Monday, June 25, 2012

Entering The Secret World

Over this past weekend, I was fortunate enough get into the 4th beta weekend for the MMO game The Secret World. And boy was it fun. The basic premise is that you literally woke up with super human abilities, which attracts the attention of a secret organization. You have your choice of organization: The Templars, Chaos Dragon, and The Illuminati. I went with the Illuminati, although there isn’t a huge difference in which faction you choose other than location, uniform, and the occasional faction mission.

Unlike other MMO’s, there are no classes or levels; instead, you receive points which you can use to buy abilities and build a deck, so to speak. I went with a fists/elemental combo; fists because of self-heals, and elemental for range attacks. I really enjoyed the build, running around and clawing at things like Wolverine. Though I have to say, the assault rifle looked like a lot of fun, too. Wasn’t impressed with the spellcasting animations—you have your hands out to the sides like some weirdo--and only the elemental spells were cool—Hammer of Thor, especially.

Your starting area is Kingsmouth, set in New England, where a mysterious fog has crept in, bringing with it creatures and drawing the townsfolk out to sea—only to return as the undead.    

The environments alone were magnificent; it’s like running through a horror movie, with abandoned cars and buildings, barricaded forts. A strange haze over the town, large waxing moon when there are no lights.  Grotesque monsters, coated in barnacles or tentacles coming out. Clusters of zombies on the side of the road, in front yards, wandering the woods. Oh, and they run.

The Savage Coast has even more weird crap, such as a literal motel Hell, a haunted theme park, and an academy that ain’t your Hogwarts.

And if you think that’s wacky, you should meet the characters inhabiting the world. I love that everyone had a personality with a few screws loose, and the voice acting was superb. My particular favorite was the germaphobic schoolmaster who’d call out: “No running in the halls! The floors are slick with gore.” And his colleague refers to him as “the world’s revenge on sarcasm.”

It was easy to become immersed in the world, and I actually dug the storyline, which is rare for me since most MMO’s put little effort into the story. With this, like in true Lovecraftian fashion, you want to know what the heck is going on. Is this place a supernatural hot zone? Did God decide to give Solomon Island the finger?  And what’s with all this black goo?

Other Pluses:
-Missions come in all kinds of variety, from killing monsters to sneaking into bases. You even get to do some spy work. There are puzzles, some that require using Google. You make a call to turn in your mission report, instead of running back to the questmission giver (BIG plus right there).

-Combat is fun and engaging. You can run, jump, dodge while still attacking. Automatic targeting.

-Boss fights are mainly focused on survival (watch the ground!)

-No mana! Your abilities are only limited by cooldown times and how fast you can push keys.

-No professions. You don’t need to gather materials for hours on end or search for a blacksmith to make you a weapon. Every character can now take a part items and reassemble them into something useful. The system may take some getting use to, but I found it very novel the way you had to assemble the material into the shape of your weapon or talisman.

Me kicking a wendigo's ass (click it, looks better in full size)

Not so pluses:

-Zombie rush! Okay, I get it: zombies are everywhere. But do they have to swarm me right in the middle of a fight with a tough creature? I’d say most of my deaths were due to this.

-Walking everywhere. With all these abandoned vehicles, couldn’t I steal one to make the journey go a little faster? Doesn’t even have to be a car. A motorcycle, moped, even a friggin’ bike would be fine.

-Why can’t I zoom out? With a world this big and awesome, I’d love to zoom out and take a gander. This would also be helpful in boss fights, where I felt the limited camera view inhibited my performance.

Would I recommend this? It’s tempting to say ‘yes’ because I really want this game to succeed, despite that EA is the publisher—and I'd rather tell EA executives to go fuck themselves. But… I’m going to wait and see. There were a number of buggy quests, and since the betas could only report on two areas, there’s probably more down the line.

There’s also the chance that it might not catch on since it’s aimed toward an older audience, evident by the number of times ‘fuck’ is used, sexual suggestions, graphic horror content. This is not something I’d let kids play.

But as many said, it’s fresh and interesting take on MMO’s.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Short Story: Invitation

Lovecraft eZine's issue 15 is up, and so is my story, "Invitation." It's free to read online. I also got story art (yay!), created by Leslie Herzfeld. Thank you, Leslie. :)

This story was originally developed from a vignette that I'd written years ago. Just something weird involving a hand and chess pieces. But since vignette's are harder sales, thought I'd steal the premise and turn it into a Lovecraftian horror. Tentacles not included. For me, I have a preference to write Lovecraftian horrors without the Lovecraft mythos; unspeakable horrors are simply more fun when you create them yourself. And I've had a few ideas about continuing with the the Hand that reaches out from beyond this dimension.

Anyway, you're invited to read "Invitation," and leave a comment if you feel so inclined. Enjoy!--or be spooked. 

