Posting Mortem – Adopting Imzy

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A few weeks ago, we created That Gaming Forum community on a new social network called Imzy. I thought I’d written about this earlier, but I checked and…I guess not. 

Imzy is a “nicer” social network. It’s got more stringent rules in place than “those other guys who shall remain Reddit nameless” in order to ensure that people who want to have intelligent conversations don’t have to dodge shitballs from shitballs who just want to make people angry or push agendas. Like other sites, you can subscribe to different communities, so if you find a community you like, jump in. If you find a community that infuriates you, just move along. It really is that simple. 

We had a Twitterburst conversation that left a group of us feeling that, once again, Twitter is not the place to go for group discussion. A bunch of us tried working through Pages on Facebook (to keep our gaming stuff and personal stuff divided), but that ended up being too much work, maintaining a double-life that way. Sadly, Google Plus ended up being a bust; Google doesn’t seem to know what to do with it, doesn’t promote it much, and keeps rearranging the furniture in an attempt to capture some fung shui that will make people think better of it. We’ve got a few Discord servers, but not everyone likes Discord, and although there’s a bunch of “by gamers, for gamers” networks out there like Player.me and Anook, they didn’t even register (although I prefer Anook out of the two examples, I can’t access it from work, which is why it didn’t register when thinking about a new home for our discussions).

So we ended up on Imzy because I’d heard about it a while back, signed up for it, and then promptly forgot about it until I remembered about it when we decided that our current schemes weren’t working out. 

How is this working for us? Pretty well, I guess. We started out with a few members — people involved in the initial Twitterburst — and I thought that was great. People were actually willing to give this a shot, which made me happy. Imzy is a good platform, but is under active development and feedback is welcome, so it’s not the most robust or logical platform in its current state, though it is most certainly usable. In a short amount of time, we gained a lot of members — we got notified at 100, and 500 members. As of the writing of this post, our community That Gaming Forum is at 757 members?!

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That’s a nice number! But how many people are using our community on Imzy?

According to the cool dashboard that leaders have access to, we’re getting an average of about 60 “activities” each day…which I assume is a measurement of how many people are looking at our group, whether it’s directly or alongside other groups that they belong to. 

Imzy doesn’t have an in-depth metrics view yet, but scrolling back through our posts, it seems that we’re getting a respectable few posts each day. Weekends may tend to be slower as people go about other business, as we see in general blogging circles. Of those posts, there are about five people who make up the overwhelming bulk of participants of new material (I’m not surprised by who they are since they seem to be the ones who have been willing to adopt these new crazy schemes we come up with). We get a few additional people who comment, but not too many over and above those core five folks. 

Obviously for a community of 757 people, having about 10 or fewer people actively participating is kind of sad…On paper. But I don’t feel any kind of sadness about it. We’re getting a rough average of 60 views per day, with a few posts per day made by a handful of people…fact: there are more people apparently viewing this community on a regular basis than there are viewing this very blog on a regular basis!

From a personal perspective, that’s good stuff! But this isn’t about me, of course; it’s about getting people together who like to talk about similar stuff — video games and general geekery — without being hobbled by character restrictions, worrying about mixing business (family stuff) with pleasure (gaming and such), or about having our platform pulled out from under usagain. Naturally, we’d like to see this community grow. While the numbers are certainly mind-blowing, what we really look forward to is people willing to post new content, start new discussions, and to draw new members in by (respectfully) talking about things of community interest. We started this community so we could talk in ways that blog comments or existing social media structures never really and fully allowed us to do, and we’d love to see more folks giving our community a shot. 

On Atlas Reactor

I played a stupid amount of Atlas Reactor this weekend. For a game that I once dismissed as a gimmicky esports wannabe, I think I can safely say that it’s my current go-to game. 

Atlas Reactor is a “synchronous” multiplayer arena-based 5v5 PvP game. In today’s atmosphere of fast-paced competitive action games like Overwatch or League of LegendsAtlas Reactor is more of a philosophical treatise punctuated by a spastic burst of flailing around, followed by some intense reflection. 

