Friday, December 29, 2017

Aristotle on the topic of computer gaming

"Decision, then, is apparently voluntary, but not the same as the voluntary, which extends more widely. For children and the other animals share in voluntary action, but not in decision; and the actions we do on the spur of the moment are said to be voluntary, but not in accord with decision."

Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, Book 3, Chapter 2, Terence Irwin translation


We are not one species, and our entertainment reflects this. Intellect constructs and chooses meaning. Intellect seeks choice, choose-your-own adventures, divergent plays upon accepted norms, the novel and outre, unacceptable creativity. The vermin on the other hand want action, pulse-pounding white noise. As computer games were steamrolled by the mass-market over the past couple of decades, one sure sign of defeat was the predominance of praise like "fast-paced" or "action-packed" for new titles, and especially the forgotten use of the word "twitch" as an insult. The majority of the market do not function as intelligent individuals. They do not process information. They react to stimuli in the basest animalistic fashion.

They see a shiny pixelated dress and never stop to wonder why their character would wear it. They want bigger guns and bigger monsters, never understanding that 2/3 and 4/6 and 6/9 and 6,000,000/9,000,000 all equal retard. They want faster leveling along the endless treadmill of status symbols never understanding that 20/infinity and 200/infinity both equal sub-sapient scum. After all, it makes them feel like they're doing something. The difference between trash and individuals is that between doing and planning.

It is not enough for games to offer voluntary participation, for the player's hand to move the action. I am not the thing with hands but the thing which thinks. Achievement lists, carrots and sticks are for lower animals. Aristotle launched into that discussion on decision and deliberation as prerequisites for ethical capacity, for rational thought. Carrot-chasing belongs to the animals and children, the mentally infirm, the intellectually incapable, those incapable of governing themselves, and when presented with a game requiring decision-making, most "gamers" will affirm themselves such. Their primitive excuses for brains stammer and halt like Buridan's ass. Worthwhile minds, those capable of discerning quality, will among other things demand decision-making, and it is those (very) few gamers whose advice matters. If you want a good FPS, look for the one the turn-based strategy gamers like.

If a game offers you no more choice, no more repercussions and agency than what comes on the spur of the moment, if it forces you to live or die by no more than twitch, it is treating you like sub-rational vermin.

(Which, statistically speaking, you probably are.)



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P.S. And thanks to you assholes who let this post sit here for over a week without telling me about the typo in Nicomachean.

Monday, December 25, 2017

Indulgences

What do you want me to tell you? That you've commercialized Christmas? Fuck it. Do you yet doubt that the true Christmas spirit was itself ever anything else than the commercialization of guilt, forgiveness, familial codependence and the emotional manipulation which comes with all that? Play nice for two days a year to wash off the stink of all the throats you've cut and the backs you've stabbed until then? You are rats praising incense-waving, robed terriers. The baby Geebus is a confidence artist asking for your credit card number.

Your morality is dross, and even the risque fall-back morality you claim to sacrifice for social cooperation amounts to no more than primitive apes pulling faces. A shallow pantomime of erudition. Am I supposed to praise you for knowing what "Saturnalia" is while you worship a chimney-humping Coca-Cola ad? You are feeding a lie. Nothing else matters. You are promoting falsehood, every time you sigh at a decorated tree, every time you say "Yes, Virginia" and every time you celebrate a day like any other to reinforce a primitive hierarchy of social control.

You are promoting a "big lie" and no amount of pennies dropped into a bucket to wash your sins will ever wash away your dishonesty.

You are vermin.

Thursday, December 21, 2017

As long as I get to hurt people and not just dance around at the equinox

Lo 'tis the solstice to be jowly... or something. Give me a break, I've been an athetist since fifth grade. Christmas tunes are just earplug advertisements to me.

But hey, it's the 21st of December, meaning the day has (sadly) ceased decreasing in length and that horrible blond bully, the sun, will once again be stalking more and more of our waking hours. Unlike arbitrarily celebrating putative birthdays of putative stars of the bronze-age hermit circuit (like Jesus) the solstice is a verifiable cosmic event, a parabolic axial cha-cha with a dip every six months. You don't want to know what snow represents in that metaphor.

But hey, I already did this rant back in 2012 so let's skip to the part where I hate seasonal content in computer games... except I already did that rant later in 2012. I also stated that players in persistent worlds should be more in touch with those divinities they're tapping for spells-per-day, and that an in-game calendar could easily replace the inane grind of daily quests or log-in rewards to encourage players to keep logging in day after day.

