Thursday, 8 November 2007

If your going to Nerf stuff at least do it in a beleivable way...(sigh)

Another thought regarding the whole Nerf thing is if a certain piece of equipment must be NERF'd then why not do it with a bit of story instead of the way its currently done.

Taking EVE Online as an example although this is not specifically aimed at EVE or CCP.
For example powergrid on Dominx battleship is too high instead of logging on one day to find your powergrid has shrunk for no apparent reason and your previously used equipment that used to work no longer works anymore. Simply alter the blueprints so all new Dominix's will not have this advantage.

Eventually all the non nerf'd Dominixs will all get destroyed. You could even come up with a semi beleivable story like "Due to safety issue's some Dominix's where found to become unstable in heavy combat therefore Galentee Shipyards Inc has taken the bold step to make sure these work horses are safer for our customers etc." A little imagination... You could even make the old dominx type ships in this example actually become unstable ( semi random fault ) to encourage existing ships to be taken out of service. Of course it would only be fair to offer an upgrade/refit for these crafts to retify any issues but better and more beleivable than the current methods.


Nerf the Nerf, better alternative to the Tech II Nerf Bat?

Often in terms of balancing, developers of MMO's often reduce/tweak either character skills or character equipment or both. This balancing if it effects a player negatively meaning a ship or skill becomes less effective then this has become known in the community as NERFing.
This NERFing is often very annoying for a player who has invested time and in game currency in this equipment. Often after a NERF this equipment/character is then underpowered or simply not fun to play anymore. I have a suggestion on how to deal with this in a different way....

I was thinking the other day about how Eve's economy works. Eve's economy is often refered to as a player driven economy, which is dynamic in nature. Ok here's the thought. In the real world an arms race between differing factions generally leads to better more sophisticated technology. For the underdog this usually means countering what the other side has done to at least eliminate the advantage of an opponent and perhaps try to gain the advantage in some way.

What if in a dynamic universe in an MMO of the future perhaps EVE, Nerfing becomes a thing of the past and technology effectively evolves as part of the natural order of things between rival factions etc.
An example of this might me perhaps I.e a Caldari ( Eve Race ) Raven ( Caldari Battleship ) is found to be lacking in some way against some other EVE racial battleship say the Galentee Dominix for example. So the Caldari Navy comes up with a slightly modified design for this ship the Raven becomes a Raven II or the original raven can be refitted etc. In this example there are only two ships involved effectively the ship or piece of equipment thats at fault does not get nerfed this would be the Galentee Dominix in this example. The other races equipment evolves to balance against this advantage. In the real word this happens all the time in military. Think about the invention and use of submarines then sonar to counter then Stealth technology etc etc.
The point is Technology evolves.

I believe that this is a much more realistic system to employ in a game. However it would probably dictate the use of realistic design and physical contraints in the design of the ship models etc i.e mass , thrust , sig radius etc etc. The point is no more nerfs. Technology just
evolves to counter these advantages... The really cool part could be in my mind is that a dev for each of the factions which are at war with each other each get a turn to make improvements tweaks etc.
There could be of course general improvements in technology in game to allow for better technologythat effect the ship modeling engine. I.e for example Galentee engineers figure out how to get more thrust from there new engine using newely discovered materials.
Effectively the background story line could influence how each race evolves in game. These background story changes allow everyside to take advantage of newer technology...

I can see this sort of idea perhaps being integrated into a future MMO at inception.

Anyway interesting idea or madness? You decide.

Uncle Cyrus.

Friday, 14 September 2007

EVE Online Corporate Structures

For those that are not aware EVE is a space combat/trading game it’s also a Massively Multiplayer Online Game or MMOG for short. Tens of thousands of players battle it out every night in the EVE universe whether it be a small group of ships attacking a cavalier trader who strayed out of high security onto someone else’s turf for that tempting profit or Massive 100 ship fleet battles being fought out in low security for ownership of certain space regions. In all cases EVE offers pretty much something for everyone. In this latest post I would like to talk about Corporations and there structures. Corporations in EVE are a way that players can group together to form groups that perhaps are goal focused or perhaps social. I will outline what I believe to be the different types of corporations that I know of and their benefits and drawbacks associated with those structures. A little background: when you first start a Character in EVE you become a member of what’s called an NPC or Non Player Character corporation. These NPC corporations basically act as a place for everyone to start off. Generally speaking they are purely social groups. You always are in a corporation in EVE if you join a non NPC corporation then leave you will end up in a NPC corporation. On with the discussion…
The different types of Corporation structures which I have come across can be broken down into the following groups:

Social, Capitalistic, Communistic, Federal, Anarchistic. Democratic

All other sub groups are generally made from one or more of these base archetypes. For instance a large public corporation in EVE which has share holders will be Capitalistic and Democratic possibly due to the fact that usually these types of companies have a board of directors which all vote on company direction etc.

