Howto: Get The Burning Crusade for Free

Written by rob on March 9, 2008 – 2:50 pm -

I previously wrote an article on how to get the WOW client for free and then use that to play on the free private servers available on the Internet. The one thing missing from that whole scenario was The Burning Crusade expansion pack which adds new races, classes, and locations, among other exciting things. The Blood Elves, especially, are very cool. I started playing with a Human Rogue on my own private server, but I’m probably going to start a Blood Elf Paladin soon now that I have the expansion pack.

Before continuing, this assumes that you have followed my previous guide to already get the World of Warcraft original game client.

Now, to get Burning Crusade click here, thanks to Toxic-Wow.net. Like before, this small file is only a downloader that will fetch the 1.15GB installer. Also like before, you should run the downloader as Administrator in Vista in order to ensure everything goes smoothly. Once it is done installing, you have Burning Crusade! If only it were that easy… there’s a few more things you have to do.

The update unfortunately resets your game to version 2.0.0, so you are going to have to reapply the patches. If you are like me and deleted them already, then you’ll have to download them again. In case you lost the link, click here to go to Blizzard’s official US Patch site. Get the 2.3.0 full patch, the 2.3.0 to 2.3.2 patch, and the 2.3.2 to 2.3.3 patch. Apply them all in order, running as Administrator for Vista.

Also, if you are using your own private server, there are other steps necessary to make the server BC-compatible. You are going to have to redo all your vmaps, DBC, and maps extracting. This process is detailed in Reaper-X’s Maps, VMaps, DBC Extraction Guide.. Just overwrite any duplicate files in your C:/wow/data folder with the ones newly generated by those steps. This time you won’t get an error for Expansion.MpQ file, since now you have the expansion.

There is one final step. You have to edit the mangosd.conf file. Search for “Expansion = 0″ and change it to “Expansion = 1″, then save the file. Now start up mangosd.exe and wait for it to parse all the new maps. When it is ready, do “setbc [username] 1″ where [username] is the username you use to login to WOW on your private server.


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Howto: Play World of Warcraft for Free

Written by rob on March 7, 2008 – 10:42 pm -

The following guide tells you how to acquire the World of Warcraft client for free (legally, of course!), setup your own private server, and then connect to a private server. It also examines some of the cool things you can do within your server. Please note that this is free because you are not going to be using Blizzard’s servers. That means you won’t be able to play with your friends who play on the Blizzard servers. However, you could invite your friends to play on the same private server as you. For all intents and purposes, this free method isn’t a great replacement for the real thing. There’s bugs, lag, and many other problems, but when it comes down to it… you are in fact playing WOW for free.

Step One: Getting, Installing, and Updating the World of Warcraft Client

Getting the World of Warcraft client is the easiest part of this tutorial, but it may also be the longest depending on your internet connection speed. I have Comcast that goes at roughly 8mbps, and the download still took me over three hours (granted, I wasn’t maxing out my connection — Blizzard’s web servers aren’t the fastest). The download is 3.15GB. To get the client, click here. What you download as a result from that link probably only took a second, but then when you double-click that file it will begin the true downloading process. I chose to save everything to a desktop folder called WOW.

Note: The WOW Client is the full game of World of Warcraft. It contains all the information the CDs contain when you buy the game in the store. Blizzard allows people to get this client for two reasons: 1) You can use it up to 10 days to connect to the Blizzard servers for free, so it acts as a trial version. 2) You may be downloading the client for Mac OSX or for Linux, and then using that to login to your existing account that is activated with a Windows access key (which comes with the retail version of the game). In our case, we aren’t getting it for either of these reasons, but keep in mind this is 100% legal. This is NOT a pirated copy of the game.

The next steps, however, can be considering illegal. It goes against the Terms of Service for the game, so if you are morally invested or otherwise opposed to breaking such agreements, please close your browser now and forget this ever happened. All instructions are provided for educational purposes only and I do not condone illegal activity in any way.

NOW that that’s taken care of, shall we get to the fun part?

With the client downloaded, open up whatever folder you chose to save it to. You will see a file called “installer.exe”. Double-click on that to begin the installation. In the splash screen that comes up, press “Install World of Warcraft”. They then force you to scroll to the bottom of the service agreement before pressing Accept. (Keep in mind, this is the service agreement you are breaking by using a private server). Finally, press OK to accept the default values for installation directory and to begin the process. The installer will copy all the files and tell you when it’s finished. This process took 7 minutes for me. VERY IMPORTANT! When it says the Installation is Complete, DO NOT press “Play World of Warcraft” or “Create a New Account”. This will attempt to connect you with the Blizzard servers, which, for the purpose of playing WOW for free, you NEVER want to do. Instead, press the X in the top right corner of the installer to quit the program.

The next step is to update the client to version 2.3.3. This is the latest version as of writing, and it is supported by the latest version of Reaper-X’s WOW Private Server, which is used in the next step to host your own private server. Keep in mind that if you intend to connect to a private server on the Internet, then you will need to have the right version for that specific server. Therefore, make sure you only upgrade to that version and NO FURTHER. However, most of the best ones nowadays support 2.3.3, so that is what we’ll do.

Click here to go to Blizzard’s official US Patch site. Download the following patches: Version 2.0.x to 2.3.0 Full Patch, Version 2.3.0 to 2.3.2 Upgrade Patch, and Version 2.3.2 to 2.3.3 Upgrade Patch. The Full Patch there is 692MB so that may also take some time on a slower Internet connection. The total download time for all three was 15 minutes for me. I recommend using FileShack. Even though you have to click through more than FileFront, they are super fast… it maxed out my connection.

Once they are all downloaded, run them in sequential order. Nothing special to note here, except that if you are using Vista you should run these updates as an Administrator. Once you have the WOW client 2.3.3, then you are ready to continue by either hosting your own private server or connecting to an existing one on the Internet.

Step Two: Running your own Private Server

Private servers are servers that emulate the Blizzard servers. They do not equal the Blizzard servers in reliability or functionality, but they come pretty close. They are a necessity to bypass the monthly fee of WOW. Most private servers available to the public are rather buggy and laggy, but again, you get what you (don’t) pay for.

