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I like to think y’all are smart people

February 20, 2010

I do, I really do.  For the most part, readers know what’s up.  Even amidst the flames, angry comments, and the occasional mistruth, readers know how to read an article that we put up on our site.  Furthermore, most readers understand that we (Massively.com) like to take a neutral tone with our news stories.  Even when our opinion as a staff swings the other way, we’ll put out a story that will more or less recite facts and leave the speculation up to readers.  Of course we put in the occasional joke and light commentary, but we’re about making sure the facts get across as facts.

So, this e-mail that we got in our inboxes this morning from the site’s comment box made most of us burst out laughing.  This is from a man who read our follow-up to the Allods Online cash shop story… the follow up that confirmed that Gala-Net wasn’t interested in changing their absurd pricing structure.

I was reading the Allods forums, and someone posted a link to your site to read a story about the Cash Shop debacle. I must admit, I’m a MMORPG.com reader, and had never been to massively.com.

The link I clicked went straight to the homepage rather than the original story about Allods [cash shop.] Then I see the new story on the front page which was the biggest example of corporate shilling I’ve ever seen from a site like yours. The response from gPotato did even address the concern. ZERO complaints have been made about ‘the lack of communication’. The community believes the prices are fucking ridiculous. Nobody cares that they didn’t formally announce the shop was opening.

Your use of phrases like “the player feedback wasn’t exactly positive” and “take a look at the entire official response for more on how the Allods team hopes to rectify the situation” is sad to say the least.

Although these companies pay you to advertise on your site, the players are the ones that visit your site which ultimately determines how much you make from your ads. Your front page recant of your previous story when no recant was called for makes it obvious to me that you care as much about the gamer as gPotato.

So, the reason this is funny… is today is the first and last day I will be visiting your site. (Clicked 0 ads while here). It looks like there could be good content, but unfortunately, the first thing I read is garbage.. and so I don’t have high hopes for the rest of your site.

Keep it ‘profitable’ joystiq & massively.com!

Angry much?  I guess the part of this e-mail that I find funny is that he quotes two lines that show a negative tone rather than a positive one (“wasn’t exactly positive” and “hopes to rectify the situation”) and he basically sees only what he wants to see.  Those two lines are pretty much opinion dead, more recitation of what happened in the Allods than any commentary on the situation.

For those of you who may not now, Allods Online, a game that we had been generally looking forward to, undid much of their hype by revealing absolutely insane prices on their cash shop items.  Some of their “microtransactions” are reaching upwards of 10 dollars, with a 6 slot bag space increase going for 20 dollars.  The prices are, without a doubt, horrid.  If this is still an issue next week, it’s getting the Anti-Aliased treatment, most likely.

But, back to the topic at hand, this is obviously a man who didn’t try to read our content.  Because if he did, he would have found my intensely unhappy comment down in the comments section.  I rarely drop my opinion on a company down in the comments section, as I like to save it for my opinion column, but this is one where I thought the quote Gala-Net sent to us was completely absurd.  They didn’t even try to answer our questions, and I think many of our readers noticed that.  What, with us getting, “We love Massively.com!” from the associate producer when we asked him to comment on the situation.  Yeah, that totally answered the question…

But, hey, he thinks we’re all about the advertising and milking moolah from game companies.  That’s cool.  He reads MMORPG.com, so he doesn’t have to read us. It’s not like MMORPG.com wraps their homepage in ads or anything…

Oh.  Whoops.  Sorry dude…

(All <3s to MMORPG.com and the nice people that I know there.  Was just trying to point out the inherent stupidity of trying to accuse gaming websites of taking “advertising bribes.”  We all run ads.  We all run ads for games.  Gee, I wonder why gaming websites run ads for games?)

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Google Chrome knows what’s up with Encyclopedia Dramatica

January 25, 2010

A picture is worth 1,000 lols.  Click on the screenshot for a larger version

If you can’t see/read the screenshot, it basically says that Encyclopedia Dramatica hosts spyware, and Google Chrome does not trust it as a website.  It offers a “back to safety” button, so you can get away from the scary, dangerous site. ^_^

~Sera

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What’s with the Steam hate?

