Friday, July 30, 2010

I am spoiled...or missing out.

Part of the reason I enjoy reading other people's gaming blogs is to hear about their experiences. As I've stated before, living in the wilds of South Dakota meant I didn't run into a lot of other gamers. It wasn't until my second or third year in college that I REALLY had a weekly 'gaming group' of more than one or two people. What I am most amazed at in reading other people's stories are the differences between their experience and mine.

Character rivalry is one such difference. In my gaming group, there may have been 'rivalries' between some of the characters, but the heroic nature of the campaign tended to keep this as friendly, or at the very least not 'deadly'. I never had an instance of one PC trying to kill off another. In fact, the worst instance I can think of is one character substituting 'Nair' for the shampoo of one of the other characters. No backstabbing, no murder.. maybe a little name calling, but that's it. So in my experience, this is 'normal'.

But what I hear from other folks' blogs leads me to believe my own experience was even more atypical than usual. Backstabbing seems to be a relatively common thing in many campaigns. Perhaps its just the fact that Star Wars gaming doesn't promote the same kind of atmosphere as something like D&D. Maybe D&D in particular promotes this kind of thing? Thinking back on it, a short-lived campaign I did a few years back DID have some of that kind of stuff.

In any case, game system aside, I'm not certain entirely certain if I am glad or not that I never had these experiences. Part of me likes the fact that my group always seemed to get along (more or less)- with very few instances of ill will brought to the gaming table. On the other hand, some of these stories of player treachery are really funny and really kind of engaging, pointing out a kind of gaming that part of me wishes I had been a part of, if only in my 'youth'.

So, am I spoiled or have I missed out on an important 'right of passage' of gaming. Well... that's a toughie. Maybe I should just run a Paranoia campaign to compensate ;P

Thursday, July 29, 2010

The Jedi Code

Being the huge geek that I am, I have given a bit of thought to the Code that the Jedi live by. There are a lot of interpretations of this, of course, and based upon which you subscribe to, it could mean very different things. I think this fact was rather prominently displayed in the Knights of the Old Republic video game series. In any case, I'll start with the code itself:

There is no emotion, there is peace
There is no ignorance, there is knowledge
There is no passion, there is serenity
There is no chaos, there is harmony
There is no death, there is the Force.

Now, taken at face value, these words seem both encouraging and problematic. They are encouraging in the fact that they promote a calm, rational approach to thinking and dealing with problems. They are problematic in that, if taken literally, they represent a kind of bland 'robotic' existence I would want no part of. I mean, peace, serenity and harmony are all well and good, but when you have NO emotion, NO passion and no Chaos (i.e change)... well, that is a machine.

In a lot of ways, I see this "robotic" interpretation of the code as one of the leading factors in the downfall of the Jedi Order, both during the time of the Knights of the Old Republic (4,000 years before the movies) and in the prequel trilogies. In both cases, the Jedi seemed preoccupied with this idea of remaining 'detached' from situations. In KotOR, this is shown in how the Jedi refused to aid the Republic when it was faced by an invading Mandalorian army. Only by going AGAINST the order did a few Jedi manage to aide the Republic and turn the tide. And in the end, that left the Republic weak and unprepared for the Sith attack that followed—an attack that resulted in the destruction of the Jedi Order (they had no Republic to hide behind). In the prequels, the Jedi order seemed downright sluggish. Every thing that happened seemed to have one or more masters saying "I need to meditate on this". Now, while I realize it is best to think things through before acting, the Jedi (to me) seem almost paralyzed by their rational, calm approach- unwilling to take action until the situation has already progressed beyond their control. An example of this would be the Battle of Geonosis. If it hadn't been for the machinations of the Emperor in getting the Clone Army created (without anyone's knowledge), then the Jedi would have been overwhelmed.

The whole concept of the Jedi leading a live of celibacy (introduced in the movies) and of being raised from childhood, without any family contact (introduced in KotOR and the movies), seem to me to be just another expression of this 'robotic' interpretation of the Code. You produce Jedi who do not "feel" or have "attachments". Presumably, this is to allow them to act more rationally, unclouded by emotions. This also results in a group of people who are isolated from those they are tasked with defending- not just physically isolated, but culturally, socially and emotionally. They aren't 'part' of Galactic society, they're set apart from it. Though I dislike referencing his works, Alan Moore described the same kind of thing in his Watchmen comics. Dr. Manhattan is losing touch with the people he is tasked to defend. The only thing that still serves as an anchor is his emotional attachment to one person. So to me, the idea of isolating the order seems like a recipe for disaster- and indeed this proves to be the case. People fear what they don't know, and the Jedi hold themselves apart and even 'secret'. Its no wonder they didn't have a whole lot of support from the populace of the Republic when Palpatine turned against them. They must have been seen as an 'outside' factor.

