Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Little Snitching Bitch

Novatech's Cheshyr Pontchartrain was suspened this weekend for infringing on CBS's copyright on all things Star Trek.  His account was restored at the request of CBS lawyers in response to Cheshyr's agreement to remove all Trek-related builds from Novatech vendors.  If even one more copyright infringement complaint is filed against Cheshyr, Linden Lab has threatened to ban him from SL forever along with all alts.

Now, to be fair, anyone who builds and sells copyrighted material without prior permission from the copyright owner is taking a huge risk.  Linden Lab is not going to risk a lawsuit from a large corporation, which is why its terms of service expressly forbid the selling of copyrighted material.  Sooner or later all copyrighted material in SL is going to have to come down or be made to comply with existing fair use laws.

But really, this didn't have to happen.  Apparently a sniveling little bitch who goes by the name Malic Tolsen decided he didn't like Cheshyr, so he sicced CBS's leeches after the entire Trek community in SL.  "Wonderful" guy who just made enemies out of just about every Trek fan in SL.

Now, granted, I'm no angel.  I've done my share of stupid things in my time and I've owned up to them.  But after taking a look at his profile and having learned of his actions against Cheshyr, I can safely say he's just the sort of conniving little bitch who would gladly screw over as many people as he can just to press a grudge.  Even that lying ass clown Mornington wouldn't go snitching to the BBC and shut down the entire Whovian community just to make trouble for one person, because he'd be screwing himself in the process.

But some people are too selfish to care what they do to others.  Cheshyr wasn't making any profit off of his wares.  Anyone who owns and runs a vendor-based business in SL is either taking a loss or barely breaking even.  Even the land barons are feeling the financial pinch and getting out before they lose their shirts.  So it's not like CBS was losing any money to Novatech.

Well, Malic child, you've gotten yourself banned from a lot of regions this week.  I hope you're happy for what you've pulled, because now everyone you've pissed off is watching you like a hawk and the microsecond you put up something — anything — that looks even remotely like a violation of copyright laws, you will find yourself reported to the copyright owner and Linden Lab.  Karma's a bitch, and so are you.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

A Crappy End to Great Companions

I have to say that The Angels Take Manhattan could be considered one of the worst send-offs I've ever seen on Doctor Who.  Okay, yes, it was a tear-jerker and I'd be lying if I said I didn't enjoy the episode.  But the ending was incredibly weak, which is what we've come to expect from a bad writer like Stephen Moffat.

The story opens being narrated by a two-bit gumshoe in 1920s New York, Sam Garner, who is hired by wealthy mobster Mr. Grayle to investigate statues that move on heir own.  Garner thinks Grayle is full of it but for the money offered he isn't going to complain.  Going to a hotel called the Winter Quay, he finds a room with his name on it, an elderly version of himself inside, and Weeping Angels stalking him.  He manages to escape to the roof of the hotel when he turns around and sees the Statue of Liberty, which has been transformed into a 'Weeping Lady Liberty'.

Then it's on to the credits followed by a visit to modern day New York where the Doctor, Amy, and Rory are hanging out enjoying themselves.  The Doctor annoys Amy by reading aloud from a book, and he notices that she's wearing glasses, disturbed by the realization that the first face his current face saw is getting older.

The Doctor tears the last page out of the book, a cheap dime store detective novel, saying he hates endings and that by tearing the last pages out of books the stories can go on forever for him.  Remember this for later.  Rory goes to get more hot dogs or something and is hunted by a cherub-like Weeping Angel who zaps him back in time.  We then see Amy reading from the book, and she and the Doctor realize that Rory has somehow made it into the story.  They quickly deduce that somehow Rory got trapped in the past and the very book they're reading must have been written specifically for them so they can go back and find him, having realized that the female detective illustrated on the cover must be River Song, Amy and Rory's daughter and the Doctor's wife.

Unfortunately, the TARDIS bounces off of 1938, the year Rory has apparently been sent to, and they need help to do it.  River creates a temporal beacon for the TARDIS to home in on by having the Doctor go back and alter ancient Chinese vases at their creation so that they can get to Rory in the past.

