Star-Fired Beef


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Mindsets

Sorry, essay rant incoming. Hold onto your seats. Also, sorry that posts have been rather negative lately.

This post started out as another “Yes I quit ArcheAge too” rant, but not only did it quickly break out of that enclosure, it was then further influenced by J3w3l’s and Aywren’s writings on AA (and PvP worlds in general) as well. I could have talked about how I quit because of the crappy Glyph launcher; the fact that 70% of the time, every time I exited the client my computer froze, forcing me to manually reboot; the fact that any PvP was effectively out of my league because of my latency and even PvE was difficult at times; that I had no reasonable chance to get a farm or farmhouse plot of land because of hacks and/or real estate speculators forcing prices through the roof; or even that I was disgusted by the weird Labour Point (LP) gating that, combined with a F2P model,  promoted behaviour that in all honesty gaming should not promote. But no, I want to talk about some other, wider, subtler, structural issues instead.  Continue reading


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Steam Challenge – Gemini Rue

This is part of my Steam Challenge Series (the full list is here).

Time played: 8.7 hours

Gemini Rue is a dystopian sci-fi point-and-click adventure title that hearkens back to the 90’s golden age of 16-bit adventure games. The plot is not quite as epic as the marketing suggests, but nevertheless it is a (mostly) well-written, gritty drama that will keep you interested until the end.

All the characters are voice-acted, which is really good for an indie developer. The talent is of a fairly high standard, but there is one character who is very, very badly done. I can’t decide whether it is the writing, or the voice actor himself that is the problem.

The puzzles are intuitive and just challenging enough to require some effort, without being silly Monkey Island-style “combine these incredibly unlikely things at this specific point” affairs. There are several points in the game which involve combat, but you are put through a tutorial which explains how this works, and it is quite simple. I can’t say it adds much to the game though, I feel like it could have worked just as well without those scenes. Fortunately it is a rare occurrence.

You do end up playing as more than one character during the game, which is integral to the way the story unfolds, and in general it works quite well. Overall, this is definitely a worthwhile pickup at full price if you are into adventure games, and a bargain if you get it cheaper.


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Outside Looking In

This is the first time since I started playing WoW, in Burning Crusade days, that I have not been there at the launch of an expansion. It feels weird and somewhat isolating to watch practically everyone I know either gushing about their Warlords experience in blogs, or seeing them in game (via Battle.net). Each one of them tugs at my resolve to stay away from WoW, but the people that I know well, have played with and are closest to, are spread out between various servers and guilds now. I don’t feel like I’d belong anywhere in particular.

Yet WoW is the only MMO that I have any connections in. I know of people who play the other MMOs I have played, but they are either on EU servers, or in timezones that are incompatible with mine for group play. Or they just aren’t around much, being casual players. My best friend in Melbourne is the only Australian I know who even has TSW, for example, and he has gone back to WoW with his partner with the Warlords release. I don’t mind playing TSW as a single-player game, but it would be nice to get to do the group content – I missed the SuperJack boss as well as the Cat God instance during Samhain because my server was dead and there was nobody to team up with.

I went through these self-pitying moments a little during the TESO and Wildstar releases earlier this year, seeing everyone so hyped about those games, but it was reasonably easy to deal with. But I have that history with WoW and many people in it, which makes this bout of melancholy and jealousy much stronger. I know it’s my own fault, because I am incapable of forging out on my own, but it still sucks to feel like you’re standing on the wrong side of the window.


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Spoilt by Story?

I’ve been playing a fair bit of The Secret World lately, because Samhain always is the best of the MMO holidays. Every time I come back to TSW I get all tingly in anticipation at the prospect of digging deeper into the lore of the game. I know it has been said before, by many people, but there really is no MMO out there that can compete with the way TSW handles story. Even SWTOR has to take a back seat here, I think.

It’s not just the story or lore itself that brings TSW head and shoulders above the competition, though. It is the atmosphere which it both feeds off and creates. It just all comes together to deliver an experience that really is second to none in the genre. I think that the defining aspect of it is the investigation missions. Not only do they engage your brain in a way that no other MMO can, they force you to learn about things that inform the background lore of the game. Whether it be decrypting morse code that a ghost is sending you via a van’s headlights, learning old (pagan?) names for herbs to use in a summoning ritual, translating all manner of ancient languages, or using classical art references to find hidden keys, it is all deeply immersive.

