Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Tales From Gaming : "L Is Real"


From Cyfir (Cyfiremmerich)

When I was growing up, we didn’t have the Internet. We spent much of our free time either outside or playing video games. For those who leaned more toward playing video games, there was probably no better time for the launch of the Nintendo 64. I spent hours in games like Super Mario 64 exploring every nook and cranny and trying to unlock everything that I could. When I finally did unlock everything, I set my sights to rumors that I heard about other unlockables in the game. One was that if you wall jumped just right outside in the corner of the castle, you could make it up to the roof without the need for unlocking the cannon. Failing that, I turned my sights to another rumor about Luigi being in the game. Apparently, in the back courtyard of the castle, there was a sign that seemed like it read “L is Real 2401” and many believed that this was proof that Luigi was somehow unlockable in the game.


In reality, this sign texture was just some random blurry texture asset that they even used in "The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time," and these rumors were just the result of bored youth trying to find anything to do with their time that they could. However, twenty four years later, it turns out that they were at least partially right about the Luigi rumor.

Thanks to a recent massive leak of assets from Nintendo, it was discovered that Luigi was indeed in the source code of the game. This was due to the fact that there were original plans for the game to be two player. But that was scrapped in development due to them not being able to decide how to do it and the technical abilities of the system at the time. Of course, he had not been compiled into the actual game, so there was no way to actually unlock him by playing the game normally. But hackers got to work on retrieving the polygon and texture assets from the character model.

And here he is.


L is real after all.

Cyfir

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

The Importance of Digital Media


By Cyfir (Cyfiremmerich Resident)

In my last article, I covered the importance of preserving physical media for future generations. If we got rid of all physical media in favor of going “all digital,” it could severely limit our ability to preserve works of art in the future. That being said, there are many advantages of digital media that do need to be covered in the interest of fairness.

One big advantage that digital media has over physical media is that you can often get it quicker. Instead of having to wait for it to show up in the mail or having to drive to the local store, all you have to do is purchase digital media with your credit or debit card online and download or stream it. With a pandemic going on, this obviously means that there is less risk to you or the person who has to deliver it to your house.

Obviously, being able to just download or stream media is more convenient. We live in a convenience society. We want things now, not later. We’re busy. Shaving off time anywhere we can is important to us. It’s more convenient to just start up your video game system and select the game you want to play from the menu rather than looking for the game on your shelf, opening the case, inserting the game, and waiting for it to load. Hell, we even eliminated the step of getting up to turn on your console. Most consoles today are able to be turned on with the included controller.

Economically, digital media is a great option, especially for independent companies and creators. Physical media can be cost prohibitive for independents to get published, physically produced, and shipped. It’s much cheaper to just put a game, movie, or song up on a digital storefront. That’s why you nearly only ever see video games from independent publishers on digital storefronts.

You would think that the environmental impact of digital media would be less than physical media. You don’t have to use environmental resources to manufacture digital content. You don’t have to load it on a truck, boat, and plane and burn a bunch of fossil fuels to get it to your local store or your house. However, the servers that digital media are stored on run on electricity. These servers have to be up and running day and night. The environmental impact that these servers have or totally dependent on where the companies running the servers get their electricity from. Many server farms run on renewable energy. Google in particular took many initiatives to get their electricity from renewable sources.

Digital media has many advantages, just like it has many disadvantages. I do not believe that digital media should ever fully replace physical media. It’s an option, though, and options are good.

Cyfir

Wednesday, July 15, 2020

Why Physical Media Is Still Important


By Cyfir

In this day and age, physical media is becoming a dying medium. Most media has gone mostly digital. When you think of getting the latest album from your favorite band, getting the latest PC game, or buying a new movie, there’s a huge chance that you don’t think about heading to your local mall anymore. Instead, you likely think about downloading a new song on a service like iTunes, downloading a new game on Steam, or streaming a movie on a service like Netflix or Vudu. One of the last vestiges of physical media has been console games. Every major home video game console save for one has shipped with a disc drive or cartridge or card (etc.) slot up until this point. The Xbox One S All Digital Edition was the first major video game console derivative to skip physical media. This holiday season, the PlayStation 5 will release along with it’s all digital counterpart. Many are predicting that this will be the last console generation with physical media, and with at least one major video game company reporting that 80% of their sales are now digital, I don’t doubt it.

