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A Letter to Electric Six

Messrs. of E6:

I have seen your operation live twice, now, in Wisconsin, which is amusingly but unsurprisingly part of your Canadian tour circuit. It is always a good time, but your synthesizer man Tait Nucleus? has never been present and now, at this last show, the Colonel’s place was taken by the young Lieutenant Colonel. Internet searchings have turned up very little apart from conjecture and innuendo, pointing toward Tait, at least, getting himself banned from Canada. Is Col. Shipps now also banned from Canada? Will they ever be unbanned so that we Canucks and near-Canucks can see E6 undiminished? Will E6 ever officially explain, or at least cursorily address, what the fuck is, in fact, up?

Respectfully,

Erin

The Poorer for Having You In It

Ominous title taken from one of the better lines in Dragon Age 2, which I’m now going to micro-review because it didn’t inspire enough vitriol or adoration for me to globber on for 5000 words like I usually do. Actually, though, I think I’m only taking the time to say anything at all because, having now finished the game, I’m sort of baffled at how professional critics gave it all these 10s and equally stunned at the hateful, lowball 2s and 4s from users. My thoughts?

It’s a pretty mediocre game.

The Shepardization of the PC was a good move, the Dragon Age world is once again interesting enough to want to inhabit, and some cool shit goes down, but the game is half the length of DAO and its brisk 30 hours are spent in a handful of environments that are recycled an execrable amount of times. I almost forgave this for a few minutes near the end of my playthrough, when it momentarily looked like the endgame was going to be a phenomenally nuanced ballet of consequence, but that proved illusory, and all my choices were sucked into the game’s conclusive slurry of catch-all boss fights.

DA2 just reeks to me of a horribly rushed development cycle, which, in the depths of my ignorance I want to blame at least partially on EA, and while I realize the Mass Effect team is an entirely separate entity I’m still concerned for the implications this kind of thing could have for BioWare’s flagship series, which I must admit I care about a whole lot more than I do Dragon Age after this fair-to-meh middle game.

NTO in the Local Newspaper

NTO in the Waterloo Courier
Pardon the repost from the NTO blog, but my tiny town of Waterloo, Wisconsin, has its own local newspaper, the Courier, which actually featured Next Town Over and I this week. No revelations therein for web natives or comics enthusiasts, since its author was [probably] trying to keep it accessible for our paper’s small, rural-ish subscription base, but the coverage is still very much appreciated. Hopefully this’ll act as an ice-breaker for me and this community and that one guy will stop glaring at me at the corner diner.

Hell’s Corners TPB On Sale!

Hell’s Corners: Douchebags Never Die is here and it looks fantastic! If you were an HC fan back in the day and never bought any of the print editions, now’s the time: the 158 page collection is loaded with self-important commentary and extras. You owe it to yourself (and to me, damn you, you cheapsmack) to buy it at IndyPlanet.

Dilettantin’ Ain’t Definition Cruise Control

Alex brought my attention to this article, which I probably would have otherwise missed because I have a growing tendency to leave my head up my ass to avoid things that might aggravate me.

In it, Patton Oswalt breezes past something that’s been aggravating me for quite awhile, now, on the way to his spittle-flinging, conclusive cry to pop-cultural arms:  the weird dilettantism that’s sprung up around geek “culture” with the hyper-accessibility of everything, and the scramble to capitalize on this with processed & prepackaged “nerd” fodder. I’m talking about MC Frontalot, Big Bang Theory, and World of Warcraft: superficial distillations of the sorts of things that “nerds” traditionally immersed themselves in with zero barrier of entry.

My irritation with this has been brewing for awhile as I’m increasingly surrounded by people who play WoW to level 10 and run out to Hot Topic to buy themselves a Green Linen Shirt to wear to the gym, folks sitting me down to watch a Blu-Ray of Watchmen who’ve never read a comic book, and self-described “gamers” that just bought their first console and isn’t Kinect cool.

I catch a lot of hell for my irritation with this stuff going mainstream; it gets written off as a kind of douchey hipsterism no different than someone, say, freaking out because the Manic Street Preachers were playing on the radio at the grocery store. Well it isn‘t any different: I heard the Manic Street Preachers playing on the radio at the grocery store awhile back and I was irritated with that, too. Why? Because I sort of doubt whoever added The Everlasting to whatever 400 Shopping Greats XM channel the store had on listened to the lyrics when they decided its aural tranquility qualified it for the shopping experience:

The gap that grows between our lives
The gap our parents never had
Stop those thoughts control your mind
Replace the things that you despise
“Oh, you’re old,” I hear you say
It doesn’t mean that I don’t care
I don’t believe in it anymore
Pathetic acts for a worthless cause

I bet they didn’t know the socialist Manics were invited to play at Castro’s place, either, but I do; because I care.

