Rants tag

Rants, ruminations, and rambling remarks from my mad, muddled, meandering mind.

Monday, December 31, 2012

QOTD: an Iowa Cowboy

Jim Kirk is an Iowa cowboy with a penchant for turning no-win scenarios into I-win scenarios . . .
Emily Asher-Perrin discussing Star Trek: Generations almost two years ago.
This just struck me as an awesome description of Captain Kirk.
Chris Pine, just to annoy the purists.

An Unexpected Half-Assed Review: The Hobbit

So I went to see The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey this weekend and—unsurprisingly—loved it. I should think that if you enjoyed the Peter Jackson-helmed Lord of the Rings trilogy, you'll like The Hobbit. There has been some criticism of the length (and "padding") of the film, as well as the choice to film it at 48 frames per second (the current film standard being 24 fps). I didn't see the film in 3D, and the 2D format is not being presented at 48 fps, so I didn't experience the effects those people are complaining about, but more on that later.
I could go into detailed analysis about the parts of the movie or maybe how Jackson diverged from the original text, but that's really pointless. Suffice it to say that, while The Hobbit was a children's book written years before the LOTR trilogy, the film is neither strictly for children (rated PG-13, in fact) and it must tie in more closely to the LOTR films both in its atmosphere and in the lore it presents.

I wanted to get my review of Cloud Atlas the book to go with my review of Cloud Atlas the film before the end of the year, but I am not quite done with the book yet. Books are better in many ways, but I've learned that we often do book-based movies a disservice by comparing them so meticulously to their source material. We all imagine the stories of books in the theater of our mind, to which a film can never match up. Films are not books; they have different requirements for maintaining drama and inserting comic relief. It's a different medium with different rhythms and vocabulary. So it is with The Hobbit.
For those that feel the "extra stuff is just padding," I would say they haven't read the book (or at least not recently) nor do they understand how Jackson is trying to tie this trilogy in with the prior one. This is not simply an action movie, it is more like a historical drama (though more lighthearted in some respects.) This isn't Die Hard in Middle-earth. It's not simply about the action. I found the songs sung by the Dwarves, for instance, to be both powerful  dramatically and a glimpse into their "culture."

Martin Freeman is perfect as the in-slightly-over-his-head Bilbo Baggins, and Ian McKellan is always great as Gandalf. With such a huge ensemble, many of the Dwarves faded into the background a bit. But there were some stand-out performances from Ken Stott as the world weary adviser, Balin, James Nesbitt as the cheerfully morbid and suddenly wise Bofur, and of course Richard Armitage as Thorin Oakenshield, a worthy successor to Viggo Mortensen's epic hero Aragorn.
The score helps tie the movie to the other trilogy as well, and hit just the right emotional notes, I think. Howard Shore has done another amazing job. WETA's special effects are seamless, at least at 24 fps, with highlights being the CGI Goblin King and ever more realistic Gollum. I would comment further, but I don't want to have even minor spoiler in this review.

24 FPS vs. HFR

This article discusses the issues with the higher frame rate (HFR). I find it particularly interesting, because we got a new LCD HD TV, and the first thing I noticed was the seemingly harsh lighting of every live action production we watch on it, a result of the 60 fps standard of high definition. Tim J. Smith, of Birkbeck University in London, was quoted in the article: "That's why people are calling it the soap opera effect or bad TV movie effect. Because that's what it looks like, what it reminds us of." That's exactly how I feel about HDTV, I equate that look with the low production values of soap operas and older BBC productions. My conclusion is that it's just something I'll have to get used to. We'll probably all get used to HFR in a way that many will never get used to pre-hologram 3D.

This 124th post of 2012 marks another minor milestone: double the number of IHTtS blog posts from 2011, slightly more than a post every three days on average. I also reached 10,000 hits in a 30-day window as of last Friday afternoon (28 Dec), though that number is lower now.

Friday, December 28, 2012

The Cinescape, 2012

I watched more movies this year than I had for at least couple prior and was pleasantly surprised at how many of these shots I recognized. I love the way film (and the music) swells with heroes overcoming the odds, finding love, etc. I wish I could figure out how to craft a story that inspires that reaction. Maybe it's because the medium of film is more immediate.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

QOTD: I do not dance for you . . .

So I can’t really choose between the two, and since it’s my blog I don’t have to.
~Syp, awarding his Flushies to the best new MMOs of 2012.
I really don't need to say more do I? Every year, it seems a new MMO catches my eye. This year, it was two. Our mission as gaming bloggers is to seek out innovation and fun. Well there it sits. Perhaps more than any other MMOs in recent memory, The Secret World and Guild Wars 2 are moving the genre forward. Neither is revolutionary, but the evolution is going well.

By the way, this post marks my 300th published, a goal I'd set for myself about mid-year. I'm also reaching more readers than ever, or at least more image hunters. Thanks for sticking with me. :)

Sunday, December 23, 2012

QOTD: To Pay or Not to Pay to Play

WoW kept me playing because I was paying for it. GW2 keeps me playing because I’m not.
~B.J.Keeton commenting at Game by Night blog.
I find myself with the same sentiment. When I first started playing MMOs, WoW was it, and I couldn't imagine playing more than one game like that. I was committed both by the subscription itself, and the feeling that I needed to get my money's worth. Over six years later, I find myself reluctant to commit financially and temporally to a game like that. I left off playing TSW because I didn't feel the subscription was worth the time I could commit each month. GW2 is perfect for that reluctance (as is TSW now), I can buy something in the cash shop if I think it's worth the money, but I'm not locked in.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Persistent, but Slowly Changing

One topic over which I sometimes differ with other MMO players is the idea of persistent worlds. Or rather, in what ways should the virtual worlds in MMOs should be both persistent and dynamic. The real world is not nearly as dynamic as people think it is, but neither is it static. Change happens slowly, like when you see new construction in your town. Quick, "dynamic" change in the real world is almost always catastrophic.
Coming along very nicely.
The above picture from Guild Wars 2 is a great example of the sort of thing I like to see in a virtual world. I noticed on a trip through the Grand Piazza of Lion's Arch that construction has begun on a replacement for the Lion's Court fountain destroyed by the Mad King around Halloween. I'm not sure when it started, but I am sure it will continue. Contrast that with the fallen statue of Danath Trollbane in Stormwind, still near the bottom of the moat over two years later. It is little details like this that ANet is getting just right.

