Feb 09

News has been circulating about a war in Eve Online over system B-R5RB. The currency used in the game - ISK - has a USD valuation*, and this war has been estimated to have cost players of the game a total upwards of $330,000 USD. The Titan class vessel is valued starting above $2500, and over 70 such vessels were destroyed in the conflict. For the uninitiated, Eve Online features permadeath of a sort: if your ship is destroyed, it’s gone.

The conflict was started because the player corporation controlling the B-R5RB system essentially forgot to pay its bill to maintain that control. From some reports I’ve read, it’s not that they forgot as much as a user interface glitch caused them to believe the bill paid when the transaction had not actually been completed. Regardless, when the bill went unpaid, the system went up for grabs and rival player corporations pounced.

I’m not an EO player myself; I gave the trial a whirl once and it didn’t fit the niche I wanted it to. Events like this resonate with me, however. Despite the destruction and the loss of what people have invested themselves into, things like this are an amazing lure for massively multiplayer games - good ones, anyway.

A lot of MMOs revolve around continuous loot acquisition and scripted events. This is well and good, but if this were the sum total of the experience, it would wear thin quickly. That’s essentially a more difficult casino game, but with less of a payoff.

Players crave these events that are unscripted (or may be only partially scripted) and put the denizens of the virtual world in control of its destiny and be part of something larger than their individual characters.

I’m reminded of World of Warcraft’s Gates of Ahn’qiraj event some years ago. The players of each realm needed to pool resources and effort together in order to open the gateway to the new end-game raiding instance. An individual couldn’t pull this off on their own — they absolutely needed the support of one or more significantly established raiding guilds to do it. Champions stepped forward. Rival efforts, both within and across factions, emerged.

In the end, the realm found itself standing behind one player with the completed item to trigger the opening. Actually opening the gates triggered a day-long semi-scripted event that carried that cooperative spirit forward before the gates settled down and Ahn’qiraj was really open to the public.

In the end, the event was a technical misstep. At the time, Blizzard’s servers were not prepared to handle that many players congregating in one area and performing time-sensitive actions. The event attracted players from both of the otherwise isolated and generally combat-free player cities. But even in disaster, players banded together and the delicious marrow of the MMO experience was available to all.

* ISK cannot be converted into USD or any other real word currency, or they would have serious money laundering problems.

Jan 02

Kentucky Route Zero is an interactive story (a “game” if you prefer, but it resides in the hazy borderlands of play) that celebrates the rustic mysticism of Kentucky as one might the heather moors and glens of Scotland. It is a story revealed through the escapades of the eccentrics and the esoterics: mathematicians, artists, and specialists. It is told in episodes and, as of this writing, only the first two have been released.

Between episodes, the developers - Cardboard Computer - have been in the habit of releasing tech demos that enrich the events of the game through tangential digressions. The first of which was Limits & Demonstrations, which invites players to walk through a retrospective of the works of Lulu Chamberlain, a character who figures into the events of KR0. The more recent is The Entertainment, an Oculus Rift experiment playable on regular monitors as well.

This latter intermission presents a pair of stage presentations written by fictional author Lem Doolittle as presented by a central Kentucky theater company in the 1970s. One of these works is called The Bar-Fly, a pantomime of a hopeless drunk. The theatre company inserts the pantomime into another play, which serves to give the player a supposedly uncredited vantage point on that work. The other play is called The Reckoning, a tale about debt and desperation in a last-resort bar. The simultaneous performance is called The Entertainment.

I picked up a physical copy of the play when I noticed an easter egg. A self-published work probably wouldn’t have a Library of Congress number, and when I looked up the number in the book, it corresponds to Eugene O’Neill’s The Iceman Cometh, a play about self-loathing and lies in a last-resort bar. Intrigued, I picked up a copy and read both.

To say The Iceman Cometh influences The Reckoning heavily would be an understatement. The latter is essentially a love letter to the former. Because I’m probably the only person in the world who didn’t create it to pursue this particular twisting alley way of analysis, I’ve written this post to detail the items of homage that The Entertainment (TE) pays to The Iceman Cometh (TIC).

