Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Role-playing vs Roll-playing

Well hello there!  It's been a while.  I'm feeling the urge once again to exposit on things, so here we are.  I don't know that I'll be keeping a regular schedule or anything, but I'm gonna write some stuff in any case.

I've been thinking about a number of things revolving around protagonists in games and otherwise and their characterizations.  In trying to find a good place to start in discussing them, I hit upon the age-old tension between role-players and non role-players.  Most of what I want to talk about in the near future ultimately relates back to that divide.

Pretty much as long as games where one plays a character have existed, there's been a divide between those who view that character as a role to be played, as an actor would, and those who view the character as a collection of statistics to be used as a direct avatar of the player (the 'roll-player').  A role-player will develop an internally consistent characterization and make decisions based on that, where a roll-player will base her decisions on what best increases their character's power.  It's easy to see where the conflict can arise; a role-player may make decisions that result in increased difficulty because doing otherwise wouldn't be consistent with the character they've created.  A roll-player may focus on what improves their capabilities, even if the resulting character behavior is wildly inconsistent.

In a tabletop game the gamemaster can step in to defuse a lot of this tension.  He can provide opportunities for the role-player to play their character while still giving the roll-player ways to improve their capabilities.  In video games this becomes more difficult.  The goals of a role-player are difficult to assign numerical values to, so they tend to be secondary to the main game.  Particularly in MMOs, character development becomes a purely numerical affair where the 'correct' choices and the best gear can be determined mathematically.  The player for whom characters are simply a collection of statistics will have difficulty understanding why a role-player chooses a non-optimal path.  Even worse, when the role-player's choices make the game more difficult for an entire group, conflict tends to erupt.

Personally, I lean towards being a role-player.  When I create a character, I generally imagine a basic personality for them to go with their physical design.  I think this is part of why I'm perfectly willing to play female characters as well as male; that character isn't me, they are a separate being who I am playing as.  It's similar to writing a story with characters who are different from me.  That said, I've sometimes had to accept acting out-of-character in-game.

In World of Warcraft I played a dwarven hunter, Thalen.  I imagined him as an exterminator who became caught up in events beyond what he ever expected and went from dealing with minor pests in Ironforge to slaying dragons and the like.  Ultimately, though, he viewed it as all the same.  There were pests that needed to be dealt with, and that was his job.  This led to a matter-of-fact sort of character who focused on the job at hand.  In part, I chose this characterization to try and avoid conflict with non-role-players.

Despite that, there were still occasions where my character was at odds with the optimal choice.  Thalen used guns.  He was willing to use crossbows in a pinch, but bows were just not right.  This was difficult to stick to, however, as often a bow would be the best available weapon to me, particularly in Vanilla.  Eventually transmogrification came along and I never used a non-gun again, at least not visually.  Along the same lines, I was never willing to play as a Beast Master; it simply didn't match my vision of Thalen.  Even in Burning Crusade when Beast Master was the best spec by far, I stuck to Marksman.  Luckily I was a good enough player to still be viable, and I was in a raid that was willing to allow sub-optimal play.  It was still a hard thing, however, having to choose between character and power.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Afternoon Delight

Time to try something different.  Obviously my previous plan is not leading to posts; I think in part because I generally have started writing pretty late at night and posted just before heading to bed.  Problem is, lately it's been hard to make myself prioritize writing over sweet, sweet slumber.  Today I'm starting this post on my lunchbreak with the intention of thinking about it a bit over the afternoon then finishing it up right after work.  If you're reading this, it worked, at least for today.

Part of the problem has been the immense amount of stuff available for me to do in FFXIV.  Between daily crafting quests and hunts, getting my relic weapon, and continuing the story, I've been playing later than I honestly should be.  I suppose that has positive implications for my longevity in the game; I'm not bored of it yet.

Last night I wrapped up the relic weapon quest for my fancy bard bow with a little help from Rae, Damai, and Bel.  I had already completed the Hydra trial the previous night, so all that was left were the hard versions of the Primals: Ifrit, Garuda, and Titan.  Titan in particular was not easy, though the fact that we ended up with two black mages in the party neither of whom were very useful didn't help.  The first wasn't even wearing appropriate gear, he had put on gear with strength stats to meet the item level requirement.  The rest of the party was less than pleased about that, though I was impressed that noone was actually mean about it.  More chiding and dissapointed.  I guess Bel really was right about the community being better in FFXIV.

I also won an absurd Warrior axe from the Titan fight, so I guess I need to level my Marauder class now.  It was on the short list anyway since I'd like to have tank and healing roles available to me.  My retainers apparently want me to level Arcanist as well, since they've brought me a high level Scholar book and pants.

Friday, September 12, 2014

So Many Games

Well, Destiny is out and it seems like everyone is busy with that.  Apparently it's already sold enough to turn a profit, so I'm sure we can expect to see a glut of class-based FPS MMO thingies in the near future.  Me, I'm not all that interested.  I've got more games than I know what to do with as it is, and shooters just aren't at the top of my list.  Ask me again if I ever get around to finishing Borderlands 2.

Hack 'n' Slash also launched, or at least came out of Early Access, and that's much more my cup of tea.  Even if I wasn't an inveterate Double Fine fan at this point, a Zelda-like game where you modify the monsters and environment to solve puzzles scratches about three different itches all at once.  I haven't had time to actually play it yet, but I'm hoping to spend some time with is this weekend.

I haven't played much Marvel Heroes the past couple weeks.  Only so many hours in the day, and FFXIV has been monopolizing my online gaming time.  I'm sure I'll dial back on it here in a bit, but for now I have more leveling to do, and storyline to see.  I still have an 8-man mission sitting in the road staring at me, but I'm sure I'll get that done in the next couple of days.

Finally, I picked up John Scalzi's new novel, Lock-In.  I've been following his blog for years and moved from that to his novels, starting with Old Man's War.  He's often compared favorably with Heinlein, and I can't argue.  He's got a real knack for writing compelling science fiction that's thoughtful without sacrificing accessibility and excitement.  I'm about 2/3 of the way in, and there's a good chance I may just have to power on through before I go to sleep tonight.  Everything's starting to come together, and I need to know how it all turns out.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

I'm Back

I didn't specifically intend to take a break the last few days, but it turned out I kind of needed one.  I think going forward I may try for a weekday posting schedule.  We'll see if that gives me sufficient time to recharge the idea tank from week to week.

The past few days have mostly been spent in Final Fantasy XIV, trying to get caught up with the rest of my Free Company.  I made it to level 50 in the bard job on Sunday, and have already upgraded most of my bard equipment to item level 90 gear with currency from daily and weekly hunts.  I'm at the second 8-man quest in the final bit of the storyline.  Another player in the company also hit 50 today, so I think we may try to do those quests as a company tomorrow.  We'll see if that works out.  Tonight the rest of the company was busy running the Bahamut's Coil raid for the first time, so I busied myself doing my crafting dailies and today's hunts.

When I wasn't playing FFXIV this weekend, I was reading through the Dungeons & Dragons 5th edition Player's Handbook.  I'm going to be playing in a campaign with some friends from college to give it try.  Mostly it's a bunch of the same people who participated in my first 3rd ed game back when that system was brand new.  Most of us are in the same area, but one's in Shreveport and another's way up in Delaware, so we'll be using Roll20 or something like it to handle things.  Between the system looking really solid and the people I'll be playing with, I'm really looking forward to it.  I'm betting I'll get some amazing stories out of it too.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Who Are the Creators?

Zubon at Kill Ten Rats wondered how much meaning "From the Makers of" really has.  It's a good question, especially with the way the software industry works.  Big layoffs after games ship are not uncommon; case in point, ZeniMax's recent layoffs.  Which parts of Elder Scrolls Online were the devs who are no longer there responsible for?  If another company ends up hiring a decent subset of those devs, does that mean the project they work on next is "from the makers of Elder Scrolls Online?"

It gets a little easier to anticipate what you'll get when you start paying attention to individuals.  Of course that only works with the relatively rare superstar developer who makes a name for himself.  If Peter Molyneux, or Richard Garriott designs a new game, you'll have a pretty good idea of what that game's genereal feel will be before you play it.  When Double Fine was founded after Lucasarts decided to quit making games that weren't Star Wars, I knew that these were the guys that made Day of the Tentacle and Grim Fandango, so I could feel pretty certain that whatever they made next, I would enjoy.  And sure enough, Psychonauts is one of my all-time favorite games.

