Too good for my own good

| Wednesday, May 30, 2012
I started playing Fall: New Vegas yesterday.  I kept thinking to myself, "Wouldn't it be great if there was something a bit like Skyrim, but with guns?"  And lo and behold, in my Steam library there was Fallout 3 which I'd played a bit and in close proximity a title of a similar title but with an added colon: New Vegas.  A bit of downloading and viola, the slideshow and music and damn if it wasn't all so inspiring.

I must ask this though: Does everyone start the game by getting shot in the face?  It seemed to be scripted cinema, but then it seemed strangely prophetic, that I'd spend a whole lot of time getting shot in the face with the deck stacked against me.

A sniper named Ghost, which seemed like an interesting coincidence, sent me to look at a town.  And oh what did I find...  On the way in I met a man on the way out, literally, who'd been lucky enough to survive.  Further in I met several people on the way out, figuratively, hung up on crosses.

Everything was on fire.  Just thought that needed mentioning.

Further still and there were guys dressed like they were at an Anachronism Fair, which is like a Renaissance Fair, but set in Rome and featuring men with guns.  That explained the crucifixions.  I talked to them.  It turns out they were sadistic, murderous, backstabbing moralistic zealots (I didn't pick up on any beliefs, just a lot of judgement).  So I did the moral thing and started a shootout.  Turns out they wear really good armor and are practically invincible when shot by a gun better suited to rats (and I don't mean New York City rats, just normal rats).  But I don't give up.  I reload and try new tactics and eventually they're all dead.  Along the way I get some notifications that the group they're associated with doesn't like me.  Whatever.

La la la la la la shooting ants and shooting ants la la la la la dee daaaaaa!

Runnin' down the high way, goin' to the next town!  What's with that guy, named Legion Assassin?  I'm shootin' at him, he's shootin' at me.  I though I had armor but it was papier mache!

Okay, freak encounter with a rude jerk who says that Caesar wants me dead.  Whatever.  He's dead (not Caesar, that would be too easy).

La la la la la la shooting bandits and shooting bandits la la la la la dee daaaaaa!

Runnin' down the high way, goin' to the next town!  What's with that guy, named Legion Assassin?  I'm shootin' at him, he's shootin' at me.  I though I'd won but they're still after me!

Seriously, more of them?  Give me a break.  But I managed to win, thanks to a nearby patrol and some traders I was hanging out with (and got killed).  Onward!

La la la la la la shooting more bandits and shooting more bandits la la la la la dee daaaaaa!

Runnin' down the high way, goin' to the next town!  What's with that guy, named Legion Assassin?  I'm shootin' at him, he's shootin' at me.  Seriously, what the hell, people?  Eeee!  (gotta rhyme)

I'm running into a serious problem known as Bullet Shortage.  Since they shrug off attacks so easily, I have to do a lot of shooting.  It's BS.

This is, of course, all my own fault.  Ghost specifically said I was just supposed to do recon, not start a war.  So what did I do?  I started a war.  The game went to a great deal of effort to explain to me that this was a bad idea.  It killed me over and over, pushing me back to previous saves.  And I just kept going.  I was warned: "These guys are really hard to kill, even when you get the first shot and that first shot is two sticks of dynamite that still don't kill them."  A normal person would pick up on the subtle hints like the quest dialogue and the repeated crushing defeats.  But no, rather than interpret it as "you're not supposed to do this" I instead went with "this is a challenge" and I rose to that challenge.  At my own expense.

There is of course a way around all this.  I can wear the armor I picked off their corpses.  It makes me similarly invincible.  Except then everyone else shoots me on sight, including the guys I want to be friends with.  I'm relegated to an armor dance, wearing the disguise of my enemies, scanning the horizons, and at the first sight of people who wouldn't otherwise cause me any trouble, switching to my other, vastly inferior armor.  This was tricky when the Legion was hanging out near a camp that I wanted to duck into.  Take it off too soon and I get shot.  Take it off too late and I get shot.

On the plus side, I've only developed one drug addiction so far, Hydro or something like that, stuff that helps put my limbs back together well enough to move without quite healing anything.

Why would I want to press that button?

| Monday, May 28, 2012
Skyrim has some pretty awesome spells.  Skyrim has some pretty awesome kill animations, especially for melee, though seeing a pair of firebolts hit the chest of a necromancer in slow motion  and send him flying, that's pretty awesome too.

I've played a stabby sort of character who sneaks up and stabs people.  I was good at stabbing people.  Or sometimes it was more of a cutting motion.  It seemed to make the necks of my enemies happy.

