I Am On TVTropes Which Is Neat I Guess

I don’t really have any topics for a Tuesday article leaping out to grip me, but my post on why Vampire: the Last Night is terrible did get linked on TVTropes as an explanation of why that adventure is bad, so I now get a steady trickle of traffic from that link. That’s not like a watershed moment for the blog or anything, it’s still like two or three views a day and I usually get at least ten times that many even when I’m producing less and less popular content (like these Spider-Man and Philosophy reviews have been going), but I noticed it in my blog stats when I was double checking how much my schedule slip has maimed my view count this time, so hey, that’s neat.

Musing on the Sinister Six

I’ve been doing research into super villain team-ups lately. Like super hero team-ups, these fall into basically two categories: Teams like the X-Men or their evil counterparts in the Brotherhood of Mutants who are built from the ground up to be teams, and post-hoc team-ups of established heroes/villains like the Avengers or our heroes today, the Sinister Six. Creating a villain team isn’t that different from creating an ensemble cast of heroes, and the ensemble outlines I’ve already written about apply equally to them. What about Avengers-style villain team-ups?

I haven’t determined any general purpose rules for them yet, probably because so far I’ve only really examined the Sinister Six, but here’s what I’ve found about that particular line-up.

The original Sinister Six line-up consists of Doc Ock, Electro, Vulture, Sandman, Mysterio, and Kraven the Hunter. The middle four are in no particular order, but notably Doc Ock is almost always the leader of the Sinister Six and Kraven is only there because “Sinister Five” isn’t alliterative. Spidey has subsequently gotten much better villains to fill that spot. Hobgoblin and Rhino have filled the sixth spot in the past, and while Venom was only ever a part of Sandman’s Sinister Six assembled for revenge on Doc Ock, he’s also a good choice for the sixth spot. The 2018 video game put Mister Negative in there, and even though Mister Negative is a C-tier villain no one cares about, it still worked, because Kraven’s spot is a total wild card, so go ahead and shove your favorite underrated Spidey villain in there, it’s a free space.

Chameleon and Shocker have also been in the Sinister Six before, but they’ve got a bit of overlap with Electro and Mysterio, respectively, so you should probably avoid putting them in the same story unless you have a plan to draw attention to their differences. Also, Beetle makes appearances surprisingly often, despite the fact that you have never heard of him and don’t care, and Scorpion makes appearances surprisingly rarely, despite the fact that he’s no more averse to team-ups than most villains and is easily as recognizable as some of the roster-fillers like Mysterio and Vulture.

Into the Spider-Verse had a very different Sinister Six line-up. Kingpin is in charge, Doc Ock is his number two (she isn’t especially loyal and has her own motives, but that is true of most Sinister Six members – in their first appearance, their infighting led to them running a gauntlet on Spidey one by one because they refused to work directly with one another, and Spidey mocked them at the end for being defeated when they probably would’ve won if they’d just worked together). Green Goblin, who is normally too megalomaniacal to work with other villains in any capacity except as their undisputed master, and Scorpion, who is perfectly good Sinister Six fodder but doesn’t usually join for no reason I can think of, are both on the team. Prowler is normally an also-ran villain unworthy of a Sinister Six spot, but in Spider-Verse he stole the show as the stand-out villain of the bunch, and then also Tombstone was there. He is also normally an also-ran villain unworthy of a Sinister Six spot, and in Spider-Verse, he is still that. Nothing’s perfect, I guess.

The Spider-Verse version breaks a lot of Sinister Six rules, like “the Green Goblin never joins the Sinister Six” and “Doc Ock always leads the Sinister Six.” If you want to make your own Sinister Six story, do not do this. In Spider-Verse, the whole point is that Miles Morales’ dimension is similar, but different, to Peter B. Parker’s. His Scorpion has eight limbs (nine, counting the tail), his Green Goblin is a hulking brute instead of a lithe super soldier, his Doc Ock is a woman, and his Kingpin was bitten by a radioactive dump truck. You can swap out any member of the Sinister Six if it serves a purpose, and in Spider-Verse, there was a purpose to be served by the entire line-up being radically altered. Sandman’s Sinister Six had no Doc Ock at all because its purpose was for revenge on Doc Ock. Speaking of Sandman, he dances across the hero/villain line now and then, which means he might sometime be unavailable for his usually sacrosanct spot in the roster, and will have to be replaced (you could even get a good story out of Sandman confronting his former allies in the Sinister Six as a friend of Spider-Man).

This is a slapped together post about a half-complete research project I happened to be undertaking, so it’s not really going anywhere and has no conclusion except for this sentence explaining a lack of a conclusion. So. Uh. Have a sinister Tuesday.

