Tuesday, June 12, 2018

As If I Didn't Have Enough to Do

I have several blog posts in various states of completion, and you'd think that I'd just finish them off to get them posted. After all, none of them are time/date dependent, and it would be nice to get some of these posts just done and posted.

But as you can guess, the answer to that is "Oh no, I couldn't possibly do that. I had to go write something else instead."

***

The truth is, I've not had that much time for writing. Well, I can find the time to write but I also want to sleep. I thought that this summer would have afforded me more time for gaming and writing, but I've been instead spending my time plotting and figuring out work schedules and college trips, cleaning and fixing things around the house, and just trying to hang in there from month to month.*

A sword? A blaster? a lightsaber?
No, THIS is my current weapon of choice:
the Ryobi Brushless Motor Impact Driver.
It replaced a 21 year old drill that was barely
hanging on. From ryobitools.com.


But in a bizarre set of circumstances, I've taken some of my spare dollars** and bought games on Steam, in spite of my a) lack of time to play games, and b) my current slew of games that ought to be completed. Because "shiny", I suppose.

I have noticed that the main system is finally showing its age (6 years old) after the latest Windows 10 update in that graphics are taking longer to switch on screen in spite of the 1+ year old RX470 graphics card. I'm sure the old Intel i7 Ivy Bridge + 6 year old hard drive has something to do with that. The games I've bought, however, can easily still fit within my system parameters for the "recommended" settings, as they tend to be (at newest) a few years old.

Because I don't have enough MMOs to play
with, I picked up ESO on a Steam sale.
From elderscrollsonline.com
One thing that I've noted is that there really are very few SF or Space Fantasy MMOs out there. There's SWTOR, EVE Online, Star Trek Online, and Wildstar, and maybe Destiny/Destiny 2 if you squint hard enough and claim it's an MMO, but far and away the MMO genre of choice is Epic Fantasy or its cousin, Sword and Sorcery.

So naturally, to balance out picking up ESO, I decided to download the game that I never said I'd be interested in, ever, and fire it up just to look at: EVE Online.

I haven't actually done anything with EVE yet, simply because I've been trying to figure out the backstory for each racial option, but one thing did raise my eyebrows quite a bit: your body is "grown" as a clone in a similar manner as that found in Brave New World*** and your toon has interface holes in the back where you plug into your ship. I have to admit that this is a bit of a new twist on why you pilot your ship around without seeing your toon --see Star Trek Online for a different example-- and one that frankly gave me an uncomfortable feeling up and down my spine.
EVE Combat suit concept art by Andrei Cristea.
If you look at the back, you'll see the neural
connections that allow you to plug into your ship.
I'd have picked a bare back pic, but most of
those are of dead bodies in space.
In a way, the fact that your body is grown and then let loose to go and be a space merchant (or whatnot) without much of anything in the way of normal human familial contact is about the most radical piece of social engineering seen this side of Sparta. If there wasn't a more perfect worker drone prototype created to promote the corporate mastery of the bourgeois, I've not found it yet.****

Beyond that, I've not done anything else with EVE --or ESO, or any of the other games, for that matter-- simply because I know that I won't have much time to play at once, so I've been sticking to games that don't require a huge chunk of time investment at once (such as running an instance or dungeon), and that I can stop at the drop of a hat.

So here's to Summer, the (supposed) slow period of the calendar year!




*I also thought I wouldn't be called on quite so much to be a personal taxi given that school is out of the summer, but it seems that things have actually gotten worse in that regard. Silly me.

**No Gen Con this year again --due to school timing-- so any money saved for that has been freed up for a few games here and there.

***I wonder if Aldous Huxley gets a nod in the EVE wiki somewhere.

****Oh, I could have so much fun with this, utilizing Marxist language I've not used since a few university classes.

Thursday, May 31, 2018

A Quick Request

Last week, when the new EU privacy law went live, this little note began appearing on my Blogger Dashboard:

European Union laws require you to give European Union visitors information about cookies used and data collected on your blog. In many cases, these laws also require you to obtain consent. 

As a courtesy, we have added a notice on your blog to explain Google's use of certain Blogger and Google cookies, including use of Google Analytics and AdSense cookies, and other data collected by Google. 

You are responsible for confirming this notice actually works for your blog, and that it displays. If you employ other cookies, for example by adding third party features, this notice may not work for you. If you include functionality from other providers there may be extra information collected from your users. 

