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From the Horse’s Mouth: PAX East 2014

April 16, 2014

Dear Reader,

My buddy can’t really type his own post any more, so I asked him to talk a little about what he liked and didn’t like, and I transcribed it here.  This is mostly word for word, even though he asked me to gussy up some of his words.  I didn’t.

Things He Liked

Persona 4 Tournament

Our younger buddy entered the Persona 4 tournament, and we went to support him.  I liked the camaraderie; even though they were enemies, they were rooting for each other.  Guys who had been knocked out were pleased that they’d lost to the champions.  Our younger buddy was gracious in defeat.  The community seemed supportive rather than cut-throat.

Depression and Anxiety Panel

The panelists seem to have a grasp on the problems they were discussing, and they were solution-oriented.  In comparison to most “shill” panels that had an agenda to pursue, these panelists seemed genuinely interested in the questions and had organized, thoughtful answers.  The French dude who led the panel (Phillipe Menard) was truly a hero.

Jerry & Mike’s Relationship

I was confused to hear that they don’t fraternize outside of work any more – they’ve known each other for decades.  I wonder if it holds true that work and pleasure don’t mix.  It seemed unfortunate.  However, I liked how free and easy they were with each other; they didn’t have to pull any punches, so I’m confused as to why they don’t do that all the time.  Also, Mike is super-talented.

Things He Didn’t Like

Bethesda

There was no information about Elder Scrolls Online.  Just because it was already released doesn’t mean they should ignore it. Instead, they were pushing Wolfenstein.  They had a huge booth, but they couldn’t be bothered to put up a few Elder Scrolls demos.

Too Crowded

The lines were so long… it would be impossible to see everything you wanted.  Some people were waiting for things for more than an hour.  Also, because of the wheelchair, traversing some places was extremely difficult.

No Q&As

The best part of the panels – the entire conference – were the Q&As, because of how impromptu they are.  Without the Q&As, PAX sort of loses its diversity in its panels because the impromptu nature of the Q&A runs the gamut from heartfelt to funny to anything in between, and so many of the other panels feel scripted.  The Q&A also puts the control in the hands of the audience, which many other panels don’t.

Well, that’s all I could drag out of him!

Sincerely,

Stubborn (and dictating)

PAX Round Up 2014

April 14, 2014

Dear Reader,

I’m in a very satisfying position right now, sitting before my computer in my own home, having slept in my own bed, with my buddy playing The Stanley Parable for the first time, so I get to hear him play through and the decisions he made.

PAX was great, but it’s always nice to come home.  I’ll talk a little about it a little each day, talking about something great and something lousy each time.

For our first “Great,” I’ll talk about a couple of the panels.  Every single panel I went to this time was exceptionally good.  I attended a couple each day.  On day 1, I went to the keynote, the Harmonix CEO talking about their early failures and then showing off some of their upcoming games.  Some looked really amazing.  They have a first person music-based squad shooter coming out that works on harmony as a group power-up system.  That’s – amazing.  Ingenious.  Additionally, they’re cooperating with Disney to create a “game” – if it can be called that, but certainly an interactive experience – using Fantasia as its root system.  You play the role of the Sorcerer’s Apprentice, “conducting” visual representations of the music.  The creativity behind these ideas, regardless of whether or not they actually turn out to be fun, should be lauded.  It’s something new, if nothing else.

My second panel was “The Couple that Games Together,” a group of three couples who talked about their experiences.  They had a lot of good suggestions on dealing with conflict, parallel play, and co-op games that couples could play.  My wife teased me the whole time that my buddy and I were the actual gaming couple there, but I’m sure she was… mistaken.

I went to a few others that I may cover in a later post, but I wanted to give space to what was by far the best panel, a panel on anxiety and depression in gamers.  The panelists were three people from the gaming community who had each suffered from either anxiety, depression, or both, and had at one time overcome it, even if their remission had slipped and their condition since recurred.

After their disclaimer that they weren’t psychiatrists and could not diagnose anyone, but could only talk about their experiences and what they’d done to help, they talked first about that subject, but then invited people to the mic.

Rather than provide you all the gory details of some of those people’s lives, I want to take a moment to talk about how careful and emotionally intelligent all the panelists were.  They handled many potentially devastating circumstances with the grace and dexterity of a bomb squad.  After the event, they stood out in the hall to talk to people, and one girl who’d been particularly anxious at the mic lined up to speak to one of them, but got more and more nervous until she started to leave.  The lead panelist excused himself from who he was talking to and went after her, just to let her know she could speak to him later if she’d like and that he was really glad she’d spoken out.

