Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Snub the Passive Voice

"Their mother wasn't raped; I ate her pussy while she was asleep"

Eminem - Amityville

"That's the mentality here
That's the reality here"

also Eminem - Amityville, on a different topic

"It always seems impossible until it's done."
Nelson Mandela

A recent visit to some relatives got me watching some good old-fashioned teleo-vision, including a nature documentary about mountains, itself including mountain dwelling snub-nosed monkeys. It featured an adorably snub-nosed little monkey (truth in advertising) who gets abandoned when his mother shacks up with her former mate's murderers. The juvenile now has to find a group of bachelor males with whom to huddle for warmth against the night's freezing temperatures. The voiceover repeatedly drives home the point of just how wild and brutish the murderous bachelor males are. Especially the leader. And how amazing it is that they'd take in a useless little orphan monkey-boy. Amazing. Just amazing.
... Wait, it seems like we fast-forwarded past something here. Can we go back to the part where a helpless little monklet was bounced from his clan? That part is apparently not amazing. In social mammals, as a rule, females band together around their charming princes and the rest of the males are on their own. Didn't warrant much commentary. It's just business as usual. And in fact it is perfectly natural from an evolutionary perspective, fitting both male and female reproductive strategies. Male offspring are a high-risk, high-payoff proposition. They're a gamble. The successful few are really successful. The rest? Our savage mother nature doesn't give a shit.

Polite, civilized society, on the other hand, is supposed to give all of the shits.

And what could be more polite and civilized than the English? My recent exposure to tha teevee also included the pilot episode of Jamestown, which being advertised as created by former Downton Abbey hotshots, inevitably caters to much the same middle class female audience. Now, when one has less to say, one tends to say it louder, and as Jamestown is of lower budget and quality than its predecessor, it compensated by ramping up the female chauvinism. Leaving aside other offenses, I was amused at the dramatic line used for advertisements:
"these men have been on their own for so long they've ceased being men"
First, just try reversing the polarity on that. Imagine a show being promoted with the line "these women have been on their own for so long they've ceased being women" and then imagine the ten ton boot that would be used to kick the hapless writer out the studio's doors.
Second, and more importantly, just try to gauge the unmitigated conceit of that statement. Those men have been suffering the privations, dangers, isolation, humiliation and terror of frontier life for a dozen years to provide you with a safety net upon your arrival. Oh, how saaaad for <you> that <they> suffered a dozen years of dehumanizing experiences!

But ok, let's switch media. Webcomics, for their relatively high creative freedom, youth appeal and need to incorporate audience expectations into rapidfire four-panel humor, present an interesting delineation of modern social acceptability and transgression. Take Questionable Content for instance, which recently had a male character yank a grey hair out of a female friend's head and mock her existential despair at getting old, pawing at her head for more grey hairs as she sat there whining pitifully. Cue laugh track. Then on the next page she innocently points out it's no worse than that one wrinkle he's gotten, at which point he pulls a knife on her and threatens her into recanting the observation while cowering from him.
Hah! Hilarious, amirite?
Oh, wait, I should have noted I'm doing that "reverse the polarity" thing where I reverse male and female roles to test the objectivity of pro-female chauvinism. I guess the original version with the female mocking a man and threatening to fly into a rage is... cute. Right? When a double standard favors women, we're supposed to applaud it.

Or try a 2014 strip from Candorville, a left-wing political comic wavering between sanity or blindly mouthing the Democratic Party's talking points. A strawman conservative complains about the truth gap in the supposed gender wage gap, and is shot down by the author's avatar - not by actually addressing the point but by complaining that "a lot of industries still won't hire women" with a specific jab at the tech sector. In the fine print rant below, the author treats us to this gem:
"Even though women outnumber men at the top schools and in the workforce and use the latest gadgets and apps in equal if not greater numbers, they still represent a small fraction of executives, entrepreneurs, investors and engineers."
Well, at least this time I didn't have to reverse the polarity; he did it for me. Yes, how sad for women that despite being handed every social good and advantage without working themselves to death, they're still refusing to work themselves to death to prove their worth by amassing superfluous money and fame.
How sad for them. On the other hand, the men whose buying power has been hooked and crooked into women's hands, whose seats in universities have been wrested to give the lady a subsidized fainting couch called gender studies? Darrin Bell didn't need to worry about those men. He can't worry about them, for fear a feminist lynch mob will shove his Pulitzer up his ass.