So, I'm responsible for making sure the notice works on my blog, but I can't see it myself. Can someone from the EU check to see if that notice is appearing?

Oh, and it seems that Blogger is no longer supporting OpenID, likely due to the requirements surrounding the EU privacy act. I don't think anybody used it here, but if you did and wondered what happened, now you know.

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

The Clothes Make The Man

Several years ago, Mini-Red #2 was given a book on how to draw superheroes by Stan Lee* as a Christmas present by one of his sisters. As far as art books go, it's not that detailed about the mechanics of drawing, but it provides a short background into where superhero stories came from and the basics about creating a superhero and the surrounding cast.
Kudos to Stan and the ghost writers for
putting this promo shot of
Errol Flynn and Olivia de Havilland
from The Adventures of Robin Hood
in the book. (from Pinterest.)

I don't have much in the way of artistic talent, but I still found the design and technique fascinating to read. What also caught my attention was that, in his own 'grumpy old man' way, Stan was trying to make comics more inclusive.

Part of the design for superheroes is that they look like more idealized versions of ourselves. Not us personally, but people in general. They look fitter, more muscular, more attractive, more everything compared to most people not named David Beckham.** While Stan pays lip service to all sorts of body types for superheroes (giving a nod to the obscure Great Lakes Avenger Big Bertha), he does focus on the fit and muscular for his examples of superheroes, allies, and villains.
Big Bertha, Deadpool, and Squirrel Girl.
Really. (From backissuebin.wordpress.com.)

While perusing the book, I kept thinking of how players are portrayed in MMOs, and how much they fit the specific ideal for superheroes.
Now, where have I seen this before?
(From The Nerdist.)

Oh yes. From here.
(From MMO-Champion.)

Or here.

Considering the extremes of the male human in WoW and TERA as a muscular bodybuilder and the numerous examples of female Elves/Humans/etc.***, it seems that the superhero standard is the MMO standard for body image. When you come across the chunky male body image in SWTOR, the Hobbit images in LOTRO, the female Dwarf in WoW, it comes across as a breath of fresh air in the cookie cutter environment. But what I find interesting is that even the "non-muscular" male standard found in MMOs, such as the male Blood Elf in WoW and the male Elf in TERA also reference another comic standard, the Japanese Manga standard, instead.
I believe the term I'm looking for
is Bishonen. (From Anime News Network.)
And, for comparison, my old WoW main,
Quintalan, without all the Pally armor.

So in a way, the comic standard has become the MMO standard.

***

What does this mean to MMO designs? Not too much, because game artists/designers were obviously influenced by the comics they read both as kids and adults. And really, the oversexed outfits found in MMO designs are found in comics****, pro wrestling, RPG books, and anime to just name a few. And video game design has a long history of oversexed characters, so there's that tide that you swim against as well.
Long before there was Lara Croft, there was Leisure 
Suit Larry in The Land of the Lounge Lizards. And yes,
for the record, I did play the first Leisure Suit
Larry while I was in college. (from the wikia.)

But on the flip side, denying characters any sort of sex appeal in the name of fairness or reality also seems like a waste of time, because people are sexual beings, and divorcing ourselves from this reality is making a mistake.
Where would Bioware be without romance in
their RPGs? Well, they do have plenty of good
story in their games, but story is only one of their pillars.
The other two are gameplay and romance.
(From powerupgaming.co.uk.)

I think the best way of approaching character design and creation is to acknowledge and work on several things:


  • People will want to play characters with all types of physical options*****, and enable those options. This is not a difficult thing to create, as we see various body styles in SWTOR and other MMOs. Just because you prefer to look at one style doesn't mean that others will too.
  • People will congregate in an MMO for funny business --it's a collection of people, for pete's sake-- and that means that a Goldshire is going to inevitably appear.
    Yep, that's the Goldshire Inn. (From imgur.)
    People will go clubbing or will go off to fool around and want their characters to dress the part. At the same time, don't go out of your way to provide only clothing/gear options for the Goldshire set, but allow for more practical clothing/gear design. In this respect, Neverwinter has great practical gear designs that actually look like you'd take into a dungeon. Even with WoW you can use underclothing to make some of the more eyebrow raising designs look (somewhat) more practical. And SWTOR does a lot of good work in this regard, creating some practical and stylish designs while allowing the "don't I look hot??" set to wear cosmetic clothing more suited to Jabba's Throne Room.

