Category Archives: Miscellany

It’s 25% Off!

A friend of mine still hanging onto WoW for dear life wanted me to see this news:

Wow. Much Savings. Such Doge. Wow.

Wow. Much Savings. Such Doge. Wow.

In other words, character transfers are 25% off for a limited time. Not quite the 50% discount Blizzard was offering back in June of last year, but hey, why would they? They got back 600,000 subscriptions in Q3. Can’t possibly stymie that value-added cash flow equivalent to any number of quality Steam games/bundles/etc.

I kinda get the argument that the value is there for players still invested in playing WoW; even at $18.75 there are only a few Steam games that could stand up to ~100 hours of play that WoW could easily generate in a month. On the other hand, my subscription ended 5/10/13. I am nearly a year and a half removed. And even if I came back tomorrow, all my toons are still stuck on no-Pop Auchindoun-US whatever merged PvP server nonsense exists with just about everyone else I know having abandoned ship to a PvE server. So the costs for me to get back into the game is, minimum, $15 + $18.75 + the expansion. That is a rather serious goddamn commitment for something I don’t even know I will find fun anymore.

So, no thanks, Blizzard: it’s still a wee bit ridiculous. If I could transfer my entire character stable wholesale for that price, sure, maybe. I simply got too much gold, too many alts, and not enough fucks to give.

That Michael Ironside AMA

If you are not familiar with Reddit, it’s… well, let’s just say it’s a thing. A thing that occasionally has “Ask Me Anything” threads from famous people, like Michael Ironside. You might be familiar with him from his work on Command & Conquer 3: Tiberium Wars. Or, you know, any of the hundreds of classic movies he’s been in, including Total Recall, Starship Troopers, and Free Willy.

In any case, in his AMA he related had a rather interesting story about Splinter Cell:

Q: Hello, Mr. Ironside! I have to say that I liked your voice work as Sam Fisher in the Splinter Cell series. How do you feel about Ubisoft’s decision to not use you in the newest game? Also, any stories about your work on the games?

I think it’s a great idea for Ubisoft. They’ve gone to motion capture, and this spring I will be 65 years old. I don’t think anyone wants to pay money seeing a 65 year old Sam Fisher bounce around on set, killing and stumbling while he kills people. I wish them all the luck. I hope that franchise has a long and storied future.

I have to confess I’m not a gamer. And when they sent me the contract for the very first game, it was quite lucrative, and I said “absolutely, I will do this.” I thought it was going to be like PONG, and I would just have to introduce it.

My wife, actually, went out and bought a brand new SUV with some of the money.

When I got the script, it was very stiff, very inflexible, and very blood and violent.

And I didn’t want to do it. And told them I was going to give them back their money. They asked me what would it take to keep me on the project, and i said we would have to change the character, and give him some type of humanity. To their credit, they sat me down with the game creators, and we came up with the present Sam Fisher, who had an empathy and was not just a 2 dimensional killing machine. And we got as much humanity, I think that that format will allow.

And my wife didn’t have to give back her SUV.

ALso, what happened is, when you’re doing games, usually it’s one person in a booth doing their work, creating their character, and then the next person goes in, you usually never get to work or meet anybody. On the first 2 games, we brought the cast in, and we all did it together, so we had a sense of humanity. That was one of my stipulations.

I said “Working is like making love, if i do it by myself, it’s just masturbation. I’d rather have the other cast around.” And I think the proof is in the pudding, the game has had a pretty good set of legs on it.

I confess that I have never actually played any of the Splinter Cell games, which I realize makes highlighting this anecdote a little weird. Still, it is a bit encouraging to hear that by virtue of a single person, a group of developers were able to come together and change what would have (undoubtedly) been a more one-dimensional experience into one with a lot more texture. Somewhat less encouraging was the fact that Ubisoft felt like the killing machine script was good enough at the beginning, but I’ll give them a pass here.

In any case, this is still one of the best AMAs I have ever read. This Christian Bale story, this Starship Troopers trivia, these Highlander 2 moments with Sean Connery. Way good.

Gamer Demographics Over Time

The Entertainment Software Association puts out a PDF every year with a variety of gamer statistics, such as average age, gender, and so on. I started looking them up in support of an argument I was going to make, realized the data might have proven the exact opposite thing, then decided “what the hell” and tossed it up into a Google Doc. Here are some simple graphs that may or may not prove useful to someone, somewhere:

Hmm.

