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Tribute to SWG | MMOrgue 19

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As a fond farewell to the MMOrgue, we’re dedicating our final episode to the departure of a landmark MMO from the industry. Star Wars Galaxies will be closed down forever in December of this year, and we’ve gathered together to celebrate its life and the impact it has forever had on every MMO, for better or worse.

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Show Notes:

Star Wars Galaxies, the what and when
  • Star Wars Galaxies: An Empire Divided – 26 June 2003 (US)
    • 7 November 2003 in Europe; 23 December 2004 in Japan
  • Jump to Lightspeed – 27 October 2004
    • Two new races were added: Sullustan and Ithorian.
    • Added space combat
  • Episode III Rage of the Wookiees – 5 May 2005
    • Added the Wookiee planet of Kashyyyk
  • Star Wars Galaxies: Trials of Obi-Wan – 1 November 2005
    • This expansion added the ground planet of Mustafar to the game.

Secret World | MMOrgue 16

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In today’s episode, we’re going to take a first look at Funcom’s upcoming Horror/Conspiracy MMO, The Secret World. Despite not having the hands-on demo they hoped to have available at PAX, they still dropped a boatload of information onto awaiting fans, including several innovative features and game mechanics that make this game worthy of attention.

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Show Notes:

In addition to that, we’ll cover some recent news from DC Universe, as well as updates on the F2P conversions of City of Heroes and Fallen Earth.

Before that however, I’d like to share some potentially upsetting news about the immediate future of SWTOR:

SWTOR – Release Delay Imminent?

Beta Weekends Cancelled: LINK
Official Statement
Release Date Might Slip

Anyone following the beta news closely may have already heard that Bioware recently chose to cancel a couple of their beta test weekends, after the first round of them went in a few unexpected directions. They’ve spun this as being in the best interest of potential players and testers – and honestly, I believe that assessment to be true – but it’s still another potential red flag that Bioware may not be completely ready to be in charge of a top-shelf MMORPG such as this. I hope they DO take their time with this beta process, and work out all the kinks prior to launch. But at the same time, too many hiccups similar to this one may begin to erode consumer confidence in the eventual launch of the title.

And, as if this beta cancellation wasn’t enough bad news for the game’s supporters, it recently slipped out during an internal conference call that EA already has contingency plans in place just in case the launch of TOR may slip from Q4 of 2011 to Q1 of 2012. Could a launch delay be imminent? I can trust that’d be in the game’s best interest if so, but I’m hoping that it’s smooth sailing for this title from here on out, simply due to the amount of attention the title is receiving in both MMO communities, and gaming communities in general. As I mentioned a few episodes back, this game has enough hype behind it that any potential missteps by Bioware through this process have the potential to further reinforce the poor reputation that MMOs have for launching in a buggy, unplayable manner. Please Bioware… get your act together, for all our sakes!

Secret World

PAX Info from Funcom

Based on the gameplay footage I’ve seen of this game so far, I’ll admit that I’m not all that impressed with the game as a whole. My primary complaint being that this is supposed to be a SECRET world of conspiracy and intrigue, and everything we’ve seen so far shows hordes of magic-wielding superheros doing combat with monstrous zombies and cthulu-esque creatures that stand 2–4 stories tall. Not so secret looking, if you ask me.

Then there’s the development process itself, which has been suffering from repeated delays and mixed messages. Despite already having publicized a launch date of March 24th, the game is not even in Closed Beta yet. This, to me, feels like jumping the gun in a very big way, despite that launch date being more than 6 months from now.

But, my personal gripes with a few of the game’s details do not diminish the innovations that are taking place in regards to a few specific mechanics within the game. Some of them are inventive enough that I’ve decided to take the time to showcase them in a brief preview.

