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  • Sony Home: A true Metaverse?

    Posted on October 8th, 2008 Finster No comments

    As Hiro approaches the street, he sees two couples probably using their parent’s computer for a double date in the Metaverse. He’s not seeing real people, of course. It’s all part of a moving illustration created by his computer from specifications coming down the fiber optic cable. These people are pieces of software called avatars. They are the audiovisual bodies that people use to communicate with each other in the Metaverse.

    From Snow Crash, by Neal Stephenson.

    For those that don’t know. The Metaverse was the fictional social virtual-reality MMO experience that featured prominently in Snow Crash, a cyberpunk novel by Neal Stephenson. Back in ’92 (when Snow Crash was published) virtual reality and the possibilities it brought to gaming were still extremely interesting, especially for the media. Cyber-this and Cyber-that. I figured that a global virtual network like the Metaverse was just a year or two away from fruition. (In fact, Snow Crash helped popularize the Sanskrit term “avatar” to denote online identities.)

    Forward 16 years to 2008 and we’re all a little wiser and a little more cynical, perhaps. The awe I had at “virtual reality” and “holodecks” has been replaced by a kind of “Where’s my flying car?” attitude.

    Then, there’s Sony’s Playstation Home concept. Much maligned as it has hobbled along through Beta, it certainly isn’t the first free-form virtual reality experience. Second Life is probably the most widespread at this point, being so popular that it’s even been featured in an episode of CSI: New York. But reading an article by Stephen Totilo at MTV’s multiplayer blog has shed some much needed light of optimism on Home.

    [Jack] Buser [director of Home] didn’t say the things you might think of when you see “Home.” He didn’t mention virtual world “Second Life” or the current most ambitious interface for a console community, Xbox Live, as he walked me through the version of “Home’ that is currently available to select PS3 owners as part of an “expanded beta.” He described this PS3 service, this 3D virtual world as “something that hasn’t been done before.”

    I had expected to hear about features. I hadn’t, however, expected his pitch for the service to be so psychological. Buser seemed excited about what “Home” could do, but even more motivated to explain to me why gamers would want in. He talked to me about “the life of a gamer,” and how “Home” is designed to improve it.

    How do gamers meet each other these days? Buser asked me this question a number of ways, arguing that there isn’t really a place where this is easily done. There hasn’t been a good place for gamers to meet since the arcades, he said. “Home” can fix that.

    Interesting. I remember the arcades. I also remember the other places gamers would meet. The basement of the South Dakota State administration building, affectionately known as “The Dungeon”, where I could log onto the internet and download new “stuff” onto 3.5″ floppies. I got to know a couple of the regulars down there. Those were the days… but those days are gone. With ubiquitous internet and powerful gaming consoles available in every home, there’s no longer any need to travel someplace else to “get connected.” Thus, no need to meet anyone face to face, either.

    In Snow Crash, the main character, Hiro Protaganist, goes online to head to virtual bars and clubs (built by him and his hacker buddies, of course) where they can meet up, socialize, sword fight, and naturally, something interesting happens and away we go. However, there is this idea that we don’t go to bars and arcades to socialize as gamers. We go online. We have a Gamerscore. We have a Friend Code. We build our own online identity.

    My impression has been changed. What I hadn’t seen or had explained to me when I entered “Home” on my own those few months ago, was the function and helpfulness of the community. “Home” will be pointless if no one’s in it, if its central plazas are empty. Buser said they won’t even launch “Home” — an event scheduled for this fall — until they meet their goal to “have a kind of community to show people around.” The idea is it’s all social. You go to an area of “Uncharted” to find out what people there think of the game or to ask for a hint. Yes, some of us would go to NeoGAF or Metacritic or GameFAQs for that kind of stuff. But perhaps the average PS3 owner wouldn’t. For them, perhaps “Home” is the answer to questions they barely knew they had: Where do they go to meet people just like them?

    This is truly fascinating if it can catch on. If not, it’ll probably be because it was too early. Just like the virtual reality goggles. A little too much, too soon, perhaps? We’ll see. It’s still not enough to get me to buy a PS3… but maybe… just maybe it can recapture the magic of those olden days. Maybe the days of “The Dungeon” are on their way back. Maybe we’ll have a true Metaverse.

    That would be really cool.

  • It’s not Lando’s fault

    Posted on November 6th, 2006 Finster No comments

    Seriously. Can we just stop getting on Lando’s case about that whole Cloud City fiasco? I mean, come on. It’s not his fault. They told him they fixed it. No pun intended.

    Lando gets such a bad rap amongst Star Wars fans, despite the fact that he led the flight into the super structure of the Death Star II. I guess people think that he backstabbed Han and turned him in to the authorities, just so he could save his own skin. I think that oversimplifies things.

    Like Lando said, “Our operation’s small enough not to be noticed.” That is, unless an old “friend”, in an attempt to escape the Empire decides to come knocking. It’s Han’s fault that Lando was put in that situation in the first place. It’s not like he called up Lord Vader, “Hey, yeah, those guys you’ve been chasing all over this part of the galaxy. They’re gonna be here.”

