Not a bang, but a whimpered "Goodbye"

| Sunday, October 28, 2012
I started this blog to talk about WoW.  I branched out slightly to talk about other games, many of which no one played or cared about.  That's how I roll.

My first post was February 12, 2008.  That means that I've been blogging longer than I was in high school or college (but not both).  Those had start and end dates, times when I had to have figured it out and regurgitated it and then I'd get a piece of paper and maybe a handshake.  Blogs don't have that.  I haven't figured it out.  I'm still working on it.  By analogy, I think that means I'm that person working a dead-end job who is going to take night classes to finish up his degree.  But never will.

WoW changed, I did as well, and those changes were not complementary.  The result was that I left WoW.  A couple friends brought me back.  I left to play Guild Wars 2.  Sadly, I left on my own and that died off as well (not saying GW2 is dead).  For weeks I've been meaning to get back into it, to play again, to explore and even try some dungeons.  Sadly, that all turned out to be too difficult.  Mentally I've been too drained.  I'd hoped to log on a few days ago and check out some Halloween content, but there was a patch and when that was done downloading I was tired and went to bed.

I've not stopped gaming, but I've stopped new gaming.  I've gone back to Civ IV and Call of Pripyat.  Neither of those are new, neither of them are MMOs, and neither of them are inspiring me to write grand posts.  Well, I do have one that I keep trying to write about the Civilization series and history education, but it keeps falling into pedantic droning and I close it and forget about it and weeks later make a new draft post.  I could probably keep 'blogging' for a few weeks just by posting my failed Civilization posts (slight exaggeration).

You've probably picked up that I'm limping toward something and that that something is that I'm probably out of ideas and out of content.  In other words, probably stopping with this blog for a while.  Probably I have a problem with qualifying my statements too much.

I'll still be around commenting and reading, but that's about it for the foreseeable future.  So, I'll call this a goodbye.  Thanks to all the great bloggers.  No thanks to the terrible ones.  And biggest thanks of all to Larisa, whose linking and commenting and referencing is probably 90% responsible for this blog being a slightly bigger insignificant blip, with another 5% being split between a bloggers with large audiences, 3% to hilariously bad Google search terms and results (Skyrim porn edition is still top), 2% to various WoWInsider writers who linked me (Thanks, Allison), and finally 1% to me for writing a lot of words.  It's pretty awesome being in the 1% and getting all the credit.


P.S. I have a more politically-oriented blog over at Delusions of Truth.  Sometimes I talk about science as well.  It's not always relevant to the current news cycle and comes with a liberal dose of liberal bias.  I try to post about once a week.
P.P.S. I snuck this edit in after the first comment.

Making a game for ten friends and no one else ever

| Monday, October 22, 2012
The other day I talked about videogames as art (or not).  This led me to ask: what was different about the paths of development for videogames and art?

In the beginning there was charcoal and a cave wall.  It was art made for a few people.  Later we developed more advanced techniques, yet the distribution stayed the same: as a small, physical object, more art could only be seen be those in close proximity.  Given the high cost of trade and travel, few people would ever see a particular piece.  In this way, art originated as something for only a few people.

It grew, of course, with kings and popes commissioning larger pieces and architecture, the latter of which could be seen by many people and was intended to be.  Yet it was ultimately for the small, elite group.  It was not so much for mass consumption as for elite display to the masses.

Only relatively recently has art become something which could be sold on large scales and in large quantities to the masses.  Printing presses allowed books to spread further (though they still remained pretty expensive).  Eventually we worked out how to mass-produce reproductions of images, so that paintings could be spread, though not in painting form.  Lately it is music and movies which can spread everywhere.  Yet music was originated at the smallest scale of all: only in hearing range and only until the echos stopped.  Movies grew out of plays which carried a similar temporary nature.  The overall idea is that all previous forms of art developed at small scales and over a very long period of time.

Videogames have not had such time.  Computers are young.  Getting games onto them is even younger.  This difference in age will make videogames different as an art form.  Maybe they are thousands of years away from being art, just like those cave drawings.  Though I hope we can get there sooner (or are already).

