Samson’s Underwear

July 2nd, 2013
His deity opposes headscarves.

At some point last year I decided to play Champions Online, Cryptic Studio’s spiritual successor to City of Heroes. Although I’ve never been a big fan of the superhero genre, I can appreciate the appeal of pulling on a pair of tights and stopping runaway locomotives. And even though I ultimately found City of Hero’s gameplay too repetitive for any long-term enjoyment, I had gotten a couple of months’ worth of fun out of it and expected something similar for Champions.

In case you are unfamiliar with superhero conventions, it should be noted that there is an unspoken, unwritten rule about how female superhero characters are portrayed in both comic books and video games: They will wear as little as possible, and often strike anatomically impossible poses.

Knowing this reputation for overt sexism – and with tongue firmly in cheek – I created my first Champions Online character: NAKED MAN!

Naked Man in his original incarnation was actually about as naked as a long-haired Ken doll. His backside was bare, but with only a hint of cheek delineation, and his front was asexually devoid of any external genitalia. He was never meant to titillate. His creation was as a joke, intended to poke fun at the ubiquitous hyper-sexualization of female superheroes. To further my subversiveness, I chose a flying ability that caused a rainbow to extrude from his heels (or butt – I was never sure which) whenever he took to the skies. I giggled in gay pride defiance every time I played him.

It's a bird! It's a plane! It's a statement against female sexual objectification and homophobia!

Naked Man in his original rainbow glory.

As expected, I quickly lost interest in Champions after a month of play and moved on to other MMOs. And also true to my nature, I returned to Champions Online a year later to pick up where I had left off. Unfortunately, during the interim, Naked Man had been stripped of all his…nakedness.

When I logged back into the game after my year-long hiatus, I was met with a Naked Man who had been reverted back to the game’s default bald, blue unitard model and an in-game message informing me that Naked Man’s nakedness was found to be in violation of Cryptic’s ToS (Terms of Service).

So a FEMALE character with her bits barely covered and her cleavage precariously contained is ToS compliant? But a “naked” male character with no discernible genitalia is in violation?

A Champion's butt.

The first rule for MMO superheroes is NO EXPOSED BUTT CHEEK!
Unless, of course, you’re female.


While redesigning the now not-so-naked Naked Man, I discovered a curious discrepancy between the male and female models in regards to the amount of visible derriere. The game’s character creation process forces a visible covering over the male model’s backside that does not exist on the female model. Tarzan will now be wearing tighty whities?

I don’t have a problem with games enforcing a certain level of modesty on character customization, otherwise you end up with something like this. But the difference in body coverage seen in Champions’ character models is egregiously sexist and is obviously informed by the sexual objectification of female characters that occurs routinely in the comic book/superhero genre.

Ultimately, I don’t object to a little eye candy – beefcake or cheesecake – but make it gender agnostic or don’t do it at all.

Sisyphean Silliness

November 1st, 2012
Sisyphean Silliness

I appreciate the fact that with its modern-day setting and a decidedly non-linear character progression system (that lacks classes or levels) The Secret World tries hard to be different from traditional fantasy-based MMO’s. Instead of a skill tree, this game has a skill wheel, with enough possible combinations to require a calculator and a tolerance for enumerative combinatorics. Tired of question mark-bedazzled NPCs who misplace their weapons or have strange fetishes for animal organs? TSW has seven different mission types, most of which include a convoluted back story that resembles an episode of Twin Peaks. If you’ve ever had the desire to kill mobs with a katana in one hand, an assault rifle in the other, and a rocket launcher strapped to your back – while simultaneously wearing bunny slippers – this game’s got you covered.

Unfortunately, for all of its innovation and creative design concepts, TSW has some baffling, and at times game-breaking shortcomings.

The problem starts with the skill wheel. Each time the player completes a mission or objective, they are awarded skill points that can be used to purchase abilities on this wheel. There are nine different main weapon types to choose from, and each weapon has a total of 56 various abilities. Funcom has since implemented “decks” that give players recommended combinations of weapon abilities, but even with these decks as a guideline, selecting a skill combination that is ineffective or incompatible with your play style, is far easier than it should be.

