Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Of Oceans and Arcades: a punishment gone too far

This Paul Christoforo/Avenger controller/Penny Arcade/Ocean Marketing business has really left a sour taste in my mouth. Paul Christoforo definitely should not have been the asshole that he was, but this is all too much. He definitely deserved to be fired. Nobody should ever act that way in a professional capacity, especially when that capacity is public relations. It doesn't matter what your excuse is or how much you apologize, his responses to Dave's concerns were inexcusable.

But Mike Krahulik did the wrong thing. He could have gotten Paul fired and banned from PAX all without turning him over to the internet. 'Gabe' holds the key to the cage for a beast which he is not powerful enough to control. He unleashed that monster upon Paul without regard for the consequences and delighted in its wrath. He knows full and well that when the internet--and especially the gaming-oriented internet--gets its sight on a target, they don't focus on it alone. From Paul's pleas to Mike:

"I have not slept yet dealing with all the spam and personal information intrusion as well as my family being smeared on the internet."

"If you can please accept my apology and anything you can do to help if not me my son and wife please do." -Paul Christofolo

A man prostrate before his torturer, given no mercy.

Callousness
Nemesis may be for retribution,
 but she's ultimately about balance
When the dickwolf controversy was going full tilt, Mike called for a truce because his family had been threatened. He had finally reached his limit. And yet, here we are, somebody else's family is harassed and Mike cares not. It took a day after publicly posting the emails containing those pleas before Mike asked people to leave the family alone. He also doubted their existence in the same sentence. When someone claims that their family is being attacked, you probably shouldn't doubt them. I think there are other situations where you shouldn't doubt someone unless you have very good reason too.

Surprisingly, all this comes from one of the founders of the Child's Play charity, which provides games for children who are in the hospital. You'd think he'd show more concern for the son of the man he attacked, especially considering that he too is a father. It becomes less surprising when you consider that Child's Play wasn't born out of an inherent need to do good, it was born out of a desire to prove that gamers weren't all bad people. I guess he kinda destroyed that idea, huh.

On bullies
"I have a real problem with bullies."

"Someday every bully meets and even bigger bully and maybe that’s me in this case."
-Mike Krahulik

There's a disturbing inconsistency there in that he has no problem with his actions.

Maybe that first statement lies at the core of this. Maybe when Mike sicced the internet upon Paul, he wasn't just attacking a bully. Maybe he was attacking all bullies. Years of pent up rage over being teased as a child and teen let out. Perhaps Mike should consider something when he does this. I know his son is growing up in a time that is more kind to those who'd rather spend their time inside than his father did, but all children are teased. What kind of example does he want to set for his son? Does he want a son who, when teased, responds by beating the teaser over the head with a chair?

The punishment did not fit the crime, and his actions caused innocent people to be dragged into all of this. The worst part, I don't think he gives a shit. If you're wondering which side I'm on, it's neither, they both acted out of line.

Playing with fire
"I will personally burn everything I’ve made to the fucking ground if I think I can catch them in the flames." -Mike Krahulik

But Mike did not make Penny Arcade alone, and the damage he does to it does not only affect him. Fire is dangerous and difficult to control, that's a lesson we've all learned from Avatar: The Last Airbender. What if he did something that did actually ruin Penny Arcade? How many jobs would be lost? How many children would have unemployed parents? How many people have already suffered from the flames he unleashed. One wife and one son so far. How many more?

Reading everything he wrote yesterday and what appeared in the comic today, I lost any respect I had for him. The principal of my high school during my freshman year, Monsignor George Tribou, was often attributed as saying "The measure of a man is how well he controls the animal within." It is here that I think Mike Krahulik truly failed.

-Henry out

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Percy Jackson Review

Percy Jackson and the Olypians is a fun series of books that base themselves around Greek mythology. The premise for the stories is that the Greek gods are real and their society and locations have been following western society as it has moved and are now located in the United States. For example, Olympus is now situated above New York City and is attached to the Empire State Building (floor 600).

The story revolves around a group of children of the gods who spend their summers at Camp Half-Blood, where they are protected and learn to harness their gifts and how to fight monsters. Camp Half-Blood has 12 cabins for each of the major gods who have a throne on Olympus. The gods maintain the laissez-faire attitude they've typically had towards their children, believing that maintaining a distance is better for them.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Thrill Digger: My New Obsession

Mole Mitts by ShadowBoyRyu

It's like this, but different.
Thrill Digger is a minigame included in The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword. It is a minesweeper-esque game in that there are hazards scattered around a grid and the spots in the grid that don't contain a hazard give a clue as to how many hazards surround that spot on the grid. In minesweeper, there are bombs and numbers. A number tells you how many bombs are in the eight squares around the number. The board starts off with none of the squares revealed. Each click reveals a square's contents. Clicking on a bomb ends the game with a loss. To win the game you must reveal every non-bomb square. Versions of the game allow you to plant a flag on spots to mark them as containing a bomb so you don't make a mistake later.

Thrill Digger operates slightly differently. There are a couple different classifications of object:
  • Hazards
    • Bombs - When you dig up a bomb, the game ends and you take a heart of damage
    • Rupoors - A black rupee. You lose 20 rupees. These do not end the game.
  • Rupees - These indicate how many bombs surround that square and give you rupees.
    • Green - Indicates there are zero hazards in the surrounding squares and gives you 1 rupee.
    • Blue -  Indicates there are one or two hazards in the surrounding squares and gives you 5 rupees.
    • Red -  Indicates there are three or four hazards in the surrounding squares and gives you 20 rupees.
    • Silver -  Indicates there are five or six hazards in the surrounding squares and gives you 100 rupees.
    • Gold -  Indicates there are seven or eight hazards in the surrounding squares and gives you 300 rupees.
The goal is to collect as many rupees before you hit a bomb. In this game it is very hard to complete a board, and you aren't necessarily supposed to. The reason that it's so hard is because the rupees don't tell you exactly how many hazards surround them. That uncertainty greatly increases the difficulty. If you do manage to complete a board, you're rewarded with a high-quality crafting material. 

There are three difficulties. Beginner costs 30 rupees to play. It is a 4x5 grid with 4 bombs and no rupoors. Intermediate costs 50 rupees and is 6x5 with 4 bombs and 4 rupoors. Expert costs 70 rupees is 8x5 with 8 bombs and 8 rupoors. So a particular play is a win if you dig up more rupees than you put into the game. I personally find intermediate to be the easiest to complete. There's a very good reason for this. Consider this chart.


Summary information for the difficulties
DifficultyWidthHeight#Squares#Bombs#Rupoors%Bombs%Hazards
Beginner54204020%20%
Intermediate65304413.3%26.7%
Expert85408820%40%

Intermediate is the easiest to complete for me because it has the lowest percentage of bombs. There are more hazards overall, but they're less likely to end the game.

I'm completely in love with this game, even though I really don't like how the game doesn't keep a reminder what was dug up in a particular spot. I can't play intermediate or expert for very long without needing graph paper on which to chart my progress. Despite that, I've played it incessantly.