I also enjoyed the webcomic Leftover Soup through to its somewhat sappy end. Quirky characters straddle that nerdy line between reality and fantasy enough to make me swallow what is otherwise merely a "slice of life" comic. Like most urbane, media-savvy modern men, the author's got a huge fucking blind spot when it comes to... fucking, or more broadly, broads gender relations. Unlike most of us, he's been actively working to improve his thinking on the matter for two decades now, with mixed success. He's done a couple of bits on the topic of rape. One involved a gay member of a polyamorous ... coven? cabal? tupperware club with benefits? what the hell is the proper term for that anyway? In any case, gay guy in a polyamorous relationship confesses to having sucked off straight guy within same relationship without his knowledge despite knowing his friend's aversion to boy-boy love.

Is that rape? The comic goes into several dozen panels of discussion on the topic, but I always meant to comment on this page in particular and its author commentary for its apt display of doublethink. The victim doesn't want to use the R-word to describe what happened to him because
A) the event wasn't traumatic until he found out about it and
B) He's a dude, dude.

A lot of effort, planned or unwitting, sinks into supporting feminists' self-justifying "rape culture" paranoid fantasies, to feed the entitlement of women as heroines over men as villains. As one example, the Centers for Disease Control in the U.S. years ago fabricated a separate category of sexual assault called "made to penetrate" for abuse of the penis to ensure that women who rape men can be arbitrarily excluded from r-a-p-e statistics when politically convenient. So when Brunhilde holds a gun to your head and rides you like a unicycle until your skin tears, take solace knowing you won't be permitted to infringe on women's absolute moral superiority by the galling suggestion that you, a lowly male, might be entitled to the same consideration as your female superiors in the natural order. Glory in your government's righteous defense of the gender oppression fairytale. Man bad. Woman good. Shut up.

In the case of Leftover Soup, the author's commentary below the comic was often as interesting as the comic itself. Truth is sometimes stranger than fiction. He may think "The R-word is what happens to chicks" is one of the most horrible sentences he's ever written, but as far as the government's concerned it's public policy. Women don't rape men, at least not as long as you don't define women forcing sex on men as rape.

Of course the real issue, as I often say, is to imagine the reverse. Reverse the polarity. I have to wonder if Tailsteak, as edgy and risque as he markets himself, would have supported one of his female instead of male characters stating that she didn't suffer enough at the time of her explicitly nonconsensual sex act for it to count as rape. She was too drunk to remember it so who cares. Roofied girls don't remember it so it's cool, yo. I mean, that IS what the beginning of Kill Bill taught us, right? Comatose girls are fair game. Take it like a man, babe. Or, in the author's words:

"I think Trent's mindset is realistic and understandable, though. There's a male ego thing involved - as Dave Chappelle once said, there's an impulse to walk it off."

I love the passive voice here in particular. "There's" this-and-that. There just is. Imagine this same argument sixty or seventy years ago. There's a female ego thing involved in keeping house for her man and having him handle the finances. And yes, there may very well be some nesting instinct factor to women's traditional role in relationships, but we're supposed to be capable of acknowledging that where instinct leads to self-harm or a loss of personal agency, instinct should be curbed or at least counterbalanced by reason and polite discourse. We would see as the pinnacle of political incorrectness any claim that female reticence to raise the hue and cry about an unwanted sexual contact just "is" and leave it at that - to say that if she doesn't want to condemn her abuser then eh, it's a chick thing. There's a female ego thing involved.

