Despite my role as a translator in my EverQuest RP server guild (I had a lot more time back then), I am by no means a prodigy at picking up foreign tongues in the big RL. I often think about how great it would be to speak more than one language with any degree of competence, but a sub-par language program at my high school, the cultural attitude of Americans toward other languages, and my own overwhelming laziness all conspired to abolish my fantasies of laughing quietly at the jokes the German guys on the bus seem to be constantly telling.
Somewhat ironically, then, I am taking a class this semester that has taught me the basics of a new language. However, it is not a language that will let me effortlessly blend in among the locals of any human civilization, past or present. It will not win me friends overseas, enable me to resolve conflicts between superpowers, or make it where I can play Minecraft with a language pack randomizer switched on. It will, however, perhaps pave the way to writing my own Minecraft mod to randomize language pack selection on bootup.
Yes, I am learning a programming language. Which one, you ask? Why, the one. The one that is so holy it has no name. The one that deifies the code in a way most ancient civilizations could get behind: inexplicable laws and swift judgment. I speak of C.
In addition to teaching me how to program infinite loops and appreciate code monkey jokes, this class has also shown me just how inept I am as a programmer. Granted, I am still very new to it, but I still don’t think I should take an average of sixty times longer than my instructor to write a program. I like to think I’m not the slowest person in any given class, but that assumption is being sorely challenged. School was never difficult for me, even in high school when I didn’t get to pick all
idiot English courses, so getting my ass handed to me by a 100-level introduction class is a humbling experience. By humbling, I of course mean screaming, wailing, raising-my-fists-to-the-indifferent-heavens frustrating. I admit that enrolling in an entirely foreign subject matter on top of full-time employment, book writing duties, book editing duties, and the occasional need to not do anything for awhile was perhaps not the wisest choice, but that’s the whole point of things, isn’t it? We kill off years of our lives with stress so the remaining lives can be of a higher quality. Provided it actually pans out that way (ie I am able to get a better-paying day job in a field that doesn’t require as much customer contact), it’s close enough to being worth it to merit some effort. Plus, if I actually learn enough code to write my own games one day, I can add a completely new way to pour hundreds of hours into a creative project with no guaranteed return.
If it doesn’t pan out, there’s always Zoloft.
Seriously. Nothing you would want to see, anyway. I have been remarkably testy all week, and I’d rather save this rage up for a well-honed rant instead of spewing acid all over your monitor. Actually, I do sort of wish I could do that. Nothing personal, but spitting acid would be a handy ability to have around the office.
As a substitute for any content of my own, I will direct you to this fantastic deconstruction of Mass Effect 3‘s ending by one of my blogging role models, Shamus Young.
The press embargo on GDC was lifted yesterday, and my concentration has absolutely gone to shit because of it. Fortunately, I”m experiencing a brief lull in workplace responsibilities due to spring break, allowing me to do nothing but read articles and watch videos. All covering one game, of course.
The flood of information Funcom has released in the last few months was carefully crafted to generate the most hype possible, and I’m falling for it full-tilt. Yes, even though it involves a guy with full-body tattoos wandering around a seedy Seoul hotel wearing only a loincloth and a frown. After nearly four years of following this game as it developed, greedily slurping up the paltry dribblings of information they released along the way, I am now gorging myself on this wealth of in-game footage and reviewer analysis. I typically don’t pay much attention to professional game reviewers; their scores match up with my own tastes too erratically to be of much use in determining whether or not I’ll like a game. However, in the case of The Secret World, I find myself agreeing with pretty much everything that they’re saying. Refreshing take on the MMO? Check. Classless, free-form character development? Check. A simple crafting system not based on grinding lists? Check. Near-continuous reiteration of how this game is doing everything The Old Republic tried to do, only doing it well?
Of course, there lies the tell-tale ridge marking the passage of a writhing, burrowing fear that The Secret World will not be what Funcom is showing it to be. Never having any interest in the Conan mythos beyond Jon and Al Kaplan’s song on the subject, I never played Age of Conan. General Internet consensus rules it enough of a failure to haunt every goddamn thread relating to The Secret World, though. I understand that AoC and TSW were developed by separate teams, so I’m hoping that the latter will dispel such trepidations handily.
Still, there were legions of players hoping The Old Republic would be the scion of a new age in MMOs. BioWare played up that angle and failed to deliver. As much as I’m enjoying watching their forums erupt in acrid self-consumption, a quiet voice is whispering that the same may happen with The Secret World. I don’t doubt that it will bring new elements to the table, but I’m still ever so slightly worried that it won’t do it well. A buggy launch, or disjointed features, or ludicrously overpowered builds. Yes, every MMO has bugs at launch (something the feral bands of comment jackals always seem to forget), but will they be irritations, gimps, or full-on crippling? This unknown quantity makes me apprehensive.