Friday, December 21, 2012

My MMO History, Updated

I updated my MMO History page (is that cheating on a post?):

Guild Wars 2 is currently my main game. It's a ton of fun (the most important thing in a game), easy to jump into and play for a few minutes or a few hours. The game has a good skill/progression system, great graphics, plenty of lore, and just a touch of whimsy—without going overboard. My main, which I play with a character created by my lovely bride, Sctrz, is currently 72, eight levels away from the max of 80. I have several others that are lower levels.
I just picked up The Secret World again since it went sub-free. The "grimdark" atmosphere can be a little too much for constant play, but it's the smartest story and skill/ability system on the market, in my humble opinion. I currently have a couple toons in the Savage Coast area, and one in Blue Mountain.

I had a lot of fun with Star Wars: The Old Republic, from mid-December of 2011 into August of 2012 after pushing to achieve 50 (max level) and finish up the story on my Imperial Agent. I was initially very excited about the story-centric gameplay. The game has a lot going for it; but in the end, the way BioWare and EA have managed the game and community has left a bad taste in my mouth.

I loved Rift, playing regularly from the beta tests in January of 2011 through October of the same year, partnering in-game with my beloved Sctrz. I cannot say enough great things about this game, or the developer, Trion Worlds. It's not perfect, but the polish and responsiveness of the game and company are things other devs should aspire to. For reasons not really clear even to me or Sctrz, when our toons hit 50 (max level) the wind went out of our sails, and we really had no desire to continue playing the game.

I played World of Warcraft from June of 2006, when a friend got me hooked, until October of 2011. I have two level-80+ characters, plus many more lower-level ones. I tried the Pandaren starting area in the Mists of Pandaria expansion (in October, 2012), but got a "been there, done that" feeling from the experience.

I also played Star Trek Online from just after its release in February of 2010 until May of 2011. I tipped in a toe again in June of 2012, checking out the Duty Officer system and other developments to the game.

I have tried Lord of the Rings Online and Age of Conan: Hyborian Adventures, but found them not my taste.

I need to update my character pages. Links above.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

NO SUB!! liminal Message

So it seems the hiatus I spoke of yesterday will be rather short lived. Karl, Hinageshi, and Samantha are rarin' to go. Much like Syp, I am doing a bit of a happy dance today. I just need to patch, which may take a while given that I went on a business trip this morning and have only a hotel connection. Which is also why I didn't scoop anyone on this.

I have said repeatedly that TSW's mechanics and skill/ability progression system is my personal favorite of all the games I've played. The grimdark meant I would only play occasionally and I couldn't justify the subscription when I was spending so much more time with the no-sub Guild Wars 2. There are a lot of other people who have said they'd play if it were sub free. Given that there don't seem to be any restrictions on non-subbers, only perks for those who are still paying monthly (or did lifetime subs), Funcom seems much wiser than EA/BioWare at this point.

As MMOGC pointed out, we've known Funcom had the infrastructure for F2P in place from the get-go. They tried subscriptions, and struggled for a couple months. Then came GW2, with its box-only pricing plan (with cash shop). It was only a matter of time, sez HZero. I think this may be the way to go for MMOs going forward. They need to have a plan for making their money from box sales and cash shops, not subscriptions. And I'm glad I haven't sprung for any lifetime subs (for STO, Rift, SWTOR, or TSW). I haven't played any of them for long enough to recoup the expense. As Arkenor has pointed out, lifetime subscriptions increasingly seem like a bad bet, even with perks given to lifers when the games go sub free. Now, paying a box price (dare I say, $60+) isn't too bad, if I play for a while.

I'll probably be running with the TSW branch of the Knights of Mercy on Monday nights; I wonder if Sctrz will want to join in.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

The State of My Game: GW2

It's been a while since I reported on my my gaming activity, so I thought I'd do that today (lol, this is a gaming blog, after all). I continue my casual, but steady, march to 80 on Heide Uhrmacher, my Human Engineer in Guild Wars 2, alongside my lovely bride, Sctrz and her Human Ranger, Reina Echowald. I reached 66 last night, but have used transmutation stones to keep Heide in the Pirate garb you see above for about 20 levels now. I love the ability to keep a look I like; which—along with the dye system—allows me to maintain a fairly unique look. I love picking new random dyes and deciding whether to use them on this character, save them for later, or transfer them to another character, with a different color scheme. I'm also glad to not have a mask on anymore, which seemed to be the only choice for medium armor wearers throughout the early levels of the game.

One of the things that has slowed my leveling down is Structured PvP, which is the most fun I've had doing PvP in any game, but gives PvP points instead of XP. I'm like level 11 or something (Deer level), which is account wide. That is, no which character I play, I'm ranking up in sPvP.

After messing around with turrets for a while, I took the advice of a few people on Twitter and Bio Break and shifted to using Flamethrower almost exclusively. Apparently it's not too common, because I've had several people comment on my flamethrower or ask where I got the weapon, without knowing it is an Engineer kit skill. Just last night, I was able to maintain aggro on an elite jungle troll, while other players wore him down. I'm also improving my dodging and staying in motion to avoid damage. Members of KoM got together last night and took on some world dragons—massive events with dozens of players participating. Sctrz and I had a lot of fun doing a couple of them, and I'm glad we're finally getting into levels where we can participate more with the rest of the guild.
Last week, Maric (@PaganRites), one of the founders of Knights of Mercy, and I were discussing the fact that my lovely bride and I had reached the late 50s on our main characters, but had yet to go through even the first dungeon, Ascalonian Catacombs. He suggested we get some peeps together on Friday night, and that's exactly what we did. So on Friday evening, @sctrz and I traipsed over to the Charr starting area and joined Maric and @DeganIMC, with @seawhitten leading the way into the catacombs.