Oh, and by the way, if you think this is all that I have to say about this super awesome minigame, you're wrong. I have much more to come, including strategies and much much more.

Friday, December 2, 2011

The chicken or the egg and the real question at hand

There is the common question of "Which came first, the chicken or the egg?" I hear that it's some sort of philosophical question. If you ever get asked this, I can tell you exactly how to ruin the fun to be had by the asker.

Answer with, "The egg." The chicken is not the first egg-laying animal. There were many other birds and reptiles that came before it, and they layed eggs. So there were clearly eggs before there were chickens.

Your questioner may counter with, "Fine. Which came first, the chicken or the chicken egg?" The proper response to this is, "Define 'chicken egg'." Is a chicken egg and egg that comes from a chicken or is it an egg that produces a chicken. If they come up with a response and actually answer the question, their response directly informs your answer. If they say that a chicken egg comes from a chicken, then the chicken came first. If they say that a chicken egg produces a chicken, then the egg comes first.

I don't really believe the proper response is either though, since those aren't the only two choices. I think we can all say, without doubt, that if an egg both comes from a chicken and produces a chicken then it is a chicken egg. In that case, the chicken must come first. 

But what type of egg comes from something that isn't a chicken and yet produces a chicken? That's the real question.

This has been another entry in Henry's famous "Who gives a fuck?" series. If there is anything that you would never, ever want to read about, just leave a comment below and I'll make sure and spend my time writing about it.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Black Friday 2011: The Quest for the Legend of Zelda

Sarah loves Black Friday. She has fond memories of standing outside a Wal-Mart at ungodly hours in the morning freezing her butt off with her dad and uncle. So when we can, we do Wal-Mart's Black Friday. This year, we mainly had one goal: buy the special edition Skyward Sword. It comes with a Wii Motion Plus Remote and the 25th anniversary edition music CD. All for a reasonable $60. This was especially important since we just had a Wii Remote die on us.

The Black Friday sale started at 10:00 pm Thursday, which really makes it a Black Thursday Night sale, but whatever. We arrived at 8:30 and tried to immediately determine where exactly in the covered videogame racks the game would be. Thanks to some helpful employees I found out exactly where the game would be and began the task of situating myself in the optimal position to grab the game immediately. 

The crowd was still light at this point, but there were a couple people in a single row between me and the game. When the woman in front of me turned to talk to her daughter, I used the opportunity to insinuate myself closer to the rack, placing my leg in a more forward position. Over time, she moved to the left enough that I was able to place myself immediate against the racks. Once there I laid my hand on the tarp as if to say, "This is my spot, and nobody is going to take it from me. No crowd shall create a distance between me and my prize." 

There was still a good hour between that moment and when the clock would strike frenzy. I passed the time by texting Sarah regarding our situation. She initially wanted to get some towels, but they were by the ridiculously cheap sheets and there was no way she could penetrate that crowd so she joined me in the games and DVD section.

Time passed and eventually 10:00 came. The tarps were swiftly removed and my quarry was spotted. I was the second person to grab one of their limited supply. My task was now to escape. The Skyward Sword copies were next to the display that featured games such as Battlefield 3, Madden, and Modern Warfare 3, so the crowd was generally pressing towards me. Escape was a hard fought battle. I pressed against the crowd, away from the shooters and football games towards the aisle. In the process I was squeezed up against all sorts of people. I'm sorry to any ladies which had my groin forced against them. I meant nothing by it, I swear.

In time, with much explaining that I was done and just wanted to escape, I was let out. I passed by a rack of Wii games which had several titles strewn across its top. I got out and called Sarah since I couldn't see her. She had apparently been the one who threw those Wii games on top of the rack to aid the poor mothers forced into this bedlam. She had gone by the DVD section and picked up several seasons of The Big Bang Theory and other shows and we made our way to the checkout. Upon getting there we realized she accidentally got two copies of season 1 and no copy of season 2. She went back to correct the error. 

We paid and were out of the store at 10:13 pm. We essentially kick ass. No wounds suffered. No trampling. No pepper spray burns. It was a pretty good Black Friday experience. 

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Skyward Sword Impressions

You start with six hearts. What. The. Hell. I’m just kidding, I don’t actually care about that, it did catch me off guard, though.

I’m one temple in on The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword. It’s a really great game so far, and I definitely look forward to completing it. This year is the 25th anniversary of the Legend of Zelda series, a fact which the game makes known within it. The motion controls are pretty great; choosing which way to swing my sword hasn’t been as tedious as I originally thought it was going to be. We’ll see if my opinion on that stays throughout the rest of the game.

New Systems
I’m finding myself really into the game's new questing system. Sidequests are more official now since villagers will have speech bubbles above their heads when they have something important to say to you. When you are asked to go on a sidequest, it is explicit and the you will have to select whether or not you want to take it.

The game also features an item upgrade system. There are various items that can be collected throughout the course of the game. So far I’ve found bugs and jewels of various sorts. They can be given to a particular NPC and he can use them to upgrade your items to have new powers. This varies from increasing the number of slots in your pellet pouch to making your slingshot fire a spray of pellets instead of a single pellet. Those are the ones that I’ve seen so far and I’m eagerly looking forward to seeing what other potential upgrades there are. These new features really give Skyward Sword some feeling of being a somewhat western-style RPG. This is an interesting decision that Nintendo has gone with the game and I approve of it wholeheartedly.

Also new to the game is a stamina gauge and, with it, running. No longer will intrepid adventurers feel that their fastest way to cross the land be by rolling everywhere. The stamina gauge is also used for climbing, carrying heavy objects, and particularly acrobatic sword maneuvers to allow them to be easily performed, but not spammable. If Link runs out of stamina, he fails at whatever the current action is and you have to wait while the stamina gauge recharges.

No Boats or Trains
A fairly prominent feature of the game is bird flying.  It’s a much smoother feeling transportation feature than Wind Waker or Phantom Hourglass’s boat riding or Spirit Track’s train conducting. It features the three boosts mechanic that players will remember from Ocarina of Time and Twilight Princess’s horse riding. If you swing the remote up and down, your bird will flap its wings and ascend without losing speed, allowing you to dive and move quickly without sacrificing speed on the ascent. The problem with this is that the rhythm and strength of flap needed for the game to register the motion is very finicky. The flailing that I have to perform to get it to work often sends me wildly off course, rendering the whole point of the exercise moot.

Gripes
I have never crossed a tightrope without Link tipping over and needing to climb back up on the rope. It took me forever to realize that to correct Link’s tilt you’re not supposed to tilt the remote, you’re supposed to point it in the opposite direction like a flashlight. Tilting the remote does nothing. Nintendo chose to eschew 4 years of Wii game design convention for some reason.