 You see the same thing in other collaborative media, such as comic books.  Marvel Comics puts out a lot of books, and they vary greatly in feel.  Most readers aren't going to like every single thing they publish.  You can follow specific characters, but you'll find that as the creative team in control of a particular character changes, the feel of that character's adventures will change too.  Spider-Man written by Todd McFarlane was vastly different from Spider-Man written by J.M. DeMatteis.  If you want stories with a particular feel, you're better off following creators from book to book.  I know if I pick up a story by Mark Waid, or by Kurt Busiek, that I'll likely enjoy it, no matter what characters are involved, or even which publisher it's from.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Gamers Behaving Badly

I really didn't want to have to talk about this.  I'm not a confrontational person by nature.  I much prefer to be diplomatic and avoid saying anything that could be divisive.  But ignoring the problem is part of what's led to things getting as bad as they have.  So we're going to talk about it.  Or at least I am, right here and now.

You've probably already guessed what I'm referring to.  I'm not going to use the stupid term that's been coined for the whole mess because a) The original 'scandal' that it refers to is a tempest in a teapot and b) I refuse to contribute to the tired nomenclature.  Watergate was called Watergate because the apartments that were broken into were the Watergate Apartments.  Slapping 'gate' on the end of something to make it a thing is just old and tired now.  Please stop.  I digress.

A woman made a game.  Already this was enough to get her harassed by the scum of the internet.  It happened to Jade Raymond nearly a decade ago and now it happened to Zoe Quinn.  Then her ex-boyfriend decided to drag their personal past out and throw it up on the internet, and the hate parade really got going.

The level of hate on display is absurd, and at the same time nothing remotely new.  This has been going on for years.  Those responsible for the harassment claim to be trying to defend gaming from some horrible feminist-led conspiracy to control the gaming press.  A lot of them probably even believe what they're saying. Conspiracy theorists usually really do think they've uncovered a secret truth.  But what this is really about is fear.

Video games have historically been viewed as a male space.  In reality, there've always been women playing video games, but men have been the majority and the medium primarily served that audience.  Over the years that view has been challenged.  More and more women are playing games, making games, and talking about games.   At the same time, women in general have been less willing to silently endure the constant background radiation of sexism that society exposes them to.  Put that together, and the He-Man Woman Haters contingent of gamers find their sacred space in danger.  In response they lash out, desperately trying to protect their ability to be sexist pigs on the internet, and just make things worse for everyone.

But here's the thing; they're going to lose.  These toxic gamers are a tiny subset of gaming as a whole.  They seem bigger than they are because of their bluster and bombastic rhetoric, but they're in the minority.  And I think they've finally gone too far and shown the rest of us that this isn't something that can just be ignored.  It won't be quick, and it won't be easy.  It'll take those of us who just want to play games and have fun getting out of our comfort zone and confronting them.  But it'll happen.  I have faith.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

The Days of Ultima Online

This post about MMO culture and how it shifted in Ultima Online reminded me of my time playing UO, specifically my very first day in the game.  This was before the Trammel/Felucca split, when you couldn't play UO without being at risk of attack by PKs at pretty much any moment.  The Ultima series had been one of my all-time favorites for years, so the idea of playing a new online game set in Britannia was amazing to me.  A friend of mine had played previously and already had an account, but didn't have a computer capable of running it at the time, so he ended up installing it on my PC.  I played way more than him, and ended up taking over the account before very long.  But I digress.

I started out in Ultima Online in the town of Moonglow.  I ran around a bit, killed some rabbits, harvested some reagents and so forth.  Eventually, my character started getting hungry.  Okay, I thought, I have rabbit meat, I have wood.  I will build a campfire and cook the meat so I can eat.  I sat down to cook my meat, and a few seconds later another player rode up and killed me.  I found at later that campfires exercised the camping skill of anyone near them, which meant their camping skill would go up, removing points from the skills they had maxed.  So build campfires was a common griefing tactic.  I didn't know this, though.  I was a total noob just trying to cook some dinner.

Despite that, I kept playing.  When the Trammel/Felucca split happened, not too long later, I got out of PvP land immediately and never came back.  Not only did I no longer have to worry about PKs, all the new land opened up in the new world meant I could find a decent place to put a house.  If the split hadn't happened when it did, I probably wouldn't have played much longer.  Instead I stuck around for about a year.

Thinking back, I found myself wondering if I would keep playing now in the same situation of getting murdered so early in a game.  I'm not sure if I would.  Back then, UO was this amazing new thing, and pretty much the only game in town.  Now, I have more games available than I know what to do with.  I'm not likely to invest much time in a game that unfriendly to new players.  Better to find a place where I can learn and grow as a player without someone waiting to kill me and take my stuff at any moment.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Dungeons & Dragons

I've been playing Dungeons & Dragons for a very long time.  After my best friend when I was a kid introduced me to it, I went on the hunt for books of my own.  This was in the late 80s, so there was actually a split between two separate sets of rules.  There was Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, and there was Dungeons & Dragons.  Two similar, but definitely different, sets of rules.  AD&D was the more complex of the two, and was where settings like Forgotten Realms and Dragonlance lived, while D&D used the setting of Mystara and was closer in tone to the original game, to the point of making Dave Arneson's Blackmoor setting an integral part of the history of the world.

I was originally going to get a copy of the AD&D player's guide, which was what my friend had, but was directed to D&D by the bookseller at Waldenbooks.  I ended up purchasing the Basic Set and a copy of In Search of Adventure, which collected most of the existing low level adventures released for D&D at the time.  That was just the beginning of a long love affair with the Mystara setting and everything connected to it.  Over the years I hunted down every publication I could related to Mystara, first buying them new as they came out and later searching eBay for out of print adventure modules and Gazetteers to complete the collection.  There are still a very few adventures I don't have copies of, and my copy of the Immortals boxed set is missing the box, but I've very nearly got it all.

With the 5th Edition of Dungeons & Dragons having come out, and looking like a pretty decent set of rules; much more in the vein of 3rd Edition and, yes, classic Dungeons & Dragons than 4th Edition was, I'm feeling the urge to run a game again.  If I do, I think it'll be time to revisit Mystara.  Maybe I'll finally send a party to meet the cat-people who live on the moon.  Not the moon you can see. The invisible one.

Monday, September 1, 2014

A New Month

Blaugust is done, the prizes have been awarded, and now we can rest.  But here I am writing a post anyway.  Has it become a habit?  Perhaps so.  After a month of posts it would feel strange now to go to bed without having written something.

The free week of Final Fantasy XIV has ended, and I didn't have any qualms about resubscribing.  I even went ahead and ponied up for three months.  I don't have any difficulty believing I'll continue playing at least that long.  Resubscribing also got me the first few veteran's rewards, so now I have a terrifying flying eyeball to ride around on and a pet flying glove cursor to follow me around.  This game can be just a little weird at times.

This does not seem terribly secure

Also, the Lightning Strikes event was brought back this week, which is nice.  I missed it the first time around since I was no longer playing by the time it occurred.  It's basically a quick series of quests to go out and participate in public events that feature Lightning for FFXIII.  Completing the whole set gets you an FFXIII styled outfit and weapon to use as cosmetic gear.  The final quest in the line is level 45, and I'm just now level 44, so I haven't finished the lot yet.  The event runs til the 10th though, so there's no real danger of me missing out.

New Television Acquired

As it turns out, Best Buy had a pretty good deal on a Sharp 50" TV for Labor Day, so we now have a brand new television to replace the sad old one that died last night.  I need to get another HDMI cable for my PS3, so that get the full benefit with that, and at some point I should order a (sadly proprietary) Wii HDMI cable, but otherwise it's all hooked up and performing nicely.  We did have to search through the menus to figure out how to turn down the motion smoothing.  I had seen people talk about how it made movies look like soap operas, but I'd underestimated how extreme the result was.  I found Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom while flipping through the channels and was amazed at how much weirdly smooth and bright everything was.  It looked like I was watching a stage reenactment of the movie somehow.  Happily, turning the feature down a couple of notches seems to have fixed the problem.

My other main pastime today was, again, Final Fantasy XIV.  Yesterday I reached the point in the storyline where I needed to run the Stone Vigil dungeon to continue the main questline, so today Belghast, Ashgar, Tamrielo, and I ran that dungeon and two others.  That got me caught up on my Grand Company hunt log and opened up more quests.  Apparently the next big group fight I have to look forward to / dread is Garuda.  The way everyone talks about it, it's way more difficult than previous stuff.  We'll see if that remains true; I wouldn't be all that surprised if it's a bit easier a year later than it was when they all ran it originally.