The first time I played the game during beta, I didn’t even realize that I was expected to select two separate weapons. Being the minimalist that I am, I chose Blood Magic as my sole ability with the assumption that putting all my skill points into one method of combat would make me a Badass Blood Magician® (or BBM, for short). The game gave me no indication that this was a less than optimal choice until I had already spent several dozen skill points and come to the unfortunate realization that I was less BBM and more ZPB (Zombie Punching Bag). In a game that allows for some type of point reset, this would have been little more than a minor annoyance, but for whatever reason Funcom believes in the “No refunds, no exchanges” form of character development. The only way to improve your character’s combat performance is to keep playing, accumulate more points, and hope that you spend them more wisely going forward.

When the game went live and the skill decks were implemented, I choose a Blood Magic/Assault Rifle combination. The description for this deck suggested that it allowed for ranged combat and healing abilities that I thought would compliment my husband’s tank/fighter character. Since it requires a considerable amount of points (and therefore, play time) to acquire all of the skills to make a deck, I still spent a portion of the game floundering around with mismatched and ineffective low-level skill combinations. This problem was mitigated by the fact that I never played the game alone – I was always grouped with my husband. I can only imagine how difficult and frustrating it may be for players who attempt to go solo, particularly at the lower levels.

What does all of this have to do with the comic? Well, earlier I mentioned that TSW has seven different mission types. Specifically, they are story, action, item, investigation, sabotage, group/dungeon, and PvP. Initially I embraced this variation in quest mechanics. If I’m in a Sherlock Holmes mood, I take an investigation mission. Item missions allow me to be lazy with a simple FedEx objective that usually has the added bonus of connecting to the main story arc in some manner. If I tire of killing mobs, I can switch to a Sabotage mission that requires stealthy game play and an intentional avoidance of combat.

More options should mean more fun for a greater variety of players. Which it is…except when Funcom inexplicably decides to put these various missions inside a solo-only instance area. Then suddenly the game turns into a Do-It-Again-Stupid (DIAS) grindfest of frustrating proportions.

The problems with these solo-only missions seem to fall into two categories: Either the combat requires a type of skill that, up to this point, the player has never equipped or used. Or, in the case of the sabotage missions, the player is not given a clear understanding of the requirements and limitations of the game’s mechanics, which leads to an unreasonable amount of trial and error.

For the former, I would often find my character’s healing and ranged combat abilities to be completely inadequate against the mission’s melee-centric mob boss. This meant many repeat trips through the instance until I had mastered a entirely new set of combat abilities that, up to this point, I had had no reason to use. For sabotage missions, the DIAS factor was so high that the instance became a joke-worthy revolving door. Security cameras that seemed to see through walls. Mobs with questionable x-ray vision. I could spend an hour (or more), carefully sneaking through a warehouse or underground lair, only to be seen by a mob ON THE OTHER SIDE OF A WALL and dragged back to the entrance of the instance to start all over again.

I sincerely applaud Funcom for attempting to do something different, and I understand how incredibly difficult world and puzzle design within an MMO can be. Having played Age of Conan, Funcom’s other (notorious) big budget MMO, I wonder if the mindset of the studio’s developers is one that conflates challenge with difficulty? If so, someone needs to explain to them that frustrating a player is not the same as challenging them.

One is enjoyable. The other leads to cancelled subscriptions.

A Lot Of Hot Air

July 20th, 2012
A Lot of Hot Air

Whenever I learn about a new MMO, one of the first things I do is check out its in-game screenshots. A game’s overall art design and aesthetic can greatly influence my opinion of it long before I set a virtual “foot” inside of it. If I like what I see in the screenshots, I’ll then proceed to learn more about the game’s races and classes. For better or worse, I take the designers’ descriptions of the classes and fit them into the usual RPG paradigm: melee, ranged, stealth, magic user, etc. It’s always a pleasant surprise when a game manages to create a variation on this standard mechanic, but I’m not necessarily disappointed if it doesn’t. Finally, I take a look at the races to get a sense of the game’s setting and story.

When I first learned of Mechanist Games’ City of Steam I was confused by its name. I thought it was somehow associated with Valve. “Hmm. A game set in the steam punk genre? This could be interesting,” I thought. When the screenshots looked promising I proceeded to take a look at the classes: Arcanist, Gunner, Warder, Channeler. Also known as magic user, ranged combat, fighter, and healer. OK, not the most original perhaps, but I’ve certainly seen worse.

