April 2004


In our attempt to keep the flag flying as North Korea’s Home Away From Home on the Internet, we relay KCNA’s latest dispatch from the completely-blowed-up city of Ryongchon, as told by Reuters:

“Many people of the county evacuated portraits [of Kim Jong Il] before searching after their family members or saving their household goods,” KCNA said in a report with a Ryongchon dateline.

“Upon hearing the sound of the heavy explosion on their way home for lunch, Choe Yong-il and Jon Tong-sik, workers of the county procurement shop, ran back to the shop,” KCNA said.

“They were buried under the collapsing building to die a heroic death when they were trying to come out with portraits of President Kim Il-sung and leader Kim Jong-il,” it said.

“Teacher Han Jong-suk, 56, also breathed her last with portraits in her bosom,” KCNA said. Another teacher saved seven students, but died rescuing the portraits, it said.

One can only imagine the death toll were the glorious workers of the People’s State not madly running amuck trying to save valuable propaganda photos of the Dear Leader from becoming dusty due to the explosion before worrying about such trifles as children or family members.

To spare further deaths in hideous explosions, we here at brokentoys.org (we being me) hereby enshrine these photos of the Dear Leader so that they will be protected from harm and random railway explosions. Glory to the People’s Revolution!

(photos removed, they broke new format. DAMN YOU TO HELL CAPITALIST BLOGGER!)


A lot of you who have read my various crazed howlings on various message boards know of my affinity for Europa Universalis II. It really is an incredibly elegant strategy game – which is a real accomplishment since the scope is, well, insane (manipulating the affairs of any nation on the planet from 1492 to 1814). Paradox Entertaiment, the developers, have made a few games with the same basic engine since then (Heart of Iron, set in World War 2 and Victoria, bridging the gap between EU2 and HoI – 1815 to 1920). Unfortunately, those followup efforts were pretty fatally crippled by a loss of a large part of what made EU2 great – the simple design that made the game actually playable – and replacing it with ever-increasing layers of useless complexity.

For example, in Hearts of Iron, to research a better tank, you have to research the chassis, the transmission, the armor, the turret style, the ammunition calibre, the communications systems, and then the prototype for the actual tank. By the time you have done this, the game has probably crashed. Victoria trumped this by crafting an economic system that literally broke underneath its own level of detail, where it was pretty much impossible to actually have a functioning national economy not crippled by obscene levels of debt without, say, selling every bit of technology you have to China.

So for the past few days, I’ve been playing Crusader Kings, the next game in the series. I am pleased to tell you that unlike the others, it doesn’t actually suck. In fact, I dare say it’s better than EU2.

I begin yet another quixotic attempt to reunite the squabbling tribes of Eire. Don’t ask me why, I’m sure you have hobbies too.

Crusader Kings focuses the scale from the entire globe to Europe, and begins after the battle of Hastings, with William on the throne of England and the Muslim caliphates owning most of the valuable bits of the continent. The game runs to 1492, after which you can export your game to EU2. (This function actually works pretty well; CK’s political system forces you to at least pretend to be a part of a historical empire of some sort, so your holdings transfer over with a minimum of fuss.) You cannot play a pagan lord or an Islamic sheik – it’s onward, Christian soldiers.

This allows the game to focus on one political/social system and do so elegantly – that of the feudal overlord. The heart of winning CK lies in manipulating your royal family and court. Depending on your lord’s statistics, you can maintain up to maybe 4 or 5 counties personally without seeing a breakdown in efficiency. Beyond that, you are strongly encouraged to sub-let your holdings – the more you hold beyond your capabilities, the less tax money you actually see from them, and you lose prestige if your sons are of age and don’t have any land to call their own.

The court of William of Normandy in 1066. Wish I had those stats. The cross icon means in addition to everything else, he also owns the Pope. I hate him. He’s about to invade me in a few years, too.

