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Archive for the ‘art’ Category

A few more points on flight in World of Warcraft that have come up that I wanted to note in a bit more detail since last time:

1.  A “smaller world”.

I’ve written it before, but I consider this to be an inaccurate statement.  Flying doesn’t make the world any smaller, it changes how quickly you travel through it.  That will probably make your world feel smaller if you’re only interested in Point A and Point B, but if that’s all you’re looking for in the first place, the interstitial points (like fights with bad guys or weird pathing issues) are just filler (time sinks) anyway, and the points off of the beaten track are irrelevant to you and how you view or feel  the world.  Flight doesn’t remove any content, it lets you access places that you never could before.  If anything, it makes the playable world, the part you can get to and the sights you can see, much, much larger.

No, a smaller world is one that’s just Potemkin villages and a tight, controlled experience that doesn’t let you explore the world at large.  A smaller world is one where you play the developers’ story and don’t explore the world around it.  The game’s title is World of Warcraft.  It has been lamented before by me and others, but the World part keeps contracting, and I believe it’s a detriment to what the title has to offer.  (Tangentially, Final Fantasy XIII is perhaps the most maligned of the post-SNES era of Final Fantasy games, and that is mostly because it’s a very controlled experience.  Gamers like freedom to explore.  This is not an MMO problem, it’s a game problem, since games are all about player autonomy.  This is a problem that savvy developers leverage instead of fight.  It’s part of why Minecraft is so huge.)

2. Game development costs.

I am not privy to the costs of developing World of Warcraft.  I have, however, worked on Tiger Woods video games and smaller titles that are heavily invested in facades.  It is not a huge time saver or money saver to make them instead of making full 3D worlds.  Designers still have to find ways to curtail player viewlines, which takes time and possibly engine work with programmers.  It takes finesse and massaging to try to keep the boundaries organic instead of arbitrary.

Artists still have to find ways to make all possible views interesting.  They have to make buildings and terrain anyway, and often, it takes more time to go back and prune polygons on the “back” of objects, or to go make more pieces of geometry to be used specifically as facades.  It is often actually faster and easier to have instanced buildings and oddments that look good from different angles and then place them strategically.  The data footprint is smaller since you can reuse objects in more places, and savvy programmers can make use of that bit of savings.  An object that can be viewed from many angles instead of a select few is more useful in the long run.  There are even savings with LOD (Level Of Detail meshes that pop in to save processing cycles by having lower-polycount items on display at certain distances) construction that way, as a building need only have one set of LODs instead of making a variety of buildings with different geometry needs, each with their own LODs.

There is also a larger problem with players being able to see “behind the curtain”.  If devs miss an angle, a place where the facade falls apart, it’s more obvious in a Potemkin village.  Perhaps paradoxically, but entirely in keeping with the mental gymnastics our mind goes through to “fill in the blanks” that make the Uncanny Valley approachable with low fidelity art, the more controlled an experience is, the stronger the distraction effect if something doesn’t look just right.  And yet, on the flipside, if a place in-game is presented as a fully explorable 3D space, some of those distracting little details are often ignored in the sheer amount of information on display and the freedom the user has to look at it from different angles.  In more pithy phrasing, there are no curtains to look behind.  All the warts are out there in the open, or easily discovered, and as such, are instinctively more forgivable.

I say this as an artist who has had to deal with making things look just right, and having parsed a lot of publisher feedback, it’s very interesting to see what people pick up on and what they gloss over.  It’s very, very easy to swallow even big bits of weirdness in large if imperfect presentations, but smaller, more intimate content walks a much tighter line, and it takes time and money to make both styles work.

I’m sure they have crunched numbers to make an argument to the board members, but down in the trenches of development that I’ve seen, the differences aren’t huge.

Also, as a brief aside, speaking again as a 3D artist, I’d much rather players see my work from a variety of angles, rather than make a widget that looks right only in tightly controlled circumstances.  It lets me show off my abilities more when I can make a component that has a more holistic appeal.  This, to me, is the appeal of sculpting (digitally or physically) in the first place.  If I wanted to just show one angle, I’d simply make a painting.

