There are two issues on my mind this morning, one of importance to a large number of people, one probably not nearly as many. Well, maybe not in the same way. The big thing on my mind is that there are protesters tying up Detroit’s freeways to complain about the appointment of an emergency financial manager to run the city. The other one, by comparison, is tiny: a few people lost their jobs at LucasArts; although it’s not nearly as important, it does affect a lot of people directly and indirectly. Nonetheless, let’s take these issues in order of magnitude as I see them…
If you’re not familiar with Detroit’s financial struggles, I’ll summarize it by saying there were a number of years after Mayor Dennis Archer left office that were filled with extraordinarily wasteful spending and mismanagement, that combined with the decreasing population, crime, and occasionally hostile relationship with the surrounding communities and state in general led to today’s current financial crisis. The economy tanking didn’t help either. Once mayor Kwame Kilpatrick was forced to resign and went to prison, we were hopeful the city would get better. The interim mayor, Ken Cockrel, Jr, honestly wanted to make a difference, but when he lost the regular term election, he resigned himself to just muddling through like the rest of the city council. When the city didn’t elect him mayor, he basically gave up any hope of improving the city. So as Dave Bing took office, he chose not to do anything to either help or hinder the new administration, and the new administration could certainly have used a lot of help.
Before I go any further, let me state flat out that I believe in democracy. I believe that no one has the right to take away our right to vote and effect changes through the democratic process. I think that Rick Snyder’s emergency manager laws and just about everything he’s done since taking office as Michigan’s governor have been to the detriment of the state of Michigan, and especially to the city of Detroit. So you can clearly understand, I don’t want an emergency financial manager in my city. That said, I don’t want the current mayor or city council either.
In the five years that I’ve been back in Michigan, the mayor’s office and city council, regardless of administration and individuals in office, have proven not only to be inept as managers of the city’s finances, but incompetent in terms of running the city and protecting its citizens. Every time they’ve had the opportunity to make a positive difference for the city, they’ve failed to do so. At every opportunity to protect the citizens of Detroit, they’ve failed to act. Whenever there was opportunity to higher police and fire personnel, they’ve chosen to cut their pay, stretch their hours, and put the blame on them for the city’s inability to meet its financial obligations. Mind you, both of those departments have taken at least two or three 10% pay cuts since I’ve been back in Detroit, not to mention cuts to their pension, health insurance and forcing the employees to pay more of their health insurance costs, eliminating overtime, mandatory furloughs, and more. Yet the city council and mayor get driven around in city owned vehicles, have full time police officers guarding them, and make more money a year than probably any five officers on the streets.
The only things that the mayor and city council have excelled at are mismanagement, inaction, and the inability to set aside personal views and bullshit to do what’s in the best interests of the city and its citizens.
But I still don’t want an emergency financial manager. Frankly, the state owes the city several hundred million dollars, and Snyder is constantly dangling a carrot in front of the city’s leaders in order to get his way. It’s really a shame that the city’s leaders were too busy fighting each other to see that. It’s a shame that they couldn’t have worked together when they still had a legal ability to run the city to fix the problems or at least work together long enough to prevent Snyder’s coup de tat.
But you know what I really hate? I hate that there are idiots out there, protesting the emergency financial manager situation, by inconveniencing the people of the city of Detroit by slowing down and halting traffic on the freeways. They claim it’s raising awareness. Where the fuck have you been if you don’t know that Detroit has been in a financial emergency and that the fucking governor has overthrown this democracy? May God forgive me for this, but every GOD DAMNED CITIZEN IN AND AROUND THIS CITY KNOWS WHAT’S GOING ON, and fucking up traffic for everyone isn’t going to help the fucking situation! Did you learn NOTHING from the Detroit New/Detroit Free Press strike in the 90s when they tried the same fucking thing? Those News and Free Press employees had everyone’s sympathies until they started fucking with the traffic in the exact same way you morons have been doing. You know what happened? The strike fizzled out because they pissed the rest of us the fuck off! What the fuck do you think is going to happen this time? You’re going to lose any sympathy you might have otherwise gained by making people late to work, miss their planes, and otherwise inconveniencing them. Do protests the traditional way or the modern way. The Arab Spring was started as a series of social network posts; are you idiots so backwards and dumb that you can’t match what those souls overseas did? Fuck! Get a fucking clue already!
In the interests of full disclosure, I have barely left my house in the last week because of work so these “protests” haven’t affected me in the least, but if you’re going to protest, you should do it the right way. You don’t want to piss off the people you’re trying to rally.
I almost don’t even want to talk about the other subject now… But I will because I feel the need to talk about it…
Earlier this week, I read an article that stated that Disney is closing LucasArts games. I think this is tragic for multiple reasons. Perhaps the most important of these reasons are the employees themselves, who now have to find and secure new employment to support their families in an already tough job market. I wish them all the best of luck. If you have some time on your hands and can afford to not get paid for a while, a friend (who works in the game industry as you do) and I might have some ideas if you want to work together…
But my personal spiel on the issue is that right as the company was free from Lucas’ iron grip for the first time in its history, just as its chains fell away so that it may pursue its own destiny, Disney put a bullet into the back of its head.
I admit it. LucasArts hasn’t been what it once was for a very long time. I believe I made a serious rant about Star Wars The Force Unleashed already. I can’t seem to find it, but I’ll say this about the game: it’s heart was in the right place, but it was a horrific failure in many respects. LucasArts outsourced much of the work to other companies, typically those that were more familiar with one platform or another, but the basic fact of the matter is that the story was strained at best, there were numerous graphical issues, and I beat a Jedi master (boss) on one level because she fell off a platform and I didn’t early in the fight. I stood there waiting for about 5 minutes for the fight to continue, but she never returned and eventually timed out. Yes, that’s a win for the 3 physics engines, but it’s shit game play.
But when I think about LucasArts, I don’t think about the more modern games that it put out. I think about The Dig, Sam and Max, Full Throttle, Monkey Island, Dark Forces/Jedi Knight, X-Wing vs Tie Fighter and a whole slew of games from that era. I think about the imaginative forces that went into creating something that wasn’t necessarily visually stunning, but was engaging and endlessly fascinating. I think about the creative staff and minds that came up with those games, and I wonder what the hell happened over the last decade or so.
Then I think about everything George Lucas has done over the last 17 years or so, and I have my answer. George was a visionary. He was extraordinarily creative, and I love what he created. I hope my own work is one day as loved. But between becoming a businessman and a father, he lost that spark. I have no way of knowing, naturally, but I suspect that the offices of LucasFilm and LucasArts were filled with people that wanted to stand up to him on a lot of issues in a lot of the products they’ve released in those 17 years, but were powerless to do a damned thing about it. I think I mentioned that before. But with the sale of LucasFilm, LucasArts, and so on to Disney, there was a glimmer of hope that these talented individuals could have branched out and done something new. They had the hope of bringing something fresh into the Star Wars universe and perhaps fresh new universes altogether. There was so much potential that had just been unchained… But it’s gone now. In the blink of an eye.
I hear that some of what they were working on might still see the light of day. I hear that some employees will be merged into other divisions. But I think the best thing that could have happened is no longer a possibility. It’s very difficult to bring together a team of talented individuals in the best of circumstances. Given the prestige of LucasArts, the pressure of of working with an outstanding legacy, and having to generally bastardize a lot of the things they idolized growing up… One could hardly say that working at LucasArts with Mr. Lucas himself in charge and overseeing everything was the “best” of circumstances… Yet without Lucas there… They had potential again. They could have branched out and explored other avenues. Done things differently for the sake of doing things differently. But that’s gone now. In the blink of an eye.
No, I didn’t watch The Walking Dead. Frankly, I was impressed with the one or two episodes I saw, but it isn’t my show. I more or less gave up on the undead when they started twinkling in the sunlight… Not that I even want to hint that TWD zombies do, but I stopped caring about the whole genre or movement at that point.
What I am talking about are the other two major players, a couple of other [dark] dra-medies, and one hell of a twist in a favorite of mine, that blew me the hell away.
Lets start with the obvious: two shows this weekend hard their season premieres… In chronological order, no pun intended, Doctor Who and Game of Thrones. Lets not kid ourselves, these were probably the two most anticipated shows on television this weekend, and frankly I don’t think either one disappointed. Mind you, I don’t think either one impressed me or made my jaw drop, but they were pretty damned good. I won’t talk about either show because I probably would literally receive death threats over the lack of spoiler warnings for either or both, even though my average readership is about 5 people per month, and I personally know 4 of them… Still, I’m pleased with the Doctor & Oswin, and she’s gotten hotter since her previous two appearances. On Thrones, I barely recognized some of the key characters I love (and one I despise though it’s not the actress’ fault) because they gained weight since last season, and I was pleased that a character survived a seemingly imminent death though it wasn’t explained how… I could have stood to have seen my favorite characters a bit more in the episode (one of which I don’t think was seen at all) but I have nothing negative to say at all about it.
