(What) Were They Thinking?

I just ran into what has to be the buggiest piece of software... ever. Bear in mind that I predate DOS games and have had experience getting games to run in Win 3.1 and even Win ME--some of them games that push the limit of the "Minimum Recommended System Requirements". Maybe time has softened old wounds, but nothing in my  memory comes even close to the horror that is Dark and Light. Seriously. Couple all those bugs with the worst "support" I can remember and you get an experience that is simply best forgotten. Or better, best never begun.

I mean, I've been in alpha tests that were smoother and more consistent. Who ever heard of a launcher that breaks when IE 7 is installed? Seriously, what dependency does your license query have that will hang just because a user has installed IE 7? How does an upgrade to IE 7 cause a simple dialog box with "Accept" and "Decline" buttons on it to consume 80% of my CPU capacity indefinitely (or at least, for the 25 minutes I allocated for what-the-heck-let's-see-what-happens time)? Also, what company posts a message to their support forums that says merely "the devs say they have fixed this" and then nothing more for weeks when it remains, obviously, unfixed?

And here's the thing: even once I got it working (on an older machine--that's right, a game where I had to effectively downgrade my system to get it to run), the game is possibly the worst MMO I've ever played. I admit that I didn't play long before wiping the travesty off my network. Still, that's going to leave a lasting worst-case benchmark for some time to come.

It's not just that it'd be an insult to High School students to say that it's as if the quests were written by one. It's not just that the translation into English (I'm guessing from French due to the number of prepositional insertions involved) could have been done better by the junior varsity football team after a particularly boisterous homecoming celebration. It's not just that key marketing features were mentioned enough by quest NPCs to be intrusive (mentioning how "big" the world is that often leaves me wondering what they're compensating for). And it's not even just the most generic recycled noob monsters imaginable (seriously, rats, badgers, and bees, oh my! And I suspect the badgers were a desperate late addition, inserted by scaling the rat and giving it a different label).

It's that when you take all these together with a game offering fairies as a playable race, you just know that you have reached depths of crap that will (hopefully) never be repeated in my lifetime. It's like a bunch of executives sat down around a table and generated a list of "features" that they could create to take advantage of this great new kind of game the kids are all playing these days and then went out and hired the cheapest programmers they could find to design and implement it. Seriously, if I were a programmer on that project, I'd slip that one down the ole memory hole and invent some lie to put on my resume in its place--something more respectable like, say, time in the state penitentiary for koala bear poaching.

To entice people into this crap-pile, the publisher has introduced a "Discovery Mode" where you can play to level 10 for free. That's an indication of desperation, make no mistake. I feel for the (possibly) earnest people who put this thing together, but it has to be acknowledged as one of the bigger wastes of money ever perpetrated on an unsuspecting planet. I'd like to say something snide about it being a French production, but seriously, you'd think that'd be enough punishment on its own.

UPDATE: If for some inexplicable reason you have inflicted D&L on yourself and need something to redeem the entire clone concept, Shamus Young has an interesting post on a Diablo II clone that doesn't suck.

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5. January 2007 20:06 by Jacob | Comments (2) | Permalink

(Lack of) Progress Bars

More griping. I know! You'd think I were a negative person. I'm not really. I don't think.

Anyway, this one is short. I've noticed a trend lately (okay, in two products that I sort of like) where developers are using a progress bar to indicate that the program is busy and will get back to you shortly. Now, to me, there's a reason that ye ole progress bar has a Minimum, a Maximum and a Value. You know, it has a task that starts at some value, that value "progresses" until it hits some ending where it can then stop.

No doubt I'm being over-sensitive. Still, it isn't like actual busy gifs are hard to find. I mean, some sites will even generate them to order.


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14. November 2006 20:44 by Jacob | Comments (0) | Permalink

More Arrogant Software

I don't mean for this to be a "gripe" blog. Not that gripe blogs aren't entertaining--I mean, I kind of like Mr. Angry, the Daily WTF, and others. That said, sometimes you just have to share in the hopes that you aren't alone in this whole frustration thing.

I named names in a previous post about Arrogant Software, so I guess this is mostly adding to the list. Today's highlight is SpySweeper from WebRoot. Now, like all the software on my Arrogant list, I found SpySweeper useful. I even bought two subscriptions so that both our computers would be covered. Unfortunately, the whole subscription thing means that eventually you have to re-up.

