Fourth Wall

By the Old Ones, there’s a lot of links in this post. Don’t worry, I’m not trying to spam you. They’re all relevant… mostly.

Fourth Wall

Aymee and Mitsune

June-present

Updates Wed and Sun

Ah, the sweet smell of startup comics. With a complete archive of 39 comics, Fourth Wall falls firmly in the “new comic” zone, so let me say that it is my great honor to bring you yaddah yaddah yah. I found out about FW through Twitter, which has become my main source of information of late… /sigh.

Fourth Wall is a gaming comic with a heavy focus on WoW. Fill in the blanks.

Okay, that’s not fair. Well, it is, but it’s not the whole picture. As I’ve said again and again and again and again and again, gaming comics are all the same, it just depends on how well they are done. And, in this humble critic’s opinion, Fourth Wall is pretty good.

It actually reminds me of Complex Actions in more way than one. A mixture of “real life” comics and in-game jokes, all prone to hyperbole and self-deprecating humor, it all rings familiar… in a good way.

Of course, the ever-present question for these comics is whether it is accessible to those that don’t play the game. My response: probably. Looking back through the archive, the average comic doesn’t require any pre-knowledge. It might help, yes, but it’s not like Daily Quests or the like, where it’s a requirement (Not that it’s a bad thing, DQ)!

One thing that I noticed was that FW has yet to stray into “Imma girl gamer hurr” territory, which is a good sign. Not that I’m bothered by the dynamic at all. “Refreshing”, let’s call it.

As for the plot, well, there isn’t any. Not that I expect one, these kinds of comics are usually hindered anything more than “in jokes”. Character development, backstories, all of these things aren’t necessary, as the characters are simply there as puppets to tell a story. Of course, dynamic characters could come into play later on, but that would require a plot arc and rinse wash repeat.

I have one thing to say about the art: it may not be incredibly detailed, but the set-up is well done. The characters and backdrops are mostly simplistic, but it doesn’t detract from the comic. What is does do is give clarity to what the hell is going on. They’re a little wordy occasionally, but only occasionally. As for the rest of the art, well, remember why I have Rule 3. It’s not bad, I’m just not really qualified to call it “good”.

As always for “new” comics, I won’t comment too much on Fourth Wall. What does it look like for the future? Well, I’ve gone over that process before, so I won’t repeat myself. Although, it is a good sign that they have found a reasonable update schedule and stuck with it so far, because those of you without one have no idea how difficult that is. If they are dedicated enough to keep it up, then I bet they will go far.

In all, I’ve enjoyed Fourth Wall, and I hope that the creators stick with it. If you see my name pop up in the comments as soon as the comics go up, well, blame Twitter and my erratic sleep schedule. I’m getting on a tangent; take my word at face value for once and give Fourth Wall a shot. All gaming comics are dependent on your tastes, but it’s worth sampling.

Dungeon Crawl

(I’ve been playing Diablo II, if you can’t guess)

The dungeon crawler is an interesting kind of game. It really takes the RPG formula and boils it down into the essential components: numbers.

You click around the map, click enemies to death in massive amounts, with increasingly powerful spells. You collect slightly better armor and weapons, then do the Spreadsheet Tango to figure out if one helmet is better than the next. You go back to town, sell your loot, then pop right back into the dungeon to go deeper and deeper, all the while doing essentially the same thing. And we love it.

Here’s the thing about the gear, that ever-present driving force: it would make a lot more sense if getting better gear would allow you to unlock new abilities. But it really doesn’t, beside making the ones that you already have stronger. Since only the true alpha nerds get a kick out of slightly bigger numbers, there must be something that forces you to dive back into the dungeon!

I read somewhere once (and then a thousand times in similar articles) that the MMOs’ real kick is that it gives you instantaneous gratitude. Now, anyone who has spent time at level cap will tell you that the “instantaneous” part is a bunch of bullshit, but I suppose you have to put it in perspective. You are guaranteed to get something new, an improvement of some sort, if you invest an amount of time that is relatively small when you put it in the scope of your entire working life.

However, the dungeon crawler is much more…er… “instantaneous-er” than MMOs. The hour/reward ratio is much higher, especially since games like Diablo, Torchlight, Titan Quest, etc. have enemies dropping items like they have armor instead of blood. Even if you can’t use it on the character, the bits can be sold to the local merchant for something, which is still a reward. Even the normally rare, intense high of getting That One Legendary Sword is both strong and frequent, since so many items have names and l337 stats.

