Saturday, February 17, 2018

Heart-shaped chocolate assault rifles, anyone?

"99 Düsenjäger
Jeder war ein großer krieger
Hielten sich für Captain Kirk"

Nena - 99 Luftballons
____________________________________

"In particular the whole of American life was organized around the cult of the powerful individual, that phantom ideal which Europe herself had only begun to outgrow in her last phase. Those Americans who wholly failed to realize this ideal, who remained at the bottom of the social ladder, either consoled themselves with hopes for the future, or stole symbolical satisfaction by identifying themselves with some popular star, or gloated upon their American citizenship, and applauded the arrogant foreign policy of their government."

Olaf Stapledon - Last and First Men
_____________________________________

"We've all been raised on television to believe that one day we'd all be millionaires, and movie gods, and rock stars. But we won't. And we're slowly learning that fact. And we're very, very - pissed off."

Fight Club
_____________________________________

Another school shooting. Is it that time of year already? Another day, another mass murder, another dollar. Another school shooting, another bumper crop of concern for mass media to mediate into an extra percent earnings this quarter. Another opportunity for America's good cop / bad cop political circus to massage their fanbase. Another school shooting, another beat of the metronome timing that city on a hill. It's the greatest country on earth.

Or at least it's the greatest show. In the future, everyone will be world-famous for fifteen minutes, except there's one born every minute. Tweet softly and carry a boomstick. Don't say the Nero word. Down with the one-percenters, ridin' dirty in the Bentley, all about the Benjamins, frankly Stronger Together shaking their money-maker like they were shakin' it for some paper trail. Down with the liberal elite giving them ball for debutante ball from behind each fence and farmyard wall. Don't tread on the land of the free samples, freedom-kissing their freedom fries straight off the gun rack of lamb of god we trust bust or boom, boom, boom. Everything's a big production. Hence the crisis of over-production. Free to kill, free to steal, free to waste, free to live in debt or die hard, free to enslave each other in stylish white collars. No time for losers. Don't overthink it.

What do you expect?
An entire culture devoted to fetishizing social power, to "getting ahead" and "upward mobility" and "second place is another word for loser" and "you can't argue with success" and the Forbes 500 list and black power, girl power, queer power, power for the sake of power, has no right to act surprised that it's constantly spawning mass murderers. Indoctrinate children from the cradle that they're nobody unless they're receiving special treatment, and what do you expect? School shootings find a corollary within the snowflake pathology evident in Generation Facebook, each and every youth hopelessly paranoid that if they're not oppressing others they must be, somehow, oppressed. Get rich or die tryin'. Where do you think your sadomasochistic fetishes logically lead?

Hi, kids, do you like violence? Do you like watching pro wrestling in your safe spaces? Offer youth only two self-images: thug or limp rag, sadist or masochist. Why act surprised at the results? Every other word out of our yuge president Trump's mouth is either "Winner" or "Loser" and he is merely a symptom, merely the encapsulation of your pathology, the will of the people. Capitalism has made it this way, old-fashioned fascism will take it away. Happiness is a warm pursuit of property. Suckled on Reaganomics, postmodernized intersectional handicapable oversocial justicars newspeak [redacted] under the ingsoc rug, ensuring everyone gets their two minutes of hate. The goose-steppers see their supposed opposition biting their act and join in the dance.

And the metronome ticks on.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Monday, February 12, 2018

Awful Hospital

"Monster movie
Daddy Warbucks up against Bobby Fuller

I fought the war but the war won't stop for the love of god"

Metric - Monster Hospital



I've been deriving inordinate enjoyment from Awful Hospital lately, which is slightly odd given its readily apparent flaws. It starts off as a webcomic rendition of a very low-budget adventure game filled with body horror and gross-out humor, then tacks on RPGish adventuring party members and combat turns, making the audience sit through round after round of "Bob uses rusty knife on zombie" - dull enough when you're actually playing a game, much less reading about it.
(No, really, scroll down to Feb 04 below this if you want to see how boring it is. I may be a hypocrite, but I'm a self-conscious one.)