For now, just assume the ideal of a consequential in-game calendar for an MMO, completely independent of "real"-world timekeeping, as games should be escapist fantasies and that includes escaping from choking holiday cheer. Consider how close MMOs actually are to that ideal, to the point where its lack becomes obvious recalcitrant, retrenched, reactionary electronic primitivism and not any sort of justifiable difficulty in implementation. Any MMO can already be assumed to display a "game time" clock and a diurnal cycle graphically. The sun rolls across the sky, the shadows lengthen, windowpanes flicker yellow inside all those quaint little NPC dwellings. You flip your hovertank's headlights on.

How much more difficult  would it be to link other, more practical daily events to this cycle? In the simplest terms, adjust monster spawns by the in-game clock. Owlbears respawn faster at night, treants respawn faster during the day. Take it a step further and alter spawn locations so that owlbear and treant populations succeed each other across nights and days in the same area. Sure, Warcraft 3 made a big fuss (with little consequence) fifteen years ago about giving units nocturnal abilities but whatever happened to the logical implementation of such features into the next step up from team multiplayer games: MMOs?

How much more difficult would it be to count these half-hour ersatz days and track their accumulation through an in-game calendar? Plenty of status effects are already applied to all characters within a given zone or during a particular in-game event. Why don't we have "winter" or "autumn" status effects which affect the effectiveness or access to various magic, or fuel consumption for our hovertanks? Why can't I as a druid drown my enemies in the spring thaw?

How much more difficult could it be for mobs to... get mobile, with the seasons, shifting across the landscape, migrating to warmer climes for the winter or switching into different life stages? Why not fill valleys with owlbear eggs in the spring, owlbear cubs in the summer, ravenously growing owlbears in the autumn and hibernating owlbears in their dens in the winter? How hard could it be to lengthen and shorten days and nights as the virtual year wears on? Why shouldn't darkness spells be strongest or weakest at the winter and summer solstices, respectively? Why shouldn't No Man's Sky -like "extreme night-time temperatures" freeze your science fictiony hovertank on Hoth like it did the Germans' tanks in Russia? And why shouldn't this danger increase as nights grow longer?

All this would greatly enrich persistent online worlds (and small isolated examples do exist) while requiring little to no extra character models or interface improvements or special effects or... Or jobs for parasitic code-monkeys afraid to render themselves obsolete, who would much rather justify their existence by churning out expansion after expansion of completely dull, static content than breathe life into their creations to grow and move with the tides and seasons.

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

There's something so inherently appealing about falling to one's death. I mean, alright, the noose or a firearm carry a heavier symbolism of intent to kill within human cultures. At least you're really getting your point across. Using household items like razor blades or pills will just prompt everyone to assume you attempted a pathetic cry for attention - and, of course, failed. You failed at failing to kill yourself. Blowing the top of your skull off is more decisive, so I guess the NRA's good for something after all.

Jumping combines the best of both worlds. Sure, tall enough skyscrapers or cliffs are hard to come by in most places, but if you dive off an impressive enough pedestal, everyone logically knows you don't expect to have your stomach pumped or your wrists stitched back together. On the other hand it can trick human instinct. Our primate brains can't completely force us to avoid high ground or we'd never have survived fifty million years of arboreal ancestry. Walk to the edge as though you're just going to have a look and... slip. Close my eyes and tilt a bit. Let gravity do all the work.

And, as symbolism goes, the values inherent in high and low outstrip the more civilized gallows or firing squad by several lobes of the brain. To drop is to embrace one's rightful place below, to renounce whatever altitude you've unrightly claimed in your mad simian scrabble for status.

It's so hard not to think ahead, though, to force one foot ahead of the other without letting your fears see the end.

Friday, December 15, 2017

ST:TNG - The Human Conviction

In an effort to relive my early teens, I am re-watching old episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation. It is both better and worse than I remembered it, as was my youth most likely.
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Seriesdate: 3.13
Deja Q

That episode where Q orders ten chocolate sundaes and Guinan stabs him with a fork.
As I've said, I've never much liked Q. If the holodeck was eventually integrated somewhat coherently into Star Trek's universe (or as coherent as anything's on Star Trek) I doubt Q ever was, even in the series after TNG. A science fiction story has little room for a Rumpelstiltskin monopolizing the action with non-sequitur nose-twitching and finger wiggling. Everything Q does stretches so far out of bounds as to make his antics utterly irrelevant. He's a walking deus ex machina, and sure enough everything he does is either superfluous or has to be put back exactly the way it was to end the story. Q strewed gaping black holes in TNG's already loose continuity, and even the episodes featuring him couldn't be reconciled.