With all that said, I still believe that physical media is still very important, and that’s because we’ve already seen the downfalls of going “all digital.” For one, what do you think happens once the service that you downloaded your media from goes away and you no longer have the hardware you downloaded it on? That’s right. It’s gone. You never owned a copy of it and you’ll never have access to it again unless you buy it again on another platform. If you don’t think that this happens, dust off your old Nintendo Wii and try to buy a game from the eShop. You can’t because it’s no longer there. If your internal memory on the Wii fails, all those games you spent money on downloading over the course of the console’s life cycle are now gone. For some, this may not be a big deal, but some games are only released on the online shops. For video game preservationists, this is a nightmare. There have been many instances of where an unreleased or rare game has been discovered in someone’s attic and preserved online for others to enjoy. Unfortunately, if everything were to go digital, this just wouldn’t be possible in the future.

While digital delivery has a place in preservation, there needs to be a physical copy found to preserve. While I’ve mainly focused on video games here, these same arguments can be applied to any form of media. We have backed up recordings of old VHS tapes on YouTube for anyone to find and enjoy. Some of these VHS tapes are rare and would not be accessible by the general public otherwise. The problem is that media companies, in many cases, are not concerned with preserving their own history. They are more concerned with making money because they are a business. The artists creating these works usually have no control over what happens to them because they work for the companies.

If all media were to go digital, there would be many things that would be lost to time forever. Imagine losing the works of Beethoven to time because no one had a physical copy of his written notes and the servers that they were stored on were taken offline and erased forever. While digital media definitely has its advantages, physical media shouldn’t be forgotten or abandoned. I’ve downloaded plenty of games to my steam library and on my Nintendo Switch, but when it comes to games that I really care about, I’m going to get it physically and display it proudly on my shelf. If there’s an album from a band that I really care about, I’m getting a physical CD and enjoying that new CD smell for as long as I can. Physical media cannot be completely replaced. When the PlayStation 5 comes out, I’m getting the one with the disc drive.

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(Click here for a video of the article)

Cyfir

Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Playstation 5 vs XBox Series X : Which is Better?


By Cyfir (Cyfiremmerich)

As with any major console launch reveal, there are competitors in the market. This coming console generation is no different. This is a good thing because competition makes for more innovation and better products for the consumer. However, only one console will inevitably be the clear winner for gaming fans. So the issue becomes which new console should you sink your hard earned money into or should you spend any money on either? Below, I will bring up the pros and cons of each system thus far. We are still waiting on a huge Xbox event sometime this coming month, but at this moment chips have been thrown on the table. It’s time to compare.

PlayStation 5

Even though Microsoft showed their hardware first. In my opinion, Sony came out of the gate swinging and hit a home run. Their streamed event did a lot to hype their new machine and software but it’s the fact that they waited, picked their time, built anticipation, and dropped a massive bomb shell that made everything click. For just a few moments, I forgot about all the bad things that have been going on in the world recently. One thing that Sony seemed to have this past generation was platform locked exclusives, and from what they showed, they’ll have plenty of those this time around. Like Microsoft, they took a very unconventional take on the look of their new console. This is due to the fact that these systems are much more powerful than previous generations, and thus will produce more heat. A flat rectangle under your TV isn’t going to cut it anymore. These systems are as powerful as a decent PC gaming rig. That said, when it comes to style, I have to give the nod to Sony. The system is much taller (or wider if put on it’s side) than Microsoft’s new system, but you can really tell that they hired a designer. I even joked on Facebook that I was getting a PS5 as a decorative piece for my living room. In contrast, in my opinion, Microsoft’s new machine is a boring flat looking tower. I also think that the accessories that were revealed for the PS5 fit into the whole aesthetic and ecosystem very well. They put a lot of thought into that and it shows. Style isn’t going to win a hardware race, but it’s nice when a system makes you gawk in awe. That said, the hardware itself seems to be a little weaker than the Series X, but Sony has promised a proprietary lightning fast Solid State Storage drive that will practically eliminate loading times and allow for much more open and massive worlds.

Xbox Series X

When Microsoft unveiled their new console at the 2019 game awards, it caught everyone by surprise. A few months later, they randomly revealed the inside of the console on YouTube through Austin Evan’s channel. The hardware itself is impressively engineered. Microsoft took a tower PC design approach and everything is cooled by one massive fan and a series of heat syncs. I do like that they were actually more than willing to show the internals of the console. I’m a hardware nerd and such things excite me. Microsoft also seems to have their own proprietary Solid State Drive for the Series X but rumors are that it’s slower than Sony’s offering. Otherwise, the Series X has more horsepower under the hood. This isn’t everything when it comes to game consoles. The original PlayStation was much less powerful than say the Nintendo 64 but it outsold everything during that generation. However, extra horsepower is nice. It’s certainly a big deal for the Xbox One X this generation as it can make multi-platform titles look much better than their PlayStation 4 counterparts. One thing that I am disappointed with from what I’ve seen about the Xbox Series X is the games. Aside from Halo Infinite, what they’ve talked about so far I’ve been able to find on the Steam storefront as coming soon. However, this could very well change in the coming weeks. Microsoft has taken a very different approach to Sony in that they don’t tend to care which product of theirs you’re using to play your games, whether it be Xbox, Xcloud, a toaster, as long as you’re making transactions. They are very service oriented. I get it. Why win a console race if you don’t have to? But honestly what is the reason so far for me to own another box that plays the same games? Please let me know in the coming weeks, Microsoft. So far, I’m leaning towards PlayStation 5.

