Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Sacrosanct Space

I haven't played Sim City. I haven't played Dead Space 3. I haven't played Aliens: Colonial Marines. I haven't played any videogames except Penny-Arcade's On The Rain Slick Precipice of Darkness 3, Torchlight 2 and Bejeweled 3 in about a year. Wait. Maybe I've played Jamestown. I've played Diablo 3.

(Pretend I didn't list Jamestown. Shhhhhhhh.)

But I've seen a lot of people talk about DLC or "always-on" experiences and what comes to mind as a player is the idea that my experience of playing a videogame is being interrupted. In the case of always on, it means that I am at the whim of of a developer to make sure their own infrastructure is sound enough to play the experience I have already paid money for.

And that's not a thing that I should have to care about as a player. I've already put down my money. I've already showed, in some cases, sixty examples of good faith, plus tax. When I purchase a book, I don't have to worry about firmware updates to the paper getting between me and the experience.

One could make the same argument for videogame consoles before the current generation. I don't have to worry that my Playstation 2 will decide tomorrow that it needs to connect to the internet before I play a little Dragon Quest 8 before bed. I can play Dragon Quest 8, or maybe you'd prefer Burnout 3, or Persona 4 or whatever game I choose, because the architecture of the system is designed in a way to require the game and the tray and nothing else.

Anything always on changes that. Instead of needing two things, a player/customer now needs three. They need the disc to work. They need the system to work and they need the developers and publishers to be on the ball every day of each year going forward. That's a material change in the relationship between the buyer and the seller. I'm being asked going forward to take on faith that another party will have their ducks in a row.

That isn't a feature.
I would like whatever it is I bought to work when I have or carve out the time in my day to play it. I suspect that's why I read so many books as opposed to movies or videogames these days: I can pick up the book and it works immediately. I don't have to sit through five minutes of commercials for other products or anti-piracy warnings, I can just read the book. Books are also portable and easy to use, I say just a little bit facetiously. I can throw one in my bag and it's ready when I am.

I'm surprised I have to say this, but I'm enjoying the very retro feeling of having no popups appear on screen, whether it's an alert that a friend is playing the same game or the game announcing that "you got an achievement!"

What brings my interest in PS2 games and the aforementioned Steam games together is that at least once I'm playing, my playing experience isn't interrupted for an ad to buy more stuff. They take my time seriously.
I felt like I was in high school when I played Penny-Arcade's On The Rain-Slick Precipice Of Darkness 3. It demanded me until 3 or 4 a.m.. It accomplished this by telling me a story I wanted to know more about, by interacting with me in a way that felt familiar, but had a couple really excellent twists on the concept and least of all, not interrupting itself to sell additional content.

To a lesser extent, I had this experience with Torchlight II and Bejewled 3. These are games that respect the players. You bought the game, and now, you ought to enjoy it. I don't want to say that it's an "old-school" kind of experience, because Journey exists. But: The idea that the best ad for the next game is the one you're playing right now is a powerful one.

The cardinal sin of Dead Space 3 is not that microtransactions exist inside it, but how those are implemented into the experience of playing the game. The team has spent two odd years and thousands of hours to create an environment that scares the player and all that work is destroyed when the offer is made to you that if waiting 10 minutes to get supplies is too long, you can cut the time in half in exchange for more of your local money.

That's an offer that takes me out of the game, first. Second: Had I paid $60, I'd be furious. I just paid sixty dollars for an entertainment experience and there was something built in for the specific purpose of detracting from the meticulously crafted thing I paid sixty dollars for? Get out of town.

I don't mind DLC. Shit, I like DLC. But don't interrupt my play experience, the thing that got you in the door, to hawk me more shit. Maybe this is my recognition that I am no longer the target market for these experiences and on some level that bums me out. I don't think it is, though. I don't mind being offered DLC. But I do mind how the offer is made.

I want to support developers and publishers that view the time I spend playing their game as sacrosanct. That indicates a respect for my time and my attention, which I am happy and excited to repay with cash dollars, which I suspect is all those developers and publishers wanted in the first place.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

As Many Principal Creators As Reasons To Die Number One

I bought Twelve Reasons To Die #1 at a con. My very long two cents follow.

The Twelve Reasons To Die #1 credits page is a nightmare. Ghostface Killah and Adrian Younge are credited as creators. Adrian Younge, Ce Garcia and Matthew Rosenberg are credited with the story. Finally, Matthew Rosenberg and Patrick Kindlon are credited as writers.

Rosenberg is credited a third time, somehow, as the bookrunner. It's a comic book, so hearing that there's enough balls in the air that someone deserves credit for keeping them going who isn't an editor is a worrying sign.