Click here for a rather detailed comparison between private servers and official (Blizzard, monthly-payment) servers. I try to explain it in my own way below.

You may want to run your own private server. This server will have almost zero lag, since you are communicating with your own computer instead of over the Internet. The biggest drawback to this is obvious: you will essentially be playing by yourself. If you just want to play WOW for the questing and the role-playing experience, this isn’t necessarily a problem. However, keep in mind that half of a MMORPG is the MMO part — the part where you interact in an online world full of other people. With your own private server, that element will be nonexistent, so you will certainly be missing out on a lot of the experience. The best reason to run your own server, besides the no lag factor, is that you can modify the world to your liking. This means making a Level 70 character in an instant, creating hacked items that make you unstoppable, instantly kill the biggest bosses, etc. Or you can do things that aren’t such outright cheating, such as creating custom bosses or vendors. Think of your private server as a sandbox, where you can experience the world of WOW however you want. If you’re the type of person that can have fun alone in a sandbox, then that’s what this method is for.

If you don’t like the idea of hosting your own private server, then you can join one of the private servers available online. Most of these are still free, meaning there’s no monthly fee. However, there are other people on there. There are usually only a hundred or so people on at any one time, though, which can never give you the same experience as the Blizzard servers where there’s thousands on at a time. If you would prefer to join an existing server because you don’t want to go through the work to host your own or you want the benefit of having others to interact with, you can skip this step and proceed to Step 3.

Those of you still reading this section are here because you want to learn how to host your own private server. In order to do this, we will take advantage of Reaper-X’s hard work. Normally, you would have to acquire the Mangos MMORPG Server and then do a lot of difficult things in order to make it WOW-compatible. Reaper-X has created a package that makes all of this much easier, essentially taking all the hard work out while still giving you full control of the server. He has also made my job easier by providing a very good tutorial on how to install his private server. Instead of reinventing the wheel, I will simply link to his guide. You can follow his guide word for word. Step 6 of his guide is the same thing I will cover below in Step Three, so you can skip that for now if you don’t understand how he explains it.

Just a few notes to supplement Reaper-X’s own guide. For Vista users, MySQL’s configuration wizard may not start cleanly. You will get an error complaining about a “side-by-side configuration”. The solution is steps 4-10 at this forum post.

Another ugly Vista note… all of the BAT (batch) files that are used to extract the maps, vmaps, and dbc content from the WOW data folder need to be run as Administrator. Unfortunately, simply right-clicking them and choosing “Run as Administrator” doesn’t do it. You instead have to do it from an Administrative Command Prompt. To do this, press the Start button, and then type “cmd” in the search box. Instead of pressing Enter to simply launch the program, press SHIFT+CTRL+ENTER. This will launch it with admin prefs. Of course, you have to “Allow” that action. Once you have that up, type “cd C:\” to get to the root of the C directory. Then type “cd Pro” and press TAB… it will automatically fill in “Program Files”. Now you can press Enter. Then type “cd World” and press TAB… it will fill in “World of Warcraft”, so press Enter. Once there, now you can type “extract-map.bat”, “makevmaps_SIMPLE.bat”, or “extract.bat” depending on what you are extracting. Also, you will get an error during the extract maps step about expansion.MPQ, since we don’t have the expansion pack, but you can safely ignore that.

During the Reaper Mangos configuration step, make sure you set the Expansion variable to 0 if you followed the first part of this guide, since the client you got does not include The Burning Crusade.

Step Three: Connecting to a Private Server

Whether you have created your own private server in Step 2 or want to connect to a Private Server on the Internet, the process is simple. You have to edit the file called “realmlist.wtf”, which is located in the directory C:/Program Files/World of Warcraft/. (If you installed WOW to another folder, it will be there instead. If you have trouble finding it goto Start->Search and type in “realmlist.wtf” and make sure it is searching All Files and Folders in Local Hard Drives.) Right-click the file and select Open With. Choose to open it in Notepad. There will be lines for the official Blizzard servers. Delete those.

Now you can put your new entry. If you have created your own private server, you would put a line with “set realmlist 127.0.0.1″. If you are using an Internet public server, you will use their URL instead. For example, a popular one is ToxicWow, which you would set to “set realmlist logon.toxic-wow.net”. Speaking of ToxicWow, they have a great picture tutorial of this process in case you are lost. Just click the “Change your realmlist” link and there will be a nice tutorial.

Keep in mind you can only use one at a time. If you want to use both ToxicWow’s server and your own private server, you will have to edit the realmlist.wtf file before you open the game to contain only the one you need at that moment. I am thinking about creating a program that will make switching this very easy, but right now it’s not a priority. I’m going to be too busy enjoying my private server.

If you have followed all the steps so far, you should be ready. Start up World of Warcraft, agree to the service agreements (which you have broken by using a private server), and then login using the GM account you setup. You can then create your new character and start playing WOW (by yourself or with the few people on the private Internet server). All for free !


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Why PS3 will eventually beat 360

Written by rob on December 19, 2007 – 8:40 pm -

Looking at the numbers of the various consoles sold doesn’t really tell the whole story. For example, today there are roughly 13 million Wiis, 12 million Xbox 360s, and 5.5 million PS3s. To the casual observer, it looks like the Wii is the most popular, but only by a narrow margin over the 360. It then looks like the 360 is the 2nd most popular, while the PS3 trails behind.

To get a better idea of which one is more popular, one has to consider market share. That is, how much percentage of all consoles sold is a particular one. For example, right now Wii has 42% market share, 360 has 41%, and PS3 has 17%. These numbers alone do not help understand what is going on, until one compares the market shares for multiple times. So, one could check at the market share one week, and then again four weeks (1 month) later. With this data, they could see how fast each one is growing in terms of market share. This value tells the true story of what is going on, and how popular (how fast it is selling) each console is.