And finally, Blaugust has come to a close.  It's been a lot of fun, and amazingly enough I managed to post every day throughout.  I'm not sure yet whether I'll try to maintain the pace going forward or not.  I definitely feel like I need to post on a regular schedule if I don't want to end up procrastinating, falling behind, and ultimately letting the blog lie fallow.  But something like 3 days a week or the like might be more realistic for me to maintain.  We'll see.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

My TV Asplode

I was sitting and considering what I might want to write about when my wife walked in:

"We're not busy tomorrow, right?"

"Yeah?"

"You like shopping for electronics, right?"

<suspicious look? "Yeah?"

"I think the TV is dying"

Apparently the TV made a pop-ping noise and went black, then came back with a very washed out picture.  When we turned it off, the 'lamp' light blinked for a quite a while, and attempting to turn it back on just didn't work at all.  So it looks like we'll be making a trip to Best Buy and/or Target tomorrow to see what our options are.  I can't be too mad, the television is close to 20 years old at this point.  I'm a little sad though, since we can't really justify spending what it would take to buy a new one at the same size.  It was originally my parents' upstairs television but they gave it to me when I bought a house since they didn't really use it anymore.

On the bright side, there ought to be some good Labor Day sales going on, so maybe we can find a decent deal there.  We've talked about a second TV for the bedroom, so we might buy a smaller one for now, then move it to the bedroom and get a larger unit come year-end.  Also, this means we can finally get a TV with modern inputs, like HDMI.  Maybe we can look into Chromecast now too.

Feels

Today I'm falling back on one of Belghast's writing prompts.  "What was the first game that made you 'feel' something".  I think it's interesting that Bel says we've all had a human emotional response to a game; it wasn't all that many years ago that the idea that games could provoke a response in the way that other media does was widely dismissed.  As the new form of media, gaming was experiencing the same sort of disdain that comic books, television, movies previously had.  Looking back now, after experiencing games like Bioshock or Brothers, it seems silly to think that people thought like that.  I was disagreeing with them way back in the 80s though, because the first game that provoked an emotional reponse in me was a text adventure.

Infocom made a massive number of text adventures back in the early days of personal computing.  The one that first really hit me in the feels was Planetfall.  In Planetfall you played the part of a Stellar Patrol member (basically the United Federation of Planets) who is stranded on an apparently depopulated planet and must figure out what happened there and how to contact help and escape.

Early on the course of the adventure, you come across a 'helpful' robot named Floyd.  Floyd has the personality of a small child, and mostly tags along with you making comments on the areas you enter and the like.  Looking at it dispassionately he's really not that complicated, but he's very endearing.

Late in the game, you reach a point where you need to activate a machine to continue.  The activation card, however, is locked in a room with a number of deadly mutants.  Trying to enter the room yourself results in your quick and bloody demise.  Once Floyd becomes aware of the card, however...  well, I'll quote the game here.

"Looks dangerous in there," says Floyd. "I don't think you should go inside." He peers in again. "We'll need card there to fix computer. Hmmm... I know! Floyd will get card. Robots are tough. Nothing can hurt robots. You open the door, then Floyd will rush in. Then you close door. When Floyd knocks, open door again. Okay? Go!" Floyd's voice trembles slightly as he waits for you to open the door.
> OPEN THE DOOR
"The door opens and Floyd, pausing only for the briefest moment, plunges into the Bio Lab. Immediately, he is set upon by hideous, mutated monsters! More are heading straight toward the open door! Floyd shrieks and yells to you to close the door."
> CLOSE THE DOOR
From within the lab you hear ferocious growlings, the sounds of a skirmish, and then a high-pitched metallic scream!
> WAIT
Time passes...

You hear, slightly muffled by the door, three fast knocks, followed by the distinctive sound of tearing metal.
> OPEN THE DOOR
Floyd stumbles out of the Bio Lab, clutching the mini-booth card. The mutations rush toward the open doorway!
> CLOSE THE DOOR
And not a moment too soon! You hear a pounding from the door as the monsters within vent their frustration at losing their prey.

Floyd staggers to the ground, dropping the mini card. He is badly torn apart, with loose wires and broken circuits everywhere. Oil flows from his lubrication system. He obviously has only moments to live.

You drop to your knees and cradle Floyd's head in your lap. Floyd looks up at his friend with half-open eyes. "Floyd did it ... got card. Floyd a good friend, huh?" Quietly, you sing Floyd's favorite song, the Ballad of the Starcrossed Miner: ....

As you finish the last verse, Floyd smiles with contentment, and then his eyes close as his head rolls to one side. You sit in silence for a moment, in memory of a brave friend who gave his life so that you might live."
Reading that just now, I teared up a little.  I was no older than 10 when I played Planetfall and got to that point.  It was heartbreaking.  Floyd had been my companion through the whole game, and now he had sacrificed himself for me.  That's the first time I remember feeling real emotion in response to a game.  Planetfall came out in 1983, over 30 years ago.  It had no graphics, no sound, nothing but plain text, and yet it had more heart than some games I see come out in modern times.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Adventures in Eorzea


Final Fantasy XIV has continued to be my primary gaming pastime this week, to the point that I'm fairly certain I'll be resubscribing once the free period is done.  Since I last mentioned it here, I've reached Coerthas and am level 37 in my bard job.  Most of my time has actually been spent on crafting and gathering classes, completing the Grand Company delivery jobs each day.  I need to work on pugilist and lancer some more so I can unlock more bard-usable actions.


Presumably I'll be getting to the next required dungeon in the story questline before much longer.  Hopefully I'll be able to get some guildmates to run it with me.  I'm also looking forward to being able to purchase a private room in our guild house.  It'll be difficult not to immediately bankrupt myself once I have enough cash for it.

I can't say for certain whether FFXIV will hold me long-term or not.  I don't seem to have been able to maintain interest in a single game for more than a couple months since I left WoW last year.  But we seem to have a good guild presence in game, which helps a lot, and I'm definitely enjoying it for now.  Ultimately, that's what matters.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Justice, Like Lightning...

So I mentioned my favorite superhero team yesterday, and that their existence was a direct result of the less than amazing Onslaught event that occured in mid-90s Marvel Comics.  Well today you get to find out who they are. (Marvel Comics fans should already have a pretty good idea)

So in 1996, Marvel decided it was time to do something big.  DC had recently killed and resurrected Superman and then replaced Batman with a crazy guy in armor, and apparently Marvel wanted in on this.  Thus, Onslaught the X-Men story that killed the Avengers and Fantastic Four.  Basically, Professor X birthed/became an evil super-powerful psychic entity due to his mind-wiping Magneto.  Somehow Magneto's evil brain impregnated Xavier's psychic brain or some such.  I'm honestly still not 100% clear on it; I wasn't actually reading comics at the time having quit a couple years prior, shortly after the Spider-Man Clone Saga started.  That's a whole different barrel of crazy we won't get into today.

Anyway, evil super psychic guy.  Ultimately, to defeat him, a whole bunch of super-heroes had to throw themselves into him to disrupt his energy form and destroy him.  Conveniently, the mutant heroes couldn't be a part of this for fear that Onslaught might possess one of them and start the whole thing over, so the Fantastic Four and the Avengers sacrificed themselves.  No more Avengers.  Well, some of the C-list guys were still around, but they went on like one mission afterwards that went really bad, then disbanded.

So that led into Heroes Reborn, where Marvel re-imagined the characters who had died in the main Marvel Universe in a new edgier universe written and drawn by Jim Lee and Rob Liefeld.  It was kind of an early attempt at the Ultimate Marvel Universe as done by Image Comics.

Back in the main reality, there was a sudden hole in the superhero world.  The Avengers were gone, so who would protect the world?  Into this gap came a new team, the Thunderbolts!


Okay, it's a pretty typical superhero team: patriotic leader, power armor guy, giant super-strong guy, tech guy, etc, etc.  Cool character designs, but what make it special?  Ah, well that's where the final page of issue 1 comes in.


Wolves in sheeps' clothing!  Villains masquerading as heroes in hopes of gaining Avengers-level security clearance!  This was huge; nothing like this had been done before.  Individual villains pretending to be heroes for a single story maybe, but not a book with that as the base premise.   Better yet, some of these were the sort of villain who might not want to give up the fame and respect that comes with being a hero.  On top of that, this actually remained a secret until the book hit stands.  Nowadays it seems like every big twist is spoiled weeks or months out, but this one had full impact.