The quality of writing – both textual and verbal – is incredible, given what we normally put up with. Even though it is good, I still think a fair bit of the SWTOR dialogue is slightly-to-overly melodramatic, at least for the Imperial Agent storyline I played. I think the LOTRO flavour writing is very good, particularly in the Shire – I really like how they captured the Hobbit lifestyle. But the quest dialogue, and the flow of the story, it seemed too compartmentalised, too disconnected from the rest of the world. It felt too much like the WoW level of writing quality, too…gimmicky?

Anyway, the point is that I think I’ve been spoilt by the quality of writing in TSW, and now it is really difficult to get excited about any MMO that doesn’t live up to that standard. I’ve come to realise that in an MMO, what I am craving is the experience of being a part of a larger story, where I am discovering my place in it just as much as I am shaping it. I think this is the reason why I haven’t been able to really immerse myself in GW2. The dialogue was absolutely shocking, the personal story was just boring as hell, and other than that there is, as far as I could tell, no overall story that I felt a part of. ArcheAge was pretty bad, too, in terms of writing quality. Plus, the main story ended abruptly and with no sense of having changed anything.

With the vast majority of MMOs these days having virtually identical gameplay experiences – with minor variations in combat and minigame offerings – the defining factor for me, I’ve realised, is the world-building. The lore. The background. The atmosphere. The writing. If the game won’t meet my standards for these, then I’ll either have to turn to sandboxes like EVE, where I write my own story or participate in ones created by others, or literally write my own stories. I need to get back to my WoW fanfic, since it is the closest I’m going to get to that game for the foreseeable future. There is a certain satisfaction to be gained from using your own perspective to flesh out parts of the story that you see major problems with, or felt were entirely neglected.


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A Counter-Rant

Disclaimer: This is in response to Izlain’s post/rant here. I’ll echo his disclaimer and warn of probable inflammatory content below. I tried to not be too personal, since although his rant is what I am responding to, it is really a proxy for wider points I want to make, so you can and should read it with a general ‘you’ as well as a specific, Izlain ‘you’. This started out as a reply to his post but kind of got out of control.

I see why you’re angry at the implication that your character is under attack. And for the most part, it’s justified. But so is the criticism. It’s not the enjoyment of PvP that is being criticised here. It is the enjoyment of certain behaviour. You acknowledge that you’re being an asshole when you behave in that way, so if you enjoy being an asshole, why would you expect people – especially people who don’t know you intimately – to not judge you on that? For the record, your descriptions of your own actions that you term “asshole” behaviour are reasonably tame. Ganking, without context, is always asshole behaviour. Having more skill is not. Deliberately drawing out games that you’ve already won in order to gloat, is. Attacking someone from another team/faction usually isn’t, though there are rare situations that are. Camping someone out in the world, definitely is.

I don’t care that you spent your day looking after your relatives, just like I don’t care that Eri is a childcare worker (and a good one, I assume). That has no impact on, nor is a justification for your behaviour in games, just like it would have no impact on nor be a justification for going to a restaurant and verbally abusing the staff there. You being a nice person in general, which you seem to be, does nothing to mitigate your behaviour in specific circumstances. Your character is built upon many choices and actions over time, and if people only see some of those choices or actions, then that is how your character is going to be perceived. If you want your character to be seen in a certain way, you have to make choices and actions that reflect that. If you are happy with the idea that you might be seen as an asshole by the people you interact with in game or on blogs, because you engage in or defend your right to engage in those behaviours, fine. But you don’t get to then cry foul when you are actually accused – directly or indirectly – of being one.

“At the end of the day, a virtual character in a virtual world is still nothing but a bunch of pixels on a screen, and though a real live person is controlling said mass of pixels, if they are so incapable of separating their emotional stability from their avatar, I don’t think its me with the problem.”

Yes it is you with the problem. The “it’s just a game” defence does not fly. The fact is that there IS a person that you are interacting with. How you treat them has real world consequences. If you don’t know them well enough to know that they will react positively to your behaviour, then you shouldn’t be acting that way towards them. You could behave certain ways towards Eri or Doone in-game, because you know they will understand your intent. The question is, why do you want to behave that way towards strangers who have done nothing to you? I understand and agree with going after people who provoke you in revenge, but why would you initiate it?