Here, Q gets mortalized by the other Q as punishment for being an asshole to less advanced sentients. Except this was the same Q continuum which approved the deification of Riker for no apparent reason in the season 1 episode "Hide and Q" so there goes that hope for consistency. Of course nobody even mentions Riker's little flirtation with Q-dom for these entire 45 minutes. Nor does anyone think to take advantage of having Q as a prisoner to ask him to trade some Q-level information about the universe in exchange for sanctuary while he's vulnerable. Start with "hey, remember that all-devouring cyBorg swarm you fed us to and which you hinted is about to annihilate us? Please elaborate."

Strangely, while the overall plot is crap, the minute-by-minute interactions in Deja Q definitely entertain, thanks largely to some very tight, snappily penned one-liners, usually with Worf as straight man.
________________
Q: "What must I do to convince you people?" [of being mortal]
Worf: "Die."
Q: "Oh, very clever, Worf. Eat any good books lately?"
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Worf: "Be quiet! Or disappear back where you came from."
Q: "I can't disappear. Any more than you could win a beauty contest."
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Worf: "You have fooled us too often, Q."
Q: "Oh, perspicacity incarnate. Please, don't feel compelled now to tell me the story of the boy who cried 'Worf'."
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Q: "Jean-Luc, wait!" Tries to run after the captain only to be zapped back by his cell's force-field. "This is getting on my nerves - now that I have them."
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Crusher: "- he has classic back trauma. Muscle spasms."
Q: "I've been under a lot of pressure lately. Family problems."
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Q: "What're you looking at?"
Data: "I was considering the possibility that you are telling the truth. That you really are human."
Q: "It's the ghastly truth, Mr. Data. I can now stub my toe with the best of them."
Data: "An irony. It means that you have achieved in disgrace what I have always aspired to be."

That last one's crucial, addressing one of the core flaws not only of Star Trek but of SF as a genre: unduly flattering the audience via anthropocentrism. Humanity is a hive of mindless vermin. We know it. Look around you. The mere words "president Trump" should prove that most humans are incapable of handling any thought more advanced than pointed sticks and loincloths. In order to advance, humans must transcend humanity, must become inhuman. Such beings capable of functioning amidst a world of teleporters, matter replication and weapons which can kill without leaving a trace would necessarily seem as inhuman to us as we awkwardly tall, poetic, polite, flabby nebbish sitting in front of glowy buzzing square rocks all day would have seemed to our meter-tall nomadic mammoth-hunting ancestors.

Yet every SciFi hero's always an all-too-human plains-ape wanting nothing more than to enslave itself to its codependent reproductive and social instincts. Even among the great SF writers, few attempt to create posthuman heroes. Frank Herbert toyed with the idea in the form of Leto II, god-emperor-worm of the universe, but his mentality remains human overall. The Pandora novels edge a bit farther. Martin's Haviland Tuf drifts pleasantly farther from the human norm, as do many of Clarke's short stories like The Wire Continuum or A Meeting With Medusa.

Overall though, pulp SF reinforces the status quo, and here Star Trek's vaunted utopianism falls hopelessly into the mainstream. Even the godlike super-beings on Star Trek spend all their time masquerading as monkeys. Though this is largely explained by cheaply inserting actors where expensive special effects might be warranted (especially in eras when special effects meant cardboard and flashlights) it doesn't explain these superior beings' abysmally low aspirations, on par with a human wanting to live in an anthill.

Q should have broken out of that pattern with his misanthropic rhetoric, a superbeing cursed with filthy humanity as a cruel and unusual punishment. Instead the last third of Deja Q stumbles into a trite little snoozefest tale of redemption. The Enterprise resolves the B-plot about a planet about to get mooned to death by... getting nothing much done until Q nose-twitches everything right. With Zeus having descended, invalidated the entire preceding 45 minutes and departed, we return to business as usual.

