Monday, December 26, 2011

Let's Do Something

As a man of independent mind, it has been a hard lesson learned that it takes two, baby.

So let's do something. Yes, we may live in different places. Many things can be accomplished over the internet, by phone, or via weekend visits. It's a new year and I am mentally prepared to cooperate and collaborate.

But what should we do? The hell if I know. Let's talk about it. Surely we have complimentary skill sets. We'll seek others within our friend circles with similar interests. If we all work together, we can accomplish something spectacular. Or maybe not! Maybe we'll just play something. Or maybe form a club or circle?

A writing group, an artistic collaboration, a band, a company, a book club, a secret society, a gaming circle, a roleplaying campaign, a short-story compilation, a video-game clan, a child-care coop, or simply a group of drinking-buddies.

Or perhaps you have your own ideas? Get in touch and we'll talk about it.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Book Review of "You Only Live Twice" by Ian Fleming

I have always hated James Bond. 007, the icon, is known throughout the world because of his movies. Since the 60s, he's been suave, cool, irresistable to women, over-the-top and dangerous. I suppose his appeal is that men are supposed to want to be him. He gets any woman he wants and kills anybody he wants. If I met him I'd want to throttle him because he's so unpleasant. Frustratingly, he would kill me if I tried.

So you might be surprised to know that I chose to read a James Bond novel. It's number twelve in the series, You Only Live Twice. I did it out of masochistic curiosity, just so you know. You might also be surprised to discover that Hollywood's James Bond does not resemble Ian Fleming's Bond whatsoever.

Firstly, You Only Live Twice (novel) does not begin with an obnoxious action sequence that is supposed to make you vomit in entertainment. It begins with Bond moping after the death of his wife and a series of professional fuckups. In fact, Bond doesn't actually get into a fight until the end of the novel!

Eventually Bond gets assigned to Japan to uncover some vital information (which is never revealed). We're just told the mission is impossible. Impossible it may be, but Bond gets sidetracked hanging out in brothels with his new Japanese drinking buddy. Then his buddy tells him to go murder some crazy Doctor Shatterhand. But first, they attend some more brothels. He does eventually discover Doctor Shatterhand's secret and penetrates his garden-fortress of death, but that's really only the last fifth of the story. It is such a strange book. It reads like a travel brochure punctuated with anti-Japanese slurs and hookers.

And then there's Bond's personality itself. The literary Bond is not the gadget-laden, smooth-talking product placement we know and hate. Instead, he's hateful in a different way. Imagine if you can a chauvanistic, racist and old-fashioned Cambridge professor trapped in the body of a super-spy. He's also clearly an alcoholic. He wanders around the novel muttering stuff like, "I say, Tanaka, this damned lobster's still alive! Give me a rasher of bacon and hop to it, you damn slant-eyed tosser, wot?" For some reason, the Japanese find this behaviour endearing.

It's not that I entirely dislike the idea literary-Bond. He's real in a way that Hollywood-Bond could never be. To be honest, I kind of enjoyed the exploits of this stodgy booze-hound as he swanks around Japan and I liked even more how much Hollywood could never, ever feature this Bond in a film and expect it to be a blockbuster. The last two Bond films with Daniel Craig have tried to bury the campy 60's Bond and make him more realistic and like literary-Bond. But they don't even come close. This Bond is so irredeemably English that you'd expect to see him stumbling around some high-class function telling off-colour racist stories as annoyed guests tolerate him because he's little, cute and British. After about an hour his mortified wife bundles him off to bed.

So, was the novel good? I guess, kind of. It is the only spy novel I've read and in that sense it's like nothing I've ever read before. I don't think I'll be in any hurry to pick up another Bond novel, but I can say I was glad for the experience.
3 creepy sexual encounters out of 5

As a side-note, another reason I grabbed this book was my interest in comparing movie adaptations with their source material. After seeing this art from the movie poster, I've decided not to bother with the movie for reasons that should be obvious to anyone.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

The Ten Worst Fraggers Ever

I shall never be a great fragger of men.

I came to this realization after I decided to stop playing Call of Duty: World at War. It was a game with everything I could have wanted: realistic historical weapons, customizable equiment and a great World War II setting. Yet I had to quit.

It's not that I lack the talent. Nor do I lack the time, although my free time is precious now that I have the little one. So what was it? After many hours online, I keep running into the same personalities over and over again. Some are worse than others and some make playing not fun anymore.