The Optimal MMORPG Day/Night Cycle

The MMORPG genre is basically dead, on account of being crazy-expensive to produce upfront (though very cheap to keep running, despite lingering myths that it is still 1998 and server costs are a thing we have to care about, like, at all) and the audience having mostly moved on, first to MOBAs, then to arena shooters, and now to the whole survival of the fittest PUBG/Fortnite thing.

But hey, being current was never really this blog’s schtick, so let’s talk about the optimal day/night cycle for a genre that is almost impossible to produce new installments for. I guess maybe like ten or fifteen years from now advancing tech will allow indie MMORPGs to be a thing the way they’ve brought back Infinity Engine games and stuff.

The trick with an MMORPG day/night cycle is that 1) you want the average player to see both the day and the night of your cycle. If your day/night cycle is 1:1 with the real world, then sure, America always plays in the morning, Europe in the afternoon, and China at night, but so far as each individual player is concerned, you may as well have just made it a static time and called it a day.

But also 2) you want the average player to be able to spend a significant amount of their session in either day or night, so that you can have content occur in one or the other. If you have decent dawn and sunset times (and you should), then day and night occupy only about a third of your cycle each. If your cycle is one hour long, that means your day- or night-exclusive content is available only in twenty minute bursts, way too short for players to notice it’s night and go somewhere to do something about it. They have to track when in the hour your night cycle begins and head to the cemetery in advance to fight the vampires as soon as night falls (or whatever).

Even if your day/night cycle is purely cosmetic, having a very short day/night cycle means it’s much harder to have a sense of having an adventuring day. The average player’s session is probably going to be about 2-3 hours, which means that during one real life day of play, an hour-long cycle gives 2-3 days’ worth of adventuring. But since you probably don’t have sleep or thirst mechanics or anything (and those would probably not be a good idea), this all blurs together, resulting in the day/night cycle being practically unnoticeable. If you’re going to have a day/night cycle, size it to fit the average player’s session, so that it feels like their play session for the day is equal to one day in the life of their character.

To satisfy these requirements, four hours is about ideal. It still syncs up with a 24 hour clock (module the need for occasional leap seconds, if you really want to be precise). Most players will probably only see about half the cycle on any given day, but because the exact length of their play session and the exact time they stop and start will probably vary by an hour or so day by day, they will see all of the day/night cycle over the course of a week or so (whereas, with a 24-hour cycle, you might once every few months play the game at a very unusual time, but 99% of the time you’re probably playing in the afternoon and evenings every day except the days you don’t play at all).

Players are much less likely to see multiple days in one session, though, unless they’re really marathoning by playing for over four hours at a stretch, which is hardly typical (not that early MMOs didn’t try to incentivize people to play for such absurd lengths, for some dumb reason – even when subscription fees were ubiquitous, you get paid for consistency, not obsession, devs). This preserves the “one day of gameplay per day” thing that the 24-hour cycle attempts to achieve, but fails to, on account of players don’t play the game for like eight hours a day (except when they do, but Christ, don’t do that).

Finally, day/night content is around for a full hour and twenty minutes, which means that when night falls, someone can notice that night has fallen, spend twenty minutes extricating themselves from whatever they happened to be doing, go to the cemetery, and still probably have 50 minutes at least to fight the vampires before the sun comes up. Even content that happens strictly during dawn and dusk (40 minutes each under this system – 40 minutes of dawn followed by 80 minutes of day followed by 40 minutes of sunset followed by 80 minutes of night, total of 240 minutes, which is four hours) is reasonably accessible, if for some reason you ever do that, although I expect most MMOs will use dawn and/or dusk as extensions on day and night that apply to some, but not all, events. Like, some content is available at dusk and night but goes away at dawn, some content happens whenever it isn’t night, but probably nothing is only available only at dusk.

The day/night cycle even lines up reasonably well to an in-game calendar, if that is for some reason something you care about, in that one IRL day is six game days, which is roughly a week, and five IRL days is thirty game days, which is a month-ish, and every 61 IRL days (loosely, two months) is close to a game year. If you’re running a game whose scale benefits from the in-game timeline moving faster than the IRL timeline (and many settings do, especially the bog standard epic fantasy), then this calendar allows for easy conversion while still allowing for years to pass relatively quickly. A story arc released incrementally over the course of three years – not atypical in long-running MMOs – can happen over the span of an entire generation of in-game time, but it’s easy for players to remember 1 real day = 1 game week, 1 real work week = 1 game month, and 2 real months = 1 game year, and thus keep track of how time works in the game.

