First Impressions: Elegy for a Dead World

I don’t think I’ve ever seen a game quite like Elegy for a Dead World. The closest I can think of is Lydia Neon’s game Player Two, which invites players to explore their feelings in a safe environment, by responding to open ended questions in a chatbox. Elegy for a Dead World plays similarly, asking for your words in chatboxes, except the scope is much larger, and the prompts more varied.

Eerily pretty, Elegy for a Dead World places you as an astronaut, floating in a vividly bright space, with stars twinkling in the background as you fly along. The central area is surrounded by clouds, and you are meant to fly toward bright, circular portals that will lead you to the worlds written by three famous deceased authors: Lord Byron, John Keats, and Percy Bhysse Shelley. As you explore these worlds, you are tasked with completing writing prompts. Yes, writing prompts. This game wants you to write.

Imagine that!

I was instantly sold. Challenges emerge from these worlds, ranging from songs to rhyming couplets. The game asks you to create stories told from the perspectives of people who lived on these worlds. The “gameplay” is fairly simple: you enter one of the worlds and choose a writing prompt. From there, you fly or walk, side-scroller style, until you find more words to help you complete the prompt. You keep going until you reach the end and from there you can re-read your story and edit, and then, if you choose, publish it on Steam Workshop. There, other players can read and “commend” it. If you get enough commendations, you get a Steam achievement (hot diggity).

There’s also a free writing exercise, which lets you drift through the world without a prompt. I went in thinking that I would like this option better, since I consider myself a writer already. I can think of my own prompts! I thought smugly, as I sat down to play it. And then sat there for a few minutes trying to think of what words to put into this bold, colorful universe. Properly chagrined, I selected what seemed like a simple enough prompt, without too many constraints, and blasted through it, enjoying the fuzzy ambient sound. I published it and moved onto another prompt eagerly. This one tasked me to write about a villain who had destroyed a world and write about what had happened. In the middle of my solitary journey through the landscape, it was revealed that had destroyed the world. Uh-oh. I enjoyed flipping the narrative, though I did have to go back and make some adjustments to my earlier writing.

I’m looking forward to working my way through more of the prompts. As I floated through space and what felt like time as well, I wondered what my younger self would have done with a game like this. I filled up notebooks and notebooks with words when I was younger, mostly fanfiction – which, if you think about it, Elegy for a Dead World sort of feels like, since you’re taking the atmosphere of dead poets’ worlds and springing from those. This is a game that I wish younger me would have had. She would have really enjoyed it.

Twitch’s New Rule: Cry More, Boys

Multi-million dollar company Twitch changed their Rules of Conduct recently (not to be confused with their Terms of Service – a distinction worth noting). The new rule is below.

Nerds are sexy, and you’re all magnificent, beautiful creatures, but let’s try and keep this about the games, shall we?

Wearing no clothing or sexually suggestive clothing – including lingerie, swimsuits, pasties, and undergarments – will most likely get you reported by the community, as well as any full nude torsos*, which applies to both male and female broadcasters. You may have a great six-pack, but that’s better shared on the beach during a 2-on-2 volleyball game blasting “Playing with the Boys.”

* If it’s unbearably hot where you are, and you happen to have your shirt off (gents) or a bikini top (ladies), then just crop the webcam to your face. If your lighting is hot, get fluorescent bulbs to reduce the heat. Xbox One Kinect doesn’t zoom? Move it closer to you, or turn it off. There is always a workaround.

We sell t-shirts, and those are always acceptable. #Kappa

(it’s worth noting, also, that the third paragraph, the one starting with an asterisk, was added after the initial post).

While Twitch’s new rules seem designed to specifically make streams family friendly, in terms of nudity, at least, the response has been anything but heralding the now Amazon-owned property as “friendly.”

People don’t have problems with male nudity, it seems – only problems with girls who do it for the attention.

Listen, guys, I get it. You don’t have lady parts. You know, instinctively, that breasts are attractive – most people do, myself included. Ain’t no shame in that (unless you’re the weird, grabby, oversexualizing type of person, in which case, yet, get the hell away from women). I can, maybe, see why you would call it an “unfair advantage” if women have their breasts prominently displayed on a cast, especially with Twitch being such a cutthroat place do business in. What I don’t understand is why you take it personally.

I get it! It’s a tough place for men out there who feel personally victimized by a woman’s success. It’s a tough place when you think that women are successful solely based on their sex appeal and not on their merits or entertaining personalities. It must be tough, going to the front page of Twitch and constantly seeing rows of men on the front page every single day, knowing that you’ll never achieve their success and somehow thinking it’s because their entertaining and maybe one day you can be them, if only for those damn breasts. Must be tough, in a world where men make 23% more than women (not including women of color – a number far more grim, where men make something like 32% more). Must be tough, in a world where women now make up more than half of people playing video games and your special toys are no longer so special.

Twitch has its problems, don’t get me wrong. But it isn’t women who stream with low cut shirts. If people complained half as much about the hate-speech filled language that fills chats, maybe I would care more about what they said. But no, the hill that people are choosing to die on is the hill filled with sexist, misandrist speak, already on fire and burning from an industry that already turns its face away from women suffering.

