“It is too serious a book to be a trivially happy one. Its beginning is unhappy; its middle is unhappy; and the conventional happy ending is an outrage on it.”
Here’s a fun new quiz, is the following headline: (a) an April Fools’ joke, (b) an actual news story or (c) a plot element from a near-future sci-fi novel?
“The Pirate Bay plans low-orbit server drones to escape legal jurisdiction”
I predict the next move will be the RIAA unveiling its own fleet of hunter/killer drones armed with copyright-seeking missiles, forcing The Pirate Bay to launch further defensive forces. At that point there would be a great opportunity to take something like the World of Warplanes engine, hook it into the flight control systems, and make some money out of the conflict by charging pilots $14.99 a month.
The really worrying prospect would be completely automated copyright enforcing drones as they’d surely herald the Rise of the Machines, and it would be slightly ironic if it turned out that Judgment Day was sparked off by an attempt to stop people watching Terminator 2 in ten minute chunks on YouTube.
News of the Legacy systems of Star Wars: The Old Republic, particularly a common surname across characters on a server that must be unique, has prompted some furious thinking at KiaSA Towers. What could be a lore-appropriate name that would work for all future characters? Aficionados may be aware of several previous Star Wars video games, but there’s also an entire expanded universe of rather obscure novels, comics and even some feature films, so we’ve been scouring these for inspiration. Here’s the shortlist for our characters, don’t go using them up before we get a chance!
- Layheeyodalayheeyodalayheehoo (surname of some green dude who lived in a swamp)
- Hutt (surname of an intergalactic smuggler, who later branched out into baked dough products, sunglasses and small wooden structures)
- Vader (most famously Geoff Vader, but also his lesser know brother Darth)
- Stevens (Mr Stevens, boss of the Death Star canteen, one of the few individuals more powerful than Geoff Vader)
- Pad-Thai Urad-dahl-a
- Grand Moff Lobster Thermidor aux crevettes with a Mornay sauce served in a Provençale manner with shallots and aubergines garnished with truffle pate brandy and a fried egg on top and Spam Tarkin (Hang on, that one doesn’t really work…)
After reviewing the contents of the list, we would suggest not selecting your legacy surname while a bit peckish…
Once upon a time there was an emperor who cared very much about his appearance. When two tailors from exotic lands visited his country, he summoned them for an audience and demanded the most splendid outfit that money could buy. Night and day the tailors worked and finally, after delaying the outfit by a week to allow for additional polishing of the buckles and fastenings, they dressed the emperor, and all the courtiers agreed that it was the finest and most magnificent outfit they had ever seen. So pleased was the emperor that he decided to stage a parade such that all his subjects could witness the clothes. As he strode down the street to the adoring cheers of his people, one small child shouted “But the emperor is naked!”, and the crowd gasped!
“Wait a minute” said someone near the child “he’s not naked at all, what on earth are you talking about?”
“I’m the lone voice challenging the tissue of lies built on vanity, fear and pride” replied the child “only my brave innocent voice can expose the truth!”
“Yes, but… he’s wearing clothes”
“All right, yeah, he’s wearing clothes… but the crown’s a bit wonky. And I don’t like the cut of the pantaloons at all. They promised us the most magnificent outfit ever, he think he all that, but he ain’t all that, nuh-uh.”
“That’s an entirely different issue, though, I mean I’ll grant you the shade of purple of the frock-coat isn’t entirely to my taste, but nevertheless it’s pretty magnificent. Perhaps the courtiers were overstating the magnificence somewhat, but not to the point of lying about the existence of the clothes entirely. Anyway, weren’t you that kid who kept shouting ‘wolf’ the other day?”
“Nah, that was a different kid. He got eaten. By a wolf as it turns out.”
“Wow, that’s ironic”
Expanding thoughts on the practicality of the Wii U controller for MMOGs in the post comments, the presence of a microphone suggested the possibility of allowing voice commands, though as Melmoth pointed out shouting “bugger this!” in frustration at a boss fight might not quite have the intended result.
Mechanisms such as Rage for Warriors in World of Warcraft and Fury for Brutes in City of Heroes build up a bar as you attack or are attacked to power further abilities, but a bar on screen is a rather abstract representation of furious rage. How about if they were powered by the *actual* anger of the player, with your attacks doing more damage the louder you shouted, and taunts depending on the frequency and strength of swearing employed? Accelerometers offer further opportunities for capturing the force with which the controller is hurled aside at the peak of annoyance.
This would give the perfect difficulty scaling system. Rather than, as at present, repeated failures resulting in a downward spiral of anger, recrimination, impotent ranting on voice chat and less focus on the game precisely when most needed, the fury of the player will instead power up their character to unprecedented levels until they’re capable of one-shotting any boss.
Course it would need recalibrating for individual players, otherwise some people would be massively overpowered all the time…
In Vegas I got into a long argument with the man at the roulette wheel over what I considered to be an odd numbermmo, waffle Comments Off
Tobold the Astronomer views the galaxy of n-dimensional possibility space of MMOGs and sees the clustering; Keen the Traveller sees great distances as he moves between the points. But which is better? There’s only one way to find out…
Reasoned debate establishing a common frame of reference to develop a series of prepositions supporting differing perspectives!