What is interesting to me is that since this code was created (by who exactly, I don't know), there have been in-universe retcons with it. Evidently, the wording of the code was changed at some point. Its original phrasing was as follows:

Emotion, yet peace.
Ignorance, yet knowledge.
Passion, yet serenity.
Chaos, yet harmony.
Death, yet the Force.

To me, this phrasing changes possible interpretations quite a bit. It is not saying that one thing should be eliminated in favor of the other. To me this seems to be saying that these things exist alongside each other. And more to the point, it suggests that to understand (or achieve) one, you have to understand the other. So to me, each one breaks down like this...

Emotion exists, every living being experiences it. There are good and bad things about it, but if you know yourself and how you feel and know others and how they feel, you can achieve peace, both within yourself and with others. It means that you can recognize the source of emotions and choose not to act on the bad ones- realizing them for what they are and not letting them dominate your actions.

Ignorance is a simple one. In order to learn you have to realize how much you do NOT know and open your mind to the teachings of the world and others. You should be willing to look past what is 'known'—question authority, as it were. Its all very Socratic, to me.

Passion is not a bad thing. It is what drives people to pursue the interests they have. Taken to extremes, it can be very harmful- turning to obsession. But as with emotion, if you understand what drives you and others, you can achieve serenity in your actions and help guide others to a 'healthy balance' in their own lives.

Chaos is a bit metaphysical, I believe. I'd say that part of it has to do with change. Nothing in the universe remains static. But change in and of itself is a 'constant', and one that must be accepted. People should change with their times, constantly striving towards a 'harmony' with their world, even as it becomes 'alien' to them. I also think this may speak about the much larger issue of a 'master plan' behind the seeming chaos of life. The fact that there are cycles and patterns to things that may at first seem completely random. I could also wrap up the whole issue of 'fate' into this, unseen forces working behind the scenes to bring people into certain places at certain times.

Death. This one is pretty self explanatory to. Physical life ends. But there is a world beyond. The spirit continues within the Force.

Overall, this earlier phrasing of the code seemed to suggest a Jedi Order that was much more a part of the Galaxy in which it existed. And in my campaign, this is the tact that the 'reborn' Jedi Order is taking. They aren't detached. They have friends, families and 'normal' lives. I can't think of a better way to keep someone 'grounded' than to have all these connections and 'reasons' to do their job. High-minded ideals are great and all, but without anything real to support them, they're just words.

Again, this is just my take on the whole thing, but I like to think it makes sense. Before I go, I want to talk about the Expanded Universe addendum to this code, supposedly initiated by Luke Skywalker in the New Jedi Order novels:

Jedi are the guardians of peace in the galaxy.
Jedi use their powers to defend and to protect.
Jedi respect all life, in any form.
Jedi serve others rather than ruling over them, for the good of the galaxy.
Jedi seek to improve themselves through knowledge and training.

For once, the EU seems to have given me something I don't hate. All of these statements are pretty much along the lines I can see the Jedi taking. They aren't particularly original, however, since they're pretty much the same things folks said in the prequels, but still, its not bad to reiterate a mandate.

Oh, and P.S. It may first seem hypocritical for Luke to say the "ruling over them" clause, since his sister was Chancellor of the New Republic, but in a democratic government (or a well functioning one, at least), elected officials are SERVANTS of the people, not masters.

The Rule of Two

For those of you unfamiliar with the term, the "Rule of Two" was a policy enacted by the Sith Lord Darth Bane some 1,000 years prior to the events of the Star Wars movies. Essentially, Bane thought that the Sith order was weakened by having so many in its ranks-that the power of the Dark Side was 'diluted'-not to mention the fact that all the infighting within the order kept dragging them down. Therefore, he essentially disbanded the order (as it was) and decreed that there would be only ONE Dark Lord of the Sith and he would have only ONE apprentice. Thus, it was the rule of two.

This was one of those literary inventions used to explain Yoda's line in the movies "There are always, two, master and apprentice". And like a lot of things where writers try to explain the logic behind a statement, it is just a bit "iffy" (in my opinion). At least if you take it at face value. Essentially, some people take this to believe that there are only ever two Sith at one time. Period. To me, this seems ridiculous and way too literal. Even if there is no official "Sith Order", there would have to be hundreds, if not thousands of "Hopefuls" out there. People with Darkside abilities waiting their chance to rise to the top. This seems to be the case in established Canon. I mean, Darth Sidious (who was apparently following the 'rule of two') certainly came up with a new apprentice very quickly after Maul died. And in the cartoons, this Apprentice took on an apprentice as well-Asaaj Ventress. And (as much as I am loathe to even include this in continuity), Vader took on a 'secret apprentice' for himself. So is it the rule of two.. or three? or What?

