The ballache: Microtransactions

For the inaugural ballache segment I thought I would do an article on something that I have sat on the fence about for years. And that something is microtransactions in games.

Now I understand the concept behind microtransactions. I understand why a developer/publisher would want to follow the microtransaction supported free to play (f2p) model. After all it means they are gaining a more steady form of profit than selling a game for a one off fixed price. I was happy with that so long as it stayed within the f2p model. And, with that, I pretty much ignored them as these were of no real interest to me. Most f2p games were of a poor quality anyway, when they were first brought over to the UK and US markets, that I didn’t want to play them. But recently I encountered a case of microtransactions been used in a full retail priced, high profile, bought in a shop title. That title was Dead Space 3.

If you are not aware then EA intentionally included a resource gathering mechanic into Dead Space 3. A mechanic that is done in such a way that it would take time and effort to build up enough resources to unlock certain items, doors and weapons. While it is easy enough to build these resources up, a certain area later in game allows for farming, most early sections are devoid of these resources. Thus microtransactions were introduced to allow players to buy enough resources with real world currency.

WHAT UTTER BOLLOCKS!

First of all who in their right mind would start paying for items you can already get in the game? Secondly why charge full retail price, again best part of £40, for a game then include microtransactions to buy resources?

It’s simple really. They know they will generate more profit from people who will be willing to pay for it.

This caused me to re enter the realms of the microtransaction. A world that has become much murkier than when I last entered it. 

My first encounters with microtransactions were with Anarchy Online. When the game was changed to a free to play model, the game was split into a core game then the expansions where locked to those who paid for ‘premium’ membership, they introduced microtransactions that unlocked content that was only available through pre-purchase and special in-game events. This in its self was not bad because you were still allowed to play the full core game but just meant you could get some cool extras at a minimal cost (I recall some been the price of a can of pop). It didn’t interfere with the game. World of Warcraft would also go to try this same model for a while.

My next encounter was with the influx of South Korean MMO’s. Waves of games were been released all under the f2p/microtransaction model. This time the items for sale were not only vanity items but also special limited time and use items. They weren’t game breakers and only had effects like increasing the amount of exp you gained and such. Again this didn’t bother me because you were been given a fully working game to play for free. It was your choice as to if you wanted these items as they weren’t really needed.

More recently though I have seen a much worse change in the f2p/microtransaction model. With the evolution of modern smart phones there has been increased consumption of cheap, disposable games. This has lead to a new wave of f2p games flooding the iOS, android, Microsoft and Blackberry app markets. Games that are limited or even near enough crippled unless you’re willing to spend money on in-game perks and items. One game called Candy Crush, a game my wife is addicted to, I found to be the very standard of the modern f2p market. It’s near enough crippled unless you willing to spend money on items that allow you to complete levels.

Rubbish I hear you say. However playing the game you realise that after about 10 levels, which are considered introduction levels that explain core concepts and special ability items, the game starts throwing boards at you that have no real way of completing unless you spend money on these special in-game items to change the board or alter an outcome in some way. Even depleting lives requires you to wait for a fixed amount of time unless you willing to once again spend real money to get your full life compliment back instantly. Even I was sceptical that a developer would do this until I came across a board on Candy Crush that, with no word of a lie, put me in an unwinnable state unless I used a paid item. Refusing to pay I then spent 3 days, this was with continue timers, trying to beat the board which eventually did provide me with a way of winning.

The more I looked the more I found of these types of game. Games that had timers, special in game items, special unlocks and other miscellaneous ways of crippling a game in order to get people to purchase them with microtransactions. Even the price of microtransactions has increased. But rather than a price per item it’s now in game credit meaning you have to spend a fixed amount for this credit. And this credit doesn’t go far. One EA title had a minimum credit spend of £5. This £5 would get you no more than a few vanity items and in order to purchase actual usable items you were looking at £10 of in game credit.

Some of the games I saw even had amounts of credit that equalled £100 in real world money. And the sad thing is that people are buying the things. People are willing to put money down on these microtransactions in order to get some utterly redundant item for their little theme park. And a scary thing is that these microtransactions only require, in some cases, a simple tap of the screen to purchase and you the start running up a substantial bill. One report even mentioned a child who ran a bill of over £1,000 in microstransactions for some sort of farmvill clone.