Generally the types of corporations that exist in EVE have biases based around Combat, Social, and Industrial bases.

I will now explain what I believe to be the advantages and drawbacks of these different corporate structures.

Generally these types of corporations exist for mostly social purposes. They may contain groups of friends who wish to play together in game or perhaps a group of strangers how are interested in mission running or pirating. They generally don’t have any particular goals in mind and they are usually not very rich since all the players socialise with each other but tend to work for themselves.

These are corporations which are geared around the acquisition of ISK. They don’t necessarily have to be industrial corporations but generally this is the case. The come in a couple of different flavours.

  1. Privately Owned
These corporations are owned by a single individual with a goal in mind. They can have many members who will work for the corporation. Corporations of this type can be medium to quite rich. Generally corporations of this type are very focused and because they are privately owned get there direction from a single person. Due to this kind of structure they tend to maximise their wealth. In terms of how these corporations can work. They can be large or very small. Jobs that require doing can be subcontracted out to other 3rd parties or other corp members.

  1. Publicly Owned

Usually corporations of this type are some of the richest in EVE and can be some of the biggest. Generally they raise huge sums of money through selling shares and guarantee a return on those shares, usually through dividends. These corporations will generally use the first two pay systems i.e Salary or/and Share Dividends will also use subcontracting. They usually have a CEO who controls the direction of the corporation with the help of a board of directors that each will have a vote. They may or may not have shares in the company.

These corporations generally will have a common goal. All corp members will be expected to work towards that common goal. Since this is a communist approach they will probably adopt a communistic pay system. I.e The corporation pays for everything, these types of corporations can have much wealth. Since they have a lot of resource at there disposal. I would expect these corporations to be owned jointly by all members but this might not be the case. Since all members effectively own the corporation then decisions of strategy could be hard to make quickly.

A Federation can be defined as a organised set of individuals who work for themselves but with a loosely governing structure. Generally these types of corporate structures can have many members.
However due to the fact that every member works for themselves, corporate finance can be an issue. The main corporation in this case may not be very rich at all with all of the members holding all the wealth. Also problematic in this system is the fact of corporate identity, although the corporation will have a CEO as this is mandatory. All the decision making power is distributed amongst the members and therefore decisions and funding for projects could be problematic.
One possible source of income would be the use of corporation tax’s in this type of structure. This works very well where the corporation has many active members. On the positive side however the corporation may consist of a rich diverse set of people adding to the success of the corporation.

These corporation types don't generally have a goal. They might have a very lose one like lets PVP or lets pirate but generally they don't have any direction and members would be pretty much self sufficient. An NPC corporation could described as Anarchistic. These types of corporation would not possess much in the way of riches as they are unfocused and might be very social based also.

In this type of corporate structure all decisions are made in a democratic fashion. This corporation type generally would have a goals and be focused. In terms of wealth these types of corporations can be very wealthy as they can be publically owned, or just owned by the members. In this corporation the CEO or directors would come up with a direction and its members would then vote on this to decide what the company should do next.
Payments to members might be made through contracts system perhaps or salary based.

Paying your corp members…
So how do you pay your corp members? Well there are several ways to pay your corp members.

First one is a salary, this is a fairly obvious one.
Second way Contracts system.
Third way is through share dividends
Fourth way is through just paying for everything that your corp members need.

Each one of these ways works, a salary might not however be in ISK it might be ship parts to sell or something along those lines. Other ways like perhaps a mining operation once a week where your corp members keep what they mine. The rest of the time everything goes to the corp.