January 21, 2010

Steam is bad? Did I miss something?

So after getting a little addicted to playing Global Agenda and writing a few pieces on the subject for Massively, I started to notice this really odd wave of comments that actually confused me — people who refused to play GA because it was Steam exclusive.  They didn’t want to install Steam or deal with it, because they felt it was getting in the way of their gaming experience.

Some of the comments they had about it were absolutely venomous, such as how it hogged system resources, performed bad installs, updated games slowly, and was generally unwieldy.  When I was reading their comments, I felt like I had gone back in time to the year 2004, when Steam first came into mainstream use with Half-Life 2, and the first “Steam Controversy” was born.

In fact, just as I’m writing this article, I went over and checked the Wikipedia entry on Steam.  Holy shit, talk about being biased.  If Wikipedia is to be believed, Steam is a buggy piece of crap that ruins video games, steals money from developers, and demands the sacrifice of first born children to the “My Games” tab before a game can be run.

Yet, even as I’m typing, Steam is running comfortably in the background, doing whatever it is that it does in the background.  When I want to run a game, I open Steam, double click on the game, and it runs.  Beyond that, Steam offers me some amazing, amazing, amazing deals on games that I’d like to play.  Deals that go above and beyond their 10% discount on a game when you pre-order it.  From the Steam Holiday Sale alone, I was able to buy nice gifts for all of my friends, add 10 more games to my arsenal, and not spend more than 100 bucks for all of it.  The amount of money that I’ve saved through using Steam as my distribution service is just amazing.

So, let me try to wrap my head around some of these reasons for why you shouldn’t use steam.

1. It hogs system resources

So I pulled up the ctrl+alt+delete service menu to see just how much memory Steam takes up when it’s running in the background.  Just so you all know that I’m not making crap up, I put the screenshot off to the side here.  Click it if you need it blown up, as I know it’s pretty tiny.  But, even with the visual evidence, let me break it down for you.

Steam, in this photo, is taking up 8,680k of my memory.  Compare that against Skype, which is taking up 12,236k, iTunes, which is taking up 32,976k, Thunderbird, which is taking a hefty 46,308k, and Google Chrome, the “lightweight browser” that’s taking up a whopping 53,328k over two processes.  For one instance of Google Chrome, I could run Steam six times.  So don’t tell me that Steam is hogging your precious resources, unless you’re running on a really, really small amount of RAM.  I’m running on 2 GB, personally, and Steam does not impact how my games run.

Shit, the only reason I was running iTunes in this screenshot was because I was playing Burnout: Paradise.  And even while running iTunes, Steam, Google Chrome, and Thunderbird, Burnout: Paradise still ran at 60 FPS with everything turned on high.  Don’t tell me Steam ruins how your game runs.

2.  Steam ruins installs

I have 36 games on Steam.  Not one has misinstalled in the entire 4 year history of me using the program.  Either I’m incredibly lucky, or Steam isn’t a rabid misinstaller.

Oh, and if you’re talking about how Steam automatically updates games when the developer pushes out a patch, then that’s not Steam, that’s the developer.  If it updates and breaks your game, I’m sorry, but it really doesn’t happen as often as you want to say it does.  Once again, over my entire history of using Steam (and having 3 different computers, each with a different setup) I’ve never had a game break from an update on Steam.  Ever.

3.  You need to be online to play Steam games

If you’re on dial-up, then this is a legitimate gripe.  It does suck that you have to be online to play a Steam game, as Steam forces game authentication every time you run the game.  However, for the rest of you silly geese who are on broadband, what the fuck are you complaining about?  Sure, this might suck for those of you who have bandwidth caps in other countries, but I don’t see Steam pulling down that much bandwidth when I’m playing.  It’s very light on the bandwidth if you’re not playing an online game.

If you’re in the US, you most likely can’t gripe because we really don’t have bandwidth caps around here.  I’m constantly connected to the internet thanks to the wonderful advent of cable internet.  I’m always online.  If I wasn’t online, I’d pretty much go insane.

