Sunday, July 26, 2015

On Creeps and Scrubs

"Wanna get with me with no money
Oh no, I don't want no scrub"

TLC - No Scrubs

Few people out there are held up as nerds' nerds, as the most forward-thinking, creative minds to whom the intelligentsia can look to formulate the half-formed suspicions and perspectives nudging at the edges of their awareness, but Randall Munroe certainly seems to qualify. XKCD will reward your attention span even if you only understand one strip out of ten. However, dredging up this minimass semi-conscious can also bring to light some of the more questionable assumptions of those who would believe themselves protochronistic.

Take this old strip, for instance. It's a pretty standard scenario, unusually sitcom-ish for XKCD. Man fails at interacting with women - because, as we all know, boys are dumb. I mean, how imperceptive can he be to incorrectly interpret her honest and clear communicative... sitting there ignoring him? Yes, you can certainly make the argument that the strip is simply poking fun at a couple of ships passing each other in the night, but jokes tend to have butts and it's not usually the character who gets the last word. The joke's on him. It's his assumption that's detailed and explicitly proven wrong, he's the one getting slammed and her punchline does the slamming. This is a joke about a dumb male acting dumb (written by a male (important plot point.))

Intellectualism has its blind spots, often defined by a desperation to find oneself on the right side of history. Race relations, environmentalism, religious tolerance and especially the perpetually salient gender issues all carry the caveat of horse blinders. In this case, decades of the constant feminist media circus and an educational system which indoctrinates boys into the belief of their own original testicular sin has created the assumption that any chance you can take to take a swipe at the male sex puts you in the humanist and humanitarian corner. Man bad, woman good. However, the truly sad facet of modern thought which this strip brings to light is the Procrustean male self-hatred in any dealings with women, the constant desire to blame themselves for any negative repercussions of a system which throws them in a negative light.

See, unfortunately the male character's fears are well-founded. Yes, the situation was condensed to fit into four panels but it's certainly no "man bites dog" scenario in a culture in which Homer Simpson meekly accepts Moe's decree that "we're all pigs" and a single wiggled eyebrow at work can bring about a sexual harassment lawsuit. A woman who decides she can profit from playing the victim can easily destroy a man's reputation, and she often does so for reasons pertaining to her own unanalyzed sexual instincts, but it is her choice. Women decide the outcome of attempted seduction by default in our species. Males' experience is a constant desperate race to subject themselves to women's judgment, an unending headlong rush against the implacable granite wall of female scorn. Very few men occupy the coveted alpha-male social leadership positions which constitute the bulk of male attractiveness and the rest can only hope to humiliate themselves into getting some woman to condescend sullying her pristine, divine female flesh with the touch of a male body which modern culture assures us is disgusting by default: "blocky, utilitarian; it's like a Jeep" to quote from Seinfeld. Women glory in their assumed right to call men pigs and dogs, and sexual advances from "losers" are indeed met with the same response as a dog humping their leg: a swift kick in the nuts.

Yet still, we expect men, who find themselves at a desperate social disadvantage, to assume the entire risk of courtship. Though it's men who risk getting dragged into court for harassment or attempted rape at every turn, we still ridicule men whose reticence in such self-immolation gets the better of them. That XKCD strip ridicules a cowardly male, a male who fails to act out his primitive sexual archetype in vying for a woman's attention while inviting us to sympathize with a woman who... is acting out her own primitive sexual archetype in awaiting men's supplication before her. We are invited to empathize with her beleaguered plight because, you see, the man before her has failed with fall at her knees and subject himself to her ability to destroy him socially on a whim, to declare him an unfit specimen or even a criminal.

If feminism had anything to do with equality, promoting female honesty in this situation would be at the top of its agenda. Get off your damn high horse, you who are protected by the legal system, by social assumptions of victimization and the instinct of every male in the vicinity to protect you from other males' aggression, and take the first step. Instead, men who have grown up their entire lives walking on eggshells for fear of bringing offense to women are derided for cowardice when failing to deliver their worth to female judgment by performing the most ridiculed trope in pop-culture: approaching a woman.

How dare that scrub shirk his scrub duties?

What's more, we even do it to ourselves because of course, as men, it is our duty to protect women from looking like the bad guy now isn't it?

Thursday, July 23, 2015

New Barrel, Same Monkeys

So, how 'bout that Kepler-452b? Sure is some sexy stellar spectroscopy. Yeah, baby, wobble that axis!

Seriously, though, before everyone (by which I mean my fellow nerds) gets all hot and bothered about finding possibly-habitable planets once more, let's remember the problem with Earth has never been old Gaia herself but the disgusting infestation of primitive naked apes sucking the life out of her. Assume some physicist manages to solve the light speed question or the whole world gets together to build seed-ships (fat chance; we'd rather choke on our own petroleum farts right here where we are.) Leaving aside the possibility of other species for the moment, try to actually think about how expanding our own crackpot species off-planet would actually play out. Even if we find some way to colonize another world, what would this new frontier produce?

Probably the finest speculation on such is provided by Kim Stanley Robinson in the Mars books, but while a complex and semi-plausible interplay of possibilities, that story was predicated on a false premise. Robinson's ersatz Martians are smart. Well, at least the first waves are. More specifically, the First Hundred are scientists, brilliant minds sent to study local conditions and solve the problems of habitability. Get that. They're not even militarily tortured and brainwashed into submission before being sent off. This results in a lot of creative intellects taking the reins (and reigns) of the colonization project, who are allowed unprecedented cultural fiat (for nerds) by virtue of their prestige as media figures. People actually follow them and not just, say, the guys with the guns. Hilarity ensues.