Speaking of eschewing game design conventions. When you’re playing a Zelda game, and there is a big eyeball on the wall, what you do you? You shoot it, right? The game gives you the slingshot not long before you go into the first dungeon. The first real puzzle of the dungeon has an eyeball on a wall above a door. However, when you pull out the slingshot, it shuts tight and is impervious to your pellets. Fi, the spirit of the sword or something and your Navi replacement for the game, notes that the eye follows the tip of your sword. I decided that I needed to make it dizzy. I swung my sword left and right and nothing happened. I swung my sword up and down and nothing happened. After trying to shoot the slingshot and get out my sword so maybe it’d open its eye in time to be hit I looked up the solution online. I was supposed to swing my sword in a circle to make it dizzy and open the door. So congratulations go to Nintendo for going against 20 years of Zelda game design tradition and making the first puzzle of the first dungeon an unintuitive use of motion controls.

Motion Minus
One of my biggest problems with playing the game doesn’t appear to be the games fault. It’s the Wii Motion Plus. While the technology is more sensitive that the standard Wii Remote controls, it seems to be prone to accumulating error. Over time its origin (how it’s oriented so that it thinks you’re pointing straight forward) seems to drift, making actions difficult to perform. In many cases you can press down on the D-Pad and it will recenter itself to its current orientation but there are times when you can’t do this and are forced to pause the game where you can recenter it. It can really break your immersion to have to do this, and it can really harm your gameplay if it happens at a critical moment. I’m just glad that since I bought the special edition at Wal-Mart’s Black Friday sale I didn’t have to pay extra for a Wii Motion Plus controller.

Right-Hand Bias
The games is only slight right-hand biased. I've had two issues with it so far: one is minor and the other is cosmetic. All weapon wielding enemies I've encountered hold it in their right hand. Since they hold the weapon mostly upright, this means that you cannot usually initiate your attack with a left-to-right swing, which is the most natural swing for a left-handed person. The game slightly favors right-handed people in this way. The other way that it favors right-handed people is that if you want to hold your sword in a cool way, such as pointed behind you, you can't do this and it will look really weird. Overall, I had worse fears and am not bothered by this.

I know that I complained quite a fair amount of the past 900 or so words, but I really do like the game. It’s still a very solid game and lives up to all my expectations about the quality of Zelda games. The graphics are, of course, not that great. The models all look very good, but the environments do leave quite a bit to be desired. As with Twilight Princess, the more stylized scenes do look absolutely gorgeous. If you like Zelda games, then I’ll bet that you’ll like this game. I love it so far.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Demos: Sonic 4 & Medieval Moves

Sonic 4 It's different, but good.

Ah, Sonic 4. The game fans wanted. A return to that core Genesis-era gameplay that entranced a generation. A return that fans didn’t get.

Sonic 4 isn't what players wanted. There were many complaints about Sonic’s style and the gameplay. One of the paramount complaints was that the game featured the homing attack that was introduced in the 3D Sonic the Hedgehog games.

When I first tried the demo for Sonic 4 so long ago, I didn’t like it either. It was weird to me. Things didn’t look or feel right. Now that I’ve played, and enjoyed, Sonic Generations, I decided to give this game another try. I believed that my positive experience with the ‘new Sonic’ gameplay in Sonic Generations might have given me a new, more positive outlook and experience with Sonic 4. It did.

Sonic 4 doesn't play like Sonic 1, 2 and 3 (or CD) and that’s okay. Not every game in a series has to be the same. If gameplay doesn’t evolve within an established series, people become bored with it. If you’re willing to cast off your retro-tinted glasses you can see that this game is actually good. The speed has been lowered a bit, to where you can reasonably see obstacles coming and the homing attack adds significantly to the game. The demo level provided me with a fun experience and I definitely plan on buying the full product.

One complaint that I always had about the classic, and one that is fixed in Sonic Generations, is that the game wants you to go as fast as possible. For Sonic, this is very fast. The problem is that you’re going so fast you can’t see the obstacles ahead of you with enough time to react. This leads to the classic problem of running headlong into spikes because the game hates you. In Sonic Generations, you’ll often find the camera is either forward facing, so you can see everything ahead of you, or it pulls out during those particularly speedy segments to give you more warning.

The classic Sonic games couldn’t do either of these things, due to the strength of the hardware. To pull the camera out would require storing more objects in memory and drawing more object. Old console games were designed in such a way that they couldn’t afford to do that. The camera needed to have a fixed number of objects on screen to manage memory efficiently. Sonic 4 doesn't do this either, but the speed has been somewhat lowered to account for it.

I like this game, and I definitely suggest other people try it out to. Just try and cast off whatever expectations you have for it and evaluate independently.

Medieval Moves: Deadmund’s Quest Really solid motion control gameplay.

I went into this game not expecting much. I got a ton out of it, however.

Medieval Moves is a on-rails medieval combat game targeted toward a younger crowd. This is a game designed to be played solely with the Playstation Move. I believe there was an option to also use the Navigation Controller, but I didn’t use that configuration. I believe there is also an option to use two Move controllers: one as a sword and one as a shield.

The combat was very enjoyable. The character swings his sword in tune with your own movements, with very little lag. You can also shoot a bow, block with a shield, use a grappling hook, and throw shuriken. All of this is done only utilizing the Move button and the Trigger button, which are analogous to the Wii’s A and B buttons.

And you know what? It was really fun. Surprisingly fun, really. The actions that I was making really felt like I was acting as the character on the screen. Unlike Twilight Princess, where the use of any item was predicated by pressing a button, the use of your shield, bow, grappling hook, and shuriken is predicated by a particular movement. No item selection, just do the proper movement to use it. To shoot the bow, raise your arm over your shoulder as if you’re drawing an arrow from your quiver. To throw a shuriken, make a motion like you’re throwing a Frisbee. To use the grappling hook, lower the controller and bring it up, like you’re lifting a crossbow from your belt and raising it to fire.

Within the scope of the demo, the battles were all easy. There were times when certain enemies required the use of your shield, so block or deflect attacks so that the enemy’s weakness was exposed. I suspect the gameplay becomes more complicated as the game progresses, since the tutorial area requires you to attack specific body parts.

Someday, if I work through enough of the other games that I need to play, or write them off as not being worth my time, I may buy this game.  This was an excellent demo and I definitely recommend checking it out.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Demos: Skydrift and Hamilton's Great Adventure


Skydrift Use the boost to chase!

What does one call a racing game that has weapons and power-ups, à la Mario Kart, but that only features airplanes? It can’t be a kart racer, the closest genre that I can relate it to. Kart flyer doesn’t make sense either. Arcade air-race? That seems closer. It's tough.

No matter. Skydrift is a racing game where you pilot a small WW2 era-esque aircraft and are assisted by power-ups which you fly through. The game also features a boost system which fills based upon the stunts that you perform, such as passing through narrow rock formations or flying close to the ground.

The power-ups are standard fare for this type of game. Guns, missiles, shields, repair, mines, and an EMP burst round out the arsenal available to players. Adding onto this is the fact that players can store two such items at a time, and if they collect a power-up they already have, the strength of it is increased. The storage/power-up system adds some nice touches to the item system.