I'm currently playing a tank: daedric plate armor, heavy shield, sword, and a build based on hitting things with my shield.  I can swing my shield.  I can swing my shield harder.  I can run while holding my shield and send people flying.  I really like areas with cliffs.  If I'm not in a shield sort of mood, I sometimes shop people's heads off.  I'd tried this sort of thing in Oblivion, but it didn't work very well; I just had terrible damage.  Shields weren't nearly as useful back then.

Sometime I want to try using a two-handed weapon.  Watching Lydia, the animations seem pretty nifty, and with the block I can hit people with the pommel, which as we all know, is awesome.

Skyrim has some fantastic melee.

Skyrim also has some fantastic spells.  I can scare my enemies, make them stop attacking, make them attack each other, banish daedra, summon daedra, place traps, surround myself in flames, shield myself from damage...  I can adapt to a million situations.  Or none.

Until I start enchanting, my damage doesn't scale.  Melee can pick up new weapons and bam, higher damage.  In contrast, finding fancy new robes allows me to... cast spells slightly more cheaply.  Yea, because we go OOM constantly.  That's not sarcasm.  That's how sad it is, that just not going OOM as soon is an upgrade.  Not doing more damage per second, just being able to throw flames for a few extra seconds.  Admittedly, a caster can eventually get to the point of having free spells with the right enchanting, but that's a bit lame if you ask me.  Free crap isn't better!  It reminds me of when I made my sneaky type in Oblivion, where thanks to the awful stealth mechanic, I was terrible.  I got around that by enchanting my armor to the point that I was completely camouflaged and therefore effectively invisible.  Abusing a game mechanic doesn't really seem like the funnest way to do things.  On top of that, enchanting isn't mage-only, so my melee can use it too, to great effect.  Meanwhile, a mage could pick up blacksmithing for more durability, but if he wants to get the real damage gains, he's going into the melee trees, at which point, why is he a mage?

But at least I have my perks!  Let's see: cheaper spells.  More cheaper spells (by which I mean additional spells, rather than spells which are "more cheaper").  Ooh, I can double-cast for extra damage and further along it does a stagger effect.  But double-casting means I'm no longer able to multi-task.  I can nuke hard or heal hard.  Thankfully, switching spells pauses, so I can switch between the two, but pausing constantly, particularly in the middle of a fight, is lame.  Beside any sense of power, there is the fun, and constantly interrupting the fight is not fun.  Contrast that with my melee who blocks with right-click, can switch to attacking by the simple action of no longer holding down the right mouse and using the highly-complex left mouse button to attack.  Or in my case, thanks to my perks, I don't even have to stop blocking; I can left click while blocking to hit people with my shield, dealing modest damage and interrupting casting and power attacks.  Jumping back to the perks: melee perks give added damage, more added damage, neat tricks with my shield, and cheaper power attacks for one or two-handed weapons (no luck for shields, but that's okay).

Meanwhile my summons are... well maybe eventually they're good, but currently, my wolf dies in about two hits, if it doesn't run away first.  Yea, but summoned familiar flees the battle.  Or maybe that's the AI switching to a really far away target.  Either way, it's useless.  But at least I have my companion for a tank, who can then die to my spells if I'm not careful.  I could reposition, but if she's not between me and the enemy, she's not really blocking them, since there are no taunts.

Much of the problem is one of interface.  Because spells are 'equipped' rather than based on hotkeys, switching spells uses the same interface as switching weapons.  I don't have to switch weapons very often unless I'm going from sword to bow, which will happen maybe a couple times in a long fight.  Spells, much more often.  All those neat effects I named, those need a switch, so I fury one enemy and fear another (so far it's one per hand, so I'm alright), and then if I want to attack or defend, I have to switch, and then back if I need a new fear.  On the plus side, if this doesn't all go correctly, thanks to my cloth and low health pool (I need magicka) I am probably already dead.  Wait... that's not a plus side.

It got so bad that I started starting Skyrim, glancing around for a few seconds, considering finding a cave of bad things to fight, and then quitting.  Skyrim was just plain not fun anymore.  The thought of playing it made me slightly uneasy.  It was repulsive.

Then I did the smart thing and stuck the saved games for my mage in a folder and pulled out my shield-smasher again.  And went off to smash people with my shield.  Fun again!

The mage just doesn't have particularly good buttons.  Maybe the problem is that it doesn't have buttons.

On the other hand, maybe the problem is that the situation is too similar to this old video from a long time ago in an Orgrimmar a long time ago.