Forget it.

Never, ever, not in a million years, no way in Hel's rancid cloaca would the power-mad control freaks who rule this hive of mindless apes we call a sentient species, ever, ever, EVER allow such a scenario to play out. Any colonization efforts will be either military in the classic sense of the word or ruled by a megalomaniacal multitrillionnaire who fills half the crew with her own purpose-bred private army, amounting to the same thing. An interstellar colony would not be populated by the best and brightest, but by a few mid-intellect oligarchs and by the work force they deign to bring with them, a large clutter of rabble stupid enough to be easily controllable. Oh, sure, they'll bring along the gadgets and survival instructions provided by intellect, but the rich and powerful do not allow independent thought anywhere near them. They would never allow intelligence to taint or threaten their monarchic claim on new ground.

Even if by some miracle a few worthwhile minds snuck through the screening system or arose by chance, the new society would, without even any need for conspiratorial  repression methods, destroy such upstarts with brutal efficiency. An interstellar colony would represent a purer frontier society than any which have existed. Intelligence was originally an evolutionary adaptation, sure, but this only works up to the sort of animal cunning which lives only to destroy one's enemies. True intellect, the sort we know as scientists, artists and philosophers, is evolutionarily self-destructive. It breeds in the safety of civilization as a constant (and again, from the point of view of leaders, largely undesirable) accident or aberration, a maladaptive overshoot in evolutionary terms.

A frontier is not a civilization but an animal system, an evolutionary one, constantly pruning any extravagance which does not feed into the constant power struggle for limited resources. It breeds savage, murderous competitiveness and not creativity or inclusive progress. An interstellar colony would be isolated in a deeper sense than any frontier society before it, cut off from the influx of civilized settlers refreshing civilized sensibilities, from dangerous radical views like equality. It would be more controllable by the first to amass wealth and power than any social system before it, the sort of isolated adulation-farm that the likes of Charles Manson, Dick Cheney and Jim Jones can only dream of and drool over. Much as I hate to say it, any new colony would be a far cry from Robinson's ivory tower. It would likely start as a brutal dictatorship led by brainwashed military thugs but even if not, it would soon turn into the inevitable: North Korea.

Mag-mag-mag-mag ; mag-Magneeeto!

I've always considered Magneto's entrance in the old X-Men 2 Sega Genesis game a top contender for the most inspired five seconds in video games. Sure, if you widen your scope a little there have been much better stories told, characters developed and vistas scenicked in various other games... but when it comes to a condensed moment of pure badassness, Magneto smashing through his own base to get to you ranks pretty high up there. You can see it at minute 21:30 of this this video.

For one thing, it manages to capture in one snapshot Magneto's "Homo superior" personality from the comic books and cartoon: warped, harsh, energetic and imperious. However, the scene only works because this game dates from ye olden days when designers actually invested in sound as a selling point and the design team bothered to synchronize his entrance with the music track. That, and the composer might even have been paying attention to context. Most music these days seems to be commissioned as pre-chewed five-bucks-a-track generic stock, without the musician ever bothering to see what he's scoring.
"Send us two airy string pieces, one sad piano solo and five bombasts. Check's in the mail, bye."

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Super-Me, Not Super-DC

"Everything has been said before
Nothing left to say anymore
When it's all the same you can ask for it by name"
Marilyn Manson - This Is the New Shit

Both Marvel and DC Comics are now running their own multiplayer rackets, presumably WoW-clones falsely advertising themselves as MMOs while delivering nothing but the usual treadmill, endless small-group, inconsequential instance farming for individual item upgrades. While DC's take seems pretty much an outright copy of City of Heroes merely plastered over with DC trademarks and might therefore be playable, Marvel's is an insult to intelligence. You get to play as Iron-Man or Ice-Man or Spider-Man... which might be interesting if I didn't really want to play as Wolf-man. The hero worship thing works fine for a single-player game. Even though it's not one of my favorite activities, I still remember X-Men 2: Clone Wars quite fondly from my youth. However, if you're trying to translate that sort of comedia dell'arte mask-donning into a persistent multiplayer community, you are missing the point. Online worlds serve as meeting grounds for approximations, exaggerations and malformations of our own personae. I will leave dressing up as a prefabricated personality to the disgustingly uncreative left wing of the IQ curve.

Ten years ago, a surprisingly high number of gamers were of the same opinion. You may or may not have heard that a faux-MMO called City of Heroes was sued by Marvel for copyright infringement because certain costume pieces could be assembled and colored in the likeness of existing superheroes. Marvel thankfully (and surprisingly, given how crooked the courts are) lost the suit, failing to successfully claim ownership over the concepts of regeneration or yellow spandex, but the case was ludicrous frivolity in more than one way. Rip-off characters were a non-issue. While a few copycat superheroes could always be seen running around the streets of Paragon City (especially when a new superhero movie came out) they were more often than not objects of derision. Most players tended to hit the randomizer buttons until they saw something visually appealing and I'd guess about a quarter of the population went to great lengths to create completely new, conceptually cohesive characters with long-winded, dramatic backstories, custom battle-cries and ridiculously detailed personalized hide-outs.