I told him later when I saw him that his gaming background aside – he worked for Ubisoft – that I thought he was a hero of the community and that we need more people like him.

It was a great experience.

Less great was the shouting at the cop situation I referenced in a tweet.

Look, I’m not a particularly difficult person.  I don’t really care when people treat me poorly.  I’m a teacher; you have to let it run off you like water off a duck’s back.  But when people in authority are stupidly obsessed with rules that hurt someone I care about, well.  That’s another story all together.

My buddy’s feet are in BAD shape.  He can’t safely walk on them, really, at all, but certainly not for long durations.  To help with this, I rented a wheelchair and wheeled him around all weekend.  It worked really well, except that the shuttles dropped him off at the back of the center, and he was expected to walk all the way around.  Now PAX predicted issues like this and created “medical” badges for people like this.  I got one, and my buddy got one.  The PAX enforcers were great dealing with it, helping move him through crowds and making sure that he could get a seat where he could see, but the convention center security was not so great.

On Saturday morning, after we’d identified this problem on Friday, I went to speak to one of the entrance guards by the bus entrance.  He refused to be reasonable.  I, a little miffed, stalked off, figuring I’d get an enforcer or one of the security guard’s supervisors to deal with it.  I spoke to the enforcers at the information booth, and they confirmed that he should be able to enter from that side.  I saw someone else in uniform and went to speak with them, but as I said, Excuse me, sir,” to the person and he turned, I saw his arm badge was that of the Boston PD, not a security guard.  I figured what the hell and forged ahead though, looking down at my badges a moment to turn it around to show the cop my medical pass.

But I didn’t get a chance.  Before I could continue, the first words out of his mouth, in an extremely condescending tone were, “Hey, look me in the eyes when you talk to me.”

I was momentarily stunned.  I tried to recover by beginning to explain that I had been glancing down to show him my badge, but he cut me off with a dismissive statement along the lines of “Sure, sure, but I want people to look me in the eyes when they talk to me.”

So I lost it.  I said, “Nevermind!” and starting storming off, again.  He called after me, “I guess it wasn’t worth it, then,” and I responded, “You’re right, being treated like that isn’t worth it,” and then yelled, at the top of my lungs – in the middle of the entry hall of the convention center, mind you, “WAY TO SERVE AND PROTECT!”

I walked over to my wife, who was mortified, and moments later the cop chased me down and started over, a lot more polite.  Since he was being nice now, I apologized and explained the situation, explained why I was annoyed and what the problem was.  He listened politely this time, but then completely sided with the security guard, despite the fact that I had told him that the rule the security guard was enforcing had been clarified by the enforcers and that the security guard was wrong.

Then the cop got a taser out of his pocket – I kid you not – and started lecturing me about the importance of safety.  He explained he’d taken the taser off of someone that morning, keeping everyone safe.  He told a story about how he’d found an uzi under someone in a wheelchair once.  I offered to let him search the wheelchair, which of course wasn’t his point, but since he was just defensively rambling about how he was serving and protecting people since apparently I’d hit a nerve, but it was a waste of my time if he wasn’t going to help me.

I finally broke away from the cop and went back, with the wheelchair, to the security guard.  I told him I’d spoken to an enforcer who’d confirmed my point of view, but of course the security guard didn’t believe me.  He continued to explain how no one could come through the doors blah blah blah, but I persisted.

Honestly, I finally wore him down.  He finally said, “Well, I guess if you both have medical passes…” and let it go.

So I did win, but it was a stressful and irritating way to start the day.

However, there were so many great things that the irritation was quickly gone.  More on those next time.

Sincerely,

Stubborn (and home)

PAX Guest Post Featuring Snozell of BeMOP!

April 11, 2014

Hello everyone, we interrupt your regularly scheduled Sheep the Diamond blog post for a special PAX East  guest post from BeMOP.

This Friday kickstarts the 2014 Penny Arcade Expo, one of the biggest video game conventions on the East Coast and this year will mark my third year going down to Boston to experience all that is PAX with my family and friends. Over the years I have compiled my own list of must-haves to bring along if you do not want to miss a single moment of PAX or a similar video game convention/expo.

A Good Backpack: This one is self explanatory, even if you take a glancing pass through the Expo hall you will end up having more loot that you can hold. Plus you will need it to hold everything else in this list. While the expo may supply you with a bag in the loot bag they do tend to rip and tear throughout a day of heavy use.

