Rift Impressions

Once again MMOGamerChick wrested a blog post out of me as a reply to one of her posts. Grrrrr, must get better at the dueling blogs game!  This time it is about the in-beta MMO, Rift, by Trion Worlds.

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Youtube Atheists & Free Speech, A Nitpick

Many of the prominent Youtube Atheists are also staunch free speech advocates.  They rail against governments and quasi-government agencies which kowtow to the religious when it comes to “intolerance” in the form of legitimate criticism of religion.  On this I have no issue with them for obvious reasons.

However some of them have taken to proving how much they are for free speech by pointing out that they don’t block people on their channel, they don’t review video responses and don’t remove comments from their channel or video posts.  The implication being that people who do block, review and remove are somehow less committed to the notion of free speech.  It is this idea to which I take exception.

I believe in free speech.  Anyone has the right to say anything they want provided they’re willing to deal with the consequences.  Freedom of speech does not mean a guarantee of acceptance.  No, that is what the religious want and we’ll have none of that.

But I also believe in strong property rights.  Property rights derived from the individual.  IE, I own my body.  I can do with it as I choose.  By extension I own the labor of my body (property) and I can do with it as I choose.  The only exception is that I cannot do with either that which would directly harm another.  Basic libertarian stuff.

So with those two concepts in mind (and presuming we’re all atheists here, theists, play along) imagine someone in your house proselytizing to you.  Who’s rights take precedence?  His right to free speech or your right to do with as you wish with your property?  I would argue that his right to speak in that venue is limited by your indulgence.  At 3pm you might find it amusing to waste his time.  At 3am when you’re trying to sleep I’m willing to wager you’ll either politely ask him to leave or remove him by force (either your own or police, pick one).

Have you infringed on his right to free speech?  No!  He is free to speak on the corner of the street at 3am.  He’s free to speak in a church at 3am.  Or a pub (presuming you’re not in a hick state with blue laws) at 3am.  He has plenty of venues from which to choose, you have only restricted one venue, a venue over which you have rightful control.

Now, simply replace “house” with “youtube channel” and speech with video responses or comments.  Has anything changed?  No.  It is your channel.  You have spent the time to build it up, to gain subscribers.  It is your labor, your property, and those who interact with you in that venue do so by your indulgence.  If you block them, decline their video or comment responses that you have infringed on their freedom of speech?  No!  You have prevented them from one venue.  But they can post to other videos, other channels or even start their own.

Now, let me clarify.  I think it is a dick move to block people or remove comments which are valid and legitimately address the topic of the video or the channel.  I still defend the right of those people to do so.  Because without that right they would not have the ability to meaningfully removed spurious comments, spam, abusive comments and flat out trolls.

The Hardest Part of Being a Libertarian…

The hardest part of being a Libertarian is having to deal with the head trauma from slamming my head against the desk when comments like this are not only publicly expressed but are so popular, “This should really piss you off. Cut-crazy Republicans always try to point to the NSF and NASA as giant wastes of Federal money, and try to “fix government waste” by harassing individual programs and scientists. But you know what, the entire NSF program request was $7.25B for next year, less than 1/10 the cost of the free tax giveaway to the top 2% of earners.”

The poster has conflated three different concepts in that screed.  It is not uncommon and the huge amount of upvotes it got it is clear most people have the same problem as well.  Here are the three different concepts:

  1. That Science research and education is a good thing.
  2. That Government should fund science research and education.
  3. That cuts here are inexcusable compared to the cuts for the rich.

Now, as a Libertarian I do not see a link between those three topics.  I seem them as discrete issues.  Clearly as a geek atheist I have absolutely nothing against science research and education.  I think we should have more of it.  Lots more of it.

However I don’t think that it is just for the government to take money from some people to funnel to other people to fund those activities.  I have no problems in saying, “Yes, science is a good thing.  No, it should not be funded.”  But read the responses that comment gets.  Pages and pages of rants against the ignorant who want to destroy science.  It never once enters their minds that someone can have a rational, logical and valid reason for not wanting to have coerced government funding of such activities.  Not because they are against the activities but because they are against coercion in obtaining the funds!

