♫It's a Whole New Worlllldddd♪

Meta: Ugh. I really had no idea what I wanted to write about today, so I made this. Not my best work, feel free to ignore.

I’ve never been quite sure how I feel about things like Second Life and its counterparts, including things like Playstation Home. I actually started typing “…how I feel about games like…” but that’s it, they’re not games, they’re just worlds filled with stuff. A big box of toys and dicks, like the moving man got confused and put the sex aids and kids toys in the same box.

On one hand, it’s a pathetic hangout for the delusional who spend extraordinarily high amounts of money for virtual objects that are, in every sense of the word, useless. Not in the sense that “Oh, your WoW sword that you spent all that time getting is useless”. Well, at least you can slay a virtual dragon with it. The entire system in Second Life seems to be built around dressing your avatar up in the most garish available clothes, then removing them and running around an “adult” area. It’s not even a truly free environment, as you have to pay to get in everywhere. Really, the real game of it all is people getting way too involved in a glorified chat room.

And yet, every time I seek to write it off as utter garbage I find something interesting to validate its existence. Whether it’s the famous college lectures being taught virtually or the complex and beautiful scenes that are there to explore, some parts are absolutely brilliant.

I suppose my relationship with Second Life and its offspring is the same I have with Twitter: I love it to death as long as I ignore 99.9% of the material on it.

The strength of the virtual world, whether it is WoW, Second Life, Home, or whatever, lies in the sheer freedom of it all. Yes, MMOs do tend to lead you by the nose in a large way, but the quest path to greatness is not a strictly mandatory thing. Do you want to go into the Eastern Plaguelands at level one? You can! You’ll get instakilled by anything in there, but the fact that you can is the power of the world, the power to explore the sheer imagination of someone else, and perhaps throw yours in as well.

Minecraft, Second Life, all of them have build tools for the common man, and this is a powerful thing. Oh, it has started to rain, and you need an umbrella. Make your own! The ability to summon objects out of the aether, the quality of which is only hampered by your mind, has limitless applications for someone who has the will. Really, the only problem with such a system is the interface itself. One of the greatest inventions that mankind will create will be a way to pull images directly out of someone’s mind and to project them into some sort of space.

But the key phrase here is “Someone who has the will”. Anyone who has played around with build games will quickly realize that, given the opportunity and ability, mankind will unleash his infinitely powerful mind and set about making porn. By the Old Ones, I think that I’ve seen more penises in these games then there are in real life. However, if someone manages to wrangle in their animalistic lust for five seconds could make anything from a funny hat to a gigantic castle, but who does? The build tools are obtuse, not by the fault of the developer but by the medium itself.

Such a virtual world will never be truly free  until we learn to mentally interface with computers. The keyboard and mouse may be the perfect way to work with them at the moment, but they are still limited by their hardware.

However, these worlds are still entertaining to run around in. I believe that I said before how players in worlds will simply power through the game without taking in the details of where they are, which is a shame. So much time and effort goes into rendering these fantastical settings, especially in a game like Aion that prides itself on graphics. It’s amazing how much fun comes out of simply standing on a cliff sometimes.

Where am I going with this? Second Life isn’t sad? Fuck no, I’m not defending it. People can be truly creative when they put their minds to it? Little Big Planet was more than enough evidence to show the opposite for most people. Virtual worlds are pretty to look at? Yes, but it’s more than that.

It’s a unique experience to be a casual observer in a world that rages around you. Some people get that feeling from going into the woods and staring at trees, but it really doesn’t change form when you move it into a game. There were times when I was playing Aion and I just stopped and stared, awestruck. The freedom of the world is a wondrous, powerful thing, one that should be appreciated.

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Mogworld

After four months and two push-backs of the release date, I finally received my copy of Yahtzee Croshaw’s book Mogworld. It’s a miracle.

It’s a well-established fact that I love Croshaw’s work. Thus, I really hoped that the book was going to be good, but I fully expected it to suck. After all, Croshaw’s work has been exclusively in the short-format humor piece, which can tear a bit when moving on to the longer format. But I really did want him to be successful. Well, I read it over the weekend, and it was pretty good.

Not fantastic, but pretty good. But I’m jumping ahead.

Mogworld revolves around Jim, a recently resurrected mage that finds himself as a NPC in a futuristic MMORPG where the AI has been given free will. But enough reading off the Amazon blurb; in a nutshell Jim wants to die, but can’t. Many have described Jim as the one person in Mogworld that is “self-aware”, but most of the characters seem to recognize that something is off, so I don’t think that it really applies.