Since others have reviewed AC itself, let me just say I had a lot of fun. @seawhitten did a great job leading the group, and I'm not just saying that because she could probably rip me apart IRL. :P I had a lot of fun throwing boulders at the bosses. Anyway, this is us, I'll get input on characters' names from the krewe but here we are below: Eir Stegalkin (a major NPC), Degan(the short one), Destrominator (Seawhitten), Maric(the tall one), Heide(me), and Reina(Sctrz): Three Rangers, a Mesmer, and an Engineer.
For those who are curious, I would love to still be playing TSW. But alas, circumstances are such that Karl, Hinageshi, and Samantha are on indefinite hiatus.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

QOTD: Happy Blogoversary to Bio Break

I cannot write enough good things about Justin "Syp" Olivetti, though I have attempted to in the past. Anyway, it's the fourth blogoversary of Bio Break, Syp's general gaming blog.
Google now places this as the first result for anyone bored enough to search for “bio break.”  Not bad for one of the 20 worst business buzzwords, yes?
It's pretty awesome actually. Wait, did you do that search while not logged in, Syp?

P.S. This post also matches my record of YTD posts at 116, set my first year blogging.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Victor Barreiro on Journalism, Criticism, and Debate

"You furnish the pictures and I'll furnish the war."~~William Randolph Hearst

My good friend Victor "Stillwater" Barreiro asked my opinion on a piece he wrote for Rappler a day or two ago. He's concerned about his neutrality and integrity as a games journalist. (He also has a blog over at Games and Geekery):
As Rappler editor at large Marites Vitug wrote recently, it’s been suggested that as many as 9 out of 10 [Filipino] journalists are corrupt, with the extent of their corruption varying in degrees. The problem appears to be something caused by a number of factors, such as vested corporate interests, a lack of editorial independence, the need for money to survive, a desire for acceptance among corrupt peers, or simply not knowing whether an act is wrong because it has become common practice.
If the need to survive is an indicator of corruption, then pretty much the entire human race—and several other species—are guilty of corruption. I realize that people can behave unethically, but I don't believe that is our default setting. No offense, but journalists have an overinflated sense of neutrality that can lead to false concerns over "corruption." There are corrupt journalists, to be sure. I am also sure Victor is not one. Meanwhile, critics have an ever expanding outlet for trolling people they disagree with:
A short time after [a corruption scandal broke] I was also accused of being on the take. . . The simple reason was that I wrote an opinion column about my excitement for a game’s reboot based on the information provided by various sources.
I was reading last night about incidents of corruption over the past decade or so at the American Red Cross. Some cases were patently unethical, if not illegal: embezzlement, theft of goods, sexual misconduct. Other cases were occasions where I feel the ARC was correct, or behaved ethically, then was criticized unjustly. For example, the organization was warned against appearing to endorse corporate donors, like Coca Cola and Anheuser-Busch, who donated bottled water in support of Hurricane Katrina disaster relief. What was the ARC supposed to do, not accept the water? On other occasions they had donations in excess of what was needed to accomplish their mission for a given disaster, but were prevented from diverting those funds improve their ability to respond to future relief efforts. Then they were criticized for being unprepared. Heads rolled. The whole reading riled me up almost to Hulk levels. Just ask Sctrz.

Anyway, back to Stillwater's dilemma. When journalists, whether in the games industry or not, express their opinions in good faith, they need not worry about baseless criticism and accusations of corruption. If you report something that is false, but in good faith, all you can do later is set it right by reporting the truth. As long as you weren't lying in the first place, intentionally misleading your audience, you have done nothing wrong. You're biased, but if you're honest about your bias, write on.
I want to be criticized for my opinions and my representations of entities in my writing. This is not because I can adequately defend myself, but because it makes me accountable for the things I say and the facts I write, and if new information comes to light, I must work to ensure my writing remains accurate. This is because journalists work to inform the public.
Journalistic integrity is admirable, and to be sought after. Journalists need to be accountable for their writing. But journalists are human, with human foibles. Except for Andersuperman Cooper.
But what do I know? I'm just a damn dirty blogger.

Scarybooster: Blogger Extraordinaire

I has a sad. No, seriously, I'm a little emotional here.

Today marks the last official post from one of my earliest blogging friends, an insightful man with an inimitable way of reminding me and all of his other readers what is really important about gaming. Amazingly, he has written pretty much every post from his fruity smart phone, something I tried a couple times before giving up. His stories and parables humorously illustrate the foibles of the self-appointed MMO critics of the blogosphere and skewer the cynicism of a jaded playerbase. He even had the opportunity to write for MMORPG.com, where, unfortunately, a wider audience just didn't get it.
In the spirit of said anti-cynicism, Scary brought us Developer Appreciation Week, which tradition I plan to continue. Feeling the slow drag of the blogosphere has finally gotten to him, and he is discontinuing his blog for a while. In the meantime, his blog will still be up, so you can peruse his work. He said he may still post occasionally between now and the expiration of his current domain lease, but we won't getting anything regularly from him. I personally hope he gets bit by the writing bug again sooner rather than later.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Another NaNoWriMo, Another Year Without a Book Written

I'm calling it now. I completely ran out of steam on National Novel Writing Month about Day 10, after having written practically nothing for more than a couple days before that. I've never been great with long term projects, preferring and excelling at the pressure cooker of timed tests and essays. I really wanted to get something "on paper" this year, mostly to say I had done it, but also to get Scrivener at a big discount. It's on my wishlist this year for Christmas. I guess I'll have to pay full price for it. I love Scrivener, having used it last year, as well.

