Is This Battle Over Yet?

July 29, 2005

Mood: Ragged.
Music: Friday I’m In Love, Cure.
Game: World of Warcraft, Planetside, Call of Duty, Auto Assault Beta.
Book: Working my way through assorted White Wolf Vampire rulebooks.
Muffin: Wish I’d had a muffin this morning.
Punchline: Goodenow’s Resignation.

I’ve now started and erased my opening paragraph six times. I have no idea what it is I want to say. This doesn’t really happen too often…unless I’m so busy, I don’t have time to focus. Which is what’s happening now.

When I don’t even get a chance to boot my computer till lunch time, it’s probably a good sign that I’m running around like a chicken without a head. I’ve spent the week largely organizing stuff at work; ordering spare parts, getting stuff fixed, issuing new machines, doing research on a new snack machine…all the normal office management stuff I do…all while still working on this claim. It’s been pretty hectic, all told.

This weekend, I’ll be playing games on Saturday, then seeing my mom for her birthday on Sunday. I really should take a day off or two this month…just to get my head straight. I’m feeling a little burnt out. Normal, I guess…my head’s not really in my work right now. It’s all very busy and such…but I’m not very motivated.

And right now? I’m hungry. Even lunch is a pain in the neck around here…you have like 4-5 choices, and they’re all not bad…but after eating the same stuff for literally years, you’re wishing for more options. Disadvantage of working in Long Island City, I guess.

So now I’ll head out and get some lunch…and when I get back, back to the claim…if I don’t get interrupted 97 times.


OK…can someone tone this down?

July 27, 2005

Mood: Hot.
Music: Brazen, Skunk Anansi.
Game: World of Warcraft, Planetside, Call of Duty, Auto Assault Beta.
Book: Working my way through assorted White Wolf Vampire rulebooks.
Muffin: Had a bagel this morning.
Punchline: “It’s not the heat. It’s the humidity.”

It’s over 95 degrees here already. The walk to and from the subway leaves you drenched in sweat…and waiting for a train on a 100+ degree platform is no joke.

I took a nice shower, got dressed, headed off to work, and before I got to the corner, I needed another shower…and not because I wasn’t soaking wet.

Don’t get me wrong. I like me a good beach. But this isn’t beach weather. This is flat out brutal heat. NYC is putting up “cooldown stations” all over the city, with AC and water. The news is recommending that people don’t even exercise outside. The heat, humidity, and pollution make it hazardous for you to do so.

I know that the last week of July is traditionally the hottest week of the year…but damn. My air conditioner barely takes the edge off the heat in my bedroom…and I have to keep the door to my bedroom closed to do that. It’s 86 degrees in my living room.

Now, I don’t deal with heat that well. I’m from good Russian descent. I deal with winter. When the weather gets like this, it just saps all the energy from me.

So it’s not even 10am, and I’m already soaking wet, trying to dry and cool down, drinking lots of water. Yes, I’m indoors in air conditioning…but it’s still uncomfortable in here due to the heat. Amazing.

The server room is warmer than it should be (not hot…but still)…but I have no recourse. The servers will just have to deal with it, too.

Can’t wait to get home tonight and take another shower.

Fear and Loathing in San Andreas

July 25, 2005

Mood: Too Early to Have a Mood.
Music: None.
Game: World of Warcraft, Planetside, Call of Duty, Auto Assault Beta.
Book: None.
Muffin: None.
Punchline: None.

OK…the tone of this blog entry will be the same exact tone you get in your voice when a very good friend of yours, whom you’ve spent your entire life defending because he’s really a good guy, but something of a fuckup, decides to get drunk, “borrow” your girlfriend’s car, wrecks it, then spits in her face when she gets angry at him.

In other words, what the fuck was Rockstar Software thinking? What on God’s Green Earth would possess those hare-brained, moronic fucks to give the right-wing anti-videogame lobby a loaded M249?

Let’s start by saying that not all game devs and publishers are the same, and they all have differing methodologies and philosophies. However, when guys like me talk about defending videogames, what we’re REALLY talking about is defending Rockstar Games.

Rockstar publishes the Grand Theft Auto series of games. Frankly, I find the games to be repetitive, annoying, and mainly a gratuitously violent driving simulator. The graphic style is interesting, and the sound design is fabulous. Other than that, the games are boring. Now, I acknowledge that millions of teenagers disagree with me, although I couldn’t tell you exactly why. I suspect it has something to do with the complete freedom you have to go anywhere and do anything…but in my opinion, doing it solo when you can do it online with thousands of people simultaneously is simply silly.