Its general plot, exposition and dialogues might either be called Wonderland nonsense prose or postmodern absolutist relativism, the all-purpose "everything's possible" always so popular with creators too lazy to maintain internal coherence. Or just call it random crap. Some readers might be put off by the gratuitous bathroom humor comprising much of the early action, or by the pointlessly long digressions into which every other chapter seems to spiral. Still, if you're easily captivated by both world-building and biology as I am, Awful Hospital's dash of both might pique your grokker.

Of course, the odd colon-centric character here and there still ranks much less disgusting than the comic's other major gimmick: audience participation. The internet has placed creators directly in contact with their audience, allowing a route to self-publication free of editorial gatekeeping, a truly transformative advance yet not without its drawbacks. Pandering has only grown in importance and with the audience constantly commenting on every installment of a serialized work, a lot of small-timers spend a lot of time micromanaging their appeal. Awful Hospital sometimes incorporates suggestions from its "comments" section into the protagonist's next course of action, as the many competing voices inside her head. Great way to make the audience feel included and keep the Patreon subscriptions rolling (it pays to rub their bellies while you milk 'em) until you discover most humans are barely sentient vermin unfit to continue wasting oxygen - which is how your heroine ends up romancing a hamburger.

I may be biased. The very notion of interactive theater makes my skin crawl. All the weirder that I'm till following the story (such as it is) through its progression from a jumble of throwaway gags about sapient body parts through tedious play-by-play combat scenes to something resembling causality. Likely this is because whatever its faults, one thing Awful Hospital isn't is yet another webcomic about the sex life of highschoolers or twenty-somethings. When not complete gibberish it's creative enough, despite sullying that creativity with us rabble's inane mutterings. I do have to wonder if such setups don't presage things to come. Incorporating the comments section into a work so very closely approximates Bradbury's TV "family" from Fahrenheit 451, the terminally deconstructed faux-art existing solely to make its troglodytic audience feel included.

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Where does your self-serving dogmatic feigned humility go while you sleep?

Thursday, February 8, 2018

Stone Nuisance Value


A while ago I finished my playthrough of Icewind Dale, which included the expansion Heart of Winter and the expansion nested within that, Trials of the Luremaster. Note I am not linking a store page, because Beamdog deserves no money. Obtain the classic game by itself if you can find it.

Icewind Dale often gets reviewed through nostalgia-tinted glasses. It's a good but fairly generic combat-centered D&D dungeon crawl routine with great party customization, a half-decent story and admittedly some interesting combat mechanics. It also suffered from a complete lack of RP choices, obvious exploits (cloudkill wands) mysteriously overpowering insta-kill or disabling abilities (imprisonment, jackalwere gaze) or others raised to cthulhu-level maddening chores by the game engine's limitations (wing buffet, level drain) so take fanboy praise with a grain of salt. It was somewhat retroactively raised to cult status due to the relative dearth of engaging (or even playable) RPGs in the aughts, and the general dumbing down of computer games following online games' breach into the mass market (Starcraft, Counterstrike, WoW, etc.) Hell, that's why I played it anyway.

Among other quirks, the Infinity Engine games made occasional use of immune enemies, though it came across as aggravating often as not. Trials of the Luremaster both acknowledged this and pretty much flipped players the invulnerable bird by implementing the Stone Nuisance.
Truth in advertisement.
Stuck in a cavern, you must visit five altars to find your way out. Guarding each altar (in addition to other baddies) are a pair of walking statues lobbing magic missiles at a nearby character every round. Infinitely. They also respawn if you leave the cavern, which tends to come up less than you might think because most players can't manage to kill the damn things in the first place, being immune to magic and seemingly immune to weapons. Swords, daggers, fireballZ, the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune all bounce right off them. The best you can hope is abusing the game's primitive pathing and zoning rules to run a character to and from the altar quickly and get your quest done without destroying the mobs, but the sheer indignity of running from a fight will get most adventurers' teeth grinding.

I did happen to fall upon the solution by accident, as my own character was a front-line Cleric whose trusty blunt traumatizer of a mace was the only thing showing damage numbers. Stick a spare ugly stick in my warrior's hand and polymorph my druid to an earth elemental and the nuisances went down eventually, but that was pure luck. I can only imagine the frustration of a player running a ranged firing squad group with all piercing/slashing/magic damage. The lack of such specific counters in story-based RPGs is somewhat unavoidable, unless the campaign truly provides diverse and unpredictable mob genera. (Has any ranger played the NWN games, ever, without picking undead as a favored enemy?) To avoid blocking players from chugging along their story's railroad track, developers will often facetiously implement such counter-encounters but undermine them by all-purpose crutches or placing a big barrel with the appropriate counter right by the player (see "magic golem" in BG2.) Otherwise you risk preventing your customers from fully using your product and I'm no marketing guru but that might get you some bad press.

