Archive for December, 2006

Someone from Interplay is on the crack

December 13, 2006

http://www.gamasutra.com/php-bin/news_index.php?story=12075

What got me was this:

“The company’s predictions rely on reaching a total of one million subscribers during the first year, becoming profitable in the second year and generating revenues of $160 million per year, with a net income of over $50 million per year from year three.”

By year 2010 (when the game is *projected* to be released, meaning its almost certain not to be released prior to 2011) the MMO market will be even more satured than it is now. The playerbase will certainly be larger as well, but there are a TON of MMOs still being planned and will release prior to 2011 or even 2010. For a company with an insider’s knowledge of Chapter 11 to make this kind of prediction seems rather ridiculous.

At least they aren’t selling their developmental costs short: $75 Million budget. WOW. In fact, I don’t think WoW cost that much to produce (out of the gate at least).

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IMF antics

December 12, 2006

http://www.mindfully.org/WTO/Joseph-Stiglitz-IMF17apr00.htm

A nice article here on the International Monetary Fund.

How “Neocon” is a new paradigm, not a Republican position

December 11, 2006

http://www.swans.com/library/art10/jelloun1.html

Very nice article. This points out where America is largely ignorant – they think the Democrats are the good guys. Clinton established the Neoconservative foreign policy, although he did do it with a lot more tact than we’ve seen from Bush.

The “good guys” in America are at the moment those who are not in power.

“In Gore versus Bush from a noninterventionist perspective, we are faced with the choice of sanctimony and fear-mongering. Either we invade and occupy the rest of the planet for their own good, or we do it for our own good — these are the Democratic and Republican alternatives, respectively.” (Raimondo)

I don’t care about Mel Gibson

December 11, 2006

I didn’t care to break down the percentage, but lets say an amazingly *high* percentage of reviews of Apocalypto begin, and in some cases proceed to the middle in talking not about the film, but about Mel Gibson’s life *away* from the film, especially with respect to racist comments he’s made.

This is inappropriate for a movie review. Its not inappropriate for a review of Mel Gibson, so take your comments to Hollywood Insider or some such where they belong. Mel Gibson does not matter. The job of a review is to tell me whether his *film* matters.

Gotta Love Neoconservatism

December 10, 2006

http://www.globalpublicmedia.com/transcripts/396

http://www.secularhumanism.org/index.php?section=library&page=drury_24_4 (this is a brilliant rundown of Neoconservatism)

This just keeps getting worse and worse.

MK: How does that work?

SD: I’m kind of a cult within a cult, it’s really embarrassing. But Strauss’ students love my books because they’ve helped them understand Strauss, understand their Straussian professors, understand themselves. So they tell me, anyway, in their letters. They’ve sent me unpublished materials marked with clear instructions ‘do not distribute to suspicious persons.’ If I’m not suspicious I don’t know who is. They’ve sent me letters, gifts, dissertations, tapes, transcripts, the tape you’re playing right now is one of them.

MK: Are we dealing with a cult here?

SD: Definitely, definitely. We’re definitely dealing with a cult, because it’s not about a good education. People who sort of float through the Academy, go from one Straussian professor to another Straussian professor. A lot of the Straussian professors do not even like their students to take courses with other people who are not Straussian because they might get intellectually confused, which is probably the case.

MK: Infected by non-Straussian thought.

SD: Right. To listen to people like me maybe criticize his ideas.

————————————————————————————————————————-

Here’s an interesting thought experiment: what happens if the Neocons in the White House weren’t incompetent, and weren’t displaying themselves openly as would horrify Strauss? How long would they remain in power and ruin the world?

Who would have thought incompetence would possibly avert disaster?

Current Affairs in Video Game Culture

December 10, 2006

Video games affect players, just like everything else in their lives affect them. Any game that you play is part of your environment.

Just as with all other psychological inquiries though, just *how* video games affect players isn’t understood, nor will probably ever be.

Its not a good idea to listen to the media outside of experts who usually don’t make the mainstream press. Its also not a good idea to listen to reactionary players and player-groups that care more about defending gamers than about truth. You’re better off examining yourself and the games you play and come to your own conclusions.