World of Roguecraft, Episode Three (I'd embed, but that's blocked)  I did not make this video (I'm not that awesome), but the rogue does talk a bit like I do when frustrated.

Take note of what they say: the warlock (mage) doesn't gain much from stats while the rogue (melee) does.  The rogue can get a huge damage upgrade just from a new weapon.  The rogue claims that they "need that extra crit chance because our moves don't do as much as casters", which if we pretend that he said "hit" instead of crit, then we can compare the similar damage output, but the fact that unless the enemy is in your face, bolts can miss.  In terms of acquiring gear, the mage is going to have to enchant to get far (do the robes that drop ever stop being terrible?) whereas the melee can pick up whatever their enemy drops.  Though it's not quite as bad as the warlock, since if you do get an 'epic' staff, you can wield two staves of fireballs, which are pretty damn amazing.  Though unless you get lucky from a chest, getting one means fighting something that already has it, and those things hurt!

I know some of you people play Skyrim, so I put this question to you: do mages become fun?  How?  How long does it take?  Should I quit whining and glue myself to an enchanting table?

"Hey look, a cave. I wonder what's in it..."

| Friday, May 25, 2012
There I was, looting the pelt off a bear, when all of a sudden, all these bears show up.

All his best friends!

I shoot an arrow in the air and where it lands I know where. (a knee)

| Wednesday, May 23, 2012
I've said it before about Oblivion and I'm saying it again about Skyrim (but more): I like wandering around.

There are, of course, the quests.  I do those.  I like the sense of direction they give.  But I don't get teleported to the quest hub.  I can fast travel to somewhere near the quest location, but after that, I have some travel to do.  So I travel.  Sometimes in the direct direction.  Sometimes toward the dragon shrine that popped up as being somewhat nearby.  Sometimes in circles as I chase down the dragon that clearly wants to fight me but keeps landing somewhere else to fight bears.  Poor thing doesn't know what it wants.

I wander and as I wander, I wander across.  I wander across caves and castles and within the caves and castles I may fight bears and bandits, though not usually in the same place.  These bears and bandits are not a burdensome challenge nor a fount of bountiful loot, but I get to hit people in the face with my shield and that is enough.

That's the nice thing about the leveling system: it levels with you.  I level up and thanks to that I can do cool new things such as block magic damage with my shield.  The NPCs follow with.  So I get stronger and so do they and I do it a little bit faster.  Fire mages still hurt and a pair can often kill me.  Cleansing the Shrine of Meridia was difficult (not a fire mage, but a tricky one anyway), but turning into a werewolf helped, except the time I took a full blast right out the door.

This creates an excellent hybrid system in which I can either follow some rails for a Developer-Approved quest line or I can wander off into the world.  If I want to just engage in some violence, I can wander off and find it.  If the possibilities overwhelm me, I can follow the quest arrows.

A too-strict leveling system doesn't allow for this.  If I am level 50 and the area is level 10, there will be nothing to gain from it.  Loot will be too weak, quest rewards too small, and enemies so trivial as to be like gnats, but without the high miss rate when swatting at gnats.  Under an excessively strict system you move in the Developer-Approved areas and leave them when they tell you to.  This is needed in some cases where zones are chronologically linear, that is, that the story in zone B comes after the story zone A and assumes you've done certain things in zone A.  In that case, making zone A level 15 and zone B level 20 is an easy way to ensure that I do the story in the order that makes sense.  That's fine.  It is not without cost.

There is a way around it, to keep the zones all parallel in time, but maintaining grand narratives.  One way is to make the isolated content, the instances or dungeons, longer and able to run stories on their own.  Another is to make the stories old, make them bits and pieces that we discover, and in that way, can always make sense.  Maybe we find the ending first and wonder how it happened.  Or we find the beginning first and wonder how it ended.  Maybe we find the middle and we have this strange tension of not knowing how it began or how it ends.  That drives us to complete the story, but does not mandate any particular order or direction, while still perhaps pointing us to places we'd want to go.

Now if you'll excuse me, that castle looks a bit suspicious...

She looked 18, officer

| Monday, May 21, 2012
"The problem with animated depictions is that it blurs the ability to determine age." - Bristal

I really shouldn't jumped on this one when it was fresh, but given the context, that sounds dirty and illegal.

A long long time ago some foreigners named Tamarind and some other guy whose name I forgot had a blog called Righteous Orbs in which they ran stories about a well-spoken kobold and the paladin-themed brothel he ran.  I made up the second part, but since the blog is vanished, let's pretend I didn't and admit that you have no way of knowing otherwise.  That's why history is great.