So, Rockstar’s bread and butter is catering (or pandering, depending on your point of view) to these teenagers/20-30 somethings. Frankly, they’re pushing the envelope to see how far you can go in a mainstream videogame (see also BMXXX.) There’s a place for this…but when the games became bestsellers, they also became the lightning rod.

Everyone assumes that every game on the planet must be as violent as the GTA series. That it’s not is irrelevant. If games like this exist, there must be more than one. Not technically true, but there are a few.

Whenever a teenager commits a violent crime, the first thing that they look for is videogame playing. “Oh, that poor young man played GTA3! He had his mind assiduously warped! He was such a good boy!”

I’ve written more than one article about how ludicrous this position is. Parents raise children (or don’t), not videogames, cartoons, movies, or demonic rock and roll music. If parents run out and buy teenagers gamesystems and copies of GTA3, that’s their call. I don’t know that I’d give a 12 year old a copy of GTA, but I’m not raising children, myself.

Now, as Rockstar, how do you defend the games? Yes, you pull people out of cars and kick them and beat them bloodily with baseball bats if you like. Yes, you can shoot bystanders and chat up hookers. Yes, you can go on a rampage in a vehicle, mowing down dozens of pedestrians if you like. In part of the game, you can go to your girlfriend’s house, where she offers you “coffee”, and you go inside her house, which you don’t see, and you hear the sounds of your character and her having sex. Kinda hard to defend it, really, except that it’s no worse than a light R movie, maybe even a PG-13 with teeth. And it’s cartoony, so that helps some. So Rockstar says it’s a game, it’s cartoon violence, and parents need to watch their kids.

Then, the Hot Coffee mod came out. Hot Coffee, if you’ve been under a rock, “unlocks” existing code in the GTA:San Andreas game. What it unlocks is a “mini-game” where, when your girlfriend asks you in for coffee, you follow them inside, and you’re treated to seeing her giving you head, then you play this “minigame” where you maintain rhythm while fucking her, and if you do it right, she tells you you’re the best. It’s all pretty graphic, for the cheesy cartoon style.

Initially, Rockstar said that hackers went in and modified perfectly innocent code to “invent” this game from thin air. Then, unsurprisingly, said “hackers” showed that the code was on the discs for PS2 version of the game, which is impossible to modify. Rockstar, backed into a corner, said that the offending code was locked in the game code, and there was no way to get to it, without serious intentional hacking. But the damage was already done.

The M (Mature) rating immediately got raised to AO (Adults Only) and as a result of that move, hundreds of stores around the country removed the game from the shelves.

For a start, what would possess Rockstar, who’s already under huge amounts of fire on a regular basis, to actually add something like this to a game they KNEW was going to be a best-seller? Something like this doesn’t get added as a hidden thing without a MESS of people knowing about it.

Next, when confronted with it, why lie? Why not just say “Yeah, we put it in, decided it was too much, and locked it out. It was easier to lock it out than remove the code, and so it was there.” Instead, Rockstar comes across as if they were trying to hide something.

Now, the media and the US Government are having a field day, energized with legitimate evidence that the videogame industry is incapable of monitoring and controlling itself. That game companies can (and WILL) sneak stuff past even discerning parents without their knowledge. In short, who KNOWS what’s in these games? If the parts of the game you can see are bad, who knows what lurks behind it? Even innocent games could have stuff like this, right?

“Easter Eggs,” as they’re called, have been around since the Atari 2600 days. Programmers, hotdogging, would hide messages, images, fun little things in games, just to show off. Good players (or those reading insider magazines) could do something, like walk through a wall in a certain spot, shoot a particular item, or whatever, and you’d see the thingie. Usually, such things are harmless.

This is not harmless. Putting X-Rated content in a game and hiding it from the general populace is EXACTLY what the opponents of videogames have been spouting all along. They haven’t been able to prove it, because up until recently, it hasn’t been there. Now, Rockstar’s given them the murder weapon. They thought they were clever, they hid such a thing in a game, and now, it’s gonna hurt.

Even if Rockstar doesn’t give a fuck about their image, their ability to sell games, or their reputation, I believe as a bestselling publisher, they have a responsibility to the rest of the industry. They tried to pull a fast one, and they got caught. In so doing, they’ve put the industry in a bad, dangerous light.

I’ve spent my entire life defending the industry, explaining how people are overreacting about games, about how kids don’t become violent from playing videogames, that they’re not a bad influence. Now, Rockstar’s gone and hid X-Rated content in a bestseller meant for teens, then lied about it’s presence.