Vassalage is a bit more meaningful than in EU2. You don’t really control your vassals. You can tax them (and if you do they will probably revolt) and you can use their armies (and if you do they will probably revolt) or you can leave them alone (and if you do they will probably revolt). Vassals are rated for their loyalty, and your scions are a bit more loyal than the somewhat more capable court members you might be tempted to promote. Vassals also have personality traits. Reckless vassals may decide they’re bored and decide to start really, really stupid wars. This will shortly become your fault as everyone in the area will use this as an excuse to steal your, er, the vassal’s land. Note that this is actually a pretty accurate simulation of feudalism.

Warfare itself is modelled similarly to EU2, but in a bit more detail. There are combat phases based on the typical medieval battle (approach under archery fire, skirmishing, and random slaughter, er melee) and the troop types you have under your command play a large role in how these combats play out. If you’ve been favoring your peasantry, you’ll have more archers. Leaning towards the middle class burghers means you’ll have more pikemen, and stuffing them all in the nobility’s favor gives you more knights. Depending on how your technology is developing, you’ll probably be manipulating this in your favor. The skill of your lord and their court also play a large role. In practice, you will generally be throwing whatever you have at whatever fires break out and then wait for the dead to re-spawn (literally – as in your population growing new soldiers.)

In case this didn’t keep you busy enough, you will need to pay attention to your royal line. This is probably the most fun part of the game and definitely the most insane. Basically, you need to find a wife. No, really. Someone who’s young and fertile, and has good statistics, since they will carry over to your offspring. Along with your nose. The game has a fairly detailed genetic system, and the stylized portraits you see are generated from this genetics engine. Your children will have your nose. This is usually a bad thing. They’ll also have that really low stewardship score. You can direct their schooling, although they probably won’t pay attention and become a Misguided Warrior or an Amateurish Pettifogger or something similarly embarassing. William the Conquerer’s kids probably stole their lunch money, too. If your wife isn’t producing enough offspring, you should probably get a divorce. In the time period of this game, this was done via having her killed. If you get caught doing this, the Pope will start shaking you down for money, in the guise of demanding that you “confess your sins”. You may find it easier just to sleep around with the members of the court that catch your eye – they can’t inherit the throne, but at least they might get good stats. I’m not making ANY of this up, folks.

In the middle of your obsessing over who’s going to marry your kids, the Pope will probably call a crusade of some sort. This means you have to go beat on Muslims or other pagans. Hint: try the pagans first. The Muslims tend to be very well armed and probably have better tech than you do. If you don’t smite the heretics, you lose piety. Piety in this game is the ONLY thing that will reduce your “badboy” rating (in so far as it controls its rate of decay). This is similar to “badboy” ratings in EU2 (basically a factor that means if you start breaking the understandings among nations and running amuck conquering everything, the world will unite to stop you, similar to what happened to Napoleon.) The important exception is that with a high “badboy” rating, your vassals will start revolting and your empire will fall apart VERY quickly. However, as in EU2, you don’t generate “badboy” karma from smiting the heathens. Thus it’s actually in your favor to take up the Cross.

I’ve already gone on far too long, so I’ll skip the economy and tech tree and just concentrate on the bad parts that I’ve come across so far. There’s a few, though not nearly as many as I expected. Stability is still an issue, with the occasional crash to desktop. The naval game is abstracted to the point of absurdity – you pay a fee to move your troops over water, and they go. No blockades, which means that your enemies will be landing in your doorstep as well. Which means that Saladin is as likely to fight you in London as at Acre. The event system isn’t hand crafte
like in EU2 – although this is less of an issue since you are usually not playing as a nation-state per se, but as a lord of a feudal house. The events that DO occur are important even if random (your land becomes more fertile, your wife dies in childbirth, etc.).