It's much less of an issue in open-world games or Rogue-like tactical RPGs with randomized encounters. Nobody bats an eyelash at completely drone-proof or missile-proof enemy vessels in FTL, or at robotic ships lacking minds to mind control or lungs to fill with vacuum. If your army's too big/slow to infiltrate cities or chase bandits in Mount&Blade, there are plenty of other ways to get ahead.

Multiplayer games have the potential to completely reverse that story-based cRPG 100% completion pitfall. You don't need to do everything. You shouldn't be able to do everything. There are others yous for that. Hard counters should be considered a plus. Ideally, any online RPG should be a persistent, procedurally-generated world in which many of those procedures are in fact players' thought processes. As with single-player open worlds you have the ability to choose your fights but moreover, in an MMO the solution to any insurmountable challenge can be obtained in the form of another player. Are your stones nuisances? Recruit some blunt instruments. Find yourself impotent in pokeying men? Team up with a summoner. Need some crushed women lamented before you? Leash yourself a barbarian. Are your enemies vulnerable to sanctimonious clowns? Paladins' guild's right around the corner.

Before "massively multiplayer" games devolved to solo grinding, DPS meters and interchangeable classes, it was in fact assumed that players would purposefully prepare for novel challenges. For example, LotRO's open (i.e. non-instanced, as Iluvatar intended) dungeon Sarnur was full of stone nuisances.


Ze gouges do nothing!
Damage types were only one of the many interesting player choices nerfed into irrelevance as LotRO tried and failed to capture the idiot market away from WoW. Loremasters could originally cure wounds or diseases but not poisons or fear, burglar riddles only dazed creatures smart enough to speak (humanoids) captains cured fear, minstrels could daze undead. Most classes were in fact hybrids of some sort, able to take at least two roles in groups.

MMO developers obviously thought this too complex for their retarded new millennial audience because you won't find those dreaded "situational" strategies in online games these days. However, dumbing things down seems, at best, beside the point as far as playability goes. Take the most basic player choice, that of class. The Secret World boils this down to the holy trinity of nuker/healer/tank. The most simplistic role, hittin' stuff, is of course the perennial favorite of all gamers in all class-based games, with damage dealers vastly outnumbering other roles. TSW has consistently dumbed down tanking and healing to counterbalance this. It hasn't worked.

In TSW's latest incarnation, Legends, anyone can tank at any time by shifting their stat slider around. They've removed all possible complexity from the role: no resistances, no stance dancing, no deciding when to switch targets, fights completely scripted with no variation (aside from an abundance of bugs, natch) and aggro management as easy as spamming a single AoE ability. All it takes is one mid-quality tank weapon and a couple of abilities (aggro generation and defensive) within that tank set, a time investment one-twentieth of what most players sink into maximizing their DPS. Tanks are still about as popular as groin kicks. This yields the usual secondary benefit to playing a tank, the ease of getting into groups and STILL, tanks are nowhere to be found.

Even I hate playing a tank in TSW, and it has nothing to do with the role's difficulty or complexity, but with interface issues. The always-unpopular forced close-up camera angles (watching a giant monster's crotch the entire fight) combined with a graphics system that obfuscates rather than displays combat events (see TSW is not a PvP game) and generic animations which fail to convey what exactly your enemy is trying to do all combine to turn tanking into a text game.
Most instance bosses in TSW were thought up with inescapable one-hit-kill encounter wiping abilities which the tank (being in melee range) had to interrupt. Tanking = memorizing a hundred different completely abstract ability names and watching for them in one corner of the screen to hit an interrupt button. Simple reflex. Hilariously, the Legends relaunch removed target lock, thus removing the only reliable way for tanks to keep track of these abilities while dodging around in fights. TSW doesn't dis-incentivize tanking because it's hard or for lack of soloing appeal, but by amateurish implementation.