I am not against microtransactions but I do think there needs to be more regulation of the industry. Tighter controls need to be in place and some sort of maximum spend should be enforced to prevent people from running up scandalous bills. Simply because of the way they work people do not think that they are doing this. After all in some cases it’s less than a pint of beer. I also feel that it is wrong for companies to be charging full price for a game then putting in microtransactions in order to gain more profit. If they are wanting to add microtransactions to a game then the price of the game should be either free or reduced in order to match the price of the items been purchased in the game.

But then again this is a massive industry and I can’t see the players in that industry going for this somehow when more profit can be made.

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a chat with jan zahurancik from amikit

This is an interview that I had with Jan Zahurancik from AmiKit which was originally posted on Commodore is Awesome. But due to a server meltdown it was lost. That is until I found a backup of the interview stashed away on a flash drive. Here is the interview in it’s entirety.

Enjoy!

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Recently I had the pleasure of talking to Jan Zahurancik from AmiKit. Much like many of us in the Amiga community he is passionate about what he does. What follows is a selection of questions that I put forward to Jan about his history with Amiga and AmiKit.

===================================================================

CritAnime: Welcome and thank you for taking the time to come and speak to use here at Commodore is Awesome. Just so we have a better understanding can I ask that you clarify who you are and what it is you do?

Janzah: Okay, first of all let me thank you for your interest in this interview. I am really honored. My name is Jan Zahurancik, I am Slovak living in Czech republic (do you remember Czechoslovakia?)

I am 31 years old now and working in human resource area. So nothing related to IT actually

CritAnime: That’s OK I am a nurse. I think when it comes down to the Amiga it crosses all boundaries.

Janzah: yeah, exactly.

CritAnime: What first got you into the Amiga?

Janzah: I think my story is pretty same like the story of other Amigans out there. Once I visited my friend and saw Amiga, and I was amazed by its graphics and sounds, it was unbelievable. Especially if you compare it to ZX Spectrum which I was used to at that time (Actually it was Didaktik Gama, a Slovak clone of ZX Spectrum)

CritAnime: Ah yes I have read about them.

Janzah: And so we (together with my brother) persuaded our parents to buy us Amiga 500.

CritAnime: An excellent computer.

Janzah: Yes, we had so much fun with it

CritAnime: Was it purely a gaming computer or did you venture into the desktop side of it?

Janzah: Yes, at that time we used it for games only.I remember I didn’t understand the role of Workbench and I perceived it as redundant. Which has dramatically changed when I purchased A1200 with HDD.

CritAnime: What were the sort of games you would play?

Janzah: My first Amiga game ever was Vroom. But I think I didn’t have any preference at that time, I enjoyed everything. For me and my brother the two-player games were the top-notch, you know. But my most favourite games were probably Elite and its sequel Frontier. I remember I spent weeks and weeks exploring the space… similarly I explored Aminet years after when building AmiKit.

CritAnime: Talking of AmiKit I would like to congratulate you on the recent release of AmiKit version 1.6.0. Was it a difficult process finding new programs and additions to add to the existing list?

Janzah: Thank you! Actually it wasn’t so difficult as there are not so many new 68k programs as in the past, unfortunately. But there are still many updates to existing programs. Difficult job was to put everything together, fine-tuning, polishing and testing. The good old rule showed to be true again – the last 5% of the work took about 95% of time, you know.

CritAnime: So true in many ways.

CritAnime: With the release of version 1.6.0 you also released a credit card sized flash drive with the AmiKit logo and all the add-ons, videos, docs and of course the Amikit 1.6.0 release for Windows, Mac and Linux. What was your reasoning for releasing this rather nifty little device?

Janzah: As you might remember the previous two major AmiKit version were released on CD. (The first edition was introduced during Pianeta Amiga 2006 in Italy. And releasing another CD would be boring. So I wanted to come up with something different, something even more stylish and with more capacity, of course. And while DVD is visually still the same, USB was my choice. I searched for different designs and as soon as I saw this credit card designed USB I knew it’s the one I wanted. Is there any other Amiga you could take with you everywhere in your wallet?

CritAnime: It is a really nice device. I have mine stashed away in my laptop bag for when I need it and also to convert my friends computers to Amiga’s.

Janzah: I am glad you like it.

CritAnime: But lets go back now to the origins of AmiKit. What was the original drive to create AmiKit? Was it personal need, a need to push the limits of the Amiga OS or did you always intend to make it for the needs of other Amiga users?

