Dec 23, 2009

[How George Lucas Turned the Jedi Into Villains]

  I will admit that my opinion of the Star Wars prequels is, like most folks', pretty low. Actually, I find the entire morality of the Jedi and the Republic kind of reprehensible, actually. I had my first realization of this after reading this article in defense of the Empire, several years ago. I do not think the Empire was 'good', per se, but I could totally understand the feelings that went behind it's creation. The Republic was, by even the admission of the protagonists in the prequels, completely useless and corrupt. Yet even so, the Jedi defended it and attacked those who wished to secede because of it's corruption. That George Lucas made the Jedi into status-quo defenders of a broken system willing to use an army of brainwashed slaves to crush opposition, basically turned Jedi into bad guys. Way to go, George!

  The addition of 'midichlorians' lessened Jedi even more... they went from being enlightened figures to simply a caste of 'superior blooded' elitists. Making their powers genetic instead of spiritual/philosophical really cheapened the concept of Jedi, and that just compounded the overall ethical failings of the entire Republic system as outlined in the prequels. For some examples of Jedi hypocrisy (and the overall plot failure) of the prequels, this 7-part series on Youtube is fairly entertaining (even if the author has a bizarre fixation on violence against women as being hilarious). Also, can someone please explain the logic of having a 'ruling class' of people that is founded on their genetic superiority over others that then PROHIBITS THE PROCREATION of those people. If being born with a certain amount of midichlorians in your blood is what makes you able to use the Force, why on earth are powerful Jedi not encouraged to produce offspring with each other? I can see prohibiting relationships with non-Jedi, but to outlaw romantic relationships (and sex) all together? That makes no sense.

  It appears that Lucas, lacking the collaborative checks and balances that were present in the original trilogy, basically rewrote and over-edited his prequels into incoherency. However, the threads of an older, more rational storyline can still be seen through the murk of a watered-down, shallow final product. The original decline of Anakin was supposedly written to show him sincerely buying into the concept of a totalitarian Sith Empire being superior to the decadent, corrupt Republic and their self-righteous Jedi police force (plus, it appealed to his obsession with control). But then Lucas decided to make him do it out of 'misguided love' for Padme and edited the story to shoehorn that angle in. Of course, the prequels already suffer from so many non-sequiturs and unresolved plot points (like who ordered the clone army) that these changes just added to the overall mess.

  To me, it's obvious that Anakin never truly loved Padme. He wanted her, the way he wanted everything else in his life (and felt he was owed it). He only loved power and dominance, and that fact is best illustrated when he force-chokes her into unconsciousness just for disagreeing with him at the end of Revenge of the Sith. He was never supposed to be a misguided, empathetic character. At his core, he was always an arrogant sociopath, and Lucas' ham-handed attempts to try and make him more 'sympathetic' only further muddled the story. I guess he realized that his prequel depictions of Anakin were not actually showing any 'goodness deep inside' for Luke to later call out from Darth Vader, and tried to repair his mistake after the fact.

  Of course, all these topics are old hat and have been argued to death by Star Wars geeks everywhere, but I felt a random need to post something interesting this month. =P

Nov 19, 2009

[This is the Deal With Twilight...]

I posted a random one-off question a long time ago asking why the heck these mediocre books are so popular. And I think Cleolinda has hit the nail on the head:

"I started thinking about romance myself, and I think I've figured it out: the key component of romance is tenderness. Because something can be totally sexyhot without tenderness; it's tenderness that creates the "romantic" atmosphere, the one that a lot of guys tend to turn their noses up at--because tenderness requires you to be vulnerable, to open yourself up and say, I want you, I need you, I am incredibly blessed to even be touching you right now. (Maybe that's where the honesty comes in after all.)

So if you buy your girlfriend a dozen roses at the supermarket and toss them at her on Valentine's Day all, "LOOK, here you are, now SHUT UP until next year," you are doing it so very, very wrong, and she probably feels it. It's not about hearts and flowers and chocolates and money spent, and in fact all that ephemera is a convenient way to dodge actual tenderness, because you can feel like you've done something without putting any real feeling into it. And Twilight? Is all about the freakin' tenderness. It's larded with tenderness; feeling drips off the pages and oozes from the film stock and romantics eat it up and then turn around and line up for more. I mean, that slow dance at the end of the first movie, he is crying while they're eyesexing, for God's sake. That's like--the emotional equivalent of--I don't even have an adequate pornographic metaphor for that."

So yeah, the books are failures on a literary level... but it's not the story that the fans love so obsessively. It goes a lot deeper than that. Which actually makes me disappointed that a story that celebrates so many dysfunctional and dangerous relationship aspects has managed to hit this nerve that so many women have.