Nah, just kidding…
It’s Oscar time, and a sad indictment of the game industry that only one of the ten Best Picture nominations, Toy Story 3, has a tie-in video game (unless you count Facebook). After devoting a great deal of thought to the matter, KiaSA Industries are pitching several projects to cash in on the success of the films in question:
The King’s Speech: Based on a Lips/SingStar karaoke-style engine, players have to work through a series of vocal exercises, tongue twisters and vigorous swearing before the end-game challenge, delivering a speech announcing the outbreak of war.
The Fighter: Quick re-brand of Wii Sports Boxing. Sorted!
Black Swan: A modified version of Dance Central with more ballet moves, plus a bottle of psychotropic drugs
127 Hours: One for the motion-sensing controllers as players start off with a nice bit of hiking in the manner of Wii Fit or similar, then have to shove their arm down the back of the sofa and stay there for five days. Wii version comes with a pretend plastic penknife blade to clip onto the Wiimote.
Inception: A virtual world, within which is a computer that runs a virtual world, within which is a computer that runs a virtual world, within which is a computer that lets you play Midwinter to an Edith Piaf soundtrack.
The Social Network: if Facebook itself doesn’t count as the tie-in game, Zynga could surely step into the breach with SocialNetworkVille, a game on a social network about developing a social network on which can be developed games. Hang on, this might be Inception again.
True Grit: DLC for Red Dead Redemption, with extra mumbling dialogue
Bit stumped for the last two on the list, so in the grand tradition of terrible 8-bit games with, at best, tangential relations to their film namesakes I reckon a side-scrolling beat ‘em up where you work through wave after wave of junkies for Winter’s Bone, and a jolly platformer where you bounce around collecting DNA test results and Joni Mitchell records for The Kids Are All Right.
So we had health and mana potions; now comes an announcement of WoW-inspired health and mana bars. Presumably Lembas do bread, so that’s Lord of the Rings Online taken care of, and Warhammer Online could put out a range of ales to go with its steins, but there are still a couple of gaps in the market. I think I might pitch Pirates of the Burning Sea branded Hard Tack (with Extra Weevil!) to Flying Labs, and surely the Super Deluxe Extra Limited Edition of Star Wars: The Old Republic would be improved by the inclusion of a bottle of Midichlorian Packed Membrosia…
Amazon’s inaugural Black Friday Deals Week in the UK has been pottering along, offering shoppers bargain chocolates, Lego, exercise bikes and cordless screwdrivers with corkscrew attachments. Yesterday they tweeted “Tomorrow’s deals begin at 3am with over 200 products at amazing prices”, causing a frisson of excitement; what super-bargain could be unveiled at such a ludicrous time? The rumoured XBox 360 with 60% discount?
This morning I had a quick look at the Expired deals, just to see what had gone on sale, and I can only imagine the joy and delight of somebody setting their alarm for 3am to discover they had a chance of a massive £2.50 saving on… a Mangroomer Do-It-Yourself Electric Back Shaver. I had to have a look at the product page, just to see the “fully extendable and adjustable locking handle to reach even the most difficult middle and lower portions of the back”, and fair enough, if you’ve been looking for a do-it-yourself electric back shaver it does seem to have pretty positive reviews.
The only trouble was that, returning to the Amazon homepage, I was bombarded with other hair-removal suggestions. “Customers with your browsing history are extremely hairy, and have also purchased…”, it almost-but-not-quite said. To get rid of the assortment of shavers, waxes and creams, I clicked on the first non-hair-based thing on the front page, an advert for Lord of the Rings jewellery. I must admit to being tempted slightly by one piece, especially based on the five star review.
Only thing is now, between those two items Amazon probably think I’m a hobbit…
Wolfshead’s dusted off the old “game vs world” type debate with some reasonable points on adventure and immersion, and some less reasonable points that I started to comment on before things got sprawling enough for a post…
Starter for ten: … we need to take a time machine back to eleven years ago when MMOs like Ultima Online and EverQuest rocked the video game industry to its core. These new multi-player online games unexpectedly raised the stakes to new levels. No longer was a video game all about having fun and amusement. It was something deeper, visceral, engaging and transcendent; an experience within a world.
I don’t agree with that at all. Ultima Online and Everquest are points on a continuum that includes MUDs and MUSHs, Nethack and Roguelikes, the Elder Scrolls series, the AOL Neverwinter Nights and Meridian 59, among many, many others. It’s not like they mark some Damascene revelation, before which everything was silly and frothy and transient; along with Breakout in 1976 you had the Colossal Cave Adventure. MUD1 and Space Invaders were both 1978. Home computing in the early 80s, as per my favourite chapter of Francis Spufford’s Backroom Boys: “The classic action game of the early 1980s – Defender, Pac Man – was set in a perpetual present tense, a sort of arcade Eden in which there were always enemies to zap or gobble, but nothing ever changed apart from the score”, then Braben and Bell unleashed the eight galaxies of 256 stars that made up Elite. Computer games have always spanned quick blasts and deep worlds, pill gobbling while chased by ghosts and conquests of entire galaxies. They’ve always been about playing together as well as alone; prior to widespread connectivity competing for high scores or clustering around Gauntlet and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle arcade machines, then as the internet spread from its largely academic confines so came FPS clans and virtual fighter squadrons alongside MMOG guilds. If anything represents a computer game not being simply about fun and amusement what about, by definition, professional gaming, a field dominated by the FPS and RTS genres? Of course Ultima Online and EverQuest are significant games, but I have a problem with the premise of MMOGs as industry-rocking world-changers.