To me, the whole concept is just kind of stupid. Especially when you look at the fact that Apprentices are SUPPOSED to try and kill their masters and take their place. Thus, by having 'just two', you really aren't limiting the amount of treachery. Everyone you know and deal with is STILL trying to kill you- only now its harder to find qualified replacements when you have to smack down your apprentice. Its just another example of Expanded Universe taking something said in the movies and 'expanding' upon it in a rather stupid way (in my opinion). I always imagined the Sith as a shadowy organization with numerous 'lords' each of them doing their own thing. Sure, one may be recognized as the most powerful, and maybe he and his apprentice are "The Two" in charge, but there would have to be dozens, if not hundreds or thousands of others out there. So maybe what Yoda was talking about was the fact that Sith Operate in groups of two... not that there are only two Sith in the entire Galaxy. When you keep a very loose organization like that, it makes it VERY difficult to have the whole thing wiped out if the Jedi find you-like "cells" in a resistance movement. You take one out, the others pick up the slack to compensate. To me, that sounds like a much more plausible meaning.

Anyway, just a random thought.

And apologies for the lack of posts. Work has been hella busy lately.

Monday, July 19, 2010

The Force Unleashed Trailer

So today I got my first eyeful of the trailer for the upcoming video game: Star Wars: The Force Unleashed II. Anyone who has kept up with my blog probably knows how much I detest this particular Star Wars franchise. Let me say that, apart from some nice computer animation, this trailer has only helped solidify my dislike. If you're interested in seeing what I'm talking about, take a look here.

First of all, I /will/ give this trailer the benefit of the doubt. Perhaps it is just showing a 'dramatized' account of the escape of the protagonist (Starkiller) from Darth Vader's holding cell. Perhaps this is just a teaser designed to show us some cool action. If that's the case? Fine, I can hold back some of my bile. If not? Then the game is even more stupid than I figured it would be.

Why is this so? Well, first of all, the thing starts with Starkiller in a cell, chained to the ground. Vader stands over him, says some suitably villainy things, then does the typical supervillain thing: Leave the 'good guy' alone with a bunch of grunt soldiers in an easily escapable situation. I mean for god sakes. I was expecting mutated sea-bass to leap up out of the floor (obscure(?) Austin Powers quote). So, let me get this straight, this is the guy who ripped a Star Destroyer out of orbit and crashed it into a planet with sheer brute force. This is the guy who kicked the CRAP out of Vader- who was only just a minor obstacle on his way to kicking the crap out of the Emperor. And...what do you use to restrain him? A super powerful force field? Nope. Electro-shock restraints? Nope. Critters who absorb the force? Nope. Flamethrowers designed to fry him if he twitches? Nope. Just a couple chains. Well. Surprise surprise. Starkiller escapes.

Now, the next stupid thing? For some reason, not one but TWO lightsabers seemed to be located in the cell. Kind of a bad place to store those, huh? Starkiller makes use of these to brutally murder all the Stormtroopers in the cell. Yes. Murder. It is one thing to kill if you have no other choice. But it is shown that Starkiller is powerful enough to have just blasted all these guys with TK, knocked out or otherwise incapacitated them, and just left. But no, he very showily kills them all, including the last guy who wasn't even shooting at him anymore, but rather was just backing away in terror. Yeah folks. This is the 'hero' of the story. The same 'hero' who in the last seconds of the previous game decided NOT to kill the Emperor (the most evil man in the freaking galaxy) because 'killing is bad'. Evidently, killing is only 'bad' if its a character important to the plot of the movies.

And before we move on... WTF- When did Vader ever leave the killing of his enemies to anyone else? He made a freaking point of doing it himself in the movies. But now, instead of simply stabbing his former apprentice or crushing him, he tells his troopers to do it and just walks out.

But the stupidity continues from there, with Starkiller taking on a killer droid. Then a room full of stormtroopers, then another (this time giant) killer droid. He exhibits some hither-to-unknown superpower that seems to disintegrate everything around him. Wow. So once again, Starkiller is the most powerful Force user evarr. You never see Darth or Palpatine or Yoda or Ben Kenobi pull anything like that. Why isn't Starkiller the Emperor by now? Beats me. Oh. Right, he's stupid.

Oh, and through all of the latter, he spouts in a rather stilted 'inner monologue' that he now has 'something worth fighting for' (I assume he means the Rebellion?) and 'someone worth dying for' (I assume he means his 'love interest' from the former game, Juno Eclipse?). First of all, if he's going to be a good guy now, brutal slaughter probably isn't the best way to start. Secondly, the 'romance' in the First game was brutally thin and undeveloped. Now all the sudden its soul-shatteringly deep? Hokay.

Our 'hero' goes on to spout about how 'Vader can't stop me now'. Umm. Yeah. We know. You beat the crap out of him in the first game, Starkiller. You're obviously even more powerful now. We know you'll beat him again. So... right. Its like a 300 pound pro football lineman gesturing to a pee-wee league kid and snarling. "You won't stop me again!" Kind-of lacks drama.