Hmm.

As you might notice, the average age of gamers plummeted in 2012. This was a result of the ESA changing the wording of their questionnaire, turning anyone who played one hour per week of a game on a smartphone or iPad into a “gamer.” Incidentally, people who played 10 hours per week were considered “serious gamers,” which I believe automatically applies to anyone who has ever played an MMO. It’s kinda funny though, in that playing games more than an 1.5 hours/day is “serious,” but (Americans) watching more than 5 hours of live TV a day is average. Casuals, indeed.

Getting older? Maybe.

Getting older? Maybe.

The above chart is a breakdown of the three age ranges into percentages of the whole. This is where my original argument got tripped up. You see, I was trying to refute the “these days gamers are getting older/having kids/etc and thus have less time to play” argument. I mean, it makes sense as a talking point when speaking to one’s own peer group, but the average number of years a person has been gaming hasn’t increased all that much (see chart 1). In this chart however, it’s pretty clear that the under-18 crowd went from about 35% of all gamers down to sub-20% across seven years. So yeah, maybe we’re all growing up. Or more older non-gamers are joining, which may as well be the same thing.

If you are wondering what happened to 2012-2014 numbers, well, the ESA decided change the age ranges for basically no reason. Seriously, under-18, 18-35, and 36+? I mean, I guess that isolates the COD crew better? I’m not going to bother with a graph for just those three years though, so here is a table:

Under-18 18-35 36+
2003 37.9% 39.5% 22.7%
2012 32% 31% 37%
2013 32% 32% 36%
2014 29% 32% 39%

I included the 2003 data in there simply because it happened to have those same age ranges on it.

Finally, here is a gender chart for the curious:

We've come a long way.

We’ve come a long way.

And there you go. Hopefully that was useful to someone, somewhere. If you want to see the figures yourself, the Google Doc includes links to all 14 PDFs. Go nuts.

Borderlands Charm

Prior to clicking this Kotaku article about Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel, I had close to zero interest in the game. It’s not that I disliked the franchise or BL2 – I have 115 hours on the latter – I simply got extremely fatigued with the gameplay by the end. Which was just about a full year ago, apparently. Huh.

In any case, watching the 10-minute explanation trailer sort of reminded me why I liked the series to begin with. Maybe TORGUE and Hammerlock were never all that funny to you, and that’s fine. In fact, neither are all that interesting to me on their own as characters. But the writing. It’s not that it’s brilliant or anything, it’s just… utterly unique. What other game can slot in surprisingly tasteful BDSM and Nietzsche jokes into their gameplay videos? And it fit? There are a million other first-person shooters out there, but there is only one Borderlands.

Or two, I guess. And a third on the way. Hmm. I wonder what the intro song will be this time?

P.S. Not paying full price though.

Nostalgia Level: Star Ocean 2

Just doing my nightly Kotaku crawl when I came across a Let’s Talk About Star Ocean 2 article. Holy nostalgia, man.

Okay, I don't remember this part.

Okay, I don’t remember this part.

The article itself was really talking about how bad the dialog/localization was in the original game (apparently remedied a bit by the non-digital, PSP-only re-release) which, like most things in 1999, I don’t remember being much of an issue. What I mainly remember is: sci-fi JRPG, action combat, 60+ hour campaign, Private Actions (a pretty novel method of character-building at the time), and 80+ endings. And those Skills. Good lord, those skills.

There was even an in-game Iron Chef sequence.

There was even an in-game Iron Chef sequence.

I keep thinking that if I had infinite time, that I would replay all these PS1 games, even if the experience itself would not quite be the same. It’s hard going back though. As the sidebar indicates, I’m sorta-maybe playing FF4 for the first time (started due to the Japan trip) and it’s tough getting past the “X and Y were bad game design decisions” sort of mentality. I can’t even imagine the field day I’d have with games like Star Ocean 2.

Still, I have some rather pleasant memories of that whole gaming era, which landed straight in my formative high school years. Star Ocean 2 doesn’t really come close to FF7 or Xenogears, but it ranks up there with the LUNAR series as being an unexpected delight.

Quote of the Time Interval

 People are here to play, and being playful is good. Your steampunk goggles and bronze rocket pack get admiring looks, not confused stares and laughs. The weirdos are the Colts fans who arrived in their thousands for the game last night; why wear a blue and white jersey when you could have a fez and/or chainmail?