One thing I’m not concerned about, however, is the P2P/cash store model that The Secret World will be using. Despite having wadded too many panties to count, this particular feature doesn’t bother me in the slightest. I’m old-school enough to recognize that a P2P system is essential if you want a game that works well, looks fantastic, and delivers quality updates. Yes, there are a lot of F2P games that are fun, but P2P games tend to achieve a higher level of all-around quality. Furthermore, Funcom has confirmed that the cash store will be strictly vanity; no IWIN buttons for sale, just a lot of fancy getups and other things that make your toon prettier to look at. WoW does this (fuck you and your sparklehorse). EVE does this. Both games still function with both dedicated and casual followers. I have never puchased vanity items in either game despite my years of playing, and it hasn’t impacted my experience in the slightest. Far be in from me to speak to the entitlement complex that supposedly infects the majority of Internet denizens, but seriously, shut the hell up about this being a “greedy” maneuver by “grubby” corporations. Funcom is taking an enormous financial risk with The Secret World: they’re introducing new ideas, new gameplay, and a completely original world into an industry that rewards sequels with enthusiasm and innovation with vitriol. That is not the MO of a greedy dev team. In my mind, the epitome of a cash-hungry, soulless game company is one that buys rights to a mega-popular IP and makes the gameplay identical to another mega-popular IP.
The drill whined and squealed as it worked, sending fragments of my last hope flying through the glare of the overhead lamp. Blue eyes enlarged to terrifying proportions peered through the tiny binoculars the dentist wore clipped to his glasses. I could feel them boring into me like the drill, searching for the remaining pieces of protection still nestled in my teeth.
My father placed them there when I was young. They were bits of darkness to protect me from creatures of darkness, he said. Even as a child, that hadn’t made sense to me, and I’d told him so. He smiled his white, perfect smile then.
“Creatures of darkness will think you are one of them,” he’d said. “They won’t bother you because they won’t know that you really aren’t.”
Content with his explanation as only a child could be, I’d opened my mouth for him, and he’d set to work. The process hurt; my mouth bled for days afterward. Still, for all the pain, it worked. I no longer saw them lurking in the corners of the back yard at night, watching me with veiled eyes. Whatever my father had done, it had worked. I was safe.
“There we go,” the dentist said, a smile peeking around the edges of his surgical mask. “All set.”
I worked my jaw. Despite the Novocaine, I could still feel a dull ache–almost an itching–in my gums. A weak smile stretched my sore lips. “Thanks.”
He launched into his post-procedure speech then. I’d heard it several times by now, but he repeated it in earnest all the same. Running my tongue over the smooth new fillings, I pretended to listen. Behind me, the dentist’s assistant was collecting the silver instruments used in the destruction of my father’s gift to me. Part of me wanted to take the drill and set to work on her for what she’d done. My fingers curled into fists as I imagined my vengeance, but I forced them to relax. She had not known any better; for her, this was just a job to helppay for school or her kids or whatever.
No, the real object of my hatred sat before me, pointing nonchalantly at a computer diagram of my teeth. Little green circles glowed around each tooth now, proclaiming that all was well. I knew better, and so did he. I could see the silent laughter dancing in his eyes as he spoke. I was defenseless now, a juicy plum waiting to be plucked from the world of light by his associates.
“And that’s about it,” he said. “Julie will set you up for your next cleaning.” A wide, white smile, an extended hand. “Have a good rest of the day.”
Bastard, I thought. You know damn well that the rest of the day will be my last in this world. I couldn’t say it aloud, though. Exposing him for what he was in front of his innocent assistants would only anger him. His anger would become my agony when they came for me. Death would be too much to hope for.
I slid out of the chair, the leather squeaking beneath me. At the front desk, Julie smiled. “All set?”
“Will February 21 work for your next visit?”
I nodded again. It didn’t matter.
Outside, I squinted against the morning sun. Raising my hand against the glare, I turned and looked through the big front windows of the dentist’s office. He stood there, a smirk floating above his bleached lab coat, hand raised in farewell.
Catherine is, in many ways, like a JRPG. Anime-style art direction, squeaky-voiced women with sculpted bosoms, and a main character who continually bemoans problems that most of the target audience would flay their own mothers to have.
This is no surprise given Atlus’s long and proud tradition of publishing games exclusive to a Japanese audience (portables notwithstanding). Yes, some of their titles have been published (and subsequently banned) in other regions, but it’s clear that they largely cater to the Japanese gaming audience in their level of difficulty, themes, and aesthetic.
Catherine incorporates the near-ubiquitous binary morality system seen in many of this generation’s console games. However, this is the first time I’ve ever found myself questioning the honesty of the system. Unlike the ham-fisted morality systems of today’s big WRPGs (wherein the player must choose between adopting an orphaned litter of puppies or turning them into an adorable source of biofuel for his mechanical heart), Catherine makes the player choose how best to counsel NPCs through various relationship and emotional issues. Just as in real life, the “correct” answer is not as plain as the birdshit on the nose on your face.
For example, last night I found myself in the role of therapist for a sheep with regal hair. Said sheep divulged how his father used to abuse and neglect him. When given the choice between saying “It’s your Dad’s fault!” and “It’s in the past”, I went with the latter. The game promptly shifted my morality dial slightly toward the red angel, indicating that my response was, in fact, reprehensible and I should feel badly about it.
Other morally ambiguous questions and actions have surfaced, each with a predefined “right” and “wrong” outcome. Now, this could be just some bad writing, but I’m starting to wonder if this game will turn the morality system on its ear at some point. The first half of the game gives the clear impression that choosing for long-time girlfriend Katherine instead of cutesy fling Catherine is the “right” thing to do. However, events develop that cast Katherine in a dubious light, making the previous “good” decisions uncertain. I would love to see a game subvert the now-standard binary morality system by having good choices lead to a bad ending, and I’m hoping Catherine does exactly that.