Conflicting Genius

Musings on everything past, present, and future

One man’s love is another man’s question mark…

Recently, I discovered an awesome bit of British culture which is what happens when you take H.G. Wells’ War of the Words novel, turn it into a rock opera, and have it performed by an orchestral-electronica hybrid band (think Manheim Steamroller). However, I will say that I’ve found one problem when trying to talk to people about it – they’ve never heard of it. AT ALL. To demonstrate what I mean, I’m going to ask for a quick raise of hands.

Who recognizes at least something in this image?

Doctor Who

…hmm, that’s a lot of hands raised. I figured as much – Doctor Who is a worldwide phenomenon, after all.

Now, who recognizes this image?

Jeff Wayne's Musical Version of The War of the Worlds

…nobody? Well, that figures. How about this one?

Still nothing? See, here’s my problem. Jeff Wayne’s Musical Version of The War of the Worlds, aside from having one of the longest official album titles in modern music history, is seemingly unheard of in the United States. This, in spite of it being #38 on the UK’s official “Top 40 biggest selling albums of all-time” list…

…oh. Wait a minute. I just realized something.

Everything I'd Tell You Is Culturally Relevant TO THE UNITED KINGDOM

Kinda hard to expect my Yankee friends to understand a British thing, ain’t it?

Given this, it’s not surprising that my friends, most of whom were born and raised in America, haven’t heard about an album which has never been as popular in America as it has been overseas, let alone performed poorly in America compared with other countries. (http://www.thewaroftheworlds.com/thestory/default.aspx, Chapater 14, Page 142)

So, there you have it, ladies and gentlemen: the brief story of how one man’s love is another man’s question mark.

Does Myst have a legacy?

A recent article on Gamasutra raised an interesting question: does the classic first-person adventure game Myst really have a legacy? If someone were to ask me this, I’d say yes. However, I don’t think it left the kind of legacy most games do. Most games leave legacies which impact the video game industry. Sierra On-Line’s Quest brand of games, especially the King’s Quest series, led games into exciting new frontiers, from cinematic music scores using the once state-of-the-art Roland MT-32 Multi-Timbre Sound Module to full voice acting via the once-massive massive 600MB capacity of CD-ROMs, while games like Defender of the Crown were the forerunners of cinematic gaming with lush backgrounds and meticulously-detailed characters. Even spectacular failures left legacies – Jurassic Park: Trespasser is a notable example as its impressive-yet-horrifically-issue-ridden physics engine laid the groundwork for physics-driven first-person games like Half-Life 2.

However, Myst didn’t spawn a new breed of games which cleanly walked the line between art and an actual game – instead, it purportedly ended up singlehandedly killing the adventure game genre, paving the way for first-person shooters like Doom, Quake, and Half-Life. In fact, the only game which follows the Myst formula and people are to know about is the PS3 game Journey.

Think about it: both Myst and Journey minimize interactions to form an emphasis on artistic storytelling and world-building while providing puzzles of varying difficulties and complexities for the player to solve. Yet Journey is an epic tale of the journey you and others take across the world, while Myst is more of a chronicle of your adventures in a foreign land and a collection of interwoven, intimate tales on a small cast of characters you rarely get to interact with.

The legacy I think Myst left is the impact it had on its fans. Not only did it tell intimate stories, it build fantastic, lush worlds which hold (or once held) fantastic forms of life, both humanoid and alien. It also gave players puzzles to solve which were often very relatable, such as needing to read a compass or matching sounds to pictures of the animals which made them, and also tied well into the worlds and stories – how often does the solution to puzzles lie in learning a foreign number system through playing and observing a simple children’s game based around a terrible, ritualistic sacrifice? (If you played Myst’s first sequel, Riven, that’s exactly what you get to do.)

Honestly, I don’t think a Myst-like game would be appealing to publishers today. In a world where games tend to be, among other things, epic, flashy, and energetic, Myst hold a unique blend of intimacy, slow pacing, thoughtfulness, and exploration which goes against much of what’s being published today. Thankfully, Cyan Worlds is hoping to crowdfund enough money of Kickstarter to create a spiritual successor to Myst called Obduction. While, as of this writing, they’re 8 days away from their deadline and $266,008 away from the ambitious $1.1 million dollar goal. While I don’t think Cyan Worlds will make it, I do literally hope and pray they’ll make it. I think the legacy of Myst deserves to live on – it’s a rare breed of game which takes players on a unique, memorable journey they won’t soon forget.

Have YOU had brats from Johnsonville’s Big Taste Truck? Neither had my mother or I until today.

