Archive for April, 2007

Slaying the dragon

April 26th, 2007 — Wordman

A little part of my childhood was killed last week. The first magazine to which I subscribed, Dragon, will no longer be published as a magazine. It, along with Dungeon, rely on a license from Wizards of the Coast (WotC), which Wizards is evidently eliminating. My fond memories of pawing through the issues I got in the mail each month (from around #70 to #125) already took one blow, when I gave the issues to a fellow gamer during a move, content in the knowledge that I had PDF versions of them. Even though I haven’t read the magazine for years, its cancellation now makes me irrationally sad.

It is also the latest in a line of such cancellations, as Wizards appears to be attempting to pull all intellectual property rights back to itself. It chose not to renew the Dragonlance license to Weis & Hickman a couple of days ago as well. White Wolf reverted its license to Ravenloft last August. Even Code Monkey Publishing, who writes d20-related software, was refused an extension to their license last November. According to them, Wizards said this was “because of future product considerations”.

What this means is not clear. Comments from the soon-to-be-former publisher of Dragon indicate that both magazines will continue to be released electronically on the WotC site. It’s possible that Wizards is just trying to be the lone nexus of all D&D related information, much in the way that Steve Jackson Games is for their own games.

Reading the tea leaves more closely, however, suggests that Wizards, after opening the content of some of their Dungeons & Dragons product with the hugely popular Open Gaming License (OGL) and the d20 System, may be looking to close it again with their next edition. The d20 System radically altered the economic landscape of role-playing games, for better and worse, and serves as an interesting case study of open licensing in a real economy. I’m not much of a fan of the d20 system, but very much like the idea of open gaming. One interesting facet of this is that, while the OGL is not revocable, the d20 license is, which may be bad news for a lot of gaming publishers. Add to that the fact that much gaming content might not even be copyrightable, and it looks like the RPG economy is going to be shaken again in the near future.

While all this is happening, Shadowrun‘s license has been sold again. The new company is (ironically, if you know the game) based in Seattle, which puts them close to FASA Interactive, a Microsoft owned company that owns the electronic rights to the game, which they are using to make a multiplayer shooter video game to be released Real Soon Now. I’m not sure the proximity will be relevant, but could be interesting. It also implies that SR will probably have a Fifth Edition before too long, even though it is the same staff as it was under WizKids.

Regardless of what games you play though, dice will likely be getting more expensive. At I-CON, I talked with one of the guys at Chessex, one of the largest dice vendors around. All of their product is made in Germany (often using machines that no one builds anymore), so they are getting nailed by the Euro-dollar exchange rate. As of this writing, buying 100€ worth of goods costs about 136USD. At the start of 2006, this same 100€ worth of goods cost only 120USD. The Chessex guy claimed they’d been resisting passing this onto the customer, but couldn’t continue doing so. This will probably make feeding my dice addiction at least 13% more painful.

So, taking all this in, I suspect role-playing, economically anyway, will get worse before it gets better, and a lot of gaming companies (and probably retailers as well) are going to get nuked. At the same time, however, companies like Drive-Thru RPG, which sells watermarked (but non-DRM) versions of role-playing products in PDF format, seem to be gaining steam and micro publishers based around electronic publishing seem to be springing up all over. Many products from these authors are extremely innovative, either thematically, mechanically, or both. I suspect that, within three years, most current paper RPG publishers will have either folded or been bought out, regressing us back to WotC, White Wolf, probably Steve Jackson Games, and maybe a half-dozen smaller players. At the same time, the electronically published RPG market will heat up a lot. It will also be where the cool stuff is happening, as the talented authors become more inclined to innovate once outside of the d20 realm. We might see one or two print-on-demand attempts, which will likely fail. In this environment, I expect open licenses to fade to nothing in the printed world, but catch on a little in the electronic micro-publisher world. Someone coming up with a good, open system, might be able to capitalize on the closing of d20 to build a big community of authors, if they time it right. I wish I had such as system, or a better oracle. Anyone know of good candidates?

More perspective

April 18th, 2007 — Wordman

Several years ago, I offered some perspective on the price of gasoline. It seems that some others have done the same with other liquids, including whiteout and pepto bismol, or even scorpion venom.

The real threat

April 17th, 2007 — Wordman

With the realization that the shooter at Virginia Tech was South Korean, I’m just going to go ahead and blame the whole thing on gold farming. There are already idiots blaming videogames as a whole for no reason, might as well try to sic them on gamers that actually do suck.

If a bunch of bloggers started suggesting a connection between gold farming and the shooting, I wonder how long it would take for the media to pick it up as a “story”. It’s not like the media will spend much time blaming the actual shooter or prevalent anti-US propaganda in South Korea, after all. Better to lead them to a “juicier” target. I bet it wouldn’t take much, even in spite of the fact that it South Korea isn’t really much of a source of gold farming. But the media doesn’t care about facts, really, so this should not be a problem. It makes the story compelling though, because it deals with money and cheating. Maybe there’s even a way to add sex into it.

You might even be able to convince some hysterical pundit or other to report it as truth to the media.

Update: Sadly, gold farming doesn’t seem to have made the list of blame.

Not putting two iMacDV motherboards in the same case

April 16th, 2007 — Wordman

For even longer than this blog has existed, I have had a plan to take two previously mentioned iMacDV computers apart and place their innards into a single ATX tower case, essentially jettisoning their bulky and power-hungry CRTs and running them from a single power supply.

The threat of high voltage and lack of motivation caused this plan to languish for years. Now, having given one of these machines away, I’m forced to abandon the idea altogether. I did, however, spend quite a bit of time looking into the concept, so thought I’d share what I discovered so someone else with a stack of iMacDV’s can make it happen.

