Vague Talk About Character Models in Space
Dec09

Vague Talk About Character Models in Space

Over the weekend there was a beta stress test for an MMO. This MMO takes place in space. People who participated in this beta are not allowed to discuss what they saw under pain of not being invited to any more betas, and also the taint of being unprofessional.

I myself have nothing against a bit of professionalism, even in the more laid back world of blogging. Sometimes, though, I bet someone participates in a beta and finds the whole experience quite good and something they would recommend to friends, except there is one aspect that is so overwhelmingly terrible that it is hard to ignore.

Way back in February I wrote a post titled “Not Feelin’ the WildStar Character Models”. While many months have passed since that post was published (and a lot of people have disagreed with me since then), everything I have recently seen of WildStar has just furthered my concern, particularly with the lady characters.

aurin1 Vague Talk About Character Models in Space

See that bunnygirl? That’s one of the official shots of the Aurin, a race of animal people who love nature. Notice how she has a big bust, an irrationally tiny waist, and big hips (and one can assume a booty to match). Also notice how her neck is really really long, which is unrealistic but a legit stylistic choice.

So a bunnygirl race is pretty silly, but diversity and choice are good and that includes having a sex bomb option, right? But what if… the women of every race had the same proportions? What if the zombie ladies, and the robot ladies, and the rock ladies all also had the exaggerated hourglass figure and really long neck? And what if the female version of every single race waggled her butt while she ran? Why, that wouldn’t be very much diversity at all, would it?

I got a bit of pushback about the idea of similar character shapes when I wrote that post back in February, so let me give an example from a game that I am sure most of us have played at some point: WoW.

gnomewow2 Vague Talk About Character Models in Space

This cute lil’ gnome has a bust-line but is pretty boxy around the waist and has straight hips.

pandalady2 Vague Talk About Character Models in Space

This pandaren lady has larger hips and a larger bottom, as well as being stockier overall than the gnome.

drannielady 248x500 Vague Talk About Character Models in Space

This draenei lady has a much larger bust than the other two, proportionally.

A game that seems quite good in both mechanics and lore is a pretty special thing, but that specialness would be severely impacted for me if I had no option but to play a sex bomb lady with a tiny waist who waggles when she runs. Playing such a game might feel as though little thought was put into the character models themselves, even if they have a neat backstory or environment. It certainly might feel as though the game devs had never even considered the lack of diversity in female models.

Those are the kinds of thoughts someone might have after playing a game in beta this past weekend, and I bet they would want to talk about it and maybe even spread the word that this game is really fun but could be a lot more appealing if the models were tweaked before launch.

Maybe.

December Ramblings: links, games, and .. recipes?
Dec05

December Ramblings: links, games, and .. recipes?

December is a bit of a jerk. I mean, the last week or so of it is great — most folks have presents and turkey and a week off work and hugs from family — but the three weeks before that strike me as being some of the worst of the year. It’s cold, and dark, and we all have a million things to do and functions to attend and dollars to spend on top of our usual life routines.

(Not to mention that as a content creating type there’s at least internal pressure to create exciting “end of the year” summaries and special features and things.)

It has all left me with a pretty solid case of the BLEHs. Bleh! Bleeeeeh. So instead of writing anything terribly thoughtful, behold a bunch of links, game updates, and a recipe. Yes, a recipe.

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Linkssssss

* Out of Beta on why the Argent Commander card in Hearthstone is better than you.
* Doone on the importance of speaking up about inequality in games and otherwise, along with j3w3l on sexism in games.
* Game By Night is back and wants us to remember that games are supposed to be fun
* Speaking of GbN, I was a guest on the last episode of Game On ESP Podcast, presented by MMORPG.com, and I think it’s probably safe to say now that I’ll be appearing there more frequently in the future. Awesome!

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Gamesssss

I didn’t buy anything in the Steam Fall Sale because I know that the Winter Sale is coming (and at a time that is much easier on the pocketbooks) and also.. I just have a lot of games, okay? I own many many wonderful games, and lately I have been ignoring all of them for WoW and Hearthstone.

In Hearthstone I have been continuing to lose arenas, but I feel like I’m improving! I think my weakness is in picking the deck as a whole — I can identify the best cards in each set of 3, but I need to better identify the focus of the deck.

