The folks at LucasFilm certainly know how to build a buzz. Once again, the Internet is aflurry as "Star Wars" fans rush to download the second trailer for "Star Wars: The Phantom Menace." Just like the first trailer last November, the new two-minute "Star Wars" extravaganza was released to the Net on Thursday, a day before it is to be released in the theaters.
Meanwhile, over at the exhaustive fan site Countdown to Star Wars, a group of fans has put together an utterly irreverent spoof of the original "Phantom Menace" trailer. Called "Park Wars: The Little Menace," it is an exact cartoon replica of the trailer, using its original voices and much of its soundtrack -- but subbing "South Park" characters for the denizens of the movie. (Think Ike playing the part of Anakin Skywalker.)
"South Park" fans will recognize plenty of visual puns: There's a Cheesy Poof-eating Yoda, Mr. Hankey as a sea monster, flying school buses and even a token "they killed Kenny!" joke. Although the animators had no assistance from "South Park's" creators (or, for that matter, permission from them), the parody looks impressively like an actual "South Park" episode.
As the trailer jokes, "Every generation has a legend ... Every journey has a first step ... Every galaxy has a dirty little bastard."
-- Janelle Brown
SALON | March 12, 1999
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For sale: One wizard and 2 million pieces of gold
Anyone who has spent time playing the multiplayer role playing game Ultima Online can attest to just
how time-consuming building out your account can be -- assembling the
castles, characters, clothing and other digital detritus needed to be a
powerful player can take years. Fortunately, thanks to the wonders of eBay
and virtual capitalism, you no longer have to spend excruciating hours
developing your own account: You can simply purchase another player's
discarded account instead.
The "games" area of Ebay is now peppered with auctions hawking used Ultima Online accounts -- ranging from a modestly
valued account, offering a mere five characters, that is currently valued at
$20, to a grandiose account that's been bid up past $1,500 and
boasts eight characters, a castle, a smelting house, various weapons, 2
million pieces of gold and "the notorious horse dung."
Louie Ciaramello, for example, opened the auction for his 2-year-old
Ultima Online account at $300 -- the price, he says, of a DVD player he has
his eye on. Why would someone fork out that much cash for his account?
"Starting a new account is very time-consuming, it takes a while to build up
from nothing," he writes via e-mail, though he too seems a bit surprised by
the phenomenon: "I can't believe people are actually willing to pay $1,500 for a game. I guess it just shows how gaming can be an addiction just like drugs."
David Swofford, a spokesman for Ultima creator Origin Systems, says the
phenomenon seems to have started just a few weeks ago and has caught on like
wildfire. "We're pretty amazed, and certainly we think it's a
reflection of the passion that people have for this game and the excitement
it generates," he says. "It's also a reflection of how Ultima Online
parallels the real world -- people put value on virtual things and actions,
just like the real world. It's a capitalist society, you're free to see how
much you can get for things."
Many Ultima players appear to be selling off their accounts because they
are weary of the game or simply don't have time to play anymore. And the
emerging market for their accounts does seem to be a great opportunity for a
multitude of players: Although Origin Systems has sold 200,000 copies of the
game, only 125,000 accounts are active -- which means that 75,000 players
have simply let their accounts expire rather than pay the $9.95 monthly fee.
If the auctions continue as a trend -- and the bidders turn out to have
genuine offers -- it will certainly be incentive for disgruntled players (of
which, judging from the lawsuits and protests
of recent years, there are many) who are considering getting out of the game
SALON | March 11, 1999
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Intel eludes the antitrust maelstrom
Throughout its conflict with the Federal Trade Commission,
Intel has made one thing clear: This antitrust case would
be different from Microsoft's. Now Intel has taken the ultimate
step to differentiate itself from that other legal quagmire: At the last
moment before its trial was set to open, it has reached a tentative
settlement with the government.
The details aren't yet public, but the simple fact of Intel's
willingness to compromise serves as a striking contrast to the trench
warfare that has marked Microsoft's confrontation with the Justice
Department. After all these months of testimony and cross-examination, it's
hard to remember that for a brief period last May, Microsoft, too, held out
the prospect of an early settlement with the government -- and the Justice
Department's suit was actually briefly delayed while lawyers bargained.
But the two sides couldn't reach an agreement, and the rest is bitter history.
Now Intel can return its attention to its business, which has had its
own share of recent difficulties -- the rollout of the new Pentium III was
marred by a privacy controversy over its serial numbers, and in January
Intel's competitor, AMD, outsold it in
the desktop-computer chip market for the first time. Of course, those woes
also suggest that Intel's chip monopoly might not be so fearsome and in
need of antitrust policing, after all.
-- Scott Rosenberg
SALON | March 9, 1999
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Where are the Pathfinders of yesteryear?
In the course of its lifetime, Pathfinder, the Time Warner megasite, has undergone countless relaunches and management shake-ups -- and with each one came a face lift or redesign. Can anyone remember what the site looked like back in October 1994, when it launched -- or a year later, when Time Chairman Don Logan famously referred to it as a "black hole"?
Web history disappears unless someone takes the trouble to save it. In Pathfinder's case, you can now relive Pathfinder's golden oldies on a site called the Pathfinder Museum -- established anonymously by a former employee to chronicle the ghosts of Pathfinders past.
"The Pathfinder Museum's Permanent Collection," its page reads, "is the world's foremost collection of objects and artifacts relating to Pathfinder's World Wide Web Site. It was established in 1998 with an anonymous donation of a 100MB Zip Drive containing rare Pathfinder screens (circa 1994-95)." The site is organized tongue-in-cheek along the lines of a real museum, and meticulously labeled throughout with curatorial annotations ("The Home Page below was used by Time-Warner to send information through the Internet").
For now, it seems, the Pathfinder Museum is very much a work in progress. Though it teases visitors with features like the Content Partners Collection ("contains approximately 40,000 documents compiled by Pathfinder staff members in preparation for historically significant meetings with Pathfinder's many content partners"), most of its pages remain empty vessels.
But someday, perhaps, scholars will write dissertations based on the museum's artifacts. And if you believe in this undertaking, you can even donate your own Pathfinder pages and paraphernalia.
-- Scott Rosenberg