Beside the time difference though, there is a matter of scale.  Videogames are hard to make.  This is true on both the low and high ends of the quality spectrum.  I could easily make terrible music, paintings, or plays.  Music and acting are merely sound and movement while painting requires some small amount of hand-eye coordination and a bit of money.  Making a game is far more difficult, requiring the ability to understand a foreign language written for another type of thought.  This only gets more difficult as you try to increase the quality and range of distribution.

You could make a song for ten friends.  For thousands of years people have and they still do.  Could you make a videogame for ten friends?  It's quite a lot of work for such a small audience.

This is the difficulty, that videogames are growing up in an age of mass distribution.  They are created for different reasons than any previous art.  Other art forms are under these same pressures as costs rise along with distribution, and I'm sure you can find plenty of people to complain about that (I won't in this post), but they grew and were defined long ago.  Videogames are growing and being defined now.

Expansions and burnout

| Friday, October 19, 2012
Do expansions promote or reduce burnout?

On one hand, new content and new abilities can reinvigorate.  On the other hand, new abilities and gameplay may confuse and reduce a sense of comfort in the world.

In general they shake things up and that may be individually good or bad.

Interaction with the code

| Wednesday, October 17, 2012
The games which I played the longest and had the most fun in were also the ones which I could change.  This ranged from elaborate macros in WoW to entire new story lines and ships in Escape Velocity (Mac space combat/trading series from the late 90s).  I don't think this is coincidence.

At first the causality might seem to go from time to code, that more time with a game meant more time to learn it and change it.  Certainly it is true that having more time gives you more time.  I might be going out on a limb with that one.

However, I don't think I'd have spent as much time with these games if I couldn't change them.  Particularly in my days before WoW and Steam, patches weren't very easy to get, let alone know they existed.  If I wanted new content I had to add it myself or look for mods.  In either case, it helped if the game was designed to allow for easy modification.  WoW eagerly accepts add-ons (for better or worse) and has an in-game macro-writing ability.  Escape Velocity was designed early on to readily accept add-ons.  The civilization series didn't have quite the same ease of modification, but with some poking about I could tweak a few things on my own.

The benefits of this come in two categories.  First, it allows for bug-fixing, including those especially annoying things which are perceived as bugs but really weren't.  There is no "working as intended" conflict when you can change things.  One of my biggest annoyances with Civ V  vs. IV was that V didn't have the WorldBuilder, which is an in-game tool to change the map, diplomacy, units, cities, and so on.  With it I could fix some of the annoyances of the AI or the RNG (SPEARMAN DOES NOT BEAT TANK!).  It's a minor thing, but when I'd rush promoting and accidentally give anti-archer promotion to a tank I loved that I could switch to the WorldBuilder and alter the promotions.  That's better than playing with a gimped unit because of a misclick (particularly annoying in a turn-based game) or having to reload from the start of the turn (biggest world possible and it's the very last unit I moved).

Second, it lets the player customize the experience to properly suit them.  In WoW this meant macros that allowed me to survive with a mere two mouse buttons and a scroll wheel.  In Escape Velocity this meant an outpouring of creativity as I designed progressively stranger devices, such as my own version of Project Orion (using atomic bombs to launch rockets: tons of thrust, tons of fallout).

Third (yes I did say two), this gives the player ownership and a deeper connection to the game.  It isn't just something made by someone else and copied a million times.  It's a game that you changed.  It's customized.  Some of your beliefs about game design, some of what you think is fun and should be in games, is in it now.  That's pretty neat.

I hope I never live a gaymer lifestyle

| Monday, October 15, 2012
This post is long. It might offend you.  It is only tangentially related to gaming.

The other night when I couldn't fall asleep I did what anyone else would do, ruminated about the philosophical points in District 9. You might remember the main character, initially a socially inept and completely unsympathetic man who was more than willing to trick the aliens into moving into worse conditions. Then he turned into one and had a slightly different perspective on the matters of oppression and dissection of living, sentient beings.

