Xbox One – Maybe Losing Trade-Ins is OK

With all of this new info coming out about the new Xbox, many people are upset about some of Microsoft’s policy choices. One aspect that is getting a lot of negative attention is the fact that Xbox One used games cannot be bought and sold in the manner in which we have all become accustomed. I resonate with the people who are up in arms about this because most of the console games I buy are used and I trade in a lot of the games I no longer play for store credit. That being said, maybe the situation isn’t as bad as it seems.

Some Clarification

First of all it’s important to note that there will be some system in place to buy and sell used Xbox One games, it just might be a bit less open than it has in the past. When you put an Xbox One game in your console it will link the game to your MS account so that you can play it without the disc. This means that if ownership of the game transfers to someone else ownership must be migrated to their account. Microsoft has stated that this migration will be free of charge, but that 3rd party developers will have the option to charge for this service. We will just have to wait and see if this is an option that game companies take advantage of.

Let’s Assume the Worst

Ok so as we go ahead, let’s just assume that this policy will ultimately result in the death of the used game market and GameStop and Best Buy will no longer sell used games and all of your worst fears come true. Some people may not remember but this has happened before. Quite a while ago in the world of pc gaming it became common to have to register your game online after installing it. As a result when people traded in their used PC games there was all manner of problems with multiple users having registered for the same game. The end result was that you could no longer trade in used games. Granted in my memory this was a policy specifically implemented at GameStop. I’m sure even today there are people selling used PC games on EBay but I think we can all agree that people just don’t buy and sell used PC games anymore.

Is it Such a Bad Thing?

When this started happening to the PC game industry I was pretty upset about it, but looking at where the PC game market is today I’m kind of glad it did. One of the reasons why I buy far more games on PC then on any console is because of Steam. With Steam I can buy a game and never have to worry about losing a disc, I can access my saved game files from any computer, and that’s not even the best part!

Let’s face it, the reason you like to buy and sell used games is that it saves you money. Do you know why I buy PC games on Steam? Because it saves me money! Anyone who has a Steam account can probably tell you that the sales are amazing. I can honestly say for the past few years I haven’t ever longed for the ability to buy a used PC game. Instead I just wait for an awesome Steam sale.

If you think about it logically this actually makes some sense. In my mind game developers simply must lose money on used games. Every time someone buys a used game instead of a new copy that’s money in two pockets. GameStop (or wherever), and the previous owner. The game developer does not see any of this money. Potentially 5 people could play through the game and the developer sees the profit of one sale. If no one was buying used games maybe the developers could sell their games for a bit less. Just a thought…

What’s My Point?

I’m not trying to say that a Steam-like marketplace is the inevitable outcome of losing the used game model. And I’m certainly not saying that I’m happy about things changing. What I’m trying to say is that based on what happened in the PC game market, maybe there is hope for a better future in console gaming. Maybe in a few years we will be buying Xbox One games from the Xbox Live Store for 75% off and our worries about used games will be nothing more than a distant memory.

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Piracy and Other Forms of Digital Theft: a biblical perspective

The Issue

Piracy is a huge issue in our society that most people like to sweep under the rug. Let’s face it, almost everyone you know that grew up in the digital age has probably pirated something in their life. And a large majority likely make a habit of it. And why not? After all the impact of download one song or movie has much less financial impact on the distributors than buying it would have on your bank account right? And let’s be honest if you didn’t download it for free you wouldn’t have paid for it anyway so no one is really missing out on a sale here right? Even if you did stop pirating it would make little difference because after all everyone will continue. We’ve all thought or said these things along with a torrent (no pun intended) of other excuses but the simple fact is that we’re just lying to ourselves and making justifications. In this post I hope to make both a logical and biblical case for why piracy, along with other forms of digital theft such as ad blocking and file sharing, is wrong.