Janzah: Not at all. At the very beginning it was my personal system growing slowly. I loved to fine-tune everything, play with programs’ configurations, etc. Then, when I realized I invested so much energy into it, I started to back up everything. When I switched to emulated Amiga (WinUAE) this was extremely easy as it was enough to backup one file (a hardfile) that contained all the Amiga files inside. And I kept adding programs into it. And if anything went wrong I could always go back to previous hardfile. This is how AmiKit was born.

CritAnime: Was it primarily a solo project or has there been a lot of input from others in the Amiga communities?

Janzah: A pure solo project at the start. But when I decided to release it for the community things had changed and accelerated. I started to ask programmers for their permissions to include their programs into this project and started to cooperate with them. I must say that not a single programmer rejected! In many cases the not intended (don’t know the right phrase) fruit of this cooperation was new versions of their programs, with new features and bugfixes based on my requests and reports. And new friendships were born too. I’d like to especially thank to Ken Lester who painted TONS of graphics for AmiKit. Especially his patience is heroic because he survived all my picky requests. The same for Rex Schilasky, the programmer of AmiKit Windows launcher and installer. Without these and other guys the AmiKit would never be what is it now. I am grateful I know them and I can call them friends.

CritAnime: It’s documented that AmiKit will work on a real Amiga, given the right hardware set-up. Was this the original goal for AmiKit or has it been a nice side-effect?

Janzah: AmiKit for real Amiga was a only a side-effect. When I switched from underpowered A1200 with no GFX card to WinUAE with all those nice 32bit colours and speed I knew I will never switch back (maybe if I had A4000 that would different, you know).

CritAnime: If I had the chance to own a 4000 I don’t think I would ever be able to drag myself off it.

CritAnime: What future developments do you have planned. Or are they top-secret?

Janzah: AmiKit is now pretty feature rich. It contains full version of Magellan II, the best program ever created on Earth, IMHO. You can change the AmiKit skin easily with MorpheuZ or various add-ons, the whole system updates itself via internet, etc. But there’s one more thing to do. Imagine the USB credit card that boots your computer into AmiKit directly.

CritAnime: That would be excellent. I can think of a few good uses for that, such as turning works Dell desktops into high-end Amiga’s.

Janzah: Hehe, yeah!

CritAnime: Just a few quick and fun questions to finish off the interview. Are you ready?

Janzah: Yep!

Critanime: Retro or modern gamer?

Janzah: Modern

Critanime: Favourite computer?

Janzah: Now it’s Macbook. I am happy AmiKit is available for Mac users too.

CritAnime: As am I as I have a white 2009 MacBook.

CritAnime: Favourite console?

Janzah: I’ve never had one so I don’t have any favourites

CritAnime: Favourite game or games?

Janzah: Hmm.. except Frontier? Let me think. Heroes III Might and Magic and King’s Bounty. I love the atmosphere of these games.

CritAnime: Favourite movie?

Janzah: I like Tarantino’s movies like Gangsters or Pulp Fiction

CritAnime: Pulp Fiction is a classic.

Janzah: And its Czech dubbing is excellent.

CritAnime: And that is it for this interview. Thank you once again for popping online and having a chat with us at Commodore is awesome.

Janzah: Thank you very much for the interview, James.

CritAnime: it’s been an honour talking to you and I hope that AmiKit stays with us for a long time to come.

=====================================================================

Jan is honestly one of the nicest people I have ever had the pleasure of chatting with. He is incredibly warm and open to people and more than willing to share his experiences with the Amiga.

AmiKit version 1.6.0 is available for free download right now on Windows, Linux and Mac OSX. The USB flash card is also available for purchase and Jan is working his hardest to make sure everyone gets theirs as speedily as possible. And he is incredibly happy at the response he has had towards this device.

My thanks once again go out to Jan for giving up some of his time to do this interview. I hope we have more from AmiKit in the future!

CritAnime

Wheat Beer recipie

I came across this recipe for a German wheat beer on some forums and so adpated it accordingly. The method is based on using simple Dry Malt Extract, hops and steeping some grains. It’s a wonderful drink and incredibly easy to make despite the look of the recipe. Even though it’s a simple drink it holds some nice complex flavours owing to the nobel hops and flavours from the yeast. It has great head retention and is refreshing no matter the weather.