The game feels very similar in execution to how Koei’s initial trailers for Fatal Inertia made me feel. Although this game isn’t nearly as fast as Fatal Inertia is, you do fly, which is more than Fatal Inertia can claim.

This was a very appealing demo, and I’d highly suggest you check it out if it seems like the sort of thing you'd be into.
Hamilton’s Great Adventure That's really just an opinion

I’m not sure what to label this game. I’m going to resort to the label of a puzzle game.  You play as the eponymous Hamilton and you adventure through a tiled puzzle area, navigating towards the goal. The key to navigating to that goal is figuring out the particular trick to the level, which makes it a puzzle game.

Hamilton is joined by a bird companion who has complete and unrestrained movement. The bird can collect certain tokens that are scattered around the map and flip switches that are out of Hamilton’s reach. The tokens can only be picked up by the bird.

The tokens don’t seem to play any role that I was able to discern in the short time that I spent with the demo. As best as I could tell, they only served as some way to boost your score or have a completion percentage to goad gullible players into playing the game more.

The seemingly useless tokens actually irritated me so much that I turned off the demo. Since the bird’s movement was unconstrained, nothing prevented it from starting each level by collecting every token available. I had mindless collecting in games. I got tired of it during the Nintendo 64 era and I don’t wish to return to it.

I didn’t play the demo fully, which is a terrible thing. If I’m so irked by the demo that I don’t want to finish it, there is no way in hell that I’m going to spend money on the game itself.  Maybe the bird gameplay fleshes out as the game develops, but I wasn’t motivated to stick around to see if it did. 

I should probably give it a second chance to see if it fleshes out, but I just can't get motivated to.

Monday, November 21, 2011

On Platformers

More please!

I'm persnickety about platformers. It's hands-down my favorite genre of videogames. It's the one that I've grown up with and have stuck with a all of my life. This doesn't mean that I automatically love all platformers that come out, though.

I tend to be far more critical of platformers than other games. Highly regarded games like Rochard fall flat on me. There is a very particular reason for this. Many so-called platformers actually aren't good at the things that define platformers. Those things are timing and precision.

Many developers and gamers seem to think that being a platformer means having a jump button. A true platformer is one where the player is tasked with moving from one place to another with the primary difficulty coming from the precise timing and execution of their actions, mostly movement actions. There are many games out there that call themselves platformers, or some type of platformer hybrid, that really are not.
Puzzle-Platformers
The puzzle-platformer is like a platformer, but with much more critical thinking involved. My most recent experience with this genre is when I played the demo for Rochard. Don't get me wrong, I do like puzzle-platformers, but not because they're platformers. In fact, I usually dislike the platforming, because it's often terrible.

Most puzzle-platformers spend far too much time developing the puzzles and no time developing the platforming. As a result, they'll often end up with a super floaty jump and nothing else. If there was a simple heuristic to measure how good the platforming in a game is, I'd have to go with the floatiness of the jump. The floatier the jump, the worse the platforming.
Action-Platformers
On the opposite end of the puzzle-platformer is the action-platformer. You can pretty much take everything from the previous section and replace 'puzzles' with 'killing things'.

There are two ends of this spectrum. At one end are your action games that have jump button. This would be like Devil May Cry. Yes, you jump. You're even sometimes asked to jump over or across things. However, jumping and movement are not your primary obstacle to progression.

On the other end, I'd place Mega Man or Ghosts n' Goblins. In these games, the enemies serve as timing/coordination challenges. While there are tons of enemies to kill, you also don't necessarily have to kill them. Uncharted 1 starts more towards the platformer side of the spectrum and becomes more of an action game as it goes on. This was one of my main complaints about the game.

I've found that a common way to measure where a game falls on this scale is how easy the enemies are to kill. If the enemies are easily killed, it falls more to the platformer side. If the enemies are harder to kill, it falls more to the action game side.

I love action-platformers, no matter where they fall on the spectrum. I'm playing Uncharted 3 right now and it's totally awesome. And really, when you get down to it, Uncharted 3 has action, platforming, puzzles, and a great story. It's the whole package.

Conclusion
The degree to which a game is a platformer comes from the timing and precision required for your movement actions. Enemies and puzzles can be added to the game to round out the gameplay, but can sometimes pull the focus away from the platforming. I'd really like it if more games were true platformers. I think many developers are afraid to do that, however, because of the obvious Mario comparison.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Gaming Miscellany: Uncharted 3 and Sonic Generations

Uncharted 3 When his enemies see the half-tuck, they know to be afraid.

Another wonderful entry in the Uncharted series. I just finished chapter 10 (I think). I watched the opening scene for when they get to Syria. I'm also playing it on hard difficulty, because I just tend to play games on hard these days. There's a part of me that wants that challenge. I think it started with Devil May Cry 3. That reminds me, I need to buy Dark Souls.

Uncharted was a game that I had really high hopes for. It was a very good game, that's no doubt, but it wasn't as good as I would have liked. It, Mirror's Edge, and other games tend to fall into a similar patter. The pattern is that a new game promises interesting platforming, runs out of interesting platforming, and the game devolves into combat as the game progresses and loses its platforming.

I was Uncertain about Uncharted 2 because of my problems with the first one. However, the reviews and chatter started to roll in so I played it via Gamefly. It was a truly amazing game. The platforming didn't die out towards the end. The set pieces were beautiful. The story was amazing and the gameplay shined. I loved every minute of it.

Uncharted 3 isn't as many leaps and bounds better than Uncharted 2. I'm not even sure if it's better than Uncharted 2. So I'm not as impressed because my expectations were raised so high. That said, it's still an amazing game. The grenade throwback mechanic is really well done and adds some good depth to the gunplay.  The platforming is solid but has mostly been climbing so far. The climbing in Uncharted is so easy it almost may as well be automated.

I really look forward to beating this game.


Sonic Generations "Let's fly away together, Sonic." said Sonic. "I can't, Sonic. They don't have that mechanic in my levels." Sonic replied. -my personal fanfic collection

I wouldn't have bought this game if it weren't for the demo station set up at GameStop. The music for Green Hill Zone just captured me and wouldn't let me go. So, that was sneaky clever shit they pulled. Damn nostalgia. I'd played the demo previously and been unimpressed, but that changed when I got the full game. I don't really know why.

For the first three level, which pulled from Sonic the Hedgehog, Sonic 2, and Sonic 3 for inspiration, I enjoyed the classic sonic versions. However, as the levels have progressed, I've been enjoying the new Sonic versions of the levels more and more, to where my enjoyment of new Sonic has overcome my enjoyment of the classic Sonic versions.


I'm six levels deep now, so we'll see how the rest of the game pans out. All things considered, this game has me reconsidering checking out Sonic 4 again. This game has probably been a great success for Sega and I think they deserve it.

