Now for something less serious

October 31, 2010

Gratuitous Omega Boost intro.

The other game from Polyphony Digital. This is the US intro for the PSone game. It was a short rail shooter similar to Panzer dragoon, but one day maybe PD will get bored with Gran Turismo and revisit it.


The real danger in gamer and mmo culture

October 31, 2010

Syp at Bio Break today has a small rant about the Seven Of Nine costume in Star Trek Online. Larrissa of Pink Pigtail Inn mentions how she will be playing a male Worgen instead of a female one in WoW because of the oversexualized dance. Massively’s most recent post with the highest amount of comments involves how MMOs treat women.

While I have come down on the other side of this particular argument, that’s not the point of this post. It’s also not the real danger. Syp’s little rant inspired a rant that has been building in me for a long time, and it’s similar in tone. It’s as follows:

The coming danger is not how women are sexualized in MMOs and Gamer culture. The danger is the massive explosion of lolicon among the gamer and anime net culture.

Lolicon is defined in this TV Tropes article here. The term is a portmaneau of Lolita complex, from Vladimir Nakobov’s infamous book Lolita. Lolicon is the otaku’s (the fan’s) fetishization and sexualization of underage girls. It’s related to the concept of Moe but not always a part of it. Moe is a focus on the cute, innocent, and heartwarming, designed to inspire protective feelings, but for many Moe characters fetishization follows, especially in the amateur comic (doujinshi) grey market surrounding anime shows. You can have Moe without a hint of sexualization from the creators at all: the anime series Kamichu comes to mind. However sometimes the lolicon aspects are very intended if not explicit if not pornographic by creator intent.

With the rise in popularity in Japanese anime has come a rise in the popularity of its sexual dark side, and while I have little to no idea of the real numbers behind it, I think it’s influence can’t be ignored. The anonymous and semi-anon image boards like danbooru, sankaku complex, and the /chan boards are part of what drives it. Also driving it is the release stateside of many borderline if not outright lolicon works, like Gunslinger Girl or Strike Witches by localizating mainstream corporations like Funimation. At root though is the production of it in Japanese culture and the acceptance of it, and by osmosis it has seeped into Otaku and gamer culture.

I’m not sure why it exists. Cultural differences about age of consent, the closeness of the school years and the remoteness of female contact in the working world, and the Moe idealization of women while at the same time infantilizing them may be factors. But it’s one of the parts of Japanese subculture that I can’t fully understand.  However that subculture and anime in general has been a profound influence on gamer culture, and it worries me. It worries me because it’s becoming an “open secret.”-a thing people don’t really acknowledge but it’s there.

While Syp and Larissa both have very valid concerns, I have yet to see the blogging community mention Aika’s Pran, especially having found this. When a Pran matures to a certain level, the default “cute” voice can be replaced by one of six “teen” voices. Here’s the cringe-inducing “Sexy/Sassy/Mature” one: (suggestive, not safe for work)

It made me wince. That’s not the kicker though, this is the “teen” pran:

What the FUCK Gpotato? How the hell did you even make that pass localization? This is the shit that worries me, because it’s obviously lolicon pandering in the native market by adding that option. Why the hell did you feel the need to bring that vocal option over? It’s bad enough that the original game has these Prans as a sort of a familiar in a servant-master role, that you also had to bring over an outright lolicon vocal type along with the rest of the traditional “types” like Genki Girl or Tsundere.

Yeah, it’s fantasy. Yeah, people aren’t going to do it in real life, I hope to God. But what worries me is that no one is realizing or talking about it. It’s a shadow culture that is net-driven and while you can argue the difference between reality and fantasy, what we fantasize on does affect our mindsets. In a way, I’m arguing against my own position: this also can be applied to women as well. And yeah, fantasizing even normally can overexaggerate and influence how we view women. A responsible guy realizes that and makes sure not to let them bleed over or affect real life.

