Backlog Showdown: Round One

Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood has been dispatched and moved out of the Pile of Shame—so now it’s time to make good on this little experiment and bring it up for a vote: what am I playing next? While I clean up Achievements in AC2 and AC:B (almost at 33k now), please to be voting on the next game I tackle out of the backlog, from these choices:

(You may feel free to write-in and organize your own write-in campaign in the comments. I surrender control of this process to you, the reader. Voting ends on Friday night.)

This is heavily action-oriented, but in future polls we’ll get to something meatier. I fully expect that there will be a role-playing game throwdown or two at some juncture of this process. I am keeping these options light because Dead Space 2 arrives at my doorstep on the 25th of this month, and based on the early reviews it is something not to be missed.

As to this, my anticipation knows few limits. The first game was about lifeforms that spring from and then reshape the corpses of the previous inhabitants of a cold and sparsely-lit gigantic spaceship. The idea and the execution I found quite morbid and creepy, peppered with those kinds of “jump” moments that make you turn around when you turn the lights out in the room. Now these things of nightmares have been given an entire city to roam about in. I believe I will be experiencing more than my usual dose of fight-or-flight at the end of this month, and I sincerely do not want to miss it.

(Yes, I am aware I missed a day in the post-a-day challenge. Everyone in my house—and I do mean everyone—is sick. Sorry about that.)

Curling League Week Two

Well, this week went better for the team and worse for me. I wasn’t feeling 100% up to playing because I’ve been fighting a nasty cold for the better part of a week, but we made a pretty strong showing and ended up in a 6-6 tie, so that’s one point for our team.

I’m a little sore this week compared to last—I think I warmed up too early, but I also think my body wasn’t completely over the fever, coughing, and sneezing it’s been through. We had the late game as well, so the first draw didn’t happen until close to 9:00.

A sample score sheet from our league. Which happens to be tonight's.

Based on the scoresheet, we did pretty well, stealing a total of four points in back-to-back ends and giving up only one steal of our own. Unfortunately, I didn’t seem able to get the job done when I had the hammer to close things out. The second end was a failed draw into the four-foot, the fifth end (where they took three) was the result of a horribly botched runback that did not clear out the house, but instead cleared out the only scoring rock we had (which was on the opposite side of the house).

And we should have had two in the seventh, but I shorted one draw to the button and on the final stone of the game I fell over onto my stomach and completely lost my line on the shot. I suppose I’m lucky we didn’t end up making things worse with that shot, instead failing to make good on the hammer. Practice makes perfect.

Our second saved the third end with a rather remarkable double take-out. It was really satisfying to call the shot and then watch him whip the stone in there and make it happen.

We have a week off next week, so I might try to get some pick-up gameplay on this weekend. The ice was much better this week compared to last, but because it’s arena ice it’s had some weird peculiarities where the stone will pick on a skate rut and then curl almost 90º. I really wish we had consistent ice—one of my shots actually curled the opposite way from the turn!

It was just shy of a win, but as with many things, it was a great time had by everyone who played and I once again feel like I’m getting better at it.

Assassin’s Creed

(Yes, I just finished this in December. Also, in case you wouldn’t know, spoilers abound ahead.)

Assassin’s Creed is a concept desperately in need of a game. It’s deeply flawed in some ways and totally engrossing in others—and in my opinion, the flaws weren’t immediately noticeable until I was about thirty minutes into the sequel, which I’m working on now and will definitely give thoughts on later.

Perhaps the best way to give you my overall feelings on the game is to first lay out what worked and what didn’t. I’m sure lots has been written on this since the game is quite old at this point, but it doesn’t hurt to give another opinion.

What Worked

  • The setting (both place and time) is unique and compelling.
  • The sci-fi undertones, despite my initial misgivings, totally work.
  • The concept—the idea of the main character—is awesome.

What Didn’t Work

  • Altaïr.
  • Free-running was at times very imprecise and frustrating.
  • Samey-ness permeated the game.

One of the most telling problems with it is that I really had to force myself to finish the game, mostly out of a sense of disillusionment. The early trailers and buzz had the amazing concept that you were to be an assassin, striking from the shadows and then escaping with both intelligence and speed to blend back into the crowds and disappear.