Here they are, my least favourite reoccurring assholes that we've all met and killed a thousand times. What makes these people special is that they are representatives for larger themes within human existence, which I note in each entry. I dislike these personalities so much that I am really not sure if I'll ever play a FPS online again.

10. The Guy who only says, "Aw fuck"
He sounds urban in a vague kind of way, kind of a half Afro-American half Hispanic drawl. I imagine him sitting at his console dressed top to bottom in Nike gear with his cap spun sideways. Regardless of his socio-political origins, his vocabulary is limited. You know this because every time he dies he says, "Aw fuck", "Oh fuck, meeee-an!" or "Fuck, this is bullshit!" And he dies a lot, resulting in a constant stream of banal profanity.

He is the ultimate nobody in a sea of faceless gamers, desperately wanting to be heard but having nothing to say. His pointless expletives are a constant reminder that the coming generation of youngsters is destined to die in obscurity.

9. The Singing Kid

I find attempts to shelter children from mature-rated games to be absolute nonsense. Regardless of your moral stance on this issue, everybody has the issue backwards. Children don't need to protected from content. Adults need to be protected from children.

There should be two internets: one for adults and one for children. The Singing Kid is the ultimate argument in I have in favour of this proposal. The last thing a bloodthirsty adult needs to hear when he's trying to slaughter his contemporaries is some little brat yelping the latest pop song into his bluetooth. He tunelessly chatters on and on. Then he unexpectedly shouts, "What?!" and the last you hear of him before his connection drops is his distant mother telling him it's bedtime.

I've often tried to speculate on the motives of The Singing Kid. At first I thought he was a troll attempting to goad people into telling him to shut up. Now I'm not so sure. The world of FPSs is comparably silent and it has been a long time since I've heard somebody tell a Singing Kid to shut up. I now believe there is no motive, that the truth is much more horrifying. The Singing Kid is an agent of madness, sent to bedevil our games, by some dark power beyond the veil of reality.

8. The Teamkiller
Most games these days, including CoD:WaW have safeguards against teamkilling. In Hardcore mode, in which team damage is "on", one occasionally hears the in-game announcer saying something very satisfying like, "Get that sonofabitch outta here" or "He ain't fit to wear the uniform" as somebody is kicked.

Such safeguards make teamkilling all the more frustrating, confusing and senseless. Teamkillers must dream ways to skirt the safeguards. I'm reminded of an incident where the wife was invited to a team on City of Heroes. Her new "friend" asked to teleport her to his location and she agreed. She suddenly found herself hundreds of feet in the air and fell to the ground with a splat.

The teamkiller is the brooding psycho that lurks in humankind. He delights in sowing mayhem and sneering at his victims. I will never understand the appeal of teamkilling.

7. The Neo-Nazi
Okay, that's a lie. I do understand teamkilling, but not for the standard reasons. FPSs attract a certain section of society, and with WWII games in particular, the Neo-Nazis appear. The other day I played a Team Deathmatch and some asshole called "junglbunnystomper25" was on my team. My goddess, did I ever want to hunt him down and shoot him over and over again. But he was on my team and I was forced to cooperate with him. I was so angry.

Then there's the guys that see my online name, YouFang, and assume I'm Chinese. Nope. So when they go, "Oh, ching-chong, sing-song so solly!" it annoys me on a different level than they were hoping.

First Person Shooters are one of the last civilized places you can hang with crazies like these (and no, the American South doesn't count as civilized). Other than the Army, I guess. I suppose I'm not the only college-educated Marine who's had to share a foxhole with a racist mouth-breather from Arkansas.

6. The Guy who Leaves his Live Mic Lying Around so I Have to Hear his Rap Music.
You know he's there because he's killing you and you sometimes hear him clear his throat or cough. He's just happily listening to his music and playing his game. Only his mic is on. And we can all hear his music. For some reason, it's always, always gangsta rap.

There's no point trying to tell him his mic is on. The sound is going through his headphones' mic and he's obviously not wearing them. Even if you were to shout loud enough for him to hear, the rap music would drown the sound. If there's no option to mute him the only way out is to quit the game.

This guy is a reminder that human society is very closely knit. No matter what you do or don't do today, you are going to ruin somebody's day even if you never find out.