Finally, I took a look at the game’s various races.

Whereupon I hit a brick wall.

It wasn’t the races themselves – of which there are several (nine) – that offended me. Rather, it was the accompanying pictures. You can see all of the descriptions and portraits here. The comic above was taken directly from these images – I just didn’t have room for all nine of them.

As I clicked through the portrait and description for each race, I became progressively more annoyed…

Heartlanders: “Wow. That’s some cleavage!”

Avens: “Less cleavage. More navel.”

Ostenians: “Armor with form-fitting boob cups? Silly, but tolerable.”

Stoigmari: “Fur hat and barely covered breasts? At least her ears will stay warm, I guess.”

Draug: “Great. Bikini armor for the not win.”

Riven: “Corset dress with lots of exposed skin? How is she supposed to breathe in that outfit, let alone fight?”

Goblins: “Halter top, mini-skirt and a gun. Is she fighting monsters or trying out for the cheer-leading squad?”

Hobbes: “More pushed-up cleavage and bared midriff. I’d look pissed-off too, if I was her.”

Orcs: “Oh, come on! Even the orc has big boobs and an exposed navel? Nothing says ‘intimidating’ like sexy, unprotected internal organs!”

Ugh.

Now mind you, I haven’t even played the game yet, since it’s currently in alpha testing. The gameplay videos that I’ve seen look promising, although they don’t say “steampunk” so much as “generic dungeon crawler”. It appears to have above average production values, so I hold on to some vague hope that the female armor in the game is more practical and less gratuitous that what is being shown in the concept art.

Ultimately I have to wonder how these sexist stereotypes in video games continue to persist. Do the artists really have such a limited concept of what female characters (of any stripe) should look like? I imagine a game’s producer approaching an artist saying, “We need some concept drawings of a female orc warrior by Friday”. And the artist replies, “Large, green-skinned humanoid with big boobs and a bikini halter top. I’ll get right on that, boss!” The alternative is too depressing. I refuse to accept the fact that the entire gaming industry is run by juvenile men with inflated senses of entitlement who believe that women exist for no other reason than to be ogled and pursued.

So listen up game designers! Contrary to what you may have been told, women are human beings. We are not objects. We do not exist solely for the male (heterosexual) gaze. We have internal organs and femoral arteries that need protection. Little girls are not sex objects to be fetishized.

We want to play female characters who look like us. ALL of us.

Talking Smack

June 20th, 2012
Talking Smack

I’ve never been much good at playing “pet” classes. My very first character in World of Warcraft was the pet-centric warlock. The only reason I chose that particular class was because I had been told that warlocks receive a unique mount for free. In hindsight, I have no idea why this was so compelling to me. Maybe I thought the game would require my character to spend time as a barn hand, shoveling horse manure. Considering how many quests Blizzard has since created that involve poop and outhouses, I may have been more prescient than I realized. Sadly, my warlock was abandoned by level 45 in favor of the more hands-on rogue.

For whatever reason, controlling a “pet” in a game feels unseemly to me. If I need to beat up on a bad guy I want to do it myself, not stand back in relative safety and demand that a magic hedgehog do the fighting for me. It feels unheroic to me. It feels… detached.

With this in mind I was a bit apprehensive when I first learned that all classes in Star Wars: The Old Republic would be assigned a “companion” character. “Oh great.” I thought. “An NPC that I have to dress and babysit. Just what I always didn’t want.” Not only is there a sense of detachment from combat when a pet is involved, I’m also frequently annoyed by the compounding of minutia. I have enough trouble doing the constant comparing/contrasting of stat bonuses and skill abilities that’s required in almost any RPG. For me, doing it for two characters becomes less a game and more of an exercise in Excel spreadsheet acrobatics – with the added threat of strabismus. I realize that number crunching is an integral part of online games that many players enjoy. I just don’t happen to be one of them.

