Archive for month: February, 2012

Sexy Futuristic Sexy Times

28 Feb
February 28, 2012

Mass Effect 3 is out in a week, are we all excited? I’m excited. Not being sarcastic there actually. Despite my general cynicism, I enjoyed the second one quite a bit.

But that aside, I want to posit a theory on how the story is going to end.

Now, I think we can all guess the most obvious way for ME3 to end. Since we know a living Prothean is a DLC companion in this one, it’s a good bet that there will be some interaction with Prothean facilities in the story. Now, given that a single Reaper smacked around half the Citadel forces by itself and there are a bunch of the things attacking Earth, it’s hard to imagine the lesser races taking them all on without some help.

So putting 1 and 1 together, it seems fairly likely that the standard storyline will involve conveniently finding an ancient Prothean weapon of some sort and using it on the Reapers. No doubt the Protheans developed it once they found themselves under attack but didn’t quite manage to use it before their civilization was wiped out. Bad luck, that. Luckily, Shepard will pick up where they left off, probably flying a suicide mission to plant the McGuffin in Reaper Prime, Independance Day style.

(Note, this is not a spoiler. I’m just speculating here, dunno if it will end like that.)

So that’s the obvious ending. But I think Bioware is going to surprise us here. I think they’re going to throw in an alternate ending. Hear me out.

So this is the new look for Ashley Williams, right :

And here she is from the previous games :

It’s a subtle difference, but if you look veeeeeery carefully, you can see it.

Spot it? She’s looking just a little bit more…saucy.

And then there is EDI. You know, the ship’s AI. It seems she is getting a physical body in ME3. Here’s the concept art for that :

I think we can all agree that she will be a fantastic addition to any mission team. Morale boosting.

Let me just cut to the chase here. What is it that I think Bioware is adding to ME3 to surprise and delight their fans?

Romanceable Reaper Companion

Just picture it. Millenia drifting in the dark void of space can leave a sentient being feeling…lonely. Initially just a prisoner of war in the Normandy’s hold, neither Shepard nor the (conveniently human-sized and female-shaped) Reaper can deny the instant, primal connection they feel. As time passes they begin to understand each other’s backgrounds better, realizing that they aren’t that different after all, human and alien robot death-squid. Eventually, though the war pulls at their loyalties, they surrender to their feelings for one other…

…Seduce Reaper? – Yes / No / Flippant Remark.

Then, after Shepard teaches the Reapers the true meaning of Love, they agree to stop murdering everyone in the galaxy and live in peace with the biological races. With the help of their advanced technology the rebuilding of Earth moves quickly and a millenia of peace and prosperity is ushered in. Hooray!

I for one embrace this sexy vision of the sexy, sexy future.

Democratizing creativity

27 Feb
February 27, 2012

Unless this is literally your first day on the internet (and there is a meme for that), then you’ve probably already seen at least a few of the popular memes floating ’round the internet. Things like this :

Now, you may enjoy these memes or you may think them insipid bullshit, whatever. It’s not the content that interests me the most. What I find fascinating is the phenomenon at work here.

A while ago I found myself mulling on what ‘art’ is. On New Year’s day, actually, so it was after a night of rather heavy drinking. Which is how I explain the fruity turn my thoughts had taken 😉

Anyway, I came to the conclusion that art is essentially ‘expression’. I know, that’s both trite and rather trivial. Of course art is expression. But it’s also so broad a category that it includes practically anything. Yes, that’s the point. I came to the conclusion that we’re all artists, and we all create art. What separates ‘normal people’ from ‘artists’ is not what they do so much as how well they do it, how much time and focus they give it. As well as some degree of good taste when it comes to their art form, though whether that is innate, learned or a combination of the two I cannot say.

The most noticeable aspect that seems to separate artists from normal people is actually the most trivial, the mechanical skills of the trade, though those skills take incredible amounts of time and effort to acquire. The skill to play the guitar, the knowledge of light and form and anatomy needed to paint portraits, that sort of thing. This mechanical proficiency is something that artists acquire in order to enable their expression.