A Visit To A Bookstore

I visited a bookstore recently, while wandering the half-dead mall for twenty minutes waiting for a movie to start. It was the same location as a bookstore I had visited as a child and teenager some 10-15 years ago, but that bookstore had closed down, and a new one had since come to replace it. Apparently the interim owners didn’t even take down the shelves, because the shelves themselves were all in the exact same position as I remember, just the self-help books were in the old sci-fi/fantasy section I had always haunted, and sci-fi/fantasy was now closer to the middle rather than the back. I can’t even remember what books used to be in that section, which shows how much impression they left.

But the thing that really stood out to me wasn’t that the position of the shelves hadn’t changed. It was that the books hadn’t changed. Besides being on different shelves, it was basically the same selection as I remember, with an occasional smattering of “newer” titles that were all at least five years old. But mostly the Star Wars section was still stocked with Karen Traviss and Timothy Zahn and a few decrepit leftovers from the WEG roleplaying game, and the fantasy section still had a bunch of old books from the 60s-80s including – and bear in mind this is in a small town in hyper-conservative, “porn is a mental health crisis” Utah – several Gor books. The only thing that had changed is that now the Star Wars and Dragonlance books which had once had that new book stiffness and smell are now nearly as worn as the pastiches from 1978. Turns out once a book is one year old, it will – barring heavy use – remain in about the same condition for decades until it begins to fall apart completely. And also that this bookstore apparently deals exclusively in books from four or five years ago.

Maybe it’s specifically a used bookstore, and they just didn’t advertise that at all?

Kickstarters Are Still Hard

I was able to keep content up while running this latest Kickstarter, and I still plan to keep it going while fulfilling that Kickstarter, but naturally fulfillment of obligations people paid for takes priority over a thing I promised a non-specific audience I’d try to do for free. Getting all the backer content finished is taking a little longer than expected, so I’m prioritizing that in order to keep my deadlines. This might cause the blog to miss some posts over the next week or two, but hopefully won’t cause it to go completely fallow.

Heartbreaker Press Interviews Ed Greenwood

Recently I edited together an interview by Heartbreaker Press with Ed Greenwood. I didn’t really contribute any content to this, just edited out all the filler words and stuff, so this falls more into the category of “posting other people’s stuff because I have no ideas for a Friday article” than “recycling my content from elsewhere into the blog,” but it’s still a pretty good interview. I’d listen to it while playing video games if I hadn’t already heard it five times while removing all the silences.

The Failure of Game of Thrones

Let’s be topical for once and talk about why Game of Thrones is bad. Now, Game of Thrones has been bad for like four seasons now, and people have been uneasy about it for years. Almost nobody ever wanted to be the one to stand up and say that this show is going off the rails until right near the end, when it dawned on everyone that there wasn’t enough time left to turn this thing around, but people could’ve seen this coming years away, and many of them did. The showrunners didn’t just roll out of bed and decide to phone in the final few episodes. They’ve demonstrated an obsession with the cliffhanger and the twist to the detriment of character motivation since at least Jon’s death (in fairness, GRRM wrote that scene exactly as poorly, trying to have Jon’s death be sudden and shocking instead of letting the tension build properly). They’ve demonstrated a failure to pay attention to details in troop movement and logistics since at least when Dany showed up in Westeros. In terms of writing, once they ran out of material to adapt they always had exactly one thing going for them: They were good at baiting their audience into thinking this was all going somewhere. Like the writers of Lost, their only merit was their ability to make convincing promises. When the story was wrapping up, they had no ability to deliver.

You can even see what they were going for if you look closely. Drogon avenges Danaerys by destroying the Iron Throne, the obsession with which would’ve killed Dany in any scenario, rather than killing Jon, the guy who happened to do the deed in the specific course of events that actually happened. Drogon (somehow) recognizes that it is feudalism that killed Dany, that she succumbed to it when she tried to claim the Iron Throne, a goal that stands in direct contradiction to her nominal desire to “break the wheel,” and Jon was merely a tool in the hands of the system. If it wasn’t him, it would’ve been someone else. It’s a good metaphor, a really well shot scene, and would’ve been a fantastic ending if only the showrunners had bothered with writing the beginning and middle of that story. Tyrion’s explanations of Dany’s motivations after the fact make sense and could’ve been the basis of a season 8 that was actually good.

The problem is that all of this was kept completely hidden from us until after the scene for which it was vital context. In order to make Dany’s torching of King’s Landing maximally shocking, the writers shut us out of Dany’s head until after it was too late – both too late for the audience to predict what would happen next, and too late to make the scene work. And that former one didn’t even work out well, because once a show becomes sufficiently popular, the internet’s theorycrafters will have any team of writers so thoroughly outnumbered that your only options are either to favor one faction of theorists over another or else to provide an ending that’s so bad that people never entertained the notion, because fans of ongoing art generally agree that the ending is going to be good. If they didn’t, they wouldn’t be fans.