  • The published copy of TE claims Library of Congress Card Catalog Number 57-6498. This number actually belongs to TIC.
  • TE’s bartender is named Harry Esperanza. “Esperanza” is the Spanish word for hope. Harry Hope is the name of the bartender in TIC.
  • A trio of TE’s characters bear the surname Slade. Larry Slade is one of the central characters of TIC.
  • The patron of the TE Slade family is Lawrence. His wife calls him Larry on several occasions.
  • The matron of the TE Slade family is Rosa. In TIC, Rosa Parritt is the name of Don Parritt’s mother. She was a one-time lover of Larry Slade in brighter days. In TE, Rosa Slade is married to Lawrence Slade.
  • The daughter of the TE Slade family is Pearl. Pearl (no surname) is a minor character in TIC.
  • Evelyn Hickman is the final character in TE’s The Reckoning (besides the first-person Bar-Fly). In TIC, Theodore Hickman (a.k.a. Hickey) is a central character.
  • In TIC, Hickey is a hardware salesman whose late wife was named Evelyn. Hickey is known by the bar-flies to be a philanderer.
  • In TE, Evelyn and her husband Ted (short for Theodore) own a hardware store fallen on hard times. Ted becomes a traveling salesman and Evelyn fears the solitude of traveling will lead him to philander.
  • Both TE and TIC take place in Raines Law hotels. Raines Law left a loophole in its liquor tax that exempted hotel restaurants. TE celebrates the legend of bar owners who mocked the law by serving “brick sandwiches” - two pieces of bread with a brick between - to satisfy the food requirement.
  • In TIC, Harry Hope hasn’t left his own bar/hotel in years, not since his wife Bessie died. In TE, Harry makes reference to his late wife Bess several times.
  • "Sardonic" is a word that means "grimly mocking or cynical". Eugene O’Neill used it liberally in TIC, particularly when characterizing the speech of Larry. In modern writing it is considerably less common, so I attribute its frequent use in TE to be a stylistic homage to O’Neill.
  • In TE, Lawrence protests his wife calling him Larry. “It sounds like an old man,” he says. In TIC, Larry Slade is an unkempt man in his 60s.
  • In Scene 4 of TE, Evelyn at one point says, “Don’t be a fool. Buy me a drink.” In TIC, Hugo Kalamar is a Russian anarchist who spends most of the play passed out on a table. When he does wake up for brief moments, he usually demands of anyone and everyone, “Don’t be a fool. Buy me a trink!”
  • In TE’s Scene 4, Lawrence Slade names Rosa’s manager at the supermarket where she works as O’Neill. Eugene O’Neill is the playwright of TIC.

There may well be more references to The Iceman Cometh written into The Entertainment that I haven’t spotted. The connection between the two is so far from accidental that it’s worth discussing sooner rather than later.

If you haven’t played Kentucky Route Zero, I strongly recommend it. Amongst gamers there is often discussion on the subject of video games as art. While I concede it may be debatable whether KR0 even qualifies as a game per se, I have never before seen such integration of art and experience in interactive entertainment. This title needs to be at the forefront of that discussion: it is contemplative and emulative of great art in its intermezzos and wholly unique and amazing in the course of its main themes.

Jan 07

Lonesome highway.Great news from the gaming world this morning: Kentucky Route Zero, our favorite magical-realist adventure game about a secret highway in Kentucky and its mysterious travelers, is finally available to play. Check out Act 1 here.

Act 1 of 5 is now out for Windows and Mac. I’m intrigued by this, but I’ll be holding out for the Linux version (promised “soon”) before I move on this. If you’re bold enough to give this point-and-click a spin, be sure to share your impressions with me!


Lonesome highway.

Great news from the gaming world this morning: Kentucky Route Zero, our favorite magical-realist adventure game about a secret highway in Kentucky and its mysterious travelers, is finally available to play. Check out Act 1 here.

Act 1 of 5 is now out for Windows and Mac. I’m intrigued by this, but I’ll be holding out for the Linux version (promised “soon”) before I move on this. If you’re bold enough to give this point-and-click a spin, be sure to share your impressions with me!

Aug 06

1955 1958 1960 1961 1967 1969 1971 1977 2003 2005

Jun 21

While most of the videos I’ve posted from E3 2012 have gotten or kept me interested, this one’s another story. This is the demo Ubisoft played for Far Cry 3. I loved Far Cry 2, but I can’t bring myself to get excited about this one.

The tag line for this game is shaping up to be “Step Into Insanity,” and it feels less like an inevitable mindfuck as it does like a cheap George Lucas third act twist. The turn loses its kick if you’re up front about the insanity aspect. That’s why Far Cry 2, like its obvious inspiration Apocalypse Now, were interesting. The insanity is written between the lines, not in bold block letters on it.

Thematic awkwardness I might put aside and try it, because I could be completely off base. There are other things here that are pushing me away.

I’m not inherently opposed to nudity in video games, but I am when it’s cheap (and it almost always is). Here in the E3 gameplay demo, some NPC is not only showcasing the goods but giving the player character the guided tour. It’s female objectification at its worst, but Hitman: Absolution already stole the show for blatant, gratuitious sexism at E3.

I suppose the worst thing for me is that the game, while shaping up to be gorgeous, is not compelling. I’ve yet to see any reason why I should care about any of the central characters of the game. Neither the protagonist’s plight nor the antagonist’s anything are interesting in the slightest.

I’m saddened to see the follow-up to a game I really enjoyed echo so hollow.

Jun 20

Please tell me you’re acquainted with Penny Arcade. If you’re not (and FYI, we aren’t friends), go directly to their website and don’t return until you are thoroughly acquainted with them. The PA crew are easily the most important people in gaming who aren’t making games.