See, you have a roster of “freelancers” to choose from. Selections follow the standard “free to try” model which rotates every cycle, are available for individual purchase, or can be purchased in bulk. Each freelancer has four standard abilities, one ultimate ability, and three one-shot-per-match abilities. There’s also modifiers that can be unlocked and applied to each primary ability for customization. 

firepower-zukiGameplay is broken into four phases of activity: Prep, Dash, Blast, and Move. Prep phase handles certain buffs, as well as laying down traps if you have them. Dash handles certain abilities that allow for quick, short movement or teleportation. Blast is the main action phase and handles most attacking. Move is…movement. You can choose one main ability that triggers during prep or blast or dash phase; you don’t get one prep, one dash, and one blast choice so you’re forced to pick what you think is best for the round. There are some free actions for certain freelancers which can be added to one of those rounds, and there are three one-use-per-match free abilities that can be used which include self-buffs and healing. 

You have 15 seconds to make your decision, which is where the strategy comes into play. You have to choose a course of action based not on what you see, but what you anticipate. For example, throwing down a trap during the Prep phase (which happens first) will assume certain circumstances before those circumstances play out (i.e. anticipating that someone will move through the trapped area). In another example, choosing an ability that triggers during the Blast phase — like a melee or ranged attack — would end up hitting dead space if the target picked an ability that triggered during the Dash phase and moved them to another place on the map. You have to be quick, assess the situation, make assumptions, and make a choice before the round timer runs out, or else you forfeit your actions that round. Once everyone has locked in their choices, the action plays out according to some kind of internal initiative (which can be augmented by certain abilities), so not only do you have to consider phase, but you also have to consider the possibility that a target might die or take an action that will negate your action before your choice is triggered.

When I first looked at Atlas Reactor, I was overwhelmed by the GOGOGO of decision making. My spirit animal is the noble sloth, which means I rarely do anything quickly, so 15 seconds to get my actions locked in invoked panic. I put it on the “not for me” shelf until recently when a bunch of people in my timelines started talking about it. Most of us aren’t of the competitive stripe, but Atlas Reactor has an ace up its sleeve for people like us: progression versus bots. 

Unlike most other PvP-centric games, Atlas Reactor‘s vs bots mode is a fully realized option for progression. You can join up with friends (and get an XP boost!), strangers (and get an XP boost by deploying “GG” tokens), or AI team members to take on AI bots on the other side. You can tweak the difficulty of the enemy from one to four (maybe five?) stars, with more stars ramping up the difficulty. Then you pick your freelancer and go to town. You can even complete daily activities and “season” goals in vs bots mode once you reach certain account levels. 

This is a godsend for people like me for a few reasons. First, I’m not competitive. I don’t appreciate people who pin their egos on a video game screaming at me to “git gud” by their standards. I play to enjoy myself, which vs bots mode allows me to do. Second, it allows me to do something I don’t normally do: obsess over the performance of my character. Normally I’m only concerned with “bigger numbers replacing smaller numbers” in games, but this time I need to know what my freelancer can do and when the best time is to do it. Because there are only a few seconds to make a decision — which might include an action, a free action, and a movement, all in a very specific order which has bearing on other decisions, both mine and those of my enemies and team members — I can’t spend time hovering over the abilities in the match to read and decide. Thankfully, having only a handful of abilities means that I don’t have to memorize tables of stats and results, and vs bots mode allows me to take a new freelancer for a spin, relatively consequence-free. It also allows me to work on “git gud”, although against AI and not against superior players which doesn’t always translate 1:1, but that’s OK. Being able to earn XP is the best perk, though, since there are daily missions to unlock, and season tasks. Over the weekend I made it to level 5, unlocked both daily missions and season missions, and even accidentally joined a public vs bots group which was actually a pleasant experience. 

Atlas Reactor is free to play with rotating freelancers each cycle. If you’re interested in trying it out, you can sign up and download the game through Trion’s Glyph front-end. 

