Sunday, May 25, 2014

And Now for Something a Bit More Lighthearted

After the news from the last couple of days*, I needed a laugh.

Here's a comic from 2011 that still tickles my funny bone:

From via,
but you knew that from the graphic, right?

*Both in and outside of the MMO world. Like what happened at UCSB.

Friday, May 23, 2014

It's Never Boring Around Here

I wasn't exactly planning on making a second post today, but there's currently a bit of an internet kerfuffle going on right now concerning some commentary that Rob Pardo, Chief Creative Officer at Blizzard, made at a recent MIT Media Lab talk. While he made some references to emphasizing fun and gameplay over narrative during the talk, the most interesting comments happened afterward.

Todd Harper, writing an opinion piece for Polygon, covers the questions and answers he had with Rob Pardo that touched on how Blizzard portrays women:

His subsequent list of justifications, reasons and examples became increasingly problematic. Pardo argued that Blizzard works primarily in sci-fi and fantasy because they're "kids at heart," reinforcing the idea that games — specifically Blizzard games — are not a place for "real world issues" to be discussed:

"We're not trying to bring in serious stuff, or socially relevant stuff, or actively trying to preach for diversity or do things like that," he said. His example of a place where Blizzard struggles is portrayal of women.

Pardo notes that "because most of our developers are guys who grew up reading comics books," Blizzard games often present women characters as a sexualized comic book ideal that "is offensive to, I think, some women."*

There's a bit more there --particularly about Nintendo and their Tomodachi Life issues-- so if you want to follow the link below and read the article, go ahead.

Aside from the issue where it seems that Blizzard is all but saying they're not that interested in appealing to women, one of the problems with Pardo's statement is their belief that because they don't intend to write about real world issues their game has no effect. But unless you live in a bubble, everything has an impact on the wider world.

I've told my kids time and again that when they wear their school t-shirts and jackets out and about, people are judging their school based on their actions. It is most definitely not fair to judge an entire diverse community based on the actions of a few, but nevertheless it happens all the time. That's the entire point behind the term "represent" as in "Represent your school". If you act like an ass, you taint everyone with your behavior. But if you act responsibly, people will think more highly of your organization.

The same thing happens with Blizzard and WoW. For all their words, Blizzard demonstrates with their actions that they don't value very highly a substantial portion of their player base.

But the thing is, their representation issues are so easily fixed, it's not even funny.

Looking at Heroes of the Storm, for example, you could easily replace the Priest with Tyrande and the Paladin with Lady Liadrin, and you'd then have 4 of the 9 WoW characters as women.

Want to (partially) fix the lack of female faction leaders in WoW? Swap out Lor'themar for Lady Liadrin. Hell, until Mists dropped, I'd wager that most people thought she was the faction leader anyway. You could also make Moira the head of the Council of Three Hammers.

And before any lore nuts go ballistic over my suggestions, remember that Pardo also said that Blizzard emphasized "fun and gameplay" over "narrative".** Given the lack of emphasis on story and their total control over the content, there's no reason why they can't simply tweak this via a novel.


As I mentioned earlier, all this has stirred up a huge hornets nest in the WoW blogosphere.***

Kurn and Rades each have a take on the issue. Cynwise cancelled his WoW account.

And I can't help but think this is another black eye in Blizzard's direction when the company is having retention issues.

Maybe this won't have much of an impact with WoW, but the company can ill afford to piss off a not so insignificant amount of their player base. I doubt there will be a boycott of Blizzard, but what I do think is that some people who were considering taking a break from WoW might decide to pull the trigger now.

And really, if you feel shunted off to the side, why continue to spend money on the game?

It will prove interesting to see what happens next.

*From Erasing your audience isn't 'fun': The false choice between diversity and enjoyment by Todd Harper.

**Which kind of explains why they're not bothering to go back and fix major continuity issues in WoW.

***As of this moment, WoW Insider has been completely silent on this.

(EtA: At 7 PM EST, WoW Insider had this post by Matt Rossi on diversity.)

Mamas Don't Let Yer Babies Grow up to be Space Cowboys

The Schofield Kid: Yeah, well, I guess they had it coming.
Will Munny: We all got it coming, kid.
--From Unforgiven (1992)

The Wildstar open beta ended on May 18th, spawning plenty of blog posts about various aspects of the game. Given that I finally caved and tried out Wildstar over the open beta, I figured I ought to pen my own thoughts.

