Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Billy Graham, Bible Blaster

"Jill said suddenly, „Jubal? How do they get away with it?“
„Get away with what?“
„Everything. That’s not a church-it’s a madhouse.“
It was Jubal’s turn to ponder before answering. „No, Jill, you’re mistaken. It is a church - . . and the logical eclecticism of our times.“
„The New Revelation and all doctrines and practices under it are all old stuff, very old. All you can say about it is that neither Foster nor Digby ever had an original thought in his life. But they knew what would sell, in this day and age. So they pieced together a hundred timeworn tricks, gave them a new paint job, and they were in business. A booming business, too. The only thing that scares me is that I might live to see it sell too well- until it was compulsory for everybody.“
„Oh, no!“
„Oh, yes. Hitler started with less and all he had to peddle was hate. Hate always sells well, but for repeat trade and the long pull happiness is sounder merchandise.

Robert Heinlein - Stranger in a Strange Land

A charlatan died last week. That the world weeps for him more than it did for Kurt Vonnegut, Christopher Hitchens and Carl Sagan put together proves just how utterly doomed our idiotic species is. I was planning to calmly skip over Billy Graham's death, knowing few details of his life (and as every time I add a post tagged "faithosis" or "FEMale chauvINISM" this blog loses half its meager handful of readers) but the monotone nature of the press surrounding this welcome development begs comment.

I was expecting the drooling troglodytic bible-thumpers on what's called the "right wing" to slip into one of their frequent bouts of mass hysteria over Graham croaking. From the American Democratic Party's mass-media mouthpieces, I was expecting their usual noncommittal, muted, spineless genuflecting before hoi polloi mores. I was not expecting the likes of MSNBC and NPR to also outdo themselves lavishing attention and praise on what should be the first implicit enemy of any self-proclaimed "progressive" social movement. Their motivation is readily apparent in the nature of that praise, as every article, news segment and slavish eulogy makes sure to note, repeatedly and at length, the breadth and perpetuity of Graham's control over American politics.

Those of you who have not lived in the U.S. might find it hard to believe, as American mass-media go to some lengths to mask the stench of their country's superstitious undertow, but evangelists like Graham play a huge role in determining social acceptability. He was a king-maker, a store-brand Richelieu and an irresistible ally to any Man Who Would Be King, and every White House occupier including the Clintons and Obama pandered routinely to the festering, ignorant redneck swarms which Graham represented.

But, though his popularity and political power are undeniable, it's much harder to find mention of anything for which Graham stood aside from building up his power base. Indeed, every amateur biographer seems to gush over the man's self-serving ecumenical bending before public opinion. Nose consistently to the wind, his career seems to have tracked major social movements as they came. When he could best widen his influence as part of the southern evangelical circus with its fire-and-brimstone threats of hell, he did that. Once he came to the wider public's attention and saw profit and publicity in playing a "nice" evangelist, he did that too. When playing the anti-semite and pandering to Nixon's paranoia served him, he did so, and when the civil rights movement became an inevitability he paid lip service to desegregation as well. He sold whatever brand of snake-oil would sell to his target audience of primitive, superstitious cretins.

Vermin like Graham, principal vectors of the mental disease faithosis, have killed more humans than any plague throughout history, by diminishing the powers of reason by which thinking beings can improve their environment. They are the velvet glove to any iron fist, a living consensus of inaction and stultification, cheap populism and power brokering, crippling our intellectual progress and our ability to deal with true crises. Robert Heinlein's future histories sometimes predict a coming dark age by the rise of a 21st century theocracy growing out of 20th century southern evangelism (with Graham-in-all-but-name making frequent cameos) noting the inexorable spread of Graham-brand feel-good born-again willful ignorance. Do you think he was wrong? Oh, in the details, sure, but then again Jules Verne's giant cannon never came to be either. Human footsteps still mark the dust on the moon. Look at Graham's Wikipedia article, so stunningly objective that it repeatedly quotes fanboyish bons mots about him as a Bridge Builder, a Pastor to Presidents, Greatest Living American (will they now call him the greatest dead one too?) and a hundred other uncritical mentions of faith and salvation with all the seriousness of the day's weather.

"Graham preached the gospel to more people in person than anyone in the history of Christianity" we are told by our online consensus of reality, not that he lied to more people in person about imbecilic fairy-tale promises of eternal life and protective daddies up in the sky.

On one point I can agree with Graham and other filthy lying scum like him: the end is nigh. Human civilization is nearing its destruction. Only it won't come from any supernatural sources but from the spread of anti-intellectualism, of which Graham was one of the greatest champions. Scum like him should be memorialized, yes... much like Germany remembers its own barbaric tribal backsliding in the thirties and forties. And if you count yourself an intellectual, progressive, free thinker or any other kind of non-retard, you have no excuse whatsoever not to openly condemn one of the greatest reactionary forces to ever walk the North American soil.