Phone Charger/Device Charger AND surge protector: Live tweeting takes a lot out of your phone or tablet’s battery, and if you plan to play with a handheld while passing time in the lines, you will be needing a charge and because electrical plugs are finite in the building, bringing a surge protector along so you can share the electricity with other people. Who knows; you might even make a friend or two.

CA$H: While the use of mobile apps that performs credit card charges on the go are increasing, plastic is not the preferred choice for the expo booths, and trust me you do not want to miss your chance to get a T-shirt from your favorite booth just because they don’t accept debit cards.

An Autograph Book: There are going to be plenty of famous and internet-famous people attending and you do not want to be caught with your pants down when you run into one of your idols and you don’t have anything on hand for them to sign. * Note: this packing tip comes from personal experience of mine when I ran into the creator of Red vs Blue on the expo floor.

Travel sized deodorant: There is already the stereotype of the smelly geek attending gaming convention; please don’t feed into it. Deodorant also serves as a college-age makeshift shower after being crammed into a convention hall with thousands of other geeks for three days.

Trail Mix: The snack food halls tend to drain the most out of your wallet so trail mix serves as a great way to cheaply save a few bucks and keep you going long into the night. The advanced expo traveler might even try to pack some lunch meats sandwiches in the morning before going. True masters might even try to pack the recommended nutritional value worth of food for the three days, but this is optional.

Energy Drinks: Trail Mix and good food may provide great healthy energy, but that always pales in comparison to the high you get from good old fashioned carbonated sugary caffeinated soft drinks. To quote a classic 90’s videogame mascot: during this weekend, YOU GOTTA GO FAST.

And now I am going to save yourself some hassle, pack some Emergenc-C or any types of Vitamin C drops: Bring this along and be sure to eat plenty of Vitamin C for the Post PAX crash because it comes down to this – there is so much stuff to do over this single weekend, the only real benchmark on how well you participated in the event is how comprised your immune system is on the following Monday.

Good luck and you can catch my post PAX East experiences back on my Blog at BeMOP.wordpress.com. I am sure that Stubborn will have a few great stories to tell as well.

Gutted

April 9, 2014

Dear Reader,

Despite the connotation of the title, gutting something isn’t always bad.  Sure, it implies a level of viscera, off cutting, splitting, and taking away.  But when you rebuild something, when you renovate, for example, a house, the first thing you do is gut the place.  Gutting can be, after its tonal unpleasantness, a start to something new.

I was gutted a little the other day, or at least delivered a bit of a gut-shot.  Reading Penny Arcade, as I’m apt to do a few times a week, I came across this comic.  I don’t often read the posts that go along with them, I’ll be honest about that, but I do, occasionally, when something resonates.  This comic did.  In reading the post, I came across this text:

World of Warcraft ate the core out of the experience, gutted it, so no matter what the shell is, eventually I arrive at a place where the spine of it is so fucking bare – its manipulations so transparent – that I sit back in my chair, and push the keyboard away.  I sit like this for awhile.

And that was that.  These few lines have captured the feeling of malaise, the very reasons behind it, perfectly.  I can play all the way through Star Wars: the Old Republic.  I can play all of Rift, Lord of the Rings Online, and likely, in the future, Wildstar and ESO.  But the experience has been gutted by WoW.  I see all the viscera in there.  I can see the rapid beating of the crafting system, the slow digestion of the currency grinds, the pulsing of the gearing cycle.  I see the bare spine, there, the thread that connects it to every other MMO I’ve ever played – and quit – and I suddenly just don’t really see the point of continuing the game.

I’m not down on WoW or other MMOs, to be fair.  They’re great.  The work they’ve done, the new heights they’ve reached in just about a decade, were unthinkable when they first appeared.  What’s been made in the past and what’s currently being made now are technological feats amazing to the mind and spirit.

But I’ve seen the inside of them.  I can’t stop thinking about those pieces, those little inner workings.

It’s not them, you see; it’s me.

And none of this is to say I’m done with them.  I’m sure I’m not.  I’m sure there’s many more 3-monthers in front of me, 3 months being the time it really takes to dissect a game, to find the hidden valves in the heart of the talents system, the subtle manipulations of the players by the game’s nervous system.

I just wish there was a new organism out there, one I hadn’t encountered yet, as I hadn’t encountered MMOs prior to their arrival.  The money involved makes it increasingly unlikely that innovation’s around the corner.  There’s not much reason to evolve away from a system that’s spurting cash from every pore.

Sincerely,

Stubborn (and hoping to renovate)

Miscellany

April 7, 2014

Dear Reader,

Crunch time just jumped on me.  Last week I was bringing my Kindle to work, reading some books, and browsing Twitter during classes while students diligently drafted.  Then today I have a lot to do.