Don Cheadle and House of Lies continue to impress me, though I really do miss the fourth wall breeches from the first season!! There have been some, and more importantly, there have been some looks that Don has given the camera that have been priceless, but I admit that I’m feeling a little disappointed that the lightheartedness in the face of the serious situations the characters were going through last season isn’t quite there… There are some serious issues going on with them, and it’s undoubtedly going to come to a head in the season finale, which I believe is next week, but that spark has been missing this season… I believe I heard it got picked up for another season, and I’d hate to see it go, but if that spark doesn’t return I’m not sure viewers like myself will…
Californication… Well, needless to say I continue to wish I was Hank Moody… That’s all I’m going to say about the show.
So that brings me to the show that most impressed me this weekend. Strictly speaking, it’s out of chronological order in terms of air time, but I did watch it last, so my timing counts. When I realized that this weekend was going to be the season premieres of Doctor Who and Game of Thrones, I immediately decided that there was no way in hell I was going to miss the first run of the new episode of Thrones, and I set this surprising show aside, deciding I’d either watch it at its encore time or later in the week. While I’m not sorry I watched Thrones, I really wish I had been able to watch both it and Shameless at the exact same time, so that I could’ve watch Shameless again during the encore presentation.
Ever since I watched Shameless when it debuted on Showtime a couple years ago, I enjoyed it. I thought it showed a beautiful little cross section of the fucked up realities of this world and a family doing what was necessary to survive. I’ve loved the cast since minute one episode one, and while I concede that the second season didn’t feel as good as the first, and this third season at times has been as much a struggle for me as it has been for the characters, I still watched it regularly, and pulled for the characters.
I said no spoiler warnings on this site, and I’m keeping to it, but I will tell you honestly, watch this fucking episode if you can, even if you don’t regularly watch.
To give you a quick series summary and briefer, Fiona Gallagher takes care of her younger siblings because her alcoholic drug addict father neglects and steals from them and her equally fucked up mother is mostly absent from the series. The family has a knack for petty crime and theft, selling drugs, and doing other crimes more or less to survive, and they have a knack for not getting caught and avoiding serious punishment when they do. The second oldest child is Lip a brilliant high school student resigned to play the role of a streetwise criminal and following mostly in Fiona’s footsteps, making his family his priority in his life over all other things, though he is caught between his love for a pain in the ass slut that recently returned to Chicago that he thought he was over and a psychotic girl that literally tried to kill the rival for Lip’s affections by running her over. Just a little younger than Lip is Ian, who is in love with Lip’s psycho girlfriend’s brother and the idea of being in the military. Ian is just as focused on the family as Lip and Fiona, but takes a more practical approach to most things except the men he cares about, in which case he chooses the hopeless romantic routes. Carl and Debbie are the comic relief pre-teens and exact opposites of one another: Carl isn’t very bright and is constantly getting into trouble, Debbie is smart, a little mischievous but otherwise a good kid if a bit naive. Then there’s Liam, the baby brother that proves that the Gallagher bloodline is a little more colorful than people would expect… Fiona has a boyfriend Jimmy that used to go by the name of Steve while he was being a car thief. His secret problem this season is that he’s married to a druglord’s daughter and was trying to help her get her green card. I’ll discuss this situation more in a moment. The family’s best friends are Kevin and Veronica, neighbors from a couple houses down the street. They may as well be blood relatives, because they couldn’t be any more family otherwise.
Then there’s Frank, the patriarch. Frank, honestly, is the asshole that has somehow wormed his way into my heart as a viewer and time and again, as evidenced by the pained expressions on everyone’s faces on the show, found a way to abuse just about every major and minor character on the show in some way, shape, or form, and yet remains popular and likable enough that no one has killed him yet, but no one is ever happy to see him. He’s played masterfully by William H. Macy. If I ever write a movie about my dad, I want Macy playing him, even though there is a slight racial difference… Frank has done many, many, many terrible things to his family in the course of this show, including calling child protective services on them to get back at Fiona for kicking him out of the house. There are many reasons to completely hate him, but you find yourself drawn to him, and I think that’s a testament to Macy’s performances. And because Frank was the most surprising element of tonight’s episode, I’ll come back to him…
Back to Jimmy… Jimmy is from a well to do Chicago family, had gone to the University of Michigan Medical School, and somehow became a car thief in Chicago when we meet him in the first season. Fiona had the opportunity to run away with him at the end of the first season, but chose her family over him, and he left. When he returns in the second season, we discover that he’s married to a woman but we don’t know much about her or why, we just know that while she likes him and in particular to have sex with him, that neither one is particularly interested in their marriage. This year, we find out that it was arranged by the druglord to allow his daughter to have an education in the United States and get a green card. All season, we’ve felt bad for Jimmy because he’s caught in this terrible situation: he can’t dump his wife and be with Fiona, the woman he loves, because his father-in-law would have no qualms in killing him. He loves Fiona and wants to be with her, but he can’t tell her about his wife. He struggles to help make ends meet, but at just about every turn he’s essentially getting kicked in the balls by life. And now, it looks like Jimmy is about to go away permanently, because his wife got deported and her father was none too pleased.
That was big enough on its own.
That could have made this episode all by itself.
But it’s not the highlight of tonight’s episode. Hell, it’s barely a side show by comparison.
Tonight, we got to see that Frank actually does give a damn about his kids, at least to some extent. Although it was purely selfish, he caught up with Carl on his way to school and asked to see if he could stay the night at the house, and Carl said yes. Mind you that Frank convinced Carl earlier in the season that he had terminal cancer so that he could somehow score money and possibly a signed basketball from the Chicago Bulls, though none of that panned out. Carl, not being the brightest of the Gallagher children, still hasn’t figured out that it was a scam that Frank pulled. But Frank and Carl got to talking later that night about how Frank’s father had pulled a heist with him when he was Carl’s age, and Carl liked the idea enough that he proposed that they rob the couple that had taken him in for a few days or weeks as foster parents. (Let’s just say that Carl wasn’t happy to be there.) They go and do the heist, and appear to have gotten away scott-free, and Carl is very pleased with himself and his budding relationship with his father.
That is, until, the police show up in the final minutes and are carting him off to jail. Lip and Ian try to defend their little brother and get the police to leave him alone, but it’s Frank that wakes up and willingly and happily takes the blame for the theft, swearing that Carl didn’t have the brains to tie his shoes, that gets the kid freed and yells encouragement to the boy as the police drive off down the street.
Needless to say, Lip and Ian were just about as stunned and shocked as I was over it. To quote Lip, “hell just froze over.”
I love Doctor Who. I love Game of Thrones. I enjoy the hell out of House of Lies and Californication. But tonight, maybe even this weekend, belonged to Shameless! A great fucking weekend for television, but Shameless made me write this post.
I’ve complained about Star Trek Online before, so this won’t surprise you too much. I’ve gotten hours of enjoyment from STO so I’m not devastated about the limits that have been imposed on my characters for the last the years. There has been a steady flow of new content for the last two years so I haven’t had much to complain about because there was frequently something new to do.
Then a few weeks ago, they started hinting at something big coming in May. The rumor sites were predicting that this would be a large new featured episode, but instead Cryptic/Perfect World announced the first expansion for the game. The biggest thing that is being added to the game in the expansion is something that has been rumored to be in the works for years, since the beginning in fact: the addition of a third faction lead by the Romulans.
That’s great and all, but something significant is missing: there’s no level call increase.
I know that I’m probably overstating this issue, but my main character has been level 50 since June 2010. There’s been no way to really increase my character’s abilities since then, though I’ve been able to get new ships, weapons, equipment and personnel. My character is effectively stagnant, and that has had a major impact on my desire to play the game. Sure there’s plenty to do but it’s all busy work or repetition if I do it on one of my other characters. The only hope for advancement and intrigue is on the Klingon faction which I have barely used. So I’ll have another option with the Romulans. But once I hit level 50, I’m stuck again.
There’s been no level cap increase that I’m aware of since the game left beta shortly before it was released. Why not? I don’t have a clue. Blizzard has increased the level call in World of Warcraft multiple times, sometimes by 10 levels, others by 5, but they realize the importance of character advancement to retaining player interest. EA/Bioware even sees the importance of character advancement to Star Wars: The Old Republic with their first expansion pack, advancing a modest 5 levels, but at least it’s there.
The failure to increase the level cap leaves me speechless. Perhaps the game was never designed to go past level 50. I’ve heard of games where critical problems would occur if the character exceeded a certain level, because math was foolishly based on the level or an algorithm depended on a lookup table that was only extended to a certain point. One of my favorite games of all time had such a flaw: SSI’s classic gold box D&D game Curse of the Azure Bonds. Of course that game is nearly 30 years old now, but maybe increasing the cap would break the already seriously strained and tenuous connection that the two game engines in STO already struggle to view with. Maybe not.
I just can’t believe that they would think that adding new content alone would be something to keep longtime and lifetime members interested in the game. After all, they’ve been giving us new content on a regular basis for years. Why would we get excited over something we’ve expected for years in light of the regular content updates. Let us advance, keep the Romulans for all I care.