I doubt I'm going to turn into an alien. Or a gay person. My guess is that I'm going to be more or less the same person for a while; maybe with a different haircut or slightly changed political views, but essentially a middle class white male. I might not change much, but society might, or almost certainly will.

My hope is to live in a society, not where I am always the winner (though that would be nice, for me), but a society in which losers are not utterly crushed. I don't imagine being a white male is going to be a liability any time soon, whether ten or a thousand years from now, but if it does, I hope it is a very small one. Maybe I'm pessimistic to think that it is human nature that some groups will be better off than others and more acceptable to society than others, but I'm also an optimist, that I think we can have this up and down in society but that down doesn't have to be all the way down.

I never want who or what I am to be a reason to deny to me basic rights, justice, and livelihood. That is, unless who or what I am is somehow innately harmful to other people, such as if I were infected with radioactive bird flu. But, beside that obviously absurdly extreme example, I think major powers shouldn't mess with people's personal lives [too much, because sometimes personal lives overlap and then it's not so personal anymore].

Speaking of gay people, I have a confesion to make: I find it slightly amusing that Rachel Maddow, who for context is an openly lesbian liberal on MSNBC, is really pushing the birth control and abortion battles as new stories. I'm not suggesting that they aren't news stories, but is birth control really such a big deal for a lesbian?

Of course. Well maybe not birth control literally, but symbolically, very. Birth control isn't just for heterosexual whores (or even just bisexual whores). Am I offensively stating the obvious? Probably. Sadly, that is a view that some people don't seem to share. We had multiple presidential candidates who are against birth control. I suspect that two of them see it as politically advantageous. But Rick Santorum, he's the real deal. He's not a smooth-talking, slickly-presented politician who says whatever you want to hear. He's an honest man of consistent values and he's a terrifying person because of it.

Birth control is a health issue. It's also a women's rights issue. It's about the ability of women to regulate what happens to their bodies, even after that oh so shameful act of... you know.

My aunt and godmother is one of those wonderful Irish women who is like a pillar of awesome, acting as an example to all of good behavior: respectful but not timid, hard-working without being taken advantage of, and when she was younger she could beat quite a lot of men at arm-wrestling. Maybe she still can, but we're all afraid to challenge her. My point is that she was the sort of person you want around kids, someone who radiates Good Values. Then one day she went and got pregnant, by her husband, to whom she had been married for well over nine months (I don't know the particular years), and when the school she taught at found out, she was immediately escorted out. This was not paternity leave. This was horrified "what would the children think?" get out RIGHT NOW. Apparently pregnant women are traumatizing or might give fourth-grade children the wrong ideas.  This was the sort of stupidity that is on the downturn, or was.

I obviously don't have the full perspective on this. I cannot exactly comprehend the idea that sex could result in my having to carry a child, birth the child, and raise the child, possibly on my own. And you know what? I think that's great (for me). I'm glad that I cannot fully imagine that, because I will never have to deal with that. And I think it's a pretty important part of equality that slightly over 50% of the world share that as well (the not being enslaved part, not the lack of imagination).

The previously-mentioned lesbian cares about birth control because it is a matter of women's health and rights. She might be once-removed from birth control as a need, but she's directly in the crosshairs of attacks on women's rights. Me, I'm once-removed from women's rights. But I'm directly in the crosshairs of attacks on human rights and I don't want to become the oppressed group.

Maybe I am already.  You might have noticed up in Maine that a candidate for state senate is being attacked for playing WoW.  Somehow this hobby is not merely a hobby, but a lifestyle.  It reminds me of the less-often heard notion of the "gay lifestyle", that gay people were somehow not merely people who had sex with the same sex, but who lived a different life entirely.  It conjures up notions of them being foreign, of living like Frenchmen or Pakistanis, rather than people who live some variant of an American lifestyle with a particular private aspect of it being different.  If this attack succeeds, gaming may go the same way.  Or given the stigma that I thought was on the downturn, merely return to where it was.  Gaming would be a "lifestyle choice" rather than a hobby.  Of course for some people it is a lifestyle, but it is wrong to generalize a population based on a few outliers; it often pushes people toward those extremes.