Livestreaming, I firmly believe, is the new frontier, the understudy in the wings waiting for its chance to shine, and Twitch is at the very forefront. Amazon and Google seem to believe this too, if you remember the chatter when Google was first rumored to buy Twitch. With all this press and the pressure to live up to, we need to be vigilant about the precedent it will set when it bursts onto the stage of mainstream consciousness. Girls with low cut shirts isn’t what we need to rein in if we want to keep the image of games as art progressing forward – it’s the sexism, the racism, the homophobia, the hate speech that lurks in every Twitch chat and around the corner of every stream. If viewers on Twitch want to burn something at the stake, let it be that.

The Wolf Game

My earliest childhood obsession was with wolves. The fluffy, large, possibly fierce kind, with claws and teeth and tails. I was an animal lover, always gravitating toward books about animals, and somehow I ended up obsessing over wolves, reading everything I could get my hands on – picture books by National Geographic photographers, fiction books like Julie of the Wolves, and classics Jack London classics Call of the Wild and White Fang.

The obsession never completely died – in my early teen years, when I discovered the internet, I ran straight to wolf forums and boards. When I was fourteen I discovered a wolf roleplaying board, which is exactly what it sounds like: I roleplayed as a wolf in the wild, hunting, fighting, and living a wolf life. It was a completely written activity, which paired with the fact that I had been writing stories since I could hold a pencil. I stayed with roleplaying wolves for six years –  all throughout high school, into my sophomore year of college. It was my primary reason for using the internet (a reason compounded by the fact that my overbearing father disapproved of the internet nearly entirely and by claiming that I was “writing,” I could weasel my way onto the computer).

During my early college years, I discovered a site that ran neatly side by side with my wolf obsession, a wolf breeding simulator called Wajas, or, as I remember calling it, “the wolf game.” It would be years before I fully understood what the term “simulator” meant; to my 18 year old self, it simply meant collecting prettily drawn wolves and pairing them to create more prettily drawn wolves. My roleplaying friends all joined and I had people to instant message with over AIM, people to trade wolves with and compare and swap notes about breeding and markings and finding ways to earn Waja money to buy more Wajas.

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First Impressions: Duels of the Planeswalkers

Magic: The Gathering was always something that I wanted to play. Out of all the nerdy things I found in high school to love, MTG seemed like the most nerdy of them all. Naturally I was fascinated, but never took my fascination to the level of actually playing the game. I had a few friends who played, frequently at our underage drinking parties (oh, to be young again). I would watch with avid interest and once or twice they asked me to play, painstakingly trying to teach me how, and I would inevitably get flustered and lose and quit.

I’m in my mid-20s now with more confidence, so when I went to the Games Developers Conference as a volunteer and there was a group teaching Magic, I decided to stick around and learn. And it was excellent. I had already played Blizzard’s card game, Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft, and so had some of the fundamentals of a game with mana and beasts and spells under my belt. After leaving GDC, I was lucky enough to chance upon The Lady Planeswalkers Society, a group dedicated to creating a safe, friendly environment for women to play Magic in. Sign me up!

It’s been about three months since I started playing regularly and I’m still learning – which brings me finally to Duels of the Planeswalkers. I had dabbled in Magic Online but when I first tried it, the terms still flew over my head. Haste? Trample? Vigilance? I have a better understanding of these things now, though I still consider myself very new and liable to mess things up at any given time (I always preface my in-person matches with “I’m still new, please let me know if I mess up!” I also use this tactic in Smite when I play a new character and surprisingly, it somehow works better IRL. Who knew that people are less likely to be assholes when I’m actually staring them in the face? Such a mystery). Duels of the Planeswalker sees my trepidation as new Magic player, nods, and then goes wild with making sure that nothing goes over my head.

“You’re confused about haste, new player? Let me pop up a window and explain it to you every single time you get a card with haste.”

“Oh, this is your COMBAT stage. I will remind you of this every single time you COMBAT.”

“Oh myyy, that’s a mighty big creature he’s got there, panic!” 

Okay, that last one isn’t true. But good lord, do some of the beginning tutorials last forever and throw big creatures at you without the ability to return battle in a proper way. Deck building at first seems nonexistent and you have to earn cards through the campaign play, winning booster packs for the AIs you defeat. You choose your starter colors – I originally chose the blue-white combo, as that’s what I used in the physical Magic 15 pre-release and won handily with, but ended up switching to black-red, my old standby – and are handed pre-chosen cards in that color to play with. I’m disappointed that a lot of the cards appear to be called “premium cards,” meaning that you have to purchase them to play with them and they can’t be gotten through simple grinding.

I guess that’s the nature of the beast, but I still find it disappointing.