You may (or may not) have noticed that I’ve been quiet lately. I haven’t made any posts in weeks, and I haven’t exactly been around on the web anywhere else either. The primary reason is that I’m now working at my hosting provider, A2 Hosting. I loved their service so much, I joined the company! Any how, I’ve had less time to do everything else.
However, that hasn’t stopped me from working on a pet project, that I’m calling Toxyc.net, located, quite obviously, at http://www.toxyc.net . The name has nothing to do with what the site is for — honestly, it was a domain name that I thought was cool and had intended for another purpose, but I’ve now abandoned that other project, so why waste a perfectly good name…? The site is still very much under development, so right now there’s only the index page over there, which will allow you to pre-register for the site. What the site will be is fairly simple: it will be a place for writers to post writing prompts and challenge themselves by writing responses to writing prompts. It will allow writers to build a community with each other and a little friendly competition to hone our skills. The funny thing about writers is that we all want to be a part of a community, but we’re solitary by nature. We want to be hailed as geniuses, but we often are too shy to share our work. I hope Toxyc.net will help change that for us.
Any how, I still have a lot of work left to do, but the major pieces of the underlying engine are done, I just need to assemble them and check for any leaks. (Obligatory auto mechanic metaphor since I am from Detroit.) If you’re interested, go sign up! If not, well, thanks for reading this far.
So the currently least well kept secret in the gaming industry has been unleashed, the Sony announced the PlayStation 4 this evening. You know what? I’m not completely blown away. I’m satisfied, mind you, and I’m looking forward to owning a PS4, but I’m not blown away by anything that was demoed tonight. Well… Maybe Killzone: Shadow Fall… but then, I’m a Killzone addict.
Frankly, I liked what I saw for the most part, and I think this is going to be a fun and interesting system to own. I have little to complain about the PS4 itself. It’s using an x86 processor, in all likelihood, one of AMD’s Trinity APUs since the term APU was thrown around repeatedly and they, frankly, are about the only game in town when it comes to an APU. Connected with that, by extension, will be an AMD Radeon based GPU in all likelihood, which will allow graphics performance to be improved via Radeon’s hybrid Crossfire X technology. Undoubtedly these will be customized processors, designed specifically for the PS4 and not commercially available, but ultimately, as Sony stated, this will be basically a PC machine. I’m both pleased and disappointed by that… The Cell architecture was really advanced and I think another generation of it in a game system probably have blown us all away with its processing capability, but then as was pointed out several times this evening, the complexity of developing for it has been getting in the way of PS3 development. Similarly, it’s an acknowledgment that at some point, I could put together a machine with similar or better specs, and perhaps find a way to get PS4 titles to run on my desktop… Not what they want, obviously, but possible… However, by using mostly off the shelf components, it’ll drive the cost of the machine down tremendously; I paid $500 for my PS3, and I don’t regret it, but if I can pay $300 or less for my PS4, I’ll be hysterically happy…
Of course, the long standing rumor is that the next Xbox will also be based around an x86 processor, and has even been rumored to use Radeon GPUs as well… I suppose you could say that the day of the consoles is over, despite the constant proclamations that PC gaming is dead [thanks to the consoles]. Even with Valve’s upcoming Steam box, it’s little more than a PC running Linux… Ultimately, it’s very interesting to see that the PS4 and Xbox could literally be kissing cousins, and I wonder how long it’ll take the hacker community to figure out how to get a PS4 up and running on a next generation Xbox’s OS and vice versa, possibly to multi-boot the operating systems and have one console to rule them all… The advantage of exotic hardware is difficulty in bootstrapping it and then getting a compatible OS to run on it, or developing such an OS… PC hardware… well, let’s just say that the hardware is extraordinarily well known, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see someone running Linux on the PS4 or next-gen Xbox on release day.
As for the rest of the announced specs for the PS4, they’re interesting… Though it’s also interesting what wasn’t announced in those specs. So we know we’re getting 8 GB GDDR5 RAM, which should give developers lots of memory to play with. A constant criticism of Sony’s consoles over the last 13 years has been the limited amount of memory they have. 8 GB goes well past the rumors I heard just today; this morning I read that it would have 4 GB RAM. Still, 8 GB seems like a lot, and it might be enough to last a long time, but one of the complaints I’ve seen about x86 hardware is that it typically requires more RAM for some things, not to mention that there’s still that legacy memory hole between 640k and 1 MB. Not that that’s very big or important these days, but it may have been more advantageous to include 16 GB RAM rather than just 8. Back in the days of the PowerPC Macintoshes, many applications running on the Mac required and used less RAM than the PC version of the same application. Maybe it was MacOS versus Windows, or big-endian versus little-endian. I don’t know. But this may be an issue.
As I mentioned, it’s curious what wasn’t mentioned in the specs of the PS4, though there may be good reason for that. We can assume it will have a Blu-Ray player, but it wasn’t discussed. There was no mention of network connectivity besides the fact that we know it will connect to the internet. Will it still have an traditional ethernet port? Or will it be wifi only? What wifi standards will it support with 802.11AC coming up soon? We know the current PS Move controller will work with it, but will Dual Shock 3 controllers? Does it even have Bluetooth, or did it go with a proprietary wireless technology like Microsoft did with the Xbox 360? It has a hard drive, but what size? Will the hard drive be removable and user upgradable? Will it have USB ports, and if so how many? Will games be encouraged to allow keyboard and mouse where applicable, such as in a MMORPG or certain FPS games that have a history on the PC? It’s not going to be directly backwards compatible with the PS3, but they stated that you would some how be able to play PS3 (and earlier) games eventually, possibly through Gaikai technology… Will that be free? Will I have to mail in my PS3 games to play them on the PS4?
There are lots of unanswered questions, though I think a lot of them were deliberately left nebulous for two reasons. The first and most important reason is so that Sony has some flexibility in adjusting the final specs before the console goes into mass production, in order to maximize profit (or at least minimize initial loss), without being accused of scaling back the features and power prior to release. That’s why we didn’t hear an official gigahertz speed being bandied about, and I, personally, didn’t hear anything about an 8 core processor being used even though that’s the top raging rumor at this point. As hard drive prices fluctuate, APU and GPU processor production yields vary, and whether or not 802.11AC gets made into an official standard or not, Sony can take its time and evaluate which combination of technologies will go into the final production version of the PS4, and they can determine a suggested retail price for when the release actually occurs, all without taking fire. Well, any more fire than they probably already will for moving away from Cell. (I should note, however, that IBM, the primary producer of the Cell processor in collaboration with Sony pretty much stopped active development of the technology some time ago, so the best we’d have gotten would have been perhaps a multi Cell processor game system or one with a souped up clock speed; not necessarily a better processor or better technology.) I suspect the second major reason that we haven’t gotten an official announcement about all those things left unsaid about the PS4 is that Sony didn’t want to reveal any more information than necessary considering that we all know Microsoft’s Xbox division was sitting there watching this announcement (despite their proclamations that no one cared what was happening tonight).
I’d say there’s about an 80% chance that there was a product development meeting going on at Microsoft at the same time as and extending for several hours after the PS4 announcement this evening. Microsoft wants to make people think that it doesn’t care. Microsoft needs to believe that they know their new console will be so much better than Sony’s that they don’t need to lose any sleep over it. The fact of the matter is that they are losing sleep over it, just like Sony’s been losing sleep over theirs. It’s been a game of one-upmanship; always has been, always will be. Except that Sony didn’t quite do as good a job in the last generation as they should have. In my opinion, the PS3 was and still is superior to the Xbox 360, however it’s not as superior as it should’ve been for a console that came out a year later. They lost the initiative and as a result trailed the 360 for pretty much the entirety of the life-cycle of the generation. I still think that PS3 exclusive games look and play better than Xbox 360 exclusive games, but with the added development complexity and the fact the cross/multi platform games consistently look and play worse on the PS3 than the 360, I have to concede that Sony lost out. I also think that Sony failed to deliver in that generation with some of the features they promised would come along… Take cross-game chat, for instance… It was mentioned as coming soon as far back as 2008. When PlayStation+ came along, it was stated that you’d be able to initiate a cross game chat as a subscriber, but it still hasn’t come to pass. Hell, the option to take screenshots was added to the PS3 firmware years ago, but most games don’t support that at all… And it’s things like that gave and gives the 360 the momentum and Microsoft the bragging rights in terms of popularity. As owner of both a 360 and a PS3, I’ll tell you that my 360 is extremely dusty and rarely used. I’ve never experienced a red ring of death because I haven’t used it sufficiently for it to happen. I hated the crappy headset that came with it, and the cable broke, forcing me to buy the crappy wireless headset that will only work with my 360. I HATE having to pay a subscription fee to play games with my friends online… But at least it came with a headset, my PS3 didn’t. I initially used a USB one I already had, then got the official PS3 Bluetooth headset which I’m currently also using with my cellphone. On the other hand, I had to buy a battery for the 360′s controller in order to use it wirelessly; at least the PS3 controllers have built-in rechargeable batteries which don’t get a memory nearly as fast as the expensive 360 batteries do. (The one and only battery I bought for the 360 became useless within months of buying the system. My PS3 controllers’ batteries are still going strong, and I’ve had them longer.) Yes, my PS3 is a little more dusty than it used to be, but that’s because I’ve been doing a hefty amount of writing, PC gaming, and reading as of late, but whenever I get the Netflix urge, or the desire to blow something away, it gets powered up immediately.