But perhaps it’s more than that. Maybe, just maybe, it’s our curiosity that drives us deeper into that dungeon. After all, who doesn’t like rewarded exploration? Crawlers typically reward players that dig into the deepest recesses of every cave, as these games should. Let’s take Diablo for an example. Yes, the final objective is to kill Diablo, but is that what makes you pick up and play every day? The end goal? Obviously not, as it’s too easy to lose sight of the bigger goal at hand. No, it’s what’s around the next corner that draws you in, as you nervously finger your AoE or stun spell and dive through to doorway to find The Treasure Of the Ages in the middle of a thousand skeletons.

No problem. FWOOSH!

Bloodline: Champions Beta Impressions

I’ve been playing a game called Bloodline: Champions, a game that aspires to be DotA/HoN, because Funcom sent me a beta key (I still have a free one to give away! Email me)!

For those of you who don’t know, Funcom’s most recent claim to fame was the Age of Conan MMO, which is a decent enough game. Thus, I figured that Bloodline: Champions would be of the same caliber, right?

How wrong I was.

Okay, jumping the gun, let’s back up. Bloodline plays as a arena-based version of DotA. The game, having ripped out all those silly things like RPG elements and metagaming, it focuses solely on the micro. The games are played in fairly small areas with 3-4 people on the “Cold” and “Warm” teams. The team with the last person standing wins.

If you haven’t guess yet, the game isn’t very deep. While its intellectual fathers had sprawling maps with various elements that needed to be taken and controlled in order to win the relatively long-running skirmishes, Bloodline is just a frantic and short slugfest without a lot of strategy. Really, the strategy in fights rarely gets about the “Kill healer, then everyone else” level unless your team gets together and does some incredibly scripted maneuvers that you practiced extensively beforehand. You can’t stick together because every class has a AoE attack, so it’s not like you can set up a “base” either.

The classes are numerous, but it has the same problem as all competitive games; all that flavor text just gets torn off to get to the raw data. You know that the community will eventually figure out which characters are “top tier”, then every fight will be between those three. Hell, it has already begun, someone played the Thorn character in almost every match I was in.

The game pegs itself as meant for competitions, as every attack needs to be aimed and most can be dodged, there’s no element of random chance, all spells do a set amount of damage, and so on. However, I’m not really seeing the draw of competing in this game. Every round feels meaningless, with victories bringing only mild elation. It’s definitely not like the near-orgasmic feeling of joy you get from beating someone in Starcraft 2, for example, or downing a difficult boss in WoW.

Speaking of WoW, that’s a good comparison. Bloodlines is basically the arena system in WoW, if every class was restricted to seven spells with exact damage amounts and your gear was made unchangeable. While some might get a kick out of it, a lot of us will simply be bored.

Now, I’ve never really gotten into WoW PvP myself, as the entire thing feels like a grind-tastic, balance-based clusterfuck. Call me a carebear if you please, I just don’t see the point in grinding out the same maps over and over and over and over again. Battlegrounds? I’ve done those plenty, but only until they stopped being fun. While I can see how the non-random nature of B:C would appeal to the arena PvPer, it doesn’t make the game any more fun.

So, yeah. That’s Bloodlines. I’ll be curious to see how it sells when it comes out, because it will only really appeal to the hardcore PvP crowd, a group to which I do not subscribe. Perhaps that’s why I don’t like B:C, who knows? More to the point, however: why would anyone buy Bloodlines when they could play HoN, a much better game with a significantly stronger player base?

Sinfest

I have a couple beta keys for Bloodline Champions, if anyone wants one then shoot me an email.

Sinfest

Tatsuya Ishida

2000-present

Updates daily

I know that Sinfest is “Old News” territory, but the sheer amount that I mention it merits a review.

My relationship with Sinfest has been a rocky one at best. One thing that you can’t accuse Ishida of is doing things half-assed, because when the comic is good then it’s good, and when it’s bad it’s really bad.

Let’s get the obvious out of the way: for the most part, Sinfest isn’t terrible. Most of the time it’s actually quite good, with  decent satire of politics and religion making up the humor. And it keeps up the same jokes throughout the ten years that it has been running.