Duels of the Planeswalkers also suffers from some technical mishaps. I have the game on my Kindle Fire, my partner has it on his iPad, and I have it on Steam as well. All three versions suffer from non-responsiveness to touch and click and while I understand why the game tries to be meticulous, the excessive need to confirm and re-confirm your choices wears me out. It doesn’t feel good to play, especially compared to the smooth sailing of Hearthstone, which is extremely responsive both on iPad and online.

With all that negative stuff out there, I still am enjoying Duels of the Planeswalkers so far. I appreciate the care it takes to coach new players through – if I’d had this tool back in high school, maybe I’d have actually played with people I knew and made new friends. The art is superb, as it always is, and the core game is still the same timeless, nearly flawless game. I find it a fantastic tool to keep learning more about Magic, so that when I play in-person, which is still my favorite way to play, I’m a better, tougher competitor. Maybe it’s working – last night I won two more physical booster packs at an event with my white-black deck. It felt good.

First Impressions: Smite

It’s been awhile since I’ve done one of these – primarily because I’ve been too busy playing Smite to play and write about anything else. The title isn’t exactly correct, either, because my first impressions of Smite have turned into second looks, third glances, and now tenth or eleventh eyerolls and bulging stares as I learn more and more.

Smite is a MOBA (multiplayer online battle arena), like Dota 2, League of Legends, and Blizzard’s new entry into the territory, Heroes of the Storm. Smite is developed by Hi-Rez Studios, is free to play, and was officially released out of beta into the wild in March. Smite’s camera is third person over the shoulder, utilizing WASD instead of clicking and directing your character with your mouse. You have 3 basic attacks, with one ultimate attack, a passive ability, and a store to choose items from depending on your build. You play as gods, some with name recognition, like Thor, Odin, and Athena, and others that you’ve never probably never heard of, like Bakasura, Ullr, and Geb.

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DayZ Journal 7 // Experimental

I have never been more frustrated with this game than I have been lately.

The last patch on experimental was pushed out a week ago – and let me tell you, I have been wide-eyed in wonder at what I’ve seen so far.

First of all, there are now animals. Real, live (hah!), breathing (double hah!) animals, that can be chased, by both you and the zombies. They can be killed in all the regular ways, yielding raw meat and pelts. (Aside: don’t eat raw meat. For all the obvious reasons. I know this from experience.) Pelts can be combined with sticks and rope to create the hottest fashion trend in Chernarus: to the jealousy of your peers, you now can sport a leather courier bag. It’s hip, cool, and fantastically not animal friendly at all.

As expected, you can also eat the raw meat from dead animals. (Again, do not eat them raw. Even if you think it might be funny. Because you will get all geared up and then half an hour die a painful death when you could have just not eaten raw meat to begin with.) Which brings the next addition to this patch: cooking! You will need rocks, logs, and a pot or pan. Rocks stack now (as do wooden sticks), saving you precious inventory space for all that raw meat you’ll get from your kills. In addition to cooking meat, you can cook anything that comes in a can, plus the assorted vegetables. Can you say boar stew, with savory bell peppers and potatoes?

I can’t, because I haven’t been able to accrue all the items you need to cook with. Alas.

Which brings me  to my frustration with this patch. This game is in alpha, as I quickly point out to all my other friends that get frustrated with the game. Things break or simply don’t work. I can work with that. What I can’t work with is the constant rubber banding. What I can’t stand more is that there’s a new, huge world out there, and I can’t see any of it because I’ll play for about half an hour before I’m trapped in a house for the indeterminate future

Rubber banding is simply a term for snapping back to a place you were recently at. To try and sum up the development post about why this happens, an error occurs between the game and the servers concerning where a player is located in the game; the server wins this particular war, meaning you snap back to where you were a few moments ago. Which means I am constantly warping between the street in front of a house back to the top room of a house. I run back downstairs and out onto the street again. I get a few feet, and then I’m warped back. Run downstairs, warp again. Run, warp. Run, warp. Run, warp.

What I notice between my imprisonments is that it seems to happen when you’re around buildings and especially when you’re in large towns like Svetlo. If I walk a little more slowly, sometimes I can escape. If I change directions, sometimes I can escape. If I run out a different door, sometimes I can escape. Sometimes it’ll happen once or twice and then I’ll be free to continue about my journey.

But most times I end my play sessions frustrated because I can’t escape a house after having tried for nearly ten minutes. In addition, there are only a handful of experimental servers up right now and they are always almost as full capacity. I could switch servers, which sometimes fixes the problem, but in addition to being punished with the server hopping timer, chances of me getting into a new server are not optimal.

It’s extremely frustrating and as such, I’ve not been playing as much as I normally do. That’s not to say this isn’t an amazing patch, because it’s the patch a lot of players have been jittery waiting for – it’s introduced survival elements with the animals and campfires, new clothes, new guns, new items, and (praise be) fixed up the melee weapons back to their usual state of efficiency (no more uselessly whaling away at zombies). It’s all amazing content that I wish I could play. When it rolls out to stable, or a smaller patch for the rubber banding is fixed, I will be back in full force, ready to go.

For now, I leave you with some pictures of the adventures I’ve been able to have, plus some new gear I gathered and then lost.

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