I have about a billion other games that I have bought recently and need to play. Expect more in the future as I slowly make my way through playing all of them.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Well, I Won't Be Working There Much Longer

Piggy
Probably. Yesterday, I found out that my work had approved me to work full-time instead of as a contractor. Same pay, and I'll get benefits and time off. There's a problem though. Today at 3:00 we had a company-wide meeting. At the meeting we found out that we had lost the bid for the Medicare contracts we have. So by July at the earliest, we won't have that work any more. The process may be delayed a bit, but it will eventually happen.

I'm still going to be picked up for full-time. There was actually an ulterior motive to making me full-time. As a full-time employee I'll have first dibs on any jobs that show up at Blue Cross. Even still, the company isn't necessarily going away. They are, and have been, looking into new business that they can take on. So the company isn't dead, they may not need me in the future, but they aren't dead. Like I said before, I'll still be doing this particular job at least until July.

Aside from that, if I'm let go around then that opens up the possibility of moving somewhere and doing something else. I have experience under my belt now and could probably get a real job much easier now than it was for me before.

Overall, I'm not at all bummed about this. It's a weird thing to say, but I'm very fine with it. Medicare wasn't something that I wanted to spend my life doing. I see this as a way to transition to bigger and better things. Also, as compensation, we get to wear jeans for the rest of our time. Casual Friday is now everyday! YAY.

In a final bit of potpourri news, we got a rice cooker, and it's awesome.

I love me some rice.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Advocating the New Talent System: Necessary Conditions for its Success


At Blizzcon, Blizzard announced their changes to the new talent system and their hopes that it would be the end of cookie cutter specs. Smart people realized that this wouldn't be so, that as long as there were choices, people would sim/calculate out which choices would produce optimal DPS. Smarter people realized/made mention that this would just mean we'd have to come up with a cookie cutter spec for each fight. The particular article that I read was Mists of Pandaria: The Myth of the talent tree choice by my personal superhero Fox Van Allen (who has the best name ever).

Let me just say first that I agree with most of what he says in the article. I just don't necessarily agree with the doom-saying. I feel that there is more to be said on the topic. There is a theorem in mathematics that is relevant to this situation. It doesn't have a special name, but it goes like this:
Given any finite set of numbers, that set has a maximum value and attains that value.
In calculus this is true given any function and a closed set on which that function is continuous (or piecewise continuous), but that's not important. Here, a maximum value is one that is greater than or equal to each value in the set. In our case, these numbers are the DPS (or HPS, or relate to damage mitigated) produced on a particular fight by a particular set of talent choices. So on any fight, there will be some spec that is optimal. And since these talent choices are so different, it's unlikely that any two of them will be equal, except in rare cases, so there will almost always be a single optimal spec for any given fight.

Is this okay? Yes it is, under certain conditions. Blizzard has said that they want talent choices to be simpler, more understandable, and more meaningful. They've certainly achieved the meaningful aspect. The choices you make now are actually fairly significant from one another, but how can they make it simpler and more understandable?

I said that this system will be fine under certain conditions, what do I mean by that? What are those conditions? As I see it this system will be a success if
  1. It is clear when (for what bosses/situations) one talent choice is better than another. For example, Divine Star (priest tier 3) would be very good for a movement heavy fight with AOE damage and possibly adds.
  2. If there isn't an obviously superior talent for a particular fight, the talents should produce roughly equal results. The results should be equal enough that your familiarity with a play style should be more important than the simulated results.
  3. Talent choices should not have a significant effect on gearing. I should be able to change talents without feeling like I need to change my gear. I'm worried about enhancement shaman in their tier 4 talents in this regard.
  4. For DPS and tanks, the choices shouldn't change your rotation. You shouldn't have to relearn your class.
With this new system I want to be able to go into a heroic with whatever talent set I want to use and perform well. I shouldn't feel the need to change my spec from fight to fight unless I'm undergeared for the dungeon. During progression raiding, I fully expect for me and my fellow raiders to change their talent set from fight to fight. However, if we overgear the raid, I expect my talent choices to not matter nearly as much.

In the end, I'd argue that the cookie cutter spec IS gone. Cookie cutter, while it actually refers to the homogeneity between characters, seems to imply to me that the spec is optimal for every fight. We have now created a situation where the optimal spec changes from fight to fight. We've eliminated cookie cutter specs, just not optimal specs, and that's okay, because that's impossible.

Picky Math Word Nerd Side Note: These aren't talent trees anymore. They're talent sets. Truthfully, mathematically, they weren't technically trees before. The difference between the old system and the new system is that you have fewer choices, the choices aren't dependent upon one another (no talent requires another talent), they are more exclusive, and they are shared between specs. Diablo II's talent system was more tree-like, though it was really more like a forest (a collection of trees). Even then, it doesn't perfectly fit the description of a forest. I'd say it was more of a set of directed graphs.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Fact: There are No Lesbians in WoW

He's hiding something, I know it!
A young orc comes home from a day of battle.

Father: Lok'tar! Son!

Son: Lok'tar father.

Father: What's wrong? Were you not able to crush the Alliance beneath your mighty blade?

Son: My blade and technique are fine, father; it is my heart.

Father: Your heart, does it ache? Are you ill? Did they strike at your breast? Do you need to see a shaman?

Son: I am not ill, father, yet my heart aches. I fear there is no balm to ease my pain. You see father, I need to tell you something.

Father: Spit it out, then. What is it?

Son: Father, I'm...Wait, what am I?

...and I don't think there are any homosexuals either. I attest, that title is a bit of a troll, but it raises an interesting point.What I mean when I say those things is that I don't think these words would make sense for a WoW character to use.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

NatOctoBlogMo in Retrospect

This is one of my favorite videos ever.

Well, I did it. A full month with blog posts each day. I've actually been cranking out daily posts since September 21st and some days have had two posts. It's been a pretty wild ride, one that I took alone. But despite the fact that nobody joined me (sniff), I certainly enjoyed doing it myself, and that's what matters. What all did I talk about over this past month? What did I learn? Where will I be going from here (jump to the bottom for that)?

Monday, October 31, 2011

Big Orange Burgers: The Best I've Ever Had

I'm not really one to brag about food I've eaten, but this is too good to pass up. It will make for something different to round out this month of blogging. There's a new burger place in Little Rock, and it's called Big Orange. I've eaten there a total of three times now, and each time has been absolutely wonderful. The restaurant itself has a very modern aesthetic. Lovely bold colors adorn the walls with some interesting Americana-esque pop art. It also has exterior seating.


The first time we went there we both got their classic burger and shared a side of fries and a chocolate shake. All the toppings are on the side so you can decide what and how much of something you want. The cheese was on there and I added the lettuce and a touch of ketchup. It was the best burger that I've ever had in my life. The bun was so wonderful. The beef, perfectly shaped, seasoned, and cooked. The toppings were wonderful. The fries were so absolutely good and the chocolate shake was divine.


The second time we went, I got their hickory smoke burger. I had it with the barbecue sauce, cheese, and fried onion strings. This was also a very good burger. This last time I got their atom bomb. I didn't put the peppers or the mayo on it. Since it was something very new to me I want to step my way up to the full thing. This was a really great burger and I look forward to experiencing the full thing. 