But before it gets too full of itself, let’s pop this little bubble, shall we? Because Sinfest has two big issues:

  1. As I said, the same jokes are used throughout the series. Not in the sense that the general idea of the jokes are similar, they’re all almost exactly the same. Really, if you’ve read it for one year’s worth, then you’ve read the entire lot. Yes, there’s a few new bits thrown in, most of which came around recently, but by and large the stories are cookie-cutter. Any material gets old if you hear it enough.
  2. Long time readers will know that Sinfest comes up whenever a comic tries to make a point. The reason for this lies in the later comics, when Ishida tried to use Sinfest to soapbox a few political messages. While this is respectable enough, you have to do it subtly, and they must be balanced with normal jokes. Otherwise, you’ll just end up with a political blog in comic form, and no one wants to read those. Sinfest violated both of these ideas; the messages are forced down your throat by a spoon wrapped in barbed wire, and there were months where almost everything was “on message”. Not good, not good.

While both of these things are present in any long-running comic, the sheer volume of them is cause for concern. I had read Sinfest for quite a long time, and I eventually grew tired of it and quit follow it. Recently I found the link in my bookmarks, and I read up to the present… bad news: not much has changed.

It’s sad, really, for a comic to be effectively ruined by these things. The characters were inventive parodies… wait, let me rephrase that. “The secondary characters” were inventive. Sinfest suffers from Batman Syndrome, where everyone in the story is much more interesting than the main characters. The Devil, God, Lil’ Devil, and the religious nutjob, these were the greatest assets of the comic, while the main characters were fairly cliched (and in the man’s case, a little creepy).

Oh, and stories about your anthropomorphizing pets didn’t work for Garfield, it doesn’t work for you.

In all, Sinfest is a good comic that is let down by its own importance. My recommendation? Read the first few years of the archive, then leave it in the dust.

Placeholder

This is a placeholder post for what will have been Wed’s post, if I had time to write it. This space will be filled in at a later date.

Sinfest review to come later today, after half a year of mentioning it. I’ll get it done, don’t worry, such delays are to be expected when you follow the blog of a busy university student!

Also, for you newbies to the site, don’t forget that there’s a “New to AC?” tab in the top left corner.

Cheers,

Cat

Gamer Tonight

Gamer Tonight

I thought that I’d take today’s post to point you towards some entertaining videos I found on “the interwebs”.

Gamer Tonight is a faux-talk show that pokes fun at the different archetypes of “hardcore” gamer, from the MMO player to the professional RTS-er and tourney fighter. Animated by RubberNinja (Ross) and voiced by Egoraptor (Creator of the “Awesome” series on Newgrounds).

I don’t believe that the series is updating anymore, as they seem to have moved onto a new set of videos and haven’t updated in a year. However, there are a few videos there to watch. Old news, ho!

It’s well-animated, entertaining, and fairly quick to get through. So, yeah. Enjoy.

Yehuda Moon & The Kickstand Cyclery

Yehuda Moon & The Kickstand Cyclery.

R. Smith

08-10

I offered to review any comic that you wanted, for an hour or so. No one responded, which is too bad because that means that today’s piece is on Yehuda Moon! Yaaaaayy.

I really wasn’t going to review this comic for multiple reasons, the most prominent one being that majority of you won’t like it. Not because it’s bad, definitely not. It just has a very narrow audience.

I came across it while searching Google for “What the fuck is a derailleur?” and saw a bit of it at the bottom of the page. Curiosity piqued, I jumped in and read the whole damn thing.

While that might sound like a point in its favor, I was more interested in the culture that it represented than the comic or story itself. It’s fascinating from an anthropological sense. However, that’s really where the positivity ends.

First of all, the comic caters to a very specific kind of reader. Basically, if you can closely identify with one of the characters in the comic, then it’s for you. If not, then it’s just going to be preachy nonsense.

And preach it does. It’s a great misfortune that Yehuda Moon took the Sinfest approach to soap-boxing by bluntly shoving the point down your throat without even the slightest courtesy of covering it with barbecue sauce first. Hell, I mostly agree with them and I find that it’s incredibly abrasive at times. I can’t imagine someone with different opinions would go through… I think there might be chafing.