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Seriesdate: 3.16
The Offspring

That episode where Data births a 1950s department store mannequin.
He kicks off its education by calling that lazy, uninspired abstraction on the wall "artistry" which should immediately disqualify him as a parent. Then again, his attempt to qualify as a parent and classify the new droid as a child is basically everything wrong with this episode.

Humans are vermin. We are at best a bridge and not an end, as Nietzsche put it, and to reiterate one of my past rants, our only value lies in creating some sort of intellect free of the slavery of biological imperatives, of limbic, endocrine and other such systems of oppression. Data is a superior being and his quest for humanity makes absolutely no sense, even less so for centering on attempting to inflict himself with the disgusting mammalian manipulative apparatus termed "emotion."

Worse yet that two superior beings should waste their time aping our inane congenital prison, the family unit. Again, on a line-by-line basis, the episode progresses quite well from intrigue through humor, conflict and finally tragedy. The common trope of an innocent unveiling the human condition serves Star Trek's writers almost as well as it did Robert Heinlein in Stranger in a Strange Land (read it!) and I dare you not to chuckle at lines like "he is biting that female!" or:

Wesley: "Data, she can learn a lot by being with children her own age."
Data: "She is only two weeks old."

- or not to sigh a bit at the corny, overextended yet still touching scene of Lal's demise, successfully exploiting the audience's protective instincts:

"Thank you for my life. Flirting... laughter... painting... family... female... human..."

But there's that "female human" bullshit again, and I must now amusingly argue from the opposite political angle in which I found myself not even a month ago, railing against the self-aggrandizing snowflakes trying to impose personalized pronouns on the rest of the culture. The current political trend of solipsism has gravely damaged Western society, no less so when it comes in the form of denying biological reality by facetiously demanding that others address you as whatever sex you imagine yourself. Most of the moronic, whiny scum setting themselves up as moral guardians are either insane, or more likely just attention whores playing the martyr for fun and profit.

I said "most" because I cannot exclude the possibility of cases in which the designation of male or female truly would not apply, so I can't help but condemn Lal's first task: gender assignment.

Lal: "And I am gender: neuter. Inadequate."
Data: "That is why you must choose a gender, Lal. To complete your appearance."

Yeeeesh. The snowflakes must be steaming over that line, and for once I agree. Unlike our contemporaries claiming to be precious, unique categories unto themselves just because they's feelin' it, Lal is objectively, verifiably non-binary. Well... ok, technically it's entirely binary, but you get my drift. Robots don't do Xes and Ys. Forcing a being which is above such things to choose an inferior biological designation is outright criminal. "Gender: neuter" is not inadequate. If would likely constitute a state superior to the pattern of enslavement and betrayal which defines gender relations for the human ape.

You just don't get to pretend you've reached nirvana simply because you say so when you're obviously still just rotting meat. When you get reincarnated as an immortal, unemotional, superintelligent mechanoid like Data, then we'll talk.

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Humans are vermin, and anti-intellectualism is their detritus.
When superior beings come up in science fiction, it should be as rightful successors, improvements on our bestial stupidity. Star Trek failed in this as almost all SF does by pandering to its audience's undeserved conceit, painting our simian status quo as a desirable state. For all the show's been held up as a main reference point of Utopianism, a truly advanced society would either be rid or be dedicated to ridding itself of its shameful plains-ape sequelae.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Fitted hat day

"- whose custom it was
To take a daily stroll dressed
In silk gowns like a fashionable lady.
In this he failed. Miserably."

Rasputina - Utopian Society


Once upon a time I sold a funny hat to another player in Team Fortress 2 for fifty dollars. Not that I'd recommend it as an income opportunity (and I dumped the money back into Steam soon enough... think it's what paid for my copy of Skyrim) but when I saw the prices people were paying for such status symbols I was compelled to verify their marketability. And we are talking about pure status symbols, make no mistake. It's not like it was Oddjob's bowler hat from Goldfinger or shot laser-beams or summoned chupacabras or anything. It was a purely cosmetic item. Inasmuch as TF2 lacks environmental hazards, it didn't even keep your head warm.

And someone paid fifty bucks for that piece of shit. Piece of  -imaginary- shit! Skyrim goes for what, about $40? How many pieces of headgear does Skyrim include? How many hours of entertainment can $50 buy you during a GoG sale? Entire series of classic games go for less. Sir, You Are Being Hunted rates $20 and look! Funny hats!