Contract System
This system allows the creation of contracts that can be taken by your corp members. Each contract that is created can have an amount that is paid out to the member on completion.
The contract system allows for quite a diverse set of contracts to be created. The advantage of using this type of system is that. You only pay members of your corporation for jobs that that do for your corporation. This means that people who don’t contribute don’t get paid. Generally using this type of system I would expect that the corporation members would supply and maintain there own equipment.

This is where you issue shares of your company to your corporation members. Then pay dividends on those shares. Although this might seem like a good idea at first and in many cases this is a good idea there are still problems associated with this. For instance if your corporation is worth billions and you recruit a new member how many shares do you give them? Or do you expect them to buy shares? Well if you do then how are they supposed to buy shares? This is where you need to be carefull about how many shares are issued etc. Also can members buy more shares and reinvest…
It gets complicated but can work well. However once shares are issued the company does not solely belong to the CEO or director anymore per say.

The first two types of payments types for corp members have issues in that by paying your corporation members you are effectively restricting your corporation’s ability to perform business and that capital is leaking away from the corporation funds.

Communistic pay system

This is in my opinion the best system to use for a corporation with a relatively small member base. Which has small to medium profit base? In this system the member will be given everything they want in return for their services. All equipment however remains the property of the corporation.
It is important however to express to corp members that if they should leave they will be given a golden goodbye based on their contributions. In this type of system all profits are focused on a particular task this can be more efficient than other pay systems.

So how do you choose what type of model to use?
Well, this really depends on you, what your want to do and the people your with and how they feel. Currently I run a small 2 man corp. I chose the privately owned, communistic approach. Where the corporation pays for everything and in return all profits go back to the corporation.
There are no salaries because no one needs anything that the corporation does not provide.
This allows all profits to be maximised for again profit generation. We are focused because I provide direction. Anyway your choice :D. I hope this has gone some way to explaining the pro’s and cons of different corporation structures.

Tuesday, 14 August 2007

Combating Spyware/Malware and Personal Identity Theft ( Part 2 )

So you think your infested... your computer is behaving strangely, crashing , popups odd web pages you didn't request. Computer doing things when it should be idle... Computer seems really slow... Ok what to do... Lets assume you already have an infestation...

1) First using your browser navigate to goto the more selection and download and install the googlepack that contains free versions Norton Antivirus and Spyware Doctor.
Run these two utilities before you do anything else. Infact I would suggest running Spyware doctor several times. I.e scan , reboot, scan, reboot until no more spyware is detected.

Now that you stand a chance of having a clean machine which you still might not we need to build up some protection to stop this kind of thing happening again.

If spy-ware/mal-ware was found on your machine the best thing to do is to wipe your machine and reinstall windows again I say this because you cannot really besure if the spy-ware is still on the machine lurking. This is because it might be smarter than the software your using to find and remove it. However that said , personally I dont like to reinstall so lets assume your software "Spyware Doctor" and "Norton Antivirus" have killed the nasties.

2) Ok make sure you have Microsoft updates turned on

3) Check to make sure that your firewall is switched ON XP service pack 2 ( required ) Control Panel->Windows Firewall

4) Turn on Hardware DEP ( Data Execution Prevention ) available in XP service pack 2 Control Panel->System->Advanced->Performance settings->Data Execution Prevention. Turn on DEP for all programs and services except those I select. This help prevent malware getting into your system.

5) Ok now where going to stop using Internet explorer and install Mozilla's Firefox which seems to be less likely to get infested by spy-ware and BHO's. Ok download and install Mozilla Firefox.

6) Ok now we are going to install two plug-ins for Mozilla Firefox called:
NoScript and CookieSafe. These will help prevent Mal-ware getting into your system
and also will help your personal details being grabbed by cross site scripting exploits.

You will have to sometimes enable access to cookies and Javascript to allow some sites to run correctly. Personally. When i run into difficulties i just enable access to cookies/Javascript on a temporary basis.

7) Hosts file you can download and replace your existing hosts file with one that has been specially modified. These modifications prevent your computer from talking to bad sites out on the net. A good hosts file can be downloaded from this site:

Ok now the computer is starting to become a safer place but where not done yet. If you want to go further then do the following although not essential will give you even more protection.

8) Install a Hardware firewall or NAT Router. This will stop bad people from accessing your computer from the outside and is much safer than just the software firewall alone that is built into XP.

