Latest SimCity Plagued by DRM and Server Issues

From the Campus Lantern: March 21, 2013

March 4, 2013 marked the release of the latest installment in the SimCity series. Simply titled, SimCity, the game would allow players to further customize their city using the GlassBox graphic engine, giving the game an added sense of realism with city developments impacting even the individual sims residing in the residential zones. It would also be the first SimCity to allow for multiplayer competition online, allowing players to see who has the better city and compete for resources in order to improve a city’s economy.

With all these features, SimCity should have been the best edition in the series so far. Unfortunately with the various one-star reviews on Amazon for the Standard Edition and an average user score of 1.7 on Metacritic, it seems that the SimCity magic of the past faded. However, it is not the added realism to the city simulator that is causing fans to complain about the new release.

The problem deals with two things: Digital Rights Management (DRM) and server trouble. Both of them go hand-in-hand.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation, a non-profit organization dedicated to advocating for user rights such as internet freedom, explains that SimCity’s DRM requires that the user connects to the internet to play, even in single-player mode. Yet, the server trouble occurring from the game’s release onward makes it difficult for players to actually play the game.

“Even if you connected, the double helping of fail continued: all cities are saved to the cloud, and if the servers bug out, hours of work can go up in smoke faster than Godzilla can decimate a metropolis. No more local saves, lest you manage to defeat the DRM,” EFF blogger, Parker Higgins said, regarding the game’s use of DRM.
Since players cannot save their cities onto their own computers, let alone play offline in single-player mode, the magic of SimCity ends abruptly leaving players with inoperative software.

Now, server troubles are not so much the case since Maxis’s General Manager, Lucy Bradshaw, explains what lengths the development team took in order to get the servers running.

“A combination of optimizing our server architecture and response times, deploying these enhancements on both a series of new and the original servers and issuing a few critical client updates has achieved getting virtually everyone into the game and, once in, having a great time building cities and sharing regions,” Lucy Bradshaw said.

Now with the game up and running online, the features of the new SimCity should change the initial reaction to the game.

But what about the ability to play offline? On March 12, Kotaku’s Stephen Totilo took advantage of the fluctuating WiFi in his house to see how long he could play offline.

“About 18 minutes in, my factories were full. My exports weren’t going out. Because of the lack of an online connection? Or due to my mining facilities working overtime? I’m not sure, because, 19 minutes in, I got the alert you can see atop this story. The game had decided enough was enough. I had to quit to the main menu,” Stephen Totilo said.

While unsure, Totilo suggests that the inability to trade out his exports makes the internet connection vital to gameplay. The multiplayer component seems integral to the game as a whole.

But is that the reason why SimCity is only playable online? In interviewing a SimCity developer, wishing to remain anonymous, Rock Paper Shotgun’s John Walker reveals while internet connectivity provides cities with trade for additional income and resources, it also serves another purpose.

“So what are the servers doing? Well, alongside the obvious, of being involved in allowing players to share the same maps for their cities, and processing imports and exports between them, they’re really there to check that players aren’t cheating or hacking,” John Walker said.

In a game that has the ability to operate offline, SimCity utilizes DRM to make sure players stray from hacking the game, justified if the player does multiplayer. Players who would rather play single-player do not have the luxury of playing offline, and if so can only play for 20 minutes. Time will tell whether fans embrace SimCity or disregard it as a DRM disaster.

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Coffeehouse Attracts Writers and Musicians to Perform Onstage

From the Campus Lantern: March 7, 2013

On Wednesday, February 27, 2013, the Eastern Writers Guild held their second coffeehouse of the semester in the Student Center Café. Students who attended the event were encourage to perform, reading their poetry and prose, and playing some music. When not performing, they joined audience in watching the other acts play out, sometimes drinking the coffee the group provides from Cafémantic.

This coffeehouse saw a variety of writers take the stage to read poetry inspired by exploring the personal unknown and societal stereotypes, prose going back into the days of high school sometimes breaching into the early years of university. Musicians went onstage, guitars in hand, to perform acoustic numbers either written personally or a tribute to a favorite songwriter.

Out of the writers reciting poetry, Zack LaSala, a student at Eastern Connecticut State University, took the opening act of the evening with his poem, “Ashes of a Burning Man”. The poem reflects an annual festival of its namesake, the Burning Man. LaSala says that he wasn’t familiar with the festival until last year, when he was going thorough YouTube videos and found one titled, “Oh the Places You’ll Go at Burning Man”.

