Monday, May 20, 2013

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

The nicest surprise about this movie was Bilbo Baggins himself. I had never heard of Martin Freeman before, which apparently means i don't watch enough BBC adaptations. He is an excellent unlikely hero, from his shuffling furry feet to his persistent failed attempts to set his face in an expression of stern indignation.
Aside from that, my central demand from the movie was met, to some extent. To put it more succinctly, i don't know how i would have improved on a scene of dwarvish singing. As promised, this did much to ease the pain of some of The Hobbit's failings. These weren't many, but they still put it decidedly below the level of quality of the Lord of the Rings films.

The main issue was that the more lighthearted fairytale atmosphere of The Hobbit was taken in the wrong direction, or rather split into two wrong directions. On one end, because the movie was marketed to the audience of LotR and not vice-verso, there was a constant effort to maintain the sense of drama of the greater work, and it largely cannot work because... well, it's just not that sort of story. The Hobbit is an adventure. It needed to maintain a sense of wonder and mystery. Small peeks of the greater conflict certainly add to its enjoyment, but prolonged re-enactments of past battles break too much of the sense of wonder. The dwarves should have been easily trapped by the trolls, just as in the book, without an extended fight scene. They should have descended into Imladris among lighthearted elvish singing, not in a dramatic diplomatic tete-a-tete. It was nice to put a face on Radagast, but he is a Lord of the Rings character, ridiculed by Saruman unjustly. Adapting him as comic relief to even out the artificially inserted drama of an inflated version of The Hobbit was unnecessary and made him a much 'goofier' character than he should have been. Inserting Azog anachronistically into the tale makes sense in terms of replacing the otherwise inconsequential Bolg for the Battle of Five Armies but it results in a far too divergent side-story, the motivation for which i can only assume would be further movies loosely based on minor stories set in middle-earth.

The worst parts of the movie are the completely unnecessary exaggerations. The Great Goblin need not have been expanded to Jabba-the-Hutt dimensions to look impressive. The dwarves should not have been made out to be a fair match for trolls in a fight in order to show their courage. Sting, Orcrist and Glamdring didn't need to flash on and off like electric bulbs to get the point of their "magic" nature across.

Worst of all was the idiotically out-of-the-blue notion of the stone Giants being actual Stone giants. It goes entirely against the basic feel of middle-earth, which Tolkien deliberately kept familiar enough to underscore even the subtlest bits of actual magic in it. Middle-earth is not an oneiric fantasy of moving landscapes in which alien shapes assault our senses. It is our world, inspired by the promise of magic and wonder. In writing The Silmarillon, Tolkien even feared taking the wonder out of the stories because the most grandiose elements of middle-earth myth, he had initially intended to retain only as myth, never to be brought to the forefront. He consciously and meticulously removed such whimsical elements as talking purses or shapeshifting from the imagery of middle-earth when expanding to the more coherent Lord of the Rings environment, for likely the same reason. Living, moving stone is beyond even most of the Silmarillon, much less The Hobbit.

Trying to infuse the movie adaptation both with more whimsy than Tolkien had ever intended and with LotR politics and drama set the feel of many scenes too strongly against each other. Still, i cannot say i did not enjoy the movie, or that i'm not looking forward to the next installments. Though much of the environment of middle-earth was a bit off, the characters shone through. The dwarves and Bilbo feel as they should, and in the end, it is still their story.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Hired Muscle

Why is everyone acting surprised that soldiers are raping each other?

Soldiers are hired muscle. They are not idealists. They cannot formulate morality. They are brainwashed, vicious petty thugs. When you look at a soldier you have to realize that you're most likely no longer seeing an individual. You are seeing a trained animal. That thing you're looking at is not a self-aware intellect but a wind-up toy. Its every thought and action is tied into abusing the power given it by its social hierarchy and reinforcing that hierarchy which gives it power over others.

What's that catchphrase about prison? If you want to survive, either kill a guy on your first day there, or become some other inmate's bitch. Barracks and prisons are not unrelated. We are discussing institutionalization, an induced dependency on one single power structure. We are slaves to social hierarchies throughout our lives, to government bureaucracy and corporate control over our material resources, to family pressures and academic schools of thought and the ever-present blare of televised normalcy, and retaining a personal locus of control (both psychologically and practically) is difficult enough without such a system carrying an intrinsic physicality and threat of violence.

There is no intrinsic difference between the various types of hired muscle which have existed throughout history. It's as basic a pattern as an older brother beating his younger siblings in loco parentis, adopting and enforcing the morality of those which have power over him. Stockholm syndrome is not an isolated behavior pattern, but only one representation of the human tendency toward the Nietzschean master-slave morality, though Nietzsche undervalued the mutability of the two behavior patterns. The same dog which may bite your hand to take your food, if beaten, will lick your hand to beg for food. It's all a matter of establishing social rank, and social apes are no better.

The power, the justification from above to beat others, to torture, to stab, shoot and nuke, is a mark of superior social status, and the implicit benefit to social status is carte blanche in dealing with those of lower status. This hierarchical thought is intrinsic to our evolutionary past and always dependent on the threat of violence. The tribal chief rapes whom he wants. His enforcers rape a smaller subset of those the tribal chief has not specifically declared off-limits.

