March 2006

Amateur Hour

I won’t be posting anything to the blog this weekend. Much like driving on New Year’s Eve late at night, I’ll let others have their fun.

Requiem for a Hurlbat

News broke this week that Ubisoft was closing down their formerly-known-as-Wolfpack Austin MMG studio. What this means for Shadowbane is inconclusive, but failing someone with an SGI in their basement swooping down and buying the codebase from Ubisoft (don’t laugh, it’s happened before) it looks like the game will close in a few weeks.

Shadowbane had a miserable launch and shortly afterward went through corporate gyrations Enron would envy, with the great majority of the game’s original creators being unceremoniously kicked to the curb. Those that were left did what they could, and you can be sure that at some point, I will pay them the ultimate compliment of stealing some of their ideas.

Still, it was a significant game in that it was uncompromisingly, legendarily PVP+. You could loot your enemies. Hell, you could loot your “friends”. You could burn down your enemy’s homes, sow virtual salt in their fields, and literally make it virtually impossible for them to continue playing (which, it must be said, probably did not help the game’s revenue model). I would argue that given the handicaps that Shadowbane suffered under for most of its life, the fact that it did as well as it did in terms of a loyal playerbase speaks volumes for the viability of a game that doesn’t treat their players as small children.

Sometimes, if you want a virtual world to have meaning, you have to trust players to make decisions about the world they live in. And threading the needle between empowering players to do so and protecting their play environment from being asploded in a fit of mutually assured destruction is… well… difficult. There’s some games that do that better than others, and not coincidentally, are being rewarded for it in the marketplace.

A game with PvP gameplay at its core won’t dethrone World of Warcraft as the King of All Media. But it can easily be profitable. And I’m sure we’ll see more of them in the years to come.

Until then, there’s always memories.

Lost in Cyrodiil. Send alchemy regs, daedric arrows.

Yeah. So I’ve been playing Oblivion a lot, thus cutting into my valuable blogscore. Damnit!

When not PKing people with my lovingly enchated Flame Bow of Flaming Flames for the Dark Brotherhood, I’m helping to draw up milestones at work. I’ve been jokingly saying “OK, first milestone, let’s have a working client and server!” and only half kidding. Somehow I suspect working with me is much like trying to shoot a crack baby. I mean, you think they’re all helpless and baby-like, but then they start jerking around uncontrollably and you just can’t draw a bead! Plus, me taking an active role in production IS one of the signs of the apocalypse.

So to merge these two strands: I’d like to say I’m taking all sorts of thoughts from Oblivion and taking “this would make a cool MMO!” from them, especially since Oblivion is pretty much what would happen if ninjas showed up at my desk and said “Hey, what do you want in a CRPG, anyway?” Except that with the exception of launching you into a cool plot involving demons and porting into hell within minutes, I’m not sure that there’s much that’s transferable. I mean, a lot of what makes Oblivion cool is where it DIVERGES from MMO-ishness. Morrowind could well have been a single-player MMG, but Oblivion has lots of features such as time compression and spatial compression that wouldn’t work well in a multiplayer environment, and others like twitchy combat and munchkiny use-based game mechanics which are, suffice to say, much easier to do in a single player environment.

I suppose you could take “have a freakin’ huge staff work on content for six years”, which admittedly did work for World of Warcraft, but unless we want every MMG to cost sixty kajillion dollars and thus take no design risks whatsoever, than we probably want to diverge from that paradigm.

Feh. I’m overthinkin’ again. I need to go find more sellable loot – I just got access to the Arcane University, and Daddy’s got an armor enchanting addiction to feed!

Edit: Ironwill on the F13 thread had the perfect criticism of one of Oblivion’s weakest links: the Speechcraft minigame.

Speechcraft is a F***ING JOKE. I have to say ‘your hair is pretty, two men walk into a bar, I am a great lover and GIVE ME EAT’ every time I want to talk to someone?

Yeah, that confuses anyone listening. Especially when I rip through it very quickly to get 70 Disposition fast. “Not now not ever oh you dont say thats a good one please dont hurt me!”

Someone Is Really Unclear On Certain Basic Concepts

Apparently, in Texas, you can be arrested for being drunk in a bar.

I will note to all my NoVa compadres reading this and cackling that:

a) I have it on anecdotal authority that a similar, equally retarded sweep happened a few years back in Stafford, VA.
b) Austin is not technically in Texas. It actually is a hippie encampment in the desert similar to the one in Road Warrior, with the Humongous shouting from a megaphone to JUST WALK AWAY. NO ONE GETS HURT IF YOU JUST WALK AWAY.
c) I am certain there is not enough jail space in Austin to imprison everyone on 6th Street.

If You Want To Keep Custody Of Your Children, Stay Away From Goat Masks

From boing boing, Judge takes a woman’s child away for… um… being a Subgenius.