:I have slightly modified this recipe based on some extra stuff I have learnt along the way. Also I highly reccomend either the Wyeast 3068 or White Labs WLP 300 liquid yeasts. You get a much better bannana and cloves finish from these two yeasts. Bulk priming just means adding the amount of suggar suggested straight to the beer. I reccomend racking (transfering) to a secondary vessle and melting the sugar in as little hot water as possible. Though using a teaspoon and adding a level teaspoon in every bottle produces good results. Just make sure to release the execesse gas after gently shaking the bottles to mix the sugar and beer. Exploding bottles are not nice to clean up after.:

If your new to brewing you will need at the very least a 23 litre fermenting vessle, syphoning/racking tube, a pan (that can hold atleast 8 litres), a big plasting spoon or paddle and 28 500ml bottles (plastic coopers bottles are better than glass ones in my opinion. But work with what you can get). Also make sure to either leave the fermneters lid loose or get one with a way of attatching a airlock.

When syphoning/racking try to leave as much of the sediment (trub) at the bottom as possible. This trub contains dead yeast cells and others bits that have dropped out of the beer during fermentation. While it won’t hurt you it may spoil the taste of the beer. A good syphoning/racking kit will help and a auto syphon works even better as it has a trub trap on it.

Also the liquid yeasts produce a much more active fermnetation. And will produce a lot of foam (krausen) on top of the beer. You can scoop this off or you can leave it. Personally I leave it but the choice is yours. Also once ferntation has taken place then try to leave the beer alone. It’s tempting to look but there is a layer of CO2 that protects the beer. Thats another reaosn I tend to leave the krausen where it is.  

OG: 1.045 FG: 1.010 (dependant on yeast used)
ABV 4% – 4.5%

2.5 kg Wheat Malt Extract
40 gms Hallertauer Hersbrucker Hops
500 gms Pilsner malt
Yeast: Danstar Munich, Wyeast 3068 or WLP 300

Priming
3.0 grams per 500 ml bottle Priming Sugar
Or bulk prime with 180 grams of sugar

Instructions
Put the 500gms of Pilsner malt, crushed, in a muslin bag or straining bag. Bring 2 liters of water to about 66/68c and hold as close to this temp for 30min to steep the grains. Remove the grains and add the liquid to the fermenting vessle. Bring 6 litres of water to between 65-70°c, dissolve 900 gms of the Malt Extract in the liquid and bring to the boil. Add 33 gms of Hallertauer Hersbrucker Hops. Boil for 70 mins then add the last 7 gms of Hallertauer Hersbrucker Hops. Boil for a further 5 minutes. Turn off the heat and add the rest of the malt extract.

Add 4 litres of cold water to the fermenting vessle and strain the boiled liquid into the water. Top up the fermenting bin to 17 litres, ideally pouring the remaining water through the strainer to extract maximum flavour from the hops. Add the yeast when the liquid has cooled to 16 – 24°c. If in doubt use a thermometer to check the temperature. Take a hydrometer reading and record starting gravity. Move to a suitable area in the house with a temperature of 18 – 22°c for 14 days until fermentation is complete. Bottle, using 3.0 gms of Priming Sugar per 500 ml bottle and wait 2 weeks. Or bulk prime with 180gms of sugar in as little warm water as possible. Should be served cloudy and at its best drunk young, within 5 weeks.

Add all malt extract at the start of the boil if boiling the full 17 litres. It is reccomended to try and chill the wort as quickly as possible before adding to the fermenting vessle. 

The recipe calls to wait two weeks. I have drank this after 4 days maturing and it’s still fantastic. It does mellow out with age and after 5 weeks the hoppy taste has all but gone. thats why it’s best drunk young. The look of the beer is golden and cloudy. The cloudy nature is due to suspended yeast cells in the beer. This combined with the wheat gives it a verry soft feel in the mouth.

try it and see what you think? i have now brewed 4 batches of this beer and if you want a hand let me know and I will be happy to help.

Retro Gaming is a subjective matter.

I am a retro gamer….

Now this is a very subjective statement. For example I am a retro gamer because I play consoles that date back to the late 1970’s and early 80’s. At a time when home video games where a bleeding edge thing. 

However I met someone today who thought they were a retro gamer because they played a current gen XBOX 360 game from 5 years ago.

Now to me this is not retro. This is actually far from retro. This, to me, is like saying last weeks latest film release is now a distant nostalgic memory. But there are people that do think this way. It’s like I met another person in my local CEX store that thought the PS2 is now a vinatge oddity and expressed amazement that anyone even bothered playing on it. And how “retro chique” it was now to own one.

