WAR is truly everwhere. At home Xstine and I are havin’ a blast playing Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning, and almost every itch we had from leaving WoW has been epicly scratched. And boy were we itchy because the end-game in WoW left some unhappy scabs.
Outside of our world of epic vritual battles, one has already been fought an lost on Wall Street. Some friends have asked for my perspective on the bail-out mess, and I want to use a WAR analogy. In WAR lore, the evolution and advancement of warriors comes from the endless combat between the legions of Order and the minions of Chaos. A great story and its great heroes can only be made with this precarious balance. Too much one way is complacency, too much the other way is anarchy.
You may think it’s far-fetched to compare a fantasy video game to financial crisis in this way, but there’s one thing to consider. In Jared Diamond’s Guns, Germs and Steel he recounts his finding that over the historic rise of civilizations, what built the greatest ones was a combination of geography and natural resources that promoted an optimal state of controlled competition. To have less was complacency, to have more was anarchy. Sound familiar?
Now look at the bail-outs. Chaos has lost, if you believe the anti-free-market crowd. Order has failed if you know better than to believe the Fed. The problem was that Order assisted Chaos, and vice versa. No one knew their roles. The Fed answers to the market now. The market believed the Fed would save them.
What I’m trying to say is that a healthy distrust between the private and the public was lost, Freddie and Fannie being prime examples. What we face now is an extreme reaction as the Fed and Paulson nationalize the market. Chaos has learned that losing the battle means being saved by Order. Where’s the impetus to fight?
Now, I give the Fed credit for not bailing out Lehman brothers, as they knew the books were probably so toxic nothing could be done. And F&F? Ok, sure, they were a GSE, blah blah. But bailing out AIG? An insurer? Forcing BoA to take on Merrill Lynch? And now hints at extending help to foreign banks? Unlimited Sec. of Treasury power? For those who think cash is safe, I’ll point out that the (maybe) $45 billion left in FDIC divided by the $100,000 insured per account is not a happy number. Plus each of these banks going under have tons of employees; Lehman alone has 26,000+. NY is depressing. I can’t even make a conhesive paragraph out of all of it.
And somehow Bernanke is in the back saying a recession is imminent if there is no bail-out. Hello, the recession has arrived, but the punishment for misdeeds has not. Will not? Well that depends on how many tax-payers realize it’s angry mob time.
Yesterday night we returned from a weekend spent in Toronto visiting my mom's side of the family, and my Grandma who is pretty far gone down the dehumanizing imprisonment of a body stricken by Parkinson's disease. I know she could see us, hear us, and understand who we were, all by the steady twinkling in her eyes, but the best she could manage for a greeting was one upturned corner of her mouth.
You're going to wonder what the hell Diablo 3 has to do anything with my grandma. It doesn't really. It's just this anxious feeling I get, this yearning for radical change, that renewed in me seeing what my own frail old age may be. You ever get that prickly desire to go out and do something anything that matters? Watching the old folks at the convalescence home been force spoon-fed their medicated gruel, Xstine kept gouging my ribs and saying "See! Exercise! Take care of yourself!" But that feeling wasn't new to me, as I had volunteered at these places when I was a teen.
So when I excitedly saw the gameplay trailer for Diablo 3 (see below), I knew I was set up. I happened to have been playing Titan Quest recently with Xstine, which is nothing but mindless grinding, slaying monsters, gathering loot, repeating as flea on flea on flea. It's a game that is fun because it offers no redeeming values, and you yield yourself to that like a drug. The art is fantastic, but the game is simplistic. I never actually played the first two Diablo games, but I imagine they weren't much more.
The question we ask ourselves often is "Have we wasted our lives playing things we have nothing to show for?" Unlike many of the other games I've played, Diablo-type and World of Warcraft-type games feel like they've added very little to my person and yet have debitted so much of my productive free time. How should I translate every second wasted in these games into seconds of my life I could have extended with exercise?
Then I had to listen to Blizzard, the masters of game design, ruminate like guffawing film students as they talked about their design approaches to Diablo 3. It was embarrassing. It shattered my mental picture of them to hear them say stuff like "it makes it more interesting to make the hero the center of the story." Or to point out their grand "philisophical" vision taught to make a barbarian class more barbaric. My gods. I hold those game designs to be self-evident. Hearing that kind of "enlightenment" has seriously made me consider what the personal value these games are having on my life. Now when I play, I can see my grandma's eyes through her haze, judging my expense of youth.