Oct 15, 2009

[A Quick Wizard101 Review]

In my drive to find something new to occupy too much of my time with since I'm out of WoW, I've tried out a couple of F2P MMOs. My Mabinogi impressions were pretty favorable, while my Earth Eternal one... wasn't (it felt very blah to me). Since Beau over at Spouse Aggro has talked many times about Wizard101, I figured why not try that out too? The nice thing about these lower-spec F2P games is that it's so easy to hop in and give them a test drive with no strings attached. =)

So yeah, it's a cutesy kid's game. So was Pokemon, which absorbed many a hour for me back in Junior High. I don't knock a game based on graphics or style alone, as long as it's fun to play. So even though the art style wasn't very appealing to me I determined to give it a fair shot.

The first thing I noticed was that every quest is voiced. So I turned the voices down. =P Personally I don't like voices in most games, though I understand a lot of people do. The game also has a very restricted chat policy (to ensure kid-safe conversations) and a large selection of canned words and phrases that people on closed chat can use to still communicate game-related information. If you're over 18 you can turn off all the restrictions from the account website. I thought it was an interesting way to keep general chat safe for kids without parents having to worry.

The seven Magic Schools reside in the
Ravenwood District of Wizard City.

Combat is 'collectable card battle'-style and turn based. Different wizard schools (you pick your school at the beginning) get cards with unique elements and abilities. For example, Storm magic has very strong attacks but with a high failure rate, while Balance specializes in buffing/debuffing, and Life specializes in healing. You can buy cards from other schools of magic with Skill Points, which you earn from certain quests as well as by leveling up. You can customize your deck of cards in many ways: by choosing which cards from your own school you want to use in a specific situation, by buying 'Treasure Cards' which are one-use cards that give you spells you otherwise couldn't learn, and by buying spells from other schools of magic by spending skill points. The card system really has more depth than you'd think for a kid's game, particularly at the higher levels.

Inside the Pyramid of the Sun dungeon in Krokotopia.

There are some cool elements I really like about grouping in Wizard101: Not only can anyone group at any level with anyone else simply by running up to them while they're fighting a monster, but xp has nothing to do with the level of the people involved in a battle -- money and loot is distributed equally to everyone, and your exp gain depends on the skills you used in battle. In other words, people of varying levels are not punished for helping each other. Also, you can instantly teleport to anyone in your friendlist wherever they are, even if they are in an instance, which makes helping friends easy. But with proper deck design, most bosses are actually soloable if that's your preferred gameplay style. There is also ranked PvP dueling if you get tired of outwitting PvE mobs.

The combat circle and my current hand of cards.
Anyone can join a group by running onto an empty party circle.

Also: HOUSING! :D Furniture comes from shops, crafting, monsters and quests, and there are several styles of house or castle that you can buy (you are given a free dorm room when you start out). Even the cheapest house has a very nice lot, often with fun little details like waterfalls, beaches or caves outside the house itself that you can spruce up however you like. I can imagine that just getting enough items to decorate it all is a task in itself. One flaw is that furniture is not really interactive, though you can invite people over to show off your interior design and landscaping skills. =)

You can preview player-house lots before you buy.
This is the cheapest Wizard City house option, and it's pretty nice!

Most of the RMT items (mounts, special potions, etc) are optional unless you want a specific pet or mount for luxury's sake. So far I haven't felt penalized for not using the Crown Shop at all, which is nice. I probably will get some things eventually, of course, just because I personally love fluff items and 5$ here or there is really nothing, especially if you're enjoying the game. RMT in Wizard101 doesn't make you feel disadvantaged for not using it unless you're the type that just HAS to have a certain fluff item (like me, lol).

All in all, Wizard101 is a fun little game. It doesn't try to be an epic fantasy world, and it doesn't have to -- it succeeds in being a fun, solidly-designed multiplayer game with RPG elements. It's well worth it's $10 a month fee, imo.

BONUS: An interesting article from Game Developer Magazine dealing with the behind-the-scenes development of Wizard101 is here. The devs talk about lessons they've learned while working on the game, as well as early design mistakes that they'll have to fix as they keep the game growing.

Sep 23, 2009

[The Dark Side of Happy Memories]

MMOCrunch has a breakdown of the archetypes of forum whiners on MMO boards. I'm sure we've all seen iterations of these people (or been one of them ourselves) in many games. His description of 'Whiner Type #4' is a counterpoint to my previous post on MMO memories, in that it shows what happens when 'nostalgia goes bad':

"This is someone who mentions their old games because they are desperately trying to recapture their experience with that “magic” MMO… which is typically the first MMO they played that actually hooked them. Now, they miserably shamble from game to game, almost enjoying them, but never quite getting the high they got from THAT game, which ultimately leads them to complain about THIS game. I have a friend for which City of Heroes was his first game and it was quite an experience for him. Now, no game can ever come close, so even though he is bored to tears with CoH, he can’t really get into other games because they don’t compare to the mythologized version of CoH he has playing in his head.
Of course, the irony here is that no game exists that can compete with that first game… not even that first game. Once you cut away that thick coating of nostalgia, most of these folks would go back to their perfect game, quit after a week, and post on the forums about how the game they remember had been ruined by some phantom patch. In reality their love for their game was based less on mechanics and more on the novelty of the MMO experience."

