Steam no longer Civilized

Sid Meier's Civilization IV CompleteOn the weekend Andre happened to show me Sid Meier’s Civilization IV and in particular the Beyond the Sword expansion pack. I immediately decided I wanted to get a copy for myself, having strangely enough, never played any of the series before even though others peoples I know like Ruari have spent way too many hours engrossed in building civilizations.

So apparently the quickest and easiest way to get a copy of the game is through Valve’s Steam service. But lo and behold it seems that 2K Games no longer supports delivery of content to South Africa and doesn’t even offer the game to South African users or make mention of the fact that we live in an unsupported country. Wonderful.

I happened to notice our country code in the game page‘s URL so I tried changing it to the UK and lo and behold, I can now see pricing for the game.

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Unfortunately clicking on the Purchase button resulted in a “Game unavailable” message box telling me that “This subscription is not available in your country.

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I ended up waiting until the following day and calling my local BT Games store where I actually picked up a copy of the Sid Meier’s CivilizationIV Complete for less than it was available on Steam. Now I can understand content restrictions but then Valve must not lie to its customers. If you take a look at their Get Steam Now page it clearly states:

Fast access to games: The full Steam library and all future Steam releases are at your fingertips. After you’ve purchased a game, download it immediately and start playing.

So what’s the story Valve, why the misleading advertising?

[tags]Valve,Steam,Civilization IV,South Africa,rant[/tags]

What it feels like to be a woman

Just to brighten up this rainy Friday afternoon, I stumbled upon this bit of humour.

On a Nationwide flight to Johannesburg, a plane passes through a severe storm.   The turbulence is awful, and things go from bad to worse when one wing is struck by lightning. One woman in particular loses it. Screaming, she stands up in the front of  the plane. “I’m too young to die,” she wails. Then she yells, “Well, if I’m going to die, I want my last minutes on earth to be memorable! Is there anyone on this plane who can make me feel like a WOMAN?”

For a moment there is silence. Everyone has forgotten their own peril. They all stare, riveted, at the desperate woman in the front of the plane. Then a farmer from the Free State stands up in the rear of the plane. He is handsome: tall, well built, with dark brown hair and hazel eyes. He starts to walk slowly up the aisle, unbuttoning his shirt.

One button at a time……..
No one moves……..
He removes his shirt……..
Tanned muscles ripple across his chest…….. She gasps……..
He whispers……..

“Iron this…and then get me a beer.”

[tags]humour[/tags]

Microsoft SQL Server 2008 CTP, February 2008

The latest and greatest CTP of SQL Server 2008 (code-named Katmai) is now available for download and testing. This is commonly referred to as CTP6 and is the first update since CTP5 in November 2007. You can download the CTP6 bits over here.

To find out what is new and changed in SQL Server 2008 I suggest you take a look at the February 2008 version of Books Online (BOL). I’m really keen to try out the new DATETIME2, DATETIMEOFFSET, DATE, TIME, GEOGRAPHY, GEOMETRY and VARBINARY(MAX) FILESTREAM data types. Not to mention the ability to pass tables as parameters to stored procedures and the addition of Virtual Earth support directly in the database. This isn’t to be confused with the new spatial data types and spatial index support though.

Remember that CTPs should preferably be installed on test machines or virtual machines. If however you want to use it with Visual Studio there are updates necessary for both Visual Studio 2005 Support for SQL Server 2008 CTP and Visual Studio 2008 Support for SQL Server 2008 CTP.

[tags]SQL Server 2008,Katmai,CTP[/tags]

Gears of War 2 coming November

Gears of War Hot off the press at the Game Developers Conference 2008 is that Gears of War 2 is going to be released exclusively for Xbox 360 in November. The official press release follows:

SAN FRANCISCO — Feb. 20, 2008 — Today at the Game Developers Conference (GDC) 2008, Microsoft Corp. provided an exciting glimpse at what promises to be another landmark year for games and online entertainment on the Xbox 360 platform and officially announced the launch of “Gears of War 2,” exclusively for Xbox 360 this November.