3.  Player costs.

WoW is still a subscription game.  As such, it is in the company’s best interests to make players take as long as possible to get through content.  If they can be strung along for long enough, the next subscription time period ticks over, and the financials look better.  Players trudging through ever-respawning enemies to get anywhere will take more time to play through the developer stories.  I’m cynical enough to think that there’s a bit of calculus involved to discover the best way to string players along so they pay for one or two more months than they might with flight as a travel option.  At least, the players who do the content once, don’t look around much off the beaten trail, and unsubscribe when done with “the story”.

Speaking of content, if players are skipping your content by flying over it, the problem is not the player.  The problem is the content that they do not want to engage in.  Going through yet another rebel/pirate/demon/enemy camp to kill the leader, then muddling back out, fighting every few steps… it’s just not interesting gameplay content to someone who has done it many, many times before (and almost anyone in Draenor is in that position).  That’s a problem with the design, and it’s not going to be solved by making players do more of it.

I firmly believe that the best stories in MMOs come from the unique ability they have to let people interact with each other and with the world.  The sense of place is important to these fictional worlds, or it should be.  Emergent play is important.  Weird nooks and crannies make a place seem more interesting, and they need to be experienced at their own pace.  Players need to be able to take in the sights and get a sense of the world.  Cities offer this, quiet spots offer this, and flight offers this breather space.  If players are constantly being prodded through the narrow “developer experience”, they simply don’t get a sense of what the world has to offer.  They are too busy dealing with the cardboard enemies that are all too often neither interesting nor challenging, merely time sinks.

Those moments when things are different, when something unique happens, those are often the best memory making moments.  A sternly guided experience will have these moments, if done correctly, but there is little room for the sublime accident, the quirky discovery, the quiet moments of awe that come from momentarily buying into the idea of being in a different world and seeing something new.  Those can happen on the ground, certainly, but flight facilitates them both by allowing more angles to see the world from, and more opportunities of quiet reflection.

It’s not the quests or the endless killing that are the best that WoW has to offer.  Blizzard’s work on this sort of content is entertaining enough for a while, but it’s not amazing, and it’s not engrossing, at least, not for long.  Letting players poke around to see what is off the beaten track can help fill in the world, give it context, and breathing room.  If a player has to be on their toes dealing with “danger” all the time, they will not relax, they will not find the world welcoming or worth exploring.  They will burn out faster.

The World of Warcraft has never been high on verisimilitude, and I’m simply not convinced that putting players into ever-more-controlled experiences will help that in any way.  That’s quite apart from flight purely as a mechanic, but as flight is a way for players to take their time and manage their approach to the game, it’s highly relevant.

Developers do have to manage expectations and design a stage for players to play on.  That’s part of game design.  I simply believe that the more controlled an experience, the more a game is like a movie, and less adroit at leveraging the true strengths of games as a medium.  Players want control, otherwise they would be watching a movie or reading a book.  Designers need to ease off the reins and let players play.  Flight has allowed that, and taking it away isn’t going to make WoW better in the long run, not for players.  It will absolutely make it easier for developers to manage the presentation, but I believe that’s missing the point, and players and the World of WoW will be lesser for it.

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Operation: Backlog is still proceeding, I just don’t have tons of time to do any of it, from the playing to the documenting.  Still, it’s good for the very fractured gaming schedule I have.  As usual:

I’m going through my Steam list alphabetically, picking up games I own but haven’t played to see what’s there.  15 minutes each is all I’m budgeting, but I reserve the right to get sucked into a cool game.  Some I’ve played already, though, so I’ll mention them in passing here and there, giving them a rating like the other games.

I’ll be giving each of these Backlog games a rating of sorts, as follows:  Regret (uninstall and forget), Remember (uninstall but wish for more time), Revisit (leave installed for later) and Recommend (wish for more time to play this right now).  This is a squishy continuum of sorts, and deliberately imprecise.  This isn’t an in depth survey-and-review, it’s Spring Cleaning of my video game backlog.