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Stuff I’d Recommend from Steam’s Summer Sale – Part 1, Day 8

Steam’s Summer Sale is currently in its 8th day of operation, and already I’m drooling at all the awesome games on sale – none of which I can get thanks to tight finances and a bad, non-refundable video game purchase (which I shall not describe). Here’s some of my picks, all of which are good until 10AM PST (GMT -7) tomorrow:

What happens when you wrap up all the good things in Diablo 2 and DOOM into one package and add modern improvements which actually improve things? Torchlight 2 is what you get.

Arguably the last of truly great SimCity games, SimCity 4 continues the city building and management legacy of its predecessors while adding so much more simulated goodness, you’ll be hooked for weeks on end! Add to that the excellent Rush Hour expansion pack (included in the Deluxe edition), and you have a masterpiece at your fingertips!

Ever wanted to experience what it’s like to drive an 18-wheeled monster of a vehicle down narrow roads, clogged thoroughfares, and treacherous conditions across massive, accurate landscapes of the UK and Europe? Oh, and did I mention you have to do all that on a tight schedule? Whether you enjoy arcade-like experiences or are a simulation buff, Euro Truck Simulator 2 is the game for you – no matter what side of the Atlantic you’re on.

My thoughts on Tropes Vs. Women, part 2: Two interesting examples

I just wanted to point out two examples which Anita Sarkeesian used in her second Tropes Vs. Women video which I found interesting. First is an example from Prey, in which you play as Tommy, a young Cherokee spirit warrior who, along with his girlfriend Tan, is abducted by an alien structure called the Sphere. Ms. Sarkeesian, as part of her point on having the male protagonist “mercy kill” a female in order to objectify them, shows Tan, who has had a grotesque beast grafted onto her torso, begging Tommy to kill her. The way in which clip is shown completely strips out the larger context, which I will explain.

At this point in the game, Mother, the human female (make note of that) who is in control of the Sphere’s god-like powers, has been maniputavely training Tommy to become her replacement, using the promise of Tommy being able to rescue Tan as the means to do so. Even before this point, Tommy has been shooting through hordes of the Sphere’s warriors, murderous spirits, and hostile robots, to find Tan. He continually shows concern for her in his dialogue, and as the game progresses, he is shown to be intensely focused on rescuing Tan – to the point of ignoring his now-immortal grandfather’s advice of training to face the horrors he will encounter physically, mentally, and psychologically. Mother notices this, and uses it to drive him up to the top of the Sphere’s Spire.

Here are two videos, both part of a complete walkthrough of Prey, which shows the actual event and the immediately-preceding events leading up to it.

 

Before I make my point, let me make one thing clear: having the player mercy-kill Tan, regardless of context, is something I greatly dislike and abhor because it completely ignores the person’s dignity. No one has the right to take away someone’s life in this fashion.

Unlike what Ms. Sarkeesian claims is being done here, Tommy mercy-killing Tan is not being used to objectify Tan to give him power over her. Instead, it is used to show how completely Tommy is letting Mother – a female antagonist, not a male one – control him. She has been using Tan, along with taunting him along, as a means to get to Tommy, twist his emotions, and transform him into her successor – and in this case, objectify his own girlfriend, which he has never done up until this point, in order to justify her death. Mother even blatantly told Tommy she was doing this to him at several points in the game, yet he was so emotional that he dismissed Mother’s words as merely taunts meant to scare him.

There is another example with Ms. Sarkeesian uses in the second Tropes Vs. Women video, this time as part of her point that sometimes damsels are allowed to help the hero, but only when they’re out of danger. In this example, one from Double Dragon Neon, an 80’s style remake of the original Double Dragon arcade game, has martial arts masters Bill and Jimmy sent on a quest to rescue Billy’s girlfriend Marian from the Black Warriors. She claims the final boss was ‘defeated’ by Marian only because he was incapacitated – again, shown in a way which strips it of its context. (Interestingly, someone else used the exact same clip to argue against Ms. Sarkeesian’s first video, also used in a way which strips it of context.)

At the end of the game, you fight the Black Warriors’ leader, Skullmageddon. At the end of the fight, you knock him off a cliff. As the credits roll, he falls to the abyss below. As he’s about to land at the bottom of the abyss, where, given the amount of punishment he took before, you’d expect to have to fight him again – even if he is sparking and smoking. Instead, he is killed via a punch to the groin by Marian, who, at the beginning of the game, was incapacitated by a punch to the gut by a Black Warrior while distracted by applying makeup using her compact. While you might think this shows Marian to have worked out of her “damsel” position and into a strong woman, what happens next completely destroys that thought by genuinely objectifying her. Now that she’s beaten the boss for you, Bill and Jimmy end up fighting each other for Marian’s affection – and the boss battle is entirely player-controlled. Below, you can find the complete video depicting the above-mentioned events.