I consider myself to be in the same category as you when it comes to the nerd/”jock” split. I have a history of sport, though not any longer due to a knee injury. And I enjoy PvP. But I have always hated that trash talk element of sports, especially team sports. It is always personal to me. I never engaged in it, and I look down upon those who do. There is a difference between friendly banter and trash talk, and many sportspeople don’t know that there is a line at all, let alone where it is. I know you don’t follow it, but in the cricket world there has been an effort made in the last few years to clamp down on trash talk, which we call sledging. More and more people recognise that it is harmful behaviour, not only to the spirit of the idea of sportsmanship but to future generations who look up to these people as role models. You call the culture of trash talk or sledging, societal norms. That is exactly the problem, they should not be the norm. They are the remnants of an obsolete model of masculinity that contributes to the continuation of toxic behaviour, both online and offline, in games and on the internet at large. PvP in games should NOT be following in the cultural footsteps of (especially team) sports.

Your personal experience of being griefed simply made you more motivated. Whoop-de-doo. It still wasn’t a pleasant experience. It didn’t make the game better for you. Many people, myself included, would consider it a reason to leave the game, even if only temporarily. The more it happens, the more likely it is that the exit from the game will be permanent. The fact is that griefing is not a desirable experience in a game. To imply that there is something wrong with the person being griefed if they don’t “man up” and “get over it” is just begging them to leave the game entirely, and to badmouth it to their friends. If you want PvP games (or servers) to be more popular and successful, then allowing players to be driven away by griefing and other asshole-ish behaviour is a poor strategy.

You say that you don’t understand why people complain about PvP when they don’t participate in it anyway. Let me offer a possible explanation. For some people, granted, they just don’t like competition at all. But many others are simply turned off by the asshole-ish behaviour that PvP allows (sometimes even encourages). I firmly believe that if that behaviour were curbed, if not eliminated, then those people would participate in PvP games. If you don’t complain, don’t let developers know why you aren’t playing their games, then you will not change anything. I definitely would play more MOBAs if the communities were better. I’m incredibly glad that Blizz did not allow chat in Hearthstone because I know the type of crap I’d be subjected to. If you want more people to play with in PvP games, you need to make it worth their while, and that means having acceptable standards of behaviour. Complaining about the behaviour of people in PvP games is one way of hopefully inspiring the changes that would need to happen to games design that would entice those people to play.

Your tradeskill analogy is a false equivalence. Combat is central to MMOs in a way that tradeskills have never been (except in A Tale In The Desert, iirc). You cannot go around most MMOs without combat affecting your experience. In EVE you can be ganked in hisec. Even in AA you can get to a certain crafting level without exposing yourself to combat, but past that point you have to obtain materials that require PvP exposure. Yes, you can still opt to spend all your resources buying the mats from the AH, but the point is that PvP has a significant impact on your tradeskill experience. The reverse is not true. You can go through the entire game without engaging with the tradeskill system, in any MMO, even AA and EVE, much more easily than you could avoid PvP combat. If you were “forced” into engaging with tradeskills in order to access combat-oriented content, then you would have a valid point. As it stands, I don’t think you do.

Again, I know that this post is a response to yours, Izlain, but you’re really a proxy for the wider PvP community in this. Your post touches on a great many issues that I find problematic, that aren’t unique to you – I’ve seen them espoused elsewhere, and I wanted to vent as well. Apologies if I got too personal.


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Steam Challenge – Flight of the Icarus

This is part of my Steam Challenge Series (the full list is here).

Time played: 15 minutes

This used to be called Guns of Icarus. Then the company made Guns of Icarus Online, which apparently is much better than this game, and so they changed the name to avoid confusion.

I’ve had this in my library for a long time, and I was excited to get to the F category in my challenge and break this open. Alas, the game bugs out on the 2nd level and won’t let me continue, so we hit uninstall and move on. Reading reviews tell me that this is a common problem, so I’m not willing to give FotI a go if it’s going to be a bug-ridden mess.

I wouldn’t even do this post normally, but I want to keep a record of all the games I’ve played and also as a public service announement: Avoid at all costs.

Edit: Aaand I forgot that I’d already done Faerie Solitaire for this letter so there you go, bonus!


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Steam Challenge – Eufloria

This is part of my Steam Challenge Series (the full list is here).