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First up is one of the drive-by games:  Batman: Arkham Asylum

This is an excellent game.  I played it to completion and then some on the XBox 360, not on PC, but it’s one I highly Recommend.  It’s not perfect, but it’s great fun, and really nails the feeling of Batman, at least, as I have come to expect it as a fan of the character since the mid-90s.  It has fantastic combat, excellent worldbuilding, really, really good graphics, fun mobility, Kevin Conroy, Mark Hamill, and, well, it’s tons of fun to play.

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Second, we have the sequel, Batman: Arkham City.  I’ve only played this one for about 45 minutes, so I don’t know how well the open world nature of the game actually works in the long run.  Catwoman is a bit too skanky and the political setup seems contrived, but it still seems like the core of what made Arkham Asylum works is still present.  It’s a game that I’m leaving installed, and Recommend, though with the usual caveat that I haven’t played all that much of it.

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Third, I did try to play Birth of America, but it flat out refused to work.  So, dump that in the Regret pile.  I don’t have time to wrangle dysfunctional games.

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Fourth, the Blackwell Deception almost ran into the same fate, with some weird tech issues popping up thanks to my dual monitor setup, but the second time I fired it up it behaved.  This one’s a bit tricky, as it’s an adventure game in the vein of the LucasArts classics.

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I did love that era of gaming, for all its quirks, and this game would have fit well in those days.  I consider that to be praise, though it does mean that I just don’t have time to give it a proper playthrough.  I’d like to someday, along with the rest of the Blackwell Bundle that I picked up at GoG.com, but for now, I’m lumping them all together with a Remember rating, noting that I do like adventure games, I just don’t have a lot of time.

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I love that Wadjet Eye Games is making games that feel like classic adventure games.  The voiceover work is adequate, if not stellar, the art and animation is solid, and the writing that I saw was pretty good.  The game plops you into an investigation with little fanfare, effectively dropping you into the deep end, but it’s designed well enough that there’s not much trouble getting up and running.  It’s a well designed first 15 minutes, I think, and it does leave me wanting to play more someday.

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Fifth, Blood Bowl: Legendary Edition.  I picked this one up on deep discount due to my passing interest in the WarHammer tabletop wargame.  I have some of the sourcebooks, but no models and nobody to play with.  I just study the books and dissect the game design.  Blood Bowl isn’t really the same thing, but I’ve heard enough good about the board game incarnation of the title that I figured I’d check out the digital version.  (I still wish there was a digital version of the WarHammer tabletop game so I could play with someone online.  Not a RTS, not a card game, not a shooter, just a literal translation of the tabletop game.  This is one reason why I backed WarMachine Tactics for its Kickstarter campaign, but we’ll dig into that later.)

Without a history with the board game, I hit the learning curve hard in Blood Bowl.  It seems to be well designed and the visual design is solid, if a bit too skanky and “grimdark” for me.  (I have very little interest in any WarHammer 40K titles for the same reason.)  I puttered around a bit with setting up a team, fired up a match and promptly lost horribly.  There are a LOT of options and rules to the game that I’m just not up to speed on.

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That’s not a bad thing, really, so long as the game can be mastered with some honest effort, but I just don’t have the time to make that effort.  This is a failing in my schedule, not the game, though it would be nice to have a bit more guidance for those early learning moments.  Being tossed in the deep end is OK so long as there’s a good learning feedback cycle.  That seems to be a bit obscured in this title, though it is clear that it builds on the board game.  I should see if I can find the rulebook somewhere in a used bookstore, perhaps.

As such, I’m giving it a Remember rating, and maybe I’ll pick it up later.  I don’t dislike the game, I just have to move on and it didn’t really grab me.  There does seem to be a lot of meat to chew on and a fun, snarky sense of humor, though, and that’s promising.