And now for the big finish—what is obviously intended to get the fan boys all aflutter. As Starkiller escapes (once again reiterating that Vader can't stop him, nothing can—once again, yeah, we saw that last game), the camera pans down through Vader's base to reveal a room full of... CLONES! OF STARKILLER! BUM-BUM-BUHHHHHHHH! Right, because the only thing that could possibly be as awesome as Starkiller is MORE STARKILLER! Hell yeah.


Once again, I find myself wishing that Starkiller would get his own antagonist and his own story and get the hell out of the movie plot. I might have even liked this game if it were set in some bygone era of the Old Republic, where Starkiller could be as awesome as he wants to be without pissing all over the established storyline. But no. Once again it seems as though we're getting a huge injection of crap.


P.S. Before anyone points this out—yes, I know Vader could (once again) be using his apprentice by 'allowing' him to escape. But this was done before, in the last game. So it aint exactly new or unexpected or cool.

P.P.S. Oh, and why the hell were the troopers in Starkiller's cell standing in a circle? Never surround someone and THEN shoot at them.

P.P.P.S. For that matter, why the hell were the Stormtroopers in the Hangar Bay all CHARGING Starkiller instead of setting up ranks and opening fire in concert? Sigh. Nevermind.

My problem

Okay, so its really just ONE of my problems, but its the one most applicable to my current activities. And what is that problem? Well... the fact that I'm a 'completionist'. This means that however simple an idea may start out, once I begin working on it, it usually becomes more and more complex. I keep adding to it, even if I promised myself I would keep it limited to certain criteria. At first, this may seem to almost be a good thing. But in practice, it is what has kept me from actually COMPLETING a lot of projects that I have set out upon.

In this case, I am talking about my current Star Wars rules system revamp. I like jumping from sub-project to sub-project within it to keep myself from getting bored. Lately, I have been focused on the droid sourcebook. Weeks ago, I commented upon how I was almost done with it. Well, I have been working on it steadily since then and I am proud to announce that I am... still ALMOST finished with it. Feh.

In my defense, the book has now grown to 60+ pages and about 114 different droid profiles. But, man, I would really like to finish at least ONE section of this book soon. If only to give myself a feeling of accomplishment. In reading back over what I have done, I find myself very proud of it, but it is still incomplete. I really need to just rein myself in here and get it done, then.. if I think of more to add, I can do that latter.

So, consider this post both an update and a... pep-talk to myself. Talk to you later.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Top 10 Coolest Jedi

Honestly? I don't always equate the term "Jedi" with "Cool". In fact, in a lot of representations the Jedi are anything BUT cool. They seem stiff, stodgy and kind of boring—not to mention self-righteous and pretentious. can't really say that about all of them. Some have (for me) transcended the stigma attached to the Jedi. This list will explore the folks I consider the "Coolest" Jedi.

10. Kit Fisto
This is the guy with the tentacle-dreadlocks that we first see in Episode II. He stood out for me in seeming to..well 'enjoy' what he was doing. During the Geonosis Arena battle, it was he who 'defeated' C-3PO (while the latter's head was attached to a battle droid's body). And after blasting the droids with Telekinesis, he does a little satisfied grin. Yeah, it may not have been much, but it was different enough to cause me to remember him. His role was later expanded in the 2D Clone Wars series in a cool battle scene set on Mon Calamari. Unfortunately, he met a rather ignominious defeat at the hands of Palpatine in Episode III. He was one of the Jedi sent to arrest him—most of whom were cut down like... well, like "bitches" in the first few seconds of the combat. Alas. Well, he was cool enough while he lasted to make the list.

9. Shaak-Ti
No. I don't like her just because she's a hot tentacle-headed Jedi. If that were the only criteria, I'd have to pick Ayla Secura. Rather, Shaak-Ti first stood out to me in the Clone Wars 2D cartoon, where she battled General Grievous and his Magna-Guards. She had this AWESOME scene where, while fighting in a rail-yard, she used the Force to tie Grievous' cape to a train- then activated the train, yanking the cyborg off his feet and dragging him away. Awesome. She didn't have much part in the movies, other than appearing in the background a few times, but that one scene was enough to solidify her in the 'cool' category.

8. Mace Windu
He appears rather low in this list. Yes, I realize he is a badass and has a purple lightsaber and all, but overall, he was just too much of a jerk for me to really 'like'. Still, you have to give it to the man. He faced off against Jango Fett without breaking a sweat and would have killed Palpatine, too, if Anakin hadn't interfered. And again, I point to the clone wars series for a really cool scene in which Windu has to fight a bunch of battle droids while unarmed. Awesome Force Kung-Fu. Good stuff.

