Keyboard and Mouse Hygiene: Surviving the Workplace Jungle

Hygiene.  The second greatest achievement of humankind.  Cake is vastly superior however and shall remain the greatest of the divinely inspired gifts for all time.  This is not debatable.

Okay, those previous statements are over-exaggeratedly hyperbolic, but hygiene is important.  However, the moment a keyboard or mouse are introduced into someone's life, their prior respectable standards of cleanliness disappear.  It immediately becomes a surface to butter your toast on, collect all the crumbs from your meals at your desk, and catch the boogers you're skillfully prying from your schnoz.  The wretched hive of scum and villainy that Obi-wan was talking about was not Mos Eisley, but actually your nasty keyboard.  Okay, he was actually talking about Mos Eisley, but allow me to help you prevent your keyboard from becoming as disgusting as said nefarious spaceport.

  1. Wash your hands.  Pretty easy right?  A surprising number of highly educated software developers just can't get their minds around this one.  Make a mental note of those people and avoid shaking their hands and using their keyboards at all costs.  It's also a great way to get the excess oil off of your hands so your keyboard won't wind up with that old keyboard shine.
  2. Get your finger out of your nose.  There must be something instinctual that triggers people to immediately start digging for gold when looking at powerpoint slides, but it's nasty and inexcusable.  If you ever see a keyboard with a random green globule on it do not walk or pass go, but run the other way immediately...
  3. Don't use your keyboard as a placemat.  Do you know how much bacteria is on there?  With your germ coated epidermis touching it all day the answer is a lot.  Like an 18 story parking garage lot size.  So don't help those microbes thrive by eating directly over it.  If you've got room in your cube, slide down a few feet and eat there instead.  If you don't have room in your cube, it's either time to ask for a promotion or look for a new job.
  4. Clean up the crusties.  Crusties are those dark but crunchy spots that occur when you drool on your keyboard because your monotonous manager turned a fifteen minute meeting into three hours (please just be slobber and not other bodily fluids people release while browsing the internet).  Please take the 30 seconds to get a slightly damp cloth to wipe them up.  If another person were every to touch your nasty human interface device the crusty may try to eat them.
  5. When it doubt, set it on fire.  A fantastic tenet to live by and most certainly applies to keyboards and mice in the workplace.  It's far easier to explain to your manager why your mouse is now a cute little plastic puddle than to explain to your insurance company how a keyboard devoured your left arm.  Requesting your supervisor purchase you a new device is another approach, it just lacks the grandeur that a modern office requires.

So there you have it, extremely simple steps to help you not catch Syphilis-of-the-keyboard or other human interface device transmitted infections (HIDTIs for all you stylish people with your fancy abbreviations).  Not only will you be healthier, but your coworkers will stop looking at you like your forgot your deodorant... You did remember your deodorant right?

Oh yeah, and that part about cake, that's all true.

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Gaming Lifestyle: Insulate or Incorporate?

There seem to have been a lot of "games are a total waste of my time so goodbye forever suckas" posts going up recently, so let me assure you right away that this is not one of those.  Games are and will remain my escape. I don't like TV, books are a bit overrated when the internet exists to assault the brain with information (slight exaggeration for argument's sake), and there's only so much you can do outside when it's below freezing.  Gaming is my preferred way to pass the time, blow off steam after possibly costing the company half a million dollars, or achieve something after a frustrating day in the office.  Yet for some reason, I expertly quarantine it from the rest of my life.
 
Keeping everyone except the most important insulated from my favorite recreation most likely comes from a fear of being judged.  Games are still the youngest medium out there and wildly misunderstood.  Sensationalists continue to label them as the cause of violence around the world.  World of Warcraft continues to grab headlines with horror stories of it causing divorce and child neglect.  There have even been stories of employers immediately rejecting candidates if they have anything to do with games.  With so much negative attention to the platform, identifying myself as one of the brainwashed, murdering psychopaths doesn't quite seem like the smartest play.
 
Yet this is my medium.  I've written games for myself and my siblings since I was 6 and continue to do so.  Heck, my career most likely grew out of writing those little games as a child.  Raptr tells me that I still play twelve to sixteen hours per week.  I spend $80 per month on my hobby even after getting married.  It's an important part of my life, why would I keep it secret?
 