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Sixth, Braid.  I’ve written about this before, I think, having played it years ago, but in a nutshell, it’s a decent little platformer with great art design and solid game design.  The story is pretentious, dreary, and takes itself way too seriously, but the game is fun.  I give it a Recommend rating, if only to see the visuals and design in action, just with the caveat that it’s not really the revolutionary masterpiece that it often gets credit for.  It’s fun, it’s solid, it’s full of itself.  I’m done with it, but I do think it’s worth playing if you haven’t.

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Seventh, Cargo Commander.  I got this one in a bundle, one of those games that just sort of tags along with other games I actually cared about.  (I don’t remember what it was bundled with at the moment, though.  Oops.)  It’s not that Cargo Commander looked bad, just that it seemed a bit too twitchy for me.

It’s a platformer with variable gravity and a ticking clock.  The design is actually pretty solid, I’m just not all that interested in this sort of game any more.  Maybe as a teenager I’d have loved it, but I prefer more thoughtful, careful, tactical games these days.  That’s not a failing of the game, since it does what it sets out to do well.

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You play as a corporate lackey, stuck on a space station in some far off garbage zone, tasked with dragging cargo containers in to crash into your habitat, and then go invade them and grab any valuable salvage before the timer runs out and everything falls apart but your base.  You have to scramble into these other containers, platform through them fighting baddies and the structure, and grab what you can.  It’s fast, frantic and not very forgiving.

The controls are tight, platforming with the keyboard and aiming with the mouse, a bit like A.R.E.S., but much more fluid and fun.  There’s an upgrade system and a “completion” rating, with the ability to replay levels to try to do better.  The visuals are adequate, nothing amazing, but not bad.

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All in all, I give this a Remember rating for myself, but it’s really something that might be worth picking up if you’re into variable gravity direction, crazy quick-on-your-feet action.  It’s a slightly silly premise, but it winds up being pretty fun to play, so long as you’re up for fast paced gaming.

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Eighth, Chains.  This is a light puzzler, very clicky like AVSEQ was, but not quite as fast and much more interesting given its physics and variable levels.  It’s a decent little game, one I give a Remember rating since I remember it in a positive light.  It’s not even close to my favorite puzzle game, but for all its apparent simplicity (the visual style really isn’t all that great), there’s a bit more going on under the hood than screenshots might suggest.

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Ninth, Chime.  This is one I’ve mentioned in passing before.  I really like Chime.  I do wish that I could flip pieces like I can in Puzzle Pirates’ Carpentry puzzle, as that would make it a more complete puzzle game, but for what it is, Chime works well.  It could use more music options, too, but what it has is good in my book.  I give it a Revisit rating, since it’s not as great as others I’d put in the same mental “music/puzzle” game niche, but it really is a good game.

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Tenth, Cogs.  I’m a fan of steampunk design.  Hence the Tinker products I’ve been working with for almost two years now.  (Go visit the shop, please, and spread the word!)  I love old, beat up, lived in machinery, and I love puzzle games.  Cogs scratches all the right places for me.  It has smart puzzle design, great visuals, simple play rules (at heart, it’s just a bunch of sliding tile puzzles with some nice 3D aspects), and it really embraces its own steampunk design ethos.  It’s not arrogant, it’s not silly or trying to be ironic, it’s just a well-themed tinkerer’s box full of puzzles.

Some are easy, some are really tough, and most are somewhere in the middle.  They always feel fair, though, and there are some great uses of the 3D aspects that introduce nice quirks with sliding tile puzzles.  Sadly, when my computer crashed last year, I lost my screenshot collection, but there are some puzzles that I played again and again, just for how fun it was to see the mechanism come together as I solved the puzzle.  I wish I had some of them as real, physical devices.  (These puzzles are later in the list, and I didn’t have time to get to them for this project.)

Cogs earns a hearty Recommend rating from me, as it’s one of my favorite light puzzle games.  It’s available for Android devices, too, which is nice.

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That’s all for this post.  There are plenty more where these came from, the most notable for next time being Dear Esther, Defense Grid and The Dig, one of LucasArts’ finest adventure games.  Until next time, then!

