Tuesday, September 23, 2008

First Jerry, Now Ensemble Studios

Microsoft is on an Axe-ing spree! I'm sure by now you have seen the "awesome" commercials featuring Bill Gates and Jerry Seinfeld and probably have also heard how all of a sudden they're taking their marketing campaign in a new direction. What you may not have heard yet is that Microsoft is pulling the plug on Ensemble Studios -- the guys who brought you the Age of Empires series, and more recently, Halo Wars. In fact, they were informed that as soon as they've finished Halo Wars, they're done. Since Ensemble Studios had no real warning, this came as a complete surprise to them (as you can imagine) since their games have always sold well. I'm not really sure what Microsoft was thinking on this one. They're still in control of a few other game developers, but for some reason chose the one that costs them the most to keep running, but produces the best games. Perhaps the Age of Empires series wasn't as profitable as I think it was? Maybe they're considering phasing out game development and will end up focusing more on the Xbox? Or maybe they just needed that money to pad their bottom line somewhere else? I was glad to see that someone from Ensemble has already planned to start their own independent studio because I never really got into the Halo stuff... but the Age of Empires series is classic -- Age of Mythology is probably my second favorite RTS of all time -- behind StarCraft of course. For more info, you can check out this article.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

DRM Backlash...

In case you haven't heard or seen already -- the new EA game Spore is taking quite the beating in the review section on Amazon on account of its accompanied DRM. (You can see it here). I remember checking in on it earlier this week, before I got sick -- unrelated to Spore or DRM -- and there were maybe 1,000 reviews total... well it's broken the 2,000 mark now and is still averaging a 1-star rating.

This whole thing just bothers me. I was actually looking forward to when Spore came out, to possibly buy it and have a new game to refresh my current lineup at home. But, like these crazy Amazonians, when I saw you could only install it 3 times before having to call EA to beg for more chances, I just decided it wasn't worth it. Like with music, I take the position that DRM is only harming your legitimate customers and in some cases pushing them away. If someone wants something without paying for it, they'll inevitably find a way, so really, what's the point?

Maybe EA (or other publishers) will learn something from this outburst and realize that maybe DRM isn't that great after all...

UPDATE: Apparently, EA got wind of all of the uproar and responded. Their response (paraphrasing): "3 installs is plenty, only 1% of gamers ever install something more than 3 times, so stop whining." Are you kidding me? This is how you respond to your user community? By telling them that they're wrong and you're right, without compromise!? What about all the people that want to play the game 10 years from now -- since that sort of thing has been known to happen? Ridiculous.

UPDATE x2: I just found this other article that talks about EA compromising by easing the DRM restrictions on a future game. A future game? How about patching Spore to meet at least these restrictions? (which by the way is lifting the install limit from 3 to 5 and not requiring the CD to play -- which isn't really that much better in my opinion. It still misses the point).

UPDATE x3: I really didn't think that I would be updating this post again. But, after finding this article, I had no choice. Apparently, users that have purchased the game have discovered that even though the manual says you can have multiple player accounts per install, the game will only let you have one. Guess how EA responds: by telling everyone that it's a misprint in the manual -- way to go EA. Way to go.

Update x4: Well, EA finally decided to "remedy" the Spore situation (read this article) by increasing the number of installs from 3 to 5 (like I mentioned in the second update above for a future game). In addition, they're creating a "de-authorizing" system to effectively move your registration to a new computer -- which to me, sounds similar to the current model that Apple uses for music purchased on iTunes. I would say that this is a step in the right direction, but still completely missing the point... EA clearly doesn't get it.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Google Chrome

So, hot off the wire today, Google has released an open-source browser named "Chrome." Like everyone else, I wanted to get my hands on it as soon as a download was available to put this thing to the test. I read at least part of the comic book (yes, I said comic book) that Google released prior to making the download available that explains some of the thoughts behind the development of Chrome. One of the most interesting (to me anyway) was the decision to spawn a new process, instead of a new thread, for each tab that is created.

In any case, as soon as I found out the download was available (which can be found here for anyone interested), I grabbed it and installed it. While it does seem pretty quick in terms of rendering, there are a few things about it (which can obviously change since it's a beta and can be updated at any moment) that will keep me from leaving my beloved Firefox:
1) Most importantly -- plugins/add-ons. I thought, being a Google browser, Chrome would for sure have some kind of nifty integration with Gmail, Calendar, Docs, etc. Unfortunately, there was no such integration, nor can you install add-ons that would provide this functionality. Sure, I could install Gmail notifier (the standalone version) , but it's just not th same. Also... I really like being able to customize how Tabs behave using Tabs Mix Plus...
2) Secondly -- resources. As any developer would, hearing about the fact that Chrome spawns a completely separate process for each tab, I was curious about the resources required to run this beast if I have, say, 10 tabs open. So, I put this to the test. I opened Firefox and Chrome with the same set of tabs and found that Chrome used about double the amount of memory that Firefox used (about 160MB vs. 80MB)

Now, there are definitely some very cool things about Chrome:
1) It's fast -- their javascript engine ("V8") seems to be pretty quick. However, I'd be interested to seeing how this fares against Firefox's TraceMonkey (which I believe is slated to be in Firefox 3.1).
2) Very simple interface -- tabs, address bar, a few buttons, and that's it. Simple is good.
3) The good side of the multiple processes -- if you have RAM to spare, this is an awesome feature. It keeps each website rendering completely separate from the tab next to it. So, if one gets hosed -- you can just close it and move on, without having to force-close the whole browser.

Is it worth a try? Of course! But, while I watch for updates... I'll probably be doing it from Firefox.