Developers and publishers are inclined to make violent games because violence is an easy way to establish game dynamics. Its an easy way to create drama for games with narrative, its an easy way to set goals and accomplishments. Unlike a conversation where the effect you have is not understood and is largely internal, violence produces visible injury and death… its a very *objective* procedure. Corpses aren’t exactly *subtle* or open to debate.

Violence is also *universal*. You don’t have to worry about a segment of the player population not understanding it.

Also, media types and culture in general feed each other. So, for example, if Hollywood sensationalizes violence that will have a positive impact on developers putting violence into games.

99% of the time violence in games is a form of convenience and laziness for developers. Its a “necessary evil” of game design.

In terms of the effect it has on players, that depends mostly on what the player brings to the table. If players think of gaming as “sinful” lets say, they may be inclined to “sin” in traditional reality using the game as an excuse, especially if it gets more socially acceptable to treat games as a cause for violence. Or lets say you’re thinking of killing a bunch of people in a shootout. You might watch “Reservoir Dogs” or play “Counterstrike” to get you in the mood and to share your feelings.

Other things are going on as well. The line between gaming and traditional reality is becoming blurred. Or I should say, culture *wants* that line to become blurred, since it sees gaming as “alternate reality” that just as any other form of art *should* affect reality. A developer can create *his* vision of a world, can populate it with creatures of high AI, and cool things that we can learn from can happen. Game effect so far has largely been aesthetic and narrative-driven, but advances in AI will change that, allowing for truly memorable experience that will affect traditional reality’s culture.

Its exciting to see culture grant games power when at the moment they have very little. What will culture think of games when they really *do* have massive impact on society? I suppose that depends on the impact.

Developers may not like this, but they’ll have little choice. They need to start taking their jobs more seriously. They need to see what they do as not trying to minimize the effect on the player, but to *maximize* it. They need to stop treating their games as “mindless fun” and embrace the effort to have a positive impact on culture THROUGH their games.

Games should still have a wide range of impact: there will always be a place for mindless fun. But society is demanding and developers must provide games of cultural significance.

Within that demand there can be a wide range. Deus Ex for example is a very fun and also culturally powerful game. Violence in no way harms the game, it is a necessary part of the narrative and gameplay.

Some people say that “the industry” shouldn’t care about this and that universities and research institutions should have the responsibility of making games of cultural significance. These people are basically selfish and don’t want developers to lose sight of the profit motivation.

That concept *can* work, but the problem is that the best developers are IN the industry… so unless that changes you can’t shift the responsibility since at the moment universities simply can’t produce at the level they need to to succeed.

The film industry succeeds in making both “big picture” films that largely serve the profit motive and “art” films that serve filmmaker interest and culture. One of the major reasons why this succeeds is that filmgoers KNOW they are seeing art when they go to a smart, capable film. Just as when you go to an art museum you know you’re going to see art.

Games at the moment have no dividing line. There’s an attempt to *create* a dividing line with “indie” games versus “AAA” games. The problem is that “indie” games are not about art: they are about having a small budget and trying to do something different. You can never make the assumption that a game you are buying is artistic unless somebody else has told you so. This greatly injures the market value of art within games, since games aren’t able or willing to express themselves as such in advertising or marketing.

Game developers, unlike filmmakers, simply don’t CARE about creating art within the game. Many *do* create art, but unlike other artistic mediums its rarely a main focus.

Lets look at Deus Ex again. That game is artistic on several levels. The tone throughout is dark, paranoid, and repressive. This works both in consistency and because it fits the game world excellently. The narrative is logical and “deep”: everyone is on the same page and events build off and around each other. The narrative is interesting and expresses modern culture.

Serious filmmakers might like their viewers to have fun at their film, but its rarely a main focus. They want to make a great movie, one that teaches viewers something about themselves. Note that great films are great *because* of their artistic content, not in spite of it. Games work the same way. Eventually developers will grow up and learn that. Lets hope we don’t have to wait another decade.

The Destruction of “More than Human”

December 10, 2006

Nietzsche is not going to survive the 21st century. The time has come for his death.

