Saturday, July 25, 2015

EVE Online

Somebody at work calls EVE Online "that mining game."  She also says that if I ever start playing they'll never see me again  That neatly sums up the prevailing opinion - it's incredibly tedious, it's incredibly addictive.

So I've given it a week now and have yet to find the addictive part.  It has the steepest learning curve of any game I've ever encountered and the most annoying thing is that this is deliberate.  One of the tutorials usually can't be completed at night because other players have destroyed the needed material during the day but there's no indication of that.  For a tutorial!  I learned from a website comment discovered when trying to find out what I was doing wrong (nothing as it turned out).

Other tutorials are even worse.  For example, the one that's supposed to teach you how to do a mission basically just says do a mission.  There's nothing helpful about how to acquire one (which is not at all obvious) or how to get where you need to go (also not obvious).  And one I tried was listed as beginner but some Internet posts later informed me it's basically impossible for beginners.  Two of the "easy" ones I never could figure out which can't be good in general since I'm a very experienced gamer (going back literally to Pong).  If I have trouble what about curious people who might just want to give this a try?

None of that opacity is unusual for EVE but what I've played doesn't even seem appealing enough to try to push through.  Everything happens in space and all space looks pretty much the same (I'm sure later other sectors look different but they can't be that different - imagine if WoW had been played entirely in The Barrens, which some pre-Cataclysm Horde will tell you it felt like).  Combat is even more mere button pushing than any other game and I usually play ranged dps so I generally love some button pushing.  But there are limits.

And mining, oh goodness the mining.  You know grinding in other MMOs?  Well imagine grinding that is both automated and has to be stopped frequently to deposit material.  It's the worst of all possible worlds. And for rewards that honestly don't seem much like rewards - it's not like you're getting glowing ships with gryphons painted on the sides, or cute little space pets, or flaming blasters.

This article claims that the real attraction is groups and interacting with other players so maybe that's my problem.  I'm mostly a solo player even when I'm in a decent guild and consider LFG and LFR queues a blessing from the Turing Machine heavens.  A game that pretty much has no point if you're not constantly in groups isn't really for me, particularly if it's just making for more efficient mining.  I have two free months of this thing and may give it another go or two but it will likely be uninstalled before the month's out.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Why I'm Changing from Song of Ice and Fire to Game of Thrones (Probably)

My answer when anybody asks if I watch Game of Thrones has been the full-blown snobbish one – I'm literate, why would I watch the show? But it's not wrong. I read A Game of Thrones years ago, back when there was no talk of a TV show, when a TV show would have seemed like a silly joke. But I'd read George R.R. Martin off and on since I was a teenager, mainly the short stories and early novels (Fevre Dream isn't just the best vampire book I've ever read, it's just one of the best period). Maybe I shouldn't have been entirely surprised at A Game of Thrones but it had the epic sweep of high fantasy (though notably was possibly magic-free despite much character talk) combined with the complexity of medieval/Renaissance politics and a pretty grim but fairly believable view of human character.  And it was dense with description, incident, people. A TV show could be worthwhile in its own right but would invariably be a reduction.

So at some point I started The Clash of Kings, got a few chapters in, then misplaced the book. I never felt like buying another copy but when I found it again recently the time seemed right to continue the series. And whatever I saw in the first book now felt diluted in a flood of material in the second. There's so much background – kings and village histories and myths and why castles were built and ravens and what's being eaten at every single meal and on and on. And so many characters doing so many things for so many reasons, many apparently irrelevant. At some point even the actual stories became confused and exactly who was fighting who seemed unclear. Sure I could go back (or more plausibly online) and figure this out but signposting is the novelist's job. To make it worse even big fans of the books say the fourth and fifth wander quite a bit. Clearly like so many other SFF writers Martin was too enamored of his created world to control appropriately what he was doing This isn't even getting to the very real possibility that Martin won't live to finish the series – at the moment despite rumors of next year there's no publication date for the next book, not to mention talk that it may go even to an eighth book.

So this started to seem not worth the trouble. If I'm putting this much into such complicated stories clearly it's much better for them to be about the Habsburgs or Caesars or Stuarts, something that matters beyond the particular book they're in. Dan Jones' book on the Plantagenets has four pages of genealogical tables, a fifth of what's in The Clash of Kings (though Jones does have many more maps). It's not that the history is “real” so much as what's in the novel starts to feel like Martin is just dumping notes and drafts into the work. I think one of the great losses in modern literary fiction is how much description has been stripped from it, part of a general shift towards plainness and simplicity that worked for Chekhov and Joyce but not many others. But The Clash of Kings goes too far in the other direction – Martin has a remarkable control over his prose, everything else not so much.  The actual Wars of the Roses were confusing but a series of novels shouldn't be.

Which is why I started thinking differently about the TV show. Much of the excess would have to be removed (gone I hope at least some of the many rapes that occur so frequently they seem less an indication of the setting's brutality and more like something pathological in the author) and with any luck the show wouldn't have gone too far towards the just-the-story approach taught by modern screenwriting manuals. (Robert McKee should never be read though though he's really just a symptom of how money people make decisions – teaching to the test so to speak.)  In short, for this case the story is interesting enough that I want to continue but I don't see enough value in the vast mass of material in the novels to go that route.  This starts to get into the question of why read or watch at all but that's for another time.

