The World of Jay Little
Ode to GoldBox RPGs
5/18/2015 10:33 PM
As many of you know, I self identify as a retro and an indie gamer. That pretty much means that for the most part, I don't play many of the modern AAA games out there. Of course as a retro gamer, one must avoid going full hipster (otherwise known as asshole) by at least acknowledging that the retro games of today were once the AAA games of yesterday.

As I revealed in my Kryoflux article awhile back, I began collecting physical versions of the Advanced Dungeons and Dragons Goldbox games from SSI. Today that quest has finally come to an end as I have finally acquired the final game and completed my collection. Prior to obtaining a Kryoflux unit, I wasn't into collecting physical games with the exception of the original boxed edition of Planescape Torment that I acquired at one point. However once I started acquiring Goldbox games, I really wanted to complete the set. It didn't take too long to get most of them, though acquiring the final one not only took some time, but it also cost me more than all of the others combined.

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As you can see, the vast majority of the games were shipped in a "gold box", which is where the nickname for the series originated. The last four were shipped in more traditional fullsize boxes, but since they use the same basic game engine, or some variation thereof, they count as part of the set as far as I'm concerned.

So why was I so interested in these games? That's easy. I spent a massive amount of my free time as a kid playing and failing to succeed at them. Specifically as a kid I had "Pool of Radiance", "Curse of the Azure Bonds" and "Secret of the Silver Blades". Later on I was given "Unlimited Adventures" as a Christmas or Birthday gift from my Uncle. That is of course the coolest one of all as it allows you to create your adventures using the Goldbox game engine. My buddy Lance and I spent hours dicking around with it and making adventures of all sorts.

As I grew older and acquired a better grasp of role playing game mechanics (a subject which despite all of the modern day advances in RPGs really hasn't changed much at all), I returned to these games and began completing them. I completed a lot of them multiple times, some I have yet to beat (e.g. Treasures of the Savage Frontier) and some have required years of effort to complete (e.g. Pools of Darkness). Like most classic RPGs, much of the mechanics in these games are insanely unfair. For instance in the final three battle sequence of "Pools of Darkness", you are not only swarmed with some of the most powerful creatures in the AD&D universe, but each successive battle introduces new and previously unheard of restrictions in an effort to up the ante (disabling all magic, final boss can one shot kill any character).

Nevertheless I love these games. These games were my first real introduction to the concept of a tactical battlefield. Sure my father taught me the basics of playing Chess, but that game never grabbed me like these did. I love the combat in these games, which is good because beyond the combat there isn't a whole hell of a lot to do. In any event being able to move individual characters around on a battlefield, taking advantage of battlefield structures, using party formations to force particular enemy behaviors and engaging in the use of short range and long range combat was almost unheard of at the time when the first Goldbox game "Pool of Radiance" was released in 1988.

If you've never played any of these games, I highly recommend them. The best place to start is probably with "Pool of Radiance" as it is quite story heavy compared to the rest of them. As for which one of these was the most expensive, that's easy. "Neverwinter Nights" cost me $163 on eBay and that's the one I received in the mail today. It is exceedingly rare as there were not many physical copies sold since it was primarily an online game. In fact it was the first graphical MMORPG. Sadly, it is virtually unplayable today as the servers as well as the required online service, which ran on top of AOL, no longer exists. Nevertheless it has historical value and its rarity along with the relative demand made acquiring it quite the task.
The Problem with Internet Explorer and Spartan
3/31/2015 12:30 PM
Anybody who knows me professionally, knows that I despise Microsofts Internet Explorer web browser. What they probably don't know is why I despise it. Most people likely assume that because I'm a penguin, I'm also an Internet Explorer hater. The two do tend to go hand in hand. However nothing could be further from the truth. I use Linux a great deal on my own time, but professionally I tend to spend most of my time with Windows. I have a healthy respect for Microsoft products and techs such as Windows Server, IIS and .NET. This respect does not extend to Internet Explorer. The purpose of this post is to explain why that is.

To start, this post was at least partially inspired by the first public/beta release of Microsoft's new Spartan browser. Spartan has been getting heavily hyped over the last few months and with good reason. It represents a few major steps in the right direction for Microsoft. Spartan fixes a lot of the complaints people have made in regards to Internet Explorer, but it does not fix them all. Though it is a step in the right direction and for that Microsoft should be applauded. Nevertheless, it brings with it some of the same baggage that IE does.

