Saturday, February 28, 2015

More Musings on a Vulcan's Passing

One of my first memories was of Star Trek.

My parents had a black and white television throughout the 70s, and in the afternoons the local independent television station would show all sorts of cartoons from 3 PM until 5 PM.* And at 5, like clockwork, the image of the starship Enterprise whooshed across the screen. My five year old self was riveted to the screen in much the same way the mini-Reds are to Star Wars Rebels and Marvel's Agents of SHIELD**. When the aliens appeared at the end of Part 1 of The Menagerie, I would have nightmares that they would somehow turn me into an automaton like Captain Pike had become. (Hey, I was young and couldn't follow the plot that well.)

Talosians, with their pulsing craniums,
still give me the creeps.

But more importantly than that, Star Trek served as my entry drug into Science Fiction and Fantasy, and none more so than Mr. Spock.

Leonard Nimoy's Spock was captivating. Sure, he seemed like a soulless computer at times, but underneath it all he did have the same emotions as the rest of us, only well hidden. He was part alien, misunderstood by a lot of his crewmates, and still forged friendships among them. After meeting Spock and the rest of the crew of the Enterprise, I simply couldn't watch anything resembling "aliens-as-monsters" which dominated what passed for SF on television.

As I grew older, I identified with Spock to a significant degree. I was the different, nerdy kid: I was smart, loved to read, liked things that weren't mainstream cool, and wanted to go to college to get a science degree. I used to order fan stuff from the old Intergalactic Trading Company catalog back in my high school years in the 80s, often walking to a local convenience store to purchase a cashiers check as I didn't have a checking account of my own, and the one item I wanted for my first car but never got was the sticker that said "Vulcan Science Academy".*** Screw Starfleet, I wanted to hang with the Vulcans.

From Cafepress.
There's even a thong with this design; some things you just can't unsee.

It was easy to transition that love of Spock to Leonard Nimoy himself. He directed what was the most popular Star Trek movie, The Voyage Home, and he also directed several other successful movies (such as Three Men and a Baby), demonstrating that yes you can have a life beyond Star Trek.

He also lived long enough to see Star Trek, and SF/F in general, become more mainstream than ever before.

And now he's gone.

The Feels.
I don't know who created this, but
I'll assign credit when I do.

I don't think that mainstream America quite knows what we lost. The Internet simply exploded in geek circles concerning Leonard's death with tributes from all corners of geekdom. More than once I saw a commenter on a website say something to the effect of "I came here because I knew people would understand," and believe me, I know the feeling.

This is different than Robin Williams' death. Robin was beloved by many because of his overall body of work, which transcended geekdom. Leonard's best work was rooted in geekdom, and he is defined by what he means to the geek community.

Leonard will be remembered forever by his stellar
work in Westerns.... Waitaminute....

Back in college in the late 80's, I was in a conversation with a couple of fellow students about movies. Good Morning Vietnam had been out that past year, and we'd all seen it and felt that Robin had been robbed at winning an Oscar. But conversation turned to other films, and when one of the girls challenged me on whether guys are only interested in macho "guy" movies, saying "when was the last time you cried at a movie?" I told her that I cried when Spock died in The Wrath of Khan.

Big mistake.

The derisive laughter I got told me exactly where Star Trek stood in the pecking order of interests among my "sophisticated" Honors peers. I couldn't have done worse if I'd have said that Hardbodies is a fine work performed by master thespians.**** To them, Star Trek and their fans were worthy of the mockery provided by Saturday Night Live when William Shatner hosted the show.

So yeah, when people talk about how others don't understand, yeah, I know. I've been there.

You tell 'em, Data.

I'm sad that Leonard has gone, leaving Bill, Walter, George, and Nichelle as the surviving original cast members. But at the same time, I realize that Leonard will live on in both his work and the lives he touched. The original Star Trek series is a geeky touchstone in the same way that the first Star Wars movie was; those who watched it were never the same again.

Redditor MrMorlonelycat captured this image of players
of Star Trek Online serendipitously paying their respects at Vulcan.
Cryptic Studios has announced a permanent memorial for Spock and
Leonard Nimoy will be added to the game in March 5th 2015's downtime.

It is too easy to look at the world around us and not be cynical. Star Trek offered a vision of a better future, something worth striving for. And Leonard Nimoy played no small part in helping that vision play out on the screen. For that, I can thank him, and I wish him well.

Live long and prosper, Spock.

*From 1 PM until 3 PM the station showed an afternoon movie --no national daytime talk shows existed until Phil Donohue made it big-- and among the "boring" dramas I found the occasional nugget of gold, such as Ulysses starring Kirk Douglas.

**And The Flash, and Doctor Who, etc. Even Constantine, which had gotten blah reviews, is much better than anything we had in the SF/F/Superhero genre in US television in the 70s and early 80s (with the exception of The Incredible Hulk). We live in a golden age of genre television, even if we have to put up with Jerry Springer and Honey Boo-Boo.