I started recording data in August, and have compiled some final data as of today, December 19. The data shows something that I always knew but that most people refuse to believe. Put simply, the PS3 is selling faster than 360. Everyone knows the Wii has been destroying everyone (it sold more in 1 year than 360 did in 2 years, and it’s only getting crazier), but I have included that data as well.

What I did was calculated, using Numbers (Mac’s new spreadsheet program, comparable to Excel), the market share at various dates. I then used formulas to figure out how much it changed from one data sampling to another (very simple in spreadsheets… just =C1-B1 stuff). The problem, however, is that I took my data samples at random dates. Therefore, there is no set interval between them. Because of this, I divided the market share change by the amount of days that had passed to get what I call the C/D value (Change in Market Share per Day). Finally, I averaged the C/D values from all of the data sampling days and got an average change in market share per day value for each console. The numbers confirm what I said above.

The PS3 market share has been changing by 0.006% per day (meaning it increases by that amount). Xbox 360′s market share has been changing by -0.031% per day (meaning it decreases by that amount). Finally, Wii market share increases by 0.025% per day. So in other words, Wii is selling the fastest, followed by PS3, with 360 trailing. What this means is that eventually, PS3 market share will surpass Xbox 360.

I did some calculations and found that the day this occurs will be 628 days from today. 628 minus 365 (because 2008 is a leap year) is 263, which is how many days into 2009 this day will occur. The 263rd day of the year is September 20th (on a non-leap year like 2009). Therefore, September 20, 2009, the Playstation 3 will have sold more units than the Xbox 360. I’m too lazy to figure out how many units this will actually be, but I’m not sure you can even do that with this data. The good part about this data, though, is that market share is all relative. Therefore, even if all consoles sell like crazy during the Christmas season, their market share changes don’t fluctuate (assuming they all sell equally during the holidays as they normally do).

That was a really long-winded way to say to everyone that the PS3 is selling better than 360, despite Halo 3 being released. That did nothing to help 360′s sales. For those that can’t read, are too lazy to read, or like pretty pictures, here is the same information displayed graphically.

NOTE: All data taken from NexGenWars


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PS3 “Price Drop”

Written by rob on July 15, 2007 – 11:24 am -

I assume that anyone who goes on the Internet on a daily basis has already heard that Sony announced a $100 price drop to their Playstation 3 console, effective immediately. If you haven’t heard, now you know.

I don’t think the move requires much commentary. It is fairly obvious that Sony must be in trouble… never before in Sony console history (and I venture to say any console’s history), has a price drop been effective so soon after launch. This announcement comes only 8 months after the PS3 was released, and the price drop is rather substantial. $100 represents a 16.6% price drop. With the sales of the system coming to a near halt in the past two months, the move to cut the price seems logical. The amount of sold units has been at 3.5 million for quite some time with not much change.

In combination with the well-received E3 for Sony and this new price drop, not to mention the slew of incoming fall games, I expect the Holiday 07 season for Sony to be a very nice one. 360 better watch out, while Wii needs to keep bringing in games to attract more consumers.

What most people don’t realize about the price drop, however, is that it is only in effect as long as 60GB versions of the console exist. That is, the $100 price drop is for the 60GB SKU only, which Sony has halted production of. They claim that there is still enough supply for a few months, but that is based on their current sales rate… which should be noticeably increased as a result of the price drop. Once all of the 60GB versions are gone (or on August 1, whichever comes first), Sony will be releasing an 80GB version for the original price of $599.

It kind of ruins the point of a price drop if it will be not noticeable in potentially less than half a month. Once the 60GB versions are gone, you will still have to shell out $599 to get a PS3, since the 80 gig version will be the only one around. I think the choice to go with 80GB, as opposed to say 120GB, is a stupid choice. Why don’t we just make an advertisement showing that 360 has 40GB more space than us? (Consumers aren’t going to care that the 40GB, or even 120GB, means practically nothing in the world of HD video.) Furthermore, what is the point of the price drop at all? To liquidate a million units really quick? If they are so interested in selling consoles, why don’t they let the price drop stick and sell a million units every 2 weeks until Christmas?

The choice is interesting, but despite this, it still remains that they have plenty of good games coming soon and their E3 demonstration was considered the best of the three main console companies. One interesting thing to note is that Unreal Tournament 3 (formerly 2007) is going to be PS3 exclusive as far as consoles go (there will still be a PC version). The reason? Not only are the developers more excited about Sony’s system in terms of power, but get this… The Playstation Network offers more flexibility. That’s the same PSN that is allegedly inferior to Xbox Live. And while I think all gamers realize that Live continues to offer much more, the PSN has some tricks up its sleeve… like allowing UT3 to have downloadable mods. Every time a game like Oblivion or UT comes out, you know its going to be heavily modded. Until now, to enjoy that you would need the PC version. The revelation that the PSN network is capable of distributing mods and other user-created content really makes it attractive… the PS3 is even closer now to a PC gaming platform.


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The Evolution of MMORPG Communication

Written by rob on June 20, 2007 – 1:39 pm -

Today I read an article by Clive Thompson about the growing trend of using voice communication services from within MMORPGs (massively multi-player online RPGs), and how it is taking away from the “virtual” experience. You can read his article here (Wired.com).

Just to summarize before I launch into my own opinion, Clive is essentially saying that utilizing voice chat, that is, using a microphone with your computer so that you can speak with other people instead of typing to them, is degrading the sense of a virtual identity. Now I want to elaborate on his idea and then introduce my own take on the new trend.

Role-playing games have always been about creating a character and pretending to be them, as the name of the genre implies. You literally play the role of whomever you choose. In WOW, that role may be a female Night Elf Mage (even if you are a male in real-life), or a male dwarf warrior (even if you are a tall and shy woman). Not everyone plays the opposite genre, but it certainly is quite common in WOW, with Elves especially (I wonder why). Either way, when you create your character, you are making a virtual identity that you then pay $14.99/month to become whenever you choose. You can use magic and do other supernatural things that you could never do in the real world, which creates a sense of an alternate reality.