Lastly, if you’re bitching about adding Steam and you’re adding it to play an online game, like Global Agenda, then go fuck yourself.  “I have to be online to use Steam” is not a valid excuse when the game you’re playing IS ONLINE ONLY ANYWAYS.

4.  You can’t sell Steam games back to the retailer or to someone else

No, and you can’t sell PC games to GameStop either.  If you don’t want to use Steam because you want to sell your games, then just don’t use Steam.  But for online only games (like Global Agenda) then you really can’t resell the game anyway because it’s tied to your account.  Once again, go fuck yourself. *smiles and thumbs up*

5. Steam is a trojan horse

Thanks alot, Direct2Drive, for making this really shitty comparison.  Sorry that your download service doesn’t offer a community panel, IM and voice chat services, automatic updates that don’t suck, and competitive deals.

Steam is not a trojan horse.  If anything, steam (and integrating games into Steamworks) lets developers utilize Steam’s anti-cheat platform, their auto-update functionality, matchmaking and lobbies functions, and the very cool Steam Cloud which lets you keep your game saves and profiles online and take them wherever you go.  As long as you’re logged into Steam, you get your games and your saves.  Very cool.

So, if you’re still into hating Steam, then you’re still pretty much stuck in 2004.  If you still really don’t want to use the program, then my advice is to just not use it and shut up about it.  Go off to Direct2Drive or go shop at GameStop — you still have those options.

As for me, I’ll be enjoying the Steam Cloud and my legion of affordable games.

~Sera

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The Played Game Roundup

January 20, 2010

So, in an effort to remove some tension and stay away from the horribly serious topics for a while, I thought it would be a good time to go over some of the games that have crossed my path lately.  I’ve actually been in a bunch of different games from all different genres, so I might as well take some time and tell you about some of them.  You might even want to pick a few up for further inspection!

Burnout: Paradise — When Paradise was released, I really gave it a hard time.  It took such a different path from the other Burnout games, and it removed some of my favorite features, like impact time and revenge rules.  It also offered a really large open world, which was great until I found out that when you fail a race, you have to drive back across Paradise City to try it again.  That sucks.

However, after picking it up for my PC for the awesome price of 7.50 during the Steam Holiday Sale, I must say that I’m really enjoying it more than a 7.50 game.  The open world of Paradise City is actually a lot of fun, especially when you know it well enough to make your own paths and use shortcuts to your advantage.  Some of the jumps and stunts that I’ve done have been simply breathtaking, plus it’s always a good time when you get behind the wheel to completely ruin your opponents.

Shattered Horizon — Another game that came into my possession during the Steam Holiday Sale, Shattered Horizon is Futuremark’s first foray into actually making games instead of making stupidly complex benchmark programs.  And, of course, when a game comes from Futuremark, you know it’s going to take hardware to the extreme.

Shattered Horizon only runs in DirectX10 mode, so it’s good for me that I have a system that can handle it.  The game is essentially Counter-Strike with a major twist: You’re in space, stuck in in the aftermath of a major lunar calamity.  A lunar mining corporation placed a charge on an unstable piece of the moon, shattering it and sending shards of rock all over Earth’s atmosphere.  Earth can’t launch manned shuttles up to save the stranded miners and lunar police due to the debris, but they did send up weapons and supplies just before the debris shrouded the planet.  Thank God they sent guns instead of food, right?  Otherwise this game would be crazy boring.

The game lets you fight in zero-g with a single gun that acts as multiple guns, like every good lunar walker should have.  You can stand on ceilings and use your jetpack to fly around with ease, all to confuse and scare your enemy.  Even cooler, you can turn off your suit’s electronics to avoid detection from other players, but you lose your targeting systems, you move at the speed of molasses, and you have no sound simulation.  All you can hear is the sound of your own breath and heartbeat while you float in space… and that’s a scary, scary feeling.

I have mixed feelings on this game.  It’s done well, but it doesn’t exactly keep inviting you back for more.  It’s fun to pick up and play a round or two, but then you just end up walking away feeling… meh.  Although, with inventive design like this, I’d like to see Futuremark’s next entry.