It's also no accident that rape is so often symbolic of social control. Evolution prunes away every mutation, every behavioral adaptation which does not serve the overarching goal of reproductive success. One of social systems' prime functions is establishing an internal hierarchy of mating rights. As a group-dynamic tautology, declaring sexual superiority over another is a de facto assertion and reinforcement of superior rank. Instinctively, there's no better way to put another member of the tribe in his place but to make him bend over and take it. At least the Spartans admitted it. I am using masculine pronouns for the sake of simplicity, but it also underscores the gender disparity. Males compete directly with each other for reproductive rights, while females are usually in a race to better control males. The chief instinctive benefit of acting as hired muscle for one's tribe is direct competition. It feeds directly into the image of masculinity, of reproductive fitness based on the ability to overpower others. The reward for such status is, to put it as crassly as the topic of discussion warrants, pussy. Women are doubly at risk when placed in the reach of male hired muscle. One: they are available, and all females are by default fair game to a male which has established his reproductive fitness by becoming hired muscle. Two: they're uppity, overstepping their bounds, need to be put in their place, and the best way to do that is...

All hired thugs rape. It's a basic benefit, a pattern at least as old as our species. I cannot say this enough times. There is no intrinsic difference. Street gangs, mafia, prison gangs, high school and college jock cliques, armies, police, mental hospital orderlies, it doesn't matter. They are all enforcers of the threat of violence. They are all the tribal chief's right hand, indoctrinated into one over-riding ethos, the rule of law, the chief's law, and secure in the importance of their place in the hierarchy. The chief's bloodline comes first, the chief's favorites are off-limits, then muscle with its various internal ranks, then the lower classes. The lower classes are fair game. Out in the wild, soldiers would not rape each other. They'd sack a village and grab themselves some women. In the confines of a barracks, cut off from their social superiority over other social classes, it's the internal hierarchy which becomes paramount, the object of all power struggles. Reinforcing it by taking one's tribal, instinctive right to rape is only one facet of power-mongering.

Saturday, May 18, 2013


I was playing Homeworld online against one other player. He pushed me back, constantly, a wave of frigates and strike craft whittling down my defenses until he reached the mothership, the equivalent of the "main base" in most RTS games. I seemed to have lost the resources race: I had too few ships, constantly losing ground. In the end, I was even cannibalizing my resource-gathering vessels for a few spare resource points. Slowly I ran out of cash, ran out of defensive craft and looked about to lose. My mothership explodes in a massive ball of flame, he spouts the usual "GG" to add insult to injury... but the game doesn't end. He had ignored a single sensor blip, far above the main plane of battle, the asteroid field through which he'd been hounding my meager defenses.
It was a carrier, a mobile base, which had been quietly building up a few dozen strike craft and inching its way toward his now-defenseless mothership. As he suddenly realized the game wasn't ending because my missing resources had gone into something he had not yet encountered, the carrier dove, released its swarm of bombers, and I won the game before he could ever recall his forces to defend.
I punctuated the victory by paraphrasing Ender Wiggin: remember, the enemy gate is "down".

There hasn't really been anything quite like Homeworld since. The sequel failed to live up to the original's standards and I don't know of any well-funded RTS (or indeed any independent projects) which have tried to become a spiritual successor. Homeworld, the mothership, the slow ballet of fleets scattered through the void, has remained a unique experience. It was a nerd's dream, a brainy, sedate, melancholic atmosphere (or lack thereof) of tactical options. It was a game of spatial awareness, not an actions-per-minute clickfest.

It was not simply the fully-functional third dimension which made Homeworld so enjoyable but the simple elegance and balance which permeated its basic design choices. Movement, timing and positioning were key. Ships' speeds, turning rates and the positioning and firing arc of their guns decided their utility. There used to be a lot of talk in game reviews about "taming the randomizer", providing meaningful variation without either removing too much player control or falling prey to the law of averages like any game which cites the Damage-Per-Second of all its supposedly different weapons and abilities. Homeworld came much closer than others by relying on approach vectors, firing arcs and tracking speed instead of damage ranges. An ion cannon, the heaviest weapon in the game, could one-shot a fighter craft... if the fighter approached dead-on center from its front. Hotkeyed formation and AI settings allowed players to constantly change their ships' movement patterns without constantly clicking new destinations or directing individual units.
Just as importantly, Homeworld was very slow-paced compared to other RTS games. Distance measurements were readily available on the UI. A fast-moving scout ship moving at 1000 m/s would make a 20-km trip in 20 seconds. A destroyer, carrier or cruiser might take ten times as long. Ships rarely got one-shotted. Even in large fleet battles, small strike craft could duck in and out of weapons fire. There was time to re-assess, to counter, to countermand. There was little benefit to clicking faster, and much more to timing single commands correctly.

This is not to say Homeworld was just a range and first-strike race. It featured most of the special unit abilities one associates with RTS games. There was invisibility, healing, a force field, even crowd control through gravity well generators which could trap strike craft, all slowed to speeds which made each use of such effects meaningful without becoming an absolute advantage. Salvage corvettes could steal enemy ships but unlike instantaneous "conversion" spells in other games, they had to return the ship to a hangar in order to complete the switch, giving the victim plenty of time to mount a rescue operation.

