stripchair1

I have now finished updating 1155 pictures from Date Ariane. There are 5 pictures from the original game that have not been updated because there really isn’t a need. If you want to see a history of the updates, I documented it on my tumblr blog.

The original game had 1278 pictures, the majority of pictures I “cut” were from a rarely seen “Whiskey” drunk scene which had over 100 pictures in it.  I replaced it with a much simpler (and funnier) “Absinthe” scene consisting of 11 pictures.  There are numerous other places I added or removed pictures. Most of the time I added to enhance a scene, and most of the time I removed pictures because they were redundant.

What about the “Classic” version?

With all the changes to both the graphics and the interface, it looks and feels like a new game even with identical plots.  With that in mind I will continue to make the “Classic” edition available on my website as long as I have a web site.  For now, when you go to http://arianeb.com/dategame.htm you will have your choice of two versions.

Yesterday, I re-uploaded a fresh copy of the old version so you no longer have to play often outdated versions on 3rd party websites like this guy did.  I don’t know how popular the “classic” version will be in the future, but I’ll be monitoring it. Depending on how it goes, I will either move the old version to its own page accessible from the main page or just make it available as a download only.

Can I download the “10th Anniversary Edition”?

Not yet.  After spending a month changing all the hidden links to open links to make the game more phone/tablet/touchscreen friendly, then spending 9 months redoing all the graphics, there is still a final step of correcting text, moving text links to better places on the screen, and general bug squashing.

There are certain ways I want the game to flow following certain rules, and currently that is not the case.  Also, I need to make sure that every event in the game is reachable and every picture viewable through normal play.  There were a few months there when the couch make out scene could not be finished due to a missing quotation mark in the code.  Bottom line, I have not been very diligent in debugging during the graphics update.

That should change now that I’m done. I project another month to do debugging and text clean up, then I will make the game available to download.  It should be a 120 MB download when its done.

The Sims 4: Same Old Same Old

Posted: September 15, 2014 in Gaming
Tags: ,

sims4a

Feeling a little bored, and getting some good reviews from my friends, I decided to check out The Sims 4.  I have a long history with The Sims dating back to 2000 when I got The Sims 1 and eventually all 7 expansion packs until my computer could not handle any more. When The Sims 2 came out, I got that too, and the first 3 expansions, which also coincided with The Sims Online, my first MMORPG experience, in 2003.

This is about to the point where I got burned out. Really burned out to the point where I never got another Sims 2 expansion, and never bothered with The Sims 3.  It is also about the point I started working on Date Ariane, partly inspired by The Sims. In fact the first ever version of Ariane Barnes was in The Sims.  I even created an early web comic made in The Sims 2 using her.

The one thing The Sims brings to gaming that is nearly unique is avatar based gaming that is not violent, and often sexy.  That is what brought me into the game in the first place.

The Sims 4

Enter the newest incarnation, just recently released.  Some of the big changes include a much better character creator, and a much better house builder. Why are these such big changes? Because many Sims enthusiasts spend most of their playing time making new characters and new houses just for fun.  One enthusiasts site Mod The Sims has hundreds of celebrity look alike Sims and any house you can imagine for Sims 2 and 3, and eventually Sims 4 will have just as many.

And then there is the actual game play where they took care of us players biggest complaint: they made it possible for the Sims to do two or more things at once.  The first time I saw a character read a book, then decide to go to the bathroom and take the book with her to read on the toilet, I knew this was a major improvement and much realistic.

sims4b

I, of course, had to try and create myself.  None of the eyes or eyebrows were close enough to call it exact, so I settled for close enough. I also created a Rachel that was closer to herself. If you have The Sims 4, do a community search for “Barnes” and download the one that looks like the above two characters.  Ariane is a “Serial Romantic” with Active, non-committal, and goof ball traits, Rachel is a “Renaissance Knowledge” with creative, outgoing, and geek traits.

Like the people that create characters and build houses, I also tend to play the game wrong.  I turn off aging leaving everybody as young adult or adult.  then I like to build a giant dorm with 8 characters and not enough bedrooms or bathrooms, and watch what happens.

The answer: About the same thing that happened in Sims 1 and 2.  Despite the improved graphics, improved character creation and building, and improved AI, its still basically the same game.  They created this cool “multitasking”, then just re-balanced the game by making everything take longer.

This seems to be the main complaint with players of The Sims 3:  its just the same game with less stuff.  As someone who skipped over 3 and only remember 2, I can see their point, it all feels very similar.  Too similar, and that’s the problem, considering my 9 year hiatus.

The upshot being that I doubt The Sims 4 will drag me away from other projects, like finishing the Date Ariane update.  I’ll probably only play occasionally to avoid the inevitable “burn out” as long as possible.