The 2012 Campaign is playing right into Obama's hands

| Sunday, October 14, 2012
I should have a tag: "who cares if this wasn't done I should have posted this nine months ago."

You might recall that Obama was trying to push stimulus: a mixed package of spending as well as spending along with tax cuts that then ran out and got held hostage to other tax cuts, because Reagan taxed the country too heavily.

The stimulus has petered out, not unlike Peter in the Bible who was notorious for his tendency to spend a lot and then go broke, which was the inspiration for Jesus' inspiring story about the Prodigal Son (I'm not a literalist).

These days the liberal elite media like to talk about things like corporations not spending money, instead hoarding cash, as if that's going to somehow save them when QE2 is going to render anything that is not gold instantly worthless, one of these days now. But I digress. The media are convinced that the trick is to get the corporations spending. They say hiring, but what they really mean is spending


Thanks to free speech being expanded to finally cover all people, corporations are now spending like crazy on political ads. It's the stimulus Obama never got.

It's time to end the bickering. Republicans, unite behind a candidate, it doesn't matter who, and then you can save your money. Don't spend it on political ads pointing out the horribleness which is [other candidate], but instead save it. Hoard it. To do anything else is to play right into Obama's hands.

Personally, I'd go for Paulenty, the perfect hybrid of Tim Pawlenty and Ron Paul who believes in replacing fiat currency with little gold coins stamped with an adorable smile.

The person who made, and broke, WoW for me

| Wednesday, October 10, 2012
Scandal!  My first WoW account was shared and after it was taken away I was lost.  Not merely lost, undone.  My level 60 shaman and warlock, gone!  I wasn't particularly close to my guild, not close enough that I could see much hope of getting help with leveling back up to 60.  Besides, the name Klepsacovic was taken on that server.  I could have bought the account, but the price was high (thanks to me) and that's hardly secure.

That could have been the end of WoW for me.

I opened a new account and was ready to start again.  But how?  I was lost and alone.  On a whim I went off to Wildhammer (or so I remember) and did some whoing.  My hope was to find a few friends I had from the paladin forums.  Despite being a shaman or sometimes warlock, I had ended up on the paladin forums.  Thankfully, they were there.  I talked to them about the problem.  My first attempt was a human warrior.  But that was a joke (literally, it was a joke).  Second was a warlock, which was also a joke, but at level 1 she beat a level 3 mage, so I had a good feeling about it.  Incidentally, I won by using melee rather than spells, which might explain my distress at the removal of firestones (a conjured offhand which boosted spell power and added fire damage to melee attacks).

I stuck with that warlock for a good bit of time.  Later we went to Horde and Klepsacovic was reborn.  Though I think I got his hair color slightly wrong.  With the release of Burning Crusade a protection paladin engineer was created.  In a raid with two of the forum friends (the third had wandered off into the nether by then) Kelpsacovic became my main and remained so for years.  They were good times, with only brief upsets related to guild merging.

Wrath of the Lich King brought more of the same, though with a plethora of things to care about, yet nothing to kill WoW.  Perhaps Cataclysm brought the same as well.

But something else changed.  One of the friends, or maybe both, convinced me to do something stupid and expensive: transfer servers.  The plan was to transfer and start a new guild.  We had been in a guild at that point.  Not a great guild, but I had some friends in it and I didn't think anyone was complete garbage (though some were not so great), so in retrospect, it was probably the best I could have asked for.

For $50 I took my main away from the guild I'd known and the friends in it and went off nearly alone.  One friend wandered off and eventually betrayed the other (but that's another story for me to not tell you) and before long I was more or less alone.

