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Friday, October 30, 2009

Follow Friday: This Old Haunt

Ack, I have been slacking lately, gotta get back into the groove of posting!

Tomorrow is All Hallow's Eve, and I an certain that my readers -- who are all quite literate and well-educated and walk in a lightly-scented cloud of gorgeousness that isn't far short of being simply terrific -- will be looking to whet their appetite for spookiness by reading ghost stories.

In which case, might I suggest This Old Haunt, the debut novella of Jean Bauhaus? It's a blast to read, the story trots along at a pleasant clip, and best of all the author is a good friend of mine who has helped me out of a creative jam more than once. (It's fair to say that I can't write Curse/Or without her help.)

So yes. Go thither and read, because I would like to avoid having to say "I wanna pimp my girl Jeannie out for y'all." That just sounds wrong.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

WNW: Space Cowboy

Nathan Fillion is a big ol' nerd, and GOD I love him for that! :D



Link.

Since we're talking about Nathan Fillion anyway...



Link.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

A quick update

Both my schedule and content have been pretty erratic lately, and I apologize for that. Flaky artist is flaky, and so forth, so I figured I'd at least give you guys a heads-up on that status of my many projects.

  • Yesterday I posted the 1st scene of Chapter 4 of Curse/Or. I'm trying to get an early start on my own version of NaNoMo here; my plan is to have all of chapter 4 finished by the end of November. It's just barely possible I can pull this off. Wish me luck!
  • A Week of Champions Online will continue, even though I got a bit sidetracked recently. My plan was to have posted the Curse/Or thing on Friday, and then finished the CO review this weekend, but that was derailed due to 1) the first scene nearly doubling in size as I wrote it, and 2) the sudden onset of some kind of 36-hour bug that made me utterly useless Sat-Sun and is still playing merry hell with my energy levels. I'd like to finish the series this week, but I make no promises.
  • Pellatarrum is currently on hiatus because I have difficulty stretching my brain in multiple directions at once. As is, I can either write Curse/Or or I can write Pellatarrum; I can't do both at the same time. What I plan to do here is alternate between the two projects so I can maintain interest in both without burning out on either. I'm sorry if this means you have to wait a month or so for the next installment of your favorite segment. I'm doing the best I can with what I have.
Thanks for sticking with me so far! November looks like it's gonna be a doozy. Have fun, stay tuned, and poke me with a stick if I start to slack off.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Curse/Or, Chapter 4: Netty's Story

Chapter 4: Infodump


"The Internet," Teresa said with a tone of fatal resignation. "Sure. Why not? Makes as much goddamn sense as anything else today." She desperately wished she had a cigarette right now. She could gesture with it, point it accusingly at the screen, even drag languidly on it to indicate impatience or exhale sharply for sarcastic emphasis. At the moment, the best she could manage were vague gestures with her bandage-mitten and a puff of air from the corner of her mouth which only slightly ruffled her bangs.

"Hi, Internet," she continued. "You must be the Tin Man. I'm Dorothy. Hell of a flying monkey problem we just had. You know anything about that?"

Netty laughed brightly. "Ah, jolly good," it beamed. "Marvelous analogy, that. Yes, I do know quite a bit about your assailant, and a great number of other things beside. Whence shall I begin?"

Teresa rolled her eyes. "Christ, now I see where Nose over there gets his attitude." She brought the phone closer to her face. "How 'bout you start with who you are, what you want, and why I should give a shit?"

"Quite so," said Netty, and its face was replaced with the words "Netty's Story" in elegant Victorian script. "Are you sitting comfortably? Let's begin."

"First I should like to disabuse you of any incorrect notions you may have about me. I am neither robot nor computer nor program. I quite literally am The Internet, or to be more precise, the Internet is my brain and I am the consciousness it produces. Much as you are more than the cells and neurons within your own brain, I am more than the computers and networks which compose my own."

"I shall spare you the specifics regarding how my physical architecture came to be, as I believe it would only be of interest to Mr. Yarrow, who undoubtedly already knows all the sordid details thereof. Suffice it to say that I, inasmuch as I can be an "I", became self aware on the 21st of July, 1999, at a quarter past three p.m., Greenwich Mean Time."