***I was never convinced that the car would last long enough to justify the sticker; it had more Bondo on it than metal. It also had a hole in the floor where the driver would put their left foot, so as a consequence I had to put my foot in an awkward position to avoid turning the car into a Flintstones' mobile.

****It's not; don't go looking for it to see for yourself. Trust. Me.

EtA: I removed the link to Intergalactic's website, since it seems like it hasn't been updated in ages. Also, apparently customer service has declined, based on the poor reviews I've seen online.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

A short note on the intersection between books and games

I've been busy at both work and home (which includes finally getting the 30 year old sliding doors replaced), so I've not had time to do much online, much less post about it. However, there is one item that stuck with me.

A week or so ago my son (mini-Red #2) asked if he could read my copy of The Silmarillion. He's his own copy of LOTR and The Hobbit, so I grabbed my hardbound version and said "Sure!"

Then as I was removing the dust jacket I discovered that the copy I'd bought brand new back in 1991 was actually a first edition printing* and I told him that I'd get him one from the library instead.

He's been reading The Silmarillion --he's up to the part where Orome discovers the Elves-- and he informed me that while it is really different in tone than what he's used to, he really likes it. But what he really finds enlightening is that he finally now understands a lot of the Kinship names that he sees around LOTRO.

I smiled at that insight, but he couldn't see it since we were driving in the car at night.

But he hit on one of the things that makes LOTRO unique among MMO circles.

While a lot of MMOs do have their share of guilds/players/etc. who pay homage to the source material, no playerbase goes to such levels of faithfulness as the LOTRO crowd does.

Sure, LOTRO has it's share of asshats --all MMOs do-- but LOTRO's playerbase is on the whole more in love with Middle-earth than any other MMO out there. And, given Star Wars and Star Trek fandom, that's saying something.

LOTRO is overdue for an update to some aspects of the game --namely the toon/NPC graphics-- but reverence for the source material is something that Turbine nailed. They'll never be the #1 subscriber based MMO out there, but their fans are very loyal and very fanatical.

*I always thought it odd that I found a new hardcover for $10.99 back then, but I wasn't about to say no to such a cheap price. Looking back on it, however, I think I got the better end of the deal by far.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Sometimes You Just Can't Make This Stuff Up

Under the heading of "Oh really?" comes a report or two from Reuters claiming that Apple is working on it's own version of a car.

(What, you thought an MMO?)

The kicker is that the car project --apparently a self driving car if the reports are to be believed-- is codenamed...


No, really.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

A Tale of Two Models

In the past week since I posted about the death of Joystiq and the sites Massively and WoW Insider, there's been a flurry of activity. Most notably, the "relaunch" of both Massively and WoW Insider as Massively Overpowered and Blizzard Watch.*

Both new sites have set up crowdfunding to help support the relaunches, with both garnering a lot of attention. Oh, not even in the same league as the attention paid to The Oatmeal's Exploding Kittens card game or Rich Burlew's Order of the Stick reprints, but they met (and exceeded) their respective goals very quickly.

And, to be honest, the selection of Massively OP's and Blizzard Watch's crowdfunding method is a perfect demonstration of "know your audience".

Massively OP went with Kickstarter to provide the seed money for the site and content, and will eventually use a combination of ad sales and Patreon funding to provide a steady revenue stream.** Given the prevalence of non-subscription based MMOs in the wider MMO landscape, this makes perfect sense to attract the diverse MMO player. When your audience prefers B2P and F2P games over the subscription based model, you go with a model that replicates the MMO online store as much as possible.

Blizzard Watch, however, decided to go straight up with a Patreon funding site to provide an (ostensibly) steady income. Again, this is perfect because of who they are hoping to attract: the WoW player who is used to plunking down $15/month to visit Azeroth. Sure, there will be online ads too, but creating --in effect-- a subscription based model of support demonstrates that they know their audience will not blink twice at another "subscription."


Now, I suppose the big question out there is whether both sites are sustainable in the long run.

I believe that both are sustainable, not only because there's enough interest out there in keeping both sites running, but because each economic model mirrors each site's potential audience.

The people who believe that the Patreon model may eventually bleed subscribers forget that we're talking about WoW here. Sure, the initial blast of subs may eventually go down, but there will always be the hard core to sustain the site. Just like the Castros in Cuba or WoW itself, people will come and go and predict the end of WoW (Insider) as we know it.

Massively OP's modus operandi, getting the seed money up front to get the operation running, works well because they can get everything running without having to worry about keeping subs right away. They realize that their core --those that will support Patreon-- is going to be smaller than a WoW based site, so a greater emphasis on initial startup and selling ad space alleviates those concerns.


What will I do?

Probably not much; I'm on a tight budget that is frequently beset by (seemingly) monthly emergencies such as car repairs and new clothes***. If some money frees up, I'll look into sending a few dollars the sites' way, but I'm also likely to look into Netflix or Hulu as a potential replacement for our satellite service.****

I wish both new sites the best of luck, and here's to hoping both succeed beyond their wildest dreams.

*Massively OP for short.