The basic point of RPGs is allowing the player to express an individual identity. It's not an RPG when personality and creativity are swept under the rug like shameful character faults in favor of corporate-approved marketable brands... which brings us from Marvel to DC. At least that one managed to latch onto what was always City of Heroes' primary draw: character creation. However, though I confess some curiosity as to what came of it and I'd love tromping about an appropriately gothy Gotham under the shadow of the Dark Knight, it's still not enough. These comics were not started as exercises in world and civilization-building as Tolkien's Middle-earth was, and the mere presence of their heroes effaces other considerations. Batman is unfortunately about Batman, not about Gotham. Leaving aside that I've never thought it possible to reconcile power-less Batman and all-mighty Superman within one continuity, I'm a classic Chaotic Neutral sort of wolf, so Gotham does not offer enough novelty and freedom for me.

Unlike either of the two examples above, City of Heroes was a true creative endeavor, however flawed. It distilled superheroic shenanigans down to basic archetypes and origins then attempted to build a world around... possibility. Not around Kryptonite or the Batmobile, but around the very precept of superheroism. Having tasted that wasted potential, the promise of walking in Batman's shadow is dwarfed by the promise of an entirely new world... and several new projects are promising to deliver.

I have yet to look too deeply into any of these three, but here's hoping at least one manages to capture the freedom of City of Heroes while not falling into the same idiotically dumbed-down gameplay mechanics. Merely copying CoH will not in itself yield a worthwhile product. The game failed for some very solid reasons. If all I get from your product is a character creator, I may as well just take some 3D design courses instead.

City of Titans
Heroes and Villains
Valiance Online

I want to dress up and punch gangsters again. Give me a reason to do so.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

LotRO's Cowbells Are the Stuff of Worlds

If you've wandered around Lord of the Rings Online through the Shire and in many of the northern lands of men at night you may stop at some point in confusion and question why the soft, measured, faeric night-time music track has begun to give way to a particular noise, to an equally soft, repetitive, multiple clinking and clanging. You likely will not recognize it. Very few of LotRO's customers, online gamers, will have led the double life necessary to become acquainted with the sound of cowbells.

Even fewer will have encountered cowbells in the setting LotRO's attempting to bring to life with such a reference. You see, old European peasant villages don't feed their animals at home and it's inefficient for each family to send someone out with three or four livestock of varying sizes and appetites. Cows, sheep and goats are often brought out at dawn and handed over to herders who take them up out of the tired dusty village street to rich, grassy hillside pastures for the day. At dusk, they descend once more and must be reclaimed by each household. Even left alone the animals will amble toward their barn more or less haphazardly, by virtue of habit. Just to make sure though, it's often the village children, little ten-year-old scamps who can barely reach a cow's neck, who are sent out by their busy parents to gently lead the beasts back home.

"Til the cows come home" does not signify only an unbearably long time, the end of time as it were in the eternal workday of village life. It's also the Friday to the week's worth of daily backbreaking physical labor of peasant life, when the heat and the dust and mud and toil and danger of maiming by farm implements finally relent in favor of gathering around the homestead for a family meal. It's one of the few moments when an exhausted peasant can wipe the sweat out of his miserable sunburned face to see a peaceful future stretching out before him in the figures of growing children leading fattened, healthy animals back home.

That sound of cowbells among the hills of the Shire conveys more peace and hope and context for your adventures than a dozen overblown varieties of cheaply re-skinned giant spiders. These sorts of artistic details like the gossips in Dragon Age or an NPC humming to herself in Morrowind are vital to such escapist fantasies. They create the world itself in which various "kill ten rats" nonsense can play out. They make us swallow the indignities and incompetence of various gameplay mechanics and they are too often ignored. LotRO's later content was churned out more and more without a thought to background or atmosphere or context. Games can be an artistic medium but the difference between good and bad content is as great as between a stick figure and The Old Guitarist.

Immersion matters. A joke here, a sound there, a pretty house or a scrap of flavor text appended to everything the player touches, it all adds up to a new reality. The best games, the ones we remember, invest in detail and become worlds. For all of LotRO's disgusting slot-machine idiocy, teleporting back to the few well-designed spots in the game world for a view or a sound that truly captures Middle-earth has kept me coming back to this piece of trash for year after year. That cowbell track is a greater selling point than any of the worthless "kill ten rats" quest packs I've actually paid them for.

Friday, July 17, 2015

Clone? WoW!

"I'm the new, I'm the new, new model
I've got nothing inside
Better in the head and in bed at the office
I can suck it and smile"

Marilyn Manson - New Model No. 15

In contrast to yesterday's post I'd like to reiterate that our society really is filled with mindless fad-worship and copycatting is the rule rather than the exception. It's not usually a case of a movie being accused of copying some random flick from two decades prior. When every action movie started having its characters bouncing off the walls after The Matrix, you could safely call bullshit on their copy/pasted villain pasting. When studios start buying the rights to every half-assed superhero from the past century you can safely say they're cramming themselves into an already overcrowded wagon. Writers really did copycat Anne Rice's whiny, sexed-up vamps for a decade and more until culminating in that idiotic farce, Twilight.

My favorite example however is from the game industry. Nobody remembers what an MMO should be anymore and that imbecilic reductionism does have one name: World of Warcraft. I feel quite confident calling various online games WoW-clones because I like many others found myself at ground zero of that little crime against art and intellect and one could see the tide turning in the industry as WoW's success prompted every studio to drop any pretense of quality or progress in the concept and simply copy as shallowly as possible the addictive properties of WoW's loot-grinding slot-machine gameplay.