Let’s talk World of Warcraft. I like WoW. I’ve freely admitted I find the game perilously addictive and publicly marveled at the accessible-but-deep (if you take the time to excavate) piece of software Blizzard’s crafted, but I wouldn’t call myself a WoW fan, really, and I’d never run out and buy a Green Linen Shirt. I’m a casual player, at best, which is why I’ve historically gotten rankled when even more casual casuals than I seem hellbent on defining themselves as WoW fans and shell out ridiculous sums of money to prove it with easily-found merchandise to rot on their shelves without setting foot in half the actual game content or taking the time to learn how to gear for their goddamn role. Simultaneously, I enjoy hearing/reading about WoW when its devotees talk (looking at you, arc): their passion for the game’s intricacies is admirable, interesting. They care, and by extension I care about their insights into the game and learn a little something about them via their commitment, to boot. Meanwhile, Green Linen Shirt guy is all too happy to espouse his views on the game, too, as a means of defining himself … as a smattering of surficial garbage I could pick up cursorily scanning a wiki, which I guess would then qualify me to declare myself a fan, an authority, a nerd … right?

“Nerd” culture, like goth culture or hipster counter-culture or Scientology, has just become another cruise control for identity. Be more than the sum of the crap you buy, the shows you fucking watch and the movies you can quote, people. Quit your dabbling and dilettanting and do your own thing.

The Final Countdown (Best Games of ’10)

Gob & Buster: The Final Countdown

Somewhere there is someone who gets this joke, I'm sure

Honorable Mention – Costume Quest: What a fun, festive little game this was, well-priced and smartly, sweetly funny. I’ve got both feet firmly in the camp that favors Double Fine’s new focus on small, manageable morsels.

Dishonorable Mention – Final Fantasies XIII and XIV: Aaaaaauuuuuugh ranting about these two, disparate clustercusses would be too tangential, but come on.

5. Dragon Quest IX: 2010 has the distinction of having been the year I finally let go of my curmudgeonly hatred of handhelds. For now. Equipped with a new DSi XL (big and bright for old people!), I tore into the ninth Dragon Quest with a voraciousness I haven’t hit a DQ with since the NES. I love job systems, I love quests, I love customizeable characters, and I love shitloads of tough optional content, and this game really makes up for the somewhat deficient DQVIII. This wasn’t just one of the best games this year; it was the best Dragon Quest in ages and I will fight anyone who says different.

4. Fable III: Let’s get this out of the way: Fable games are flawed, in many ways outright broken, and almost always fall woefully short of the promised experience. So here’s what you do: you ignore the outrageous amounts of hype that inevitably surround them, and you don’t listen to anything Peter Molyneaux says (ever), and then you buy and play them on launch day and take the time to do the usually 30 hoursish worth of sidequests and widget grinds before finishing the 12 hour plot. If you do this, they’ll make your lists, too, because they’re charming, legitimately funny, gorgeous, and deeply interactive.

3. Minecraft: The ugly, ultimate sandbox that exploded in 2010 claimed me for weeks and my boyfriend forever. My sister has an anecdote where someone sees her playing Minecraft and asks how much she paid for it; Cate said “$12” and this individual replied with a visibly disgusted “It’s not worth $12.” What a dumbass, though it’s true Minecraft has to be played to be understood, let alone believed.

2. Red Dead Redemption: I enjoy the style and structure of Grand Theft Auto‘s gameplay but I’ve gotten sick of tooling around modern cities, I think. A game that was essentially GTA reskinned as a Western was perfect for me, and it held up decently as a shooter, besides: we need more third person shooters, industry. I put a lot of hours on RDR, much of them in multiplayer, and many of those in free roam hopping missions with my persistent partner-in-crime Cate, forever trying to level high enough to get a better horse.   The story mode sequence where you survive the raft ride into Mexico and then are riding through alien terrain with that song playing? So surreal; one of games’ most memorable moments in recent years. Also, man, the ending, am I right?

1. Mass Effect 2: I initially almost forgot about this game when thinking of this list; it came out so long ago it didn’t initially register as having been released this year (it came out the end of January). I was not a massive Mass Effect fan (I thought it was pretty dry and more than a little mechanically clunky), but the sequel would easily make a list of my favorite games of all time. Playing through it pretty much nonstop over a couple of days probably added to the immersion, but this game was really everything I want in an RPG anymore. Decently-realized, interactive characters with a streamlined system for managing them, an amount of input in the direction of the story, great soundtrack, and the best ensemble cast-inclusive ending since Final Fantasy VI. The conclusion to this trilogy is one of the only games I’m looking forward to in 2011, and I have every confidence it’ll make next year’s list.