  • Environmental Interactions
    • Ambient critters will react to environmental stimulii. The examples we’ve so far seen are car alarms getting zombies’ attention (and spawning extra baddies), and light sources attracting the attention of baddies in the dark.
    • This added layer of complexity assists in keeping the game in the Real World.
    • This light source mechanic can also be utilized in PvP, where some maps will be too dark to see clearly in, but using a light source will attract the attention of enemy players. Meaning you have to choose between being seen, and being able to see.
  • PvP outfits
    • When entering a PvP match, players will have their appearance automatically altered to match their “role” based on the powers they have chosen. Healers will end up looking like healers, stealthy melee types will look like thiefs, etc.
    • While this diminishes the players’ ability to show off their custom avatar in PvP, it also makes it easier to be able to pick targets in a match. So your allies will know who to protect and synergize skills with, while the enemy will know who to focus their attacks on.
  • 3-faction gameplay
    • This is something that Funcom is not talking much about, but that I feel the need to draw attention to.
    • The only prior game that I know of with a 3-faction PvP gameplay mechanic, was Dark Age of Camelot, which is still considered by many one of the best PvP experiences that has ever been available online.
    • The strength of 3-faction PvP comes in the form of a socially-driven balance. It is exceedingly difficult for any single faction to gain dominance over the remaining two at any point, because which ever faction gains such a strong foothold will inevitably be targeted by the other two.
  • Skill System, No Respecs
    • Over 500 unique skills (not just improved ranks of other stuff, but unique effects)
    • You earn more and unlock them as you adventure, but start with a full suite of abilities.
    • Much like Guild Wars, you can freely respec at any time. Swapping out a full set of 7 actives and 7 passives, for any other skills you have so far learned.
    • Funcom claims that the difficulty of this game is based on players’ skill, and not the abilities in the game scaling up. That even “starter” abilities are viable later in a players’ life, and will scale up based on your equipment, and not any set of stats or level.
  • ARG – Investigation Missions
    • Scattered throughout TSW will be missions that inspire the player to investigate strange leads OUTSIDE OF THE GAME.
    • This is perhaps the most importantly unique aspect of TSW, as it allows players to feel like a real part of their world, rather than playing in some fantasy realm. It adds an extra level of instinctual immersion when visiting iconic cities like NYC and London, when you are also asked to research the history and myth of these locations in a real-world scenario.
    • One example given, is a locked crate in the wreckage of a shipping barge. Using the internet, you can look up the ship’s manifest online and cross-reference the crate number printed on the side of the shipping container in-game. Following these clues will lead you to the access codes to the crate.
    • Some are FAR more complicated than this, requiring players to actually research occult references in general, drawing the player further into the game’s mythos.
    • The downside here is that, unless Funcom is able to author a full suite of these missions anew every few months, players will quickly solve them all and post the solutions online for anyone to find without having to follow the clues.
  • There will also be events that take advantage of this mechanic, and are cross-faction competitive. Whichever of the 3 factions solve it first, gets a boost of some sort as a reward that affects the entire faction.

Subscription Model
Monthly Subs + Cash Shop
We’re TOLD it will be “cosmetics and conveniences only” … but we’ve been told the same thing in other games, and it never quite works out that way. So, time will tell if they can stick to their guns on this.
Really, though, this is GOING to upset players. Subscribers are left asking why, exactly, it is that their monthly subscription fee doesn’t get them the entirety of all this game has to offer, when it does in other competitor MMOs. Why should they be asked to pay extra to have a specific look?
To quench those fears, Funcom needs to make these same cosmetic items available in-game in some manner. In fact, offering a way for players to acquire those items in-game may even drive additional cash shop sales of those same items. I know it seems backwards, but MMO players are generally more likely to buy the CONVENIENCE of being able to bypass a time investment, than they are to simply buy an item that they cannot otherwise obtain.

Fight for the Light – FREE!

http://massively.joystiq.com/2011/09/06/dcuos-fight-for-the-light-pack-available-today/

Many of you may recall that I covered SOE’s big PR blunder a few weeks back, regarding their decision to charge subscribers for the “Fight for the Light” mini-expansion to DCUO. I was not alone in my outrage over this decision, especially considering their prior promises that future content would be delivered free of charge.