There were many takes on the MMO concept to begin with, all hinging on the persistent, open, virtual world aspect and not simpleminded repetitive solo farming for gear and achievements. Many of WoW's predecessors and contemporaries (EVE, Planetside, A Tale in the Desert, Ryzom, Project Entropia) while riddled with their own problems and attempts to dumb down their gameplay and legitimize cheating in order to wring more cash out of their customers and secure wider appeal, still could not be called clones. On the other hand, after WoW broke onto the mass market you began to see one big-budget title after another cranked out, year after year, copying as precisely as possible WoW's classes, setting, combat mechanics, interface, item, resource and crafting system, everything down to features they didn't even stop to think they wouldn't need like LotRO's town guards.

The Lord of the Rings Online, Warhammer Online, Rift, Aion, The Elder Scrolls Online and many more I haven't even bothered to look at, these aren't just uninspired and generic. They are dumbed-down copycats of a dumbed-down groundbreaker. Other games may not be clones or were not conceived as such but were infected with a certain amount of WoW-ishness simply by assumption of such qualities as the new normal, by adopting the most popular title as the definition of the genre. The short-lived Chronicles of Spellborn tried making a name for itself with a new ways to click interface buttons and actually had some interesting artistic direction but failed miserably through dragging players through the same "kill ten rats" grind they could find in any WoW-clone. City of Heroes abandoned its original attempt at being a thriving virtual city in favor of banking wholly on instanced small-team gameplay after WoW's success with the same. More recently, Firefall started out as an open-world resource-gathering player economy then it too regressed to WoW-clone "kill ten rats" mission-based gameplay.

Get some perspective. The game mechanics you take for granted are not required by the genre any more than screaming ditzes in distress dressed in flimsy nighties are required for horror movies. WoW-clone mechanics are only developers' way of cutting corners, cutting costs and cutting you out of the knowledge that anything better is possible. WoW-clones are by definition a rip-off.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Hero Saves Day; Audience Flabbergasted

Please stop saying that Avatar ripped off some children's cartoon or whatever Wikipedia thought was important enough for a front-page item today. You can't avoid copying something that simplistic. Avatar was a moronic hack job of an excuse for a plot meant only as a vehicle for special effects. "Hero saves pretty flowers from ugly smoke" is no more or less than a constant refrain of industrialized societies' escapist literature. It's the steamworks beat to which Ents tromp through Middle-earth and sends the wabbits of Watership Down scurrying for cover and you can probably find plenty of Romantic-age references to prove that this routine is as old as the industrial exploitation which prompts it.

Allow Avatar the innocence of simple-mindedness. It's much too vapid to have bothered copying anything specifically. Also, just to nip this in the bud, Jurassic Park isn't a copycat of Frankenstein just because there's mad science but oh wait "something goes terribly wrong!" (tm) and neither is Terminator a total rip-off of Rossum's Universal Robots just because the robots will rise against their masters. Get a fucking grip. Sometimes, simplistic, shallow ditties chanting a classic refrain will also wind up being similar in other details. There's only so much lowest common denominator to go around.

The issue isn't the copying. It's the wheel-spinning.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Cock-Sure Academia

edit 2015/12/12: Since the commercial got yanked off youtube, allow me to specify that it depicted a swarm of cocks (by which I mean roosters of course) mobbing a fast-food joint advertising big (chicken) breasts. No mammalian breasts were harmed (or portrayed) in the making of this advertisement. Masculinity, however, was ridiculed as mindless animal breast-chasing.


This Hardee's commercial was used in a 400-level Anthropology class as an example of sexism, because you see it objectifies women by punning on the word "breasts." Sexism today needs no more definition of course than the mere existence of males.

It's funny to note how much feminism has in common with reactionary or older, supposedly patriarchal systems. I don't mean just the apparent expectation that we'd backtrack to Victorian "white meat" conversation but the similarity between feminist rhetoric and right-wing con artists (e.g. FOX.) Feminism is among other things a profession, a trade guild specializing in manipulating public opinion which stays in business by continually creating a market for itself. Much like reactionary shock-jocks constantly having to invent some new assault on traditional values (did you hear the liberals are raping Christmas with gay wedding cakes?) feminists are caught constantly trying to make themselves relevant by fabricating moral outrage. There are never enough ways to vilify men and you can never, ever, EVER admit that society is about anything other than evil men masterminding the oppression of innocent women or your ratings go down.

So a commercial which portrays males as a mindless, faceless, animalistic swarm unable to resist their instinctive urge for "breasts" must be nothing but vile male oppression of women. An ad in which men are nothing but walking cocks, a routine sort of denigration which if it had come out of a feminist's mouth would be lauded as Buddha-level enlightenment by our whole pop culture, is attacked because it used the word "breasts" as a double-entendre. The merest allusion to sexuality is defined automatically as a pretext for any woman to slap the man next to her 'cuz sexism. Game, set and match. Argument over. Basta.

This is the sort of education into which two generations of men have been indoctrinated. You are guilty even when it's you that's being insulted. Your every thought is a crime and all your accuser must do is cry "sexism" with or without cause to grind you into the dirt.