All of this amounted to much more complex combat than other RTS games. Mental multitasking, the ability to keep track of the position and status of various unit groups and switch to them at the appropriate time, over-rode button-mashing. This scared away most of the leet kiddie clientele. It also had slightly steeper learning curve despite the familiar resource>research>build>kill RTS routine because of the three-dimensional camera rotation and movements. Many commands were given through hotkeys instead of the more user-friendly context-sensitive mouse clicks. Still, there was not nearly enough challenge to scare off would-be strategists. Not accidentally did I spout a phrase from Ender's Game in the anecdote at the start of this post. Most of Homeworld's customer base was obsessed with the book, dissatisfied nerds hungry for chances to display their superior tactical ability. We were all a bunch of wannabe Enders, a fanatical core following which Sierra could have easily handled into a long-term market base.

Homeworld's death was gradual, spurred on by both bad marketing and design decisions.
Most importantly, it lacked comprehensive strategic AI. Single-player games never got uninteresting because computer opponents always sent out a constant stream of small ship groups. AI lacked any adaptive response to player actions or over-arching goal, only one script the computer would use in all situations.
Despite this, Homeworld could easily have survived as a pure multiplayer game, and for a while it did. Its multiplayer service was easy to use, required no third-party services like Gamespy and featured a good variety of maps geared toward PvP play. There were leagues and ladders galore.

For me, the breaking point came through a single game balance patch which destroyed the dynamics of PvP combat. It gave scouts, the starter unit type, a bonus on their self-destruct ability, which put that one action at a higher than even benefit-to-cost ratio. Because scouts were fast-moving and easily destroyed, the game devolved to a contest over who could suicide scouts most efficiently. It worked against any unit type, even early-game units specifically designed to counter fast-moving strike-craft. If you could spot which of your scouts is taking damage and order it to suicide before it's destroyed, you could easily defeat any actual strategy the other player might have - without researching anything, without the need for formations, interdependencies or any sort of planning. You could completely cripple your enemy before the match got too complex. Homeworld instantly became a twitch game.

Now it must be understood that this sort of change comes about because of player demands. Players always demand easier games. They always demand an obvious "best" option so that they can feel clever for finding it. Suicide scouts were wildly popular because obviously the thing to do with scouts was to sucide them. No uncertainty as to formations, attack angles, unit combinations, etc. It proved such a popular change that online matches immediately devolved to scout battles. Every single game was decided by the same scouts vs. scouts kamikaze race. Refusing to use the new uber-strat, trying to counter it with anything else I could, I went from a twenty-game winning streak to a twenty-game losing streak. Then I quit.

Obviously that in itself did not kill the series, but it did set the tone. Either Relic or Sierra or both thought they saw a need to make the gameplay more accessible, less cerebral. Under the guise of improving control over units, the sequel increased the number of clicks needed to get anything done and lessened the reliance on formations and movement, needlessly organizing fighter craft into squadrons (groups-within-groups) or giving players specific subsystems to target on capital ships, rewarding again, not planning and foresight but micromanagement of minutiae. Even ignoring this tendency, the sequel did not develop Homeworld's gameplay enough to be worth a switch from the original, which likely resulted in a split in the playerbase. For my own part I passed it by because EVE-Online showed more promise of expanding the concept of strategic space combat.

Ever since then there's been nothing. The rights to Homeworld apparently languished in the vaults of various industry bigwigs, most notably THQ. As the purveyor of mass-market titles about macho soldiers and wrestlers reached its well-deserved bankruptcy this year (though I'm sure its top-level fatcats made out like bandits) Homeworld has a new home... with Gearbox, an equally mass-market-oriented nest of mediocrity. No other companies have seemed willing to try to emulate Homeworld. There are no big three-dimensional strategy titles being made.

There is, however, some glimmer of hope, to quote Wikipedia:
"After the acquisition several Relic Entertainment founders and Homeworld developers left Relic Entertainment and founded Blackbird Interactive in 2007, to produce a space RTS without the Homeworld name and franchise license."
And here they are. Unfortunately, they are advertising their new game as FTP, which always translates into legitimized cheating, pay-to-win. Also, the little they've released makes it look like a standard ground-crawling RTS, not another Homeworld. Still, if that's the closest we can come...

edit 2016/03/16
Reviewed and edited this post, capitalizing my Is and removing some commas and passive verbs. Yes, I'm a worthless little wannabe writer. Sue me.
In the meantime, Deserts of Kharak was released. However, until it makes its way off Steam and onto GoG or some other DRM-free distribution service, I refuse to buy it, so I can't speak on its quality.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Majesty 2

Real-Time Strategy games tend toward one common failing: a lack of strategy. They reward mainly button-mashing, rapid cycling through units to micromanage movement and special abilities. This is especially true of multiplayer-oriented games, with Starcraft setting the tone for the rest of the industry, and there is some practical reason for it. Multiplayer matches must progress quickly when players are randomly matched against each other. You can't get players to sit there throwing units at each other for hours on end. Rather than remove elements from the concept, it makes more sense to design fast-moving games. It also appeals to a wider audience, allowing undeserving imbeciles to substitute twitch-reflexes for what should be a battle of wits, which brings the leet-kiddie market swarming in.