I came across this book while leafing through comics at Books-A-Million one day.  I got to that last page and was just amazed.  I bought it immediately and got every issue religiously until the day they turned it into super-hero fight club.  Boy, that was weird.

Thunderbolts is single-handedly responsible for my getting back into comics.  From that one book, I branched out to pick up other Marvel books.  Then Heroes Return brought back the characters that died in Onslaught, and I was pretty much in it for good.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Death in Comics

Isey's ruminations in response to my post yesterday got me thinking more about death in comics.  Death has been a part of superhero comics for a long time, and has been handled in varying ways.  Sometimes it's been done well, but more often it just seems like a last desperate attempt to do something shocking with a character that isn't as relevant as they once were.

One of the earliest superhero deaths was that of Lightning Lad, way back in 1963.  He remained dead for a less than a year and was then resurrected by super-science.  There was never really any question that he would be back, though; even the end blurb of the story he died in alludes to his eventual resurrection.  Gwen Stacy is another famous death from the 60's, and one of the few that hasn't been overturned.  Later appearances have inevitably been clones.

These days, death and resurrection seem to go hand in hand, just another plot device among many.  I can't say I entirely disapprove of characters in superhero comics dying, but I do think it should be rare and meaningful.  The death of the original Captain Marvel is a good example of a superhero death that was well handled and made for an excellent story.  Much of the story is actually focused on how his friends and fellow superheroes deal with his death.

Barry Allen is another character whose death I can't disapprove of.  The Silver Age Flash went out in the most superheroic of ways, saving not just the world, not even just the universe, but an entire multiverse from destruction.  His death in Crisis on Infinite Earths ended and era and passed the torch to his sidekick, Wally West, who took up the mantle of the Flash.

More often, though, character death seems to be a way to try and raise the stakes by knocking off a few heroes to show that the threat should be taken seriously.  Avengers Disassembled killed off Hawkeye, Vision, Ant-Man, Jack of Hearts, and Agatha Harkness among others to try and drive the threat of the Scarlet Witch's madness home.  It's worth pointing out that the first three of those characters have all been returned to life since, and the remaining two could be easily brought back at any time based on their established powers.

It's always possible that part of why I accept the deaths from longer ago is the simple fact that they occurred before I was reading comics.  To me, Wally West was the Flash and Gwen Stacy had always been dead.  I'm sure readers of the time were as dismayed by their deaths as I was when Nightcrawler died (he's also back now, by the way).  Time heals all wounds, and distance lends objectivity.

Ultimately, death is a part of the story now, for good or ill.  I guess I can't complain too much, since it seems even the most ignominious of superhero deaths have a silver lining.  Without Avengers Disassembled we would never have gotten the sublime Young Avengers.  And my all-time favorite superhero team owes its existence to one of the most derided of crossovers, the story that killed off the Fantastic Four and Avengers all at once, Onslaught.

Heroes Reborn, on the other hand, was pretty much 100% hot garbage.

Monday, August 25, 2014

On Retcons

Superhero comics, particularly Marvel and DC, have a number of peculiarities that come from effectively being incredibly long serial works.  You get the strange effect of having an ongoing setting that has been built up over the course of decades by a great number of authors.  Individual characters can go through periods of wildly different characterization due to changing times, changing writers, and the demands of the company as a whole.

One of the most uniquely comic-booky of concepts is the retcon.  Short for retroactive continuity, a retcon occurs when an aspect of established continuity is changed after the fact.  You can into a lot of debate over just what counts a retcon.  Is it any change to the past at all? Does it matter if it's done by the same writer who created the element being changed, or by a different writer?

I view retcons as story changes that actively modify past stories and directly contradict continuity as it previously existed.  It's not a perfect definition, but mostly it works.  Superman's return after his apparent death wouldn't be a retcon because he was never intended to stay dead; Barry Allen's return from the dead is, since his death was meant to be permanent.

What got me thinking about this is a series of retcons that have been going on over the past few years in Marvel Comics around Nick Fury and S.H.I.E.L.D.  Specifically, Jonathan Hickman's Secret Warriors comic that ran from 2009-2011 and the current Original Sin event.  Both have resulted in major changes, but where I ended up happy with Secret Warriors turned out, I've been more and more disappointed with Original Sin as it goes on.

I think in both cases a lot of the impetus has been a desire to bring the comic book versions of Fury and S.H.I.E.L.D. more in line with the movie version.  Where movie Fury is Sam Jackson, the comic book Fury is a white guy who fought in World War II and became a super spy in the 60's.  He's kept young by a serum called the Infinity Formula.

Without spoiling too much, Secret Warriors ended with Nick leaving S.H.I.E.L.D., breaking his triple-agent girlfriend out of prison, and riding off into the sunset.  It was a great send-off that retired the character after giving him one more great story.  I was sad to see Nick go, but I was okay with it.

Spoilers for Original Sin after this point.

Original Sin brought him back to reveal that he's been secretly murdering aliens and monsters for decades to preemptively protect Earth from them.  The Infinity Formula wore off, so he's an old man now.  He's apparently murdered the Watcher.  And his best friend was actually killed in 1966 and all his appearances since then were actually a robotic replacement.

If the final issue of the story doesn't end with Fury dead, I'll be shocked.  Everything about this story just feels like an attempt to not only ensure he's no longer usable, but also no longer liked.  I'm sure once this is finished, it'll be a long time before we see him again.  What makes me sad is that he was already set aside, but in a way that seemed appropriate to the character.

Eventually though, decades from now most likely, someone will decide they want to bring him back.  And they'll do it, because in comic books death is never permanent.  Just ask Barry Allen.

Quiet Day

I've been trying to think of something at all interesting to write about and I'm not coming up with much of anything, so I will begin writing things and see how it goes.  Today was devoted primarily to a half-birthday party for some good friends' 6-month old daughter, and dinner with my parents.

A half-birthday party is not a thing I would have ever thought of, but apparently it's become a thing?  Obviously the baby's not going to remember it, so it's mostly just an excuse for a party.  This one was our standard circle of friends getting together, but this time there was cake.  The baby was the center of attention, but really that's pretty normal in any case.  She's remarkably adorable.

Once we got home from all of this, we intended to relax a bit.  Instead, in the process of taking out the trash, a glass spaghetti sauce jar was dropped and shattered.  Tiny glass pieces scattered all over.  Thankfully it was empty and had been rinsed out.  But still, picking up glass, sweeping, vacuuming, and mopping the floor took quite a while.  Hopefully we got it all.

Apart from that, I was able to log into FFXIV for a bit.  I advanced the story slightly and am now 36 in my primary class (bard).  Mostly I worked on filling today's supply orders since they're good for a nice chunk of crafting experience.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Returning

So much new to do in Final Fantasy XIV.  I did end up creating a new character to try and get my bearings again.  It worked pretty well, in fact; I played that character to level 10 as a conjurer then switched back to my main from the first time around, Thalen Fireheart.  I had reached level 34 as a bard previously, and was ready to face Titan.

It turned out one of the other recent returnees was at the exact same point, so we got two of our higher level players to tank and heal for us and knocked that out.  It actually ended up being extremely easy.  Apart from that I've mostly spent today running around picking up and completing the various quests connected to housing, the new challenge and sightseeing logs, and new dances.  Also some crafting to turn in today's resource and supply requests.

So far I'm really enjoying it.  I really like the art style and the feel of play.  Of course I enjoyed it for the time that I played it last time, but that wasn't enough to keep me in after the first month.  I think part of the problem then, however, is that I had just left WoW.  I don't think I was ready to pick up any new MMO; I still needed a break to just recharge and be away from the genre in general.  Life was also pretty hectic and a bit stressful at the time, so that didn't help any either.

We'll see if I end up sticking with it this time.  Could be fun.  I would like to get to level 50 and see some of the endgame.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Back to Eorzea

Final Fantasy XIV is doing a free week for their anniversary, so I decided to reinstall, patch up, and log back in.  Problem is, it's been long enough that I don't recall much about where I was in the story, what my rotations are, or anything really.  I think I had reached the point where I need to go defeat Titan?  That sounds right.

On top of that, I know there's a housing system now, and I gather chocobos change somehow?  You can switch between having it fight for you and riding it, it sound like?  I don't even know.  This is the problem I run into coming back to a game after so long away, it's just so overwhelming.