During this long ago time they made a post about Vanessa VanCleef and how hot she is.  Spoiler alert: she's the daughter of Edwin VanCleef.

Here she is dressed nicely in her disguise as a nice person.
Now you're probably thinking either "wow, that's hot" or "wow, why would people think pixels are hot, but if those weren't just pixels, they'd be pretty hot."  Or you're one of those jackasses who thinks the human models are fat and probably thinks blood elves could stand to lose a few.  Here's the problem: that's the same model used for 99.99% of humans in WoW.  Also, she's 16.  And she prefers to dress like this.  And let's just say rogues have it best during that fight.
 What a difference a few years can make.  Cut a few off and she'd fit right in in TERA and we'd all be attacking the disgusting portrayal of young girls as scantily-clad leaders who like messing with our heads.  I'm not trying to suggest they are equivalent, since physically-speaking, 10 and 16 are dramatically different, emotionally they have some concept of what it means when they're dressed like that, and legally that is the age of consent in some areas.  So different territory.

It does raise the question though, why does a 16 year old use the same model as NPCs of double or more her age?  Maybe it was laziness, just make the children model and the adult model and call it a day.  Picking between the two, I'd put 16 closer to the adult model than the child model.  But maybe it was something smarter than that.  Maybe Blizzard, at some point, anticipated that they'd need teenage characters.  They could have made models for them, but that's asking for trouble.  If they make a model for an age, then they're making a statement about that age, saying what it looks like, and by extension, its role.  Throwing out whatever model is already there is a non-statement, and that's the safe thing to do.

The other day while wandering the store wondering what else to buy I passed the aisle with children's bikinis (I didn't buy any).  Imagine that, little children, 4, 6, 8 years old wearing barely anything at all, exposed, out in public.  Though at that age, I'm not sure what there is to cover.  And that's what made me wonder, why didn't they (whoever the publisher is; I don't care to search) try a different tactic with their defense of TERA?  Rather than covering up the prepubescent girls, instead emphasize their age, point out that there isn't much to cover and therefore not much to expose.  Call us the sickos for thinking there could possibly be anything wrong with how they dress their childish aliens.

Maybe there's even something to that.  Maybe we're so used to the sexualization of female characters in games they the idea of a female character who isn't there to titillate us is unimaginable.  Outside the game we'd see a little child in a swimsuit and think "aw, how cute" and wonder why the parents aren't watching as they wander deeper and deeper into the water...  But in a game, then it's sexualizing, it's revealing and wrong and disgusting.  Maybe it is just us.  But I don't think so.  It's not just the amount of armor, how much there it is or isn't, but there it is also where it is or isn't.  Cover everything except the crotch area, except directly there, with a heart, and it is a little bit suspicious.  The irony might be that even less clothing would provoke less scandal.  Remove the miniskirts and they're closer to being obliviously indifferent rather than obviously indecent.

It would also help if the game in general didn't dress its female characters in less than what we'd expect for combat.  If it were an entirely uh... covered game, then again, we might think nothing of anything at all.  The context is part of the problem.  I'm betting that you could make, and sell to a mass audience, a game where young girls weren't wearing much, if it were not in the usual context of muscled men in full plate and female eye candy.

Missing the Game

| Friday, May 18, 2012
So there I was, in the Silithus desert... making references to what is by now probably obscure machinema given the time that has passed.

Anyway, I was looking for more blogs to read, since my list hasn't grown much and some people have had the nerve to stop feeding me interesting things to read.  You people know who you are.

I came across this at Screaming Monkeys (which I'd been boycotting due to having proactively ripped off Syl):
Opposite of this are players who are looking for something specific in their game. They might know what it is they’re looking for or not but until they find whatever they are looking for they won’t be satisfied. They will pick a MMO, play it until they confirm if the desired feature is there or not and if it’s not present, leave for another game.

What I find sad is that while they are looking they are missing most of what the game has the offer. In fact, the rest of the game becomes an obstacle. For example, if I’m looking for the perfect raiding experience, all the leveling game will seem like a chore to me. I’ll hate every minute of it and if the endgame does not live up to my expectations, I’ll be pissed at the game and probably write long angry post about how it was the worst thing to happen to humankind.
 And then did a lot of yelling at strawmen in my head, "I TOLD YOU SO!"

These games, these massively multiplayer online games (they've gone a bit past RPGs by now) are, as the name implies, big, not just in players (some aren't) but in content.  There is so much to do.  There is so much to do that you didn't know you wanted to do.  Don't ignore it!  Try it!  You've dropped in your coins, why not play the bonus games?

