Saturday, December 30, 2006

Fun With DRM


New sound system.

Digital cable.

New DVD burner/VHS.

A hi-def version of the movie "Airborne" on the DVR.

Sorry, but this movie contains DRM that will prevent the DVD burner from properly copying it.

So, let me understand this:

I pay for cable. I pay for the equipment. I can record thousands of shows and movies and put them onto VHS. I can back up my old VHS tapes onto DVD. I can rip music and DVDs onto my computer and then burn copies to play in my DVD player.

But I can't record directly onto DVD a movie that doesn't even have a Region 1 DVD release?

A movie from 1993.

This is progress? Paying for crippled equipment?

I suppose it is progress to the manufacturers.

I'm really gonna stay awake at night wondering why so many people visit torrent sites.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Ask and Receive

Way back
on this blog in February 2005, I asked for a sequel to the underrated Disaster Report.

Well, turns out there was one. Released in Japan earlier this year.

Now Agetec is bringing it to the States. Thanks, guys.

Very interesting game mechanics.

Hopefully it doesn't contain any hokey avoid-the-mercenaries subplots.

Monday, December 18, 2006

This Sword is Broken

I played
Broken Sword: Angel of Death.

It made me remember everything I hate about adventure games.

Just check out the walkthrough. Even with the walkthrough's help I hit a brick wall when I got to the hotel. I talked to the guy in the chair, through all of his boring, stupid, stilted dialogue and apparently wasn't doing the one little thing I needed to progress.

The first level was just ridiculous. At one point you run into some live wires. Now, if you haven't yet gotten your companion across a chasm (keep in mind she only needs to come down one level, so why she can't hang off the ledge and have you lower her down, I have no idea) when you run across the wires, then when you do rescue her then she'll have no idea why you ask her to hold down a breaker switch that turns off the live wires.

Yes, it's that stupid. So you have to go back to the wires, try to run into them until it tells you that they're live and you're an idiot, then run back up and have Anna hold the breaker (when you select her it won't allow you to actually control her, so if you want her to do anything you need to be on the same screen).

Really, just unforgivable. I think I'll buy the new Sam & Max game as a palate cleanser.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Captain's Log

If you play
only one Star Trek-themed game this year in honor of the 40th anniversary, play Bridge Commander from Totally Games - you may be able to track down a copy in your neighborhood gaming shoppe.

If you play two, try Starfleet Command III.

If you play three, try Elite Force.

I think you get the picture.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Leave it All Behind

Alternet is up in arms over the Left Behind videogame. They urge everyone to send a message to Wal-Mart to have it removed from their shelves.

Bollocks to that. I have no problem with the game. Well, except that it's poorly-designed and the interface is awful.

Even the T for Teen rating seems justified to me. There's no overt bloodshed and, while thematically it's offensive to some, to me it's no different from any other game of a similar stripe. What makes it okay to massacre all those units in every other RTS yet this one is suddenly exceptional?

Asking Wal-Mart to take it from the shelves simply because I don't agree with the worldview it promotes is not my cup of tea. This is really no different from religious groups demanding that Wal-Mart remove Grand Theft Auto, because the objections are based upon content.

Now, by all means people should criticize the message of the game, since the makers view it as a vehicle for fundamentalist propaganda. There's no getting around that. However, I always think it's better to challenge than suppress.

And I know the GTA analogy isn't perfect in that Left Behind is a "message" game, an attempt to promote certain ideas as truth, and GTA is crime-fantasy (no matter how much some "concerned citizens" might claim that GTA urges kids to go on crime sprees), but the drive to remove them from the shelves amounts to the same thing - censorship.

Of course, to present the other side, as a citizen I think it's fine if you feel that the best way to register your objection to propaganda is through censorship.

I wonder how long it will take Hillary Clinton and Holy Joe Lieberman to condemn this game?

As for Left Behind Games, I don't have a lot of confidence in a videogame studio that doesn't seem to realize that the term "God Game" has been around for a long time.


Here's something I had been putting together for a post on Bully that got out of control and meandered and then just fizzled out. I don't think I'll ever publish it, but here are a few bits that are relevant to the business above.

No, More Questions

If a football player commits an act of violence against a fellow student, how likely are parents and teachers to blame football?