Yet Tailsteak was at least right in calling his own enforcement of self-destructive male competence and the taboo on male neediness realistic because you see this bullshit day in and day out, all our lives. Listen to how the topic of husband-beating's handled, the few times it doesn't just yield laughter and mockery of male victims. Men are stronger than women so it hurts less when women hit so therefore shut up and take it like a man.
Oh? So it's fine if male wife-batterers agree to hit their wives just little less violently?
Well you see there's a female ego thing involved in just taking her husband's abuse and keeping up the facade of a happy relationship to make her girlfriends envious.
It's not a valid argument to distinguish men from women if you wouldn't accept it as a valid distinction between females. If it's physical strength that matters, how hard does a man have to hit a woman before it counts? How many newtons per zygomatic centimeter delineate an acceptably feminine strength of abuse?

Bring up the topic of genital mutilation as another example and hear the utter silence from self-righteous social activists on the topic of worldwide, entrenched male circumcision - even as they wail and tear their hair out about the much less popular female version limited to northern Africa and the Middle East. People will waver and stammer and inevitably hit upon what seems to them like an irrefutable argument.
Well, I mean, it's not as bad for boys, is it? They're not cutting the whole penis... it hurts less, doesn't it... they don't lose as much sensation, not all of it.
In other words, walk it off you big literal baby.
Who the shit gives a crap? You're gratuitously chopping pieces off an infant with the express purpose of limiting its future capacity for pleasure, even if you couch it in superstitious babble.
Would you accept the argument that certain forms of cliterectomy shouldn't count as abusive because they don't inflict enough suffering? If so, how little or how much pain and anhedonia amount to justification in mutilating women?
Yes, but you see, there's a female ego thing involved in it. There's an impulse to just walk it off. They feel more like princesses if they're missing their pea.

Made to penetrate? There's that passive voice again. So very very useful. Almost as though there was no second person involved at all. Rape involves a rapist, but what's this supposed to imply? A makist? On the other hand "penetrate" in fact certainly makes it sound like that man was doing something instead of being attacked. He's verbing all the way.

We're obsessed with playing knights in shining armor. Anything in our society which putatively harms women must be made the target of trillion-dollar decades-long eradication campaigns. If anything harms men more than women on the other hand, then "there's an impulse" to ignore it. Male suffering is just how the world works. Incarceration rates, medical research, workplace safety, lower higher education, hospital care, preventive medical care, divorce laws, violence, homelessness, circumcision, military brainwashing campaigns, dying at least five years younger and the endless injustice of female conditioning of male behavior to make us swallow all this bullshit, it all just "is" as if it were an immutable law of the universe. And when what we consider a stereotypically male-on-female crime like rape, child abuse or spousal abuse turns out to contain as many or more female-on-male acts, when social ills like religion, consumerism or the anti-abortion movement turn out to be majority female, well, that half of the equation? That ain't even "is." We just... walk it off. Pay no attention to the woman behind the curtain.

It just feels right, in our subconscious naturalistic fallacy, that men should incur higher damage and receive less help. In our neural infrastructure, we are still to a large extent furry little tree-dwellers huddling together in terror of the night. We are apes, primates, monkeys, and for thirty or sixty million years we have ensured our genetic continuation by having our females band together in safety and tossing males to the wolves. When our genus branched off, when the tyranny of our prolonged gestation and infancy wore so heavily upon women that they grew dependent on male protection and providence, this entitlement was not reversed but only reinforced, each man competing for female attention then shackled to a designated recipient of his labor. Any harm men incur while carrying out that instinctive role, well... just walk it off. We don't even have to think about it. It's our default setting. It seems impossible that it would be otherwise.

And yet, to what extent is the impulse to walk it off instinctive and to what extent does it stem from our socially inculcated mores, our chivalry both medieval and modern, our desperation to reinforce women's tacitly presumed higher value, higher entitlement to peace, safety and happiness and men's subservient role in securing women's safety and contentment? And if it is an instinct, isn't this one of those cases where instinct should be curbed in favor of more civilized self-respect instead of slavishly "walking off" abuse by the unfairer sex? We are minds, not merely ape bodies. We are not natural creatures, lest you think yourself natural in your polyester clothing, sipping your latte while thumb-scrolling through this on your smartphone in an air-conditioned steel cave. We need to address such matters rationally. The issue isn't whether men can "take it" more resiliently than women, but that no-one should be brainwashed into taking abuse in the first place.

How valuable is the victimology pecking order to you? I guess that depends on your definition of equality.