I love my PS3, and in the Sony-Microsoft war, I favor Sony. But in the last generation, they came second. PS3 was considered second for development of titles, and inferior products were often produced. I have to admit that. I think that Sony announcing the PS3 so far ahead of even E3 is an attempt to gain the upper-hand this time around, and despite Microsoft’s outward indifference, they’re probably very concerned about what they saw tonight. Of course, Microsoft as a long history of assimilation that Sony probably didn’t take into consideration… Microsoft many times in the past has either bought out rival technologies and incorporated them into their own product, or just incorporated the features claiming to have had them all along. I think the only time they didn’t follow that pattern was with the Xbox 360 with the HD-DVD technology versus Blu-Ray. Now, I’m not going to reopen old wounds, but Microsoft had a huge stake in that fight and lost, and though they phased out the HD-DVD external drive for the 360, they never admitted defeat by producing a Blu-Ray drive for it. They would claim that the Xbox didn’t need it, or it didn’t fit within their platform design, personally, I think they were just holding a grudge and refused to swallow their pride. At the very least, I think they have to include it with the next Xbox just to stay relevant… After all, Nintendo didn’t and their Wii-U is looked upon as even more of a toy than the original Wii was now; they put themselves out of contention for the dominant next generation platforms.
Any how, getting back to tonight’s announcements, I think the biggest disappointment for me was the Square Enix “announcement.” They basically got on stage, got screen time, and showed a demo that I swear they were showing a couple years ago. The Luminous game engine demo they showed was showcased at a prior time… It may have been last year’s E3, it might have been earlier, as I believe it was. I know it’s old, because I recognized it as soon as it started playing, and as an industry outsider, it’s impossible for me to have seen it running on the PS4 before tonight. But it was not something that was cooked up to demonstrate the PS4′s power, and I don’t know why they were allowed to claim as much. Unless, of course, when it debuted previously it was running on a PS4, but some how I doubt that. As a result I thought their announcement was pathetic and sad, especially when they then teased a Final Fantasy announcement at E3. As a friend of mine said during the presentation, “If it’s not a FF VII remake, I doubt if I will care.” Square Enix can spend all the money they want on new engines and developing new technologies, but the fact of the matter is they’ve lost their way with the Final Fantasy franchise. They are, like so many newer game developers, are showcasing pretty graphics and perhaps some interesting game play rather than telling a good story through their games. That’s why Final Fantasy 12-14 aren’t doing all that well… They forgot how to tell a story in their games. That’s why everyone wants Final Fantasy 7 to be remade. It was probably their last game that seemed to have heart and soul; the only think it needs is to be updated graphically. Square Enix claims it would be impossible, that it would cost too much to do, and take too much time, yet they want to waste their time on inventing new game engines and claim performance break-throughs that they aren’t actually demonstrating. Frankly, considering they’re sitting on the code to FF VII, I don’t see what the big deal is. Sure, a lot of it would probably need to be reimplemented to take into account the higher memory requirements of the high definition graphics, and yes they could use all sorts of more modern graphical techniques to accomplish some of the things they did in the original, but we’re ultimately not talking about developing a whole new game mechanic. We players were fine and happy with the old school game mechanics, and Square Enix’s own purported technology demonstration shows us that they have the time and techniques to update this classic game. So why not do it? I wish I had an answer. All I can say is that of all the things I saw at this announcement, I was most disappointed by their segment.
So… That’s where I stand on things. The PS4′s hardware, at least as announced, isn’t exactly mind blowing, but I concede and acknowledge why they’ve taken the direction that they did. I’m more curious than ever about Quantic Dream’s Beyond, and although I knew that Killzone would eventually be represented on the PS4, I was fully expecting it to be a version of Killzone: Mercenary, not a completely new title. I nearly peed my pants when I saw Shadow Fall. I’m not kidding. But the one thing that was missing that I really, really, really wish had been present was an announcement from Insomniac Games stating that the Resistance franchise would be present on the new console.
The Resistance series really didn’t get the recognition it deserved. As one of the PS3 launch titles, it (Resistance: Fall of Man) was frequently compared to Gears of War, which it really shouldn’t have been. Yes, it was the launch shooter game just like Gears was, but it was a first person shooter versus a third person shooter, set in the past rather than the future on some unknown planet, and had a really deep storyline. And the multiplayer on all three games, though different in each case, was amazing in each case. I still love playing the first one and dropping air-gas grenades on my friends. I absolutely love the teamwork based co-op on Resistance 2 that involved several basic missions spruced up randomly by changing starting locations, events, and objectives. And the competitive multiplayer in R2 was exceeded only by M.A.G. (by the now defunct Zipper) in terms of simultaneous players! Resistance 3‘s story and multiplayer modes were even more fun, frankly, though the game definitely seemed to be Insomniac’s way of saying goodbye to the franchise… The end of the game seemed to say it all, and sadly I don’t foresee a new entry to the franchise on the PS4, but I strongly urge Sony and Insomniac to reconsider!
Similarly, since I mentioned M.A.G., I fear that it will not see a follow-up, nor will we see a new SOCOM on this generation now that Sony has closed the studio formerly known as Zipper. M.A.G. was flawed, big time, but it was and is a fun game. I think the concept is great, but I think it never got the polish it really needed, though Zipper was working towards accomplishing it. I think it’s sad, however, that the M.A.G. website and apparently development went quiet once SOCOM 4 got announced. Those the game is still playable, and I fully intend to pick-up my 2+:1 KDR as a sniper at some point, the game is practically abandoned. It’s parent is no more, and Sony doesn’t seem the least bit interested in continuing it. And once Unit 13 was shipped out the door for the Vita, the future of the SOCOM franchise became uncertain as Zipper was promptly dissolved. Will we see these games revived on the PS4 at some point? Seven years is a long time, so maybe we will see it happen, but I wouldn’t hold my breath…
Finally, as far as wishful thinking goes, I want a sequel to Heavenly Sword on PS4. As nice as God of War is, I don’t want another God of War game. I want to breathe new life into Heavenly Sword, another PS3 launch title that has long since been dormant. There’s no reason that Noriko should continue to be ignored; the game was beautiful, the game play was beautiful, and the story was amazing. I would sell my car today to pre-order the PS4 if I knew that a new Heavenly Sword game was coming, But alas…
So, there you have it. Everything that’s on my mind regarding the PS4, the next Xbox, a few kick ass games, the laments and concerns I have for a few franchises, and one brain dead presentation. Take it as you will, and discuss freely.
(Disclaimer: It’s late, I’m tired, and I’m hungry for success and a good Philly cheesesteak.)
April 28, 2012. That was the official date of my graduation from Oakland University. It was the date that I officially received my Bachelors of Arts in Cinema Studies (Criticism). It was and is a far cry from where I thought I’d be twenty three years ago. On this date precisely twenty two years ago, I was attending — flunking out of, really — Michigan State University, addicted to CNN’s coverage of the [first] Gulf War, eating Gumby’s Pizza, while trying to figure out how I could recover from the mess I was making of my life. I’d abandoned the Air Force R.O.T.C. as I felt the detachment never had its act together. I abandoned my major, because electrical engineering simply wasn’t what I wanted to do but there was no computer science program at MSU dedicated to churning out programmers, at least as far as I was able to discover at that time. In reality, while I was — and am — fascinated by programming, it ultimately wasn’t and isn’t what I really wanted to do with my life. As I told a friend recently, I only really got to be good with programming because when I was a kid with my Atari 800XL computer, I didn’t have a word processor nor did I know what one was for several years, and so I took to trying to create something that would just let me write.
Writing… In all honesty, it’s the only thing I’m truly good at. I personally don’t think that I have the vision of some of the greats; I don’t think I could write thirty or forty novels with the same characters like some authors have. I tend to think that my stories are simplistic and often immature, that there needs to be a moral that I’m failing to add.When I read my stories, I find them entertaining, but I often feel they’re missing something… Something to move them from good to great.
So when I finally gave up on the tech industry after it abandoned me yet again, I decided to shift gears and move from my logical, technical side to my more creative side, and hope to build a career in writing. When the film industry started picking up and all the stars aligned and the Cinema Studies program became available at Oakland University, to which my mother is an alumnus, I enrolled thinking about screenwriting as a potential career.