 

Rollercoaster of Love — Planet Coaster

As much as I like MMOs, and RPGs, I really love sim games. There’s no pressure to perform, they allow for creative expression (most of the time), and there’s a real sense of satisfaction that pure progression-based games can’t possibly offer. On the downside, it’s easy to be willing to get lost in a sim, meaning that anything less than 30 minutes spent in the game is going to hardly be worthwhile. 

I was pleased to see Planet Coaster arrive on the scene. I’d never played a Rollercoaster Tycoon game to a point where I’d say I was a fan, but A) building stuff, and B) it’s made by Frontier, creators of Elite Dangerous, so now that their catalog is book-ended in such a bizarre manner, I can sleep easy. 

As with Tycoon games, you have to build and maintain a theme park. That means you get to build rollercoasters, but also bathrooms. I bought the Thrillseeker Edition which included beta access (although the game launches this week) and tried a few modes this weekend. There’s a campaign mode which has you taking over established parks and trying to hit milestones, and there’s also a sandbox mode where you’re given unlimited money and a wide open, empty space to build a park. 

Naturally, I gravitated towards the latter, because who wants a second-hand park?

BEHOLD! My…eh…entrance!

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There’re no rides, but we’ll still charge you admission!

And that’s really as far as I got before I realized that I have no idea how to build a theme park. I’m not a theme park kind of guy. I don’t like rollercoasters, and I rarely ride any rides in general. However, the cool thing is that my entrance is a fully customized building made from walls and windows and roof tiles and decorations. There are a few pre-made buildings included for things like refreshment stands, rides, and even full-blown coasters, but there’s really nothing like the feeling of constructing your own, sitting back, and saying “meh, it’s just OK”, especially when you look through the Steam Workshop at some of the things other people are building. But take heart! You can totally download those things and make your park as awesome on the screen as it is in your head. 

At $44.99 (for the Thrillseeker edition with beta access) or $40.95 for the base edition (which will increase to the $44.99 price when it launches), you can’t really go wrong. The amount of options inherent in being able to build vast swaths of your own park — buildings, terrain sculpting and landscaping, and of course the rollercoasters — makes it a pure steal at that price point, so if you like sim games and want to move beyond neighborhoods, then Planet Coaster is a no-brainer.

Ghost in the Shell – The First Trailer

A while back, I published a post entitled (unfortunately) “Ghost in the WTF”, which was a quick overview of leaked photos of the major cast from the upcoming Ghost in the Shell live action movie. I was not entirely kind and in many ways, it’s a regretful post that I might consider sweeping under the rug if it weren’t for the fact that I’m sure someone read it and might call me out on its conspicuous absence in light of this post. 

I’m never one to proactively shit on entertainment; it’s entertainment. It’s supposed to be consumed for enjoyment, but the Internet’s crass feedback loops often times run on self-satisfaction of being thought of as a “critical thinker”, which is why we have shot by shot breakdowns of advertising materials and why people mistake “complaints” and cynicism for “critical analysis”. I prefer to enjoy my entertainment in the spirit in which it was offered, and not enter into negotiations with such things as if I’m owed everything in the catalog of my wildest dreams. Naturally, that’s going to be really difficult when we start talking about something like Ghost in the Shell, which is without a doubt my Star Wars, my Firefly, and my favorite fiction possibly of all time. When the cast pictures were leaked — stills, and not very good ones — I had no context except the catalog of the series with which I was familiar and found the materials lacking. Lacking what? Lacking the exactitude of established art; drawn art, sure, but the drawn art was GitS, right? I jumped the gun and assumed what I saw was everything I would see, and made some knee-jerk decisions. 

As of this writing, I have watched the above trailer three times. I will watch it several more times, because while I might prefer not to throw entertainment under the bus, I won’t sit still when I see something that excites me. This trailer has moved me well beyond excitement, and here’s why:

Context

Like I said, the stills of the cast, in poor lighting, on grainy film scanned or photographed and published online, didn’t “do it” for me because there was nothing that lent itself to reality. There was no motion or conversation. They were just people standing awkwardly for some kind of photoshoot in the real world, dressed up as characters. 