Saturday, June 15, 2019


"Open fire 'cause I love you to death 
Sky high, with a heartache of stone"

Ministry - NWO

Still disappointed by Galactic Civilizations 3 and Distant Worlds: Universe, I haven't been very willing to jump back into the 4x genre. But, when I discovered last year that Stellaris, of which I'd heard relatively little, was made by Paradox itself and not merely marketed under their logo, I decided to buy it without further question.

Now, Paradox is far from saintly. They're as enamored of market manipulation and datamining their customers as any other for-profit enterprise, to the point of constantly trying to sneak log-in incentives and other camouflaged Digital Rights Management mechanics under GoG's radar. Most infamously, they're prone to releasing products as mere skeletons of what they should be, only to bleed their audience with endless downloadable content packs for five to ten dollars a piece. In fact, half of Stellaris' content seems to have been released in just such a manner, more than doubling the game's price. Nevertheless, Paradox has remained one of the major positive forces in the game industry for its willingness to advance more thoughtful genres like strategy or role-playing in a marketplace glutted with ACTION!

Welcome to Nyctimus, ca. 2680. Second moon of the gas giant Lycaon in the Bendis system, homeworld of the mountain-born and high-minded Feral species...

... and capital of the more than hundred inhabited worlds (ringworld included) and five hundred stars of the nearly galaxy-spanning Feral Transcendence.

The purple empire on the left is my protectorate. The orange one near it and just above my border was my first alien contact and has remained my stalwart trading partner and ally from the beginning of recorded history. Though, more recently, they've been massing defenses along our shared border. I don't know why. Maybe it has something to do with the threat posed by my endless rampage through the galaxy's southern reaches, culminating in the near-extermination of the filthy hu-mon species... which to my great chagrin pre-empted my final war declaration by wheedling their monkey paws into a last-minute alliance with by declared besties. Despite my best efforts I won't be killing all hu-mons today :(

Yessir, Stellaris has diplomacy, a surprisingly well-tuned system of likes and dislikes based on past actions, trade deals, and your civilization's governing ethics. AI opponents do not simply declare war as a default action, nor do they meta-game as a single entity against you. They perform like reasonably discrete actors with declared agendas, in a style reminiscent of Alpha Centauri. It boasts about the same amount of modular unit design as well, which is to say not much, but enough to fiddle with occasionally. There's a great deal of other inspiration, declarative or implied, from other games as well (and not just the inevitable Master of Orion similarity) but to me the greatest inspiration, oddly enough, seems EVE-Online. Maybe it's all the asteroid mining or the Titan ship class or the ships catching each other while trying to leave a system, but mostly the heavily interdependent in-game economy. Much like Mount and Blade, Stellaris creates an impression that if you were to replace all the individual NPCs and faction with actual players, this is what an MMO should look like: packs within packs of constantly interweaving individual actors and not a homogenized herd of obedient servants all performing one utterly predictable task. From your intrepid exploration vessels to star-occluding fleets and massive megastructures it provides interesting and costly choices for domestic development to picking your friends or foes, to choose-your-own-adventure interstellar dramas, to crushing your enemies and seeing them etceterad before you. And, though they're not as impactful as they might be, it even incorporates some of the grandiose capstone projects so conspicuously absent from some of its competitors.

In fact it's difficult to find anything specific to discuss regarding Stellaris precisely because it's both so vast in scope and so well integrated. Its individual elements show little depth, but the game as a whole is impressively engaging in the balance it strikes between automating repetitive drudgery while still letting you decide upon the myriad facets of interstellar governance, and remaining fundamentally an expansion-oriented 4X title. You do have caps on your various measures of success (fleet sizes, number of colonies) but they're softer than usual soft-caps letting the player deliberately balance the empire's economy and decide just how far over the limit to go. My own empire has hovered about three times its administrative capacity throughout its growth from the first dozen stars to five hundred. Even your expansion ties back into a conscious decision of who you are as a leader, as the "influence" currency you use to claim systems is partly generated by the various political factions in your empire, each with their own demands and reactions to your political stances. On the galactic level, scalable, customizable maps, time frames and factions give it a great deal of replay value.