Except, well, they kind of do make games. They’ve made two already - the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness (and Episode 2) were made in cooperation with Hothead Games, Ron Gilbert's former company. They didn't do too well in the money department, because the planned third episode never got made…

Until now. Now partnering with Zeboyd Games, best known for indie darling RPG Cthulhu Saves The World, the PA crew returns this month with On The Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness: Episode 3 and the promise of a fourth chapter down the road.

I’ve enjoyed the first two games. The third is a more cost- and pixel-consciously developed title and draws loads of inspiration from the 16-bit classic RPGs from the mid-to-late 1990s. So, get out your wallets and give them your money already.

Jun 19

I’m not alone in that Watch Dogs came at me from out of the blue. It’s new IP, which puts it in a class with few peers in the marketplace (let alone E3), and new IP at the AAA level is risky.

I can’t say I’m a believer in Watch Dogs. Not yet; it’s too early in the product cycle to get out the big foam #1 finger. You can’t deny this demo turns heads, though, so I won’t try. I’m interested. I want to see more. That’s a big Mission Accomplished for this team at E3.

What I see here reminds me quite a bit of CBS’ Person of Interest. You’ve got a high tech bag of tricks, a point man with the skills to back up the toys, and a penchant for operating outside the law. If you’ve not checked out the show, you should. It features Jim Caviezil being very un-Jesus-like as the show’s star, and it might just hold you over until more information on Watch Dogs emerges.

Jun 13

This trailer paints the Firaxis crew as super-heroes.

For the uninitiated, X-COM is an old franchise. Old in the sense that it dates back to heady days of the early 1990s, before first person shooters and 3D graphics engines were even holding hands. Back then, the best PC games were usually turn-based and experienced from an isometric perspective. X-COM fit this mold perfectly. Rather than harp on the past, fire up your trusty Steam engine if you want to learn more.

X-COM was a dead (or dormant) franchise since 2001. Then, not too long ago, 2K Games announced the return of the series with XCOM, developed by 2K Marin. To many old school gamers’ horror, they revealed that XCOM would be a first-person shooter and, bewilderingly, set in the 1960s. In short, the new installment wouldn’t share a genre or even the setting as the original. X-COM was becoming a zombie franchise. I tried to reserve judgement, but after watching the game play trailer from E2 2011, I found it to be uninspired and derivative and it fell off my radar for good.

I think someone at 2K realized that they were holding onto a damp turd with XCOM, because in the last year they decided to try to do something worthwhile with the license. They were able to secure Firaxis, developers behind the Civilization franchise, to build XCOM: Enemy Unknown.

Now we’re talking! This isn’t some franchise reboot, this is an honest-to-god strategy game made by the masters in the vein of what longtime fans would expect. Everything about this oozes excellence, and it brings the X-COM name back onto my radar. Firaxis, I raise a glass to you.

Jun 10

Ubisoft announced the next installment of the popular Splinter Cell franchise (in the Tom Clancy brand) at E3 this year, and its first showing left a bit of a sour taste in my mouth. You could say that I’m cautiously optimistic about it.

From a story/continuity angle, things are starting to unravel. After the end of Conviction - wherein the leadership of secret black ops agency Third Echelon goes rogue - the President disbands the agency entirely. She immediately regrets this decision, mostly because a whole bunch of people still hate America. The geopolitical situation changes again, and the President decides that we need a secret black ops organization with a license to kill. Naturally, she wants to prevent the problems from the last version, so she puts complete authority over the new organization in the hands of just one man: Sam Fisher. He’s loyal; he saved her personally from the last bad guy! Certainly, there’s no way she’ll ever regret that decision, right?

There’s some cognitive dissonance at work here that gives me grave doubts about this title already. The icing on that cake is the fact that the new black-ops organization that Fisher leads is called “Fourth Echelon”. I’m sure no one will connect those dots.

Oddly enough, Sam himself appears to be much younger in Blacklist than he was in Conviction. Expect in-game advertising for Just For Men.

Finally, Splinter Cell has always been about stealth game play. Stealth isn’t something I see a whole lot of in this announcement trailer. It looks like Ubisoft is copying pages from the Assassin’s Creed playbook into the Splinter Cell book.

Jun 09

I’ve been following Dishonored since it was first announced, but it’s a title that’s been easy to overlook until now because it’s a new IP. Let that sink in: amidst a storm of sequels and reboots in the gaming industry, here we’re seeing a truly new idea walking into the gale.

Dishonored is a simple revenge story, and that’s not where Arkane Studios is spending the midnight oil. The game is, in essence, a simulation and things within the world are intended to behave by the rules of that simulation. Except for the player character getting to bend the rules, of course. Summon a horde of ravenous plague rats, they’re going to go after anything with a pulse, even you.

They’re showing off gameplay that reminds me of the lead-up to Bioshock — play your own way. This looks to be more open-worldsy than the undersea classic, which could be either boon or bane. I’m very excited to see what comes from this.

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