Still. Go buy this game. It’s not out in the US yet, save through piracy. Don’t pirate it. Buy it from the developers instead (note: link down as of this writing, and since I don’t speak Swedish I have no idea why) and reward them for making a gem of a game and thus encouraging more. Plus Paradox has a history of supporting their games with patches in perpetuity – EU2 which has been out for 2 years is still patched regularly. Although you can’t even buy it with US currency, the order process is fairly painless and took about a week to ship. Crusader Kings is just a really, really elegant design. It recaptures what was great about EU2. Go buy it. Now.


Note: each and every link in this entry is Not Safe For Work! Except for J’s blog, and that’s questionable.

As J put it in his blog entry: “It’s Freudian. If there’s no aggression, it’ll be about sex. And if there’s no sex, it’ll be about shopping.”

Apparently Second Life gave away a slew of free trial accounts over the weekend, and the chaming feebs over at Something Awful discovered the joy of MUSHing. Or, as Lietgardis put it, “the holy grail of user-created content… GIANT DILDO MONSTERS.”

See, this is why we can’t have nice things. You people have to log in and make it all icky.


Very interesting interview on Gamespot with Dr. Michael Macedonia, the head of the Army’s PEO STRI technology lab, currently operating “Asymmetric Warfare Environment” – the US military’s private MMO.

GS: What was the inspiration for AWE?

MM: I\’e2\’80\’99ll give you the vision, OK? If I went back 3,000 years, we\’e2\’80\’99ve got guys like Homer, finally writing down for the first time the history of the Greeks and the wars against Troy through the story of Ulysses. It was at that moment in time that we went from a verbal culture to a written culture…[Homer] wrote it down and it became literature. Really, what Homer was trying to do was more than entertainment. He was relaying history; he was teaching. And now we have this medium, the game, where we can take people through those experiences much like [Homer] was telling people of the experiences of soldiers in that war. We can do that today in the military and share those stories and save lives because of it.

GS: You\’e2\’80\’99re really touting this as more than just a game.

MM: Well, we call our games tactical decision aids. Our thing is not making people shoot better; it\’e2\’80\’99s making people think better.

Judging from the screenshots, the game seems to be focusing on counterinsurgency methods in Arab urban areas. Which, come to think of it, would be a good spot to learn playing well with many disparate factions some of which we know little to nothing about, like Shi’ites, or camp stealers. What little detail Macedonia goes into on “gameplay” in the interview implies that there isn’t much – all “NPC” roles are played out by human actors, and the game is a platform for, well, military roleplay.

Despite the kneejerk reaction some have to military crossover projects, I’d say there are worse things than training young officers how not to kill civilians at stressful checkpoints.


Lum for sale!

Buy now, and you can be me!

I’m just sort of sad that a domain name vulture thinks my domain name is worth $200. I mean, geez. At LEAST $500, people.

This note brought to you from the Gone Gold forums, which judging by my referrer logs are real popular. I find lots of strange things in my referrer logs. As for you, young lady, PHP-nuke is not supposed to have that much nudity.


So I’m reading the Internet. A bad thing, yes. Apparently Kim Jong Il, my favorite superhero, has gone on a secret mission to the mysterious Orient, no doubt to plot fiendishly while wringing his hands.

I check the North Korean news agency to get the scoop on this, and am told that Kim is instead working on his homepage. No, REALLY.

The Polish Internet Homepage on Korea carried an article titled “Humankind respects President Kim Il Sung,” illustrated by a portrait of the President with sunny smile on his face on April 5.

SUNNY. He’s happy. Smiley. Why can’t you let him have nuclear weapons, capitalist aggressors?

The Internet on April 9 carried an article and photos to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the President’s visit to Poland.

Yes. The INTERNET. If you checked the net on 4/9, all you saw were vacation photos of when Kim Il Sung went to Poland. That’ll teach you to look for porn.

Meanwhile, Internet homepage “Kim Jong Il” was opened by the Kim Jong Il Club of the Listeners and Friends of Radio Pyongyang in Jordan. It carried articles introducing his noble popular traits and leadership ability, accompanied by his portrait.