In other words, this is the kind of person who is confused about what they loved about their MMORPG experience. They can never recapture that 'magic', because the magic is in the PEOPLE and COMMUNITY more than in the game mechanics. Unless the appropriate investment is made by them to interact with people positively and build their own community in a new game, they will claim the game 'has no soul' or 'is lacking some hook' and will quickly grow disillusioned. Such people are stuck in an endless cycle of trying to find a GAME that inspires the kind of feelings in them that only other PEOPLE can create. They're related to the 'MMO Burnout', who hates all new games that are not similar enough to their preferred game while hating any game that is TOO MUCH like that game because "it's just a clone." It's a recipe for perpetual disappointment.

[The Good Old Days]

Gestalt Mind takes us back to his first memories of EQ and how they revisit him to this day.

Your first MMORPG really does seem 'magical' when you look back on it, doesn't it? Stepping out as a freshly-minted newbie in a world that seems so big and strange and cool, and your first days exploring and learning all about it. Halcyon days, those were! I think that's seriously why WoW has that affect on so many people -- the affection of your first MMO stays strong for a long time.

It's WoW's fifth anniversary, and I've been in Azeroth from day one on the same server in the same guild -- I've seen many changes both ingame and 'IRL' across these five years. It's kind of overwhelming to look back and realize how many memories and adventures I've had in this one game with the same group of people. Some of those people left long ago, but others are still there and still going strong. I stepped away for other games several times, but always came back to WoW in the end. So many memories and friends are hard to make a break from. But those games showed me, a newbie MMORPG-player, other ways of playing and other types of communities. They helped me discover my 'true playing style' and affected my view of what the 'perfect MMORPG' would be. It's a testament to how important I think free trials are, imo. =P

I don't know if I'll be coming back to Azeroth anytime soon. But I will never be able to look back on it without affection born from many happy memories of playing with great people. In the end, they're what make MMORPGs so special and so lasting in our minds, regardless of whether it was WoW, EQ, or any other game. That's the reason we take pictures of our guild's first kills -- not to brag and show off to others (though many do) but so we can look back and remember how exciting it was, and who was there with us when all that group preparation and effort has paid off. And THAT feeling is the true magic of MMORPGs.

Above is a shot of my guild's first Magmadar kill, way back in the MC era. Many folks in that pic that no longer play WoW, but I still recognize their avatars. Those were good times with good folks. =)

Aug 11, 2009

[Spouse Aggro Reviews 'Second Skin']

A great rant and review by Leala and Beau about the 'MMORPG Documentary' Second Skin (which is available to watch online for a limited time), questioning the objectivity of the movie and whether we MMO geeks are really as dysfunctional as the selection of people the moviemakers chose to represent us to the 'wider world'.

Be sure to check it out; it's a great listen!

[Penny Arcade Debates PUA]

A discussion between Tycho and Gabe from Penny Arcade on whether or not PUA is misogynist manipulation is being discussed over at Pandagon. Tycho is being remarkably perceptive about this issue, given that a TON of guys in the gaming community have misogynist tendencies that they revel in pretty regularly:
"I’m fairly certain the purpose of this course is to make you a better predator of women. Check out their offers of “in-field training,” as though you were going to hunt antelopes from a jeep in the Goddamned Savannah."
Gabe's response? This jaw-dropper:
"I think you’re being overly dramatic. Girls have been using their “feminine wiles” to manipulate men since the beginning of time. Do you really think the mind games girls play on guys are any better or worse than this stuff. The only difference is that this sort of thing comes naturally to women. Guys are in a tight spot because in very real terms, we have nothing they want."
Wow. There are no words for how seriously screwed up Gabe's beliefs about human relationships (and female sexuality) are, if he seriously thinks that. I thought it was supposed to be us FEMINISTS that believed all men were worthless slobs? However, once again, it's shown that it's actually the PUA/anti-feminists who perpetuate the myth that men have so little to offer as individuals that they have to bribe, trick, and force women into wanting to have anything to do with them.

What a horrible way think of yourself. Of course, I quickly stop feeling sorry for guys like him when they then start blaming all womankind for their own personal self-esteem issues. Seriously, if Nice Guys(tm) would just get over their entitlement complexes and see women as individual people instead of hive-minded ambulatory vaginas, they'd become a lot more attractive to the opposite sex. Just sayin'.

ETA: The second part of the Pandagon discussion, dissecting one of the pro-PUA letters that Gabe recieved in response to the debate, is here.

Jul 22, 2009

[Mabinogi Review: Conclusion]

[Go to Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3]

In terms of game features, I think Mabinogi would actually appeal to many MMORPG-fans -- it has many of the things players always seem to ask for in their games (housing, player shops, combat pets, gear customization, RP tools, etc). For people who hate traveling, crafting, 'playing dress-up', anime, or any hint of grind-y stuff, it may not be that appealing. There is a strategy to efficiently skilling up your character and succeeding in combat, but for people who are used to have 20+ different kinds of flashy attacks to choose from with tons of mathematical calculations for min/maxing them all, the simplicity may be hard to transition to (though I actually found it kind of refreshing, plus it allows you to kill things higher level than you with the right skills). There is also voluntary PvP and an Arena, though I don't know how popular they are.