While I was a little better organized this year—and had more time, in theory—I just didn't have inspiration to fill in all the details of my plot outline, much less the level of detail required to fill 50,000 words worth of story. Sctrz says I am much better at essays than stories as far as she can tell, and I can't deny it. At the beginning of this month, I wrote almost a thousand words extolling the virtues of a movie, and barely got twice that in scenes for my book. Then I posted false word counts on the NaNoWriMo site to avoid the embarrassment. Who cheats on a for-fun creative writing project? This guy! :\
That Moment When . . . (cc) Alex E. Proimos
So the Great American Novel won't be rolling off this keyboard anytime soon. I'm good in short bursts, but found that even the lengthiest short story I've written for this blog was agonizing to finish. I read somewhat slower than many, and write even slower than that. I'll think I've included plenty of detail in an action sequence or description, only to realize that I have a few paragraphs instead of a chapter. Do I need more action, or more detail?

At 382 words, even this post is turning out longer than I'd anticipated. I'd like to think I have a good story in me, maybe several. But I fall down in the details of it. Maybe 50,000 words in a month is too much for my writing style. I'd be interested to see professional authors go through their writing process. As John Scalzi pointed out on Halloween, for him and many other authors, every month is Novel Writing Month.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

President Schmesident! We Have a Known WoW Player In the Senate!

The Maine State Senate, that is.

Just following up on my post about Colleen Lachowicz, the candidate who was outed for playing WoW—and making "offensive comments" back in 2004—has defeated her incumbent opponent to achieve a seat in the Maine legislature's upper house.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

What Is an Ocean . . .

. . . but a multitude of drops?
I've never been in a "battleground" state for a presidential election. So in the past I've often wondered what the point of me personally voting is. The vast majority of other voters for one candidate or the other will overwhelm my one vote either way. In light of one theme of Cloud Atlas, though, is that even in a vast ocean a single drop makes a difference, however small. And eventually the tide changes. So I voted.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Cloud Atlas

What is any ocean, but a multitude of drops?
On Sunday, Sctrz and I saw Cloud Atlas. Perhaps understandably, between the genre-defying complexity of the story (dramatic dystopian historical sci-fi post-apocalyptic industrial conspiracy action thriller farce), which makes it difficult to market, and external factors like Hurricane Sandy bearing down on the Eastern Seaboard of North America, it didn't exactly do spectacularly at the box office this weekend. However, I think it may be one of the most important films of this year. Much of the praise heaped upon, say, Looper, belongs to Cloud Atlas.

Don't get me wrong, I liked Looper. Great acting, great action, great movie making. It got great reviews from critics, slightly less great reviews from movie-goers. But if you think a bit about that movie, its premise unravels pretty quickly. Cloud Atlas becomes more profound—more involving—the more I think about it. It received poorer reviews from critics, but was much better received by movie-goers, though still less than Looper. Roger Ebert, just about the only critic I trust to review a movie with a proper understanding of its target audience, shared his impressions of Cloud Atlas here.
Yesterday, I believe I would never have done what I did today.
Future. Present. Past.
The movie intersperses several story arcs set in different eras. Assuming each era receives equal screen time (they don't), they're about a half-hour apiece, with the whole thing running roughly 2:52. The plot of each era is fairly straightforward and easy to follow; the trick is that it is much like trying to watch 6 different shows by flipping channels. The different storylines are connected more by theme and character beats than plot, though some things do bleed over from one era to the next. Realizing the connections is one of the delights of the film. Omer M. Mozaffar discusses some keys to the themes of the book (which is structured differently) and the movie here.

The dialogue has been criticized by some as obscure, some of the eras use odd dialects and accents. I didn't have any trouble understanding the actors, though it did require concentration at times. The movie bears rewatching, unlike some films that you can watch once, take it all in, and never need to see it again—even if you enjoy it. The biggest distraction, actually, was a result of casting the same actors in every era, sometimes under heavy makeup that made them virtually unrecognizable. This created a game of discovering who was under what disguise that detracted from the unfolding stories. [edit: OMG! I made another connection just now.] I missed least one major character until the ending credits.
A half-finished book is, after all, a half finished love affair.
Death. Life. Birth.
As I have indicated, this will be a movie that requires effort. Maybe you don't want that in your entertainment, I don't always want it. This time it works though. I was more engaged in this movie than in any other I've seen this year. (Much like I am engaged by The Secret World.) And I've seen more than just a few.

The movie is both visually stunning and thematically deep. Some say it leans toward preachiness; and I suppose it does. There may even be some ideas that offend some people. But I think that the main theme, that we are all connected, is a universal truth. We just may not be connected the way the film portrays it.
Love. Hope. Courage.
Like all good science fiction, Cloud Atlas makes you think about the what-ifs of life—of history. What is the "natural order of things"? What prejudices do we cling to? Why do we continue to make the same mistakes? Can we break out of destructive cycles? What would you do if you were confronted with the radically unexpected?

Cloud Atlas is a movie about hope and courage: hope for a better future combined with the courage to bring that future about. We may not succeed in our lifetimes, but we move ever closer to a brighter tomorrow. Above all, Cloud Atlas is a love story. You may not believe in soul mates, but it is certainly a running theme in many Hollywood films. I think that is OK.

I fear I can't convey the feelings I had watching this movie, so this review feels flat, analytical. The lengthy trailer embedded above was moving before I saw the movie itself. Today, as I went to watch it again looking for quotes, tears welled up, twice. All I can say is go see it. And when you do see Cloud Atlas, watch it with someone you love.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Rol(l)ing Casters

Last week, Syp brought up the ability to move while casting as part of a list of things he thinks every MMO should have. While most of the items were minor quality of life features, like AoE looting, his comment section got blown up by people who thought moving while casting was the worst idea ever. He even went so far as to post again, expanding on his reasons for including it.
Oh noes, casters that move!
I am firmly in the move-while-casting camp. After years of being frustrated by my inability to move while casting, I just learned to accept that I needed to stand there and take it while trying to out-DPS my assailant, dumping as many talent points as possible into interrupt mitigation. I was so far gone that one fun pugger said, "Oh I see, Hazel is an in-your-face finger-wiggler." I was so used to mobs (and players) attacking me directly that I didn't even move back when I had a tank to divert attention away from me. Rift and SWTOR have similar mechanics, though I played more melee style on my Cleric. And combat in SWTOR is a faceroll. Then along came TSW and GW2. (Sounds of Gregorian chants: "Aaa-ahhh") I don't want to ever go back.