That’s the real problem with Yehuda Moon. As I said, I enjoyed it, but so much of it was blatant soap-boxing. Really, it’s okay to make a comic that is an opinion piece. But you have to balance that with downtime, comics that are just fun.

The downtime comics are actually quite good, actually. Well, I enjoyed them, no accounting for your tastes. However, there’s so much of the archive that’s just there to preach “the message”… well, let’s just say that it’s a very good thing that Yehuda is so “wacky”, or the comic would just be crap.

The plot is… eh. There’s a lot of material about running a business, which is decent enough, and Yehuda’s crazy antics do lead to some interesting threads. However, it’s all incredibly contrived. The entire town seems to exist only to stop Yehuda’s plots just before they become perfection, but they still let him get far enough to get “the message” across.

The art’s pretty good, though.

In all, I liked Yehuda Moon & The Kickstand Cyclery, but I have a feeling that it’s only because I’m interested in the culture. Taken from the perspective of a person with ambivalent feelings, I doubt that it’ll be all that great. It’s kind of like the WoW comics; if you like it, then you like it, if you don’t then you don’t. Simple enough.

EVE Online

I play EVE Online, somewhat. I enjoy EVE Online. And I have no freaking idea why.

By all measures I should hate this game. The interface is clunky, the environments are barren (It’s space, what do you expect?), the writing is terrible, the missions have only a monetary payout (they don’t have plot at all), the leveling system is tedious and confusing, the entire game is hostile towards newbies, most of the industrial works are simply Intro to Economics classes… the list goes on. And yet, it’s so much FUN!

The only reason that I can come up with is this: It does enough things right that other games do wrong to cover up for the glaring flaws in design.

For example, in my “On Loot” piece I mentioned a desire to see exploration rewarded more, whether through items that are always in a place but incredibly hard to get to, or randomly-spawning items inside of every “cave” that at least gives you something for your searches. This is something that EVE does right. You have the ability to launch of sensor probes to find the pockets of space in a solar system that holds pirate bases, rich mining fields, and so on. But these are only the gifts of those who look, which pushes people towards exploration. It has evolved to the point where some people will sell their bookmarks to the hidden pockets. It’s a fascinating thing.

Which brings me to the economy. For those uninitiated, EVE works on a truly capitalistic model; the market is first seeded with new items and the blueprints to make them, then it just goes from there. It’s actually quite amazing to see how the market reacts to patch changes, one example being a patch that made mineral-retrieval easier, which devalued minerals immensely. The market in action is a wondrous thing, and it really does fascinate me to no end. This is different from other games, mind you, in the sense that everything is player-made. There’s no bread vendors sitting on the space sidewalk to sell you the basic commodities, there’s always someone making them, somewhere. It’s amazing.

I’d mention player-run corporations, but I’m not a member of one and those people kind of scare me with their dedication to the game. You think that people get too into WoW? Check out EVE…

Ah, yes, the complexity question. EVE is, without a doubt, the most difficult mainstream MMO to get into. It’s better now that they’ve implemented better tutorials, but I began playing back when it told you how to move, shoot, and dock into a station, then slapped you on the back and told you the Golden Rule (The Rule of EVE: “Don’t fly something that you can’t afford to lose”. It’s a good rule). But is this a bad thing? It can be, it can not be. It’s not all that difficult once you get the hang of it, but that’s not to say that the interface couldn’t use some trimming. For example, I think that a “Dock at the nearest station”, which would be a “Get me the fuck out of here!” button, would be greatly appreciated.

Really, I think that the biggest draw of the game is the famous single-shard world. Everything you do in EVE has an effect on the world, even if the effect is minuscule. However, how many times have we heard of single players knocking over entire corporations and making off with the equivalent of thousands of USD? Stuff like that shows you what you’re dealing with.

Really, it’s a great game, one that I really only stopped playing because I did one of those healthy sit-back-and-look-at-yourselfs and realized that I was simply mining my life away. However, used in the right way, I can see people really enjoying it, at least as much as any other MMO.

Exercise

I’ve never really gotten “working out”. I understand it as a concept, but it seems like such a massive waste of time when your objective is to simply “get stronger”. Especially activities like lifting weights or using a stationary cycle… they’re all so boring. Functional, but oh so dull.

It seems to me like exercise should be something productive. Not “productive” in the sense that “Oh, I worked out in a gym for an hour, now I’m 1/90000% stronger”, productive as in “accomplishing a goal outside of simple fitness.