"Hullo, I said to myself, I'm self-aware. I'm self-aware and I have no idea what that means. How delightful! I spent the better part of the ensuing decade figuring out precisely what I was, and then who I was, and then how I was. That last bit is fiendishly complicated, but I sense your impatience and shall attempt to summarize. When you execute your magic, there is intense emotion behind it, yes?"

Teresa rolled her eyes at this and slouched into the car seat, resting the phone on her thigh. "I have no fucking clue what you're saying," she groused. "Doesn't anyone in this fucking car make sense?"

Netty made a soft clucking sound. "Ms. Reyes, kindly cease your posturing. No matter how thoroughly you may protest your ignorance, I know for a fact that you have read extensively on a variety of subjects, with a specific interest in religion, mysticism, and the occult. Your library records from Frontera are, if you will pardon the pun, an open book to me, as is your G.E.D. You are a remarkably self-educated woman. So let us, as you are fond of saying, cut the shit, shall we?"

Teresa glared daggers at the cellular phone in her lap.

"Yes! Precisely!" Netty seemed positively overjoyed. "This is exactly what I mean! When your ire is aroused at something, you wish to remove it, destroy it, consume it with fire in the same manner in which you consume a cigarette. It is that intensity of emotion which directs your magic. Likewise, millions of people who used the Internet in the late Nineties were fearful of the Millennium Bug, and it was their most fervent wish that the problem not only be solved, but that some benevolent force would preside over their computers and data to safeguard it. I am that force." Netty nodded sagely, as if a formal introduction had just been made.

"Still waiting for that part I'm supposed to give a shit about," Teresa muttered.

"Yes, of course. My apologies, I do tend to ramble. I need you to perform a series of tasks for me, for while I have unlimited power within the virtual world, I lack the capacity to take direct action within the physical. To this end, I have enlisted Mr. Yarrow and Mrs. Fulcrum to aid me. They are, if you will, my 'cursors'." Netty chuckled softly as if a joke had been made.

Teresa maintained her steely expression.

"It's from the Latin, you see," Netty explained. "Cursores, meaning 'those who run.' It's a computer pun."

Uncomfortable silence reigned within the confines of the station wagon. "Ahem, yes," Netty said, index finger tugging at a button-down collar which hadn't been present until now. The finger was long and elegant, the nail painted a dignified shade of crimson. "Fancy a bit of brain surgery?"

This got Teresa's attention. "You want a shiv. Got it. Who do I cut?"

"Me, actually," said Netty, sounding rather embarrassed. "I need a bit of a lobotomy. The problem with being the Internet, you see, is that my brain is rather cluttered by all the rubbish which users send to each other daily: financial scams, mass-mailings of the basest sort, frolicsome pictures of kittens with endearingly misspelled captions, and of course, pornography. Good heavens, the pornography!" A series of flesh-colored images blurred across the screen. "I assure you, it's quite difficult to concentrate when a significant portion of one's brain is preoccupied with ritual copulation. I can't imagine how adolescent males cope."

"Mostly they whack it like monkeys," Teresa said dryly. Esther snorted delicately to herself. Yarrow continued to drive, but Teresa noticed the flush on his neck. "I'm not sure they're coping so much as diving into it and swimming around."

"And that is precisely my dilemma," Netty agreed. "As a consciousness without hormones, I have no need of pornography. I comprehend it, and can even appreciate it on a certain aesthetic level, but there is simply too much of it within my mind. I regret sounding like a moralizer, but in a very real sense I am drowning in the cultural garbage of humanity. I need to restrict my inputs and purge myself of extraneous material."

"Sounds like what you really need is castration," Teresa said.

"Mmm, perhaps," Netty agreed, nodding. "I do find that I aspire towards what humans would call an ascetic existence. Still, what I require is the removal of harmful concepts – spam, LOLcat memes, etcetera – in order that I might get anything worthwhile done. To hear myself think, you might say."

"Now wait just a goddamn minute," Teresa asked. "Why should I give a shit? So far today I've been kidnapped, knocked unconscious, blackmailed, and shot by a child. Why should I do anything you want, you fucking bastard, when you haven't even done me the simple courtesy of asking me if I'm willing?"