Thankfully, SW:tOR’s companions are fairly undemanding, easy to manage, and probably wouldn’t be strictly classified as “pets”, as their combat abilities are completely independent of those of your character. Make sure to keep their gear current, set them to “attack” mode, and let the game’s AI do the rest. In the game’s many dialogue scenes they even have their own responses and actions based upon what conversation choices you make. Overall, companions add an interesting and fun dynamic without being burdensome – if only you could get them to SHUT UP!

My only experience has been with the Smuggler companion, Corso Riggs. Perhaps the other classes have less verbose buddies. After almost every kill, Corso feels the need to articulate his feelings about the enemy. These taunts and boasts are amusing the first 100+ times. They eventually became boring, annoying and monotonous.

Which leads me to my overall perception of SW:tOR. Here’s a game that has truckloads of back-story, history and mythology to draw from that yet somehow still ends up feeling dated, boring and monotonous. As I kill yet another generic mob, who is inexplicably standing around waiting for his (and it’s almost always a “he”) inevitable death – only to reappear 5 minutes later. As Corso yells his canned response for the bazillionth time. As I wander through beautifully designed yet sadly empty and player-less world environments. I can’t help but think to myself, “This is not the MMO I’m looking for.”

The Tao of WoW

May 1st, 2012
Aerobic exercise if overrated.

A few months ago a gaming community kerfuffle occurred when someone Photoshopped a picture of Bioware writer Jennifer Hepler with text from an interview she had given 5 years ago, in which she stated that she wished games had a fast-forward button to allow players, such as herself, to skip combat entirely in favor of dialogue, story, or other gameplay elements. An internet firestorm ensued, as gamers raged in righteous indignation. Skip combat? How dare she suggest something so blasphemous! “Burn the witch!” they declared! If you’re curious (or feeling masochistic) you can read more about this controversy here.

Once upon a time, a fellow employee at a game studio where I worked arrogantly declared that I must have less gaming experience than him because of the questions I was asking regarding skill stats. Never mind the fact that I was at least 10 years older than him and had been playing video games before he was born. My lack of knowledge regarding this particular aspect of gaming made it obvious to him that I was an inexperienced n00b. The implication seems to be that if you’re not interested in combat, you’re not really a gamer.

But challenging yourself by playing a game in a way that wasn’t intended, by subverting the rules in new and interesting ways, is the very essence of a “gamer mentality”, and is something that has intrigued me since I was old enough to play “Operation” with my toes. (I don’t recommend it.) So when I read about Everbloom’s zero kills achievement in World of Warcraft, I had to try it for myself.

Since joining the Peace Corp guild I have re-rolled my conscientious-objecting rogue three times. Who knew it was so hard to not kill something? The goal is to reach level 85 with zero creature kills and zero total kills. At the beginning levels, this is far more difficult than you might imagine. My first rogue was decommissioned when a helpful(?) worgen decided to kill a mob that I had temporarily stunned in self-defense. Once tagged, the kill is attributed to you, regardless of who does the actual killing. My second rogue was put out to pasture when I accidentally clicked on a critter to do a /love command and instead beat the poor creature to death with my fists from 6′ away! Who knew my arms were that long?

I realize that playing World of Warcraft in this manner is not going to be everyone’s cup of tea. It requires a degree of patience, skill and desire for exploration that many may find frustrating and/or boring. (You will spend a great deal of time getting more than your daily requirement of aerobic exercise and will become intimately familiar with the local cemetery.) But I think it serves as an example of how various forms of gameplay are equally valid. Wanting to skip combat doesn’t make you any less of a gamer. It just makes you a different kind of gamer.

Forsaken Underwear

April 13th, 2012
She lost her stocking in the dryer.

Raise your hand if you’ve ever engaged in any of the following activities: Hiking, camping, fishing, hunting, orienteering.

Now raise your hand if you’ve participated in any of these activities while wearing nothing but your underwear.

OK – you in the back, who used to live in a nudist colony: You don’t count.

For the rest of us, proper attire is normally desired whenever we’re not sleeping, or laying on the couch watching an episode of the “Housewives of Orange County”. In fact, there are entire stores devoted to “proper” attire for any G-rated activity that requires a moderate amount of physical exertion. Think REI or Dick’s Sporting Goods.

So why in dog’s name must my female MMO avatar be dressed like a Hooter’s reject?