After learning about the different races, I would have to strongly recommend that people make a HUMAN for their first character. Human players get a free Elf or Giant character slot once they ally with one of those races, whereas people who start out as one of those two would have to pay for a second character slot. Humans are very balanced stat-wise, which makes them a benefit for beginners (they are also the only race that can dual-wield bladed weapons, which I know lots of people like). Also, only Humans can do the storyline quests at the moment (future patches will introduce storyline quests for everyone).

If you are someone who likes skill-based MMORPGs with lots of crafting/socializing/soloing options, Mabinogi might be right up your alley. If anything, it's worth laying aside any preconceived biases you may have against F2P MMOs just to try it out for a few days... I know I was pleasantly surprised by how much I ended up enjoying it. If you really want to, you can even choose to pay a $9 or $15 monthly fee for extra perks, although it is perfectly feasible to play free (perhaps only buying a mount or other one-time cost items here and there) for as long as you want. The game gets content updates about every 6 months or so, and new items added to the cash shop randomly.

Feel free to look me up on the 'Mari' server if you're ever trying out the game and need a free ride around newbieville. =)

[Mabinogi Review: Part 3]

[Here is Part 1 & Part 2]

  I know the first thing many people think of when they hear 'F2P game' is that it is poor quality, with a bad community and lots of bots. I have to say though, Mabinogi doesn't suffer from any of those things, really. The community isn't anything worse than WoW's, in my opinion (in other words, finding a decent guild makes all the difference), and I think many features of the game are actually quite nice, if a bit rough around the edges. The only bots I've seen are some gold ad spammers in towns, usually only 1 or 2 of them, and they're easy to put on ignore. You see some farming mobs in the wild too, but it's not that bad.

  Finding a guild consists of either asking on the realm forums, or else browsing guild obelisks. People who buy a basic pay package (around 9$ a month) can start their own guild, and place markers in the world to advertise it. The bigger and more gilted the obelisk, the larger the guild. Simply click one to submit a short application and read the guild's bio. I put in an app to one that looked pretty decent, because soloing is lonely. =P

  Dungeons in Mabinogi are randomly generated, depending on the type of item you drop on the Altar at the entrance. They can be done in groups or solo, and there are even timed 'Boss Rush' and hardmode versions available. In design, they are pretty simple, with corridors that often have herbs or ore to mine, and trapped rooms where you have to kill all the monsters that appear in order to proceed. At the end there is a boss monster that drops enchants, loot, and cash. Pretty basic stuff. The key to profit in dungeons is to buy kill quests for the mobs inside, which give much more gold than simply collecting whatever drops off the mobs themselves.

  While in town, I cam across a couple of people playing music. In Mabinogi, you can compose and play your own melodies, as well as sell your compositions to others. The quality is MIDI, but still pretty nice. Of course, you have to practice your skills in order to play well. The little box standing in front is for listener donations. =) It is actually seems feasible to level (or make a living) only through various crafting skills.

[Go to Part 4: Conclusion]

Jul 21, 2009

[Mabinogi Review: Part 2]

[Part 1 is here]

  The first thing I noticed as I puttered around the Elf starting area, is that the translation is very awkward. The descriptions of the NPCs make no sense at all, for instance. I suppose though, since 'nobody reads the text' anyway it's not a big deal. =P Some things are not very clearly explained because of this, so I made sure to have the Wiki for the game bookmarked to look basic stuff up, which helped a lot.

  As you talk to NPCs, you can mention specific keywords. These can unlock quests or further dialogues with others. Apparently, NPCs have a 'relationship' value that can be raised by regularly doing their daily quests or giving them gifts. This can lead to extra items being sold to you, as well as offering special titles. Keywords are used in the overarching storyline quests, too.

  Daily quests in Mabinogi are called 'Part Time Jobs' and are timed. Each NPC in a town has a specific starting time they hand out quests, and a specific time limit. Knowing in which order to do all the quests in town, and managing to fit them all in a daily routine, is a key way to make some steady money and exp. There is also a daily changing 'Quest Bulletin Board' that sells various random quests for a small fee, and other NPC-given quests that you receive over time. All quests give money/exp or items. Often you have a choice of rewards.

  After a few days in the Elf starting town, I realized I can freely warp once an (ingame) day to the Human starting zone on the other continent. I was surprised by how much better of a newbie experience the Human zone is -- Elves have a huge, barren desert which can be tedious without a mount, and it's hard to gather some crafting materials as a result. There are a few Elf-specific quests worth doing, however, so I started switching back and forth as I felt like it. Even though I am notoriously bad at making money, it is clear that earning plenty of gold is not a problem in this game if you know what you're doing.