**A (very) reduced version of the economic plan from the Massively OP Kickstarter page.

***Overheard at our house: "Really, you need new pants AGAIN? Just exactly what are you eating, kid, Miracle Gro plant food?"

****We get our internet connection through our local phone company, which is expanding a Fioptics network. If there were a way to get college basketball --my big sports weakness-- without needing a cable/satellite/FiOS package, I'd jump on board. For that reason, I'm watching Sling TV with a great deal of interest.

EtA: Fixed grammar bugs.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015


As the years went by, we drifted apart
When I heard that you were gone
I felt a shadow cross my heart
--from Nobody's Hero by Rush

Today, I had the duty of moving the links to Massively, WoW Insider, and the WoW Insider podcast to the Blogs in Mothballs section.

I wanted to make sure I grabbed this for posterity's sake. I still
regret not having done this for Righteous Orbs or The Pink Pigtail Inn.

The owner of Joystiq, AOL, has decided to get out of that end of content creation and is shutting down the domain. Collateral damage to that decision is that Massively and WoW Insider are forced to shut down as well.

According to Syp over at Bio Break (and Massively), Massively and WoW Insider were making money, but AOL decided not to be in the enthusiast gaming blog business.  By extension, it's likely that AOL would have been fine with that aspect of the business if they were making even more money.

This isn't exactly the first time a major corporation has decided to shut down and/or sell a division because it wasn't making "enough" money.* IBM got rid of their PC division to Lenovo. P&G sold Folgers and Jif. 3M sold off their boardgames division --which included Acquire and Facts in Five-- to Avalon Hill. The disappointing thing about all of this is that it smacks of a decision borne entirely from the finance department. I'm of the opinion that a little goodwill goes a long way, and the money saved by jettisoning Joystiq probably isn't enough to make more than a minor blip on the balance sheet.

Or this.

What Joystiq's shutdown is not, however, is a comment on video gaming in general. I'm 100% confident in saying this had nothing to do with Gamergate, the "MMOs are passe" trend, or anything resulting from a boycott (real or threatened). Last I checked, video games still command more dollars than movies or other forms of entertainment media, so if enthusiast sites like Joystiq are shut down, it isn't for a lack of broad popularity.

Because AOL shut down Joystiq with such a short lead-in time (and according to Syp there was originally supposed to be NO lead-in time, just termination notices), there was almost no time to get a successor site up and running. It is also likely that AOL will retain the rights to the names "Massively" and "WoW Insider", so any replacement site that the writers might want set up will have to come with a different name.**


It sucks to be in this situation, to be terminated so suddenly. I can really empathize with the writers since I've been in their situation, having been fired from a sales job back in the early 90s right after my college years. There's always the self recriminations that you hear when you're lying awake at night, wondering if you'd have done something differently this wouldn't have come to pass. Even when you tell yourself you did nothing wrong, and that is often quite likely the case, you can't keep that inner critic quiet. It nags at you, picking at the scab of your humiliation, and it won't. leave. you. alone. EVER.

At the same time, I make no bones about the fact that I stopped reading WoW Insider long before I gave up WoW itself. The first nail in the coffin was the shutting down of The Daily Quest, which I used to find interesting new blogs to read. When Chas and Tam from Righteous Orbs and Larisa from The Pink Pigtail Inn shut down their blogs there became precious few clearing houses for new WoW blogs, and TDQ filled that void for a while until it simply stopped being written.***

Next, there was the shutting down of the class bloggers. While I wasn't so hardcore about the game and the raiding emphasis that a lot of the bloggers took, I appreciated their expertise. And I would be lying if I didn't say I was thrilled to see Vidyala --someone I actually KNEW both in and out of game-- as the mage blogger. I'd read her blogs from the beginning --courtesy of Tam from Righteous Orbs-- and I was insanely proud of her to get the mage gig. But cutbacks being what they were, her time at WoW Insider was far too shortlived.

Finally, there was my decline in interest in the game throughout 2014, culminating in allowing my subscription to lapse. I'd poke around the site once in a great while, but the "all WoW all the time" nature of W:I really didn't hold the interest of someone who had moved away from the game.


I wasn't about to forget Massively either.
In the end, I suppose that this sort of change will lead to something new. No, I'm not sure what, but I can't imagine that the creativity that Massively and W:I had will simply vanish into the ether. The writers still play games, and they have that burning need to share things with others.

So it's not "goodbye." Not really, anyway. It's more "until we meet again".

*If Joystiq were making more money, AOL would have likely sold it to some potential buyer instead of simply shutting it down. My guess is that AOL felt that the process of selling was a money loser for them, so killing it was more cost effective. [You can insert whatever your thoughts are about corporate bean counters here.]

**AOL might even retain the rights to some of the column names, too. I've not seen the ownership agreements, so YMMV.

***I'd be remiss if I didn't mention that PC had been highlighted a few times on TDQ. Each time it happened I found out about it due to the sudden spike in readership, from the traditional 50-100 people reading the blog to a few thousand. I've discovered that when THAT happens, you suddenly don't need coffee that morning.

EtA: relapse:lapse.  tomato:tomahto.  Sheesh.