Nor am I immune to such stupidity by any means. My LotRO character owns a cloak of the mountain wolves, plus a dwarf property guard and I forget what other cosmetic doodad bought in a moment of weakness. About ten dollars all told for a stumpy axeholder and a... a... ok, I can't say anything bad about the cloak, I love the cloak

Look, it's got wolves!

... but if you asked me now, I wouldn't pay $3 for it or however much it cost in amusement park money. Heap big buyer's remorse. In other games it's alternate character skins or a novelty horn sounding the "ride of the valkyries" for my airship in Planetside 2. I don't even have a peer group over which to lord this pixelated junk, and I'm still falling for it. Our idiotic species is so dependent on social domination that even sour old misanthropes like me will, in fits of madness, pay through the nose for sumptuary lawfulness.

So I won't waste any more time trying to demonstrate that microtransactions have completely taken over online games. Assume the scam works.

Developers (and their ass-kissing clientele) will often self-justify by claiming to restrict themselves to cosmetics, and not selling competitive edges. Most of the time you'll find they're still selling "quality of life" automation for in-game chores, which still amounts to a paid advantage. Nonetheless, that talk must be talked. Legitimized cheating has got to go. However, regardless of whether it's filled with weapons or funny hats, the cash store still hurts games.

Last year I voiced some reticence vis-a-vis Shroud of the Avatar and its on/off-line gameplay compromise. A couple of days ago I tried giving it a second look and was immediately put off instead by faceplanting right in its cash shop. Hundreds upon hundreds of items ranging up in price to hundreds upon hundreds of dollars attempt to tempt intemperate empty heads. And this, mind you, is for a game that's not even officially "out" yet but in "early access" whatever that means in the age of years-long open beta tests. What exactly am I supposed to be buying here? The right to buy more in-game items? When you don't even have a game yet?

The Secret World was revamped this summer in hopes of dragging players back into the endless mindless grindfest... by resetting the dials on the treadmill and making them run the grind all over again. In fact, the new version has even less content than the old. Plus, TSW Legends was hilariously bugged and managed somehow to dumb down an already broken skill system.
About the only thing that increased was the number of cosmetic items in TSW's cash shop.
Sure there's nothing to do but farm the same precisely scripted mission hundreds of times over, but at least you'll be doing that nothing while wearing a fitted hat in the color of your choice. About 30 U.S. cents a piece by my estimate. Oh, there's one for every occasion, collect them all!

TSW has more (gameplay) issues than it has (storyline) issues, from half-assed PvP and raid systems to a tortured skill system uninteresting for either PvP or PvE, to balance and la-a-ag and more bugs than an ant farm - some of which have gone unaddressed since its 2011 launch. Yet instead of improving or even fixing their product, Funcom has sunk year after year of their customers' subscription money into lengthening timesinks and adding more items to the cash shop. And of course the more you're invested in that racket, the less and less of actual product you create or have to offer. When you give any money to an online game developer these days, this is what you're funding: funny hats. And at a hundred dollars per toy house on the internets prairie, them's some freakin' macro microtransactions.

I mean, Shroud of the Avatar's system might be even funnier if I'm reading it correctly, as it seems cash shop purchases are only necessary for the online half of the game. So you're not even paying to see that item on your character. You're paying for the explicit privilege of showing off that item in public? How much of a diva can you possibly be?

Either way, the financial incentive for companies to continue churning out meaningless status symbols as "content" completely undermines the necessary focus on the game underneath that fluff. Not that it's entirely surprising. As I remarked a couple of years ago, most developers are not in the business of creating products but of engineering sinecures for themselves. Those Joneses won't keep up with themselves. You always need new status symbols to one-up the old ones, new stages on which to buy a center spot.

Thus, online games have degenerated from contests of wits and wills and been paved over with sickly, garish fashion runways on which preening and prancing imbeciles attempt to shame each other with their latest designer blue slaad jeans.


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P.S.:
In case you didn't get the title, it's from Seinfeld.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

No End

Oh, look, it's "Glee" with zombies.

Let me set the scene for you: it's the year whateverumpteen C.E., and some worldwide catastrophe has inexplicably turned most of the world's population into zombies... and even more inexplicably has turned the remaining humans all homosexual. Much as I hate the notion of Sharknado, "gay plague" seems a solid contender for the lamest idea for a disaster movie. Or webcomic.