But that brings us back to this phenomenon I was talking about. The internet, by enabling real-time connections between humans across the planet, has pumped steroids into the human propensity for language and cultural formation. Ideas, words, pictures and movies flash across the world at the speed of light, becoming part of the mass psyche, the zeitgeist. These ideas become mental icons, cultural reference points. And, through the miracle of Google and Photoshop, these cultural reference points are available for recreation and remixing as never before.

Take a look at this Penny Arcade cartoon :

What do we have here? Well, it’s a commentary on something, Mass Effect voice commands on Kinect. To ‘get it’, the reader needs the cultural reference points of a particular subculture, gaming. The humor comes from how Mike and Jerry embed their commentary in a fictional scenario, the expression part. And last but not least, it’s rendered through the mechanical drawing skills of Mike.

Now compare it to this meme :

Again, we have a commentary on something, the addictive aspect of Steam sales. To get it, you need to know the cultural reference points, both in gaming and in fantasy movies. The humor comes from the scenario of Boromir saying his famous line in the context of a Steam sale, the expression part. And the rendering…that is handled by copying and pasting images and text.

Now, I’m not saying that the meme joke is on par with the skills of the pros. But I find it interesting how the technology and connectedness of the net is enabling people who wouldn’t otherwise have the technical skills to express these aspects of themselves. Sites like 9gag aggregate the best of this expression, creating a sort of “webcomic of the mass consciousness”. Not only are we all artists, we’re all comedians.

Remember, when I say we’re all artists or comedians, I am not saying we’re good at those things. Professionals will produce better work, more nuanced work, and consistently. I might make a funny joke once on the spur of the moment, but I can’t do it twice weekly, every week.

It’s fascinating to watch this phenomenon evolve. Every week, it seems, a new ‘noun’ or ‘verb’ is being added to the iconic ‘language’ that is being built here. Some new image, some new clip, is being turned into a hieroglyph.

But at the same time, these new language-symbols being created have an incredibly short shelf-life. They’re based on fleeting pop culture, and I can only imagine that each new generation will re-invent them to fit their own frames of reference.

How long before the Hipster goes the way of the Hippy, in the public consciousness? How long before there is a new teen heartthrob to rip on and sneer at?

Some days, I think I should have studied Anthropology. The rise of social technology makes it an incredibly exciting time to work in the field.

Don’t do this

22 Feb
February 22, 2012

I’m sure most of you already know about the Jennifer Hepler story. I’d like to take a moment to say : Please don’t do this.

For two reasons. Firstly, compassion. Obviously, it’s not a nice way to treat someone.

I don’t like Hepler’s stance on videogames, personally. I can kinda see where she is coming from, but I think she’s wrongheaded. If there is a button you can press to skip the gameplay and just watch the story, to me it says the story is too disconnected from the gameplay. I’d prefer to see things move in the opposite direction, for story and gameplay to become more intertwined. It shouldn’t be so easy to mark the spots where the one ends and the other begins.

But disagreement with her is no reason to whip out the personal attacks, about her appearance or otherwise. This is another human being, they have feelings. And yes, she lashed out at her detractors by calling them pathetic virgins. This is what people do when they are hurting, to protect their psyches. In an ideal world, everyone would have rock solid senses of self-worth, insults would be shrugged off and only constructive criticism responded to. That is not this world, and anyone who can’t have some sympathy there has probably never made themselves truly vulnerable by putting something they’re deeply invested in “out there”. Let’s all try not to be assholes, even if the internet makes it so very easy.

There is another good reason not to do this though, and this one is more likely to hold water with the “fuck nice, this is the internet bitch. Harden the fuck up or get the fuck out.” crowd. And that reason is : you weaken your own position and divert people from the conversation you want to engage in.

Are folks rationally discussing the direction and quality of Bioware’s writing right now, or is everyone emotionally worked up around attacking/defending Jennifer Hepler? If your goal is not to be dismissed as a crank, criticize without throwing personal insults. Insults make your position weaker, not stronger. If your goal is to actually make a difference, you should want to argue from the strongest position possible.