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To make this Operation: Backlog thing work, I’ve decided to put the handful of games I’ve been playing more or less on the shelf, as it were.  Slingshot Braves on my smartphone and Flight Rising in a PC web browser are what I think of as “chore” games, in that they have daily tasks to do, part and parcel of many free-to-play games.  I’ll probably still log into those and do a little bit here and there often, but that’s mostly because I play them with my kids.  Ditto for Minecraft, our family XBox 360 game.  We used to play on the PC, but the local multiplayer on the 360 trumped the PC’s moddability.

Other than that, I’ll be putting Smash Brothers (3DS), Professor Layton and the Last Spectre away for a while.  Batman Arkham City will also have to wait, as will Uncharted 3, Flower and Final Fantasy XII, though I haven’t played them for more than an hour or two each since I was downsized in April of last year.  They are just my “want to finish” games that are already on the back burner.

World of Warcraft will have to wait, but that’s fine, since I don’t want to pay a subscription anyway.  Maybe I’ll qualify for a scroll of resurrection promotion one of these days, or Warlords of Draenor will go on sale for under $10, and I’ll drop back in for a bit.  Yes, yes, I do have a “trial” account I can putter around endlessly and mostly uselessly if I really want a WoW fix, but since I’ve seen most places that I can in the lower levels, and I’m all about Exploring, it’s not really that big of a draw.

…we’ll see how this goes.  I’ll be playing with mouse and keyboard, only reluctantly using my wired XBox 360 controller when it offers significantly better usability.  Perhaps that’s the purist in me, since I didn’t have PC joysticks or controllers when most of these games were new.

This might wind up even more relevant when I dig into my GoG.com library, but that’s way down the list at this point.

I’ve decided I’ll also be giving each of these a rating of sorts, as follows:  Regret (uninstall and forget), Remember (uninstall but wish for more time), Revisit (leave installed for later) and Recommend (wish for more time to play this right now).  This is a squishy continuum of sorts, and deliberately imprecise.  This isn’t an in depth survey-and-review, it’s Spring Cleaning of my video game backlog.

First up on my trek through my Steam library, then?

A.R.E.S. Extinction Agenda

AI War: Fleet Command

Aquanox

A.R.E.S.

On paper, I should love this game.  It’s sort of like MegaMan X, one of my all time favorite games, if the blue bomber could aim in any direction with the mouse instead of charging his shot, and didn’t have a dash or wall slide, but a double jump and shoulder roll instead.  OK, it’s not exactly like that, but that’s the high level impression.

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The art style is all over the place, the camera feels like it’s in a little too tight, the levels are too short, ARES feels clumsy and his grenades aren’t controlled well, but this plucky little game really wants to be a spin of the MegaMan formula, and I give it points for aiming high.  It’s very nice to be able to aim in any direction, though that’s something that I want to use the mouse for.  It’s almost like I wish I could use a SNES controller in my left hand and a mouse in my right to really get it working like I want to.

Level design is somewhere between MegaMan and Metroid, though I think it would have been better to embrace the “Metroidvania” aspect more to really give the game its own identity.  It’s a 2D platformer, gameplay-wise, but with 3D environments and some oddments, though oddly, the player character and enemies are more of a Spine sort of thing, animated from 2D images, perhaps derived from 3D toon renders in some places.

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It’s a fun little game, but it certainly needs polish (and an art style guide!).  I give it a rating of Remember only because I wish I had time to see more bosses and see if the game opens up later, and I think that a MegaManX Metroidvania sort of game could be really cool.  The initial phases of A.R.E.S. were competent but not all that exciting.  It feels more like a proof of concept from a freshman dev team than a finished game.  That’s not a bad thing, it’s just that I’d rather go play MegaMan X again and dream of what this game could be with more work.

AI War

Hoo boy.  This one is nigh impenetrable in 15 minutes.  It’s supposedly a Real Time Strategy game set in outer space, with plucky humans fighting a malevolent AI.  OK, cool.  I like that.  It’s just… there are so many moving parts and tons of little things to learn about.  It’s a game that I probably would have loved playing back in the day, after finishing StarCraft and when I got burned out on Master of Orion’s interminable endgames… but today?  Eh, I don’t have time for this.