Being married means I don't have to make outrageous statements like "I've never touched Bad Company 2, unlike your looser ex-boyfriend" anymore, yet I would still make a similar comment out of my embarrassment over the perception of games and gamer "culture."  Outside of potential future employers, there are not many people I need to impress for the rest of my life.  Again, why should I keep it so separate?
 
This all comes from my recent decision to create a Twitter account to follow peeps I'm interested in instead of going to all of the individual's feeds.  It then evolved into an aggregator for my own thoughts on gaming to distribute them among the sites I frequent.  It's only a matter of time before non-gaming friends find the account and start following me.  Yet I still feel like I should keep it all separate.
 
How integrated is gaming in your life?  Do you bring it up in casual conversation with non-gamers?  Do you update your Facebook posts with your gaming exploits?  Is your gaming habit an insulated or an incorporated part of your life? 

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Assassin's Creed 2 PC DRM or Reap What You Sew


 Piracy burned the Goos too.
PG gaming has long been heralded as dying as developers continue to flee the platform for the greener pastures of the console space.  An estimated 4.1 million pirated copies of Modern Warfare 2 was another nail in the platform's coffin, serving to continue discouraging PC development of AAA games.  Fuck, they were another 4.1 million nails in the coffin.  It's not limited to big games either, World of Goo had an estimated 90% piracy rate at one point.  Even the bold crusader against DRM- Brad Wardell of Stardock and Demigod- admitted that there were only 18,000 legitimate connections to their servers out of 120,000.  Those connections from pirated copies were one of the big factors in Demigod's terrible launch as they caused network problems.
 
The simple truth if you are one of those goody-two-shoes that actually gave your money to the publisher and developer for a PC title, you are the minority.  I see this trend even among my friends that have not abandoned the PC altogether.  Only two of five of us do not pirate single player games, and that's because the two of us that don't are software developers.  Some modern proverb about shitting and eating prevents us from going there.  We're all well into our careers, all of us making oddles above the average wage, yet piracy is still prevalent.
 
 You steal my game? I kill you!
Today's report and subsequent outrage from sites like Rock, Paper, Shotgun over the extremely harsh Assassin's Creed 2 DRM has me more pissed than a 1 year old's diaper.  Basically Ubisoft is making the game phone home every few minutes and if it cannot connect you get dumped back to the menu.  That's right, you will loose your progress since your last checkpoint save if it cannot call home because of a router problem, toddler chewing on your ethernet cord, foreign espionage agent jamming your wireless signal, or even if a cosmic ray strikes a transmission line and flips a bit.  Of course, there's also a reconnect button, and the real reason behind this is that your game's state is saved on the Ubi's cloud, but let's avoid those oh-so-damning points for sake of indulging these freak-out artists.
 
PC gamers have no right to be pissed about this for two reasons: it is not unlike the PC's current most popular title and we more than deserve it.
 
The most popular PC game possibly of all time requires constant internet access, and this has not been such a big deal.  It has consistantly been in the top three titles played on GiantBomb and is always in the top 5 on Raptr.  This bizarre phenomenon that must exclude tons of gamers without internet connections is known to laymen as World of Warcraft.  If WoW can be that successful, there is no excuse for another title- even a single player one- not requiring an internet connection.

 That night elf style's good for something.
While it is a valid point that there is not 1-to-1 correlation between games pirated and a lost sale, there is certainly some correlation.  Regardless, attempting to argue from this point is akin to saying "they were not going to buy this car no matter what the manufacturer did, so why not let them steal it?"   Clearly the person pirating the game was interested enough in it to waste the time downloading the torrent, patch it, and get it up and running.  There had to be some interest there for the thief to get this far.  Is it now the publisher and developer's fault for not tapping into that interest?
 
There's always the argument that Brad Wardell champions while adding DRM through Stardock: if you remove DRM and focus on the customer experience instead, the end result will be more sales.  Well, Ubisoft already tried that with Prince of Persia on the PC and it didn't fare so well.  Again, there are likely more factors impacting this flop of a console port, but the real point here is that the DRM-free approach did not benefit Ubisoft enough for them to be able to justify continuing down the DRM-free road.  You could argue that they released PoP DRM-free only to justify this new despotic approach at a future date, but if there had not been the piracy, it would have been much more difficult for them to justify it and to take the steam cloud approach (allow local saves if you fail to connect to the cloud) instead.
 
