Archive for August, 2016

No Man’s Hype

Posted in Grumblings with tags , , , , on August 28, 2016 by chemiclord

As a disclosure, I have not purchased or played No Man’s Sky, and have no intention to, either.  I suspect I’d lose a year of my life playing that game that I really need to spend doing other things.

It’s bad enough I’ve already poured 155 hours into Starbound.

But this isn’t a game review, nor would one be worthwhile at this point.  Depending on who you talk to, No Man’s Sky is either a pioneering attempt into a “universe” sized gaming experience, with easily $60 worth of exploration and discovery to do, or it’s a ham-fisted failure at both exploration and survival that was advertised as something completely different and a lie of an experience that should be punished for fraud.

No, I’m writing about the runaway hype train, and inevitable crash into the wall of disappointment, it became.  Bear with me, because there really isn’t any “good” guys here.  From developers to players, everyone bears their little sins in the flameout and rage this game has inspired.

Let’s start with Sean Murray and the crew at Hello Games.  Perhaps they’re new to the industry, and didn’t quite understand that when you say something in the pre-release period, it effectively becomes a promise.  “What we want to do” becomes “What we will do”, and by God will the fans let you know if they think you broke a “promise.”

Gamers as a rule don’t really understand iterative development, nor do they particularly care.  In some ways, they shouldn’t be expected to either.  There’s a reason why more and more experienced game developers aren’t saying anything until the project or feature is damn near finished, and Hello Games seemed to miss that memo down the line.

Whether that is fair or not, that’s the reality of the gamer population, and to press on up to four months before release with trailers that didn’t live up to the product was dooming your game to a very bitter reception.

On top of that, when Murray tried to walk some of the expectations back, it was in a very tepid and passive manner that gamers were nigh certain to ignore.  Most people don’t read the 10pt font correction of yesterday’s headline on page 19A of today’s paper, and very quiet attempts to correct the rails on the train (because you don’t want to scare off sales) only led to a bitter blowback that hurt future sales (and future titles) even more.

If you’re going to make a correction, it needs to be as firm and declarative as any of the prior hype, if not more so.  If you’re going to try and direct the train, you can’t be wishy-washy about it, because the fans will take the controls and drive it straight into a wall, then scream at you for months for letting them do it.

Which brings me to the fans, and their own culpability in the process.  Gamers can be some of the most fickle, entitled, and obnoxiously demanding people on the planet, and there was no greater example of this than with the hype of No Man’s Sky.  They demand “transparency” then get angry when said “transparency” tells them things they don’t want to hear.  Then get angrier when developers go silent because gamers demand “transparency.”

It helps to understand that gamers don’t really want transparency or a dialogue.  They don’t really just want to talk.  “Transparency” is a dog whistle for “I want to yell at the developers and threaten them because they ruined my fun.”

And even if you decide not to engage in the hype train, they’ll build that train and drive it themselves.  There is no small amount of conjecture (not just with No Man’s Sky, but with damn near any game that gets significant attention) that increasingly has nothing to do with any official or even unofficial statement… and guess who they blame when the final product doesn’t deliver on their runaway speculation?

Here’s a hint; it’s not themselves.

To players, I don’t know how to say this gently, but if you actually want a healthy dialogue, you as a whole need to learn how to dial it back.  Not everything is a promise.

You don’t improve gaming when you turn into a bitter mob ready to torch the Internet whole because you didn’t get everything you wanted.  You make it harder to get the sort of products you want because when you start sounding like a perpetually unsatisfied conglomerate of voices… eventually your targeted audience is going to hit the mute button, and stop talking entirely.

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On Love and Pain and Finding the Former Through the Latter

Posted in Grumblings on August 19, 2016 by chemiclord

I’m not particularly known as a “romantic” writer (at least, in the sense that I don’t particularly focus on romance in my stories). So, this may seem like quite a deviation for me… as a talk about a romance in a just concluded manga series.

Bleach.

Yes. I occasionally follow manga. Yes, they tend to be “mainstream” ones because those are the ones my local bookstore gets. Sorry if I fail to meet your hipster requirements.

Now, in the spirit of fairness, I rather stopped following the series around volume 10 (after said local bookstore stopped carrying manga of any sort). So a few weeks back, when I learned that Tite Kubo was being pushed to wrap the series up, I decided it was time to catch up.

(Author’s Note: I’ll have to buy the other volumes at some point somehow… I don’t like freely consuming another creator’s work without compensation.)

Anyway, the ending was a rushed, narrative mess, which is to be expected, and I’m not going to go into that as some of my readers might be expecting. No, I’m going to focus on the fan fervor wildfire of the endgame “shipping”, because… I honestly find it interesting.