7. Bastilla Shan
Yeah yeah. I know. I'm showing my Fanboy colors by choosing Bastilla. On the surface, afterall, she represents almost all those things I find annoying about Jedi. Self-righteous, goody-two-shoes, by-the-book and boring. But in the Knights of the Old Republic video game, she completely took me by surprise by showing both a bit of attitude and humor. The scene where she trips up a fellow party member with the Force took me by surprise and solidified my like of the character—and upped her cool factor quite a bit.

6. Ben Kenobi
Again, Ben seems to represent everything stodgy about the Jedi. But he has his moments. Besides all the pretty impressive lightsaber duels he was part of during the prequels, Kenobi had one of my more favorite lines in the original trilogy- spoken to Han Solo: "Who's the greater fool? The Fool, or the Fool who follows him?"

5. Mira
Fanboy? You bet. But I don't go for the "bad girl instantly equals cool" thing that most Fanboys follow (the reason you won't find Mara Jade on this list). Mira was different, though. We only get a glimpse of the beginning of her "career" as a Jedi, but I think she was destined to be a VERY different kind of Jedi—the down-to-earth, says-it-like-it-is type that the Jedi Order NEEDS in order to avoid putting its head up its collective a**. You need non-traditional thinkers, I feel, or you stagnate. And Mira? She was non-traditional...just like another person you'll see later in this list.

4. Atton Rand
Okay, so there are times when I question his manhood (I mean, come on. He had the female Jedi Exile pining for him and he never went for it!? WTF!?). But setting aside his questionable guy status, Atton was cool—very much a "What if Han Solo was a Jedi" kind of vibe. He had some of the best lines and quips in the game. Plus, he had the whole 'dark background' thing going for him, too. Like Mira, above, he would have been a great, Non traditional Jedi. Someone who could have kept the order honest.

3. Yoda
A lot of folks were up in arms about Yoda's fighting style as depicted in the prequels. Some of the more rabid fans were aghast that Yoda would even USE a lightsaber at all. To that I say—whatever. He's a Jedi. He uses a lightsaber. Get over it. Of all the stodgy Jedi in the movie, he was (at least) the most likable. And he really proved the whole "don't judge me by my size" thing, too. I thought it was cool that Yoda WAS this calm, wise little man AND a complete badass when he had to be. Again, I have to turn to the Clone Wars cartoons (both 2D and 3D) for making the character a lot cooler. He is shown to be very inventive and clever in his use of the Force—AND he is shown to be caring and personable towards the Clone Troopers, treating them as people and not just 'things'.

2. Luke Skywalker
Is Luke Skywalker Cool? Hell no. At least, not in the 'traditional sense'. He's a farmboy who tries to do the right thing, but makes all kinds of mistakes along the way. His redeeming feature is the fact that he has a good heart. But he is no Han Solo. He never turns into a typical suave 'badass' hero. Oh sure, when he fights in Return of the Jedi, he seems to be quite capable (the battle on Jabba's barge was pretty badass), but he never seems to let it go to his head. And that is why I like him—and why I dislike what so many authors have attempted to do with him AFTER the movies. He will never be the cool guy hero, which ironically is what makes him cool. At least to me. But I seem to be in the minority.

1. Jolee Bindo
There are none cooler in my book. Jolee is about as a-typical as you can get for a Jedi. He first appears in the Knights of the Old Republic video game as a crotchety old hermit, but you later discover his rather checkered past, even as he worked for the Jedi. He was a smuggler for a cause, because he felt it was right, even though the order didn't sanction him. He followed his heart—which led him into a wonderful marriage that had a tragic end to it. He is gruff and plain-spoken and not afraid to say things as he sees them. He made me feel sorry for him, even as I began to "idolize" him. I'd better stop now, or I'll gush all day. Bindo is great. And I loved the throwback to him in the sequel game, where "Pulling a Bindo" is Jedi slang for not following the rules.

So, there you have it. My favorites. But I'm sure folks might question why others don't appear on this list, I'll explain my reasoning behind a few of the more obvious omissions:

Qui Gon
Honestly? I found him to be boring. He was close to the Jedi ideal. Unflappable. Calm. Rational. Zzzzz. Okay, so he bucked tradition by picking up Anakin. But come on. He should have freed the Kids mother. End of Story. Not cool in my book.

Mara Jade
She's way too "Mary Sue" for me. A Badass who is good at absolutely everything. Her personality, as conveyed through the initial novels where she appeared, just never struck a chord with me.

Revan/Jedi Exile
I was tempted to put both of these on the list, but you really can't—as the Character is essentially what YOU make out of it. In my case, both characters were pretty cool. Fun and positive. Revan had some GREAT lines and the Exile had that awesome moment where he/she walked out on the Jedi Council by driving his/her lightsaber right into their ornamental statue. That's a statement (and those pricks deserved it).

