Posts by Scopique

Be Somebody

Posted by on Jul 31, 2017 in Editorial

When my daughter was younger and was all about the Disney Channel “tween” shows, I came to realize that Disney is very much a “theme” company. Check this:

  • Young girls get the “Princess” brands, despite the Internet’s best efforts to get them to knock this off.
  • Young boys get the “Cars” brands, despite good taste’s best efforts to get them to knock this off.
  • Young and discerning adults get the Marvel and Star Wars brands, which account for 98% of all entertainment on the planet Earth.
  • And there’s a cohort of core Disney fetishists out there, who adorn their spaces with Mickey and Pooh and who laugh and say that it’s all in good fun yet do so in a slightly creepy, “don’t be alone with them in a room” kind of way.

What’s the theme of that tween content, then? Celebrity. The Disney Machine is programmed in such a way that they employ kids to star in these shows which pretty much exclusively focus on the everyday lives of kids who happen to be famous — or are trying to get famous. There was Hannah Montana (to its credit, was sometimes really funny) about a pop star who was “played” by a “normal teen”, Sonny with a Chance (also sometimes funny) about a young teen “nobody” who was given a shot at being on a Nickelodeon-type variety show with established celebrities, and I swear to gawd there are others but my brain is walling them off to protect my sanity.

If people believe that Disney is trying to “program” their viewers (and many, many people believe this), then the message here would be “you’re nobody until you’re somebody”. On the surface that sounds like a rather poisonous lesson to impart, because it leads to…well, things like social media grandstanding, Snapchat and Instagram, and live streaming and YouTube videos of kids (and adults) begging for follows, likes, and shares.

If you want to blame someone for this, blame humanity itself. The only thing that modern society teaches us is that we no longer have to limit our outreach in the age of the Internet. I have always believed that human beings have the need to be needed, and that didn’t start with the advent of social media. Think back to when you were a kid, and how the social dynamics of your ecosystem were arranged. Were there social strata in your life? Were you someone who had no trouble making friends, or were you someone who always longed to just be accepted for who you were? Did you ever decide to change who you were in order to “fit in” with one group or another? What did it feel like to be accepted, and what did it feel like when you were rejected?

The need to be somebody to someone is not a feeling we should look down on, because we all have it to differing degrees. In many cases, the snarky outbursts we might see knocking “celebrity” and self-promotion are no doubt directed mostly at the “scaffolding” that attempts to commoditize this need, like Disney’s ham-handed messaging, or the cynical and business-like apparatus that has followed in the wake of the rise of live-streaming. We as average people don’t want to be told that we should hold someone in esteem simply because other people do (aka being told someone is an “influencer”), but we as average people do find people to admire, and in turn do want to be admired by our peers for something: our sense of humor, our knowledge, our insight, our empathy, or even (sadly) our rage.

What do you want to be known for? I think about this all the time, but I never come to a satisfactory decision. I don’t want to be a “celebrity”, and I don’t think the majority of people do, but I also don’t want to be ignored or forgotten or just another face amidst a seemingly endless list. Everyone wants to matter where we want to matter, which is why being thought well of and considered by the people that I think well of and who I consider is important.

“Be honest!” some people might say. “Be yourself!” is the advice our parents give us. Truthfully, that’s not the best advice, because people are terribly complex and everyone has an asshole streak, an empathetic streak, and an indifferent streak, and the dominant personality can change from day to day or even minute to minute based on the weather, the amount of sleep or coffee we get, or even how we feel we’re being perceived where it matters. This is why the whole “anonymous on the Internet” thing is relevant — we can be whomever we want when no one knows who we really are. This allows us to appeal to those we want to appeal to. And before you say to yourself “that’s disingenuous and the you that people like isn’t the real you!”, consider that this is a door that swings both ways: no one is truly honest on the Internet, despite how earnest their bios might claim to be.