The real winner that last time I went was what I drank. I had a J.K. Scrumpy Orchard Gate Gold Cider. This was the most delicious alcoholic beverage I've ever had. It was 22 oz of 6% alcohol for $8 of absolute deliciousness. The saddest thing is that I can't find it anywhere else so that I can consume it at home. For other sample of their amazing drink selection, check it out here.


This is absolutely one of the best places I've been, and I definitely plan on going there many more times in the future. If you aren't into beef, they also have turkey burgers, burgers made with a veggie/bean patty, and salads.  This restaurant comes form the same people who run Zaza's, a local pizza and salad place. Would definitely recommend.

Big Orange on Urbanspoon

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Demo Roundup Part 2: From Dust, Payday: The Heist, BloodRayne: Betrayal, and Sideway: New York

I really wasn't expecting for all of these to be downloaded, but apparently signing up for Playstation Plus has perks I didn't realize. I logged in and it had updated my firmware, downloaded patches for games, and finished downloading all these demos (and more) during the previous night. Very Nice.


From Dust 
I've heard several complaints about this game, but I actually enjoyed it. I think I'll go ahead and purchase the full version. The graphics are nice and the terraforming gameplay is unlike anything I've done before, and I'm always looking for new play experiences.

The controls are a little sensitive and the camera could be a bit better, but I imagine that I'll overcome those difficulties in time.

Man, does anyone else remember how awesome Populous was? I only had a demo for it that came with SimCity 3000 and it was fantastic.

Payday: The Heist
I'm not normally one for first-person shooters, but this was sufficiently different to hold my interest. It's a 4-player cooperative objective based shooter.

The demo level had me robbing a bank and breaking into the vault. It was actually quite interesting. The shooting was solid and the game features non-linear levels and solid action. Overall the experience was very fun.

The levels are apparently somewhat random so you get a different experience each time you play it .


BloodRayne: Betrayal
Does this image interest you in it? I bet it doesn't.
The demo actually reminded me of Shank, except it seems to be much better than Shank was. The art is repetitive and somewhat low quality, but the gameplay is actually really solid.

The thing that's great about it is that it seems to fully embrace the campiness of the series. From the gameplay videos I'm seeing, the levels get much better later in the game. I'm definitely interested in this game now.

With an excellent combat system and good encounter design, this get's my recommendation.


Sideway: New York
Hmmm...a visually innovative platformer with a shallow gimmick. Yep, it's not very good. The idea of this game is that you've been transformed into a graffito and are platforming around with graffiti powers on the side of buildings. You'll go around the corners of buildings and walk on their roofs. If you approach a roof from a different wall, the gravity while on the roof will be different than if you approached form a different wall.

The problem with making a platformer is that an interesting gimmick isn't good enough. If the baseline platforming isn't solid enough the whole game just falls apart. The most important part of a platformer is the jump. If you don't have a good jump, it's over. And overall, I'd say that the jump in Sideway is just too floaty. It'd be like Halo platforming, and that's definitely a bad thing.

They couldn't have all been winners today.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Preliminary Talent Builds for Mists of Pandaria


There are some preview versions of the revised talents system for Mists of Pandaria at Wowhead. I've taken the liberty of putting together some preliminary builds for my current max level characters.

Guardian Druid (aka, the new 4th Druid spec for Bears)


Bears are getting their own specialization now, making the druid the only class with four. I'm really looking forward to what new abilities this will afford us since we won't be sharing with cats anymore. There are, of course, some holes in the descriptions for these abilities, so I'm excitedly waiting to see how those turn out.
  1. Displacer Beast - because as a tank if I'm turning into a cat, I need to do it after I'm put distance between me and what's attacking me. Good for getting out of effects that are happening right on top of you.
  2. Renewal - You can't argue with 30% of your health being restored.
  3. Typhoon - something about the idea of opening my mouth and knocking away all the enemies with a wave of water is very appealing to me. 
  4. Incarnation - You become a better bear. I'm mostly waiting to see how this one pans out. I'm also very interested in the new Force of Nature. Typhoons and Treants and Bears oh my!
  5. Ursol's Vortex - This is for more NPC control. We bears have trouble with that. :-(
  6. Disentanglement - There are spare moments in boss battles where you can shape shift (especially combined with Displacer Beast) that should make this a very interesting choice.
The theme here is mobility and mob control. I'm really looking forward to playing a new bear. RAWR!


Atonement is probably going to become baseline for discipline, which is something that I'm particularly looking forward to. Many of my choices here are about increasing discipline's AOE healing potential.
  1. Psyfiend - This was a tough call, as none of them particularly appealed to me. This seemed better than Psychic Scream, because it seems less chaotic.
  2. Body and Soul - I use shields often, so this seems like a no-brainer. Although it can often be disorienting for the affected person to be suddenly running very fast, if you have a dedicated group, they'll get used to it. This will also call for more situational awareness on my part, which will be an enjoyable challenge.
  3. Divine Star - An AOE heal? Sure, let's see how it goes. I'm also a big fan of From Darkness, Comes Light.
  4. Angelic Bulwark - I'll take stronger shields on my self to prevent me from needing a 30% heal or an auto-shield.
  5. Serendipity - Combine this with From Darkness, Comes Light to make your spells have this great positive feedback loop.
  6. This is a tough tier. I'd pick Vampiric Dominance but there's no way that's going to come through exactly the way it is. If it doesn't get nerfed, then it's definitely the one I'm picking. I'm also interested in Vow of Unity, but I'll have to see how it works out in a practical setting.

I love playing an enhancement shaman. I also love playing a restoration shaman. One of my favorite things about being an enhancement shaman is being able to contribute heals when they're really needed, so I'm putting some effort into that.
  1. Earthgrab Totem - I'm honestly not a fan of any of these. When I tank I hate it when the DPS manipulate the mobs like this, because it makes it hard to build threat/rage. If called for as part of the strategy, these things can be very helpful. Any choice here is good. Frozen Power would be my second choice.
  2. Stone Bulwark Totem - I like to defend myself from incoming damage,don't you? Astral Shift also seems like a good choice. It will come down to how each one of them plays.
  3. Improved Ghost Wolf - I had to go with the selfish choice on this one.
  4. Ancestral Guidance - I also really like Healing Tide Totem. However, I'm kinda expecting this one to scale better for enhancement shaman. I also think it will be a good way to save one particular person who is taking too much damage, whereas Healing Tide Totem is more of a helper, not meant to save anyone in an immediate fashion.
  5. Nature's Swiftness - I'm hoping the haste will make up for the damage loss from not taking Echo of the Elements. Throwing down an instant Chain Heal or Healing Rain is a favorite pastime of mine. Will Enhancement Shaman even have Healing Rain in Mists of Pandaria, though? Who knows? Echo of the Elements may very well end up being the better choice.
  6. Totemic Restoration - I don't often end up moving my totems. If I PVP'd more, I probably would. I don't know how valuable being able to have multiple totems of the same type will be, but being able to cut down the cooldown of my totems seems very valuable.
One thing I noticed is that the various shield spell aren't mentioned here. Will they go on the chopping block in Mists? It seems like they will since they aren't very interesting, just fire-and-forget.