Yes, I know – we’ve had this conversation before. Let me make sure I have my facts straight:

  1. All video games are intended primarily for young men under the age of 30.
  2. All men under the age of 30 like to look at scantily-clad women.
  3. Boobs sell.
  4. Therefore, ipso facto, video games contain female avatars with large breasts and small clothing.

This leads to another rather bizarre and circuitous argument regarding the making and marketing of video games: Women don’t play video games, so why make content that appeals to them? But since video game content is quite blatantly not made for women, why should they bother playing? Snake, meet tail. The fact that the rampant sexism and objectification of female characters in video games can be alienating to women, discouraging them from becoming players in the first place, seems to have completely escaped the logic of many game makers. I guess the industry believes that the money spent by women has cooties on it?

So, back to my poor Forsaken World assassin, with her plunging neckline, bikini bottom, and missing thigh-high stocking. This is a fantasy role-playing game, and the rules of MMOs dictate that we must appeal to the fantasies of young men, right? The problem with this is that these video games potentially limit their profits when they target only male audiences. Sure, there are women willing to buy these games because they are either oblivious to the sexual objectification, or (like me) they enjoy other aspects of a game enough to hold their noses and tolerate the sexism (I’m looking at you, Guild Wars.) But what many in the industry seem to fail to recognize is that the lack of female cleavage and naked thigh does not automatically correlate to a lack of players. Heck, I’m not sure if those little block people in Minecraft even have gender! I don’t think anyone is going to argue that the lack of pixelated breasts in any way limited Minecraft’s popularity.

Either a game is fun to play, or it isn’t. Trying to serve the pleasure of the heterosexual male viewer by reducing female characters to improbable objects is ultimately insulting to all players, regardless of their gender – and even if they are not consciously aware of the insult. Boobs may get their attention, but it’s not guaranteed to keep it. Just ask the folks at Evony.

A Face Only A Mother Could Love

February 29th, 2012
The future will be boring.

I’ve been a fan of Mystery Science Theater 3000 almost since its inception, and I take a lot of inspiration from its particular style of comedy. For those unfamiliar with the MST3K phenomenon, it is a TV show involving a man and an assortment of robots who watch, and mock, bad B movies. Heckling a bad public performance of any kind is something we humans have probably been doing since living in a French cave. But it was MST3K who made it sublime.

Unfortunately, as any professional (or otherwise) heckler knows, your jokes are only as good as your source material. There’s a sweet spot between your material being bad enough to generate jokes and so bad that it descends into a pit of mirthless inanity. Face of Mankind is an MMO that dangles on that precipice with almost a complete lack of self-awareness. Stated less eloquently: it’s a mighty dull game that’s hard to make fun of.

To be fair, Face of Mankind is a sandbox game, which I have been known to struggle with before. Unlike my previous experiences, at least FOM has a tutorial section that teaches you the game’s basic mechanics. The problem is that this tutorial can’t begin to prepare you for the game’s complete lack of aim, purpose, goal, or even aesthetic. Once you enter the multiplayer area of the game, you are confronted with an endless maze of bland corridors and empty rooms, completely devoid of purpose. With no full-size map, and only sporadic in-game signage, it became ridiculously easy to become hopelessly lost. I can only surmise that the game’s map designers were reading Dante’s Inferno while looking at M.C. Escher sketches and eating Taco Bell. It’s the only logical explanation.

The few NPCs you encounter throughout the game are either mute or respond with some canned variation of “I have nothing for you right now.” At one point during my travels I found a room labeled “cafeteria” that contained a handful of NPCs awkwardly dancing. There was no music and no explanation. In a corner of another map I stumbled upon a sushi bar. I knew this because there was a sign overhead that read, “Sushi Corner”, not because the NPCs under the sign actually sold any sushi. Eventually my meanderings left me stuck in a koi pond. I had jumped over a railing to investigate the pond, not realizing that jumping in this game quickly drains stamina. I was forced to stand in the pond while I regained my stamina, simultaneously losing my dignity. And my patience.