You might think that Nietzsche had a good idea. I did, anyway. “Greater than human” sounds just fine… what could be wrong? Isn’t Greater by definition superior, better… you’d think “Greater than human” is equivalent to “1+1=2”.

The problem is that humans *already* want to become greater. The entire human history including during the time of Nietzsche features this. Nietzsche thought that decadence implied otherwise but I don’t see the support for that assumption. Decadence is a *complaint* about a lack of seeing a path to the greater… the complaint itself is pursuit.

That was the great injury Nietzsche put upon culture, to take “becoming greater” out of the realm of natural and necessary human behavior and putting it into culture. Only AFTER Nietzsche could humans *not* want to become greater.

So, with this new type of humanity culture began its *quest* for greatness… a quest it could for the first time fail at. Needless to say this put a lot of pressure on people. Not so coincidentally around the time of Nietzsche the psychological and mental health sciences expanded. Its mentally difficult to think you have the possibility of achieving something (negative no less) against human nature, questing after a goal you’ve already obtained.

This is, quite literally, insanity. But the funny thing about insanity is that if its formed into a *philosophy* suddenly its legitimate. A “system of thought”, regardless of the thought, is philosophy. A madman who rants is a madman. A madman who rants *systematically* and in an organized fashion is a philosopher.

What does it say about humanity that Nietzsche is supported in this regard? For starters, it probably says that the humanity of the 20th century was pretty fucking bored. It also says they are deeply skeptical about human nature with an aggressive position towards *changing* that nature. You might hate political monsters like Trotsky and Wilson, but you can’t hate them without hating Nietzsche. The next time you see someone “social engineering” you may want to consider where that comes from. Political Correctness is dying.

The 20th century was insane, cynical, depressed, revolutionary, extreme, and absurd. We will refuse to continue as such.

Planescape: Torment

December 9, 2006

I’ve just done my third play of this (second finish). This game holds up really well. Isometric games have graphical longevity. Some notables:

Goodness is curiously treated. Two of the important characters, Trias and the first incarnation of The Nameless One, caused tremendous damage to the world, more than any evil creature. Trias (winged, wearing white, from Mount Celestia) goes from consistent betrayal and lies, the near destruction of a city, then back to the plane of goodness. The Nameless One’s first incarnation’s fear of hell led him to a horrifying act. Fall-from-Grace is a evil fiend turned good, a seductress turned chaste. Ravel Puzzlewell the game builds up as a horrible evil but turns out to be mostly just obsessed and curious (and ill-fated and unwise). Things that are “pure evil” are portrayed as fighting an unending boring war (the Tanar’ri and Baatezu). Things that are “pure good” literally do not exist in the game. Only one PC is something other than neutral, and Morte is not far from neutral. Many of the in-game characters feel unformed, as if The Nameless One has tremendous influence over their life, character, and destiny. The game’s theme is “What can change the nature of a man?”. This malleability, like the shifting nature of Dak’kon’s sword, is the center… the game tells us there is no right answer, just *your* answer. The game *prefers* characters whose alignment shifts or whose actions are not traditionally associated with the alignment. The main character’s alignment shifts frequently through dialogue. “I talk, therefore I am.” It parodies the dungeon crawl in a long sequence… what does it say that they parody it by closely imitating it? Perhaps Black Isle Studios has a malleable attitude toward traditional RPGs… needing only a dialogue tree to resolve their beliefs.

The game is about what changes alignment, what can change identity. Its not about good and evil but about human nature. Good and evil are seen as temporary positions on a human journey… when they become more permanent the creature becomes less human (fiends, deva, golem). Most RPGs use alignment to clarify a player’s actions… in this game a player’s actions are used to clarify alignment.

Planescape: Torment treats humans as being in a particular position until they solve the problem that is holding them there… it treats life as a cage where breaking out of that cage leads to temporary freedom and then another cage, with another quest for another key. Sigil is brilliantly cast as the City of Doors that are very difficult to open.

Much of the game parodies RPGs… almost no swords, ridiculous armor slots (Earrings and Tattoos),  Hand slot that is never used (no gloves), Chest slot for non-females never used, very strange PCs such as a walking suit of armor, a robot, and a floating skull (which later would become more normal, but not in 1999), very strange NPCs, dialogue-driven moreso than combat. Its an extremely creative and intelligent game. In many ways however its a conventional RPG (levels, D&D based).