Which bleeds into the third topic.  Notice the verbage used.  It is a “giveaway” to the top 2% of earners.  It is ironic that they can recognize that those people have earned that income.  So how, exactly, is it a giveaway if they earned it?

Yes, we can get into the semantics of how it was earned, what was done to have earned it, yadda, yadda, yadda.  But that’s a different discussion.  This is about conflating the concept of cutting spending while “giving away” money to people who, in their estimation, don’t deserve it.

No, they earned it.  The government takes a portion by force.  Lowering the rate is not giving them anything.  It is letting them keep more of what they rightfully earned.

It all comes down to the pervasive notion that “we” should do something and by “we” they mean the government.  Also what should be done is always somehow in line with what that individual wants done.  Meanwhile when the government does something they dislike that another individual thinks “we” should do then the government is doing wrong.

I tackled that in response to this comment in a similar post, “I don’t want to cut science spending, I want to add funding to science. Can someone start a site called YouAdd, or something like that?”  My response, “Nice. You want to add funding? It’s called donate. I’d love to hear why you think you have a right to spend the money of dozens of million other people.”

I got downvoted for having the audacity to point out that if they wanted to spend more on science they could do it right now.  Donate!  Imagine that!  Voluntarily contributing above and beyond the mandated minimums through coercive government funding!  But the point isn’t that he wants to donate more, it is that “we” should donate more.

It is dealing with that breakdown in the thinking of an otherwise rational, moral person that is the hardest part of being a Libertarian.  The notion that what is morally reprehensible to do as individuals is morally acceptable to do via the proxy of government.  Or, as Sheldon Richman put it in a ReasonTV video, “…government is this great moral alchemist or moral launderer.  Things that you would never think to do in your own life, that you know would be wrong in your own life , suddenly become, not only acceptable, but even a positive good if it’s done through the political system.

Teh Grind Is A Lie!

It seems like the biggest mark that any MMO can have against it is that it is too grindy.  It takes forever to attain some goal or another.  Normally it is levied against leveling but often it is also attributed to obtaining other objectives gated behind some set amount of repetitive action.  Oddly many people who say that an MMO has an unbearable level grind are the same people who will spend hours each week in instances to down bosses to obtain a random chance of obtaining a piece of gear they covet.  They often do not recognize that as a grind.

I am of a different opinion.  With rare exceptions I do not believe there is a grind.  Well, at least not in the manner other people describe the grind.  I admit that MMOs tend to be repetitive in nature and often progression is gated behind an unseemly amount of repetition.  The problem, however, is that people tend to feel compelled to tackle the repetition in a single block.  I argue that it is this compulsion, not the repetitive nature of the gate, which defines the grind.

Let me give some examples to back up my line of reasoning.  I’ll use two games, Lord of the Rings Online (LotRO) and Team Fortress 2 (TF2).  I chose them mainly because I currently play several hours a week in both and have put in an astounding amount of time into both over the years.  I am closing in on 400 hours in LotRO and have surpassed 500 hours in TF2.

First lets look at TF2.  It is a multi-player, PvP first person shooter.  Like most FPS games the levels, while intricate, are quite static.  While Valve has done a wonderful job of releasing new maps during TF2’s 3 years of release I play many of the maps originally released with the game.  I play them with glee.  There is nothing new left in those maps for me to discover.  Even the newer maps are thoroughly discovered within several rounds of play.  Only the interaction with the other players varies from round to round.  However I shy away from servers which play the same maps 24/7.  I prefer 20-30 minutes per map and generally stick to game types I prefer to play (5-point CP or PL maps) while shunning play styles I dislike (KOTH, CTF, 3-point CP/PL maps).  This behavior is key to the longevity of not only this FPS but any FPS I play.

In LotRO there are plenty of areas the game can feel grindy.  First there are the levels themselves.  LotRO’s leveling is not as glacial as the original MMOs were but it certainly isn’t the 2-week whirlwind-to-level-cap most modern MMOs aim for.  My first character to reach the level cap of 65 took a good 3 months of playing with a few hours a night.  Call it well over 200 hours.