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Revisiting Prometheus and Bob

Someone reminded me of this show, and wow, does it bring back memories. Prometheus and Bob was a short, clay animation show, part of the KaBlam! line-up. The premise was an alien "Prometheus" came down to Earth 900,000 years ago and attempted to educate a caveman "Bob". These attempts, however, rarely went well.

As fortune would have it, some kind folks uploaded a number of "Prometheus and Bob" episodes on Youtube. Here's a few of them (the sound is a bit poor, so you may need to turn up the volume). Enjoy!

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Something Random

So I was looking through stats on my blog yesterday and something came up in the search words:

Sorry about the smallness, but any bigger and it'd run off the page.

I'm not exactly sure how search words work, but I take it that someone typed in "people who want likable protagonists are asshats," and my blog came up in the search. Sort of an odd, WTF moment. Anyway, it made me laugh and thought I'd share it. And no, I don't think wanting a likable protag makes you an asshat.

For some more funnies, Key of Awesome made a spoof on those iPhone 4S commercials. Enjoy!

Saturday, June 9, 2012

What's There to Like?

As a writer, you hear a lot of advice, do's and don'ts, "rules" and so forth. Some of it is good, but not all of it. One piece of advice that I keep hearing is, "make your protagonist(s) likeable or sympathetic."

Now my motto is to make a character interesting, because who doesn't love interesting stuff?  I don't aim for likeable since I don't believe there's a human being alive who is perfectly likable in every way; there's always some flaw--and I mean real flaws, like negative attitudes, nasty dispositions, etc. So it seems silly to attempt that with characters. But yet, writers will try to create perfectly likeable protagonists--which ultimately backfires.

For example, Song of Scarabaeus by Sara Creasy, the main character Edie is made to be a likable protagonist: she's kidnapped by pirates (sympathy points!), she doesn't hold any real negative feelings toward her captors, and even kind of makes friends ('cause they're not sorbad after all), she tries to help out her unwilling bodyguard... You get the idea, she sounds like an awfully nice person. So what could go wrong?

Towards the end of the book, Edie and the pirate crew land on an alien world where they plan to harvest some terraform technology. However, the terraforming went terribly wrong, and now there are giant carnivorous plants. So Edie tries to play hero (mind you, she's a tech person, and has no training in the art of saving lives)--instead of, you know, getting her ass out of there. There's nothing you can do for a guy that has been swallowed up by an over-sized venus flytrap, and only his arm is sticking out.  But wait--if she were abandon them, that'd be a mark against her likable nature...and we can't have that! Frankly, I would not blame her for fleeing, especially from a threat that is waaaaay over her head. It's the smart thing to do.

But it doesn't end there: Edie uses up the toxin that keeps her alive on a no-good asshat, all so he could not suffer. Nice sentiment, but the character just dug her own hole. Might as well have gotten eaten for all it's worth.

Not bashing the book, it is quite good...until you get to those last few chapters. Then all you can do is shake your head.

If you've seen the fourth installment of Indiana Jones, did you ever wonder (on top of all the many flaws) why Indie kept trusting that traitorous bastard Mac? I guess Indie never heard of the saying: Once burned, twice shy. Indie kept dragging Mac along and Mac kept screwing him over, and it made Indie look like a complete idiot. Why?! There's also a real lack of Indie doing any sort of killing--btw, I highly recommend Red Letter Media's reviews; they're hilarious (in a dark way) and the criticism is spot on.

Those are just a few examples, but you can see how trying to make a character likeable is not only constraining, but frustrating. Would it really have been so bad if Indie had shot Mac? Or threw him into a lake full of piranhas?

Whereas writing interesting characters would allow for some deviation in morality, because we're all essentially hypocrites (you can deny it, but you are one, whether you realize it or not), or a complete lack of morals. Interesting comes in many, many different flavors and you can even mix and match. Likability only has one flavor, and it's vanilla.

Think of vanilla ice cream: it's okay by itself, but it's so much better if it had toppings like nuts, chocolate syrup, sprinkles... The more varied and distinct the toppings are, the tastier the ice cream becomes.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Marionettes are creepy (W1S1 update)

Seriously, look at those dead eyes. It has no soul! Now from souls to May stats (I know, awesome transition):

Stories written:1 (~2,900 words slipstream)
Stories submitted: 17 (several of these re-submitted or sim-subbed)
Stories accepted: 0
Stories rejected:14

Well, got the one story written, but overall a slow month. Wanted to do some reading and editing, and while I did manage to toss out a couple stories that needed a bit of touching up, didn't get as much as I wanted done. 

And humor seems to be in the air--or at least I hope so, genre-wise. I definitely think humor is one of the most underrated genres of literary fiction, and although highly subjective, with all the crap happening in the world, it's nice to be able to laugh. There's also benefits to laughing, such as reducing stress and learning (watch the whole video, there's some interesting psych stuff).

As for stuff making us laugh, I found some humorous skits on Youtube. Enjoy!

And because I can't resist throwing in something creepy...

(It's a mask + suit for men who like to dress as women... Unfortunately, it winds up being terrifying to witness.)