Archive for January, 2012

Fishing On An Acid Trip

Friday, 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

Tuesday, 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.