Monthly Archives: April 2014

ESO, Saga and musicians

Hey everyone, I thought I’d write a quick post today about something that’s been on my mind the last week or so: Elder Scrolls Online, or more specifically how I WISH I COULD PLAY IT BUT I CAN’T.

Allow me to elaborate. I like a good Elder Scrolls game as much as the next fantasy RPGer, and with all the hype about this one ‘breaking the mould’ and being ‘revolutionary’ and all that PR crap that is spouted every time a major re-hash comes out, I was really looking forward to it. I have many friends and family members who were also looking forward to it, because now we could finally play an ES game as a group. So great – it was going to be awesome. But now it’s out, I’m sad to learn that one thing that is not ‘revolutionary’ about it is the payment model. Oh, so I have to buy the game and then pay a monthly fee? That’s just… I’m just kind of astonished, I can honestly say I didn’t expect this.

Maybe that was silly of me, but I just thought they wouldn’t think I’d stand for that, and so they wouldn’t even try. But apparently they do think I’ll stand for it, and they’re wrong. And the other five people I knew who were planning on getting it won’t stand for it either. And they’re all as sad as I am about it.

We really want to play your game, Bethesda. But how about a variety of payment options, if you simply must charge us after we’ve already bought the game? Which, by the way, is a business practice that St. Thomas Aquinas recognised as dodgy only about eight hundred years ago. He called it “double use” – buying something and then paying to use it – and it was sinful back then, and it’s not nice to expect people to do it now. I accept that’s the way it’s done with these products, but I’m not happy about it. If you’re going to charge a subscription fee then the game itself should be free at least.

Anyway, by “a variety of payment options” I mean that I’m not a single person with regular hours to burn. The main gaming demographic in Australia averages in their 30s! These people have families, jobs, and responsibilities, and paying a monthly fee for something they may or may not have time to use in any given month is not going to seem a good idea to them. So they won’t do it. I won’t do it. If I could instead pay a micro-fee, say $1.99, every time I logged in, I totally would. But I can’t.

OK so I sound like a broken record here: companies are always trying to push us, we have to fight for what we want as consumers, blah blah blah. I’ll stop now.

On a more upbeat note, my brother in law Bones (or at least we would be brothers-in-law if either of us were married to the sisters we’re er… attached to) is in a band, and they’re doing really well. They just played Coachella and are heading to Glastonbury soon, and this morning I watched them play on the Jimmy Fallon show. So yeah. I suddenly realised, out of all the people I know who have ever been in a band (which is a lot), these guys are actually kind of famous. Which makes me feel warm and fuzzy and also like I am cool by association. Anyway good on you brother.  Check it out: they’re called Courtney Barnett and the Courtney Barnettes. He’s the Barnette with the bass.

Oh, and in even more news, I just read Bernard Cornwell’s excellent The Last Kingdom, and watched a whole season of Vikings in one day, and now I find myself investigating the miniatures skirmish game Saga.  Preserve my wallet O wise Odin!

What 40k might look like today

After my last post, and a reader’s comment, I started to really think about what a contemporary equivalent of Warhammer 40,000 would look like. Let’s do an experiment.

Warhammer 40,000 Rogue Trader was successful at the time, (and became the behemoth it is today) for several reasons, I think. One, it took tropes everyone understood from contemporary and canonical fantasy fiction and science fiction and mashed them together with very little to no shame.

Two, it had a rebellious, punk sensibility. The Imperium of man is a dystopia from the political perspective of a democratic western citizen in the 1980s (the target market).

Three, it appealed to a certain desire to be the bad guy: if you played an Imperial force you were fighting for a cause that was, in political terms, more evil than the Eldar, or the Squats, or even the Orks. Well, the Orks are pretty evil I suppose if you consider war for it’s own sake as evil. Yes, Chaos was icky, but the way people had responded to Chaos was to create a society no modern person would want to live in or fight for. You got to be the racist fascists with cool uniforms, or the weird aliens, and it was all a big joke.