In the end, I don't care what your attempts at justifying conceptual theft are or your faux consumer advocacy; PC gamers deserve the DRM.  When a farmer has bugs attack his crop, reducing his potential yield, he applies pesticide (or if he's organic, breeds bugs that eat the bugs that are eating his plants).  Demanding publishers not do the same thing and actively try to prevent protective measures (DRM or otherwise) will only continue to make the PC the forgotten platform just as the farmer would we wiped out without some kind of pest control.
 
So please, tell me why I'm wrong.  Is piracy not really that bad?  Is it more important to the growth of the medium that people experience games instead of people making a profit making games?  Am I the overreacting drama queen instead of the patsies at Rock, Paper, Shotgun?
 
Note: GB editor totally freaked out, so I'm going to have to edit this post... darnit.
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raptr and the Future of Social Gaming

For those of you who are not aware, raptr (available conveniently at raptr.com) is a mash-up of various forms of internet communication, xfire, and GiantBomb's achievement system (though not as interesting) with some web 2.0 principles attached. It combines instant messenger systems much like how Pidgin combines them into a single client. Additionally the client tracks game playing while the user's individual raptr web page mines for players achievements (unfortunately PS3 achievement mining is broken until Sony can get a better handle on scalable hardware). It can also hook up to Facebook and Twitter-like services to broadcast what the user is currently playing.  It's a very interesting push into the future of social networking and gaming and as an example, here is my own:

  

The next big coming change to social gaming is coming from the next update to Xbox Live, bringing Twitter and Facebook integration.  While PS3 users will correctly argue that they already have Facebook and Twitter on their systems via the built-in web browser, it is not integrated to the core of the system as it will be in the Live update.  From what I've seen, it allows you to do things like find friends who may also be hiding their secret 360 love affair as well as walk through people's profiles and pictures with a controller instead of a mouse.  (Pro Tip:  You can hook up a USB keyboard to your 360 for typing stuff and keep it around for the same thing on your PS3).

In the end, I question the effectiveness of the these two to create a better online community.  I haven't met a single person through raptr yet, and while the Facebook stuff on the 360 will reveal a few more people who I can hop on Live with, I strongly doubt that either will foster the same sense of community as a forum or blog site.  It is the lack of commitment required to use these services that will hold them back.  In either a forum or blog, you are committing at a minimum some of your time and more likely some of your personality (unless it's NeoGAF) that increases the risk/reward to keep you coming back much like actual friendship at a greatly reduced level.  These same things will not be provided by either raptr or Facebook on Live.

I don't mean to dog either of these services as they are great tools, but I do question their significance and lasting appeal.  For me, the best part of raptr is that it tracks the amount of time I'm spending playing games to help with accountability, and as stated previously I'm sure I'll pick up a few extra friends on Live because of the Facebook integration.  But neither tool can currently be used adequately to foster the same sense of community that a simple forum or blog site can provide.

So where does social gaming go from here?  Can there ever be an integrator of gaming or are individual games' community sites the way to go? Are "core" games already socially behind the times because of Facebook games? Is community even important or relevant to gaming? What are your thoughts?

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Sacred 2: The Best Worst Game You’ve Ever Played

  Sacred 2 is huge.

It's beyond huge.  It's essentially 5 or 6 World of Warcraft zones stitched together seamlessly.  There are a seemingly endless number of side quests that you can perform and you can even do all of this with friends.  It will probably take you three hundred (yes, a three and two zeroes) hours to complete if you want to do everything between the two different campaign types.  

The problem is that none of the content is interesting or even fun.

Combat is fairly bland.  On harder difficulties the closeness of death can be a motivator, but there's no real punishment for death besides loosing a chance at an achievement.  There are too few abilities and cooldowns between their use are excessive.  The side quests have boring non-spoken dialogue and fall under the classic three RPG types.  If you do read the text, it can even be boringly derivative.  For example, in one town there are four side quests all related to weddings.