I'm tempted to start up a new character and play that for a while to maybe get back into the groove.  Of course it'll probably take me the whole week to do that, then where am I?  Plus, the Cactaur server isn't allowing character creation right now, so I'd have to try tomorrow morning, I suppose.  It seems strange that I can't create a new character on a server I already have one on.  It's not like I can play them both at once.

We'll see where things go.  I enjoyed the game when I played it originally after the relaunch.  One problem that I worry I'll run into again is the required grouping to advance the story.  Random dungeon finders are not my most favorite thing and I always feel needy asking for help in guild.  I know, that's what guilds are for, but I still do.  And with most of the other people playing being at max level, I don't know how much benefit they'd get in any case.  Maybe if they still have a battle class at that level, but how likely is that a year in?

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Building

I enjoy building things.  Designing them not so much; I tend to prefer having explicit directions to follow.  I've found a lot of ways over the years to scratch this itch.  I've build models of airplanes and battleships, and of Star Wars spaceships.  I got into model rocketry for a while, building and launching cardboard rockets.  At their base, they're just a cardboard tube with fins, but I got some more complicated ones with multiple stages or with helicopter blades in the nose instead of a parachute.

Jigsaw puzzles are another old hobby of mine.  I've always enjoyed putting them together, and I even have a couple that I did of Norman Rockwell paintings framed and hung up.  That's less following directions and more pattern recognition, but it's still taking a bunch of pieces and putting them together into a whole.

Lego has been a major hobby of mine.  Not so much in recent years, but in college and for a few years I was massively into the Star Wars Lego sets.  I've got a couple dozen probably, ranging from the A-Wing fighter up to an Imperial Star Destroyer.  I don't buy sets very often these days, but I did just pick up the Mirkwood Elf Army on clearance.  My wife is much less likely to give me the look when they're half off.

Lego Thranduil does not approve

I'm not allowed to put the Elf Army set together, however, until I've finished my current project.  A little over a year ago, my wife and I went to Japan for a week and a half, and one of the things I brought back was a paper craft model of the hat shop from Howl's Moving Castle.  It took me a while to get around to translating the instructions to be sure I wouldn't mess anything up, but I finally started putting it together a little while back, and I'm down to the last few decorative bits.

Once that's complete, and I've put together the Lego set, I'll need something new to build.  I do have a model U-boat I picked up a while back in Chicago.  Maybe that'll be the next project.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Wanting

"After a time, you may find that having is not so pleasing a thing, after all, as wanting. It is not logical, but it is often true." - Spock
I have trouble finishing games.  It didn't used to be so; I recall renting Final Fantasy 4 when I was a kid and playing from start to finish over the span of a weekend.  I finished the original Might & Magic and uncovered the secret of the world of VARN.  I completed Ultima 7 and banished the Guardian, then traveled to the Serpent Isle and restored the Chaos Serpent.  None of these were short games, but I stuck with them.  Now though, I find myself approaching the end of a game and start to get tired of it.

Part of the problem is time.  School and homework seemed like so much when I was young, but really I had all the time I needed to game.  Nowadays work, social obligations, and family pull me in multiple directions anyway, so it can be hard to fit gaming time in.  New games catch my attention and pull me away before old ones are finished.  Steam taunts me with games upon games that I've bought and not played for any length of time.

Really though, I think the problem arises when I've reached the point in a game where there's no more real growth to experience but the game isn't over.  That point in Skyrim where I've got Dragonbone armor and daedric weapons, and more alchemy items and random gewgaws than I know what to do with.  Or in X-Com when I've finished the research and have a fully tricked out squad.  The end of the story is still out there, but the things I wanted, I now have.  And the having is not so pleasing a thing as the wanting.

What is a Gamer?

The term gamer gets thrown around a lot, and it seems like some people are always trying to define who gets to be a gamer.  This seems a little odd, since classically those of use who identify as gamers have often felt excluded or like outcasts.  Sometimes it seems like now that we have an identifier of our own that we want to be able to turn around and exclude others.

I'll admit, it can be easy to feel like those who've come to gaming recently get to have it easy after the rest of us have gone through the hard times.  The folks whose first pen and paper RPG is the new Dungeons & Dragons never had parents and teachers tell them their soul was in danger.  Lots of gamers today have never played a game on a computer that could only display 16 colors at a time or a console with pixels as big as your thumb.  That doesn't mean they're not real gamers though.

As for the types of games people play, classic arcade games were some of the simplest games around, but I don't think anyone would argue that Pac-Man or Centipede isn't a 'real game'.  Classic BBS door games like Legend of the Red Dragon and TradeWars 2002 were precursors to today's social games, complete with energy mechanics.  You can't tell me those weren't real games.

Conversely, there are plenty of more complicated board games that don't get associated with the 'gamer' appellation.  You don't see chess players calling themselves gamers.  Monopoly, hated though it may be by many, is a game, but you don't hear about gamers playing it.  Almost as if the fact that these games have been widely accepted for their entire history is a factor.

Myself, I think anyone who considers themselves a gamer is a gamer.  Calling yourself a gamer implies that you consider the act of gaming a part of who you are.  It's more than just a thing you do, it's an element of your personality.  To me, a gamer is someone who believes that games matter.  That's all it takes.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Advice for the new Marvel Heroes player


Today, some tips for those new to Marvel Heroes.  Just some various bits of advice I've picked up during my time playing.
  • Getting heroes to certain milestones gives you a bonus to xp on all your heroes.  The first hero you get to level 60 increases xp earned by 30%, the second by another 20, then 15 more for 3, etc up to a maximum of 200%.  So getting your first hero to level 60 will make leveling a second one that much faster.
  • There is no way to delete your starting hero and pick another one.  If you decide you just can't stand the hero you picked and must try again, you can create a new account and pick a new hero that way.  All the starting heroes are at least decent, and it doesn't take long to earn enough eternity splinters to buy a new one, so I recommend sticking it out in that situation.
  • In general you're best off either maxing out a power or putting just a single point in it.  At level 60 you can put 20 points in a power, and you have 162 points available if you've done all the story quests.  Also, your starting powers have 1 point each in them to begin with.  So that means you can max out 8 powers and have enough additional points to put 1 each in around 6 others.
  • Every hero has both active and passive powers.  Passive powers give an always on benefit, so it's nearly always worth it to put at least 1 point in each passive you have access to.  
  • Every hero has a way to apply the weakness and vulnerability debuffs to enemies.  Weakness decreases the damage they deal by 10%, vulnerability increases damage they take by 10%.  Often theses debuffs are attached to one of your attacks.  It's worth seeing which powers apply them.  Often it's worth putting a single point in these powers even if you aren't interested in them for damage so that you can apply those debuffs.
  • Enemies drop orbs a lot.  Red are health, blue are spirit (mana), purple give both.  Green are xp.  Orbs do disappear if you don't grab them quickly, especially the xp orbs.  Saving civilians often gets you a bunch of bonus xp orbs.  For example, click on the hostages in the prologue bank heist mission to free them and get a bunch of bonus xp.
  • Orange instance portals are treasure rooms.  Every zone map has two active at any time.  Inside will be some champion level enemies and a chest containing xp orbs and some loot.
  • Gear you don't need should be donated to the vendors in the chapter hubs (Avengers Tower, the X-Mansion, or SHIELD Helicarrier).  Vendors level up from donations, up to a level of 20, offering more and better options with each level.  I recommend focusing on the crafter first, as that has ways to upgrade your blue gear to purple fairly cheap, and needs to be level 10 for you to make use of costume cores once you reach level 30.  Next, level up the enchanter, who lets you use runes to enchant your gear.  Mostly enchanting is a thing to do at max level, but you will get an uru item and a couple of runes as a login gift pretty early on.  You can use those to create the Seer's Brilliance runeword which gives you an xp bonus and some bonus health.
  • Gear can grant a power at a certain rank, or it can increase your current rank in a power by a certain amount.  Gear that grants a power will set your level in that power to that particular rank unless you already have a higher rank in it.  This happens even with 0 points spent in the power.  This is a great way to test out powers without having to spend points in them.  Gear that increases your current rank adds additional points to that power on top of what you've spent in it.  You must have at least 1 point spent in the power though.  If you have 0 points in a power, gear that increase rank will have no effect.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Grimdark

In the grimdark future where there is only war, and also darkness and grimness, the Deathwatch stands as an elite unit of Space Marines tasked to cleanse the galaxy of the xenos threat.  Fantasy Flight has put out a number of role playing games set in the Warhammer 40k universe.  Deathwatch is the one that allows the players to play Space Marines, the most powerful of the forces of the Empire of Man.  Where Space Marines normally fight with their chapter, those sworn to the Deathwatch are drawn from all chapters, which allows a campaign where characters from multiple chapters interact.