5. The Hotshot "Leader"

To be fair, he's pretty good at the game. He would probably be better, though, if he didn't expend so much energy ordering his teammates about and badmouthing them. Everything his friends do infuriates him because his ego is too huge for any game to contain. Here's some sample dialogue:

"Shoot him! Shoot him! Hah, now you're fucking dead, you shoulda shot him! God now he killed me, God you're such a fucking idiot! YouFang you fucker, you stole my kill! Get the flag! Get the flag you fag! God, way to die, moron!"

And God help thee if thou teamslayest him in error. For then thou shalt unleash a deluge of abuse and be thyself teamslain by Him, that thou shalt know the idiocy of thy ways.

Just as in real life, bad managers exist in the world of video games. However, in video games, nobody asks them to be in charge.

4. The Inquisitor
Whenever you actually do well at a video game, Inquisitors materialize to accuse you of cheating. Swearing ensues. No arguing will convince them. So sure are they that you are hacking that they sometimes follow you into other games or send you personal messages. It's never skill or bad connectivity, it's always cheating.

I think the Inquisitor might actually be the other face of the Hotshot "Leader". If the Leader actually loses to people on the other team, his ego would collapse if it was a result of sucking. So therefore it has to be cheating, right? The Inquisitor represents the human mental defect that blames their folly on secret consipiracies when their own abilities fail.

3. Captain Echo
Here's a hint for all you dumbasses out there: either turn down the sensitivity of your mic or turn down the volume of your TV. I am so goddess-damned sick of hearing every shout and explosion echoing through your voice port.

Captain Echo is significant because he's... uh... he's just fucking dumb, okay?

2. Oink-Pig
Gaming is very addictive and when you are caught in the majesty of another universe, it's hard to find time to eat. It's a temptation to eat while gaming. And yes, that's okay. What isn't cool is not turning off your mic. Nobody wants to hear the sloppy crunch of your Cheetos, the smaking of your lips or your tongue darting in and out of your mouth, Oink-Pig. And we especially don't want to hear you burping. Over and over again.

Oink-Pig is a nice symbol selfishness of consumer culture. He could take measures to curb the "externalities" of his consumption which cause misery to others, but honestly it's too much work and he doesn't care. BUUUURRRRRP!

1. The Game Breaker
This is by far my least favourite personality. Which is too bad, because the Game Breaker is the ultimate symbol of excellence in humankind.

In the world of RPGs, such individuals are called "Power Gamers". To be a true game breaker, you must want to win and nothing else. You don't play to have fun. The only fun is in triumph.

First you must know your equipment. Where equipment is customizable, choose only equipment that causes the most kills, not that which is coolest or most fun. If equipment is not customizable but collectible on the map, head straight for the good guns. Headshot anything in your way.

Secondly, you must know your maps. Every map has nooks where nobody can see you. Find them and take up sniping position.

Thirdly, you must know the broken-rules and glitches in the game. Find which ones you can exploit. Ones that defy physics and graphics are especially useful because n00bs won't expect or understand them. If there's a way to walk through a wall, you must find it.

And lastly, you must be the best. You must play and play until your reflexes are unrivaled. You must be able to headshot a n00b the quarter-second you see him, not the half-second. This is what is truly admirable/scary about Power Gamers is the sheer devotion to mastery of a useless pasttime. One wonders what these people could do if they devoted half the energy to real life what they sank into first person shooters.

It was this last personality that finally soured me on online CoD. In my final game, a Game Breaker stood directly behind a concrete wall, fired through it with a rifle and head-shotted the guy in front of me from a room away. I had just enough time to process this before I too was shot in the head. My goddess, such devotion!

Game Breakers are utterly predictable in their behaviour but what makes them frustrating is that it doesn't matter if you become wise to their tricks. Their skills are so ultimate that you can't defeat them on even footing.

Right now, the console version of Might and Magic: Clash of Heroes is utterly unplayable because of Game Breakers. If you try to play it online right now, some 161st level guy will slaughter you using the undead team, the cursed shield as an artifact and either Death Knights or Bone Dragons as a special unit. Every online game becomes broken like this unless the designers constantly monitor it, seal the glitches, depower the abilities that are too tough and constantly thwart the Game Breakers as they seize some new angle. I remember people complaining about Blizzard constantly tweaking StarCraft, but it absolutely must be done to maintain the fun. Video Games are supposed to be fun.

So that's it with me and online competition for awhile. All the games I'm craving are one-player only. There, the only annoying personality I have to deal with is my own.