When fulfilling the main assassination objectives, I think this happened exactly once—on the first “boss,” or more appropriately, target. For almost the entire remainder of the game, I was constantly in combat with scores of guards, and once I figured out the rhythm and pattern to the combat, it was rote and quickly became boring.

That’s not to say that the game didn’t have moments of beauty contained within. It looked great, controlled well (for the most part), and had competent but not amazing sound design. The voice acting managed to not get in the way, which is high praise. There was also an enormous feeling of satisfaction when pulling off a plan successfully and finding just the right way to accomplish your task. Assassin’s Creed has one of the more unique settings in recent video gaming—the Holy Land during the Crusades. (This doesn’t touch on the “modern day” setting that frames the Altaïr story, though I actually thought it worked quite well and was very compelling.)

The problem is that the game has you performing the same several tasks over and over and over again. There’s very little variety in mission structure or design. For each target you take on, you have to perform at least two, and can perform as many as six, of the following types of tasks:

  • Follow someone and beat them up. (difficulty: tying my shoes)
  • Find someone, sit on a bench, and press a button to listen to them. (difficulty: walking down the street and then standing in place)
  • Find someone, press a button to listen to them, follow them and then pick their pocket. (difficulty: only frustrating when the game randomly causes you to fail)
  • Talk to an assassin, then kill his targets because he’s either lazy or a jackass within a time limit (difficulty: maddening, because you can’t be detected and there’s a time limit)
  • Talk to an assassin, then pick up random flags because he’s lazy (difficulty: only as bad as the free-running controls, meaning random)

That’s every mission in the game, summed up. The top ones in the list happen more frequently in the beginning, and the lower ones more often towards the end of the game (especially the assassination within a time limit stuff). You can also rescue citizens from being harassed by guards, which makes certain other things easier, but is just an excuse to make you (once again) fight a bunch of dudes.

Once you’ve completed enough of those tasks, you’re given your target and told to off him. There are benefits, to remaining undetected until you perform the deed, but in most cases it doesn’t matter—the target will either run, in which case you can usually catch them, or will turn to fight you, in which case he’s insane. It should be noted that running a dude down who’s on to you is also rather satisfying when it happens the right way.

So you do the above nine times in a row. That is the entire game. Three targets are in each city, and the cities are tied together with an “overworld” that is notable only because every other character in the overworld wants to kill you—and there’s no point to it unless you want to do a collect-a-thon for flags that earns you nothing but an Achievement. Once you’ve been to each city once, you can fast travel there instead of using the hub world—and that’s how you will get around after 1/3 of the game is done.

Which brings us to our next point and the main problem with the game—the main character, or lack thereof.

ALTAÏR IS BORING. Like, Squall Leonhart boring. Maybe even more so.

The character you play in the present time section of the game, Desmond, is infinitely more interesting than Altaïr, and you play as him for maybe an hour, probably more like forty minutes.

Altaïr’s problem is that he has absolutely no motivations or characterizations of any kind. When you are introduced to him, it’s much like a Metroid game: you begin with all kinds of neat abilities that are then magically stripped from you for the sole purpose of making you play the game to regain them. You get back an ability or a weapon with each target you eliminate, which makes you strong enough that you have a better chance of not dying when you take on the next one.

His supposed motivation is that he failed his boss when sent to accomplish a task, so his death is faked and then he is assigned to kill the nine guys in order to regain his status as an Assassin—so the main character goes around killing dudes basically because the ranking old guy on scene tells him to. You don’t have to be a genius to figure out before too long that there’s something deeper behind the killings (because video games can’t ever be simple), but Altaïr just kind of blindly keeps going. He doesn’t have any friends, doesn’t have any personal motivations, no relationships: there’s nothing that makes him relatable in any way.

I suppose the theory is that he’s just supposed to be this awesome mad dog killer type who doesn’t need anyone. It is therefore impossible to relate to him, and consequently to form any kind of emotional attachment to your avatar.