Then there are the deeds.  These are a way of improving your character independent of just leveling up.  They are often gated behind repeating a certain action hundreds of times or defeating a certain type of foe, in a certain zone, hundreds of times.  There’s also crafting, Legendary Items, Skirmishes and so on.

But LotRO is no more a grind to me than TF2 is.  The reason is the same in both cases.  I don’t feel compelled to tackle any one task in its entirety in one, prolonged sitting.  In TF2 I only play maps I like for 20-30 minutes at a time.  Then it is a new map, and new distribution of players per team.  In LotRO when I got tired of leveling (often via quests) I’d take a break to gather materials for my crafting.  If I got tired of that I’d run Skirmishes for a while, or do some exploring.  For the deeds where I have to kill hundreds of mobs in a given zone I just make it a point to tackle the requisite mobs while doing other things in the zone.  In this way I often find I have a completed a deed before ever really starting to thing about it.

Simply put, if what I am doing is becoming tiresome and boring I stop doing it. Since the grind is doing some repetitive action far longer than you wish to by not performing that action more than you wish to there is no grind. This is why players who feel that leveling is a grind can spend twice the hours per week running the same instances over and over just to get a chance at a random drop for a piece of gear that will be replaced in a month or two by doing the same thing in a different instance.  It is because they prefer the instance runs to the often solo-play of leveling via quests.  They push themselves to quest for levels far beyond what they want to.  They self-inflict the grind.  Much how some people, like myself, view the instanced gear gating of the end game a grind when coupled with guilds that have mandatory attendance requirements.

So rejoice, gamers, and realize that the grind only exists when you choose to inflict it upon yourself.  Rejoice in knowing that it is a choice and you can choose to simply do something else for a time.  Nothing but yourself is saying you need to do that action over-and-over in a single, protracted sitting.  Knowing that you know how to free yourself.  Just say “No more” when you get tired of doing something.  A know when someone else says such-and-such an MMO is too grindy, remember it is more a reflection on them and their playing habits than of the game in question.

Awesome Android App – aCar (Alliteration Ahoy!)

Well, after a year of having my Droid I decided to purchase an app.

aCar by Armond Avanes is an excellent example of an app that is perfect for a phone.  aCar tracks fuel & service expenses for multiple vehicles.  I have been using it to track only the fuel expenses for my ST-1100 and BMW.  What makes it perfect for a smart phone app is that it is so handy!

If you’re like me you always have your phone with you.  Fill up, open up aCar, tap “Fill Up Rec.” and enter 3 things.  Odometer reading, gallons purchases and total amount.  From that it will calculate cost per gallon, MPG, cost per mile, time between fill-up.  With multiple records it also calculates a running average.  All the data can be visualized with tons of graphs or presented in great detail.  It’ll even compare multiple vehicles.

For example I can see that my BMW averages 26MPG while my ST-1100 is a hair over 40MPG.  I can also see that even though I put the high-grade stuff in my ST-1100 it only costs me about 7 cents per mile compared to the BMW’s 10 cents per mile on the low-grade stuff.

Easy-to-use, simple-to-understand and exceptionally handy on my phone.  Well worth the few bucks it took to register.

MMO Names, City of Character Creator

If there ever was a game where someone could sit for hours and create character after character it would be City of Heroes.  The rest of the game was a tad too repetitive to have lasting appeal but I’d still love to be able to play with the character creator to this day.

I didn’t really come up with any character concepts in CoH which carried forward.  It isn’t that they weren’t ideas I liked but that characters created in a superhero game generally only work in other superhero games.  So here are just a few of the more notable characters from this wonderful exercise in creativity.

Shadowraith (2nd Costume)

Shadowraith – On of the rare male characters I played extensively.  In fact Shadowraith is my only capped toon in CoH. He’s a teleporting dark/reflex scrapper.  Some might think he is a Nightcrawler clone but I the concept in my head was slightly different.  His teleportation is really him stepping into an alternate dimension, moving in that dimension and stepping back into this one.  Different dimension, different distances and flows of time, yadda, yadda.  It is also this same dimension that he taps into for his dark melee powers.  He’s short, wiry, with green skin and a noseless, alien like face.  I did reprise him shortly in Champions Online.