  Exploring is key to effective gathering and questing, because quest directions are not specific. For folks who hate 'travel times', this may be an issue. All over the Elf desert, though, are solar-powered teleporter stones that quickly move you to various points once you've discovered them. On the Human continent, moon-powered teleporters that change destinations depending on the day of the week are also available. One thing I really liked about the game, is that there is no real feeling that you HAVE to be doing one specific thing -- I spent some time learning to craft my own arrows and fishing, died a few times in newbie dungeons (which can be soloed), did some crafting quests, and bought some new clothing pieces. Crafting is one of the high points of the game, I think. There are little timed mini-games that affect the quality of the finished product depending on how well you do. For example, with blacksmithing you hit hotspots on the metal with a little hammer, and in tailoring you have to manually sew finishing stitches. Fishing also has a little game, which adds some interest to an otherwise 'one click' type of activity. You can also catch items and quest-giving scrolls.

  The common kill quests are very old school. You have randomly placed crowds of mobs, and you mow through them. Nothing too exciting. However, because of the type of combat Mabinogi uses, you can easily be killed by some mobs if you fail to counter your opponent's attacks properly. The key to combat success is to NOT GET HIT. You can buy armor and elemental enchants that can raise your protection against certain magic, but even with that, you can't simply stand still getting bashed and expect to win. Even though the combat system is basically a more complicated version of 'rock paper scissors', it's not entirely brainless either. I actually don't mind a bit of grind, either, as long as I feel like I'm progressing somehow. The fact that you gain combat skill-ups with every attack (when fighting equal or superior level enemies) also helps. =)

[Go to Part 3]

Jul 20, 2009

[Evolutionary Stagnation in Gaming]

I found this great piece via insert credit: An article (in Japanese) was posted on the Japanese Nikkei IT's webpage recently, talking about the functional stagnation of video games. Basically, while the graphics are getting more and more amazing, the basic gameplay and nuts and bolts are stuck in old, non-innovative repetitions. Ollie sums it up:

"What really struck me about all this was that this was a Japanese piece published on a very mainstream online publication that stated a very important issue that the Western gaming press, in their orgy of banal Tweets, managed to conveniently miss; that these massive graphically focused budgets are forcing a functional restriction and an unnatural standardisation on gaming. Admittedly, we've had lots of coverage about the rising cost of games development but no-one has really mentioned the veritable elephant-in-the-room - that games aren't functionally going anywhere as a result of all of this."

I think it's a spot-on observation. Sure, games look flashier and all nowadays, but we're mostly still playing the same old clones of games that were invented 15-20 years ago. Is that really progress?

Jul 19, 2009

[Mabinogi Review: Part 1]

  So I heard about this Free-to-Play game over at Spouse Aggro. It's a cute Korean MMO with a cash shop. Given that I'm bored with WoW atm, I decided to try it out. I'd never played a F2P MMO before, so I wasn't sure what kind of quality to expect, but hey, it's free! =P

  There are 3 races to choose from: Human, Giant, and Elf. I chose a male Elf (though female Giants are pretty cool looking, too).

  There is a large selection of anime-style hair and eye styles (paying for Premium services gives unlocks even more). Your starter outfit changed colors depending on your color choices for the features of your character, which was kinda neat. Skin tones were limited to shades of pale however, so making a Dark Elf was out of the question. =/

  Now, an interesting feature is that you can choose your character's starting age. Youngest is 10yrs, and oldest is 17yrs. Depending on your age, your base stats are different, as is the rate at which your stats grow. Younger characters have an advantage in stat growth, while older characters have higher overall stats. Your character ages 1 year every week. Once you hit 20yrs, you can choose to be reincarnated into a 'new' character, which keeps all your current levels of stats, titles, items and money while allowing you to take advantage of the benefits of childhood all over again. =P

  Mabinogi is a 'skill based' MMORPG. Which means, your abilities get stronger the more you use them, and there are no set 'classes' to choose at the start. Combat is based on a 'rock paper scissors' type of system, where each attack counters (or is countered by) another. Recognizing which ability is about to be used by an opponent is key to success in battle.

  Giving a cursory glance at all the features of the game, it sounds like it has a LOT of options and features. For example:

1. Player housing (which are used as storage/shops, and can be decorated)
2. Day/Night, Days of the Week, and Weather cycles that affect stats, skills, and items
3. A large variety of 'mix and match' and dyeable outfits, accessories, and armor
4. Lots of different item and equipment crafting skills
5. Pets! (Who are used as mounts, extra storage, mini player-shops, combat allies & healers (with customizable AIs), and also as playable characters! Pets can be Reborn as well, even as a different species in their next life if you so desire.
6. Fishing! (I love fishing minigames =P)
7. A variety of earnable Player Titles that give different stat bonuses depending on the title
8. Character weight gain /loss depending on your eating habits.(o_O)
9. An overarching RP storyline w/ cutscenes
10. Lots of different crafting options (Cooking, etc)

So... yeah. It sounded pretty interesting. Future posts will be dealing with my beginner experience on the 'Mari' server over the next few days.