As these games become more advanced, and online-only, the level of social interaction is increasing exponentially. Ten years ago online play was constrained to RTS and FPS games, where your objective was to kill other players. Rarely were bonds of any kind formed, unless you played Team Deathmatch with members of your clan. Either way, the level of interaction and friendship creation was nowhere near the level it is in modern RPG games (older online RPGs like Ultima Online and Everquest 1 had these elements, but lacked the popularity to be consider “massively multiplayer”, and thus similarly lacked the massive society of players). Nowadays, the online world of virtual characters becomes a virtual society, reflecting on the real society but different in its own ways. Real-world identities usually do not translate into the virtual worlds, and things like age, gender, location, and appearance of the real person rarely go through the minds of players. If you’re playing with a female Night Elf, you can question whether or not “she” is really a she, but overall you respect the virtual character not based on age or gender but based on how that character behaves in the virtual world. Generally, better players are more respected, even if they might be social outcasts in the real world. The way for this complete virtual identity to exist is because the communication is restricted to text, and only text. With only words to identify a person, you a basing your judgments on their knowledge of the game and how they talk from behind the shield of a virtual identity.

All of this leads to what Clive is saying in his article. A recent trend has introduced voice chat into the MMORPG world. Whether it be Ventrilo or TeamSpeak, guilds everywhere are implementing servers that allow their members to communicate using voice rather than text. The implications, pointing out by the article, are obvious: the age and gender of fellow players instantly becomes recognizable via their voice. Clive also says that things such as location or region are obvious by accents. You can tell if someone is from Texas or Boston without a degree in linguistics or much trouble at all. In other words, the voice chat destroys whatever virtual identity you might have, because your real identity is going to be the voice they hear. Your virtual character will becomes nothing more than a puppet commanded by your real life identity.

Not only does this damage the virtual identity, but it also brings some privacy concerns into the mix. Clive brings up the fact that some people may not be comfortable with giving out all of that information against their will. By sharing your voice with the world, you are giving out your age and gender whether you like it or not, and maybe your location depending on accents. What’s worse is that some guilds require you to use voice communication. While you certainly don’t need to join those guilds, it still doesn’t change the fact that you will probably need to start doing voice chat eventually in order to compete in PvP especially. Simply put, a team that can coordinate via talking instead of writing text will be infinitely more productive and efficient.

The voice chat innovation and widespread use is not entirely bad. In fact, it is the first step on the path toward a very, very interesting future. This is where I divert from Clive’s article and speculate instead on what is coming, not what has already taken place. I believe that the MMORPG market is growing at an intense rate. There are studies that show the population of WOW falling, but I attribute that simply to their lack of new game content. WOW would be a really boring place for a Level 70 who has done all the quests, since they don’t add many new things in time frames as long as a year or more. Burning Crusade represents a lot more to do, but that came far too late in my opinion. But let’s not talk about why WOW may or may not be starting its decline… regardless of whether or not it fails, MMORPGs are the future. It will just take one breakthrough game to replace WOW’s spot (if WOW does indeed fail any time soon, which is unlikely).

An important factor to consider, however, is that of monthly fee. WOW charges $14.99, and most other games sport similar costs. I think this slows the growth of the industry. There are a lot of people out there, myself included, that simply refuse to pay that kind of money to play a game. What the monthly fee creates is a commitment to the game, to get your money’s worth. However, this damages the overall point of the game. As you all know, Guild Wars is my favorite MMORPG because it offers a quality game experience, that constantly has new features (via expansion packs), and lacks a monthly fee. That’s right… it has no monthly fee. This isn’t an economics-based post, so I won’t go into why such a practice is feasible, but just know that it is very possible for companies to profit using Guild Wars’ business model (ArenaNet is profiting quite a bit, as far as I know). I think the lack of a monthly fee makes the game more accessible to people, but unfortunately with Guild Wars the game just isn’t popular enough to make a dent in WOW’s population.

In 2008, ArenaNet is going to begin a closed beta for Guild Wars 2. This new game will represent a huge step forward in the MMORPG world, both because of graphics and functionality. They are trying a lot of new things that may or may not succeed, but that is why it is a beta. Either way, I hope that Guild Wars 2 is marketed correctly so that it can attract a lot more new players. Guild Wars 2 will continue the no monthly fee model, and I think that would be a great starting point for advertisement. “Get all the fun of WOW, with no monthly fee, plus better graphics.” Sounds like a good deal to me. With a game like that properly marketed, it should gain huge ground by reaching into untapped markets. Like I mentioned above, there are those who simply won’t pay per-month to enjoy an online game, and Guild Wars and similar games can appeal to them if they are marketed to.

Whether it is Guild Wars 2 or another no-monthly-fee game, I think the world is ready at this point for widespread adaption of the MMORPG. There are plenty of people who would buy into (no pun intended) the lack of a monthly fee. But I think there is another market of people who are not targeted at all by current MMORPGs, and should be if the MMORPG is going to be a universally accessible type of game. The people that I am speaking about are females. It is no secret that females, statistically, don’t game nearly as much as males. In fact, the only game ever to be bought by more females than males is The Sims. The Sims is really one of the only games to ever appeal to females. I think if a company were to make an MMORPG that appealed to girls, in addition to guys, then females could join the growing virtual society. It would be interesting, for once, to actually hear the voice of a female person behind that virtual Female Night Elf. For the true future of MMORPG to be reached, the virtual society needs to be representative of the real society, where there are just as many females as males.

When/if such a time is reached, when there are all kinds of people playing MMORPGs for all different reasons, then the power of voice chat and general online communication within these games will truly be seen. I foresee a future where AIM/MSN/YM/etc. and GTalk/Skype/etc. are completely replaced with MMORPGs. I also believe things like Youtube, MySpace, and FaceBook will be replaced with an MMORPG. In fact, there may come a point where, when you turn on your computer, it comes up to the game instead of a desktop. Who needs YouTube if the huge population of WOW or a similar game is able to share videos with one another, in the game? Who needs AIM when you can simply private-message someone, or meet in an instanced location (easier to do in GW) and chat using the regular text chat with many people at once? And who needs Google Talk and Skype if you have the ability to use Ventrilo or TeamSpeak right from in the game to communicate with other people?