In this session we had:

A Flesh Tearer Assault Marine - Not terribly bright, and given to foolish acts of bravery, but capable of tearing through xenos with dual chain swords.

An Ultramarine Techmarine - Augmented with cybernetic attachments.  He also has a rocket launcher.  He's not a particularly good aim, but mostly he ends up firing it at things so big you can hardly miss.  Like carnifexes.

A Blood Raven Librarian - Creepy, with an unhealthy obsession with forbidden lore.  He's also capable of blowing people up with his mind.  Eventually he's probably going to kill us all when his psyker powers summon something awful out of the warp to eat us.

An Iron Hand Techmarine - A cybernetic Space Marine from the chapter that thinks cybernetic enhancement is the awesomest thing ever.  Last session he got set on fire and had all the fat melt out of his body, so now he's got even fewer meat parts than he used to.

And me, the Novamarine Apothecary - I try to keep these idiots healthy and recover their gene-seeds if they die.  Also, I punch aliens in the face.  It works pretty well.

We have been active in the Castobel system defending against a massive Tyranid siege.  In recent sessions we've discovered that the Traitor Legions are active in the system, and that the planetary governor has made some questionable decisions related to the defense of certain hives and that he's been forming a personal army.

The session began with news that communication with one of the planet's hives had been completely lost.  Our team traveled to the planet to be briefed.  While still in the hangar, a Thunderhawk transport came in to land.  Problem: it wasn't slowing down.  It made a crash landing, and two Blood Drinkers piled out in the throes of the Black Rage and began firing attacking both us and the workers and servitors in the hangar.  We took them down fairly quickly, and while I was retrieving their gene-seeds, their chapter Librarian stumbled out.  He was missing an arm and exhausted, but was able to tell us that the hive had fallen to some sort of massive warp event within the hive, and that Traitor Marines were involved somehow.

We took the Thunderhawk and set out to try and retake the hive.  On arrival, we found that the hive's defenses were utterly broken and Tyranids were pouring into it.  The central spire was surrounded by some sort of warp field.  We cleared one of the hangars with ship's weapons and landed.  Fighting our way through a horde of Tyranids, we made our way to the field, which our Librarian was able to force an opening through for long enough for us to enter.

Inside the field, we quickly entered the spire and began making our way up to the source of the warp disturbance.  We fought our way past more Tyranids, as well as Chaos cultists, and found an area of the spire that had been devastated by psychic power where we were set upon dsemons.  After defeating them, our techmarines were able to gain access to the spire's communications and determined that an order had been issued by the planetary governor to bring all detected psykers, who would normally be given to the Black Ships to become astropaths, to this hive.

Best we can tell, the governor had been attempting to create his own platoon of psykers for his personal army.  Unsurprisingly, it went horribly wrong, and now we have at least one rogue psyker running about the place and who knows how many daemons have been summoned out of the warp.  We stopped there for the evening.

Now, we'll need to make our way the rest of the way up the spire in hopes of reactivating the hive's defenses, find and kill the rogue psyker before he can summon too many horrors, and ensure that the governor is taken by the Inquisitors for his crimes.  Should be a blast.

Catch-all catch-up

I haven't slept yet, it's not tomorrow until I sleep.  We had friends over for dinner tonight and got into long conversation, so they didn't head out until just now.  Silly me, I didn't think to write a blog post beforehand, so here we are.

Pokemon Yellow continues to be a thing.  I've earned the Boulder Badge and made my way into Mt. Moon.  I've caught a Zubat and Geodude, still looking for a Paras and a Clefairy.  I need to check my copy of Pokemon Red (where I finished the game) to see which fossil Pokemon I chose there so I can grab the other one in yellow.  I should check my Eevee evolution there too.  Pretty sure I went with Flareon, but I'm not 100% certain.

Marvel Heroes has been my main online game; the Guardians of the Galaxy related event followed by the Cosmic Chaos event have been fun. I ended up picking up a few of the cosmic boxes and unlocked Black Panther and Moon Knight as well as some costumes.  Now they have an event called A.R.M.O.R. Incursion where you can collect drops to trade in to Jocasta for interesting gear. Dunno if I'll collect enough to get anything good, but it's something to shoot for.

Tomorrow my semi-monthly Deathwatch campaign is meeting, so I doubt I'll do much if any PC gaming.  I should have a good story of Space Marines fighting back xenos in the Emperor's name, however.  Hopefully our Librarian won't fail his Perils of the Warp roll and get us all murdered by a Daemon Prince.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Complexity and Depth

Arcadius made a good point in the comments yesterday about the difficulty you can run into in a game if you miss an aspect of play or of stat interaction or the like and end up handicapping yourself without even realizing it.  Getting into that state can lead to you feeling underpowered and getting fed up with the game.  Then, eventually, you find out you've been doing it wrong, often when you start searching around on the internet to find out why your chosen class is so incredibly underpowered.

This, I think, is a major cause of the need people feel to do a lot of out of game research.  It's one thing to play a non-optimal way by choice, it's another to not even realize that if you geared a different way, or had spent your talent points differently that you could be having an easier time.  The thing is, I think a lot of the blame for this is on designers.  The two big problems I see are complexity for complexity's sake and poor feedback.

A lot of times it seems like complexity gets added into a game for no other reason than it can be.  Possibly the belief is that a more complex game will be deeper and thus provide more play time.  The thing is, time spent trying to figure out how the game works is not play time.  It's some weird sort of meta-play time.  For some people it's fun, maybe even more so than the game itself.  But for the average player, who's not an elitist jerk, it's usually a slog keeping them away from the actual game.

Worse, complexity is not depth.  Think about chess.  Certainly a deep game, lots of strategy, people get really serious about it.  How complex is it?  Not very.  There are 6 different pieces each with a very straightforward set of move options.  The depth comes from the combination of those simple parts creating a myriad of options.  The challenge of chess is not in figuring out where you *can* move, it's in deciding where you *should* move.

World of Warcraft definitely had an increasing complexity problem for a while.  Armor penetration and reforging come to mind immediately.  You'll notice the former was removed in Cataclysm, and the latter is going away in the upcoming expansion.  There's a reason for that; they didn't really add anything to the game.  They were additional complexity that just made it that much more necessary to rely on Mr. Robot to tell you what gear to look for.

The second problem, especially when you have extra complexity, is poor feedback.  Some games do it by design, hoping to stop the theorycrafters from determining the 'correct' build.  Others just have unhelpful tooltips.  The end result, however, is players who don't have full information about how their characters function.  Players need accurate information to make informed choices.  If full information is overwhelming, that's a good sign that the game has gotten overly complex.  And hiding information to dissuade the theorycrafters just isn't going to work.  If they have to record their play and count pixels on a health bar to try and determine damage output, someone will do it.  Don't hide data because you're afraid someone will solve your game.  Make a game that resists an optimal solution by being truly deep.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Optimization vs Fun

The other day I began working on a new character in Marvel Heroes.  I immediately went to the forums and looked for a build for that character.  Looking through the first few pages, I didn't find anything current for that hero; a recent patch had changed some powers around and builds hadn't been updated to take it into account yet.  I was annoyed; how would I know where to spend my points leveling up?  Then I stopped and thought.

Why was it so important for me to find a build to copy?  The powers are well described, and I can actually try them myself and see what feels good to me.  If I end up gimping my character I can always respec.  I used to play games without turning to guides.  Back before the internet was a thing, that was the default.  You couldn't just go to gamefaqs or a game's forums to get help, you either plugged away and solved it yourself, bought a hint guide (if there was one) or called a long distance hint line.

It's human nature to want to do things correctly, and to look for the optimal solution.  But sometimes I wonder if we're sacrificing our own fun to do it.  Noone plays tic-tac-toe for fun because the game has been solved.  The optimal solution is known, so there's no challenge and no choice.  Any game without a random element is subject to that; presumably chess will one day be solved in the same way when we have sufficient computing power.

I wonder if that's part of why adventure games died out.  How much fun is an adventure game if you can look up the puzzles anytime you're stuck?  It's so easy to do now, there's nothing preventing it but your own self-control.  I recall how proud I was when I finally finished Planetfall, oh so many years ago.  One puzzle in particular had me stuck for hours, trying to figure out what to do next.  Would finally succeeding have meant anything if I had looked up an answer somewhere instead of figuring it out on my own?