 

arianestrike

Whatever Happened to the Internet Dream? Part 5

Part 1: Bored of the Internet  Part 2: Politics and Religion in the Internet Age  Part 3: Movies and Television since the Internet  Part 4: The Constant Changing Society

It was not that long ago that people did not think the internet mattered to the economy as a whole. Now it seems the internet IS the economy.  This has created a lot of interest in trying to control the internet from multiple different directions.  These attempts to control that which is at this stage uncontrollable now threaten the internet as a whole.

All of these threats come down to one thing: ignorance.  Ignorance of politicians, ignorance of judges, ignorance of corporations, and the ignorance of the users themselves.

Threat #1: The lack of Net Neutrality

The internet is the third most used utility in the US behind only electricity and water (occasionally 4th behind gas).  Former third place holders telephone and cable TV have been replaced by the internet.  This is inaccurate though, the truth is that the internet is not a utility, not yet anyway, and that is what the whole net neutrality debate is all about:  Should the internet be treated like the telephone, where you can call anyone and anyone can call you? Or, should it be treated like cable TV where you subscribe to bundled packages of websites that run faster and contain more features.

Anyone who knows what they are talking about will tell you telephone.  The entire reason the internet is growing the economy is because access to the internet is an even playing field.  The major internet service providers want to charge websites more money to get to their customers faster.  They want to charge for traffic going both ways.  If the internet service providers get away with it, only the major websites with deep pockets can survive in the long run. All the small start-ups with thousands of employees, would suffer and ultimately close.  There is a very entertaining video explaining all of this and this website has the latest information.

The ignorant in this case: Mostly conservative politicians and news sources who explain net neutrality completely backwards. If you want to save free speech on the internet you WANT net neutrality.  They seem to think that “Net Neutrality” means government regulation and control of the internet, it does not.  But now that you mention it…

Threat #2: Government Regulation and Control of the Internet

The Arab Spring demonstrated the power of the internet to help protesters organize.  We saw this again during the Occupy Wall Street protests and the Ukranian revolts which actually led to the overthrow of the government.  The internet as a communication tool organizes like minded people to take action against people, against corporations, and against government.  The more tyrannical governments are looking to stop that by regulating what information moves into its country.

Google has to run different versions of its search engines in China and other countries due to censorship laws. These laws vary from country to country, which also result in lower performance of the internet as a whole.  Google releases a regular report on take down requests from various government agencies, the requests are rising dramatically every year, up 68% from 2012 to 2013.

The other threat coming from Government is radical changes of policy. The SOPA act 0f 2012 was one of those.  Currently, users can post stuff to websites free of censorship.  However if they post copyrighted material, the copyright holder can notify the website, and the website is obligated to take it down.  What SOPA wanted to do is put the burden on the websites. If you posted a copyrighted video on You Tube, You Tube would have to identify it as copyrighted and take it down themselves.  It basically would have meant that any website that allows you to post stuff, which pretty much includes most of the most popular websites, would have to radically change their submission rules, or just close down completely.  Luckily that was stopped, but organizations of copyright holders are still pushing for similar laws around the world.  Newer threats include CISPA act of 2013 which in the name of stopping online cyber attacks, hurts online privacy concerns.

Pew Research also released a recent survey of internet experts and they consider government interference to be a big threat as well.

The ignorant in this case: Politicians and law enforcement agencies around the world of all political leanings.

Threat #3: API copyright issues

As threat #1 has to do with communications companies trying to seize control of the internet, threat #3 is about software companies trying to seize control.  This is all about a potentially horrible precedent setting case involving Oracle vs. Google.

API is Application Programming Interface, it is basically how software programs talk to each other.  If program A needs information from program B, it requests information X from B, which responds by sending Y back to A in a format it understands.  Throughout the history of computer programming, it does not matter how program B handles data X or result Y, it can use any number of methods it wants to.  Oracle’s Java does it one way, Google’s Android does it another.  As a result Google avoids copyrighted software licensing issues with Java.

In Oracle vs. Google, Oracle claims that it holds the copyright of X and Y and not just the method, Google argues (rightly in my opinion) that X and Y are like the title of a book (book titles are not copyrightable), and that because the book part is different, there is no problem.  Google won the initial case, but Oracle won on appeal.

Why is this so damning to the internet?  Because the internet runs on API’s, and API’s have been around for decades. Without API’s smart phones would be bricks.  Google is not the only one with this problem, Microsoft and Apple have their own implementations in place as well. Once the precedent is set, virtually all “open source” software would end.

The ignorant in this case: Judges only looking at previous cases and not the history of software design. Lawyers that could make millions off the thousands of lawsuits that could be filed.

Threat #4: Exponential Growth and Aging Infrastructure

This month, Wired published an article on the growing number of service outages simply caused by too much traffic that older routers simply cannot handle.  Better routers and router software can fix these issues, but replacing old routers and pushing software fixes takes time.

Also in this category would be the very slow progress in moving the internet to IPv6 protocol.