Others have mentioned the bugs (it is a beta, so they're to be expected) or the gameplay, but I figured I'd mention the story for a change. As in, how the story meshes with the rest of the game.

Or, perhaps, it doesn't.


If I had to describe Wildstar in one sentence two sentences, it would be "Texas crashes an MMO, causing widespread chaos. Film at eleven."

Got that, Cupcake?

The loading screen gave no indication of this. Sure, there was the cartoony aspect of it all, kind of like WoW's but amped up to eleven, and borrowing heavily from such classic SF films as Metropolis (for the Mechari) or comic books such as Guardians of the Galaxy (using Drax as a template for the Granok, with a bit of Ben Grimm thrown in for good measure).*  But that initial cutscene for each faction? It was pretty obvious we were going heavily toward a black and white storyline that made Yin and Yang look tame.

When a faction thaws you out of cryosleep because they want you to interrogate potential traitors, you know you're playing a not-exactly-nice faction.**

You could argue that the Dominion and the Exiles are best understood through the lens of a traditional Texas-sized Western movie, and you'd not be so far off the mark.

The Dominion: The bad dudes. They've got secret police, a two timing religious church that has a penchant for occasional forays into Inquisition, bloodthirsty warriors, and crazed mad scientist-types who think nothing of slaughtering so-called "traitors" in the name of "science".  All you'd need to do is throw in the occasional racist or "Federales" and you've got the long line of bad guys that Hedley Lamarr is looking to hire in Blazing Saddles.

The Exiles: the good guys. They've got Western movie style gunslingers, Ben Grimm types, Tree Huggers/Nature Lovers, and Space Zombies(tm). There's been more than one time that as I wandered the first zone after the planetfall zone and I thought that this place could fit into Cowboys vs. Aliens wholesale. Or maybe Pale Rider with aliens. Whatever.

I suppose the cartoony space western genre needed some representation, and really, the game isn't too bad on that part. But the game also spends a lot of time trying to act too hip, too cool, with some of the ways that the game is handled.

Take the leveling up graphic. You're in a serious questline, you turn in a quest about something such as saving a settlement, and you level up.

But you don't level up.  You...


No, really.

This is so jarring that it drops you completely out of the game experience.*** And even though the two aren't even in the same ballpark, I kept thinking of a really really bad cartoon from my youth, Romie-O and Julie-8, as an equivalent. (NO! Don't go looking for it on YouTube! Just... trust me.)


I'm not sure what Wildstar wants to be. It could be strictly a space western and go full frontal campiness, or it could go with the Sci-Fi genre and veer occasionally into grimdark territory (which the quests go from time to time). Or it could go all hipster and try to act like it's playing you for playing the game. But trying to do all things at once ends up in a mishmash.

Perhaps a little focus is needed. Got it, pardner?

*And the Aurin? Furries. Definitely furry influenced.

**The Dominion. Need I say more?

***Which, to be honest, reminds me more than a bit of Guild Wars 2.

(EtA: I just HAD to add a Blazing Saddles clip. The post was CALLING FOR EEET.)

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Weekend WoW Cosplay

I was impressed, although I still prefer the red and gold of the Blood Knights.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Pug Stories: Family Edition

"So, you wanna run a Heroic?"

I paused on the stairs after lugging a basketful of laundry up from the basement.  My oldest had that mischievous grin going, which meant she knew I would say yes if given the chance.

"Okay," I replied, hoisting the basket again, "you go login using the laptop and I'll login to SWTOR using the main computer."

Our laptop, while quicker (and with a lot more memory) than our now deceased Core Duo machine, is still slower than the i7 desktop we have, so I had plenty of time to sort some laundry and then start up SWTOR on the desktop before the laptop would be ready.  Besides, we were going to Tatooine, and I was already there on the Old Man; no travelling necessary.

"One condition," I shouted down the stairs. "I'll do one Heroic with you, one with your brother, and one with your sister. Okay?"


I quickly sorted the laundry into piles, came downstairs, and logged in as the Old Man. Ironically enough, I still had Reap the Whirlwind on my list of Heroics cluttering up my quest log, so I quickly relocated to Jundland and grouped up with my oldest.

When I get into a Heroic or an instance for the first time, I have an idea of what to expect. This has been honed over several years of playing MMOs, and once you understand the basics, you can figure out how a Heroic is supposed to behave. But if you've only played group content a few times, this is all new. My oldest reminded me of that fact during the cutscene, because she was fully expecting to fight one group until the surprise boss showed up.