9) Disable UPNP or Universal Plug and Play on your router firewall. This allows software inside of the firewall to alter its protection settings. This is bad because if you run a bad program by accident it can open up your system.

10) Install a program called SandboxIE. Configure it to run firefox within a sandbox. Now If anything gets past CookieSafe, and NoScipt! it will be erased from your hard disk once you close and reopen the browser.

11) Create an administrator account for administration use only for installations ( don't surf with it!!! ) etc and remove administration privileges from your main account. If something bad manages to get into your system, this will stop bad software from altering system files when running under your main account privileges.

12) Ultimate protection is to use virtualisation. This is where you run a virtualised windows setup you can surf and pick rubbish up upon a reboot everything is started from a good image you originally saved. Problem with this setup you cannot store any data but neither can any nasty software.

Important suggestions for safer browsing:
1) Never open emails that are from people you do not recognise and don't expect to be sending you email. They could contain nasty exploits that can open your computer to allow personal information to be leaked to the Internet. Often mal-ware/spy-ware infested machines will go through your email list and email your friends with infected emails which when opened will do the same to your friends PC's etc etc.

2) If your accessing your banking information at home , never start opening emails at the same time. Better to sign out/logout. Before opening any emails as this prevents cross site exploits. Which means the nasty people wont be able to grab your account information.

3) If you must sometimes use an public computer terminal and I don't advise it. Especially if your accessing your banking information never forget to sign out/logout and always clear the cookies and temporary cache

4) Never run programs that you have downloaded from fringe/untrusted internet sites. These bad sites are usually Free Porn sites or sites that advertise Serials and License Key Generators. Often bad sites can look very convincing so be very careful.

Thursday, 2 August 2007

Combating Spyware/Malware and Personal identity theft.

This post will be in two parts first will explain what this is all about , the second post what to do about it.
First of all I would like to start trying to explain what spy-ware is. Generally spy-ware as a term has a few different connotations. These are Ad-ware, Spy ware and Mal-ware. Quite often these are lumped together under a single description of Spy-ware.

Quite simply this is software that is usually provided “Free” but with the caveat that it contains some sort of advertising that will be pushed to the user during the use of the software. If this advertising was not part of the software then the software could not be provided free of charge.
This type of “Spy-ware” can be considered pretty harmless usually, unless of course you don’t like advertising. If so don’t Install the software.

Spy-ware is software that can find its way on your computer when surfing the web. Its sole purpose is to monitor your surfing behaviour and perhaps pop-up advertising when you are surfing. Spy-ware is usually non-malicious but issues of your privacy on the web can be concerning for some people. Sometimes spy-ware can also cause instabilities within the browser also.
Types tracking mechanisms that can be classed as spy-ware include:

Authorised tracking BHO’s ( Browser Helper Objects )
A Browser Helper Object, or BHO, is just a small program that runs automatically every time you start your Internet browser. Usually, a BHO is installed on your system by another software program. For example, Go!Zilla, the downloading utility, installs a BHO created by Radiate (formerly Aureate Media); this BHO tracks which advertisements you see as you surf the Web.

These BHO's are a feature of Microsoft Explorer and originally where designed by Microsoft to assist users of IE in navigating around the web. If your browser has a tendency to crash then it could be a poorly written BHO which has entered your system making it unstable.

Tracking Cookies
Large Web advertising cookies, use something build into our browsers called cookies to track our movement across the web. Cookies in general are not bad things but in this case they could be deemed a privacy issue. Simply each website you visit could deposit a cookie on your machine. Big advertisers then use the information of all the cookies on your machine to build up a picture of your surfing habits. This information can then be used for marketing purposes.

Web Bugs
Web bugs are simple HTML strings embedded in web pages or email. When a user opens an email that contains a web bug a message will be sent out to a web server on the web, indicating that you have read an email or clicked on a link etc. They are generally used for notification purposes.