But when you start fantasizing about things seriously morally wrong, even that argument fails. I don’t want to come across as holier than thou or anything but no one is talking about this: no newspaper ever mentions it, no pundit ever discusses it, and it’s just like a big invisible elephant in the gamer culture room. It’s getting to the point where people take it as a mater-of-fact and talk about the token loli in the cast of the latest hit manga, or joke about it.

If you think it’s not something to worry about, look at Furry culture. Anthropomorphic animal comics used to be a valid way of telling a story and often expanded the genre in good ways, like Stan Sakai’s Usagi Yojimbo, or Carl Banks’s Uncle Scrooge stories. However, that fandom got sexualized to hell and back, and now Furry is a term of derision.

I don’t think I can say much more. But this has to be said: Gamer and Anime culture need to start taking a hard look at the lolicon influence  and should start distancing itself from that. I wrote this to spark discussion and hopefully get people thinking about it. I don’t have solutions. But this has just been invisible too long.


Off Topic: Yay, Avatar again :/

October 29, 2010

Looks like James Cameron is making Avatar into a trilogy.

I didn’t catch Avatar in the theaters due to some hardcore MMO playing at the time. Ironically, it’s all I watch now. In my current job we use it to demo high-end TVs. I honestly doubt that the world has legs enough to make a trilogy out of.

The problem is that the Na’vi were the least interesting part of the movie. The first part was about Jake learning to deal first with the scientific culture of the Avatar project and his Avatar, then with the Na’vi culture. But the Na’vi themselves are a boring caricature of the Noble Savage. We have the Chief, the Medicine Woman, the native Love Interest, and the Jealous Rival. They also get a huge moral pass throughout the whole film. Neytiri was ready to kill Jake if not for the sign of favor from Eywa, and none of the Na’vi really cared about meeting or negotiating with the humans. When humanity has to disguise themselves as the native race of the planet just to get them to listen, something is wrong. When the entire planet grows a Gaia consciousness and has no problem killing the invading human army, something is seriously wrong.

However now that the humans are out of the picture, finding a source of conflict is going to be hard. Especially since the planet theoretically has chosen Jake and is linked in said Gaia consciousness.  Like it or not, the humans were the most appealing part of the film, even the main villain Quaritch. It’s telling that Cameron never had Sully answer him how he felt about betraying his own species.

Also, it’s going to be hard because it’s mentioned that it will take place on Pandora’s oceans. Expect a lot of aquatic animal scenery porn, and even less plot. But it probably will print him even more money.


EQ Extended-The biggest problem

October 29, 2010

… is actually their streaming client. No other feature has annoyed me so much.

While it works well, streaming and downloading content while you play, it has a huge flaw. If you disconnect and reconnect, you have to finish the download already taking place. That means if the little dragon icon is at 30.2 megabytes, and you DC, you need to download all 30.2 megs before you can re-enter the game.

This doesn’t make sense to me because it can’t be related to the zone. I’ve stayed in the same zone for the majority of my time, and in the same small section of the zone: the areas next to Kethelin. So the client is probably downloading other areas. But it DCs fairly frequently, so you are looking at 10-15 minutes if it happens in the middle of a longer download. This adds up if you DC a couple of times per night.

It also kicks you back to the select character screen, so you might also take a few more minutes then. It’s a very small thing, and the price to pay for being able to download at all (the total download is an insane 12.1 gigs.) But it really is killing the game for me, when it should be hooking me to keep playing.


Aion’s cash shop and problems with immersion

October 27, 2010

Aion and EVE still love to send me e-mails despite me no longer playing both. Aion’s latest email has an interesting aside. You can buy weapon skins for $9.99 in the cash shop. The problem is that those skins kill immersion and many are ridiculous:

Aion’s Store

Lightsabers, Alarm Clocks, Watermelon Wedges, Chainsaws, Candlesticks, Barbells…

Aion is supposed to be about the life and death struggle between the Elyos and the Asmodeans. It’s also a pre-modern fantasy society. While they do have technology, it tends towards the mystical. But these weapons have no place in the setting at all, and break it. It’s just catering to players for cash.