For constructed I finally levelled up a Paladin deck to 10, the last hero I had to level for the basic cards, and it turns out that Paladin is.. really fun! The playstyle suits me very well, with a bunch of smaller minions and big buffs, and playing the Sword of Justice card always makes me smile.

567 December Ramblings: links, games, and .. recipes?

In WoW I have been somewhat focused on making gold and working on the legendary cloak quest chain. My server, Nordrassil, was just merge– I mean, connected with Muradin, which means the Auction House just almost doubled in potential shoppers.

All this gold is good, because I’m working on a Vial of the Sands. I got a small discount on the mandatory vendor items for being a goblin, and hopefully by the end of the month I will be able to pick up guildies and ideally drop them from great heights. (Wait, forget I said that last bit out loud.)

The legendary cloak quest chain was designed to be done gradually over a number of patches, and while I am glad that I just came back to WoW recently and so have no patch-related gating it’s also a bit of a slog all at once. I like the idea, and I enjoy the chain a lot particularly when it wants you to do diverse things like win a battleground or work on reputations or hit a world boss, but in-between for me anyway it’s pretty much an endless sea of LFR. Go collect X in any raid! Cool, now go get Y in these particular raids! Great, now go get Z also in those raids!

Of course as a filthy casual mostly non-raider I don’t need the cloak and I could quit or at least stop caring for a few weeks, so any duress I feel is something I am doing to myself. Really, though, as much as I good naturedly gripe in guild chat I do enjoy a good masochistic grind. (Hmm. That sounded better in my head.)

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Foodsssss

One of my non-game hobbies is cooking. I find it really soothing, all that chopping and stirring and seasoning, and then when it’s all over you have a delicious thing! A few weeks ago I bought a slow cooker, and it’s opened up a whole new world of recipes for me. Below is one of my recent favorites, Korean Tacos. Make the pork and pickles ahead of time, and this is a super quick weeknight meal.

20131201 203034 500x375 December Ramblings: links, games, and .. recipes?

Korean Tacos!

  • pork shoulder roast
  • yellow onion
  • green onion
  • cilantro (if you like it)
  • cabbage (pre-chopped coleslaw mix works great)
  • cucumber

  • ginger
  • rice vinegar
  • soy sauce
  • gochujang (Korean red pepper paste)
  • sesame oil
  • small tortillas

the night before…

  1. Chop up the yellow onion into bite sizes
  2. Put the pork shoulder in your ceramic slow cooker insert. Throw in the onion, a few splashes (seriously, not more than that) of rice vinegar and soy sauce, and a heaping tablespoon of the gochujang. Put the ceramic in the fridge.
  3. Slice (a mandolin works great if you have one) cucumber and ginger.
  4. Put all the slices in a bowl with about 1/4 cup of rice vinegar, salt, and crushed red pepper flakes. Add water to cover the veggies and put it in the fridge.

the next morning…

  1. Put the pork in the slow cooker and set it on low. Now go to work, you slacker!

that evening…

  1. Does your house smell amazing now? I bet it does. Take the pork (just the meat and onions, no juice) out into a bowl and use a fork to shread it.
  2. Grab a bowl and mix up a few tablespoons of gochujang, lots of rice vinegar, some soy sauce, and a splash of sesame oil. If you like spicy (I do), try adding a squirt of sriracha!
  3. Chop up green onion and rough bits of cilantro.
  4. Grab a tortilla. Combine the cabbage, some pork, a few cuke and ginger pickles, a sprinkle of green onion and cilantro, and then a few tablespoons of sauce.
  5. Eat it and make yummy noises.

A little chat about depression

This post is about personal, non-game stuff, so feel free to skip it if you’re not in the mood.

I mentioned very briefly last week in my Cart Life review that I have Depression, or Depressive Disorder, or whatever we call it now. I don’t know exactly when it started, but I suspect it was probably about a decade ago. I also don’t know why it started. Well.. I sort of do, but there’s no one thing, just a bunch of little things that seemed to grind me down over time.

