whatever other worthless little task they needed a seasoned adventurer for.

In Oblivion (or Fallout 3 since it has the same issue) one of the best games in recent years, you have a truly open world sandbox game as they are called. Once you get out of the starter game area through whatever hoops they have you jump through, suddenly you are left with a world to explore. Bethesda is kind enough to give you a big waypoint arrow that you can follow along your main quest, but besides for that you can go any direction you want. And in doing so you can encounter hundreds if not thousands of quests to make sure every child's cough if soothed with plants, or every lost pocket watch is returned. Again, why am I the HERO of this story, playing detective or cop for every last non-player character in this game? And as such, being the basically lazy and easily bored individual I am, I skipped most of this wonderfully crafted and wasted (on me) content. I think I completed fallout 3 in
  1. Make the main character important. Mass Effect for all of it's bugs and issues actually gave the main character a voice. It probably cost the developers a lot of money to voice act the male and female character options, but in my opinion 100% worth it. Give the players some choice, but still make the main character a person
  2. Write the story before you code the game. The goal of the game you create should be to tell a stellar story. I know if hollywood can only succeed 1/10 tries why should game development companies hope to do better, but if you don't try, you won't do better.
  3. If you ever find yourself adding a mechanic to the game, lets say a button mashing sequence where you have to hit the buttons in time to changes on the screen. And it has nothing to do with your game but should provide your players a 'challenge'. Stop coding, walk away and go become a farmer or something. Especially role playing gamers hate this stuff.
  4. Be careful of the same trap writers fall into, if over 30% of the words in your game are made up words, you probably should rethink your plan. It just sounds silly.
Now if you can actually craft a story and don't fall into the any of the traps mentioned above you could still fail unfortunately. It is almost like the stars have to come into alignment for a game to be perfect. The interface, the visuals, the sound, the acting, the character personalities, the challenges to overcome. All of those things have to mesh well, and be of sufficient quality to truly rate a stellar title. It sounds impossible, but I'll keep believing in the system and dreaming of the next game that just puts a smile on my face.

I don't know if I actually accomplished what I was trying to do in this post which was to identify how the issues with current role playing computer games can be fixed, but I gave it a shot. I hope to hear back from others on their take in this matter.

edit: Grammar/Spelling