In the end, I abandoned my search for a build and assigned points on my own.  Maybe it's not optimal, but so far I'm having fun with the character.  And really, shouldn't it be about the fun?

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Zombie Sierra

Activision has announced that they're bringing back Sierra Entertainment.  Apparently it's going to be an indie games publishing arm within Activision, beginning with a new King's Quest game by the guys that made the fairly well received Misadventures of P.B. Winterbottom, and the less well received Wayward Manor.

So at the very least this time when a favorite studio of my past was brought back it was as an actual game studio and not a poorly made digital distribution venue.  So there's that.  Based on the description, it seems like Activision is going for a Fox Searchlight sort of thing here, which could be pretty awesome if done properly.  If this new King's Quest works out and is well received, maybe they'll dust off some of the other Sierra IPs.  I'd pay good money for a new Quest for Glory or a remastered Conquest of the Longbow.

For now, we can only hope.  There's some goodwill attached to that name, Activision.  Don't squander it.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Remembrance

I was three months old when Mork from Ork appeared on Happy Days.  As a child I had a few VHS tapes of movies recorded from a Disney channel free weekend, one of which was Popeye.  It's not the best loved movie by any means, but I thought it was great then, and I still enjoy it.  Some years later, I saw Good Morning Vietnam, and 'What a Wonderful World' is indelibly linked to the Vietnam War because of it.  Aladdin marked the return of Disney animated movies to greatness in my mind.  Suffice it to say, Robin Williams had an effect on my life.

He yam what he yam

He was one of the first comedians I actively recognized and sought out.  I've still got my CD of 'Live at the Met'.  In 1995 I had the good fortune to be at an event where he was on one of the panels.  I couldn't tell you now who else was on the panel with him, or what the subject was.  But I will never forget Robin Williams pretty much taking over the stage and going into an off the cuff Jacques Cousteau riff about Dale Chihuly's sea anemone-like glasswork.  He was as manic and non-stop in person as he ever was on film.  Afterwards I had the chance to shake his hand and tell him how much I loved his comedy.  It's still a personal highlight.

He was one of us.  A gamer and a fan.  He famously named his daughter Zelda after The Legend of Zelda.  He read Isaac Asimov's Foundation and Warren Ellis' Transmetropolitan.  He played Dungeons & Dragons and World of Warcraft (apparently he was the Prince of Trolls in Mannoroth trade chat.  I can only imagine).  And now he's gone.  Taken from us by the darkness in his mind.  He will be missed.

Bangarang.

Monday, August 11, 2014

10 Years :: 10 Questions

As some of the other blogs participating in Blaugust have already noted, the Godmother of Faff has questions.  I have answers.  Let's do this.

1. Why did you start playing Warcraft?

At the time World of Warcraft came out, I was playing Star Wars Galaxies and City of Heroes.  My interest in both was beginning to wane a bit.  In SWG I had mastered my initial chosen professions and didn't feel like there was much more to do.  In City of Heroes, I had reached the point where there just wasn't much interesting to do solo.  Then came WoW.  Here was a game with quests and soloable content and non-stop stuff to do!

2. What was the first ever character you rolled?


The day WoW launched, I created Thalen, a dwarven hunter on Argent Dawn.  That was my main until the day I quit.

3. Which factors determined your faction choice in game?


Dwarves with guns.  It was that simple.

4. What has been your most memorable moment in Warcraft and why?


There've been so many it's hard to choose.  The one Belghast recounted is certainly high on the list.  Ultimately, I think I'd have to pick my very first Molten Core raid, particularly the Ragnaros fight.  A friend whispered me out of the blue asking if I was available for Molten Core, and I actually let my interest in it overpower my hermit nature.  The raid had downed up multiple time by that point, so I found myself in a non-stop whirlwind tour of giants, core hounds, and fire critters.  I came out of that raid with my first piece of Giantstalker and a hunger for more.

5. What is your favourite aspect of the game and has this always been the case?


Exploration.  Hunting down every quest and every secret that I could find.  Long before there were achievements, even before quests at max level gave gold rewards, I sought them all out just for completion's sake.

6. Do you have an area in game that you always return to?


Ironforge.  In Vanilla, my hearthstone was set to the bar near the entrance.  Even after expansions and additional auction houses stopped Ironforge being the center of the Alliance universe, I went back regularly just because.  When I finally quit the game, I took each character to a spot that seemed appropriate to them and took a screenshot before logging off.  Thalen's is of him sitting in his regular chair in that bar.




7. How long have you /played and has that been continuous?

I can't check it now, but I know my /played on Thalen was over a year.  I started playing the day the game went live, and didn't quit until August of last year.  During that time I had the occasional period of burnout when I didn't log on for a month or so, but I never unsubscribed and for most of that time I logged on pretty much daily.

8. Admit it: do you read quest text or not?


Yup, always have, always will.  I want to know the story.

9. Are there any regrets from your time in game?


Not really.  I don't feel like it ever negatively impacted real life, and I have so many good memories and friends that I've made due to WoW, that I can't say I regret a bit of it.

10. What effect has Warcraft had on your life outside gaming?


I'm sure I'm closer to my real life friends that I played with than I would be without WoW.  We adventured and raided together for years, after all.  Without WoW, it's quite likely we would have drifted apart.  And then I wouldn't have met my wife.  So there's that.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Nostalgia Machine Found

Not an hour after finishing yesterday's post on nostalgia, I came across a veritable nostalgia machine while going through some boxes in my office.  As if summoned forth by my post, there was my Gameboy Advance SP.  I've actually been wondering for a while now where it had gotten to, since I've had the urge to return to some of my old games that aren't compatible with the DS.  In particular, occasional posts about Pokemon by Wilhelm Arcturus have had me wanting to break out my old Generation I and II Pokemon games.

Today, then, has involved a bit of Pokemon Yellow.  I started over from the beginning, since my save wasn't very far advanced anyway, and have reached the Viridian Forest with its Caterpies and Pidgeys.  So far, it matches up pretty well with my memories; Final Fantasy like wandering about with critter collection and combat.  Anything involving collecting is right up my alley, so it shouldn't be any surprise that Pokemon grabbed hold of me once I was introduced to it.

Pokemon Yellow has some extra memories attached to it for me, as it had just come out when I ended up in intensive care for a month suffering from Guillain-Barre Syndrome.  Stuck mostly paralyzed in a hospital bed, I was pretty much limited to reading and my Game Boy for entertainment.  Worse, the paralysis affected my eyes enough that focusing on anything closer than a couple of feet away took a lot of effort, so reading mostly came in short bursts.  I could hold the Game Boy far enough away to focus on it though, so a lot of Pokemon got played.

We'll see if I stick with Pokemon for a while or if I get bored after the initial rush wears off.  If I keep at it, maybe I'll move on to Crystal after I'm done with Yellow.  Or maybe I'll see if I can find some of the later generation games cheap.  In any case, I get to have a little fun going back to something I haven't played in around a decade, and that makes me happy.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Nostalgia

Nostalgia is a funny thing.  It gets talked about online like it's a sin; as if being fond of things from your past is a terrible thing.  Nostalgia can be taken too far, certainly, but I don't think there's any shame in taking pleasure in the past.

The adventure games I wrote about a few days ago are a good example.  By today's standards Sierra's adventure games were often perversely difficult with sometimes illogical and unforgiving puzzles.  The Rumpelstiltskin puzzle in King's Quest or the collapsing bridge in King's Quest II are great examples of that.  That doesn't reduce the importance of those games in the history of the medium.  And it doesn't mean I can't play them today and enjoy them.

Nostalgia is as much about the period something came from as the thing itself.  It's almost impossible to divorce something in our past from the things surrounding it.  When I think of Duck Tales, or Talespin, I also think of the house I grew up in.  Empire Strikes Back reminds me of watching it on VHS for the first time at my aunt and uncle's house.  Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles reminds of my best friend, who was an even bigger fan of them than I was.

As time passes, it's only natural for our pastimes to be linked to our strongest memories of them.  The mediocre fades, and the great and the terrible remain.  We just have to remember that those extremes were not the whole of the experience; that the good and the bad were both tempered by lesser times that we don't remember as well.  And that today's experiences can and will match those of our memories once we have a little distance.