[Go to Part 2]

Jul 15, 2009

[The B-Squad]

Elder Game has made a fascinating post talking about the obvious shift to the 'B-Team' running WoW, and the side effects that are the result:

"When we say that WoW is “polished”, what we mean is that it is surprisingly clean of linty little bugs... But that’s changing.
More and more little mistakes have crept into the game recently — changes that are positive on the surface, but have not been implemented with the finesse that makes them worthwhile. Mana expenditure rates have changed, rules for dungeons have been tweaked, the cost of items has fluctuated. It all seems useful. But it’s usually full of little side effects. Worse, it doesn’t take the human equation into account: it doesn’t counter-balance for the actual needs of the players very well. There are ways to meet both goals, but you have to try a lot harder at it than WoW is."

  I have to admit, reading the analysis of someone who has worked in the industry before and who can recognize the signs of the 'B-team' influence really cleared up a lot for me. That vague feeling of things being 'off' for a while makes a lot more sense now.

Jul 14, 2009

[The Slow Decline of WoW]

So Jeff over at MMO Weekly wrote a pair of articles outlining the self-destructive pattern that WoW is falling into. His critique, however, is two expansions too late. The problems he's talking about were strongest in Original WoW, reduced in BC, and are even further eroded in WotLK. In reality, I think the destruction now is coming NOT from making the endgame 'too exclusive', but by making everything before the raid endgame too easy.

I loved The Burning Crusade's 5 and 10 man dungeons. I loved the Heroics, even though they didn't offer upgraded gear at that time, only badges. Both heroic and regular 5 mans required teamwork and strategy, and people had to learn the fights and utilize crowd control effectively. Even though they were 'only 5 mans', they were fun, and Heroics required some work to succeed in. And since 5-man dungeons are my favorite part of the game, I was happy. I could log in, run a heroic or two, and have fun.

Then WotLK came out. The instances were now super short, easy, with tiny loot tables that ensured you got everything you wanted in perhaps 3 or 4 runs, tops. Crowd control was basically rendered useless (my Mage and my trap-savvy Hunter wept), as now every tank could 'aoe tank', and most groups just rained aoe on group pulls without any need to think. Trash mobs were just that -- trash, with nothing needed to learn or beware of. Just shoot 'em til they were dead, and move on. Heroic dungeons are virtually indistinguishable from their Normal mode, aside from the upgraded drops and badges.

WoW's problem is not that 'reaching endgame raids are too hard'. Their fatal mistake (in my opinion) is that Blizzard tried to make endgame more 'accessible' by completely trivializing all aspects of the game that lead up to it. Therefore the entire game experience is now watered down and rendered pointless, since Blizzard has basically admitted that it's all just a speedbump, and not content that has any intrinsic value, or that should be enjoyed on it's own merit.

And THAT is what destroyed most of my interest in WoW. I was never a hardcore raider, nor was I a pure 'casual' player. For someone like me, WotLK's 'easy mode' style of play is a waste of time for me. I've been reduced to running once a week 25-man raids with my guild as an excuse to even log in anymore. Since the game has nothing in it that isn't built directly around the watered down 'speedbump/treadmill' that is now meant to feed playerfodder into the 'endgame', it's just plain boring. This is why immersive worldbuilding, RP tools, robust crafting mechanics and community is something so important in an MMO. Because without any of those things, I'm quickly losing any interest in continuing to play the game... since there is basically nothing in it for me anymore.

Gear drops do not provide a tie to the game world, or anything lasting (since gear is invalidated so fast and even if you like the look of it, you're 'not allowed' to equip your character according to aesthetics). If it wasn't for my guild, which is made up of great people and holds a lot of happy memories for me across the 5 years that I've been a member of it, I would've quit months ago.

Jul 8, 2009


So, Marvel has decided to appeal to the 'female side' of their fanbase by releasing a selection of 'juicy' and 'shiny' lip glosses!
"With a branded line of make-up from Marvel, girls will be able to feel as if they are going from ordinary to extraordinary just like the super hero characters in the stories."

Anyway, Shakesville points out that on the website, there are tons of costumes available for guys to be their favorite comic character. But... not any for girls. I wonder why?

"There is a very good reason there are no costumes mentioned here for girls. Can anyone guess what it is? It starts with an I...regular series here on Shakesville...that's right, it's Impossibly Beautiful for the loss!
See, with the costumes of men superheroes, we see muscle pads, inflatable bodies, and (this is crucial) covered bodies. Had a look at any of the costumes on any women capes lately? How do you make costumes drawn to make the heroes look like silicon-stuffed strippers fit actual women? Well, of course, you don't, because (back to the male gaze here), who'd want to look at some fat woman in a costume meant for a stripper, am I right?
Not to mention, what kind of seriously advanced structural engineering would you need to make a real woman look anything like the titanic-breasted figures put forward as "women" in Marvel's books? Not to mention, what kind of sick fucking company would make their hypersexualized women's costumes available for girls?"
Yerp. But of course, the only reason women complain about the design of women superheroes is because we're uptight harpies, amirite? It couldn't possibly be because it actually makes being a female comic fan a lot more uncomfortable than it has to be. Just look up the common complaints woman comic cosplayers make every damn year about getting harassed at comic cons for dressing as their favorite superhero... I'm assuming because they're TOTES asking for it by dressing like a sexdoll character, right? Nevermind that 'sexdoll costume' is the ONLY OPTION THEY GET. Seriously, if the tables were reversed you'd have geek guys up in arms about it all the time. Because it sucks when your favorite superhero is constantly splayed out like a softcore prop.