Back to IE, where do I even begin? I've been developing web applications for 15 years now and half of that time has been spent suffering with the most infamous version of IE, 6.0. In early 2008 I told my current employer that I was no longer going to spend time trying to make IE 6.0 work with my latest apps and that upgrading to IE 7.0 should be their priority. Surprisingly enough this strategy actually worked though I suffered with IE 7.0 until January of 2013 when I left a position that was forcing me to continue writing code for that browser.

I say all this in an effort to point out that because of Microsofts position in the industry and their general approach to software, web developers like myself have been forced to live with their mistakes for a very long time. IE 6.0 took thirteen years to stop being supported by Microsoft. That's insane despite the fact that when it was released in 2001 it was heralded as a great piece of software. But after Microsoft sat on their laurels for a few years, competitors rose to fill the void and subsequently showed the world that the web browser could still be improved upon. Microsoft released IE 7.0 in 2006, a full five years later. It was woefully behind and unable to compete on most levels with the likes of Firefox. But it still won.

This of course brings me to my first complaint about Internet Explorer: It is perpetually behind the curve. Because of the sluggishness of Microsoft and their general inability to keep up with consumer facing technology trends IE still forces the rest of us to remain behind the curve in order to support the overwhelming majority of desktop and laptop users that still insist on using IE. No matter what Chrome and Firefox bring to the table in terms of standards support, web developers still have to deal with the likes of poly-fills and a variety of other unsavory hacks in order to support popular versions of IE such as version 9.0.

My second complaint about IE is the fact that it is still being tied to specific versions of Windows. I really have no understanding of why Microsoft chooses to do this in this day and age. It really is quite silly. But more than that it ties specific versions of IE to life cycle support commitments Microsoft has made for specific versions of Windows. These commitments are generous and generally last far longer than the commitments Microsofts competitors are willing to make. There are exceptions to this rule of course, but they are for niche products that bear very little relevance to the topic at hand. Nonetheless, IE being tied to specific versions of Windows is a primary reason why web developers like myself are always having to support much older versions of IE.

If you compare this situation to Chrome and Firefox, most web developers don't care about older versions of Chrome and Firefox. These browsers both auto-update and for the most part they do it without even bothering the user. If it is found that a user is in fact using an older version of one of these browsers, they are immediately asked to upgrade. On the other hand, web devs are still being forced to support IE 8 and IE 9 which were released in 2009 and 2011 respectively. In the age of modern tech, that's stunningly outdated.

Part of the motivation here is that Microsoft views IE as a feature that can drive the sales of Windows licenses. That's what they really care about. Sadly that's not working out so great for them. Windows is no longer the dominant OS in the modern world and IE is no longer the only game in town. If a new browser is the best feature your new OS has to offer, then the odds favor the idea that your new OS isn't worth the upgrade. No other browser is treated as an appendage that drives license sales for a specific version of an operating system. This approach has and continues to severely hamper Microsoft's ability to compete in the browser market.

Those are my two primary complaints regarding IE. Now lets be honest, just a few short years ago this list would've been a lot longer. Microsoft has taken steps to close the gap that exists between them and their competition. However Spartan doesn't really address either of these issues. Sure Spartan users will finally get support for extensions, a feature Chrome and Firefox users have enjoyed for God only knows how long but all this really does is prove my point. They are perpetually behind the curve. Extension support is something that makes or breaks my decision to use a particular browser. Without the right extensions, I have no interest in a particular browser. Therefore I have no interest in IE as an end user. Spartan on the other hand... well there is no Linux port at the moment so I cannot upgrade to it ;)

Spartan also continues the unsavory trend of tying Microsoft browsers to specific versions of Windows. This practice will continue to insure that the web development community will be forced to support old versions of IE long after Microsoft has stopped pimping them out to the unwitting masses. No matter what Spartan adds as a web developer, I am really only interested in what IE 9.0 has to offer because that is the minimum version that I have to support. This is sad and ultimately detracts from any headway that Microsoft makes in this area. One can only hope that they will address this issue at some point, thereby paving the way for IE/Spartan to become a first class citizen in the browser community.
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