In general, attempts to address this issue tend to increase game duration. Multiplayer matches in Homeworld for instance routinely ran over an hour. A large-scale map of Sins of a Solar Empire with several AI opponents can take the better part of a day to trudge through.
The other angle is removing direct player control over individual combat units. AoS games do this implicitly by limiting the player to a single controllable unit and making the swarm of cannon-fodder into an fully predictable AI-controlled ally for each team of players. However, control can be removed altogether, giving the player only indirect influence on units' actions through waypoints and relegating gameplay to developing bases and deciding on the type of units to produce, upgrading them, placing static defenses, designating vague areas for expansion, etc. - in other words... strategy.

This is the main selling point of the Majesty games, and since there's not much difference between them aside from iterative improvements, i'll focus on the second one.

You're the king of a fantasy land. Your oafish but hardworking peasants and city guards just can't stand up to the various ogres, zombies, demons and so on which threaten your little town, so you enlist the aid of various adventurers. These of course have their own ideas about how to seek wealth and glory, but you can entice them and offer them various services. They kill things, decide when to drink potions and heal each other, kill more things, retreat or dive moronically into danger, kill some more, but at the end of the day they still come back to town to squander their ill-gotten booty.
It's a D&D-ish adventurer-centered economy. You spend money creating adventurer guilds and spawning and reviving the dozen or two would-be heroes and placing bounties on various objectives you'd like them to attack or defend, but you also create the shops they use when returning home with the loot. The town blacksmith and potion-sellers or simply the local tavern all pay right back into your coffers. Moreover, you need to equip those greedy glory-hogs well to keep your town safe so that the peaceful peasants can go about their business and build up little nest-eggs which your faithful tax-collectors will gladly funnel right into your treasury.

All in all, the challenge lies in creating a solid web of interdependence between the various adventurer guilds, from the cheap but rather ineffective rogue guilds to the much more expensive mages, elves, dwarves or special cults of spellcasters. Ideally, there is so much variation built into the basic game mechanics that no two matches would be he same. Build up adventuring parties of paladins, rogues and wizards one game, swtich to warriors, rangers and clerics the next. Turtle heavily behind towers and rely on a few well-trained adventurers for high-bounty targets or just build up a swarm of disposable heroes to strike out at the wilderness in all directions.

In practice though, one aspect of the game kills its potential. Not only does it lack a random map generator, which given the low number of map elements which need to be created at startup should have been quite simple to implement, but the game comes with almost no one-shot maps whatsoever. For some unfathomable reason, you're expected to be content with the few dozen scripted missions in the original campaign and the expansions, which wear thin quickly through their repetition. An RTS in which you're given a free-willed army to nudge down the winning path is perfectly, obviously suited to freeform gameplay and badly suited to specific mission objectives which require precise control, but for some reason that is exactly the mistake the developers made.

Majesty 2 ships with ten or so stand-alone maps, and most of these are again, scenarios. You're either fighting nothing but mages, or nothing but rangers, or you're given a specific castle to conquer or you're given a fully-developed core town. There are no maps whatsoever, none, which pit the player against several AI opponents, all starting from scratch.
The closest you can come to classic expansionist strategy-game satisfaction is in three maps which feature no AI towns, only monster generators, with the challenge being survival for a set period of time. They are further tainted by the fact that regardless of destroying the monster dwellings, mobs keep spawning at the edges of the map, removing most potential player control over the environment.

It's always odd to see a product miss its own point. How does one design a game so purposefully geared toward freeform strategic gameplay then simply give players no means to use it?

No Frills Strategizing

Why do strategy game designers go to such trouble to create interesting, balanced, challenging systems only to wreck gameplay when it comes to map design?

I was recently playing a bit of Heroes of Might and Magic 4 for old times' sake. All I really wanted to do was play the game. Not a scenario where I have to chase down a particular goal or where I'm given a specific bonus, but the game in its full rags-to-riches kingdom-building glory. I want a sprawling map on which to expand my presence through varied and balanced challenges, with as many choices to make as possible. I don't want some scenario that pigeonholes me into taking a skeleton army cross-country to kill a witch. That's not strategy. It's an RPG campaign.

And that would be fine, in small doses. However, out of HoMM4's dozens of available maps, there are only a handful which simply allow one to play the game concept in its unaltered form, without extra limitations or story-based objectives. Of those, only a couple are large enough to allow for the sort of megalomaniacal empire-building which lies at the root of turn-based-strategy appeal.

Ah, for the good old days. Back in '97, I was an 8th-grader just getting into computer games. Dragged to a holiday gathering by my parents, I spent the afternoon catching up on the latest greatest electronic entertainment news with the hosts' son who was around my age. Back in those days, instead of pre-ordering everything blindly, we had these things called 'demos' which one downloaded painstakingly over dial-up to try out a limited form of a game before spending money on it. Shockingly anti-capitalist, I know.
The name of the game that afternoon was Heroes of Might and Magic 2, or at least the demo thereof. It consisted of one good-sized map. No story, no artificial extra limitations on gameplay, no ridiculous bonuses like starting with all buildings already built. The selling point was not some cinematic or a simplistic introductory mission to pad the player's ego, but the fantasy town and army-management experience in itself. I must've played that thing... well, never mind how much.