Bayonetta: I’ll keep this very brief.  Gameplay = One of the best action titles I’ve ever played.  Ever.  It moves like a dream.  A seamless dream.  Storyline = I wish she’d shut up and stop making me cringe.  Less stripper talk and slutty poses, more shooting.  K thx.

Global Agenda: It’s Team Fortress 2, only in the future and with customizable classes.  Score.  I like being able to pick different weapons to customize my loadout for each mission, and I like being able to tweak the skills of my character via a talent tree to make me good at the stuff I like to do, and not so good at the stuff I’m not a fan of.

Darksiders: I honestly expected God of War, and what I got was an open world brawler game.  That really opened up the game for me, and so far things are quite enjoyable in the little bit I’ve gotten to play.  I’m not a fan of the one button weapon combos, but I do like that I can switch weapons as easily as jamming another button on my controller.

And that’s pretty much it.  So readers, what have you been wrapping your hands around recently?

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Gaming Journalism vs. Real Journalism vs. Media Journalism

January 13, 2010

So there seems to be this interesting wave going through the blogging community regarding the state of gaming journalism.  It seems to be the usual “gaming journalists aren’t real journalists because they have opinions” tomfoolery that seems to rise and fall every once in a while.  It’s not the first time that this subject has come up, and it certainly won’t be the last.

But sitting down to think about it got me on an interesting train of thought — one where I actually began to think about gaming journalism against topics like “real journalism,” aka, news, and journalism that focuses explicitly on media forms.  Not “the media” mind you… journalism that centers on the entertainment industry or perhaps books.

Now, mind you, I’m in a very lucky position.  I have training as a “real journalist” thanks to my college writing track and I work for a MMO news website where we take pride in our integrity and, for the most part, post our news articles (not our op-ed columns) without bias.  We say what happens, we try to make it interesting to read, and that’s it.

Yet, even with our stances, you wouldn’t believe how many times we’re accused of being opinionated in our news posts, or how many times we’re yelled at by a reader for “manipulating” them with yellow journalism.  And that leads me to the problem that separates our news from other media outlets — fanboyism.

Make no mistake — we’re a culture founded on being competitive.  Pac-Man and Donkey Kong to World of Warcraft and beyond, we love trying to one up one another.  We’ve always taken our competitions to more meta-grounds, such as our irrational need to proclaim one game as “vastly superior” to another.  (See: World of Warcraft vs. Aion vs. Warhammer vs. Whatever Floats Your Boat.  The odd need to proclaim a game as shit.)  I personally thinks that this taints our view of our media in two ways: from the staff side and from the reader side.

Let me, first of all, back up Brian “PsychoChild” Green‘s assessment of my sister site — Joystiq.  When they wrote up their notice that Near Death Studios was going under, their post was a little caustic for a rote news article.  (Especially when you compare it to Massively’s coverage, and we’re sister sites.)  Obviously Randy Nelson was using Joystiq’s standard style of being slight cheeky and acidic in every post, but it seems to resonate harshly in this article.  These are the times when fanboyism is very clear and very unwelcome in a journalistic style.  Now, I can’t fault Randy… what he wrote is simply the site’s style and he stuck to it.  It works for them and it gains them readers, but it does certainly taint the idea of rote journalism for the rest of us.

However, the side that people aren’t noting or talking about is the stupid shit I have to listen to every day when we at Massively try to do our jobs professionally and to a more neutral standard.  When we talk about all of the games that surround us, we get accused of being biased simply because we talked about X game.  If we talk about a smaller game, obviously we’re being paid off by a developer to talk about it, such as when we cover Eskil Steenberg’s Love.  Other times, if we cover a story that negatively affects a company, we’re being the big evil media site who’s out to smash the little guy.

Honestly, when I and the rest of the staff pick up a story, we do it because we believe it to be newsworthy and of interest to our target audience.  The two key tenants of our target audience.  Hell, we even make sure that we’re trying to talk about all games in the industry, even the ones that people don’t exactly love to death.  Why?  Because that’s what being fair means — we give page space to everyone.  Is it always equal page space?  No, because not all games generate news at an equal rate. Yet, because our audience reacts with a very competitive edge and hates to see anyone offend their game of choice, we are accused of “assumed bias.”

