Archive for the ‘Not-So-Casual Commentary’ Category

To All the MMOs I’ve Loved Before …

September 21, 2016

To all the MMOs I’ve loved before.
That I played for months or more.
I’m glad they came along.
I dedicate this song.
To all the MMOs I’ve loved before.

So, after having finished all of the class stories in The Old Republic, I ended up musing about the MMOs I’ve played that I’ve really, really liked. And it turns out that there have been three of them, that I’ve loved for (mostly) completely different reasons.

Dark Age of Camelot: This was the first MMO that I ever played. I was drawn to it not because it was an MMO, but because it created three legendary/mythological realms that also happened to be among my favourites. I’ve always been a huge fan of Arthurian legend, and obviously given the game this MMO was going to have that as a major component. But the other two realms — Norse and Celtic — were also among my favourites. The whole “online” thing was a detriment, and not a benefit … but no one else was doing anything like this and no one else was even likely to do anything like this. If I wanted it, I was gonna hafta play this and put up with those icky “other players” that I had heard about.

The game itself lived up to expectations, at least in terms of setting and the link to the legends. The realms were noticeably different, and the classes mapped nice to the legends and, even better, were interestingly different between realms. Classes of the same basic role still managed to look and play differently in a way that linked them to the legends. Given this, I kept creating new character after new character to play around with different concepts.

The gameplay, however, didn’t suit me. It was a bit too hard to solo in the game — which is understandable, since you were never meant to solo — and, more importantly, there was no real overarching story to the game to push you to the next area. Yes, you were encouraged to go to new areas and do new things, but there was no story to follow, and you mostly did that to get enough levels to participate in Realm vs Realm … which I had no interest in. I also constantly got lost because the game — like most MMOs at the time — didn’t give you quest markers, the death penalty was annoying, and I was constantly cash-strapped.

This was my first MMO, and it set the stage for my altitis, because it was always so much more fun to start a different character in a different class in a different realm than it was to actually play a character to the higher levels and even into RvR, at least for me. A game with less diversity would have bored me when it got too hard (I’m looking at you, World of Warcraft), but Dark Age of Camelot kept me coming back to try out new classes and new characters:

City of Heroes: If Dark Age of Camelot started my altitis, this is the one that cemented it. The wide variety of costume and appearance options made creating new characters as actual characters far too easy. The varied powersets worked to create actual characters, and also played differently between classes and often between primary and secondary powerset combinations in the same class. New powersets allowed for new characters, making it all the more tempting to start over with a new character.

While soloing still wasn’t encouraged, it wasn’t as hard as it was in Dark Age of Camelot. Blasters had the hardest time, at least in my experience. There were overarching stories for each area and starting area that were fun, and I loved the few task forces that I managed to play.

However, at higher levels, again, soloing became too hard. Also, again, there was no overarching story to draw you from area to area, so you moved on when you had a high enough level. And finally, my highest level character got stuck in one of the cases where if you were high enough level to move on but your level was a little low for the quests and enemies you had to face.

Given the diversity and the fact that the introductory quest lines were fun, starting new characters became my standard approach to the game. This was my favourite MMO.

Star Wars: The Old Republic: With respect to everything that I loved about the previous two MMOs, The Old Republic is worse. There is less diversity in classes and settings and appearance. But it has two big advantages over the others. The first is that it is much more solo friendly. And the second is that it has a clear and interesting set of class stories that push you on to the next planet and, ultimately, to the end game. Of the three, it’s the game I love the least, but also the game that I’ve actually hit max level in.

The heyday of MMOs seems to be fading a bit; I don’t hear as much about new ones as I used to. Maybe I’m just not tuned in enough, though. At any rate, I wonder if I’ll ever find MMOs that I’ll love as much as these … all of which I either can’t play anymore or, at least, likely won’t play again, or for much longer (TOR).

The Expression of “Necrotech”

September 19, 2016

After I wrote last week about fiction being used to do nothing more than express an idea or emotion or whatever we have a “Big Idea” from John Scalzi’s site that pretty much admits to that. It’s K.C. Alexander talking about her book “Necrotech”, and all she says about it is, well, that it represents her. She describes the protagonist thusly:

I don’t like boxes. And neither does Necrotech’s protagonist—a type of woman whole sub-sections of societally-minded folk remind us don’t and shouldn’t exist.

Riko is a splatter specialist (that’s Tarantino level of gory mess, in case the title wasn’t clear) with all the agency of a man—and in being this, she tests the boundaries of what a woman in a book is supposed to be in this enlightened age of women’s rights. She is not soft. She is not tender. She would prefer to put a boot in your teeth instead of “work it out”, she lacks all maternal instinct, and her flaws are loaded for bear. With all the swag of a street thug, a policy of pleasing herself first, and a piss-poor temperament for emotions, she’s nobody’s idea of a good girlfriend.

She tends to somewhat proudly think of herself as a bad boyfriend.

And she came from a space of deeply engrained social erasure.

This … is a rather odd idea of what it means to have “the agency of a man”, it seems to me. Moreover, this doesn’t exactly sound like an interesting protagonist to the story. What we have here, it seems to me, is the typical “asshole” protagonist. Except … we aren’t really supposed to like the “asshole” protagonist, nor are they to be written that way. In general, we want to see assholes brought down in our fiction, and put in their place. The only exceptions are those asshole protagonists who are assholes to their enemies but who can be nice to their friends. About the closest I can picture of an actual asshole protagonist who is the unvarnished hero might be James Bond, but even he isn’t really an asshole, as he plays games and does deadpan snarking, but we can see that, at least in part, that’s to keep people at a distance because if he starts to care and he loses them it devastates him, as we see with his dead wife.