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I managed to play the first of 7 tutorials, just getting a hang of navigating the User Interface.  It fought my Maya and Photoshop muscle memory, so I can’t imagine really wanting to master it, but it seems to be designed well enough.  The visuals are good, though the sheer volume of data involved in the game means for some small details in the UI that were just so much static at first glance.

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I get the feeling that this would be a good game for me if I had the time to dig into it.  I give it a Remember rating as well, since I want to check out some other reviews of it to see how the game handles itself beyond the tutorials… but there’s no way it fits into my schedule to actually play it.  That’s a bit of a pity, really, but hey, at least I’m left with a feeling of wanting to know more.  That’s a good sign.

AquaNox

This game really, really wants to be Elite/Privateer/Freelancer, but underwater, with a dash of cyberpunk and social commentary.  That’s not a bad working premise or goal.  It’s just… the first ten minutes of the Story portion of the game were talking (both the video and the dozen or so text-plus-voice bits you have to get through) and a mishmash of mixed up art, from FFVII-like 3D computer graphics to anime-ish portraits to grainy FMV proto-Bioshock underwater city… stuff.

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And talking.  So… much… talking.  I’d give them a pass if the voice actors were even passable, but, well… they are not.  I like watching Star Trek, the one from the 60s, and while all the cool kids rag on that show now for its kitsch and stage-like hamminess, it’s a masterwork compared to this game.  I never want to hear this game again.  (For crying out loud, they pronounce “Succubus”, a key ship in the game, as “Zuko Boose”.  Yes, Zuko was a good character, but that’s just… wrong.)

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That’s not a killer, though, if the play is worth it.  The two missions I had time for once I got through the backstory were a brief “shoot the underwater junk” mission to get a feel for moving a little and firing weapons, and a brief escort mission for a tanker that was trying to just bulldoze through a junk field.  I had to clear the way and shoot a bad guy that popped up.  So, nothing all that exciting, nothing all that bad, though it loses points in my book giving me an escort mission so early.  I hate escort missions.

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That said, I really like the feel of the controls, actually.  The sub drives a bit like what I’d expect, with good WASD controls (A and D sliding/strafing like Minecraft, not turning), augmented by using R and F to go “up” and “down” respectively for the full 3D movement.  Mouse sensitivity is a little high for my taste, but I could probably tweak that.  Shooting feels pretty good, targeting is solid, movement feels right for being underwater, with inertia and drag giving a good impression of actually navigating through something much thicker than the outer space sims I’m fond of.

The “I’m-actually-playing-something-finally” graphics are good, far better than the intro video and talky graphics would hint at.  Explosions underwater seem a bit silly, undermining the look and feel, but all in all, it could be fun.  If only they would… stop… talking… and get on with it.  I just wanted to go blow stuff up and zip around underwater.

I give the game a Regret rating overall, even though I do love the idea of an underwater game in the Privateer mold, one of my other all time favorite games.  This game just isn’t it.  I hear there’s a sequel, so maybe the game gets better, and maybe the sequel is even better… but I won’t be spending any more time to find out.

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So, three games out of… um… more than 100.  There are a few other minor grievances I dealt with, but out of the gate, I have to say that it’s about what I’d expected.  I’m a firm believer in style guides and making a good, quick first impression.  That doesn’t preclude depth, but gamers today have to be intrigued and having fun fast, or they will move on to another game.  These games just aren’t up to par.  They might be worth playing if you don’t mind their shortcomings, as none of them are actually bad, they just are behind the curve a bit.

We’ll see what these titles have in store next time:

AVSEQ

Back To The Future: Ep 1

The Banner Saga

…I’ll admit, I really, really want to like The Banner Saga.  I am not even close to unbiased on that one.  I love the music I’ve heard, and I love tactical and strategic games.  The Eyvind Earle art style is gorgeous.  I sort of want to give it a lot more than 15 minutes, but we’ll see how it fares with a nibble instead of a Viking feast.