Why is the CDC not investigating competitive sports for their link to violent behavior?

Is aggression necessary at this point, or should we actively discourage any kind of aggression?

If you see your child playing Cowboys and Indians, is this an acceptable activity despite its intimations of violence?

What about wrestling, with its actual contact?

What is the evidence, if any, of a direct link between video games and the activities they simulate?

If a child plays a game in which they shoot enemies, how could this function as training for the actual activity? What about other activities? Will a medical game turn your child into a doctor?
Why were the Three Stooges allowed to have a TV show in which they constantly inflicted brutal punishments on one another?

Why does it seem that cartoon violence, in which no party suffers permanent injury, is generally acceptable for children? Does cartoon violence lead to a belief that violence will have no serious consequences? Will the CDC investigate cartoons?

How healthy is it to expect that a child will never engage in any risky behaviors against the parents' wishes?

Japan produces many videogames that feature rape and violent sex, yet its overall violent crime rate is much lower than that in the US. What might account for this dramatic difference, especially considering the consumption rates of videogames is larger in Japan?

Do you feel that violent art helps to sublimate more brutal aspects of ourselves or does it encourage more brutality?

Permit me to rant a bit about the current heated rhetoric concerning video game violence.

We live in a culture in which a purportedly religious "child care expert" regularly enjoins parents to beat their children.

We live in a culture in which the President can strip habeus corpus from non-Americans and Americans alike, and give torture the air of legality, while neutered Senators aid and abet and the media fawns or shrugs.

We live in a culture in which an addle-pated drug addict can bloviate that the abuses at Abu Ghraib, beatings and sexual humiliation and even murder, can be chalked up to "frat pranks."

We live in a culture in which, arguing against the recent Lancet study of Iraqi casualties, certain people have claimed that the total is nowhere near 650,000, perhaps "merely" 200,000.

We are all primates with a remarkable history of fantastic violence stretching back to the first genetic differentiations that marked out our current species. Brutality has been a hallmark of every human society, violence of every stripe at every level.

I reference all of this to make the point that strenuous objections to cartoon violence of an interactive digital nature and attempting to draw a link to some kind of "degradation" of culture is to completely ignore the clear, bloody line of history and invent a fictitious past. The argument essentially boils down to saying that, since the media culture of yesteryear was more repressive of violent content, then the culture itself was less violent than today (where the media is more

My references to examples of our brutal society are not meant to say, "Sure, Bully's bad, but what about this?" Rather, they are there to show that demonizing pop culture media while ignoring influential figures advocating real-world brutality is a remarkably immature and ludicrous position. Likewise, pretending that violent or sexual media should be completely restricted from children seems to be a surefire way of stunting their development, especially those entering their teen years.

This is not a call for unfettered access to all media for children, but a measured approach contingent upon parental limits and careful discussion.

I realize my bias here, in that I feel open information and exploration is always preferable to denial and repression.

Ubi or Not Ubi

And as a small follow-up, what did Ubisoft do that makes it so darn special?

Here's a listing of Ubisoft games.

Lots of Tom Clancy sequels ad nauseam. Prince of Persia, which was excellent, but spawned a meandering sequel and a solid third game - cashing in, or supporting a popular title? Devil May Cry, a series which I found execrable control-wise, story-wise, difficulty-wise but nevertheless, again, maintains popularity amongst hardcore gamers.

Brothers in Arms, a well-produced World War II shooter - that's a novel genre. King Kong, which was beautiful but still a beat-em-up mixed with an FPS (not to mention its major flaw). The Myst series. Movie tie-in games for Star Wars: Episode III and Rocky and Charlie's Angels. Lots of Disney games.

For every Beyond Good & Evil Ubisoft puts out 10 decent sequels and 20 games of no import whatsoever. Rayman seems to be almost the entire reason for Ubisoft's goodwill - if I'm missing something, please let me know.

Postscript: I'm looking and looking, trying hard to find the magic. Grandia II was pretty good, played that on Dreamcast. Pool of Radiance? Even now I remember this one, not because I played it, but because it was released in a horribly broken state. Is it Will Rock, a serviceable Serious Sam ripoff? I know for a fact it's not Batman: Rise of Sin Tzu. Eh, I'll keep looking.