*Siiiiigh* okay, okay, let's give it its due. It's decent enough. Nice, clean, polished, unpretentious visual style, distinctive characters, dialogue that sounds neither stilted nor overly-slung, plus I'm diggin' the ancient Greek mythology nomenclature for towns - given my bases in a strategy game are currently named Nyctimus, Lerna, Nereus, Arachne and Cornucopia. Also, I'm only joking about the zombie plague turning survivors gay. In fact No End does a great job of not trying to justify itself or explain the joke, lightly implying explanation and exposition, head and shoulders above the hamfisted approach of Eth's Skin and its like. There are people lusting after each others' hot asses in a frozen wasteland and said posteriors just happen to be of the same sex. Cheers. Now let's shoot some zombies. Actually, No End's biggest flaw has little to do with its cast's sexual orientation and more with the weak balance between relevant action/intrigue and tedious, codependent, interpersonal claptrap. That much shoujo-quality gut-spilling really gets in the way of... y'know, literal gut-spilling.

That, and its big, stunning, shocking, flabbergasting, thunderous dramatic reveal foreshadowed chapter after chapter for most of the story was just painfully obvious from the very moment the character in question was introduced.

Still, as one road warrior after another turns out to be like, totes gayballs, it starts wearing thin. You set out cheering for it the first time, "shipping" the cute shy boys, then nodding along approvingly the second time, then rolling your eyes a little the third time, then skimming impatiently when the pattern keeps repeating. There's suspension of disbelief and then there's bullshit. Necessary concessions to storytelling don't extend to simply ignoring logic and the laws of nature. As with the nonsensical overabundance of warrior women in newer computer games, a valid need to acknowledge exceptions to the rule overshoots its mark into insulting political propaganda which only harms the setting's verisimilitude.

The vast majority of  a sexually reproducing species will logically be attracted primarily to the opposite sex, regardless of occasional bouts of grab-ass in the showers. That attraction makes reproduction more likely, makes that genetic predisposition more prevalent in the next generation, and the next, and the next, etc. It's not a moral stance, nor a point of pride. It just is. It's reality, and reality is not optional!

If you want to cancel out that natural principle for the purposes of your story, then you really will have to come up with a homoplague or gayfluenza to explain why your humans are not acting human. It'll have to be a heapin' big pile of pretextium crystals too, to explain:
- how your population didn't retrench in conservative primal values when threatened, as human societies are wont to do
- how your authoritarian regimes are not restricting their subjects to procreative sex to out-breed each other, as such regimes do
- how the population hasn't dwindled to nothing generation after generation
- how musical theatre can survive a stiff-limbed, groaning, shuffling zombie apocalypse
and other such paradoxes.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Once upon a time, I saw a C-series monster movie box on a video store shelf and declared it a stunning new cultural low.
Now there are five Sharknado movies!
WHY?
Why are there five Sharknado movies? The material resting in that concept would barely fuel a single drunken anecdote, much less a movie... much less a second one... much less a WHAT THE FUCK IS WRONG WITH YOU MORONS?!?

Gah! Whyyyyyyyy?

I hate this retarded species!

Monday, December 4, 2017

What the Game Engine Gave Me

"Time it took us
To where the water was

'Cause she's a cruel mistress
And a bargain must be made"

Florence and the Machine - What the Water Gave Me


Gradually over the past year or so I've gone back and finished my old Infinity Engine game playthroughs by diving into their expansion packs: Baldur's Gate 2's Throne of Bhaal and Heart of Winter for Icewind Dale, along with their respective dungeons Watcher's Keep and Trials of the Luremaster. Logically I should be blasting the remaining past via Icewind Dale 2 but by this point I've had it up to here with the Infinity Engine's awkward, primitive, inconsistent pathfinding, distance measurements, AI and so forth. (You can't tell, but I'm holding my hand waaaay up.)

I'm also prompted to re-iterate my annoyance at old gamers' misplaced nostalgia and young hipsters' facetious adulation of older games, given the many quality-of-life improvements in RPGs which the IE games themselves largely prompted. Any slog through Baldur's Gate or Icewind Dale is doubled in length by sheer tedium.
Forcing the player to sit through the same loading screens or dialogues twenty times over every time he reloads gets old fast, gets old fast, gets old fast, gets old fast.
Having to pick up a character's inventory bit by bit every time he dies. Or she. Given my predilection for jock-free parties, I put Jaheira on the front line and thus punctuated every other fight by having her pick her teeth and internal organs back up out of the dirt.
Dropping players straight into ambushes every time they walk through a doorway is quite possibly the stupidest mechanic to overuse. Especially when summoned creatures can't walk through doors. And it was over-used. Over, over, over-overused.
Then there are mechanics which sound nifty on paper but were turned into grating abject nuisances by the aforementioned engine limitations, like dragons' wing buffet or level draining (and the requisite re-stocking of your characters' spell slots one by one.)
Don't get me started on every single monster later in the Baldur's Gate series being given nigh-complete immunity to magic.