For those who consider the problem, we try our hardest to be the put forth aspect of our persons that we can be. We want to be happy, so we crack jokes. We want to be trusted, so we show that we care. We want to be remembered, so we try and be relevant to the conversations we inject ourselves into. We don’t belittle or berate or insult unless we have a juvenile sense of what it means to be liked and how to be liked. Snark and sarcasm are not virtues, and shouldn’t be celebrated. For those who opt to be infamous rather than well regarded, there’s nothing I have to say about or to you.

Wanting to be thought well of is difficult, but it’s not something we should be ashamed of. I feel like I’ve written that before, but it might just be because it’s something I often think of, especially as I get older and realize that some day I’m not going to be here any longer. What will my legacy be, and who will bear it? My daughter, obviously, and that’s an aspect for another day, but even though I’ll be gone leaving a footprint behind does matter. I’m not sure why, or beyond that even how, so the best I can do is work on the present.

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Co-op World Building System for RPGs

Posted by on Jul 28, 2017 in Other Geeks, Tabletop and Board

I’ve been looking heavily into ruleset creation for Fantasy Grounds, the Cadillac of virtual tabletop applications. FG is an old application and relies on a lot of older conventions such as XML to define things like visual layouts. It also uses Lua which you might recognize as the scripting language of choice for many MMO add-ons.

FG is in the throes of a re-write in Unity, according to sources. I was discussing this with the Illustrious Talyn, who has translated several FG modules and is familiar with the FG team. I mentioned that even though it would be a pain in the ass for them to do, I’d like to see the Unity version support both the “classic” use of XML and Lua alongside the more up-to-date C#/Mono.

As a tangent, I wondered if it would be possible to extend a Unity version of FG with mods that do more than just add rules or content. One thing I was thinking about was the potential to have a data store other than files, which lead me to think about having an off-site database, which then led me to wonder about the feasibility of a system — not necessarily FG-based — of a shared world RPG system.

“Oh!” you say. “You mean an MMO, dumbass”. No, I don’t, for a few reasons. First, I’m talking about tabletop RPG. They removed the “RPG” from “MMORPG” many years ago so when we talk about RPGs we mean games like Dungeons & Dragons. Second, I was thinking about a system whereby many people can get into a database and define “a world” with “locations” and “monsters” and “lore”.

Consider your standard sourcebook. It defines the world/landmass/nation/region, pointing out geographical points of interest. It also talks a little bit about the land’s history. The book will then go into detail about the civilizations that you will find in these areas so that in the end, the GM/world builder can have resources at his or her disposal to make one-off adventures for a single group of players.

With the shared world system, people who connect are greeted with a living world which keeps track of the state of what everyone who connects has accomplished. Mobs can be generated by the GM and stored in the database. When the party decimates those enemies (hopefully), the location where the battle took place is recorded. Along comes another party and the GM receives a note on the area that this “looks like a significant battle took place here”. He or she could do with that as they wanted, or ignore it.

More importantly, important world figures would be significant in that any party who opts to include one in their adventure would layer that NPC with experience, and might even kill them. Once the NPC is dead, they are dead for everyone.

The idea, then, is to allow for collaboration among peers — even if those peers aren’t specifically working together — on a content system that has some level of intelligence, enough to know that 0 HP means “don’t show this NPC to anyone else unless the HP are set to something other than 0” and that once the treasure chest in the cavern has been looted, it stays looted until someone actively refills it somehow. Everything would need to be tagged with the creator, and the creator notified when the state changes significantly, so the creator can manage that item (resurrect the NPC, fill the chest, etc). So even if a gaming group moves into a corner of the map that no one ever visits, they will create their own concequences that maybe someone will find at some point in the future.

I have no idea if this is something that’s possible, even on a less powerful level — a shared set of documents that people can download, update, and re-upload to keep things kosher across the board for everyone.