Friday, August 8, 2014

By Any Other Name

When I went to college, suddenly I had unrestricted access to the Internet.  This was not the internet of today, keep in mind.  We're talking the early days, when Netscape Navigator was the hot new browser, and Lycos was the greatest of search engines.  My college computer lab had a few dozen UNIX terminals, and some brand new PowerPCs.  Here I was introduced to the world of MUDs.

MUDs were pretty much early text based MMOs.  There were a few different code bases, but most of them worked very similarly to the typical MMO you're used to today; you chose a race and class for your character and entered a fantasy world where you wandered about killing creatures and taking their stuff.  Find better gear, level up, repeat.  The MUD I joined was called Avatar, a MUD using the Merc code base.

Avatar had a number of race options for characters.  Most of the standard fantasy races were available along with some more out of the ordinary options.  One of those options was Kzin.  I hadn't read any of Niven's Known Space stories at this point, but on reading the race description I saw that these were Wing Commander's Kilrathi by another name.  My choice was made.

Warlock wasn't an available name, though.  Names couldn't be shared with other players or with any NPC in the game, and somewhere there was a creature identified as a warlock.  So I needed a name.  A Kilrathi name.  I settled on Frelghra.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

What's in a Name?

Of all things, the recent announcement that Wing Commander 3 is free on Origin got me thinking of my online identity and the names I've used in the past.  Incidentally Wing Commander 3 is a great space sim, and if you have Origin anyway, why not grab it?  Mark Hammill, Malcom McDowell, and life size cat-person Muppets in space.  How can you go wrong?

Adventure games are my favorite, but they're hardly the only sort of game I play.  When I was young, I remember playing Might & Magic and Ultima VI with my cousin.  One of us would control the game while the other mapped and made suggestions.  We never got very far while I was visiting, but it was fun.  Eventually, when I had my own PC, Ultima was high on my list of games to continue playing.  That led me to other Origin games, particularly Wing Commander.

I love Wing Commander.  I can't properly convey how much I love Wing Commander.  The gameplay, the setting, the whole package.  I'm sure nostalgia plays a part, but that game was fantastic.  It also was the first game I played that asked me to provide not just a name, but a callsign.  A callsign!  Top Gun style, like Iceman, or Maverick!  So I needed something punchy, something badass.

I had also recently been introduced to Marvel comics by a classmate; he brought comics to school and would let me read them.  The comic he brought the most issues of was the New Mutants, a book about a new class of teenage mutants at the Xavier School.  Most of the team were normal human-looking kids, but one was way out there.  Warlock.


Warlock was awesome.  A techno-organic alien who had fled to Earth to avoid having to fight his father to the death.  And his name was perfect.  Short, hard k sound at the end.  Ideal for a fighter pilot callsign.  So that's what I picked.  When I later joined the local BBS scene, I needed a screenname.  So I went back to that callsign, and my online identity became Warlock.

Of course, as you can see, I don't go by Warlock anymore.  When the World Wide Web, online gaming, and so forth became a thing, I found that Warlock wasn't a unique enough name.  I would have to be Warlock2734 or some such.  I never cared for numbers on the end of screennames; I wanted an identity that was mine alone.  So I had to find a new handle.  My new handle, oddly enough, also connected back to Wing Commander.  And also to Street Fighter II.  I'll explain how that happened tomorrow.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

XYZZY

I've always enjoyed logic puzzles.  Teasing out answers from incomplete information is my idea of fun.  So it should be no surprise that one of my favorite genres of PC game is the adventure game.  When I was in elementary school, oh so many years ago, one of my teachers had a number of text adventures for the class computers (an Apple IIe, a Commodore 64, and a Commodore Pet.)  In particular, I remember Infocom's Wishbringer (one of the few Infocom adventures I finished without hints) and The Pawn by Magnetic Scrolls (never did finish that one).

Playing those was my introduction to the puzzling and sometimes arbitrary world of adventure games.  When I got an Apple IIgs for Christmas, the first games I recall buying for it were Planetfall and King's Quest IV.  Trying to outrun the giant in King's Quest IV is still one of my most frustrating gaming memories.  Later, I discovered the much more forgiving adventures being created by Lucasarts.  Day of the Tentacle is still my favorite adventure game of all time.

Over time, though, the adventure game genre began to wither.  Sierra lost their touch and faded away.  Lucasarts stopped making anything that wasn't Star Wars.  Independent developers kept making games, and some of them were great, but the big studios focused on flashier fare.  You can't blame them, impressive graphics sold games and adventure games were never about the graphics.  Shelf space was limited, and games like Doom, Quake, or Half-Life were where the big money lay.

In recent years, the adventure game seems to be having a resurgence.  I think digital distribution is a large part of this; shelf space is no longer at a premium, so lower budget games with smaller audiences still have a place.  The massive success of Double Fine's Kickstarter didn't hurt either, of course.  Now we have Telltale Games releasing more story-focused adventures like The Walking Dead and The Wolf Among Us.  Lucasarts' last great hurrah, Grim Fandango, is getting a well-deserved re-release.  And me, I couldn't be happier.  I've played and enjoyed games of all genres over the years, but adventure will always be my first great love.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Why Thalen Doesn't PvP

Talking about collecting yesterday got me thinking about the activities I gravitate to in games, and the things I tend to avoid.  As the post title implies, PvP is pretty high on the list of activities I avoid.  It's a bit hyperbolic to claim I don't PvP at all, but given a choice I'll pretty much go with PvE content over PvP everytime unless there's a pretty compelling carrot dangled in front of me.  Why is that, though?  I've thought about it a bit, and I think the best way to explain it is to take a look at my Bartle Quotient

For those who aren't aware, Richard Bartle is one of the creators of the first MUD, and thus one of the pioneers of online gaming.  He researched the personality traits of online gamers and divided them into four main groups: Explorers, Achievers, Socializers, and Killers.  The test I linked to tries to gauge which of those groups you best fit in, and how strong your leanings are toward each.  I test as an EASK, with Explorer way ahead and Killer as a distant fourth.

The most obviously applicable trait to PvPing is Killer.  That's what it means after all, your interest in fighting and defeating other players.  It's just not that strong in me, all told.  That's not to say I don't get competitive; I absolutely do.  But I need more of a goal than the defeat of another player to keep interest for very long.  

The fact that Explorer and Achiever are my number one and two traits is part of it too.  If you think about it, those two are pretty much the single-player traits; the ones that pertain to personal growth.  You may group with others to explore places you can't reach alone, or to fight monsters that can't be soloed, but ultimately the grouping is a means to those ends.  I enjoy grouping with friends, and I'm definitely more social nowadays than I used to be, but ultimately I want to be able to go at my own pace and do my own thing.  I'm more likely to hang out in voice chat and talk with people while I'm off soloing than to actively seek a group.

None of this is to say that I actively avoid group play; far from it.  I raided actively for years in WoW, and I doubt I would have still been playing by Burning Crusade if not for having a guild of friends and my original raid to keep me coming back.  And then during Burning Crusade Belghast lured my real-life friends and I into House Stalwart, and from then on it was those connections that kept me around.

So how about you?  Does PvP get your blood pumping or leave you cold?  Would you rather be playing in a group or running off on your own?  

Monday, August 4, 2014

The Collector Nature

One of Belghast's writing prompts for today asked about pet collections, and that got me thinking about collecting in general.  Real, digital, you name it.  When you really stop and think about it, it seems like everybody collects something.  It could be comic books, trading cards, dolls, firearms, coins, stamps, or any number of things.  What varies mostly seems to be the degree to which people pursue their collecting.

I've collected a number of things over the years.  Star Wars Lego sets, He-Man figures, coins, and of course comic books.  Plenty more beyond that.  The main limits on my collections have been money and space.  If those were unlimited, I'd keep going until my collections were truly complete.  As it is, I have to pick and choose particular subsets to go after.  With digital collections though, one of those factors is no longer an issue.  There's no worrying about where to put all of your battle pets, or your achievements.  Even if you're collecting something that takes up space in your inventory, there's no physical difference in space taken up between one item and one hundred.

Is it any wonder then that achievements, digital trading cards, pets, hats and the like have become so popular in games today?  That urge to complete the set or to catch 'em all seems to be universal.  It's just a question of what to catch, and how much effort you'll devote to it.  Ultimately, it comes down to what your collection means to you personally.  So if you find yourself dismissing someone's desire to hunt achievements, or chase pets, or collect outfits for their character stop and think for a moment.  You may not be interested in collecting the same things as them, but I'll bet you're collecting something too.