Read K.C. Alexander’s description of Riko and tell me that there’s anything like that with her.

So, in general, with asshole protagonists we either see that they really do have a heart of gold that they use the assholishness to hide, or else they get humbled and learn to overcome that, and thus win in the end through that realization. A good example of the latter is the “Justice League Unlimited” episode “The Greatest Story Never Told”. Booster Gold starts as someone who is, well, a prime example of the asshole protagonist. He is incredibly annoying, and only gets topped briefly by the Elongated Man. But as things go along, he gets humiliated and humiliated and has to accept that he is, in fact, a loser, and only came back to this time so that he could be something other than a loser … but his experiences prove that he is, still, nothing more than a loser. But in that the hot scientist that he was simply hitting on points out that he’s the only one who can even try to save the day, so he had better go out and do it. In that, he succeeds … and we finally cheer for him because he’s shown the self-awareness and humility to make him worthy of saving the day and, in the end, being the hero … even if it is only to him and the scientist.

Again, read the description of Riko and tell me if there’s anything like that there.

Unvarnished “asshole” protagonists are unlikeable, but Alexander thinks that some people, well, might like Riko, as she herself seems to. But on what grounds should we like her? It’s not that she has a heart of gold, and it’s not that she learns humility, so what is it that she thinks we’ll find appealing, like she finds it appealing?

I am Necrotech’s Big Idea. Me, and the people like me who are so often told that we can’t, don’t, shouldn’t. That what we are, what we present, is problematic for the greater society. The cause. The fight.

I know why I started writing this woman who does not care what you think of her. Whatever else the overarching themes, I know why Riko is the heart of it, the voice of it, the eyes seeing it all unfold.

I am Riko—with my snarl in place to warn away any asshole who wants to tell me how I should behave, my finger upraised to everyone who ever told me I was doing it wrong, my heart wrapped in diamondsteel where nobody can reach it to re-program what is mine. Like Riko, I’m not exactly bulletproof, but I can take it with a bloody smile and still come back to kick ass.

My name used to be Karina Cooper. I wrote what was, in so many ways, expected of me. And when I started Necrotech, I defied every expectation. And because I did, it suffered every rejection—until I realized that the ‘me’ that had been cultivated was not the me I was. That I had spent my life thinking I was strong and individual and independent, only to learn that I was so very wrong. And most of all, that the book I’d written wasn’t Karina’s story to tell.

Now my name is K. C. Alexander. Riko may be me incarnate—cranked to 11—but I like to be called Kace.

She so effusively loves that character because that character embodies what she thinks she is … or what she wants to be. She sees herself hemmed in by rules — or that she at least was hemmed in by rules — and sees this character as an expression of being free from that. The character is good because of what it expresses, not because of what it is as a fictional character … because what it is as a fictional character is, in fact, unappealing. So those who can relate to those feelings will like the character, and those who can’t won’t. But it seems to me that good fiction — and the fiction that the anti-Puppy side seems to want — allows us to like or cheer for a character even if we don’t feel the same way as they do. Even if we find James Bond to be an old-fashioned, misogynistic jerk … we still want him to win because the character and the context means that he — and only someone like him — can win, and we can in some sense, maybe, enjoy the way he achieves the goal that is both a good goal and one that we should want. Yuri from Shadow Hearts is similar, as he starts as a misogynistic jerk and evolves into a genuinely good character, so we can enjoy the snark as being aimed at his enemies knowing that, at least with his friends, he doesn’t really mean it.

I don’t see anything like that in this description. And Alexander could not be clearer about wanting to expressing ideas, and a number of them:

If you read Necrotech and think it has nothing to do with this woman-who-acts-like-a-man, that’s okay. There are enough Ideas in the book, in the series as it will be play out, to talk about, think about, embrace or reject.

But is she going to argue for them, explore them? Or is she just going to toss the ideas out there and hope that we’ll find them interesting enough to enjoy the book?

My bet’s on the latter.

Macbeth!

September 14, 2016

So, John Scalzi runs a number of “Big Ideas” at his site, which strikes me very much as being proof of my idea of fiction as nothing more than the expression of an idea. The “Big Idea” that focuses on Robin Talley’s work “As I Descended” strikes me as another one of those ideas that are just really, really bad. The original premise of the work isn’t a bad one: a modernization of Macbeth. Doing it as a “Young Adult” novel doesn’t seem to be all that great an idea. Setting it inside a high school seems to be potentially interesting but a potentially disastrous idea. And it only gets worse from there.

Macbeth is, obviously, an extremely bloody play. Before I started As I Descended, I’d never even considered killing any of my characters. I’d written dark stuff in other books, sure, but death is so final. Shakespeare was writing about a brave, accomplished medieval warrior who broke character by offing a few specific guys (after a career spent slaughtering presumably less important people).

Um, since she was setting it inside a high school, she might not have needed to deal with so much blood. After all, if I recall correctly — I have no yet managed to read that “Complete Works of Shakespeare” that I have, but I covered it in high school — the key to Macbeth is not that he kills people. Macbeth does not kill Duncan or Banquo, for example, because he wants to kill people. He kills them because he feels that killing them is the only way to achieve his ambitions, ambitions that he is spurred upon in by his wife. So he’s trying to get them out of the way. In a high school setting, there are many ways to get people out of the way that don’t involve killing them, especially in the world of high school popularity. Character assassination can easily substitute for actual assassination there. And if she had done that, she might have been able to avoid …

I had to take a contemporary 17-year-old girl whose previous experiences with violence had been limited to a few kicks on the soccer field and make her into a would-be violent criminal. I went through months of false starts before I could figure out how to get Maria (and, to be honest, me) into the necessary emotional place.