Sony’s Home that is soon coming to the Playstation 3 makes this idea a reality. In Home, you can do all the things mentioned above… talk with others, text chat with others, share photos/music/videos, play games together, etc. Plus, you can create your own virtual “home” a’la The Sims and show it off to other players. Want to have a chat with a friend? Simply invite them to your virtual apartment and chat using a keyboard or a microphone. I think Home will be revolutionary, in that it will introduce the idea of mixing a massively multi-player world with various media-sharing capabilities to create a huge, interactive social world. The fact that it closely resembles The Sims will also make it very attractive to female gamers. While Home isn’t a game unto itself, it might as well be an MMORPG since you are role-playing using a virtual character.

In conclusion, I think Sony’s Home will open the eyes of the world on the issue of a massively multi-player online role-playing community. I hope that games like Guild Wars 2 and a WOW 2 if there ever is one, will realize that they need to implement some things like that in their games. With no monthly fee and some way to attract female gamers, the world of MMO gaming is going to go to a new level. The current trend of voice chat and its illicit destruction of the virtual identity is going to create a future MMORPG where you don’t role-play at all, but actually be yourself online.


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New PS3 Firmware 1.80 Adds Great New Features

Written by rob on May 26, 2007 – 12:55 pm -

The new PS3 firmware is much more exciting than anything else released lately. This firmware adds three huge new features that should not be taken lightly, as well as some other features that will help a lot of people.

The first large update is the ability for the PS3 to act as a UPnP or DLNA client. You may be thinking, “Wow, that’s great. I don’t even know what those things are.” Well, despite the weird acronyms, this is actually a VERY useful feature that makes up for one thing 360 used to have over PS3. Essentially, any Windows computer running Windows Media Player 11 can act as a DLNA server. Then, the PS3, since it now supports being a DLNA client, can access any media you have available to your Windows Media Player 11 Library. The possibilities are endless.

Some tweaking is necessary to get things working nicely, however. For example, I keep all of my music in iTunes, and none of it in Windows Media Player. So when I logged into my PC from the PS3, there was no music available. To add music from iTunes into Windows Media Player, you can follow the guide located here. As described in the guide, an applet called MusicBridge allows you to sync playlist and other metadata (such as album artwork). This makes your Windows Media Player library contain all the music from iTunes, and essentially gives your PS3 access to all of your iTunes info such as playlists.

Another important consideration is that of video. The PS3 does not support that much, and most notably lacks DivX/Xvid support, which is the format that most internet-downloaded movies are in. If you want to watch such videos/movies on the PS3, another workaround is necessary. This one requires you to bypass Windows Media Player alltogether, and use Nero MediaHome. This requries Nero 7 Ultra Edition, but I’m sure most people have that since it is the best Windows media burning solution available. A guide for using Nero MediaHome to stream various unsupported video files to PS3 is located here.

With those two things taken care of, the power of PS3 as a media center has just gone up exponentially. This part of the Firmware 1.80 update should make every PS3 owner very happy. Beyond that, it should also attract the attention of many PC media enthusiasts… it has been said that PS3′s interface is much cleaner than that of Xbox 360′s (though I have no experience with 360′s), and should appeal to more people. I think this streaming also verifies why a hard drive larger than 20GB is not currently necessary (not like it matters, since the 20GB version has been discontinued, and an 80GB upgrade to the Premium model is rumored and in my opinion likely in the next three months).

The second huge part of the update is a lot easier to reap the benefits of. It is HD Upscaling for DVDs and PS1/PS2 games. This feature is enabled by default, and can be tweaked under the Settings part of the XMB. Not much to say here, other than it works very nicely for DVDs. I have not tried it with PS1/PS2 games, but there is a comparison of God of War II here (via Digg). This is a feature that also greatly enhances the PS3′s abilities and makes its $600 more worth it.

Finally, the third huge update is Remote Play via the Internet. This will allow the PSP to access anything on your PS3 via the Internet using the Remote Play functionality. Combined with the media streaming, you could access your entire home network’s arsenal of media from anywhere in the world with a wireless broadband internet connection. This will require the not-yet-released PSP Firmware 3.50 update, that I am hoping dark_alex converts to 3.50 OE (Open Edition) custom firmware soon, so that I can try out the Remote Play feature finally!

Other added features include (from Sony Press Release):

  • Copying Saved Data to a Memory Card Users can now copy saved data from PlayStation or PlayStation 2 format software stored on their PS3 system to a Memory Card or Memory Card (8MB) (for PlayStation2), using their PS3 system and a Memory Card Adaptor.
  • Photo Printing, Viewing, and Editing The photo capabilities of PS3 system have been enhanced, allowing users to print digital photos stored on a PS3s hard drive or inserted storage media. Currently, select Epson printers connected via USB are compatible. In addition, users will find a new type of slideshow for displaying photos, zoom functionality and the option to crop images.

The photo printing especially is a pretty important addition. It shows how the PS3 is increasingly becoming a multi-purpose media device. With this combined with the streaming, you could use the PS3′s cool photo slideshow effects to show off photography to family and friends (or clients if you take professional photography) from the comfort of your living room. If they like a certain photo, you could then print it right from the living room to one of the support photo printers. The possibilities are great to think consider.

I think this firmware update shows how powerful the PS3 is, and how it truly is not just a powerful gaming machine. All of these new features add a lot of greatness to the PS3, which will hopefully make it an attractive purchase for prospective buyers while we wait for the wave of 2nd half of 2007 releases to hit stores and give the PS3 much-needed gaming merit.


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State of the Game: Playstation 3

Written by rob on April 10, 2007 – 11:26 pm -

UPDATE (04-13-07): Sony has officially axed the 20GB model in North America. No longer will those models be shipped to any retailers. For the reasons stated below in the original article, this is absolutely ridiculous. This single move may mark the end of Playstation 3. I know you thought you’d never hear me say this, but Sony is dead wrong. What they have essentially done is taken the easy way out. While they could have launched a huge marketing campaign to educate the general public about the 20GB PS3 (it would be seen as a price cut, since most people claim the PS3 is $599 while it can [or could have been, before this shocking move] be had for $499) and in the process improve their current bad public image, they instead decided to just can the whole thing.