I’m not defending these guys. Whatever happens to them, they deserve. They aren’t making groundbreaking games…they’re playing people like me for fools. They expect the videogamers/videogame media to defend their work…but not this time.

I believe in freedom of speech, I believe in the right to art, I believe in the right to make whatever you want, and sell it if people will buy it. I will not support hiding controversial content in places where people could potentially find it without full disclosure. I’d kick the hell out of someone who dosed my party punch with LSD without my knowledge. I might well embrace said punch if I knew it was there…but that’s my choice. If I get dosed against my will, what does that say about the person who did the dosing?

Rockstar crossed a line with me, and I suspect, a lot of the other videogame media.

Party’s over, Rockstar. Hope you can defend yourselves. You won’t be getting any support from me.

Divergent Paths

July 22, 2005

Mood: Friday Calm.
Music: Pulling Mussels (From the Shell), Squeeze
Game: World of Warcraft, Planetside, Call of Duty, Auto Assault Beta, Gunzonline Beta.
Book: None.
Muffin: None.
Punchline: None.

I’ve been playing online games with a bunch of guys for years now. Some names come and go, but by and large, it’s the same core. The fellas at ijsmp are my online game buddies of choice. Along those lines, many of us have become pretty close friends, in spite of living in other states.

Recently, I suggested that we all play Planetside again. We’d tried it a few years ago, and it held our attention awhile, but other games called, and we bailed from it, some sooner than others. Because passion for World of Warcraft has been waning, Call of Duty is getting old, and there really isn’t anything on the horizon for a few months, I realized that the majority of guys in ijsmp hadn’t given Planetside a chance the last time around, and I thought they might like it.

Truthfully, most of ’em do. It’s a pretty easy game to pick up, and it plays on our love of RPGs/character building and FPSs.

Last night, Firethorn, the “leader” of ijsmp gave Planetside a swing again, and after a little while, relatively unceremoniously quit the game, and bailed to another vent channel without saying much.

I put the word “leader” in quotes, because while most of us would say with little hesitation that he’s pretty much the glue that holds most of us together, if you asked him, he’d say that he’s no more leader than any of us. We all have our roles and foibles…but he (along with Smitty) pays for our servers, maintains the boards and such, and pretty much acts the diplomat when tempers flare.

Now, we all have our patience levels with games. I’m not unknown for saying “OK, fuck this. Break time” when I’m getting fucking owned, or when things aren’t going well. Most of us do that at one point or another…and some do it more often than others.

Firethorn only picked up Planetside hesitantly, because he has bad memories of it. But I talked him into it, I think, and Smitty and Jeho and Andy and NeeHah all seemed to be enjoying it…so he picked it up.

Last night, he did his training (which pretty much sucks…) got into his plane, flew to where we were, and died within 15 seconds. Whereupon he quit the game, and, as I suspected according to his blog, quit the game permanently. He’s not gonna come back to this game.

Now, yet more background on all this. The gang was cave crawling at the moment, mainly because I’ve been trying to advance something or other that can only be done in the caves. None of them really wanted to be there, but they were being supportive…and we were getting crushed. Not a fun scenario. This is the scenario that Thorn flew into.

Instead of giving Planetside another fair shake, he bailed on it entirely…as is his prerogative. Lately, Thorn hasn’t been much for gaming online with us…and that’s not all that unusual for any of us. We go through ebbs and flows as life takes more and less of our time. Now, the six of us who are playing, and for the most part, really enjoying it, are going to be playing without Thorn for now.

I feel badly, because if we had stayed where we were before we entered the caves, we were on the offensive, coordinating, and having fun. But because we all recently switched from one side to another, and are all making new characters, I wanted to get an ability back that I’d had on my old character, and that I had worked hard to acquire the first time.

On a side note, Smitty’s been completely supportive of stuff I’ve been trying to do in particular…both here and in World of Warcraft. He and I have had some rough patches in the past, usually stupid misunderstandings that I undoubtedly created, so I’m particularly appreciative that he’s being as supportive as he has been.

Anyway, Thorn says in his blog that he thinks it’s exactly the same game he quit years ago, and it’s no better or different. It’s all exactly the same. Which isn’t technically true. But of course, if he’s not into playing it, he’s not going to play it. He also said he didn’t give it a fair shake exactly, but first impressions are first impressions, and for most of us, they’re pretty accurate about how we feel about a game.