So it should come as no surprise that Funcom's latest fix for their interface issues, after dumbing gameplay down for five years straight... was to dumb it down some more. They removed the need or ability to interrupt most bosses, so that tanks, the only halfway interesting class, have even less to do now aside from running left to right spamming their AoE aggro builder.

Not only does oversimplification drive away the necessary best customers, it's most often a complete non-sequitur to faults in design, graphic design and programming. Can you guess what effect TSW-Legends' further dumbing down of an already dumbed-down combat system had on players' willingness to tank? None! I have sat here while writing this queued as a damage dealer without getting a single group. I sign up as a tank and it pops up instantly.  It's no accident that Icewind fitted so well as a segue to this discussion of MMOs, because its freedom to mix and match an entire party so closely resembles the supply and demand market of player occupations which a true MMO should facilitate, and it must do so consciously. Sure, Stone Nuisances were aggravating in having to find their weakness by trial and error (or dumb clerical luck) but there's an easy fix for that: divination magic! One of those eyeball icons in my skill bars in LotRO is Knowledge of the Lore-Master, a minor debuff which also displays a quick summary of an enemy's strengths and weaknesses. Need some lore mastered? I'm your Noldo!


What exactly was wrong with this system of resistances that it had to be dumbed down to "damage is damage" and all DPS is hunter DPS? Game developers have got to learn that their customers are usually wrong. Grant their fondest wish (zero difficulty, zero penalties and zero choices) and they'll just wander off anyway, not even realizing how bored they've gotten. Leave that retarded shit to Farmville.
I tried playing TSW a few days ago, to see what's new. Got a group. Got pissed at them and kicked out. Queued up again. Same group.
One five-player group. Seems that's all TSW can scrape together now. That's what endless monotony gets you. Rot in pieces you pathetic morons.

As for other, potentially more serious developers, try, just try to figure out that WoW was a one-off, that in terms of mindless repetition you'll never out-do the latest glitzy K-pop trash copycatting Lineage. The MMO genre needs to be rebuilt from the ground up. Load a restore point from before WoW's release and start from there. For one thing, remember "situational" is not a dirty word, nor does every single player need to be able to do every single activity at any time.
Choice should matter. Knowledge should matter. Planning should matter. Cooperation and coordination should matter.
Retards should not.

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Do you ever feel your joints creak and envision the rot setting in, driving life out, splitting apart, growling at you possessively from between, from within, sin incarnate terminal languishing inexisting perfecting sundering rejecting, digression detritic self-ception?

Sunday, February 4, 2018

Ten Levels of Arcanum


"And I'm an ape of God
I got a face that made for violence upon"

Marilyn Manson - Disposable Teens
__________________________________________________

Working subtitles:
The Reload Game
or
The Quest for Pants.

Though I loved V:tM - Bloodlines, I've always heard Troika's other titles suffered from terrible mechanics and even more bugginess than VtMB at its launch (if that's possible) so never bothered with them. Still, I wanted to give it a chance, so I'm going to play Arcanum through at least level ten.
Hum-dee-dum-dum... might as well pick a race I haven't played in other fantasy games.
Half ogre with the troll blood trait. Ugly, fugly mofo I am, and with the social skills to FUCK YOU!

Level... 0
Opening cinematic bugs out and shows the in-game interface around it. Well, that's off to a good start.

Level 1
Told Virgil, presumably the tutorial NPC, to go stick a crank up his shaft and went off exploring the starter area by myself.
Died.
Good night, everyone.
__________________________________________________
Re-rolled same character next day because I hadn't even thought to save game.
Lather, rinse, kill wolf that killed me the first time.
Died. To a boar. Re-re-created my character, having again ignored saving. Third time's the charm, right?
<SAVE GAME>
(just in case)
Real-time combat - off. Success! Wolf after wolf fall to my mighty blows. Oh, so the blue stuff's stamina, not mana? Maybe both? Maybe I should read the manual? Nah.
On second thought, went back and told Virgil he can tag along. Many a boisterous boar bears bi-battering

Level 2!
Minimized to take that screenshot. Game locked up. Screw it, I'm gonna play Dwarf Fortress.
_________________________________________________
Ok, cooled off overnight. Onwards! Hmmm, ghost wants me to kill evil wizard... might be above my pay grade at the mome. Wait. What's this? I'm the reincarnation of...
Nasrudin? Nasreddin Hodja Efendi? So will I be expected to play the fool, giving seeming non-sequitur solutions to conflicts of social posturing, thereby unmasking unwarranted presumptions of entitlement?
Mmmnnaaaahh. Couldn't be. Maybe I'll just ride an ass backwards.