Conceptually, this is more of an embodiment of the genre than an advancement: all four X-s accounted for. Yet every aspect, every stage of the game, is expertly handled. The interface alone should humble other would-be designers. Planet, fleet and other screens are designed around presenting a Milky Way's worth of information clearly and functionally with just enough fluff to give it some personality, with adept use of ideograms to cram as much data as possible into every screen without cluttering it. Almost everything is cross-referenced, letting you jump from leaders to their domains to production and map locations seamlessly.

It's huge, it's deep, it's hard, it's long, it's... starting to sound pornographic... and building a rearguard of tight'uns isn't helping. With just a few more overpriced DLC packs, Stellaris will earn its permanent place in gamers' memories as a definitive strategy title.

Thursday, June 13, 2019

Why can fundamentalists never manage to sound witty? They've got no saints of humor.

Sunday, June 9, 2019

Beyond This Horizon

As befits the celebrated name of "author" Robert Heinlein set out several recognizable recurring themes throughout his career. Chief among them featured individuality, the delicate balance of personal freedom and self-appointed duty, a balance fine enough to allow for socially responsible cannibalism. Unfortunately, most of his fans over the decades have tended to fixate on the political convenience of disparate statements and supporting arguments scattered through his works. To nudists he's a nudist; to gun nuts he's a gun nut. Feminist reactionaries claim him as a writer of "strong women" and family-oriented reactionaries love his paternalist alpha males. Socialists can find benevolence in his characters' actions while libertarians cling to their refusal to accept charity.

Beyond This Horizon was written at the start of his career, before his name was even recognizable or his style developed... and it shows. It certainly did not deserve any great awards, as the writing is more disjointed, the characters less defined, the tech-talk more grinding and jarring, the over-drawn pulp SF gunfights more gratuitous. It's inescapably amateurish, twitching spastically among Heinlein's eventual ideas without adequately developing any of them. At its core, being first published at the height of World War 2, it was perhaps inescapably informed by the period's major sociological development: the takeover of entire governments by fascism. Present from the start was Heinlein's keen awareness of the pervasiveness of organization and authority, its inevitability among social apes and the necessity of choosing the lesser of two evils. From the start he did not fall into the facile presumption of the righteousness of plucky rebels. The action adventure climax of Beyond This Horizon casts the hero, having infiltrated a subversive organization, then gunning down its adherents in order to preserve freedom by preserving the government.

For much the same historical reason, much of the plot revolves around eugenics. It drips with the author's unfortunate distaste for transhumanism of any sort - a theme to which he returned in every other book only to reach the same pro-human conclusion despite obviously being intrigued by the question of advancement. Interestingly, he did not dismiss the entire notion of the betterment of the type. His heroes defeat a cadre of overtly idealistic, intrinsically self-serving transhumanist eugenicists... while at the same time themselves practicing a scaled down form of eugenics aimed at merely achieving the pinnacle of purely human development. Hardly a decisive solution, but it does approximate his treatment of the issue in later novels (e.g. the Howard Families) albeit in a less blatant form.

But then everything in this novel had to be toned down to achieve the more thoughtful approach later in his career, and nowhere is this as obvious as the topic of guns. Critics love to remind the public of Heinlein's dictum "an armed society is a polite society" and Beyond This Horizon is the earliest work in which I've encountered it verbatim. He describes an entire population of pistol-packing manly-men ready to duel to the death over the slightest insult, so farcical an image of Utopia than he even had his hero question it before the story's end. Though the rest of his novels still acknowledged the occasional necessity for a direct application of force, his later heroes become more and more likely to adopt creative alternatives to simplistic gunfights. Where the heroes in Beyond This Horizon wax poetic about their sidearms, later protagonists simply... know how to shoot, and that's good enough if it ever comes up at all. In fact if there's a single theme which consistently declined in his works, it would have to be the love of firearms - amazingly enough even while he maintained his stalwart defense of militarism. You'd think the many Americans so eager to co-opt his name in defense of offense might take the hint.