Well, I have a bit of good news for anyone still following this subject… SOE has mended their ways, and decided to offer the Fight for the Light expansion free of charge to all subscribers.

In my opinion… this is too little, too late.

The damage to their reputation over this violation of trust has already been done. I don’t foresee them digging themselves out of this particular blunder simply by going back on a bad decision. The decision was still made, and they took too long to recognize their mistake. It’s nice of them to have eventually come around, but I believe the damage has already been done.

Additionally, with their competitors in the Superhero MMO genre both now offering their game under a F2P subscription model, I don’t foresee a bright future for DCUO. Which is a shame. I had high hopes for this title for many reasons, not the least of which its action-oriented combat which I’d like to see more frequently in the MMO arena. It would be a real waste to see an innovative set of mechanics like this be buried by poor management decisions on behalf of SOE.

Free-To-Play Conversion Updates

Fallen Earth – F2P launching Oct 12th
Link directly to matrix of subscription levels

Before I sign off for this week, I’d like to do a quick update regarding the impending F2P conversion of City of Heroes and Fallen Earth.

First off, we now have an official launch date and subscription matrix available for Fallen Earth, which will undergo its F2P conversion on October 12th.

Based on my review of the matrix, it looks like they’re doing a good job of incentivizing the subscription options available. Even the cheap-o $10/mo one looks nice. But the $30/mo subscription looks to have very little benefit for players going into the game alone, as its primary benefit is in the form of an aura that bestows “premium” boosts similar to a $15/mo sub, on anyone grouped with the $30/mo player. I could see that being handy, but the value is questionable in my opinion.

It’s nice to see the trend of offering stipends to subscribers is continuing, however.

City of Heroes – VIP access starts this week!

And City of Heroes undergoes a launch to existing subscribers on Sept 13th… in fact, by the time you’re seeing this episode, VIP members (those with active subscriptions) will already begin playing the game with the new set of features.

They still haven’t announced a solid launch date for when Freebies will be able to join the rank and file of Paragon City’s superheroes and villains. I’m taking that indication to mean that this is a sort of beta period rather than a head start. So subscribers get to be the guinea pigs before the unwashed masses are let back in. Now that’s what I call a subscriber benefit!

Wait… what?

Next Week:

Age of Conan – Unchained

SWTOR Backlash | MMOrgue 11

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In this week’s MMOrgue, we cover the biggest MMO news to have scurried out from beneath the latex masks of San Diego Comic Con. Of course, the only real news on everyone’s mind has been the release of Star Wars: The Old Republic’s pre-orders, and the resulting DRAMA that unfolded from various distribution issues and a lack of product availability.

Before we get into the meat of that subject, we’ll also briefly cover NCSoft’s presence at SDCC, and DCUO’s Green Lantern “Power Ring” powerset announcements.

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Show Notes:

T-Shirt: Available at ThinkGeek!

Amazon Link: “Chaotic Evil” T-shirt

Thank for MMO music submissions! Added some to personal playlists. Keep ‘em coming!

Today was going to be SDCC recap, but only ONE story: SWTOR

Before we dive into that, let me tell you about a few others.

NCSoft held court, showing off Guild Wars 2 a bit.
But most of GW2 stuff will probably come out when ArenaNet attends PAX Prime this year.

NCSoft primarily focused on hyping up COH’s impending metamorphosis into a F2P game
New Trailer, new powersets!

Not to be outdone by their superpowered rivals
SOE announced the release of DCUO’s Green Lantern themed power sets
Nothing to say on powers, but the announcement deserves a minute

DCUO – Fight for the Light

First – this announcement missed the window of launching alongside the movie
Critically-panned, but blockbuster success nonetheless
DCUO has a history of missing real-world tie-ins…
Valentine’s Day almost a full month late, St. Patrick’s Day several weeks late.
If you cannot launch on time, don’t plan your content around RL events
It comes across as broken promises, and no fan will forgive you forever

Themed content isn’t sole failing point.
Prior to launch, promised monthly patches. To date, no two patches have come within <4 weeks of eachother.
Also promised free content, since the game is subscription based.