Level 3!
Decided to ignore Virgil's advice to map teleport to my destination and took the long way around. Dying repeatedly to wolves in a completely linear canyon with absolutely no other interactions or decor available. More wolves. More canyon. More death, completely luck based since my character with his presumably standard 10 DEX, apparently couldn't even hit the ground if he threw himself at it. Die. Reload. Hope for lucky autoattack hits.
[...]
Ok, I seem to be past the wolves.
I seem to be past everything. Lots of empty terrain. Oh, wait, so is this a big open world, Morrowind style? Cool.
...
... Is this a big completely empty and barren open world with absolutely nothing to see, do or pick up? Not so cool.
Fuck this.
______________________________________________________
Ok, another good night's sleep later, let's give this game a fourth chance.
Map travel it is. Seems very Fallout-y.
Hello Shrouded Hills!
Constable, might you direct me to the... hey, insult my noble half-ogre heritage, will you? DIE!
(Three reloads later, one dead constable.) Okay, maybe shouldn't make a habit of that.
Hm... local doctor wants to shoot some people; one well-placed grenade takes care of that. Thanks doc, pleasure doing business with you, give Hippocrates an extra stiff middle finger from me, will you?

Level 4!
Warning: content potentially NSFW.
Clothing broke. Now everyone bitches at me for blinding them with my half-ogre sexayness. And apparently I'm not allowed to repair a fully broken item. And apparently nobody sells "large" sized clothing. Of any sort, no armor, frilly frock or even a tasteful but useless robe. Wait, was there a half-ogre drinking at the inn? Cm'ere, you.
DIE!
Hm... all he was wearing were rags... which are also broken. How do you even brea- never mind. Ok, so the armor situation sucks but at least I can work my way to the big city where they're sure to have a big'n'tall shop. Sure enough, the main quest and the side quest from the mine both lead there.
Except the bandits guarding the only bridge out of town are too tough for me (though their clothes might fit) so... how do I even move on?
Clear out every corner of the abandoned mine (more wolves) (plus, oooooh, spiders, what a treat) to maybe level up my fighting skill and take on the bandits?

Level 5!

Skill up melee and dodge. Slowly dragging up my dexterity too as I go... yet somehow my character's still hitting himself in the face constantly during combat.
Bridge bandits, DIE!
Reload.
Reload.
Reload. Okay, go level some more.
Critical miss. Critical miss. Died to a bunny. Please, no Holy Grail jokes.
Reload. More wolf killing. More RNG death.
Reload. Run back to do the not-so-evil-after-all wizard quest. Bad guy just stands there and lets me kill him. Bug? Who can even tell?
More wolf killing. More RNG death.
Reload.
So, I have to wonder... who managed to come up with a combat system combining all the clunky, convoluted redundancy of a D&D adaptation with the mindless repetition of an ARPG Diablo clone?
Sigh.
Anyway,