With Thorn not playing, I can pretty much guarantee that the rest of us are not going to be playing Planetside for a long time. Which is too bad…I honestly think that he’d enjoy it if he’d give it a chance when we weren’t doing something stupid like trying to break a continent. It’s just been the trend. If Thorn and Jeho aren’t playing, most other people won’t. And if Thorn isn’t, eventually Jeho will walk away…not for any reason other than Jeho is traditionally our duration-setter. When Jeho leaves a game, we’re already looking for other games.

I’ll probably ask Thorn to give it another try, but I suspect it’s pretty much a no chance kind of thing.

Unfortunate, because it’s been a while since Firethorn was really in the thick of playing with the rest of us…when he’s around, most of us stick around longer, play longer, and have a really good time. It isn’t to say that we don’t have a great time without him, we do. But when you have a bunch of guys that do something together for a long time, when one of them just isn’t around as much, there’s always something missing. He just isn’t feeling the games we’re playing right now.

Maybe I’ll try to get folks back into playing some World of Warcraft…I think we could probably have a good time with the reduced group of us that are still playing. I’ll keep at Planetside, and maybe folks will stick around some more.

What we really need is a new game that we all want to play….

Eh…Summer’s always a slow period for online gaming. September will come with the pre-Christmas releases, then the Christmas releases, and we’ll all be strapped in and gunning again. Maybe I’ll get out to Wisconsin (where most of the guys live) and we’ll have a barbecue, and generally cause offline mayhem to match the online mayhem.

And because I know most of the guys mentioned here read this blog, I should mention here that I wrote this as I usually do: with no thought as to who reads this. It’s my blog, fuckers. It’s what I do.

In Darker News…

July 21, 2005

Mood: Vaguely Sad.
Music: The theme to Star Trek….
Game: World of Warcraft, Planetside, Call of Duty, Auto Assault Beta, Gunzonline Beta.
Book: None.
Muffin: None.
Punchline: None.

As you’ve probably heard, James Doohan, aged 85, died yesterday of pneumonia/Alzheimers.

Otherwise known as Chief Engineer Scott on Star Trek, “Scotty” was probably responsible for the focus and inspiration for millions of men and women to choose Engineering for a career.

This may sound funny to some. To me, it’s pretty obvious. “Scotty” made Engineering cool. He was trustworthy, reliable, cantankerous, and a completely unprepossessing genius. If it was broken on a starship, or probably anywhere else, he could fix it…or at least get it working enough to save the lives of everyone yet again. Engines, shields, weapons, the captain’s private bathroom…anything. It was not completely unheard of for people to occasionally call me Scotty…and I definitely do not have a Scottish accent. (Neither did James Doohan…but it didn’t prevent him from using one.)

The writers of Star Trek, through Scotty, presented engineers not as nerds or geeks…but as the head of security, the go-to guy, the guy who could come up with the save when they needed it the most. In a crew that included Kirk and Spock, this was no small feat.

James Doohan was awarded an honorary doctorate in Engineering from the Milwaukee School of Engineering, for representing the field of Engineering in pop culture. I think that’s pretty classy, not to mention definitely cool.

I refuse to put any Scotty quotes in here, in deference to the fact that James Doohan was more than Scotty, although the world never let him forget what made him famous. James Doohan, a former member of the Canadian Army, was hit by six bullets on D-Day, losing the middle finger of his right hand, which he was always concealing from the cameras. There was plenty of James Doohan in Scotty, I’m sure.

He didn’t mind being associated with being Scotty. He absorbed it, and loved the attention, according to the stories and anecdotes I’ve read. Whereever he went, as far as Kenya or China, he was always greeted with cries of “Scotty!” and always returned the greetings with smiles and autographs.

He left behind children, a wife (and a few ex-wives…), and millions of adoring fans.

So long, Scotty. It’s been fun.

His family have arranged to have his remains shot into space. And no, I’m not making that up.

I feel good…

July 20, 2005

Mood: Healthy.
Music: Fly Away, Lenny Kravitz.
Game: World of Warcraft, Planetside, Call of Duty, Auto Assault Beta, Gunzonline Beta.
Book: None.
Muffin: None.
Punchline: “Ooh…in the face!”

OK, to start…I got my bloodtest results back last night.

The net: Aside from slightly high cholesterol, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with me. Blood sugar’s fine, I don’t have HIV, my liver function is fine, my blood pressure is exactly 120/80.

So, less beef, more chicken and fish, increase my fiber. Other than that, I need to exercise more and lose weight. No shock there.

I think, generally, I believed that all of that was true before I went to the doctor. I have to admit, it IS comforting to know that I was right, and the doctor says so.

