Thursday, February 21, 2008

Ship designs

Been working on my ship designs for my pen and paper games. Here

Friday, February 15, 2008

1up has a feature look at Phantasy Star and a Retronauts episode dedicated to it.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Tabletop gaming update

Those of you interested in my classic tabletop gaming can find my writeup on my West End Games Star Wars campaign here. I will also be posting updates on my GURPS Traveller campaign design (no spoilers) as it moves into its third phase: Starleaper Two. Since there are only a few people interested in this I will just note updates here not reprint them.

Monday, February 11, 2008


OK, I have really enjoyed Stargate. Thanks again to the guys at Insert Coin Live for recommending it. I really thought it would be something very different. It is right up my alley. It reminds me a lot of the original Star Trek series where science fiction writers used the episodic exploration premise to explore different sci-fi stories every week. While Stargate does have some overplot it is not a soap opera. It is also far less militant than I feared. I worried it would turn out to be "kill everything on the blue planet, next week we conquer the red planet". I am just wrapping up the first season now and will be watching the second for sure. Hopefully it holds up.

They often explore things from a scientific point of view rather than a save the captured blond chick point of view. There is a larger plot involving the rescue of Daniel's wife and a kid named Scar. They do manage to make progress on this every few episodes. They find some clue, or a hint of a way to remove the parasites.

One thing they do that I like is the low number of alien species. They seem to save non-human characters to explore new topics, forgoing the cliched aliens as race/gender metaphor. They actually use humans for this.

Early on there was a little bit of rescue the captured blond female team member but they seemed to get past that quickly. One thing I am surprised by is that there is some nudity. I was not expecting this from a TV show.

Rantings of a Cranky Old Nerd

One of my friends from grade school has started a video game blog. So far she has done some cool write-ups on the Castlevania series, including untangling the spaghetti that is Castlevania lore.
You can find it here.

Friday, February 8, 2008

Fang and Stargate

Due to some personal life drama I just have not been all that motivated to really play WoW this week. I did manage to get a couple of hours in with the Fang and I have to say that overall I enjoy it and as my physical memory adapts to it I am sure I will enjoy it more. I managed to watch the pilot and the first episode of Stargate and really enjoyed it. My fears that there was no way to continue it past the movie without corniness were unfounded. It looks like they have left it open for character development and homefront drama. Hopefully it will not become "hey this week we are on the ice planet". If it stays good I may be enjoying it and some Stephen Colbert flavored ice cream for the next few weeks.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Fang Gamepad

I got a Fang Gamepad the other night and I will be test driving it with WoW tonight. I am pretty excited about it because I have recently changed my play style. I used to play sitting at my desktop but right before the holidays I got a new laptop. Now I play laying on the couch with the laptop sitting on the coffee table.
I bought a trackball because the mouse was unwieldy in this situation, I had been reaching across and using WASD with my left hand but now I can increase my laziness and situate the Fang on my lap next to the trackball.
I will post a double review tomorrow. Part 1 will cover the Fang pad, part 2 will cover the Stargate DVDs I will be watching while I play thanks to the suggestions of the guys at Insert Coin Live

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

No Street Fighter II for Greenville

I have been reading everything I can about the upcoming Street Fighter IV. I never got into Street Fighter III in a big way, I was mildly proficient in it. Street Fighter II, however, was the badge of honor for people exactly the right age to have an Ugly Kid Joe T-Shirt. So, I am really looking forward to Street Fighter IV and have been getting itchy to play the original again (original, of course, actually refers to II because no one wants to play Street Fighter I).
For those of us who were better than OK at Street Fighter II there are certain primitive tools that are completely inappropriate for use with the game. In order to really enjoy the game you have to have the proper type of controller. I would begin my quest for an arcade fighting stick for any home console I have (I have all three Playstations, the first Xbox, and the Wii).
First I was able to track down the game with relative ease. I grabbed two different Street Fighter anthologies, one Alpha and one regular, and an overall Capcom Fighting anthology for under $30 total spent. I was encouraged because this was the first store I went to and I got all three. All were PS2 games, so I needed a fighting stick for PS2 or, preferably PS3. I asked the Gamestop employee if they had arcade sticks and he said they did not but I should be able to find them in almost any store selling video games. I set out for the next closest store, Best Buy.