While trying out MoP recently, even the shaman I used—with a mostly melee abilities—felt handicapped when having to settle down to cast a lightning bolt or something. As a caster in previous iterations of WoW, I got stun-locked too many times by a rogue coming out of stealth to buy into the "melee have to move in close, so ranged casters should have to stand still" excuse. The warriors might have a little more justification to cry about moving casters in that context. From my perspective, it certainly never felt balanced.

TSW and GW2 are both balanced to necessitate dodging, and moving while casting. Those who stand still usually die. I'm also not talking about continuing a cast through a drastic move like a manual dodge mechanic, which still interrupt casting in both games. I'm talking about casting while simply running (or walking).

You could say I never learned to play my clothies properly. That's great, until you think about the DPSers (or even the tanks) that blame the healer, when they the ones moving out of range or out of sight of a long cast heal.

The old-school arguments about things being correct the way they were—the "if it ain't broke" argument—forget or ignore that almost everything in a game is a design decision. Balancing this or that class against another can be done a bunch of ways. Tell me this, old-schoolers: was there ever a game where the casters dominated so thoroughly that the devs made the decision to nail their feet to the ground?

Thursday, October 25, 2012

All Things in Moderation

This post has sat a long time in draft form; really just a bunch of links, which you'll discover are several months old. It started out about the same time as the sexism kerfuffle surrounding Jennifer Hepler and her comments about stories in games. Another incident from around that time involved sexist comments made by Aris Bakhtanians about his own teammate, Miranda Pakozdi, and her reaction to it. I myself wrote about sexism in gaming about the time of E3 2012, and I still owe you guys the results of that survey Sctrz and I ran a month or so ago. This post is not about sexism. It's about forum/comment moderation, censorship, and Freedom of Speech.

The reason I decided to dredge the topic up after all this time is that some anonymous coward made a trollish comment about another blogger on one of my older posts that was caught in my moderation net. Not only were the coward's comments patently untrue, they were insulting and vulgar, and they brought absolutely nothing to the discussion. I promptly deleted the comment from my queue.

Now, I pre-moderate comments on posts older than two weeks, because I had heard a lot of spam comes through for those. (Why? I don't know, but it has held true.) I let newer comments post directly, only policing them if they are spam or otherwise inappropriate. Anyway, while I may disagree with bloggers and my own commenters, I will not permit this place to become a den of trolls.
Mmmm, roast hobbit!
There are several viewpoints on this topic. River over at High Latency Life eloquently gave his reasons for not moderating, citing his opinions on Freedom of Speech and censorship; even sharing a story of a troll on his own blog, and the eventual resolution. His post was in response to Spinks' post on moderating her newsfeed and commentary in the wake of the above-mentioned Hepler hoopla. While there are some who may decry insulating oneself from differing opinions (and justifiably so), Spinks and I make a distinction between expressing an opinion and rude behavior, including nasty comments on the internet.

Mike Elgin at Datamation makes a great argument for blocking people from your feed, that I would extend to include your forum (if you run one) and your blog comments. He makes the comparison to Meatspace situations (political rallies, nightclubs, cocktail parties) where it is entirely appropriate to remove someone who is being a jackass. Why should an online venue be any different? Mike also helpfully lists the sort of people it is OK to block (or moderate). I highly encourage you to go read his post even if you don't come back here afterward.

"But, Rowan," you may be saying. "We have to let these people have their say even if we don't like it. What about their rights?" A good example of this is Reddit. Hey, anybody has the legal right to say just about anything they want. However, A) not all speech is protected (i.e., threats, slander/libel, shouting "FIRE!" in a crowded theater), and Two) even if it is, I don't have to listen/read it or include it on my blog/forum. In the middle of a article about sexism and bullies that mentions the Bakhtanians-Pakozdi debacle, Becky Chambers of The Mary Sue sums up my take on Freedom of Speech:
"This is where I think some people have a misconception of what “freedom of speech” means. Free speech does not give you carte blanche to speak without consequences. You are free to say what you like, but you are also responsible for your words and actions."
So the folks over on Reddit can exercise their Free Speech and try protect creeps and assholes, but Gawker (and the rest of us) can out those creeps if we so choose, even if the Redditors turn around and trample their own Free Speech principles as a result. I don't care, that crap ain't goin' down on this blog. [EDIT] Let me clarify the inclusion of this last paragraph. The owners of Reddit claim to allow an anything-goes, Wild West of a forum on their site, and therefore they attract the scum of society, who think they deserve the protection of anonymity. They don't. There is no basic human right to hide behind a username. I use a nom-de-blog partly to protect my own anonymity, but I don't claim a right to it. Nor am I posting clandestinely-taken, sexualized photographs of women, underage or otherwise. As was eloquently pointed out in this comment on a Gawker article, Brutsch is simply "getting the full free speech experience." As has been the case in the past (c.f. Dixie Chicks, Don Imus, and others) there are often consequences to our speech and actions, even if they are not administered by the legal system.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