So why the “probably” about changing? It's because I haven't seen any of Game of Thrones yet and my experience with so many highly praised recent shows is that they're really not that good, somewhat entertaining at best. I wouldn't be surprised, and even half-expect, to get a few episodes into Game of Thrones and discover that it's somewhat leaden with Hollywood-screenwriter characterization and perfunctory dialogue, all jerked around by arbitrary story needs. The problem with nearly every American TV show is the amount of padding needed to fit the production schedule but with Game of Thrones I hope that isn't an issue due to the compression of the novels. But who knows?  Maybe I'll end up discovering the show is tedious, the books increasingly unreadable and I'm left reading Wikipedia synopses like a caveman.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Marvel vs DC?

A friend who has no interest in comics recently asked if I'm a Marvel or a DC person.  It's a simple answer with a more complex background - I'm a DC boy but now read almost only Marvel.  (At least as far as mainstream, ie superhero, comics.)

Dave Barry somewhere talks about how sports fans imprint on a specific team when they're young and stay fans for life.  Possibly something similar happens for comics fans.  As a kid I read DC and that was pretty much it.  Oh I did Marvel from time to time - often enough that I knew the main characters without all the history - and as a constantly restless reader I dipped into Charlton, Dell, Archie and others that showed on spinner racks at that time, including Warren books years before I really should have tackled them.

Why DC?  I can't say.  Maybe it was goofier, maybe more optimistic, maybe more to my taste, or most likely it was just the first I read.  The brother of a friend liked DC better because the stories were usually finished in a single issue, unlike Marvel which had stories that stretched through issues and issues.  Today of course they're practically the same in this respect.  In retrospect it didn't hurt that DC had a history going back to the 30s which it often reprinted while Marvel seemed to be in an eternal now.  Even now I'm surprised at how much older material turned up in DC during the 70s.

2004's JLA/Avengers could have been just another enormous crossover to excite the fans - in many ways that's really all it is.  But somewhere along the line writer Kurt Busiek decided it could also be an exploration of the ideology of the two companies.  Nothing particularly heavy - this isn't Althusser or Gramsci.  The Flash is the first through the separation of the two universes (its own historical reference) and his reports are what DC characters think of the Marvel universe.  Different people (mutants) not just persecuted but physically abused.  The world smaller and darker.  Murderous psychopaths considered heroes (The Punisher).  Supervillains running entire countries.  The Marvel characters see something different in the DC world.  It's shiny and bright.  There are museums devoted to dead heroes.  Ordinary people ask for autographs.  It's Captain America of course who gets to utter the f-word - they're fascists.

Does this explain any of my interests?  Not really but it offers hints.  Marvel has always been considered more realistic than DC despite that being a pretty subtle distinction for superhero comics.  After all Marvel had Dr Doom shooting the entire Baxter Building into space, a Spider-Buggy (seriously, look it up) and Skrulls turned into cows (that hilariously was decades later referenced as one motivation for the Secret Invasion).  By the 70s DC was printing Batman stories as psychologically insightful as Simenon and the still-controversial O'Neill/Adams Green Lantern/Green Arrow stories that are about the only time superhero comics successfully grappled with real-world problems.

So why today do I read almost no DC but large chunks of Marvel?  Basically it's the New 52 which should have opened the creative floodgates but instead shut them tighter (you can read some of my reactions from when it launched) while Marvel has experimented and put more faith in creators.  Before the New 52 DC was publishing more than just superheroes with a Western title, fantasy, crime, SF and some unique ones.  Now that's all gone.  Today it's Marvel putting out titles featuring a Muslim superhero or a black/Hispanic one, who's taking chances on unusual ideas like Hawkeye, Superior Foes of Spider-Man and The Unbeatable Squirrel-Girl, who have more women characters in more prominent roles, who are simply producing better stories.

Looking back it's pretty clear that the New 52 was driven more by marketing than creative concerns, one reason several artists and writers have gone on record about the difficulty getting work done.  For me the titles mostly became too dull and too much the same.  Even the war and Western books were turned into superhero titles and Vertigo was partially dismantled around this time.  I don't care much about continuity but DC titles got to the point where it became an issue.

But nothing in a product-hungry field like comics lasts - there always has to be something new and as I'm writing this both companies are on the verge of big changes.  DC is backing away from some of the New 52 changes and promising more creator-driven titles but we'll see.  Marvel is folding its regular and Ultimate lines together and been tight-lipped about the result but right now have a more reliable track record.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Cool Stuff at My Other Blog

My other blog Discoveries & Oddities from the Digital Library collects unusual books from around the Internet - all public domain that can be downloaded for free and legally.  Not quite something for everyone but lots of things for many people, particularly if you have slightly off-center interests.

Recent entries include:

Fightin' monks
Missing heirs to the French throne
Victorians looking at dinosaur fossils
Poetry parodies with kittens
Accounts of the Great Chicago Fire
18th century guide to getting rid of vermin
Wild illustrations of purported demons & magical beings
How to build shacks and shelters
The first book in English about Zen
Trick photography
Outdated slang
Anti-censorship satire

and so much more......