Note: if you don’t want to read this post I encourage you to at the very least read the last section

The effects of piracy

One good logical reason to avoid piracy is to simply look at the result of piracy. First of all consider a scenario where all consumers of digital media pirated everything that they consumed. As a result the companies who are making and distributing this content would lose money and never make anything ever again. After all how can they, it costs a fair amount of money to make a movie. My point is that if you listen to music, play games, or watch movies then that means these industries are important to you. And if they are important, you shouldn’t contribute to killing them.

Maybe this scenario is a bit unrealistic to you, so let’s look at what’s happening for real right now. Do you get frustrated at the prices of media these days? That new movie comes out and you really want it but $30 is just way too expensive. Or how about ridiculous in app purchases and the fact that you can’t play Diablo III offline. In fact these frustrations may have been what led you to piracy in the first place. You can spend all day raging at the greedy heartless corporations but the fact is that they are not the bad guy, you are the bad guy and they are doing only what we have forced them to do.

Consider a world where no one pirated anything. I don’t have any fancy statistics to work with but I imagine if no one in the world pirated media that albums and movies could be sold for a fraction of the current price for the same profit and wouldn’t have to resort to restrictive DRMs to protect their bottom line. Of course that the corporations really are greedy and evil and things would stay the same if we stopped pirating but for now the blame falls on you so stop making excuses for yourself.

Something for nothing?

I’ve heard a lot of people say that piracy and file sharing is not stealing because the victims are not losing a tangible resource. For example stealing a bike is stealing because one bike is no longer in the possession of the victim, but pirating an album is not because the record still has everything they had before the act. I disagree with this logic. The fact of the matter is that you are taking something that costs money, and not paying money for it. This means that the victim of your piracy is losing money. If you look at it another way the company really is losing something tangible; your potential as a paying customer. Before you download that album you don’t own it. Which means that you have the potential to own it in the future. Which means the company has the potential to make money off of you with a sale. The moment you download that album you are no longer a potential customer so in a sense they really do lose something.

How is ad blocking a sin?

You may be willing to concede that piracy is wrong, but ad blocking? No way man! For anyone who doesn’t know ad blocking means installing some sort of browser plugin or application that removes/hides ads from you when visiting free sites such as Facebook or YouTube. The idea that ad blocking might be wrong was introduced to me interestingly enough through a podcast called This Week in Tech with Leo Laporte. Just because a website is free for you to use, doesn’t mean it’s free to produce and maintain. Facebook, and YouTube cost tons of money to keep running and we are lucky enough to be able to use these great services at no cost to ourselves. How do you think this works? Well the truth is that these companies are almost completely funded by advertisements. That means that the sites aren’t really free, and you pay for them by being a target for advertisements. Once you realize this you shouldn’t have much trouble applying all the arguments against piracy to ad blocking. Besides at the end of the day viewing a few ads is a small price to pay for services that have become almost necessities to our lives.

What does the bible say?

Obviously the internet was not around during the Old Testament or the time of Jesus but that doesn’t mean that we can’t look to the bible for wisdom. I did a little digging and found a few verses that are very applicable.

Luke 10:7 – And remain in the same house, eating and drinking what they provide, for the laborer deserves his wages. Do not go from house to house.

The main thing to focus on here is “for the laborer deserves his wages”. Pretty self-explanatory. According to this verse when people do work they deserve their wages (who would have thought) and through piracy you are withholding that from them.

Romans 13:7: Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed.

If you use a product that someone has made, then you owe them the cost of that product, simple as that. If a record company says “in order to own this album that we have produced, you must pay $10” and you own that album, then you owe them $10 and that’s all there is to it.

Jeremiah 22:13 – “Woe to him who builds his house by unrighteousness,
    and his upper rooms by injustice,
who makes his neighbor serve him for nothing
    and does not give him his wages,

For me this verse hits home more than the previous 2. “Woe to him…who makes his neighbor serve him for nothing…” To me this is pretty clearly stating what’s wrong with ad blocking and piracy. When you listen to music, watch a movie or visit a website you are being served. How can you accept that service without giving the laborers what they are do?