I didn’t particularly have a dog in the fight (I rarely do, my tendency, being an author myself is to respect the will of the creator on this score), but I’ll be honest when I say that… I can understand the revulsion that longtime readers might have had to the “canonized” pairing of Ichigo and Orihime.

To be fair, at the start of the Bleach manga, that “relationship” had damn near all the signs of a really bad romance. As in both in a literary and realistic sense, narratively cliché and by all initial observation done by a creator who didn’t seem to understand what a healthy relationship really is.

Orihime was the airheaded, cloud-cuckoolander girl, who happens to be absolutely gorgeous even though she doesn’t see it, with a figure at fifteen that most supermodels in their prime would kill to have. She had every appearance, by the tendency of mangaka, to be the literal manufactured woman who exists solely to be the hero’s girlfriend. Her entire early development was centered completely around the hero and how much she crushes for him.

So yes… I completely get and understand that initial revulsion by a large chunk of the fanbase. This is a story we’ve seen play out many a time, one that has crossed many bounds of time and culture.

But ya know what? At some point, Kubo somehow pulled out of that potential engine fire, and not only kept that plane from crashing and burning… actually plotted out a pretty breathtaking course.

If there’s one thing Kubo did well in Bleach (and trust me, it wasn’t closing narrative holes; he was pretty notorious for leaving hanging threads even without the threat of impending cancellation) it’s that he managed to have remarkable character development despite a (seemingly unwise) burgeoning cast.

Honestly, he managed to give depth and feeling to over a hundred featured characters. I personally wouldn’t even dare try a tenth that number at any given time. And Orihime… weirdly happy, potentially deranged, quasi-stalker, Orihime… arguably benefited the most from Kubo’s hand.

We learned the heart of her seemingly fake bubbly happiness. And in possibly the best sort of character twist because it’s the obvious one, it’s because a good portion of it was fake. From being abused by her parents… to a brother that turned into an undead beast and tried to kill her… this poor girl spent her formative years with pretty compelling reason to believe she cursed everyone she cared for.

As someone who survived parental abuse, this… is actually a very real reaction for someone who suffers at the hands of people who are supposed to care for them. You construct a mask, and you wear that mask every damn day. You pretend to be happy because if you show your pain, people will want to know why. But you can’t tell them. You can’t let anyone in. Because, remember? You’re fucking cursed. Anyone who gets close to you gets hurt. And the last thing you want is anyone getting hurt because of you.

That’s something you’re taught as a victim of abuse. That it’s your fault. The pain that you are being subjected to is because you did something. “This hurts me more than it hurts you. Why do you misbehave?” This is bullshit you are taught, and it’s the bullshit you believe.

That’s also why she can’t have a normal relationship with Ichigo for so long. Because when you care about someone that much, but know that if you tell them… and especially if they actually return that affection… you will directly curse the person you care for. You will hurt them, and it will be your fault.

I think back to the “Lust Arc,” and how much that really gnawed at me. Look at that girl through that particular storyline, and you see it. She’s blaming herself for all the harm happening to her friends. The guy she’s crushing on… transforms into the personification of the series’s equivalent of a demon… and it’s because of her. All because… she let him get too close.

How she is attacked by hollows, and doesn’t even fight back? Yeah… that’s what abused people do. They don’t think they’re worth fighting for, especially for their own sake. She was getting what she deserved, as far as she was concerned, and I went back there with her, and for the first time in a long time, I wanted to hug a fictional character, and tell her that it gets better… it’s not her fault… she can’t keep believing that…

So yeah, her character really resonated with me, especially as she grew and learned those lessons I did. And damn if I didn’t cheer when she finally accepted and internalized that the bullshit she had been programmed to believe was in fact bullshit, and that she wasn’t going to keep shying away from people who needed her as much as she needed them. That she could provide care and support just as much as she needed it… that she was a person with value, damn it, and people deserve some happiness in their life, and that the only thing that was actually hurting her… was her own fears, insecurities, and self-loathing.

So, kudos to you, Mr. Kubo. On this score, you did good. You did real good.

On Day Jobs…

Posted in Grumblings on August 13, 2016 by chemiclord

As I might have mentioned earlier, I really don’t make enough money off my writing to support myself on royalties alone.  Most writers don’t, actually.

But my day job has recently been in a lot of flux, with a lot of changing hours and even changing where I work.  As a result, it has been laying waste to my sleep cycle, and thus, how much time I have to create.

As a result, if I’ve been really quiet, both on blog posts (that I know I promised to improve) and in my book writing progress… well… that’s why.  It’s not my normal ennui.  It’s me getting my ass kicked by my job.

It sucks.