Verdict?

While I may be leaning to Sony’s camp, that doesn’t mean that I’ve chosen a clear winner yet. The winner of every console generation will have the best software and higher user base that will have developers flocking to the platform to cash in. So far, with their exclusive titles and massive fan appeal, Sony is still winning this round, but that could all change with one reveal or one slipup. We still don’t even know the prices of these two machines yet. Microsoft is also rumored to reveal yet another console codenamed Project Lockheart that is rumored to be less powerful but play the same games at a much cheaper price. This could undercut Sony dramatically and entice gamers who may want performance at 1080p over 4K flashy graphics. We still have plenty of time to maul it over. One thing is for sure. The excitement of a new console generation is underway.

Cyfir

Monday, April 20, 2020

World of Warcraft: Quest For Vulpera


By Bixyl Shuftan

Some of my Second Life friends have been going at Warcraft lately. The objective: to go about the game as a foxy character: one of the Vulpera.

Clever and resourceful, the vulpera have survived amidst the harsh desert of Vol'dun for generations. Traveling in close-knit caravans, they watch out for each other as they scavenge supplies from across the dunes. Despite their small stature, they are fierce and cunning in battle, bringing down any enemy foolish enough to underestimate them. Now full-fledged members of the Horde, their wagons have left the sands in search of adventure.

The Vulpera are not a regular race that one can simply play from the start, but an "Allied Race." This means one has to unlock certain achievements to be able to play one. For the Vulpera, this means as a Horde character, doing several things. (1) Go to the continent of Zandalar to the desert of Vol'dun (which you'll be doing anyway as part of a couple quests), complete enough storylines to get the achievement "Secret in the Sands." (2) Unlocking World Quests by getting the three footholds in Kul Tiras in the Horde's War Campaign , reaching "Freindly" with all three major factions on Zandalar, and hitting Level 120 (this will change sometime in the future). (3) Do enough quests, to reach Exalted status with the Voldunai faction.

So many of my gaming friends, including some whom had been playing mostly Alliance Worgen, have been trying to get a Vulpera. This included some starting up a new Horde guild. Yours truly went ahead and started up a Demon Hunter character to get a head start in being able to try to get these achievements.  I finally got to the "Battle of Azeroth" level, which is the current version of the game, and the quests took me to the two continents the action takes place, Zandalar and Kul Tiras. With lots of gaming (and egging on by certain friends), I finally did steps one and two. Now comes the long haul, the grind of world quests to raise my status among the Voldunai from Friendly to Honored to Revered to Exalted.

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(Click here if the video fails to play)

I'm not sure how long it will take to finally be able to be foxy in Warcraft as well as in Second Life.  Only that it will probably be a while. They're not very big compared to some characters, about to my Tauren character's waist (or "anklebiters" as my friend Jasmine called them). But as most of us know, big surprises can come in small packages. I've seen a number of Vulpera shamans, mages, priests, rouges, and monks as player characters. Which one will I choose? I still have plenty of time to think on it.

To certain friends (you know who you are) don't worry, I'll eventually get there.

Bixyl Shuftan

Addition: It seems there's one more thing to do after you the things I mentioned, complete a questline for the final step

Friday, April 17, 2020

Video Game Collecting: Part 3 - Get Consoles For Cheap

By Cyfir (Cyfiremmerich Resident)

Counting duplicates and non-working units, I have 18 video game consoles. You may think that I paid at least a small fortune for this, but you would be wrong. The majority of my consoles I got for dirt cheap either because I either found a good deal or they were broken and I had to fix them myself. For instance, I got both my Xbox 360 and my original Xbox for $5 each because the local video game store was selling faulty units off for $5 a pop. I took them home and fixed them. Both of these systems go for over $100 a piece but taking advantage of an opportunity and learning some basic repair skills means that I saved big time.