Still, the old IE games deserve their reputation as a critical milestone and still have much to teach. For one thing, story-driven RPGs more or less mandate large-scale expansion packs and not piecemeal DLCs. Even skimping on storyline, writing, voice acting is noticeable in these old expansions, as it was in Dragon Age's cheaply made Awakening expansion. The branching webs of player choice must have material and room to unfold, whether in terms of role-playing choices or building up one's character or party composition. It's not like level design in FPS or strategy games, where you can just throw some new challenges at the player. Watcher's Keep and Trials of the Luremaster are large enough to make good adventures in themselves (and contain rather more interesting fights than the main campaigns) but they strike a dissonant chord within the larger story. TotL especially breaks up Icewind Dale's otherwise remarkable thematic coherence.

Snowy landscapes, cold-themed monsters, a Burial Isle... I'm starting to see how much the makers of Pillars of Eternity built on (their own?) nostalgia for Icewind Dale specifically out of the old IE titles. Too rarely do themes remain consistent in computer games as a whole, more glaringly in RPGs. Developers strive too hard to give each player something to love. Not every game needs lava flows and icy mountaintops, and druid circles defending nature and inner-city gang warfare, and "1001 Nights" themed desert adventures with riddling djinni and medieval olde Englishe nobility ranks and court (and/or courtroom) intrigue and vampires and werewolves and demons and zombies and goblins and pirates and ninjas all at the same time. Some diversity's necessary but not every game needs to be the Ultimate Showdown of Ultimate Destiny. It's one point where both Neverwinter Nights games went quite wrong and Skyrim went quite right, and where PoE's White March expansion recovered the more focused approach of Icewind Dale and Planescape: Torment.

Pillars of Eternity was fairly dilute overall and understandably so. It needed to establish the intellectual property and acquaint fans with it, benefiting from no preceding decades of tabletop dungeon-delving like the Forgotten Realms did in the '90s. The White March, on the other hand, could more freely launch itself into a story about two specific deities introduced in PoE's pantheon, and it was only in replaying the game that I realized just how well most of the details tied into the Abydon / Ondra aesthetic. Even one of your new companions is a forge-born monstrosity, and another a disciple of The Great Below. Side-quests in the ambitious little mining town of Stalwart subtly reflect the celestial power struggle behind the scenes.
I'm only now realizing how poignantly the Abydon / Ondra dichotomy must affect the game's own developers. PoE itself represents a conflict between continued building up of classic cRPG architecture and the necessary forgetting of past achievements to make room for the new. See my "Ubergamer Attrition" post from last week.

Pillars of Eternity's very name hints at hoping to become a foundation for something lasting, and that may stand as the most important lesson of the Infinity Engine. Around that basic, generic D&D medievalism introduced in Baldur's Gate grew adventure after adventure, each with its own personality, each a roleplaying campaign in itself with its own strategic, artistic and narrative themes... for better or worse. Stop trying to reinvent the wheel with a new game engine every year, keep something functional and pleasing enough to last through the next decade and begin churning out themed roleplaying campaigns set in the same cosmology like The White March or Icewind Dale before it. Maybe Pillars of Eternity 2 will take its cue from that and deliver a swashbuckling high seas adventure without worrying too much about what the Glanfathans are doing or Magran's machinations.

Maybe after that they'll do a desert. Maybe a high-flying Hylea-centered adventure flitting from peak to peak among colorful Alpine villages in the Vailian Republics? Maybe a seedy, low-key "mean streets" Skaenite adventure in the slums of a great empire reminiscent of Torment's trash warrens? Why the hell not? Take it one campaign, one theme at a time. It may be wishful thinking on my part, but PoE's flavor-texted companion side quests suggest the developers themselves have plenty of ideas they'd like to get a chance to develop... to be played, and built upon, and forgotten in due time.