Conclusion

Well I know piracy is a hot topic and there are lots of issues I didn’t cover here but hopefully I got you thinking a bit more about the issue. I would love to hear your thoughts on the subject so please leave a comment below 😀

p.s sorry there are no pictures

The Wandering Wizard Dev. Journal #1: Starting Out

Late last month I decided to reboot a project that I had started last semester. I had made some good progress on it before summer break but I stopped working on it when I was inspired to develop my proposal platformer. Ever since taking an android development class in Fall of 2011 I had been searching for my great idea and one day while out walking I realized that the problem with a lot of mobile games is the way that they are controlled. Like it or not, virtual joysticks and numpads will never come close to a keyboard or a controller. After coming to this conclusion the light bulb went on and I thought of a (hopefully) pretty good idea.

The Concept

The resulting vision was a puzzle platformer where you had no direct control of your character, but instead indirectly manipulated his movements using a set of spells. The main character, who I will now refer to as “the wizard”, can cast spells in two different ways. One way is to shoot them as a projectile. This affects the environment around him; such as burning ropes and freezing water. The second way he can cast spells is on himself. For example if he needs to stop moving to avoid being crushed he would cast the ice spell on himself.

When playing any level the challenge is twofold. Firstly the player must figure out how to effectively use the wizard’s spells to get through the level. Secondly, once the player knows what they need to do they have to actually do it right. Many levels require timing and precision to make it through alive.

Words can only convey so much so here is a video of a very early stage of the game (ignore the title, I have changed it since making the video)

Where to Start?

After developing my concept I had to figure out where to start. When starting a game there are many options. I could have programmed everything straight from OpenGl. This is a graphics library that is supported by android. If I went this route I would be doing a lot of background coding like a tile engine and a physics engine. I also would be placing all the graphics straight from code unless I made my own map editor or something. Even if I used preexisting libraries and engines there would still be a lot of groundwork to do before there was any real tangible result. Many programmers love to tinker in all that stuff and have full control of everything but I firmly believe in not reinventing the wheel and getting right to the fun stuff.

In the end I settled on a cross platform game creation tool called Unity3D. Normally the android version of this software would cost a pretty penny but I was lucky enough to get it during a student giveaway period. Although Unity is meant for 3D game development after doing some research I confirmed that it was perfectly viable for 2D development as well.  By using this tool I was saved the trouble of graphics coding and physics coding. I could even drag my sprites right into a viewport to build the levels! Additionally Unity has an asset store with many free and paid plugins that basically just make development faster and life easier. On top of all these advantages the potential for expansion that Unity gives me is amazing. If I want to in the future I can easily deploy my game to the web, iphone, mac, and pc. In future versions of Unity I believe even Linux and Windows 8 Tablet apps will be supported.

To Be Continued…

This is all the information I feel like writing about right now but expect more information in the future. I plan to talk about various things such as difficulties I’ve faced with Unity, where I’m getting my graphics and music, and whatever else I feel like. I’ve made a lot of progress in the few weeks that I’ve been working and I look forward to eventually sharing my game with the world!

Windows 8 Feature: Mounting Disc Images!!!

Don’t be Hatin’

Ever since the developer preview was released ages ago, it seems that all I’ve heard is “boohoo we hate the new interface Windows is ruined for the power user blah blah blah.” Well I am here to tell you that, like many things new, it only takes a bit of getting used. As a matter of fact there are a few awesome new features in Windows 8. One of my personal favorite new features is the ability to mount disc images such as .ISO files!

What Does That Even Mean?

If you already know the basics of what a disc image is and why you might want to mount one then just skip to the next section, for anyone else read on. So a disc image is basically just a file that contains all of the uncompressed data and structure of a CD-ROM or DVD. Usually a disc image will have the file extension .ISO. Often times disc images are just used to easily distribute the information on a disc. It’s an ideal situation because after you create an image from a disc, you can easily create a disc from the image.

There is however another useful thing you can do with a disc image and that is mounting it. When you mount a disc image it’s like you are putting a virtual disc into a virtual disc drive. As you can imagine this can be very handy if you happen to have an image but no blank DVDs around, or if you have a fancy smancy new notebook without a disc drive. By mounting you avoid the hassle of burning the image to a disc, as well as the problem of labeling and storing the physical media.