What Other Reasons?

EA is kind of the de facto whipping boy of the videogame industry and this is not without reason. The EA_spouse whistleblowing highlighted some incredibly pernicious business practices.

Of course, by all accounts they have at least made an effort to change. What about other major game companies guilty of the exact same things? Where is the widespread call to regulate the industry? Are we so naive to think that Nintendo doesn't have voluntary-mandatory crunch time? Most studios probably ducked their heads and said, "Thank god it wasn't us. And thank god nobody is urging industry-wide oversight."

Lack of innovation. Let's all turn and stare and point at Madden, class. But let's be real about this: Madden is a football game. This is not meant as a diminutive but to point out that right from the start innovation is limited by a stringent ruleset made even more stringent by its brand licensing. Some years Madden is a great football game, other years it's passable.

But they've been publishing Sid Meier for quite some time. They released Ultima Online, flawed but still with more options than most other MMOs. Dungeon Keeper. The Sims. Shogun: Total War. Populous. Lots of stuff coming out of small, quirky studios.

Of course they have a raft of shallow, derivative titles and outright duds. Look at any game-publishing company and you'll see the exact same pattern. A few innovative sellers, lots of generic retreads that sell gangbusters and a whole host of failed product (not to mention all the unseen games killed off at some point in development).

There's a reason crap games get made. They sell. I remember being shocked when I heard that the third and fourth rate games coming out of my employer made the company more money than the AAA titles. "That can't be right," I said. But it's true. Doing things different means more risk, which means more time, which means more money - the higher risk means less income should the game not live up to its potential, and a higher chance of dropping a project when it starts missing milestones because the concept can't be proven.

All of which comes back to my question: Other than the complaints that might be lodged against any corporation and the specific beefs with videogame corporations, why reserve specific ire for EA?

Mostly this is for Corvus. But anyone else can feel free to chime in.

Fire Away

to the Play with Fire team. I look forward to giving it a whirl.

I do think that Chris isn't giving the game enough credit if he thinks it can't be a mass market success. It just depends on distribution, and whether you're willing to work with those who hold the keys to the realm of the mass market.

What Will "Work" Do to the Uncanny Valley?

Was watching
Las Vegas last night. Wayne Newton was on. He has apparently entered the "hideous ghoul" stage of celebrity life. Pinched, lifeless face, slitted eyes, botox-ed into a static mask betraying not even the slightest humanity.

So what of the Uncanny Valley? Would a decently-rendered avatar of Wayne Newton be more convincingly realistic than footage of the actual Mr. Newton?

In a world where plastic surgery and botox and makeup present more abstracted versions of humanity through mass media, will this ameliorate some of the effects of the Uncanny Valley, or will our interactions with relatively-unaltered* humans maintain the disconnect?

*I use relatively-unaltered because even those of us without plastic surgery typically get haircuts, shave faces, legs or more, wear clothing, etc.

Friday, December 15, 2006

A Copy of a Copy of a Copy

I was watching
a Hunter S. Thompson profile called, Buy the Ticket, Take the Ride, and there's a part where Thompson talks about typing out whole sections of novels from Hemingway, Faulkner and Fitzgerald. His motivation, says a friend on the program, was because, "I just want to feel what it feels like to write that well."

Thompson later described it as almost like performing a piece of music.

This process, apparently, has a healthy history. And a present, it seems.

I may have to try it out sometime.

Already Embalmed

I know some haters might question
the relevance of this, yo . . .

But continuing in the same vein as Wednesday . . .

Want to see a bunch of wankers fellate a living corpse?

I'm pretty sure you don't, but just in case: Cheney and Bush praise Our Most Clueless Defense Secretary.

AKA, Mr. Gosh-Golly-Gee, The War Won't Last More Than Six Months.

Right on the nose.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Bury Him on a Garbage Scow

Want to see
a bunch of wankers fellate the corpse of a mass-murdering thug?

I'm pretty sure you don't, but just in case: National Review Celebrates a Despot.

Props to Thor Halvorssen, whose response seems horribly out of place amongst the laudatory and the laudatory with small nods toward the messier points of despotism.

And to all those conservatives and libertarians who talk about the miracle of Chile's economy under Pinochet, repeat after me: I do believe in fairies, I do!