-Zubon

GenCon: Day Three (final)

Last day of GenCon… and all I can really think is “thank god.”

RPG: Coldsteel Warriors

I basically signed up to play with a good friend from college who successfully Kickstarted his own pen & paper RPG system. Unfortunately, I was the only one of the five people who signed up to the event to show, so we shot the shit instead. He ended up giving me a copy of the game rules to take a look at, which I shall before plugging the game itself more than I am right now.

I guess I should mention that the setting is in the Iron Age of comics, so everything is basically Watchmen minus the actual Watchmen. And everything is d10s, so it sorta feels like Arkham Horror with the success dice mechanic.

Panel: Evening with RA Salvatore

To be completely honest, I really only know RA Salvatore via the Kingdoms of Amalur debacle. I mean, I’m aware of the fact that he wrote the Sephiroth of D&D (before there was a Sephiroth), but I have read a grand total of zero of those books. Maybe I should have before getting a ticket to his panel, but too late for that.

The panel itself was just pure Q&A with himself and about 30 of us. While he talked about a number of things – including some indulgent questions regarding some characters in his books – there were a few parts that stood out to me.

First, while he was making a love letter to the original EverQuest up on the stage, he sort of reiterated one of my prior points regarding long boat rides. Specifically: “we didn’t care about the waiting times because that time was our Facebook before Facebook.” He went on to acknowledge that people are less tolerant of those sort of waits because if they want to talk to people, they’ll just tab out to Facebook.

Contrary to my sage wisdom though, Salvatore lamented that “all the grief is gone” from MMOs. Back during the 38 Studios days, he was in the conference room every day fighting for EverQuest-style penalties and such. He personally attributes that thought process to devs who have a background in customer service (which is where most designers start out at), and them thusly being afraid of complaints on forums. “Corpse runs make for the best stories.” And so on.

After that gaming interlude, he launched on a deeply compeling rant on Unreliable Narrators. I’m not going to recreate the entire conversation, but the topic stemmed from an earlier point on how the rules of English 101 are not at all similar to what’s taught in English 1001. Specifically, how the readers of today parse information is much different from how the readers of 1970 parse, and the readers of 1930, 1830, and so on. The “rules” state that you should never have to write “‘Great job,’ Bob said sarcastically” because you as the author should have made Bob’s sarcasm obvious from his personality, the scene setup, etc. Hell, you shouldn’t even have to specify that Bob was even the one who said the line; it should be clear from the cadence of the dialog.

The trouble is, according to Salvatore, that people nowadays read things in terms of messages boards, e.g. all “dialog” is attributed by default. Plus, without the in-person element, we have a much harder time interpreting sarcasm in text. He stressed that he is not criticizing the generation, he’s just pointing out that if you want to write something that speaks to the audience of today, you have to speak in a way that they can understand.

The problem is that the present environment is pretty hostile to the Unreliable Narrator element. And after some thought, I agree. I don’t quite agree with Salvatore’s ultimate concern that the lack of Unreliable Narrators means that people are slowing becoming incapable of seeing/questioning the world from another person’s perspective, but yeah, the mechanic itself is pretty tough to pull off “correctly” these days. I think the problem is that it ends up feeling like a cheap trick most of the time, an easy way to introduce a twist without needing to foreshadow anything.

Anyway, that as that. 

GenCon: Day Two

The second day was considerably less busy than the first.

Panel: Freelancing for Fun and Profit

Hosted by the “teach truck-drivers the art of cussing like a sailor” John Adamus, and cohosted by Brianna Reid. It ended up being a 2-hour panel, which I was not expecting, but the general information was pretty good. Some standard stuff like “don’t do unpaid work, ever” but they did have some specific advice for people who had questions. For example, one guy asked what he should say to people when offering his services considering his talent set is rather diverse. Answer: context of the event matters… but go nuts on your business card.

Just as with the panels the previous day, some grimaces were had by the hosts when someone asked how applicable the advice is to videogames. The resounding answer seems to be that “there is no money in videogames” insofar as freelancers/writers are concerned. I mean, it’s pretty bad when someone who entirely makes a living as a freelancer tells you that the videogame industry is all unpredictable work.