He was amazed by the festival, specifically those attending, saying, “All the people were so cool, different, bizarre.”

Zack LaSala says that because of how the Burning Man Festival makes itself unique, containing many things out of the ordinary such as boats on wheels, he was inspired to write his poem.

The act the directly followed his was a musical number by student Jeremey MacDonough, an acoustic thoroughfare through three songs. According to MacDonough, these numbers were a result of what he calls ‘free-play’, where he creates a song without any advance planning.

“The songs were already written. It all comes to putting them down,” Jeremey MacDonough said.

Several reading and music acts passed by afterward, from an well-executed opera number by student Ben Friedman, titled “Nesumdorma”, to a creative nonfiction piece by Angela DiLella, a humorous take on an aspect of college relationship dilemmas with a moral message embedded throughout.

The audience enjoyed the acts throughout the evening. Many found it difficult to select a particular favorite as students Ty Colige and Nick Cecere discovered. Colige, a newcomer to the coffeehouse, was especially impressed by the whole thing saying, “There are quite a few good ones.”

For students, like Adam Phelps who wants to turn his series of poems into an anthology, the encouragement from the audience is a positive influence on their career. While I asked Matt Prifty, President of the Eastern Writers Guild to comment on the success of the coffeehouse, he declined to comment.

The next coffeehouse will be on Wednesday, March 27, 2013 in the Student Center Café, from 7pm to 10pm.

Fandoms: The New In-Crowd or Just Enthusiasts?

From the Campus Lantern: February 21, 2013

Trekkies, Whovians, Potterheads, Bronies; what do these names have in common?

They are separate fandoms, a group of people who share a common interest in a subject. Here, it refers to the obsession over media icons outside of mainstream pop culture, like Star Trek. The passionate drive over these non-existent entities even earned fandoms a spot on Al Jazeera’s program, The Stream, where the enthusiasts and journalists discussed the positive impact fandoms have.

Francesca Coppa, a Professor of TV studies at the University of Pennsylvania, sees fandoms as highly inspirational. On The Stream episode, titled “The Power of Pop Culture”, Coppa says that the obsession fandoms possess inspires creativity, debate, and even causes.

“Fandom is extremely social,” Francesca Coppa said.

While fandoms can inspire writers, filmmakers, and other occupations, what does the fandom do for everyday life?

Angela DiLella, a student at Eastern Connecticut State University, sees fandoms as a nuisance. While she is a fan of various icons, she does not find their obsession noteworthy. Instead she finds fandoms to be socially counter-productive.

“I don’t want to sit with a group of people and discuss this one thing,” Angela DiLella said.

Unlike the interviewees on The Stream, fandoms still have little impact on society. They are just another group of enthusiasts, bordering on the eccentric.

Even here, there is more to these fandoms than what many think. Sean Richmond, another student at Eastern, says that the inner-workings of fandom allow for the non-binary discussion of icons like Kirk or Picard from Star Trek: The Next Generation. When he says non-binary, he means that it goes beyond the stereotypes like race and gender, alluding to a universal appeal.

“You like it and that’s all that matters,” Sean Richmond said.

So while everyday fandoms seem obsessive and annoying, they allow fans to discuss what they love without the pressures of society. In the case of Doctor Who, Neil Perryman, a interviewee on The Stream who manages the Wife in Space blog, explains that the fans not only influenced the BBC to bring back the show in 2005, but many of them went on to write and work on the show.

“The people now making the show are those same fans,” Neil Perryman said.

Fandoms, while being peculiar, can do so much for the object of their fixation and for themselves. So how have fandoms impacted my personal life?

Even if I am a Whovian, a Doctor Who fan, I find that fandoms have seldom influenced my life. I got into the show because of Douglas Adams, who wrote “The Pirate Planet” (1978) and “The City of Death” (1979) and find the writing more interesting than the heroic acts of the Doctor; played by Tom Baker in the mentioned episodes. I could find one of these fandoms and argue that Adams’s writing greatly influenced the modern Doctor Who, but is it worth it? Is it better to let these aspects of a media icon to inspire a person rather than debate about the minor aspects, like what character is the best?

As fandoms become more mainstream, only time will tell whether they still remain eccentric in the public’s eye, or become an advocate for positive, progressive change.

Akus Gallery Exhibition Showcases the Artwork of Lizbeth Anderson

From the Campus Lantern: February 7, 2013

On Thursday, January 31st, the Akus Gallery in Shafer Hall held their second reception for an exhibition titled Virtue and Vice: The World of Lizbeth Anderson. This exhibition, which runs through February 28, showcases the work of artist Lizbeth Anderson, who specializes in encaustic and mixed-media artwork.