Because sales were low, they made the move that I predict will have huge consequences. $599 is a ridiculous price for a gaming console (especially when said console has so few good games), while $499 is only $100 away from the technologically-inferior Xbox 360. In a perfect world, Sony’s announcement would tell of the dropping of the 60GB SKU instead of the 20GB one. I look to the future with woe and hopelessness; MGS4 and Home may not be able to cure this damage. I can safely say, all Sony fanboyism aside, that I would not buy a PS3 if I were currently in the market. That extra $100 makes a huge difference, especially considering the fact that there are only one or two good exclusive games, a number that won’t grow to anything substantial for at least a year.

Note that this announcement makes the second rant/argument in the following article (about the 20GB version’s superiority) pretty irrelevant, considering buying one in the near future will be impossible.

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I have decided to start a new type of column that would allow me to focus more on gaming, something that I have gotten away from in the recent posting. Dubbed “State of the Game”, it will focus on various aspects of gaming and discuss the latest news about it. All of this will of course be bundled with my commentary on the many issues.

First up is a subject of so much controversy and debate that it is almost scandalous: the Playstation 3. Released in Japan and the United States in November of 2006, the system has been selling relatively well. It was released in Europe, although in a modified form (no Emotion Engine inside, meaning no hardware PS2 emulations, which in turn means less PS2 games work on it) on March 23, 2007, and it’s launch cannot be seen as anything other than a success. There are many videos and pictures floating around on the Internet that show stores with tons of the systems on the shelves. While they are authentic pictures, the context must be considered.

Europe has never been a huge consumer base for gaming, and it doesn’t seem like it can ever catch up to the US and Japan. Unfortunately for those who do live there, this lesser demand means that almost all of their games are released months, if not years, later. This is seen with the PS3, as it was released over four months after the original US release. That said, this relative lack of gaming consumerism in Europe means that the sale of any system on launch day and the few weeks following will usually pale in comparison to US figures. Even so, the numbers for Europe are not at all measly. In all of Europe, the system sold 600,000 units during its launch weekend, about 150,000 of which were in the UK. This is pretty much equivalent to the US numbers, showing how well the system did considering the fewer consumer base. Interestingly enough, as those many Internet photos didn’t hesitate to point out, there was a surplus of systems. The game system did not sell out at launch, so everyone dubbed it a failed launch. That couldn’t be further from the truth, as the PS3 launch numbers in the UK dwarfed both the Wii and 360 launch. In fact, it was the largest launch in the country’s history for any video game console.

Aside from the Sony haters erroneously claiming that the European launch was a failure, there has been a recent retail trend that I care to point out and comment on. As you are likely aware, the Playstation 3 is available in two models: the $499 version that includes a 20GB hard drive in addition to the system itself and a wireless controller, and the $599 version that includes a 60Gb hard drive, the system itself, a wireless controller, a wireless internet adapter, media card readers for various types of flash media (MS, SD, CF, etc.), and of course the all-important chrome trimming on the exterior. While it may initially seem that the $599 is obviously better choice, you must consider what exactly it is that it gives you. All chrome trimming aside, it gives you 40GB more of hard drive space, the wireless internet adapter, and the media card readers. All of that is for $100. I, however, believe that the $599 version is a complete rip-off and that any gamer, no matter what their situation, should purchase the $499 version.

My rationale is simple. The chrome trimming is obviously worthless, and in some opinions even looks less attractive than the pure black model. The media readers are also pointless, as many cameras will work on the PS3 via USB; even if they don’t, who really wants to view their SD card on their PS3? USB thumb drives are a much more practical form of flash storage, since everything supports it (including the 20GB PS3). As for the hard drive space, I don’t think the average person will need 20GB any time soon. The Playstation Store has very little content overall, so there isn’t much to fill up that drive. Save games don’t even begin to scratch the surface of one gigabyte, let alone twenty.

The only thing that could use so much space is extensive music or video collections. However, I believe that if someone would fill 20GB with music and video, then the likelihood is that they will also fill 60GB. Therefore, the size of the disk is irrelevant because none of the pre-installed drives are enough for those who want to truly use them. In their case, they can upgrade the hard drive (which Youtube shows us is very easy to do) to a 250GB or greater drive. After all, the PS3′s video format, MPEG-4, makes HUGE file sizes for HD content. A few movies would fill the 60GB drive in no time (not to mention you’d spend half a lifetime converting the files to HD MPEG-4). Therefore, someone will either be content with 20GB or would require way more than 60GB, meaning that either way the 20GB model would suit them (the latter instance would simply remove the 20GB drive and replace it with a larger one; BTW, the $100 saved from getting the cheaper version of the PS3 can buy a 200GB drive last time I checked).

The final difference between the versions is the wireless internet adapter. This is the only feature that I consider to be very important in some cases. Simply put, some people cannot connect their PS3 to their Internet without wireless. The system may be in their living room, while the computer/router is in their bedroom. Whatever the case, it is a fact that some people require wireless. But the extra $100 is hardly worth it… luckily, in a recent system update for the console (something that Sony consistently does to improve the overall features and usability of the system), the PS3 enables the use of an external wireless adapter. It was originally known that Sony would support this, but most naysayers believed that adding wireless in this way would exempt you from using the PSP Remote Play feature; this is NOT the case, and the PS3 w/ external wireless adapter has been confirmed to work with PSP.

Now that I have hopefully established that the $499 20GB version of the PS3 is clearly the better choice for any non-ridiculously-wealthy-and-wasteful gamer, I will get back to my main point about a newly developing trend in retail. The 60GB, more expensive version, is outselling the cheaper one by vast proportions. In fact, an article over on the GI.biz site posted earlier today tells how certain retail locations and even some online locations (including Sony’s own SonyStyle!) are dropping support for the $499 version. It simply isn’t selling, according to Sony spokesman Satoshi Fukuoka.