My thoughts on Tropes Vs. Women, Part 1: Where’s love in all this?

After watching both of Anita Sarkeesian‘s Tropes Vs. Women videos, one thing keeps standing out at me:

Why isn’t love ever considered?

There’s a reason why the “damsel in distress” trope is so often used – ranging back to medieval times. The tales of a knight saving his imprisoned lady was never meant to turn the woman into an object, devoid of her humanity. Rather, the stories were meant to help both man and woman strive for selfless love. What woman wouldn’t want a husband who will always be there for her, no matter what happens, and will do whatever it takes to get her back? What man wouldn’t want a wife who is so completely dedicated to him that she would rather wait – or even die – in captivity than succumb to the temptations of others to forsake her rightful husband? Heck, the male example, if it’s working correctly, could even inspire the female to also fight to see her husband again, or even convince her captor to peacefully let her go – the moral isn’t meant to be gender-specific.

The origins of the “damsel in distress” trope, when it first became popular in the middle ages, was framed in what was likely popular culture at the time – the virtuous knight, ever-loyal to and ever-willing to protect and fight for his country, his king, his wife, and his family, and the knight’s wife, an equally-virtuous lady who will do the same as the husband. Now, before you ask why women weren’t allowed to serve in the army, it comes down to many factors. Here are a few:

  • Who the heck is going to take care of the kids?!

Yeah, they could hire a babysitter or ask a neighbor or good friend willing to temporarily move in to look after the kids, but they’ll still need their mother – and as has been revealed by modern science (Google it!), children need both a mother and a father for proper development. Besides, the neighbor likely couldn’t look after the kids forever – they have responsibilities to their children as well!

  • What about the family business?

See the image above? That’s what many businesses looked like back in the middle ages. Without cars or other fast form of transportation, people often lived where they worked, with the business on the bottom floor, and the house on the top floor. If the husband, who traditionally worked the family business, had to go to war, or was otherwise indisposed, the wife often had to work the business. Let me repeat that:

A wife, who is, by definition, a woman marred to a man, living in the middle ages could work the family business if the husband couldn’t. (Again, Google it!)

Couldn’t you temporarily hire the neighbors? Sure, but only if they had enough training to do the kind of job you would be proud of – which would likely mean years’ worth – didn’t have too many other responsibilities, and lived close enough to make it there on-time. Couldn’t you enlist your older children? Sure, but you’d have to consider the same reasons as above. Couldn’t you hire a good friend? Sure, but you’d also have to consider the same reasons as above – in addition to whether they’d be willing to move to where you live for a time. That means they’d have to leave their household and figure out how to fill the lack of a person while they’re gone.

  • Who’s going to keep the house safe?

This one goes without saying. Unlike today, where you can buy a home-security system to help keep your house safe when no-one’s around, you’d need to have someone trustworthy around to keep your home safe. You could leave your older children in charge, ask a neighbor, or hire a guard. Of course, all these things have problems – the kids might not be trustworthy enough, the neighbor might not be able to leave their house for any number of valid reasons one could have in the middle ages, and guards, just like they are today, are expensive. Thus, the wife would be the natural choice.

Aside from all the reasons above, there is one thing I should point out:

They actually did have women soldiers in the middle ages.

Seriously. Don’t believe me? Maybe you’ll believe someone who’s done a bit of research on the topic: http://www.heraldica.org/topics/orders/wom-kn.htm

Still don’t believe me? Here’s a Google search for you.

Addendum to “Dark Horizons, a most unusual ‘Mech game”

Author’s note: as the original post on Dark Horizons was getting quite long – even by my standards – I decided to split off some of my thoughts into an addendum.

Because of the plan to eventually move Dark Horizons to F2P, I plan to suggest that Mr. Adrian try to stay away from F2P types such as “Pay to Play”, where free players are severely limited and often underpowered unless they buy premium items (virtual goods you must buy with real-world currency), and “Pay to Win”, where you can easily achieve victory and/or superiority over your enemies by simply forking over your real, hard-earned money to buy ludicrously-overpowered items. The reason why I plan to do this is because there is actual proof by regarded professional economists and game consultants that these sorts of F2P types, in general, drive away potentially-paying free players, causing poor long-term profits. As I always say: don’t take my word for it, Google it!