Saturday, February 24, 2018

Saint Paul of Splendid and Tybir of the Red Cheek

Mich interessiert kein Gleichgewicht

Rammstein - Mann Gegen Mann

Spoilers: Torment: Tides of Numenera (Tybir) ... and I guess a minor one for Dead State if that even counts.

Back when the webcomic Something Positive still had some personality, its "heroes" set out to write a very special theater play, the very antithesis of modern sappy, politically correct tripe. You know, those fictional portrayals of, among other things, "gays as flawless superhumans who resemble a new incarnation of the noble savage more than real people."

I held off playing the zombie survival / base building / RPG / thingamajig Dead State on its release because of the bad press it received (standard release bugs mostly) and while I'll get into the game as a whole at some later date, I will say the patched-up and expanded Reanimated release (while still suffering from some minor bugs and strange design decisions) is quite stable, enjoyable and an interesting take on the old freedom / story trade-off in gaming. It resembles the first Baldur's Gate game in one respect, providing a wide array of possible companions without expanding much on their dialogue trees. Most of these companions play up the "ragged band of misfits" routine: a computer nerd with no social skills, a veterinary student trying to patch up humans as best she can, a couple of semi-competent cops, a trucker, a petty crook, etc. The females naturally tend to be portrayed as more sympathetic than the males.

And then there's Paul Rainier.
Paul is a former Army ranger turned engineer. His combat skills are among the best in the game, possibly the best all-around. He never panics. His jack-of-all-trades noncombat skills lend themselves to supporting any base improvement project. He's clean-cut, clean-shaven, clean-spoken, clean-conscienced. He never takes a day off. He's so stunningly smart and competent that he's always on both the logical and moral side of arguments. He's also, inexplicably, a sub-commander in place of the more fitting Bud. In fact the fucker's so gosh-dog-gonned angelic as to routinely reassure you that even when you contradict him he will gladly support your decisions.

He's also the only openly gay character and as per modern precepts, Paul is a gay martyr. A homo-martyr. A Homartyr. His heroic and benevolent military career was cut short by homophobia. Hell, for extra pathos, your first meeting with him occurs as he's piously burying his dead lover. Jesus fuck. Jesus fuck every apostle. Could you not just have slapped a rainbow-colored halo on this schmuck? Paul's actually so endlessly useful and so painfully personable that even I like him despite my distaste for military murderers and PC babble both. Dead State's basic concept follows the standard post-apocalyptic setting where other survivors are a bigger threat than the zombies themselves. Your would-be companions are usually useless or unlikeable or both... unless they're a nominal minority, and Paul is the... second most ludicrous of the bunch.

Dead State's developer, Double Bear Productions, was founded by Brian Mitsoda, who earned his fame by writing one of the true classic cRPGs, Vampire: the Masquerade - Bloodlines. Though Dead State shows some of that depth, its shameful pandering to political correctness makes me wonder if Bloodlines wasn't a one-off. It also makes me curious about his exact work on Torment: Tides of Numenera, a project sharing a smaller amount of the same weakness for facetious niceness. I haven't played the patch including Mitsoda's personal creation, Oom, but TToN featured its own token ding-a-lingulator, Tybir, and Tybir is... rather less angelic.

He's still very sympathetic. He's a charmer, and even as his dark past is revealed, the player is encouraged to accept and nurture Tybir's mere contrition as character growth and appropriate penance. As I complained in my main commentary on the game, none of TToN's companions approach the edginess of Ignus or Vhailor from the original Torment, or even Dak'kon or Morte. Yet, Tybir's dishonest, self-serving and everything else we expect from a rogue and don't expect to see portrayed as part of the personality of a protected species, a champion of victimology poker. Compare the two gay love interests in Dragon Age: Origins, Leliana and Zevran (both of them rogues to boot) and you'll find nothing is ever their fault and their tales of personal tragedy are outright Dickensian.

Tybir, in contrast, owns his faults (at least eventually) and his entire life history seems as much a matter of his poor personal choices as the winds of fate. Overall a much more believable character than Saint Paul Rainier or most any other nominally homosexual character in modern media. And they still managed to ruin it by the finale.
Auvigne, Tybir's former boyfriend... hit him!
Le *gasp* !!!
Domestic violence! Oh noes! Oh the horror! Oh the humanity!
Oh, brother.
That's right, when he caught Tybir possibly ruining the reputation of the mercenary company they'd painstakingly built up by burning an entire village to the ground, betraying their employers, Auvigne popped him one. These are trained murderers we're talking about, mind you, backstabbing cut-throats. Yet this is the climax of Tybir's story, a smack, every bit as amateurish and whiny and anticlimactic as the same politically correct pandering idiocy I've been railing against in webcomics. That's the quality of writing we Kickstarted with a five million dollar boot.