Keep piling it on 'til you get tenure.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Prime World

Prime World was recommended to me while I was playing some other dumbed down AoS game like League of Legends or such as having more serious and balanced gameplay mechanics. I took one look at their site's front page and closed the tab, retorting that any game which advertises itself with a panty-shot likely isn't worth bothering with.

Nonono, it's okay though!
They've switched to cleavage.

Granted, it's pretty hard to stand out as sexualized in a genre which advertises almost exclusively to boys in their early teens, but somehow Prime World managed to go one further and try attracting female gamers by giving them monetary discounts on pay-to-win features. Because, you know, all women are whores. I could not make this stuff up. They backtracked that idiocy before I ever took a serious look at their product but I'm guessing not before half their male playerbase declared themselves female. How the fuck did they even think they were going to verify and enforce that? Personally infiltrate every account holder's house and hike up their skirts?
I know Russia's fallen off the wagon so many times they don't even remember where they parked it but seriously, cut down on the vodka-induced marketing, fellas.

That's the other instantly noticeable feature. The game was developed by a Russian studio, which will become instantly obvious as you're hit with a solid wall of Cyrillic swears in every match. By the by, cyka (suka) means bitch. There, I've just translated half of Prime World's chat for you. You're welcome. Ah, yes, if nothing else this game proves that anglophone gamers certainly have no monopoly on unbridled stupidity. Have no fear. Despite the chat box being filled with funny blocky Russianisms and squiggly Turkisms and Latin scripts with all sorts of weird accents, you'll find all the same familiar multiplayer backstabbing classics as you would in Valve or Blizzard's games: intentional suicides, faking fight initiations, refusing to play, quitting, farming all game without actually helping the team, panicking and scattering as soon as the enemy appears, etc. Yessiree,  if you've any experience in online games you'll have no trouble at all adjusting to wishing a thousand deaths on a whole new multicultural crop of worthless mentally deficient wastes of air.

But hell, since nobody can read my ranting and cursing at least I haven't been banned from this one yet.

Nival seems to be making no effort whatsoever to clean out the griefers in their playerbase, which is a pity because it mostly ruins what is otherwise one of the better AoS incarnations on the market. Even visually, despite characters adhering to sexualized gender roles (female healers, male tanks, battle-bikinis, bulging muscles and square jaws and six-pack abs and so forth) I'm reminded again that Nival employs some of the most talented visual artists in the industry. The vampire is an instant reminder of the visual splendors of Heroes of Might and Magic 5 and despite very limited graphics capability, some inspired character, animation, terrain and effect designs salvage what would otherwise have been a sorely outdated engine.

More importantly, though, Prime World is a decent game. As in having good gameplay, you remember that thing that's supposed to set interactive media apart from movies? At first glance it seems even more simplified than Smite or LoL, having abandoned the old RPG tropes of skills and items. In Prime World, these are conflated into "talents" selected before and gradually activated during a match, some of which are specific to each class while most are drawn from a common pool inspired by collectible card games. Buy them in the cash shop or build them up from the ones you get at the end of each match, but selecting and building up your heroes' talents presents much more depth than any other AoS I've seen, even Demigod. There is no monetary resource and everything, even potions, are bought using experience, which is thankfully shared among the team much more than in other MOBAs. There are both benefits and detriments to this system.

Unfortunately it can blend heroes into each other. Scrapperization runs amok. Almost every character has a heal and a nuke and a disable and a teleport, invisibility spell or speed boost, and if they don't you can always get a common-pool talent which fits those roles. While it serves its current needs as a small-time AoS project, it's obvious this system lacks any room to expand.
Fortunately, as long as you abandon your expectations of this being a class-based game this has resulted in a good bit of entertaining flexibility as you can play the numbers in at least a couple of directions with every character. Bank more on healing or damage, mitigation or health, speed or staying power, it really is up to you and can work in a variety of ways. Talents are also arranged by tiers so it's up to you whether to save up for more expensive ones or level up quickly by choosing your cheapest ones first for the global level-based stat bonuses.

Sure, the old pigeonholing holds to some extent but largely because players refuse to abandon it. Tanks would not be able to steamroll you if you weren't stupid enough to actually hit the tank instead of his squishier teammates. Assassin classes are both idiotically overpowered and complete parasites and wouldn't be anywhere near so successful if players weren't stupid enough to get baited off alone. Supports are frustratingly dependent on teamwork but can turn an organized team unstoppable. Pets are handled very intuitively, following the player character's motions without letting the player have too much control over them. Common-pool active talents are often on shared cooldowns and scaled down enough that they again don't reward button-mashing too much. With thirty or so talents out of a pool of many more for you to slot at your discretion and a slow enough level system that you'll rarely get enough levels to use them all in one match, there's both balance and a lot of replay value in Prime World, plenty of novel combat situations to experience.

It's no Demigod. Nothing so far has been that good. It lacks Smite's more fluid first-person rush or SoaDA's intriguing team objectives but Prime World is a well thought out team game whose biggest drawback as in all such products is its playerbase. If Nival had the cojones (or Russian equivalent thereof) to actually ban griefers instead of rewarding them, it could easily capture a more mature, level-headed audience that's sick of AoS games being marketed exclusively to rabid ten-year-olds, an audience which doesn't care that the graphics are somewhat outdated so long as the teamwork-oriented gameplay stays strong.