Level 6!
More dexterity. Buy melee and dodge training from guards.
More wolves, after much searching. Still hitting myself in the face.
Many, many reloads later, still cannot win the bandit fight, unarmored as I am, despite being fairly combat-specced. (Or at least I sure as hell ain't prettiness-specced.) Well, if you can't beat 'em join 'em. Dynamited the villagers' bridge materials in return for safe passage.
Then got killed by random encounters on my way to the big city. Which is fine because all I have to do is reload until RNGesus takes pity on me. Them's sum good game designerin'!
Still in my underwear.
Luckily all I have to do is grovel a bit and every NPC's disposition toward me shoots up by the dozens. Soooo, what's the point of that, then?
Anyway, first stop, Dernholm, to get the real story about the abandoned mine.
Getting around is getting to be a chore. Architecture by FedEx fails to provide recognizable landmarks, and the map's no help either. Can't place map markers, and the scant few automatically placed by the game are little help. Pathing algorithm's so pathetic it needs several waypoints to move more than one screen.
Game locked up again upon minimizing.
Fuck.
This.
______________________________________________
Ok, let's give this a seventh chance.
Walked in on the king in my underwear.
Reeeeee-load.
Healer companion refuses to be recruited because I'm not tech-aligned. Huh. Nice touch, actually. Gotta say I'm liking having to ask NPCs their name before it becomes their tooltip. It's these little things that make immersion.
Well, this was a long trip for very little XP. Not much else to do in Dernholm, except play matchmaker to a couple of old cranks, and I'm definitely not the half-monster for that job.
Onwards then, to the bigger city, Tar -
Upon running out of Dernholm, I am torn apart by a random gorilla. A very random gorilla.
Reload.
Onwards, to Tarant!
But first three more random encounters. Wolves, wolves and more wolves.
Huh... ok, this next bit was surprisingly clever:
I asked the first guards by the entrance for directions and possible quest hooks. The guard just shrugged it off. Two paces later, a colorfully dressed NPC catches my eye. If spoken to directly, she launches into the usual tirade against my ugliness and nakedness. Having spoken to the guard causes her to skip past that straight into offering me a quest. While the guard intro isn't strictly necessary, it does make the second dialogue much clearer and decreases the odds of treating her like another random bystander.
That is quite subtle stuff, by cRPG standards. My hat would be off, could I but locate a half-ogre haberdasher.
Tried talking to an inkeeper and Virgil just randomly attacked him, losing me another 15 minutes of gameplay.
Fffffuuuuck thiiiis.
_______________________________________________
Reload.
How many chances is this now? Eight? Nine?
Clerk at Simon & Schuster or whatever wants to stonewall me? DIE!
Down in the zombie-infested basement, I'm dead once again because the combat keeps resetting itself to real-time mode at random times.
Reload.

Level 7!
Upping my DEX and Melee don't seem to be doing much for me. Maybe crafting's the way to go? Let's see. Herbology. Definitely could use some stam restoring. For now... holy shit, I had materials for 15 healing salves in my inventory? Get in there and cloth tank those zombies, Virgil. Work that robe. I'll lube you up.
Critical miss. Stunned. Eaten by zombies.
Reload.
Critical miss. Knocked down. Eaten by zombies.
Reload.
Did I mention these zombies are level 3 and I'm level 7? And my hit chance against them is still officially 25-40% with 11 DEX and Apprentice Melee? And my attacks don't hit anywhere near that often? How much dexterity does a zombie have anyway that they're dodging my blows?
Critical miss. Critical Miss. Out of stamina. Eaten by zombies.
Reload.
So below the zombie-infested basement was a zombie-infested sub-basement and beneath that was a dwarf zombie infested sub-sub-basement. Finally, boss battle! Evil necromancer dead ahead!
Except he's a perfectly reasonable sort, putting otherwise useless dead flesh to some use, in other words agreeing with my views on necromancy. Huh. And he tactfully omits the little matters of my near-nudity or of me brutally murdering his employee upstairs, and he'll help me out with some info in exchange for not giving his business away. Was not expecting that. Put 'er there, partner, yer awright! Now it's just a matter of asking the dried up husk of his dead father for directions. Good, wholesome plot advancement.