Well, how much does it feel like getting the big FINGER, when SOE announced that this new content patch will cost subscribers a fee of $10 to download and use?
They even had the BALLS to call it a DLC. A DLC! FOR AN MMO!
What are those monthly subscriptions going toward, if they won’t fuel the continued development and content release for the game?!

Expansions, OK… but THIS?!
It is so big a fail, I don’t really know how to quantify it.
I guess it’s just more fail on top of the pile that SOE continues to prove themselves to be.
Every time I start to feel like they’re redeeming themselves, they go and mismanage yet another project.

I guess there’s always hope for PlanetsideNEXT, right? hahaha

TORqued: The Pre-Order Saga

The biggest news from SDCC in the world of gaming, was easily Star Wars Old Republic’s pre-order availability, and the subsequent drama that unfolded over the few days following.

In this segment I’ll be walking you thru the events that unfolded and sharing my commentary along each step of this unfortunate series of events, as well as generally looking at the game’s future.

When the pre-orders were announced, this was the first time we heard the pricing of the Collector’s Edition… a whopping $150! Considering the fact that prior CEs of MMOs typically run for only between $80 and $100, this is a pretty significant leap in monetary investment. I’ve heard people saying you could potentially auction off the figurine on eBay if you wanted to recoup some of the cost, but let’s face it – that ain’t happening. The type of person that’ll buy a CE will keep that figurine and display it proudly, so the argument is moot.

But as it turns out, so, too, was the cost. You see, within 12 hours or so of opening pre-orders to the public, almost every major online retailer had completely SOLD OUT. A Q&A with Bioware at SDCC claimed they were NOT sold out, but retailers were singing a different tune. More units were eventually released for purchase the next morning, but by that time the damage was already done – Bioware’s precious hype had just suffered one of its first instances of public backlash, as angry fans found themselves unable to spend their money on the product Bioware had gotten them so excited about.

And unfortunately, it didn’t stop there. You see, the limited supply of pre-orders was only a factor here in the States. In the rest of the world, matters were even more complicated… In addition to only being available from an extremely limited number of retailers, some of those retailers (notably GAME.co.uk) are delaying the release of pre-order registration keys to customers that purchased the game. This isn’t usually a big deal with an MMO since a registration key is pretty much have one, or don’t. But with TOR’s launch, they are employing a tiered release schedule. Details are scarce, but it involves offering pre-launch access on a first-come/first-serve basis, based solely on the order in which your pre-order keys are registered. In other words, these retailers’ inability to supply those precious pre-order keys will prevent those customers from being among the first to enjoy the game, despite being among the first to PAY for it.

And it only adds insult to injury that some international markets actually do not have pre-orders available at all. Australia most notably. And although Bioware has confirmed that there will be no IP blocks based on region, allowing players in those regions to purchase a copy from overseas, playing on an overseas server is almost guaranteed to be a lag-infested experience. Particularly on launch day when so many people will be attempting to access the same pipelines and backbones.

All of this – the limited supply of pre-orders, the international delays, unavailability of units in certain regions – has only been made even worse by the sore lack of information coming out on the subject. Sure, Bioware devs have posted responses reassuring us that it’ll all be OK, but these issues are beyond their control. This is an EA issue – this is a publisher issue. The distribution of retail units, availability of pre-order keys, even the box cost itself. These are all items way above the pay grade of the folks creating the game that everybody is so eager to get their hands on.

And it fuels a very real, larger concern I have for the game in general.

The launch of SWTOR could potentially be the biggest MMO launch, ever. Bigger than WOW, bigger than AOC or WARhammer. By current estimations, we’re looking at millions of day-one adopters. EA and Bioware are NOT MMO companies, yet. And despite being able to learn quite a bit thru observation and second-hand accounts, there really is no substitute for hands-on experience. And I think this pre-order fiasco is proof of that matter.