His Honor also strongly disapproved of the photos of Mary Magdalen [Rachel Bevilacqua] in a bondage dress and papier mach\’c3\’a9 goat\’e2\’80\’99s head. The judge repeatedly asked, \’e2\’80\’9cWhy a goat? What\’e2\’80\’99s so significant about a goat\’e2\’80\’99s head?\’e2\’80\’9d When Rachel replied, \’e2\’80\’9cI just thought the word \’e2\’80\’98goat\’e2\’80\’99 was funny,\’e2\’80\’9d Judge Punch lost his temper completely, and began to shout abuse at Rachel, calling her a \’e2\’80\’9cpervert,\’e2\’80\’9d \’e2\’80\’9cmentally ill,\’e2\’80\’9d \’e2\’80\’9clying,\’e2\’80\’9d and a participant in \’e2\’80\’9csex orgies.\’e2\’80\’9d The judge ordered that Rachel is to have absolutely no contact with her son, not even in writing, because he felt the pictures of X-Day performance art were evidence enough to suspect \’e2\’80\’9csevere mental illness\’e2\’80\’9d. Rachel has had no contact with Kohl since that day, February 3, 2006.

Not only that, she repeatedly insists on using that deviltry known as the Internet!

The reason for Magdalen’s absence (and the lack of the transcripts) became clear as of Thursday, March 9. On that day, I learned that the judge had ordered Magdalen to cease all communication on the Internet regarding her son. This was not a written statement \’e2\’80\ldblquote the judge had verbally ordered her to remain offline, and no written order was available. Magdalen stated that even though the order was verbal, the court considered it to be an official order from the judge, and so she has had to remain offline since then.

However, as of March 15th, Magdalen had obtained legal reputation from none other than the law firm of Lipsitz Green Fahringer Roll Salisbury & Cambria, LLP. (This firm includes Larry Flynt and Marilyn Manson among their clients.) Magdalen’s legal team is challenging this order. When the order is overturned and she is online again, she will have quite a story to tell.

Lesson: in America, don’t piss off the judge. Or else you’ll get TEXAS JUSTICE.

V for subVersive

Like every other geek, I saw “V for Vendetta” this weekend. (I’m not kidding – I went to go see it with 2 other game developers, and we ran into another one coming out of the theatre. Someone should have passed the hat for Jack Thompson’s legal aid fund or something.)

I’ve noticed a common theme among some liberal blogposters – that V will “wake up the sleeping public” to the evil that Bush’s men do and, hopefully, the aroused electorate will show up to the ballot box next election in Guy Fawkes masks voting a straight Democrat ticket.

Well, I don’t tend to agree – among other things, I suspect if that happened, said suddenly enlightened electorate would be pretty disappointed at the almost identical results they’d get – but I do think the movie had some pretty important things to say at the margins.

Not so much the overt stuff; just as an example, I never read the graphic novel but I’m given to understand that the movie inherits its bludgeon-like “THOU SHALT NOT BE MEAN TO GAY PEOPLE” message from Alan Moore’s belief in the 80’s that Margaret Thatcher was trying to drive out homosexuality from Britain a la St. Patrick. With Britain being among the most tolerant of Western societies towards gays, that whole subtext just rang a bit wrong for me, and I’ve never even been to the UK. And like anything else the Wachowski brothers have written, most of the plot points don’t hold up to much thought. I know if *I* were a secret policeman the first thing I’d be doing is running down some leads on who bought 12 million Guy Fawkes masks and then signed for all of them to be overnight delivered. But hey, I’m annoying that way. And the entire surprise theme midway through the movie (which I won’t discuss further to avoid spoilers) just rang entirely hollow; even though it too was in the graphic novel, it made no sense to me from any perspective, dramatic or rational.

Where the movie actually delivers is in the imagery and messages being delivered subtly from the margins. The raw manipulation of truth in the mass media by those in power being the most obvious of these (news flash to those not paying attention – that part isn’t science fiction any more, and hasn’t been for some time), but also the appropriation of iconic images from Iraq and Guantanamo, paired to equally iconic images of concentration camp victims, is as frankly subversive a message as I’ve ever seen in a movie. And this is a good thing. When our society collaborates in the toleration of evil, it’s the artist’s duty to point and decry. Paired with the constant barely-below-the-surface “Threat Level Orange” alerts and the apparently literal outlawing of the Muslim faith, the filmmakers very much wanted to communicate “This is where we are going, if we don’t do something. Stop.”

Taken this way, the closing scenes of the masses going all Tienanmen on the government’s soldiers (who I’m sure through no accident wore American-style uniforms) were frank wish fulfillment, and it was wish fulfillment that by that point I shared. Screw the whole blowing buildings up thing – by that point it was simple anticlimax; backdrop for more fireworks. And I think that too was the message being sent – the real victory was in waking the people up to watch, not in the act of terror.

Some reviews can’t get past the whole “OMG the good guy is a terrorist! Does not compute!” I’d recommend those reviewers read up on their Thomas Jefferson. Because of late the tree of liberty seems to be a bit parched.