Freedom (I Won’t Get You Down)

25 November, 2011 at 10:10 pm (city of heroes)

So, waaaay back in March, I began working on a post about my experiences with DC Universe Online. I have a coterie of internet chums, predominantly out on the Left Coast, who meet up virtually to kill mall zombies, snipe 14 year-olds and comic book professionals alike, and generally bond in a virtual environment. In part due to my East Coast isolation and my job-required early curfew — but predominantly because of my general ineptitude at videogamery in general and FPSes in particular — I haven’t really been able to join in the melee. But in this case, I decided to make an exception, I procured a PS3, and bought the game at launch so that I could experience it and learn about it with other players.

As boondoggles go, sixty bucks is not the most grievous penalty I’ve ever paid. And the experience was not entirely unpleasant. I can’t say the same about, say, Champions Online, where my stuttering, halting framerate completely obscured clarity of action and rendered me unable to determine whether my frequent, inevitable deaths were the result of poor gameplay on my part or a combat system that resisted easy fluency. That account was deleted quickly and with no small amount of vicious stabbing at the keyboard, and I didn’t regret no longer having to endure their faux-four color printing fetishism, which is not the aspect of superheroics that moves and compels me.

No, the reason I fell out with DCUO was because of bad timing. The PS3 was borrowed, and eventually needed to be returned. Unfortunately, a couple months into playing the game, Sony was rather aggressively hacked, and all gameplay was suspended as servers were frozen to prevent an exploit of user data (this is my hazy recollection of events, anyway). Despite some sops for the absence of access — a few costume pieces and free access to a new mission arc — much of the velocity was lost, and the community of players with whom I had hoped to adventure had dried up. Perhaps if chat had an easy fix, or typing on a PS3 controller has been at all feasible, we would have been able to feel like a group of friends, but gaming — to us — never felt like were were playing as a team, even when gaming together.


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Godspeed, You Red and Black Emperor

31 December, 2006 at 7:03 pm (city of heroes)

One last post about City of Heroes.

The character creation matrix is amazing. I have yet to see a hero in the game that looks like another hero unless deliberately designed to be so (usually indicated by very similar names). And while it is indubitably easy to create a character based upon one’s favourite comic character, I have discovered an alternate aspect that has been wonderfully fulfilling.

As a kid, my siblings and I were constantly writing comic books. Few of these comics made it to the drawn page, as we each contributed to the writing and the art, and comic jams can be tough to coordinate. I have file folders with old pagers of partially-completed drawings with unformed spaces left for the contributions and cast of a one or two of the trio. And we had populated this world with a complex dramatis personae of heroes, anti-heroes, villains, and rogues all created from drawing sessions and backyard play, and a world of Lego figurines that had been customized to match.

The games we played and the scenarios we built with these figures were great fun, but it was a disappointment that they never fully transitioned into print form. We were better at crafting the rough equivalent of The Handbook to the Marvel Universe for our creations, filling out details and diagrams and histories and origins, than we were at disciplining ourselves to the task of writing and drawing a complete story.

from L to R: Lego Speed-Skate, drawing of Godspeed, Augenblich avatar

Which had been part of why City of Heroes has been so marvelous. I have been gradually rebuilding some of the cadre of characters that I invented when I was ten and eleven. From Lego to superheroic childhood drawings to fully-rendered three-dee action avatars. From “Speed-Skate” to “Godspeed” to “Augenblich“. It feels great. I only wish I could get my siblings to team with me, and it would really be the next generation of what we created all those many years ago.

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Diverting

18 December, 2006 at 3:14 pm (city of heroes)

City of Villains avatars

I believe deeply in introspection and observation. So my relationship with entertainment that lacks substance, that doesn’t leave the participant or audience with additional cause for reflection, has always been tenuous. I wanted my diversions to be pensive and mulled, like cider. And this blog has always tried to be about sharing observations that had the potential for universality, based in observation of behaviors that are likely to part of a greater human pattern. In the Apologia, Socrates is said to have said that “it is the greatest good for a human being to have discussions every day about virtue and the other things you hear me talking about, examining myself and others“.

And I find myself in the difficult position of having made a choice that runs counter to my training as a human and my instincts as a critic: I am trying not to deeply examine my life just yet. I am fast approaching the close of the fourth month of employment at my new job, and I continue to reserve judgment. Why? Well, I have often espoused that in order to evaluate whether one is satisfied with one’s employment, one has to be doing something again, and not for the first time. Since I’m primarily worked in schools, this has mostly meant that a whole year has to pass until one really has the perspective to start to know whether one’s observations are part of a pattern, or an anomaly based upon the particular cocktail of instances, personalities, and learning curve that has to do with novelty more than enduring aspects of culture and circumstance.

And so despite the fact that I have nimbly leapt to a goodly number of conclusions about my job, I am doing my utmost to ignore these results and allow myself the time to overwrite them, to confirm them to a greater depth, and to allow my first impressions to prove themselves for good or ill. But it’s hard to do. And because it’s contrary to both my instincts as a human and as an individual, I am forced to waste my time in order to prevent myself from lapsing into my normal pattern of pattern recognition. And so I’ve been playing video games to dull my mind.

I’ve written about video games before — numerous times, in fact — but the posts have always been bemused in tone, as I have been surprised at my moderate successes with various encounters with the medium. Basically, I’m a video game spaz, and the ability to focus and not twitch uncontrollably to the point where my avatar dies a gruesome and preventable death always used to be well beyond my abilities. And one of the reasons why I have always resisted the gaming realm has been because of the sheer repetition: do the thing, move the guy, push the buttons, wait until it recharges, repeat, repeat, repeat. Gah. It’s never been my thing.

Mr. Russell: superheroUntil NCSoft’s City of Heroes. Many people tell me that World of Warcraft and Age of Empires IV are both superior in their own particular ways, but boy oh boy do I love City of Heroes and it’s eeeevil counterpart City of Villains. I love the costume configurations. I love the sound effects of the various power signatures. I love just randomly running around a city and beating the crap out of muggers and wizards and zombies and mobsters and trolls. And I am told that once one starts playing with a team, with a trusted crew of online chums, that the game multiplies in the particular aspect that helps create tension and accordant feelings of success and enjoyment: the balance of chance and skill. Beating computerized bad guys is the name of the gaming system, and the odds are stacked in one’s favour; villains coded at your character’s level still are far, far less resilient in combat. But it’s easy to find oneself in a mob, a gang, a coven, and then the odds are very difficult to stay on top of. Even with the most choreographed of combat sequences, there’s always the chance that a healing power won’t grab the necessary boost of power, or that a thundering burst of energy won’t lay the bad guy out flat. And then there’s a scramble to see if the balance will tip against your character. And that’s thrilling. And it doesn’t stop being thrilling no matter how many times it’s repeated and no matter how many times I cycle through Flares, Fireball, Fire Blast, Flares, Fire Breath.

All of which easily enables me to kill hours stretched out in front of the monitor, faux-3D sound enveloping me in a cavalcade of popping and clanking rotors, thrumming bioelectric auras, and the soft thwipping of a well-aimed arrow. Sometimes I spend so much time that when I finally stand up, my whole body is sore from the lack of movement. And yet I will have successfully, to quote Guster, “wasted every moment of [my] Saturdays and [my] Sundays” in order to stave off having to make judgements and reach conclusions about my current state of being. Who ever thought I’d say this, but thank goodness for mindless repetition.

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