Whether a story can be carried by humor alone is a question that has been posed again and again, one that I can answer by a offhand gesture at Douglas Adams. Crowshaw’s story’s strengths run parallel as Adams, Asprin, and so on. Not on the same level, mind you, fuck no. But the general idea is there. And the humor is well done, but you should already know that. Calling the humor good is like saying that reading Nietzsche will turn you into a prick for a month. And it’s a good thing that the jokes are great, because as a sci-fi/fantasy story it’s actually pretty horrible.

The biggest issue that the story fumbles with is the characters. Ironically, a man that always harps on the value of good characterization created a story with very static characters. That’s not to say that they’re flat, quite to the contrary, there’s quite a few interesting folks to be found. However, the characters never change, or if they do then it’s done in a very rough way. Most of the changes are in the very last part of the story, and the alteration is drastic when it doesn’t need to be. Gone are subtle alterations of characters throughout the fairly long story, it’s just “push button to dispense dynamics”. For example, without revealing too much, there’s one character at the end who ends up revealing a major personality trait that he kept hidden from everyone by acting the opposite. It would have been nice for this character to hint at this fact throughout the story, perhaps by subtly using other people to ultimately achieve his goal, but no. It’s just thrown out there in a way that borders on deus ex machina. This is not good character dynamics.

Which brings me to the second characterization problem: the motivations. Jim wants to die, that’s said again and again. But there’s really no motivations for any of the other characters in the story; they all seem to simply “go with the flow”. Yes, there is the idea that people want death to return, but why would they work with the main characters in particular? Because they are also immortal? Only a few people know the Big Secret and yet everyone seems to want to get involved with them. It’s odd.

The worst offenders are Jim’s traveling companions. They follow him wherever they go for reasons that I can only guess at, a combination of nostalgia and abandonment issues. Neither of them has any knowledge outside of the mundane “we are all undead”, so it’s not like they see Jim as a special person. And yet they seems to find him wherever he ends up, which strikes me as rather contrived. How is it that Jim keeps getting killed and thrown off into a far-off place, which creates a “new part of story starts here” barrier with an audible crash, and these two keep finding him? It gets rather contrived sometimes, but I could write it off as dedicated searching if they thought that Jim was The Chosen One or some other such nonsense. But they’re just tagging along, really, and probably are better off without him. And yet, they keep finding him like he has a undead-attracting magnet lodged in his brain. Really, they seem to be there simply to give Jim someone to talk to while wandering around, or more to the point someone to annoy him. They’re stock characters that could be easily written off, which is odd in a book with such a colorful cast. Frankly, I wouldn’t have minded if he left them behind in the first town. Of course, it could have been intentional that they are annoying to everyone around, but as Croshaw said, “intentionally annoying is still annoying!” (Okay, I get ONE quote. It’s relevant)!

So, in all, the characterization is horrid. However, the big concept of the book lies more in the setting than anything else, and that particular part is done incredibly well. The book asks and answers three questions: “How would a populace react when suddenly given the ability to ressurect indefinately?”, “What circumstances would lead to the environment that MMOs exist in?”, and “What role would PCs (player characters) play in such a world”? The entire situation is done in masterful satire, taking a microscope to the various facets of MMOs that we take for granted. For example: Imagine what a PC’s repetitive and exactly similar attacks would look like to a NPC. Stab slash stab slash, and so on. Of course, there’s the irony in that Crowshaw called out webcomics for taking game concepts and putting them in the real world, basically calling them pathetic excuses for humor, and then turns around and does the same thing in his book. But moving on.

I won’t delve deeper into the setting as the backdrop is the story and digging in would just be a big spoiler sandwich. Suffice to say that it’s brilliant and anyone who has played MMOs or even normal games would appreciate a lot of it, especially when they start breaking stuff.

Of course, that raises the big question: is it accessible to the layman, someone who has little-to-no gaming experience? My answer: eehhhh. I’d say that the first half of the book is definitely fine for anyone, but the later bits might come as a bit confusing for non-players, especially for some of the more subtle cracks at MMOs. You’d definitely need to know something about MMOs to fully appreciate the book, but it should be at least passable for non-gamers. How much information you’d need is up in the air, I’d say that if you have a passive understanding of the basic game mechanics then you should be fine.

Don’t get me wrong, Mogworld is a great book that kept me wanting to read farther just to see what happens next, something that hasn’t happened in quite a while.