I play WoW because I am violent toward minorities

| Thursday, May 17, 2012
 I am writing this from America, where Asians, Africans, Caribbeans, Arabs, Indians, Indians, Russians, Gypsies, Jews, and the British are all minorities.  I hate all of them.  But that's just my culture.

Of course WoW is a great game for people like me.  Night Elves, Pandaren, Orcs, Trolls, Pygmies, Tauren, Draenei, and Worgen are all based on these groups to varying degrees.  And I get to kill them.

Even better, a game like this which allows simulated violence against minorities is a great place to meet other people like me.  Of course it's a pretty risky place for those minorities, with people like me around!  Ha ha!  Oh but don't worry, it's just my culture.

But seriously, folks...

Isn't it time we told developers to stop making these sickening games where we're allowed, even encouraged, to attack minorities?  It's terrible that we constantly hand over money to these people, these sickening developers, who so willingly depict death and violence as if it were "just part of the culture."  Only in the East, in China, did they take any sort of stand and change anything, covering up some bones, but doing nothing anywhere else, as if just to reinforce the idea that it's "just part of the culture."

But seriously folks...

Isn't that a rather absurd stance to take?  Sure, trolls are obviously based on a Caribbean accent and more than a little bit of voodoo and night elves borrow from Japan.  Would we ever say that because World of Warcraft allows us, and to some extent, requires us to attack them, that therefore WoW is encouraging violence against minorities?  Even suggesting that games could have any link to violence will provoke a heated response, let alone suggesting that the games encourage particular racist behavior.  Let's watch where we aim our accusations of virtual moral decay, lest we shoot ourselves.

We can be disturbed and disgusted by the strangely child-like bunny-eared race with the heart-shaped vagina covers (it can hardly be called armor).  I sure am.  But let's wait a moment before we jump to accusations that the developers and publishers have released Pedophile Online.

It's a common way to mock American culture, that a million gunshots are fine but a single nipple is unacceptably destructive to the psyches of our youth.  But isn't that what we're seeing here?  Kill a million trolls and that's fine.  But dress the aliens the wrong way and oh my god what is wrong with you you sick sick person!?  Why is mass killing something we take in stride but the sexualization of children crosses the line?  It's not about the children, or at most, they are a slight increase, not the root cause.  Female armor gets a similar sort of outrage.  It's the skin.  It's somehow terrifying in a way that a rotting corpse cannot be.

I don't plan to buy TERA.  The very thought of it makes me feel slightly ill, the sort of feeling a person gets from hearing the sound of vomiting.  But should I declare a crusade against it?  Call it an abomination?  Or should I accept that as much as it sickens me, it is ultimately a fictional universe with fictional races and fictional results and is no more responsible for child abuse than WoW is responsible for ethnic violence?

On the other hand...

I've noticed that if one person expresses a negative opinion it can be interpreted as a single negative opinion and if it's about a particular aspect, it may be worth considering change.  If a dozen, a hundred, or thousands have the same opinion, then we call it a crusade and mock it, as if a thousand people cannot have the same opinion without colluding.

Making a race not sicken millions of people on sight might be a good idea, regardless of so-called cultural differences.  Child abuse is not a "cultural difference" any more than female circumcision is a "cultural difference."  Well sure, it is in the literal sense, but it's the sort of inhumane "cultural difference" that should be eliminated or at least reduced (which was done with foot-binding).  I still won't say that the game itself is some horrible abomination (even if it makes me sick), but it is reflecting something wrong (as might also our obsession with zombies: nearly-human creatures which have strangely become our enemies and can only be slaughtered, not reasoned with).

No gaming post today; I'm fixing the world

| Monday, May 14, 2012
I have been giving the tremendous task of evaluating whether the Yuan is undervalued relative to the dollar, how that might change, what effects that might have, and what we should do about it.  You may find me in front of Congress testifying.  Actually that's highly unlikely, but a person can dream, right?

So far I've concluded this: The policy with the least pain for everyone is for the Chinese government to spend more on healthcare and develop more health insurance programs.  This is unlikely to happen.  Instead, pollution will just drive their healthcare costs even higher, reducing consumption, increasing the trade imbalance, and eventually killing the world after they burn so much coal that the oceans turn so acidic that you instantly dissolve on contact.

Just kidding, carbonic acid isn't that strong.

It will just kill the food chain.

I suggest buying cod futures.

Are flight paths just lag?

| Friday, May 11, 2012
I quit playing Civilization V for a while.  I didn't quit because of the economic problems or the roads costing too much or anything wrong with the game mechanics.  Instead, I just got tired of the performance.  It runs slowly.  Saved games load slowly.  Turns run slowly.  It's all slow.