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<takes off infomercial hat>
After wearing out the cartilage in my index finger with that brutal combination of WOW and animating in Maya, I started looking for better mice, touch-pens, trackballs, anything that could let me continue gaming on the PC without jeopardizing my hand health. I've tried them all. I finally decided to try using a gamepad for my PC, and after trying several programs, I've found my calling in PGP's excellent and dirt cheap solution. So far, I've connected wireless XBox 360 and PS2 controllers to it flawlessly, and it even supports the wiimote. My co-workers were impressed. …
Mythic's upcoming Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning has been delayed, much to the dismay of our unsatiated but repressed MMORPG addictions. Every so often, we crave some kind of mindless persistent entertainment that requires no effort. Since quitting WOW and DDO, nothing has been able to broach that hunger, but WAR may change all that. Just look at this historic occasion… the greatest collector's edition ever!
We're talkin' 128-page hardcover graphic novel, 224-page hardcover art book, limited edition figurine, open beta / head start keys, and a staggering amount of in-game goodies… all for $79.99??? :yikes: Well, I got our two pre-orders today, I just didn't have a choice. I was held at steampunked gunpoint, while the acrid sting of saltpeter smoked off my credit card.
So I read up on some Warhammer lore, being only vaguely familiar with it before, and was shocked at how many ideas Blizzard took for their Warcraft series. Granted Blizz did a good job, and Warcraft lore is exceptionally well written, but it's hard not to say that Blizzard losing their Warhammer project and then going on to appropriate the remnants into the beginnings of Warcraft must have been the best thing to happen to that series. The wealth of imagination within prognosticated success.
In other marginally related news, Atari got delisted from the NASDAQ. That is Atari, the developer formerly known as Infogrames, who thought owning that legendary name would do them good. Instead, not even their attempts at leveraging the venerable Advanced Dungeons & Dragons franchise could save them. I'm sure dear old Gary Gygax is… well I'll let this Penny-Arcade comic finish the joke:
I haven't time to comment much on the economy recently, thanks to Super Smash Bros. Brawl and… oh who am I kidding… I didn't even do a portfolio postmortem for last year. We are clearly in a recession right now, something I predicted in 2005 after much research, and my wishes go out to everyone in the American workforce… except those in the game industry! We don't need it! We are recession-proof! Hah!
Well, predicted sounds arrogant… I didn't predict a recession, I just tried to point out the mountain of evidence that it would happen. It's no surprise to me that games are recession-proof, though. Entertainment in general follows different fundamentals than other industries. Games often get compared to film, but there are two key differences that have made us an industry that has begun to intimidate Hollywood in size. …
Recently, Xstine (who found a new job at Activision as a leading artist :hat: ) and I have had way too much gaming to cram into way too little time. At the moment, I'm juggling Super Paper Mario, Marvel Ultimate Alliance, WoW, Neverwinter Nights 2, and Guitar Hero II all in the same time-space continuum. I've devised a macro-recording system to help me farm gold in WoW, something my honorable early-WoW self would have disapproved, scripts of repentance in hand. Today, I've learned to play for fun. I'm so glad to be out of those medieval times of dark, virtual chivalry. Now I see the rest of the players as what they are… a bunch of fucking kids.
I like kids, don't get me wrong. I just can't play online RPGs with them, where any second their mom may tell them to get off the computer, even as we stand before the climatic last boss of a dungeon that took two hours to traverse. I will be sure to learn my child some manners; they should at leaast apologise before just disconnecting into the void.
However, what really threw off my gaming rhythm was this gem of concentrated addiction: Desktop Tower Defense. The way TD-style gameplay delivers an IV drip of satisfyingly explodable monsters and perfectly timed upgrades. You feel compelled consume sequential waves of baddies with your arsenal, and even as you play you see what you will do different next time. The wholly deterministic tower placement makes efficiency so tantalizingly attainable before the edifice of your strategy falls apart. The genre is incredibly organic. I think the carrot it dangles was bought at Whole Foods.
Yes! We FINALLY got our hands on a Wii. Xstine had been calling every EBgames and Gamestop every week for the past godknowshowlong when she had nearly given up on it, and handed the torch to me. Calling the service centers for Best Buy, Circuit City, and Fry's, I had them scour the whole of the bay area for any remote shard of salvation. It was futile. I typed "Wii tracker" on a whim, letting Google do my searching. Wal*Mart was the only online vendor with available Wii's and even then, there were only their 7-game mega-bundles.