Kitsume – My cybergoth martial artist from Anarchy Online gained much of her standard looks from the CoH character creator.

Cry of Light – When I finally capped Shadowraith

Cry of Light (1st Costume)

and gained access to the epic archetypes I had to roll one of each.  The Peacebringers seemed angelic to me so I turned to comic books once again for inspiration.  I decided to emulate the looks of Lisner’s Dawn.  He made so many which were fun to express in the CoH character creator.

Darkwraith – My Warshade.  A clone of Shadowraithe except his skin is purple instead of green.  The idea here was that one of the times Shadowraithe dimension hopped a Warshade came along for the ride.  It was exceptionally fun to try to make the two characters as physically close as possible.

There were dozens more, most never saw more than the first zone or two.  Some joke toons, some serious which didn’t work out, others which worked only inside the lore of CoH, but none that really have the potential of making into other games.

MMO Names, Early Days

The first MMO I ever played was Everquest.  It lasted all of a week before I decided I truly disliked it.  I liked the idea of an MMO, just not that particular implementation.  I played a Barbarian and I think he was named Olethros though he wasn’t of the Grey d’Miyu template.

I switched over to Asheron’s Call and fell in love with not only the game, but the genre.  I’ve been active in at least one MMO ever since.  So it should be no surprise that the character I created there has become one of my staple toons.

During character creation I found that I was having trouble coming up with what I wanted to play.  AC is a classless game so people were open to mix-and-match the skills they wanted.  I finally tackled that problem by deciding to come up with a basic character concept as if I were playing a pen and paper RPG.

At the time I was really into Matt Wagner’s Grendel.  Specifically the second incarnation, Christine Spar.  However I didn’t want to just take names directly from sources like that.  I’m not above using it for inspiration but I needed to make it my own.  So I decided since one of the weapons one could use in AC was a spear and Christine used a forked spear I would pattern my AC toon on her.  For the name I changed the spelling from Christine to Kristn. Like most MMOs the game suggested different naming conventions for flair, one was “bint” as “Daughter of”.  The first incarnation of Wagner’s Grendel, and Christine’s father, was Hunter Rose.  Thus Kristn bint Rose was born.

During the years I played Asheron’s Call she was fleshed out.  Of all the mobs in AC I enjoyed fighting the insectoid Olthoi the most.  So Kristn’s story was woven into one where she was constantly battling the Olthoi threat.  After leaving AC Kristn has reappeared from time to time.

Whenever I need a non-tank melee fighter, especially if the game allows for spears to be used, Kristn is revised.  She’s always tall, dark skinned with scars, dark red hair and either dark green or purple eyes.  This look was created in AC and is essential in creating her in other games.  Presently Kristn is named Kryston (other variations were taken) and is a Warden in LotRO.  And yes, she most often wields a spear and hunts down insectoid baddies.

Kitsume (Second Life version)

After Asheron’s Call I bounced over to Anarchy Online.  Again I was faced with lots of choices and again I decided to first come up with a character concept to guide my character decisions.  This time I decided I wanted to play a martial artist.  One of the races was the Opifex, the typical agile but none-too-sturdy archetype.  They are smaller than average, exceptionally pale, well suited for many roles where taking damage wasn’t a requirement.  This played into my latent Goth (see Faith and the Muse above) so having a Goth girl martial artist kicking ass and taking names really appealed to me.

For the name I recalled one of my former MUSH characters who was supposed to be sly and cunning so was named after an animal, the fox.  I poked around the interwebs and found out that the Japanese word for fox is Kitsune.  To make it slightly more femme I switched it to Kitsume or Kitsumi.  I forget which and use both variants when one or the other is taken.

Kitsume was a small, pale female with dark, dramatic make-up, dark clothes, who excelled at martial arts.  Often she is bald except for a top-knot or single pony-tail.  That character concept appeared again in City of Heroes where she was a robotic claws scrapper, a fair match for the cyberpunk inspired original.  She’s also morphed into one of the central characters of a book I plan(ned) to write with the same basic looks, attitude and kick ass style.