After wandering around Best Buy for 20 minutes (confusingly they keep some console controllers by the PC games in the back) I found someone who would admit to working in the video game section and asked him for arcade stick controllers, like you would use with a fighting game. He had no idea what I was talking about. Finally after a bunch of pantomime a lightbulb went off as he remembered playing a game with one when he was "little". He said they did not have them but he thought that Circuit City had more of that kind of thing.

I could not find any in Circuit City, I also could not find anyone who admitted to working in the video game section. I have no idea what they do when a confused parent comes in wanting to buy "a rewinder for my son's Atari tapes" and mean a Wii (trust me, I have been in Gamestop when this happened). It was off to the slightly better Gamestop at the mall.

I couldn't get anyone's attention at the mall Gamestop, they were all playing Wii. Finally a guy my age, also wandering around, asked me if there was any Guitar Hero with Van Halen's "Right Now" on it (this is how I knew he was my age). He immediately knew what an arcade fighting stick was and pointed me to Toys 'R Us.

My conversation with a Toys 'R Us game expert:

Scene: A Toys 'R Us game section. It is separated from the rest of the store by fortress like security detectors and walls. Ironically, everything in it is locked up in a case. It is inhabited by future airport security workers, obviously serving as training.

Me: Excuse me, I am looking for arcade style controllers for the PS2 or, preferably the PS3.

TSA guy: What do you mean?

Me: You know, a joystick with a bunch of buttons on a board, like you would use to play Street Fighter.

TSA guy: Oh, I never played Street Fighter

Me: Virtual Fighter?

It is important that the TSA guy does not change his facial expression here.

Me: Tekken?

Blank stare from the TSA guy

Me: How about Dead or Alive? It has boobies.

TSA guy: The volleyball game?

Me: It looks like a joystick with 6 or 8 buttons alongside it. It may also have a picture of a ninja or hot chick on it.

TSA guy: Oh, we have those....over in the Lego section.

Scene: This should all be one shot, the camera should follow the characters to the Lego section. Should be shot in guerrilla "Cloverfield" style.

TSA guy: Yup, here you go.

The TSA guy produces a wall full of these

Fade to black as stabbing SFX from Psycho plays.

This is a sad day my friends. The world is now almost overrun with people who have never quartered up, never sipped on Orange Julius in a Jersey mall waiting to take down the guy who has been cheap shotting everyone with Guile. They haven't had gum stuck to their Converse hightops with GNR written in whiteout on the side. I don't know what they do actually. As near as I can tell they roll around on shoes with wheels in them and call each other "homo" on Halo. You never called someone "homo" while playing Street Fighter II, they could punch you for real. However, I do have hazy memories of people with wheels on their shoes from my early childhood.

Yup, this whole post was just me bitching about not being able to play a 17 year old game without ordering something from the internet. It is also a bad roller disco joke. Now you kids get off my lawn!

Monday, February 4, 2008

A ninth reason to hate The Hero's Journey

io9 posted eight reasons why the Hero's Journey sucks. While I do not necessarily agree with all their reasons, or even with the statement that it "sucks", I do have my own bone to pick with Campbell. The Hero's Journey is often elitist and undemocratic.

For the most part the Hero's Journey requires there be something special about the hero. They are freaks of nature, or mutants, or most insulting: born and destined to rule. Luke Skywalker is stronger in the force than almost everyone else, Anakin Skywalker has more bugs in his blood than everyone else and is the product of immaculate conception to boot, Jesus is the son of God, Rand is destined by prophecy to be the Dragon Reborn, Taran is destined to be the High King by birth, Gandalf and Aragorn have all kinds of destiny and superhuman wackiness going on. These stories all assert (I am going to argue with myself in a second, stick with me) that there are certain people who are just born better than the rest of us, they are destined to rule us and decide our fate, we do not really get a say in our own future because we cannot compete with them. Comic book superheroes are the best (worst) example.