The ignorant in this case: Businesses not willing to invest money in updating.

Threat #5: The Increasingly sophisticated methods of crackers and scammers combined with an increasingly tech ignorant general public.

This weeks Celebrity Nude Scandal, aka “The Fappening“, highlights how sophisticated online pirates are becoming, and more importantly how much more dangerous new trends like “cloud computing” can be to privacy.

There is a lot of interest in finding the hacker responsible for the release of these pictures, but this has all the tell tale signs of a group of hackers with a new set of tools. Most interesting is this article from Wired.

On the web forum Anon-IB, one of the most popular anonymous image boards for posting stolen nude selfies, hackers openly discuss using a piece of software called EPPB or Elcomsoft Phone Password Breaker to download their victims’ data from iCloud backups. That software is sold by Moscow-based forensics firm Elcomsoft and intended for government agency customers. In combination with iCloud credentials obtained with iBrute, the password-cracking software for iCloud released on Github over the weekend, EPPB lets anyone impersonate a victim’s iPhone and download its full backup rather than the more limited data accessible on iCloud.com. And as of Tuesday, it was still being used to steal revealing photos and post them on Anon-IB’s forum.

“Use the script to hack her passwd…use eppb to download the backup,” wrote one anonymous user on Anon-IB explaining the process to a less-experienced hacker. “Post your wins here ;-)”

I do not know if this is the exact process used by hackers (plural seems most appropriate) in this case, but something similar: Someone found an exploit, allowing unauthorized access to iCloud accounts, posted it for others to find, and large numbers of hackers went to work seeing what icloud accounts they could hack. I have seen “group think” hacking in action, and the sheer volume of accounts attacked tells me this wasn’t the work of one lone hacker.

What is especially worrisome is that the Wired article seems to imply that the exploit used by hackers on Anon-IB (again the two may be unrelated) is there for law enforcement use. As long as law enforcement and spy agencies insist on legally requiring access to cloud computing for intelligence gathering, cloud computing is is going to be vulnerable to hackers!!

There are a number of large companies that have decided to put much of their data needs on “cloud computing”, quoting the money they save on IT expenses by going this route.  They are making themselves more vulnerable to hackers by doing so, just to save a few bucks.  Apple and Google have been pushing cloud services for a while now, Apple is even updating OS X and iOS with cloud computing in mind, often requiring the cloud to use certain services. The Celebrity hacks couldn’t come at a worse time for Apple.

But this is just one example of the increasing sophistication of today’s online hackers.  Let’s take a look at another recently published by PC World:

CryptoWall ransomware held over 600K computers hostage, encrypted 5 billion files

A file-encrypting ransomware program called CryptoWall infected over 600,000 computer systems in the past six months and held 5 billion files hostage, earning its creators more than $1 million, researchers found.

The Counter Threat Unit (CTU) at Dell SecureWorks performed an extensive analysis of CryptoWall that involved gathering data from its command-and-control (C&C) servers, tracking its variants and distribution methods and counting payments made by victims so far.

CryptoWall is “the largest and most destructive ransomware threat on the Internet” at the moment and will likely continue to grow, the CTU researchers said Wednesday in a blog post that details their findings.

For a couple of years now “ransomware” viruses worked at the fraud level pretending to be government agencies like FBI or IRS claiming to find evidence of wrong doing by the end user and demanding a $300 bribe (or “fine”) to make it all go away, often disabling users from using their computer to get rid of it. Many fixes nevertheless exist online to avoid paying the scammers.

CryptoWall has elevated “ransomware” to the kidnapping and extortion level, and if your files really are encrypted there may be no way to unencrypt them without paying for the extortion.

These viruses are spread mostly the old fashioned way through fraudulent emails saying you are owed money, and you need to “click here” to get access.  The sophisticated tech savvy would never click.

Scammers are going beyond fake emails and phishing these days.  Now they are calling people, usually older people, posing as technical support using fake caller IDs to look legitimate, telling them they need remote access to their computer to fix a problem they have found, which once given access is loaded with various malware and viruses for future ransomware scams.  A variant is to pose as government lawyers collecting fines as explained above.  This is of course all highly illegal and potential victims are reporting people with foreign accents, meaning it is foreign scammers taking advantage of call centers being based in India and other large English speaking countries to save money.  People are used to hearing foreign accents from support centers these days.

Even if you are smart enough to avoid fraudulent emails, and inbound calls asking for bank or computer access, there is scary unavoidable stuff like rogue cell towers that your phone automatically connects to when you are in range.

The tech savvy for the most part know how to avoid these problems, and keep their security updated, and know how to fix their own problems if they do crop up.  The problem is that there is an increasingly small percentage of internet users who are this careful, and viruses malware and trojan horses affect all internet users, even the uninfected.