Now you may be thinking to yourself: “I don’t have any repair skills so I can’t do this.” Well, you’d be surprised at how easy it is to learn. Video game console repair is actually one of the easiest repair hobbies you can get into. I promise that it is a TON easier than repairing a car. A good place to get started is watching YouTube repair videos. HAve a broken console laying around? Look up the fault on YouTube to see what others have done to repair it. For instance, if your PlayStation stopped reading discs, usually you’ll find a tutorial video or two on YouTube on how to fix the issue.

Some YouTube channels that I recommend are:

[My Mate VINCE] https://www.youtube.com/channel/UChY9Cgv-iyPDvf1Bkyx20OQ

[The Retro Future] https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCefAbzsWZE4uXU-mqQMrr4Q

[Retro Repairs] https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCclt_FYsR8R_fMFXOuUjFEA

[RetroManCave] https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCLEoyoOKZK0idGqSc6Pi23w

[TronicsFix] https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCfOrKQtC1tDfGf_fFVb8pYw

[Odd Tinkering] https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCf_suVrG2dA5BTjJhNLwthQ

[Mark Fixes Stuff] https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCwq5WetL2mkT3dmiVjwl-kA

[GadgetUK164] https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCRBWJ9JeJ3Q8ssn_ibii-Cg

[The Retro Station] https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCXlwzTU7Fl5vYjDrrQjUt6Q

From My Mate Vince
I would also do a Google search and do your research before you go off to eBay and other websites because you never know what issues you might run into. For instance, I recently found an Xbox One S with a smashed disc drive. With many other consoles, all you would have to do is swap out the disc drive for a new one. Many people would just do this on impulse if they didn’t know any better. With the Xbox One S, you either need to take the dotter board out of the disc drive and swap it to the new one or flash the new dotter board. The reason for this is because the disc drive is “married” to the console with Digital Rights Management software unique to each disc drive’s motherboard. Each one has a different key that corresponds with the console that it shipped with. If you just swapped out the disc drive normally, it wouldn’t work. Unfortunately, the dotter board in mine is broken in half and I have not found a way to flash a new drive without a professional repairing it so it sits in my closet for now. Thankfully, I didn’t have to pay anything for it and I can still use it for parts later on, but know what the issues are and what you can fix before you buy any broken console. 

If you do decide to take this adventure and relive your childhood video game consoles for cheap, I would recommend taking your time. Don’t get in over your head and cause a bigger problem. Be patient and be as gentle as possible. Many video game consoles are over 20 years old now and they’re made of brittle plastic that can scratch and crack. When replacing screws, always turn counter clockwise at first until you feel and hear the screw drop into the threads in the plastic, then turn clockwise. They’re old plastic threads and they’re prone to stripping. Be extremely gentle with any ribbon cables there are small electrical traces in them and if you bend them too much or pull too tight those traces will be severed and you’ll have to replace them. Also, be careful around any wires that are soldered directly to a circuit board. I once took apart a PlayStation controller and the weights that create the rumble effect when playing games popped out and ripped themselves off the board. I had to solder them back on. Thankfully, an easy fix!

From TronicsFix
You will obviously need tools to make repairs. Many tools you can find cheap or second hand for free and even if you do end up having to buy them  outright new they should pay for themselves over time if put to good use. You will need any and all screw bits and drivers that you can get your hands on. I lucked out and found a large stash of bits in a vacated apartment I was clearing out at work. You will also want to look for 3 types of specialty bits that are often used in Nintendo and Sega products known as security bits (also known as game bits and you’ll want both the 3.8mm and 4.5mm bits) and tri wing screwdrivers. You will also need a soldering iron, solder, flux, and either a desoldering pump or desoldering braid. I would watch tutorials on how to properly solder before you try it and be CAREFUL. It’s called an iron for a reason. It gets extremely hot! Don’t catch your pants on fire. You will also need tweezers for handling small cables and such. A multimeter is also a valuable tool for checking to see if any trace routes are broken or if a certain component is getting the electricity it needs. Also, make sure you have isopropyl alcohol (might be hard to find with the pandemic going on) of at least 91% and cotton swabs and a tooth brush for cleaning. Many old consoles are groody and many old game cartridges need their contacts cleaned to work properly. You’ll also need it to clean up left over flux when soldering.

This tip is so important that it gets its own paragraph. Do not, under any circumstance, touch any exposed internal or external power supplies unless you truly know that the capacitors are discharged. Even then, treat it as if it is live. Capacitors in power supplies can hold their charge long after the console has been turned off and unplugged. At the very least, you’ll get a good zap. At worst, you die. I honestly do not work on them. If a power supply turns out to be faulty I replace the whole thing. Better safe than sorry when working with high voltage you could always end up not repairing it correctly and it could end up burning your house down.