Jun 25, 2009

[Virtual Worlds as the Great Equalizer]

Colin Brennan talks about gender identity in MMOs:
"I owe much to my online escapes, as they aid me in more ways than just providing a fun distraction. They give me the opportunity to appear as I truly feel inside, and let me interact with others without the stigma of being or appearing to be transgendered attached. Beyond just me, however, are hundreds of thousands, or perhaps even millions of individuals who have gained an advantage or some sort of insight thanks to virtual worlds."

  On the one hand, the anonymity of the avatar can break down some social boundaries for people. But then you also have phenomenon like the borderline 'racism' between player factions like the Horde and Alliance being created within those same games. The fact that a MMO can allow people to explore an alternate identity as well as provide a way for people to show their true character is really fascinating. Who hasn't felt somehow more 'liberated' through an avatar? But conversely, who hasn't also made assumptions about others based on their avatar?

Jun 19, 2009

[The Making of Final Fantasy VII]

A cool interview with FF7 director Yoshinori Kitase is up at Edge. Lots of cool insights in it about the development of the first 3D FF. =)

"This was undoubtedly the game that changed everything. We felt a wind of change inside the company during the development process. There was this incredible feeling I’ll never forget: we were making a new thing… making history. Imagine.”

May 31, 2009

[Quick Review: The Hunter]

I heard about The Hunter on an episode of Shut Up, We're Talking. It's a beautifully designed free-to-play hunting game. You start out with a basic rifle and scope, binoculars, GPS, and camera (squee!). You travel through a lush hunting preserve, looking for signs of your prey. Your GPS will show you the radius and direction your quarry is headed based on the types of tracks you find, and the stalk begins!

The wildlife AI and hunting mechanics are very realistic. Running noisily through the brush or standing up in a clearing will scare the deer away. Holding your breath while sighting your shot improves your aim. The environments and sounds are beautiful and very realistic (complete with day and night cycles), and for an explorer and virtual shutterbug like me, being able to go all 'nature photographer' in the game is a cool bonus. Also, you get points based on how impressive a specimen you shoot, and there is an online ladder comparing the scores of every player. So competitive types should have some fun too.

As you complete quests, you can gain the ability to hunt more than just deer, too. There's a cash shop for buying new equipment as well as social networking tools. If you like hunting or are curious about it, it's definitely worth a download.

Mar 29, 2009

[How Not to Write A MMO Quest]

Via Shacknews: At the GDC, WoW's Jeff Kaplan did a panel talking about how NOT to write quests in an MMO:
“This is the worst quest in World of Warcraft,” he said. “I made it. It’s the Green Hills of Stranglethorn. Yeah, it teaches you to use the auction house. Or the cancellation page.”
“So I’m the asshole that wrote this quest. My philosophy was, I’m going to drop all these things around Stranglethorn, and it’s going to be a whole economy unto itself… It was horrible.”
“It was utterly stupid of me. The worst part… one of the things that taxes a player in a game like WOW is inventory management. Your base backpack that the game shipped with only has 16 slots in it. But basically at all times, players are making decisions. For a single quest to consume 19 spaces in your bags is just ridiculous.”
“So it’s a horrible quest, and I’m the only who made it, and somehow I am talking to you guys today.”
At least he admitted it. I never finished that quest on any of my four characters... =P
"Basically, and I’m speaking to the Blizzard guys in the back: we need to stop writing a f*cking book in our game, because nobody wants to read it."
You know, I actually don't mind 'reading a book' in my games, only in 99% of MMOs the story, quite frankly, is stupid. At worst, the lore makes no sense or goes on for miles on cliched world-building minutiae that serves no purpose.

I actually enjoy reading many of the WoW quests. But seeing as how WoW as a MMO is not really about the world and immersion in it as it is a fun treadmill game on rails, that kind of creative effort is pretty much wasted on most of the players. Because they're not playing the game for that purpose, nor does the game encourage them to (and it has no real tools for it, anyway).

Mar 12, 2009

[RE5: Once More With Feeling!]

Because an actual honest analysis by a digital media professor (as opposed to the more popular one being passed around that's by a guy who's being called a 'racism expert' who's actually not anything of the sort) has gone ignored by the mainstream gaming press, I link to entry number eleventy-squillion on 'Racial Issues in RE5 and the Gaming Industry as a Whole'. Enjoy.

An excerpt:
This Friday, Capcom's new release "Resident Evil 5," from producer Jun Takeuchi, broaches that question. The franchise, which first launched in 1996, has sold more than 12 million units and earned nearly a half billion dollars in revenue, according to research firm NPD Group. It's even been spun into a modestly successful film trilogy starring Milla Jovovich. The latest entry in the series follows Chris Redfield, the hero of the first game, as he tracks the cause of a deadly virus plaguing villages in West Africa.