Some viruses never reveal themselves, they reside in the background of unsuspecting computer users to form networks of parallel processing power, often used to brute force passwords, or create denial of service hacks.  Such actions slow down internet traffic, cause temporary outages and ruin everybody’s internet experience.

The other side of the coin is that scamming is profitable.  People do fall victim, people do pay, and scammers hide themselves behind international law to avoid prosecution.  That means there is only going to be more of it. Scams are not just using mass emails, they are buying ad space on legitimate web sites to make themselves look legitimate.  Unfortunately, there are no security firewalls to protect you from the ignorance of others.

The ignorant in this case: pretty much everybody.

The End of the “Gamer”

Posted: August 30, 2014 in Gaming, Philosophy
Tags:

downtownob

The last couple of weeks have been embarrassing for anyone who calls themselves a “gamer”, so much so that I am disassociating myself from that title.  Maybe I’ll call myself an “Online RPer” or something, I don’t know, but the “gamer” culture is over.

For a couple of decades now there has been this ongoing joke about the existence or non existence of the “girl gamer”.  At first it was kind of funny because the gaming community was so dominated by males, that females in the community seemed elusive as bigfoot.  Then over the past decade or so games that appealed to women, like “The Sims”, started matching and even surpassing sales of games that mostly cater to men.  The “girl gamer” was no longer a myth, it was a demographic to cater to.

For some inexplicable reason I can’t even rationally explain, a small group of narrow minded men in the gaming community were shocked and appalled that there were women out there that liked to play games.  They were offended and even felt threatened by this realization.  This led to many flame wars on the topic, as well as the birth of many memes.

For a while it was recognized that these misogynistic basement dwellers were just a vocal minority to be ignored.  Egged on by other social conservative anti-feminist movements, they started getting more vocal and more organized to the point that they became a blight on everything “gamer”.  To quote one recent commentary:

Right, let’s say it’s a vocal minority that’s not representative of most people. Most people, from indies to industry leaders, are mortified, furious, disheartened at the direction industry conversation has taken in the past few weeks. It’s not like there are reputable outlets publishing rational articles in favor of the trolls’ ‘side’. Don’t give press to the harassers. Don’t blame an entire industry for a few bad apples.

Yet disclaiming liability is clearly no help. Game websites with huge community hubs whose fans are often associated with blunt Twitter hate mobs sort of shrug, they say things like ‘we delete the really bad stuff, what else can we do’ and ‘those people don’t represent our community’ — but actually, those people do represent your community. That’s what your community is known for, whether you like it or not.

All of this came to a head over the last two weeks. First there were vicious personal attacks against a female game developer, followed by death threats against a feminist You Tube blogger, followed by vicious personal attacks against anyone who dare says nice things about these women.

I find this kind of crap offensive, reprehensible and indefensible.  Disagreeing with someone is one thing, threatening them, or exposing their personal life, is just disgusting.  To their credit, the International Game Developers Association released a statement saying the same thing.

I’m not even sure I understand the disagreeing part.  To quote another recent commentary:

Literally the worst possible thing that can happen here is equality. That’s the worst outcome, that’s the nightmare scenario. If, today, every AAA publisher said “We will start to include women more in our games and represent them better”, the only actual difference this would make to anybody shrieking about how feminists are destroying games is that they might have to pick their gender in the next Call of Duty game. Terrifying, isn’t it. Stuff of nightmares.

The problem here is that these squealing man-children, so desperate to keep women out of their precious games, want it both ways. They want gaming to be taken seriously as a culture and art form, while at the same time throwing an unbelievable tantrum when subjected to serious criticism. This is ludicrous and immature on so many levels. Gaming isn’t for you, anymore. Gaming is for everyone. Everyone gets to have their say, to make their criticism, and gaming doesn’t need you to defend it.

Misogyny in Gaming

I don’t want to spend a lot of time discussing Anita Sarkeesian’s criticism of gaming today.  I have seen her videos, and she is just saying what I already know: that there is a lot of sick and twisted scenes in video games that come off as sexist, degrading and even hateful of women.  Not every example she points out are good examples. Some of the examples she says are offensive are not so much when seen in context of the game story. But, there are enough legitimate examples that the “sexist” criticism of the gaming industry is justified.

Video games are at least partially about fantasy fulfillment, and the fact that many major video game today contains sexist and misogynistic tropes means that players have sexist and misogynistic fantasies to fulfill — or at least that is what developers of these games think.

The apologists often argue that games are just a reflection of the times, cheap escapist entertainment.  Lets take a look at another popular escapist art form from 60 to 80 years ago: cartoons.  They too were a reflection of societal norms of the time, filled with a lot of blatant racism.  Disney, Warner Brothers and MGM have been forced to censor their old catalogs of cartoon shorts refusing to release many of the old shorts and even at least one classic feature film.

Video game developers are likely to self censor themselves in the future, too.  As knowledge this stuff gets more widespread, and more socially embarrassing, I can see certain scenes and missions suddenly removed in updates and in re-releases.