Mount Up!!!

If you wanted to mount an image in Widows 7 you would need to download 3rd party software, but in 8 it’s baked right in and painfully simple! First you need to find the .ISO file you want to mount, select it, and then click manage button in the explorer ribbon.

screenshot of step 1

After that you will see 2 options: Mount and Burn. Obviously you select the Mount option and WALA you’re done.

Screen capture 2

Your computer will now act as if the physical disc of the image you chose is inserted into the computer. To prove that it worked go to My Computer and look at “devices with removable storage.” You should see the disc there.

Screenshot of step 3

Subjected to Paper: My little rant on teachers who ban laptops

When it comes to note-taking I’m generally not the best, but one thing I will say for myself is that I have a system. A system that I have developed to perfection over my college career. First I get a cloud storage service i.e. Google Drive, Dropbox, Skydrive (this year it’s Skydrive). Then I make a folder for each class where I can put my syllabus, any digital readings or assignments, and most importantly my notes. For any class excluding math courses I find that taking notes with a keyboard is much more efficient than writing things by hand. Additionally when I’m writing fast with a pencil or pen it tends to become unreadable. Digital notes also cut down on paper usage if you’re into the whole go green thing.

All of that being said, I get a little aggravated when my teachers tell me that I am forbidden from using a laptop in class. It throws a wrench in my well oiled machine and makes it much less likely that I will be able to take good notes and more importantly, find the information again when I need it. Now all of these professors think that they have good reasons for disallowing laptops in class but in my humble opinion they are dead wrong! There are only two arguments I ever hear for banning laptops. Below are descriptions of these reasons and my take on them.

You will distract yourself and fail the course

Ok so this seems like a pretty logical argument. If you have a laptop in class you will spend all of your time browsing the web and checking your Facebook which will distract you from the lecture and cause you to fail the course. The problem I have with this is the same problem I have with mandatory attendance (we won’t get into that now). I pay for every lecture that I attend and if I want to waste that lecture by checking my Facebook then that should be my own choice to make, plain and simple. The exception to this is in certain classes that are centered around participation and discussion but most of the time that does not apply.

You will distract others and make them fail the course

Again this seems perfectly rational and has a bit of truth in it. If you are allowed to use your laptop in class you will inevitably cave and log into WOW and spend the whole class questing instead of learning. This of course will be so interesting that  everyone in the class will feel their eyes gravitating to your screen and the hope for education will be destroyed. I am not denying that their are people who will play games and watch movies while in class but I don’t think I’ve ever been overly distracted or seen anyone else get distracted. Usually these people tend to sit in the back of the class where no one can see what they are doing.

If you have anything to add to either side of this argument feel free to post your opinion in the comments.

Don’t let dust heat things up

It’s amazing how much harm a little dust can do. When I woke up this morning I found to my dismay that my desktop PC had turned itself off during the night. On the monitor was a warning stating that my CPU had overheated. EEEK!!!

Naturally the first thing I did after booting back up was install a CPU temperature monitor. I chose Core Temp for the task. After starting up Core Temp I found that all 4 cores were hovering just under 80°C at idle. This is pretty warm for a CPU that is literally doing nothing but since I was running late for work I decided it could wait.

My suspicion was that my thermal paste had somehow cracked and broken it’s seal (I have had this problem before) but I thought I would pop open the side panel and dust her out just to be on the safe side. After brandishing my trusty air duster and expelling the evil dust bunnies from my PCs depths I reevaluated the temps and looked for improvement.

After just about 5 minutes the temp (still idle) had dropped to around 70°C and well into the safe zone. SCORE!!! So the moral of the story is dust can cause your computer to overheat which makes the fans work harder and decreases the life expectancy of your hardware so keep ahead of it.