The central concept of a game like HoMM or Civilization is not warfare in itself, but empire-building. It's the standard setup for real-time strategy as well: you start with one "core" building and expand from there. Growing your dominion over the world from humble beginnings of one settler and one warrior is not just one feature, but the central theme of the genre. Granted, there have been a fair number of examples of TBS or RTS which are created from a squad-management mindset, in which strategic choices are made before a mission and the bulk of gameplay is limited to tactical decisions. My favorite examples are Mech Commander and Warhammer 40k: Chaos Gate. It must be tempting for the designers of a more traditional-styled strategy game to try to provide that sort of gameplay as well, with ready-made map scenarios. These can be amusing diversions, but they are damaging if they begin to take over a product whose basic mechanics were never designed to accommodate them.

As positive examples, one can hold up games which use random map generation, such as the Civilization series. They are built for replayability, as my endless list of lost matches in Civ4 can attest. Scenario creation does not interfere. On the other hand, HoMM titles always contained too many types of interdependent, interactable map elements to ever be workable as random-generated worlds. They depended heavily on map creation.
While strategy games were still two-dimensional, the lack of developer-generated maps for regular gameplay was easily compensated for by map editors shipped with the product. Anyone, even a third-rate biology student with lycanthropy on his brain and no knowledge of programming (nobody you know) could shuffle game elements into something both functional and aesthetically pleasing. Starcraft thrived on user-created maps with no scripted events whatsoever. As strategy game engines became more and more complex though, programming language wormed its way into the supposedly user-friendly map editors. Even molding the three-dimensional terrain added a discouraging set of challenges and the mechanics for creating simple, core-gameplay maps were buried under endless options for scripting events and modding in-game objects.
So, as games got better, much fewer players became able to create content. A lack of maps can severely undercut the playability of games made by designers who grew up with the huge HoMM 2&3 custom map community.

But for the next half of this post, I'd rather talk about Majesty 2 in particular.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Faery Tale Online

Since this post keeps getting hits for some strange reason, a tiny addendum is in order. I have revisited Faery Tale Online since last year and I am pleased to report that the game is ever-so-gradually getting back on its feet. For those of you who may find the birth queue wait time taxing, do yourselves a favor and stick with it. FTO is well worth the wait. Even if you don't end up playing it for very long, it will prove a very valuable experience as a reference point for the rest of the game industry.


Faery Tale Online seems dead. Nothing is happening and the forums show no player activity since 2010.

I occasionally dabble in browser games. Despite their limitations, their ease of access, lack of reliance on twitch-reflexes, the absence of fancy graphics and relatively low costs all make for a n interestingly different consumer base than normal multiplayer games'. To a point.

FTO was a perfect example: almost entirely text-based aside from clickable lists of actions and movement arrows, it hinged on verbal interaction as its driving force, a MUD throwback. For veteran role-players, it seemed ideal. For my own part, i played it very shortly a few years ago. Though an excellent attempt and well-designed, its forced reliance on social skills left a tactless hermit like myself somewhat at a loss. I panicked and quit when my character was barely out of infancy. I felt as though every time i emoted my actions i was making a hopeless fool of myself. I was pathetically out of my depth. Give me a fleet of spaceships to organize anyday.

What's that? Yes, you heard right. I said "barely out of infancy" and I meant that literally. You did not create a character for Faery Tale Online. You were born into a family at random. You could not choose your species or class or your affinity for magic or your basic physical characteristics, but only your gender. It was up to you from that point on to discover and define yourself as an individual. Take your nature and nurture it, just like in the real world. Except with magic. You could not even choose your initial name (though supposedly one could later choose a nickname) as you are born into a family or clan of other players who impart to you as a child of the people your hereditary identity.

There's not that much magic, either; the vast majority of actions in the game world were of the most mundane survival variety. My character in infancy spent his days suckling on bits of lard for nutrition. As soon as I could, I toddled out of my parents' animal-skin dwelling and my crowning achievement after a few days of gameplay was, as i remember it, picking up sticks. It's a great big hostile world out there. Form a clan. Find a mate. Create a homestead. These are your real concerns, not slaying dragons. To this day, I have no way of knowing what was really outside my parents' hut. I know it was in a clearing, but beyond...?
Explore! Ask travellers about news of far-off places. Get tips on good gathering locations from other loincloth-wearing club-brandishing sorry primitives like yourself. Once in a while you might run into a player who just happens to have tusks or is dressed in silken finery and bending the fabric of reality to his will. After a while, long or short depending on species, your character would actually die of old age. And then you start over again. Maybe you'll be an orc this time.