I was spending a lot of time playing without playing.  Not much fun.

It got me thinking, is this any different than a flight path or any sort of travel time?  Waiting for games to load and AI to move is just that, waiting.  It's not a time of contemplating the difficult tactical decisions that the AI must make (usually incorrectly) or a recreation of the slow communication and slow history of days gone by.  It's just waiting.

So when I get on a flight path and it tried to take me from Orgrimmar to Silithus and I'm going to be waiting for 10-20 minutes (I don't remember, but it's long (which is what she said)), am I seeing the scenery and feeling a sense of distance and size?  Am I in awe of the size of the world and the magical feeling of flight on a magical creature?  Probably not.  More likely I'm tabbed into another window playing TERA (if ya know what I mean (but not that way (seriously that's fucked up, why would you even joke about that?))).  Or I'm tabbed out writing blog posts about flight paths and wondering if they are the same as lag.

Maybe they are different though.  Lag is something broken.  Yes, I know that computing takes time, but in Civ IV everything happens somewhere between instantly and almost instantly, and completely different games (with much prettier graphics) run much more smoothly, whereas Civ V has uniquely bad performance.

Flight paths aren't a technical problem.  They're intentional design.  They're something that developers chose to put there, for some reason.  They're designed to be there, taking scenic routes, adding that sense of world.  They aren't so scenic and worldly after a thousand flights, but without the first one, you're playing Zone of Warcraft and ZOW is a pretty lame game.


| Wednesday, May 9, 2012
I don't understand the idea of advertising mental health services to those in need.  Would anyone advertise coma services to people in comas?  Of course not.  They're incapable of taking advantage.  Perhaps that's an extreme analogy, but I think the general trend remains.

You might recall the tragically ironic data that was found on anti-depressants, that they were increasing suicide rates.  What a strange thing.  But maybe it should have been predictable.

A starving person has low energy and isn't really in a condition to hunt.  Take off my glasses and I'll have trouble finding them.  Angry people shout and make everyone else angry.  Violence begets violence.  It's a positive feedback loop, in the sense that it builds on itself to make the problem worse.  Positive feedback in the negative direction, like multiplying a negative.

The depressed person has low energy.  It's a terrible problem because it only makes itself worse, making the basic functioning of life more difficult, let alone improvement.  The very failure at life which might justify some reduced esteem is caused by the initial reduction, and so it feeds on itself.  The medications can then restore some energy, but of course life is not immediately fixed, and so the person finally finds the energy and motivation to do what shouldn't be done.

So to loop it back to the advertising, how is a depressed person capable of using the services?  Admitting a problem, to complete strangers, talking to them, going to a strange new place, those all seem like unrealistic demands.

Maybe if they had some support it would help.  Someone to help them along.  Like a friend.  But how is the friend supposed to help when he may not even know?  That's the other problem: people maintain face.  They keep up their fronts.  In Japan there was a strange-appearing phenomenon of unemployed men, husbands often, who would dress up on their business attire and every morning, go off to somewhere and return in the evening.  It was a sad theater of keeping up the appearance.

The advertising could target the friends.  Which I suppose would be everyone.  But to say what?  Talk to your friend and see how they are.  As if that's going to do it.  Talk normally and the front is still there.  Try to break it down and most of the time you're just insulting a friend.  So what is there to do, look for warning signs?  Such as what?  Social withdrawal sounds like a place to start, but maybe they're just introverted or busy.  Failing at work or school?  Perhaps, but not failing is part of the front.  Keeping up appearances, no matter the difficulty, because it is all that is left.  It's the last line of defense against the horrible complete realization of what is going on inside one's  own head.  What an awful place for an enemy.

The Scariest Story Ever

Death wasn't new to her. She'd died before. Murder wasn't new to her either. She'd killed before.

But this was a different sort of corpse. It looked just like any other, of course, but this one was different. She could feel it. She just knew. It wasn't her kill...

Turning slowly, she scanned the horizon. Nothing. A quick spin around the other way: nothing.

No one.

She typed, slowly and carefully, "/who"?

No one.

She deleted the level range and tried again. "/who"?

No one.

Only one thing could have killed those people. Only one faction, and it wasn't her own.

She turned again...

Get your sexy children and animals out of my violence

| Monday, May 7, 2012
I've been trying to sort out quite what is wrong with the Elin.  My gut isn't much help, since it just screams "oh god what is wrong with those people!?" and gut-based psychoanalysis of developers isn't usually a successful endeavor.  My brain kicks in eventually and says that no children are harmed by the development or play of the game, that is it fantasy events with fantasy characters in a fantasy world.  Well okay, but that doesn't make me feel any less sick, so it appears as though my gut has triumphed.