Mal-ware is a general term that usually describes software that causes your computer to behave in a way which you might not want it to. Mal-ware is the nastiest type of spy-ware and should be prevented if possible from getting onto your machine. Mal-ware can get onto our machines in a variety of ways.
Some of the key ways that Mal-ware might get onto your system are:

i) Installation/running of unknown software from 3rd parties e.g. Internet connection speed optimisation tools, Serial key generators, pirated Application software. These are sometimes fake applications.

ii) Opening email containing URL’s links from unknown people ( Phishing Attack )

iii) Opening email attachments from unknown people

iv) Opening email attachments that have executable extensions.

v) Navigating to the fringes of the Internet that may have content that is designed to exploit loop holes in browser technology. This type of exploit often works by
-Exploitation of software loop holes on Web sites using Microsoft Active X
-Exploitation of software loop holes on Web sites using Java Script

vi) Exploitation of Operating System loop holes.
If you have a machine that is connected to the Internet and it is not properly protected by a firewall and the latest patches from Microsoft and other 3rd party server software. It can come under attack from machines on the Internet. These machines will probe your machine and exploit issues within the operating system to allow the installation of Mal-ware.

So what does the Mal-ware do? Well Mal-ware’s first target would be to install what is called a “Root Kit”. This root kit allows the Mal-ware to use your system at a very high level of access. At the levels that a root kit would work rewriting system files is entirely possible.
Once a root kit is installed then a variety of Hacks can be put into place which may contain but are not limited to what is described in later paragraphs. It seems from analysing what Mal-ware is out there their seems to be two main types. The type that wants to control your machine for use as a BOT or the other type that is designed for Personal Identity Theft. I will detail each type.

Personal Identity Theft
Personal Identity theft is whereby your personal details have been stolen by some means then perhaps used to buy goods , gain access to material that belongs to you or perhaps to create a forged identity for someone else to use. Your Identity can be stolen in a number of different ways. However I am only going to concentrate on use of computers to steal identity. Mal-ware of the following types can be considered as designed to steal your most personal information and therefore allow personal identity theft.

Key Loggers
Key loggers are designed to record all keystrokes on a computer. The will then generally make available these keystroke logs to the people who managed to get the key logger onto your machine. Obviously the purpose is to catch sensitive data that may include log on credentials to email or perhaps financial sites or indeed retail sites like Amazon or EBay. Crooks will then use this information to rob you.

Unauthorised BHO’s
Unfortunately BHO's have been abused by malicious companies to manipulate your browser in anyway the malicious company wants. So for instance grabbing your credit card information and relaying it onto a 3rd parties or perhaps or it could just keep popping up advertising say every few minutes it really depends what the BHO was written to do in the first place. Key loggers have been found to be part of malicious BHO’s. In one particular case keystrokes where logged when accessing financial intuitions websites i.e for banking purposes.

Dialler's have been around for along time now but are still being used. They are designed for systems that connect to the Internet via dial-up modems. The idea is that a dialler will at some point make your modem dial a premium rate number(s). The persons owning the number will be gain lots of money from this call.

DNS ( high-jacking )
Once your system has been compromised by a root kit, it is possible to alter system files on your computer. One of the files that can be modified is called the Hosts file. By altering this file it is possible that when entering web addresses into the browser you can then be redirected to a fake web address. This will look like the real site , you enter your personal log-on details and now the hijacker can access the same site as you.

Internet BOTS
Internet BOTs have been around for quite some time but in recent years they have taken on a new and disturbing role in organised crime or what some people are calling computer terrorism. What is known as a BOT herder commands a large number of BOTs from a central location. These bots fleets are then used to target particular computer systems via their IP address. The bots then start sending large quantities of data to these addresses. This causes the web site on the targeted IP address to effectively be blown off the Internet. This kind of attack is known as a DDOS (Distributed Denial Of Service) attack. Generally in the organised crime scenario the crime syndicate would be paid not to start the DDOS attack by the web site owner.

So effectively your machine could have a BOT installed on it if you’re not careful about your security and could be taking part in organised crime or taking part targeting and bringing down foreign government’s computer systems. A sobering thought indeed.

What to do about this in part 2...

Wednesday, 25 July 2007

To BOT or Not to BOT that is the question...