The most interesting and exciting of those is preparing for PAX.  I’m going for my fourth year (out of five East Coast possibilities), and I’m really excited about all the different panels and events.  Since several bloggers (myself included) will be out of town this Friday, Snozell of Be MOP suggested we swap some posts on PAX.  I’m cooking up a good one for his site, so make sure to check here for his post and there for mine this Friday!

I will say that I get tired of hearing all the complaints about PAX that circulate (now) three times a year.  It’s a convention.  Like any large gathering of people, there’ll be some jerks there, some of whom will be attendees and some workers, most likely.  I’ve had some mild confrontations with some of the PAX workers, myself, so sure, it’s not all just a bed of roses.  However, the idea that it’s somehow tainted at its core is ludicrous, and I often see it touted by people who’ve never been, which is just ignorance stacked on ignorance.  I got used to that sort of thing dealing with attacks on books used in the classroom; it’s shocking how many people want a book banned who’ve never read it.  I suspect that many PAX attackers wouldn’t want to be compared to book banners, but there it is: ignorance stacked on ignorance.

If you don’t like Penny Arcade for its politics, that’s fine; I’m not insisting anyone GO to PAX, but don’t let your politics color the actual event that’s now only tangentially hosted by those two specific individuals.  I’ve been to PAX four times along with my wife and buddies (not my NWN buddy, for clarity), and my wife has been off on her own plenty.  She’s a beautiful woman, but has never had a complaint about how she was treated, with me or alone.  What I’ve seen of PAX is a friendly community doing things together and building one another up.  Does everyone conform to this?  I’m sure they don’t, but I’ve yet to have a run in like that.

Beyond that, I’ve still been working on my druid, Stubbornly.  I’ve got a “full” healing set now, (though two of the pieces are pretty sub-par).  I’ve got both professions up to MOP levels, and I’m getting primed to heal my first real heroic dungeon.  I say “real” because my NWN buddy, a priest, took me and another guildy (along with two strangers) through three whirlwind heroics in which he did the tanking, a vast majority of the dps, and probably a majority of the healing (though I didn’t check).  My other buddy said, “He must be Mr. Universe, to be carrying 4 other people on his shoulders.”  Yeah, pretty much.

I also dove back into some UGC for Shadowrun Returns.  There’s so many good modules, but so many of them are only 1 chapter long, so just as you get into it, it ends.  The only “full” adventure I’ve played was Nightmare Harvest, which was excellent.  I just started the Shadowrun Unlimited “open world” campaign, and I have high hopes about that.  I’ve played 4 or 5 other “part 1′s,” and they were all good, but like I said, I’m looking to play through, not stop and have to download more parts in a month when I’ve moved to another game.

So that’s what I’m up to.  Anyone else going to PAX East this year?

Sincerely,

Stubborn (and prepping to travel – ugh)

Early Access Revisited

April 4, 2014

Dear Reader,

I mentioned the other day that my buddy and I were looking for games.  First, I want to thank everyone who made suggestions.  They were all brought to his attention and discussed.  More on what we ended up doing to follow.  Today, what I want to talk about was one of his hesitations – one of the features he considers a red flag – that I mentioned in the post the other day: games in early access (Alpha / Beta) development phases.

Many, many years ago, one of my old buddies who I don’t keep in much contact in any more was filled with vim and vigor over an idea he’d heard in one of his college classes.  Having a bit of an obsessive personality, over the next few weeks he regaled me with tales of this idea over and over again.  “Stubborn,” he’d say, “in the future, people won’t pay for software products any more.  They’ll pay for software service.  And the service will be necessary to so many because the software will be so complex.”  He was crooning about this because, in his mind, it looked like the triumph of the nerds, a veritable technocracy that would leave him with all the power and control.

He’s a code monkey now at a government contractor.  He has a kid and a wife.  He’s a nice guy; we just grew apart.

And yet, I see pieces of that future approaching.  The free-to-play model is dominant in MMOs now, even though the dominant MMOs still require subs.  The service you pay for isn’t what he had in mind – support service (though there are programs that work like that, too) – but is instead game services: more xp, better items, more bags or bank space, or the like.

So when I read Dahakha’s (that second H is tricky) response to Liore’s post on paying for alpha and beta development stage games, I had very mixed feelings.  If you haven’t seen them yet, I highly recommend you read both; they’re both well written and filled with good arguments, which is odd, if you think about it, since they’re opposing view points, but I think that comes down to why I’m so torn, too; really, it’s not right versus wrong.  It’s a clash of cultures.