But for me personally, it was most gratifying to discover the last part of the book revolves around the discovery of telepathy, and ends before taking the idea anywhere. It only reinforces my conviction that there is nowhere to take that particular idea, that it harms more than it helps any but the most summary SciFi plots. As it abrogates the construction of agency according to consistent universal laws which best delineates SF from Fantasy, telepathy has remained a non-starter, a superpower so apt to eclipse all else in a fictional universe that to resort to it is to strangle any concurrent or future plots in the cradle.

Wednesday, June 5, 2019

Despite being a terrible writer, I miss attempting to be a good one. So, I'll now occasionally be taking a break from blogging to go over and post some of my old unfinished short story attempts in the non-blog tabs here. Plucky Seven is now up. Not the most original premise, but there you have it.

Saturday, June 1, 2019

You Encounter a Level 17 Green-Eyed Monster

"Bin ich mutiger
Töte mich und iss mein Herz

Hab ich dein Weib
Töte mich und iss mich ganz auf
Dann iss mich ganz auf
Doch leck den Teller ab"

Rammstein - Eifersucht

Champions Online, among its other failings, tends to copycat superhero comic book tropes more slavishly than its predecessor City of Heroes did. So, naturally, you spend some time in an alternate dimension where a tyrannical empire grinds the world under the heel of giant robots suspiciously reminiscent of the X-Men's Sentinels. It's a decently long story arc (and a pain in the ass to solo as an undergeared newbie, let me tell you) where each mission tends to revolve (thematically if not practically) around the Sentinel copycats: evading them, halting their production and generally cowering in terror of being stomped on. Then, in one of the last missions, you get to reprogram and pilot one of them, zapping tanks and tanking helicopter missile barrages.

Stomping around the city as a mecha terror while tiny, insignificant soldiers pelt you with equally insignificant pop guns would've been mildly amusing in itself. What makes it significantly more satisfying is the preceding missions' buildup, the frustration of scampering about in the shadow of such colossi.

I also criticized Spellforce 3 for its quaint but ultimately failed attempt at melding RTS and RPG mechanics, but it did a few things very right. Throughout the campaign you occasionally fight big tough Swamp Thing looking demons called Devourers, each of which more or less qualifies as a boss fight initially. Imagine my delight upon discovering that my black magic spell shrub's capstone is the "summon devourer" ability.

Not only does a massive, life-stealing, self-resurrecting meat shield with PBAoE damage rank as fairly overpowered in preventing attrition for your other forces, but it's just so damn gratifying to have your character learn to harness one of the grandiose forces of the world around you.

Spellforce 3 likely copycatted Warcraft 3, and if there's three things Blizzard Entertainment has done well over the decades, it's
1) dumb down better games' concepts
2) advertise
3) manage its audience's expectations. When the opening War3 cinematic showed the magma golems "infernals" smashing down like meteors from the sky, it perfectly built up the mystique of one of the "ultimate" abilities to... do exactly that, in-game.

Games have rules. A good, consistent game world functions according to a set of defined rules. Rules accessible to all participants. Those big, bad boss-level abilities or badass gadgets should not exist only as props for NPCs. They work best as emblems of heroic apotheosis, as signs that the hero has conquered and mastered that which once stood as his greatest obstacles. Yes, show NPCs using them and then allow the hero to capture or learn to use them. If it's a level 21 ability, then let me reach level 21 at some point and get it. If it's an admiral's flagship, then let me reach the rank of admiral at some point, after many trials and discombobulations. Don't just give NPCs nondescript energy blasts and glowing effects, but actual abilities from player skill trees, tools and transportation purchasable by players themselves. Build up the player's envy at others' displays of power, then stage a context-appropriate pay-off at the next level-up.

In my last screenshot commemorating my first playthrough of the highly memorable RPG Tyranny, my character's wearing strapped to his back a weirdly-shaped glowing blue-headed oversized mace. It's Peacemaker, the legendary weapon of Graven Ashe, Archon of War and General of the elite iron-clad Disfavored legion. It makes a highly visible prop hoisted over his shoulder whenever you encounter him. As luck would have it, my character specialized in two-handed weapons and I spent most of the game allied with Ashe's mortal enemy (until he made an unreasonable demand) and thus eventually wound up graving Ashe. To the victor went the gaudy spoils. As they should. It was to some extent even more satisfying than proclaiming my own edicts, as it existed within the game mechanics, more... tangible, for lack of a better word.