Party Time

Andrew Stern over at Grand Text Auto has dished out
some enticing information about the next step for interactive drama beyond Facade. It's called The Party and it's about . . . a party. Cool. Read the press release for the premise.

He also asks a few questions. I'll pick and choose a few to answer.

Issue 2) Even if there is richly generated story, can the player affect the generation of the story in significant, meaningful ways? I.e., is satisfying agency possible, and did this occur in Façade?

Response: Yes. Yes. Okay, fine, I'll give a longer response. Satisfying agency is definitely possible within the confines of a story. This is, in fact, the major premise of most pen-and-paper role-playing games. Much of the elasticity of PnP RPGs comes from having a human gamemaster's imagination to generate content on the fly, but most GMs put a strong narrative in place to provide focus. My experience attempting to play a pick-up game of D&D ended in boredom while the GM got stuck, threw cliches at the player characters and created an incoherent mess.

I got a few moments out of Facade that made me feel as if I truly affected the story - getting kicked out of the apartment is particularly memorable. My criticism rests with the premise. Having the couple argue is a good way to keep conversation moving, but it's also a good way to make players so uncomfortable that they don't want to get involved. Not getting involved is not what you want from a game. Be careful about the possible social reactions you might spark in your players.

Facade might have worked even better structured like the movie Two Girls and a Guy. The titular Guy has been dating Two Girls. The Two Girls find out when they are waiting outside his apartment. Guy gets home and the arguing begins. Accusations, flirtations, apologies, etc. As interactive drama, the player could choose the gender of the third person in the triangle. Maybe they would be the Guy role (think of this as a gender-neutral Guy), defending Guyself against the Two Girls. Or one of the Girls (gender-neutral Girl), trying to find out how long Guy has been cheating, who he really loves, all those nagging questions cheatees ask themselves.

Issue 3) Using an open-ended natural language (NL) interface, Façade attempts to allow the player to speak anything they like to the characters. What succeeded and what failed here?

Response: People suck. Nothing failed. The problem is that, when faced with limitless options, people will be disappointed when their own clever, obscure query comes back with a stock answer. "Ah ha!" they think. "I've foiled the system." No, dumbass, you just don't know how the game is played; Never be my improv partner.

Issue 6) By rendering its characters in a more illustrative style a la alternative comics such as Optic Nerve and Eightball, Façade attempts to break away from mannequin-ish, stiff-faced polygonal characters, hyperrealism and the uncanny valley. Simultaneously this technique allowed for the faces to be drawn procedurally, and therefore results in them being quite fluid and expressive. Yet, many players and reviewers considered Façade’s graphics to be crude. What’s the solution here?

Response: Sorry to say guys . . . the graphics were crude. This isn't an impediment to making a good game, but it is to bringing one out to the mainstream.

The problem might be the flat cartoony look. Think about South Park - it's bare minimum stuff. There's no musculature, which can be very important for reading emotion, not just eyes and mouth. Sure, anime uses a similar style, but anime is really good with overexaggeration, not subtleties. Interactive drama can only be helped by subtleties.

I wouldn't mind seeing a 3-d cartoony look. The humanoid characters in the Ratchet & Clank series or Jak & Daxter have a lot of weight to their faces, muscles that are both exaggerated yet allow for a great amount of subtlety.

Also - body language. This is a tough one. Facade's body language was passable. Barely. Good luck with this one guys. I'd start maybe with a core set of open/closed, familiar/protected stances (standing and sitting) and then tweak from there, add in beats that can be remixed procedurally, maybe even personal tics for each character.


As for The Party . . . maybe give us something a little more meaty to do, something to tie everything together. A mystery of some kind.

Which makes me think. This format would be great for an Angela Lansbury-type murder mystery. A dinner party in an out-of-the-way mansion. An eccentric millionaire, shot in the back. Whodunit?

Monday, December 11, 2006


Just when I thought I had said
my piece about greedy fucking music companies, I read the latest in the New York Times about the myriad ways in which Universal Music Group and its ilk use their inflated sense of entitlement to bilk both artists and consumers.

Major labels are starting to demand cuts of concert earnings, t-shirts and other merchandising revenue.

That's right, the best (and probably the only) way for a band to get and stay profitable for any length of time, and the major labels are sniffing around like frat boys at a high school prom afterparty.