    It’s nice to think of Lando as all jokey when he declares to Han, “You got a lot of nerve coming back here after what you pulled.” If anything, this was Lando’s true moment of complete clarity. Of all the nerve, a wanted criminal shows up on your doorstep? What are you supposed to do? Not to mention, Lando had been trying to “go legit” with this whole mining operation. I dunno, if The Powers That Be showed up on my newly-law-abiding doorstep to inform me that my old buddy was on his way after breaking several laws, I’d be inclined to turn him in, too.

    So, who can fault him, really? It wasn’t until he learned exactly what it was that Han and his band was up to, and being forced to alter the deal at gunpoint, that he decided to take appropriate actions when the time was right. If it wasn’t for his timely actions, there’s a good chance none of them would’ve gotten away. If he had made his break too soon, they would’ve been squashed. If he waited too long, he would’ve missed the window of opportunity while everyone was focused on Luke’s arrival.

    The next time you think about throwing Lando under the bus, try cutting him some slack.

  • Anakin is Clutch

    Posted on November 9th, 2005 Finster 1 comment

    So, I picked up a snazzy Star Wars Episode I watch from Booger King (still feeling somewhat queasy from all the BK food I bought when they were giving away the chibi Star Wars toys). I got to thinking about how much Jake Lloyd bugged, and this led me to think about how Episode III hints that Emperor Palpatine (or maybe his master, Darth Plagueis) was responsible for using the Force to create Anakin. But why? Why did the Emperor need Anakin before taking over the galaxy? What purpose does he serve, besides typical Sith shenanigans of killing Jedi, spreading fear, oppressing innocent people, and such?

    Then, I got to thinking, we could look at this question in the sense of football quarterbacks. A lot of people used to say (unfairly, IMHO) that Tom Brady isn’t that great of a QB, he’s just a regular guy that is in the middle of a great system in New England under Belichek. The argument being that you could put almost ANY quarterback on that New England team and win 3 out of the last 4 Super Bowls.

    Which brings me to Anakin. Was he merely placed in a really good system with a really good coach (Darth Sidious)? I say yes. There is no doubt that Anakin was talented, and probably the most powerful Jedi ever born… er… hatched, er… whatever. However, couldn’t Palpatine taken any young and upcoming Jedi and used him to perform key tasks such as cleaning out the Jedi Temple and killing the Separtist leaders? Yes. Did he really need Anakin to go into the Jedi Temple at all? No, that’s why he had legions and legions of Clone Troopers.

    I will say this, though. Anakin, like Tom Brady, was big in clutch situations (both to the advantage and ultimate detriment of Emperor Palpatine.) The one point where Palpatine faced certain defeat was at the hands of Mace Windu. The Emperor had no problem handling Yoda, especially once they got into an open field, but in the close quarters of the Chancellor’s Office, Mace bottled him up and was ready to lay down the Jedi smacktitude… until Anakin showed up and knocked Master Windu out of the park. Fast forward 20 years and he was also reponsible for saving the galaxy when at his son’s request, chucked the Emperor over the railing.

    Beyond these key plays, Anakin did very little. He got his arm chopped off by Dooku, then Yoda had to bail him out. Obi-wan had the “high ground.” He choked Natalie Portman (moron!) He let the Millenium Falcon escape how many times?

    On the other hand, he did build C-3PO. Oh, wait… that might be a point against him.

    Anakin is like Michael Vick. He’s got horrible numbers, but somehow he wins games.


    Posted on March 2nd, 2005 Finster No comments

    This makes me so ANGRY INSIDE!

    Enterprise needs to be renewed, for the sake of fan loyalty, for being quality TV, for bringing imagination and hope for a better future to our homes, but over all that, for inspiring us so strongly that we have fought all our adult lives to bring that future closer to our children and to us.

    Sometimes I feel like a lonely voice lost in the wilderness… If space travel is so dang important, SPEND THE MONEY ON SPACE TRAVEL INSTEAD OF POORLY-WRITTEN, BADLY-ACTED, QUASI-SCI-FI TV SHOWS!!

    My favorite quote definitely has to be:

    Star Trek has inspired us, and particularly Enterprise, with its superb theme song that tells so much about our struggle to move space travel forward.

    Superb theme song!?!?


    As far as I’m concerned, this is worse than a Star Wars fan saying that the prequel trilogy is better than the classic trilogy. We all know it’s not true. Enterprise is not good. It could be good, but the current crap is simply not worth it. I demand quality programming, not more seasons of UTTER GARBAGE.

  • Trek fans lose my respect

    Posted on March 1st, 2005 Finster 1 comment

    In follow-up to yesterday’s comments, I’ve decided to go on and on about something stupid that happened last week.