The trailer gives us context. We see Scarlett Johansson move and fight as speak in character. We see Pilou Asbæk as Batou with his cybernetics (and briefly without). We get an out-of-context glimpse of Takeshi Kitano as Aramaki. These are now the characters inhabiting the world of Ghost in the Shell, which is really the only way we can fully judge the final result. 

Tone

Above all else, the tone of the trailer is what nailed it for me. It’s also the most difficult thing to describe. If you’re not familiar with GitS, then talk about the “feel” of the trailer isn’t going to mean anything to you; it’ll just be a bunch of weird scenes of some Blade Runner like ripoff, Johansson in an almost-naked bodysuit, and people shooting other people behind a slow-mo revision of a Depeche Mode song from the 80’s. 

The GitS movie (the original) is about a future in which cybernetics have become commonplace and almost necessary in order to keep up with society. It’s about a government police force applied to special situations like terrorism and kidnapping. It was about a high-tech future that was just a little beyond our current and relatively low-tech present, such that the two can exist side by side without someone bringing up the dichotomy in a “gee whiz” fashion every ten minutes. There was a lot of shooting, a lot of explosions, and a lot of action.

But it wasn’t an action movie. It was a philosophical movie. It seems trite in text, but it dealt with the concepts of humanity in a world dependent on technology, especially when the dependence revolves around the idea of consciousness — the “ghost” — inhabiting a technological construct — the “shell” — and without the traditionally human biology, is a consciousness actually a living thing. The anime movie favored the philosophy when it came to the presentation, the cinematography, and the soundtrack. It plays more like an arthouse film than a traditionally Western action movie with all of its explosions, soaring orchestra, and witty one-liners. The movie is designed to haunt viewers visually, audibly, and mentally.  

Although the trailer isn’t a full-length movie, the trailer gave me the same impressions. A scene doesn’t have to make sense at the time. It doesn’t need to beat us over the head with symbolism. Symbolism can be made clear in context, but directors often overdo it on the context because a lot of audiences can’t be assumed to “get” subtlety. GitS has always presented the plot almost entirely from the point of view of the character’s reality without dropping hints here and there about what X means or how Y is relevant to the plot. These characters inhabit a world unlike our own, and they don’t have time to wink and nod and explain how it’s different. They’ll leave that to you to suss out as you go, and if you don’t get it all the first time, watch it again. And again. And again. When you finally put the pieces together, the only thing you can do is sit back and think, “damn”.

Presentation

The trailer did leave a few questions, though. For example, the sum of the scenes in the movie suggest that this is not a re-telling of the original animated movie. There’re several scenes in the trailer which are obviously from the animated movie — the Major’s swan-dive from the building, her brutal thermoplastic camouflaged uppercut to the thug in the slums, her and Batou on a boat — but there are also scenes which appear to be very similar to scenes from the Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex (GitS: SAC) and the GitS: SAC Second Gig series, such as the tea-room of dignitaries and robotic geisha assassins. 

The one thing that the trailer implies, but which neither the movie nor the series ever really focused on, was the actual origin story of Major Kusinagi. I think this is one of the IP’s strengths, and I’d be saddened a little if the movie turned out to be mostly an origin story for a single character, mainly because we’re neck-deep in origin stories (thanks, Marvel!), and GitS has always been about more cerebral topics than one person’s inner monologue about where they came from. Plus, the Major’s origins have always been one of the best ongoing mysteries of the franchise. I wouldn’t want to see it answered in 90 minutes when several dozen hours over the course of almost 20 years haven’t bothered to bring that story to the fore. If they were to wipe away that mystery, then any subsequent films (assuming there are any being considered) would be poorer for it. 

Addendum

After posting, I did a little walkabout and collected some additional information from around the web (actually from the fact that GitS is trending on Facebook) and have a few other things I want to add to this post. 

First, there’s this: 

This is a press recorded screengrab of a video presentation made during a concert featuring the title music from the original anime. The video itself is a live-action/CGI rendition of the intro to the anime. If you compare this to the official trailer, you see the same shot where the synthetic shell flies apart from the Major’s newly formed cybernetic body, leading us to believe that this sequence will actually be in the movie.