The game’s core ambiance is pre-industrial Britain, excellently featured in the Hive, Ragpicker’s Square, and the Buried Village and represented well by Annah. Perhaps due to this focus the other sections suffer.

Some weaknesses:

The pacing of the game is bottom-heavy. Apparently this is intentional since a lot of other fine games (such as Baldur’s Gate II and Anachronox) fall prey to this. There’s a ton of time spent with little plot development (pre-Curst) then afterwards the locations along with the plot speed by. This gives the player a rushed and confused feel… the villain isn’t even introduced until the final third of the game. This is especially disappointing since the content of the story is the best I’ve ever seen in a game. In comparison, look at Deus Ex for an excellently paced story.

Deionarra is underdeveloped. She’s treated as important to the main character, yet she gets very little screen time. Her presence at the end is therefore anti-climactic. Likewise, the villain is underdeveloped. He’s mostly explained in the game’s closing moments. Contrast with Deus Ex’s approach.

One element of complete illogic: The Nameless One has led thousands of past lives, covering many planes and places (that’s why he’s rarely recognized on Sigil: most incarnations have never visited there). Yet the only past lives he remembers or has any contact with are the ones who spent considerable time in Sigil. The biggest problem here is that at the end when he absorbs three of the incarnations he becomes greatly more powerful, but there are thousands of incarnations he *doesn’t* absorb so why should merely three have any great impact? Its like if an incarnation didn’t visit Sigil its irrelevant.

Another problem: when The Nameless One dies he’s said to lose all of his memories and even his personality, yet when he dies within the game itself he doesn’t. He can die thousands of times and still remember all his friends and his quests and beliefs.

Why America has not solved the problem of racism

December 4, 2006

I’m confused about just how racist America is. America itself is confused about that… I hear all kinds of different opinions ranging from “almost no racism at all” to “everyone is a pure racist just under their skin which they have to put a heruclean effort constantly forth to repress”. Given that deep confusion, its not surprising that we are also confused about racial slurs such as “nigger”.

The problem with the topic is that people are almost never rational with respect to it. The dominant position is that people hate racism, therefore they and most other Americans aren’t racist. Yet they implement “hate crime” legislation clearly with the implication that criminals can easily be racist, and in fact *so* racist that their crimes have a significant racial element.

I hate my own fear, yet that does not mean I have no fear. Hatred isn’t a magical “wish it away” button.

Furthermore, there is such an anti-racism theme in America that Americans are *afraid* of acknowledging any racism in themselves, for fear of social ostracization. THEREFORE they aren’t in any way racist, even if lets say they have a few beers and suddenly ARE racist. Wow, how did that happen? A slip of the tongue, a mistake, it was the beers, goddamnit!

Even the term “racism” is slurred. Some people use it to denote “hatred of members of one or more race” while others use “treating members of one or more race in a unique or different manner from the treatment of others”.

The *repression* of racism as a topic of HONEST discussion (rather than the self-righteous ‘racists are evil and I’m not any part of that!’) means that some people act racist to try to shock others into having a discussion.

Another approach is the subversion of the racial slurs. So bad “nigger” becomes good “nigga”. Of course that leaves bad “nigger”, to trap anyone foolish enough into using the term.

How ironic that there is more fear of racism now than there ever has been: fear of acknowledgement, fear of discussion, fear of implication, fear of the truth. We’ve chosen social engineering over honesty. We’ve chosen promoting an image of ourself as non-racist over looking in the mirror. Until we make different choices, the problem of racism will continue.

“I’m not racist, I have lots of black friends!”

“What the fuck? He used the term “nigger”! Lets get him!”

“Woohoo! I’m finally drunk and therefore non-repressed! Time to ride the racial slur train!”

If you’re confident about non-racism, you WANT to discuss it honestly. You WANT to look in the mirror. You WANT racists to express their true feelings. Nothing is eliminated by forcing it into hiding… everything grows when put in the dark. Everything is made EVIL that is put in the dark. If you’re NOT confident about non-racism, you should be asking yourself why. Or asking your *friends* why.