Overall I'm very excited for these talent changes. They've also stated that they want talent changing to be relatively easy, like glyphs. We might be able to alter our talent builds between boss battles easily, which would be wonderful for me, since I love to min-max for each circumstance that way.

Friday, October 28, 2011

The Stupidity of 9-9-9 Tax Plan

May I rant for a second?

The 9-9-9 tax plan is the dumbest shit I've ever heard. I'd really like to see Herman Cain go to the presidential election trying to convince poor people that they'll be losing a little less than 20% of their money to taxes. If you're sufficiently poor, you're going to lose 9% of your income to federal taxes, and then everything you buy will cost an additional 9%. You know that $400 dollar XBox 360 bundle you want. Well, it's not really that much any more. Add on, let's say, 15% combined sales taxes and it's now, $460. Have fun with that. Try adding another 9% sales tax to your car purchase and lose a couple thousand dollars.

People allegedly like this idea because it's simple. Guess what, simple usually isn't good. Tax code is a reflection of what we think people owe back to the government. Things such as donating to charity are considered to absolve you of some of your tax burden. Life, income, and economics are complicated, so it makes sense for the tax code to be too.

In statistics, the most accurate systems are also the most complicated. Adding more variables to your analysis can only increase the accuracy of your model. That's why our tax structure is complicated, but it's also good that it is. The only real problem with it is that there are these complicated loopholes that allow the wealthy to avoid paying taxes. The tax loopholes for businesses also need to be sealed up.

By the way, this isn't just bad for the poor. What about the elderly? The elderly have no income, and thus no income tax burden. However, they'll become saddled with additional sales tax burden. This will throw off the retirement plans of people who've had everything set up for 30 or 40 years. This would also add to the price of medicines, which our country already has a million problems with. Oh, and with a business tax, you can bet your ass that pharmaceutical companies are going to increase the cost of their products, further compounding the problem of sales tax on medications. You could, of course, always exempt medications from sales tax.

So what would the government do to correct the problem of sales tax burden on the elderly? They could either a) increase social security benefits or b) let the elderly suffer. If they increase social security benefits they'd either have to increase the social security contribution of income earners or businesses (increasing tax) or let some of the sales tax feed back into social security. They could also create exceptions where the elderly don't pay the sales tax.

It seems, just from this cursory analysis, that the 9-9-9 tax plan creates several problems. These could be fixed with exceptions to the rule, but that kinda defeats the point of it's simplicity, doesn't it?

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Demo Roundup

I love the echochrome music


Rochard
This is a fairly acclaimed puzzle platformer which features a gravity gun as the major mechanic. I just couldn't get into it. I just didn't like it. As a platformer, it's too slow. For a puzzle game, it's too inaccurate. For an action game, I don't have enough control. It okay at three different things which means that I don't feel pulled towards any one of them.

Sonic Generations: New Sonic Type
I guess I just don't care about this type of Sonic gameplay.

Killzone 3 w/ Move
I bought a Playstation Move on the cheap recently, with the gun attachment. I decided to try out several demos with it. One of those demos was Killzone 3. The sharpshooter is the gun attachment that man Wii players have wanted for a long time. It's so well designed and made, it's crazy.

That said, controlling a shooter with a motion controller instead of a traditional controller is still incredibly difficult. Killzone 3 is an early attempt at Move controls for a shooter and I really hope that later games will have better Move controls.

I'm not sure if it was easier playing with the Move with or without the Sharpshooter. Both forms had their own difficulties. That said, the game was very fun, and although I didn't try it with a traditional controller I know it would have been a very smooth experience with one.

echochrome ii
Shine the light to make the shadows to get the guy to the goal.  Fun, but not as fun for me as the original Echochrome.

Mercury Hg
I had trouble telling the yellow from the green in the original Mercury. It reassuring to know that no steps were taken to improve color distinguishing for color blind players. Also, controller Mercury with a PS3 analog stick was much harder than doing so with a PSP analog stick.

Ape Escape Move
This was pretty much shit.

Playstation Move Heroes
I couldn't play it. I started up one of the minigames and my character couldn't move. Oops.

Dungeon Defenders
An Action RPG/Tower Defense game. I tried this with the Playstation Move controls, which were terrible. The camera was also far too close to the character and there was no map. This meant that I had no way to know when an enemy was sneaking up on my defenses or on the crystal that I'm supposed to protect. It's not an instant loss if an enemy gets there but it's very frustrating nonetheless.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Shaman Abilities and Other Changes, Adventures in Amateur Games Design part 15

Get it? Get it? Get it?
It's been a hell of a long time since I worked on this at all, other things began to occupy my brain spheres. Also, my mind encountered a bit of a road block when working on this so I took a detour through other topics, like voting.

It's been forever since I actually talked about this class (or this project). I don't even think it was called the shaman until just now. Earlier it was the priest. I think the word 'shaman' better fits the kit that I'm going with, though. Life/Death has been replace with a nature based tree.

Nature:
  • Given Ability: Draining Ivy - Vines fire from your arm, attaching to the opponent and draining their life, giving it to you.
  1. Vine Wall
  2. Vine Whip - A vine comes from you and whips the opponent, lacerating them.
  3. Some type of heal that does instant healing with a heal-over-time component. Plants grow in the wound.
  4. Meadow - an area-of-effect heal
  5. Log Throw - log appears and fwops the opponent
  6. Tangle - Creeping vines grow from the ground and trap the opponent
  7. Wild Mushroom - a mushroom grows on the opponent and eventually detonates. Upgrades to add spores that will make more mushrooms.
  8. Decay - Weakens the opponent
  9. Poison Bolt - deals damage-over-time
  10. Summon Treants
Fire/Ice:
  • Given Ability: Antipode - A fire projectile and an ice projectile that can target separate targets.
  1. Fire Wall
  2. Flame Jet - cone of fire damage
  3. Hot Steel - heats a weapon to deal extra damage
  4. Healing Waters - a direct heal
  5. Fireball - boom
  6. Tidal Wave - a wall of water pushes the opponents
  7. Water Cut - a blade of water slices at the opponent
  8. Freeze - locks down a body part of the enemy
  9. Engulf - sets the foe on fire, dealing damage-over-time
  10. Undecided water/ice ability
Earth/Wind
  • Given Ability: Undecided
  1. Rock Wall
  2. Rock Armor
  3. Rock Shoot
  4. Earthquake
  5. Shackle - manacles of rock hold down the opponent
  6. Buffet - push back
  7. Speed of Wind
  8. Lightning - The shaman separates the charge in a pocket of air, releasing it to electrify everyone in the area. Not a lightning bolt.
  9. Cyclone
  10. Asphyxiate
The recent changes to how the World of Warcraft progression systems work has given me some question as to whether I should change how my progression systems work. I'm wondering if I should change how abilities are learned and customized. I'll definitely admit that my current idea how character customization has completely daunted me and is really keeping me from moving forward with my idea. I think I'm going to do it. I just need to find out what way will work best.