(Now, if you want to talk characters with motivations, we’ll get into a conversation about Ezio (from Assassin’s Creed II) pretty soon, and there you’ll have your main character with motivations. But that is for another time and another post.)

Even with all that said, I’m happy I played it, if only to get a feel for the criticism of the game and to gain an appreciation for the improvements made to the formula in the sequels, which are many and varied. I don’t think I’ll go back to play through it again.

Like I said: it’s a concept in search of a game. It comes close, but doesn’t quite find it, scraping only the surface concepts of what a good sandbox-style game can be like. Fortunately, the second one is the game that they were looking to make, much more realized, detailed, and possessing scope and weight. I’ll be talking about it and Brotherhood soon.

The Limits of Anonymity on

Not long after I began working here at Automattic, I transferred the vast majority of my personal sites over to (I keep a couple of sites for testing core stuff on an external host.) I did this because there are tremendous advantages to the platform, including what is amazing reliability, faster sites—especially compared to shared hosts, and some features that are unique to and don’t exist currently for core WordPress installations.

(My favorite of those features is Post by Email, and I actually have planned a series of posts talking about the nifty things you get by having your site at That’s another post or three, though.)

When I was using self-hosted WordPress to design and manage my sites, I was in complete control—or at least in full knowledge—of all of the data, including logs and database information. This meant that I had a pretty good understanding of what of my personal information was being kept, stored, or made available to my host and other parties.

When you’re on, you don’t have access to that information. We’re asked occasionally what information we keep or what personal information is available to someone if we are asked. This week, we published a support page that can be found here that spells out exactly what information we keep and how it can be divulged to third parties. I think this is a great thing to publish for the benefit of our users and to be up-front with them regarding their personal and identifying information.

To quote the support page, here’s the personally identifying information we keep:

We keep the following private data about sites and users:

  • The email address used to create a blog
  • The IP address from which the blog was created
  • The date and time when a blog was created
  • The IP addresses from which blog posts have been published
  • The email and IP addresses of anyone who has left a comment on a blog

Note that, as the article mentions, all of this data is bound by Automattic’s stated privacy policy. This is good.

However, it also means that is not a truly anonymous service. You should keep that in mind when you are signing up for the service and as you are using it. This information is enough to positively identify people in a lot of cases.

This is a lot less information than most service providers collect. For myself, on my self-hosted site on a shared host, I know that at least the following is collected on my activities:

  • My name, billing address, and credit card number
  • The access logs whenever I would FTP or SSH into the site, and likely most actions performed there as well
  • Access logs, including IP addresses, from all users who visited my site
  • My personal information required for WHOIS (and purchasing private registration is not a shield, but without it this information is even publicly available)

Remember that to a court, this information is fair game. It can be subpoenaed or ordered to be turned over by a judge if someone has good cause to request it—and in a lot of cases, providers of the services you use may not tell you the full extent of what they collect or the details behind this information. This is why I’m personally quite happy that we published this support page, to put the information in your hands and help you make an informed decision when choosing whether to use our services at

(As I mentioned above, I’ll try to give you some more really awesome reasons why you should join us in future posts.)


Today was my 31st birthday, and by any reckoning it’s been an amazing year.

  • I left my job of four years at Concordia Publishing House.
  • I started working for Automattic, the best company in the world filled with fine people I now call friends and colleagues.
  • My kids turned 7, 6, 5, and 3. They are getting too big for my good.
  • I made my first trip out of the country (not counting a quick jaunt to Canada when I was a child) – to Lisbon, Portugal and had an amazing time. I really must go back someday.
  • I bought my first digital SLR camera.
  • I submitted my first accepted patch to the core WordPress project.
  • I landed in the hospital with heart trouble and re-affirmed a commitment to better health.
  • I curled for the first time (and definitely not the last).
  • I went to my first WordCamp (in San Francisco, also my first visit to that city).

I’m sure there are many things I’ve done in the past year that I am forgetting here, but it’s been a good one with lots of great experiences shared with lots of people.

Thanks to all of you for making it the best yet. (Especially to my wife, who continues to put up with me for reasons I sometimes cannot fathom.)