But to that person the PS2, now that active development by the big players in the gaming industry, is now in the same catagory of gaming as my vintage C64. It all falls into that unique human thing of perspective. And everyone’s view of what is retro and what is not differes wildly.

Personally I think they are all bonkers though as the PS2 is certainly not near retro yet……

So here is a question to the people around the net, if this post every gets fucking read as I never think it makes it past my twitter time line, what are your cut off’s for what you would consider retro in the world of gaming?

How to install Vice on Linux systems

This article was initially written for Commodore Is Awesome. However due to someone going postal it was lost. Luckily I had a backup on my works computer so I am posting it on my blog for people to pick up.

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So I got lots of requests from friends who migrated from Windows to various Linux platforms to do a mini guide for getting Vice working on their systems. I distributed this guide around my friends in hopes that it would make life easier for them. Since then I have found that my little guide has made it’s way around other people and even onto a forum.

They persuaded me that it would be a really awesome idea to put the tutorial/guide on the net in a more permanent place. So here it is, in all it’s rough around the edges glory.

Suppose I should point out that I was never that good at writing manuals or guides when I did this at college. Oh well……

This guide is version 1.1 and will probably stay at version 1.1 till the end of time. Unless something crops up that needs changing.

-So I thought I would update this guide a little. I realized that the guide assumed that you were using Ubuntu/Mint. Obviously not everyone would be using Ubuntu or Mint and this was my mistake. The principle will work the same on almost every distribution of Linux. Just check with your distributions handbook as to changes in package management. For example in Sabayon it would be equo install and not apt-get install. Also if your distribution allows root access then it might be best switching to su instead of using sudo.

Also a reminder that with great power comes great responsibility. Do not mess with su unless your comfortable with doing so as su won’t ask for permission once commands are run.-

OK so first thing you will want to do it open up a terminal window.When the window opens you will need to run this command.

sudo apt-get install vice

It will ask for your password before starting to search for the needed package. Input your password, which will remain hidden while styping, and press enter. After finding the p[ackage it will also ask for confirmation that it is OK to download and install the package. Type Y and off it goes. Loads of text will appear in the terminal window. This is perfectly fine though so not to worry.

Once this process has finished you will need to run the C64 emulator in the terminal. Why?

Well if you simply start the emulator through the menu then it won’t do anything at all. This is because it is generating an error but it is not showing you the error before exiting. Through terminal you are able to scroll up and read the error. Making life easier as we know whats going on.

So run this command.

x64

Now note the version of Vice your working with. In this case, at time of writing, it’s 2.3 but it could be several version ahead when you read this. So note the version open your browser as we are off source hunting. Go to this url www.zimmers.net/anonftp/pub/cbm/crossplatform/emulators/VICE/ and it will have lots of links to various tarballs but we are only after one. And that, in this example, is the vice-2.3.tar.gz tarball.

**NOTE!!!! – Again check the version of Vice you are working with as you will need the corresponding source. for example 2.2 will need the vice-2.2.tar.gz, 2.3 will need the vice-2.3.tar.gz and so on. If the wrong one is used then the emulator may not work or may become unstable.**

Save the file to the Downloads file in your home directory. Because next we will be unpacking it. Run these commands in terminal.

cd ~/Downloads
tar xfzv vice-2.3.tar.gz

The first command will change into the Downloads directory, the ‘~’ is a shortcut to your home directory and is the same as doing cd /home/<your name>/Downloads. The second command will unpack the .tar.gz into the Downloads directory. So when you open the Downloads directory in your file browser you will see a folder name Vice 2.3.

Now for the last stage. All we are going to do is copy the contents of a folder within the freshly unpacked directory and copy it over to the required places. So lets do our final command.

-If your distribution allows root use then this command can be done by switching to root using su. Once in root simply don’t bother using sudo.-

sudo cp -vR ~/Downloads/vice-2.3/data/* /usr/lib/vice

This command will do a recursive copy of all files and folders from within the data folder over to /usr/lib/vice. Sudo is needed as the target directory is owned by root and so needs root privileges in order for files to be copied.

And that should be it. If your run the emulator in terminal or through Applications > Other menu you should now have a working C64 emulator. Along with all the other 8-bit Commodore emulators.