  • Have the NPCs actually look the part, wearing clothing you'd expect them to wear, rather than some hot and sexy little number that you'd expect in a brothel. (Unless you're in a brothel, of course.) This is where GW2 still bugs me the most, because most "villagers" wouldn't be wearing their best outfits while working in a bakery or bringing in farm goods to market. Having your villagers change clothing depending on the situation --whether for a dance or working out in the fields-- makes far more sense than anything else. If Origin Systems with their Ultima V game could figure out how to handle NPCs working vs. not working back in the 80s, surely MMOs can figure this out.
    An, Ultima V, my old friend. (From lparchive.)

  • Finally, clothes/outfits are also a measure of social status. If your toon is wearing crappy looking gear or clothes, NPCs should react to that. Sure, that means having NPCs who are quite shallow, but clothing does engender reactions even among supposedly "advanced" and "mature" people today.





*What I found most interesting about the book, Stan Lee's How to Draw Superheroes, is that it's published not by Marvel, but by Dynamite, another comic book publisher. Stan and the ghost writers actually did a good job of spreading around lots of different examples of superhero design, covering DC, Marvel, Dynamite (naturally), and even Zenescope.

**Or The Rock. Or Serena Williams. Or any one of a number of incredibly attractive and physically fit people.

***It's a pretty rare MMO --or any video game at all these days-- where you find a woman not sporting a pretty decently sized chest. Even SWTOR, which gives female body shapes ranging from muscular and large to curvy to short to a medium-normal type, has the C-cup minimum chest size for female toons. And while a C-cup is being polite about it, there are plenty of MMOs where chest size goes up from there (such as Age of Conan, TERA, Black Desert Online, and others). Aion is one of the few MMOs out there that acknowledge that women with smaller chest sizes actually exist.

****Do I really need to post examples? There's plenty of them out there, from Sue Storm's "cut out" Fantastic Four uniform, to Power Girl's "boob window", to just about the entire Zenescope lineup. As an aside, I really have mixed emotions about Zenescope. They've gone full into the 90s era comics oversexed female design, but at the same time their stories are well written with strong female as well as male characters. I sometimes got the feeling that Zenescope designed their characters to get their foot in the door with the comic community, but I also truly feel that their 90's era over the top designs (and promos) aren't needed, as the stories stand well on their own. (This is also how I feel about the video game Bayonetta, but that's a topic for another post.)

*****My most recent SWTOR character, a male Trooper using the heavyset body design, has gotten more comments by far by other players than any of my other characters. Just goes to show what stands out to other people.

Saturday, May 26, 2018

RIP TotalBiscuit

I was finishing up another post when I came across this announcement on the net:

James "TotalBiscuit" Bain Passes Away

Even though I was vaguely aware of his fight with cancer, this still took me by surprise.

His original posts on SWTOR were a big part of the reason why I decided to give the game a chance a few months in, and I'm glad I did.

Such as this post.


He'll be missed.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Wandering Around the MMO-verse

Ah, what to unpack after the past month....

Well, there's Neverwinter heading to Ravenloft, and there's WoW's Battle for Azeroth inching closer to release. LOTRO had their 11th Anniversary livestream on April 25th, and SWTOR dropped game update 5.9 last month as well. Funcom finally released Conan Exiles, and at the same time finished up their Saga of Zath server event.* Rift has continued to expand their Rift Prime offering with a new PTS server, and Star Trek Online is inching closer to their June expac release "Victory is Life", which is their homage to Deep Space Nine.**

But closer to home, I've been splitting my playing time between SWTOR (yet another Trooper) and Guild Wars 2.

Yes, GW2.
Still a bit silly wearing all of these party
type outfits, but compared to TERA's I can
handle this.

I've been making a push to explore more of the world, and also try to complete the personal storyline. It's been interesting, seeing an MMO with as many people active in the field as GW2 currently has, as I'd grown accustomed to not seeing much of anybody in the low-mid level zones in just about all MMOs I play.*** However, the neverending series of events seem to keep people engaged in the game to an extent that you don't see in other MMOs. The fact that GW2 seems to have the low level toon adjustment better behaved than in other MMOs (such as SWTOR) has an impact here too. In SWTOR, once your gear gets overleveled enough, you become harder to kill even after adjustments on low level zones. In GW2, I actually have to keep an eye on my health because I've come close to dying numerous times in low level zones I've been examining.