It was beautiful. Let me make this abundantly clear. I did not quit the game because it was poorly designed. The website was professionally overlaid onto the basic game necessities, the gameplay was largely intuitive and smartly fleshed-out, the world was fascinating both in scope and minutiae ... FTO is exactly the sort of roleplaying project we need to nurture as consumers (and I did) - but I was wholly unsuited for a socially-dependent game. It was not the bit about gathering twigs and needing to gather my own food to stay alive that scared me off but the grim spectre of social interaction, and that interaction is a crucial component of an MMO, which FTO surely was. FTO wasn't broken; I was.

One feature though was always a risky proposition and it is the very first thing a player encounters about FTO. I've signed up for it again just for kicks so I can cite it directly. To quote:

You have a character currently waiting to be born. The waiting time is based on your place in the player registration list, and the number of mothers in the game giving birth. When born, you will be immediately notified by email.

Pregnant Mothers: 1
Your position in the birth queue is: 157

Because players are born to other players, FTO replicated the reproductive bottleneck of mammals in the real world: Mars needs women! Unfortunately, it could not replicate the instinctive urge to mate which forces us in the real world to destroy our lives by sacrificing our time and resources on offspring. What's more, computer game demographics, even in such a socially-dependent MMO, are hopelessly skewed in favor of males and most of us lack the social background or inclination to role-play a female... much less bear children. If I had to guess, I'd say FTO was heavily dependent on a few female baby-factories endlessly shitting out male infants. It is these few reproductive bottlenecks whose experience as players was worst-impacted by the birth queue mechanic, as their actions were most heavily limited by it. It wouldn't be long before they burned out and quit, and who can blame them?

I don't know how precisely FTO lost its customer base. I'm guessing the birth mechanic played a prominent role. Still, I am very sorry to see it dead. I may not have been that well suited for it, but we need more games like this on the internet.
Just maybe with fembot nurses bearing young and caring for them... maybe?

Sunday, May 12, 2013

I am sick of this world

My greatest flaw is cowardice.
I should have killed myself long ago.
From the age of eleven or twelve i have felt tired. Old and tired, that's what i used to say, and was ridiculed for it, mocked by mental midgets for pretending that my thoughts could have legitimacy at such a young age.
I'm thirty now. I should have killed myself fifteen years ago, and i was too much of a coward to do it. It's not hard. I've had access to buildings tall enough and poisons potent enough (the household variety) every day of my worthless life. I am too scared to do it.
A long time ago, maybe a decade, i realized that the only way i could ever go through with the one necessary act would be by exposing myself to the elements. The only way i could die was by removing my options and still is. I would have to bring myself to a state of weakness profound enough to prevent myself from seeking help and isolate myself from the social mechanism which would keep me alive physically while murdering me as an individual brainwashing me so i become only one more cog in the apparatus. Better to die than be just another wage-slave paying into the system.
Better to die than be worthless in a world that does not value worth. There is no way for me to create a world worth existing in, so what's ahead for me? Another five ten or thirty years in this despicable pile of shit of an ape society, allowing myself to be exploited and trod upon, only to die raped and beaten and torn apart by macho cretins in the back of an alley. Why wait?
I am a coward. I should not give you the satisfaction to choose when and how you kill me. You murder me every second you promote this sick, worthless ape clusterfuck that's so enslaved by its instinctive breeding urge and competitive drives and so willing to delude itself with afterlives that we do nothing, nothing whatsoever to extend our own existences. I cannot survive and it is better to die now than after the span of years you allot me, if i have no chance at immortality anyway, but i am too much a coward to slit my wrists.
I cannot fix this idiotic waste of biomass, i cannot eliminate its moronic behavior. I hate you. I hate all of you almost as much as i hate myself for my weakness and still it's never been enough to get me to perform the one necessary, worthwhile action, to finally end this moronic farce. I cannot kill myself. I cannot drive out to the wilderness and wander off until i sink into the ground. I cannot jump in front of a bus, no matter how many times i imagine it. I cannot take this little kitchen knife and plunge it into my femoral artery and bleed out. I cannot walk up the gangbangers in my old neighbourhood and give them my wallet in exchange for putting a bullet in my brain. I can never awallow the damn bleach. I can never leave the car running long enough in the garage. I can never work up the nerve. I am a coward.

I have a tooth abscess. It's an old root canal operation that i've neglected enough to become infected. Given the depth of the procedure, the abscess is likely to encounter blood vessels fairly quickly as it burrows into my jaw. Some will be venous. The bacteria should spread through my blood and cause systemic infections. Heart, lungs. Maybe outright septicemia. I don't have to do anything. This is my chance to beat my cowardice. Just let it take hold. It will be painful, a full-body necrosis, but i may also be too weak to do anything about it. Bonus. It may make me too weak to call for help. I could finally die. I'm just too much of a coward. I keep telling myself that it may not kill me. It would only weaken me, making the little time i have to live even less dignified. It might only rot away part of my jaw, forcing me to a liquid diet from now on. It might only infect my brain, turning me into a mindless ape like the rest of you, unable to link to thoughts together past "fuck" and "eat". Fates worse than death. Worse, if it doesn't kill me it will put me under the control of the medical establishment. I'd be medicated into submission. I'd get normalized. Lobotomized. I need to die. What if it doesn't kill me.
And that's just cowardice talking again, because no matter all the odds that it won't work, i should take this chance. I should isolate myself, weaken myself, and allow it to kill me. Kill me. And i can't, because i'm a coward, and i'll end up calling the worthless mouthbreather of a dentist and getting cured and it'll be another five years or ten years until i get another chance like this, the universe cutting through the defenses of modern society to remind me that my one purpose, my one chance at independent action, is to die. Kill me.
Kill me. I don't want to feel old and tired any more. I don't want to fight you any more. I hate you, i am your enemy. Just kill me.