I destroy this game to make the following point using hyperbole.  If you believe that the length of game is important to the quality of the title, then this is the game for you.  That's $.20 per hour of play, incredibly cheap compared to Call of Duty 4 with it's price of entry of $10 per hour.  Basically, if the length of the game is important to you, this is your game of the century.  

Of course the problem is that there is more excitement and fun in 5 minutes of CoD4 that the entirety of Sacred 2.  In fact, Sacred 2 winds up being complete inert to me, I have no reaction whatsoever to it.  It's about as fun as plucking your eyebrows or doing laundry.  But if you think that the length of the game is important, then certainly Sacred 2 is your game of the year.

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Should we feel sorry for Tim Schafer?

 It's no big secret that Tim Schafer has always had a slightly tragic side to his games.  Grim Fandango and Psychonauts are two of the great adventure games of all time, but you probably didn't play them (if you did, good for you).
 
Now Brutal Legend is up against Uncharted 2, the game that Jesus descended from the heavens to produce glorious reviews only to ascend again and whip the gaming populace into a frenzy.  No matter how much marketing EA throws behind the title, it ain't going to get the same buzz amongst the "enthusiast" gamers.
 
So should we feel sorry for Timmy?

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Remote Control Sniping with your Console Controller

360 UAV Sniper Controls
From: Popular Mechanics

You've practiced for a year on CoD4, now do it in real life.

The Army is currently testing a new form of sniper, currently dubbed the Autonomous Rotorcraft Sniper System (ARSS). It is an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle that is basically a little helicopter with a nasty turret mounted on the side. The interesting thing about this new UAV is that both the flight and aiming are controlled with a modified Xbox 360 controller, hopefully changed so that the analog sticks don't stick after a few hours of use.

So what do you think, is the precision of the 360 controller enough to be able to snipe hostiles in an urban environment? Should they be using WASD-mouse controls instead? Or will they need to add some aim-assist functionality to the aiming software?

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Brief Bits of HAWX

At my future brother-in-laws place I got to spend some time with HAWX and was surprisingly impressed.  While the combat was extremely arcade-ish, it was also very enjoyable.  Though it's been a few months since I played Ace Combat 6 last, I feel it compares quite favorably.  Instead of a convoluted story-line with goofy cinematics that make about as much sense as planes made out of badger fur, HAWX uses the Tom Clancy's license well to create an interesting story.  Definitely picking it up off Amazon soon.

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Mid-April Gaming Update

X3: Reunion continues to be my main squeeze and I think I figured out why. When trying to describe the game to a friend, I realized that the addictive factor is not that the game is outrageously fun. The thing that keeps bringing me back is that the game is rewarding. There are things to accomplish and my goal-oriented American heart wants them badly. In essence, it applies the parts of MMO’s that I find addictive in a non-multiplayer fashion. For me, fantastic.

However, I’m not about to recommend this game to many of my friends. It’s clearly a niche title. After almost six days of play time, I have my little merchant empire and am currently building some military might to begin trying to stop some heads throughout the galaxy, but it’s taken a lot of work to get to this point.

On a side note, I found this personality breakdown of gamers to be extremely interesting and I think it’s done about as good as I’ve ever seen.  There are still a few people that I cannot fit into there such as my fiancee.  She passionately loves Zuma.  However, that same love has never spread to other puzzle games.  She can sit there and play it- and do rather well- while carrying on a conversation.  It is an amazing scene to behold.

I’m also finally getting close to caught up on my podcast listening, currently still a week behind on the “big two”.  The Giant Bomb GDC shows were pretty damn fantastic, but I feel like Listen Up was not up to its usual high standard.  It just wasn't Garnett's Goddamned show.

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Another Baseless "Games Aren't Art" Article

Just in case you missed the absurdity and want to help some crazed movie critic with his click numbers, check this link out. His argument is so flawed that I do not even know where to begin.

Let's just stick to this ridiculous point in his article: why movies are art. After claiming that games aren't art because they're basically movies that require you to push buttons to advance the narrative, he claims that it is editing that makes movies an art form. Pause for you to laugh. Back with me yet?

Here's the deal.  With his article, you could replace Games with Cinema, Cinema with Novels, and Editing with Writing and his flawed logic would still hold up proving that movies aren't art because of books.  If games aren't art, then neither are movies.

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