It worries me. And not because I’m a fan of TOR, but because this game is going to become a benchmark for the industry. It’s broken the hype barrier and managed to become what most MMO enthusiasts are coming to refer to as the “Next Big Thing.” But not like AoC or RIFT were… this time it could be real, because there are professional reputations, huge budgets and ground-breaking development revolutions at play here. If anything marrs the launch of this game, it could leave a mark on the industry as a whole for years to come. MMOs already have the unfortunate reputation for launching as buggy, unplayable messes, and it is the big launches of the past that have given it that reputation. The more hype that preceeds a particular game’s launch, the more keenly those day-one disappointments are felt, and the louder the resonate throughout the media and gamer communities across the world. And let’s face it, there has never been another MMO with this level of hype steamrolling it onward. Every speed bump, every unexplained outage, every lag spike, exploit or imbalancing “I win” button… these will initially be complained about TOR’s communities, but the sheer volume of their negativity could quickly spill over to the rest of the MMO industry, and even into gaming in general.

We’re all in this together, and I don’t think that EA or Bioware understand that. Because they are not MMO companies. Yet.

And there WILL be issues. No matter how incredibly skilled Bioware’s QA department may be, there will be situations that only arise when you get tens or hundreds of thousands of players or more, are all accessing the same servers from locations all around the world, at the same time.

So what can be done at this point? Sadly, not much. As I said previously, TOR has broken the hype barrier… it’s a beast with a life of its own, and nothing at this point will reduce the fevered pitch of anticipation that’s been built into MMO gamers around the world.

My fears may be unfounded, and I’m hoping that they are. TOR will begin beta testing weekends in September, and I’m hopeful that these are stress tests. That Bioware will really run their servers thru the wringers and weed out every last glitch and bug before it’s opened up to the general public later this year. But even then, there’s no way you can prepare yourself for MILLIONS of players to hammer on your front door the day the game finally goes live.

Can You Run It?

SDCC Videos for SWTOR:

TEASE OF THE WEEK

More of a follow-up to a previous story…

Several episodes ago, I mentioned that XLGames and 2KGames had partnered up to create an MMO based on one of 2kGames successful franchises.

Well, we now have a confirmation, and unfortunately it’s not the Borderlands MMOFPS that I was hoping for…

XLGames announced Civilization Online

I think… I just stopped caring.

I’m sorry, I SHOULD be excited about another strategy game entering the MMO market, but I’ve just been so underwhelmed to date. Age of Empires Online was yawnworthy, and I’m hearing reviews of End of Nations sit squarely between “meh” and “BARF.” I just don’t know that this subgenre is destined for success in the MMO market. And now a traditionally turn-based strategy game is attempting to break into the market? Color me skeptical.

Planetside & Hellgate | MMOrgue 5

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The much-maligned sub-genre of MMO Shooters has been an intense and gorey battlefield since the first of these titles rolled off the production line back in 2001. Since that time, two major titles have come to serve as examples within this archetype: Planetside and Hellgate: London.

Unfortunately, these two titles are frequently held up as examples of what NOT to do, rather than being revered. In today’s episode, I’ll examine each of their failures and see if I can make a solid case for why each of these titles was considered a flop, despite reinventing a whole genre.

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Show Notes:

E3 is underway, and despite the incredible announcements that’ve so far been made by the big players at their flashy press conferences, very little has come out on the MMO front. Despite this apparent lack of MMO-themed information, I’ll be keeping a close watch on the continued coverage of the event over the next few days and hope to dedicate next week’s episode to a recap of the festivities.

But instead of looking forward to those announcements, today’s episode is going to look BACK on a specific facet of the MMO world that has had a rocky history. Despite FPS ruling the single-player, console, and multiplayer markets to a certain degree, they’ve never found solid footing in the land of MMOs. In order to understand why, today’s episode is going to dig into the meat of two specific MMO shooters:

Planetside, which is long past its days of glory, and gearing up for a sequel at the hands of SOE.