Can't have good gameplay, though, when you refuse to ban some shiteating little waste of sperm constantly spamming the surrender button instead of playing. Gotta step up the draconian measures, sukas.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Share and Share Unlike

Galactic Civilizations 3's latest patch offers me the opportunity to create and share custom factions and ship designs with other players - for, wait, wait, get this, for free! Can you believe that?  You get to create content for them and you don't even have to pay them for the privilege!

Okay, okay, I won't get on that issue again. After all, we do tend to like the notion of sending our creations out there to meet and greet other creators so it's important for game designers to provide this functionality. The best example (on par with the game being the most progressive in terms of promoting player creativity all around) was City of Heroes' Mission Architect feature but perhaps a better comparison to Gal Civ 3 would be Spore's creature sharing, both games being long-winded single-player marathons and not multiplayer games. Better, and unfavorable to Gal Civ 3.

For those of you who somehow missed out on this gem, your surroundings in Spore were populated by various other creatures. Some of these were stock Maxis space-fillers, but a sizable chunk of your competing species in every game were creatures created by other players. Insane Lovecraftian monstrosities, ridiculously macho be-fanged and be-toothed Bigfoots, nauseatingly cute huggables and yes, the occasional walking penis, were randomly and automatically downloaded from the player community to keep each replay relatively fresh. No muss, no fuss. All you had to do was start your game and there they'd be, walking and singing and maybe biting your ass off, novel and sometimes wonderfully creative snippets of another mind casually strolling through the projection of your own.
Uploading was handled smoothly through the game interface, a one or two-click affair you could take care of on a whim as you designed. Even EA, fucking EA, one of the most disgusting forces in the game industry, managed to do this without turning it into a pretext for a media blitz.

Even EA, pretty much the industry standard for complacent, constrictive, lowest-common-denominator money-grubbing, is in this case not as bad as selling your soul to Steam as Stardock has. Attempting to share content in Gal Civ 3 shunts you through the "Steam Workshop" little more than page after page of ads crowding out ads for Steam's latest cash-grab. Want to see a random spaceship that another player has designed? Look at these seventeen reviews of top spaceship designs, seventeen more pages of ads. Oh and by the way Steam, did you Steam know about all these Steam other quality Steam products at Steamy low-low Steam prices, Steam player?

I am not a Steam player. I'm an old strategy game player, and I know a zerg-rush when I'm subjected to one. There is absolutely no reason why player creations could not have been inserted into Gal Civ 3 in the same way as into Spore: existing alien races occasionally picking up another player's design and player races popping up here and there randomly. No reason but abject greed to squeeze more blood out of your customer base without lifting a finger.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Nine Princes in Amber

"Miniver loved the Medici
Albeit he had never seen one
He would have sinned incessantly
Could he have been one"

Edwin Arlington Robinson -  Miniver Cheevy

Having run across Zelazny's name at various times during the past couple of decades while looking for new authors I decided to start in on his stuff with the start of the Amber series. That may have been a mistake.

Nine Princes In Amber isn't a terrible book but it suffers from the same fumbling LSD-induced grasping at novel gimmicks as much of  '60s literature. There was a clear obsession with breaking down the walls of reality, and in this as in many cases it comes across as grasping at straws instead of having a grasp on new concepts. Nine Princes' original success probably stems from the same "young adult" appeal as the Elric stories: larger-than-life heroes puffing their chests through poorly-supported plots. It's the sort of half-baked storytelling which seems really amazing when your mind races faster than it can connect, when you don't notice all the gaps in reasoning and missing scenes.

For one thing Corwin falls short, even flat, of Elric's much more memorable persona, despite both being the same princely figure growing out of a magnificent but decadent, oppressive medieval kingdom. Where Elric suffered from a perpetual conflict of internal motivations and external forces, growing as a character with every pact and sacrifice, Corwin comes across as more of a plot device than a character. The mystery of his origin is also, from the standpoint of mystery writing, very awkwardly handled. The characters seem to be playing along with a farce rather than playing into the machinations of a brilliant manipulator, and the constant "here's how I'll fool them" internal monologue got old fast.

Somehow, Zelazny managed to both race and drag through his hero's journey - which in itself should count as some sort of achievement. As a stand-alone book spiraling inward toward a climactic battle it mires you in passage after passage of unnecessary "feels" concerning royal siblings' relations; plus, natch, the one-minimum obligatory sex scene scaled down to just under R-level to titillate teens without panicking their parents. As part of a larger work, it dives breathlessly through one fantasy locale after another where the Earth chapters alone or Rebma or Arden or any other part could easily have taken up an entire non-Amber half of a novel. The various male characters merely re-iterate "he's kind of a dick but he's my brother and he looks impressive holding a phallic symbol" while the female characters... oh, sister. I don't normally find myself taking the feminist stance but these are some of the most painfully passive damsels that ever distressed. Even the queen of Rebma's most pro-active moment was spreading her legs.

This all serves as a wonderful reminder of just how not-wonderful the publishing industry has been, the massive parasitic market-manipulators who have always stood between writers and the public. I am perfectly willing to assume from the better passages of this novel that Zelazny could do better. While Nine Princes in Amber is in some ways an example of bad writing, it should not necessarily be taken as an example of a bad writer, but of one constrained by a need to instantly prove his new venture in order to secure future commissions. It's less of a book and more of an advertisement.
Want courtly drama? I can do that!
Want swashbuckling? I can do that!
Want sex, mystery, magic, nature, castles, monsters, aliens, pirates, comedic absent-minded professors, anything, anything at all that might serve as an attention-grabber, here's proof that this author can provide it. Each of these to be expanded upon in the sequels, I'm sure. If nothing else, this book's worth reading as a reminder of the massive improvement in writers' lives since the internet and the ability to bypass publishers if not advertisers. Every whiplash-inducing plot element abandoned five pages later reeks of desperation and not just that fashionable 1960s acid-trip routine.