Of course if you asked me I would have denied it. I have always believed that everyone is a little crazy in their own way, and life is just tough sometimes. And really I’m pretty privileged and have it pretty good in the general scheme of things, so what was there to be depressed about? Eventually those reasonable thoughts were joined by other ones, ones that said that if I felt hopeless all the time it was my own fault for not working harder, for not being prettier, or smarter, or kinder. Occasionally I would engage in dangerous behavior or call myself terrible names, but it was nothing more than I deserved.

A few years ago that I decided that perhaps I should see a therapist, because that seemed like a thing that miserable people do, and I found a nice woman who I met with a few times. After about our third appointment though she commented that I seemed like a “good person who was overwhelmed by things”, and I was so horrified that I skipped my next meeting and never went back. Not horrified at her, of course, but at myself for so selfishly misleading this professional into thinking that I was I was a good person.

I like that story, or at least I like how well it describes how after time Depression changes you so you literally cannot recognize help when it is in front of your face.

I feel chagrined now, typing that, because I am not the kind of person who likes admitting weakness. To be perfectly immodest, I consider myself to be pretty damn smart, and good at reading people. How can I be held hostage by my own brain? That’s stupid — I’m perfectly able to think my way out of things. Plus big pharma is pretty terrible, and Depression is kind of a First World Problem. Pills might work for other people, and good on them, but they weren’t going to help me.

So this is going to sound really weird, but what finally pushed me over the edge to getting more help was Wil Wheaton. While I respect his work and his dedication to not being a dick, I’ve never considered myself a Wheaton fan in particular, but his post about depression from back in September appeared in one of my social networks. He wrote of his life shortly after starting medication, “I felt [my wife's] hand in mine, and realized that I didn’t have any lingering tension or unhappiness just buzzing around in my skull. I was just enjoying a walk with my wife, and holding her hand.”

I thought to myself, “Shit, man. That sounds pretty damn nice.”

And so I started medication a couple of months ago. I went though almost four weeks of taking the pills and was just about at the point of chalking them up as yet another thing that I fail at, when.. somehow things started to change. Perhaps events in my life weren’t exactly the way I had perceived them? Maybe I was being my own worst enemy? Out of curiosity I tried to notice when I thought cruel things about myself. I felt guilty about it, a lot at first, but being kind to yourself is like a muscle. It’s not second nature yet, but it gets easier every day.

I feel so much lighter now. Somehow in the last month I started laughing more, and I’m better able to determine my own needs. I’m the same person I always was, but now the screaming banshee of failure in my head is turning into just a whisper.

I wrote this mostly because I was convinced to pursue medication because of blog posts just like this one telling me that it’s okay to want to be better. It’s only fair that I pay it forward, so to you, dear reader, I say: if you read any of the above and thought to yourself, “That sounds great, but it won’t help me because I’m (beyond help / hopeless / culpable),” I think you’re wrong.

Talk to someone close to you, talk to a doctor, talk to a therapist, just start talking. Tell them that you need help. It’s okay, and you’re worth it. Depression isn’t a punishment bestowed upon the weak and unworthy, it’s an illness. You deserve to know what it’s like when you’re on your own team.

The Eternal Truths of MMO Expansions: suck it up, buttercup!

I would like to dedicate this post to the official RIFT forums.

As something of a veteran of MMO expansions at this point, I generally know what to expect. There’s always a period of adjustment, and feeling overwhelmed by all the new content. If you game has character levels usually the cap is increased. You know, the usual stuff for WoW and WoW-style themeparks.

And yet, each and every time an expansion comes out it seems the official forums explode with shock and dismay. So let’s just clear up some things about the usual MMO expansions that we all need to learn to accept, okay?

Yes, you have to level.

So here’s the deal, folks: when you play an MMO that includes character levels and they release an expansion with a new, higher level cap.. you’re going to have to level. I know, I know, it’s so unfair, insert the rending of clothes and wailing of small children.

And hey, I kinda dig it. I don’t like levelling either, vastly preferring the more open-ended level cap activities. But man, I knew it was coming and that’s the way these games work. At my super casual pace I predict I’ll spend about 5 weeks getting to level 60. Storm Legion should be around for at least 18 months, or 78 weeks. That’s a pretty small part of the time to be leveling.