Building your stream-able media library Part 1 – Digitizing your DVD Collection

Introduction:

This is the first section of a two part guide on creating a stream-able media library for videos and music. This is something I am currently going through myself and after a lot of trial and error I found something that works well for me. Our goal is to put all of our media on a local machine and stream that content from anywhere that there’s a connection. When you’re done you will be able to access your videos and music wirelessly wherever there is an internet connection!!! In Part 1 I will show you how to take your unwieldy pile of DVDs and turn it into a compact digital library!!! Then in Part 2 we will focus on the networking stuff.

Step 1:What you will need:

  • First you will need a DVD drive (duh…)
  • Second you need dvd ripping software. After going through lots of “free” options I finally settled on a nice little program called Make MKV which can be found here for FREE!
  • Third you’re gonna  need conversion/compression software. I chose a free tool called Handbrake which can be downloaded here.
  • Once you have both of these programs installed grab your dvd collection and GET READY TO DIGITIZE!!!

Step 2:Ripping your DVD Collection

First We need to take your DVD and turn it into a .mkv file. An mkv is just a file format capable of holding a large number of tracks, which makes it the perfect format for dvd information. These files are gonna be BIG but don’t worry, I promise we’ll take care of that later. If you’re curious you can check out the Wikipedia Article to learn more, otherwise let’s get rippin’

  • Start by picking your DVD and popping it into your disc drive.
  • Next start MakeMKV.
  • When MakeMKV fires up it will detect your DVD. Once it has, the button in the middle of the screen will turn from grey to colored. When you see this click it.

image of button

  • Wait a few seconds and you will be presented with a hierarchy of check-boxes. You will want to uncheck all of the boxes save for the main one (usually the first, always the biggest). Expand this selection to view all of the audio tracks and subtitle tracks. I like to keep English audio and subtitles but you can keep whatever you think you’ll need. The less you check, the smaller the file will be in the end.

Picture of available titles and tracks

  • Once you are satisfied with your selection click the picture of folder icon button to select the output folder.
  • Last of all click the picture of Make MKV buttonbutton to begin the ripping process.
  • This will take a bit so just sit tight until a popup window displays. Press OK and you’re done ripping!!!

picture of Popup Window

Step 3: Compressing/Converting your Files

Now that we have our nice big .mkv file we’re gonna want to slim it down a bit. Not only that but you might decide you don’t like this .mkv fellow. After all what’s wrong with trusty old .mp4 or .mov? Well with the power of Handbrake we can custom order our video files just how we like them!

NOTE: This part takes quite a while and really sucks up your CPU so if you need to get stuff done it might be best to wait, otherwise PRESS ON!!!

  • To begin, yup you guessed it, fire up Handbrake
  • First click Source at the top left of the window and select Video file. Then find the .mkv file you just made and press OK
    • HINT: if you never renamed the file it may be titled something like Title00

  • Now it’s time to customize all of the settings. Since there are so many options I will just lead you through my personal preference.
  • If you click the browse button you can select the output folder for the converted file.
  • Below that is an option for Container, change this from MKV to MP4 File (unless it already says MP4 file).
  • On the right you will see a list of presets. Select Android High and we will begin customizing the Audio, Subtitles, and Chapters settings.

  • Start with the Audio tab. If you ripped more than one audio track from the DVD you’ll need to select the ones you want from the drop down men and click the Add Track button. If the list at the bottom contains tracks you don’t want, select them and click Remove.
  • I also like to increase the Gain by clicking the Advanced button and sliding the Gain bar up to 8. This makes the playback a bit louder but is totally unnecessary.

  • If you want subtitles go to the Subtitles tab and select the tracks you want from the drop down list. Then click Add

  • Go to the Chapters tab and make sure the “Create chapter markers” box is checked

  • Now that you have all of the settings ready to go, just muster your patience and click 
  • As I mentioned earlier this will hog your CPU and take quite some time so go read a book or something

Conclusion:

Well that’s it! Now you have the ability to turn your entire DVD collection into compact MP4 files that can be played with virtually any media player on the market! Once you get comfortable with the steps feel free to play around with the settings and see what works for you. Keep an eye out for part 2 of this guide where I show you how to set up a media server for your digital collection that can be streamed to ANY DEVICE!!!