During my three years at Oakland University, I’ve had some truly great teachers, and I’m going to name names here for all of you out there. If you’re lucky, you’ll be fortunate enough to have one or all of them as your teacher one day. Dr. Kyle Edwards, head of the Cinema Studies program, accepted me in with open arms despite my technical background, and taught one hell of a class on Sound Era Films. Dr. Ross Melnick was only there for a single year, but I was fortunate enough to have him for three classes, and I’m astonished at how much film and theater history there is to learn courtesy of that man. I’ll never look at or think about a Roxy theater without thinking about the man behind the name now. Dr. Doris Plantus-Runey is an eccentric genius and I looked forward to every damned minute of her screenwriting and adaptations classes. Hunter Vaughan is not quite as eccentric but no less a genius, though I must confess that film theory beyond montage is not my forte. I must also thank him for exposing his students to Last Year at Marienbad and a few other esoteric films that really make you think, and don’t just entertain. Expect the unexpected! Dr. Heidi Kenaga is another slightly eccentric professor, but I don’t think there’s anyone that knows more about films. Name a film and she can discuss it in detail, and I was very fortunate to be taught by her in each of my three years at OU. There are others as well, including some outside the Cinema Studies program such as my Japanese teacher, Masae Yasuda — who moved on to the University of Michigan — that are more than worth noting. They’re worth thanking and appreciating. To all those I’ve left unmentioned, thank you!
I seem to have left the rails of my original train of thought… Or have I? Without these people, these classes I’ve taken, and the opportunity to sit and stew on all that I’ve learned, I don’t think that it would be remotely possible for me to embark upon a writing career, let alone do it successfully. Not that I’ve gotten there yet, mind you, but I needed to be shaped and honed. I certainly look at every television show and film with a more critical eye, identifying the things I like and dislike the most about them. I can now spot themes I never would’ve consciously noticed before, and I can question and appreciate the choices made in the writing phase more than I ever could before. I may have earned at BA of Cinema Studies, but what I really did is build a set of tools to help me achieve my goals. They can’t be given, they have to be developed. When combined with the skills I already possessed, I have no excuse for not succeeding. My stories may still lack something of a moral character, in my eyes, but that doesn’t mean they’re unacceptable. The point of many stories, like mine, is to entertain, and so that’s what I’ll do.
I have the tools, I just have to use them.
To that end, I’ll bore you for another few moments with a brief discussion of some of the things I’ve watched recently, and what drew me to them. First and foremost are the shows that I love because they simply make writers look cool, Castle and Californication. I watch both of these shows because of the writer connection, the fact that I’m living vicariously through each of the central writer characters which are wildly successful compared to myself, the humor, the writing, and the actors playing the writers in question: Nathan Fillion and David Duchovny. Perhaps I read too much into it when I draw a parallel between the two actors as both were on wildly popular if not successful sci-fi shows at some point before they took on these authorial personae, but given the “mundaneness” of their current characters’ career choices, I like to think there’s some hope for myself. Similarly, I watched Midnight in Paris earlier this evening, starring Owen Wilson as a screenwriter aspiring to be an author. Besides the obvious parallel to my own life, or desired life, this film was intriguing from many different points of view, even if you don’t like Owen. Frankly, it seems that Woody Allen might make me a fan if he keeps this up! Then there’s House of Lies starring Don Cheadle. There’s no good excuse for watching it other than I enjoy it, but there’s something that was done often in the first season that is so far largely missing from the second, and I hope it returns before they lose my viewership: breaking the fourth wall. Marty, Cheadle’s character, would regularly talk to the viewer, hold up cue cards, and do bizarre things that none of the other characters would notice during every episode, and I loved every single moment of it because he was an acknowledgment of the absurdity of his character’s situation. It’s been used sparingly so far this season, but I hope that’s because they’re saving it for something really good. The final thing I want to mention is House of Cards, a Netflix produced series available exclusively (for now at least) on their service. Like the other House I mentioned here, the main character — Francis Underwood played by Kevin Spacey (another one of my favorite actors, by the way) — frequently breaks the fourth wall, bringing a bit of levity and insight to the otherwise deep and heavy political angling and pressure of the show. I’m not saying I’m a fan after watching the first two episodes this evening, but I love what I see, and I have to admit that I am beyond fascinated with Underwood’s relationship with his wife. He may have the political power and ability to scheme like no one else, but he appears to be as deadly loyal to his wife as she is to him, though it is clear that she holds some measure of power over him. I think the thing that caught my attention in the first episode was when she said to him in no uncertain terms “My husband doesn’t apologize to anyone, not even me” which forced him to reevaluate his reactions to a political snub. There’s an oddness to their relationship that I can’t quite define yet, but it’s going to have me coming back episode after episode.
So I’ve rambled on for almost exactly fifteen hundred words. (Well, exactly that at “words.”) Why? Because I’m not where I thought I would be more than two decades ago. Because I have developed the tools to put me where I want to be two decades from now. Because I know what I like, what I want to capture, and what I’m going to give you. It’s time to stop delaying and panicking and start writing and crafting. I may not get there this year, but I will get there. I’m now putting forth the effort to get there, and if I fail, well, that’s fine too. But I’m not going out without trying. Clancy Brown, in his role as Kurgan in The Highlander, said “it’s better to burn out than to fade away.” I get that now. It’s better to give it my all and fail than to have never tried at all. Perhaps I’ll have a brief but brilliant career. Perhaps I’ll have a long and amazing career. Perhaps not. But if there’s no effort, I’ll never know. If I can’t put a moral in my stories, then I’m going to put sin in. Just know that something wicked this way comes!
One of the very first posts I did on this blog was a review of Star Trek Online. It was scathing at times and a bit harsh. I still mostly stand by it despite the progress the game has made since then. More on that later. Since that time, I touched on DC Universe Online, which, I should note, I haven’t touched since that post. When World of Warcraft’s Mists of Pandaria came out, I said… nothing… I was too busy playing the hell out of it. But somewhere in there, I missed Star Wars The Old Republic. This was deliberate, but I’m correcting that now.
There are two major reasons that I didn’t touch the game, The Old Republic, before now: I had personal, if petty, issues against BioWare (the developer) and I couldn’t afford another game subscription. So I never bought the game. There are additional reasons, mind you; I didn’t like the art style, still don’t like some of the play mechanics, and I didn’t particularly want to play in the Old Republic era of the Star Wars universe. Now that the game is free to play, I thought I’d give it a shot this week, and long story short, I’m coming down mostly positive on the game. I’m not going to say it’s flawless or even that I’ll play it long term, but I’ll say this much: BioWare knows how to make games and it can be an enjoyable experience.
I suppose I should explain my beef with BioWare. Back in 98 and 99, I started tinkering around as a programmer on an operating system called BeOS; I won’t go into that here and now, but it was a great little operating system and BioWare was pledging to support it with the new Dungeons and Dragons game Neverwinter Nights. Well, the client was never released and I was and am fine with that. I played the hell out of NWN under Windows and Linux, and I was happy with it. But suddenly around 2004, they were done with it, and handed the franchise off to someone else, which left me and the other players hanging. Fine. Then they got the rights to develop Star Wars Knights of the Old Republic, and because they were nice and cozy with Microsoft and only interested in Windows development, really, they made it Xbox exclusive.
There’s one thing that you should know about me. I am very much anti-Microsoft. I am an Xbox 360 owner. I do use Windows (among other operating systems) on my computers. But I have no love for Microsoft particularly for their actions that led to the downfall of Be, the maker of BeOS, my employer from 2000 through August 2001. That deserves an unverifiable fact filled rant of its own, but I needed you to know why I began to despise BioWare.
Suffice it to say that they made themselves appear as a Microsoft exclusive developer and I wanted no part of that. Knights of the Old Republic 2 and Mass Effect came out as Xbox exclusives and pissed me off. When I finally caved and got a 360 (after I got my PS3, mind you) I got Mass Effect and was very dissatisfied with the play mechanics. This brings us to The Old Republic. (Off subject but for the record, my 360 is pretty much a paperweight; I got it to play a few select 360 only games with friends, but I mostly use my PS3 or PC for gaming, Netflix, etc.)
When The Old Republic trailer was released I thought it looked great, but something obvious was nagging me. They’d used a lot of near photo-realistic action in the trailer, but I didn’t think any of it was using in-game footage. And I was right. Later when they revealed the in-game footage, everything had a much more cartoony look and feel to it. In fact, it’s still a bit cartoony now. Frankly, I hated that for the game, and I still don’t like it much. For Star Wars. Cartoony is OK if it works; I wouldn’t want it in all my games, especially not Star Wars or Star Trek Online. There’s a certain connection you build with franchises that have used live actors in live action films, you expect to see live actors or near photo-realism in games based off of them. That’s what I wanted and expected out of The Old Republic, and I didn’t quite get it. The game that I’ve played for the last few days isn’t as bad graphically as I thought it would be, but it’s not as good as I had hoped. But graphics aren’t everything.