“The pieces in this exhibition are from twelve years ago to present,” Lizbeth Anderson said.

Some of her artwork specializes in incorporating elements of the human body. The combination pieces, Lady Luck and The Brains Behind the Operation, are examples, where the anatomical and personal characteristics of the human body are laid out similar to a surgeon’s table. To emphasize the meaning, the latter work features an antique letter written by a med student referring to the anatomist, Henry Gray, author of the textbook Gray’s Anatomy.

“The body has always been a playground for scientists,” Anderson said.

Another work integrating those elements is One, a mixed-media work that paints the body into a spiritual context. Symbols of various religions, such as the Star of David and the all-seeing eye lining the top of the piece, reflect the integration of body and spirit in the artwork.

Students viewed those works and others as they explored the exhibition. Some looked for the continuity in Anderson’s artwork pertaining to the human body. Others were interested in the techniques used in her artwork, from the encaustic paintings to the beeswax collage works.

Ashley Apuzzo, a student at Eastern Connecticut State University, considered both the techniques and the continuity in Anderson’s artwork. She liked Triptych II, a work that utilizes the beeswax collage and highlights the heart in the center canvas.

“I love the shadings and symbols of this piece,” Ashley Apuzzo said.

Aside from the mentioned artwork, other notable pieces include silkscreen prints Caduceus and transubstantiation, and Things are not as they seem… The latter artwork is a combination of the beeswax collage, glass, and found objects.

In Anderson’s beeswax collages she incorporates both techniques of traditional encaustic painting with a more physical layering of the beeswax. She favors working with wax in both ways.

“It made me fall in love with art again,” Anderson said.

While the exhibition itself continues until the end of February, you can view more of Anderson’s artwork at her website here: http://www.lizbethanderson.net.

The Akus Gallery’s next exhibition, Motherhood to Mother-Goddess: Transcendence from Self to Absolute, runs from March 14, 2013 –April 25, 2013 with the reception to be announced.

White House Rejects Petition to Build Death Star

From the Campus Lantern: January 24, 2013

On November 14, 2012, a petition was created on the White House’s We the People platform calling for the construction of the Death Star; the well known destroyer of planets in the Star Wars films. After receiving over 30,000 signatures, the White House responded to the petition by turning it down.

With a post titled “This Isn’t the Petition Response You’re Looking For”, Paul Shawcross explains the problems of constructing a Death Star considering the current issues facing the United States today.

“Why would we spend countless taxpayer dollars on a Death Star with a fundamental flaw that can be exploited by a one-man starship?” Shawcross said.

He cites research done by Lehigh University students that briefly looks into how much it would cost to build the Death Star. They posted the results on the blog, Centives, a economic blog looking at strange, but humorous side of economics.

While the research explains that it would cost $852 quadrillion for one Death Star, they also talk about other issues pertaining to Earth’s limited resources.

“Firstly, the two million death stars is mostly from the Earth’s core which we would all really rather you didn’t remove,” Centives said.

While the cost for one Death Star is drastically expensive, the limited iron would allow for 2 million replicas. However along with the iron deriving from the Earth’s core, they explain that it would take 833,315 years to produce the steel needed for construction.

With such circumstances the government would not be able to build a Death Star in such a short time, let alone blow up Alderaan as the Empire did in Episode IV: A New Hope.

In his defense, Shawcross talks about the space programs that are already in place, using well-known quotes from the films to hook the audience.

“However, look carefully (here’s how*) and you’ll notice something already floating in the sky — that’s no Moon, it’s a Space Station!” Shawcross said, referring to the International Space Station.

Han Solo (Harrison Ford) and his crew’s reaction to the Death Star may not be how we would react to the ISS. Shawcross reminds the public that these small endeavors into space, including the private companies under NASA’s C3PO**, will eventually lead to the future envisioned by Star Wars and other science fiction films.

*URL of hyperlinked text: http://spotthestation.nasa.gov/

**Short for Commercial Crew and Cargo Program Office

Holiday Guide 2012: Books

From the Campus Lantern: December 6, 2012

With the holidays coming up, many will be shopping for friends and family. Unsure as to what to get them? Here, I present you a holiday shopping guide for the reader in your life.

The books selected here give a good variety, from a short story collection to a tribute to Jane Austen. Whoever the reader is in your life, this list will alleviate the stress of finding the right book.