I don’t really like that trend in cash shop games. If you want to offer items, make sure they fit into the setting in the game. Seeing an Asmodean with a lollipop is not fitting the setting.

 


Looks like it is a trend now.

October 27, 2010

With Champions Online the fourth sub MMO to go F2P, I think we can safely say it’s now a trend.

I don’t think it’s a good trend though. While I am fine with the specifics of how they plan to do it, the bigger problem is that they’ve punished all the “early adopters” by doing so. Lifetime subbers paid for a game that has just gone F2P in one year and a few months, which sucks because the point of lifetiming is the point of F2P: being able to jump into the game with no worries about a sub fee. Normal subbers have less to complain about, but still do because of how this will affect the genre.

I think a danger now is that more players simply will wait out games till they decide to go F2P. Not only because of spending money, but because of how the game itself might change based on the transition. You might find yourself paying for a different game than when you started.

I also think this is not good in that we are devaluing the creative work of a MMO. One of my worries about creative works in general is that the free and low-cost is driving out a lot of quality work. Call it the Wal-Mart effect. This is going to lead to a lot of lowcost F2P games, and Megahits. It’s going to crowd out the mid-range MMO in the same way Wal-Mart destroyed the mid-sized regional retail chains through price competition. You’ll have the MMO equivalents of Wal-Mart and the dollar stores.

Eventually we are going to see a blowback as too many companies wont be able to make money, and will probably flee to different platforms. That’s the downside of low prices. If the companies cannot deal with saturation and piracy, they’ll have no incentive to make quality games as opposed to cheap ones.

 


Champions Online and F2P

October 26, 2010

Talk about ironic. Just after I finally decide to quit CO, it decides to go to free to play. They’ve posted their membership matrix, and I’m going to go down each option to give you an idea of how the restrictions play out.

Custom Archetypes: Wow. Champions Online currently lets you choose any powers you like. F2P customers will be denied that completely, and instead will probably gain more of a pre-set level approach, where you gain powers from your initial powerset choices.

I’m sure Cryptic will have some decent builds for general leveling, but this is going to kill any attempt to make a concept character using multiple powersets, like a swordsman using guns, or a fire and ice character. It also will probably make you gimp in PvP, and depending on the powers, you might be a lot squishier than you should. You can buy the full unlock.

Edit: My mistake on this. Poster J.E. added more information that I misread. You can purchase “Gold” Archetypes, not the full customizability. This changes things as you now have tiered classes, and with no information on how the archetypes differ, it’s a little more worrisome.

Some more information. While archetypes are locked power selections, you will be able to choose how you spend your advantage points on the preselected powers. This gives you a moderate amount of tailoring to your needs, as many advantages also change the power directly, and not just its strength. For example, Laser Knight advantage for Energy Shield for power armor lets you activate the block benefits for a brief duration each time you use a meelee attack.  From the forum post here.

Character Slots: Sub members start at 8, F2P members 2. This isn’t so bad because you gain a character slot when you get a character to 40, but it sucks for people who like to level multiple characters, or roleplayers.

All Zones/All Levels: They have to. There’s only 5 non-adventure pack levels in the game, and as my Time Trial shows, it’s very fast to get to anything below 30.

Adventure Packs: Sub gets them all, F2P buys. This actually benefits F2P, as only Vibora Bay is worth paying for. Serpent Lantern and Demonflame aren’t long enough unless it’s sold for a few dollars. None of them are vital, and you can level to cap without them.

Nemesis/PvP: Free for both. The only downside is that with the restricted archetypes, you may get your ass kicked. PvP builds are specialized, and often require powers across frameworks to do well.

Edit: PvP: It looks like the devs are going to segregate it by type. Archetype accounts will have access to a Restricted tier, and Gold members with full customization will be limited to an Unrestricted one. Golds can make an archetype to play in Restricted, but this has the reverse effect of possibly killing off Unrestricted. Info here.