Providing a dramatic close to Microsoft’s GDC keynote address, Epic Games Inc.’s lead designer Cliff Bleszinski announced that the epic saga of Marcus Fenix and Delta Squad continues exclusively on the Xbox 360 this fall with “Gears of War 2.” This highly anticipated sequel to the 4.5 million-selling blockbuster “Gears of War” delves deeper into humanity’s struggle for survival against the nightmarish Locust Horde, and promises to take high-definition visuals to a whole new level.

In addition, acclaimed developer Peter Molyneux of Lionhead Studios took the stage to showcase exciting new multiplayer features for “Fable 2,” introducing dynamic cooperative play, a first to the franchise. Molyneux also announced that later this year, and before the launch of “Fable 2,” gamers can get a sneak peek at the game’s world when the “Fable 2” pub games debut as a stand-alone download on Xbox LIVE Arcade. When “Fable 2” launches, gamers will have the ability to transfer currency earned in the pub games directly to their character in “Fable 2.” This unique and first-of-its-kind experience, which can be found only on Xbox LIVE Arcade, will give the millions of “Fable” fans and gamers all around the globe the opportunity to jump into the “Fable 2” world with money already in the bank.

Tomonobu Itagaki also revealed new “Ninja Gaiden II” game-sharing features, including Ninja Cinema, which is enabled solely through Xbox LIVE, providing exciting and innovative entertainment experiences for the more than 10 million Xbox LIVE members worldwide by allowing players to record and upload their best ninja moves to Xbox LIVE.

“To our team the original game was just a tease, the appetizer to the ‘Gears of War’ characters and new style of gameplay. We were so amped to get to the next chapter, and dig deeper into the universe of this franchise,” said Cliff Bleszinski, lead designer for Epic Games. “‘Gears of War 2’ is an even bigger, better, and more badass experience than the first game, and we can’t wait to get it in the hands of eager gamers this November.”

This year, the most anticipated games will be found exclusively on Xbox 360, including the next chapters of top franchises such as “Gears of War,” “Fable” and “Ninja Gaiden,” as well as new titles such as “Too Human.”

[tags]Xbox 360,Gears of War,Gears of War 2[/tags]

Xbox LIVE getting XNA games and more

XNA Finally the marriage between Xbox LIVE and XNA has been announced. Major Nelson live blogged it from GDC (Game Developers Conference) in San Francisco on his twitter feed and promptly posted about it.

It was just announced at GDC that we are introducing a new, open distribution service for games created by the community. Games created with the XNA Game Studio will be available over Xbox LIVE. Later today, seven games created by the community will be available for download over Xbox LIVE.

Up until this announcement community and hobbyist game developers have been rather limited in terms of distribution of their games. XNA games produced using the awesome (and free) XNA Game Studio 2.0 have only been able to distribute XNA games through the paid for XNA Creators Club. An open distribution service sounds like an awesome new facility that could seriously blow open the casual gaming market for hobbyist and community game developers.

Other highlights I happened to notice on Major’s live blogging feed up to this minute include:

  • XNA games are coming to the Zune. This could be a huge leap for the Zune mobile media player that could start to encroach on the iPod’s market share.
  • There will be over 1,000 games on the Xbox 360 by the end of the year.
  • The Halo 3 community is uploading approximately 100,000 pieces of user generated content per day, that is 30% more content than all of the daily uploads on YouTube.
  • As of 2007, gaming is bigger than music on a global basis. Wow, I’m sure the music executives can’t be too happy about that, watch out film industry, you’re next. 😉

Watch this space for more interesting tidbits as they get announced.

[tags]Xbox 360,XNA,Zune[/tags]

The pain of SQL Server and working with dates

How many times have you tried to design an efficient database table design in SQL Server only to stumped with the problem of storing pure date values. Yes the currently released versions of SQL Server (up to 2005) don’t support a pure date only data type. Note that SQL Server 2008 add the new DATE data type which should make this post semi-redundant. This can prove painful when you wanting to store values for a specific day. So you end up getting creative. My normal solution is to put a check constraint on the column to enforce that the date value represents the start of the day or 00h00. Oh and I generally make sure I store all my date and time values in UTC so I can render to any time-zone that my application desires.