What would a modern equivalent look like? It would have to be politically bold, that’s for sure, and you know what? Hardly anything is now. If we take the dystopian element and put it into today’s context, perhaps the Imperium would be a society that was free and democratic on the surface, but underneath was run by an elite for profit. The soldiers of the human race believe that they are fighting for freedom, but really they are just wiping out aliens who refuse to be corrupted by our commercial products so that we can take their resources for our endless capitalist economy.*

The human’s technology would have to incorporate more modern original sci-fi, like the Matrix or Elysium for example. So probably a lot of cybernetics, cloning/body replacement, and AI-controlled troops. I’m thinking a bit like Infinity’s treatment of technology, actually. Oh and the Force. There’d have to be something mystical/telepathic to keep fantasy nuts interested.

What about the aliens and other factions? They would have to be recognised tropes. Something like the noble eco-aliens of Avatar. Something like the terrifying xenomorphs of the Alien franchise. And of course, zombies of some description, and space raiders like the Orks or the Reavers in Firefly. Oh, and maybe humans who don’t fit in and are fighting for their way of life, again like the Ariadna colonists in Infinity.

Just some quick thoughts. I’m not really addressing the aesthetics or the game mechanics of course, which I’m sure had some influence on Rogue Trader’s success. And most of all, I think it would have to be funny. You were meant to laugh at the Inquisition and commissars, not think that they were a grim but necessary evil.

What do people think of this?

*I’m not saying this is how it is in the real world, I’m saying that this is a modern rebellious political narrative on a par with the fascist “for your own good” Imperium of Man.

A 40K confession

I am actually really bitter about Warhammer 40,000. Really. So much so that all I want to do is avoid it, or, if that’s not possible, joke about it. The problem I have is that there are people close to me in real life who play it, and actively encourage me to play it, too. I still haven’t figured out a way to say no that doesn’t come off as anti-social and disappointing for them. After all, it’s just a game. I shouldn’t care this much. But it’s a game that stirs up real, intense, and unpleasant feelings in me.

Every now and then I get a bit negative about gaming, and I start to wonder why we play at all as grown-ups; particularly those of us who’ve been playing the same game for years, or even decades. Don’t worry, this isn’t one of those times. But one of the things that definitely brings it on is coming into contact with the current state of Warhammer 40,000.

I can see that objectively it’s probably no worse than it’s ever been. If I were a green kid, just starting out, it might be as amazing as it was to me as a twelve year old. But as someone who is decidedly not a green gamer, 40k is all tied up with a great deal of baggage, and I’m aware of it all. The flavour text advertising the new Tempestus Scions for example could almost have been ripped word-for-word from a Rogue Trader description of Space Marines. A kid just starting out doesn’t know this; I do and it makes me feel as though… I don’t know, it’s hard to explain. That the game is this huge crumbling edifice built on its own ruins, but that its history is not treated with any respect. Themes are endlessly re-hashed and tantalizing glimpses are boringly laid bare.

When this all started, Space Marines were not just eight foot tall demigods with a bizarre mythological history. There were elements of that, in utero. But mostly they were roughly human-sized, genetically modified fascist soldiers in heavy armour, the elite of a brutal galactic dictatorship. In other words, almost exactly the way the Scions are presented. Oh, except that the Scions have had the political themes bowdlerised.

And what the Astartes have become, too, is something totally different: virtuous, monkish knights with intricate and fantastical back stories about their bad 80s metal-themed chapters.  It was bringing the Horus Heresy into the light that did it, I think. That’s what tipped it all over the edge.

The whole 40k universe seems to me to be a bloated but deadly serious caricature of something that was originally a glib punk satire. I feel the weight of all those years when I see a modern piece of 40k writing or a new model. There is just too much: everything is bigger, more extreme, every nook and cranny of alluded-to history has been filled in or is being filled in. But at the same time things are routinely and bafflingly changed. There is only so much ret-conning and creator-written fan-fiction I can stomach, I’m afraid. Some people seem to have an inexhaustable appetite for it, but I don’t.

Frankly, it upsets me, and I don’t much care for the models either. Any love I once had for the grim dark has been well and truly burned away in the last five years. Oh, and don’t get me started on the actual game.

I don’t just want to avoid thinking about 40k, I need to avoid it. But still my friends innocently ask me to dig out my Guardsmen and join in a game. What am I supposed to say?