Yes, your old gear will no longer be good.

Expansions are, generally, gear resets. I too have had to put hard-earned, attractive raid gear in the bank when I picked up a superior, ugly green item, and it made me a little sad. But hey, that’s how this whole thing works.

A gear reset every couple of years is often a good thing too. They give players a chance to switch mains with no damage to their raid team. They give new players who may have joined the game halfway through the previous expansion a chance to catch up. It levels the playing field.

Besides, if you hit 60 in your top-of-the-line level 50 gear wouldn’t you be kinda bored? The fresh level capped character is honestly my favorite period of an MMO because everything is an upgrade. Achievers rejoice!

(And don’t start with the “time sink” complaints about the gear grind. That’s like saying that watching 40 minutes of Law and Order is a time sink when you just wanna know who did it. Gear treadmills are the entire point of Everquest/WoW style games, otherwise you really don’t have much of a game there.)

Yes, new content is hard.

At the end of an expansion’s life, there usually isn’t much new under the sun. People have had a year or two of gear collecting and running content. Progressive nerfing makes things easier, as does progressive buffing of classes. We can slam through dungeons in 15 minutes while watching television on the other monitor because we’ve run it a million times before and have excellent gear.

Then the expansion hits. Gear is reduced to a mish-mash of whatever we can put together, and we have no idea what any of the mechanics are. The new dungeon content is scary and mean, and we die a lot.

This too shall pass, my anxious player friends. Again, in another month or two we’ll be a lot more familiar with the fights, and have filled in many more holes in our gear. We’ll understand our new specs better, and have taken the time to read all the new spell icons. New content is tricky. Patience is key.


Certainly some of these things could be changed from the original design outset (I’d be interested to see an MMO with no character levels, for instance), but that’s not really going to happen unexpectedly in the expansion for a WoW-style MMO.

So suck it up, buttercup. In another six weeks you’ll be 60 and experienced and better geared and then you can start the 12+ months of whining about how you’re bored at level cap.

Don’t Look a Humble Bundle in the Mouth

A new Humble Bundle deal was released today: the “Humble THQ Bundle” features Saints Row 3, Darksiders, Metro 2033, Company of Heroes, and more. As of writing the average bundle price (which you must beat to get all games) is $5.31. In short, this is a really good deal.

In fact, I was saying as much on G+ — I bought two copies of the Bundle, one for myself and one for a future Secret Santa recipient — when I was informed that in fact this Bundle is bad. Even Ars Technica apparently agrees, or at least thinks there’s enough there to report about, with today’s article titled Humble THQ Bundle Threatens to Ruin the Brand’s Reputation.

Oh lord. Spare me from video game hipsters.

Look, I think my history of writing shows that I am all about sticking it to The Man when it’s deserved, and personal purchasing power. And that is pretty much why I think trying to attack Humble Bundle for not being “indie” enough is like shooting ourselves in the foot.

Point the first: The Humble Bundle makes no promises of being independent games only. Yes, they produce the Humble Indie Bundle and it’s been pretty great for both consumers and indie developers. And I’m sure there will be Humble Indie Bundles again in the future. (In fact this was confirmed by the organization earlier today.)

However, it’s not like the Humble Bundle was a huge source of exposing unknown titles, the developers of which will now go hungry. Most of their previous indie games were pretty well known in gamer circles before they hit the Bundle, like Braid, Binding of Isaac, and Trine. For me, the Bundles were more a case of “oh, I’ve always meant to pick those up” than discovering totally new titles.

Plus The Humble Bundle has had multiple interactions with Double Fine games like Psychonauts, which while not a “AAA” title certainly dances on the line of “indie”. Apparently that was okay, though.

Point the second: Big developers/distributors should actually be encouraged to seek out alternative pricing schemes, such as the Bundle’s “pay what you want”. If you listened to yesterday’s podcast we talked about how many brand new $60 games we’ve bought in the last two years compared to sale or indie titles, and it seems like the big titles are losing that war. Why not explore other pricing strategies, rather than just blindly keep trying to sell $60 games that maybe hit a sale price of $30?