Now, I’m sorry. How the hell did this happen. How many people in freakin’ JORDAN are becoming followers of North Korea’s Glorious Army First Philosophy of Juche Resistance? Maybe they’re just SO damned anti-American they figured that there might be something to that whole axis of evil thing, and by cracky they wanted to sign up! But Iran, being actually close by, was somewhat disconcerting, and Iraq was, well, even more disconcerting, not to mention quite loud.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t actually FIND Jordan’s new Internet homepage “Kim Jong Il”. Or, actually, Poland’s daring Internet homepage that took over the Internet on April 9. There’s the KCNA, of course, North Korea’s completely independent press agency, which is always fun. And updated daily, probably at gunpoint. And then there’s North Korea’s official homepage (really) which is, well, official. And these guys, which are only slightly less official. And I did find these folks, and they seem to mean well.

In any event, there is a certain lack of Juche going on here. This is really bad. After all, the man termed “Dr. Computer who embarrassed experts” would be really disappointed if he actually got North Korea’s ISDN working and Google failed him. I gotta join the Kim Ill Fever.

So here you go, my shoutout to the homeguard in Pyongyang. Word up to yo’ gulag, and peace (or failing that eternal struggle against the American reactionaries) out.

King Kim Korn Karn, after his wrestling match against the tag team of Fighter Hayabusa and Star Man, informs the adoring people of the third world that Brainbuster Really Works.

God, I bet Carnivore really loves me now. Visit me in prison, won’t you?


Somewhat linked to the previous story, Julian Dibbell filed his taxes yesterday; if his e-business continues to run as it did last month, he would have a yearly income of $47,000, which is almost enough to live off of in Northern Virginia. What’s newsworthy is his new profession – Ultima Online gold/items dealer.

The Guardian and Slashdot both noted this event, and of course our friends at Terra Nova have been following it breathlessly. One thing that few of them (except the Guardian, in passing) touch on is that Ultima Online is somewhat unique – they actually like it when people resell in-game items. Which is somewhat understandable, considering the free publicity they recieved a few years ago when this phenomenon first became noticed.

But the flip side is visible to anyone who plays games plagued by eBay arbitrages – that of in-game economies being diluted by out-of-game speculation. The fact that I actually work on an online game means that my specific comments on this phenomenon have to be of necessity circumspect — it’s not quite kosher to point out flaws in the economies of one’s competitors, and even less kosher to point out flaws in the economies of one’s co-workers.

However, I can point to something else – a Corpnews comment thread in which Themis declared that their association with IGE (the leading eBay online-gaming arbitrage merchant) was dissolved amidst a somewhat public debate/slapfight between Themis principals and an anonymous poster (presumably associated with IGE).

Apparently, play money isn’t as shiny as we thought.


Terra Nova posted a link to this eyewitness account of IGE and Yantis giving what one can only assume was an ad-hoc get-together at the latest EQ Fan Faire. Best quote from the thread:

What confuses me is if the IGE and Yantis guys were *right* there in the middle of the fan faire… what stopped the SoE guys from grabbing them and locking them away?

Remember, kids, SOE may be the biggest kids on the block, but they are not yet the law in Megacity One!

Second best quote is from the Terra Nova article where the incredibly unbiased author stated that SOE and IGE must be in collusion because, like, they really must be.

The extraordinary growth of IGE surely speaks to something pretty significant in the virtual world space. Hundreds of thousands of happy customers can’t be wrong, can they?

The extraordinary growth of crack cocaine surely speaks to something pretty significant in the real world space. Hundreds of thousands of dazed yet vaguely happy customers can’t be wrong, can they?

“r u ps2 n00b”

Interesting article on wired.com about PC/PS2 conflicts in FF11.

MMOs are going to have to expand to consoles – it’s a matter of going where the numbers are. The trick is in doing so in such a way that the social aspects of MMOs aren’t completely left by the wayside – something difficult in a platform where keyboards are optional.