We should be demanding better games than this.  I found this commentary to be extremely good:

You know what’s not escapism? Having to wonder if any given game (or movie, or book) you pick up is going to include women primarily as prostitutes, murdered girlfriends, vulnerable daughters, and rape victims.[...]  Games with realistic stories are still built on unrealistic mechanics and stylized environments … Prostitution is real, but a game that erases all women except prostitutes wouldn’t reflect our world. Realism is as much about what you leave out as what you put in, and an unfortunate number of games pare down the feminine experience to nothing except sex, childbirth, and vulnerability. [...]

If you’re an author, writing down what you see is harder than riffing off things other people have already made, and even what we see is filtered through our preconceptions — in one of the best essays about writing I’ve ever read, author Kameron Hurley explains this idea with an extended metaphor involving llamas. If you’re playing a game, you’ll usually judge the story more by what you’ve seen in other media than by any real-life point of comparison. After a while, it becomes easy to say that something is unrealistic because you’ve seen it written differently elsewhere. Women in video games should be damsels and whores because damsels and whores are what women are in video games. There can’t be female player characters in GTA because the movies GTA is aping didn’t have female protagonists. It’s a lazy, conservative, and boring way to think, no matter how much you dress it up by saying you’re writing about “the concept of being masculine.”

And my own games?

No doubt there are those that would consider Date Ariane and Something’s In The Air as sexist, since in these games the player is a male character trying to undress and bed females, and you are free to think that, I don’t care. (Its part of my mission statement, I don’t care what other people think)

There are those that also find the games rather positive as all the female characters are strong, smart, successful, and don’t put up with any crap from the player.  In fact that is the central premise: Can you be a good enough “man” to attract these kind of women?  There is a reason why 30% of the “likes” on my Facebook page are from women.

My goal is to strive to do even better in the future.  I will continue with my personal policy of NO prostitution plots, or female victim assault/kidnap/murder plots, or non-consensual sexual assault plots.  I’m even planing a change of point of view, a Rachel story where you play as Rachel as she ventures through various fantasy scenarios.  Looking forward to doing something different.

Whither the “gamer”?

The reputation of the “gamer” community has soured to the point that it is no longer anything worth bragging about.  No, most people that play video games do not generally fit the the stereotype of the basement dwelling misogynistic nerd burst into flame wars whenever anyone says something negative about a game they happen to enjoy, but that is what mainstream culture imagines with growing frequency, and the “gaming community” is doing little to change that image resulting in a shrinking demographic.  I’ll give the last word to this opinion piece:

The word “gamer” is regressive. It accepts the portrait of us painted by the mainstream news media, and every time I hear it or read it it actually makes me feel a little sick. I believe in this art form, and I believe in the people who make it. That’s why I am so hard on this industry, because I believe that as great as it sometimes is, it can get better.

So play games, of course, but don’t let the playing of games define you. Why would you ever really need to describe yourself as someone who plays games, anyway? Do you walk up to people and say “Yeah, I watch movies.”

lib7_0001

August is a slow month, so I decided to break the monotony and try out a few Visual Novel Dating Sims created by other people.  I played four that are at least interesting enough to check out.

Inspiring Celina

Story by Superawesomemans
Graphics by Sylakone2
Download and Online play link

This is the newest and the best of the four that I played.  It involves meeting and getting to know your college biology lab partner Celina.  It is also the hardest of the four as you have to balance charming Celina with getting a good grade on you Biology report. (no, you do not need to know anything about Biology to play)

The first time I played I got an F, and she hated me after that, but eventually I got to know her VERY well.

Hints: Besides choices at the bottom, there are also choices embedded in the pictures, especially in obvious make out scenarios, you will not get far without them.  If you completely give up there is a walkthrough available.

spillane

Sam Spillane, PI

Story and Graphics by Fleet
Download Link

This is a game you can download and play on your PC.  Not sure if there are other versions available.
Fleet was one of my volunteer closed beta testers for Something’s In The Air and he is pretty good at what he does.  He has a few games out, but I picked this one to play mostly because I like the idea of a period visual novel in black and white.

Hints: The story is pretty linear, and there is a mystery to solve, the game is won if you can solve it, but since you are allowed to save the game at any point, you can “cheat” and save the game before you have to accuse somebody.

xmainstreet

Virtual Date Girls: Lucy

Story and Graphics by Chaotic
Online play link

This is a browser based game which uses embedded links in the pictures to make choices. Like Inspiring Celina above it is built with Tlaero’s Adventure Creator, which explains why the two games have a similar look.
I decided to play this one because 1.) it is short, and 2.) the adventure is told from the girl’s perspective for a change.  There are three different sexy endings.