One thing that does seem to be the case on MMOs that adjust your level to match the zone, however, is that those low level zone visits seem to encourage some bad habits, rotation-wise. I've discovered that going from a low level zone back to a zone that matches my current level I have a more frequent history of dying than if I'd have just stuck with a current zone, because I can get away with fewer combos on those low level zones but I absolutely need them on the high level ones.

The one thing that I've discovered about GW2 that allows them to keep costs down is that it is only the main storyline that requires voice acting. It's not unusual to do this; Age of Conan had done it for years, and WoW only put a lot of effort into voice acting in the cutscenes and parts of the raids/instances, but GW2's elegance is making the interactions look involved without utilizing the cinematic camera like SWTOR does.
At its core, the interactions are kind of
bland, but they reduce development cost and
are still very effective at communicating
emotion without the cinematic lens.
I personally prefer SWTOR's cinematic camera for all quest and story interactions, but I also recognize that is not cheap at all. And if there's one area that Bioware is likely to skimp on to keep the game going, it's on the cinematic camera like they did for KOTET and KOTFE.

The one thing that still makes me shake my head about GW2 --aside from the pristine clothing people wear-- is the Norns themselves.

I understand the basic concept of the Norns, as there's a long history in Nordic tradition of the race of giants as well as in F&SF literature (Robert E. Howard's Conan stories) and RPGs (the AD&D classic module series "Against the Giants" as another example). But come on. As food becomes scarce and conditions in the frozen areas of the world get harsh, our physical growth is actually stunted due to lack of food. That makes the concept of the Norns all the more difficult to swallow.**** I wonder whether the Norns were merely created to satisfy a desire to play a giant, in much the same way you see games such as TERA or ArcheAge where you find the equivalent of succubi/incubi playable races to satisfy that specific desire.*****

But that notwithstanding, I'm actually enjoying GW2 in a way I hadn't expected to when I started playing the game several years ago. I don't mind the group events much at all, because there's no guild or specific grouping requirements for the events. I know, imagine enjoying group activities in a Massively Multiplayer Online game. [Insert sarcasm here] But the thing is, the MMO environment can be pretty toxic, or in the case of guilds, come with drama or other requirements that I may or may not have the time for. The GW2 group events, like the rifts from RIFT, make it easy to feel like you're part of a positive online community without excessive commitment.

Believe me, I can handle that.





*No, I didn't participate in the Saga of Zath server. It took me forever to reach the point where I am at Atzel's domain, so I didn't exactly relish starting over.

**I watched the first four seasons of Star Trek: The Next Generation, but didn't watch DS9, Voyager, or the others. Something about not having a television during several of those years had something to do with that....

***It may have been several years, but even after the "don't call them mergers" WoW server merges I didn't see hardly anybody in the field once you got out of the intro and first low level zones.

****I remember watching a science series years and years ago that talked about climate change and its effect on humanity, and in one scene the presenter (I want to think it was James Burke) stood in the location of the last known written record of the Nordic settlements in Greenland, which was the remains of a church in which a wedding had taken place. The presenter had taken pains to mention at how the climate change had drastically reduced the food available for the settlements and how consequently the people living there were barely more than 4 feet tall, as was evidenced by the graves archaeologists had discovered.

*****I could say that this crosses into fetish territory, but I'm hesitant to say so. Just because someone plays a specific race doesn't mean that they fetishize that race. But I also can't deny that it happens, either, in much the same way that people fetishize the Sindorei, Kaldorei, and Draenei in WoW. (Many years ago, I once tried searching on some of the back story on Jaina and Thrall and typed in "Jaina and Thrall WoW" into Google. THAT was a big mistake, as there were things there --even with safesearch on-- that you can't unsee.)

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Neverwinter Goes for the Big One

Yes, I exist.

I've been busy as hell, however, trying to keep up with work and handling stuff with getting kids to and from school. (Which includes getting the oldest mini-Red back from her first year at university.)

However, I did see that the MMO Neverwinter is going to a place that's beloved (if that's truly the word) by D&D fans:


Oh. My. From Arcgames.com.

Thursday, April 26, 2018

A Thursday Quickie

I was going to write something else, but I came across this Team Fortress 2 vs. Overwatch video posted by The Winglet: 


Well done!