The Psycho Lesbian trope (note that this is a link to TV Tropes). No possible problems with invoking that trope, right?

Shakespeare’s casts tend to be larger than your typical YA novel’s. So after much consternation I wound up combining characters here and there, and scaling others back where I could. In my favorite instance, I fused Banquo and Lady Macduff into one character named Brandon.

But … Banquo and Lady Macduff have very different roles in the play. You can interpret Banquo as the too loyal and too trusting friend to Macbeth — as I argued in a high school essay — or as someone ambitious himself who was angling for advantage but Macbeth got to hm first, but that role is, in fact, utterly and critically important. Lady Macduff isn’t that important and is mostly a spur to Macduff, but if you combine the characters then all you would do is reduce her role to that. You could just as easily have simply eliminated Lady Macduff and let Macduff oppose Macbeth for reasons other than simple vengeance for the loss of a loved one (which, to be fair, he actually had other motives as well).

Brandon and Mateo wound up forming a nice counterpoint to my Macbeth/Lady Macbeth (Maria/Lily) combo, in that their relationship is much less dysfunctional.

Okay, this might be open to interpretation, but was the Macbeth/Lady Macbeth relationship dysfunctional? You can argue that they were well-suited for each other and it was only the means they had to use to gain their mutual ambitions and the fallout from that caused the breakdown of the relationship.

Despite her claims that she researched critical essays — although she only mentions it for one speech — she doesn’t really seem to understand the play, and herself admits spending lots of time trying to figure out the blood metaphors and the like by pouring over the play itself. She says that she wanted to do as literal a retelling as possible … but her setting doesn’t lend itself to that, having neither the actual goal nor the attitude that would allow for all of the killing that she somehow thinks have to be there. She also, in the quotes, doesn’t seem willing to either take a stand on her own interpretations or allow that for others. She seems to be inserting her own takes into it, but is unable to see what is really important to keep and what can be changed.

Now, you can argue — with some justification — that criticizing it like this is a bit out of bounds if I haven’t — and am not going to — read it. The issue is that here I’m taking what the author is proud of in the work and saying that, given what I know about the play, that she shouldn’t be. What she focuses on is not only not what is great about the play, but in fact seems, to me, to detract from it. We can discuss this, of course, but just as I wouldn’t have to watch “The Phantom Menace” to see that introducing midichlorians as the explanation for the Force is a bad idea, I don’t need to read this book to know that turning Macbeth into what seems to be a common psychopath is also a bad idea.

I sense much bad ideas in this work.

Fictional Expression

September 12, 2016

So, I was reading this excerpt from a novelette on Analog, and wondering why it was so very, very badly written. I actually zoned out in the middle of it because I just didn’t care about it anymore. Sure, the idea of aliens trying to buy the moon was an interesting idea, and sure the idea of tags and emotion tags was interesting, but the story just didn’t seem to go anywhere, Instead, there were a number of asides about the ex-boyfriend of Rose and things like that, that didn’t seem to add anything to either the plot or the characters. Heck, even the idea of a princess in Britain trying to emulate Diana would have been interesting if it had been explored. And in thinking about that and about “Cat Pictures, Please” — which struck me the same way — it got me thinking about what primary purpose those stories might have had … and about primary purposes in general.

It seems to me that there are a number of primary purposes that a work of fiction can have. Note that they can include some or all of these elements, but there is always generally a primary purpose to the work, something that the work is really attempting to convey. It seems to me that there are these primary purposes:

1) Narrative: The primary purpose here is to relate an event or events. Essentially, this fictional work is just trying to tell a story. A good example of this would be the original Mass Effect game, where the story of Saren and the Reapers was the primary focus, and the world and the characters there to facilitate that.

2) Character: The primary purpose here is to introduce and explore interesting characters. The plot and all other elements are there to support us finding out about and following the interesting characters. Mass Effect 2 is a good example of this, as the plot is literally nothing more than an excuse to go out, recruit and interact with those interesting characters.

3) Emotional: The primary purpose here is to elicit a specific emotion in the person experiencing the work, be it fear, joy, sadness or something else. Horror works are the prime examples of this, as, for example, in Lovecraft’s work all of the plot and characters are there only to allow for the horror to come to the fore during and at the end.

4) Exploring an idea: I think that Chuck Sonneberg’s view of “high concept” stories fits this really well: you have an idea that sounds interesting, and you want to play it out to see how it would work in the setting that you’re in. This can range from simply taking an idea like “What would happen if Captain Picard was turned into a child?” and seeing how it would work to exploring both sides of a complex moral issue. But, in general, you are exploring the idea, not merely expressing it nor arguing for it.

5) Arguing for an idea: The work is trying to argue that a certain idea is correct by analogy to the fictional world they’ve created. “Atlas Shrugged” is a good example here, as it is blatantly obvious that that is her goal, but other, more highly regarded works do this as well, like “1984” or “Brave New World”. Science fiction and fantasy are actually really good genres for this because they are so open that it is easier to create worlds that you can use as an analogy to support your argument than it is in other genres.

6) Expressing an idea: The work just wants to express an idea or number of ideas, without either exploring them or arguing for them.