From there all pretenses of actual plot fade and we end up with a monster-in-the-house story wherein the Doctor, River, Amy, and Rory must survive the Weeping Angels.  Apparently a bunch of them have created the hotel as a sort of pantry by trapping visitors inside and sending them into the past to feed off the time energy generated from this.  How they got there is never explained, as is typical of Moffat's inexcusably poor storytelling, but they're there and they've seemingly inhabited pretty much every humanoid statue in New York.

As a fan of time travel stories, I am constantly irritated by the disrespect so many of today's storytellers give the genre — especially in the area of paradoxes.  Very few have handled such tales well:  Robert Zemeckis' Back To the Future trilogy and Eidos' Legacy of Kain video game series being only two that come to my mind.  Moffat is arguably the worst of the lot of bad storytellers who disrespect the material, which is even more infuriating seeing as how he's head writer for a show that features time travel and its consequences as its central theme.

SPOILER ALERT: Our heroes escape the Weeping Angels by creating a fatal paradox that zaps the Doctor, River, Amy, and Rory back to the present — in a cemetery.  And it is here that the final, tearful goodbyes are said to Amy and Rory.  It's also where the story is at its weakest.  We're supposed to believe that once the future is known a fixed point in time is created and Bad Things Happen when anyone tries to change it.  But just minutes before in the episode we saw a "fixed point" created and prevented from ever existing, and in Series Six the entire story arc revolved around the Doctor getting around a fixed point in time and space to outwit the creatures trying to kill him and escape certain death, so obviously this new "fixed" point should mean absolutely nothing to the Doctor or to Amy.

What's more, there's also the cat, namely, Schrödinger's cat: the paradoxical moment before opening a box with a cat inside it following some random event that either kills the animal or leaves it alive.  Since we can't know whether the cat is alive or dead until the box is opened and we can observe it, this means the animal is in a state of temporal flux; is it both alive and dead, or neither alive or dead, until someone observes it.

So surely, having not actually seen Amy and Rory die in the episode's final moments, and having not seen the Doctor scan the ground underneath a headstone bearing Amy's and Rory's names, the Doctor can actually go back in time and rescue them, or just send River back to bring them out of the past, and as long as the headstone bearing his friends' names is still there, everything will be fine.  It's so obvious to anyone who has devoted even a casual amount of consideration to paradoxes that Moffat should have thought of it from the start and just filmed those extra few seconds' worth of footage showing an elderly Amy somewhere in the past.  Yet he doesn't seem to have bothered, having completely dismissed the intelligence of us viewers.

In any fictional story there is always a certain amount of disbelief that must be suspended, especially in the genres of science fiction, horror, and fantasy.  But one can only suspend so much disbelief, and then a poorly written story just becomes insulting.  That's what Moffat does: he regularly insults the intelligence of his audience, not caring one bit as long as he gets his paycheck.

Oh, and that last page of the book that sent them to 1938 to face the Angels in the first place?  River tells the Doctor she'll have her mother write an afterword for him, prompting him to rush back to Central Park to fetch and read it.  And Amy asks the Doctor to do something they both know he can never do: go back in time and tell Amy's younger self, the one who sat outside waiting for the Time Lord all night, all about her future adventures with the Doctor.  What.  The.  Hell?  No assurances that she and Rory found each other, no request for the Doctor to tell their families their kids are all right (albeit trapped in the past), but Amy asks the Doctor to violate laws of time to tell her younger self what will happen to her in her future.

BULLSHIT on a stick.

Doctor Who has given some crappy endings to companions' stories before, but this one arguably tops them all.  Not only is it an insult, but it shows just how wasted were the considerable talents of Arthur Darvill and Karen Gillan.  Darvill especially was much stronger in his role as wet blanket Rory than Gillan was as lead companion Amy, and both actors have had to struggle to make their characters' stories work.  Matt Smith has shined as the 11th incarnation of the Doctor, but with so little for the main cast to work with, no thanks to Moffat, the two and a half seasons of Smith's run have fallen far short of what they could have been.

Now, having written all this, there is one thing I did like a lot about this latest story involving the Weeping Angels: the notion that they are not strictly corporeal beings, but can and do inhabit existing statues and from those fashion themselves bodies with which to hunt their prey.  It's a very interesting concept and should be explored a bit further — but not by Moffat, who can only mess it up with some stupid throw-away explanation that he'll just toss out the window later on.

We fans should start a letter-writing campaign to have the BBC remove Moffat as head writer before he completely screws up the 50th anniversary of Doctor Who.