If you read it and really want to enjoy it, then take the MST3K mantra under advisement: “It’s just a show, you should really just relax”. Treat it as a humor piece, not as a sci-fi novel, and you should really love it.

Flaky Pastry

Flaky Pastry

Félix Lavallée

317 pages

Updates every Friday

Alt-text: Aye

Flaky Pastry is a soft-fantasy, semi-slice-of-life comic. Seeing that “soft fantasy” isn’t actually a thing, translation: It doesn’t bother with strict boundaries of species and realms, and the whole “my lord Azekeria” Tolkien-equse stuff (much like soft science fiction, duh) is left out.

The party includes a Goblin Insane Mechanist-Nympho, a Chaotic Evil Elven Warrior, and a Person Who Happens To Have Cat Ears Scholar (noted again and again as not a “catgirl”).

Neighbor, their neighbor, is an albino super-scientist that plays whatever role he’s needed for. Also, if you’re ever doing a presentation of “author insertion persona”, or “Marty Stu” for you literary types, then simply point to Neighbor as an example. Not to say that I don’t adore the guy, mind you. Kurt Stein also makes appearances as Nitrine’s “boyfriend”, but he’s mostly there to play the comic foil.

I always say (okay, “I’ve said before, maybe”) that the biggest reason why slice-of-life comics fail is because the only material that you have available to write about is either mostly in-jokes or angsty drama that no one care about other than the real-life counterpart to the characters. Otherwise it’s all just small-talk-worthy crap. Reading Pastry has made me wonder why more of these comics aren’t set in the fantasy setting (and there is only one fantasy setting), as they allow for much more freedom of thought. After all, you don’t need to make a complicated backstory about someone’s dad killing themselves for a character to be interesting when it can be a dragon!

Oddly enough, this leads to a fairly ordinary cast outside of the main characters, at least compared to what would be expected in a world with goblins and elves and such. Everyone is very human-esque, albiet some follow certain archetypes like Holy Spice, Witch Spice, Crossdresser Spice, and so on. It doesn’t detract from the story, really, but it’s odd. I suppose all the “different” people flock together?

Now for the important part: the story. Everything in Pastry is done in satire of either fantasy or real life, and it’s all wrapped in marvelous camp. I don’t believe that you’ll need to love fantasy to enjoy Pastry.

Well, now that the humor is out of the way, let’s talk text. By the GODS Pastry tends to go for the blocks of text. It’s really a shame, because this technique is usually invoked for comics with terrible art, but Pastry‘s is pretty good. While it isn’t usually a problem, it occurs more than is nice.

Actually, Pastry has a problem with the writing overall. The stories are good, yes, but the actual presentation is rather lacking at times. It resorts to boldfacedly going point-by-point in conversation, which does get boring. However, the bad writing is partially made up for by the expressive nature of the characters, which tends to show their emotions a lot more than the writing itself. Which I suppose is the more difficult of the two.

Overall, Pastry is a comic that I read for a great, long while. Well, at least until I got to the end of the archive. There’s another problem with slice-of-life, it requires a running story, which is not well presented in a once-a-week format. The comic is good in long stretches, but I doubt that you’ll be crawling to your computer at 11:59 on Thursday to await an update. Still, the archive is good and certainly worth your time.

A Post In Three Parts

Loyal readers, do you know what we need? A proper tragedy.

No, I do not mean “A bus full of nun-orphan-kittens got physically involved with a tanker truck filled to the brim with 20.0 molar Death”. This is the theatric kind of tragedy. You know the one… the frowny face.

“Mainstream” tragedy is a tricky bit. People see movies/ go to plays/ read books/ etc. for the catharsis, not to simply feel worse upon leaving than they did beforehand. You cannot just kill everyone and call it quits, which just invokes feelings of schadenfreude. It is also a “no-no” to pull the move where the entire piece builds up to a tragedy then goes the comedy route. That is dramatic comedy, not “ha-ha” comedy, mind you. Without spoiling too much, Shutter Island did this by setting up a nasty, tragic ending, but then pulled “its okay” out of a hat about a minute before the credits rolled. Yes, they made it to “mindfuck” with everyone in that pseudo-complex way that blockbusters do, but they turned what could have been a decent tragedy into something with only pretentions to greatness. It was disappointing, really, a “shaggy-dog story” if you will.

I want a story where the antagonist gains his bittersweet victory while his friends and family lies broken at his feet. Where the desperate struggles of the protagonist ultimately amount to nothing, or make the situation worse for everyone around them. Where the scientist cannot find the cure in time and Timmy dies of the disease anyways, without the slightest whiff of the sappy crap.