I submit that “Cat Pictures, Please” and “No Strangers Any More” are aiming at the last category, as the authors are just expressing ideas that they like or are important to them without really exploring them in detail or taking the time to argue for them. The problem with doing that is that in a work of fiction simply expressing an idea is boring, and triggers the precise reactions I had to those works: 1) These are interesting ideas but aren’t explored, 2) The ideas don’t seem relevant to the overall story and 3) This would be done better as an essay than as a story. After all, if you want to simply express an idea, you’d generally write an essay or a post talking about them, and someone who was interesting in either your opinion or in the ideas would be willing to sit down and read you simply talking about them. But sticking them into a work of fiction seems to be taking the long way around if that’s all you’re doing, as both exploring an idea and arguing for it all benefit from the analogy that fiction provides, but if you’re simply expressing the idea introducing it through analogy seems a convoluted way to do that, and risks obscuring the idea that you’re trying to express.

Given this, if I’m right, then there are two likely possibilities for why their stories end up in category 6). The first is that they are, in fact, trying to argue for their ideas, but never get past merely expressing them; in short, they heavy-handedly express them, but don’t properly use the analogy to make their point, leaving the ideas disconnected from the rest of the story. The second is that the main purpose of their writing is to express ideas and emotions and things that are important to them, and they are far less concerned about anything else in their works. You can decide for yourselves which interpretation is the more charitable, as both are ideas that have been expressed by modern fiction writers.

What this means, though, is that any works that end up in category 6) are only going to be interesting to those who already agree with the ideas, as they won’t need arguments for those ideas, and will often feel that this is an author who “gets” them, expressing the ideas that they themselves have always wanted to express or see expressed in works. But, again, as a work of fiction itself doing that will be boring and convoluted, and so anyone who doesn’t already agree or who even disagrees with the ideas will find the work wanting. Thus, potentially we’d see the sharp divide in opinion over such works.

Tropes vs Women: Are Women Too Hard To Animate?

September 9, 2016

So, the not-quite-latest video in the Tropes vs Women series is Are Women Too Hard To Animate? Female Combatants. It starts off by looking at the controversy over “Assassin’s Creed Unity” where Ubisoft claimed that they couldn’t add playable female characters to the multiplayer portion of the game because doing the animations and models would be too expensive. Sarkeesian notes this about it:

A number of experienced game developers joined the chorus of voices calling out the absurdity of Ubisoft’s claims. Animator Jonathan Cooper, who had previously worked on Assassin’s Creed III for Ubisoft, tweeted, “I would estimate this to be a day or two’s work. Not a replacement of 8000 animations.” And Manveer Heir of Bioware summed up what Ubisoft was actually saying: “We don’t really care to put the effort in to make a woman assassin.”

This … is pretty much the extent of her research into what it would take to do. She references another case, that of Far Cry 4:

Ubisoft’s disregard for female character options didn’t stop with Unity. Also at E3 2014, the director of Far Cry 4 admitted to a similar issue with that game’s online co-op mode, saying, “We were inches away from having you be able to select a girl or a guy as your co-op buddy.” Again, the excuse for why this option wasn’t available was that it would just be too much work. And yet again, what they were really saying was that they just couldn’t be bothered to do the work it would have taken to provide that option.

The thing is … Anita Sarkeesian, whether you think she deserves it or not, has a name presence in games at the moment, which comes from having made Time’s 100 most influential people list. If she actually wanted to answer the question that she titles the video with, she could easily have contacted Ubisoft and asked them to explain just what it was that would make it be so much work or be so expensive. Given her name recognition, they’d be far more likely to accommodate her than they would be most other people. And yet it seems that Sarkeesian is uninterested in doing the research to find out what was really the case, instead pretty much implying that it wouldn’t have been that hard and that they couldn’t be bothered to do the work. Which is indeed technically true, but obviously it would be more reasonable for them to take that position if it would require re-doing 8000 animations than it would be if it was only a day or two of work.

Now, I’m not an expert by any means, but I have read a fair bit around the issue and I work in software design, so I’m going to take a stab at thinking out what might have happened here, without insisting that anyone is lying. In software, there are usually multiple ways to do something. Some of them are faster but don’t work as well — or don’t cover as many cases — and some take longer but really work. I’d imagine that Cooper’s solution is simply to re-do the skins and re-use all of the existing animations. And this can indeed work. But the risk you take is that if you take detailed motion captures of men and then put female skins on them you’ll end up with female characters that, well, move like men. This can run into a number of issues, from it resulting in characters that no female would want to play to interaction issues as the skin is based on, say, a bigger or differently shaped frame and so it might mess up hit boxes and the like.

Now, if something really will only take one or two days to do but you aren’t sure if it will work, in software the usual practice is to prototype it: implement a quick and dirty version of it and hand it over the testers to see how it works. So it’s quite possible that they actually tried Cooper’s idea and noted that, yes indeed, it looked stupid and didn’t work. Then, left with only the longer option that would take too much work and time for the effort, they decided to not include the option of female characters in multiplayer.

Now, I can’t say for certain that this is what happened. But that they felt the need to mention it at all suggests that they were considering it — and knew that they’d get some push back on not including it. Given that, it’s not all that likely that it would have only taken them a couple of days to do that and yet they still decided not to.

However, this is mostly an aside — despite it being pretty much the title of the video — because the real question here is spawned by Sarkeesian’s conclusion. She says that they couldn’t be bothered to do it, and the question is: Should they be?