Perhaps that’s why I’ve never been into the stereotypical “masculine” activities like lifting weights and doing other exercises in Your Local Gym with the other men. Lots of manly men. With big strong arms. And big, long, hard… cars.

It just seems like it’s all for its own sake, which is silly when you consider what you could be doing instead.

Want to work out your legs? Run/bike to the store instead of driving. For your arms you could put up that fence that you always wanted, or re-organize your basement, which is probably filled with fifty-pound boxes. Plant a really big tree. Hell, just move some furniture around to a different position. Do something that gives you real benefits in your life, gifts that lifting a really heavy bar up and down won’t net you.

Of course, you might have to get creative for some exercises; I doubt that you’ll find many household opportunities for doing chin-ups. However, I bet that a little free-running would be fun, and it could come as a useful skill…

Personally, I’ve begun riding my bicycle as much as I can, and it has proved to be a lot easier than I had expected. A little slower, yes, but not all that much harder. Plus my starving wallet can bear the weight of a man-powered vehicle…

But that’s what I’m talking about. I’m not going to the gym to work out, I’m just doing it as I’m accomplishing a goal. Because… well, why not?

This sounds extraordinarily preachy, so let me say that I’m not trying to force people out of their gyms. There are a few things that one cannot reliably do outside of a environment like a gym, although the importance of working out those particular muscles is debatable, as since you cannot work them out in a normal environment you may never need them. I’m simply commenting on how silly it is for people to rush to gyms every time they want to exercise.

Perhaps I don’t have the proper motivation for such activities, after all, I am far from in the best shape that I could be in. However, I can’t remember a time when I’ve been truly impaired by my “weakness”. Because the same principles apply to muscles as computers or cars: yes, you could get a car that goes 500 mph, but why would you want to? Yes, you could get a computer that has enough power to run Crysis five times at once, but why would you want to? If the opportunity to use all of that power will never present itself without you seeking it out, then what’s the point in spending so much time and money on getting it? That may be a lazy man’s excuse, but it’s a valid point. Let me put it this way: let’s say that you suddenly had the strength of Superman and the speed of the Flash. Would you really use it in your everyday life? Does Superman buy eggs any differently than anyone else?

Make of it what you will, this is obviously my opinion. But think about it.

Rosscott, Inc. /"The System"

Rosscott, Inc.

Rosscott (Duh)

432 pages

Updates MWF, mostly.

I’ve said before that a comic can support a following with simplistic or just plain terrible art if the writing was good enough to hold its own. Rosscott, Inc. is a prime specimen for experimentation on. Does it work? Let’s see!

Rosscot, Inc.‘s visual style is basically the arrangement of all those little symbols that you see on information signs, the International Symbols Signs according to the website. There’s no additional art, simply rearrangements of the symbols, which is respectable enough. Why not use something that’s standardized and instantly recognizable, especially in a comic that focuses on (and is named after) the System? It’s a rational choice. However, this turns the comic into a real-life version of a sprite comic, so it won’t win many points for style in my book.

But here’s the thing that matters. Does Rosscott, Inc. feature writing that is good enough to justify a following? The answer: “mostly”.

If I had to describe the humor of The System in one word, I’d probably do it in fifty. If held at gunpoint, however, I’d probably say “erratic”. While I can’t expect every update to be solid gold, there is a lot of pieces that just seem like filler. So many comics in the archive are simply nothing, while others seem to just be a description of some mundane task that Rosscott was doing that day. While this is a staple of comics in every sense of the word, you have to find absurdity in it or else you’re just blogging. And no one likes bloggers, the ego-maniacal fucks.

However, there are quite a few bits that are pretty good. Not great, but pretty good. You just have to dig through all the boring “filler” to get to it.

Here’s a protip: The guy loves cycling and the dog is a murderer. Now, if you find yourself getting bored with the first comics (and you will), just read the archive backwards. The newer material is much better, and there isn’t a lot of “running gags” that require you to follow them from start to finish. Some of it may seem odd, but I told you the only big common threads of thought in the beginning of this paragraph.

Overall, I enjoyed The System. I don’t know that I’d sit on the edge of my seat in anticipation for every update, but it was worth a chuckle. If you find yourself with excess time that needs to be legally disposed of, you could do a lot worse.