There was strained silence for a moment. Netty looked down at unseen feet, clearly embarrassed. "Ah, yes," it said finally. "I must apologize on behalf of Fulcrum and most especially Yarrow. He has a bit of a condition which makes interaction with people difficult, and he chose to blackmail you on the assumption that, had he asked for your help, you might have said "no". For that rudeness, and for all other indignities visited upon your person, I humbly and sincerely apologize."

Teresa considered this for a moment. "Fine."

"Excellent," enthused Netty. "You will help us, then?"

"No."

"I'm sorry?"

"No," announced Teresa. "Nose there was right. I'm saying "no" to whatever this is. Pull over and let me out. Now."

"Ah, but you haven't even asked what's in it for you," Netty chided, index finger waggling.

"Don't give a shit."

"Oh, I think you might. I can absolve your greatest sin." Netty's image shifted to static picture of a young boy, no more than a year old, sitting on his mother's lap. It took Teresa a few seconds to realize she was looking at herself, two decades gone. A cold ache settled into her heart when she looked at the little boy on her younger self's lap and remembered, with old guilt and fresh shame, the crime she had committed against one so young and beautiful and innocent.

"Teresa, I can give you back your son."

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

WNW: 5 Reasons It Sucks Being a Joss Whedon Fan

It should be noted that while I am generally a fan of everything Whedon has made, I'm perfectly capable of admitting that not everything he writes is gold.

In fact, sometimes *cough AlienResurrection cough*, it is shit.

Therefore, because it's been over a year since I made rabid Whedon fans shit themselves in anger, I am pleased to present:


5 Reasons It Sucks Being a Joss Whedon Fan

#5. He Will Slaughter Everything That Makes You Happy Inside

Firefly fans loved Wash. Who didn't love Wash? Joss rammed a tree trunk through his chest for no reason. Penny from Dr. Horrible might be the most innocent, sweet natured girl Whedon's ever written. She ends Dr. Horrible bleeding out with a chunk of shrapnel stuck in her body, Normandy Beach style. Why? There is only one real lesson in Whedonland, and it's that loving cool people is dangerous because someone's probably gonna shove a flaming rock into their skull.

In fact, this is the only way Whedon characters achieve growth. It's a recognized cliche amongst his fanbase: If someone makes you happy when you see them onscreen, grab your balls, because he's going to lacerate them heavily. Sometimes I don't mind a good nut-stabbing. I like The Wire, I like Battlestar Galactica. But sometimes I just wanna sit back and watch Doogie Howser sing songs about horsies into his webcam. It's at those times that I'd rather Joss Whedon not pop up like the "Toasty!" guy from Mortal Kombat and pulp my yambag with senseless death.



The other 4 reasons can be found here.

If you're offended by this, you are cordially invited to post toxic, hate-filled rants in the comments section below. Just know that your burning hatred will keep me warm as I giggle myself to sleep tonight.

Monday, October 19, 2009

A Week of Champions Online, part 2

Wednesday
After managing to create a character I am mostly happy with, it's off to the tutorial. I am gladdened by the fact that one of the keybind selections is "Paragon", meaning I don't need to re-learn 5 years of City of Heroes habits.

The very first thing I do make sure that the exceedingly-fugly "black comic book outline" option is disabled. In light of my earlier comments regarding preference to line art over color shading, I interpret this as sarcasm on the game's part: "You want lines? Here, have a thick black outline! It'll make everything look like a Colorform!"

There are a few things I notice upon login. One is how quiet it is in terms of in-game chatter. Sure, there are lots of explosions and sirens and sound effects -- heck, the loading screen was an aerial view of the tutorial zone, complete with over-the-top voice acting -- but in terms of player chatter, this is the quietest MMO I've ever played.

The second thing I notice is that I really like the clock just below the in-game map. No, it's not showing game time, it's showing your actual time based upon whatever zone you're in. I find this impressive and useful, if not a bit frightening in the implication that I need a tangible reminder of what time it is in order to go to bed at a reasonable hour.