Remember, attention is a form of respect. If no one respects you, no one will listen to you. You do want to be listened to, right? Stop making it so easy for them to ignore your criticism.

Monday Art Update

20 Feb
February 20, 2012

It’s been a while, I know, but contracting has sucked away my time for art recently. 🙁

But we’re almost back to normal again, thankfully.

Here’s the latest. Just some studies. Click for bigness, as usual.

Gameplay and Story are Exactly Like Music and Lyrics

19 Feb
February 19, 2012

Well, in response to the recent debate on whether narrative is a gameplay mechanic or not, Kirk Hamilton of Kotaku has posted an excellent article comparing gameplay and narrative to music and lyrics in songs.

I think he’s rather hit the nail on the head there, eh?

Bloody kids

18 Feb
February 18, 2012

“Guys, I’m 18 and let me tell you, this thing I enjoyed is the most meaningful, important thing anyone has ever enjoyed.”

Are you kidding me?

Best part :

Mass Effect has a simple message: human beings are delusional about their importance in the grand scheme of things

That’s right. The game where you, the human protagonist, run around single-handedly saving the galaxy while the blithely ignorant alien races ignore the threat even when it appears above their heads, reaping destruction, that’s what this game is about.

(Reaping, geddit? I made a pun. I’m so funny.)

I’m reminded of this “Condescending Wonka” meme.

Good News!

17 Feb
February 17, 2012

I lied, it’s bad news. Ha ha, don’t you feel silly now, for believing that heading?

Apple have decided to launch their next Mac OS with a feature called ‘Gatekeeper’. That’s a nice name, don’t you think, doesn’t sound like ‘Big Brother’ at all. What does Gatekeeper do? Well, it keeps your gate, dunnit? Actually, what it does is stop users installing software that isn’t certified and digitally signed through Apple.

Why is this good? Well…you could say it’s good because it provides more security for your system, if you believed that hackers wouldn’t quickly find their way around this. If you were, like, naive.

Why is it bad? Well, it’s bad because now there is A Single Source of Truth for what is acceptable to load on your Mac. You know how monopolies work, don’t you? You’ve heard the old saying about absolute power corrupting absolutely, yes? I don’t need to spell it out?

Oh, but maybe you’re part of the cult of Steve Jobs, and Apple can do no wrong. Let me give a simple example of how this could be bad. Jobs’ vendetta with Adobe over Flash was well known, it had ‘giant security flaws’, he said. Maybe it does, I dunno, I’ve somehow survived watching Youtube all these years. Anyway, imagine what would have happened if a man as famous for forcing others to do things his way had a such a ‘gatekeeper’ installed on Macs at the time? Could he have used it to force every developer wanting to build for Mac to shun Flash? Think about the kind of control this system gives Apple, not just over user machines, but over the direction of the industry itself.

This kind of control is problematic. Once there is a single gatekeeper, and end users are used to and prefer that gatekeeper, you can find yourself out in the cold for reasons that are in the best interests of the gatekeeper, not the users. As an indie, you may find yourself burdened with licensing fees you can’t afford, or excluded for not using ‘approved’ software that is prohibitively expensive. If, one day, there is a license fee and I die and thus stop paying that license fee, would you still be able to install apps I’d previously registered? Only Big Brother knows, and they could change their mind at any time. To “protect their users”, of course. It’s amazing how bullshit always gets wrapped up in “we must protect the X!” rhetoric.

There, I said I wasn’t going to spell it out but I did.

And in case you’re feeling smug about not using a Mac right now, I’d not get too gleeful too quickly, not unless you use Linux. Windows 8 is going the same way. For now, both OS’s will feature ways to disable their gatekeepers (though how many average users will even know to do that?). But once people are used to it, I have no doubt future OS releases won’t even have that option.

All hail our Glorious Overlords.

The “Why?”