Ignore these words, and I’ll merely say “Gotta love America”. The land of repression and social engineering marches on, in dutiful lockstep. Freedom? Ah… freedom is merely for ignorant racists, until we lock them up…

On Limbaugh and Coulter

December 2, 2006

Hawkeye Fierce writes:

“But, to restructure your theory a bit, Coulter/Limbaugh are entertaining if A) you feel like you’re on their team and B) you enjoy that sort of thing. I think their “team” isn’t what I would call mainstream conservatives, though there is some overlap – less so in the case of Coulter, who I think is batshit insane, than in the case of Limbaugh, who I think is just a overly vicious windbag. But I do think that part A is more important than part B, and that there are a lot more people who identify with Limbaugh/Coulter’s politics than you seemed to think in your initial comment.”

The motivation for people like Limbaugh and Coulter to rise is that the right, especially the socially conservative right, hates the left but can’t articulate or defend their position, other than it “feels right”. In this void of rationality comes people whose value is rhetorical savagery. Think of an angry man who has no rational position for defending himself from verbal attack, so he uses his fists instead.

When you hate something but you don’t know why, you get frustrated and turn to people who make you feel “warm and fuzzy”, who come the closest to vicious attack upon your object of hatred.

This is why creatures like Al Franken are totally pathetic, that he would attempt to imitate Limbaugh but for “the right team”. Liberals in some cases hate the right, but they DO know why. They have rational arguments, they don’t fall into a pit of frustration. Its not that Limbaugh’s methods are “effective” in the abstract… they are effective only in the *absence* of rationality, only in the presence of frustration.

If liberals *truly* want to make America a better place with respect to this issue they won’t “get back at the right” with Frankenesque garbage, they will DEFINE THEMSELVES, communicate who they are to the right and to themselves. Its liberal confusion over its identity in the post-counterculture era that led to conservative panic.

Liberals need conservatives and vice versa. If your enemy isn’t doing so well you get frustrated. You start punching him maybe, trying to get him going. Limbaugh’s real message is “Liberals, what the hell are you?”

Liberals too often think of themselves as the anti-asshole, as the anti-bigot, anti-hatred… conservatives merely want liberals to take some kind of pro-stance on something *specific*, not just “brotherhood of man” or “world peace”.

This man is Vaginasexual

December 2, 2006

I was having problems classifying Rod (Big Rod) for my novella. How do you describe a guy for whom the presence of a vagina (of the proper size) is all that is necessary for sex? Heterosexual doesn’t work because that assumes sex with *women*, of whom the vagina is merely a gateway. This guy will have sex with literally anything with a vagina (and nothing without). Why not then just… vaginasexual?

Rod’s doing pretty well. He started with rats, was worried about a white rabbit but it turned out well, and got some wild pig action. He should be moving into homosapiens soon. He may have done *bats* amazingly enough, but the novella provides no confirmation of such.

Rod’s a lot more interesting than the main character (he’s a RPG hero, of course he’s boring as fuck)… maybe I should have wrote Big Rod’s Epically Long RPG instead.

What’s kind of exciting to me is not the parody of cock size for men, which is tired and should be retired ASAP, but the introduction of vagina depth for women being the paragon of womanhood (the Ice Queen for example has the deepest vagina of any woman on Earth and Porn Stars are next in line). That would be hilarious at least temporarily if women self-consciously measured their vaginas all the time and were ashamed if they had a “shallow one”. Oh no, I can’t handle a mammoth cock which means I can’t handle a real man… I’m a horrible woman!

Actually though, its easy enough to mock humans without this new fad cropping up.

Maybe if I… maybe if I do stretching exercises it will become deeper? Should I get surgery?

Desslock is right – there’s too much cynicism in the White House

December 1, 2006

 Desslock writes:

“I hate to say it, but to the extent Jackson made the Hobbits seem less heroic (an assertion I don’t entirely agree with), it’s because they represent the “common man” in both the books and the movies…and frankly it’s difficult for modern audiences to believe that an average guy can heroically go to war, without self-doubt, without fear, and just go “do your duty” with honor, unlike the heroic ideal at the time Tolkien wrote the books. There’s a lot more cynicism now, and it just wouldn’t seem plausible to modern audiences. Black and white is out, even in our heroic archetypes, apparently.”