Time played: 16 hours

Eufloria is a lovely little RTS. Minimalist, ambient, fairly relaxing as RTS games go, it recently received a huge upgrade that took it from ~190MB to ~1.6GB. I have no idea what was added, but the HD version was free since I had the game already, and I can only assume that the changes brought about a better experience, because I have no complaints about the gameplay at all.

The music and sound effects are soothing, the visuals are calming, and the mechanics are easy to learn and quite intuitive. I found the campaign to be fairly straightforward, while still requiring some level of strategic skill to finish. The game is very simple, yet managed to retain a satisfactory amount of depth to keep me engaged.

Unlike most other RTS games, I think Eufloria is child-friendly, too. All in all, I’m really happy with this humble bundle acquisition.


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Speaking Out Against Hate and Ignorance

Okay so I wasn’t going to do a GamerGate post. I started off intending to, but after assembling a bunch of reference material I got worn out by the sheer vicious stupidity of the movement, and then I read Belghast’s post on being fatigued and forlorn by the issue. I realised that he was right, it was not only unhelpful to fan the flames, to give undue attention to this abomination that is GG, but it would also harm my mental health if I remained involved in keeping up with the situation. Not because I fear for myself or anyone I know, but because just being immersed in the hate and ignorance and stupidity is enough to drain you of hope for humanity.

But then J3w3l wrote this post, and the thing that jumped out at me was this:

But then I realised that making my opinion known is important as well as it adds to the large collection of people out there doing the same and strengthens the resolve of those around who are yet to feel comfortable.

Which she then reinforced in her comments:

I think just making it known makes people more confident and just a quick statement seems to be enough for that too. Solidarity you know…

I also feel it makes those attacks, if they were to happen here a little less severe. If their is one or two key spokespeople it’s easy for people to direct their anger. A whole community of blogs and it gets spread out and deflected far easier.

I also couldn’t just sit by while some bloggers I know had been receiving such things. Had to give my support, and in a way thanks that they stood up and were heard.

So here I am, adding my voice in support of those who have been harmed by this insanity that is GG. For those of you not really aware of what GG is all about, Deadspin provides a great outline of the movement here.

The Sooner It Ends, The Better

Make no mistake, GamerGate is, always was, and always will be a hate movement. Jennifer Allaway discusses how and why here.

As far as I am concerned, there are two types of people who are a part of GG. The first is the truly despicable group, the “true believers”. They range across the spectrum, from the extremes of death and rape threats, to the comparatively tame defenders, who honestly think that women like Brianna Wu, Zoe Quinn and Anita Sarkeesian are “professional victims”, that they deserve the hellish treatment they continue to receive, and that there is a feminist conspiracy that needs to be resisted. I believe that this type makes up, if not a majority, then a much larger minority than is widely assumed. The second type is that of the ignorant, the critically inept, and the morally suspect. They hang around the fringes, were drawn in by the PR of the “it’s about ethics in games media” bullshit, and genuinely want to have that conversation. But they show their utter lack of judgement, their dearth of critical thinking skills, by willingly associating themselves with this movement. And the longer they do so, they become more and more morally bankrupt, because any decent person would, upon discovering that GG is about hate, run for the hills. I mean come on, when your movement has actual neonazis flocking to it, how can that not raise a giant fucking red flag? When the mascot for your movement – designed by the lovely people of 4chan, of course! – is a thinly veiled rape joke, and you continue to support it, there is something wrong with you!

Rant mode is warming up, so I’ll finish here before shit gets real. There are many intelligent, well-documented posts and articles out there that deconstruct this abomination. The two I linked above are good examples, as is this video looking at GG’s base assumptions. But one post really captures the scorn, the anger, and the horror that I feel towards each and every person who, through their participation in and support of GG, have been and continue to be responsible for the vile treatment of so many people. They are not only giving the rest of us gamers a bad name, they are doing it by hurting people, mostly women. I leave you with a quote from Chris Kluwe:

Every time I see one of you slackjawed pickletits link me something like “I’m a moderate #Gamergate’r,” or “#Gamergate in sixty seconds YOUTUBE CLIP,” or “Here’s an anecdotal story from this one woman we found that completely negates an entire history of misogyny and abuse of women, not just in videogaming but in the entirety of human existence so support the REAL GAMERS,” it pisses me the fuck off because you are ruining something I enjoy. When people — everyday people who watch the coverage on CNN of Anita Sarkeesian having to cancel a speaking engagement due to death threats — think of “gamers,” they are going to think of you, and that irritates me. It enrages me. I want to punch down a wall, and I like my walls. They’re nicely painted.