This is not an original thought or realization on my part, David Brin for example, has written along these same lines. Why do so many of our stories feature these supermen? Why do we construct myths that tell us, contrary to our cultural values, that there is a divine right of kings? Is it really hardwired into us, like Campbell says? If it is how do you explain other writings that appeal to many of the people reading this, like say the U.S. Constitution or Marx? Maybe so many of our stories are still like this because our whole form of storytelling is built up around it. Not because of some internal need but because of the conditions under which man's earliest stories were written. Throughout most of history man was ruled by people who claimed they had the divine right to do so. These were not people claiming to be slightly wiser, or a little bit stronger than the rest of us; these people claimed that they were destined by god, the force of history, or magical comets to rule over everyone else. They were not first amongst equals, they were a race unto themselves. How could they stories from that time have served anything but this notion, especially when those in control were often the only ones who could write things down?

The argument can be made that in fact the stories I listed do not promote rule by elites, you could argue that they in fact attempt to subvert that very idea. Jesus may be God's son but he is raised by a carpenter. Anakin was a former slave. Rand came from a poor farming village. Taran was an assistant pig keeper. The Lord of the Rings wasn't really about Aragorn and Gandolf it was about common hobbits. Luke fought against the rule of elites by disregarding the pontifications of crazy old Yoda time after time. I would argue that all of these are a stretch at best, because at the end of the day all of these characters still possessed either powers, or destiny that the rest of the world did not have. Even the hobbits have the power to resist the ring that humans do not, a regular human could not have gotten the job done.

You can also argue that the values present in the Hero's Journey are embraced by western societies like the U.S. Well over half of this country believes that Jesus is the son of God and the king of man (I am not arguing this fact, just pointing it out). Subscribers to Milton Friedman want to limit the control of democratically elected governments (especially dispersed forms like legislature) putting more power in the hands of private corporations run by economic elites. Many Marxist societies (the U.S.S.R.) have based their government on a small circle of elites competing amongst themselves for the direction of the government.

Blah, blah, blah, what does this have to do with MMOs?

This thought process has infected our games, and may be getting in the way of more fun. We believe that competition to sort out who is elite and who is not is the natural order of things and design our games that way. Games are designed to facilitate competition between everyone. Even when there are cooperative elements (like PvP sides, or guilds) they are always designed to foster the vomit inducing, corporate buzz word coopertition (yep, spell check say "Not a word"). I personally feel that this has gotten even worse as the MMO has "evolved", WoW is all about the e-peen and MMOs are now completely over-parsed to find out who is putting out the highest DPS. ery often the foundations of teamwork are thrown out the window to compete for the top damage spot. Things like the Armory and actually displaying a numerical value for your damage only encourage this.

Is there a viable alternative though? Hasn't competition proven to be superior and the way of the future? How can cooperation be fun?

Cooperation is a viable alternative. I realized this recently while reading Susan Faludi's excellent book Stiffed. In the book she explores how masculinity in America has changed since World War II. She makes some very strong, well supported arguments that humans (men in the book) have a deep need to contribute in a meaningful way to the whole. That men fulfill their feminine side by nurturing society in the form of their country, military unit, or even football team. She also argues that the current competition bent in western society is undermining men's ability to fell fulfilled. They often express this need through things as simple as a high school football team booster club.

That was an example from, well women's studies of all places (I may be placing my far from feminist claim in danger here with my intellectual crush on Miss Faludi). But I can hear the echo of Tipa's comment from my sci-fi post here "All of this high minded stuff is great but how will it be fun?" you are all asking? Cooperation is fun, and cooperative games are often the most fun kind. One of the most fun board games in the last few years is Arkham Horror from Fantasy Flight Games. In this game a whole bunch of players cooperate to defeat an Elder God. We have played this a whole bunch of times and it wasn't until the last time that I even realized there was one paragraph of rules to determine who had done the best over the course of the game. We decided not to use it because it might ruin the game.

Finally the game that the whole idea of an MMORPG is based on is cooperative. In Dungeons and Dragons there is a team effort by the players and the dungeon master to have a good time, and tell a good story. Anyone who has every played in a game where the DM competes with the players can tell you that it sucks.

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