However, Nine Princes' core appeal, it's central plot gimmick, is also its most interesting point of discussion: Amber. It's original and I actually like the idea of it as an amoral world-building gimmick, but you've gotta spot the sad truth behind its popularity. Amber itself more than anything I would guess drew readers in. It's not just about politics or humanity or nature or the planet or magic vs. technology. The grand Platonic ideal of reality itself, as it turns out, is a vaguely Arthurian feudal kingdom. Suck on that, ancient Egypt and China! More importantly, though, it evidences the unending human thirst for social inequality, the eternal drive to bring back the most viciously oppressive systems of social control. Readers flocked to a story which didn't just regale them with naughty collages of medieval domination games but reassured them that this system is the universal absolute, the "one" to our faux-democratic fraction of truth.
This idea sold.
For nine more novels.

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Revolving Civility

Well now, it's July 5th and since every American's ears are still ringing from the noise of firecrackers and you can't hear the TV, allow me to provide some distraction via the righten word. Words, as should happen, tend to have meanings. It's kinda why we come up with them. However, I'll leave it to future generations to praise the crucial sociological niche filled by such modern terminology as "selfie" or "sexting" or "twerking" and instead concern myself with some golden oldies.

Take "revolution" for instance. Oh, it's a time-honored tradition of turning things around, revolving social roles if you will, most poignantly embodied in the French Revolution where the people at the bottom revolved to the top and the people at the top revolved to six feet under. However, as George III's neck never became personally acquainted with the guillotine in 1776 and the social institutions of English aristocracy stuck around to inspire Downton Abbey, we can safely conclude that the colonial militias did not revolve the English government. That little snafu was a War of Independence, also known as an act of secession. If you don't like the way the boss is treating you, you quit. It's a generally assumed right unless the boss wins the ensuing brawl, in which case it's a crime. Given that it involved Englishmen fighting other Englishmen (until some seceded, at which point they stopped being English citizens) one may also stretch one's imagination to calling what everyone here celebrated yesterday a Civil War.

We do of course learn of another quaint little bloodbath by that title fourscore and seven propagandist pamphlets later, but in that case the provincial aristocrats leading the masses into a suicidal conflict for their own profit had the wherewithal to ask questions first and shoot later, making the act of secession official before defending themselves against the invading army of their former government. The Southern states were not engaging in a civil war. They weren't marching into their boss' office to demand a raise. Been there, done that. They were instead quitting their job, flipping the boss off and trying to start their own company but as many IT start-ups who went up against Microsoft in the '90s learned, that rarely ends well.

That's the dirty little secret swept under the rug whenever media figures beat their chest about southern racism and ridicule moonshine-belching backwoods militias kvetching about the "war of Northern aggression." Inbred, thuggish and uneducated Clevon may be, but he's got a point. Abraham Lincoln murdered six hundred thousand people by invading a political entity which had simply declared its independence. Don't take it too hard. Pretty much every famous leader in history is some kind of mass-murderer or another. Don't forget that the bad guys who seceded were fighting for what they believed amounted to freedom, believed it every bit as ardently as their great-grandparents had, or for that matter as any youth of today who gets conned or economically forced into becoming a disposable brainwashed khaki-clad murderer for the interests of the rich. That they were being duped into protecting a social system which was harming them for the profit of a few plantation-owning fat-cats (free labor I should think drives down the value of labor) is neither here nor there. I doubt the lot of many rank-and-file dirt-farming colonial peasants changed in 1776 either - but the profits of rich colonial merchants who no longer had to go through the English system just might have.

Now as for slavery, that's halfway to a non-issue. On one hand, the Southern claim that oh-no, the Confederate flag isn't about racism and the war wasn't about slavery rings hollower than its proponents' skulls. Yeah, they had "economic" reasons for seceding but every time I hear them try to cite one it winds up tying back into the economic basis of plantation wealth, which just happened to be stamped "made in Africa." Clevon just wants them "darkies" to call him "massa." For the masterminds of the Secession, you bet your sweet cotton-soft ass it was about slavery. For the North however, we have to remember that no power hierarchy invests (human) resources into a war for the sake of humanitarianism. They do it for power. It may be that as I become more closely acquainted with writings from the time my opinion might change, but there's a very basic powermonger calculus involved in the North's aggression:

Losing half a million or even a million taxpayers to a vicious, bloody, brutal conflict (which you the industrial tycoon or politician calling the shots won't have to fight) is still more profitable than losing nine million taxpayers to a peaceful act of secession, losing a conveniently backward breadbasket and gaining an economic competitor. The bottom line had spoken.

Later, Lincoln made a few politically favorable speeches with no practical risks or repercussions for himself. It always helps to imbue the people you're having butchered with a sense of moral righteousness, to tell them the enemy hates them for their freedoms or the red subversives are at the door or the Kaiser's personally raping every woman in Europe or, yes, even that (even though you can keep your own house-slaves) you're subjugating your cousins across the border in the name of freedom. That he stuck by his campaign promise in later years seems to have been more about a crafty lawyer sniffing out the prevailing political wind than anything else.