There’s mining and crafting in this game. Or at least, that’s what I was told. My one experience with the crafting mechanics involved standing in front of a computer terminal, watching a progress bar create the components needed to make a pizza. This in itself was a bit incongruous, considering the fact that the faction I had joined – Vortex Incorporated – is the transportation sector of the game world, famous for inventing teleportation. I guess they needed pizzas to throw through the teleporter gates for test purposes?

I suppose I should mention the game’s various factions, which are intended to be the source of player-driven politics and roleplay in the FOM world. There are eight factions altogether, covering everything from production and mining, to law enforcement and mercenary work. You are free to join any one faction at any time, or even remain a civilian. I’m sure the designers’ intent was to create a framework that would allow the players to engage in a variety of geopolitical machinations, but what I experienced looked more like a game of “Cowboys & Indians” than “Rome: Total War”. This type of gameplay only works if players are given a reason to care through conflicting desires, goals, abilities, and resources. It’s not going to be accomplished by dumping the player into an ugly, confusing labyrinth and asking them to make a pizza.

Overall, Face of Mankind was a big, boring pseudo-future world with little to offer in terms of player engagement or entertainment. In case you’re wondering, I never did find the infamous “Club 69″, or strippers, or even a basketball. But joining a faction did give me a new pair of pants.

Fishing On An Acid Trip

January 27th, 2012
We're not in Kansas anymore.

In anthropology there are two terms used to refer to how someone experiences culture: etic and emic. Similar to the concepts of objective and subjective, if you’re talking about your own culture, you’re probably giving an “emic” account. If you’re attempting to describe Final Fantasy XIV, you’re doing so from an “etic” perspective.

Or you’re a nitrous oxide-sniffing space alien. I get the two confused.

Full Disclosure: I have no experience with the first Final Fantasy MMO (FF XI), nor have I played any of the single-player titles (FF’s I – XIV). I’m not sure why I have avoided the franchise for so long. I suspect I may be intimidated by how the games are chronologically ordered: Some sort of Roman numeral, base 23, pentadecimal system?

So yes, I freely admit that I may not be this Japanese MMO’s target audience. But regardless of how etic my perspective may be, a game’s story and characters need to have some universal elements that are easily identifiable to any audience, regardless of their cultural background. Or at least I would expect an MMO of this caliber and budget to try to aspire to that level of appeal? Instead, my first hour with FF XIV was filled with enough incomprehensible psychedelic weirdness to make Hunter S. Thompson think he was Gomer Pyle.

After creating my dark-skinned, but distinctly Asian-featured fisherman (why is it almost always impossible to create a black female character in a fantasy game?) I was immediately subjected to a rather long and involved cut scene. Followed by another cut scene. Which was immediately followed by yet another cut scene. And another one. This long series of cut scenes was only briefly interrupted by a very protracted and awkward fight sequence in which I threw rocks at a pack of wolves for over 10 minutes, (seriously, it took me 10 minutes to kill three wolves!) and the 15 minutes I spent doing a boring and unintuitive fishing sequence.

My entire time in this game felt less like a game and more like an interact-able movie. The art design was gorgeous, but I rarely had time to explore it as I was yanked from one cut scene to the next. At every turn the game seemed to be yelling, “Look at this magnificent story we have created for you!” Never mind the fact that the story they were trying so hard to impress me with was nearly incomprehensible. Treants. Moogles. Woodsin taint. Greenwrath. Dance lessons? After a while I gave up trying to make sense of it, as the game didn’t seem to care whether or not I was actually having any fun.

I often complain about the fact that many MMO’s don’t have children in them. Lord of the Rings Online and Dungeons & Dragons Online are two notable offenders. This omission is always a bit immersion breaking for me, as I begin to wonder just how the inhabitants of a given world exist if they don’t procreate. But Final Fantasy XIV has the weird distinction of having too many children. And not just regular kids, but also adult humanoids who look like kids. This was further compounded by the fact that it was impossible for me to create a female player character who looked more than a day over the age of 17. As an adult woman I’m not interested in having a teenage avatar, but the game’s rather creepy fixation on young, scantily-clad girls dictated otherwise.

“Yes we’re sexist and ageist, but isn’t that flying, flute-playing marshmallow kitten thing just adorable?”

You Won’t Find This On Google Maps

January 10th, 2012
Her cape was quite wrinkly.