On the plus side, SpySweeper notified me immediately when my subscription ran out. Being the wrong time of the month (no, not that wrong time of the month), I deferred for a bit figuring I'd just have to make do with old definitions for a little while. That's when the software went all arrogant on me. SpySweeper began asking me every single day if I wanted to renew my subscription. Now, software subscriptions are a little squirrelly to begin with, but this was beyond my level of tolerance. I couldn't select "Don't ask again for xx" and I couldn't select "Leave me alone forever already", no. That'd make too much sense.

The end result is that SpySweeper got the axe. The boot. The ole heave ho. I don't have to put up with that crap, so I went and found an alternative. Since Microsoft is entering that space, I thought I'd give them a look-see. Not to be too much of a shill or anything, but the combination of a 90-day free trial and the eventual subscription covering 3 PCs has me more than a little intrigued. We'll see if it's as cool as MS thinks it is--or at least, cool enough that it's an adequate replacement for SpySweeper.


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13. November 2006 20:57 by Jacob | Comments (0) | Permalink

Spammers Suck

There's been an uptick in spamming lately. Some believe that it's a result of growth in the number of botnets out there (groups of computers that have been compromised by third-parties to run whatever the third-party wants them to). Personally, I think it's because the penalties for spam aren't stiff enough. After cleaning up my trackback backlog, I'm ready to consider anything. I'm ready to lobby for tar and feathers if that'll help. Judging by the amount of spam for drug suppliers, I'm thinking we can kill two birds with one stone and clear out the FDA's backlog with a population sleazier than an ex-lawyer, used car salesman, turned politician. And if we run out of FDA backlog, I've a few suggestions we might try. I know cyanide is reputed to be harmful, but have we tried it lately? And since we can't seem to decide as a society what constitutes torture, let's get together and try some edge-cases. Maybe not, though; I'm not sure how my reaction might relate to actual people, thus invalidating the exercise. 
Also, it occurs to me that spammers are a pretty technical lot--they have to be in order to do the job that they do. So here's the question: what do you do if you meet one? Seriously, chances are that I'll run into a real, live spammer at some point in the not entirely distant future. Since I firmly believe in the efficacy of ostracism as a way of enforcing societal norms, I'm thinking that mocking may be in order. It's not entirely out of the question that I'll spend odd moments in the next week or two thinking of good ways to make clear what I think of a spammer's upbringing, lineage, and personal habits. Anybody who would work for spammers deserves to be banished naked and penniless to a tropical island with natives willing to perform non-stop their brutal rituals of shame. We can't have entirely stamped out those old island head-shrinkers, right?
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18. October 2006 01:17 by Jacob | Comments (0) | Permalink

Arrogant Software

Ever notice that software seems to have a personality? Some programs are desperate for approval, some eager to please, some like to show-off all their cool features, some calmly wait for their opportunity to be useful.

And some programs are simply arrogant jerks. There are a couple of utilities that are useful enough that, like in real-life, you simply put up with their crappy attitude and count the days until a competitor comes along that will offer a viable alternative. I end up tallying my annoyances every time they crop up, keeping score for the day I can wipe them from my machine. They have a trait in common that I'll get to in the end (so skip down if you want), but first lets name some names--here are my top offenders in no particular order.

Apple iTunes

This jerk seems unable to put together something as simple as a patch. Every time an upgrade is available, you have to download the whole setup file. It saves your playlists and music and such but that doesn't mean it keeps all your selections and preferences. I like a cluttered "Desktop", but iTunes seems unable to distinguish between "Desktop" and "Quick Launch". To get one, you have to have another. Which means that after every upgrade, I have to delete the shortcut form my Quick Launch. Jerk.

Also, you can't install iTunes without Quick Time. I hate that sorry program. It doesn't play nice with others, and it wants to hog all your media associations. Also, every time it installs, it figures you want it to load and sit in your system tray. Seriously, why on Earth would I want a media player resident in memory all the time?!? It's like that Melvin kid in elementary school who latches onto you and pesters you constantly. Go away please. Stay away. If I set a preference that I don't want to see you, that preference should persist through an upgrade. Jerk.

Adobe Reader

The Adobe Reader is a must-have utility if you deal with electronic documents at all. Everything from product manuals to pre-print artwork can be exchanged online and maintain all the formatting and presentation options marketers insist are important. So I can't really give them the kiss-off I long to give. Tell me, please, why a document viewer requires three restarts in order to install a point upgrade? Why should I restart even once? I can't imagine why a document reader needs to be so tied into the system kernel that it can't unload and reload without turning the OS off. I don't care how clumsy the OS is, get over yourself already and learn to adopt a lighter touch. Jerk.