Thursday, July 8, 2010

The Old Republic MMORPG

The concept of the MMORPG initially intrigued me. From the early, all text "MUSE" (Multi-User-Simulation-Environment) and "MUD" (Multi-User Dungeon) games to the original Ultima Online. It is part of what drew me into online roleplaying in the first place—beginning with the Battletech MUSE but quickly transferring to the original Star Wars MUSH (Multi-User Shared Habitat/Hallucination). As I was dabbling in these games, I also got the chance to see Ultima Online while visiting my cousin one summer week. This is how I first experienced the concept of MMO games and came to form my opinions on them.

It was a slow process, but I gradually became disenchanted with the concept of online roleplaying—at least in such a huge environment. Why? Well, its simple, really—because there are a whole lot of a**holes out there—many of whom just get their jollies from trying to ruin or crash a game. And even if you can get past them, you run into the hypersensitive over-dramatic types or the hyper-controlling manipulative types. Bleh. Sure, I had my fun online and made some good friends out of the deal, but the bulk of the people frankly annoyed the heck out of me. Most of the blame goes to the anonymous nature of the internet, where people feel (and seemingly rightly so) that there are no consequences for being as big of an a**-hat as they want to be.

And so it was with a groan of disappointment that I first heard that the video game company Bioware was producing NOT a sequel to their awesome Knights of the Old Republic series, but rather an MMORPG. Star Wars: The Old Republic is (to my knowledge) the second major attempt at a Star Wars online game—the first being Star Wars: Galaxies. And while I have nothing but love for Bioware, I have a very difficult time believing that this game—no matter how pretty it looks—is not going to be World of Warcraft with lightsabers.

WoW is THE MMORPG against which all others are measured. They must be doing something right to be as popular as they are. But even so, every thing I have seen about the game has turned me off (and no, I'm not just talking about that South Park episode). The Leeroy Jenkins video, while funny, shows a kind of mathematical 'grind' type of gaming I just find boring. Throw in all the 'Individual' quests in which your party has to take down a bad guy—only to realize that every other person in the game has probably done the same exact quest... boring and disappointing. The concept of going out, killing critters, 'harvesting' treasure and goods and selling them... again, it is all just 'grind'. No drama. No plot. No development. Yeah, they may launch 'metaplots' like the king of darkness or whatever, but those all occur and resolve without any real input or influence from players. You can't REALLY effect the world as whole. If you don't play for a week or a month, the plot will continue without you. And then you add on top of this the fact that so many people online are jerks...well, you have a recipe for a game type that I just don't want to play.

Bioware is known for their immersive and story-driven games, where your character's choices have an effect (to at least some extent) on the environment around them, and certainly upon the end result of the story. In comments they've made about this game, they've stated that they're going to try to bring that same kind of 'personal touch' to Star Wars: The Old Republic. Frankly? I don't see how it is possible. You run into the same thing you would with any MMO—if you have one group of players go up against a particular 'Sith Lord', then you have to make that same mission available to every other player on the game. So everyone was 'the chosen one' who defeated Darth Badass. No uniqueness. And you STILL have the problem with online jerks. While reading some forum stuff on the Bioware site, I found this discussion. It just...makes me cringe to think that if I did even try this game, I'd be in the same world as these people (and note, and typing or grammar errors in the below are not my own):

Oparey: The Sith stand no chance against the Republic, The troopers alone are almost more then enough to destroy the sith, and to top that the Jedi are much more powerful and well trained then the Sith!

Darth Travech: i can see that you want die trooper. but just wait, one sith lord, can destroy and kill all soldiers of one battalion. just one sith lord. without imperial agents, nothing, one sith lord alone. anyway, the troopers don't have enough force to kill should know that you're lost and , also your republic.

MaxStarkiller: For the jedi

Darth Travech (Again): shut up jedi. you should know the jedi are weak, the jedi power can't be compared with our power, our power does not have one limit, the truth is we'll destroy the republic and crush the jedi order, together, the sith lords, will enter to the jedi temple and we'll kill, the kids if they don't want join us, if they don't want be our apprentices, we'll kill the padawans, knights, masters. all jedi will die.

Amoman: join the republic so the sith are good but the trooper and smuggler can take them down before they get close to attack.

Darth Travech (AGAIN): i can't believe, how you can think that? the power of the dark side of the force, is more strong than the troop's power, the solders know this, only together, we can rule the galaxy, only with our power, we can defeat the republic and crush the jedi order.

This kind of witty banter goes back and forth for several pages...and let me remind you this is just a forum for comments on a posted video. It isn't a roleplaying page or anything like that. Now, a while later, Darth Travech blesses us once more with his wisdom:

Darth Travech: perhaps, i only use the force, i just use powers of the dark side, not light side, maybe i can be a ignorant about that, but, listen, i am not a sith inquisitor, the sith inquisitor is who uses the force, not lightsaber, but i was trained as a sith warrior. the sith warrior is who uses the lightsaber more than the power of the force, but also the sith warrior uses the force, but no so much as sith inquisitor.