The Daily Grind: Intrinsic vs. Extrinsic Motivation In MMOs

I was reading several blogs posts over the week or so, and an interesting little pattern emerged. Several different people posted varying items regarding doing things fun vs. doing things for a reward. This harks back to a discussion I carried on with MMOGC, Elementalistly, and others not long after Rift came out, regarding what is content vs. what is grind.
So after this I WILL be the sharpest tool in the shed?
Badges, Levels, Achievments, and Points), Scott says,
Points, levels, achievements, and badges are tools. Like any tool, each can be used in positive ways or negative ways. In most cases of gamification, BLAP is being used as an external reward to get players to do something. While this can be effective in the short term, there are long-term consequences to focusing behavioral change around external rewards.
In The Risks of Rewards, Scott notes, "Using rewards to control behavior is how we treat animals. Humans deserve better." Chris Hecker explicitly states, "Tangible, expected, contingent rewards reduce free-choice intrinsic motivation." Beyond the Skinner Box of leveling, many MMOs have jumped on the "Achievement" bandwagon, giving aspects formerly of only intrinsic value (i.e., pet collecting, exploration, or guild membership) extrinsic rewards like titles or even loot. In his most recent entry on the topic Meaningful Gamification, Scott points out, "Rewards used in a controlling manner undermine internal motivation, and thus applications of gamification to create long-term change can do more harm than good in the long term." Reputation grinds and the like keep people playing for now, but eventually they burn out, because what had been fun has become a chore.

Of course, both Scott and Chris are discussing applying game-like rewards to non-gaming situations, but the same hypotheses seem to hold true within game systems, as well. Keen is tired of doing chores in games. "Anything that mimics a checklist of activities that must be done before doing what you would rather be doing is most likely chores." So is Jewel the Laughter Zombie's husband, wanting "to know why WoW punishes him for playing the game."
B.F. Skinner and friend
In a separate post where he encourages Blizzard to remove levels from WoW, Keen notes, "Time to level has been reduced so much that much of the content is now missed/skipped/worthless." This was a problem I encountered while playing through the Cataclysm content with my newly-recruited gaming partner, Sctrz. We skipped entire zones because we had out-leveled them before even arriving. GW2 solves this issue by down-leveling characters to the zone, keeping everything a challenge no matter the level.

In a guest post on Penny Arcade, Jamie Cheng details the pitfalls encountered by the developers of Don't Starve in trying to assist players in playing figuring out how to succeed at the game. Too little structure, and the testers simply did not know what to do next. Too much structure (quests), and players spent too much focusing on those short term goals to the detriment of long term enjoyment. And worst of all, when the quest lines ended, the players assumed the game was over. I'll let you read that article to see what their eventual solution is, the game is currently in closed beta currently available to try here.

A lot of games I have enjoyed—and the ones I enjoy now—involve extrinsic rewards in many ways; that is, rewards unrelated to the task at hand. Not to pick on WoW, but I've heard that many players are not happy with heroic-dungeon/raid gear being placed behind reputation-grind gates in MoP. I recall the TBC era furor over the "of the Shattered Sun" title; at the time purchasable with a 1000-gold "donation" to Anchorite Kairthos. Players who decried that move by Blizzard ignored the time/money equation, and the time-sink/grind for other titles available at the time. I am sure you, Dear Reader, can recall several examples of grind, or fun that turned into a chore, from your own gaming experiences. If I am doing something for fun and relaxation—say, gardening—then it is a hobby. If I am doing it for some other reason—say, to feed my family and keep clothes on my back—then it is farming, and work. Going back to Keen's quote about chores, if I have to do something not exactly pleasant, in order to be able to do something I want to do, then it is a chore and a grind.

QOTD: Emergent Gameplay

Sorry this is a little old, but I came a cross this doing a little research for another post.
Note that in the few instances where World of Warcraft develops emergent gameplay, most players are complaining.
While amusing from the outside, and perhaps in retrospect not dissimilar to the Corrupted Blood incident, referring to the slaughter of everyone—PC or NPC—in all the Capitals through an exploit as "emergent gameplay" is like calling the actions of a person coming along and knocking all the pieces off the board in the middle of someone else's Monopoly game "emergent gameplay." Tobold implies that players should just grin and bear it, as if to say, "Oh look at the piteous WoW players whining about how unfair it all is." He goes on in his own comments to compare this hack to the cesspool of betrayal that is EVE, which also includes a great deal of meta-game intrigue. Sorry, that is not emergent gameplay, that is griefers shitting all over everyone else trying to play an honest game.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

QOTD: How Is That Not Social?

I read about something that happened in the WvWvW match between Yak's Bend and Sanctum of Rall (and some other server that apparently wasn't involved). Slurms shared the story on The Tyria Chronicles, it was originally posted on Reddit by Groundstop:
I believe I can speak for a large number of people from Sanctum of Rall when I say that tonight something happened that I never would have expected.

While playing WvWvW tonight against Yak's Bend and Northern Shiverpeaks, we were greatly upset to discover that someone had hacked their way into our Garrison on the Sanctum of Rall Borderlands and stole our orb. We then watched as the orb flew around the map before finally stopping in Yak's Bend's Ascension Bay to be placed upon their altar.

So far, this story is similar to a lot of the stories that have been popping up as of late, tales of hacking and cheating to get the advantage. This next part is where it gets really interesting though. We were nearly instantly contacted by the leader from FOO, one of the major guilds on Yak's Bend. Turns out that they were as bothered by the cheating as we were, and they wanted to make amends in the best way that they could.

Yak's Bend, under the leadership of FOO, collaborated with the leaders of EPIC from Sanctum of Rall in order to organize the trading of Ascension Bay. We were allowed to seize Ascension Bay entirely unopposed such that we may take back the orb that rightfully belonged to us. In exchange for this kindness, we in turn left Ascension Bay immediately after capturing the point so that the zerg from Yak's Bend could take the keep back. Aside from a few pugs, not a single attack took place from either server while this exchange took place. It was quite possibly one of the most impressive things I've seen since this game came out.

I would like to thank Yak's Bend for suggesting this exchange, and for ensuring that the deeds of the many overcame the negative actions of the few, and taking a risk in letting us seize a stronghold for the purpose of rectifying a mistake.