Hints: Seemingly meaningless actions can end up being of consequence later in the story.  If you need a walkthrough, you can find one here.

heaven

Secrets of Heaven

Story and Graphics by Leonizer, Agrippa, and Graen
Online play link

Lesson of Passion games tend to be the most erotic of these visual novel games.  Even their plots seem inspired by adult fiction and porn films.  This one is nice and short (only 4 endings).  It also seems to be heavily inspired by Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, which is a bit of a change.  I like the change of pace from their usual fare.  I haven’t found a walkthrough yet though, but it is not that difficult.

Conclusions

All four of these games are comparatively short compared to my two visual “Novels”.  Also they are for the most part set in different times and/or take original perspectives. The story telling is very different in each.  Inspiring Celina is very detailed, you really get to know her.  Secrets of Heaven on the other hand finds some rather flimsy excuses for nudity and sex.

Part of what is driving me to check out other works is to inspire my next work.  I want to do an all Rachel Spahr game next.  Like Lucy above, I  want to tell a story from Rachel’s perspective.  I have already established that Rachel has a vivid imagination, which I can use to tell the story in different fantasy settings.  I also want to think smaller, doing a series of visual “short stories”, like the above four, as chapters in a bigger story.

Still got a ways to go before I even start that project, but in the mean time I might try a few others out for inspiration.

erealmforest1

This week Something’s In The Air reached 100,000 downloads, and I thought I would celebrate the fact with another Director’s Commentary on the making and playing of the game. This post will contain spoilers as well as solutions to puzzles and assumes that you have already played the game.  If you have not read the previous commentaries, here is part 1, part 2, and part 3.

Story 4 is hidden when you first play the game, that is on purpose as it represents a solution to the question I assume players are asking: How come every story 1 and story 3 ending involves getting caught in a rain storm or blackout, and every story 2 ending does not, even though all 4 stories are set on the exact same day?

To unlock story 4, you have to find 4 out of 6 clues mentioned in the Gallery:
Clue 1: Clear Skies – Ariane notices a sudden storm appears, when skies were clear just minutes ago.
This can be unlocked by any story 1 ending where Ariane notices a storm, including “Ariane and Rebecca”, “Blackout Fun”, and “Safety Pullout”.

Clue 2: The Failed Prophecy – The Fortune Teller said that if Rachel had chosen different, it would end in disaster,
and yet choosing the nightclub did not cause a disaster, Did Rachel have another choice?
Unlocking this clue involves going to the fortune teller at the Amusement Park as well as failing to get Rachel to go to dinner with you (her other choice was the LAN party).

Clue 3: The Successful Prophecy – Bonnie predicted disaster at the strip club, but evidence suggests it only happens when she is around.
Doing the Bonnie story is where Bonnie “psychically” predicts disaster which then happens when the electricity cuts out in the middle of the strip act.  Going to the Sci-Fi Fantasy convention, getting Rachel to LARP, and ending up at the strip club where the same strip act is going on but does not cut the power will fully unlock this clue.

Clue 4: Lightning Never Strikes Twice – When Veronica takes you to the sci-fi fantasy convention, she gets struck by lightning. When Rachel takes you, she has a nice swim.
The Veronica part is in reference to “A New Paint Job” ending, the Rachel part is in reference to the “Skinny Dipping At Night” ending.

Clue 5: House Parties – Ariane’s visit to the house party gets rained out, Rachel’s visit to the same party turns into an orgy.
Finish “House Party With Ariane” and “House Party With Rachel” to unlock this clue.

Clue 6: Ameca Meca – The concert gets interrupted by a power outage… sometimes
Reaching any version of the “Tequila Shots” ending and either “The Photoshoot” or “Concert and After Party” unlocks this.

The next update of the game, I plan to reduce the number to 3 out of 6. Originally I required 5, but reduced it to 4 as clue 2 and 3 may not be reachable even if you finish the first 24 endings. If you have the story unlocked, you will see a 4th choice at the alarm clock:

Hang out at home and play some online games

Story 4, like story 3, starts in a fake MMORPG called Elemental Realms.  In story 3, the player says he missed a meeting with his guild because he slept in too late.  Not going back to sleep has the consequence of making that meeting.

The opening title sequence  is the first of many pop cultural references in this story, the 3D all capital lettering is the first of many references to the show Fringe which is one of my favorites.

We start in the middle of the mission, you are playing the same Ranger Dude character you played in story 2 and 3, but three other scantily clad characters are following behind you (see picture above.)  This is a bit of satire on the typically very revealing and completely impractical armor found in most MMORPGs these days.  (my favorite MMORPG Guild Wars 2 is just as guilty, though there are much more realistic armor choices for females as well.)

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I happen to have a raptor dinosaur model in Poser that I decided to use as one of the enemies, in the picture above you can see it just behind the characters head in between the leaves.  If I am going to have raptors, I may as well copy the scene from Jurassic Park where the raptor jumps out from the side.  Notes: 1.) Guild Wars 1 and 2 both include raptors, so yes they can be found in games like this, 2.) I am fully aware that paleontologists now believe velociraptors had feathers.