The first time I played DC Universe Online during its beta period I gave up on it after only a half hour of play. The game’s console-focused interface has a targeting system that resembles a kung fu monk trying to blind fight while wearing roller skates. You don’t so much aim as merely suggest your attack’s direction and target – and hope that you hit something other than yourself. After a half hour of flailing around in a very NON-heroic fashion I gave up, logged out, and uninstalled the game. I wasn’t about to pay $14.99 a month to feel like Die Fledermaus’ near-sighted and even more ineffectual younger brother.

But fast-forward a year later in which DCUO – like so many other MMO’s – has gone free-to-play, and where my tolerance for bad online games has been polished to a high sheen. I decided to give the world of Gotham and Metropolis another try.

This was my tour guide, ADanger. When not rescuing lost super heroes he volunteers at the local retirement home.

My second attempt at DCUO was no less awkward than the first, but this time I decided that I wasn’t going to care. “OK game. You want me to mash buttons like a 3 year old? I can do that!” I button-mashed my way through the starter area and the first couple of missions before realizing that I was actually having fun. Sure, the interface is clunky, confusing and unnecessarily obtuse, and the missions’ storylines are hanging out in the deep end of the cartoon absurdity pool, but there is something genuinely cathartic about pummeling bad guys with wanton abandon and having Wonder Woman tell you just how special you really are. Who needs therapy when you can save the world on a regular basis?

If only your innate super powers came with built-in GPS. Or heck, even a compass.

DCUO’s navigation is not for the directionally challenged. The game’s missions routinely take the player between the two main map areas of Metropolis and Gotham City. These two regions are large but not excessively difficult to traverse, especially since the game provides your hero with a travel superpower from the moment of creation. The problem lies in the fact that they are not directly connected to each other, and the game conveniently forgets to tell you this. I spent at least 20 minutes flying from one end of Metropolis to the other, trying to find the door marked “Gotham City -> This Way”. If it hadn’t been for the oddly misnomic “ADanger” who took pity upon me and gave me a walking (okay – flying) tour of the Escher-esque Watchtower (which connects the two areas) I’d probably still be out there somewhere. Flying in circles like a crop duster.

Despite the consolitis and all of its associated shortcomings, DCUO can be an enjoyable diversion. The art design is colorful and vibrant without the cell-shading and black outline that I found so unappealing in Champions Online. And as goofy as the mission premises can get, their execution never felt as repetitive and monotonous as those in City of Heroes/Villians. Although I understand why SOE made this game dual-platform, I think doing so was an injustice no superhero should endure.

A Day Late & A Dollar Short

May 18th, 2011

Realms Online is a good example of an idiom my grandfather used to say when I was a kid: A day late and a dollar short. Too little. Too late. Too… meh.

Created by Argentinian developer NGD Studios, Regnum Online was originally released in South America in 2007. According to its Wikipedia entry, it was one of the first online games ever published in Argentina. Which makes me wonder what on earth the good people of Buenos Aires ever did to deserve such a boring wreck of a game. American publisher GameSamba released it as a free-to-play MMO here in the US earlier this month, under the name “Realms Online”. Because, you know, the American market needs more out-dated, third-rate F2P MMOs? And also, we can’t read Latin?

While most MMOs make some pretense of lore, Regnumalms Online decided that back story was for wussies and dumps you straight into the game with no context or tutorial. I couldn’t even find any information about the game’s mythology on their website, which is a rather surprising omission. These cut-rate F2P MMO’s always have some ponderous, generic, vaguely complicated back story. Maybe you have to pay Sambas for the privilege.

Realsmgnum Online boasts that it has 3 realms, 9 “fully customizable” player races (I could not put pants on any of my female characters, so I’m not sure how they define “fully” or “customizable”), and 6 classes. This might be impressive if it wasn’t for the fact that Dark Age of Camelot did it better – and six years earlier.

One review of this game stated that its RvR aspects were enjoyable, even if the PVE portion were “lackluster”. I never got that far. I spent the first 20 minutes of the game trying to figure out why my interface disappeared whenever I entered combat. (Answer: The tab key was bound to the ‘hide interface’ function by default.) By the time I got my keys remapped, my avatar had already fallen asleep.