Multiplayer games have already adopted this mindset by building up customers' envy of each other's gear, but too many single-player games still fail at fabricating and satisfying jealousy. (In that order.) There's something viscerally, atavistically satisfying about not just victory but conquest, about eating your enemies' hearts to gain their rich, tasty courage, about the Highlander routine of taking power at the same time as taking heads. Don't merely abstract it as "experience points" and don't separate the player from the game world by separating player and NPC skill trees. Allow me at the very least to gain the same abilities displayed by my enemies, to mount their heads as trophies on pikes in my yard, and wherever possible allow me to outright take their power as spoils of war. All their base should belong to me.

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Champions Online

City of Heroes never really broke subscriber records, but it's certainly qualified as one of the game industry's most notorious "cult classics" in its former playerbase's nostalgia.
(Like me. I'm one of those nostalgic players. In case it wasn't clear. Obvious Werwolfe is obvious.)
It left an internet void upon shutting down which nothing has managed to fill, though not for lack of trying.
fanboy-fictional copycats promise up and down to bring back the magic, and this year has seen an unauthorized revival of CoH by fans who got their hands on the game code. Yet what hope have they, quoth ye Wolfe, to match CoH's success (less address its many glaring flaws) when even the old game's own developers couldn't manage an encore?

This is a mission map in Champions Online, Cryptic Studios' attempt at a competing title after breaking away from NCSoft's mismanagement of CoH.

Yes, that is the mission map. The entire robot mafia... I mean, the entire mission map. And sure, most of them aren't that small, but when half your content consists of linear series of 10x10 sized rooms with an orc guarding a treasure chest, you're not exactly earning your pay.

To a limited extent, this game fails because it's a microtransacted modern title and thus seems to have invested most of its development time in churning out endless funny hats for its cash shop, to be bought by moronic scum desperate for status symbols. You can't walk two feet without being hit in the face with cash grab boxes requiring keys made of solid currency. Still, given that playing dress-up was always a major draw in CoH, this doesn't hit it quite as hard as it does other titles. It's also blown impressive amounts of development time on overextended (and low-quality) cutscenes which have no place in a persistent virtual world to begin with.

But mostly, Champions Online fell prey to the post-WoW trend for Simpler!Faster!LOUDER! entertainment to try to appeal to retards, a.k.a. "a wider audience" and everything from punching to landscapes reflects it. Fewer types of abilities, little to no crowd control, no specialization, regeneration by powerups, instant teleportation to instant quests with instant teams and no teamwork, just aimlessly bullrushing a map marker while ignoring the map.

Oh, and of course a looming GIGANTIC FLOATING ARROW above your head to order you this and that way so you need never be aware of your surroundings. Aaaand to save the developers the trouble of fleshing out those surroundings appropriately.

Before it too succumbed to the instant gratification of grinding "door missions" City of Heroes caught our eye back in 2004 for making a fair attempt at obeying the first and most important point of my MMManifesto: the world is the game. Paragon City's neighbourhoods each had its own theme, from drugged-out street toughs to mobsters on the docks to cyber-punks roaming industrial decay. You could catch thugs in the act snatching purses, breaking locks, trying to kidnap innocent civilians for nefarious experiments gone wrong. CoH (at least pre-release) still remembered that "super" is a relative term, and the truism of every superhero comic that the superhero is the special one, contrasted not only to villains but to mundane humanity. While these elements are present to some extent in Champions Online, they're wholly effaced by the swarms of inexplicable enemies on every street corner. It's not hard to find streets like this one completely devoid of life, and in contrast even the city center is littered with transdimensional robots and demons. Mission maps fare no better, lacking the detailed decor of CoH and resolving more often than not to a simple series of boxes. When the entire universe is built around superheroics, they simply cease being super, or heroic.

Sure, I could bitch some more about combat / itemization mechanics and whatnot, but the truth is Champions Online doesn't entice me to even get far enough to fiddle with minutiae, because it fails as a virtual world.