Darth Travech: the lightsaber cant be blocked with the force, only other lightsaber can block it, anyway, you must learn more about the force, skills and lightsaber uses. i've said that, becouse i am a sith lord.

Okay, so... whatever. This guy is obviously a fan of Star Wars, and maybe he's even attempting to roleplay here (on a comment forum...), but even so, who would WANT to roleplay with that.

Maybe I sound like a prude, and maybe I am, but...its doofs like that who just make me not even want to consider playing an MMO.

And yet...

Holy hell, have you SEEN the cinematic 'trailers' that Bioware has produced for this game? They are two of the best trailers I've seen for anything, let alone a video game. The first depicts a Sith attack upon the Jedi Temple on Coruscant. The Second depicts a rag-tag group of Republic troopers battling a Sith invasion force on Alderaan. Seeing these trailers makes me want to see a MOVIE based on these events. Unfortunately, I know that the game won't even come close to being as cool as these trailers are. Sigh. Am I still intrigued by the Star Wars MMO? Yes, a little, but probably not enough to consider buying it (of course, if it doesn't come out for Mac then the whole matter is academic anyway).

Ben Hur and Pod Racing

Lately, I've been working on a fun little mental exercise: "re-writing" the Star Wars prequel movies to "fix" those aspect of them that I find troublesome. This has got me thinking about some of the criticisms leveled at the movies . Some of them were rightly earned. Some of them were simply fanboy whining. And on the flip side, a lot of people stood up to defend aspects of the movies, with arguments of varying validity. One of the more intriguing (and almost defendable) arguments I've seen is the one regarding the extended pod-racing sequence in Episode I. As I recall, this takes up close to 15 minutes of screen time. A lot of people (including fans) thought this was excessive. To this gripe, someone responded that the chariot race scene in Ben Hur was just as long/even longer and nobody complained about that. Some people even went on to say that the Pod Race scene was, in fact, a homage to Ben Hur.

In my initial 'really wanting to love the prequels' emotional state, I totally bought into this argument. I mean, the parallels are there, right? And most folks agree that Ben Hur is a classic. Thus, the pod-racing sequence is equally valid. Yeah. That's the ticket. Unfortunately, it wasn't too long before my 'beginning to see the cracks in the facade' emotional state kicked in. As I've stated before. I don't think, even on my worst day, that any of the prequel movies are BAD, just that they could have been more than they were. And so it is that the Ben Hur argument began to crumble for me. Why? Well, I'll explain below—but please note that I am by no means a film expert, I just happen to have seen the films in question on many occasions.

In Ben Hur, the entire story had built up to the climax of the Chariot Race. Here, the hero (Ben Hur) finally faces off against his former friend and rival (Messala). But instead of a sword or fist fight, the two of them are battling in a dangerous chariot race. Previously, Messala (a Roman officer) had essentially framed Hur for a crime, sentencing him to slavery and imprisoning his family. Hur survived his ordeal, only to find that his mother and sister had (apparently) died in the Roman dungeons. Thus, going into the chariot race, there are years of pent up hate on both sides of the equation—making it not only visually exciting, but emotionally charged. In the race, Messala is mortally injured in an accident that is largely of his own making—setting the stage for a final meeting between the two former friends on the Romans' death bed. So, to recap, here we have essentially the culmination of the entire film, a unique way for a "final battle" to be fought between the protagonist and antagonist. It brings a close to that chapter of the hero's life.

In Episode I, the pod race takes place at about the midpoint of the story (or perhaps a little after). In this case, the rivals in the racer are Anakin and Sebulba. Evidently, the two of them have clashed before in previous races. Sebulba is shown to be a mean-spirited guy and demonstrates even before the race that he's willing to cheat and/or kill to get ahead. The whole reason for the race is so the heroes of the movie can get the parts they need to continue their journey. Without them, they could be stuck. The race plays out in suitably exciting fashion, with Anakin having to overcome not only the natural hazards of the race, but sabotage and bad sportsmanship from Sebulba. In the end, Anakin wins, Sebulba crashes (but lives) and the heroes can continue on their journey. As you can see, there is some dramatic tension in this race, but not NEARLY on the level there was in Ben Hur. Anakin and Sebulba are rivals, sure, but not lifelong, mortal enemies. And even if Anakin were to lose, I'd hate to think that the Jedi couldn't figure out some way to continue. Simply put, there just isn't as much going on emotionally in the pod racing scene as there was in the chariot racing scene.