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This leads to the first puzzle of the story, a hidden picture puzzle.  One thing about hidden picture puzzles, there is no way to judge how difficult they are going to be for players, because when you make the puzzle you know all the answers.  In beta, the 8 raptors in the picture were annoyingly difficult to find.  Luckily there is a “save game” feature you can use once you are done randomly clicking everywhere.  The official version picture is above, which a few still consider to be difficult.  What I did is removed a lot of the brush making most of the raptors much easier to find.  At least 3 are blatantly obvious, and 4 others are no longer difficult.  The one on the far right still seems to stump a few people.

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Next up is the strategy puzzle.  The “wraiths” are the default figures in Poser 9/Pro 2012 which is what I made the game in. This creepy figure shows up every time I launch Poser without opening a file,  so I figured it was creepy enough to make a villain.

Anyone who has never played an MMORPG will probably have no idea what this puzzle is all about.  Basically there are two choices with 6 possible combinations.  I believe 3 of those six will lead to good results, so you got a 50/50 shot.  Never give the energy orb to Princess Valena (even though she is the obvious choice), and always run with Cassandra.

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The very best choice is give the orb to Thum and run with Cassandra, you will be given three additional choices, all winning, including one which involves everyone getting naked.  This is inspired by a puzzle in Dragon Age: Origins where getting naked was the only way past a wall of cleansing fire (or stripping to your underwear, at least).

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Next up is the Rock Golem puzzle.  I decided to simulate a simple boss fight.  You as the ranger have three arrows, winning involves picking which arrow to use when, something I have done a thousand times playing Guild Wars as a ranger. Fastest winning strategy is: damage, damage, interrupt, damage, damage, damage.  You win in 6 moves.

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After the game is over and you win the battle, the plot moves on to real life where you get a mysterious phone call from a robot voice who seems to know everything about you.  We find out later that this is Paula, who played Cassandra in the quest you just finished.

I was part of a gaming forum for many years, during those years I developed a bunch of online friendships with people I’ve never met who I often play online with.  It is surprising how much you learn about people based on their posts.  So I have quite a few online friends who I have never met in person, and I actually know them really well.

That is what inspired me to add the Paula plot, of meeting someone you have never met in person, but have known online for years.

After the Fringe inspired teal salamander commercial break, we get our next puzzle, a mini adventure type “token” puzzle where you have to get the right inventory to the right people.  One note: it is impossible to get completely stuck because 5 of the 8 locations will trade tokens to the point you can get any color you need.  If you think of it like a maze the green path is the exit.  The dress shop is the only one that gives green tokens, the night club takes only green and gives only green, and the salon only takes green as well.

Here’s my simple solution that I came up with while making the game in the first place:

  1. Take your white token, Go to the hotel, put token in vending machine, you now have blue.
  2. Go to the lingerie store, give your blue token for a yellow.
  3. Skip the nightclub and go to the museum, exchange yellow for white.
  4. Go to the restaurant, exchange white for blue.
  5. Skip the salon and go to the home place, give blue, get red.
  6. At the dress shop, turn in your red, get a green.
  7. At the night club, give a green, get a green.
  8. Finish off at the Salon, and see Ariane getting her hair cut, they will take the green, does not matter what you take as the puzzle is complete.

Every character you meet downtown except the Home Store sales guy shows up elsewhere, the museum guide shows up later at the sci-fi convention.  Rebecca, Lizard, and Steven even show up in Date Ariane.  The Home Store only shows up again in “classic” Date Ariane.

The puzzle is two overlapping QR codes. One of which says exactly what Paula says it says (did she “hack” the game somehow?), the cyan part looks like this, and leads to this website.

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Finally we get to the LAN party, where characters that look suspiciously like Codex, Vork, Zaboo, and Clara are already to play.  There are no puzzles to solve here, just a group of friends having fun.  The game ends on a key scene:

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Rachel asks Paula for access to the lab. Had she not done that, Paula would have never known the time was right for her weather control experiment.  This is the key moment which determines whether or not there is a storm that night.

It is also the point that makes Something’s In The Air pass the Bechdel Test.

There are multiple versions of the scene where you go to Paula’s office.  Depending on choices you make she will reveal different bits of information.  If you want to complete Paula’s Gallery notebook, you will have to run this scene a few times.  The “fat guy named Chuck” line comes from the book Ready Player One.

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Finally we reach the big finale: The Weather control experiment.  While the first three stories were basically romantic stories, this last story leaves the romance behind for sci-fi.  The scene opens with the glimpse of an “Observer” from Fringe just to emphasize the point.  (According to Fringe lore, Observers are highly advanced cybernetically enhanced humans from the future who time travel to observe significant moments in history)

How does it work?