The story of the man for whom the ambulance did not arrive in time. The tale of the person that married the love of his life before being sent to war, then never returning. The songs sung by the happy couple who are broken and divorced by the end of the verse, with no hope of loving again. The news of the astronaut, a hero of his sons and daughters, that get knocked into drift while on the shuttle, dying alone in the emptiness.

Art is supposed to imitate reality, and yet the expressions of so many artists ring false. Real life does not end happily most of the time, especially not in the deus ex machina-ways that so many pieces border on. Yes, we are supposed to take in media for enjoyment, but there is catharsis in tragedy, if it is good enough.

Oddly enough, the best “mainstream” tragedy that has come about recently would have to be Doctor Horrible’s Sing-A-Long Blog. It is rather ironic, but this “tragi-comedy” is one of the best examples of proper style that I have seen in a long time. Without spoiling the ending, suffice to say that some of my wishes were fulfilled in a spectacular way. I loved it.

In short, I rather wish that we could get some real tragedy back on the market, something on the level of Grecian or Shakespearian drama. Comedy is good and all, but he’s getting a little tired while Tragedy is growing restless due to his constant stream of bit parts. Let’s get out sad on, folks.

And Now For A Fireside Talk About Compassion

(This will not be a nice, well-written, or entertaining post. You may hate me afterward reading this. You have been warned.)

Link

So, yeah. You know that woman that everyone was up in arms about because she claimed that someone randomly threw acid in her face? It was a hoax, free and clear. Those wounds were self-inflicted, and she made up the entire story. For what? Cheap thrills? Attention? The eventual funds that came in to pay for her medical bills? No one knows.

Personally, I hope that they prosecute her to the fullest extent of the law. Yes, she may be insane, but she was coherent enough to make up a complicated story and stuck with it relatively well. This isn’t like the murderer-insane where someone completely loses touch with reality and falls into a hellscape, losing control of their actions. No, this woman was only a little bit crazy, other than that she’s just an attention-seeking bitch that had an ego so large that she made up an attacker that hated her for being “pretty”. I hope that she gets jailed for stealing every penny that was sucked out of the town’s compassion.

And that’s what we need to talk about: Compassion. Websters defines compassion as “sympathetic consciousness of others’ distress together with a desire to alleviate it”. In short, you want to help others because you “feel bad” for them. Now, compassion is a dangerous thing, and it is normally controlled with discretion and only given out to those who really need it. If this was a real case and not a crazy fantasy then maybe she would have deserved compassion. However, I want you to read some of the comments that were left on the article that I linked to, the one clearly describing that it was all bullshit. Never mind the ones about racism, despite the fact that they make up about half of them. Let’s cherry pick some of the better ones out.

“I still feel sorry for her. I think she has a mental illness and needs help. Let’s not condemn her. She needs our prayers and support to overcome her”

“I am so sorry for this vulnerable human being. Can you imagine throwing acid on your face? Can you imagine the desperation she must have been feeling?”

or my favorite: “It really shows how certain member of society will behave when trying to seek revenge! The method and means used are extra-ordinary, clever –as they are divergent– and so dysfunctional! Is it pure coincidence that it was a woman who invent something like this?”

Seriously? Seriously? You feel bad for her, or even congratulate her? The fuck is wrong with you?

People, I know that it feels good to feel bad for people. It allows you to circumvent those nagging feelings that normally go away with actual work towards helping people directly. But it seems that some of these people are more insane than the acid-girl. Standing up and defending something that is so clearly wrong to any sane person who views it is a concept so counter to any conventional logic that it blows my mind. Its it a knee-jerk reaction? Is it a value instilled in childhood, where “feel bad for the sick” evolved into “feel bad for everyone”?

I know that I’m going to get a ton of flak for saying this, but I file this case with drug addicts, as they garner the same kind of sympathies as I’ve pointed out. Yes, that includes alcoholics and the like. It’s true, there may be biological factors that makes it more likely for you to develop alcoholism. However, it’s still your fault that it develops, and it’s your fault that it continues. Okay, so it’s hard to break the habit, whether you’re an alcoholic or just nuts like the Munchausens cases. But when your condition interferes with others on a large scale, the excuse of “I can’t quit” or “I can’t get help” becomes meaningless. There’s no way in hell that a case of alcoholism would get you off the hook for harming your children, but having Munchausens or a similar “condition”? Oh, it’s okay then. Help the poor dear. S/he can’t help it.

Bull.