In short, what I’m saying is that the nature of our very culture taints how we read our news.  Because of how opinionated we get as a culture, when others talk rationally, we see that as opinionated out of a defensive mechanism.  It’s really unfortunate.

As to comparing our journalism to physical news coverage or entertainment news, it’s extremely hard.  Physical news coverage doesn’t have the same level of opinion contained within it.  You can’t say, “Man, I loved it when they covered that presidential election.  That presidential election was the best sequel ever.”  People don’t have that same type of reaction to the news.  News happens, you talk about it to others, and that’s that.  You can’t undo what actually happened.  (You can spin it, however… and that’s what so many “real media” outlets are being accused of nowadays — heavy spin.)

As to entertainment news, once again, we don’t have that same type of rivalry with movie companies.  You usually don’t say, “Shit!  Guillermo Del Toro is way more badass than Peter Jackson!” or “Lord of the Rings really kicked Harry Potters ass.  Harry Potter shouldn’t even be in the fantasy genre.  Who the fuck subscribes to that shit anymore?”  What happens is that people go out, view the movie, form an opinion if they liked it or not, and go on their way.  Case closed.  They don’t compare and contrast (even the critics) nearly as much as we do in the gaming industry.  We, in the industry, feel that every freakin’ game needs to be compared to some other game in that genre and how it’s either X much better or X much worse.  And I’m not saying we do it as critics… players do this every single day without even thinking about it.  We’re all freakin’ critics around here.  Competitive critics who have to be right.

But even the entertainment news has problems… how many times do we call them “Rag Magazines” when they pry into the personal lives of actors and actresses?  How much is that media industry stained with useless gossip that most people brush off as petty?

So let me finish out with this clear cut statement — stop fucking comparing game journalism to other forms of journalism, as if you’re putting other forms of journalism on a pedestal.  They all have their problems and it all comes down to people, as a group, calling every form of media “opinionated and biased.”  Someone says the gaming media is tainted with opinion and bias.  Someone else says mainstream media is full of spin and mistruths.  And someone else calls entertainment media a bunch of petty star chasers or unreliable critics.

Guess what everyone?  All this tells us is that we’re all opinionated and we’re all biased. Whoops.

~Sera

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The Story Behind Black Clover

January 11, 2010

Concept art for the Black Clover character, "The Organist." Yes, that's a mechanized arm.

So, for many of you, I’ve talked about this random game — Black Clover — and you’re confused as to what it is.  You may have seen it on my Twitter background, you may have heard me talk about it in tweets, and you may have read some of my random descriptions in my blog.  You’ve been introduced to one of my characters — Xavier Guldstein — but you don’t really know much about this world or what this game really is.

Well, now that Black Clover is coming closer and closer to being a reality instead of one of my ludicrous fantasies, I feel that I can talk a bit more freely about this project, this pen and paper roleplaying game.

Black Clover is my first professional attempt at a pen and paper roleplaying system.  For a while, the game was going to be nothing more than a modification of Dungeons and Dragons Fourth Edition, running off of Wizard’s new open gaming license.  However, when that brand new OGL never came through with the release of 4th Edition, I turned away from using the new D&D as a base and began experimenting with my own, deciding to take advantage of the moment and really craft a game that suits my world.

Black Clover is set in what I like to call Gothic fantasy steampunk, where it’s really a dark mishmash of steampunk values with punk/rock/emo/Victorian fashion.  It’s a bloody world full of the wonder of invention, the intrigue of a fledgling nation recovering after the destruction caused by a great plague, and a society where heroes barely exist.  It’s luscious, it’s twisted, it’s dark, it’s gory, and it flirts with the inappropriate constantly.  While it’s one of my newer fantasy worlds, it’s quickly risen to be one of my favorites.

The world took off centered around two thoughts in my head one day when I was eating lunch:  One question was, “What would a world that was obsessed with death be like?” while the other one was, “What would be the most powerful weapon in existence?”  The answers came quickly — the world would be dark, corrupted, and the center stage for a few heroes taking on all of the wrongs in the world in a bitter, weak struggle to make things right while the most powerful weapon would be the human soul.