They're pissed, see, because overcharging for CDs isn't making them a ton of money. Digital downloads are growing in popularity (the online-savvy like Apple and Amazon have gotten a jump on the major labels) as are other unconventional methods of getting a patterned series of vibrations into peoples' ears. This cannot stand!

No, really, fuck these clownshoes.

Also contained in the article is the single biggest reason to never, ever buy a Zune player (did anybody really need a good reason?): Every Zune you buy gives a $1 kickback to Universal Music. Because you might beam a song to the other loser in your town with a Zune. This is a travesty.

Remember, when you listen to music that is audible to other people, you're stealing from Universal Music.

Steve Rifkind says that illicit file-sharing online and burning CDs for friends is what can account for the minor drop in album profits. Because people have never been able to record and share music for friends until this point in time. I know I've said this before, but I want to drive this home: People who steal music can not count as lost sales, because there is no reason to expect that, were stealing not an option, they would pay for it.

First, CDs still cost too much. This is a fact. I can barely find a CD for less than 15 dollars at a retail store. Ten years ago I bought most CDs for 12 bucks, when the industry was desperate to get everyone to stick with this new format. Then, when tapes were successfully killed, prices went back up. Even though it costs pennies to mass produce CDs. Anyone else see a problem there?

Of course, the real problem is that buying CDs supports all those really shitty artists that get overhyped by the industry. One catchy single gets spit out, payola gets it on the radio, more payola gets it on MTV, Pharell does a beat, it gets sold as a ringtone, the single turns out to be the only half-listenable thing on a wretched album, the artist disappears and the industry churns out something new the next week. So not only do you contribute to that ridiculous cycle, but then you also put money in the pockets of washed-up hacks like Britney Spears and Ashlee Simpson. They get millions from labels to be "names," while not contributing anything to any facet of society. Meanwhile, all those B and C-list artists on the label are lucky to get table scraps; Hell, they're lucky to be able to afford their own contracts (most artists end up paying for their own marketing, production, management, crew, etc., then splitting whatever's left if they have a band).

I've gotta go. I have to finish playing this tiny violin for the execs at Universal Music Group.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Needlessly Political

Matt Taibbi just might be
the best contemporary American political writer. At least for my philistine generation, a bunch of uncouth louts with no appreciation for conventional wisdom. We hardly remember bipartisanship except as something right-wingers shout when they've lost all power and are afraid of even the slightest retaliation.

So go read his assessment of the kabuki that is the Iraq Study Group. This is distantly amusing to me inasmuch as the President has already announced that he will ignore any of the ISG suggestions that even remotely represented changes in policy. Basically, he's going to stay the course. Big fucking surprise.

Really, if Iraq didn't want to descend into a brutal sectarian civil war, then why did they allow themselves to be invaded by the United States?

The Three Main Options for Not-Leaving Iraq are:
1. 15,000-30,000 more troops accompanied by boisterous clapping and only a vague sense of what might constitute "victory"
2. Hunting al-Qaeda, or people who might be al-Qaeda, or people who might have once said something similar to "al-Qaeda", dragging them into the night to some dank CIA gulag where they will be tortured for years and never charged, then dumped onto the streets of an Eastern European country, broken and alone
3. Support majority Shiites in their "cleansing" efforts against the Sunnis

Those are all very viable options. For continuing Operation Massive Fuckup.

The truth is, the White House is waiting for the hard-hitting facts sure to come from the reports of the Department of Defense and the State Department before making any firm decisions to stay in Iraq indefinitely.

President Bush asked for cooperation on the new old Iraq plan, which means he wants critics to shut up and do whatever he says. That's the definition of cooperation. Never mind that the majority opinion wants to begin withdrawing from Iraq and that almost 70 percent of Americans think we're losing ground. Bush wants us all to play along until he can figure out how to declare victory.


In other news, we're Number One!

The US has the most prisoners in the world, ahead of both China and Russia.

A large portion of them are drug offenders.

Prohibition totally works! Well, it works in the sense of creating a permanent criminal underclass which are easily exploited and have very little participation in greater society.

It feels good to be a winner.