Here is an example of how I’d do a check constraint on column UtcDate. Note how I effectively truncate the floating-point representation of the date and time value and check that it equals the column value. Also I store it as a SMALLDATETIME as I’m not needing more than 1 minute accuracy. Oh and I’ve tried to reformat the examples to be easier to read on the web, I hope it works. 🙂 

CREATE TABLE [dbo].[Foo]
(
 [UtcDate] SMALLDATETIME NOT NULL
            CONSTRAINT [CK_Foo_UtcDate]
             CHECK (FLOOR(CONVERT(FLOAT,[UtcDate]))=CONVERT(FLOAT,[UtcDate]))
) ON [PRIMARY]
GO

This method works great for me but in searching for a way to truncate the minutes of a DATETIME to a specific interval I found another approach that not only looks more elegant but most likely performs a lot better. I haven’t run any proper performance tests so I’d appreciate some feedback from those that have done some testing.

CREATE TABLE [dbo].[Foo]
(
 [UtcDate] SMALLDATETIME NOT NULL
            CONSTRAINT [CK_Foo_UtcDate]
             CHECK (DATEADD(DAY,DATEDIFF(DAY,0,[UtcDate]),0)=[UtcDate])
) ON [PRIMARY]
GO

It looks a lot more efficient than my previous approach, hopefully it is. Oh and take a look here for more very useful tips and tricks when working with dates and times in SQL Server.

[tags]SQL,SQL Server[/tags]

Windows Server 2008 and Windows Vista SP1 RTM

Windows Server 2008 RTMs with zero defects. Both the Windows Server and Windows Vista teams released new builds today. The much-awaited Windows Server 2008, formerly known by the code-name Longhorn Server, was released to manufacturing today, as was the highly anticipated service pack 1 update to Windows Vista.

If you are running Windows Vista you can expect to possibly see the service pack sometime in March as is described here:

Here’s the timing for SP1 availability for current Windows Vista users:

  • In mid-March, we will release Windows Vista SP1 to Windows Update (in English, French, Spanish, German and Japanese) and to the download center on microsoft.com.  Customers who visit Windows Update can choose to install Service Pack 1.  If Windows Update determines that the system has one of the drivers we know to be problematic, then Windows Update will not offer SP1.  Since we know that some customers may want to update to SP1 anyhow, the download center will allow anyone who wants to install SP1 to do so.
  • In mid-April, we will begin delivering Windows Vista SP1 to Windows Vista customers who have chosen to have updates downloaded automatically.  That said, any system that Windows Update determines has a driver known to not update successfully will not get SP1 automatically.  As updates for these drivers become available, they will be installed automatically by Windows Update, which will unblock these systems from getting Service Pack 1.  The result is that more and more systems will automatically get SP1, but only when we are confident they will have a good experience.
  • The remaining languages will RTM in April.

Windows Server 2008 I presume will be available from the various distribution channels on or after the 27th of February (official launch date). I can’t wait to try out the awesome new virtualization feature called Hyper-V.

Well done to the two teams at Microsoft for what I’m sure will be two awesome deliverables.

[tags]Longhorn Server,Windows Server 2008,Windows Vista[/tags]

Glow in the Dark?

What is the deal with the South African government? Am I becoming an alarmist by writing this post and expressing my opinion? I honestly don’t know but I just feel the need to write my thoughts down.

Last week the country, who had power, watched Derek Watts and the Carte Blanche team try to get to the bottom of the electricity supply issues currently being experienced by ESKOM. The viewers were polled asking whether they had confidence in ESKOM being able to sort out the problems; the answer was a 99% vote against them. That was over 100,000 people that each incurred a R1.50 charge to tell Carte Blanche how upset they are – I wonder how many people didn’t bother to vote or didn’t have power to watch the show?

So now I’m reading my feeds today and I notice the latest – radioactive vegetables have been discovered. Yes we’re taking about a report on vegetables being 150 times more radioactive than permissible levels. Oh great! What next? Am I eating radioactive fresh produce now? Maybe that Big Mac and Cheese should be my staple diet for the next few weeks until this crap gets sorted out.

Oh and then there is more to put the cherry on the top. Apparently 43% of dams in the country are in dire straits and are needing repairs to the tune of 180 billion Rand. Wow, how did that one slip by? Were the government officials so busy doing something else other than running the bloody country?!

Maybe there is at least a solution to the ESKOM issues – we’re all likely to be glowing in the dark in the near future.

[tags]South Africa,ESKOM,radioactive,food,water,electricity[/tags]