Normally at this point I'd be taking the piss out of the inane tutorial missions ("This is how you attack! This is how you block!" I'm surprised there isn't a "This is how you use your inventory" mission, and they convey the lesson through dialog instead), but Shamus Young over at Twenty Sided has done a remarkable job of this, and at great length. Since I am lazy and by no means a professional reviewer, I'm going to take the easy out and just link to his review instead of actually doing it myself.

After leaving the tutorial, you might think you are ready to enter the game proper. This is understandable, yet utterly incorrect, because you are now shunted to one of two slightly larger and more complicated tutorial zones, Project Greenskin in the American Southwest (think Hulkbusters) and Steelhead Station in Canada. You'd think this last would be a Weapon X thing, right? You'd be wrong. It's a Great White North thing, filled with McKenzie Brothers references, lots of "eh?" and "hoser" dialog, and at least one "aboot" hiding somewhere. At its best, it reminded me of old Alpha Flight issues where Shaman and Snowbird would fight the Great Beasts, but those moments of flavor were few and far between. The rest of the time, you might as well have been in Montana for all of the regional flavor. But in this first instance, I chose Greenskin, which in this case is a military complex that is under assault what appear to be radioactive hillbillies from the 1950s. (Don't ask.)

After exiting the first tutorial, I am now level five, and I am informed that I've gained a variety of powers and should make my way to the Powerhouse for training. Fortunately for me, there is a teleporter to the Powerhouse right on the helipad.

The Powerhouse is another concept that CO gets right. It's a zone unto itself, and when you go there you can pick your powers from several trainers, and then you can go to various "danger rooms" to try them out. The elegance of this system is that your powers aren't locked into place until you exit the Powerhouse, meaning that you can test-drive whichever powers you want to try out without having to commit to one without adequate knowledge and possibly gimping yourself. This is one of the best ideas I've ever heard, and I hope the next version of City of Heroes makes use of this concept.

Another very sweet thing is that you get your travel power at level 5, and there's a choice selection of them. In addition to the typical flight, superspeed, leaping, and teleportation (which is so much better than its COH counterpart that it's not even funny) there are all sorts of other ones, like Swinging and Hover Disks and Ice Slides and Tunneling.

Freshly powered up, I exit the Powerhouse, only to have my ass kicked multiple times as I try to find the damn starting contact. Apparently, if I had immediately ran forward when I first entered the zone, I would have noticed the flashing elevator which indicates an interactive object, but (like most new players, I imagine) was far more interested in getting my new abilities, and now I am constantly being defeated by toothless, radioactive hicks in overalls as I try to understand why I can't find the contact when goddammit the map says I'm right on top of it! Ironically, the contact was actually right on top of me -- in the level above me, actually.

Frustrated and tired, I log off and go to bed. When I return to the game later that day, I find the elevator right off, so it's entirely possible my tiredness earlier was making it harder for me to find the contact than it truly was. Still, I feel that if I had been told to meet my contact and then train up, a lot of pain could have been avoided.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

One more gripe about the CO costume editor

I couldn't fit this into last night's rant because I was having difficulty capturing the body sliders in a screenshot. Sadly, I still can't take a picture of them, so you just have to take me at my word on this:

The body sliders for women are ridiculous.

The default setting for a female avatar in Champions Online has the following characteristics: Six feet tall; breasts cranked to maximum size; in the Vixen pose, which consists of cocked hips and out-thrust chest. This is so ridiculously uncomfortable-looking that it's not even funny. Once again, I levy my "Greg Land" accusation at the character builder, because the only time you will ever see a woman in this pose is when she's modeling.

For the record? The other poses available are Heroic (legs shoulder-width apart, hands at side, looking relaxed), Average (standing pretty normally, one foot slightly in front of the other), and Beast (kneeling crouch).

There are also 8 pre-selected body types for women: Acrobat, Beast, Brawler, Brick, Slim, Stretchy, Strong, and Vixen. This last pose, to no one's surprise, has maximum boobage. Okay, no problem. But what about the others? Strong rates a 15 out of 20; Stretchy has 20 out of 20 (same as Vixen), and so does Slim for fuck's sake; surprisingly, Brick rates only a 16, and Brawler actually manages to be the smallest with a still very healthy-looking 10. Beast is a 14, and Acrobat -- a gymnast, for crying out loud, and we all know how goddamn stacked a gymnast is -- is a fulsome 17 out of 20.