I once gave an explanation on how a 5 dimensional graph would work to a math class, using clouds in the sky as an example, this is that same lecture in reverse, which is probably not very accurate from a climatologist perspective.  It also shows how advanced this lab is by showing off a “holo-table”.  I think I am the first person to write a romantic story that ends with a math lecture followed by a word problem.

The word problem is the last puzzle, and the answer is random, so even I do no know what the answer is.  This helped because I have to solve this problem myself every time and I made sure it does not take me forever to do it.

It is basically a four dimensional linear algebra problem disguised not to be.  Each line is a number line where the middle of green is 0 and the left edge of green is -1 and the right is +1.  Temperature, humidity and pressure vary from -10 to +10, Ionization is -15 to +5.  The devices range from 0 (red) to 3.

My general strategy is to focus on Ionization first and play with device 3 and 4 to get Ionization in the green.  Then focus on Temperature, playing with device 1 (which raises temp) and device 2 (which lowers temp) to get Temperature green.  You can then fine tune the controls until Humidity and Pressure are also green.  It usually only takes a few tries to get it this way.

The “Tower of Ion” represents both a place in the game world as well as the high rise building.  Professor Paula Brannigan is an Air Mage (battles with lightning) in both the game world and for real.

The scene ends with a classic “blackout gag” that undermines the whole story.

Then the credits roll.  Even though I wrote, directed, and rendered the story myself, there are a ton of 2D and 3D artists, music writers, sound effects recorders, prop builders and set builders who licensed their work for commercial use so I could make this game.  They did a good 90% of the work, I just assembled it and built on top of it.

Thanks to all those artists.  Thanks to the 100,000 players, and thanks to all those that contributed.

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The official word came this week from Linden Labs CEO:

“Linden Lab is working on a next generation virtual world that will be in the spirit of Second Life, an open world where users have incredible power to create anything they can imagine and content creators are king. This is a significant focus for Linden Lab, and we are actively hiring to help with this ambitious effort. We believe that there is a massive opportunity ahead to carry on the spirit of Second Life while leveraging the significant technological advancements that have occurred since its creation, as well as our unparalleled experience as the provider of the most successful user-created virtual world ever.

“The next generation virtual world will go far beyond what is possible with Second Life, and we don’t want to constrain our development by setting backward compatibility with Second Life as an absolute requirement from the start. That doesn’t mean you necessarily won’t be able to bring parts of your Second Life over, just that our priority in building the next generation platform is to create an incredible experience and enable stunningly high-quality creativity, rather than ensuring that everything could work seamlessly with everything created over Second Life’s 11 year history.” (source)

This has of course sent the Second Life community into a major panic attack. “All my hard work for naught?”  For your reading enjoyment, there is this thread over at SL Universe.

This has nothing to do with High Fidelity, the alpha product being created by SL original mastermind Philip Rosedale, which also hopes to be the next gen of virtual worlds.

As someone who has been involved with virtual worlds now for 11 years, I kind of know my way around. Some observations from the big picture:

1. Not one of the 19 or so virtual worlds are showing any growth these days. They have all flatlined. Some, including SL are still profitable due to continued dues paid by current membership. Linden Labs cannot sustain itself with an old product that is not growing in usage or membership.

2. If current SL were to close tomorrow, OSGrid would be there to pick up the slack. If Linden Labs builds a new world and everyone hates it, OSGrid would be there to pick up the slack.  There are no plans for this though.  According to an interview with Linden Lab spokesman Peter Gray:  “It is thanks to the Second Life community that our virtual world today is without question the best there is, and after 11 years we certainly have no intention of abandoning our users nor the virtual world they continually fill with their astounding creativity. [...] we think that much of the work we do for the next generation project will also be beneficial for Second Life.”

3. There are many design flaws in the initial concept that have created many problems. There.com and Second Life came out about the same time with two different approaches with the same social virtual world concept in mind. The fact that there is a lot you can do in There.com that you can’t in Second Life and vice versa — even today 11 years later — is proof that it is necessary to start over at some point. Reverse many of the mistakes in the initial concept, add new features you never could in the past. Simplify the whole convoluted mess of prims vs. sculpties vs. mesh. Above all make the avatars pretty.

4. If you want to know why all virtual worlds have either flatlined or collapsed, it is not because virtual worlds is a flawed concept for a program, it is because MMORPGs are doing it a lot better. MMORPGs are now doing everything that 3D Virtual worlds can do, except user created content. An MMORPG with user created content is likely going to be a much better and more interesting environment, than anything SL can currently offer. No one has done it before, but all the pieces exist to do it, and do it right.  Not sure if this is what Linden Lab is working on, but I believe this is what they should be aiming for.

Personally, I am kind of tired of the current state of Second Life. I’m looking forward to something new.  I hope they take the promise that was Linden Realms and run with it.