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Steam Challenge – Dear Esther

This is part of my Steam Challenge Series (the full list is here).

Time played: 2 hours

From what I gather, Dear Esther has polarised the gaming community. It seems you either “get” it, and you proclaim the wonders of the experience and hail it as life-changing; or you don’t, and you bitterly declaim your lost, wasted time, calling it a pretentious non-game, a tech demo, a ‘walking simulator’ if you’re feeling charitable. Is it even a game? The debate on that rages on.

One might be tempted to call it an interactive story. Even that invites contradiction, as while there is a very small amount of control available to the player, there is no real interactivity beyond movement. In addition, there seems to be a story, but the deeper you go, the more questions are raised. What is real? What is symbolic? What is projection? Do seemingly scattered thoughts and memories a story make? Is this just madness?

I can really only say that this is art. The music, sound effects, narration, and graphics are all astoundingly excellent. They come together perfectly to present a totally immersive atmosphere, but only if you are open to it. Do not try to impose yourself on Dear Esther. Do not demand anything from it. Come to it from a place of wonder, and you will be rewarded with an extraordinary experience.


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Steam Challenge – Crysis

This is part of my Steam Challenge Series (the full list is here).

Time played: 20 hours

This is the first FPS I’ve played for a good while, and as such it took a little time to readjust to the controls and feel of it. I’ve spent so long in MMOs that I instinctively hold a mouse button in order to move the camera, which is frustrating when it makes you waste ammo and/or attracts attention. But I got back into the groove, and Crysis was a very enjoyable FPS that lived up to the hype it received over the years.

As a game that was released in 2007, only a couple of years before I got my mid-range-at-the-time computer, my rig was able to play it reasonably well, but it showed why you basically needed a cutting edge rig to play it when it first released. Even today, it is purrrrty. I noticed the same level of quality in the tropical areas of ArcheAge, which uses CryEngine 3. I was able to run Crysis smoothly at the top settings, which made for a breathtaking experience at times.

The game takes place on a remote subtropical island off the Korean Peninsula. You are a special forces commando (of course, seems like most FPS games in the last 10 years put you in that role), wearing a nanosuit that enhances your capabilities. By switching modes, you are able to run faster, gain superhuman strength and jumping ability, become more resilient to damage, and even cloak. The suit also gives a logical way for you to regain health without needing medipacks or health pickups. It’s very consistent with its in-game logic, so immersion is easy to maintain.

The game is on rails, but there is a lot of space to work with in order to complete objectives in your own way. There are subtle barriers – mostly cliffs – that contain you so you don’t go off script. The story is okay, but not great. It’s fairly predictable once you have done the first couple of objectives. I much prefer games like Half-Life and Portal for their stories than Crysis. It feels like the story is more of an excuse to show off the technology than anything.

The AI enemies are simultaneously really well done and also dumb as fuck. If you pick off a sentry that is in view of others, it will trigger calls of alarm and perimeter sweeps will be made, if they haven’t already spotted you. They fan out and try to surround you if they can. However, it is ludicrously easy to draw them into a bottleneck and slaughter them as they appear, even on the hardest difficulty setting. Add to that, the cases where they bump into each other, causing them both to fall over, and the cases where they all bunch up outside the room you’re hiding in, allowing you to pop out, shoot one, then pop back in without them coming after you. Those latter cases are rare, but it was still disappointing when it happened.

There are really two distinct parts to Crysis. There is the jungle fighting part, the first half of the game, and then there is the “everything’s gone to shit” part. I liked both – the jungle part, while really fun, was very much in danger of dragging on too long, so the second part was way more enjoyable than it might have otherwise been, simply because it changed things up. The boss fight at the end was suitably epic, although for some reason it was the one time I had to drop my graphics settings to low, otherwise my graphics card would overheat.

The ending was clearly signalling a sequel, which I appreciate – one of the things that bugged me about the Half-Life – HL2 transition was the apparent lack of continuity – but it also robbed me of my sense of closure for the game. I don’t have Crysis 2, nor do I have an overwhelming urge to find out what happens next – as I said, the story wasn’t fantastic – so I’m left feeling a tiny bit unsatisfied.

I’m sure I can live with that, though. The overall verdict is positive, but I’m not putting it up there amongst the best games I’ve played.

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