Finally, have fun. Aside from actually getting to play the video games, video game console repair can be a fun and rewarding hobby that will allow you to own video game consoles for cheap.

Cyfir

Monday, February 24, 2020

Top Stories of the 2010s: Linden Lab's "Shared Creative Spaces"


 By Bixyl Shuftan

This is the fifth of our series of some of the top stories of the 2010s. For part one, Click Here. For part two, Click Here. For part three, Click Here. For part four, Click Here

It's unusual for a business to rely on a single product, though it does happen, especially if that one product is highly successful. But what happens when that one product doesn't bring in the money it once did? There's also that practically every company dislikes having to rely on just one source of revenue as that leaves the business vulnerable. So even if a company starts out by selling one product that does very well at first, it will eventually diversify.

When Linden Lab started out, Second Life was it's one big focus. And after a few years it paid off handsomely as the virtual world was in it's golden age and it's active membership was many tens of thousands with many tens of thousands of sims of virtual land being paid for. But once SL was no longer the darling of the tech media, the people, and money, weren't coming in like they used to. In 2010, Linden Lab would see layoffs, their CEO calling it quits, and Philip Rosedale coming back as interim for several months then leaving again.

Finally in December 2010, Rod Humble would be hired as CEO. Linden Lab's official statement pf his hiring described him as having a “20-year career in the game development industry,” with “work on more than 200 games.” He was noted for his work on “The Sims,” but was also one of the staff for the online game “EverQuest,” which was the most popular MORPG before “World of Warcraft.” While Second Life continued to improve and develop under his watch, by late 2011 he had his eye on Linden Lab having more than just that, “we will be launching some completely different products next year not related to Second Life.”

It started in February 2012 when Linden Lab bought the game studio LittleTextPeople. Then in September, it launched two new products, Creatorverse and Patterns. Creatorverse was an iPad application that got compared to the app "Crayon Physics Deluxe." Patterns was described by critics as a knock-off of Minecraft, though one reviewer called it "dramatically different" in some ways. In January 2013, Linden Lab purchased Blocksworld. This was an iPad game described as "mix of Lego and Minecraft" that was clearly aimed at a younger audience. A few days later, it announced the release of "dio." Someone from the Lab thought the "shared creative space" could be used for personal pages, games, and more. Others who took a close look at it called it "more like a MUCK/MUD/MUSH with pictures than anything else." In February, Linden Lab released Versu, an interactive fiction application. In July, the Lab bought Desura, which was a game distribution service but unlike Steam concentrated on those from smaller "indie" companies and startups.

By now, Linden Lab was using a new slogan. "Your world, your imagination," had already ceased to be used for some time, at least by the Lab. But with the release of Patterns, a new one was being used: "At Linden Lab, we make shared creative spaces." The reaction from the residents was mixed. Some were optimistic these products would eventually make the Lab money, which in turn could be invested to improve Second Life. But others felt they were being "taxed" by way of part of their fees and tier going to pay for things they would never use instead of the money being used to maintain the Grid. By the time Linden Lab acquired Desura, some wondered if the Lab was just throwing random things at the wall and looking for what sticks instead of making an effort to encourage a fanbase to develop for these new products, "it seemed like they were snapping up promising creative gaming projects and hoping that one might magically blossom into the next Minecraft. But they've yet to demonstrate the follow-through that would be necessary to make that happen."

As it turned out, of these new products only Blocksworld would be a clear success. How much the others made, Linden Lab would never provide statistics. Eventually, Rod Humble would leave Linden Lab, and Ebbe Altberg would take his place as CEO in February 2014. Among the first things he did was take down Creatorverse, dio, and Versu later that month. In October, Linden Lab would end it's Patterns game. Next month in November, Linden Lab would sell Desura to Bad Juju Games. Of all the products bought up or made under Rod Humble, only Blocksworld, which was making good money, would remain.

It's unclear if Patterns and Desura would have succeeded had Linden Lab stuck with them, the latter shutting down when Bad Juju went bankrupt in June 2015. But for whatever reason the company leadership didn't believe they were worth the trouble. By this time, the Lab had already started work on it's next-generation virtual world, which would later get the name "Sansar." It may be the Lab had decided to focus on it's new product, hoping it would bring in plenty of money when operational, instead of these two products that weren't making much. In any event, Blocksworld, which is still available on Steam, remains all that's left of Linden Lab's short "Shared Creative Spaces" era.

Sansar would also turn out to be a disappointment, but that is another story.

Bixyl Shuftan