Fighting Back: Getting Revenge for the Loss of Theramore

I know I used this recently, but it's just so damn good.

It's come to light recently that in a pre-Mists of Pandaria event that Theramore, in Dustwallow Marsh, will be destroyed in a Horde attack. This is meant to ignite the preexisting Alliance/Horde tensions to launch us into the story for MoPTo be clear, it hasn't been clarified/indicated if the Alliance will be losing Dustwallow Marsh as a question area or if Theramore will just be rubbled. Regardless, many people are crying out over this, claiming the Alliance lost enough in the transition into Cataclysm and calling for similar Horde losses. If it's done, though, then where?

It wouldn't suffice to just say that I have ideas.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Gaming Update: Donkey Kong Country Returns is Bullshit and More

I just want to quit....

beat Donkey Kong Country Returns a while back but I went back to do these secret dungeons that unlock a final secret level. The secret dungeons were pretty cool, even if sometimes unnecessarily hard. There were high concept levels, which was nice. The final secret level, however, was bullshit.

It was just a stupid gimmick level where are the platforms were various fruits. The platforming was hard, but in the lame, erratic movements, kind of way. And the reward for doing all of this? Mirror Mode. The levels are reversed and you don't get Diddy Kong, items, and only 1 health. Like I'm going to play an even more bullshit version of a game I already thought was hard in an incredibly lame way.

Screw that.

I'm about 270 pages into REAMDE and it seems like it's reaching towards a conclusion. This is weird for me because it's an almost 1,100 page book. Then I realized that it's broken into separate parts and I'm still on the first part. This makes me feel better, as it makes me feel better about my reading pace.

In other news, I'm probably going to start playing WoW again. I don't plan on doing the endgame stuff, at least not right away. The changes for Mists of Pandaria really excite me. Also, buying a year's subscription gets me Diablo III for free, so that's pretty damn cool. I'm going to level a Tauren paladin.

My Gamefly sale games came in, so I'm looking forward to playing Naughty Bear, 3D Dot Game Heroes, Tactics Ogre: Let Us Cling Together, Kingdom Hearts: Birth by Sleep, and (possibly) Metroid: Other M. Where I shall find the time I have no idea.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Questionable Content's Questionable Characterizations

First World Problems

Something dawned on me recently about Questionable Content. The female characters are all essentially defined by their issues. The male characters mostly seem to be 'bros' without major issues. Let's begin with the ladies.
  1. Faye Whitaker - she witnessed her dad commit suicide and has severe relationship and drinking problems likely because of it.
  2. Dora Bianci - anxiety and trust issues ended her relationship with Marten
  3. Hannelore Ellicott - Chatham: Has OCD. Although, this doesn't actually seem to affect her much, other than making her a neat freak, good at math, and out of touch. I don't feel that she has truly had a serious problem because of her OCD and it mainly seems to get trotted so she can be quirky and lonely internet boys can develop moe-esque feelings for her. 
  4. Raven Pritchard - Ditzy
  5. Penelope Gaines - She and her boyfriend Wil are both lit/artsy people. However, she's the one who comes off snobby about it.
  6. Tai - Has lesbian issues
  7. Marigold Louise Farmer - has weight, nerdiness and social anxiety issues.
  8. Cossette - is clumsy
  9. Padma - has a kid, a sick grandmother, and must move away
  10. Momo - Marigold's Anthro PC who just got a human-like body and is dealing with those issues
Now for the boys.
  1. Marten Reed - former indie music snob and current dubstep snob whose only issue would have been that his mother was (is?) a dominatrix but he seems to have dealt with it remarkably well. He seems to be a somewhat empty shell, somewhat Bella Swan-esque in his lack of characterization. Seems to serve almost as a foil for the other characters.
  2. Steve - a bro through and through. 
  3. Sven Bianci - he does have promiscuity issues that ruined a relationship he had with Faye. Sven is, however, a tertiary character at best.
  4. Angus - Faye's current boyfriend who doesn't seem to have any issues.
  5. Wil - similar to Penelope, just not snobby about it
  6. Eliot - in really into Padma
This really came to light recently. Jeph Jacques (the creator) was coming up with a new character. He wanted to know what gender the people would like. The overwhelming response was to make it a male character (being sick of female characters, since the dudes are almost never around). He made the character male, he appeared in a handful of strips (less than 10) and has disappeared. In the interim we have been introduced to Padma and Momo got her human-like body.

Is it because, as a man, he views men and women in different lights? Does he break down women by their issues and men by their bro-ness? It's hard to tell. Is this a problem for male writers in general? I don't know, but it was something interesting that I noticed and has really affected my ability to enjoy the comic.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

LGBT Representation in WoW Lore Characters

It's actually relevant.

During the World of Warcraft Lore Q&A panel at Blizzcon, a young woman came up to ask a question on behalf of her girlfriend. The question was regarding the lack of representation of LGBT characters in WoW. Chris Metzen, Senior Vice President President of Story and Franchise Development, fielded the response. He said that they would certainly like to do an LGBT character, but just needed the right time to do it. Here is a paraphrasing provided by mmo-champion:
Everything is gravy as long as its just a great character. There is the possiblity of adding them, as long as the story is compelling, might see it in the future.
That isn't a direct quote. His actual words more more eloquent.

I think it's great that Blizzard wants to do an LGBT character justice. It'd be very easy to add one in and it be a poor representation. I also think that maybe they shouldn't wait for it to just happen. I think it'd be possible to deliberately add one without it seeming forced.

But let's play devil's advocate for a bit and talk some stuff. How many characters in WoW actually exhibit heterosexuality and gender normativity? Truthfully, 99% of characters don't exhibit any sexuality at all. Is a character only LGBT if they outwardly show it?

And how would a character show they sexuality? Other than professing a desire for a particular person or gender, it's through their actions. Other ways would be through speech and manners of dress. Many WoW NPCs have no voice. And the manners of dress for all WoW characters is pretty outlandish. That being said, there are medium-level characters that do have speaking/acting roles in the game where it could be done in a way that is respectful. There are also major characters who appear in cutscenes and throughout the game where it could be done.

With regards to a transgender character, how would that be signified? You could either have a character explain that they used to be of the opposite gender, which would seem forced. You could have an NPC of one gender that is always referred to as being the opposite gender, which might come off as a bug. Perhaps the character would always appear as one gender because of a magical transformation they've undergone, but the spell occasionally wears off and the have to reapply it, showing their birth gender. It's a very tricky issue.

In conclusion, there aren't any clear LGBT characters in WoW right now. But with the majority of NPCs in the game it's impossible to identify anything with regards to their gender/sexuality. Even if they do make a character that is LGBT, it's very easy to get it wrong. However, none of this means that Blizzard shouldn't go out of their way to do it, and do it properly.