I’m still putting cream on the back of my hand, but it’s fading pretty well. I appear to have some allergies, but again, nothing horrific. Frankly, considering I probably don’t take care of myself as well as I should, I’m in pretty good shape, functionalitywise. Yeah, I need to lose weight. But the pieces work.

In other news, last night, Smitty, Jeho, and I were subs for the match that ijsmp played last night. Since everyone showed up, we were left to our own devices. We started with Planetside, but when we realized that the TR (our side) was really getting their collective asses kicked in the entire universe, we pretty much decided to bail.

We were going to play World of Warcraft, but it was getting late, and Smitty just didn’t feel like playing WoW. So we decided on downloading and trying the beta for Gunzonline.

I’ll say this: It’s definitely unintentionally funny. It isn’t the MMORPG that it says it is, but it’s amusing for sure…and for free? Why not. Basically, it’s an FPS not unlike any other run and gun free for all deathmatching game, except you get xp, and “bounty” and can spend the bounty on better and better weapons and armor and such, as you go up in levels via xp.

The graphics are OK. The level design is fair. But the gameplay is jerky and hoppy…sort of like Quake II or III. Basically, you run around and shoot people or chop them up with edged weapons. Frankly, it’s all twitch, very little aim, and very little thought. But it’s amusing in its own way.

The expected longevity is probably this weekend. But in the meantime….

Same old same old…

July 18, 2005

Mood: Mildly annoyed.
Music: Lucia Di Lammermoor, Fifth Element Soundtrack.
Game: World of Warcraft, Planetside, Call of Duty, Auto Assault Beta.
Book: None.
Muffin: None.
Punchline: “If Brett Favre did that…”

I rebuilt my system this weekend. Nice clean install of Windows XP SP2 on a brand new 300GB HD. Then I installed Ventrilo, Office, and the three games I’m playing at the moment. Patched it all, and now it’s nice and smooth.

I’m sorta jonesing for a new game…maybe I will pick up Battlefield 2. It’d work for me for a little while. Maybe I need to go back to Puzzle Pirates…or just do a bit of FPS again…redo the Call of Duty campaigns. Or something like that. Maybe I’ll re-install Guild Wars and get back into that for a while. Who knows.

The Auto Assault beta is pretty much Earth and Beyond with cars instead of ships, and post-apocalyptic world instead of space. It’s OK. Crashes a lot, and laggy…but it IS an early beta. I’d imagine they’ll pick that up. I always did like Car Wars….

The job is getting more tense. This claim is worth too much money to ignore…but it’s remarkably tedious. The information is THERE. It’s question of finding it and threading it together. I’ve spent weeks categorizing and cataloging, trying to draw logical conclusions. The fact is that the job was a royal fiasco, and we definitely deserve something. Now, we need to prove it to someone who’s obviously set on denying it. Somewhat harder.

It’s as if this week is exactly the same as last week. I’d call it a rut…but it’s not, really. It’s just more of the same.

I got my renewal for my Rangers season tickets a few days ago and just laughed. How about “No fucking way.” Does that work for you? I’m not going back for that. Bullshit. And they didn’t even have the courtesy to lower ticket prices. How hysterical is that? “Hi, I know we fucked you guys last year, and we held your money for months without any real interest, and we didn’t communicate with you, or offer our apologies, or anything…but here’s next year’s invoice for the same amount we held onto for you for six months. See you at the arena!” How about not? How about fuck you guys? You’re not seeing any of my money for a nice long while, assholes. Try again next season. If I’m feeling generous. I hope you all rot in hell.

Doctor’s appointment tomorrow…the thingie on the back of my hand has faded…it’s still sorta there. I guess it’s getting better.

What I really want is to be 14 again, on the beach with Keith and Noah and Jessie, body surfing and boogie boarding, getting ridiculously tan, the only concern in our heads is where we were going to beg, borrow, or steal cash for ice cream or whatever. People say “If I knew then….” But I really missed the boat on this one. I can’t say I didn’t appreciate it then, because I did. But I really appreciate it now.

When did I get to be 37? What happened in all that time? I can sorta piece it all together. But what a ridiculous life. I don’t regret it…I have some minor misgivings…but I’m not sorry for what I’ve done, where I’ve been. Hindsight is 20-20, they say. I suppose it is. But my life has been and is pretty good, all things being equal.

And of course, I have all of you. So I’ve got that going for me…which is nice.

Guess I’ll finish up here and head home. I think I’m making some lime sorbet tonight…and if I get ambitious, I’ll scent it with ginger, too.