Like, by buying the Bundle but refusing to give any money to THQ or whatever to “send a message” (as I see people encouraging each other to do on Google+) we’re just telling THQ and other big companies that unique pricing structures will fail. Letting the consumer decide what they want to pay will fail. I turned the charity slider way up and the THQ slider way down (although not off) myself, because I have the ability to do that thanks to the Bundle.

Again, why exactly do we want to tell big companies to stay away from innovative pricing systems that give us more purchasing power? Why not welcome them to the Bundle fold, indie or otherwise? It’s not like it’s a “AAA” bundle that we have to buy for $60 and all the money goes to a giant bonfire in the office of EA’s CEO.

Point the third: Charity. I’ll be totally honest — the $10 that I gave directly to the American Red Cross and Child’s Play through my Bundle purchases this morning would be otherwise earmarked for lunch or something. The Bundle gets charity dollars out of my budget that otherwise would not go to any group. Like, this is a good thing.

Point the fourth: The Humble Bundle people are not, in fact, coming to your house and threatening to shoot your dog unless you buy it.

I realize that this Bundle differs from previous ones in that it requires Steam and Windows, and the games are from a big publisher. I also realize that this is trying something different, and there will be the old standard Bundle that we all know and love again soon.

Basically, the way I see it, a bunch of nerds are getting all snotty about an organization that raises millions of dollars for charity and provides cheap games for consumers because.. there’s no Linux version. Usually nothing sets me off faster than when some industry or media person calls gamers “entitled”, but man, some days we kind of deserve it.

So Long, Transient Players

I’m fairly certain that this post will irritate some people, so let’s start it off right with a quotation from an established blogging shit-stirrer, SynCaine:

“[Transient, casual members] are a nightmare. They don’t show up enough to be reliable for in-game planning. They aren’t active enough to generally follow the flow and social structure of a guild. And at the same time, they will show up sometimes and can’t be completely written off when considering numbers, but often can’t stick around to fully see something through like a siege.”

SynCaine’s post was as much about the number of hours that a person plays each week as it was about their commitment to a game, but I’m more interested in the latter point.

Ever since WoW hit its peak and then started to fade it seems the general mood of both the playerbase and the industry is to move towards MMO design that requires less commitment. Group sizes got smaller, subscriptions disappeared, and content became easier or gained “easy modes” like LFR. MMOs have gone out of their way to eliminate mandatory social interaction (or any social interaction, in some cases) and support a “drop in, drop out” playstyle.

These things are all well and good, but what has the cumulative effect been so far? Obviously my information is anecdotal, but those folks who were sick of WoW and wanted things to better suit the anti-social, transient player? They’re currently.. still sick of MMOs. They played some of the new hotnesses this year like Pandaria and GW2, and now they’re bored and cranky again.

The people who I see playing and enjoying MMOs now are the opposite of the transient player, what Rohan calls the Extended player. It’s the people who schedule a weekly activity, who find a game they like and stick with it, or who seek out group content. It’s the people who have committed in some way to their game.

So here’s my hypothesis: for various reasons WoW got extremely popular and suddenly lots of people were playing MMOs. But that was just a fluke of the times as much as anything. The fact is that MMOs are a niche genre that appeals to a smaller group of players, and the genre is now sloughing off those people who were just kind of along for the WoW ride. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that — WoW was crazy good fun in its prime and online games were still kind of a novelty.)

And let me be clear — I realize that appealing to a wide audience will net the most possible dollars. I’m just saying that I don’t care, and neither should good MMO developers. The vision of an MMO as a commitment-free, socializing-free utopia doesn’t work, as a general rule. The vast majority of people in my own gaming group and in blogging circles who are dissatisfied with MMOs insist on playing them as single player games, and it just frustrates both them and the Extended players around them.

I started out 18 months ago or so believing that playing an MMO without any commitment to anything was possible and perhaps even admirable. Now, however, when Rohan says in his original post that “[Transient players] still need an endgame” my first response is, “No they don’t”. The idea of “Extended vs. Transient” or “Casual vs. Committed” isn’t new, but I’m officially so over the current popular thought that MMOs need to fit both audiences. Make a commitment to a social group or an activity or a hard challenge or whatever, or go find another genre.

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