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Grab Bag for Friday July 28, 2017

Posted by on Jul 28, 2017 in Citadel Forged With Fire, Fortnite, Hardware, Secret World Legends, The Secret World, Yonder

Sometimes when I have nothing specific to talk about, I resort to the blogger’s standby, the grab-bag. I’m sure you’d figure that out upon reading, but I felt I needed a lead in of some sort. Toilet Bacon.

Fortnite, Streaming, and the Forward March

Despite the irritation over Fortnite devs looking to striate their consumers via third party partnerships, I jumped online last night to take on the role of quest-giver by streaming my gameplay for (hopefully) other Fortnite players.

Apparently, connecting your Twitch account to your game account is enough to earn you the streamer-side mission. You need to complete this mission in order to start the process of handing out viewer missions, I assume, based on the quest verbiage (“complete this mission to allow…” or something to that effect).

I would like to know if viewers all get missions, or if there’s a system which hands them out to random people who have connected their accounts; Out of the five viewers I had, the only two who played the game both received missions. Was that because everyone who plays and views were awarded, or was it simply because the viewing population was spare enough that the system just decided to pull an Oprah? Ideally, this could be a good carrot to bring in Fortnite players to smaller streams, since being one of just a few viewers means guaranteed quest assignments if granting said quest is based on percent chance.

We also found that although players are asked to choose an international data center as their home, there are no barriers to playing with people across oceans.

At the end of the stream, I had apparently reached a specific point in the progression that the game just started to vomit progress on me. I now have several missions, several survivor panels, and even some base defenders available to me. I can now be a random drop on other player’s shield defense missions as well. The same confusion still stands, although there are some rays of light peeking through here and there in terms of explanations.

Citadel: Forged with Fire

A few weeks ago a game magically appeared on our doorsteps. Citadel: Forged with Fire is a survivalbox game of the mystical arts which sees you starting out in the ruins of a castle with nothing but some rags on your frame. Like Fortnite, there’s not a lot of guidance as to how to proceed, and while I was given some skill points to use I misspent them and found myself scrounging for things to do in order to gain XP.

I have a love-hate relationship with survival games. On one hand, I think they have a crap-ton of potential simply because the players have nothing, and have to get something, and possibly everything. On the other hand, they are mind-numbingly tedious with their food and drink, and the incessant gathering. Once you unlock all the recipes, what else is there to do? Explore, sure, and take on the most powerful NPCs, but I can do most of that in any bread and butter MMO.

Citadel, for the time being, is more interesting than other survivalbox games I have played for a few reasons. First, no food and water, so you can just roam to your heart’s content. Second, your first weapon is a freakin’ magic wand, not an axe or a knife or spear. You are in 100% “just escaped from Azkaban” Harry Potter mode, and for some reason that just feels bad-ass. Third, the game is stupidly gorgeous. Wandering through the forest is just amazing and feels like a real forest (contrasted to many other games whose forests feel like a careful arrangement of resources resembling a forest). I’ve taken down elk, faeries, and the vampiric rabbit with my magical mana blasts, but I saw orcs and even a giant that I was not going to mess with. In fact, my first death was because I jumped in the water without realizing that it was actually an acid pool. Oopsie!

Gameplay wise, I’m not sure if this will hold up, but for first impressions, it’s knocking things out of the park. The only way this could be better at this point would be if there was a VR mode.

Yonder, Switch, and Other Remains

So I had purchased Yonder: The Cloud Catcher Chronicles when it was taking the Internet by storm because it was a combat-less exploration game that looked a lot like The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker with a little bit of Animal Crossing thrown in for flavor. I played for a few hours, but then Fornite arrived and I haven’t returned to Yonder and I feel kinda bad about that.

Not as bad as I feel about not having touched the Switch in a few days, though. I played a good amount of LoZ when it was all I had, but then I bought Splatoon 2 thinking that it would be a cool low consequence team shooter that I could just half-ass my way through and have fun while doing it. Instead, the control options just piss me off no matter which way I configure them, motion control or traditional stick aiming. I hadn’t tried the multiplayer, opting to give the single player a shot to get my squid-legs under me first, but when I got to the first boss I almost threw the Switch to the pavement in frustration. There’s nothing like pissing me off to make me want to never pick up a game again. Problem is, distance between myself and LoZ is getting wider, and the whole “playing while hanging out with the family” thing was nice on paper, but lacks the pull in practice. I’m waiting for a compelling game for the Switch at this point because I’m having pangs of buyer’s remorse…again.

Oh! And Kingsway. I had some Steam wallet funds so I picked up that RPG that looks like you’re playing within a Windows 3.1 desktop. It’s well worth the $9.99 and for something that looks stupidly simplistic, it’s actually a decent game. There’s no parties or online or loot progression. It’s just a straightforward old-school (in many ways, literally) RPG with some funky tongue-in-cheek elements that have made me laugh. It’s something I can play for a while when nothing else grabs me.

And shout outs to Master X Master and Secret World Legends. I haven’t forgotten you, so stop glaring at me from the desktop!

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The Dark Fortnite of the Soul

Posted by on Jul 26, 2017 in Editorial, Fortnite

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So Fortnite has gone from a game that no one has heard about, which generated no buzz, which dropped off of 98% of the radars out there until it didn’t, to a game that elicits complex feelings…more so, I think, than any game I’ve played in quite some time.

The Good

The game is solid. It has a beginning, a middle, and an end, all of which are shot through with a narrative which, however weak it may be, makes the repetition more meaningful than just your typical arena bouts.

I got to play a mission with Ser Mindstrike last night, and the game most certainly excels when you are playing with people, and even more when you’re playing with friends. Being able to take your time and scour your environment for raw materials rather than having to worry about a timed phase is stupidly refreshing since I could totally see most other games enforcing that limitation on you under similar design. The building is seriously simple yet powerful once you start working with subtraction elements. If you’ve built well, then, combat is sometimes both a struggle and satisfying. Often times I’m sad when I manage to wipe out a wave before they reach my well-built fortification and carefully laid traps.

Overall, I’m having a lot of fun with this game that offers both casual phases and sometimes balls-to-the-wall stressful phases in the same round. In truth, I had a dream about the game last night. I don’t remember ever having a dream about any game I’ve played in the history of my time spent playing games.

The Bad

I learned from the Esteemed Pete of Dragonchasers fame that we can control player invasion, so I set myself to “friends only” and tried to tackle a mission. It did not end well. Looking back after I realized that the difficulty — measured in skulls, of course — was way too high for my level at the time, but I didn’t know how to parse this indicator at first.

The game is still far too vague for its own good, which is something that the devs say they are aware of and will be looking into. The game is technically still in early access. Many games have these “soft launches” which blur the lines between beta, early access, and “they switched the version to 1.0 overnight when no one was paying attention”, but this game almost has a confusing perception filter about it: although I know it’s early access, I can’t understand it in traditional early access terms. Everything about it feels like an official launch, but it’s not.

This label doesn’t save those of us who are working with it now. Last night Mindstrike asked if there was any game plan to storing your XP or recycling items and blueprints. My answer was “not right now”, but in a few months, who knows? At least I know that when the game gets around to explaining all this properly, I’ll be neck-deep in decisions made before the information was formalized, for good or for ill. There will probably be ragrets, and probably some low level anger, assuming I’m still playing when these changes come to pass.

The Ugly

Oh boy. I know I’m going to screw this up, so let me direct you to Pete’s post about Fortnite‘s tryst with Twitch. 

 

I echo Pete’s position almost to tee. I don’t have issues turning on a stream, although no guarantee I’m going to sit around and watch with rapt attention; Fortnite has some seriously boring parts that I can’t imagine make for riveting third party viewing. I am also not opposed to streaming the game myself just to get some free, low-cost in-game crap. Finally, I am an Amazon Prime user, so I get one free “smart enough not to spend his own money on this shit” Twitch subscription that I can move around each month, so I’ll find a really low pop Fortnite streamer, give him or her my sub, and we’ll both make out like bandits. Or maybe I can convince some Fornite friends to create some kind of web-ring-like ecosystem where we all sub to the next one in line until we double back on the initial participant and create a self-sustaining ouroboros of loot.

Notice that nowhere in that paragraph did I indicate that I am excited for what Fortnite is trying to do. My only thought here is how to subvert their intent so I can get the rewards without actively participating. If there was a way to ensure the numbnuts who thought up this marketing masturbation scheme knew that we were reaping rewards without giving a shit about their efforts, that would be so much better.

Why so angry? Pete covered the sentiment: there are bigger fish to fry that affects everyone when streaming isn’t in the equation. Yes, they can work on more than one system at a time, I understand…or they could have maybe had done more up to this point if they hadn’t made a conscious effort to put content behind a “streamwall”. I hope that the devs give this system the same multi-pass consideration that they have promised for their mechanics and UI in an effort to remind people that it is still early access. Forcing people to participate in tasks they really don’t care for in exchange for content is, to me, far worse than pay to win. The money I can recoup; my time spent watching some bearded asshole in a beanie over-emote like a trained seal barking for fish is time I’ll never, ever get back.

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What is a Fortnite?

Posted by on Jul 24, 2017 in Editorial, Featured, Fortnite

[Sorry for the lack of images…I absolutely suck at remembering to take screenshots, so enjoy the stock footage included in this post]

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The name Fortnite is a play on words: A “fortnight” is two weeks, but a “fortnite” is a game about building a “fort” in preparation for the “night”-time onslaught of a band of monsters that have appeared across the planet after the arrival of a mysterious storm.

After some 90%+ of the world’s population mysteriously vanishes in the wake of this mega-storm, those left behind can be assigned to one of two categories. There are the survivors who find themselves stranded in the middle of the maelstrom, and then there are the defenders who find their way to a bunker run by a floating droid named Ray whose organization may or may not be accidentally responsible for the storm. Technically, Ray and her bots were set up to prevent the storm, but something bad (and unknown at the start of the game) happened and things went to hell quickly. So with Ray as the dispatcher, the players assume the role of one of the elite agents who deploy technology to push back the storm while also rescuing survivors. This is accomplished in three phases.

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The first is the gathering phase. A team of four players is placed into an open zone which might be a town or a forest (in the initial rounds). During the first phase, players must destroy trees, rocks, buildings, cars, and an amazing array of pretty much anything in a bid to collect building materials (wood, stone, and metal). Along the way players might uncover crafting materials, ammo, or special unlocks by searching shrubs, bookcases, and bunkers.

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Once the players have located their objective, they need to “activate” it in some way, depending on the story of the round. At this point, they need to build a defendable fortress around the objective, made up of walls, floors, and traps. The building can be as simple or as elaborate as the players see fit (although there are sometimes requirements of the mission to build a certain amount, less than a certain amount, or in a certain direction).

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The final phase is when the monsters show up. They appear where the storm-born lightning strikes and amble in towards the fort. It’s up to the players to actively attack the monsters, but also to use their structure to keep the hoards from plowing through the fort and destroying the objective. Monsters come in different forms, starting in the early rounds with your standard shambling zombie-esque creatures. Then there are the tanking monsters who are harder to kill, and even monsters dressed as baseball players who throw electrified shin-bones at you from a distance.

The game is very reminiscent of Orcs Must Die with the addition of the free-roaming collection phase. You have control over how much material you gather to build walls, floors, and ceilings, so it always behooves players to spend time exploring the map. Players can also uncover survivors being swarmed by monsters ahead of the main event, and helping these NPCs provides rewards. Building is advertised as being easy, and it’s no lie: you decide what you want to build (wall, floor/ceiling, or roof) and the material (wood, brick, or metal) and you just place it where the glowing outline allows. Because the monsters will attack your fort, you have to be able to repair it in the heat of battle, which only requires the right material in inventory and the press of the “F” key as you are running past the damaged structure.

Combat is fairly standard. There are ranged and melee characters, although it seems that (at least with primarily ranged characters) anyone can equip both. Rounds that I have played so far are mostly cases where everyone is on the roof mowing down the waves of monsters. I suspect that as the game progresses and both the objectives and the terrain change over time, different structures and strategies will be needed. So far rounds have ranged from stupidly easy to frantic clusterfucks where the team was running around the perimeter to take on the waves and repair the fortification. I suspect that the former example is how the game was intended to be played.

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Is the game fun? Yes. Yes, it is, although I suspect that there’s a narrow set of conditions under which this is true. For example, the initial collection and exploration phase can take as long as you like. I’ve already had fears that some rando on the team is going to get impatient and start the process while the rest of the team is spread out across the map and insufficiently packed for the next phase. I do prefer co-op games over competitive games, but some people still find ways to make things all about them. I’ve played about 50% of my rounds with all random teams and so far everyone has been either cool or just silent, focusing on the game the way I believe it was intended to be played, but we always remember the worst experience above all else, so I’m dreading the time I end up alongside one of those “blame everyone but themselves” type players. That said, playing the game with friends can be a blast. The game doesn’t come with voice comms, so a Discord setup (PC) is very much recommended.

My only complaint so far — which sounds generous until you understand that it covers everything that isn’t the act of collecting, building, and shooting — is that many pre/post round activities are horribly opaque. There are literally too many systems to enumerate here, and almost none of them are explained well enough in the game. For instance, you get “survivor cards” which can be used to build “teams”. You’re asked to slot some of these cards early on, but you can’t use those teams until you unlock certain nodes on your skill tree which, of course, aren’t nodes you unlock up front. You have two (at the start) avenues of advancement. Your research tree runs on credits earned simply through the passage of time, while skills level based on tokens you earn by completing rounds. Both weapons and playable characters can be assigned XP, but there’s no rhyme or reason to how: should we stockpile XP and test drive characters? Is the XP drop rate such that we can spend with wild abandon? And then there’s the blueprint and inventory system, which you can’t actually use until you are in a game.

We also had a bit of a hiccup in a friends-game where no one could build until I (the party leader and hence the map “owner”) gave the rest of the team permission through the shield generator control panel. I don’t remember that being explained at all, and that was an issue considering one goal of the mission was to expand the fort. I’ve also heard of issues where non-round owners couldn’t build or pick up items; I’m not sure if that’s related to the permission control panel, or just a really annoying bug.

Don’t let this dissuade you from considering the game, however. There is so much crap dropping that experimentation is easy and almost consequence-free. Between rounds, you can take as much time as you like to investigate the systems, although you might not be able to activate or use them early on. What I didn’t know was that Gearbox was involved in creating this game, which explains the game’s keyless lock box system of comically literal loot pinatas that you swing at to unleash a torrent of yet more stuff like XP boosters, blueprints, survivor cards, and materials. Like Borderlands, there’s no shortage of crap to fill up your inventory, and I say that in terms of it being a Good Thing(tm).

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Fortnite is a fun group co-op game that’s certainly more enjoyable with friends who can work together and share the same pace. Early on the mechanics are interesting enough between rounds that can range from easy-going to head-on-fire crazy-time. I have no idea what the game will be like in later stages after several dozen rounds of collect-build-defend start to get stale. I do wish the out of round systems were better explained or weren’t accessible until the system was ready to devote time to explain them. There’s a lot going on, and being able to click on things not only raises more questions than they answer but makes me (at least) feel like I’m always only playing at a fraction of the potential I’m allowed simply because the ancillary systems are just a little too black box. Still, the gameplay is fun, the visuals have their own style that lends itself to the sometimes bonkers premise, and the game has enough going for it to be either a primary progression game, or a secondary party game.

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