TL;DR Someone from Yak's Bend hacked the SoR orb from our Garrison, Yak's Bend let us take their keep, seize the orb, and leave without killing a single SoR player in order to make up for the hacker.
This is the kind of pro-social behavior I am seeing across the game, even if it was initiated by an anti-social cheater.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Another Answer to "Videogames or Life?"

Megan, an aspiring educator over at A Guy and Three Girls, went on a tirade about video games and gamers the other day, claiming that gamers "do not have a real social life. The only interaction they get with people is between a headset. Is that real communication? . . . [Children] should not be allowed to play a video game where all they do is shoot a gun. That to me is called bad parenting. What are you teaching your children?"
I suppose that would be bad parenting, though I doubt very many parents actually do that. I wonder what the source and true target of Megan's ire are. Does she have an acquaintance who behaves this way? Because, personally, she doesn't describe any gamer I know. She does seem to be talking mostly about console gaming, what with the "sitting in front of a TV" references and all. But since we tend to be lumped together by the non-gaming public regardless of the hardware/software combinations we use, I went ahead and responded, as did Landiien of Please Enter Your Initials. If you read Megan's post, my response may make more sense.  Here's what I said (with some very minor edits):
Before video games, there was TV. Before that it was Rock-n-Roll and comic books. Every generation has some form of entertainment that the previous generation (or others within it) considers brain-rot, contributing to societal decay.

Your initial premise is flawed. You personally don't like video games, therefore you dismiss their value out of hand. This is the same mentality that endangers music and arts programs in public schools across the country, not to mention physical education programs, despite the growing obesity epidemic affecting Americans of all ages. All things in moderation, humans need a balance of physical and mental activity, work stressors and opportunities for fun and relaxation, not to mention social connections. If you're decrying video gaming to the exclusion of all else, you're right, but in that sense a gamer is no better or worse than someone who spends all their time in front of the TV, in a gym or in a bar. However, you seem to think any amount of gaming is harmful.

As an educator and a gamer, I find many opportunities to relate to my students, drawing on our common experiences in games, as well as other aspects of life, like sports and literature, to illustrate my points and help them learn something new. Use every experience you gain to help your students learn, but don't dismiss their hobbies as worthless. You run the risk of equating their interests and their personal worth, as well as alienating them and shutting down the learning process.
In her title, Megan implies that playing video games and having a life are mutually exclusive endeavors. On the contrary, with proper balance, playing video games can be an enriching recreational activity, potentially full of social interactions as least as rewarding as any meat-space friendship. After all, what do we usually do with friends? We get together and have fun.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Not the Girl the ESRB Warned You About

This is a gaming blogger's dream in a hot election season. The Maine GOP is attempting to take a page out of the Lieberman-Kohl Playbook and brand a World of Warcraft devotee unfit for public office. (I just learned way more than I wanted to about the ESRB, and Tipper Gore.)
Colleen Lachowicz is a Democrat candidate for Maine State Senate. She also plays #WoW and has a level 85 (maybe higher now) Orc Rogue named Santiaga. The state Republican Party has published a flyer (see below) and launched a website devoted to Ms. Lachowicz' gaming hobby and perhaps inappropriate commentary on a (surprise) liberal blog she frequents.
Deaths per second? If it were only that easy.
Naturally, this has caught the attention of several news outlets, including Ars Technica, NBC News, The Daily Mail, Forbes, and even the BBC. Even the presumably conservative contributer at Forbes says, "I would prefer to vote for a candidate based on issues of their policies rather than their personal lives."
Looks like Family Values to me!
I try not to get political on the blog, but this is thoroughly worthy of ridicule. Even though I have identified as Republican for most of my life, this is the first election cycle where I am really not sure how I'll vote in November. I tend to be fairly centrist on political "assessment" questionnaires, which means I have issues with both sides. But the Maine GOP really takes the cake. As was pointed out by of Ars Technica:
The average American watches more than 30 hours of television per week. Many other Americans spend their evenings and weekends at the golf course. Yet it's hard to imagine anyone suggesting that devoting 22 hours per week to those hobbies made a candidate too lazy to hold elected office.
Ms. Lachowicz has responded to the GOP, thoughtfully including the ESRB's profile of a typical gamer. Sixty-five (65) percent of households in the U.S. include gamers, and 75 percent of American gamers are old enough to head to the polls on 6 November. Sounds like Middle America, just the votes we're looking for.
To his credit, the incumbent candidate, Tom Martin (R), doesn't appear to be involved in this clumsy smear campaign over a "so what?" matter. He has not weighed in thus far on the matter. I hope that if/when he does, he indicates his own desire to debate the political stance—not the hobbies—of his opponent. What would be really funny is if he plays WoW, or some other video game.

The State Department seems to think a gamer can be be trusted with our national security. But if the GOP thinks that a gamer is not fit for public office, perhaps, as a gamer, I am not fit to vote for Republican candidates.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

MoPping Up: Impressions of the Latest Iteration of WoW

FOREWARNED is FOREARMED: This post contains some early spoilers for the Pandaren starting area: but chances are you either know already because you're playing, or you don't care because you're not.

Sctrz had expressed interest in checking out Mists of Pandaria, and I was curious to see some of the changes myself. So this past Saturday, she logged into her trial account (made in 2010) and I created one specifically for this opportunity. Naturally, we roled Pandaren; she, a Hunter, and I, a Shaman. The Monk class, of course, is only available to those who have purchased a license for MoP. But the Pandaren race and starting area are open to anyone playing the game, which is cool.
A Roguish Shaman
I considered a Rogue, but decided to go with the Shaman class, because I am slightly more familiar with it. However, I still had Rogue on the brain when picking the colors and fur pattern, leading to a Shaman with a bandit mask.

As you can see from the screenshots throughout this post, Blizzard's cartoony style for WoW is in full force, and the setting is gorgeous. I've never had an issue with the art of WoW, I find it creative and a clever way to allow for a wider range of machines to run it, without it looking like crap on older technology.
Cute cubs.
Now for the issues I have. And yes, I will make comparisons to other, newer games.