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Crowfall

Just in case you haven’t noticed this, there’s a new big MMO Kickstarter presently running with a full head of steam.

Crowfall

It seems good, and some of the pedigree is great (Raph Koster, J. Todd Coleman are ones that caught my eye).  It picks up on ideas I’ve written about before, and would still love to see in a big MMO.  It looks great, more like Wildstar, WoW or perhaps Torchlight rather than FFXIV or Guild Wars (I like dodging the Uncanny Valley, but I do love GW2’s more painterly art direction).  It could be a great game.

I want to be excited about it, but I’m feeling sort of amputated from the game world.  I worked there for almost ten years, and still love game design, but since I have almost no time to play and I’m sort of retired from the industry due to circumstance, it’s all just sort of… attenuated.

Still, Crowfall could be really good.  Go check it out.

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Avatar: Aang and Korra

I really like Avatar: The Last Airbender.  Aang’s story is solid, and the core cast all get great moments like Katara’s “The Painted Lady”, Toph’s “The Blind Bandit” and Sokka’s “Sokka’s Master”.  Even Zuko’s arc works really well.  It’s not a perfect show, and it has its weak episodes like many shows, but for every beach party episode, there’s a gem like “The Boiling Rock”.  For every facepalming moment like the musical hippies, there are great character moments like Sokka reflexively covering Toph on a crashing airship or Iroh counseling a mugger.  There are even really great subtle worldbuilding touches like the trains in Ba Sing Se.  (And oh, Iroh’s Tale.)

It’s one of the very few series that I have on DVD, in the august company of DuckTales, Stargate SG-1 and MacGyver (classics, all, and though also cursed with the occasional stinker episode, the good far outweighs the bad).

So, when it came to the sequel Avatar series, Legend of Korra, I was really looking forward to seeing some cool new ‘bending tricks or even combo uses (like Chrono Trigger’s team-up Tech attacks) for the magic in that world.  I thought it would be great to see how technological advancements might happen in a world with magic, and how the two might compete and cooperate.  The world really has a ton of rich potential.

Unfortunately, I wound up disappointed with the characters, writing and meta manipulations of the series creators.  The animation is often great, and the flashback two-parter in Book 2 where we see the origin of the Avatar is really, really fine work.  I’ve had a hard time putting my finger on a lot of what bothered me, though, until I stumbled across this Tumblr:

Poorly Written, Poorly Executed

It’s true that there’s no shortage of criticism and nitpickery online, but almost every single entry I’ve read over there resonates with concerns I have with the series.  This one is perhaps the best place to start, though, looking at it through my perspective as an aspiring writer and experienced artist, since it underlines the backbone of the trouble; the creative staff.  (See also: the Star Wars “prequel” films, and how a rein-free Lucas squandered some of his goodwill credit.)

My single biggest complaint with Korra is that there is so much wasted potential.  The bad writing and character assassinations throughout are like a persistent cough, but the lost opportunities are really what bug me.  The series really could have tackled things ranging from social considerations of magic (one of the stronger themes in the series, but undermined by Amon’s big reveal), the importance of spirituality in the Avatar world, liberty vs. the State (OK, Book 3’s baddies were mostly well done), nascent dictators and assorted other considerations in a world where magic is relatively common but with wildly differing power levels.

There’s so much there to mine, but no, we got relationship drama, disjointed storytelling, burned bridges, relationship drama, character assassination, pointless drama, character assassination of the previous series’ characters, and relationship drama.  There were certainly high points, so the series isn’t devoid of value, but it could have been so much more.

One other big thing that bothers me is something that seems to be a concern in a lot of popular media.  Once the creators start engaging an audience, things can often go sour.  Far too many little beats in Korra came across as either fanservice or trolling that it became less of a legend and more of a performance art experience.  Maybe that’s fine for what some people want, but I think that the Avatar world deserved better.  There’s certainly a good reason to be aware of your audience, but I think there needs to be a barrier there, or else the creative work suffers.