Friday, December 08, 2006

The Value of Things

I quit Emusic because
I haven't been listening to music much lately. It got to be too much of a hassle to browse through a whole lot of unfamiliar artists. The genres were only a minor help and there was never any clue as to the professionalism of a recording. Clicking for a preview caused an obnoxious pause, which meant that there was little enjoyment to looking for new bands.

The best thing about the service was the basic MP3 format and lack of DRM. But a few months ago they changed their plans, charging more for fewer songs. This didn't affect current subscribers, but made me suspicious nevertheless.

I'd really like to see how my dollar breaks down for digital downloads. Emusic, for example, typically charged about 40-60 cents per song. Itunes charges 99 cents across the board. Emusic claims to be supportive of indie artists, but how much of a cut are they actually getting? From what I've read, Itunes is particularly heinous in this regard, taking a huge profit and dropping a few pennies to the respective artists.

Itunes is essentially the Wal-Mart of digital music. They set a baseline price that must be adhered to no matter what the circumstances. The sheer scope of the service is tempting to new artists - all those eyeballs. But in exchange they have to settle for a very low cut, much lower than they could make if they regulated their own downloads.

I'm also interested in knowing whether my money will reach an actual creative person, or just some asshole who dropped a bunch of money on copyrights and has been squatting on them for years.

Case in point is Vongo, a new video download service. I grabbed their downloader and browsed their collection. Not bad, but not great. The prices suck. Renting is cheaper overall than at Blockbuster, and you have the added luxury of not leaving the house. Buying movies ends up being just as expensive as getting a used DVD or searching the bargain bin at a department store - except, you know, with a whole mess of DRM attached to keep you from burning copies or putting it on too many computers. We're at the stage where a digital copy of a movie should cost about five bucks, maybe a little more for new releases.

Now it's true that streaming a movie from computer to television is possible, but that requires a technology buy-in that is out of reach to many, and can be needlessly complex even for those who desire such a setup.

TV and music and movie downloads are hopelessly beholden to the greed of their respective distributors. While I'm not opposed to making money, per se, that's not what the current business model is about. The current business model is about continuously elevating profits. If profits don't go up then it must be the fault of the no-good consumers, whose constant piracy is taking money away from hard-working CEOs.

Hollywood is notorious for bitching about this, putting out commercials about the lowly grip who can barely feed his family. To which I say: Stop pouring millions into spoiled "stars" and shift some of it to those lowly grips or toward cutting production costs.

More griping to come.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

License to ill

Last week I was hit by the flu from hell. It's still here with me, clogging up my head and sandpapering my throat. I've missed three days of work so far.

So that's been fun.

In game-related news, I picked up Guild Wars: Nightfall and re-activated my WoW account. Yes, two MMOs. I am that insane.

To be honest, though, Guild Wars doesn't really play like an MMO. At least, not for me. It's really a decent single-player RPG that happens to allow you to team up with other people. Except you don't have to team up - that's its beauty. The combat is incredibly fast, which is good, and you can take on groups of enemies (like in City of Heroes). I leveled up to 20 in about a week, which is the cap, and yet only got 1/10th of the way through the storyline. This is an interesting way to tackle the grind, but it doesn't quite feel right. After you reach max level, you no longer earn more stats, just points to upgrade the skills of your NPC heroes. Your bar continues to fill up, though - when it maxes out it goes back to zero and still shows level 20. This is especially frustrating when you run into enemies that are level 26 or greater, or when you get owned again and again by a large group and you know that beating them won't be as easy as leveling.

Instead you have to juggle your skills. I thought this would be an interesting dynamic but found it tedious. There's no way to auto-loadout yourself. There are also the aforementioned hero NPCs which require the same micromanaging - no auto-loadouts for them, either. So most of the time you just throw some skills into the bar and hope for the best. Because each skill is so specific it's difficult to compare them - they definitely need to add meaningful choice into the selection. The only time I'm sure that a skill is worthwhile is when its elite (which you capture from monsters much like the Blue Mage, except it only works on bosses).

The crafting system is decent, I like it better than WoWs (easier to manage, for one, and not based on separate professions). While there are standard weapons and armors, you can add different kinds of runes, et. al., as well as customize weapons to you for a damage bonus. This means that you can truly make a specialized set. It's also nice to be able to dye your armor, a pretty basic feature that WoW should consider for, at the least, capes.