So created was the Black Clover Rifle, a mythical wonder of technology that had the power to distill the essence of the human spirit by siphoning it out of the person through six sharp, wicked hooks attached to the back of the gun.  The energy would be routed through a central chamber containing an odd, onyx gem shaped like a four-leaved clover, where the energy was then dispersed into the barrel of the gun.  Black Clover had two firing options:  pulse the trigger quickly to only fire a part of your soul, or hold the trigger down to siphon your soul until you let go… letting the whole thing fire in one gigantic burst.

This was the weapon that finished a war by creating a two-mile wide canyon down the center of the continent for four hundred miles.  This was the gun that destroyed an entire army for the cost of one human life.  This was my world’s atomic bomb.  Of course, after firing the gun, the weapon and it’s holder disappeared.  Some say that he and the gun were consumed by the force of the blast, while others still believe the gun survived… hidden out there in Clover Canyon.  If a full burst could obliterate an army, then how powerful could a person be if they only pulled the trigger for a fraction of a second?

————————————————————————–

So, with this world had to come a brand new way to play roleplaying games.  Carbon copying rules wouldn’t cut it for this universe (in addition to being illegal.)   However, I did not want to innovate for the sake of innovation (and legal reasons.)  Innovating to be innovative gets you nowhere fast — this system had to solve a problem in roleplaying.  Lo and behold, after just one brainstorming session and a suggestion from a few friends, I stumbled over the idea of dynamic statistics instead of the usual static physical characteristics, like strength, dexterity, etc.  With that, the Personality Drive system was born.

Personality Drive is how Black Clover solves a fundamental flaw of pen and paper roleplaying games: rewarding roleplay in a truly meaningful way.  While many games support roleplaying, and we all know how great D&D can be when the people sitting at the table are dedicated to not dicking over the game… some people like to dick over the game.  It’s hard to roleplay when power gamers are being jerks at the table, rules lawyers are shoving errata down the GM’s throat, and some people refuse to roleplay — preferring to play the whole game as one giant statistics fest.

How does Black Clover fix this?  Quite simply — it ties your statistics to your roleplay.  Each stat represents one of the aspects of the personality of your character.  Utilize these aspects in positive ways that your GM believes to be true to your character, and your stats rise.  Act like a dick… and well… you get statistics worthy of being a dick.  The only person you can blame is yourself.  Black Clover rewards you greatly for playing your character by offering you new abilities, new weapon upgrades (yes, you heard me, you build your weapon from the ground up), and better dice rolls.  Character improvement isn’t measured by scores of experience or level — character improvement is measured by character improvement.  As you explore who you are as a character, your abilities increase as you become more sure of what and who you are.  Act in contradicting manners, you’ll have memories that will haunt you.

This system, while it sounds limiting, really offers a more unique experience by making the player understand that some choices ARE hard decisions.  Heroes don’t make cavalier decisions when lives are on the line.  Or, will you break your morals to do the right thing, even if it means doing the wrong thing initially?  Will this power in personality lift you up or smack you down?

That’s just one aspect of how this game is very different from your standard roleplaying experience.  Hopefully I’ve made some of you excited or curious to see more.  Some of you… well you might be a little miffed right now, or baffled as to why I’d do such a thing with my core statistics.  Trust me when I say that it works out. 🙂  But, I won’t be completely sure of that until I enter playtesting… which isn’t for a bit yet.  But, in my initial runs… things look dandy. 😀

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Oh my god, it’s full of lulz!

January 4, 2010

Take that you slutty, pornographic, crappy RTS bitch.  You’ve been one-upped.  *points to attached photo*

Whatcha’ gonna do now?

(In all fairness, I’m pretty sure that this game is another Asian grinder with an item shop that you have to use if you want to get any enjoyment out of the game.  Yet, after this ad, I’m certainly willing to go take a look at their game and give a try. XD  Their marketing department knows what’s up, at least.)

(Edit: After looking at the game’s logo and the main page, I remember this game now.  It’s a popular Japanese card game, of all things!  A not too bad one, if memory serves me correctly.  Card games aren’t my thing anymore, but heck, I’ll give it a shot tomorrow, perhaps.)