Perspective matters. Terminology matters. That one act of secession was less about popular freedom and more about private profits and so was the next and so was its violent repression, that nonetheless something good came of both, that a representative republic is only one tiny iota better than a constitutional monarchy but it's an important iota, that slavery was an abomination against reason and life itself and racism is still utterly moronic because races don't even fucking exist, that secession is more often driven by the interests of a few self-interested manipulators than by the will of the people, all this cannot be summed up in one paragraph or in your old propagandistic eighth-grade social studies textbook, much less in a couple of chest-puffing catchphrases like "revolution" or "civil war." History is fucking messy and has been re-written more times than the Bible.

So, now that you've spent an evening watching a militaristic effigy play out above wherever you may live, try to think about all the false assumptions you've been making, all the jargon you've been taking for granted. Try to realize that this quintessentially irrational species is incapable of making informed, well-meaning choices, that whatever political campaign most makes you feel entitled and righteous is likely doing so under false pretenses. Whenever progress has come to our hopelessly primitive power hierarchies, it's more often than not been an accidental side-effect of the worst possible motivations. They're not made to revolve and they're almost never civil, and every government, corporation or militia will gladly murder you for seceding, if it can.

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Fight Club Needs Fighters

 "Stuck in this hole with the shit and the piss
And it's hard to believe it could come down to this
Back at the beginning
Sinking, spinning"

NIN - The Wretched

Weekend's here. Time for games. Or, you know, in my case more so than usual.

Time for some AoS games. Quick multiplayer matches with a set win/loss condition. Time to lose because once again I've been doing too well and the matchmaking system is punishing me for it by putting me on teams with all the sorriest mouthbreathers to reward them for doing badly by making me carry them - except it's impossible to carry quitters. Ten minutes into a forty-minute game the score is 8-10 and three of my four teammates already throw their hands up in desperation and start spamming the surrender button because oh emm geez too hard!
This this is exactly what I was talking about last new year's eve. This is the perfect encapsulation of Generation Facebook, the utterly spineless detritus of the primate order who cannot live even half an hour without constant endorphin boosts, without being praised and patted on the head and told they're pretty.

You know what? This isn't even about fighting for the chance at a win anymore. Forget how easy it is to overturn what may seem like a losing game. This is about hating yourself. This is about the importance of self-hatred, of retaining the intellectual fortitude to lose, to play through a loss, to feel like a loser. Fuck the real world. I mean in games. Games, especially PvP, are not there to give you easy wins to make you feel big about yourself. They're there to force you to square off against other players in a battle of wits, planning, reflexes, whatever. They're a medium in which you should have to prove yourself, not constantly hit the reset button until you get an easy win. You will lose, often, and losing is every bit as much a part of the gameplay experience as winning.

Losing hurts. It should. Every loss, every failure is a confirmation of your worthlessness, and guess what, that is fucking reality. Games are an escape from the world, not yourself. You don't get to escape your failings, ever. Fine, the world's a piece of shit, and you have every right to escape it into a laser-gun duel on Brontosaur-back but you don't get to escape yourself. Every time you miss a shot, make the wrong decision, miss a detail, every time you get pounded into the ground, you should revel in the entire experience, from self-deluding beginning to bitter end. You deserve to suffer through your losses every bit as much as you deserve to enjoy your victories. Fight. The other player beating your face in deserves to enjoy your loss. Feel every gut-churning moment of your shame as you throw yourself into the fight again and again, learn to hate yourself for it, for your slow reflexes, insufficient knowledge of game mechanics, poor strategy, and every other one of your mental deficiencies. Suffer. Feel like the lowest speck of filth in the world, through every second and every minute of your abject failure, until you finally lose as you deserve to. Learn to fucking hate yourself.

Games are not an extension of your imbecilic quest for social rank, your moronic ladder-climbing and backstabbing and office politics and lipstick and expensive car. PvP games are the medium in which you, the individual, throw yourself against other individuals. Not your computer, not your body or your trappings of social class, not your fawning social network but yourself, the loser, the mind, the self. Good or bad, proud or ashamed, you get to play yourself and not the mask you wear for the other reeking apes on the street. This infinitely valuable struggle for the sake of reality without delusions will never become possible in real life if you cant even make it possible in a medium without further consequences. Before Project Mayhem, we need to learn to duke it out in the Fight Club.

"You are not a beautiful and unique snowflake
You are the same decaying organic matter as everything else
We are all part of the same compost heap
We are the all-singing, all-dancing crap of the world"

The surrender button should not even exist. If it does, it should exist only as a trap for those spineless imbeciles who only want easy wins. Hitting it should immediately ban you from the game. If you're not willing to play through a loss, then what you want is not a PvP game but a mirror to kiss. I don't give a fuck if you're young, old, male, female, smart or stupid. When you log into a multiplayer game you implicitly agree that losing is part of the experience and nothing excuses your imbecilic, spineless, mealymouthed whining and running from the results of your worthlessness. As much of a cliche as it is, games are not about winning or losing. You don't get to hit the reset button until you win. You always, always play it through to the end. Multiplayer games are not about feeling good about yourself. They're about fighting and if you can't do that then get your worthless retarded ass back to designing your automated head-patting machine. Make room for someone who can put up a fight.

I want you to hit me as hard as you can.