I can't say whether Cataclysm would have kept me entertained the entire time and I still don't think it was as good as BC or LK.  But I do think that if I had been with my guild I'd not have quit after only a couple months.  Not even quit; it wasn't a rage-quit, just I didn't care.  I had no friends, no one to talk to or share with, no one to group with, and I wasn't going to stumble across anyone in a cross-server random system (as I had in the past).  Ultimately it was not any particular change in WoW that killed it for me, but a change in my social interaction with it.

I have a second data point for this theory: Guild Wars 2.  My two friends from college (different people) started playing, and then wandered back to WoW.  I am alone (though not without offers from Syl, who is unfortunately, foreign).  Consequently, I have wandered away from GW2.  It's a neat place, but it's a bit too big to be in alone.

New games should learn from this, not my story in particular, but the importance of social ties.  Maybe offer group discounts on the box prices, to encourage people to move to the new game, not as individuals trying a new game, but as friends and guilds.

Artistic Merit is Irrelevant

I wandered across another "games are not art" article.  My first reaction was to argue that they are, or some are, or some are and some aren't.  But then I thought of a more fundamental question: "Who cares?"

Who cares if they think it is art?  I'm not a fan of people who act as if they are an authority on what is and is not art.  Sadly, the law does not contain exceptions for "people who think they are authorities on the definition of art", so I am not allowed to punch them, and my punches wouldn't be all that authoritative anyway.  But my point stands: "Who are you that anyone should care what you think?"

Alternatively, who cares if it is art?  Let us assume that art is some objectively defined thing, or something on which we can and do have a universally agreed-upon subjective opinion.  Even then, should we care if games are or are not art?  If they are, does that make them any better?  I see no reason why "art" should be better than "non-art".  They serve different purposes and should do those well.  My laptop, while designed for some sort of visual appeal, isn't something I'd call art, but despite being not-art, it is still extremely useful and far more valuable to me than any art.  On the other hand, if you gave me the Mona Lisa, it would have little value, except that I'm sure it would resell for more than I am likely to earn in quite a few years.

In either context, the declaration that games are not art is as irrelevant, as meaningless, as the declaration that games are not gazlookic.

That sarcastic jerk

| Monday, October 8, 2012
I'm sure you've run into this person.  They're perpetually sarcastic, but rather than being a frowning cynic, they laugh about it.  Insults are hidden as jokes.  Or maybe jokes are misunderstood as insults.

They don't lie about anything around them, but they are perpetually insincere.  A straight answer is impossible to get and even a twisted answer has an unknown number of twists before the truth is found.

I'm reminded of Dr. Horrible, in which Captain Hammer is described as cheesy, prompting a call to "trust your instincts."  Then a deeper layer is brought up which is much better.  But!  "Sometimes there's an even deeper layer which is the same as the outside"  Maybe this person is actually nice with a bad outside.  Or maybe they're a jerk with a good middle layer of jokes but then the outer layer is a jerk again, so that anyone who digs down finds the second layer and thinks they've found the total complexity.

What does one do with a jerk, or maybe not, like that?

Is this really who we want representing [state that I do not live in and have never been to]?

| Saturday, October 6, 2012
We all know that Maine state senate candidate Santiaga is an orc rogue.  A female orc rogue.  But did you know that many female characters are played by males?  This raises the question, who is the real Santiaga?  Is it the woman running for office, the murderous orc, or the secretive man who pretends to be a woman?

Even worse, the pretend rogue has no glyphs.  This means that I am cruelly deprived of the opportunity to make jokes about glyph of pickpocket being evidence of government overreach.  But it gets worse than that.  I can't find her (his?) talents.  We don't know if the plan is to Prey on the Weak or to use Dirty Tricks.  There is Subterfuge that we cannot yet see, but I'm sure there is Anticipation and Preparation.  Or is there?

As we learn more it only gets worse.  The last thing he (she?) did was to fish.  Fishing achievements.  Are we going to see an open door policy at her office, or a closed door and a sign that says "gone fishing... in Azeroth"?  We don't know and she hasn't said.  Why does she refuse to give specifics on her choice of zones to fish, whether she has purchased Mists of Pandaria, and whether she has ever cosplayed as Chen Stormstout?  That last one is a fictional character who makes terrifying, possibly poisonous alcohol.