The fact that retailers are dropping support is simply them following procedure. If something isn’t selling well, they drop it from inventory to cut needless costs and boost profit. They’re in the business to make money, just like everyone else. It isn’t the retailers’ fault that the 20GB version is failing; they simply provide an outlet through which consumers can buy something. Rarely do they advise on what to buy, and consumers don’t expect them to (though I’m sure many retailer employees would tell PS3 shoppers that the 20GB version is inferior; they get more money that way). The lack of demand shows how American consumers are obsessed with anything that has the word “Premium” in it. The lack of knowledge about the two versions leads consumers to wrongly conclude that the cheaper version is inferior. After all, cheap things must be of lesser quality, right?

Perhaps this is in part due to the Xbox 360 launch a year earlier. The consumers were exposed to the two version system, and it was clear that everyone went with the Premium package. In 360′s case, however, the Core package is horrifically crippled, to the point where getting one is doing yourself an injustice (no HD = no XBL downloads, which means missing half the fun of XBL). No hard drive in that Core system ruins everything for the consumer (and also for developers who cannot assume a hard drive is present due to Microsoft’s publishing terms). When consumers viewed the 360 situation, they probably assumed the PS3′s lesser version was equally as worthless. However, that is not the case as I’ve explained above hopefully in clear detail.

As I’ve said, the retailers dropping of the 20GB version is simply them doing their job and trying to maximize profits. The consumers not knowing what to purchase is not their fault — their lack of knowledge on the subject is the fault of Sony’s marketing. I cast all blame regarding this trend on Sony itself. The fact that Sony is dropping the product from their online SonyStyle store shows how little commitment they have to the success of the product. Never before have I seen a company turn their back on their own product. It seems from the very beginning the 20GB version was setup to fail. It initially was going to come without HDMI and with a wired controller, which likely would have sent the version the way of the 360 Core package. But then when the announcements came that the 20GB version included all the features of the full version minus the minor features detailed above, gamers everywhere should have gotten excited. After all, buying a PS3 would mean $499 instead of $599. But nope… the $599 version eclipsed its cheaper brother. It seems that the general public was never properly educated about the fundamental equality of the two systems. Where is Sony in all of this? They’re nowhere! I believe Sony should make a major effort to educate the consumers about the validity of this cheaper version instead of simply cowering away at the sight of slumping sales figures.

The only reason I can think of for Sony to let the 20GB version fail is because it causes them to lose so much money. Having essentially all the same hardware as its more expensive variation, it costs $100 less. The differences between them clearly don’t add up to $100 from the manufacturer’s standpoint; I’d be surprised if one cost $20 more than the other. Even if this is the case, and Sony fears losing more money per unit than they do with the more popular $599 version, it is still not an excuse. They need to realize that selling the PS3s is absolutely essential for the future of their gaming platform. Developers need to see that making a multi-million-dollar game project exclusively on the PS3 will be worth it — this can only be the case if there are millions of potential buyers for that game, something that will only come to fruition if Sony gets its act together. More PS3s in people’s homes is what Sony needs to succeed, something that would be easier to accomplish if consumers realized that the cheaper version was a viable option and in no way hampered.

It is no secret that one of the biggest problems with PS3 is its price. Most people simply cannot swallow the $599 require to purchase one. But what everyone needs to realize is that it is actually $100 less (assuming the 20GB version doesn’t vanish completely at some point soon). The $499 number may still be high for most people, but once the inevitable price cut does come, that $100 difference may just put the less-than-premium PS3 in the price range of many more people. Say that Sony gives PS3 a $50 price drop in a year or two. Is $549 really that much more of an attractive number? $449, however, would be within one game’s price of a 360 Premium, and by that time the PS3 should have the games to make getting one worth while.

The bottom line: The PS3 is the best selling console in Europe’s history, and its European launch equaled its US launch. Considering it still had a surplus of systems does not mean demand was low, but only that Sony actually met launch demand (something that rarely happens during a console launch) and thus should be applauded for their manufacturing fortitude. As for the two versions of the system: If you are in the market for a PS3, do yourself a financial favor and get the cheaper version. If the 20GB drive gets too small, spend the money and upgrade later to something larger. Don’t be fooled into paying $100 for a 40GB hard drive upgrade or for a wireless internet capability; both can be had for half the $100 difference using third-party add-ons.


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Nintendo DS Save Converter

Written by rob on April 5, 2007 – 3:59 pm -

I received my awesome black-colored DS Lite in the mail on Monday and I’ve been playing it ever since. I’ve been experimenting with various programming tasks for creating programs that run on the DS itself — let’s just say that I’m not doing too well. My biggest plan is to make some way that will allow me to cheat on ROMs. The combination of my flash cartridge with ROMs makes it impossible to do what I want with any pre-existing methods. Hopefully I’ll make progress soon, but as of now things are looking bleak; I barely understand how to access the DS’s memory, let alone how to hook certain functions and modify memory dynamically at runtime (which I will need to do to be able to cheat in the games).

That said, I have accomplished at least one thing. It turns out that most of the save game files available on internet message boards and sites such as GameFAQs are in the format created by an Action Replay DS (they are .duc files). The problem is that my flash cartridge does not support these kind of saves, and instead uses a 4-mbit raw SAV file format. In order to combat this, I made a program in Visual Basic that converts between the two formats. Also, I made it so you can also convert to 2mbit raw SAV files, which is what most flash cartridges other than mine use.

You can see the entry for it on the My Programs page of this site, or you can simply click here to download it directly. I tested it with Windows XP and Vista, but it should be compatible with any Windows as long as you have the runtime file available here.

Enjoy. If you have any trouble using it or have a feature request, let me know in the comments section.


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New Versions of Everything

Written by rob on January 24, 2007 – 1:43 pm -

So, there now seems to be a new version of everything under the sun coming out.

