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Tycho / on Mon, Feb 11 2019 at 12:38 pm

There was a spike of normal functionality mid-week, like one might expect from a modern city, but just as soon as we’d tasted civilization it was gone again.  Brenna went shopping for the End Times, like she was stocking for a radical shift in governance from something like we have now - with established channels of authority from Federal, State, and County - to a marked declension of it centered primarily around tattooed despots with shotguns on quad bikes.  It has served us well.

We have already traded some Dark Meat for a few chunks of fragrant wax.

As I suggest in the strip, we’re from a place where such things are so commonplace as to exist below the conscious threshhold.  But that town, benighted though it may be, at least has an immune system that kicks in under these conditions: tools and trucks and salt and gravel and people who get up earlier than you do so you can go to work.  This is a town that is built for and from Good Vibrations and has no fucking clue what to do whenever anything outside that sun-kiss’d band occurs.

Honestly, I kinda like all this; I walked down into Ballard to get a the copy of the Genestealer Cults Codex I’d reserved at Mox, the even though it was very cold and generally considered to be impassable by vehicle the neighborhood had begun to thaw socially if not any other way.  I like apps and the Internet and stuff but I do generally speaking consider the current state of things to be Fucked, and the only medicine for it is to talk to each other, which has been the primary fruit of this apocalypse thus far.

(CW)TB out.   

Tycho / on Fri, Feb 8 2019 at 1:35 pm

I was watching Ninja stream Apex Legends this morning, and the title of the stream implied that while it had previously been a sponsored stream, he was now playing it because it’s fun.  I mean, I think so too.  We just made another comic about it.  It’s had twice Fortnite’s viewers on Twitch since it came out, but of course that’s two-fold; the dynamics are such that you can pay a person to play your game, but you’re also paying them not to play the other game for a 2x perceptual swing bonus.  I’ll be very curious to see where this is at in a week’s time.  But, again: it’s always worth remembering that royalty is a temporary condition.  I have a theory that suggests these cycles of Fame to Famine are getting shorter, with more explosive crests and more subterranean falls, but that’s mostly because it seemed weird to me how quickly they seem to reboot Spider-Man.

We felt like it was worth making a comic about the Ping system in Apex Legends, without which the game would still be very good but not as great.  Because there’s no real way to play the game Solo, as a “team” of one you’re always being slotted with Randolina Jolie.  I think this is the right choice, because the assumption that you’re in a team creates the lattice beneath a host of the game’s other systems.  So, because others are a fundamental consideration, work to enable useful communication isn’t an edge case or an “if we get to it” consideration.  And they’ve simply murdered it here: you can communicate a host of sophisticated information about enemies and items.  You call items out with useful information about their power level, and you can even say “Yes, that’s an item I want” or “This crate is open and I don’t like that because of what it represents.”  It’s very robust.  There is a super challenging art installation in the Mid-Rise Zone called “Call Me When You’re Dead” you can observe with a ping, and using only a couple button presses you can wonder if it’s possible to be “filled” with emptiness, if this is really all there is, and suggest that you’d give consciousness less than one star - were possible to do so.

There is a fascinating space in games that exists whenever the systems are muted for a moment, you can only hear them thrum through the wall, and now it’s a bunch of people doing things that people have always done forever.  The best part of Catan is trading, and the only rules around it are whatever you can cajole a person into.  The narrative subtext there is that no matter what you trade an opponent, they’re going to kill you with it.  They will sharpen it until it goes straight through you.  I love every spare, extrasystemic crevice a game has in it that can be filled with communication; you can win against people who you shouldn’t be able to with the use of correct speech.  I like it when voices are the only tool too, because that’s a tricky game in itself, but it’s codified here in such a practical, immediate way that sands off the scratchy bits around trying to succeed with complete strangers.

I feel bad about all the voice lines they’ll need to do every time they make a new character.  Like, real bad.  But I also think in any discussion of the genre, this is gonna get dragged out as an example of how not to fuck it up.

(CW)TB out.   

Tycho / on Wed, Feb 6 2019 at 2:49 pm

The only bad thing about Apex Legends is the name.  And it’s… You know.  It’s probably too late to change that.

Since we spoke last, I have played a lot of Apex Legends.  I’ve won twice, which for me is such a statistical aberration that it makes me want to look at the checksum for the last few days.  But I’m actually not bad at their shooters, for some reason.  Well, not some reason, a specific reason: even if there aren’t Titans, or the radical mobility pilots have even on foot, Respawn’s thesis of gunplay is the most predictable, most immediate example of the form, which means I’m able to model it effectively.  What I expect to happen happens with greater regularity.  Thus, because I am able to trust the system, I play closer to the edge of my capability.  Such as it is.

Battle Royale games generate stories especially well.  Apex Legends enhances the capability of this genre in a few key ways that allow for novel new arcs.

Dramatis Personae is, I think, the most annoying way to say it, so of course I’m drawn in - but yes, there are specific characters.  I loved this in Realm Royale and the notion has only simmered and thickened here, grown rich.  They’ve gone full-on hero shooter here, except the stakes are different: you form three person squads and we aren’t trying to secure anything as abstract as a point.  Even if their characterizations vary in tolerability, the mechanics that underlie each one make any voiceover sins irrelevant.  There’s characters I like to play, and there’s characters I want to play alongside.  Ults are designed to be used, not hoarded.  You’re clearly - and the timers convey this - supposed to be yourself, what you mean in the world, as much as possible.