Costumes: Gold members get 3400 pieces, Silver 3000. My guess is that the perk costume pieces and drops which you can get wont be an option for the F2P crowd. This is not as bad as it seems, as most of them people bought from the C-Store anyways: the in-game methods of obtaining them involve grinding 5k enemies or doing PvP. The premium costume packs are ones that you could only buy.

Costume Slots: Gold members get a base 3 at 40, F2P only 1. This sucks, because costuming is one of the fun things about CO. You can purchase more though, and any more than 3 is overkill.

Bags: Gold gets the normal 4, F2P 1. This SUCKS. It’s very easy to fill bags considering that quest items take bag spaces, and some can have up to seven different items. It’s going to make leveling a lot more of a chore.

Crafting: Free for both, but its useless except for bags and costume unlocks, both of which straight F2P don’t have. Market lots are limited to 5, which isn’t that bad from the standard 10.

Veteran Rewards: F2P players lose out on these, but they aren’t game killing. You get a free retcon and a couple of free 100% instaheals. Most F2P players wont miss them.

Chat, Supergroup, Mail: F2P players are heavily restricted, but for only the first 20 hours of their existence. This isn’t bad at all, if I’m reading it right. It prevents a banned spam character from spamming quite a bit.

Forums and Priority Login: Silvers can only read in all forums and post to their own. They also aren’t priority to log in if the server is busy, I guess.

Gold Travel Powers: Nearly missed this. This depends on what they describe as gold. The only non-standard powers are crafted, so my guess is that they are going to only offer a few powers and bar the rest behind a paywall.

edit: Poster JK mentions that the available powers are Teleport, Flight, Superjump, Superspeed, and Acrobatics. This is a good selection, as these are the basic types of powers. Many of the ones missing are modified versions (Fire Flight, Rocket Jump.) or are actually weaker powers (ice slide, hover disc, and earth flight both are slow and handle poorly.) The only original power missing is Tunneling, and Teleport handles most of what it does. Bad news though again for concept characters if silver archetypes include Fire, Ice, or Gadgeteering.

Edit: Support: Unsubject mentioned that I missed it. Basically you aren’t getting any for F2P. In practice I would think it would be like EQ extended where they only support billing issues, because having no support there would lead to things like disputed charges and chargebacks. Hopefully this will be the case, but technical support will wind up being a forum browse.

Edit: Hue Shifting: I missed this, but it’s not major. Hue shifting allows you to change the color of your power to a custom color among a slider. You can have yellow or green fire for a Fiery Form, for example. Only Gold subscribers can have this, but this is as purely cosmetic as you can get. I am not sure whether or not Emanation points are affected. Those are where your powers are manifested: fire bolts from hands, or the center of the chest.

I think we all thought Champions Online would go this route, so I can’t say I’m surprised. The restrictions aren’t bad for what they are, and in many ways are better than LOTRO or EQ Extended. You can still play a good amount of the core game, and most of what is F2P are optional content and conveniences. Some changes do suck though.

I’d recommed buying bag slots, one set of costume slots to bring you up to 3, and unlocking the custom archetypes at the least. (since you can’t unlock them, disregard. The Gold archetypes may make sense depending on what they are.) You may want to pay for more character slots depending on how much you like to experiment. I filled my eight easily. Out of all the games, I think Champions Online will suffer the least from the transition. Gear is not central to it, so paying for advantage is not an issue. Most leveling can be done solo, with really only endgame to group for. Most of what is restricted wont impact your gameplay solo or in group, and even with archetype and bag restrictions, that’s a lot of game for free.

I’m not happy that they chose F2P, because it’s going to take development time from actually upgrading and fixing the game for paid subscribers, and they have been languishing in a lack of content for a bit now. But they have to do it to survive, so I shrug my shoulders.