And the nerds shall be beaten until they play buffoon to the school retard

Here's a fun fact:
If your high school gives an award, i don't care what kind, to some kid with a monkey's IQ, it's not because he's retarded, it's because the rest of you are.

I heard some idiotic 'news' story about a high school choosing their resident retard prom king. Jokes about Dubbya aside, this is not a heartwarming tale of nice kids doing something nice. Those same vicious little sadists spend all their time torturing their betters. You can bet your last brain cell that the 'nerds' in that school are beaten, taunted, ostracized, scapegoated and pranked every single day of their lives. Every brainless jock and cheerleader in that place does all in its power to attack those more intelligent than itself in every way it can, and the faculty supports the torturers at every turn. Day in, day out, year in, year out, you, the everyday idiots, make life a living hell for your betters, as a gesture of social solidarity, and now you want to wash your sins, to pretend fairmindedness and kindness by propping up the least deserving ape among you as your "king"?

If it were in my power i would invent the supernatural to create a hell and doom to rot in it every one of you idiotic, cretinous, imbecilic, moronic, dimwitted, dullwitted, asinine, mouthbreathing, troglodytic wastes of air. Get raped to death with your own spines for all eternity you brainless apes, and it'll be nothing to the punishment you deserve.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Conspiracy Theories and Last Decade's Insanity

"We used to hate people
Now we just make fun of them
It's more effective that way."

KMFDM - Dogma

I'm sometimes painfully aware that my anti-establishment demagoguery can easily be viewed as a tin foil hat. One of the main weapons any power structure employs is character assassination, discrediting progressive viewpoints as weak or dangerous. Certainly political opposition is always weak by comparison. When it ceases to be so, it becomes the target of opposition. There's also no denying that opposition is dangerous from the point of view of those being opposed. Neither argument would make me or any other supposed nutjob on the planet wrong.
One unfortunate consequence of our primate group dynamics is the tendency to associate credibility with power. We follow leaders. We can scoff at a street-corner prophet in his reeking rags but put him in a suit and give him a cable TV special and he miraculously acquires credibility. When the big dog orders you to hope, you hope, goddamnyou.
I doubt it took very long for the alpha dogs of early societies to realize they could compound their existing advantage by using the resources at their disposal to undermine the credibility of weaker opponents, to call them crazy or cowardly or weak, poor bets for spectators to align themselves with in the quest for social standing. Despite all our improvements in communication, defamation is more than ever a central tool of the establishment. It's more effective to make fun of social critics as conspiracy theorists than to jail them.

The extreme fringes of society have hardly been helping matters. Every delusional fanatic and peyote-horking shaman gets his own internet cult these days. Whether you believe you can overthrow the largest, tank-trampling, plane-powered, napalm-nurtured military power in the world with your 'militia' armed with nothing but rifles and fertilizer bombs or you think E.T.'s second coming will usher in a new age of prosperity for the three-stranded DNA bearing descendents of Atlantis, you can now serve your purpose to the existing power structure by becoming a public symbol to deter others from consideration of government reform or interstellar exploration.
To have any personal opinion in our current social climate is to find oneself immediately pigeonholed along with some legitimately dismissible cult, so that the average idiot can immediately identify you as a freak, loony or loser. Thus, when i say that the American government provoked the 9/11 bombings, i am forced to specify that i am in no way affiliated with the lunatic fringe which maintains those weren't really passenger planes but cleverly disguised alien spacecraft piloted by the men in black.

In the course of my perusal of Rachel Maddow monologues i ran across a segment on conspiracy theories apropos the Boston bombing. Most of it is thoroughly enjoyable but it still promotes the mainstream media stance of lumping any criticism of human affairs in with the delusional fabrications of attention-starved social parasites. The problem with conspiracy theories is not that they're impossible, but that they're unnecessary. The fact that the government doesn't bother with such convoluted schemes does not imply that it does not employ precisely the sort of morally bankrupt alpha-types who gladly would do those things.

The goal of any power structure is to solidify itself and grow at the expense of those around it. It's an evolutionary adaptation built into our social ape communal behavior. This behavior predates what might be called civilization or philosophy or rational thought. It predates morality. It's an animal function. Social animals band together not because they like each other or for some teleological counter-entropic principle of organization but simply because it allows them to beat down competitors. As most manifestations of evolution, this 'advancement' is outwardly destructive.
Make no mistake: if your elected officials and their secret police force (every political system acquires one of those- the only difference is in how active it becomes) saw a profitable reward-to-risk ratio in staging moon landings and bombings, morality would be but one more stain on the soles of their boots as they trampled everything in their path in pursuit of power.