Cynicism and “black and white” are derived from the relationship between the nation’s leaders and its people. For example, if the leaders desire a war that the people don’t want, yes, absolutely, it will be “difficult for modern audiences to believe that an average guy can heroically go to war”, not because he lacks heroism but because he lacks wisdom. If the people desire a war then the average guy WILL heroically go to war.

Its just like anything else. If the leaders impose national health care and the people didn’t want it they would be “cynical” and according to Desslock “black and white is out”.

Black and white is IN, as long as the leaders and the people both agree that black is black and white is white. When the leaders are saying “black is white” then yep, the people will be “cynical”.

Its funny that World War II was not a “cynical” war: funny until you realize the people actually *supported* that war. Yes, its not difficult at all for black to be black and white to be white. We’d know how easy it is if we lived in a true democratic society.

Gotta love how people pretend that cynicism is a matter of culture or “human character”… what’s creating that culture?

Some think the people should support whatever the leaders support, and lament the “cynicism” that only gets in the way of this righteous process. Why can’t the people just repeat the leaders when they say X is black and Y is white? Why the dissent, why the cynicism? According to these fine folk, cynicism is a modern *disease* that only harsher and more repressive policies can hope to cure. Cynicism is *inefficient* you see… it gets in the way of what the leaders are trying to accomplish. Noone thinks to turn this around and wonder why the leaders are so cynical about the will of the people, why they get in the way of what the people are trying to accomplish. No… we can’t have *that* idea.

Cynicism in the White House and Congress… now THAT’s something to cure.

Changing Police Culture

December 1, 2006

This post derives from things such as

http://www.theagitator.com/archives/027259.php#027259

I remember when police officers knew it was a dangerous job, that was part of the package of being a police officer. Now most of the dangers are being transferred to suspected criminals and anyone who gets in the way.

Its nice that being a police officer is less dangerous now, but I’d say the cost of achieving that is way too high. Why do police officers act like they are invading a foreign country when they have a warrant to enter a home? Although actually its even worse, since you’re not supposed to kill civilians in a war.

People that carry weapons must logically be *more* brave, *more* hesistant to use them than people that aren’t allowed to carry them. Part of the Power = Responsibility model. That model is falling into disrepair.

The police officers of today seem a lot more paranoid and a lot more cowardly than those of the past. Maybe its just greater media dispersion and they’ve always been like this, and only with increased technology (such as ballistics armor) are they even more aggressive. But I suspect that psychologically they are in worse shape than they used to be.

I’d like the police to impose or strengthen two aspects of their current training, admissions, and evaluation practices:

Bravery tests – this is the willingness to sacrifice yourself and put your own health and security on the line in the course of your job duties. No cowards should ever be part of physical law enforcement.

Empathy/Humanism tests – this is the capability of appreciating the effects of your own actions upon creatures with identical status to yourself, and the subsequent devotion to carrying out your duties using the best possible techniques (with respect to recognizing the rights and health of others).

If you fail either of these, you are not fit to be a police officer.

Tasering of a 200 lb. 11 year old

December 1, 2006

From http://www.ajc.com/metro/content/metro/clayton/stories/2006/11/29/1130mettaser.html

“I hope students can come to school with the mindset to learn and not engage in behavior that requires these type of measures.”

Funny, “these types of measures” have never been used in the past to deal with this exact situation, you fucking fascist. Gotta love the barely-veiled threat this piece of work is issuing to the students. Why stop with tasering, why not just blow the head off any kid who fights? That’ll teach those bastards!

“In the presence of several adults, including the female armed security officer, the argument quickly got out of control.”

So… *several* adults, including a *security officer* of all things couldn’t pull a 200 lb. kid off someone, instead having to taser him… twice?

Basically what tasering does is avoids risk to the officer. While that in and of itself is fine, avoiding risk should not be done where accepting some risk results in a considerably better situation, as would be achieved by pulling the kid away and restraining him.

This demonstrates why its not a good idea to give a taser to a coward.