Now, up until now what Sarkeesian has been advocating for are things that don’t inherently or necessarily increase the actual costs of a game, and thus don’t inherently impact the profits of the game. Sure, there might be extra work to create female protagonists or to avoid the damsel in distress plot, but for it’s not necessarily the case. Most RPGs, for example, only need to do different skins for the characters to add female protagonists, which is why RPGs have constantly and consistently done that for ages now. So the only risk to the profits of the company are that some players may not buy a game that has a female protagonist or uses a different story. But here we have a case where, indeed, the claim is that it will cost significantly more to add female characters to the game. So while in the previous cases getting more sales by appealing to female gamers would be a nice boost and a reason to maybe give it a shot, here, those extra sales would be required to avoid taking a loss on that specific feature.

This actually hurts the companies that are more likely to want to appeal to new audiences — including the female audience — in order to expand their profile: indie games. Shamus Young recently created a new game called “Good Robot” with Pyrodactyl, and as it turns out it didn’t make as much money as expected. From the comments in that linked post, it seems that this has put the company on a far more shaky financial position than Arvind — the guy who runs it — is comfortable with. So, a company like Pyrodactyl might, indeed, want to try to increase their audience by appealing to female gamers. But, as outlined in the post, every feature that takes time both delays time to market — which can be critical — and the cost of the product, which directly impacts profits. So they assess every feature to see if the effort to implement it will increase sales enough to increase their profits. Thus, the question to ask is: does it actually do that?

I talked about FIFA 16 in another post, as a game that deliberately added female players. What has happened to its sales since the introduction of female players? Well, FIFA 2015, up until this point, has sales of almost 19 million units. FIFA 16 has sales of about 16 million units. While FIFA 15 has had another year to make sales, that doesn’t look like a huge boost in sales. Also, in at least the UK — a very big and important market for soccer — sales were down in the first week. So it doesn’t look like adding female players to the game added to its sales.

So, pretty much every company is going to — quite reasonably — be wary of taking the time to add female characters if they aren’t likely to see increased sales because of it. If Sarkeesian et al can’t appeal to the idea that it will increase profits to add female characters, then all they have to fall back on is the Social Justice argument: game companies need to be fair and need to promote the Social Justice issues that they think are important. But doing so might reduce their profits, and might actually drive indie studios and even studios in big companies out of business. Are they to be required to drive themselves out of business to satisfy an agenda that is not theirs?

This only gets worse if attempting to address those issues can be a no-win situation. The rest of Sarkeesian’s video discusses whether or not they should include female combatants. The reason she has to address it is that it is a feminist question of whether including them is perpetrating and promoting violence against women or not. Sarkeesian argues that it isn’t as long as they are not sexualized and are capable of fighting back, but the issue here is that a company that tries to address feminist issues risks getting it wrong no matter what they do, as some feminists deride them for not having women combatants in the game, and some deride them for having women combatants in the game, which might mean that they don’t even pick up the limited gains they hoped to see by attempting to address those issues.

Assuming that anyone even pays attention to their attempts. Sarkeesian has been better at highlighting games that do things reasonably lately, but it is still the case that games get far more attention for doing it wrong than for doing it right.

So, should gaming companies put in the extra effort to allow female characters if their framework doesn’t really support it? From a strict profit and loss standpoint, they probably shouldn’t. As a long-time RPG player, I really do want to see the choice … but I’d understand if they don’t want to, and instead want to play it safe. The video games industry is too tight right now to afford to guess at what might benefit, and female characters don’t seem to be a benefit.

Finished!

September 7, 2016

So, after playing the game off and on for somewhere between 4 and 6 years, I finally managed to finish all 8 class stories in “The Old Republic”, ending with one of my first characters, a Chiss Imperial Agent. The latest changes that allow you to pretty much keep your levels at the appropriate … er, level only doing the Class and Planet quests really helped, as it reduced the time it took me to complete a planet to 4 hours from somewhere around 12 hours.

In terms of stories, the Agent story was interesting enough and had an interesting ending, if it felt a bit rushed at the end, with everything getting resolved a bit too quickly. However, the Agent’s new role really worked for that storyline. And it may just be that it was the first storyline that I ever finished talking, but I really liked the Sith Warrior storyline. For the Inquisitor, Bounty Hunter, and Smuggler storylines, I enjoyed them, but most of that enjoyment, it seems to me, comes from how they really did let me act in-character in those storylines, as opposed to how interesting the storylines were themselves. The Inquisitor storyline was more interesting itself, the Smuggler storyline was more interesting for how the romance with Risha played into it and the ending, at least potentially, and the Bounty Hunter storyline really worked for my character while staying well out of the way most of the time. The Jedi Knight and Jedi Consular storylines are mostly unremarkable for me; I enjoyed them, but didn’t find them particularly memorable. In contrast, the Trooper storyline wasn’t particularly interesting — although it did kinda make sense for the character — and the choices interferred with my attempts to play as “The Sisko”, as I couldn’t react as he would a lot of the time, making it the least enjoyable of the storylines.

In terms of romances, my favourite was Vette from the Sith Warrior, and I keep getting tempted to replay as a Dark Side Warrior to see how things work out with Jaesa. I also liked Risha from the Smuggler storyline, especially since given her heritage there’s a chance of the character “going straight” afterwards. I didn’t do any romances in the Bounty Hunter and Agent lines, because there just weren’t interesting options. Again, I liked the options in the Jedi Knight and Jedi Consular lines, but didn’t find them that memorable, which this time also holds for the Inquisitor. Finally, again, Trooper fails to make the grade, as Dorne isn’t all that interesting an option. If I had remembered, I might have left the option open with that one woman that you can … ahem, interact with whom you break up with later.