Level 8!
Apparently my next step's to find Gilbert Bates, inventor of the steam engine and therefore filthy rich. Oh, ha-ha, "Gil Bates" I get it. And also bet it. And his bitter rival's named Cedric "Apple"by. Oh, I get it. A-haw!
Then a guard warns me off of entering The Boil because it's a "wretched hive of scum and villainy" and this is starting to get annoying. It only takes a few derivative references for them to stop sounding clever and become an obnoxious crutch for lazy writing.
Y'know what, screw Gil, screw the quest for the ring of steam power, screw delving ancient ruins, screw dwarven history and screw all those wolves. I'm on a new quest, a quest for dignity, a quest for warmth, a quest for... Pants!
Wallow's Quality Armour has nothing in a large.
I could try beating up the toughs in the slums, some of which are ogres, but there sure are a lot of the bastards.
Oh what's this?
The fashion palace has me covered, literally. 180 coins is mighty steep but that includes my ugliness, charisma and 0 barter skill taxes.
Gotta say I'm liking Tarant. Much effort sank into making it feel like a real city and not just Questville, from its airy spaciousness to abundant NPCs both quest-related and not, to actual city planning with streets and numbered addresses. With only slightly better map/quest log functionality, it could've been great. Now at long last dressed for success, it's onwards to adventure!
Wait, what did this guy just say to me? You can insult my looks, Cedric Appleby, but not my intelligence. I'll have you know it's a solid ten. DIE!
Wait, did I just pre-empt the invention of "there's an app for that" - ? Score.
Naturally, Appleby's loot includes a second set of large clothes which will now take up space in my inventory pointlessly because I'm scared of getting stuck naked again. Because the universe hates me, that's why.
Aargh...
FFFUUUCCCKKKK!
THHHIIIIIIISSS!
________________________________________________
Alright. It is now Sunday, and I really want to get this over with before the new week starts. So, to-day it's level 10 or bust.
Bust. Bust Appleby's safe open with a stick of dynamite, that is.
What else can I find in Tarant? A P.T. Barnum themed NPC? DIE!
A hobo wants money. Insult him into attacking me. DIE! Free loaf of bread.
A fortune teller? DIE! (and for once I didn't do it (directly))
Obligatory brothel? Ddd- nah, I can't do it. Ya gals are alright.

Level 9!
Lots of little fetch quests, with little twists here and there to keep them fresh. Really, this does make the most of Tarant itself after all the work-hours sunk into it. Making the player constantly look up street addresses might sound annoying, but there's just enough of it to facilitate immersion without becoming redundant, unlike the moronic combat. It most reminds me of Oblivion's Imperial City. Other RPGs with a central quest hub don't usually make such a big point of keeping you busy within it, making it seem alive.
Yeesh. This Sword of the Derian Ka I looted from Apple's vault seems overpowered. Suddenly I'm having no more trouble with basic mobs. Who says crime doesn't pay?
A jaunt through the sewer yields more exp than a bunch of rats have any right to. Add to that several side quest completions aaaand:

Level 10!
Having increased my melee skill to three points to be safe, it's time to start dabbling in Arcanum's magic vs. technology alignment system. With 8 technological skill branches plus twice as many magic ones, there's plenty of redundancy but also plenty of room to mix and match for aesthetic purposes. Do I want to be a volcano god (earth mage flinging molotov cocktails) or an air mage hefting the biggest chaingun / mining laser / rocket launcher I can find or maybe supplement my character's pronounced lack of finesse with divination magic or trap disarming gizmos? Do you want your lightning in the form of bolts or batteries?

The fact is, I don't know. It hasn't come up yet. I've spent most of my first ten levels of a fifty-level game running around in boxer shorts, abusing reloads and being molested by RNGesus, struggling just to keep my character from punching himself to death while my enemies laugh at me. The rest of that time was spent repeating the same three lines of dialogue with one NPC after another to raise their disposition with me. My greatest achievement was managing to finally dress myself, and even that was immediately undermined by sheer dumb luck. I'm still waiting to find that amazing storytelling for which it's so frequently praised, but so far the dialogue's been composed almost entirely of "go there, fetch that" quest prompts.

Arcanum makes an incredibly shitty first impression.

However, at no point was I completely stuck, despite my ugliness and abysmal charisma, my lack of armor and my DIE! approach to random NPCs. In most games, offing the first questgiver (constable whatsisbrokeface) upon entering newbietown wouldn't even be considered an option, much less a viable one. Though many of Arcanum's mechanics and interface options seem infuriatingly obtuse, many dialogues and item interactions are surprisingly logical by comparison. Dynamite works exactly the way you'd think it does. Even using beauty as a dump stat can amount to a blessing in disguise in terms of roleplaying. Though it cuts off access to some dialogue options, having the entire world constantly trying to pick a fight with you makes it that much easier to just... cut loose, once in a while, and cut some heads loose. Growling and snarling in dialogues becomes useful at logical times like when dealing with the underworld. Your choices' influence can be quite extensive. Not only can my half-ogre not find any armor, but my pathetically low charisma limits me to one companion at a time as compared to three to six for most players.

For all its incredibly aggravating bugs and obtuseness, Arcanum really does offer more ways to play than most cRPGs. The wealth of crafting/support options opening up to me now that I've finally raised my combat skill to acceptable levels will, if nothing else, keep me playing.