First of all, WordPress 2.1 is immediately available as of yesterday. I already updated. Though I can’t really notice much different, it does seem a lot faster when going to write a new post. It does have some new features (see full changelog here), but not really anything that will affect me (like spell check… Firefox 2.0 did that a while ago). It also lets you post things without a category, and let’s you set any page to the home page of the blog (so it will not necessarily show the latest posts). This is important for me, especially, since I use WordPress as the homepage of my overall site. I don’t know if I’ll ever use the feature, but it represents a powerful step forward… WordPress can now be considered a pretty decent content management system, aside from just a blogging engine.

They also changed how you make posts… now you view it in HTML (minus the BR and P tags). I don’t really mind this, except the new interface for adding links doesn’t give you any options (other than the URL). Previous versions let you “open link in new window” and put in a description of the link, features that I used. I am disappointed to see this, and hope they change it back. One other new feature that is pretty nice is the auto-saving of the post as you type. Now no more killing people when your 1500 word post is lost!

The next big update came today for PS3. Although still not listed on Sony’s official site for such things, Ars Technica has written about the new fixes. The largest thing is the alleged fix to backwards compatibility. Sony haters have taken every chance to point out that PS2 games look poor on PS3, and some even have bigger problems (such as audio glitches). The blog post states that the graphical problems have been almost completely fixed. They also note faster Playstation Store speeds, which is very good considering it was almost unusable. The Store is still rather lacking in the content department though (the same demos have been on there since day one, with few exceptions). I’m still hoping for a huge update to add the covetted Dashboard feature from 360. I don’t care if the haters call it copying… it is a feature that any console aiming to be a media center should have.

Finally, the largest of the three updates that I am bringing up in this post, is coming out January 30, 2007, which is less than a week away. It is the much anticipated and also much delayed update to Microsoft’s flagship product, the Windows operating system. The update of which I speak is Windows Vista, which will come out with myriad versions and likely require most users to upgrade their computers to fully enjoy it. I happen to be running Vista Ultimate already (and eventually plan to shift to Vista Enterprise when my 30-day trial runs out), and I’m enjoying it. The biggest set-backs are compatibility with my iPod and the fact that games don’t run too well. I am pretty sure the game issue is due to the beta, and thus not optimized, video card driver.

I’m excited about the launch because I know that Apple will soon roll out a Vista-compatible iTunes/iPod driver, and that ATI will hopefully upgrade their driver. When Vista goes mainstream, big developers (both hardware and software) are going to have to address it, which means all the shortcomings that I experience now will be gone. Though Vista isn’t revolutionary or necessary, it has some much-needed features that you shouldn’t be left without. While I still prefer Mac OSX (and look forward to Leopard on my future MacBook Pro), I’m a PC gamer and thus need Vista in order to experience the next-gen (Direct X 10… Crysis, anyone?).

That’s it for now. Once Vista is launched, I plan on updating everyone on whether or not the iPod issues are addressed. Also, I will make a brief write-up about Vista Enterprise once it comes to that. It is in some ways even better than Ultimate, minus the Media Center. Without a TV tuner, though, I won’t be missing the Media Center too much. As for PS3, I’m still waiting for the dashboard (and rumor has it that February will bring with it the location-free-esque Remote Play for PSP).


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Playstation 3 is the Devil

Written by rob on December 8, 2006 – 4:34 pm -

Maybe it’s just my inner fanboy coming out, but what is the deal with all the negative Playstation 3 press? There are countless articles stating “Wii and 360 beat PS3 sales”, “PS3 sales not meeting expectations”, and just general “PS3 disappoints” articles. And the sad thing is that most of the articles are using ideologies that are completely unwarranted and devoid of reason.

One article concludes that the Nintendo Wii is the best console because it sold more units than the Playstation 3. I’m sorry, but less sales does not mean less demand. The problem with the PS3 is that the manufacturing was a lot later and slower than imagined, and thus only about 200,000 units shipped to the United States. On the other hand, about 600,000 Wii units shipped. While those numbers may be off, it is irrelevant for the point. Just because more units were shipped, and thus sold, does not mean anything about the console’s quality or the demand for it. Also keep in mind that Nintendo’s launch estimates were not met either, so the media has no right to negatively report on the Sony shortages.

If three million each of Wiis and PS3s were shipped, I guarantee you that all of them would sell. It is not until the units are in stock for more than three minutes that people will be able to deduct the winner in terms of popularity. Simply put, every unit that is shipped in the next three months is going to be sold within a few hours at the max. There is an insatiable demand for both systems, despite the vast disparity between their prices and intended audiences.

That being said, there are also negative articles regarding the latest PS3 firmware release, dubbed version 1.30. This firmware was released with the major focus on fixing a problem with 1080i (a particular high definition variant) televisions and particular games. The problem resulted in content being downscaled to 480p (equivalent to a current-gen DVD, and is not considered high-definition). Sony’s rather rough fix merely reordered the priority of the screen resolutions. This solved the 1080i problem, but created issues for 720p owners (which is the vast majority). While I am not defending Sony, because I will probably be affected by this ill-conceived patch, I think it is irresponsible for the media to decimate Sony for releasing a patch that doesn’t necessarily fix things all the way. Microsoft does it all the time with Windows, and to be fair so does Apple.

More importantly, Nintendo also has a problem, but it is with the accessory and not the software. Their controller strap seems to be too weak, and may snap given undue stress that some enthusiastic gamers put on it. The problem with this is that when the strap breaks, the controller often goes flying across the room and may break something (including your TV). This problem that I consider to be a lot more earth-shattering (or TV-shattering, as the case may be) has received little to no mainstream media attention, while the PS3 720p hiccup (that can be easily worked around, I might add) is being bashed by everyone with a blog.

Yes, this is a little rant. I just wanted to express my opinion. I think it is ridiculous that everyone is taking sucker-punches at the PS3 when the Nintendo Wii is suffering from similar ills. Before the release of the two systems, people were ganging up on the PS3. Now, it seems to have come to fruition. However, it doesn’t stop the hoards of people from buying the PS3s as soon as they are released onto Best Buy’s floors, even if those PS3s are in sparse numbers.


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