In terms of companions, I again still feel good about the Warrior companions, as Vette, Quinn and Jaesa are all interesting, even if you can’t romance them. Inquisitor, though, may have the most interesting set, and Khem-Val, at the time, was both a great companion to have and kinda fun. Jedi Consular, however, has a similar and somewhat better one in Qyzen-Fess, and like the others have no companions that really irritate me. For Jedi Knight, the companions are all okay, although I did like Kira Carson, the romance option, as well as T7-01. And Scrouge and Doc have their moments. The same pretty much holds for Smuggler, except that Corso is more fun and Guss Tuno is more annoying. Akaavi Spar also inserted herself into the romance when I was doing everything I could to avoid romancing her at all, which was annoying. Bounty Hunter has the absolutely wonderful Blizz and Mako, and the romance between Mako and Torian if you don’t pursue her yourself is just so incredibly cute. However, my character wanted to shoot both Gault and Skadge. Repeatedly. And flush them out an airlock. Agent’s characters are mostly bland, but my character was annoyed by Kaliyo and had no real reason to listen to Scorpio’s rants, and instead really ought to have used the turbolasers on her. For Trooper, M1 4X’s over-the-top heroism was entertaining, but the rest were bland … except for Tanno Vik, whom I hated.

I’m torn on the new combat system/difficulty. TOR’s combat has never been all that much fun, but it’s been mostly innocuous for most of the time … except when the game sprung massive boss fights on you with characters that might out-level you and might have tricks that you don’t know how to dodge or counter when you hit them. Thus my strategy of success through massive over-leveling. Under this model, it’s both easier to over-level and over-leveling is less necessary to win the game. On the one hand, this is good because it makes it easier to complete the game without worrying about getting stuck, which is a problem for MMOs. On the other hand, it makes fighting things irrelevant, which means that if you are killing things just to get to the next mission or back to town it’s pointless since you don’t really need the XP, which makes the combat even more boring. That being said, it allowed me to turn the stealth on for my Agent in the later stages and pretty much bypass all the combat in favour of surgical strikes, which really worked for my character (and helped cut down on the time it took me to do things).

I’m glad that I finished all of the stories. I plan on going through Knights of the Fallen Empire at some point … later. I have other games to play [grin].

Goodbye to Romance …

August 30, 2016

So, in this recent post by Shamus Young, he asks this:

Anyway, preamble over. The question Rutskarn presents is this: What do we think of games where your companions have player-oriented sexuality? People aren’t “gay” or “straight” but instead “attracted to whatever the player is”.

I came across this in Dragon Age 2, and my overall view of the concept itself is that it works when it’s seamless. If in general you’re playing the game and the character just happens to either be bisexual — and thus romanceable by both sexes — or just interested in your character — so hetereosexual if you are the opposite sex and homosexual if you are the same sex — then it seems to work okay. The problem is that if you replay the game with the opposing sex the spell will be broken and you’ll be able to tell that that’s what they did, and the former is actually pretty hard to pull off. For example, in Dragon Age 2 being bisexual worked for Isabella — she’d have sex with anything that moved, really — and maybe for Merril, but it was a little awkward for Fenris and, as some people pointed out, didn’t seem to work at all for Anders given the character that was established in an earlier DLC. And, arguably, if you could pull the latter off without breaking the spell on replays, you’d have a character that you might as well have just made bisexual in the first place.

But for me, it seems that I like my romances like I like my RPGs (everything louder than everything else!). What I really want in a romance is that if I act in accordance with whatever character that I’m playing, I’ll end up with the characters that should be interested in me interested in me, and the characters that should not be interested in me not interested in me. Morrigan, for example, would not — or at least ought not — have liked my Inquisition character, who was a simple and generally good person thrust into the role and not very comfortable with it, but DA Leiliana would probably have liked her. Arguably, if done really, really well — so well that no current game could actually pull it off — this could lead to naturally occurring unrequited love situations, where they like your personality but your character wouldn’t like theirs, and vice versa. Given how the current situations are structured, I’m not sure how much I would enjoy it, but if it was a) done well and b) not totally scripted, having that sort of situation emerge would be very, very cool.

So, having there be a character that I would like to romance but that I can’t romance due to my being the same or different sex as them isn’t a problem, as long as it is made clear in the game that they aren’t romanceable. In Inquisition, that didn’t seem to happen, and so you could flirt with characters that were not at all interested in that way, which was both awkward and I think triggered some disapproval, at which point my gripe was that if it wasn’t possible, why even give the option? It added nothing.

Anyway, as long as there are interesting options for the sex and sexual orientation of the main character, then I’d prefer them to let the relationships proceed “naturally”. If, for example, in ME3 Traynor is the only romance option my character is interested in and she’s not because the character is male, then for me the solution is to add more and more varied options, not make Traynor attracted to the PC just ’cause it’s the PC.

A Naked Comparison …

August 26, 2016

So, recently I’ve started watching Star Trek TOS, and also have been listening to the SF Debris videos of Star Trek TNG. In doing so, I noticed something interesting about the first season TOS episode “The Naked Time” when compared to the first season TNG episode “The Naked Now”, which might explain why the first season of TOS is much more highly regarded than the first season of TNG. “The Naked Now” is an explicit revisiting of “The Naked Time”, and both of them thus involve the same basic idea: a strange, water-based disease or whatever causes the crews of both ships to, essentially, act drunk. But the “Naked” in the TOS title seems to refer to the people being emotionally “naked”, living out and exposing their deepest desires and fears, while in TNG they seemed to interpret that to mean getting naked and having lots and lots of sex.