But okay, those designations can be parsed out. The characters are Ghost's (because Mr. Killah sounds a little bit too on the nose) and Mr. Younge's. The story is a collaboration between Mr. Younge, Mr. Garcia and Mr. Rosenberg and the actual script specifics are Mr. Rosenberg and Mr. Kindlon.

When you get to who's credited on the art, you may as well read tea leaves.

You have and this is no joke, two Illustrators, not one but three Guest Illustrators and this is the genius part, two Production Artists. Luckily, there's only one colorist and only one letterer, who do the herculean job of making sure there's at least some consistency between all of these pencillers. If anyone deserves a hand here, it's the colorist and letterer. Twelve Reasons To Die #1 doesn't have a chance to set a tone, because odds are good that if you flip the next page, a completely different penciller is telling the story.

(Oh, and the narration text takes an unexplained jump in size on the final page.)

Politely, it's a mess.

As a rule, the best comics tend to come from the singular vision of one person or a single writer/penciller team. By comparison, you have seven people pencilling this comic, and five people writing Twelve Reasons To Die.

The script makes me groan without pleasure.  In a scene where Ghost shows up to a club with his crew, wrecks some Italian mob goons with guns, the narration is, (from the perspective of the boss goon/strawman) and I quote: "He was something we had never seen before…we were soldiers…Anthony Starks was a fucking weapon." 

Rosenberg and Kindlon are both smart guys, so I find it very hard to believe they wrote something that stupid. Was this Ghost's people? Was this Ghost himself, making absolutely certain that he came off as badass as possible in his own vanity project? I have no idea. Given Wu-Tang's history with comics, it's hard to believe.

There's some solid panel to panel storytelling, for which Rosenberg and Kindlon and whomever pencilled it deserve credit, but there's one thing missed, which is kind of important.

Ghost dies and only one person mentions it.

Right. The conceit of comic, which, incidentally, I had to read an interview with Adrian Younge to figure out, was that Ghost was a mobster, who got killed as a certain record played, and through that, somehow, transferred his essence to 12 particular records, that when played, will kill the gangsters that killed him. I think? According to a different interview, these 12 gangsters are all heads of their own gangs. Awesome.

The problem is that Ghost dying off panel is incongruous, given the only other time he appeared, he was very much alive. The next time you see him, it's a disembodied face that comes out of a vinyl record.

Ghost makes an entrance in a club with his crew, shooting men with guns, beating them with chairs and then, taking a chair leg, slashing a dude's throat with it, then throwing that leg into the eye of a mobster and then after that, taking another chair leg and stabbing yet another mobster in the throat with the second chair leg. That's his entrance. He's got one word balloon and it sounds completely and utterly baffling with the rest of the story.

He says: "Niggaz heard y'all run the game 'round here. We got shit to talk about, ya nahmsayin."

Thus, the next time you see Ghost, with the implication he's dead, it makes no goddamn sense. The writers just set up Ghost as a walking Act of God, or if you prefer "a fucking weapon," so how in the fuck did he die? Old age? Venereal disease? High cholesterol? Because if the answer is he got killed by other gangsters, that flies in the face of how the character was portrayed the first time he showed up in the comic.

By and large, it's the parts that don't involve Ghost where the comic does well. I enjoyed the storytelling around finding these records and their effects on the gangsters they're meant for. My favorite scene, I think was the same gangster, I think, subcontracting out the finding of the pieces of vinyl to a young black man not too proud to take the job, but conflicted enough to desire respect for his work. The whisper: "We prefer the term crate-digger," is excellent.

I oscillate on how I feel about the gangsters. If there's a popular media portrayal of gangsters that the writers don't lean on, it's not for lack of trying. You've got gangster with the veneer of nobility. You've got slimy gangster. You've got "we're just businessmen and we fought the Nazis" gangster.  I'm surprised they haven't gotten to off-brand Scarface. Maybe that's the next issue.

I think it's the same gangster, actually. With the shifting pencillers in the first half of the comic, I'm not sure what's flashback and what's present day and who is who.

Maybe I'm too harsh. This is a vanity project comic about gangsters. Perhaps off-brand Scarface is part and parcel of obeying and enjoying the genre. I'm not sure. This is pretty obviously a review I'm writing to organize my thoughts. I wrote this originally because I was disappointed in the issue. The original conclusion was:

I paid $4 for this comic, mostly because I wanted to support Pat Kindlon and figured it was worth a roll of the dice to see if he and Ghost worked well together. I now know. I would not do it again.

Considering the comic again, there's enough other things in the comic that hit well, that I second guess the statement. It should go without saying, though, if you're a fan of any of the writers' musical endeavors, get those instead. $4 an issue is asking a bit much for a story I'm hot and cold on, but if you're a fan of Ghost's stories or Wu-Tang acolyte, I think you'll enjoy it.

I suppose I ought to use something from the album from which this comics comes, but instead, here, have Ghostface Killah as the champ. Enjoy.
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