“Death” exists in a range of experiences that offer deeply engaging narrative arcs.  You can be knocked down, before you get taken out fully.  That part is not weird.  What’s different here is that it’s actually quite difficult to kill a downed enemy.  They’re fast and they flop around.  In addition, there’s a class of item called a Knockdown Shield that exists in various power levels that lets you hold up a directional shield to give you even more staying power.  Let’s say that you get taken out completely, though - it’s not necessarily over.  Your banner can be claimed by any teammate, and once they’ve done that any teammate can then respawn you - or the rest of their team - at stations helpfully designated on the map.  These places also have crates by them, and this works two ways.  One, when you return you’re naked as a jaybird without any of your shit.  Might be nice to have some stuff, and crates are a great solution.  Two, it makes these Respawn things attractive to opponents also, especially if you see somebody drop into the map and you know for a fact they aren’t armed with anything but their hopes and dreams.

I’ve played the game on all the platforms it’s available for and I would gladly play again, on any of them.  This is a game that wants to be played, and makes it easy, from it’s incredibly robust Ping system that lets you communicate effectively even with a micless Ayn Rando to the fact that weapons and ammunition are color coded for easy looting.  It’ll even apply attachments you’ve picked up directly to a new weapon, or tell you what you have is already better.  It wants you to play and it’s not gonna sneer at you.  It’s not a test.  It’s a piece of entertainment software.  If you want to know what makes this one different from the others, it’s easy: it doesn’t take your time for granted.

(CW)TB out.   

Tycho / on Mon, Feb 4 2019 at 1:49 pm

It finally happened: after well over a year of playing Battle Royale style games, Kiko and I were finally able to win one.  We even had an audience .  Of course, like all victories, this one is a catastrophe for someone - ironically, it’s me.  We spent a profundity of corporate resources manufacturing a brand build entirely around failure.  We even have merchandise that celebrates that failure.  We could win forever, as long as we lost.  And now that’s gone.

What’s more, the unwelcome spike of joy brought on by an unlikely bloom of competence has exposed some hairline fractures in my worldview.  I don’t know what’s next, and it scares me, though Gabriel has suggested a course of action that might make up for some of that lost revenue.

It’s very difficult in the modern era to be surprised by anything, where every crow is a portent and every son is a Mordred.  “Surprise” tends to be doled out via official channels, via the Tactical Crumb, and when you can get in terrible trouble for leaking information it’s only reinforced.  I’ve been surprised a couple times recently - I’ll go into Mutant Year Zero later, but Apex Legends kicked its way out of a God’s skull and now you can download it for free everywhere. 

On the one hand, it seems very pragmatic as a creative target for Respawn: leveraging technology from an excellent game whose success was constrained by publisher support to build an entry in the darling genre of the moment.  In terms of feel, before Apex Legends I would have said that Blackout was the king.  Being the scion of a proven lineage, Blackout was somehow (this was never guaranteed) able to survive the state change into another genre in a way that only bolstered its virtues.  The reason we can’t discount Apex Legends - let’s call him Al - is because the people who invented the Call of Duty feel made it, they have ideas about where the genre should go, and they’ve enunciated them in a playable document.

You release a Battle Royale game now, a couple days after people are holding concerts in your competitors’ titles as though they’re operating not Games As A Service but a kind of Universal Metavenue Untethered From Crude Matter, you’re starting in Gehenna and working your way up.  Being good is insufficient under these circumstances.  So let’s hope they’re lucky, too.

(CW)TB out.

Tycho / on Fri, Feb 1 2019 at 12:03 pm

The only thing I actually know about Kingdom Hearts is… Well, I guess its density has drawn me in a few times, in a few different ways.  I can’t claim worthiness to enter the temple but I can enjoy the occasional minaret.

If someone were to ask me about it, what I thought, I would say that it is a game that has someone in it named “Xehanort.”  I don’t follow this stuff unless Gabe is playing it and I don’t really mess with it too much in general, but I have never for a second forgotten this Xehanort person.  Also, I’ve really liked what I’ve seen of some of the spinoff, not-quite-sequel titles.  There’s a ton of cool ideas in Chain of Memories, for example.

As for the story, I mean… I saw a really cool graveyard full of Keyblades a decade ago and I still remember it.  As for what’s going on exactly I feel confident that Donald Duck is connected in some way.  I hope I’m one day able to scale an isolated plinth and ask the wizened husk atop it what the fuck is going on.

The thing I find most fascinating about Kingdom Hearts us what a cultural moment it is, and what kind of trust it represents.  I have had the opportunity to work with all kinds of what is called “IP” and trying to do something creative via someone else’s prize property can be kind of a climb.  I think that’s the correct level of diplomacy.  I understand why their characters and setting are important, and I also understand that people want surprises that exist within a certain range of the familiar.  Right?  Theoretically, I’ve been hired to deliver the latter but where precisely the line is has historically been a richly philosophical matter.  What Square Enix did, was allowed to do, with some of the most valuable, iconic characters in human culture was to weave them together with their own dark, heady magic into a kind of evil bible you read one combat at a time.  I don’t even need to play it to appreciate that.  Gabe feels like he’s not where he needs to be to enjoy it, and that may be true, but who knows if its true forever.  That’s a long time to wait for something, especially if Kingdom Hearts II has remained his favorite game for the duration.  Who knows how to parse expectations like that, exactly.

Gabe and I are going to try - try - to play some Anthem Open Beta from 2-4pm PST on the stream, and I hope it works out, because I want his help finding the game he played last weekend.  If it no worky we are devious and clever and will no doubt find a way to misspend a couple hours.

(CW)TB out.

tossing, turning, lying awake




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