Each of these titles, and many of their unnamed brethren, suffered from many of the same flaws that have plagued the MMOFPS subgenre since its inception in 2001, with the launch of World War II Online. And because of these faults and failures of the past, this type of game has never made a name for itself in the MMO landscape.

However, developers around the world have not yet given up hope on the concept of the MMO shooter. So today’s show is going to review the major faults and faux paus of these two noteworthy titles, and lay out my opinions on what future developers need to do to find success in this area, where others have failed.

PLANETSIDE / NEXT

  • Released in 2003.
  • Balance issues and population imbalances led to widespread loss of subscriptions.
  • By 2009, all 6 original servers had been slowly merged into a single world.
  • Early gameplay also suffered from stability issues, and frequent network lag.

The GOOD:
- Thorough tutorials
- Interesting advancement system with many unique choices to make.
- Instant action is a great feature in a PvP-focused game.

The BAD:
- The ONLY thing to do, is fight over bases against other factions. Very 1-dimensional.
- No reason to defend, except for the love of battle. Nothing gained by claiming territory, except safe passage to another territory.
- Landscapes are all featureless and bland.
- A single battle over a single base can last HOURS, and success can be determined by attrition instead of actual skill or strategy.
- Vehicles are way overpowered compared to infantry unit types.
- Steep learning curve, and the amount of information to absorb may turn players off that just want to shoot enemies (typical fans of shooter games).
- No solo viability. Squad or Die.

Subscription fee may have been the nail in the coffin. In a world of FREE FPS games, why pay for one?

SOE shuts down The Agency
Also confirmed delay of NEXT due to switching development to a new Engine.

HELLGATE

Disclaimer: Barely an MMO.

Hellgate Relaunch!

  • US/EU shut down in 2009, continued actively in Eastern markets by Hanbitsoft.
  • In late 2010, Hanbitsoft obtained the rights to international distribution.
  • Currently undergoing the final phases of Closed Beta.

Why did it fail?

  • Boring gameplay mechanics (hold down the trigger while you spin/move) and lackluster abilities.
  • Massive engine stability issues. The game was rarely playable for more than an hour without crashing.
  • No narrative. With so many Diablo 2 devs on board, more was expected of the story.
  • Incongruity of mechanics and incomplete implementation. (Turret-based shooting gallery, improper scaling)
  • No Social Tools: LFG, Guild Support
    • This was DEATH to a game that launched at the dawn of “Web 2.0” when MySpace and similar sites were connecting people in new and exciting ways.
  • Subscription models … game was compared to Half-Life, Guild Wars and Diablo II (all free) and yet charged $10/mo for a subscription.
    • Box cost got you a stripped down version of the game, had to pay monthly to play multiplayer but the social tools SUCKed, leaving people on both ends of the subscription model feeling gypped.
    • Then there was the Lifetimer/Founder fiasco, when the game shut down…
      • $150 = 15 months. Game was only active for 10 months before the shut down was announced (which actually happened 5 months later.)

General commentary:

  • Another relaunch/resurrection from an Eastern company, of a failed Western title (APB)
    • This trend could represent more than just hope for gamers – it could come to be seen as a bail-out for investors and publishers of upcoming MMOs.
      • Not finding the success you wanted/needed at launch? Pawn the game off to a company that cranks out F2P relaunches, and try and recoup some of your costs.
  • This game is an excellent example of Hype Gone Bad.
    • The developers, many of whom had worked on Diablo and Diablo II, compared the game to Half-Life, Diablo II and Guild Wars at different times.
      • All of these games were defining titles of their individual genres.
        • The buggy, incomplete and LAZY release of Hellgate was a devastating disappointment.

Why the relaunch might find modest success:

  • Leech off the hype for Diablo III
  • Under-represented subgenre (FPS Action RPG)
  • Very low system requirements
  • Free to play!

SUMMARY:

In examining these two flopped FPS, we see a number of similarities…

1 – Subscription models don’t match the playerbase.