Thankfully, these same economists and game consultants have concocted better ways to do F2P. One economist in particular, Mr. Ramin Shokrizade, published an article in late 2012 regarding the problems to the above-mentioned F2P types and his solutions to them. You can find the article, Next Generation Monetization: Supremacy Goods,here: http://www.gamasutra.com/view/feature/177190/next_generation_monetization_.php

I’d also recommend taking at Mr. Shokrizade’s previous works, which are mostly posted on his blog on Gamasutra.comthe premier video game industry news site, as they are very insightful into the very hearts of F2P games – how they choose to monetize themselves and how they go about achieving it. Here are some of my favorites:

Dark Horizons, a most unusual ‘Mech game

A couple years ago, I had the privilege to participate in the development of Dark Horizons: MAV, created by Max Gaming Technologies (MGT). It’s most unusual in terms of ‘Mech (walking tank) games in that the control scheme is arcade-like, requiring only 8-15 keys to properly control your ‘Mech – instead of needing an entire keyboard like most ‘Mech games – while still having many of the simulation aspects of more traditional ‘Mech games like the Mechwarrior series and the Earthsiege series, like having the damage to your ‘Mech’s parts being individually-tracked and needing to manage your ‘Mech’s heat levels.

One of the better definitions of “Stuff Blowing Up” in a video game.

Plus, Dark Horizons: MAV allows you to completely customize a wide variety of ‘Mech chassis, right down to the individual weapons!

Yeah, it’s been done before, but this is a rarity for a modern, PC-based ‘Mech game.

Unfortunately, MGT’s Kickstarter campaign for Dark Horizons: MAV just so happened to be released right when MechWarrior Online, the much-vaunted successor to the hallowed Mechwarrior series, was launching into open beta and the arcade-style ‘Mech game Hawken was becoming very popular. Thus, in combination with other factors to which I’m not privy, their Kickstarter failed miserably, with only 39 backers pledging 1,612 USD (US Dollars), approximately 1/10 th of the desired 15,000 USD. Given this development, MGT moved on to contract work.

Recently, though, much of this has changed. MGT has given permission to Mr. Adrian Wright, a MGT employee, to work on continued development for Dark Horizons: MAV, now known simply as Dark Horizons due to the “MAV” part of the original name being copyrighted. Mr. Adrian’s (yes, I know Mr. Wright is more proper, but I guarantee you that people will mistaken it for Will Wright) new vision for the game is to make it into a freeware game – aka a completely, utterly, and no-strings-attached free game – first, which will be released as an “open beta” soon. Then, at some point in the future, Mr. Adrian will transition the game into a F2P (Free to Play) monetization model. As the few active members of the Dark Horizons community and I have now effectively been drafted into Mr. Adrian’s development team, I’m helping out in any way I can – ranging from advertising in forums I know will have an audience for this game to this very blog post.

I also plan to advertise Dark Horizons by asking you, my readers, this: if you’re interested in Dark Horizons, register now at http://www.playmech.com so you can play the open beta when it’s released. I know Mr. Adrian would also appreciate it if you could please advertise the game in any way you can to your friends, family, or anyone you think might be interested. The advertising campaign for the game is very much a grassroots one, so we need all the help we can get!

The future looks interesting for Dark Horizons, and, as a fan of the game, I can’t wait to see where it goes – especially since I am among the privileged few who can truly shape that future.

That Which Is Epic – Lighthouse: The Dark Being, Playthrough Part 2

It’s been more than a week since I posted the first part of my playthrough of Lighthouse: The Dark Being, and I’ve been busy getting the second part ready for your enjoyment. Now it’s finally ready for your enjoyment! As before, you can watch the video below, or, if it doesn’t show up or work, you can watch it at http://youtu.be/MSmi5cXsz7c. Regardless, I hope you enjoy it!

The Hypocrisy of Steam Users, Revised

Previously, I talked about how it seemed Steam users were hypocrites due to how well Uber Entertainment’s Planetary Annihilation was selling in spite of the many complaints from Steam users regarding its pricing. However, I’ve read several people on various forums stating Steam’s “top sellers” list actually sorts titles by revenue, not by the number of copies which have been activated (a short way of saying a copy of a game has been permanently associated with a Steam user’s account). After doing some research, I discovered they weren’t making it up.

According to a Valve employee, who goes by the name of afarnsworth, the list really is sorted by revenue. While there is at least one person who claims a Valve employee who goes by the name of DougV has stated that the Steam “top sellers” list is sorted by the number of activated copies, I haven’t been able to confirm this. (It would also appear DougV is now a former Valve employee – unless, for some highly-unlikely reason unfathomable to me, he acted like he  had a job he actually never had.)

So, yeah…it would seem Steam users, in this case, likely aren’t hypocrites – it just seems like they are if, like me, you made faulty assumptions about how Steam’s “top sellers” list actually works. Sorry about that.

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