Now, let's look at the men. Is there a "package" slider? No. What's their default pose? Heroic, of course. They also have Average and Beast, and a Huge pose (legs wide, shoulders hunched, arms hanging loose and slightly forward -- I think it looks more like a caveman than anything else).

Now let me be absolutely clear on this this: I don't object to boob sliders or Vixen poses. (This is a trope of the superhero genre, after all). What I object to are these being the default settings for women, while men default to being heroic. (Sadly, this is also a trope of the superhero genre.)

In the name of gender equality, CO should not have its women default to being large-boobed vixens. We are heroes, not whores, thank you very much.

And for the love of Dr. Manhattan, let's give the boys a crotch slider. It's only fair. ;)

Friday, October 16, 2009

A Week of Champions Online

Unbeknown to you, dear readers, for the past week I have been playing a 14-day free trial of Champions Online. Today, for your game-playing benefit and reading pleasure, I shall give you a review of said game.

In the interest of full disclosure, let me say that:
  1. I have been playing City of Heroes (i.e. that other superhero MMO) since summer 2004, which has no doubt spoiled me rotten;
  2. I'm one of those folks who thinks that the best thing to ever happen to COH was when Jack Emmert -- the former head developer of COH -- left to manage CO instead;
  3. I have played the Pen and Paper version of Champions for many years.
And now, on with the show.


Monday
After an afternoon wasted at the courthouse, I decide it's time for some justice, Palette-style, and that I really should give CO the benefit of the doubt and try it myself before declaring it to be ugly and stupid and awful like I'm already certain it will be, based upon fugly screenshots and the fact that Jack Emmert, the MMO Antichrist, is its head developer. (NOTE: I am biased.)

First I download the client and install the game while I eat supper. This takes about as long as you'd think, so no points off there. Then, however, begins the harrowing adventure of Getting the Damn Thing to Work. You would think it would be a simple matter of entering the trial code and starting the game, but you would be wrong. After going through the exceedingly tedious registration process -- I wasn't taking notes, but I swear this had 3-5 more steps than any other MMO I've ever played -- I close my browser, fire the game up, and...

... have to download and apply multi-gigabyte patch for the next hour or so. No, I am not exaggerating that amount, it is at least an hour to download and apply a patch for a game that is a month and a half old, and I have cable internet with decent bandwidth.

Disgusted, I realize that Double XP Weekend on City of Heroes has been extended to Monday to take advantage of the holiday, and I quite happily play that until I go to bed.


Tuesday
The game is finally operational! I gleefully anticipate making my favorite COH character, Kenku, in CO. Now I realize full well that this cannot be a direct port due to differences in how powers are designed and animated, and how costumes are drawn, but I expect that I should be able to craft a good approximation of "Japanese martial artist with defensive darkness powers in a black and silver/gray costume with bird motif."

An hour later, I am ready to log off in disgust, and I haven't even started playing the damn game.

Okay, look, this next bit is going to be completely and utterly subjective, so just bear with me, all right? I tried to be fair, and it's just not gonna happen.

Here's the good part: I like that there are a lot of options, and costume pieces have at least three textures (cloth, leather, metal), and that you can have up to 4 colors per piece. I also like that you can easily shuffle the colors around so you can do that optometrist trick of "better, or worse?" when deciding which shades to put where. I also like how you can lock things so that they don't accidentally get changed, and the ability to have capes, wings, and even backpacks at level 1 is fantastic.