  • Fans of shooters can get their online jollies playing a billion different FPS games with no subscription costs. Charging for access puts you at a significant disadvantage.
  • MMO players want a game with more substance than is typically offered in a FPS. With customization of both abilities and avatars.
    • In other words, you’re charging the wrong amount, to the wrong audience.

2 – Social tools added as an afterthought.

  • When you’re creating an online environment, your ability to have players play together must be considered one of your most important gameplay mechanics.
    • Instant matchmaking, auto-grouping, and easy social hotkeys must take the place of conversation-based grouping, when your gameplay is fast-paced and action-centric. (In a word, more FPS-like)
  • Both of the above games seem to make the assumption that their players would talk to eachother and form bonds through conversation and interaction.
    • This is a disconnect with the type of player that would typically play these games.
      • They don’t want to talk, they want to shoot.
  • Seamless voice chat integration will make future MMOFPS games more likely to succeed on this point.

3 – Poor/shoddy implementation of features, rushed development schedules.

  • To be fair, this is becoming more of a common problem in the MMO industry in general, and is not unique to shooters.
    • Given the track record that these “incomplete” launches have, it boggles my mind that it continues to happen on such a regular basis.
  • However, on that note, I’m starting to see more and more release and beta windows get pushed back and delayed, across the industry.
    • As much as this upsets me as a player, it also potentially means more developers giving more care and attention to the product they will have ready at time of launch.

FIREFALL
Firefall avoids industry-only conventions (E3), wants to talk to gamers

Cinematic Trailer (made by Blur)
Gameplay Trailer
10 minutes of gameplay footage
6 minutes over-the-shoulder PVP from PAX East 2011

Release Date: “before the end of 2011”
Official Game Site

E3 Videos from Machinima:
http://www.youtube.com/show?p=dqBjY9Gxj1I&tracker=show0


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Let’s Go Phishing | TechSNAP 7

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Our very own Allan got caught in the wake of a data breach, and he’ll share the details

In the recent weeks there have been 10 separate attacks against Sony, the details are like nothing we’ve ever seen before. Plus we’ve got a new batch of viewer emails and I’ll share my near disaster war story!

All that & much more on this week’s TechSNAP!

Please send in more questions so we can continue doing the Q&A section every week! techsnap@jupiterbroadcasting.com


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Show Notes:


Topic: DirectAdmin customer database compromised

  • DirectAdmin (by JBMC Software) is a unix web hosting control panel much like cPanel
  • DirectAdmin allows more customization, and scripting than cPanel
  • DirectAdmin provides official support for FreeBSD
  • Customer information was compromised (name, address, email, username, hashed password)
  • Billing information was not compromised (Credit Cards are processed via a gateway and never pass through DirectAdmin’s servers)
  • Unauthorized code was run on the DirectAdmin servers, sending a targeted phishing email to all customers using their real names from the customer database, stating that the version of directadmin they are using was compromised and directing them to a link that would take advantage of a PDF vulnerabilities to install malware on their computer.