In “The Naked Time”, the first person who is infected starts acting oddly not by wanting to have sex with everyone or by acting, well, drunk, but instead by going on about how deadly space is and building up a healthy head of paranoia about that. Sulu then engages in his dream of being a swashbuckling hero. Riley tries to achieve his dream of being an Irish Lord ruling his own little fiefdom. Christine Chapel confesses her love for Spock. Spock is overcome by emotion and talks about the difficulties of that. And finally Kirk talks about the pressures of command and what that might cost him. The inner issues dominate, with their impacts on the plot and the story generally side events to getting that across. This is great because it gives us some extra insight into the characters, and reveals some things about them that will become major parts of their characters, but were things that we hadn’t seen beforehand.

In contrast, in “The Naked Now” any inner examinations are limited, and only there to serve either the plot or to give them an excuse to chase sex. Geordi talks briefly about his issues with having to see through the VISOR and not having “real” sight, but that’s only there to give him an excuse to touch Tasha and as a way for Crusher to see that the original formula isn’t working. Tasha briefly talks about her childhood in a way that hints that because her childhood was so bad she now tries to seek out pleasurable experiences … but that’s mostly used as a way to justify her screwing anything that moves. Data could be seen as making a point about his desire to be human, but he doesn’t really make that clear and we already knew that. Troi talks about the emotions overwhelming her, but again that just turns into a way to express sexual desire for Riker, which we already knew was there. Crusher hints at attraction with Picard, and he for her, but again that’s not explored as a hidden and secret desire that they might feel shame for, but is just used as an excuse to get them to act very, very oddly and in a way that’s aimed at humour (and I found it hilarious that Crusher uses as her example of how it causes bad judgement that she finds him very attractive. Not that she wants to have sex with him at the wrong time, but literally that right now she finds him attractive). While TNG desperately needed us to get some idea of the characters and what they were like, it didn’t take this opportunity to do that.

Even the destruction threat is inferior. Sure, Riley’s plan was a bit stupid, but at least there’s a logic to it: if he controls engineering, he controls the ship, and then can, at least to that point, enforce his will on them. Sure, he’ll be caught eventually and sure, no one has to listen to him, but someone with impaired judgement might well decide that’s worth a shot. On TNG, we have Wesley building a force field and, worse, the assistant Chief Engineer … playing with the control chips as if they were building blocks, which is clearly what he’s always wanted to do, deep down. At least he wasn’t trying to have sex with them.

TOS used this plot to reveal things about its characters, while TNG used this as an excuse to make them act like idiots. This goes a long way towards explaining why first season TOS is so good, and first season TNG … not.

(Also, as a final aside, it’s interesting that both, deliberately or not, kept the idea that if someone needed to concentrate, the effects seemed to diminish. When Kirk brings Spock around and Spock starts concentrating on how to come up with the formula to restart the engines, he seems unaffected. In TNG, Wesley lampshades that by commenting on how hard it was to think, and Data seems less affected when he is trying to reinsert the control chips, and despite Riker seemingly getting it early he isn’t affected at all in the episode, and only shows some signs when all he can do is sit there and see if Data and Wesley can save the ship. It’s an interesting element that’s easy to overlook.)

Elements of a Good Dating Sim

August 24, 2016

So I was musing while talking about Huniepop on what makes for a good dating sim … particularly, how you should tailor the dateable characters in order to make a great dating sim. And it seems to boil down to a very simple criteria: ideally, everyone who plays the game should have more than one favourite, but shouldn’t have most of the characters as, in fact, their favourites. And, given that people have a wide range in what they prefer in a date, ideally this means that every character you add has some players who have them as their favourites, and some players who don’t care much for them.

Arguably, Huniepop does this reasonably well. If we look at this poll at Gamefaqs, most of the girls get at least some love, with only Lola and Jessie being in the position of “unfavourite”, with percentages so low that very few players actually liked them. By contrast, there are 5 of them with over 10%, and the highest is my personal least favourite, Audrey, at 17% … only 2% higher than Aiko, who’s probably my favourite. Given that and my own personal experience, it’s also likely that there are a number of people who strongly dislike all of the favourites as well.

The reason you need this in a dating sim is that it should become clear which dates the player wants to focus on relatively early, so giving them clear personalities and looks allows the player to quickly decide where to focus their time, since any good dating sim — and, yes, Huniepop isn’t that great as a dating sim — won’t let you get all of them in one playthrough … or else will have that have … consequences or be a special ending. So players should really want to get a couple of the characters in order to foster player choice, and not want to get a couple of the characters so that they can start ignoring them in order to focus on the ones they like. Also, giving more favourites allows for replay, but if all of them are equally desirable then that could make the game overly repetitive, but leave the player unsatisfied; they’re tired of playing the game, but haven’t maxed out all of the dates they want to max out yet.

Note that this is a different model than that of romances in RPGs, where if there’s only one character that you want to max out your romances with that’s perfectly okay, and players are likely to not be terribly offended by romancing the same character in every playthrough. This is because the main plot and the choices in that are what the players want for variety, and if they have a clear favourite romance it can, indeed, provide an island of stability for each playthrough, unless they decide that they want to change it up or that this character wouldn’t find that romance appealing. Dating sim players are not likely to replay a dating sim just to date the same person, however.

“And you can go to Hell too …”

August 23, 2016

“… I wouldn’t want you to feel left out!”

Do … do these people even realize what they’re saying? They seem so sanctimoniously clueless that I don’t know whether to be angry with them, hate them, or pity them. Right now, the best option seems to be “Ignore them and create my own science fiction and fantasy! With blackjack! And hookers! In fact, forget the science fiction and fantasy!”