The word BOT comes from ROBOT and is a term often used to describe an automated process. A quote from Wikipedia says that "Typically, bots perform tasks that are both simple and structurally repetitive."
BOTS can be found within FPS and MMO type games also. BOTS can also be referred to as macro's which is generally in-game script to perform automated tasks. Although a BOT certainly does not have to be a macro or in-game. A BOT could be a external program written to simulate mouse and keyboard behaviour.
Ok so now that I have described what a bot is whats the big deal surrounding there usage within games? Usage of bots generally falls into several categories.

i) Gold Farming
ii) Leveling
iii) Helper type bots

I will attempt to explain each of these types in turn.
i) Gold Farming
This is generally thought to be carried out by the Chinese or other people from less well off countries in terms of earnings per head of population. They are generally found in MMO's where in game currency can be traded for hard cash. These so called "Farmers" are paid to play a game(s) and perform acts within that game that earn gold or whatever the in-game currency is. Generally these farmers are thought to use automated scripts/BOTs to kill creature after creature collecting in-game currency. It is not unknown for a single farmer to be operating many avatars at one time. You can generally tell farmer type behaviour when you see long lines of characters running around in world all following each other. After a shift is complete these farmers will then sell their in game currency to there supervisor/agent for local real currency. These supervisors will then sell this collected virtual currency to large virtual currency

ii) Leveling
Similar to farming except in this case your not farming for in-game currency for farming for XP. Generally this would be performed by a player who wants to "LEVEL" their character faster to access content only available to higher level players. It can take a very long time in some circumstances of normal play to reach these higher levels. Therefore it is desirable to automate this process to access the higher content more quickly. Since players are generally limited a fixed amount of "play" time BOTs simply can run 24 hours a day 7 days a week if correctly setup. Although this type of BOT-ING can be thought to be player related. This is not entirely the case since so called "LEVELED" characters can be sold on places like eBay for large amounts of real money. It is not unknown for "leveled" characters to fetch thousands of pounds.

iii) Helper type bots
These type of BOT's generally assist the player in game to achieve a certain task. I think they come in a couple of different guises. The first type is perhaps the most harmless. This is a script/bot which might automate a generally boring action or procedure which for what ever reason the player see's as not fun or a waste of time etc. The second type which is much more destructive to game play is the Cheater type bot. Use of all types of bot could be considered cheating however but these types of bot generally are designed to assist in active game play for example in an FPS game a cheater bot may scan the screen for an enemy target and then move your sight very quickly to that targets weak spot and fire at them. Due to the nature of the BOT, the action would be carried out much faster than a human player would be able to achieve the same result or even do something about it. Therefore a "botted" player is perceived to have a significant advantage over other non-cheating players.

Ok so now i have described what a BOT is i would like to discuss type iii) helper bots and specifically the type that automates boring actions/procedures which are required. In this case I believe the use of BOTs is totally OK. The fact that a BOT is being used generally shows the receptiveness of the task(s) being presented to the player. It would seem then that any task that can be scripted and automated in this way by a BOT, perhaps should not be in game at all. This is because by its very nature it is highly repetitive and therefore becomes un-fun very quickly. Think about real life, could you script it? If you can, are you having fun yet?

I guess the challenge of any MMO designer is to some how avoid these repetitive in game tasks. There is even a name which has been invented to describe these repetitive in game actions, which usually results in increasing your experience level its called "Grinding".

One of the questions I have which I would like to leave you with, concerning this subject is this.. Is it really possible for a scripted and calculating computer program called an MMO to produce interesting and dynamic content? Thus far I have only seen Humans players produce such content within the virtual world, I'm am waiting however...

Wednesday, 18 July 2007

Next Generation MMO... What is it?

There has been quite a lot of discussion regarding next generation of MMO.
Question: If an MMO came out that fixed alot of the annoying features that concern or plague existing MMO's would this be considered a Next GEN?

Well I dont think so solely because MMO's that have come out most recently or are in beta which solve some of these existing issues. Statements have been made already, that these are
maybe somewhere been current and next generation.

So I ask the question what is needed to be Next Gen?

What I was thinking was possibly most of what might be considered next generation could simply be an immersion/perception issue.
For instance a 360 high definition LCD equipped headset with surround sound and suitable hand controllers maybe enough to give the "WOW" factor (excuse the pun) required to be considered next generation.

This interaction can be taken further by things like integration into Mobile phone networks. I.e you get an SMS message from in game that something has happened or someother type of external interaction out of game.
This kind of idea was/is being considered by SOE I believe with regard to there latest SPY MMO.

To Sum up:
So what I am saying in general is that external peripherals that interface into the virtual world maybe the next big thing for MMO's.