Do yourselves a favor. If you're all excited about turning your product's plot or characters into an emblem of the latest hot-button issue... don't. If you know what attitude to take before you've even considered the problem, you're probably not capable of making it interesting. You may as well play the provocateur and write a deliberate parody of such cliches instead.
Make him kick a lot of puppies.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Red Planet

Robert Heinlein's stories peaked in the 1960s with Stranger in a Strange Land and The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress. In the two prior decades much of his writing was dominated by his publisher's demand for "juvenile" fiction, SF still being mired in its early 20th century pulp planetary romance phase. While keeping things PG-rated understandably dulled the edge off his futuristic libertarianism and libertinism, his irrepressible style shone through. The "Heinlein juveniles" are more serious and thought provoking than most anything pop culture directs at ersatz mature audiences.

Take Red Planet. A young pioneer saves his pet Martian parrot-ball from a fate worse than death. The ensuing adventure manages to combine ice-skating, war-painted oxygen masks, righteous rebellion against authoritarian middle-school educators, bullet train rides and fending off aliengators all before even reaching the main event. Along the way its characters exemplify a gamut of personal freedom and responsibility from the childish to the posthuman, by both pedantic and implicit means. Despite all that heartpounding action-adventure, for fans of Stranger in a Strange Land it will inevitably read much like a marginally non-canon sequel expanding upon Martian biology and culture and Heinlein's idealized individual capable of both careful, patient consideration and decisive, merciless action.

It's a quaint reminder that Stranger was cooking for a dozen years before being published in abridged form no less. Both books were in fact begun around the same time. This likely amounted to a stroke of marketing genius, as youth who grew up loving Heinlein's mysterious Martians in Red Planet would've been perfectly primed when they hit their mid-twenties to have their world rocked by Stranger's iconoclasm, free love and benevolent cannibalism. No wonder students just finishing college started setting up their own Martian nests.

In keeping with its youth-oriented marketing, Red Planet's remarkably dynamic. By itself, the image of the two boys skating at low-gravity speeds along frozen Martian canals, masks painted in garish individually expressive patterns, would make a stunning central visual thread for a movie. That is, if any studio were willing to adapt the book honestly, keeping both Heinlein's outdated science vis-a-vis said red planet and his gun-toting cowboy political rhetoric. Setting aside, its monomythic plot would instantly grab audiences. The hero with his two sidekicks discovers a dire threat to his community, travels strange landscapes, gains a wizard's (read Martian's, but let's not split hairs) aid and guidance, rallies the good people against the bad and at last reinstates the status quo.

The devil's in the details, and classic Heinlein prods toward freewheeling but socially conscious rugged individualism pepper every other page. Damn, the bastard could spin a yarn.

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's made for violence upon"

Marilyn Manson - Disposable Teens

Working subtitles:
The Reload Game
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.
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?
(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.
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. 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.
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?

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.
Ok, let's give this a seventh chance.
Walked in on the king in my underwear.
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.
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.
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.

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.
Critical miss. Knocked down. Eaten by zombies.
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.
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.
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.

edit 2019/07/17
It did keep me playing, eventually. An... adequate experience, all told.

Saturday, February 3, 2018

Emerge, Ent Gameplay!

Is there such a thing as a passive physics-engine-centered game? Or rather a reactive one? I want to play as a tree. Not even a walking tree. Just a tree.

Seriously, just plant the player somewhere. Maybe make choosing your location (soil quality, topography, atmospheric humidity, etc.) part of the pre-game preparation. Start as a little sapling of several different species. Then start throwing things at me: sun, rain, hail, ants, woodpeckers, frost. Limit my actions to managing my internal reserves and immediate milieu: channeling sap, tapping groundwater, spewing pheromones, growing or limiting rood nodules, budding more leaves or maybe even flowering. Or would that last one drive up the ESRB rating? Who knows, maybe the kids these days are scared of getting microaggressed by stamens. In any case, gameplay should center on adapting to changing conditions, not avoiding or defeating them, on weathering each new storm or drought or clambering ten-year-old apes in sneakers scuffing my lovely bark. Let me figure out the best layout for my branches to both maximize sunlight and resist physical stress, the best spread for my roots to support myself and at the same time maximize water uptake.

You might laugh, but this is the sort of shit that Will Wright and Maxis used to pull off back in the early '90s while they were still worth mentioning. Look, ma, no elves or lasers or AKs!

Thursday, February 1, 2018

Apparently, not feeling suicidal can sometimes be considered a good thing.