http://www.directadmin.com/forum/showthread.php?p=204094#post204094


Topic: Sony suffers a series of compromises around the globe

  1. PSN Compromised and shutdown
  2. SOE compromised and shutdown
  3. So-Net, a Japanese ISP owned by Sony was compromised, and virtual points were stolen from paying customers
  4. Sony Thailand defaced, replacing with credit card phishing site
  5. Sony Online Sweepstakes (2500 Contestants’ personal details leaked)
  6. PSN password reset page exploit (allowed anyone to reset another users’ password)
  7. Sony BMG Music Greece (8500 Usernames, emails, passwords and phone numbers)
    • SQL Injection was used to dump the database and deface the site by hacker b4d_vipera
  8. Sony Music Indonesia (Defaced By k4L0ng666)
  9. Sony Music Japan
    • SQL Injection attack, credit claimed by LulzSec
  1. Sony Ericsson Canada (2000 Usernames, email addresses and hashed passwords)
    • SQL Injection used to expose the database, credit claimed by the Lebanese hacker group Idahca
    • Sony has not notified customers, nor released a comment to the media about the compromise
    • Canadian Privacy Commissioner as of yet not contacted by Sony about the recent breach, and noted that Sony did not proactively notify them about the PSN/SOE breach.
    • OpenSSH 4.4 (Released Sep 2006, Latest: 5.8 Feb 2011)
    • Apache 2.2.10 (Released Oct 2008, Latest: 2.2.19 May 2011, 2.2.17 Oct 2010)
    • Apache 2.2.10 was subject to multiple known vulnerabilities
    • Excessively outdated software such as this indicates that the OS and packages were not being regularly updated or audited.
  2. Timeline Inforgraphic of Sony security woes: http://www.creditcardfinder.com.au/the-sony-playstation-hack-what-it-means-outside-the-gaming-world.html
    Details have come out about specifically what outdated software Sony was running for the PSN/SOE servers:
    As mentioned before on TechSNAP, security researches warned Sony about the problems months ahead of time.


    Q: (Adam) Is there a simple way to handle email encryption in Mozilla Thunderbird
    A: Yes, there is a plugin for Thunderbird called ‘EnigMail’ that allows you to easily implement GPG/OpenPGP in a cross platform way. It requires you to install GPG, you can get it from the official gpg website, or through your favourite package repository for your OS. For windows, there is also GPG4Win which provides an easy installed and some basic GUI utilities. Of course, with email encryption, it is only really useful if the person on the other end is encrypting their email as well. To send an encrypted email, you need the public key of the person you are sending the email to, then they use their private key to decrypt it. While not everyone will have email encryption setup, you can still sign all of your emails, this hash of your email encrypted to your public key means that anyone can use your public key to verify that only you, and no one else, could have sent a particular email, and that the email was not modified in transit.


    Q: (dstoeberl) Since dropbox has proven to be plagued with security design flaws, what about other services like Wuala
    A: Wuala used to be almost as bad as dropbox, but they have improved since then.
    Colin Percival, the FreeBSD Security Officer, makes a competing product, for unix called TarSnap. He talks about some of the problems with wuala and the claims they made:
    http://www.daemonology.net/blog/2007-10-21-wuala-willful-ignorance.html
    http://www.daemonology.net/blog/2007-10-26-wuala-update.html
    http://www.daemonology.net/blog/2008-11-07-wuala-security.html

    They used to make quite a few mistakes, however their system is not fundamentally flawed like dropbox, they encrypt each users’ files before they leave that users machine, so things are far more secure

    I would say they have learned some of the lessons dropbox is now learning. But if you really want secure online backups, you really have to understand the issues, and decide how much you trust the claims the service is making.


    Q: (DreamsVoid) I am building a home file server to go under my bed. It will have 5 hard drives, but I am concerned about cooling vs noise level, and power usage.
    A: There are a few basic principals to consider for cooling any computer. The first is airflow, specifically, you want to make sure you are always drawing cool air in the front of the machine, the exhausting the hot air out the back. Maintaining a consistent directional flow of fresh air will allow the components to displace their heat. Make sure the front intakes of your case have access to plenty of fresh air and keep them clear of dust and debris. Make sure you also gave the machine a decent margin for exhaust, don’t shove the machine tight against a wall, the fans won’t be able to push the hot air as far away from the machine. For noise considerations, where possible, use larger diameter fans, they can move the same amount of air with significantly less noise. Most fans will include 3 importat measurements on the package; Airflow (Cubic Feet per Minute), Air Pressure (millimeters of H2O) and dB(A) (Weighted noise level). You have to compare the numbers and make the tradeoffs that work best for you, a lower noise level fan will move less air, and likely with less pressure. As far as power usage, hard drives only use a few watts, even when active, their largest consumption is during boot up. Hard drives with a lower RPM will use less power, and there are also specific models designed to offer lower power consumption.

    LAS Episode covering Home Server Buils


    Chris War Story:

    http://www.drbd.org/
    Evernote infrastructure


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