    From a SciFi WIRE news article:

    Fans of UPN’s soon-to-be-canceled Star Trek: Enterprise took to the streets in Los Angeles, New York and other cities on Feb. 25 to urge Paramount to give the show a fifth season. About 300 people marched at the entrance of Paramount Studios in Hollywood, Calif., to protest UPN’s decision to cancel the low-rated show at the end of the current fourth season.

    What the crap is this? Pah-the-tic. I like Star Trek. I would even consider myself a trekkie… er… whatever. But these kind of shenanigans are what make me want to crawl under a proverbial rock. Fat girls dressed up as Klingon brides don’t bother me. The William Shatner look-alikes don’t bother me.

    McCallie said that the protests and fund-raising are the fans’ attempts to get Paramount “to wake up and fund the fifth season themselves.”

    That kind of crap bothers me. If you are protesting the cancellation, you are NOT working in the best interests of Trek fans. BECAUSE ENTERPRISE SUCKS EGGS THROUGH A STRAW! The more Enterprise that is broadcast only hurts the Trek franchise. That’s right. Enterprise denigrates the Trek goodness that was TOS, TNG, and DS9. Voyager? Meh. Voyager is only notable in that the decline of Trek really began happening during Voyager.

    The Fall of Trek can pretty much be summed up in three words. SEVEN OF NINE. Trek fell when the powers that be (whether Berman or Paramount suits) decided that big breasts and catsuits would do more to increase ratings than ingenious story-telling or non-cliche character development. After all, that’s what made TOS so great, right? Kirk schmoozing scantily clad women? Hmmmmm… no. Don’t get me wrong, Kirk is the man. I mean, when Kirk beams down, he’s gonna be kickin’ @$% and chewing bubble gum. (I digress… my trekkie-ness cannot be contained.)

    No no no, it wasn’t short skirts that made Trek great. It was writing. Back in the day you had Harlan Ellison and Theodore Sturgeon writing for Trek. I know, I know, those authors complained about their story ideas getting changed around from what they originally wanted, but guess what, I’d rather have an edited version of a good sci-fi story than the crap Berman and Braga have been shovelling out for the past four seasons of Enterprise.

    Which brings me back to Seven of Nine. When I watched the first episode of Enterprise which spent five minutes on a greasy rubdown between the chief engineer and the “Seven of Nine-esque” Vulcan science officer, I knew EXACTLY how this whole Enterprise thing was going to end up. Well, that and time-travel-as-plot-device is getting old.

    Time Travel and sci-fi used to be cool. Remember those times? It was when Kirk and McCoy went back and let the Nazis win WWII. It was that time when the Enterprise-D discovered Data’s head buried beneath “ancient” San Francisco. Awesome. Then it started getting old. Sisko went back in time to a bunch of riots. Meh. Oh look, DS9 has a tribble episode, how cute! Meh. Don’t even get me started on Voyager.

    Speaking of which, why is it that anytime Braga gets his creative mitts on Trek, we end up with some half-witted time travel escapade? Case in point: the 2-hour fangasm called “The Last Episode of Voyager” where Bermen and Braga managed to take bar none the best villain Roddenberry EVER came up with (in Trek anyway) and turning them into limp-wristed panty-waists. And how was it done? Time Travel. Brannon Braga wrote Generations and First Contact. Both have some form of Time Travel. And not more than a passing thought is given to exactly how all this time travel is going on. In First Contact, it was as easy as flipping a switch. Damn, I wish I had that switch. “Break-the-laws-of-physics switch, turn on!” Meh.

    So, in summation, here’s what Star Trek needs in order to be worth watching again:

    1. New executive producers. Berman and Braga: YOU ARE FIRED!
    2. New writers. And hire people who have proven track records at writing sci-fi.
    3. NO MORE PREQUELS! Roddenberry himself talked about how he wanted the technology and ideology of Trek to shock people. The NX-1 flying tin can concept just doesn’t work.
    4. Sulu. Best. Character. Ever.

    And I swear, if I hear anymore of this crap about people donating money to pay for more Enterprise episodes… you darn well better give Joss Whedon a call, first. At least his series was ORIGINAL.

  • Battlestar Galactica: Forging a New Frontier… for real

    Posted on February 28th, 2005 Finster 2 comments

    There are some criteria that you can use to decide if you should be watching the new Battlestar Galactica. (edit: If you match any ONE of these, you should watch it.)

  • You like science fiction.
  • You like good TV.
  • You like good acting.
  • You like good story.
  • There you have it. So, go watch it.

    I could go on for pages and pages about how Battlestar Galactica is good sci-fi TV. I would most likely mention such injustices as the cancellation of Firefly versus the four seasons of televised pain that is Enterprise.

    What is more notable about Battlestar Galactica is Producer Ron Moore’s blog. Never before have I seen such a candid and frank dialog between the community of fans and a producer. I don’t think anything like this has been done before. Moore has been answering questions, giving updates on the status of series, and so on.

    Amazing that he also takes the tough questions head on and refuses to evade them like every other writer/producer/director I’ve ever seen. Kudos to you, Ron.