First, MoP has a relatively slow pace of gaining abilities. Spamming lightning bolts while getting the occasional auto-whack in was a really boring way to spend every battle until level 3. Then I was given some insta-bash that was on a long enough cooldown that it was only useful once or twice per fight. A couple levels after that, I got Earth Shock, which is also on a once-or-twice-per-fight cooldown. Eventually, I got a heal. While it's nice not to have to seek out a trainer every other level, the acquisition of new buttons to push seems glacial. Perhaps at higher levels, I would get more abilities at once. I can't recall how SWTOR was at early levels, but both TSW and GW2 seem to deliver new skills very quickly, also without having to see a trainer. That they limit the number of skills available for any given fight also makes an interesting dynamic, compared to an action bar full of empty buttons. Or buttons with such specific uses that when it does come time to use them, I can't remember where they are or what they do. SWTOR suffers a similar problem, honestly. I had several abilities in SWTOR that I was not aware of just sitting on my bar, waiting to be used. Also, imagine my disappointment that, upon picking the Enhancement (dual-wield) talent spec at level 10, I did not receive an off-hand weapon. SWTOR did raise the bar in that regard.
Silly Rabbit! Carrots are for Pandas!
Another aspect of WoW (and SWTOR) that I do not miss is the competition for resources with other players. After having trained in skinning, I forgot that I was capable of doing so and turned around to a recent kill, only to find another player skinning it. Now, admittedly this was my own fault. But the incident was no less irritating to me, and put GW2's system in stark relief. On several occasions during the few hours that I spent on the Wandering Isle, another player would come along and "steal" a gathering node or quest item as I was fighting my way to it; no jumping in to help, the way I have found players do both in TSW and in GW2. After all, there is absolutely no benefit to the other player for helping me. In TSW, mini-bosses are shared kills, at the very least, everyone involved getting quest credit regardless of grouping. In GW2, players get credit for all kills, as well as rezzing fallen players.
Is that a . . . flipper?
As has been discussed at length, by me and others, GW2 has "instanced" gathering nodes, shared kill credits, etc., that encourage cooperation rather than competition among strangers. Some people see this as a negative, that it discourages formal grouping. But I see it as a positive, because now I group up for social reasons, not because I am forced to in order to get quest credit. It's a more natural, fluid way of grouping, and there are plenty of stories of cooperation, even in sPvP. Although perhaps understandable because of the trial account, I couldn't even invite Sctrz to group with me, so we played alone—even stuck in separate instances of the island.
Finally, a dragon to slay.
There may be some informal grouping in MoP, I think. For instance, slaying the dragon spirit in the above screenshot seemed to be an open event that anyone participating got quest credit for. But that may have been NPCs helping me out.

In the shot below, my character and his two NPC helpers were arranged rather strangely, IMHO. Not sure if it was a limitation of the WOW engine, or something else. It's a great shot though.
It's a balloon, not an elevator. 9.9
The story of Shen-zin Su is excellent, among the best I have seen Blizzard tell. I did like the increased voice work throughout the island, evidence that in many ways Blizzard is keeping abreast of new developments in the MMORPG genre, and putting their own spin on things. However, having been spoiled by SWTOR, TSW, and GW2—each of which has a different approach to presenting quests—I found myself skipping the quest dialogue boxes, some of which only repeated what was being said aloud, though other times I missed either story or essential info and had to go back and reread the quest.
The great Shen-zin Su himself
After saving the day on Turtle Island, I came to the inevitable choice: Alliance or Horde? While efforts have been made in the past to depict the Horde with misunderstood nobility—honor above and so on—the description of the Horde in the choice dialogue is somewhat negative, while the Alliance, no group of saints, is painted in idealistic terms. I picked Alliance because Sctrz had—didn't really care myself.

I don't like the fractious bickering of the Horde and Alliance, but Blizzard has repeatedly insisted that will not change, despite what the new cinematic may imply. It is after all World of Warcraft. However, there are no real wars between guilds in Guild Wars 2—I'm not sure how much there really was in the original—and no one seems to mind. But if the threat of mass zombiefication or the destruction of the world itself are not enough to overcome old prejudices and personal grudges, then the discovery of a whole new race of sentients, as well their continental empire, certainly would not be. Both factions are led by characters who are at best buttheads, and at worst under the influence of sinister forces. Within minutes of meeting him, KING (not emperor) Varian Wrynn said to my little party in no uncertain terms that any Pandaren who had joined the Horde were to be considered the enemy, and "fraternization of any kind will not tolerated." He also felt it necessary to share that he had been forced to compete in Horde arenas as a gladiator, and still hasn't gotten over it.
He's still a dickhead.
I find it tiresome, and have since early in my WoW experience. The warring-factions approach artificially fragments the community for no real reason other than PvP. The lore-based reasons for sub-factions (like the Tauren or Trolls, or the former inhabitants of Theramore) staying with a major faction become tortuous, straining credibility. Why would a Magocrat of Dalaran, born a citizen of Kul Tiras, ever refer to the monarch of Stormwind as "my King"? Trion figured it out, and got rid of factions in Rift. TSW only has factions for flavor and PvP. GW2 got rid of warring factions entirely, basing PvP on totally different systems—systems that don't interfere with PvE, by the way. These systems enable me to pick the race/class I want to be and still play with my friends.

So at the end of the day, Sctrz and I hung up our Pandaren costumes, our curiosity satisfied. I feel no need to return to Azeroth anytime soon. Apologies to Leori, my KoM guildmate to whom I fibbed about playing on Saturday morning. It doesn't matter what my BNet ID is, since I don't intend to log in again anytime in the foreseeable future. This is should not be construed as any kind of dig on those still playing in the Mists of Pandaria; I hope you have lots of fun. It's just no longer a game that interests me.

P.S. I have uninstalled the Blogger app from my phone. You'll have to live with any typos in posts until I can get to a real computer.