Maybe by focusing on the children I'm looking at the wrong problem.  Maybe the actual problem is the general habit of turning anything female into a sex object, at at least a thing to stare at.  From this perspective, then there is a general societal problem of making female things (I say things because I'm going to go past the human realm soon) sexual, often primarily sexual.  There is a particular mental disorder of being attracted to prepubescent girls.  I won't use the word pedophilia because that's used for both law and psychology and of course the legal one, despite being the one we use to lock people up and ostracize them, is inaccurate.

And then there is the anthropomorphizing of animals or non-human beings, which by itself isn't so strange, but when we selectively apply it to female things, it gets weird.  Take the worgen forms for example: the males are clearly not just wolves on their hind legs, but they are also clearly not just people who need to shave a bit more often.  The female worgen are inexplicably more humanoid.  Is it unimaginable that something can be female and not be eye candy for human men?  I'm not saying they have to be unattractive worgen, by worgen standards the males might be quite the sex objects, but it seems like quite a bit of stretching to turn them into something halfway toward being sexy for humans.

The objectification of women within games can be opposed on multiple grounds, but rather than the usual sexism grounds, let's try good game design.  Why must there be sexy stuff in my game of violence?  MMOs tend toward violence.  Argue against that somewhere else, but for here, let's take it as an assumption that games will be violent.  Given that, why add sex objects?

Let's imagine the reverse, that World of Sexcraft is a popular online game where players control avatars which have sex.  This probably exists but that is not a search history that I want to have.  Within this game would it make any sense for the armor to have severed heads as kneepads and knives as sex toys?  Beside a particular fetish group, no.  It wouldn't make any sense at all.  It would distract from the actual purpose of the game.  Beyond that, it would simply be pointless.  Shoehorning violent imagery into a game about sex would make it a worse game.  Reversing back away from the reversal, why shoehorn sexual imagery into a game about violence?

What a perfect body is perfect for

| Sunday, May 6, 2012
This jumped out at me over at We Fly Spitfires: "Why Females Are Oversexualized in Video Games"
Secondly, because we think it’s what women want. Video games are mostly fantasy representations and reflect things as they would be in a ‘perfect’ universe. The male models are all huge and buff, straining their clothing through their rippling muscles beneath, a massive departure from not only real life but also the men themselves who play the games. If we like seeing ‘perfect’ men, why wouldn’t women like seeing ‘perfect’ women? And if males run around wearing what we would wear in our ultimate fantasies, wouldn’t we want our female characters do the same?

That sounds perfectly reasonable to me.  But for one problem: What is the use of said perfect bodies?

Let's start with the male body.  What is the purpose of a huge and buff body?  There is some aesthetic aspect to it, that some people find that attractive.  As a fantasy, most men probably wish they were a bit stronger, a bit fitter, even if they'd be confused if they looked in the mirror and saw the Hulk.  There is also a practical aspect: a lot of muscle means a lot of strength.  The muscled behemoth can exert physical control over his environment.  It's useful to him personally, regardless of how others value it.

Contrast that with the perfect female body.  For the sake of focus, just as we did with the male, let's set aside personal preference for appearance and go with the general fantasy trend: thin with big breasts.  Who finds this attractive?  Well since I already set aside personal preference, I get to say everyone: that men desire women with that appearance and women want to have that appearance.  But what is it good for?  We've covered aesthetics, but what else?  There is some notion of fertility and health, that the breasts are a sign of sexual maturity and the thinness is a sign of taking care of oneself (which would be reversed in times of starvation when being bigger was a sign of having enough to eat and therefore health and economic security).  Okay, so if we are looking to make babies, we've got that covered.  But the muscled man gained the ability to singlehandedly exert control over his environment whereas the woman's great physical advantage, making babies (which is hardly of similar usefulness in the typical world beset by demons and bandits) is still a cooperative effort: She needs a man to gain any benefit from her power.

There's nothing wrong with the "perfect body", except when said perfect bodies mean that male characters appear capable of standing up to danger while the female is helpless, but sure looks great doing it.  If ya know what I mean.

The Case for More Gear Inflation

| Friday, May 4, 2012
Jump off a one-foot drop and you can catch yourself, a few more feet and you can roll.  Jump off a three thousand foot ledge, and with the appropriate training and equipment, you might not break your leg.  But anywhere in the middle you're probably going to die.