The latest moron that has gotten my ire up is John Scalzi, who in his wisdom decided to post a long discussion of the Hugos where he pretty much simply concedes everything that the Puppies were complaining about, as if what’s happened has somehow proven them wrong.. Let’s start, not at the beginning, but with Jerry Pournelle:

An active association with Beale is, bluntly, death for your Hugo award chances. I mean, it takes a lot for someone as esteemed in the field as Jerry Pournelle to finish below “No Award” in Hugo voting, and yet, there he is, sixth in a field of five in the category of Best Editor, Short Form.

So, Scalzi admits that Pournelle’s “No Award” is not a reflection of the quality of his work, but instead because of his purported “active association” with Vox Day/Theodore Beale, which as far as I know is simply him not active repudiating him, and in fact mostly being the inspiration for the puppies, as far as I can recall,[EDIT: Which I did incorrectly, because that was Larry Correia] by complaining that people dismissed his work because of his politics, a stance that Scalzi et al are proud to react to by … dismissing his work because of his politics. That’s not good … but when you put it up against the reason that this was Pournelle’s first Worldcon in years, it gets even worse:

This was my first WorldCon in years, what with recovering from brain cancer – still all gone – and the stroke.

Yes, let’s pick on the person who has recovered from brain cancer and a flippin’ stroke who we concede is a great talent because his politics don’t align with ours and he doesn’t hate someone that we really hate. And then let’s get on our soapbox about how good we are and how we promote empathy when we’re willing to do stuff like this.

Maybe “hate” isn’t strong enough a word.

Okay, okay, maybe that association is stronger than that, since it could, for example, simply refer to him being willing to publish books through Castalia House, although if you are assumed to agree with everything your publisher says and does that would kinda eliminate everyone, but okay, maybe they can come up with some kind of justification that might almost work if you rationalize it enough. It’s not likely to be a reason that people, like me, who don’t flat-out hate everyone or anyone involved in this — or, at least, didn’t until one side pulled garbage like this — will find reasonable, but maybe we could at least get to a respectful “Agree to disagree” position. But … not from this:

…again, nearly every crony nomination finished below “No Award” in the voting.

Remember, as related in my last post, this included Shamus Young, who is not associated in any way with the Puppies, probably doesn’t at least quite subscribe to the politics of the Puppies, has generally tried to stay away from any of this controversy, and is, in at least my opinion, a very good writer. So … clear crony nomination? Utter rot. He, objectively, did not deserve the treatment he got, that Scalzi is crowing about. And if he didn’t deserve it, how many others didn’t deserve it either, either positively or negatively.

Which, then, totally crushes Scalzi’s attempt to show that his side didn’t, in fact, the way the Puppies predicted they would, and so the Puppies really were the losers here:

So, how did this particular strategy work for Beale? Well, of course, poorly. The stuff that was obvious cronyism mostly ended up below “No Award” in just about every category, again, for the third year running. In the cases of the human shields and the already popular nominees, Hugo voters simply ignored the fact Beale slated them. In the case of the latter, no one sensible believes that folks like Neil Gaiman, Andy Weir or Neal Stephenson would willingly associate themselves with a minor racist shit-stirrer, and in the case of the former, Beale’s obvious assumption that the people he classifies as SJWs would explode with cognitive dissonance when he put people/work on his slate that they’d otherwise want to vote for (“I want to vote for it! But I can’t now because it’s on a slate! Nooooooooo!”) is predicated on the idea that these folks are the strawmen he’s created in what passes for his mind. They’re not; they knew what was up, and they largely decided to ignore his master strategy.

Except … they didn’t. Yes, when a work or author matched their politics and they liked it, they ignored the politics of the slate and voted for it. When a work or author was “obviously” a crony choice, they voted it down just for being on the slate. And when they had no idea if the work or author was a crony choice, they for some reason couldn’t be bothered to figure out if it was a crony choice or not, but instead just assumed it was and downvoted it. In all cases the quality of the work was not the primary selection criteria. Politics was. And they got the results that aligned with those political considerations. This is precisely the sort of behaviour that the Puppies were complaining about in the first place. You can’t defeat them by proving them right, you moronic half-wit. And you’re harming utterly innocent people in doing so. Again, your side could not be bothered to check out the works and authors that you weren’t familiar with despite, by your own admission, knowing that the Puppies were including works that weren’t obvious cronies. For the Hugo Awards to have legitimacy, it must be the case that the works are judged on merit, not on popular appeal or recognition and not on politics. You’ve admitted to putting the latter two above merit. You no longer have any claim to legitimacy, and you’re crowing about having done that to yourselves.

Good job!

So, from this, I have a few plans going forward:

1) I’m going to out and buy some works from Jerry Pournelle, just to spite Scalzi et al. I might even buy the work he edited that they decided deserved “No Award”.

2) I’m going to judge the “Best Novel” and “Short Story” categories myself. I’ve already read “Cat Pictures, Please” and will comment on it, and I will look up all the others and judge them as well. I will also buy all of the Best Novel works that I can find and judge them as objectively as I possibly can. Because I don’t trust them, but we need someone who is closer to the average reader to do it, and even if no one reads them, at least I’ll know who can be trusted and who can’t. (Spoiler: I don’t think “Cat Pictures, Please” totally sucks but don’t think it’s that great either).

3) At some point, I’ll do a calmer summary of all of the Hugo Award crap.

Note that this obviously isn’t in chronological order [grin].

In conclusion … Scalzi et all can go to hell because they pretty much admit to judging things not on the basis of quality, but on the basis of politics and the like, and I can’t trust awards or recommendations given by people who would do that. Thus, they’ve proven, to me at least, that what the Puppies say about them is true. Again, good job!