Moving on, the central thrust of the piece is “Adventure is for Adults”, “Fun is For Children”, which seems to be bringing new terminology to the game vs world, theme park vs sandbox debate. I don’t disagree that there is a terminology problem, I tend to go with game and world which are far from ideal; “adventure” for depth, immersion, meaning, risk, sacrifice isn’t bad, but opposing that with “fun” as a shorthand for instant gratification, transience and triviality is a serious problem. After all part of the provided definition of fun is “what provides amusement or enjoyment”, which is a fairly key part of games for me, and whether by accident or design the piece takes on an air of Puritanism, tutting at the depravity of anyone daring to enjoy themselves, culminating in: “There is something unseemly about the pursuit of fun by grown adults. As a MMO veteran of 11 years, this is not what I signed up for. Part this problem is societal and a reflection of the pervasiveness of our youth culture where people today just refuse to grow up — aided and abetted by their enablers in the entertainment industry. Somehow the purpose of life has been reduced to finding ways to endlessly amuse oneself. Regrettably, our generation seems to be trapped in a culture of perpetual adolescence.”
I’m not quite sure how we got from MMOGs to “the purpose of life”. Tobold posted recently about in-game achievements and the lure of the “ding!”, crucially pointing out: “Our real lives are full of amazing achievements: We learn how the world works during our education, then create value every day in our jobs. We make friends, we love, we build families, and participate in communities.” Games are a *facet* of our lives, to play a game for a bit of fun is no more an indication of some deep-seated perpetual adolescence than watching a light comedy programme with no particular message behind it. Sinking a massive amount of time into “serious” adventuring in a virtual world can *sometimes* be an abdication of real life responsibility, not an inherent demonstration of maturity.
The more reasonable point, though; “But let’s accept that many adults today are chasing the dragon of fun; at least they have thousands of video game titles from which to satiate their hunger. Yet for those of us that seek high stakes online adventure there are barely any choices. [...] Real virtual adventurers have few if any niche based options that appeal to them that are created with a WoW budget.”
Nitpicking, a niche option with a WoW budget wouldn’t be niche any more, but looking at other fields there are art-house films alongside summer blockbusters, painfully cool indie bands as well as pop sensations, or the good old fallback of gourmet restaurants and McDonalds. It’s always fun to rail against the Hollywood machine and soulless record corporations, but I’d be more interested in why the other gaming choices aren’t working out; Ultima Online and EverQuest are still running after all, if they were indeed the high point of the genre. Wasn’t Vanguard supposed to pick up EverQuest’s “Vision”? EVE, as ever, is a poster child of “not-WoW”, and in smaller niches still there are things like Wurm Online. There seem to be other options out there, how are they failing in the provision of high stakes online adventure?
As Brian ‘Psychochild’ Green notes in the comments, if using the steak/McDonalds analogy: “The problem here is that the current audience balks at paying filet mignon prices. It’s silly to go to McDonald’s and ask for filet mignon just as it’s silly to go to a fine steakhouse and demand the filet mignon at McDonald’s prices. Yet, that seems to be the situation we’re in. One of the reasons I’m a fan of business models beyond the subscription is that it elimiantes the need to appeal to the least common denominator, plus it allows some people who want a truly terrific experience to pay filet mignon prices.” After all, audiophiles pay thousands for hi-fi equipment rather than sticking an iPod on a twenty quid dock, wine connoisseurs can enjoy a nice Château Mouton-Rothschild as opposed to Something Around A Fiver From Tesco, serious amateur photographers (nudge, nudge) have “prosumer” kit available instead of a simple point n’ click camera, MMOG players have… maybe a Deluxe Edition at launch for an extra £10, or some stuff from an item shop if the game’s set up that way. A nice island in Entropia Universe, if you really want to push it, but that’s very much the exception.
The drawback of a more direct link between price and quality is you can also end up with $7000 audio cables, f’rinstance, where you have to wonder if the purpose is to actually improve the sound, or to let you say “oh, yeah, that cable, seven grand” at every opportunity, oddly enough similar to something Tam touched on in a recent post on elitism vs high standards, “elitism comes not from superiority but from the desire to be seen as superior”. Opposition to a move away from subscriptions is understandable as a defence against “…some companies who want to charge filet mignon prices but try to pass off Sizzler level quality…”, but accepting that high stakes online adventure is indeed a niche, something’s got to give between price and slick production values.