Who is the real Santiaga?  And why does her name sound vaguely Spanish?

Paid for by Google's free blogging service and in no one coordinated with any candidates.

Cool people play characters named Chryseth

| Friday, October 5, 2012


Be a useful jerk

| Thursday, October 4, 2012
My friends are playing Pandarenland (I clearly have terrible taste in friends).  They recently ran into a ret paladin who didn't seem to be clear on the concept of "ret doesn't use spirit".  They politely explained the general concepts of stats, such as how he shouldn't ever use spirit as ret and should use strength instead.  Some strength/stamina shoulders dropped and he rolled greed.  My friends asked about why he didn't need them and offered to trade the shoulders to him.  This was his response (with some cleaning up for easy of reading):

I used to, but always got [lulz friend uses profanity filter] at by people in the group, so I started to greed.

My guess is that he'd been rolling need on everything in sight, without a clue.  And then got yelled at and kicked.  I can't fault the groups that did so, but for one thing: They weren't useful.

When kicking people, say why you are, not just in the vote kick message, but in chat as well.  Don't just say ninja, but say why it is ninjaing.  Say that spirit is not a ret stat.  Say that needing on items you don't need is bad.  Maybe the person is a jerk, but maybe they're just clueless.

Have you ever yelled at your dog when you got home and found a mess?  It probably looked terrified and ashamed.  Maybe it peed on the floor and you yelled at it for that too.  That was stupid of you.  The dog has no clue what you're yelling at it about.  Now it's just confused, wondering why the person it looks up to and relies on is mad at it, and attempting to display submission.  It isn't going to eat the newspaper any less; there is no link between newspaper chewing and you being angry.

The ret paladin isn't so different.  Vague scolding with no clear information does no one any good.

The One Player Problem

| Monday, October 1, 2012
What is the biggest problem in balancing a multi-player game?  It's the first player.  In a game with classes and limited talent flexibility there will still be many classes against which to balance an encounter.  But fine, let's roll with it and say that the developers can customize each encounter for each class.  It means making ten fights rather than one, but in this hypothetical world we get to handwave a mere order of magnitude.

That leads us to the second-biggest problem in balancing a multi-player game.  That is, of course, the second player.  We had our ten or so fights.  Now there is another player.  That makes it... ten fights with ten modifications to balance the next possible player.  Okay, one hundred fights rather than one.  I'm having difficulty waving my hand.  But fine, let's go along and add the extra work and everything will be fine.

But this isn't a couples game, so let's bring in a third and thus get the third-biggest problem.  Add them on and we're at a thousand fights.  My hand is now broken with the effort of waving away problems.  We might as well bump it up to five or six players and admit that we've been defeated and can no longer count the zeroes (five or six, but I don't know what those numbers mean).

At this point there are few options.  One is to shrug and give up on fine-tuning, stepping in only when the most egregious problems present themselves.  Or classes could be restricted further into some sort of defined generic role, such as the holy trinity of tank, healer, and DPS, or crowd control if that's how you roll.  This essentially cuts it down to four classes and that can be further reduced by having fight mechanics which dictate aspects such as "minimum of one tank and one healer".  At that point it may all be simple enough that classes can be given non-flavor differences.

Still, even with the three or four class/roles, adding additional players is trouble.  Surely we can see that a tank, healer, and DPS are different when soloing and that adding a healer to a tank or DPS has an effect greater than adding another tank or DPS.  And so on.  Each additional player, if players have abilities beyond basic damage, changes the entire structure of a fight.  This means that scaling content to match the number of players is bound to result in problems with difficulty: too easily becoming too easy or too hard, depending on how the marginal player adds to the group relative to what the developer expectation is.

As much as we might wish to be able to bring along one more friend, is the benefit of once in a while bringing along one more person greater than the harm to the difficulty?  I don't think so.  Only at the very edges, with dozens of players, is the additional player not going to have much impact.  Though there were complaints when content allowed, or mandated, dozens of players...
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