Yahoo was kind enough to enumerate “What is Ghost in the Shell? 47 things we learned from set“. I won’t rehash all 47, except to say that the article confirms that this is not a remake of the anime movie, but combines scenes from the movie and the Stand Alone Complex series…specifically 2nd Gig. The main antagonist of the new movie is ID’d as Kuze, who was the antagonist from that season of the series. 2nd Gig focused on a refugee crisis and the terrorist organization the Individual Eleven, so it looks like the movie might be following that storyline very closely. 

In addition, 2nd Gig was the series that came closest to providing the Major with a backstory in the episode Kusingai’s Labyrinth.

Arachnophobia

The party opted to spend the night in the forest. They had just witnessed someone — suspected to be Galin the village warden — awaiting a rendezvous with what could possibly be a dragon, only to leave disappointed when no one showed up. Hedging their bets that a meeting might still happen, the party split into two groups and camped in the dark recesses of the massive trees of the Misty Forest. 

Daybreak. No unusual activity that night, except for the incessant hooting of an owl somewhere in the boughs of the trees. Making their way back into the village, the party took Galin aside and violently confronted him about his nocturnal activities. Despite trying to keep a low profile away from the preparing throng of villagers, Galin’s bird Kalthan became agitated and drew the attention of those nearby. Galin refused to admit to any wrongdoing until the ranger made mention of his wife, whom the warden had seen killed right before him during the cult raid. He then told of how he begged the dragon-rider for his life in that moment of weakness, promising anything to be spared. The rider tasked Galin with providing information on other villages, and then the cult departed as quickly and mysteriously as it had arrived. The warlock of the party seemed intent on ensuring that Galin suffered for his betrayal, but Galin gave them one more bit of information: Kalthan had been enchanted by the rider to carry a message between them whenever Galin wanted to meet. He didn’t know where the raven went when he flew, but he always flew towards the southeast. 

As the villagers departed their ruined home, the party set out to the southeast, accompanied by the raven. Galin gave them the code word that would send him off, in case they needed the assurance that they were headed in the right direction. 

After a few hours in the woods, the party heard a sudden crack and a call for help. They found an elven elder who had become pinned beneath a massive tree-trunk, and was calling for the party to assisst her. As the group got into position to heft the trunk, the tree moved on its own, freeing the elf who stood up and brushed herself off. She thanked the party and congratualted them on being kind souls, and offered them each a garland of flowers. Everyone took one, except for the warlock, but the woman didn’t push the issue before she transformed into an owl and flew off into the woods. The ranger cast Detect Magic on the wreaths and found that they contained a blessing of bravery.

At dusk, the warlock stumbled through the woods and suddenly felt something on his face. Upon investigation, he could find nothing there to remove. Then the same thing happened to the ranger, and then to other members of the party. Calling for an immediate halt, the ranger lit a torch and raised it high. As he did so, small tendrils of fire curled away from the flame as if something was set alight. Spiderwebs.

The warlock pulled no punches, and launched a fireball into the forest canopy. The flaming missile seared through a thick net of webbing, and the sounds of canopy inhabitants could be heard from all around. The party quickly found themselves surrounded by several giant spiders and their ettercap keepers, although the forest creatures weren’t much of a match for the group in the end. 

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This was an interesting session. The party seemed to have a whole lot of options in front of them. Originally they wanted to stay in the woods to see if the dragon would show up, then they wanted to use the raven to summon the dragon to the meeting spot where it could be ambushed, but in the end, they opted to track the dragon to its lair — hopefully — using the raven as a compass. 

I think it’s fairly obvious how the module plays out, since the party ran into the druid, and that the encounter with the spiders was on deck and waiting for the players as they march through the forest. Of course, (META-ALERT!) using the raven to lure the dragon and its rider to the forest clearing would have worked…it would have possibly shortened the chapter significantly, but where’s the fun in that.