If you can function enough to walk the streets, drive a car, have a job, etc. then you are functional enough to stand trial and receive punishment for what you have done, especially in jail time. If you can’t function then you need to be put into a controlled facility where you can be dealt with safely, so it all adds up to the same sum.

Note that I am NOT talking about people who were born with an acute mental condition and have to have special treatment for it, such as those with autism and the like. I’m only referring to people who try to pin their crimes against others on a mental condition that could be under their control.

I may sound like a complete bastard, but it’s the truth. I have no doubt that this page, if posted in a place where a large number of people would read it, would fill my inbox with venom from all the people who had relatives with “conditions”, telling me that “I don’t understand”. And that’s right, I don’t understand the mind of an alcoholic, or a psychopath. And that puts me at about the same level as every single person that isn’t the one with the “condition”. The human mind is a vast and complex thing that we cannot pretend to comprehend. However, I do know the end result of such “conditions”, from something as relatively mundane as a drunk-driving death to a woman stealing attention and money from half a nation. Call me a bastard all you want, but I’m simply being pragmatic, for the good of the whole. Stop coddling the nuts and either get them serious help in the form of a mental hospital, or lock them away for their crimes. Those are our options.

I apologize for the outbursts, but such things really nag at me in such a way. Please don’t hate me. And if you do… well, that doesn’t make me wrong.

KinokoFry

KinokoFry

Rebecca Clements

108+ comics

Updates AC

Alt-text?: Sometimes

Before I start: the site is broken into a “diary” section, “BEC” (which seems to be her turning submitted ideas into comics), and a normal comics section with the majority of the work, the main page really only contains the “diary” section. Anyways.

KinokoFry is a fairly autobiographical, very environmentally-friendly comic that I stumbled across… somehow. I don’t remember, but that’s not the important part.

There really isn’t a story to follow, and I’m not going to try to piece one together when I can talk about the art instead.

Madame Clements’ comic is done in a beautiful, Seuss-ian style that really impressed me. That’s what really got my attention when I was browsing through it, the wonderful controlled chaos of the art, the non-jarring transitions between simple and complex forms, it all adds up to something fairly beautiful.

Early comics in the original series are more what you’d expect from a daily, one-frame jokes with no inherent purpose behind them other than entertainment, done in a bit more “mundane” style. The stories revolve around mushrooms living their… mushroomy lives. It has its moments.

The later writing is touch and go on entertainment value, it is rather preachy sometimes, although I suppose that if you really believe in something then you might as well use your talents to get the message out, and perhaps people will listen better. The quality of these “informative” pieces falls somewhere between Sandra and Woo and Sinfest. Aka between relatively subtle and so obtuse it’s aggravating. Personally, I didn’t mind because I was too busy drooling over the art, but the objective critic in me (He lives in my head. His name is Mike. He tells me to kill.) says that it might not be for everyone, especially if you’ve grown tired of environmental preaching.

Overall, I was entertained by KinokoFry, and I think that I’ll keep tabs on it in the future. Cheers!

Listings

(This isn’t wed’s update)

All right, folks, this goes out to you “retro gamers”, of a fashion. I’m going to be selling off some console games of mine, but I’ll give you lot a first stab if you want them. Email me at archivecrawl@yahoo.com if you’re interested and we can work out the details.

And leave my tastes in games alone, I was still fairly young for the PS1 era. And I adored Crash Bandicoot. Who didn’t?

PS1

Crash Bandicoot 2

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

The Lost World: Jurassic Park

Golden Nugget

Casper

Rugrats (Front cover broken off but all parts there)

Bugs Bunny Lost in Time

Darkstone

JetMoto

Spec Ops: Stealth Patrol

Tomb Raider 2

Twisted Metal 2

Star Wars: Dark Forces

Gex: Enter the Gecko

Rampage: World Tour

Crash Team Racing

Spyro the Dragon (The first one)

Crash Bash

Herc’s Adventures

Crash Bandicoot: Warped

Jumping Flash 2

Motor Toon Grand Prix

Riven: The Sequel to Myst

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone


PS2

Final Fantasy XII

Marvel: Ultimate Alliance

Destroy All Humans!

Resident Evil: Code: Veronica X

Myst III: Exile

The Matrix: Path of Neo

SSX

Medal of Honor: European Assault

PS3

Army of Two

Prince of Persia (The newest one, limited edition with all the parts)

Bionic Commando

Far Cry 2

Uncharted

Bad Company

Heavenly Sword

Oblivion

Assassin’s Creed

God, that’s a lot.