When Capcom released its first trailer for the game in 2007, it showed Chris unloading his pistol into hordes of African zombies. Critics contended that the imagery of a white man shooting black Africans evoked troubling memories of the age of Western colonialism. The questions have lingered and now that the game is facing an official release, it has spurred a new debate about race in videogames.

Opponents of the new game will have plenty of ammunition. Although there are Arab zombies in "Resident Evil 5," the majority of the undead are Africans. As a player, you are often forced to use a machete to hack your way through your attackers, using the same kind of weapons that were used in atrocities in places like Rwanda and the Congo over the last two decades. Killing African zombies can earn you gold treasure -- in addition to the loot you find in barrels and vases in the different African villages. And while Chris's partner, Sheva Alomar, is from the region, she's light-skinned with straight-hair, and is introduced to players during a cinematic sequence highlighting not her face, but rather, her rear end.

Related Reading: Evan Narcisse at CrispyGamer also sums it up pretty nicely.

Feb 11, 2009

[DC Universe Online is Female Friendly!]


1. Characters don't die, they just get knocked out!
2. Lots of Character Customization!
3. Wonder Woman is in the game!
4. It's Casual-Friendly!
5. Intuitive Interface Design!
5. Their Support Classes Aren't Boring!

If you can't figure why those things are considered gender specific design choices, you aren't alone.

Feb 7, 2009

[The 'Original' Fairy Tales]

BBC's 'In Our Time' podcast has recently done a show talking about The Brothers Grimm and how fairy tales originally were told, before Disney and modern culture sterilized the 'grim' out of them:

"Cinderella does not have a Fairy Godmother, Sleeping Beauty does not have an evil stepmother, Rapunzel is pregnant and Frog Princes do not get kissed but thrown against walls.

This is the world of the Brothers Grimm – two German siblings who in 1812 published a collection of fairy tales including Cinderella, Hansel and Gretel, Rumpelstiltskin and Rapunzel. They may not be the fairy tales as we know them, but without the Brothers Grimm we might not know them at all.

But why did two respectable German linguists go chasing after fairy stories, what do the stories tell us about German culture and nationalism at the time and why do these ever-evolving tales of horror, wonder and fantasy continue to hold us in thrall?"

Check it out. =)

Jan 15, 2009

[Culture and Fantasy]

The vast majority of fantasy is Eurocentric, almost universally told through the lens of European culture and mythos, with 'other' cultures used only as 'exotic flavor' or appropriated as foils for the main characters, not as fully fleshed voices of their own. How does this fact affect young fantasy readers from other cultures, and their ability to write their own fantasy stories from their own mythologies? Deepa D. describes her own experiences trying to create a fantasy novels from her own Indian perspective, and how difficult it is for people who try to break out of the Western-dominated fantasy formula:

When I was around thirteen years old, I tried to write a fantasy novel. It was going to be an epic adventure with a cross-dressing princess on the run, a snarky hero, and dragons. I got stuck when I had to figure out what they would do after they left the city. Logically, there would be a tavern.

But there were no taverns in India. Write what you know is a rule that didn’t really need to be told to me; after having spent my entire life reading books in English about people named Peter and Sally, I wanted to write about the place I lived in, even if I didn’t have a whole bookcase of Indian fantasy world-building to steal from. And I couldn’t get past the lack of taverns. Even now, I have spent a number of years trying to figure out how cross-dressing disguise would work in a pre-Islamic India where the women went bare-breasted. When I considered including a dragon at the end of a story, I had to map out their route to the Himalayas, because dragons can be a part of a Tibetan Buddhist tradition—they do not figure in Hindu mythology.

There are far more eloquent writers who have pointed out how difficult it is to growing up reading books (and watching movies) about a culture alien to you, and how pernicious the influences thereof can be. I am lucky in that Indian culture is more widely represented in Western media than other colonised regions—when I talk about Bollywood in the yuletide chat room, there are people who have an idea about what I might be referring to, bastardised ideas of ‘pundit’ and ‘caste system’ and ‘karma’ and ‘reincarnation’ are present in the English vocabulary. Yet still, my ability to connect fannishly with people from different parts of the world is mediated through the coloniser’s language and representation. Enid Blyton, with her hideous caricatures of African tribal boys helping the intrepid British children is read from Johannesburg to Jaipur—Iktomi stories are not.

These imbalances of power are what frustrate me in several discussions regarding issues of representation and diversity in writing that I’ve seen recently.

The rest of the thought-provoking essay is here.

I think the true potential of Fantasy as a genre is rather stunted by the fact that Tolkein's worldbuilding conventions are used almost universally, while there is no similar work for non-European mythologies to use as a foundation. This results in the genre being dominated by only one style of culture, which tends to treat and view anything from outside as 'alien' or 'other', rather than those views ever being used as stories in and of themselves.