The game play in The Old Republic is very reminiscent of WoW, but then again, it would be hard not to be. The control scheme is fairly simple and straight-forward, uses a number of the keys and mouse in a common sense sort of way. I have no gripes about that per se. There was something in the original announcement that made me cringe with regards to the controls, but either they since changed that or it’s not as bad as I thought it would be… Whatever it was, I can’t remember it and I haven’t yet run into it. So I’ll leave that alone. But there is one thing that I keep running into that fucking drives me nuts… Every now and then, when I’m running along with my finger on the W key to move forward, and I adjust my view slightly with the mouse, the entire view kind of flips in a weird way and I end up running my character in the opposite direction I was just headed, and the camera is staring up at my character from below. It could be me doing something, but I don’t think so. I think it’s a weird bug that hasn’t been significant enough for anyone to complain about. Well, here I am, complaining about it.
Beyond that, my biggest problem with The Old Republic is the fact that it’s set thousands of years before the Star Wars events I know so well. I can’t tell you how many Star Wars novels I’ve read; it’s certainly a number measured in the dozens. I read the entirety of the New Jedi Order series and all of the ones that followed it to date. I read the X-Wing saga, and all the Timothy Zahn books, and quite a few of the Republic Commando books by Karen Traviss. I know that Star Wars. I have even read some of the books from the Old Republic days, including Darth Bane Path of Destruction. I’m familiar with a great deal of legend and lore in the Star Wars universe, even if I don’t know the details. It would have been entirely possible to make a game called The Old Republic that was set much closer to the more modern events, but BioWare chose to go old school. There are hints of things familiar all through out the game, and I guess that’s what keeps me playing and interested so far, but by the same token, there’s nothing keeping me excited about the game. Every time I think about it, I think “Meh, it’s alright.” And that’s just it, it’s alright. I can think of worse ways to spend your time, but I wouldn’t give it a raving review. Would I subscribe to it? Perhaps if I had a paying job, but as that’s not the case, I’m going to enjoy the free-to-play aspects as much as I can. I have a rant coming up on free-to-play, so stick around.
In the nearly three years since I wrote the review on Star Trek Online, it has changed a lot. You can now, for instance, visit your ship’s bridge and move around the ship. Quests are often a little more complex and interesting. There are more moments that make you feel like you have an awesome ship, especially when you get to the top rank, level 51 Vice Admiral. (Which, by the way, I have been since July 2010, a little more than a month after my review, and in that time there has been absolutely no level cap increase!) In the last year or so, they added the ability for fleets (the game’s term for guilds) to have a starbase that gets improved through the contributions of the fleet’s members. They added duty officers which perform tasks that earn various rewards and abilities as you go through the “ranks” of assignments. Most importantly, they fixed a shitload of bugs! But the biggest fundamental problem still remains… The game is still mostly boring, and I still don’t bother to read most of the missions. For the most part, it’s still “go here, kill that, scan this, report your findings.” I suppose I should cut STO a break… That’s pretty much the standard procedure in almost every MMO, so why should I be so hard on it? I’ll put some thought into it and get back to you on it. Nonetheless, there’s little that draws me to the game. Late last year, I did spend a considerable amount of time in it, trying to get new ships and, now, try to help out the fleet I joined recently.
What probably angers me more than anything else is the fact that I spent in excess of $200 to become a lifetime member, and the game is now free-to-play. Sure, there are perks to being a lifetime member, but I hate receiving these fucking “lockboxes” as rewards, then having to spend the Cryptic/Zen points that I receive as a monthly stipend (or bribe to keep playing) to get it. And you know what? Even though various special ships are supposed to be in some of those lockboxes, I haven’t gotten one yet! That’s the only reason I open the damned things! Any way, free-to-play may have saved STO, but I would also contend that it’s ruined it… Again, more on that in a bit.
Another problem I have with STO is the fact that it’s hiding two separate and distinct game engines tied together, and that isn’t working terribly well. I had a fairly long conversation with one of my best friends, Maxx, today about STO and the many places they went wrong. He believes that they went wrong in not following the J.J. Abrams reboot of the franchise, and that game play should have included things like doing a space jump onto the drilling rig, as seen in the film, and fighting on it. I found myself in the odd position of defending STO because the game engines just couldn’t handle it. And that’s the part of the problem with STO. Cryptic sold the copyright/license holders on a great concept that was way too long in coming, and then they did a half assed job in putting it together by developing a new game engine for the space combat and travel, and married it to a game engine they already had that wasn’t really up to the task. Instead of building a game engine specifically for STO, with games offering all sorts of capabilities like Assassin’s Creed out on the market, they chose to limit themselves to what they thought Star Trek should be and/or has been. They saddled us with space game-play that has no option for legitimate 3D maneuvering; true that most people would probably prefer 2D or even the 2.5 -ish that we have, but there are those of us that would love to have 3D maneuverability! They then combined it with a lame ground game-play engine which, after three years after release, still isn’t as smooth as it should be. There’s a lengthy (20-60 seconds depending on the day) while the game switches between these two distinct engines! Not to mention there are terrible issues like not being able to actually enter most buildings on away missions. How do they usually handle it? You click on the doors and wait while the game loads the new area! There’s no running back and forth between areas for the most part, except in a few lucky zones in the game. You can run back and forth into and out of almost all buildings in The Old Republic!
I personally love the fact that they continued on with the original timeline in the Star Trek universe (which is mainly what our argument was about), but Cryptic really fucking dropped the ball with the implementation of the game. Another direction they could have gone, which Maxx and I agreed upon, was that you could have played as a crewman on-board a ship, doing your job and getting called upon for away missions or repelling boarding parties. You would advance through the ranks until eventually you get assigned to be a part of the bridge crew, and your career would culminate in becoming captain of your ship! But what did we get? Once you’re done with the tutorial missions, you are the captain of your vessel with a rank of Ensign. Yeah, I pointed out that ultimately, everyone wants to captain their own ship, but in a five minute span of sitting in the Sol System (the main Federation base around Earth), you can probably count a hundred or two hundred ships warping into or out of that system. Does everyone really need to have their own ship?
Honestly, I think what happened, looking back at it, is that Cryptic had hoped to make some quick money with STO and then shut it down when it wasn’t successful. That explains the lifetime memberships like mine: a quick and easy $200, plus a lot of other people paying $30-$60 for the game, and then monthly fees to boot. Even before they went free-to-play, they were selling ships and some other stuff. They were probably hoping for a quick buck then were going to get out of the Star Trek franchise and licensing. But there was enough interest and support to keep them in it, until they got bought, and now they are stuck with it as a part of Perfect World Entertainment. I really do think that they dropped the ball so fantastically on this game that it had to have been deliberate. I’ve got no evidence, but the way it functions seems to indicate it. I think that’s why it’s improved over the last year or so; the developers that were expecting to drop it at some point are now realizing that they’re stuck with it, and are getting around to fixing the problems. But ultimately, it’s still two lame game engines married to each other. If they’re going to make this turkey a swan, they’re going to have to scrap the current two-engine design and build one custom one from scratch. Otherwise STO is doomed to remain a black sheep of the Star Trek legacy.
Any way, this brings me to DC Universe Online… I took a look at the game on November 3, 2011, and wrote the commentary on my trouble getting into the game at that time. I would have sworn I wrote an actual review, but I don’t see it… Maybe I put it up elsewhere, or simply deleted… No matter… I didn’t like the game much. I had problems with it all over the place, and didn’t load it again. Until a few minutes ago, when I decided to try to take another look at it for this commentary. That’s when I downloaded a 140 MB patch which, like last time, was followed by a much bigger content patch. This time it was about 7 GB of data it wanted to download. As I wasn’t going to be able to finish that tonight and play it before I finished this lengthy commentary, I’m skipping it, and probably won’t attempt to load the game for another year or more…
All of this brings me to the first and best MMO I personally have and currently play, World of Warcraft. WoW has its critics. There are tons of people griping about it all the time. Hell, I saw people complaining about it while running around this last week in both STO and The Old Republic! It is the 800 pound gorilla in the room that murdered the previous 600 pound alpha male, Everquest, and left it to rot in the woods… (Yes, I know Everquest is still around and got some reasonably impressive upgrades recently, but it was never one of my games.) The fact of the matter is that you can’t talk about MMO games without at least mentioning or comparing it to World of Warcraft. Why not? Because it’s that good. Blizzard (I refuse to call them by their new Activision enabled name) developed a crown jewel of a game years ago, and have polished it repeatedly over the years. Yes, the characters and environments are cartoony, but that’s acceptable for the game: it’s never had a live action movie or television show. Not to mention it fits in with the rest of the game franchise. A while back, WoW went free to play for its first 20 levels or so, but it doesn’t matter, because Blizzard isn’t using free to play as its primary way of making money off the game, but as a demo or trial period for the game…! They want to get you hooked on playing it and the subscribe! And you know what? The latest expansion, Mists of Pandaria, makes a compelling argument for subscribing!