Which brings me to WoW. I created a new character so I could join some friends. I made an Undead Warlock on Thunderlord, a PvP server. I don't like PvP servers, and this one hasn't changed my opinion at all, not after some high-level Alliance wasted twenty minutes of my time ganking me in Sun Rock.

Blizzard has done nothing to prevent that sort of behavior. They never implemented dishonorable kills (not that I've noticed). I also can't help but think that not being able to communicate from Horde to Alliance makes it that much easier to grief people. At the very least it would be nice to be able to say, "Kill me, you assholes!"

Still, it's WoW. Probably the most fascinating reason for their success is that their style is largely based on limitations of the RTS games that were made into strengths. The first Warcraft, while simple, introduced an abstract quality. This was changed into a cartoony, hand-drawn style for the second. The third game brought in 3-d and, because of the necessity of zooming in and out and panning the map quickly, low-poly models were necessary. They also extended the abstract nature, turning the buildings into ballooning, angular representations.

Blizzard took all of those pre-established styles and leveraged them into their MMO. The abstraction allowed all kinds of jutting plants and buildings to dot the landscape. The hand-drawn cartoony graphics made hi-res textures unnecessary. The low-poly models of Warcraft 3 allowed for a simplified 3-d modeling style. All of these, in turn, made it so much easier to deliver a stable, fast, lag-free online experience. The art is synergistic with the technology. So almost by accident they got this completely distinguishable image.

I also have yet to play an MMO that can give me the same sense of awe. Guild Wars has some gorgeous scenery, evocative of each area, the water sparkling as if full of jewels in one area, stagnant water and heavy plant cover in another. But what it lacked was any kind of place where I could feel part of a great huge world. Part of this is due to the way every zone in Guild Wars has a portal - nothing is seamless. A little thing like that can have a big effect.

Oh, and one other thing I liked about Guild Wars: last names.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

House of Card

What the hell happened
to Orson Scott Card? Does anyone know?

I'd blame it on Mormonism, but he's been deep in that since the early 70s.

While Ender's Game might have had its flaws it was nevertheless provocative and unpredictable. The way it showed children wrapped up in society's greater struggles and political machinations was incredibly powerful. To a fifteen year old that kind of message can be life-altering.

My favorite of his books is one called Treason. I would still recommend it.

I also enjoyed his short story collections.

But I first knew something was amiss when I picked up one of the later Ender books, Ender's Shadow. The writing was atrocious with a capital-A and, hell, capitalize the C, too. There were even numerous grammatical errors. I thought two things:

1. Either Mr. Card never wrote any of his earlier works, or
2. He hasn't written any of his later works

His new book, Empire, looks to have that very same lack of quality mixed in with some bullshit political formulations. It reads like a tenth grader ripping off Robert Heinlein and combining it with Red Dawn. I especially cringe at Card's characterizations of his military men, perfect copy for a fascist pamphlet. Add to that a completely ridiculous scene of the President getting killed by men with rocket launchers.


Of course, I'm not sure what to expect from a guy who calls himself a Democrat, idolizes Zell Miller and hates liberals. They used to call those guys Dixiecrats. He also supported George Bush, hated Kerry and Edwards and defends Fox News. There is nothing at all Democratic about him. He's virulently anti-gay, denies global warming, "distrusts" Darwinism and wholly supports every aspect of the bogus War on Terror. In short, he's a big fucking phony. Political parties should be able to sue for slander when someone claims allegiance to a party and yet voices opinions that are wholly antithetical to the party's platform.

Maybe the ravages of lifelong hypocrisy can turn you into a shitty writer.


And to add to Thomas' addendum: I think it's clear that Card obviously doesn't have even a sliver of knowledge of American government and culture. Brunswick, Maryland isn't really different from Winchester, Virginia. Hell, Rib Lake, Wisconsin isn't very different from Fitzgerald, Georgia. The red-state/blue-state division is so generalized that any fiction based on it will be caricature of the worst kind. It makes me wonder if Mr. Card has actually traveled at all in the US. Maybe that's where things went wrong - as soon as he started writing about Earth (Ender's Shadow also took place on Earth) then all of his ignorance could shine.

It's a shame, really.