I’ll say up front that I agree with Liore more – obviously, to some extent, since avoiding early development stage games is one of my buddy’s and my criteria.  Heck, we even want to avoid just-launched games because it seems they’re too often just late betas still full of bugs.

That said, games I’m super excited about I’m willing to jump into during the early development phases.  I played The Secret World beta as soon as I could get my hands on it, even begging a customer service rep (notice I did not say “booth babe,” as that’s sexist) at the TSW booth at PAX for beta keys (which she kindly produced for all my friends and me).  I’m likely going to jump into Shadowrun Online, too, just to see what it’s about, but not quite yet.

So I’m torn.  I agree, philosophically, with Liore.  I don’t want a service, I want a finished product that’s been polished as much as reasonably possible.  I don’t want to pay to be a beta tester, just like I wouldn’t want to pay for a car to see if it’s safe to drive (of course that’s a false analogy, as I won’t die from a faulty game, but I still like it).

Then again, if you know what you’re getting into, I don’t see any harm in volunteering to beta test a product that catches your eye.  Like Dahakha said (I keep wanting to put the H before the K), there’s a slew of potential benefits including development decisions with more player input.

Then again, I’ve never paid for early access.  But I suspect I will, someday, and maybe even someday soon.  That change, I think, is what Liore’s worried about, the idea that, if we keep paying for beta access, eventually there will be no free betas, so only those with the money to pay for early access games will get input.  Liore covers this pretty clearly in her post, and I think it’s hard to specifically refute that point; money talks.  Look at Washington, D.C., and all the problems money causes there.  Unchecked campaign donations, billionaire lobbies, and, of course, good ol’ fashioned pork-barreling have led to a ton of governmental vice.

I hesitate to accuse the game industry of such greed and malice, but then I look at how the biggest titles every year are basically just recycled versions of the previous years’ titles (sports games, Call of Duty-style games, another bad MMO churned out, etc), and I wonder if there’s not already a bit of a problem.

The catch is, of course, as I’m so fond of saying, only time will tell.  Dahakha may be right.  Liore may be.  Something totally different might come to pass.  But it’s interesting to think about these ethical quandaries that surround our shared pass-time.

What do ya’ll think about early access gaming?  Do you agree more with Liore?  With Dahakha?  Or do you have a separate opinion?

Sincerely,

Stubborn (and on the fence)

That’s a Feature?

April 2, 2014

Dear Reader,

I really don’t have terribly much to report today.  I finished the game of Spore I was playing, which largely got that old habit out of my system.  I won, but it took some reloading throughout, as each phase has a uniquely difficult and different challenge to deal with, usually having to do with needing to do too much at once, and, if you do the wrong thing first, you lose.  I’m fine with that, mind you, but it just meant a fair share of reloading.

Path of Exile, too, may be on hiatus; we’ll see.  My buddy and I ran across a “Vaal” champion mob, rare super-hard spawns that can show up in the most recent patch.  It apparently had an ability that worked like a chaining corpse explosion, so we went from 100% life to 0% life instantly on hardcore characters.  My buddy and I were both miffed, but at least it was only about 15 levels in instead of 30 or 40.

We began discussing other options.  He’s very interested in Elder Scrolls Online, more interested than I’ve seen him in any game for a long time – maybe ever.  But at 60 bucks and a subscription, I talked him out of buying it now to play at launch; we’re both sick and tired of being playtesters to games that aren’t really ready for prime time.  We may jump in at some point, but for now, we’re not.

Unfortunately, that didn’t leave much for us to do; we looked at several other available games, but each one had some issue that one of us took issue with.  Many of them – virtually all, in fact – were in a “development” phase which, thanks to Steam, seems to be a selling point, but I can’t possibly imagine why.  How is it a feature to play a game that’s not really fully tested, to pay to be a play tester, a job usually paid for by the company?  I just don’t get it.

That said, I DAMN NEAR bought Shadowrun Online as soon as I saw it.  The offline game was magnificent, and while I haven’t played the expansion yet, I know I will.  That you could play that game online was instantly interesting to me – until I saw that there was only a short preview of the future campaign.  Why they don’t just port over the single-player offline campaign to play while they develop a more carefully balanced online one I don’t know: they’d have my and my buddy’s money, right now, if they had.

My buddy and I looked at Landmark, too, but it’s in a closed beta, so it didn’t do it much good.  I’ve seen a lot of interesting and good press out there about it.

So if you’ve got any suggestions of games that two avid players might somehow have missed, let me know.  We’re pretty open to whatever genre.

Sincerely,

Stubborn (and, again, searching)

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