Real is another media company with their own proprietary format for video and sound. Real also installs itself into your Quick Launch without asking. Did I mention how much I hate that? Real also has possibly the most annoying registration process. You literally cannot start up their software until you complete the registration. It is obvious that Real sees their customers as uniquely their very own and anyone not willing to give them all their personal information must be pirates anyway so screw the freeloading scum. The real (heh) pain comes when you try to uninstall, though. I'm not sure if this is deliberate or incompetence, but even if you successfully complete an uninstall (hardly a given), Real can leave little bits of itself embedded in your system. Pieces that load on startup, even--taking up valuable system resources. Jerk.

Sometimes, someone will release content that uses Real's formats. When that happens, I generally blow it off. If the author is going to use jerky software to get their content out, I'm generally not interested. Every now and then, someone will bury content I actually really want with a proprietary Real format. Fortunately, it turns out that Real isn't too hard to duplicate (lending towards the incompetent judgement mentioned earlier), so alternatives exist. At this point, I don't care if the program is illegally using patented processes or formats, I'm just glad it's available. It wouldn't surprise me to hear of some lawsuit brought by Real someday because some hacker is releasing software that is more stable, more user friendly, and has a smaller footprint than they can manage. Jerks.

The Common Factor

I'm not sure why media software companies tend to be jerks, but it seems to me that these at least have one trait in common: they make important decisions without your input or permission. Anyone who puts their trashy icon in my Quick Launch or System Tray without my permission is automatically a jerk in my book. If you want to set up residence there, you had better ask me first. I don't want my barber camping on my front porch, and I don't want Real in my Quick Launch. How hard is that to understand?

Also, I don't care if it is sloppy programming or deliberate obtuseness but when I tell you to go, you go.  Completely. I can understand that it can be tempting for companies with a strong market to lock customers into certain options and choices. The effect on me, and I'll bet that I'm not alone here, is that it makes me yearn for alternatives. A company with a must-have product is in an enviable position. Stay unobtrusive and I'll stick with you for a while, even when competitors show up. Drag yourself to my attention with petty "look at me" stupidity, though, and I'll be begging for a replacement. Seriously, you have my business, don't make me regret it. You may be irreplaceable now, but you're one motivated guy in a garage away from extinction.


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5. October 2006 19:45 by Jacob | Comments (0) | Permalink

It Takes One to Know One

Jack Thompson (unhinged anti-gaming activist attorney) shows that his capacity for self-parody is boundless. Here's his fax to the makers of Bully, a game scheduled for release shortly:

Take-Two has until five o’clock p.m., Eastern time, Monday, August 14, 2006, to inform me in writing that it will forthwith provide me with a copy of Bully so that I and others can analyze it to determine whether it still poses a threat of copycat violence in our schools (See Miami-Dade School Board’s unanimous Resolution), or the following will occur:

I shall file a lawsuit against your respective companies to stop the game’s October 1 release.

If I were Take-Two, my whole response would be "It takes one to know one, Jack." Or maybe a retail box that contains only a hand-mirror. The thing is, you just know that Jack is going to sue them regardless of anything they do. They may as well get a dig in while they can.


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16. August 2006 11:36 by Jacob | Comments (0) | Permalink

XM Radio Rant

Here are some tips if you have customers who want to cancel their account:
• If you can sign-up online, you should be able to cancel online. Period.
• Voice recognition may be cool to you, but speaking to a computer is less fun to your customers than you’d think, and repeating themselves to one is infuriating.
• A cancelling customer does not need to be cajoled into staying or find themselves speaking with somebody explaining why their reasons for cancelling are bad ones.
• A cancelling customer complaining about billing irregularities from a three-month free offer isn’t going to respond well to another three-month free offer.
• A cancelling customer who has been on hold for fifteen minutes and transferred three times should not be hung-up on by a faint voice with an Indian accent saying “Is anybody there?”
• A customer who cancelled because the note on the account that said they should receive three free months wasn’t applied should not receive a call from a collection agency the following Saturday morning demanding payment for those three months.
• If your collection agency is going to call on a Saturday morning to demand payment for bogus account charges, your customer should probably not find they can only take care of the bogus charges during business hours EST.


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31. July 2006 18:27 by Jacob | Comments (0) | Permalink


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