I've seen Dragon Soul and Deathwing.  Not just in LFR, but in real raids.  This fits with the current WoW model of bumping players up to the most recent raid.  It accomplishes this with gear inflation, with steadily stronger badge loot, higher LFR-available raids (I'm guessing that's going to be the pattern moving forward), and the late-expansion release of instances with upgraded loot: Zulroics and then Caverns of Time, preceded by Trial of the Crusader and before that, Magister's Terrace.

There is a problem, though: The philosophy is one of players seeing content, but if they're always in the most recent, then they're not in anything lower.  That's fine if they started at the start of the expansion and have stepped up with each gear wave since then.  What if they came in late?  Then they're missing the start, because thanks to the inflation, people don't do those anymore.

People might go back if the earlier raids were easy enough.  Maybe there isn't any greater incentive, since the loot did not improve, but the barrier to backward entry can be made lower.

The solution: even more gear inflation.  Don't make a tier 10% stronger than the one before.  Make it 50%.  100%.

Think of the raids from previous expansions, which originally needed 10, 25, or 40 people.  And then five go in.  Or two.  Or one.  They can do this because the character and the gear has gotten stronger by orders of magnitude.  Similarly, if gear advanced by enough, players could take small groups of interested friends for easy tours through the earlier raids in an expansion.  It won't be the same experience, but it will be something.  It will be seeing content rather than nothing at all.

I don't like linearity

| Wednesday, May 2, 2012
It makes play seem more repetitive.  If you do X then Y then Z, and then do Z then X then Y, it's all the same thing, but the mixup makes it seem less repetitive.  This is why I enjoy sandboxes so much, so that I can change the order and then it's almost like a new game, especially when the new games are all sequels of the old games, so relatively-speaking, it's newisher.

In the case of WoW, this is why I've barely done any alting.  My options are the same path I just took through Hyjal or the same path I just took through Vash'jir.  I'm not saying those are bad paths.  Hyjal is a fun place.  But it's also the exact same place as the time I did it before and the time before that as well.  There is very little branching.  Lower-level areas can be even worse, pushing to one place, cleaning up the area, then to the next, one to the next to the next in exactly the same order every time.

Hallways irritate me.  They make me want to punch the wall, to see if there is anything on the other side of it, to see if I can go somewhere else.  I would now like to complain about the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant as designed in STALKER: Shadow of Chernobyl.  It's an open-world game where you can wander as you will and explore.  The occasion terrifying underground lab will be linear, but they are rather short.  Contrast that with the CNPP where you fight through the brainwashed enemies and find the answers, the truth you've been searching for all along, and it's pretty neat.  Then for no apparent reason, the developers send you off to randomly teleport around the plant, fighting enemies who are mostly the same the whole way.  It might have been better if it were a fight toward some apparent objective, where I can say "I am going this way because this way leads to there", but instead you fight across a narrow 100-500 yards before hopping in a portal that takes you to a different few hundred yards to run along.  The linear nature is frustrating already, and made even worse by the otherwise open nature of the game.

In WoW, this was one of my early complains in BC.  Where we used to have branching and sometimes looping instances, we had hallways.  I liked the branches and looping.  They meant that we might take a different path.  Or as we go more, we learn more and learn better paths and get lost less often.  LK stuck with the linear nature, though the Nexus and Gundrak were at least physically capable of being done along varying paths (not that anyone did, but the option existed).

Linearity makes me feel sorry for the developers.  I'll see a really detailed, complex structure they designed and it will seem great.  Then I realize that I'll go there once.  I'll do the quest there and that's it, never again.  STALKER: Call of Pripyat has this problem.  While I can understand why no one would venture back into the hellish laboratories and caves, the outdoor world is once-and-done as well.  Once you've fought an epic battle with highly-armed mercenaries in the treatment plant, using hit and run attacks along the catwalks and tunnels and desperately hoping that you can see well enough when ducking into the dark building from the sunny outside, you're done.  You check the corpses and grab the data and never go back.  The other day I was playing through again (because of the Z-X-Y capability, I've repeated both STALKER games a few times) and found the tunnels under the plant, adding a new level of complexity to it.  That's pretty great, to have a location that has more to discover each time, but that you just hop into once and never again (barring creating a new game).  Contrast this with the first game in the series where the main story will loop back to previously-explored locations, as well as repeatable quests doing the same.

I may just be spoiled by too much Skyrim (mostly Oblivion, in actuality), WoW, and STALKER, but it seems to me that the more world-like a game is, the more people can replay it, the more fun they can have, the more they may find themselves willing to shell out more money for more games and more subscription time.
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