15 Feb
February 15, 2012

Wil Wheaton posted something on his blog that rather resonated with me. I’ll wait here for you to go off and read it then, shall I?

Begin the readening!

You back yet? Cool, let’s continue.

It’s this :

From designing my character and developing his backstory, to building a world and populating it with allies and adversaries, the games I’ve played have lived on in my imagination long after I’ve gotten up from the table and put the dice back in their bag

This is one of the wonderful aspects of gaming, that I think gets overlooked: when we play games, we’re using our imaginations to bring cardboard and plastic to life. If we’re lucky, that spark can start a fire that burns long after the game has been put away.

That blog post captures the essence of what motivates me as a gamer and a game developer, why I have chosen to gamble a lot of money and time on trying to make a living making indie games instead of say buying a house or going on overseas holidays.

These moments, when a fictional world and its characters takes hold of your mind and the real world seems to fade into the background, where you keep thinking about it long after you’ve gotten up and walked away, these are what I live for. I spent my childhood wandering through the worlds others created, now that I’m an adult I burn to create my own. This is what is at the heart of all my interests. I paint so that I can paint dragons, I write so that I can create characters and the worlds they live in, and I program so I can model behavior and interaction.

This is my “why?”, my purpose. What I get up for in the morning.

I want to find Higaara.

I want to war with my siblings for my father’s divine throne.

I want to fear the dawning of the Metal Age.

And I want to travel into the East. Always, into the East.

Be my Valentine

14 Feb
February 14, 2012

I don’t have a significant other for Valentine’s this year, but I decided to get a head start on the card making for next year. 🙂

Putting the Humanity before the Fantasy

13 Feb
February 13, 2012

Some backstory, I finished the 3rd book in the Song of Ice and Fire series last week. I’ve been taking my time with the books, pacing myself, I don’t want to read all of them and then have to wait years for GRRM to finish the last two. Such a marvelous series, I’m in total awe of Martin’s skill as a writer. And I got to thinking about what made it special, why it has become my favourite fantasy series and what I feel it does better than all the rest of the fantasy I’ve read.

One of these things that the series does best is putting the humanity before the fantasy. Most fantasy novels you read, and I’ve read many, it’s the other way round. The humanity is there to showcase the fantasy, usually by serving as a mundane contrast to the fantastical. Humans are kinda boring, but look over there! Elves! And Dwarves! And now someone is teleporting and shooting lightning from their hands! And that guy’s sword is on fire!

The issue isn’t whether you have fantastical elements in your story or not, Martin has those in SOIF, with the Dragons and the Others and so on. The issue is which is “the star” and which “the stage”. Martin breathes an incredible amount of richness into his characters through their personality and actions, their struggles and development. Where he does add in fantasy elements, it’s with a light touch, never stealing the limelight from the characters he’s created. The fantasy is the spice to the meal, not the meal itself.

And the struggles those characters face are so very satisfying because of how human they are. The primary conflict is not really against terrifying fantasy creatures (the Others), it’s between human personalities, humans with all their ambitions and flaws. No Ancient Evil Awakening has ever been as interesting as the relationship between Tyrion and his family.

Compare and contrast this with, say, the Dresden Files. I enjoy the series as light entertainment, but here the fantasy is clearly the focus. Dresden’s character doesn’t develop much, conflict and challenge comes in the form of new magical beasties introduced each book, whether that be fairies, werewolves or vampires. And of course, since the fantastical becomes mundane with familiarity, the power curve of these enemies needs to ramp up each book, a problem similar to what comic books face.

A show like “The Walking Dead” only needs the one fantasy enemy, zombies, to create a rich tapestry of drama. And not many types of zombies, as has now become popular. Just the one, the classic shambler. Because, like SOIF, the fantasy is a backdrop to showcase the human drama, the relationships between flawed people under pressure.

Whether you’re writing for a novel or a game, and no matter how in love you are with the fantasy world you’re creating, don’t forget the most important element : your characters and their personalities. Give them the depth and development they deserve.