Although Pandaria is obviously inspired by and influenced by Chinese culture and environment, perhaps some of the other Asian countries as well, the thing that makes it such a success is that the storylines used in the quests are fascinating! They tell stories through out the quests and the actions you undertake in-game. You feel like you’re advancing the storyline yourself, not just watching it happen around you. You participate in the events, and even though you may be an utter bad-ass, there’s always a challenge to the game. The game makes you want to explore, and find all the details they put into it. Yeah, there are silly things in it, and sometimes I got pissed off playing it, but I wanted to play it every day for a long while after MoP got released! In fact, I did from September through November, when I decided that I needed to play STO for a while. WoW isn’t and probably never will be perfect; I can’t stand the fact that they keep rewriting the damned skill system and that certain abilities my rogue has had since 2005 are now gone, but, fuck, I love this game! I love the fact that, during development, it was determined that loading screens should be minimized! I’ve run characters from top to bottom of continents without ever seeing a loading screen, or in the case of the Ghost Lands, only having seen one loading screen. That lends credence to the world aspect of the game. One of the things I hated about watching my friends play Everquest was watching them reach an obvious wall between zones that triggered a loading screen… You almost never get that in WoW; the key exceptions are when going into instances/dungeons or from continent to continent. I can live with that. It shows that someone thought that loading screens were irritating, and wanted to eliminate them. More games need to do eliminate them! You can’t go an hour in STO, unless you ‘re in a fleet action, without hitting a loading screen. And I’m being way too generous in that statement. Blizzard, thank you for MoP, I hope the next expansion is just as well thought out and detailed!
About Free to Play…
Now here’s the thing about free to play: it’s both a boon and a curse to MMOs. Naturally, almost all games are made with the premise and hope of making money. Most MMOs are developed with the subscription monetization game plan: sell subscriptions to repay the investment costs and to bankroll the continued development and support of the game. That works out great in the case of games like World of Warcraft: they earn tons of money that way, and most MMO games start off as subscription only. Maybe they have a trial period maybe they don’t. Maybe they offer lifetime subscriptions because they’re secretly hoping to leave their players high and dry in a couple years, but fail to act on that plan successfully because they get bought out first…
Along comes the concept of microtransactions and the sale and purchase of in-game content and abilities, and suddenly companies get the idea that they can make more money that way than they can through subscriptions. Sometimes that’s true, as is the case with a number of games out of South Korea. (I’ll be damned if I can name one; nine times out of ten they’re advertised on the side of your popular web comics and gaming sites though.) Most of the time, they keep games that would have otherwise have died a cruel or premature death, games like three of the four MMOs I’ve touched on in this commentary, up and running. In some cases, they make the game significantly more popular, as those that would never have purchased the software and then subscribed to it now have the opportunity to do so. That’s the good and beautiful aspect of it. WoW capitalizes on it, and gets new subscribers out of it. If I had a job, I’d consider the same thing for The Old Republic. I’m on the verge of vowing that STO will never get another dime out of me, but as I’m already a lifetime subscriber and never have to pay them another dime, I don’t see the point in making the vow. I’m fully in support of games being self-sufficient in these terms; they should be able to make income and survive, even if it is a niche game.
But the dark and evil side of it is that some games nag the living hell out of their free to play users! I haven’t seen what WoW does, but STO annoys the shit out of me, a lifetime subscriber, with options to buy stuff. I couldn’t tell you how many different currencies are in STO, but I know you can buy with dilithium with real money which can be used to buy ships and equipment in-game, or be sold for the energy credits which can be used to buy other stuff. I also know you can buy Cryptic/Perfect World’s cryptic/zen points which allows you to buy still other stuff, including “master keys” to unlock the goddamned lockboxes I mentioned earlier. Lifetime members receive a stipend of 500 cryptic/zen points every month to do with as we please, but when you’ve stockpiled 30-50 lockboxes in a short period (and I did!), and the keys cost 150 points each, you can’t exactly run around unlocking all the fucking things to get the real reward they promise… And I’d like to reiterate that I’ve opened quite a few of the damned things, and still have never gotten a ship out of one. Why aren’t the fucking keys given as quest rewards on occasion?
And you know what? In some ways, The Old Republic is even worse! No matter what class you play, no matter what race you choose, there is a big fucking orange coin sitting at the top of your screen. You can see it in the gallery below. That lets you buy an in-game coin which in turn will let you buy better weapons and equipment, and unlock other things, such as different playable races, and CARGO SPACE IN YOUR FUCKING SHIP! That’s right, my level 15 bounty hunter has her own ship, but she can’t just leave anything in her inventory on-board her ship, because she has no cargo space! She has to carry it all around with her unless I spend the money to buy the cargo space! Even STO gives you a certain number of free bank slots! I tried to get a screenshot of the screen on-board the ship demanding 80 coins for the cargo slots, but, oddly, you can’t take screenshots on-board the ship! Could it be because they don’t want you sharing the fact that you’re nagged repeatedly about either subscribing or buying upgrades? I can’t tell you the number of times I was presented with a quest reward that never appeared in my inventory, but whose icon gave a message to the effect of “if you were a subscriber, you’d have some options for this reward.” What it effectively does is say “fuck you, you don’t actually get to have this reward until you pay us.” I suppose that’s fair, to some extent, but why not just give me nothing? Why not as part of the mission/quest completion just say “A reward for this quest is provided to subscribers” instead of giving me an item that disappears before reaching my inventory? If there’s one great flaw with The Old Republic as I see it currently, it’s the free to play system is fucking annoying.
Make money on the game, I don’t care. Make money through the use of free to play, again, I don’t care. But stop being so fucking annoying about it!
Sheesh! Ok, I’ve just pissed myself off about that again, so I can’t think of a better reason not to end this commentary. They talk about the in-game advertising that’s been on its way for a long time. Maybe that’s a good way to make money on games. I don’t know. But in terms of what I’ve seen of free to play, it almost defeats the purpose of playing the game in the first place. No one wants to be nagged constantly about upgrading or buying this or that thing that by all rights they just earned in-game. So we’re getting to play for free… Who cares? We’re playing a game that you are making money on, that’s all that should matter to you. You should at least be a little more respectful of our desire to not be bombarded with reminders that we’re being blessed with your work at no charge. Give us something worth seeking out to buy in-game, rather than presenting us with non-stop nag features. If that doesn’t satisfy you, give us the damned in-game commercials like television has. Instead of a bland loading screen, subject us to the occasional 30 second commercial from Coke or Pepsi, Apple or Google, and leave the game play and game experience the hell alone.
I am not one of the people that believes that the world will be ending in a mere 20 days. I’m not, i just plain am not. In my humble opinion, December 21st will come and go like all other days in my life, and a new day will begin on December 22nd, just as they always have in my life.
However, I will not just arbitrarily dismiss others’ beliefs. In fact, I want to help you fine people. If you believe the world is ending on the 21st, I’ll be happy to take the soon to be useless cash off your hands. If you haven’t already begun preparing for the last day, then money is useless to you now: you’ll probably be dead in under a month, just like I will. So, you may as well get rid of your money, and I’ll gladly take it for you, in my vain hope that life will go on afterwards. I’m not talking about holding on to the money for you, so you can hedge your bets: if by some stroke of luck or the grace of God, December 22nd comes around as a normal day after all, I will not return your money. But as that’s a remote chance any way, why not send me your money?
To make things easier and safer for us both, I’ll accept either Bitcoins or Paypal. Send Bitcoins to 1EDVJJnv9AF6GZQYJwchWSZ4d1kjvZi7en . Use the form below to contact me to arrange a PayPal transfer.
Remember, remember the Fifth of November,
The Gunpowder Treason and Plot!
I can think of no reason,
The Gunpowder Treason should ever be forgot!
As you all are all too aware, tomorrow — not today — is election day, November 6th, 2012. I’m sure all of you are wishing just as much as I am that it was today, November 5th, instead — if, for no other reason, that these damned politicians, special interest groups, and everyone else would stop harassing each and every last one of us with their political ads! I’m sick of it! I really and truly am! Every time I see one it makes me want to vote the exact opposite of what it’s asking me to do! I can’t wait for this election to be over, regardless of who and what wins!
But that’s not why I’m writing this article… The fact of the matter is I’m a Democrat, and I will be voting for Obama, not just because I’m a Democrat, but because I know that it takes a lot longer to clean up a mess than it does to make one. President Bush, well intentioned or not, made a huge mess out of our economy and Obama’s only had 4 years — 4 difficult years — to try to clean up the mess, and right from the start, the Republicans abandoned any intention of trying to work with him to fix the problems. Mitt Romney isn’t a bad guy or the bad guy, but he’s just a symptom of the problem, in my opinion. But you’re entitled to your own opinion, and I’ll respect that and your right to choose as well.
But I’m not writing this article about that either.
I’m writing this article for the simple fact that there are many people that simple just won’t vote. It’s not that they don’t care, and I know that some don’t, but it’s that they feel that their vote doesn’t count any way. Others kind of feel the way I do, that the problem isn’t the particular ideology of the candidate, but the fact that politicians seem to be universally liars and crooks, so no matter who or what you vote for, you’re going to get screwed. And of course, there are those that are simply driven away by all the negative and misleading political ads that all parties utilize to scare people into voting one way or another; we’re all tired of the fucking robocalls, the political ads that come on one after another, day in and day out at this time of year. We’re tired of seeing Mitt Romney or Barack Obama when we go to look at some video on YouTube.