An Old-Fashioned Christmas

Christmas in DarkfallSo somewhat unexpectedly, the holidays have come to Darkfall, with Christmas trees, fireworks, and the usual cosmetic equippables.  This went almost altogether unnoticed by vets, unless they were griping on it being a clear waste of developer effort at a time when they think X, Y, and Z ought to be overhauled. This same patch also rebalanced some aspects of gameplay that, as a newb, I’m too far removed from to comment on intelligently, but regardless, big ups to Aventurine for even token efforts to keep new players entertained.

Holiday bearDarkfall‘s huge and its environments varied, but if you’re staring down its dauntingly long skill grind before becoming PvP viable you’re probably not seeing much besides your race’s starting cities and lots and lots and lots more goblins/kobolds/trolls/zombies.

So the way I see it the holiday decor/effects are something else for newbs to stare at; a bit of a glimmer to vary up a pretty grey character growth period, and another step in the right direction for Darkfall, which desperately needs to become more newcomer friendly. I don’t mean it needs to become more casual friendly — its grit and difficulty are what keep the adrenaline flowing and the experience unique even while killing that 200th troll for your title.

Aventurine definitely seems to be working harder at it: the grind is still steep but it’s nothing like it used to be; I actually feel like I will one day be PvP-ready, now, whereas I quit before partially out of hopelessness at how much time I’d have to invest to pull it off. They’ve also added more mobs, more quests, and more goodies.

But, with some glowing exceptions, the community is still pretty hostile to new players on the aggregate. Newb zones are still griefed pretty hard, the honor of folks’ moms and dogs is still called into routine question, and anyone with a thin skin is sent running back to a more mainstream MMORPG in pretty short order. Which I don’t get, frankly: the new players of today are the loot pinatas of tomorrow, aren’t they?

I’ve Made a Huge Mistake

Who lurks behind yon rock (Hint: it's me, and I'm not lurking so much as hiding from a guy)

As friends, coworkers and acquaintances vanished back into World of Warcraft never to be heard from again, I stuck to my guns and didn’t shell out for Cataclysm. This was partially out of boredom with WoW (I’d only just deactivated at the end of the last Arena season, realizing it was all that was really holding my interest), partially out of not wanting to shell out $40 for an expansion that I adamantly believe should have been $20, and mostly out of not wanting to let WoW vacuum up any of more of my time. I grapple with addiction to multiplayer games in ways that aren’t issues with single player experiences.

So, reactivating Darkfall and suggesting my sister join me (she’s also boycotting the Cataclysm launch, for her own reasons) on a trial account was a terrible idea. In the past 3 days I’ve played like 18 hours. With apparent improvements to the speed of skillgains I finally got Lesser Magic over the hump, people, allowing me to learn Greater Magic, my skill in which is rapidly closing on 50, which will allow me to learn the Witchcraft, Fire and Air schools of magic I’ve always dreamed of.

I’m in real trouble, here.

The Clan I’d joined booted me for inactivity while I was away, so for the time being I’m going it alone with my sister, who’s faced with starting DF’s daunting skill grind totally afresh and, as far as I can tell, is loving it. We’ve already been ganked by an old friend of mine, by which I mean an inveterate newbie killer who nailed me countless times back in the day. The more things change.

And Darkfall has changed. In addition to my Darkfall travelogue 2009 prophecies coming more or less true for NA-1, the game now has a web-accessible offline skilling mode which was supposed to help narrow the gap between new and established players but as near as I can tell is only going to make it worse because of its prohibitive in-game currency cost.  It’s also got quite a bit more PvE content, most of which I can’t report on because it’s largely huge things in farflung lands that I, respectively, can’t handle and have never seen.

Maybe once Cata’s no longer the toast of the interwebs (or $40) I’ll see you there. Meanwhile, while you and your 11 millionish best pals won’t shut up about how cool it is to be a wolfman, I’ma slip off into the shadows to play a forgotten game and the wolfman (well, -woman) I’ve been for years.  If Darkfall‘s taught me anything it’s that it’s a lot safer in the shadows.

P.S. If you don’t know what Darkfall‘s all about and don’t want to read my 8000 words on the subject or aggregate an idea from the interwebs, this is Darkfall.