I think I can still recommend Book 1 of Korra’s Legend, but really, it’s best just to go watch Aang’s Airbender stories.

Edited to add:  I ran into another Tumblr that reminded me that the group dynamic was better in Season 1, Bolin was better, and man, they really needed to make a team work like Aang’s crew.  They never really did that well at all in Korra.  They could have, but failed.

Korra’s Team

Man… that’s really the downer of all this.  It could have been so much better.

Edited again to add:  This article from Larry Correia is a great fisking of a monumentally dumb article that shows some of the mentality that I think pervaded Korra’s story.  Maybe not at first, but it seeped in as the authors engaged with the most rabid segments of the audience and catered to sociopolitical quirks of today instead of staying true to their own story.  To be sure, every work is a “product of its time” in ways small and great, but when a work of fiction becomes less about its own interesting story and more about preaching a Message, it falls apart.  This was the problem with Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land‘s third act, for example.

Aang’s journey was internally consistent (mostly, and notably, the Message episodes were the weakest), Korra’s was a mess of Messages and fourth-wall pressures, suffering from undue external influences.  It’s a good case study in what not to do, in many ways.

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Ambigrammar

I’m fond of ambigrams, and have taken a stab at making more than a few in my day.  This is the latest:

Chiaroscuro Ambigram V2

I’m just putting it out there at the moment without explanation, though.  I’d like to see if it’s readable and interesting.

What do you think?

It seems that the trick is making the thing read correctly both ways, while keeping the letterforms appealing and at least reasonably consistent.  It’s hard to make an ambigram “font”, though this sort of font shows up often:

AmbigramSample

My designs lean more to the “tribal” aesthetic than the Olde Tyme Fontography.  It gives me a bit more flexibility, though it’s not always as readable.  It’s interesting to me to see how these might work.  They often try to “hack” our natural tendency to see patterns, especially with the little bits and floating details that might be important one way but best ignored the other way.

Sometimes it’s easier with more words, too… and sometimes not.  They can give more datapoints to help decipher the rest of the puzzle.  This one is for the Alhambra Speech and Debate team, for example, and some of it works well… other bits don’t.  A lot depends on context; someone on the team would be able to read it fairly easily since they would expect it to be relevant to their interests.

AlhambraSpeechAndDebateAmbigram

If you’ve a guess at what this latest one reads, I’d love to see it in the comments.  Thanks!

Updated with this application of the ambigram… and the word: “Chiaroscuro”.  Thanks, all!

ChiaroscuroBanner

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It’s busy here in the Tesh household.  Scrambling for work and finding ways to pay the bills is less than the easy breeze through the holidays of years past, but so it goes.  In the finest online Black Friday tradition, though, I wanted to note that we’re now selling the Tinker and Rusty Tinker decks (featured on Pinterest over here) at our newish SquareUp shop over here:

Project Khopesh Square Shop

I also have a few other shops, like this one at Shapeways, where the Tinker Dice and Gearpunk Dice started and still feature, as well as a smattering of other goodies like the WoW Druid rings (some of which I need to update, so if their system freaks out, please let me know):

Tish Tosh Tesh Toys

The Zazzle shop, with goodies like the Fishbowl Aggro shirt, Mousemech and Battle Bards:

Tish Tosh Tesh Toyz

And even a few items over here on CafePress:

Tish Tosh Teshirts

…and yes, I was stretching for some of these shop names.  Sorry.  Sort of.

Anyway, goodies abound, and if you do happen to pick something up, thank you!  I’d love to make more goods available, but time will tell if that’s worth spending my increasingly stressful time with.  I’d love to be able to pay the bills with creative endeavors like these and Kickstarters, but it’s just not happening at the moment.  Maybe someday.  (If I wasn’t afraid of copyright infringement, oh, the fun that could be had with selling fan art and mashups…)

In the meantime, here’s hoping you had a great Thanksgiving, and that December treats you well too!

I’ll make a better post or two as the end of the year approaches, it just seemed a good time to get these out there.

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