Now, if you’ll bear with me while I temporarily derail this train of thought, I’d like to point out the significance of today, November 5th. Though it is more of an English thing — I can’t quite call it a holiday or celebration — Guy Fawkes was arrested 407 years ago today as part of a plot to blow up the House of Lords and hopefully restore a Catholic king to the throne of England. In some indirect sense, he inspired the push for religious freedom and the right to choose our leaders here in the United States, some 170 years later. This country was founded on the principles to choose, something that many of our ancestors never had the right to do. Obviously, up until relatively recently, that right wasn’t as equally spread around for some as it was for others, but all things considered, today — or should I say tomorrow — it’s a different story.
Although it’s a work of fiction, I actually grabbed the quote, composited the image for this post (of which I own the rights to and got the permissions to utilize none of the source images), and started writing this post more with an eye to V for Vendetta (James McTeigue, 2005) than for the actual politics of voting and our rights as Americans. That story centered around one man’s quest for revenge that had the side effect of liberating England from the tyranny of an oppressive government, and restoring hope to the common people. Although I would like to refrain from drawing similarities between that fictional England and today’s America, I won’t shy away from it: I don’t see my country’s government under Obama as being oppressive, but I won’t stop anyone else from making that comparison. It would be dishonest of me to say that some people don’t feel that way, and I’m not here to lie to you or anyone else.
I would like to speculate that in his quest for revenge, V inadvertently became the kind of leader that I think this country probably could use one day. Someone that is focused on doing what he believes is right,and necessary, not because he wants to wield power or go down in the history books, but because he believes what he’s doing is the right thing to do. Someone that’s not afraid to die if it means he’s going to accomplish his goals. A person that can gain the sympathy of those that are suffering, because he too has suffered. If you’ll forgive me while I dip into my personal politics for a moment, once again, that’s why I’m voting for Obama: he knows what it’s like to go from having nothing to being the most powerful man in the world, and he hasn’t forgotten any of the people on his journey to the White House. Governor Romney hasn’t had to struggle with anything in his life other than winning the office that he desires.
V fought against the fear that the fictional government instilled in everyone. He co-opted their system to beat them. How is that similar to what we’re going through? Every political ad these days uses fear against us: every one is screaming that if you vote for John Doe or for or against Proposal X that the world is going to end. Some ads ask if you’re better off than you were 4 years ago, or compare the “flat economic outlook” to a flat-lining EKG. Lobby groups and Super P.A.C.s (Political Action Committees) act as proxies for their chosen candidates, spending hundreds of millions of dollars on advertising, rather than pump that money into the economy through other means, just so that their candidate can claim to have taken the higher road.
I think it’s time we had a V to fight the political system as it currently stands. Reboot that part of our Constitution, and do things differently this time around. For one thing, I think that no politician should be paid a single cent to serve their country in this fashion. Government service is supposed to be a sacrifice, not a reward. I think their expenses — housing, transportation, food, normal living expenses — should be paid by the government, but there’s no way a senator or representative should be making more money in a year than a teacher, policeman, fireman, and certainly not the soldiers whose lives are on the line for their country. I think that leading this country has progressed to the point it’s more about power and bragging rights than it is about doing the right thing for the country, and this whole damned system needs to be fixed.
But that’s what I think. And I’m voting tomorrow, November 6th, to make the changes I feel are necessary based on the options that I am presented with. So that, ladies and gentlemen, is what I’m really writing this post to say… Yeah, I got here in a very meandering course, but I got here. Go vote for what you believe tomorrow. Take your friends, take your family, take a complete stranger and go vote tomorrow. Because if you can vote but don’t, you don’t have a damned reason to complain about a damned thing in this country. Countless people died to give you the freedom to choose, the right to vote. Exercise it for forever be silent. Exercise it or forever feel the shame that you didn’t try to make a difference when you could.
Remember, remember, the 6th of November,
the day that has not come yet.
Remember, remember to vote this November,
see to it that you don’t forget!
By now you’ve undoubtedly heard that Disney is acquiring Lucas Films from George Lucas, including the legendary film franchise, Star Wars, for an estimated $4 billion. My first reaction and for many hours afterwards was one of absolute horror. But I’m not so sure I feel that way any more… Let me address my concerns with you to explore how I currently feel.
First and foremost, Disney has dedicated itself to being a family friendly and some what child-teenager oriented entertainment company. That’s who they are and have been for decades, and, honestly, there’s nothing wrong with that. They make hundreds of millions if not billions of dollars from it every year. My fear, here, is that Disney will continue the process of making the Star Wars franchise more child-teenager oriented, as it began with Lucas himself in the Phantom Menace and currently the Clone Wars “cartoon.” The original film, now known as Star Wars: A New Hope, wasn’t really intended for children, though it wasn’t exclusive of them either. It was just a straightforward film meant to entertain and tell a story. Both of its sequels were the same way. We watched as Luke evolved into a hero, and were in awe of Hollywood’s best anti-hero of the time, Han Solo! Han shot first. Period. There was no doubt about that, ever! Yet, when Mr. Lucas released it to DVD a few years ago, we were appalled to see that he edited the film so that Greedo shot first with Han tilting (badly!) his head to avoid the shot. That’s a revisionist change to the film, making Han look like an innocent victim that retaliated against Greedo. The idea was to make him purely heroic there, but it’s not who Han Solo was; it’s not how Han has been portrayed in the countless comics and books over the years, and that’s why it was so abhorrent to the fans. When we think of Disney’s involvement in Star Wars, the first thing that comes to mind is that kind of change to the universe we’ve grown up with. When the Clone Wars film headed to theaters, I was looking forward to seeing it, and thought it would be amazing, but it turned out to be meant for teenagers at most, and it felt really dumbed down to me. It felt like a Disney movie. Yes, characters died, but that was unavoidable, and is something that is easily tolerated in films and cartoons targeted towards teenagers. But it was lacking the depth and feel of the rest of the franchise; even the prequel trilogy had more depth to them.
But! Perhaps this move will change things… The problem with the Star Wars franchise has been that Mr. Lucas has been in control of it for nearly 40 years. That, in and of itself, isn’t a bad thing, but his tastes, styles, and vision for the franchise has changed over the years. The person he wanted Han Solo to be in 1977 is different from the person he wants Han Solo to be in 2012. His vision changed, but ours did not. I grew up admiring the hell out of those characters, learning who they were and what made them so beautiful to me. When I started reading the Thrawn trilogy in 1991-2, it wasn’t to see the Han that let Greedo shoot first, it was to see what happened to the scoundrel that would shoot in cold blood the person hunting him. I wanted to see the naive but growing Luke Skywalker and his twin sister, the beautiful but forceful Princess Leia Organa. It was to see the far too intelligent if occasionally silly R2-D2, not the apparently brain dead one that was running into walls in Revenge of the Sith. And I sure as hell didn’t want to have my vision of Anakin Skywalker go from the Jedi knight that became Darth Vader to a 10 year old child behind the controls of a fighter doing purely stupid moves.
Lucas’ vision changed, and that’s fine. But the problem is — or rather was — there was no one that could stand up to him and stop him from ruining our vision of who these characters were. I first realized this trend with Star Wars: The Force Unleashed. While Mr. Lucas didn’t have first hand involvement in the game, he did oversee it’s final stages, the story, and what was allowed in the game. There was no one that could simply tell him that the story doesn’t make a whole lot of sense or that the plot problems it creates aren’t logical. Then I thought back to something I read in an interview with Timothy Zahn regarding the original Thrawn trilogy, basically that Joruus C’baoth was originally intended to be a clone of Obiwan Kenobi, but Lucas had other plans for that clone. Mr. Lucas had absolute control over the Star Wars universe and it didn’t matter what anyone else thought or wanted because he always had final say. If he had chosen to do so, he could have edited out a major character from all of the films, simply because he wanted to do so. He did, in fact, edit out the original actor playing Anakin Skywalker from the closing Force-ghost vision of the character at the end of Return of the Jedi, replacing him with Hayden Christensen, a move that sparked a fair amount of controversy as is. Who was there to stop him? Who could have stopped him?
The simple answer is that no one could. You do the work, or he’ll replace you, as he was entitled to do. We fans tend to think of the Star Wars universe as a universal treasure, something that should not be messed with under any circumstances. We don’t look at it as a property owned by one man, one artist, who is entitled to change anything he wants. I noted this in one of my previous posts, Mr. Lucas, Stop Tearing Down That Empire!
What the new arrangement means is that there is now the hope that someone who is more sympathetic to our vision will be managing the franchise. Maybe we’ll see the return of the scoundrels and villainy that we so treasured in the original films, see the focus more on the general audience than being “family friendly” now that it’s no longer the boss’ vision that is the bottom line. Yes, Lucas will still be a creative consultant on the future films, but that in no way means he gets final say. Maybe this is the break we Star Wars fans have been hoping for. Maybe.
For the record, watching this video is what got me to really start changing my mind…