Yes, the pod race does seem to be a homage to Ben Hur. There are too many similarities for it not to be. But I don't think it has the emotional weight behind it to account for such a large chunk of screen time—especially when you factor in the general lack of character development moments in the rest of the movie. To me, the rest of the movie seems almost rushed to get from set-piece to set piece, leaving little time for small moments or banter. And yet in the middle of this, Lucas indulges in a huge, lengthy scene that does relatively little to advance the emotional aspects of the plot. In all honesty, that's what I think the pod race was. An indulgence. George Lucas is a fan of racing and fast cars. It is no secret. And here was a chance to not only indulge that, but to 'show off' special effects wise.

So in closing, I'd like to say that I enjoyed the race, even as long as it was. But if I were the director or editor, I would have tried to cut it down in length to allow more time for other aspects of the movie. Exciting it is, yes, but Ben Hur it aint.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

More On Optimism

I've already touched on this before, but a post over on JB's blog got me to thinking about it again. And just what is "It"? Well, "it" is optimism in a game setting.

I'll start by describing what I mean by optimism in this context: It is the notion that no matter how bleak a setting or situation may be, that the overall tone of a campaign is positive and that players feel like their characters can make a difference—can have an impact on the world around them. This doesn't mean that everything has to be shiny and happy and full of duckies and bunnies. It doesn't mean that every little thing will always go the character's way. It simply means that there is hope in the world, hope for something better.

Star Wars is most definitely such a setting. When you watch the movies, you see a Galaxy in the grip of a tyrannically repressive regime. You see the good guys just barely holding on, through great sacrifice and tragedy. And yet, despite all of this, and the terrible things that happen to the main characters (Leia loses her whole planet, most of the heroes are tortured, Luke has his hand chopped off and mentor slain), the story is a positive one of redemption and the triumph of good over evil. That appeals to me—and obviously to a lot of other people as well (judging by the success of the franchise).

And yet, a fair number of old-school gamers seem to prefer especially bleak settings. Notable in this regard is James Raggi, of "Lamentations of the Flame Princess" blog fame. Admittedly, a lot of what he says is designed to stir up thought and discussion. And, from what I've seen of the gaming materials he's produced, he is a very creative guy and a good writer. But in the end, I am just left cold by the bleakness of his gaming world. To paraphrase his several posts on the subject, his preference is for a world where the best players can hope for in the long run is a slow defeat and eventually entropy will overtake them. He has gone on to discuss how these aspects would play out in a 'movie' of his setting, and even poked fun at the fact it would be unmarketable. I'd have to agree.

But like I said, that is just a matter of personal preference. Some folks like it bleak. Some don't. I would argue, however, that the latter outnumber the former. I would also argue that being part of the optimistic crowd does not make you any less of a gamer or even 'student of the human condition'. Optimism does not equate to being "sheltered" or "naive". I think most people are familiar with how unfair real life can be, even if their own lives are pretty good. You have to look no further than the news to see bleak. And I think that's what bothers me a little about the whole situation: The attitude (intended or not) that if you don't play that way, then you don't 'get it'.

Well, I get it just fine. But when I play games it is to escape that mundane, unfair real life. And anyone who says they don't game for "escapist" reasons isn't being honest to themselves. As far as I've seen, there isn't a popular game out there that simulates "real life" (unless you count the Sims. But if you think that is real life, you're in trouble). People play roleplaying games to be someone else and do things they wouldn't or couldn't do in real life. To explore worlds of fantasy and "escape" their real life for a few hours with their friends. And there's nothing wrong with that. That's what entertainment is.

The argument that is always leveled at what I just said is that by thinking this way, I am ignoring the deeper implications of the game. That it is about challenge and quick thinking and loss and cold hard rules determining your fate. Another blogger, Brunomac, had a post about "Elmer Fuddism" in gaming that struck a chord with me. I never played that way, either, and I don't think my approach to gaming is less valid than anyone else's. If you allow/encourage characters who are 'above the norm' (stat wise), it doesn't automatically make them less interesting. Stats were always very low on my gauge of what defines a character. Personality and actions speak much louder, and even 'super' characters can be challenged if your GM is doing it right (otherwise, Superhero games would be completely impossible).

Bleak isn't the end-all of gaming. It is just one style. You can still have challenge and quick thinking and loss and even cold hard rules, but everything doesn't ultimately amount to naught and every character doesn't have to be an 'everyman'. Using my Star Wars campaign as an example, the characters have faced great trials and almost all of them have faced loss in one form or another—but that really only serves to accentuate the positive when they finally achieve it.

I'm certain I've already said all these things before, but the issue just keeps popping up here and there, and I'm not sure if a lot of us 'optimistic' folks are as vocal about it as the other guys are. Probably because we are willing to just let it slide and say different strokes for different folks.

In any case...after all that—I want to say that I agree wholeheartedly with JB and his discussion on post apocalyptic settings having at least an inkling of optimism in them. About community building and 'rising from the ashes'. Otherwise, like he said, its just a prolonged fictional snuff film (or in this case snuff game). And I personally don't see the fun in that.