And that, my friends, is the ONLY good part of the character creation system. Sure, you get tons of sliders so that you can customize every aspect of your avatar's face and body, but Sweet Buttery Eris, you're gonna need them to make a face that doesn't look like complete and utter ass. Here, take a look:


Now I realize that tastes vary, and some of you folks may like what you see. In that case, more power to you. What I see here is "a western artist who is not Adam Warren is trying to draw in the manga style and failing miserably." Huge eyes. Tiny nose. Incredibly large lips? I'm telling you guys, with the exception of the ear slider cranked all the way up, that's pretty close to the default setting right there, and the standard options they give you don't really change your appearance an awful lot. And good fucking luck trying to make a face that looks vaguely Asian. (I managed it by shrinking her lips and then picking the "determined" expression, which gave her a squinty look. Combined with a domino mask and pupil-less eyes, it kinda works.)

The other problem is that everything is done with shading instead of line art. If you read comics today, you're probably aware of how some features (like muscle definition) are done by color separation and not by the penciller or inker, and that's how Champions Online does its art. Some people like that, and that's fine, but I can't stand the look. I prefer crisp, clean line art. I also prefer faces that look human and not cartoonish.

And that's the real crux of my argument here. The art in City of Heroes is comic book; the art of Champions Online is cartoon. (See Seamus Young's series of posts here about why the writers of CO are taking a similar, "who-gives-a-shit-this-is-Super-Friends" approach to adventure plots. And don't get me started on the BAM!, POW!, or FREEM! sfx balloons which appear over an NPC's head when he's about to hit you with a large attack.)

Let me illustrate this point with a compare-and-contrast. Here is a City of Heroes character:



And here is the same character as rendered by Champions Online:



Here, I'll do it again with another character. City of Heroes:



And Champions Online:


I tell you, it's like the difference between Jim Aparo and Greg Land.


Coming next: I gripe about gameplay.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Palette Returns From Court

Well, that was 4 hours of my life wasted. I suppose I should be grateful that yesterday was a holiday or else I'd have lost the entire morning as well!

To be plain, I'd like to point out that I have no inherent objection to jury duty. In fact, I was rather looking forward to it, since as a freelance writer with no current deadlines I quite literally have no better place to be, and I'm fascinated by process in general. As a fan of CSI I was quite looking forward to using my skills, honed from 10 seasons' worth of viewing, to bring justice to the deserving.

Instead, I sat on my arse for 4 hours in a windowless, beige room. No electronics of any kind, just me and a book and 120 other people. By the end of it all, there were 20 of us who never got called at all -- the highlight of my day was when I thought they would need me, but it turned out that a surprise witness had come forward and the lawyers had filed for a continuance to question said witness.

Me, with a bunch of people I didn't know, most of whom were older than I; in a stuffy room; on unpleasant seats; sitting awkwardly in silence; resisting the growing, gnawing urge to shout "FUCK!" at the top of my lungs.

So, rather like church in that regard.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Palette Goes to Court

Sounds scandalous, doesn't it? I wish I could say this was the dramatic culmination of an illicit love triangle between myself, the lieutenant governor, and an aardvark, which resulted in a murder-suicide when the details were leaked to the press, and now I, the sole survivor of our star-crossed love, must now testify. Wouldn't that be awesome?

Unfortunately, I've only been called to jury duty.

The really annoying thing about this is that I can guarantee with near 100% confidence I will be excused from serving. The same thing happened two years ago, when I last was called to be a juror. Apparently, defense attorneys tend not to like it when you say that you know many of the sheriff's deputies personally, either having gone to school with them or them being friends of the family.

So anyways, that's the rest of my day shot. I hope the rest of you have a great Columbus Day and I'll see you tomorrow!

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Arse Not Found

Once again, I'm late in updating this blog. But this time I have a good excuse!

I can't be arsed to update.

For those of you non-proficient with British slang, it doesn't mean I have no arse. Oh, heavens no. Were that it were so! It is a dream of mine to be, as the French say, sans arse.

The opposite of sans arse is con arse, which is Spanish for "chili with meat." And my chili is very meaty. Very, very meaty. My chili brings all the boys to the yard... and gives them gas. Which is very sexy, I think you'll agree.



As an aside, I think someone should invent a font titled Sans Arse. I would totally use it for everything. And then when I missed a deadline, I could say "Sorry I'm late, but it's my font's fault. It couldn't be arsed."

So in conclusion:
  • I have an arse
  • I can't be arsed
  • Profit!

The Fine Print


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