Year of Stories 2012 (Tim Sevenhuysen): Author of anthologies Feel-Good and Living and Dying, Tim Sevenhuysen has been working on a story every week in 2012. While he stopped in June due to work commitments, the resulting anthologies, Discovery and Becoming, are not a disappointment. His writing experience, especially coming from the first story in Discovery, playing on new findings in deep space with a comedic approach, his stories take the reader on a journey through science fiction and fantasy, both light and dark. You can find Discovery and Becoming, along with the Year of Stories for each month, on Sevenhuysen’s website: http://store.timsevenhuysen.com/

Pride, Prejudice, and Curling Rocks (Andrea Brokaw): Self-published author, Andrea Brokaw, debuts with her first novel; a tribute to Jane Austen. Centered around Darcy Bennett, Pride, Prejudice, and Curling Rocks deals with her senior year dramas, from curling, romance, and even friendship. Even as a romance novel, it manages to keep the story fresh with the twists and turns throughout Darcy’s senior year.

Jayne S of the blog “Dear Author: A Romance Review Blog for Readers by Readers” thinks that the social context of the setting make it a neat tribute to Austen’s novel. “I wonder how Jane Austen would feel about lesbian characters in a modern interpretation of her book. I thought it was genius.” Jayne S said.

Pride, Prejudice, and Curling Rocks is available through Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Smashwords, and through the author’s website: http://www.andreabrokaw.com/

Ready Player One (Earnest Cline): With the release of the paperback edition in June, there is no time like now to give Ready Player One a read. Following Wade Watts and his journey through the online gaming world OASIS, Earnest Cline’s debut novel is riddled with 80’s references galore. However, these references are integral to the overall storyline, especially inside OASIS as Watts competes to uncover the online world’s Easter egg set by its creator, James Halliday.

The books setting outside OASIS takes place within a dystopian future giving the search for the Easter egg more meaning. Considering Watts’s trailer home, stacked onto of many others like some sort of apartment complex, it drew me into his journey and ultimately his character.

If your friends or family are familiar with 80s culture or grew up then, they will definitely have a blast reading this. If not, they will be captivated by Watts and his friends as they compete for Halliday’s Easter egg.

Ready Player One is available through Amazon and Barnes and Noble. You can also find it in your local bookstore.

Book Review: Rapture of the Nerds

From the Campus Lantern: November 15, 2012

Science fiction books have taken me to places in the future, to an earth years from now, to distant galaxies with alien life. Cory Doctorow has done the same in his past novels, such as Makers where Doctorow imagines a world where startups, that are innovative in technology, are key to the world’s economy. Or Someone Comes to Town, Someone Leaves Town where Alan helps start an open-wifi movement across Toronto.

With Rapture of the Nerds, collaboration between Doctorow and Charles Stross (author of Rule 34), the what-ifs of science fiction take a leap into religion. According to Cory Doctorow, during am Authors@Google talk, the novel imagines what he calls a “Progressive Apocalypse”. To make more sense, the title is self-explanatory to an extent.

The “Rapture” of the novel is the uploading of all the computer and science specialists, the “Nerds”, into a supercomputer called “The Singularity”.

To make this concept easier to understand, the story follows technophobic Welshman Huw as, he does his best to survive daily life in a futuristic society. This becomes apparent when he heads to Tech Jury service in Libya, trying his best to ignore a state-funded, AI equipped teapot and hiding a biohazard trefoil tattoo from fellow jurors.

While the Singularity isn’t introduced until later in the book, the future conceived by Doctorow and Stross makes it interesting enough to keep reading. However, if you’re not familiar with technological jargon, you may find yourself lost wondering about the microprocessors on Huw’s bicycle.

Aside from the jargon, the book’s writing has a sense of humor about some of Huw’s many situations. It’s as if the writers are sympathizing with his ordeals as Tech Jury Service and ultimately within the Singularity itself.

What makes the book worthwhile, and it’s universe easier to navigate through, is the fact that Huw is mostly confused and agitated by the new technological trends in his universe. While I may have a hard time understanding some of the features of self-changing bathrooms, I can be reassured that I’m not alone.

Should you read this? If you’re into Doctorow, Stross, or abstract technological concepts, then yes. If not, then you may want to be careful, or just find a less overwhelming future to read about.

Rapture of the Nerds is available online, at bookstores, and also for free under a Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial No Derivatives license from the book’s official website at http://www.craphound.com/rotn/.

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