There are a number of issues that prevent such a project from being an easy task. They are:

  1. Discharging the high voltage in the iMac’s CRTs without killing yourself
  2. Connecting a motherboard built expecting a non-standard power supply to use an ATX power supply
  3. Converting the video signal on the motherboard into a VGA signal
  4. Converting the motherboard’s non-standard drive cabling into more typical IDE cabling
  5. Powering both motherboards at once with a single power supply
  6. Wiring up the power switch to correctly power down the two motherboards

All but one of these issues also occur with a project that would put just a single motherboard in the case. For all but the last two problems, a solution that works in a single board machine could be applied to both boards. The last two issues, however, are interrelated and the addition of multiple boards makes the problems more complicated, particularly the final one.

When I started looking into this project, there were a one or two documented attempts on the net to move an old tray-loading iMac into an ATX case, but the slot-loading iMacDV turned out to be a different beast in many ways, so these were not as helpful. There was also a company that sold kits to convert tray-loading iMacs into 1U rack mounted machines. They later started selling kits for the slot-loading iMacDV. These kits were expensive, however (over $200) and the company looks like they no longer sell them.

After waiting a while, however, a site materialized detailing the iMaxATX, a conversion of a single iMacDV into an ATX case. This site looked to have solved most of the tough bits, with good diagrams for the power supply, video and hard-drive wiring problems. Prior to this page, I hadn’t even known that the video was an issue. After all, the iMacDV has a perfectly functioning VGA connection on the back of it, so it wasn’t (and still isn’t) clear to me why this needed to be converted. Still the pictures on the page are fairly convincing that the video needs some kind of tinkering.

I also am not sure if the hard-drive connection tinkering is really an issue, particularly if you are willing to sacrifice the DVD drives, which appear to be the reason for the non-standard cabling. It occurred to me that you may be able to forgo IDE cables all together and just use Firewire. This would require either drives with native firewire interfaces (which don’t appear to actually exist) or IDE/Firewire bridges. If possible, this would be advantageous because it would circumvent a limit of these motherboards that prevents the onboard IDE from supporting drives larger than 128GB. This would look a bit odd in the case, as the Firewire port that is external when in the iMacDV case would essentially be mounted internally to an ATX case, with Firewire cables running inside. This would, however, eliminate the big gray ribbon cables, so might even look more slick. (I should mention that I was intending to mount all this in a clear acrylic ATX case.)

This leaves the power issue. Even though the iMacATX page mentioned above does provide good wiring information, it doesn’t address some problems, including those unique to a two-motherboards-in-one-box solution. In the first place, can a single power supply support two iMacDV motherboards? I think the answer to this is that the PowerPC chip draws so little power that it is possible with a 500w or greater power supply, but I’ve never tested this. If not, using twin power supplies would work, and would make certain things much easier, but wouldn’t be as cool.

One problem with supporting two boards from one power supply is that there is only one main feed from an ATX power supply; however, since you already have to do a bunch of custom wiring to hook this up to one iMacDV motherboard, splicing an extra feed in parallel into this should not be much more difficult, at least in principle. It’s all just voltage, after all. A socketed power supply might also make this process easier. So would using heat shrink tubing.

There is one big wrinkle here, however, having to do with rebooting. The way machines reboot is by, essentially, telling the power supply to turn on and off. With ATX power supplies, the signal to do this is sent by grounding a specific wire from the supply. The iMac motherboards, however, indicate they want a reboot by setting a wire from ground to +5v. So, even in the case of a single motherboard, there is an issue with rebooting (one not covered by the iMaxATX page, as far as I can tell). There are various posts for solving this problem, some using resistors and other parts, others using simple integrated circuits.

It gets even more tricky when running two motherboards from a single power supply, though. You don’t want to have a reboot or power down signal from one of the boards shutting off everything, because that would turn the other board off as well. You really only want the power to cycle if both boards want to power down, and this requires a bit of brains (or, at least, switches) in-between the power supply and the boards. I worked out a method of doing this in my head, but it makes the wiring much more complicated (you can’t just splice the power wires together anymore) and is probably wrong. I’m sure someone with more EE experience could find a better way.

I may never know, however, since I don’t have one of the machines any more (and the other may be dead). If you get it to work, please let me know.

People called Romanes, they go the house?

April 8th, 2007 — Wordman

As you might guess from prior posts in my “religion” category, I don’t celebrate Easter with much enthusiasm, at least not of the religious sort. I did, however, watch King of Kings, a 1961 Technicolor™ film about the life of Jesus from Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. This is not the best film ever, but good enough to be an Easter classic. Plus, it contains juggling.

While watching it, the acting, sets and flavor immediately reminded me of “a comedy 3000 years in the making”. Mostly, though, I realized I can never watch anything containing Jesus or Romans without thinking of the Life of Brian (from which the title of this post comes). I mean, even the marquees of these two movies are similar:

The casting in King of Kings is a bit more interesting, however. (Maybe it was watching too many episodes of “Rome” back to back, but I kept wondering who in the cast was sleeping with who.) Orson Welles did the voice overs (which were apparently written by Ray Bradbury). Judas is played by a nearly unrecognizable (at least to me) Rip Torn. For some reason, this movie also more or less ended the short career of the surprisingly hot Brigid Bazlen, whose performance as Salome evidently drew an extremely vitriolic response from the critics at the time. (There is a story in there somewhere.) Through most of the film however, I was troubled by the semi-crazed, yet familiar look of the actor playing the white, blue-eyed Jesus. It was a pretty good performance, and something about how they shot it made him look beyond human most of the time, but I couldn’t quite place him until about halfway through. He was Jeffrey Hunter, who played the very first captain of the Enterprise, Christopher Pike. It’s not quite the same: