Thursday, September 30, 2010

Machismo (Rough Draft Pt. 1)

Machismo (Pt. 1)

As Mangar stood above the slain beast, slathered in its oil-black blood, he could hear a roar of men and women grow around him. It was the cheers of the peasants, the men and women the heroes saved on their daring quest had come to see the final battle against the evil God-Bard.

There they stood together, Mangar the Barbarian, Totee the Halfling, and the beautiful Sorceress Weanna, triumphant on their darkest day.

“'Kay that's good, bio break.” Chuck said. The wiry dungeon master rose from behind the propped up peachy folders that made up his secretive 'DM screen' and headed out of the room, leaving behind his three players.

This was Rick's house, or his mom's house to be more specific. Yet he wasn't in charge of the game, that was Chuck's job, which is why they would usually be over at his house to play, if his Mom and Dad weren't having their little 'spat' that was going on 3 months now.

Rick was happy to host everyone though, even if Rick's mom thought Jay talked way too loud (which yeah, he does), and Seth left food everywhere (which he does). These were his friends, for the most part. Having them over once a week was a boon.

Jay got up to stretch, his mouth opening wide and letting out a heavy yawn that he tried to talk through.

“My rolls... were so... horrible tonight,” Jay said.

“Your rolls are always horrible.” Seth said, “Every night, you're just a useless pile of hairy feet and bad puns.”

Rick laughed as Jay took a fake swing at Seth.

The door to the basement burst open behind them, sending a few cans of Mountain Dew scattering across the floor. Instead of Chuck, Rick's older brother Junior stood there. A groan passed between the players.

Junior swaggered into the room, a root beer in one hand and a basket of smug in the other, “You kids still in here playing your baby games?”

Everyone ignored him, except for Seth who simply stared.

“You know Dicky,” Junior said, using his favorite nickname for Rick, “If you stopped spending your Saturdays with these retards you might get laid before you graduate. Lords know all of you could use it.”

Rick let out a sigh, this was business as usual for his brother. Somewhere between losing his virginity and getting in his first car accident, he became god's gift to anything with a hole. He always had a new girlfriend, he was moved up to first string power forward on the Basketball team, and Rick swore even Junior's singing voice had improved.

“Whatever,” Rick responded, “Can you go now?”

Junior laughed along with no one and turned to leave, “You babies have fun, let mom know if you need a change.”

His laughter could be heard going up the steps even after the door closed.

“Man he is a douche.” Rick said.

“He has a point thought,” Jay said.

Rick and Seth both turned to look at the Halfling player.

“How?” Seth said with hands thrown up, “How does he have a point?”

Jay looked between them, “Well, when was the last time you had a girlfriend Rick?”

Rick looked at the ceiling and thought, about Betty, May, Alison, Tiffany.

“Never,” Rick said, “But this is High School man, you know how it is.”

Seth leaned back in his chair, “What happened with you and Karen?” He said.

Karen was a cute little blond girl they all shared Math class with. She was a little naïve in that way where you didn't know if they were actually naïve or just in complete denial.

“I don't really like Karen.” Rick said.

They responded in unison, “Don't like Karen?”

Rick scrunched up his face.

“I like Karen,” Seth said with a grin.

“I like Karen's laugh.” Jay said.

“Well yeah, you guys like Karen.”

“I like Karen's titties.” Jay said, his eyes rolling back in his head in an exaggerated fashion.

“Oh yeah, wonderful breast. Just makes you wanna...”

“...Oh I know, nice shape, and those shirts, I just want to...”

“...The things I would do.”

The door opened yet again and Chuck returned.

“Uhm,” Chuck said, “What're we talking about?”

“Nothing,” Rick said.

“Karen's wonderful sweater babies,” Seth said.

Chuck stopped in place, his face as expressionless as Rick had ever seen it. The DM cleared his throat, then walked back to his place.

“Oh.” Chuck said.

“Lets just start again,” Rick said.

From behind his screen they could see chuck moving things around, hear the shuffling of loose pages of notes and story. He mumbled something to himself, and each of the players waited in silence for the action to begin.

Chuck cleared his throat again.

The heroes basked in the glory of victory, flowers raining upon them, and heartfelt tears spilling at their feet. The world was saved yet again, thanks to their fearless actions in the face of mortal danger. No one could stand before them and call them anything less than legends, great warriors willing to put the common man before their own wellbeing.

Suddenly the crowd grew quiet, and they parted to let through a busty maiden, the Princess of Charlezonia. Her body bursting with affection for the saviors of her land. One by one she pressed herself against them and gave unto them a deep kiss...

“That's it,” Rick said, “This is too much.”

“He was just getting to the good part,” Seth said.

Rick took a breath and looked between his friends. They knew him, he knew them, they were good guys. Yet something seemed sad, about all of it.

“Does she really have to be the 'busty maiden'?” Rick said.

Jay cocked an eyebrow at him like Rick just finished a handstand, in his underwear.

“Would you rather she be the homely peasant girl? Or the face-only-a-goblin-could-love chick?” Jay said.

“I uh, I could do homely.” Chuck said, his eyes just showing above his peachies.

“No one adventures for homely,” Seth said while adjusting his eyewear, “No one slays the darkest spawn of the unknown reaches for homely.”

“I'd slay all sorts of spawn for Karen.”

“I'd darkest spawn all over Karen.”

“I don't even like Karen,” Rick Said.

“You don't need to,” Seth said, “This isn't about liking her is it? Its about what Junior said. All he said was to get laid. You think Junior liked the girls he slept with?”

Somewhere deep Rick imagined his brother liked each and every one of them, or at least liked the way they looked after a few beers. They were his girls, even if he used them as an emulator for lotion and tissue paper, and trashed them just as fast.

“What are you going to do? Go be big dog like Junior?” Seth said, “You can bust a few cans on your forehead, and piss on the neighbors lawn.”

Chuck made a hissing sound from behind his screen, his own little laugh that sounded like a Disney movie snake.

Rick rubbed the side of his head, “I just don't know. Junior is an idiot, but I guarantee every girl he hasn't already bespoiled is just hoping he ask for their number. I could get a degree, spend my whole life studying, and unless I get rich I'll never have that.”

“Of course,” Jay said, “That's why you're here, and he is out there.” He said while pointing.

Seth whispered, “Out where?”

“If you wanted the get girls quick plan, you'd be out there. You want success and money. So you study. This is obvious stuff man.”

Rick shook his head, “But I might not get rich, and he could still get a good job.”

“You could go out there and get a girl, if you bulked up a little,” Seth said, “Maybe hit the gym.”

“He doesn't need to bulk up,” Jay said, “Don't tell him that.”

“Look at him.”

Rick's eyes went wide, “What does that mean?”

“Yeah, he is fine the way he is. Heck, the right clothes and a little make up, I'd go for it.” Rick said, then added, “No homo.”

Seth's lips mouthed, “What.”

Rick turned from Jay to Chuck, “I could try it. You know, why not. Hell, I'll go for Karen. It's not like I'm worried about divine brimstone or something, getting laid could be helpful.”

“You don't even like Karen,” Jay said.

“... saying no homo doesn't count if its totally homo...” Seth said as they spoke.

“Yeah, but that's even better. I don't need a relationship before college anyway.”

“Uhm,” Chuck said, making everyone grow quiet to hear him, “You could also become a complete dick.”

Saturday, September 4, 2010

PAX: "Guild Wars 2"

I have loved the original Guild Wars ever since it was sold to me with a masterful misdirection. The idea implanted in my mind was that the choices of skills going into a round of PvP in Guild Wars was like building a deck for Magic the Gathering. They told me something was going to be like something I liked, building decks. It was unfair really, I had no options at that point. Turning away from the game would have meant lying to my self, while following the game meant accepting what I knew was on some level a lie.

Guild Wars was special though. Not just its monthly fee (which is non-existant), but in the structure. It was a PvP game first, and that was the difference. The game was built around it, the way you made a character, the way items were balanced, the abilities were crafted to it. We couldn't hide this, not when one overpowered team composition could lead to PvE changing when an ability was 'rebalanced'.

It was all in the title. Guilds would fight one another, war even. You knew what the game was about just by picking it up. I played for years, took months off but always came back. I could play a little alone, but the game shined when my friends and I created teams that we hoped could take on all comers. They rarely could, but it is never about the result of a journey now is it? Laughs were had, frustrations were vented, people raged and new ideas were formed by the steam. Then we would try yet again.

So, having a chance to play Guild Wars 2 is something close to touching a warped memory. I know the world, I know the races and classes, yet this was not my Guild Wars. The system for everything seemed different, the game moved fluid in PvE, things were not the same.

The creators let fly facts as I waited to play. The game had dynamic events, connecting players to fight great beast that had no schedule, and could show when you least expect it. Weapons related to your skills, 10 now instead of the 8 I remember being compared to a 60 card magic deck. With the weapons you equip, some of your skills automatically change with, making them so much more important.

This felt like, dare I say it, a PvE focused game. It was a world where people roamed the overmap, and fought large monsters, hoping to defeat it and get cool loot.These were things that 'could' be done in their own ways in Guild Wars, but in the end it was all to benefit that all important war. You leveled so you could fight other guilds, you got money so you could buy gear to fight other guilds. The game was not deep, but it did not feel the need to be.

So I worried, even as I enjoyed my time as a ferocious Charr warrior. I enjoyed the carnal ripping of my enemies, but wondered what I might lose in the PvP sections of the game. There were aspects I liked, the events reminded me of the community merging open quest of WAR. The skills reminded me of my past love, Guild Wars. Yet it was the movement, smooth and intentful, that doomed it.

Yet it has the benefit of the doubt. Unlike The Old Republic, storytelling will not drive this game through boredom. I will stick to it though, let it take me where it wants to go, and at least give it a shot. No monthly fee says it cannot be so bad as to ruin me.

PAX: "Star Wars: The Old Republic"

The Old Republic has always represented something to me. Call it a promise, or a wish, or just plain old hater's hope. You see, I've never been a fan of WoW, most MMOs can't hold my attention actually. I've played quite a few, some of them longer than others; Ultima Online, Warhammer Online, Eve, Guild Wars, City of Heroes, Lord of the Rings, DnD Online, Planetside, so many MMOs. Some have been good, some have been bad, others have been atrocious. They all though, have been excuses for busywork.

There are exceptions, Guild Wars and Planetside in particular were excuses to fight as a party, but MMOs have a horrible track record of being more about some random guy in a field sending me off to do his chores than about any grand adventure. If I wanted to be sent to do random chores and awarded with inexplicable inventory, I could just play Animal Crossing, and at least that way I'd be able to get T. Nook off my back.

The expectation for MMOs is not high. They are comrade games, meant to be played with a group of people you agree with, so as to make even the most mind-numbing task seem enjoyable. You laugh, you argue, you dick each other over, and everyone has a blast. This works with other genres as well, but MMOs thrive on this. When the player associates the game with good feelings instead of the friendly fun, they are now a customer for life. Wonder why your friend went from playing with only you to playing more without you than with you? Wonder why your significant other can choose the game over you? Well wonder no more.

So what is the promise of Star Wars the Old Republic? Story, that's what. Story that pulls the game together instead of leaving it as a jumbled mess of events that sort of make you do important things. The full extent of Bioware's dedication to this promise isn't known yet, won't be known for nearly a year when the game is released, but I have a dream. I want my stupid collection quest to only occur when it makes sense, if I'm collecting droid scraps, let it be to fix my ship so I can get off a rim world, if I'm killing krayt dragons, let it be to prove to my Sith master that I'm ready for my final trial.

This isn't rocket surgery, no gamer should need to lie to themselves to enjoy what their game requires. We should want to continue because we want to know what comes next. We should want the story to bloom around us.

Star Wars: The Old Republic, is not a WoW killer, I won't dub a game that anytime soon. I don't need it to do anything to WoW, I simply need it to survive long enough for me to play through it, 8 times maybe (once for each class).

The gameplay all looks particularly normal, the mechanics are not unique. There is space flight, but it is watered down. There is a cover system, but that is for two classes who both do it differently. This game is not unique under the hood, it is all about the surface here. The story, the presentation, this is supposed to be the deal sealer, and so far I am sealed.

Even as I first played it, as a huge Twi'lek scoundrel, I found myself killing a few random enemy soldiers and clicking on buildings that glowed slightly. The game may as well have told me to collect separatist helmets the way I was killing these guys. I had a reason though, I couldn't get off the planet unless the enemy forces had their scramblers destroyed. My character wanted off that rock, and I wanted to know where he was going. No need to read a stupid quest log, I heard my character say this, he wanted off and anyone who got in his way was going to eat a grenade.

There was the spine tingling difference.

The references to past games I love, the colorful and characterful presentation, these are all just bonuses. SW:TOR, keep it up and I'm on board for sure.

PAX: Day Two

Day two had a different purpose, and everyone could feel it. While day one was visceral, instinct driving everyone to raw experiences within the expo halls. Day two was about learning, nothing important to anyone else, or anyone of grand importance. The plan was to enrich yourself in the field we all agreed upon, the game.

A short course on Women's Studies, or a Journalism class, Leadership courses, or maybe Graphic Design. Here though there were no credits, no days of homework rolling in and out, and the professors were the very people who ran the fields in question. Classrooms that lasted for an hour, snuggled into small rooms with big screens and long hanging microphones. Classrooms that began with explosive presentations, and ended with Q&A. These were panels, nearly as varied as the people at the convention, and scattered to every floor of the building.

These panels have a problem though, since many students didn't wait hours at a time just to squeeze into their morning class. They are limited, one shot at one time, and there is never enough space. A room that can fit 100 can attract 500 visitors, and woe be to those who thought it was enough to show up on time. Or the fool like me who thinks he can go from one panel to another, when one ends when another begins.

I wanted three panels, one on writing in the game industry, one simply for the joy of watching others play the game, and the last to learn more about an upcoming release. I had to drop one, for time alone, and my evening still felt pressed for time. I skipped playing a small game that caught my eye, simply to find enough time to get off my feet.

My last 'class' did not disappoint though, and my evening ended with the bang of new surprises and renewed anticipation for a game I've always wanted. This was the joy of new information, a hype engine that runs on solar power.

Day two winded down, and now all that's left is to rest, and prepare for the final day. There are so many things I've yet to try, and one more day to give them a shot.

Friday, September 3, 2010

PAX: Day One

You truly know its here when you have trouble sleeping the night before, roll over endlessly in your bed, waiting for the sun to rise and the fun of tomorrow to begin. No, this isn't Christmas, though close enough for some. Santa's little venture at the end of Summer.

This was waking up for Pax. Even though the rest of my family was up just as early for the birth of my new niece in about 5 hours, I was focused elsewhere. Even then, when my ride came calling, I wasn't fully dressed, and my packing job was left a lot to be desired. I didn't know what to do, if I should bring this food or that, these cloths or those, what I would need and how much of it. We tucked into the little black ride and went to the meet. The pax goers, the pax group, some having been there every year since High School, others a little newer. Hotel money was collected, cars were organized, and we were off for the long drive to Seattle.

The long drive was made even longer by the crowded streets of Seattle. A zig zag of one ways and uncooperative GPS lead to white knuckles, Pax was close, and few obstacles hung in our way. Valets and bag checks concluded, it was time for the first stage of pax: lines.

We did good this year. Every year Pax begins with a huge line of nerds and nerdettes outside the building, waiting for the hall to open. Within the last few years, this line actually became a line for the exposition hall, where new games were shown and swag was given away. Anyone who was anyone knew that if you waited 30 minutes after the expo hall was open, the line would be gone, and you could just walk in normally for the rest of the day, so we skipped that line completely, to go to another line. This one for the theater, which was a five or so minute walk away, and had already reached Space Mountain-like proportions. It actually circled the building a full time, and those like us, waiting for the Keynote at the end of the line, were stuck looking through windows at those at the very FRONT of that queueing debacle.

So we left, somehow managing to skip one line, wait in a line, yet get no benefit out of either.

Women and Men swarmed the building, dressed in every color and shape of dress imaginable. Outfits society would imagine should bring shame; like a hooker in short shorts and stockings, some were dressed for the job. In under a minute I saw Poo from Earthbound, Vega from Street Fighter, and a girl wearing fishnets and a mini-skirt who just seemed to like her legs.

We made it to the Expo hall though, packed to the wall with new games, retro games, big games and Indie games. People waited in more lines, experiencing things they before trusted to the words of underpaid game journalist. I saw games that made my mouth water, drilled at my ear drums, and nearly burned my eyes out. The floor was hot with as many anticipated titles as I could hope for, and held a few surprises as well.

I moved through the smell, a scent varied by location and not altogether unpleasant, to start on my mission. There were objectives, few and easy to achieve, but each was required to fulfill the journey that was Pax. Games that needed to be played, and swag that needed to be obtained.

Day One is coming to a close, one objective is already complete, and the nightly concerts are about to begin. These sweaty, digital raves are both a godsend and a hell of their own, creating a bath of energy that cannot be resisted, escaped, yet is not always likened to joy.

I cannot wait for Day Two.