She then provided me a demonstration of her grasp of profanity. "What do we do with this boss?"

"Nothing special, just hit it! I've got aggro!"

She's learning how to handle different bosses.  When we ran through Athiss together, she wiped on the last boss, not realizing that she had to keep running even after he became visible again. It was a beginner mistake, and to be honest, I was pleased that was the only issue we had. She listens to me when I describe boss mechanics, and does what she's supposed to do.


When it was my son's turn, I took my freighter over to Taris.  I figured we'd two man Fall of the Locust, since he not only had the quest still in his queue, but it was the closest heroic to the spaceport.

Then I saw the "LFG Fall of the Locust" in gen chat.

I hesitated only a second, and swiveled around in my chair. "Do you think you can behave yourself in a group?" I asked.

"What?" He looked puzzled.

"I'm going to have us join another group for Fall of the Locust, but only if you promise to behave and let me tank."

"Geez, Dad. I'm not two. I promise."

I whispered the guy starting the group, and my son and I quickly received invites. Turns out we filled out the rest of his group, so we ran over to the ship which starts the Heroic.* "Since I've got levels, I'll tank," I said.

"Got it."


And away we went.

Ironically enough, my son was far more exemplary a group member than the other Smuggler was. While I would be circling around to start a fight with a mob, the other Smuggler would crouch down and start shooting. "Dammit, I'm not ready!" I said out loud, while attempting to get aggro back.

I could feel my son's smirk behind me. "Heh."

The worst fight of the Heroic happened shortly afterward, as I was prepared to let a wandering mob walk by so we wouldn't have extra trash to fight.

The Smuggler, however, was having none of it.

He started shooting before I was even halfway to the main mob, and I had to redirect myself to try to pick up that guy's aggro.  I grumbled something under my breath, but the main mob had miraculously not aggroed.

Then my son leapt into the fray, accidentally aggroing all the rest.

"Hey!" I yelled.

"I'm sorry! I thought they were all together!"

"We'll be okay, just run back toward me. They'll follow you back." I started healing him while he ran, and kept him upright until I could steal aggro back.

The mob finally dispatched, I finally said something in chat. "Wait on me first before attacking."

"We're still here," the Smuggler shrugged.

I turned around in my chair. "See that guy? Don't be that guy."

"Got it, Dad."

We finished Locust, and that was that. My son and I ran back to Olaris Spaceport, and he logged for the day.


As for my youngest, I figured that since I didn't want to run Locust again, something such as Knight Fall would be perfect. As luck would have it, she wasn't far enough along the Bonus Series to be eligible for Knight Fall.

"Well," I said, "we could just run some of these bonus series quests together so we can do Knight Fall next time."

"That sounds fine to me."

The difference between regular-ish quests and Heroics are the difficulty level of the mobs, so I ran into a different problem helping out my youngest: I kept killing mobs too fast.

"Dad, cut it out! I can't even get a swing in!"

"Um, sorry. I'll back off a bit."

I pulled another mob. "Whoops."


"You know, I think I'll just stop attacking after a first swing."

"Good." I swear, I can still hear her derisive snort.

*I ran with the rest rather than use a speeder because I wasn't going to be a bad example.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Do You Cross the Aisle?

Given my experiences in MMOs playing both genders, I found this article on Geekosystem about men who play female avatars very interesting.

I know that when I play female avatars, I pretty much play me, just with a different set of electronic bits. However, I'm apparently in the minority, as there seem to be an abundance of flirty behavior when men cross genders and play as women.

From my perspective, it's hard to say who is who on some games such as WoW, because when you're standing around waiting for the gates for AV to open you can tend to get bored and jump around.* But given the large increase in the likelihood of certain behavior, I do have to wonder whether it is done consciously or not. I'm skeptical about trying to hold male players' attention, particularly given how skimpily some female toons are dressed**, but if it is a glorified "look at me" just for the hell of it, then I consider that a bit more likely.

And considering how much "attention" my male Blood Elf bank toon got on his run from Sunstrider Isle to Silvermoon, I think it does work both ways.

*Or you could be merely wired from a few Monsters or Red Bulls.

**If you want examples of this in SWTOR, go visit Njessi's excellent blog Hawtpants of the Old Republic for her Fashion Hall of Shame, a collection of really really bad fashion choices.