Also: the general payment rule for writing is 1-2 cents/word, creating logos should be $300, and websites should be anywhere from $1000 to $15,000 depending on the scope. Don’t work for “exposure” and don’t work for points. If anyone gives you lip, just repeat “fuck you, pay me.” …and that was basically that entire panel.

Concert: the Doubleclicks

Not much to say here; you either like these girls or you don’t. Personally, I enjoyed the songs and I have to give mad props to the lead singer for her stage presence and audience interaction.

Terrible Idea: Friday Night Live

Holy fucking shit, you guys. This was literally the worst thing I have ever sat through. Bad on us for not really researching the thing ahead of time – we kinda thought it would be similar to Saturday Night Live – but we could not be more horribly wrong. It was basically medieval comedy songs by people with zero sense of humor and/or musical talent. We snuck out after about 45 minutes (of the 2 hour show).

Other

We ended up playing some card games at the end of the night, but I think I’m going to save my impressions of them for a separate post.

GenCon: Day One

As might be expected, the general con experience might almost be too much for me.

image

10am rush.

The cosplay runs the gamut between legitimately intriguing to hilariously bad, but I can’t bring myself to document much of any of it. Because first of all, I don’t think a normal picture would be all that interesting to look at. But, second, I’m not actually that bad mannered to surreptitiously take the infinitely more interesting photos.

Panel: Game Writing 101

So this panel was actually extremely interesting given the people on it: Thomas Reid (P&P games), Christine Thompson (writer and lore person for Star Trek Online), and Maxwell Drake (writer for EverQuest Next). [edit: Matt Forbeck was also there] There was no particular agenda for the panel; the people up there just took questions from the audience.

Highlight of the panel? Maxwell came out and said EQNext wouldn’t be done for another 2 years. Not sure if that is “official” or just his impression of things, but EQN having a 2016 release kinda pushes the entire thing out beyond even my limited Kickstarter time horizon. Maxwell also mentioned that SOE is pouring more money into EQN than they have for any other game (probably not news), but he also mentioned that the SOE marketing department really doesn’t respect writing in general. Apparently he releases a story a month on the EQN lore and it’s buried deep on the website without any fanfare.

So I suppose if you want to read some more about EQN, then check it out here.

Panel: Running a Successful Kickstarter

Once again, I probably should have been more excited about this panel than I actually was, given the people on it. I didn’t catch their names specifically, but one of the guys did Zombicide and Chaos Ball (edit: David Preti), one did Dwarven Forge (edit: Jeff Martin?), a third was maybe the CEO of Cheap-Ass Games (edit: James Ernest), and I didn’t catch what the fourth guy did.

The number one piece of advice was basically to do US-only shipping, if you have to do any shipping at all. The reason is that shipping costs can be variable, some European countries are taxed pretty heavily, and you might not even know how much you’re shipping if you run “exploding tiers” in your Kickstarter, e.g. the stretch goals that gives all backers above a certain level more goodies once a stretch goal is reached. Since the panel was mostly focused on board games, there would always be some level of shipping product, but you always have to be careful regardless.

There were some additional points, but that’s enough for now.

GenCon: Day Zero Point Five

“I’d love to go to Pax South, but Monster Jam is that same weekend.”

Met the ex-Invictus crew. It’s always kinda comical and cliche, but it’s also comforting when you see these people and they almost exactly look like their WoW characters. Or at least act like them. Which I suppose isn’t all that impressive in the abstract, but whatever.

I can already tell that Gen Con is going to be a little painful though. While I enjoy my anime/Manga seasoned with a healthy dose of drama, angst, and weirdness, the awkwardness I have experienced thus far just from standing in line picking up tickets is physically painful. Like, holy Jesus, it’s sometimes difficult to tell if someone is cosplaying or if they dress like that all the time. And the random snippets of conversations! “My genes allow me to pick out child molesters.” Yeah, okay, buddy.

While I was surprised at the people I have seen thus far – they skew to the upper ranges of age, BMI, and neck hair ranges – I suppose I shouldn’t be. Who else has the money to spend ~$80 for gaming convention tickets, and then turn around and drop +$600 on hotel and other accomodations? A bunch of twentysomethings? …okay, so about half of this ex-Invictus group is around 25, but the point still stands.

Welp, all that’s left is to get some sleep, keep the hand sanitizer handy, and plow through this thing.