Daily Archives: April 3, 2009

Lightsaber blues.

The lightsaber, iconic science fantasy weapon from the Star Wars universe. Say it with me. Light. Saber. Lightsaber. It just rolls off the tongue, and it feels right. So very right. I was, in one of my many moments of intense scrutiny of something that is utterly unrequiring of such examination, trying to form an opinion as to why the name lightsaber works so well. Actually, it’s not so much that lightsaber works, as that so many other variations of it just don’t work, or at the very least they don’t seem to conjure the right image when spoken out loud to oneself. Note: it is considered polite social etiquette to experiment with shouting out alternative lightsaber names in a small, out of the way room of your house and not on the London Underground during rush hour, apparently, or so the nice armed policeman told me after he had un-cuffed my hands and given me a rag to staunch the bleeding.

Light and saber, it says it all, the blade is made of a glowy light, and it’s a type of sword so therefore we’ll pick something that sounds like a swordy sort of name. Easy. But why sabre? Why not lightsword? Well, it doesn’t quite have the same effect, for some reason. A bit obvious perhaps. Ok, but a Bastard is a type of sword too, so why not Lightbarsted? Hng. Ok, ok, the blade glows, and you whack things with it, so it’s a glowywhacker, right?

“Your father’s glowywhacker. This is the weapon of a Jedi Knight. Not as clumsy or random as a blaster. An elegant weapon, for a more civilized age.”

“How does it work?”

“Weeelllll, you see the glowy end?”

“Uh huh!”

“… look, the name sort of gives it away don’t you think?”

Ok, not glowywhacker then, you spoil sports. Fluorescentflamberge? Shinyshikomizue? Hummingblade? Peniscompensator?

“Your father’s Peniscompensator…”

Hmm, that might have worked.

The point is that the name could have been anything really, it’s only because the Star Wars universe has entered popular culture and established its names and conventions so firmly with those of us who are fans, that we can’t imagine any other name for a lightsaber, or at least we can, but they all sound wrong, feel wrong, and look wrong. And in the case of peniscompensator, are tangibly and plainly Just Wrong.

So where are you going with this, Melmoth, you tangential wafflemonger? I’m glad you asked, strange voices in my head that sound like Norman Lamont!

Lightsaber didn’t work, it never worked. I imagine when Lucas wrote the name he was snorting into his coffee. Those of us who care about the franchise in any way have become accustomed to the name. We can’t think of any other name for a lightsaber that feels right because that’s the way it is and has always been.

Now let us, through the darkly ancient and mystical art of transposition (wooOOooOOOo) move this understanding over to the MMO genre.

Levels didn’t work, they never worked. I imagine when the developers designed character levels they were snorting into their collective coffees. Those of us who care about MMOs in any way have become accustomed to the idea. We can’t think of any other rating system than levels that feels right because that’s the way it is and has always been.

I wonder if this is the biggest problem that innovation in the MMO genre faces – the systems that we associate with an MMO are so entrenched in the current player base that anything else will feel too unfamiliar, and any ideas put forth will sound wrong to their ears, no matter how good they may be. An MMO has levels, and a grind, and some crafting, and a few dungeons. It will have an avatar that you can customise at the start of the game, and then tweak in various ways over the course of you levelling up to an arbitrary cap of some sort. We all know this, it’s what MMOs are. Well, not really, it’s what we’ve become accustomed to; it was something that was put forward originally and enough people accepted it without laughing in the face of the developers that any other people coming along at a later date would see those people grinding away, and killing boars in the hope that they may find one with intestines or eyes or that consisted of boar meat, and so on and so forth, and they’d think “Well they’re all doing it, so I guess that’s what we do”, shrug their shoulders and proceed to dip their feet in to the calm unchanging waters of Skinner Box conditioned gaming. Many would find the water too cold for them and leave, many many more would swim out with wild abandon.

This is why we won’t see a game succeed when it is vastly different from, and makes huge sweeping changes to, the genre’s staples. The genre does need to move on, it needs to adapt and change to avoid having its calm Skinner Box waters stagnate, but it needs to be affected by tiny feeder streams – evolutionary adjustments, tweaks and upgrades. A tsunami-like wave of change will do nothing other than throw out all of those people already swimming in the water.

And for the record, I would have called it a Laservibrator.

Bzzzmmmmmmm. Wuhhmmmmmmm.