Yes, the U.S. government is trying to enslave its populace. That's what governments do. The self-worth of individuals placed in positions of power is contingent on the power they can lord over others. Enough power is never enough. However, evolutionary constructs like hierarchical social animal power structures are not governed only by the carrot, and we don't even need to discuss the 'stick' of potential popular outrage and uprisings at the actions proposed by conspiracy theorists. It is enough to remember that all life is slave to the principles of thermodynamics and this extends to our social behavior. Direct action consumes energy. Laziness is good from an evolutionary standpoint. We do not bite where we can bluff; we do not fight where we can steal. We do not chase what will come to us. Why would a government go to the trouble of faking enemy aggression when it can simply publicize real aggression?

What the U.S. government did early in 2001, as soon as the new regime (old dynasty?) came to power was to pick a fight. Any fight would do. The numerous U.S. military bases around the world are hardly the darlings of the countries whose soil they take up. When the election resulted in a militaristic, Gulf War throwback regime seizing power and immediately announcing that it will be expanding U.S. military presence abroad, the response from the endless paramilitary groups with a grudge against western imperialism was easily predictable.
I doubt the Bush regime particularly cared where the pre-emptive strike would land. If i had to guess, an attack that would level one of the most famous business centers in the world was likely more than they'd bargained for. Too much risk for the same reward of justification for U.S. retaliation. They would have been more pleased with a run-of-the-mill embassy bombing or tourist kidnapping, or maybe a regular plane highjacking that would only result in a hundred or so dead bodies. Just something to stir up domestic support for a military offensive and offset international opposition to same. Casus belli.

Either way the "war on terror" rhetoric would already have been prepared, blanks ready to be filled with the name of a victim for the invasion. No need for the secret police to lift a finger. Why do anything secretly when you can manipulate the public into begging you to do it openly? Why crack down directly when you can make the masses beg you to remove their legal rights and funnel the funding for their own infrastructure into expansionism that would benefit only corporate profiteering?

A second issue with conspiracy theories is the paranoid delusional fixation with a single boogeyman, a convenient target for all the world's ills. One of the sad realities of our transnational 21st-century corporate state is that "the government" no longer acts to solidify "the government's" power. Da gummint, viciously corrupt as it may be, is now only an insecure servant of whichever master bids highest for its crowd-controlling services. It acts sporadically, here to secure defense contracts for one corporate entity, elsewhere to push reconstruction deals for the benefit of another. National governments are still tools of social control, but their masters are far removed from political office or military leadership. When seeking the beneficiary of a war declaration, don't bother looking for Napoleon in a black helicopter. Instead, follow the money.

There is simply no need for the socioeconomic elite to stage something like a pressure-cooker bomb at a crowded social event. They only provoke and then use the response as justification. Put the Christian fundamentalists asking for another series of crusades against Islam on television, lend them credibility, and yes, you will have scared, desperate, uninformed self-styled martyrs setting off homemade bombs here and there. Why make the effort to produce a media product which your victims will gladly produce for free? Why subjugate a unified lower class when you can divide and conquer?
Look instead at the real issue, on the cutbacks and lack of accountability in education, on the counter-intellectual mentality which is actively promoted by corporate power structures because it feeds precisely the sort of infighting among the lower economic classes which allows corporate machinations to remain unanalyzed. 

In general, the backwoods militias and the Roswell fanatics which are so easily dredged up as the public face of antiestablishment criticism are only fronts for small-time demagogues feeding on others' insecurities to create their own servile power base, following their own power-grasping instincts through the less time-intensive but more dangerous route of working outside existing hierarchies. They have no intention of overthrowing the government. They just want your attention, your money, your teenage daughters.
This is why they make such good pigeon-holes in which to throw any legitimate outrage when a government really does bother to take action, the few times when bureaucratic inefficiency yields to megalomaniacal powerlust. Because any government that would institute something like the Patriot Act really should have been overthrown, and its defense is to destroy the credibility of its critics by lumping them in with the Loch Ness Monster and Bigfoot chasers.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Camelot Chaining Itself

Well, Camelot Unchained got its two mil and will presumably go into development. Things were looking bleak until some of its supporters supposedly started picking fights for popularity on various major websites, spamming and crying and interrupting other business and,  and ... it worked. Hurray for moral ambiguity. I was tempted to say City State would call in some industry favors to secure that last hundred thou' but that late influx of cash, 5-7% of the total (i wasn't watching very closely) came from 2000 new backers, a 20% increase. This would mean that it really was getting the word out there, the demeaning, underhanded, embarrassing internet guerrilla advertising tactics, which raked in the pennies.

Now for the next impending disaster. Camelot Unchained is in great danger of breaking article 11 of my manifesto, which would quickly lead to general deterioration. In order to bring in the donations, they've repeatedly promised backers that they would have their wishes granted in terms of game features. It's the beginning of the downward slide to the lowest-common-denominator.

They have their startup capital. Now the success of the project mainly hinges on whether the development team has the nerves of steel to withstand the same whining and crying and spamming which got them that money, to stand up to their own customers and defend the central vision of the game against the constant corrosion of demands for legitimized cheating, oversimplification and reductions in scope of player actions.

Is the City State governed by a Pericles or is it no more than an inconstant quagmire of mob rule?