The Problem With MMO Roleplay

Most MMORPGs will have a dedicated roleplay server. The idea of using an MMO as a backdrop for roleplaying appeals to me, but it has a serious problem that I don’t know how to easily solve: Who plays the NPCs? Like, obviously the computer runs the NPCs in the sense of having them attack players and stuff, but it’s pretty hard to have a roleplay conversation if you can’t talk to NPCs. It’s never long before you can feel the constraints of not being able to talk to plot-vital characters are felt.

I think probably the most fruitful direction for this kind of thing would be to ignore completely the role that the main plot casts you in. Most MMOs treat every player as though they are the chosen one. Obviously, you need to junk that in favor of the chosen four or eight or however many people are in your RP group, but I think that obvious step isn’t going far enough. If you’re going to not actually interact with any NPCs pretty much ever, then you need to be someone who wouldn’t be expected to. Let’s take Lord of the Rings Online as an example, although it makes you less chosen than most MMOs on account of Frodo and Aragorn are already a thing. In LotRO, your character is allegedly instrumental in fighting off all kinds of major servants of the Enemy all across Middle-Earth. You meet with Aragorn, Galadriel, Elrond, and a dozen other major names. Not only that, those people rely on you to accomplish vital tasks so they can do all their canon world saving shenanigans. But there’s nobody around to play the part of Aragorn or Elrond in RP conversations when you’re sitting around Rivendell.

Instead of being the tenth most important person in all of Middle-Earth right after the Fellowship, imagine you roleplay as just, like, regular hunters out of Bree or dwarven guards from the Blue Mountains or what-have-you. A fellowship of basically ordinary people who don’t interact directly with Aragorn or Elrond. You fight in the battles of the free people not because you are their savior but because you’re one of them. An army of dwarves showed up, and your dwarf buddy is one of them, and the non-dwarves are with him, and at no stage do any of the big names from the Hobbit personally thank you for your valor or anything. This reduces the party from protagonists to extras, but it also means that you can talk about the game as it really is: Pulling you along events that you cannot really control, rather than pretending that you’re on a first-name basis with Eomer and should be able to include him in the conversation whenever it would be prudent to do so. And with the group no longer at the heart of the plot, it liberates everyone to instead care mainly about the interpersonal relationships within the group, and how those relationships grow or wither over time as a result of the things that happen to the fellowship.

Jon Enge’s YouTube Channel Seems Pretty Okay

Most of the time, by the time I’ve seen a YouTube channel, its audience has already grown orders of magnitude larger than mine. Mostly this is because even the most generous estimates of the size of my audience put me at under 100 readers, so most YouTube channels worth watching are already considerably more popular than me, and the exceptions are almost by definition things I’m much less likely to know about.

Today, though, I got a live one. Jon Enge’s YouTube GM advice videos are good. I particularly like his video on the value of money. His mannerisms are kind of cringey, but much like Shadiversity and his awful, awful voice, the content is worth muscling through it.

Assassin’s Creed Unity Still Has Bugs

I don’t really know what I’m doing with Sundays now that I’m shelving the whole podcast theater thing for taking too long to edit for the quality of the content it produced, so here’s something random while I figure out what to stick there: After the Notre Dame fire, Ubisoft gave Assassin’s Creed Unity away for free. I’d already bought the game on sale ages ago, but I decided to play it in order to take advantage of the fresh crop of players for multiplayer content. Unity is no longer the horrific bugfest that it was at release (and they also removed all the connections to their freemium mobile game, with all the quests and chests formerly locked behind progress in that game now auto-unlocked), but it does have noticeably more bugs than other Assassin’s Creed games (which I always wait at least a year before playing, partly so that prices can come down, partly to give Ubisoft time to fix all the bugs). The parkour system in particular is janky as Hell, with Arno doing things like perching on the top of stairs as though it were a ledge and refusing to move while he’s shot to death by enemies or getting locked into his limb-flailing falling animation while attached to a wall, rendering him completely unable to move. It doesn’t help that the revised parkour system has made it the hardest to control Assassin’s Creed game yet made, which is a real shame since they finally stopped putting a gazillion snipers on the rooftops so you can actually parkour your way across the city without being attacked.

Y’know back in 2008 blog posts of this length were perfectly typical? If I could reload my life from an earlier save I would take advantage of so many fleeting internet fads that I’d naively assumed would last forever.