I decided to call Wal*Mart anyways, even though I had foresworn never to shop their again after buying three shattered Kingdom Hearts in a row from one. A teenager so greasy you could sense it through the phone static answers me.
"'Scuse me, just wanted to know if y'all have any Nintendo Wii consoles." You can tell how jaded I was.
"Yeah, just got a shipment in, they're selling fast."
I screamed at him to hold one for me. I damned his ancestors when he said he couldn't. I tore downstairs into my car, crushed the pedal, nearly side-swiped eight old ladies and a dozen squirrels as I barreled down the freeway. I glared at each car I passed, wary of their intentions on my Wii. MY WII.
Fifteen minutes later, I was on the other side of San Jose. I forgot to wear a belt, but I charged into the store anyways, holding up my pants. Hoochimamas cocked their eyebrows at me. Had they never seen a geek in the wild? Breathless at the software counter, I yelped for a Wii, but the lady there seemed to already know what I wanted. In a cute latina accent, she told me there had been ten in the shipment, and now I was staring at two remaining.
"Do you want any games, sir?"
"I have to pull myself together first. There's time for games later."
As I stood jubliantly at the check-out, like Robert E. Lee at Manassus #2, like Alexander the Great looming over the frayed ends of the Gordian Knot, like Sir Galahad preparing to spank the virgins, a phone rang.
"Hello, Wal*Mart electronics department. Sorry sir, there's only one left. No, we can't hold it for you."
I nearly shouted out "SUCKER!" but I was already dashing out the door. Long story longer, it's all hooked up, and in fact I'm looking at my blog right now on my telly, amazed at how fantastic Opera Wii is. And last nite, Xstine and I watched Robot Chicken on Youtube, on our couch! Brilliant! The packaging, the interface, the feel of the console, it's all so planned, so… Nintendo. Critics of materialism wouldn't get it. There is something very immaterial about the Wii. It's like owning a physical brick made out of accessibility. For the nerdcore in me, it also represents bloodlust and victory, something hitting 70 in WoW hasn't even given me. I'll post more, after I take my medication…
Xstine hit 70 on her rogue, and I'm half a bar away, and we're dying to get into the arena season. Didn't take too long to get there I guess, although thanks to powerleveling, I've missed about half of Outlands. So far, Netherstorm is my favorite area, and I love the impaled dragonflights on the spikes of the Blade Edge mountains. Their art is phenomenal, and I've never seen better leveraged art assets in any game. How they get away with that amount of reuse leaves me boggled. My only quibble with Burning Crusade is that now that Alliance have shamans, shamans are being buffed big time, and now that Horde have loladins, they're getting nerfed.
Coincidence? I think not. Still not seeing many 70 Dranei though, and the few Dranei shammy I've killed were incapable of controlling some form of totem-frostshock diarrhea. You can check out our characters at the new (sloooow) Armory site: me and Xstine.
Another thing to check out is this gameplay footage of Bioshock timed with GDC. I'm very impressed with the AI, the animation quality, and just the overall atmosphere… or should I quip "bathysphere." While the mannequin hand could use some tuning. Why do they even need those conventions? Press to draw and point gun, release to fire. I hate the FPS tradition of putting an awkward looking sidearm hand stiffly into the screen corner. But I digress, enjoy:
Last nite, hungering for a challenge, we grabbed a guildie cleric and three-manned Tempest's Spine, one of DDO's raid instances. I finally just couldn't take another run hearing people bark out desperate orders that inevitably led to group wipes as they cowered behind their shields and took the most weak-kneed route to a demi-victory.
And we did it! Albeit with a couple mishaps, as none of us knew Tempest's Spine that well. I think despite the lack of content, what DDO has done to keep us as players is the relative de-emphasis on gear, unlike MMORPGs of other ilk. To design games around gear checks is unfair, and insulting to all but the most hardcore players. People should be rewarded for taking risks, not for sinking massive amounts of playtime into epic raids repeated ad infinitum.
Guild Wars had headed this route, and it did seem to reward skill over play-time, but not to the extent that DDO does. It offered an increasing options base to choose from, but sadly some gear advancement is necessary to keep players interested. On the other side of the spectrum is World of Warcraft, which offered a tremendous diversity of content and perfect treadmill of gear advancement, but that left working folks like us frustrated at losing to people with sickening gear and the patience to wait for all their timers to reset.
It was Russian Roulette, with some folks having way more chambers. But hey, with 13 Tzameti looking so good, maybe that's just some folks' prerogative style.