For an alternate take on The Angels Take Manhattan, see Jayne Gudkov's review.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Institutional Wishful Thinking: Why Steam Won't Save Second Life

New World Notes has taken to deleting my comments when made from certain terminals, so to bring a long-running debate from there over here I'm including a screen capture along with a copy-paste.

Recently there has been a debate over the issue of Linden Lab's outrageously overpriced land model, which forces users to fork over one thousand U.S. dollars and an additional two hundred ninety-five dollars a month for server maintenance.  Hamlet Au has given his reasons for why he thinks Linden Lab won't be lowering prices any time soon: it would have, in his opinion, a crippling short term effect on the company's bottom line, speculation that has little basis in fact.  The reason for his opinion?  It would hurt the five hundred or so land barons who make their living, most only barely, renting out virtual real estate.

The flaw in Hamlet's reasoning has always been the assumption that an across-the-board price cut wouldn't be compensated for by an influx of new and returning customers.  But Desmond Shang, a small land baron, stated in comments that he agrees that land tier prices have to come down sooner or later, and he was invited to post his own guest entry on New World Notes.  That entry led to some unreasonably hostile responses in-thread, which led to Hamlet expanding on one that piqued his interest.

Unfortunately, Hamlet seems to be clinging to the notion that Second Life can be successfully marketed as a gaming platform even though Linden Lab has not developed and is not developing the tools that will make it attractive to hardcore RPG gamers.

As I said, I don't entirely agree with Masami -- for instance, I don't think this suggestion would preclude land barons like Desmond (who runs an RPG themed area himself). But with SL soon to launch on Steam, a roleplay focus seems to be an ideal solution to a lot of Second Life's problems.

 Well, no it isn't, and my response is posted below with some additions.

The reason is this:  Wishful thinking isn't going to save Second Life, and having a link on Steam isn't going to do it either as long as land tier prices remain unaffordable to most users. This point cannot be stressed enough.  Second Life does not have the tools to become anything like what Steam users are accustomed to, so the chances of an influx of users flocking to an overpriced, buggy grid that is woefully inadequate to 3D gaming are remote.

Currently monthly tier for a private region is nearly three hundred U.S. dollars, and for a brand new region the initial setup fee is one thousand dollars. That's an outrageous price tag fewer and fewer people are willing and able to pay. If the initial setup fee were, say, one hundred dollars and the monthly tier returned to $195.00, then it might become economically feasible. (Note: there are groups that allow members to sell private regions to others at far less than Linden Lab's initial setup fee — I've used one in the past to acquire a full region transfer for only three hundred dollars, although the tier on it was due soon after, something buyers have to take into account.) But with the current pricing model RPGers becoming the Thing That Saves Linden Lab...er, Second Life...just isn't realistic. The most likely scenario is that there will be some kind of exodus of hardcore gamers from SL to Steam, where they can play games that have the tools necessary for the genre. How large or small such an emigration is remains to be seen, and it may not even be significant enough to worry over. But what should be obvious to everyone is that there will be no mass migration from Steam to Second Life — not when Linden Lab hasn't done the work to make it into something RPGers would get into.

And that's the crux of the problem. For all people keep touting Second Life as a gaming platform, the tools for developing it toward that end were never created. With the hideously complicated scripting system that is constantly undermined by Linden Lab's often unstable changes, RPG developers have to create HUDs, floating text attachments, and items such as weapons, and that has the problem of generating higher lag depending on the number of scripts associated with all these items. And because there are so many different RPG systems (i.e. DCS and SGS), players and roleplay developers alike have to compensate for incompatibility issues, leaving less time for actually playing the games.

In the virtual world games Steam carries, tools such as weapons, potions, gadgets, and other necessities have already been created and provided. The only problem is the limited range of customization options inherent to most RPGs, which is the only area SL could potentially be better in offering to users. But the high prices make coming to the grid prohibitively expensive.

With SL losing an estimated 8.3 regions every day to the ridiculously high prices, literally thousands of sims a year, at some point something's got to give, and it's going to have to be land prices.  Baby steps toward making SL more affordable, as Desmond Shang has suggested, simply aren't going to do the trick.  Land prices are going to have to come down to a reasonable level, because if they don't then Linden Lab is looking at financial bankruptcy within one or two years.